Midtown, snow, long legs and a tree

December 22nd, 2016 No comments »

Here in Boston, the light snow on Christmas week reminds me of Radio City Music Hall. A dear family friend, Evelyn Justice, took it on herself to guide my sister and me to our first Christmas spectacular there in 1963.

We waited in barricade queues, caught snowflakes on our coat sleeves and tongues, and grokked the Midtown essence of Christmas at Rockefeller Center. Yes, gigantic tree. Yes, ice skaters. Yes, a stage awash with long-legged Rockettes. Yes, a first-run movie.

Pic note: Public domain image by U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Gabriela Hurtado, 2006.

Evelyn was my biscuit lady. More on her here.

We’d known her as little ones in far Southern Virginia (Danville). We were delighted years later when we moved from rural Virginia (Chester) to New Jersey (Plainfield) to learn that she and hubby Rollins Justice (Justice to everyone) had moved there before us.

Evelyn was the kindest, most gracious, most empathetic human I’ve ever known. Of course, she’d be the one who wanted to take us to Radio City. I played chess too and she knew that two blocks away Brentano’s had a magnificent selection of boards and pieces.

She made even waiting on line fun, with jokes and stories of her childhood and things we didn’t remember about ourselves. We saw the wonderfully garish kick-dance show, kind of like Vegas showgirls, minus the decolletage and jiggling breasts. As I recall, they twirled mini-hula hoops that glowed under the lights around their calves and ankles. And the flick with Charade, starring the unnatural cervix lovely Audrey Hepburn.

I’ve been to the center since, seen the shows and tree, and of course the skaters. They aren’t as magical without Evelyn. She died in 1997. She was swell.

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The bloggers are dead. Long live the money makers.

December 12th, 2016 No comments »

laptop keysToday, Meetup sent around the obituary for The Greater Boston Area Webloggers Meetup Group. It was not so much a changing of the guard or the end of an era as a faint echo of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men — “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

Founded in 2002, the group was some slag in the furnace from when the fuel was content. Depending on your seat, in this era of Instagram and Twitter, blogging has evolved or devolved into self-marketing. We bloggers always wore clothes woven of our egos. Now though the abstract is insignificant. The literal minded own the field.

Yes, there are blogging groups in and around Boston. The real difference is that we are hard pressed to find one that does not concern itself almost entirely with monetization. A couple of years ago, success came in “creating your brand,” and now it is exclusive in the measurements. How many clicks, links, and cash payments?

We are too close to this, at least I am, to say the new form is inferior. In fact, we need only go back, way back to Samuel Johnson, from his Life of… Vol. III, to read, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

Yet of course, many did and do. There’s the vanity. There’s the conceit. There’s the drive to record and announce our brilliance and insight. There’s the hope to alter minds and change the course of events. Blah, blah. Blockheads all? Maybe.

Back to the 14-year-old just taken off the respirator, Meetup had warned us that without a replacement coordinator, it would be shut down. There had been a few managers over the years. Flaky (my description, not her given name or formal epithet) Emma was in charge when I attended. No one, including I, was inclined to take on the clerical work involved.

I have my own excuses and reasons. I’ve run several non–profits and professional groups long term and am worn out. I am sure many of the peak 102 membership can whinge right along in tune with me.

Plainer, blogging for its own sake remains a solitary endeavor. Yes, there are group blogs, think BlueMassGroup, and fame-paying freeloaders, think Huffington Post, but people who want and need their ideas in the ether don’t really need to meet regularly with others like themselves.

The new classes though do. What can you do for me? What can we benefit each other with links and contacts? Are you ready to marvel in my latest glory?

I acknowledge only that the old Boston bloggers group is dead. I kicked some dirt on it by my indifference.

 

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Old coots, chaws and vegetable display

November 19th, 2016 No comments »

The farmers’ co-op in Romney WV was integral to my childhood. It had been moribund, then closed after long-time manager Fred Judd had a dreadful fall from which he never really recovered.

Just this week, it’s reopening in a form I would not have recognized. It is now the Hampshire County Co-op & Market Place. It offers local artists’ work and fancy food. The promo on the town FB page includes, “PS: Eric Hott’s smoked bacon pieces dipped in dark chocolate will change your life forever!”

That’s not the way I knew it.

Next door to the co-op on South Marsham Street was my grandfather’s tailor/dry cleaning shop. Abutting that was the family house where I spent summers and holidays. For a peripatetic  lad and his sister, that town and that specific street were home. We moved every couple of years but Marsham Street was always there for us.

We could sit on the front porch (and did often) watching as rain storms sheeted down the mountains before us, first wetting the apple and peach orchards.

