Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

5¢ Victory

October 1st, 2016

Ifairmounttoot can be as cynical as anyone about befuddled, unthinking, unresponsive bureaucrats. One thoroughly surprised me last evening.  I got an almost instantaneous reply…from a human…with a resolution to a complaint.

I felt like a panel in one of Keith Knight’s Life’s Little Victories.

It was just over a nickel. I figured the rules-are-rules, that’s-the-way-it-is forces would likely ignore me or eventually tell me to go away. Instead, I got a callback within 10 minutes of emailing a complaint.

Maybe it was the French connection. Keolis manages the commuter rail here, including fare collection and ticket issuing on trains. After a terrible winter with many skipped or late trains, they try to be efficient and revenue producing.

As of July 1, the MBTA hiked fares roughly 5%. A few fares fell on one side or another of a price fence. The one at issue here was the zone 1A train fare for those with a senior card, i.e. me. The rate as of July 1 went to $1.10 one way from my Fairmount stop to South Station.

Recently and suddenly, the conductors have adamantly demanded not $2.20 for a round trip, rather $2.25. There’s a bureaucratic logic to that, in that senior prices are almost all 50% that of regular adult tickets. Yet, it’s not $1.125 one way, just $1.10.

Someone had clearly trained the conductors poorly on this fine point. One after another told me strongly that the round trip was $2.25. They just knew it. I on the other hand had seen the initial price hike info, including the posters that appeared for weeks in each train with the $1.10/$2.20 info.

No Chewing Gum

I admit that today’s nickel is yesterday penny. When I was wee, it would buy a five-stick pack of gum. Not in 2016. 5¢ pieces are earning the same disdain as 1¢ ones. They are more of an inconvenience than currency.

Yesterday I decided to test my memory. I bought a $1.10 ticket to South Station. There, I went to the commuter-rail ticket office to:

  1. Buy a return ticket and
  2. Ask the clerk what the round trip fare is

She must be used to alter kakers and other sticklers. She didn’t laugh or tell me to drop dead. She immediately said $2.20 and then verified that by calling up the ticket on her database and computer screen. Sure enough, $2.20.

Last evening, I used the MBTA site’s contact-us tab. I sent my whiny complaint by their form.

Within a few minutes, I got a call. That was remarkable enough. Moreover, she said, “You’re right.” Beyond that she said they’d immediately send a memo to all the conductors informing them that the senior round trip in zone 1A is $2.20, not $2.25. She agreed what 5¢ was small change indeed, but “We should all be on the same page.”

Mirabile dictu!


Shoot Me Not

August 13th, 2016

My fashooterlure as a senior engineering manager was not shooting my direct reports. That was both physical and digital.

We all put in long, productive workdays. Mine tended to run longer. I got to the office around 5 AM. They’d stumble in around 9 or 10. I was the documentation manager/head tech writer. The chief UI designer would arrive about the same time. We’d work alone and together on our stuff and the complex interface, head to the downstairs FitCorp gym at 6 or 6:30 and be groomed and caffeinated when the programmers finally showed.

They’d goof around, then work, then insult each other, and keep it going until 5 or 6. Then they’d shift from coffee to Pepsi. As all savvy tech companies, ours provide unlimited cold and hot caffeine. They’d do hours of multi-player games over our network, taking great joy in visually splattering each other for hours.

Weekend meetings might be paintball, when then mayhem was more literal, involving downers (beer) and bruises from the balls.

Old Mike instead read books, wrote blogs, worked cryptic puzzles, and philosophized. I had no interest in figurative murder or literal punishment.

I’m older. The sprouts seemed to forgive me. We all went out to lunch and after-work drinks. I just had no interest in multi-player games and feigned warfare.

When my engineering VP went off to sell the company, he dubbed me in charge of engineering, as in development, test, QA, docs and such. I became the socket for the whines. “His code sucks…he doesn’t know how to clear a memory address…she uses 54 lines to do what I can in 12…my girlfriend’s cat pisses in my shoe…I found this function perfectly done in Fresh Meat…Tom did not subversion his code and I wasted four hours waiting…”

You’ll never find a bigger bunch of kvetchers than developers.

Yet, I admit, I’d been a better sport had I picked up a paintball gun and tried to humiliate and hurt my reports. I could have upended my life and fought rush-hour Boston traffic to get in late, leave late, and devoted two hours every evening to network shooter games.

