Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saved by the Bud

Paul and I went inside to place the order. We were midway through our wait for an outside table and had already killed a bottle of wine, a dozen oysters, some shrimp and some fried calamari. It was no problem: the rain had passed, and it had turned into a nice night. And so having appetizers and some drinks while sitting on the restaurant's patio, chatting and watching the boats go by wasn't exactly rough duty.

But horrors, we realized our bottle of wine was empty. With the place being busy, we decided to head in to the bar and get another ourselves, rather than waiting for a waitress to come to us. We ordered, then both reached for our wallets and started to argue over who would pay. The busy bartender let us go for a few seconds, then had had enough: "Why don't I just split it for you?" We agreed, and he grabbed our cards and turned away. He quickly came back with a new bottle and sales slips. We each scribbled our names, grabbed the cards and the wine, and headed back outside to our wives.

In short order our table was called and we sat down. We enjoyed the food, the view, the remaining wine and the company. When the check came, I grabbed it. After all, Paul and his wife had been most generous in inviting us to their place by the beach for the weekend, and had even gotten the first round of drinks. The least we could do was buy them dinner, and we were still not even-steven. We departed and headed back to their place for the night.

The next morning we all awoke and decided to go to a local spot for breakfast. Once again I picked up the check, feeling that barely equaled their hospitality. Afterwards we headed back to their place, then to the beach for a bit before needing to start for home. They said they were going to do some errands before going back themselves. And so we thanked them and headed out, stopping for gas before we got on the highway.

It was later on Monday when my phone rang with Paul's number. I was wondering if we accidentally left something behind, or maybe took something we shouldn't have. It was neither and both at the same time. Turns out that that day they were also having company, just back in the city. Their nephew was coming for dinner, and so Paul had gone out to get the fixin's. He got spaghetti, ground meat and some salad stuff. For good measure, he threw a six-pack of beer in the cart. When he got to the checkout lane, it got rung up no problem. Until it came to the beer.

Paul's a youthful looking guy, but there is little doubt that he's old enough to drink. Still, a "we card everybody" policy is still a policy, even when you're confronted with a customer that looks closer to Social Security than college. And so Paul pulled out his license to prove that this Bud was for him. Except it wasn't. Because while the license identified him as him, the credit card identified him as me.

In best CSI fashion, we figured it must have happened when the bartender split the tab for the bottle of wine. We both have Chase Sapphire credit cards, which are dark blue with the name embossed in gold. Frankly, they are hard to read in good light, let alone in a busy bar after a bottle of wine. I guess when we got the cards back from the barkeep, we didn't notice the swap.

And so I happily used his going forward from that time. That dinner we bought them? On his card. The breakfast we also treated them to? Same. Even that tank of gas to get us home? Turns out it was all courtesy of our hosts for the weekend. And all he got to put on my card was some pasta and meatballs.

So forget passwords. Forget special three-digit verification codes. None of it stopped us from using another's card. In fact, had it not been for the six-pack and a by-the-book checker, we could have gone to Europe this month on Paul. Damn you, Budweiser.

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Marc Wollin of Bedford used his credit card for most stuff. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Recycling Blues

Our kids were up visiting and puttering around the house. It has been a few years since they lived at home, and in that time we've made a few changes: nothing big, mostly cosmetic. We repainted their rooms, and jockeyed some furniture around, swapping a dresser and a chair. Elsewhere we changed a few pictures on the walls, took a mirror from one place and put it another. And we cut down a tree near the driveway, which is actually more disconcerting than it sounds, as it changes the light inside and the sightlines outside.

But perhaps the most disorienting change for them was in the kitchen. The stove was still in the same place, as were all the other major appliances. Yes, some of the dishes had been rearranged, but the plates were still in the one cabinet and the glasses in another. And depending on your point of view, we evolved or devolved by replacing the coffee maker with an electric kettle. Thankfully, they're young and good with technology, and so rolled with that one pretty easily.

What threw them was the garbage. We used to have two garbage cans, one in the cabinet under the sink, one tucked away in a similar location on the other side of the room. There were equal opportunity refuse receptacles: whichever you were closer to was the one you used. But that all changed a few years ago when the town went to single stream recycling.

If you're not familiar with it, single stream means you can throw anything that can be recycled into a single bin. Metal, plastic, glass, doesn't matter. All is carted to a high-tech sorting facility, where magnets and air jets are used to split it up and gather like with like. And so you don't need to do what we formerly did, which was to use the bins in the kitchen for garbage while keeping a whole set of cans in the garage for stuff that could be re-purposed: one for paper, another for glass and metal, still another for plastic. Now you just needed two: one for chicken bones and banana peels, and one for everything else. And so we tasked the one under the sink with the first responsibility, and the one on the other side of the room for the Frankenstein-ian stuff that could live another day.

To be fair, I can appreciate the kids' confusion. After all, it's taken me some getting used to as well, and it's still not second nature. If I'm having a snack, I have to pause in mid-chew to remember to throw the cheese rind in one place and the empty cracker box in another. Likewise when I'm baking a cake: I have to stop singing long enough to remember that eggs shells go over here, while aluminum foil goes over there. And if it's something like the wax paper that was covering the last piece of chocolate cake and still has icing on it? It's too confusing, unless I lick the icing off the paper. Actually, that's not an issue: I do that anyway.

As the kids were settling in and making themselves at home, they were busy chatting and noshing. It was wonderful to have them there, as they told us about their week and what was happening in their worlds. Then one went to throw a piece of paper under sink. NO! THAT goes over HERE, I explained. They gave me a tilt of the head and that "O. K. Dad" look, but made the switch. We continued talking, until one went to toss a peach pit in the other receptacle. STOP! THAT goes over THERE, I pointed. They did as they were asked, but understood very quickly they were dealing with someone with issues. Their reaction said it all: just go slowly, do as he says, and no one will get hurt.

They eventually got the hang of it, providing proof yet again of the value of a college education. As for me, I have learned to sort unconsciously without breaking a sweat. In a walk-and-chew-gum display of skill, I can actual carry on a conversation while making dinner and disposing of things properly. But my kitchen skills do have their limits: when I set the table, I still screw up on which side of the plate to put the knife and which to put the fork.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to bake. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Robo Writer

It's kind of like the bastard child of Mad Libs and the stock market tables. Called Wordsmith, it's a product from a company called Automated Insights that generates short articles base on financial data. Feed it a bunch of info like company names, net income and earnings per share, and it generates a readable narrative suitable for publishing. For instance, if the table has the name Apple, Q1 net income of $78,400,000,000, EPS of $3.36, you get something like "Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2017 first quarter ended December 31, 2016. The Company posted all-time record quarterly revenue of $78.4 billion, and all-time record quarterly earnings per diluted share of $3.36."

Content-generating engines like this one from AI and other firms such as Narrative Science, Arria and Yseop are used by companies from the Associated Press to Forbes to Yahoo to generate publishable pieces quickly and cost efficiently. Automated Insights says that its software is used to create over a billion stories a year, so odds are you have consumed it without even knowing it. There are even specialized versions of similar programs focused on specific areas. For instance in 2014, the first published account of a California earthquake, hitting the pages within 3 minutes from when the ground started shaking, wasn't written by a person, but generated by a computer. That program got its data from the US Geological Survey data stream and "wrote" an article about the trembler. The software, appropriately enough, was called Quakebot.  

But surely you could tell the difference between an article written by a machine and one by a human. I mean, a computer-written article would be clunky and formulaic and boring, whereas one by a human would be engaging and pithy and interesting. Right? Well, actually, not necessarily. Mind you, we're not talking Shakespeare here, but rather your basic everyday journalism. And in a study by Christer Clerwall of Karlstad University in Sweden, the data shows that the differences between workaday writing by a person and software were virtually indistinguishable. In "Enter the Robot Journalist" Clerwall writes "we can say that the text written by a journalist is assessed as being more coherent, well written, clear, less boring, and more pleasant to read. On the other hand, the text generated by software is perceived as more descriptive, more informative, more boring, but also more accurate, trustworthy, and objective. But are these differences significant? The short answer is, no they are not."

This all came to mind because you might have noticed a new feature on the bottom of your Gmail window on your phone. Called Smart Reply, it's a context sensitive set of suggestions that you can use to answer a given missive, saving you from having to create a response. It's grown in popularity after being introduced and tested in 2015 in Inbox, Google's own email system. There, 12% of all email replies sent currently are Smart Replies.

It works like this. Unprompted, every inbound message is scanned, and three appropriate answers are suggested. So a note from a client with an updated project schedule arrived with three buttons on the bottom for me to click: "Got it, thanks!" "Thanks!" and "I'll be there." Meanwhile, the next message was a link my wife sent me with some weekend activities, and the buttons said "Thank you," "Let's go!" and "Do you want to go?" Tap one, and the person on the receiving end will think you've actually cared enough to read and respond. Little do they know that some Big Data computer in a server farm Montana is doing the thinking for you.

