It Doesn’t Ad Up

Our theme today is advertising.

Not in the “good commercial / bad commercial” sense, but–well, you’ll see.

Personally, I find advertising intended to increase my engagement with a product I’ve already purchased annoying. Encouraging me to visit a corporate website isn’t going to make me like a product any better or encourage me to buy it again. But it’s a thing companies do today, so one would hope they’d do it well.

NatureSweet does not.

Here’s the top and bottom of the lid from a package of tomatoes I bought recently.

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Do you see the problem?

The key is the word “more”. How can I learn “more” of Salvador’s story when I haven’t learned any of it yet?

No, this is not just a grammatical gripe.

If NatureSweet wants me to visit their site to find out about their growers–or anything else–they need to provide a hook. Some reason why I should care.

All I know is that some guy named Salvador drives a tractor. I don’t even know his last name, much less why I should be interested in his tractor.

Don’t just tell me he’s got a story–everyone has a story. Give me a little hint and I might follow up. There’s a reason click-bait headlines work: they intrigue the reader.

Moving on.

Massage Envy has been a heavy advertiser on the MLB broadcasts. Mind you, every MLB advertiser is a heavy one; as I’ve noted in the past, there are so few companies buying slots that one can count on seeing the same ads every half inning for the entire game.

That’s not quite a digression. If your viewers are going to see an advertisement more than a dozen times in the span of a few hours, it had better be interesting or amusing enough to sustain all those rewatchings.

Nothing is. Even with my limited exposure to baseball this season, I’m thoroughly sick of Toyota’s Buster Posey ads. As for Massage Envy’s spots, they’re gone from the broadcasts, much to the relief of tired, stressed-out viewers.

Regrettably, the ad’s absence does not represent a bit of intelligent thought from the massage chain’s owners.

The commercials were pulled because the company is now defending themselves against a lawsuit. Specifically, the suit claims the company did nothing to protect its clients against rape and failing to investigate or report accusations that some of its massage therapists repeatedly assaulted clients.

I can’t speak to the validity of the claims. But note that the suit was filed after the company began heavy advertising. If the corporate executives had any reason to think they had skeletons lurking in their closets, they should have known better than to raise the corporate profile. And if they knew they were squeaky clean–and it’s possible–then they should have taken steps to guard their reputation before exposing themselves to greater public scrutiny.

The saying is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Massage Envy is currently proving that wrong. Even if they prove themselves completely innocent of any wrongdoing, legal or moral–as unlikely as that seems right now–they’re still going to lose thousands of potential customers.

Why? Because by running the MLB ads, the company has branded their name in the memories of people who might otherwise have ignored or forgotten the legal case. Now they’re going to pay attention and a tiny bit of doubt will stay in their minds, no matter how the case turns out.

Moving on again.

Vegetarians are up in arms about Arby’s latest advertising venture.

The sandwich shop recently released a video documenting the preparation of a vegetable-less carrot. It’s an obvious parody of the meatless burgers such as the Impossible Burger.

What I can’t figure out is why it’s drawing so much wrath.

Look, Arby’s is never going to be vegetarian-friendly, much less fully vegan. Their very name is a play on the acronym for roast beef. They’ve carved out a niche (sorry) catering to a segment of the public that wants a meat-based meal. They’ve achieved a certain recognition as a company that doesn’t do what everyone else is doing–remember their experiment with duck last year?

Frankly, I’m giving them kudos for their approach. They’re not–as far as I know–putting up signs that say “No vegetables on premises.” They’re not threatening terrorist action*. They’re not even spamming the airwaves with marrot advertising.

* How else can you interpret “Eat mor chikin”?

Instead, they’re using mild humor to remind their loyal clients that there’s at least one chain that’s not jumping on the faux meat train. (Which is probably a minor relief to Impossible Foods, who have been struggling to keep up with the demand for Impossible Burger pseudo-meat from the companies they’ve already signed deals with.)

That said, I don’t think I’m quite ready for a carrot-flavored hunk of turkey breast. Honestly, they lost me at “skinless”. Most of white meat’s flavor is in the skin and the layer of fat just underneath it.

But since the marrot, like most of Arby’s experiments, probably won’t make it to their permanent menu, I’m sure they won’t care if I forgo the experience.

Corporate satire often misses the mark entirely. Kudos to Arby’s for hitting their target in a largely inoffensive fashion.

Possession is Nine-Tenths…

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A not uncommon sight in recent days.

Lefty likes the upper of the two portable caves (though I suspect he’d be less enamored of it if he knew it could theoretically be moved).

