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Here it is, in all its glory:


Look, I'll be honest. I noticed there just wasn't that much more vermouth left in the bottle when I was making my drink, so I figured, what the hell. I just put the rest in. I might be more than a bit snookered. I'll revisit this sober (maybe) and apologize if it seems appropriate.

So, 2036, 26 year old Caitlin has received some shoes in October that were made in July and that she impulse bought for $29. Thank you, author Justin Bachman, for making the math easy. Caitlin was born in 2010, so she's a couple years younger than my daughter.

First off, author, the year 2000 (or possibly 1998, the year I retired) called and wants its baby name back. If you had picked Isabella, or Emma or Emily or, heck, even Madison or any number of other girls names, I would not have blinked, but Caitlyn? That's some retro action for sure.

Second, and really, this should be first, because this is what caused me to space out and stop reading and start looking for my computer so I could mock this article, the shoes arrived in a box. No, really! I checked.

"The year is 2036. Caitlin, 26, gets home from work to find a box at her door containing a pair of sneakers she bought online three days ago."

Author, you did not specify whether the box was from a retailer, or somewhere else in the food chain -- it could have been the manufacturer's box, it could have been an Amazon box. But you know, in 2036, I don't fucking believe that shoes are going to be delivered -- at least not impulse purchased $29 shoes -- in a box. I've been reading about cardboard. I've been thinking deeply about cardboard for some years now. And if you are surprised that anyone thinks deeply about cardboard, well, you are not a regular reader of This Blog. And Author, $29 shoes are not going to get a box in 2036. They are going to be in a bag. It will be a moderately interesting bag, with technical properties I do not now (see above, re: nearly empty and now recycled bottle of vermouth) have the capacity to imagine or describe, it will be made of laminar film, possibly oleowtf, possibly plant derived equivalents, but it will not be a box.

"Ours, a dull red, is stacked onto a ship for a 26-day trek across the Pacific to Long Beach, California, via Vancouver."

Dude, that doesn't even make sense. If you can't ship into Long Beach because of a strike or some damn thing, you go to Vancouver. You don't go to Long Beach VIA Vancouver. That's just incoherent. Who do you think your readers are, anyway?

OK, next. First, describing the factory in Dongguan as north of Hong Kong, while true, is weird. Second, at the rate we're going, there are not going to _be_ any factories left in Dongguan by 2036. They are already clearing out. 2016 was full of stories on exactly this topic.


By 2036, shoe factories that might have been in Dongguan will have moved closer to the source of demand to build their robot factories. [ETA: Or to Africa. I don't know.] I mean, if cheap labor is no longer available in China, and therefore not a factor in the decision making, why NOT move to be closer to the 26 year old weekend runners who might buy the shoes?

OK, so the shoes are off the container ship and transferred to an automated "rover" which will remove the container from the vessel and put it onto a rail car or a truck. In reality, it would go to a truck, which would platoon away from the ship when loaded, and then stuff would get transferred to rail. Period. End. Except, the shoes wouldn't have ever been on the fucking ship -- they would have been made somewhere in the US, near a rail link. And it is _still_ bothering me that Caitlin's shoes are in a box. They are not in a box. Bizarrely, while Rotterdam is mentioned, truck platooning is not mentioned. Too boring, perhaps?

The article assumes the shoes are going on a truck.

There are some weird repeated paragraphs in the robot warehouse part of the article. In any event, robot perception does not strike me as the problem. The problem IMO is robot grip feedback. We are going to be relying on humans to pick shit up and toss it with appropriate pressure / forcefulness / strength for a while yet.

Anyway. When it comes time to send that "box" of shoes to Caitlin, a "robot affixes an RFID-enabled tracking tag on the shoebox and leaves it waiting to be flown a few miles to its final destination: Caitlin's bungalow on Englewood's north side".

OK, ignoring the whole, drone is going to fly the $29 shoes to the house part (and is that her parents house or her house? She's 26, and age of house purchase has been rising). Tags are put on shit in the factory. That is _now_. Databases change where the tag goes next -- but you should not need to put a tag on those shoes _now_. That just makes no sense at all.

All in all, I am underwhelmed by this exercise in futurism. The shoes should not be in a box. The factory was not in Dongguan. The boat did _not_ go to Long Beach via Vancouver (dude! W.T.F.!!!). The RFID tag was attached as part of the manufacturing process. The overall point is valid -- nobody touched the shoes themselves until Caitlin opened the package. I don't have a problem with that.

Just every other detail.
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I buy different bread for different people in this family. A. really likes the Roche Bros (store brand) whole wheat bread. It's a little high in sodium for me, but is dairy free, so in a pinch, I'll eat it too. I buy Vermont Bread Company English Muffins for myself (the multigrain or the whole grain); that's what I consistently have for breakfast. I don't necessarily eat a lot of sliced bread -- I'll eat rolls and things. I think I've been buying Anzio or something like this, sandwich rolls for T.'s sandwiches, and I eat those sometimes. R. buys torta rolls at Costco -- they go bad pretty quick and the sodium isn't totally nuts, so when those are around, I'll eat those. If there aren't any of those rolls, sometimes I'll use a Roche Bros hamburger bun. R. likes nicer bread, so I usually buy him some When Pigs Fly -- cranberry whatever or there was some sundried tomato thing.

Anyway. There are a variety of breads coming into the house at a variety of price points. Then I read this:


And in the very first paragraph, there is a quote:

""Relative to the nanny, she told me, “The choices that I have are obscene. Six-dollar bread is obscene.”"


Really? We're going after $6 bread now? Look, I kind of got it when people went after the pricey coffee (altho honestly, if you work it out on a calorie / cent basis, the coffee was often a pretty decent value -- not as good value as, say, McDonald's, but not horrible) (and I did say _calorie_ not _nutritional_ value so I don't want to hear about "empty" calories).

Because, you know, artisanal bakeries need to be put right the fuck out of business? You know, they don't deserve to make money. Only store brands churning out gargantuan quantities deserve to sell bread?


The article as a whole is fairly appalling. The author has clearly gone to some effort to establish trust with a number of people over an issue that in our country, is approximately as hard to discuss as sex. And having discussed the stigma and so forth, here is where Sherman lands:

"Is the society we want one in which it is acceptable for some people to have tens of millions or billions of dollars as long as they are hardworking, generous, not materialistic and down to earth? Or should there be some other moral rubric, that would strive for a society in which such high levels of inequality were morally unacceptable, regardless of how nice or moderate its beneficiaries are?"

Let's just make it illegal for people to have the kind of money that the people she interviewed has. This is roughly equivalent to getting a bunch of people who belong to a stigmatized religion, or who belong to some sexual minority or whatever to open up, and then suggesting we should rearrange our society so these people can't exist. While you might _think_, hey, but having money isn't a constitutionally protected thing, well, I invite you to review the history of clauses like the right to pursue happiness. Happiness was a euphemism that was landed on after entertaining more crude expressions of wealth.

