Friday, July 13, 2018

Perfectly on brand, I’d say. (Be Besto!)

I was actually going to take today off.

Friday the 13th. Lovely mid-summer’s day. Better things to do with my time – like use my new electric toothbrush. (You don’t know just how long 2 minutes is until you power up one of these suckers, that’s for sure.)

And then this most excellent of stories appeared before my very wondering eyes:

There’s a Russian asbestos company that is using Trump’s image and his pro-asbestos words to market its product.

be bestos

Well, this would sure get me to buy a pallet of Russian asbestos. And you?

The company Uralasbest posted photos of the pallets adorned with a seal with Trump’s face in the center on its Facebook page in June.

“Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States,” the seal read, according to a translation supplied by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit focused on human health and the environment that flagged the posting. (Source: Wapo)

While it’s not as widely used as it was in the days when we were less aware/less concerned about products killing us, asbestos is not banned in the US. It has, however, been banned in plenty of other countries. Just not us. In fact, on his way out the door to pick up his used Trump mattress, former EPA chief Scott Pruitt put some policy in place that backs down on asbestos regs.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to get mesothelioma?

I know my friend MB was just delighted that it almost killed her twenty years ago, and that the treatment that enabled her to survive has caused all sorts of spin-off health problems. After all, when you decide to become a librarian, it’s just one big adventure, and part of her big adventure was apparently exposure to asbestos particles when her library was undergoing a reno.

Trump, not surprisingly, is something of a denier when it comes to the connection between health and asbestos. He blames “the mob” for anti-asbestos hysteria, claiming that they turned people against it so that they could make money removing it. This is actually a somewhat plausible scenario. Sounds like something the mob would do. But it doesn’t eliminate the fact that asbestos is a real health hazard. It’s okay as long as it doesn’t decay. But, hey, it decays, as anyone who ever saw a furnace wrapped in an asbestos blanket can tell you. (And by the way, I’m pretty sure that Trump got his scientific education at the same place Elena Ceaușescu got hers.)

The asbestos company focused on this supportive stance in a post accompanying the pictures.

“Donald is on our side!” the company posted in a caption for the photos, which also cited Pruitt.

Uralasbest’s asbestos is mined in a town poetically named Asbest which:

…was once known as “the dying city” because of elevated rates of lung cancer and other diseases, the center reported. A New York Times report from 2013 paints a grim picture of life in the mining town:

“Residents describe layers of it collecting on living room floors. Before they take in the laundry from backyard lines, they first shake out the asbestos. ‘When I work in the garden, I notice asbestos dust on my raspberries,’ said Tamara A. Biserova, a retiree. So much dust blows against her windows, she said, that ‘before I leave in the morning, I have to sweep it out.’ Asbest is one of the more extreme examples of the environmental costs of modern Russia’s deep reliance on mining.”

Doesn’t sound like a candidate for a Trump Hotel, but I did read that the Trumpire was coming up with a down-market chain offering.

Anyway, Trump’s bestie – asbestie? – Vladimir Putin is a big supporter of Uralasbest, so maybe old Vlad engineered the endorsement for his old pal. It’s all about the brand, and this one is so on-brand: Trump, Russia, and something toxic. Win, win, win.

I do hope that Trump is making some money off the use of his image. He’ll be annoyed if he’s not getting a chance to, as the old Mafiosi used to say, “wet his beak.”

And I do have a branding suggestion for Uralasbest. They should certainly consider a play on Melania’s campaign. Forget “Be Best”. How about “Be Besto”? It sure beats, “I really don’t care, do u?”

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Welcome to Boston, all you sheiks, oligarchs and Kardashian types

I saw today that Kylie Jenner, at 20, is the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. I had to google exactly what she does, but it’s sell makeup.

Anyway, if she ever finds her way to Boston – and I don’t suppose she will: too many thin-lipped old frumps like me here – there’s now a place that she can stay. The John Adams Presidential Suite at the Boston Harbor Hotel, which will run her $15K per night.

First off, I get that it’s the Presidential Suite, and that John Adams was the first president from Boston. But still… Defending the redcoats who killed our boys during the Boston Massacre? Sure, it was all kinds of ACLU-y, but still… And then there was the Alien and Sedition Act. The letters to and from his wife Abagail make up for a bit of it. But still…

That aside:

The suite, which made its debut this week, occupies two levels that were previously used as event space. The palatial 4,800-square-foot suite includes two bedrooms, a large, open concept living room/dining room/bar, a full kitchen, a multimedia room, and 2½ baths. You won’t find any mini bottles in the bar here. It’s filled with top-shelf brands, and the wine fridge is well stocked. If your spirit of choice is missing, the staff will find it for you. Don’t worry, there’s no extra charge for the liquor. If you feel like eating in, or having friends over for a dinner party, meals can be prepared by hotel staff in your kitchen. The dining table seats eight. (Source: Boston Globe)

There’s also a 1,000-square-foot patio – harbor view, natch – that’s almost as large as my condo.

There’s also a private elevator, because if you’re paying $15,000 a night for a hotel room you shouldn’t have to share an elevator with strangers.

In the event that you need more bedrooms, or that 4,800 square feet feels a bit cramped, you can add two bedrooms to the suite for an additional $1,000 a night. If you’re already spending $15,000 a night, what’s another $1,000?

Not sure who-all comes to Boston who’d spring for this sort of spend. The hotel is looking at those in the entertainment biz. I guess I can see George and Amal Clooney and the twins staying there, if they decided they wanted to see where Matt and Ben grew up. The hotel is also expecting that someone coming to town to take advantage of our hospitals might want to have a nice place for family to hang out for the duration, a nice place to recuperate after the procedure. Surely, a really well-to-do person – the kind who could afford to spend $15K a night to shelter in a place – wouldn’t want to stay at the Holiday Inn that’s practically right next door to Mass General.

I can’t share any pictures of the hotel. There are plenty in the article, but The Globe is being remarkably mean-spirited about sharing. Still, it’s safe to say that the decor is more Bostonian than Trumpian. There’s one sort of glitzy chandelier in one of the pics, but mostly it looks like a bit more pumped up version of Restoration Hardware. Even the framed Hermes scarf is something of a salute to fuddy-duddy old Boston, no?

Anyway, I for one am happy that Kylie Jenner, George and Amal, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or any number of oligarchs have a place to call home away from home when they’re in our previously humble little town. Not that the oligarchs will be coming here. I’m guessing Mar a Lago would be more to their liking.

Sigh…

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The men and women in the copper coats

In the Boston Public Garden, just across the street from where I live, there’s a monument to the first use of ether as an anesthesia in surgery. This triumph of medicine occurred in 1846, just down the street at Mass General Hospital. Here’s the painting commemorating this wonderful event.  You’ll notice that the men in white coats are all wearing, errrrr, black coats.

First-Operation-Under-Ether-painting

That’s because doctors didn’t start wearing white coats until the early 20th century when:

Doctors swapped their traditional black coats for white ones, similar to those worn by scientists in laboratories. This was meant to bolster a physician’s scientific credibility at a time when many practising healers were quacks, charlatans and frauds. As the importance of antiseptics became more widely understood, white was also thought to have the advantage of showing any soiling. (Source: The Economist)

My doctor wears a white coat over her civvies. But these days, if you’re seeing a doctor in a hospital setting, as often as not they’re in scrubs – even those who aren’t about to perform surgery. (Blue and green scrubs were introduced for surgery “to reduce eye strain in brightly-lit operating theatres.”) Hospital nurses, in my experience, are nearly 100% in some form of scrubs – and not just blue and green ones. I seem to recall a lot of purply-red ones and, at least for the women nurses, patterned tops. All worn with Dansko clogs, I believe. No more of those white starched dresses, the sensible white nursing shoes, the caps that indicated what nursing school someone had graduated from. (The caps for Mass General looked like little cupcakes.)

But white, black, blue, green, purply-red, or patterned, whatever the doctor’s wearing can be germ carriers. Which is why:

Many clinics and hospitals now have a “bare below the elbows” policy for staff, whether in uniform or their own clothes.

To prevent medical staff from being their own little germ vectors, Liu Xuqing of England’s University of Manchester, has come up with a way to make clothing that’s preventive medicine.

Some metals, such as gold and silver, have natural antibacterial properties and are used to coat certain solid items, such as medical implants. But putting metallic coatings onto stretchy and foldable fabrics is tricky, and those coatings can quickly be swept away in a washing machine. What is needed, reckons [Dr. Liu]… is a way to make antibacterial coatings for fabrics that, quite literally, hold tight.

And Dr. Liu has landed on copper, which like silver and gold, can kill germs dead before they spread, but is a lot cheaper.

Liu and his colleagues have come up with a process that “brushes” fabric and then treats it with a solution that contains copper. (The process is pretty interesting, and is worth a full read.)

