Halloween is coming (and there will be a full-sized Halloween post tomorrow), but I thought it would be a good idea to remind you all how not to observe the occasion.

  • w5-2Your kids are going to want to collect “hella candy”. Or maybe “hello candy”*. Either way, this collection bag isn’t going to do it for them. Considering how much of the lettering has flaked off already, by next Friday, it’ll probably be down to “hell and,” leaving the kids to supply the damnation.* That sounds like either a disturbing porn movie about hospital volunteers, or an attempt to subvert Sanrio’s intellectual property.
  • w5-1No matter what they collect their loot in, you can bet that they will not want to find any of these “Despicable Me Fruit Flavored Snacks” in with the candy. What do despicable me fruits taste like, anyway? Judging from the picture on the box, much like a faded, hairy Twinkie. Bleah! (Full disclosure: I’ve never seen “Despicable Me,” so my apologies if the movie discusses the flavor of the fruit it’s named after.)


“The Fault In Our Stars” is a Spiderman movie? Who knew?

Apparently, our local supermarket knew. Maybe they were fooled by the upside-down character on the cover?

Seriously gang, if you’re too cheap to buy a new cardboard display rack, at least take thirty seconds and cover the text with duct tape. There’s some in Aisle 5.

OK, that was clearly a mistake. A preventable mistake, certainly, but most likely not something done with malice in mind.

On the other hand, we’ve got the latest piece of mind-warping stupidity from Organic Valley.

I’ve complained about OV before, but this radio spot sinks to new depths in its casual disregard for logical thought and scientific accuracy. Of course, as we know, OV has no interest in science. Start doing science and you might come into contact with chemicals!

You don’t have to take my word for the accuracy of my transcription. Organic Valley’s advertising agency, Solve, has kindly archived several of their radio and TV ads. By all means, go take a listen to “Bats and Frogs”.

Back? Good. Let’s break this down. According to Organic Valley and Solve, OV’s farmers listen for bats and frogs because “where there are bats and frogs, there are insects.” Yeah, OK. Not all bats and frogs are insectivores, but enough of them are that I’ll give OV a pass on that claim.

“Where there are insects, there’s healthy soil free of toxic pesticides.” Well, no. Haven’t they ever heard of mosquitoes? Bats and frogs love ’em, but their presence is more likely a sign of stagnant pools of water than healthy soil. Many insects don’t much care about the presence of “toxic pesticides”* in the soil either. Unless they’re one of the few species that breeds underground, pesticides in the soil have little effect on them.

* A redundancy if I ever heard one. What’s the point of a non-lethal pesticide? (OK, yes, there are some that interfere with the pests’ breeding cycle. They’re in the minority–and OV doesn’t like them either.)

“Where there’s healthy soil, there are acres of organic pasture grasses.” Or acres of forest. Or a tiny lawn behind a tract house. The quality and health of the soil says very little about the use people are making of the land.

“Where there are acres of lush pasture grass, there are happy, healthy Organic Valley cows that spend their days eating that grass…” Not stated, but strongly implied: OV cows eat only pasture grass and only OV cows eat pasture grass. The first is untrue according to OV’s website (per my previous rant, the website acknowledges that a significant portion of nutrition comes from stored dried forages, including corn). The second is self-evidently ridiculous: non-organic dairies may or may not give their cows as much pasture time as OV, but most give them some. How useful that pasture time is, is another question, given that even OV admits that their cows need supplemental nutrition.

“and producing delicious Organic Valley milk as part of a thriving ecosystem.” “Delicious” is subjective, of course. I doubt whether OV can point to any legitimate double-blind tests that show their milk to be any more delicious than any other dairy’s, but I’ll let that pass. “A thriving ecosystem.” Hmm. Last I checked, a thriving ecosystem was, by definition, a closed system. Nothing needs to be brought in from outside to stave off collapse. Do the cows produce enough natural fertilizer to keep those pastures lush? Do those bats and frogs have sufficient breeding grounds? I tend to doubt the claim of a thriving ecosystem, but I can’t actually disprove it. OK, I’ll give OV a pass on this bit.

“Just don’t forget to thank the bats and frogs.” OK. Uh… just what am I thanking them for? Are you seriously suggesting that the bats and frogs are responsible for the “delicious milk”? They’re not producing the insects and the insects aren’t producing the soil. OK, yes, the soil may be producing the grass, but the cows aren’t a product of the soil, the insects, the frogs, or the bats. Or is OV hinting that they’re not selling cow milk, but actually bat milk? Probably not. We can be sure it’s not frog milk, since frogs aren’t mammals and don’t produce milk.

