Archive for January, 2006

Don’t Ask Me How

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

Today Pech and I were waiting in the drive-through and I noticed the Dodge Ram in front of us had Puerto Rico plates. I had to fight off the urge to jump out of the car and ask how such a truck got to Florida.

Later, after some searching, I also became curious about the style. The one we saw was just black and white (plain, no background), had 7 numbers, and read “Puerto Rico” along the bottom edge. It doesn’t match any of these. Must be different for trucks…

Well, That Took Awhile

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

Left Chi at 2:30p on Thursday. (All times Central.)

3:03pm Near as I can tell, this is the first indication you’ve left Illinois:
Indiana exit sign
Pretend it says “Welcome to Indiana.”

Welcome to Kentucky sign

Welcome to Tennessee sign

Fri, 12:04am:
Welcome to Alabama sign

Fri, 5:03am:
Welcome to Florida sign

On the Road (Again)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Well, I have about 1,400 miles to drive in the next 48 hours, so I best get on it. Laters.

Ford’s Way Forward

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

Ford to cut up to 30,000 jobs
by Dee-Ann Durbin, Associated Press

DEARBORN, Mich. — Two weeks after he became Ford’s president of the Americas in October, Mark Fields assembled a team to study the company’s brands. He told its members not to report back until they knew what Ford, Lincoln and Mercury stood for.

They never returned.

OK, I made that last sentence up. But it’s what I expected when I read the article.

Miller’s Time

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

As a hardcore movie fan, I’ve seen more than my fair share of “behind-the-scenes featurettes,” and I have to tell you, I am amazed at Hollywood. What a talented, mutually-respectful love-in that must be.

Or at least it seems to be that way, given how in every interview, the star always loves the script, the director’s always a genius, every cinematographer’s a master, etc., etc. Gosh, could it be that they’re acting in those, too?

It’s always been my secret dream that some cast will just lose it and say what they really think: the script’s rubbish, the director a hack, whatever.

I’m not holding my breath.

Maybe I’ll just watch skiing instead. Bode Miller clearly doesn’t have those inhibitions, as anyone who read Newsweek‘s “You Don’t Know Bode” can attest (censorship removed):

“The U.S. skiing folks have really done a lot for me. They put up with me, and I push those fuckers hard. I am a constant pain in their ass about making them do all the shit I think they should be doing anyway. They’ve had to adapt to me just like I’ve adapted to them, and I think they’ve done exceptionally well. Look, a lot of the people involved with the U.S. Ski Team—the people that I’m representing—are unbelievable assholes. Rich, cocky, wicked conceited, super-right-wing Republicans. But because of my morals, my principles, I can’t judge them for that. The things they’ve done for me warrant respect, and I’m trying to pay them back.”

I love this guy.

P.S. Did I mention the RV?

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

Sunday, January 22nd, 2006

Yesterday I took a stroll through my archives, with a goal of moving some uncategorized posts into a more appropriate section. Sometimes this was more difficult than I expected, due to a few links that had gone dead.

For example, three years ago (!) I wrote a post titled Two Quickies in which I mentioned I wanted something that was available on eBay. The link revealing the item is now dead. (Though I assume, given the Richard Branson reference that followed, that it was a private island.)

The unreliable nature of the Web is frustrating for me, but I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for the New York Times.

The Times has to deal with “linkrot” just like the rest of us, but their fun doesn’t stop there. Consider this bit from “How to Be a Curmudgeon on the Internet“, a recent article by David Pogue:

I replied to this reader that I’m including the first “ping” in my tally. In that case, there ARE five notes in the jingle, as you can hear here.

Pogue’s talking about the “Intel chime”, but if you follow the link you’ll hear something very different. (For those who don’t have speakers — and for myself, should I read this three years later — the sound file plays a commercial advising Times readers to check out another website.)

Years-old dead links are one thing, but this Pogue article? It’s been up only 4 days.

Wald Off

Friday, January 20th, 2006

So I was sitting down to lunch, looking forward to completing Newsweek’s interview with Bode Miller (fawning post pending — and yay underclothed athlete covers!) when out of the corner of my eye, a face beckoned from a piece of mail.

