All is not what it seams

Answering a random call for SEO help – actually it turned out to be canonical URL help – I happened to notice that the site in question referred so something as a “seemless way” to do something. My inner autocorrect went, “hmm” and narrowed its (inner) eyes. Yep, should be “seamless” for sure.

Yes, we’ve been down this road together before, dear reader, with peek vs peak (vs pique vs peke) and also breaches vs breeches. But something’s different this time. All of the foregoing are real words, just misplaced or misused. Seem is a word. Unseemly is a [fun to use] word. Maybe seemless is too, even if it doesn’t mean the same as seamless.

None of the usual online dictionaries carries seemless, and neither does my paper American Heritage Second College Edition dictionary. My Third Edition Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary doesn’t have it, and that has a ton of dubious words. The MacOS dictionary app was entertainingly unhelpful.


Do you suppose the band really meant seamless? Well, it turns out there is – or should I say was – a real meaning of seemless. Wiktionary claims to have dredged it from a now public domain 1913 edition of Webster’s, and defines it thusly:

(obsolete) Unseemly; unfit; indecorous.
(Can we find and add a quotation of Spenser to this entry?)

So after all that, seemless is pretty much good old unseemly. Maybe it’s what the band had in mind, but it’s probably not what the website that started me on this track was thinking.  Note that the 1913 Webster already called it obsolete, and implied that Spenser coined it or at least used it in print – and that would date it back at least to around the turn of the 17th Century. Go figure.

Word of the Day: Cattywampus

When I first heard this word used – just last month – I thought it was spelled “kattywompous” perhaps in adjectival rhyme with “pompous.”  Alternate spellings are many but catawampus appears to be a close second. As words of the days go, cattywampus was pretty elusive.


Cattywampus is not the activity that your cat engages in between 3:30 and 4:15 every morning, nor is it the name of the sound the cat makes while doing it.

Persistent poking around got Urban Dictionary and to agree that cattywampus means askew, awry, not centered or out of balance. I’m definitely going to start using this word whenever things are out of alignment or in need of knolling. There’s also a secondary meaning of something like “not directly across from” in contrast to catty-corner aka catercorner. Seems like a not very useful way to give directions, “it’s cattywampus from the Dunkin Donuts, you can’t miss it.”

As appealing as the idea seems, cattywampus is also probably not related, at least not linguistically, to koyaanisqatsi, which means “life out of balance” in Hopi.

Bonus round: in a literally Sophomoric move, a Wisconsin college basketball player last March used the word cattywampus in an effort to foil the stenographer transcribing his interview.

Accessing the Make Sales Do What I Say Menu in Salesforce

In the marketing plumbing business, I often get inquiries that straddle the boundaries of technology, strategy and therapy. One of the most common can be summarized in this mad lib:

How can I configure [piece of technology] to make sure that [group or team] uses [piece of technology] exactly how I want them to?

A good example recently came in on a mailing list I read:

Does anyone have suggestions on processes, automations, incentives, etc. to get sales people to update information in consistently and proactively? Especially Next Steps and Forecast data.

Have you tried the “make salespeople do what I want” sub-menu? It’s in the “customize” section of the admin but available only during the new moon. Unless you have the professional edition, in which case you’re pretty much hosed. You could always try saying, “sudo fill in these fields.”

Most people on the list responded to that inquiry more constructively than I just did and noted that this issue is really about configuring your sales team and their incentives, not about configuring your sales automation platform. Those folks are not wrong at all, and any good plan should begin with those concerns, but I’m going to play technology optimist and say that there are things you can do in salesforce to increase the odds that your team will use it the way you intend, even if you can’t afford a state-of-the-art brainwashing machine.

Required Fields
This is what some of our presidents have called the nucular option. Make the field required and you can’t save the record until you fill it in. It’s easy to see that this isn’t going to get you the highest quality information, but it can work if the required field is super duper easy to fill in, which brings us to the next point…

Field Type Engineering
Knowing that the average sales rep doesn’t really like to write an essay on the “next steps” for a deal, consider that you could set up that field as a dropdown, pick list or even a set of fields for the various likely cases. An added bonus of this approach is that you’ve turned unstructured data into structured data and you can run reports on it more easily. But don’t forget to provide some sort of free text field for the inevitable “other” and special cases.

