Monthly Archives: July 2007

Death takes a holiday; cat fills in

Heard this story on the local all-news radio station this morning: a cat who can predict the death of patients in a Providence (ironic location), RI nursing home.

Seems “Oscar” has been accurate in 25 cases, most of whom, according to the story:

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don’t know he’s there, so patients aren’t aware he’s a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

Can you imagine the reaction is Oscar was a black cat? 


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“So just what do you do?”

00press.jpgWhenever anyone asks me what i do for a job, I’m always a bit stumped at how to answer. When I worked in my previous job, I would simply say. “I’m in PR.” It would be up to them to assume I had some upper level job, rather than serve as a glorified secretary for more than 20 years.

But since I’ve been working at my present task — a weekly suburban ethnic newspaper — I have had several functions.

Not every reporter has to be a great writer. Conversely, some people who are good at moving other people’s words couldn’t pick up a phone, or write a piece themselves, if their life depended on it. This is why in the old days newspapers had “legmen” and “rewrite men.” Sometimes I think it might not be a bad idea to bring them back. 

Given my basically shy nature, I see myself as better at the latter than the former. Although it’s much better being on this end of the conversation, rathern than as a PR functionary basically begging for media coverage of some inane event.

  • I am also an editor. Originally I was an occasional copy editor, charegd with really going over stories and molding hem into shape. Now I handle the sports page and another section. I often write the sports stories myself and have a stable of freelancers who submit articles for the other section. I enjoy the editing process quite a bit, cutting and pasting writers’ disjointed thoughts into coherent text. Having been in their shoes, I also like to think I’m sensitive their parentage of these stories, and try not to do too much with them. Of course, when I get a 1,200-word piece where the space calls for 800 words, I have to decide whether to send it back and have them make the substantial changes (my preference for integrity’s sake) or just do it myself.

The worst thing is when a family member tells someone what I do and then turns to me and says, “You should to a story on this person.” That puts me in an awkward spot because nine times out of ten this person, as nice, charming, smart , etc. as he or she might be, there’s nothing extraordinary about their situation. It’s embarassing all around.

The summer is a bit slow. Congress is out of section, schools are closed, people are away. Sports has been surprisingly easy (knock on wood), given the requirements, but regular stories are more difficult to come by. Fortunately, the environment is easy-going and I seldom feel anxious about keeping up with my colleagues, who always seem to have something cooking.

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New book review: The World Without Us

A look at a new scholarly (and very depressing) treatise on what would happen if humankind suddenly and totally disappeared. On

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Funny how time slips away

Received an email at work about the “SuperMega Show” at the Crown Plaza Hotel in beautiful Secaucus, NJ this weekend.

 Among this scheduled to appear:

The email draws to attention that Henry Winkler and Cindy Williams are making a Happy Days reunion.

Other celebrities will be on hand. Some of these people I’ve never heard of, but their shows — some new, some long gone — sound like the stuff geeks are made of.

Is anyone else out there just a little saddened at the prospect of these once-popular personalities jumping around from nostalgia show to nostalgia show, trying to make a few bucks, since all the work dried up, or bask in past glories.

I attended the Book Expo America in New York in 2004. Authors and publishers were scattered throughout the exhibition hall. As one might expect, larger entites had the better locations.

Off in a small booth in a non-prime space was the actor Jack Klugman, who had just finished a memoir, primarily a tribute to his friend Tony Randall. While other booths were overflowing with visitors, his had just a few. The guy in front of me wanted Klugman, who still suffered the after-effects of surgery for throat cancer, to talk to his friend on a cell phone. If memory serves, the actor had one assistant/PR person, who shooed the guy away. Happily, Klugman still performs, having made a stirring comeback, which he attributed to Randal’s prodding.

Still the image of him, sitting virtually alone and unrecognized after the kind of career he had…very sad. 

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Apple, revisited

One of my first posts considered the oxymoron of “customer service” as applied to Apple.

In last his “Talking Business” column in last Saturday’s (July 14) New York Times, Joe Nocera writes about their lastest snafu: their battery replacemtn policy for the iPhone. The product just came out a couple of weeks agao and already there are concerns about battery replacement? Not recharging, mind you, but replacement.

The folks at Apple must have been out the day the industry was discussing customer convenience, Nocera opines. They clearly have “other priorities.”

[J]ust as my iPhone column was going to press a few weeks ago, Apple finally released its battery replacement policy. You can find it on the Apple Web site. (Or maybe not. It’s actually buried on the site.

