Service of Happy Surprises: Contango IT Will Make Your Day

July 17th, 2017

Categories: Office, Surprises, Treats

Photo: solelydevoted.net

I associate a surprise with a treat. I enjoyed both recently.

The place: The kitchen in my office

The time: Lunch

One of my office friends was making a cup of coffee. As I walked past him to get my daily seltzer I mumbled that I was so much in the mood for lemonade but would settle for the cold fizzy water I’d stored in the fridge.

As I returned to my space a few of the others in the office were milling about, putting food in the microwave, washing a dish or walking down the hall.

Sean Galvin, service coordinator, Contango IT

Around 4 pm Sean Galvin, a service coordinator fairly new at Contango IT, one of the other businesses in the office, walked into my room, put a bottle of Tropicana lemonade on my desk, didn’t say a word and left. Imagine that! The surprise made me so happy. The lemonade was delicious.

Contango is a leader in IT consulting, wiring/infrastructure and custom programming–a pioneer in cloud computing since 2008 with a client list of household names. This growing company is staffed with young and bright, informed millennials with a range of extracurricular interests making them fun to speak with after hours. Danny Mizrahi, founder and principal, knows how to pick staff. They work hard; are conscientious, and at the same time are thoughtful neighbors. Previously they’ve cheerfully participated in posts on this blog, sharing titles of their favorite scary movies and IT buzzwords that irritated them.

We are bombarded daily with examples of greed and selfishness so that a kind act takes on additional significance. Have you benefited by a surprise lately that warmed your heart?

Photo: culinaryservicesgroup.com

Service of Telecommuting [II] & Teams, Old as the Hills

July 13th, 2017

Categories: Collaboration, Remote Office, Teams, Telecommuting, Work

Photo: michiganemploymentlawadvisor.com

In spring 2013 I wrote “Service of Telecommuting” after Yahoo’s HR director, Jackie Reses, had sent a memo to all staff telling them that if they worked at home they had until June of that year to report, fulltime, to a desk at a Yahoo office. According to a recent article on bloomberg.com, “The Rise and Fall of Working from Home–The permanent telecommuter is going extinct,” the approach continues to unravel.

In the article, brought to my attention by CG who has contributed to this blog, Rebecca Greenfield reported that earlier this year IBM “told 2,000 U.S. workers they could no longer work from home and about the same number of employees that they had to commute into offices more often. Facing 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue, IBM hopes that bringing people back together will lead to faster, more productive, and more creative workers.”

The last straw

Small companies have also tried the concept and have rejected it. Greenfield described a PR agency whose staff didn’t act like the grownups the boss had expected them to be. Too many took advantage of the situation so he cancelled the option after less than a year. In addition to not answering the phone when home and being incommunicado for full days, “The last straw…was when someone refused to come in for a meeting because she had plans to go to the Hamptons,” the owner told Greenfield.

She wrote: “More than 60 percent of organizations surveyed by the Society of Human Resource Management this year said they allow some type of telecommuting, up from 20 percent in 1996. But telecommuting comes in many flavors, and 77 percent of organizations don’t let people work from home on a full-time basis. Most employers allow ad-hoc remote work for the person who needs to stay home for the plumber or wait for a package.”

Photo: 123rf.com

You might not remember who French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is [1808-1890], but you’ll remember the saying he penned: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” I am thinking of the big deal made these days about teams when in my experience they have existed all along.

Regardless, I’m not convinced that the increase of teams in the workplace that Greenfield noted has accelerated the demise of telecommuting. “At the same time, work has also become more team-based. Only 38 percent of companies are ‘functionally’ organized today with workers grouped together by job type, a 2016 Deloitte survey found. Most comprise collaborative groups that shift depending on the work.”

