Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Fair Fairmount Fare

July 19th, 2013

fairfairmount tstubI adore trains. How many times and ways have I said and written that?

Today was a splendid return from the big southern swing back into metro Boston. Foremost, I trotted down the hill to the Fairmount stop on the MBTA and took it into town.

That turns out to be a big deal in numerous ways:

  • They have increased the weekday sked (still not Sat/Sun trains…double boo)
  • They responded to grumbles, growls and snarls by reducing the fee to zone 1A (subway fare of $2) instead of zone 1 ($6), after all, we are in the city of Boston, dagnabbit
  • The walk is about 12 minutes and the ride to South Station in the intestines of downtown is 23 minutes
  • My new geezer card reduces the fare by half, so a round-trip was 2 (count ‘em, the same number as feet I have) dollars.

Now I truly, truly want everyone I know who has avoided the purple line to take the train, enough to ensure it thrives and enough to inspire the overlords at the MBTA to add night return trains and for crying out loud weekend trains. I”ll spread the word, here and elsewhere.

The experience was fine, albeit with the nervousness of seeing only a half dozen passengers on the 12:03 into town and maybe 20 on the 3:45 south.

This is pretty much the way the MBTA should be operating and charging for this in-town line.

Oddly enough, from what I heard and read at the national rail conference, Rail-volution, this Indigo Line is a model for everyone. We in Boston were largely unaware of two decades of Strum und Drang by by the neighborhoods from lower Hyde Park north into town. Fundamentally, the poorer, darker folk saw the wealthier, lighter folks’ trains speed by without any stops (as in zero) in their neighborhoods. They raised hell at city, commonwealth and federal level to get stops in their areas, transit-oriented development as the urban-planning cliché goes. They won and it was from the most local level up. They won, I write again.

So, it’s sweet on many levels to ride a quick, cool, clean efficient train into town at a fair fare from Fairmount.

 

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.

 

Better Than Your Vacation

January 11th, 2012

From Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground, keeper of the laws of the game, you may buy USB memory sticks for £10, plus shipping. They are in the shape of a cricket bat and come pre-loaded with the laws.

batcampFor quite a bit more, you can take your offspring from 5 through 12 years of age off the St. Vincent or Sardinia to learn cricket from two gods of the game. Neither the ad on the front of the Financial Times (shown and click for closeup) nor the Super Skills Travel website deals in such crass details as the cost. If you have to ask, as FT readers might say. After all, this newspaper’s regular glossy magazine a few times a month is How To Spend It.

Instead, you are to call or email to book.

While you loll, one former and one current cricket star, one OBE and the other MBE, Michael Vaughan and Matthew Hogard, will turn your pubescent child(ren) into passable batsmen and bowlers. The kiddies get two hours on pitch each weekday. That presumably will exhaust them to the point they will lie passively and quietly and complacently by you poolside.

Billed in the ad as The family holiday of a lifetime,  this surely is more defensible, if considerably more expensive, than fantasy American baseball or football camps for delusional men. At the island resort, if you want your Richie Rich to, well yes, be able to play the national game, but more important, sew up contacts as well as garner (understated) bragging rights to take back to boarding school, grab this. Age 13 comes too quickly.

I Write of Olaf

October 21st, 2011

odocog1The size of Lincoln’s head on a one-cent coin, the demon cog caused trouble. I just had to go for a long, vigorous walk to relieve my electro-mechanical agita. Now my aged Volvo’s odometer works though.

I don’t hold any personal grudge against this wee hard-plastic toothed wheel. It is just as the cliché goes a cog. It also represents a small design flaw for what allegedly is a sturdy, well-built car, a 1996 850 sedan.

When the odo stopped working, I looked in a manual and snooped online. Sure enough, the 850 series is infamous for having this problem around 100,000 miles. Olaf, as we call the platinum silver car, had over 135k when it stopped visibly recording mileage. Allegedly the ECU (engine control unit) computer continued to track distance, but I couldn’t see any advance nor use the trip function.

The design flaw is worse than just putting a brittle and weak part as a single point of failure for a commonly used feature. Volvo engineering ensured that repairing it would tax mechanics as well as we cheap frugal owners. I asked a Volvo dealer about it and he said it happens to all 850s and they could fix it for about $250.

Harrumph, as I am known to say.

The tiny part is unique to the internals of the odometer. There are no substitute. It sells for $15. The rest of the cost is labor.

