Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Carp Anglers?

August 7th, 2014

I have good spam filters on  my blogs as well as email accounts. I do scan the trapped messages, as much for amusement as the likelihood of an error.

Today, one here intrigued me. Freezers for fishing boats led with, “Here are a few very big secrets every thinking carp angler who wants to keep ahead of the crowd needs to know.”

I”m not sure why the spammer thought my personal, non-sports fishing blog was a good place to plant such an ad. I suppose it was non-thinking effort, a shotgun blast of shill. That inane spam probably hit hundreds, maybe thousands, of blogs through automation. Some surely don’t filter well or at all.

A quick Google search returned 40 results currently embedded in blogs with that exact phrase. I don’t know how many of those converted to fish-freezer clicks and sales. I do know that such frequent attempts keep me filtering this and my other blogs. I don’t want to read an blog’s comments only to run across such carp crap.

Heir B&B

August 6th, 2014

Sure enough, you can stay at Suzy Cunningham’s on Gravel Lane in Romney, West Virginia. That means little to folk, even those who live in Hampshire County.

SuzysWhen I was thinking about a trip to my only constant home of my childhood, I was very surprised thato Airbnb had anything at all in Romney. I was very pleased to see that the Gravel Lane Guest House was one I knew well.

I tuck a cropped image of it here.

I have to wonder how many of these deep-memory/ghost houses are in the Airbnb catalog.

The back of her house shared the yard with the back of my grandparents’. Suzy and my grandmother, Mable Michael, were best friends for many decades. Suzy was maybe a decade older, likely born at the end of the 19th Century and they could chat long enough to drive all the rest of us away.

My grandfather, Bill Michael, grew patches as he called his massive gardens, every summer. Mable and Bill would play a little vegetable or fruit game frequently. She say, “Bill, I could use a few pole beans.” That was code for I’m ready to can and freeze. He’d put me to work helping him harvest several bushels. Likewise if was fruit, he’d drive up the adjacent mountains and return with huge wooden baskets of fruit.

Then the community gathered under the massive maple tree between the two houses. Suzy and Mable, other friends, relatives and any kid who didn’t hide would be put to work. We’d shell peas, string beans (remember when they had strings you had to strip?), and Lima beans. Adults got the heavy metal lawn chairs and kids squeezed onto picnic-table benches or sat on the grass.

Hours of food prep led to hours of washing and bagging or boiling and sealing jars. After a few of these episodes, the whole basement wall of shelves became stocked with several layers of beans, tomatoes, beets, picked cukes and more. One of Mable’s two basement freezers had labeled, dated freezer bags and Tupperware. (The other freezer was for meat; her son often brought by a butchered half deer too.)

My grandmother often used me as courier. I’d ferry things to or from Suzy. Mable was the great baker, so it was often a pie, cobbler or bread loaf from Marsham Street to Gravel Lane. Suzy always insisted that I come in and sit. The curtains were half drawn or more. The living room should have had the feeling of a horror movie, but Suzy was ever cheerful and every visit offered really good hard candy.

For her part, Suzy liked Mable’s front porch. It faced the mountains. We saw the apple and peach orchards. More impressively, we could watch the rain. It was a science lesson as the rain clouds formed behind the mountains, gathering and darkening as they crested. We knew what kind of rain Romney would get by seeing it fall first on the orchards. It was the weather version of a phalanx of soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder straight ahead.

Suzy even had me bring her favorite rocker to Mable’s porch. It had upholstery like a carpet bag and elaborate curved arms carved like swan heads and necks.

Suzy died long ago and Mable maybe 15 years later. My grandmother inherited and used the swan rocker. The massive maple gave into old age, no more to host the 17-year cicada invasion. That was a highlight of one youthful summer watching them push out of their shells,which were left clinging to the bark.

Suzy was not a relative, but then again was at least as good and familiar. Her house was not ours, but we were always welcome…without knocking. Like most of my grandmother and mother’s friends, she insisted I call her by her first name. As a Southerner, my default was Ma’am or Sir to anyone older than I, at least any adult. Somehow I was on a first-name basis with many who were 50 to 80 years older than I. That worked for all of us.

So seeing Suzy’s house in the catalog (only $95 a night for two and a little more for three or four) was homey in a commercial way. Over the years, the house was lightened up considerably. The beautiful wood floor aren’t smothered in oriental rugs. The appliances aren’t the creepy post-WWII colors and on and on.