I'm always open to the idea that we should revise our tax code or other elements of our society to adjust how things flow. I _always always always_ think that we should steadily provide greater assistance to those who have little: food, shelter, sure, but education is always important, health care is always important, access to cultural resources is always important, access to nature is always important, safety is important, legal representation is important, and there are a lot more I could list.

But if we're attacking New Yorkers who have a household income of $250K and think $6 bread is "obscene" in the same breath we are going after people who have billions of dollars, I don't think there is any kind of coherent social program or tax code revision being contemplated. In fact, what I really think is that we're all having a coded argument about how to afford child care in cities where the cost of living is outrageously high and all the people who would ordinarily be providing that care can no longer afford to live there, increasingly pricing out higher and higher wealth strata -- and rather than actually _addressing_ that problem, attacking the people in the middle who are struggling with it.

We've had this argument before. It was one of many prefaces to a lot of people leaving the cities for the suburbs. I'm betting that the right combination of solar panels, electric cars and high quality broadband outside the coastal cities will get 'er done. And we can go back to whining about sprawl again, instead.

ETA: You know, it occurs to me about that billions of dollars thing that if you really want to make it illegal for individuals or families to accumulate billions of dollars, you are going to have to figure out a way to take away rapidly growing companies from their founders. Is that _really_ what we want to do in our society?

ETA: Besides, if you really want to reduce the ratio between the most compensated and the least compensated in our society, the fastest way to do that is probably to raise the minimum wage and to contemplate a guaranteed minimum income (no country has actually managed to pull off a guaranteed minimum income, so I'm not so sure I am prepared to fully support it absent a workable proposal, but it is worth thinking about as a way to talk about what we want to guarantee our citizens in terms of quality of life). Raising the minimum wage would also go some ways to carving into the upper end as well, in that in some sectors, very low wages at the bottom translate into enormous takings at the top (not all sectors, obviously).


Jul. 27th, 2017 10:23 am
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My sister posted a Bloomberg article about how the US is quite behind in terms of phasing out checks. In the comments thread, her friends said over and over again that the sticking point for many of them in terms of never writing checks again involved government agencies. I agreed, and then I thought, hmmm. Is it _really_ true that there isn't any kind of direct pay to the IRS? Massachusetts DOR has had a direct pay set up for ages. And I hadn't checked recently at the IRS.

They have a couple features I was not familiar with. One is an / my account with the IRS where I could, in theory, look at payment history and so forth. That would be handy! Another feature is a Direct Pay feature. I haven't really dug into that, but it looks like it is a fee-free transfer from a checking account. And it looks like you can do that as a payment associated with paper filing, and including for estimated taxes. Pretty neat! If I find out more, I may update this.

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It's quite possible I've seen this term before. But this is the first time I _remember_ sitting up and paying attention.


"Ellen Sullivan, director of operations for Andover- and Dedham-based Home Transition Resource, one of a growing number of firms in the booming field of “senior move management.”"

"The thriving industry is a symptom of the challenge. While the senior-move specialists assist older clients with the mundane aspects of moving — choosing a mover, say, or calling the cable company — they also play the role of family therapist, buffer, diplomat.

“We can help to soften the blow if the kids don’t want anything but are afraid to tell their parents,” said Kate Grondin, founder of Home Transition Resource. “We can shift the focus to how wonderful a donation would be.”"

"Unknown just a few decades ago, the field now has a trade group — the National Association of Senior Move Managers — that counts 950 member companies.

Prices in Boston average $75 to $100 an hour, according to the association."

I'll probably be back here editing this with more link-fu. I am enchanted by the idea of this industry and want to know more.



Here, "Senior Move Manager".

"There are 37 senior-moving companies in Massachusetts alone, according to the nonprofit National Association of Senior Move Managers.

If you are weighing whether to downsize, you may benefit from hearing how these folks did it."

This article is more about the downsizing, less about the managers / specialists.


"These managers call in estate appraisers and trash collectors, antique dealers and electricians. For their more elderly clients, they study the floor plans of assisted-living apartments and find tactful ways to explain that there simply won’t be room for that recliner bought on sale at Jordan Marsh in 1962."

"Jennifer Pickett, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Senior Move Managers, estimates the average fee is $40 to $60 per hour but says rates in the Boston area may be up to twice as expensive."

The website for the professional organization: https://www.nasmm.org/

ETAYA: A South Dakota firm that does both professional organizing and senior move management is expanding from Rapid City to Sioux Falls.


Charlotte NC, a slightly different set of services offered by "senior real estate specialists". The move manager will help you figure out which / how your furniture will fit into your assisted living apartment and help you empty the rest of your four bedroom colonial ... somehow. The real estate specialist will help you figure out _where_ you are going next and may help with some of the other stuff. I think.

A Virginian realtor explains a bit more about what this kind of realtor might be able to help with: https://pilotonline.com/life/home/you-your-home-and-prepping-for-independence-days/article_170aae96-ab89-5e5e-bba4-f8881978feff.html

OK, so, logically, we want to now see an article doing the compare/contrast, amirite?


People who know me are waiting with bated breath: when will she identify books on topic to read?

If you are thinking, wow, this is what happens when people have only a few kids but enough money to pay for a high level of service quality, well, I couldn't agree more.

Ahem. Now, down to the fun part! Quoting with intent.

"Without a senior move manager, the first instinct of some adult children is to grab a box of garbage bags to get rid of things over a weekend. That’s not serving a parent with dignity. People have a lifetime of possessions. They should be disposed of with the same sort of thoughtfulness with which they were acquired."

I don't understand the argument being presented. But I will say this: apparently, supportive language and a deliberate pace are a big chunk of what the hourly fee buys you.

"Who’s really the client of a senior move manager?

The client is the person in transition, even if the adult child makes the call or is the one paying. When possible, we want the older adult to do all the decision-making."

It's like the aging parents are finally getting revenge for the wedding planning / payment situation a couple decades earlier in the family.

"What are the misconceptions about this industry?

That it costs a lot of money to hire someone. The bulk of our member companies charge between $60 and $80 an hour. The total bill is usually no more than $2,500."

Either they are _really_ good at what they do, or the process of paying $80/hour really brings it all home to people over the course of that week.

Oh, and there are a _shocking_ number of books on this topic at Amazon.
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R. and I got out of the house pretty quick to go to Tiles Plus More in Natick. We picked out some tile for the shower renovation that, in theory, will start in the middle of July. I don't really believe contractor timelines, but we've never worked with this one before so you never really know. Figured we should probably at least have all the materials available. Sometimes another job develops a hiccup that allows things to move up and I'd sure hate to be the reason for delay.

