Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Someone Else Has My Cheap Phone

Intermission Tavern
March 30, 2009

That would be my friend Tabitha Bennett.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Ode to My Accountant

My taxed were filed this week by T.F. Allen & Company. I hired them last year on the recommendation of my friend Tom Hopcroft, and it was a great decision.

The accountants at T.F. Allen sent me a CD so I could review my completed return. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but I could not understand the return. I can't imagine what it would have looked like if I had filled it out.

The concept of an accountant is brilliant. I make an attempt at filling out a worksheet, and then I send T.F. Allen all my paperwork. They come back with a completed return and a bill.

At the same time, the fact that I need an account to file my return is somewhat alarming. I hired T.F. Allen after my parents transferred part ownership of our family cottage in Old Lyme, Conn. (I share ownership with my other brothers and my parents.) That basic complication made my return rather complicated.

I know that tax returns are complicated to benefit many people, and I know that research can demonstrate most of those benefits go to the middle class. However, I wonder how many don't realize those benefits because they don't want to pay an accountant.

Memphis Basketball Was Overrated

In this year's NCAA Men's Basketball tournament, Memphis should not have been a No. 2 seed. There. I said it.

Of course, it's easy to say that now, given that Memphis got blown out by Missouri Thursday night. Missouri was a No. 3 seed, so money was on Memphis. Except Memphis lost.

However, I have been critical of Memphis ever since the field of 65 was announced. Heck, I was critical of them a year ago in a post on this blog. Why? Because Memphis plays in a weak conference.

I noticed what I call the "hyperbole trend" in college basketball more this year than any other. When a team wins big, the analysts on TV seem to forget the team may have played a weak opponent. Most apparently, I watched portions of the Conference USA championship a few weeks ago with my brother Brett. Memphis is in Conference USA, and they played Tulsa in the championship. The announcers could not pile enough praise on Memphis.

"They are sending a message," Gus Johnson proclaimed. "You don't want to face this team come Thursday!" [The NCAA tournament was to begin that coming Thursday.]

Johnson overlooked the fact that Memphis was playing Tulsa. Tulsa did not make the NCAA tournament, even though they were the runners-up in Memphis' conference.

Tulsa lost by 19 points in the second round of the NIT to Auburn. Yet the fact that Memphis defeated them easily was Memphis "sending a message."

This calendar year, Memphis played three competitive teams. I will give you that they won two of them, beating Gonzaga during the regular season and Maryland earlier in the NCAA tournament. In contrast, UCONN played an entire Big East conference schedule during that same time; arguably 12 or 13 competitive games. UCONN lost three of those games, meaning their winning percentage this calendar year in competitive contests was higher than Memphis.

And yet, everyone I know had Memphis winning the region and going to the Final Four [UCONN and Memphis were competing for the same Final Four spot in this year's tournament]. In reality, Memphis didn't even make it to the Elite 8. And to me, that's not a surprise.

Because Memphis spent most of its season beating up on teams that couldn't play against my high school's squad, commentators and observers fell victim to the hyperbole trend. They inflated Memphis in the standings. They bought into mid-major arguments that they deserve respect with the big boys.

Memphis was given a No. 2 seed. Memphis is good enough to ride that seeding to the Sweet Sixteen. I would argue they caught Maryland, a team that could have taken Memphis, on an off day for the Terps. Then Memphis was dismantled by Missouri, a better team.

If Memphis had been seeded where it should have been-- No. 3 or 4, it might have lost sooner. There's no question to me now that some lower seeded teams, like Villanova, Xavier and even Syracuse, are better than Memphis.

My heart goes out to mid-major conferences. Some mid-major conferences are far more competitive than others. The Atlantic 10 (Xavier being one member) is far better than Conference USA. But there's just no question that the major conferences have better teams. And when they spend the entire year playing against each other, getting tough skin for the post season, the mid-majors just can't compete.

Enjoy the Elite 8. I will, of course, be rooting for UCONN. By the way, of the eight teams remaining, not a single one is from a mid-major conference. While we all love the Cinderella story, that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Personality Behind My Blog

I just found a new service called Typealyzer, a new website featured on Business Week that describes the personality behind a given blog, based on an analysis of posts.