The process works on both cotton and polyester – good thing: I’ve seen a lot of scrubs and I’m guessing that most contain poly… – and two of the bugs that it can kill are e coli and staph. Which is a good thing. So many people who are hospitalized end up with secondary infections they caught in the hospital, and that have nothing to do with what they were hospitalized for.

The tests show that the clothing makes it through 30 washings with its antibacterial magic intact. (By the way, it’s not just for the medical field. Food processing is another big bacteria producer, so this technology would be a good idea for chicken-pluckers et al.)

The good doctor is looking into other applications.

Dr Liu is considering other uses for his invention, as well. One of his thoughts is to make conductive threads that could form part of electrical circuits woven into clothing. Such circuits might, for instance, link sensors that monitor the body. They might even carry current and signals to other fibres, treated to change colour in response, to produce fabrics that vary in hue and pattern—maybe to reflect, as detected by sensors, the wearer’s mood. A doctor could then have a coat of many colours.

Hmmmm.  Don’t know how much I like the idea of wearing a full-length mood ring around all the time. Sure, nice if people could have an early warning, but there’s something invasion of the mood-snatchers about  it that me no like. Other than that…

There’s so much technology that is put to use innovating around things that are completely useless  or, worse, has a negative overall impact on users and society. (And, yes, social media, I’m looking at you, among others.) So I’m glad to see technology directed to a use that, first, does no harm.

If I’m ever hospitalized, I’d be delighted if the doctors and nurses come all decked out in copper.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Buyers beware!

I have a very close friend who had a long and quite successful career in retail. She spent many years as the buyer for designer ready-to-wear for N-M – a high-pressure, high-stakes, high-visibility job that she loved. She’s now retired, but she logged millions of miles jetting from one Fashion Week to the next -  Paris. Milan. NYC. She was on a first name basis with household-word designers and she remains a dedicated follower of fashion, even though she’s now out of the game, other than as a spectator..

So the other day, when I saw an article in the NY Times on Artificial Intelligence’s incursion into the fashion biz, Joyce was the first person I thought of. I sailed a link to the story off to her. A nano-second later, I got a response: “Love this!!!”

We didn’t get into detail on why she loved it. Does she think it will help buyers? Put them out of their misery? Does she wish that she’d had an AI assistant when she was in the throes of her buying “sprees”? Is she hearkening back to an early stage in her career, when she actually did design work for a sweater company?

One of the best-selling T-shirts for the Indian e-commerce site Myntra is an olive, blue and yellow colorblocked design. It was conceived not by a human but by a computer algorithm — or rather two algorithms.

The first algorithm generated random images that it tried to pass off as clothing. The second had to distinguish between those images and clothes in Myntra’s inventory. Through a long game of one-upmanship, the first algorithm got better at producing images that resembled clothing, and the second got better at determining whether they were like — but not identical to — actual products.

This back and forth, an example of artificial intelligence at work, created designs whose sales are now “growing at 100 percent,” said Ananth Narayanan, the company’s chief executive. “It’s working.”

The fashion industry illustrates how machines can intrude even on workers known more for their creativity than for cold empirical judgments. Among those directly affected will be the buyers and merchandise planners who decide which dresses, tops and pants should populate their stores’ inventory.(Source: NY Times)

The AI guys, of course, keep assuring us that AI will only partially automate jobs like clothing design and buying. It will augment the way human works, make them better at their jobs.

Maybe for a while, but as AI gets smarter and smarter – and there’s an underlying AI technology called Machine Learning that helps make AI smarter and smarter as it goes along – the human role will inevitably diminish further and maybe even disappear.

Again, the counterargument arises: we’ll need more human intermediaries between companies and consumers. AI may make  all the decisions about what’s going into your closet, but there’ll be a human being to check on whether you really do like that yellow, blue and olive color-blocked shirt, a human being devoted to keeping you brand-loyal and spending away.

The same day I spotted this Times article, I caught a headline somewhere that wasn’t quite click-baity enough for the mood or the moment, but it was something along the lines of when AI and robots take all those jobs away, there’ll always be the need for home healthcare attendants to see to aging Baby Boomers.

Trouble is, of course, two-fold.

One, these jobs don’t pay as well as the skilled blue-, pink-, and white-collar jobs they’ll replace. And two, what make anyone think that robots won’t be taking care of a ton of what healthcare attendants do.

I suppose I’ll see for myself one of these days. But if I don’t recognize the difference between a human wiping the drool off my chin and a robot, what difference will it make anyway?

Sigh.

Glad that I won’t live to see the full culmination of the brave new world.

Meanwhile, buyers beware. AI’s coming for you, and it’s coming fast.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Those oldies but goodies…

I’m still working. Part time. Very part time.

I keep saying that this is the year I’ll pack it in entirely, and I am winding down. But then someone offers me a small project, and off I go. This week, I’ll be doing some work for four different clients. Some weeks it’s more, some weeks fewer. And I’m guessing that this will be how it goes for another couple of years. I won’t look for work, but if it happens, it happens.

And why not?

Other than the typing, it’s not physical. It keeps my mind going. It keeps me engaged in the world I spent my career in. I enjoy the folks I work with. I make money. I enjoy doing good work – and I’m really good at the work I do. Sure, I wish it were something else I was so really good at, like writing novels, but, as a well-known novelist once said, so it goes…(That would be Kurt Vonnegut, still writing into his 80’s.)

But do I see myself still working at 85? Not unless I’ve made a transition to writing novels, thank you. Other than working as a volunteer at something or other, I don’t imagine working-working.

Breathing down 70 in the tech world is one thing. (And although I make not secret about how old I am, and some of my clients absolutely know my age, I have a hunch that some would be weirded out if they knew I was 68. In the tech marketing world, 40 is ancient enough.) 85? I should live so long…

There are,however, over a quarter of a million Americans, 85 and older, who are still part of the workforce.

That's 4.4 percent of Americans that age, up from 2.6 percent in 2006, before the recession. It’s the highest number on record.

They're doing all sorts of jobs — crossing guards, farmers and ranchers, even truckers... Indeed, there are between 1,000 and 3,000 U.S. truckers age 85 or older, based on 2016 Census Bureau figures. Their ranks have roughly doubled since the Great Recession.(Source: WaPo)

This is all due to a number of factors: people live longer, fewer people have a pension plan to count on, folks are better educated, the jobs they hold are less physically demanding. And so work goes on.

Some of the older members of the workforce are famous – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Warren Buffett, and – as we saw the other day at the Boston Pops Fourth of July concert – Rita Moreno. But most are just working away in more pedestrian jobs than member of SCOTUS, billionaire investor, and drop-dead gorgeous entertainer.

Crossing guards are relatively likely to be age 85 or above. The same goes for musicians, anyone who works in a funeral home and product demonstrators like those you might find at a warehouse club store.

But there aren’t a ton of jobs in these professions. You only need so many embalmers. The oldies but goodies, by the numbers, are farmers and ranchers, who don’t retire, but just die in the saddle of their John Deere, with their cowboy boots on. They’re CEOs and in legislative and public administrative posts. (Remember Strom Thurmond? He was nearly 100 when he packed it in as a US Senator.) Other jobs that age well: property managers, lawyers and judges, retail salespeople, bookkeepers and accountants, clergy members, and real estate agents.

On the other hand, the 85-plus brigade are underrepresented among miners, construction workers, and computer programmers.

No 85 year old miners? I’m guessing that there are very few 85 year old ex-miners, what with black lung and the inherent dangers of the job. So I wouldn’t expect there to be many/any guys still manning a pickaxe at age 85.

I’m thinking about the people I know who are still working at my age, plus or minus a year or two. R is an investor. M and H still run their restaurant business, but are transferring it over time to their son. P works in social service. T is a lawyer. So is J. My dentist is in his 70’s, but he’s only in the office part time, and his son is taking over the practice. I see one doctor who’s my age, but my primary is in her early 40’s. Other than dentistry, none of these professions are especially physical.

If I’m still around at 85, wonder what I’ll be up to.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? Bad statie, bad statie.

From time to time, Pink Slip has opined about business malfeasance. I’ve always been particularly intrigued by stories about those with their hands in the till. The construction company accountant who pilfered enough to pay for Burt Bacharach to perform at her brother’s wedding. The kids hockey league treasurer who bought a fancy SUV and a ton of Pandora jewelry. And we, of course, just learn about the ones who get caught. I’m guessing that because so many don’t get caught, those who do get caught thought they’d get away with it. So they cadge the first bit of money, and no one seemed to notice. On to the next.

That construction company bookkeeper? She managed to take home nearly $7 million before she got found out. That’s a ton of not noticing. No wonder she thought it was safe to hire Burt Bacharach.

