Thursday, March 31, 2011



cf-family-affair#32 in an occasional series of repressed 70's memories that turn out to be true.

In a world where Lite-Brite was both a high-tech toy and considered correctly spelled, and sticker technology had not quite reached perfection, there was a 2-dimensional toy called Colorforms.

“It’s fun to play the Colorforms way!” 

Was it…?  I can’t say it was better than actual dolls (“action figures,” if you are a boy whose parents do not let you be free to be you) , vehicles and furniture, but traveled better in the backseat, which was where we spent most of our time.

It was also a cheaper way to re-enact your favorite TV/comic characters when playsets were very dear.  You could also stunt-cast by mixing up your colorforms sets (or… you could restore everything neatly into their matching shape staging area when you were finished… I’m just saying…)


Oh, if only I could have gotten Mr French and the Professor’s Nanny together….

I liked to put the raindrops on Lucy’s face like tears.  I was a sad…sad…clown.  So that’s the game – put clothes on Lucy, who seems happy with whatever you dress her in.  The girls in the commercial call the pieces “pwastic,”   Specifically, vinyl.  And delicious.  Those little snowflakes are like lozenges you can roll around on your tongue, then when they are saturated, stick them to your face.  “I’m Marie Antoinette!” you say, but you have no idea who that is, except the woman people on TV always dress as for costume parties.  For hilarity, put Lucy in ice skates and SHORTS.  Stop..!  Sto-o-o-op!  You’ll make me snort!

As long as you are sucking on your Colorforms, try the glow-in-the-dark version, for an added rush of radium!  (stay tuned for the 2nd commercial for dolls that tan.  awesome.)  hhobbie

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Picking Teams: a mill update

bbwolfWhich schoolyard metaphor shall I choose?
Red Rover, Red Rover, send Carrie right over?
Mother May I? It is kind of mother-may-I, only, no... you may not.

I remember one game we played that went like this:
It: Knock Knock
Mother Hen: Who's there?
It: Big Bad Wolf
Hen: What do you want?
It: Colored Eggs
Hen: What color?

Now "It" guesses a color.  If she guesses your color, you shriek like a Drag Queen and run around the yard and try to get back to the hen house without being tagged by the Wolf.  It makes only marginal sense.  Why would a wolf, standing in front of a chicken carry on a conversation, then run…. when it could be eating the chicken?  You may have played this game as Fruit Basket, and we played Fruit Basket too, but only at slumber parties, and only when we had run out of anything else to do.

Here's what this has to do with the Mill.  If it's spring, it must be time to Restructure.

And the game goes like this:woman screaming
Manager 1: Knock Knock
Manager 2: Who's there?
1: Big New Chart
2: What do you want?
1: Specialists
2: What kind of Specialist?
1: uummm... project specialists?

We used to say, back in the cult, "People support what they help create."  This was a nice way to use minimum wage student staff and make it feel developmental.  (And it does work.  People do).  I would like to coin the maxim, "People ignore what has become tedious."  And when you are 9 levels down, it is easy to ignore.

In fact, this game has become Red Light/Green Light.  1-2-3...write your accomplishments!  1-2-3...fill out this survey!  1-2-3...rank your projects!  Now Red Light - we have nothing new to report.  We're going back to the big kids table to invent ubby-dubby so you can't tell what we're talking about.  

I sympathize.  The Lower Middle is just so excited to have something to do; they can't help but show off a little.  And even though the Big New Chart has them at the same level they are now, it is with Bigger Teams  (fanfare) and they are pretty excited about that.

Get these levels.  I don’t even know the insignia.  I just address everybody.  And I thank the guy who stocks the kitchen, just in case.
  • CEO
  • GM – who let us know yesterday that the honeymoon is over, our freebie year is up, and you’re all accountable.  I love the Accountable speech.
  • Invisible Senior Director
  • More invisible Director – in that Senior works in my building, junior does not
  • To-Be-Hired Senior manager.  You gotta love that.  I thought for sure one of our Lower Middles would apply for that, but apparently the lure of having Bigger Teams  was better reward.
  • Team managers – These are our Lower Middles – they have blog names, but I can’t put everything in the same post
  • Senior Account managers
  • less senior account managers.  It’s a money thing
  • Us and those like us.
While the GM was laying down the law yesterday, I commented to a fellow 9-er, “I think there will never be an opportunity for [her] to know my name.”  Unless she happens to blog-surf.

