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Tuesday 17 December 2002

Corporate Trickery

So tonight I bought some inkjet photo paper, as part of my whole cheesy homemade-Christmas-gifts scheme. Office Depot sells a lot of own-brand paper at prices much lower than the HP, Xerox, etc. stuff. I bought, among other things, a 100-sheet box of 4x6 paper:


When you open it, you discover that half the space in the box is taken up with a massive wad of cardboard:


I suspected this when I bought the stuff, as the box’s weight and volume seemed to be out of sync. The box does contain 100 sheets of paper, just as it says on the outside, so Office Depot’s tactics are not in any way fraud. But it seems to me that selling boxes half-full of dunnage is likely to gain you sales only once, and subsequently to backfire on the seller.

The impressive size of the Office Depot box probably had something to do with my decision to buy it, but in the future I’ll be more likely to consider that Office Depot’s store-brand managers are not above subterfuge to move their product.

Meaningless inflation of the box’s volume is a bit of deception that does no harm to the customer — but, now that they’ve accepted deception as a practice, how long will it be before they decide that deception is the wave of the future? I prefer people who deal honestly, if only because you can generally trust them not to cheat you, rather than having to personally be on guard all the time.

Posted by tino at 18:23 17.12.02

Jeep News

The Jeep turned over to 60,000 miles the other day. That might not sound like much, but when you have this many cars, it takes a while to put 10,000 miles on any single one of them.


Posted by tino at 14:16 17.12.02
Monday 16 December 2002

Kids With Stupid Names, Part II

In March, I made a prediction about kids with stupid names:

When these kids start sending resumes around with names like “Cheddar Wilson” and “Cappuccino Goldberg” (though what’s the chances any of these kids are Jewish?), they’ll probably be thrown in the trash more often than not. Names like that are less a marker of individuality (which is what I believe the parents intend) as they are an indication of an idiotic upbringing.

It turns out that researchers at the University of Chicago and MIT have done a study that shows that people named things like Aisha, Keisha, Tamika, Kenya, Latonya, and Ebony are less likely to be called back for an interview when they send resumés around. The EEOC holds that even asking about a person’s race on a job application can be used as evidence of discrimination; wonderful for the segregationists, then, that so many parents are making it unnecessary to even ask.

The actual study in question, called “Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?”, is here. Warning: PDF

Posted by tino at 17:58 16.12.02

News Flash: People Responsible For Own Lives

William Raspberry’s column in today’s Washington Post is rare in that it talks about race, and specifically about the problem of the black-white education gap in America, without blinders on:

We’ve been ready enough with our indictment of society and the schools. But we have been loath to shoulder any blame ourselves. […]

Yes — one gets tired of repeating the obvious — racism still exists in America. Maybe it always will, but I don’t know what black Americans can do about it. Nor do I think we can wait until the environment in which our children grow up is cleansed of racism and unfairness. All I know is that if we see the problem as entirely outside ourselves, we are likely to see the solution as out of our hands.

This echoes something I’ve long said about Marion Berry. While Berry was mayor of Washington, DC, he was constantly and correctly criticized by just about everyone for his incredible mismanagement. Berry saw this criticism not as a justified critique of his incompetence, but rather as disguised racism. People weren’t criticizing him because he was an idiot, he believed: they were criticizing him because he was black. And if you truly believe that, why bother changing anything? If he’d made Washington run like a Swiss watch, Berry believed, people would still complain about him because of the color of his skin.

Raspberry, being black himself, has a bit more moral weight on these issues than I do, though, and having the Washington Post print up hundreds of thousands of copies of his column every week doesn’t hurt, either.

Posted by tino at 17:49 16.12.02

Old Country Buffet Customer Service

I admit it, I eat at Old Country Buffet. I like that the food there is normal food, the kind your mom used to cook. Nearly all restaurants these days have some sort of gimmick: the waiter pours olive oil into a dish on the table, instead of offering you butter; the bread you dip in the olive oil is strange; the desserts are all some “Chocolate Decadance Orgy” idiocy, which is offensive both in its misunderstanding of the meaning of the word decadence and because it’s usually no good.

Old Country Buffet, on the other hand, is incredibly gimmick-free. They serve ham, and roast beef, and vegetables, and rolls, and — this is the really exotic thing — ordinary chocolate cake (among other things) for dessert. I suppose the fact that you’ve got to go schlep the food from the buffet yourself — and can thus have three entrees if you like without seeming like too much of a weirdo — is a gimmick of sorts, but at least the food is normal.

OCB’s menu varies from day to day. On Thursday, they have banana splits, and this appears to give them license to go crazy. A person in a giant bee costume roams around (he’s the O.C. Bee, get it?) shaking hands with kids and handing out balloons.

