Friday, May 30, 2014

Thin Mint e-cigs? No matter the Girls Scouts are smoking mad.

As commercial, non-home-made cookies go, it’s hard to improve on the perfection that is the Girl Scout Thin Mint.

Nothing I like better than to see a troop setting up shop on the corner, and nothing I find more disappointing than to get there and find that they’ve sold out the Thin Mints. Sure, Somoas are pretty good, but they’re no Thin Mints. It is always a sad day chez moi when the last Thin Mint in the freezer is consumed.

And the Girl Scouts know that the Thin Mint is a golden brand, so they’ll do what they need to do to win a Brand Protection badge.

So, while the Boy Scouts are figuring out what to do about gay leaders, the Girl Scouts are fighting a much better fight, going after e-cigarette vendors who sell “thin mint e-cigs.”

The Girl Scouts, General Mills, and Tootsie Roll Industries  have all sent cease-and-desist letters to liquid nicotine companies, asking them to stop using the names of their trademarked brands and threatening legal action if the name appropriation continues. (Source: Business Week)

General Mills wants the smokies to bogart use of Cinnamon Toast Crunch as a flavor. And Tootsie Roll is, presumably, going after anyone who wants to call an e-cig a Tootsie Roll. (Tootsie Roll is certainly a rather distinct flavor which, especially when coupled with its peculiar consistency, makes for the unmistakable Tootsie Roll experience. But I can’t see it as an e-cig flavor.)

I guess this is all part of a trend to tart up stuff that’s bad for you, making it more palatable and appealing, especially to the kiddy consumer. Thus we see all these flavored vodkas (marshmallow?), and, I guess, flavored e-cigarettes.

Not all the e-cigs are developing a sweet tooth. One producer, ECBlend, had a Jager Bomb variant. To avoid any unpleasantness with Jagermeister, they renamed their e-cig a J Bomb. They also have a Red Bull version called Red Energy. (J Bomb sounds cool, but Red Energy is kind of a yawner. But maybe it works if you’re an e-cig smoker. Or non-smoker. Or whatever they call themselves.)

ECBlend also sells a Gummy Bear version dubbed Gungo Bear. Chacun à son e-cig, I guess. And, of course, those Gungo Bears appeal to the kids that e-cigs are aimed at. “As one eighth-grader told NPR earlier this year, ‘My favorite flavor is gummy bears because it tastes really good.’

Eighth graders?

Are we raising a generation of vapers?

Guess they can puff away at their Gungo Bear e-cig after they’ve enjoyed a couple of belts of marshmallow-flavored vodka.

Anyway, let’s hope the Girl Scouts prevail with their Thin Mint cease and desist.

That’s one brand I wouldn’t want to see exploited and sullied.

I just want to see it in my freezer, where it belongs.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Where’s Cesar Chavez when we need him?

Forget worrying about the military-industrial complex. We’ve got a food-industrial complex on our hands that’s going to kill us – or at least make us sick as dogs – a lot faster.

The latest gag-inducing bit of news on that front: “The Dirty Truth Behind Fast Food Lettuce.” In this case, the fast food lettuce was produced by one Taylor Farms, which has:

…partnered with the finest companies in North America to provide excellent quality salads and fresh cut vegetables for our loyal customers.

Those loyal customers include Green Giant, Popeye Brand, big-box retailers, grocery chains, and our fast and not-so-fast food friends at Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden), Chipotle, McDonald’s, Subway, KFC, et al.

It’s likely that somewhere along your personal food chain, you’ve eaten something that came through Taylor.

We constantly innovate with new products and improve production methods to continue to earn our customers and consumers trust. As North American's take greater interest in enjoying healthier diets, we will continue to work to offer more convenient, great tasting choices in more points of access for consumers like you to enjoy.

As North Americans (apostrophe removed) take great interest in healthier diets, we’ll be no doubt taking greater interest in the likes of Taylor Farms, including what sanitation worker Federico Lopez claims to have found in a Taylor Farms storage area:

“I went into the hallway that they expected me to clean,” Lopez remembers. “There was pigeon feces, dead pigeons, dead bats and black mold. I’m certified for that, but the rest of my coworkers weren’t.” The crew had only been given dust masks for the job by the temporary labor contractor who employed them. (Source: Huffington Post)

I guess the good news is that Taylor was cleaning up that pigeon scat, the dead pigeons, dead bats, and black mold. Kinda/sorta.

I feel fortunate that the worst thing I ever found in my food supply was some sort of dead lizard when I was bagging up some green beans, years ago. (That dead lizard kinda/sorta looked like a green bean…)

But the fact that Taylor Farms hasn’t gotten the message that cleanliness is next to godliness is only the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

They’re also a major employer of temp workers – some of who have actually worked for Taylor for five to ten years -  using labor contractors to keep wages down, keep workers from enjoying any benefits and protections, and keeping their latter-day braceros under their green thumb. (Lopez was fired from his temp job shortly after he raised the flag about the dead pigeons and bats.)

One of the subcontractors that serves Taylor Farms, Mendoza, has something of a “Load Sixteen Tons” aura about it. In addition to supplying temp workers to Taylor, it:

… also supplies temp field labor, sells its own $7 boxed lunches to its field hands and even rents cash-only apartments to its mostly undocumented workers.

Talk about “I owe my soul to the company store.”

Hey, here’s your boxed lunch and your cash-only apartment.

For its part:

Taylor Farms has policies in place to prohibit the use of forced labor, human trafficking and slavery.

Phew, that’s a relief.

But just because you’re not using “forced labor, human trafficking and slavery” doesn’t mean that, in order to keep costs for our bags of Popeye greens down and company profits up, you’re not engaged in exploiting the most vulnerable among us.

Makes me want to start growing lettuce and tomatoes on my windowsill. And makes me wish that Cesar Chavez were still around.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The thin line between Rap Genius and Rap Moron

For some reason, I never seem to be able to get it through my thick skull that there are ostensibly intelligent people who do outrageously stupid things.

The most recent case in point seems to be Mahbod Moghadam, one of the brains behind something called Rap Genius, a site that provides the tremendous social, cultural, and intellectual benefits of letting people discuss the meaning of rap lyrics.

I realize that I am a colossal old fogey, but – while I’m sure there are folks who want to debate whether bitches are hos, and hos are bitches; to discuss the importance of bling to playas; and whether inciting violence is really inciting violence – I do find the existence of a formal forum in which to pursue the exegesis of rap lyrics is, frankly, ludicrous ludacris.  (By the way, the original name for Rap Genius was Rap Exegesis. No surprise given that the founders were smarty-pants Yalies, but way too smarty-pants and brainiac for the average prole who actually wanted to engage in rap exegesis. So the name became Rap Genius, which flatters the exegesis contributors without having them brain-strain around the meaning of exegesis.)

Rap Genius also provides News Genius:

News Genius helps you make sense of the news by putting stories in context, breaking down subtext and bias, and crowdsourcing knowledge from around the world!

Well, breaking down subtext and bias is good –it’s kinda/sorta what Pink Slip does, at least on occasion -  but I guess I just don’t have a ton of faith in “crowdsouring knowledge from around the world!”, with or without the exclamation point.

Anyway, over the weekend, Moghandam – not just a Yale grad, but a Stanford-educated lawyer who left a white-shoe firm to pursue the greater rappin’ good – took to the metaphorical airwaves and stepped in it.

(I never thought I’d argue that the world could use a few more suits, but wouldn’t you think that a Stanford Law grad could find something better to do with his time?)

Well, now that he’s been forced out at Rap Genius, I guess he’ll have to figure out what that something better might be.

Moghadam has left after doing a bit of untimely and incredibly insensitive thinking – and doing -  out loud, in which he provided some “annotation” of Santa Barbara psycho murderer Elliot Rodger’s pre-rampage YouTube screed.

Now there’s nothing wrong with trying to parse what was going on in Rodger’s mind. As Rap Genius has it, they decided that Rodger:

…was worthy of close reading – understanding the psychology of people who do horrible things can help us to better understand our society and ourselves. (Source: Rap Genius)

Unfortunately, the annotations that Moghadam offered up:

…not only didn’t attempt to enhance anyone’s understanding of the text, but went beyond that into gleeful insensitivity and misogyny.

What did he say that was so awful?

In a series of comments on the site, now deleted, Mahbod Moghadam called accused shooter Elliot Rodger's 141-page manifesto "beautifully written" multiple times, guessed that Rodger's 18-year-old sister was "smokin hot", and described an acquaintance of Rodger's as going "on to attend USC and turn into a spoiled hottie". (Source: The Guardian)

“Beautifully written?”

Gee, was this the time and place to gush about Rodger’s writing ability? Hitler liked dogs, and all that.

Maybe he could have said “seemed to be intelligently written”, rather than encourage those who are going to be worshipping at Rodger’s virgin-martyr altar.

And to speculate on whether Rodger’s sister was “smokin hot”?

Wow, just wow.

All this sick focus on “smokin hot” babes, and who “deserves” to get them, and whether any woman who isn’t “smokin hot” is worthy of any male attention at all – and the opposite (though lesser) number in which women discount any guy who isn’t “smokin hot” enough for her (or the Internet’s) liking – is just the sort of cultural current in which unbalanced individuals like Eliot Rodger become even further unhinged than they might have been in a world that put less value on “smokin hotness”.

Wouldn’t you think someone smart enough to graduate from Yale and Stanford Law would be smart enough to recognize this?

Apparently not.

Just as apparently it’s not really a matter of intelligence.

Maybe it’s just a matter time to grow the hell up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Laundry delivery services as a major “disrupter”? I’m going to wash that thought right out of my mind.

