Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Turning the Tide Pod

When I was a little kid, I remember being in awe when I learned about teenage/college kid fads like eating goldfish or stuffing kids into a phone booth. I have no idea how I even learned about these activities. Look Magazine, maybe? As far as I know, my knowing and sophisticated older cousins didn’t engage in such shenanigans. Oh, my cousin Charlie famously won a sundae-eating contest. But I don’t recall any mentions of goldfish-eating or phone-booth stuffing.

I also had a teenage uncle and aunt, the youngest sibs in my mother’s family. Bobby did sport Elvis-like sideburns and had foam dice in his car. And I seem to recall that when Kay was initiated into her high school sorority, the girls had to eyebrow pencil on beards and wear Fidel Castro caps while they used toothbrushes to scrub some steps. But Bob and Kay were in Chicago, and we only saw them once a year. So no confabs about teenage life.

Among my childhood friends, only Bernadette had significantly older siblings. Her sister Rosemary was an impossibly distant and glamorous character, engaged to marry a brainiac scientist who’d immigrated after the Hungarian Revolution. Bernadette’s brother Tommy was a student at Holy Cross. In his moments of boredom, he would draw irreverent, and, we thought hilariously daring cartoons: Pontius Pilate and the Flight into Egypt. (Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilot. Get it?). And the doings of Sister Mary Filter of the Holy Smokes. He also gave us nicknames based on our initials. One he gave me was Mad Rapist. (Can you imagine?) I had to go home and look up the word rapist in the dictionary. The definition didn’t help. Something about unlawful carnal knowledge.

Between his studies and letting us hanging around with him and his weirdness, I suspect that Tommy had no time for goldfish swallowing or phone booth stuffing.

And it’s not like our babysitters – nice girls, all, in their Bermuda shorts and crewneck sweaters – were letting us in on these secrets of teen life. (And it’s not like I can envision Gail O’ or Judy L swallowing goldfish.) As for the cool teenage boys who hung out at Sol’s Pharmacy, The Oval, and Bennett Field, in their khakis and Chucks, they wouldn’t give us little kids the time of day.

Mostly what I knew about teen life came from the dopey books I read (“Double Date,” “Donna Parker on Her Own”), from dopey magazines, and from the dopey “Teen Topic” column that ran in the Worcester Telegram. (Advice on how to ask boys questions about yourself, and how to manage your expectations that no boy would ever ask you a question back.) That from watching American Bandstand. (Little did I know that I was watching my friend Peter’s older sister Joanne, one of the South Philly Italian kids who were among the regulars.)

Things didn’t seem so mysterious, glamorous, or interesting once I became a teenager. It was just, well, life. If there were fads beyond madras, I wasn’t in on them. Especially when it came to ones that were slightly dangerous.

Did kids shake aspirins in Coke bottles and get high? Do whippets with the Redi-Whip can?

Maybe they did, but they weren’t members of the Notre Dame Academy Latin Club.

In college, it sure wasn’t about how many kids you could jam in a phone booth. It was about how many hundred of thousands of kids you could jam on the Washington Mall to protest the Vietnam War.

Long way of saying that I’m not quite sure what to make of biting into a Tide Pod, which, as much as they’re fun-colored, are full of all sorts of chemicals that can do grievous harm if you bite into them.

I don’t use Tide Pods, but I do use dishwashing pods, and they’re bright and candy-colored. Just like Tide Pods.

Which always makes me wonder – especially when I see an ad in which an fortunately observant mother snatches one out of the hands of her toddler just as he’s about to pop it into his little mouth – why they don’t make these in dull colors – white and gray, maybe.

Making the colors less attractive and candy-like might help with the yoojYBwltoddler problem. But what’s it going to take to stop the current fad among high school and college students to chomp down and spit out Tide Pods.

And it’s not just a meme, although there’s plenty of that. The bright, funny kids are photo-shopping and meming away. The not-so bright daredevils are biting down, spitting out, and recording it all on Insta. The dumb and impressionable are being carted off in ambulances with burnt esophagi.

I know that, with PETA and everything, no one these days would be caught dead swallowing a goldfish. And there aren’t any phone booths to stuff yourself into anymore. But I don’t think anyone ever died from swallowing a goldfish or stuffing themselves in a phone booth.

Oh, those crazy kids!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Two weeks of 24/7 Super Bowl hype. Here we go again…

On Saturday, I turned on the 11 o’clock local news, assuming that the lead story would be the government shutdown or the Women’s March (even though the Boston/Cambridge edition this year was quite low-key compared to last year’s event – but that’s another story). But, no, the lead story was Tom’s thumb. Or Tom’s hand. Or whatever was maybe going to impact The Big Game on Sunday, in which the Patriots played Jacksonville for the AFC Championship and the opportunity to go to (yet) another Super Bowl.

Not only was the news dominated by the Patriots, but at some point in the “news”cast, they announced that the pre-game show on Sunday would start at 5 a.m. Yes, folks, that’s 5 as in the a.m. Ten hours and five minutes before the kickoff at 3:05 p.m.

Here we go again, I said to myself. If they win, we can look forward to non-stop coverage of the Pats until (one way or the other) a day or so after the Super Bowl is played on February 4th.

And then there they went and beat the Jaguars, even if they didn’t look like they were going anywhere until the last few minutes.

So, on to Minneapolis for Super Bowl. And on to non-stop news coverage.

Oh, we may have a break or two. Maybe on Groundhog Day they’ll manage to wedge in a report on whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. This being New England, there will no doubt be a bit of weather here and there. And there’ll probably be yet another importunate outburst from the Tweeter in Chief. Mostly, though, it will be non-stop Patriots. Which means lots of focus on:

  • Tom Brady’s hand injury. The one that didn’t end up shutting him down in the AFC playoff game, but we’ll want to know the exact nature of that injury, ad medical nauseam.
  • Our Tom’s new Facebook video “series”, Tom vs. Time. (God help us…Forget that. God help me. I just watched the first episode. Or the trailer. Or whatever I just watched.)
  • Our Tom’s Minnesota connection. Super Bowl is being played in Minneapolis, and Our Tom’s mother is from Minnesota, so…
  • Our Tom’s being the GOAT. (Greatest of All Time). Which even a relatively casual football fan – casual enough not to be a complete and utter homer when it comes to these thing - like me gets that he pretty much is.
  • Rob Gronkowski’s concussion. (Good thing he was able to do his PSA for Tide, telling teenagers that when it comes to ingesting Tide Pods, it’s NO NO NO NO NO.)
  • Danny Amendola’s Boston roots. (What can I say. Hero of the day on Sunday, so I googled him. Both his folks are from Boston. Who knew?)
  • Et al. team members.
  • Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia’s final game with the Pats before he heads off to be the head coach of the Detroit Lions.
  • Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ final game with the Pats before he heads off to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.
  • Whether the ESPN story about the trouble in paradise – bad feelings between – in this corner -  Our Tom and the Pats owner Bob Kraft, and – in the other corner - the Pats taciturn genius head coach, Bill Belichick. (Which is actually a pretty interesting story. More interesting than what goes on on the field, IMHO. But, then again, I’m a student of organizational dysfunction, politics, and backstabbing, so I’m loving it. Not quite Fire and Fury, but pretty darned engrossing.)

We will hear about fans who are driving to Minneapolis for Super Bowl, even though they don’t have tickets. We will hear about fans who’ve been to every Super Bowl the Pats have played in. We’ll hear about fans who’ve just gotten Pat Patriot shaved onto their head or tattooed onto their butt. Etc. Local soldiers in Afghanistan and other warzones – I was almost going to say shitholes – who are rooting for the Pats from afar. Kindergarten kids wearing their Pats gear and doing some adorable Pats cheer.

There’ll be human interest, athletic interest, and inhuman interest. Even political interest, as our governor and senators and mayor will place bets with their opposite numbers in Minnesota (lobster vs. lutefisk) or Pennsylvania (lobster vs. scrapple).

But the best of the 24/7 coverage – and the local TV stations and newspapers will go all in on this – will be the us vs. them narrative.

Doesn’t really matter who the Pats end up playing. (As of this writing, the Vikings are tied with the Eagles, but I don’t know where this one ends up.) New Englanders (with the exception of New York suburban Connecticut) will be pulling for the Patriots. And everyone else in the US of A (with the likely exception of the current occupant of the White House, who is a buddy of Bob Kraft) will be rooting against the Pats.

