Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An emotional support peacock? And I thought emotional support snakes were out there…

Since the passenger was an artist, and a performance artist at that, I’m guessing that trying to bring a peacock onboard a flight as an “emotional support” animal is some sort of performance (and/or publicity) piece. Because, really, just how much support does one get from a peacock?

Here’s the story:

A woman showed up at Newark Airport, intending to get on her flight with her emotional support peacock.

Right.Emotoinal Support peacock

United Airlines doesn’t always get it right. Didn’t they recently drag a passenger off after he wouldn’t give up his seat, having been randomly picked to get kicked off due to UA’s having overbooked the flight? And wasn’t it United that wouldn’t board the family with kids wearing leggings (or whatever offending item of clothing it was), again because they’d overbooked the flight. So, despite using Gershwin’s gorgeous “Rhapsody in Blue” as their theme, the skies aren’t always friendly.

But all I can say in this situation is bravo, United.

United Airlines confirmed that the exotic animal was barred from the plane Saturday because it “did not meet guidelines for a number of reasons, including its weight and size.”

“We explained this to the customer on three separate occasions before they arrived at the airport,” a spokeswoman for the airline said in a statement Tuesday.

United Airlines did not identify the bird’s owner, citing privacy policies. (Source: Washington Post)

United didn’t identify the bird’s owner, but let’s hear it for Google: her name is Ventiko. She’s a

…critically acclaimed conceptual artist working in photography, performative experiences and social practice. Her work focuses on the (re)construction of moments not in time but in thought to express social positions on sexuality, persona and the state of the modern woman.

I knew it!

Conceptual artist…performative experience…the state of modern woman.

Christ, if the state of modern woman is that she needs an emotional support peacock, we’re all doomed.

I couldn’t find any mention on Ventiko’s website – but, ahem, perhaps talking about your emotional support peacock is too personal and experience for your business web page – but the peacock is apparently named Dexter. (Dexter? Hmmmm. Isn’t that the name of a TV serial killer?)

And if you guessed that Ventiko lives in Brooklyn. Well, ding, ding, ding for you.

I’ve had my say about emotional support animals in the past, posting Pet Friendly more than 3 years ago. What I said then pretty much still holds.

I just wouldn’t have anticipated that peacocks would be getting in the game.

Peacocks, after all, aren’t exactly known for their dispositions and empathetic personalities. While they’re quite beautiful when in full display, they’re known to be pretty nasty. Aggressive in mating season. And – if you’ve ever been to a zoo where they’re roaming around – capable of making some of the most ear-splitting, god-awful sounds known to man.

There are some folks out there – the type who think that chickens make good little companions – who are all in for peacocks as pets. (No word on whether they’re good at providing emotional support.) But when it comes to peacocks, I’ll take the word of the animal-loving Brits:

Because of their nature, peacocks are not really suitable to be kept as pets in residential areas. Peacocks are ideally suited to Country Houses, or rural areas with no close neighbours. (Source: Wrexham Government pamphlet.)

And if peacocks don’t belong in residential areas, they sure don’t belong on airplanes.

Federal law requires that airlines allow passengers with disabilities to bring support animals onboard, whether they’re fully trained service animals (like a Seeing Eye dog) or so-called emotional support animals.

But airlines have some latitude to deny boarding to certain “unusual” service animals, including snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders. When deciding to allow animals such as miniature horses, pigs and monkeys, the airlines must determine whether the animal is a threat to the health or safety of others or would cause a disruption on the flight.

The problem is not, of course, those with legitimate reasons to bring along an animal. It’s the a-holes who pull some bogus document off a website. This has brought about something of a proliferation of bad-actor animals pissing, shitting, vomiting, biting, and generally acting in an unruly – even animal-like -  manner on flights – disturbing everyone on the plane.

Stories abound of scenes seemingly out of a parody movie: A duck wandering around an airline aisle, or a flight attendant who said that they were asked to administer oxygen to a dog that its owner claimed was having an anxiety attack midflight.

I’m all in favor of emotional support. Yay, emotional support! But if you’re so in need of emotional support that you have to bring a pecking, screeching peacock with you, maybe you just need to stay at home.