But its Suzy’s house and when we visit next, I intend to stay there.

Babies and veggies

March 31st, 2014

Come blizzards. Come scorchers. Boston’s Haymarket vendors sell vegetables, fruits, herbs and fish.

For our part, the tradition continued this weekend. I had visited during college days when I was living across the river in Cambridge, but only every month or so. It was 34 years ago when we moved to Boston with our six-month-old son that I went weekly…and still do. Back then, Aaron was in a Snugli carrier I had embroidered with his name and I walked from Beacon Hill.

34years

This Saturday, a considerably larger Aaron, well beyond carrier size, wore his own six-month-old son there. Continuity, generations and yes, traditions come into play.

Among obvious differences were that we drove in from the Hyde Park neighborhood, that Aaron and Alasdair are visiting from California and won’t be regular visitors there, and that the carrier is the new version, an Ergobaby. Still, the symmetry ruled.

As Alasdair does, baby Aaron really enjoyed being toted, face to face, chest to chest. I always liked doing it as well. The only (minor) shock to me this time was that both Aaron and I wanted to carry the baby. I deferred, in part because he is the father and in part for the elegance of dad with his son in the sling.

In the middle of the longest strip of vendor stalls was Pat (in the pic below from last year) with his huge stall, two or three times the average. There are vendors who specialize in only brown or green produce, some who favor greens and herbs, some who go for salad and cooking greens (and reds), and a couple with mostly citrus. Pat’s stall always includes various potatoes, a range of citrus (including the absolute best lemons in the market), and various other veggies and fruits. You generally can get a full trip’s worth from him.

balmy

He has known for calling every customer, “Cousin” or “Cuz.” He was long twinned in my memory with his father, a short, thin, ever-smiling gentleman. His father deflected the impatient, pushy and rude customers with a kind word and gracious attitude. He was a delight. He died not long ago, but I half expect to see him beside Pat.

Saturday when the three of us appeared, we chatted up Pat for a couple of minutes. I mentioned that 34 years ago, I brought my six-month-old baby to the Haymarket and bought veggies and fruit from him and his father. That day, my son was wearing his own six-month-old to do the same. Pat was appropriately impressed and reminiscent.

He said, “34 years,” several times. He even reckoned that he might have a vague memory of me with baby Aaron from back then, when he’d have been in his teen or early 20s. It’s not all that relevant whether he does nor does not remember. It’s enough that the connection is real and continuing.

Al Goldstein dies with a whimper

December 28th, 2013

So, Big Al is dead. I was not a close friend of Al Goldstein, but I knew him for several years.

I liked  him.

[Somewhere around here, I have a pad of Screw/Milky Way Productions note paper. When I run across it, I'll scan a page and add it here. The border has a daisy chain of cartoon folk doing various sex acts with and to each other. That is a parody of the Mad Magazine borders, which in turn is a parody of the classic Greek art of satyrs and such.]

I feel I am plainspoken enough that my three sons know or have at least been exposed to my life. My mother didn’t talk about herself, in contrast, and I recall after her memorial service, in which I held forth for 90 minutes or so that her many friends and even my sister and niece approached me to say, “I never knew all that about her.” Yet, even with my perceived openness, when Al’s obit appeared recently (do read the NYT version linked above), middle son was surprised when I said I knew Al and that I had worked for him.

It was slightly more sordid and deeper than having met the pron maestro. I did some free-lance writing and photography for the likes of his not-too-subtly named tabloids, Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. I was a bit player there on payroll. I covered some nudie plays, some gay nightclub strip shows, and some Continental Baths shows like with Bette Midler.

Instead, deepening the relationship, a woman I lived with, Maggie to Al, worked as his assistant. So I would stop by to chat with her or him or both. I’d see porn stars and hear about Linda Lovelace in-depth (pun intended) interviews and such. I’d see his multitudinous file cabinets, filled with porn pix, labeled by the players (3-men/1-woman and so forth), which he said they bought from poor photogs by the pound to illustrate plotless stories and articles. I chatted up absurdly named managing editor Heidi Handman, who became a successful pediatrician and author, dying four years ago. In light of her contextually risible name, Al said several times he’d like me to join the staff so he could have someone with the last name of Ball on the masthead.

In the late 60s, when Al started his tabs, his version of porn was shocking and innovative. It’s so-so today.

