SAST 05

A few quickies for you today.

I’m betting that most of you have already seen the fuss over Juicero, but for those who missed it, the short version is that the company sells a variety of juices in bags–and a $400 machine (marked down from $700) to squeeze the juice out of the bags.

The controversy is not over “Why?” That’s quite clear: because there are enough people willing to shell out the money to buy the squeezer and the juice packets (at $5 to $8 a pop–though one hopes they don’t pop easily).

The controversy is over the fact that Juicero’s investors feel they’ve been defrauded because customers don’t need to use the squeezer to get the juice out of the bags. According to Bloomberg, hand-squeezing the bags produces almost as much juice as the squeezer, and does it faster.

Apparently, neither the investors nor Bloomberg have heard of a device called “the scissors,” which could be used to empty the bag even more quickly.

Let’s note, by the way, that the bagged juice is a perishable product, enough so that the bags can’t be shipped long distances.

My advice? Go to your local hardware store and buy a hammer. Stop at the local grocery store on the way home and pick up a box of zipper-seal baggies and a couple of pieces of your favorite fruit.

Place the fruit in a baggie and zip it closed. Pound the fruit with the hammer repeatedly. Unzip and pour.

When you finish your juice–which cost you considerably less than $400 unless you got the hammer on a military procurement contract–repeat the process, substituting Juicero’s executives and investors for the fruit.

Mmm, yummy!

Moving on.

There’s a letter to the editor in today’s SF Chronicle from one Lorraine Peters addressing the United Airlines fiasco. Ms. Peters suggests that United should have handled the matter differently. Instead of using force, she says, they should have made a loudspeaker announcement: “Attention all passengers, this flight cannot take off until the gentleman in seat (so and so) vacates it and disembarks with the other three passengers.”

I presume Ms. Peters is an investor in United Airlines.

Let’s not forget that the “gentleman in seat (so and so)” paid for that seat in the expectation that United would supply the service he paid for. Placing the blame on him when United failed to meet their obligation is disingenuous at best.

Allow me to propose an alternate loudspeaker announcement. “Attention all passengers. We fucked up and didn’t get a flight crew to the right place at the right time. The only way we can think of to fix our mistake is to kick four of you off this flight. So we’re going to sit right here at the terminal until four generous souls agree to disrupt their travel plans for the benefit of the rest of you. Complimentary drinks and meals will not be served while we wait.”

It wouldn’t have done any better by United’s reputation, but at least it has the virtue of being honest.

Moving on again.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (that’s the San Francisco Bay Area, for those of you in the outer provinces) has announced a regional plan to combat climate change.

Among the proposals included in the plan are such sure-to-be-popular items as “Explore vehicle tolls in high-congestion areas to discourage driving,” “Discourage installation of water-heating systems and appliances powered by fossil fuels,” “Encourage the removal of off-street parking in transit-oriented areas,” and (my personal favorite) “Start a public outreach campaign to promote climate-friendly diets.”

That first one’s interesting. I see some potential pitfalls in implementing it, of course. It’s taken months to get the local metering lights to work reliably; adding an automated payment system on top of that seems fraught with peril. Imagine the fuss the first time someone gets charged a four-figure fee to get on the freeway. More to the point, though, we had major congestion on the freeway yesterday outside of commute hours because of an accident. The metering lights at several on-ramps detected the slowdown and kicked in. If the payment plan had been in effect, would we have been charged to use the freeway while the police were examining the car that went off the road?

That last item, by the way, translates as “encourage people to eat less meat,” because meat production creates more pollution than growing and shipping plants. Maybe they should also tax “add-on” gadgets such as Juicero bag squeezers, since building and shipping them creates unnecessary pollutants. But I digress.

Needless to say, not everyone thinks the agency’s plan is a good one. According to the Chron story, the opposition–they quote a Chevron employee–is suggesting that local action is pointless because climate change is a global problem and needs a global solution.

Let’s not examine that logical fallacy too closely. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that a Chevron employee actually admitted that climate change is real and related to human activity.

More TV Stupidity

Usually when I complain about TV commercials, it’s because they’re assuming the viewer is stupid–or even portraying their target audience as stupid. Today, however, I’d like to point our a couple of commercials that are actively encouraging people to behave stupidly.

