Saturday, September 26, 2009

Think Different.

Remember those old Apple ads, back in the ’90s, that encouraged us to “Think Different”? I certainly don’t mean to put the cart before the horse, but I’m wondering if I took that counsel a bit too much to heart, because advertising just doesn’t seem to work on me these days. Consider the following, all three of which happened in the last hour.

As I was driving down the road with my family, I saw an ad for a car. I don’t have the slightest clue what kind of car it was (which says something about the overall effectiveness of the ad), but the tag line was: “Hate Sitting In Traffic Even More.” I was like, “Okay… so you’re saying that if I buy this car, the unenjoyable parts of my life will become even less enjoyable? Why wouldn’t I just save a couple Chases and use the car I already have?”

Anna, it must be said, understood the ad as I can only assume it was intended: “This car is such a pleasure to drive, sitting in traffic will be horrible by comparison.” More power to her, but do you really think this is obvious from the text? (That’s an honest question, by the way. Feel free to comment!)

A few minutes later, we passed another billboard: this one for the Verizon Wireless store. The ad described the store—which I’ve seen, many times—as being “next to Walmart / behind Burger King,” which confused the snot out of me. Check out this aerial view of the two stores:



As you can plainly see (or so I thought), Verizon Wireless is across the street from Burger King, not behind it. However, Anna’s argument was that Burger King is actually on the street at the top of this picture (above Burger King), so the entrance and exit are actually in back. (Of course, the United States Postal Service doesn’t agree—BK’s address is the road that runs across the middle of this photo—but I guess nobody asked them.) So is the billboard correct? What do you think?

Let’s finish up, then, with our third and final ad of the day. When we arrived home, there was a computing catalog in the mailbox that was quite prominently advertising Microsoft Windows 7. When I opened up the catalog, the only mention of it was a tiny blurb (on page 7, ironically enough) that highlighted three main features of the new system. The top feature: “Windows XP productivity allows you to run programs in Windows XP Mode.”

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Windows XP the version that Microsoft is still trying to get everyone to upgrade from? (Yes, I know there’s a few people that actually bought Vista, but I’m guessing they’re not going to need their arms twisted to upgrade.) So if I’m a Windows XP user, why would I even consider dropping $300 on a system whose most important feature is its ability to act just like the one I already own?

How about you, dear readers? Am I right? wrong? just plain crazy? What do you think of these ads (or any others you might care to mention)?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Urban Dictionary Term of the Day

For those that don’t know (or just don’t remember), I have a page-a-day Urban Dictionary calendar. I thought today’s term was wonderful and just had to share:
applejacked
The process of having your Apple iPod stolen, usually as a result of wearing the telltale white earbuds.
Guy 1: Dude, I was on the train last night and someone came up to me and stole my iPod!

Guy 2: Dude, you totally got applejacked.

(Note: the preceding is @2008 Aaron Peckham. Please don’t sue me.) ;-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

And Now It’s Time for Everybody’s Favorite Game Show…


…WHAT THE *#%! IS GOING ON?

Today on What the *#%! Is Going On?, we have another entry from the book we spoke of, a few weeks ago. In this bleary, blurry photo, we see two boys doing… well, you decide. My personal take: a rare shot of Goofus actually doing something right for a change, although I’m not quite sure that rickety ladder will hold him much longer. Meanwhile, Gallant gets caught—on camera, no less!—stealing a sack of potatoes, ostensibly to pay the doctor’s bill for his sprained wrist.

What’s your take?

And We Wonder Why Insurance Costs So Much.

For those that don’t know, my sister is permanently disabled. She has Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, which basically means that untreated, she’d experience pain, 24/7, to the tune of 10% worse than natural childbirth. In fact, RSD patients—who are overwhelmingly female—often report that pregnancy decreases their pain level, so while most pregnant women are complaining that their back hurts, the RSD patients are rejoicing that their arms and legs don’t.

