Saturday, December 31, 2016

Coming Attraction

(GRAPHIC: The following PREVIEW has been approved for APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. The year advertised has been rated PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some events and personalities may not be suitable for children under 13, or anyone who craves a middle ground. Intense sequences of partisanship, non sequiturs, distortions, simplifications, villainization, violence, stereotypes, sexual content, language and graphic nudity are likely to be included. Note: Final rating not yet confirmed.)

(SOUND: Relaxing Music)

(VISUAL: Small town activity mixed with urban everyday life. Shots of people going about their daily lives: shopping, working, playing.)

VOICEOVER: It looks peaceful. Moms and dads raising their families, going to jobs and activities. Kids having fun, heading to school. Factories running, stores selling, offices working. But it's about to change.

(SOUND: Hyper music: loud, frenetic scary.)

(VISUAL: Frantic cuts of Congress, wars, attacks, rallies, White House, planes, marches, newscasts, hospitals, guns, etc.)

VOICEOVER: In a world turned upside down, nothing is set in stone. For some, 2017 will be the beginning. For others, it will be the end.

(SOUND: Brassy, triumphal music, rally crowd cheers.)

(VISUAL: Bold pictures in color: factories humming, people dancing, doctors and smiling patients, politicians backslapping)

VOICEOVER: One vision is bright and shiny. A new day is dawning, with more jobs and better healthcare, with more security and better opportunities for all. A government that encourages people to do more, and then gets out of their way to let them try. Where the most successful, most well to do bring their talents to bear for the average Joe and Jill, freeing them to soar to heights they can't even begin to imagine. A world where we stand at the apex, a bright and shining symbol of strength once again!

(SOUND: Tense, scary music: Angry crowd jeers.)

(VISUAL: Black and White pictures. Violence, confrontations, factories idle, wars, deportations.)

VOICEOVER: The other vision is disaster. A dark, hopeless place, where anyone different is threatened, where disease and persecution are common, where only the privileged few have rights. A place where the government is bought and sold, where gigantic corporations run amok, profiting off the backs of downtrodden workers. A world where we are hated by all, a small and insular country that cares only about itself!

(SOUND: Discordant music, unsettling.)

(VISUAL: Split screen, person on right side, person on left side, each talking to camera in turn. As one finishes, the other begins, the first is replaced, then the second etc.)

PERSON 1: It's gonna be great, I tell you. Finally, someone who gets it!

PERSON 2: A demagogue, a fascist. There's no other way to describe it.

PERSON 3: We'll have jobs again! We'll be respected! No more apologizing!

PERSON 4: It's a joke. Jobs aren't coming back. And he's dangerous besides!

PERSON 5: Enough with this political correctness. Finally we can say what we really think!

PERSON 6: Boorish, crass. No role model. I don't want my kids acting like that!

(SOUND: Calm, relaxing music)

(VISUAL: Dawn in towns and cities, the beginning of a new day, but split screen. Vibrant color on one side, gray and grainy on the other. Dissolve to title graphic.)

VOICEOVER: Same world, two outlooks. Which will it be? There's no middle ground, no place safe. With an all star cast of those you know and those you will know. Buckle up for the year they'll be talking about forever! Or at least until 2020.

Live it. Like It. Dread it. And you won't how it will really turn out until it's over.

2017. Opening everywhere on January 1. Be there.

(SOUND: Music up and out.)


Marc Wollin of Bedford can't wait to see how the ending turns out. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Of The Year

One week to go. As you read this, 2016 is winding down, and all that’s going to happen this year has probably happened. Absent an earthquake or a terrorist attack or Beyonce releasing a new song on iTunes, the chances of something occurring which changes the established order of things is diminishing by the hour. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen. But even in a year that all but defines "changing the established order of things," the rankings and judgements are in, and the cream has probably already risen to the top, whether you consider it fresh and sweet, or curdled beyond all possible consumption.

Of course, the most notable of these judgements is Time’s Person of the Year. To no one’s surprise, the pick was Donald Trump, or as the magazine called him, "President of the Divided States of America." Like him or hate him, he was the obvious choice. After all the criteria is "for better or for worse, the person who has done the most to influence the events of the year." Yes, Hitler got it (1938), as did Ayatollah Khomeni (1979), but so did Kennedy (1961) and Truman (1945 and 1948). By any measure, it was an easy call for the editors, certainly as opposed to 1960 when they gave the title to "US Scientists," 1966 when it went to "The Inheritor" or what we now call Baby Boomers, or 1982 when they gave up on people all together and bestowed the title on "The Computer."

But "person" is not the only thing that is "of the year." Whatever interest you have, there was a panel of experts that has surveyed all that has happened since January 1, and decided what merits special distinction. Books, movies, plays, music: for each there is no shortage of top ten lists, often several variations in the same publication. And subjective is the name of the game. For instance, in film, some lists have "The Lobster" on top, a movie about a future society where a single man checks into a hotel where, by law, he must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into an animal. Others list "Moonlight," a movie about three stages in the life of a gay drug dealer. And still others name "La La Land," a love story/musical that takes place in LA. Divided states, indeed.

As to Word of Year, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is likely rolling over in his grave, as his famous admonition to Richard Nixon has been thoroughly debunked. For it was he who said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." And so in a year when facts mattered less and less, the editors of the Oxford Dictionaries selected "post-truth" as the standout. The official definition: "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief." Sorry Dan, seems you do get to pick what you want to believe in.

There is no shortage of other superlative items as well. InStyle has selected Butter London’s Mum’s the Word tone as "Best Nail Polish for Medium-Dark Skin" for 2016. The Statesman-Journal of Salem Oregon has picked named Adam’s Rib as the "Best Barbeque in the Mid-Valley." And has given its coveted Mom’s Choice award for "Best Diaper Pail of 2016" to (drum roll, please) the Munchkin Arm & Hammer Diaper Pail. Sorry, Playtex fans, but the Diaper Genie Elite with Carbon Fiber was only a finalist.

However, these are all about the past. Pantone is looking forward and has announced its Color of the Year for 2017. It’s 15-0343, better known as Greenery and described as a "tangy yellow-green often seen in foliage.".  Asked why, Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, said, "We know what kind of world we are living in: one that is very stressful and very tense. This is the color of hopefulness."

One admires her outlook. That’s said, her track record is suspect. For 2016 she and her compatriots actually selected two colors, one a gentle pink, the other a baby blue. The first was called Rose Quartz, and was described as a "persuasive yet gentle tone that conveys compassion and a sense of composure." As for the other, it was meant to be "weightless and airy," and called Serenity.

Either of those sound like 2016 to you?


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes colors with one syllable. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Missed it By THAT Much

It can happen in any category; almost any product or service runs the risk of being left behind, obsoleted or scaled out. It doesn't matter where it is in its lifecycle. Kodak had the market for film all but monopolized. Then along came digital cameras, and it seemed like overnight yellow went back to meaning sunshine as opposed to film boxes. Or one day everybody was buying standalone GPS's and marveling how we lived without them. Then they put the same chip into cell phones, and we lived without them quite easily, thank you very much. And My Space was THE place to go online. The place, that is, until a startup run by a Harvard dropout caught fire and left it in the dust. Perhaps you've heard of Facebook?

Of course, the chance of being eclipsed like this is more prevalent in technology than anywhere else. By its very nature, it's constantly being updated and reinvented. It's not quite the same with a pair of pants or a shirt. Sure, there may be new styles, new form factors, but you can still wear your old ones. You may look a little out of touch in your bell bottoms or your peasant blouse, but they work just fine. Not so with your Apple Newton or your floppy discs or your 8 tracks. Still, you usually have some warning, some heads-up, an off ramp wherein you can migrate to the next new thing.

In this instance I was close. Very close. But this time I lost the race.

It's not like I was using cutting edge technology. Yes, I'm a gadget geek, but I'm not usually first to the table. I like to see something come out, stabilize, get established, and then join the party. It's a running gag that I buy my wife some gizmo for a gift, to which she responds that it really is for me. But after she lives with it a bit, she learns to like it and makes it her own. It was that way with the Tivo, the Fitbit and the Amazon Echo.

However, in this case I plead guilty: this one was indeed for me. I wanted a smartwatch, one of those devices that sits on your wrist and connects you to your phone. Believing they were still in early days, and not sure of their utility versus their novelty, I shopped and read and finally opted for the low cost way in. Called a Pebble, this basic watch may have been a Kickstarter crowd funded startup, but it did all that the more expensive models did at a much lower price point.

And indeed, after using it, I was convinced that it did what you hope technology will do: make things easier. It had some limitations, but the practicality outweighed the shortcomings. I was hooked, and was keeping my eyes open for the next generation, where the price and features both made more sense. I just had to get to that inflection point. But then my unit started to fail.

I read some tricks online. Try this menu sequence; no dice. Push these two buttons; that fixed it for a while, then it went wonky again. I tried a full reset; good for a bit, then back to sorta working. Since it was under a year since I got it, I wrote to the company. Indeed, they responded toot sweet, asked for some info, and said we're sending you a new one. Amazing! Customer service as it was meant to be.

And then they went out of business.

