Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who's A Better Shopper: The Definitive Answer


Comment:

I received some feedback that I was treating one half of the political spectrum unfairly in my last post, although it wasn't clear which side was at a disadvantage. I myself thought I was favoring the Conservatives since whatever praise I offered Progressives was intended to be back-handed. Therefore, I have decided to republish the post with annotations that should eliminate any ambiguity concerning which side fares better in my ruminations.

Original Post with Annotations:

How do you go about buying something? Are you spontaneous or deliberate? Do you do your homework first or just grab something that appeals to you? I have developed a theory by which I believe I can predict what sort of shopper you are simply by asking for your political views.

[OK, so far I haven't taken sides so the score is Conservatives: 0; Progressives: 0.]

Progressives have an inherent distrust of business and approach shopping with the assumption that the chances of being scammed are immeasurably high. The Conservative, in contrast and as one might expect, believes that the practitioners of free-enterprise are, on the whole, an honest bunch as much concerned with the welfare of the customer as their bottom-line. Thus, In matters of retail, the Progressive is a profound pessimist while the Conservative is a wide-eyed optimist.

[In this very optimistic nation of ours, it is much better to be called an optimist than a pessimist. So the score is now Conservatives: 1; Progressives: 0.]

Conservatives still have a quaint tendency towards brand loyalty. In this they are a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. In the ancient times of my youth, it was common amongst Democrats and Republicans alike to hear self-applied descriptions such as

"I'm a (Ford / Chesterfield / Coca-Cola) person".

Today, however, Progressive cynicism concerning the motives of Big Business prohibits any identification with a brand; a position with which, for mental health reasons I agree. (Can you imagine the trauma an Oldsmobile or a Kodak person has been feeling lately?) Only a Conservative would feel insulted if, as I did recently, AT&T was compared unfavorably to Verizon Wireless. I had no idea, until that point, that anyone could possibly consider themselves an "AT&T person"! I mean, AT&T isn't even really AT&T. It is actually SBC Communications that took the name of one of it's acquisitions: AT&T Wireless! (Does that mean an "AT&T Guy" is really an "SBC Guy"?)

[Whether brand loyalty is considered a positive or a negative trait is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. Although I do concede that I consider it a negative, who the hell cares (other than me) what I think? Score is unchanged.]

I, on the other hand, am a Progressive and, consequently, would happily purchase an "Adolf Hitler" TV if it were highly rated by Consumer Reports and was cheaper than the competition. (OK, I'd probably pay extra to have the logo removed before shipment but that would be the extent of my shame.)

[Slavish devotion to anything in print is definitely a negative these days. Score: Conservatives: 2; Progressives: 0.]

Of course, that is not to say that there aren't Progressive brands: Subaru, Google and Apple are some examples that immediately come to mind. However, as a Progressive I can definitively say that the only reason Progressives drive Foresters and talk on iPhones is because they are simply the best and NOT because they make anyone feel more Progressive when buying one. That is just another cabal of the Right Wing Media Conspiracy.

[Here I am accusing Progressives of not facing up to their own brand loyalties but Conservatives might find this trait appealing so it really can't be considered a strike against Progressives. I am postulating a Conservative media conspiracy but since I don't believe in this concept any more than I believe in a "liberal media bias" this accusation simply doesn't count. Score is unchanged.]

It should come as no surprise then that I, as any good Progressive would do, consulted CR in order to make my choice of a replacement TV. Luckily, that wonderful organization did not recommend an "Adolf Hitler" model. Instead they recommended model LS78XC223MJL387249910AA.02 manufactured by an Asian firm. (And, no, there is absolutely no basis to the Conservative libel that CR always pans American-made products. In fact, they love Vermont maple syrup!!)

[The sarcasm in this paragraph is about as subtle as an elephant with diarrhea. Conservatives: 3. Progressives: 0.]

Conclusion

As can be seen, my prior post was a Conservative rout as I suspected. I stand self-vindicated!!

