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.

Insults to Intelligence

It’s no secret that advertisers think we’re stupid. Intel certainly isn’t the only one.

Case in point: Exxon Mobil is touting its “Synergy gas” that has “7 key ingredients, to help you get better gas milage” (The quote is from their website, not the TV commercial in the previous link.)

What are those wonderful ingredients? Well, start with “Fuel Detergent Number 1” and “Fuel Detergent Number 2”. Somehow those names, with their echos of Thing One and Thing Two from The Cat in the Hat don’t inspire much confidence, but OK, I can see the potential value.

Then there are “Anti Adhesion Compound,” “Corrosion Inhibitor,” and “Demulsifier.” I question whether a properly maintained engine really has enough problems with rust and water intrusions that these mystic chemicals really do much for mileage. But again, OK. Legitimate problems, even if I suspect they’re overblown in the ad.

Number Six is where we start getting into trouble. “Solvent Fluid.” According to Exxon Mobil’s website, “Changes in temperature can cause some ingredients to get jammed. Solvent Fluid helps break them up, preventing congealing and letting the good times flow.” Uh, which “ingredients” are getting jammed? The ones in your gas! Right, one of the magical seven ingredients is included only to keep the others from screwing up your engine. Picture me banging my head on the desk.

And then there’s Number Seven. Lucky Seven. “Marker Molecules.” According to the website, these “signal the dosage of the additive in the gasoline so the balance is perfecto.” Leaving aside the question of whether you can trust anyone who thinks “perfecto” is a real word, they’re saying that something they include to make sure they have the right amounts of the other things they throw into your gas somehow helps your mileage in and of itself. Even better, they’re implying that only their “Synergy” gas has marker molecules. Guess again. Every brand of gasoline includes marker molecules, because their real purpose is to identify the producer and track the gas to ensure that taxes have been paid and shipments haven’t been adulterated. Absolutely nothing to do with fuel economy.

It’s depressing to learn what big companies think of your intelligence, isn’t it? Kellog’s–yes, the big name in breakfast foods (or “foods” if you have low tastes like me)–is a sobering example.

I’m not going to apologize for eating the occasional Pop-Tart®. But after reading the instructions for heating them, I’m reconsidering my position. Yes, that’s right. Kellog’s thinks you need instructions for heating a Pop-Tart®.

According to the box in my cupboard, you can use a toaster or the microwave:

FOR TOASTER:
1. Warm pastry in toaster at lowest heat setting.
2. Cool briefly before handling.

FOR MICROWAVE:
1. Place pastry on microwave safe plate.
2. Heat on high for 3 seconds.
3. Cool briefly before handling.

I’ll spare you the list of cautions that are obviously included solely to ward of litigation from anyone who can’t follow the instructions.

But really, guys. If you’re getting picky enough to tell us to use the lowest heat setting on the toaster, regardless of our preferences in pastry crispness, and specifying that the number of the nuking shall be three, why not go all the way and remind us to remove the Pop-Tarts® from the foil bag before heating? And, gee, maybe you should tell us to eat them before they cool!

Sigh.

You know what’s really depressing, though? The realization that we may actually be as stupid as the big companies and advertisers think we are.

Consider this: there’s a YouTube video that claims you can access a hidden headphone jack on the iPhone 7 by drilling into the shell. The video has racked up over 11,000,000 views in the ten days since it went live.

Inevitably, the comments section is filled with posts from people claiming to have tried it and destroyed their phones. Maybe some of them are real. But that’s not the depressing part of the story.

The depressing part is the sheer number of news outlets reporting as fact that people have been drilling into their phones and warning people against it. Without having done any investigation of the claims

Don’t take my word for it. Google “iphone 7 drill” and cast your eyes down the list of results. The Guardian. Fortune. USA Today. All repeating slight variations on the same thing: “I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t take a drill to your iPhone 7”.

Fact checking is apparently as dead as a drilled iPhone 7.

Painfully Obvious

Apparently, Intel has decided that the best way to sell computers with their latest processors is to insult the intelligence of potential buyers.

Consider the pair of ads they’ve been running in heavy rotation recently. The first focuses on the wonders of facial recognition for security.

Let’s consider that for a moment. Leave aside the fact that facial recognition doesn’t require a sixth-generation Core processor and all the Intel trimmings–my old Android phone could do it just as well. Ignore the fact that facial recognition can and has been defeated with photographs or short videos played on a cell phone. Forget the fact that the amount of security provided by any single authentication feature is limited.