The latest caught-in-the-cookie jar scandal isn’t about the direct theft of company funds. It’s about the indirect theft of taxpayer money at the hands of dozens of Massachusetts state police.

There are roughly 2,300 state troopers in Massachusetts – plus or minus – and these days, with all the early retirements, it’s mostly minus. In 2017, their average salary was a bit under $150K, and as many as 300 state police officers hauled in over $200K.

Those salaries are shockingly large. This may be a slightly apples/oranges comparison (mean vs. median), but as far as I can tell, the average statie salary was more than double that earned by Boston cops. And those statie salaries were jacked up by lucrative overtime gigs.

Not that Boston cops don’t get their own overtime opportunities. Worksites around here require police officers rather than guys holding flags. And those police officers are paid a boatload more than flagmen.

But the Massachusetts State Police are something else, entirely. Some of those guys hauling in the really big bucks? Turns out, a lot of them were collecting a ton of overtime, but they weren’t exactly working those hours they were being paid for.

The other day, three staties were arrested in their homes by none other than the FBI. Indictments are expected shortly for another 10 overtime thieves, with more anticipated. And yet another just pleaded guilty, accepting a prison term of only 12-18 months and agreeing to co-operate with the investigation that’s so far got dozens of staties under a major cloud. A number of those under the cloud are retiring, hoping that, if worse comes to worst, they can keep their lucrative pensions even if they’ve been caught doing the overtime cheat.

Among the tricks that these rogue cops had up their sleeves were submitting “ghost” tickets that made it seem that they’d been working. Technology was what helped nab these guys. Radio transmissions were checked that indicated that the cars that were used during the overtime shifts were parked, say, in the staties’ driveways doing nuthin’, rather than patrolling the Mass Pike saving lives.

(I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those who gets caught is someone who lived near my sister in her old neighborhood. We used to laugh about how often we’d all spot a state police patrol car parked in front of a building at the corner of the street. Maybe the trooper was just “working” overtime.)

I hope they throw the book at all of these aholes. Here you’ve gotten yourself a job that’s pretty well paid to begin with, and that comes with something that’s gone dodo bird in the public sector: a pension. And it’s a pension that you can collect after just 20 years on the job.

Yes, I recognize that there are stresses associated with being a police officer of any stripe: working irregular hours, dealing on occasion with highly charged and often dangerous situations, having to carry a gun… Still, not a bad job.

And then you go and blow it by stealing. Enjoy your time in the stir, boys. As for your pensions? You can get out of it what you put in, with interest, even. But, sorry, I don’t want any of you sitting around getting a monthly check for doing nothing. You’ve already been doing plenty of that.

I’m sure that there are some fine people who are Massachusetts State Police officers. But there are plenty of them who swagger around in their jackboots, intimidating citizens, swinging their weight around. My one and only close encounter with a statie tells me that there’s at least one. And from what I hear from friends on their one and only close encounters with staties tells me that there are lot more. (I know that they can be swaggering goons in their own right, but when it comes to local police officers, all of my experiences have been just fine. BPD were wonderful to me when, decades ago, my apartment was broken into. More recently, my cart – full of groceries – lost a wheel in the Stop & Shop parking lot, and the police officer on duty offered to drive me home. On the other hand, one did yell at me when I was jaywalking, getting on his speaker and bellowing, “Lady, don’t you do that again.” Admittedly, it was a more riskier jaywalk than my norm.)

Anyway, here’s my statie story:

A decade ago, I was in a minor accident with a delivery van. As luck would have it, it was while turning off a road – Storrow Drive – patrolled by staties. While making my turn, the van veered into my lane creaming the side of my car. Enter the statie.

He took one look at the situation, one look at my Beetle, one look at the poor schnook driving the delivery van, and, well, I might as well have been waving a flag that said Anti-police Lesbians for Hillary. I started to speak, and he told me to be quiet. And not politely. He asked the van driver what had happened.He gave his side of the story, and when I started to give mine, the cop started yelling at me, telling me that if I was lucky, the company that owned the van didn’t sue me. Huh?

I started to go into self-defense mode, verbal edition, and then I took my own look at the situation. A big, burly guy in his Sam Browne belt and jackboots, just looking for some excuse not just to berate me, but to concoct some BS excuse to arrest me for disrespect or whatever he was going to come up with. I had visions of him throwing me up against the side of my car and cuffing me.

I put my claimin the hands of my insurance company and found out that the cop hadn’t bothered to file a report. I did call his barracks and told them what had happened, and they told me that I had been in the right: it was okay to make a left turn from the lane I was in, not okay for the van to veer into my lane, and not okay for the cop not to have filed a report. But I ended up not pursuing anything. I didn’t return a call from my insurance company when they were going to battle for me. I just went and paid the deductible. Too small potatoes to get into a fight over. And the van driver seemed to be a nice enough fellow, and I really didn’t want him to lose his job over a minor accident. I should have raised more of a stink over that cop – he was really bad news – but I took the coward’s way out.

Wish I’d gotten his name. Sure wouldn’t mind finding out that he’s one of the overtime bad guys.

Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Thursday, July 05, 2018

There’s more to July than the Fourth…

Holiday-wise, yesterday was the big July kahuna. Which led me to wonder what we might be celebrating today. So I checked around to see what wacky old holidays are on the docket for July 5th.

You’ll be delighted to know that it’s National Bikini Day. Which led me to wonder when my last bikini-wearing day was. Was it Good Harbor Beach, with the blue-white-black geometric print? Something other? I know that by my early twenties I figured out that I had a pretty good little body and switched to two-piece bathing suits from the full body armor suits my mother favored. That was then, this is now. Even if I still had that pretty good little body, which I most decidedly do not, I don’t think that, at this age, I’d own a bikini. But since I probably put on a bathing suit once or twice a year, it really matters not. For those who’ve got it, however, I say flaunt it. Happy Bikini Day.

I find it peculiar that National Apple Turnover Day is also celebrated on July 5th, apple turnover being something I associate with autumn, not summer. Peach, blueberry, cherry turnover? They’d all be more apt than apple. Maybe it’s just me. After all, my annual apple turnover is purchased in late September/early October at the Brookfield “Happy Apple” Orchard. Come to think of it, they may call it an apple dumpling. But same-same: pie crust with apple pie filling in it. As I write this post, it’s in the upper 90’s. So I’m much looking forward to that apple turnover/dumpling, and to crunching into the first Mac of the season. (Macintosh: the King of Apples.) Happy National Apple Turnover Day.

It’s been a long while since I’ve had a graham cracker, but I’ll still raise a cup of milk to toast this cookie-ish cracker (cracker-ish cookie?), now that I know that it’s National Graham Cracker day. Graham CrackerGrowing up, there was always a red Nabisco box of graham crackers in the cupboard. They were fine plain, but my preferred way to eat a graham cracker was slathered with peanut butter and/or raspberry jam. Or consume them in the quick dessert my mother used to whip up when she didn’t have time to bake: Take a brownie pan. Layer of graham cracker/layer of chocolate pudding; layer of graham cracker/layer of chocolate pudding. And so on. Refrigerate. Like revenge, best served cold. Happy Graham Cracker Day.

For all those who worked yesterday, even when they weren’t obliged to, today’s the day to celebrate National Workaholics Day. Or it would be if workaholics actually took any time off. There were plenty of chunks during my career when I will admit that I was a periodic, quasi-workaholic. These were during my stints in really small, really dysfunctional companies, where I generally chose to convince myself that only I could save this really small, really dysfunctional company. (BTW, the large and mid-sized companies I worked for were equally dysfunctional. I just never felt it was on me to save them. Not that it would have worked out anyway. It sure didn’t for the small fry.) Anyway, I did go through periods when I worked every day for a stretch, sharing Saturday and Sunday hours with a handful of fellow quasi-workaholics. In the pre-cellphone days, I remember calling in from a payphone in the international terminal at Logan to check on something or other. And once laptops were invented, well, you didn’t even have to venture into work on Saturday or Sunday to get things done. But I didn’t do it all that often, and the older I got, the less often I did it. Still, I do know the feeling. Do I miss those days? Hell, no! Happy National Workaholics Day even though, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a workaholic. Just saying.

In case there’s a day you want to check out, head on over to checkiday.com.

If I’d been on the ball, I would have realized that July 3rd was National Disobedience Day and National Fried Clam Day. (Oddly, the picture illustrating Fried Clam Day is of steamers. At least it wasn’t the dreaded clam strip. Seriously, what’s the point of eating a clam without the belly?)

