Archive for March, 2007

Wal-Mart at War

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

The New Yorker has a lengthy new piece about Wal-Mart’s media manipulation PR efforts. I’m only part way in, but already my jaw dropped:

Most recently, Wal-Mart announced that it had fired a technician from its Threat Research and Analysis division (which combats industrial espionage) for eavesdropping on telephone calls made by the [New York] Times’ Wal-Mart beat reporter, Michael Barbaro.

OK, obviously the eavesdropping is bad, but let’s look past that for a moment and consider the name of this department. The “Threat Research and Analysis division”? Whoa. I mean, whoa. That sounds like something out of the Pentagon.

Do you suppose those guys are like the IAD of Wal-Mart staffers? Like they show up at the store and all the front-line people start grumbling? (“Shit. The TRA guys are here. Somebody dropped a dime on me!”)

I’m picturing them roaming around stores, wearing black vests instead of blue, to distinguish themselves as the Wal-Mart Gestapo. Where the regular vests say “How may I help you?”, these guys probably have THREAT RESEARCH in yellow, S.W.A.T.-style.

Their reports, along with those of informants, are no doubt fed back into a secret underground bunker in the Bentonville mothership, where beneath a large “Today’s Threat Level: Orange” board, Lord Vader the TR&A VP sits on an elevated throne, looking down at his bustling minions (who rotate in and out on 34.5hr/week floating shifts) as they scan radar screens for new threats.

And the room goes deathly still when a Wal-Mart threat analyst, bathed in the green glow of his display, hits the alarm button and utters those dreaded words:

“Sir, I’ve identified a new Target!”

Nice Move

Monday, March 26th, 2007

So, Jeff and I have a new apartment, and I’m pretty excited. I might even take some pictures after I move in, to illustrate how I’m going to be making some changes in the ol’ JSP tradition. More on that later.

For now, though, Jeff is holding down the fort because I’m still missing a few staples…such as a mattress. (I just bought a bed yesterday.) That’s important, of course, but there’s something else just as essential (and just as missing): broadband.

Unfortunately, for contractual reasons I can only get the building’s (overpriced) in-house Internet or else DSL. With gritted teeth, I opted for DSL. Supposedly, we’ll be hooked up by Friday, at which point I will be expected to load a CD to complete the installation that will install various craplets and set my default Internet settings to those favored by AT&T and its affiliates.

To which I say: fat chance, friends.

Thanks to Parallels, I can run Windows-in-a-window on my Mac. So I will simply clone my current Windows installation, let the CD do its worst, and then dump that instance right into the trash. The install can phone home all it likes; the Mac is unaffected.

Supremely geeky? You betcha. But it pleases me.

I’m at a Loss

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Cellular (mobile) phone companies are evil, there’s no doubt about that. Particularly here in the U.S., where service is often abysmal and the companies make every effort to nickel-and-dime you to death.

So I can understand not wanting to give them one more hot cent than you absolutely must, but still I’m confused by this:

Derek C. F. Pegritz, an English composition instructor at Waynesburg College in western Pennsylvania, wants to switch cellphone carriers because of dropped calls, but he isn’t sure how he’ll do it.

“I’m shelling out $90 a month for a phone that basically sits there and collects dust,” he said.

But getting out of his contract will cost him $170. Mr. Pegritz has tried to explore other ways to be released from the remaining year of his contract, but the best he hopes for is a compromise by Cellular One. “I’m looking forward to that about as much as I’m looking forward to getting several teeth pulled next week,” he said.
NYT: Getting Out of a 2-Year Cellphone Contract Alive

If your phone “basically sits there and collects dust”, you’re getting $0/month of value from it. If you’re shelling out $90/month for service and have a “remaining year” left on your contract, you need to pay 12×90 = $1,080 for the next year.

In what scenario is it smart to just let the phone collect dust? If your service sucks, yes, by all means call the company and complain and try to get a break. But if not, pay the damn $170 to save nine hundred dollars in monthly fees!

Millennium Parking

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

As brother Jeff and I have conducted our (lackadaisical) search for an apartment to share, I have been spending plenty of time in Google Maps/Earth. While my knowledge of Chicago’s streets has improved by leaps and bounds in the past year, I still need the frequent assist in the form of a nice satellite photo. Jeff, on the other hand, has so much ground-level Chicago experience he could give the Google Maps team corrections*. He warned me the sat photos were sometimes well out-of-date.

How right he was. Just yesterday I pulled up the following map of a Chicago landmark:
Millennium Park map crop

Note in particular the distinctive squiggly shape. Now check out the satellite version:
Millennium Park satellite photo crop

Wait, where’s the squiggly thing? That just looks like a big parking lot. And therefore we know this photo was taken before Millennium Park opened in July 2004. Well before, presumably, because the “squiggly” is actually the Frank Gehry-designed 925-foot pedestrian bridge across Columbus Drive, shown here from another angle:

Of course, even at 3 years old I’ll take what I can get. Beats getting up out of my chair in a Chicago winter.

*No, really. Even now, one block of the very street upon which he used to live is incorrectly marked as an eastbound one-way. Technically a NAVTEQ problem, but still…