Rufus, meanwhile, quite enjoys the condo in the afternoon. There’s enough sunlight to warm his flanks, and the carpeted surface is soft enough for comfort, but solid enough for support.

But not all is peace and tranquility in the upper hall.

A few minutes after I took the photo above, I heard the sound of minor feline politics.

When I peeked around the corner, I found Lefty sitting on the floor looking somewhat confused, and Rufus firmly in possession of the cave.

While we think of Rufus as a mild-mannered fellow, he doesn’t hesitate to make his wishes known.

However, as soon as Rufus realized I was looking (and getting the camera ready)–

–he came running over to me for some attentions. Clearly, tummy rubs are a higher priority than maintaining ownership of the best cave.

And yes, Lefty did reclaim his turf while Rufus was otherwise occupied.

A Good Omen

Let’s get the uncomfortable truth out of the way first: Good Omens is not my favorite Pratchett novel, nor my favorite Gaiman*. Much as I like both authors, I’ve never felt their styles quite meshed in Good Omens.

* Both tend to vary from time to time, but “Guards, Guards” and “The Graveyard Book” are usually at or near the top of their respective lists.

Even so, I’d been looking forward to seeing the TV adaptation. It took a while to get through it–the series was released at the end of May, while I was in Sedalia–largely because our TV viewing habits were formed back in the prehistoric days before the VCR and DVR became ubiquitous. Yes, we really do watch shows one–or at most two–episodes at a time.

Though it was probably scripted and produced with binge viewing in mind (it was certainly released that way, with all six episodes coming out together), our more relaxed approach didn’t degrade the experience.

Let it be noted that I deliberately didn’t re-read the novel before watching the show. I wanted to minimize any “That’s not how it was in the book” reactions and allow the show to stand or fall on its own merits.

We watched the last episodes this past weekend, and I finished re-reading the book yesterday, so I think I’m finally ready to comment.

I should mention at this point that Maggie and I are engaged in an on-going re-watch of the post-Interregnum Dr. Who. Entirely by coincidence, we’re currently working through the David Tennant years. I’m not sure which was more disconcerting: seeing the Doctor as a demon, or seeing Crowley as the Doctor. We’re both of the opinion that both shows benefited from the synchronicity.

In brief, the show succeeds. Given how little has changed, that’s quite impressive. Allowing six episodes gave the story room to breathe; had it been limited to a two or three hour movie or special, it probably wouldn’t have worked nearly as well (By contrast, the three hour Hogfather succeeds brilliantly, but would have felt thin at six hours.) A number of scenes were reordered, improving the flow of the story. Several were expanded, enhanced, or altered, generally to give more background on specific characters. And a few things were cut, mostly tangential diversions. In particular, I wasn’t at all sorry to lose the Four Horsemen’s fan club.

I heartily applaud the show’s expansion of Crowley’s relationship with his car. In the book, the car’s death and resurrection are all but shrugged off. By giving the Doctor–pardon me–Crowley a more visible emotional reaction, the show incorporates a specific example of what’s at stake in the impending final confrontation.

And then the tweaks to that climax–especially the “They told his father” sequence–were a tremendous improvement. I’d always thought Adam came off as too passive at the climax, an impression my re-read did nothing to alter. The show made his active participation in the events explicit, and as a result, he feels much stronger.

The bottom line is that in this reviewer’s Not So Humble Opinion, Good Omens is that rare case where the book was not better. I don’t think I’ll be re-watching the show regularly–certainly not annually, as I do with Hogfather–but I’m more likely to come back to it than to the novel.

Small Potatoes

Some things just don’t age well.

Take songs, for instance. Have you listened to the Beatles’ “Run For Your Life” lately? It starts out with “Well, I’d rather see you dead, little girl / Than to be with another man” and goes downhill from there. I don’t know how well it went over in ’65, but today? Not good at all. Nor is it the worst offender in the “relations between the sexes” category.

Remember “Go Away, Little Girl” (co-written by Carole King, yet!)? If the singer can’t resist her, why is it her responsibility to stay away from him? Is a restraining order appropriate about now?

By comparison, my current pet peeve in the “what was the writer thinking” sweepstakes is small potatoes, but still…

The radio woke me up this morning to “Deacon Blues,” which was, as some of you may remember, a hit for Steely Dan in the late seventies.

Mostly I take issue with the chorus.

“I’ll learn to work the saxophone”. Has anyone in the 173-year history of the instrument used this phrase? Nobody works a sax. They play it, just like any other musical instrument.

Yeah, okay, maybe it’s a regional thing. I’ll let it pass, because that’s not my major complaint about the song.

“Drink Scothc whisky all night long / And die behind the wheel.”