Q: What is my favorite household task, and the favorite of my sisters, as well?’

A: As anyone with more than passing acquaintance with The Een Sisters (Kathleen, Maureen, and Patricia Eileen) can tell you, it’s doing the laundry.

For sheer sense of accomplishment, and satisfaction when the job is complete, nothing beats seeing a couple of stacks of clean and folded laundry. I liked doing laundry as a kid – when the family didn’t even have a dryer – and I’ve always liked doing it as an adult. All clean clothing, all clean towels, all clean sheets: heavenly!

What with our lifelong, mutual interest in laundry, I was not surprised to receive an email from my sister Kath with a link to a recent post on Fritinancy on all the names that bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things are coming up with to name their laundry service sites: Brinkmat, Spotless City, Washio, Sudzee, Prim, Cleanly…

Fritinancy, in turn, points to Jessica Pressler’s recent NY Mag article on all the smartphone-based laundry services that are bubbling up as all those bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things look for the next killer app that will make them rich which is, apparently, the immediate goal of all those bright and – presumably – squeaky clean young things who, back in the day, wanted to do something useful like cure herpes or defend the indigent. (So yesterday…)

Remember the scrub board? One imagines people were thrilled when that came along and they could stop beating garments on rocks, but then someone went ahead and invented the washing machine, and everyone had to have that, followed by the electric washing machine, and then the services came along where, if you had enough money, you could pay someone to wash your clothes for you, and eventually even this started to seem like a burden—all that picking up and dropping off—and the places offering delivery, well, you had to call them, and sometimes they had accents, and are we not living in the modern world? “We had this crazy idea,” says [Jordan] Metzner, “that someone should press a button on their phone and someone will come and pick up their laundry.” (Source: NY Magazine)

And, thus, Washio was born. (Please note that Washio actually doesn’t do any of the washio-ing. In truth, they’re name could as easily be Pick-up-and-Deliver-io.)  But, to a lot of folks out there (not me and my ancient, laundry-loving sisters), anything to do with doing laundry is, apparently, a drag that diverts folks from more interesting and purposeful pursuits like posting selfies on Instagram.

Hey, it’s the hedonic treadmill – the more I have, the more I need to make me happy -  and ain’t no one crying ‘stop, I want to get off.’

As Pressler puts it, today’s best and brightest are applying:

…themselves to solving increasingly minor First World problems.

(And Allen Ginsberg thought he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed…)

But the Washios, aware that ‘solving increasingly minor First World problems’ can be ultra competitive, didn’t want to be just any old laundry service, so they added a new wrinkle: a cookie (as in an actual, physical, baked cookie) came back with your clean laundry.

But, millennials being millennials, some of them started to push back. Because cookies, well (whine, whine, whine) aren’t all that healthy.

Which sent Washio into a spin cycle trying to find a healthy alternative.  Banana chips? Flax crostini? Soup? Nuts?


Convinced they were the only members of their demographic who had discovered this particular market inefficiency, they [the Washios] started to imagine a future of wealth and power. Maybe one day Washio would get bought by a larger company like Amazon, or Uber itself. Maybe they would strike out on their own. Go public. Use their delivery infrastructure to offer other products—maybe even overtake the Amazons and Ubers of the world. “But first,” Metzner said, “let’s, like, demolish laundry.”

Now, I may not look at a smartphone app for laundry pickup as the way to demolish laundry. I mean, wouldn’t the way to demolish laundry be some sort of magic wand you could wave over your hamper, or clothing that just didn’t get dirty to begin with? But someone thought Washio was worth more than a roll of quarters, and they suddenly had $1.3 million in investment. And an idea beyond cookies: delivery men and women who were movie-star handsome. And calling them ninjas, rather than delivery men.

But what’s $1.3 million, when Ashton Kutcher has some free coin. So Washio all of a sudden had $3.6 million tucked into its slots.

In Silicon Valley, where The Work of creating The Future is sacrosanct, the suggestion that there might be something not entirely normal about this—that it might be a little weird that investors are sinking millions of dollars into a laundry company they had been introduced to over email that doesn’t even do laundry; that maybe you don’t really need engineers to do what is essentially a minor household chore—would be taken as blasphemy.

Washio is, of course, not alone. All sorts of laundry services are duking it out, hoping that Facebook or Google will look kindly on them and pick them up for $10 or $20 billion.

Well, I guess it beats the best minds of their generation focusing on weapons of mass destruction.

But an app to summon up someone to pick up your laundry when, in most large cities – where the laundry pick up and delivery services are taking off – most people probably live within a ten minute walk of some place they can drop their dirty laundry off?

Somewhere, Allen Ginsberg’s weeping.


And a tip of the freshly-laundered cap to my sister Kathleen for this one.

If we were going to do a laundry startup, I think we’d call it The Irish Washerwoman. And we’d actually do the work.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

And so another Memorial Day comes around.

I feel like I’m one of those 1930’s – 1940’s black and white movies where they illustrate the passage of time by sending pages flying off the calendar.

This is now Pink Slip’s eighth Memorial Day.

Last year, I was writing about the meaning of Memorial Day – and about how Jim and I were hoping to hear good results from his first rounds of chemo. (We didn’t.) The year before, I was writing about the meaning of Memorial Day – and about Jim’s recovery from “successful” (or so it seemed at the time) surgery for his cancer. Fly a lot more days-months-years off those calendars, and we’re back to Pink Slip’s first Memorial Day post, in May 2007, when I wrote about Decoration Day.

This Memorial Day, I’m mostly thinking about the two dear ones I have lost since last Memorial Day: my husband Jim and my golden (50 years!) friend Marie.

Neither was a veteran.

Jim spent what would have been his soldiering years working as a chemist for a series of government agencies, including the CIA, in order to get draft deferments. (Hard to think of anyone less suited to the soldier’s life than my singular and peculiar husband. I always told him he would have been Section-Eighted out in the time it took his drill sergeant to yell “ten-hut”, or whatever it is that drill sergeants yell.) Like my father, Marie’s served in World War II, Bob as a Marine MP in the South Pacific (a precursor to his job as a Worcester cop).

Anyway, Jim and Marie are the ones I’m mostly memorializing this time around.

Yesterday, I paid my first visit to the area at Mt. Auburn Cemetery where most of Jim’s remains remain. It’s a beautiful cemetery, where Jim and I had often taken walks, and the spot where Jim’s ashes-to-ashes are buried is especially lovely.

Last week, I did get out to Worcester to plant geraniums with my cousin Barbara. And the vets had already placed the flag on my father’s grave. flag 2014

But this really is the day to think about those who died fighting in our good, bad, and indifferent wars over the many years.

Since the Revolutionary War, 37,000 Massachusetts men (and women) have died in action, and over Memorial Day weekend, there’s a flag on Boston Common that flies in memory of each and every one of them. I actually don’t know any of them. The closest I came was the brother of two girls I went to high school. He died in Viet Nam. I wasn’t really friends with either of them, but the student council officers went to represent the school, so there I was, mourning David O’Brien, who was all of 19 or 20 when he lost his young life in one of the bad wars.

Seeing all those flags…Thinking about all those tens-of-thousands of mostly young men.


Easy enough to send them off with a gun in their hand if we don’t know who they are, isn’t it?

Here’s to you, all 37,000 of you.

A grateful nation could really show its thanks if it thought really long and really hard before sending any more of you off.

Friday, May 23, 2014

This makes me happy

Frankly, one of the dirty little secrets about growing old is that it’s actually fun to piss, moan, crank, and curmudgeon about what the young folk are up to. As it happens, it’s also fun to watch them get to experience and enjoy it all, whatever “it all” is going to entail for them. It’s just that the latter fun is always couched with a bit of wistfulness, a bit of envy, while the former fun is just brim full of cane-shaking, eye-rolling, gleeful spleen.

Thus, I find myself cane-shaking and eye-rolling about a lot of the useless things – make that useless apps, as no one actually makes things, useless or otherwise anymore – that “the kids” are producing. When, IMHO, they should be focused on useful apps that will keep oldsters independent (and, thus, off their backs), improve the environment, make our consumer-crazed lifestyle more sustainable, and just make the world a better place (and not just a better place for rich folks).

So I was heartened to see the list of startups that will be taking part of the Mass Challenge accelerator program this summer.

Bravo to Grove Labs, which focuses on hydroponics and aquaponics. (Hey, I’ll be able to grow my own tomatoes in my greenhouse kitchen!)

And to the Disease Diagnostic Group, which makes a diagnostic device for malaria.

To H2OnlyBattery which has a rechargeable, water-activated battery, and Hexfuel the reduces emissions and increases MPG for diesel. These are among a raft of clean tech ideas.

Go, clean tech!

Worksafe Technology focuses on worksafe technology. (Don’t you love a company that says what it does?)

iDropDiasnostics: blood tests anywhere!

Atlas5D is developing an “activity and fall detector for older adults that runs on Android.” On behalf of future trip, stumble, and falling geezers, I salute you. (Note to self: make next smartphone an Android.)

I’m not a cat person, but what’s not to love about Litter One’s odorless catbox system that lasts 4-6 weeks?

And Zootility Tools – “American made multi-tools that fit in your wallet” – Something useful! Something tangible!

DREAMLAND MEDIAS is “launching a collection of therapeutic and interactive films for dementia patients and caregivers.” As the Boomers age (and become more demented) this will surely make life better.

noonee’s making a portable chair that walks with you, something we’ll all need if we live long enough (like a couple more years).

