Thursday, September 30, 2010

As if we needed any more evidence of our debased culture: The Situation’s “Grenade Dodger” app

I’ve never watched Jersey Shore – a “reality” show that follows the “lives” of a group of young Italian-Americans devoted to partying – and I have no intention of starting now. There may be a split second amusement factor to be had from watching any given episode, but sixty minutes of a bunch of not very bright, clever, interesting, or attractive folks get in each others grills… well, no thanks. From what I gather, the Jersey Shore’s cast makes that princess of vapidity, Paris Hilton, look brainy and accomplished. No small task, that.

Jersey Shore world curiosity apparently revolves around GTL location – i.e., the gym, tanning parlor, and laundromat – and one of the cast members, a lunkhead nicknamed The Situation, is selling an iPhone app that includes a GTL Finder. It is currently on the Apple Top 10 money maker list.

Ecce,The Situation:

ex_mike_the_situation_abs(2)Now I wouldn’t expect The Situation to put his name on an app locating, say, the nearest library, bookstore, or volunteer opportunity. And the GTL Finder, I suppose, has some type of  appeal, however ephemeral, to show fans. It also has a smidgen of amusement factor – that is, if The Situation is poking a bit of fun (ho-ho!) at his own narcissistic absorption with GTL.

But the app goes one step further, and includes a game called Grenade Dodger.

A grenade, in Situation-speak, is an unattractive woman – someone The Situation would want to avoid – and the game features pictures of real women, snapped at clubs that The Situation frequents.

Grenade Dodger requires the player to avoid unattractive women, so to get the gritty realism desirable in an iPhone app, Sitch’s crew went to the clubs to snap photos of “3’s and 4’s”, using those photos to provide the game with the requisite elephants and uggos…all without the women knowing they were going to be grenade-ified. (Source: The Fab Life.)

The “point” of the game is for the player to manipulate The (virtual) Situation so that he won’t get hit by a grenade, i.e., a picture of one of the women.

Well, Grenade Dodger may be turning into Grenade Launcher, as one of the grenades is considering a lawsuit.

I’m guessing that any one who hangs around the same clubs as The Situation does buys in, to some extent, to the Jersey Shore ethos – that the world revolves around GTL and clubbing. Still, these women aren’t public figures, and it is supremely distasteful to me (and, I’m guessing, supremely wounding to at least some of the “grenades”) that they have become the butt of a cretinous iPhone joke.

Where to begin on how dreadful, how crass this is? Cruel, misogynist, nasty, unfunny, mindless.

I’m quite sure that The Situation didn’t program this app himself, unless he’s got some hidden talents as a techie. But he lent his name to it – and he’s no kid. He’s in his late twenties, and he still thinks this moronic, drunken frat boy stuff is funny?

Grow up, why don’t you?

I read that The Situation has made $5M this past year.

The only positive I can take from this is that, as the middle class shrinks, the likes of The Situation provides play-the-lottery type hope to ill-educated, talent-less, purpose-less stupes. Bread and circus, served on a platter. What a country!

Of course, any publicity that attends the law suit will likely cause more jerks to buy The Situation’s app, further lining his pockets and – as if it could get much worse – further debasing the culture. Is it any wonder that we have more eating disorders and bullying incidents per square inch than any place else on the globe?

As for The Situation, all I can say is you’d best be saving your $5M.

Sure, you’ve gotten more than your 15 minutes of fame, but fast forward to couple of years. Is showing off your six-pack and demeaning women how you want to spend the rest of your life?

What do you want your career to be at forty? Washed-up nothing?

Grenade Dodger

I hope the women all sue, and that the settlements take a big chunk out of The Situation’s walking around money.

Pink Slip to The Situation: A pox on your nasty little iPhone app.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The horsey set

While some folks fret about the upcoming U.S. elections in November, I have to admit that my election-fretting energies have been completely diverted to who’s going to win the contest for presidency of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI).

Now, just because I have never been on a horse that wasn’t either on rockers or attached to a merry-go-round piston, doesn’t mean I haven’t been actively involved in the goings-on of the FEI.

Princess Leia, I mean, Princess Haya of Jordan, is running for re-election, and, from the get go, I’ve been one of those chanting Four More Years.

After all, Haya is pretty smart cookie. She’s got a degree in politics and economics from Oxford. And she’s a pretty tough cookie: she’s the one and only woman to hold a heavy-duty truck driver’s license in Jordan. Not that she needs the work as a teamster, mind you.

As the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan (and Queen Noor’s step-daughter), and now the junior wife of Sheik Mohammed of Dubai, she doesn’t have to belly up to the parimutuel window and slap down a fiver on the trifecta to come up with her walking around money.  (By the way, they don’t call it junior wife for nothing: at 36, Haya’s 25 years his junior. But, hey, everyone knows 61 is the new 31.) Being both a princess and a sheika also affords her the opportunity to be generous: she wrote a $32 million check to FEI so they could spruce up their headquarters in Switzerland. When was the last time a U.S. president tried to underwrite the White House?

Haya’s also an Olympic equestrian. So what if she didn’t medal – in fact she came in 70th. What of it? I defy you to name one Jordanian equestrienne who was more qualified the Haya. There may have been  a lot of folks competing with the daughter of the King of Jordan for that spot on the team, but I’ll bet you she won the right fair and square. Plus, it gave Haya a bit of a chance to muck around:

“I was able to interact with levels of society in Jordan that I would have never probably seen in the palace,” she said.

I’m sure that, like every other place, those who go in for dressage represent every strata of society – especially if you include the stable hands and pony boys.

Frankly, the thought of being able to vote for a woman president (rather than against one, as may happen here in 2012) makes me want to jet off to Taipei and cast my vote for Haya. And despite her generosity to the organization, Haya may need that vote. For the first time in FEI history, an incumbent’s being challenged.

Two guys (figures!) – Sven Holmberg and Henk Rottinghuis – have thrown their helmets in the ring.

I haven’t seen the latest polling, so I don’t know who the dark horse is here, but I’m hoping Haya wins by at least a nose.

Although I am intrigued by Henk Rottinghuis’s name – which is kind of hologram-y to me: sometimes I see “rotting house” and other times I see “rocking horse” – one of the biggest reasons why I’m in the Haya camp is because, since it was founded in 1921, most presidents of the org have been royals, including Prince Philip and Infanta Dona Pilar de Borbon. Sven and Henk: nothing but commoners. Ptui! Having democratic elections where nobility always wins. What’s not to like.

I haven’t asked Phil or the Infanta who they’re voting for, but I’m currying ponies with Princess Anne next week, and I’m going to do a bit of gently sniffing around.

Haya’s reign term hasn’t been without controversy.

She pushed through a measure that would have allowed the use of several controversial drugs for horses. And she has cracked down on cheating in the sport even as she recused herself from a 2009 inquiry involving horses belonging to her husband and one of his sons that had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Sor-ree. She did recuse herself.

Actually, when I speak about voting for Haya, it’s metaphorically, as we’re not talking direct electorate here. Kind of like the U.N., the national federations cast the votes. But I’ll be lobbying our guys, once I figure out who they are.


Source: NY Times.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

By the Segway he lived, by the Segway he died…But there’s a lot more to Jimi Heselden than the unfortunate circumstances of his death

There’s a classic Mary Tyler Moore Show episode, in which Chuckles the Clown, while dressed like a peanut, is crushed to death by an elephant.

This episode came, quite naturally, to the incredibly-crammed mind of my sister Trish when she saw the article on Jimi Heselden, owner of Segway, Inc., who died in – you can’t make these things up – a Segway accident.

While I like the idea of Segways (for a motor vehicle, they are certainly more eco-friendly than an Escalade) as a city girl, I live in healthy fear of them. That’s because, tootling around downtown Boston, there are gawking tourists, gawking at tourist stuff, and not watching where the hell they’re going on their Segways. It’s just a matter of time before something dire happens in front of The State House or Old North Church, caused by gawking-while-Segwaying.

In any case, Mr. Heselden’s company, Hesco Bastion, bought Segway out last year, and he was, metaphorically speaking, eating his own dog food when he died.

The fatal accident allegedly occurred at Heselden's West Yorkshire estate, according to the Daily Mail. He was "using one of the machines--which use gyroscopes to remain upright and are controlled by the direction in which the rider leans--to inspect the grounds of his property," writes the Daily Mail. "A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said today: 'Police were called at 11.40am yesterday to reports of a man in the River Wharfe, apparently having fallen from the cliffs above.'"

Police told The Telegraph that a "Segway-style vehicle" was recovered at the scene of the accident.  (Source: Huffington Post.)

Mr. Heselden’s unfortunate death will, no doubt, inspire comedians everywhere. (I am channeling the ghost of Johnny Carson as I write.) Not to mention sundry bloggers. For years to come, people will spot a Segway and think about the circumstances of Heselden’s demise. Which, on top of being a “gimme” of comedic material, also bring into question just how safe and easy Segways are to operate. 

But what I find most interesting in this is the story of Jimi Heselden, himself. A former miner, with scant education (he left school at 15), Heselden founded an engineering firm, became one of the wealthiest men in England,  as well as a philanthropist.

Just amazing.

The BBC had a small piece on him, and they reported that:

The tycoon grew up in the Halton Moor area of Leeds and worked down the local pits until he lost his job in a wave of redundancies in the 1980s.

