Friday, October 31, 2014

What I’ll be going out as (and what I hope to get in my bag)

Of course, I will not actually be going out as anything.

And since I won’t be going out as anything, there will be nothing in my bag. Since I won’t have one.

But my sister lives in Salem, and I’ll be heading up there and, in the spirit of good fun, I will be in costume. But in the spirit or little or no effort, it actually won’t be that much of a costume.

Not much of a stretch, but I will be going at as an old lefty: jeans, turtle neck, army shirt (authentic Viet Nam era, once belonging to my former brother in law), bandana, and dangling earrings. (Not big hoops: in the spirit of little or no effort, I was too lazy to go out and scout some up. But the ones I have are sufficiently hippy-ish. They’ll pass.)

I wish I still had a pair of Dr. Scholl’s sandals around…

I thought I had a bunch of old buttons – boycott grapes, get out of Viet Nam – but they seem to have disappeared on me. I was able to find a McGovern for President pin, and an Uppity Women Unite of recent vintage but 1970 sentiment.

I have an artsy necklace that looks like it was purchased in a head shop but which I actually bought at Lord & Taylor in 1970 – so it’s definitely era-appropriate -  and have hung onto since.

I was going to make myself a picket sign, but I don’t want to lug it around. (‘What have you got?’ the answer uttered (sneered?) by Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One when asked ‘What are you protesting?’)

Anyway, I suspect that most people won’t know I’m in costume, since what I’m wearing won’t be that much different than what I’d be wearing.

While I won’t be going door to door trick or treating, I will be giving out candy at my sister’s.

Her town of Salem is the epicenter of trick or treat, and my sister lives just off Salem Common. Given that Halloween is on a Friday this year, she can expect upwards of 300 ghosts and goblins Spider Mans and whatever the name is of the Frozen princess who has most favored princess status. So giving out candy is an all-hands effort there. (We all spell each other handing out candy, hanging out drinking wine, and hanging out keeping the dog calm. Jack does not especially approve of Halloween.)

While I am on handing-out duty, I will admit that I will occasionally put one of my hands in the goody basket, seeking out a Butter Finger.

I don’t know why.

Butter Finger is not my favorite candy ever.

But it sure is my favorite Halloween candy ever.

I will no doubt snag a little boxeen of Junior Mints while I’m at it, as well.

Another Halloween fav: M&Ms. (But that probably shouldn’t be on the Halloween list, as M&Ms are actually something I buy in real life, in real size.)

Anything chocolate is good, of course.

But there are a couple of must-avoids: Starbursts and Jolly Ranchers. (I used to put Skittles in that category, but actually have grown to like them. Not enough to choose them over a Butter Finger, but definitely requiring no avoidance dance.)

If I were going out, I’d be thrilled with Hershey’s miniatures, especially a Mr. Goodbar. With a Tootsie Pop (but not a Dum-Dum). With a York Peppermint Patty. With a (wrapped) Twizzler.

No thanks to an apple, a popcorn ball, a salty snack. It’s Halloween: Sugar ‘r Us.

No thanks to a Sugar Daddy or Turkish taffy. I have too many fillings to worry about yanking out.

Ah, Halloween.

While Halloween is supremely excellent in Salem, it is also pretty darned good in my neighborhood in downtown Boston.

Lots of folks decorate their homes and, because those homes are old and in a gaslight neighborhood, everything looks kind of spooky to begin with.

If the weather’s decent, especially given that it’s a weekend, the hordes will be out, thronging the streets. As my neighborhood is so concentrated, things will in some ways be even crazier than in Salem where the overall crowds will, no doubt, be larger.

Folks always say that, after a loved one dies, ‘the holidays are the hardest.’

I always have to laugh at this one.

My husband hated most holidays, and preferred not to celebrate any of them.

He put up with my hosting Christmas Eve, but after my aunt and my mother died, he pretty much stopped “doing” Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So, as a matter of fact, the holidays won’t be the hardest.

But because it was all about kids, Jim very much enjoyed Halloween. For a number of years, when we lived in an upstairs flat in a massive  townhouse that had kids downstairs (who became like a niece and nephew to us), we’d go out with them.

After those guys grew too old for trick or treat, we began to ratchet back and forth, every other year, between Salem and The Hill (with a few stops in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood along the way).

Which all makes Halloween the one holiday that will be a bit tough on me this year.

In Jim’s honor, I will see if I can snag one of his favorites: a Snickers bar or a box of Good ‘n Plenty.

And since part of Jim’s ashes were shot into space last Thursday, I suppose we might say that he will be going out – symbolically speaking – as an astronaut.

Whatever you’re going out (or staying in) as, Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Note to Blake Francis: we don’t need this kind of marketing, and we probably don’t need Need, either

There once was a marketing day, long, long, ago, when even a pokey, crummy, obscure tech company could get an audience with a tech journalist.

You might be a pokey, crummy, obscure tech company, and you might well stay that way, but journalists couldn’t afford to completely ignore you because, on occasion, one of those pokey, crummy, obscure tech companies actually emerged from the slough of despond of underfunding and eroding tech edge, and became a large, crummy, non-obscure powerhouse.

There was something called a “road show”, and, when your pokey, crummy, obscure tech company had a product release, your PR firm would set up interviews/demos with all the leading tech publications and industry analysts – conveniently grouped in Silicon Valley, Boston/128, and the NY Metro (Long Island and Connecticut) – and you hit the road.

The goal was to get them to write something about you. And mostly they did.

You then paid the publication a lot o’ money to reproduce those articles on slick paper, so that you could use them as collateral. One of the reasons you spent time with the analysts was so that they’d agree to take a call from a journalist who was writing about you, and give them a quote.

No matter how banal and neutral, a quote from an analyst was a good thing. Maybe even better than a quote from a customer. (What did they know? Probably nothing if they were daffy enough to buy our products.)

Anyway, one of the reasons those analysts played nice was that they were hoping that you’d pay their firm a lot of money to read what they had to say about your product and those of your competitors, knowing that whatever bucket/quadrant they placed you in, you could spin it up into something positive. Hey, we all knew that the niche designation meant double-L loser, but what the hell.

That was the way the world work in the years B.I. – Before the Internet.

But with the Internet, marketing started to have less and less control over the message, and product information. So you were no longer such a great source for journalists.

Meanwhile, tech companies proliferated, so journalists could be a bit more selective. Analysts, too, got cannier at figuring out who was going to spend any money with them, and started spending less time with the cheapskates.

One of the marketing techniques that became popular once the journalists got pickier and choosier was to send out something that would their attention. Something in a box. Something that they’d open. Something that seemed like a present.

You only sent these to journalists, never to an analyst, who positioned themselves as above reproach and bribery.

One dimensional mailer I sent to a select group of journalists was a Jenga set. (It actually had a vague connection with the product messaging.) This campaign didn’t exactly stop the presses, but it did get us a couple of interviews (and stories) that we might not have grabbed otherwise.

But sometimes you can get carried away, attention grab-wise, as has happened when one Blake Francis decided to ply a bunch of tech journalists with a goody basket. One of the writers Francis was trying to pitch and woo was Kristen Brown of the SF Chronicle, who wrote:

A few weeks ago, a startup founder showed up in the lobby of The Chronicle after hours. He told me I hadn’t responded to his e-mails. And he wanted to get my attention.

He delivered his pitch, along with a wicker basket filled with sexually suggestive gifts: the sex toy [a vibrator], a tube of K-Y Jelly, raw oysters and Tequila.

It definitely got my attention. But it didn’t seem like his choice of swag had anything to do with his company, Need, a question-and-answer app where users anonymously ask each other for advice on everything from babysitters to boyfriends. (Source: SFGate)

A particularly tasteless thing to do, especially to a female journalist, given all the concern about sexism in the tech sector (which Brown gets into in her column.)

Anyway, Brown called Francis on it:

When I first questioned Francis about why he chose to send me oysters, Tequila and a vibrator, he responded that they were all products recommended on Need. Attached to each item was a tag featuring a screenshot of the app with the conversation in which the product in question was mentioned. Francis said that he had sent the same swag to other male and female journalists.

But people in the Need community have also recommended solar phone chargers and stores for buying high-quality letter paper, as well as doled out advice for first date spots in Berkeley. I pointed these things out to Francis and he recanted a bit. He told me the company just picked items they thought would “stand out.”

“In retrospect we did not use good judgment,” he said.

Retrospect, unfortunately, is usually too late.

Lack of judgment or not, I suspect that Blake Francis is just delighted with the press he’s gotten.

After all, a lot more folks have now heard of Need. So, mission accomplished.

Other than the fact that, now that we’ve heard of it, I suspect most of us are asking ourselves just what the hell we need Need for.

I mean, do we really need a place where we can ask a question  - and have our “friends” answer it anonymously - when we’re thinking of purchasing a dildo?

Need is a fun and easy way to exchange anonymous recommendations with friends. (Source: Need)

I’m all for easy, but I guess I’m just not much fun. And I will always trust a recommendation that’s got a name on it before I’d go with one from “A. Friend.”

