Wednesday, March 04, 2015

It’s tough being a S.T.E.M. woman…

Next weekend, there’s a big gaming show coming up in Boston – PAX East.

The big news around it as that Giant Spacekat, a locale gaming company that’s led by a woman (Brianna Wu) was pulling out of the event because she fears for the safety of her staff.

There’s a major issue around sexism (and threats of violence directed against some of the more outspoken women) in the gaming community, which I won’t get into here. I’ll just say that the situation is pretty awful.

But even when you factor gaming out, it’s still tough being a S.T.E.M. (Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.) woman.

This was the subject of a recent article in the L.A. Times, “Why Are Women Leaving the Tech Industry in Droves?”

There were a couple of tech women interviewed – women with strong S.T.E.M. backgrounds – math and science majors working as programmers who, because of what they experienced as a hostile work environment, were packing it in.

This doesn’t exactly help the tech economy, which is trying to figure out where their employees are going to come from.

Women in tech say filling the pipeline of talent won't do much good if women keep quitting — it's like trying to fill a leaking bucket.

"It's a really frustrating thing," said Laura Sherbin, director of research at the Center for Talent Innovation. "The pipeline may not improve much unless women can look ahead and see it's a valuable investment."

When I look back on all the techies I worked with, I can pretty much count the deeply technical women on one hand (by my definition, that would be women coding at the systems – rather than applications – level). All of them were quite brilliant; only one, as far as I can tell, made her way into a executive management position.

Although I’m not a S.T.E.M. girl myself, the tech world was where I spent my career.

So I’m not surprised to read:

A Harvard Business Review study from 2008 found that as many as 50% of women working in science, engineering and technology will, over time, leave because of hostile work environments.

The reasons are varied. According to the Harvard study, they include a "hostile" male culture, a sense of isolation and lack of a clear career path. An updated study in 2014 found the reasons hadn't significantly changed.

Most women in the Harvard study said the attitudes holding them back are subtle, and hence more difficult to challenge.

Yep, tech can be tough on a woman.

It’s interesting that, when I read about what the women interviewed in the L.A. Times article experienced, it was quite similar to things that happened to me, especially once I “made it” into management, where at times I was the lone women at the table, working (generally) for a male boss, and (often) with only males as my peers.

Your “assertions weren’t trusted”. Small things – none on its own worth complaining about – would mount up, so that you didn’t feel like a real part of the team. (What, exactly, are they talking about when their standing next to each other at the urinals?) Just plain not being heard.

I used to say that a women’s voice is like a dog whistles: not all ears are attuned to hear it.

For women in tech, the ears not attuned to hear it are the ones that matter: the male bosses, the male colleagues, the male investors.

At one of my jobs, I finally got sick of my points being ignored when they came out of my mouth, but picked up on a bit later when voiced by a male. Once in a while, I would smile and thank “Dave” for backing my point. Mostly I just let it go.

What is it with tech that’s so much worse than other industries?

Or are other industries and professions equally difficult for women to get ahead in?

Why is it that some things don’t ever seem to change?

The aggressive guy is just the aggressive guy. The aggressive woman is a pushy bitch.

I’ve been at meetings where we were supposed to dissect a failure. So why was I, as often as not, one of the few people capable of pointing out systemic failures. Even if there was no finger pointing – who wants to be part of that? – the men for the most part didn’t seem interested in rehashing the failures. It was always on to the next. Even if it would have been supremely helpful to try to learn something from the past.

And admitting to any role you may have played in the failure?

When I ventured to say that I had screwed something up, or could have done better, there were two reactions. 1) Phew, we’re off the hook: it’s her fault. And 2) She has two heads.

I find it very sad that, 30+ years after I started in tech, S.T.E.M. careers are still tough on women.

We’re good enough for the “soft” jobs like HR and marketing (sort of), but not for the guy stuff.

What a shame…

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Temporary insanity

A few weeks back there was an article (“Workers on Tap”) in The Economist that talked about the rise of the temp economy.

Having freelanced for over ten years now, I’m more than happy that there are companies willing to work with contractors, temps, freelancers, “consultants” – whatever they want to call us. At this stage in my career, not having to get up and go to a full-time job has been (mostly) just wonderful.