Thanks to my sister Trish for offering her practical and emotional support but texting me a link to this story in the very moment of dire need of a Pink Slip topic.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Water, water everywhere

I probably don’t drink as much water as I should, but I still drink plenty. And 99.99% of what I drink comes from a frosted re-used wine bottle stored in my fridge by way of the kitchen tap.  Sure, when I’m out, I’ll buy bottled water. But if I’m home, it’s Boston’s finest, pure and simple.

Perhaps because I’m so casual about my H2O imbibing habits, I hadn’t been that aware of all the frenzy about “raw water.”

“Raw water”, one might well ask. Isn’t most water kinda sorta raw. After all, water really is water. Unraw water is, well, water turned into something else, like beer or lemonade or Moxie.

Anyway, the folks at the center of the “raw water” craze are a couple of fellows from Harrison, Maine, whose brand is Tourmaline Spring.

Ayah, just a couple of Down-Easters with a company with this fine motto: “Maine is to Water as Alaska is to Gold!”

Raw water is unfiltered and untreated. To some folks, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe even since bottled water. They’re willing to pay a premium for it. To others, it’s risky business.

I’ve drunk – and survived drinking – raw water a number of times.

Back in the days when I did some camping, we were known to fill our canteens from a stream.

There were rules.

You wanted the water to be running fast, downhill, over rocks. Which wasn’t too hard to find in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

It was cold and it tasted great. Just like water from the tap that’s been refrigerated!

We knew enough not to drink from, say, a still pond. That was an invitation to come down with Giardiasis from beaver excrement.

Things like beaver scat is just one of the reasons why water gets treated. (For more reasons, just ask the people in Flint, Michigan.)

Tourmaline Spring (the raw water spin out of Summit Spring, which is the filtered version) is run by an odd couple. Bryan Pullen is an American Airline pilot who owns the farm in Harrison where the spring is located. Seth Pruzansky was running an organic nut company when they teamed up, which was shortly after Pruzansky got out of prison after being busted with a duffel bag full of weed (64 pounds worth).

Together they came up with – and trademarked – the term raw water. They renamed it Tourmaline, the Maine state gem, because:

“The name, for some people, connoted sewage,” Pullen said. (Source: Portland Press Herald)

Now that’s an excellent reason. Thank god for focus groups!

Anyway, they weren’t selling all that much of the stuff. Last year they were shipping 20 cases a week to Amazon. But then the media started paying attention, including a riff when a “Comedy Central host pretended to take a swig of pothole water to mock the trend.” On the day they got dissed on Comedy Central, they shipped 200 cases. (Shipped in wooden crates, by the way. And their bottles are biodegradable.)

Although it’s unfiltered and untreated, Tourmaline Spring still needs to undergo inspections, the state having an interest in keeping the lid on things like cholera. The water is tested quarterly for bacteria and bad stuff like arsenic. But the fact is that no one – bottler or local water source – is actually required to treat water. That doesn’t keep Tourmaline from making some puffed up claims.

While there are no water quality problems, there are two issues with Tourmaline Spring’s label: A claim that the “water is harvested in Maine from an ancient geologic spring so naturally pure that it is officially exempt from all processing requirements” and a claim that it’s “certified premium grade.”

The exemption claim isn’t correct. No bottlers in Maine are required to process or treat their water as long as it tests safe. (Everyone but Tourmaline Spring treats in Maine regardless of their test results, possibly for liability reasons, [director of the state water program Roger] Crouse said.)

And apparently, while the water can consider itself premium, there’s nothing certified about it.

The claims that Tourmaline makes, however, are nothing but a bit of marketing stretch, compared to what’s going on with their main rival, Oregon’s Live Water.

“(Live Water founder Mukhande Singh) is making a lot of crazy statements like water expires in a lunar cycle,” Pullen said. “Water never expires. He’s talking about women that can’t breastfeed and then they drink his water and they can? We don’t want to get involved in that. There’s no reason. Common sense, 150-year history. We don’t need to get into the ethereal reasons.”

If someone wants to drink raw water – for ethereal or other reasons -  and pay a premium (certified or not) for it, have at it.

To me, it just sounds like yet another hipster craze.

But I have to admit that Pullen sounds like he has no problem taking on his doubters. In response to one Las Vegas doctor he had a radio debate with, Pullen said that “the closest thing to a natural spring this guy’s ever seen is the fountains at the Bellagio.”