Thankfully, my sister has been blessed with amazing health benefits. Until their retirement, a few months ago, my parents were both middle-school teachers in New Jersey, which basically means that their insurance is phenomenal compared to just about everyone else’s. (Case in point: growing up, my sister and I took prescription chewable vitamins because our $1 copay was cheaper than over-the-counter Flintstones vitamins. True story.) While many insurance companies won’t even admit that RSD exists, let alone cover it, I’m not aware of Jaci ever being stuck with a bill—despite running up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth, every single year. Of course there’s the occasional bout with bureaucratic red tape, but by and large, the status quo keeps her illness within reasonable financial boundaries.

So this brings us to the point of this post: back in 1993, Jaci had her first surgery for what we would eventually discover was (or at least led to) RSD. As the surgery was podiatric, she wound up on crutches and, eventually, in a wheelchair. The insurance company could certainly be forgiven for not wanting to buy the wheelchair outright, since at that time nobody knew that she would be permanently disabled. As such, they dutifully paid the $50 to rent it for a month.

The month passed. Jaci still needed the wheelchair. I’m sure her doctors had to okay it, but the point is that insurance dutifully shelled out another $50 for the rental. Still no big deal; they’ve now paid $100 to rent a $500 wheelchair. The rental company gets their due, the insurance company comes out ahead.

Here’s the problem, though: this went on for years. Even after the government issued Jaci a permanent handicapped placard for her car, the insurance company—despite my father’s suggestion to the contrary—kept right on paying $50/month for the rental. After ten months, the price of the rental had already exceeded the price of the wheelchair; after 100 months, it was tenfold. If I remember correctly, it wasn’t until the state switched providers that somebody finally said, “Hey! Why are we renting this stupid wheelchair instead of just buying it?” and threatened to take it away altogether, unless my parents allowed the purchase (which, of course, was absolutely fine by them).

I was reminded of all this, a little while ago, when I discovered an article about Roger Ebert’s struggle to have his health insurance cover an iPhone or iPod touch. You can read the article, if you like, but the Reader’s Digest version is that Roger Ebert has lost his voice to cancer. According to overwhelming user consensus, the best speech-synthesis software out there is a $150 app installed on an Apple mobile device, such as the $199 iPod touch. Unfortunately, Ebert’s insurance would only cover an $8,000 PC that, according to those that use it, doesn’t work anywhere near as well as the proposed $349 solution (nor helps you at all, unless you’re sitting at it).

This article then cites an earlier New York Times article about an ALS patient on Medicare:

Asked why Medicare refused to cover cheaper, better alternatives for users, Peter Ashkenaz, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the Times, “We would not cover the iPhones and netbooks with speech-generating software capabilities because they are useful in the absence of an illness or injury.”

Since the $8,000 PC in question is apparently just a $500 PC that has had everything but the included text-synthesis software disabled, it’s not “useful in the absence of an illness or injury.” (Of course, once insurance ponies up the $8,000, the recipient is free to unlock the rest of the computer for a $50 upgrade fee, at which point s/he is free to do anything that doesn’t turn out to be incompatible with the text-synthesis software and crash the computer.)

So here’s the bottom line: both insurance companies and the federal government refuse to pay for a device that does everything you need and fits in your pocket, plus costs roughly 1/23 the price of a device that does virtually nothing and can’t travel with you, because—wait for it—the less expensive device is too useful.

I suppose there’s some doctor out there that would be happy to fit whoever made this decision with a prosthetic clue, but he’s probably not in network.

Friday, September 18, 2009

*****




It was a couple of months ago that my wife, Anna, decided that we should start purchasing Dean’s® brand milk over the store brand, because she heard somewhere that, unlike store brands, Dean’s contains no hormones. As luck would have it, about a week later, CVS started having sales on Dean’s milk, pretty much every week—sales so good that it’s now actually less expensive than the store brand—so we started taking advantage.

This morning, I was sitting at the table, innocently eating my breakfast, when I noticed that Dean’s has actually begun advertising this rumored fact. You probably can’t read it in the photo, but that golden, rounded fourteen-point star contains the following words:

Our Farmers Pledge Not to Use Artificial Growth Hormones*

So I’m thinking, “Cool! Anna was right! There’s no artificial growth hormones! How consumer-conscious of them!” But then I notice the asterisk. “Hmmm…” I think, using those exact words. “What could that be for?”

