Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Black Friday Is a Scam for Consumers

In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is the single busiest shopping day of the year. This day marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. It is the starting pistol that signals people across the country to begin their search for that perfect gift en masse. Although Black Friday continues to gain momentum year after year, I think that it becomes more and more of a scam for consumers each year.

Why Black Friday Is a Scam for ConsumersThe story goes that retailers who operate at a loss most of the year do enough business on Black Friday to make a profit and thus move their accounting figures from red to black, hence the name. Retailers encourage shoppers to spend more by offering one-day-only sales on limited quantities of goods at drastically reduced prices. These no-coupon, no-rebate, and no rain check sales are the stuff of legend, which is why they occur just once a year.

In the days leading up to Black Friday, Internet message boards begin buzzing with rumors about which stores are having the biggest sales. People post store flyers and advertisements online and discuss which stores are having the best deals. Consumers get shaken up with excitement over these deals as the pressure builds like a bottle of soda.

On Thanksgiving Day people begin lining up outside retail stores like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Costco, and the shopping mall. They will endure darkness, discomfort, and cold weather all night long just to be first in line on opening day. They will take time off from work and be away from their families at the prospect of saving a few dollars on some hot consumer item. Some people even camp out days in advance!

This kind of insane consumer loyalty has expanded beyond Black Friday and is now commonplace. People have camped out for the release of major video game systems including the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3, and the Nintendo Wii. People will line up outside of a movie theater hours before a film opens to catch the first midnight show (Star Wars anyone?). Some people will queue up outside of bookstores waiting for the hot new titles from JK Rowling wearing homemade costumes of the characters! They will wait in line for hours to buy concert tickets, iPhones and just about everything else.

On Black Friday, the pressure reaches a critical mass. Spots at the front of the line are sold for hundreds of dollars in the hours before stores open. Crowds of ravenous shoppers tear through the stores as the front doors are unlocked. People shove each other out of the way as they run down the aisles. Store workers are trampled and injured in the mass of confusion. Shoppers motivated by greed will buy two or more of a hot item hoping to resell it at an inflated price.

Black Friday is a frenzy of consumer spending unlike anything else in the world. It is an orgy of spending and mass consumption. This poses the question: is getting a great deal worth the true cost of Black Friday deals? I don't think it is.

The whole ritual that Black Friday has become just sickens me. I can't believe that people will stand in line outside of a store all night so they can have the "privilege" of being the first to fork over their hard earned cash for some mass produced piece of garbage. I can't believe they will pay hundreds of dollars to cut to the front of the line. I can't believe they can be so brutal to their fellow man when storming the aisles in search of bargains. They trample each other like a herd of wild animals instead of civilized humans. Christmas is a time for joy, peace, and love. Black Friday is just the opposite: it is all about greed, selfishness, and a lack of compassion for others.

To take part in the madness of Black Friday is to give up your dignity as a consumer. Standing in line all night says to the world that there's nothing you won't do to save a few bucks. By standing in line, your friends, family, co-workers, and even retailers can see what a gullible fool you are. Am I being too harsh? Absolutely not, because only a fool would stand in line all night risking their own safety and comfort to buy that must-have present! In all likeliness, a present that will be forgotten about by next Thanksgiving.

I like getting great deals as much as the next guy, but the truth is that many of these hot deals just aren't worth it. An example might help illustrate my point. Let's say that a big-box electronics retailer is advertising a $100 digital camera for $49 in-store, one day only. $51 dollars off sounds like a great deal, right?

Well if you arrive at the store at midnight and stake out a place in line until the store opens at 8am, that's eight hours of waiting. You only saved a little over $6 dollars an hour by standing there all night (assuming you actually get the camera). Is that $6 dollars worth more to you than an hour with your family? Is it worth more than an hour of sleep? This is the hidden cost of these "killer deals:" you pay for them with your time.

Personally, it's worth it to me to pay the regular price and get a good night's sleep. It's worth it to me to not get trampled by some foaming-at-the-mouth, bargain-crazed shopper on the way to the electronics department. It's worth it to me to maintain my dignity as a shopper. No product is so desirable to me that I would pay twice its retail value to a scalper selling one on Craigslist.

Don't get me wrong, I like gadgets and technology. But nothing is so important to own that I would lie in a sleeping bag on the ground and watch the sun come up for. That shitty feeling would forever be associated with that product in my mind and I would remember it every time I used it.

Do the world a favor and shop sensibly this year on Black Friday. Don't join the hoards of compulsive consumers in wrestling over Bluetooth earpieces. It's not worth your dignity or your time. Remember, it's just stuff.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://artvoice.com/issues/v5n51/my_shopping_orgy
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/nov/29/useconomy-retail

Monday, October 19, 2009

Celebrity Gossip Magazines are Completely Irrelevant

It seems like there is a magazine for every hobby and interest these days. There are even magazines for people who are interested in the lives of other people. One of the lowest forms of entertainment are the magazines that dish out the latest gossip on Hollywood celebrities and their off-camera lives.

You know them as US Weekly, People, and Life & Style magazine. These weekly rags appear at the checkout of every grocery and convenience store from coast to coast. Co-workers gaze at them during their lunch breaks. Women flip through them as they get their hair or nails done. And yet nothing between the front cover and back cover is of any importance at all!


The idea that anyone would care to read about the everyday lives of actors, singers, and other high profile individuals is lost on me. Celebrities are not more special than ordinary people, and everything they do and say should not be taken as gospel. Being an actor is a job, just like flipping burgers and waiting tables are jobs. Someone has to do it. Celebrities do not deserve special treatment just because they made a record or starred in a film.

The headlines make every article sound like the most monumental news since Moses delivered the 10 Commandments. Check out who's engaged and who's getting divorced! Look at the dress that so-and-so wore to some stupid event! Holy s**t, this is major life-changing news that YOU need to know!! And of course it's always printed in the most eye-catching, bright yellow, 96-point text that makes real layout designers cry.

Guess what, people who star in movies aren't any different from people who assemble widgets for a living. They get married and divorced, they have children, and they shop at the store. They go to the beach and drive cars just like normal people - because that's exactly what they are. They're just regular people and they should be treated as such.

I hate the idea that people fawn over celebrities and everything they do. Wow, look at Britney Spears stopping for coffee at Starbucks! Check out this person who gained or lost weight! Look at her hair, nails, and clothes! SO WHAT?! A high-paying job is no excuse for such ridiculous special treatment.

If you think celebrities are such amazing, gracious, generous super-people, I've got news for you: being directed around a soundstage by someone else for eight months while wearing too much makeup does not make one qualified to give opinions on current news and world events.

Celebrity tabloid magazines don't need to exist. They are nothing but photographs and ads with no real articles or content at all. They are a form of Prolefeed, a term first coined by George Orwell in his novel "Ninteen Eighty-Four." They entertain the most easily-distracted people in society with lots of pretty pictures. They provide drama and excitement to people whose lives are lacking both.