Years later he created hundreds of jobs in the city when his firm developed the flat-pack wire mesh "blast wall" baskets, which have been used to protect soldiers in every major conflict since the first Gulf War.

His philanthropic efforts were centered on his hometown, and on the needs of wounded soldiers.

I am a complete sucker for any self-made-man (or woman) story, and someone who started out working in a colliery in Leeds, and goes on to build a successful engineering firm – using the opportunity of brought on by a pink slip, of all things…Well, a doff of the coal miner’s cap to Jimi Heselden. He sounds like he was one hell of a tough, practical, smart cookie. Plus a hands-on type of guy: he was testing a cross-country (non-city sidewalk) version of the Segway when he sailed over the edge.

The Guardian has his fortune at £166m, and his charitable donations at a hefty chunk of that: £23m.

Well played, Jimi Heselden. Good on ye..

And I’ll say one more thing about his death: because of the peculiar, yet fitting, circumstances of it, a lot more people will have heard his name than would have otherwise.

Not too shabby for a 15 year old kid from the mines.

As for Trish’s thinking “Chuckles the Clown”, what’s rattling around in my brain is this goofy bit of doggerel from my childhood:

By the sewer he lived, by the sewer he died.

They say it was murder, but it was sewer-cide.

The mind, so they say, is a terrible thing to waste.

It doesn’t sound like Jimi Heselden wasted his.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does a hijab really clash with Disney’s "early 1900’s theme”?

Pink Slip assiduously, or mostly assiduously, avoids politics and religion. Yet when business and religion crossed paths last week in an article I saw in the NY Times, I was a bit tempted.

The article was about how Muslims are increasingly filing complaints about workplace discrimination – which, while not pleasant to hear, is no surprise at all, given tempora et mores.

My first thought when I read the part about a young Muslim woman who is in a dispute with Disney about whether she could wear a hijab (head scarf) on the job was: tough luck, honey. If you want to work in a restaurant with an early-1900’s theme, which is what Disneyland's Storyteller Café claims it has, well, you have to dress like someone from the early 1900’s. Which means you’d look like you stepped out of Meet Me In St. Louis, not Mulan.

But then I thought, ‘hey, I don’t want to sound like some knee-jerk, nativist, jingoist yahoo here.’ And, Disney being Disney, I thought I’d take a deeper look into just what they meant by their early-1900’s theme.

So  I took a virtual stroll through the the old Storytellers Café to see for myself how a restaurant hostess wearing a hijab might detract from it.

Now, when I think early-1900’s motif, I think gas lamps, stereopticons, girls in middy blouses and boys in knickers. I think horsehair stuffed couches, upright pianos, claw-legged tables, swaggy drapes, and big pots of 50 year old sansevieria. Disney has a somewhat different take on the scene – with what appears to be a plastic table cloth and a garish Western tableau along the back wall. Apparently, they also see a grownup dressed like a raccoon stopping by the breakfast table. 

What might that raccoon be there for, you ask?

It’s part of something that Disney must characterize as authentic and true to the era. They invite us to join a:

… lively Chip 'n Dale Critter Breakfast for an unforgettable experience filled with music and lots of interactive fun featuring some of your favorite woodland friends.

I have to say that, even though I do on occasion crack myself up, for the most part I like my fun to be interactive. And what could be more interactive and fun than having both Chip and Dale appear tableside at their very own echt turn of the way-back century,eponymous breakfast. How early-1900’s is that?

Truly, the entire place just so, so, so screams period authenticity – almost Mad Men like in its scrupulosity. I can see why they wouldn’t want any of it marred by a hostess wearing a hijab. But what’s that I spy behind the sneeze guard in the buffet set up, no doubt rigorously copied from an all youdisney more slop can eat buffet from 1905? Is it someone wearing plain old food server whites? Perhaps food service workers aren’t considered cast members – as, apparently, hostesses are – and can get away with less than period-piece garb.

Cast members – and what a creepy, bogus little conceit that is when they’re talking about Disney workers who aren’t dressed up like Chip, Dale, or Mulan, but are just doing work-work - “agree to comply with [Disney] appearance guidelines.”

I get that.

Disney has every right to expect that Mickey won’t show up one day in a yarmulke, or that Cinderella will start wearing a WWJD necklace. And someone who signs up for one of these jobs knows what’s expected of them, and – if they don’t like it, well…

The article doesn’t say, but if this hostess was wearing otherwise early-1900’s clothing, and decided to add the hijab for Ramadan, it probably looked pretty stupid. It does seem like creating and pushing a non-issue (rather than accepting the job transfer Disney offered).  Again, that’s if the hostess was in period costume, however Disney-fied and bogus it might be. If she were wearing 21st century civvies, or a Disney uniform, what difference would the hijab make? Most of the women who work at “my” Dunkin’ Donuts wear head-scarves under their DD caps. Who cares?

And whatever the early 1900’s looked, sounded, felt, and smelled like, I’m guessing it wasn’t quite as bland and insipid as Disney would have it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A public service announcement from Pink Slip: what’s bugging you these days.

Niketown in New York was shut down last week because of them. The other evening, Brian Williams reported on the scourge on NBC Nightly News. If you subscribe to The New Yorker, you’ll see that a pair of them are a cartoon cover couple this week. And if you’re a Pink Slip reader, you’ll know that – ever the trend-spotter – I’ve been on the story since ought-eight.

I write, of course, about the common bed bug, and today’s post is a public service announcement reminding you that they can happen to you.

Yes, indeed. Bed bugs are now personal. Very personal.

Here’s how it happened to us.

We spent Labor Day weekend in New York City – the country’s leading city in so many ways, and a big, fat “We’re Number One!” in bed bugs.

At first, we didn’t know what to make of the bite on the front of Jim’s leg.  He noticed it in Central Park.

Mosquito, perhaps?

We were traveling sans computer, so weren’t able to google our way into insect identification.

Then, I, too, got a bite - on the back of my leg.

First thing when we got home, we did our research and had our aha! (or was it our aaarrrggghhhh) moment. Sure enough, what had started out as a single bite mark had blossomed into the unholy trinity through which bed bugs manifest themselves: 3 little red marks in a row, often referred to (gag) as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We had met the enemy.

Before leaving the hotel, we had given our suitcases a cursory examination, and hadn’t seen anything, but when Jim shook out his dirty laundry from the trip, we found a bedbug (just one) in one of his shirts.

No further signs, and we have been vigilant about looking for them. We even bought a couple of new, high intensity flashlights to assist us in our hunt. But the price of peace is going to be eternal vigilance, at least for a while.

Me, I wake up a couple of times in the night dreaming of infestation. Not only does the back of my leg – where, a few weeks on, the bite mark is still in evidence – itch. But my back itches. My scalp itches. My stomach itches. 

I read somewhere that once you’ve bitten by a bed bug, you can experience ongoing fear and anxiety for a while, a kind of small scale PTSD. Which I apparently have a small scale case of.  (Blogger pauses to scratch head.)

The hotel where we stayed in NY, by the way, was no flea bag. We’ve stayed at this place, a nice, boutiquish hotel on Lex and 38th, a couple of times before. I would stay there again. I think. Just not in Room 211. (By the way, we didn’t mention the bites on the way out the door, because we weren’t certain what they were. I have since sent them an e-mail, but have received a response saying that they inspected the room and found nothing, but that they were going to do an additional, formal inspection, and would be sending me a Certificate of Inspection after that. If it wasn’t the hotel, then where the heck did we get those bites? Was it that Indian restaurant? That little French bistro that we really enjoy?)

So, here’s my public service announcement:

  • If you stay in a hotel, don’t rest your suitcase on the bed or on upholstered furniture. Leave it on the luggage stand, or the closet shelf. Maybe you should even consider swaddling it in a plastic bag. Ditto your clothing. (I’m thinking of getting some sort of encasement to leave my clothing in while I’m in a hotel. I’ll let you know if i find anything good.)
  • Before you accept a room, you may want to be paranoid – which will be my new mode – and flip the mattress up and check for signs of bed bugs. You probably won’t see any bugs, but you may see shed skins, dots of (gag) fecal matter, or smears of (gag) blood on the box spring.  If you see anything, it goes without saying: demand another room.  But you may not see anything at all. And still get nipped. And the telltale 3 red dot bite might not emerge until a few days after. So you never know.
  • So, before returning home, examine your suitcase and clothing carefully – shake everything out, even the stuff in your dirty laundry bag.

I’m not saying be afraid, be very afraid. I’m saying be careful, be  very careful.

By the way, the other night on the news, Brian Williams said that the average cost of professionally eradicating bed bugs from your home could run in the $3-4K range. And, of course, if you live in a condo or apartment, you can get reinfested from neighboring apartments or condos.

He also reported on a convention that was held last week outside of Chicago, exclusively focused on vendors with anti-bed bug products and services. Nice to know that there’s one healthily growing sector in the economy. (I also read that shipments of bed bug proof mattress covers are way up.)

Interesting, while we were in NYC – even pre-bed-bug-bites – bed bugs were a topic of conversation, as I guess it is wherever two of more New Yorkers gather.  We were out with friends who live in The City, and they were telling us about a colleague who paid quite a bit of money to have her apartment inspected by a bed bug sniffing dog, only to have the results come back as “inconclusive.”