I look around the label—it really isn’t that large—and find the other asterisk. (At least it’s there; have you ever had that experience where there’s an asterisk in one place, but no asterisk anywhere else? You just know the designers are still laughing themselves silly over that little joke.) But back to this asterisk: it refers me to a series of tiny, probably four-point letters that state:

* NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE HAS BEEN SHOWN IN MILK FROM COWS TREATED WITH THE ARTIFICIAL GROWTH HORMONE rBST AND NON rBST TREATED COWS.

Did you get that? In short, what they’re saying is:

We’re Doing Something Politically Correct!
that doesn’t matter anyway.

It actually reminds me of a time, about a year ago, when I was visiting my parents and noticed a nice, big label on their mouthwash:

24-Hour Protection!*
Now, don’t get me wrong: 24-hour protection is a great thing to receive, from a mouthwash. Nobody wants to gargle at 7:30 AM and have their morning breath mysteriously return, just in time for the big business meeting. But again, what does that asterisk mean? Well, in this case:
* WHEN USED EVERY 12 HOURS.


Ha! Those kooky label designers! Can you imagine if we applied this to everything? How about a new women’s razor?

Eliminates Unwanted Hair Forever!*
*must shave every hour, on the hour.


…or perhaps a new Presidential Candidate?

I’ll Eliminate the National Debt without Increasing Taxes!*
*if every man, woman, and child in America sends a check to our creditors.


The bottom line is that I think we’ve reached a new level of enlightenment here, folks. The possibilities are endless. In fact, using my patented system, you too can use the hidden power of asterisks to become a billionaire in only five days!*

*Plan requires $1,000,000,000.00 investment. Results not typical. See some other blog for details.

Dream Another Dream for Me

So I said I’d be back to talk about my next dream, and here it is. Unfortunately, since I’ve waited for yet another night to pass, the details are very sketchy until the climactic scene, which I will now attempt to describe.

For much of the dream, I’d been driving around some city that I believe was supposed to be Philadelphia—not that I’ve been to Philadelphia, in the last decade, but that seems right. What sticks out in my mind is that after driving around for a long time, I finally came to a bridge. The bridge was extremely steep—probably about a 55˚ grade—but there was a long line of cars on it, slowly inching their way up. I decided to follow.

As I, too, inched up the bridge, I noticed that the left lane was mostly empty and took the opportunity to pass a few people—still moving fairly slowly, because of the grade, but faster than the people in the right lane. As I passed, I couldn’t help but notice that all the drivers in the right lane were pretty old, the kind of drivers whose faces provide shelter for large quantities of wrinkles. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re always right smack in the middle of the road, bodies hunched up to wheel, trying desperately to see over the dashboard. If it hadn’t already been dusk, I’m sure they would have been wearing those Roy Orbison–style sunglasses that inexplicably wrap around the face of the wearer, presumably so stray bats can’t fly behind the glasses and nest in the aforementioned crevasses. The point is that these people were everywhere, and I couldn’t figure out why they all seemed to be congregating on the same bridge.

As I got closer to the top, the left lane ended and I was forced to merge. By now it was almost completely dark out, and the streetlights lining the bridge were joined by millions of faraway lights, shining up from the city below. Still, I inched my way up, ever aware of the countless senior citizens around me. And then, somewhere in my mind, I realized something: this wasn’t just any bridge; this was a bridge where people came to die. About this time, the car ahead of me disappeared and I was left in horror as I realized that I was within a few feet of the top of the bridge, and my lane—the only lane—was about to merge down to virtually nothing.

You know those ladders that fold in half? The top of the bridge looked very similar to the top of one of those, when folded: a circle on its side, extruded about a foot wide and carved with a beautiful sun theme. Beneath this cylinder was a modified trapezoid, connecting it to the slowly widening bridge on either side. In other words, if I could actually make it over the top,  the bridge would widen back into a lane (and presumably, eventually, into two), so that I could theoretically drive down the other side. Of course, given the 55˚ downgrade, I didn’t really want to test that theory, but I was pretty much out of options.

