Friday, July 04, 2003
Barry White, Disco-Era Crooner, Dies at 58
posted by Jason at 11:50 PM
More Marketers Are Consulting a Younger Focus Group: 'Skippies' (washingtonpost.com)
posted by Jason at 11:43 PM
Thursday, May 30, 2002
Sometimes, the darn thing works
posted by Jason at 1:09 PM
So yesterday we stumbled across technology in the darnedest place. We were in Kmart, trying to replace the cushions we had bought the day before that turned out to be too small for the hand-me-down porch chairs from my parents. So we found bigger cushions, and a bunch of other stuff we didn’t know we needed until we started wandering around the aisles of Martha Stewart’s land of home knick-knacks.
The technology was at the end of our shopping excursion. It turns out, Kmart now offers self-serve checkouts lanes, where the shopper is the cashier, and the bagger and the consumer all at the same time. Although we didn’t really mind having to do it ourselves. If anything, the experience was faster, it was an amusement for the kids, who helped scan bar codes on three-packs of Wiffle balls and family size Nutter Butter cookies. And other than the need for a floor manager to come by and approve our purchase – why we don’t know – the whole thing was convenient, efficient, and pleasantly surprising. Who’d’ve thunk it? Technology that actually serves the purposes it was intended for. And, as long as the customers are all honest and trustworthy individuals, Kmart can probably save itself a lot of money. (Except when people like me forget to take everything out of the cart, and we end up walking out with extension cords that didn’t pass under the watchful eye of the infrared scanner, or Kelly the Cashier. Oops.) But the machine doesn’t want coffee breaks, or health insurance, and it doesn’t show up for work generally disgruntled thinking about finding the keys to the shotgun cabinet in the back of the store. (Can I be gruntled, by the way? And would it be a good thing if I was?) And if shoppers are generally accurate in their checkout procedures, then there is probably the ability to do more in the way of inventory control, and to do CRM-like work recording the customer’s shopping preferences. And the machine is more accurate when it comes to taking payments too – even if the customer pays with cash, it will always dispense the right amount of change, and the register will never end up short at the end of a shift. And, the register can be used in English or Spanish, at the customer’s choice. When was the last time you had a bilingual cashier with perfect grammar in both languages?
Of course, this very technology means there are some people who will not be getting jobs, and that probably should be upsetting. Although, I wouldn’t wish a job at Kmart on anyone. But these days, a job is a job. As much as there is something to be said for technology that can be used to make our lives easier, and free up valuable time so that we can do other things (insert personal pursuits and hobbies here: __________), it is a trade off. Is it the price of progress? Is it, as Martha would say, ‘a good thing’? My hunch is yes, but there’s still a part of me that is remotely troubled by the entire thing.
And this good experience with technology over the long weekend was offset by a bad experience with a real live customer service professional in Filenes. And that is being polite. I was there to try to exchange a watch – we spent a lot of time trading things in for other things this weekend – which my wife had bought me as a belated birthday present. I liked the watch she picked, but it was too big, too heavy for my taste, and in many ways quite similar to the watch I already own and like a great deal. So we agreed that I should go back and look at other watches, and maybe pick out a different one.
After wandering around for a bit, I stumbled across the “fine” watches counter in the store – which is quite separate from the regular old watches that go on sale once a week. I stood there admiring several of what were likely going to be the most affordable watches – in my price range, at least – from a company that is reputable and classy and not going to require a bank loan. There was even one with a sale tag on it that looked fairly nice in the case, so I figured I’d wait for a chance to look at it up close before talking myself out of it because of the price.