Boston, by the way, doesn’t even make it into the Top 10 list of American cities plagued by bed bugs.

I just hope we don’t end up being the Typhoid Marys of the bed bug world.

So far, so good.

But my head still itches.

Consider yourself warned.


You can also go to the Bed Bug Registry to see if there are any reports on a hotel your planning on staying at. Won’t provide conclusive info, but will let you know places you might want to avoid.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Take me out of the ballgame

Forget crowd inflation, which I blogged about a couple of months ago with respect to the movies. (Inflate me, my sweet inflatable use.) A soccer team in Italy is giving the word “crowdsourcing” a whole ‘nuther meaning.

As I read in The Journal the other day, Triestina’s team doesn’t draw all that well. Apparently they’re no AC Milan or Juventus, and typically play before about 5,000 fans. Talk about Nolé, Nolé, Nolé, Nolé…

At Saturday’s match, those few, those happy few, that band of fratelli, were met with a big surprise. The stand facing the television cameras – which holds 10,000 – was full.

On television, the crowd looked impressive. But in person, the scene looked a bit strange. The fans were clad in scarves and winter coats—unusual for a balmy September afternoon. They failed to make a sound when the home team ran out on the field and didn't budge when the match ended in a scoreless draw.

That’s because, in an attempt to save money and “create a bit of atmosphere” heretofore lacking, Triestina had printed up a vinyl covering with pics of “virtual fans” and layered it over some empty seats.

There is, of course, something colossally depressing about attending a major sporting event where there’s no crowd. Forget what’s going on on the field/ice/court: half the fun of being there is the crowd. There’s nothing like being among 35,000 fans booing the ump, twirling their index fingers to signal a home run that said ump has failed to acknowledge, or singing “Sweet Caroline.”

When I watch a game on TV – which I do plenty of – I always feel a bit sorry for the athletes playing in front of empty stands. Then, of course, I get a grip and remind myself not to expend too much sympathy on a bunch of guys making millions of bucks a year when, for most of them, the employment alternatives would be fast food, crop picking, or possum hunting.

We don’t tend to have a non-crowd problem with Boston professional sports. Even our soccer team draws more than Triestina’s squad.  For the rest of “our” teams, tickets tend to be hard to come by and expensive.  Right now, of course, with the lack luster Red Sox foundering out of contention, the Red Sox are in danger of losing their consecutive sell-out record. At this point, they’re running on the fumes of early season expectations and the attendant sales, and what I assume is the fact that management is buying up any leftovers so they can keep what is this year’s only positive streak going. Personally, as a baseball fan who likes to take in a couple of games a year in person, I will be just de-lighted to be able to actually buy some tickets next season, as the bandwagon fans start looking at that bandwagon and seeing juggernaut.

One driver behind Triestina’s PVC fandom – which, by the way, at least uses images of actual team fans – was making things look a bit better on TV. They also see itVirtual crowd as a way to increase advertising revenue – I guess  because Bossini (see picture) wouldn’t want their banner flying over an empty section.  They’re also saving money because they don’t need to hire staff or buy insurance for the seats they’ve shut off. (With the help of their virtual, vinyl fans, they don’t need to worry about having to patrol empty areas to prevent fans from cadging a free upgrade to a better seat. If all those seats are covered by vinyl, waht’s a fan going to do? Crawl under and cut a head-hole out with an Exacto knife?

Triestina’s problem is two-fold. First, there’s location, location, location. Trieste is stuck in a little dead-end, barely connected to Italy-proper. Then it’s population, population, population. Theirs is small (about 200,000), and there are very few people in what little there is of a surrounding area. Plus, Triestina has a low birth rate, so they’re not making too many new fans.

This is all pretty sad – sniff, sniff – but vinyl fans do seem a pretty powerful antidote to soccer hooliganism. (Maybe the Brits should try it.) On the other hand, they don’t buy beer or acrylic scarves, either.

The article points out that some baseball teams in the States cover areas with tarps. And that, for football, games aren’t televised in the local area unless a ticket sales threshold is met. All of Triestina’s games are aired, which works to suppress ticket sales.

Meanwhile, back in the world of New England sports, Patriots quarterback Tom (“Our Tom”) Brady stirred things up a bit when he called out the local fans for being too quiet, and for jumping ship by the beginning of the fourth quarter if the game looks decided already. As the online commenters on this brouhaha – and there have been many of them – have noted, the design of the local football stadium is such that, acoustically, it’s hard to make a whole lot of noise.  And of course, as anyone who’s been to a heavily attended event at Gillette Stadium well knows, leaving at the end can mean two hours to get out of the parking lot, and two hours on Route One before you get onto a “real” highway. The place is a traffic nightmare.

It also may just be that Patriots fans are more sedate than some in other towns.

But if Our Tom thinks the crowd at his games is flat, he ought to take a look at Triestina.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mummy’s the word

The one and only thing I miss about long work commuting is the radio, which made time lodged in traffic if not exactly pleasant, then at least tolerable.  I’m reminded of this each time I have a zipcar commute out to a client site.

The other day, I caught the end of a segment on NPR that I found intriguing. A caller mentioned an outfit in Utah that provides human mummification.

Since Pink Slip is all over death and dying – I should probably make it a category tag – I knew I had to learn more.

So I let my fingers do the walking to Summum, which, if it doesn’t let us exactly walk like an Egyptian, let’s our bodies hang out for a while longer with King Tut and V.I. Lenin.

Summum is some kind of off-the-mainline religion/philosophy, founded in 1975 by one Claude “Corky” Rex Nowell. Nowell ended up changing his name to Summum Bonum Amon Ra, but went by Corky Ra until his death – at age 63 – in early 2008.

Summum’s Vatican is a pyramid, located not too far from the Mormon Tabernacle. However, because Summum bottles and imbibes its own-labeled Nectar of the Gods in its rituals, close-minded locals forced them to register their pyramid not as a temple, but as a winery. I hate when that happens, but at least the close-minded locals let the Summa’s practice mummification.

Why mummifcation?

Well, why not?

Summum followers believe that, once you go through the transition to the state that many of us would call dead, and some would hope includes an afterlife of some sort, the result can be:

…a frightening and puzzling experience. Your sense of time and space has changed. Your essence (which is really you) finds itself in a very unfamiliar situation. You have mental abilities but are unclear how to deal with the current conditions. You look for anything familiar that will help reduce your fears and the body you just left is the most familiar thing to you. Most people are buried or cremated and this places their essence in less than favorable circumstances leaving it to fend for itself.

In mummification, the preserved body serves as a reference point for your essence, a "home base" if you will that allows communication of instructions to help guide you to your new destination. This can alleviate much of the fear, anxiety, and confusion that you would normally experience.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a couple of mummies in museums, and even one up close and personal in a junkstore in Wiscasset, Maine, that had a real, live mummy as part of its roadside attraction. And those mummies don’t exactly resemble what you might think of as the corporeal you-you. The terms desiccated, dark brown, fragile and weird come to mine – none of which (other than, possibly, the word “weird”) are things that I associate with the corporeal me-me.  Frankly, as a “home base”, I don’t see why being mummified would be all that much superior to being shot up with formaldehyde and buried six-feet under – except for the worms crawling in and out, and the ants playing pinochle on your snout, which doesn’t happen with mummification. 

And just how long do you need the darned home base for?

Summum’s talks about the eternal aspects of mummification – “eternal memorialization” in their words. But I think that they, like most of us, have a pretty short sighted definition of “eternal”.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have that good a grasp on it. It even hurts your head if you try to think about it. At best, in practical terms, eternal is something like now plus-or-minus 5,000 years. In the eternal, eternal, I bet that even mummies don’t last. (Just ask a triceratops next time you see one.)

In any case, if you don’t quite trust that “eternal memorialization” thing, and/or want just a bit more after-life, Summum points out that mummification can “perfectly preserve” your DNA – which they term the "sumsoshoeugenic" state

Sumsoshoeugenics lends itself to new considerations and implications for the future as scientists perfect the technique of cloning.

Hmmmm. One thing if you’ve given your permission to get cloned, but are you thinking what I’m thinking? Someone might want to bring back King Tut and/or V.I. Lenin. Or even graft them together. Might be fun to see V.I. Lenin walk like an Egyptian, but talk about culture shock.

Summum’s also got something going about:

Arriving at your new destination, [where] you are transformed into a "butterfly," greater than what you were before.

Personally, I take a bit of umbrage at the notion that a butterfly is greater than what I was before. Prettier maybe, more fragile. But greater? I don’t see no butterflies blogging out there. And just how long do butterflies last, anyway? One season?

In any case, consumer options are generally a good thing, so it’s fine that those who want to direct their funeral parlors to get them mummified have a place to go. (Somehow, I’m guessing that O’Connor Brothers in Main South Worcester, which has helped move several generations of my family over the rainbow to the great beyond, has never received a request for mummification. At least not yet.)

Summum may, in fact, be the only provider of human mummification in the U.S.  - a differentiator that probably enjoys a few decent-sized barriers to entry, and a niche (however puny) served. Capitalism is, indeed, a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yet another school admin gets Facebooked

Oh, it seems like only yesterday I was posting about a local school administrator who lost her job for trash-talking on Facebook.