‘Twas none other than the J.C.Penney Big & Tall catalog:
Josh Wald on the cover of JCPenney catalog

Does that guy’s face look familiar? I swear it’s Josh Wald, previously leered at featured in these pages.

Well, I’m here to tell you, folks, I can think of few things more depressing than seeing this achingly hot, tattooed skater boy transformed into proud papa of the Faux family.

OK, that’s not true. Of course I can think of things more depressing. For example, at least it’s not “The Lean Team”:
Booklet cover: 'Rose Presents: Canadian Bacon and You -- The Lean Team

The War on Cheeseburger Choice

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

Ladies and gentlemen, be on your guard. There are special interest groups and bureaucrats who are trying to take away one of our most sacred, fundamental freedoms: the right to order a fast-food burger prepared how we like it. It’s terrifying but true.

That’s why we, your friends at Wendy’s, have struck a blow for consumer choice*! Yes, at any Wendy’s you can order a burger just how you like it (except for how done you like it — oh, and no exotic cheeses.) To celebrate this industry first, we’re running ads including “Your Way“, with our thrilled customers listing the varied ways that they order their burgers, and who can forget our “Satisfaction” spot based on the Benny Benassi song you may recognize as from the bikini-clad chicks with power-tools video. Choose whichever ad you think best symbolizes this revolution!

Now, true, some naysayers feel that our “choice” campaign isn’t original. They point out that BK ran campaigns including 1974’s “Have It Your Way”, 1987’s “We Do It Like You Do It”, 1991’s “Your Way, Right Away”, 1999’s “When You Have It Your Way It Just Tastes Better”, the 2002-03 “AT BK, YOU GOT IT!” run, and their effort from 2004 to present, “HAVE IT YOUR WAY®.” (To say nothing of McD’s “What You Want is What You Get.”) But at Wendy’s, we’re different because we say “Do What Tastes Right. Do Wendy’s.”

Did you catch that “Do”? How edgy are we? Watch out for XBurgers!

(*Or, as BK puts it, “customer empowerment.” See this HBS article, which includes BK’s marketing chief saying “Knowledge, in my view, is something you’re always looking to shatter.”)

Guess What the Last Show Is!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

Saw this awhile ago at B-don‘s, and it still makes me chuckle. I enjoy trying to imagine what was going through the mind of the writer who created MetaCritic’s 2006 mid-season premieres list:

“Hmm, okay, this one’s a comedy, that’s a drama… reality… hmmm, that kind of straddles drama/soap. Better put both. OK, good… Wait. What the..?! Fuck it, we’re making a new genre.”

List of networks, times, genres

Saving the World Is Hard, But Worth It

Monday, January 16th, 2006

Here in America, the Red Cross has done a lot of great work for over a century. Lately, however — perhaps in part due to their massive size — they have also made some really boneheaded missteps. The clearly fractious relationship between the multi-billion-dollar charity’s board and its executives (4 chiefs have quit in the last 6 years) can’t help. (Not that America has a monopoly on in-fighting; witness the idiotic wrangling over the red diamond amongst members of the International Movement of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.)

It’s not just the big things that have me worried about (what I assume to be) the world’s biggest charity. It’s also the small, such as their new “Blood Saves” campaign, first brought to my attention in a Slate article by Seth Stevenson entitled “In Cold Blood: A nasty new public service announcement from the American Red Cross.”

What does it take to earn a PSA the label of “nasty”? Well, you can read Seth’s take for the full review, but here’s the text of the ad entitled “Julie” (available for viewing on, once you jump through some Flash/Java hoops):

I heard about this company dumping toxins in local rivers and I called their executives to say stop, but they were too busy counting profits while the rivers are being destroyed, birds and fish are dying, and the local kids are getting cancer.

So I organized a huge protest and it actually got the company shut down but now half the town’s been unemployed and the kids are twice as sick since they can’t get healthcare, since their parents lost the insurance they had when they worked for the company who dumped all the toxins in the first place.

After “Julie’s” breathless recitation, the sound of a heartbeat fades in and titles read “Saving the world isn’t easy. Saving a life is. / Just 1 pint of blood can save up to 3 lives.”