If you think this passes for entertainment of any sort, you're wrong. Celebrity gossip magazines aren't worth the paper they're printed on. They are not even worth complaining about beyond what I have already.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/non_aviation/read.main/1945863/
http://everything2.com/title/celebrities
http://img40.imageshack.us/img40/1736/200905amusingourselvest.png

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Car Magazines Suck

The Automotive Gossip industry is almost as big and competitive as the Automotive industry itself. On the newsstand you have magazines such as Car and Driver, Road and Track, Motor Trend, and AutoWeek. On the web you have AutoBlog, and Jalopnik. There are no shortage of publications claiming to have the most authentic and most current industry news about the car industry.

For the longest time, I enjoyed keeping up with the news in the automotive industry through magazines and periodicals. After a while though, the magazines all started to sound the same to me.Why Car Magazines Suck
One problem with car magazines is that the reviewers are always so snobbish about the vehicles they test drive. They expected the Cadillac to be more luxurious or the Mustang to be faster. They complain about the suspension being too stiff or the engine not powerful enough. They gripe about automatic transmissions being slushy or a steering wheel that feels too small.

These automotive pundits have forgotten that the majority of their readers do not get behind the wheel of a high-performance or exotic car every day. Most drivers have very boring cars, and we would be happy to have a vehicle that works without breaking down on us.

For example, the 14-year old economy car that I drive has been nothing but one expensive repair after another during the six years I have owned it. I would gladly take home any new car featured in a magazine, even if the reviewer thinks the leather trim is the wrong color.

After a while, the things that reviewers dislike about cars start to sound petty, insignificant, and downright ridiculous. It's almost as though they approach every vehicle with a magnifying glass rather than looking at the bigger picture, which is this: car manufacturing has come a LONG way over the past few decades. New vehicles are dramatically safer, more comfortable, and more efficient than ever before. There's almost nothing to complain about, so they magnify the smallest quirks in a vehicle to write an article.

What car magazines should focus on is helping people find the right car for their needs. How fun it is to drive, how well it performs in everyday situations, and how much it costs to maintain. These are things that average drivers would like to know before purchasing a new vehicle.

Instead, car magazines love to bombard you with useless facts, like how fast it goes around some fucking racetrack in Germany or how the new Mercedes has 0.006 inches more legroom than the BMW. They blast you with statistics that really aren't that important or relevant to how the vehicle will be driven in the real world.

They claim one car is superior to another because it has six more horsepower or is a fraction of a second faster down the dragstrip. Honestly, I would be happy to have a car with a zero-to-sixty time that's not measured in minutes! The automotive gossip industry is so wrapped up in cramming data down your throat that they've lost touch with the people who truly enjoy the experience of driving.

In spite of all this, the automotive gossip industry stronger than ever. An entire subculture of people now post their thoughts about every new make and model to be announced. Log on to any automotive news forum or message board to find out what Joe from Philadelphia thinks of the newest Kia crossover. Seriously, who gives a crap? These armchair experts probably drive around in a 1992 Toyota Corolla and yet trumpet their opinions about the newest generation of muscle cars like they're the freaking world experts.

As a whole, the automotive gossip industry is full of self-absorbed know-it-alls and "experts" who quote arbitrary facts out of context to try and seem smart. Headlines that are of paramount importance one day are discarded and forgotten the next day. Everyone's looking for the next big thing and living in the "now" with no thought to the past or future. I'm sorry, but car magazines just aren't fun to read anymore.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/car-and-driver-road-track-motor-trend-automobile-americas-buff-books-laid-low/
http://autosnob.blogspot.com/2009/10/power-of-preconceptions.html

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cash For Clunkers Is An Absolute Disgrace

In July of 2009, the US Government approved a legislative bill known as the Car Allowance Rebate System, or CARS. This program offered new car buyers a large cash discount when they traded in a used vehicle that met specific criteria. The motive behind the program was to encourage drivers to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. In spite of this noble effort, I feel the way the program was carried out was an absolute disgrace.

Cash For Clunkers Is An Absolute DisgraceThe truth is, these trade-in vehicles were disposed of in the absolute worst way I can even imagine. Rather than being refurbished, sold to low income buyers, being recycled at scrapyards, or exported to overseas buyers, these vehicles were permanently disabled by replacing the engine oil with an engine-seizing solution.

When poured into the engine and run for a few minutes, the engine seizes up and the car becomes inoperable. As a result, the engine can never be swapped into a different vehicle or used to repair an existing vehicle.

While I can understand the incentive behind getting people to drive fuel efficient cars, I cannot be okay with destroying vehicles that are in perfect working condition. Just look at any of the videos on YouTube of CARS victims meeting their demise.

Take this 1998 Cadillac for example. It is in excellent physical condition and it is vastly more efficient than the vehicle I'm currently driving. The idea that anyone would consider this vehicle a "clunker" is ridiculous! This is not a one-time example; there are dozens of videos of good cars being destroyed in an astonishingly wasteful and inefficient way.

The trade-in vehicles from the CARS program could have gone to so many other good uses instead of being destroyed. They could have been sold to salvage yards, given to hardworking impoverished families that desperately need reliable transportation, or exported to third world nations for use as emergency vehicles or otherwise. They could have been donated to charities, or refurbished and put back on the road. As far as I am concerned, the CARS program is an absolute disgrace.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_Allowance_Rebate_System#Environmental_effects

Thursday, September 3, 2009

10 Stereotypes You Meet In College

One of the most eye-opening things about my time in college was the people there. It was quite a shock for me that a school with so many tens of thousands of students could have so many people who look and act the same. There were only about ten varieties of people and thousands of copies of them everywhere! I thought it would be a clever and original idea to start a list of them and their defining characteristics.10 Stereotypes You Meet In College
Well as it turns out, plenty of other people have already had this same idea. But I went ahead and recorded my observations anyway, because if you currently attend or are planning on attending college, you'll likely run into many of these same people. Don't say I didn't warn you!

1). The Party Guy - This guy thinks of himself as a "beer connoisseur" rather than "alcoholic." He's got the standard red Solo cup in his hand every time you see him. The Party Guy can talk for hours about why Beer X is better than Beer Y, in spite of the fact that any beer that's 75 cents a can is going to taste like piss regardless. When he's sober, he loves to talk about going to the lake and the dirt bike he used to have. He will drop out within the first year to work for his uncle's construction company and to help fund his growing collection of tattoos.

2). The Educrat - This person has made a career out of being a student. They have managed to make it to age 25 without having a real job and have no idea about the real world outside of what they've heard in lecture. They get high grades in challenging subjects like physics and math, yet struggle with simple tasks like bike locks, making coffee, and safe driving. They have been taught what to think, not how to think. Know everything but understand nothing. These people make great Teachers' Assistants.

