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Utopia? Bring it on.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Utopia? Bring it on.

I confess: I mostly gobbled up (oops, that pun was not intended!) the Hunger Game series right along with my kids and attempted to get into the Legend series (heavy skimming on that one). But whenever I’ve read one of those books I’ve frequently found myself wondering why we’re so obsessed with dystopian fiction.

This recent article in Time Magazine wonders the same thing. Their short answer: there’s no tension in Utopia and earlier books that imagined ideal worlds typically had little exposure to the reality of technology’s impact.

Fair enough. But I would still love to read something where everything works out more or less, instead of technology = horror. There are a few options in the Time article, but I confess that I probably won’t be picking up the 1516 classic that started it all any time soon.

My own vision of Utopia can be found in the 1940s books by Elizabeth Enright about the always intrepid Melendy kids. 

Who doesn’t want to be a Melendy???

I read those when I was a child and then again to my own kids. And although their lives were far from perfect—they are set in WWII-era New York City and upstate New York and do (though rather lightly) acknowledge things like the war and child abuse—they captured a relatively carefree childhood where strangers were just friends you hadn’t yet met and a babbling brook was a great place to spend a sunny summer afternoon. 

With the hurricanes, fires and mass shootings of recent months, a little Utopia is right up my alley. I know what I’ll be (re)reading next.

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I guess this is one way to make reparations
Thursday, September 28, 2017

I guess this is one way to make reparations

As someone who gets to stick a couple drops of Restasis (a dry eye medication) into her eyes twice a day, I was very interested to hear an NPR story about that Allergan (the drug giant responsible for bringing me daily, but expensive, eye relief) has passed their patent along to a Native American tribe.

Allergan is giving the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe $14 million, some royalties and the Restasis patent. Then the Mohawks are leasing the patent back to Restasis so Allergan can avoid losing patent protection. It’s a pretty slick—and apparently legal—way to get around those pesky patent expiration laws based on the fact that the tribe is a sovereign entity

On the one hand, this means an ongoing revenue stream for tribe members, many of whom live in poverty (though I have no idea how the money will be shared with them). On the other,   it blocks generics from the marketplace. Clearly the biggest overall winner is Allergan (who will be protecting an annual revenue stream worth $1.5 billion). 

Just another example of big pharma sticking it to the consumer? Or a great way for Native American tribes to have a new income stream? I’ll let you be the judge.

Read the whole story here.

 

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Happy autumn???
Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy autumn???

With the temps hovering around 90 much of this past week, it’s not too surprising that I’m struggling to identify which season we’re in. But the pumpkins we harvested on Saturday, the straggly tomatoes in my garden and the growing collection of brown leaves in my yard are all proof that, yep, the calendar is right.

I will confess to being thrilled to have these extra days of summer to tuck into my memory banks when the weather turns chilly. I chatted with my mountain state daughters yesterday, who had spent many hours on a 10-mile hike that included seven inches of snow. They were quite envious of our good fortune but I reminded them there will likely be a day in the coming months when the tables are rudely turned.

For now, I’ll just send up a “thank you” for this beautiful day, turn on the fan and pour myself a glass of iced coffee.

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Democracy in action
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Democracy in action

You might be wondering what this picture of my very shady front yard has to do with democracy. Well, I’ll tell you!

About two months ago I noticed that a bunch of MGE flags had popped up in my front yard. You know, the kind that mean some sort of digging is imminent. No one quite seemed to know what was happening (the flags were in the adjoining yards too) but I started to hear rumors that we might be getting a sidewalk.

Now, as someone who a. loves to walk and b. lives half a block from a school, I should be thrilled at the prospect of sidewalks. Sadly, these sidewalks mean that a big chunk of my front yard will shortly be torn up (much of the myrtle, hostas and springtime tulips and daffodils that I’ve planted over the past 20+ years will soon disappear. Sigh), I will have a double sidewalk to shovel (as we also own the adjoining plot) and my husband and I will have the pleasure of paying for most of it.

But here’s where we get to the democracy part of this story.