Anyway, here’s the policy: Because the iPhone lacks a replaceable battery, you will have to send your phone to Apple [emphasis added]. If your phone is under warranty, the new battery will be free. If it is out of warranty, it will cost a hefty $79, plus $6.95 for shipping. Apple will also lend you an iPhone while your phone is in the shop, which will cost you another $20, warranty or no.

It may be a matter of semantics, but when you have to pay to borrow something, that’s called renting, not lending. ___ cites the procedure if/when the battery runs down:

1. Put up $20, (or $105.95 if your iPhone is out of warranty);

2. Wait for the loaner to arrive;

3. Put your data on the loaner;

4. Send Apple your iPhone;

5. Wait for it to be returned;

6. Put your data back on your iPhone (it is erased while Apple is replacing the battery);

7. Mail in the loaner.

Whew. Given how awkward this all is, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t just build the iPhone with a replaceable battery.

He accuses Apple’s chief executive, Steven P. Jobs, and Jonathan Ive, design chief, of being “design snobs, who care more about form than function” and

Larry Keeley, the president of the design firm Doblin Inc., wrote me an e-mail message after he’d seen the innards of the iPhone, which several Web sites have now published. The battery, he told me, lacks the normal metal jacket, making it “thinner and lighter, while also making it more difficult for consumers to handle or dispose of.” He added: “This is clear evidence that they are optimizing the INSIDES of the phone to the OUTSIDE form factor that they have designed. It is far more common and much cheaper to design the other way: pile up all the components you have to stuff inside, then figure out the sexiest box that can contain them.”

A few MAC-praising websites claim the battery life is better than expected, but you never know who’s hosting these sites and what their agendas are.

I have heard over and over from my Apple cronies that although there are benefits to the products, customer service is definitely not one of them. I hear horror stories of multiple-hour waiting lines at Apple stores, peopled by inattentive, inconsiderate, and/or just plain indifferent employees whose attitude seems to be, if you don’t like it, buy something else. But do so at the risk of being relegated to the class of the terminally uncool.

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Catching up: Book Reviews

Pardon me, I’ve been remiss. Catching up on recent book reviews:

In Broad Daylight: A Murder in Skidmore, Missouri, by Harry N. Maclean

Heyday, by Kurt Anderen

The Colonel and Little Missy, by Larry McMurtry

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Little things mean a lot (or The Amazing Shrinking Package)

Several products have come out in the last several months in scaled-down versions, in a faux-altruistic attempt to curb the obesity epidemic that has been the flavor-of-the-month topic.

Ever since Morgan Spurlock’s video diary Supersize Me made overeating newsworthy (not to mention disgusting), food manufacturers have been looking for ways to have their cake by cutting the customers’ in half (at least).

Hostess, Nabisco, Frito Lay and others have come out with 100 calories versions of the product in snazzy, if tiny packaging. At the moment I can’t remember which company it was (I’m thinking sugar-free Jello), but one of their ad campaigns showed how small 60 calories-worth of snack foods — candy bars, ice cream — were. Similarly, a popcorn company (OR?) compared the volume of their low-fat/low-cal micorwave product to other, less-filling snack foods.

Of course, what they don’t tell you is that you pay more for less. Forget about the ice cream companies that no longer sell half gallons (although the containers look almost identical). What’s almost as bad is that these mini-products come with additional packaging, creating an extra burden on the environment.

An article in the July 7 edition of The New York Times reported, among other things, that:

  •  sales of 100-calorie packs of crackers, chips, cookies and candy have passed the $20-million-a-year mark
  •  Hershey plans to offer 100-calorie bags of Twizzlers, and Nabisco will sell two new cookies, Alpha-Bits and Animals Choco Crackers, in 100-calorie packs.
  • The smaller sizes “are about 20 percent more profitable than larger packages.”
  • “Consumers do not seem to mind paying more even though they are getting fewer Goldfish.” Oh yeh? Says who?

”If they felt duped, they wouldn’t buy it,” the Times quotes one industry insider as saying. I don’t think that’s true. I think people, especially the demographic formerly known as “yuppies” (there must be some new label by now) is just plain lazy, for all their good thoughts about the environment. They could accomplish the same goal, for less money, by buying regular-sized packages and dividing them into their own, reusable containers. The article fails to address this issue.

”People like to think, ‘Oh, this is healthy, it’s only 100 calories,”’ said Lisa Young, author of ”The Portion Teller Plan,” a book on portion control. ”A single portion of junk food is better than a large portion of junk food, but it’s not better than an apple, a peach or a vegetable.”

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