Anyway, I checked out some of the sample questions Need was answering, and they seemed like just the sorts of questions that a) you ask a friend non-anonymously (as in “any thoughts on where we should honeymoon”) and/or b) search online for (as in “I have a bloating/gas problem”).

I just do not see any value at all here.

Then again,  I’m shocked by ads for Angie’s List that have people touting it as a place to find a pediatrician for their newborn.

Sad commentary on society that you wouldn’t have anyone in your life you could ask for a recommendation for something of such importance.

It will be interesting to see whether Need ends up being yet another pokey, crummy, obscure tech company, or whether someone decides that they’re all that and a bag of chips and gobbles them up for a couple of billion.

Why don’t I go over to Need and ask?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A shout out to Music Maker. (Let their voices be heard!)

In this day and age, it’s hard at times not to fall into the trap that equates artistic greatness and talent with financial success. The trap that tells us that “the market” (that brutal, unrelenting, but inherently – ahem -  impartial beast) will somehow discover all there is to discover and reward it appropriately.

To some degree, the market does do a lot of weeding out for us. Really terrible actors will generally stop getting good roles, no matter how many casting couches they fall onto. Really dreadful, wooden artists whose works fall flat on the canvas, emitting no spark of the divine, of coherence, emotion, skill or wit, won’t end up on the walls of MOMA for long. Really rotten musicians won’t sell out the big arenas year after year, and the purely manufactured hokum acts won’t tend to have staying power.

Not every artist will be to everyone’s taste, and we can all point to plenty of those with less than stunning talent who make it big, whose most stunning talent appears to be making a stunning amount of money without having anything any modicum of real talent.


Not that I can’t come up with well-populated lists of folks who’ve made it big who I don’t think have all that much to offer, talent-wise - and maybe because I am a reader-writer, my longest sub-list is that of writers  - but the majority of those who “make it” in some sort of artistic, literary, whatever endeavor are not what my father used to refer to as “no talent bums.”

The converse is no so true.

The only great writers aren’t the anointed ones with seven-figure book deals and full page ads in The New Yorker. The only legitimate artist isn’t Jeff Koons. And just because you’re not selling out arena shows doesn’t mean you’re not a great musician.

If you don’t trust my word, look and listen no further than this video, from PBS News the other evening:

Although it looks like you're going to the full show, clicking on the video should theoretically get you to the segment on the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a.k.a., Music Maker, . If that doesn't work for you - or if the segment starts in mid-stream - this link will take you to the page where Music Maker has posted it.. (Between the app I use to write my blog, and Blogger, where it's published, there doesn't seem to be a clean way to successfully embed a video. I've been crazing around with HTML, and it kinda/sorta works...)

Anyway, I know about the Music Maker through my brother-in-law, who has served on its board for the last several years.
Music Maker is a non-profit:
…founded to preserve the musical traditions of the South by directly supporting the musicians who make it, ensuring their voices will not be silenced by poverty and time…
Since our founding in 1994, we have assisted and partnered with over 300 artists, issued over 150 CDs and reached over a million people with live performance in over 40 states and 17 countries around the globe.
Music Market is the life’s work of Tim and Denise Duffy, who have devoted their considerable talents and energies to the organization for the past twenty years.

Yes, Music Maker does plenty of handouts – some of those they help our so poor, old, and infirm that they really just need a case of Ensure and the heating bill paid – but it’s model is really to get the artists they support to do paid gigs.

Early on in their 20 years of supporting their artists, the Duffys learned that, while these folks “lived in abject poverty…when we asked how we could help, they didn't ask for money, they wanted a gig.”

The Duffys’ experience evolved into the Music Maker model, a model based on their realization that:
…it was easier to help an artist earn $500 than to raise $500 to give away, and the earning usually involved an artist doing what they love best: performing. Better yet, this most often results in a crowd watching the show, keeping the art form vibrant and our culture enriched.
Which is not to say that they still can’t use flat-out donations, which can be made here. Better yet, you can shop their catalog and support their musicians directly here.

I am a big fan of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an incredibly talented group of musicians who are on the younger side of the Music Maker catalog age distribution. They are also not among the abjectly poor and needy musicians that Music Maker more generally supports. But they are dedicating their careers, and their extraordinary talents, to roots music. And if there’s a more beautiful, poignant and  soulful song than “Leaving Eden” out there, I’ve yet to hear it.

With Music Maker, Tim and Denise Duffy are doing something so meaningful and important.
The world needs more of this than we do yet another twerking and tweeting Beyoncé wannabe, that’s for sure.

Maybe they never get to sell-out the stadium. Maybe they never get to pay the NFL for the privilege of doing the Super Bowl half-time show. Maybe they never get the glitz and glamour.

But how wonderful to be reminded that there are so many brilliant, talented, dedicated musicians out there. Sure makes listening worthwhile.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pumpkin rager

Things have pretty much calmed down, but last week the biggest dealio on the local news was the Pumpkin Fest riots in Keene, New Hampshire.

Keene, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a quite pleasant little city. I’ve never spent any time there, but I’ve driven through a few occasions, as it’s on the way to Bellows Falls, VT, where my husband hailed from. (We almost stayed in Keene once, after a pre-Internet fiasco with a B&B we’d booked in Vermont. When we rolled in on our way back from a nice stay in Burlington, we found that our B&B – advertised as ‘walking distance to town’ – was miles off the beaten path, and at the end of a long, unlit dirt road that included passage on a rickety old covered bridge. Once we got there, we realized that the scenario had ‘nervous breakdown’ written all over it, and decided to head back to Boston. But we almost stopped in Keene for the night before deciding that what we really wanted was our own bed and a double order of dun-dun noodles from Mary Chung’s.)

Among its other attributes, Keene is the home to Keene State College, which I take it is also known as Keene State Party School. It’s apparently been that way for quite a while. I read somewhere that, way back in the nineties, in those quaint pre-social media days when students threw keggers, not ragers, the school started shutting down over the weekend  closest to St. Patrick’s Day, when – as every New Englander knows – the green-beer induced vomit just spews.

Besides being the home to Keene State, Keene had for years hosted a Pumpkin Festival, showing off things like the most carved pumpkins ever, and featuring family fun.

Well, students being students, they wanted in on some of that fun, only their fun would be away-from-the-parents style fun.

For the last few years, Pumpkin Fest has been drawing bigger and bigger crowds of drunken 20-somethings. But this weekend was over the top. A few square blocks near the college were filled with thousands of people chanting obscenities, tearing down street signs, lighting fires. SWAT Teams marched through the streets in Kevlar, shooting pepper balls, tear gas and foam rubber bullets. (Source: NPR)

The mayhem associated with Pumpkin Fest – thanks to Keens State students and their pals – has been escalating to the degree  that when Homeland Security gave them the opportunity to grab on to an armored personnel carrier, the Keene town fathers seized the chance. One of their stated reasons was to ensure that they could adequately police the Pumpkin Fest, which got the attention – and raised the mirth level – of Steven Colbert, among others.

I promise NOT to off on a tangent about the dangers of militarizing the police force, and whether every community needs a SWAT team (if you have one, you’ll use one, which is not necessarily a good thing). These are things that I’m completely in terror of.

In any case, I really don’t think that hundreds of drunken, out of control, imbecilic college kids – even though they’re hurling bottles at cops, starting fires, and turning over cars – need to be taken down by a tank. (Shields, batons, and plenty of arrests, on the other hand.)

But riot these a-holes did. (The kids, not the cops.)

And, since there’s no such thing as a par-tay unless there’s a public video made of it and posted, arrests are now starting to be made of those who hurled bottles, etc.

But just as the riot can safely said to be alcohol-fueled, it’s also likely that social media played an accelerant role:

…city and state officials are laying at least some of the blame on social media, and they've named one small party-hosting company. 

That party-hosting company, one FinnRage, is the “brain” child of a Massachusetts college student, one Trevor Finney, who, it seems, desperately wants to be an entrepreneur. And what with things like selling cookies in the dorm at 2 a.m., or typing/writing papers for $$$, so old-school, so done, young Master Finney looked to the Girls Gone Wild experience and figured that this model could well be his entry into the marvelous world of fame and fortune.

So he set up a business, FinnaRage TV, that runs campus parties. Part of the package is that he shows up to film them, making sure that the partygoers get to show all the world just how raging cool they are. So far, he’s been the host with the most for free, but he hopes to turn it into a lucrative (of course) business. After which, I suppose, at some point he grows up.

In the weeks leading up to Pumpkin Fest, FinnaRage promoted a party with a poster showing a scantily clad woman standing in a field of pumpkins. FinnaRage TV traffics in plenty of suggestive content. Their website is full of videos of people chugging beer, grinding on the dance floor, and in one instance, smoking a bong through a gas mask.

Aspiring entrepreneur Finney doesn’t think any of what happeend at Keene is his fault:

"We were put in the middle," says Trevor Finney, the 20-year-old owner of FinnaRage TV. "I got shot by a rubber bullet. Like…I…this is the last thing that I wanted."

