Wednesday, December 16, 2009

10 Things That Have Always Annoyed Me About The Back To The Future Trilogy…

First let me be clear that I love the Back To The Future trilogy. I loved the first movie, I really loved the second movie, and I loved the third one too. When the first Back To The Future (BTTF) movie was released in 1985 I was 10 years old and the mixture of a stainless steel clad DeLorean, Marty playing Johnny B. Goode on the guitar and the concept of time travel was pretty much everything I could wish for in a movie, therefore it instantly became one of my favorite films and remains so to this day.

However, that being said there have always been a few things which bothered me about the movies. I realize any film that deals with time travel requires a certain suspension of disbelief, and I’m not even going to get into the debate about whether time travel is theoretically possible or into long discussions about string theory, influencing the timeline, impacting future events etc, etc – but nevertheless I think there are few points which really don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me… so why not put them into a top 10 list?

So – without any further explanation, here is a random list of ten things which have always annoyed me about the BTTF series of films:

1. At the end of the first BTTF film, Doc Brown arrives at the McFly house in a panic and tells Marty that something has to be done about his kids. Doc Brown puts Marty and Jennifer into the DeLorean and they proceed to fly off into the future.

But here is the problem – they are in a time machine, so what is the rush? The events that Doc Brown is concerned with don’t happen for 30 more years in the future, so why would he feel the need to rush off this very day? Since Doc Brown knows more about time travel than anyone, surely he would understand it would make more sense to plan ahead and not activate the DeLorean in the middle of the day where it could be (and is) seen.

2. In the first film, how did the Libyan terrorists that shot Doc Brown know he was at the Twin Pines Mall (or Lone Pine Mall in later scenes)?

The fact is, even if the Libyan terrorists figured out that Doc Brown had stole their plutonium, and assuming they knew his real name and real address… why would they think to look for him in the parking lot of a mall at 1:15am? It isn’t like Doc Brown left a note on his door telling them where he was, so this never really made sense. I won’t even bother asking the question how a VW minibus seems to be able to keep up with a DeLorean in the parking lot… that is a separate issue.

3. In the third and final BTTF film, the gas line of the DeLorean is punctured by an arrow which results in the DeLorean running out of fuel.

I can understand if the fuel tank itself was punctured since Marty was essentially driving through a desert at the time, but considering the fuel tank is in the rear of the car and the engine is above it, why on earth would there be a fuel line running on the exterior of the car? Doc Brown said himself that the “Mr. Fusion” reactor powered the time circuits (which eliminates the need for additional plutonium) so there was no logical reason for a spare fuel line in that area. To add to this, considering the line was above the fuel tank itself, one would think even if it was punctured there would still be ample fuel in the tank itself which could be used once the line was repaired.

4. In BTTF part III, Marty arrives back in 1985 on the railroad tracks only to have a train demolish the DeLorean meaning there is no way for him to ever return to 1885 and bring Doc Brown back to the present.

Fine – but wouldn’t the engineer of the train or any of the witnesses report the accident? Wouldn’t Marty be questioned or detained and wouldn’t the place be packed with emergency personnel within minutes? To make matters worse, when Marty returns to the scene hours later to look at the wreckage, Doc Brown suddenly arrives on a time traveling locomotive!

Ok, I can buy the fact that Doc Brown creates a new time machine. I can let slide the fact that the electronic components required to build it won’t be invented for another 80 years and that the train flies off with no concern about onlookers getting a view of a flying, disappearing train… but how on Earth did Doc Brown know precisely the exact moment to appear on the train tracks? Did he just time travel back 1200 times to find the exact moment when Marty was standing by the tracks? Seems to me it would have made more sense for him to appear minutes after Marty went back to 1985… but I suppose that wouldn’t have made for nearly as entertaining of a movie.

5. In BTTF part II, when Biff threatens to shoot Marty on the rooftop and Marty “jumps” off to land on the DeLorean, why would Doc Brown bother to rise up and give Biff a clear shot at Marty, the DeLorean, or Doc Brown himself?

They already had the date that they were going to travel back to in order to restore the timeline, so why bother dealing with Biff? What Doc Brown should have done was just float off into the distance because the second they go back in time the current time dimension/reality would no longer exist, so knocking Biff out is really of no benefit.

Then again, anyone who has ever been in a DeLorean will tell you the gull-wing doors actually open in a vertical manner, so it wouldn’t be possible for the door to swing out far enough to hit Biff in the head and knock him out… but I suppose I can let that slide for the sake of entertainment.

6. In the second film, Marty hides under what appears to be a tarp in the back seat of Biff’s car and even goes so far as to call Doc Brown on his walkie talkie without Biff ever hearing him.

Biff just got his car out of the shop where it was cleaned off all the manure. Don’t you think he might just be a tad interested to find out why there is a big tarp in his back seat? And don’t we think he might actually hear Marty (or see him in the rearview mirror) when he is talking to Doc Brown on the walkie talkie? Seems to me it would have made a lot more sense to put Marty in the trunk where the chances or being seen or heard would be exponentially less. There could have been a nice tie-in back to the scene where Marty gets locked in the trunk in the first film as well.

7. In the first film, Marty and Doc formulate a plan to use the lightning bolt as their source of power to send the DeLorean back to the future based upon the flyer that Marty has which tells them the time of the lightning strike.

Fine, so they know the minute that the clock stops, but when you are driving at 88mph down a city street (which coincidentally has zero other cars anywhere to be seen even though it is only 10:04PM) the difference of a few seconds could very well determine the probability of hitting the lightning at the exactly second required. Thus, if the lightning occurred at 10:04:55 but Marty drove through the cable at 10:04:25, he would have missed the lightning by a full 30 seconds and would have crashed into the movie theater without ever traveling back through time!

Now aside from the fact that Marty failed to start accelerating when the alarm clock went off and thus he would have most likely been late, and aside from the fact that the lightning bolt seemed to have been powerful enough to send the time machine back through time yet never caused any harm to any of the other electronics in the vehicle, and aside from the fact that there wasn’t enough stopping distance to prevent Marty from crashing through the movie theater and dying in a horrific car accident, I don’t see any way to time the arrival of the DeLorean to reach the cable at the precise moment of the lightning strike.

Instead, they should have used some form of an extension cord or long cable to connect the clock tower to the DeLorean so Marty could be driving away from the clock tower at he could hold his speed at 88mph for the entire 60 second time period. Another alternative would have been to rig up some type of a mesh such as the type used to connect a bumper car to the overhead electric service – but clearly unless they knew the exact second of the lightning strike and could time it to the exact second the hook comes into contact with the wire there would be no possible way for Marty to return to 1985.

8. The storm that results in the clock tower being hit by lightning doesn’t seem to involve any significant amount of rain (although the ground does appear to be wet) and the wind and lightning seem to be very strong but only to the point of the lightning strike on the clock tower.

Once the lightning strike hits at 10:04PM, the storm suddenly – and shockingly – ends. There is no more rain, there are no more high winds, there is no more lightning. I could buy the fact that there is no more lightning after that one strike, but surely the wind doesn’t go from 50mph to dead calm in the span of less than 10 seconds.

9. The “present day” (in 1985) Doc Brown has no memory of Marty or the events that took place in 1955.

The thing is, as soon as Marty traveled back to 1955 and met Doc Brown, the present day (or 1985 version) Doc Brown would hold those memories. Therefore, the present day Doc Brown would know that Marty would get transported back to 1955 and with a little pre-planning he could have ensured there was a spare container of plutonium stored in the glovebox or in the trunk (which in the DeLorean is actually in the front of the car, but I digress).

Once the events of 1955 occurred such as Doc meeting Marty and learning about the time machine, the lack of plutonium, the fact that Marty needs to get back to 1985, Doc Brown would hold all those memories and he would be able to build upon them. He would know his time machine was successful and therefore would likely stop working on other projects and devote himself to it. He would know Marty would be the one to travel back in time and therefore he would probably wonder why he himself didn’t do so (and perhaps led him to the discovery that the Libyans were going to attempt to kill him).

Actually, this theme of memories not traveling to the alternate timeline is quite common throughout BTTF. In the original film, Marty’s parents spent several days with Marty and surely would have developed memories of what he looked like, what his name was, the type of person he was etc, etc – yet in the present day 1985 timeline, they don’t seem at all surprised that their son, who just happens to be named Marty and plays the guitar, looks exactly like the Marty that brought them together at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance back in 1955!

Now I don’t claim to be well versed in all aspects of time travel theory, but one would assume you don’t just magically lose your memories simply because someone else travels through time, and therefore the 1985 Doc Brown would know about the 1955 events and would easily have taken steps to avoid them. Due to his insistence on minimizing impact to the timeline it seems clear to me that Doc Brown likely wouldn’t have involved Marty in any of his time travel escapades for fear of influencing future (or past) events.

10. When Marty and Jennifer travel into the future to “fix” the problem with their kids, they would no longer exist in the past and therefore could never meet themselves.

