Saturday, December 26, 2015

Best of the Year

Broadway Shows. Football plays. Donald Trump insults. At this time of year it's customary to publish a list of the best of everything. Each beat writer scours his or her little corner of the world, and compiles a subjective list of the things that stood out to them above all else. Some lists you look forward to eagerly: best books, best movies, best new restaurants. Others are less useful, but still of interest: best corporate apologies, best fashion faux pas', best amazing-technology-that-is-actually-more annoying-than-useful (we're looking at you, Google Glass). And others cater to a, well, very specific audience: best blow dryers, best strange new musical instruments, best oddball job interview questions. And yes, those all exist.  

As for me, my universe is much smaller. And so to compile a list of the best of most things would be disingenuous at best. After all, to say that "these" are better than "those," you have to have partaken of all of "them" that make up the set. And about the only universe of which I have total knowledge of is, well, me. So in that light, here are some of my personal yearly superlatives, taken from boxed sets wherein only I have had the complete experience.

Best Nap. While there are many contenders, I would have to point to the one on March 19. By about 3PM I had finished up everything in my office and the phones were quiet. I decided to catch up on a little reading on the couch. Five minutes in, after I realized I had read the same paragraph three times, I took off my glasses, put my book on the floor and closed my eyes. Twenty minutes or so later, I woke up. Very refreshing.

Best Sandwich (Homemade Division). Numerous contenders, but it would have to be one from September 5th. Nothing too fancy, but we had some good rye bread, as well as some pesto left over from dinner the night before. Add some thinly sliced turkey, some Swiss cheese and some lettuce, and the result was sublime. Runners up: too many peanut-butter-and-jelly efforts to mention.

Best Use of Coupon(s). I'm not a big coupon user, so each instance stands out. But May 15 was one of those serendipitous combinations of events. I had ripped my pair of blue pants. Fortuitously, the kind I like was on sale at Kohls. Also, I had woken up to find a 20% off coupon in my email. And my wife had left on the counter a $10 Kohls Cash chit that expired a day later. So starting from a "list" price of $55, all in I was able to walk out of the store with my wallet being just seven dollars lighter. Supremely satisfying.

Best Beating of Traffic. Like most of you, 90% of the time I'm driving someplace I know the way. However, that doesn't mean that it's the best route considering what's on the roads at that moment. And so I have started to always use Google Maps to guide me (some of you prefer Waze; while hardly a Bush/Trump choice, that's a style debate for another time). Which brings me to November 26, Turkey Day. I've driven to my mom's place in New Jersey a thousand times. But to counter Thanksgiving traffic, it vectored me on routes I would never have considered. The result is that it only took an extra 15 minutes to get there on one of the busiest travel days of the year vs. a sleepy weekend in June. Drive on.

Best Walk. (Tie) December 7, 8, 9. Three successive days when I had very early starts in downtown Manhattan, but was finished by noon. Being the end of the year, an unseasonably warm stretch of days and nothing pressing in my office, I decided to walk from Wall Street to Grand Central, each day taking a different route. One day I meandered through Tribeca and Soho, another up Broadway, a third via Chinatown and the East Side. On each route I explored places in the Big Apple I never knew existed, finding donut shops, hat emporiums and vest-pocket parks that demanded to be sat in. And bonus points for the exercise of a three and a half mile hike. Can you say win-win?

I can hardly wait to see what tops the lists in 2016. Happy New Year!


Marc Wollin of Bedford hopes you had many bests in 2015. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

For Immediate Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE. Just in time for the holidays, it's the publishing event of the year! Hot on the heels of his New York Times bestseller "Killing Reagan," the author of "Killing Jesus," "Killing Lincoln," "Killing Patton" and "Killing Kennedy," superdupermega media personality Bill O'Reilly publishes his earth shattering 7th non-fiction-novelized-historical-revisionist-mostly-accurate-with-a-twist account of the story of St. Nicholas. Available today, be among the first to read the book everyone will be talking about around the tree, KILLING SANTA.

If you grew thinking you knew the story of the Jolly Old Elf and his yearly trips to reward good little boys and girls, well, get ready to be shocked. Using recently discovered undiscovered documents, refuted and debunked claims that include minor grains of truth, cherry picking facts to fit his narrative, and just plan bluster, O'Reilly lays bare the myth you only THOUGHT you knew about St. Nick and his so-called "reindeer." (More on them later.)

For the first time, O'Reilly brings his patented "No Spin" approach to expose the truth behind a fictional character. Never again will you walk past a fat man in a red suit and think all is well. After you read KILLING SANTA you'll see the darkness between all that tinsel. And you'll know the difference between a patriot elf and the pinhead variety.

Using as his starting point the original Saint Nicholas, O'Reilly traces the history, legends and liberal bias that has resulted in the Kris Kringle we know today. Using interviews with current and former children, discredited elves, disgruntled national security operatives, retired military commanders with an ax to grind, conservative think tank spin masters and hosts of other Fox "news" programs, he races through history to frame the tarnished story behind the cherished Christmas tradition.

In KILLING SANTA, you'll learn about the secret deals made between Big Toy and Big Pole concerning Talking Barbie and Silent Elmo. You'll be a fly on the wall during the negotiations between the Reindeer Coalition and FedEx, as they divide up the ceremonial vs. actual process of moving 15 million presents in a single night. And you'll see how our western tradition of giant bows for Lexus cars is under siege by radical Islamic terrorists.

And the early reviews are just what you'd expect.

Donald Trump: "Look, I don't need Santa, because I have everything. Did I mention I‘m rich? And elves love me. Even the Mexican ones. But if you don't have as much money as me, and still want presents, then this book, which, admittedly isn't as good as my New York Times bestsellers, is still pretty good, and tells you the real story."

Bernie Sanders: "I mean, let's not mince words about the holiday season: it's an excuse to maximize corporate profits on the back of a captive work force. Doesn't matter if it's China and miners, or the North Pole and elves. To that end, O'Reilly gets it right. I mean, the man's a right wing nut, but I think people are sick and tired of hearing that naughty or nice crap! Everyone should get presents. That's not socialism. That's just – well – it is socialism, but it's good socialism! And O'Reilly, call him what you will, lays it all out there."

Ben Carson: "I think it's good to talk about Christmas. Christmas is nice. We need to be nicer. On the talk shows we're not being as nice as we should be. And Bill is a nice man, even if he is a little loud. He would be nicer if he was quieter. But his book is nice. Reading is nice."

Hillary Clinton: "I usually don't agree with Mr. O'Reilly. But I do have a 12-point plan to rein in the excesses of Christmas. And to that end, I can see where he is coming from. You see? For those of you who like his book, we do have common ground. My 14-point plan details the 23 steps we can take so we can all celebrate this wonderful ecumenical-celebratory-occasion-not-offensive-to-anyone together."

Miley Cyrus: "O'Reillyyyyyy!!! Santaaaaaa!!! Partyyyyyy!!! Yeah!!!"

If there is one present under your tree this year, make sure it is KILLING SANTA. Available online and wherever you can find a store that sells actual books. KILLING SANTA. You'll never look at Christmas the same way again.


Marc Wollin of Bedford wishes all a happy holiday. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Tweak Too Far

When we talk whether we've made progress in the world, we usually talk in big sweeping concepts. Equality. Technology. Diversity. Without a doubt we've advanced in all these areas beyond where we were 100 or 50 or even 5 years ago. But when you get down to the details, you sometimes have to concede that perhaps the case isn't so clear cut. Indeed, we're sometimes forced to admit that perhaps we may have pushed the envelope too far, and what we view as groundbreaking actually takes us backward.

Such is the case with the lowly three-ring binder.

I know, I know. This sounds perilously close to an Andy Rooney moment. Rooney, who had a long and distinguished reporting career going back to World War II, was perhaps best known for his postscripts on "60 Minutes." From his very first television rant in 1964 entitled "An Essay on Doors," he became famous for his three or four minute monologues musing about such everyday things as bottled water or shoes or paper clips. It's not that he didn't tackle the bigger issues of the world. But ask anyone who remembers his end-of-show grumblings, and they will more likely recall him saying something like "Did ya ever wonder about cat food? I have, and I don't even have a cat."

And so it was when I went to get a notebook from the store. I wasn't looking for anything special, just one to match the 20 others I had on my shelf holding past editions of this column. They max out when filled with about 26 plastic sleeves, each of which holds 2 columns, which works out to a year's worth per binder. And having just passed into the 21st edition, it was time to spend the couple of bucks to protect these valuable jottings for the ages. No, it's not the Gutenberg bible, but it's what I got.

Looking at my shelf, in one sense you can see an example of the progress of civilization over the last two decades in these most pedestrian of office supplies. When I started, they were made up of two vinyl-covered cardboard covers and a half inch central spine, with round rings attached to the inside center. Simple, effective and utilitarian. About 15 years ago they flattened the round rings a bit, enabling you to more easily have all the pages lay flat when a full binder was opened. A small step, to be sure, but a meaningful advance in organizational technology.

