“The Happiness Button,” by David Owen. The New Yorker, 2/5/2018.

HappyOrNot is a small Finnish start-up that gathers customer satisfaction data for companies that hire their services. (Their U.S, headquarters is located near the West Palm Beach Airport.) Their approach is simplistic in the extreme. They set up terminals that resemble Fisher-Price toys. Each free-standing terminal has four large push buttons designating Very Satisfied, Somewhat Satisfied, Somewhat Dissatisfied, and Very Dissatisfied. Each button is identified with an appropriate smiley face and a color ranging from dark green (very satisfied) to dark red (very dissatisfied). They are meant to be intuitive at a glance. The data is collected wirelessly at a central terminal in real time where they can be instantly analyzed and corrections begun.

Any satisfaction survey has the problem of collecting enough data to be meaningful. Only customers with strong feelings, good or bad, will take the time to answer a traditional survey. The vast majority are missed. The collection of the data has to be simple and even fun to get everyone involved. Said the C.E.O. of HappyOrNot, “We saw that, if you make it easy, people will give feedback every day, even if you don’t give them a prize for doing it.”

(The article points out that Finnish culture is extremely modest and humble.  An old joke is that a Finnish introvert will look at his shoes when talking to you.  A Finnish extrovert will look at your shoes.)

The HappyOrNot system has a brief reset time to avoid multiple entries by an over-enthusiastic child or an employee wanting to alter the results, but usually the vast size of the data overcomes any attempts at manipulation.

For example, how this system could be used at Longwood Gardens: (Longwood Gardens does not currently use this system, but I have to make up an example from something I know.) Visitors’ satisfaction can vary depending on where they are, so multiple button-stations often are required to identify problem areas. A station located at the new Longwood fountain area may show a high satisfaction, while a station in the parking lot may show more dissatisfaction. Satisfaction can also vary by time. A station in the cafeteria could register high satisfaction at slow times, but low satisfaction when crowded. Often the cause of a spike in the data is obvious to anyone at the site.  The HappyOrNot system allows a real-time response.

The presence of the buttons alone can increase satisfaction. A disgruntled customer standing in line can complain to the person standing behind them. Now there are two disgruntled customers, and the dissatisfaction can spread to many more. The button system allows them to vent their feelings.

The buttons only spot problems. What needs fixing, such as long check-out lines, would require further investigation.

I am thinking of setting up something similar in my own house, a terminal for me and a terminal for my wife. How would we compare day-to-day or hour-by-hour?  Perhaps I don’t want to know.


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Birthday Celebrations

My wife recently turned 78, and, as expected, reminded me of her birthday over and over during the previous month, as I wanted her to. I did not object—at my age, I need her reminders. I am barely aware of my own birthday but see nothing about it to celebrate.

A birthday celebration for a child is always a celebration of the future ahead (Now you’re 12! Soon, you’ll be in high school!), but as we age, the celebration somehow changes to a celebration of our past life.  (Wow, you reached your 80s! Did you vote for Lincoln? Our future potential is discretely ignored.)

Heaven would not be heaven if we had to spend eternity at our age and condition when we died. Old and feeble for eternity? Never! Surely we could chose what we wanted.  For me, it would be 12-years old, without hesitation.  And heaven would look a lot like East Lansdowne on a hot summer evening.

But, back to the subject.  It dawned on me, it would make more sense for my wife to celebrate the day before her birthday as her last day of being 77. An appreciative goodbye to the year. Soon, 77 will seem young to her . . . and far off.

A Goodbye Day would be worth celebrating. I will suggest it for next year, but I don’t expect it to fly.


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The meaning of life is that it stops. –Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Franz Kafka

You never know where a gem of wisdom will turn up. This quote from Franz Kafka came up on The Amazing Race that I was watching on TV, expecting nothing more than a marshmallow Peep for the mind. Instead, I got a prime rib dinner.

I am a long-time fan of Kafka’s short stories, but I never saw this quote. It is right on. Life is a finite chunk of time, a big chunk for some, a little chunk for others, but a chunk, never-the-less, with definite boundaries. We don’t know where our chunk ends, but we know it is out there somewhere and we have to make the best of each day, each hour, each minute because we will not pass this way again. If life went on forever, it would lose all meaning. Why cherish your spouse, your children, if you will have an infinite number of them over your infinite life.

My wife says our yard never looked so good, and she is right.  Any day that gets above freezing, I will be out raking leaves, shoveling snow, whatever needs doing. These are chores I used to hate, but now I enjoy because I realize the day is not far off when I will no longer be able to do them. And I will miss them, getting out in the fresh air and sunshine doing mindless activities.

Eternity does not mean never-ending time. It means time is missing, irrelevant, and any attempt to mash them together will result in nonsense, such as asking What time is blue? The question makes no sense. Time is irrelevant to colors, just as time is irrelevant to anything eternal.  Medieval Christian clergy referred to the living world as the temporal world (of time) and the spiritual world as the eternal world (without time).

Don’t expect to meet up with loved ones in the eternal world because then there would be a before and after, and this is time. Don’t expect to walk down streets of gold for the same reason.