As with pretty much every major decision (where to live, how many kids to have, house to buy, decorating that house, etc.) we had no major disagreements. He had stronger opinions than me, and I was happy with what he picked out. Fingers crossed it will look good with the rest of the bathroom, because there's no reason to be redoing anything but the shower.

M. and I headed out for a walk at 2, just in time for the only rain of the day to dump on us. Oh well. We made it to the top of the hill on Tuttle, turned around and scuttled back to my house.

We had two sitters and tickets to see the Reverend Horton Heat (with Flat Duo Jets playing a very short but excellent initial set, and Agent Orange doing a solid set after them). R. staked out a spot by the speakers to the left of the stage (stage right, to be confusing). I hung out for part of the first set, found a chair on the side for Agent Orange (they are the definition of Not Danceable), and then rejoined him right after they left the stage to stand through the set up and tune time and for all but the last song of the encore of the Rev. I had to remove one woman who attempted to perky herself in between R. and me, and I wound up having to bodily move a second woman who was tall enough to think that wasn't going to work on her. Women in particular really underestimate how committed I will be to retaining my location in a crowd. No moshing to speak of, and the few times people got excited it was enough to just reposition so they bounced off me. I didn't even wear appropriate footwear and I never took my glasses off. We're all old and even the drunk and/or younger people just aren't as prone to physical assault as we were back in the 90s. Truly, it's a better world.

The Rev limited himself to one major story, the tale of how they wound up in Seattle playing their first gig their at the Vogue, and Jimbo bleeding all over himself and getting signed by Subpop. I would say those were the days, but I wasn't going to clubs yet at that point in time so I don't feel I have a right. It really is a pleasure hearing him spin a yarn, however.

We bailed out during the encore and walked out as the encore was ending. We wound up parking not too far from where we had parked for dinner, because you really cannot park on Highland Ave anymore, and you haven't been able to park on the side streets for a long time. Dinner (before the show) was at Tony Maws Kirkland Tap and Trotter. That is a _very_ dairy-allergy friendly menu. We got the crispy fried ribs, the chicken thigh kebab, the sweet potato. Bread (three slices and it was good). Two drinks (he had the Scottish Ale; I had a rye manhattan and they do have Luxardo's; Overholt for the whisky). And we even had dessert: olive oil chocolate mousse with cocoa nibs on top. Yum. It wasn't very much food (3 ribs, a single thigh, probably one potato) but it was satisfying -- we were not hungry when we got home, altho we did each get a drink at Once.

A while back we got the tasting dinner at Craigie on Main. Tap and Trotter is really different, but equally good. The servers at Trotter are now using Toast supplied tablets / IT, so the place has been basically de-papered (the order is placed by the server on the device, and they run your card on the device, and then hand it to you to add tip and sign -- and they have good button defaults for the tip, which go up to 25%). As with other stores that let you pay on device, you have the option of an emailed receipt.

The AJR album is out and it is fine.
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I don't think they are officially a Thing yet. But I'm wondering if they are about to become one. Ars covered a recent agreement with Verizon to catch up on some back log of maintenance that included double poles. Specifically, where the power company had put in a new pole, Verizon was _supposed_ to move its equipment from the old pole to the new one, but they often did not do so in a timely fashion. That's in Pennsylvania. But I've seen double poles around my town (I'm planning on taking pictures from here on out until I lose interest or quit being able to spot them) and am wondering if double poles are a Thing.

I've really only found coverage of this as a problem in three states: Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. I am _sure_ this is a problem elsewhere, but without local governments taking action and local journalists covering that action, it's pretty invisible to me. I've roughly organized by state, and when I noticed I was reaching back to 2014 for coverage, I stopped. So far, this is all searching on "double poles". I'm going to try ghost poles and some other searches on telecom deferred maintenance next.

Here are double poles appearing on a laundry list of issues in Lowell, MA:


"Requested that Verizon, National Grid, and Comcast representatives meet with the council to discuss double poles, hanging wires, and the all around appearance of their equipment in Lowell." (Payment in lieu of taxes is a much bigger deal -- that's when a community notices that someone not subject to taxes like a hospital or school would otherwise be a huge chunk of tax income and leans on the corporate entity to pay up.)

In Haverhill (also in Massachusetts):


This article includes the following:

"A municipal modernization bill signed last month by Gov. Charlie Baker had an order in it related to double poles, said Councilor Michael McGonagle. That order required utility companies to submit inventories of these poles to the state. LePage said the Legislature has sent sections of the bill to a study committee to get more facts before it is enacted."

I'm no fan of Republicans. But I have to say, I don't mind Charlie Baker one tiny little bit. In fact, I'm sort of glad he won. This isn't the only reason I feel that way, either.

Lots of detail in this Milford, MA article (includes discussion of the issue in Framingham and Natick as well):


New England, and especially Massachusetts, lets towns do a bunch under the "home rule" rubric. A little of this could go a long way, and the fact Baker is already pushing for an inventory is an indication that there is already a desire to tackle this at a higher level than the town.

I sort of assumed the pole owner would be aware of everything on its pole. Apparently not. (And I don't mean yard sale signs and lost pet announcements, either.)

"Companies sometimes spend time searching for the owner of equipment that was installed on a pole without the pole owners being notified. These unlicensed attachments can delay the transfer process, he said."

"Companies in Massachusetts “are also working to verify the accuracy of the database information for each town,” Bonomo said. “This process already has helped identify more than 23,000 unlicensed attachments – including 15,000 unlicensed municipal attachments.”"

So apparently the towns themselves are responsible for some of the problem.

I think this Greenburgh is located in New York state.


Wallkill also in NY state:


This article goes into some detail about the safety implications, and the power outages that can occur because telecoms refuse to move their plant to the new poles that are installed by energy providers.

Local coverage from Pennsylvania, including a new term: ghost poles. I've been searching on "double poles" in quotes. But I'll try this other phrase next.


I'm now searching on "pole owner". Turns out telecoms might have a hidden agenda for dragging their feet on maintenance. It might slow down the deployment of competing services.


More about one touch make ready -- another example of the desire to regulate this at other-than-the-local level.


Broadband providers who want to attach to existing poles are being pressured to bring the poles _other_ attachments up to current standard.


Hey, there is a comment period happening!


Rule making is progressing.
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Back in 2014, I blogged about PSTN coverage, with a little bit of followup in 2015. Links will be to DW, rather than LJ, but the entries should be present in both locations.


This is mostly linkfu (including to Ars) about providers working on ending PSTN, as more and more customers are connected via fiber to the residence/business/wtf.


This entry was more about things which continued to depend upon PSTN: 911, security systems, etc. (And analog fax, which as near as I can tell, really is gone now.)