Sorry. I win.


Your Name Here, On My Chest

August 6th, 2016

IMshirt copy Gentle branding of human employees was normal and welcome. Is it still?

Companies that paid well and had good benefits and policies always seemed to try to dress their folk. Of course, the polo shirts, windbreakers, hoodies and the like had the company logo and likely a product name. I scanned part of a couple of my remainders here. Internet Manager was one of the major products of Elron Software (later bought and murdered by Zix Corp.).

micbreakerMicrocom was one f the first and surely the best maker of modems, telecommunications software and chassis and such. Of the high-tech companies I worked for, Microcom was the best. Even after its suffocation and dissolve by Compaq, virtually all modems contain vestiges of it, specifically communicating via MNP (Microcom Networking Protocol).

I have polo shirts (high-end cotton pique, of course), heavy dress shirts, Polartec pullovers, super-heavy sweatshirts, as well as Nerf footballs and various geegaws. It’s the branded clothing that stands out though.

I’d worked for sleazy companies that underpaid. They rarely would spend even for modest t-shirts. I’m also away of rich companies that went out. A friend got a leather and satin jacket from Ziff-Davis’ internet service. A son got a leather bomber jacket from Google when he worked their security division.

From a business perspective, these make good sense. Employees feel special, they are billboards for the company, the non-recurring expense doesn’t add to the salary base. You have to wonder what the cheapskates in companies that don’t offer clothes are thinking. Surely this is penny wise and pound foolish.

I do think though of my erstwhile acquaintance, the late Al Goldstein. As an early 20-something, I did some freelance photography for his Milk Way Productions, which includes the sleazy tabloids Screw, Smut, Gay and Bitch. They did very little original photography, instead, as Al proudly told me, the bought black-and-white prints by the pound from pornographers. Their files were stuffed with drawers with labels like TWO BLACK WOMEN/ONE WHITE MAN.

Al did the shirt thing, largely to sell to subscribers (yes, Screw had mail subscribers). He gave me a couple. They were the cheapest possible fabrics. I remember that the first SCREW-logo one shrank in a few washings from a man’s XL to about a woman’s S.

On the other hand, I have lots of highly serviceable logo-wear from elsewhere.



Out-Irish and Out-Boston Each Other

June 23rd, 2016

Provincialism and parochialism at their best were on display at Boston Police Academy and had nothing to do with cops. They simply let locals use their auditorium for public meetings like the monthly Fairmount Hill Neighborhood Association

The feature last evening was Boston/Milton developer Denis Keohane. We got to hear the Irish born (himself), even-more-(artificially)-Irish Bostonians, and the overlapping nativists. Oh, with a good dose of NIMBY to boot completing the theater.

The gist is that Keohane (originally from Kinsale in Cork for those who care about such) thought he was there as a courtesy to the residents. That’s not how many in the room figured it.

He presented an early-stage plan for eight houses on a large (91K square feet) derelict lot one long block from my house. His plan starts with meeting requirement in square footage per house (8K) and setbacks all around. The road is 40 feet wide and all in Boston, so the city will plow it in winter. One third of one of the houses sits in Milton, so that one has complicated realty taxes but the building authority and regulations are all Boston.

keohanevilleExpectation differences ruled the meeting. It quickly became obvious that Keohane was a wildly successful residential and commercial developer who came to make nice to the locals. He seemed at first quite giddy that this would be his first project as-of-right and without having to file and fight for variances. He thought he was being gracious.

Legally he didn’t have to ask the neighbors for anything or inform them of anything. His plan includes building a road up the middle of the land and plugging a row of four houses on each side. He was getting the permits to do that. So there.

Well now, not so simple to the many who wanted more than intel. They demand obeisance.

The brogues thickened as Denis sweated his hour on the stage. It made me think of Southerners I know who suddenly develop the strongest accents away from home.

Let’s be aware that Keohane is not quite 50 and has been in the U.S. for 28 years. His first 21 were in Ireland, which he left for economic opportunity. He married here, they have three daughters in their 20s, he has completed numerous successful projects mostly in Boston and some in abutting Milton, and has won town-level elections in Milton.

Shame of a key detail…

Two older men whose Irish accents got stronger as the evening progressed found a chink when Keohane freely confessed that he was not aware that there had been a reservoir on and above the property in question.