So the lady with big hair and too much makeup behind the counter finally decides to glance my way, looks at the box in my hand (the watch I am planning to return), and says ‘What is that?’ Oh, this? A watch I want to return, and exchange for another one… Thinking I was getting an opening at service. ‘You can’t return that watch here,’ she informs me. At this point, the customers she is already helping interject with ‘We were here first,’ (to which I remind them that she spoke to me, not the other way around), and ‘This is the section with expensive watches,’ (to which I think, get a grip you pompous snob, I know how much they cost) and I proceed to lose it. I make it clear that I wouldn’t buy her damn watches, and that I would take my business back to the counter with the nice helpful sales lady and the less-expensive brands. In fact, I then found a watch for myself that I liked, and one for each of my daughters too, so I left the store with three watches, instead of one. Sadly, there is no CRM system in place to recognize my customer service experience that afternoon. I grumbled, and got a nice watch, but the store lost out on what could have been an even more lucrative sales opportunity. I think it is time to call the store manager to complain.
Friday, May 10, 2002
Has it been a year already?
posted by Jason at 5:25 PM
Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Douglas Adams. What a loss. He was such a clever writer. I devoured his trilogy as a boy, and probably have him to thank for convincing me that reading can be something one does for fun. As it happens, a new book has just been released – the cynic would say the timing is well-manipulated – featuring some of his essays and other work, much of it previously not published before. So, I bought it the moment I saw it. I’m reading on my commute. Wonderful stuff. An essay about his big nose, and another about why he favoured gin. And the “lost book” that has been culled together from several bit and pieces by the people that were closest to him (editor, wife, assistant, agent, etc). The new book is called The Salmon of Doubt. It is a birthday present to myself, which occurs on Monday. He makes me wish I had an ounce of ability. But it is nice to see he was also plagued by his own demons of self-doubt, self-worth, etc., and that like most other writer-types I know, he was a true procrastinator. Maybe there’s hope for a bloke like me yet.
In honour of the passing, here are some links to stuff that were a part of his life:
The Guide (interesting ownership details there)
The gorillas and the rhinos
Thursday, May 02, 2002
The clean sweep
posted by Jason at 4:26 PM
We’re all moved out of the old place. It was around 11:20 p.m. on the evening of the 30th, but I had everything finally out of the now-former apartment that was our home for the past four years. In the end, I was really starting to hate it. Mostly because it seemed like it would never end. Of course, during my very last run for the border to clean out the last remaining nooks and crannies, there was stuff still left in places that I had assumed were empty, like the dishwasher, and under the sink in the bathroom. It’s empty now. And now, comes the fun part: figuring out where we’re going to put all of the damn stuff in the new place, which, if not for the garage and basement, would be a whole lot smaller than the place we were in before.
And on the work front, it appears that my job actually has some real work behind it. All of it has cropped up at once, of course. I’m finally editing the monster document that needs updating and printing in time for meetings a few weeks from now. And I’m trying to balance that out with the editorial review I am doing of content that isn’t really ready for primetime, but it is being gussied up for use on client extranet sites anyway. In principle this is a good idea, but the lack of quality in the majority of the content we are planning to share with clients – and potential clients – is really kind of embarrassing. I am not in a position to fix it. This is a source of great frustration. (Happily, I now have a work friend, and she makes me laugh out loud. Sadly, I only get the chance to catch up with her every few weeks or so... Although, we can pester one another via the corporate IM tool, and discuss the finer points of rock pushing.)
Finally, I’ve stopped taking the wonder drug for my blood pressure – for the time being. It was making me dizzy, and when I told this to Dr. Genius, his answer was, ‘Well, you should stop taking it then.’ Gee, good call. Should I be switching to a new drug? Nope, not yet, according to him. Rather, I’m now switching Docs. I’ve got an appointment with a new guy tomorrow afternoon. And it can't come a moment too soon. The drug should be out of my system by now, but the strange wobbly feeling persists... It’s time for a clean sweep.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
‘So I guess I’m not pregnant, huh?’