I ran the service for my blog, and here's what came back:

The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

One of my neighbors, Doug Levin, evaluated his blog, as well.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Friends and Co-Workers are Damn Good Writers

A number of my friends and co-workers are blogging or have recently launched blogs.

Scott Lauber, my college roommate, has been blogging for some time down in Delaware about the Philadelphia Phillies. Granted, his job is to cover the team, so the fact he's blogging isn't a huge surprise. [Phillies fans out there should know that Scott has filed a few posts from my living room while on "vacation."] Scott is my first close friend to have published a book; his is about the Phillies remarkable run to the World Series Championship last year.

I recently found "Choosing my own adventure," written by Jen Gabriel, a floormate of mine from freshman year at Boston University. My co-workers Lisa Mokaba and Kevin Carter launched blogs in the last year.

Their writings are entertaining, informative, and funny. Not to get all idealistic, but it is neat that the web provides an outlet for these individuals, whose jobs do not allow them to publish their own work. The early days of blogging on the web saw numerous technical individuals who were charting their lives online. Over the past few years, writers have made their way to the web. At least that's what I am observing.

While the newspaper industry crumbles around us, the web could become a great forum for ideas and thoughts. I still think that no matter what we will forever miss (in ways we can't even know) the news reporting and insight previously provided by the thousands of journalists now out of work. But at least everyone can benefit from the writings of my thoughtful friends.

By the way, for those of you who read my recent post about the death of journalism, there is a must-read article in the current issue of the New Republic, "Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers," which provides a much more detailed account of the implications of the journalism crisis.

Among the more striking sections is a quote from Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, who said that because of the end of many publications, "More of American life will occur in shadows. We won't know what we won't know."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Race to Fill Sal DiMasi's Mass. House Seat

There is a political race under way in downtown Boston.

Several candidates are filing nomination petitions to fill the vacant 3rd Suffolk State Representative seat, a position left open by the resignation of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. The primary to pick party candidates for the seat is on May 19, and the special election is on June 16. This is not a municipal election, so there will be a primary (not a preliminary).

I do not live in the 3rd Suffolk Representative district. However, I am a member of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee, and one precinct of Ward 5 is in the 3rd Suffolk (It's precinct 1, which encompasses Bay Village and part of Chinatown). The Ward 5 Democratic Committee is planning to host a forum and take an endorsement vote in the race. For that reason, I do plan to pay close attention, and I of course will post my thoughts on this blog.

What's great about democracy though, is that while I will have an opinion, it doesn't really matter, since I don't have a vote. If you live in the district, you are far more important than I am (and rightly so). Within Boston, the 3rd Suffolk House District includes a large portion of the South End, Chinatown, Bay Village, a small sliver of Beacon Hill, and a portion of the North End. If you live in one of these neighborhoods and are curious if you are in the district, drop me a note and I can clarify it for you.

The slate of candidates running for the seat is long, which is good. Competition leads to better representation. Among the candidates I have seen noted (listed alphabetically):

o Ryan Higginson
o John Keith (He left a note on my blog this past week)
o Aaron Michlewitz (He was at my Beacon Hill Civic Association meeting this past week)
o Susan Passoni
o Lucy Rivery (She was as at my Beacon Hill Civic Association meeting this past week)
o Brian Ross
o David Trumbull (A Republican, so he doesn't affect my Ward vote)

Adam Gaffin has done a great job, as usual, following this race over at Universal Hub.

Quotes For the Ages, Volume 1

There have been some pretty good quotes in my life over the past week or so. Here goes:

Conversation at Tampa airport last Thursday (3/5/09):

Ross to TSA Agent, "I am doing alright, how about you?"

TSA Agent, "I guess you have not seen the stock market lately?"

Ross, "No I haven't looked at my 401(k) in months."

TSA Agent, "You mean your 201(k)?"


Conversation in my company's San Francisco office last Friday (3/6/09):

Co-worker, "Oh there's a place you should go to, Ross. I think you'd like it."

Ross, "Really? What's it like?"

Co-worker, "It's kind of divey."


Commentary during the World Baseball Classic game Saturday (3/7/09):

"A base hit here would be huge for the Netherlands."

(Not something you would expect to hear.)


Commentary during last night's UCONN/Syracuse game on ESPN (3/12/09):

(At approximately 1 a.m. after five overtime periods.)

