Monday, July 31, 2017

NASCAR/Nascar spins out

A couple of weeks ago, I had a nice Sunday morning visit with a friend who came into town with her two little ones – a two-year-old and a soon (this week!) to be one-r. They were having a daddy-less weekend because my friends husband was off in Loudon, NH with his buds at a NASCAR race.

During the Olympics, I’ll watch sports I’ve never heard of – and become an insta-judge, second guessing the scores, and an insta-ref, second guessing calls. But there are a few sports I just can’t get into.

And watching a bunch of cars racing around in circles – is it even a sport? – is one of them. (There is another: professional golf. While golf is more or less clearly a sport, and I will acknowledge that it does seem to require mental toughness, eye-hand coordination, and other sporty attributes, those who play it appear to be singularly boring and color-less bunch.)

Although I’m not interested in NASCAR, I completely acknowledge the live-and-let-live rule of chacun à son goût. In most instances that is: ‘yes’ to chacun when it comes to Game of Thrones. ‘No’ to chacun when, say, it comes to electing a president. Some election cycles, there really ought to be a law…

Anyway, my understanding was that NASCAR is really big. I mean big enough that, while NASCAR uses the all caps acronym, in press stories, NASCAR has morphed into a proper noun: Nascar. I thought that the number of fans it has surpasses all major American sports, with the exception of the mighty NFL.

Turns out, while I wasn’t paying attention, NASCAR peaked.

A Bloomberg writer attended a recent race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. When he took his eye off the race and looked into the stands, he saw that:

They were strikingly, shockingly empty. Eventually I observed some crowds clustered in the parts of the stands with shade, but according to the Indianaplis Business Journal, only about 35,000 people were there, in a facility with seating for 235,000. Five years ago, the crowd for the same race was four times bigger.
This is not just an Indianapolis problem, it turns out. Nascar stopped reporting race attendance a few years ago
, but the publicly traded companies that own most of its tracks do report admission revenue, and it's way down from a decade ago. (Source: Bloomberg)

First off, even if I do have some geriatric change of heart and become a NASCAR/Nascar fan, remind me never, ever, ever to attend an event in a stadium that seats nearly a quarter of million people.

It’s not just live events that are showing declines in interest. People aren’t watching NASCAR/Nascar on TV either. Viewership, it turns out, peaked in 2005, and is now down by about half.

Racing is not alone, of course. There’s so much else for the young-uns to do – like play massively multiplayer online games, or take selfies – that other spectator sports are losing spectators, including football. 

Justin Fox, who wrote the Bloomberg article I saw, posited a number of reasons (those are his reasons in bold) why NASCAR/Nascar is off:

1. It's maybe not the best-run organization in the world. NASCAR/Nascar is family-run, and its structure is “complicated” and “secretive.” The lack of transparency makes it harder for the owners who put cars on the track, and the drivers who drive them, to figure out what’s going on. All they know is that it’s getting harder for them to find sponsors (you know, the folks whose logos are emblazoned on cars, helmets, and the space-suits that race car drivers wear) and pay their bills. Maybe this is all part of the general decline of the sport. Or maybe it’s because of NASCAR/Nascar’s piss-poor management. Having worked for a number of outfits with piss-poor management, I will observe that even the piss-poorest run business can somehow manage to hang on well beyond its close-by date. Yet the real world does have a way of catching up with them eventually. Send in the turnaround guys!

2. It's the economy's fault. NASCAR/Nascar itself pins the tail of its woes on the economy donkey. And the ‘it’s the economy, stupid’ argument ties in with the point that the white working class audience that supports the sport has been ailing, and, thus, can’t afford to travel to races in places like Indianapolis.

But that doesn't explain why TV ratings have plummeted, too, unless you believe that all the former Nascar watchers are now addicted to cable-news political coverage instead.

No, that would be me addicted to cable-news political coverage…

3. Nascar got boring. I might have said that NASCAR/Nascar was boring to begin with. But Fox argues that the drivers of yesteryear, and their cars, were just plain more interesting, and the sport:

…full of quirky regional character, with good-old-boy , bootleggers' sons speeding around rural Southern tracks at 175 miles per hour in souped-up versions of the cars in everybody's driveways.

The sounds like The Dukes of Hazard to me, but what do I know. Anyway, today’s cars are all engineered to look the same, and today’s drivers are bland.

A charismatic, colorful champion or two could probably fix some of this problem, but in general the corporatization and deregionalization of the sport over the past quarter-century seems to have inevitably robbed it of some of its appeal.

So, we wuz robbed? Not me, since there was no appeal to begin with. But I do get that blandly corporate athletes – and pro sports are full of them – are just plain not as much fun as the goofballs of yore.

4. Fewer people love cars. Fox asks a pertinent question, and that’s whether:

…the great love affair with cars that consumed the U.S. and other affluent countries in the post-World War II decades has given way to a different sort of relationship in which most people simply rely on their (increasingly reliable) vehicles without thinking about them, and only a tiny minority do the sort of tinkering and driving for pleasure that was once common.

Ah, the pleasure of driving for pleasure. I grew up with a pleasure-driving father. Most Sundays, and occasionally on a weeknight, he took the family out for a spin, poking around Worcester County and stopping somewhere for an ice cream cone if the weather were fine. He was a pleasure driver, and we were pleasure riders.

Do people go out for rides anymore? Probably not. No time, too much else to do, too expensive (gas guzzling), too environment-battering (gas guzzling).

Of all the reasons for NASCAR/Nascar to be failing, this is the saddest.

Imagine how bad things are going to be when cars are all autonomous, and no one bothers to learn how to drive?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Roomba: hoovering up your personal info

God knows, I’m no futurist, but many years ago I was on a panel at a tech conference and a question posed to the panelists was what we thought was a coming big issue of the future. My answer: privacy.

God knows, I had no business being on that panel to begin with. A colleague had made a last minute request for me to speak for him at the conference. Since I knew very little about the topic – beyond what was in his canned preso – I should have said ‘no, no, a thousand times no.’ But he was desperate and, with a guarantee that I’d have a tech resource in the standing by to whom I could lob any question I couldn’t answer, I said ‘yes.’ Well, the presentation went fine, as did the morning’s first panel. The questions were high level enough, and I knew just enough about the topic, that I could hold my own. And I could hold my own so well, in fact, that the stand-by techie decided to leave. Unfortunately, the afternoon questions became techier, and my answers to the audience turned into “this isn’t really my area of expertise” – as if the audience hadn’t gleaned that bit – or, if another panelist had answered before me, a variant of ‘what he said…’

The final question was the crystal ball one and, in talking about privacy, I think I acquitted myself quite well.

With all the data grabbing going on, I often think about privacy. Or lack thereof.

I use my debit card at the grocery store, so Roche Brothers and Whole Food know entirely too much about me, including that I’ll pay $2.99 for cherries, but won’t pay $4.99 for cherries if they were $2.99 the day before. Roche Brothers knows I like pumpernickel. Both stores know I like Tate’s chocolate chip cookies.

At CVS, despite the fact that I never take advantage of the so-called benefits of using it, I was generally scanning my CVS whatever card. Then I said to hell with it. Why should they know what toothpaste I like? So I no longer swipe the whatever card, and try to pay cash. (Which, at CVS, is becoming more difficult by the day. I anticipate that there will soon be a surcharge for paying with cash, since it’s more costly to handle (supposedly) than electronic payments, and, more to the point, because it deprives CVS of my information.)

Anyway, I thought about the privacy issue when I saw an article in the NYTimes on Roomba. Roomba, it seems, may be doing more than vacuuming under the sofa. It may be spying on you.

High-end models of Roomba, iRobot’s robotic vacuum, collect data as they clean, identifying the locations of your walls and furniture. This helps them avoid crashing into your couch, but it also creates a map of your home that iRobot is considering selling to Amazon, Apple or Google. Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, told Reuters that a deal could come in the next two years, though iRobot said in a statement on Tuesday: “We have not formed any plans to sell data.” (Source: NY Times)

Well, that’s clear.

Of course, as a non-Roomba owner, what Roomba does or doesn’t do is not my worry.

I do have a vacuum cleaner, but it’s a 20 year old Oreck. Plug it in, hang on, and away you go. It’s dumb as a rock. Which is exactly the way I prefer my appliances.

Fitbit knows how many steps I take a day. And, as mentioned, Whole and Roche know my grocery-buying habits. But that’s about it. (Other than, of course, that Google knows every website I’ve ever crashed into accidentally, on purpose, or accidentally on purpose.)