My attitude is that ignorance is almost always (baring some scientific and very specific subjects) quick and easy to fix. Give the info and get to the important stuff, I say.

In contrast, many parochial types are like puppies with a swock and just can’t put it down. Thus at the meeting, a couple of alter kakers returned repeatedly with oh-so-you-really-didn’t-know-about-the-reservoir!? The theme seemed to be that if Keohane didn’t know that, anything he said relating to ground water was untrustworthy. Pigeon poop on that.

Keohane presented salient info, specifically that he has an engineer drilling 20 holes to find out when they hit water. The 8 basements are to be 10 feet underground. He said if they find water at 2 feet, that’s a likely reason to walk away from the development. Otherwise, they’d work with pros to mitigate the water and get it to the street pipes and drains.

The old guys kept saying if he didn’t now about the reservoir, his other info was suspect. One even repeated that the water had been their for centuries and would always be there. On the other hand, I wonder whether the water guys can mitigate the water in ways that would in fact lower the water table and make basements drier for all us neighbors. (I’ll attend the water-drilling followup to ask about that possibility.)

The usual suspects…

Several area folk at this meeting come to all local hearings and info sessions. Their aim seems to be to show they can make presenters squirm or badger them. From their comments and questions, they likely would say, “I’m only trying to get to the truth.” That’s the way of jerks who enjoy acting out their control-freak nature.

At numerous such meeting and hearings I’ve attended I see:

  • Gotcha questions indicating “I know this and you didn’t.”
  • Efforts to squeeze some minor concession out of the speaker (to show personal power?)
  • Claims they support positive change when in fact they oppose all change
  • Requests or demands for more information, future meetings, and more trips to regulators

Looking for trouble…

Some folk asked where the coyotes and other furry varmints would go. One couple recalled when a large house went up above this parcel, they for the first time got rats, which the developer had to get rid of for them.

Keohane said he had pest control for development and afterward in the specs, which he detailed.

Yet water was the big issue. One resident recalled ice skating in there as a child. Charming for recreation, but not as much for basement owners.

Keohane had lots of water answers, from percolation (perc) testing to having rights to drain water-table and storm runoff into city systems. Not good enough for the toughs.

Several ended up asking him to look for trouble. Specifically even though the area is not listed as environmentally sensitive or protected, why not go out and see if anyone might just reconsider adding it to wetland shields?

Of course, Keohane noted that his folk has checked the lists and found nothing. I ask why would he create problems?

Not from here…

Bostonians at their worst can be no different than provincial types elsewhere. I was comfortable with Keohane’s Boston cred, professional and personal.

Not so some others, three mentioned his, to them, tenuous connections. When one said it was their neighborhood, he reminded her it was his as well. She went on several levels deep, trying to trump him. She alleged to feel strongly because she’d grown up there. He came back with his nearly three decades in the immediate area, a long-term wife and three kids, arriving here to make his way when he was only 21, and so forth.

She played her final trump card. She had not only lived her 50 years, but had been born here, while he had not.

That was too much for Keohane. He said, “We’re done here.” He allowed as that was not fit argument. He was understandably insulted. She muttered a faint, “I apologize.” In fact, he was out of there.

I call an unfair-fighting foul on her.

Civic theater

As petty and annoying as some of these folk were, there are worse ways to spend an evening than attending neighborhood hearings. You can learn more about your local folk than you want to know.

Everyone’s cousin leaves Haymarket

January 15th, 2016

pcampoSurely it’s good when changing of the guard does not involve an ambulance or hearse.  Yet the absence of my favorite Haymarket vendor has disturbed me. Today I got truth and knowledge.

I’d had an eye operation and was under surgeon’s orders to “putter around the house” and not do anything athletic, nor lift anything, nor expose my head to extreme weather.

When I returned after several weeks to my weekend ritual of 36 years, Pat (left in colder days) was not there. He and his father, Frank, had that stall back when my now huge number-one son was an infant in a Snugli on my chest. Now though instead of Pat, Ottavio Gallotto, President of the Haymarket Pushcart Association, had his crew there.

I didn’t ask about Pat, hoping he was hale and away to pick up a tan or the like. I was trepid. His father had died in 2007. Frank was a great role model for Pat, born Pasquale. Frank was one of those kind and gentle souls, who wasn’t ruffled by even the nastiest bargain hunter. Someone would be yelling, feigning indignation, but Frank let him vent and then explained how things were. Nice guy.