This is the part that gets a little confusing, but bear with me for a minute. The fact is, if I get into a time machine right now and travel into the future 10 years, if I was to meet someone I had known in the past (which for us is present day) – they would wonder where the hell I had been the last decade because from their perspective I would just disappear one day with no trace left behind.

Now one could argue that since I will travel back to the past again in the future (confused yet) that I would then exist in the future that I am now visiting, but the simple truth is if that were true, the future me would know that I had traveled to the future in the past, and as such there would be no reason to hide it from myself.

Yes – it really is that confusing, so feel free to read that last paragraph or two again.

My point here is that it might be possible to meet yourself if you travel into the past, but it really wouldn’t work to travel into the future, because the second you leave your existing timeline you no longer exist in the future – and as such you have already changed the future even without trying along with the fact you could never prevent your future self from knowing about the incident.

This also is a common theme throughout the film because if the timeline was altered and if Marty was never able to coerce George and Lorraine to fall in love, then Marty would never exist in the first place and as such could not travel back in time. If Marty couldn’t travel back in time then he couldn’t be the one to get hit by the car, and Lorraine would have fallen in love with George as it happened originally. Thus, Marty would never disappear or fade because his future or his fate if you will, was already determined.

So there you have it – just a few things that I have obviously spent far too much time thinking about, especially when you consider these are all trivial points about a film that deals with the concept of time travel (which I would argue is a sheer impossibility, but that is a philosophical discussion for another time.., pardon the pun).

None of this changes the fact that the BTTF movies were and still are incredibly entertaining, and none of this changes the fact that I expect to see a new Back To The Future movie made sometime I the next 15 years if for no other reason than Hollywood has been out of original ideas for quite some time. Perhaps with a little luck Michael J. Fox will still be healthy enough to make some sort of cameo appearance in a future BTTF film, but that is probably a stretch.

In any case, all things considered there are a lot more things I loved about the BTTF trilogy than things that ever annoyed me – but if I were to write them all down that list would be far too long… so this was much easier.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Talk Radio Business Model – Above All Else, Prey Upon Fear

Have you ever stopped to actually think who the core demographic of talk radio really is? Who are the people who can devote three or more hours of their day to a particular program or radio station? Who are the types of people who listen to the drivel day in and day out while nodding in agreement or repeating the clever insults and catch phrases to their friends and family? Who are the people who actually think the talk radio pundits are actually journalists as opposed to their true role as entertainers?

I’ve often wondered who these people are, and I often wonder what common trait exists among those who clearly pull 98% of their political opinions from one particular talk radio host or another. These are the people who are always convinced political party ‘A’ is right while political party ‘B’ is wrong, and I’m sure everyone has met a few of them in their lifetime.

Now I’ll admit that if I’m near a radio at lunchtime I will sometimes tune to talk radio to be entertained… but that is where it stops. I admit and recognize that talk radio exists for one true purpose, and that purpose is to entertain rather than inform. If you want to be informed you can listen to the news, if you want to be entertained (and you aren’t particular interested in sports), you have talk radio.

The scary thing is, it seems that many people are unable or unwilling to draw the distinction between entertainment and information, and for them talk radio becomes less about entertainment and more about providing them insight. The type of insight which is based upon rumor, falsehoods, distortions and flat out lies. The type of insight which makes me question the true intelligence of the common man. The type of insight which reaffirms my belief that the ignorant and the uneducated are easily influenced by those who are adept at preying upon fear.

Because when you really boil it all down, that is what it is all about… fear. You can listen to the programs themselves and hear about how a certain politician or a specific government program are going to ruin the American way of life. You can hear how they believe one political party is the source of all that is evil and how if you don’t vote for the other party your children and grandchildren will be those that suffer. Time after time after time, if you toss aside all of the fluff and excess, when you objectively look at any given subject you will find the basis is nothing other than fear. The pundits know if they can scare the listener, that listener will keep coming back for more.

Nowhere is this concept more obvious than the one time you would expect the theme of fear to be absent. I’m talking about the commercial breaks in between segments, and if you take some time to actually listen you will soon discover that the advertisers have found a niche market, and that niche involves the concept of fear. Millions upon millions of dollars in advertising are spent every year, and it is very obvious that those marketing firms know the true demographic listening to talk radio at any given point is one built upon fear – thus they cater to, and profit from, that demographic.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list below of some of the advertisements presented during the commercial breaks of talk radio.

• Lifelock – appealing to the fear of identity theft.

• Broadview / Brinks Home Security – appealing to the fear of burglary or home invasion.

• Identity Guard – another product that appeals to the fear of identity theft.

• Tax Masters – appeals to the fear of the IRS “stealing” money or leaving a person destitute.

• Various Gold Investing Firms – preying upon the loss of net worth in the stock market and retirement plans. Also suggests the apocalyptic scenario where paper money holds no value.

• Law Firms specializing in Asbestos – Appeals to the fear that surviving family members might not be taken care of in the case of severe disability or *gasp* death. Also appeals the desire to hold someone or something else accountable for anything bad which might happen in one’s life.

• Personal Injury Lawsuits – see above.

• Life Insurance – again this appeals to the fear that loved ones won’t be financially secure if the primary bread winner is no longer around to provide.

• Carbonite Online Backup Software – appeals to the fear that a computer will crash resulting in the loss of financial data, vital documents, or irreplaceable files, photos etc.

• Prostate Medications – appeals to the fear that health problems (namely cancer) will end a life prematurely.

• Debt Management and Debt Collections services – appeals to the fear that ‘evil’ corporations will take all of a persons earnings leaving them with nothing.

• Legal Zoom online legal documents – appeals to the fear that a person will die without a proper will or living trust being established. Also appeals to the fear the government will seize assets leaving surviving family members with nothing.

So as you can see, between disaster coverage, legal services, and various forms of self protection services all of these products have one thing in common. They all appeal to some level of fear.

Now if this were only a small percentage of the ads or if I cherry picked these ads over a period of two or three months it might not be all that indicative of a larger issue, but the fact is every single one of these advertisements were heard within 90 minutes of talk radio. Not 90 days, not 90 hours – but 90 minutes. On other days I was able to hear the same ads or slight variations of them time and time again, and during the times I listened there were very few other ads that weren’t based in some way upon fear.

In fact I can only recall one ad that seemed out of place, and that was for a Sleep Number bed. I suppose I could stretch and twist to make it sound like that ad was appealing to a concern about bad backs, but for all intents and purposes I think that just boils down to the marketing strategy of the Sleep Number people involving market saturation and less about meeting a specific demographic.

I never heard a commercial about cleaning products. I never heard a commercial about automobiles or travel services or toothpaste or coffee. I never heard an ad pertaining to beer or chewing gum or fast food, and I never heard anything in relation to gasoline, shampoo, or clothing.

Time and time again, day after day, the vast majority of ads I ever hear pertain to fear, and the only logical conclusion that can be reached is that advertisers know the target core demographic that tunes into talk radio on a daily basis is scared. They might be scared about their finances or scared about their health or scared about the government, about home security, or maybe just scared about common sense or logic – but in some way these people are scared.

So if the advertisers know it, doesn’t it make sense that the talk radio hosts know it as well? Don’t kid yourself – they know it, they count on it, and they prey upon it… that much is certain. So maybe the next time you hear someone quote something direct from the mouth of a talk radio host you should ask yourself… what are they afraid of?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Saving Money Without Adjusting Your Lifestyle

In a troubled economy it seems everyone is looking for new ways to save money, but most of these ideas involve major lifestyle changes – and they don’t have to.

Let’s face it… humans are creates of habit, and once we have grown accustomed to having cable television, high speed Internet and going out to eat four or five times a week, it isn’t easy to go back to basics. However, saving money doesn’t have to be so hard – it just takes a little creative thinking.

Over the past year or so I must have read at least a few dozen different articles with suggestions on how people can save money. Whether it be such creative solutions as making coffee at home instead of ordering from Starbucks, packing lunch instead of eating out, biking to work instead of driving, or going to the library instead of the bookstore, most of these ideas have one thing in common… they force the individual to make lifestyle changes they wouldn’t normally be willing to consider if the economy (and their paychecks) were growing instead of shrinking.

Because of this, I thought it was time to list a few of my ideas on how to save money that don’t require any major lifestyle changes or dramatic sacrifices. Not only will these help people save a few bucks here or there, but for the most part these ideas are invisible and after reading them you might just find you do a few of them already even without thinking of it.
So without further drama, here are a few ideas to get you started…

Stop Being So Loyal

This might seem a bit odd if we are talking about family or friends, but in this context we are talking about products and companies. Often times people will purchase the same type of bathroom tissue or the same brand of diapers or even shop at the same stores time and time again without ever taking the time to realize they are missing out on some money saving opportunities.

For example, if you are the type to always buy Tide laundry detergent, have you ever thought about looking at the competition? Often times coupons or sales exist which could reduce your cost per load of laundry by 50% or more. Ask friends what they use and what they think – read reviews found online or within Consumers magazines, and stop being so brand loyal. You will soon find out that your habit of always buying Tide has just been costing you money and not making your clothes look any better.