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Janelle Monae and Her Grammy Speech

I turned off the Grammy Awards program somewhere midway though Janelle Monae’s speech, not because I was offended, but because I had heard much like it before. Someone who has become famous by their artistic ability or just because they are pretty, now thinks they also have superior insights that gives them the responsibility to lecture to the rest of us unaware slobs who have over 3x their life experience.

Turning off the Grammy’s was not a big sacrifice. I did not know who these people were (not even Janelle) or any of their accomplishments. I did not like their music.  I admit this is my shortcoming, not theirs, but the fact remains.

I wish them well (even Janelle), and I am not mad at any of them. But I have too little time to listen to pontifications from anyone that young who thinks they know it all. It must be an age thing. I was no different when I was Janelle’s age.

(I did notice that Janelle’s legs were disproportionately long for the rest of her body, not obvious in this photo, but I know it is an illusion and how it was contrived. Her pants were hemmed at floor level and obviously hid very high heels and perhaps platforms. The baggy pants helped hide the extension, but it was obvious on other photos. This is someone I should seriously listen to? Even I would be over 7 feet wearing shoes like that. But if she lives as long as I have, she will someday look back and laugh at herself.)

To end on a positive note, I thought she was extremely pretty and I loved the pants suit and her black tie and her slicked, bleached hair. She pulled it all together.  I just wish she was not so patronizing.


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I have recently taken to wearing suspenders (Levi’s, Dickies, or Dockers, available everywhere), that are a sure badge of my Larry King geezerism.

At least during the winter. Come spring, we’ll see.

(Trivia: Suspenders did not always exist. Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was issued one of the first patents on suspenders in 1871.)

It started with my flannel-lined pants that I like so much in cold weather. They are heavy and were sliding down causing their normal-length legs to drag on the floor. Then, too, the crotch hung down around my knees that gave me an inner-city teenager look that I didn’t want. With suspenders, the pants stay put, although I feel like a burlesque comedian. (Cheese and crackers!)

On warm days, I switched back to my normal jeans with belts, but then at night I was driven crazy with itching around the belt line. Suspecting the itching might come from chafing on my winter-dry skin, I put the suspenders on those pants, too, and the itching stopped. My suspicions were right.

Suspenders, however, have problems of their own, at least for me. The shoulder straps are under several layers of pull-over tops that have to be removed to drop my pants when nature calls, so this simple action becomes a project. Even my ever-present hat has to come off. (My hat always stays on, not out of vanity, but to keep from losing it. See About.) So far, I have dropped my pants with time to spare, but I can see it could become a problem down the road. I will worry about that when the time comes.

I can simply wear the suspender straps over my pull-over tops, sacrificing a little of the ease of removing these layers as my body warms.  This is doable because, without a belt, there is more room between the pants and my waist, but it involves a change in habit that has gotten more difficult as I age.

All of this may be a simple rationalization for my gradual loss of a waist that I claim to be a natural progression, independent of fitness.

Toothed clips lock onto the pants and operate the same for any brand of suspenders, cheap or expensive.  I understand the clips could damage the pants over time, and I should switch to suspenders with leather buttonholes instead of clips.  But then, I would have to sew buttons onto my pants, and that will never happen.  I do remember long ago some of my dress pants already had buttons sewn on the inside of the waist to accommodate suspenders, but that was unusual even then.  Clips will be fine. Their placement is not that critical, and, if necessary, they can be moved an inch or so to the left or right to account for wear.

For the totally inexperienced, pants are lowered by simply sliding the straps off the shoulder.  Once clipped, they never have to be unclipped in use.  The placement of suspenders on the pants is always centered and symmetrical. The back clips go on first, placed to keep the shorter back straps flat. This part is usually done with the pants laid out face down on a bed. Then, the straps go over the shoulders and straight down to the pants.  The length of the straps are adjusted evenly by the small clips on each long strap (near the top in the photo).  The straps themselves are usually elastic and an inch or more wide to prevent twisting.

It sounds more complicated than it is.  Suspenders do not come with instructions because they are so obvious.  Almost any placement will work, and only reflect individual neatness.  Wearing both suspenders and a belt is a sign of compulsiveness.  Wear one or the other, but not both, at least until a rock star starts a new trend.

In the summer, I live in shorts where the length doesn’t matter and dry skin is not a problem, so I’m expecting to switch back to belts then. But I’m keeping an open mind.  I briefly considered wearing  lederhosen with shorts, but then I would have to get a Tyrolean hat and the whole thing would be too costumey.

(Be aware suspenders also refers to old-fashioned women’s stocking supports, garter belts and all of that, now only sold as erotica.  An Internet search of suspenders will bring up some racy pictures.)


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Eagle Mania

Philadelphia is in the midst of Eagle football mania. Local news programs are filled with bar scenes of yelling, drunken millennials in Eagles shirts, some even in face paint, claiming they are number one! One news clip showed a kindergarten class with the two overweight teachers in Eagles shirts singing, “Fly, Eagles, Fly!” so enthusiastically they were red-faced and spitting. The children were supposed to be singing, too, but several were puzzled, looking around, trying to understand what was going on.

Me, too, kids. Me, too.