In the hands of a company like Amazon, Apple or Google, that data could fuel new “smart” home products.

That’s nice. More junk to worry about spying on us, potentially being hacked, and likely breaking down at some point.

Not to mention that:

…the data, if sold, could also be a windfall for marketers, and the implications are easy to imagine. No armchair in your living room? You might see ads for armchairs next time you open Facebook. Did your Roomba detect signs of a baby? Advertisers might target you accordingly.

Which is all much creepier than having the ads pop up based on your recent purchases. (You know, just because I purchased a pair of Asics online last week, doesn’t mean that I need another pair again this soon…)

“Just remember that the Roomba knows what room your child is in,” Rhett Jones wrote in Gizmodo. “It’s the one where it bumps into all the toys on the floor.” In its written response, iRobot said that it was “committed to the absolute privacy of our customer-related data.” Consumers can use a Roomba without connecting it to the internet, or “opt out of sending map data to the cloud through a switch in the mobile app.” “No data is sold to third parties,” the statement added. “No data will be shared with third parties without the informed consent of our customers.”

Key phrases here are “opt out” and “informed consent.”

How about “opt in”? And consent that’s not implied, or stems from permission granted by not reading some convoluted fine print policy.

We used to have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our own homes. That’s going out the window – the window no doubt sitting behind a fixture that’s recording every time you raise or lower your smart blinds.



Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chip in the old block

I remember the first place where I had to punch in using a time card: H.H. Brown Shoe Company, where I worked one summer on the shop floor helping make paratroop boots for the South Vietnamese Air Force (tiny feet) and chartreuse work boots with red top stitching for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (The thought was that no one would walk out accidentally wearing footwear of such a zany color. This was just as psychedelic Yellow Submarine clothing was coming into style, after which point chartreuse work boots with red top stitching no longer seemed quite so zany.) As I recall, you’d get docked 15 minutes if you were late by 1 minute. On Friday afternoons, the factory workers would gather by the time clock a few minutes before punch-out time at 4 p.m. Once the magic moment occurred, we’d all punch out as rapidly as we could – old tmers at the front of the line.Unless overtime had been declared, there was absolutely no reason to have a few extra minutes on the clock.

I remember the first place I worked where we were issued electronic badges. To use the rest room, you had to leave our space – and, unless you were willing to walk around to the reception desk and get back in that way, you needed your badge to get back to your office. There was copious grousing about lack of privacy, and about whether “they” were going to start monitor our bio breaks. That was 20 years ago. I’m guessing that, these days, there are very few companies that don’t use some sort of electronic badging system and, at least theoretically, have the ability to check all sorts of goings and comings among their workforce.

There are flaws to electronic badging – who hasn’t borrowed a colleague’s badge at some point – and, for extra security, some companies added biometrics to the fray, with retinal scans or fingerprints.

At least one place is taking things one step further, with pet-style chips for their employees.

On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. Once that is done, any task involving RFID technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand. The program is not mandatory, but as of Monday, more than 50 out of 80 employees at Three Square’s headquarters in River Falls, Wis., had volunteered. (Source: NY Times)

Not all employees are sanguine about the new technology. Some are leery about getting something embedded under their skin, so are opting for a ring with a chip in it instead. (This is fun tech: I used to have a decoder ring that I used as my pass for public transportation. It didn’t work for seniors, so I gave it up when I hit 65 and was eligible for the quite splendid half-price T-pass. Worth sacrificing the fun of sporting that decoder ring.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that implanted microchips are the wave of the badging future. And – more creepily – the payment method of the future, as well. We’re already moving toward cash-free – there are some CVSs where none of the self-checkout stations accept cash – so why bother with a plastic card or your phone when you can have the everything you need not at your fingertips, but in your fingertips.

There’s an entire tick-list of concerns around this type of technology. Privacy, of course: the inevitable concerns about monitoring bathroom breaks, and where it goes from opening a door or operating the copier. Then there’s security: how hackable is the chip, and could it be hijacked for nefarious purposes. (Okay, at present, it’s not all that smart. Still…)

Health concerns are more difficult to assess. Implantable radio-frequency transponder systems, the technical name for the chips, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for medical uses. But in rare cases, according to the F.D.A., the implantation site may become infected, or the chip may migrate elsewhere in the body.

Migrate elsewhere in the body? Shades of Fantastic Voyage, a truly terrible movie from the 1960’s in which a miniaturized Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch traveled around a scientists body to perform some very delicate brain surgery. Or something.

If I live long enough, I’m sure I’ll be implanted with some medical monitoring chip at some point or another. Until then, I’m just as happy I’m not working for an outfit that wants me to punch in and out by waving my thumb in their direction.

I’m no one’s chip off the old block, and I don’t want a chip in the old block, either.

Meanwhile, people in some quarters are freaking out, giving Three Square 1-star ratings in Google reviews, ranting about end times and the mark of the beast.

And away we go…

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Geriactives? Nyppies? Talking ‘bout my generation.

Born in December 1949, I’m an early wave Baby Boomer, part of the vast cohort born between 1946 (when my parents had their first child) and 1964 (when the last sib in  our family turned 5).

Part of me gets that I’m now old. But the other part of me…

I’m still taken aback when I hear someone on the news referring to a person my age as elderly. Elderly? Who you calling elderly? That’s a fightin’ word, youngster.

The Economist had a recent special section “The new old.” The first illustration was a photo of The Stones. First off, these dudes aren’t Boomers. Both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were born in1943. The Mick, in fact, turns 74 today. I also have to say that both of these bad boys look pre-cadaverous. Too many drugs in their sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll mix, I’m afraid. Yet it’s still admirable that they’re still rockin’, lunch pail performers still looking for a payday.

And while their paydays are larger than those of most of us seniors still working, there are plenty of golden agers still out there. Some plugging away by choice, some by necessity. Good thing, given that the longer we work, the more we contribute to the economy and the less of a drag we are on the young folks. What you want to do is keep a nice healthy ratio between geezers and workers – tougher to do, given that lifespans have increased so dramatically.

As the world greys, growth, tax revenues and workforces will decline while spending on pensions and health care will increase. So, at least, goes the orthodoxy.

Doom-mongers tend to miss a bigger point, however. Those extra years of life are predominantly healthy ones. Five of the additional six years that a British boy born in 2015 can expect to live, compared with one born in 1990, will be healthy, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, at the University of Washington. Too many governments and firms fail to recognise this fact, instead lumping all the extra years in the damning category of 65 and over. This binary way of thinking, seeing retirement as a cliff edge over which workers and consumers suddenly tumble, bears little relation to the real world. It also encourages unimaginative policy, whereby the retirement age is occasionally moved as lifespans lengthen. (Source: The Economist)

The Economist makes an argument that, to remedy this, we need to stop lumping everyone over 65 in the one-step-from-the-grave category, and carve out a new brand-name for those of us over 65 but under real old age. (Whatever real old age is. Look to the Boomers to keep pushing that up. I suspect that by the time I’m 80, old age will start at 90. Or 100.)

Branding an age category might sound like a frivolous exercise. But life stages are primarily social constructs, and history shows that their emergence can trigger deep changes in attitudes. Such change is needed if the questions that swirl around rising longevity are to get a fitting answer.

So, they’ve come up with a few suggestions for what to name the baby(boomer). Geriactives is mentioned but discarded: sounds too shuffle-boardy and senior village. (“Welcome to Paradise Hills, where we put the ‘active’ in ‘geriactive.”) Then there’s nightcappers, which The Economist thinks sounds patronizing, but which I think sounds boozy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Perhaps “Nyppies” (Not Yet Past It) or “Owls” (Older, Working Less, Still earning) ring truer.

By their description, I’m an owl. But I rather like the sound of nyppie, even though Nippy was the name of a neighborhood dog (beagle, owned by the FitzGibbons, and, yes, the dog was nippy) of my childhood. (The FitzGibbons had a way with dog naming. They later had a shepherd called Rasputin.)

So, nyppie. We used to be yuppies. Nyppies seems to suit.

Anyway, I do think it makes sense to come up with some sort of catchy name for us. Forget golden ager, senior citizen, old fogey. I may be kidding myself, but none of those seem to apply. I’m all for something a bit less geezerish. (And for the older set, maybe something a bit less judgmental than senior citizen and old fogey. Revered elder might work.)