Not that I’ve taken brilliant advantage of all the free time that comes with trading in a 50 hour + work week plus commuting for what has varied over the years from anywhere between 10 and 40 hours, and an occasional blow-in to see the local clients.

With all that free time, I still haven’t written a novel, turned into a fitness goddess, or become Boston’s Mother Teresa in mufti.

And yet working freelance has generally been a good experience. As I’ve often said: half the income, but twice the life satisfaction. I’m fortunate to have been in a position to go down this path. And that fortune became most apparent when my husband was diagnosed (in late 2011) with the cancer that eventually killed him. If I’d been working full-time, I would have been completely unable to provide the level of support that I did. Nor would I have had the wonderful hang around time that my husband and I were able to enjoy over much of the course of his final illness. Going out for a really nice lunch after a chemo visit might not sound like unalloyed joy, but Jim and I always had fun on these outings, even when, for one type of chemo, we left the infusion center with Jim wearing a pump, and me carrying a rather large, fluorescent green bag that contained the kit I needed to disengage the pump and mail it back when the chemo stopped pumping 48 hours on.

Is it completely weirdo to say that those were actually good times?

Anyway, because I was working freelance, I could juggle my schedule so that I could be there for every chemo session, every doctor’s appointment, every day that required someone around the house 24/7. The one and only major dealio I missed was a CT scan. Jim was fine, he could get himself over to MGH no problem, there would be no results that day, etc. So I didn’t go. Wouldn’t you know that the person sitting next to him in the waiting room was none other than Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox second baseman.

Jim, naturally, got into a very funny conversation with Dustin, which including Jim telling Our Hero that he hoped that the stuff you had to swallow for the scan wouldn’t f him up the same way it did Jim, and that he would be watching that night’s game to check it out. (We did; it didn’t.)

If I had been working full time, I would have had to go out on Family Medical Leave at some point.

Freelancing made things a lot easier.

And yet, after Jim died, not having a full-time job to go back to wasn’t all that great.

Not that I’m not perfectly capable of building the day out of a trip to the hardware store for a light bulb, but I missed having a reason to get out of the house every day. And I missed the companionship: the cups of teas, the gabfests, the quick lunches, the head-clearing walks.

But mostly, freelancing suits me.

That said, I wouldn’t have been happy to have made a career out of it.

For one thing, I met some of my closest friends at work.

If we’d all been temping, that would not have happened.

It was on the job that I picked up the skills I have. And it was on the job that I built the network that is the source of all of my freelance work.

If I’d started out trying to get work doing writing for technology companies, I might have gotten some work. But I suspect it wouldn’t have paid much better than driving sloshy folks around for Uber or picking up dry cleaning for a “client” I met through Task Rabbit.

Of course, these days “on demand” isn’t just for the great unskilled.

Lawyers. Accountants. Programmers. Professionals of all sorts.

I’m sure that this suits the “working model” for many.

Like me, they’re winding down. Or they’re home with the baby. Or they have something else they want to do with their time (like be a performance artist). And, unlike me (knock on wood), many of them aren’t finding their work directly, they’re going through an agency.

Like the moving assembly line, the idea of connecting people with freelances to solve their problems sounds simple. But, like mass production, it has profound implications for everything from the organization of work to the nature of the social contract in a capitalist society...

Risks borne by companies are being pushed back on to individuals—and that has consequences for everybody.(Source: The Economist)

Those who “value security over flexibility..feel justifiably threatened.”

Guaranteed employment for life is certainly way back in the rear view mirror for most of us. (I think that those of us working in the tech sector have been in the white collar vanguard here.) But not knowing from month to month where your work is going to come from will certainly have an impact on whether you’re going to buy a house or start a family.

Easy enough for someone without a mortgage to rave about how great freelancing is…

And then there’s what is perhaps the most terrible aspect of working temp jobs.

People will also have to learn how to sell themselves, through personal networking and social media or, if they are really ambitious, turning themselves into brands. In a more fluid world, everybody will need to learn how to manage You Inc.

So happy I’m not really ambitious. (Too little, too late.)

The idea of having to brand myself?

Just thinking about it gives me temporary insanity.


Monday, March 02, 2015

Hey, Venmo! (Happy to be a Luddite.)

Believe it or not, there are many excellent things about getting older.