Good one! Let me raise a toast of chilled Boston tap water to Tourmaline Spring!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Sitting by the dock of the bay? Thanks, Norwegian!

Other than what I hear from friends and family who are avid cruisers, I know absolutely nothing about vacationing at sea. And despite what I hear from friends and family who are avid cruisers, I have no desire to learn about cruising for myself up close and personal. For whatever reason, going on a cruise has never held any appeal for me. Guess I’m just a natural born land lubber. I like to travel, but it’s the destination, not the journey…

In any case, I was interested in a recent Boston Globe column by their consumer advocate, Sean Murphy, on the experience an elderly local couple had with Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Bernie (87) and Dolly (85) Wax had planned on what they felt would be their last trip together, a cruise of the Mexican coast out of LA.

And then, when they went to get onboard, things just went to hell rather than to Mexico.

The Waxes got to the marine terminal, where someone helpfully whisked away their luggage. In that quick moment of whisk, they forgot to retrieve their passports, which they’d left in the outside pocket of one of their suitcases so that they could retrieve them quickly. When they got to the registration desk 45 minutes later, they were asked to show their passports. Bernie told them that the passports were in their luggage:

“They said, ‘No problem. We’ll send someone to get your luggage,’ ” recalled Wax, an 87-year-old retired historian from Brookline. “They said, ‘Go sit down and wait. The ship doesn’t sail for three hours. It shouldn’t be a problem.’” (Source: Boston Globe)

No problema, however, turned into big problema. Three hours later, the Waxes were still sitting there.

A Norwegian representative appeared, handed Bernie Wax a “Dear Valued Guest” form letter, and disappeared.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to allow you to board the vessel” without documentation, it began. Call the cruise line’s customers relations department if you have “any questions or concerns,” it said.

“We appreciate your understanding in this,” the letter concluded.

Hooey, baby. Whatever happened to ‘won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise’?

Meanwhile, the ship had departed, along with their clothing, medicines, passports – and $2,300 worth of cabin, deck chair and meals.

The Waxes realize that, in not keeping those passports on them, they’d made a mistake. But, as it turns out, Norwegian – according to their own policy – could have asked them to show a driver’s license instead.

Cruise ship passengers are not required to have a passport to leave an American port if the destination is Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, or Bermuda, even if they go ashore on a day trip.

This all took place on December 22nd.

Bernie Wax tried to call the customer service number on the form letter, but the department was closed until after Christmas. When he finally got through on December 26th, Norwegian told them they would get their luggage back on December 30th. Errrr, no. No delivery on Saturdays, and what with New Year’s…. They got their luggage (delivered to the home of their granddaughter in LA, with whom they were staying) on January 2nd.

Thanks for nothing.

Bernie, naturally, asked for a refund. When they got no response from Norwegian, he contacted Sean Murphy, who started poking around.

Norwegian didn’t respond, but within a couple hours of my inquiry, Wax received a letter from Norwegian, his first communication from the company in more than a month. There would be no refund, the company said, citing a clause in its terms and conditions that says guests are not entitled to a refund or credit when they are denied boarding for lack of proper documentation.

“It would be inconsistent for us to make exceptions to our cancelation policies for some guests, when many others in similar situations have accepted these terms,” the letter said.

That certainly seems a bit harsh – especially given that a) their own policies allowed for the substitution of a driver’s license, and b) when they went to check in they were told that their bags (which I’m pretty sure are all RFID tagged and locatable) would be found for them and that everything would be okey-dokey.

And Norwegian’s response seems a tad bit foolish, from a PR standpoint.

Why would anyone have to know that the Waxes got a refund, even though others may not have? Seriously, this wasn’t a couple of 30 year old stoops who didn’t read the fine print. They’re a little old lady and a little old man, just trying to cruise gently into that good night.

You’d think that Norwegian would gave given them the damned $2,300 back – and maybe thrown in a little make-up cruise while they were at it. How much skin would it have been off their nose?

You’d think they would have emergency customer service over the holidays, given that they had active cruises going.

You’d think they would have been a little nicer to the Waxes to begin with.

And you’d think that after they heard from the Boston Globe consumer ombudsman, the light bulb might have gone off in someone’s head that they had a potential PR problem on their hands.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of their competition didn’t come out and send Bernie and Dolly on a dream cruise. PR opportunity for the other guy, with the added benefit of putting a PR ding on Norwegian.