Even without considering all of those facts, how in Hell would locking his laptop with his face–or anything else–help the guy in the commercial? He doesn’t keep his money on his laptop*! He keeps it in the bank, like any sensible human being. The chances that someone cracked his laptop to steal his life’s savings are somewhere between slim and none. More likely, his bank’s been breached by a cracker in Asia who’s made off with millions.

The poor schlub being castigated in the commercial is probably delivering cash to the bank so it can cover the expected demand for account closures when word of the breach gets around.

* Well, OK, maybe he’s heavily into Bitcoin. But if he’s that heavily invested in digital currency, he’s not keeping his wallet on his laptop; he’s got it on the machine at home that’s busy mining currency 24/7.

Then there’s the second ad. This one talks up how fast and light the new computers with the latest Intel processors are. “Well, if it’s so old, why are you chasing it?” the spokesperson asks the poor, befuddled woman who just left her old computer in a cab.

Well, maybe it’s got something to do with the years of data she’s got stored on its hard drive. If she’s lucky and smart, most of it’s backed up somewhere, but chances are, there’s something on there that isn’t backed up. Maybe the latest changes to the presentation she’s about give? Or maybe the steamy photos her sweetie just e-mailed her. Why should she care if some random stranger opens her laptop and sees those*?

* Don’t forget: in Intel’s universe, if the computer is that old, it can’t be securely protected, because it won’t do facial recognition!

Again, leaving all of that aside, what good would it do her to have a new, fast, light laptop? She’s still going to be chasing the damn cab trying to get it back when she leaves it on the seat.

Come on, Intel, assume we have a modicum of intelligence, and spend those advertising dollars telling us what your CPUs can do better than anyone else’s.

Moving on.

A brief Windows 10 Anniversary Edition note: There are reports from the first people to install the new Windows 10 that it’s not playing nicely on computers that dual-boot Windows and Linux. Details are inconsistent; some users are saying that their Linux partitions have been deleted; others report that the partitions are present, but inaccessible; still others say that Windows detects the partitions as unformatted and asks permission to format them.

Naturally, users are screaming about Microsoft’s insidious plan to force a “Windows-only” world on us.

Let’s be honest: Windows has never played well in a dual-boot scenario, especially when it comes to upgrades. I strongly doubt that Microsoft is intentionally wiping out Linux installations. For one thing, if they were, every dual-boot system would be affected, and we’d have a lot more information about what’s going on by now.

The smart money says it’s a bug–and given the incredible variety of hardware configurations Microsoft supports, it’s not even a “Who QAed This Shit?” bug. High-severity, yes. Hopefully a high priority for a fix, as well. But I think it’s a mistake to ascribe it to malice or a plan for world domination.

That said, if you do dual-boot, I’d recommend postponing the upgrade as long as possible. Let someone else risk their setup until more details emerge.

If you don’t dual-boot, the upgrade to the Anniversary Edition shouldn’t be any riskier than any other Windows upgrade. The most likely outcome is a successful install, possibly combined with some changes to your desktop (i.e. if you’ve turned Cortana off, the upgrade may turn her back on.)

For what it’s worth, my Windows-only laptop is installing the upgrade now. But my desktop machine, which is dual-boot, will stay in Linux for at least a couple of weeks–if I don’t go into Windows, I won’t get Anniversary Edition.

Oh, Well

There are so many interesting things I could have done with a few hundred million dollars…

No, I didn’t win the Powerball* lottery last night. I’m fairly sure no one reading this blog did either. If I’m wrong about that, (a) congratulations and (b) drop me a note so I can bounce some ideas off of you.

* Interestingly, the official Powerball website is a candidate for a WQTS writeup. A few highlights: the name of the lottery is capitalized differently (“Powerball” or “POWERBALL”) sometimes even withing a single paragraph, multiple typos–I saw a couple of occurrences of “teh”–and, perhaps most annoying, not all parts of the site have been updated. The FAQ, for example, sometimes says there are 35 red balls and sometimes 26. The change happened in October, 2015; that’s a long time to leave the site partially-updated. I actually wondered if I hadn’t stumbled onto a look-alike scam site, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I’ll admit, most of my ideas would benefit me more than you, unless you’re planning to move to my neighborhood–how would you like to own a hospital or an in-fill transit system?–but isn’t that traditional when asking a lottery winner for money?

One of my more geographically diverse ideas was to fund every open Kickstarter that hadn’t met its pledge goal as of a particular unannounced day. If you did it today, that would be a bit under 4,000 projects. That would certainly brighten a few people’s lives.