One of the most excellent of the excellent is looking at what the young whippersnappers are up to and shaking your perplexed gray head. Oh you kids…

Much of my personal headshaking is around the use of technology: the surrender of privacy and dignity (quick, let me send some guy I talked to once in the lunchroom a selfie of my boobs – he’s so cute, he’ll never send it around); the casual, anonymous cruelty that leads to things being said and done that in viciousness, amount and duration generally exceed any bullying that occurs in the face to face world; and the sheer naiveté of trusting that all will be well with technology, that it just does not fail.

Oh, maybe us old fogeys just don’t get it, but, when it comes to things that are technology-based, I’m something of a skeptic.

Although it’s pretty much used as the receptacle for spam calls, I hang on to my landline. Sure, landlines can fail, too. And what’s behind them is plenty that’s electronic. But it’s comforting to have something in your life with six-nine’s (99.9999%) reliability, isn’t it? Even if the only one who takes advantage of it is Carmen from Cardholder Services.

And sure, when I’m driving, I like those press-button windows. But when I’m thinking about all the electronics that go into cars these days, I wish that there a few manual, mechanical overrides that you could invoke when some battery dies or chip fails. I’m not so much looking forward to cars that drive themselves, and I’m just as glad that planes still have captains and co-captains. Of course, most of what they do is stare at the computers running the plane. But if they had to take over the controls and make a manual landing, they’re there to do so.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to live with my head or my digital life in the cloud. I want my files on my computer, my pictures printed out (and in frames), my tunes on CD.

And I want cash in my pocket.

Sure, I regularly use my credit cards – gotta keep accumulating those frequent flyer miles. And I almost always use my debit card at Whole Foods. (Weirdly, I feel odd about crediting, rather than debiting, my groceries. And, by the way, I don’t think there’s anything holy about Whole Foods. It happens to be the closest full grocery store. I eagerly await the opening of  the Roche Brothers, which is going in to the old Filene’s Basement. They’re now hiring. I may well apply…)

I like smart cards. I have one for the T, another for Dunkin’ Donuts. I like giving them as gifts. I like getting them as gifts.

But, if someone asks me ‘what’s in your wallet,’ part of the answer is always going to be cash.

I am, thus, amazed when I see young folks charging or debit carding even the smallest of purchases: a cup of coffee, a candy bar.

At one point in time, there were only two types of folks who didn’t carry cash: The very poor, because they didn’t have any. And the very rich, who had toadies and courtiers to carry it for them.

But the young folks no like cash, even when it comes to bumming a couple of (virtual) bucks off of a friend.

A lot of them are using Venmo, a mobile payment gateway. It’s like PayPal, only for person-to-person transactions. No surprise, Venmo is part of PayPal, which I do use on occasion.

With Venmo, you can reimburse your friend who charged lunch (or paid with bitcoin, I suppose). You can give your brother back the five dollars you borrowed. You can grab some gas money from the moochers in the back seat.

And because this service is for twentysomethings, there is naturally a social component, letting you opt for having your transactions posted on the Venmo streaming transactions list. As in John A paid Jackie B for making my body stop hurting. Or Michael M paid Jay H for life advice. As in Vanessa E paid Paul Ifor March rent.

Unfortunately, the amount of money that changes (virtual) hands is not shown. That would sure make it more interesting. And given how little privacy plays into the day to day, I’m surprised the transaction value isn’t included.

Anyway, there are now all these young folks Venmo-ing away. It’s “fast, casual, convenient, and trendy.” What’s not to like?

Well, there’s the fact that Venmo might not be all the safe and secure, for one thing.

As one Venmo-er found out when he was notified by his bank that he had a large transaction pending.

At first glance, he thought his tax refund must have come through. He’d already paid his rent for the month, so he figured the alert must be for an incoming amount. “Then I did a double take,” he [Chris Grey] says.”

Chase had pinged Grey not about a credit to his account, but a debit for $2,850, through Venmo. Confused, Grey tried to pull up his Venmo account, but his password no longer worked. He used the reset option to get in, then inspected his settings. Under email authentications, a new address appeared. Notifications were disabled. Grey’s payment history showed that the funds—slightly below Venmo’s weekly sending limit of $2,999.99—had been sent at 3:09 p.m. the day before to a user he didn’t recognize. Some text listed the transaction’s ominous-sounding purchase: “for about time.” (Source: Slate)

And Venmo hadn’t given Grey any head’s up about all the setting changes that resulted in this hack.


