Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Month: October 2001 (Page 1 of 2)

Pot Brownie

I’m munching away happily this afternoon on my brownie from Mitchel London foods — more specifically, a big round Chocolate Cheese Brownie Tart — when I spot some green flecks of garnish atop the cheesy part in the middle.

Now, Mitchel London foods is a classy establishment, right off the corner of 57th Street and Avenue of the Americas, full of fancy sandwiches and fresh-made tabbouleh and $3 round Chocolate Cheese Brownie Tarts, so it’s not the kind of place that strikes fear in one’s heart when something is amiss with one’s food, unlike the Chinese restaurant that managed to put long, gangly, black hairs in each of the two dinner entrees it sent for delivery Sunday evening (they returned the full $32.05 purchase price on the meal, by the way, very nice of them, although they’ve still been removed from the delivery shortlist). But green grass on a brown dessert is odd indeed, which led to an immediate and perfectly logical conclusion:

Pot brownie!

I skeptically scraped off the mystery greens — which are probably scallions, actually, errantly meandered over to the baking oven from the salad preparation table earlier in the day — and am polishing off the brownie as if nothing was wrong (unlike the hairy Chinese food, although one of the dinner party kept eating anyway). If I get a little loopy this afternoon, at least I know why.

I doubt it’s a pot brownie, to be honest with you. But I amused myself for a good 10 minutes, which is longer than my usual attention span, and I bet you never thought you’d see “pot brownie” show up on this Web site, didja? Oh, I can see the Google search queries already.

And on the one day I didn’t get my usual poppy bagel for breakfast….

Rooting for Chill

Fun facts to know about me:

I like following the weather.

I fret about global warming.

Somewhere along the line — around Earth Day 1990, perhaps — I became something of a conservationist. I don’t like to waste. I store my almost-empty shampoo bottles upside down; I squeeze from the bottom and flatten as I go up. I recycle junk-mail flyers and consider fuel mileage when car shopping.

I am of the gentle mindset that while humans may be slowly destroying the planet, myself included, I may as well pitch in to try and slow down the process, however minimally, because I happen to like when seasons change on time and tornadoes stay away from the east coast.

The weatherman said we’d be warm today, but I had not anticipated 77 degrees at 4 p.m. (79 according to The New York Times). That’s hot — record-breakingly hot. And the fun is just starting: tomorrow evening the temperature is supposed to plummet, touching down in the mid-40s by Friday morning.

Extreme weather isn’t fun. I don’t like the headaches I get or the disruptive severity of storms when they hit in patterns like this, fast furious rain wind sleet snow hail, events that can completely stall a city. It’s nice heading to work without a jacket in late October, but it’s unsettling, too. No one knows how much worse the weather will get, or how much civilization is to blame.

I look at the weather page of the newspaper every day, for fun. I like following the trends and, lately, tracking the fall foliage. But I also glance at the “deviation from normal” meter, which reports how much hotter New York has been on average compared to historical readings. And every day I root for it to fall, for that 0.5 to turn to a 0.4, for cool weather to dominate for a long enough stretch that the weather seems more normal this year than last, so global warming slows down, so we have one less worry in an overstressed world.

Lesson Learned

One might ask the author of this page (indeed, many have asked) what system is used to maintain the Ideapad: how data is entered, stored, and retrieved.

The answer: Ten fingers and BBEdit.

Updating netWert the old-fashioned way has served the site well for years. Why get caught up in a complex data-entry system and hard-to-understand software when these pages are just words, type cut copy paste link, and when the author knows HTML so well he can glance at a magazine spread and lay it out as a Web page in his head? Sure, it requires popping in manual code to break paragraphs and make links, but that’s a no-brainer after all this time.

Smarty-pants text boy learned a hard lesson when he obliterated his layoff essay Tuesday morning.

The missing essay was a result of an awkward pasting error, the details of which need not be recanted here. Fortune intervened, for a change, because the essay was written at home, the night before, and emailed to a Yahoo account, where it was re-retrieved and reposted today, albeit in a slightly different form than the initial one, because the edits disappeared with Tuesday’s misstep. It’s got a new title, too — “Gut Check” — because said error-prone site author does not have a good enough memory to recall the original.

This is a long way of saying that a portion of the weekend will be spent designing a custom interface for netWert’s forthcoming content management system, designed by a friend who enjoys doing this sort of thing for sport for no apparent reason, a UI for the PHP CMS, if you will. And in a few weeks there will be no more missing essays.

Until the database crashes.