Then about nine years ago, a significant change: they moved the ring assembly from the center spine to the back cover. Even more than the flattening of the rings, this helped the binder to lie flat when open, and the pages not to bunch up. Just like Apple inventing the iPod when no one even knew they needed a music player, this was truly progress ahead of public sentiment. Then building on this momentum, about 6 years ago they changed the shape of the rings even further to a flattened "D." If it was possible to make pages lie flatter, they achieved that holy grail.

Which brings us to this year's model. Once again, "they" must have stayed up late in the lab, and came up with the concept of extending one side of the ring a little further, to better align the pages. I'm sure they thought that this binder goes where no binder had gone before. And it does. But not in a good way. You see, the binder is a comfortable smidge larger than your standard 8 ½ by 11-inch piece of paper. But this offset ring pushes the paper beyond that border. And so now my carefully curated clippings aren't completely protected, but hang off the edge. I might just as well burn them or use them as flooring for a hamster cage. Well, maybe that's a bit much, but you get the idea: the edges are subject to bending.

The point is regardless of whether we're talking about nuclear power or super computers or legislation, sometimes you can go too far: you can blow right past perfection in your quest to be even more perfect. How many times have you decided that your new phone or software update has actually been a step backwards? Sometimes you need to appreciate where you are, and that going further doesn't really help.

And a little binder shall teach them.


Marc Wollin of Bedford like to be organized. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

What I Don't Want

When you were a kid and someone asked you want you wanted from Santa, it probably took you less than a millisecond to respond. No hemming, no hawing; you had a list, had checked it twice, and only hoped that you had tallied up more points on the nice vs. naughty side of ledger to make it a reality. Be it model or doll, game or bike, you could describe it in minute detail, tell the inquirer its unique features and exactly which store had it in stock.

Fast forward any number of years, and things have changed a bit. Yes, there's the old adage that the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. (Mind you, it's not a sexist statement: it's the same for women and girls, and probably more so, but it doesn't rhyme.) But while as an adult you might have things you covet, the older you get the smaller the list is likely to be. Partly it's because you have a lot of stuff: how many latte makers can you own? Your taste is probably more selective as well: just any another sweater won't do it. And even though it's not your money, the cost probably figures into your desire: sure, those earnings or that jacket are exquisite, but do you really want your loved one spending so much of their hard earned dollars on you that way? On second thought, it ain't your money, so what the hell.

I'm no different from you. As I cruise through the sheaf of circulars in the mail or the full page ads in the paper or the online etailers, there are any number of things that attract my attention. But what stands out are not the things I want, but those I don't. That's not to say they don't make me stop and take notice. But once I pass the "ooooo" factor and think about it's likely lifespan in my life, I measure it in weeks if not hours. We're not talking about the joke gifts that are out there, from exploding golf balls to bacon toothpaste to dribble coffee mugs. I'm talking mainstream gifts that are proudly above the fold. From all avenues, here a few things I think I can do without.

In the tech world, the gift of the year is a drone with a camera in it. Amazing technology, to be sure, and that fact that it comes at a price point anywhere less than a fighter jet is somewhat amazing. But since I'm not planning on aerial surveillance of my neighbor, it's likely to be one and done. And any gift that requires me to file a flight plan with FAA before I unbox it probably is more trouble than its worth.

I may not be a kid, but I like do like toys. And so I'm always looking at what the little one sare clamoring for. One that caught my eye was a Wubble. Described as a cross between a balloon and a ball, it comes in various sizes up to several feet. You inflate it, and do, well, ball things with it. But it doesn't seem too durable. The first three reviews on Amazon are "Horrible product," "Don't waste your money!!" and my favorite, "Makes Kids Cry."  Next!

I'm not a gun enthusiast, but depending on which set of statistics you believe, somewhere between 20% and 45% of the country is, including 12% of women. Add to that is the fact that Black Friday is the day when more guns are sold than any other during the year, as tallied by FBI background checks. Still, even I was looking to be packing and I were a female, I would pass on the Browning Range Kit for Ladies. Consisting of eye and ear protection, the fact that the items are better sized for females is a good thing. But the fact that it's all trimmed in pink takes a certain edge off the firepower. Nothing says "self-protection" like a Glock with glitter.

I hate to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, but if these were on your list for me, please don't. Get me some Nutter Butters, or a movie pass or just buy me a drink the next time we're together. Beyond that, keep your money in your wallet, and leave the bungee office chair on the shelf.


Marc Wollin of Bedford wants nothing for the holidays but good wishes. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

When's The Season?

If you are reading this at the earliest published opportunity, it's the day after Thanksgiving. Or maybe you're getting to it sometime over the weekend, either in print or online. Still others are taking a look at it on Monday morning once you get back to the office, pour a cup of coffee and fire up your computer. Regardless, in every one of those cases, a glance at the calendar still shows that you are firmly in the grasp of the 11th month of the year.

And yet the Christmas season is in full swing. Actually, it's not just starting: it's all but over.

True, the Rockefeller Center tree has yet to be lit. And the "official" beginning of the shopping part of the holiday is still marked as the day after Thanksgiving. That said, Black Friday has become less a start, and more of a waystation. Last year, according to Google's Holiday Shopper Intentions research, one in four of us bought a Christmas gift by Halloween, a full month before Cyber Monday.
This year the trend continues, but with a twist. With the increasing spread of smart phones and high speed access, more and more people are not waiting for those big "event" days and mammoth sales and doorbuster events. Instead, shopping has become more about "moments." Over half of holiday shoppers say they plan to shop on their smartphones in spare moments during the day, like when they are taking a walk or sitting on a train or waiting in line. The data puts it this way: shoppers now spend 7% less time each time they go online, but online purchase via those same smartphones have gone up 65% over the past tear. In fact, fully 30% of all online shopping purchases now don't happen on a laptop or desk machine, but on a mobile phone.

It would also seem that we've become more informed consumers, and less impulse purchasers. According to the same Google study, more than 52% of shoppers plan to use a smartphone for holiday shopping this year before they ever visit a store. We check prices, features, competitive products. Target says that mobile is the new front door: according to Casey Carl, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, 98% of their customers shop digitally, and three quarters of those start their experience on a mobile device. And it doesn't stop there. From Nordstorm to Sephora to Best Buy to Urban Outfitter, a whopping 82% of us say we will consult our phone while standing in the aisle. It's more than just a prediction: in September, there were 37% more searches done on mobile phones from inside a department store than they were last year. (Forget the NSA: Google knows you're standing in Macy's RIGHT NOW.)

All that access and research has changed the way that the actual buying happens as well as the shopping leading up to it. Armed with the data we get, we're putting off the buying decision, with the knowledge that we can always find the best deal. As such, the majority of purchasing seems to be taking place later in the season closer to the holiday, free shipping deadlines not withstanding.

Interestingly, even with all this all-the-time access, it seems we still need some down time to process it all. Stores used to gear up for Friday, then Saturday as the biggest shopping days of the week. That's not the case in the online world. There has been a steady shift to Sunday as the biggest day for online purchases, clocking in at 18% more than any other day. Seems if you can buy that sweater set or new handbag while curled up in your bunny slippers with a bagel and a cup of coffee, you will.

All this means that the physical manifestations of the holiday are likely to creep earlier and earlier. If retailers want to push their holiday goods on you, waiting till after the turkey is in leftover status means they have probably already missed the boat. So get ready to see trees not just in November, but lights in October and sleighs in September. However, the consequences of such early merriment cannot be ignored: it's said that for every Christmas light lit before Thanksgiving, an elf kills a baby reindeer. I fear it is already too late to prevent the slaughter from happening.


Marc Wollin of Bedford hasn't started his holiday shopping yet. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I'm With Tim

Coming from me, there are many things that are going to rankle some about what follows. For one it involves fashion, and Lord knows I'm hardly a style-maven, either in practice or as a knowledgeable observer. Also, while men are involved, the issue at hand predominantly focuses on women. And if my decades on this earth as a male has taught me anything, it's that men judging women's clothing takes you to a place where good rarely comes. As if those two strikes aren't enough – well – actually, those two strikes are more than enough to get me into trouble. But I've got space to vent and something on my mind, and as one of the characters in the new show "Billions" asks, "What's the point of having f-you money if you never get to say F-You?"

So here goes: I hate the athleisure trend.

In case you missed it, that's the official term for the look that says "I'm on my way to spin class" or "I just came from Pilates" even though you're at the grocery store, going to a movie or having lunch. It's spandex and neoprene and leggings and crop tops. It's new offshoot brands such as Tory Burch's Tory Sport and Derek Lam's 10C Athleta, and new outlets like Dick's Sporting Goods Chelsea Collective and Net-A-Porter's Net-A-Sporter. And it's so on-the-radar that Merriam-Webster has announced it will be included in the dictionary come 2016, with the official definition being "casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use." Who knew that Al Sharpton was so ahead of his time in those track suits?

