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.