Why, might you ask, would they charge you two hours of mechanic’s time for something so simple? You’ll hear that it’s not simple. I saw the instructions and ordered the demon wheel, determined to do this myself, no matter how terrified I would be of screwing up the instrument panel and odo, requiring then much more mechanic’s time to undo it all and do it right.

One of the online tutorials for the process is here. There are more detailed ones, but this covers the gist and shows why it’s a big deal for something so simple as replacing a defective cog wheel with a good one. At its basics:

  • Have or acquire a variety of Torx wrenches or bits. (Three key screws holding the odo in place take an almost impossible to find T8; five auto stores including two foreign specialists didn’t have any.)
  • Disconnect battery (to avoid Check Engine error and a trip to a mechanic to turn that off when you finish).
  • Pry out four AC vents.
  • Open one door-side vent with screw, partially remove that, pry and pull forward this vent.
  • Remove seven screws in vent openings and under instrument overhang.
  • Make as much space as possible by moving driver seat back and steering wheel and column down and back. You’ll need ever inch.
  • Carefully wiggle and pry cover over instrument panel, and to its left and right. Force it as high as you can without breaking it.
  • Wriggle and force up the and out the two electrical connectors to the back of the instrument panel.
  • Open the two clips holding the panel to the body.
  • Place a protective towel on the area in front of the panel. (To keep from scratching or scratching the panel lens in the battle to follow.)
  • Grunt, sweat, swear, pry and use all available hands and likely your forehead to make enough space to sneak the instrument panel out of the too narrow area holding it in. (Volvo forums on this often have colorful descriptions of the near impossibility of this operation.)
  • Congratulate yourself and remove the panel to a bench or table for the repair.
  • Remove maybe 10 (depending on whether you have the German or Japanese panel) screws.
  • Flip the panel, carefully pry the two major sections apart, careful not to crack anything or strip the panel covering or hurt the gauge dials. Then set the front part aside so its many component leads are safe.
  • Take the half with the odo, flip it over, and remove the three screws holding the odo unit in place through its circuit board. This requires that mythical T8. I ended up using a tiny, but sturdy flat-blade screw driver, holding it with a sturdy cloth napkin and breaking into a sweat removing and later tightening the damnably snug screws.
  • Slowly pull out the odo motor and display. This is fragile and its leads require considerable care.
  • Remove the two screws holding the odo motor.
  • Pry off the plastic fitting and gear to open the compartment with the likely broken wheel.
  • Pluck out the bad gear, remove the broken tooth or teeth, put a spot of petrolatum as a lube on the larger wheel, and put your $15 tiny treasure in its place.
  • From there, it’s reversing everything, making sure at each step that the leads and components fit precisely and do not bend or break any parts.

In retrospect, I can see why they charge software-engineer wages to do the job. Plus, certainly if they goof it up anywhere among the many opportunities, that’s their problem and expense to fix.

Volvo blundered in its design on this component as well as in its serviceability. Yet, many years later, I pay the price either in anxiety and effort or in cash.

I’m not at all sure I’ll ever need these skills or this knowledge subset…nor a large set of Torx bits (down to T10, but lacking T8). But, hey, those were on sale and I’m a cheap frugal guy.

While I was doing the panel extraction, I revisited an old awareness though. My knuckles were rubbing, the dash cover was doing its best to crush me and prevent the removal, and I flashed on that tiny wheel I’d replace. Our bodies are a lot like that.

There are so many small components in our innards, brains, torso organs and more, that can malfunction. In a car or human, any of a long list of key parts can fail. Our body repairs or bypasses them often. Sometimes, we get sick and need surgery, medicine or prostheses. In less common cases, we or the car just stop working.

I can’t really fix my body often. So, I was pleased to do my bit for Olaf.

Make Data Losers Pay

September 4th, 2011

It’s anxiety-making easy to find stories of lost and stolen personal data and intellectual property.

OK, boys and girls, one of the latest high-tech clumsiness was a repeat of an Apple employee losing the proprietary prototype of the next generation iPhone, maybe in a bar. This happened to Apple before.

Then there was the BP employee on a business trip who lost a laptop holding a spreadsheet with personal data from 13,000 oil-spill claimants. A wrap-up article includes citations of NJ BC/BS stolen laptop with data from 300,000 customers, another was the GAP losing 800,000 job applicants’ data, a hacker grabbing key SS and financial data from 226,000 customers of the Davidson Companies, and the Veterans Administration’s stolen laptop with data from 26.5 million current and past U.S. military members.