I have found by purchasing when items are on sale or when I happen to have coupons for a specific brand, I can save hundreds of dollars a year. If you look at the shelf above my washing machine you will typically see no less than three or four brands of laundry detergent because I don’t care about brands… I only care about my clothes getting clean, and from experience I have found which brands work well versus which are just watered down or overpriced. If you open my bathroom closet you will most likely find two or three different brands of shampoo and a couple of different brands of soap. As long as the product does the job I see no reason to remain brand loyal.

The same is true for other commodities such as paper products, soda, clothing, shoes, or even deodorant. If you can look beyond the marketing hype you might just find that you like the taste of the generic soda just as much if not more than the name brand, and it can save you a ton of money without having to give up soda all together.

If you have the room to keep extra at home, you can save a pile of cash simply by buying items when they are on sale and keeping them until you use them. So what if you have a three month supply of toothpaste or a six month supply of toilet tissue…as long as the product won’t expire or go bad before you have a chance to use it, there is no reason to not stock up when the price is right. Granted this won’t work with many grocery items, but if you use a little common sense you will soon find your dollar can go much further.

To take this to the next level, consider shopping at stores you haven’t thought of in the past. Perhaps you drive by a dollar store on your way home from work but have never thought about stopping. Since it isn’t out of your way, take a few minutes to go inside and see what you can find. You might be surprised to learn that those paper towels and napkins work just as well as the brand you have been buying from the big retailer, but they cost 60% less.

Look for BOGO or “Free with Purchase” Discounts

So much of the time we tend to make shopping lists and we only buy something when we are running low or completely out. I tend to think of toothpaste as one of these items, and most people only buy one or two tubes at a time. However if you pay attention you will often see deals on toothpaste where they give you a free travel size with the purchase of a regular size tube, or perhaps they throw in a toothbrush for free.

If the actual cost for the tube hasn’t been inflated for this “free” bonus, and if the cost is competitive – it’s a great time to stock up. Buy four or five tubes and all of the sudden you have enough free toothbrushes for the whole family.

The same holds true with other products whether it be shampoo or cereal. If you are going to need that product anyway, and it happens to be on sale or attached to a free item – it is never a bad idea to stock up. The only warning is you MUST be sure you actually need and will use the product. There is no use buying a can of shaving cream that comes packaged with a free disposable razor if you are the type of guy who always uses an electric shaver.

Pay attention and be smart about your choices and you will save money – without ever having to cut corners.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For a Discount

No I’m not talking about haggling with the cashier at Wal-Mart - I’m talking about your cellphone, cable, or even garbage service bills. I was once told “you don’t deserve anything you don’t ask for” and that seems to apply in this case.

I recently received a mailer from a competing garbage service and it was at least 20-30% less expensive than the service I was using. When I went to cancel my existing service I was immediately offered a discount and one free month of service. Now in this case the new service was still less expensive so I passed on the offer, but had I not called I would have never known about their discount. In this economy, businesses cannot afford to lose customers, so it can work to your advantage.

Another example was from a few years ago when I was using a TiVo. I loved my TiVo, but when I switched from cable to DirecTV and upgraded to HD televisions with a HD DVR, my old TiVo just wasn’t as useful. When I called to cancel my service, TiVo offered me six months worth of service for free, and that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I moved the TiVo into the bedroom where we still had a regular SD television and continued to use it. Had I not called to cancel my service I would have never received this offer. Granted I did eventually call to cancel before the six months was up, but essentially I was given six months of service for free.

By simply taking a few minutes to call your cell phone company or your landline or Internet provider, you might find that you can save quite a bit of money without having to change anything. If the company is unwilling to offer a discount, don’t be afraid to take your business elsewhere… nothing gets the attention of a company faster than threatening to move on to their direct competitor.


Yes – the concept we were all taught by the time we were in kindergarten is still as useful now as it was then. In fact sharing can be one of the most efficient ways to save money and it doesn’t really require any additional work to do so.

A while back I was working on a home improvement project and needed a tile saw to cut some porcelain tile. I thought about buying one but it didn’t seem worth owning it considering I would probably only need it this one time. Renting was an option, but since the rental fee was around $40 a day I figured it would cost me at least $120-$160 to do the complete job.

However during a conversation at work I learned a co-worker had finished several tile jobs of his own and he had his own tile saw which was now sitting in the garage unused. I asked him if he would consider loaning me the saw for a few days and he was happy to do so. At the end of the job I purchased a $30 replacement blade for his saw as a thank-you and returned it. Not only did this save me a considerable amount of money, but I don’t have to store a tile saw in my garage that I might never use again.

Of course it goes both ways – so if you expect to borrow from others, you need to be able to share as well. When a friend needed some cable tools to install a few cable jacks or when a family member needed a paint sprayer to paint his house I was able to provide what they needed because I had the items on hand, and I know if the situation was reversed they are more than willing to help me out.

Tools are just one example of things which can be borrowed or loaned, but other examples might be a pickup truck for that once a year trip to the city dump or maybe you could loan that portable DVD player you have to some friends so their children have something to enjoy during a week long road trip (the parents and the children will both thank you).

Taken a step further, if you have a good relationship with a family member or neighbor you could consider buying certain items together to save money. Maybe you only need a garden tiller once a year – if you buy the tiller with a friend, neighbor, or family member you each can use it but you will reduce your cost by at least 50%. Find three or four people to each chip in for large ticket items such as garden machines, pressure sprayers, or a utility trailer and the cost goes down even further.

One note of caution however – always have a written agreement in place every time you loan out an item. If the item is damaged while on loan, the person who borrowed it should know their responsibility is to repair or replace that item no questions asked. If you are buying an item with a buddy or neighbor, ensure you agree beforehand on who will store it, who will maintain it, and what will happen if one of you decides to move to another city etc. A little pre-planning can go a long way towards eliminating problems down the road.

Even non-tangible assets can be shared. For instance maybe you have a membership to a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco. You might consider having a friend shop with you and you could split the cost of the yearly membership. Of course you should check the terms of the membership agreement beforehand to ensure you aren’t violating their terms, but in many cases this is a quick way to not only save money on the membership, but because you are likely shopping together you can also carpool to the store and even divide up items that come in large quantities to save even more.

Reuse Instead of Recycle

Most everyone knows the benefits of recycling, but what about reusing items instead of sending them off to be recycled? Better yet, what about making shopping decisions based upon the ability to reuse some of the packaging?

Case in point – when I go to buy margarine, I have found through experience that many brands taste exactly the same, so there is no use in me going out of my way (or spending more) for one specific brand. Therefore, if the cost is relatively the same, I will often purchase a brand of margarine that comes in a container that I feel I can re-use for another purpose.

Several years ago I found one brand that came in a red bowl with a clear top – and there was no writing on the plastic whatsoever, so these bowls came in very handy for leftovers or in a pinch they could even be used for cereal bowls. If I was bringing food into work or sharing something with a friend I never had to worry about getting the container back because they were essentially disposable.

Other products come in containers that are just as useful. At one time I had a cat which forced me to buy kitty litter on a regular basis. I found the type that came in the large bucket was just as cheap as the type that came in the bag, so I always bought the type in the bucket. When the bucket was empty, I had a bucket and lid that could be used for all types of things such as washing the car, storing materials in the garage, or in my case I used several of them for mixing mortar and grout for home improvement projects. Not only was the bucket free, but when I was done I could dispose of it with no need to clean it out or worry about dried mortar sticking to a good container.

In fact, I have found several cases of where I could buy a container full of a product cheaper than I could buy an empty container, so now before I ever recycle a plastic container whether it be from margarine, paint, baby food, or even orange juice I stop to think if it could be useful for another purpose. Not everything can or should be reused ( wouldn’t reuse a jug that contained harsh chemicals or cleaners for instance), but sometimes it makes more sense to repurpose something instead of simply throwing it out.

One other example I can think of is old t-shirts. I have used old t-shirts in my garage as shop towels for years, and I have never had to buy shop towels… ever. Between old bathroom towels that get stained or torn and my old t-shirts, I always have enough shop towels to clean up a spill or dry my hands without worrying about staining the “good towels” in the house. Every now and then I run a load of shop towels through the wash and if they get really bad I just toss them out without feeling bad about the cost because for all intents and purposes they were free.

Accept What is Given to You

I’m not talking about being polite when offered gifts or always allowing your brother to pick up the tab when you go out for dinner. I’m talking about the little extras that we so often take for granted.

I’ll freely admit I eat out for lunch almost every day, and those days that I decide to hit the drive thru lane for some fast food I almost always end up with two or three extra napkins. Now I suppose I could just toss them in the trash like most people, but instead I tend to keep them in the center console of my car.

When I end up with a fairly good stockpile of extra napkins, I take them inside and use them at home. In fact if you look at the basket that holds napkins in my house you would probably find them from almost every fast food joint in town. I realize packing my lunch instead of buying fast food every day would probably save a lot more money than a few free napkins, but the point is saving some napkins or extra condiments to reuse at home doesn’t require a change in lifestyle – but it can and does save me money.