Well, it wasn’t quite yesterday – it was last month – but there was certainly a ring of ‘yet again’ when I read about a Connecticut school superintendent who had to take a fired-I-quit deal after some of his Facebook comments got around.

Most of what I saw of his comments (on and in the Hartford Courant) were your garden variety innocuous, boring, and decidedly immature (for a guy’s who’s heading up a school system) FB prattle.

But David Telesca isn’t job hunting because he didn’t have to get up until 10 a.m. And got to goof off all day (on the Internet, no less), for his first day under contract (when the school district was closed). Or because he said that this would be “the best job ever” if that kept happening.

The problem began when an FB friend responded that every day probably wouldn’t be quite so easy-peasy.

Here’s where Telesca screwed up. Big time.

Instead of just saying, “You’re right,” he decided to do a bit of oversharing:

"I noticed that… my first day on-site involved counseling an administrator to retire or face termination. :)."

Now, I wouldn’t hold the smiley face against him – that’s probably just whistling past the graveyard.  Few of those who have to engage in difficult conversations like this actually enjoy them.  Firing someone, laying them off, putting them on performance notice is not particularly easy or pleasant. Many managers figure out to inure themselves to such unpleasantness, but I’ve only come across one person – a-hole supreme – who actually claimed to enjoy it. As he did when he notified an employee, via cell-phone call, that he was being laid off while said employee was standing outside the NICU with his wife, waiting to find out whether their newborn preemie was going to make it.  After he got off the phone, the a-hold supreme smirked and said, “I really enjoyed that.”

I don’t suspect that Telesca actually smiley-face enjoyed having to tell a long-term employee that there was really only one way out.

But, as Telesca now realizes, it’s difficult to make a private remark on the Internet.

And this remark completely and utterly violated the privacy of the employee who (I’m guessing) decided to retire rather than get axed.

This option enabled that employee to save face and go out on his/her own terms. And it both provided cover to Telesca (maybe he was letting a beloved employee down easy), while also giving notice that he was capable of taking tough, necessary action.

If only he hadn’t felt the need to “talk” about it on Facebook.

I write all the time about people I’ve worked with – witness above my anecdote about the a-hole supreme. But I don’t name names, exact timing of events/incidents, or, most of the time, company names. And, while I do include telling details, they’re details that are telling only to those who knew them to begin with. Not to mention, that most of what I write about took place in days gone by.  All this combines to provide anonymity and plausible deniability to those I write about in anything less than flattering terms. And if a-hole supreme recognizes himself, well, frankly, I wouldn’t mind at all.

But I’m pretty sure that everyone in the Windsor Locke, Connecticut, school system now knows exactly who that administrator who was forced out is.

It would have been one thing to mention this situation to a friend in a personal conversation – and that would have been okay only if the friend was a) completely trustworthy, and/or b) not someone who would have known or cared who Telesca was talking about.  But Facebook posturing? That just doesn’t work.

I feel bad for the guy. In his picture (from The Courant) he looks stricken.  Where a couple of months ago, he was looking at a bright and shiny new and well-compensated job, he’s now settled for six months pay and a difficult job hunt. Most school administrative positions are no doubt filled at this point, and this little bit of indiscretion is not going to look particular good on his c.v.

"He really doesn't want this to be the defining moment in his career as an educator," [Telesca’s attorney, Gregg] Adler said after the meeting…He wants to get it behind him and get back in the field…People that know him will see this as an isolated incident. Hopefully someone will give him another chance."

Odds are that David Telesca isn’t a bad guy. He may even be quite competent as an administrator.

I’m a big believer in second chances, and if Telesca is a good and competent guy, I hope he gets one.

But wouldn’t you think that educators and others who live in a professional glass bowl would be just a tad more conscious of the downside of social media?

I remain continually amazed by the lack of judgment people demonstrate when they decide to go online.

Bad enough when these lunkheaded kids throw all kinds of reputation and potentially career damaging crap out there. Kids can be more easily forgiven their crashing stupidity.

But educated professionals? Professionals in education?

Come on, people. Wise the hell up!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Goats on the roof

I don’t know if they’re still there, but years ago, a seedy amusement part in York Beach, Maine, used to have an odd way of advertising the place.  By the side of the road, on Route One, they had two poles, topped by little wooden shacks, and connected by some sort of wobbly suspension bridge. On which – 20 or so feet above ground – walked a couple of goats.

The first time I saw the goat in the sky, I almost drove off the road.

I’ve had some boring jobs in my life, but never one quite so boring as walking back and forth, on a rickety bridge, between two wooden shacks all day.

But I, of course, am not a goat, and I suppose that the goats were rewarded with tin cans or whatever it is that goats eat.

Years later, we spent a night at a hotel in the west of Ireland that had goats cavorting around the grounds.

I stayed out of their way, as I didn’t want to get butted, nor did I want to step in anything they’d left behind even though, as I recall, goat scat is pretty rabbit-pellet-y neat.

I hadn’t thought of either set of goats in ages, but they came to mind when I read an article in the WSJ about a restaurateur in Wisconsin who’s trademarked the concept of goats grazing on a restaurant roof, and is going after others who replicate his idea – even if they’re hundreds of miles away from his place of business.

Not that I’m ever likely to find myself in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, but I do have a hard and fast rule about dining in restaurants that both serve pickled herring and have goats grazing on their grass roof. Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin. (Of which, at this age, I’m afraid that there occasionally is some of.)

So far, I have lived my life true to my code. I follow this rule, and, frankly, can’t conceive of breaking it.

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant is likely to survive without me, of course, as it has since 1949. In fact, since it started the goats-on—the-roof gimmick nearly 40 years ago, business has flourished.

Fourteen years ago, owner Al Johnson:

…trademarked the right to put goats on a roof to attract customers to a business. "The restaurant is one of the top-grossing in Wisconsin, and I'm sure the goats have helped," says Mr. Johnson, who manages the family-owned restaurant.

Since trademarking his bleating-edge idea, Johnson has been on the lookout for anyone else using a similarly capricorny theme.

He found one in Georgia, Tiger Mountain Market, which is quite a fur-piece from Wisconsin, and, to me, at least, not likely to cause much brand confusion.

Yes, I’m sure that tourists flock to Sister Bay, Wisconsin to eat pickled herring and watch goats graze on a roof. But I find it pretty hard to believe that someone would drive 750 miles for the privilege and pleasure of so doing. So how could Johnson’s business have been harmed by someone else doing the goats on the roof thing? And – prior to the WSJ article – how could Johnson have presumed that someone hundreds of miles away would have known about his goats on the roof? 

I can see if he went after someone in Green Bay, or Sturgeon Bay, or Whatever Bay, Wisconsin.

But Georgia?

That poor guy in Georgia.

Would it have occurred to me to search out a trademark if and when I had decided to let goats graze on my restaurant’s roof?

Not very likely.

But I’m not Al Johnson, who’s suit maintained:

"Notwithstanding Al Johnson's Restaurant's prior, continuous and extensive use of the Goats on the Roof Trade Dress"—a type of trademark—"defendant Tiger Mountain Market opened a grocery store and gift shop in buildings with grass on the roofs and allows goats to climb on the roofs of its buildings."

The suit asked that Tiger “cease and desist.”

Tiger’s owner, Danny Benson, thought the suit was “ridiculous,” and believed he could have won, but he didn’t want to pay big bucks to fight it. Instead, after considering – and rejecting – the idea of pigs on the roof, Benson decided to just pay Johnson “a fee for the right to use roof goats as a marketing tool in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.”

The Journal doesn’t mention what the fee is, but I’m sure having to pay what seems like an IP protection racket gets Benson’s goat.

Johnson now has his eye on an IHOP in Virginia that has a billboard sign that goats regularly jump onto, which has garnered the IHOP a bit of free publicity.

Mr. Johnson says his lawyer is monitoring the situation in case "they take it a step further." Lisa Hodges, who manages one of the restaurants, says she doesn't plan to intentionally use the goats for marketing. "We can't help it that they climb up there," she says.

Any business that sells food and uses goats to lure customers may be violating the trademark, says Lori Meddings, the restaurant's lawyer. "The standard is, is there a likelihood of confusion?" she says.

Hard for me to think of goats as a “lure” for much of anything, but isn’t this kind of broad.

How about goat-cheese shop?

How about a snackbar at the U.S. Naval Academy?  Isn’t the goat their mascot?

Anyway, while I find the idea of goats grazing and crapping overhead while I sup on meatballs and lingonberries less than alluring, this is a big country, and there should be plenty of room for goats on roofs without having to be so litigious about it.

Perhaps Al Johnson is considering franchising, or otherwise turning his restaurant into a chain, and wants to make sure he’s protected.

If he is considering expansion, he may be overestimating America’s appetite for herring-based restaurants with goats on the roof – despite the fact that goats on the roof does appear to have some traction in the South, and is also used in the UK and Canada. (I, apparently, don’t get out enough.)

Of course, now that he’s gone national with the WSJ article, Johnson will now be able to maintain that any goats on the roof  - anytime, anywhere – will be confused with his place. (Although there may not be that much of an overlap between WSJ readership and fans of goat-roofed restaurants.)  But with his litigiousness, he may end up taking a hit on the nice guy image that having a goat-roofed restaurant conveys. No three-star Michelin Guide snobbery here. No sirree-Bob. Just down home folks.