Somewhere between the time they issued a tracking number and UPS picked up my new watch, the company sold its intellectual assets and ceased functioning as an entity. No support. No service. And no replacements. Had I started the process just a week earlier, I might have beaten the clock. But if ever the term can be said to apply, I was literally on the bubble.

Sigh. It was fun while it lasted. It was a good idea, but I guess it still has a little more growing up to do. Until the price comes down on the other entries, I guess I'll go back to a regular watch. And so if you see me fiddling with my wrist, it's not that I'm responding to a text; I'm scratching an itch, in more ways than one.


Marc Wollin of Bedford really liked his Pebble. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

First Responder

Quincy was up front about it. No "I wanted to help people." No "I couldn't wait to get out on my own." No "I really looked up to him and wanted to be like him." Yes, all have a kernel of truth to them. After all, he was a teenager with a neighbor who was a fire captain, and the sixth of eight siblings, so any of those rationales could have been ones as to why he wanted to be a volunteer fireman. But he's nothing if not honest. His reason for starting down the path he's on? "There were girls at the fire house, and I wanted to drive like a maniac." Worlds have been built on weaker stuff.

But that was how it started. He got his advanced training, worked as an EMT and continued with his local department. For sure there was driving fast and showing off for the ladies, but it had its much more difficult side as well. He recalled how in the early hours of a Sunday in 1996 he responded to a head-on collision. He climbed into a mangled car past one lifeless body, and helped pry a still breathing one from the back. He helped get that one to a chopper, but he also died from his injuries. It took several hours to clean it all up, and Quincy started home just as the sun was coming up. Though it had been a while since he had been in church, that morning he felt the need. He pulled into one near his house, sat in a corner pew and cried. He was just 18.

He dropped out of high school in his senior year, but kept home schooling to get his diploma. He worked a succession of jobs, including professional EMT and bartender. When his girlfriend dumped him via cell phone, he spent the night drinking, then drove the next morning to the Coast Guard recruiting office and asked how fast they could sign him up. After ascertaining that he wasn't wanted by the cops, the recruiter asked for the name of the girl and completed the paperwork. Two weeks later she called, and they got back together. The next day he left for boot camp.

His first post put him in the Caribbean looking for drugs and illegal aliens, as well as doing humanitarian work. "But I did learn to drive a boat fast, and got lots of sunburns." That girl turned into his wife, and with his first kid on the way, he transferred to a station on Staten Island. When his four-year hitch was up, he left to join the NYC Fire Department, and was assigned to Ladder 42 in the South Bronx, arguably one of the busiest and most dangerous posts in the city.  

He kept his reserve status. "But let's be real, this was the CG we are talking about. How likely was it that I'd be recalled?" Likely, as it turns out. Three years later, in order to help prevent another attack like the one on the USS Cole, he was sent to the Middle East to do port security. A year later he was rotated back with a medal. Wanting to use all his skills, he was accepted as part of the FDNY Marine Division for their busy summer season. I asked him if the pressure ever gets to him. He laughed. "I have the best job in the world. Half the year I am assigned to the best ladder company in the FDNY, and half the year I get to drive a boat around New York City. So no, I don't want out."

For a guy whose day to day involves working in some of the toughest environments there are, he's relentlessly upbeat. "I don't do it for the thanks. I've established that I can get paid to do work that I enjoy that just so happens to be helping people." And when he gets tired of all that adrenaline rush, there's his other sideline: "I'm also an ordained minister, with 30+ ceremonies under my belt." I asked him what was the common thread of it all: "I just love seeing people happy."

Final tally: he loves what he does. He gets to help people. His girl is his wife. And he still gets to drive fast. As far as Quincy is concerned, that's a win-win-win-win.


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

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Plug It In

It's that time of year when the talk is all about gifts: gifts to wear, gifts to eat, gifts to play with. There are discussions as to which you should give, and which you want to receive. Reams of paper and a universe of electrons has been dispatched telling you which is the best one for your spouse, your office mate or your child whatever the age. As I sit here, 8 emails have come in in the last 10 minutes, each offering a different take on the best thing to consider. And while each has their own suggestion for gifting perfection, I can definitively report that the common thread is that it is better to buy-one-get-one-free, get 20% off or get free shipping for whatever you select.

However, with all the lists that are published purporting to guide you, there are two magic words for whatever you buy. Doesn't matter if its clothing or food, something for the house or the car. In today's universe any gift worth its wrapping has to fit on either side of a simple Venn diagram, with the real winners being those in the overlap in the middle. For just as every firm today is an information company regardless of what physical thing they make or service they provide, any present that will wow the recipient has got to be either mobile or tech, and preferably both.

For some things, this isn't too much of a stretch. Stuff related to your phone or your tablet fits the bill nicely, being it charging stations, Bluetooth accessories or cases with keyboards. That said, not all are necessary or even useful. At a recent event I was at they were giving out mini robotic screen cleaners. About the size and shape of a flattened marshmallow, you placed it on your phone or pad, turned it on, and its vibrating motor caused it to move about the screen on its felt bottom. It was supposed to remove fingerprints; it just made noise.

Just as it used to be that anything that had a handle was portable, anything is considered mobile if it fits in your pocket, regardless if you want to take it with you or not. In that same vein, anything with a cord for charging is considered tech. To be clear, plugging something in doesn't make it any more advanced than the non-electrified model, it just makes it more power hungry. There are tech gloves, tech socks and tech jackets, each purporting to keep you toastier by carrying a power pack that feeds a network of heating wires. Long before portable phone and home computers were a common thing I had a similar pair of socks with an attached battery pack. I didn't get warm tootsies; I got burnt toes. They were no more high tech than an electric blanket.

But even when something nominally is both mobile and tech, it can merely be novel without being cutting edge. Advertised this season as a "Futuristic Find" is a 3D pen. Filled with a meltable plastic filament, you plug it in and then slowly drip melted plastic layer upon layer, kind of like dripping candle wax on your dining room table. Yes, it has a cord. Yes, you can use it anywhere. Yes, it enables you to create multi-dimensional structures. And yes, it will be impossible to get the goo off of your clothes when you drip it on them. Hi tech? No. High chance of injury and disappointment? Yes.

There's almost nothing that can't be said fit the bill even if it doesn't. There's a brush with LED lights in it, supposedly to help grow and nourish hair, but which really just allows you to groom in the dark. There's a cordless wine bottle opener, because twisting is so analog. And an electronic S'mores maker is really just a high temperature hair dryer with a graham cracker sized holder attached.

As they say about many things, if you haven't seen it it's new to you. So go ahead and give your husband a grill-cleaning robot. Or maybe your mom would like an aroma alarm clock. And someone you know needs a Bluetooth-connected toothbrush, though I don't know why. Or as Douglas Adams said, "We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works."


Marc Wollin of Bedford wants simpler stuff. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and Online, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Everything and Anything

This is not about politics. It's not about right or left, conservative or liberal. It's not about agreeing or disagreeing, about protesting or promoting. But the fact is that it is a new world order, and we need to figure out the lay of the land. You don't have to like it; you do have to deal with it.

To say few saw Donald Trump becoming our next president is an understatement. As such, the contingency planning for just such an event was pretty slim. Even his own transition staff was grinding along, seemingly going through the motions as opposed to doing actual planning. It was even reported that the president-elect refused to discuss the transition himself out of superstition. But if it wasn't a lost opportunity, it's certainly one deferred. And since his world view differs greatly from the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, as well as the person who was the presumptive next occupant, the reshuffling of the deck chairs promises to be greater than expected.

Coupled with that is the fact that our new leader preferred to focus on broad thematic ideas as opposed to detailed policy initiatives. To be sure, they were certainly more memorable ("Build the Wall") as opposed to mind numbing ("A 14-step plan to Securing the Borders"), and probably were a major factor helping him to get him elected. But as the old saying goes, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, though in this case it might be adapted to say you campaign in Twitter and govern in, well, Twitter. The problem is that 140 characters is a little lean to explain the nuance of a nuclear deterrent strategy.

And so all kinds of things need to be fleshed out in excruciating detail. As we sit here there are opinion pieces and analyses and position papers being written at a furious rate in the areas of economics, immigration and energy policy to name just a few. Make no mistake: whether you agree with their point of view or not, it's not that there aren't skilled and intelligent people with the requisite skills and training ready to offer an opinion and the outlines of a plan in each individual area. It's just that no one took building them out as an imperative.

To be sure, what happens in the government is of paramount importance. But an equally flat footed response took place just about everywhere else. Few expected the outcome, and so few planned for it. Companies and even entire industries didn't develop "Plan B" scenarios. For instance, insurance companies, hospitals and other health care providers have heard about the repeal of Obamacare for so long it became part of the background noise. But now that it has moved from the nuisance buzz of a tiny mosquito to the angry BUZZ of a large wasp, the question is what to do. It's not that there aren't ways to strategically plan for it, it's just that nobody bothered to do it until now.

Even interested parties in areas outside of national policy are wondering what the change in the White House will mean in their world. Will there be a switch in how the arts are funded? Will the fashion scene change now that Michelle cedes the stage to Melania and Ivanka? Does the emphasis on conservative and American values mean that the growth in international restaurants in Washington and elsewhere will slow? After all, the president-elect likes well-done steaks, McDonalds's, and bacon and eggs. If meatloaf is his idea of haute cuisine, and his staff is cut from the same cloth, that little Thai place down the street from the White House is likely going to wither and die.