Let’s begin with that cornerstone of American dessert, Reddi Wip. (No, that’s not a typo. There really isn’t an “h” in the name.)

For those of you who didn’t watch the video, Mom packs a canister of Everyone’s Favorite Whipped Cream in young Charlie’s lunch. He, of course, is delighted. He skips the nutritious part of his lunch, takes one bite of his brownie, and then runs through the school, spraying whipped cream on randomly-selected teachers’ and students’ food.

Seems harmless enough, doesn’t it? If Charlie can brighten a few peoples’ day with a nitrous oxide-propelled mixture of cream, sugar, corn syrup, and maltodextrin, why shouldn’t he?

Well, according to USLegal.com, “enticement” is “to wrongfully solicit, persuade, procure, allure, attract, coax, or seduce, or to lure, induce, attempt, incite, or persuade a person to do a thing.”

Wondering why I’m talking about enticement? In case it had escaped your notice, we live in a society where “Cover Your Ass” is an increasingly-popular way to guide your actions.

Consider that in 2014, a student in California was reportedly given detention for sharing his lunch with a fellow student.

Last year, nine students in South Carolina were apparently suspended for violating the school’s drug policy. Their mixture of sugar and Kool-Aid looked too much like cocaine for the school’s administration.

Most states restrict the distribution of nitrous oxide to minors to prevent its use as a euphoric drug.

Need I say more about Reddi Wip’s responsibilities here?

But let us remember that none of this is poor Charlie’s fault. He’s just the product of his culture. Clearly, he attends the school shown in this commercial for Aleve.

Here a teacher’s arthritis flares up, much to the horror of her young charges, and even the class hamster. Another teacher comes to her rescue, handing her a bottle of Aleve. In the classroom, in front of the students. All is well, and teacher and students run merrily through their day, untroubled by arthritis or any consideration of school drug policies that prohibit sharing of medications, even in life-saving situations.

I’ll skip the citations of the cases where students were suspended for bringing aspirin to school–not taking it, just having it in their possession–as most of those seem to date to the nineties. Those restrictions are still on the books, of course, but if your kid has already been suspended for having candy, that bottle of Aleve in her backpack is largely irrelevant.

So, thanks to Aleve and Reddi Wip for setting such a bad example for America’s children and enticing them into lives of crime.

Three Quickies

Another entry into our catalog of clues that decline of civilization is at hand.

No, wait, come back! I promise it’s got nothing to do with politics.

In addition to being one of the half-dozen people who still reads a printed newspaper, I’m also one of the three who still reads Usenet. (I know you all remember newspapers; please tell me you remember Usenet. Oh, all right: TFoAHK–or you can just think of it as a blog without posts, just comments.)

So, of course, in bringing my Windows tablet up to speed, I had to find a newsreader. Amazingly enough, there is is one in the Microsoft App Store. Yes, there are plenty of pre-Windows 8/10 programs out there, but about half of them are intended for downloading dirty pictures and pirated TV shows, and two-thirds of them have user interfaces that work fine with a mouse, but suck with a finger. So I wanted a UWP app if there was one.

I started reading the reviews, as I do, and then I found this gem:
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Oh, FFS‽ A lousy two bucks for something that you literally can’t get any other way, and you think so strongly that the developer should just give it to you that you give it a one star rating?

The level of entitlement this showed had me so flabbergasted that I bought the app without even taking the time to see if it suits my needs. And I’m going to abuse my lofty position as the Guardian of Civilization to encourage every one of you who has a Windows 8 or newer computer to click that link above and buy NewsgroupsRT. I don’t care if you have no idea what Usenet is all about, just give $1.99 to Mr. Schaffernak. Think of it as a contribution to staving off the Decline of Civilization.

And another item for the collection.

Last weekend, I went to Sizzler for dinner. (Yeah, I have some low tastes. Wanna make something of it?) It is possible to eat healthily at Sizzler, but that’s not really the point. And I wasn’t planning to be particularly healthy on this visit. I had been thinking about a hunk of cow, but then I saw this on the menu:
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It took a couple of seconds to sink in. (A hint for my readers in the UK: what you call “chips,” we call “fries”.)