Look, I’m sure Organic Valley milk is no worse than any other milk you can buy, and it’s probably tastier and more nutritious than some, but this kind of fuzzy thinking presented as advertising is insulting to the intelligence of the listener. It’s exactly the kind of wishful thinking that suggests that vegan diets can halt climate change.


Meet Grace.

Grace is a product of Grace Digital and she has a problem.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Grace quite a bit, but she’s plagued by a bug. A particularly annoying one, and one that she shares with a number of her siblings.

Grace Digital no longer makes this particular model of internet radio, but they have several current models with similar internals. They specialize in low end Wi-Fi audio systems–most of their models sell for around half the cost of a Sonos system. They keep costs down by making incremental hardware updates and updating the firmware as little as possible. Once a particular model is out of support, it gets no more firmware updates.

Grace’s model was released in 2009 and received several firmware updates before she went out of support. The very* last release added support for Grace Digital’s iOS and Android apps.

* I’m working from memory here, as the version history is long-gone from the website and I haven’t found it in any archives. Rest assured that if it wasn’t the last release, it was very close.

It’s that last release that introduced the bug.

In pre-app releases, turning Grace off actually turns her off. When she comes back on, either via the power button or an alarm, she has to reconnect to your Wi-Fi network. The delay annoyed some customers and it created a problem for the apps: if the radio wasn’t connected to Wi-Fi, the apps had no way to turn it on. Not very useful for a remote control…

So that final firmware introduced a standby mode in with Grace’s display turns off, but the Wi-Fi radio stays on and connected. Problem solved, right? Music starts almost instantly, and the apps can scan for radios and turn them on. Works great. Except for one itty-bitty problem.

Shortly after the firmware was released, customers started complaining that their radios turned themselves on spontaneously. When you have the radio in your bedroom so you can use it as an alarm clock, having it come on in the middle of the night is annoying, to say the least.

At first Grace Digital had customers send the “defective” units in for testing, but once they isolated the problem, they solved it in a very direct way: customers who complained that their radios turned on spontaneously were advised to disable the standby setting.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Grace was unsupported, so why release a fix? Well, remember what I said about incremental hardware changes between models and minimal firmware changes? Other models of radios put out by Grace Digital that were still supported use very similar hardware and closely-related firmware. Some were even released to the public after the bug was discovered. It’s not fixed in the firmware for those devices either–I have an “Allegro” model that was released late enough for its manual to explain how to turn on the standby feature, and the bug is still present in the last-released firmware for that model as well. I have no direct evidence beyond a few suggestive Internet posts, but I believe the bug is still present in Grace’s current models.

As I said, I like Grace–and her siblings–and I still use mine, just not in the bedroom; I’m not fond of 3 AM wakeups, especially unplanned ones. I have no qualms about recommending Grace Digital’s products to anyone looking for a decent, low-priced media streamer. If you don’t need all of the features of a Sonos player, Grace’s current descendants are an excellent value. I find it surprising that the bug hasn’t been resolved, but I suspect it’s a marketing decision: my suspicion is fixing the bug would break backward compatibility with the apps, requiring Grace Digital to support two versions going forward.

So why is this post a WQTS item? Simply because it’s clear from the sequence of events that Grace Digital was unaware of the bug when they introduced the standby feature. Granted it’s an intermittent problem, but it’s not hard to find, either. Heck, it should have turned up in any test of the long-term stability of the standby mode. The simple test of putting a radio on standby and leaving it overnight should have uncovered the bug. The fact that Grace Digital required radios to be returned for troubleshooting shows that either the bug was not found–indicating inadequate testing–or the bug was not logged–indicating inadequate testers.


zThanks to Maggie for pointing this one out.

OK, leaving aside the absolutely mind-bogglingly useless nature of the product–none of the sports represented by the containers has anything to do with Easter, and only one is even arguably a Spring sport–didn’t anybody catch the correct spelling?

Seriously, if you’re going to intentionally misspell “Sports” and “Balls”, it doesn’t make any sense to spell “Eggs” correctly.

Come on, guys. “Sportz Ballz Eggz” It’s that easy.

Oh, and while you’re at updating the packaging, would you be so kind as to either delete the word “NET” or add another line specifying the gross contents? Thank you.

Shut Up!

Today you get a double post. First, a helping of corporate advice followed by a related WQTS.

Everybody seems to have a story about corporate under-communication. It could be the company that sets five hour windows for appointments, then fails to show up at all. It might be the company that promises a call-back and is never heard from again. Or perhaps it’s the company whose product includes a “quick start” guide and invites you to download the full manual from their website–but then doesn’t put the manual on the site. Fun, huh?