We all know how government agencies, retailers, financial institutions and even utilities demand personal data to get services and goods.They assure us both that they won’t sell our stuff — emails, phones, addresses, Social Security numbers, bank accounts ID and on and one — but we have to reveal all and (ta da) trust them.

It’s increasingly plain that we should not trust them. They have neither the technology systems nor the training in place to keep our data safe. They first rely on nothing or password systems that millions of kids among others could hack. They allow absurd amounts of complete data sets out at a time on single hard drives. Far too many move thousands or millions of sets of actionable data onto laptop hard drives, which every bozo and bozoette in the company can leave with for whatever honorable or nefarious purpose, or lose on an airplane, in a cab or at a bar. And they do.

lockedlapNearly all of the many, many cases of data exposure are human errors, both of the employees who lose the computers and other objects, and the systems people and managers who set up the safeguards. Their heads should roll. The companies and agencies should pay heavy enough fines and open disgrace that they change their ways. Applying magical thinking to data security is totally inadequate.

Think this is like using the term accident to account for inattentive or reckless driving that brings maiming or death. Sure the cops, prosecutors and judges can identify (there but for fortune…), but that is wrong, often fatally wrong, thinking. Some missteps definitely deserve punishment and prevention.

The humanity defense is not a solid one here. Nor is it in most places used. Consider how to apply, “It’s only human to…” Yeah, it’s human to take your eyes off the road, to lose things in a restaurant or bar when you’ve been drinking, to walk off an airplane totally forgetting expensive and essential goods, and for that matter, to lie, cheat, steal, rape or any of a large number of crimes and offenses you think you might get away with when no one’s paying close attention.

Actually many of our laws specifically call out human frailties. Because something valuable is not being guarded at a moment doesn’t make it up for grabs, for example.

For the deterrent factor, clamping down criminally and civilly on the schmo who puts large numbers of us at risk for direct stealing or ID theft should start immediately. One strike and you’re out. It should also cost the company a lot more than one-year subscriptions to credit-card watching services.

Yet because they’re good at protecting themselves, if not you, the managers will be harder. The facts are that lazy or dull-witted IT types and corporate managers who make security policy are culpable. Allowing huge chunks of key data affecting thousands or millions of human beings to flow out of control is asinine.

I suspect that much of the laptop-based losses fall back on that old employees-are-lazy syndrome that affects so many so-so managers. The conceit starts with a belief that if only those shiftless employees would put in anywhere near the effort and production that the sainted managers did, the company would be at least twice as wealthy. Even when measurable productivity soars beyond other countries’ and financial troubles can easily be traced to short-term management thinking, that’s the pretense. It’s delusional and destructive.

A common corollary is that employees will only do a decent amount of work if they always have to be on. Going to a distant customer or for a conference? Well then, be sure the carry a laptop with all possible applications and data you might conceivably need. Work in the airport. Work on the airplane. Work in the hotel. Work over dinner. Work. Work. Work.

The filthy secret is that what is human is overload. That leads to inefficiency of thought and output. That leads to fatigue and concomitant errors. That leads to oversights and mistakes as we try to pretend that there is no end to our multi-tasking abilities. Top being tired with a couple of drinks and, now did you leave that damned laptop in the booth?!

For managers:

  • Security policies don’t work well enough and need to be more thoroughly thought out and tested.
  • No sensitive data should leave the building without a lot better reason than it just might come in handy while you’re traveling.
  • Encryption, password and other software-based security has to be harder, even it’s inconvenient for employees short term.
  • Any data breach has to be analyzed to death, from management and IT aspects as well as the obvious employee possession ones.
  • Databases that travel should be neutered, that is separated from Social Security number and the like so that a lost or stolen hard drive is useless to others; they can be merged when the employee returns, to reflect any changes.
  • Those responsible for putting customers at risk need punishment fitting their involved incompetence.

Sorry, kiddies, it’s only human doesn’t cut…whether you’re drunk driving, drunk laptop toting, or half thinking security policies and procedures.

Bad, Worse, Worst, By Cracky

July 13th, 2011

Dig in the cliché bag. You don’t have to go far to find, ta da, that no one can afford to live in Manhattan.

My recurring chuckle on that emerged after reading a humor piece One of the Grumpy Old Men of the Blogosphere. As he writes, “I walk around smacking the young folks with my cane and tell them that when I started blogging seven years ago it was a different blogosphere than it is now.”

Thus it is on so many topics, including NYC.

A few weeks ago, number one son considered another job, moving from Davis Square. One of the company’s options was California and another 200 miles South. He commented that Manhattan, where he was born and lived his first six months, was far too expensive.