My first reaction was that this was an item for the WQTS file. Obviously, the copy had been written by someone unfamiliar with fish and chips, and somehow bypassed the copy editor.

But no. This is by design. I know this because when I placed my order, the young woman at the register asked–completely straight-faced–“Would you like fries with that?”

I confess that my brain crashed. She took in the vacant look on my face as I struggled to reboot, and in a slightly defensive tone said “Some people want to substitute a baked potato or rice.”

I rigidly suppressed the fifteen minute rant about how, without fries, it’s not “fish and chips” and managed to mutter “Fries, please.”

But the more I think about this mess, the more it bothers both my QA and writer sides. Declaring “fish without chips” to be “fish and chips” is an orwellian devaluation of the language. Can we assume that their 8oz sirloin is actually eight ounces? How sure are we that it’s actually sirloin?

Bottom line: If Sizzler is going to put rice and baked potato on the same level as fries/chips, then they shouldn’t call the dish “fish & chips”. “Beer Battered Fish with choice of sides” is perfectly serviceable and accurately descriptive, and it doesn’t actively increase the public’s levels of doubt and uncertainty.

Civilization as we know it: doomed.

Maybe.

This might be a bit a bit of bread and circuses, but I’d prefer to think of it as a sign that there might be a little hope for civilization.

Remember when you could get toys and other prizes in your cereal box? That hasn’t been the case for quite a while*, but the mail-in prize hung around rather longer.

* I blame AOL. After finding a shrink-wrapped AOL disc in your shredded wheat, would you really want to risk eating that cereal again?

For those of you who are too young to remember, the idea was that you would collect a certain number of box tops, proving that you had bought (I won’t say “eaten”) enough of a particular cereal to justify a reward. You then mailed the box tops along with a couple of bucks for “shipping and handling” to the cereal manufacturer, and six-to-eight weeks later, a Postal Packin’ Person would bring your prize.

Of course, the prizes cost the manufacturers a tiny fraction of the profit they made on your cereal purchase, and the offer always included those dreaded words “While Supplies Last”.

But you know what?

Modern technology has made it so darn simple and inexpensive to produce cheap gimcracks that it’s completely revolutionized the concept of the mail-in cereal prize.

Consider: In August, I saw that Kellogg’s was offering a “Free Lantern” in a promotional tie-in with Disney’s release of Finding Dory. Actually, the offer started running in March, but I didn’t notice it until August.

Since I’m a sucker for “free” if it doesn’t inconvenience me too much, and since the necessary purchase involved cereals that I eat anyway, I decided to get me one.

So, four boxes of cereal later, on September 23, I went to Kellogg’s website and typed in four sixteen character codes. Nothing to clip, nothing to mail, and no “shipping and handling”.

The site informed me that “The promotion has been extremely popular and we’re currently awaiting stock of additional lanterns”. Right. It’s gotten so cheap to make toys, that they made more instead of invoking “while supplies last”. Imagine!

Apparently they were seriously backlogged. The site said to allow 12 weeks for delivery. This past Tuesday, guess what showed up on my doorstep? Yup. It took more than 17 weeks–really backlogged–but I got my cheap prize.

And you know what? It’s not nearly as cheap as I expected. It’s plastic, yes, but it feels solid. And it came with batteries installed. All I had to do was–well, let Kellogg’s show you:

So, yeah. A large company promised me something, and they actually exceeded my expectations in fulfilling that promise.

If that’s not a sign of civilization, I don’t know what is.

It’s the End of the World…

It’s been a while since I devoted a rant to the impending Demise of Civilization.


Today’s Sign of the Apocalypse:

I still read the newspaper–yes, the actual paper one–every day. Since I’ve said that, you’re no doubt expecting me to bemoan the decline in newspaper readership as a sign of Impending Doom. Nope. I mean, yes, it is, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Today, a friend of mine appeared in the paper. With a picture. Identified by name. And I realized that if I said that to anyone, their first reaction would be closer to “I’m sorry to hear it. What did he do?” (or maybe “Is he OK?”) than to “Hey, cool! What did he do?”*

When the heck did that happen? It’s definitely a “Damn kids! Get off my lawn!” moment to realize that I can remember when the default assumption was that newsworthy events were good news. Wait, let me qualify that statement because I’m not old enough to have a memorythat rosy. My memories include a time when a non-celebrity making the paper was more likely to be good news than bad. Celebrity news has, so far as I can remember, always been bad.

