Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Chalking it up

Before I went pro in another field – high-tech product management and marketing (yawn!) – I was a professional waitress.

Yes, I’d also been a summer and school-year waitress, lines on the résumé shared by about two-thirds of the women of a certain age I know. (And some of the men, too. I’m looking at you, Ricky T. Only for waiter, not waitress.)

After dropping out of a PhD program at Columbia I probably shouldn’t have been in to begin with, I worked at Durgin Park, a major tourist trap in Boston’s Quincy Market. At one point, a fellow student happened to show up at Durgin, and was seated on my station. “You really were leaving school to be a Durgin Park waitress,” he told me. “I thought you were kidding.”

Anyway, I worked at Durgin long enough to save enough money to spend a few months driving around the country with my friend and fellow waitress, Joyce. And when we got back from driving around the country, we went back to Durgin and worked long enough to save enough money to spend five months hitching and camping around Europe. (Joyce, I will note, also ended up with respectable non-waitressing career. She worked in fashion, and for many years, up until her recent retirement, she had a senior buying position at Neiman-Marcus. Which meant she got to go to every Fashion Week in NYC, Paris, Milan and got to know every big-name designer you can think of.)

I had one more waitressing gig before I went straight and ended up stumbling my way into a “real” career, i.e., a career in which I didn’t come home at night smelling of prime rib and scrod, but – alas – a career in which I no longer had the satisfaction of counting my tips.

For years, at frustrating times on the job, I would say to a colleague, “Well, I can always go back to waitressing.”

It’s pretty clear now that that ain’t going to happen. Which is a good thing. I now have the age and heft more typical of the Durgin Park waitresses of my era. These women were  hearty, ancient crones who’d been there forever. One of them (entering the wrong way) barreled into me when I was leaving the kitchen balancing a half dozen cups full of coffee on my wrist (trust me: it’s doable), so I know up close and personal about hearty ancient crones. I missed a week of work nursing some nasty burns. She didn’t miss a beat.

So while I now have the age and heft appropriate to Durgin Park waitressing, and could probably get up the growly disposition most of them possessed, I don’t think I’d last a shift.

But in many ways I still think of myself as a waitress, and I’m interested in women who end up for whatever reason – generally lack of education and opportunity – as waitressing lifers. Thus, I was delighted to see an article in The Boston Globe the other day about a woman who, post art school, had been more or less one of those lifers.

And then Joan Aylward, in her fifties, was able to make the transition from waitress to artist. It happened somewhat by accident:

“I just didn’t see it happening,” Aylward says now. “I wasn’t doing anything to bring that side out of me.”…

Today, though, in a twist she never saw coming, the 54-year-old has found herself in the midst of a surprising second act: Aylward has emerged as arguably the city’s most prominent and sought-after chalk artist, drawing up trendy custom menus for bars and restaurants all over town. Chances are, if you’ve stepped through the doors of a Boston establishment in the past two years, you’re familiar with her work.

To date, some 150 restaurants in and around Boston have displayed her lavishly designed menu and cocktail boards — from the casual (Tasty Burger) to the elegant (Capo).(Source: Boston Globe)

These days, Joan Aylward is no longer hustling for tips, bussing her own tables (unless she’s at home), or ending her shift smelling like prime rib or scrod (or whatever it is waitresses smell of these days: tiapia? focaccia?). She’s now a professional artist, specializing in Joan Aylwardchalk-art signage for restaurants. (By the way, Aylward’s mother never lost faith, and kept nudging her to use her “God-given artistic talent.”)

Her first gig was a freebie for a place she was working. But then word of mouth and the growing on-trend-ness of chalkboard signage put some wind in Aylward’s career sails. In addition to her restaurant clients, she’s also done some corporate work.

The Globe caught up with her on one of her jobs:

“Who knew?” she said. “I draw on walls, and people pay me.”

Congratulations, Joan Aylward.

I hope that the chalkboard trend lasts for as long as you want it to last. And that if it doesn’t, you can continuing using your “God-given artistic talent” in some other capacity. Toss out those comfy support shoes, the bottoms coated with kitchen yuck. Rag those sweaty shirts. Save the aprons for use in your own kitchen.

What was the line from the Mary Tyler Moore Show? You’re gonna make it after all…

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who said there isn’t any more factory work???

Last week, Twitter cleared out a whole bunch of bots, and some Tweeters found that the grand numbers on their list of followers had plummeted. Plummeted by orders of magnitude. The purge, of course, precipitated a ton of screeching. You’d think that someone would want their followers to be actual human beings, but guess not.

I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about Twitter followers or . followees. I don’t Tweet, and have two followers, which is one less than the numbers of Tweets I’ve made, two on behalf of Christmas in the City, and one an accidental retweet. (The post I retweeted was fine, but it RT’d by accident.) My follow list is mostly pundits, politicians, MSNBC hosts, a few columnists, a couple of organizations I support, and a few (very few) entertainers. I just checked: there’s no one on there that I didn’t put there. So, Larry Tribe and Larry O’Donnell, in case you guys were wondering, I really am a follower and not a bot.

Turns out that, even if someone’s followers are, like me, honest to goodness humans, they may not be true followers in any sense. This I learned from reading a long and detailed article, The Follower Factory, which appeared last month in The New York Times.

All this is thanks to outfits like Devumi, which promises to:

Accelerate Your Social Growth: Quickly gain followers, viewers, likes & more with our bend of marketing tactics.

I actually wouldn’t mind going out on a date if the right guy came along, but mostly I’m not interested in accelerating my social growth. But if I were, and I wanted to buy not earn my following, Devumi would be one place I could turn (that is, if I had neither scruples nor standards, which, when last I looked, I still manage to maintain – at least I think so):

Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers.

Problem is some of these followers are stolen identities, like a kid from Minnesota who has her real FB and Twitter identity as Jessica R, and another one that Devumi has sold in her name, photograph, and bio. That other Jessica:

…promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.

Fake users on FB and Twitter – and it’s estimated that as many as 60 million FB and 48 million Twitter accounts are ersatz – are the counterfeit coin of the social media realm. They:

…can help sway advertising audiences and reshape political debates. They can defraud businesses and ruin reputations.

People – entertainers, politicians, athletes – pay Devumi and other follower factories as little as a penny a piece for a follower for some very good rea$on$:

Follower counts on social networks help determine who will hire them, how much they are paid for bookings or endorsements, even how potential customers evaluate their businesses or products.

High follower counts are also critical for so-called influencers, a budding market of amateur tastemakers and YouTube stars where advertisers now lavish billions of dollars a year on sponsorship deals. The more people influencers reach, the more money they make.

According to data collected by Captiv8, a company that connects influencers to brands, an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000…

Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. “No one will take you seriously if you don’t have a noteworthy presence,” said Jason Schenker, an economist who specializes in economic forecasting and has purchased at least 260,000 followers.

Good God. “No one will take you seriously…” Seriously? The world really is coming to an end.

Even – surprise, surprise – marketing consultants are getting in on the act. One such a-hole, Jeetendr Sehdev bills himself as “the world’s leading celebrity branding authority.” Pardon me for thinking that this honor goes to DJT, but whatever. To help build his brand, Sehdev bought hundreds of thousands of Devumi fake-os.

…in his recent best-selling book, “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells,” he had a different explanation for his rising follower count. “My social media following exploded,” Mr. Sehdev claimed, because he had discovered the true secret to celebrity influence: “Authenticity is the key.”

While you might say that shamelessness is the true operative word here, authenticity is the key alright. (One of his fake followers, by the way, was the fake version of Jessica R.) Who says you can’t fake authenticity?

Obviously not Devumi, who claims that its address is in Manhattan.

In real life, Devumi is based in a small office suite above a Mexican restaurant in West Palm Beach, Fla., overlooking an alley crowded with Dumpsters and parked cars.

And Devumi’s founder has a fake résumé, too. On LinkedIn, German Calas – like me! – claims to have a degree from dear old Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Only mine is real and his is fake.

Meanwhile, the Devumi’s scammer-in-chief has himself been scammed. An ex-employee supposed stole a list of customer orders and set up a fake version of Devumi. Calas is suing him. Good luck with that!

One thing that’s come out of Calas’s suit is the revelation that:

Devumi doesn’t appear to make its own bots. Instead, the company buys them wholesale — from a thriving global market of fake social media accounts. Scattered around the web is an array of obscure websites where anonymous bot makers around the world connect with retailers like Devumi.