Where’s my cane?

Truth be told, residents of the City have told that truth for well over a century, like Bostonian love to brag about ephemeral weather. Even such visitors as Mark Twain spoke of that, as in 1876. Before the pop term meme, pride in the mercurial weather was conversation filler and marginal assertion.

Let’s set aside that over 1.5 million live in Manhattan, over 8 million in the five boroughs, and over 18 million in the metro area. Let’s pretend that they all moved there decades ago, “the last time the area was affordable” or that they inherited a rent stabilized flat.

If that’s not enough to kill the cost fantasy:

  1. Compare NYC prices to other high-rent/ownership cities
  2. Ask old, long-term locals

I got my first lessons in this shtick in the 1960s, when I was in high school about 20 miles west in New Jersey. Having moved from exurban Virginia, I was ready for a real city and thrilled to be there. For a small bag of dirt (under a buck, really), a bus would drive into the Port Authority station. I was a regular.

Many other students were afraid to go and had parents who refused to let them take the bus to see the larger world. I think of one of our class trips, to visit the United Nations, when a teacher asked the captives how many had been to Manhattan before. I thought that had to be a stupid question and that surely 100% would raise a hand. Under half did, including my seatmate, who said his father had been last when he left the Army there after WWII ended, over 20 years before. That dad found it dirty and did not feel safe, so he and his family had sat 22 miles west all those years without the museums, shows, restaurants, and wowsers, the energy of Mahattan.

I was all over the 14 miles of Manhattan and much of all the boroughs, with limited Staten Island time beyond the ferry and a few near-dock spots. I promised myself I’d live there after college, and did for a decade. Even as I moved to first the East and then West Village, people all around me who somehow managed to afford living there said no one could afford to live there.

Circling back to the cliché and grumpy old and young people, I have heard it at least hundreds of times, maybe thousands, each with great assuredness. The discussion comes in two flavor:

  1. New York used to be affordable, but no longer is
  2. People have always said it used to be affordable, but no longer is, so blah blah

While Manhattan is way down the list in overall expense worldwide (maybe 32), at the moment it does top the U.S. list. Oddly enough, it’s not that far beyond the next four — San Francisco, LA, DC and Boston. At various times, it has not been at the top.

Of course, housing prices, which reflect desirability, are the largest driver. Moreover, the results for many residents are skewed in favor of the big five cities by income. Employers, particularly white-color ones, compensate staff to adjust for higher prices, bringing the real expense down.

Forget the mitigating factor though. The fun part is that for over 40 years, I’ve heard the same loony rap about unaffordable Manhattan. I also have met long-term New Yorkers who are more rational and less emotional about it. They don’t feel the need to chant no-one-can-live-here-anymore at the least provocation.

Instead, the observant and experienced say they too had heard that from much older, longer-term residents and know it’s jive. Sure, you pay to live where the vitality, personal, business and artistic, is. Yet millions have, do and want to. Let the cliché ricochet around the room or vehicle. It’s boring, but harmless, plus it keeps the easily daunted away.

Those millions manage. They just have to want it, not be afraid and make it work…by cracky.

Crowing in Hyde Park

June 23rd, 2011

With a wholesome sort of boosterism, Hyde Park (and a wee bit of Roslindale) City Councilor Rob Consalvo got to brag. To hear him tell it this morning, his district is sucking up far more than its share of development projects and business expansions.

Oddly enough for a pol, he didn’t take credit for most of it. He was quick to point out that corporate and government deals tend to be in five-year terms. A few years of talking and planning have similar period of funding and implementation. That goes for massive sidewalk and street reconstruction underway, the two huge rehab and expansion plazas anchored by Stop & Shop on American Legion Highway and Truman Parkway, and a lot more.

Another Go at Coffee

The scene for his bragging on his district but not much on himself was a soft opening of the Bean & Cream coffeehouse/ice cream parlor on Truman off Faimount. The actual open-for-business starts Monday.

I was bribed with both a free coffee (super dark roast, not diner stuff) and biscotti made by the owner Tom Papadopolous’ mom. (She was right when she let slip that they were better than the commercial Nana’s. These had nuts and dates and were fresh.) (Brother Peter is in the biz as well, but was not there this morning.)

Nevertheless, I think I’m not too tainted to report that Bean & Cream is promising. I’d need to taste the ice cream as well, but there’s lots to recommend it. Of course, it’ll have WiFi and Tom says he’s encouraging loiterers. There are about 10 tables (catchy name for somebody) in a spacious and light room. Even the johns are remarkable in that they are roomy and what you’d like to but never do find in a service station.