This concept can work in a number of different areas as well. If you are a frequent business traveler, maybe you can stock up on shampoo and travel soap by taking those from the hotel at then end of your trip. Many hotels use name brand shampoos and soaps these days, so why pay for something when you can get it for free? If you happen to stay at the same franchise often enough, you could even combine bottles into a larger container for home use or simply refill a bottle you already have.

If the hotel offers a complimentary bag of coffee or some tea bags – it isn’t a bad idea to grab those either. I personally don’t drink coffee but my wife does, so if I go on a trip and come home with a few servings of coffee I know she will use them, and since the cost is zero it saves money.

Tradeshows and conventions are always a good place to accept freebies as well. I will admit I’m not the type to go grab one of everything at a tradeshow because I find it a little tacky, but if there is something I know I can use I’m not afraid to take one. Several years ago I was at an airshow and I came across a booth which had some free sunglasses. I took a pair to use that day and believe it or not three years later I’m still wearing the same sunglasses on a daily basis.

I fully realize these sunglasses were probably made in China for well under a dollar, but they have served me well longer than most pairs I have paid for. You can bet if I spent $40 or $50 for a pair of sunglasses they would be lost or broken in under six months, so who can complain about something that is free?

The bottom line is it really doesn’t take much to save a little money if you look at things from a unique perspective. I’m not suggesting anyone spends their entire day trying to find new ways to save a few pennies here or there, but it is quite possible to save money even without having to change your lifestyle… and isn’t that the entire point?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Herman Miller Bucket Drawers

Several years back (probably 2000 or 2001) I was looking for a desk to use for my computer. I wasn’t too picky but I wanted something simple, and due to my prior experience with “ready to assemble” furniture I knew I wanted something a tad more sturdy and something that would last more than 9 months without needing to be sent to a landfill.

I found myself in an office furniture store, and soon thereafter I discovered the mythical back room that was stacked with used desks, chairs, cubicle walls… you name it. The place had somewhat of an eerie feeling as if you could smell all of the old companies that found themselves in bankruptcy and were forced to liquidate and auction off their equipment.

There was no consistency in any of the furniture, and there was a collection including all shapes and styles. There were chairs that looked like they had been designed in the 70s and not used since. There were rigid metal desks that looked like you would need a small forklift to move them five feet, and there were random conference tables and work tables of all shapes and styles.

I remember noticing some of the furniture had various character flaws. Tables were scratched, desks were chipped or dented, cubicle walls had torn or dirty fabric, and there was even a single table that had a bow in the middle which made me think it would have been great for writing because your pencil would never be able to fall off the edge. I actually contemplated buying the table and flipping over the work surface so the weight of my computer monitor would actually make the desk flat again, but it just wasn’t quite right.

As my search continued, I found a simple desk about 60 inches wide by 32 inches deep. It had a top made out of laminate, a pair of funky “t” shaped black and chrome legs, two black plastic drawers and somewhat of a modern look. It was buried under another desk and some chairs, and it had probably been sitting in that room for years. It looked to be in good condition and even the keys to lock the drawers were there, so I proceeded to look for a price.

Much to my surprise, this particular desk was priced at a whopping $50. I spoke to a saleswoman and told her I’d take it, so we wrote up the bill of sale and she marked it as sold. She told me she would have someone clear off the items on top of it and get it ready to pick up, so I made arrangements to stop by within an hour to pick it up.

At the time I was driving a small car, so I enlisted the assistance of my older brother Scott to help me pick up the desk. Since he drove a SUV it would be a simple process of loading it into the back and taking it home, and as an added bonus he could help me move it. So we drove over to the store, met the saleswoman and as she held the door we proceeded to haul my new prize out and load it into the SUV.

It was fairly clear that Scott wasn’t overly impressed with my purchase and when he saw the plastic drawers he thought they looked like buckets. So, from that point forward – my new desk was referred to as “the bucket drawers”. It wasn’t called the desk with the bucket drawers or the desk with drawers that looked like buckets – it was always “the bucket drawers”.

In any case, I took the desk to the house I was living in at the time (which coincidentally was actually Scott’s house) and it became home to my computer. When I moved from the house to an apartment and from the apartment to a townhouse the desk came along for the ride, and whenever Scott saw it he would make a joke about the bucket drawers. When I moved across the state I left my desk in Scott’s basement for the time being but soon I found myself moving back and the bucket drawers were pulled out from retirement once again.

Eventually I bought a house and the desk moved with me. I had thought about replacing it with something new, but a part of me just liked the bucket drawers and saw no reason to spend money on something else. A few years after buying my house, Scott was giving away some of his furniture in preparation for a move. He had a nice oak desk and since he offered it to me I accepted. The bucket drawers looked to be on their way out.

I considered moving the desk into the garage and using it as a workbench, but I just left it sit in my basement for a while. As I used the new desk Scott had given me I realized it just wasn’t right. I couldn’t pull a chair under the desk because the arms would hit the pencil drawer. The desk had a wood top so I had to use a coaster if I had a cold drink, and my computer was constantly at risk of overheating due to the closed design of the cabinet.

I tried my best, but I soon realized my old desk was quite simply more up to the task than the new desk. One could even say I missed the bucket drawers, but in reality it was just missing the modern simplicity that comes with something that just works. Long story short I ended up sending the oak desk with a friend and the bucket drawers once again became my primary desk.

I’ve moved my desk from a house to an apartment to a townhouse, from one room to another, from the townhouse to my house, and at least three different times to three different rooms in my house. It has survived at least half a dozen different PCs in it’s time and four or five different laptops. It has been with me through three different jobs and it was with me as a single man, as a married man, and now as a father.

A few months ago my wife and I were out shopping, and we found a desk that we think would be an improvement. It has tons of more storage, and a design that would allow both of us to use the desk at the same time. There is room for more than one computer (since I have a personal desktop, a personal laptop, a work laptop, and plans to acquire a personal Mac in the near future), and it has more of a contemporary style that goes with our other furniture.

In the meantime, my sister had told me she actually liked my existing desk and would be willing to take it from me if I replaced it, so I actually considered that to be a good thing since I wouldn’t need to deal with selling it or trying to dispose of it. As my wife and I were standing in the furniture store considering the new desk I was literally seconds away from saying we wanted it, but at the last second I changed my mind. For some reason I thought the bucket drawers still had life in them. I’m not sure why, but I just didn’t think they were ready to be replaced yet.

So imagine my surprise when I was crawling under the desk one day to fish some cables up to a computer and I see this sticker that says “Herman Miller”. Now I’m not a huge fan of design and I couldn’t give you five names of designers in the world, but I had heard of Herman Miller, so I found this interesting. A few minutes later after some random Google searches, I soon learned the desk I had was designed by George Nelson for Herman miller probably sometime in the ‘60s or ‘70s and that this particular size with the drawers was worth between $800 and $1500 or even more depending upon condition.

So let me get this straight… I bought a used desk for $50 in the back room of a now-defunct office furniture store that turns out to be worth at least 16 times what I paid for it? Heck, if I could sell this thing for $1500 that would be a 3000% gain – I can’t think of a single investment in my entire life that has provided that rate of return.

If I were the type to carry around a Macbook Pro in a canvas carrying bag, wear t-shirts that were three sizes too small and be sporting a strip of hair below my lower lip then I'd probably think it was the greatest thing since the coffee shop inside of Barnes & Noble. However since I'm none of those things I still think it is a desk regardless of what fancy name might be attached to it or how much it is worth.

The thing is, even though I know the desk is worth considerably more than I thought, I really have no desire to sell the bucket drawers. They have served me well and they will continue to serve me well for years. The only problem is, I now find myself wanting to find an office chair to match the “retro modern” look and that isn’t exactly easy. I’ve seen those mesh style office chairs that would be a perfect match, but I couldn’t seem to find one in any of the stores I look at.

So wouldn’t you know it, after another little Google search I found the maker of the mesh office chair that I have desired to be none other than… you guessed it, Herman Miller. The name of the chair is the “Aeron” and apparently they have quite the following for those of us who sit in a chair for hours a day. Of course it goes without saying that the chairs are prohibitively expensive and the MSRP is over $1200! Of course you can find them online for about $600, but honestly… no office chair on the planet should cost $600. If the thing gave me a massage while balancing my checkbook and handing me an ice cold beer upon request it might, possibly be worth $600, but even then I’d have to think about it.

Sort of makes me wonder if I can find a used one sitting in back of an office furniture store.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


What is it with people who feel the need to clip their fingernails at work? Am I the only person who thinks this is disgusting?

I guess I wouldn’t expect to see someone shaving or trimming their nose hair or plucking their eyebrows or brushing their teeth at work (outside of the bathroom at least) – so why should it be any different when speaking of fingernails?

What annoys me most is that “clip” sound as they sit there and trim away. I actually dislike that sound so much that I never use a nail clippers on my own fingernails and haven’t in years. Instead I use a small scissors to trim them and actually I find it is not only quiet, but it also prevents the clippings from flying through the air where they will undoubtedly land somewhere you wouldn’t really want to find nail clippings.