Meanwhile, FB and Twitter are apparently on the case, so far in a more or less half-arsed way. The focus of late has been on the bots aligned with the Russians spreading fake news and fake support for bad ideas and bad people. (Within days after the Parkland killings, the Ministry of Divisiveness was all over the place pushing the meme that the kids who were speaking out so eloquently and passionately about and on behalf of their murdered classmates were “crisis actors”.)

Kind of makes you want to find some mountain top without reception and toss away all your electronics.

But I guess we should look on the bright side: good to know that there are still factory jobs out there…

Monday, February 26, 2018

Location, location, location

At first, it used to startle me a bit, but that was years ago.

Now I pay it no mind when, three minutes after I make the decision of the century and pick the navy heather L.L. Bean fleece rather than the darkest violet, an ad appears in the middle of my Twitter feed showing something that looks suspiciously like the fleece I just ordered, and inviting me to buy it. Me? I skip right by it. Gotta see what Lawrence Tribe has to say or my mad crush Lawrence O’Donnell is up to, tweet-wise.

And if a picture of pair of brightly colored Asics appears in the corner of my eye like an eye floater within seconds after I pushed my virtual shopping cart containing a couple of pairs of brightly colored Asics out the virtual door of Zappo’s, well, sure, like anyone else, I have a moment of hesitation when I ask myself, “Am I losing it, or didn’t I just order that???”. Mostly I ignore it.

Oh, sometimes it bothers me a bit when a banner ad for one of my clients shows up in the middle of an article I’m reading. Of course they want to cultivate me. I just downloaded a bunch of stuff from their web site. Still, I feel a bit guilty – even when I wrote the content of that banner ad. Shouldn’t I let them know that they need to tweak their algorithm so that their ads only pop up for live ones, not for freelance content producers. Please, I ask, figure out a way to distinguish me from someone who’s actually interested in cloud-based B2B software that solves some business problem or the other.

Of course, when it’s a client’s competitor that’s bombarding me with ads, I’m delighted. Waste o’ money, suckers! I just wanted to see that ebook because I’m writing an ebook on the same topic and want to make sure I haven’t missed any important points. (As an aside: my ebook’s better than your ebook. Nyah, nyah, nyah!)

I actually don’t mind it when Amazon suggests a companion book or a CD. Not so much when it’s any thing else that I just purchased. I don’t care that everyone else who bought the long-handled toenail clippers also bought the 30” foot scrubber with pumice stone.

Anyway, while I may not like it, and hope I don’t ever get very far sucked into it, I understand that online marketing is the shizzle.

But then there’s the invasion of the location snatchers.

I may have been targeted by it before, but I really noticed it the other day.

I was strolling around the North End (Boston’s rapidly yuppifying Italian section) the other day with my friend Jennie, enjoying a supremely spring-like afternoon, when we decided to stop in at Polcari’s Coffee, an ancient and funky little hole-in-the-wall shop that sells coffee, spices, Italian candies, and a few odd bits and bobs.

Among those bits and bobs were colorful little kitchen scrubbers. My old colorful little kitchen scrubber has sort of withered on20180224_133042 the sink. It still scrubs, but it’s somewhat curled up and dead. So I decided to spring for a new one, which I paid $3.19 cash money for. No cashless purchase life for me when it’s anything under twenty bucks.

If I’d given it a thought, I would have felt that I hadn’t left a trace at Polcari’s Coffee. I didn’t pay by credit card. I didn’t pay by debit card. I didn’t give up my email address to get on their mailing list. I can’t imagine that this throwback of a store would have had one.

Anyway, by the time Jennie and I had strolled over to Caffe Paradiso- despite the yuppification, the North End still has great Italian restaurants and coffee shops -  for an iced mocha (and, yes, to split a piece of chocolate cake), I saw that I had a message on my phone asking me to take some sort of Polcari survey.

I didn’t click through to see what it was, but I was a bit weirded out.

This couldn’t, after all, be a coincidence. Stop into Polcari’s for the first time in decades; get pinged on my phone by some Polcari or another.

And then it came to me: location, location, location.

The marketing gods smiled down on my Samsung Galaxy 6, powered by Verizon – or the other way around – and picked up my coordinates so that the Polcari folks would know that I’d been in their shop.

First off, I’m stunned that Polcari’s would be doing this sort of marketing. Honestly, there is nothing hip, techie, or happenin’ about this place. Other than that kitchen scrubber – I don’t remember these being a thing back in the day; we just used Brillo pads and Tuffies  – this store hasn’t changed a bit since the last time I was in there in 1987. Except they apparently had.

Every once in a while, I read some article raising the alarm about the creepy ability of “them” and “it” to track us, to pinpoint our locations, our comings and goings, thanks to our oh, so very smarty-pants smartphones. Mostly, I’ve dismissed these alarms. I mean, I’m not involved in criminal activities. And the government, bad as it may be these days, isn’t yet sending drones to take out those thinking thoughts of resistance. At least not as far as I know. (Could the NSA, at this very moment, be monitoring my key strokes? If so FU!)

Often, after I’ve made an online purchase, I get an email asking me how the transaction went, or to write a review of, say, that $14.99 long-handled toenail clipper. Mostly I ignore these, but I understand that the price of online shopping is that they have your email address

I’m a lot less keen on stores picking up on my location and bombarding my phone with follow-up messages.

From now on, if I’m out and about, location will be off. Need to know basis only, marketers, and you just plain don’t need to know.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Kylie Jenner as market mover? Can the world get any crazier?

I’m not much for keeping up with the Kardashians.Pretty much what I know about them is that the women’s names all start with K, that they have black hair (unless they strip dye it blonde), and that Caitlyn Jenner used to be part of the pack.Sort of. I know that Kim Kardashian is probably the most famous one, mostly because she’s married to Kanye West. And that the pre-Jenner paterfamilias was OJ’s lawyer. With all these threads, it’s pretty clear that they tap into the country’s zeitgeist big time. (OJ, Kanye, Caitlyn Jenner, celebrity power, and the entire notion of famous for being famous. Wow, just wow.)

Although Klan Kardashian is always out there, running below the consciousness of the average American online media consumer whether they actively look at Kardashian “stuff” or not, I was still surprised to see Kylie Jenner front and center on Bloomberg yesterday. Yet there it was:

Shares of the Snapchat parent company sank 6.1 percent on Thursday, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value, on the heels of a tweet on Wednesday from Kylie Jenner, who said she doesn’t open the app anymore. Whether it’s the demands of her newfound motherhood, or the recent app redesign, the testament drew similar replies from her 24.5 million followers. Wall Street analysts too have begun to notice, citing recent user engagement trends noticed since the platform’s redesign.

Here’s what Kylie – new mom of a baby girl named Stormi, by the way, a name that seemingly trumps those that her sister Kim has come up with for her kids: North, Saint, and Chicago – had to say that set the market moving:

sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... ugh this is so sad.

sooo, guess I’m just a sad little nobody, because I never opened Snapchat to begin with. Ugh. This is so sad. Sometimes I just weep for myself.

And it wasn’t just Kylie Jenner questioning Snapchat.

Shortly after she tweeted out her disparagement of what was once the hot platform, Maybelline polled its followers, asking them to give a mascara pen up or down with respect to whether they should stay on Snapchat.

And why shouldn’t Kylie and Maybelline ask the big question and throw a little shade Snapchat’s way?

After all, there are plenty of more popular social media platforms out there. There’s old fuddy-duddy Facebook, still leading the pack thanks to all those grandparents out there sharing baby pictures. And Insta, Twitter, and Pinterest both outpacing Snapchat.

Kylie’s not getting all the blame, but she was apparently on to something, as there’s been a general bad reaction to a recently introduced redesign of the app:

Citigroup analyst Mark May downgraded the stock to sell from neutral earlier this week after seeing a “significant jump” in negative reviews of the app’s redesign. He expects the reviews could cause user engagement to fall, hurting financial results.

Since I don’t know what the Snapchat interface was to begin with, and thus couldn’t appreciate the changes to the app that are riling up Snapchatters, I have no opinion about whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. But users have even gotten up a petition going. And when I looked, it had over 1.2.million signatures and counting. (Didn’t used to be for social justice warriors out to remake the world, not for social media warriors interested in stuff like “Remove the new Snapchat Update”?

Ms. Kylie did backtrack a bit:

"Still love you tho snap," Jenner hedged in a later tweet.

But the damage was done.