I noticed too that Pat’s mom, Jean, whom I’ve never met, died this past fall. So, somewhere I feared he might have fallen ill or worse as well. I know he was younger than I, but hey, 20-year-olds have heart attacks and strokes.

With mixed feelings, I finally asked Ottavio today. He paused and said, “He retired.” (pause) “He is only 60.” (pause) “Crazy, huh?”

Maybe not so crazy. His father worked much longer in their stall. Maybe Frank never tired of it and Pat wanted to spend weekends doing something other than setting up a stall before dawn, artfully arranging lemons and grapefruits, and in 100F or 0F standing there dealing with the likes of me until late afternoon every damned Friday and Saturday. Good on him. Bad for us.

Various Haymarket vendors develop their shticks. There was the relatively famous guy at the butcher shop catercorner from the Campo camp. He frightened some sensitive folk with his sudden “Want some meat, buddy?” query, invariably delivered less than a foot from your face. As I recall there was even a t-shirt with the saying and his raw-steak-like red/blue face.

Jimmy was another who has moved on. He hated the cold. That’s not a good fit for an area close to the waterfront. He was cheerful in spring and summer, but come the dreadful winter winds with sleet, snow and ice, he’d let everyone know how unhappy he was.

And Pat’s calling card was his calling. He’d greet everyone as “Hey, cuz,” or “What do you need, cousin.” Everyone was family to him. He got that attitude from Frank.

So, Haymarket now is without Pat. Clearly, I”ll have to deal.

I got used to the candy/nut man moving on. My sons considered it a right and rite to get a treat from him as a reward for shopping with me. I got used to the massive herb cart going away too.

Pat was the place for certain items. If you wanted the prettiest and most flavorful lemons, you’d head there. He kept his prices the lowest in the market for what he carried too. It was a pleasure doing business with them, father and son.


Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

The case of the missing dagger

June 30th, 2015

Well, it’s nothing like the confidentiality or trust that goes with a doctor or priest or lawyer, but I have expectations of mail order. Yes, of mail order.

From the backs of comic books to cereal-box offers to catalogs and now for decades the internet, I order. Things arrive. It’s almost like Christmas, except I’m buying my own presents. I love it.

Now lately with Amazon Prime, my new stuff may arrive in one or two days. Mirabile dictu!

Stabbed by a dagger

Last week, the impossible (or so I’d thought) happened — an envelope came with an empty box inside. Somewhere in the chain of custody, my dirk went missing.

Amazon must not be as inexperienced or naive in the ways of missing mail-order goods as I. They responded in a few minutes to my email complaint. They arranged for UPS to show up the next business day with a label to pick up the envelope. They promised to refund the price as soon as they got the package.

They were better than their word. Shortly after the UPS guy picked up the envelope, they sent email confirmation of the refund. UPS possession was all they needed.

Granted that this was an inexpensive purchase. I would not have suffered financially if I had to eat the cost. Yet this small offense was against the order of things as I have long known them, since I was about 7 years old.

In a previous career, way back, I worked for the original materials-handling magazine. I learned much about manufacturing, warehousing, picking and shipping. With that tedious background, I wondered:

  • Did someone at the warehouse stock an empty box, leading the picker to read the bin and label, choosing a non-product?
  • Did someone at the warehouse lust after a cheap knife and just take one, returning the empty box to the bin?
  • Did someone in the shipping department take the dagger and prepare the envelope for UPS anyway?
  • Why was the envelope not really sealed and not taped or otherwise securely closed?
  • Did the UPS handling cause the loose envelope to disgorge the box, tempting some UPS lackey to take the stabby thing?
  • As the envelope arrived with our #10 mail in the same rubberband, I assume this was a UPS to USPS hand-off. Thus, the previous question goes to the Postal guys.

By Occam’s razor, I’d lean toward UPS pilferage. The vendor is likely blameless, particularly with such a cheap item. There were surely many hands and conveyor belts in the UPS chain of custody. Then there was the pretty much unsealed envelope. I can point to the seller for poor packaging but likely not theft.

Dirty dirk

I should admit that this dagger is to complete my costume. I recently decided to go ahead and spring for a kilt. My eldest son, DIL and even grandson are all kilted. She is very proud of her Scottish heritage.