This brings up another rather disturbing thought however. When I have heard and seen people trimming their nails at their desks, they don’t even bother to do so over a trash can – so I can only assume they are comfortable with their old nail clippings falling into the carpeting or flying over their cubicle wall where they might land in a co-worker’s coffee cup. Yes, that is quite the disturbing thought.

Maybe I’m the only person who is easily annoyed and maybe this shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but to me I rank this right up there with picking your nose or eating with your mouth open. Alas we have found the true downfall of mankind… the simple inability to think outside one’s own benefit radius.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bathrooms and the Workplace

What is it about people that makes them flush (pardon the pun) all common sense and respect for others down the toilet the minute they enter a bathroom at work? I’m serious here – I have a hard time believing these people act this way at home, and if they do….well let’s just say I hope they are single.

Let me be clear here – I am not talking about public restrooms at the mall or at a truck stop. I am talking about the bathrooms at my place of work… a white collar company where people are assumed to hold an above average IQ and where you might mistakenly assume people understood basic decency for their fellow man.

Now obviously I can’t speak for what women do in their bathrooms, but it cannot possibly be as repulsive as what some men do in ours. I kid you not…I have walked into many a stall to find the previous occupant was obviously too busy to flush when he left.

Really? Your day is so action packed you don’t have the three seconds it takes to hit the lever and/or push the button? Even if there are sensors do people not bother to check to be sure they actually work before leaving?

I have also seen times where there is a small pile of wadded up toilet paper sitting next to the toilet. Now granted I’m not about to inspect it to determine what is hiding within the toilet paper itself, but I have to assume it isn’t pretty. The best case scenario plays out as if someone was blowing their nose while on the toilet and couldn’t manage the physics of how to toss the paper into the toilet while seated, but the alternative is even more disgusting.

Is it really possible to “miss” depositing the toilet paper into the toilet? Ok, perhaps I could understand this if someone was three years old….but as far as I know everyone working here is at least 18 so you might think they have had enough practice to understand how the process works.

We also have the guys who are a tad too shy to use a urinal and thus they decide it is best to pee in the stall instead. Now let me state for the record that I have no problem with anyone who isn’t comfortable with taking a leak while standing next to another guy… I think there is a little bit of reluctance in us all, so using the stall is an acceptable option, but is it really that difficult to NOT piss all over the seat?

All I’m asking for is to open up the lid before starting. Heck they don’t even have to use their hands if that creeps them out….just use the foot to raise the seat before dropping the pants….it really shouldn’t be that hard. But in the real world this is obviously too much work, so before someone else can use that particular stall they need to wipe the seat down and clear all the “residue” off of it. If there is a lower point in the work day I have yet to find it, but I can promise you any amount of cleanup required is far better than not bothering and realizing your mistake after you sit down. Not a pleasant thought really.

Then we have the guy who thinks it makes sense to do his dishes in the very sink that is less than 18 inches away from a urinal…..a urinal which is currently in use by the way. Ok – I get it that you ate lasagna for lunch and you don’t want to leave your Rubbermaid container laying around all day where it will build up a special kind of funk by 5:00pm, but do you really need to wash the dishes in the bathroom sink? Might the sink in the cafeteria be a better option perhaps?

I wish I could say that is the worst of it, but frankly it isn’t even close. All men know there is a certain “code” that comes into play in the bathroom – and this code includes such rules as which urinal to use when one of them is currently occupied, the banning of small talk while in the middle of your activity, and even the prohibiting of “questionable” noise while certain bodily functions are occurring. Even with such rules in place, I can honestly say I have witnessed each and every one of them broken countless times.

Where is the self-respect from the guy who is making so much noise in his stall that you are actually embarrassed to be in the same bathroom as him for fear someone might see you walk out and mistake you for him? Where is the common sense from the moron who thinks it is ok to call his girlfriend on his cell-phone while standing in front of the urinal? Where is the pride from the guy who walks out of the stall past three or four other men only to exit the bathroom with not even so much as a quick rinse of his hands at the sink?

Then we have the guys who obviously are incapable of tossing their paper towels in the trash or the guys who have yet to figure out how to keep the water in the sink instead of all over the counter. I’m not exaggerating here….in most of the bathrooms in my workplace, you will find the counter is covered in water about 80% of the time – it is even to the point that you need to be careful to not lean up against it or you will end up with wet pants that make you look like you didn’t quite make it to the restroom in time.

At this point I’m pretty sure if you took a poll of the senior executives at major corporations across the nation you might find that one of their favorite perks isn’t the luxury box seats at the local stadium, the free membership to the country club, or the use of the company jet for personal vacations. No, I’m quite sure one of the most beloved perks is the key to the executive washroom…..because at least in theory it will be the cleanest restroom in the place with the lowest amount of ignorance let through the door.

I guess this is just one of those things that really harms my image of my fellow human being. If we are so incapable of the basic traits that separate us from the other animals on the planet we might as well just be chucking our own feces at one another while beating on our chests.
I haven’t quite seen that yet…..but at this point I’m not sure it would even shock me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ordering Coffee... More Difficult Than Organic Chemistry?

Why in the name of all that is holy do I need to know “starbuckesse” to order a friggin’ coffee? If I want to order a coffee, I’ll order a damn coffee. I shouldn’t have to explain if I want cream, half and half, 1% milk, 2% milk, soy milk, organic milk, heavy whipping cream, or milk from a motherless goat rescued from the North side of a mountain somewhere in Chile. If I want cream then I’ll ask for cream. If you have some white liquid and it isn’t Elmer’s glue… chances are it will suffice.

I shouldn’t need to ask the person behind the counter to define what their sizes are. Don’t call it short, tall, grande or venti, because those names don’t even relate to one another. Short is short, but tall is actually smaller and shorter than grande or venti. Does that even make sense? No – it doesn’t make sense and it was a rhetorical question so if you were answering it in your head you’re not only a moron, but you missing the whole point. Just give me the option of small, medium, or large. If you tell me the large is really grande and venti is technically the equivalent of an extra large, I might pull you by the collar and dump my venti over the back of your skinny little neck.

I don’t need to call it a mocha caramel breve espresso whateverthehell with cinnamon sprinkles and I don’t need the person making it to call themselves an idiotic name like barista when in reality they are just a coffee jockey. If I do happen to actually get the right order, I shouldn’t have the person who handed it to me look as if they will be upset if I refuse to drop a dollar into their tip jar considering my entire order from start to finish took all of a whopping 50 seconds to make.

I tip at sit-down restaurants because the wait staff is actually serving me and devoting more than two minutes to my experience. I don’t tip at Burger King just because the cashier was fast and actually took the time to verify I was in fact getting onion rings instead of fries and therefore I’m not about to tip the person who poured me a coffee just because they made a little heart in the foam that I didn’t actually even ask for in the first place.

Above all else, I don’t need to read or comprehend Italian when the coffee itself comes from Columbia via a company headquartered in Seattle and employing people from Iowa, and I sure as hell don’t need to pay $6.75 for the damn thing only to find it tastes suspiciously like the opened can of Folgers that has been sitting in my cupboard for the last six months.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

24 hour?

Why do people use the phrase "24 hour timeframe"? Have you ever stopped to think about that exact statement and how it doesn't even make sense? A single hour is singular, so I could see saying a "one hour timeframe", but since there is more than one hour in 24 hours, shouldn't it technically be along the lines of a "24 hours timeframe"?

Of course this phenomenon isn't just with 24 hours. If you are explaining that the drive to visit your grandmother takes four hours, you would generally say "we are going to be taking a four hour car ride" instead of "we are going to be taking a four hours car ride". The second version may be technically correct, but the first one just seems to sound better.

Same holds true with other measurements of time as well. If you were going out to eat on a Saturday evening and the hostess told you there would be a wait time before you could be seated, I can promise you she would tell you that there is a "20 minute wait" instead of a "20 minutes wait", unless of course if she said "the wait time will be approximately 20 minutes", as I'm sure she wouldn't say "the wait time will be approximately 20 minute".

I equate this to the type of thing we hear and repeat without ever taking a few seconds to actually think about what we are saying. It is somewhat like when a person refers to the "Geneva Convention" when in reality what they mean to say is "Geneva Conventions". That might not have so much to do with English as it does with History however, so perhaps that isn't even the same issue.

What really boggles the mind however is how it seems to vary depending upon the specific terms used to describe the time. If you are taking about 30 seconds, you might say "there will be a 30 second delay" or "I only have 30 seconds before my alarm goes off" or "One half of a minute is 30 seconds", or even "we need a 30 second time interval between groups". You see - there is zero consistency here. Sometimes it is singular, other times it is plural and yet we automatically assume one is correct and the other incorrect depending upon context and context alone.