Today, however, I have a different kind of story. This is a tale of corporate over-communication.

When we moved into our current house, we decided to skip Comcast for our TV service, largely because of the sort of under-communication mentioned above. Instead, we went with Dish TV (aka Dish Network, aka Echostar). Yeah, the number two satellite service. On the whole, it’s worked out well, and under-communication has not been a problem. Quite the contrary.

Last week, I visited their website to check whether our current tier of service included a channel I wanted, so I decided to upgrade to the next tier. While I was at it, I realized that upgrading to the current generation of receivers would simplify the setup and not cost the proverbial arm and leg, so I decided to do that too.

Step 1: Log into the customer site and make the programming change. Before I could do anything, I was prompted to make sure my contact information was correct. Fair enough, it’s been over a year since I logged in. Sure enough, the contact information still included my old work phone number. I deleted it and hit save. “Please supply the required information,” said the site. Apparently Dish believes that everyone has at least two phone numbers. I don’t anymore–or at least, I don’t have two I’m willing to give them. They’ve got no need for my cell number, thank you very much. So I tried my usual favorite fake numbers: 000-000-0000, 999-999-9999, and 123-456-7890 and all were rejected. Plan B: I entered my home number twice. That got the reject message as well, but it was saved, which allowed me to cancel the update and continue with my change. Why possible reason could Dish have to contact me that they need a primary and a backup phone number? Bad sign.

Step 2: Call customer service to make an appointment for the receiver swap. That went smoothly. I got an appointment for Monday, and as expected, I was given a five hour window (12 to 5). What I didn’t expect was that the rep told me I would receive a phone call on the day of the appointment with an updated, smaller window. Very nice. A few minutes later, I got an email confirmation of my requested receiver change and the appointment time.

Step 3: Sunday afternoon I got a automated phone call from Dish. Weren’t they supposed to call me Monday? This was a courtesy reminder that I had an appointment “between twelve and five tomorrow.” The computer also asked me to “ensure that someone 18 years of age or older will be home for the entire appointment and to secure any pets to avoid contact with the technician.” Oh really? Is he allergic? More likely they’re worried about him tripping over one–or letting one escape. Five minutes later, I got an email with exactly the same message.

Step 4: At 10:00 Monday, I got another automated call. This one informed me that I had an appointment “today between twelve and five”, that the estimated arrival time was “between 1:00 and 2:15”, and that I should ensure that someone 18 years… Yep, same message about having someone responsible there and that the pets were locked up. Five minutes later, I got an email with the same information.

Step 5: At 10:34, the phone rang again. Dish’s computer was calling to let me know that the estimated arrival time had changed, and was now “between 11:30 and 12:30”. And, of course, that I should… well, you know the drill. This time the email arrived while I was still on the phone.

Step 6: At 12:36, I got another call. “Hi, this is {name deleted to preserve his anonymity} with Dish. I’m just a couple of miles away. Do you still want me to come do your installation?” I suppressed my immediate sarcastic response that the need had passed, and assured him that I would be delighted to see him. “OK, great! I’ll be there in a few minutes. Is someone 18 years of age or older present?” Amazingly enough, he didn’t ask if any pets had been secured. I assured him that I was both present and over 18, and we hung up. Astoundingly, I didn’t get another email confirming his imminent arrival.

Step 7: The technician arrived and did what needed to be done. (For the record, he did a fine job of answering my questions, installing a new dish on the roof, and swapping out the receivers.) As he was leaving, he told me that I would be receiving a call from Dish “sometime in the next day or two” to request me to take a customer satisfaction survey. Sure enough, about ninety minutes after he left, the phone rang. Dish’s computer wanted to know if I could “spare two minutes for a customer satisfaction survey regarding my recent equipment installation.”

So how’s that? A single appointment involved six phone calls–including my original request–and four emails. Each of the calls interrupted my work, and if I were the sort of person who keeps a constant watch on my email, each of those would have been an interruption as well. Scale it back, Dish, scale it back! This could have been done with four calls (my initial call, the day-before reminder, the day-of schedule refinement, and the updated arrival time) and no emails. Or skip the calls and use email if the customer prefers. Put the survey online, and have the technician give the customer a receipt that includes the URL.

I promised you a related WQTS. No, it’s not the business with the website demanding a second phone number. That’s clearly working as designed, and is more a matter of corporate cluelessness than anything else.