So there’ll be all kinds of “they hate us because they ain’t us” stories. Retellings of Spygate and Deflategate. Debates over whether the Pats are the greatest football dynasty of all time.

Last I heard, in surveys, the Dallas Cowboys are still more-hated than the Pats, but that’s subject to change.

Hating the Patriots is the perfect opportunity to root against a winner – and who doesn’t like to do that? It’s the perfect opportunity to dredge up what cheater pants the Pats supposedly are. To rail about how rotten New Englanders are in general, and Patriots fans are in massholes against assholesparticular. Not to mention that Pats haters get to combine their antipathy towards New England in general and Massachusetts in particular with despising “our” team. We’re obnoxious. Snobby. Snotty. Know-it-alls. Elitists. Blah-di-blah-blah. To which I say, have at it. Hate on! And back at you, with this picture, taken by my sister Trish at Saturday’s Women’s March in Cambridge.

I will be watching the Super Bowl. And I will be rooting for the Pats. I’d rather see the Red Sox in the World Series. The Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Celtics in the NBA Championship Series. But if I have to have a football team – and to watch the Super Bowl, you really sort of do – I will, quite naturally, root for “our” team.

But, for the next two weeks, I will be boycotting local news. I’ll be avoiding all the brash talk, all the trash talk, all the “we are the champions” nonsense, and all the “New England sucks” comments online. And since I’ve been cutting back on MSNBC, I should be able to get a lot more reading done.

Coverage is going to be non-stop. It’s going to be pervasive. It’s going to be boring.

But, hey, it’ll be exciting around here if they do manage to pull off another win.

On to Minneapolis! Wake me up on game day.

Friday, January 19, 2018

How’s this for a headline

How’s this for a headline:

You might soon be able to throw axes while drinking a beer in Somerville

I don’t drink beer. And I don’t spend a lot of time in Somerville, a neighboring city that borders on Boston and Cambridge. I’m too old, for one thing. And patently unhip. Somerville, once a blue collar town has, because of its proximity to Boston and its relative affordability, become something of the Brooklyn of Boston. Plus, while I have owned an axe – purchased 40+ years ago when I was a camper, and still around here somewhere: it’s handy to pound things in with – I have never been particularly interested in throwing an axe. 

But if I were to take up beer drinking (beyond the occasional Guinness, which – I know, I know – isn’t exactly beer). And if I were to decide that someone my age wouldn’t be stopped at the border (or the Davis Square T stop) if I decided to head over there. And if I wake up one morning with the hankering to hurl an axe, well, I now know that:

Urban Axes a competitive indoor ax-throwing business that opened its first location in Philadelphia in 2016, plans to open a location in Somerville’s Union Square this summer. (Source: Boston Globe)

I don’t know how keen I am on the idea of people being armed and hammered. Sure, you could lose an eye if you got between a dart thrower and a dart board, but an axe could really do some serious damage.

Oh, this isn’t as bad as the gun ranges that serve alcohol.

But it still raises the same question: what could possibly go wrong?

Of course, it’s not like anyone can just stride in and start lobbing axes around. Those hoping to participate are first trained by one of the company’s “axepert” before they can start pitching axes across a room, Osgood said: “You can’t just come in and toss axes by yourself.”

That’s good.

Interestingly, Urban Axes is also positioning themselves as a place to have a corporate outing.

I’ve been on plenty of corporate outings. Bowling. And pool playing. Softball and/or volleyball in the park. Learn-to-paint-like-Van-Gogh. Jail break. (Both learn-to-paint and jail break were surprisingly fun. Unfortunately, my jail break team was composed of three people with the same overthinking analytical types. We could hear the team in the cell next to us throwing anything against the wall, acting – we assured each other – completely irrationally. We would think it all through, and then act. Well, our approach worked. Eventually. But the crew who were pin-balling around, yelling at each other, trying everything, made it out a couple of seconds before we did. There was certainly a good corporate lesson to be learned: each group would have done a better job if we’d been a bit more diverse in terms of thinking and doing types.)

But I don’t know if I’d want to go to a corporate outing featuring axe throwing.

Frankly, my wish at corporate outings – and, blessedly, I don’t spend a lot of time at them these days – is that the “fun” would be something that I was good at. Like Trivial Pursuit. Or Boggle. But axe throwing?

But Urban Axes’ Courtney Osgood has her rebuttal:

“Oh my God, it’s crazy,” Osgood said with a laugh, adding that the bar has hosted companies like Google, Facebook, Bank of America, and even members of the Philadelphia Eagles organization at other locations. “It’s such a great experience. . . . Would you rather do that or have cocktails and just stand around?”

I’m down with “its’ crazy.” But I’m pretty sure that I’d rather stand around having a cocktail with a colleague than have an axe whiz by my head.

But that’s just me. Non-beer drinking. Pathetically unhip. And someone with zero desire to throw my bad shoulder further out of whack by trying to hurl an axe.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Rich man drives a Cadillac, poor man drives a Ford? Not any more.

There are certain things that I’ve hung on to from childhood.

If I watch network news, it’s NBC. I use Scott toilet paper. And I have a sentimental attachment to the Ford Motor Company.

Oh, Henry Ford was a rancid old anti-Semite, but he sure knew how to get a car in every little guy’s driveway.

And every two years, my father was one of them.

There was a little ditty that kids used to sing that went (to the tune of It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More No More:

A rich man drives a Cadillac.
A poor man drives a Ford.
But my old man drives down the street
On two wheels and a board.

It never bothered me that it was a poor man who drove a Ford. I knew we were neither rich nor poor. I was just proud that we were a Ford family. After all, if my father drove a Ford, then Ford was the best.

The first car I remember was a two-tone light-green/dark-green Ford Fairlane. Two years later, it was a robin’s egg blue and white 1956_ford_fairlane-pic-8385-1600x1200Fairlane. Just like this one.

Then there was the solid green Fairlane with the cool fins. Then back to a two-tone with an egg-yellow body and a white roof. Then a colossally boring solid white Fairlane.

The solid white was followed by an upgrade to a Ford Galaxy. This was the first car I remember that had a name: Black Beauty. I learned how to drive on Black Beauty, and it may have been the only car I ever hit 100 m.p.h. in.

Two years after Black Beauty, it was the Green Hornet. Another Galaxy 500.

My father’s final car was a gold Galaxy 500.

Like Black Beauty and the Green Hornet, the nameless gold Galaxy was a company car. My father was a sales manager for a specialty wire company, and his big perk was the company car. Like the cars my father bought, the company car was for a two-year period. After the two years were up, the family bought Black Beauty and, later, the Green Hornet, as we needed a second car. We had teenagers, and only my father could drive the company car. And then, in her mid-40’s, my mother realized that she was on her way to becoming both an empty-nester and a widow. So she got her license.

We still had the Green Hornet when my father died.

I remember the day that someone from my father’s company came to the house – a few weeks before my father died, but when he was clearly rounding the end of life bend  – to take back the gold Galaxy.

Shortly after my father died, the Green Hornet had to be put out to pasture, and my mother had to get a new car. She went with an Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Given that she worshipped everything about my father, I wonder why she didn’t stay loyal to his brand. Too late to ask.

I don’t know why my father was a Ford guy, either. In his younger days, when his father was a prosperous saloon owner (pre-Prohibition), his family’s car was a Cadillac. My understanding is that Charles H. Rogers never learned how to drive – or was the only man on the face of the earth in the history of mankind (other than my late husband) who was actually willing to admit that he was a terrible driver. In any case, Charles H. – my father’s father – hired a chauffer to take the family on their weekly jaunt from Worcester to Barre, Massachusetts, to visit his folks.

Alas, the family fortune went out with Prohibition, and my grandfather died shortly thereafter.

In any case, my father never owned a Caddie, or expressed any interest in having one.

My feelings about Ford are pretty much nostalgic, warmish and squishy. It’s the brand of my father, the brand of the people. But any brand loyalty hasn’t quite translated into buying Fords. I’ve only ever owned three cars: a used Honda Civic, a new Mercury Tracer, and a VW New Beetle. Yes, the Mercury was a Ford. But I didn’t buy the Tracer because of that.

Still, I was a bit taken aback to see the news that Ford is exiting the mass market that has been its sweet spot since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line.

The company responsible for launching the modern carmaking era with Henry Ford’s assembly line will pivot away from being a full-line automaker, shrinking its passenger-car lineup and shifting only to low-volume, high-margin models.