Maybe someone should get on that.

After all, Venmo is not just a money transacting-machine, it’s at least on its way to be a money-making machine. (Those still exist, no?)

On eBay’s last earnings call – eBay being the ultimate owner – the chief exec was apparently all over Venmo, which in 3Q14 processed $700 million worth of transactions. That’s a lot of Ryan P paid Tyler G for  Chipotle.

“Venmo is on fire,” [John Donahoe] said last month during eBay’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “If you go to any college campus across America, they talk about Venmoing money to each other.”

Venmo may well be on fire, but that may just mean that the house is going to burn down unless they install a sprinkler system.

As of November, Venmo only had around 70 full-time employees. (Its parent PayPal, which oversaw $64.3 billion in transactions in the last quarter of 2014, has more than 10,000.) Three years after the service left its beta phase, Venmo doesn’t have a dedicated phone line for customer issues. Urgent emails about stolen funds receive slow responses. It doesn’t offer two-factor verification, an increasingly common security layer that requires users to provide a secondary passcode to access an account, though it’s working to implement it. Venmo says its mobile-transfer infrastructure “uses bank-grade security systems and data encryption to protect you and guard against any unauthorized transactions and access to your personal or financial information.” But when a hacker who breaches an account using your password can send $2,850 as quickly and conveniently as a twentysomething can repay $7 for a burrito, that’s clearly not enough.

Because of Venmo’s lack of security, Grey had to closeout his bank account, which he had linked his Venmo to, rather than to a credit card which would have been a less risky route to go. And he’s had to petition his bank to get his money back. (That at least worked.)

From the sounds of it, Venmo and, of course, its users (likely without giving it a second thought) have traded off convenience, ease of use, and social-ness, for  boring, uncool old security. (The social aspects apparently help make Venmo laughingly unsecure.) They also haven’t geared up for customer service, either. (Customer service: OMG. Talk about unhip.)

The generation that’s grown up “always on” has also, it seems, grown up blissfully unaware that the miracle of technology can jump up and bite you in the ass. Sometimes technology fails you(as those of us who came of professional age using things like early versions of Word can well remember. You know, back in the days before Autosave, when you could spend the entire day working on a document, only to have Word crash before you could save the file.) Sometimes you unthinkingly use technology, and end up with something on Twitter that should never have been said. And sometimes the ultra-convenient, the ultra-cool can get you hacked.

I guess like everyone else before them, the kids’ll have to figure it out the hard way.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

You look smokin’ in that hoodie, dude.

The awesome-ness of our infinitely, ridiculously inventive economy never ceases to amaze me.

Oh, sure, some of what comes out of our awesome infinitely, ridiculously inventive economy is actually brilliant and useful. As in where would us blogsters be without our laptops and the Internet?

But some of it is just plain awesomely ridiculous.

As in the recent introduction of clothing for smokers, clothing that is, in fact, a device for smoking. Think cloth hookah. Think sweatshirt material bong. And don’t bogart that joint, my friend, throw it in the washing machine.

If you’re down with Magritte, ceci may not be une pipe:

Magritte pipeBut there are two - count ‘em, two – clothing lines getting into it over who got their first, and who does it better.

In this corner, Hood Horkerz, “Patent Pending hoodies which enable the user to smoke out of their drawstrings.”

Well, if that isn’t a dream come true, I don’t know what is.

For inventor Sean Owens, necessity was the father of invention:

“I was at my buddy’s snowboard shop and he didn’t have a pipe to smoke out of and I kinda pulled on mHood Horkerzy hoodie strings and was like, ‘Man! This would be the perfect place for a pipe!’”

After Owens took a trip to Home Depot he constructed the first hoodie and brought it to a party. “Everyone was like, ‘Aw man, where can I get one?’ And I was like, ‘Nowhere… yet.’” (Source: Buzzfeed)

And with that, Owens went out and made it happen.

Variation on a theme of those joke hard-hats that hold a couple of cans of beer (with tube-straws in them). But, hey, everything can’t be new-new, and so much of the march of consumer progress is these slight modifications. (Owens also came up with a vape-version, but the pipe one was cheaper to make.)

And speaking of modifications,

Hood Horkerz offers a glass bowl on one end of the drawstring and a mouthpiece on the other.