At this point it's all pretty tame and boilerplate. To be pithy or smartassed still requires an actual human thumb-typing a response. But it's not hard to imagine as the system gets better, it will not only read the incoming mail, but learn your own personal tone from your responses. And then the three buttons will be more than just formulaic responses, but short answers than will really seem to come from you. Then machine generated snark will be possible, and the buttons are more likely to offer up options such as "What a waste of time!" or "That sounds boring!" or "You've got to be kidding!"

Progress. There's no stopping it.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford uses GMail, but keeps his AOL account for sentimental reasons. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Master's Voice

In the film "Minority Report" Tom Cruise plays a futuristic cop in a dystopian world. Things seem great, with police able to prevent crimes before they happen. But then (surprise!) something goes wrong, and Cruise is suddenly the hunted and not the hunter. In trying to evade his pursuers, he has to deal with the fingerprint of the day, ID via scanning the retina of your eye. To outwit the system, he has an eyeball transplant. But knowing that his original peepers are the keys (literally) to unlocking the doors in his way, he keeps his old ones in a plastic bag, pulling them out and presenting them to the cameras when he needs to gain access to his old offices.

That scene came to mind when I went to move some money around in our accounts. No, no one asked me to peer into a device or take a picture of my eyeball to verify that, as Popeye said, I yam who I yam. But after I had gotten access to a rep by keying in my password sequence, he asked me if I wanted to be enrolled in the newest security scheme, technically known as voice-biometric technology, or more colloquially, voice print.

Voice biometrics works by comparing a person's voice to a recording of the same on file. It can be active, where you are asked to state a specific phrase that is compared against a previously recorded identical utterance, effectively making your voice itself a password. Alternatively, it can also be passive, where the system "listens” in the background of a conversation with a call center agent, authenticating you during a normal conversation by comparing your speech patterns to those in its data banks.

According to industry leader Nuance Communications, this analysis includes over 140 factors, including speaking under stress. They say this makes it nearly impossible to spoof or duplicate. Translation: that movie trope where the bad guy holds you at gunpoint, and makes you tell the representative to move your entire 401K to his Swiss bank account won't work. (There's also the one about using a hacked-off finger to get past a fingerprint scanner, but that's a discussion for another time.)

How secure is this? Nuance claims that the technology can not only determine between an authentic user and an impostor imitating his or her voice, but even a recording of a voice. And let's face it: it's harder for hackers to imitate or steal your voice than passwords, because it would require them to imitate the voice of a person they may or may not know. Plus, since voice printing would involve just one interaction in a full conversation, even the most rudimentary system would be unlikely to be taken in by a voice purporting to be you that only sounds like you when asked to say specific things.

But the real reason companies are starting to go this way is the weakness of passwords. According to a 2016 Verizon report, in 93% of the cases studied, it took hackers "minutes or less” to compromise a system. Was it their skill at understanding the defenses, or their stealthiness at slipping through firewalls? In a majority of cases, no. In 63% of the over 2000 data breaches examined, the key to gaining access was simply weak, default or stolen passwords. With voice biometrics boasting a 98% accuracy rate, the attraction is a simple case of math.

And so the rep had me ramble on for about two minutes to get a solid voice sample. I talked about the weather, my latest business trip, the plans we had for the weekend, and what we were thinking about for dinner. When I finally came up for air, he told me the system had me on file, and all was good to go. And so the next time I called in, all I did was talk with the rep a bit and the system popped up a confirmation on his screen that I was who I said I was.

So now I don't have to remember the name of my first dog, or where my mother was born, or the theme of my junior prom, none of which I can accurately recall. Even better, I don't have to worry about anyone stealing my eyeballs. But the finger thing? I'm not touching that one (see what I did there?)

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford uses a password manager. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Last New Thing

It's over. And I missed it.

Once again something came and went in all but a flash, and I am just learning about it. If you have school age children, this was likely on your radar; mine, not so much. You may have been buying your first one while I was cleaning the gutters of winter debris. About the time I was getting the grill ready for spring cookouts, you were likely on your second or third. And just as it was finally getting to the point that I could enjoy my morning coffee along with the paper while sitting on the deck, you were wondering how many your kid had to have. Now suddenly, just as am hearing the term “fidget spinner” for the first time, you are chucking them all into a drawer in the basement, happy to be done with them.

For the uninitiated, the fidget spinner was the hula hoop (or troll doll or super ball or Rubik's cube or Beanie Baby or jelly bracelet) of the moment that kids just had to have or their lives weren't complete. Made of plastic and ball bearings, spinners have two or three paddle-shaped blades attached to a central core. Think maple tree seedlings, and you're not far off. Squeeze the core, give the blades a flick and they spin. Yup, that's it, but that's enough. Need proof of their popularity? Recently they held the top 16 spots in Amazon's rankings of the most popular toys, and 43 of the top 50.

While they are purported to be helpful to those with ADHD or autism, there is no real evidence to support that. And why something becomes popular as a toy for the masses is also a mystery. But the physical act of spinning the paddles appeals to many (adults and kids alike) for whom there is a distinct lack of physical stimuli in their everyday lives. After all, we are all glued to screens minute after minute, whether on phones, pads or desks. And ever since the iPhone was introduced 10 years ago, things that you push, twirl or slide have gone the way of the dodo. Everything is now accomplished by sliding your finger around a smooth piece of glass, thrilling at first, but stimuli-sucking as you seem to do it endlessly day after day.

Indeed, as the fidget spinner has waned, it successor has started to trend upward, and in a big way. When the Fidget Cube appeared on Kickstarter, the funding target was $15,000, but the actual pledges came in at whopping $6.4 million. The cube fits in your pocket and sports a different type of satisfying physical interaction on each face: one has a switch, another a gear, another a knob and so on. Sure, you could just click an old fashion Bic pen a few thousand times, but this has buttons!! Three that make noise and two that don't!

I know, what you're thinking: if only you'd thought of that. Well, I did, and still have it in our basement. When our kids were little, like all tykes, they wanted to press and play with whatever moved. And that meant buttons and switches on remote controls and phones and other stuff that was better left alone. So I went to Radio Shack and bought one of every switch they had, along with a bunch of lights, buzzers and bells. I got a big Tupperware box, punched holes in the top and wired it all up to a nine-volt battery. We called it the Buzzer Box, and I should have patented it. Not quite Steve Jobs, but it would have been something.

What's next? There's the Nanodots Gyro Duo, which is made up of two balls that whirl around while repelling and attracting each other thanks to snazzy magnetic technology. Or the Jammer, a sort of weighted mini-duckpin that rolls and flips. Will either be the next big thing to catch the imagination of kids everywhere? There's one sure way to know, and it recalls the time my mother called me to ask me if I heard about the hot new club in the city. My response? “If you're calling to tell me about it, it's no longer the hot new club.” Translating that exchange to this circumstance: if you hear about what's trendy from me, it's already over and gone.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford lives on the trailing edge. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Consumer vs. Patient

I love our doctor. She's everything a medical professional should be: smart, knowledgeable, caring, respectful of me, my time and my life. Not that I like visiting her in her professional capacity, but every time I must it just reinforces how wonderful she is. But whenever I venture beyond her stethoscope, I am reminded that nothing in medicine is simple these days. As we all try and negotiate the new landscape, some things work well, others not so much. And I got to see shining examples of both thanks to my nose.

Without getting too detailed I was having some sinus issues, and was referred to a specialist. He examined me, did some tests, but wanted more to be sure. And so he suggested that the right thing to do was to have a CT scan of my head. He was part of a large practice, and they have a radiology department on site with all of the toys. I called in to make an appointment. They were most helpful, found a time that worked and slotted me in. Done and done.

The paperwork was submitted to the insurance company, and kicked to a benefits manager. These companies exist as middle men, with the goal of keeping costs down. That led to a call from one such company telling me that my test was approved. All well and good. "But," said the rep on the phone, "you may be able to get it done cheaper nearby." I've had these conversations before; usually their version of "nearby" is in a different time zone. Plus the hassle of scheduling and getting authorized by a new place eats up so much of your clock and your sanity that it's not worth it.

Still, I bit. "Where is this place?" I asked. She did a search, and indeed, in this case, a reputable scanner was 5 minutes further down the road. But then the rep did something extraordinary (or at least by the standards I was used to): she offered to help. "Can I call them while I have you on the line and get you an appointment?" Sure, I replied. I heard a new dial tone, and a call being placed. She got right to the scheduler at the other end, explained who she was and why she was calling, and asked me to chime in: "When works best for you?" The scheduler and I worked through some dates, but said she needed the right paperwork to make the appointment. The benefits rep jumped right in: "Sending that to you now, along with the authorization numbers." A few seconds later, the scheduler came back: "Yes, it just came through. You're all set. See you next week."