Oncolinx “chases the diseases that no one wants to catch by safely and effectively treating the most aggressive forms of cancer.” I have no idea what that means but, having lost two near-and-dears to cancer in the last three months, I like the sound of it.

Oh, some of the stuff doesn’t sound all that wonderful and useful. Is it just me, or does the world really need a throwable microphone? And AirPooler is going to make “flying private irresistibly affordable and easy.” Do we really need this?

Some of the things are, at least at the tagline level – which is where I am – just plain confounding. As in “Dimples: It’s like printing money.” O-kay…

AWR Ideas is going to take “contextual advertising outside the internet to the physical world.” No thanks.

But, on balance, very few were of the “Goolge Adwords for billboard advertising” – talk about no thanks  - and help “women connect with guys another women has recommended” – talk yet again about no thanks – variety.

Mostly, the stuff on the list sounds well worth accelerating.

It makes me very happy that the young folks are focused on a lot of meaningful, important things.

Bless you, my dears.

Source: BetaBoston.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forget finance and marketing. (Grinds!) I’m focusing on travel and networking.

A few weeks back, I attended a family wedding. The wedding was lovely, picture perfect. Even the weather co-operated, which is not always a guarantee in early May in New England.

Both the bride and the groom are graduates of Harvard Business School, and the toast-to-the-bride was given by one of the bride’s HBS classmates. Rather than talk about things that had happened during classes, she focused on the exciting trips they’d made together. Mumbai and Dubai were the destinations that caught our table’s collective ears. (To which one of my tablemates – we were all relatives of the bride – added bye-bye.)

As it turned out, four of the folks at my table – I think my count’s correct here – had MBA’s, including one from HBS.

The MBA honor goes to my brother-in-law, and, while we were kidding around about the non-trips we’d all made while in B-school, Rick told a story about B-school these days.

Rick has a friend who, as it happens, has a son who is a current first year at Harvard.

After taking the lay of the land, and finding himself with an opportunity to go to Argentina to play polo, the fortunate son informed his father that, in order to really do HBS up right, he would need an additional $20-30K for each of the two years.

This on top of the estimated $95K it already costs – per year – to attend HBS as a single student, a budget that, in Harvard’s words, “assumes a moderate student lifestyle.” Which was, I guess, all that Rick’s friend was willing to foot the bill for. (Cheapo!)

Such a “moderate student lifestyle” – if it’s even worthy of the name “lifestyle” -  does not cover polo jaunts to Argentina, impromptu dinners in Manhattan, getaway weekends to Bermuda (or wherever business school students get away to), or trips to Mumbai or Dubai.

But since business school is apparently all about the networking, and precious little about the coursework (let’s face it, most of what you learn, you learn on the job, anyway), not being able to travel, will put a crimp in the induction into the global-elite that is increasingly what the upper echelon business schools are all about. As we learned in an article in the Sunday NY Times which my brother-in-law circulated:

In many M.B.A. programs, lifestyle experiences are gaining on academic ones in importance, as seen in much busier evening and weekend schedules of bars, parties and trips, says Jeremy Shinewald, founder of mbaMission, an M.B.A. admissions consulting firm based in New York. “My father went to business school a generation ago as a married 25-year-old, and I can assure you he has no stories of jetting off to Vegas for the weekend,” says Mr. Shinewald, who is 38.

Many of the business school trips are for educational purposes, some are for job exploration, but a lot of them are just plain party-hearty.

Ms. [Ming Min] Hui is a first-year student at Harvard Business School. During year one, she:

…has been on eight not-for-credit trips during her first year. “An M.B.A. is very different from a law or medical degree; the M.B.A. is designed for networking reasons,” she says. Over spring break, she hiked the Inca Trail in Peru through a student-organized trip.

It’s not all Inca hikes, however. Another trip was aimed at exploring West Coast high tech.

My alma mater, Sloan School at MIT made the article. Predictably, the first Sloan-ie cited was doing boring old career-oriented travel.

But I’m pleased to note that not all Sloan students are nose-to-the-grindstone careerist grinds.

Why, just yesterday, I passed a guy on Charles Street wearing a tee-shirt that read “Sloan School of Management Run the Rapids Trek”.

And the other Sloan grad mentioned in the article had traveled to nine countries – “including Norway, Ghana, Israel and Saudi Arabia” – during her two years at Sloan. And, as this was a female grad, surely she wasn’t exploring career opportunities in Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, she couldn’t have been going there to par-tay, either. Must have been cultural rubber-necking. Or maybe she was interested in an career in energy, which would explain Norway and Ghana. Anyway, nine countries in two years sounds like an awful lot of running around during time that could be spent studying. So much for Sloan as nerd school.

Kellogg School at Northwestern has a group called Kwest – which stands for Kellogg Worldwide Experience and Service Trips — which runs trips to help first-years get acquainted:

Descriptions of some Kwest trips are more reminiscent of a college spring break than a master’s program for emerging business leaders. A website for the Kwest Turkey trip boasts: “ 1/2 exploring and raging in Istanbul + 1/2 Bodrum beachside paradise = BEST WEEK OF YOUR LIFE! Boat cruises, bike tours, Turkish baths, wild night life, famous mosques and markets. Kwest Turkey has it all!”

Well, this may be the only sentence ever written in the English language that contained both the phrase “wild night life” and “mosque”. And forgive me if I can’t quite make the connection between “raging” and getting your MBA at a prestigious business school. Never was much of a rager, I get.

The MBA travel bug is a relatively recent phenom, according to Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeiffer:

“The social aspects of business school have become more prominent over the last decade — there is no doubt about that,” he said. “Students go to Vegas and take over a Southwest Airlines plane, they go to the Sundance movie festival, and some of them rent houses on Lake Tahoe.”

Companies now sponsor some of the schmoozing. At the Rolex M.B.A.s Conference and Regatta, a sailing race held last year at Santa Margherita Ligure on the Italian Riviera, more than 20 business schools participated in a multiday gathering that included cocktails at an Italian villa and other events, including a conference with presentations by business leaders.

Not that I’ve had any high-flyer MBA-ish career, but I’ve done okay. Just nothing global. Nothing elite. Nothing that required polo playing. Or raging in Istanbul.

My career, however, has required my network, through which I found pretty much every job – freelance or full-time – that I’ve ever had. And that network was built the old-fashioned way, by staying connected with people I like. Without one scintilla of energy spent worrying about “cultivating” the network.

Guess I’m just as content that the most exciting trip I ever made during business school was a weekend getaway to NYC with my husband.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Food, not so glorious, food

Movie-goers of a certain age might well recall a film from the early 1970’s called Soylent Green. It’s a sci-fi/dystopic flick in which our greenhouse-gassed, boiling alive world has an exceedingly challenged food supply. So most people live on survivor rations of something called soylent green.

Now, while I actually do know some folks who eat to sustain themselves, but have no particular interest in or liking for food – yes, there are actually people out there like this – I’m one of those who actively enjoys food.

Food, glorious food.

The list of foods that I don’t like is pretty short: turnips, sauerkraut, eel (unless disguised in sushi). I could nicely live out the rest of my years without encountered sweetbreads, brain, or kidney. (Been there, done that.) Although I like paté, I’m not crazy about liver. And cooked carrots generally do nothing for me. I’ll take mine raw, please.

But mostly I like food. I enjoy eating.  Sit me down and plunk something in front of me and I’m good to go.

There are, however, some folks who just don’t want to bother with food.

It’s not that they don’t like it. It’s that they lack the time, interest, and energy to think or do anything about it.

Think grad students Cal Tech, MIT geeks living the incubator life, EE’s from Georgia Tech trying to entrepreneur their way into riches,  and you’ll get the picture.

Too busy thinking, inventing, experimenting to bother with preparing healthy and interesting meals. So they end up living on more fast-food, take-out, junkier things than might be good for their brainy little bodies and minds in the long run.

Into this cohort falls one Rob Rhinehart, a Georgia Tech EE grad, who was furiously tech-entrepreneur-ing away at the cell-phone tower start up he had founded with a couple of friends – a venture that wasn’t succeeding:

Down to their last seventy thousand dollars, they resolved to keep trying out new software ideas until they ran out of money. But how to make the funds last? Rent was a sunk cost. Since they were working frantically, they already had no social life. As they examined their budget, one big problem remained: food

They had been living mostly on ramen, corn dogs, and Costco frozen quesadillas—supplemented by Vitamin C tablets, to stave off scurvy—but the grocery bills were still adding up….[Rhinehart] began to resent the fact that he had to eat at all. “Food was such a large burden,” he told me recently. “It was also the time and the hassle. We had a very small kitchen, and no dishwasher.” He tried out his own version of “Super Size Me,” living on McDonald’s dollar meals and five-dollar pizzas from Little Caesars. But after a week, he said, “I felt like I was going to die.” Kale was all the rage—and cheap—so next he tried an all-kale diet. But that didn’t work, either. “I was starving,” he said. (Source: The New Yorker – you may need a subscription to get at this; I’m not sure.)

So Rhinehart decided to approach the eating thing as an engineering problem, and started developing a sustaining, balanced food that anyone would make at home with the right combination of nutrients. 

Rhinehart called his potion Soylent, which, for most people, evokes the 1973 science-fiction film “Soylent Green,” starring Charlton Heston. The movie is set in a dystopian future where, because of overpopulation and pollution, people live on mysterious wafers called Soylent Green. The film ends with the ghastly revelation that Soylent Green is made from human flesh.

Not that Rhinehart’s concoction is made from human flesh, but it’s still an interesting choice of name for his product. The target audience is, apparently, not Baby Boomers.