No wonder that their web site offers this disclaimer:

We do not warrant that the quality of any products, services, information, or other material purchased or obtained by you will meet your expectations, or that any errors in the Service will be corrected. (Source: Hood Horkerz)

No warranty on quality? Huh? Not exactly the L.L. Bean no questions asked, replace it whenever guarantee, is it?

HOOD HORKERZ or its employees, third party contracts, and manufactures, are not responsible for the use and practice of any instructions herein. Those who follow all broadcast listed or served herein assume all risk of being offended or suffering any other form of damage.

I wouldn’t mind assuming the “risk of being offended.” That’s pretty much inherent in any clothing item. But then there’s the disclaimer about “suffering any other form of damage,” which could, I suspect, be an issue when that clothing item has “a glass bowl on one end of the drawstring and a mouthpiece on the other.” If that doesn’t scream DANGER, I don’t know what would. (By the way, is this material combustible?)

In the other corner is VapRWear. which apparently picks up the slack(er) left by Hood Horkerz decision not to focus on vapers.

VapRWear, founded by Elvis “Papi” Edwards, focuses exclusively on vape sweatshirts.

Buzzfeed - smoker clothing - 1

Edwards was inspired by Owens, but, having seen their hoodies, he “knew how to make them better.”

And, since he “only smokes hemp oil out of his vapes” he had no interesting catering to the weed brigade.

The VapRwear sweatshirt works with an e-cig vaporizer that gets screwed on to one end of the hood’s laces and smoked through the other. (Source: back to BuzzFeed)

Unlike Hood Horkerz, VapRWear is not so much about the disclaimer, and more about the genius behind:

vapRwear is the brainchild of Elvis “Papi” Edwards, a Caribbean native, former athlete, socialite, model, actor, and entrepreneur.  With recent changes in Colorado legislation, Papi saw an opportunity to blend comfort with discreet functionality – and vapRwear was born. (Source: VapRWear)

Screw-on vaporizer gizmo? That’s some discreet functionality.

Anyway, Owens and Edwards have been sniping back and forth for a while about who’s what they used to call da bomb.

But both fellows agree that they have seen the future, and it’s not wearbles, it’s smokables.

“If you are a designer and you don’t have a smokable line, you are out of business,” Papi told BuzzFeed News. “I swear, next New York Fashion Week, you’ll see VapRwear on the runway.”

I’ll tell my good friend at N-M to be on the lookout for it at the next NYFW.

“Oh yeah, smokable clothing is it,” Owens echoed. “Everyone will be wearing it soon.”

Well, maybe not everyone

Anyway, it all gives new meaning to the concept of the smoking jacket, doesn’t it?


And a puff of Pink Slip smoke to my sister Trish, for sending this one my way.

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Sweet dreams, Signor Nutella

I remember the first time I tried Nutella.

It was 1972, and I was in graduate school at Columbia.

One of the folks who was in the large and amorphous group I hung around with – a combo of law students, grad students, and few junior-senior undergrads – was an Italian guy who’d emigrated as a kid.

One Saturday afternoon, we ended up at Joe’s family’s house – somewhere in Brooklyn? somewhere in the Bronx? – and his mother fed us scali bread with Nutella. This was before Nutella was officially imported to the States, so Joe’s parents must have suitcased it back from trips to the old country, or had it specially sent over.

I liked it well enough, but, to me, it was never going to replace peanut butter.

Over the years, I’ve had it on occasion, am my initial impression has stayed pretty much the same.

Over those years, however, I have seen Nutella grow in popularity, and I now know people who aren’t even Italian (e.g., my sister Trish) who keep it in the pantry, right next to the peanut butter. When my husband and I took our nieces to Rome in 2012, we went grocery shopping, and the girls insisted on having some Nutella to have around the house.

Although I’m not nuts for Nutella, I was interested to see an article in The Economist – that sad back page where some typically not-quite-famous person who’s just died has their life summarized – on the man who made Nutella what it is today, Michele Ferrero.

The secretive Ferrero gave one interview in his life:

His love of privacy also had a commercial purpose. He needed to keep secret the recipe for his hazelnut-chocolate spread, Nutella, of which 365m kilos are now consumed each year round the world, and which along with more than 20 other confectionery lines made him Italy’s richest man, worth $23.4 billion. He laughed when he heard that the recipe for Coca-Cola was known to only a few directors of the company. Even fewer knew exactly what went into each jar of Nutella. (Source: The Economist)

365m kilos? Richest man in Italy? Who knew?