3). Facebook Girl - She spends the entire lecture staring at her laptop and playing Farm Town. Although she never turns in a single assignment or takes notes, she finishes the semester a full grade above you because she kicks ass at tests. She's kind of hot in a girl-next-door sort of way. She has the shortest shorts and the biggest Macbook.

4). Sorority Girl - This gal is often seen walking around campus with her crew of recently-inducted members of a Sorority. They all sport matching Greek shirts atop their Baby Doll figures. She's not too good with computers but has a cell phone with a full keyboard for rapid-fire text messaging her friends about going out for drinks this weekend. Girls night out whooooo! She has never been seen finishing an entire plate of food.

5). Abercrombie Guy - It's the first day of class and he already knows the instructor on a first-name basis because his older brother had the same class a few years ago. You thought this kind of thing was over once you finished high school, but the reality is that it just gets worse. Abercrombie Guy is on the basketball team and often misses class because of away games. This sucks for you because he's on your team for the semester project and he actually asked you if PowerPoint was "the program with the slides." He spends every lecture playing "Breakout" on his BlackBerry.

6). The Freshman - This recent high school graduate has just started a four year paid vacation courtesy of mom and dad. The Freshman's parents have provided him with a room at the expensive new dorms, the deluxe meal plan, a brand new bike or car, and a new laptop that he got for a graduation present. This guy does not appreciate how good he has it and has the nerve to complain about getting up for a 10am class - and he lives on campus!

7). The Lifetime Achiever - This 47 year old parent of two completed their Associates degree when you were in kindergarten. They joined the rat race and started a family. Now that the nest is empty and they need a bachelor's degree to advance their career, they are back in the classroom. The Lifetime Achiever is equipped for success with their microcassette recorder and rolling backpack. They arrive 15 minutes early to class and constantly interrupt the lecture every five minutes to ask the instructor for clarification or to repeat something. They are very politically informed and take every opportunity to engage the class in discussion - but only if you agree with them.

8). The Phantom Classmate - He wasn't there for the first day of class, but he did make an appearance the first week asking around for an extra copy of the syllabus. Every now and then he misses a couple of weeks worth of lectures. The Phantom Classmate will show up randomly throughout the semester, never bringing more than the clothes on their back. The other students don't even know this person's name. The last you'll ever see them is on the day before an exam, whispering to the instructor about a withdrawal slip.

9). The Average Guy - The Average Guy is often seen shuffling to class in his basketball shorts and flip flops. He is always up to date on the newest movies and professional sports scores. He watches ESPN and listens to modern rock on his iPod. He drinks a little but is not a hardcore party animal like The Party Guy. You can't really figure out what he's into. The Average Guy doesn't seem to have any passion or zest in his life beyond lust for consumer products and brands, but he can talk for hours about which cell phone company has the best service. He passes his courses but doesn't ever absorb anything.

10). The Overachiever - Look no further than the quiet girl in the front row to find the Overachiever among you. This girl is majoring in Biochemistry and minoring in Early Childhood Development at the same time with a 3.5 GPA, but is thinking of switching to Nursing. She's taking 21 credit hours this semester, but only because the enrollment advisor wouldn't let her take more. You can almost see the crushing student loan debts reflected in her thousand yard stare during lecture. Don't bother asking her out for pizza because she's always busy studying. She has no life outside of school and will be filled with regret when she has her Masters degree at 25 and not a single happy memory of the last eight years.

I'm definitely not the only one who feels this way: 
https://web.archive.org/web/20100710051537/http://www.thefifthyear.com/2009/02/the-college-stereotypes/
http://collegecandy.com/2009/08/11/the-10-types-of-freshmen-youll-meet-on-campus/  
http://jamoker.wordpress.com/2006/12/13/a-summary-of-the-people-you-meet-in-college/ 
https://web.archive.org/web/20130805031216/http://www.thesangfroid.com/2009/07/30/the-10-types-of-people-you-meet-in-college/

Monday, August 31, 2009

7 Good Reasons Why LightScribe Sucks

It's hard to believe that it is 2009 and people are still excited about LightScribe technology. For those not familiar with LightScribe, it is a technology that allows you to "Burn, Flip, and Burn" your CD and DVD discs. First you record your information, flip the disc over, and then use the same drive to laser etch your artwork directly on to the disc surface.7 Good Reasons Why LightScribe Sucks
In theory this sounds great because you can label your CD and DVD discs without buying another ink cartridge or adhesive label ever again. But after some hands-on testing, I have come up with 7 Good Reasons Why LightScribe Sucks.

7). LightScribe is monochromatic only. This one is a no brainer: you cannot print color photos with a LightScribe drive. A cheap inkjet printer and a package of adhesive CD/DVD labels would produce a far superior result.

6). Another reason why LightScribe sucks is that it is excruciatingly slow. A full disc of artwork can take up to 30 minutes to print! An average inkjet or thermal printer can do a full color disc in about two minutes or less. You do the math.

5). LightScribe cannot print to the center hub. It's true, the center hub of a LightScribe disc contains the information needed to guide the recording laser around the top surface. You'll never get a professional looking CD or DVD disc when you use LightScribe because you'll always see their huge logo branded in the center of the disc.

4). One big downside to LightScribe is that blank CD and DVD discs with LightScribe printable surfaces cost more than regular discs. This may not be a big deal if you buy a small package of 50 discs, but for high volume buyers this can really hit you in the wallet.

3). You need a special drive to record LightScribe artwork. Most desktop and laptop computers and almost all professional recording gear does not come with LightScribe drives. To use this technology, one must upgrade their hardware to something that supports LightScribe.

2). Designing your LightScribe artwork is only slightly easier than building the pyramids of Egypt. Forget about using industry standard design software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark. You have to use a cumbersome program to create a print file, and then record that to a disc. Good luck getting an engineer to figure this one out, let alone your Grandmother.

1). Finally, LightScribe sucks because the prints just look awful. Even under the best of conditions when using high-resolution artwork and recording at the Best Quality setting, you can still see horizontal bands and gaps in your artwork. It's absolutely not worth the 30 minute wait time for a monochromatic print that looks like a bad photocopy.

LightScribe would have been a cool technology had it had been invented about 10 years ago. Here in 2009 where we have color inkjet printers that print full color artwork directly on CD and DVD discs in just minutes for a few cents per print, LightScribe is simply laughable. It's the equivalent of crossing the sea in a balloon and navigating by compass while the rest of the world uses GPS-equipped jet airplanes. Sure it works, but the alternative is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and all around better at getting the job done. Don't even get me started on Disc t@2 technology!

