Friday, March 27, 2009

Google + Feedburner = ??

Y'all know I think the world of Google. Usually.

But today something very weird and disturbing happened. And partly what was so weird and disturbing was the total lack of customer support, documentation or ANYTHING helpful.

I burn this fantabulous blog that you are reading using something called Feedburner, which many of my multitudinous readers unknowingly use to receive the posts via email. Fine. Lovely. All good. Or it was. What's my beef? you might be wondering. Well, evidently, some time in the not too distant past, Google gobbled up Feedburner and has been moving the feeds. And by some happenstance of working on someone else's blog, I stumbled across a notice that said if I hadn't moved my feed by February 28th, my blog and my readers would be, well, S-O-L. Hmpf.

Now you may also know, I can find just about anything on the web. But nowhere could I find any clear instructions for moving my feed. Just a lot of run-around. Am I going to have put Google into the customer service swill bucket with AT&T, Dell, and Microsoft? That would make me sad.

And I have this funny feeling that when I signed up for (yet another) google account because my old Feedburner account no longer works - with, mind you, no warning, all my loyal followers got the royal f-u. And I don't mean fine upbringing.

Well, I'll keep you posted if you need to re-subscribe. Feh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's not just me

Evidently traumatic customer service experiences are universal. So much so that Emily Yellin has written a book, "Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us."

A whole book just on the infuriating, frustrating, maddening, impossible interactions that are mistakenly called "customer service." Ha!

As I was saying not that long ago, customer service centers are for the most part an oxymoron. But like everything else these days, it seems that the obvious solution is not the road taken. Robert Frost notwithstanding, sometimes the right path is the right path. I don't get it, but there you have it.

In the meantime, any business I can do with GoDaddy or Apple, I will. Their customer service actually is. Customer service. Go figure.

Plate of shrimp at the bookstores, who knew?

Speaking of lattice of coincidences, have you heard of this thing called "trends?" I only bring it up because, well, some people seem to think that if there's one product, or movie, out there on a topic, then that's all there should be.

Now, given history, and even my own anecdotal reporting on this very subect, I think we can agree that that person is sadly and hugely mistaken. As I was trawling through the news sites this morning, I stumbled on, you'll never guess—another teenage vampire book series.

To refresh, we've had "Twilight," the book series and the movie (sequels to come), starring the somewhat anemic Bella and the churlishly charismatic Edward. And we've had "True Blood," the TV series based on Charlaine Harris' Sookey Stackhouse novels (best-selling, of course). Now we have "Hunted," the fifth in the House of Night books, another tale of female blood-sucking rebellion and adventure, featuring Zooey Redbird, a teen-age vampire in training—Bella goes to Hogwarts?

"Hunted" hit the WSJ best seller list at Number 1, vanquishing "Eclipse," Stephenie Meyer's third installment in her Twilight series. All that female vampire-dom battling it out on the best-seller list and at the box-office. Makes you think that there can't really be too much of a good thing, huh?

Zooey vs. Bella vs. Sookey. I can see the movie already.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Plate of shrimp

Some people say to-may-to, some say to-mah-to.

I say "mental shleptichnach," my friend says "plate of shrimp." I gotta tell you, she has a point.

There's a video clip here. Don't miss it. Click here if you can't see it.

Someone wrote a book, "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." Not me. Everything I need to know, I learned at the movies. Or from my friends.

How do you spell disaster?

You would think that one horrible, horrendous, hellacious remake experience would be enough to put you off for life. But you would be wrong.

Scott Rudin, that mastermind behind the remake of Sabrina (for which he sort of apologized, "What was I thinking when I made 'Sabrina?'" he said in a 1997 article in the New York Times), has evidently decided that although he couldn't pull it off with Audrey Hepburn, he might be able to pull it off with the Duke in his Oscar-winning role. Yep, that's right, Rudin, along with the Coen brothers—you know, "Burn After Reading"?—is re-making "True Grit."

According to reports, they are not remaking the film so much as basing "their movie on the original Charles Portis novel, meaning that they will focus the story on the 14-year-old girl," Mattie Ross, who goes looking to avenge the death of her father. Because there isn't enough new material out there for movies? Some people never learn.

What Garcia effect?

Did I mention that hamburgers are still, despite a few negative experiences, on my top five favorite meal list?

Look, I love me a good steak (yeah, yeah, charred rare, and anyone who bothers to order their steak anything over medium might as well just take a fork and knife to their shoe as far as I'm concerned, but another post for another day), and there's no doubt that sushi can hit the spot like nothing else.

