Monday, December 31, 2007

Talking Head Sense:

David Byrne, THE Talking Head, has a thoughtful piece in Wired about where the recording industry is going. He agrees with me a lot, which I like. His essay reviews how the recording companies used to add value, and how they fail to do it now. His most striking point is an assertion that in recent years, the RIAA companies have tried to sell CDs instead of selling music. To him, that's like supermarkets trying to sell shopping cart loads instead of selling food.

For the world in general, 2007 was a truly awful year. I hope we do better in 2008!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Creature of Routine:

In my youth, I lived an extremely flexible life. Nothing was a regular responsibility, not even flossing or dishwashing. (Well, maybe practicing.) I liked the feeling of living impromptu, making decisions about what to do on the spur of the moment. Day-to-day life had a lot of enjoyable variety.

In his late 80's, my father-in-law gave me a hint that such variety and old age do not mix. I admired his inflexible insistence on washing the dishes before playing Scrabble, even if we barely had time for a decent Scrabble game. There was iron routine in his life, and that routine ensured a certain order in his household, made it less likely that he would founder beneath duties undone.

I'm only in my sixties, but I have become much more a creature of routine. There are maybe a dozen things I try to do everyday, despite the incredibly varied ebb and flow of the rest of my life.

As I watched myself falling into this semblance of routine, I hated it. I regarded my new habits as a necessary evil to be understood and despised, but not abandoned. Which brings me to our recent vacation.

We were away from home for two weeks, during which I abandoned all pretense of routine, even taking daily vitamins. I never did my flexing exercises. I got around to almost all the usual routine items every few days. I was living the flexible life again. Why not, I was on vacation! And then we came home.

I found myself determined to pick up every bit of my routine life again, the flossing, the flexing, the walking, the dishwashing, the vitamins, the medicaments, etc., etc. As all of my routine life fell back into place, I felt good. I was home.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ummm, security:

I bought something at Walmart. (I apologize.) The lines were long, except at the self-checkout counters. I'm sure you're familiar with self-checkout. Typically, a single human being can monitor four self-checkout aisles, continuously solving checkout computer problems. That's a lot better than hiring four cashiers.

In this case, the customer ahead of me had checked out his ten items and was attempting to pay with three Walmart cash-gift cards. Only one of them would scan, $10 out of the needed $28. The fixit guy came over and tried; and he tried and he tried, to make the cards scan. I stood right next to them, trying not to look impatient. After all, the customer had scanned all his items. It wouldn't be fair to make him go to a cashier and start all over again.

I was wrong, it IS fair. The fixit guy entered his ID# on the self-check computer, and his password. I have them right here, they printed out on my receipt:
STORE #: 2171
ID #: 9643934
I mean it, his password printed out on my receipt!!!!!! Anyway, the point is, the transaction was SUSPENDED so that it could be continued by a real cashier who could handle the gift cards. And meanwhile I got to do my checkout, without needing help from the fixit guy. I'm really impressed by Walmart's security.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Chinese Restaurant Chaos, and a compliment:

How often do you compliment other people? In your work, in your life? People really appeciate compliments, but we all have a tendency to offer only constructive criticism. Most people really love compliments, and you can take a great deal of pleasure in how they receive them.

Last night we ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant in chaos. Chaos! People complained that dinner took three hours. The front of the restaurant was clogged with angry customers demanding their overdue takeout orders. Sometimes no staff member could be seen. The staff gave very vague answers, explaining that "It's not my problem."

Indeed, food straggled out of the kitchen, a dish here, a dish there. There must have been too few cooks and too many takeouts. While we were there, they ran out of tea, mustard, cloth napkins and chopsticks.

We had made a reservation, so, in the absence of staff, I grabbed the first empty table for our little group. I cleared the table and wrote up our order myself. I handed my order paper to the one harried woman on the staff. She snatched it and ran into the kitchen. After that, for a long time, I wondered whether our very atypical order would be processed. I could not imagine how to find out how the order was doing, after hearing conversations like this:
"I've been waiting an hour, where's my takeout order?"
"It's being cooked now."
"You said that thirty minutes ago! I'm leaving!!"
"Stay, and you can pay half-price." (The woman got her takeout order ten minutes later.)

Eventually we got all the food we ordered, mostly brought by this woman, one dish at a time. The first time she brought part of our order, I guessed that all would be well; the order was being cooked, and she knew it was our food.
When I paid, I thanked her for looking after our food. She practically melted with pleasure. After maybe seven hours on her feet, and three hours of angry complaints, a nice word!
Try more nice words yourself, you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Business model is about to tank?

If you've read my blog regularly, or handreds of others, you know that the big music media companies are desperately trying to prop up their obsolete business model. These companies no longer provide much added value, and they are doomed to collapse, despite their success in getting laws passed to make it difficult or illegal to compete with them.