Anyway, Rhinehart is pretty much living on Soylent, and claims to feel and look better, and be saving a ton of money. As he has written:

“I feel like the six million dollar man. My physique has noticeably improved, my skin is clearer, my teeth whiter, my hair thicker and my dandruff gone.” He concluded, “I haven’t eaten a bite of food in thirty days, and it’s changed my life.”

And given him a business (which, by the way, follows the open source model).

Soylent is in part crowd-funded:

They started with a fund-raising goal of a hundred thousand dollars, which they hoped to raise in a month. But when they opened up to donations, Rhinehart says, “we got that in two hours.”

They’ve begun shipping product, and it’s giving an alternative to those who want to survive without thinking about food, or who are feeling vegan-ish guilt about exploiting bees and chickens, or polluting the world with cow methane. And it may actually contribute something to eradicating global hunger.

Rhineland doesn’t see Soylent as totally replacing food:

“Most of people’s meals are forgotten,” he told me. He imagines that, in the future, “we’ll see a separation between our meals for utility and function, and our meals for experience and socialization.” Soylent isn’t coming for our Sunday potlucks. It’s coming for our frozen quesadillas.

For the record, this is what the mix is like:

People tend to find the taste of Soylent to be familiar: the predominant sensation is one of doughiness. The liquid is smooth but grainy in your mouth, and it has a yeasty, comforting blandness about it. I’ve heard tasters compare it to Cream of Wheat, and “my grandpa’s Metamucil.” “I think we look handsome,” Rhinehart said.

Okay, there’s been plenty of liquid diets out there. My husband downed a lot of Ensure in the last couple of years of his life trying to maintain a high-calorie diet.

Perhaps the main difference between Soylent and drinks like Ensure and Muscle Milk lies in the marketing: the product—and the balance of nutrients—is aimed at cubicle workers craving efficiency rather than at men in the gym or the elderly.

One of Soylent’s taglines is “What if you never had to worry about food again?”

If this sounds like a good thing to you, you can head on over to Soylent and have at it.

Me, I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner tonight, and it will be a bit more interesting and tasty than Soylent (and a lot less gag-inducing than the notion of Soylent Green).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A rolling sarcophagus by any other name

As if GM doesn’t have enough problems matters on their hands, one of the things that’s come out is a 2008 confidential Power Point instructing employees on what not to say.

I know that anything can come up in a presentation.

I once sat through a preso in which the president of one of my company’s divisions told us that his division was moving through the market with “all of the momentum of an entrenched juggernaut.”

Ignoring for a moment that something entrenched is not really likely to have all that much momentum, who wants to think of their work as a juggernaut? Unless you don’t take getting crushed to death in anything other than a metaphorical way.

Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for corporate America…

Anyway, juggernaut was not on the list of “judgment words” that GM distributed. But “rolling sarcophagus” was.

Oh, I suppose there was a day – before e-mail, before social media, before even Power Point – where someone could have given an internal presentation using “foils” that used the words “rolling sarcophagus.” But you’d think that by 2008, folks would have known better than to use this term – unless, of course, they were using it to describe a competitor’s vehicle, like the Ford Pinto. Not that GM – maker of the “unsafe at any speed” Corvair - would want to be throwing the first stone here. So probably best to avoid “rolling sarcophagus” altogether.

What else made the list?

Oh, there were some fairly innocuous words – like “always” and “never”, which I guess someone could always pull out to prove that you were wrong. (Never say always? Never say always not never?)

And some words that you’d think might be okay, like “safety-related,” “serious,” and “problem” are warned against.

You’d think that “safety-related” would be an important part of the conversation for any car-maker. And as for “serious” and “problem”, if you can’t use those words in a presentation, then I’d say you’ve got a serious problem.

But GM offered a workaround: just do a global replace of “problem” with “condition”, “matter”, or “situation.”

“Defect”? Why that’s just something that “does not perform to design.” Unless, I guess, the design is flawed. Which you can’t say, because you can’t say “flawed.” (Something flawed about their reasoning.)

But there’s a whole lot of other goodies on GM’s list of “vague non-descriptive words, or words with emotional connotations.” The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but illustrative of the must avoids. Included among these, alongside “rolling sarcophagus,” are: “annihilate,” “apocalyptic,” “asphyxiating,” and “cataclysmic.” Which is not to be confused with catalytic, which is not on the bad word list.

And, by the way, “bad” in itself is a bad word. What you want to go with is “below expectations.” (In case you’re wondering, good isn’t on the bad word list, but it probably should be.)

Seriously, folks, do Power Pointers at GM really need to be told that they should avoid space shuttle Challenger, Hindenburg, and Titanic analogies? That “decapitating,” “disemboweling,” “grenade-like,” and “widow-maker” would look bad, especially when taken out of context?

Didn’t these guys learn anything from Martin Lomasney, a great Boston Irish pol of yore:

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.".

GM employees are also warned to avoid words/terms with “biblical connotations.” So no putting a fig-leaf on matters, no trials of Job for what GM’s going through.

In a statement cited by Reuters Friday, GM spokesman Greg Martin said times have changed since the period in which the PowerPoint was released, citing a new "Speak Up for Safety Program" that "encourages employees to discuss safety issues." But for now, thanks for participating, everyone. (Source: Huffington Post.)

Does this mean it’s now okay to describe a GM vehicle as a Kervorkian-esque – another word on the list - rolling sarcophagus?

Somehow I doubt it…

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oh, Jill Abramson, why’d you have to go and do that for? (If, in fact, you actually did…)

I must admit that, until this weekend, when I ended up in a hay-fever induced stupor watching Charlie Rose and 24/7 pundits on MSNBC, I had barely given a moment’s thought to Jill Abramson, the recently dethroned executive editor of The New York Times.

I knew, of course, that she was the first woman to hold that position at The Grey Lady, and one of the first women in the country in that job at a major newspaper.

So, good for her!

Now, like everyone else who spent the weekend in a hay-fever induced stupor watching Charlie Rose and 24/7 pundits on MSNBC, I know what her salary was. I knew that she chose to get fired rather than slink out under some euphemistic face-saver about “leaving to pursue a new venture.” And I knew that some of those under here loved working for her, while others despised her. As happens, when you play the game of thrones…

Since Ms. Abramson got the heave-ho last week, both sides – friend and foe – have been leaking e-mails, talking off the record, and staging whisper campaigns, behavior entirely reminiscent of what might have happened in a John Hughes film in the 1980’s if the handsome football captain broke up with the homecoming queen to pick up with the nerd girl with the heart of gold (and stunning good looks behind those nerd-girl glasses.) High school confidential, all right.

Anyway, like most of the punditry, I don’t feel I have to actually know anything about what really went on to offer my two-cents on L’Affaire Abramson. So here goes.

  • Salary Disparity: Much has been made that Abramson made less than her male predecessor, both in her most recent position and in an earlier position at The Times. Some are calling this blatant sex discrimination, but from my point of view, she got what she negotiated for. In these top positions, it’s not like there’s fixed hourly rate that a lot of people work for. It’s pretty much a one-off, and it’s up to you to get the best deal for yourself. So Jill Abramson left some money on the table. Big deal. Maybe this is more a “girl thing” than a boy thing, but it doesn’t mean the sexists at The Times were out to screw her. Still, one might have hoped that The Times would have entered into salary negotiations with their First Woman Executive Editor with an inkling that, if this info leaked out, they could look bad. (Bet that the incoming executive editor, who’ll be the first African-American to hold the post at The Times, won’t be making less than Bill Keller (who preceded Abramson). Betcha he’ll even be making more. Easier to negotiate when you know the facts, isn’t it. Which, thanks to Jill Abramson, Dean Baquet does.)
  • Quit, I’m fired! Personally, I’m just as happy that Abramson made her boss, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger – wonder how he got his job? – fire her, rather than let them do the mealy-mouth thing that everyone in the industry would have recognized as the mealy-mouth thing within less than a New York minute. Her making it clear that she was fired is helping get a lot of valuable conversations moving along, on a lot of fronts: equal pay for equal work, why assertive women are as often as not viewed as pushy broads, as bitches. These are, in fact, real issues that, 40+ years after MS. Magazine hit the stands are still out there.
  • The lunchtime surprise: Before his recent elevation, Mr. Baquet was The Times’ managing editor. A few weeks ago, Abramson apparently decided to bring in another person – digital media expert Janine Gibson – to work as a co-managing editor alongside Baquet. Somehow, she failed to let Baquet know this, and he had an embarrassing lunch with Ms. Gibson, in which she asked his advice on becoming the co-managing editor. I don’t blame Baquet at all for being ticked off about this. Just bad form! But if managers all got fired when they did insensitive, neglectful, stupid-ass things, well, there’d be no managers. (Whether this would be a good or a bad thing is a discussion for another day.)

    My favorite personal happening along related lines occurred when the president of a small software company told me that I no longer reported to him, but that I reported to “T”. I would not have received this with particular joy and equanimity under any circumstances, but the fact that “T” was sitting there smirking didn’t help any.

    But sometimes you have to deal with managers who do really bad things.

    Sure, if it’s their regular way of managing, off with their head! As happened in my little company, when the investors brought in a turnaround guy who ousted that president immediately. And eventually got rid of “T” as well.
  • Lies of omission vs. lies of commission vs. white lies vs. no lies: The Sulzberger camp released information saying that Abramson had led Sulzberger to believe that Abramson had deliberately misled him by leading him to believe that she had discussed Gibson’s coming in as co-managing director with Baquet, and that Baquet was fine with it.