On the other hand, where would you put all of the T-shirts, postcards, and other Kickstarter incentives? No, don’t suggest donating them to charity. I doubt you could find anyone willing to handle them as they trickled in.

For that matter, what would you do with the accumulation of actual Kickstarted items? As I write this, there are almost 400 unfunded books out there. Your local Friends of the Library is probably not going to take 400 self-published books. Nobody, not even the food bank, is going to take the 350 assorted beers, salsas, and discounted meals in restaurants around the world.

And then there’s the ethical concern. We’ve seen some awfully dubious projects on Kickstarter. Would you really want to fund the inevitable useless cancer cure? Or even just the smartphone app that lets you “communicate with your pet through personalized sound and scientifically developed vibration patterns”? No, I’m not making that up. I communicate with my pets through sound and vibration every day. It’s called talking to them and patting them. Why would I want an app to take over for me?

What really killed the idea, though, was this “brilliant” project. That’s right. A wireless thermometer with an accompanying smartphone app that tells you when your hot beverage is cool enough to drink.

That’s it’s only function; the FAQ specifically warns against using it for non-beverage purposes. We won’t even get into the expected battery life. OK, we will: one hour per charge. For most people, that would be a single use on a charge. They’re hoping to push that to eight hours by the time it ships in May.

The stupid, it burns! If only there was a way to tell if a Kickstarter was safe to drink…

Perverse Hope

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

I find it somehow reassuring that the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on clueless politicians and lawyers who create–and try to enforce–completely brain-dead legislation.

For proof, one needs to look no further than a story making the rounds this morning. According to multiple sites, Germany is attempting to prevent the sale of adult e-books during daytime hours.

You read that right. If you want to buy an adult e-book from a German bookseller, you can only do so between 10 PM and 6 AM*, local time.

* If I haven’t screwed up the timezone conversion, that’s 1 PM to 9 PM here on the west coast of the US. Primetime for porn consumption. Remember, kids, don’t use your work computers to buy porn–unless you can justify the expense on the corporate credit card.

This isn’t an old, pre-Internet law being extended into electronic territory. It was passed in 2002 and appears* to be an update of a law dating back to 1954. The new extension to e-books is part of the ongoing review and rating process at the core of the law.

* I took some German in grad school, but have long since forgotten most of it. Accordingly, I’m relying on this article from the Font of All Human Knowledge. If your German–or direct knowledge of German law–is better than mine, please correct any errors you see in my post. Come to think of it, Wikipedia would also appreciate your corrections.

The implementation, as best I can tell, will be for retailers to tag all “youth-endangering” titles and automatically filter them out of all lists and search results during those dangerous hours when kids are awake.

Am I the only one who expects this to go down the way the EU’s charming “Right to be Forgotten” has been handled? There’s no question that Amazon’s German arm will be subject to this law–a corporate entity operating in Germany is logically subject to German Law.

But remember: France now insists that it’s not sufficient for Google to only filter searches for RtbF material in the EU. I expect German politicians* to point with horror to how easy it is to access non-German sites from Germany and thus that their restrictions must be implemented by all sellers. It’s not enough that sellers block sales (and they already do: the big sellers use geolocation to determine where an order is placed from to apply the correct VAT and block sales to regions where titles haven’t been licensed). Even showing the titles, let alone covers and previews, would be a violation.

* And if you don’t think the ongoing anger over the post-Snowden revelations of NSA spying on German lawmakers won’t be a factor, you’re dreaming.

Bets on how long it’ll be before we hear the first demands for Amazon US to hide adult titles during the American afternoon?

WQTS 04

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

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.

Stupidity Runs Rampant

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Remember our discussion last week about Apple’s collision with the seamier side of the Internet? We talked about the fact that “ransomware” was beginning to show up on Apple’s computers, and specifically mentioned a piece of software that informs the computer owner that child pornography has been detected on the computer and that a fine must be paid to the FBI to avoid a criminal investigation.

According to the police in Prince William County Virginia, a resident of the county got the warning message while he was, in fact, looking at child pornography. Apparently he is in other respects a law-abiding citizen, as he promptly packed up his computer and took it to the local police station, where he asked if there were any warrants on file for his arrest. (Just to be clear here, I’m not suggesting that the man in question was using an Apple computer. Similar ransomware has been around in the Windows world for years, and there’s nothing in the police report that indicates what OS he was using.)