Sort of makes me wonder if the CBS news program shown on Sunday nights should be called "60 Minute" instead of "60 Minutes", but I suppose there is some special rule for trademarked names just like "50 Cent" should really be "50 Cents". I suppose discussing the half dollar rapper might have been more entertaining, but since when did rappers care about proper English?
In any case, I wonder if I'll ever be driving by a cafe at a late hour where I'll see a sign flickering in the window which says "Open 24 hour". Honestly it is a distinct possibility, but only because the "s" is burnt out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fat People and Elevators

It is the modern-day version of the chicken and the egg theory, and it has bothered me for years. I first started contemplating the phenomenon during my time working in a high-rise building. Well ok – maybe the building was only seven stories, but in a city where a two story home is considered to be “tall” and where an old 202 foot tall grain elevator was actually the tallest building in the entire state prior to it’s demolition, seven stories was about as close to a high-rise as I was going to get.

In any case, I had an office on the first floor and had to interact with people located throughout the building, which required quite a few elevator rides. Due to the number of people using elevators, I found it to be faster and less of a hassle to use the stairs in many cases, and if I was going to the second, third, or fourth floors it was almost always faster to take the stairs instead of the elevator. As an added bonus I got a bit of exercise on the way, and that is rarely a bad thing.

The interesting facet of this story is that the cafeteria / break room for the entire facility was located on the second floor, so considering it was only one story up one might think a lot of people would choose the stairs instead of waiting for the lone elevator to carry them up – but if you thought that, you would be wrong.

Not only did people willingly wait several minutes for the elevator to carry them a whopping 12 feet skyward, but they would actually do the same for the return trip back down. So add up one trip each way for two breaks and a lunch and you have quite a bit of waiting. Add another trip up and down to the skywalk which connects to the parking ramp and then another trip up and down in the skywalk elevator to reach the floor where employees would park, and you have even more downtime.

A conservative estimate suggested to me that these people are spending at least ten minutes a day waiting for the elevator assuming they only use it the three times they take breaks and/or eat lunch or for the trip in and out in the morning which requires two separate elevators. For the average person that works out to be 50 minutes per week which if they were to work every week of the year would be a staggering 2,600 minutes or around 43 hours a year!

Keep in mind this estimate is assuming an average wait time of one minute per trip, and I can tell you from experience the average wait time in that particular building was well beyond a minute. Can you imagine waiting 43 hours a year just for an elevator? To make matters worse, there were employees that would travel between floors quite often for various meetings or as part of their daily jobs, so they are probably spending another 10 minutes a day staring a stainless steel door wondering when it might open.

Now compare that to those who chose to take the stairs and you will soon realize where I’m going with this. Obviously those who take the stairs are more active, but aside from that they aren’t spending 43 frigging hours a year standing there pressing a little button because they are too damn lazy to climb one flight of steps.

So, as months passed and I continued to observe the flock of people standing in front of the elevator on my way to the stairs, I started to notice a disturbing trend. In my unscientific observations, it appeared the vast majority of these people were significantly overweight. I’m not talking about 10 or 15 extra pounds here – I’m talking about 30, 50, maybe even 80 pounds over and above what is considered to be average.

So eventually this all got me thinking. Why are these people so heavy, and what is the common link? Have they always been heavy? Is it a lifestyle common to people who work that type of job? Is there something in the water? It just didn’t make sense, and that is what led me to my conundrum.

Are people fat because they ride elevators – or do people ride elevators because they are fat?

I just don’t know how to answer this one. On one hand I can see how the 5’5”, 270 pound woman is going to ride an elevator because huffing it up a flight of stairs might cause the oil coursing through her veins to coagulate and result in cardiac arrest. However, it really makes me wonder how many of her extra pounds are a direct result of lifestyle choices such as riding an elevator instead of taking the stairs.

Combine such choices with an overall lack of exercise beyond the energy required to pull the handle on the recliner after watching Sex in the City reruns, being the type of person who always finishes her plate, the constant supply of soft drinks and the extra Snickers bar or two and you’ll soon see it doesn’t take a wise man to figure out why someone like this is fat.

On the other hand, who can really say if the elevator is really part of the cause? What if someone just got heavy due to other lifestyle choices or genetics etc, and due to their weight their legs and knees simply couldn’t handle going up and down stairs. Now this person is forced to ride an elevator as a result of being heavy – and riding the elevator simply compounds the issue to result in even more weight gain.

Now I fully realize some people will suggest I’m being insensitive and that not all fat/overweight/heavy/obese people are fat/overweight/heavy/obese from simply overeating or a lack of exercise, and I’ll actually agree that is probably the case in about .0004% of the cases in America, but let’s all be realistic here. The average fatty isn’t shopping at Lane Bryant or the Big and Tall store because of genetics unless you consider the fact they were born with elbows that allowed them to shovel massive quantities of calories into their mouths throughout the day a genetic issue.

Beyond that, there really is only one reason why obese people are obese, and it comes down to how much they eat. Yes there are differences in metabolism, and yes some people are predisposed to be heavy versus others who are predisposed to be thin, but at the end of the day if the 325lb man with a abdominal panus the size of a small child would simply step away from the buffet and eat three sensible meals consisting of no more than 1500 calories per 24 hour period, there is no doubt in the world that he would lose weight. Heck the guy could probably eat 2500 calories a day and still lose weight – and that is sort of my point.

Face it – eating less is exactly why the lap-band and stomach stapling procedures work so well. They don’t change the metabolism of a person, they don’t change anything on a genetic level, they don’t even change anything in the brain – but they change how much a person can eat and they force those who undergo the procedure to eat small meals instead of cramming themselves full each and every time they put a plate in front of them. In short they simply force a person to have a little self-control.

Therefore, my little anti-obesity rant aside, this still doesn’t provide an answer to my question. I know human nature dictates that people will often take the easy way out. I fully realize that nobody looks at an extra piece of cheesecake as if it could be the difference between them actually being able to walk to their car without getting winded or having to request a handicapped parking pass, and I understand that the average person is never going to look at an elevator as “cheating” themselves out of good health. All of that being said, it no longer surprises me when I see a gaggle of fatties standing by an elevator in a two story building while everyone else takes the steps.

I’m just sayin’…

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

James Dyson Sucks

I will never understand why people are so emotionally attached to their vacuum cleaners. In years past it was Kirby, Rainbow, Oreck, Phantom (more about them later) or Electrolux, and now it is Dyson. Another five or ten years from now there will be a new "high end" vacuum being sold to the masses, and rest assured the same people bragging about their $550 Dyson's will be bragging about whatever replaces it.

The fact is, if you filter out the biased "reviews" and the opinions of those who feel the need to justify spending $500 or more on a vacuum cleaner, you cannot find one single independent review which shows Dyson to be superior to any other vacuum out there.

Sure James Dyson makes some neat commercials, and sure his marketing campaign is only rivaled by Bose or Apple, but the simple truth is much of his marketing is based upon lies. For instance, look at his commercials about the Dyson Ball where he states there is a problem with all vacuums because they have four stationary wheels which prevent them from doing anything other than moving in a straight line. I ask you - have you EVER seen a vacuum with four wheels like the little "car" that Dyson uses as his example? Better yet, have you ever seen a vacuum cleaner with wheels attached to a solid axle that prevents the wheels from turning independently of one another?

No you haven’t - because vacuums most commonly have two wheels in the back and one beater bar in the front. They aren't difficult to steer and don't force the user to only move in a straight line like Dyson claims. Besides, if having wheels is such a bad thing, why does Dyson still make vacuums that use them (the DC07 and DC14 for example)? Only one of his models uses the "ball" design, so clearly it isn't all that innovative.

As to other lies Dyson uses, he claims other vacuums require replacement filters and belts and his online marketing team (who use anonymous opinions from "Dyson owners" on blogs and forums) will give you examples of what filters and belts will cost you over the life of a vacuum while showing how cheap a Dyson is over the long haul.

However, anyone who has ever owned a bagless vacuum with filters will tell you that most often you can simply clean the filters, give them a quick rinse in the sink and let them dry....there is no need to buy new filters every month or two like Dyson suggests. I myself own a vacuum with filters, and it is six years old and I am just now thinking about buying a new filter due to the fact I know any filter (if properly designed) will catch particals that cannot be seen by the human eye, yet my vacuum still works as well as it did the day I bought it.

As to the belts, I'll admit that is a design flaw in most vacuums, but the belt does serve a purpose. If you suck up a rug or get a lamp cord stuck, the belt will slip and save the vacuum motor from damage. Although it is nice that Dyson uses a clutch design instead of a belt, the costs for a replacement belt in most vacuums is minimal and most often belts only need to be replaced every few years for a total cost of $3 or 4.

James Dyson himself even lies when speaking about how he developed the cyclone in his vacuum cleaner. Dyson claims he worked on his vacuum for five years and went through 5,127 prototypes before finding one that worked. However simple math tells us that suggests Dyson would need to develop 2.8 prototypes every single day for the entire five year period! Clearly Mr. Dyson either does not understand the definition of a true prototype, or he quite simply isn’t very good at math.

As to longevity, if you spend more than ten minutes researching Dyson's online you will hear countless people who have had problems with them. You will also note that you can buy refurbished Dysons at dozens of different websites at any given time (just type if "refurbished Dyson" in Google and you will be presented with a number of choices).