    I’m sure that the he-say-she-say-hear-say-what-you-say will all come out, but if Abramson really did lie to Mr. Sulzberger, well, you can’t blame him for firing her.

    If she did, well, Jill, how could you? This was a really dumb thing to do.

    But I suspect there’s quite another way of reading the e-mail tea-leaves than the one that the Sulzberger camp’s come up with. Maybe she said she was going to. Maybe she meant to, but didn’t get around to it. Maybe it didn’t occur to her that Gibson would spill those particular beans.

All America wants to know!

Or at least the portion of the population that sat around all weekend in a hay-fever induced stupor watching the pundits have at it.

Friday, May 16, 2014


I spent last weekend visiting some old friends in Dallas. We have an awful lot of past to gab over, as Joyce was my college roommate (and post-college traveling companion: cross-country and pan-Europa). Since she was dating her husband while we were in school, I’ve known him forever, too.

We don’t just revisit the past, of course. We talk about family. We talk about friends. We talk about books. We talk about politics, culture, and sports. And, amazingly, we talk about fashion.

To wit, Joyce talks about her passionate devotion to high-end fashion, and then we laugh about my abysmal ignorance of Chloé, Marni, and Cucnelli.

On the other hand, I know a boatload more than Joyce about what’s in the latest L.L. Bean catalog.

But Joyce is a fashionista – always has been, always will be. She’s not just a dedicated follower of fashion, it’s her career, and her job at the Dedicated Follower of Fashion Emporium in Dallas takes her, twice a year, to fashion week in New York, Paris, and Milan, where she sometimes even gets to sit in the front row. Ad she sometimes even has her picture taken with a designer I’ve actually heard of.

At a recent meeting at the Dedicated Follower of Fashion Emporium, Joyce was given a bunch of goody bags from different vendors, and she put a couple of them aside for my teenage nieces. So my “classic” niece will soon be in possession of a Burberry wallet that retails for close to five-hundred bucks. (Yikes!) And my “edgy” niece will be on the receiving end of a Stella McCartney tee-shirt that goes for somewhere between $300-400. (Yikes!)

Joyce is really good at this sort of figuring out who’s what style, and she completely got my nieces right. M is classic; C is edgy. (When we were in college, before anyone did colors, Joyce gave me a periwinkle colored bathrobe and told me that this was the color that I should be wearing. Damned if when I had my colors done a decade later, she wasn’t right.)

So the girls have a nice little luxury-good treat coming.

I could do without the Stella McCartney tee-shirt – and the world could do without seeing me in it. But I wouldn’t have minded if there’d been another goody bag with a wallet in it… Oh, boo-hoo.

At least theoretically, I can afford to go into Burberry and get my own damned wallet.But I don’t do a lot of luxury good shopping. And don’t intend to start now. The closet I come is an occasional pricey sweater from the Peruvian Connection. These purchases I justify by a) telling myself that I’ll have the sweater for decades (as has, indeed, been the case with earlier Peruvian Connection purchases: I’ve had one sweater for almost 25 years); and b) ignoring the fact that some Peruvian woman probably made three cents an hour making the sweater.

Just as well I stay out of the types of stores where someone, sizing up my Talbot’s stretch khakis and natty T.J. Maxx scarf, would look down their imperious salesperson nose at me and intimidate me into making a purchase. Because:

For luxury-goods retailers, nothing spikes sales like snubbing the customer.

Shoppers pining for a fancy handbag are more likely to pull out their credit cards than turn on their heels after encountering a rude clerk, according to new research. That’s because indicating that some people don’t fit with fancy brands motivates those individuals to prove they do — by making a purchase. (Source: WSJ Online.)

This doesn’t work at the Gap – where classic niece M works. If you’re snubbed by a clerk there, you’re likely to turn on your heel and shop elsewhere. But it works at Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Gucci, which were the high end stores included in the research conducted by a couple of business school professors. (The lower-end stores were the Gap, H&M, and American Eagle.)

When a retailer signals, “’No, you don’t deserve to be here,’ it makes us want to be a member,” said Darren Dahl, a professor at the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver who conducted the research with Morgan K. Ward, an assistant professor of marketing at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.

For the person eager to own a luxury-brand item, a withering sales clerk is a goad, Mr. Dahl said. Instead of driving a shopper away, the challenge prompts him to think, “I’m going to show you I have a right to be here.”

In the long run, Dahl and Ward don’t think that snottiness is a good strategy, and that, in the long run, good service pays off in the long run.

I suspect that this is, indeed the case. I certainly know from Joyce that the women with monthly clothing budgets that run into the many tens of thousands get plenty of TLC.

But maybe the fancy stores do get to pick up a few bucks from the occasional, once-in-a-lifetime shopper that they crap on.

I think if I do decide to up my shopping game, I’ll do it online, where they can’t see me. Or paw through the racks at T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s to see if I can get something on deep discount. Who cares if it’s last year’s model? It’s not as if I’m going to know the difference.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Free to be gluten-free

There was a fun little piece on last week on the diet fad that is gluten free which, as rages go, is to this decade (the 20-teens?) what the Atkins Diet was the the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Books such as “Wheat Belly” and “Grain Brain” would make you think that gluten is the monstrous enemy of a healthy and successful life.Elisabeth Hasselbeck decided to jump on the gluten-free train too, and while she claims a gluten-free diet helped alleviate her gluten sensitivity symptoms, in the book Hasselbeck puts a gluten-free diet on a pedestal as the key to losing weight, increasing energy, and “alleviating the conditions of autism.” (Source:

Well, right there, even if I were the type to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon, the thought of Elisabeth Hasselbeck raising her baton would give me pause.

But I’m not the type.

Having experienced the celiac life at one remove, I have to wonder who would voluntarily give up good-tasting bread and good-tasting pasta.

Yet I have at least two friends – intelligent, sensible, people to be trusted – who claim that they feel better when off gluten. (I suspect that they may suffer from gluten sensitivity, which is not as severe as celiac disease. So they probably do really feel better when they’re not wolfing down tortellini and grilled-cheese on rye.)

But gluten-free is not a miracle cure. It’s not (necessary) for everybody. And a doctor at MGH who directs the Center for Celiac Research can’t for the life of him understand why anyone who doesn’t need to would voluntarily forego the joys of gluten.

I’m with Dr. Alessio Fasano, who tells this story:

…He tried to live gluten-free for Lent. Especially as a European who loves pasta, he found it discouraging, annoying, and ultimately couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to live gluten-free if they didn’t have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.

He said the diet was simply expensive and inconvenient. “I would not call it a healthier diet, or something you should be on to lose weight,” said Dr. Fasano. “Because if you consume the alternate food options, they can often be higher in fats.”

My personal involvement with gluten-free began when my husband, at some point in his medical odyssey, was diagnosed with celiac disease, with the diagnosis confirmed through a biopsy. Although Jim had never suffered the symptoms that many do – he never had intense pain when ingesting anything containing gluten – it did explain why he had trouble absorbing iron. And it may have contributed to the development of the esophageal cancer that eventually killed him.

So celiac disease/gluten sensitivity is serious stuff, and those who automatically scoff at those on a gluten-free diet as faddists are mistaken if they think the whole thing is a farce.

Occasionally going gluten-free is not a colossal drag or burden.

Jim and I sought out restaurants that had gluten-free options, and we often ordered both our meals gluten-free, as we always liked to switch plates. There are plenty of wonderful things to eat that don’t contain gluten, including wonderfully starchy fare like risotto and potato gnocchi.

But there were some things that Jim really enjoyed that he had to live without, including hacked chicken from Shun Lee Palace in New York, which, sadly, used soy-sauce that contained something wheat-ish.

However, Jim was never a big bread and pasta junky, so he didn’t have as much trouble adapting to a gluten-free life as I would have.

Still, he did like sandwiches, and gluten-free bread was both expensive and pretty awful. We tried every brand available, before settling on Udi, which Jim found to be okay when toasted, but which – weirdly – always developed big holes in it after a few days, which made putting sandwich ingredients on it a drag.

While the Udi bread was nasty, their cookies and muffins were very tasty. Jim wasn’t a big sweet-eater, but he did like an occasional dessert-ish thing, especially when he was on a high-calorie diet. 

As for other gluten-free foods. Jim found a pretzel (Glutino brand) that was pretty good. (I still have the last bag sitting in the kitchen.) But the pastas were all pretty much ghastly. And even at the restaurants that specialized in gluten-free, we never found a pizza that was anything other than nasty-tasting. Nor did Jim ever find a tasty gluten-free beer.

One thing we did find out along the way is that Italy – of all places – is an excellent country for those with celiac disease.

Sure, you might think that the land of pasta and pizza would be no country for old men with celiac, but our gluten-free trip to Rome was a breeze.

It turns out that a lot of Italians have celiac disease. Pharmacies all sell gluten-free foods, and in every restaurant we went into, we found the staff aware of celiac disease, and ordering gluten-free was no problem. I had printed out some information sheets on “senza glutine”, but we never really needed them.

(The awareness level and responsiveness in Italy was far greater than you’d find in the U.S., that’s for sure, even though it has gotten better of late. We never got to find out, but rumor has it that France is terrible for those with celiac disease.)

Anyway, there is now a:

… billion-dollar industry that’s benefiting off of this trend. Analysts from the market research company NPD Group said in the The New York Times article “A Big Bet On Gluten-Free” that approximately 30 percent of consumers say they would like to cut back on the gluten in their diets. Another research company Mintel projected that this industry will reach more than $15 billion in sales annually by 2016.