Marking out youthful old age as a distinct phase of life might have a similar effect [similar to the creation of the idea of “teen-ager,” which occurred in the 1940’s], prodding employers and policymakers to think differently about how to keep the young old active. As life becomes longer, the word “retirement”, which literally means withdrawal to a place of seclusion, has become misleading. At 65 you are not clapped out, but pre-tired. So, as they embark on the next stage, here’s to all those pre-tirees.

Pre-tirees, huh?

Seems like only yesterday my friends and I were heading to the movies to watch the howlingly ridiculous late 1960’s flick, Wild in the Streets. I don’t remember the full plot, but one of the themes was getting the vote into the hands of kids. The battle cry was ‘Fourteen or Fight.” And I think that everyone over 30 was farmed out to some blissed out geezer-farm where they could spend all their time tripping on acid. Or something like that. After all, we were the folks muttering ‘don’t trust anyone over 30.’ Best to keep them out of their gourds, no?

Hope the millennials don’t decide to remake Wild in the Streets. I’d hate to see what they’d have in store for us.

Meanwhile, I’m down with The Economist’s idea to just give us a brand new brand name.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Open Book (I can dream, can’t I?)

I know a lot of writers. And plenty more readers. This past weekend was spent in the company of a number of my most beloved among them, and I came back with a tote-bag full of books. (What I’m reading now is Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patricia Lockwood. Lockwood is a poet whose father was a Lutheran minister who switched to Catholicism and could, thus, be that oddity: married Catholic priest with kids. So far, so good.)

Anyway, what the writers and readers among us share, besides trading books and authors, is that, at one point or another, most of us have fantasized about running a bookstore.

Even now, when I’m at age when I know plenty better, when I’m walking down Charles Street with my friend Marin and we spot an empty store front, we’ll stop for a couple of minutes, peer in, and discuss where we’re going to put the armchairs when we open up shop. We know, of course, that running a bookshop would more than likely be a losing proposition – a fool’s errand to end all fool’s errand. And, mostly, we admit to ourselves that in our bookstore, the doors would mostly be locked, and we’d just sit around in our armchairs, drinking tea, eating scones, and reading. Fortunately, in our bookstore-running fantasy, we don’t need to make any money. In fact, we can lose money. (Good thing. What’s a fantasy for if it can’t be perfect anyway?)

There’ve been bookstores on Charles Street in the past – a nice indie one, a really lame-o Lauriat’s... But it’s been a couple of decades since we’ve had one around. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how a neighborhood of highly educated and presumably literate people can support two shops that appear to sell nothing but doorknobs and not one freaking bookstore. Sigh. At least we have the excellent Trident Booksellers & Cafe just a mile and change away…

Anyway, my writer/reader friend Sophia had a recent post on FB that linked to an article (from last year) on a bookstore in the charmingly-named Scottish town of Wigtown that has a studio upstairs that they rent out on Airbnb:  

The first ever bookshop holiday / residency experience, Scotland's National Book Town welcomes you to play-bookshop for a week or two. We'll give you your very own apartment and bookshop below, supported by a team of friendly volunteers to make your trip as lovely as possible. Set up by The Wigtown Festival Company, The Open Book's aim is to celebrate books, independent bookshops and welcome people around the world to Scotland's National Book Town. The fee for your stay is low because we are a non-profit. It covers the running costs of the holiday but that is all. A laptop and WiFi are provided, plus bicycles for those who like to explore the bucolic countryside on two wheels


I’m not quite sure how it works, but it sounds like trying your hand at running the shop is optional:

We offer you the bookshop, apartment and orientation. All the rest for your bookshop holiday is up to you. Please note that this is not a volunteer opportunity, nor are we paying you to work. This is a holiday that you are paying for, classified under cultural tourism and you can enjoy the bookshop as you wish.


But most of those who’ve Airbnb’d there seem to have become shopkeepers for the duration of their stay. Here’s Jared, the most recent reviewer. (And, by the way, all 44 reviews are five-star.)

I know what some of you are thinking - how can I take a week off from work, fly all the way to Scotland, and drive through the countryside just to spend a week volunteering in a bookstore. Well its more than just that. This is the most unique traveling experience I've ever had. I don't know if I have run into a community more giving, kind, and willing to open up their doors and lives to strangers. Go to Wigtown, be a shopkeeper, hike the trails, cliffs, and woods that surround the town, have a pint at the pub, explore, and talk to people. Book the trip (if you can!), trust me you won't regret it.

Jared ain’t kidding about book it if you can. I looked out a year and couldn’t find much of anything.

The pictures, of course, look heavenly. My first reaction was that there are only a couple of days a year when things are so picture-perfect Brigadoon/Finian’s Rainbow-ish in Scotland. The country is beautiful, but not exactly known for its lovely weather. But I looked it up, and this neck of the Scottish woods has weather that’s milder and sunnier than other parts of the country. Which is not to say that it’s like San Diego. Even so, I like just thinking about sitting there – even in the dark and gloomy – sipping a cup of tea and eating a scone, selling or not selling a book.

I can dream, can’t I?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Haters gotta hate (by state, state, state)

There really is an app for everything and everyone.

And for singles who want to connect with people who share the same antipathies they do, there’s Hater. (The URL, by the way, is Or as they put it:

Meet someone who hates the same stuff.
The first dating app that matches people on the things they hate.

The app was “inspired” by an academic study “that found that when people share a negative attitude about a third party, it becomes a pretty effective bonding tool.”

I tend to think of things you like as being a bonding tool, but it does seem logical that the converse would also hold. These days, I’m certainly seeing plenty of bonding among those I know who fear and loathe Donald Trump. (And that includes friends who lean conservative – and I actually do have a few of them!)

The app prompts users to select (via swiping, of course) whether they love, hate, like, or dislike a famous person, activity or concept. A rep from Hater told HuffPost that the app offers its users over 3,000 topics to swipe on. Once a user has logged a number of likes, dislikes, loves and hates, the app uses an algorithm to find compatible matches based on the info provided.

According to the company, they have been keeping tabs on what their “few hundred thousand users” in the United States despise since the app launched in February. And it turns out, people in different states hate very different things. (Source: Huffington Post)

With all this nifty data, Hater gave us a real treat by creating a nifty map of the 50 states, showing what the Hater members in those states hate the most.

It’s hard for me to believe that the people in Massachusetts hate NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning more than they hate Roger Goodell. I mean, Eli Manning hating is so yesterday.As is Eli Manning. NFL Goodell shirtRoger Goodell, now, there’s a football-related name well worth the hate, as Deflategate – a crisis that resulted in our Tom Brady being suspended for four games last season – still hasn’t gone away, even though the Pats (and our Tom) won a thrilling Super Bowl this year. The hatred may dissipate after Goodell shows up at Gillette Stadium for the home opener this season, but it will still be there. Tee-shirts like the one shown here are really worn in these parts. (That’s Goodell with the clown nose.) Anti-Eli Manning shirts? Can’t remember if I’ve ever seen one.

What people hate

I can understand why people in Texas hate sleeping with the window open. It’s hot there, and they need their AC. Nevadans hate feminism; folks from Utah hate porn. Both positions seem to make sense. I’m not surprised that Iowans don’t like long hair on guys. Arizonans hate sand, probably because they have way too much of it.

No state can be faulted for hating polo shirts (New Mexico), gluten-free (Wyoming), and waiting in line (Vermont). And who isn’t with the good citizens of Arkansas who admit to hating to clean? (That said, I don’t think I’ll be looking to check into a hotel there any time soon.)Tennessee hates foraged food. Must be a lot of roadkill possum stew going on down there.

But what’s up with Oklahoma that their citizens don’t want to hear the latest gossip? How prissy and self-righteous is that? Or maybe they’re liars. Unlike the Louisianan truth-tellers who hate being the designated driver.

And what to we make of the fact that North Dakotans hate tapas. Are there really enough tapas joints in North Dakota to hate?

Why does Delaware hate Casey Affleck? And, for God’s sake, why does New Hampshire hate God? And who would have imagined that poor little Rhode Island harbors antipathy towards Middle America? That seems like so much more of a Massachusetts attitude to cop.

The cynics from Washington, DC, hate the idea that everyone has a soulmate. But apparently they’re still willing to give yet another dating site a whirl, even if they don’t believe that a shared hatred is the basis for soulmate-hood.

Some of the hatreds are just plain weird. What up, Illinois, that you hate biting into string cheese? Does it really come up that often?