There are 40+ 8s and 9s in my department.  (it goes corporation-division-department-group-team-platoon-troop…. what was I going?)  And 4 Lower Middles.  To make it all even-steven we are being reassigned, and in some cases those customers in our care as well.

Here is how it going to go down.

Juu-uu-st kidding.  I don’t really know.  And I do care, but not enough to stress about it.
It is much more entertaining to do this:

chalk talk
Yesterday I got to overhear the most senior of the Lower Middle and our outgoing (but mostly visible) Director have one of these kinds of conversations:
LM:  We can do this, but then there’s this problem.
Dir:  yeh, that's a problem.
LM:  Now this one's will all need to be redistributed....
Dir: But not over here...
LM:  No - that mess this up.

Oh, shut the door, already.  And up.

So the Boss says to me – (level 6, if you are counting), “Any questions you have?”

1984“When’s it over?” I said.  I won’t sugarcoat it for you, my Readership, you know I said it.  I had asked earlier, in a group setting, whether the target (these words always appear in my head in quotes, and a Madison Avenue Helvetica) whether the target was  “as soon as you can make this happen, or is it effective next fiscal year.”
And she said, “Oh right away.”  In a spiky kind of font, like a Dennis the Menace comic, “I don’t think we can drag this out any longer.”   

excellent.  do say more….

Lately I have been working through an exercise where I play out each possible trade so I can prepare myself for how I might react.   More than 1 of my colleagues has confessed s/he will give notice if s/he gets a bad match.  I’m not thinking that boldly; I am just practicing not responding F*** Me.  Let’s take this one day at a time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Your move

I am about to challenge one of my blog buddies to a public blog-scussion on a topic that we have literally been playing out for several weeks now and have never really discussed -- publicly or privately -- for no reason except that we live a couple of hours apart, and most of our relationship is lived on line.

I will kick it off, because it is a topic she is an expert on (as I am on ending clauses with prepositions) and I never got much farther with than a sample critical thinking session during Freshman Orientation.

That question is: what is a game, and are we in fact playing one?  
Cathie and I (I'll use the name she does on her blog, Desert of My Real Life) have been engaged in several rounds of online Scrabble.  I choose those words carefully because I am still forming my argument.  But what I do know for sure is that we are drawing tiles and putting down words.  We are both following the rules of Scrabble.  I'm just not sure it is what Cathie would define as playing a game.

Brief sidebar on the nature of online Scrabble, which has a few elements the traditional board game does not.
a) dictionary look-up.  In most board play, the participants will agree on the dictionary of record (and usually it is the official Scrabble tournament authority) and one must challenge a play that seems a little hinky.  Online, where no one can hear you sound out your tray, you can look up words to your heart's content before you play them, and the dictionary will tell you if it is a valid or invalid play. 

b) 2-letter word list.  To paraphrase, Scrabble players have their 2-letter words, but in this version, you can see the full slate of what would play.

c) limitless trials.  The poker element of Scrabble is the skill to try out your letters without looking at the spot, mouthing them, pointing, or counting on your fingers to determine whether it's the play you're going to stick with.  Online, you can lay things out all over the place until you are ready.  And often I do.

This essay needs an image break.  It's a tombstone.

The big surprise to those who have engaged me in Facebook Scrabble is probably the same thing that surprises people in real life, which is... they thought I would be better at it.  More competitive, maybe -- big high scorer.  Not the case.  I am the kind of player who will skip 2 turns to finally spell PENGUIN.  Because what interests me is not the score.  It's just the words.

Cathie's essay builds on the 6 elements of a game, as defined by Greg Costikyan.  

1: Tokens.  It's interesting that Scrabble does not precisely meet this criteria.  That is, you have "your" letters and "your" words, but once they are played, they are public domain.  Any player can build on any other player's letters.  But Cathie (and Costikyan) note that the token can also represent your status, in which case, the score itself might be Scrabble's token.  This is our current game.  I am not the one with the status.  It's not that I don't care.  It's just not what I care about.

2:  Goal.  Here is where Cathie challenges some of the current online "gaming" as maybe not games, if the game itself does not set a goal.  Scrabble's goals are pretty simple - get most points and use all the letters.  But I think our goal is simply to pass some time.