In fact, it's more than just a trend: all those lululemon yoga pants and Nike sports bras add up to big numbers. Just as the business casual trend helped supercharge khakis and button downs, so too does the athleisure movement mean that print leggings and wicking tops are going from being found only in niche catalogs and websites to being front and center at flagships like Macy's and Nordstorm. According to the Morgan Stanley report "Global Athletic Wear: Very Bullish Five-Year Outlook," estimates are that by 2020 the segment could add $83 billion in sales.

But just because it's happening doesn't mean I have to like it. To be clear, and at the risk of sounding, well, male, I'm not talking about how women "look" in the stuff. (And yes, it's mostly women pushing the trend. Sure, there are guys who wear leggings and shrink-to-fit Under Armour tops when they're out walking the dog or going to the Post Office, but that's another story.) As with any fashion, there are some people who look good in it, and some people who should consider a different style, be they tall, short, thin, chunky or any combination of the above. (I feel I am digging myself in deeper here, but in for a penny, in for a pound.)

No, what I'm talking about is what it "says." I try and exercise, and while my preferred attire is gym shorts and tee shirts, there's no way I would subject the rest of the world to my outfit unless the treadmill were on fire. Sure, some dress this way heading to the gym or back, and yes, occasionally you have to stop along the way for a quart of milk. But growth in the segment is all about wearing these togs every day for anything but exercising. Sorry, but the world is not a Zumba class. Tim Gunn, the fashion consultant and TV personality put it this way: "It's vulgar, unless you're Robin Hood." Clothes may make the man (or woman), but wearing yoga pants when your downward dog is the kind that's on a leash is - what? Disingenuous? Dishonest? Arrogant? Smug? Gunn again: "The thing about overly casual dressing is it says 'I don't give a rat's ass about anything.'"

I'm not saying you shouldn't be comfortable. And I'm not saying we should go back to suits all the time. But everyday clothing seems to be on a scale sliding downward. You wouldn't wear a bathing suit to the mall; how is this any different even if your Sweaty Betty Zubhra Layered Yoga Capris cost $230? The only upside I see, as one wag of like mind noted, is now we can refer to a rip in someone's leggings as an "athhole."


Marc Wollin of Bedford exercises in things that aren't stretchy. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

7% Growth

One of the first pieces I ever wrote for this space related to a trip I made to Hong Kong back in 1995. Indeed, it was actually a series of email letters I wrote to family and friends on that trip that formed the basis for that column. Titled "Where First meets Third," it focused on the unique spot the city occupied at the intersection of the developed world and the developing. I wrote about the bamboo scaffolding used to build skyscrapers, and the computer shops that were cheek and jowl with shops featuring live chickens. And I marveled at the frantic energy and vitality of a place that seemed to be inventing itself on the spot.

Twenty years later, as I write this on a plane coming back from my most recent excursion there, I'm struck by how many of the themes I noted 20 years ago are still the same, even if the balance seems to have shifted a bit.

Of course, the biggest change is the fact that the city is no longer owned by the British, having been handed back to the Chinese in 1997. That said, even though it reports to a communist master, it retains its separate and special status as a capitalist outpost. Indeed, it practices, flaunts and displays its economic freedom like few other places in the world. Buildings that were new waterfront property when I was there two decades ago are gone, or pushed inland by the expansion not only of the economy but of the very ground on which it is built. You see it happening before your eyes: as I got off the Star Ferry, I watched a fleet of bulldozers push load after load of dirt into the water with the goal of creating even more land.

As one person said to me, "this is what 7% growth looks like." Sure, there are tenement apartments with laundry fluttering from windows, not to mention the occasional foodstuff. But more and more you see new high rises, some gleaming, some more functional. Hardly a block goes by that doesn't have construction, with some sites taking up hectare after hectare. That adds to traffic which was already legendary: even pedestrians can face a detour of several blocks just to get to the other side of the street.  

The wealth that flows into the city has led to the creation of a huge number of high-end marble, glass and steel shopping malls populated by luxury brand stores. Somebody must be buying, but most look empty, staffed by bored clerks whiling away the time among the Channel bags and Tiffany jewelry and Manolo shoes by tapping endlessly on their smartphones. The old rabbit warren of stores in Kowloon still exists, but among the tailor shops and noodle counters are Starbucks counters and Samsung galleries. And while the Ladies and Temple street markets have become even more infested with knockoff handbags and "copy watches," you can still find the locals shopping at butchers in Wan Chai who display their wares as a bloody meat-wall along the street, or at stalls in Apliu street featuring cheap clothing, interspersed with other specialty sellers, one with old tools, one selling nothing but magnets, another displaying hundreds of old remote controls.

There're lots more of these collisions of old and new. The WiFi is ubiquitous, and the electronic gadgets plentiful and cheap. The MTR, the local subway, still astounds with its gleaming stations and trains with no partitions between cars, creating seemingly endless hallways gliding along. Restaurants flaunting Michelin stars seem everywhere, with prices seeming even more stratospheric because of the nearly 8 to 1 exchange rate.  

But just a few streets away from all that you can find grubby booths with a few rickety tables doling out bowls of soup and piles of prawns for just a few dollars. There are still stalls with live chickens and frogs just waiting to be dinner. And next to a vendor displaying computer cables is an old man selling a collection of old shoes, some pictures, a wooden flute and a wheelchair.  

There was talk of the world taking an Asian pivot, a Chinese 21st century. To be sure, it's pretty early in the game to tell if that characterization will stand the test of time. But Hong Kong isn't waiting. It's still First and Third, but the former is most definitely squeezing the out the latter.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves going to Asia. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Do I Know You?

I like to think I'm generally a helpful person. I hold doors open and offer to help carry things. If something is broken, I'm happy to try and fix it. As needed, I offer to take out the trash, bring in the groceries, stand in line. In the past I have even offered to help with the laundry, but after throwing one too many thing that shouldn't have gone into the dryer into the dryer, I'm been asked by my wife to focus my good intentions elsewhere.

So when I got an inquiry from Amazon about a new computer that I had just purchased, I was quick to respond. Mind you, this wasn't a request for a review. If you buy anything online, odds are you have gotten this kind of followup response. You're asked to rate the item or transaction, give it 3 stars or 4 rainbows or 5 rockets, and asked for any pithy comments you might have. Your responses are used for a crowd-sourced critical evaluation of said product or service. (See GA #941 "Sitting in Judgement") But anyone who has ever read a Yelp review knows that these need to be taken with a large grain of salt ("The hamachi handroll had rice falling out of it. This place sucks."). Still, as long as you view them with a healthy degree of skepticism, they can help you find the Dustbuster of your dreams.

No, this was a specific question, and was even identified as coming from a specific customer: "L. Clark wants to know: How many total USB ports? Is there wifi?" I assumed the question was posted for anyone who had bought that machine recently. True, it wasn't one of those "I've never seen this before, does anyone know how to fix it" type of inquires that the internet excels at answering. ("Old glue smeared on your desk? Try peanut butter!") It was a simple factual inquiry, one that could just as easily been answered by looking the specifications listed online. But hey, as I said, I'm a helpful guy, and so I responded with the facts: "6 ports and yes, wifi." I hit send, and assumed that was that.

But the next day, another one appeared in my inbox. And it wasn't just another random question; that I would have understood. Had that been the case, I would have assumed the system flagged me as a a person who liked answering questions, and so steered others my way. No, this was from once again from Mr. or Mrs. L. Clark, writing as if we now had the basis of a relationship: "Thank you Marc! Do you own this computer? And would you recommend it? Any issues?" I half expected there to be a dinner invitation at the end.

So here's where I stopped being helpful. I quickly wrote back to Amazon, howling my unhappiness. It's one thing if I choose to answer anonymously a technical question about something for which I might have some insight. But it's another for them to be go telling some random person what I am interested in and/or purchased and/or own, and give them my name. Amazon says they don't reveal the emails of those who answer questions. But with identity theft being such a pervasive problem, just how hard would it be to put the pieces together? I'm sure Mr. or Mrs. L Clark is a lovely person living in Charlotte or Des Moines or Santa Clara. But if he/she is really a hacker named Stosh from Estonia, my buying habits are just the kind of info he would need to pose as me online. After all, as Peter Steiner's famous cartoon noted, on the internet no one knows you're a dog.

That said, I haven't become a reformed helper, whose seen the error of his ways. Since this exchange, I helped my wife with her web site. I helped a client carry some boxes. I helped a women on the train put her suitcase in the overhead rack. My natural inclination is still to lend a hand, for people I know as well as those I don't. And I don't want to change that. That said, I don't want Stosh using my good nature against me. But if you really are a Mr L. Clark from Des Moines, them my apologies: the computer works just fine.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't mind answering questions. Usually. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online atGlancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Radical Listening

It used to be that the hardest thing to do was to stand up for your principles. It was the stuff of legend: the individual who resolutely believes in something, who faces scorn, ridicule, estrangement from friends and family, all for saying "This is what I stand for." No more; that's easy. Whether right or left, you likely travel with a like-minded crowd, listen to media which parrots and reinforces your views, and consider those with opposing viewpoints somewhere between well-meaning-but-misguided and nut-job.