Locals have bemoaned the shutting of Townsend’s coffee shop, T.C.’s, run by the restaurant owner’s wife Rosaleen Tallon. As well as co-owner of the big place, she’s an excellent baker and still does the desserts there. Apparently they didn’t get the business they hoped on the coffee/pastry side, although regulars were very loyal.

Mild disclaimer: Michael Tallon is always chatty and cheerful, but we’re not real friends. We do live a couple of houses apart and my wife and I eat in Townsend’s. I’m prejudiced in favor, plus I can attest that Rosaleen does grand things with lemon in her pastries. Moreover, Michael has a great nose and mouth for ales and beers that they offer.

I have been attending the HP zoning and redevelopment meetings. I suspect that when they finally expand parking at the Fairmount commuter-rail stop and drop the fare to subway level instead of $4.25, the Logan Square area will get more daytime oomph for such businesses. Meanwhile, the new shop may do well for several reasons:

  • Cappy’s Pizza in the same block, owned by the Papadopolouses for about a decade, draws lots of lunch as well as dinner business.
  • While Ron’s ice cream/bowling is half mile away in Cleary Square, Bostonians love their ice cream, maybe even more than donuts.
  • The write-a-novel or just gossip coffee shops are in West Roxbury and JP, but not HP. There may well be a need.
  • Tom P. seems to be building a little empire, which short of alcohol, would give people what they want from breakfast through evening snack.

Whining Muffled

By coincidence, I had just griped to Consalvo by email about the dreadful crosswalk at the HP Y (where his wife Lisa works). There’s a combo of terrible design and Boston driver/parker behavior. People park there massive SUVs and F-150s next to and often on the crosswalk. Drivers on River Street race to the stop signs a short distance away. The effect is that kids, seniors and everybody in effect is darting out between parked vehicles, blind to the street and drivers to use the crosswalk. I went on and on.

That’s taken care of, it turns out. As part of the River Street Road work (Mattapan Square to Reservation), that and other crosswalks will get an upgrade. The pedestrian zones will make it obvious you can’t park there and provide line of sight to all. So there to me!

Money on the Table

This morning’s meeting was the neighborhood business networking. Consalvo described commercial boons that should become booms.

Foremost are the grocery-plazas — the two S&S ones and the relatively new Price-Rite on River Street. All three are multiphasic deals, with more to come. Each has created a plaza with itself as an anchor store and will expand with more building and more stores. He figures each represents about $30 million invested. To Consalvo, these deals prove his contention that these large corporations have done their market research and believe the district will expand and provide profits.

I did get a brief flashback to the South when he spoke of S&S’ putting stores within a mile of each other. Actually, it’s a bit farther but they are still oddly close. This is similar to the successful strategy of Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly. As a child and young man, I noted the obvious proximity of its stores in many Southern cities and towns.

Locals set me straight when I was eight. They referred to the white Pig and the black Pig. The then separate cultures (despite nearly identical foods) dictated racially solid customer bases, thus parallel grocery tracks and support for close stores.

Hyde Park is not that separate, but there is considerably similarity. The Price-Rite for one example seems to have a few white customers, some Latino, but very heavily black shopper base. The American Legion S&S is similar. The Truman Parkway S&S has largely white customers, although neighboring Hyde Park areas are highly diverse. Once the new Truman store opens in larger format, perhaps it will attract a more mixed set of customers, particularly if they add a fresh fish counter, which either of the other stores has.

Back to Consalvo, he also ticked off $10 million to the Y and $4 million to the public Wright golf course/club house. Even though he minimizes the credit due him for his relentless boosterism, everyone else in the room was quick to say much was and is and will be his doing.

Amusingly, I lost count of his most frequently used phrase today. That was tough fiscal times. He’d use it and follow up with the development underway. He’d use it and point to 130 new cops and 50 new firefighters on or about to be on the job. He said pols in nearby towns ask how Boston can do all this. His answer, he said, was that the mayor and council have prioritized.

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Who Gives a Damn About Libraries?

April 16th, 2011

Even on libraries…

We can forget just how gutless Brits can be. That is my genetic and cultural heritage — deference and melancholy. I have a more personal experience with loving libraries.

To the point, about two weeks ago, an acclaimed young English author, Zadie Smith, made an emotional appeal, with intellectual undertones, on BBC 4, calling for maintaining local public libraries even with demands for austerity. I would link to her nearly five minute speech, but the Beeb has been chastened for running it without its usual snarky challenges it makes to interviewees. Instead of its typical iron maiden sort of guest torture, the Today segment let her speak and paid heavy penalties. Rather than say it was her opinion, the Beeb biggies folded and groveled.