Still. A perfect hamburger, great fries and a milkshake? Tell me it gets better than that? See? I didn't think so.

New York Magazine today posted a story about the resurgence of double patty burgers. Which, I have to say, is pushing it. The perfect burger is all about balance, and once you start doubling the meat, or, say, adding ribs and foie gras (ye who shall remain nameless), you've betrayed the very essence that makes a burger a burger.

In 2005, The LA Times ran a story on Nancy Silverton's hamburger recipe. Yeah, the recipe got its own story. And it deserved it. You'll note that although the meat is muy importante (she suggests combining prime chuck with prime sirloin), and the fat content of the meat in particular (20% to 28% total), nowhere does she suggest that you put two patties on one hamburger bun. As if.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pica the magpie

By the way, the word "pica" comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for eating just about anything. And also for being attracted to glittery items for its nest.

I just thought that was a little more irony for the mental shleptichnach-ists out there.

You know.

Here's another one

So what is the phenomenon where you learn something and then you see it everywhere? Seriously, how often does this happen to you? It happens to me all the time. It's kind of freaky.

I was watching Law & Order: SVU the other night and not really paying attention. Anyway, the whole case seemed to hinge on the fact that this kid ate pencils and it was this doctor's fault for not noticing that the kid had had unusual amounts of lead in his blood when he was little. Actually, it turned out to be this toy manufacturer's fault for lying about the paint they were using on their toy cars, but that came later. The shrink on the show did a major double-take when he saw the boy eating the pencil and then in the big reveal scene, he diagnosed the boy as suffering from this condition that made him eat things. Non-food things.

Now, if the next day, or even this morning, you had asked me to name that condition, I would have drawn a total blank. But then, this morning (are you following this?), I was looking up how high-fructose corn syrup is made (from some really nasty-sounding chemical treatments to the least healthy part of the corn grain, in case you were wondering) and saw an off-hand reference to a condition called amylophagia—"the compulsive consumption of excessive amounts of purified starch. It is a form of pica..."

I thought to myself. Hmmmm. That sounds familiar. Click, click.

Pica is a condition that causes people to compulsively eat things that aren't actually food. Yup. That was the word the shrink used on the show. Which I promise you I've never heard before this week. And now it's been twice inside of seven days. And it's not like that's an ordinary word.

My partner called this phenomenon "mental shleptichnach," but I'm pretty sure that's not a technical term. Though I like it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My sister rocks

Did you ever wonder where Answer Girl turns when she doesn't know the answer? Her older sister, of course.

The "psychological mechanism behind the refusal to eat something that once upon a time made you barf" (see my post on such query) is called the Garcia Effect.

Studying, what else?, rats, Dr. Garcia discovered that the rats would associate unpleasant experiences with taste and would avoid that taste in the future to avoid the experience. It's thought to be a survival mechanism, which I suppose makes sense. Get ptomaine poisoning from peanut butter and survive—never eat peanut butter again. Good plan. Still doesn't quite explain why I continue to eat hamburgers.

So now I know, ergo you know. Thanks, sis, you rock!

It's just food, folks


Those are not small numbers—nearly a million Google results for "food phobia" and about a third of that for "food refusal." None of which gave me the information I was looking for. Don't you hate that? I was just wondering... what is the psychological mechanism behind the refusal to eat something that once upon a time made you barf?

It's not a fool-proof mechanism, by the way. It seems to work like selective hearing. (You know who I'm talking about.)

For instance, I won't drink a screw-driver for love or money. I don't care what you offer me. So not happening. As they say... fuhgettaboutit. And go ahead, just mention "Duncan Hines frosting" to me or my sister—you'll never see anything turn greener faster. Well, maybe chameleons in grass, but not much else.

On the other hand...I've eaten hamburgers to very ill-effect (sad, but true) and believe you me, hamburgers still rank high on my favorite foods list. Very high. Top five meals high. Go figure.

By the way, now that "to google" is a verb, is it still capitalized? I'm just wondering. You know I'm a stickler for that kind of thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No, really?

This just in: "Health care costs too expensive, Americans say."

This latest newsflash is courtesy of a poll conducted by CNN. Tune in tomorrow to see the results of their next groundbreaking survey: "are you worried about the economy?"

So sad...

When Paul Newman died, it was sad because it was the end of an era, the dying of a light.

This is heartbreaking in a whole different way. Married to Liam Neeson, with two children, Natasha Richardson died skiing in Canada. She was only 45.