While gluten-free is not for everybody:

“We really have a problem when we call this medical treatment a fad diet,” said Dr. Fasano. “The estimated prevalence of people who need to be on a gluten-free diet is 10 percent, but this industry and books like “Grain Brain” would rather estimate it’s at 100 percent.”

Jim was one of the 10-percenters, and he followed the diet very carefully. Until he neared the end.

On the day we found out that Jim wasn’t going to make it, we were (needless to say) pretty all-round sad. While the news wasn’t surprising, it was disheartening. Especially after all Jim had endured, we had been hoping that the pay-off would be something other than an early death.

We walked home from MGH, and Jim decided that, what the hell, at this point it didn’t seem to matter all that much whether he was absorbing the right amount of iron. Having a bit of gluten in his diet wasn’t going to kill him.

One of the things Jim had missed was having a beer. Another thing was having a hot dog. (For some reason, GF hot dog buns were even worse than the bread.)

So we went to the Cheers bar and the condemned man ate a hearty meal of a hot dog and a beer.


The look on his face confirmed to me that nobody in his right mind would deliberately go off gluten unless they absolutely had to.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2,824 MPG: now that’s fuel efficiency

There has been so much crappy news of late, climate-wise.

First, there was last week’s release of the White House report on climate change.

Then there was the news that East Antarctica may be melting more rapidly that previously thought, which could raise the ocean level by 4 meters over the next 100 years.

And, as is always the case when there’s any news on climate change, the comment sections brings out an awful lot of folks who manage to pull their heads out of the sand (or out of a more up- close and personal nether region) for long enough to whip off a few words about Al Gore’s weight, moonbats, and people who just plain and simple (with the emphasis on the latter) hate America. I know I should never, ever, ever read the comments section when the article is about the environment, politics, the Obama girls, or sports. Still, I don’t seem to be able to stop myself. This inability is, in itself, disheartening enough, but the disheartenment is compounded by just how disheartening it is to read the comments.

All this disheartenment was somewhat relieved by an article in Business Week on the results of Shell’s Eco-marathon Americas competition, which was won by a group of students from Canada’s  Université Laval.

I’m not going to get all jerky cynical about Shell sponsoring this sort of competition. They’ve got to know that, fossil fuel-wise, the handwriting’s on the wall. So who better than to get ahead of the game than an old fossil of a fossil fuel company?

Not familiar with this competition? Well, neither was I. But fortunately, people who can actually answer the challenge do.

Shell Eco-marathon challenges student teams from around the world to design, build and test ultra energy-efficient vehicles. With annual events first in the Americas, then Europe and Asia, the winners are the teams that go the furthest using the least amount of energy. The events spark debate about the future of mobility and inspire young engineers to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency.

I for one am all in favor of “inspiring young engineers to push the boundaries of fuel efficiency.” The young engineers of my generation were more likely to give us electronic gizmos with marginal utility. Fuel efficiency, smaller-cheaper-more-energy-more-power batteries, stopping the East Antarctica plug from unplugging: you go, young engineers!

Or, should we say jeunes ingénieurs, since this year’s winners are from Canada’s premier French-language university.

The winning group, from Université Laval in Quebec, overcame technical setbacks, including excess friction short circuits, to achieve an efficiency of 2,824 miles per gallon. To put that in perspective, the prototype could travel from New York to Los Angeles on less than a gallon of fuel. And that figure is still well below the 3,587 miles per gallon the same school achieved last year. (Université Laval has won five out of the last six Shell competitions.) (Source: Business Week.)

The car won’t be showing up on any0506_shell_cars_970-630x420time soon, and it won’t ever be replacing the family mini-van or SUV. Still, what a tremendous accomplishment.

The category that Laval won was the Prototype class, which goes for maximum efficiency, rather than things like creature comfort. Having driven cross-country in a Karmann Ghia, I can state with assurance that putting the pedal to the metal on Route 90 and driving straight out there from Boston to Seattle in the Laval vehicle would not be a thing of comfort.

The other category, Urban Concept, focuses more on the passenger side.

This year’s Urban Concept winner was a team of high schoolers from Mater Dei in Evansville, Indiana.*

(Mater Dei! Mother of God, could there be a more retro Catholic school name out there!)

Mater Dei’s winner gets 849 MPG, an2014 Shell Eco-marathon Americas 2014d is a lot cuter than the tiny Smart Cars that are starting to appear around these parts. Completely adorable. Don’t you just expect to see the door open and a couple of little green Martians step out?

The question du jour, which Business Week asks, is:

If a group of students can build a hyper-efficient vehicle, what’s standing in the way of carmakers doing the same?


For starters, these prototypes are built to conserve fuel, not for everyday safety and speed.

Other innovations that emerged from the contest were a steering wheel made on a 3D printer, and a set made out of kombucha…

… a microbial culture that can be consumed as tea or, in this case, turned into vegetable leather.

Good to know the future’s not all gloom and doom. If ever I buy another automobile, I’ll be sure to look for kombucha seats.


*I checked out the school and their motto is “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” Coincidentally, this was the motto of my husband’s alma mater, Bellows Falls High School. In Jim’s day, some student wags once altered the sign to read “Enter to Learn Crime, Go Forth to Serve Time.” Curiously, this proved true for one of Jim’s classmates, who dropped out of Fordham to join the Westie’s (New York’s Irish Mafia), and ended up doing time in Sing Sing.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A whale of a tale

It’s not every day that you see a headline that reads “Dead Sperm Whale No Longer For Sale on eBay,” so it did, of course, capture my attention.

It seems that this has been prime season for whale wash ups on the shores of our neighbor to the North. And one small town in Newfoundland was having a hard time figuring out just what to do with theirs.

Mayor Peter Fenwick [of Cape St. George] put the beached 40-foot whale up on eBay and was actually getting some bids, reported. After opening at 99 cents, interested parties were pushing the price past $2,000. Unfortunately, eBay did not appreciate Fenwick’s creative problem-solving and now shoppers will have to find their blubber and bones elsewhere. The auction site took the page down because selling a dead whale went against eBay’s rules, the story said. (Source:

No, there is not a specific regulation prohibiting sale of a dead sperm whale. But there is a rule against auctioning off “"items made from marine mammals regardless of when the product was made".

Not that a whale carcass is exactly an item made from a marine mammal. While it is an item, it’s a marine mammal, not an item made from one. But I suppose that I’m just being nitpicky here.

Personally, I think it was pretty ingenious to come up with the idea of selling the dead whale on eBay.

It does, however, raise a few questions.

How do you cover shipping and handling?

What sort of carrier would take it?

And what do you do with a rotting whale corpse, once you have it in your possession?

Oh, I suppose for this last question there are a few things you could use it for: the teeth could be used for scrimshaw, and the teeth for whale-bone corsets. (Although I note that neither of these marine mammalian items could be sold on eBay.)

But I don’t know how long oil lasts in a dead whale – or who’s using whale-oil lamps these days. (Maybe the same folks etching scrimshaw and cinching themselves into whale-bone corsets.) And I would think that rotting blubber would be even more disgusting to eat than fresh blubber.

Unfortunately for the mayor and townsfolk of Cape St. George, the Royal Canadian Mounties weren’t going to be Dudley-Dorighting to their rescue. In fact, the Canadian government warned the town against going through with the sale, as “the sale of a sperm whale or its parts is illegal.”

My sympathies are with the town, which had the ill-luck to have a whale corpse wash up on their shores. I’m sure they’re thinking if the current had been a bit swifter, the wind a bit more southerly, this would have been someone else’s problem.

Instead, it’s theirs.

It’s also been a problem for a few other Canadian towns this spring.

In Trout River, Newfoundland, the fear was that their whale would explode on them.

For a while, the eighty-foot corpse had expanded to twice its living size, bloated with foul-smelling ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane gases produced by bacteria on a feeding frenzy. The pressure of the expanding gas might have continued to build, turning the former whale into an increasingly stressed balloon full of blubber and guts. But, anticlimax: Trout River’s town clerk, though still sounding harried by this unwanted arrival on her shores, told CTV that the carcass had “deflated” a bit. Don Bradshaw, a journalist in Newfoundland, tweeted a photo on Thursday showing that the whale had shrunken considerably. A scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada downplayed the danger of a whale bomb, though he suggested, nonetheless, that people might want to stop climbing on it. (Source: New Yorker blog.)

Note to self: never, ever, ever under any circumstances, jump on a bloated whale carcass.

The day was saved for Trout River, and for neighboring Rocky Harbour, when the Royal Ontario Museum promised to come in and extract the bones, so that they could have skeletons. The rest of the remains (blubber and all) would be trucked to local landfills. (Lucky them.)

Of course, it’s not just Canada that experiences whale strandings. Between 2008 and 2013, 648 (living and dead) stranded whales were reported in the U.S.

Seven of those were blue whales, which are the biggest animals ever known to have lived on the planet.

Inquiring minds – at least the inquiring mind of New Yorker blogger Ian Crouch – wanted to learn just what the options are when a whale gets stranded on your patch. So he asked a biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For one, you can just leave it in situ, and let nature take its course. This option, of course, works best when there aren’t people around whose delicate nostrils might be bothered by the smell.

Or you can bury it. This means going way more than six feet under.

…trench needs to be dug at least a few meters deeper than the height of the whale, in order to keep the carcass from resurfacing.

Then there’s the “chop it up and truck it away” or “float it out and sink it”options.

If the latter choice is taken:

To overcome buoyancy, the body is weighed down, most often with metal. Frequently, the body cavity is filled with heavy material—scrap metal, heavy chains, train wheels.

If you happen to have a few used train wheels handy.

