Archive for the ‘rantlets’ Category

Corporate E-vent Department

February 28, 2011 in rantlets | Comments (0)

There’s a dominant technology company that continues to embarrass itself from the pole position, a position that it’s doing its best to surrender.  This company hasn’t done anything remotely successfully innovative in decades, choosing instead to adopt the suspect “second mover” strategy: take someone else’s idea and then carelessly and fruitlessly burn money attempting to outdo it.  It copied its flagship operating system (from Apple), spreadsheet program (Lotus), search engine (Google), web browser (Netscape), maps software (also Google), videogame system (Sony), gaming motion-control (Nintendo), online portal (AOL) and mp3 player (also Apple).  If it’s not a rip-off, it’s completely uncompetitive (cellphones).  It has terrible advertisements, a terrible reputation and terrible product-naming department.  It drives frustrated consumers into competitors’ arms with constant unending prod      [computer is frozen]   uct updates meant to plug the latest holes in its unstable, swiss cheese, rushed-to-market, hacker paradise of a signature product.  It sits smugly on a mountain of monopoly-generated, mask-its-failures cash, arrogantly opting to build its own hapless also-ran businesses from scratch in every profitable niche instead of buying out future competitors in their infancy for much less money and aggravation.  Even Disney eventually surrendered and just bought Pixar.


In a similar vein, there’s a perennially fourth-place TV network that refuses to take up the mantle traditionally assumed by the last –place finisher: to aerate the dial, swing for the fences, take a risk on something new and innovative because hey, it can’t get much worse for them.  Instead, this former ratings juggernaut and its terribly conventionally-thinking, results-now, shareholder-appeasing corporate overlords decide to nibble at the margin: to hope that the 384th single-word-titled show about lone-wolf cops, sassy medical examiners, brash prosecutors or unlikely superheroes featuring repurposed actors from decades-old hits will break through the considerable clutter that they’re helping to generate and capture the imagination of a pathologically distracted public.  When those “ideas” invariably fail, or rather are impatiently aborted when they don’t catch on immediately, they plug holes in their schedule with lazy rip-offs of other networks’ already-lazy reality shows, Singing on Ice or American Staring Contest.  I’ve never watched most of these shows, but am acutely aware of them because the network force-feeds me with distracting crawls and desperate graphics reminding me what’s coming up next hour and next week, as if sledgehammer marketing alone can turn mediocre straw into ratings gold.  The only show this network has in the Top 25 is football, which is on four months a year and loses money but provides another avenue for cramming ads for its half-baked, infinitely recycled (and occasionally racist) concepts down everyone’s throats.  Thankfully, no matter how much money they waste, the formula for success remains as unchanged as ever: innovation and good writing.  God bless pay cable.

Going to the Grocery Store

August 28, 2010 in rantlets | Comments (0)


People flock to the deli counter because they like to have someone slice their lunchmeat in person. They also tried this in dairy, but the cows wouldn’t stand still.

My receipt always lists the store manager’s name, and his framed headshot is mounted on the wall by the registers. Is this so we can ask for autographs when we spot him? It must be strange, being the boss inside the store and simultaneously a total loser outside it (especially at your high school reunion).

Last time I shopped, I challenged myself to buy a completely different list of items than last time, with no repeats…and almost hyperventilated before giving up. Imagine the adrenaline rush, feeling like you came home with someone else’s groceries. Lima beans, chardonnay, tater tots, ginger ale. My heart is racing.

To me, the shopping process is a weekly time trial, with a best time to be continually improved upon (“he’s skipping the mustard this week, Jim…that’ll shave off at least fourteen seconds”). That’s why I get angry when they move the ketchup down on the shelf…it costs me precious seconds. I beat my time roughly once a month, and pose for pictures with the cashier as I give the peace sign.

The more impatient you are, the more susceptible you are to trying the self-checkout area. Don’t succumb!! It may look tempting, but it always causes much greater frustration when you realize too late that you have no training or clue how to bag groceries in under 25 minutes. Plus, the store doesn’t fully trust us, so they have a supervisor eyeing the self-checkout area from behind a podium like a pit boss. I think the area should really be called “bagger auditions.” Like, the three fastest times each day get a job offer. And maybe someday, a framed headshot.

The trashy checkout-line magazines must realize that I’m not buying them anymore, because they’re constantly raising the stakes…at this point, I’m fairly sure that they’re flat-out lying to hook me. “Jen’s Pregnant!” Looks convincing on the cover, until you flip back and read the caveat that the wild claim is based on third-hand, wishful speculation from the nephew of a paparazzo. And how do they determine which stars will hold our interest? There’s zero correlation between talent, or even box-office success, and coverage. Could we all get together and trick them into more articles on Ellen Burstyn? I have a feeling she’s just like us.

Even if I have fewer than 15 items, I still feel like a complete jerk if the old lady behind me only has 2 things…I’m well within the limit; why am I squirming uncomfortably? Also, if I’m right at the 15-item limit, am I allowed to take gum?