TBC

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Politics of Acquisition


How do you go about buying something? Are you spontaneous or deliberate? Do you do your homework first or just grab something that appeals to you? I have developed a theory by which I believe I can predict what sort of shopper you are simply by asking for your political views.

Progressives have an inherent distrust of business and approach shopping with the assumption that they will be fleeced if they let their guard down. Conservatives, in contrast and as one might expect, believe that the practitioners of free-enterprise are, on the whole, an honest bunch as much concerned with the welfare of the customer as their bottom-line. Thus, In matters of retail, the Progressive is a profound pessimist while the Conservative is a wide-eyed optimist.

Conservatives still have a quaint tendency towards brand loyalty. In this they are a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. In the ancient times of my youth it was common amongst Democrats and Republicans alike to hear self-applied descriptions such as

"I'm a (Ford / Chesterfield / Coca-Cola) person".

Today, however, Progressive cynicism concerning the motives of Big Business prohibits any identification with a brand; a position with which, for mental health reasons, I agree. (Can you imagine the trauma an Oldsmobile or a Polaroid person has been feeling lately?) Only a Conservative would feel insulted if, as I did recently, AT&T was compared unfavorably to Verizon Wireless. I had no idea that anyone could possibly consider themselves an "AT&T person"! I mean, AT&T isn't even really AT&T. It is actually SBC Communications that took the name of one of it's acquisitions: AT&T Wireless! (Sounds like a multiple personality disorder in the making.)

I, on the other hand, am a Progressive and would happily purchase an "Adolf Hitler" TV if it were highly rated by Consumer Reports (CR) and was cheaper than the competition. (OK, I'd probably pay extra to have the logo removed before shipment but that would be the extent of my shame.)

Of course, that is not to say that there aren't Progressive brands: Subaru, Google and Apple are some examples that immediately come to mind. However, as a Progressive I can definitively say that the only reason Progressives drive Foresters and talk on iPhones is because they are simply the best and NOT because they make anyone feel more Progressive when buying one. That is just another cabal of the Right Wing Media Conspiracy.

It should come as no surprise then that I consulted CR in order to make my choice of a replacement TV. Luckily, that wonderful organization did not recommend an "Adolf Hitler" model. Instead they recommended model LS78XC223MJL387249910AA.02 manufactured by an Asian firm. (And, no, there is absolutely no basis to the Conservative libel that CR always pans American-made products. In fact, they love Vermont maple syrup!!)
TBC

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Repair Man From Hell

My "Man Moment" delusion concerning my TV was, frankly, a whopper: somehow I came to the belief that I could actually repair the thing - MYSELF! The last time I had wielded a soldering iron was at 12 years of age when I had built a small Heathkit amplifier. (It actually worked if I jiggled the volume control which temporarily reduced the overpowering speaker hum to manageable levels - a technique I had learned watching my Dad "fix" our TV.)

I know I'm not alone in this madness. As I drive around my rural neighborhood, I frequently spy the remains of scores of man-moments in the form of vehicles of every description in various stages of dismantlement upon the lawns and driveways of my neighbors.

Not that I wasn't encouraged to fantasize in this dangerous way. When I had that inimitable man-moment thought,

I wonder what would happen if I repaired the TV myself,

I knew I would not be journeying alone into the unknown: the Internet would be right by my side! No less than The Sum Total of All Human Knowledge had my back so how could I fail?

Google did not disappoint: I found one guy's blog which stated that he had a projection TV by the same manufacturer as mine with the same "red ghosts" and he had managed to fix it in 15 minutes with just a screwdriver! So I printed out his profusely illustrated instructions and promptly set to work.

Piece o' cake!! I'll be watching "Modern Marvels" again in no time!

Three hours later I finally managed to expose the supposedly malfunctioning part. If that didn't tell me I was outta my league I don't what would but I persisted with the usual rationalizations:

OK, so it's taking a little longer than I hoped but who cares if I save a small fortune by fixing it myself.