Caveat, cruiser, I guess.

No wonder I have no desire to walk up a gangplank.


Ah, the power of the press!

Realizing that they’d hit an iceberg, Norwegian Cruise Lines decided there was a better approach to dealing with this issue than humming “Nearer My God to Thee” and summarily turning down the Waxes’ request for a refund, the company decided that even if the Waxes didn’t have a case, they were getting a lot of bad publicity over this situation.

Norwegian Cruise Line on Sunday afternoon offered an elderly Brookline couple an apology, a full refund, and a complimentary “dream” trip to a destination of the couple’s choice as a “makeup,” hours after a Globe column detailed how the couple had been marooned last month by the cruise line in Los Angeles.

The offer came as hundreds of readers posted stinging criticism of the cruise line in comments about the online version of the column, with some vowing never to patronize the company. Many characterized the well-established cruise line as lacking compassion and common sense.

“It is clear that in the case” of the Brookline couple “we did not deliver as we should have, and their needs were not handled appropriately,” the company said in an e-mail to the Globe.

“We will be providing” the couple “with a full refund for their cruise,” Norwegian continued. “In addition, as a gesture of our sincerest apologies, we would like to invite them to experience their dream vacation with a complimentary cruise” on the sailing of their choice. (Source: Boston Globe)

Now, wouldn’t it have been a boat-load (or cruise-ship) easier to do this to begin with?



Friday, January 26, 2018

Here’s an unfortunate product placement for Crock-Pot

Chances are, you’ve got some Newell product of another in your home. I just glanced through their brand inventory and, without going through drawers, cabinets, closets, and hidey-holes, I know I’ve got stuff from Rubbermaid, Calphalon, Sharpie, Paper-Mate, Dymo, X-acto, Parker, First Alert, Coleman, Aero-Bed, and Bicycle.

And they also own Crock-Pot, which last week was a good thing. But after Tuesday night’s episode of This Is Us, well…not so much.

For those who aren’t dedicated followers of This Is Us, it’s a show about the fictional Pearson family. Each episode about the family dramas and traumas does a few different time slices, so we get to see the characters in the now and in multiple thens. Once you get by the quasi-stretching it premise that a white family that just had triplets decides to bring home an abandoned African-American baby when one of their triplets died, the show is to me interesting and pretty engrossing. And although I can’t decide whether the guy who plays Kevin is a bad actor, or a good actor playing a bad actor who’s a colossal jerk at all ages, the cast is superb. It’s hard to not play favorites. I love Randall’s wife Beth, Randall’s bio-father William, teen-age Kate, Toby (adult Kate’s fiancé), and, of course the husband-wife/father-mother team of Jack and Rebecca Pearson.

Viewers have pretty much known from the get-go that Jack Pearson dies when the kids are in high school, and this season we’ve had plenty of foreshadowing on how it’s going to happen. No, the car crash hint was a red herring. We’ve known for a while now that their house burns down with Jack in it.


And on Tuesday night, just before 10 p.m. Eastern, we find that the fire was caused by a faulty Crock-Pot that turned Chez Pearson into the towering inferno.

This is bad luck for Jack, but, hey, he’s a fictional character. And Jack’s death is, of course, going to be tough for us fans to handle, but, hey, Jack’s a fictional character and if we managed to survive the death of William…But it’s exceptionally bad luck for Newell, which owns the Crock-Pot brand, especially as it’s coming on the heels of a poor corporate forecast and change in strategy that sent its stock price plummeting. And now this.

The consumer-products giant…says the panic is nothing more than a tempest in a Crock-Pot.

“The safety and design of our product renders this type of event nearly impossible,” Newell said in a statement Thursday. “Our Crock-Pot slow cookers are low-current, low-wattage (typically no more than 200 or 300 watts) appliances with self-regulating, heating elements.” (Source: Bloomberg)

Tell that to the millions of American women with a big fat crush on Jack Pearson. I’m guessing that plenty of slightly-used Crock-Pots went out in the trash Wednesday morning. And there’ll be more there after Super Bowl.

For his part, the creator of This Is Us Dan Fogelman has jumped in to support Crock-Pots.

The scene depicted a used appliance that wasn’t meant to reflect on current technology, he said.