Page Layout & Help Text
Another item on the “make it dead easy” list is to order, organize and prune the fields on your sales reps’ screens. The standard layouts contain all sorts of fields that you may or may not use, and as you’ve created custom fields, you’ve probably let a lot of them build up on the screens. Think hard about what fields are most important for the rep to see and fill in, sequence them logically, and move the to the top of the screen. Move the other stuff down or even remove it entirely. You can configure different page layouts for different record types or user types. And while you’re organizing fields, remember that you can include tooltip style help text with each one, by customizing the field properties. That can only improve compliance, especially when onboarding new reps.

Compliance Reports & Scoreboards
I’m not sure if this qualifies as carrot or stick, but the next thing you can do is set up reports or dashboards that show what portion of each rep’s records are fully filled in. Depending on how hot you want it in your boiler room, you can make this info visible to all reps so they can see where they stand against their peers, or just quietly send the report of each rep’s stats to that rep (and his/her manager) on a regular basis. Even if data completion doesn’t make the comp plan writ large, salesfolks are a competitive bunch and bragging rights or small prizes can move the needle. I suggest a set of steak knives.

It’s easy (and fun) to stereotype sales reps as coin-operated knuckle-draggers, but like most employees, they really do want to help move the company forward any way they can. If they’re not using salesforce “correctly” you should bring them and their managers into the discussion about why certain fields are important to fill in, make proper use of salesforce an official and documented part of their job, and do what you can with the tool itself to make it easier for reps do the right thing.

Out with Barley Risotto, in with Orzotto

I was making a barley risotto the other night when it dawned on me, doesn’t “risotto” mean “rice” in Italian, or at least something rice related? Indeed, it does, making “barley risotto” nonsense, albeit an easy to make and delicious form of nonsense.

Before we go any further and before anybody gets hurt, let me be clear: barley is not gluten-free. If that’s your jam, stick to classic risotto made with rice.

So what should we properly call a dish made in the manner of a risotto (rice slowly cooked in broth) but using barley instead of rice? In Italian, rice is riso and barley is orzo, so it seems that orzotto would be the answer. But wait, you protest, isn’t orzo a pasta? Indeed, not only is orzo also the name of a type of pasta, that pasta is shaped like… grains of rice. If that’s not sufficiently confusing, I must also mention that you can also make a risotto-style dish using orzo pasta in place of rice. I guess that would be orzopastatto or something.

Risotto – or orzotto – is also an excellent leftover disposal system, a dish into which you can put nearly any random food items you have lying around. In that spirit, here is the recipe for last night’s “going out of town soon really should get rid of these leftovers” orzotto. Serves a hungry two. Many searches contributed to the recipe, but this one contributed the most. You can, and should, substitute as needed.

  • Scallops? What scallops? I have no idea what you're talking about.3 cups mushroom broth
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 yellow onion, about the size of an egg
  • 1 really big clove of garlic
  • 8 oz of assorted mushrooms, fresh and/or dried
  • 1 sausage link – I use Field Roast Grain Meat [vegetarian] sausage links
  • 1/4 pound scallops (everything else can be leftovers but these need to be fresh)
  • 6-8 oz dry white wine
  • a hunk of parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • a few tablespoons of butter and/or oil
  1. Put the broth in a covered saucepan on low heat to simmer. If you’ve got dried mushrooms, put them in with the broth to rehydrate.
  2. Slice the mushrooms and sausage, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Pull the little leaves off the thyme stems and chop them up a bit. Discard the stems. Taste the wine.
  3. In a large pan, heat some oil then cook the onions till they’re translucent, then add the barley, stirring it to coat with oil and let it toast a bit, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic.
  4. When the barley is toasted, add two splashes of wine (one into the pan and one into your mouth) and a ladle or two of the broth. Stir and cook until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid.
  5. Keep adding broth a ladle at a time and stirring until the barley has absorbed most of the liquid. It’s done when the barley is soft enough to eat but not mushy. You might have broth left over, or you might have to add more liquid. You can do the next two steps in parallel with the barley cooking.
  6. In another pan, heat butter or oil and cook the mushrooms. If you’ve got dried mushrooms reconstituting in the broth, you don’t need to cook them again, but take them out, slice them, add them to the fresh mushrooms when they’re done.
  7. You may choose to cook the sausage and scallops in the same pan at the same time as the mushrooms if you’re into that sort of thing. If not, set aside the mushrooms, deglaze with some of the wine, and repeat with the sausage and then the scallops. If you have enough burners, pans and hands, you can do these all at once. Ideally, cook the scallops last and at the end when everything else is done.
  8. Do not overcook the scallops. If you have overcooked the scallops, toss them down the disposal, pour yourself another glass of wine, call it a mushroom sausage orzotto and deny that there ever were any scallops.
  9. When the barley is cooked to your liking, add, in no particular order, a few grates of cheese, the thyme, mushrooms, sausage, and scallops, plus salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine and drink the rest of the wine.
  10. Serve with more cheese, fresh ground pepper, and a pedantic lecture on risotto, rice, orzo, orzotto, and orzo pasta.