Last Thursday night, at the OCB in Manassas, Virginia, the balloons were exploding. Spontaneously. Tino was there at the time, trying to eat dinner — trying because these balloons were popping, quite loudly, every five minutes. At first, I thought that kids were popping these things, but when the fifth balloon went off, I happened to be looking right at it. The balloons were either defective, or they were being overfilled, or both; they were exploding on their own, at somewhat predictable intervals.

After the fifth balloon went off — and after I threw peas all over the place when I jumped at the noise — I went off to find the manager. When he finally appeared from the kitchen, I told him that these balloons were exploding spontaneously, and that this was cramping my dinner style.

His response: “What would you like me to do?”

This is a standard customer-service line. I get asked this all the time when I point out that I’ve been waiting for my entree for thirty minutes, or that it’s impossible to find prices for any of the items in the store, or that my pizza has the wrong toppings on it. “What would you like me to do?” I think the point is to convey to the customer the idea that his wish will be the manager’s command: “What wouldst thou, O great one?” Aside from the fact that the customer is being asked to do the manager’s job for him, one problem with this approach is that the question is perilously close to “What do you expect me to do about it?” — the difference between them is largely in the tone, and the presumably overworked managers at these kinds of places very often deliver the line to sound like the latter.

So, anyway, there I am being asked to manage the OCB by proxy, giving commands to the manager. (See Rules For Retailers #3, “Don’t make customers work for the privilege of giving you money”.) I tell him that I’d like him to see to it that no more balloons explode before I leave. I actually say that: “I’d like you to see to it that these balloons stop exploding, by getting rid of them if necessary.” I don’t think that this is an unreasonable request: “Please stop that startling BANG noise that fills your restaurant every so often.” I point out that I’ve been exposed to balloons in the past, and that these explosions were not a necessary consequence of having balloons around. I point out that I’ve been in the presence of balloons in the presence of that very restaurant before and that there were no explosions. Basically, I said, balloons != explosions, there must be something else wrong, and it’s interfering with my enjoyment of the experience for which I have paid Buffets, Inc.

His response? “It’s only one night a week.”

His response, expanded to what he really meant: “We only have balloons one night a week, so if you don’t like to eat dinner in an atmosphere of loud BANGs, I suggest you don’t come here any more on Thursday night, you miserable fucking customer. Either lower your expectations, you asshole, or don’t spend any more money here, because we cannot be bothered to ensure that the place is even minimally commodious. Fuck you, fuck your patronage, fuck your money, and fuck the horse you rode in on.”

This, of course, is the route to profitability. I left immedately — I don’t need to spend time in a place that so clearly does not want me there — and I’ll give him what he wants: he’s won. I will not go back to that Old Country Buffet for some time, if ever (which, in practical terms, means I won’t go back to any Old Country Buffet for some time, if ever.) Eventually, if Mr. Joe Pina continues with his customer-service practices, all the potential customers will be equally disgusted with the place, and he won’t have to bother with us at all. From the looks of the place Thursday night — there were only a few people there for dinner — he’s well on his way to that happy state already. Golden Corral, a competing buffet chain, has a restaurant right down the street, and on Thursday night they had a line out the door. Perhaps Mr. Pina is a Golden Corral fifth-columnist.

Posted by tino at 13:29 16.12.02
Sunday 15 December 2002

A Little Bit Of Sense


Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has accused Osama Bin Laden of exploiting the Palestinian struggle for an independent state.

The BBC story points to a Times story that contains this:

Proclaiming himself the first Arab leader to stand up to Al-Qaeda, Arafat said: “Bin Laden has never not ever stressed this issue … He was working in another, completely different area, and against our interests.”

Well, of course. The Palestinians are kind of like the Gypsies of the Middle East: nobody there wants them around. But their political cause (officially these days, I believe that is: Israel should contract to the 1947 borders and the Palestinians should live in the space that’s vacated) is a hell of a lot more defensible than the aims of most other Arab “militant” groups, aims that seem to be best described as: kill a whole lot of people and impose an Islamic theocracy on the entire world.

And so the Saudis and other terrorist organizations weep publically for the Palestinians. The other Arabs’ main interest in there being a Palestinian homeland is that then the Palestinians will presumably go there. In the meantime, though, they’ll all happy to make hay from the Palestinians’ cause, using it to justify moves toward their own less-palatable goals.

Posted by tino at 10:15 15.12.02


I have not written much lately, even on my holiday schedule, because we’ve had other things to deal with. On Tuesday and Wednesday, there was an ice storm in northern Virginia, and we lost a couple of trees. Unfortunately, we lost these trees across the driveway and power lines.