Of course, the kilt is the least of it. As with the stereotypes of a woman buying a dress, only to need, absolutely need, appropriate dress, shoes, hoses, hat, purse and on and on, so goes the tartan skirt.

I ordered ghillie brogues, from Scotland, as a good mark of frugality, the selection and price was superior to U.S. purchase. I shopped for and bought, frugally, of course, a sporran, a ghillie shirt, kilt socks, and flashes.

Some accessories were flat out for me. You’re not likely to ever see me wearing a tam and certainly not that twee Prince Charles jacket.

I had avoided the affectation of the sgian dubh, the dagger that traditionally goes into one of the socks.Then with everything else in hand, it was, why not?

It turns out there is a good why not. After the failed order and then a reorder last evening, I wondered if my fair commonwealth restricts these. You bet they do.

Massachusetts has one of the tightest set of knife regulation sets around. For example, under our general laws, chapter 269, section 12, you can buy, sell or own virtually any knife. You just can’t carry or wear it. The exceptions are for folding pocket knives like for workmen or fishing sorts, or huge bladed things carried while hunting. Otherwise, the knife has to be locked in a car trunk or box. So there.

My reading of the law is that tucking the traditional sgian dubh is totally illegal, and God help you if you commit any crime and the cops find a knife in your possession. The fines and jail terms compound.

Once burned

I’m known to ridicule Scientologists as once burned, 10,000 times shy. That’s the only justification I can see for their engram fixation and spending all their time and money to go clear. I’m more in the get-back-up-on-the-horse mindset.

Clearly I need to order something today and something else tomorrow. A single purloined geegaw should not alter my self-present purchasing lifestyle.



Newspaper Withdrawal

May 30th, 2015

From newspaper worshipers and collectors, we suddenly will get only one Sunday and no dailies on our sidewalk. That is big for us and comes as we felt forced into it.

Not long ago, we had three delivered — Boston Globe, all 7 days; New York Times, all 7 days, and Financial Times, all 6 days. We accepted that was too much, particularly when we also got such demanding weeklies as The Nation and New Yorker. We went down to the Globe at 7 days and the Sunday NYT.  Then yesterday, I cancelled the Globe.

The reasons are prosaic. Yet, we grieve. We’ll try the overpriced and hard to navigate facsimile Globe, but I don’t have high hopes of sustaining interest.

We were both newspaper reporters and magazine editors. I came out of J-school. Until macular degeneration blinded my mother at the end of her life, she got multiple papers daily. I grew up reading two or three she had delivered. It was always the local daily (two when we lived next to Manhattan) and the closest best one (like the Washington Post when we were in Virginia).

I offer a 15-minute rant on my disappointment and grief, and what led to this. Click the player below for that.

The short of it is that the greed of the Globe publisher, John Henry, piled on us and broke our will. He exceeded my chokepoint a couple of days ago. There are far better things I can do or buy with $750 a year than make a billionaire richer.

Alternate view

My wife dismissed the latest price hike to $14.34 a week by saying Henry seemed intent on going out of business. That probably is partially true. Globe management clearly likes the online model, publishing with no extra physical and human costs per copy.

Plus they charge top dollar, $3.99 a week for online. That’s more than any other daily, even a bit more than the NYT. Of course, the Times has tremendous expenses, like foreign bureaus and a still substantial reporting and editing staff. In  contrast, the Globe has slashed its staff for many years. Its local coverage is weak and not as granular as the hyperlocal Universal Hub site.

globTo start the sports analogy, I see the paper going for only the home run. Their reporters seem under an edict to produce potential Pulitzer features and series. The sports comes in as Henry is principal owner of both the paper and the Red Sox.

Until he revamped the Sox, locals would snort disdainfully in the direction of the Bronx. The Yankees, they’d say self-righteously, bought their championships by paying for overpriced players. Mirabile dictu. When Henry did the same and the Sox delivered a long-awaited World Series championship, I didn’t hear anyone slamming the local team for checkbook titles.

In fact, Henry’s attitude is to drain whatever he can from his various customers. The Sox ticket prices are MLB’s highest and his paper charges more for both delivered and online versions that comparable or higher quality papers. He seems determined to push costs as high as he can.

What’s a Subscriber?