No, the hard part these days is changing your mind. In our hyper-partisan environment, where compromise is a dirty word, your compatriots expect you to stand with them shoulder to shoulder. Any crack is perceived as a path to the dreaded slippery slope, which can only lead to total disaster. In this telling, even expressing second thoughts or open-mindedness is tantamount to treason, no matter how benign. And if it involves any of the central tenants of the faith, then damn you all to hell.

In that context, "The Armor of Light" is a remarkable documentary about one such public soul-searching. The directorial debut of Abigail Disney, great-niece of Walt Disney, it focuses on the Reverend Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister and founder of the Christian outreach organization Faith and Action. Schenck was also a founder of Project Rescue, an anti-abortion activist group, and was one of the leaders of large scale demonstrations in Buffalo in 1992, where he carried a preserved fetus as he marched. His devotion to that cause is unquestioned and absolute.

But when some in the movement started shooting and killing doctors who performed abortions, he saw a conflict. Anti-abortion also means pro-life, or as he says, "Pro-life means life at conception and for many, many years after till natural death." That led naturally to the topic of guns and gun control. But if there is a third rail of the far right and evangelicals, that's it. And Schenck wasn't ready to touch it.

Meanwhile, while Disney's past films as producer had taken on social issues from a liberal perspective, she wasn't planning on jumping into the gun control debate, "at least not till after my fourth child left for college." But then Sandy Hook happened, and she decided she couldn't not act. She saw the inherent conflict between pro-life and pro-gun, and approached a number of evangelical ministers. Many agreed with her point of view, but declined to be involved due to the danger to their standing, reputation and even livelihood.  

She approached Schenck, expecting him to be a "fire breathing dragon." Instead, she found a "thoughtful, intelligent, nebishy man," who was willing to listen. His reaction after hours of conversation and discussion: "I swear to you, I'm asking and praying and thinking and trying to find a way to not speak. But I can't." And so he signed on to allow Disney and her cameras to follow his public coming out as a second amendment heretic.

The film follows his anguished journey as he goes through this conversion, and confronts his natural allies. Along the way he finds common cause with Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager who was shot and killed in Jacksonville in 2012 by Michael Dunn, who claimed Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law as his defense. And he confronts and engages not only other ministers and congregations across the country, but in an astonishing sequence, other leaders of the anti-abortion movement including Troy Newman, leader of Operation Rescue, at a private lunch. The confrontations over sandwiches and salads are anything but civil. Disney said even she couldn't stay calm behind the camera: "I hate the gun metaphor, but I went ballistic and stood up and started yelling myself."  

All and all, the film is a remarkable look at someone who dares to listen and question the orthodoxy that he had taken as gospel. Disney is quick to point out that there are those on the left who, while they hold views more in line with her own, are as intransigent in their positions as Schenk was in his, and who would do well to follow his example: to at least be willing to question and listen and confront that which divides us. "The Armor of Light" shows that whatever your views, radical listening can lead to reasonable discussion and common ground. And that is a location that we all need to visit more often.


Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to listen as best he can. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance , as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Screened Out

The venue was first class: Yo-Yo Ma has said of Bass Hall that it was one of those "rare halls in which the music heard by the audience is the same as that heard by the performer." The performer was world renown: Marc-André Hamelin is a pianist with 9 Grammy nominations, a performer about whom The New York Times wrote, "Is it possible for a pianist to be too good?" The program was ambitious: Mozart's "Sonata in D Major," Debussy's "Images, Book II," Schubert's "Sonata in B-flat Major," plus Hamelin's own "Variations on a Theme by Paganini." And it was as pure a performance as possible: on the stage was a Steinway, a piano bench and nothing else.

But there was a screen.

Hanging upstage center was a large 16-foot projection surface, white with a black border. It provided an otherwise unharmonious note in the beautiful cream and rose colored hall. I had bought my ticket knowing it would be there, but hadn't really thought about the implications. Yet it was both the reason I could go, as well as the reason I wouldn't have gone.

It was the reason I could go in that it made it possible to buy a cheap ticket for such an event. You see, my seat was in the ninth row of the orchestra, but on the right hand side of the house. When I stopped by the box office, they offered me that location for the ridiculous price of $20. When I expressed surprise, and inquired if it was somehow obstructed, they told it had a clear view and was acoustically as good as any in the house. But with the piano oriented left to right, that put the strings towards me. Translation for those less musically inclined: I wouldn't be able to see the pianist's hands.

For a true aficionado, this would be unacceptable. Hamelin is a master, and watching his technique is part of the experience. While I would be able to hear perfectly, all I would be able to see while he performed was his body swaying side to side, his face focused on what I could not see. It would be as if you went to a golf match, and had a waist high fence between you and Phil Michelson. You would certainly know what was going on, but would never see it with your own eyes. For all I knew, Hamelin could be kneading taffy while his latest CD was tracked in the hall.

But no matter: for me it was about the sound. The girl in the box office told me in order to make the seats on the right more attractive, there would be a screen on which to see his hands. I assumed it would be in some location where it didn't intrude on the performance itself. What I hadn't counted on was it being front and center, attracting my eyes like a moth to a flame.

I've hit this before. At basketball games or rock concerts, screens give the audience perfect close-ups of all that happens. To be fair, they usually give you a much better view versus the live action. But if you watch it, you begin to wonder why you are there in the first place. Arguably, you can get the same experience, and at far less cost and with easier bathroom accessibility, by watching at home. True, you miss the smell of spilled beer and people walking in front of you and obnoxious fans screaming next to you. But at least you can say you saw it live.

As Hamelin sat down, the screen dissolved to a close-up of the keyboard. He began to play, the music rolled over the hall. I tried to focus on him, but I kept getting drawn to the screen. Yes, his hands were amazing. However, watching them removed me from being there. I kept thinking that since the concert was being webcast, I could have just stayed in my hotel room, and seen and heard the same thing.

I had an idea. I reached into the pocket of my jacket, and pulled out my baseball cap. I slipped it on and adjusted it low in the front. Now when I looked up, I saw a massive black piano, a man in a jacket, and nothing more. No screen intruded. And without that distraction, at least to my ears, the music suddenly sounded better.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves any live music. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Big, Bigger, Biggest

With my unexpected day off in Fort Worth, I could have just stayed in my hotel room. I could have walked around downtown and poked my nose into a museum or two. I could have seen a movie, or taken a bike ride, or caught up on some work. But it was that 24-day period when there are cattle to be judged, barbeque sauce to be sampled and Snickers bars to be deep fried. And so I went to the Texas State Fair.

Like everything in the state, the Fair is defined by its scale. If you go to your local carnival, you expect to see a few rides, some hot dog stands, and a couple of games of chance. Supersize the above, throw in some livestock judging and handicrafts competitions, and you've got most State Fairs around the country. But inject all that with steroids, add a massive 400 vehicle auto show featuring pickup after pickup, two grudge-match college football games (Grambling vs Prairie View A&M and Texas vs Oklahoma), corn dogs, turkey legs and deep-fried everything, and you've got the Lone Star version.

Held every year since 1886 with a few time outs during World Wars, the fair surrounds the Cotton Bowl stadium on nearly 300 acres. But the above listing is just a start: there are museums, 7 concert venues, pig races, an Aquarium, a Sky Tram, and a 55-foot-tall Big Tex talking statue, to name but a few of the other attractions. While officials don't bother to tally day to day figures, they generally host over 3 million people annually, making it the biggest such exposition in the nation.

Everything is on a colossal scale. The midway takes a full 30 or 40 minutes to walk down, with games of every stripe beckoning to be played. You can win prizes ranging from the typical small stuffed animals to plush toys bigger that you, from electric guitars to furniture. There are easily a dozen fun houses and 70 rides, with at least half of those designed to induce nausea. Some are versions of ones you've likely seen, like Scrambler and Roundup, but rocket fuel injected in both scale and action. And some are simply death defying: one called SlingShot looks like a massive construction crane that simply straps two people to the end, and then flips end over end. That privilege cost 70 tickets, or $35 dollars, but you do get a POV video of your terrified reaction as a souvenir.

Of course, with livestock being such a central part of Texas' legacy, there were heifers and goats and swine a plenty. I was there on Future Farmers of America day, and watched judging by the next generation of cattle barons. Where else could you hear 20-year old Blayze Bierschwale from Lampasas, TX explain about the Santa Gertudis cattle being shown: "Number 4 is a more feminine heifer that's smoother about her shoulders, a bit softer about her hardened flank." But she paled compared to his favorite: "Number 1 is little bit straighter about her hock, a really feminine good balanced female. And when you get behind her you can see she's light constructed and stout." Now, THAT'S pillow talk.

But if the Fair is known for anything, it's the food. The staples are corn dogs, piles of french fries that size of Stetsons topped with cheese, chili and barbeque sauce, and massive grilled turkey legs that look like they belong on the Flintstones. If it can be dunked in batter and fried, you can find it there: Oreos, stuffed olives, cheesecake, pumpkin pie, PB&J, spaghetti and even lemonade (No, I have no idea how they actually do that). And each year there are specials that go where no food has gone before. This year that included a Smoky Bacon Margarita, Deep Fried Cappuccino and the Krispy Kreme Donut Burger.