This entry was about relative innovation rates in consumer electronics (fast), cars (slower), and airplanes (really all over the place). I was considering bring your own device in transportation, and the impact on the cabin crew and passengers.

I included a paragraph of what we could predict based on the deployment of terrestrial internet:

“Ground based internet tells us that whatever bandwidth you provide, in short order, people will be complaining that it is too slow, and all those Netflix streaming people are hogging it but don't want to be deprioritized, and you know other cities/countries/continents have much faster broadband EVERYWHERE so why can't we? Ground based internet also tells us that even after a large enough chunk of your telephony customers cut the cord so you can't make any money on PSTN, there will be a bunch of The Olds insisting that you keep providing it and restoring it after damage and threatening you with regulatory punishment if you don’t.”

That captures perfectly the world of 2014-5: people moaning about the end of PSTN and how that was awful and the phone still worked during power outages with PSTN and it doesn’t with digital voice / VOIP, blah blah freaking blah.

But even in 2015, you could see the shoots of people moving to the exurbs / country / rural areas (or just visiting) and WANTING fiber and hating that they were stuck with PSTN>


But it isn’t 2014, or even 2015 any more. It is 2017. And here is what Ars has to say about PSTN now, in Pennsylvania.


Turns out that people who have PSTN in NOT rural areas are really unhappy because the maintenance work isn’t being done, and hasn’t been done for long enough that they are no longer fighting the switch to fiber because PSTN works during a power outage. PSTN only works during a power outage if there are batteries scattered all over and maintained. And that ain’t happening any more.

Expect updates, as I search for more developments in the transition from copper to fiber.
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Amazon Alexa Prize or something along those lines is a competition to create a socialbot. Basically, it's become very apparent that people are talking to Alexa and expecting conversation. Amazon believes in a satisfied customer, so they are trying to get some innovation in a tricky arena.

A. likes talking to Alexa. This started before we had our own, when her uncle introduced her and T. to the joys of Ask Forafart. Alexa also tells a few jokes. Alexa's jokes are relentlessly safe for small children and mixed company. I'm sure someone could be offended (obviously, by the bad puns, but I mean for content), but I cannot actually imagine how, so I'll be requiring details if you were.

The socialbot feature, however, is NOT relentlessly etc. We went through several socialbots trying to get one that might be fun for an 8 year old girl to talk to, and we picked the first one that offered to tell jokes, and asked it for a joke. Here was the _FIRST_ joke it told.

"What should you do if you come across a tiger in a jungle?"

Answer: "Wipe it off and apologize." Could have been "Say you're sorry" -- I don't recall. I was so startled, that I didn't say anything at all until A. said, "I don't get it. Why is that funny?" and then I was pissed. I said "Stop", gave it a 1 out of 5, and gave additional feedback that they should tell jokes about orgasming in something likely to be used by small children, and for good measure, tossed in the Always Popular, "What the fuck is wrong with you people?" because hey, she's already just heard a joke about coming, let's just toss an f bomb in there for good measure.

I don't worry about f bombs around my kids. They've all heard that word and a variety of others many times and grasp that they are not supposed to be saying that around [insert long list of people here] or their parents will be in a lot of trouble (I'm quite clear that _they_ aren't the ones likely to be in trouble -- it would be us, for letting them use that kind of language). So far, I have heard nothing to indicate my kids are cussing like me whenever I'm not around.

But my kids are in that experiment with humor stage where someone is going to have to explain why each joke is funny in excruciating detail. And _that_ is NOT a joke I want to have to explain. Seriously.

I get that the teams are all university kids, and I, too, would have thought this was absolutely hilarious (wait, no, I wouldn't have, I would have eye rolled at the pun and probably punched the young man who made the joke. All of my inappropriate humor in college revolved around the number 69). However, it's no secret that kids are talking to Alexa. And the socialbots are supposed to be making that work better. So, really, pretty sure that I'm not the only parent who doesn't want to be explaining those jokes to their small children. Altho probably I'm one of the few who will complain about it via alexa while dropping an f bomb in front of said child.

ETA: Links to prove I'm not the only parent whose kid finds Alexa entertaining:



Before you ask, yeah, I've seen the "digger, digger" video. A. was trying to get Alexa to play "Good Morning" by Grouplove (seriously, I don't _care_ how inappropriate something is around my kids, as long as (a) they can't understand it and (b) don't ask me to explain it. No one was ever harmed by a series of nonsense syllables they didn't understand as a small child. What those nonsense syllables _triggered_ maybe, but not the syllables themselves.). She kept getting something else. I eventually helped her out.
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It was T.'s half day. M. and I walked in the morning. I also got another 1 mile walk as well by myself. I picked him up. Since it is hot, I had iced tea at Starbucks, instead of my usual soy mocha. Then gymnastics, where he came out all red and sweaty, but otherwise cheerful.

(ETA: I repackaged the Don't Break the Ice game using rubber bands and bubble wrap to mitigate the way too interesting clattering sounds it made. T. and I stopped at the Littleton post office to mail it. He remembers going there to drop off other mail a couple years back -- good memory!)

He did his eye therapy later (with the sitter); that seems to be going slightly better.

A., R. and I went to Julie's Place. I was off on my usual rant about intersecting trends of increasing household formation (millenials are a _big_ cohort), changes in labor force participation by gender (men down slightly, women up more), increased enforcement on people who are working without having the legal right or proof that they have the legal right to work here, and a few other odds and ends. Basically, I suspect that we're entering a wave of household automation -- like many previous waves of household automation -- driven by the increasing difficulty of hiring people to do stuff for one. Previous waves have brought us indoor plumbing (no more hauling water and worse), central heating (no more hauling fuel), vacuums, dishwashers, laundry machines, electric lighting, countless small appliances, etc. Because we've managed to outsource and save some time/money/etc. by scaling up cooking (fast food / pizza / frozen meals / prepared foods at the grocery store, plus restaurants more generally) vs. doing it all on a very small scale in the home, the big remaining task would appear to be cleaning.

We've had roomba for a long while now (we're on v 3 for us), but I only started seriously using it myself less than a year ago, and it took a while to figure out the laziest way to get the house mostly presentable. I wasn't completely convinced at first that roomba was going to be a meaningful contributor to any other than get R. to quit complaining about stuff on the floor when he walked around barefoot.

Last night at dinner, it abruptly dawned on me that iRobot might be publicly traded (it is). And I already knew -- from a recent purchase -- that they had more going on than just roomba (turns out that Braava is pretty awesome). And they are big enough and have enough resources that they can grow by buying new entrants to the field as well as by internal innovation (which they are more than decent at).

I should be very clear. It would have been much better if this had occurred to me, say, a year ago. Or 6 months ago. Or, heck, even back in January. So don't view this as investment advice. It's not. But it does nestle nicely into part of my visualization of our future economy, which involves a smaller slice of the population being able to afford to hire paid domestic help than in the recent past.