Mighty, Mighty

netwert: Are you still slated to come to NYC this fall?

martin: nope. not now.

martin: wish i were, truly.

netwert: Lionel Richie

netwert: Truly in love with you girl

martin: he’s the greatest man ever. really.

martin: when i get my mba, i’m gonna specialize in lionel.

netwert: Hello? I’ve just got to let you know…

martin: tell me how to win your heart.

martin: cuz i haven’t got a clue.

netwert: I’m going to the Wharton School of Dancing on the Ceiling

netwert: Courses at the Richie School include 301: Ditching The Commodores For Your Solo Career and 420: Facing Public Humiliation After Your Wife Kicks Your Ass

martin: his wife was a brick house, you know.

netwert: just lettin’ it all hang out

martin: like an amazon.

netwert: mighty mighty

Gut Check

Dotcom Publisher Lays off 25 Percent of US Staff

That was my office news Thursday. I have spent the past few months looking rather bemusedly at my employment status — I missed the startup boom, and for a while, I was missing out on the bust. But even 150-year-old global publications have lilting budgets in this strange year. Mind you, 25 percent is only four employees in my relatively small office, but our team, 20 strong in February, will be down to 12 after Halloween.

Thursday morning a department-wide email told everyone to be available for meetings that afternoon. No specific times or meetings were announced. By 2 p.m. the top two officers of our department had disappeared, and the remaining staff congregated in several small groups, full of nervous laughter and no-longer-hidden consternation.

At 2:30, phones rang and the four staff members disappeared upstairs, bump bump bump bump. The remaining staff clumped together, knowing what was happening, wondering who else would be let go.

I spent this time in an awkward position: As a department director but not a decision-maker, I knew what was going on but was not involved in it. I could neither commiserate with my distraught coworkers nor take a position of superiority and speak to them as a boss. Instead, I spent most of the awkward hour alone at my desk, waiting for my sole employee to get fired, waiting to leave the office early for the dentist appointment I had scheduled.

The phone rang, and word came downstairs. Layoffs were finished, and those still in our main office had been spared. People sighed but were not pleased; when cubicle neighbors get fired, every employee feels the disappointment and the pain.

I left the office around 2:50 and missed the aftermath, including a 3:30 group meeting where the official layoff announcements were made. I phoned my boss around 4:30 and received the low-down: The “redundant” staff are to be considered done with their work, effective immediately, but as a gesture of understanding they would be allowed to use their desks for four weeks to aid in their job searches. We would not be working with these people any longer, but we might still see them at their desks, quietly attempting to find somewhere else to work.

This is business in 2001. We have laid off seven employees in the New York office in eight months in three separate waves. We have merged business development into sponsorships and marketing into advertising. We plod through our tasks, keeping projects moving forward, despite our fears of unemployment, sometimes because of them. Every project we undertake aims squarely at our bottom line, because our bottom line demands it, because the mother ship doesn’t have the wiggle room to toy with a new product, and because there’s no funny money anymore. The lessons we didn’t think we had to learn two years ago we are learning with expediency now.

I still have the good fortune of a good job with a good company working on a good product. Wherever we need to go next, I look forward to helping get us there. I just hope we arrive before more redundancies affect those of us who remain.


It gets on your hands, or in your lungs. It can kill you if you don’t treat it. Worst of all, you don’t know where or when or why you’ll get it.

Sort of like asbestos, anthrax seems to be stealthily infiltrating our lives. The news today is of a woman at 30 Rockefeller Center — seven blocks from my office, across the street from my girlfriend’s — who touched the wrong powdery envelope and is battling a sheep disease.

Filled with equal parts hubris and naivete, I contend that this week’s anthrax news isn’t international terrorism. It’s deranged Americans. Would the Taliban, masterminds of an attack unprecedented in contemporary culture, really send envelopes in the mail? That’s so old-world, so boring, so unheroic in the eyes of Allah.

I contend that there are copycat lunatics around America who are getting all sorts of bad ideas from the news and using it against them. Doesn’t it make more sense that some idiot in Iowa got fed up with Tom Brokaw and the newspapers in Florida? Does anyone remember “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”

The problem is, as cocksure as I am, as firmly as I implore those around me to live their lives as if nothing is wrong, I have no certainty. Things are wrong. I could be wrong. At this point, living in New York, any day could be my worst day. Sitting at home, I feel empowered to press on; sitting at work, all I want to do is go to the suburbs and stay there.

Months and years will pass before we feel normal again. I wonder how abnormal we’ll all get before it all ends. If it all ends.