posted by Jason at 4:57 PM
My wise-ass response during my abdominal sonogram this morning didn’t really faze the attendant who was conducting the test. She just kept telling me to take a deep breath, and hold it. Let it out… Deep breath…. Let it out. We did this for about 10 minutes or so, as the gal mashed the ultrasound wand into my gut with a firmness that said ‘hold still, dammit.’ When she actually turned the sound on and you could hear the wind-tunnel-like screech of my innards, I had to bite my lip a bit to keep myself from laughing. I kept expecting to hear that tiny heart beep you get to hear when the same procedure is done on a pregnant woman. I’ve heard that sound many times now. It’s very cool every time. But today, there was nothing but my gastrointestinal juices churning away. At one point, my stomach did let out a rather audible rasp, but that was only because they had asked me to fast prior to the procedure, so I had not eaten since dinnertime last night.
I did get a souvenir from the whole thing. I got a copy of one of the pictures of my abdomen. I guess it is my liver, actually, since that is the part of me that my doctor seems to understand the least. But what the hell do I know? I just know that whenever my wife had these procedures done, we always got copies for the old scrapbook. So now, the thermal printout of my mid-section graces the fridge at home, along with more obvious snapshots of our kids, and our friends' kids. I need to get that pic scanned somewhere so I can send electronic copies to everyone I know. Maybe someone will be able to tell me what it reveals.
Monday, April 22, 2002
The Big Dig
posted by Jason at 1:26 PM
We spent the majority of the weekend hauling boxes and stuff and chairs and tables and more boxes and the cat and the two goldfish and more boxes to our newly carpeted duplex from our now old apartment about a mile away. I am so sore this morning that it hurts to think about it. My legs have not been this stiff in a long time. And of course, just to make things interesting, today was the first day of my modified route to the train station from the new place. (I hesitate to call it a house or home, although it is clearly the first abode I have lived in that isn’t actually an apartment in many years. We do have a garage, i.e., storage for lots of stuff I will be happy to keep in boxes until the turn of the century, and a small backyard where the wee ones can run around until they turn beet red, but still, it is a rental, and it has enough problems that calling it ‘home, sweet home’ doesn’t seem fitting just yet.) So, now, instead of a seven-minute walk down the short steep hill to the train station from our old place, I have what will likely be about a 20 minute walk down a long, slow grade to the train station. I’d like to provide an accurate measure of the amount of time required to complete the walk, but the kinks in my knees and tightness in calves this morning made the walk a little slower than I would like to think it should normally take.
And despite how much stuff we did manage to move this past weekend, we aren’t done yet. And we had help from Frances’s dad, and his wife, and father-in-law. They were awesome. They were relentless, and we owe them a heap o’ thanks. I tried to be the good son-in-law, too, and to be prepared for our out-of-town movers. I knew my father-in-law’s in-law is an older man, who happens to be fairly set in his ways, so I called ahead to find out what kind of beer I should have stocked in the fridge. The old codger drinks Schaffers (you know what they say about those brewskis), in 16 ounce tall boy cans, and nothing else. Let me repeat that last part: nothing else will do. So, I tried on Friday morning to secure a case of the tried and true, and the guy behind the counter at the local distributor/package store looked at me with pity in his eyes, and said, ‘nope, you won’t find that around here.’ Shit. Now what? Make do with another brand, right? I figured, yes, he’s loyal to the one brand for reasons I will never understand, but he must be willing to drink something else from time to time… So, at the suggestion of the package store guy, I bought a case of Ballantine, thinking, as a generational choice, it would probably be a reasonable substitute. Ha. Guess again. He wouldn’t touch the stuff. God dammit. Fortunately for me, my father-in-law brought a supply of Schaffer’s for the old man, so he was good to go. He had his first one (that I was aware of) on Saturday morning around 10:30 a.m. Not exactly the breakfast of champions, but I guess when you reach his age, you can do whatever the hell you please. I’ll drink the Ballantine, and I’m sure it will be great. (And considering my usual one-drink-per-week pace, it ought to last a while.)