But whether you’re in the US or in Canada,

…the financial responsibility for the removal of washed-up whales falls to the municipality where they lie.

Thus, for the mayor of Cape St. George, it was a matter of stuckness:

Fenwick told CBC News the town wasn't looking to make a big profit on the carcass, and just wanted to get rid of the whale.

"Our problem is, it's the responsibility of a town when a whale washes up on the beach in an incorporated area," he said.

"We were told by the relevant people that it was our whale, we got to dispose of it."

Fenwick said the town tried to find local fisherman to drag the carcass out to rot in an isolated area, but there wasn't appropriate equipment available for the task. (Source: CBC)

Poor man! Too bad the eBay option was a non-starter.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Didn’t we used to call this a retreat?

Spiritual retreats were a staple of my Catholic girlhood.

When I was in high school, we had a three-day retreat every January, sometimes held at school, sometimes held at a “retreat house.” These were not sleepover retreats; we were spiritual day-hoppers.

The retreats featured prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, Mass, and sermons that were of either the hell-fire and brimstone or the hip and happenin’ variety, depending on the age and disposition of the priest conducting the retreat.

My freshman year, the retreat priest – a Jesuit named Fr. King – was an old-fashioned Fulton Sheen style clergyman.

The high point of his retreat, which we understood to be a reguar feature of the retreats he’d been running since the Great Depression (certain priests specialized in retreats) was a spellbinding (or so Fr. King supposed) three minutes when the mesmerizing Fr. King managed to convince (or so Fr. King supposed) an auditorium full of high school girls that one of you might very well die during the next three minutes, which would be what would happen if God forgot about you for even an instant. (We didn’t have nano-seconds back in the 1960’s.) From the sniffling and occasional sobs coming from the front rows, it appeared that Fr. King had some of the seniors who had, of course, begun high school in the pre-Vatican II era, scared that they might be next to go.

For the rest of us, well, the feeling was more of less that, if one of us were going to die, it would have been on the skull-crushing boredom that we’d been enduring for the past three days.

By my junior year, the natives had gotten plenty restless, enamored of the idea of situation ethics, and pushing back hard on all the mortal-venial stuff. (As one of my friends said, they lost a generation when they told us that French kissing, as a mortal sin, was the equivalent of murder.) That was the year when, as I recall, the priest who conducted the retreat – a Fr. Thomas K. – told Sister Superior (our principal) that we were so awful that he was going to give up giving retreats entirely. (Maybe this was the retreat my sophomore year, when my sister Kath was a senior. Her class seems like the type of brainy rebel girls who could have pushed a priest over the edge.)

One year, the retreat was at the Trappist Monastery outside of Worcester. That wasn’t a bad one, as I think that most of the time we either got to walk around the beautiful grounds, or sit around in circles gabbing.

Senior year, we went to a Passionist retreat house, where the young and “with it” priest told us that “having a baby was like crapping a watermelon.” We were all left wondering what he would know about either, but he was so desperately and pathetically trying to connect…

Also during my senior year, the order of nuns who ran our school shipped all the student council presidents (of their all girls schools) or vice presidents/secretaries (co-ed schools) off for a three day “event” at the order’s motherhouse. This conference was ostensibly to prepare us to be better student council officers, but once we arrived, we realized that it was, in fact, a recruitment effort to drum up postulants for the next year’s class. (Two girls in my high school class actually did “enter”, and one even lasted: she’s still a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.)

Other than the recruitment trip, my one and only “away” retreat had happened earlier, during the summer between sixth and seventh grade, when I went with my friends Bernadette and Susan to a three day retreat at something called The Cenacle, out in the wayback of Worcester County.

Sure, we had to pray, but we were pious little girls. Mostly, the retreat gave us the opportunity to fantasize about being away at boarding school. I still remember the bird’s eye maple beds in the room we shared, that one of the meals was a flavorless hamburger patty and chopped carrots with peas, and that one evening we sat around the filled-in swimming pool (The Cenacle was on the grounds of an old mansion) singing “The Ash Grove.” Also I bought some holy cards in the gift store.

Well, fast forward all these time-flies decades, and irreligious me is not apt to sign up for a religious retreat. But the idea of getting away to a phone-less, computer-less place where there was nothing to do but loll around reading has plenty of appeal. On the other hand, I can stay at home and ignore the phone and computer and loll around reading for free. Any old time I want.

Still, who doesn’t understand the appeal of wanting to get away from it all?

Well, if you want to get away from it all in South Korea – there being no “if” about wanting to get away from it all in North Korea –a couple has set up a retreat house that’s runs along the lines of a prison:

In the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of Hongcheon, 58 miles northeast of Seoul, Kwon Yong-seok runs "Prison Inside Me," a stress-reduction center with a penal theme. A meditation building, auditorium and management center sit on a 2-acre piece of land.

"I didn't know how to stop working back then," said the soft-spoken 47-year-old Mr. Kwon, looking back on his life as a public prosecutor on Jeju Island in the late 1990s. "I felt like I was being swept away against my will, and it seemed I couldn't control my own life." (Source: WSJOnline)

Hoping to get away from it all, Mr. Kwon asked a prison warden he knew if he could spend a week in the slammer. (Perhaps prisons are less scary and dangerous in South Korea. Can you imagine asking to spend a week in MCI Walpole, even with its new, friendly name MCI Cedar Junction?)

The warden turned down his request for reverse parole, so he and his wife went ahead and built their own, at a cost of $19 million.:

…Mr. Kwon says the goal of the facility, which has 28 solitary confinement cells, isn't to make a profit.

On top of private meditation sessions, paying guests are helped to reflect on their lives and learn how to free themselves from what Mr. Kwon calls the "inner prison," through meditation, spiritual classes and "healing" plays in a group session in the auditorium. A two-night stay costs 150,000 won or about $146.

So far, it hasn't been as easy for the couple to run the place as they had envisioned. They had to cut the length of stays to as little as two days because people aren't willing to, or simply can't, take time off. Also the facility had to make another big concession to modernity—allowing guests to check their smartphones at least once a day.

At least one retreat-goer has found the accommodations sub-par:

While generally satisfied with the quality of programs, "it would have been more helpful for self-control if the facility had been in poorer shape like in a real prison," Mr. Park [Seong-ho] said, "it is too clean and warm to be called a prison."

And others just want their fake prison term to be short:

"To be honest, the two-day-three-night program is too short. But the reality is people complain if we make it longer," Mr. Kwon said, "I only wish people could get a rare chance, even if forcibly, to reflect on the past and take it easy."

Hmmmm. Mr. Kwon may be channeling his inner nun here a bit, but I’d like to know just how he believes that someone can be forcibly required to reflect on the past.

As I well know from the retreats I’ve been on, whatever it is that “they” want you to dwell on, your thoughts are going to be running free. It was much more fun on that Cenacle retreat to pretend I was in boarding school than it would have been to mediate on the likelihood of my death occurring during the next three minutes…

Friday, May 09, 2014

Let’s talk salary…Or let’s not.

There’s a job-related Q&A on that I look at occasionally, and a recent one was about whether talking about your pay and benefits can be rightfully considered a firing offense.

The person sending in the Q wrote that there was rumor going around that new hires were being paid more than old hands were making:

I asked a few friends and they are afraid to talk about it because HR has told us not to discuss our financial and benefits information due to confidentiality issues and we can be fired if we do. I was told if I talk to anyone else about my pay or theirs, I will lose my job. Is that right? Is it confidential? Can they fire me for finding out we aren't paid the same? (Source:

It does strike me as ridiculous that someone couldn’t disclose what they were making to someone else, in a kind of a you-show-me-yours-I’ll-show-you-mine sort of way. That said, I don’t recall ever telling someone else what I made, or having them tell me what they were paid.

On the other hand, I can see why it would be verboten (or at least frowned upon) to disclose what someone else makes.

Many years ago, when I came across the salary list for my company, I didn’t tell anyone. Except for one data point. Which I shared with my friend and colleague, Tom.

I came across this treasure trove of information in completely innocent fashion. In those pre-personal computer days, the workers did their computer-based work in a a communal terminal room, where dumb, mostly paper-based, terminals were connected to the company’s remote mainframe.

People would often leave printouts next to the terminal they were using, and it was considered fair game to browse through them.

Our business entailed modeling and simulations, so most of the printouts contained nothing more than results, reports, and something called Xtasks, programs written in our proprietary language, XSIM.

One day, I stumbled upon a fantasy roll-play script that one of the techies had been involved in after hours. (No thanks!)

Then, one evening, while waiting for a model to compile, I thumbed through the paper stack next to me. And came upon a report that showed the salaries of all employees.

At first, I told myself. “I can’t look.” Then I told myself, “I can look for 15 seconds.” Then I said, “Well, I can read through it while I walk down the hall to slip it under the door of the goofball in accounting who’d left it out.”

The only figure that stood out was that of my boss’ boss, which stood out because, while it was a lot more than I made at the time, was still pretty low. (When I got home, my husband told me to “get out of a company where that’s all the head guy makes.”)

Anyway, that was the figure that I shared with my colleague Tom, and which we had a good chuckle over, both because it was a) so low, and b) seemed like over-pay for what the guy actually did.

In any case, it wasn’t as if I had gone looking for the information. It just landed in my lap, more or less. And I didn’t go broadcasting it.

A few years later, at the same company, senior management told the handful of employees who’d gotten a bonus that year that they couldn’t tell anyone.