I didn't see her in many movies, but somehow, I always enjoyed her when I did see her. And that's saying something.

RIP, Natasha.

Goldilocks goes shopping

I want to talk about the joys of comparison shopping. Now there is certainly joy to be found, I'm sure, in not having to look at the price. I'm sure, but I wouldn't know.

There's a whole 'nother level of satisfaction to be gained from being told one price and then, through a combination of dogged determination, persistence and sheer orneriness, finding that same good or service for a lower price. This I do know.

Just yesterday, my car dealership wanted to charge me $355 plus tax to replace and mount my tire. Leaving there convinced that couldn't be the best price, I stopped into DiscountTires, sure they would beat that price. Shockingly, they wanted $453 to do the same thing (as an aside, I think they might want to consider changing the name of their business).

A few minutes on the internet turned up a source that would sell and ship me the tire for $235. I actually contemplated the look on the face of the nice man who runs my mailbox center when he received that box before continuing my research.

Finally, I found the tire source that was "just right"—Big-O Tires would sell and mount the tire for $250, including tax. And they're just down the street from me. Tell me that's not satisfying.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

May I propose a new tag line?

"When it's people who do the right thing, they call it being responsible.
When it's an insurance company, they call it...
not being AIG."

Hey, guess what? There's a video here. Yeah, really. Click here to see it if you can't.

Couldn't really be better timing for Liberty Mutual's ad campaign, huh?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Funniest movie review ever?

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a cheerleader movie. I was going to say "for a good cheerleader movie," but the truth is, I'll settle for a decent one. Fired Up! is just such an animal. Standard fare, not as good as some, better than most, it's in theaters now.

Let me repeat, this is "standard fare," by-the-books, could-not-be-more-ABC-123 movie making. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

You know the formula:
1. Movie starts, we meet our feckless football player heroes
2. Ten minutes in, our heroes make their fateful decision (in this case — gasp! — to attend cheer leading rather than football camp)
3. Twenty minutes in and — wouldn'tcha know? — complications arise (the boy's girl already has a boyfriend)
D. Forty minutes in (or so) and it's all or nothin' — there's no going back now
E. Twenty minutes left, everything seems hopeless, all is lost (betrayal! eviction! blah blah blah!)
Finally, five minutes to go and — holy wrap-up, Batman! — all is resolved (our heroes return in the nick of time, the nemesis team is confronted, the boy gets the girl)

Mind-blowingly innovative? Revolutionary? Ground-breaking? Not so much.

Imagine my surprise then, when scanning the reviews on RT, I read this snippet—and from a fresh (in RT terms, that means positive) review, no less: "[Fired Up!] violates the most basic rules of cinematic storytelling grammar." Remember folks—this is a boy-meets-girl—boy-loses-girl—boy-gets-girl—cheerleader movie.

I had to read on. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy read:

Fired Up! is rather a kind of anti-movie, peculiar and terrible in the most garish ways conceivable, closer perhaps to surrealism than legitimate Hollywood narrative cinema. First-time director Will Gluck and first-time writer Freedom Jones haven't just made a crappy cheerleader movie, they've made something that violates tens of rules governing classical filmmaking

"Anti-movie?" Really?

Even if it's by accident, Fired Up! is perhaps the most experimental film released to mainstream American cinemas in months, if not years.

Did I mention, it's a cheerleader movie?

Gluck's direction doesn't just exist separately from Fired Up!, as is often the case when it appears that a filmmaker is trying to privately amuse himself when given a rote script; his direction actively distracts from the movie, as though he actually had a vendetta against the story and wished to make it disappear.

Wait — as though who actually has a vendetta here? I'm just saying.

So much of the film is just so damn strange! The film's requisite villain, an arrogant college freshman, is associated on the soundtrack exclusively with rock songs composed before his birth, from both the '70s and '80s; this makes no sense whatsoever, but it is a theme which is never dropped or treated with anything but the gravest sincerity.

By the 70s and 80s, I presume he means the late 90s? Tubthumping, by Chumbawumba, was released in 1997 and Lou Bega's Mambo #5 in 1999.

