Archive for the 'WtF' Category

Click Here for Weapon Title

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Now here’s a scary thought: “Nearly all internal briefings in the Pentagon these days are presented as PowerPoint slides. Officials told me three years ago that if an officer wanted to make a case for a war plan or a weapons program or just about anything, he or she had better make the case in PowerPoint—or forget about getting it approved.” — “PowerPoint to the People

WalkAway, Hyundai

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Uh, wow. Just saw an ad for Hyundai Assurance, a program that lets you return a newly financed/leased vehicle within a year if you “lose your income.” It’s a white-label for a program called WalkAway, a name which has an oddly threatening tone to my ear. Anyway, between this and Chrysler’s new “Employee Pricing Plus Plus,” I wonder how long it will be before they throw in 1,000 shares of the automaker’s stock with each new car purchase.

John Quincy’s Oath

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Imagine a president-elect doing this today: “John Quincy Adams, according to his own letters, placed his hand on a constitutional law volume rather than a Bible to indicate where his fealty lay.” —Slate

Iceland Troubles

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Letter from Iceland: “Holidaymakers and business travellers venturing ’til Útlanda’, as it is called, found their credit cards refused.” That was just 2 weeks after we returned from Iceland. Good thing it didn’t implode while we were there… (A point of comparison: my credit card statement shows a 23 Sep purchase for ISK28,500 as US$301.93. Under two months later, and the conversion is now US$203.04.)

United Door-to-Door

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

United’s Door-to-Door baggage service: save the hassle of bringing your luggage to and from the airport…by spending $149+ per bag to have it FedEx’d the day before? Uh, what? Who thought that would take off?

The End of Wall Street

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Unbelievable. From Portfolio’s “The End of Wall Street” article: “In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.”

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.

Worst. Chart. Ever.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

One of the programs I use (alas, sporadically) to try to get some insights into my finances is called iBank. Despite a few glitches, I’ve found it to be tolerable for what I need.

The makers have just released a new update, and my jaw dropped when I saw a screenshot that included this:
pie chart with segments hard to distinguish due to full-color wallpaper graphics being used for each slice

What? I think it’s trying to show auto, childcare, grocery, clothing, and travel expenses, but that’s just a guess based on the horrible, horrible graphic treatments. And the black background? The reflection? Why, why? (Click through to the screenshot for additional, gratuitous “CoverFlow” action.)

Somebody needs to buy these guys a copy of the Tufte canon.

Now, I know some people will place the blame on OS X for tempting developers with flashy built-in systems to make everything — even a simple chart — look slick. And those people would have more ammunition for their argument if they compared this new iBank release to, say, Quicken Online:
cropped screenshot of Quicken online with

There’s a lot to love about this display: the simple money in/out/difference boxes, the Trivial Pursuit-style chart (though the perspective is unnecessary, what’s wrong with a flat view?) and overall the austerity is no doubt influenced by the comparatively limited functionality of a Web-based application.

Maybe the iBank crew should be confined to the Web until they learn that “useful” and “pretty” should go together…

Sandburg Would Love This Guy

Friday, February 1st, 2008

In his poem “Chicago“, Carl Sandburg christened this town the “City of the Big Shoulders.” (I’ve also heard it referred to as “broad shoulders.”) It’s a metaphor, but I have to wonder what he’d say if he saw this guy:
picture of Detroit mayor

That’s Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and apparently he’s having some problems. That’s all very interesting, but I just can’t get past the picture. Does he not have a tiny head on an extra-large body? Look at those shoulders!

(I know, posting about pinheads is hardly an auspicious trend for ’08, but the picture draws me in.)

Two Sentences

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

One, the opening line from a “thriller” I found left behind in a parking garage, made me groan:

The house in Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes.

Blech. That book’s getting donated.

But turn that frown upside down, as there’s this one, from NYT:

“It’s going to be really good for international travel over the next year and a half,” Mr. Seaney said.

Excellent! Iceland, anyone?

Would You Fire This Man?

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

The continuing clusterfuck that is this whole U. S. Attorney scandal has been a fascinating look into yet another ugly face of the current administration. And when I say “ugly face”, I’m using metaphor, but others are being a tad literal. Consider this photo of Wisconsin U.S.A. Steven Biskupic (from this J-S article):

Steven Biskupic

You’re telling me that they sent a staff photographer (the photo credit is to “Jack Orton”, no wire service) down to this guy’s office and that’s the best photo they came up with? I shudder to think what didn’t make the cut…

Best. Correction. Ever.

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

From my e-mail today:

The statement “In New York City, someone stole the penis of a chocolate Jesus” is not true; the source was a satire website that was mistakenly thought to be a genuine news source. Harper’s Weekly apologizes for the error.

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!”

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…