Newspapers have long been cash rich and inventory sparse. The earn their profits from advertising, for which they get paid quickly or even in advance by those who want the discounted cost. Then unlike book publishers or grocers or most businesses, papers don’t carry large, costly amounts of perishable inventory.

Newspaper publishers long ago lost perspective on the value of their customers. In particular at a time when most cities have a single daily, they don’t have to care.

Yet, the size of the subscriber base gives them a way to price advertising. Most advertisers can’t prove their get their money’s worth from what the ad reps call “selling space” (ooo, space). Yet, defensively, many don’t want to be the only one in their field to pass on advertising…just in case.

You’d think paper publishers would treasure subscribers and do whatever it takes to keep them happy and renewing automatically. Yet many newspapers buy into two relatively modern ideas. First, they use that dreadful term monetize in erecting paywalls, lest hoi polloi read the paper for free. So if you get the paper delivered or pay a separate online fee, you can look. The second and more recent conceit is that physical newspapers are dead. Everyone will read news online on computer, phone or tablet.

Instead, driving away Boomers and their children is leaving subscribers, influence and money on the floor.

You can tell you’re dealing with the truly dumb when she or he says, “I wasn’t even born yet!” (always emphatically). That is to cover for ignorance of history, ideas or technology. That covers and excuses nothing. Bragging about what you don’t know and won’t think about is a major flaw.

Yes, some people skim news online and pretend they are informed. We saw that even with the WWII generation who began to get all their news from TV snippets. The dumb have always been with us.

Pushed away

The Globe‘s default customer support is, of course, now an online chat. I typed with Jill there, saying among other things that we wanted to cancel delivery. I allowed that we’d try the facsimile version for a bit, even though it was also overpriced. She said they had no mechanism to handle credit-card info in the chat (more tech failures, says I). She’d call me the next morning.

She did and we set it up. I didn’t berate her personally but did say that Henry’s crew was greedy and had pushed too far with the most recent of numerous price hikes. Like a good soldier she said she had no input into pricing, that they just got the memo and worked with the new reality. However, she did let slip that many callers were unhappy and cancelling.

By my long term habit as well as age, I should be the subscriber the Globe wants to keep. They certainly don’t understand how to do that.

Their online subscription model seems unlikely to work well to increase revenue. Perhaps their margins will fatten, but higher percentages of fewer dollars is a poor business model. Plus the fickle 20-somethings and younger are unlikely to play.

The Faces We’re Born With

April 6th, 2015

Decades ago, I was stunned to be fired from one of my first jobs. I was highly competent and well liked.More on that in a few paragraphs.

I recalled that plunge today as I read a column on looks in Mad Men by Robin Abrahams, the Boston Globe’s Miss Conduct columnist. She wrote of how lookism affected both men and women in the TV series, along with such insights as when it is beneficial to be a babyfaced man (specifically a Black CEO).

I grew up in a home run by a mother who was a manager. She was not a lookist, in fact, did not stereotype people. You produced and behaved or she’d try to make those things happen. Man or woman, old or young, pretty or plug ugly, none of those were relevant to her.

Thus, on jobs where I was the boss, I treated people as my mother taught me As a result, they tended to perform for me. They knew being unctuous or attractive meant little.Doing your job well and getting along with coworkers did. So there.

So just after the Mad Men era, in an office overlooking the Chrysler Building gargoyles, I was perking along as writer/editor at a weekly magazine of a professional society. The biggest part of the job was covering the weekly luncheon meeting of its influential members. The speaker was a powerful and often well-known person who often spoke of big ideas.

It was kind of trivial but still fun. Out of J-school and with considerable newspaper experience, I was in my element. I photographed the speaker and covered the remarks. Of course, I had to be flawless and present the speech coverage to reveal the high points in a compelling narrative. Hell, though, that’s what I’d done for many years in high school. college and  and on newspaper staffs.

Alas, vanity and ego came visiting the office, not mine though. The founder and long-term executive director of the society was old and retired. His middle-aged junior promptly jettisoned me.

I was stunned. Several coworkers were not. Moreover, the printer of the weekly magazine I filled took me to lunch for a talk right after the news.

The printer was a bright, highly competent, very flexible and particularly nice fellow I had a lot of business with on the job. Turns out he was also black Irish (thick and dark hair, ruddy skin) which came into play as he spoke. He said he had figured that would happen when the old man stepped down.