“Taking a moment to remind everyone that it was a 20-year-old fictional crockpot with an already funky switch? Let’s not just lump all those lovely hardworking crockpots together,” Fogelman posted on Twitter.

This Is Us prides itself on its authenticity. The clothing, music, what’s on the table, cars, home décor, movies seen, etc. are all pretty reflective of what was around at the times when the show takes place (1970’s – with occasional forays into earlier back stories -  through present day). Real, recognizable products/brands are everywhere.

But it seems kind of mean on the This Is Us team’s part to use a Crock-Pot to kill Jack. (Obviously, Newell didn’t pay for this perverse product placement. If they were doing a product placement on This Is Us, it would have been for First Alert.)

Come on, couldn’t this have been a generic slow cooker that we all knew was a Crock-Pot without coming right out and show-and-telling us? After all, they’re not 100% sticklers for authenticity. On Tuesday night’s episode, scenes taking place in Pittsburgh in February showed trees in full leaf, and family members heading out for the evening without coats on. Ummm, not really. So why didn’t they give Crock-Pot a little break?

The episode – which takes place on Super Bowl Sunday 1998 - in which Jack dies is scheduled for Sunday, February 4th, right after the Super Bowl finishes up.

Swell! One set of football fans – Patriots or Eagles – who are also This Is Us watchers are going to see their team go down in metaphorical flames, only to see Jack Pearson go down in literal (albeit fictional) flames. Or they’re going to have their joyful celebrations after a big win tempered by Jack’s death.

That’ll be quite the evening.

Meanwhile, Newell is taking pains not to alienate fans of “This Is Us.” TV-show enthusiasts can be fiercely loyal.

“We too, are heartbroken by the latest development in Jack’s storyline,” the company said.

I’ll bet they are.

Having worked in B2B technology, there haven’t been many opportunities for me to see products I worked on appear on TV or in the movies. With one exception. I was the product manager for a product called Shark, which provided a near-real-time stock market data feed at a time (30 years back) when that was a rarity. Shark documentation and blowups appeared in the movie Wall Street. The placement occurred before my time, but the movie came out when I was at Wang Labs and managing the product. A near claim to Hollywood fame. (At another company, I managed a product called AutoBJ. Maybe that got placement in a porn film, but I’m unaware of it.)

Anyway, I feel bad for Newell, but they seem to be contributed to their own troubles. They’re pushing a new multi-use Crock-Pot by issuing A New Product Alert. Sorry, but “alert” sounds like a recall of a potentially hazardous product. The type of product that could kill Jack Pearson.


On top of everything else that can go wrong, it looks like the Pearsons’ dog dies in the fire, too.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cultural Relativism, or Botox for Camels…

As long as you don’t actually stop and think about it to deeply, the stuff you grow up with – the food, speech patterns, customs, entertainments, sports, celebrations, religious dogma – are pretty much accepted as normal. The other guy’s, well, they’re just plain weird. How could anyone eat/say/do that?

So for Americans, a bunch of primped-out dogs being paraded around at the American Kennel Club, while you might not do it to your puppy, is fine and dandy. Dogs are man’s best friend. They’re members of the family. They’re the absolute best. Just don’t think about some of the destructive breeding, absurd grooming, and arbitrary judging that goes into the big dog shows, and it’s all good.

But when we read about Saudi Arabia holding a beauty pageant for camels, well…

The word ‘odd’ certainly comes to mind – even by the standards of a country that just decided that it’s be okay for women to drive. (And while on the subject of Saudi weirdness. How come the men get to wear light-reflecting, somewhat cooling white robes, while women have to wear light-absorbing, sweltering, smothering black robes?)

Anyway, it’s not enough that the Saudis run a beauty pageant for camels. What just happened is that a dozen of the contestants in this week’s pageant have been disqualified for using Botox.

Okay, the camels didn’t voluntarily inject Botox to make themselves more appealing. Vets working for the camels’ owners did.

Saudi media reported that a veterinarian was caught performing plastic surgery on the camels a few days before the pageant, according to UAE's The National. In addition to the injections, the clinic was surgically reducing the size of the animals' ears to make them appear more delicate.