The reason? Years of coming up short on a long-held profit-margin target. Earnings disappointments cost former Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields his job in May, and his replacement Jim Hackett has since laid out plans to reorient the company around lucrative sport utility vehicles and pickups, plus play catch-up on the trends that are sweeping the auto industry: the rise of electric, autonomous, connected and shared vehicles.(Source: Bloomberg)

Poor man drives a Ford? Not any more…

 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Get along little dogecoin

Yesterday, there was a bit of cryptotrouble in cryptoparadise, as the share value for most of the crypto-currencies, including granddaddy of them all Bitcoin, plummeted by double digits, which has been the trend for the past month.

Depending on who you listen to, cryptocurrencies are either the wave of the future and the place where all that smarty-pants money has been going, or they’re nonsense: all the hype and market run-up that’s been associated with cryptocurrencies is the greatest market mania since the tulip bulb of the 17th century. Or at least since the dot.com bubble.

As for cryptocurrency overall, I tend to agree that it’s the wave of the future, only it will be some sort of governmental, regulated apparatus – trading partners, central petsdotcombank amalgams – not private companies that will control it. So, yeah, I think the current market activity has been maniacal. In terms of historic parallels. I actually prefer the tulip bulb analogy to the dot.com one, having so painfully lived through it that particular era. If I remember correctly, the company I worked through during that era had pets.com, which became the poster-puppy for dot.com blow outs, as a client.

Pets.com was a client; Enron was a potential business partner of the same company.I remember getting into a discussion with my boss in which I pushed back a bit on his argument that Enron was so fabulous.There were some things about Enron that I just plain didn’t get. My boss, who was extremely intelligent and certainly “got” things like Enron a lot better than I did, patronizingly explained why our partnership with Enron was going to be such a game-changer for both companies.

Well, that didn’t happen.

At least we didn’t go down in handcuffs and ignominy.

So when it came to all the bad stuff of the late 1990’s early 2000’s, I was in the catbird seat.

To me, the best cryptocurrency story isn’t whether Bitcoin or Ethereum is the “it” currency. It’s the Dogecoin story.

Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency that was set up as a lark. Named after the 2013 meme dogecoinof the year, in which memers memed pictures of Japanese Shiba Inu dogs. While its market cap dropped yesterday along with the “legit” cryptocurrencies, a couple of weeks ago, Dogecoin had a market value in excess of over $1B.

The creators of dogecoin positioned the virtual token as "the internet currency" that can allow users to easily send money online…The rise of Dogecoin and other bitcoin descendants is due to the fact that they're perceived as being "cheap" compared to bitcoin or ether, according to Dave Chapman from Octagon Strategy. (Source: CNBC)

Even at $1B, Dogecoin was a drop in the overall crypto valuation bucket. When Dogecoin was “worth” that bill, the total market for cryptocurrencies was over $750B. (Bitcoin remains top dog.)

As noted above, Dogecoin got traction because it was affordable when compared to the price of, say, a bitcoin. (Even after its fall from its peak, as of yesterday, a single bitcoin cost more than $11K. You can get an awful lot of Dogecoins for $11K. And we all know that, psychologically, a lot is better than a little. Too late to get in on the big bitcoin returns? Why not take a chance on Dogecoins.

The Washington Postwhich is leaning tulip mania bubble, had a nice, clear explanation of what’s been up with Dogecoin and bitcoin and the entire madness.The article pointed out that, among other absurdities, Bitcoin went crazy “despite the fact that it still works so poorly as a payments system that people won't even accept bitcoin at an upcoming bitcoin conference.”

Another oddity pointed out is that there’s a cryptocurrency – Tron – that’s got a value of over $7 billion, “even though it doesn't actually exist. It's just a white paper filled with a bunch of buzzwords.” Hmmm. I’ve written plenty of white papers, and plenty of them were larded with plenty of buzzwords. What is WRONG with me that I never managed to glom onto something like Tron, get in and – of course – get out while the gettin’s good.’

Then there's Dentacoin, the $1 billion “blockchain concept designedfor the Global Dental Industry.” (It's a digital currency you can use at the dentist.) Why anybody would want money you can only spend in one place instead of dollars you can spend everywhere is apparently a question with which they — and their investors — didn't concern themselves.

Who knows what today will bring to the cryptocurrency market? Will the plummets continue? Will the cryptos rally? End of beginning? Beginning of the end?

All I can say is that if a nonsense “company’ created as a parody of a popular meme can end up with – however fleetingly – a market cap of $1 billion, something really does seem bubble-ish, no?

I’m guessing that the idiocy of the remarkable “success” of Dogecoin may not bode so well for the overall cryptocurrency market.

Get along, little dogecoin, get along.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Duck and Cover

On Friday, they were forecasting something of an ice-pocalypse for the Boston area on Saturday morning. Heavy rains. Then a precipitous temperature drop. Ice-armaggedon. We would all be sheltering in place from mid-morning until mid-afternoon. Unless you were having a heart attack or a baby, STAY PUT!

Well, the temperature did drop precipitously.But it was no longer raining, and the wind had blown the streets and sidewalks dry, so no big deal.

That was the minor hysteria we had to put up with this past weekend.

Just imagine what it was like to be living or vacationing in Hawaii and getting the message that ICBMs were on the way, with the ominous trailer: THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

I cannot imagine the horror and desperation as people were faced with figuring out what to do. Call their loved ones to say goodbye? Get in the car and flee? Figure out where to find shelter? Congratulate yourself that you’d bought that mid-century modern house and kept the bomb shelter intact? Wonder how big a missile they were talking about? How many? Where would it strike? Where was the safe space?

I grew up in the foolish era of duck and cover.

I have a vague memory of one drill when we were marched out of school and CD Shelterinto the schoolyard, where someone pointed out that the church basement was an air raid shelter. We did not actually go into the church basement, mind you. We were just told that, if the Commies bombed Worcester (and why wouldn’t they: we had a lot of manufacturing, plus a lot of Catholics, and it was well-known that Commies targeted Catholics), that was where we’d go.

Mostly, we just heard the “duck and cover” warning. If the siren goes off, put your head under your desk and pray.

It would, of course, have made more sense to go to the church basement, where there would have been some scrim of protection. But our flimsy little desks? Our prayers? Good luck with that.

Fortunately, the Commies never bombed Worcester, and, frankly, I was more worried about Commie infantry who, we were told, might well make their way into the Our Lady of the Angels choir loft and have their snipers shoot at us while we attended Mass.

And, as a student at a school named Our Lady of the Angels, I lived in fear of fire after Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago burned down, killing nearly 100 students. I probably wouldn’t have been quite so fearful – the Chicago OLA was an ancient building, ours was a new, one story, presumably more fireproof edifice – but the nuns had a way of enhancing our worries. In this case, they did so by telling us that God seldom made mistakes, but in this case, the wrong OLA had burned to a crisp. He had actually intended the conflagration to happen in Worcester, Massachusetts, not Chicago, Illinois.

Anyway, we had a lot of fire drills, which kids pretty much enjoyed, as it broke up the day, even if it did send us shivering into the schoolyard for a few moments until we got the all-clear.

That was then, and this is now.

And frankly, I don’t think I want any advance warning if Boston is going to be leveled. If we’re engaged in that sort of war, I’d just as soon be at Ground Zero, wearing a beanie with an arrow labeled “AIM HERE.”

I don’t want to spend my last hours on earth in a panic and despair, trying to call my loved ones on jammed phone lines. Trying to hail an Uber to go where, exactly, given that the roads would all be jammed, everyone following those ridiculous “Evacuation Route” signs, but going nowhere fast. And to do exactly what? Throw my body over the first loved one I came across, hoping to protect and save someone – hah! – from a nuke.

Maybe I’d go Zen, get off a so-long email, followed by a stroll over to the Esplanade, where I’d sit on a bench and calmly await my fate.

Anyway, what those folks in Hawaii must have been feeling for those 38 minutes on Saturday before the all-clear, especially those with children they were trying to save. How utterly horrible.

The only good to come of this will be if those who run the drills in the future will be prepared enough so that, if an erroneous warning message does go out, and everyone gets it on their smartphone, it won’t take 38 minutes to rescind it. And/or if, before another drill or, God forbid, before the real thing occurs, there’ll be some information made available to citizens telling them exactly what to do.

I supposed it doesn’t make much difference what people are told to do. They’ll just run on instinct, doing what they think is best, cool-headedly or running amok.