The next step was to identify the one amongst six screws on the part that required adjusting. This involved interpreting tiny Chinese characters stamped almost invisibly on the device's housing. Using my vast knowledge of Chinese I located the offending screw. The instructions then cautioned me to turn the screw slightly and slowly until the "red ghosts" disappeared.

A slam-dunk!!

OK, Dan... gently now! Not too much pressure.... Damn, it's stuck!!... It won't budge!!... Ugh...Aargh...Ooohh.... Come'on you STUPID PIECE'A ... SNAP!!!

The screw suddenly moved about 3/4s of a turn and its plastic top completely broke off making further adjustments impossible. No need for that though: I had eliminated the "red ghosts" along with the entire picture! The screen was dark and the standby indicator on the TV was now flashing to indicate a total catastrophic failure.

TBC...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Man Moments" and The Exploding Lava Lamp

I have a confession to make: the breakdown of my old TV caused me to have a "man moment". OK, not too shocking, right? Because, truth be known, I am (and I am very careful to whom I admit this) a man. (Being male is now illegal in about 4 states, BTW.) Although I am certainly not the stereotypical American male (to say the very least) the fact is that "man moments" are not nearly as common to men as you might expect. If they were the human race would've died out centuries ago.

A "man moment" is any action based on the fundamentally male thought process that begins "I wonder what would happen if...?" Although present in all human beings whatever their gender, I have yet to meet a male of any background that wasn't, on some level, a tinkerer. This is, occasionally, a positive attribute. I cite the well-known examples of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Far more often, however, it is a curse. In this regard I cite the example of one 24 year old resident of Kent, Washington who, according to a press release issued by that municipality's police department on November 29, 2004, was found dead in his trailer home by his parents. I quote:

"It appeared that something had exploded on the stove top sending shards and splinters of glass in all directions. Remnants of a lava lamp were found around the kitchen area. It is believed that for some unknown reason the deceased placed a lava lamp on the stove top to heat it up which led to the explosion of the fluid container part of the lava lamp. The deceased has several lacerations and one large shard of glass embedded in his chest."

I suppose the police must refrain from speculation and thus refused to ascribe a motive to the young man's placement of a lava lamp on a hot burner. Being under no such stricture I can confidently state that this incident was the sad result of an extreme "man moment". The young man simply asked himself what would happen if he increased the heat applied to the contents of a lava lamp significantly. I am also confidant that the question has formed in the minds of many males while watching the "oil" rise and separate into balls and then rejoin the mass at the top of the lamp. I know I have. (If you would like to know more about what's actually in a lava lamp click here.)

Now before the non-males start condemning me as a lunatic, let me explain that I didn't start planning to place a lava lamp on a stove the first time I set eyes on one. I, like most males, initially pondered how exactly the thing worked. After making the profound discovery that heat is the enabler of the process, I was logically and naturally led to the proposition that the higher the heat, the faster the transfer of "oil" from the bottom to the top of the lamp. And all males know that once a reasonable proposition has been postulated it is perfectly reasonable to design an experiment to test it out.

At some point, before the male places the lava lamp on a burner and turns the knob to "High", hopefully an image of his Mom will appear in his brain screaming: "Dan you idiot, how many times have I told you NOT to PLAY with FIRE!!!" .

Sometimes the self-preservation reflex carefully planted in the male brain by a mother (since the future of the human race has been entrusted to her care) doesn't dissuade the experimenter and either injury, death or progress will result, sometimes simultaneously. I know it's happened to me.

When I was in my early teens, I conducted a series of experiments involving fire. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a well-equipped laboratory at that time so I had to make do with the bathtub in my parents apartment, the alleyway behind the back of our apartment building, and a garbage dump in the bungalow colony we lived in during the summer of 1966. Here were my findings:

1) Plastic shower curtains do not burn; they melt in hot globules that can burn exposed flesh and are very difficult to remove from porcelain once they harden.

2) Plastic shower curtains also produce an inordinate amount of dark, acrid smoke that will attract considerable attention as it billows out of a 4th floor bathroom window.