You’re in luck though in that at least two of the rebutters are online and available even after they removed Smith’s originals. I did find her remarks on YouTube though. A puerile poster there accompanies her speech with crude graphics calling her a socialist, “shit writer” and so forth. If you want to keep a little objectivity, you can minimize the window during audio play. If you’re hardcore right wing, you can hear like-minded critics of her position here and here. Moreover, the English press was all over her and the Beeb for calling for continued public funding for public libraries; more such links are here.

The Brits seem to have stopped demands for rights with Magna Carta and really don’t relate much to our whole First Amendment/free speech thingummy. Also unlike U.S. libraries with citywide funding in most cases, most English public libraries are under controls of local councils, nearly autonomous hyperlocal groups that seem to operate like U.S. home owners associations, with all the power and none of the wit of big-picture people.

Likewise, most American seem content to fund public libraries and accept that local access to books and other educational resources is necessary, wise, and, well, American. In contrast, conservative Brits who have spoken up take the position that as fewer go to libraries regularly, that means these deserve less or no funding. Also, they say familiar winger stuff like saying, “If I don’t use this service, my tax-funded government should not pay for libraries.”

For the moment, set aside the arguments about schools, highways, rail, and mass transit. Do you think it is unfair that services for the commonweal require funding from those who at a given time in their lives or locations may not use all the service? Those who understand the basics of democracies and nations should, but not all do.

Libraries I’ve Known

Maybe because I’ve been around awhile or perhaps because I grew up in homes with many hundreds of books, I believe in libraries. As we always got many magazines and several daily papers, my family in my childhood through adulthood read at home, in school and in libraries. I always had at least two sets of encyclopedias available, along with big atlases, unabridged dictionaries, almanacs, and many other reference books. From an early age I was sure to hear the same response whenever I asked by widely and deeply knowledgeable mother something — “Look it up!”

Sometimes, we didn’t have the books with the right answers in house. From an early age, I trotted to the library. School libraries were pretty limited, so it was to the public ones.

Danvillelibrary

I  was eight when I truly got into libraries as lifestyle. In Danville, Virginia, the public library was in a mansion built by a Civil War era officer and tobacco magnate, Maj. William T. Sutherlin. His home became the last capital of the Confederacy where the decision to surrender occurred. I was vaguely aware of the history, but much more attuned to the huge number of books.

It surely was a grand home and it was a wonderful library. The kids’ and young adults’ books were in the basement, which was cheerful with numerous windows up high.

There I discovered and devoured whole ranges of books we did not have at home. I remember reading everything that was in whole or part of Norse mythology and of dinosaurs. Apparently too I read virtually everything, checking out the maximum (eight at a time as I remember it). The chief youth librarian there pulled me aside and presented me with an adult card after I had gone through her goods. That let me upstairs into an even wider world. I kept at it until we moved when I was just short of 13. Bless her.

We lived for a couple of years next in the middle of Virginia, Chester. It had a pathetic library. I read everything we had at home, turned to randomly going through encyclopedia articles and our many history books, and spent more time and money visiting bookstores in nearby Richmond and in Washington when we saw relatives near there.

PlainfieldfrontThen the summer of my 15th birthday, we moved to Plainfield, New Jersey. It had a 1912 Carnegie library, one of many the steel magnate funded for the betterment of the common folk. Bless him too.

While the city had good book stores, as well as cheap and easy bus access to Manhattan where I visited constantly, the library was both a community center and educational resource. While it was replaced with a bigger, glassed, community-hospital looking place a few years after I graduated high school, my friends and I haunted and loved this one.

It abutted the big public park with the high school. We ate, debated, sang, necked and studied in the park and did everything short of eating and drinking in the library. My friends were often astonished at the number and variety of books in my apartment and for those without such absurd amounts of reference material, the library was key to decent grades and being able to converse with your chums.

There must have been classmates who didn’t read. I honestly don’t recall any. After all, this was also the Sputnik/space-race era. We were getting pushed from the President to teachers to parents to get smart, get smarter, and take America to the stars. Ta da.

[Of course, there were neither personal computers nor even the earliest forms of the internet (not even ARPAnet, bulletin boards, nor telnet command-line connections before browsers existed). Seeing that, kiddies should probably look up archie and particularly gopher. Information was available online before the World Wide Web GUIs, but you actually had to know how to get to it.]

