Archive for the 'Wankers' Category

I’ll Have 18 Popcorn Kernels, Please

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

One wonders if the people who wrote the AMC Guest Satisfaction Survey have ever… set foot in an AMC theater.

screen capture of survey showing price ranges for concessions starting at $1

What exactly can you get for two bucks? Or for that matter under $3? And what’s the purpose of getting this level of granularity? Hell, anyone who buys a large drink and popcorn is almost over the max all alone.

Stippling is Your Friend

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Lord knows what havoc Rupert Murdoch will wreak on the Wall Street Journal now that he’s clinched that prize, but I for one hope he doesn’t tinker with one of the paper’s trademarks: its stippled portraits.

And you know what? I bet Angelo Mozilo agrees with me.

That would be the guy who’s chairman of Countrywide Financial. Depending upon whom you ask, he looks like this:

WSJ portrait of Angelo Mozilo
(From WSJ)

or this:

(From NYT)

I think everyone this side of George Hamilton would agree the former is much more flattering.

Of course, Mozilo wasn’t entirely manhandled by the Times. Consider this improbable bit of that story:

Mr. Mozilo has ridden this remarkable wave to immense riches, thanks to generous annual stock option grants. Rarely a buyer of Countrywide shares — he has not bought a share since 1987, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings — he has been a huge seller in recent years. Since the company listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange in 1984, he has reaped $406 million selling Countrywide stock.

As the subprime mortgage debacle began to unfold this year, Mr. Mozilo’s selling accelerated. Filings show that he made $129 million from stock sales during the last 12 months, or almost one-third of the entire amount he has reaped over the last 23 years. He still holds 1.4 million shares in Countrywide, a 0.24 percent stake that is worth $29.4 million.

“Mr. Mozilo has stated publicly that his current plan recognizes his personal need to diversify some of his assets as he approaches retirement,” said Rick Simon, a Countrywide spokesman. “His personal wealth remains heavily weighted in Countrywide shares, and he is, by far, the leading individual shareholder in the company.”

So let’s review. He hasn’t purchased a share of his company in two decades. In the last 12 months, he sold $129 million and now has under $30 million in stock — yet his “personal wealth remains heavily weighted in Countrywide shares.”

Now I’m not one to quibble, but he sure was a lot more “heavily weighted” a year ago, before he decided to cash out over 80% of his then-holdings. Why the bum rush for the exit?

Tanning bill come due?

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!”

Don’t Know What to Say

Wednesday, December 13th, 2006

All of our efforts in Iraq, military and civilian, are handicapped by Americans’ lack of language and cultural understanding. Our [Baghdad] embassy of 1,000 has 33 Arabic speakers, just six of whom are at the level of fluency. In a conflict that demands effective and efficient communication with Iraqis, we are often at a disadvantage. There are still far too few Arab language–proficient military and civilian officers in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. mission.

Iraq Study Group Report, p92 (emphasis added)

Six people in the embassy can speak the language. Six. I sure hope they’re all straight…

But the GAO also noted that nearly 800 dismissed gay or lesbian service members had critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five were proficient in Arabic, including Copas, a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in California.

Army dismisses gay Arabic linguist, AP (via MSNBC, emphasis added)

Check Costs

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Last year when I made mock billboards for Big Print Bank, I made sure to include a reference to payday loans. Ever since my Finance 350 prof required us to calculate the APR on those suckers, I’ve been mortified by the whole industry.

Today I found an interesting tidbit [via] that underscores the whole problem (emphasis added):

The [payday] loan usually ranges from $100 to $500 and requires a fee that can be up to $25 for every $100 borrowed. Annual percentage rates on the loans can be more than 400 percent.

About 170,000 North Carolinians have tapped payday loans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending. The center said that about 99 percent of the loans go to repeat borrowers, and that the average borrower ends up paying $800 to obtain $325 because of the interest cost.
— “Final payday lenders depart N.C.

I Like “Lost”…

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

…but this sort of shit (on broadcast TV!) drives me crazy:
man with on-screen subtitle reading: You're husband...

Fuck You, Microsoft

Saturday, February 18th, 2006

This is what I get for using the downstairs (Windows) computer:
Windows info bubble mentioning an automatic update

…note they chose to use the demur “this update required an automatic restart” rather than the more accurate “we didn’t like that, though you chose to manually run an update, you didn’t click the ‘Restart Now’ button fast enough, so — despite the fact you had your customary 46 browser tabs open — when you left to watch The Big Lebowski we took the opportunity to just reboot the computer without your approval. So fuck you, fuck your open documents, fuck your browser windows. We’ve got holes to plug!”

Freedom Fries, Anyone?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

Oh for shit’s sake:

Iranians turn on Danish pastries in cartoon row

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Not content with pelting European embassies with petrol bombs to protest against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, Iranians have decided to rename the “Danish pastries” relished by this nation of cake lovers.

From now on, the sweet, flaky pastries which dominate the shelves in Iran’s cake shops will be known as “Roses of the Prophet Mohammad,” the official IRNA news agency reported as pressure on Denmark over the cartoons took on a new dimension. […]

Also: Iran is a “nation of cake lovers”? Big surprise. I expect you’d be hard pressed to find a country that wasn’t…

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.”)

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.

Die, Best Buy

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

On Sunday I needed to pick up some DVD-RWs so I could bring some, uh, material back from B-don‘s. There were few choices open in Rochester at that point (including Wal-Mart: never!) and so I made an exception and went to Best Buy.