Wah, wah, wah

"FinnaRage is about having a good time. It’s about the unique experience that we bring," says Finney. 

I suspect that it will be hard for anyone to make FinnaRage culpable for the Keene Pumpkin Fest Riot, even though he may have given the party riot a running start.

But it’s probably a good thing that Trevor Finney wants to be an entrepreneur.

Unless he takes down his website, makes his Twitter feed private, and does something to improve the results when you search on his name, this kid is not exactly helping his chances of getting a job with a bank or insurance company. That is unless the hiring managers are no longer prigs, but are now all rager wannabes.

Not that he would want to be some lackey, some management trainee, some no name, no fame no one who ekes out a decent albeit humble existence, and never gets the splash car, the fancy pad, the media buzz, the mega-blunt…

Not that there weren’t drunken debacles when I was in college. But the riots in those days actually had a bit more purpose than putting drunken narcissism on display.

And while Trevor Finney’s figuring out how to cash in – surely this has all put FinnaRage on the map, and schools outside of New England will start clamoring for his services – I don’t suppose that the admissions yield at Keene State is going to be all that great this year. Not if those boring old non-raging parents have anything to do with it.

Yet another reason to be glad I’m not young anymore…

Monday, October 27, 2014

You can get anything you want, at Alice’s Breastaurant (excepting Alice)

Until I came across an article about Twin Peaks, I had scant awareness of a restaurant category informally referred to as “breastaurants”.

Sure, I had heard of Hooters. There used to be on in downtown Boston, in fact – not surprisingly, near the TD/Boston Garden, where the Bruins and Celtics play. Nor surprisingly, it didn’t last.

The rap on New England is that “our girls” are just not as sexy and pretty as the ones in locations where Hooters and the like seem to flourish. And it is true that we don’t tend to go in for the big hair, gleaming teeth, fake tan, beauty queen look. No, New England beauties are more apt to be the bluestocking, madam librarian types. (You have, of course, seen enough old movies to know what madam librarian looks like when she takes off those glasses and lets down her hair.)

But I like to think that breastaurants don’t succeed in these parts to the same degree they do elsewhere is that we are, in general, a more advanced, refined and high-minded civilization, where our lusty young men want to get to know a lusty young woman for her mind. (Of course, just because I like to think this does not in any way, shape, or form mean that it’s true.)

Maybe breastaurants haven’t taken off here because nine-months out of the year, whatever skimpy outfits the waitresses wore would have to be covered in fleece.

Anyway, since they’re not all that prevalent in our landscape, I was only vaguely aware that the breastaurant represented an entire eating and dining category – similar to the sports bar (of which this area has a surfeit), and that Hooters has, in fact, become one of the tamer variations on the team, their once provocative costumes were now the category’s equivalent of the Lanz nightgown. And that Hooters has sunk so low, breastaurant-wise, that it is now considered a family place to dine which, I guess, puts it in competition with just about every other mediocre chain restaurant out there.

The newcomer is Twin Peaks (ho, ho – or is it no longer okay to say ‘ho, ho’?), which sounds like a complete an utter throwback, where:

Before each shift …managers line up waitresses and grade them on their looks. The women get points for hair, makeup, slenderness, and the cleanliness of their uniforms: fur-lined boots, khaki hot pants, and skimpy plaid tops that accentuate their cleavage. (Source: Business Week)

All very important in the breastaurant biz, or as it is also known “the attentive service sector.” (What else might be in that category? Pole dancers? “Escorts”? Home health aides?)

For my first waitressing job, our uniform was a prim white short-sleeved shirt with a pleated front, a clip on dark brown bowtie, a dowdy, knee-length dark brown polyester skirt, and an orange cotton apron. We were issued one uniform – which most likely had already been worn by someone who’d quit – which (it goes without saying) had to be washed every night. We also had to wear a hairnet and lipstick, and had to make sure that our name tag (first name  only) was positioned far enough above the left breast so that no wisenheimer would ask ‘what’s the other one named? Ho, ho! (It was definitely okay to say ho-ho back in my Big Boy waitressing days.)

A senior waitress inspected us for hairnet, lipstick, and nametag violations, but there was no point system. (The article doesn’t say what the point system at Twin Peaks translates into: a better station? a raise? the possibility of accumulating too many demerits and being fired?)

Anyway, at Big Boy, if it weren’t for the lipstick, we could have been mistaken for postulants in some order of nuns with a motherhouse in the Southwest. But we were a family restaurant – underscored by not serving any alcohol – and, while this was in the age of the mini-skirt and hot pants, restaurants did not for the most part specialize in sexy waitresses. If you wanted sexy, you went to a bar or to the Playboy Club and ogle the bunnies.

Needless to say, bluestocking little old me wasn’t likely to find work in a place that went in for sexy. I was young enough, for sure. But other than that…

While at Big Boy, most of the waitresses were young – certainly all under thirty when I was there when I was 18 and 19 – when I worked at Durgin-Park and the Union Oyster House, the average waitress was probably in her late fifties, with a range from twenty (me) to eighty (Bertha, Flo, Gussie).

Fortunately, we didn’t have to push any cutesie-named dishes. (Big Boy did have a sandwich called the Brawny Lad, but that was about it.) But at Twin Peaks, the menu is pretty much wink-wink, nudge-nudge:

Their job, between serving sports-bar fare with names such as “well-built sandwiches” and “smokin’ hot dishes,” is to beguile the mostly male customers, flirting to get them to empty their wallets. They may also have to fend off patrons who’ve washed down too many of the house beers, including the Dirty Blonde or the Knotty Brunette.

Ah, the wit level. If I weren’t so old and creaky I’d be ROFLMAO.

Meanwhile, Twin Peaks is laughing all the way to the bank, and last year was “the fastest-growing chain the in the U.S., with $165 million sales.”

Some of those $165 million in sales are due to pressuring the clientele into upsizing their orders.

When someone orders a beer, they’re asked:

“Do you want the man size or the girl size?”

Which is further described as a “little, 10-ounce baby beer.”

Aw, hell. What red-blooded ‘merican he-man would order a girl size baby beer? Those are for lefty girlie-men who probably carry murses, and who more than likely prefer Chardonnay to a Dirty Blonde, anyway.

While Twin Peaks reputedly has better food than the standard chain fare, industry analysts say that it’s the waitresses that are making the difference. (Twin Peaks restaurants on average gross more than Hooters, or another breastaurant competitor, the Tilted Kilt.)

The chain gets the waitresses discounts at gyms, tanning joints, and nail salons. It gives them tips on styling their hair and using makeup and offers them a diet menu to keep them from gaining weight. The best performers are invited to pose, in some cases topless, for the annual Twin Peaks calendar. DeWitt calls his employees “weapons of mass distraction.”

On the one hand, the money’s probably a lot more than what a waitress could make at a Big Boy. On the other hand, the waitresses have to put with degrading comments and drunken advances from a bunch of yahoos.

Not that I was ever a Twin Peaks kind of gal, but, looking back on a post-waitressing career that has been based on my intelligence, I do believe that  - those ancient Durgin-Park waitresses aside – work based on something other your looks has a lot more staying power.

Maybe the Twin Peaks waitresses go on to “real” careers, and view putting up with a couple of years of dimwits ordering Dirty Blondes and making lewd comments to put themselves through college as worth it. It does beat being a lap dancer or a call girl.


Anyway, I was wondering what type of young woman (beyond one who’s attractive and busty) goes in for breastaurant waitressing, and I came across this line from one of the calendar girls for one of the chains, who in her statement on her hobbies wrote:

I love bungee jumping and making pottery with my hamsters.

I choose to think that this is one young woman with an excellent sense of humor. On the other hand, if this is for real, I guess New England just doesn’t have many breastaurants not just because of our bluestocking lookers, but because of the absolute dearth of bungee jumpers who throw pots with their hamsters.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I’d walk a mile for a Camel. And you might have to if you worked for RJR.

I am old enough to remember when most people smoked.

My father smoked, as did all of my uncles.

My father had stopped smoking for a long while, but I distinctly remember a Labor Day cookout – late 1950’s, well before the Surgeon General’s Report that finally linked smoking and cancer – when, at the urging of my father’s buddies, he took up smoking again. “Hey, Al, just have one. Just to be social.”

In retrospect, it was kind of like pushing a drink on an AA member, and it was enough to start my father smoking again, which he did for another decade or so. (He quit for the final time when he became ill with kidney disease, which is what killed him. He never developed any lung problems that I know of, but smoking sure didn’t help him out any. When he was on his death bed, he had to ask my Uncle Charlie not to smoke in his hospital room, as it really bothered him. Just the idea of someone smoking in a hospital room…unimaginable today.)

There was one upside to my father’s smoking: we always knew what to give him for Christmas: an ashtray, a carton of Luckies (later, Marlboros).

There was less smoking on the female side of the equation, but my mother had a couple of friends who were smokers: Jane, Dodo, Marge, Sue - and the lipstick marks on their cigarette butts always intrigued me. The women who smoked made smoking, and adult life, seem dangerous, sexy, glamorous. All the things my mother wasn’t.