When they remade the movie "State Fair" for the third time in 1962, they moved the setting from Iowa to Dallas. And while there's still a Tilt-A-Whirl and maybe even a pig named Blue Boy, times have changed. If they went today, Pat Boone, Booby Darren and Ann Margaret might have some chicken-fried lobster, or a maybe a pork chop on a stick, but only if they left room for some deep fried chocolate bacon. Big Tex would expect no less.


Marc Wollin of Bedford had a turkey leg, some cinnamon Texas toffee and a lot of free samples. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Better Remembered

Some old friends were back in town, and suggested we rendezvous for dinner. The spot chosen was an old favorite, Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve never been, the food is only part of the story. A noisy place set with long family style tables, they don’t take reservations, they don’t take credit cards and they don’t have menus. The waiter tells you a little about what they have (some veal, some fish, a little pasta), you order what sound goods, it comes and you eat. At the end of the night he looks at you, looks at the platters on the table, makes up a number that seems about right and gives you a slip of paper which is your check. Who’s to argue?

The food is nothing fancy, just solid, basic Italian: artichokes, mussels, everything parmesan, all served on huge platters to share. If you want your organic eggplant with heirloom tomato reduction and four-cheese blend on top, go elsewhere. If you want meatballs marinara with spaghetti, enough for an army, you’ve come to the right place. They don’t come more old school than this.

The six of us had been there any number of times, though none recently. And while we were looking forward to catching up, we were of course looking forward to the food. The experience was as we recalled, and the food came out in heaping quantities. But with one or two exceptions, it didn’t live up to our mental hype. Nothing really wrong; it just didn’t put us over the moon as we remembered. The sauce was not as flavorful, the veal not as tender. Bruce said it best: "I always thought having my last meal at Dominick's would've been OK with me, but last night I found the food somewhat disappointing. Oh well, times change, like it or not."

They do indeed. Or is it us? How many things do you remember as the best tasting, the greatest view, the most amazing band or whatever, only to be disappointed when your mental scrapbook didn’t live up to the current reality? For sure, things do change. The ingredients might have been substituted, new buildings might have been built, the singer’s voice might have gotten a little strained with age. As such, even a truly objective measure of that chocolate cake from your fifth birthday party versus the same formulation today might bring about a frownie face.

The corollary can also be true. Things that you didn’t take to way back when can be way better if you only give them the chance. Put another way, some things are most definitely an acquired taste: spinach, naps, Dean Martin’s singing. When you were smaller you didn’t quite get why anyone would pick them over almost any other available option. But today? Today, there are times when "King of the Road" just feels right.

And of course, some things stand the test of time, any time. Whether you take to it or not, Shakespeare will always be the paragon of English literature, just as the French Impressionists will always be the standard by which all paintings are judged. More prosaically, there’s a reason why "Seinfeld" runs in syndication 25 hours a day, why Mick and Keith will soon need wheelchairs to complete their next stadium tour and why peanut butter cups represent all that is holy.

Going back to Dominick’s, there is no doubt that the experience helps to amply the food. But I would say, and I would hazard that Bruce might agree with me, that taken in isolation, either the food had gotten more pedestrian, our taste buds had grown or matured, or a combination of both. In either case, next time we are both likely to find our chicken scarpariello elsewhere with equal enjoyment and easier parking.

Thomas Wolfe said it this way: "You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame, back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory." Eloquently stated as it is, as we discovered that night in the Bronx, to that list you sometimes have to add ziti.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a good dish of pasta. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Green Rush, Ground Floor

It's not like Laurie Wolf really planned on being in on the ground floor. A chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, she authored a number of successful cookbooks and worked as a food editor and stylist when she lived on the East Coast. Seeking to get out of the New York craziness, she and her family moved to Portland, Oregon, where she continued doing much the same, including authoring a well-received book named "The Portland, Oregon Chef's Table."

Laurie also has a seizure disorder which she found was treatable with marijuana. And with Oregon being one of the first states to pass a medical marijuana law in 1998, she was able to do something legally there that she was unable to do in the Empire State. Then one time at a dispensary Laurie decided to try some alternative forms of the drug, packaged as edible brownies. Her expert opinion? "They tasted horrible." And so she started experimenting, seeing if she could successfully marry the different highs you get from chocolate and pot.

Then this past July Oregon joined Colorado, Washington state, Alaska and the District of Columbia in legalizing recreational use of the drug. The so-called "Green Rush" was on, and suddenly lots of people were trying to see how they could have a finger in what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar brownie. And standing in the middle of it all was Laurie, having already baked it.

She started a company called "Laurie and MaryJane," and developed recipes for a variety of foods. All are organic, additive- and preservative-free, and have a consistent dosage of THC, the most psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis. There is a Fudgy Brownie of course, but also Almond Cake Bites and a Sweet n' Savory Nut mix, Peanut Butter, Cannabutter (a fusion of cannabis and butter), and Cannacoconut oil for cooking and baking. They have fun and funny sayings on the packaging like, "Go fudge yourself" and "Some of my best friends are nuts!." And not to brag or anything, but they are so good that the nuts placed first and the almond bites second in their respective categories at this year's Fourth Annual Dope Cup in Seattle.

Some might see Laurie's world as the ultimate kid in the candy store. She allows it's pretty great, but there are some downsides. "The testing and tasting has been challenging since I have gotten high when I need to be working. Aside from medicating for my seizure disorder which does not get me high, I only indulge in the evenings. Too many bad cases of the munchies!" Still, it's a business, and she has to make it work: "I can take a small taste or two and not get high. But just that. A whole one of our bites will be too strong. I know how much I can eat at this point." I asked her if she ever got tired of it: "I don't get sick of weed, so many different strains to try with different flavor profiles. In fact, I often make our products unmedicated for giveaways and demos, and never tire of the taste."

Aside from the product itself, one really unexpected upside of the new business is how she has involved her family. Her son's fiancé Mary does marketing, designs all the packaging and helps with production, while her husband Bruce, a well-known photographer, shoots the mouthwatering product shots. She smiled: "Having it all in the family is pretty terrific. I call us the Wolf Cartel."

I asked Laurie what she hoped people get from her products. Her answer echoes her own experiences: "I hope they get enjoyment from the high and the taste, but also relief from pain, anxiety, discomfort and life, if that's what they need." Beyond that, she's very proud of what is happening in Oregon and her part in it: "Portland is an amazing city and I love that it is so progressive. I hope that we do marijuana right. I was on the subcommittee for edibles for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. My hope is that the OLCC will support small cannabis businesses and let the roll out set an example for the rest of the country."

There are precious few opportunities any person ever gets to see something truly cutting edge, be it a piece of technology or a new social movement. This is one of those moments, and Laurie doesn't just have a ring side seat, she is a player. She shakes her heads and laughs about it: "It is great. I am learning so much. And to see this happen in my life is fantastic."


Marc Wollin of Bedford often enjoyed Laurie's unmedicated cooking. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

I Want My TTV

 I've gotten so much free advertising, it's like nothing I'd have expected.
 When you look at cable television, a lot of the programs are 
100 percent Trump, so why would you need more Trump during 
the commercial breaks?
- Donald Trump

"Welcome to TNN, the Trump News Network. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Yes, that's right. For the duration of this electoral phenomena, we are officially changing our name to give you want you want."

"Before we go on, a few words of explanation. Way back in 1993, when we were CNN, we had our best numbers ever: a Larry King special featuring Al Gore and Ross Perot debating NAFTA. That night 16.8 million of you tuned in. But with Jake Tapper leading the charge for Wednesday's Republican debate, and doing yeoman's work inserting Donald Trump into almost every question, we averaged 23.1 million viewers. That was about the same as the NFL's season kickoff on Thursday featuring the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots."

"We have always prided ourselves on giving you non-stop coverage of what you seem to be most interested in spite of any other news, whether it was the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370 or the death of Michael Jackson. And so once again, we want to be your television home for what really interests you. Hence the change to TNN."

"But enough background: let's get to it. I'll be here quarterbacking our coverage at the newly christened Donald Desk. But our entire TNN news team will be weighing in on every aspect of this unprecedented political movement. So before we get started, let me introduce some of our major segments. First let me throw it to the aforementioned Jake Tapper, who will lead our non-stop Trump Roundtable. Jake, once again, congratulations on a phenomenal job."

"Thanks, Wolf. It was an honor to be part of it. And welcome to you, viewers, thanks for joining us. Here we will have a non-stop conversation with political and cultural experts about the Trump candidacy. Joining me for our inaugural edition and to give us the traditional analysis is Chief National Correspondent John King and Chief International Correspondent Christine Amanpor. But in keeping with the Trump approach, to give us that outsider's perspective, we'll also be joined by a rotating group of cultural luminaries whose entire political expertise is gleaned from places like People Magazine. And so tonight we're joined by Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus. Welcome all. It should make for an interesting conversation. Wolf?"