Throughout most of this process—which somewhat disappointingly didn’t start until I started poking around looking for answers—my neighbors and I have had the chance to attend meetings, share our concerns and offer suggestions. A big “thank you” to Chris Dawson, a city engineer, who has faithfully guided us through the process and, I’m sure, spent a lot of time trying to be as accommodating as possible. My neighbors and I haven’t quite landed where we’d hoped (a more narrow terrace for one, but the terrace IS narrower than originally proposed) but it was a good feeling to see various Madison alders (including mine, Maurice Cheeks), who appear to take their roles quite seriously.

I’ll try to remember to post another shot when my sidewalk is installed and will likely complain a lot once the snow falls and the assessment comes due. But for now I’m (mostly) cautiously pleased that my voice was (sort of!) heard.

 

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Soda or pop? What word choices say about you.

Quick. When you looked at this can (and headline), which word flashed through your brain? If you’d asked my 10-year-old self, “pop” would have been my unhesitating answer. But somewhere during my college years I switched over to the much-more-sophisiticated (!) “soda.”

I was reminded of this when a friend sent me the New York times dialect quiz the other day. I answered the 25 questions and apparently “kitty corner” was the one that landed me in my 20+ year “hometown” of Madison, Wis. I was curious to see that even though I entered “pop” and “bubbler” thinking it would put me closer to my childhood hometown (Appleton, Wis), the quiz wasn’t overly influenced by this (maybe “pop” and “bubbler” are more Wisconsin-wide than I realized). And, here’s a fun fact: “bubbler” isn’t just a Wisconsinism—check out this article to learn about the other places that have also embraced one of the world’s best words.

Close but no cigar on finding my home town.

 

I’m guessing this quiz might borrow heavily from the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which is headquartered just down the road at the UW-Madison and “challenges the popular notion that our language has been ‘homogenized’ by the media and our mobile population…”

It’s just one more example of the things we do and don’t share in this big, beautiful country of ours. I find it rather charming.

 

 

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Hey, have you discovered Caffeine Clarity yet?

By which, of course, I mean my other blog—caffeineclarity.com—rather than the clarity-inducing benefits of said substance (though do feel free to discover both!).

I have been having such a great time meeting people courtesy of the blog and a couple weeks ago I got to chat with Wisconsin author, Michael Perry

You might know Michael as the author of Population: 485 or Truck: A Love Story. And if you live in Madison you may have crossed paths with his Sunday Wisconsin State Journal column, Roughneck Grace.

It was very kind of Michael to take a break from his busy schedule to have coffee with me after a recent concert in Algoma. Not surprisingly, he was everything you’d think he’d be —down-to-earth, wry, thoughtful and smart. What fun!

Want to read more? Check it out at caffeineclarity.com 

A big “thank you” to the fellow Michael Perry fans who asked to have their picture taken at Algoma’s Caffe Tlzao and are the reason this photo exists. (And sorry I can’t get a link to the shop to work—something appears to be wrong with their site). And another “thank you” to Michael’s incredibly responsive and competent manager, Alissa Freeburg, for helping me set this coffee up and linking us in one big, virtuous, social media circle at sneezingcow.com

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In appreciation for a summer evening at the Memorial Union

My husband’s aunt recently introduced me to a writer who has quickly gained a special place in my heart: Brian Doyle. Doyle—who, sadly, died recently of brain cancer at the way-too-young age of 60—made a career out of appreciating and honoring the everyday through essays and prayers that are at once simple and profound. I’ve been reading his  Book of Uncommon Prayer and find myself touched and grateful for his words every time I do.

Which brings me, in a perhaps strange and meandering way, to the band, Red Baraat. A band that delivers funk by way of Bollywood, Red Baraat was playing for free last Saturday night at the Memorial Union. The temps were warm, the light breeze off the lake kept the mosquitoes at bay, the outside line for ice cream was nearly painless with good friends to keep you company while you waited and the band delivered an exuberant set that was a perfect complement to a lovely night. Somewhere out there Brian Doyle was smiling.