The more I think about it, the best advice may well be to shelter in place, to duck in cover. If you do get hit, you’ll at least die with the vague, idiotic hope that the flimsy desk lid, the comforter on your bed, the solid doorframe of an inside bathroom, may provide you some degree of safety. At least you’re doing something.

That said, if it’s going to happen, I think I’d just as soon not be forewarned.

And you?

Monday, January 15, 2018

MLK is spinning in his grave

Until she died a few weeks back, a few days short of her 98th birthday, I’d never heard of Recy Taylor.

In 1944, a young wife and mother on her way home for church, Taylor was kidnapped at gunpoint and raped by six white men. This was in Alabama, so you know where this is heading. There was a sham trial. But, guess what?

The incident had been reported to the NAACP in Montgomery, Alabama, and the organization sent one of its leading investigators with respect to violence against black women to look into it. That investigator was one Rosa Parks, who brought national attention to this shameful situation.

Fast forward a bit more than a decade, and there was Rosa Park, back in Montgomery, refusing to move to the back of the bus. And there was Martin Luther King Jr., heading to Montgomery to help organize the boycott of the bus system. And the rest is history.

History is, of course, still happening.

And thus we have Trump - "I am the least racist person that you have ever met” – showing himself at his unscripted best as the racist he has long told us he is by saying that he didn’t want all these immigrants from “shithole” places like Haiti and some African countries. And asking why we couldn’t get more immigrants from places like Norway. This all took place, of course, on the eve of his clumsily reading some clearly scripted words – “I know words, I have the best words”  - acknowledging Martin Luther King Day.

To me, the problem isn’t that Trump thinks that some countries are shitholes. A lot of people want to emigrate precisely because they live in countries that are, at least where they live, holes or hellholes or shitholes.

As my Irish grandmother so famously said, “If Ireland were so great, we all wouldn’t have had to come over here.”

Exactly.

And my German grandfather sure knew he was escaping a shithole when he jumped on the boat with my grandmother and my toddler mother. Unlike a couple of his brothers, Jake Wolf managed to survive the trenches of the Welt Krieg – it didn’t yet have a number, it was just the plain old World War. And he could see nothing good in the future. More trenches on the horizon. Talk about shitholes…

If Trump has said something like, ‘No wonder people are trying to come here. Their countries are shitholes,’ I don’t think the outcry would have been as fierce as its been. It’s the “people coming from these shithole countries”. It’s the “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.” It’s the bemoaning the lack of Norwegian immigrants.

Hey, Mr. “President”, the Norwegians already came here. Back in the day when Norway was, I suspect, something of a shithole. And not just because of lutefisk. But now Norway is one of the best places to live in the world. Healthiest, wealthiest, happiest. Other than the weather.

Martin Luther King, whatever you think of him, was a man of courage.

He risked his life, and lost it. As a young man, not even forty.

And then we have the spectacle of those twin profiles in courage, Senators Tom Cotton (cotton, eh? how apt is that?) and David Perdue (chicken name, anyone? how apt is that?) who don’t recall whether words like shithole were used.

I’m no big fan of Lindsey Graham of late, but at least he reportedly called Trump out. And then told his fellow South Carolina Senator, Tim Scott (an African-American, by the way) that the words that were the said were the words that were said.

It’s Martin Luther King Day.

I suspect that Doctor King has been spinning in his grave for a good long time. But I’m guessing the spin cycle just revved up a few notches.

Friday, January 12, 2018

More evidence of the wonderfulness of doggos

Every once in a while, amid all the bad or unfathomable or annoying news, there’s a smile- or tear-inducing human or, in this case, canine- interest story. The current Boston feel good story is about a dog who’s in training for a swell new job at the Museum of Fine Arts. Oh, the job may not pay well – or pay anything, for that matter. But how great is this:

Riley, a Weimaraner puppy, was recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts on a volunteer basis to detect insects and other pests that might be hiding on existing or incoming collections at the gallery. (Source: Boston Globe)

It’s like a William Wegman photo shoot made real.

Dogs, of course, have a superior sense of smell, which is why they’re used to sniff out drugs in airports. And why pups have been known to detect cancer in their owners. So why not train them as sleuths to determine whether moths or bugs that can do great harm to “certain types of artwork, like textiles, wood, or organic materials”?

“We have lots of things that bring, by their very nature, bugs or pests with them,” said Katie Getchell, chief MFA puppybrand officer and deputy director of the Museum of Fine Arts. “If he can be trained to sit down in front of an object that he smells a bug in, that we can’t smell or see, then we could take that object, inspect it, and figure out what’s going on — that would be remarkable in terms of preserving objects.”

The museum already checks for these types of problems, but with Riley, it’ll have “an added layer of protection.”

And an added layer of cuteness. Weimaraners are pretty darned cute in general, and Riley is pretty darned cute in particular. Other than in William Wegman art, you don’t tend to see all that many of them. In my neighborhood, there seem to be a preponderance of Labs and Frenchies, with a few terriers, bassets, and shepherds thrown in. Occasionally, I see a Weimaraner, but not all that often.

My Chicago grandmother had a succession of Black Labs – Midnight, Thunder, and Lightning – but her next door neighbors, the Baumgartner sisters, stuck to their German roots and had Weimaraners. And on our biennial trips to Chicago, we’d get to see them hanging around and playing with Thunder and Lightning. (I think Midnight went to doggy heaven before my time.)

I actually don’t know why Grandma Wolf had dogs. She was a cleanliness fanatic. You could eat off the floors of her whitewashed basement. And surely she must have been bothered by some of the behaviors and antics of dogs.

Plus my grandmother had absolutely no sense of humor, which seems to me one of the essential qualities for someone who wants to have a dog.

My Uncle Bob and Uncle Jack were both hunters, so Labs – those duck retrievers – might have made some sense. But what kind of hunters were they in the 1940’s, when Grandma acquired Midnight? Jack was born in 1930, and Bob in 1940.

Or perhaps it was that Grandma recognized that dogs are worker bees. Just like she was. If anyone I know can be said to have worked like a dog, it was my grandmother. When she came to Worcester for her biennial trip – we switched off years, with respect to who went where – my parents would save up chores for her so that she’d be happy. Put in a row of hedgerows! Whitewash the basement, so it could at least somewhat resemble hers!

Yes, dogs are workers.

They’re retrievers. They’re hunters. They’re ratters. They’re sniffer-outers.

And even if they’re not gainfully employed, they have those innate skills. Not to mention that they have superlative skills in terms of companionship, affection, cuteness, and emotional intelligence.

Honestly, I didn’t need any more evidence on the wonderfulness of dogs. But reading about Riley, well, talk about frosting on the cupcake of life.

Best of luck to Riley. Even if the job at the MFA doesn’t pan out, I’m guessing he’ll have plenty of opportunities in the normal doggo world.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Damaged goods

For years, several times a week, I’ve walked by a really crappy store. I’ve never been inside, but I’ve glanced in, and can see that it sells cCrappy storeheap-o stuff like three-dollar umbrellas, Harvard tee-shirts that I’m guessing aren’t blessed by Harvard, gloves that provide no warmth, hats that fall apart in a high wind. You can wire money from this store. Buy lottery tickets. And cigarettes.

It’s part of Boston’s Downtown Crossing, which has long been an amalgam of solid retail middle-class (Filene’s used to be here, Macy’s – formerly Jordan Marsh – still is; there’s a TJ’s and a Marshall’s), lower end stores with youth appeal, military surplus, jewelry stores, CVS and Walgreen’s, and some of these odd little mom-and-pop shops that, frankly, one might expect to find in poorer neighborhoods. But clearly they have an audience, and I’d hate to see Boston become the sort of place where there was no place where someone can get a three-dollar umbrella or wire some money.

For a few years there – after they tore down Filene’s and left a big old hole surrounded by a chain link fence – Downtown Crossing was colossally depressing. Empty store fronts, crappy store fronts…Not a place you’d think of as a shopping destination, unless you needed undies or an omelet pan from Macy’s.

And then they filled in that big old hole with the swankiest condo building in Boston, and the neighborhood started to spiff up. Yuppie coffee shops. Nicer retail. Gourmet food stores. A few new restaurants. And the fabulous Roche Brothers grocery store, which saves the neighborhood from designation as a food desert.