Well, not so fast. That’s down home folks with a big-city lawyer and the urge to sue.

With apologies to my friends who happen to be lawyers, “nice guy” and “sue the bastards” don’t tend to get coupled in word association games.

Meanwhile, Al Johnson may well find that what goes around comes around.

Last year, on of his goats fell off the roof.

No one was injured, but, let’s face it.

As Al Johnson well knows, it’s a litigation-happy world.

Even the niciest of nicey-nice tourists might decide to sue if they ended up wearing a falling goat around their neck. Whiplash! PSTD! Alienation of affection! Sleepless nights. Fear of goats on roofs. Fear of pickled herring.

Who knows what ill catching a falling goat might cause. 

There’s plenty of ways that this could end up as a see-you-in-court kind of thing, no?


Friday, September 17, 2010

How to send your career up in flames, even before it starts

Unless you’re there for the big antique/flea market/collectible shows held a few times a year, there’s not all that much to do in Brimfield, Massachusetts.

I suspect that there’s even less to do in Holland, Massachusetts.

Don’t anyone take it personally, but there are few things that say “dead” to me more than a couple of towns located halfway between Worcester, Massachusetts and Springfield, Massachusetts.

Once you’ve had your fill of playing drive-by home run derby with your neighbor’s mailboxes, you can’t afford a bag, and there’s no one to go to the packy and buy a couple of cold ones for you, I’m guessing that the young folks might run out of things to keep them occupied.

Apparently, one thing that the youngsters can do is become something known as a “call firefighter.”

Now, I’ve always lived in cities, where there are professional fire departments, with paid firefighters.  And I’m somewhat familiar with the notion of a volunteer firefighters who work ad hoc and gratis and supplement or substitute for paid fire brigades in small towns. But I hadn’t heard of call fighters, who work on an as-needed basis, and get paid for it.

Call firefighting has attracted at least a handful of young guys out in the Mass. boonies of Brimfield and Holland. And now this handful – three 18 year olds, a 19 year old, and a 20 year old: Brain, Jordan, Dylan, Patrick, and Jordan, which kind of makes them sound like The New Kids on the Block revival – have been charged with deliberately setting fire to a few empty buildings in Brimfield and Holland. They must have seen it as a win-win: they got to respond to the alarm and work those fires – plus they got paid.

I am well aware that young men aged 18-20 are not exactly well known for their thinking.

Still, I shake my head and ask myself what were they thinking?

The answer, I’m guessing, is that they most likely were thinking some variant of:

There’s nothing to do around here.

This place sucks!

I could use some cash.

Even the little brush fires give me a rush.

That building’s empty, anyway.

I’m bored.

This place really sucks.

For not being able to think much beyond this, there are three counts of arson hanging over the fire helmets that used to be worn by those young heads.

Not to mention that if anyone of them had the desire to become a “real” fireman, swinging a Halligan in the Big City of Worcester, or the Big City of Springfield, they have pretty much put the kibosh on that career path.

And, of course, they’ll be caught in the Google crosshairs from here to eternity by college admissions officers, Army recruiters, prospective employers of any ilk, and the parents of any girls they got serious with.

I find it especially shocking that, even though they were little kids at the time, these young men – living as they do in Central Massachusetts, and serving as they were as call firefighters – were not aware of the deaths, in 1999, of six Worcester firemen who were working a fire in an abandoned warehouse. Thinking that there might be homeless people in residence, these Worcester guys – including the cousin of a close friend of mine - went inside an empty building to make sure that no one was there. Hard to believe that this story wasn’t known to the Brimfield-Holland Five, and that it wouldn’t have given them some pause before they decided that there’s no harm/no foul if the building they torch is empty.

Fortunately, no one was injured in these fires – other than the five dopes involved. But it could so easily have been otherwise.

In grammar school, the nuns were always warning us that our records were permanent and would follow us through life.

At first, we thought they were talking about our Our Lady of the Angels quarterly report cards. Oh, sure, we’d think, when we’re ancient, like thirty or something, someone was going to care whether we got an 88 or a 93 in Catechism.

Not that I had anything to worry about, but even when we figured out they were talking about shoplifting a rubber dagger at Woolworth’s or throwing an ice ball at a car, it struck most of us (even the goodiest of goodie-two-shoes; the scarediest of scaredy cats) that it was pretty harsh if your life could be ruined for snatching a nickel toy from Woolie’s.  So we didn’t quite believe it. But, just in case, most of us didn’t swipe junk from stores.

Certainly, deliberately lighting a fire is tons more serious than petty shoplifting.

But whatever it is that you do these days is pretty much becoming part of that permanent record that follows you through life.

You’d think more “kids” would think about this before they took part in feckless, reckless activities just because they were bored, wanted to show off their fire fighting skills, or were looking for a bit more walking around money.

Apparently not.

Even if these guys don’t end up doing any jail time – and I’m guessing that, if they don’t already have permanent records following them through life, they won’t go to jail; just get probation and restitution costs – their story will live on for as long as there are search engines and people with the ability to enter a search term.

Meanwhile, there’s a term for these guys, and it ain’t call firefighter.


Core story source: Boston Globe.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

One thing we’re sure of, the rich get richer …

Sportfan New England went collectively heart-in-mouth last week when “Our Tom” (a.k.a., Patriots quarterback Tom Brady) was involved in a fairly serious car accident.  Despite his airbag not deploying, Our Tom was uninjured. Plus, he was able to pull off an impressive season-opening win a couple of days later. A passenger in the other vehicle was not as lucky as Our Tom, and was seriously injured. (As if being in an accident involving Tom Brady wasn’t misery enough - especially since witnesses claim that the other guy ran a red light - the injured man’s son was the driver.)

Since the accident involved Our Tom, every jot and tittle  - make that every jot and Y.A. Tittle* - of it has been examined to death by the local news outlets. But to me the most interesting tittle-bit was the fact that the car Tom was driving was registered in New Jersey. (Another interesting tittle bit was that the car was an Audi – pricey enough, but pretty unflash for a guy who was on the eve of signing the most lucrative contract in the history of football.)

Now, everyone knows that Our Tom lives in Boston when he has to. That he lived in New York for a while because he wanted to – and even became something of a Not Our Tom when he was paparazzi’d wearing a NY Yankees cap. And that he’s building a football stadium-sized hacienda in California with his super-model wife, Gisele Bundchen (who is not now, and never will be, considered Our Gisele).

So what was up with the NJ plates?

Anyway, it seems that the car does not exactly belong to Our Tom.

According to the sleuths at the Boston Globe – who’ll no doubt be in contention for a Pulitzer for this crack reporting -

…The $97,000 [Audi] S8 model was a loaner from the company as a part of the agreement between Brady and the car company involving "Best Buddies," a charity dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities. Audi is the official car of the charity, for whom Brady has served as honorary chairman the past few years.

Now I don’t want to take anything away from Our Tom’s involvement with Best Buddies. From everything I’ve seen, this is not just a lend your name charity for him. He appears to be genuinely part of this outfit, participating at what appears to be a well beyond the photo-op level in their events. When he’s pictured with one of his best buddies, he looks totally engaged and delighted. (In general, there is precious little about Our Tom that doesn’t say ‘pretty nice guy,’ even if he didn’t marry his first baby mama a few years ago.)

And you can’t fault Audi for wanting Our Tom’s brand associated with their brand – even though they may not be ultra-thrilled that it’s been reported that Our Tom’s airbags failed to deploy.

But wouldn’t you think that someone who just inked a $72M contract, and who’s married to one of the richest women in the world, would feel a bit scrounge-y driving a free-mobile?

Couldn’t the $97K car be put to better uses?  Like a Best Buddies raffle.

I guess that, in our fame-besotted society, getting comped is just a way of life for celebrities. (What becomes a legend most? Free goods. Of course, whatever you think about the ability to throw a football, at least Our Tom became a famous for actually accomplishing something, not for just being famous. )

So many people want to bask in celeb glow, bathe in their reflected glory, there are thosee for whom - wherever they go, whatever they want -  their money’s no good there.

Thus, they don’t need to buy a $100K watch; the watchmaker’s just happy to see it on their arm (in a tasteful B&W ad, of course). They don’t need to pay the tab at the restaurant. Who doesn’t want to have a celeb at the next table?

Who doesn’t like free stuff? (Soprano’s fans will recall the hilarious episode in which ChristopherMoltisanti – character -  mugs Lauren Bacall – playing herself - for her Oscar night swag-bag.)

But do rich folks need the charity? It must be especially galling to second-tier actors, athletes, or whatevers to see that the folks who make the most money are the ones that garner the most freebies, as well. (Oh, boo hoo.)

Anyway, it just strikes me as a bit amusing that Our Tom was commuting in a free car, courtesy of Audi, granted to him for his involvement in a worthy cause.  I guess goodness isn’t always its own reward.

Meanwhile, since I read about Our Tom’s loaner car, I haven’t been able to get this ditty out of my skull:

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?

*For those who’ve never followed football, Y.A. Tittle was a pro quarterback in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He was no Our Tom, but he was pretty darned good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

“Turning purchases into conversations”

I saw an article in a recent Economist that mentioned a startup named Swipely, which has as its tag “We turn purchases into conversations.”