Kylie Kardashian Jenner, market mover. Who’da thunk it?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Eatin’ of the Green

The day after Valentine’s Day, I was in Roche Brothers and came across a table full of St. Patrick’s Day cupcakes. Not that I’m in the least averse to tarted up baked goods that wear the green. I grew up in a home where St. Patrick’s Day meant wearing a little Erin Go’ Bragh flag to school, corned beef and cabbage (and, yes,13136 I know that the Irish-Irish don’t serve this; only the American-Irish), and chocolate cake or cupcakes frosted with white icing with a kelly-green icing shamrock in the middle. And last year, I actually bought a Roche Brothers lemon meringue pie frosted to look like the Irish flag.

So I’ll cool with edibly celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Anyway, back at Roche Bros, I rounded a corner, and there was another table. This one covered with shamrock-shaped sugar cookies sprinkled with green sugar.

Another corner brought me to a Guinness display.

Not that it is a surprise that a grocery store chain in one of the most Irish-identified cities in the US, a chain founded by a couple of boyos named Pat and Ambrose (Buddy) Roche, would pick up on the theme of St. Patrick’s Day.

But kicking off the eatin’ of the green so close on the heels of Valentine’s Day seemed a bit premature.

We’re used to seeing things way in advance. Halloween candy in August. Christmas decorations in October. Easter Candy the first day of Lent. Yes, the Easter candy’s out, making me crave jelly beans.

I suppose it makes sense. When I see Halloween candy in August I may well buy a bag of candy corn. Why wait? And that won’t stop me from buying another bag in October. So I’ve doubled my consumption of candy corn for the year. Ditto with the jelly beans. Smart marketing.

Still it does seem a bit odd around a “holiday” like St. Patrick’s Day. A month in advance? Come on…

Turns out it isn’t just Roche Brothers.

The day after I spotted the green cupcakes at Roche, I was in the Shaw’s, hoping to find the raisins I use to bake soda bread for – ta-da – St. Patrick’s Day. Roche doesn’t stock big raisins; Shaw’s used to. Alas, no more – I had to special order from Sun Maid – but I did see that they have their Irish cookies and cupcakes out as well.

But wait, there’s more..

Back at Roche Brothers just the other day, I found that they’ve doubled down on their pushin’ of the eatin’ of the green.


I have to say that one of the things I like about Roche Brothers is that I can get Barry’s Tea there. And McCann’s Oatmeal. And Kerry Gold butter. And (dirty little secret) their Irish soda bread is almost but not quite as the Aunt Peg recipe that I use. (I even plucked a loaf from the midst of this display just to taste-test it and make sure.)

But, faith and begorrah, what in God’s green little bit of heaven do Lucky Charms have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

I guess the answer is that, if you package it in a green box, and call it the Limited Edition for St. Paddy’s Day, and make sure that there are green clover marshmallows in that green box, your product gets to be Irish by association. If that’s the case, then someone better tell General Mills that, while the clover is associated with luck, and luck for some bizarre reason is associated with the Irish, and that the Lucky Charm mascot is a leprechaun which is certainly Irish, the actual Irish symbol is the three-leaf shamrock, not the four-leaf clover!

I guess the only thing to do is roll with it. Which is, I guess, why I bought a loaf of that commercial (pretty good) soda bread to tide me over until I bake the real deal. That and head over to CVS and see if they’re stocking green Peeps yet. If they are, I may have to craft up some McPeep’s. Doesn’t look too hard. Maybe Roche Brothers will let me sell them in the Downtown Crossing store.

peeps paddy

I’ve got a few more weeks, but I better get going.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

“Strategic brilliance…”

Although I’m not – to say the least – looking for a job, I always enjoy glancing through the help wanted ads in The Economist. Sometimes the jobs on offer are quite excellent. A few years back, there was one (if I remember correctly) for the secretary to HRM The Queen. I didn’t qualify, so it’s a good thing I wasn’t interested.

This week’s edition had a few jobs that stood out. The CIA is recruiting “the intellectually curious adventurer looking for an unparalleled, high-impact international opportunity.” No specific work experience required, but the spooks would welcome sales, marketing, and real estate professionals. Maybe folks familiar with, say, money laundering with oligarchs?

But the position on offer that really caught my eye was for the President and CEO of Canada’s Post Office, which provides “innovative physical and electronic delivery solutions and services…more than 9 billion messages and parcels annually.” Forget “neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night” – and, yes, I know that’s the US mantra not Canada’s. But you don’t think Canada has snow and gloom or night??? And forget Deliver De Letter De Sooner De Better. This is the 21st century. We’ve talking innovative solutions,

Most of the “wide array of competencies sought” are pretty standard senior management fare, albeit with a few current corporate-speak bingo words thrown in just to see if folks are awake. Or awoke. Experience with complex business transformation.  Decision-making ability. Multi-faceted organization. Executive experience. Working collaboratively with a wide array of stakeholders. (Am I mis-remembering, or was there really a time when we didn’t worry about collaborating with stakeholders?)

Canada Post would like to see someone with experience in a large, unionized organization, which would leave plenty of resumes on the floor.

But my favorite competency on the list was this one:

Strategic brilliance with the ability to assess what the future holds.

Lord-y lord. Wouldn’t someone who truly had the ability to assess what the future holds take that competency to some arena where they could make a boat load of money? Or make the world a better place? Just sayin’

As for strategic brilliance, lord-y, lord-y, lord-y lord.

Throughout my long career I can’t count the times I’ve seen strategic brilliance. That’s because the number is zero.

Admittedly, I didn’t exactly spend that long career in companies known for baseline strategic competence, let alone strategic brilliance. Even looking in – nose pressed to the window, little match girl style – at other companies (generally competitors) that seemed to have their strategic shit together, what looked like a genius strategy generally turned out to be stumbled upon luck combined with market luck multiplied by excellent timing, factored up by pi.

Oh, yeah, and it never seemed to last.

Those guys who were eating our lunch, who seemed to have the world by the balls, who seemed to be making all their employees (our former colleagues) millionaires? Give it time, and those shining stars turned out to be shooting stars. And all those employee millionaires? Paper only, of course, By the time they could cash those options in, share price had peaked and plummeted. Sorry we expended all that energy being jealous of your wealth.

I’ll give you that there are some companies known for their lasting strategic brilliance. Apple comes to mind. It’s just that they’re companies that I have neither first nor second-order experience with.

I’d love to be a fly on the Canada Post wall when the interviewer asks the interviewee to talk about their strategic brilliance. Tell me about a situation in which you demonstrated your strategic brilliance. And probably even see if they can tap a bit of that strategic brilliance on behalf of Canada Post. If you were the CEO of Canada Post, what do you think the most strategically brilliant initiative you could undertake that would enable CP to provide an innovative physical delivery solution? How many times will the answer be “drones” before someone realizes that they’re seeing strategic ho-hum predictability rather than a flash of strategic brilliance.

I’m not great at assessing what the future holds, but I’ll bet that, whoever lands the job at Canada Post, strategic brilliance isn’t going to be the sharpest tool in their tool box. Strategic brilliance in the past is not that transferrable from one organization and situation to the next. Too much luck, etc. involved to duplicate it. But the good news for the new CP CEO is that it will take a while before someone figures out that, whatever the strategy in place is, it’s probably not all that brilliant. Like most organizations, I’m guessing they’ll be just as happy with strategic competence.

Curiously, one of their requirements wasn’t the ability to execute a strategy.

Whether the strategic is competent or brilliant, if you can’t execute on it, what good it is?

Anyway, good thing I’m not interviewing for the job. All I could come with is drones…

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Welcome, Immigrants of 1871. There’s an opening for a bunger in New Jersey…

The Internet is a wondrous place which, if you’re ready,willing, and able to waste a ton o’ time, will wondrously accommodate you. And there’s the equally wondrous Google, ready, willing, and able to serve as your tour guide, or random walk guide, or whatever.

I can’t quite remember what I was googling for when I came across the U.S. Government’s “Special Report on Immigration”, which was published by the Government Printing Office in 1871. Did I want to know what the cost of a velocipede was in 1869? Was I watching a re-run of The Rifleman and felt the need to know what a sod-buster made? Did I wakeup with a hankering to learn how many folks from Norway immigrated in 1820? Or was I just trying to get the earworm “My Sharona” out of my brain. (Thanks, Kath. Hope I paid you back with “Sharif Don’t Like It/Rock the Casbah”.)

Whatever the purpose and urgency driving my googling, there I was with this wondrous book, information at my fingertips that I hadn’t realized I needed to have anywhere, let alone at my fingertips. And what wondrous information it was:

Information for Immigrants relative to the prices and rentals of land, the staple products, the facility of access to market, the cost of livestock, kind of labor in demand in the western and southern states, etc. etc. [sic]

To which are appended tables showing the average weekly wages paid in several states for factory, mechanical, and farm labor; the cost of provisions, groceries, dry goods and house rent in the various manufacturing districts of the country in the year 1869-1870.