And the rep wasn't finished. Once the scheduler hung up she asked, "Would you like me to call and cancel your original appointment?" By all means, I replied. She gave me her number in case there were any issues or questions and rang off. For perhaps the only time I can remember, I was treated by Big Medicine not as a patient, but as a consumer.

But there's a yin to the yang. While these benefits managers do get lower prices from suppliers, they also review a doctor's recommendations. And that means that an outsider is looking at paper and not patient, and making decisions. The specialist had recommended some procedures to fix my issues, and we set it up. Then 2 days before the appointed date, a letter showed up disallowing parts of the plan. That resulted in a panicked call to our own doctor, and she reached out to the specialist. Turns out he had spent the better part of an hour explaining what he wanted to do and why to the insurance company. But upon reflection, they felt they knew better, and said no to part of his approach. Not to worry, he told me. He was going to do what he thought he should do, and would work out the magical codes later. And so we proceeded without the overreach of a far away reviewer who was diagnosing me from a chart.

I'm happy to report that all is good, and I can now see why this breathing thing is all the rage. As to the system, there are definite growing pains, some more painful than others. You just have to hope that you get the favorable bounces. And you have to hope you have our doctor: she's the best.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to be a good patient. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Taking Responsibility

Once again, you could see the tracks on the lawn. A couple of days of rain had made the blades heavier, and so slower to bounce back from any intrusion. So as you walked up the driveway you could plainly see two tire-width stripes leaving the blacktop and cutting towards the road. I'm no forensic investigator, but to my untrained eye it sure looked like someone had taken a shortcut to the street.

The last time this happened was about 6 months ago. For regular readers of this space, you may recall our outrage when we woke up to find tire tracks cutting through the clearing between our neighbor's house and ours. Coming in the dawn hours, and finding our New York Times by the back door led us to assume that the carrier had taken a short cut from one driveway to the other. A call to the Times produced no satisfaction, with the response being unless we had a live web feed of it happening no blame could be affixed.

So we held out little hope for any greater satisfaction this time around. Indeed, we didn't even bother calling the paper and registering our displeasure. Since we didn't see this transgression until later in the day, our evidence was less ironclad. The tracks could have been made by the UPS guy or a mailperson or even a friend coming by, not withstanding none of those people came a callin'. Still, we had seen enough "Law & Order" episodes to know that this doubt was more than reasonable. We soothed ourselves with the fact that the lawn would recover in short order.

Still, it was a surprise to find the envelope paperclipped to the inside of the paper a day later. In it was a neatly printed single sheet of paper. The note was short, and to the point: "Dear Mr. & Mrs. Wollin. I want to express my sincere apology for having accidentally driven on your lawn on Monday morning. I was attempting to back out of your driveway, instead of turning around by your garage. It will not happen again. Sincerely, Your NY Times Carrier."

Now, I don't know if the person was man or woman, white or brown, old or young. I don't know their political affiliation, how big their family is, or how much schooling they have. And I don't know if it was the same person who sinned the last time. What I do know is that this person was willing to stand up and take responsibility for their actions. Seems like a no-brainer, I know.

But it turns out that at least in in our town, people with no brains are indeed on the loose. In a recent election for school board, a badly photocopied list of supposed transgressions by one candidate was put in mailboxes and circulated. Whether or not they were factual or not is beside the point; they were anonymous. Whomever the person or group was who wanted to get this particular information out there refused to sign their name and take responsibility. The candidate in question and his supporters would have been happy to challenge them. But how? To whom? Makes it hard to take them seriously. (BTW, he won the election anyway.)

And just this week, the same thing in a slightly different medium. Signs began appearing around town showing a kid hugging his knees next to backpack, with a slogan slamming teachers as greedy. I asked around; it's because the local school board and teachers' union are locked in contract negotiations. Again, you might or might not agree with the point of view. But with whom can you debate that? Since the posters are anonymous, the answer is nobody. Thankfully the town is taking them down, as they do nothing but take up space.

There are a lot of incredibly talented, successful and intelligent people out there with views counter to mine. And I'm fine with that. I count a number as friends, and we have lively discussions about the ways of world. But they stand behind their points of view by standing behind their points of view. They don't hide. Unfortunately that's not the case for all, such as the flyer photocopiers or the poster putter-uppers. For them, no-brainer is indeed the correct descriptor. Maybe our paper delivery guy could teach them a thing or two. Just not about driving.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford signs his name to what he writes. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Long and The Short Of It

Consider rice. Not the university in Texas, not the former diplomat Susan, not the great wide receiver Jerry. We're talking the foostuff that is the basis for a thousand meals. A favorite of mine, I like it in jambalaya, in soup, in pudding. I even like it plain, where you take good old Uncle Ben's, add some butter and salt and pepper, and just eat it.

But regardless of the form, there is no doubt about what it is. White or brown, short grain or long, we're talking the seed of a species of grass. After sugarcane and corn, it is the agricultural commodity most cultivated across the planet, providing more than one-fifth of the calories consumed by humans.
Of course, anything that popular is bound to have pretenders and copycats. In many recipes you have an option of substituting pasta or potatoes to provide a starchy base and binder. To be fair, it's not necessarily a compromise. Lo mein is a nice alternative to fried rice, and chowder works better with tubers than with grains. But each of those is something different, more a case where an alternative is good in some circumstances but not in others. You would never think of a grape leaf stuffed with spaghetti, or dry sautéed szechuan beef over mashed potatoes.

Yet in a sort of a zen koan, when is rice not rice? According to an industry lobbying group, something can only be called rice when it is made of, well, rice. Or as USA Rice President & CEO Betsy Ward says, "Vegetables that have gone through a ricer are still vegetables, just in a different form. Only rice is rice, and calling 'riced vegetables,' 'rice,' is misleading and confusing to consumers. We may be asking the FDA and other regulatory agencies to look at this."

Why this declaration of principle? Because of an encroaching threat to the established order. In our ever more health conscious world, "cauliflower rice" is starting to make inroads with consumers. The vegetable in its granular form is being touted as a substitute wherever a non-starch plant-based pellet size filler is needed. You can find recipes for Cauliflower Rice and Beans, Cauliflower Rice Burritos, and perhaps most insulting of all, Cauliflower Rice Risotto.

It's a battle that bears an eerie similarity to one that's playing out over in the dairy aisle. More folks are buying soy and almond milk, making the dairy industry grit its teeth.  In a letter this past February to the FDA, the National Milk Producers Federation wrote, "In essence, milk is a product that comes from cows. Products made from soybeans or rice or almonds or any other plant are not milk, and it is a misuse of the term and illegal to call them milk." Alas, wishing doesn't make it so: in at least two cases, judges have dismissed cases in which plaintiffs sought to have companies stop using the word "milk" when marketing soy milk, saying consumers are not confused.

And so the rice folks have a tough road ahead. In fact, I can see the creep happening within our own four walls. While we generally try and eat healthy at home, when I go on the road I tend to stray to foods that are less so, meaning a pork chop or a steak. Likewise, once I'm out of the house, my wife pushes her culinary boundaries. But whereas I go for the stuff I shouldn't eat, she goes for the stuff of which we should eat more of, but she knows for me would be a quinoa soufflé too far. And that includes cauliflower pizza.

We're not talking the vegetable as a topping. To call this pizza is to describe its form. Yes, it is round, topped with cheese and spices, and baked in an oven. But other than that physical similarity, we're talking a different beast. That's because the base is made not from flour, but from the aforementioned cauliflower rice, two words that have as much to do with pizza as guacamole.

And so I feel the pain of a name being appropriated. Still, Big Rice doesn't have entirely clean hands either. They might be fretting over some shredded cauliflower, but isn't that a container of rice milk I see on the shelf? Can rice milk yoghurt or rice milk buttery flavored spread be far behind. Et Tu, Brute?

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford drinks cow milk and eats rice rice. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Payment in Kind

Let's be honest: we work for the money. Hopefully there's also some satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with co-workers and and and. But none of that puts food on the table and gas in the tank. Truth be told, the reason you drag yourself out of bed and head to the store or office or just to the desk in your basement is to get a check to be able to order a new set of steak knives from Amazon.

Of course, there are other ways to be paid. In some areas of the world where physical money can be hard to come by, folks barter goods for services and vice versa. An article in The New York Times told the story of butcher Thodoris Roussos in Greece who needed new tires for his delivery van. Not being able to get the cash he needed, he made a deal with the local auto shop: "Normally, the tires cost 340 euros, but no money changed hands. I paid the guy in meat."

While in my situation the payment was less bloody, and more honorary than compensatory, I am proud to say that I just wrote a speech for an oil change. Actually, a lifetime of oil changes. And flats fixed. And I couldn't feel richer.

As part of my work, I just penned the script for the New Jersey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. The Hall was set up by the state legislature in 2005 as a way to honor individuals from that state who have made contributions to society and the world beyond. It includes a diverse crowd of notables from Frank Sinatra to Albert Einstein, as well as regular citizens worthy of recognition.