My friend Gwen grew up in Michigan. I will not be breaking it to her that her native state hates Pride and Prejudice. Not after she named her daughter after Jane Austen.

As for Indiana, which hates bloggers. I never did like your state to begin with.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Poor Chipotle! No wonder I Boloco…

Although I’ve eaten there a number of times, and my food has always been fine, I’m not the biggest Chipotle fan on the face of the earth. But I certainly wish them no ill, and feel a bit sorry for their ongoing bouts of bad health.

In 2015, they had a few “foodborne-illness outbreaks”, including a humdinger local incident that occurred in December 2015, when over 140 folks took ill after eaten at a Chipotle near Boston College. With the exception of the victims, I can pretty much guarantee that there weren’t a ton of Bostonians who lost any sleep over a bunch of BC students getting sick. Still, most of us have had that winning combo of gastro-intestinal yuck, so it’s hard not to feel sympathy for those who come down with it. (When I was in college, something or other went through the student body (literally) – was it after they served chicken a la king in the caf? – and so many students were down with it that no one was able to make it to the infirmary. Nurses came through the dorms, distributing lomotil door to door. Definitely the no fun zone.)

The making of a whole lot of sick customers, of course, had a major impact on Chipotle’s business and stock price. And it took them a lot longer to recover from it than it did for those BC kids to get over the unpleasantness that was visited upon them.

But the world is a (mostly) forgiving place. Chipotle has a lot of fans. The food is tasty and cheap enough.  And sometimes you just want a burrito. So, Chipotle made its way back.

Then this spring, Chipotle experienced a different sort of virus when “a malware attack struck its point-of-sale technology.” While I’m not afraid I’ll catch anything from POS tech, and I wouldn’t use a debit or credit card to pay for a burrito anyway, I sure wouldn’t want my debit or credit card hacked because someone’s POS tech was definitely POS tech with respect to its security.

The point-of-sale hack wasn’t quite the same as getting sick, but it’s still not good news for a business that’s still got something of the shakes. And then there was this:

The reports were familiar: In the space of 48 hours, a handful of people said they’d gotten sick after eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Bang: Wall Street’s judgment was swift -- and brutal. Chipotle’s stock plunged nearly 8 percent on Tuesday, erasing its gain for the year. The episode, which involved a single location in Sterling, Virginia, recalled the string of foodborne illnesses that upended the chain two  years ago, and underscored the fact that the company remains on probation with both customers and investors. (Source: Bloomberg)

I’d hate to be a company spokesman for Chipotle. I’d hate to be in Chipotle marketing. I’d hate to be on their PR team. I’d hate to be someone working in a Chipotle store. And I’d sure hate to be Jim Marsden, who is the executive of food safety for Chipotle. Marsden was hired after the fiascos of 2015, and he’s sure had his job cut out for him – even if this latest problem (a few folks at a suburban Washington Chipotle) turns out to be nothing whatsoever to do with food safety standards at Chipotle. It could just be a fluke.

Chipotle isn’t just looking a making sure that all their acts are cleaned up, they’re looking to make some changes.

Chipotle is adding new menu items, such as melted cheese and dessert, part of its bid to win back customers.

If my tummy were roiling, I don’t know if melted cheese and dessert would get me to check back in on Chipotle. But I’m sure they’re focusing on the customers who aren’t currently throwing up after eating there.

Meanwhile, after I had completed and queued up this post, my brother-in-law (not aware of my upcoming Chipotle topic) emailed me with another fresh piece of Chipotle news. A Dallas Chipotle had an incident that I think out noroviruses the foodborne illness stories.

A day after Chipotle Mexican Grill faced an outbreak of norovirus at a Chipotle restaurant in Virginia, the company’s PR team is dealing with yet another embarrassing public-health incident. A Dallas TV station reported that, at one local Chipotle restaurant, customers’ lunch was ruined when several rodents reportedly fell from the ceiling and landed inside the dining area.

Footage of the incident - as one angry customer remarked - is enough to put one off from eating at the chain indefinitely (Source: Zero Hedge – includes a swell and very appetizing video.)

There are few things worse than rats in restaurants. (Having worked as a waitress in a place that was quite literally a rat hole, I know whereof I speak.)  Norovirus might be a rogue employee who sneezed. Rats falling from the ceiling…. Well, that’s another story. 

Anyway, I for one am wishing Chipotle a hearty ‘get well soon.’ But if I want a burrito – and mine is the Bangkok Thai with white meat chicken on wheat –  I’m going to Boloco, our local chain. So far, so good.


And a tip of the Pink Slip hat to Ricky T for being so prescient with this one.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

That does it (or, suffering from technology fatigue)

Every once in a while, I see a headline that stops me dead in my very tracks. That was my reaction when I saw this one the other day on Bloomberg:

Ethereum Co-Founder Says Crypto Coin Market Is A Time-Bomb

The opening paras were more confounding than the headline.

Initial coin offerings, a means of crowdfunding for blockchain-technology companies, has caught so much attention that even the co-founder of the ethereum network, where many of these digital coins are built, says it’s time for things to cool down in a big way.

“People say ICOs are great for ethereum because, look at the price, but it’s a ticking time-bomb,” Charles Hoskinson, who helped develop ethereum, said in an interview. “There’s an over-tokenization of things as companies are issuing tokens when the same tasks can be achieved with existing blockchains. People are blinded by fast and easy money.”

Okay. I know what crowdfunding is. And blockchain technology. And, of course, crypto currency. Not to mention a time-bomb. But the whole thing makes my head hurt. Real bad. Having an organization that’s gone all e.e. cummings and dubbed itself ethereum doesn’t help much either, headache-wise. Because it’s just so much easier to figure out that ethereum is a proper-noun entity, rather than just another any-old-word, if you don’t capitalize it. (No wonder people hate marketing.)

That non-capitalization is almostashelpfultothereadingpublicasleavingoutthespacethatseparateswwords. And even more helpful to readers than the folks that decide that - despite the fact that, since Gutenberg printed that first Bible, the easiest way to read something is black lettering on white background - their website should use yellow letters on black.

Yikes! When I saw that headline I almost decided, then and there,that I was never going to read another word about technology. Which would be a tough go, given that I make my living writing about technology. Sigh.

It brings to mind one of my all-time favorite New Yorker cartoons (which, alas, I could not find online. Thanks, technology.) It goes back to the late 1960’s, when New York City was in shambles, and Mario Procaccino was running for mayor against incumbent John Lindsay. NYC in the late 1960s was a financial and just plain living disaster. Among other pleasant occurrences was a strike by the sanitation workers that lasted over a week and resulted in quite the trash pileup. Anyway, in the New Yorker cartoon, two gentleman are looking up at the Empire State Building, which is being attacked by a King Kong on steroids. And one says to the other, “That does it, I’m voting for Procaccino.”

Nearly fifty years on, this cartoon still makes me laugh.

So when I saw that Crypto Coin headline, my natural inclination was to tell myself, “That does it, I’m never reading about technology again.”

It’s mostly the topic, to which I say: Crytpo-Schmypto. What’s wrong with cash? Or credit card? Or PayPal. Krugerrands? An IOU scribbled on a cocktail napkin? Hell, what’s wrong with barter?

The Bloomberg headline just below the one that knocked me out of my gourd was a bit easier on my simple mind:

Chipotle's Tarnished Image Means Every Sneeze Is Under Scrutiny

Now that’s a story I can sink my aging teeth into!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Downtown, things will be great when you’re downtown.

I’m a city girl. Always have been, and most likely always will be.

I do have suburban experience, however, having worked for a few years here and there in suburban locations, including two stints on Route 128 – American’s so-called Technology Highway. My first suburban outing was in Lexington, where the company I was working for in Cambridge got collapsed in with the company that acquired us. Hiss, boo. I had to get a car and reverse commute out to the ‘burbs. The saving grace was being able to go to Wilson Farms at lunch and buy produce.

My first 128 job was when yet another Cambridge-based company I was working for got suburban fever and moved out to Burlington. When we got the news that we were moving, my buddy George and I drove out – his car: I had given mine up the moment I no longer needed it – to check out the new digs. George decided we needed to have the full and fully horrific Burlington experience, so we went to the Mall and ate at the Rainforest Café. (I can report that the Rainforest Café closed just last year, having outlasted my company – Softbridge – by 16 years or so.)

My next job was just up the road, on the other side of the Burlington Mall and nearly adjacent to the fabulous traffic choke point between Route 128 and Route 93.