For starters, the use of the word “conversation” for much of what goes on on the ‘net is a coinage that I absolutely abhor. I guess I’m just a capital FU fuddy-duddy, but I actually don’t consider most blogging, tweeting, news article commenting, Facebooking, etc. much of a conversation.

Sure, I have “met” some folks through blogging, and have had a number of interesting e-mail back-and-forths with some of my blog buddies.  Our exchanges have, in fact, more or less risen to the level of a low-level conversation.

But someone's tweeting  ‘maybe I’ll get some Starbucks’; writing ‘URA slut’ on Ethel-Mary Quagmire’s FB wall; or posting a comment that “Obama is a fashist-comunist muslin” on a newsite is not one end of any conversation I care to hold up my end of.

I, of course, digress.

Swipely doesn’t want us to ‘join the conversation’ so that we can rant about Ethel-Mary Quagmire or muslins in the White House. They want us to “recommend purchase experiences, discover new places and products through trusted friends, save money, and have more fun shopping.”

First off, an English-major type of question here: does Swipely want us to “recommend purchase experiences”, as in, ‘when I test the melons at Whole Foods, I gently push my thumb in the soft spot”? Or, as in, “I recommend the purchase experience at the Korean cleaners on Charles because the couple who own it are really nice”?  Or, as in, ‘I had a great time buying Make Way for Ducklings at Borders. Buying a baby present always makes me feel good. I highly recommend it.”

Guess I’m not quite clear on just what constitutes a “purchase experience.”

As for the rest of it: Even before there was an Internet, I was always discovering new places and products through trusted friends.  E.g.,

Me: I really like that sweater. Where’d you get it?

Friend:  Marshall’s.


Friend: We tried that new Thai place. It was great.

Me:  Good. We were thinking of going there.

These are, of course, rudimentary illustrations, but they do have the benefit (to capital FU fuddy-duddy me, at least) of being part of a live, interactive, possibly even in-person conversation with someone I actually know and like.

Saving money is also on the Swipely list.

What’s not to like there?

I hit the sales. I use my LL Bean reward coupons. I love me a bargain as much as the next guy.

So helping me save money is good. Awesome, even. Maybe even wicked- awesome.

But it’s not enough to get me to start sharing my shopping history, which, I take it, is what Swipely wants us to do, i.e., tie some info bleat to every swipe of the credit card, every click on the PayPal button. (This may not, in fact, be what they do. I was really too lazy to go through the site and figure out exactly what they’re up to.)

Swipely also wants to provide a means to make shopping more fun.

Personally, despite moments of frustration – doesn’t anyone in Boston sell Gold-Toe gym socks anymore? – shopping is generally a fun experience.

I certainly don’t do as much of it as I used to, when I was working full time and did  plenty of frustration-response shopping. As in, if I have to commute 30 miles to this crappy job, I might as well stop on the way home and buy myself yet another periwinkle blue sweater.

But mostly I enjoy shopping, whether it’s buying a gift, getting groceries, browsing for books (for the record, I do recommend the new Jonathan Franzen), or picking out new bras. And I do enjoy an occasional social-shop with “the girls.” The ones who will tell you when something does nothing for you. Who can light on the one article of clothing in a shop that is “you”. And who know exactly whether you’re signaling “buy’ or “don’t buy” when you ask them what you should do with the yet another periwinkle blue sweater you’re holding in your hand.

Plus, you get to have lunch, and talk about what you just bought and/or where you’re planning to go next.

Also, during lunch, there will be real conversation, as in talk about politics, movies, books, families, friends, work. Conversations that we don’t even have to think about joining. They’re already joined! And it’s all natural: no keyboard intermediary required. No wi-fi available, no biggie. If your mouth can move, conversation can happen. The original wireless communication device: speech. And it happens in real-time that’s even more real-time than a tweet.

Of course, I’m not the demographic for Swipely. (Anyone who remembers when “swipe” meant “steal”, and not “charge card” is just too old. Speaking of which, as cards get smarter, we won’t be swiping them, we’ll be tapping them, and Swipely will become either a quaint name, or take on its own meaning.)

With respect to shopping, by there way, there is a blessed and natural process that occurs for many of us. And that’s as you get older, you just plain find yourself not needing as much stuff. And I’m pretty much there. In fact, you get to the point where deaccessioning is equally pleasurable to, if not more pleasurable than, accessioning.

Maybe I’ll start tweeting about the junk I’m going to leave out back on trash day.

Defunct company mugs. Still good. No chips.

Collected works of Armistead Maupin. Slight mildew smell

Yet another periwinkle blue sweater.

It’s not exactly a conversation, but someone may be interested in hearing it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Magnificent Seven (just how many career changes can a soul endure?)

I was intrigued by the recent Numbers Guy blog post in The WSJ which takes on the “they say” received wisdom that claims “that the average U.S. worker will have many careers—seven is the most widely cited number—in his or her lifetime.”

The notion of having seven careers is preposterous, but, of course, it all comes down to what you define as a career.

Did I have a career as a waitress before I went to business school?

Well, maybe I did: it was actually a job that I held after I had graduated from college and dropped out of PhD school.  So I guess that, while my more career-driven (or, at any rate, sensible) classmates were teaching, social working, going to law or med school, becoming librarians, climbing the ladder at John Hancock-New England Telephone-Shawmut Bank, reporting, politicking, or not dropping out of PhD school,  it was my career

After I stopped being a waitress, I was an office temp.

Was that a career, too?

Personally, I’d say that, pre-business school, I had a boatload of jobs, but nothing that really resembled a career.

Post-business school, I’ve had a number (not a boatload – more like a dinghy-load) of jobs, but one career: technology related product management-marketing, which has now (gasp) lasted nearly 30 years.

If I’ve got another six careers in me, I’d better get cracking.

Job change, as noted, is another matter:

What researchers do know is that job changes are common early in a person's working years: Three in four workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for under a year, the BLS says.

One might ask why the BLS is studying the job histories of high school and college students, which – presumably – a lot of 16-24 year olds are.

Wouldn’t you kind of expect at 16 year old to have been with their current employer for less than a year?

If memory serves, between 16 and 24, I worked in a combat boot factory, as a Big Boy waitress, Kelly Girl, research something or other doing something or other with computer printouts, customer complaint taker at Sears, grill cook, banquet waitress, clerk in a hospital emergency ward, administrative assistant, cafeteria slop server, sales clerk, Union Oyster House waitress, Durgin-Park waitress, and some things I’m sure I’m blanking on. I suppose I could add to the above list tutor, baby-sitter, and collection counter at my church.  Oh, and I worked one shift as a Valle’s Steakhouse waitress.

Okay, in examining this list, I know believe that I have to count waitressing as a career.

Which means that now, at age 60, I’ve had two careers. 

If I’ve got another six five careers in me, I’d better get cracking.

In truth, even if I were half my age, I can’t fathom the notion of seven careers.  There just aren’t all that many things I’d rather be doing.  One or two, surely – I can come with those pretty quickly. (Maureen Rogers, professional blogger….)  But seven distinct careers, requiring different education, skills, and training?  Nah… even if I were 30, there’d be no Maureen Rogers, pet neurosurgeon on my horizon. Maybe I’m just a shallow, stunted, unimaginative person, but there aren’t all that many things that I’d be all that interested in doing.

As I go through the checklist of people I know, I’m hard put to come up with all that many people who’ve switched careers. And the ones I can think of have switched careers once of twice  - teacher to business person, teacher to something else, social worker to lawyer – not five or six times. And those shifts haven’t been all that dramatic.  No accountant to cowboy, no funeral director to opera diva, no carpenter to hedge fund manager. Or vice versa – although I think if you picked a mega-lucrative career first, and were successful at it, you have a better change of radical career change once your lifetime nut is covered.  If only I’d been a successful hedge fund manager, rather than a pretty darned good waitress, I could be doing something else at this very moment.

Not that there’s anything not to like about product marketing. No sirree Bob.

Still, sigh!


Monday, September 13, 2010

Segwaying to the unemployment line: not so schnell…

The Germans sure can be sticklers, can’t they?

I know, I know. We’re not supposed to “do” ethnic stereotypes.

But my German mother sure was a stickler.  Just try adding the tiniest bit of embroidery to a story to make it just a wee bit more interesting.  Thar she blows, stickler wet-blanket in hand, announcing that this wasn’t 100% precisely what happened. (How she ended up with my father, an anti-stickler, if ever…)  And, as the granddaughter of a German butcher and an Irish saloon-keep, I come naturally by my belief that, at least occasionally, there’s some kernel of truth to ethnic stereotypes.

So, stay with me for a moment when I say that the Germans can be sticklers. (There is a point to this blog post.)

In a German recent sticklerama, a techie named Oliver Beel was fired because he plugged in his Segway and juiced it up while he was working. The electricity purloined cost Beel’s company all of 1.8 euro cents, or a little more than two-cents U.S. plain, to power up his transportation for a completely energy-efficient ride home.  (I thought Germans liked efficiency. Like Rick in Casablanca, who came to town for the waters that didn’t exist, I was misinformed.)

Here’s the story, from Reuters:

Network administrator Oliver Beel lost his job after charging his Segway, a two-wheeled electric vehicle, at work in May 2009. After he connected the vehicle to the firm's power source for 1-1/2 hours, his boss asked him to remove it.