While discussing this with B. (not often mentioned in this journal), he commented that he had been having trouble actually pulling the trigger on one of his possible buys, Zillow. That fits into the millenial household formation thesis, but not really the home automation thesis. It also, however, fits into a much larger thesis about disruptive technologies driven by web / mobile delivery of a service that used to be much more labor intensive. Basically, trying to make realtors go the way of travel agents. It's not that there aren't any more travel agents any more. It's just that they have a different audience, and a different set of tasks now.
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Not too long ago, I read _Waiter Rant_, which was entertaining. The author has a number of things to say about tipping, but basically accepts the proposition that the owner of the restaurant cannot afford to pay service staff the amount of money service staff collects from the customers in tips.

I've always thought this was a suspect argument. Sure, the owner can't pay Saturday evening tip rates for all the hours the wait staff is at the restaurant, doing all the tasks that they do. But there's no obvious reason why servers could not be paid an amount over the course of a day/week/two weeks/arbitrarily selected pay period which was equivalent to what they would have made with their current "tipped minimum wage" + tip income, less tip outs to other staff, and, for that matter, raise other staff pay to be equivalent to what they were receiving in tip outs. It's all revenue in the door from the customers. This is not manna from heaven. And in fact there are very high end restaurants which have eliminated tipping, even in NYC, for long enough that we are now seeing articles reviewing the impact of that decision (as opposed to the earlier spate of articles which only looked at _that_ restaurants were making that decision).


This article notes that while it _is_ all money in the door from the customer, revenue on the bill is handled differently whether it is on the bill, or a tip -- and that can have an impact on how much is then available for distribution among staff. And a lot of the rationale for eliminating tipping is the front of the house/back of the house division that was described vividly in _Waiter Rant_, but which presumed undocumenteds running the kitchen forever and ever amen, a scenario which just isn't happening any more. If restaurants can't come up with ways to even out compensation to the kitchen, they are not able to retain employees -- this is a chronic problem with restaurants, and eliminating tipping and repricing is one strategy for getting around this without just raising prices across the board and leaving tipping in place.

Over at BI, Matthew DeBord has produced another deliberately provocative piece, this time about Uber's problems and how they would all/mostly/okay maybe some of them get better if Uber introduced a tipping feature.


Debord claims that he "assumed Uber was baking a 20% tip into every ride". Which is a little odd -- that would illegal, among other things, altho I can certainly understand that people who have been keeping up with Uber news might go, like that ever stopped Uber. Tipping drivers and tipping waiters share some things and do not share others. The commonality -- personal service -- is pretty unambiguous. The difference -- taxi drivers are, at least in theory, truly not employees but rather independent business owners of the medallions -- is murky. Most actual drivers are NOT medallion owners, and their actual location on the employee/contractor continuum is often ill-defined and not entirely in compliance with all applicable laws.


I sure sympathize with servers who live in a state (like Massachusetts) where their employers can pay them a different, lower minimum wage. I wish every state went the way Washington did, raising the tipped minimum wage to parity with minimum wage (and they even left tipping intact).

That said, I finally took two Ubers in Seattle, roughly the same route (3 miles from a location on Cap Hill to a location in the downtown business distract). I tipped in cash ($5 on a roughly $16 ride) each time. First driver was a bit surprised, but we'd had a conversation about how this was my very first Uber ever. Second driver looked straight up shocked to have a $5 in his hand. Both were black car ride. I tip my car service (even with a baked in gratuity, I added cash) when I go to the airport, so I figured it wasn't unreasonable to do this. But honestly, if Uber has finally managed to change the expectations, turning that around now seems ridiculous. I'd much rather have the price on the ride go up and keep the no-tip culture, than push the price lower by reducing the amount to the driver and have the driver recover it by pressuring for cash tips.

DeBord argues that tipping is predictable at 20% -- he also says 20% is for "exceptional" service. And part of his argument is, everything requires a tip in NYC. But exporting that all over the country isn't necessarily where I think we should go with this. I'd far rather see us move in the direction of the restaurants experimenting with eliminating tipping to more fairly compensate back of the house. I'd rather see us move in the direction of paid employees vs. contractors. With transparency of benefits and, you know, compliance with labor law.

I know I'm asking a lot. I know it won't happen. But blithely saying that Uber should add a tipping feature is missing the Very Best Thing Ever about Uber. At the end of the ride, all you have to do is grab your stuff and get out of the car. I cannot tell you how obnoxious I have always found it to watch the meter, count out cash change (because of the non-existent credit card reader, or the reader that is conveniently for the driver "broken") while calculating a tip, and also collect all my stuff and get out of the car. I hate having all that happen at once, and I've left things in taxis. Uber really de-stressed the end of the ride. If they add a tipping feature, I hope they at least automate it to a customizable default so they don't lose the Just Get Out of the Car with My Stuff feature.
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We've been talking a lot post-election about the urban/rural divide. And every single time I hear about that, I think, really, what we need is Broadband Everywhere (and honestly, I'm pretty agnostic about the details on how that is delivered, altho I'm prepared to get into the weeds about what qualifies as broadband). There are a lot of people who moved from one part of the country to a coastal city for a better job market -- and a lot of those people miss where they come from, and where a lot of their family still resides. They miss the food. They miss the people, obviously. They miss the climate, the terrain, the places they went when they were kids, the restaurants they loved, the way people talk. It's a little different for everyone, but missing where one came from -- even if you never intend to go back -- is a remarkably common phenomenon. If the thing stopping you from going back is because there are Jobs and Restaurants and Music and Cultural Experiences where you live now, and there is an opioid epidemic and some scary, homophobic, racist people where you come from, it's kind of not even a choice. Even if the scary, homophobic, racist people are the people you love.

This is an important thing to notice. Because the way values evolve is by seeing how people we love have changed, admiring that change, and emulating it. If people with education and jobs get the opportunity to take their small business or even just their telecommutable job back to wherever they came from, their income and education and age and experience will almost instantly cause them to be a pillar of the community, which will initially be a little bit of a shock to everyone involved because they probably weren't when they left for college as a teenager who might have been a bit of a hellion when younger.

So. Broadband means Our Future Economy Today can go anywhere ... that Broadband is, for suitable definition of Broadband. Which would let everyone move _back_ to the places they love and be around the people they love. This would be great for the people who get the much lower cost of living in an amenable environment. And it would be even better for the people who never left, to have their loved one back ... and the money they spend in the local restaurants and so forth. And it would be really amazeballs for our country, to have the further mixing occur that moves us all gently forward into the future, rather than painfully, by forcing more people to move to already very expensive cities that are not so much to the liking to the people who have remained persistently rural.