Whatever you want from me, whatever you want I’ll do

Try to squeeze a drop of blood from a sugarcube

Try to be more assured, try to be more right there

Try to be less uptight, try to be more aware

Whatever you want from me, is what I want to do for you

You’re sweeter than a drop of blood from a sugarcube

And though I like to act the part of being tough

I crumble like a sugarcube for you

Whatever you want from me, whatever you want I’ll do

I will try

—Yo La Tengo, “Sugarcube”

Ring ring

You should be thankful that I haven’t posted what’s on my mind, in actuality, because I’d be bumming you out with tales of my hummy, pressurized ears today.

They’re not better yet, but thanks for asking. I have three appointments scheduled this week that revolve around my head, with more to follow. I hate what’s going on, but Sept. 11 put a lot of things in perspective, chief among them the realization that a little unidentified malaise is a heck of a lot better than some of the alternatives; the simple aural experience of hearing something explode in close range probably would have ruined my hearing for life.

Thanksgiving is coming up and I will be thankful for all I have, including my gol-danged ears, which, I am convinced, can and will be adequately treated. My spirits aren’t high but they are strong.

Use Me

I suppose you may be feeling neglected this past week, dear reader, wondering why your beloved Ideapad has gotten quieter immediately following the promise of livelier content and essays.

(Well, I hope that’s what you feel; after all, I post here for you as much as me, in the interest of being a voice of at least minor importance and influence, and not just a self-aggrandizing horn-tooter, although I am probably that as well; indeed, I will not deny that I derive significant pleasure from reading my own archives from time to time, although I should hope so, seeing as they’re my own memoirs-in-the-making, and if I can’t enjoy my own memories, then what does one have, really? But still, I do post for my audience, rather deliberately, as there is plenty that I write but do not share here, and I am a newspaper man by the training of my youth, which basically dictates that I write to be read, not simply to express myself, which I do plenty within my cranium, regardless of my writing, and this desire to be read is quite obviously why I have a Web site, which brings us back to the first sentence of today’s entry, which has no doubt scrolled off the page for you by now, so let me start again:)

I suppose you may be feeling neglected this past week, dear reader, wondering why your beloved Ideapad has gotten quieter immediately following the promise of livelier content and essays.

Two things I can share with you on that front.

1. Artistic muse being what it is, now that I’ve gotten away from link-paragraph-witticism in favor of more weighty and thought-out topics, it’s not as easy to do one a day. The burden is on me to find my pace, and I will do so, soon.

2. The weblog, per se, still exists. It’s the top right of your screen (once called “Click’n’go,” currently called “Linkorama,” sure to change names again soon), and it’s been updated quite liberally since the format change October 1. I hope to place things there daily, regardless of when I post essays and theories.

When you think about it, there’s more to do here than there was a week ago, not less. Yeah.

Membership? For what?

I bought some vitamins at the Vitamin Shoppe across the street from my office this morning. I opted for the generic Vitamin Shoppe Brand, which had a discounted price marked on it:



Seven bucks instead of twelve sounded good to me, so I brought it to the cashier.

“Are you a vitamin club member?” the cashier asked me. I replied in the negative, not having shopped at the shoppe with enough frequency to bother joining. I figured I’d be missing out on a discount, but fine, for a buck or two, I’ll skip it.

The cashier scanned the vitamins. “$5.97, please.”

Let’s pause for a moment and dissect what is happening here, as I did, standing there with eight dollars in hand. This was the second time Vitamin Shoppe Brand products have cost me less than stickered price. Consider:

The Vitamin Shoppe believes its vitamins are comparable to name-brand products. It prices them at comfortable profit margins, then displays suggested name-brand retail prices to showcase the advantages of shopping there. Then, the shoppe encourages shoppers to join its club, apparently to save money on purchases — but it gives unadvertised cost benefits to unidentified customers anyway.

Where is the incentive?

Consumers won’t hand over personal data without good reason. The onus is on companies to give them that reason., for example, has free registration that allows users to send in ratings and shop online. But unless their users want to share their thoughts, there’s no reason for them to join. How much more effective would Zagat’s system be if the company offered a bonus to its members — say, a discount on their first online store purchase ( gives a 15% discount to paid subscribers but nothing to free registrants)? A user might sign up, order a 2002 guidebook, and then feel compelled to vote and contribute. Zagat is aiming to do it the other way around.

To build loyalty and a community of consumers, companies must give a tangible reason for individuals to participate. Without visible incentives, they may remain customers, but they won’t buy into the system.

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