This year's class included boxer Chuck Wepner, the subject of a new movie co-produced and starring Liev Schreiber. Known as the Bayonne Bleeder, Wepner was a liquor salesman by day and a boxer by night. He is best known for a fight he lost. In 1975, Mohammed Ali, looking for an easy opponent after taking the title back from George Foremen, plucked Wepner from obscurity. Wepner was a 40-1 underdog, but he turned out not to be a pushover. He knocked Ali down in the ninth, only the fourth man to ever do so, and lasted the full 15 rounds, with the fight called with just 19 seconds left. It made an impression on a struggling young actor named Sylvester Stallone, who used it as the inspiration for "Rocky."

As part of the induction ceremony, each inductee gets introduced by someone of their choosing. Schreiber was actually was going to do it, but his schedule pulled him away last minute. In the scramble to replace him, the president of the Board of Trustees stepped in, but Chuck also asked his boyhood friend Bruce Dillin to help out.

Dillin is a true Jersey character. In the movie, he was the little kid that Rocky told to go home and do his homework. Dillin had a million stories, but we narrowed it down to one, and I scripted it out as part of his introduction. He owns an auto repair and tire company, and had gotten Wepner to record a commercial saying "You're not gonna pay a lot for this exhaust system." At the same time, Meineke Muffler had a commercial running with George Foreman saying "You not gonna pay a lot for this muffler." One day Dillin answered the phone to find a Meineke lawyer who said, "Mr. Dillin, we paid George Foreman $4 million to say that. You need to stop running your version." Dillin replied, "Well I gave Chuck a free flat repair and an oil change." The lawyer laughed, but said you still gotta stop or we'll sue. Dillin stopped, but says "I think I got the better deal." He got laughs, and a week later, sent me a note that he was still getting compliments. I joked I should have charged him. He texted back: "Lifetime flats and oil changes."

Mohammed Ali. George Foreman. Chuck Wepner. Bruce Dillin. Me. That's just 5 degrees of separation between me the The Greatest.  But between me The Bayonne Bleeder? I might not be able to last 15 rounds with Ali, but we have the same pay scale. And I didn't need to get hit to collect. I think I got the better deal.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford has never boxed. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Chicken Run

When plotted on a graph, the data results in a shape that is a sort of a flattened bell curve: low in the beginning, high in the middle, tapering off at the end. But it's not showing the smarts of a bunch of high school juniors, nor how many people are confused by their smartphones, nor even the number of senators who secretly want to compromise on something, anything, but are afraid they'll be caught in a tweet storm.

Rather, it's the volume of letters sent via the US Postal Service over the last 40 years. Starting in 1926 when the numbers were first available, there was steady growth, though it moderated or modestly decreased with wars or depression. But overall, the trend was most decidedly up. You would have done well investing in greeting card futures.

However, around the beginning of this century the balance started to shift. As the internet started to become part of the fabric of the world, electronic communications began to become the preferred way to reach out. That led in very short order to a point in 1996 where the volume of emails surpassed that of snail mail. And it wasn't long before that bell curve started to cross over the center line and start its downward trajectory. As of the last accounting, the number is back to where it was in 1981, and the trend shows no sign of changing. As more and more commerce and communications moves online, there will less and less reason to stick a stamp on something and find a mailbox. Whether or not that number will drop to zero is questionable, as there will always be offers to review your insurance, appeals from charities and Mother's Day cards to keep your box from gathering dust.

Still, what's a Post Office to do? The business model of delivering letters to people's homes and businesses is in the proverbial death spiral. So the folks in blue have branched out into teaming with major online retailers like Amazon and even overnight delivery services like FedEx to take some of their less demanding traffic. They have tried to become mailing centers, selling not just stamps but packing materials. But there's only so much you can make from the occasional sale of a cardboard box.

In other countries the postal system has moved into other non-mail areas, like banking and investments. However Congress has prohibited that on these shores, and told them to stick to their knitting. But even trying to expand their mail franchise and expertise by selling branded postal meters has met with resistance. Companies like Pitney Bowes said it would cause "immediate harm" to its business, and the folks in Washington shut that down as well. Hell hath no fury like a company threatened with a congressperson on speed dial.  

Perhaps they need to look to other non-traditional yet analogous opportunities. For when you get right down to it, a delivery is a delivery is a delivery. And if they can find their way to my house with a letter or a pair of shoes or a blender, why not with some fried chicken? Or at least that's what they're trying in New Zealand.

Mike Stewart, a spokesman for NZ Post, says the problem is no different there than here: "All post offices around the world are struggling with what to do when mail disappears, we want to survive for another 100 years but we urgently need to diversify our business." And so they've teamed up Restaurant Brands, which operates KFC New Zealand. The resulting pilot project means that a call to the Colonel in Tauranga could result in your order of extra crispy goodness being brought to you courtesy of the same folks who brought you your phone bill.

At this point NZ Post is using contract drivers to make chicken runs using their own cars. But Stewart says that deliveries by actual NZ Post mail carriers and vans are "not out of the question." And when you think about it, it makes sense. I mean, if neither rain nor snow nor gloom of night can stop those carriers from getting you your copy of Business Week, would you want anything less for your bucket of hot wings? And if you're talking growth opportunities which would at you rather be licking: a stamp or your fingers?

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Marc Wollin of Bedford hasn't touched a sheet of stamps in two months. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fish Free

If you're a vegan or a vegetarian, you don't eat meat, fish or poultry. That's pretty straight forward. But there are sub groups that take it in slightly different directions. Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products, but not eggs. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but not dairy products. Pescetarians avoid meat and poultry but do eat fish. All good, as long as you're not inviting them to a party. Fortunately, they're all good with fruits and nuts, grains and vegetables. But most importantly, booze is usually good to go.

Just want to cool off? A Mayflower IPA or a Boulevard Pale Ale will suit you just fine, and no puppies were harmed in the making. Likewise if you feel like a glass of Napa Valley Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc or one of Glen Carlou Syrah, you can do so knowing that the only cows in the process where watching the grapes grow. And even if you want to party hardy, you can do shots of Basil Hayden's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey or Sauza Blue Tequila Silver 80 proof with the complete confidence that no chickens were sacrificed to get that nice burn in your throat.

However it's not all that way. According to the website Barnivore, while many alcoholic drinks are vegan friendly, it's hardly a clean sweep. Make a martini with Boissiere Extra Dry Vermouth and you're stepping over the line. In order to help clarify the product the grower uses a gelatin-based fining agent. Don't think of pouring a glass of Roscato Rosso Dolce red, which uses a component in its filtering that is derived from pork. And Almanac Cerise Sour Blond Beer says "Not sure how strict you are, but parts of our house wild yeast culture is propagated from a dairy medium." Darn, and the name sounded oh so natural.

But there is good news. If you fancied a glass of Guinness and wanted to stay on the straight and narrow, you were out of luck. That's because historically the Irish brew was filtered with isinglass. Despite it sounding like a Gaelic brewing vessel, isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. It was not used for flavor or texture but for helping the yeast sediment settle faster, and tiny particles of fish remain in the final drink. It worked well, and like most products with long and proud histories, the brewer was loathe to tamper with a process that had stood the test of time. "Improvements" don't always turn out to be that: think New Coke. And reformulating to keep the same taste while reducing sugar or fat or other key ingredients is notoriously difficult. But this week, at least in Dublin, progress of a sort.

Diageo, the company which manufactures the stout, yesterday confirmed that all kegs of Guinness on the market are now vegan-friendly. Stephen Kilcullen, master brewer and head of quality for Guinness, said that they would have been vegan a decade ago, but the technology did not exist to filter out the yeast without isinglass. "Everything we tried lost that ruby red color you see in the bottom of the glass which shows it's clear. We wouldn't compromise on quality so we had to wait for the technology," he said. In essence, there's now an app for that.

But note that the press release talks about how all "kegs of Guinness" are now free and clear of animals. Nothing is said about bottles and cans. That's because, pardon the expression, the net hasn't been cast that wide. But that is the next great frontier. The hope is to expand the new process to the take-home market. But until then, the only way to knock back a frosty if you are against stepping on bugs is to do so at your local pub straight out of the tap.

To mark the occasion, the company stood Paul Vogel, a founder of the Vegan Society of Ireland, to his first pint in 17 years. Is it what he remembered? "It's nice. I remember what it tasted like because it's so distinctive. It's creamy but has that bite." Music to a brewmaster's ears. But will he have another? "Eh, it could be another 17 years before my next. I just prefer wine now, I don't really drink any beer." Sigh. Back to the fish bladders.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford has never been a beer drinker. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Don't Look At Me

I finally gave in and bought a new laptop. My old one was six or seven years old, an eternity in computer years. Yes, it worked fine, more or less, but distinctly less. Just like you and me, while the mind was fine the body started to go. I might have been able to keep it humming along  with updates and judicial pruning of programs. But after I poured yet another tube of super glue into it and still couldn't secure the screen to the base, I decided it was best to let it drift off peacefully to that great Yahoo in the sky.