ETA: I hope it is obvious that none of this is about me, since I am from Shoreline, a city immediately north of Seattle, and thus not lacking for broadband now or ... ever, since the invention of broadband. But I've sure heard about it from other people who moved to Seattle, and who missed where they came from.
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This is really long, but really excellent:


Have a little teaser:

"Unfortunately, the last official Census population projection available to the public was released in late 2014 (and its “starting point” was the “vintage 2013” population estimate), and since then (1) “actual” population growth has been significantly lower than these projections, and (2) the outlook for population growth has changed drastically. As such, the latest available “official” Census population projections are not very useful to analysts or policymakers, and any economic/housing/other forecasts based on these outdated population projections is of little use as well."

Lawler looks at the Census 2014 projections as a definitely wrong "base case" and then does a "seat of the pants" projection of a "Sorta Trumpy" scenario and a "Really Trumpy" scenario -- the latter is remarkable for how little the labor force grows in a "Really Trumpy" scenario, and household formation is significantly impacted as well.

I really enjoyed reading this post, and look forward to more along the same lines which I anticipate will show up at Calculated Risk in the future. A "Really Trumpy" scenario would imply -- to me, anyway -- incredibly slow growth for the indefinite future.
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And yet, apparently trouble happened on a dry, sunny day in the Arizona springtime:


I have used this link, because it has the best detail on the crash. Police say the fault was not on Uber's side; a left turner failed to yield and this led to the Uber Volvo SUV winding up on its side pointing the wrong way. R. suspects the rollover occurred as a result of an effort to evade the left turning vehicle. Reports concur there were "no serious injuries", which is good.

This BI coverage has the good picture.


I tend to feel that vehicles that wind up on their side are badly designed vehicles, however, other people do not agree with me. This particular SUV has all kinds of features intended to make sure everyone steps out of the vehicle after a rollover in fine shape.

Trash apps

Mar. 23rd, 2017 09:43 am
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I got to thinking the other day: wouldn't it be wonderful if there was an app (instead of a website) that would let you do things like, say, vacation hold your trash pickup, change the pick up day so you could have the trash picked up the day before a vacation or the day after a vacation, tell the charity vans you have things you would like them to come get, tell a service that you had just cleaned out an attic/basement/some other house and would like to have them bring a dumpster, etc. I figured, it would be good for private haulers -- it would simplify collecting payment if the app handled it, and it would probably increase their business. It would be an enormous convenience to customers, not having all that crap sitting around waiting for us to figure out where to take it and then finding the time to take it there. It might lead to the same kind of blurring of boundaries and re-investment that other platforms have caused to taxi fleets, limo companies, etc.

There are a bunch of What Day Is Your Pickup Day apps, on a city by city basis, and a couple that do the same thing for larger areas. That's not really what I'm looking for, especially since the times I have that question are usually weather related. It would be interesting to know whether those are just databases, or if they actually get push updates for weather related pickup day changes. Waste Management has an app that includes What Day info, account management features and a method for requesting a "bulk pickup" or an extra pickup. The bulk pickup categories for my account include: Furniture, Appliance, Large Yard Waste and the ever handy "Miscellaneous". Subcategories enumerate items of furniture (include Sofa with or without a bed), appliances, etc. Poking around in the app, I took a look at the holiday schedule and, in the course of hitting the arrow back, stalled and got an error message "Connection problem. Please try again" which suggests that while the app has some useful features in the front end and in terms of what kinds of services you can set up using it, it has some bugs that need to be worked on (hitting the "Home" button in the app -- not the apple button -- which in theory went to the same place, did work). The app does not appear to support "vacation hold" or "resume pickup" features, altho I think you _can_ do this by calling customer service.

Mr. Bin, in Canada, may also help schedule one-off pickups; I'm not sure.

A company called Spoiler Alert specializes in food: connecting food that is going to hit its expiration date soon, and people who might be able to use it. That's a great idea -- get a little money to one group, save another group a bunch of money, and reduce waste in the food system as a whole. It's exactly the kind of thing that makes the world a better place, while simultaneously reducing GDP. Our economic measurements really ought to do a better job of this stuff -- Spoiler Alert is a lot like a negative line count day for a programmer. Generally, those are our most productive days, but almost no one who measures productivity recognizes them as such.

A company called Rubicon does some of what I am looking for (enter an address, find a company that will pick up whatever you are trying to get rid of). They've been around a while, with a business focus. They did exactly what I wanted to see, which align incentives to divert: private haulers have to pay tipping fees, so they are motivated to find ways to get paid for something rather than pay to dump it (recycling). More recently, they got a city of Atlanta contract for 6 months to help the city with diversion.


Santa Fe is using them for data collection:


And then there are much, much, much smaller operations, such as Pick Pink in Manhattan, Kansas:


With Waste Management -- the biggest residential trash hauler in the US -- offering a somewhat credible app and service associated with it, it will be interesting to see how companies like Rubicon and Spoiler Alert evolve. According to a source from 2006 linked from the WM wikipedia entry, WM + Republic handle about half the solid waste in the US by volume. However, as near as I can tell, Republic is smaller than WM, and I don't think they serve half the households in the US, so I've got my doubts about some of these estimates (estimates associated with solid waste in the US specifically, but everywhere, really, tend to be really not very accurate, shall we say? Or even comparable).

Until a few months ago, my WM service involved guys lifting the bins; that has since been automated (so it's a guy driving the truck and there is a claw that lifts the bins). Solid waste associated truck fleets are among the largest truck fleets in the company. This is clearly an area ripe for further automation.

ETA: I wanted to mention "Donation Town", a website not an app, which I ran across. It is a really interesting idea, but too lightly implemented to be useful (as yet). Type in a zip code, find out who does what kind of charity pickup in your area. This kind of data is still way too distributed; it would be a huge project to get it all into some kind of database and make it usable by a service and related app.
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Kate Taylor over at Business Insider has been posting some interesting items in the consumer/retail space, which includes Travel and Food and Bev. I've blogged about her posts in the past (I definitely remember blogging about her week eating fast food). More recently, she has booked a vacation through Costco Travel, and enjoyed it while also noting that it was extremely convenient and her online research indicated she also received good value for money.

However, as interesting as all these pieces have been, her posts about Starbucks Mobile Ordering woes have been the ones I can't quite stop thinking about. I'll nod about the difficulties of ordering reasonable food at fast food places. I'll tell my husband to take a look at the Costco Travel options occasionally. But Mobile Ordering looks like one of those wave of socio-technological innovation thingies just waiting to happen.

The short form about mobile ordering is simple: it isn't clear that it saves any time _standing in line waiting_ versus going into the store, waiting in line and ordering. The stores are not designed to cope with the backup in drinks that can happen when someone posts a large mobile order but isn't _right there_ to pick it up when it is ready.