So I ask - if Dyson vacuums are so great and so reliable, why are there thousands of refurbished Dyson's available for sale at any given moment? I never see piles of Hoovers or Kenmores or Eurekas or even Dirt Devils....but I always see Dysons. That fact alone tells me quite a bit about the quality of the product, and it appears clear that Dyson vacuum cleaners are no more reliable than many other brands.

Remember that clutch I spoke of earlier? If the Dyson clutch breaks, the repair cost will be far in excess of what someone would spend for years and years of belts, and this happens more often than Dyson would like to admit. Many Dyson owners report a “clicking” sound they soon find that their beater bar isn’t functioning which can require an entire new clutch assembly. The cost for the parts alone can run $50 or more, and that doesn’t include labor to replace it. Sort of puts those $3 belts in perspective now doesn’t it?

Of course I should note that when Dyson claims his vacuum doesn’t require replacement belts, what he really means is they don’t require belts assuming the thing never breaks. The fact is, Dyson vacuums do use belts, but they aren’t what we would typically consider “user replaceable”. There are actually two belts used for the clutch and although they might last longer than user replaceable belts on other vacuums due to the clutch design, they will eventually need to be replaced, and it likely will require a vacuum cleaner repair person to do so since the process is much more complex than a belt change on a traditional vacuum. This is yet another example of James Dyson being dishonest about his product.

The fact is, people are buying into the marketing, and the product itself is merely a gimmick. Tests have shown they don't vacuum any better than any other vacuum and tests have shown their exhaust to be fairly dirty when compared to other models, thus the "cyclonic technology" isn't all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, the exhaust on a Dyson doesn’t even meet the standards for HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air). Dyson gets around this by claiming they have a HEPA filter and although the filter itself might meet HEPA standards when tested outside of the vacuum, the vacuum itself does not.

Remember that Phantom vacuum I discussed earlier? Well as it turns out, until the year 2000 Dyson licensed their vacuum technology to Phantom, which in turn produced vacuums that were essentially identical to what Dyson has released since. So when someone tells you a Dyson is the greatest vacuum ever – ask them why they most likely never thought the same about the old Phantom (or even heard of Phantom for that matter). It all comes down to marketing.

So what about performance? You will often hear Dyson owners brag about how full their canisters are when they vacuum, but these people fail to take into account two very important points. First the cyclone design of the Dyson doesn’t “pack” the dirt into the canister. This means that it may look like a lot of debris in the canister when compared to other vacuums, but the density is much less, so in reality it can be very misleading.

Second, the automatic adjustment design of the Dyson can actually force the beater bar down into the carpeting more than other vacuum designs. This may result in excessive wear on the carpeting and thus the canister is actually being filled with carpet fiber rather than dirt. Ask a Dyson owner to show you their full canister and judge for yourself.

I know people are always quick to defend their purchases especially when they are expensive, so it is difficult to judge a product based upon user satisfaction, but if anyone is considering a Dyson I highly recommend they test one for themselves before committing to buy. If nothing else be sure the store you purchase from has a money-back guarantee so you can return it if and when you determine it to be just another vacuum at twice the price.

I've used several different Dyson's myself as I have friends and coworkers who have tried to convince me, but at the end of the day I haven't found them to be any more powerful than a Hoover or Kenmore costing 1/3rd the price.

When buying or testing any vacuum it is important to not fall for the old salesperson trick of vacuuming the same room with your old vacuum followed by the “new and superior” Dyson. This test has been used by vacuum cleaner salespeople for years and although it may look impressive to see the canister on a Dyson fill up after you have just vacuumed that same piece of carpet, this test is very misleading.

In fact, this test relies upon a few very important facts. It assumes the carpet has been in the home for several years, so the chances of ground in dirt are much higher. Second, it assumes the older vacuum hasn’t been cleaned out and that the dirt bin and/or bag is partially full as well as the beater bar being wrapped up with hair, string, or whatever else has been sucked up in the years of use (which can all contribute to reduce the effectiveness of the suction). Of course it goes without saying that a new ‘out-of-the-box’ vacuum cleaner will almost always perform well because it is brand new and hasn’t had the opportunity to have hair or carpet fibers clog the intake hoses or brushes. Third, the person performing the test will often vacuum the carpet at a 90 degree angle to the original vacuuming, because this has a greater chance of lifting dirt that was trapped between carpet fibers (which is why if you really want to do a good job of vacuuming your home, you will vacuum one direction and then turn 90 degrees and vacuum the entire room again).

If a salesperson or Dyson owner suggests this test, be sure to level the playing field by emptying the bag or canister of the “old” vacuum and cleaning the brushes and intake hoses before starting. Once the Dyson has had a chance to vacuum the area and they have shown you how much dirt and dust your “old” vacuum has missed, go over the area yet again with the old vacuum. In the vast majority of the cases you will find that old vacuum was able to pick up even more dirt and dust that the shiny new Dyson missed.

You could repeat this test going between the two vacuums several times and chances are you will continue to pull up more dirt each and every time. Unfortunately even the best vacuum cleaner on the market can’t get every single particle of dirt, and each pass of the vacuum is likely to remove just a bit more fiber from the carpet due to the beater bar ‘scrubbing’ against it, so this is not all that unique.

What is important to note is what is in each bin or bag. It is not sufficient to simply compare them visually because (as mentioned earlier) the Dyson bin might not be packed to the same density. For this reason, the contents of the bins and bags need to be emptied onto newspaper or paper towels and compared side by side as they would do in a lab. Ideally you would weigh each pile but that isn’t realistic for home testing, so just use a pencil or your fingers to pull apart the piles and determine the density and contents.

Obviously the goal of the test is to determine what is in each pile. Dust and dirt are good, but once again if you see a lot of carpet fiber in the Dyson bin this could be telling you that the beater bar is too aggressive and it is shortening the lifespan of the carpeting.

The bottom line is people need to be wise in their purchasing decisions and they can’t just fall for the salesperson gimmicks. Nobody should care if their vacuum cleaner can lift a bowling ball because we don’t use our vacuum cleaners to lift bowling balls, and nobody should care if their vacuum can suck up a quart of oatmeal that has been dropped onto the surface of the carpeting because any vacuum can suck up surface dirt. People need to be objective and nonbiased so they can make the right decision with their purchasing dollar.

If you remove the marketing hype and really compare apples to apples, I’m convinced that Dyson is to vacuum cleaners as Bose is to speakers. This probably explains why in all the years Consumer Reports has been testing vacuum cleaners, Dyson has never been at the top of the list. In fact, in the latest head to head comparison as of this writing, an $80 Hoover scored higher than any Dyson on the list with the Hoover being ranked 3rd and the Dyson being ranked 13th! (The winner was another Hoover while second place went to a Kenmore – both which cost about half of any Dyson).

To add insult to injury, the Dyson ranks lower for performance on carpet (where 95% of vacuuming is done). Had it not been for the fact Dyson scored well on bare floors they would be even farther down the list. This is probably why Consumer Reports even ran a special article talking about the Dyson hype a few years ago, and why they have never rated them as a Consumer Reports Best Buy.

A lot of Dyson supporters claim Consumer Reports is biased, but the fact is they perform independent scientific testing and compare vacuums against one another, so there is little possibility for human bias. They don’t accept advertising from any of the vacuum cleaner manufacturers and therefore there is no motive for them to be dishonest about their findings.

The simple truth is there is a sucker born every minute, and apparently they are all buying Dysons.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Definition of Irony

Have you ever been reading a book and came across the phrase “this page intentionally left blank”? What is with that? It is not only blatantly dishonest, but quite frankly a complete waste of paper as well.

If the page is supposed to be blank, then leave it blank. Don’t tell me it is supposed to be blank by printing on the page – which then means the page is no longer blank. I mean honestly, what purpose does this serve? This is the type of thing that starts black holes.

I honestly have to wonder where this practice started. I imagine in the past years ago when someone wanted to leave a page blank that is exactly what they did, but then somebody, somewhere, for some reason decided they had to call the author or the publisher or the printer and find out why their particular copy of the book was missing a page.

I guess the lack of a page number in the lower corner wasn’t enough clue that the page isn’t supposed to have anything on it, and this person had nothing better to do that complain about a missing page that really isn’t missing, but is this entire concept due to one person complaining? If not, is there really a benefit to printing “this page intentionally left blank” in the first place? Is there a huge problem with people complaining about missing pages – so much so that book publishers now have to deal with the problem by printing this text on an otherwise clean page?

How about a new phrase that actually makes sense – something like “pay no attention to this page as it has nothing to do with the remainder of the book”.

Yea… it might not have the same ring to it, but at least it is honest.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An open letter to the writers, producers, and director of CSI: Miami…

To Whom It May Concern:

At first glance, CSI: Miami seems to follow the pattern of all the CSI dramas with the inappropriate usage of flashlights in bright daylight, DNA tests taking less than 10 minutes, and solving multiple crimes within a single episode. It also shares the common characteristics of being able to travel back and forth from the crime scene and the respective CSI headquarters numerous times each day without any concern for traffic, the miraculous ability to compel a suspect to confess after three minutes of questioning, and the usage of $60,000 SUVs for government transportation.