"Can't wait for you all to weigh in. To complement Jake's panels, we have several highly qualified journalists staffing some very special desks. Let's begin first with Dana Bash, our Chief Political Correspondent, and also a questioner at the debate. Dana, welcome, and congrats on a job well done to you as well."

"Thanks Wolf. I'm thrilled to be heading up the Trump Insult Desk. As you can see here, we have electronic representations of all the candidates, both Democratic and Republicans. As Trump insults each, that particular body part will light up, and the exact quote will appear. We'll be able to see it in real time, and analyze exactly how the insult is being spun or retracted. I should also add there's a matching app you can download , where you'll get notifications of each new insult. However, we do suggest you turn the sound down when you go to bed so you won't be woken up repeatedly."

"Good advice, that. Thanks Dana. Another of our specialist desks is being helmed by Ashleigh Banfield. Ashleigh?"

"Thanks Wolf, and welcome viewers to what we're calling the 'Trump or Truth' Desk. Here we will examine each new utterance of Trump in light of actual facts. Vaccines and autism? Training camps for terrorists in Nevada? Mexican Immigration, the economy, healthcare? We'll parse each of them, talk to actual experts and show you data as to which are correct, which carry some truth and which are, well, just Donald being Donald. Needless to say, Wolf, we expect to be pretty busy."

"Indeed you will Ashleigh, indeed you will. Thanks. We also have teams covering all the other candidates, not to get their views on Iran or education policy, but to see what they say about Trump. So stick with us: if it's about Donald you'll see it here. We'll kick it off right after this commercial break.  Stay with us: this is TNN."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is just about to never turn on TV news again. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Blue Car, Blue Screen

Jay and I were coming back after our discussion session, wrapping up various loose thoughts from the evening. We are part of a group that meets the second Tuesday of every month to chat for an hour about a variety of topics. Called Pub Theology, it's always an interesting evening of thought provoking conversation which touches on society, philosophy and more. (See GA #890 on 12/22/12: "Beer Conversation and God"). Since his house is enroute to the meeting, I usually offer to pick him up and drop him off as I pass by.  

It was a warm night, and I had the music low and windows open on the car. My current vehicle is a bright blue Mini Copper, and it has a large screen right in the middle of the dash centered inside the car's signature speedometer. Since I was playing tunes off the USB stick I had plugged into the entertainment system, it displayed not only the name of the song and artist, but also a good sized thumbnail of the album cover. I wasn't really paying attention to the screen or the music, having seen and heard it all before, and was focused on Jay. That is, until I saw the BSOD.

That's "BSOD" as in "Blue Screen of Death." If you're a Windows user, you're likely familiar with this full stop that occurs when something goes suddenly, massively wrong. (If you're Mac user, stop smirking out loud. Now.) You can be in the middle of something as complex as rendering a video or as simple as replying to an email, and WHAM! You hear the bytes drop their collective pants, and a blue field with tiny white type fills your screen, informing you that something somewhere has completely, irrevocably failed. All you can do is restart, cross everything you have a pair of, and hope all is OK.

Wherever and whenever it last happened to you, odds are you were literally sitting down. Even if you were on a train or plane and were in motion, your computer likely had nothing to do with that movement. It was an annoyance for sure, but nothing more. And while I was in a sitting position as well, it was inside a roughly 3000 pound container of steel and fuel on a dark night on a windy road at over 40 miles per hour. Like most vehicles out there, more and more of its critical functions are controlled by a variety of interconnected computer systems. And the main screen had just gone blue.  

We're not talking hacking here, which has also been in the news of late. Several highly publicized stories have demonstrated more than just proof-of-concept. As Andy Greenberg wrote about one such demo in Wired, he was driving at 70 MPH on a highway in St. Louis: "Though I hadn't touched the dashboard, the vents in the Jeep Cherokee started blasting cold air at the maximum setting. Next the radio switched to the local hip hop station and began blaring Skee-lo at full volume. Then the windshield wipers turned on, and wiper fluid blurred the glass." It was all good fun until the hackers cut the transmission as a semi was coming up behind him. Luckily, he was able to roll down an exit ramp and pull into an empty lot to regroup. (As a direct result of this demo, Chrysler issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles to plug a hole in the system that allowed it to happen.)

No, what we're talking here isn't hacking, but crashing. Something random had occurred in the file that was playing back, causing the processor to seize up. Thankfully, it wasn't a critical component, like one that controls the fuel mixture to the engine, or the way power is allotted to four-wheel drive system. It was just entertainment. But it doesn't take too much imagination to see how it could have been something more, and the consequences far more catastrophic than simply disrupting a song by Imagine Dragons.

I powered down the entertainment system, then back up. No harm, no foul. But think about that the next time you read about Google's self-driving cars. True, when they work, they are demonstrably better and safer drivers than many of the idiots on the road today. However, when they have issues, and they will, that Blue Screen of Death will take on a whole new meaning.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes his Mini a lot. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at Glancing Askance, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

When Two Equals Nine

If someone says you are number two, that's usually not too bad. At least that's what I thought when my boarding pass came spitting out of the terminal. Under the listing for "Group" was a large "dos". Should work out fine, I thought. Being in the second group means that I should have no problem getting on board early and finding space to stash my rollaboard, have plenty of time to check my email before they close the door, even have time to use the rest room on board if needed. I mean, all that's standing in front of me is Group One. And how big could that be?

But it turns out that the size of group one is almost the least significant factor as to when you get on the plane. That's because, like the search for the Holy Grail, airlines have been playing with the contradictory goals of getting people loaded in the most efficient way, while also rewarding frequent flyers with early boarding. The combinations they've tried would take a supercomputer most of next year to work out, and still leave you standing in the aisle while someone tries to fit a body bag into the overhead bin filled with souvenirs from Wally World.

It starts with any number of basic approaches. United uses Outside-In, while Delta uses Blocks. Airtran has had some luck with Rotating Zones, while most of the others go Rear-to-Front. Southwest basically just throws up its collective hands and does a random approach, assigning slots as you check in for both seats and boarding order, first come, first served. This leads to determined travelers hovering over their keyboards exactly 24 hours before their flight departs, counting down the seconds when they can mash the "check in" button, ensuring them of an emergency aisle seat AND a coveted "A" boarding slot. Truly two mints in one.

But layered into these purely moving people calculations is the need to stroke the egos of frequent flyers. These are usually businesses travelers who have some say in their choice of airline, as opposed to those cruising Expedia and Kayak and Orbitz, looking for the cheapest flight from Kalamazoo to Houston. They want to get on and get their gear stowed ASAP, and not deal with the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in Seat 37B.

And so we go back to my flight. First they called for those needing extra time, be it because of age or medical reasons. Hard to quibble with that. Then they offer boarding to First Class and Military personnel. Again, hard to argue: if you are willing to fight our country, or pay $3,724 for a seat, you deserve priority. Next should be Group One, then me. Right?

Wrong. Now it's Business class. OK, I'm good with that, too. If not $3,724, then $2,345 should get your more than just a glass of juice before takeoff. Then they call their BFF's, Platinum Card Holders. Got it; I used to be one of those, so hard to feel put out. Then their codeshare partners at a similar level, Emerald or Sapphire cards. OK, that makes sense as well, though I do wonder who came up with the precious stone ranking. But I digress.

I should be second to next, right? Not so fast. Now the Gold members. Then the Ruby members. (Those damn stones again!) And finally, Priority and Group One. And what comes after One. Yup, finally: me. Actually, at that point 90% of the plane has already boarded, so the gate agent doesn't even give us the satisfaction of calling our group exclusively: "Groups Two, Three and Four, and all others may board." She could have just as easily said, "All you remaining losers, get on the damn plane."

Thankfully, in spite of my late entry to the race, I knew how to game the system. I chose a seat near the back, and had kept refreshing the seat map on my phone, jumping row to row to find one with an open middle. (That's a story for another time.) So while the front of the plane was reasonably full, the ghetto in the back was not. As such, I had plenty of stowage and stretching room after all. Still, it was a lesson in airline math as confounding as anything todays' third graders face: two seems to be the new nine.


Marc Wollin of Bedford generally like to travel. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Refresh. Repeat.

In an early scene in the 1972 Michael Crichton novel "The Terminal Man," a staff neurosurgeon is interviewing a potential patient. The man says he came to the hospital after reading about their work in a magazine article: "Is it true that you can put wires in people's brains so that you feel pleasure? Intense pleasure?" The doctor says yes, and then secretly summons a team to watch the interview from behind a one-way mirror. "Well," the man says after some back and forth, "I want the operation done on me." After being told that the hospital doesn't do brain surgery without a real reason, the man storms out. The doctors sit back, stunned. They discuss it, until one sums it up this way: "That man is an elad."