I was never much of a smoker myself.

I did smoke when I was a waitress at Union Oyster House and Durgin-Park, as all “the girls” did. Taking a cigarette break was something of a sacred, inviolable ritual. If you were staring out into space for a couple of minutes, the head waitress could holler at you to come do something or other: restock the napkins, help bus a table. But if you were smoking – a defined break of three minutes – you could holler back “Just let me finish my fucking cigarette”. And that was good enough.

My roommate and a couple of our fellow waitress buddies (Marilyn and Pam) would stow packs of Newports or Marlboros in a cubbyhole between dining rooms, shared packs. I don’t remember how we replenished our supply- we must have taken turns buying – but we always had some smokes on hand.

For a couple of years after my waitress days ended, I smoked occasionally, mostly if I were out on the town having drinks with friends, or at a party. Wherever two or more smokers were gathered, I’d have a cigarette.

After I stopped entirely – when I finished B-school – it was a couple of years before I lost the urge entirely.

I’d never been a heavy smoker to begin with, so I can imagine just how addictive cigarettes can be.

While my smoking life was playing out, fewer and fewer people smoked, and there were fewer and fewer places where folks could smoke.

At first, the smokers were separated off.

But as anyone who sat in the row in back of the smoking section on an airplane could tell you, that – cough, cough – didn’t work.

Nor did it work to have a smoking section in a restaurant that wasn’t totally walled off from the non-smokers. Half the time, you’d be sitting in non-smoking at a table next to one with smokers. (I always liked it when it was a mixed group of smokers and non-smokers, and the smokers would blow their smoke your way to keep it out of the nostrils and lungs of their dining companions.)

Over time, we started to take it for granted that there’d be no one smoking on public transportation, in restaurants, bars, and theaters – at least around here.

Once, while on business travel, my flight was diverted from Charlotte to Winston-Salem, and I was stuck in a waiting room for a couple of hours while a storm passed. And I do mean stuck. The security people had already left for the day, so we could not leave the waiting area and, say, go out and take a breath of springtime.

And if you think that the Winston-Salem airport had any non-smoking section in its waiting area, you are most certainly mistaken.

Once I began my business career, I don’t remember much smoking in the office, but there must have been some going on. The first company I worked for after B-school held a wine, beer, and junk food party after work every Friday, and some people smoked grass. So I’m guessing folks also smoked cigarettes.

At Wang, there were smoking rooms on each floor, where the smoking cubicle-denizens could puff away. If you had a closed door office, you were allowed to smoke in it.

But over time these sorts of accommodations to smokers gradually gave way to forcing smokers to stand 15 feet away from the entrance to the building when they wanted a cig. Nowadays, you don’t even see all that much of that activity. (Although on occasion, when walking by my brother’s office – he works not far from where I live – I run across him standing in front of his building having a smoke. Honestly, how someone as intelligent as my brother can continue to smoke…Wow. Just wow.)

There have apparently been hold-out office environments where smoking is still tolerated.

And one of them, up until now, has been R J Reynolds or, as they are now known, Reynolds American.

But come the first of the year, even they won’t be allowing smoking at work.

Camel cigarette maker Reynolds American Inc. is snuffing out smoking in its offices and buildings.

Beginning next year, the use of cigarettes, cigars or pipes will no longer be permitted in the company’s offices, conference rooms and elevators. Lighting up already is prohibited on factory floors and in cafeterias. (Source: AP in Huffington Post)

They will be setting up indoor smoking areas, probably like the ghastly ones at Wang back in the day, or like the even more ghastly ones that were in airports for a while. (You didn’t want to walk anywhere near them.)

And Reynolds will still let users of smokeless tobacky products use. So those who want to vape on Reynolds Vuse electronic cigs, or dip into “pouches of tobacco called snus (pronounced “snoose”) will still be okay.

But I guess all those sons and daughters of Reynolds employees will have to come up with something else to give Dad for Christmas. A carton of Camels won’t do.

Maybe a few packets of chewing gum?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Just us chickens. (What the cluck?)

Well, I took one look at this picture and thought, “Uh oh.”

Just us chickens

My first thought was that we now know why the 1957 chicken crossed the road. It was to get away from the 2005 edition.


In my mind’s eye, I could see the 2014 version, and it was the size of short-legged ostrich.

Just looking at this picture, I told myself this can’t be good, this bulked up specimen has to be pumped full of hormones. Maybe the average chicken has to be cooped up in a tiny little spot (vs. free range) to avoid ‘roid rage incidents. (Side note: the USDA bans the use of hormones, so we really wouldn’t have to worry about chicken size in the hormonal sense. Still, who could look at that picture and not ask what the cluck?)

And, then, because I’m a big believer that, most times, one word is worth a thousand pictures, I read the article, where I learned that today’s broilers got bigger because they were bred that way. Nothing artificial about it. Chicken farmers started moving away from the paltry poultry of 1957, and started focusing on the bigger the better.

Poultry scientists in Canada identically raised three different strains of chicken: the skinnymalinks 1957 chicken of my childhood, a mo’ bigger 1978 strain, and the robust 2005 Ross 308 breed. The cared for each strain in the same way:

"We fed them exactly the same things, so we did not provide hormones," lead author Dr. Martin Zuidhof, associate professor of agricultural science at the University of Alberta, told the CBC. "The only difference that was part of our study treatments was the genetics." (Source: Huffington Post.)

The result showed that:

…today's chickens are bigger simply because they were bred to be bigger.

Go back to your lives, citizens. Nothing to worry about here. That chicken may be four times larger than its peer, but it’s all okay.

Nonetheless, I do worry a bit about chickens, which just don’t seem to taste as chickeny as those scrawny sweet birds of my youth. This may just be my imagination. Or maybe it’s because my mother utilized all parts of a chicken (including – gag! – gizzards), while I’m a white meat kind of gal. So maybe her soups were more flavorful than mine because she kept all the gunk in, including stuff like bones, skin and fat. Whereas I get the boneless and skinless variety, and hack out all the fatty bits. Then I wonder why I have to sit there, saltshaker in hand…

Although the Canadian scientists assure us that there’s no problem with eating big chickens, the picture is still scary.

At least, the scientists assure us, the chickens haven’t been altered over the years to addict us, like so many fast food and bev items that have both been supersized and gunked up with “enhancers” that keep us going back to the trough bag for more.

A couple of years ago, while taking a break on the NY State Thruway, I stopped at a rest area that had – among other ghastly choices – a Roy Rogers.

I didn’t end up eating anything at this rest stop – I generally wait until I hit the Massachusetts border to have lunch, since the Mass Pike has a couple of Fresh Cities, which sure beat the Uncle Roys and Arbys that NY offers. But I did notice that they were selling a gallon-sized soda.

Say what?

Once you finish your big gulp, do you use it as an in-car toilet?

Anyway, at least with chickens there’s nothing to be afraid of.

No harm, no fowl.

Buk buk buk buk bukka it is!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Corporate Culture Vulture

As anyone who’s held a job for more than say, five minutes, can tell you, every workplace has a distinct culture. And finding a place where you’re a fit with the culture and the culture is a fit for you is as important to your workplace happiness as finding a Mr./Ms. Right is to your love life.

No, you’re not looking for THE ONE.

There’s no such thing.

But there are definitely places where you’re going to enjoy working, and there are definitely places that you’re going to despise.

I was fortunate during my full-time career to have only one job that was a complete and utter misfit, and that was Wang Labs.

I knew right away.

Truly, if my APC – the Wang PC that we dubbed “Almost a PC” – had been working on day one, I would have typed up a resignation letter.

That APC didn’t work, so I decided to soldier on and ended up staying 2.5 years. Yet despite having very fine colleagues (an almost saving grace), the years were just plain miserable.

It wasn’t the dysfunction.

If there was one element that characterized every place I’ve ever worked it would be dysfunction. You could almost say I pretty much specialized in it. I always assumed – perhaps incorrectly – that there was a parallel universe composed of fully functioning workplaces. But I wasn’t interested in working there. My big fear was that it would be boring. After all, aren’t happy families companies all alike, while every unhappy family company is unhappy in its own way? (Thank you, Mr. Tolstoy, for providing an insight that I could borrow from.)

So I had a very high tolerance of, perhaps even a hankering for, dysfunctional companies. Having interesting work, working with good and smart people, was what I was after. Sure, this theoretically could have happened in a company with a healthy (i.e., non-dysfunctional) culture. But this apparently wasn’t what I wanted out of my work life, and I traded off working in wildly interesting (and downright gleefully entertaining) companies (all of which, I must add, failed) for working in a well-run company that might have had a better shot at success. Or even – imagine that – succeeding. (Whatever that means…)

It also wasn’t the politics at Wang that drove me nuts.

Come on, people talk about politics at work as if it were something awful.

Okay. It can be. Corporate politics can be nasty, unnerving, and destructive, and I’ve worked in a couple of places where the pols might as well have been doing opposition research, conducting push polls, and running negative ads.

But politicking is also how ideas are advanced, challenged, strengthened.