View Across the Pond

For all reactionary craziness and vitriol toward Smith and secondarily the BBC, I didn’t really dig into this until the Financial Times’ Christopher Caldwell waved his right-of-center wand over the proceedings. In today’s FT, his column attempts a Newtonian objective distance for observation.

He agrees that Smith clearly and accurately sees libraries as cultural levelers, gateways for those who take advantage of them. Yet he criticizes her for not understanding the economics and politics behind the 400-plus libraries at risk of closure there. He writes that the snooty upper class sorts are not the problem here, rather that libraries “are imperiled for different reason: because (local councils) have better things to do with the money.”

He finds the grand public libraries both there and here as atavistic, belonging to “a brief transitional period at the end of the 19th century  — after the rise of democracy but before the rise of the welfare state.” He adds that in such tight times as now, governments decide what’s really necessary.

In that, he mentions an article by Eleanor Jo Rodger in American Libraries. He really doesn’t get too deeply into that, but I suggest reading it. Her primary theme is librarians need to define which of their services are necessities and which are amenities. From there, they can make the case and get steady supporters for the essentials they deliver.

Caldwell is certainly not anti-library. He does brush aside advocates’ personal and emotional calls. Instead, he cites the goals of the founders of the library systems as seeing “that a certain amount of intellectual infrastructure is necessary to the maintenance of a free society.” They aren’t to produce erudite gentlefolk, rather to help provide the public with “a basic toolkit of literary communication that leaves them uncowed by accounts built out of words, sentences and paragraphs.”

He concludes that the political reality is that defending such amenities as DVD checkouts and internet access “may work better than defending necessities.”

I suspect pitching necessities as well will be necessary. There are plenty of Americans, even more than usual in hard times, who are eager to forgo egalitarianism. The have-nots don’t get a lot of support in rough times, and little enough in good ones. Simply appealing to the American ideals of giving everyone a chance at the dream is seldom effective.

I am a book guy, one who has spent and still spends far more than my share of time in libraries. I am not a homeless fellow using a library to stay safe and warm. I’m not someone who needs to be there to access a computer and the internet. I’m not a teen who gets homework help there. Yet each of our groups and others uses and benefits from our branch libraries. That seems as American as it gets.

Cross-post, yet again: As this is both political and personal, I also put it on Marry in Massachusetts.

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With Greed from Iran

January 29th, 2011

Wowsers, kiddies, it’s been almost four years since I strummed the glories of my spammer’s accidental poetry. Now for my next act, I got around to checking the meaning of the spam I’m too ignorant to read.

Starting about two months ago, I began to get an ever increasing amount of Arabic spam to one of my email addresses. I plugged several into Google Translate and learned a bit.

First, over half of them are not Arabic, rather Persian, most popular in Iran. More significant, none, zero, nilch, nyet, nada relate to the stereotypes of English-language versions. From early email days in old browsers, I have long gotten used to invitations to double my penis length, to pay a few thousand dollars to reap millions in a dead man’s fortune, and from the beginning of the housing collapse, sure, cheap ways to refinance.

So, I’ve been looking at those undecipherable (to me) strings, like

جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟
جورج کلونی دوست ندارد رئیس جمهور شود !؟

and not getting it. That was my first task for Google. As I don’t click on unknown and unknowable (read perilous) links,I still don’t know that one was offering. It is in Persian and translates literally into, “Geoerge Clooney does not like to be president?” The link in the nondescriptive message from one  mohammad ali hasankhani with a gmail account had a condensed URL and I didn’t brave it.

However, letting Google translate several other, I limned a pattern. They are sports oriented and maybe just trying to sell some worthless medical product or more likely charge a fee for a sports video or instructional booklet. Granted, a click to the links may send you someplace phishing for your credit card info, but at least these seem relative wholesome in contrast to what I regularly see  in English in my spam bucket.

One promises exercises to make you taller:

Collection of sports movements for increasing height

In the first step regardless of your age level, growth will begin Qdtan! ! ! ! ! Maybe have a little surprise, but 100% regardless of your age, this growth will occur in your height. For further should be said, more than 95% of people without news have bent and your spine curved in the back part of their Darndv the bezel and also sinking more than is normal.

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from “Amir Ghazaee”

Another promises pool prowess:

Billiard

This unique collection of the principles and professional billiards learn pool training pool world by top professors and applied a set of rare beauty, secrets find a pool professional to teach you. all tips, trick and All the intricacy of fun playing pool with all the film one hour to learn. different ways of tapping method to cut the ball and everything you need to know to enjoy billiards ..