But, really, why sweat the small stuff? When you can just say things like:

by far the most common tack for the gags in this film to take is that they are befuddling. Not befuddling in the sense, "Why would someone think this is funny?" but in the sense, "What the hell is happening?" And that applies both to the rapid-fire, colorful, completely opaque dialogue as well as the narrative framework itself. If the film is not funny, and it very much is not, I think this is mostly because it is so absurd - bearing in mind that absurdism, in its pure form, has nothing to do with comedy and everything to do with anarchy and nihilism.
followed closely by:
I have basically just described a bad comedy, and that is because Fired Up! is a bad comedy, and even a bad film, by any standard yardstick. But its badness is aggressive, anxious: it is not the result of doing things poorly, but of doing things that have no earthly reason to be done whatsoever. Looking over what I've written, I see that I have not communicated, and probably cannot communicate, how much of Fired Up! violates the most basic rules of cinematic storytelling grammar; and for this reason it transfixed me body and soul. The film is a disaster that has chanced its way into being a bold, terrifying experiment, where the idea of "good" or "bad", or even the simpler concepts "works" and "doesn't work" don't really matter. It amazed and delighted me simply by dint of existing so far outside of what actual filmmaking is supposed to look like.
Part of me wishes that every movie were so callously disrespectful to the rules; cinema would be a much more exhilarating artform. We'd also probably all be insane by now.

Let me end by saying: I have basically just recapped a very bad review, and that is because it is a bad review, and even bad writing, by any yardstick. The review chanced its way into being a hilarious and entertaining bit of writing, where the idea of "relevant" and "irrelevant," or even the simpler concepts of "accurate" and "inaccurate," don't really matter. Part of me wishes more reviewers were so unconcerned with the basic rules governing artistic critique; movie reviews would be far more entertaining. This review amazed and amused me simply by dint of existing and being so flat-out wrong. Perhaps the author is insane.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

... back to Krugman

When you quote someone's tweet on Twitter, it's called "retweeting"—I don't know the term for doing the same thing in the blogosphere. Even without a name for it, I'm doing it anyway. Here is Krugman's post from yesterday:

I’m as cynical as they come. Even so, I’m shocked by the total intellectual collapse of the Republican Party in the face of this economic crisis.

I suggested a little while ago that the GOP has become the party of Beavis and Butthead, reduced to snickering at line items in legislation that sound funny. And we’re not just talking about the usual crazies: we’re taking about Saint John McCain, cracking jokes about “Mormon crickets” and “beaver management” when a minute or two on Google reveals that these are, in fact, serious issues.

But it’s getting truly serious when the House minority leader — essentially, the nation’s second-ranking Republican (after Rush Limbaugh) — declares that the answer to the economy’s downward spiral is a spending freeze. That’s not a retrogression to Herbert Hoover; even Hoover knew better than that.

I’d really like to see some genuine bipartisanship in America. But that can’t happen until we start having at least somewhat sane partisans.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Actually, I couldn't have said it at all, but I found it, I read it, and I posted it. That's gotta count for something.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Can we talk customer service?

If I asked you which would you expect to provide better customer service—a large, well-funded, established, blue-chip consumer products company... say, Dell? Or a new start-up company, known for its low prices and salacious advertising, what would you say?

Yeah, yeah. I gave it away with the logo. But seriously. In the last couple of weeks, I have been on the phone (for different reasons) with Sprint, H-P, Microsoft and Dell. And on the phone with GoDaddy.

How did it go, you ask? Let me say that I've sworn to do everything I can to never buy another HP product again. I can't seem to find anyone at Dell who wants to take my money. And Microsoft? Imagine, if you will, the following:

Tech support: "Click Properties."
Me: "Properties for what?" [note to reader: there is a list of items, you can highlight any one and hit Properties for that item]
Tech support: "Do you see the Properties button?"
Me: "Yes."
Tech support: "Click it."
Me, frustrated: "but Properties for what?"
Tech support: "Let's go back to the beginning"
Me, more frustrated: "Beginning?"
Tech support: "Are you in the General tab?"
Me, even more frustrated: "Yes."
Tech support: "Do you see the Properties button?"
Me, incredibly frustrated: "Yes."
Tech support: "Click it."
Me: [throws phone through window and accidentally kills innocent dog on sidewalk.]

Eventually this astrophysicist who is staffing the Microsoft help-desk for kicks and giggles tells me that because I have Microsoft's latest service pack installed, I am simply out of luck; something I manage to disprove about two hours later through a combination of googling and determination. Please note, though, it is because I installed Microsoft's own latest update to their own software that their representative told me she couldn't help me.

I still haven't actually managed to find someone at Dell that I can simultaneously understand and who can find my account in their system. This is especially a shame as I am trying to figure out how to pay them.