Things are back to normal now, but for a few days there we didn’t have any phone service or electricity. And we’ve got electic heat: brrrrr.

You can see a larger version of these photos by clicking on them.

In the background, you can see the Jeep, as far up the driveway as we could get it before chainsawing began. What you can’t see is that the generator is in the Jeep. Fat lot of good it did us all the way down there. That’s me in the yellow coat, by the way.

The next day. The driveway is clear, but the wreckage — and the two giant holes in the lawn — remain. The two trees whose roots you see sticking up in the air there (with giant balls of mud around them) were hit by a very large branch that broke off yet another tree. The impact and weight then pulled the two fallen trees right out of the waterlogge, rocky ground.

Posted by tino at 00:21 15.12.02
Thursday 12 December 2002

Tino is…

It’s been the trend of late to type one’s name into Googlism and see what comes out. I’ve finally done this, and I think I’ve hit the jackpot:

tino is love

tino is love?; i?m just neil

tino is much more than a fishing guide

tino is a mobile robot platform of the erratic family

tino is not just about comfort and storage

tino is a wise choice to which all family members will be fondly attached

tino is currently recording for the well respected french label dixiefrog records

tino is behind the japanese anime invasion

tino is so steady and fun to watch

tino is only available in certain european countries

tino is always updated

tino is just around the corner

tino is a musical genius

tino is a wonderful speaker and i think friday’s discussion will be informative and fun

tino is one skilled mofo on the sax

tino is the best

tino is a mystery wrapped in an enigma

tino is definitely better

tino is quick to adapt to each day’s demands

tino is purely utilitarian

tino is always willing to greet life’s problems with a saracastic tone

tino is highly stable and manoeuvrable on city streets

Posted by tino at 11:22 12.12.02

More Catalog Follies

It’s finally happened. In today’s avalanche of catalogues, we got two of them from separate companies with the same picture on the cover:



Norm Thompson and The Territory Ahead look to be completely unrelated outfits. One is based in Santa Barbara, the other in Portland, Oregon. Neither of them sell Christmas lights for putting on trees, either.

There’s nothing wrong with using stock photos; stock photos make the world go ‘round. But having such a vague corporate image that you and a competitor send catalogs with the same image on the cover on the same day, well, that’s just sad.

Posted by tino at 11:01 12.12.02
Monday 09 December 2002

Worrisome Products

We’ve been busy around here for the past couple of weeks, and it doesn’t promise to let up for a few more. The holidays bring two things: millions of little tasks, like purchasing and installing a giant inflatable Santa Claus on the lawn, and an avalanche of catalogs.

Our mail comes through a slot in the front door, and more than once this season it’s been more than a little difficult getting into the house, so massive was the pile of catalogs on the rug.

One of the more interesting catalogs we’ve got is one full of what they call “gifts”. I cannot for the life of me think of why it would occur to anyone to purchase these particular items and give them to someone else — except that that’s a better choice than purchasing and keeping them.

So, to combine those two great Decemberween traditions of busyness and catalogs, I propose over the next week to slack off some more and, instead of writing anything, present for your amusement a selection of bewildering products available through the mail. Clicking on the pictures pops up larger versions.

Haircut Umbrella

I suppose this isn’t the stupidest product ever; should you happen to cut hair at home, it’d be very convenient to have a gadget to catch the clippings. Keep in mind that this is presented as a gift, though, and it gets weird. “Oh, Myrtle! That hair-cutting umbrella I’ve been talking about!” The look on the model’s face is priceless, too.

Pull-My-Finger Fred

That’s right, a farting toy. Perfect for display on the shelves next to your stressed-out Pepsi bottle and your googly-eyed walnut. Also available: Freddy Jr., who “lets loose in his diapers”.

Wrestling Afghan

And what do you put on the wall behind the TV, assuming that your shelves with the walnut, Pepsi bottle, and fart machines aren’t there? A wrestling Afghan, of course. No, silly, not a mujahideen; the blanket kind of Afghan. Except these feature pictures of “The Rock”, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “Triple H”, “The Undertaker”, or Hulk Hogan. None of those names are familiar to me save that of Hulk Hogan. Hulk Hogan was wrestling back when I was ten years old and still found it entertaining. I can’t imagine what kind of person would like both wrestling and afghans. It’s chilling, really.

Posted by tino at 22:03 9.12.02
Tuesday 03 December 2002

Back from Vacation

I’m back from vacation, and should start offering my usual complaining here again soon.


Domo says: It’s cold in the mountains!

Posted by tino at 16:16 3.12.02