All compiled by one Edward Young, PhD, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics.

The first thing that came to my mind was the question: just how many PhDs were there in 1871? But rather than get distracted into seeing if I could find out, I just forged on.

This was 1871. With the opening up of the west, the abolition of slavery, the growing number of factories – it was pretty much welcome immigrants to our shores.

During the first seven decades of the 19th century, the United Kingdom (which included Ireland at the point) made up half of all immigrants. They “speak our language..and are soon assimilated into and absorbed into our body-politic.” All well and good. No mention of the scourge the shanty Irish were.

The next major immigrant group was Germans, who “are intelligent and industrious”, followed by Scandinavians, who are “industrious, economical, and temperate.”

As for real foreigners, “Asiatic” immigration “has not yet reached such proportions that it would excite alarm in the most apprehensive.” And

“The Latin nations contribute little to our population, and the Sclavics (sic) still less, while today, as from time immemorial, the different branches of the great Teutonic trunk are swarming forth from the most populous regions, to aid in the progress of civilization.”

I’m pretty sure that the great Teutonic trunk is not the grey, home-made wooden trunk my German family came through Ellis Island with in the early 1920’s. I’m guessing it’s the Northern European ethnics (Germans, Scandinavians, British Isles) who were the kind of immigrants we welcomed when we were in a welcoming mood.

The narrative sections of the book are a tremendously entertaining read. In them, we find that Edward Young has found that it’s better for unskilled laborers to go west and chop down trees and “engage in subduing the forests” than to fester in the cities. And that the demand for Velocipedes is down.

Then there’s Edward Young’s variation on the camel entering the eye of the needle:

“The son of a rich man, whose raring and education cost $20,000, if not trained to usefulness, is worth far less to the community than the son of a mechanic whose whole cost has not exceeded $2,000, if the latter is a well-instructed and skilled artisan.”

Young was working on it, but couldn’t yet put a price on an immigrant – i.e., the net value to the United States of having them here -  but he was definitely in favor of keeping ‘em coming.

And come they did, even in those decades before the really crazy immigration happened (1880-1920, when 20 million immigrants rolled in. How much is much? In 1880, the U.S. population stood at 40 million. Immigrants and their offspring pushed that number up to 106 million by 1920.)

From 1820-1870, the period covered in Edward Young’s wondrous book, 2.7m immigrants came from Ireland. From Germany, the number over that period was 2.268 m.

I think that 1870 was right around the time my Irish great-grandparents were heading over. The Germans were laggards. They waited until after a hellacious world war and found their way to the US in the 1920s.

Being part of these two great-in-number immigrant strains makes me feel, well, so very American.

By 1870, the Italians, Russians, and Poles hadn’t shown up in any great numbers yet. And over that period, only 198 Greeks came to America. 98 from Hayti and 57 from Porto Rico.

In FY 1870, there were a ton of farmers (36k) and laborers (85k) in the immigrant bunches, but there were also 4 actors, 3 dentists, and 10 priests. Not to mention 727 butchers (ach, those Germans), and 990 bakers. No word on candlestick makers, but there was 1 lone hoe-maker.

Hard to imagine that, in a still largely agricultural nation, we only managed to import one hoe-maker that year. Especially given that FY 1870 brought us 23 jugglers. (What was the demand for jugglers?)

That year, our population also increased by 36 nuns, 362 brewers (no doubt those Germans again), and 14k servants. (Was my great grandmother Margaret Joyce among them?)

There was a lot of information provided to immigrants, including where they could buy land – and for how much – and where the jobs were and what they paid.

Some of the jobs are really hard to imagine. Working in the scraping room or a starch factory? And what, pray tell, do mule spinners and mule backside piecers do? I didn’t realize that the backside of a mule had to be pieced.

Easier to think about how god-awful it must have been to work on a sugar plantation in Louisiana, where men made $5.50/week, women made $3.60, and boys $2.50.

Lots of excellent info on M vs. F jobs and wages, and B vs. G.

A type founding company in NY was one of the few places where the girls (rubbing type: $6.50 a week) could make more than the boys (breaking type: $5.50/week).

Oh, the places those immigrants could go and the jobs they could find there. Rhode Island needed spoon and fork makers. Massachusetts could use calendar men ($9.14/week) and calendar boys (4.60/week) at an India rubber goods factory.

Head west to Missouri, young man, to work as a forger, twister, or screw cutter in a lightning rod factory.

Go work as a felt-hat stiffeners, a steel worker in an artificial limb factory, a hair-cloth weaver, a hoop-skirt maker. Soapstone cutting paid exceptionally well: $23.50 a week.

So did work in a wall-paper factory in New Jersey. Flockers made $25, water color painters made $20, and bungers – whatever they did – could haul in a cool $24 per week.

Did immigrants use information like this? I don’t think my immigrant antecedents necessarily did. The Irish branch came to Massachusetts because there were already a ton of Irish here, including friends and family from their home towns. And my more recent German immigrant relatives (my grandparents and toddler mother) went to Chicago for precisely the same reason. Landsmen galore!

But my friend Joyce’s grandparents came over from Lithuania in the early part of the 20th century. They rolled into Ellis Island with little money and less English. There,her grandfather was told that they could use a cobbler in Burrillville, RI, a town of then about 6,000 or 7,000 in population, in the middle of nowhere. Off they went to find work cobbling shoes, and raising a good-sized family that I believe made up the entire Jewish population of Burrillville.

Anyway, I’m guessing that cobbling in Burrillville was better than being a hair-cloth weaver or felt-hat stiffener. Maybe even better than being a bunger in a wallpaper factory.

Ah, history. Ah, data.

Who knows where my next useless Internet stroll will take me…

Monday, February 19, 2018

Let’s Make Presidents’ Day Great Again

I used to actually like Presidents’ Day, one of those nothing little days you may or many not have off, when you may or may not buy a couch or a car on sale, and when – back in the day, when it was George Washington’s Birthday, rather than generic any-and-all presidents day, you ate something with a cherry on it. (GW, according to myth, having chopped down a cherry tree and then owned up to his father, telling him “I cannot tell a lie.” Ah, those were the days when it was possible to imagine having a president who could not tell a lie. Or could only tell an occasional, fingers-crossed-behind-the-back lie. As opposed to the incumbent, who averages over 5 lies per day.)

These days, it’s kind of hard to be in a celebratory mood.

I didn’t have high hopes for Trump, but I did think there was a glimmer of a possibility that he’d demonstrate some modicum of competence and decency. Hah, I say hah, hah. The only thing I’m looking forward to with respect to DJT is that he exits the teleprompter. And that when he departs, he takes Mike “Pious Toady” Pence and Paul “See How Close the Name R-Y-A-N Is To A-Y-N R-A-N-D?” Ryan with him. I’m also fast forwarding to the next time historians play “rank the presidents”, and we’ll see if Trump ends up ranked even lower than Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan.

There was a ranking last year, which I wrote about in my last year’s Prez Day post. As I noted at the time, the top of the list was predictable:

The Big Three (as historian Douglas Brinkley calls them) are no surprise. Lincoln and FDR are my two personal favorites, which is kind of like saying that my favorite movies are Casablanca and The Godfather.

When the next rankings come out, and Trump lands it the thud he so majorly deserves, and if the Tweet-Meister is still tweeting, I’m sure he’ll be going nuts about historians as Fake News, Deep States, East Coast Elites who hate America. Either that, or he’ll find some historian with a degree from Trump U who will decree Trump the Greatest President Evah. After all, Trump did claim that Orrin Hatch blew some presidential ranking smoke up his butt:

“He actually once said I’m the greatest president in the history of our country.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t exactly what Hatch said. (Was this one of the 2,000 lies Trump told during his first year in office? It hurts my head too much to go through the full list.)

Ah, Presidents…

I’m a sucker for those quizzes, even when they’re dead wrong. (No, I don’t live in Hawaii.) The one I took most recently asked all sorts of dopey multiple choice questions and then spits out which US president you are. I got a good answer: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But I suspect that there are only a handful of presidents that come out as answers, and that no one is told that they’re Millard Fillmore or Zachary Taylor. Maybe there’s a clinker or two in there – Richard Nixon – but I’m guessing most people are told they’re Ronald Reagan, JFK, Abe Lincoln, Ike, et a few als. Still, I’m just as happy that I didn’t end up as Reagan.