Two doors down was a playground inside the co-op. The manager, Carl, let us play. In the big room by the entrance were bins of seed. If a farmer or gardener needed just a few pounds of corn to plant, he could fill a bag using a tin ladle and weigh it out. Likewise, you could get 16-penny spikes loose.

We kids were fascinated with the offerings. We’d also bury a toy in the seeds and challenge each other in a primitive hide-and-seek.

For the big games, the warehouse was filled with 50- and 100-pound bags of seed, feed, flour and such. We’d hide, chase each other and play battle with pea shooters.

Back in the front was a pot-bellied stove, replete with one to six old men. Several were excellent at sitting on nail kegs across from the stove and accurately spitting a big drop maybe 10 feet into the teardrop openings of the stove grate.

They’d tell true tales or maybe lies about their farms and WWI times and such. Highlights included remarkable vegetables they grew, like a 14-inch long bean pods. As I recall McCaslan was the usual champion bean.

I loved the stories and characters who told them. The co-op was a social club for them and me.

Next time I’m in town, I’ll surely visit the artisinal food and art version. I am pretty sure there’ll  be no stove glowing red and certainly tno tobacco-spitting performances.

 

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Splayed Social Skills

October 30th, 2016 No comments »

Occasionally, I wear a kilt. That has become a family thing.

alkiltMy first daughter-in-law, wife of our eldest son, is singularly proud of her Scottish heritage. She’s not a skirt/dress person, but does wear a kilt. Our son does too and so does their son. He is one of the two males pictured here; you can decide which is his image and which mine.

A Scottish neighbor discussed the manners and mindfulness involved in kilt wearing. His was a long tale about a wedding. He was in the groom’s party and sat in the nave during the ceremony. Of course, as a Scott, he was kitted in kilt.

During the wedding, he wondered what dementia gripped his wife and other family members. The women he could see gesticulated repeatedly in some indecipherable sign language He smiled faintly by way of acknowledging them but did not get the message until after the nuptials.

mbdouglasTurns out, the women in the pews were trying strongly to say, “Close your damned legs!’

He was, as I do, wearing his kilt traditionally  — with no clothing underneath. The whole church other than those standing or seated with the wedding principals had no doubt of his gender.

I thought I had gotten the hang of it. I observed other kilt wearers and saw that most men push the front material in a fold between their thighs, making a crotch curtain. Yet last evening at a fair sized party at our house, my wife crossed the room to provide my own close-your-damned-legs moment. She was more pleasant but the message was the same.

In my experience, women are no more polite or considerate than men. Yet nearly all try to preserve modesty when they wear a skirt or dress or kilt. The Sharon Stone Basic Instinct reveal when it occurs is intentional.

Men on the other hand (other leg?) do not grow up learning to keep their knees together when seated. For all but men with the least muscled thighs, keeping legs closed when seated allows no hanging room for what the Brits call naughty bits.

I enjoy wearing a kilt, for the variety and comfort. I only once was out in the bitter air and wind of winter in one though.

I suspect I’ll master the physical and social skill of the seated curtain. I also tend to travel with my kilt watcher to remind me.

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Donnie Dewlap

October 19th, 2016 No comments »

donjowlss-copyI’m old enough:

  • to be nearly be a peer of Donald Trump
  • to remember and have read Any Rand

She was and he is an awful lookist. The great irony there is that both were or are pathetically unattractive. She was an anorexic sort devoid of stereotypical feminine traits. He goes on and on about the virtues or shortcomings of specific women, while he is at best the Pillsbury Doughboy.

I recall Rand nailing one of her antagonists as “fat over the collar” (I think that was of Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead.  She disdained and loathed body fat, so that glance was all the damning she required to make her view clear. The humor here is she did not have enough adipose tissue to have visible hips, breast or waist. She was physically an imitation woman.

Trump on the other hand, or head, is rife with flab. His neck and jowls and wattles hang over his clothes. I remember an article I wrote for American Management Association’s Management Review magazine when I was on staff, interviewing Mortimer Levitt, founder and head of The Custom Shirt Shop. He was a cartoon faced, scrawny guy, a male Rand as it were. He also hated visible body fat. His standard slide show included pix of President Kennedy showing flab bulging over too tight shirt collars.

The points here are how dare parody-of-women Rand disdain any body fat and how dare physically repulsive Trump judge women’s attractiveness? Let’s leave it as they were or are egocentric, asocial fools.

 

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Early voting, even in MA

October 2nd, 2016 No comments »

New, Improved, Zap, Pow! For the first time ever, MA including Boston will allow early voting. That’ll be Monday, Oct. 24 through Friday, Nov. 4.