3: Oppositon.  Aaaah... now we're getting somewhere.  Cathie plays a shrewd competitive game -- blocking, with available letters you can never use, like an ending V or a B with only 1 space after it.  You'd think someone would find the 2-word list handy here, but she is not my opposition.  Scrabble is just verbal sudoku to me.  The only thing you win is another game of Scrabble, and both people win it.

4: Decision-making.  And here is where our styles of play diverge, because we are making very different decisions.  Cathie likes a tight board, short words, lots of overlapping.  I like a spacious board, 5 and 6 letter words, and ideally a word that doesn't get trotted out much.  Not like RAJ, which sees plenty of Scrabble sun, but something like BARGAIN.  That's hot -- especially when it can be achieved through what I call Parasitic Scrabble, putting BAR or GAIN on the word that is already there. 

In the competitive circles, this is known as Living Room play.  It is not the style of the competitive elite.

5: Information.  I think the Scrabble equivalent here is that one knows how many tiles there are for each letter, and whether you stand a chance of getting what you need.  In a 1:1 game, this has the effect of eventually knowing what the other player has too; and online, seeing the count of how many tiles are left in the virtual bag.

You know your words too, of course.  Not just the 2 letters and the anagrams that the elite can spot immediately, but also knowing your phonemes and diphthongs -- either of which would be awesome Scrabble words.

6:  Resources.  Here is where I expect an opponent like me frustrates an opponent like Cathie.  And I'll give her the last word to respond.  She plays an economic game -- 20 pt 3-letter words.  I swap tiles.  I hold Q until there is a U.  I am too bored with AX, AXE, and TAX to ever play them, and prefer to wait for NEXUS, a word I have never been able to play, but

I hand it back to the Perfesser.  I am interested to know if #7 criterion should be that we have to be playing the same game, or is it still a game anyway?

UPDATE:  Cathie responds
"We Are Playing a Game"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Short-sightedness alienates patrons and risks revenue

a cautionary tale for civic leaders 

From the home page of the Williamsburg Regional Library, Williamsburg, VA:
Beginning February 1, 2011 only residents of the City of Williamsburg, James City County and York County will be issued WRL library cards.
As of that date the library will stop honoring all cards previously issued to those not residing in the above locations.

And so they have.

Crying resource-poor and overwhelmed by demand, the WRL announced late last year that they could no longer accommodate patrons from outside their funding area -- 6000 free-loading patrons by some estimates.

Imagine a library that had too much usage.  As the execs like to say, "that's a good problem to have."

Here in the people's republic, nearly every town has a library.  Though some collections are small and hours limited, they are just as likely to be the nicest building in town.  When I lived in Chelsea-by-the-Sea, the city itself was in receivership, but the library had a McArthur Grant.  The Minuteman system covers greater Boston and Metro West (where I work), while C M/MARS is for the central part of the state (where I live).  I belong to both.  No one minds.

I feel very strongly about libraries, and will evangelize about them at the slightest provocation.  One of the best in our state is nearly 40 miles from where I live, yet I would make that trek whenever it was needed -- that is, until I found the Lexington, which is not better but closer and quite good.  I expect to be there this week.

I understand how libraries are funded, and I respect the arrangement we make together: I'm going to borrow this for a few weeks, and pay a penalty if I am late.  I respect the limit rules that these small libraries (especially) have to make; once you've watched someone step up to the counter with 10 DVDs, you will mutter "you are ruining it for everyone, you know."  It is sad to watch a child try to pick out her 6 (and only 6) books to take home with her, but we all have to share.

My beef with the WRL is not that they thought they couldn't serve the 6000 intruders (but we'll examine that in a minute).  It is that they missed the opportunity to explore just how much those intruders were willing to pay for their share of the services.  One 25-year borrower I know personally blurted out "$100 a year."  $100 a year for the full services she enjoys now.  Imagine 6000 x $100.  How you like them now, eh?

WRL claims to have lost $150K of their materials budget -- that's acquisitions -- a reduction that was planned at least a year ago, according to a memo written that year.  That's a 150K loss on about $4 M, by the way.

The strategic plan that brought them up to 2010 does acknowledge that growth in the county and shifts in demographics were key factors in defining their strategic goals, but even then there is a whiff of making sure "the right people" are being served.