And then I was there, at the top of the bridge, my car perched atop the foot-wide cylinder and beginning to spin and tilt. I could see the city lights penetrating the darkness from hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet below. As the wheels hung in mid-air, I searched for any sign of the countless vehicles that must have preceded me in plummeting from this insane altitude, but to no avail. My life hung in a very literal balance, and I knew it wouldn’t be much longer before gravity—my true-blue friend since childhood—would suddenly and irrevocably become my worst enemy.

And then I woke up.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Graming My Dreams

First of all, an explanation of the title: when I arrived at my first area in Spain—Sevilla Third Ward—my trainer immediately took me across the street to Alcampo, a store kind of like Super Walmart but (in Sevilla, anyway) with multiple floors. As we walked through the store, I happened to notice the CD racks and came across what was then the Cranberries’ new album, No Need to Argue. What’s more, it was a special edition, containing a live E.P. in addition to the full-length CD, itself. (I assume Europeans do that because CDs are so freaking expensive, over there; it sweetens the deal, a little.) I wound up purchasing it and sending it home, so I’d have it when I got back.

Fast forward a couple of years, when I was back in the States and no longer bound by mission rules. As I looked more closely at the liner notes, I noticed that parts of the track list were misspelled: specifically, the title track—which was spelled correctly, elsewhere—was accidentally listed as No Nedd to Argue, while Dreaming My Dreams was spelled as above. (I had actually noticed that one, immediately, but just figured “graming” was some Irish word I wasn’t familiar with. How na├»ve I was!) ;-)

So now, back to our regularly scheduled program:

The last couple of nights, I’ve been having some very interesting dreams. In the first one, Dave Pitcher—the local director of LDSFS—arrived at our house and handed us a two-day-old baby boy. He was Caucasian, with a full head of straight, very dark (nigh unto black) hair; and beautiful. His birthmother had loved him enough to leave him at a hospital in Indianapolis, knowing full well that she couldn’t take care of him. We immediately accepted him as our own—for indeed he was—and set about deciding what to name him.

That’s where the most interesting part came up: Anna and I have often discussed boy names, but have always had great difficulty coming up with any. Our top choice, Sam, was negated by Anna’s brother Ed naming his son Samuel (which bothered me a lot, at the time, since the only reason we hadn’t had several children by then was our stupid infertility; thankfully, I’m long since over that). We only agree on about three others, though, and we’ve now used two of them on our sons David and Daniel. As such, pretty much the only name we have left is Seth—which we initially determined to use, for the child in our arms. A little later in the dream, though, I got to thinking about why we want to use that name.

Anna and I have always loved the name Seth, but these days, it takes on a new significance. The name seems to have originated with Adam and Eve, who after the death of their son Abel, gave it to their next son. As recorded in Genesis 4:25:

And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew.”

If we do wind up having another son, in this life, would Seth be an appropriate name? For us, certainly, but what about for the child himself? That’s what I worried about, in the dream: if we named this baby Seth, would he consider himself second rate? Would he spend his life thinking, “Am I just the ‘substitute Daniel,’” the baby nobody really wanted, but whom my parents thought was better than nothing?

What do you think about this? I’ll come back later, to post about last night’s dream, but I’d really like some feedback. It’s my (hypothetical, but still) son’s self-worth we’re talking about, here.

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Obomney?

Now here’s a fascinating turn of events: we were having lunch at McDonald’s yesterday, and the TV was showing CNN’s live feed of Obama addressing a group of Pennsylvania union members. In the course of his remarks, Obama used the opportunity to once again drum up support for his health plan. As I listened to our illustrious president speak, he came to part about how’s he’s going to pay for all this, and I was flabbergasted.


It was Romneycare!


Now, don’t get me wrong: there are still plenty of differences between Obama’s plan and what Romney pushed through, in Massachusetts. However, the main sticking point—that the government stop paying doctors to treat the uninsured, then turn around and use that money to insure the same people they’re no longer paying for—was there. Frankly, I don’t know if this has always been a part of his plan (and don’t really care), but I do know a good idea when I hear it. It made sense when Romney suggested it, and it makes sense when Obama suggests it. While I still have tremendous concerns about the direction this whole health-care debate is going, I no longer see the funding as a significant issue.