I'm betting they can figure out a way around the latter problems. Starbucks, as Taylor notes in at least some of her coverage, is working on store redesign, as are individual stores. I cannot tell you how happy I would be if a bunch of the merch went away. And it would make sense to replace merch with people engaging with the core business -- merch is what you do to intensify a limited existing customer base. If mobile ordering actually takes off, they should be able to do a lot more core business out of the same physical footprint, which is a better deal that leaving merch sitting around waiting to be light fingered and/or destroyed and/or rendered irrelevant by seasonal changes.

But the first problem is key. Virtual waiting is _supposed_ to result in a shorter time spent physically standing in line, even if it results in a longer total delay before receiving whatever it is that you are waiting for. This is the net effect of the original FastPass at Disney. For example: you walk up to the ride. You see that it is a 45 minute wait in line to ride Roger Rabbit's ToonTown Spin. You see that the Return Time on Fastpass is 45 minutes in the future. You grab fastpasses, go play in the little playground a half hour while one of your party gets hot dogs, eat the hot dogs, and ultimately ride the ToonTown Spin while hoping the wee one doesn't urp it up during the ride, an hour after you originally looked at that 45 minute line. Even tho it took you an extra 15 minutes to get on the ride, you also got lunch, and the wee one got to kick it in the playground instead of kicking you and everyone around you while getting increasingly hangry waiting for Roger Rabbit which, while an awesome ride, is not obviously worth a 45 minute wait in line.

If, however, you return with your FastPass to ride Roger (that sounds naughty!) and you wind up waiting 45 minutes in line, you are going to have non-cartoon steam coming out of you because you will be angry. There is an expectation that there will be some physical waiting in line with FastPass, Universal Front of the Line, etc. or when you return after being paged at a restaurant -- but it is supposed to be a _shorter_ wait than if you had just stood in whatever the standby equivalent was.

So how is Virtual Waiting working these days, and is it better than Regular Old Queuing?

On our most recent trip to Disney_land_, which still has Old Skool FastPass, we were actually able to do precisely what I described (minus the playground and hotdog). A. and I would arrive at a ride which had FastPass, note that the Return Time and the queue time where equivalent, grab FastPasses, go do another ride or character meet and greet or shop or eat or whatever, and return to ride the ride. True, we were there in February, on the other hand, it was vacation week for a lot of people since the start of our trip was Presidents' Day weekend. I believe the primary reason this was actually working was because a lot of people had Space Mountain or Star Tours fastpasses for much later in the day, and thus could not exploit the FastPass system in the middle of the day. However, it could also be because Disney has done something to the FastPass system that was invisible to me that took heavy users out of the system. (Does anyone know? Like, are those cheap California passes prevented from using FastPass?) The Land is due to get a FastPass upgrade to MaxPass, which will connect to visitors phones and allow reservations, similar to the World. It will be a day-of reservation (different from the 30-60 day reservation window at the World), one at a time, $10 per ticket added cost, unclear what it will cost to add it to annual passes.

Disney has done a lot of experimenting with queues over the years. The FastPass system was an attempt to get rid of physical queuing (seriously, did not work out). Most of the rest of their queuing innovations have involved making waiting in line Fun, with varying degrees of success (Space Mountain video games are not bad, but the new Peter Pan queue at the World is arguably as good if not better than the ride itself, which is really should be, given how much time you spend in it).

Disney has a variety of show/ride hybrids with staged queues. Universal has these as well, and with the new Jimmy Fallon ride at Orlando, has made a component of the staging virtually queued; in conjunction with the exhibits, this is basically the same solution as the Double Dumbo. Double Dumbo at Disney not only doubled the ride capacity by having two Dumbos; it added a restaurant-style pager system. You wait in line to get a pager, then can play in the air conditioned, tented play area. When your pager goes, you can go ride Dumbo. But you don't have to just yet if you want to play longer. You still wait for the pager, and you wait after turning in your pager, but both waits are fairly short.

Many restaurants with pagers allow people with pagers to enter the lounge or bar, roughly the food and bev equivalent of looking at the exhibits at the Jimmy Fallon ride or playing in the air conditioned Dumbo playground. You have something to do while you are waiting and can go use the 'strooms without requiring one of your party to wait in a physical line. But none of these distractions (or added attractions, depending on how optimistic you are) seem applicable to Starbucks' conundrum.

I cannot help but think that Starbucks has really bitten off a problem for itself, however. There are way too many people who will do Just One More Thing. And Just One More Thing can lead to quite a delay in picking up a hot (or cold) coffee beverage. This would seem to guarantee a worse experience consuming the beverage, a problem which does not occur with waiting in lines to see shows, go on rides or eat a sit down meal in a restaurant. I hope they figure it out. And I'm wondering if the solution is going to look something like, we won't even bother to start your order until your phone's GPS shows you approaching the restaurant.

The Uberization of mobile ordering. Mmmmm. Buzzword stew.


Feb. 1st, 2017 10:14 pm
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On Tuesday, I was trying to come up with some low energy entertainment for my daughter, who was getting bored with the other things she had been doing (watching TV shows, playing iPad games). I said, hey, lets shop for luggage online! She was all over that. So off I went to eBags to shop for pink luggage.

Wow. So, we discovered the Barracuda bag:


Collapsible hardsided luggage that, like a nice handbag, comes with a storage bag. Unlike a nice handbag, it rolls, and the handle that comes out to drag it along has a fold out tray with cup holders. Other odds and ends like an electronic tracker, an included digital scale, etc. You can get it in pink. We did not. Altho I'm not saying we won't ever.

We also ran across the not-yet-for-sale Modo Bag:


Basically, fits into the overhead big, has pop out handlebar and foot pegs, and a battery so you can not only sit on it and roll along, it is powered. Wacky! After the hoverboard and Samsung Note debacles, I wouldn't be in a hurry to be the first person to buy it. Also, it is expensive -- over a $1000.

We also discovered scooter bags for kids and adults.


and many others.

We ordered A. a child size one, because she's the littlest of us and the one most likely to get frustrated with us moving too quickly through an airport. I'll let you know how that goes after our next trip.

Really, luggage innovation in wheels such as this:


seem downright passe in the brave new world that is 2017 in luggage innovation.

Got any you have seen and were amazed by? Or just went, wha? over? Please share!
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I didn't go on any walks today. My daughter was home sick. We mostly watched TV, played iPad games and just hung out. We went to the bank and got some cash and a lollipop, and that was pretty much the excitement for the day.

The rental house I had a request out for turned out to be suffering some confusion about the date. I was clear -- but no one ever looks at the year, so if you say Month, Year, and the Year isn't this year but next year, and the Month is in the future of this year, everyone assumes this year. So if I say, hey, what about November 2018, everyone reads November 2017 (just an example -- not the actual month in question). I've had this happen before with other rental houses.