3) The updraft on a windy day can cause a shoebox filled with burning newspaper and model airplane fuel to hover outside an apartment window for extended and unnerving periods instead of simply dropping to the alleyway below.

4) Setting fire to a week's worth of garbage at a large bungalow colony requires planning, fortitude, skill and a reckless disregard for property values.

Now if that wasn't worth a visit or two from the fire department and several screaming jags from my Mom, then I don't know what is.

TBC....

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture? - Part 1

Not long ago my crystal-clear, very-expensive-though-now-hopelessly-outdated rear-projection TV suddenly developed ghosts on the screen; red ghosts to be precise. This, in and of itself, was not a completely unreasonable event: the TV was 11 years old after all.

However, the way it happened totally threw me. I had accidentally hit the "Off" button on the remote instead of "Mute" before heading into the kitchen for a snack and, when I returned to the Living Room five minutes later and turned the TV back on, the picture resembled a Picasso painting.

This sudden collapse left me a tad unsympathetic to my TV which was obviously seriously ill.

"You know what you are??!! You are a $3,300.00 enormous piece of useless junk taking up valuable floor space in my living room!!!"

That was the printable portion of what I found myself screaming at it. Obviously, my unbalanced reaction was the result of being completely unprepared for this tragedy. I was in shock and just not thinking clearly.

This is the problem with our ever advancing technology: as more and more of our possessions become "solid state" and contain less and less moving parts, we no longer have the ability to emotionally prepare for their loss.

Things were very different in my childhood: when the tube-filled TV behemoths of that era broke down we had plenty of warning. Consider the VHF tuner for example (the only other functional control found on the black and white sets of that era was the volume control - the UHF dial being only for decoration). First, the user would notice that the picture would no longer cleanly change from the old to the new channel when the tuner knob was turned but there would be a few seconds of static, visually and audibly. As things worsened, the static would no longer clear up on its own but would require the operator to "jiggle" the knob a bit to fix the problem. Eventually, some months later, even the "jiggling" became useless. Even at that stage, though, there was no need to panic: chances were that one or two of the seven VHF channels (available in the New York City area where I grew up) were immune to the problem. If you were lucky, the exemption might have included at least one of the network stations. If you weren't so lucky, your choices might have been limited to such dreck as "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9.

Thus, several years might elapse between the first signs of trouble and the fateful choice of repairing or replacing which, anyone would agree, is plenty of time to get acclimated to any kind of change, even one as momentous as buying a new TV.

But now a five minute break to get some food is all that is required for a superb TV picture to become a Cubistic mess. The impact of this state of affairs cannot be exaggerated: it undermines our belief that life has some predictability. Without that how can we trust anything or anyone??

I think some solution to this fiasco must be found. My own suggestion would be to program the computer chips that control so many of our devices so that we would be given sufficient warning when a component begins to die. Remember the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey"? He told Dave that one of the antenna thingeys on the spaceship would fail within a certain period and recommended its replacement. (OK, HAL was lying but that was only because he was programmed for human emotions which, thankfully, none of our stuff seems to possess - a great boon in my case considering how often I scream obscenities at mine!)

In the meantime I am seeking grief counseling as I seem to be permanently stuck in the anger phase of the grieving cycle.

TBC

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Customer Disservice

"Hello, this is Myra, how are you today?"

(Life sucks and, on top of that, I'm wasting a half-hour trying to find out if my stupid cable company knows that my cable and internet access are out. But other than that, I'm wonderful, thank you!)

"I'm fine, how are you?"

(See, you're not the only one reading from a script!)

"I'm fine, thank you for asking. How may I help you today?"

(Why do the idiots who write the"level 1" customer service scripts assume I'd enjoy someone talking to me like Jeeves the butler?)

"My cable and internet service aren't functioning and I wanted to find out if there is a problem in my area."

"I can help you with that."

(No, REALLY??? I'm shocked! You see, I actually called just to hear you tell me you couldn't be of the slightest assistance whatsoever.)

"Great!!"

(A LONG pause.)

"Can I get your full name please."