UPDATE: HP has discontinued support for all LightScribe products in January 2014. The software, burners, and media are no longer supported. I am surprised that it took this long for it to happen!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Black Edition Is The New Extreme

Once upon a time in the mid-1980s, American Express came up with a special credit card for its most elite, high-profile cardmembers. They quietly introduced a very exclusive card called the "Centurion card" which was shrouded in secrecy during its earliest days.Rumors about this new credit card began circulating in the late 1980s, and a 1988 article by the Wall Street Journal finally cleared up the controversy. The card was discontinued afterwards, but consumer interest in the card was so strong that it was reintroduced in 1999.

To understand what all the fuss is about, I need to explain that the Centurion card is not just another credit card, it is *THE* credit card. Here are several ways in which the Centurion card is different from ordinary cards:

-It was originally not available to the general public. It was offered only to high-profile AmEx Platinum card members who met specific criteria and spending habits established by American Express. A few thousand cards were issued to high rollers such as Hollywood celebrities and Fortune 500 CEOs.

-The privilege of carrying a Centurion card came at an exorbitant annual fee of $1,000 per year (now $2,500).

-Third, the card included a 24-hour worldwide concierge service for its cardholders. The service helped wealthy cardholders make travel arrangements and other personal services including private shopping and dining.

To carry a Centurion Card was to be treated like royalty with special VIP lounges at airports and nightclubs. In addition to VIP treatment, it was rumored that the card simply did not have a credit limit at all. Customers have used Centurion cards for everything from charter jets to exotic car purchases.


When you take all of this into account, you can see that the Centurion card, or "Black Card" as it is commonly known, really is the ultimate credit card. But this isn't a rant about credit cards for people with excessively lavish lifestyles. It's about other companies borrowing from the mystique and the success of the Centurion card in an endless game of "me-too!"

In recent years, the number of consumer products being marketed with the moniker "Black" has exploded. Today, the word word "Black" comes with the implication that what you're buying is the absolute finest product the company makes; its halo product, its gleaming signature creation. This is a trend that transcends multiple industries and products. Take the following list of products for example:

Mercedes-Benz CLK-63 AMG Black Series (link)
Mercedes-Benz SL-65 AMG Black Series (link)
Audi A3 Black Edition (link)
Brabus Unimog U500 Black Edition (link)
MSI N260GTX Lightning Black Edition Video Card (link)
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition Quad-Core Processor (link)
Western Digital Caviar Black Edition Hard Drive 1TB (link)
Need For Speed: Most Wanted: Black Edition (PC) (link)
Painkiller: Black Edition (PC) (link)
Nokia N96 Black Edition (link)

Ten years after its introduction, the original Centurion card is everywhere in popular culture thanks to celebrity interviews, rap music lyrics, and even magazine ads! A wealth of information about the Centurion card is now available online. Competing credit card companies have responsed with their own versions of the card, including Visa who actually calls theirs the "Black Card."

The elite status once required to attain a Centurion card has diminished, and in its place we have just another credit card with requirements easily met by many small businesses, entrepreneurs, executives, and celebrities. In its wake, we have a wide range of products in various industries seeking to capitalize on the success of the "Black Edition" name.


I think it's time we put this whole "Black Edition" trend to rest for good, but I know that somehow the replacement catchphrase will be even worse.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nothing Is What It Seems


We are a society of synthetic human beings with our wigs, implants, face lifts, tummy tucks, teeth whitening strips, hair dye, and botox treatments.

We buy consumer products that have photomanipulated pictures on the box (see: Photoshop Disasters).
We read magazines with airbrushed models on the cover.
We watch television commercials that feature people doing outrageous things in impossible situations.
We are entertained by television shows with simulated laugh tracks from nonexistent studio audiences.
We watch movies with the most realistic special effects we've ever seen.
We give awards to actors who rely on stunt doubles and makeup artists to make them what they are.
We pay a premium price for bottled water that is really just filtered municipal water.
We eat pre-packaged foods that are loaded with preservatives, coloring, and sweeteners.
We buy "American" cars like Chevrolets that are actually assembled in Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.
We are discouraged from buying "foreign" cars that are assembled in Ohio, Tennessee, and California.
We drive cars with faux leather, simulated woodgrain, and dual tips off of a single exhaust.
We listen to songs on the radio that were not written by the artists performing them.
We sing along to auto-tuned vocals and cleverly engineered hit singles.
We work jobs we hate to buy shit we don't need (now a major motion picture!)
We elect politicians who give speeches they did not write so they can vote on bills they have not read.
We have cell phone towers "disguised" as 190-foot tall palm trees.
We have brick-patterned wallpaper over the stucco walls at Subway.
We live in stucco castles that have stone facades and imprinted concrete patterns.
We decorate our homes with reproduction art, silk indoor plants, and reproduction art.
We have digital cameras that play pre-recorded sounds to simulate the shutter of a traditional camera.

You never think about this kind of stuff when you are young. But the older I get, the more I realize that nothing is what it appears to be. The truth is that so many things in life are false, phony, rebranded, facetious, artificial, and just plain fake. The world is full of deception, both harmful and harmless. Nothing is what it seems.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Innocence Lost

One of the great things about children is how innocent they are. As a young child, I would have believed just about anything an adult told me. This is why parents get such a kick out of telling a young child about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus - they know that children will believe them. Children have no reason to believe that something might not really be what it seems.
As I got older, I began to stop believing in the fantasy and start seeing the reality. Growing up is all about absorbing new experiences and new information about how the world really works. The downside of understanding how things really work is that the magic is gone.

Sometimes, I think I was happier before I learned the truth about some things. Each time I learn the truth about something, it's like a little bit of my childlike innocence about the world disappears. The older I get, the more I learn that nothing truly is what it seems.

It wasn't long before I learned that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus were my parents all along. I was sad to learn that the cartoon characters at Disneyland were really just people in costumes. At some point during my childhood, I learned what pitifully small salaries teachers are paid compared to other professions.

As time went on, I learned that many fast food restaurants do not make food when you order it, but in fact use frozen beef or heat lamps to keep food hot and ready. I learned that almost every pre-packaged or instant food is loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors to make it brighter or sweeter than it should be. I learned that many of the baked goods for sale at the grocery store are not baked fresh, but are in fact delivered from another bakery in the middle of the night.

Upon entering the workforce, I learned a great deal about how the world of business really works. I learned that many "American" vehicles from Chevrolet and other car makers are actually produced in Mexico or South Korea. I learned that many recalled products such as contaminated toothpaste and pet food not only come from overseas, but that many different brands all come from the same factory. I learned about sweatshops and cheap foreign labor.

The truth is that warranties are always limited and that satisfaction is never guaranteed. I learned that when products on "sale," the MSRP was marked up to give the illusion of savings. I learned about market researchers and focus groups and how they target products and services to specific demographic groups. I learned about greeting card companies, diamond rings, and the greedy origins of their industries.

I learned about the stock market and people who make money on trades while contributing nothing to society. It was shocking to learn that there are people in the world who are actively trying to rip you off through investment schemes, multi-level marketing scams, phishing, identity theft, insurance fraud, telephone solicitation, spamming, and worse. Learning about the despicable things that some people will do for money robs you of more of that childhood innocence.