It doesn’t count as customer service if the “how are you” script is literally taped to the cash register. I also have one, taped to my credit card: Question: “Did you find everything OK today?” Answer: “Go to hell.”

The baggers have the shortest attention span of any profession. Have you ever seen one stand still for more than one consecutive checkout? They usually end up bagging three-quarters of my stuff, then wandering away to talk to Trisha.

Someone somewhere decided that two aisles must always be decorated differently than the rest of the store to set a certain mood: the wine aisle and the organic food aisle. There must be a study showing that wine sales rise 50% when you hang a trellis and install hardwood floors, fooling people into thinking they wandered into southern Tuscany.

The sheer diversity of goods & services available at the grocery store’s customer service desk is nothing short of amazing. It’s the only place where, in one trip, I can get stamps, cigarettes, lottery tickets, tattoos, my fortune told, measles shot, shoeshine and license plates.

The number of items is not the best determinant of how fast the process will go…the checkout lines should be separated by age. Twentysomethings here, octogenarians there. You can’t tell me that a retiree with four items will be faster than a teenager with twenty. The old guy is paying with savings bonds, for heavens sake.

There’s always one aisle that I’ve never been down, and will never be down. “Aisle Eight: nail polish, pet food, pool supplies.” Next.

I feel weird taking an item that the guy is stocking right then…like I’m ruining his perfect display, stealing it or messing with him. If I take one every time he puts one down, he’ll never finish.

I HATE coupons. No time for them in my life. Especially the ones that print out with my receipt. I don’t care if it says “Buy one ice cream, get the rest free for life.” I’m throwing it away.

I think I subconsciously try to impress the checkout guy with the superior collection of items that I picked…I want him to say, “Oh man, good call on the eclairs…I didn’t even know we had these!” That, combined with a new best time, would be the perfect shopping trip.

Everyone thinks toilet paper can’t be improved upon, but I disagree. If someone swabbed peanut butter on my arm, would I just rub it off with a dry napkin? I don’t think so.

I could never get a job ordering for a warehouse…I’m terrible with restocking my own apartment. There’s always one item that I’m WAY too stocked up on and one that I forgot to buy. Right now, I have 14 boxes of dental floss at home and no cereal.


Economic Evolution: Pillars of American Industry

July 31, 2010 in rantlets | Comments (0)

250 Years Ago           100 Years Ago           Today

Metalworking               Mass Production          Lawsuit Settlements

Carriages                    The Automobile           Reality-Show Prizes

Planting                       Textiles                        Stimulus Checks

Domestic Animals        Growth of Suburbs      Severance Packages

Munitions                     Broadcast Media         Signing Bonuses

Time Out on the Field

January 30, 2010 in rantlets | Comments (0)

An unofficial, unscientific breakdown of the average NFL telecast:




Commercial break after quarter end


Commercial break after touchdown


Commercial break after kickoff after touchdown


Commercial break after coach’s challenge


Commercial break after 2-minute warning


Commercial break after injury


In-game ads for newest batch of forgettable one-word CBS shows: Docs, Cops, Paramedics


In-game ads for next week’s games


In-game ads for the scheduled show pre-empted by all the commercials and coach’s challenge delays


Self-congratulatory charity ads from monopolistic NFL


Breathless updates on the more entertaining game you are forbidden from seeing without buying satellite TV






3-yard cloud-of-dust rushes


Pass interference calls


Trick plays



Keep the Change

November 23, 2009 in rantlets | Comments (0)

The appallingly pointless new fad-product from banks today is the program where the bank offers to transfer a few cents from your checking account into savings every time you spend, and advertises this as some sort of valuable service.  Basically, if you’re too busy to press “transfer” at the ATM or are prone to accidentally binge-spending your entire life savings, this is for you.  What does it accomplish?  It would take 14 years for these miniscule transfers to accumulate to $10.  Also, if I hire someone to move M&Ms from my front pocket to my back pocket, (a) I don’t thank them for creating more candy and (b) I’m in deep trouble if that’s my diet regimen.


The Last 13 Remaining Observations about Air Travel

October 17, 2009 in rantlets | Comments (0)



The pinnacle of airport sophistication is the row of potted plastic plants separating Chili’s Express from the soulless linoleum wasteland expanse of the terminal.  On this side: bloomin’ onions and blue margaritas.  On that side: defeated, dehydrated travelers trudging to their indefinitely-delayed flight gates.


There’s absolutely nothing worse than those beeping geezer-taxi golf carts that buzz through the terminal and turn handicapped old people into VIPs.  Please, just put all the gates to Florida at the start of the terminal.  Or just drive the old people all the way to Ft. Lauderdale in the carts; save the planes for people who can walk.


Planefreeze: brainfreeze that results from rushing to finish your sample-size soda before the stewardess makes her last trash run through the cabin before landing.