"Dan Longiaru."

"Thank you Mr.,,,er... Lawn-ga-rue. Can I get your address, please?"

"Service or billing?"

(HAH! You're not dealing with some amateur here, sweetie!)

"Uummm.... service."

"387 Basingstoke Q, Hazy Acres, Florida."

"Basingstoke what??"

"Q."

"Is that a street, avenue or something else?"

"It's a building."

"Yes, sir, but what street is the building on?"

"It's not on a street, it's on a parking lot."

"OK, so what street is the parking lot on?"

"Hazy Acres Boulevard."

"I'm sorry sir, but that doesn't match your service address."

"I know that and you know that so why are we discussing it??"

"Because I need to verify your service address."

"Obviously you don't since you know it's not on Hazy Acres Boulevard!!"

"Sir, I need YOU to verify it so I can VERIFY your IDENTITY!!!"

"FINE! My address is 387 Basingstoke Q as I said before!"

"Yes, I heard you but I need to know what the name of the street is."

"LOOK, I didn't make up my address, the frickin' Post Office did and I swear on my Mother's grave that there is no street name or description ANYWHERE in my address!!! I live in a huge condo development with hundreds of buildings in which there are thousands of apartments, all of them on parking lots adjacent to Hazy Acres Boulevard. How would it help the postpeople deliver mail to the right person if every address mentioned a proximity to Hazy Acres Boulevard??!!"

"I'm putting you on hold for a minute sir to check into this."

(Please let her supervisor not be brain-dead! PLEASE GOD!! I'm begging you in the name of....)

"Sir, you gave enough of the address to verify it.

(Thank you Lord!!)

"But, just for future reference, your service address is 387 Basingstoke Q Avenue."

"Avenue?? You guys made up an address for me?? No wonder your bill doesn't show up half the time. You need to delete the word 'Avenue'"

"Sir, I can't do that. The system won't let me. But if you want I can set you up for 'paperless billing'".

(And trust the timely receipt of my bills to the internet of which you are the gatekeeper?? Are you out of your mind??? Of course you are: you're in customer service and only a looney would want that job.)

"No, never mind. Just leave it the way it is. So, can you tell me why my service is out?"

"First I need your account number."

"What for?"

"To verify your identity, sir."

"I thought you just did that with your trick address question?"

"We need to verify it using two pieces of information."

"OK, how about asking me for the last four digits of my social security number?"

"We've found that too many people have access to social security numbers so we decided to use something more secure."

"It's secure all right. Nobody knows it including the customer!!"

"It's printed on your bill."

"Unfortunately, your bills are sent to my New York home where I spend most of my time. Can't you use something else?"

"We have your driver's license on file but it's a very long number."

"A very long number? New York shortened its numbers I don't know how many years ago."

"Then I'll need your account number."

"Look, why do you need to verify I'm who I say I am? So what if I'm a terrorist trying to find out why a retirement community in South Florida is without cable service? Or do you think I've been waiting for the golden opportunity to strike at the heart of American power by attacking Hazy Acres while it's inhabitants are dazed with TV withdrawal symptoms?"

"Look sir, I'm just following the rules!"

"I know but the rules make no sense."

"I can't say one way or the other sir."

(Don't do it, Dan! I know the words are already about to pass your lips but there's still time to pull back from that precipice. Just hang-up and forget about it. Oh no, here it comes!!!!)

"I'd like to speak to your supervisor."

"Hold on a minute sir."

(NOW you've done it! You know perfectly well that no one in that organization under the rank of a Senior Vice President has the ability to say yes to anything but a rate increase. Still, her supervisor did accept my partial answer to the address question. Maybe she can help.)

"Hello, this is Myrna, Myra's supervisor, how are you today?"

"I'm fine Myra..."

"That's Myrna."

"Sorry."

"How may I help you today."

"I've been trying to find out if there's a service interruption in my neighborhood since I don't have cable or internet service."

"I can help you with that but first I need to verify your identity. Name?

"Mohamed Atta."