This was a bummer, because it is another situation where there's a family event, and I want a place as close to the event festivities as possible. And I found a great place a mile and a half down the road. Not as amazing as the LBI house from T-weekend (that was an easy walk for my daughter, about a quarter mile), but not bad at all, considering the rural area. Alas, turns out they'll be taking it off the market after this summer to do renovations and maybe live in it themselves. More power to them. Sheep! (Did I mention rural?)

I wasn't that enthused about the other stuff close in, so I started poking around looking for a regular hotel; alas, the nearest Courtyard only takes reservations a year in advance, so I put on the calendar to make a backup reservation there this summer. After the fiasco that was trying to get a rental house in the DC area last December (multiple fails due to non-response and/or calendar inaccuracies by the listing person), I figured I'd rather go with something a bit more corporate.

And that leads me to the observation (I found a really great place -- a rental home associated with a resort). For a long while after the bust, the big theme was "The Sharing Economy". Letting people rent your car. Uber. Lyft. AirBnB. etc. And it was really great for a while. But more and more, I'm finding that everyone lists on multiple services, and doesn't keep the calendar up to date. They don't respond very quickly. When they do, it's always sort of a, oh, sorry, that doesn't work for us. Even when I _do_ rent from someone and have a good-to-great experience, if I try to re-book with them or give their info to someone else because they want to book with them, a lot of the time they aren't listing anywhere any more.

"The Sharing Economy" made sense when it was tough getting a regular job: regular hours, enough of them, for enough money. The unemployment rate is down in a lot of places. And the underemployment numbers are even finally coming down some. It isn't perfect everywhere, but unfortunately for me, it's Good Enough that a lot of the people who were being such amazeballs hosts at these places apparently have other things to do now.

Back to hotels and resorts for me.

ETA: The concert planning continues apace. Bandsintown is a great app for helping find out about shows early enough so you don't find out about a show at the point when your only really good options are resale.
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We had one sitter, for a somewhat shorter time this afternoon. I got to have my Dutch lesson! That was nice. We walked the dogs. We chatted and caught up with each other's family dramas, which is always really enjoyable. We watched NOS Journaal. A. fed me a lovely salmon lunch with capers and lemon and cumin and I think bell peppers. Super tasty! Lekker!

I had my walk with M. I had caught her up on the most recent news the previous day. P., the dog, had an upset tummy so did not join us. I watched some TV and did some vacuuming and ran the new Roomba downstairs.

I had a chance to talk to the other sitter (I caught one yesterday) about the most recent news, so I now feel like everyone who really needed to be updated has been. I feel a little more settled; when I get caught up on the house cleaning, and get a chance to have my W/Th/F chats with Seattle friends, I think I'll have gained enough perspective that I might choose to share a little more about recent developments.

It is amazing to me, sometimes, how much the world changes when I'm not really paying attention to some aspect of it. I've found myself explaining over and over again to people around my age that the way schools handle bullies and bullying today is drastically different from our childhood, never mind our parents' childhoods. Turns out that isn't the only change. We live in a better world in so many ways, but the changes have been so small they can be invisible to us. And because so many of the people I know and love have basically progressive orientations, we are more focused on the changes that still need to be made, we sometimes fail to appreciate how many changes have happened already. For example, I was pointing out to my sister how stalking and harassment and prank calls were handled so very differently in our childhood vs. now, and what we really need to do is to move some of those changes into the online world. We were talking about the national discussion going on about twitter and similar places online where People Behave Badly and Expect No Repercussions. But it turns out, that having a powerful person behave badly in our society DOES NOT always turn into permission for everyone else to behave badly. Sometimes, it leads to a state change, as we all suddenly recognize that that is Not OK, and we create structures of social enforcement to get people to be more civil.
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Especially since the start of the year but, to be fair, possibly somewhat before that, Facebook ads have been for things I actually want to buy. And I don't mean, serving me ads for things I searched for, looked at a detail page for, and then decide either not to buy at all, or at least not to buy right now -- you know, you go look at a handbag on eBags, and you are stalked by ads for it on all sites you visit for the next week? Wait, that's never happened to you? Never mind then.

Anyway. The most memorable purchase recently was for Hickie's, a little silicone or something device that lets you replace the laces in shoes with something you can then just pull on. I had no idea these existed, but as soon I did, my next question was, does it come in pink? And once I knew it did, I bought it within minutes. There have also been a variety of unsuccessful attempts to purchase (all clothing that doesn't come in my size, basically, at least, unless I want to buy men's sizing which I don't always care to do). That is hardly Facebook's fault. That's the fashion industry's fault for not wanting to make stuff in sizes larger than 16.

After years of being alternately offended or amused by FB ads, to suddenly discover I look forward to the ads because I find stuff that solves longstanding problems (don't even get me started on my daughter's shoe issues), stylishly, for not too much money -- well, color me surprised and pleased.

So, what's up with Facebook ads?
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Back at the beginning of the Great Recession, there were articles like this, about stores going out of business and the companies that helped them do so.


One of the companies named in this article, G.A.W., sent me a letter. A store in my town is going out of business, and I have received an invitation to one of these sales, right down to the bring the letter and you get points to the prize that someone will win, and bring the envelope and you'll get even more. That little nugget is hidden in a footnote all the way at the bottom of the letter.

The letter has all the elements. Invitations to loyal customers before generally being promoted. A prize giveaway. The requirement to have the invitation to get the early discounts, but you can bring someone along who didn't get the invitation.

It's January, and January is a come to Jesus month for retail. If you didn't make enough in the holiday season, January is when you may decide that paying the rent until the next big month of sales just isn't worth it.

That time has come for my local, independent book store.

I'm totally going to the sale. I've continued to buy books there during the entire time I've been raving about e-books. I've continued to buy gift certificates there for other people during that time. I'm gonna miss 'me when they're gone, but I cannot say I'm particularly surprised. A lot of other stores which were damaged by the transition to digital media but which survived found some kind of merchandise niche. My favorite local chain that displays this is Newbury comics. When their music (yeah, I know, you didn't see that coming, Left Coast readers, did you?) business fell off a cliff, their nerd merch business let them continue soldiering on.

I don't know why Willow Books never found a merch business. They experimented. They started selling used books. They sold more and more coloring books for adults and jigsaw puzzles and similar. But this town supports more than one The Paper Stores in surprisingly close proximity (one of which is right next to a toy store and a gift store -- seriously, you wouldn't think it would be possible, but if you're looking for a present for someone who is hard to shop for, those three shops are pretty much guaranteed to offer something awesome for a reasonable price, which is probably why the trio continue to do business as a cluster). And Willow couldn't seem to take their own cafe -- which existed more as a theoretical entity on its website than a place you could actually go to eat or drink -- seriously, much less anything other than books.

And paper books has gone from being a tough business to an increasingly impossible one.

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