I've spoken to Sprint four times since May and each time I get a different story, a different resolution and hear a different policy. Not one of the representatives has a direct line or email address, and the few (read: many) times I was disconnected, you'll be shocked, shocked I say, to hear that no one called me back and of course I had to start the endless wending through the automated voice system from square one.

As for GoDaddy? I called them up the other day because about 10 urls renewed automatically that I don't want. I spoke to this intelligible and intelligent guy named Matt, who lives in northern California and who couldn't have been nicer. He took care of my refund right away, walked me through some ways to save money on my upcoming renewals and the hosting plans I was considering, sent me several incredibly clear emails regarding how to transfer my current site from one hosting plan to the other, and gave me his real, direct email address in case I had any trouble later on.

So here's my idea. GoDaddy opens another business—operating the customer service centers for large companies that can't do it for themselves. Because leaving these companies to their own devices is clearly not working.

Oh, and the exception that proves that rule? Apple. I was on the phone with them the other day, and spoke with Jason. Nicest guy ever. Fixed my problem in 20 minutes, even though I was hooking up an Apple peripheral to a PC. Badda bing, badda bang. It's not even design, and Steve still gets it right.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Nobel Laureate gets real

What would we do without our Nobel Laureate, Mr. Paul Krugman?

Who, evidently, had to set Joe Scarborough right. Wow, Scarborough was off-track? Again? Shocking.

Evidently, the other morning Scarborough was ticking off the similarities of the current economic downturn with the one in the early 1980s, and wondering why we don't just do what we did that time? Well, says Krugman, "it's the zero lower bound, stupid." No, seriously, that's exactly what he said. Check it out on his blog.

He also said, a bit more clearly, "Right now, the interest rate is zero. The [Federal Reserve] can't rescue us this time, and that's why we can't do the things we did in the '80s."

I just love it when the people who really do know call out the people who really don't. Score one for the brainiacs. So what if we can't get a date?

It's not me, it's them

You gotta love an article like this: "Why The Smartest People Have The Toughest Time Dating." Except that Amherst made the author's list of exemplar institutes of higher learning and my alma mater didn't, either signifying that my school's alumni are so smart we're just S.O.L. because, in the immortal words of M.C. Hammer (himself an alum of my institute of not as high learning—how does one refer to high school anyway?), "you can't touch this," OR the author himself went to Amherst and thus suffers from due jealousy and could not bear to include my clearly superior school in the list. Sidebar over.

The author makes five points, but in my opinion it's his fifth and final point that is the most salient: "By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet's inhabitants as a dating prospect." He goes on to say "you've just eliminated 95% of the world's population as a potential mate, Mr or Ms Smartypants."

See, it's not really my fault I can't get a date. I'm only working with 5% of the population—not even, considering I'm only interested in men, and I have some age (you know, over 18 and under 80) and height requirements. I'm actually probably looking at like, 1% of the population of any given area. Maybe. Damn, I knew I should've gotten a cat.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

McCain the tweet. I repeat.

Okay, so first off, "to tweet" is the verb form of the micro-blogging site Twitter. Secondly, McCain, who during his campaign appeared not to know what a Blackberry (the phone, not the fruit) was, has been tweeting since January. This time, I'm not actually calling our esteemed Senator a twit. This time.

On February 27th, the Senator tweeted his "TOP TEN PORKIEST PROJECTS in the Omnibus Spending bill the Congress is about to pass," (this according to his own tweet). Funny. Smart. Sad. The list was such a hit, he did it again. And again. Here is yesterday's top 10 list:

#10. $285,000 for the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, ID

#9. $209,000 to improve blueberry production and efficiency in GA
from web

#8. $47,500 to remodel and expand a playground in Ottawa, IL

#7. $400,000 for copper wire theft prevention efforts
from web

#6. $190,000 for the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY
from web

#5. $819, 000 for catfish genetics research in Alabama
from web

taking a break for policy lunch
from web

#4. $380,000 for lighthouses in Maine
from web

#3. $380,000 to revitalize downtown Aliceville, AL
from web

#2. $900,000 for fish management - how does one manage a fish...
from web

and the #1 project
from web

#1. $951,500 for the Oregon Solar Highway from web

This last prompted a tweet-war(!) with Rep. Blumenauer, who tweeted late last night: "McCain wasnt familiar with a blackberry right? Hows he supposed to understand a solar highway utilizing right-of-way to generate solar power."

Please note that tweets are limited to 140 characters so grammar and punctuation are, ahem, not a consideration.