And that's just the top level. He doesn't use a computer or email; other than Twitter, he's a Luddite. So what about the future of tech? He's rarely seen in anything other than a suit and tie; what does that do for the polo shirt industry? What are his views on gardening? Cooking? Movies, TV and video games? His affection for or against any of those, or a push in any specific direction could mean more James Bond movies, a greater national emphasis on fried foods or the decline of kale. Make no mistake: there's a new sheriff in town, and it remains to be seen if dancing will or will not be encouraged.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is waiting and watching. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Margin of Error

Let's talk weather.

When meteorologists tell us what to expect, they give us their forecast not as certainty, but as probability. They never say "It will rain" but rather "There's an 80% chance of rain." Implied in that statement is that there is a 20% chance it won't. And we understand that. Indeed, everyone of us at one time or another, upon hearing such a forecast, has taken an umbrella and carried it around the whole day unused. True, we might grumble about the competence of the forecasters. But we aren't really surprised. After all, they never said it was a lead pipe cinch we would get wet, just that there was pretty reasonable chance. Staying dry wasn't excluded; in fact, it was well within the margin of error.

Contrast that with the whiplash virtually everyone felt with the results of the election. But why is that? No one, including the most partisans on either side, ever said that Hillary was a lock to win, nor Donald a lock to lose. The numbers may have been skewed in a direction, but they always included ample wiggle room for the opposing outcome to take place. Indeed, in the ongoing post mortem, while the news media is mea-culpa-ing all over the place, the pollsters are standing somewhat firm. While they acknowledge that perhaps they too bought into the overall narrative, they say they never guaranteed anything, and indeed, always said there was a chance of this happening. Shortly before the election I heard one pollster describe the chance of being wrong as akin to an NFL placekicker missing a 30-yard field goal. And on that very day, three guys missed three 30-yard field goals. So there.

And yet we took the predictions as gospel, as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. On reflection, maybe that's not surprising. In a world where virtually every single organization defines itself not as a car company or an insurance firm or as an online retailer but as an information company, we have come to rely on data as the atomic structure of everything. And just as electrons don't lie, we came to accept the polls not as measures of possibility, but markers of probability. But there's a reason the term is "margin of error" and not "indicator of reality."

Of course, we shouldn't have been so surprised. After all, history is filled with examples where smart people, using the best available tools they had at hand, coupled with years of finely tuned instincts, pronounced this or that destined for success or failure, only to have to eat crow down the line. Ken Olson, the president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), said in 1977, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." Legendary movie producer Darryl Zanuck predicted that "Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." And in 1962, the A&R folks at Decca Records listened to a tape and said "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." Based on that appraisal, they decided to pass on signing a band called The Beatles.  

One reason might be that predictions for elections are based not on immutable data, but on mutable humans. And people change their minds, shade their responses and flat out lie for a variety of reasons. As such, the underlying assumptions are hardly carved in stone. Not so something like climate change. Oceans aren't embarrassed to state their temperatures, nor ice flows afraid of what others will think of their melt rates. And so while you can say experts don't always get it right, there is a distinction between social scientists trying to forecast what people will do, and physical ones forecasting what atoms will do. In other words, one day, despite wishing to the contrary, Pennsylvania will indeed be ocean front property.

But still, it begs the question: if the best and brightest were wrong about this, what else have they gotten wrong? Forget Oscar picks and Super Bowl winners. Did we really land on the moon? Are there alien spaceships stored in Roswell? In hindsight, more than ever, a certain amount of skepticism is warranted when we're told what will happen. Put another way, maybe Elvis hasn't really left the building.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has restricted his news intake. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

In Other News

When intelligence agents where trying to weed out any potential Fifth Columnists during World War II from the thousands of Japanese herded into internment camps, they often asked," Whom do you want to win the war, America or Japan?" One man said, "It's like your father and mother are fighting. You don't care who wins, you just want them to stop." While I write this without knowing the outcome of the election, and the analogy is an imperfect one at best, the end result is the same. For while I may care who wins, I just want it to be over.

With our long national nightmare of an election behind us (though for roughly half the population the next four years will be a nightmare of another sort), many share my feeling. We have been battered and bruised by the seemingly endless campaign. Even if you consider yourself a political junkie, it's been a like a record stuck in a groove that repeats endlessly. After all, I don't care how much you liked Barbara Alston, Dee Dee Kenniebrew, Patsy Wright and Dolores Brooks, but if all you heard for 18 months was "Da do ron ron ron, da do ron ron," you would have grown to hate The Crystals.

On top of that, it's been like a black hole for other stories. The world didn't stop turning, and items of interest good and bad have been happening. But they didn't stand a chance of seeing the light of day if the headline didn't contain the phrase "Email" or "Hot Mic." Thank goodness there wasn't an alien invasion; no one would have paid any attention. It recalls comedian Robert Klein's observation that when he was a kid the air raid sirens were tested at 12PM. He noted that someone at the Kremlin should figure it out: "Ivan! Why don't we attack at noon? They think it's lunch!"

As such, there were lots of items that never saw the light of day. Herein a selection.

The American Chemical Society reported that you can die from a sugar overdose if you eat 13.5 grams of sugar for every pound of your body weight in one sitting. Since the average American man weighs 195.5 pounds, that means that 251 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, 155 fun size Snickers, or 102 fun size packages of M&Ms is a death sentence. Women are generally smaller, so they have an even lower tolerance of death by Milky Way.

When fans of Girl Scout cookies place their orders next year, they may have to wait weeks to get them, but only until morning to eat them. General Mills announced plans for limited-edition Girl Scout cookie cereal. It will come in two flavors, Thin Mints and Caramel Crunch. And don't even ask how much sugar they have in them.

According to a new study from Yale University, chubbier dads live longer than other men. Even more interesting, they are more attractive to women. First, the health angle: seems that when you lose a little muscle mass and gain a little fat, it actually helps your body shift some of its resources toward your immune system instead of your physique. As for the other angle, researchers say that a dad with some chubbiness is implying he's focused on kids above his appearance, making him a more desirable mate. (See last two paragraphs for method to achieve this as well as cautions.)

Finally, researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia found that people liked their meal more when they had a mismatched appetizer. Their theory is that when you eat foods that are similar, you compare them to each other. Better to start with something different, then each stands on its own. Researchers had people eat pasta with garlic and oil after an appetizer. Half of them started with minestrone soup, and half of them started with a Thai soup. The second group enjoyed each course more, while the first compared one to the other. Seems that if you have foods that don't belong together, it's easier to mentally keep them separate, and you're evaluating each on their own merits.

Now that this democratic equivalent of a demolition derby is over, maybe some other important items of this type will rise into our vision. So let's kick back, have some spring rolls followed by a taco, and get back to normal.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't care if he ever hears the word "poll" again. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Mistaken Identity

I'm not usually mistaken for anybody. Well, Scott sometimes. Not only are we about the same age, married and have two kids, we look somewhat similar. How similar? Years ago we were on a road trip, walking down a street trying to find a restaurant. We stopped a couple of women to ask for directions, and before we could say anything they blurted out "Are you guys brothers?" More recently, I've encountered clients we both worked with previously who have moved on to new situations. When I've gone up to say hello, before I can reintroduce myself they say "Scott! Been years! How are you?" Implicit in their tone is how pleased they are with themselves for remembering my name. Usually, I let it go, not wanting to burst their bubble.

Beyond that, I'm not usually confused with anyone. Occasionally someone's brother-in-law, a few times an old college acquaintance, but no one in particular. I don't look like George Clooney or Brad Pitt or my friend Andy who lives down the street. I do occasionally get that I sound like Alan Alda or Al Michaels, but I don't hear it myself. As Popeye said, "I yam whats I yam, and that's all what I yam."

So I was pleased when the special United Airlines Global Services agent spotted me and came up with a smile. I was standing at the gate in Houston waiting to catch an early flight home. Because traffic was so light at 530 in the morning I had gotten to the airport a bit earlier than planned. After grabbing a breakfast sandwich and a cup of coffee, I headed over to my assigned gate. Fearing that if I sat down I would fall asleep, I decided to stand in my assigned group lane.

If you've traveled recently, you've no doubt encountered full planes, more limited schedules and this element of efficiency. As a pilot with 22 years of experience said while waiting for our plane, the business has never made much sense. Too much capacity and too many cheap fares were great for passengers, but bad for business. More recently that has shifted. Consolidation, fewer flights carrying more people and lower fuel prices have all combined to lift profitability.

More streamlined processes have also played their part. That means that crews help clean planes, and passengers are boarded in a more orderly fashion. I was Exhibit A in that last point. My boarding pass said I was in Group 5, the last of the last, to be let on after the wheel chair patrons, families with kids, uniformed military, First Class, Business Class, upgrades and basically anyone else. But I knew the drill. So rather than rush the gate at the appointed hour, I obediently took my place in the rope and stanchioned row allotted to my lowly number in line if not life.