I lose a little bit of that childhood innocence every time I hear a news story about a respected public figure such as a minister or corporate CEO who gets caught embezzling money. It saddens me when public officials such as judges, politicians, and police officers are found guilty of bribery, or when celebrities are arrested on severe criminal charges. I lose a little bit of innocence every time I hear about a professional athlete or Olympic star who gets caught using performance enhancing drugs or steroids.

There was a day in my life when I discovered that many politicians do not write their own speeches, and that many popular singers and entertainers do not write their own songs. I learned that a singers and bands will alter their image to meet the favor of the public eye.

I learned that some musicians will change their style and their sound in order to land a record deal, fame, and fortune. I learned that many bands sound the way they do because of auto-tuned vocals and some very clever engineering in the studio. I learned that everything on the radio is pre-recorded and edited to sound real (including breathing).

More of my innocence about the world was lost when I learned that TV news anchors aren't actually reading those papers on their desk, but that they read a huge teleprompter off-camera. I learned that actors and actresses look the way they do on camera because they spend hours having makeup applied to alter their appearance. The same applies to almost every modern magazine cover, where models benefit from excessive amounts of airbrushing and photo-manipulation.

I learned that some celebrities are so shallow and vain that they will resort to extreme dieting, liposuction, makeup, plastic surgery, colored contact lenses, teeth whitening, implants, hair dye, and other tricks to appear more attractive than they really are. I learned that these role models create a false image of beauty that their fans aspire to but cannot ever achieve.

The little child I once was has grown up into a skeptical adult, having learned that so many, many things in this world are completely fake. Everything from consumer products to news headlines to television commercials and movies can be manufactured in a laboratory, factory, or studio for the purposes of deceiving me into seeing or believing something that's not real, not possible, or not genuinely there.

When you're young and innocent, you never think that what you're seeing is something artificial and made to deceive you. It just never occurs to children that magazine cover pictures have been altered, that store-bought juice is loaded with coloring, and that there is someone behind the scenes writing today's hit songs.

But the reality of life is that nothing is what it seems. The modern world is so full of replicas, imitations, and synthetics that it's getting harder and harder to tell truth from untruth. Growing up is more than just getting older, it is what happens when you lose your innocence about the world we live in.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's The Point of Supercars?

Mind blowing performance. Impressive specifications. Sexy styling. Limited production. Some say that supercars are the ultimate driving machines, but I've got a hunch that many of today's top performance automobiles are not being used to their full potential...or even being used at all.
The supercar industry has seen some of its most groundbreaking innovations in recent years, thanks to advances in technology. Everything from crash testing to aerodynamic modeling can now be perfected in the lab using computer modeling and simulations before the first vehicle rolls off the production line.
Not only does this cut down the amount of time required to bring a new vehicle to market, but it has also led to the development of some of the wildest and most unique vehicles ever produced. Computer-aided design allows engineers to explore new concepts and ideas that just were not possible a decade ago.

From paddle-shifters mounted on the steering column to heavy-duty carbon ceramic brakes, modern supercars are dripping with innovation. Carbon fiber body panels stay rigid and strong as advanced traction control systems help channel massive amounts of power to the pavement. Hand-assembled engines pump out huge horsepower at high RPMs and will run for years without needing a rebuild.

Yes, it's safe to say that supercars are some of the most over-engineered vehicles on the road today. A design team at Ferrari or Lamborghini may spend more time perfecting the suspension of one vehicle than it would take for a mass-production automaker to revise its entire lineup. The amount of effort that goes into developing a true road-raping machine is often reflected in its six or seven figure price tag.


But how often do you see supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the road? When was the last time you saw a Koenigsegg at the corner store or an F430 at the movie theater? Unless you live in South Florida, probably never.

The truth is that in spite of their incredible engineering, supercars do not make good daily drivers. Many exotic car owners also have an ordinary car for driving to the post office and the grocery store. The supercar is kept in the garage most of its life and will be driven perhaps a few hundred miles a year to car shows and around the block on sunny days.

Although a supercar can accelerate to 60 mph in the blink of an eye, its driver must still obey the speed limit. While the limited production makes them highly desirable, it also makes them difficult to get parts for. Because of the expensive price tag, a fender bender or theft would be disastrous.


Supercars also have high maintenance costs including premium fuel, synthetic oil, and special order tires. They gulp fuel and have no room for passengers or cargo. Insurance is expensive and so are speeding tickets. When you get right down to it, supercars are a lot like ordinary cars, only less useful and more expensive.

That's not to say we shouldn't have supercars. It is through the development of such exotic, high-performance vehicles that our regular cars become more advanced. What I am saying is that it's an absolute shame to see the fastest and best engineered vehicles sitting around all the time, being pampered instead of being driven!
It is a shame to see a classic Ferrari on the auction block at Barrett Jackson with 6,000 original miles on the clock. It is a shame to see today's most obsessively engineered vehicles hiding under car covers and being trailered to shows. It's a shame that supercars are priced well out of range of plenty of people who would love to drive them regularly.

What's the point of spending thousands of hours designing and testing a vehicle so it can sit on the grass at Pebble Beach? What is the point of engineering a vehicle that can travel at 250mph, only to have it spend the majority of its life sitting still?

The vehicles that are built to go the fastest are the ones that are driven the least. Rather than be driven and enjoyed as the designers intended, they spend their days covered up in garages, museums, and trailers at car shows. Now, where's the sense in that?

I am not the only one who feels this way:
http://www.supraforums.com/forum/showthread.php?t=463108

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What the Government Does

When I was younger, I had a very limited understanding of government. I always wondered what politicians in Washington DC actually did all day.

Why was there so much bureaucracy and red tape? Why couldn't a room full of people agree on anything other than the time of day? Since then, I have come to understand the purpose of government a little better and why there is so much disagreement in our nation's capitol.

There are certain functions the government must perform in order to BE the government. It must oversee the creation and distribution of money and coinage through the Mint. It must maintain the armed forces for the defense of our country. It must also follow the Constitution and make sure it is upheld.

Everyone agrees that the government must perform these duties at the bare minimum. Beyond those fundamentals, people start to disagree with each other about what else the federal government should be responsible for.

Some people think the functions of government should be limited to these actions and no more. They feel that the States should possess the power to pass and enforce laws at their own level, rather than be dictated to by politicians and bureaucrats. Let each state decide what is best for itself, rather than rely on nationwide laws to be passed.

Other people feel that the federal government should play a much larger role in our lives. They feel that the government's overall job is to take the money collected from the income tax and redistribute it to wherever it is needed most.

How does one determine which causes or ideas have the greatest need for government aid? Who deserves those federal dollars, how much they deserve, and what they're going to do with the money are all important questions to be considered. This is precisely what politicians debate all day, every day.