I do wonder what does with all the data they amass from these quizzes. They know I like to read. That my favorite season is fall (at least I think that’s the answer I always give; maybe it’s swing – I go back and forth). But when I’m asked a question on my favorite dance and my real answer is none of the above (waltz? cha-cha?). Or who my favorite superhero is. (I put in Superman because a) I watched it as a kid; b) in the movie, Christopher Reeves was pretty cute.) I really don’t have a superhero.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thoughts and prayers? Hooey!

I’ve watched a fair amount of horrific, gut-wrenching news over the last few days, and have taken in about as much of the “thoughts and prayers” and “now is not the time to talk about policy” as I can tolerate. Talk about Groundhog Day.

What has struck me from the coverage, though, is the response from the students at that Florida high school. The kids who hid in classroom closets while they heard gunfire. The kids who pushed desks and chairs up against their classroom doors and texted updates (and farewells) to their parents. The kids who, when they left their classrooms, filed out past the bloody bodies of their classmates and teachers.

The kids I saw interviewed – 14 year olds, 15 year old, 16 year olds, 17 year olds – were, while obviously upset by what happened, uniformly poised, articulate, and sensible. And – at least the ones I saw (and, yes, they were for the most part being interviewed on MSNBC) – were not looking for thoughts and prayers, the mindless platitudes. They weren’t putting up with any mealy-mouthed “not the right time” BS. They want things to change. They don’t get why the so-called grownups don’t get off their asses and do something.

As The Onion observes every time there’s a mass shooting here:

No Way to Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

‘Regularly’? They ain’t kidding.

Since the Sandy Hook Massacre in December 2012, there have been more than 430 people shot in schools. Since January of this year, there’ve been 18 school shootings.

Remember when we used to have fire drills in schools? Today’s kids have active shooter drills.

Yet we can’t seem to get any traction on background checks. On not allowing those with mental health problems to buy assault rifles. Or banning bump stocks that turn semi-automatic guns into fully-automatic guns. Even though the majority of people support these minimal efforts at doing something about what has turned into what seemingly is the one proof-positive of American exceptionalism.

Back to those kids back in Parkland, Florida. They’re calling BS. They’re just saying no to there’s nothing can be done, to now is not the time.

No, we’re never going to get rid of gun violence entirely. And we’re never going to be able to point to the massacres that never happened because of background checks, etc.

But jeez Louise.

I watched as many cowboy shows as any other all-American kid, all those idiotic shoot ‘em ups, in which our heroes ended up being “winged”, or with casually brushed aside “just a flesh wound”. Bad guys lying in the parched and dusty streets of Laredo, tumbleweed tumbling over their corpses. Bad guys? So what! They got what they had coming to them. So is it our Western mythology that’s at the heart of our gun obsession? Is the gun the last refuge of the “man’s man”, the one possession – other than a Dodge Ram – that the feminazis haven’t stripped from the hands of the now-emasculated male population? What the f is it???

The kids from Florida sound mad as hell, and they sound like they’re not going to take it anymore.

(From what I hear, they were especially savage on their home-away-from-home, social media, after Trump gave his variant on the “thoughts and prayers speech”, during which he pinned the problem on mental health issues and implicitly blamed Nikolas Cruz’ fellow students for not reporting him for his hostility and weirdness.)

Bravo to these kids. Out of the mouths of intelligent, heartfelt, savvy young people who see bullshit for just what it is.

Because the folks in Parkland Florida are going to need more than thoughts, prayers, and a blow-in from the Blowhard-in-Chief - which is apparently being scheduled because he’s going to be nearby golfing at Mar-a-Lago and really can’t afford the optics of not delivering thoughts and prayers in person – I threw in a few bucks on the GoFundMe page to benefit the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

And then I went over to and threw in an equivalent amount to support their efforts. Everytown is an organization dedicated to working to end gun violence, the anti-NRA, as it were. 

We’re past the time for thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Milkman’s Cousin

When I was a kid, we had a milkman.

Mostly, it was a fellow named Harry, but at other times, it was my father’s cousin-in-law, Phil, whose family owned the dairy. And still other times it was my father’s cousins Matt and Ned, the sons of my Great-Aunt Alice, my grandmother’s sister. (Matt’s and Ned’s sister Ellen was married to Phil. Got all this?)

Anyway, while most milkmen, I take it, left their glass bottles outside the door in your milk crate, our milkmen delivered right into the kitchen. And sometimes the milkmen – especially if it was on a weekend, and Phil, Matt, or Ned was on and my father was around – sat down at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee or tea. Harry came in the house, too. I remember him coming down into our cellar once to look at something or other, and doing some minor fix or another. We had a rocking horse that was named Harry in his honor. (Don’t get any ideas here about the milkman’s children. If there’d been a vote, my mother would have been unanimously elected The Mother Least Likely to Get It On with the Milkman or the Breadman or the Fuller Brush Man…)

Most folks on our street got their milk from the Hillcrest Dairy, which had one really nice feature I was envious of: their trucks came in a variety of fun colors, including turquoise and purple.

We went with Blanchard Dairy because they were family. Their trucks were all the same: boring green and yellow.

But the real advantage of Blanchard’s was that, because we were family, during the summer, the milkmen let us jump up in the back of the truck and gave us chunks of glittering ice, covered with a tasty scrim of diesel exhaust. Today, I ask myself how it is that any of us are still alive, but back then, on a sweltering summer day, licking one of those chunks of ice was a complete and utter treat. Those chunks were like diamonds to me. (I also liked the smell of gas stations, and envied the family out on Route 9 who lived over their station, with half their home built up on stilts over the gas pumps. Now that was living! Meanwhile, I grew up around some pretty darned lovely Catholic churches. Our parish church was a beautiful Irish-Gothic pile that’s stood the test of time. I was there last summer for a funeral, and it really is quite a place. Despite this exposure to beauty, I thought the most beautiful building in our neighborhood was the Esso gas station in Webster Square with the big red dome. I was a child with extraordinarily sophisticated taste.)

Back to the main thread: With five kids and a milk-drinking father, we went through a lot of milk, and the milkman came a few times a week.

But at some point – did Blanchard’s stop home delivery? – we no longer got milk from the milkman. We got it from the store. And somewhere along the line, milk no longer came in glass quart bottles with the cream at the top (you had to shake the bottle to homogenize the milk), but came instead in plastic gallon jugs, pre-homogenized.

I pretty much always have milk in the fridge, as I take it in my tea and frequently have cereal for breakfast. Mostly it’s pint-sized, which pretty much takes me through the week and change.

But others, of course, have greater milk requirements And some of them, believe it or not, still get their milk delivered by milkmen.

The milkman, that symbol of simpler times, appears to be making a bit of a comeback in Massachusetts. About 10 New England dairies deliver in the state, servicing everyone from families with children to single young professionals. While there are no concrete data on the popularity of home delivery, many dairies say they have experienced an increase in customers in recent years. (Source: Boston Globe)

There are a few things driving the surge in home milk delivery.

One is the increasing interest in farm-to-table. The dairy’s doing the delivering are bringing milk from their very own contented cows. Not anonymous cows off in Vermont or wherever. (As it turns out, a number of the dairies mentioned in the article don’t have their own cows. They outsource from dairies elsewhere in New England. Like Vermont.)

Some of the increase is also attributed to the fact that, thanks to Amazon, everyone’s just gotten so used to home delivery…And it’s just so damned convenient.

Many dairies now deliver a wide range of products other than milk, including eggs, yogurt, meat, pre-made meals, vegetables, ice cream, and even rock salt.

The principle driver, however, seems to be nostalgia, which is a bit odd, given that the families with young kids and the single young professionals nostalgic for the milkman are unlikely to have grown up with any memories of them. Can you be nostalgic for something you never experienced? Apparently so.

Me? I’m a remember-er, but not so much – at least I don’t think – a nostalgic remember-er. Certainly not enough to want the milkman to show up with a bottle of milk for my tea and cereal. Still, it would be kind of fun to sit around the table with my father, with Phil and Matt and Ned, and listen to them chat about whatever it was they chatted about. Guess I’ll have to settle for a nod in their direction the next time I visit my parents’ grave. Phil, Matt, and Ned are all in the neighborhood. Phil (and Ellen) and Ned are within spitting distance. Matt’s in another section, but the cemetery’s small so he’s not that far. Ned, the last of my father’s first cousins, died a year or two ago. I can still see the “boys” – they were all a decade or so younger than my father – coming into the kitchen in their grey-striped milkman’s overalls, sitting down for a cup of coffee. But I think I’d take a pass on licking a chunk of diesel-grit covered ice, even if it were on offer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Piece of Cake

Well, today being Ash Wednesday, it’s as good a day as any to talk about a Boston startup which has the mission to make it easier for baby boomers to deal with the prospect of death.” (Ashes to ashes, and all that.)