That's "elad" as in "electronic addict." Hardly science fiction, it's a concept based on studies done on rats in the 1950's by James Olds and Peter Milner. They were investigating whether rats might be made uncomfortable by electrical stimulation of certain areas of their brain. In the experiment, rats were jolted if they went to a certain corner of their cage, with the assumption they would learn to avoid it. Instead, they came back quickly after the first stimulation and even more quickly after the second. In later experiments, they allowed the rats to press levers to shock themselves. Some did it as much as seven-hundred times per hour.

I'm not proud to say it, but I am that rat.

I had that realization as I hit the button to check my email for the umpteenth time today. No surprise, there's was nothing new there. All the big projects from the first half of the year have wrapped up, and those slated for the second half haven't really gotten going yet. With Labor Day being so late, those who aren't at the beach are in the mountains, or just lounging by the pool. And the spam filter is doing its job, and catching all the flotsam and jetsam that is lapping on my electronic shore. But really: nothing? I hit the refresh button, then check the connection, then refresh again. Nada. Crickets.

Perhaps you're not so different. We have been so conditioned to the constant inflow of stuff, be it important or stupid, that we suffer withdrawal if it stops. Sure, like that overused phrase "work-life balance," we talk about the importance and desirability of "downtime" and "disconnecting." But if you look closely, I don't actually think that's what we want.

We actually want to be connected all the time, just one way at times. We want to see the office gossip, and know what's happening, but not be required to react. We want the Facebook updates, the Twitter feeds, the Instagram, Pintrest and Flipboard dispatches. We want it all: we just don't want to feel that we have to do something about it. It's bending the rules of physics. It's action without reaction.  

This harks back to an earlier time when responding took actual effort as opposed to just fast-twitch muscles. You got a call on your answering machine, or maybe a letter in the mail. It imparted news of some kind, good or bad or even neither. But no one expected a response immediately. You had time to digest, consider and formulate your reaction, and even think about the best means to deliver said message. You might not even respond at all. And that was often OK as well.

Nowadays you no sooner send something out than you expect an answer. And if you don't get one, you figure something must be wrong with your connection. It's almost inconceivable to you that someone somewhere doesn't immediately drop everything they are doing in order to react to your post/tweet/email. Even a single letter like "K" is all it takes to validate your efforts, whether it's a request for a meeting, a recipe or a Justin Bieber sighting.

But that's the response side. For now, I am on the receiving end, and there's nothing being received. Nothing. Like the rat that I am, I hit refresh; still nothing. Again. Oh, look! An update on a concert series we've attended in the past. Interesting, but I'll be out of town when it happens. Delete. Refresh. Nothing. Hmmm. I wonder if the internet is broken.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always seems to have a device within reach. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tastes Like Chicken

When I was in junior high school, boys took shop and girls took home ec. For us, that meant metal or wood; for them it meant sewing or nutrition. But I liked to play around in our kitchen at home; more to the point, I liked to eat. And while my skills at the latter were pretty good, those at the former were rudimentary at best. So a bunch of my buddies in the same circumstances and I decided to approach a friendly teacher, and see if she would do a class for us. She thought the idea had merit, and proposed it to the powers that be. It was instituted the following semester, and shortly thereafter 11 hungry adolescent boys piled into the school's kitchen classroom. On the walls were the usual charts showing food pyramids and guides to healthy eating. But the teacher took one look at us and knew that that was a lost cause. "All you guys want to learn is to cook and then eat, right?" she asked rhetorically. We readily agreed. And that was the birth of "Home Economics 107: Man in the Kitchen."

Fast forward 40 plus years, and my attitude hasn't really changed. Oh, sure, I know about carbohydrates and starches, about fats and sugars. And especially as I get older, I know which ones I should eat more of and what ones I should avoid. But my basic attitude hasn't changed: pasta is pasta, steak is steak, and peanut butter cups are one of the major food groups.

But more and more reality tries to intrude. In the most recent case it was a perfect summer evening, and we were engaged in our favorite summer evening activity, eating outside. For some reason, food always tastes better to me in the open, when the sun has set and the air has cooled. Doesn't matter if it's a meatball parmesan hero or a five course meal. Something about having no  walls around us makes even an ordinary meal taste better.

As befitting a warm evening, all at the table had salads on the mind. A Greek style one here, a beet and goat cheese number there, a cold roasted veggie assortment for a third and fourth. Variations on a theme, to be sure, but all the same basic idea: lettuce on the bottom, some combination of stuff on top and sprinkling of dressing over all of it to spice it up.

Almost lyrical in tone, until the waitress showed up. Nothing wrong with her personally: she was a very pleasant young lady, a big smile on her face and trying hard to please. No, her misstep was one I encounter with increasing frequency.  Not "would you like to add any barbequed chicken to that?" or "how about some grilled shrimp on top?" Nope. One after another, she reduced our dishes to a chemistry equation: "Any protein with that?"


There's an old saying in politics that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In this case, we were ordering in music, she was writing it down in science. I get that a healthy meal involves a balance of different food groups. But especially when I'm out and about, do you really need to remind me? It's bad enough that more and more stuff has calorie counts posted next to it. Do I really need to define my order by the type of biomolecule I intend to consume? Soon it'll be, "May I have 3 spoonfuls of fat, a dollop of starch and some crunchy carbs on top, please?" Yummy, huh?

In "Romeo and Juliet" William Shakespeare famously wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Well, sorry Bill, but when it comes to my stomach, I disagree. While I admit that "tofu" might not be a grabber in terms of nomenclature, beyond that I look forward to being told we're having salmon or steak, chicken or pork. Grill it, broil it, bake it or fry it, doesn't matter. All you need to tell me is what time to be at the table. But tell me we're having protein for dinner, and I can't work up the same appetite. Maybe it's better for my cholesterol, but my taste buds ain't so wowed.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to eat just about anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

International Audience

If you write or make music or paint or do almost any creative endeavor, you probably want people to partake of your efforts. Certainly, there are those for whom creation is a therapeutic activity done strictly for themselves; nothing wrong with that. However, most who have the "bug" want more than anything to show off their wares. If they make some money along the way, well, bonus points. And if they can make a living off of it, it's like winning the lottery. But stripped to its essence, the original driver is the need to say something in some way, and have people see/hear/watch/read.

That was a much more difficult proposition before this interweb thing that we now take for granted. Getting your stuff out there took lots of time and money with no assurance of success. On top of that, the vehicles for connecting with consumers were guarded by gate keepers who only selected what they deemed to be the best and the brightest. Be it an editor at a publishing house or an A&R man at a record company, getting to the public meant going through them and their sensibilities. If they didn't think you stuff was marketable, your stuff never got to market.

It's a different ballgame these days. Anyone anywhere can post anything to be partaken by, well, anyone anywhere. Is your way of expressing yourself making music? There's NoiseTrade , Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Handicrafts? Etsy for sure, but also LexisPlace, ArtFire and Home and Tribe. Into Photography? Flickr is a big one, but also Zenfolio and Photobucket. There are sites for poetry, fan fiction, painting, and yes, even column writing.

In that vein I do what I can to spread this particular word far and wide. Some of you read it in actual print, others in its email form, still others take a look at the online version. To be fair, I do get some remuneration when it's gets clicked, but to call those earnings modest is an understatement. When last I checked, my Google Adsense earnings, after weekly posts for about 6 years, had reached a grand total of $16.32. In other words, I ain't doing it for the money.  

But eyeballs are another matter. I love, love, love when people read my stuff, and even better, when they write back. With their millions of fans and followers, maybe Stephen King and George Will and Dave Barry tire of getting comments and readers. Not I. In fact, one of the reasons I continue in this space after 20 years is the feedback I get. To be sure, there are some who reach out and comment regularly, and they are like gold. But just as precious in a different way are those new souls who have stumbled into my orbit, and feel compelled to reach out and add their two cents. I collect those lucky pennies, which are worth far more than their numerical value.

So when I fired up my computer the other day and found a return note to me in Arabic, I was delighted. It certainly seemed legit: the header said "A comment on your article" with the exact title and format I use. In that story the clear water at Sharm El Sheikh was featured, and I have discovered that, just like audiences at a rock concert, readers often shout out when their home town is mentioned. And I have followers in a number of foreign lands, be it family, friends or associates. So the idea of a response from that region wasn't outside the realm of possibility.

Just one problem: I can't even pretend to read Arabic. So I copied the response and navigated my way to Google Translate. I pasted it in and waited to see the response from my newest reader. A few beats while the bits talked to the bytes and up it came: an ad for a water tank and pool cleaning firm in Riyadh, complete with their web site. Seems their automatic marketing system had seen some key words of interest, and offered them up to me as a potential customer.

Oh, well. Perhaps my Saudi Arabian readership is still stuck at zero. But on the bright side, should I ever visit, I can offer my host a recommendation for a pool cleaning company. It's not much, but it's what I got.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves when people read this space. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Vote for Tim

By his own admission, one of the candidates for president is building his campaign by harnessing grass roots momentum as opposed to counting on support from any major party. His policy positions are more broadly thematic rather than specific, focusing on world peace, fiscal restraint and smaller government. And he views his business background as one of his strongest qualifications, believing that his skills in that arena are exactly what are needed for the nation's chief executive. Unlike Donald Trump, however, his views on women are a good bit softer. As he and I stood talking and my wife walked up, he looked at me, then looked at her, and said with a smile, "Well, she makes you look good!"