If I was the lowest, Global Services was the highest. United awards that distinction to its best customers, and does all it can to make them feel special, including dedicated agents and early boarding. While they won't confirm the criteria, it's generally thought to be about $50,000 a year in plane tickets. Hard to begrudge anyone a little preferential treatment when they spend that much money and time on air travel.

Because of the way the small gate area had been set up, my lowly Group 5 was actually closest to the jetway. And since I was there first and early, it looked like I was queuing up in front of everyone else and expecting to hop on as soon as the door opened. Hence the Global Services agent's confusion. My physical position had given her some indication that perhaps I was deserving of special treatment, and she didn't want to make me ask for it.

But it was not to be. I informed her I was no one special, just a regular Joe waiting to fly home. I explained to her why I was standing there, and that she had mistaken me for someone far more important. She responded as I'm sure she had been taught: "No one is lowly. You are very important to us." Yes, that may be true. And I might have been somebody. But alas, no, I was me. Or to paraphrase George Orwell, while all passengers are important, some passengers are more important than others.


Marc Wollin of Bedford rarely gets upgrades anymore. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Faint Praise

My mother always used to say that if you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all. (She also told me to put on a sweater when she was cold, but that's another discussion.) And in general, that's good advice in just about all aspects of your personal life, whether it's friends, family or casual acquaintances you meet. To be clear, she never said you can't THINK what you want about someone else, just that you shouldn't SAY it. And were she holding forth on that maxim today, she might also note that you shouldn't put it in an email either, as John Podesta can surely attest.

But in other areas, speaking the truth about things is not just encouraged but required. In a work situation, personal appraisals including areas ripe for improvement are part of the normal routine, both to those below you and above you. If you're a critic, whether it's of restaurants or movies, it's your job to cast a sharply-focused eye, highlighting highlights, but also calling out the lowlights as well. And if you're running for office, say President of the United States, well, let's just not go there.

Still, there are ways of being critical while being clever. It's those "You're a lot smarter than I thought!" or "I'd glad you're not so concerned about a particular style" type of comments that make you say "Thanks!" until you think a little deeper. Some call them backhanded compliments, others speak of damning with faint praise. Either way, they are so much more effective than the comeback of "Wrong" as practiced by a certain public figure these days.

You can find them almost anywhere. From Shakespeare: "You kiss by the book" from "Romeo and Juliet, or "If I can remember thee I will think of thee" in "All's Well That Ends Well." Loads in TV and movies, such as in the classic "Amadeus" with Mozart's reaction to Salieri's composition: "I never knew that music like that was possible." There's the motherlode of "Futurama" and Captain Zap Brannigan: "I like your style, you remind me of a younger me! Not much younger mind you; maybe even a few years older." They even crop up in the legal world: a lawsuit against Apple's iPad by Samsung was decided in Samsung's favor by the judge who said their product was "not as cool." And then there is that proverbial elementary school teacher report card comment, "rarely runs with scissors, does not eat too much paste".

This all came to mind when I read the review in The New York Times of the new Pixel smartphone by Google. Writer Brian Chen wasn't overly impressed, but he tried to give it a positive spin, especially considering the current context: "This holiday season, all Google's new phone has to do is not burst into flames. That's because the Pixel is, relatively speaking, mediocre. It is slower than Apple's iPhone 7, the camera doesn't look as good and the built-in artificially intelligent virtual assistant is still fairly dumb. But hey, the it probably won't burn down your garage or injure a child. So if you prefer Android and are hooked on Google, then you probably won't regret buying the Pixel."

Not too inspiring. Still, it's better than the alternative. If you've been on an airplane recently, then you're heard the cabin crew go through their usual "here're the exits, use your seatbelt, put up your tray tables" spiel. But then then append the latest critical safety instruction: "If you have a Samsung Note 7, the FAA says you must turn it off, remove the battery and don't put it in your checked luggage." They may as well add, "In fact, please ring your call button immediately for a bucket of ice water to dump it into." In that light, "won't regret buying it" is almost a rave.

I for one might still consider the Pixel. After all, I'm the target audience: I'm very invested in the Google ecosystem, I haven't drunk the Apple Kool-Aid, I'm not trying to take anything more than snapshots, and I do like a phone that won't explode. It calls to mind a slogan an old friend once suggested for a company we worked with that had the same tenor and tone: "Where good enough is our very best."


Marc Wollin of Bedford just wants a phone that works. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Can I Have Another?

It was a joke. Not a "funny, ha ha" kind of joke, but a "bears no relation to reality" kind of joke. It wasn't meant to be, of course. It was just trying to do the right thing, offering sensible guidance to any person who picked up the container and read the back panel. And while it could have been a jar of peanut butter or a bag of pretzels, it was a box of fish. Red fish. Swedish fish, to be exact.

If you're connoisseur of high end confectioneries, if you can tell the difference between a chocolate truffle from Godiva and one from Lindt, if you buy your candy by the piece vs. the pound, then you might wonder what I'm talking about. Tuna or sardines might come in a can, but what kind of fish comes in a box? But if you are like me, and are well versed in gratuitous sugary nibbles, then you know all too well this grandchild of Tootsie Rolls, cousin of Root Beer Barrels and Smarties, and close sibling of Red Hot Dollars and Gummi Worms. As a person who waxed rhapsodically in this space not once ("Food Sciences") but twice ("Everyday a Holiday") about Peeps, I feel uniquely qualified to weigh in on this topic. And if you don't know what Peeps are, then we most definitely travel in different circles.

But let's get back to the joke of the fish.  

Knowing my weak spot for anything that has a preponderance of sugar as its main ingredient, a friend's wife was nice enough to buy a small box of Swedish fish to have around as a snack for when we were working. So called because Malaco, the company that created them was indeed Swedish, and well, the fishing industry in that country was very large, the candy was developed specifically for the US and Canadian markets back in the 1950's. The slightly squishy soft pieces, each in the shape of a miniature cod-esque aquarian, are known in their native tongue as "pastellfiskar," or pale-colored fishes. And no, in spite of their heritage, while the taste is vaguely cherry-like, neither is it reminiscent of lingonberry.

They are just sugary, chewy tidbits that taste like, well, red and stick to your teeth. Eat one, and you'll eat another. And another. And yet one more. And that's where the joke comes in. On the box it says there are "about" 2 servings per container, each about 7 pieces. But that's a cruel metric: those fishies are like crack. Have one and your body hungers for another. Even as you pry it from your fillings, the box beckons you to take more. Saying a mere catch is only 7 is a pipe dream. Sure. Like that's gonna happen.

But there is nod to reality if you read further. For while the "suggested" serving size is 7 pieces, there is another column. And that one bows to reality, or at least, my version of it. So while the nutritional tallies are roughly double the single serving, it doesn't say "Two Servings." It says "Entire Box." Which is generally what I eat.

I'm not proud of it, but it's the way it is. It's like when the box of cookies says "Serving Size 2 Cookies" as opposed to "Entire Tray." Or when the jar of peanuts says "Serving Size 1 Ounce" as opposed to "Two or Three Handfuls." Thankfully, pizza boxes just say "You've tried the rest, now try the best." Because if they said "Serving Size One Slice" I'd be embarrassed as I would be caught consuming "Most of the Pie."

You can post all the calories counts you want. You can show me the food pyramid in four colors, with delicious looking pictures of whole grains and leafy greens. My wife can have lots of fresh fruit in the fridge, chilled just the way I like it. And I'll gladly try and do the right thing, cutting down on saturated fats and increasing my intake of veggies. But if you honestly think that telling me that 7 Swedish fish is all I'm supposed to eat, the only way that's going to happen is if you tie my hands. Just please do it with licorice whips. I love those.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has a sweet tooth that can't be stopped. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

More, More, More

Mike was having nothing but trouble with his internet connection. It was slow, then it didn't work, then it did. He called his cable company numerous times, asking for assistance, but to no real avail. Finally, he got to one customer service rep who asked him about his modem. While it was an older model and seemed to worked fine, the guy suggested he swap it out for a new one. After all, a few advances had happened since it was originally installed, like running water, air travel and Pop Tarts.

So Mike went and picked up an updated version, an industrial looking box festooned with lights and connections. He took it home and hooked it up, but his service still wasn't singing. So he arranged a service appointment for a tech to come to his apartment and optimize it. At the appointed hour he showed up, and poked and prodded. Finally, he announced he was done, and that not only did Mike have a solid connection, but now he had 5G.

Five G. Not to be confused with 5G's, a brand of marijuana from Rebel Grown, or the 5G trombone mouthpiece from Bach instruments, or the 5G's that Edward G. Robinson demanded in "Key Largo," 5G is the latest standard for wireless communication. Sure, you may have a phone that does 4G, but this? Well, this is one more than that: it has five G's! And more G's are better than less G's, right?

At least that's how we've been conditioned. There's hardly a thing out there that we haven't added a one, ten or hundred to show it's more advanced. After all, if two is good, three has to be better. And four must blow that away. For companies, it's an easy shorthand to indicate their next, more whiz-bang product without going into excruciating detail. We know that the Boeing 787 has just got to be better than the 777 model. The iPhone 7 must be a quantum leap over the 6. And now that Supergirl and The Legends of Tomorrow have joined Flash and the Arrow, we just know that Superhero Fight Club 2.0 will be soooo much better than the initial version.