My new box is sleek and new and blemish free. But while it's screen is sharper, it's innards faster and it has that new keyboard smell, I still headed to my workshop as soon as I got it for an old school modification. There I took a roll of electrical tape and cut a tiny piece less than half an inch long and a quarter inch high. I took it back to the office and carefully placed it over the lens of the build in camera. As I did so I imagined some hacker in Bulgaria watching as his peep-hole view of me and my world slowly went dark.

It's not just me. Luminaries as diverse as the heads of Facebook and the FBI do the same. In an era when hacking a real concern, it's just one of the things you can do to secure your electronic world. Perhaps not as high on the list as having unique passwords, blocking your camera doesn't rise to the level of complete paranoia, but doesn't seem overly cautious either. Like locking your car door when you leave it at Target, it seems that while you should expect the best, it doesn't hurt to plan for the worst.

But while the little camera on your computer (or iPad or phone or even networked home security camera) certainly offers the possibility of someone hacking in and watching you, it's not the same as Amazon's newest product. The Echo Look is the latest of Amazon's family of voice powered computers, and adds eyes to those ears. So now you can not just ask Alexa what the weather is, you can query her if the outfit you're wearing is watertight, stylish and also makes your butt look smaller.

Looking like a giant Motrin on a stick, the Look has a camera and LED lights on its front. Like its sister devices, you talk to it, and it will respond: traffic, appointments, William Henry Harrison's wife's name. But going one better, the built-in camera enables it to take pictures and videos of you. Amazon envisions several uses for this. You might want to see how you look; there's an associated phone app that makes it into an electronic hand mirror. You might want to snap a pic, then create a catalog of you in your clothes so you'll know what looks best. And since you can turn around and hold your phone in your hand, you can indeed see how big your butt looks. Of course, theoretically, so can that guy in Bulgaria.

Using artificial intelligence it even goes one better. With a feature called Style Check, you can take two pictures, then have the Look tell you which looks best based on "fit, color, styling, and current trends." It displays both pictures side by side with a slider showing which "looks better" as a percentage. So a patterned blazer over a navy dress with matching pumps scores 64%, while a pink sweater jacket over the same dress with open toed shoes scores 36%. Would have been interesting to see how it handled a Trump for President tee shirt on one side, and the Hillary variant on the other. Or if it changed over time.

But back to security. Fashion advice is nice, but who thinks it's a good idea to put a camera in your closet, one that is always listening and ready to take stills of videos as you try on different outfits. It's one thing if the NSA comes calling because you're corresponding with a guy named Serge who has an email address in Donetsk. But do really want to chance being called out as a national security risk because you wear plaid pants with a striped top? Big Brother is indeed watching.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford usually gets dressed in the dark. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Tooth Index

Regardless of your political leanings, the one thing all agree upon is the need to push the economy forward. The debate, of course, is in levers needed to do that. Where do you push? Where do you pull? Where do you erect barriers and where do you tear them down? There is no shortage of opinions across the spectrum from politicians, business leaders and intellectuals as to the right mix. Even those whose profession is to study such things don't have unanimity of ideas. It was Edgar Fielder, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under Presidents Nixon and Ford who famously said, "Ask five economists and you'll get five different answers - six if one went to Harvard."

Even the mileposts by which that success is measured are hardly carved in stone. Do you look at industrial production? Debt ratios? Retail sales? All tell you something, but not everything. And like every statistic, they are subject to interpretation and nuance, something that our current state of dialog doesn't handle very well. Witness the unemployment rate. Most recently it was down and jobs were up. But does that mean more people are working, or that more people have stopped looking for work? President Trump said the numbers were a fiction when he was running for office, but now they tell the real story. What changed? Nothing really, other than where he was standing when he made the pronouncements.

And maybe those aren't the best metrics anyways. Tons of steel and yield curves are certainly indicators, but you and I deal with more mundane things that give us a window into how we're all doing. Consider the Hot Waitress Economic Index. While the name may give a nod to Bill O'Reilly, this index measures the number of people in service industry jobs with above average sex appeal, both male and female. It is assumed that more attractive people have an easier time finding higher-paying jobs in good economic times. Therefore, if stunners are forced into lower paying jobs, the economy is not doing so well. How to read this? Well, the next time you hit the Starbucks, and your Java Chip Frappuccino is made not but by a dead ringer for Jennifer Aniston or George Clooney but by a scruffy tattoo aficionado, you can assume Apple futures have some future.

Then there's the Tooth Fairy Index or TFI. Since 1998, Delta Dental has been surveying parents across the country as to the payout for a lost tooth. The poll collects average giving, and compares it to stock market activity as an indicator for the economy. How reliable is it? Well, in 12 of the past 13 years, the trend in average giving has tracked with the movement of the S&P 500. Take that, Milton Friedman.

And what does the TFI show this time around? Last year the Tooth Fairy paid about $290.6 million in the U.S. for lost teeth, a 13.5% increase from 2015. Cash payouts for a first lost tooth are up about 10% to $5.72, and first-tooth payouts are typically higher than average. Payouts are highest in the West at $5.96 ($6.89 for the first tooth), followed by the Northeast at $5.08 ($6.31), the South at $4.57 ($4.88), and the Midwest at $4.04 ($5.70). Not exactly a blue state/red state divide, but there you go.

If you dig deeper into the data, there is some plaque you need to brush away. While 89% of the homes the Tooth Fairy hits receive money, the fairy is also known to occasionally leave gifts that promote dental health, such as toothpaste or toothbrushes. And 56% of parents say the Tooth Fairy can be a little forgetful, neglecting to pick up the tooth on the first night. No word if that correlates to credit quality or not.

But like all things, one can see this changing with the times. After all, if you had to cough it up right now, would you have correct change for a molar? As such, don't be surprised when you hear about little Suzy losing her tooth and waking up to find not cold hard cash under her pillow, but an Amazon gift card. After all, spending online will continue to be key for growth. And so brushing isn't the only thing kids need to start doing early. Our economic future depends on it.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford thinks he gave his kids a buck a tooth. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Disconnected

It was quiet. Too quiet. And while that's the way a thousand war movies and film noir stories begin, neither an attack nor a murder was imminent. Rather, the guys working on our lawn had finally come to begin their spring routine, and had unleashed their coring machine. They went back and forth, punching out little plugs of about half an inch across and two inches long in the turf. The resulting holes allow water and nutrients to get below the compacted surface. And our lawn was desperately in need of that kind of TLC.

The process was noisy, but if you cocked your head you could almost hear the remaining blades of grass taking a deep breath. The quiet? That was coming from inside the house. For as the guys went about their business, we started to realize that our internet connection was not working. Come to think of it, there was no dial tone on the phone. And darn it, the cable seemed to be out. It didn't take a PhD in electrical engineering to guess what happened: all that hole punching had made Swiss cheese of our fiber optic connection.

It wasn't really their fault. When the line was run from the house to the street, it was run across the lawn, and then buried by the installers. There is no real spec on how deep it has to be, as there is no danger: a fiber optic cable is just a strand of glass, and carries no power. In a perfect world they go down 6 inches or so. But where we live there are lots of rocks and roots, and sometimes that trench is a little closer to the surface. How close? Well, in this case, I'd say in some spots less than the two inch plugs they were punching out.

A call to Verizon (on a cell phone) confirmed that they weren't seeing our terminal box from their end. The only recourse was to send out a tech to take a look. But since it was about four in the afternoon, the soonest a guy could get there was the next morning. Not bad, considering. But still: that would mean we would be without phone, internet and cable for 16 hours.  

Horrors.

You don't realize how much you depend on all that until you don't have it. Sure, we had our cells, but we live in a fringe area. Texts sort of get through, searches take a long time, and calls work if you stand by the living room window and lean towards the west. And streaming something? Putting aside the fact that we don't have unlimited data, watching an episode of "Victoria" on PBS would reach well into the Elizabethan era.  

So we did without. But we couldn't pull up the recipes we had stored online. We couldn't listen to news or check the weather. We couldn't stream some music as background for dinner. Even our Amazon Alexa stood us up. With no connection, anything you asked her produced the reply (stored locally in her memory) "I'm sorry, I can't understand you right now." We actually had to resort to talking to each other. And that never ends well.

But somehow we made it through the night. And when at a little after 8AM, a shiny Verizon truck drove up with Jack in it, we greeted him like a savior. He took one look at all the little plugs on our lawn: "Yup. Seen it before. They cut the line." I asked him if he was sure, did he want to check the main box on the street, could it just be a coincidence. He gave me a look like a parent would give an errant two-year old, I'm sure calling to mind all they taught him in that customer service workshop. "Nah, it's cut. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but it's cut." He laughed. "No worries. Give me an hour, I'll have you up and running."