Did we really need a glorification of someone planning on committing suicide by driving drunk? Sure, you can read it other ways: the inevitability of a pathetic death, maybe.

But.

Perhaps it’s arrogance, but I think my interpretation is the likely one in modern ears.

I’m not boycotting my radio station, but I will change the channel or turn off the radio if that song comes on when I’m awake enough to reach the buttons.

Because there are already enough idiots on the road to give me nightmares. Weaving in and out of traffic at high speed, cutting across multiple lanes at the last second, and ignoring all traffic indicators. And that’s before they get on the highway and (probably) before they have a drink.

I know, I know. Not only have you all heard my griping already, but one outdated pop song isn’t going to make any real difference. It’s the attitude that chaps my ass. The song may have been written forty years ago, but the protagonist’s air of entitlement could have come out of today’s newspaper.

“Call me Deacon Blues”? Yeah, you can call yourself whatever you want, but “Call me Traffic Fatality In the Making” seems more appropriate. But I suppose that doesn’t scan. Too bad.

Still, there are signs of hope on the street.

Last night, the traffic lights were out at the foot of the freeway exit ramp we use. This is an ugly intersection: a major on- and off-ramp with dedicated carpool/HOV lanes meets a major commute arterial that connects I-80 and I-580.

In the normal course of things, the lights are all but ignored. Drivers don’t just stretch the yellow, they snap it in half and pee on the pieces in the cause of saving a couple of seconds.

Last night, with not a police officer in sight, everybody stopped at the intersection and politely took turns going through it. I’ve never seen traffic move through there so smoothly.

Nothing wrong with small potatoes.

On Trial

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Despite appearances, Lefty is not actually on trial for his life.

Yes, he is on trial, but that’s just the way Kokoro is with anything or anyone new and different.

Lefty has been making great progress lately. He no longer flees when we approach, though he still retreats. Just much more slowly and not as far. And he will take treats from our hands if we’re patient and let him go at his own pace.

So we’ve started giving him the run of the upstairs hall during the day. That means he’s had a chance to make the acquaintance of almost everyone. He’s only seen Kaja from a distance, and hasn’t gotten closer to ‘Nuki than a couple of feet, with the fence between them.

But he’s had nose-to-nose (and nose-to-butt) meetings with Yuki, Kokoro, and Sachiko without anyone getting violent. As I said, great progress.

Awesome feline.

Baseball Hiatus

By the time this post goes live, I’ll be well into my sixth consecutive day with no baseball. A little taste of winter in mid-summer.

Much as I’d like to blame it all on MLB, I have to take some of the blame myself. Sure, it’s partly because of the All-Star Break, but as I’ve noted in the past, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game itself are acceptable “almost baseball” events. No, it’s just been an unfortunate conglomeration of poor timing.

Friday we took in our annual minor league game. The ballgame itself was painful, at least for those of us rooting, however nominally, for San Jose. The Giants gave up four runs in the first three innings and never mounted a serious threat of their own. Nor did they keep their opponents* off the bases for the rest of the game, though they did keep them from scoring any more runs.

* The Visalia Rawhide, and isn’t that a name to conjure with?

The game ran long, pushing the fireworks–of course there were fireworks–out past ten. They were worth the wait, though. Proof that a massive aerial bombardment is not a requirement for a spectacular show.

Which reminds me: I need to take back something I said last year. I suggested that MLB should reintroduce the beer batter at the major league level to increase audience engagement. I said, “half-priced soda isn’t going to satisfy anyone when the beer batter comes up in the eighth or ninth.”

I hereby admit I was wrong about that. The San Jose Giants switch to apple juice after beer sales close, and the fans were chanting “Juice! Juice! Juice!” just as enthusiastically as they had earlier chanted “Beer! Beer! Beer!” And yes, sales of juice did jump dramatically when the beerjuice batter struck out in his final at-bat.

Whatever else you can say about the game–and there is a lot I could say, but I’ll spare you–it didn’t lack for engagement.

Anyway, there were ballgames Saturday and Sunday, but a combination of visiting with friends and family and work prevented me from watching. And more of the same prevented me from watching the Home Run Derby Monday or the All-Star Game Tuesday.

No games scheduled Wednesday, and today there’s only a single game–an inter-Texas match-up between the Rangers and Astros. The rest of the MLB teams start playing again tomorrow, but I’ve got a social engagement that will prevent me from watching more than a couple of innings of any of my teams’ games. More sociability will interfere with my viewing Saturday and Sunday. Monday, I may be able to catch part of the Giants/Rockies double-header, and Tuesday I’ll finally be able to settle in and wince at a Mariners’ game.