The federal government is more than just a building full of longwinded Senators and Representatives in Washington D.C. It is a made up of hundreds of social welfare organizations that employ tens of thousands of people all across the country.

In one way or another, the government subsidizes (pays for): a national retirement system called Social Security, money to each of the 50 states for construction projects (with stipulations), federal loans for college students, federal loans for homebuyers, and subsidies to farmers so they will not grow certain crops.

The government also regulates broadcast media including television, radio, and consumer electronics through the FCC. They set safety standards for the vehicles we drive through the NHTSA and the foods we eat through the FDA. They set strict laws relating to aviation and marittime industries. They operate our national parks under the National Park Service. They provide a nationwide system of mail delivery through the Post Office.

These and hundreds of other organizations and regulatory agencies are all funded by the federal government (see the complete list). Each organization has an annual budget to work with, which never seems to be enough.

It is very difficult to decide how much of the money collected from the annual Income Tax should go to each of these hundreds of organizations. Which is most important: widening a freeway in Florida or making sure that the Superfund program has the money to clean up a toxic waste site in Pennsylvania?

What will the government do to help farmers in the midwest during a drought, or college students in California who cannot afford tuition? Can they make more annual inspections of the nation's nuclear power plants if they hold off on buying new planes for the Air Force for another year? What could the consequences of that decision be?

And therein lies the problem: there are only so many dollars available and a trillion ways to spend them. Of course, the Representatives from each of the states will lobby before the Congress for more money for their own states. Representatives from California will explain why California needs more money for its college students. Representatives from Florida will plead their case for that wider freeway.

Each of the hundreds of organizations that the government supports feels that it should get all of its requested funding. Every organization feels that it is of great national importance, from the space program to the arts council. Because it is not possible to give everyone all of the money they desire, compromises must be made.

The federal government attempts to please everyone by deciding that Florida will get two additional lanes and the Air Force will get X number of planes and the Superfund program will get a 5% budget increase over the previous year.

Of course, the outcome of every decision is hotly contested by talk show hosts, private citizens, and even other government agencies. Being a politician on Capitol Hill means taking part in a vicious tug-of-war for those precious government dollars. Everyone wants them and yet there are not enough to go around. That is what they argue about all day in Washington.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Worst Silly Names of Web 2.0

The Internet has changed dramatically over the past few years. No longer do users simply read and absorb information in a one-sided conversation. Everyday people are now publishers of information via blogs, wikis, forums, comments, and YouTube videos. They engage in social networking and are making their voices heard. In this new era where everyone is a producer of content, we have entered the realm known as "Web 2.0."

Stupid Silly Names of Web 2.0Web 2.0 is not a technology, but a collection of websites that have several things in common. To be considered "2.0," a website will typically include some or all of the following:

-Maintains focus on user generated or edited content
-Encourages people to publish content about themselves
-Enables people to communicate quickly
-Is usually free of charge
-Explosive, viral popularity

Critics like myself are quick to point out that these sites also sport clean, oversimplified designs with HUGE fonts, rounded corners, cutesy-colorful icons, and utterly silly names that would make your English teacher cringe in disgust. Seriously, why do so many popular websites have such awful names? Take a look at these examples:

Twitter
Flickr
Frappr
Zoomr
Retrievr
Digg
Reddit
Skype
Meebo
Bebo
Orkut
Del.icio.us
Ma.gnol.ia
37Signals
43Things
Fandango
Yelp
Kijiji
Joost

I'm not the first one to notice that these names sound like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. This is one bandwagon that's apparently far from full. I wish people would go back to picking creative, meaningful, or somewhat appropriate names for websites again. These silly names are so pitifully unimaginative that it makes me sick to think about it any longer. I'm going to go read a book now, for humanity's sake.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://moz.com/blog/want-to-make-up-stupid-words-then-create-a-social-media-site
http://www.gelfmagazine.com/gelflog/archives/seussical_domain_names.php
http://themarketingguy.wordpress.com/2008/07/25/social-networking-or-not-working/
http://www.dotomator.com/

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Slow and Painful Death of the Fax Machine

Every so often, a new technology is invented that completely displaces an existing technology. When a new invention offers such significant improvement over the current technology that it can drive an entire market out of business almost overnight, it is a phenomenon known as a "disruptive technology."

The Slow and Painful Death of the Fax MachineIn many cases, the new technology is hailed as a "quantum leap" or "paradigm shift" in the industry. Before the pocket calculator came along, the slide rule was the best we had. Before jet-powered aircraft came along, propeller-powered aircraft were the best we could do. The typewriter was the king of the publishing world for decades before the personal computer came along.

In almost every case, these new technologies provided huge improvements over the existing ones. Businesses and consumers are generally eager to pick up on new technologies that will make their lives easier.

And yet, one technology that should have been disrupted long ago is still around. One slow and inferior communication technology still has not been defeated by its superior rival. It is 2009 and for some strange reason, fax machines are still commonly found in businesses, offices, and homes nationwide!

The death grip that the business world has on fax machines extends far beyond mom and pop businesses and the Luddites of technology. In fact, everyone from small local businesses to Fortune 100 companies still uses fax machines on a daily basis. I just cannot understand this!

Fax machines require a dedicated telephone line. They take forever to scan, compress, and transmit information. Sometimes they have busy signals or cannot go through. The information sent to a fax machine can only be retrieved from one physical location.

Do these people know about email? Do they know that it's possible to send multi-page documents electronically from one computer to another? In fact, email is a superior technology to the facsimile in every way.

Email messages can be retrieved from any computer that's connected to the Internet. With email, it is possible to send larger, high resolution pictures and documents in less time. Although both email and faxes are subject to unsolicited messages ("spam"), email provides the option of setting up filters to automatically delete such messages. Fax machines do not.

It seems to me that the only people who are still using fax machines are the ones who are too dumb to use email. I think fax machines should have been inducted into the Museum of Obsolete Technology long ago.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Cost of a Good Education

Ask any college student about the rising costs of textbooks, and they'll tell you what a racket the industry has going. A few decades ago, textbooks were used for approximately 3-5 years before a new edition was released. This gave educators time to develop strong ties with the material and design their courses accordingly. Now, it is common for new revisions to come out every year or even every semester.

In many cases, nothing has changed about the book except for the picture on the cover. I often wonder if textbook companies are truly meeting the needs of their customers, or if they are just tacking on bells and whistles in order to justify their price hikes?

It was not that long ago that I got my first textbook that came with a CD-ROM disc. The disc didn't have much on it, just a couple of lectures related to the subject of the book. It didn't add much value to the book itself. In fact, I think most of the textbooks that come with CD-ROMs and DVDs and other "enhanced content" end up staying in the package for the whole semester. The teachers don't assign it and so the kids don't use it. The Macroeconomics book I purchased last semester came with a special insert promoting the "iPod Ready Videos" the publisher now has available on its website. I never looked at them.