I remember Al more as a charming lunch and dinner companion. Sure he loved food and drink (sometimes ballooning in weight to prove that, but that was bolstered by ex-wives suing him and other stresses. He knew a lot and had highly developed social skills. He was not like Larry Flynt, whom I got to know casually when I edited a grocery mag that covered dirty mags, a big seller in convenience stores. Flynt was and likely still is scatological and vulgar, ever speaking of twin crappers in his house, crap itself and the delights of tasting women’s urine. Al, in contrast was fun and funny, as long as you accepted that over the course of an evening he’d rant a bit about a bad parent or wife or lawsuit.

A bond between us was mechanical and electronic gear, as well as the food we both enjoyed eating and preparing. More than vulvae, gadgets fascinate him. For a few years, he wrote and published his true love, the Gadget newsletter. He adored geek gear and had many examples in his office and home. I thought of him many times when I edited the Smart Machines newsletter, with publisher Ted Blank. That was a real link.

Al was out there. To the public, that meant showing public hair when it was a scandal, penises and labia when they were shocking, and being several decades ahead of even the boring mainstream men’s books like Playboy and Penthouse. Likewise, he was out there personally. He never shied from admitting he was often fat, that he had fucked up one marriage after another, that he squandered fortunes through arrogance and inattention.

In other words, he was deliciously human.

I liked the man. I am sure he made positive contributions to free speech and personal liberties, but that’s not what he was really about.

 

 

Passive-aggressive porch

November 23rd, 2013

redbagsAn amusement, an annoyance and a puzzlement in one, the passive-aggressive stance of many around here to free paper bundles continues.

Here’s one example on our hill. Six weeks of Globe Direct junk ad packets clutter the porch and its steps. It’s as though the homeowners expect the advertising elves to acknowledge their errors and remove the rubble. They’ll be waiting a long, long time.

We too are getting this junk. We subscribe to the Boston Globe, so we already get the grocery and other circulars bundled in the red bags. The stuffing in the G section, the daily maggy with comics and stuff includes all this drivel on Thursday.

We’ve called the number printed on the bags and asked for them to delete us from their delivery lists. Allegedly that will happen. However, f they goof up, we’re not inclined to let the bags heap up on our stoop. We put the papers in recycling and the bag in with bags to recycle at a supermarket. Honest to gourd, anything else says slob and arrogant.

We see the same craziness and hostility when the various annual white and yellow page books appear on front walks and porches. Some neighbors let them rot in situ. Nothing else is as good as saying, “I don’t give a crap about what my house looks like.”

On occasion, I get my own flicker of craziness about this. I’d like to knock on the various doors and ask:

  • Why don’t you call the number on the bag to get out of the delivery cycle?
  • Why don’t you recycle the papers and bags in the meanwhile?
  • How can you justify just leaving this junk lying on your stoop?
  • Do you honestly think that someone else is going to clean up your front porch?

That would be crazy. I have no reason to doubt this is some sort of self-righteousness.  Someone else littered on their property. Therefore, that someone should clean up. So there.

The real so there is you have a bunch of ugly crap out front. You need to deal with it. The elves are off duty.

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Globe: Subscribe? Play our game!

August 12th, 2013

 

globA half hour plus with two subscription pros at the Boston Globe today brought home what a niggling, nettling surprise awaits new owner John Henry.

He’s a rich guy, principal owner of the Red Sox, builder of a grotesque, gauche, turreted mansion in Brookline, and bargain hunter. He’ll plunk down $70 million in cash for the paper, it’s online goodies and such.  In 1993, the New York Times paid $1.1 billion for the package.

He says he wants to keep newspapers vibrant in Boston. Here’s hoping he cleans house on customer service and subscriber interfaces. That’s something a rich guy’s minions should be able to do.

Simple made hard

I’ve been a technical communicator for decades, helped design user interfaces, and done usability testing for software, PDF files, websites and help systems. The Globe‘s subscription interfaces — human as well as digital — flunk.