The jobs were fine, but I didn’t particularly enjoy working out in the middle of nowhere. Being able to buzz over to the Mall at lunch and do a bit of shopping was most decidedly not a lure. And I detested commuting.

I ended up my full-time career in Andover, in an office park-ish setting that made Burlington look like Manhattan.

No, I much preferred working in Cambridge. I like taking the T. I liked all the places to grab lunch. I liked the interesting stores that were around when I worked between Harvard and Central Square.

So I get why companies want to locate in urban areas rather than in the suburbs.

These days, most of my clients are urban. A couple in the Boston waterfront area (hip and happening; one of these outfits relocated from the suburbs a few years back). Another in another one of Boston’s up and coming hip and happening urban settings.

I have a client in Manhattan, one in Washington DC, and another in San Francisco. My one suburban office park client is actually located in a city: Portsmouth NH. I have a new prospect in Cambridge.

So from where I sit, tech companies are urban-ites.

But what company isn’t a tech company these days?

Why, there’s McDonald’s, which last year announced that they were high-tailing their HQ out of the Chicago suburbs and downtown, into the Loop.

You may well be asking yourself, what’s so techie about McDonald’s?

A few years back, in response to the wonderful world of Internet:

…it opened an office in San Francisco and a year later moved additional digital operations to downtown Chicago, strategically near tech incubators as well as digital outposts of companies that included Yelp and eBay.

Chief executive Steve Easterbrook who took over in spring 2015, sought to keep innovating, launching mobile ordering, emphasizing self-serve kiosks in restaurants and expanding delivery through a partnership with UberEats.

As McDonald’s embraced technology, it decided that it needed to be closer not just to workers who build e-commerce tools but also to the customers who use them, said Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who is a McDonald’s executive vice president. That is because the next generation of fast-food consumers may be more likely to arrive via iPhones than drive-throughs.

“The decision is really grounded in getting closer to our customers,” Gibbs said. (Source: Washington Post)

I’m a bit suspicious of this as the real, or the entire, reason. Surely, there are as many McDonald’s consumers in the suburbs as there are in the city. I’m guessing that McDonald’s just didn’t want to be left out in the cold when all the cool companies moved in town.

Not that Kraft Heinz, ADM, and Motorola Solutions are exactly the cool kids. But, like McDonald’s, they’re:

…all looking to appeal to and be near young professionals versed in the world of e-commerce, software analytics, digital engineering, marketing and finance.

All this is good news for Chicago, and for folks who, like me (only younger), want to live and work in cities.

But not so good for the locations that are being abandoned. Oak Brook, Illinois, can’t be all that joyed-up that they’re losing McD’s.

At least the Oak Brook workers can suck it up, get on the train, and commute into the Loop.

It’s not all loss for the suburbs. Caterpillar will be leaving Peoria and moving to Deerfield. Not a lot of folks are going to commute 180 miles from Peoria on a day to day basis.

This is, of course, a colossal loss for Peoria. So much for the revitalized downtown that they were planning on, back a couple of years back when Caterpillar was promising to plunk its HQs there.

Long term, the corporate moves threaten an orbit of smaller enterprises that fed on their proximity to the big companies, from restaurants and janitorial operations to subcontractors who located nearby.

Caterpillar is mostly moving its top execs. The product folks (including manufacturing) are staying put. For now.

After 50 years or so of dominance, are the suburbs really getting the heave-ho as the place to run your business out of? Is the relocation to the big city a few isolated examples or an actual trend? Or is this just a phase that we’ll go for between now and when every job will be work-from-home or automated out of existence?

Meanwhile, I’m all in favor of jobs coming back downtown.

Remember what Petula Clark told us:

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown, things'll be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown everything's waiting for you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

There once was a shirt called Untuckit

Admittedly, there are ad campaigns that are MORE irritating. (Bob’s Discount Furniture, anyone?) But surely the TV ads for Untuckit would make the Top (Bottom?) 10, if not of all time, then certainly of late.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing an ad for Untuckit, they feature a voice over from the company’s founder Chris Riccobono. In the initial ads, he talked about his passion for finding a shirt that could be worn untucked and look great.

First off, the introduction of the “p” word – that would be passion – into the business lexicon was, IMHO, an event that will live in infamy. What “life coach”, what HR guru, decided that it wasn’t enough to have a decent career in which you found interesting work, congenial colleagues, and reasonable compensation that let you pay the mortgage, feed the kids, and afford a few decent Brooks Brothers shirts that in your entirely adequate free time you could wear untucked? Why, all of a sudden, did you need to pursue your passion?

Yes, on balance, you’re better off if your career is in sync with something you actually really and truly enjoy doing.

But what about those who I assume are in the vast majority who – if they have a passion to begin with – lack a passion that could reasonably be turned into a career?

You’re passionate about the Red Sox, say. Unless you’ve got the juice for a career in the MLB, you’re never going to play for them. And there aren’t enough jobs to go around to employ everyone who’s gaga for baseball, even if you include the sausage and non-MLB blessed tee-shirt vendors outside the park.

You’re passionate about rose growing, say. I suppose you could become a florist, but good luck with that now that your grocery store has a pretty good selection of flowers.

And so on…

Maybe I’m feeling sour-grape-ish because the current version of my brilliant career – while it could be argued is something (i.e., writing) I’ve somewhat got a passion for – is focused on writing about business applications, something I can assure you NO ONE on the face of the earth, with the possible exception of Bill Gates, has ever been passionate about.

So, while there is an element of who am I to judge someone else’s p-word in here, can anybody really and truly be passionate about a men’s shirt that looks marginally better untucked than a non-Untuckit shirt?

I say this as someone who actually likes the untucked shirt look. Despite the bro overtones – which, admittedly, can get plenty obnoxious – I think that guys with untucked shirts look, well, cute.

And along comes Chris Riccobono with a passion for making those cute untucked guys look a little sharper, a bit more stylin’.

Ecce, Untuckit.

Apparently, Riccobono got some push back on the name. Too obvious, he was told. But it’s memorable, and it sure makes more sense than calling a pair of pants Bonobos. (As everyone knows, real bonobos, a.k.a. pygmy chimpanzees, DO NOT WEAR PANTS.)

Although I think the name is a bit limiting, now that the product line has extended to include other casual clothing, including shorts (untuckit doesn’t apply) and sweaters (untuckit already applied), Riccobono’s clearly doing something right with his branding.

Turbocharged by an infusion of $30 million in venture capital, Untuckit has gone from an e-commerce site shipping out of a spare bedroom in Mr. Riccobono’s apartment in Hoboken, N.J., to a brand worn by high-profile guys like the hockey star Patrick Kane, thanks in part to a steady flow of television commercials on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Two years after opening its first retail shop, in SoHo, Untuckit, which has broadened its line to include shorts, sports jackets, henleys and other staples, is planning to expand to 22 stores nationwide, from nine currently, by the end of this year. (Source: NY Times)

Riccobono’s initial passion was wine, but he couldn’t figure out how to translate that into a job after he received his MBA from Columbia in the depths of the Great Recession.

“You’re always told that the best idea is the one that solves your problem,” he said. “I used to think, ‘What do I need?’” The eureka moment occurred on a trip with friends to Las Vegas, when he found himself wearing the same J. Crew oxford, which happened to be a size small, four straight nights, because it was the only shirt that did not look like a tent when worn untucked.

Coming up with perfection wasn’t as easy as you might imagine.

“No one in the business ever thought much about shirt length,” he said. “It was, ‘Who cares?’ But with Untuckit, shirt length, down to the millimeter, was the whole point. If it’s too long, it’s like any shirt. And if it’s too short, it looks ridiculous.”

Agreed that too short is going to look ridiculous. Think cabana shirt.

And too long? I have seen men wearing shirts that, when untucked, look like tunics.

But mostly, the untucked shirts of the pre-Untuckit shirts that I’m familiar with (and some of those were worn by my decidedly non-stylin’ husband) looked just fine.

Anyway, the more recent ads for Untuckit poke a bit of light fun at whether a slightly better looking untucked shirt is actually any kind of a major breakthrough. I guess if it were a real disrupter, it would have garnered more than a paltry $30M in VC.

I was going to write that I would have to be on the lookout for an Untuckit to open around here. My thinking was that Boston, which has no lack of bros, would absolutely be on target. Sure enough, there’s one just a short walk from my house. Alas, too late for my untucked husband.