"They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw," Ali Al Mazrouei, a regular at such festivals and the son of a prominent Emirati breeder, told the newspaper. "It mcamelsakes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it's like, 'Oh look at how big that head is. It has big lips, a big nose.'” (Source: NPR)

There is, of course, something innately humorous about camels. They’re just goofy. Up close and personal they may well be nasty. (They spit, don’t they?) But they’re absolutely so goofily cute that it’s hard to take them all that seriously. Nonetheless, they’re obviously serious to the Saudis, who have laid out some obviously serious objectives for their festival:

  1. To accentuate and enhance camel tradition in the Saudi, Arab, and Islamic culture.
  2. To provide an integrated economic system in terms of auctions, supplies and industries related to camels and the to develop revenues for community..
  3. To achieve regional and global leadership and to establish the festival as the most prominent international forum on camels.
  4. To provide a cultural, touristic, sporting, recreational and economic platform for camels and their heritage.’

I’m guessing they’ve got a lock on achieving their third objective of becoming “the most prominent international forum on camels.” Name another…

The Saudis, by the way, don’t just have objectives. They’ve got rules, including banning the use of tribal slurs. So it’s not just camel Botox that’s verboten.

And it’s not just the Camel Beauty Pageant that they’ve got going. There’s the Camel Obedience Competition. And the Don’t Throw Away Plastic Bags Initiative.

Meanwhile, given that we’re talking Saudis here, there’s actually a boatload – make that a camel caravan-load – at stake. I don’t know what winning any individual event is worth – would the Don’t Throw Away Plastic Bags Initiative pay anything – but the over purse for the event is $57million, of which more than half goes to pageant winners. Thus the impulse to cheat with the Botox.

As I said, the other guy’s culture is generally capital-W-Weird.

Which means that someone in Riyadh is probably reading out the Baseball Hall of Fame voting and nodding in agreement (or shake their head) that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both known as PED users, didn’t make the cut and won’t be inducted this year. Baseball, they’re no doubt saying, what an odd little sport. It’s no camel racing, that’s for sure. It’s not even a plastic bag initiative. And it’s one thing to try to make your camel more beautiful by using Botox – who wouldn’t want that? – but injecting yourself with steroids so you can hit a ball farther and throw a ball harder? What is up with these crazy Americans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has to be chortling away about the despoiling of this year’s camel beauty pageant.

And all I can say is that there’s always something in the news.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?* English cucumbers, I guess

I used to be a regular at Whole Foods.

That was until a couple of years back, when an oasis appeared in the downtown Boston food desert and a Roche Brothers opened not far from where I live. It’s about the same distance as the Whole Foods is, but Roche Bros. has the benefit of offering food that’s every bit as good and varied as Whole, while also providing the shopper an opportunity to buy items like Cheerios and paper towels that are actually absorbent.

But I was a Whole shopper for many years, and I still drop by if I’m walking in that direction and need a couple of things.

I haven’t, however, been there in a while, so I’ve missed out on the big grocery news: since the recent acquisition by Amazon, the cupboards at Whole have apparently grown bare:

Whole Foods customers in Bellingham have been struggling to find English cucumbers and sweet onions. In Newton, shoppers have been disgusted to realize that the organic celery they purchased was mostly rotten. Shoppers in Hingham have complained about half-rotten bags of clementines, while those in Newtonville say they were unable to purchase tofu all last week. (Source: Boston Globe)

I’m not quite sure what an English cucumber is. Something that goes on a watercress and cuke sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off? But I do like me some sweet onions and, hey, if I want a half-rotten bag of those darling clementines, I can get some at the twee, fake-quaint grocery store on Charles Street (which will go unnamed), that is an excellent source of expired items like two-weeks-past-sell-by milk and cucumbers (English or not) that look okay in the store but which turn into a suppurating mess on the one-minute trip home.

Turns out, though, that the problema at Whole Foods is not the fault of Amazon. Turns out they have a new inventory management system that’s to blame.

No new system, especially one as complex as inventory management in the grocery biz, ever rolls out without multiple hiccups. At one large company I worked for, the deployment of an all-things-to-all-employees ERP system brought the place to its knees. Admittedly, Genuity was doing a fine job of bringing itself to its knees even without the lousy new system. Still, the mega-ERP didn’t help.

My primary use of the system was for reporting expenses and managing expense reports for my team. I dreaded doing both, so much so that I considered putting a halt to all travel to avoid having to use the beast.