There, deep inside the enemy’s lair, B and I discovered that the price tags were making reference to two sorts of discounts: “instant rebates” (whatever happened to “Sale”?) and “checks”. What were these “checks”? Some sort of new discount approach? I pulled a tag from the shelf and walked over to customer service to get the scoop.

At the counter, the girl told me flatly that “checks” is just the new name for “mail-in rebates.” Considering that more than 9 months ago, Best Buy pledged to phase out rebates “over the next two years” I find this practice doubly suspicious.

Why the name change if they’re going away anyway? (To be fair, this may be how they’ve done it for awhile. I do my level best not to enter the store, so I may just be late on the uptick.)

Not-So-Swell Cell

Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

Went to switch plans at the cell company yesterday, and took the chance to air one of my long-standing complaints: despite being shown as in the home area on all the maps, there’s a big (~40-50mi) swath of I-80 outside Chicago that always puts my phone in “roaming” mode.

When I asked the salesperson to explain, she said to ignore the message, that I’m not going to be charged roaming. Which is great: now I know that the display that’s supposed to mean “Warning! You’ll pay more money if you call now!” is unreliable.

Then she suggested I update my phone’s tower definitions. “I do what now?” I asked. Dial xxx (some three-digit star code which I’ve already forgotten; think it’s 228), she said. I did, and was greeted with a recording and some Muzak whilst my phone was being updated. While this was happening, the rep advised me to do this every three months but only from my home area, lest my phone be flashed with some other carrier’s data.

So I got all that done, she did some keying around to change the plan, and we were out of there… only to discover, today, that in the process voicemail had been deactivated: my greeting obliterated, my PIN unrecognized.

I know it’s cliché to bitch about the cell carriers, but this still astounds me. We’re talking about a closed system, in which they control the hardware, the software, the transactions, everything. Done right, this sort of thing gives you an iPod+iTunes-level experience. Yet here I’m expected to dial some arbitrary phone number every 3 months, to complete a process which, despite the fact the phone has been locked by the carrier, is too stupid to know my home network? Indeed, a simple billing change can blow my (non-integrated) voicemail out of the water?

No wonder Mossberg calls them the Soviet ministries.

Product Placement Pt. II

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

So TV shows like “The Contender” are the product placement champs? Not if you ask the folks over at NewsUSA. NewsUSA, a “feature placement” service, offers editors “copyright free” material for newspapers, radio stations, and the Web. Media outlets are free to use the material and edit it however they wish — with one small caveat: the sponsor’s name should be retained.

Now, these are not those faux-article ads that run with a small “Advertisement” label. These are articles intended to be run as regular features, including stories such as “7 Tips on Preventing Identity Theft.” That’s a NewsUSA sample article, also available in bottom-tier papers as news.

The problem is, it’s not all papers like the Moneysaver Lewis-Clark Edition. If NewsUSA’s FAQ is to be believed, they’ve placed stories in major outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle, and the company’s client list certainly has some major organizations.

Now NewsUSA is looking to take things to the next level with an “editor rewards program“: in addition to saving the time of actually assigning a writer to a story, those editors who use NewsUSA will now earns points for portable DVD players, gas grills and even major kitchen appliances.

If this sort of thing catches on, we can all look forward to news stories such as “Movies Delivered to Your Door” (pdf), a piece examining movies-by-mail which manages to omit any mention of Netflix, by far the largest company in the business. I suppose if Netflix (or Green Cine) don’t like it, they’ll just have to buy their own articles.

Product Placement Pt. I

Monday, December 5th, 2005

No time for a clever title, my brain’s still trying to process this one:

Low-Rated Reality Show Had High-Rated Product Placements (StudioBrief)
The shortlived reality series “The Contender” was the champ when it came to product placements during the first nine months of this year, according to Nielsen Research’s Place Views. According to the measuring service, the NBC reality series (which reportedly cost $2 million per episode to produce but attracted only a small audience) recorded 7,514 product placements between its premiere in February and its finale in May. By contrast, the second-place holder, Fox’s “American Idol,” presented 3,497 product placements. The WB’s “What I Like About You” ranked third with 2,544, followed by ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” with 2,480 and CBS’s “King of Queens” with 2,139.

Now I’ve never seen “The Contender”, so maybe it’s really obvious if you’ve watched the show, but how is that possible? From what I can tell, the show had 17 episodes during its run. I’m pretty sure it was an hour long, so that’s:
17 x 42.5 min x 60 sec/min = 43,350 sec / 7,514 placements = 5.77 sec/placement

Now, of course that’s an average, and no doubt they counted the same product over and over. But still, I wonder about the methodolgy: does each “scene” with a product count as a new placement? Each camera angle? Each person using it? How on Earth do they count these things?

More importantly, what do advertisers actually expect to get out of this arrangement? If you only get a fraction of over 7,000 appearances, is that really better than just buying a damn commercial?

I Seek You(r Password)

Tuesday, January 7th, 2003

Yesterday I received a spam (image) purporting to come from It asked me to specify my ICQ username and password, in order to verify that I was still an active user.

The e-mail originated from an IP address in Turkey, and uses a Canadian Web to e-mail gateway provider to send the information to who knows where.

Obviously the whole procedure is suspect, and there were tip-offs (“the ICQ Inc.”, “you confirm us”, “filling the empty spaces”) in the text that cast further doubt, but even I did a double-take because I do have a lapsed ICQ account.

It makes me wonder: how many people were ensnared by this approach? Just what does the sender intend to do with that information? Will we have better trust mechanisms (and user education) before single sign-on programs like MS Passport and Liberty Alliance get off the ground?