Meanwhile, it may not be all that much to be passionate about, but it’s a lot less ridiculous than romper suits for men

Not to mention that we now have a cleaner alternative to the second line of any limerick that begins “There once was a man from Nantucket.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

What do Gene Conley and Patek Phillippe watches have in common?

A couple of weeks ago, Gene Conley died.

Now if you’re a youngster say, younger than 60, or a fellow geezer who didn’t grow up in the wonderful world of Boston sports followers, you’re no doubt scratching your head.

Gene Conley? Huh?

Well, let me tell you that Gene Conley is an athlete who has the distinction of having won championship rings for two professional sports team. As a backup forward, he won for basketball a few times as part of the crazily-winning Boston Celtics of the Bill Russell era in the 1950’s – 1960’s. He also pitched for the Red Sox back in the day – some of the same years he was with the Celtics – but, of course, back in the day, the Red Sox didn’t exactly win World Series. But Conley was with the Milwaukee (née Boston) Braves, and picked up a ring when they won it all in 1957. He was also a total character, all the more notable given the bland corporate personalities that populate professional sports these days. (At one point, he got off a Red Sox team bus that was stalled in traffic, went out for a few pops, and showed up at the airport, without a passport, trying to get on a flight to Israel.)

Anyway, I read the comments responding to a Boston Globe article on Conley’s passing, and noticed that a few youngsters (i.e., under 60 and/or not from these here parts) had no problem revealing their ignorance, doing a virtual yawn and noting that they’d never heard of him.

Gene Conley is, of course, a footnote in sports history. Other than around here, he was never a household world.

But Joe DiMaggio, John F. Kennedy, and George Patton certainly were. And probably still are.

Still, when I saw a headline on Bloomberg on a Patek Phillippe watch exhibition, I paused for a moment. Would pointing out that Patek Phillippe is “The Swiss Watchmaker Favored by DiMaggio, Kennedy, and Patton” actually mean anything to someone who was, say, much under the age of 60?

Even us old geezers remember Joe DiMaggio mostly from black and white clips, and from Simon & Garfunkel’s tune Mrs. Robinson. And unless he looked like George C. Scott, who played him in the eponymous movie, I really don’t know what General George Patton looked like. JFK, well, that’s another story. But even our forever young president would have turned 100 this year.

I’m pretty sure there aren’t a lot of youngsters buying Patek Phillippe watches. Sure, you can get one for under $10K, but that’s the equivalent of a Swatch watch. (Do they still make those?) As going to the google will reveal, there are plenty of limited editions that go for $600K and upwards. One I saw was going for $729K ($25 off if you surrender your email address.) The name for this beauty is the Grand Complications Men’s Watch. Well, figuring out how to pay for a $729K watch would present plenty of grand complications, so I think it was well named.

Anyway, young folks – who don’t wear watches – aren’t the target for Patek Phillippe watches. Collectors are. (And, if you’ve seen the ads in The New Yorker and other mags - “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.”- rich folks in the making.)

For Patek Phillippe buyers, I suspect the names DiMaggio, Kennedy, and Patton do resonate. (Duke Ellington, too, in case you’re interested. Another household name of yore.)

The older you get, of course, the more backward looking you do. That’s because there are a lot more years in the rearview mirror than there are straight on through the windshield. Sigh.

The number of folks who actually remember George Patton, who died in 1945, is steadily and inexorably decreasing. Ditto for those who saw the great DiMaggio play ball. Or – gulp – remember exactly where they were when they got the news that JFK had been assassinated.

Anyway, I’m sure that the Patek Phillippe watch exhibition is quite interesting. There’s something for the old geezers – George Patton’s straight-out-of-West Point watch, a gift from his folks – and even some virtual reality immersion for the young folks. And then there’s this:

There’s even a moment of unintended contemporary relevance. Visitors should spare a moment to chuckle at the wall text describing Kennedy’s desk clock, given to him by the mayor of West Berlin. Its three dials display the time at the White House, at the Kremlin, and in Berlin “to signify the establishment of a direct communication line between Washington, D.C., and Moscow.”

Direct communications? How quaint. How throwback. (Do you think Donald Trump, Jr. owns a Patek Phillippe or, rather, is looking after it for the next generation?)

What do Gene Conley and Patek Phillippe watches have in common? Nothing really. Just that ol’ Gene, just like Joltin’ Joe, JFK, and Patton, are remembered first-hand by a diminishing number of folks.

Thus ends today’s meditation.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Vive La France! (Et merci beaucoup.)

Today is le quatorze juillet, France’s Fourth of July, the day when the French celebrate the turning point in the revolution that bloodily ousted their royals.

Now, there’s plenty of reason to poke fun at the French – the esteem in which they hold Jerry Lewis, that little fish mouth (bouche de poisson) way they speak – but, man homme, is there a lot to thank them for.

Like Paris, of which there is really nothing to say. Other than thank God, and thank the nation of France, that it exists.

I’d also like to give France a big old American merci beaucoup for:

The baguette. Crème brûlée. Salade niçoise. And even though I mostly drink prosecco these days when I want bubbly, champagne.

The striped fisherman’s jersey. The scarf worn just-so. And, yes, the beret.

Matisse. Seurat. Manet. Monet. Renoir. Lautrec. Gaugin. Cezanne. And a whole bunch of other painters.

I’m sure there are writers to thank, but I really haven’t read any/many French writers of late, so I’d just be putting on a snob air (something I’m quite capable of doing) if I gave thanks for Camus and Proust. (At least I’ve read Camus; have never been able to get my oar in the water of Proust, I’m afraid.)

And I stopped doing French films decades ago. So no filmmakers, no actors. (That said, I was quite a Truffaut fan there for a while.)

So let’s move on to singers, and give thanks for Edith Piaf. (The soundtrack of my childhood would contain a whistling version of Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose,” as whistled by my mother, under her breath.) And thanks for Johnny Hallyday, the Elvis of France. I don’t really know much about Johnny, but as a young woman hitchhiking around France with my friend Joyce, I spent a fun day on the Johnny Hallyday tour bus. Sadly, Johnny did not ride the bus with his band; he flew. (Band members just laughed when we asked why Johnny wasn’t with them.)

To keep up to date, Vive la francehow about a shout out to the French people for how well they’ve been able to Keep Calm and Carry On in the face of all those terrorist attacks.

Thank you, people of France, for your recent election in which you rejected nationalism, racism, and Trumpism by showing Marine Le Pen the door.

Thank you, Emmanuel Macron, for having a wife my age – a woman who’s old enough to be your mother. (Maybe this is a European thing. Many years ago, while in a fancy bar in Rome, I noted that there were several couples in their sixties, smooching it up in darkened booths. I mentioned to my husband that, when I turned sixty, I was coming back to Rome where, clearly, women of that age weren’t over the hill, romance-wise.)

And thank you, Emmanuel Macron, for that power handshake you gave our president. You showed him! (It would have been better form if you hadn’t gloated about it after, but I’m sure it was just way to hard to resist.)

Thanks for your stirring national anthem. Does anyone watch Casablanca and not find themselves moved when “La Marseillaise” drowns out the German soldaten singing “Die Wacht am Rhein”?

Anyway, wishing a Joyeux Quatorze Juillet to the French. And merci beaucoup for all the good stuff you’ve given the world. You’ve definitely made life more worth living.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Oh, that zany globalization

I’m sure by now we’re all pretty well-versed in the upside (e.g., cheap electronics) and downside (e.g., Maytag workers losing their jobs) of globalization. So it was somewhat refreshing to see a couple of articles in a recent Economist on globalization’s odd-side.

In one, I learned that Yemen is home to a number of (successful, despite all) Baskin-Robbins franchises. I doubt I’ll ever get to try one out. For one thing, who wants to go to Yemen? If ever there were a country that’s right up there on my Not-on-the-Bucket-List-List as a place I’ll never visit. It may not rank dead last as a destination of desire – that sweet spot is taken by Somalia – but it is most assuredly on the list.

And if I were to find myself in Yemen – as the victim of some weird kidnapping or as someone suffering a mental health crisis that prompted me to start seeking out danger zones – I’d have to be pretty hard up for an ice cream cone to swing by a Baskin-Robbins for a Rocky Road.

As an ice cream lover, I’m fortunate to live in an area where there are lots of good ice cream options. Who needs a bad one?