A recent podcast by Sam and Jim, of Sam and Jim go to Hollywood, suggests that the TV business may be the next to go. I find their argument refreshing, especially because I had little inkling of it before. They note that TV is doing everything it can to get onto the Internet. Once it's truly easy to watch TV on the web on a large screen (2008 or 2009 will be the year), the TV business will lose their current business model, and there will be a market for writers and actors on the internet. Here's one of their examples:

It costs two to four million dollars to make a hour of TV. A significant part of this cost involves paying for access, because there are so few successful TV channels. But when there are a million TV channels on the web, access costs will fall.

I would say that more generally, the added value that the networks provide will gradually disappear. Computer software will lower costs of production and delivery, just as they have for music. People with talent will be able to produce, distribute and sell. We can expect the TV channels to do everything they can to jury-rig the laws in their favor, just as the song-biz has done (with DMCA legislation, for instance). But in the long run, you cannot legislate a business model, not in an international economy. The days of giant, powerful, conglomerate TV channel owners are nearly over.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The world is going to hell ...

There's a Pirates of the Caribbean version of Scrabble.

Staples is selling Starbucks coffee mugs.

I don't care any more, but if I did: I would be in pain.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

How to eat Raw Egg White:

During our vacation, I ate far too much delicious food of every sort, so it is perhaps kind of sweet that I tried to avoid extra cholesterol at breakfast. I shelled hard-cooked eggs and ate the whites only.

One morning, when I cracked the egg, raw yolk and white ran out. I quickly realized what had happened. The tray of raw eggs was to the left of the chef making omelettes, and the hard boiled eggs were to his right. (This particular mistake is harder to make when the omelete chef works from a bottle of egg, instead of using fresh eggs.)

I really should have noticed. The cooked eggs were warm, the raw eggs cold.

By the way, to eat only the whites of hardcooked eggs: Gently slice around the long axis with a knife. Do not cut though the yolk. The white will come off easily, and the yolk won't be stuck to your knife.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What shall I use ...

I'm a fan of the Daily GizWiz podcast. Each show recommends a gadget, along with humorous talk and wonderful reminiscences. One show, Leo Laporte made history by recommending the Titanium Spork. He has been teased about it ever since. The problem is: how desperate do you have to be to call a spork a "gadget?" It has no LEDs, it needs no battery, it doesn't play music ...

But that spork has become a watchword on the show, so I was very glad to receive -- at last! My own pair of titanium sporks as a gift. If you're wondering, a spork is equally useful as a spoon or a fork. That's all it is.

Two days after I got it, I took a bowl of left-over food out of the fridge. Staring at it, I found myself wondering, should I eat this with a spoon or a fork? Aha! I pulled out my spork and savored the dish to the last drop.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Avis ... Strange:

I rented a car from Avis today. You remember all those optional insurance items? When you rent a car, you have to decide which to accept, which to decline. My Avis agent said that now he is not allowed to call them insurance. They are "services."

I went in person to rent my car because the AVIS number was busy for the previous hour. When I got there, the agent hung up. I told him his commercial line was busy.
"It's not busy now," he said. I called the number and it was still busy.
The agent shrugged his shoulders. "Oh well," he said, "We have plenty of reservations."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I'm just bitching today, I hope you'll listen:

I received an email inviting me to take a survey at SurveyMonkey. . (No, I'm not making it easy for you to link to them.) I happen to care about the survey topic, so I took the survey. The survey was designed, I believe, by the website that emailed me, a PR site called www dot welfeldpr dot com. (No, I'm not making it easy for you to link to them either.) The client who paid for the survey is blameless I think, and shall not be mentioned.

Now about ten minutes into the survey, I was admonished that I had to fill in all the lines on the previous page. I was set back to that page. On that page was a table, four columns of seventeen rows. I had to indicate preferences by checking one column for each row. But now I noticed that as I added checks, other checks disappeared. I won’t bore you with the detail, but it was in fact impossible to check more than four of the seventeen rows. Since I could not possibly follow the directions, I had wasted my time and had to give up.

I emailed surveymonkey, telling them to redesign their software to prevent a survey designer from making such a bonehead mistake. I hope to hear from them some day.

I emailed welfeldpr, explaining the problem to them. I soon got a response that tells me they actually got a few more complaints about this survey. Here it is:
Thank you for taking time to take the survey. We are sorry that you had difficulty with it.

If you would take a moment to try again, we have corrected the problem and will gladly enter you for a chance to win the gift certificate.

Thank you to those who wrote to explain the challenge which occurred for some recipients.