Twelve days later Beel found himself without a job.

Now the courts have spoken, and Beel’s company has had to give him his job back:

The court ruled that dismissal was disproportionate to the offence, especially given the "minimal electricity cost involved, the plaintiff's 19-year employment by the company and the fact other employees charged mobile phones and digital photo frames at the firm's expense without punishment."

Maybe there’s more to this story. (Were they looking for a way to say to Beel, you, my friend, are gefeuert? Was the Segway getting in the way of fellow workers?  I could completely understand if Segway annoyance were at play. Pretty much every time I encounter a Segway, it’s being manned by a helmeted tourist gawping in the wrong direction and nearly running me down.)

But it does raise the question about what we can or can’t, may or may not, do when it comes to using company property or time for something that’s not exactly work-work.

I’m not exactly one of those who lugged out briefcases brim-full of paperclips, manila envelopes, glue sticks and pens from Whatever, Inc. In fact, I was something of an, errrrrr, stickler about not taking company supplies. (Ethnicity is destiny?) Nonetheless, there were plenty of occasions when I reached into my pocketbook for a pen to write a personal note on personal time and found that the pen was company property. Despite this realization, I went ahead and used that pen, anyway, figuring that I was ripping off about one mill’s worth of ink, and that, half the time, I used my own personally paid for pens, pencils, and glue sticks while doing the bidding of whatever, inc. I was working for.

And who among us – especially in those long-ago, Hello Central, pre-cell phone days – didn’t make and/or take an occasional personal phone call, even when there was some nitwit policy about non-business calls being strictly verboten.

Then there’s the Internet.

I always pretty much restricted my aimless, mindless surfing, and aimless, mindless online shopping, to lunch hour. Still….

Especially in this day and age, when the boundaries between work and personal time are so fluid and permeable, it’s hard to get all worked up about strict separation of work and personal.

Ten p.m. emergency phone calls.  Urgent 4 a.m. on Sunday e-mails. Catching up on messages/reading/performance reviews and whatever else while nominally “enjoying” a couple of days at the beach.

Things are so blurred nowadays that I’m always shocked to hear when the hammer comes down on someone caught up in innocuous “abuse” of company facilities. I’m not talking porn-surfing here, but every once in a while you read about some maroon who got in trouble because he IM’d his girlfriend on his supposedly inviolate company smartphone.  Who cares?

Of course, plugging in your Segway (or your digital photo-frame) is somewhat different, in that the use of these items is purely personal. Then again, so’s using the company fridge to store your yogurt or, let’s face it, flushing the toilet that the company so generously provides.

A couple of euro cents to “gas up” a Segway doesn’t seem any more unreasonable than toilet flushing or fridge usage – especially since, I’m guessing, the company plows the parking lot for those who drive cars.

But, nein.

Someone just couldn’t let Oliver Beel get away with it.

Now he’s been given his job back.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Memo to the Intelligence Community: Sssshhhhh.

Many years ago, my husband was on a flight, and he overheard the two guys in the seat in back of him talking about their work. Now Jim would never be voted the world’s most likely to pick up on loose talk, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that their work was also my work. There was nothing all that terrible about what these fellows were saying – just a few cracks about my boss’ boss – but, because they used last names, Jim was able to pick up on it.

Similarly, I was on a crowded subway a few months back, and there were a couple of young folks complaining about some co-workers. Actually, they weren’t just complaining, they were ranting about how unethical they were. I was close enough to eavesdrop, but not close enough to lean in and tell them that they probably shouldn’t be using last names in this sort of public conversation. (When I got home, I found the names of the people they were trash-talking on LinkedIn, and was easily able to figure out the company they worked for.)

Ssshheesshhhh.. Don’t people know that loose lips sink ships, and that the first rule of corporate chit-chat in public places is NO LAST NAMES.

When I worked at Genuity, one of the major bombs of the dot.bomb era, matters went beyond loose lips. Internal memos had a way of showing up on public bulletin boards before we’d even had a chance to sit around and make fun of them.

Of course, it’s not just corporate types who blab.

The Atlantic online has a copy of a (presumably leaked) memo from James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, reminding spooks and info analysts:

…that being in the intelligence business demands serious commitment to our work and an obligation not to share secrets with others, including the media.

Those in the know have been leaking things to the press for years. (Pentagon Papers, anyone?) But these days, it seems to happen more regularly and readily.

Anyway, poor James Clapper is just trying to put a lid on things, and now we’re all reading that he wants to get the word out that “blabbing secrets to the media is not "in" as far as I'm concerned.”

Not “in.”Can’t you just see the eye-rolling, hear the snorting, and see the “quote marks” sign going when co-workers in the world of intelligence gather at the coffee machine to parse this memo?

Now it so happens that, during the Viet Nam era, someone near and dear to me was with The Company, working as a chemist to avoid sweating in the jungles of Southeast Asia. (When he went for his draft physical, the doctor noted his dry skin, and wrote on his papers: “should serve in a moist, warm climate.”) Over the years, I’ve learned about a few tricks of the trade – circa 40 years ago - like how to burn a piece of paper to ensure that the writing on it can’t be read. (You flute the paper, light all the edges, and when it burns down you crumple it. I was delighted to see this trick performed in the Matt Damon movie, “The Good Shepherd.”) And how to extract a letter written on air-mail paper from its envelope without anyone knowing you tampered with it. (Wrap it around a thin piece of wire and pull it out through a tiny opening at the corner of the flap. Please note that it’s a lot easier to take a letter out this way than it is to put it back in.) However, I never learned anything secret-secret. Need to know basis only.

But this was someone from the good old days, when even natural born blabbermouths knew not to blabber.

These days, a good blab is put out there to influence policy and/or get back at the other guy. (Pentagon vs. CIA vs. State Dept.) Or to just to give the leaker his/her 15 minutes of fame, even if it is anonymous. What good is it knowing good stuff if you can’t let people know you know good stuff? And once they know you’re important enough to know good stuff, you may just give in to the temptation to demonstrate just how good the good stuff is.

Of course, it’s not just leaks to the media.

Most of us – in corporate or in government – don’t know anything that “the media” would be all that interested in.

But we Facebook, and blog, and tweet about work. We yack on our cell phones as if there were a cone of silence around us that precludes anyone else from hearing what we’re saying. Or maybe it’s that we want everyone in the world to know what we’re saying, so that they’ll realize that we are savvy, smart, and clever, our observations pithy and trenchant.

Privacy, keep it in the family, company secrets – so yesterday.

All transparency, all the time. (We like it. We love it. Can’t get enough of it.)

So much so that the Director of National Intelligence has to put out a memo reminding people to keep what they know to themselves. Remarkable.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Golden Age of Television: Sky King

Every once in a while, you see a reference to The Golden Age of Television, those sublime years in the 1950’s when a new play by Paddy Chayefsky was televised every other night, and Kitty Carlisle sat around discussing Kirkegaard with Bennet Cerf.

I, apparently, couldn’t stay up late enough to see any of the good and brainy stuff.

What I remember of TV in the 1950’s – and I remember plenty of it – was in good part complete and utter dreck: lousy comedians, simpering family shows, wooden dramas. Sure, there were some shows that have stood the test of time  - I still like The Honeymooners. But there was one whole heck of a lot of crap on those three measly networks.

This all came to mind when I saw the obituary of Gloria Winters in The New York Times a couple of weeks back. (Once a reader of the Irish sports pages, always a reader of the Irish sports pages, I guess.)

Gloria Winters, you may ask. And admittedly I would have as well if the header hadn’t read:  Gloria Winters, Perky Star of Wholesome ‘Sky King’, Dies.

I knew at once: Penny, adoring niece of adoring uncle, Sky King.  And don’t let those cowboy duds or the stage-coachy looking thing in the background fool you. Sky King was no cowpoke; he was a flying rancher, who flew around the Flying Crown Ranch in The Songbird.  The plots of the show were astoundingly forgettable, and I say that because I have an astoundingly good memory, and the only episode I remember is one in which Penny got in trouble with Uncle Sky for turning on The Songbird and using the propellers as a hair dryer. (Oh, that perky, wholesome Penny!)

I did have something of a crush on Clipper, Penny’s brother, and if he wasn’t featured in an episode, I kind of lost interest.

“Sky King” was just one of the many lousy shows aimed at kids, many of which – quite creepily – featured men that, given today’s sensibilities, you wouldn’t let your kid within a barge pole of. (Ever check out the camp director on Spin and Marty? Today’s parents would rather see their sons join the Dead End Kids than hang out at the Triple R Boys Ranch.)

Many of these shows featured absent mothers, or absent parents, entirely, which I suppose was part of the appeal for the kids in the audience. (Who among us didn’t occasionally if fleetingly wish that we’d be spirited away from our “real” families and get to live with some benevolent relation who would adore us with the same only-have-eyes-for-you fervor that the men in Shirley Temple movies bestowed on little Shirley. (Talk about unwholesome geezer interest in ringleted little girls. Ewww. We got to see a lot of these movies because, when there were no crummy TV shows on, Boston Movie Time showed crummy B&W films from the 1930’s.)

So where were Penny and Clipper’s folks? 