However, even with all these similarities between CSI: Miami and the other CSI franchises, the one aspect of CSI: Miami which is most frustrating is not how week after week you allow a such a horrific actor to take center stage – but rather than you think we, the viewing public, actually find this in any way gratifying.

The character Horatio Caine (played by David Caruso) needs to be tweaked so at the very least a single aspect of the character seems realistic. I don’t necessarily care which aspect earns this attention, but I do feel there should be some single facet of his character which could possibly relate to realism in some small way, and as it sits today that simply is not the case.

Everyone knows Caruso is only back on TV because his movie career faded away faster than a piece of cheesecake in front of Rosie O’Donnell, so please don’t pretend he is the saving grace to the show and/or every single episode. You are fooling no one, and 65% of your audience would rather watch Emily Procter any day of the week – even if her acting abilities are only marginally better than Caruso’s.

The fact is, Caruso has never been able to play a tough guy without looking like an imposter. He is not a tough guy, doesn’t look like a tough guy, and shouldn’t act like a tough guy – so don’t put him in tough guy situations every episode and not expect us to laugh. As a matter of fact, with skin that glows whiter than clean hotel sheets, Caruso wouldn’t last 12 minutes in Miami without obtaining a case of malignant melanoma, so please refrain from showing him in the hot Miami sun every other frame of each episode.

Next, perhaps you could show Mr. Caruso in something other than a black suit, because everyone knows black is not the preferred color when the average daily temperature hovers around 85 degrees. Of course, the scene showing Caruso removing and/or replacing his sunglasses in every episode never gets old, nor does the scene of Caruso with his hands on his hips looking in the direction of the suspect, or the victim, or another CSI team member which gets shown at least once if not twice each episode. Creativity can be left to the producers and writers and directors of one of the flavors of Law and Order – because the CSI motto seems to be “if it worked once, it will work again”.

Another thing about Caruso that needs addressing is the thin plot lines that place him in close personal contact with women half his age. C’mon guys – the man is over 50 years old. He has blazing red hair and a face that resembles a 4 day old bulldog – why on earth would a 25 year old goddess want to spend time with this guy? Sure some women might be attracted to a Hollywood actor, but it is doubtful the same would hold true for a Lieutenant with the Miami Crime Lab, which is what Caruso is supposed to be. Then again some women also believe Clay Aiken has talent – so it takes all kinds, but the point is there cannot possibly be more than five women in the greater Miami area which would find this man attractive, and three of them are under clinical observation for psychosis, so have a little respect for the actresses and don’t put them in such a position in the future.

While we are at it – do you think you could go a few weeks in a row with Caruso not shooting somebody? I mean honestly if Lt. Caine was a real cop he would have been handed his walking papers half way through the first season, but to date this guy has been involved in more shootings than the French Army, and unlike the French, he never seems to miss.

I also have to ask what is the deal with Caruso’s neck? Is this man not able to keep his head straight? Does he have some problem with his vertebrae that prevent his head from being held perpendicular to the floor or is it simply written in the script for him to look crooked in every other scene? I swear the man either has his head cocked to one side or he has his hands on his hips – those must be the only two positions Caruso learned in his half day of acting classes he took back in ’88. Perhaps someone should tell Caruso that it isn’t necessary to look like a confused puppy when you are attempting to act like a caring law enforcement officer, but somehow I think the only thing that will prevent it would be to purchase him a neck brace.

Listen - I realize it becomes rather difficult to write crime stories which can be solved in under 60 minutes week after week (or 40 minutes if you subtract commercials), but if you really want to keep the viewer entertained, at least humor us. Make us feel that you actually tried for a change rather than spewing out the same show with different suspects week after week. Either that or start a storyline which involves Calleigh Duquesne in a lesbian affair with one of the lab techs…at least that would make me feel like my Tivo is serving a purpose every week.

Respectfully yours:


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Checkout Line: Part Deux


A woman in her 30’s has some socks and a couple of bags of M&Ms. The young female cashier proceeds to run them across the scanner and ring them up.

Cashier: You total is $5.30… would you like to save 10% today and open a Target account?
Woman: (Holding out cash) No thanks.

Me thinking to myself: Really? Someone rings up a total purchase of $5.30 and you think it is a good time to ask them if they want a credit card? Did the ability to save a whopping 53 cents on this purchase really sound like a strong selling point? Ok – for the family with three shopping carts full of clothes, shoes, and diapers with a grand total of $1100 I can see a Target card being a reasonable idea because they could save $110 on the purchase, but for the woman spending 5 bucks?

As the woman receives her change and takes her items the cashier turns towards me and starts ringing me up.

Cashier: The total is $44.30.

I swipe my debit card, complete the transaction and as I’m handed my bag she pleasantly says to me “Thanks – have a nice day”.

So I’m thinking….I just spent almost five times more than the woman before me yet she didn’t offer me a Target Card and never told me that I could have potentially saved $4.43 on my purchase…..should I be offended?


Customer: I would like a number four with curly fries.
Cashier: (Extremely monotone voice) Would you like the value meal?
Customer: Yes

Me (again thinking to myself): Ok so he just said he wanted a number four with curly fries. The number four is a value meal. The fact he said he wanted curly fries reinforces the idea that he wants a value meal, yet – for some strange reason the cashier still asks if he wants the meal?

Honestly – do people go to Arby’s and try to order by number but not with fries or a drink? If someone wants a regular roast beef sandwich, is it common for them to say “I’d like a number one, but I don’t want the fries or the drink… just the sandwich”.

I don’t think so – if they want a regular roast beef, they will order a regular roast beef. If they want a value meal, they tend to order via number – because a value meal is just that….a meal. And the term “meal” suggests it just might very well be more than just a sandwich!

One thing is for certain. If you ever find yourself questioning your faith in mankind, it is best to avoid all fast food and retail outlets as they will likely make you believe beating your head against a concrete wall is more productive.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Checkout Line

The following are all true experiences I have had at checkout lines. My memory isn’t perfect and therefore I might not recall the conversations verbatim, but for all intents and purposes everything you read here actually happened… believe it or not.

Office Depot:

A male customer in his 30s places a Palm Pilot / Pocket PC (I didn’t see the exact model at the time) on the counter and reaches for his wallet.

Cashier (male): [Examining device] Oh wow have I got a great deal for you man – you can add a 3 year warranty onto this for only like 75 bucks.

Customer: No thanks.

Cashier: Really? – I mean these things are really expensive.

Customer: Well IF it breaks, I’ll just buy a new one. I’m not interested in the warranty.

Cashier: Wow….you must have a lot more money than I do if you are willing to buy a new one every time it breaks.

Me thinking to myself: Yes genius, he is buying a $350 Pocket PC and sporting what appears to be about a $1200 watch while you are a cashier at Office Depot…..I’m pretty sure he does in fact have more money than you do.

Then again suggesting the item the customer is purchasing might actually be prone to breakage probably isn't the best way to instill confidence in the buyer.


Black Friday 2008. There are at least 100 customers in line waiting to checkout with a wait time of about 15 minutes to get to a register. A young male cashier who had an accent and dark skin color which suggested he immigrated from Africa in the last few years is checking out a woman in her mid to upper 40s who had an obvious problem with weight management. The woman has a cart full of various items, but one of them is a vacuum cleaner with a retail price somewhere around $100.

Cashier: I’d like to offer you a protection plan on this item. The total cost is only $19.99 and it covers the vacuum for three full years.

Woman: I’m just not sure…..what does it cover?

Cashier: (Reading verbatim from the very same product documentation the woman is holding in her own hands) The protection plan covers…

Woman: (interrupting) Can I return the protection plan if I don’t need it?

*long uncomfortable silence as the cashier tries to decide if he is on a hidden camera show*

Cashier: I’m not sure….nobody has ever asked if they could return one. Let me check.

At this point – with still over 100 people in line waiting to check out, the cashier walks away from his register and goes to find a manager at the customer service desk. After a period of about two minutes he returns.

Cashier: You have 14 days to decide if you want to keep it. If you change your mind in that period you can return it.

Woman: Ok let me think…..

At this point – both the woman and the cashier as well as the woman’s daughter (which appeared to be in the 13 year old range) stand in complete silence for no less than a full 60 seconds while staring at one another.

I was about three seconds away from blurting out “Go ahead take your time….it is a very important decision and surely the 112 people behind you have nothing better to do today than watch you consider a purchase of an extended warranty on your frigging vacuum cleaner!”, but thankfully after her extended silence she finally said she would take it.

Congratulations Mr. Cashier….you sold a $20 protection plan on a $100 vacuum to a woman with no common sense and a complete disregard for her fellow human being. It is things like this that make me want to slam my head into a brick wall in a vain effort to "dumb me down" to the level where I felt this was normal behavior.

Why do I think this sort of thing plays out at least 25 times a day in Wal-Marts all across the nation?