The swankiest condo is not the only swanky condo or apartment building that’s opened in the last few years. Downtown Crossing has almost become an “it” neighborhood. Yet it’s still the hangout destination for after school high school students, largely people of color, which of course scares the bejesus out of the empty nesters fleeing the suburbs for the swanky condos. (The kids are mostly – like high schoolers everywhere – loud and boisterous. Occasionally there’s a violent incident of some sort, but these are rare.) And a few places like the really crappy store have managed to stay put.

What intrigues me about this really crappy store is not the lottery tickets and three-dollar umbrellas. It’s the display out front, a display that’s been there for years. This display has never been attractive. Even in its prime, these were not exactly nice suitcases. But over the years, this luggage has become patchily sun-faded. And cracked in places. There are holes in each of these bags. Sun-faded you can live with. But cracks and holes in luggage? I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these suitcases have become rats nests. (I will not be exploring this theory, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rat sticking its twitchy nose out when I’m passing by after dark.) Crappy Luggage

And, oh, yes, you may not be able to see it clearly, but these bags are roped together with heavy duty metal rope. So that someone won’t steal them?

There’s no price on them, so the question is, are they for sale? And is this unmatched set of luggage a package deal?

Am I missing something here?

Who puts such dumpy merchandise outside their store? Is this supposed to attract buyers? Hey, these bags are terrible, I think I’ll go in and see what else they have on offer.

Seriously, folks. What’s the message behind damaged goods?

This is just so weird, and the mystery of this luggage display has intrigued me for years.

Oh, I suppose if I had more curiosity I’d go in and ask about it. But I just can’t bring myself to do so. Inquiring minds do want to know, but  that badly. Maybe next time I’m caught in a downpour and am okay with a one-use three-dollar umbrella I’ll venture in. We’ll see.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why is so much smart tech just plain dumb?

I don’t get to go to the CES 2018, this year’s edition of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, currently underway in Las Vegas. Thank god. But Geoffrey Fowler and Hayley Tsukayama of The Washington Postthose lucky ducks! – do get to go and report on it. So I get to read up on all the amazing new gadgets that are being unleashed on us. Here’s a selection from their roundup of “the most out-there ideas.”

If you’re interested in a paying a multiple of 20x on what most people will pay for a toilet, Kohler is coming out with the Numi, a smart toilet that’s the latest “thing” to join the Internet of Things. Numi costs $5.6K+, but maybe there are some people who feel that it’s worth it to have a toilet that you can ask Alexa to flush. But wait, there’s more!

…you can ask Amazon’s Alexa (as well as Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri) to lift the seat or activate your favorite bidet spray configuration…There’s no microphone on the toilet itself, but there are speakers to play your favorite tunes. Plus it keeps track of water usage.

I would have conceded that there’s some argument for voice-activated flushing under the heading of “assistive technology.” But then it occurs to me that someone who’d need a technology assist is also likely to need a physical assist to get one and off the pot. And that person can do the flushing, no? Same with lifting the seat. Activating “your favorite bidet spray configuration?” Can you imagine the engineering brainstorm session when someone came up with that feature?

As with so much of “emerging technology”, Allen Ginsberg’s words I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness come to mind.

There’s also the Somnox – not to be confused with Sominex, which gets the same results - a cuddly robot “that simulates human breathing.” And “heartbeats, lullabies and guided meditation.” Who needs human companionship, when your robot is just a heartbeat away?

The Modius is a “headband to help you lose weight.”  You have to be willing to trust unproven “brain-zapping technology” that gooses your brain into curbing your appetite. And it doesn’t do it all by its lonesome. It’s meant to be a nice little add on to whatever you’re already doing to lose weight. Oh, and it’s $500, which seems kind of steep for an add on to whatever you’re doing that’s difficult. Like not eating ice cream. I’ll wait for the next version. If a headband can help pare off 10 pounds just by doing a bit of brain zapping, well, now you’re talking.

There are two robots that can help you fold your laundry. Because, you know, folding your laundry is just so damned hard. The Foldimate goes for a bit under $1K, and it’s supposed to be able to fold a laundry load in 4 minutes. Hmmm. I think that’s what it takes me to fold a laundry load. And that includes paring socks and folding sheets – including the dreaded fitted sheet -  which the Foldimate can’t do. Plus you have to feed the Foldimate, one item at a time. So you’re still spending 4 minutes folding a load of laundry. And this is an improvement on DIY how?

The $16K Laundroid, which “folds from a drawer of clothes”, can’t do sheets or socks, either. And it takes longer than the Foldimate. Is it too obvious to ask why one would need to “fold from a drawer of clothes”, given that if you’re not a total slob, the clothing in your drawer is pretty much likely to be folded already. And if it’s not folded – my scarf draw is just sort of a mashup  - then it probably doesn’t need to be.

I’m actually intrigued by the concept of the Xeros that cuts the water usage of your average laundry load in half.

Xeros fills washing machines with nylon balls about the size of green peas that help massage away dirt and absorb loose dye using half as much water. It also jostles your clothes less, leading to energy savings and clothes that last longer.

No price yet, but this one sounds like it could be a consumer winner if it’s not crazily expensive.

On the weirder side of things, there’s an INVI anti-assault bracelet that “releases a foul odor to repel attackers.” The idea of repelling an attacker is certainly a good one, but what if the foul odor just makes the attacker become more violent? This one, methinks, needs quite a bit of testing. But how do you test it except in a real life situation?

ElliQ isn’t a cuddly robot, like Somnox. It’s a social robot

that connects seniors to friends for messages and video chats and makes it a bit easier for them to take advantage of online information and services. It suggests physical activities, such as taking medicine or going for a walk, and also makes personalized recommendations for news, music or games.

I’m not going to put this one down. In a couple of years, I’ll probably be purchasing one. Or maybe I’ll get an Aibo, Sony’s robot dog, which has “a camera in its nose, a microphone to pick up voice commands and 22 adorably articulated parts.” It’s $1.8K and is so far only available in Japan. But I’m sure it’ll be here soon. And you don’t need to walk it in the cold and the rain. Plus I’m guessing that those “22 adorably articulated parts” don’t include the parts that lick their privates or sniff another dog robots butts. Still, it’s hard to believe that it would be a substitute for the real thing. Arf!

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Pat Fight!

Oh, I’m quite sure that, come next Saturday night, I’ll be tuning in and watching at least part of the Patriots vs.Tennessee playoff game. And the next weekend, I’m quite sure that – if the Patsies get by the Titans – I’ll be watching the AFC playoff. Not to mention that, come February 4th, if our boys make it to the Super Bowl, I’ll watch that game, too. I’m not the biggest football fan on the face of the earth. As I have said many times, football to me is like veal. If I thought about veal, I wouldn’t eat it. And if I thought about football, I wouldn’t watch it. Too much martial music. Too much Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Too much right-wingery. And yet…The rest of the football-watching world may hate their guts, but they’re our home town honeys. Go, Pats!

With respect to football, I’m something of a band-wagoner. I’ve gone decades without watching any pro football, and for those decades was among the apparent minority of Americans who didn’t watch Super Bowl. And then, the Patriots got good. No, make that the Patriots got great. And that good to great happened at the confluence of owner Bob Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick, and quarterback Tom Brady. Of this holy trinity, both Belichick and Brady may well be the GOATs – Greatest of All Time – for their respective professions. Since 2002, the Pats have won five Super Bowls and lost (in heartbreaking, fluke fashion) the two others they appeared in.

And this dominance happened in football, which is set up to make it less possible than in other sports. So the Pats may, in fact, be even more impressive, dynasty-wise, than the Bill Russell Celtics or the multi-dynasty Yankees.

Now, however, as the playoffs have begun, there may be trouble in Gillette Stadium’s dynastic paradise.

Rumors, reported by ESPN, have it that Bill Belichick is pissed. That Bob Kraft (who apparently considers Tom Brady a fifth son) forced him to trade Jimmy Garoppolo – the much younger backup quarterback that Coach Bill was grooming to replace Tom Brady when the inevitable happens, and Brady (who’s 40) hangs up his jockstrap for the last time.

The rumors also have it the Tom Brady is pissed. He’s pissed that Belichick forced his training guru and business partner, Alex Guerrero, off the team plane and off his up- close and personal game-time perch on the field. Guerrero is a controversial (and sketchy) force, whose unorthodox training methods (and diet) is credited by Brady with making his superstar and long-lived career possible. (Thou shall not eat nightshades, deadly or otherwise!) There was conflict between Guerrero and the Pats training staff, as a number of other Patriots, whether to suck up to or emulate Brady, have adopted Guerrero’s method. (And, they’re said to be addressing Brady – a teammate – as “sir.”)