No, the WQTS is the phone survey. According to the tech, when the survey was first launched, all of the technicians started getting horrible ratings. It took several weeks before they figured out that people were trying to give high ratings (10), but the system didn’t accept two digit responses, so “10”s were recorded as “1”s. Really? I’m guessing that the survey was “tested” by the developer, who knew that “10” should be entered as “0”. I gathered from the tech that several technicians received warnings and bad performance reviews before the problem was solved. Excuse me. “Solved”.

So how did they fix it? Change the range of responses to 1 through 9? Nope. Change the range to 0 through 9? Nope. The “fix” was to require the techs to warn customers “Do not enter 1 unless you want to say I was awful. Use 0 if you mean 10.” Dish also added a similar warning to the automated introduction to the survey. No reminders during the survey, however.


I’m introducing a new feature to the blog: “Who QAed This Shit?” or WQTS for short. Today’s appearance will be a full-length post, after that it will be an occasional short, extra post.

Because my thoughts turn towards food this time of year, all of today’s examples will be food-related. Oh, who am I trying to kid? My thoughts turn towards food throughout the year. Just because all of today’s WQTSs are food-related, don’t expect them all to be. After all, the BART contract and the new Bay Bridge are both shining examples of WQTSs.

First up, we’ve got a double-header:

wqts01Tiger Tiger brand tandoori paste wishes you to know that it is “suitable for vegetarians & vegans”. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I want to cook a vegan or vegetarian. (I’m inclined to think that the statement is also redundant: I’ve yet to encounter anything that was suitable for a vegan that wasn’t also suitable for a vegetarian. I welcome your counter-examples.)

wqts02Once you open the jar, please be aware that you have a limited amount of time to use the paste before it goes bad: three months or until the “best before” end date, whichever comes first. Fortunately, it will keep until you’re ready to open it. This bottle won’t reach its “best before” date for almost a thousand years:
Careful, though. You don’t want to try it on the afternoon of 15 January 3009!

The Sizzler restaurants recently added cornbread and chili con carne to their soup and salad bar. They’re very proud of the new additions and have signs advertising them all over the restaurant. They seem to be just a little unclear on the concept of what cornbread is supposed to be, though (click for a closer view):
Why yes, it did taste remarkably like a chocolate brownie. Good thing I had it for dessert instead of dipping it in my chili.

Nation’s Great Pies invites us to “Order and prepay your holiday pie today!”
Isn’t it a little counterproductive to be paying the pie? Wouldn’t everyone involved be happier if I paid the restaurant? I’ll be happy to prepay for my pie, as long as somebody first explains what I am supposed to be ordering the pie to do…

Finally for today, I bring you these helpful instructions from Nissin’s Ramen Bowl:
Sorry, but if you’re going to provide a step-by-step procedure to do anything, you need to be very sure you haven’t left any steps out. I would have liked the noodles considerably more if I been able to open the lid before stirring and enjoying.


Excuse the language, but WTF?

Subway, the ubiquitous sandwich shop is involved in a promotional deal with the upcoming “The Lone Ranger” movie.

Weird pairing, but OK, there have probably been stranger ones.

But the commercial (see below if you dare) takes it to a whole new level of otherness.

“The legendary duo, the Lone Ranger and Tonto were destined for one another. And destiny brings together smooth avocado and crispy bacon…”

So if I follow this correctly, Avocado and Bacon are soul mates, fated to be the subjects of endless slash fan fiction.

Or maybe they’re trying to use analogy to tell us that the Lone Ranger is best served mashed with tomatoes, onion, and garlic. By that logic, then, Tonto should be fried on a hot grill. Nah, I must be reading too much into the commercial. Subway seems to pride itself on its use of bland, inoffensive ingredients. Cannibalism is probably stretching things a bit.

Moving on.

Avocado is apparently a bit of a slut. The commercial goes on to tell us that “…Avocado can partner up with any sub…” What happened to that destined pairing? Are they now trying to tell us that Avocado is a professional domme, selling itself to any submissive in need of a good whipping? But if so, why is it the avocado that’s mashed on those sandwiches?

Now, I know you’re all thinking I’m crazy. But before you dismiss my speculations, consider that Subway founder Fed Deluca has wrestled alligators in support of Native American causes. The avocado is also known as the “alligator pear”. Still think I’m crazy? One final piece of evidence: The Hass is the most popular variety of avocado in the world and is well-known for its large size and distinctive coloration. It was developed in the early 1930s. The Lone Ranger is closely associated with his hass hoss horse Silver, known for his large size and distinctive coloration. The radio show first aired in 1933. Seems pretty conclusive to me.

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