I guess the idea of all these multimedia extras are to reach out to students who don't gravitate towards books. Honestly, I cannot imagine that learning about inflation and the production possibilities curve would be any more fun on an iPod than to read from a book. No matter how you present the material, it's the same dull information. The more you produce of one good, the less you can theoretically produce of some other good. That part does not change.

Imagine an alchemist in some medieval kingdom, trying in his workshop to spin lead into gold. While he may succeed in producing something that looks like gold, or feels like gold, at the end of the day it simply cannot be done. No matter what package it comes in, it's still lead. Such is the case with transforming a textbook onto a disc. It might appear different, but if it's the same information then it's no more exciting than a real book.

Perhaps the demand for multimedia teaching is a response to the short attention spans of students these days. After growing up hooked to the TV, video games, and computers, most kids these days have an attention span somewhere between that of a horsefly and a commercial break. Blame the media, blame the parents, blame the schools and the families and even the soft drink companies. After all, you've got to blame somebody, right?

Call me old fashioned, but I don't need any of this new-age garbage. I can listen to a lecture from a real professor and take notes for sixty minutes and it won't kill me. I can read a freaking book and identify the meaning without having an actor explain it to me. Knowledge lies in finding the answers for yourself, and not in having someone tell them to you.

Somehow humanity was able to transfer knowledge from person to person for two millenia before we had iPod-ready video lectures and interactive multimedia junk. I wish textbook manufacturers would cut the crap already and just make good, affordable books. If the web-two-point-oh generation of today can't handle paying attention in lecture for an hour, then that's their problem. Maybe school is just not the place for them. My blood is already boiling; don't even get me started on the ridiculousness of online classes...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rate Me

The most popular websites on the Internet these days are the ones that focus on user-generated content. Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, CarDomain, LinkedIn, Orkut, LiveJournal, and Blogger are offering more than just "social networking;" they offer a chance for both friends and strangers to pass judgment about you and every aspect of your life. Thanks to the Internet, we have a growing population of kids and teens who are increasingly self conscious about what other people think of them.Attention Seeking Whores Desire Comments and Ratings in Every Aspect of their Lives
Let's say you sign up for an account with CarDomain.com and post a few pictures of your car. Other users can sign your guestbook and tell you exactly what they think of your vehicle, good or bad. Most people don't sign up anticipating that they will receive a bunch of negative comments, but it can and does happen. You could work really hard on your car and make it exactly the way you like it. Then when you share it with the world, they might attack you. Now how do you feel about the car? How do you feel about yourself? Do you second-guess yourself or do you write them off as random Internet jerks?

Let's take it a step further and talk about the infamous HotorNot.com. Instead of ranking cars, you're ranking people. Yep, just a headshot or a picture of you will do. Post it on there and let the world vote for you based solely on your physical appearance. If you're beautiful it may boost your self-esteem to find yourself ranked highly, but at the same time, someone has to be at the bottom of the list as well. Unless you spend money on things like hair dye and plastic surgery, you're pretty much stuck with who you are. In the real world you wouldn't go around telling strangers if you find them attractive or not, but on the Internet it's more than okay - it is entertainment.

YouTube is a great way to show off your special talent to a worldwide audience. Whether it's playing the Super Mario theme on a musical instrument or a video of your best skateboarding tricks, the site can turn an ordinary person into an Internet celebrity overnight. There are also plenty of ways for people to cut you down through hurtful comments and video replies. What if you spent countless hours perfecting a song and everyone who watched your video said it was stupid, that it sucks, and that you have no talent? How would you feel about yourself then? Pretty awful, no doubt.

The king of all "social networking" sites is MySpace. On MySpace, users sign up and post everything from personal information about their job and their education to their private thoughts, pictures of friends and family, and information about their favorite books, movies, and music. It's like a living obituary of everything you'd ever want to know about a person. In fact it's very common for people to update their pictures when they buy a new car, move to a new house, get a tattoo, have a baby, or do something newsworthy.

In those situations, the voice of the global community is not far behind. There are profile comments, picture comments, video comments, and blog comments so everyone can tell you (and other viewers) exactly what they think of you. The surveys that people post and repost are even more intimate. Does the world need to know if you sleep with your clothes on or who the last person to text message you was? Do they want to know? Should you tell them? What judgments can a person make about you from the information you give? There's plenty of room for harsh ones.

The point is not to discourage people from having fun and sharing their interests online. The point is that now your entire life can be showcased on the Internet for all to see, to be commented on and voted for, starred, dugg, ranked, and rated in an infinite number of ways. This has given birth to a new generation of "attention whores" who have an uncontrolled desire for attention and approval. It leads to statements like "PLEASE comment my new pix" and "tell me what u think of my new haircut, shoes, girlfriend, boyfriend, tattoo, gun, car, or whatever." I wonder if the Internet is simply a gathering ground for the vain people of the world or if the Internet makes people excessively vain and self conscious?

It seems to me like some of these people's lives revolve around seeking the approval of "the community." There are now an infinite number of ways for the world to tell you what they think of you. It is easy to forget that the only thing which really matters is what YOU think of yourself, and not what other people think of you. If you like your car a certain color or your hair combed a certain way or a certain type of music, that's your personal choice. If your roommate or classmate or co-worker thinks your favorite band is lame, your best answer should be "Don't listen to them, then."

Maybe you've heard the popular saying that "opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one." Well, it's true. So here is my opinion: don't live your life by changing yourself and your values to get approval from other people, especially strangers and the Internet crowd. If you're not living your life for yourself, then who are you living for?

Just a quick disclaimer: the preceding statement does not mean I advocate going out and breaking laws if you believe in Anarchy. Please understand I am encouraging people to be nonconformist in safe and legal ways here. Use good judgement and common sense, and ALWAYS remember the Golden Rule: "Treat others as you wish to be treated." The bottom line is this: be yourself, but don't be an asshole, either.


I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=attention+whore

http://www.pauldavidson.net/2005/07/22/words-for-your-enjoyment-attention-whores-2/
https://web.archive.org/web/20081029083132/http://nmallory.exit-23.net/20060920/approval-whore
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/03/26/2009-03-26_14yearold_new_jersey_girl_may_get_sex_of.html
http://whitneyhess.com/blog/2008/06/05/the-stranger-aversion/
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090325084728AAuZ2jt
http://www.blogcatalog.com/discuss/entry/why-are-sites-like-myspacefacebook-popular
https://web.archive.org/web/20100728222102/http://fastandloud.com/the-myspace-whore-collective-friendwhores-scenewhores-attentionwhores-camwhores-and-regular-whores/
http://forums.plentyoffish.com/datingPosts6913048.aspx
http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/MySpace_Whore

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steak: It's What's For Dinner

Maybe I've got too much time on my hands, but I have noticed that there are just too many pansy-ass chain steakhouses trying to pass themselves off as legit these days. Between Outback, Lone Star, Black Angus, and Logan's Roadhouse, the casual-dining steakhouse market is expanding faster than America's waistlines. So what exactly is the problem with these restaurants? Allow me to elaborate:

Logan's Roadhouse is an example of a lame casual dining steakhouseBy making steakhouses more accessible to casual diners, restaurant owners have increased their appeal to new markets and increased profits. On the other hand, they've filled their restaurants with all kinds of gimmicks that I don't want to see in a steakhouse. From side salads to families with little kids, steakhouses are no longer a place for adults to go and enjoy a hearty meal. They have become just as homogenized and cliché as every other fast-food chain out there.