Good job, Prez. Amidst a sea of concern and contradiction, you finally hit one out of the park. ☺

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obamarama

So last night, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina spoke out in an unbecoming outburst, during the President’s speech before Congress (not that he was really addressing Congress, but that’s not Obama; that’s presidents in general). In case you’ve been in a cave this morning, Obama claimed that his health care plan—which he has now essentially vowed to push through, no matter what, and if the Republicans don’t like it, that’s just because they’re stupid whiners—would not apply to illegal immigrants. Representative Wilson yelled out, right then and there, “You lie!” (Nancy Pelosi was not amused.)


So here’s the problem: Wilson’s outburst was inappropriate, but not necessarily inaccurate. And even if one does believe that Wilson is wrong, he spoke his beliefs, which last I checked, was still okay in this country. So the question now is: how does Wilson—a virtual unknown, until last night—turn this into a positive?


Wilson has been apologizing (through his people, of course) almost since the speech ended. This is a good start, but it’s not enough. In the brief time we watched Boston Legal, I gleaned an interesting—but very accurate—insight: apologies don’t win cases; defenses do. What Wilson needs to do is get out before the press and say, “Listen, guys…. I know I shouldn’t have interrupted the President during his speech. That was disrespectful, and there’s no excuse for that. But here’s why I did it: …” …and explain his actions. Here’s why this will work:


Before last night, Wilson was an unknown. Now, he’s a laughingstock. His own party is distancing itself from him. The opposition is attacking like a rabid werebeaver. His opponent in next year’s election has already received over $100,000 in grass-roots campaign donations, since last night. He’s got to turn the tide, and without a but, all the apologies in the world won’t accomplish that.


By including that large BUT in his apology, he turns a random outburst into a logical segue into an even more logical, well–thought-out argument. Obama’s speech was already logical and well thought out. You can fight crazy with crazy, but you can only fight smart with smart. Right now, Obama’s the smart one; Wilson’s the crazy. Until he turns that perception around, his outburst will do more to bolster Obama’s position than all the Obama speeches in the world.


Love him, hate him, or not even know him, Representative Wilson has a unique opportunity to do what the rest of the world has only begun to do: take down Obamacare. He stole the spotlight from our illustrious President, and he’s got about 24 hours to grab that attention before he becomes an ex-Representative and a footnote in history.


My 2¢.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Okay, it’s time to upgrade. (Part II)

wuySo here are my thoughts:


The most obvious option is what Eddie has already suggested: something that will last me another six years. Given the fact that desktops are, in my experience, more reliable than laptops, that would probably be a Mac Pro. It has all the power I could ever want (for the moment), but uses less electricity than my G5. It has room for four internal hard drives, which will make for easy RAID building; and plenty of room for expansion (Firewire 800, PCI Express 2.0, up to 32GB of RAM, etc.).


The big down side is the price: a Mac Pro costs $2,499 or $3,299 with no upgrades, plus whatever else I’d like to spend on a new display (and no, my old display won’t work with its new-fangled ports, so I’ll need to upgrade that, too). It’s really not a bad deal, for what you’re getting, but do I really need that much? If I were constantly doing graphics or video, sure; but as a developer, I’d actually probably be better off with something simpler—if for no other reason, so that I can have a realistic idea of how fast my programs will run, for the average end user.


The next option is a MacBook Pro. It really is the perfect marriage of power and portability, and the 13″ model—which would be fine, with a big, external display—starts at $1,199. It would be wonderful to be able to just up and take my work with me, at a moment’s notice, but my experience with laptops—as mentioned—has not been good. They seem to break down a lot more often than their desktop counterparts, and as long as I’m paid by the hour, no computer means no income. Even with Apple’s amazing warranty service, minimizing downtime is very important (although admittedly, I would still have Anila as a backup machine).


The third option, then, would be an iMac. Believe it or not, this is the direction I’m leaning. It’s the same price point as a MacBook Pro, but it has up to a 24″ display included. By saving a grand or two on my computer this year, I can start putting some money aside to upgrade again, in 2-3 years instead of six. I’ll have a decent machine now—and one that’s much more similar to what my users have, than a Mac Pro—plus, by halving my upgrade cycle, I’ll have one that’s faster than the Mac Pro, sooner.