In my opinion, collaboration and face-to-face communication help any enterprise that consists of more than one person. People who prefer to work alone, at home, shouldn’t get jobs in a company. Obviously there are exceptions for temporary periods—sick family members and anticipated nasty travel glitches for example—but as a routine option, I think what telecommuting saves in real estate—space to house an employee–is lost in lackluster productivity. Do you agree? Do you think that IBM will find that its policy change will help turn around its period of sluggish performance and creativity?

Photo: zultys.com

Service of Because They Can Though Maybe They Shouldn’t

July 10th, 2017

Categories: Civility, Courtesy, Driving, Entitlements, Garbage, Politicians, Selfish

The world seems to be divided between those who do anything they want because they can and those who factor in others. Since I wrote, last week, about the executives who don’t blink at charging exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs my mind continues in that track.

The driver of a supersized SUV turning into 45th Street from First Avenue didn’t take his foot off the pedal for one second and almost ran me over. Why? Because he could—nobody stopped him and even if he’d hit me, he’d have been off and running for the same reason. The light was fully in my favor [as in the photo above] and I was crossing at just the right place [unusual for some New Yorkers].

The driver felt big, important and on a mission. I was an irritating pedestrian in his way, slowing progress. This scene happens countless times a day to thousands all over the city. Over the weekend we were in a cab that missed being slammed by a zigzagging driver who treated Lexington Avenue as though it was a super highway. Sometimes the threatening vehicles are bicycles driven by thoughtless, entitled individuals.

Photo: pinterest

The SUV incident happened two days after NJ Governor Christie sunned himself on Island Beach State Park in front of the state-owned summer house [photo right]. This beach—and all state parks in the Garden State–were closed to other citizens June 30-July 3 because of the second government shutdown in that state’s history. Christie’s beach time wasn’t illegal—the house has access to the beach—though when he and the family were captured on camera by a news helicopter, it didn’t look good [no pun intended]. As Christie put it at a news conference in which he was criticized: “Run for governor, and you can have a residence there,” according to nj.com.

Island Beach State Park, NJ

He claimed that he’d promised his son that he would celebrate his birthday at the beach. But just because he could didn’t mean he should when his constituents had to cancel their picnic, swimming and sunning plans. “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t set well with most. In fact, his selfishness may have ruined it for future governors. There’s talk about selling the house or renting it to generate income for the state.

For the most part, the people I know and work with are thoughtful, caring, empathetic, courteous and cordial—because they choose to be. The men at the transfer station in Millbrook, NY were so gentle and understanding when I showed up on a recent Saturday with a car filled with garbage, paper and bottles. I was wringing my hands because I didn’t have my ticket [the first time ever]. I felt overwhelmed by their kind, understanding response. “Not to worry,” they said, “We’ll get you next time,” and they grabbed for the bags and bottles and moved them to join like refuse in the three separate sections. Wet garbage costs $5/bag.

In your life, are there more SUV drivers and Christie-like characters or more people like the men at the transfer station?

Service of “I’ll Pay,” No “You’ll Pay”—Who’ll Pay?

July 6th, 2017

Categories: Etiquette, Manners, Restaurant

 

 

Photo: groupon.com

Tinder is a popular app where singles meet, [it boasts a million subscribers], and it—and websites like it–has changed the dating landscape as people tend to have many more first dates than before. Khadeeja Safdar wrote about the new dynamic in “Who Pays on the First Date? No One Knows Anymore, and It’s Really Awkward–First dates multiply in era of Tinder, and those tabs add up. Some women are wary the fake ‘reach’ for the wallet won’t be turned down.”

Photo: zoosk.com

The title and subtitle of this Wall Street Journal article tell the story.

Safdar described some of the prickly endings timed around restaurant check arrival time.