By Friday afternoon of last week, we had moved in one decent load of stuff from the old place, and right around 5:00 p.m. the Good Humor truck stopped on our block, right across the street from us. It was like a picture from my own childhood. I grabbed the girls, and we proceeded to walk quickly and carefully across the street to the waiting truck, where we bought frozen treats on sticks for everyone under the age of 35. What a joyous thing that is: a truck that brings the junk food right to you. And if that wasn’t enough, the local installer/independent contractor for DirecTV had just finished mounting an 18-inch dish on the roof of our place, and had set up receivers in two rooms. I was so pleased I even gave him ice cream. We now get channels that we didn’t even know existed. And, best of all, we’ve got YES TV. We have Yankees games. I plan to invite Pat over right away so that he can watch the rest of the season with me. And he can help me drink those Ballantines.
Monday, April 15, 2002
I’ll send you my bill
posted by Jason at 4:49 PM
“Your resting heart rate is too high,” he tells me this morning, without the slightest hint as to what that means to me in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, well maybe I’m nervous sitting there in examining room, wondering what this morning’s visit is going to reveal about my current state of health, one month since the last visit. Oh, and the fact that you, Dr. Genius, were 30 minutes late, and made me wait like an idiot with in a lobby room with the same news weeklies I read the last time I saw you. A half an hour. He made me wait for him a half an hour. I was pissed by the time he sauntered in, glanced at me (with a vague recollection of our last meeting?) and casually flipped a “Sorry, buddy,” in my general direction. I could feel the love. A half hour late, and I got to watch him check himself out in the glass doors as he made his way into the building, and futz with his hair on the way in.
Is his time that important than he can waste a half hour of mine? Is mine simple worth less than his? I was just about to get up and make a scene with his receptionist – not that there would have been anyone else to hear it, he had no other patients waiting first thing this morning, which makes me wonder – when he rounded the corner, and checked his own watch to see just how late he was. I was livid by the time it was clear I had been made to sit, and that I would miss my train – ‘make yourself comfortable’ – and then there was no sense of guilt on his part for jerking me around. I even called his office this morning to double check on the time of the appointment so that I wouldn’t be late. I’m thinking maybe I should send him an invoice for my lost time this morning. I don’t expect him to pay me back, but maybe it will serve to remind him that he should take other people’s time a little more seriously.
So should I have been calm by the time he was finally ready to see me? Should my resting heart rate have been any different than it was? This guy made meaningless small talk, and attempts to speak my language – did he really call my natural father ‘your old man’? – and then didn’t give me any new answers. Diet and Exercise. Lose weight. Uh, yeah, sure Doc, whatever you say. It was in fact the same standard one-liners he had given me a month ago. I sit at a desk and stare at a computer for the better part of one-third of my day, and he seems to be suggesting that I have a problem with discipline and self control. I mentioned to him that both of my parents have high blood pressure (the numbers there were also high – the same as before, in fact), but that didn’t seem to lead to any viable connections that I could benefit from. Turns out – and I didn’t mention this to the Doctor, because it seemed pointless at this stage – the moms has been taking high blood pressure medication since her mid-20s, and has ever since.
So the doctor did a new round of blood work, which I’m guessing is going to come back the same as it did a month ago. And now, to add to the mix, I get to have an abdominal sonogram next week. ‘I want to rule out hepatitis,’ he says to me. What? Hepa-what? Why the hell would I have hepatitis? ‘Oh, it could be low-grade and have gone undiagnosed,’ he assures me. Asshole. The blood test last month revealed elevated liver enzymes – not that high, but high enough that he wants to rule out… What? Are all doctors these days required to assume the worst, and then hope that their guesses will prove to be unfounded? That’s certainly the way it feels. So I get to have some pictures taken of my gut. That could be fun. I’ll finally know a little bit more about what my wife went through when they photographed her belly during the pregnancies. As long as I can have some copies for my scrapbook…