Of course, the iMac would require me to make some sacrifices. I’ll have to get some new external drive enclosures, and keep most of my files outside of the system itself. It also has a 24″ display, which is considerably smaller than the 30″ display I would buy, with the Mac Pro (and I don’t think my desk can support both, so if I wanted to get the 30″ anyway, I’d need a new desk). But all in all, the iMac is definitely high on my list. It’s still going to be a few months, before I can get the fundage together, so we’ll see where this goes.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Okay, it’s time to upgrade.

For those that don’t know, my main computer is a Power Macintosh G5. It’s a great machine, the only downside being that it uses more electricity than your average computer, to power its gimongous processors (and in turn, gives off a bit more heat—although admittedly, that could be a lot worse).


Anyway, this wonderful machine—on which I am typing, right now—has been my main workhorse for the last six years, and it’s still doing great! It’s been less than a week since it finally couldn’t run the current version of Mac OS (Mac OS X v.10.6 Snow Leopard came out last Friday, in case you’ve been in a cave since, let’s say, July), and it still does pretty much everything I need it to, at a very acceptable speed—certainly much better than you’d expect, from a six-year-old computer.


So here’s the problem:


As tends to be the case (knock wood), I’m currently working on a database for a client. As part of this database, I decided to use a particular interface technique that I’ve seen others do, but have never tackled, myself. This technique is fairly complex, but I set to it and figured out how to do it—and it works! The only problem: it’s s-l-o-w. We’re talking “click a button, wait five seconds”—literally. So obviously, this is unacceptable (the rule of thumb for the maximum time a user will wait for feedback, without getting ticked off, is one second), so I’ve been banging my head against the wall, trying to get it down to under a second, like I’ve seen others do. And then it hits me: an idea so crazy, it just might work.


I go downstairs, open our two-year-old MacBook, and copy the necessary files over to the desktop. I pop open the main file and, after finally reminding myself of what the full-access password is, for each of the files (I just use Keychain, on the G5), I get to the main screen and click the button.


<1 second to completion.


Wow.


So here’s what I’m thinking: I love my old computer. She’s been with me for six years now, and we’re still a great team. But I think the writing is on the wall: Snow Leopard is out, and Anila (our G5) can’t run it. My biggest clients use FileMaker, the developer of which—FileMaker, Inc.—is a subsidiary of Apple, Inc.. In my estimation, that means a version of FileMaker that won’t run on my G5 can’t be far behind. It’s been six years, and a wonderful run at that; but the time is not far distant that I’m going to have to upgrade. So the question, then, becomes: what do I get?


I’ll post more later, about this quandary. Unfortunately, It’s not a straightforward as it might seem.


Until then…!

The Elusive Promise of Appropriate Font Selection

So yesterday, I got this magazine in the mail. Let‘s take a step back—just for a moment—and look at the cover. What’s the name of the cover story?


Yeah. That’s what I thought, too.


I don’t doubt for a moment that this cover was developed by a professional graphics designer—the color composition and muted design tell me that—but seriously, dude (or dudette, as the case may be)… how many fonts do you have on your system? And you couldn’t find a single one that actually managed to convey what the heck it is you’re talking about? (I eventually had to look at the table of contents, to be sure.)


So as a nickel’s worth of free advice, here’s a tip from one magazine designer to another: have someone check your workIf your company can’t afford multiple designers, go to another department. In fact, that’s probably a good idea, anyway. They might (okay, they will) have some pretty ridiculous feedback, but among all that, somebody might possibly mention that it sounds like your cover story deals with… um… yeah.


Good luck with your next cover! :-)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Post! W00t!


So here we are with my first post on a brand new blog. I figured that the Drakelings blog is all well and good, but I need someplace to post my own, non–child-related, miscellaneous ramblings.

So let’s start with a picture I came across in an old Sunday School manual, the other day. I don’t know about you, but took me a long time to figure out exactly what’s going on. Maybe it’s because the page was smaller—and probably a bit darker—but I was sitting there thinking, “Is that the kid’s dad? Did he catch the kid shooting up? And what’s with the clown statue?” (I’m still not sure I entirely get it, but I think I’ve got a little better idea now.)

So how about you, dear readers? What do you think the caption for this photo should be? Best answer gets bragging rights! :-)