  • Before the check came the date excused himself to visit the WC and said, “I’ll wait for you outside.”
  • A woman ordered two entrees, ate the pasta and asked the waiter to wrap up the grilled fish. When she was in the ladies’ room her date, a well healed physician who had planned to pay for dinner, asked for separate checks because he “didn’t like feeling used.”
  • Having met for drinks, the woman asked her date if they were planning to order food. The response: “Don’t you have food at home?”
  • When a college student got home from dinner initiated by her date who chose the restaurant, he sent her an “invoice via the mobile-payment app Vennio for her portion of the meal.” She didn’t pay and blocked him.
  • One date proposed splitting a burger and fries, cut the burger unevenly, taking the far larger half. When the check came, the woman “performed the ritual reach for her credit card, and he agreed to let her pay half without any hesitation. ‘Even the waitress looked at him, like, are you serious?’”
  • The date who forgot his wallet’s an oldie but still happens.

 “The rules aren’t complicated, according to etiquette experts,” wrote Safdar. “‘If you invite, you pay,’ said Diane Gottsman, author of ‘Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.’ ‘But the reality is that the other person may not know the rules or realize it’s a date.’”

Photo: meetville.com

This is what I think: To avoid uncomfortable moments establish who pays for what before the date takes place. Who wants to pay for one or two meals with a stranger the cost of which is five times your restaurant budget for the quarter when the other person chose the preposterously pricey venue? On the other hand, if you can afford to watch the scene play out and if you have a strong stomach for discomfort, the way a person acts in this situation tells a lot about them and whether or not you’ll want to see them ever again.

Can you share examples such as those above or ones that turned out nicely? What do you think the answer is for a seamless first date? Does age have anything to do with the outcome?

Photo: marketwatch.com

Service of Greed: Will it Get You One or Another Way?

July 3rd, 2017

Categories: Greed, Medicine, Pharmaceutical

Photo: linkedin.com

Martin Shkreli is on trial for federal securities fraud, but regardless of how the judge instructs the jury to forget his arrogance in another high profile example of greed, it may nevertheless impact his destiny. Well over 100 potential jurors were already excused because they had nasty things to say about the man.

Photo: drugs.com

I previously wrote about Shkreli in “Service of Side Effects of Drug Prices.” He earned the rights to a life-saving drug, Daraprim, that for decades saved lives of those with a potentially fatal parasitic infection, when he bought a drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals AG. He raised the price of a pill to $750 from $13.50 because, as Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Davis O’Brien quoted him, “he had an obligation to ‘maximize our profit.’”

Let the jury decide his fate.

Speaking of drugs and greed, the EpiPen price-gouging saga comes close, but there’s hope. Read on.

Photo: capitalwired.com

Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan, led the charge on the price of the emergency allergy medicine from $94 for a pair when her company purchased the product, to $700, for those without insurance, or $630 with. Further, the pens need to be replaced every year. Under pressure, the company subsequently introduced a generic version that cost $225-$425 wrote Linda A. Johnson, ABC News.

“Analysts and others have estimated that it costs less than $20 to produce a pair of EpiPens,” she reported.

This was background to the real focus of Johnson’s news: The FDA “approved Adamis Pharmaceuticals Corp.’s product, which should go on sale later this year. Symjepi is a syringe prefilled with the hormone epinephrine, which helps stop life-threatening allergic reactions from insect stings and bites, foods such as nuts and eggs, or certain medications.”

She continued: “Adamis spokesman Mark Flather said Symjepi is intended to be a “low-cost alternative” to EpiPen and similar products, and the company is aiming to sell it for less than generic EpiPens.” Claims about Symjepi range from being easier to use than EpiPen and because the syringe is smaller, it fits more easily in pockets and handbags.

Here’s hoping Symjepi [what a name] will represent healthy competition to EpiPen, serving to adjust the prices of all antidotes to severe allergies. “Adamis said it is still lining up a distributor so it hasn’t set the exact price for its product, which will be sold in pairs like EpiPen,” wrote Johnson.

I believe in profits but really.

  • How can a manufacturer of life-saving medicines gouge to such an extent and sleep at night?
  • How can investors stand silent?
  • Is this approach standard practice with pharmaceuticals?
  • Are there any benevolent CEOs?
  • Are these manufacturers encouraged by the climate in which 217 House members and at least 43 Senators don’t blink at tossing 22 million off health insurance while lowering taxes for the wealthy?
  • And last, public pressure has put an end to careers of corporate and religious sexual abusers and loudmouth public figures who use inappropriate language. Will it impact flagrant examples of corporate greed?