Meet Tim Farkas, full time candidate for President of the United States.

Farkas was in the sub-prime mortgage business in his native Ohio, and has had some legal and business issues. But just like that other businessman in the race, he hardly sees that as a disqualifier. Quite the opposite: "I used to run a company with about 200 people, give or take, that all worked on commission. And when someone can get 200 people to work on a commission-only basis, then they understand how hard it is to get things done. So I think I have some good ideas and recommendations to get the right people around me and do the right things."

But to get elected you have to court the voters, and Farkas goes about it the old fashioned way. When I met him he was standing on the corner of 42nd and Sixth Avenue in New York City, the same way he stands on streets in his hometown of Columbus. He had a hand-written sign propped up on a table, and a stack of business cards in his hand. He made a beeline for every person walking by, offering them a card and telling them "It's your country. If you have something you want to say, drop it in my mailbox." Then on to the next. Since I was just standing there waiting for my wife, we got to talking.
He began by pointing out the many challenges we face as a country, specifically focusing on the national debt. "I know guys who are really good at finance," he told me. Beyond that? "It's a big problem," he said. Yup, I didn't disagree. "Lots of people have good ideas, and we need to use them." Hard to argue with that as well. "We have the freedom to believe. The United States of America gives us the freedom to believe." I agreed it was indeed a great country, but we had issues. He nodded, and threw out what is sort of his campaign slogan: "We need to get our country back." Perhaps not as pithy as Ben Carson's "Heal. Inspire. Revive." but certainly not as clunky as Rand Paul's "Defeat The Washington Machine. Unleash The American Dream," even if that one does rhyme.

It was about at this point that my wife walked up. She saw me standing there talking to a guy with a scruffy beard in shorts and shoes with no socks, and probably assumed I had had bumped into an old friend. I introduced her to him with a line I don't get to use everyday: "This is Tim. He's running for President of the United States." She smiled at me and cocked her head, with a look that asked is he dangerous, crazy or just curious, and regardless, why in heaven's name was I standing there talking to him? Then he complimented her, and we all laughed. I shook hands with him, wished him luck and started to head to dinner. As we walked away, he handed me a card, and closed with his signature request and offer: "If you have something you want to put on my website, drop me a line."  

Including Farkas, there are 24 declared candidates for the highest office in the land. There are sitting governors and senators, ex's of both stripes, and successful professionals from outside of politics, all trying to distinguish themselves from the pack. In that light, I would bet that Tim is likely the only one you'll meet on standing on the street asking you to give him a call. In this hyper competitive race, maybe the others should take notice.


Marc Wollin of Bedford watched the Republican debate strictly for entertainment. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Flying Underwater

It's probably safe to say that most people who wind up in a wheelchair for whatever reason see it as a limitation. Then there's British artist Sue Austin. About 19 years ago, after an extended illness made it too difficult to get around, she finally got a chair. However, she saw it as exactly the opposite: "It was a tremendous new freedom. I'd seen my life slip away and become restricted. It was like having an enormous new toy. I could whiz around and feel the wind in my face again. Just being out on the street was exhilarating."

However, she also came to realize that people's perception of her also shifted, and that affected her view of herself. "When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like ‘limitation,' ‘fear,' ‘pity' and ‘restriction.' And that changed who I was on a core level. As a result, I knew I needed to make my own stories about this experience, new narratives to reclaim my identity."

She began to both paint her wheelchairs, as well as use them to paint. By affixing bottles to a powerchair that dribbled liquid on the wheels as she moved, she marked her passage on the ground in a very literal sense. The tracings she created, both on paper and on grass and pavement, are filled with giant graceful arcs and loops. Some likened her works in public spaces to no better than graffiti. Her response was that it's not mindless scribble; it's a concept executed with thought and design, the very nature of art.

About the same time, as part of her physical therapy, she began to work in the water with scuba equipment. Floating a neutral bouncy environment, she was thrilled with the range of motion she could achieve versus on land. Yet she realized that the words people associated this this particular set of hardware were vastly different from that associated with her wheelchair, words like "adventure" and "excitement." What, she wondered, would happen if she could put the two together? And so the idea for an underwater wheelchair started to take shape.

Through her arts initiative called Freewheeeling, she put together a team to help her make it happen. They designed and fabricated the equipment needed, as well as lined up sponsors and a structure for the project. It all began to come to fruition in 2012,  when she was awarded a commission through the Unlimited project, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which helped disabled artists develop and produce their works. She named her project "Creating the Spectacle," and conceived a series of live and filmed performances that showcased her vision.

The live events included several performances in a pool with both an underwater audience (which was trained to dive just prior to the performance) and others watching on screens above the surface. Sue wheeled herself to the edge, and was literally tossed into the water, there to move gracefully in all directions. She also took her wheelchair to a less hospitable environment, the mouth of the Fleet Lagoon in the south of England. She was led to the water's edge by dancing children, crossed underwater, and was greeted by flags and music when she and her team emerged on the other side.

To bring her vision of unfettered movement to a larger audience, she journeyed to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt with a film crew to shoot extended footage. Compiled into a 360 degree installation whereby the viewer is immersed in the environment, it was also edited into a film called "Finding Freedom." In it, Sue, dressed in a light sleeveless summer dress with her hair flowing behind her, floats and spins and sails through the coral and fish seemingly effortlessly, with at least as much ease as a person in scuba gear, and arguably, with as much grace as a ballerina.

Indeed, pushing the boundaries even further, Sue is training now to take her wheelchair to the sky via a microlight plane. And she has begun a relationship with NASA, as both are focused on mobility issues in different environments. The more you see of Sue's work, you can't but help agree with one observer: "After watching her I realized that from now on when I saw someone in a wheelchair, I shouldn't think about what they were able or unable to do, but rather what they could do that I couldn't."


You can see a piece of "Finding Freedom hereMarc Wollin 's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Alive or Dead?

As you get older (yes, yes, that "you" is me, too), you become aware that you are crossing any number of inflection points. These are those curious moments in time when you realize that the balance has shifted between what was and what is. Indeed, that's the textbook definition: the point on a graph where the line goes from heading up to heading down, or vice versa. In personal terms it's when you realize you've been out of school longer than you were in, or when you've been married longer then you were single, or when your kids are older than when you had you had them. Speaking for myself, I passed all of those long ago. But without being morbid, I realize that I'm now hitting another milestone of sorts: I think I'm at the point where I'm worth more alive than, well, dead.

We're not talking emotional value here. Like all of you, I'd like to at least think that my presence is worth something to those around me, whether it be family and friends or those with whom I work. No, I'm talking about cold hard cash as determined by insurance, that calculus that says were a piano to drop on my head, or I step in front of a bus, or I go surfing and can't fight the shark off with my fists, that my family will be provided X dollars, assuming there is no piano/bus/shark exclusion in my policy.

That "X" usually starts out as something nice and round. It might be $100,000 or $1,000,000, or some multiple of those. From there it can change based on a variety of factors: the type of insurance, your age when you bought the policy, the premiums you pay, the dividends that the underlying cash might or might not generate, and any loans or advances you might have taken, just to name a few. Put it all together, and you get the size of the check in question when the final reckoning comes. Mind you, YOU don't get it, per se; you're dead. But you get the idea.  

In our case we are in the process of reviewing all we have put in place to see if what we have is right for our situation. We've had our existing policies for years, having bought them back when we started a family. Since we were young and in relatively good health back then, the premiums we locked in were commensurately lower. But like all things, much has changed in insurance, including the way payouts are calculated, various special features available and the like. And so we are looking to see if maybe a newer variant might be a better fit for our needs.  

Just one problem: somewhere along the way we got older. That means we don't look to be quite as good in the long term risk department. And so while we can get new polices, since we are starting from a very different place, the costs are correspondingly higher. Sure they have some riders that are attractive, and there are offsets available based on our existing papers. But it's not as simple as trading up to a new iPhone. The evidence is being presented, and the jury has yet to pronounce a verdict.

Regardless of all that, what strikes me is the how the overall balance has shifted. In the beginning, we had little money, and the insurance was there to protect the family. At that point I was indeed worth far more dead than alive. If I suddenly met my demise, my gang could have afforded a nice vacation a lot easier than if I were standing there trying to pay for it. But I was always confident that my wife indeed loved me, and so I never worried when I went to sleep. Right, Honey? Uh, Honey?

But now it's some decades later, and our big debts of college and mortgage are clear, while our savings have been positioned to grow. My value is to both help to continue to contribute to our nest egg, as well as intelligently manage what we have. That insurance? It's gone from need to have to nice to have. And me? At least from a purely financial standpoint, I actually might be a little more valuable sticking around than not.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always pays his premiums on time. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.