Not that I give a ton of thought to Italian billionaires. Or billionaires in general, for that matter. But I would have thought Armani, Agnelli, Berlusconi.

But a candy man?


Hazelnut and cocoa paste had been around for quite a while, and Ferrero’s father, who had a café cum pastry shop worked on perfecting a recipe. When his father died, Ferrero took over and:

…did what no one else had, and added enough drops of vegetable oil to make it beautifully spreadable. The result was revolutionary: chocolate-eating transformed from a special event to something everyday, children lining up after school in bakers’ shops to get it smeared on bread, and by the late 1950s a fleet of 1,000 cream-and-chocolate vans criss-crossing Italy to keep shops supplied. In 1964 he invented the name Nutella and the glass jar, and the rest was history.

But Michele Ferrero’s genius went beyond Nutella.

He thought outside the jar when he decided to sell chocolate- covered cherries singly, rather than just in boxes. This idea came to him when he visited post-war Germany and realized that Germans could use a picker-upper, but couldn’t afford the cost of a box of Mon Chéri. He told the person who interviewed him for that one and only interview that he did it:

“to raise the morale of the Germans and bring something sweet into their lives.” He still wept a little, with both happiness and sadness, to think of that.

And this at a time when most people on the face of the earth probably didn’t think that Germans deserved a chocolate-covered cherry.

What else did Michele Ferrero come up with?

The Tic-Tac!

A confection that, to me, seems blissfully, exceptionally American: the loud colors, the plastic container. But I may associate Tic Tacs with the USA because I may have waited on the original Tic-Tac girl when I waitressed at Durgin-Park back in the day. (Or maybe it was a “Certs is a candy mint/Certs is a breath mint” girl. Anyway, she was a pretty blonde who was featured in some minty ad or another.)

As if Nutella, Mon Cheri chocolate covered cherries (in liqueur, no less), and Tic-Tacs weren’t quite enough for one lifetime.

He insisted in 1974 on introducing Kinder Surprise, little chocolate eggs with plastic toys inside, though everyone around him objected that eggs should only be large and only for Easter. (He, typically playful, wanted it to be “Easter every day.”) Those, too, were a success.

Of course, the jewel in his crown may well be Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates, which look like under-water mines but taste like a little bit of FerreroRocher0465webcroppbheaven. (It took Ferrero five years of R&D to figure out how to bend the wafers inside those suckers. Time well spent!)

mineI might have thought that the Ferrero Rocher looked like a mine, but it’s said that it was designed to look like the grotto at Lourdes.  (Sorry, I’m sticking with the underwater mine here.) Anyway, Ferrero had quite a devotion to the Madonna and made an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes.


He also erected statues of Mary at each of his factories and offices. Where, by all accounts, Ferrero treated his workers well and they, in turn, loved him back.

…reassurance is central to the firm’s philosophy. Ferrero is said once to have remarked that he was a socialist, adding: “But I do the socialism.”

He arranged for his employees to be collected from the villages around the company’s headquarters in the town of Alba by buses that returned them to their homes at the end of their shifts. He gave them free medical care and other welfare services, including company outings at which they sang a song in local dialect including a line of thanks to “monsu Michele” – Mr Michele. To this day Ferrero’s workers have never gone on strike. (Source: The Guardian)

Ah, well, a bit paternalistic, but plenty sweet, too.

Sweet dreams, Signor Nutella.

Next time I see one, I’ll have a Ferrero Rocher in your honor.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Climbing every mountain

It may have been lost in all the other bad (weather) news, but over Presidents’ Day weekend, a young woman (32; not what-me-die? foolish young, but young enough) decided to go it alone, hiking in the Presidential Range of the White Mountain in New Hampshire.

Kate Matrosova’s plan was this:

One by one, she would climb to the top of four mountains named for men whose memories the holiday also honors: Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington. (Source: Boston Globe.)

The weather was terrible. A blizzard was expected in the state. Up at the summit of Mt. Washington, it was minus-six.

As all New Englander’s know, the weather on Mt. Washington – the highest peak east of the Mississippi – is erratic at best.