It was obvious to the printer and several staff members that I threatened the new boss and he was biding his time to dump me. Word is the ascendant chief told people I was jockeying for the top job.Moreover, the traits I figured ensured my longevity foretold my demise. Competence and likeability are too much for the mediocre to tolerate.

I had no interest whatever in taking over a professional society and making insincere kissy-face to0 big shots. I wanted to report on speeches and take good pix.

Once number two got it in his head that I was a snake waiting to slay him, I was dead as soon as possible.

The printer was very positive though. He said I was well rid of the job and would find something better quickly. He was right on both counts. In addition, he offered a truism likely from his own experience that has stuck with me — “It’s never going to hurt you to be a blond WASP.”

That’s a very dated, remarkably lookist comment, but spot on.


Four Things About Marky Mark

December 6th, 2014

First let us be plain. The teen Mark Robert Michael Wahlberg was a racist punk. By police records, he was caught over 20 times in various violent or drug acts. By his own admissions and court findings he attacked black school kids with rocks (and slurs) as well as beating two Vietnamese Americans with sticks, one so viciously he lost the sight of one eye.

Second, he has applied for a pardon from our commonwealth. He wants a clean record, apparently to make his business dealings easier (the hamburger restaurant biz).

Third, despite his fame, wealth and connections, he has made no effort to find, apologize to or make any restitution to his victims.

Fourth, on the other side of it all, our goofed up culture of perpetual punishment mocks the paid-his-debt-to-society construct.

Cynical plea

The news stories of his pardon request an even his Wikipedia page are not terribly convincing. He returns to the idea that as he has done positive things that should settle the matter. Done and done. He loves pointing to this egotistically eponymous wahlfoundation to help poor kids.  (Pic note: image adapted from his foundation site, for which I claim fair usage.)

Not so fast and easy, underwear boy.

Let’s consider the moral and even religious angles here. Massachusetts in general and Boston specifically are largely Roman Catholic in culture, except for the WASP laws. That’s key to the likes of pardons and criminal records.

Sure Catholics are used to confession and absolution. The stereotypical “Say 10 Hail Marys and five Our Fathers” does not conflate with the Protestant secular laws and regulations. Catholics may get a clean bill from the Church, but Protestants carry their sins around for their whole lives…and they wrote the laws around here.

Now that we are all paying attention again, I’m betting he’ll hear a lot about this. I’m also betting that he’ll have minions track down some of his victims, maybe the former kids he terrorized or the two men he beat with clubs while calling them racial slurs. Then he can make a display of atoning before them. They are likely to be harder sells than a priest, as it should be.

Pardon? Pardon me.

He doesn’t deserve a pardon though. He was caught fair and square numerous times. Who knows how many racist and violent crimes he got by with?

While sentenced for two years for beating that blinded man, he served only 45 days in jail. That is a small price to pay for permanent, life-altering injury. What’s to pardon for a vicious, intentional crime?

The big however is the inherent vindictiveness in the records laws. We know from thousands of instances that CORI papers prevent ex-offenders from getting jobs, putting them at economic risk and holding them down in society. We are slowly reforming that stigma system.

In some few cases it makes sense, such as the sex-offender registry. Where mentally, emotionally disturbed types are likely to commit those crimes again, the stigma makes sense to society.

On the other hand, consider Wahlberg. He has his stacks of money and an overhauled reputation, replete with over a decade of good deeds. We have zero reason to suppose he’ll pick up a big stick and go into a racist rage while beating this or that person of color.

The only point of the alleged character laws is perpetual punishment. Again, it comes back to the Protestant concept of only God can cleanse you and only on Judgment Day. If you pardon the expression, what a hell of a way to write laws.

No. Wahlberg does not deserve a pardon to pretend he never did the dreadful racist attacks. However, his point of the unfairness of stenciling his life perpetually with a stencil from his 16-year-old sins is crazy.

Yes, he should forever he known for his bad deeds as he wants now to be known for his good ones. But the business regulations should not add perpetual real-world punishment to the shame.

Assuming Wahlberg really wants to do some good, he can lobby (or pay someone to lobby). Go to the new governor and a few key legislators. Reform the post-conviction system so that pointy-headed, rules-are-rules bureaucrats can’t perpetually harm former offenders in unrelated aspects of their lives. That would help thousands a year, not just make opening more hamburger joints easier for one guy.