There used to be a B-R on Charles Street, just around the corner, but it’s long gone. I like to think that the collective Beacon Hill palate is too sophisticated for Baskin-Robbins, but I will note that the nearest B-R shops are in Lexington and Wellesley, two affluent suburbs that are the sort of towns that Beacon Hill-ites move to when they’ve had kids and had it with urban life. Anyway, I am decidedly not a Baskin-Robbins fan. It’s been decades since I sampled any, so maybe it’s improved, but my recall of it is that it had a gummy texture. Whenever I ate it, I was reminded that Elmer’s Glue All began life as an attempt to make a dairy product. Yuck.

For me, the ice cream nightmare is living in a place where the only ice cream store choices are Baskin-Robbins and Carvel.

Still, if you’re a Yemeni, I guess inferior ice cream is better than no ice cream. And with temperatures that can rise as high as 50 degrees Centigrade – that’s 122 degrees F to you, bub -  how globalization-y odd that there’d be Baskin-Robbins there.

Air strikes can interrupt business, sending Yemenis rushing home, but they have grown less common. Of eight outlets in the rebel-held north, only one has had to close, because it lies close to a military base. (Source: The Economist)

Things are a bit trickier, ice-cream-wise, in the also war-torn south. Still, one of the bombed out B-R franchises in Aden has been rebuilt.

“Business is business and fighting is fighting,” explains a Yemeni magnate.

Yes, and ice cream is ice cream. And, I grudgingly admit, that includes Baskin-Robbins.

As for less wholesome products that have found new manufacturing homes thanks to globalization, we now turn to Pakistan (a country that’s just a notch above Yemen on the Not-Bucket-List).

Pakistan, it seems, has been benefitting from the demand for sex paraphernalia:

Inside a small, gloomy factory in a provincial city in Pakistan, two young men huddle over a grinding wheel. They believe they are making surgical instruments. But like many of the small, local firms manufacturing steel and leather goods for export, their employer has a new sideline. The nine-inch steel tubes whose tips the men are diligently smoothing are, in fact, dildos. “It’s just another piece of metal for them,” says the firm’s owner, who picks one up to show how his worldlier customers—all of them abroad—can easily grip the gleaming device. (Source: The Economist)

There are 64 sex-toy manufacturers in this one provincial city, and indications are that the profit margins on kinky wares (sold through Alibaba, because Pakistan’s way too prude-y) are far in excess of what they can make on, say, a leather wallet.

The article lists a few of the other items that are made in Pakistan. Some I could figure out from the name. I mean, a padlockable penis cage – although I’m not quite sure how and why it’s used – can only mean one thing. But what’s a gimp mask? Gimp to me has one of two meanings: it’s either a totally non-PC word for someone who limps or has some type of physical handicap; or it’s the plastic “thread” (or “string” or whatever the right word is) that’s used to craft bracelets and lanyards. So, just what might a gimp mask be? A mask made out of brightly colored woven gimp? Huh? I guess I’m just so lacking in sexual imagination that I can’t think of what a gimp mask might be used for. All I can envision is a big old lanyard in blue and green. And as tempting as it would be to google the term, I really don’t want Alibaba ads for sex-toys popping up on my screen. Bad enough I have to view at least 50 cute tunic tops from Zulily every day – each and everyone cuter than the one I bought on Zulily a couple of weeks ago.

Yemeni Baskin-Robbins, Pakistani sex toys. Who knows what else is lurking out there among globalization’s odd by-products.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tom Brady: Author! Author!

Let’s get this part over with:

I know enough about football to state that, if Tom Brady – a.k.a. in these parts as “Our Tom” -  isn’t the GOAT (Great of All Time quarterback), I’d like to know who is. (And, no, Peyton Manning need not apply.) He’s also a tremendous leader on the field, beloved of his teammates, and, in the most recent Super Bowl, demonstrated off-the-charts mental toughness by engineering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Brady’s odd-ish (and odd-ishly tepid) support for Trump aside, he seems to be a pretty good guy. He’s involved with the requisite good works. He seems devoted to his extended family – not just the wife and kids, but his parents, and sisters and their kids as well. Plus he’s plenty good looking.

All this said, I’m not a colossal fan of the TB12-is-perfect order.

On the field, he may be a flipping genius, but I just can’t get into off the field Brady worship. His public personality is just too anodyne, his public pronouncements banal in the extreme. He may well be fascinating in person, but what us non-insiders get is pretty dull. He may just be a dull person, with few interests beyond football. He may just have nothing to say. But there’s always the possibility that the dull personality that he projects may well be deliberately projected on his part. The man owes “us” (the fans who pays his wages by supporting the Patriots) nothing beyond what he does when he’s got a football in his hand. If I were a celebrity-athlete, I might well want to keep my private persona private, too.

Anyway, Our Tom is about to become a best-selling author.

We are not, of course, talking Joyce Carol Oates or Colson Whitehead territory here. This ain’t literary fiction. (Not with that size of an advance!). And it’s not memoir, either. (Amy Schumer – who’s only 36 – scored a $9M advance for hers, by the way.)

No, Our Tom has secured a $5M+ deal from Simon & Schuster to write about something he knows about: “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.”

The publisher said that the 320-page book, that is scheduled to hit shelves in September, will be "a gorgeously illustrated and deeply practical 'athlete's bible' that reveals Brady's revolutionary approach to sustained peak performance for athletes of all kinds and of all ages." (Source: ESPN)

Well, if anyone knows something about sustained peak performance, it would have to be a fellow who’s about to turn 40 who’s still playing peak performance football. So I can see a lot of folks buying the book: wannabe athletes and TB12 fans are already lining up to pre-purchase on Amazon.

But who’s actually going to follow the advice? Because, however banal Brady tends to appear, he does have a pretty unorthodox approach to nutrition, which is presumably one of the best-seller-in-the-making’s prime topics.

I’m all for nutrition. And if I had Tom’s money, I’d pay for a personal chef, too. But are most folks gong to follow the Tom Brady way of eating? Here’s how it was described by Alan Campbell, his private chef, in a interview from last winter:

My philosophy is that a plant-based diet has the power to reverse and prevent disease.

How does that philosophy translate in terms of what you cook for Tom, Gisele, and the kids?

Campbell: So, 80 percent of what they eat is vegetables. [I buy] the freshest vegetables. If it’s not organic, I don’t use it. And whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, millet, beans. The other 20 percent is lean meats: grass-fed organic steak, duck every now and then, and chicken. As for fish, I mostly cook wild salmon.

So far, I’m pretty much with them.

It’s very different than a traditional American diet. But if you just eat sugar and carbs—which a lot of people do—your body is so acidic, and that causes disease. Tom recently outed Frosted Flakes and Coca-Cola on WEEI. I love that he did that. Sugar is the death of people.

Personally, I don’t like Frosted Flakes. And I wouldn’t advocate anyone “just” eating sugar and carbs. But, let’s face it, a diet without sugar and carbs is just not worth eating.

What ingredients don’t you use?

Campbell: No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. … I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt.

Raw olive oil? Is that like the olive oil I use? Or is it something better? And why wouldn’t you cook with it? As for Himalayan pink salt. Whatever.

[Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation.

One of summer’s great pleasures is standing there at the kitchen counter with a almost-just-picked tomato in one hand, and a shaker of iodized salt in the other, eating a tomato sprinkled with salt. And one of winter’s great pleasures is pasta with red sauce. Cautious about tomatoes? Sheesh…

What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy.

No coffee? What about an iced from Dunk’s? No fungus? You never get a hankering for mushrooms in butter? Oh, no dairy, so no butter. But no dairy means no ice cream. Hiss boo.

The kids eat fruit. Tom, not so much. He will eat bananas in a smoothie. But otherwise, he prefers not to eat fruits.

Here we really part company. Not much by way of fruits? Huh? Isn’t fruit what summer is all about? Right now, in my fridge, I have watermelon, cherries, and plums. I just ate the last peach. During football season, there are all those wonderful apples. And clementines. Who prefers not to eat fruits?

Brady’s diet obviously works for him, and in large part – other than the no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no nightshades, and no fruit parts – it sounds pretty good. But living as I do in the epicenter of Brady-related merchandise, I can pretty much guarantee that, while a lot of those guys I see out there sporting number 12 Patriots jerseys may well buy the book, ain’t many of them going to follow Our Tom’s diet.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

You mean to say that no one actually needs a Birkin Bag? Who knew?