Sure enough, under 60 minutes later, Jack knocked on the door. "Give it a try," he said. I ran around the house. Cable? Check. Phone? Dial tone. Internet? Google, my Google. For now, the line ran across out lawn until the burying crew could get to us, but no matter: we were back. Sixteen hours of isolation. Well, sort of. And next time the lawn needs some air, I may just buy don a pair of golf spikes.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford likes being connected. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Color of Empire

Pity the poor Brits. They used to say that sun never set on the British empire, a nod to the fact that its possessions circled the globe. From India to Egypt, from the Sudan to New Zealand, historians estimated that the Union jack flew over roughly 25% of the world's land mass. However in a relatively short period of time, day became night. And now the United Kingdom is just the four countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Yes, there are still 14 overseas territories and 3 Crown dependencies spread far and wide. But if you factor out their Antarctic claim, you're left with such footholds as the Falklands, Pitcairn Island and Montserrat. All together they add up to an area less than the size of New Jersey. Hardly the British Raj.

In other arenas where they used to rein supreme it's no different. In culture high and low, they used to set the tone, with names ranging from Shakespeare to Benny Hill, from Laurence Olivier and Mr. Bean, from JRR Tolkien to Monty Python. In music the names of favorite sons defined rock and roll: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. But then they go and produce the Spice Girls and One Direction. How far they have fallen.

This past year saw perhaps the biggest retreat of all, with Brexit pulling the UK out of the European Union. It seemed like a good idea to some, a chance to reclaim their old glory and run their own ship. Never mind that it's safe to say that not everyone thought it through: immediately after the vote the most searched question on Google was "What does it mean to leave the EU?" Now, a year later, banks are shifting operations to Berlin, Richard Branson pulled out of a deal that would have brought 3000 jobs to the UK, and Lloyd's of London is setting up Lloyd's of Brussels.

Still, some good might come of it after all. Putting aside the economic ramifications, a large part of the reason for the vote was to get the country out from under the thumb of the EU. They wanted to be free its onerous regulations, including such rulings as "all bananas must be free of abnormal curvature," while cucumbers were to be "practically straight" and bent by a gradient not to exceed 10 millimeters per every 10 centimeters in length. Not that the English themselves were completely devoid of stupid rules: it is still on the books that placing a postage stamp bearing the monarch's head upside down on an envelope is considered as act of treason.

But perhaps the best reason of all was for the UK to get back its manhood. Well, not its manhood per se. But starting in 1988, the country's passports were redesigned to be in compliance with a common format agreed upon by the EU. And that meant the cover included the phrase "European Union" over and above "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." As if that weren't demeaning enough, the color also changed from a dark royal blue to what some called burgundy, others called maroon, but what many considered pink.

Just how big a deal is this? Conservative Member of Parliament Andrew Rosindell said "The restoration of our own British passport is a clear statement to the world that Britain is back. The humiliation of having a pink European Union passport will now soon be over and the United Kingdom nationals can once again feel pride and self-confidence in their own nationality when travelling, just as the Swiss and Americans can do." A word of caution: while I can't speak for the Swiss, I do have to tell my English friends that the fact that my USA passport is blue isn't going very far in making me feel confident about what's happening here at home.

Still, every little bit helps. But it's not a given that the old blue book will make its return. The Home Office has invited businesses to apply for a 490 million pound redesign contract. As perhaps a preview of possibilities, design magazine Dezeen had a contest asking for suggestions. Among the finalists are a bunch of blue variations as well as other hues, a half pink/half blue design for those wishing an escape hatch, and one emblazoned with the legend "Full United Kingdom - Resident" which is also abbreviated on the cover in large letters as "FUK-R." Take that, Brussels.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford always has his passport ready. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Picture This

The location: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. The date: September 19, 1982. The time: 11:44AM. The scene: A bunch of computer scientists on an early interconnected bulletin board, the precursor to the internet, having a back-and-forth about how to flag any jokes they were posting. Some suggested an asterisk, while others suggested a percentage sign. One researcher, Keith Wright, thought that the best symbol would be an ampersand because "Surely everyone will agree that ‘&' is the funniest character on the keyboard. It looks funny (like a jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter). It sounds funny (say it loud and fast three times). I just know if I could get my nose into the vacuum of the CRT it would even smell funny!"

Fellow researcher Scott Fahlman had a different idea. In a moment that ranks up there with the groundbreaking leaps made by Gutteneberg and Whitney and Jobs, Fahlman suggested that a sequence of characters would be best. You can see the entire thread online, but the relevant portion goes thusly: "I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-). Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(." And with that, the smiley face and frowney face emoticons were born.

As their use grew and email and texting spread, creative users added more and more variations. At their core, emoticons were sequences of existing characters that, if you squinted and turned your head this way or that, sort of conveyed an idea without having to use actual words. As they grew in popularity, more and more people starting using them, especially in Japan, a country whose very language is basically a series of pictographs. Phone company DoCoMo noticed this, and decided to jump on the bandwagon big time. But they took the idea one step further: rather than being a series of characters, they created a standard set of symbols which existed as entities unto themselves. And so the emoji was born.

What started as 176 individual symbols including a shoe, a train and a snowman has evolved over 9 generations to include nearly 2000 pictographs. You can argue that taken together they constitute the newest and fastest growing language in the world, one that transcends cultures and borders. As administered by the Unicode Consortium, an international organization devoted to developing, maintaining and promoting software internationalization standards and data, the "tongue" is regularly updated as users ask for more and more symbols to help them better communicate entirely in pictures. The most recent iteration, released last year, includes new and requested emojis representing, among other things, peanuts, a drum and a pregnant woman (see if you can use those three in a sentence).  

As you scroll through the list you'll see a running tally of mainstream symbols representing all the important things in life. Dog? Yup. Flower? Of course. Umbrella, tennis, motorcycle? Yes, yes and yes. But to some, there is a glaring omission. If you wanted to describe your breakfast there are symbols for pancakes, for bacon, even for croissants. But what you won't find is what my mother has every day: you won't find an emoji for a bagel.

An outrage to be sure. If you want to communicate your morning repast to a friend via text, you have to settle for a doughnut emoji, and hope they mistake the sprinkles for poppy seeds. But some aren't sitting still. The New York Bakery Company (interestingly enough, based in Rotherham England) has started a petition asking Unicode to create a bagel emoji.  As they say, "Do you really need 4 different coloured notebooks? 16 variations of cyclist? A dragon? A horizontal traffic light? Despite consuming over 320 million each year, bagels are yet to make the digital leap." It's an outrage ripe for addressing.

As of this writing, Unicode's 2017 list has just been finalized, and includes updates such as a zombie, socks, as well as the much-requested person vomiting. But no bagel, poppy or otherwise. Is it too much to ask that one be included? You can lend your voice by signing the petition at Change.org.  Already, the powers that be are starting to compile a list of possibles for generation 11, due out in 2018. So far, emojis representing a firecracker, a red envelope and a mooncake are in the running. So hop to it and sign the petition: don't leave your sesame version out in the cold.

-END-

Marc Wollin of Bedford loves a fresh bagel. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Music to Live By

If you've going to do a little gardening and want a soundtrack, some tunes come to mind. Maybe "Green Green Grass of Home" by everyone from Elvis to Joan Baez to Tom Jones. Or "Dandelion Wine" by The Hollies. And of course "Octopus's Garden" by the Beatles. Or let's say you're cooking and want something to set the mood. There's "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MGs. Or perhaps "Coconut" from Harry Nilsson. Try "Storm in a Teacup" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Cleaning house? Go with "Come Clean" from Hilary Duff, "Car Wash" from Rose Royce, and top it off with "Washing Dishes" by Jack Johnson.

Pick almost any activity, and there's bound to be a couple of tracks that capture that spirit. Walking the dog? "Me and You and a Dog named Boo" by Lobo. Doing laps? "I Go Swimming" from Peter Gabriel. Driving? I'd go with "Life is a Highway" by Tom Cochrane. And let's not even talk about love and relationships, which account the vast majority of all songs in recorded history, not to mention anything Adele has ever sung.

But it turns out that music can not just represent stages of life, it can actually be responsible for saving a life. Yes, I know The Fray laid out all the steps in "How to Save A Life." But more practically New York Presbyterian has published a playlist of 40 songs that you can actually use to save one, especially if it belongs to a person who's heart has stopped beating. Not emotionally gone cold, mind you, but literally no longer going thump thump thump.

When people are taught to do the lifesaving technique of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR, they are taught to put one hand over the other on the distressed person's sternum, and pump deeply and frequently. Two metrics are important. The compressions are supposed to be about 2 inches deep, which is what it takes to force blood out of the heart and around the body. And the speed of those compressions is supposed be about a little less than twice a second, or about 100 times per minute.

Unfortunately most people have a poor sense of time and pace. But fortunately most people also have the ability to remember stupid stuff like pop songs. And so some genius came up with the idea that you could marry the need to pump at 100 beats a minute with songs that hummed along at that tempo. And voila, the dead could be revived by the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" in more ways than one.