That said, while it may be better, you might not be able to really tell. There is no doubt that we've made impressive technological leaps in many arenas. But eventually you come to a place where it doesn't really make a whole lot of difference to most of us. After all, anyone can tell the difference between driving 20 miles per hour and 80. But between 80 and 90? At that point fast is fast, unless you're in the pole position at Daytona.

Look at music, or rather, listen to it. When we first started to transition from records and tapes to electronic files, you could hear the digital conversion. But then they figured out the whole MP3 thing, and now only those with truly discerning ears and expensive headphones can tell the difference between a sample rate of 160 and 190. And if that means nothing to you, here's a real world example. Listen to music as you usually do, downloaded to your phone with $20 earbuds while riding on the train. In that environment, the difference between a 99 cent song from iTunes and a $10 archival version of the same is academic at best, pretentious at worse.  

So the fact that Mike has more G's than you may not really matter. It's not that there's no difference; it's just that we mere mortals might not be able to appreciate it. If I can download a file in seconds, another fraction or two might not really make a difference. Or as the tag line went from a long ago Saturday Night Live commercial parody showing why a triple-bladed razor was better than the double-bladed variety, well, it's because you'll believe anything.  

Still, I get that it's a progression, a continuum. And while 5G might not be much different from 4G, 8G will be a lot different from 1G. Then again, as long as your Netflix stream is clean, what do you care that it buffers more bits than it used to? Put another way, it's all somewhat immaterial for most of us because, as the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously noted, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't know if he really needs Windows 11. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Flat on the Bottom

We were coming up the back way heading home when we both heard the crack. It was more than the usual rock-shooting-out sound we were used to hearing when driving that stretch of dirt road. Almost immediately a little yellow icon flashed on the dash with an exclamation point inside of it. It was kind of a "U" but with a flattened and spread out bottom. While not as universal as that circle with a red line through it, there was no doubt what it was signaling: I had a flat tire.

However, with my car being a fairly recent model, I also had what they refer to as "run-flats." Likely developed by NASA while they were working on TANG, these marvels of engineering are able to, well, run while they are flat. Either by beefing up the sidewalls or including a hard rubber donut inside, they enable you to keep driving for a limited time until you can get said flat fixed. Note I said "fixed" and not "changed." That's because, more and more, there's nothing to change to. The Automobile Association of America, or AAA, reports that nearly 40% of cars sold today come without a spare tire, mine included.

You might think cost is the main driver. After all, leave it out and the overall price of the car drops a bit. And with tire technology and durability improving, the odds of having a problem are decreasing. Tire manufacturer Michelin estimates that drivers average 70,000 miles between flats. So why include something most will never use? Anyways, given a choice, most drivers would likely punt on the spare in favor of essentials like additional cup holders, built in phone chargers and Bluetooth connectivity.

But it's not the money, it's the mileage. With government fleet standards steadily on the rise, you have to find ways to stretch a tank of gas. You can either defeat the emission system (Volkswagen we're looking at you), or shave off some bloat. So losing a 50-pound dead weight allows you to add flat screens and subwoofers with more than just a few ounces left over.

Still, manufacturers don't want to appear completely oblivious to the possibility of picking up a nail, so they take two approaches. One is to include an "inflator kit," which consists of a sealant and pump. You attach the hose, and goop and air flow into the tire, plugging any leak and allowing you to continue. But tests by AAA show that A) Tire inflator kits can only be used when a puncture occurs on the very center of the tread; AA) The nail or screw has to still be in the tire, plugging the hole; and AAA) That goop means that the cost to actually repair the tire for real after using it is as much as 10 times more than fixing a flat that hasn't been sealed. So other than getting you out of a very particular jam, it's almost more trouble than it's worth.

The other alternative was my situation. Run-flats keep you going hopefully at least as long as it takes to get to a repair shop, where the problem can be addressed the right way. Assuming the mechanic is not off that day, and it's during business hours, you can usually be on your way within an hour for under $30.

Only one problem: I had blown out the side of the tire, not the tread. So while it was flat on the bottom, the hole was further up, and no patch would do the job. The only fix was a new tire, which would take a day or two to get from the shop's suppler. Luckily this all happened close to home and I was in town for the week. So the only casualty was my wife's schedule, as she had to juggle her appointments to be able to drop me off and pick me up at the train.

I guess when I think about it, this all parallels other parts of my life where I have no spare or backup. I walk around with credit cards and no cash. I have my phone but no pen and paper. Then again, I've been walking around for years with a belt and no suspenders, and my pants have yet to fall down. Let's hope there's no reason to doubt that decision.


Marc Wollin of Bedford taught his kids how to change a flat. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, October 01, 2016


As I finished tying my tie, I picked up my phone and texted a quick question to the crew: "You guys in?" Back came the answer. "Missing paperwork. Waiting for building clearance." I sighed. I was in a hotel room, having gotten 3 hours of sleep after flying in from the last gig. I had been hoping for a hassle free morning, but the best laid plans and all that.

I riffled through my bag to find copies of the paperwork. The location was only a few blocks away; I could be there in 10 minutes. But strike two: I had the forms on my laptop, but hadn't printed them out. Sigh again.

Still, not a major setback. As with most hotels, I assumed here would be a computer in the lobby. I copied the documents to my memory stick, and headed downstairs. No problem, the manager assured me. In the back of the breakfast area was a setup, and I was welcome to use it.

The lounge had a smattering of tourists and business people, and a number of different languages tumbled about. There was a long counter with cereal, muffins and fruit. Next to a toaster and microwave, a young man in a shirt and tie was helping people with the do-it-yourself waffle iron. And at the end of the room, my savior: a keyboard, screen and a beat-up printer.  

I popped my stick into the computer and woke it up. I quickly pulled up the first document, and hit "print," waiting for the comforting hum of the printer going about its business. Nothing. I gave it a few more seconds, but it didn't come to life. I checked the computer and printer, but both seemed to be connected and functioning correctly. Strike three: the day was not getting off to a good start.

I went to the front desk, and explained the problem to the manger. He apologized, but before he could say anything else, the young man from the waffle iron stepped over. "C'mon, sir, I'll help you," he said with a smile. The manager smiled as well: "Not to worry sir. Anthony will get it going for you."

As we walked back into the lounge, Anthony greeted some newly arrived guests: "Good morning! Coffee's over there. Help yourself to anything. If you need help, I'll be right back." He then turned to me. "Sorry for the trouble, sir. I know my printer, and she's getting a little old. But don't worry, I know how to get her started." We walked over to the computer. He checked it as I had done: I tried all that, I said. He laughed: "Oh, so you know computers! Well, this one can be a little fussy. Just gotta show it some love, and she'll work." He opened the front panel and closed it. Then he gave it a little shake, and pressed the button on top. Sure enough, we heard a whir and my documents came tumbling out. I laughed as well and thanked him, as he went over to the help someone make waffles.

While the machine was printing, I got a cup of coffee and watched Anthony. He moved quickly from place to place, showing new guests where things were. He told an obvious boss about a table that was lopsided. When some people asked about the waffle iron, he explained it was for making "gofry." It looked it up later: Polish for waffles. Anthony's linguistic skills had their limits, however. The same folks brought a bottle over to him and asked him what it was. "Blueberry syrup" elicited blank stares. Not easily deterred, he quickly pulled out his phone, punched up Google Translate, and showed them the answer. They grinned broadly.

I stopped on the way out to tell the manager what a great employee they had in Anthony. As he wandered over as well, I told the manager how he not only helped me, but how much he was helping all the people in the back room. His boss smiled and agreed, but also admonished the guy that he had to get to work on time. Anthony grinned sheepishly, a detente of sorts. With that, I headed out. Of course, by the time I got there, the paperwork had been found. But printing it wasn't a total waste: it gave me a chance to meet Anthony.


Marc Wollin of Bedford enjoys meeting people. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I Agree

My father taught me many things. Some are quaintly outdated, while others have stood the test of time. In the first category are balancing a checkbook and reading a map. While it made sense back then, with online banking and GPS, no real need to do either of those these days. On the other hand, he also insisted I learn to back into parking places. I still get strange looks when I do it, but studies show that it decreases accidents when the first thing you do when you get into a car is to go forward, not backward. Thanks, Dad.

He also taught me to read what I was signing. Maybe not every word, but certainly you should at least skim a piece of paper that requires your signature. I'm no lawyer, and so can't profess I would understand all the fine print even if I did take the time to read it. But I generally do look down the page and see if the boilerplate looks like the usual boilerplate. And I'd wager I'm hardly alone: even the solicitors among you probably barely take the time to review every clause and sub-clause in the routine stuff we autograph daily.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the online world. Apps, software and even some websites require you to check off a box attesting that you agree to their privacy policy and Terms of Service (TOS) before they let you take it out for a spin. You'll find that box usually at the bottom of a multi-screen form that purports to establish your rights, privileges and the avenues of recourse you agree to in exchange for downloading music or booking a table. Be honest: like me, you check it and move on without ever looking at it.