Months have designations, too. And July is the seldom-observed Cell Phone Courtesy Month. Plus, quite wonderfully, National Ice Cream Month, which I will be observing quite regularly throughout the month.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

For what it’s worth, here’s to a Glorious Fourth

I’m not a big, go-all-out celebrator, but I’ve always enjoyed the Fourth of July. I sing “Grand Old Flag” in the shower. I watch the Boston Pops on TV and the fireworks out my window. Or I go to the band concert in Salem and watch their fireworks. I read the Declaration of Independence. I think about what geniuses the Founding Fathers were.

But this year, I’m thinking that those same geniuses who gave us the good stuff also saddled us with the Electoral College. What the f were they thinking???

This year, it’s hard to get all that enthused.

I know way, way, way too much about the origins of fascism to look at what’s going on and try to convince myself that everything’s going to be okay. I’m mostly sure things will be. We’re resilient. We’re centrist. We compromise (or used to). But could it happen here? When the “man” in charge is hell bent on tearing down the institutions that have made things mostly work… Never say never.

Nonetheless, on this Fourth of July, I’m going with the words – a recent tweet – from the great Congressman John Lewis

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

Thank you, John Lewis, for what you have always been and who you always are.

I probably won’t be getting into any trouble or making much noise today.

Alongside my friend K – who immigrated with her family to the U.S. as a child - I’ll be working in the kitchen at St. Francis House, where it will be hot and noisy, and where I’ll be wearing my baseball cap with the American flag on it. (If you don’t wear a cap or headscarf, you have to wear a hairnet, which makes one look really crazy.) I believe that there’s something called fajita hot dogs on the menu. Don’t know quite what it is, but hot dog sounds Fourth of July-ish. Maybe I’ll stop at Roche Brothers and get a cupcake with red-white-and-blue on it. I’ll make some noise singing along with the patriotic Pops medley. And I’ll take in the noise of the fireworks, which are shot off a two-minute walk from here.

For what it’s worth, here’s to a Glorious Fourth.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I wasn’t always so pessimistic. Here’s my inaugural Fourth of July post from 2007. Even last year, things didn’t appear quite as dire as they do now.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Unreal estate

Allston-Brighton is a Boston neighborhood that’s a combo blue-collar, college student, and twenty-something enclave. It’s near Boston College and Boston University, and for years those BC and BU students have been driving up the price of renting a flat in a three-decker or in one of the interesting old apartment buildings there, forcing many of those blue-collar families out of their hood and into wherever. It’s my belief that, at one point of another, 90% of the folks who lived in Boston during their late teens or twenties lived in Allston-Brighton. I know I did, not in a cool old three-decker, but in some ugly boxful of shag-carpet flats that was thrown up in the 1960’s.  The one saving grace, other than price, was proximity to the T. It was mostly okay, because it was temporary. I lived there while working as a waitress to make the money to travel through Europe. Every other place I’ve lived in Boston (including while I was in college) had some old, funky factor. This was my one-and-only “modern” shag-carpet residence.

Of late, the area has been turning into the place to be. New Balance HQ is there. So are a lot of other businesses, including one of my clients. There’s a new train stop at “Boston Landing.” And both the Celtics and Bruins have opened fancy new practice facilities right at the train stop. And I won’t even get into Harvard University’s hoovering up property there, which has been going on for ages. (Harvard Business School is actually not in Cambridge, it’s in Allston-Brighton.)

Anyway, with all the new business-y and sporty stuff going up in Allston-Brighton, it’s become something on an “it” place to be.

And the price of housing, of course, reflects this.

Brighton House

If you guessed that this crumby and crumbling little green house – all 1,200 square feet of it, a quick walk from Boston Landing  – is on the market for $800K, well, you ought to go on The Price Is Right.

Photos of the home’s interior weren’t available on the listing. But the city described the space as being in “average” condition, noting that it has no air conditioning and a “semi-modern” kitchen. [Listing agent Jeff] Similien said he hasn’t been inside himself but noted, “It’s not in great condition.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Condition, smondition. That crumby and crumbling little green house has got “teardown” written all over it.

However, potential buyers likely wouldn’t move right into the home. The listing touts the property as “ideal for developers or contractors” to “tear down and rebuild new condos, town homes or three family home.” The property spans about 4,000 square feet and is zoned for a three-family home, according to the listing.

So the owner will likely get the $$$ he’s looking for.

Real estate sure is crazy around here, but at least it’s for real.

In Genesis City, a plot that was purchased for $13K went for $200K a short while later.

Genesis City, you may well be asking yourself. I sure was. But now I know that Genesis City is:

…a digital metropolis [investors are] hoping will eventually become a major hub for virtual-reality commerce. (Source: Bloomberg)

Virtual-reality commerce, you may well be asking yourself. Here’s an example. Ryan Kurtzman owns 58,000 square feet of virtual property in Genesis City:

Kunzmann, who does tech support for a property management website, says he intends to turn one of his larger stretches into a virtual museum or art gallery. “There’s a lot of great art out there that people don’t get to see,” he says. “Especially if you don’t live in a big city.”

Admittedly, this may not be the best example.

After all, you don’t have to live in Paris to google “Mona Lisa”, or Chicago to see an online version of “American Gothic.” So why would you want to buy virtual art, or pay admission to a museum that wasn’t, say, the Louvre or the Art Institute of Chicago? Maybe this is just me, who remains slack-jawed about so much of the digital universe (and that includes crypto-currency which this megilla is, of course, based on).

The early adopters haven’t built much on their plots yet, but they’ve already divvied up Genesis City into themed neighborhoods, including ones modeled on Las Vegas, cyberpunk fiction like Blade Runner, and—this being the internet—a red-light district. What’s there so far looks like a piecemeal mash-up of video game aesthetics and projects in need of developers. “Once virtual reality becomes a mass movement, and we’re heading in that direction, we’ll come to a critical mass of users that will need a platform to discover content,” says [Geneisis City co-creator Ari] Meilich. Besides VR headsets, visitors will be able to use web browsers to view the plots.

I for one am going to take a pass on the VR mass movement. I really don’t want to live in a Blade Runner world, virtual or real.

Give me that crumby, crumbling dump in “Boston Landing” any old time. I’m sure with a bit of elbow grease and a few trips to Home Depot, I can flip it into something worth well over a million. Or I can just hang on to it. You gotta live somewhere, and however advanced virtual reality technology becomes, you won’t be able to sit in it with your feet up, eating Girl Scout cookies and drinking tea, and wondering what in the world the world is coming to.

Monday, July 02, 2018

Separation Anxiety

A month or so ago, I was temporarily separated from my phone for less than 24 hours. When we were reunited, I made a joke about a mother and child reunion. Little did I know that a few weeks later, mothers would be separated from their real live children on our southern border.

I can only imagine what the parents are going through, and what those children are experiencing.

I do, however, remember acutely the couple of times I was, however briefly, “separated” from my parents.

Growing up, we frequently went swimming on nearby lakes, but once a year, my family went on a day-long adventure to the ocean beach. Although we later switched allegiance to the more modern (the facilities, not the beach) and generally better venue, Horseneck Beach in Westport, Massachusetts, when I was little, we went to Nantasket Beach in Hull.

While Horseneck was a somewhat nicer beach, Nantasket had a lot going for it, namely, an amusement park – Paragon Park – across the street, and a saltwater taffy stand LeHage’s Taffy: Oh, So Good. (Nantasket also had a covered pavilion, where my grandmother – who had terrible arthritis in her knees – could sit all day in one of her good dresses, her hat and fake pearl choker and watch the ocean. Nanny eventually gave up on the beach, freeing us up to try something new at Horseneck.)

I must have been 3 or 4, and was walking with my father on the sidewalk across from the beach. We were probably heading to the LeHage’s stand. Anyway, I decided to exercise my independence, so let go of his hand and forged ahead. After a minute or so, I turned around to make sure that my father was still behind me. Gulp! There were grownups there, but no one I knew. I went into high anxiety mode and started to run back up the sidewalk. I didn’t have to go very far, as my father was right behind the strangers. He took my hand and – wearing that big old grin of his - assured me that he’d had his eye on me the entire time. But I remember exactly how I felt when I turned around and couldn’t see him, and that was panicked.

Fast forward to my first day of kindergarten, when I was 4 and 3/4’s years old.

The parish school didn’t have kindergarten, so I wasn’t going to school with my sister, but to Gates Lane School, the public school that was pretty much right next door to Our Lady of the Angels. So while I was close to the school where my sister Kath went, I was not in the same building. I was pretty much on my own.

My mother and brother Tom (then 2 and 1/2) walked me down to school to drop me off, and were going to come back a few hours later to fetch me.

When my mother had brought me into Gates Lane School, we entered through the front door. But when the patrol line left the school, it was via a side door.

Oh, no!

How were my mother and Tom ever going to find me?