I’m willing to admit to the possibility that I’m a victim of selective memory, and that one would never have wanted to appear in the newspaper except in a “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” sense. But I know my perception of appearing in the newspaper has changed, and the memory I’ve got is the one I have to work with. So if 100% of the available data indicates things have changed, it must be correct, right?

No wonder I’m the only person reading the printed paper these days.

Moving on.

I was going to highlight the news that Nick Markakis is leaving Baltimore for Atlanta and Michael Saunders has been traded from Seattle to Toronto as a further sign of the impending collapse of civilization, but the more I think about it, the less I’m sure about that.

Both players had been with the same team for their entire professional life. I had written a rant about how players never stay with their original teams for their entire career any more. “Where are the Edgar Martinezes and Cal Ripkins?” I asked. But you know, Edgar and Cal were exceptions. Players staying with a single team has always been unusual. It became less common after the introduction of free agency, sure, but even before then, team owners swapped players like kids swapped baseball cards.

So, not a sign of the Decline of Civilization. And, as Jackie pointed out in her farewell blog post to Nick, baseball players may actually move around less than the typical American, who changes jobs every four and a half years.

Maybe that’s the real sign of the impending collapse. I need to think about that one for a bit.

But if that’s not a sign that Civilization is lurching towards its inevitable end, what is?

Non-ironic citation of R.E.M. as the greatest band ever? I’m very tempted to say yes on that–we all know it’s Brave Combo–but I’ll give Jackie a pass on that, seeing as how she’s currently bereaved.

Mayonnaise on hamburgers? Probably. We’ve established that mayo is the devil’s condiment. Putting it on a burger does nothing to redeem the condiment and much to corrupt the meat.

There is, however, a single fact that proves civilization is not on the decline, but has actually collapsed completely. That fact? People think peopleofwalmart.com is funny. (I’m deliberately not making that a link. If you want to take a look, put in the minimal effort of copy/pasting the URL.)

Enough said. See you in the survival bunker.

* For the record, it was good news. Part of the centennial celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

A Christmas Tale

I’m going to take off my curmudgeon hat and enjoy a few minutes of appreciating some of the good that tech toys can bring.

Check out this charming tale.

You back? (For those of you who didn’t read it, the tl;dr is “technology evangelist uses technology to make connections with people.)

Nice, huh? I went into the post expecting some kind of “geek uses 3D printer to make gifts for family” paen to the wonders of 3D printing.  The kind of thing that always triggers my “end of civilization” alert.

Much to my delight, that wasn’t it at all. Instead, he used the printer as an excuse to spend time with the family. Talking to them. What a trip, huh?

Best part: the post doesn’t fall the other way and turn into a “3D printing makes everything perfect” glurge-fest. We’ve still got some sibling rivalry going on–two generations, yet.

OK, curmudgeon hat goes back on now.

Happy New Year!

(Update: Whoops! This was supposed to go live just before midnight, not just before noon. Someday I’ll have to learn the difference between 12 and 24 hour clocks… Oh, well. Enjoy your curmudgeon-free post.)

Wrong On So Many Levels

This is just wrong on so many levels that I had to point it out.

The SF Chronicle is reporting that the upper half of a woman’s body turned up in a sewage plant in Los Angeles Monday.

The report notes with a straight face that “investigators believe her lower half turned up two days earlier”. Seriously? Good to know that there aren’t so many half-bodies turning up that they can’t make the connection between any given pair.

The article also notes that “One of the woman’s arms was still missing.” Have patience, guys, it’ll probably show up at yet another plant in a few days. Of course, it’s possible that she only had one arm. Either way, one hopes that the sewer workers will lend the police a hand in checking the remaining processing plants.

Unsurprisingly, the death is being investigated as a homicide. After all, as sheriff Mike Rosson said, “People don’t just fall into a manhole cover.” No, Mike, they don’t. But they do just fall into a manhole. Sigh.