There's good reason for that: you have a life to live. A 2008 study by Aleecia McDonald and Lorrie Faith Cranor of Carnegie Mellon University looked at privacy agreements for the most popular 75 websites, finding they ranged from 144 words up to 7,669 words, with the median being around 2,500. Using a standard pace of 250 words per minute, that means most privacy policies take about eight to ten minutes to read. They calculated that if you actually bothered to read all the ones you encountered on a daily basis, it would take you 250 working hours per year, or about 30 workdays just to get through your iTunes agreement and its ilk.

And so we click the box and move on. Most times, the result is benign. But there might be gold in them there words. In a sort of canary-in-a-coal-mine experiment, the developers of PC Pitstop Optimize tucked a clause into their TOS that offered cash to anyone who would respond to it. It took five months and more than 3,000 sales before a single person read it and reached out, for which he was sent a check for $1000.

Of course, it can go the other way as well. In a recent study, 543 undergraduate students were offered entrance to a fake Linked-In-like service. Called NameDrop (pretty good name for a fake!), they had to first agree to the service's terms by clicking the ubiquitous box. But contained in the TOS were two unusual clauses. The first said NameDrop may be required to share your data with the government including the NSA. The second said all users agree to give their "first-born child" to NameDrop, with an exclusive claim to that child through 2050.

In the end, the study said 74 percent of the participants skipped the TOS and privacy policy and signed on. Those who did read them spent around a minute skimming them, when they should have taken 20 or 30 minutes to digest it all. But perhaps strangest of all is that some of those who actually did read the whole thing, including those clauses, signed up anyway. Guess they don't like kids.

We can pretend to be outraged by all of this. We know that the agreements are meant less to protect us than the companies, as well as give them access to our data for marketing and sales purposes. But no one is compelling us to give away our rights and anonymity. And truth be told, most of us have accepted this deal with the devil, if only to be the first to know when that new Coach bag is released.


Marc Wollin of Bedford clicks and moves on. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Coded for Life

It's math of the newest kind. 212 is equal to 646. Sometimes it can be also be equal to 917. And all three will be equal to 332, but only starting in 2017. But we're not talking your regular addition and subtraction, nor some esoteric quantum branch of mathematics practiced by a bunch of geeks with slide-rule tie clips. We're talking about simple multiplication, as in how to double the number of phone numbers available in a given area.  

It's all part of the evolving master design that is the North American Numbering Plan or NANP. Created in the 1940's as a way of taming the unruly growth of the various parts of the Bell System, it divided the country into 86 Numbering Plan Areas, or NPAs, each of which were given an area code. Originally used by operators to connect to different central stations, the system evolved to make it usable for consumers. That was first demonstrated on November 10, 1951, when Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood NJ dialed 10 digits, and 18 seconds later, Mayor Frank Osborne of Alameda CA answered the phone. According to the Associated Press, they talked about the marvel of it all and the weather, with Mayor Osborne closing the call by asking a question about which many on the west coast wondered: "Is it true the people in New Jersey ride mosquitoes the same as we ride horses out here?" Amid laughter, the reports said that Denning replied that he "hadn't been bitten in years."

All was well and good for more than 40 years. But then it started to get a little cozy at the inn. The growth in landlines, fax machines, computer modems and those new-fangled mobile phones started to crowd the system. And there's comes a time when you can no longer just add "1" to get a new number. And so in 1995, Alabama, a state not normally associated with hi tech, became ground zero in the telecommunications revolution. A new confederacy was started, when the southern half of the state withdrew from the north, or to be more accurate, was withdrawn. And where before all Crimson Tiders lived together harmoniously in 205, now half lived in area code 205 and half lived in 334.

As the need picked up, the pace picked up. Texas and Washington, Florida and Massachusetts all divided like so many amoebas. In New Jersey alone, there were three splits in two years. In 1997 the folks in New Brunswick, Rahway and the Jersey shore jumped their 908 ship for 732, while the 201's of Newark, Paterson and Morristown decamped for 973. And in 1999, some 609'ers set up shop as the 856's of Camden and Vineland.  

Realizing their had to be a better way than making people reprint their business cards over and over, a different approach was tried. A new area code could be overlaid on top of an old, allowing those original homesteaders to keep their numbers, while the new kids on the block would get a different address. That did mean that whereas before neighbors in a given area code could skip dialing those first three digits, overlaying necessitated "mandatory 10 digit dialing." You should send a "thank you" note to Silver Spring, Frederick and Cumberland Maryland residents for being the first to attempt this technological sleight-of-hand.

And that's where we are today. Add in the provision in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which allows you to take that 10-digit number to whatever company you choose, plus the fact that most new lines today are of the mobile variety, and you have a situation where you are area coded for life. Wherever you go, whatever mobile plan you sign up for, that number will work. You can have 914 if you move to Chicago, or 917 if you set up shop on LA. And while it might confuse the people you talk to, the system is designed to make it all work seamlessly.

Funny how we are told to safeguard so many numbers: social security, bank account, credit card. Yet at the same time we freely give out our phone numbers, when those are becoming the one clue that reliably tells people our origin. Yours is 732? A Jersey Boy at heart. You a 669? You're a Silicon Valley girl. It could put the NSA out of business.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is a 914 in spirit and fact. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sara's Smile

I have seen the future, and its name is Sara.

The funny thing is I don't know all that much about her. We were in Stockholm, and taking a day trip to an outlying island in the archipelago. The capital of Sweden is made of 14 islands itself, connected by 57 bridges. But that's nothing compared with the dots of land sprinkling the sea on the city's east side. Exactly how many islands is debatable, with headcounts ranging from 14,000 to 100,000: the general consensus is around 24,000. But ask almost any Swede, and they will have their favorite and gush rhapsodically about it.  

We were on our way to Utö, which sort of rhymes with "pewter." The island sports a hotel, a few restaurants, a mining museum, a bakery, a miniature golf course, a tennis court, and plenty of hiking and biking trails. But when we were there the first week of September, all but the hotel were already closed for the season. No matter: the trails were well marked, the view of the Baltic sea was breathtaking and the herring was delicious.

To get there requires a train/bus/ferry combo from the center of town. If you speak Swedish, it's likely not much harder than going to the Jersey shore from Manhattan. But at least for this English-speaker, the danger lay in spraining my tongue as I tried to confirm the directions with the ticket taker at the train station: "So I take the Nynäshamn train as far as Västerhaning, then catch the bus to Årsta brygga, where I get a Waxholmsbolaget ferry to Gruvbryggan. Right?" Go ahead: you try it.

We managed the first leg no problem, and were looking for the bus stop. On an hunch, we aimed for a spot where people were congregating. There were a bunch of young teenagers loaded with camping gear, and what turned out to be a club of pensioners on a day trip. I approached a woman in the second group, and asked if they were also headed to Utö. It took her a moment to decode my pronunciation, but then she smiled broadly, confirmed it and invited us to follow them.

While we waited we chatted with the pensioners about travel and such. When the bus came I chose a set of two seats facing two others, hoping some of our new acquaintances might join us. But down flopped 2 young girls, jabbering madly with their friends. They piled sleeping pads atop duffel bags, and settled in for the short ride to the ferry.

Turned out they were middle schoolers going on a field trip. Sweden is a very homogeneous country; most people walking down the street are blond and blue-eyed, and the locals we spoke to confirmed it as well. Diversity means people with long hair and short hair. In that light, both Sara D and her pal Sara H stood out not because they were wearing tie-dyed shirts that said "North Carolina," but because both were dark skinned with a mix of features.  

Sara D was the chatty one. Her family was from Kurdistan. They had been in Sweden a year, and she loved it. She especially liked that girls were equal to boys. She spoke 5 or 6 languages (she wasn't sure if two dialects of Arabic counted as one or two). She said her old home was a difficult place in which to live, but she loved the freedoms and ease of her new one. And while she wasn't sure what she wanted to study later, she knew she wanted to be a boss. She told us about her studies, quizzed us about our trip, lighting up the entire time. Unfortunately, when I asked her, she also realized she had forgotten the marshmallows for that night.  

We often say that with all the problems we have today, our best hope for the future lies in our children. They have a different world view than we do, one that looks past many of the divisions that separate us. When we say that, we usually think of our own kids; nothing wrong with that reference point. But now when I think of what's ahead, and the kind of person that will make a difference, my kids will be joined in my mind by another. For we can only hope that the future is also partly shaped by people like Sara D.


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

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Name Me The Money

As we've been told repeatedly, this electoral cycle is unlike any other in history. The pros say that in style, tone and substance, we've never witnessed a contest that goes as far as this one does on both sides. That's debatable: there have been nasty fights before, beginning way back in 1800. In that contest, high-minded Founding Father Thomas Jefferson lost to rock-solid Founding Father John Adams. Yet it was hardly a campaign of just lofty ideals. Jefferson supporters claimed Adams was a "hideous hermaphrodital character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Adams' campaign spit back, calling Jefferson a "mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." Makes "Crooked Hillary" and "Crazy Donald" seem mild by comparison.