Sure, this is an ideal read, but workplace politicking doesn’t turn me off.

And the politics at Wang – at least at my level – were pretty darned minimal: running for vice-president of your fourth grade class, rather than campaigning for the U.S. Senate.

No, at Wang it was the numbing, stunning, pervasive, crippling bureaucracy that got me down.

One characteristic of the bureaucracy was that all power emanated from the top. I was told that by the time I joined, things had eased up a bit, i.e., founder An Wang was no longer approving things like, say, the paper that a datasheet was printed on. But it was still pretty darned awful.

Having some bureaucracy is helpful. I.e., it’s good to have a known process for any number of tasks, and establishing and maintaining the process is going to require you to have some level of bureaucracy. Just. Not. Wang’s.

Given my interest in corporate culture, my corporate culture vulturism, as it were, I was interested in Paul Hellman’s recent column on the subject.

Paul knows what can happen if you find yourself in a bad culture:

Because even the best job—in the worst culture—will kill your satisfaction, and your success.

(I do need to reinforce my earlier point that you may well attain job satisfaction and a modicum of success  - personal not corporate, and thus not sustainable - in a dreadful culture.)

Paul thinks folks should find out what a corporate culture is like before you accepting an offer. He suggests that you don’t rely on generalized questions that are going to elicit vague, less-than-helpful answers, and provides some suggestions for the types of questions that will get at the specifics:

1) Stories: "Tell me about someone who's been really successful here" (not just based on technical skill, but on modeling key values). "And tell me about someone who hasn't."

2) Behavior
: "Suppose I worked here, and met all my performance goals for the year. What other behaviors would contribute to a high performance rating? What would get me a low performance rating, even if I met objectives?"

Good advice, but I have another suggestion.

It may not always be feasible, but, before you take the plunge, why not spend a bit of time in the new place.

This can be risky, especially if you don’t end up taking the job.

People, after all, have been known to blab.

But if you sit in on a group meeting, attend a company rah-rah session, spend a day shadowing your potential boss or potential peer, you’ll get a pretty good idea about what the company’s culture is all about, even when you discount the fact that your presence will likely having some sort of impact on everyone’s behavior.

I worked for many years at a small company that was wildly dysfunctional and plenty political, yet which had a culture that made people love the place. (This sounds crazy, I know. You had to be there.) Before we made a hire, we invited all prospective employees to sit in on our weekly Friday lunch, a kind of rough and tumble brown-bag meeting (with dessert provided by a different employee every week). If someone could make it through Friday lunch and still want to work with us, they were in. Or were joining at their own risk.

Did it work?


Once in a while someone who just wasn’t our kind of employee decided to join us, but mostly we attracted folks who were a good fit. Maybe this was to our detriment. Maybe we could benefited from a few different perspectives. But, on reflection, this really wasn’t our problem. People didn’t have any issue with pushing and shoving and making their ideas and feelings known. (Why we failed is a tale for another post. Or maybe I should revisit my book.)

Anyway, reading Paul Hellman’s column reminded me of just how important culture is.

And reading his column also reminded me that we were classmates at the Sloan School at MIT.

Yay, Class of 1981.

Which, by the way, had an excellent class culture of its own…

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Home of the bean and the cod? Nah. Home of the psychiatric technician.

I am a complete and utter sucker for lists, rankings, “mosts”, whatevers, that reveal something or other (or maybe even nothing) about a region, city or state.

Matters not how shoddy or imbecilic the approach used to come up with the lists, rankings, “mosts”, whatevers. Best not to look to closely at how anyone comes up these lists. Methodological rigor is seldom involved. The assumptions behind the rankings tend toward the specious.

But reading through them – and reading into them -  is just plain fun.

As in last summer, when we learned that my sister Kath (small city), my cousin Ellen (mid-sized city), and I (big city) all live in cities that made the snobbiest-for-their-size places to live. Not bad for three girls whose maternal grandparents got to Ellis Island with fifty bucks in their pockets.

Or a couple of weeks ago, when I read about travel predictors, by state. No surprise that the most likely destination for residents of Massachusetts was Ireland. But given the crappy weather on both sides of the pond, you’d think we’d be more interested in the places our fellow New Englanders seeks out: Aruba (Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island) and Costa Rica (Vermont).

Interesting, useless non-information! Big data are da bomb!

The latest one I’ve seen is a list of the job that’s “more common in that [one] state than anywhere else in the country.

In order to come up with a list of the most unique jobs by state, Mental Floss teamed up with Economic Modeling Specialists Intl., a CareerBuilder company, and analyzed a metric called location quotient, which "compares the percentage share of a state’s workforce in a given occupation to the percentage share of the nationwide workforce in that occupation," according to Mental Floss. In other words, the location quotient measures what jobs are most specific to a given state. (Source: Huffington Post)

Admittedly, this list -  from an analytical perspective -  is more rigorously concocted than most. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for an outfit called Economic Modeling Specialists, given that my husband was an economist/econometrician, and given that my first job out of business school was working as an economic and financial modeler. (Oh, wait, certainly the latter should have convinced me that modeling can be bull-shitty modeling to the extreme. I remember one manager demanding that we throw extra variables, no matter how far-fetched and implausible, into our models to “pump the fit.” Did it really help NYNEX forecast new phone demand by throwing swimming pool exstallations – whatever that means – into the equation?)

And I have to say that, from a grammatical perspective, reading the words “most unique jobs by state” makes me cringe.

Nonetheless, it’s great fun to read through the list: Sure:

It's no surprise that there's a high concentration of actors in California, but who knew Kansas was the referee capital of America?

Not to mention finding that Massachusetts comes to the fore in terms of psychiatric technicians. I will interpret that as our having better-than-average concern for mental health, rather than that we have more people who suffer from mental illness. Which is sort of borne out by another list I saw that had The Commonwealth among states with a rate of serious mental illness lower than the national average.

Anyway, walking through the list is interesting. And mostly doesn’t hold all that many surprises (other than Massachusetts, Kansas, and – maybe – Arizona: semi-conductor processors: who knew?) And what is there about public transportation in Maryland that makes them home to so many subway and streetcar operators. (Streetcar operators: are these job titles never updated?)

In the no surprise category, why wouldn’t Arkansas, home to Tyson food, have a high rate of food processing workers? And, while on the subject of ghastly jobs, think all you want about where the hog butcher of the world might be, but why wouldn’t Minnesota, home to Hormel Foods, have more slaughterers and meat packers?

Delaware  - thank you, Irénée DuPont -  has more than its share of chemists. Washington – thank you, William Boeing – has more aircraft assemblers.

There are plenty of other states in which the “most unique” job harkens back to days of yore, when every state was known for some industry. (Wisconsin is the Dairy State. Or used to be: now it’s the foundry mold and coremaker state.)

But Connecticut’s still the Insurance State, specializing in actuaries. Oregon has loggers. Oklahoma has wellhead pumpers.

One of my favorites is Indiana, where boilermakers rule. So it looks like Purdue’s mascot remains safe. (No need to change it to the Purdue semi-conductor processors or the Purdue survey processors.)

Another of my favorites is Illinois, which leads the pack in terms of correspondence clerks.

Correspondence clerks! Talk about harkening back.

Has such a profession actually existed since Bartleby was a scrivener, since Bob Cratchit toiled away under Ebenezer Scrooge?

Oh, I’m sure it’s the fin serv folks who send us letters, but it sure sounds quaint.

And just think of all those Chicagoans, toiling away in downtown skyscrapers, toiling away at correspondence. Have they traded in their quill pens for something more modern? Are they typing away on manual Remingtons, pounding away to make sure they get through all those carbon copies? Have they upgraded to IBM Selectrics – use white out to correct mistakes, and Xerox to make multiple copies. Or are those correspondence clerks using e-mail these days? Do they tweet?

Ah, the wonder of the list…






Monday, October 20, 2014

Sky Rockets (and Diggy) in flight

In the weeks leading up to his death, my husband came up with a list of places he wanted a bit of his ashes to go, and I’ve been working my way through his list. And through the small canister of remains that Mt. Auburn Cemetery held out from the bulk that are interred there, in a lovely spot on Azalea Way.

One evening, when we were talking about “the list”, Jim mentioned that he was willing to spend a good deal of money to have his ashes sent into space. A good deal of money. As in half of what was in his IRA.

And while I am not one to deny a dying man his wish, I told him that it would have to be a two-fer, because the only way I’d pay that much to have Diggy slip the surly bonds of earth would be over my dead body.

“Oh, yeah,” he said and laughed. “That must be the brain tumor talking.”

But I told him that I’d find a way to get him there cheaper, and I immediately found a couple of places on line.

He liked Celestis. I did, too.

After all Celestis’:

….heritage encompasses over 30 years of global leadership in private sector space missions and applications including:

  • the first ever private launch into outer space (1982),
  • the first private, post-cremation memorial spaceflight (1997),
  • the first lunar burial (1999)

Jim was a science guy, a math and physics nerd, with a complete fascinating with space exploration. So Celestis looked like it had the right stuff.