Photo: addictedtocostco.com

Service of Say What? A Mystery in the Making

June 29th, 2017

Categories: Detectives, Fugitives

Photo: npr.org

I was listening to the radio at 3 a.m. Sunday morning when I heard an unsettling news brief about two dangerous fugitives from Tennessee last seen in “upstate New York.” The newscaster mentioned a town I’d not heard of—Pine Bush, N.Y.—and described it as “40 miles south of Vassar College.” The male and female fugitives, aged 24 and 22 respectively, are on the Volunteer State’s 10 most-wanted list.

Which leads me to my first question: Vassar is in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., so why not reference Poughkeepsie since the college in no way enters the picture? In addition, Google noted that the towns are 27.5 miles apart, not 40. Pine Bush is also 21 miles from Newburgh which is as well known and is, at least, on the same side of the Hudson. [Poughkeepsie is across the river.]

Poughkeepsie, NY. Photo: tripadvisor.com

We live some 40 minutes from Poughkeepsie, so I began to think of movies and true stories in which fugitives hold families hostage and harm them.

Searching for updates, I switched to an all-news station and continued to listen on Sunday and never again heard a peep. So my second question is how come neither the original station nor the all-news one gave the news a look or follow-up?

I mentioned this to Memphis-based author Lisa Hickman who sent me the link to coverage on MSN: Tennessee that, in turn, led me to Daniel Axelrod’s story in the Times Herald-Record, dateline Mamakating, N.Y. Ms. Hickman wrote “Stranger to the Truth,” about the trial of Noura Jackson who served time for the stabbing death of her mother.

Axelrod reported that the two, who are armed, are wanted for “attempted second-degree murder, reckless endangerment, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery.” In Tennessee they kidnapped a woman, at gunpoint made her knock on a friend’s door, dragged him out of his mobile home and shot him in the chest. He lived.

Mamakating Historical Society. Photo: mamakating.org

In Mamakating, N.Y. Axelrod wrote that they “broke into a man’s home and terrorized him in the wee morning hours, the victim and his neighbors said.” The homeowner required stitches for a head wound. They stole his guns.

As of this writing, they haven’t been caught.

Have you been haunted by stories for which you’ve been left dangling? Does your imagination leap to the worst when hearing news of criminals like this? What detective or police TV shows or authors do you follow?

Photo: pixabay.com

 

Service of Court Rulings that Thin Consumers’ Ability to Sue

June 26th, 2017

Categories: Justice, Laws, Medicine

Photo: history.com

The California law suit against Bristol-Myers Squibb and the blood thinner Plavix involved almost 700 plaintiffs because the drug “allegedly created a substantial risk of heart attack, stroke and other injuries,” wrote Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal. But only 86 plaintiffs were from California and according to a new Supreme Court 8-1 ruling, only those cases can be heard in that state. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Photo: drugsdb.com

“The ruling was one of a series this term limiting so-called forum shopping, where plaintiffs’ attorneys file suit in a state or federal court they believe will be sympathetic to their claims,” Bravin reported.

California’s Supreme Court argued that all should be considered because the claims were similar; Bristol-Myers Squibb sales reached $900+million in the state and the drug was sold around the country. Justice Sotomayor wrote: “There is nothing unfair about subjecting a massive corporation to suit in a state for a nationwide course of conduct that injures both forum residents and nonresidents alike.”

The winning argument went that “Companies have long complained that plaintiffs in certain cases seek out venues where they believe they are most likely to receive favorable rulings, even when the cases involved may have only a tenuous connection to the area.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Photo: biography.com

According to Bravin, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: “The nonresidents were not prescribed Plavix in California, did not purchase Plavix in California, did not ingest Plavix in California, and were not injured by Plavix in California. The mere fact that other plaintiffs were prescribed, obtained, and ingested Plavix in California—and allegedly sustained the same injuries as did the nonresidents—does not allow the state to assert specific jurisdiction over the nonresidents’ claims.”