Meanwhile, Bob Kraft is pissed that there are any rumors swirling around the Dynastic Trio, and issued a vehement denial, which hilariously (to me at least) pretty much coincided with his good buddy Donald J. Trump’s protests that he, DJT, is a “very stable genius.”

The rumor mill has it that Belichick may be taking his talents elsewhere, if only to prove that he can win without Brady. If the Patriots win it all this year - they’re the Vegas 2:1 favorites – the story goes, it’s on to the New York Giants.

These stories are consuming the local sports media, not to mention the fan base. And I have to admit that I’m very much enjoying it. It reminds me, after all, of the crazy, dysfunctional, palace intrigue workplaces I always managed to find myself in.

There was the famous War Between the Tall Guys and the Short Guys, in which the all-male executive team appeared to have chosen up sides based on height. In this corner, the Tall Guys (COO, CMO, CTO), in the other corner, the Short Guys (CEO, EVP of Sales, CFO, and some guy – a nasty, brutish and short guy – whose role, other than that of nasty, brutish, and short troublemaker, I can’t recall). The Tall Guys lost the battle, which you might have figured would have happened, given that CEO > COO. But the COO and his brother were majority owners, so the CEO > COO outcome wasn’t assured.

As a result of the Tall Guy loss, the CMO – my boss – lost his job. And I lost mine.

Then there was the outfit where the only two women in senior management hated each others’ guts – and rightly so. In one famous incident, these two got into it during a meeting that ended with the straight VP yelling “FUCK YOU” to the lesbian VP, and the lesbian VP yelling back “DON’T TEMPT ME.” How do I know that this is a true story? After all, these two were the only witnesses. Well, I know it because each of these gals told me the story, in gleeful and near-verbatim style. Cat fight!

I could go on…

Pretty much every place I ever worked was riddled with some often pretty nasty politics. I’m sure this had something to do with the fact that I was drawn to f’d up organizations, but probably had a lot more to do with that’s being how organizations work. Even successful ones, like the New England Patriots.

Over the next couple of weeks, if the Pats do what they’re so good at doing, and are expected to do, the news in these parts will be dominated by football stories. Boring, predictable, football stories about the GOATs path to yet another Super Bowl win. Yawn!

Bring on the Pat Fight stories and I’ll be all ears and eyes! Forget let the games begin. Let the rumors keep swirling!

Monday, January 08, 2018

If ever there were an argument for a steep inheritance tax

https://www.gq.com/story/wyatt-koch-billionaire-ridiculous-shirts

Just before Christmas, in a nice little gift to snarky bloggers everywhere, Wyatt Koch went after his former fiancée, looking to retrieve the $180K engagement ring he’d given her when he started to heed his inner Beyoncé and decided that, if he liked it then he should have put a ring on it.

You’d think someone named Koch would be willing to cut his losses and walk away, chalk it up to a learning experience. But the Koches didn’t get to be kabillionaires by overlooking the chump change. After all, $180K here, $180K there, and pretty soon you’re talking some serious money. It really does all add up.

And it’s not as if Wyatt Koch was one of the uber-Koches. No, he’s not the spawn of Charles or David. He’s the son of William the Lesser whose worthy is a paltry $1.7B. And since William the Lesser is only 77 – and being kept young by a wife a couple of decades his junior – it may be a while before Wyatt gets his. Plus there are five offspring who’ll all be looking to, in the immortal words of Don Fanucci (spoken to the young Vito Corleone) wet their beaks.

Still, if there’s an argument for the inheritance tax, I’d nominate Wyatt Ingraham Koch. And not because he’s trying to grab a bauble back from his erstwhile bride-to-be.

No, it’s because Wyatt Koch – when he’s not swanning around Palm Beach acting rich - is using his time, talents, and treasure to bring some of the most god-awful shirts this side and time of Honolulu in 1951.

His company is Wyatt Ingraham (his middle name WI shirts– wouldn’t want to capitalize on “Koch”; plus no one knows how to pronounce it. Kawtch? Coke? Cock?, and Ingraham sure sounds a lot classier and more Mayflowery), and they make shirts that look like this. Okay, the striped one is fine. And maybe even the one with the rainbow splats. But the eight-ball shirt? The the one with the pink handcuffs on it? I’d say they scream douche, but compared to the moneybags shirt, they really only whisper it.

Money bags shirt

Is this what Scrooge McDuck wears when he’s on vacay?

Only if he got it on sale, I suppose. This shirt – which is called Wall Street, not Moneybags -  is currently marked down from $119 to $79. (Those other ones can be had for $99, down from $139; higher priced because they’ve got long sleeves.) But when you factor in dry clean only, even on sale they’re not a bargain.

 The Post describes the Wyatt Ingraham signature aesthetic as “out-there patterns and colors” which is a charitable way of saying that these are the busy shirts a middle-manager who fancies himself the office comedian wears on casual Friday…

“My father said to me, ‘Wyatt, you can do whatever you want to in life. Just make sure you do it well and do it with passion,” the designer said to the camera, without a hint of self-awareness….

“I want my shirts to be able to worn in the boardroom or in the discoteca [yeah, he really pronounced it like that] or a nightclub — or on a yacht,” Koch said with a straight face. “I really wanted to create something that’s fun, outside the box, cool, trendy, yet really bold and interesting.” We’re hard pressed to name a boardroom, outside of the one hosting the board of directors from Spencer’s Gifts, that would feature executives wearing neon pink shirts with a handcuffs pattern, but we’ll take his word for it. (Source: Spin)

Although it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, I really don’t believe that men should only wear Oxford cloth blue shirts. Shirts can have colors. And prints. Just not these colors and prints. Prints like checks. And plaids. And stripes. Those kinds of prints.

My cousin Ellen, who spends half her time in Florida, has an expression OFI – Only In Florida – for clothing items that can and should be worn only when in Florida. So maybe it’s an OFI thing. Still, I’m having a hard time picturing her husband Mike in the Eight Ball shirt. (Maybe it’s because they’re Sarasota, not Palm Beach.)

Truthfully, I don’t know anyone who’d wear one of these shirts. Further, I don’t want to know anyone who’d wear one. Maybe I’ll change my tune if the man of my dotage dreams shows up for our fist date wearing Wall Street. But I think not.

I did recently have a disturbing indication that wild and not-so-wonderful men’s fashion is migrating north, along with kudzu and feral pigs. Here’s something I foundJerk christmas suits at Marshall’s around Christmas. Some sort of weird PJ suits which seem to have Wyatt Ingraham written all over them. (Hmmm. I’ll have to head back and see if they’re still on the sale rack. I’m thinking excellent Yankee Swap.)

In any case, there must be some demand for this sort of outré fashion. Is it men’s liberation? Throwing off the surly bonds of the suit and tie and letting out their inner whatever? Sure hope not. (Down, boys.)

Me? I suspect that there aren’t enough guys willing to wear those wild and crazy shirts to earn Wyatt Koch a living. But he may never actually have to earn a living. Even if he doesn’t get that diamond ring back. As I said, if anyone needs an argument for a steep inheritance tax…

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Thanks to my sister Trish for introducing me to Wyatt Koch. Unfortunately, I can’t unsee any of it.

 

Friday, January 05, 2018

The Devil-Doll, or Doobie-Doobie-Doo

When I was growing up, late winter afternoons – in the time between coming in red-cheeked and snot-nosed from skating or sledding, and supper on the table – were devoted to watching wretched old black & white movies on Boston Movietime, on at 4 p.m. on WBZ Channel 4, and which must have had a budget of about seven bucks a day to spend renting movies.

I don’t remember ever seeing anything good. No classics. No Casablanca. No It Happened One Night. No Busby Berkeley. I saw these and other films when I was in college at retro art theaters, on campus, at the Museum of Fine Arts. The MFA ran regular old films. I remember seeing Bringing Up Baby there.

Boston Movietime fare ran to WWII B-reels like Purple Heart, and another movie in which an anti-Nazi “enemy of the people” is pressed into acting as a body double for Hitler. The upshot of the movie was that this poor fellow’s dissident wife ends up killing her husband, thinking she’s assassinating Hitler.

Then there were the bad westerns. And one that I remember quite vividly, a flick summarized on IMDB thusly: An escaped convict uses miniaturized humans to wreak vengeance on those that framed him.

