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Conventional Wisdom


You’re probably wondering what my naming convention is when I draft an essay. Thanks for bringing it up.

Let’s say I suddenly get a great idea for an essay (never actually happens), and I start to “write it up,” as the publisher of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing used to call it (for about 3 of the lousiest months of work I ever experienced, back in the late 1980s). Once I’m done with that first sentence or two, I’m going to save. I don’t care how incoherent the sentences are, if I don’t have them saved I won’t necessarily remember the essential subject I was writing about when I wake up the next afternoon. So I’ll call it something like Time Travel in Your Lifetime, a subject that I'm highly qualified to write about and certainly will be of interested to you.

I’ll continue writing, now saving every two or three sentences, until that first draft is done.

But wait a minute, I realize the name is all wrong! This essay isn’t so much about time travel as it is about how to make really awesome pancakes. So I’m either going to close and rename, or more likely “save as” Awesome Pancakes. So now I have two identical documents. I’ll keep that first one (Time Travel in your Lifetime) in my essays directory for the rest of eternity, never to be opened again, and will work on the other (Awesome Pancakes). Later, when I'm long gone and scholars sift through “my papers” in electronic form, they will discover that the former is really just an early draft of the latter, and will curse me for having wasted their valuable time. 

Now I’m going get granular on this baby, saving each edit, even if it’s just a word, or a character. Sometimes I'll even save if I was pondering a change but didn’t make it – that’s how careful I am. Now it’s done!

The next time I open it – maybe just before I’m about to blindly submit it to some journal, where an intern who wasn’t yet born when I graduated college will reject it after 10 seconds – I'll read it again and realize it’s no good. I'll work on it again, and now save it as Awesome Pancakes Final to indicate that this is the actual final draft. This will go on for weeks, maybe months, as I continue to make changes and update the name to things like Awesome Pancakes Final_4_rev23. Eventually I will come up with the “true” final version, the one that really will get rejected by that teenage intern, and will name it Awesome Pancakes Final_FINAL.

What’s your naming convention?

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Fixer Upper


With Downton Abbey upon us once again, I am pinning my hopes for this season on a couple of simple plot fixes, which I conveyed to the show’s producers last year via rambling, five-page “open letter” (open in that I cc’d most of the world’s email addresses – did you get it?)

1     Reintroduce Lady Sybil. This is a must. I’ve said it before: not having Lady Sybil return in some spirit-in-the-flesh capacity would be a huge ripoff. How much am I paying for this series? Give me at least an hour, interspersed throughout the course of the season, of the lass tormenting the widower Tom, prancing around in the undergarments of 1920s England (or maybe something more recent, hmmm? To hell with historical accuracy!) such that he is kept in her thrall and cannot make the dumb mistake of falling for the irritating Lady Mary, as all men do on the series (for some unknown reason. “Cuz she’s real purty!” Is she? Is she really?)

2     A new character, the chisel-featured six-foot four-inch hunk named Percival H. Rumblecocke, arrives from Germany where he was employed in the British embassy, ostensibly to attend an impromptu ball thrown for the sole purpose of aggravating the servants, but in truth there to tell Edith of the fate of her long lost love (what’s his name again?). Turns out the missing father-of-her-son actually went off to India to throw back a few pints with Shrimpy (good old Shrimpy!), taking with him the leggy Fraulein Winkelmann as his “traveling secretary.” Played by Tom Brady, which shows off the famed quarterback’s incredible versatility while foreshadowing a possible direction he might turn when his football career ends (and, let me add, may he never retire), Percival will divulge to Lady Edith that his own wife had died of eclampsia just like Sybil, “and what say we sneak off with a case of your father’s finest claret and see where it takes us?”

Please understand: the latter of the two subplots is merely a vague hope of mine, offered to thicken the gravy, while the former is necessary if the producers’ hope to resurrect their reputations after having inexplicably killed off the show's most beguiling character.

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Better Biking


I’m always looking to find ways to insert more commercial advertising into my daily routine. My bike rides in particular are a little light on the ads. The Jamaicaway and Riverway are an advertising desert, in which you learn nothing about products and must instead look at buildings, trees, and cars as you pass them. I ought to be riding the train, where there is a much richer tradition of providing the rider with visual ads.

People here and there point out that I’m able to tune in the radio to get audio ads while biking, interrupted only occasionally by sports talk. I also can tune into bad news that is sponsored at the top and bottom of each half hour by a variety of foundations, corporations, and you. All good points. However, note that there is very little in the way of multi-layered advertising, the kind that comes at you from every angle, bombarding all of your senses. Such a shame.

Alas this is the world we live in.

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Chairman Of The Board


Spending a few days in New York City at Christmastime reminds me of just how much better we Bostonians could be at making use of sandwich boards to get messages out to the public. Why aren’t we informing people, via sandwich board, to eat falafel sandwiches for just $5.99? And to wash hands to limit the spread of the flu virus? And that you can get a great deal on a men’s suit for a limited time only.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a person clad in a sandwich board in Boston selling anything. I grew up in a city (Syracuse, NY) that rarely made use of sandwich boards. It’s one reason I rarely go back. In New York City you can’t take a five minute walk without encountering one. This, in my view, is one of the main reasons New York has more visitors than Boston: better (two-legged) signage.

The way to fix the problem might be to put some of the free time that I’ve been squirrelling away into creating a sandwich board industry in Boston. If I need more time, I’ll just borrow a little from the hours I’d normally spend raising my children. It’s that important.

First order of business: breaking it to my son that I’ll be training sandwich board assistants instead of attending his basketball games.

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