Of course, that seventies disco classic is not the only song that was recorded to that particular metronome setting. Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is another that meets the proper pumping threshold, making two tunes whose titles neatly fit with this intended off-label use. Not so a classic Queen title. While it too clocks in around the requisite 100 BPM marker, you hate to be banging on someone's chest while belting out "Another One Bites the Dust."

The New York Presbyterian playlist offers up more than two hours of life saving (if not necessarily life affirming) musical selections. That means that there's a little something for almost everyone across the musical spectrum. If you're into pop there are offerings from Missy Elliot, Beyoncé, and Justin Timberlake. Are your tastes more edgy, more alt-rock?  You can be the hero while singing out tunes by Fall Out Boy, Modest Mouse, and the All-American Rejects. But sorry, no death metal listings. For should you scream out something like "Symptom of Terminal Illness" by Dillinger Escape Plan to keep pace, you'd be hammering some poor soul at 360 beats per minute. As one fan noted, "The person you save won't see a tunnel of light before they're brought back to life, they'll see the bottom of a mosh pit."

You just have to be careful which version of the tunes on the "WNYP" playlist you use. For while "Crazy" in on there, it's important to note it's the Gnarls Barkley version. That indeed clocks in around 112 beats per minute. But if you start singing the Patsy Kline chestnut, you would only be pounding on that chest at a rate of 71 BPM. In that case, that Queen tune might not be sending wrong message after all.

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Marc Wollin of Bedford likes the idea of doing CPR to "Walk Like an Egyptian." His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

On Appeal

Once again, the courts have to weigh in from the very geographical edges of our country. Once again, on a matter affecting a particular group of people, those in a position of power have tried to bend things to their point of view. And once again, the outcome hinged on the written record and the very particular language and formulation used, and, at least at this point, upended what the writers of the law thought was a straight ahead argument.

Immigration? Yeah, I heard there was news about that, but we're talking something else. Hawaiian court? No, I was looking east, not west. Muslims? Uh, no, I was talking about dairy delivery drivers. And while it's possible some of them are indeed followers of Islam, it really has nothing to do with this case. (Though I hear that that association is the same argument there are using in this immigration thing, whatever that is all about).

No, we're talking about is a case in Maine were it all comes down to a comma. An Oxford comma, to be specific. Regular readers of this space might remember an exploration of that very subject (GA #978: "Punctuation Wars") where this writer was taken to task for not being among the Oxford faithful. For those of wondering what incredibly useless English-nerd minutia we're talking about, the Oxford comma is the one that you insert before a conjunction in a list of three or more. It is supposed to make it clear that the final items are separate parts of a list, rather than a final phrase, with the most famous example being the book dedication "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God." Adding the Oxford comma would have made it clear that the author's parents, while worthy of praise, were not so well known.

In the case at hand, a group of delivery drivers in Maine at the Oakhurst Dairy went to court against the company, claiming that they are not exempt from the state's overtime laws and should receive the pay they were denied. The basis for their claim? The state law enumerating the acts that are ineligible for overtime is written this way: "The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: Agricultural produce; Meat and fish product; and Perishable foods."

All well and good. But as written, the implication is that "packing for shipment or distribution" only encompasses the literal act of packing a truck for shipment. In court the drivers argued that they don't physically pack the trucks; they only distribute the items inside. So even though the dairy argued that the intent of the law was to keep "distribution" as a separate act, it didn't read that way. Had it been written "packing for shipment, or distribution" it might have been interpreted differently. But that's not how the court ruled. They said that since drivers don't pack, they aren't exempt from overtime pay.

At least in The Pine Tree State, the decision of the First Circuit has justified not just the careers of lawyers but of English majors. In fact, all of Maine's laws are written without the Oxford comma, as prescribed in a state-issued style guide on legislative drafting. And indeed, Oakhurst's attorneys had cited just that point in their defense. But the judges picked up on a following paragraph in the same guide: "Be careful if an item in the series is modified." It then sets out several examples of how lists with modified or otherwise complex terms should be written to avoid the ambiguity that a missing serial comma would otherwise create. Net-net: this might not be the last Oxford comma case that winds up in court.

As with most states, you can argue that some of the laws on the books in Maine are strange or need to be updated. To be sure, the statewide statute that says that shotguns are required to be taken to church in the event of a Native American attack, or that you may not step out of a plane in flight could use a reexamination. But they should add to that a major statewide punctuation review. Or as a wonderful book on the topic is named, it will lead locals to wonder if an animal at the zoo is guilty of murder if, as the sign on its cage says, it "eats, shoots and leaves."

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Marc Wollin of Bedford generally plays fast and loose with English. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Giant Step

Talk about innovation! What would you say if I told you a company had figured out how to make something way better. It uses completely new technology and fewer parts, resulting in lower cost and less chance of failure. It gives you back hours of your day, and reduces frustration by a factor of at least five. It even ships lighter, saving freight costs not to mention your back. You'd say "What did Apple come up with?" Or "I knew Amazon could do it!" Or "That's the reason Google is such an inspiration." But you'd be wrong every time.

Because you didn't think of Ikea.

The Swedish home goods maker is known for a lot of things. There are the labyrinth stores that let you in one end and make you wander past endless demo rooms until you escape two hours later through the lingonberry jam gift display at the far end. There's the seemingly infinite variety of basic furniture like beds and bookcases and coffee tables. And there are the model names always screaming at you in upper case, showcasing consonants and vowels in tongue twisting combinations, like VOOKEGHLEAR and SAANGHWODNFION.

Those hallmarks are all familiar to the most casual furniture shopper. But if you've ever bought a CJEODWORJAAS desk or a NEQQUAISLFOOB shelving unit, the single thing that likely stands out is the assembly process. Open up your FIIKISTOOOR stereo stand, and what tumbles out is an assortment of puzzle pieces, a set of hieroglyphic instructions and a plastic bag filled with screws, dowels, glue, nuts, bolts, metal sleeves and a single hex wrench in a size that fits nothing else in the known universe.

Assuming you've had both a stiff cup of coffee and a dose of anti-anxiety medication, it's a simple matter to assemble all the pieces into your new BAATRONQQUIN vanity. You just have to insure that screw #3 which is 2 millimeters wider than screw #4 is used on the back vs. the front. And that dowel #9 is glued on the narrower end first, while you start with the fat end of dowel #13. And once it's all done, wonder which shelf is missing a metal sleeve #2, as you seem to have one left over. Or was it just an extra in the package? Hint: it the shelf tilts when you put something on it, it wasn't an extra.

Ikea is not totally ignorant of this challenge. And so the R&D folks back in Stockholm have been hard at work doing other things beside coming up with new ways to use pressboard. In an advance that ranks right up there with the invention of the PIZENATOOBORG combination paper towel stand/lemon holder, they have reimagined how you put the stuff together, and created the wedge dowel.

Essentially a ridged end on one piece and grooved hole on another, it enables the various components of a table or chair to seamlessly "snap" together. What used to take hours and sometimes days can now take just minutes. But beyond the benefit of not needing tools or incurring skinned knuckles, there's another upside. According to IKEA's Jesper Brodin, the system allows you to easily disassemble, move the furniture and reassemble it without losing any strength or durability. Brodin was quoted in industry publications as noting "people move a lot more frequently, and there are more divorces. So if you get kicked out [of your house] in the morning you can reassemble your table in the afternoon." No doubt that the first thing you're going to thinking of as your laundry winds up on the front lawn is rebuilding your GLOOPERINGENSAAB dresser nice and tight, but at least you know something in your life at that point will work.

Regardless, it's a notable advancement in DIY furniture construction. IKEA intends to roll out the wedge dowel system across its entire furniture range. Look for it first in LISABO tables and chairs later this year, and eventually to the vast majority of its offerings. This all points to that time the not-too-distant future when your kid graduates college, and you help them set up their first apartment. As they effortlessly snap together their YOOSLQUIIP bed frame, you say, "Boy, in my day, we needed an allen key to do that!" And they go, "Dad, what's an allen key?"

Mark my words: that day is coming.

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Marc Wollin of Bedford has put together more Ikea furniture than he cares to admit. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Watch Your Step

The credit usually goes to Chief Seattle, a prominent leader of the Suquamish tribe, and the person for whom the city is named. A skilled speaker and diplomat, he gave a speech in the 1850's to more than 1000 members of his tribe that has been romanticized as a manifesto encouraging respect for the land and animals. It laid out broad themes that have become the underpinning of the environmental movement today.

However, contrary to popular belief, he never really said any of it. Not "The earth is our mother." Not "How can you buy or sell the sky?" Not "What is man without the beasts?" Those and other pithy naturalistic touchstones turn out to constructs of newspaper men and Hollywood screenwriters and attributed to the Chief for dramatic effect. Still, if you have to give someone props, Chief Seattle is as good as any. And so let's believe another fiction attributed to him, that whenever you travel you should "Take only memories, leave only footprints."