I pointed out two flaws in this strategy: a) that they couldn’t exactly prevent anyone from complaining about the fact that they didn’t get a bonus; and b) that, since senior management was going around office-to-office to give out the few bonus checks that were being delivered, it would take about 10 seconds for everyone to figure out who got the bonuses, anyway. Which is, indeed, what happened. (My other point to the powers that were was that, if they couldn’t stand up in front of the entire company and justify why they were giving bonuses to these ten employees, they shouldn’t be giving them bonuses. Not that everyone would agree with who got what, but management really should have been able to articulate a public rationale…)

The A to the Q on, by the way was:

Many employers have policies that discourage employees from sharing a variety of confidential information, including wages and benefits. Violating the policy could lead to discipline or even termination of employment…. Often these policies are found in the company’s employee handbook. You may have received an employee handbook and even signed a document in which you agreed to comply with the company’s policies.

[But] just because a policy is included in the handbook does not necessarily mean it is lawful.

In fact, the NLRB has come down on the side of employees being able to talk about their wages and working conditions. However:

…Employees should be careful not to improperly access computer or paper documents to find out salary information because this may be a valid basis for termination.

Hmmmm. I really didn’t improperly access that paper document. It was just lying there, and I innocently picked it up…

I have seen employees get all bent out of shape because they found out, or assumed they knew, what someone else made. There are a number of reasons why there are wage and salary differentials, so it’s probably best to zip the lip on revealing too much.

I will say, however, that the best bit of advice I ever heard on the subject came from a manager who once told me, “You should pay your employees as if everyone knows what everyone else is making.”

He wasn’t arguing for equality, or full disclosure. Just that folks should be paid fairly, and that you shouldn’t be trying to screw or pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Fewer disgruntled employees that way…

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Young bloods

It is both my hope and fear that the Boomers will not go gentle into that good (or not so good) night.

My hope is that we stay active, engaged, interested, independent, with it. All those good things. Which, at least in my family, has been the norm for those fortunate enough to make it into anything resembling old age. (When my mother died at 81, she had three trips planned: Chicago for a family wedding; Cape May, NJ to look at painted ladies (of the Victorian, wooden variety); and Vienna and Prague to reconnect with her Central Europa roots. My Aunt Mary is 89, slowing down a bit, but still looking, acting, and sounding like someone a good decade younger.) And I hope that once we are no longer active, engaged, interested, (mostly) independent, and (mostly) with it, we will exit gracefully.

As was the case with the recent departure of the father of a friend-of-a-friend. In his early 90’s, B’s father had been suffering from kidney disease, but was able to stay active, engaged, etc. by going through dialysis twice a week. Then his kidneys started to fail, and he was told he’d have to come in for daily dialysis.

His response? Thanks, but no thanks. He called his kids, told them what was up, went home, got comfy in his Barcalounger, and died after a few fade-away days.

My fear is that many of our cohort will refuse to get in the Barcalounger and will persist in sucking up resources that could go elsewhere – hey, it’s Medicare, so it’s free! – even when we’re pretty much past our “best before” date. Folks with the means will buy organs on the black market, not really caring where and from whom those organs are harvested, and whether the donors volunteered or were dragooned. And for the legit organs that are out there, will the geezer Boomer – even if he has the means to buy it on the open market - have the good grace to let the heart, lung, or liver go to the millennial who needs one. (Fortunately, engineered organs will probably make any “real organ” scenarios moot at some point.)

Which is not to say that we all shouldn’t have the right to decent health care that keeps us healthy as long as it makes sense for us to keep hanging on.

So how about that news that young blood – a renewable resource! – may help alleviate some of the bummer aspects of the aging process?

Okay, so far we’re talking of mice, not men. Still…

Getting old mice blood from young ones makes them smarter and improves such functions as exercise capacity, according to reports from two research teams that point to new ways to study and potentially treat human diseases of aging.

In one study, researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco found that blood transfusions from young mice reversed cognitive effects of aging, improving the old mice's memory and learning ability.(Source: WSJ Online.)

We’re a long way from applying this to humankind, but, in terms of helping us old fogeys stay a bit less fogey-ish, this could be the mouse that roared.

Throughout my adult life, I’ve been a blood donor.

Fast forward a decade or so, and maybe I’ll be a blood donee.

But what if there aren’t enough donors out there?

Will the Boomers turn into latter-day vampires, grabbing unsuspecting young folks on the street and sinking their fangs into those tender young necks?

Who’d have thought that there actually might be a fountain of youth out there, and that it’s spouting blood?

I just hope my generation doesn’t trample over everyone in their way to dip their ladles in.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Hey Mo!

I’m as much a celebrity news junky as the next guy, so I naturally glommed on to a recent Wall Street Journal article on “Celebrities Who Make Real Estate a Second Career.”

The article’s beginning was something less than auspicious, celebrity-wise.

First up: Rob VanWinkle.

Now, the only VanWinkle I’m even passingly familiar with is Rip VanWinkle, but I knew that old Rip was a) fictitious and b) would probably be dead by now. Sort of.

But the VanWinkle celebrity who’s now a real-estate developer in Florida is the rap star Vanilla Ice.

It almost goes without saying that, while doing my initial celebrity-of-yore information retrieval,  I momentarily confused Vanilla Ice with Milli Vanilli. Then I remembered that there were two of Milli Vanilli, and that Vanilla Ice was the sort of bling bro who would development a home with:

…a swim-up bar lighted with fiber optics and a Jacuzzi that seats 25. (Source: WSJ Online)

The article upped the ante, celebrity-wise, with throwaway mentions that both Ellen DeGeneres and Diane Keaton had made a bit of coin flipping houses in Hollywood.

"People who are creative—they like to take something and make it what other people didn't see," says Kurt Rappaport, co-founder of Southern California-based Westside Estate Agency, who has represented Ms. DeGeneres and other celebrities.

And, of course, there’s the fact that some folks would pay a bit of a premium to have a home associated with a bona fide celeb. Not that we don’t have this on Beacon Hill. I recently took a fund-raising kitchen tour of neighborhood, well, kitchens, and in one there was a modest little sign indicating that Thomas Bailey Aldrich had once lived there.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich! Poet, novelist, Yankee. Now there’s the apotheosis of a Beacon Hill celebrity. I just wikipedia’d him, and found that his last words were "In spite of it all, I am going to sleep; put out the lights." Not clear whether those words were uttered on Beacon Hill or not. (And speaking of celebrities, let me mention that, while I was on the kitchen tour, I saw Secretary of State John Kerry, surrounded by Secret Service men, leaving his home – which was not on the kitchen tour, unfortunately – for a bike ride.)

Anyway, another minor celeb who’s in the RE biz is David Charvet, who played a lifeguard on “Baywatch,” and now develops high-end homes in Malibu (of all perfectly appropriate places).

I will admit to having watched “Baywatch” once or twice, but this was when the lifeguard of record was David Hasselhoff, a second-rate celebrity par excellence, that’s for sure. But I was not familiar at all with Charvet.

Mr. Charvet says his company is working on six homes. One of them, a 14,000-square-foot home with eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, has a theater, a dance studio, tennis court, basketball court, a recording studio, a pool and four fountains. The house started out as a spec home, but Mr. Charvet says his wife, TV personality Brooke Burke-Charvet, "fell kind of in love with it," so the family is planning to move in. Nonetheless Mr. Charvet said the home is available for $18 million to $20 million.

Brooke Burke-Charvet! Yet another celebrity who has somehow managed to escape my ardent attention. And there she was, all those years, dancing with the stars.

Well, “Dancing with the Stars” aside, she gets major celebri-props for having children named Heaven Rain, Sierra Sky, and Shaya Braven.

Moving on, we get Magic Johnson and A-Rod as real estate moguls (Johnson) and dabblers (A-Rod – guess he’s got time on his hands now that he’s band from baseball for a while…).

And then there was a celebrity I actually know and love.

Sure, he’s not a capital-C-Celeb like Magic Johnson or Ellen DeGeneres. But, at least in my book, Mo Vaughn is a way-bigger celebrity than Milli Vanilli and Vanilla Ice combined.

Plus he’s a major league do-gooder.

For those who aren’t familiar with Mo, he used to play for the Red Sox, and, although Mo spells his name without the “e”, it all sounds that same when 34,000 fans are hollering Mo/Moe. Which I greatly enjoyed.

Anyway, Mo put in a some good years with the Sox, and as he was almost a home-town honey – he’s from Connecticut, and there just aren’t a lot of New England boys who play professional baseball. So he was a great favorite in these parts. He was also very involved in the community, and, when he played here, he made a donation to St. Francis House for every homer he hit. And one year he came to our annual dinner wearing a red leather suit with an Eisenhower jacket. Just wow! We were very disappointed when Mo departed for the Angels, and took his prodigious bat with him.

But it looks like he’s still on the side of the small-a angels, with a successful real-estate development company that specializes in affordable housing:

Eugene Schneur, who co-founded real-estate development company Omni New York with former Red Sox star Mo Vaughn in 2004, says his partner's fame was crucial to getting the company off the ground. Neither one had any experience in real-estate development when Mr. Vaughn approached Mr. Schneur with the idea of building affordable housing.

"I knew I wasn't going to be able to play ball forever," says Mr. Vaughn.

Luckily, the first baseman's fame helped them gain entree into the real estate world. "Early on, I was like, 'OK, we can pretty much get a meeting where we want as long as Mo shows up,'" Mr. Schneur says. Omni now owns some 7,800 units of affordable housing at 34 sites, most of them in New York City, and has over 400 employees.

Seems a bit more useful than blinged up houses with Jacuzzis that seat 25.

Hey, Mo, if you ever want to come back to Boston, we could use some affordable housing here, too.