The gall! I've been asked to fill the questionnaire in all over again, and in return they will not make me ineligible for their prize. This might be the last surveymonkey survey I take. I appreciate Welfeldpr's apology, but I'm not very favorably disposed to them, either.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Griddlecakes Radio:

I very much enjoy a podcast called Griddlecakes Radio, which serves up regular “Griddlesodes” every two weeks or so. The author, Ron, tells stories about his life, or regales us with spellbinding bits of history, like his series on fishing boat competitions between New England and Canada. I was listening to a recent podcast he called “Transitions”, in which he went through some of the big changes in his own life. I wasn't really “touched” by this tale, I just nodded wisely as he limned transitions of his own: learning to live with strangers, having the first baby, kids leaving for college, and so on ...

And then he announced another transition: no more time to prepare podcasts! He will complete the current season, and then pretty much stop. And then the meaning of this Griddlesode hit home: I'm having a transition too, as another favorite podcaster gives it up. I'm glad he's leaving his shows online, I plan to go back and listen to all sixty-plus again from the beginning, they're good entertainment.

CAre to check him out? Try this one first, it's a hoot: Radio vs. Podcasting.

UPDATE: The news isn't as bad as I thought. Ron plans to post fewer shows per year, but there will be some.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who was that Lady?

Today, I'm protesting a photo caption that appeared in the New York Times. It accompanied Vivien Schweitzer's review, "Listening to the Fragile, Ethereal Beat of Butterflies' Wings". The caption simply says "from left," and names four of the five people in the picture, as you can see. The fifth person, completely ignored, sits at the pianist's left: she is the page turner. Page turning is an honorable avocation that frees the pianist from the drudgery of memorization. Page turning requires concentration in the throes of a great performance, the ability to judge how early to turn each page so the pianist can read ahead, exact knowledge of which repeats will be taken, and precise fingertips that never turn the wrong number of dog-eared or crisply new pages. Who was that lady? She deserved to be identified.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Pig sitter charged with cruelty"

This newspaper headline says it all, but it's not easy to guess how. The story is all over the internet. Imagine a pig ballooning from its normal 50 pounds to 150, so that surgery was needed to remove a collar that had become embedded in her overly fat neck.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Written by a College Student, no less!

There's an orange and blck couch in the hall near the radio station entrance. It has been there for a long time, and I'm not sure it ever gets used. Someone pinned a hand-written note on it, as follows: "Does this couch belong to you? If not, please write here."
I wrote there. I imagine this note will get a lot of responses. But I doubt they will help.

Monday, December 03, 2007

A test for vegetables:

When our daughter was young enough to eat from a highchair, she went through a food-throwing/food-dropping stage. You know what I mean. But I was clever. I figured out what vegetables our dog liked. When she threw food on the floor, the dog cleaned up.

A few years later our son reached the same stage. I could not remember which vegetables our dog had been willing to eat, so I experimented, with absolutely no success. I eventually came to the conclusion that our dog no longer liked vegetables.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Toilet Flush Handles can be Interesting:

During our vacation in Israel, I had occasion to use many toilet flush handles. It seems to me that Israel (and perhaps all of Europe as well) has hit upon the precise sweet spot in its bureaucratic regulations of these handles. First, you must understand that almost every toilet has two handles. One of these produces a much more prodigious flush than the other. Second, it appears that anyone who knows about the two-handle system can figure out which handle will produce the larger flush.

Now you may find my second point puzzling, unless you already know the truth: there is an unbelievable variety in the design of these handles. Artists and designers have been given free-reign by the bureaucrats to make the handles look any way they want, as long as they are there, and their separate functions can be inferred. Let art reign! At least, when it comes to clever functional design.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The drama of the keys:

When I take a business trip, I rent a car from an Avis place that is three-tenths of a mile from the parking lot where I work. I leave my own car in the company lot, and walk to the Avis to get the car. I take the rental car key-ring and attach it to my regular keyring, so that I have one ring, ensuring that no key will be lost. Please bear these things in mind.

When I returned the car to Avis, I took my keys off its ring and handed the car keys to the Avis rental agent. "What's the car mileage?" she asked. I had not thought to check, because usually the rental company uses an electronic thingy to get the mileage.

"I'll go check," I said.

"You'll need these." She handed back the key ring, and I saw, with horror, that the key for my own car was still attached. I might not have been able to drive my own car anywhere. I extracted my own key, gave her the mileage, and walked to work.

I did about two hours of work and then walked to my car. I tried to open the locked door with:

Oh hell! With the Avis car keys, which were still in my pocket. I drove at once to Avis, wondering why they had not called, and whether they would charge me an extra day for keeping the keys.

I walked into the Avis place. The same agent was on the phone. I quietly handed the keys to her. Her eyes widened, we nodded to each other, and I left. Phhewwwww.