When it comes to beverages, I think a good steakhouse should not even have a wine menu. I don't care if you fancy a glass of Yellow Tail or Shiraz with your top sirloin, go be a sissy at a bar somewhere. Steakhouses should only serve milk, water, lemonade, and beer with meals because soda is for kids and wine is for sissies.


Another thing that bugs me about steakhouses is when they try to act all intimate and fancy. You know, the ones that have an elderly couple holding hands at a candlelight table in the TV commercials. Black Angus, I'm looking at you and your high-backed booths and cloth napkins. The lights are so "romantic" and dim it's like eating in a damn broom closet. Cut that nonsense out! Turn the lights on and get real.

Perhaps the cheesiest steakhouse I've ever been to is Logan's Roadhouse. There's a brand new one by my house and the inside is so over-engineered I thought at first I walked into Chipotle by accident. The new-but-made-to-look-really-old decor does not impress me. I think the designers wanted the inside to look rustic and weathered like a local bar and grill, but it's not fooling me. I can just see the construction crews staining the wood panels to look older than they really are, as if it makes eating there more fun or something.

Every table at Logan's Roadhouse has a dish of peanuts waiting for you, and just to prove how badass you are, you can throw the shells on the floor when you're done. That's right, no napkins or trays for your shells. Come on guys. A real steakhouse like Bill Johnson's Big Apple has sawdust all over the floor. Not only is it a fire hazard, but it's probably in the food, too. That's what I'm talkin' about! I wouldn't have it any other way.

At Logan's, you can choose from no more than six cuts of meat while the rest of the menu has things like salads, seafood, and appetizers. Don't waste your breath trying to tell me that "those menu items are for the people who don't want steak." Ah, news flash, don't go to a steakhouse then!

If you want salad, go to Souper Salad. If you want seafood, go to Red f-ing Lobster. When I am in the mood for steak, I want to visit a restaurant that has a good selection of beef cuts on the menu! I want to choose from Ribeye steaks, T-Bones, Top Sirloin, New York Strip steaks, Porterhouse, and Filet Mignon! Seriously, what else do you want? A kids menu? Forget about it and get them a Happy Meal at McDonald's instead.

Probably the closest thing to a "real" steakhouse is the Miner's Camp restaurant in Apache Junction. The entire building is made of wood that looks weathered because it really is. It's been at the base of the Superstition Mountains for decades. The place looks like a strong breeze might knock it over before your food even arrives. I like that.

The dining experience is also very different from today's corporate-owned steakhouses. Instead of dining in dark, romantic booths, you sit at a long row of picnic benches with other customers. Nobody gets their own table.

The food is served on tin plates and cups which are delightfully noisy. Side dishes such as corn and potatoes come in small, cast-iron cauldrons (for lack of a better word). There's no jukebox playing today's top country music hits or any neon signs for Bud Light.

Although it doesn't have the sawdust or the best tasting food, the Miner's Camp is the realest steakhouse I've ever been to. If you're tired of family-friendly steakhouses that cater to families with small children and play piped-in Muzak while you wait for your cheese sticks to arrive, it's time for a change. Get out and find yourself a good local steakhouse where they take some pride in what they do. You'll be glad you did.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTHixb0p4go

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tech Support

I hate the idea of tech support hotlines. I don't like call centers, help desks, or support tickets. I don't like the idea of a person calling a stranger on the phone for help with a very technical problem as anything other than a last resort. Every time I suspect that people can't possibly get any more stupid and helpless, I am proven wrong.

For some reason, callers not only expect an easy answer to their problem, but they believe they are entitled to know the answer. They always think they are so very special and that they deserve to be told what to do. More often than not, they might have arrived at the answer if they had just tried to resolve it themselves.

The people who call tech support hotlines have the wrong attitude about problem solving. They don't even consider that 1) they might already have the answer and 2) they might be able to find the answer on their own. If it doesn't work right out of the box, they automatically assume it is someone else's responsibility to make it work for them. Never mind that the instructions are right there, these callers cannot be bothered to take a look at them.

Think back for a moment to the frontier days of wagon trains, gold rushes, and westward expansion. People during this time were much more adept at solving problems than people of today. Can you imagine if they had tech support hotlines back then? "Um, yeah, my rifle jammed up and there's a band of horse thieves coming this way. What should I do?" Ah, get the hell out of Dodge for starters!

Just the same, if your printer is not printing black ink, wouldn't your first step be to check the black ink cartridge you just installed? Wouldn't you check to make sure it has paper and that it's connected before calling someone for help with a print error? For some people, this is too much of a stretch for their minds. For whatever reason, tech support callers are not imaginative people. They never ask "What if...?" because if they did, they would not need to call.

In the frontier days, if you didn't figure out how to trade for or hunt for food, you would die of hunger. Simple as that. Being able to "figure it out" without being told the answer is a critical skill for survival. If nobody ever showed you the best way to trap food or hunt, then you had better learn real quick because the price for failure of this task was a hungry death.

Back then, people were willing to do something that people today are extremely reluctant to do: figure it out for themselves. Today, there are no consequences for being ignorant and lazy. You won't die if you are unable to set the clock on your DVD player or install your own printer drivers.

It seems like nobody these days can be bothered to sit down and read the directions. They just want to call someone up and tell them the answer. Most of the time on the phone, the technician is reading from a copy of the same manual that shipped with their equipment.

This "cannot be bothered to" mentality has created a problem in modern society: the people who are too stupid to survive do not die. In fact, they always seem to end up inconveniencing the rest of us by driving 35mph in the high-speed lane on the freeway or bringing a full shopping cart through the express checkout lane. These are the people who cannot send email attachments and blame every computer error message on a virus. Please get a fucking clue, guys. It's not that hard and you really can solve your own problems. Just TRY.

The bottom line with tech support is that it's never smart people with broken equipment who call in. It's always the loudest, dumbest, most irrational hotheads with brand new equipment that works fine who decide to pick up the phone.

I'm not the only one who feels this way:
http://notalwaysright.com/
http://blog.crankingwidgets.com/2008/04/21/get-fantastic-tech-support/
http://callcentersurvivor.blogspot.com/