I know that Peter Graves, who played Jim, was a nice guy and all that, but what in tarnation was Joey doing living with Jim and Pete-the-ranch-hand on that isolated ranch on Fury?  How were those guys all related? And to think that little Packy’s parents let him go over there to play. Or maybe Packy was another orphan. (And if I have this right, Fury was filmed on the Spahn Ranch, where the Manson family lived. talk about creepy.)

Rin Tin Tin was another one. Nary a woman in sight, which wasn’t surprising, given that it took place on an Army fort smack dab in the middle of wild Indian territory. But why didn’t Corporal Rusty have a mom and dad? Sure, it’s nice to have a handsome Army lieutenant (Lt. Rip Masters), and a good-humored, cuddly Irish sergeant (Sgt. Biff O’Hara) looking out for you, not to mention having a swell German shepherd like Rinty, but still…

Which didn’t keep me from loving this show, even though I didn’t like Rusty at all. (He was certainly no Clipper King, that’s for sure.) My favorite episode – whose wasn’t – was the one where Rusty was going to be trampled by a herd of stampeding buffalo, which were stopped dead in their tracks by the sight of a white buffalo. (Cue mystical, angelic choir music.)

Sky King. Fury. Rin Tin Tin. I’d rather watch the Teletubbies, thanks.

And I think I’m more inclined to agree with Newton Minnow, who referred to TV as a wasteland, than to those who think of the 1950’s as The Golden Age of Television.

As I said, they probably got to stay up later and watch the good stuff. They certainly weren’t sitting their on Saturday morning, eating Sugar Pops out of a melmac bowl, watching Penny plane-dry her hair on Sky King.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Majoring in Mickey, minoring in Goofy: Disney’s in the education biz

I used to think that Disney was in the cartoon, kids’ shows, lunch box, back pack, sweatshirt, mouse ears, Happy Meal, stuffed animal, plastic toy, and other merchandising business. Little did I know they’re in the education biz, too, where they’re “building thinkers everyday.”

I can just picture the Seven Dwarfs heading off to work  – heigh-ho, heigh ho – to the now off-shored factory where they build thinkers.

Of course, I should have known that Disney was all over education. The Wonderful World of Color (which we watched in black and white in our house) often had science-y stuff on it  - shows like Perry the Flying Squirrel and The Blue Men of Morocco.  Personally, I preferred to watch episodes of Annette, although I did like it when old Walt gave us a dose of history – like Swamp Fox or Johnny Tremain.

But I hadn’t realized that Disney is also in the for-profit, classroom business. At least in China, where they run after school specials: evening English language classes for kids as young as two. (Source: The Economist.)

Thousands of Chinese children have signed up for Disney’s schools since the first one was opened in October 2008.

That should probably read “thousands of Chinese children have been signed up.” As enticing as Nemo, Mulan, and Cruella deVille are, I can’t see many kids signing themselves up for classes. But i digress.

Tuition is $1,800 a year: a big sum in China. But Disney claims that its results are impressive. It has ten schools in Shanghai, five in Beijing and plans to double that number in the next year, slowly extending from China’s two largest cities to surrounding areas. The main constraint is not customers—the older schools already have waiting lists—but training and staff.

This, of course, tells us a couple of things that we already know.

One, English is the world’s lingua franca. The real Esperanto.

This is lucky for us, since the, when it comes to speaking (if not writing and reading) English, we do have a teeny-tiny bit of a leg up on much of the rest of the world. Maybe not enough to give us much by way of competitive advantage, but it’s still something.

It also tells us that driven parents – and that would seem to include a lot of Asian parents – want their kids to learn.

This is not so lucky for us. Sure, there are lots of pockets of striving, driven parents out there, pushing their kids – or at least mildly encouraging them - to do well in school.

But one only has to read about the kids coming out of high schools with skills that are far too puny to translate into much career-wise to know that a lot of folks have bought into the idea that “We’re Number One” exceptionalism should entitle each and every one of us to a middle-class living. Even if we can’t locate our own state on a map, believe that World War II was waged between Russia and the Confederacy, accept as true to notion that photographic evidence exists that proves that man rode dinosaurs, and need an iPhone calculator to figure out that change for a $5 bill used to purchase something that costs $4.75 is a quarter. (That’s the round, silvery coin that used to always have George Washington  - or whoever that dude with the pigtail is - on one side of it, and some type of bird on the other.  Now it’s still got the dude with pigtail, but instead of the bird, it’s got a lot of boring stuff about states – whatever they are – on the other side. Like, man, what’s a peach got to do with Georgia?)

Anyway, one of the reasons behind Disney’s getting into the education biz in China is to make money in an area where they don’t have to look out so much for protecting their IP:

The very complexity of education means that it is less vulnerable to the piracy that usually stops Western media firms from making money in China. A bootleg copy of “Mulan” is much cheaper than the real thing and possibly just as good, other than the fact that it is stolen. It is harder to fake a good education.

Not to mention that there’s a lot of money in it. English-language education in China is big business. It’s:

… growing by 12% annually and will reach $3.7 billion by 2012. That may be too modest. Adele Mao, an analyst at OLP Global, a research and consulting firm, reckons the market is already nearly $6 billion a year and is growing by 20%.

Plus, the bottom line being the bottom line, it won’t hurt the fortunes of Shanghai Disney World to have all those kids who know and love Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and the whole

And who goes home from Disney-ville empty handed? All those made in China stuffed animals, bibelots, mouse ears… This will be one hell of an aha moment, won’t it, when folks realize who and what all the branded, useless junk they’ve been producing is actually for.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

If I had a Corot worth $1.4 mil, I think I’d be a bit more careful with it

There was a wonderful little story on Bloomberg last week about a couple who found themselves with a Corot on their hands. Apparently, they decided that for the $1.4 mil it was worth, they could replace it with a couple of works of art from AllPosters and still have a bit of walking around money.

Now, personally, if I had an honest-to-pete, authentic Corot – “Portrait of a Girl” or “Madame Stumpf and Her Daughter” or “Belfry At Douai”*, and I wanted to unload, I think I’d be pretty darned careful about where and I how I sold it.

Of course, I don’t have a Corot.

What I do have is an authentic late 19th century circus poster that sells in repro for $12, but which – for an original (which I have) – could fetch as much as $500-2,000. Given what I paid to have this sucker framed, I would hope I could get upwards of $2K. But, at present, Achille Philion will be staying right where he belongs, which is over my living room couch. If I were to sell him it, I’d probably take it to the guy who does my framing and ask his advice. Or maybe I’d put it up on eBay. After all, it’s not worth all that much. Of course, if I did have an agent walking around to bars with it under his arm, I’m guessing that, no matter what degree of inebriation he found himself in, he wouldn’t leave behind something that measures about 4’ x 2.5’.

A bit larger, than Corot’s 12 ¾-inch by 9 ½-inch “Portrait of a Girl.” Which is the $1.4 million dollar item that one James Haggerty left somewhere while he was in an alcohol-induced stupor. Haggerty is a friend of Tom Doyle, as well as his colleague at Imperial Jets – a private jet charter service in NYC. Doyle, a co-owner of the painting, along with Kristyn Trudgeon,enlisted Haggerty to help sell the Corot, and offered him $25K for his troubles.

After an abortive attempt to sell the painting to a London gallery owner, Haggerty avec painting is last seen (caught on security cameras) wobbling out of hotel on the upper East Side

On the next Haggerty sighting, when he enters Trump Place, where he lives, he’s painting-less.

Gosh, where would we be without these security cameras accounting for our presence? Unfortunately, there’s a video-less lost hour and a half or so between Haggerty reeling out of the hotel and wheeling into his digs. The morning after the night before, Haggerty called Doyle and let him know that the Corot had gone missing.

Now Trudgeon is suing, and the whereabouts of the Corot remain unknown. Trudgeon has this to say about Haggerty:

"I think he's a complete fumbling idiot," a visibly annoyed Trudgeon said outside her West Side apartment. "He's just a complete a--hole." (Source: Daily News.)

Well, Haggerty may well be a complete fumbling idiot, not to mention a complete a—hole, but if I were going to sell something that was worth over a million bucks, I think I’d want to be dealing with someone who was neither. Of course, Trudgeon and Doyle may not have realized ahead of time quite what an idiot and a-hole Haggerty was – even though Doyle, as a colleague, must have seen him in action at least once or twice. And whether they knew he was an idiot/a-hole or not, presumably they knew whether or not he had any experience in the art world.

Selling private jet services – and my guess is that Haggerty was in sales, rather than accounting, HR, or IT – is one thing. You don’t have to carry the jet around under your arm.

But, after all:

Private jets = rich people.
Expensive art works = rich people.

What’s the big diff?

Still, I think it’s quite a leap to go from office pal to art courier.

I may be wrong here. Haggerty may be a canny and knowledgeable art-dealer-on-the-side kind of guy.

But for a million-plus dollars, wouldn’t your thought have been to go through a professional? Someone bonded?

Maybe it’s just that in this world of eBay and Craigslist, we’re all so convinced of our own savvy that we’ve decided we don’t need no stinkin’ intermediaries. Why pay someone a percentage when you can pocket it all yourself? $25K to Haggerty vs. paying what I suspect an art dealer would skim?

So now it’s law suit time.

See you in court!


*No, I did not pull these names out of my head; I found them on ArtUnframed, where, I believe they got Mme. Stumpf’s name wrong. I really don’t think it was “Stumpg”.