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Here’s a thought for your 4th of July celebrations

However you decide to celebrate your 4th—fireworks and over-consumption of dairy products and fatty meats will, I confess, likely be part of my day!—I have an idea I’d like to share. 

Although this past year has given us plenty of opportunities to ponder the seeming ferocity of our differences, I’d like to challenge each of us—myself included–to find common ground and do a better job of listening to and not demonizing those we don’t feel share our backgrounds and beliefs.

Did you know that in the 1970s, American Field Service (AFS, the group that created cultural exchange opportunities for students as a way to break down barriers after World War II) used to have a US-based program? Kids from NYC got to discover what it was like to live in a small town in Iowa and vice versa. How cool is that? The program was discontinued in the 1980s but it seems like an idea  worth exploring again today. (Yes, it’s from the WSJ once again—America, Meet America from July 1— and this time I’m not finding other good articles that tie to this. It IS worth tracking down and reading. Try the library?)

I’m trying to take my own small steps in this direction with my coffee dates with Madisonians whose paths I might not typically cross (pop out to my website, caffeineclarity to learn more). Just shoot me an email at vicky@vickyfranchino.com if you’d like to join the fun!

(And, in case you’re wondering, the blue and red buckets are, of course, meant to represent the holiday and “liberal” and “conservative” but don’t read anything into bucket size, placement, etc.—they’re just what I had in my basement and I’m simply not that good at visual metaphor!).

 

Happy 4th!

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So that’s how they did it! The secrets behind OK Go’s outrageous videos

I was recently out in Seattle for my daughter’s college graduation and had a chance to pop into MoPOP , Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture.

I have to confess that I didn’t love the museum. My guess is that the significant other of Paul Allen—the Microsoft co-founder who opened the museum in 2000—gave him an ultimatum: Get your collection of fantasy movie props and music paraphernalia out of the attic or watch them hit the curb. And Paul thought “tax deduction” and opened this museum (I’m sure many, many people love this place, but me, not so much).

Anyway. One of my favorite parts of the visit was something I could have done for free: watching OK Go’s video about how they made their zero-gravity video. I’m not sure where these crazy guys come up with their ideas—who else dreams up videos shot using drones,  Rube-Goldberg-esque contraptions or choreographing a song to treadmills???   But they’re always astonishing and always make me smile.

Check out the video for yourself (and save yourself the plane ticket to Seattle and MoPOP entry fee)—though you will miss the fun of watching it on MoPOP’s giant screen!

  

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Resumes? That’s so 2016.

I was recently chatting with a friend about the job search process (can you tell there’s a recent college grad in my life?). Given the cost of replacing an employee—according to Monster it can be up to 150% of their salary—it does seem a bit crazy that many companies make big hiring decisions based off a couple 30-minute interviews and that the whole thing starts with trying to format your life’s accomplishments into a one-page summary.

So, I was curious to see that one of the world’s biggest companies, Unilever, is now relying on algorithms and online games to recruit and sort potential hires. (I know, I know, you can’t read it unless you have a WSJ subscription, but try Googling the title and you’ll be able to find a variety of sources that deliver the gist: “In Unilever’s Radical Hiring Experiment, Resumes are Out, Algorithms Are In”).

It sounds like a fascinating experiment and one that seems to be paying off for Unilever: 80% of the people who make it through the tech maze and got an in-person interview (the only part of the process that involved intersecting with a real person) got a job offer, though the company wouldn’t say how much money it saved them and the process is too new to measure results.

One of the parts of this story that most appealed to me? That these tools allowed Unilever to solicit new employees from 2,600 colleges instead of the small number of schools they historically visited in person. That sounds like a great way to meritocracize (yes, I know that’s not really a word) the hiring process and increase the quality of new-hires to boot.

 

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Knowledge junkie. Raconteur.

Vicky Franchino

I love to learn about new things. And I love to tell a good story. Let’s get together and tell yours!

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“Vicky is one of the best writers I’ve worked with. She provides a high quality product on time and is a joy to work with. Vicky is able to take complex financial subjects and turn them into readable prose.”

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