I remembered the title of this film as The Attack of the Puppet People, but that was a bad 1950’s movie. The real name of the bad 1936 movie was The Devil-Doll.

The Devil Doll factors in Rogers family lore because, when we were watching it, we (the older kids) convinced my questioning brother Rick – then all of 3 or 4 years old – that yes, indeed, miniaturized humans, bearing miniature poison-tipped knives, could be sold door to door by bad men disguised as old women, wearing shawls and carrying baskets full miniaturized humans bent on murder. When Rick asked my mother whether this was for real, she told him that it was nonsense.

We (the older kids) one-upped her by hollering into my mother “He’s old enough to know.”

And there was my poor brother, indignantly crying to my mother, “I’m old enough to know! I’m old enough to know!”

I thought of the wonderfully awful movie The Devil-Doll the other day when reading an article in The New York Times about Doob-3D, a company that makes miniaturized stuff, including mini-mes that you can place on your shelf. Non-devil dolls, as it were.

For $95 for a tiny figurine (4” high), up to $695 for a 14” tall doll, you can have something that one user called “creepily accurate.”

Doob, which was founded five years ago and whose headquarters are in Düsseldorf, Germany, is betting big that people want to see themselves made small: smiling alone; hugging their spouses in an eerily perfected version of the old wedding-cake topper; astride a Harley-Davidson, tattooed arms naked to the wind. Whether you consider them cute or creepy, they are perhaps the most currently relatable example of the much buzzed-about, yet perplexing, 3-D printing. (Source: NY Times)

I’m not surprised that this comes out of Germany, as the creepily inaccurate movie The Devil Doll, while set in Paris, really seemed to be set in some Central Europa country, eerily foreboding what was to come in a few years. 

Anyway, there’s no Doob outlet in Boston (yet), but there are two in NYC (Soho and Upper East Side). But I wouldn’t be lining up to get a miniaturized version of myself. If I want to see something “creepily accurate,” I can look in the mirror, thanks.

But lots of folks are not quite so reticent. They’re displaying them in home and office, and using them as props for their Instas. (As The Times has it, a “fitting use..to advance the self-referential digital culture from which doobs sprung.”)

There’s so much good that people are doing with 3-D technology. Why bother with narcissistic, “self-referential” crap like doobs? This is the stuff that nightmares – and bad movies  - are made of, even if the doobs are not actually human, and will not come bearing poison-tipped knives. 

But somewhere a three year old will see a doob and ask an older sib whether it’s real. That older sib will tell them that, of course it is. And after mother explains 3-D technology to her little one, and explains that the doob is really not real, the older sib will start chanting “he’s old enough to know.”

Sigh…

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Have a Techie 2018

I recently worked on a couple of 2018 tech trends pieces for clients. One was a look at software applications in a specific vertical. The other was a bit deep-tech geekier – blockchain, digital mesh…

So it’s kind of fun to look at tech trends that will impact us consumer-civilians, in this case via the crystal ball of The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler. Here’s what Fowler foresees for us, which he bucketed 5 reasons to be excited, and 5 reasons to worry.

First on the excited list is something that, okay, doesn’t excite me all that much, given that it’s automobile-related: the Tesla Model Three should start shipping in volume to the nearly 500K people who pre-ordered it. What’s the big deal with the Model Three? It’s really, really, really electric – souped up with all sorts of electronics. I’ve seen it described as a smartphone on wheels. Fowler’s “favorite Model 3 idea:”

It comes with the cameras, sensors and computing power it needs to eventually allow the car to drive itself.

Although I don’t have a car at present, and may never own another, I enjoy driving. So I’m not 100% eager to see self-driving cars. But a self-driven car that I’m riding in when I summon an Uber? Sure, I have sympathy for the Uber drivers that will be displaced come the autonomous car revolution – which is coming: Uber has placed an order for a massive number of those self-drivers – but still I say bring it on!

Half the people I know got an Alexa or equivalent for Christmas. I suppose I’ll fall in line at some point. But when I do fall in line, it won’t be with an Apple HomePod. I am not now, nor have I ever been – with the exception of an iPod in the way back – an Apple person. So while this is no doubt exciting info for Apple folks, again, I’m not all that excited.

Another thing that doesn’t excite me is augmented reality, which, according to Fowler, will be “going places” in 2018, thanks to an “AR headset from Magic Leap, a much-hyped start-up that has raised $1.9 billion in funding,” which Magic Leap is billing as:

A “lightweight, wearable computer that enriches your experience in the real world with digital content” — though to me it looks like a prop from “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

$1.9 billion. That’s some augmented reality, I’ll give you. And I’m sufficiently old-school that the real world experience is plenty enriched when you keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you. I don’t need any digital content floating out there in the corner of my eye, thank you very much.

Back to Apple-ville, there’ll be support for wireless charging for the iPhone Well, yawn-y, yawn, yawn. I already enjoy wireless charging for my Android, thank you. But, but, but…

The tech to charge gadgets without plugs has been a non-starter for years because one very important brand was missing: Apple. But the iPhone maker just added wireless charging to the X and 8, putting its stamp of approval on a charging standard called Qi. Now coffee shops, furniture makers and car companies might be more confident about building wireless charging pads into everyday things. Let’s hope they do, because phone battery life isn’t improving nearly fast enough to keep up with how much we use them.

Fowler’s final exciter is the growth of digital subscriptions. He cites a Deloitte forecast that predicts that, by the end of 2018, half of all “adults in developed countries will have at least two online-only media subscriptions.”

Does subscribing to The Boston Globe and The New York Times count? Amazon Prime? Netflix? Paper + digital for The Economist? Despite being Spotify and  Hulu-less, am I actually ahead of the curve here? Now that’s exciting!

Mostly, the exciting things aren’t that exciting to me. But that’s because I’m a bit jaded about technology to begin with. So what about Fowler’s 5 reasons to worry?

Online political ads get more devious. Well, that’s certainly a scary thought.

Instead of just demographics, ads could use “psychometrics” — gleaned from how we use social networks and other data — to target us based on our mindsets and personalities. It raises a host of thorny questions about how technology, particularly social networks, can be used to manipulate us and divide society. Online ads may also still be a lure for foreign meddlers, though Facebook and Google have promised more disclosure about who’s buying political ads.

Having succeeded so bigly with the presidential race in 2016, I can only imagine the sorts of folks that Putin et al. will want in Congress. Good thing we can trust Facebook and Google to do the right thing, Oh, wait.

An equally horrible thought: the cybersecurity menace keeps growing. Two big sources of worry? Hackers going after all those smarty-pants gadgets that make up the Internet of hackable Things. And going after our voting systems.

My recommendation: Take an hour and change your password to something unique on every site with personal information.

It won’t do much about voting machine hacking, but it’s time to get one of those single sign-on apps going.

Dongles, dongles, dongles.

Dongle is the icky term for an adapter we need to connect things to phones and computers and proceed to lose at the bottom of bags. And it’s an icky part of gadget life that isn’t going away soon.

Things to do on a snowy day. (Which will be today.) Count my dongles.

Bad enough that you can’t look at anything online without an ad popping up for the item you bought yesterday. Worse still: AI will be getting smarter, and more judgmental. In addition to:

….making decisions about what we watch and read. It can even be used to create authentic-looking fake content that has a scary name: “counterfeit reality.”How might AI be used to judge our voices, faces, emotions — or even whether we’re worth hiring? Companies are starting to discuss AI ethics, but keeping this tech accountable will be hard because we won’t always recognize its invisible hand.

Counterfeit reality? Does this mean we’ll have counterfeit augmented reality? I think I’ll stay in bed with the covers over my head.

The final worrisome trend is that big tech keeps getting bigger. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon…

Expect to see tech giants flogging their “social good” efforts in the year ahead, but our trust won't be restored by watching them act like benevolent dictators.

Since the flapper era, we’ve known – or thought we’ve known – that one thing we’re sure of, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun?

Dongles don’t much bother me, but election interference, more hacking, judgmental AI, and way too big tech companies? Think we’ll have to rethink that “ain’t we got fun” piece. Not enough on the tech excitement list to outweigh the worries.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

It’s only words. (More of the words of the year.)

Yesterday, Pink Slip had its take on feminism, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017.

What else made the list, which is based on the number of lookups a word had?

For one, complicit, which had its breakout moment after SNL did a very funny parody of a commercial for a perfume called Complicit, in which Ivanka Trump is brilliantly played by Scarlett Johansson.