Given that one of our anthems is Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” and that one of our tag lines was – back in the day – Don’t trust anyone over 30, I don’t imagine that my cohort is going to be great about dying. I foresee nasty battles over prolonging geezer lives for no particularly good reason (and, in the process, squandering resources that could go to making lives better for the young uns).

Then there are the boomers like Ray Kurzweil, tech genius, who embrace The Singularity and think there’s no reason why folks – especially themselves – can’t live forever.

Layer on top that so many baby boomers went about losing their religion somewhere along the way, and, thus, no longer have what I consider the two great benefits that believer-ship brings with it: a) built-in life purpose; b) belief in an afterlife where you’ll be reunited with your loved ones.

I understand first hand that it’s easy enough to come up with a life purpose, even absent religion. But for the “easier to die” benefit, I do think that it relieves a bit of the tension if you think there are pearly gates and dear old dad on the other end of the life spectrum. We were with my mother when she died, and she was at complete peace believing that she was going to be seeing my father, my sister, et al. (including God) when she breathed her last.

But I was also with my husband when he died and I can absolutely attest that this cradle-Catholic atheist didn’t fear death in the least. Jim felt he’d had a good run. He’d lived the life he wanted and, after battling cancer a couple of times, he was ready to lay himself down to the Big Sleep. As he told our nieces a few weeks before his death, the one thing that made him sad about dying was knowing how sad it would make me. (He was right. Four years this Saturday. Life goes on, but you really don’t ever stop missing someone.)

However different their life and death outlooks, both my mother and Jim were well prepared for death.

All of my mother’s finances and other info (title to her car, etc.) were in order, everything carefully listed out. She had one bank account, with my name and my sister Kath’s on it, that had enough money in it to pay for her funeral, her burial, and the luncheon afterwards. There was even enough left over so that we all got a gift from the L.L. Bean catalog that Christmas. (In the last few years of her life, my mother did all her shopping via L.L. Bean request.) My mother also had the list of songs she wanted sung at her funeral.

My husband was also very plan-ful when it came to end of life. In addition to having all the financial stuff set up and ready to go (including passwords), in the last couple of weeks of his life, I came upon him on the phone with one of his credit card companies, cancelling his card. “I’ll be dying shortly,” I heard him tell the customer service rep, “And I don’t want my wife to have to do this.”

Once we knew that Jim’s condition was terminal, we talked about his memorial service. He really didn’t care that much about it; he knew it was for me. But he advised me to limit his cousin Steve to five minutes and not let him go too crazy, and he was happy with the stories that our friend Michele planned on telling. We also went through the places that he wanted his ashes to go. Most in a plot at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, site of frequent walks for us, and the rest (in way less than teaspoon amounts) in other places (like the graves of his parents and his aunt and uncle, in Ireland, in NYC…).

Jim even asked me in advance what I wanted the last words he said to me to be.

As I said, he was a plan-ful kind of guy…

Anyway, the Boston get ready for the end startup is Cake, “the easiest way to discover, share, and store your end-of-life preferences.” The company:

…has developed a website designed to help users navigate the thicket of legal documents and  health care proxies associated with end-of-life planning. It also lets them assemble music playlists for their funerals and even choose whether to have a Facebook page deleted or converted to a memorial after they’ve stopped logging on. (Source: Boston Globe)

Unfortunately, it’s something of an uphill battle to sell Cake (“named for the notion that planning for death should be a ‘piece of cake’”) in large part because the end-of-life preference of so many boomers is not to have an end-of-life.

Not so Cake co-founders, palliative care physician Mark Zhang and engineer Suelin Chin.

Both in their thirties, they’ve already got their funeral playlists picked out. Chen has Bohemian Rhapsody on hers. So does the company’s CTO. I suppose if you want Scaramouche to dance the fandango on your grave… I haven’t given my playlist a ton of thought, but I’m pretty sure Queen won’t be on it.

Signing up to use Cake is free. The company makes its money from partners, such as Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, which typically haven’t offered such planning services. The companies license customized versions of Cake’s software for use on their own websites, making it available to patients and members.

I’m not going to sign up tomorrow. I really don’t care what someone plays at my memorial service – or whether I have one. Up to you, sisters dear. But I do have a will, healthcare proxy, etc. That said I do have to pull a few things together so that I have a straightforward list of what’s where when the time comes. Which I hope isn’t for a good long while, but you never know. I really should get cracking, not to mention I really should get rid of that closet full of old laptops.

But I may well take a look at Cake. There may be something I’ve missed along the way. If nothing else, maybe it can get me to change my will and leave everyone I’m leaving something to an old laptop or two.

Meanwhile, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

L.L. Bean’s Turnaround on Returns

I order plenty of stuff online, and occasionally I’ll return some of that stuff. This mostly happens when the shoe don’t fit, or the color isn’t quite what I thought it would be. Even then, I may hang on to an item. No, I won’t keep shoes that don’t fit – having a hard-to-fit foot taught me a long time ago that an ill-fitting shoe will mean nothing but blisters. But I did keep the L.L. Bean rain jacket that, online looked like a midnight bluish purple, but in reality is about as Crayola royal purple as you’re ever going to find. Most people were smarter than me. They either ordered another color to begin with, or, having purchased it, made a return. I say this because I noticed that the only color that’s on sale is poke-in-eye-purple.

I didn’t return my jacket and, even though I could still return it, I won’t. I’ve worn it a few times. I’ll wear it a few more. And then I’ll donate it to charity and get myself the same jacket in a better color.

But we’re talking L.L. Bean, so I theoretically could return it, because I haven’t had that jacket for a year yet.

The old L.L. Bean policy was that it didn’t matter how long you had something, you could always return it.

But that is no more:

The storied outfitter announced Friday that it has ended its generous century-old returns policy that effectively allowed customers to return virtually anything, no matter how old or beaten up, saying it had become too costly.

L.L. Bean officials said the company has lost $250 million on returned items in the last five years, with the number of returns doubling in that period. The annual losses on these items alone were “equal to the amount of revenue generated from Bean boot sales,” they said. (Source: Boston Globe)

They still have a one-year return policy, but effective immediately there’s no more sending back 25 year old duck boots and asking for new ones. Which apparently way too many people were doing.

Over the years, I’ve returned a few things to L.L. Bean because of quality issues.

A few years back, I had a couple of tee-shirts that lost their hem after a few washings. Back they went.

Then there was the bag with the lousy zipper. That was a couple of years old, but I still felt justified. The zipper was a two-way job that kept springing open from one direction or the other – and not when the bag was overloaded in the least.Carrying a bag, the contents of which (i.e., wallet and phone) could fall out at any time seemed like a pretty bad idea. And it seemed to me that it was reasonable for a bag that didn’t come for free wouldn’t last longer.

I do think that L.L.Bean has occasional quality issues, but I have clothing from there that I’ve had forever. I have three pairs of long exercise pants, and three pairs of cropped exercise pants. They’re all 10 years old. And I pretty much wear each pair once a week – longs in cold weather, cropped when it’s warmer. So I’ll estimate that each pair of workout pants has been washed 250 times. And they’re still all fine. Oh, the back pockets have frayed, but I didn’t use them anyway. Sure, I line dry rather than dryer dry these pants, but still, the quality has been pretty remarkable.

But whether something lasts forever, or just for a reasonable length of time, I can’t imagine sending back something that was just plain worn out and expecting a replacement.

Not all others think the same way, apparently:

In explaining the change, the company shared images of dubious exchanges, including a worn pair of loafers, slippers with the sole detaching and a child’s ski jacket with three years’ worth of ski tags on it that had a stain but was otherwise fine.

Not to mention folks going out of their way to buy L.L.Bean stuff in thrift shops and yard sales and sending it back. Bad enough you ask for returns on merchandise you actually bought. To me, picking something up for a dollar and having the nerve to ask L.L. Bean to give you something worth $50 for it, while it may have been legal under the old policy, sounds not like Yankee frugality or shrewd bargaing, but like stealing.

Of course, some of these folks have gone online to brag about their crappy behavior. Seriously, someone would be proud that they’d gotten their kids “a new backpack every school year…[or] exchanging the same pair of corduroy pants for the past 30 years.