A recap of recent interactions includes:

  • We were out of state for a couple of weeks and apparently I missed a previous bill.
  • Right before we left, I got a bill a couple of days after the home delivery stopped.
  • We got a bill right before we left. While it wasn’t at all easy to find the subscription options and current prices on the twisted website, I did notice that there was a senior rate. I had just entered that group and thought, “Swell, I’ll re-up at a lower rate.”
  • Not so fast. After going all over the site, I saw that this required copying a birth certificate or license and mailing it with a stamp.
  • When we returned, a subscription minion called to say they had gotten my senior paperwork, but would hold it until it cleared the check I told them I’d sent at the same time for delivery through 7/21.
  • We headed off for a week at the Cape with friends. The jolly sub lady said we’d talk again when I returned about starting again at the lower rate. I asked if I could return to paying annually as I had before. She said sure and there’d be a discount for doing so. She noted that while the NY Times continued to suck money from a credit card, her paper had stopped doing so because a card had expired, but they didn’t contact me for the new expiration date. Huh? Doesn’t everyone from ISPs to papers do that when there’s an expiry issue? Apparently not this one boner paper.
  • While we were gone, delivery restarted regardless of what jolly sub lady said.
  • In the mail pile when we returned was a Globe bill. It was for a full month in advance, at the regular, not senior, price, plus and inexplicable $29.64 for service “from 08/05/2013 to 8/04/2013″ which makes my head hurt to wonder how even an accounting program could generate that.
  • So today, I called. Sigh.
  • The first rep had a (not her fault of course) heavy subcontinent accent and was fairly unintelligible. More important, she couldn’t answer my queries or fix the problems.  Those would include, why did delivery restart when I had an agreement with subscriptions to wait until I returned; what the devil was $29.64 for an irrational billing period when we got no papers, retroactively or forward; if I’d been approved for the discounted rate, why was the bill for the standard; if I pay for a whole year, do I get a discount on top of my discount.
  • Instead, she tried to shut me up with a 12-week, new-subscriber rate. Nah.
  • Eventually, she switched me to another hold queue, this time for a subscriber advocate.
  • At this higher level, Walter was at first overwhelmed by the complexity of what his company had wrought. To his credit he persevered and nibbled away at each problem until he squashed them…all but my mentions of the utter lameness of the subscription site, both for potential subscribers and existing ones.
  • The short of it is that 1) he took off the absurd $29.64. 2) dropped the regular sub to the senior (not all that much of a discount, at $10.99 a week from $13.99 a week), 3) found there is no compounding of discounts, that it’s either senior, educational, or annual payment, 4) calculated a few ways to find that paying monthly by senior is cheaper than anything else, even annual, and 5) explained that when the Globe stops a sub on its end, it automatically restarts delivery immediately on payment and at the former rate, regardless of any commitment from even the sub folk.

Do you really want readers?

I’ll watch to see whether Henry wants subscribers. If so, he should sit on the site and try sub folk by phone. Bonk.

After my tedious but still relatively pleasant time with Walter, I checked the Globe site sub area again. Yep. It’s terrible.

Being fairly anal retentive as most tech communicators are, I also went to the NY Times, Boston Herald and Worcester Telegram versions. Each is a little sneaky. The Globe obfuscates to the point of fraud; it shows the least and demands the most to get even to the point of knowing what the cost and options are.

All of them follow the pattern of asking for your Zip Code to see whether they deliver in your area and to present an offer. That’s reasonable, but the marketing scams that accompany the following pages are sneaky and the worst among them for the Globe.

One might think that regs, particularly in a commonwealth with a strong attorney general, would mean pricing for a contract purchase would have to obvious, clear and understandable. Instead, the deal is, in this paper’s case, not to state on the signup page or in the FAQ, what the weekly, monthly or yearly rates are, nor any options, nor any discount programs, nor what the regular rates are after the teaser offer.

Instead, the Globe site presents three radio buttons, one each for:

  • 7-day delivery for only $6.99/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Thursday through Sunday for only $4.00/week for the first 12 weeks
  • Sunday delivery for only $1.99/week for the first 12 weeks

You can’t proceed until you fill in your vitals and commit to one of those three, and either asked to be billed or entered credit card info for immediate payment. Up in the right corner is a discreet button reading, INTRO OFFER 50% OFF. You can extrapolate that after your 12 weeks, the price doubles, but absolutely nowhere does it say that. Nor does it read whether that doubled price is ongoing or subject to change.

I’m sure all this is totally illegal.

The other papers’ sites are better. They tend to offer discounts for delivery for specified times, but they are clear about what the ongoing cost will be.