For more information, click and buy

Persian with sales pitch and shortened link from”Mani Rahnama”

Still another eluded Google’s Arabic powers, but seemed to be selling videos of what we call soccer here:

Sutee Hay House Khandh worldly affairs Voetbal

Goofs your friends are a set of football world to see? Scoring itself, Goofs and goalkeeper … In this CD in a series of world football Goofs collected

Include:

Scoring automatically by defenders and goalkeepers

Nzdn striker scored in a few step away gates and even the empty gates

But besides these reactions Goofs stunning diving goalkeeper and their golden

The beautiful flowers by the attackers will also be displayed

Click to view

Arabic with sales pitch and shortened link

After decades of primarily sexual oriented spam, I find some small joy in seeing what appears to be a more naive type of hustler. Maybe their net censors would never pass along  lewd pitches. Maybe they just have different hot buttons. Taller in the body instead of longer in the middle seems so, well, 1950s, a simpler time.

Alas, poor Credo, I knew them

December 23rd, 2010

cellshiftOh, pinko angst. I cancelled my Credo phone accounts today. Political and economic wisdom has it that we have competition in telecommunications — choice, price and other consumer options. We have liked Credo’s politics though for many years. I grieve.

In case you are not as pink as I, know that Credo puts a lefty twist to cellphones. It is part of Working Assets, and some of its profits go to liberal causes, which you can specify. We have done that for many years, and with the Sprint network that Credo uses, before…a total of, I think 15 May Days and 15 Christmases.

Surely I make too big a deal of this. I have tried and tried. We suffered. We went to their support folk and more. Like the spring runoff with a narrowing river and maybe a whirlpool equivalents finally tipped me today.

My box of causes and catalysts contains:

  • No reception in our house.
  • Credo’s rates have crept up from about 16% cheaper to penny-for-penny matches of the biggies.
  • One son lost his.
  • One son washed his.
  • We did not insure against loss or clumsiness.
  • Visitors with other networks can make and receive calls in our house.

Since August 2009, in our new house, we can’t get or receive calls on our Credo cellphones. Yet visitors on other networks can. So, basically we have not been getting what we paid for on the family plan, maybe 33% of value since the move. We can use the phone when we are outside. It has reduced us to acting like working smokers in taking our cells out in the cold and wet and dark to use them or waiting like a college student of old for the dorm wall phone to be free.

I tried Credo once more and waded through their asinine voice support system (about five minutes to get to a human when even pressing 0 does nothing). After getting cut off during a hold the first time, I got an impatient sort the second. I complained and he said it was obvious that I should cancel the lines. He put me through in a few more minutes of hold to someone he said would do that. Instead, she tried to troubleshoot by switching a roaming setting from Home Only to Automatic, to have the phone use any network’s towers. It barely boosted the bars (from zero to 1 inside) and would not allow calls.

On the money side, Credo also matches the other networks in oppressive contracts, where really the sensible choice has become a two-year contract. If you have a single phone, the no-contract deals are fine, but with a family, they aren’t. So, I’m faced with buying out two contracts at about $150 each. Otherwise, replacing two pretty new phones would run at least that much, and more like $175 or $200 each with Credo.

Verizon was typical of the competing offers. I looked online and figured I’d trot to the closest (BJs in Dedham). That way, if I wanted, I could come home with phones the same day.

Sure enough, while Verizon doesn’t have a current deal here to buy out a competitor’s contract (amusingly enough, Credo does), I got:

  • Three free phones.
  • No activation fee.
  • On-the-spot cancellation of Credo.
  • Retention of the existing numbers.

I got ‘em. They work. To the point, they work inside the house.

When the boys came home, we huddled. Each decided the $5 a month for the total insurance coverage was a good bet. I think I hid my surprise, as I’ve had the same feature phone for five years and it is still perking. I don’t lose them, nor wash them, nor drop them, nor, well, act like a normal human. I confess I’m finicky or cautious or both.

After my research, online, by phone, in circulars and ads, I’m OK with the result. Yet, again, I do like Credo’s politics. I did enjoy the monthly whiff of self-righteousness and do-gooder behavior. I went over a year huddled outside to use my phone and finally passed the point of diminishing…diminished…returns.

I wish Sprint’s network was better around here. I wish Working Assets or someone like them would do the same thing on Verizon.

I’ll have to atone by increasing my personal social action instead of my small contributions through Credo.

Tags: harrumphharrumpherCredocellphonesVerizonsocial action