Before we get down to the ad’s idiocy, let’s dispatch with the obvious: giving blood is good. You should do it. It’s relatively fast, it’s easy, and they’ll give you a cookie. I’d do it if they’d let me.*

With that out of the way, what is this ad (or its companion, which tells the story of child labor protest letters answered with free coupons printed on rainforest-derived paper) telling us? To me, it sounds a lot like this: don’t bother. The world is too complicated for you to understand the ramifications of your actions. Just give blood, pat yourself on the back, and keep on keepin’ on. What a nice, neat television-commercial-sort-of-answer that is. Thank you, Ad Council.

Except it’s pure crap, the very same sort spouted by ExxonMobil front groups that want the mantra “Clean Environment = Fewer Jobs” burned in all our brains. Yes, it’s true that forcing companies to clean up their own messes will cut back some of the profits they’re counting in Julie’s example, and indeed, requiring more chimney scrubbers, reduced toxic waste dumps and all the rest may lead to higher costs, just as it should lead to more engineering jobs and sales for companies that make that very equipment. Transportation costs could certainly increase, making everything you buy more expensive. (Especially since most of it is coming from China.)

So what? Since when did the Constitution guarantee us $1.50/gallon? Is reducing cancer not worth a high cost? Does it really come down to a choice between polluted rivers or no healthcare, between ending child labor and saving rainforests? Is this all too complicated for us to worry about? Of course not!

Everyone should be working as much as they can to make this a better world, whether it’s through blood donation, advocacy, reduced environmental impact, volunteerism, or any of the myriad other ways to help out your fellow living things. Shame on the Ad Council, and shame on the Red Cross for minimizing all those other important efforts.

* I fall in the category of “men who’ve had sex with men since 1979” and am therefore banned. At least, I’m pretty sure I’m in that category. It was a long, long time ago…

A Minor Request for Those Who Create TV Series DVDs

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

When it comes to television shows on DVD, I have a simple test to determine if the disc mastering company knows what it’s doing: the fast-forward button.

Say you’re watching a show on DVD — no, say you’re watching the second show on the DVD. You’ve just watched the first. You want to dip in for another. The teaser ends, and the opening titles begin. You tap the fast-forward button and you get: what?

On DVDs made by clueful manufacturers, you should jump to the very last portion of the titles, just before the action resumes. Sure, it’s probably the shortest chapter on the disc, but who cares? There are no rules that say chapters must be equidistant.

Sadly, some studios don’t understand this concept. For example, in the series I’ve been watching lately, “Homicide: Life on the Street,” the (S1) discs jump about six minutes in, right in the action and well past the (frankly, somewhat annoying) titles.

No good.

Better Than Nothing

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

I’ve often said that it’s embarassing how poorly the cellular carriers have managed to integrate their devices, considering the ironclad control they maintain over their services. That’s still the case, but Palm’s new Treo 700W will make at least a tiny baby step in the right direction:

This image, from David Pogue’s 10 Greatest Gadget Ideas, shows the Treo’s VCR-like voicemail controls: tap play to begin, or the trash can to delete, etc. The Treo then plays the corresponding touchtone.

It’s a simple but effective solution given the limitations of current voicemail systems. I commend Palm for doing their best (though I think they would be wise to follow Blackberry’s lead in finding a way to do it without a stylus.)

That said, the fact that this made a “10 best” list is a real testament to how crap the hardware out there is. Note the screen says simply “Voicemail”, with a timer for the entire call — that’s because there’s no way to show the caller’s number, the duration of the current message, the number of messages left, the date, or anything else you might want to know.

All of this could be built in using even the existing network (with SMS, for example) but in a world where you have to sign a two year contract to even get a number, nobody has the incentive to do it.

Call for Details

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Google has made the jump to paper.

No, not Google Book Search. I’m talking about, of all things, newspapers, specifically the Chicago Sun-Times. A story in Crain’s this week (which I found via Gruber) includes this sample image:
excerpt from Dec. 12 sports section showing sidebar

I found these ads intriguing. I’d expect Google to want to quantify their effectiveness, and it seems clear that the toll-free numbers are part of that effort. (If you visit, you’ll find two toll-free numbers, neither of which match that 866 one. Ergo, I conclude Google is counting and forwarding the calls.)