Three Cheers for Three Cheese Edamame Bread

I was looking for a savory scone in all the wrong places and I’d almost given up when I wandered into Paris Baguette, a French bakery inside Central Square’s Korean grocery store, H-Mart. What did I find? Three Cheese Edamame Bread, that’s what.

I don’t know if this is a Thing, but it sure was something. If it’s a something crossed with a something else in the mode of the chimerical cronut, those things would be savory bread pudding and edamame.

It was cheesy, salty, and oily for sure, edamame-y, only if you paid close attention, but it filled the savory scone void pretty well. I found a recipe that might be close to this item on Cookpad Japan: Edamame and Cheese Rolled Bread.

Ask not for whom the duck rolls

It rolls for thee. Did you know that the first LEGO toy, made in 1935, was made of wood, not plastic? Did you know it was not composed of wooden bricks but a single assembled piece? Did you know it was a duck? On wheels? It’s a fact.

Original LEGO Duck

These days, the original LEGO wooden duck is a rare collectors item. Even the 2011 plastic brick reissue of the ur-duck is fetching hundreds on eBay.

LEGO Duck Reissue 2011

Thanks to that photo and the conveniently countable lego bumps, I was able to create a decent simulation with parts from my LEGO Architecture Studio set  (best gift ever from Prof M) and some wheels off the mini Mini Cooper that came with it as a bonus. The Architecture Studio set contains only white bricks so it’s an albino duck. The eyes are the Mini’s tail lights.

Albino Duckroll

If you like your LEGO ducks more colorful, minimal and mass-produced, check out these LEGO duck producing robots made of LEGO bricks. Tres meta.

Also, this.

Beware the Rides of March, or, A Germaphobe's Guide to the MBTA

I was reading an article called A Germaphobe’s Guide to Buying a MetroCard, which actually turned out to be a lot more about usability than germs, but it inspired me to think about how one might ride the MBTA with a minimum of infection opportunities. As the estimable Aaron Reiss wrote,

For a germaphobe of any standing, the world of public transportation is particularly wrought with anxiety. It is the apex of public: the welcome host to people and objects of every shape, size and degree of cleanliness. And it is a place that necessitates touch. Unlike the street, the park or the museum, our transit systems demand near-constant physical contact with their myriad surfaces. We sit. We hold on. We lean and we grab, palm after finger after sticky palm.

Indeed. As we exit (one hopes) the snowmaggedon season, it becomes a little less typical to ride public transit wearing gloves and with a scarf wrapped over your nose and mouth. Here are some suggestions for protecting yourself – and others – from germy contamination in the T.

Minimize Fare Machine Interactions. Monthly auto-renewing Charlie cards are the way to go. If you must use the touchscreen fare machines, try not to use your own fingers. Use touchscreen gloves or act confused enough that somebody comes and helps you. If you’re stuck all alone without gloves or helpers, try the knuckle of your least favorite finger and make a mental note to scour it when you get to your destination. I started counting how many times you had to touch the thing to do a simple transaction but I lost count.

Travel Off Peak. Surfaces in the T might be icky, but it’s really the people you have to watch out for, what with all the breathing, coughing, sweating, and other things I shan’t mention. So if you’re lucky enough to be able to choose your time of commute or travel, exercise that privilege to travel off-peak and away from the crowds, especially crowds of tourists and their grubby children. Whatever time you travel, look for the less-populated cars, usually a car or two away from the station entrances and ends of the trains.

Sit Down. This is somewhat dependent on the timing/crowding issue above, but if there’s room and there’s nobody more infirm than you nearby, sit down. As long as you’re wearing pants or a long enough dress or skirt, the ickiness you might get from the seat is nothing next to what you’d get on your hand from touching a pole or a strap. The farther from the doors you can sit, the less likely it is somebody will stand over you and cough on you.