Even a descendant of the company’s founder has a firsthand account of this. Shawn Gorman, great-grandson of Leon Leonwood Bean, told the Associated Press that he’d once seen his own shirt with his name printed in it returned to a store after he’d donated it to Goodwill.

How about that?

L.L. Bean shoppers – or L.L. Bean non-shoppers in the case of the yard-salers - aren’t the only bad actors, of course.

I remember a sales guy at Tweeter’s – and that dates the conversation – telling me and my husband that they sold a lot of wide screen TVs that got returned the day after the Super Bowl. And other retailers who’ve had similarly generous return policies have revised them because there are so many repeat offenders out there.

Anyway, it wasn’t a policy I particularly used, let alone abused, so I’m just as happy to see it go. Even if it means that, if I do decide to hang on to it, I can’t wait five years to have buyer’s remorse and send back that purple rain jacket…

Monday, February 12, 2018

Hey, Lady Dorito!

I’m actually a big fan of the salty, crunchy, crispy food group.

Mostly, if I have something in that category around, it’s Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Tortilla Chips. (As brand names go, this is admittedly a weird one. Isn’t food tasting good something of a given?Having asked myself this question, I do have to then think of the creamed corn of my childhood and realize, well, there actually are some folks who think that food should taste like vomit, so maybe naming your brand Food Should Taste Good is on point.)

For potato chips, I’m a Cape Cod girl, but I will say that for the last two Christmas Eves, my cousin MB has brought a way-back treat: Ruffles (those ridges!) with sour cream and dried onion soup mix dip. I won’t say that they outsell the shrimp, but this appetizer disappears before some of the more upscale and Trader Joe-ish alternatives.

Once in a while, I’ll go for Fritos, mostly because nothing tastes like a Frito other than a Frito, and I like to place a chip on the tip of my pinky. Just because.

I like Cheetos (preferring the puffs to the latter-day crunchy version), even though you end up licking some strange orange guck off of your fingers, and with a scrim of that guck on your teeth.

There are a few salty-crunchy-crispy snacks I don’t like.

One is Pringles, which I find oddly bland and blandly odd.

Although I tolerate an occasional sour-cream-and-onion flavored chip, if I accidentally happen upon one, I tend to avoid flavored chips.

And I don’t especially like Doritos, which to me overdo it on the chemical front. (How I can justify Cheetos is anyone’s guess.)

Nonetheless, I’ve watched the Dorito (Dorita?) hoo-hah with some interest.

It all began when Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, on a Frekonomics podcast, indicated that Pepsi was considering the ladies:

“As you watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag, they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavor. … Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public,” she said. The company’s future chip for women will be “low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavor stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse.” (Source: Washington Post)

While I can avoid the need by living and walking in a city where I’m never more than a few minutes from a snack-filled CVS, I’ll give you that women love to carry snacks in their purse – who doesn’t? – but women “don’t like to crunch too loudly in public”?

Where have I been all these years? I hadn’t realized that this was yet another of those unspoken ladylike rules. I must not have been listening the day that was taught. Or maybe I’m just a natural crunch hold-backer who understands intuitively that she mustn’t crunch.

Nah! The only way to avoid crunching a chip is to hold it in your mouth until a well of spit turns it soggy, and then swallow it. Well, that’s no fun!

Anyway, I’m always interested when a consumer product that seems perfectly unisex ends up with gendered versions.

There are very few products that I can think of that are naturally M or F. Viagra, Tampax…

And, yes, clothing. Unisex clothing, as far as I can tell, is built for the male form. If you have hips or breasts, you’ll be going up a size and end up looking like the saggy baggy elephant.

I’ve fallen into the “it’s for girls” trap on occasion. I buy the girly-girl shaving cream. And I’ve got a girly-girl razor. But I also use the razor and blades bequeathed to me by my late husband and, come to find out, they work just fine on leg hair.

But do women need our very own version of Doritos?

I won’t say that this is the very worst sexist product idea – I mean, it’s really hard to top the talking Barbie which uttered the immortal phrase “Math class is tough!” – but if a gal wants to eat Doritos, isn’t part of Dorito-ing the noise-making and finger-lickin’ goodness of the whole thing? (I’ll take a pass on going after the crumbs. A chip shard is one thing. Definitely worth pursuing. But the crumbs at the bottom of any snack bag are crumby and IMHO not worth the effort. I suspect there are plenty of guys who feel the same way.)

Anyway, after the Indra Nooyi podcast comment was picked up by one news outlet, written up as there was definitely a version of Doritos for women coming out (as opposed to Pepsi’s considering different packaging that might appeal more to women, which is what Nooyi actually said), Lady Doritos became a thing. Things, as we know, go viral. And the Internet went predictably wild. After all, what’s the Internet for if not to ridicule dumb stuff?

Some of the tweets were excellent of course. Here’s Julia Beard’s:

WE DO NOT WANT: #LadyDoritos
Lady Laxatives
Lady Power Tools
Lady Shavers
Little Lady Lego
Lady Wages
Lady Prime Minister
Lady Leaders
Lady Pope

Marie Connor wrote:

Women: We want equal pay for equal work and an end to sex discrimination in the workplace. Society: Here’s a bag of Lady Doritos so you won’t have to crunch too loudly in front of your male colleagues.

The capper came from a woman named Geraldine:

What if Lady Doritos are just regular Doritos but when a woman buys a bag she only gets 77% of the chips a guy would.#LadyDoritos

Pepsi wasn’t happy with all the fun-making:

Soon, PepsiCo was insisting it was all a misunderstanding. “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate,” the company said in a statement released on Monday night. “We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve, and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.” (Source: NY Times)

Me? Whether they change the recipe for Doritos or not, I don’t imagine that I’ll convert to Doritos. If I’m in pursuit of orange and chemicals on my fingertips, give me a Cheetos puff any old day. And whether it’s a Dorito, Cheeto, or upscale coastal elite Food Should Taste Good Multigrain Tortilla Chip, putting a snack in a pink package isn’t going to make me want to buy it. Then again, I’m an old geezer, not the sort of consumer that Pepsi wants to engage with and delight.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Move over, artisanal. Is archival the new “it” word?

Every once in a while, I pass a young woman on the street wearing a bouclé wool coat that looks like it came straight out of 1967. I ought to know, as I had one – in kelly green, with frog closures – that I wore from my senior year in high school through the first year or so of college. Somewhere along the line, I toned things down with a charcoal grey regular-old-wool coat with silver buttons. And by the time I was spending an abortive year in grad school in New York, I had toned things further down – and sophisticated them up – with a black, double-breasted longish winter coat – standard never in style, never out of style look and feel.

That coat is long gone – it wouldn’t fit, that’s for sure – but for the most part, that’s been my dress coat look since the early 1970’s. The colors changed a bit, but with one excursion into bright red (a very nice Calvin Klein coat that I inexplicably let my mother convince me to buy because when she was in her mid-twenties, she’d wanted a red coat…), they were along the black-grey-blue spectrum.

When I worked full time, I wore a dress coat to work every day in the winter, so these things did wear out over time. But my current coat is one that I’ve had for 16+ years: a lovely black part-cashmere coat that I got on sale at Lord & Taylor when I worked for Genuity. Since I tend to wear it once or twice a year, it may well turn into a lifer. (It’s long: if I shrink a couple of inches, I’ll need to have it altered.)

Anyway, the long and the short of my coats, and my wardrobe in general, is that I tend to stick with the same styles, and I tend to hang onto clothing for a good long time.

I have two sweaters that are 30+ years old, and a couple that are in their twenties. I still have a pair of khaki LL Bean cropped chinos from 2001. I can date them because there’s a picture of me and my sisters all wearing the same chinos, and matching plaid shirts (in different colors) that each of us had independently ordered. The picture was taken at Kath’s in Hull, where she then lived, at a family gathering shortly after my mother died. That’s how I know it was 2001. And just by accident, we all showed up in the same outfit. And, yes, I still have the light purple and white plaid shirt.

My clothing, while dated, is not really that dated. It’s classic.

But it turns out that dated items – oh, that bouclé coat – have been coming back with a vengeance.

A couple of years back, it was ponchos. (OMG. What’s worse than a poncho? Oh, a macramé poncho.) Then it was hippie-style peasant shirts. Not that they would fit the current edition of my body, but would that I had hung on to a few of those from my way back. No worries, however, I went out and got me a few of the new edition versions. With one exception – black with white embroidery – I’m not that wild about the peasant shirts I’ve acquired so far. What I wouldn’t give for that filmy off-white one with the drawstring neck and the green and black embroidery. And that Greek shirt I got at the market in Athens? I pine for that, even though I stupidly got one in light yellow and white stripes rather than blue and white. (What was I thinking?)