Still, one thing that seems safe to put in the "never seen it quite like this" category is the way money is used, how it is obtained and the amounts involved. At both the top and bottom, the flow (there seems to be no ebb) is indeed unprecedented in scope and scale. At the high end you have the effect of the Citizens United ruling, wherein organizational money is gushing like a river. At the same time, at the low end, the ability to reach out over social media has meant a million small trickles of cash from individuals. The net result is that a torrent of dollars is deluging the system, soaking everything in its path. (I think I've just about exhausted the water analogy, don't you?)  

Some of that money is in direct contributions to either Clinton or Trump. It comes from individuals, companies or even the candidates themselves. Some is from organizations such as their respective national party organizations. And some comes from Political Action Committees or PACS, which are not supposed to have any direct coordination with the candidate themselves (wink, wink, nod, nod). There are also a whole host of independent organizations who spend for or against a candidate, based on their alignment with that organization's goals, be it abortion rights or for gun rights. Sorry, one more drop in the analogy bucket: all those streams for and against the candidates combine to more than half a billion dollars of attempted influence pedaling as of the latest listing.

A scan through the Federal Election Commission reports shows who gave what to whom. As you would expect, the respective campaigns are the largest contributors to their namesakes. Then there are a gaggle of PACS promoting each candidate. For Clinton you have Priorities USA Action, Correct the Record and Ready PAC, while Trump has Great America PAC, Rebuilding America Now and Make America Great Again PAC. While funds seem to be unlimited, key words for names seem to be in very short supply.

As noted there are independent organizations with other agendas who see kindred spirits on one side or the other, and so put their monetary thumbs on the scale. For Trump you have the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party Majority Fund, while Clinton has the backing of Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. Then there are independent groups that really have no other agenda than promoting their fav. Some carry names that are deliberately ambiguous, such as For Our Future for Clinton. Other wear their hearts firmly on their sleeves, like Patriots for Trump.

There are also those for and against that haven't given a cent (and probably have no intention of doing so), but have registered if no other reason than to make sure their names show up on the official list. There's the anti-Clinton PACS Hillary Schmillary and It's About Killary, as well as Dick Morris' Just Say No To Her! My personal favorites are two PACS targeting Donald, Dump Terrifying Rhetoric Undermine Mainstream Politics (DumpTRUMP) and TuckFrump.

As of this writing, the polls and pundits give Clinton an edge, but a lot can still happen. And all of this money means that from now through election day there is cash aplenty for ads, direct mail, pop-up banners and robocalls. And so while they say nothing is a sure bet, there is one predication I think I can safely make with 100% assurance: you will be very happy when it's all over.


Marc Wollin of Bedford thinks November can't come fast enough. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Too Organized

"Organization" is one those words that we live by these days, one that gets used and overused, like "simplify" and "connected" and "balance." It's a mantra that can be applied to just about anything. You can organize for something (Greenpeace), against something (Occupy Wall Street) or just to share ideas and approaches with like-minded individuals (National Association of Professional Pet Sitters).

It's also a guiding principle that you can practice individually. There are best sellers aimed at helping you figure out how to do it ("The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up") and retail stores to sell you stuff to make it happen (The Container Store). There are products to help you organize your desk, your closet, even your handbag. And then there are tips, more than you can count. Buzzfeed offers "52 Meticulous Organizing Tips To Rein In The Chaos," Entrepreneur has "10 Simple Productivity Tips for Organizing Your Work Life," while Style at Home has "99 Low-Cost Organizing Tips." With all that you actually need a way to organize the ways to organize.  

As for me, I try to keep most things in their place. Not everything: my dresser is a mess and so is the garage. But you never know when you need to be able to find the instructions that came with the microwave, or the American Express bill from December, or the checking account statement from last May. And so I had file folders for everything: receipts, taxes, insurance. I had a box for maps and one for manuals. And I had place to put bank statements, one to put retirement account statements and one for credit card statements.

And I just loaded all of it into the car, and took it to the recycling and shredding center.

That's because that was then. And while it might have made some sense whenever "then" was, "now" it really doesn't. Anything and everything is available digitally. True, it's an acquired skill to know exactly what to type into the search field. But once you get the hang of it, it's like having a master key to the kingdom, with access to everything in the known and even unknown universe. And in that light, the best organization might be no organization.  

Or at least that's the conclusion to which I came. You see, even in this electronic world I can't break old habits. And so I set up electronic folders and organize computer drives into projects and interests and needs. In some cases it's by date, other times by type of file. I have groups of photos I took last year, or tax info from the year before that. And yes, if for some reason I want to take a trip down memory lane, and relive those great restaurant receipts from June of 2014, I know just where to look.

More likely, though, I want to find one. Or more specially, I want to recall a restaurant at which we ate. Or know the type of filter I bought for our well, or find the note from my old high school buddy. And it turns out that all that organization is not only unnecessary, but actually a hindrance. With the ability to search the haystack, all I have to do is type in a few words describing a particular needle, and up it pops.  

It's even starting to happen proactively. When a friend sent us a note with the address of a restaurant, my computer quickly informed we had been there two years ago. It reminded me of the directions, updated the hours and told me what we paid last time. All I was left with was to remember not to order the baked clam appetizer. Too much breading.

That's what computers do best, and so we're better off letting them do it. Whether on a keyboard, a pad or a phone, all it takes is a few taps to dig through piles that would take humans years to tunnel through. Google's says its mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." A minor quibble: they actually catalog it more than organize it, but the effect is the same. But they do make it accessible. I'll leave it to you to decide the usefulness of being able to easily retrieve a list of the "Top Five Crimes Committed by Squirrels."


Marc Wollin of Bedford is cleaning out his office. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Go To Your Corner Kicks

The executive had a long and distinguished 20-plus year career with his company, rising through the ranks to become a senior executive and president of a major division. He was being interviewed in front of a group of employees, and the floor had been opened for questions. He got a few on strategy, a few on business outlook, and the inevitable ones on career guidance. What, he was asked, would he have done differently in his career? Without hesitation, he said he would have learned more about soccer.


Asked to explain, he said that if there was one area he thought he lacked experience on early in his career, it was international. Companies and customers cross borders all the time; even those living in one country can have deep roots in another. If you're going to try and understand their point of view, you have to have a better grasp of their background. And as you talk with almost anyone outside the US or who grew up there, the one common touch point is what the rest of the world calls football.

As the Olympics have unspooled from Rio across multiple nights on multiple channels and platforms, I thought about this point of view. It isn't the idea of building an appreciation of soccer/football per se, though there's nothing wrong with that. It's that especially in the middle of an election campaign where we place ourselves in the center of the known universe, it helps to be reminded that there is a universe. That while what we think and do do matter, there are a lot of people who look at things differently. And Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are not necessarily their point of reference.

In fact, the Olympics is the one time where Americans get to see what else the world watches. If you flipped to some of the secondary channels, you saw big crowds at rugby and badminton, volleyball and field hockey. That said, trying to rank the "most popular" sport is difficult. After all, what metric do you use? Most fans? Highest TV Viewership? Number of professional or amateurs? Most headlines? By any one or combination of those measures, some sports that we are ravenous for on these shores have indeed gained considerable followings worldwide. Basketball and base are close to the top, while tennis and golf are also up there. But you can't leave out boxing and track, as well as non-Olympic contests such as cricket and Formula One Racing.

Of course, the 500-pound gorilla on these shores is American football as practiced by the NFL. Because of its popularity here, interest is growing worldwide, aided and abetted by the once year pageant that is the Super Bowl. That said, use almost any combination of those aforementioned measurements and you still come to the same conclusion: soccer beats them all handily. It has over 4 billion followers, with the World Cup being the most watched contest in the world. Another way to look at it: between winnings and endorsements, LeBron James may be the highest paid athlete on these shores and a magician with the ball. But he's bested worldwide by two guys who never touch it with their hands, Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

You got a taste of why that is watching the crowds in Rio. Brazilian fans know how to party, and soccer is their game; what the rest of the world calls football is really the only sport that counts in that country. And so as they did in 2014 for the World Cup, the crowds packed the men's and women's matches, and put their passion on display. True, they brought that same level of intensity to swimming and gymnastics, and to the consternation of competitors used to a quieter approach, also to table tennis and fencing.

But let's circle back to the beginning. The next time you want to relate to someone you meet from Spain, or try to get to know someone better from Argentina, or want to make small talk with someone from Uruguay, ask about their family. Inquire about their kids. See what movies they like or their favorite type of music. But if you ask them about corner kicks, odds are better that even that you will be on the same pitch. And that will help make it a level playing field. Literally.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always played goalie. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Never Mind

Considering all that's happening in the world, it wasn't an unusual opening for a newscast. Lester Holt, the anchor for NBC Nightly News set up a report this way: "Now what might be the most controversial news of the day. It has people divided on social media, some saying 'I told you so.' It's a debate that's dividing the nation." Are we talking politics? Or maybe one of the hot button issues like gay rights or race? No, in a breath of fresh air, Holt's tongue-in-cheek teaser wasn't about any of those; not the election, not social issues, not the Supreme Court.

It was about flossing.