Plus it’s also the memorial spaceflight provider to the stars: hippie guru Timothy Leary, Gene Rodenberry (originator of Star Trek, which means little to me, but Jim was something of a fan), and Gordon Cooper. Gordo was not necessarily Jim’s favorite astronaut, but, as played by Dennis Quaid, he was definitely Jim’s favorite character in The Right Stuff.

So for a lot less than Jim was initially willing to spend, he’ll be heading into space a bit later this morning, sky-rocketing off from Spaceport America at 10 a.m. Eastern.

UPDATE:  The launch pad was struck by lightning – maybe Diggy’s not ready to launch – so his spaceflight has been postponed.

Right now, I’m kind of wishing I’d gone to New Mexico for the launch, but I’ll be able to watch it online. (I had considered going over to Mt. Auburn for the event, but didn’t want to trust that I’d be able to watch it on my aging Blackberry.)

UPDATE:  I’m no longer kind of wishing that I’d gone to New Mexico for the launch.

The option that we/I chose is just the straight up-and-down (think Alan Shephard), rather than the more expensive orbit flight (think John Glenn), or the quite pricey lunar orbit or deep space launch (think Neil Armstrong and Captain Kirk). 

Unless there’s some disaster, I’ll be getting Jim’s space capsule ashes back, and these are the remains that will remain with me, ‘til my death do us part.

Meanwhile, in my experience, something funny almost always happen around the death of a loved one.* Especially if you have a sense of humor and/or are Irish.

For my Aunt Margaret, it was the day-glo souvenir whistles sitting in baskets in the ladies’ room of the funeral parlor. (It almost goes without saying that it was an Irish funeral parlor…)

For my mother, it was my 4 year old niece asking what was in the box. (A question that my 5 year old niece could easily answer: “Grandma!”)

There were a number of things that happened around Jim’s death that would fall under the comic relief category, but I’ll stick with the one having to do with prepping Jim’s ashes for flight.

When you sign up for Celestis, they send you a kit that includes a small cylinder and a funnel.

Now, if you just looked at the funnel dead-on, it didn’t seem as if the opening at the narrow end of the funnel was that narrow. But talk about the eye of the needle.

As I began to sift bits of Jim’s remains, little pebbles (I refuse to think bone chip) kept getting caught in the narrow end of the funnel.

After a few minutes of pushing little pebbles through the opening with a lobster pick and/or tweezing them out so they wouldn’t block the progress of the fine ashes, I realized that I was going to have to make those remains a bit more granular.

I fleetingly thought ‘blender’, but that was way too ick a thought. So I fetched the little brass hammer I use to put pictures up – a hammer that we always refer to as our ‘lady hammer’ – spread out a towel, covered it with Glad Wrap, measured out the right portion of ashes needed to fill the cylinder, and started whacking away.

If ever I felt like a crazy lady, it was standing in my living room, pulverizing my husband’s remains, while “Bang, Bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” rolled around in my head.

Anyway, Diggy would have enjoyed the scene. As he would have enjoyed his skyrocket in flight.

Of you go, Diggy.

I’ll be thinking of you. (Not that this makes today any different than any other day.)

It may not be where no man has gone before, but it’s a place where this man hadn’t been.


*Unless it’s a child…

Friday, October 17, 2014

One more reason to avoid taking selfies

Personally, I don’t actually need another reason to avoid taking selfies. I have plenty enough already.

My principal reason is just plain having zero interest in taking one.

Still, always wanting to expand my skillset, and fearful that there might be some sort of emergency that would require me to take one – or that I might get caught up in an outbreak of narcissism or something – I thought I should at least know how.

Now, there are plenty of things that I don’t know how to do. There are plenty of things that I do poorly. But, as it happens, mastering the art of the selfie is well beyond my feeble grasp. Oh, I suppose my selfie-competence exceeds my ability to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while blindfold. But it’s pretty darned poor. The few times I tried, I mostly took a picture of the top of my head. The one time I managed a head shot, I looked like Mama June on Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. (If you don’t know what she looks like, the short version is morbidly obese and squint-eyed mean. And, no I won’t be posting that selfie. It’s already been deleted from my Blackberry.)

So, no, I don’t need yet another reason why not to take a selfie.

Nonetheless, as a public service announcement, I will offer this one to my dear readers who are no doubt madly, wildly, faithfully taking self portraits and posting them in and on places I don’t go. So here goes:

…a new crop of digital marketing companies are searching, scanning, storing and repurposing these images to draw insights for big-brand advertisers.

Some companies, such as Ditto Labs Inc., use software to scan photos—the image of someone holding a Coca-Cola can, for example—to identify logos, whether the person in the image is smiling, and the scene’s context. The data allow marketers to send targeted ads or conduct market research.

Others, such as Piqora Inc., store images for months on their own servers to show marketers what is trending in popularity. Some have run afoul of the loose rules on image-storing that the services have in place. (Source: WSJOnline)

And just so we could figure out how this particular bill becomes a law, the article even has a handy-dandy infographic:


Needless to say, I had to traipse on over to at least one of these sites, and I went and picked Ditto, where, we are told that “1.8 billion photos are shared on social media every day. Have you seen what they say about your brand?” The home page then cycles through a couple of sub pages, one of which shows a map of the U.S., which shows a handful of images avec logo linked to a specific location.

Now, maybe everyone gets to see the same map, or maybe the map will always have something specific to your area, but mine came up showing that someone in Virginia has “shared” a picture of a cup of Dunkin Donut (a made-in-Boston brand), and that someone had uploaded a picture of their kid in Fenway Park wearing a Red Sox jersey and cap.

The header on the map page is:

Reveal when, where and how people experience y our product. 

Well, I don’t really think that the Red Sox need to pay Ditto anything in order to discover what I could tell them for free: that on any given summer home game evening, 90% of the people at Fenway Park will be wearing Red Sox gear. And, depending on how the game/season is going, they may or not be smiling.

And, well, I don’t really think that the Red Sox need to pay Ditto anything in order to discover what I could tell them for free: if the Sox are up, the fans will be smiling. If not, the average fan will be grimacing and swearing under their breath about having Clay Bucholz as your ace. (Actually, this only goes for the adults. The kids will be smiling regardless of what’s happening on the field.)

You know, I actually want to like Ditto. It’s a local company, with a lot of MIT-ers associated with it. Not that I’ve spent my career promoting the greater good of mankind, but I’m not the big-brain-inventive-genius type, eitther. So I sincerely ask: aren’t there better things to use those big MIT brains on, other than helping consumer goods companies more effectively market crap by exploiting the privacy of the their customers? (Clever marketing bit on their management team page, by the way: everyone’s wearing, holding, or using something with a big, fat logo on it.)

Why would Instagram and Pinterest enable Ditto et al. to grab all these pictures of, say, cute kids in Red Sox jerseys at Fenway Park?

The photo-sharing services…hope the brands will eventually spend money to advertise on their sites.


Instagram, Flickr and Pinterest Inc.—among the largest photo-sharing sites—say they adequately inform users that publicly posted content might be shared with partners and take action when their rules are violated by outside developers. Photos that are marked as private by users or not shared wouldn’t be available to marketers.

Wonder what percentage of Instagrammarians and my friend Flickrs read the fine print.

Not something that someone who is both anti-selfie and selfie-challenged has to worry about.

David Rose, who founded Ditto Labs in 2012, said one day his image-recognition software will enable consumers to “shop” their friends’ selfies, he said.

I have no idea whatsoever what this means. But I’m sure as hell happy that none of my friends will be able to “shop” that picture of me looking like Honey Boo-boo’s mother…

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adulthood 101. (Oh, grow up.)

Last week, while heading out to dinner with my sisters, we passed a place that my sister Kath – whose town we were in – was hoping was a new restaurant.  But Society of Grownups? As my sister Kath wrote on her blog:

What the hell kind of tragically hip name for a restaurant is "Society of Grownups?" And who would want to eat there anyway? (Source: My Rolled Trousers)

When we got back to Kath’s after dinner, we – natch – took to The Google to suss out SOG, and found that it’s an insurance company (Mass Mutual) operation aimed at wooing twenty-somethings interested in planning their financial futures.

It will surprise no one who knows my sister Kath that she has a funny and trenchant take on this:

Good idea, to provide financial education to recent college graduates and young adults, and probably a smart marketing initiative from a stodgy old insurance company who probably took a look at the demographic of their current clients and found they were all Trouserville cohorts, circling the drain with paid up life insurance policies grasped in their ancient claws. And who is going to start a storefront center for finding your inner geezer?  No future in that.

While it’s difficult to improve on Kath, I will point out that there actually is a storefront center for finding your inner geezer: Fidelity’s spot on 155 Congress Street in downtown Boston, which seems to be something of a hangout for the gray brigade.  Nothing hipster about it, unless you consider a printed-on-paper copy of the day’s Wall Street Journal hipster. The  only personal touch is a fishbowl full of miniature Hershey bars on the counter, in case one of us geezers waiting to talk about our IRAs starts feeling a bit peckish or faint.