Bravin added: “Consumers groups, however, have warned that cutting back too sharply on plaintiffs’ ability to sue could give big companies more ways to avoid responsibility for harm they cause.”

Had you heard of forum-shopping before? Do you agree with the Supreme Court—that the court in a state can hear only about plaintiffs from that state? Or does that help corporations “avoid responsibility for harm they cause,” that consumer groups fear?

US Supreme Court building. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Service of Summer Reading

June 22nd, 2017

Categories: Uncategorized

Photo: fineartamerica.com

When you were a kid, did you leave school for summer vacation with a reading list? I did. Some of the books ended up in my camp trunk nevertheless there usually was a scramble to finish what was due just before school started.

I thought of those days when I saw Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article, “If You Could Read Only One.” In it she asked influential “literary professionals” to identify their choice of fiction published this spring or due out this summer. The pundits chose a psychological thriller; two science fiction/fantasy novels, one set in South Africa, the other in the world after civilization has collapsed; a police detective story set in Israel; an essay collection written by a blogger; a fictional 1950s Hollywood starlet’s biography and a literary fantasy taking place in NYC.

Photo: giveitlove.com

Of the seven in the article, the one that struck my fancy was “A Separation” by Katie Kitamura [Riverhead Books, February 2017]. Gamerman wrote that Lynn Lobash, who reads a book a week, thought this would be one of the year’s 10 best. The manager of reader services at the New York Public Library called the book a “character-driven psychological thriller.” Much of it takes place in southern Greece. Lobash, who is also on the American Library Association’s notable books committee, told Gamerman, “It’s relatable in that way that everybody loves to read a good psychological book—because it’s really about them.” [Check out the other titles and mini reviews by clicking on the link.]

Photo: pinterest

Some of my friends rarely read fiction so for this post, I’m expanding the reach to nonfiction and also, so that I can suggest a book. It’s “Prince Charles: the passions and paradoxes of an improbable life,” by Sally Bedell Smith, [Penguin Random House, April 2017]. I’d previously read “Reflected Glory: the life of Pamela Churchill Harriman,” so I knew I’d be in for a treat.

Bedell Smith writes well–you resent putting down her books–and they are filled with chunks of information that paint vivid pictures. Turns out that Princess Di wasn’t the angel the media made her out to be; Prince Charles was a warm and playful father that media chose to ignore and that pop—Prince Phillip—insisted on school choices that were inappropriate for Charles’ temperament. I also learned that Charles can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with him. Once that happens, the person is cut out of his life.

Can you share a title or two that we should consider reading? It doesn’t matter if the book—fiction or nonfiction–is new. Do you read different kinds of books in summer or while on vacation than at other times of year?

 

Service of It Can Happen to You if Goldman Sachs, Citi, Barclay’s & Bank Of England Execs Were Duped

June 19th, 2017

Categories: Emails, Technology

Photo: okclipart.com

The takeaway for me was we’re all potentially doomed after seeing Liz Hoffman’s Wall Street Journal article, “Goldman’s Blankfein, Citi’s Corbat Duped by Email Prankster– The trickster appears intent on embarrassing top bankers but incidents suggest some basic cybersecurity gaps may exist.”

Hoffman and colleague Telis Demos wrote: “Goldman’s Lloyd Blankfein and Citigroup’s Michael Corbat, as well as Citigroup consumer-banking chief Stephen Bird, responded over the weekend to emails sent by the anonymous prankster masquerading as top executives at the two banks.” Last month Barclays and Bank of England’s top execs fell for a similar hoax.

The executives didn’t spill sensitive information but the

Photo: diy.com

prankster posted screenshots of the emails on Twitter. The goal, according to Hoffman, was to embarrass, not to seek information or to plant viruses.