* WRL should focus on what it does well rather than trying to be all things to all people.
* The library should reach out to teens with space and services but should proceed cautiously and engage teens in the planning process.
* Although the community regards the library as an important community center, most users are not aware of the programs in its facilities.

 So... there are or there aren't enough materials to go around?  "The library has a collection of nearly 290,000 items, [and] a circulation of 919,000 items," says their press.  My beloved Newton Free requests, "The total number of items you may have checked out is 150."  But I guess it has twice the collection size and proudly " loans out more items than any other library building in Massachusetts."

WRL, I am not the first to suggest this:  Charge a guest fee.  This is nothing but profit for you.  You don't even need to make new cards -- a roll of stickers will do.  $100 annual for full rights of resident membership.  Make the sticker red, white, and blue.  We know you love that.  $50 for lower limits on borrowed materials, $25 for books only.  And that's price per residence, not per card.  Don't get greedy.  We have already found this statement on your website:
The library director may authorize the issuance of special recognition cards to reach key audiences in a city or county that funds the Williamsburg Regional Library.
and it sounds gross.  

You only need 1500 families to agree this is a worthy expense to make up your materials budget shortfall.  With Borders closing, this is your time.  You're blowing it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Ars longa.... ipsum iteratque

I had a recent conversation with a Reader who was lamenting (sight unseen, mind you) the remake of True Grit -- based on his assertion that he "liked the real True Grit."  We have addressed this topic before.  There is very little wrong with the 1969 version.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with Hamlet (that a good stadium cushion can't resolve). And you can not count the number of times it is performed annually  (at least, Google can't) and that's not counting how many high schoolers are still mumbling through the Soliloquy.  We used to call it the Silly-old-query.  We were hilarious.

I am reminded of Joni Mitchell's plea to the audience when they cried out for "Both Sides Now," that when a painter makes a painting, he makes a painting.  And no one ever says, "Hey, paint a Starry Night again, man."

Painters repeat themes all the time, of course, and if stories were to be told only once, we would just have the one Madonna and Child, one Pieta.  It may interest you to know that the Cohen Brothers purposely did not view the Henry Hathaway (who's that, now?) film.  It was their intention to adapt the Charles Portis novel, not the John Wayne film.

We who love films have our beloved treasures.  I myself will not see the 2004 Manchurian Candidate, or Vince Vaughn's Psycho, though I completely understand his interest in taking it on.  I have never seen Steel Magnolias, though it is exactly the kind of movie I would see because I saw it performed off-Broadway and want nothing to taint that experience, especially not someone force-feeding Julia Roberts a hard candy.

I have no need for a new Parent Trap, but I understand why a kid would.  Why else do we keep making Sara Crewe?

On the other hand, I would line up for a remake of A Few Good Men, with some less movie-star actors.  The Human Stain was bizarrely miscast and should be re-made immediately. I am still waiting for an apology for Harriet the Spy.   But I do not wonder why they (they) have to remake everything, anymore than I wonder why we keep recording The Christmas Song.  (I wonder it far less, to tell you the truth).  In this very space, we compared Ten Commandments versions, without even tackling TWO musical versions featuring Val Kilmer.  Talk about your remakes.

Some remakes fail in the attempt (The Women); some knock it out of the park (Ocean's Eleven).  The Cohen brother's True Grit is better filmmaking, without making the original look dated or amateurish (sorry, Annie, I might mean you). 

Up Originality, I say!  All the way.  But there are only so many storylines in the human experience, after all, and don't you wish you had written Of Mice and Men?  Gregory Maguire is making a living out of re-imagining stories we know by heart (and we get it, Greg.  enough already).

This seems like a good place for some lists.

Remakes that work
Member of the Wedding (1982)
The Birdcage
The Champ
Freaky Friday
A Star is Born (1954)

Remakes that don't
Member of the Wedding (1997)
Billy Jack Goes to Washington (shed a tear, Running Deer)
A Star is Born (1975)

Sequels that are better than originals
The Empire Strikes Back
The Wrath of Khan (a sequel AND a remake)
Toy Story III
Silence of the Lambs (Manhunter... unwatchable)

Sequels no one needed
The Two Jakes
The Evening Star
Anything Else American Pie

Please just stop making
Robin Hood
King and I
Sara Crewe/Little Princess

I give up fighting