Yet these days that maxim needs to be updated. With the proliferation of smartphones, memories are less about synapses and more about pictures. While photography has been around for nearly 200 years, it's only been recently that almost everyone has a camera on them all the time. And that means that virtually everything is being documented every instant of every day. So perhaps Chief's Seattle's non-mantra should read "Take only photographs, leave only footprints."

But even that falls short. Because like the old adage about a tree falling in a forest, have you actually been anywhere if you don't have a picture of yourself as a part of it? Walk around and you will see people not looking at a given site, but with their backs to it, the better to capture a shot of themselves at that place and time. Sorry, Chief, call rewrite once more: "Take only selfies, leave only footprints."

Then last week that approach went horribly wrong. The Hirschhorn Museum in Washington is mounting a major exhibit by Japanese artist and writer Yayoi Kusama. Kasama came into the art world in the late 50's, exploring almost every media from painting and drawing to film and fiction. A fixture of the 1970's pop art movement, she became known as the "Priestess Of Polka Dots" when she created dresses with that design, as well as painting dots on naked participants and staging them as performance happenings. It all fed into her obsession with infinity, captured nicely in her comment "Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos."

That obsession is best realized in her mirrored rooms stuffed with abstract forms. The rooms vary, but are sculptural, architectural and performative all at the same time. The shapes and mirrors combined to create endless disorienting views with names that reflect that, such as "The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away" and "Love Transformed into Dots."

The current popular exhibition at the Hirschhorn is no different. Consisting of six of her installations, one of the most popular is "All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins." It is a small mirrored room filled with lighted gourds decorated with polka dots. A small viewing platform accommodates only 2 or 3 people at a time, giving them a visage that hard to explain to others. Not content with Chief Seattle's original manta, most people don't trust their memory, and so move on to our first rewrite, snapping a photo to capture the view.

But what is art if you're not a part of it? And so many visitors move to the third iteration of the Chief's words, and pose for a selfie. However, that observation platform is pretty small, and denoted only by a small barrier just several inches high and across. There's no way of knowing for sure what happened, as once visitors are inside the room and on the platform, the door is closed. But the results tell the tale: some hapless Instagramer looking for the perfect angle put a foot over the barrier, crushing one of pumpkins.

A tragedy for sure. The room was closed while the artist was consulted and a replacement was being secured. At least only a pumpkin was hurt. But perhaps we need to update the Chief's words yet again: "Take only selfies, and be careful where you put your feet."

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Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to take pictures, mostly without himself. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Internet Sensation

Let me be very clear: this is not about me.

Yes, I have an assortment of social media accounts. But I readily admit that I'm more a stalker than a poster. Other than this column, I don't put up anything. Mind you, I'm not casting aspersions on those that do. I just prefer to live my life a little quieter. If I'm being honest, I don't think that 95% of what I do is interesting to anyone besides my immediate family. And even then I'm not so sure.

Still, I do admit to occasionally scanning Facebook and Twitter and the like. I enjoy seeing some of the kid shots, some of the sassy comments, some of the new ventures in which people are involved. But it's hardly a regular thing. Yes, I'm sure I'm missing the latest cute cat picture, but it's a sacrifice with which I've made peace.

That helps to explain why I was ignorant to what I was happening around me. I was at the NBA All Star Game in New Orleans munching popcorn when three people sat down behind me. They looked like regular fans - a mom, dad and an older college-aged kid. Other than the fact that the woman had on a rather ugly sweater with "NBA Champs" on it, nothing made them stand out. I smiled and said hello, and turned back to the action on the floor. But while I wasn't really paying attention, I sensed a few people around me mildly excited by their presence. Indeed, some even got up and came over with comments like "I recognize that sweater. Are you really her? I love you! Can I get a picture?" They grabbed a selfie and went back to their seats. I began to wonder: who was "her?"

The game started, and I noted the three wildly applauding Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, two All Stars from the Golden State Warriors. I turned and asked if they too were from California. The son nodded and indicated his tee shirt, which had a Golden State logo on it. At the same time a person wearing official looking NBA credentials came over and had a quick conversation, checking on their seats, seeing how they were faring and thanking them for coming. None of that answered who she was, though she was obviously someone.

A few minutes later another NBA staffer came over, this one with a headset. He introduced himself to "Robin", and started to explain the drill. "You ready?" he began. Robin nodded. "So at the next timeout, here's how it will go. On the screen we'll do a ‘Wheel of Fortune' kind of thing. The first will be a robot cam, then a kiss cam. Next will be the Dancing Mom cam. We'll take 2 other random moms, then come to you. You should start, but keep going after they go on to the next. The announcer will suddenly realize it was you, and we'll come back. Then it's all yours. Any questions?" Robin indicated she understood completely.

Still not sure what I was sitting in front of, I realized that if she was going to be on camera, I would be that hapless guy in the foreground wondering what was happening behind him. I jumped up and sat down on the stairs across from my seat. I apologized to the guy I was crowding, but he was beaming watching Robin as well. So I asked him: who was she? Thankfully he knew it all. Robin Schreiber was a 60-ish retired school teacher and a 28-year season ticket holder who became an internet sensation when she jumped up to dance when the camera picked her up at a game in November. Since then, she has danced with the Warrior's cheerleaders at center court, Steph Curry and even Coach Steve Kerr. And she was about to do it again for the entire arena.

Sure enough, it went down just as described. First the people doing the robot, then a few kisses, then some other dancing moms, all to the audience's mild amusement. Then they came to Robin. She jumped up and started, and the place went wild. If you watch you'll see her patented hip pump, her hand waves and her arm flares. You'll see the people round her applauding and taking pics. But the best part?

You won't see me.

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Marc Wollin of Bedford tries to keep a low profile. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Three Little Words

Remember when someone asked you to come by their house? Remember when they gave you an address and some rough sense of how to get there, like, "we live a mile behind the center of town, down the street from the 7-11?" Remember how you pulled out a map and used your finger to trace the best route from your place to theirs? Remember how you got lost, and had to pull into a gas station to say, "Hi there. Can you tell how to get to Cedar Lane?"

Ah, the good old days before GPS. You had to have some sense of north, south, east and west. You had to have a reasonably current map, and hope the grape juice stains and the torn crease didn't blot out the entrance to the highway. And you had to have a sense of adventure and courage to boldly blunder through dark side streets with no signs to find your destination. My, how times have changed. Now any directionally-challenged moron with smart phone has at least as good a chance of arriving on time as a bird colonel who aced officer training school.

But not so fast. GPS usually works fine when you plug in a given street address that's in the database. Yet sometimes that gets you close, but not there. Or perhaps the directions are more generalized, like when someone says "meet me in the park." Or maybe there's no street to have an address, a situation you find commonly around the world in less developed locales. In any of those situations, as the old saying goes, close isn't so good, and only really counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

That was the situation in Tonga, a South Pacific archipelago of 170 islands covering over 700,000 square kilometers of ocean. The nation's 103,000 residents primarily live on 36 islands with only a few named streets. That meant it was tough for Tonga Post to deliver the mail, with the result that addresses like "past the goat farm near the big tree" meant your Christmas card to Taulupe Taulava never made it. And that's why Tonga became the fourth nation in the world after Mongolia, Sint Maarten and Cote d'Ivoire to adopt a system called what3words.

The London-based company that invented what3words has divided the world up into 57 trillion 3-by-3 meter squares. Using their own special algorithm and a 40,000 word dictionary, they assign a unique three-word label to each square. A smartphone app decodes the actual grid location and lays it over a map, enabling much more specificity to a given location. So while the Empire State Building is located at 350 5th Avenue in New York, that address covers the better part of a city block. If I told you to meet me there, I would have to tell you which entrance on which street, or we could be standing around waiting for each other for a while. But if I told you to meet me at many.clots.cooks, you would know I would be standing on the 33rd street side about a quarter of the way down the block. Likewise, if I said I would be at advice.fats.couple, you would look for me at the end of the building on 34th street, right near the DanceSport store.

While the system works just fine, thank you, the major criticism is that in adopting it a country is ceding control of identifying public infrastructure to a private company. And that goes against the open-source transparency that we say we want. It's as if in order to start up a business or get credit we have to be given approval by some private company. But in point of fact we already have that in the form of Dun and Bradstreet business ID's, or credit scores from Equifax. In Tonga's case, the trade-off was worth it, or else Dopeti Paumalolo who lives "past the turtle pond in the shade of the third date palm" might never get his new slow cooker from Amazon.

Will what3words catch on elsewhere? Time will tell. But in a world of big data where every tiny bit if information is worth something, perhaps being able to differentiate between the front corner of your house and the top of the driveway will be worth something. In fact, I'd love to chat about it. Meet me at my favorite table at hound.sharpening.outgrown and we can discuss it.

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Marc Wollin of Bedford has always been fascinated with maps. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at http://www.glancingaskance.blogspot.com/, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.