Nowhere else on earth but an airport would you consider “cinnamon pretzel with frosting dipping sauce” to be a complete lunch.


I’m going to start collecting those appallingly generic airport gift shop t-shirts that just say “Washington DC” in cursive and nothing else.  That way, when I wear it, the memories conjured up of my vacation are of waiting in security lines and staring blankly at 12 cycles of CNN Headline News in the terminal.


I have never flown on a plane built after 1970 in my life, yet Boeing is still in business.  They must all be in Saudi Arabia and Singapore, fleets of gleaming new planes with massage chairs and cookie dough dispensers.


Is an iPod really going to scramble the cockpit communications?  A Boeing 747 has 5,000 metric tons of pound-thrust and a reinforced bulletproof cockpit door, yet I can bring it down by playing a Whitney Houston mp3 during taxiing?


Maybe all the second-tier cable TV channels should focus on reaching the first tier before they all start opening depressing terminalside theme cafes.  This means you, Fox Sports and CNBC.  I’m not sure if this reflects more poorly on the channels or the airport.


Come to think of it, why not have airport cafes branded for other channels, like Lifetime (for women only) or TBS (Seinfeld and Family Guy all day).  CSPAN seems like an appropriate fit, they’re all pretty boring places.  I think the Weather Channel one may draw the most crowds, at least at an airport.


Studies have shown that people’s opinions of a supermarket are subconsciously shaped by how neat the banana display is.  I think the same is true for the hand-drying situation in the airport bathroom.


Why the maze to enter the restroom?  Nothing makes you feel sillier than walking at 180-degree angles.  Just put in a bead curtain or a door made of those carwash octopus things.  Or a hedge maze, made of leftover potted plastic plants from Chili’s Express.


The terminal is an awkward social space where you’re forced to make eye contact with strangers.  Why is this necessary?  You don’t face other people on the plane, in restaurants, at the movies, in a classroom.  Why do I have to gaze into the reflected misery of other travelers?


I’d like to have a birthday party on a plane, just so I can use those overhead air-nozzles to blow up the balloons faster.



Shooting Fish in a Barrel

May 20, 2009 in rantlets | Comments (0)


Dog is a professional bounty hunter who tracks down bail jumpers in Hawaii, which is like being a big-game hunter who tracks down rhinoceros at the zoo.  Hawaii is surrounded on all sides by 2,000 miles of ocean.  Why does it need a bounty hunter?  Just pick up the suspect when he visits the grocery store next to the courthouse. 


Gap-Toothed Stadium

April 17, 2009 in rantlets | Comments (0)

The New York Mets just opened a brand new stadium that took 3 years and $800 million to construct, and there’s at least one glaring flaw…a gaping void right behind home plate where there should be seats, which is like having a front tooth missing after getting your $15,000 braces off.  The Mets chose to place a stairwell instead of 25 front-row, behind-the-plate seats that could probably fetch enough ticket money over the course of a season to pay David Wright’s salary for six months (that’s a lot of extra sundaes-in-a-helmet they now have to sell).  And it gets worse: throughout the game, the offending stairwell continuously disgorges cellphone-waving jackasses and stadium rent-a-cops, promising a constant stream of distractions for anyone trying to watch the game.  Well done.


No Barbarians, Just the Gate.

September 25, 2008 in rantlets | Comments (0)


Like everyone, as the apocalypse approaches, I’ve been watching a lot more business news on television recently.  My favorite tactic, one that has always been there but never really spotlighted, is the newsmedia’s bizarre practice of showing stock footage of the front door of a company’s headquarters when the firm is being discussed on the TV news.  Yahoo bought back $20 billion of stock?  Here’s a random 10-second clip shot from their office parking lot in 1988 (if it’s really fancy, they’ll zoom from the sign up the side of the building).  Why not just show someone assembling or using their product?  Do the news networks have vast storerooms of this front-door footage?  As the financial meltdown played out on TV, I found myself comparing the gold front-door nameplates of the respective firms.  “Of course Lehman went down – they only had one revolving door and a brass logo.  Put my money in Morgan – theirs is marble.  And just look how many planters.”  Or maybe we could judge the companies by the people coming out the doors.  “He looks smart, let’s give them a call.”  I’m going to start an ETF that aggregates the 25 firms with the handsomest front entrances.  That is, assuming there are 25 firms left.


Performance Apparel

July 11, 2008 in rantlets | Comments (0)

I was in the Sporting Goods store this weekend and hardly recognized anything.  When did they stop making cotton athletic shirts?  Everything in the store was made of dragon scales and boasted hydrofit performance and natural wicking ability.  Their target customer seems to be a cross between Lance Armstrong and a scented candle.  I just want to mow the lawn, I don’t need NASA-grade shirt technology.  The triathlon gear should be 10% of the store, 15% at most.  These clothes are also cut waaay too tight.  You’ve gotta be beyond ripped to avoid looking like an overfilled water balloon.  Olympic swimmers wear baggier clothes.