Henry’s challenge

Taking Henry at his word, that he wants the paper to survive and flourish as a newspaper, let’s assume he wants readers and subscribers. If so, his folk have a plain usability challenge or rather set of challenges. Specifically:

  • Put subscriptions prominently on all the site pages
  • Create both a FAQ and sub overview that lists the sub options and prices
  • ID potential customer issues and train sub support on them
  • Sweeten discounts and other incentives to get and retain long-term, recurring subscribers
  • Enable communicate across all areas that make subscription commitments and billing

None of those is hard. I’ve managed all those areas. Yet, the first and most important aspects are, first a commitment to customers, and second having employees who can think like customers. The second requires greater intelligence and sensitivity than most executives have. They can learn.

 

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Tricksy Managers

December 21st, 2012

ESpen

On discovering a couple of what could kindly be termed collectors items, I ran though some of the corporate gifts I’ve gotten over decades. Yesterday’s finds were impressive looking ballpoint pens. The pen body was in the same wood as the substantial box. Both had etched ELRON SOFTWARE into them.

Its Israeli parent, Elron Electronic Industries, is still fat and thriving in various medical and defense businesses there. The mistimed decision to jointly develop software there, here and with some help in Russia was solid, but unfortunately foundered in the industry collapse of 2000-2001 and an IPO that was about three months too late.

Along the way in the good times, management gave us these tchotchkes, along with fleece pullovers, polo shirts and seemingly anything you could weave or brand with the company name or its product names. I have bright yellow INTERNET MANAGER and blue WEB INSPECTOR apparel.

Likewise, various previous companies handed out backpacks to our children on bring-your-kid-to-work day, as well as t-shirts, note pads and on and on. I still like wearing Microcom gear, because I was proud of those products. That company sold itself to Compaq, shortly before that one bought DEC and a NIC manufacturer, with the idea that all together we’d put Compaq instantly into the networking business. That best-of-breed amalgam took more smarts than Compaq’s management and marketing and their new owner HP had. The network-card, DEC networking and Microcom teams were all tossed in the street.

Truth be told, many of us at various companies were amused by such gifts. They cost the companies very little, all of which was tax deductible anyway. The company got diverse use by giving the same stuff to customers and vendors.

The cynical aspect though was what I heard directly from the shots at American Management Associations a long time before. That AMA made its consistent profits by holding seminars for execs. Some of those meetings were at the New York City HQ and others at more luxurious locales like the horse farm at Saranac Lake.

They told us in the publishing division that companies’ managements understood the tchotchke nature of these expensive trips for their underlings. Sure there was the airfare and the hotel and meals costs, some away-from-office time and incidental penalties. The pretense (dubious, I say, having attended numerous of these sessions) was that the managers given these wonderful AMA privileges was that the brass at home expected them to be even better at their jobs after attending.

In reality, AMA told the big shots that these were a great way to make the recipients feel special, and maybe increase the productive competitiveness internally. The best part was that the one or five thousand spent did not add to the salary base. That is why companies so love bonuses over raises. The rewards immediately expire and do not compound.

I don’t even get tired of kindly correcting people who ask about my ENRON jacket. After all, Elron had bad timing with its software efforts, but they weren’t a bunch of crooks.

 

Dudley Skeleton Awaiting Muscle

October 6th, 2012

The still-handsome, sturdy, hollow gentleman of Dudley Square is ready for some innards.

At 117 years old, the Ferdinand Building is no longer under wraps. The almost-total demolition left the shell of the former furniture store landmark. It’s destined to become the new public-school administration building, and more important the anchor of redevelopment in the square. Rebuilding should take two years.

Even nearly abandoned and derelict for the past 30 years, the graceful, ornamented building was an obvious symbol of the erstwhile humming, vital square. Back when the Orange Line ran as an elevated train here, this area of Roxbury did just fine. More recent times when it became better known for junkies, winos, muggings and the major bus terminal to be super-cautious using appear to be over.

The Baroque Revival-style 1895 building was originally Ferdinand’s Blue Store (still carved on top). It soon claimed to be the largest home-furnishings store in the country.

Sure, it might have been more efficient to tear it down totally, but I think Bostonians are already glad they didn’t.

The facade is grand and a fitting symbol for what we do well here — press past and future Boston together.

Pix note: These were taken this morning early. They are under Creative Commons; do what you want with either, just credit Mike Ball once. Click an image for a larger view.