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?

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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.

Yowza.

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!

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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 Boston.com 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?

Mostly.

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…

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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…

 

 

 

 

 

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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…

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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:

Selfie

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.

And:

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…

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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?

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