So, rather than face a ten-day hiatus, I’ll probably watch the game tonight, despite having no particular interest in the outcome. I’m fairly sure total mutual annihilation isn’t a possibility, after all.

Wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if the game gets rained out? The forecast says there’s only a 20% change of rain, but the universe can be an evil place.

A Few (Not Especially Political) Thoughts

Random thoughts from the extended Fourth of July weekend.

  • If you put your mind to it, you can see a heck of a lot of fireworks. And that’s without even counting all the amateur shows. Still, it’s weird that nobody seems to know why the city of Richmond puts on its show July 3 every year. I can theorize endlessly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that regardless of how it got started, the answer now is “Tradition”.
  • Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition. That’s what brings us fireworks on the Fourth to begin with. (And no, I’m not going to debate the ethical pros and cons of fireworks today. We had that discussion a couple of years ago.) Some modification of the tradition might be in order, given the risk of wildfires and all. But abandon it completely? Heck no!
  • A well-planned low altitude show is actually enhanced by low clouds. That said, strong cross winds not only distort the blossoms, but blow the gunpowder away from the viewers. I hadn’t realized how much of the total sensory experience of a fireworks show is olfactory.
  • If the fireworks show starts while you’re giving a speech, just shut up. Nobody cares how important your message is or how long it took you to write. You’re not the headliner. (This is a concept that applies to fields completely unrelated to fireworks, by the way.)
  • Don’t bother with an assortment of random music. Doesn’t matter if the songs are patriotic, popular, or traditional. Unless the music is synchronized to the fireworks, it’s just a distraction.
  • Reptile petting zoos are a concept whose time is now. I don’t know if kids are bored with goats, llamas, rabbits, and chickens (and who wants to pat a chicken anyway?) but snakes and giant lizards are a much better draw. Even the police are fascinated.
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    (Never has the “Scale Image” tool been more appropriate.)

 

Changing Times

People change over time. They develop new interests, try new things, and find new ways to avoid terminal boredom.

Case in point: Way, way back in 2013, I said that Watanuki isn’t “aggressive about sitting on newspapers…doesn’t have much interest in chewing on books…doesn’t unroll the toilet paper…and given his choice of dens, he’s more likely to hole up in a plastic cat carrier than a cardboard box.”

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‘Nuki didn’t just stroll into the box and sit down. He had to knock it on its side first. That took several tries. Then there was a period of cautious sniffage, followed by multiple changes of position before he was comfortable.

Perhaps Watanuki has outgrown his early “reverse Maru’s syndrome”. He has taken to sitting on the recycle pile–which is primarily newspaper–and has been seen droolingnibbling on the corner of Maggie’s ebook reader (call it meta-paper).

Or maybe he’s just doing it to mess with our minds. I wouldn’t put it past our house-thug.

Regardless, Rhubarb wants to make it clear that he had nothing to do with ‘Nuki’s behavioral change, has never met Watanuki, and in fact, doesn’t even see the cat to his right.

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While it’s true that times and people change, some things remain the same.

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No matter how lazy a cat may get (Garfield notwithstanding), mice remain a hunter’s favorite target.

Not That Simple

To those of you celebrating the Fourth of July and what remains of our civil liberties, happy holidays. Stay safe and sane.

I thought I’d give you a bit of a tech post for the occasion, because what could be more American than spending money on electronics? Remember, most retailers are having holiday sales through the weekend.

Note: I have not been paid for any of the comments below, nor will I receive any benefit should you run out and buy anything on my recommendation. That said, if the various manufacturers mentioned want to toss piles of cash in my direction, I’ll be happy to accept.

As you may have gathered, I did not wind up crushed beneath a pile of USB-C hubs and docking stations. As it turned out, my first test subject proved adequate to the task. You may recall that the goal was to connect two monitors, one with a VGA input and one with a DVI input to a thoroughly modern laptop which has only a single USB-C port.

I chose to begin my search with the j5create JCD381.
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Note the symmetrical layout: two HDMI ports on the left, two USB 3.1 ports on the right, balanced around the network port. Symmetry may not be important in a device’s functionality, but it is aesthetically pleasing. There’s also a USB-C input on the end next to the cable. As that leaves the end unsymmetrical, I’ve chosen not to show it here.

The big selling point for the JCD381–aside from its cheapness compared to similar, larger docks–was that none of the ads I saw warned against using HDMI-to-something-else converters.

And it works fine with my converters (more on that later). It does not, however, Just Work. It is necessary to install driver software for the computer to recognize the HDMI ports. And, in a reversion to the Days of Yore, it was even necessary to reboot the computer after installing the drivers. I may be a fan of tradition, but that was a little too retro for my tastes.