Recently-fired British Vogue editor Lucinda Chambers and I have something in common. Shortly after her firing, Chambers did a tell-all interview with Vestoj (a fashion journal – whatever that is) and confessed that she hasn’t read Vogue in years. While we have that in common, I can top her: I haven’t “read” Vogue in decades – actually make that haven’t “read” Vogue ever – unless you count thumbing through a copy out of boredom at the hairdressers.

Mostly, I just plain don’t follow fashion. My motto? Never in style, never out of style. And, over the years, my motto has held me in pretty good stead.

But Chambers – 25 years as fashion editor for British Vogue – has made a living as a dedicated follower of fashion. Thus her post-firing interview with Vestoj hit those who actually do care about fashion with all the force of a broken stiletto on the runway, or a wardrobe malfunction at Super Bowl. And for some reason (boredom at near-hairdresser level), I clicked on a HuffPo article on the brouhaha.

Among the revelations that Chambers made is this wow-er: She ran a “crap” cover shoot of a model wearing “a stupid Michael Kors T-shirt” even though she knew it was crap, because Michael Kors is a big advertiser. Shocked, I’m shocked…

michael kors vogue Kate moss

That said, if someone can explain to me why one Vogue cover is “crap” and another isn’t, I’m all eyes and ears. (That’s the “crap” cover on the left.)

There was more, breathless more:

Chambers also opened up about what she said are the harmful effects of reading and working for a publication like British Vogue, which she said she hadn’t actually read in years.

“There are very few fashion magazines that make you feel empowered. Most leave you totally anxiety-ridden, for not having the right kind of dinner party, setting the table in the right kind of way or meeting the right kind of people,” Chamber said.

I’m plenty anxiety-ridden. How can one not be ridden with at least a soupçon of anxiety when we’ve got someone in the Oval Office who thinks it would be a grand idea to collaborate with the Russians on cybersecurity? But my guess is that even most of those who actually read Vogue aren’t turned into big old stress-balls over whether they set their table the right way. (Is the knife blade an innie or an outie???)

“Truth be told, I haven’t read Vogue in years,” she confessed. “Maybe I was too close to it after working there for so long, but I never felt I led a Vogue-y kind of life. The clothes are just irrelevant for most people – so ridiculously expensive.”

As I sit her in my LL Bean shorts and non-Michael Kors tee, partnered with a Red Sox fleece, I’m pretty sure that I would find most of what’s in Vogue irrelevant and ridiculously expensive. And probably ridiculous, to boot. But maybe it’s like when guys used to say they read Playboy for the articles. Only in reverse. Maybe women read Vogue for the pictures of ridiculous, irrelevant clothing.

She added that “in fashion we are always trying to make people buy something they don’t need. We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes. So we cajole, bully or encourage people into continue buying. I know glossy magazines are meant to be aspirational, but why not be both useful and aspirational? That’s the kind of fashion magazine I’d like to see.”

“We don’t need any more bags, shirts or shoes.” OMG. I am just full of shock and awe that Chambers would come right out and say something like this that none of us were aware of. No wonder the fashion industry is stunned. Who knew?

Here I’ve been saving my change so that someday I can afford a Birkin Bag – one of the cheap-o models that run around $12K; not the $200K crocodile ones – only to find out that fashion magazines have been bullying me into making wild-arse purchases like this. Man, I was thinking that a Birkin Bag was both “useful and aspirational”. How I’ve been played! Time to away to my fainting couch to cry me some big old crocodile tears…

Some praised Chambers for her honesty. Others went ballistic, with Vogue apparently pressuring Vestoj to take the online interview down. Which they did, at least temporarily succumbing to the same sort of pressure that got Chambers to do the “crap” Michael Kors cover.

“In terms of the reasons why it was removed, they are directly related to the industry pressures which Lucinda discusses in her interview,” Vestoj Editor-in-Chief Anja Aronowsky Cronberg told the Times. “As you know, fashion magazines are rarely independent because their existence depends on relationships with powerful institutions and individuals, whether it’s for tickets to shows, access in order to conduct interviews or advertising revenue.” 

Cronberg added, “We hope Lucinda’s republished interview will spark a discussion which might, in her words, lead to a more ‘empowering and useful’ fashion media.”

What really shocks me here is not the fairly tame nature of Chambers’ remarks. Nor the reaction – pro and con – to them. It’s this: Chambers made her living for 35 years in the fashion biz, with 25 years as a Vogue editor. She’s just now realizing that marketing creates fake needs and desires? That no one really wears extreme fashion? That no one really needs high fashion period?

I get that she’s been fired, and that she’s pissed and figuring that, at this stage in her career, it’s okay to light a match to a bridge. But if it was all that terrible, why’d Chambers stick with it for 35 years? That’s the question I find myself asking.


Here’s the link to the Vestoj interview, which I found neither empowering nor useful. Not very interesting, either.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Lunacy! Luna Pops and their wrongful Cookies and Cream come-on.

I’m an ice cream kind of gal. But since I don’t want to be consuming a pint of Talenti Pistachio, Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, or Barts any flavor on a regular (i.e., daily basis), I tend to keep less calorie-laden frozen confections around. Among my favorites are the Luna Pops – Raspberry Chocolate Chip, Sea Salt Caramel, and – my favorite – Cookies & Cream. Remember the ads in which some guy claimed he’d “walk a mile for a Camel” cigarette? Well, I’ve been known to walk more than a mile to the further-away Whole Foods when my local (half-mile away) store is out of Cookies & Cream.

The company recently brought out some new packaging. But it’s what’s in the new packaging for Cookies & Cream that’s got me calling them out.

Here’s the scoop (or, rather, frozen confection on a stick).

The delighter in the original version of the Cookies & Cream Luna Pop was that each pop contained an entire cookie. Pretty much as 20170709_125204pictured, here on the front of the box of their new and improved packaging. Now, I didn’t give a hoot that the “cream” was a no-taste whitish frozen slurp of some sort. What I liked about these treats was that whole cookie in there. What kind of cookie was it? I’m not sure whether it was an Oreo or a Faux-reo like a Hydrox Cookie. But it definitely made the eating event.

Anyway, I didn’t think twice when the new packaging showed up. After all, what was depicted on the box was exactly what I’d been so avidly munching on for the past year or so. But then I opened the box and ate one. 20170709_132833Well, ‘meh’ is too kind a description of what’s in the new and improved packaging. Forget an entire cookie. There aren’t even cookie pieces in there. Just some pulverized cookie crumbs about the size of no-see-ums.

After a disappointing experience with Box 1 of the new and improved packaging, I gave things another try. After all, the full cookie was still depicted on the box. Perhaps I had gotten a dud.

Hah, I say, hah, hah.

Box Two was more of the same: nary a whole cookie in sight or taste.

For whatever reason, Luna Pops has decided to take the cookie out of its Cookies & Cream product, while continuing to use a now deceptive picture on the packaging.

Why the change?

Maybe I was the only one who actually liked the Cookies & Cream Luna Pops.

Maybe it’s cheaper to make the version with pulverized cookie stuff – easier on the machines, lower cost as far as ingredients go.

Maybe a focus group tested them out and really, really, really liked them better than they did the original. (If this is the case, I’d like to verify that the focus group didn’t contain the person who came up with the new recipe, any members of their family, or members of the Luna Pop bean-counting staff.)

If there are any number of compelling reasons to change the Cookies & Cream recipe, there’s really NO EXCUSE for the misleading picture that they’re still using.

In fact, as of this writing (07.09.17), they’re on their web site claiming that the pop contains “a whole sandwich cookie, immersed in decadent cookies and cream.  Proof that it’s never Cookiestoo late to have a happy childhood.” Accompanied, of course, by a photo of a couple of these whole sandwich cookie studded pops nestled in a gaggle of whole sandwich cookies.

I don’t need a Luna Pop Cookies & Cream pop to give me a never-too-late happy childhood. Despite the fact that my mother never bought Oreos and, instead, got Hydrox (which sounds like the name of a hair-dye or a no-see-um bug spray), which were nowhere near as good as Oreos, my childhood was just fine, thanks.

But by continuing to depict a whole cookie experience when that’s not the case means that Luna really doesn’t give a Fig Newton about happy childhoods. What child – even an adult child – wants to go from seeing that entire cookie on the packaging to the ‘meh’ reality of the pulverized crumbs inside?

They’re either playing fast and loose with the truth, or they’ve completely lost control of Quality Control and are producing a substandard product.

So, deceptive marketing or lax standards? Which one is it?