One July, I climbed Washington in humid, 80 degree weather. Although we only got as far as Tuckerman Ravine, about 2/3’s of the way up, it was still humid and 80 degrees. But the last of the skiers were still skiing there.

Another July, I climbed Washington in a car. At the base, it was humid, 80 degree weather. At the summit, it was about 40 degrees and windy enough to bowl the sturdiest of pins over.

Mt. Washington may not have the worst weather in the world, but it’s right up there.

When it comes to what weather has to offer, I’m guessing that the other Presidents aren’t far behind.

But Kate Matrosova wasn’t put off by the weather. Or by the sign at the start of the trail:

Try this trail only if you are in top physical condition, well clothed and carrying extra clothing and food. Many have died above timberline from exposure. Turn back at the first sign of bad weather.

Matrosova, 32, was fit and strong and smart. A trader at BNP Paribas on Wall Street, she was also driven and determined. She had undertaken some strenuous climbs before, and this was the vacation she had planned.

And if Matrosova saw the sign by the light of her headlamp in the pre-dawn darkness — if she read every word before she set out between the trees — it did not dissuade her, either.

Her husband dropped her off, and off she went.

Kate was well-equipped, with high-tech layers, high-tech boots, high-tech goggles. She also had her personal locator beacon, a device that sends out a satellite signal and calls for help.

Within minutes of her making it, Kate’s high-tech cry for help was heard by Mark Ober, an officer with New Hampshire Fish and Game, who quickly figured out that she was above the tree line.

Up there, the tree line is often the boundary between life and death.

Next, he checked the weather at the Mount Washington Observatory.

Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the temperature at the summit was 21 degrees below zero. The wind was blowing 77 miles per hour, and the wind chill was -67. In that wind and cold, frostbite develops on exposed skin in minutes. And it was only going to get colder.

Deciding whether to actually go in and try to rescue someone is a life and death decision, and sometimes the powers that be decide that it’s not worth risking the lives of the would-be rescuers. But because Matrosova was out there on her own, Ober’s boss decided to send out a search party.

In better conditions, her plan might have been doable, if ambitious within the time constraints. But weather is everything in the Whites.

“It gave me pause,” Ober said. “Nobody attempts that at this time of year, in those conditions. Certainly [not] alone.”

She had known the forecast, Ober said, but forged ahead. “This was her plan. She wanted to accomplish it. The weather didn’t seem to faze her that much.”

Despite all the risks, a volunteer rescue squad was raised. (Two rescue squads, in fact. The search extended over two days.)

But they – and Kate – had no luck.

The rescue squad turned into a recovery squad.

As well-equipped as Kate Matrosova, that equipment was not quite up to the job, rated only to work up to 20-below. It was colder out. The location signals were as erratic as Mt. Washington weather, an didn’t quite guide the rescuers to where Kate needed rescuing.

Bad luck? Bad choices?

Some of both.

The hubris of the young, the dynamic, the aggressive, the driven, the gambler?

Kate was a trader at BNP Paribas. So it’s no doubt check, check, check.

While still feeling bad about this unnecessary loss of life, it’s important to add that , in deciding to climb these particular mountains, in this particular weather, Kate not only put herself at risk, she put the rescuers there, as well. Fortunately, they all made it down alive. The death of these men because one woman was foolhardy, well…

Mostly I’m guessing that Kate Matrosova biggest mistake was putting too much trust in technology.

The Gore-tex would protect her from the wind. The down would keep her warm. The crampons would give her good footing. (There’s speculation that she was actually blown off a ridge.) The location beacon would ensure that she was rescued.

Not that people haven’t pushed their limits since the first caveman decided to make his way from Cave A to Cave B, even if he had to cross a swollen river and climb a rocky mountain in order to get there.

And not that people a lot less equipped than Kate was don’t get rescued all the time. (Ask me about my attempt to climb Mt. Washington in my waitress shoes, why don’t you.)

But I think that all the teched-up gear encourages folks to take extraordinary risks. I’ll stay warm. I’ll stay dry. Sure, there’s an element of danger – that’s what makes it so worthwhile – but I’ll stay safe.

Press the button, help is on the way.

Sad day for this young woman’s husband, her family. A cautionary note to all that sometimes all the tech in the world isn’t going to save you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Oh, what a world we live in

The train on monetizing this blog has long since left the station.