"The fragrance for the woman who could stop all this … but won't." The word spiked again weeks later when Trump herself said, in response to Gayle King's question about whether she and her husband were “complicit” in what was going on in the White House, that she "didn't know what it means to be ‘complicit.’"

So, Ivanka doesn’t know what it means to be complicit? Huh? Maybe she was too busy googling “collusion” and “obstruction of justice”. Anyway, I’m sure that if Ivanka’s father gets wind of the M-W word list, he’ll be stoked by the impact he had on it. Feminism, which at least indirectly gained traction because of him. And complicit.

But it doesn’t end there. Recuse was also way up there lookup-wise, thanks to Trump appointee AG Jeff Sessions. Well, recuse me, as Steve Martin used to almost say. Another Trumpish look up was empathy, a word associated with Trump as in “lack of.” Not that positive an association, but a win’s a win.

Not surprisingly, dotard was on the list. Frankly, I’m surprised that it wasn’t number one. After all, words like feminism, complicit, and empathy are fairly common. Even recuse is somewhat frequently used, as when judges recuse themselves from trials, etc. But dotard! Man, what a great word! And one that “saw a 35,000% increase in lookups from last year” after Rocketman, i.e., Kim Jon Un, dubbed Trump with this nickname.

Dotard means "a person in his or her dotage" (dotage is "a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness"), and initially had the meaning "imbecile" when it began being used in the 14th century.

The word has an old-fashioned ring to it, and some journalists posited that the odd word choice could be attributed to out-of-date English-Korean dictionaries used in translating Un's comments.

Altogether, an excellent word.

Apparently, I wasn’t paying a ton of attention to last August’s eclipse, given that I didn’t recognize the word syzygy , which is “"the nearly straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies (such as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system."

Clear enough for you? Anyway, if you want to drop a word that has absolutely nothing to do with Donald J into a conversation, it’s pronounced SIZ-uh-jee/. (I would have guessed something close to ZIG-gy.) Of course, if you’re just going to drop it into a tweet rather than into a conversation, pronunciation matters not.

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with some friends, and somehow the word gyro came up This occurred because one of my friends ordered some sort of fish (or was it lobster) sandwich that was something like a gyro, and another friend said that he never orders a gyro in a Greek sandwich shop because he doesn’t know how to pronounce it. Todd is not the only one, I guess. Questions on how to pronounce gyro inspired Jimmy Fallon and country start Luke Bryan to do a number called “I Don’t Know How to Pronounce Gyro.”

For the record, if you’re in a Greek joint and want one of those shaved lamb sandwiches, it’s YEE-roh. But if it’s gyroscope or Gyro Gearloose we’re talking about, it’s JEYE-roh.

Thanks to attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and throw the provision of medical are back to the states, federalism is on the Top Ten list.

One confusing point about the word is that, while we call our national government the “federal government,” the word federalism often refers to states’ rights.

Massachusetts will likely continue to provide its citizens with medical care. We were, after all, the state that brought into existence the system that the ACA is based on. However, I do believe that we may have to build a metaphorical wall to keep out floods of medical refugees from states that aren’t quite as generous and progressive Just sayin’.

Given all the hurricanes that made the news this year – Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria – September was a big year for lookups of this word.

Lookups of hurricane often spike during and after hurricanes, though we don't think this is due to ignorance of what a hurricane is. Rather, we think people are looking up hurricane to get more detailed information.

If you want that more detailed information, you can look it up.

And if you watched the Academy Awards last winter, when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway flubbed the announcement of the Best Picture winner, you’ll understand why gaffe rounds out the M-W lookup list for 2017. Gaffe means “notable mistake,” which would certainly qualify the Oscar gaffe.

I was going to say that we’ll have to see how many gaffes the dotard makes this year. But he actually doesn’t tend to make gaffes. He tends to tell outright lies. Maybe mendacious will make next year’s list…

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Word of the Year? Feminist? Why not?

The Oxford Dictionary declared youthquake their word for 2017. I don’t recall hearing it during the past year, but apparently it was popular in England, where the young folks turned out in large numbers to vote against Theresa May when she called a snap election last spring. To me, the word harkens back to an earlier era, the Swingin’ Sixties, when the term was coined and when they were talkin’ ‘bout my generation. (Don’t trust anyone over thirty. Hmm, as I just went to type that sentence in there, I first wrote: Don’t trust anyone under thirty. My, how time does manage to fly. One day you’re quaking the world, and the next you’re starting to pay attention to what Joan Lunden has to say in her ads for A Place for Mom. And you’re not looking for mom…)

For Merriam-Webster, the word of the year was another throwback: feminism, which was the “top lookup” for 2017, boosted by the Women’s March in January and, again, when #MeToo got moving in the wake of the accusations lodged against Harvey Weinstein and sundry others.

Today’s definitions of feminism read: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests.” (Source: merriam-webster.com)

As with youthquake, I go back a way with feminism.

There was an awful lot going on politically when I was in college (1967-1971) – anti-war activity, the burgeoning women’s movement.(For a small Catholic women’s school, Emmanuel College was quite the hotbed of social and political activism. We even had a chapter of SDS and, yes, I was a member.) And sometimes those two threads – anti-war and women’s movement - especially when we started looking around and saw how the women involved in anti-war efforts were often relegated to fetching coffee for the great male thinkers of the era. Oh.

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published in 1969. I remember nothing about it, other than that my friends and I avidly tore through it. We then looked back in time and slogged through Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). I remember nothing about it, other than the slog.

Somewhere in there, a friend gave me a very nice stefeministg bookmarkrling silver bookmark from Tiffany’s for Christmas. This isn’t it – I’m not home at the moment to snap a shot – but I still have it.

In 1969, Emmanuel hosted a conference on women’s liberation, a term that was used more commonly than feminism. It was pretty exhilarating, as I recall. And, nothing to do with me, some women our-bodies-ourselves-1971-coverwho met at that conference went on to write Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book on women’s health. I don’t think I had a copy of the original newsprint edition, but I did grab my copy of the first book-book version (1971).

And I was an original subscriber to Ms. Magazine when that came out later in 1971. Thank you, Gloria Steinem, et al.

Meanwhile, back in the summer of 1970, I was working as a waitress at Ye Olde Union Oyster House in downtown Boston, just opposite the back of City Hall. That August, there were women’s marches throughout the country, held to commemorate the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. During our break between the lunch and dinner (the dinner shift was especially fun, because that’s when we had to ward off rats by throwing heavy spoons at the rat holes), I strolled over to City Hall Plaza and wandered around the end-of-march demonstration.

A mantra of that march was “Don’t Iron While the Strike Is Hot,” which is a) still clever, but b) pretty dated. I don’t think that ironing is quite the “thing” (symbolic or actual) it was back then. I suspect that a millennial reading Tillie Olsen’s classic [feminist] short story “I Stand Here Ironing” would not quite get it in the way that us boomers did. Does anyone’s mother stand there ironing anymore? Or train their daughters up to stand there ironing, too? (In our house, you – where “you” = daughters, not sons -  learned to iron handkerchiefs and pillow cases before graduating to dad’s PJs.)

I don’t think of myself as a capital-F feminist, but I certainly have been a small-f one through the years. “Women’s lib” certainly made it possible for me to have the career I had. (When I was in business school, I think that fewer than 20% of my classmates were women. I suspect that proportion has evened up. The record in high tech is less clear.) And, having been there – if not exactly on the front lines, then not all that many lines to the rear – I understand fully that many of the gains that younger women take for granted were hard won.

The summer before my husband died, we were in NYC and ran into Gloria Steinem. We stood on the sidewalk and chatted with her for a few minutes. She was completely gracious and seemed genuinely happy to spend a bit of times with a couple of “fans.” I thanked her for the work that she and other pioneering, second wave feminists did to make the world a better place for women. Things aren’t perfect, and there’ve been some unfortunate unintended consequences of women’s liberation. But on the whole, the world is a better place for women. And, let’s hope, one that gets even better.

We’ve had our setbacks, of course. (C.f., 2016 election.) But those setbacks have a way of getting things moving. And so I took part in the January 2017 Women’s March in Boston, and will be there again in a few weeks. The sisterhood is still powerful.

Would I have picked feminist as the word of the year?

Probably not. (Narcissist, maybe.)

But it’s as good a choice as any.

And it sure beats youthquake.