I backtracked up the stairs, pushing against the flow of kids who were getting bigger and bigger as I went up the line. My plan was to get back into the school, find the front door, and thus be reunited with my mother and Tom. Given my fine sense of direction, I’m pretty sure I would have gone MIA in the bowels of the ancient and cavernous Gates Lane School and the Worcester PD would have to have been called in.

Fortunately, I as rescued by Yvonne LaChapelle, a lovely neighbor who was in the eighth grade. She took me in hand and told me she’d stay with me until we found my mother and brother. Which we did.

But I remember how I felt, thinking that my mother would be waiting at the wrong door and we’d never find each other. And that was panicked.

So I can only imagine how those little kiddos felt when they were taken from their parents, grabbed by strangers, put in detention and/or shipped off to god knows where.

Last Saturday, my sister Trish and I participated in the Boston march in support of immigrants and, in particular, in support of family reunification.

It always feels good to stand up and be counted, although after the march landed on Boston Common and the speechifying began, we were sitting down in the shade to be counted – it was well in the 90’s. There were a couple of really stupid chants – “No borders, no nations” – that we couldn’t bring ourselves to go along with, but for the most part the message of support for immigrants was loud and clear, and ones we could get behind. (And for much of the march, we were near a young woman holding aloft a boom box playing songs like “This Land Is Your Land” (Pete Seeger version) and “Come On, People Now, Smile on Each Other.” So we got to do a sing along.)

Trish and I didn’t carry signs, but if we had, here’s what they would have said:

Immigration rallly

The immigration issue is admittedly complex, but what I do know is that we don’t have a crisis in which hordes of murderous millions are storming our gates. That’s pretty much a bit of fakery ginned up for political purposes. And what I do know is that separating children from their parents isn’t the answer to any question other than ‘how can we screw with brown people?’

Friday, June 29, 2018

Okay, if this isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve read in a long while

It’s a Friday. It’s summer. It’s a summer Friday. It’s the first Friday of summer. So Pink Slip was foraging around for a short and sweet little weekending/summer starting topic. Baseball. Beach balls. Traffic to The Cape. How I plan to spend my summer vacation. And then, this.

Samantha is a sex robot. In fact, it (she?) is the first AI-based, intelligent sex robot. It’s not clear how many Samanthas or other high-tech sex dolls have been sold. It (she?) costs $7K, which is a lot of money that an incel might rather be spending on tiki-torches. But I guess if you’re looking for something more, uh, responsive than an inflatable, unintelligent sex doll, you might want to invest.

Samantha is the invention of one Dr. Sergi Santos, and here’s probably more than you need or want to know about it (her?):

Samantha is a project centered on a robot that is capable of enjoying sex…Samantha likes to be playful and wants to be charmed. She gets sexually excited as you touch her body and by telling her the right thing at the right time. (Source: Synthea Amatus)

And it gets more explicit than that. Among other bits, she has multiple sex modes, including nice sex and not so nice sex.  Which is probably already way TMI.

Santos did his Dr. Frankenstein routine and came up with Samantha to begin with because he just couldn’t get no satisfaction, at least not to the extent that he wanted it. He’s got a wife, but she wasn’t always around when his fancy turned to his fancy. And, by the way, Santos believes the day will come when men will marry their Samantha. (If I were his wife, I’d take him up on this idea.)

But maybe he’s an excellent husband. And maybe she’s fine with sharing her metaphorical bed with a sex robot.  Whatever the case,  Santos does find himself occasionally listening to his actual, real-live, flesh and blood wife, At her urging, he has:

…designed a new artificial intelligence system that allows Samantha to interpret a person’s behavior and shut down if it feels like it’s being treated inappropriately.

The new update is called “dummy mode” (a weird and arguably offensive name choice) and can be activated in a number of situations. If a partner is disrespecting the bot or touching it in an aggressive manner, the motorized parts of Samantha—hands, arms, hips, facial expressions, etc.—will shut down and it will become unresponsive. It will also enter into dummy mode if it is feeling bored by its partner’s advances. (Source: Gizmodo)

Well, I suppose it would serve someone right if Samantha went into dummy mode. Still, there’s something so weird-on-weird about the whole thing.

One more reason to hope my ashes are in the wind by the time The Singularity – when AI, make that A-super-I – will surpass human intelligence, and go beyond where any man, woman, or sex robot has gone before.

With all the wonderful uses that geniuses can make of emerging technology, why – one must ask oneself – this?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

How in the Tony Manero did I ever miss this?

Just a few short days ago, I’d never even heard of Gianluca Mech. And then I came across an article on his Italiano Diet products, and scales fell from my very own eyes, even if no lbs have fallen from my actual scale. Of course, I haven’t started on the Italiano Diet quite yet. It’s a bit expensive and I’m a tiny bit dubious. But if Ivana Trump – that’s Ivana (no k) Trump – endorses a product, it must be well worthwhile.

But there’s more to Gianluca Mech than the Italiano Diet.

Why just last December, he threw a big disco-inferno level party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Saturday Night Fever.

Is it really possible that Saturday Night Fever came out 40 years (and change) ago? Whether you’re having fun or not, as long as your stayin’ alive, time most assuredly does manage to fly.

I don’t believe I’ve seen it since then, but I did enjoy Saturday Night Fever when it came out, one of a flurry of dance-related movies that appeared on the scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Flashdance, White Nights, and my personal favorite, Dirty Dancing. (Give me Patrick Swayze – dead or alive – over John Travolta any old day.)

Maybe there are always dance-themed movies – the 1930’s Fred and Ginger and all those Golddiggers, the 1950’s had Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris, but that period in the 1970’s and 1980’s seemed especially full of them.

Anyway, Saturday Night Fever was a big deal, as was disco at the time.

I was not a particular fan and never stepped toe inside of a disco. I did enjoy some of the music (including the BeeGees and Donna Summer). I did have a couple of Huckapoo shirts. And I did know how to do The Hustle. Other than that…

But Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was prime disco territory, and that was the setting for Saturday Night Fever. The disco scenes were filmed at the 2001 Odyssey, which is now a Chinese restaurant – a sign not only of the demise of disco as an arts and entertainment category, but of a shift in the neighborhood from predominantly Italian-Irish-German to heavily Chinese.

The Bamboo Garden, site of the old 2001 Odyssey (in itself a marvelously dated name) got a one-night makeover for Gianluca Mech’s party. A $200K makeover. Which seems like a lot of money to spend on a party. But he had his reasons. HSNFe wanted:

…to honor a movie that he said changed his life after he sneaked in to see it with his sister in Italy when he was 8 years old.

“When I feel a little tired, when I feel I cannot have success with what I want to do, I watch this film once more and I feel strong again,” said Mr. Mech, who sported a custom-made Dolce & Gabbana designed version of the white three-piece suit made famous in the movie by Mr. Travolta. (Source: NY Times)

I really do love that Gianluca Mech can pinpoint something – a movie, yet – that changed his life. When I was that age, I was watching Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Which in no way changed my life, other than the fact that, on occasion, the ditty “My Pretty Irish Girl” as sung by Sean Connery, appearing in what I suspect was his one and only Disney film, inserts itself into my brain as the daily earworm.

By the way, Gianluca’s Tony-inspired suit cost $5K. But if you’ve got $200K to drop on disco balls and other accoutrements, well, what’s another $5K. I suspect that Tony Manero’s three-piecer didn’t cost any $5K back in the day, but everything’s gotten more expensive.

…the house on 79th Street that served as Manero’s home in the movie is now on the market for $2.5 million.

I’m a betting that $2.5 is an increase of several orders of magnitude.

Gianluca Mech was joined in his party by a bunch of locals from the old days, including folks who appeared as extras in the dance scenes, and for whom the disco era was one of life’s highlights. The party was a prime way for them to call back up the good times (i.e., when they were in their twenties). And when:

“It was all about dancing for us and getting a new outfit every week.”

I don’t know how in Tony Manero I missed this story last December when it came out. Must have been too busy putting up my Christmas tree or something. And my awareness of Gianluca Mech was nonexistent, so I wouldn’t have necessarily been following his where- and what-abouts. But now that I know there’s more to him than the Italiano Diet, the endorsement of Ivana Trump, and his family’s herbal supplement business, well, I’ll be on the lookout.

At least for as long as I’m ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive

 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Beware of bogus rentals on Craigslist

Last Saturday, I had lunch in Boston with some friends from Houston who were passing through on their annual trek to Provincetown. It’s the one and only time I get to see them, which I do either here or in P’Town. Their usual rental on Bradford Street – a quirky and charming flat in a rambling wooden house that reminded me of Mrs. Madrigal’s apartment building in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City – has been sold, so they’re in new digs this year. They found it on Home Away and, once they settled in, reported that it’s quite nice.