But I’m surprised they didn’t do anything to track site visits. After all, when you click an ad on, you best believe they’re tracking it (though some argue not well enough.) So why didn’t they use a special domain to separate paper readers from regular surfers?


If It Ain’t Broke…

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Seven months ago, Steve Jobs stood before an audience of Mac faithful (as he will today) and told them that Apple would be shifting its product line to Intel processors.

Well, actually, the slide told them:
Steve Jobs in front of slide reading 'It's true!'-with a dropped 'e'

By using Intel’s iconic “dropped ‘e'”, the slide cleverly gave the answer and referenced the question in just two words. It was a neat little move that took advantage of Intel’s massive brand recognition.

What a shame that this will no longer be possible, now that Intel has revamped their logo:
left: old Intel logo with dropped 'e', right: new with swoosh

In doing so, they join the new AT&T as well as Kodak:
old/new Kodak logos, the former with the traditional box, the latter with a pretty plain approach

In both cases, I don’t think the original was any great achievement of graphic design (in fact, the original Intel logo is pretty ugly) but that’s hardly the point today. The Intel logo has been in use for 37 years, since Gordon “Moore’s Law” Moore first designed it. Similarly, Kodak has used a box of some form for around 70 years, with the traditional ‘K’ appearing in 1971.

Both of these marks are being replaced with logos that could charitably be called generic. Intel jumps on the swoosh bandwagon, working hard to look like every logo since 1999, and Kodak abandons the idea of graphic treatment altogether, opting instead for two plain lines to carry its traditional yellow-gold.

I have nothing against a freshened look (I certainly welcome Intel’s new website; the old one was awful) but I fear that these are actually examples where the people who work at these companies, staring at these logos day in and day out, got tired of them before the customers did. Then they cover their tracks by spouting wisdom such as this:

Intel’s new logo combines the essence of both of these powerful symbols [Intel Inside and dropped ‘e’], building on Intel’s rich heritage, yet also signaling the new direction the company is headed today. It also includes a new tagline: “Intel. Leap ahead™.” This tagline is Intel’s unique brand promise and is designed to communicate what drives Intel as a company, and what Intel makes possible.

So, from a standing start on “rich heritage”, the logo’s mighty curl signals a new direction for the company, setting up the leaping brand promise that Intel makes possible.

That’s one hell of a swoosh.

Here’s hoping that next time a big American company with an iconic logo wants to make a change, someone from Coca-Cola gives ’em a call to talk ’em off the ledge…

LA’s Dept. of Water is All Wet

Monday, January 9th, 2006

It’s been a few days since I’ve read it, but I still chuckle every time I read this story from the LAT (via TheScoop):

DWP Pays to Drink Sparkletts

Despite spending $1 million in the last two years to assure Los Angeles residents that their tap water is not only safe to drink but also top quality, city officials spent $88,900 in public money during that time on bottled water from private firms.

The Department of Water and Power, which supplies the city’s water and promotes it, spent the most on bottled water, paying $31,160 to Sparkletts.

“I am stunned,” said City Controller Laura Chick, whose office compiled the bills in response to a Public Records Act request from The Times. “This is the same department which spent millions of dollars for public relations promoting themselves and the quality of their drinking water.”[…]

Good, old-fashioned investigative journalism. I love it, particularly the (dare I say it) dry way author Patrick McGreevy dispatches with their excuses:

[Water division COO Jim] McDaniel said he believed some of the bottled water was for remote locations, including the Owens Valley, where DWP employees work without easy access to L.A. tap water. Also, some DWP labs need to buy distilled water for chemical procedures, he said.

Gayle Harris, a DWP spokeswoman, noted that some of the water may have been used for community events or distributed to neighborhoods when water service was interrupted.

The DWP has ordered from Sparkletts even though at any given time it has about 25,000 bottles filled with its own water. It is bottled by the agency for use by its employees in the field and for storage in case of emergencies. Some of the bottled city water is provided to City Council offices for events held in the field on hot days.

Excellent watchdog work by the paper, which I hope will result in savings for the city.

P.S. Don’t even get me started on bottled water. It really is bad to the last drop.