While the SOG website has many links to sensible financial tools and advice, the overall gestalt of the enterprise seems to be cloying cutesy-ness, which may go down well with the Instagram generation but seems downright patronizing to an old codger.

If you think that “cloying cutesy-ness” is anything approaching an exaggeration, take a look at the Society of Grownups for yourself. And compare and contrast the SOG approach to the look and feel of Mass Mutual when they’re talking to the rest of us. While Mass Mutual has the standard boring fin-serv picks (products and solutions, planning tools and resources, business needs):

Society of Grownups believes you can pursue adult goals like starting a family, opening a business, or saving for retirement without losing your sense of adventure. Come to a few of our classes and events and you’ll see what we mean.Welcome to the Society of Grownups. Helping you find your inner adult.

Can’t disagree with trying to make young adults more knowledgeable about things financial. With so many of them coming out of school with a ton o’ debt, I’m sure that plenty of them could use a bit of advice. And given how many Boomer knuckleheads are nearing retirement age with near-zippo in terms of savings, getting focused on saving up for the years leading up to The Great Beyond is a good thing.

But “helping you find your inner adult”? Isn’t this what life does to you? Do you really need to sign up for a course named “When Money Buys Happiness: Spending on The Things You Care About” or “Beyond the Hostel: Planning Grownup Trips”? Aren’t these things you can figure out for yourself?

I’m such a crank…

You’d think I’d be happy that there’s a place that encourages “the kids” to crawl out of their online caves and actually meet people face to face, a place that provides an alternative “scene” to a drunken groping bar.

But it does, as Kath says, seem patronizing, as if any appeal to the common sense (and self-interest) of a generation has to be couched in “fun”, tongue and cheek terms.

And isn’t “finding your inner adult” something that actually is part of the “adventure”, not something that’s antithetical to it? Isn’t “finding  your inner adult” something that sort of comes naturally along the way?

You get a job and realize that, now that it’s your money, not theirs,  so you can spend it on whatever you damn well please, including a Bob Dylan album or mini-skirt that they might disapprove of.

You get your license and drive a little too fast on that curve and find yourself up over the curve, two inches from the telephone poll (fortunately) and no cop in sight (double fortunately). So the next time you’ve got the car, you slow the hell down on that curve.

You help your friends through their crises - loss of boyfriend, loss of faith, loss of parent, bad trips, hangovers – and, along the way, figure out how you’re going to cope when those crises come your way.

You get an apartment. You wear down your landlord into replacing the crappy fridge. You take yourself to small claims course – and win – if the landlord wearing-down doesn’t happen fast enough.

You go away, far away, and figure out how to cope when it’s pouring rain, you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s late, and the hostel is full. (Note to Society of Grownups: if you’ve actually done the hosteling routine, you really don’t need a travel course to figure out hotels.)

And then you get a real job. You negotiate a raise. You hire someone. You coach someone. You fire someone.

You find “the one”, and end up getting married. Or not, and end up staying single. Living with someone, living on your own: both very good ways to find your inner adult.

You have kids – the ultimate ‘oh, grow up’ experience. Or not, but end up being part of someone else’s village. No, it’s not the same, but whether it’s their kid or yours, you figure out how to clean up a baby covered in crap up to his neck. Try to comfort a child who seems inconsolable. Show someone the joys of kite-flying. Stop them from doing something dumb (or maybe just something annoying). Answer a scary big question. Realize that, as much as you want to do it, sometimes there’s no way you can take the heartbreak and pain away. Help kids understand that things mostly do get better. Explain to them that, yes indeed, life is sometimes sucky and unfair. And, let’s hope, convey to the children you know and love that life is always an adventure, and that there are a lot of good and fun things about being a grownup.

And that there are a lot of not so good and fun things about being an adult, but that this is okay, too. Things like coping with the illness, the death of those you love. All part of life, all part of what we’re here for.

According to the Society of Grownups:

Every generation has its own dreams. And its own ideas about success. But the only path to happiness is the one built on your individual goals and values.

True, all. (Although I might argue that every generation’s dreams and ideas about success pretty much end up the same. We all want to find love, companionship, meaningful work…)

And, yes, that “path to happiness” is yours and yours alone.

But do you really need the Society of Grownups to realize this?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Restoration Hardware: the gift that keeps on giving

Over the years, blog topic-wise, I’ve considered Walmart a gift that keeps on giving. And while I haven’t done anything Walmart-ish in a while, they remain of interest, and may well appear in Pink Slip in the not so distant future.

But I don’t want readers to think that all I do is use my metaphorical Payless Shoe shod foot to kick the folks from Bentonville.

Nope. More than occasionally, I pull on a metaphorical Ferragmo boot to kick the higher end-crowd. And a repeat offender here has certainly been Restoration Hardware. Whether it’s their pretentious “store as museum” attitude, or the unsolicited (and, frankly, pretty monochromatic and boring) 14 pound catalogs that continue to litter the doorsteps in my neighborhood, RH is an entity that continues to cry out for a good blogging.

Their latest is the introduction of RH Financing.

In keeping with their serene and subtle approach to marketing – no Bob’s Discount Furniture Bob-inator for them; no Bernie and Phyl and their quality, comfort and price; not Elliot Jordan letting his grandkids eat chocolate ice cream on his Sunbrella-covered couch – RH invites us to buy their wares on credit using their very own serene and subtle color palette. No screaming “no money down”. Just tastefully laid out. And – I’ll admit – mincing no numbers when it comes to calculating just what it’s going to cost you monthly, and in total, if you decide, say, to slap $100K worth of furniture on your RH card, and spread the payments over the next seven years.


Am I the only one who thinks that if you can’t afford to RH your digs without paying for it with a seven-year loan, you should probably be thinking of an alternative.

I mean, I’d sleep on a mattress stuffed with dried corn cobs, and eat off a 1950’s metal tray table, before I’d step toe in a Bob’s. And I do find Bernie and Phyl, not to mention their offspring, pretty annoying. But I think Elliot Jordan’s kind of cute. (He actually may live around here. I know I’ve seen him on the street.)

I’m also looking at that $100K figure and laughing.

For the tax filing for my husband’s estate, I have to provide a calculation of Jim’s personal property.

The value of his clothing can be pretty much calculated by throwing it in a ragbag, putting it on a scale, and computing the going rate (cents per pound) for rags.

Our furniture isn’t all that much of different story.

As I sit in our combo living-dining room computing the cost of everything in here, including what’s on the walls and the tchotchkes on the mantel, it barely makes it above $10K, even if I fake up some value for my grandmother’s claw foot table and rickety little desk. Or the side tables from my sister Kath.

Of course, as with our other furniture, it was all acquired over time. The dining room table, chairs, and credenza predate the leather sofa, which postdates the “antique” (i.e., acquired at a junk store) glass-fronted cabinet we store our CD’s in.

I have some very interesting things hanging on the walls, but the most expensive art object is actually the frame for the Achille Philion  poster – An Attraction without a Parallel. We paid $100 for it at an antique/junk store in Vermont a million years ago for . It cost $700 to frame. (Just found one online at an antique poster gallery, and Achille Philionapparently it’s worth a bit more than $100. Weren’t we the clever art investors!)

Anyway, our other rooms are furnished with a similar combination of decent quality, not so hot, hand-me-down, and antique/junk store. With stuff on the walls nicely (i.e., expensively) framed, but not of really high value. (Other than Achille Philion. He rules!)

So, if I can furnish 1200 square feet with interesting, personal, rugged (whatever we paid for it, our stuff tends to stand the test of time, that’s for sure), shabby chic for a grand total of maybe $20K, so could someone else.

Now that’s an awful lot of money, money that most folks don’t have sitting in their checking account.

But it’s really not that hard to start out modestly, buying the essentials and scrounging where you can, and building up over time.

And you wouldn’t have to borrow $100K from RH in order to do live comfortably.

Of course, no one will mistake my home for an RH catalog, or any body’s showroom.

But it really is an “us” kind of place.

That said, when I do some renovating, I will be replacing some of the pieces. Of our three Jennifer Convertible couches, only one is likely to make the cut. And that oversized chair where I’ve read so many books and taken so many naps, well, I think its days our numbered.

I have a budget vaguely in mind, not to mention a style.

Neither the budget nor my personal taste will put me any where near RH.

Not that I’d be tempted to sign up for their credit line.

Who’d want to be paying off furniture for seven years?


A tip of the old chapeau from my sister Trish, who passed this one along to me.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hey, Mr. Nadella, I know you really didn’t mean it, but the karma route just plain doesn’t work.

I read with interest about the brouhaha the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella set off last week:

…when he told an audience of tech industry women they should trust they will get raises when they deserve them -- despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

"It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along," Nadella told a crowd at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, ReadWrite reported.

"That's good karma. It will come back," Nadella continued. "That's the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to."(Source: Huffington Post)

Well who wouldn’t want to give more responsibility to someone who’d take it on for nothing? That doesn’t make it right on either side: the non-giver, or the non-receiver.