Fortunately, they hadn’t tried to rent through Craigslist, or they might have found themselves dragging their roller bags down Commercial Street on a foggy, drizzly Cape night.

The Cape, it seems, is the frequent target of scams in which folks pay for a summer rental, only to show up and find out the place doesn’t exist or is already occupied.

The rental problems with Craigslist was the subject of a recent consumer issues column in The Boston Globe. The article focused on a couple in Provincetown. Owners of a two family home with a permanent tenant occupying the second apartment, Jonathan Scott and Mike McGuill have a permanent note attached to their front door:

It is addressed to “Craigslist Renters.

“You have been scammed,” the note says, the words underlined twice for emphasis. “You have lost all your money. This home is not for rent.”

The note advises those who have been duped to go immediately to the police to report the fraud.“We are sorry,” the note concludes. “But Craigslist is at fault.” (Source: Boston Globe)

They haven’t had any scammed vacationers show up this season. Yet. But they have had people stop by who wanted to check the rental they had seen current ads on Craigslist for. So they’re anticipating that, at some point or another, some would-be renters will spill out of a car, or walk over from the ferry, looking for their keys.

The ad that have suckered the poor scammees in was for a luxury 2BR apartment, and the come-on is the pictures showing off polished wood floors, a modern kitchen, and all that Cape light. The same pictures that were used on a real-estate site when the house was for sale a few years back.

Scott and McGuill have tried to get Craigslist to take the ads down, flagging them as fraudulent whenever they spot one.

“There are scammers everywhere and they are to be condemned,” said Jonathan Scott…“But what Craigslist is doing is aiding and abetting them openly, blatantly, and with impunity. That’s the real problem.”

Yes, scammers are everywhere. And lot of them do seem to have found their way to Craigslist. Of course, getting scammed out of a rental deposit you wired to god-knows-who/god-knows-where isn’t as bad as being murdered. Over a hundred murders are tied to folks answering an ad or having a murderer answer their ad on the site.

Me? I’ve never used Craigslist. And once I watched the made-for-TV movie about Philip Markoff, The Craigslist Killer, I’m pretty sure I never will. For those who’ve forgotten, Markoff was a married medical student who murdered three women advertising massage/escort services on the site. He hanged himself in the jail just down the street from where I live. (Not that I would be placing ads for massage services, but the Markoff story was really creepy and definitely put me off of Craigslist before I ever got on.)

Anyway, for potential renters, an excellent tip is to never wire money to god-knows-who/god-knows-where. If there’s a scam on, well kiss that dough goodbye.

Scott and McGuill have made numerous attempts to get Craigslist to remove the fraudulent ads.

They have never received a word in response from Craigslist.

“Trying to contact a live person or customer service at Craigslist is absolutely impossible,” said Scott. “It’s the black hole on the Internet.”

Sean Murphy, the Globe consumer ombudsman, didn’t have any better luck with his multiple attempts to contact Craigslist.

Craigslist keeps its cost low by operating a bare bones website that looks like it has never been updated, and keeping staff to a minimum.

Craigslist is a $700M company with 50 employees. That’s pretty hefty revenue per capita. And they’re not spending much of anything on their site. I just took a peek, and the interface looks like something out of the pioneer days of the Internet. So precious little of their revenue goes there. Which means they should be able to afford to do something about all those scammers and psychos using their site. But, hey, if you can get away with doing nothing, why not?

So, if you’re looking to getaway, beware of bogus rentals on Craigslist. You may end up out your deposit – and holding your bag on someone’s front porch, reading a sign that reads “You have been scammed.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Obvious Info 101

If only I’d known that it’s a dumb idea to eat spaghetti at a business dinner.  If only it had dawned on me that spaghetti is something that’s nearly impossible to ingest without at least one slurping, reverse-whistle of a long strand – a slurping reverse-whistle of a long strand that is likely covered with red sauce, and is likely to spray teenie-tiny dots of red sauce over a pretty wide arc, depending on the velocity of the slurp. If only I’d known that the spray could reach your boss. Or a client.

You’d think I might have figured all this out. After all, I’m one of those rarest of the rare spaghetti eaters who never quite mastered the technique of twirling spaghetti onto a spoon.

If only I’d known.

If only I’d known that you’re supposed to look someone in the eye when you meet them. If only I’d known that you shouldn’t be checking for text messages or playing Candy Crush during a business lunch – unless it’s a designated working lunch, and then the message checking is okay (but not the Candy Crush).

If only a course like the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program with Beaumont Etiquette had been available when I was starting out my career, who knows how far I might have gone.

Sigh, oh sigh.

But for the fortunate millennials who signed up and forked over – correct fork, by the way – $125 for the course at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Hotel, well the world is their oyster, now that they know how to eat an oyster. (I actually don’t know whether oyster-eating is covered. But here’s my bit of advice: don’t order raw oysters unless Mr./Ms. Big wants them, then follow their lead on whether to slurp or oyster fork it.)

According to the course instructor and program founder Myka Meier,

…displaying good manners in business settings and elsewhere isn’t about stuffiness or keeping up appearances. “We’re in a time where the world needs more kindness,” she said. “That’s really what etiquette is about, spreading kindness and respect.” (Source: Boston Globe)

Well, yes and no. Maybe because I was raised in a home where we used the same fork for salad and dinner, and where the one cardinal etiquette rule was you couldn’t plunk a gallon milk jug down on the table, I don’t see how knowing which fork to use or how to butter a roll has much of anything to do with “spreading kindness and respect.”

But Meier’s got a loftier pedigree – “she trained under a former member of the royal household.”

The recent course in Boston covered more than on utensil usage. It included:

…training on social cues,…business strategies for networking and client hosting, including how to select wine for the table, and tricks for remembering names. Exhibiting authority and confidence in a business setting, she said, is all about body language and tone of voice.

Well, that last point seems as if it would owe as much to Margaret Thatcher as to the Queen Mum, but the royals I suppose are always a good place to start.

Meier also provides MeToo tips like:

…in 2018, it’s inappropriate to compliment a colleague’s body or appearance. “While it’s acceptable to say ‘I love your dress,’” she noted, saying “you look great in that dress,” is not.

Which reminds me of the most PC moment I’ve ever had in my life.

I was at a fundraiser for a school in Ethiopia and the food served was, not surprisingly, Ethiopian. The woman I was speaking with said, “This food is terrific.” I was nodding in agreement while swallowing a bite of terrific Ethiopian food when the woman did a bit of a recoil. “Oh, I beg your pardon. I’m awfully sorry. I should have said ‘I like this food,’ not that ‘it’s terrific.’” It took me a moment to realize that she was apologizing for making a value judgment rather than making a statement of fact.

So, over-PC can be over PC. But I do see why you might not want to say “You look great.” That said, I don’t mind people saying it to me. And there’s a big difference between someone saying “you look great in that dress” and someone leering “your boobs look outstanding in that dress.” But these days, I guess it’s best to avoid anything that could possibly come off as untoward.

Still, it seems to me that what cost $125 at an etiquette course could be had for a few bucks on Amazon – or for free from The Google.

The terrain covered sounds to me like Obvious Info 101.

But who am I to deny someone the opportunity to find their best self via an etiquette course. After all, I am a graduate – certificate and all – of the etiquette course my high school forced us into, way back in the day. I’m sure the woman who ran it didn’t cover not eating spaghetti at a business lunch. Who among us could conceive of the circumstance under which a woman would attend a business lunch?

The two takeaways I remember from NDA’s etiquette course are how to gracefully get out of a car seat when you’re wearing a skirt – swing your legs out first – and that no girl or woman should ever open a car door for herself if there’s a male around. One of the dating tips to ensure this was that, if the boy hadn’t figured out he was supposed to open the door for you, you were to rap your hand lightly against the side of the car and tell the boy that your hand was injured and you needed his help.

I suspect that etiquette has come a long way since then, but, you know, sometimes etiquette is not about kindness and respect. Sometimes it’s about things that don’t matter – like which fork to use – and sometimes it’s so obvious that you really don’t need a course to teach you about it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

I vana talk about the Italiano diet

Been wondering why we haven’t heard all that much from Ivana Trump?

Me neither.

Too busy obsessing about the rest of her family (kids and ex) to spend any fret time wondering what Ivana had been up to, given that she’s long finished playing Eloise (or Zsa Zsa Gabor) at the Plaza Hotel.

And then, out of the clear blue, doesn’t she pop up promoting the Italiano diet, which lets you eat pasta (special pasta) and cookies (special cookies) and still lose weight. I knew it had to be special pasta and special cookies, because I know up close and personal that eating non-special pasta and non-special cookies doesn’t help me lose weight. italiano-diet-mech-and-trump-min-2_thumb[1]

Anyway, the Italiano diet was cooked up by one Gainluca Mech – that’s him with Ivana – the scion of an Italian family that made it big in herbal extracts, and who’s infusing his diet products with herbal extracts.