Do Not Attempt to Surf. If you can’t sit down you might be tempted to lean against the doors (a no-no for oh so many reasons), grab a pole with your elbow or other covered body part (do not attempt unless you are a professional pole-dancer), or stand in the middle of the train and rely on your catlike sense of balance. Do not do this. The train is probably older than you, and the tracks could be twice that age. The things – and people – you might touch trying to break your fall are far more worrisome than what’s on the poles and straps.

Don’t be a Selfish Jerk. If you’re sick, wear a surgical mask, or better yet, just stay home. The train might be full of unvaccinated kids. But seriously, people in Japan and elsewhere have been doing this small, simple, considerate thing for a long time. Surgical masks are cheap at drugstores, and you can find a range of more fashionable ones if that’s how you roll. I admit there is some question about how much it really helps, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and since the practice is still rare in the USA, you might even get a little extra personal space as people wonder what horrible plague you’re carrying and keep their distance. Probably foils those face-tracking surveillance systems, too. If you’re too fashionable for a paper mask, you can get a germ-filtering scarf called a scough, made in Brooklyn, of course. If you can’t handle any of these ideas, at least remember to cough into your own elbow.

TL;DR: wash your hands, people. Frequently. With soap.

Don't Fear the Pies of March, it's Pi Day Again

I’ve been calling the ascendancy of pie over cupcakes for years, and whether you’re with me on that or not, you’ll have to grant pie its moment in the limelight today, pi day. In the US reckoning of dates, it’s 3/14/15 today, and those who are way way into it will no doubt be digging into some pie at 9:26, because 3.1415926, you know.

I set out this morning to get to Petsi Pies in Cambridge at 9:26 to see what, if anything, would happen. I arrived early enough and bought a slice of apple and a slice of pecan, and settled in to await the irrational minute.

Pecan pie from Petsi pies

The place started to fill up, probably not much more than a typical weekend morning, and at the tick of 9:26, nothing unusual happened. No countdown, no pi-themed cheers, chants, or songs. Rumor has it that fancy stuff was going on at the Somerville location, but I was happy to observe pi day quietly.

That’s what’s great about mathematics: unnoticed, unobserved, or unappreciated, it still just is. Now, where can I get some piroshki for a 9:26pm dinner?

The Social Media Enabled Quest for the Isunda Gray Whale: in which twitter sends me out on a mid-century modern run in a snowstorm

The elusive EkenasetDespite what you may have heard, I do not spend all of my time following IKEA’s every move and hacking their furniture into cat habitats. But I do enjoy good design at prices that are actually within my reach, so I was bummed to have missed the limited-edition re-release of IKEA’s Ekenäset chair. By the time I clued in to the sleek wood and slubby linen-blend cover, it was still on the website but out of stock at every location I checked. And I checked every location in the US.

So I had nothing to lose trying to get the inside track on social media. I didn’t expect anything but I tweeted anyway.

asking for a friend

I’ll spare you the additional tweets and DMs, but eventually I got the tweet I was looking for, my twitter buddy at the store spied some Ekenäsets in the “as-is” section. The race was on. The goods were on the showroom floor, I was in a race against anybody who might be wandering by with an eye for some mid-century revival seating at 30% off. Having already studied the assembly instructions online, I packed up my cordless drill with allen key bit and a couple of wrenches – as-is items is usually assembled and I would have to disassemble the chairs to get them into my car – and headed out.

Into yet another Boston-area snowstorm. At rush hour. On 93 South. A horrible 90 minutes later, dizzy, dehydrated, shaking with road rage, I staggered into the store, not even pausing for fortifying meatballs, and made a beeline for the as-is section.

Thar she blows!

There they were, two Ekenäset chairs, just sitting there, one up on a little platform right at the entrance to the as-is section. I sat in one, then the other. They seemed sound, clean, unblemished, not covered in pet hair. I put one on my cart and turned the other over to double-check my plan of disassembly. A woman nearby said, “you know there are some in those boxes over there, too, right?”

In the boxes? As in new? NIB and NWT? Could it be? I checked the boxes. I matched the product numbers. I asked a passing associate. Yes, there were four more Ekenäset chairs. They were all 30% off. They were still packed in their boxes, nothing as-is about them but the price. What crazy Swedish capitalism makes things cheaper when they get scarce? I could buy the lot of them and flip them on craigslist for full price if not more!

I backed away from that madness and heaved two boxes onto my cart. On the way out of the store I dropped a tweet of thanks to my inside informant and noted that four chairs remained, two still in their boxes. I hope they’ve gone to good homes.