I noticed the mania while trying to find information on the government shut-down that was relatively ignored.

It has gotten to the point I hope the Eagles will lose. By the time you read this, it may all be over. I hope so. The torch-and-pitchfork crowd is already gathering outside my door. Why was I not supporting the team? they ask.

Just winning the playoffs resulted in many parked cars spray-painted green. The local news anchors sanctimoniously tisk-tisked over this vandalism, even though they contributed to the over-hyped atmosphere that brought it on. What will happen if the Eagles win the Super Bowl?  Will the fans topple City Hall?

I have nothing against the Eagles staff. If not for football, many players would be collecting welfare. It is the fans I find obnoxious.

Several years ago, a friend I saw every day at the community center tried to get me interested in the Phillies. I had always considered professional sports teams as conglomerates of independent entrepreneurs who had no loyalty to Philadelphia and would not throw me a peanut if I were starving. He almost had me converted, but I found the following year many of my favorite players had left for greener pastures. The team I knew was only temporary.

My friend rooted for the Phillies and the Cubs, both losing teams at the time. When I mentioned this, he said something very profound: Win or lose, it is still baseball. Winning is only icing on the cake. He especially likes to watch the pre-game batting practice as he did as a child at Shibe Park with his grandfather. (Ah-ha! That explains it.)

Years ago, I said I was amazed by the athleticism of a football receiver jumping high in the air, catching the ball on his very sticky gloves, keeping his concentration while knowing he would be almost broken in half by a charging defender, but how often did I have to see it? Ten times? A hundred? I think I have already past more than a hundred.  I don’t need to see it again.


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Bratz versus Barbie versus Lilli

“Valley Of the Dolls,” by Jill Lepore. The New Yorker, 1/28/2018.

Many a mother has given her approval when her young daughter asks to go to the mall to get a new Barbie doll, but comes home with a Bratz doll. They are not the same. A Bratz doll is something the mother’s husband would chose.

Bratz, not Barbie.

Bratz dolls are bratty-looking, pubescent teenagers in over-the-top makeup: bright, pouty lipstick and huge doe-eyes, icy eye shadow, lip gloss, impossibly-long eyelashes, and cat eyeliner. They dress like wannabe hookers in come-hither clothes. Definitely not Barbie, but much like the girls I see in our mall. Bratz dolls are meant to show a lot of “sass.”

Bratz dolls are made by MGA Entertainment; Barbie dolls are made by Mattel. The trouble is, the designer of the Bratz dolls, Carter Bryant, 31 years old at the time, created them while he was working at Mattel by putting together pieces from the trash, although he claims he got the idea while on an earlier 7-month break. Bryant sold his idea to MGA Entertainment two weeks before he quit Mattel.

As is routine almost everywhere, Bryant had signed an intellectual-property agreement with Mattel that said everything he created during his employment with Mattel belonged to Mattel. Today, nine out of ten patents are owned by corporations, although they are the result of their employees efforts. Still, the corporations provided the creative environment and paid the patent expenses.

MGA Entertainment came out with four Bratz dolls in 2001, named Jade, Cloe, Yasmin, and Sasha, and sold $97 million worth of them. That is a lot of money. Everybody quickly sued everybody else, resulting in millions of dollars flowing to the lawyers, but no clear winner. A judge said, “The only thing wrong that I saw when I held Barbie is when I lift her skirt there is nothing underneath.” (This same judge resigned just last month after being charged by more than a dozen women of inappropriate behavior.)

Ironically, even Barbie is a not-very-subtle copy of an earlier German doll, Lilli, the title character in a tabloid comic strip. Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, bought more than a dozen Lilli dolls in 1956 while on a tour of Europe with her children Barbie and Ken (!) She shipped the dolls home and charged designer Jack Ryan with making an American Lilli. (He did not work hard.  I could not tell the dolls apart.)

Jack Ryan was briefly married to Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1975 to 1976. Ruth Handler called him “the world’s greatest swinger,” but did not say why.

Nine in ten American girls own at least one Barbie doll, so there could be more Barbie dolls in America than people. But we’ll never know. Pull her string and Barbie says, “Math class is tough.”

You can see how complex everything had gotten. And, it may not be over yet. Creativity occurs deep in the mind, and who knows what sparks it? A Supreme Court judge had said, “Virgil had borrowed much from Homer . . . and even Shakespeare and Milton . . . would be found to have gathered much from the abundant stores of current knowledge and classical studies in their days.”

As I pointed out in the posting on William Penn, a jury’s decision is above the written law.  The law may be very clear, and someone may have, just as clearly, violated that law, but a jury can exonerate the defendant if they think the law is unfair, or for no reason at all.  The ramifications of a case involving the young William Penn set this legal principle.

During a trial, the MGA lawyer asked Mattel’s CEO, “Say I am 18, doodling away. I place my doodles in my parents’ house in one of the drawers of my teen-age closet. Twenty years later, I am hired by Mattel. I visit my parents’ home and find the doodles. Does Mattel own them?”

Mattel’s CEO answered Yes, but the jury awarded MGA over $300 million in damages.  Clearly, there is still a variation of opinion, no matter what people sign when they are first hired.


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