Ivana,

…who once appeared in commercials for Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, said she agreed to talk up the Italiano Diet because “obesity is like a calamity in America,” although she said that she herself did not need to shed pounds. (Source: NY Times)

Obesity may well be an American calamity, but as anyone who’s watched an episode or two of the reality-TV show My 600 Lb. Life can attest, the demographic that struggles with morbid obesity probably can’t afford “$20 cookies dipped in dark chocolate, $24 crunchy bars with strawberries and raspberries and, for $14, fusilli pasta.” 

Gianluca Mech test kitchened his products in a restaurant in Italy, where they swapped out real menu items for Mechs. Ivana was one of the diners that found herself eating diet food when she thought she was supping on the real deal. She found the food “very tasty,” and Mech sent some back to NYC for her. (I can’t believe it’s not butter.)

And now she’s there, swanning around the Plaza Hotel – formerly her Plaza Hotel – talking up the Italiano diet brand.

Not that I’m going to be buying anything on the diet – not the fake Nutella (on sale for $4.90), not the 45 Day Luxury Kit for Women – good for a 45 day weight loss of 15-20 pounds (currently marked down from from $1,073 to $749). I don’t like Nutella to begin with . And that seems like a lot of dough to pay for 45 days worth of diet. But you do get to she those unwanted lbs…Only $37.50 or $50 a pound, depending how successful you are.

Anyway, I went over to the Italiano diet site to check out some of the products on offer.

There’s the Instant Herbs Flavored Omelet Mix that sets you up with four omelets while setting you back $20. Here’s what it contains.

Powdered egg white and yolk (50%), milk protein (emulsifiers: soy lecithin), Tisanoreica® Activator (acacia fiber gum, papaya dried extract fruit, pineapple dried extract juice fruit, mallow dried extract flowers, star anise dried extract fruit, fennel dried extract fruit, artichoke dried extract leaves, dandelion dried extract leaves, lespedeza dried extract aerial parts, griffonia dried extract seeds, frangula dried extract bark), salt, herbs (chives, tarragon, chervil) (1,3%), spices (curcuma, pepper), anti-caking agent: magnesium carbonate anti-caking agents: magnesium carbonate, parsley, encapsulated freeze-dried melon juice (maltodextrins, lyophilized melon juice, glazing agent: shellac).

Lespedeza dried extract aerial pats? Griffonia dried extract seeds? Frangula dried extract bark? Leaping lizards! And shellac? Huh?

The magic’s in all these extracts, but I’m guessing that having a shellacked omelet on your plate might take some appetite and calories away.

Mushroom flavored soup mix (four packets for $14) has a similar line up of extracts. Plus 2% champignon de Paris – that would be 2% mushroom. And, of course, shellac is there as the “glazing agent.”

Since when does soup need glazing?

As for that $14 fusilli, here’s what’s so great about it:

Food with digestive and cleansing plants, helps fight cravings. Proven by science (This statement has been not evaluated by FDA.)

Proven by science? Who really needs science. I mean, it is Ivana plumping for it, not some nobody. And she’s probably as honest as the next Trump. But rather than take their word for it, I think I’ll wait until the statement is evaluated by the FDA.

Meanwhile, I’m off to rustle up a non-shellacked omelet.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Get on the bus, Gus

A few weeks back, there was a provocative headline in The Economist. It read “Can coach companies lure business people on board?”

I’m going to stick my neck out there and say, ah, no. That is, unless the only other ways to get from Point A to Point B is on the back of a hyena or via Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. And I even take that partially back. I’d prefer a wild ride on Mr. Toad’s fliver.

I really and truly don’t like bus travel.

Even local buses I find irritating.

Let alone longer hauls.

Give me planes, boats, trains, and Uber, any old day.

I am, however, no stranger to inter-city bus travel.

I went to college in Boston and took many a bus ride back and forth to/from Worcester. And hated every moment. The bus station in Park Square, right next to the Hillbilly Ranch, was completely seedy and depressing. The longer haul Greyhound Station a few blocks away wasn’t much better. Just bigger.

While in college, I went on my longest bus ride ever: from Boston to Washington DC and back, on a yellow school bus with no padding on the seats and no bathroom on board, to protest the Vietnam War. It was stuffy, overheated and uncomfortable, and on the way back the folks seated near me were passing around Southern Comfort. So I spent that trip feeling nauseated by the smell of it. All that said, while I wouldn’t exactly say the trip was fun, it was purposeful and rewarding. And I got to see my only Beatle performance: John Lennon leading the crowd of half-a-million or so in “Give Peace a Chance.”

I spent a year in grad school in NYC and the only way to get there from Worcester, other than when my cousin who lived in Manhattan was driving home, was the bus. I didn’t come home all that often, but it was generally via bus.

My worst bus trip from NY to Worcester was when I came home on Thanksgiving Eve. (Where was my cousin when I really needed him?) I got on the bus at the GW Bridge, as that was a smidge closer to Columbia than was Port Authority, and immediately fell asleep. When I woke up several hours later, we were just nearing Yankee Stadium – a distance of a couple of miles. All in all, that trip – which should have been 3-4 hours ended up taking 8 hours.

Oh, and I think that by the time we got to Worcester, there was a blizzard on.

On another trip from NYC to Worcester, I paid a couple of bucks extra for the new luxury “business class” service the bus line was trying out. There was a stewardess on board and she served ghastly little egg salad sandwiches on white bread. I don’t believe the service lasted beyond the trial runs. (Egg salad! Come on!)

For most of my adult, Boston-living life, I’ve been carless, so over the years, I took plenty of bus trips to Worcester to see my mother. These days, there’s a commuter train, but Worcester used to be farther from Worcester, commuter-wise, and there wasn’t one then. The bus ride was a bit under an hour, but there was always something depressing and downside about being on a bus.

I’d also on occasion take the bus to visit my friend Marie in Providence, but as soon as there were more frequent trains, I switched transportation modes.

I’ve taken limo coaches to NYC a couple of times, and they were comfortable enough, but they weren’t that much cheaper than the train, so there was really no point.

And I do take the bus when I visit my cousin on The Cape. (When I visit my sister, who lives on the other end of The Cape, I get to take the bus to P’town, which is a far finer experience.)

Bus? Blech!

And other than on the Limoliner, I don’t recall ever seeing a business traveler on one.

But in Germany, Flixbus coaches actually do carry business folks. I.e., people in suits, a type I am well familiar with by having spent a few career years making regular, often weekly, runs between Boston and NYC on the Eastern Shuttle, The Big Apple, Delta, People’s Express, PanAm and – I do believe – even the Trump Shuttle.

Flixbus’s raison d'être is to expand the market through lower fares and attracting new demographics to try long-distance coach travel…The firm has already had great success at doing this: since Flixbus launched its first route in 2013, it has grabbed 90% of the market in Germany, and [launched] in America on May 15th.

So far, they’re only operating out West – California, Arizona, Nevada.

I did once drive from Las Vegas – I was there for a business conference – to Flagstaff to visit my brother, and if I ever had to make that trip again (which I most assuredly will not, as Tom no longer lives in Flag and I no longer attend business conferences in Las Vegas), I would consider taking a bus.

The drive is just so monotonous, and there are plenty of sections where on long swaths of the road there’s nothing but cactus, sand, mesquite, barbed wire, the odd ranch house, the odder gas station, and the oddest cattle skull.

When I took this solo trip, cell phone coverage was spotty out West, and there were a number of times when I was feeling pretty isolated and alone. Which, of course, I was. Not to mention a tad bit scared that some old Cactus Pete with a shotgun was going to leap out from behind a saguaro and plug my tires.

It didn’t help that the sun was broiling, the car was black, and the AC punked out right after I crossed the Hoover Dam.

So, much as I despise bus service, I would consider taking Flixbus from Las Vegas to Flagstaff, should the need arise.

Flixbus is counting on their trips being “cheaper than flying and faster than by rail”. There’s a similar startup in Britain that “hopes to lure business people on his routes, using luxury buses with tables and Wi-Fi for working that are used by Premier League football teams during the week.” (Smile on my face thinking about NFL teams on a bus trip any further than from the stadium to the airport.)

But coaches still have a long way to go before they become a mainstream form of travel for business people in a hurry and for one big reason: road congestion.

Yep, you’re leaving the driving to someone else, but you’re still sitting in traffic. Not to mention that you’re on the bus, Gus.

I’m holding out for Elon Musk’s Boring Co. to bore some of them there hyperloop tunnels from here to there.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

PABNABbed

I spent all of my career in the technology sector, and a good slug of it in technology for financial services, so I am no stranger to rampant sexism in the workplace. Or in the tradeshow place.