Yes, yes, this is long overdue. At least MA is one of the states going the right way. Sixteen or more other states have been legislating nonstop to limit voting. On the other hand, I’d like to see at the least:

  • Prolonged early voting
  • Same-day registration
  • Automatic voter registration upon becoming 18
  • Choice of any ballot in a primary to those registered in a party or political designation (popular in MA

However, I’m sure the legislature and secretary of the commonwealth will  look carefully at turnout this and the next few elections.

The way it work in MA and Boston this first go will be designated locations on specified days and times. You can see Boston’s locations and times here.

The overview is each neighborhood gets one ore more four to eight hour periods. Boston’s city hall has early voting every few days. For example, my Hyde Park area gets a single period, Wednesday, Oct. 26 from 2 to 8 PM.

I haven’t gotten my training for the pending general election. As a precinct warden I’m want to understand some details. For one, the election polls open Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 7 AM.

We’ll get check-in and check-out books that list each registered voter in the precinct. I assume there will be a designation beside each early voter’s name that indicates they have already voted. We have a version already for absentee voters (AV). I assume there’ll be EV or the like. So the data-entry minions at city hall area likely to be clerking away from Friday afternoon on to make sure the books we get are up to date.

Note: This also appears at leftahead.com.

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Urine and Mine

October 2nd, 2016 No comments »

tallurinalsOf course, most women have no need or desire to visit men’s rooms. I doubt they ask XY counterparts for details on urinals.So they don’t know there are a wide variety, which have changed in style in my lifetime.

I write of one memorable, re-emergent style. For details and pix see Chris Higgin’s post.

Meanwhile for the women who have never toured the men’s john, the snap left shows a pair of the ones that impressed me as a lad. This happens to be in Stoddard’s in downtown Boston.

It’s an adventure in that the stairway is very steep, very long and very narrow. Not only do the runners bring food up and dishes down, but M and W facilities are there. It’s a true test of how sober you are.
newcenturywThis tall urinal style used to be real common, mostly in fancier places. I first saw them in the hotel build in my childhood hometown (not birthplace) in West Virginia. The hotel was called the New Century; it went up before WWI and lasted into the ’70s. (For the New Century Hotel, a hat tip to Historic Hampshire. It’s a trove of snaps and postal cards of the Romney area.)

Romney long had east-west traffic on Route 50, from D.C. to Cincinnati, as well as being on the B&O line. It also featured a must-stop-at restaurant, the Green Palm, loved by Duncan Hines among others. However, until the New Century, it was short on hotel rooms, relying more on guest houses.

As a child in the ’50s and early ’60s, I’d occasionally visit the hotel, either with my grandfather for a meal or a pop, or sometimes for a meal.

Oddly enough, the urinals stay in memory. They are very much unlike toilets, small wall versions, and certainly different from the metal troughs at fairgrounds. Instead, the New Century’s looked like a boy, had he interest in doing so, could have stepped in for a shower.

They were about the right size. I see that new versions tend to be up to 38 inches high. In memory, the New Century’s were bigger. Then again, I was wee (if you pardon).

Nowadays, fancy joints tend to use flushless urinals, basically large bowls smaller than a regular urinal. They don’t require or allow flushing, which seems great until you know that someone has regularly to drain them and replace the lighter-than-pee chemical that lets the urine pass through while deodorizing the bowl. (Yuck. A job no one should have to do.)

I bet some hipster restaurant ended up with the salvaged New Century tall urinals.

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5¢ Victory

October 1st, 2016 1 comment »

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!

 

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White Squirrel Fest #6

September 10th, 2016 No comments »

The JP Music Fest is a tot by Boston standard, but really they’ve pulled off six annual versions now.

We enjoyed a few hours there. As a note, the hipster quotient was low today. For example, I only counted two Trilby hats.

Here follow a few snaps of groups we heard in a few hours. I recommend following the links and listening to each. You can also catch a track from each at the JPMusicFest site.

The festival is this time each year, runs with continuous music from noon to 7, offers a wide variety, and is free.

Merrie Amsterburg plays a wide variety of instruments, including allegedly a washing machine. She was on the electric mandolin in JP. merrie3
amechoes2 America Echoes reminds audiences they are identical twins, Laura and Nina Ganci.
The America Echoes women do R&B and folk, electric and acoustic. amechoes6
boxofbirds1 Box of Birds is a folk rock quartet. Steph Durwin leads the vocals.
Guitarist Charlie Gargano of Box of Birds sang too. boxofbirds4
louder1 Louder Than Milk is a very local fun and funny country-like band.
Louder Than Milk has a drummer vocalist too, Jay Page (h.t. to Bridget Murphy). louderthanmilk



jpflute



On the way to the festival, we had a mini-concert from a wee flutist trying to get the ducks and her brother to listen.

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

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Shoot Me Not

August 13th, 2016 No comments »

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.

 

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