Of course there were no warrants, but the police were quite interested in the contents of the computer, and the subsequent search turned up “inappropriate messages and photos of underage girls”; at least one has been identified–a thirteen year old girl in Minnesota. On that basis, the police obtained a search warrant for his home and seized “computers and other electronic devices”. He is now being held without bail on charges of “possession of child pornography”, “using a communication device to solicit certain offenses involving children”, and “indecent liberties with a minor”.

I have this mental image of the guy standing there in the police station saying “Why are you arresting me? It said I could just pay a fine!”

I suppose the police’s forensic investigation tools bypassed the ransomware, but perhaps not. I’d be interested to see how they worded the expense report if they had to pay the ransom to get to the man’s data. Heck, maybe the ransomware author should get the payment as a reward for, in effect, turning the guy in.

Back to the original dilemma. Do we laugh at this guy’s gullibility, or do we cry over the fact that you apparently need no brain at all to convince children to send you inappropriate pictures of themselves? Kudos to the police for not making their press release into a cry for more legislation, but instead reminding parents to actively monitor their children’s Internet usage.

Bolts, Bread, and Balls

Today we’ve got some small items that don’t quite stretch to a full post separately.

And now the axes are being sharpened. This is getting entertaining.

Friday’s Chronicle has another article about the Bay Bridge bolts, in which they quote an independent corrosion expert as saying that the wrong bolts were used on the bridge. The bolts are harder than they should be for this application: the additional hardening renders them more vulnerable to hydrogen embrittlement. Galvanizing them (coating them in zinc to provide a barrier to hydrogen), as was done here, is of only limited use in this case. Even if hydrogen is eliminated during the galvanization process, microscopic gaps in the zinc coating still allow hydrogen to enter the steel over time.

So we’ve got a new design flaw on top of the original flaw that prevents replacing the bolts: the design allows rain to accumulate around the bolts, which provided a ready source of hydrogen to migrate into the metal. Caltrans apparently didn’t consider this as a risk to the bolts.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, meanwhile, is still considering opening the bridge on time, even without repairs to the bolts, if they decide it’s safer than the old bridge.

Things have gotten to the point where no matter what happens there’s going to be a nasty public relations hit. Heads will be rolling between now and September 3. All we need is for Mother Nature to step in. Can you imagine the chaos that would result from a major earthquake in the next couple of months, even if it doesn’t cause any damage to the bridge? I’m not even talking about the physical chaos due to the restricted access between San Francisco and the East Bay; considering the number of politically-inspired design-related delays that have plagued the building of the new bridge, just the political chaos would be awe-inspiring! We could be looking at recalls of half of the current office-holders in the Bay Area and civil lawsuits that would run longer than the old bridge has stood. (Irony alert: Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who was responsible for quite a bit of the design-related delays to the bridge, had an opinion piece in the Chronicle calling the bridge situation a PR disaster.)

Stay tuned, fans of political intrigue and anyone with a chaotic alignment!


In other news, there’s a small political firestorm brewing over word that the IRS is looking at whether free meals provided by employers as a perk should be considered taxable income. Needless to say, tech workers currently getting free lunches aren’t happy at the thought. Note that this is for regularly provided free or partially-subsidized meals, not for the occasional meal during crunch time or at a party.

I’m not voicing an opinion at this point, but I wanted to share what struck me as the funniest comment on the situation.

Megan McArdle said in her column in The Daily Beast “I find it a bit surprising that we haven’t had politicians complaining about this “corporate free lunch.” Lavish, tax-deductible Silicon Valley lunches for employees who are often already pretty wealthy from their stock options seem like the perfect issue for an enterprising politician who wants to hammer “corporate loopholes” and “giveaways to the rich.” But for some reason, neither Republicans or Democrats have picked up on this one.”

Megan, maybe politicians are smart enough to know that most of the employees aren’t wealthy from stock options? Well, OK, maybe not… But they are smart enough to know that making a fuss about a few million dollars over an issue that affects a few thousand very vocal constituents isn’t cost effective. Their time is better spent on issues affecting millions of constituents and hundreds of millions of dollars.


Finally, a brief report on baseball. Two weeks into the season, The Right Team is at 6-8, smack in the middle of their division. Several Wrong Teams (Yankees, As, and Braves, I’m looking at you) are doing annoyingly well. Padres, Brewers, and Marlins, thank you for your efforts in making the Mariners’ record look good.

It’s much too early to give up hope for the season – there are still 148 games left, after all – but it’s certainly not the glorious start that every fan wants for their team.