Then there are the Vacarro ribbed turtlenecks from the 1970’s. I had a whole bunch of those. I still have plenty of ribbed turtlenecks, but they’re no longer Vacarros. (I’d be happy to own one again, but I don’t need yet another ribbed turtleneck, thank you.)

And if I ever buy another dress, I’ve got an eye on a Diane Von Furstenberg. Like the ones I had in the 1970’s, sharing closet space with my Vacarro turtlenecks.

In any case, vintage clothing is apparently the rage. And it can be gotten on high-end consignment sites like RealReal. Sure, most of what’s consigned is more recent, but there are classics from the good old days. And brands – both high-fashion and midmarket – are coming out with “replicas of decades-old pieces.”

It extends to both menswear and women’s wear, whether it’s a reissued Helmut Lang denim jacket from 2004 or Gucci bags pulled from the ’70s. Prada built its 2018 collection around nylon, a fabric it hasn’t celebrated on runways in decades. Reverence for fashion’s good ol’ days might sound strange for an industry that prides itself on looking to the future, but the inspiration for retailers, designers, and consumers is, at the moment, coming from the past. (Source: Bloomberg)

Not that there’s any likelihood that this little old devil will ever wear Prada, I will observe that anyone bringing back nylon as a fabric of choice never wore a nylon dress for Easter, First Holy Communion, or their Uncle Jack’s wedding. Just sayin’.

But it’s not vintage that’s the thing. It’s archival.

“ ‘Archival’ is the buzzword that everyone is using,” says Kristen Dempsey, the newly minted brand director of Heroine, which debuted in October as the women’s counterpart to the men’s peer-to-peer site Grailed. “Vintage has been a cool thing for the past 20 years, but archival is less ambiguous and more about specific designer pieces from specific collections.”

Well, one woman’s vintage is another’s archival.

And is it just me or is archival to fashion as artisanal is to cheese? Can we set to see it start popping up everywhere?

Ah, well, guess I’ll head over to my closet and curate my collection.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Monopoly, Cheater-pants edition

I guess it was just a matter of time, given the current tempora, mores, and occupants of high places.

Monopoly Cheater’s Edition will be released this fall with new rules and gameplay elements in which fans are encouraged to actively cheat as part of play, much to the delight of terrible people everywhereCheater Monopoly. This new special edition goes beyond simple themes like its Star Wars-branded sets to introduce an entire new style of play to one of the most popular board games of all time.

“As anyone who’s participated in game night knows, the friendly competition can often get heated,” Hasbro senior vice president Jonathan Berkowitz told Bloomberg. “This means players are looking to bend the rules in their pursuit of game-night glory.”

In addition to the usual Community Chest and Chance cards, 15 different “Cheat Cards” will ask players to surreptitiously carry out sabotage and subterfuge missions throughout the game. If crafty enough to pull them off, successful players will get an infusion of cash or free properties. If caught, players will be forced to fork over money or even end up handcuffed in jail—literally attached to the board by a plastic handcuff. (Source: Bloomberg)

How long do you think those plastic handcuffs are going to last?

But that is, I guess, beside the point. The point is to encourage cheating as a way to make the game more interesting.

Cheats on the “approved” list include stealing from the bank, skipping spaces, moving an opponent’s token, skimping on rent, adding a hotel you didn’t buy to your property, removing someone else’s hotel from their property, moving another player’s token when it’s your turn, and collecting rent from someone else’s property. Assuming none of that gives you an anxiety attack, this game is for you.

I played plenty of Monopoly growing up, and I will be the first to admit that there was occasional cheating going on. $100 palmed from the bank, maybe. Or, a more likely scenario, lending money to someone other than the person who was winning so that they might thwart the person who was winning, which worked out especially well if you were the designated banker.

But the laundry list above?

Rotten to the core.

And I don’t see how it can possibly work.

Unless there are adult beverages being served, how can someone possibly get away with adding a hotel they didn’t buy or, worse, taking a hotel off someone else’s property. And you’re not supposed to notice that someone else cadged the rent on Ventnor or moved your token from Indiana back to Baltic?

Hasbro has removed the requirement for a designated banker, which could make palming the odd $100 and getting away with it a bit more plausible. But the rest of it? No way.

I don’t think that any game of Monopoly Cheater Edition is going to end well.

Even back in the day, when cheating wasn’t encouraged, and relatively rare, more than one round of game play ended with the board being tossed over in a rage – mostly after the designated banker had made a nice little bailout loan to the competition of the person tossing the board over, enabling them to, say, pick up Reading Railroad so they had all four RR’s. Or helping them put up the hotel on Boardwalk or Park Place that they really couldn’t afford. 

Once the board was tossed over, someone – generally the designated banker, whose (let’s be honest here) wanton disregard for fair play precipitated the board overthrow – got stuck scrambling to gather up the cash, and pick up the top hat, the iron, the Scottie, green houses, and red hotels. You could really hurt yourself if you stepped on a Scottie or house in your bare piggy toes.

Not that I would know anything about this, as our play was always decorous, by the rules, above board, and calm.

But I’ve heard that there were games that thus ended, even back in the day, before cheaters felt empowered to cheat. Those players? Likely candidates for Monopoly Cheater Edition, I’d say.

Just what is the world coming to?????

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Yo? Oy!

Despite my long career in technology, I’m not much of an app person. Beyond the apps that actually do something – like Clock on my phone – or let you do something – like Word – I’m mostly meh.

My smartphone has a couple of screens full of quite useful icons, but the majority of them are links to news and other sites (MBTA for train info) that I frequent, augmented by connections to my many corporate and civilian emails and basics like Message. Uber is probably the one absolutely-not-rock-bottom app that I use regulary.

The icons on my laptop home screen are oriented towards what were once called office productivity applications, like Word and Excel, browsers, and security and backup utilities. And a couple of old school games: Solitaire and Tai Pei.

Admittedly, this sounds like I use plenty of apps. But shiny and new seldom gets to me. When a friend enthuses about a new app they’ve discovered, I smile politely and nod, silently humming to myself an oldie but goodie that I can summon up in my very own brain with nary an app in sight. I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you now. (Where you = the app, not the friend telling me about the app.)

Fundamentally, I’m pretty darned app-less.

So it goes without saying that I’m not a Yo user.

Yo, you may well be asking. After all, if you’re reading this post you’re unlikely to be a Millennial who would use an app that did nothing but send a “Yo” text to someone.

Huh, you may well be asking, what’s the value in that?

Well, someone in the VC world saw enough value to toss some walking around change into the Yo bucket:

Back in 2014, Yo had raised $1 million from venture capital firms like Betaworks and Slow Ventures and angel investors including Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore. But those funds are long gone…

Since 2016, Yo, the company, has dispersed, and Yo, the app, has been running on "autopilot," according to [Or] Arbel. Former employees have moved on to other tech companies, like Facebook and Netflix, he noted. Moshe Hogeg, the former CEO of photo and video sharing service Mobli who had instructed Arbel to launch an app that notified his assistant he needed her (a.k.a. Yo) in 2014, is now running a blockchain startup. (Source: Mashable)

Blockchainers are usually crypto-currency guys. Is this going from dumb to dumber?

Anyway, since Yo’s been running on autopilot, it’s not being supported. So it occasionally goes down, which really upsets Yo users. (Yoyos?) And then there was an email sent out threatening to shut Yo down if people didn’t start putting their money where their Yo was and dropping some currency – crypto or not – in the Yo beggar bowl on Patreon. (If you don’t know Patreon, it is to creative types  - you know, makers - what GoFundMe is to folks who need to pay for funerals.)

I checked out, and so far only 31 Yo-ers have signed up. Unlike GoFundMe, you don’t get to see how much $$$ has been raised. But if you multiple 31 by the amount that someone using the Yo app is likely to pledge, I’m guessing that number is way south of the $1 million in VC that they’ve already blown through. (The article on Mashable was written the day before I checked Patreon. At that point, there were 27 patrons. At plus-four per day, that’ll take a lot of time to come up with the 5,000 supporters they’re looking for. So much for everything going viral.)

When my sister Trish texted me a link to the Mashable article, my response was Oy!

Which would, we decided, make an excellent app.

Whenever you see something wtf-y and you don’t want to wtf it, you could just send the link via Oy!

Nuf said.

I will not be looking for any VC infusion. Or, my BIL will relieved to learn, an angel investor.

Hell, I’m a creative type. I’m a macher.

I’m heading over to Patreon and see if I can get me some funding for Oy!