To make any money, I would have had to come up with a specific niche focus and stuck with it, becoming the go to for something or other.

Maybe I should have just stuck to lay-off stories. Become a clearing house for complaints about businesses behaving stupidly or badly. Turned into a dispenser of invaluable – or non-valuable – business advise. The review site for business books. (Gag.)

Or, if I’d decided to dump business as my central theme, I could have catered to folks who like colorful sweaters, Celtic music, shoveling out…

But that train left the station. I missed the boat. The wheels fell off the monetizing car – if that car had ever had wheels to begin with.

And, of course, with no one having time to actually read any thing, any more, having a blog is just so yesterday.

Everything, after all, can pretty much be condensed to 140 characters. (Or, as this last sentence demonstrates, 70 characters.)

And everyone knows that an Instagram picture is worth a thousand blog words.

Not to mention that people like lights, camera, action.

If it can’t be YouTube’d, forget about it.

YouTube, as it turns out, is where the real online money is to be made.

Or so I learned when I saw an article on YouTube money-makers a few weeks back.

Some of the biggest stars on YouTube may be earning big paychecks for playing with toys and video games -- essentially, doing things many kids do on Christmas morning. (Source: Huffington Post.)

An outfit called Social Blade – phew, I started to write Sling Blade there for a moment – figures out (very roughly, and with a very wide range of estimates) just what YouTube channels are worth.

Not familiar with Social Blade?

Well neither was I.

But now I know:

Social Blade compiles data from YouTube, Twitch, and Instagram and uses the data to make statistical graphs and charts tracking progress and growth. We include information such as estimated earnings and future projections, providing both numerical data and graphs. Statistics are freely available to anyone using our website or smartphone apps. Social Blade currently tracks over 4 million YouTube channels and 1,000,000 Twitch channels. Social Blade has over 1,300,000 unique visitors every month. (Source: Social Blade.)

Well, now I know, more or less..

For one thing, I’d never heard of Twitch, either. (Video community for gamers.)

Anyhow, according to Social Blade,  if you’re into fun and games, there’s gold in them thar YouTube hills.

At DisneyCollectorBR – the top YouTube channel - someone unwraps toy boxes and tells us what she sees as she goes along. And she’s not just a DisneyCollector. She does Nickelodeon stuff. And My Little Pony. And something called Bubble Guppies Surprise Eggs. (Go have a look. I guess I can see why this would be mesmerizing, in a goof-ball TeleTubbies kind of way….)

Still, it’s hard to believe that someone can make (in Social Blade’s estimate) between $1.5 and $23.4 million a year peeling the foil off a hollow chocolate egg, cracking the egg open, and show-and-telling us that there are stickers inside.

Sure, Google takes a hefty cut. But even after their skimming around 45 percent off the top, there’s a lot of dough to be had showing off Frozen themed Play-Doh.

PewDiePie, it almost goes without saying, I just do not get. In fact, it makes someone opening Bubble Guppies eggs almost make sense. But he hauls in $1.2 and $18.9 with his funny (?), often video-game related, videos. And, according to wikipedia;:

As of February 2015, the PewDiePie channel has received over 7.9 billion video views.

Make that 7.9 billion and one. (Although I may not count, as I couldn’t actually make it through one.)

Huffington Post provides an entire list of big-buckers, but I couldn’t bring myself to click through all of them.

Partially, that’s because I don’t give a hoot about Minecraft.

Okay, I did take a peek at the guy playing with Play-Doh. But WTF: someone might be making between $700K and $11.5M doing that?

I used to think that I at least vaguely understood how the world worked, but no more.

Just to think that there’s an audience for watching folks unwrap chocolate eggs, take Barbies out of boxes, roll Play-Doh around in their hands. Let alone someone willing to pay your for it.

Hey, a light bulb just went off in my previously thick head.

I didn’t look that far into the guy who plays with Play-Doh, so there’s a possibility that he hasn’t’ already thought of the really cool thing where you merge red and yellow Play-Doh to get orange, and blue and red Play-Doh to make purple.

This is stuff we had to do back in the day when Play-Doh came in only three colors plus white, and if you wanted orange, green, or purple, you had to make your own orange, green, and purple.

Surely there’s an audience for this out there.

Maybe it’s not to late…


Thanks to my sister Trish for sending this one my way.

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