Since 1979, daily flossing has been a recommendation from the Surgeon General, as well as the federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Dentists, dental trade groups and manufacturers of floss have also promoted it as part of a regular regime of healthy tooth care. In fact, since dentist Levi Spear Parmly invented flossing in the 1800's, it's effectiveness has become such an article of faith that when Asahel Shurtleff of Boston patented the first floss dispenser in 1874, he noted in his application that "For removing foreign matters lodged between the teeth, dentists recommend the use of thread."

There's just one problem: there's no proof it makes a difference.

In order to be included in the national guidelines, there has to be research that backs up any particular recommendation. In a complete random happenstance, Jeff Donn, a national writer at the Associated Press, decided to do a little digging about that research at the urging of his son's orthodontist. He sent some emails, made some calls, all aimed at trying to find the factual basis for that guideline. Unable to nail it down, he filed a Freedom of Information request with the government. Radio silence. But recently when the updated guidelines came out, Donn noticed that flossing was nowhere to be seen. Seems that when the folks in Washington started looking, they realized that they didn't really have anything solid to back it up. Numerous studies had been done, but none of them actually proved that flossing makes a difference. And so they quietly dropped the recommendation. Oops. Sorry. Our bad.

Is this one of those situations were further study changed what was taken as gospel? After all, there are numerous cases of this reversal of course, where something bad was determined to be good or the other way around. Chocolate, coffee and wine were all things deemed to have detrimental effects at one point. Now all, taken in moderation are considered to have bountiful benefits, from antioxidants to lowering of cholesterol. Conversely, tobacco, mercury and heroin were all lauded at various times as being miracle cures for everything from coughs to syphilis. Now they are right up there with tapeworms, bloodletting and lobotomies, each of which was also considered to be the height of medical sophistication at a certain time.

In the case of flossing, it's not really a reversal: it's just that there is no proof. According to the AP, "the evidence for flossing is 'weak, very unreliable,' of 'very low' quality, and carries 'a moderate to large potential for bias.'" Still, the change carries more than a hint of "Sleeper" in it. In that Woody Allen film from 1973, a man is frozen for 200 years, and when he wakes, requests a breakfast of wheat germ, organic honey and tiger's milk. "They were thought to be healthy," says one doctor." Another: "You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or hot fudge?" Says the first, "Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true." They both shake their heads: "Incredible," they agree.

Maybe someone someday using the large Hadron collider will determine that flossing really does help or does harm. Until then, score one in the quest for less regulatory overreach. We will continue to debate the right to bear arms and the proper balance between responsible gun ownership and restrictions on purchases of weapons. We will argue over the roll the EPA has and as to how far it should go in insuring clean air and water. But you wanna floss? Go ahead. You don't wanna floss. No problem. It's your call either way. Because at least for now, the government is out your mouth.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is a brusher, not a flosser. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Master of Disaster

Michael Bay, get a cold drink. Steven Soderbergh, take the day off. Roland Emmerich, head to the beach. You guys think you've pushed the envelope to the limit, that there's no one better at creating angst for humanity. But in spite of your collective body of work, from "Armageddon" to "Contagion" to "The Day After Tomorrow," you don't hold a candle to what has to be the best practitioner of the disaster genre wherein mankind is about to be obliterated.

That's because the scenarios represented in those films are just a few ants at a picnic compared to the tale being spun in my inbox. The subject lines tell the story, always in breathless all caps: "ALL HOPE IS LOST." "WORSE POSSIBLE NEWS." "TRAGIC LOSS." If I'm smart, I'll take my lead from Lars von Trier and his apocalyptic film "Melancholia." Not to give away the story if you haven't seen it, but with the end of the world approaching Kirsten Dunce decides the best way to greet it is to have a picnic with her nephew. Thankfully, our nephew is a chef, so I'll ask him to cater a party on the evening of November 8. For that's the night the world will come to an end, or at least that's what will happen if I don't give a dollar to the Democratic Campaign Committee.

Let me say this very clearly: I'm not here to debate politics. For sure, I have a point of view, and indeed, most of those I talk with do as well. Nor am I talking about the systems in place. Let the party loyalists on both sides decide if things worked as they were supposed to, or it all reared up to bite them in the ass. But while the outcome may have been more unexpected on the Republican side than on the Democratic, events actually followed procedures put in place years ago. One by one, Clinton and Trump triumphed in certain individual state contests, amassed more votes and delegates than any other contender, and were awarded their respective winner's cups. When you strip it down to that essence, both went the way they were supposed to go regardless of your perception of the victors.

What I'm talking about is the money race. At least up to this cycle, cash has always been as important as policies, and maybe more so. You can deride the impact of dollars on the political process, but it's utilitarian nature is undeniable. It determines where and when a candidate can communicate with voters, hold rallies and print signs. More money simply means more exposure. And so candidates and their surrogates spend as least as much time raising funds as they do developing position papers and maybe more.

In that light, if cash is king, Hillary is emperor. While he has nearly caught up in the most recent period, reports to the Federal Election Commission detail that through the end of June she raised $386 million as opposed to $94 million for Trump, a differential of more than 4 to 1. And yet Trump rendered that mostly moot. Through his command of social media, and his ability to attract the more traditional type, he dominated the discussion. He garnered untold amounts of free airtime, enabling him to spread his words at a fraction of the cost vs. any other candidate. You can argue with his message, deride his simplistic slogans, scoff at his lack of detailed plans, but you can't dispute the effectiveness with which he was able to disseminate all of them for a relative pittance.

Hillary's campaign, by contrast, is a more traditional model, albeit one outfitted with modern trappings. That means huge amounts of cash for the media buys and associated costs. And so while Trump's campaigning style is "any way any time" in the most over the top fashion, Hillary's fund raising uses that same approach. During the two weeks when the conventions were going on, I got a relative few from Trump. I got 5 fund requests a day from the Democrats, sometimes more. And hyperbole was the operating motif.

Again, political outlook aside, there are plenty of underlying possible reasons: his lack of operation or her institutional support, his unusual campaign or her grassroots organization. But whatever it is, it seems I've finally stumbled upon an area where, at least compared to the competition, the Donald is demure.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is as distressed as many about the state of political affairs. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The End of 12:00

We have a tendency to fetishize certain old objects. Long after something newer and shinier has come along, we remember them adoringly. It can be something you wear, be it a dress or an old jacket. Maybe it's a utilitarian item, like a pocket watch or a fountain pen. Or perhaps it's something merely decorative, like a vase or picture frame. That said, the veneration is in the eye of the beholder: one person's antique, classic or collectible is another one's piece of junk.

Technology is no different, though to be fair there may be some concrete reasons. Vinyl records may be fragile, but they have a sound that MP3's can't duplicate. Certain old stereo amps may require hard to find tubes, but have a warmer, more nuanced tone than the most modern solid state replacement. More recently, Blackberries can't hold a candle to current smartphones, but no one has ever made a better keyboard for thumb typing. They call them Crackberries for a reason.

Then there are the emotional reasons for fondly remembering an old piece of gear. For example, while cassette tapes may have been hissy and jam prone, for many of us they represented the first time we able to take control of the soundtracks of our own lives. As best explained in Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity," the mix tape on cassette was low art writ high: "The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don't wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules."

Still, I suspect there will be no tears shed for the announcement from Funai Electric. A large Japanese manufacturer of consumer electronics, it makes everything from Smart TV's to dehumidifiers, and owns such well-known brand names as Magnavox, Emerson and Sanyo. But while it has kept pace with such innovations as home cinema sound systems, it was also the last place on earth where you could get what was once a cutting edge technology now laid low. But as of August, no more: the company announced that it will cease production of that first brick in everyone's home entertainment system, the VHS tape player.

Introduced to the home market in 1977, the Video Home System, better known by its initials, was deemed inferior to Sony's competing Betamax. No matter. It quickly became the dominant format, and just 10 years later represented 90% of the $5.25 billion market for home decks. But just a decade later and the end was beginning: the DVD was introduced in 1997, and VHS was over almost as quickly as it began. Well, not quite: as of 2005, nearly 100 million Americans still had a deck in their homes, likely accompanied by a boxed set of Disney movies.

And now it is no more. No more hearing that "RRRRRRR" as a tape rewound. No more hearing that "zzzZZZZZZzzzzz" as a creased part of the tape passed over the viewing heads. No more hearing that "cccKKKKKRRRSSSS" as the tape unspooled into the innards of the machine. And no more "&%@#*" as you hit the eject button and pulled magnetic spaghetti out of the slot.

Like telephone answering machines with beepers and faxes with thermal paper, it's hard to imagine collectors getting together to admire a Sanyo VWM-710 Player-Recorder in silver, even if it is in mint condition. But it's easy to underestimate their impact. After all, their ability to record episodes of "MASH" or "WKRP in Cincinnati" to be watched later made them indispensable, and established them as the Neanderthal ancestor of Netflix.  

Yet, one vestige of the decks that will survive in song and story is the clock in front. Most models took a degree in quantum mechanics to figure how to set it and program it correctly. As such, it was not uncommon to get the second hour of "Good Morning Minneapolis!" when you were aiming for "Hill Street Blues." Still, even a broken clock is correct twice a day. And so at least you had an excuse to get a sandwich whenever, since half the homes in America had front panels that flashed 12:00 PM all the time.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still has the Star Wars Trilogy on VHS. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.