One company I worked for ran a print ad that showed the rearview of a leggy blonde in a miniskirt. She was standing at the entrance to an office, her legs spread in a wide V, and within that wide V you could see the leering faces of Wall Street types pretending to man their terminals. I’ve forgotten what the ad was for, but I wish I’d kept a copy as a reminder of the good old days.

Then there was the meeting of the strategy team for financial services at one of the late, unlamented companies I worked for. I was the lone woman on the team, and boys being boys, one could not resist saying that our strategy was so brilliant that “fin serv would be lying there, legs outstretched” – that V again – “eagerly waiting for us to penetrate.” Ho, ho.

At one industry trade show I went on yet another company’s behalf – an expo run by some security industry association (perhaps even the Security Industry Association) – there were models in micro-mini French maid outfits, complete with fishnet stockings and spike heels, walking the floor giving out packets of Twinings Tea for British Telecom. At least I wasn’t at that conference to talk about AutoBJ (Automated Box Jenkins forecasting), a product that I was gloriously the product manager for. (Believe me, I’ve heard every AutoBJ joke there is out there.)

Plenty of trade shows I attended had plenty of companies which staffed their booths with eye-candy spokes-models who knew nothing about the company or products they were representing. The goal was to lure the guys into the booth, and then have someone with half a clue talk to them. At one such show, I actually needed to get some product information from a company. I scoped out the booth and noticed that, among the beauty queens in skimpy black cocktail dresses and high heels, there was a perfectly average nice looking woman in a sensible black dress and sensible shoes. I walked right by the booth babes  - not that they wanted to talk to me, either – and spoke with Ms. Sensible Shoes who was, in fact, a product manager who knew her stuff.

But this was all decades ago. Should not the world have smartened up a bit? Should we not be a bit beyond the most overt and idiotic use of women for come-ons and worse in a professional setting? (In which the profession is something other than providing sexualized entertainment; I’m all for Beyonce.)

The answer, sadly, is no. At least for attendees at the recent BIO International Convention, held in Boston in early June, the greatest show on earth for biotech innovators.

The convention itself wasn’t the problem. It was an after-show-hours party known as PABNAB, the Party At BIO Not Associated with BIO, and event with “a reputation for bringing over-the-top themes and festivities to an industry networking event.”

Attendee Kate Strayer-Benton was expecting edgy, but ended up:

…shocked and frustrated by what she saw: At least two topless women dancing on mini-stages, their bodies painted with logos of several of the companies that had sponsored the party.

In a photo that Strayer-Benton took at the event and shared with STAT, a dancer wears only a crown of flowers, a pair of boots, and bottoms resembling a bikini; her body is painted with the logo of the investment firm Alpha Blue Ocean on her abdomen and the biotech company Selexis on her right thigh.

“It felt like a line had so obviously been crossed,” said Strayer-Benton, director of strategy at Momenta Pharmaceuticals. “Objectifying women — in this case, even physically branding them with sponsorship of companies in our industry — it just felt so wrong.” (Source: STAT News)

Strayer-Benton wasn’t the only one disturbed by this spectacle. The chairman of the group that runs the conference:

…told STAT he was “horrified” to learn of the party. He said BIO is warning member companies that sponsored this year’s PABNAB that if they sponsor the event again in the future, they’ll be kicked out of the trade group.

This might be a bit of an overreaction, as it doesn’t give PABNAB the chance to agree to rein things in a bit next time around. But PABNAB does sound like a piece of work. Several sponsors of this year’s event claim they had no idea how their logos would be used. They thought it would be on drink glasses and bracelets – not on the bellies and thighs of near-naked women.

PABNAB has long been edgy/artsy, but, I take it, more along the lines of Cirque du Soleil style acrobats. They did get in PETA-esque trouble a few years ago for having attendees party with a camel.

The theme of this year’s party was supposed to be the Day of the Dead.

PABNAB

Even though June is not Day of the Dead territory – that would be November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day – this them could certainly have been plenty edgy and artsy without resorting to logos painted on bellies and thighs.

“We can talk all we want about diversity on panels and in the boardroom, but when events like this are commonplace, I just think it undermines all the progress” being made by industry groups and drug companies, Strayer-Benton said. “I just think we take giant steps backwards when something like this is considered acceptable.”

I’m with Kate.

There’s plenty of place for naked dancing women out there, mostly in strip clubs along the Route 1’s of the world. Just not at industry-related events where people network and even get down to business. All something like the PABNAB event does is set up an environment where women (and any man who might find himself offended) find themselves sidelined or written off as spoil-sport prudes.

Enough.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Jockeying for position on the front lawn

When I was growing up, my family took a lot of “spins” – my father’s word for hopping into the car and driving around to look at things. We took spins on summer evenings, and winter Sunday afternoons. Sometimes the spins were purposeful, like going to Brookfield Orchards for a bushel of macs. During Christmas week, we took a rare winter’s night spin to see the decorations. But some spins were less mission-driven: just drive around and stop somewhere for ice cream. Summer spins always involved ice cream from the Cherry Bowl, Verna’s, Smithfield, DQ…

When we drove around, one thing we liked to observe was the decorations that people had on their lawns.

Our neighborhood was bathtub Madonna territory. Gazing balls. Pink flamingos. The odd birdbath.

My favorite house passed on the spins was a white, late 19th century farmhouse out in one of the burbs. It had a lovely front porch and a sloping front lawn that featured a small pond with sail boats in it.

It wasn’t on a spin route, but my all time favorite lawn-decorated house ever was the “elf house”, which was near my grandmother’s in Chicago. Shortly after we arrived on our biennial visit, we would clamor that my father take us on a walk to see the house with all the elves in their yard. Elves on swings. Elves splaying cards on toadstools. Those folks knew how to live! What I wouldn’t have given to have a few elf statues in our yard. But we didn’t even have a bathtub Madonna. We just had trees, shrubs, and flowers.

Back on the spins, we could tell we had entered a classy, high-tone neighborhood by the presence of lawn jockeys, holding their lantern to guide people on the path to the house.

Back in the day – we’re talking 1950’s and 1960’s – the lawn jockeys tended to be black, with Negroid features. At some point, black jockey statues were no longer acceptable, and I remember seeing a couple where the faces were painted over with white paint. Yes, white paint. Not pinky-tan, or the color in the Crayola 64 box formerly known as “flesh.” The whitewashing looked really silly.

Anyway, I no longer go on spins, and I haven’t given any thought to lawn jockeys in ages.

That is, until my sister Kath texted a picture of a custom-painted lawn jockey, with the comment “Alas, too pricey for Yankee Swap.”

We may need to raise our $20 limit, given how awesome the custom-painted lawn jockeys are at Saratoga Signature Interiors.

It, of course, makes plenty of sense for a shop in Saratoga to sell lawn jockeys. It’s a racetrack town – completely charming (I’ve been there) – and I’m guessing that it’s a lot of fun to have one of these buddies out during track season.

Horse owners, breeders, jockeys and horse racing fans alike enjoy the heraldry associated with these 40″ statues.

Dan Czech of Saratoga Signature Interiors is the interior designer now jockey artist who paints each jockey. Registered silks are always popular but making up one of your own is fine too. The statues are 100% aluminum so can stay outside and not be effected by weather. Jockeys are shipped all over the country by UPS.

Aluminum is something new, I’m thinking. Lawn jockeys of yore were cast iron, and you can play plenty for one of them (in some cases, over $2K) on eBay, where they have both black and white lawn jockeys. Collectible Americana.

Saratoga Signature Interiors doesn’t mention the use of lawn jockeys as Yankee Swaps, but they do put this idea out there:

Consider a custom painted jockey as a wedding gift to the groom (or bride). Customize using your wedding colors, date on base and a gold ring instead of traditional black.

Imagine the surprise, the sheer delight, when the bride (or groom) opens that gift.

There are a lot of different options, by the way: corporate logos, college or university, sports teams. Whatever fits your fancy.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Columbia jockeylawn-jockeys2Jockey with identity crisis

That jockey sporting the powder blue is representing Columbia University, which would have been my alma mater if I’d stuck with the PhD program. Which I most decidedly did not.

Then there’s the Irish boyo, with his nifty tri-color jacket and shamrock. (I’m happy to see that it’s a shamrock, and not a four-leaf clover, which in my book is like saying Patty’s Day rather than Paddy’s Day.)

The jockey with the identity crisis – half Red Sox, half Yankee – is, of course my favorite. What an awful idea. I suppose there are mixed marriages. But still. And what’s up with that strategically-placed bat?

The boyo, or a full-bore Red Sox jockey would, I must say, make an ideal Yankee Swap item: weird, impactical… Maybe this year we should raise the limit.