However, drivers installed and computer restarted, I plugged in the cable and darned if both screens didn’t light up. A quick trip to the display settings made the biggest monitor the primary, and presto! Word processor in front of me, email to my left, and system monitor and other low-priority attention grabbers on the smallest screen where I’ll have to make a conscious effort to see them.

The JCD381 isn’t perfect. (You’re not surprised to hear that, are you?) This is not the dock to choose if you’re running a Mac. There are multiple reports that even after installing the drivers, you won’t be able to have different outputs on the two HDMI connectors. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of those reports, but they’re pervasive enough that I wouldn’t take the chance.

More significant to Windows users, the dock lacks an audio/headphone jack. That would have been handy and including one could have fixed the lack of symmetry on the cable end.

That, however, is a quick and cheap fix if you’re converting one of the outputs to VGA. Behold!
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This is the Rankie HDMI-to-VGA adapter. Micro-USB port on the left to power it (and yes, it comes with an appropriate cable) and audio on the right. Eight bucks from that well-known purveyor of fine (and not-so-fine) goods whose name begins with an A.

Sure, I could have saved the eight dollars and just plugged my speakers into the computer’s headphone jack, but that would have meant an extra plug or unplug every time I moved the machine. Well worth the octodollar to have everything on a single cable.

There are other issues.

The USB-C input on the j5create box is a bit loose. If I accidentally move the dock when plugging or unplugging it, it can disconnect the power. Annoying, but not fatal, and I could probably find a way to anchor the plug more securely in the dock.

The dock does get hot in use. Not burn-your-fingers-and-set-the-desk-on-fire hot, but significantly toasty. Make sure it’s well-ventilated.

And, finally, the computer has lost track of the network port a couple of times. I’m still troubleshooting that one, but I suspect the problem is at the computer end–either a driver issue or a Windows bug–rather than with the hardware. Since the computer automatically falls back to Wi-Fi, I hardly notice. And the port comes back to life the next time I reboot the computer, so it’s not that big a deal. I’ll find a fix eventually, but it’s not affecting my quality of life right now.

So there you have it. Maybe not quite so simple that only a child can do it after all.

One Step Closer

San Francisco has its Transbay Center back.

You may note there’s a word missing from that sentence.

Actually, purists would argue there are a couple of words missing. But I just can’t see calling it the “Salesforce Transit Center”. Corporate naming is the modern equivalent of product placement.

Back in the day–mostly even before my time–companies would sponsor a radio or TV program. For underwriting a large chunk of the cost of the show, the sponsor would not only get to put their name in the show’s name (remember The Jell-O Program Starring Jack Benny or more recently, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?) but would also get to have their products appear in the show.

Now sponsors pay a small fraction of the cost of production (Salesforce is paying $110 million over twenty-five years; the total cost of the terminal–not counting the recent repairs–was around 2.2 billion) but still want total recognition.

Is it any wonder people ignore the new names or nickname them into oblivion? I suspect that building in downtown San Francisco will be widely known as “The Transit Center”.

But I digress.

Anyway, the rooftop park, complete with its new non-decomposing concrete paths, reopened to the public yesterday.

Crowds were, well, not very crowded. But then, the reopening was only lightly publicized. Judging by the Chron’s reporting, most of the traffic came from people who stopped into one of the coffee shops that have doors leading to the park and decided to add a little sunshine to their caffeine fixes.

Fair enough. I’d likely have done the same if I’d been in the vicinity. (Let it be noted here that my previous employment was a short block away from the large hole in the ground now occupied by the terminal. I dare say that if I were still working there, I’d be hanging out in the park at lunchtime on a regular basis.)

But back to that missing word. There isn’t yet any transit in the Transit Center.

Debris from the repairs and the major re-inspections is still being cleaned up. And, naturally, the bus drivers who’ll be using the center need to be retrained in how to get in and out of the building. Or in many cases, trained for the first time. Those direct freeway on- and off-ramps can be tricky (and no, I’m not being sarcastic here; it seems like a potentially confusing transition.)

No date has been set to resume bus service, but official-type people are bandying “August”. Let’s recall that the center officially opened last August 10th. It might be nicely symbolic to have the official re-opening on the same day this year. (And it would be almost purely symbolic. The tenth is a Saturday, and most of the transbay buses don’t run on weekends.)

As for the ground-level businesses that everyone hopes will attract non-commuters to the Transbay Soon-To-Be-Transit Center, they’re not scheduled to open until “fall”.

But the park is open. That’s progress.