After the system was rolled out – and, it’s probably not necessary to mention that it cost a kabillion dollars in software and consultancy fees – they sent around some of the consultants to interview employees about how they were “enjoying” it. I was one of the lucky, randomly chosen interviewees.

What I pretty much told them was that, if it were up to me, I would only use the system if the company president were standing in my doorway with a gun trained on me, telling me to log in. And then only after he’d demonstrated to me that the gun were loaded.

So, yeah, I know that big, complex new systems take a while to work the kinks out of.

But with Wegman’s (and I’m no Wegman’s fan) popping up on every corner, Whole had better watch its back. Empty shelves are not what you want to see in Whole Foods, which is known for its superabundant fruit and veggie displays. Empty shelves seems so Eastern European before the fall of communism.

On a trip to Berlin just as the wall was falling (over New Year of 1989), after one of our many checks through Checkpoint Charlie, we stopped at a grocery store in East Berlin. Now if you recall, East Berlin was the supposed jewel in the crown of the Evil Empire. But the stores were grim, with food displays featuring rotting produce. Given how rotten the food was, it may seem ridiculous to point out that the stores were sparsely stocked – kind of like bitching about the small portions in a restaurant where the meals were awful – but there you have it. The stores were the antithesis of Whole Food. Before they ran low on English cucumbers and tofu.

While the first-world crisis  - oh, the humanity! - currently being visited upon Whole Foods isn’t being caused by its new owners, Whole-Amazon may not be a marriage made in heaven:

Industry analysts say the increased scrutiny on both Amazon and Whole Foods doesn’t bode well for either company, and may benefit other grocers.

Whole Foods has long been hampered by logistical woes, part of the reason the company was for sale in the first place, said Burt Flickinger, a retail analyst with Strategic Resource Group.

“Amazon does not understand the details involved in fresh food retail,” he said. “This is going to be Amazon’s retail version of Vietnam; it’s going to take three to five years to fix and at a really really high cost.”

Retail version of Vietnam, huh?

As analogies go, there could be worse ones. Retail version of the Holocaust? Retail version of bubonic plague?

Nonetheless, if I were Burt Flickinger, I might avoid this kind of appropriation of Vietnam.

For one thing, logistics wasn’t the problem in Vietnam. We did a bang up job ferrying our boys and war materiel and politicians in and out. And it took more than “three to five years to fix”. Agreed, Vietnam was “at a really high cost.” But I would argue that the cost of Vietnam was a tad bit higher than someone doing without tofu or non-GMO sweet onions.

Like 58,000 Americans (mostly kids) killed. And, when everything’s toted up – civilian deaths, South Vietnam military, North Vietnam military, et al. – we’re talking about 1.3 million+ deaths. And that’s just the death toll.

Whatever analogy Burt chooses to use in the future, his current point is that Amazon needs to focus on fixing the Whole Food inventory system rather than focusing on what they do best, which is a Walmartian lowering of prices. Higher prices are, in fact, one of the reasons people shop at Whole Foods, given that higher prices do equate somewhat to quality – fresher produce, more interesting choices. Higher prices also bring with them the halo effect. I.e., higher prices confer the notion of higher quality, whether it’s true or not. I know nothing about grocery stores – the one crummy job I never had was cashier at Stop & Shop – but I didn’t spend all those years working for companies that had the most expensive tech whatever on the market without picking up this bit of wisdom. Then there’s the health halo, which I hadn’t really thought about:

For 25 years, Whole Foods was out in front of other retailers when it came to big ideas in grocery shopping, but now it has let competitors catch up, said William Masters, an economics professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“I’m a little surprised but not completely shocked that of all the retailers, Whole Foods would be the one that would go off the rails,” he said. “They had a pretty sweet deal for a while, with high markups because of quality perceptions, and store atmospheres that gave a health halo.”

When I was a regular Whole Foods shopper, I never really thought about it being “healthy”, other than knowing that having access to fresh produce, decent meat and fish, and foods that aren’t processed to death is something that folks who live in actual food deserts live without – to the detriment of their health.

Anyway, it’s hard to get too worked up about having to settle for a non-English cucumber.


*Country Joe McDonald’s “I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” (1965).

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 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 one, having so painfully lived through it that particular era. If I remember correctly, the company I worked through during that era had, which became the poster-puppy for blow outs, as a client. 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.”


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!