On Vacation, 2009

"HARWICH - Bent over a laptop in the drivers’ seat of her car, Marcia King hunted for a signal. She wanted to connect with the outside world. Just for a few minutes. And then she could go back to her vacation.

"King’s summer home in Harwich Port, like many old Cape Cod houses, doesn’t have an Internet connection. But the Brooks Free Library offers free wireless Internet signal, pulsing out the door even when the doors are closed. King drives to the library parking lot nearly every day, joining other vacationers looking for a quick jolt of home, via the free Internet connection.

“You come here at 10 p.m. at night, and there’s a couple people sitting in the parking lot,’’ said King, who travels from Maine to live on the Cape for two months each summer." (Boston Globe)

I remember a pre-internet vacation one summer with my family on Nantucket, when all hell was breaking loose back at the office. No cellphones, no phone in the rented cottage, a one-mile bike ride into town to a public phone. There was no expectation of constant updates and input, and I had several built-in excuses why I "couldn't get back to you."

I did end up having a couple of long business calls on the public phone at the wharf while watching ferries of tourists come and go, and it was difficult to delete the business file from my mind completely, but it's certainly different - and, I think, worse - today.

The BlackBerry As Cartoon Thought Bubble

At business meetings, I use my BlackBerry to take notes from time to time. This frequently elicits disapproving looks, and after reading this article in today's New York Times, I think I can begin to understand why.

"'You’ll have half the participants BlackBerrying each other as a submeeting, with a running commentary on the primary meeting,' Mr. Reines said. 'BlackBerrys have become like cartoon thought bubbles.'

"Some professionals admitted that they occasionally sent mocking commentary about the proceedings, but most insisted that they used smartphones for legitimate reasons: responding to deadline requests, plumbing the Web for data to illuminate an issue under discussion or simply taking notes."

I'm probably not going to stop taking notes on my BlackBerry in business meetings, because it is more efficient for me to do so, and I think it's only a matter of time before it is no longer seen as a distraction.

America's Next Top Model

In a weak moment one night last week, I watched the conclusion of last season's "America's Next Top Model."

This is the kind of thing that happens to a guy caught in that dreadful lull between football and baseball seasons, especially if he doesn't care about college basketball.

So having watched the show, I wasn't at all surprised to read the following in today's New York Times:

"An open casting call for the reality television program “America’s Next Top Model” turned into mayhem on Saturday afternoon in Midtown Manhattan. Fights broke out, three people were arrested and at least six others suffered minor injuries after they were pushed down in a crush of thousands of aspiring models waiting in line to be discovered."

What did surprise me as I watched the video, was how many of the hopefuls and their entourages continued to push forward in order to improve their place in line, instead of getting the frack out of there:

On Not Doing Due Diligence

I think Joe Nocera asks an important question: should taxpayers bail out the investors who lost their money in the Madoff scandal?

“'These were people with a fair amount of money, and most of them sought no professional advice,” said Bruce C. Greenwald, who teaches value investing at the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University.

"Mr. Hedges said: 'It’s like trying to do your own dentistry. It is a real lesson that people cannot abdicate personal responsibility when it comes to their personal finances.'

"And that’s the point. People did abdicate responsibility — and now, rather than face that fact, many of them are blaming the government for not, in effect, saving them from themselves. Indeed, what you discover when you talk to victims is that they harbor an anger toward the S.E.C. that is as deep or deeper than the anger they feel toward Mr. Madoff. There is a powerful sense that because the agency was asleep at the switch, they have been doubly victimized. And they want the government to do something about it.

"I spoke, for instance, to Phyllis Molchatsky, who lost $1.7 million with Mr. Madoff — and is now suing the S.E.C. to recoup her losses, on the grounds the agency was so negligent it should be forced to pony up. Her story is sure to rouse sympathy — Mr. Madoff was recommended to her by her broker as a safe place to put her money, and she felt virtuous making 9 or 10 percent a year when others were reaching for the stars. The failure of the S.E.C., she told me, “is a double slap in the face.” And she felt the government owed her. Her lawyer, who represents several dozen Madoff victims, told me he “wouldn’t be averse” to a victims’ fund.

"Even Eli Wiesel thought the government should help the victims — or at least the charitable institutions among them. “The government should come and say, ‘We bailed out so many others, we can bail you out, and when you will do better, you can give us back the money,’ ” he said at the Portfolio event.

"But why?

"What happened to the victims of Bernard Madoff is terrible. But every day in this country, people lose money due to financial fraud or negligence. Innocent investors who bought stock in Enron lost millions when that company turned out to be a fraud; nobody made them whole. Half a dozen Ponzi schemes have been discovered since Mr. Madoff was arrested in December. People lose it all because they start a company that turns out to be misguided, or because they do something that is risky, hoping to hit the jackpot. Taxpayers don’t bail them out, and they shouldn’t start now. Did the S.E.C. foul up? You bet. But that doesn’t mean the investors themselves are off the hook.

"Investors blaming the S.E.C. for their decision to give every last penny to Bernie Madoff is like a child blaming his mother for letting him start a fight while she wasn’t looking."

Virginity Auction Now At $3.8 Million

Click here for an update to the following post from September

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 22-year-old woman in the United States is publicly auctioning her virginity to pay for her college education, sparking a heated online debate about sex and morality.

The student from San Diego, California, who is using the pseudonym Natalie Dylan for "safety reasons," said she had no moral dilemma with her decision and found it "empowering".

"I don't think auctioning my virginity will solve all my problems," she told celebrity television show The Insider on Wednesday. "But it will create some financial stability. I'm ready for the controversy, I know it will come along. I'm ready to do this. We live in a capitalist society. Why shouldn't I be allowed to capitalize on my virginity?" she added.

The woman, who has earned a bachelor degree in women's studies and now wants to start a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, is hoping the bidding will hit $1 million. The online auction site eBay turned her down so the auction will take place at a Nevada brothel, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, where her sister is working to pay off her college debts. The date for the auction was not immediately available.

In a flurry of media interviews and appearances, she admitted that her mother, a fourth grade teacher, does not agree with her decision.

(Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Miral Fahmy)
© Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved


File this under "Be Careful What You Wish For:"

I was once part of a team reviewing a software application that vets internet inquiries from potential customers. As part of the project, a list of "vulgar" words and phrases was developed to screen out pranks and inquiries not worthy of followup.

One of the words on the list was "hooters," which meant that any inquiry containing that word would not be passed through for marketing and sales followup.

Someone on the team pointed out that Hooters has 310 restaurants, generated over $120 million in revenue in the prior year, and according to this recent article is open to new technology:

"ATLANTA -- Hooters of America Inc. will install Radiant Systems' 6e line of back-office and point-of-sale technology at all 110 company-run branches of the 310-unit casual-dining chain, Radiant said.

"The technology vendor also said Atlanta-based Hooters had named Radiant as a preferred supplier to franchisees."

"By providing comprehensive table-service functionality from the POS to the back office, Radiant technology will help Hooters efficiently manage restaurants and improve profitability," Chris Duncan, Hooters vice president of administration, said in a written statement.

"He said the 6e system's centralized data-reporting capabilities and Internet functionality -- or "Web-architected platform," as Radiant described it -- would "allow our employees and managers to see enterprisewide metrics in near real-time, which will enable us to manage growth and change based on more accurate operational information."

"Hooters" was promptly removed from the "vulgar" list.