Sean McDonough, "Up next, breakfast... and then Sportscenter."


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An East Coaster Vists San Francisco

I was in San Francisco late last week for work, and I spent Friday night and Saturday visiting my good friends Nathan Wenig and Cristin Brown, who moved to San Francisco last year from Boston.

They were great hosts. On Saturday morning, they let me watch UCONN play Pittsburgh (of course, UCONN lost, which was not the best scenario). Given we were on west coast time, the game ended about 11 a.m., so we were able to go for a hike.

Everyone in San Francisco goes for hikes. It's part of the athleticism that I think is required to live there. That and an iPod. Everyone has one of those as well.

We went for a hike in Marin County and picked the Pt. Bonita Trail in Marin Headlands. On the hike I took a damn good picture (if I do say so myself) looking back at San Francisco from my Blackberry.

Pt. Bonita, Marin County, California
March 7, 2009

After the hike, we went into Sausalito and ate at Fish Restaurant.

Fish Restaurant
Nathan and Cristin in foreground
Sausalito, California
March 7, 2009

Another observation about San Francisco. There are a lot of people from the "East Coast" who live there. In fact, everyone I met was either from California, or from the "East Coast." Period. I guess that covers everywhere else. True to the east-coast heritage of many residents, there are east-coast pizza restaurants and east-coast delis.

My friend Jason Mandell (lives in San Francisco) noted to me this week that "East Coast" really means New York and New England. I can see that. Not sure if someone from Georgia would be drawn to an "east-coast deli." Maybe an east-coast peach cobbler shop, but I didn't see any of those.

Thanks to Cristin and Nathan for hosting me!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Surprise Call From Susan Passoni

I took a call yesterday from Susan Passoni, who is running in the special election to fill the seat held by former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who recently resigned.

I do not live in Sal DiMasi's former district. Susan Passoni called me because I am on Boston's Ward 5 Democratic Committee. The Committee will be considering making an endorsement in the race, since one precinct of the district is within Ward 5.

I will certainly be writing here about the race in the weeks ahead (though not as much as other races where the winner ultimately represents me. However, I thought it was pretty impressive that Susan Passoni called me, even though I am not in her district. I told her as much.

By the way, random trivia time. I appeared on "Greater Boston" (Emily Rooney's show that airs on Boston's PBS channel each night) with Susan Passoni several months ago. We discussed trash issues in Boston.

There are many declared candidates for Sal DiMasi's seat, including DiMasi's former aide Aaorn Michlewitz and Beacon Hill resident Lucy Rivera.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Boston Globe *Really* Wants A Mayoral Race

Unfortunately, Mayor Tom Menino, the Boston Globe just doesn't like you. And at the start of an election season, that's not fair.

The Boston Globe is begging for a Mayoral race. On Thursday of this week, columnist Joan Vennochi could not have begged more directly.
After 16 years, Menino is part of the establishment. He's comfortable, maybe too comfortable for voters whose lives are growing less comfortable in today's economic environment...Boston is ripe for...political change. The only question is whether there's a mayoral challenger strong enough to rally around.
In my years of watching politics, I have never seen anything like it. Last year, the Globe reported survey results showing the Mayor's approval rating in the city holding steady at 72 percent (granted, the data is old, but it is the most current). Yet a Globe columnist says it's time for change. The same survey notes that 54-percent of residents have met the Mayor. Yet a Globe columnist says he is out of touch.

Vennochi's tone is in direct conflict with what I witnessed last Sunday, when the Mayor greeted a group of younger adult residents in West Roxbury. He didn't seem to me to be detached from the uncomfortable economic realities faced by residents. He didn't seem to me to be a Mayor who has lost a step or is complacent. He seemed determined to meet residents in Boston that are new to him.

It's something related to the Boston Globe that I have noticed for years, magnified this year by the slippery slope of political change. I voted for President Barack Obama, and he was elected because change was needed in Washington. Whether change is needed in Government Center here in Boston is another question altogether.

It appears that the Globe, like Mayor Menino's challengers, hopes that this city will be swept away by the wave of change, regardless of whether it is needed it or not--and most alarmingly, without discussing the challenges we face and the ideas we all have to overcome them.

NOTE: Excerpt taken from: "The bloom is off Menino's rosy image," by Joan Vennochi; Boston Globe, February 26, 2009.