“The emails mimic a well-known scam known as “phishing.” In this,” wrote Hoffman, “scammers try to get victims to click on malicious links or try to capture sensitive information, such as passwords, via seemingly innocuous emails. These emails can take the form of invoices from customers, shared Google documents, or phony password reset requests.” [I wonder if the reporters meant invoices from vendors…]

“Last year, the FBI said that it had observed a 270% increase in business-email scams over a 15-month period. In these, criminals had impersonated executives to request a fraudulent money transfer or other fraudulent transaction. Between October 2013 and February 2016, law-enforcement officials received reports from 17,642 victims of this kind of scheme that amounted to more than $2.3 billion in losses.”

A private banker I worked with recently told me to feel free to send him my questions by email but said he can’t respond by email. He’ll call me or I can come in and speak with him, whatever’s easier. I wonder if this precaution is new.

Not all email intruders are as benign as the one described in Hoffman’s article. Might this interloper be working for a cyber security firm looking for juicy contracts? How careful are you before responding to a client, boss, colleague or friend? Do you refuse to respond to online surveys that come your way?

Photo: flickriver.com

Service of It Must Work Because I Keep Hearing It

June 15th, 2017

Categories: Advertising, Charity, Commercials, Real Estate, Retail, Scams

Some commercials have always irritated me and they don’t get better with time. The adverts must do well or they would either be pulled or changed. For me they cause one action: I change stations.

I never again want to hear about My Pillow. While clearly a great success—bloomberg.com reported that Michael Lindell has sold 26 million of them at $45 or more each and has a workforce of 1,500–I’m not tempted and I’m clearly alone. According to Josh Dean in “The Preposterous Success Story of America’s Pillow King” “…a huge number of them [are sold] directly to consumers who call and order by phone after seeing or hearing one of his inescapable TV and radio ads.”

FortuneBuilder seminar Photo: pinterest

In the Flip This House commercial you learn that the company is looking for “a few good people,” to join them. By now, in the NY Metro area alone, they must have found thousands or, based on years of hearing the same ad, they are really selling something else, like classes, which they are. FortuneBuilders is the name of the company that produces free 90 minute seminars offering the opportunity for more that you pay for. The Central Texas Better Business Bureau president Bill McGuire, with 22 years as a banker under his belt, told Brooke West, a reporter at theeagle.com “‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Most of the folks [who will attend the seminars] are regular people interested in making money, and that’s what their focus is,’ McGuire said. ‘But these [FortuneBuilder representatives] are going to get into their back pockets.’” ‘Nuff said.

I haven’t heard lately the incessant jingle for “Kars4Kids.” This might be related to recent publicity. I read on nonprofitorquartely.org Ruth McCambridge’s article “Kars4Kids: What the Jingle Leaves Out,” that first appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She wrote “…. how many among the general public know that Kars4Kids is directly affiliated with—and sends 90 percent of those proceeds that go to charity to—Oorah, a single youth charity in New Jersey which, according to tax forms, is “a Jewish outreach organization for the purpose of imparting Jewish education, values, and traditions, as well as guidance and support, to Jewish children who lack access to these fundamentals?” Key words in this quote are “that go to charity.”

Photo: youtube.com

McCambridge continues to share the findings of a 300 page report by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. For example: “out of $3 million raised in that state from 2012 to 2014, less than $12,000 went to children’s services in Minnesota…. She additionally found that though Kars4Kids reports spending 63 percent on mission, in actuality, of the $88 million raised nationally from 2012 to 2014, only 44 percent was given to charity, with $40 million going to Oorah. (When it comes to car donation programs in general, that 44 percent probably puts it on the high side, actually.)”

Do some commercials that you’ve heard for years drive you up walls? Have you bought anything after you heard or saw an ad for the billionth time? Does Genucel’s Chamonix cream really remove those bags under your eyes?

Photo: parenting.com

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