I like to think that Grace Hopper – who I suspect was a plenty tough Commodore_Grace_M._Hopper,_USN_(covered)old gal – is snorting in her grave somewhere. (For those who don’t know who Hopper is, she was a mathematician and pioneering computer scientist who has both a Cray Supercomputer and a U.S. Navy Destroyer named after her.)

To his credit, Nadella apologized and admitted that he was wrong, and with a level of sincerity that went beyond the mealy-mouthed “I misspoke” and “I’m sorry if someone was offended by what I said” faux-apologies that are such the mode these days:

"Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap," Nadella wrote. "I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work ... If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

Here, Nadella gets is right.

For years, women have hung back in the workplace just waiting for their contributions to be recognized and rewarded. And then sitting there stewing when some guy who was likely less competent and definitely didn’t work as hard got tapped for the promotion, and scored the big raise. Having had a career in the technology business, I understand first hand how difficult it can be for women in such a male-dominated culture. And I also understand how women play right into it, letting ourselves take the wait for karma to kick in approach. Unfortunately, this  just plain won’t get you ahead in a world where the boys are all yelling “Pick me. Pick me. Pick me. I’m a good hitter. I can catch.” While the girls stand quietly on the sidelines, left for last pick, while wondering why, given that they know for a fact that they’re a better hitter, and better with the glove, than Mr. Pick Me will ever be.

I knew from the get-go that, in terms of getting a promotion, waiting for someone to recognize my worthiness was not going to cut it.

Pretty much every time I got a promotion, it was because I raised my hand and said I’d do something. Not that I had much competition in vying for what were mostly thankless tasks in companies that went nowhere. Still, as I clawed my way up to senior this and director that, it was mostly because I put myself in the position to say “I do.”

I worked for years at a small software company, apparently long enough to outlast everyone in my way and find myself on the management team as director of marketing. The others on the team – it almost goes without saying, all guys – were all VPs. I wanted to be a VP, too.

After waiting for “it” to happen, I decided to advocate for myself, making the case to the company president. And, as I made my case, making sure that I had the backing of all the guys on the management team.

Although I hated the way my promotion was announced – a story for another day – I did get the title. And no raise.

Now, I knew that I wasn’t going to make what the guys made. They actually had broader job scope and greater responsibility. But there was no way I was going to let a zero-based promotion to VP happen.

So I went back to the act-on-my-own-behalf well that I’d drawn from to get that vaunted VP title, and drew up another bucket of ego, resolve and ammunition.

I made my case – including data I got from headhunters – and got a 20% raise that put me at the sweet spot salary level I was looking for. Given that bonuses are tied to salaries, this turned out to be a very good thing.

I probably worked full time for another eight or nine years after I scored this raise, and, while I’ve never run the numbers, between salary and bonus this 20% raise probably earned me well over an additional quarter of a million bucks.

If I’d waited for karma to find its way to my desk, I would have been sitting there further down the food chain, making a lot less money, and making myself crazy wondering why all those jerks were deliberating on the future of our products, group, company while I was doing “real” work.

They say that karma’s a bitch, but that can’t be right.

If you’re expecting karma to eventually come to your rescue, you’ve really got to keep in mind that sometimes karma’s just a plain old garden variety a-hole.


While I was working on this post on Friday, I took an e-mail break, and there was a note from my friend Valerie, sending me a link to the Nadella story. Karma? You decide.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I Dream of Columbus. (A little Columbus Day gifteen for you)

Columbus Day has always been one of my favorites, and I’ve written about the “whys” a few times in the past. (Nifty Little Holiday, My Head Still Hurts, My Head Hurts.) (And, yes, I do realize that C. Columbus was really no hero, and that we really should have a holiday that recognizes native Americans, etc. - but we are mostly a nation of immigrants, and someone was bound to discover "us" at some point.)

Anyway, last year, I took the day off to bring my husband home from MGH, where he’d had a malignant tumor removed from his brain earlier the week before. At that point, we were guardedly (extremely guardedly) optimistic about “things”.

As it turned out, there was not much reason for optimism, guarded or not. But that was then, and this year, despite all the sadness associated with “a year ago” memories that everyone who’s lost a loved one if likely familiar, I am going to enjoy this nifty little holiday. And since I’ve already said most of what I have to say about this nifty little holiday (see above), I thought I’d leave you with a couple of at least tangentially relevant songs from Mary Black, the great Irish singer. The first is Columbus:


 And the second is Ellis Island, which is, after all, what old Christopher Columbus kick-started, no?


Happy Columbus Day!

Enjoy Mary Black...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hey, NFL, thanks for remembering the ladies. Now let’s all go out and buy Barbie-pink Ray Rice jerseys.

A few years ago, the NFL decide to do a bit of good by raising a bit of awareness and a bit of money by jumping onto the October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month hot-pink bandwagon. So the league fiated that, at some point during the month, players had to wear something pink, refs had to throw pink penalty flags, and cheerleaders needed to shake pink pompoms, so that fan awareness would be raised that there’s something out there called breast cancer.

As Erin Ryan of Jezebel pointed out in a post last week:

Breast cancer awareness is so ubiquitous that if deadly diseases attended the same high school, breast cancer would probably be voted prom queen. (Source: Jezebel)

But, hey, if you have to pick a disease to, why not pick one that everyone’s aware of – and one that probably everyone knows someone who’s had it?

One of the most horrific things about cancer is that there’s no such thing as one big, bad monolithic “cancer”. Each cancer is something different in where and how it manifests itself, what and who it attacks, and whether and if you’re likely to survive. Not to mention that how your body responds to most cancers (and how it responds to their treatment) is unique to you, and impacted by everything you’ve eaten, breathed in, and done, and every place you’ve been. Which is why, for so many cancers, survival remains a complete and utter crapshoot.

Anyway, there’s no denying that breast cancer is a worthy cause.

But this is the NFL, so it’s not just about do-gooding. Because one of the upsides of do-gooding, if you’re the NFL, is that is kind of shines up your image a bit. Just look at all those big, strong he-men wearing girly-girl pink stripes on their pants, pink chin straps, pink cleats. Real men wear pink! Real men are really concerned about breast cancer!

It’s really hard not to go just a tad bit cynical here.

Okay, I’d be more cynical if they’d come up with this just this season.

Given all the terrible publicity they’ve had of late around player assaults on women, it would be completely outrageous for them to feign concern about a disease the mostly occurs among the female of the species.

Still, so it’s hard not to suspect that, when they decided to get pinkified a few years ago, it wasn’t also about the leagues desire to increase the proportion of females in its fan base. And, since it’s the NFL, it’s hard not to believe that it’s also about the merchandising. Somebody in the NFL marketing department, someone who probably specialized in powder-puff outreach, no doubt figured that there’s gold in them thar’ pink hills. And that us gals so like to don we now our pink apparel, we’ll rush on out and buy all sorts of cool pink items – and help “the cause.”

Although I do love the color pink, I must say that I find most of the merchandise just ghastly.

Like these boots, for $109.95 which, even as ugly bootPink bootss go are pretty darned ugly. What would UGGs super-model Tom Brady say about them? Bet Gisele Bündchen wouldn’t be caught dead, or alive, in them.

Or tPink scarfhis relative bargain, a scarf for a mere $17.95. Officially licensed! Woven graphics! 100% Acrylic!

Or this swell laptop case, fPink laptop bagor just $269.00.

But, oh, you may be thinking.

The proceeds of sales of these items are going to a good cause.

And it even says right there on most of these items that the NFL donates 100% of its proceeds to something to do with breast cancer.

The NFL claims that its pink philanthropy efforts "support the fight against breast cancer" by "promoting awareness" and providing funds to the American Cancer Society. But what they're mostly promoting is, uh, buying NFL gear, the profits from which are overwhelmingly pocketed by the NFL.

That’s because a schnook who actually wasn’t thinking might think they were actually donating the full “value” (i.e., the cost) of the merchandise, rather than just the NFL’s skim. But that 100% of proceeds actually translates into something closer to 11.25% (according to Business Insider). Most of the money goes to the companies who make the stuff and to the companies (often the NFL itself or the teams) that sell the stuff.

That 11.25% is not nothing, of course.

But in NFL terms, it’s next to nothing.

While the NFL brings in billions in revenue annually – last year’s take was $9.5B – their donations to breast cancer causes have supposedly averaged about $1M a year.

Not that they are any obligation whatsoever to support any particular “good cause,” and breast cancer’s as good as any. And I surely wouldn’t expect them to do fund-raising for a closer-to-home disease – say, something associated with the brain damage that so many players incur on the vaunted playing fields of the NFL.

Still, I find the whole pink thing a bit patronizing, especially when coming from the National Football League.

If the NFL really gave a hoot about women, it would provide counseling services to those players – and there are plenty of them - who can’t turn the violence off once they’re off the field, and who consider women sexual playthings and/or punching bags.

Charity begins at home.


This topic was suggested to me (and the Jezebel link sent) by my cousin (and fellow blogger)Ellen, who posted so eloquently on what it actually means to have – and survive – breast cancer, and her reaction to Omnipresent Pink Month.