Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cynical Marketing

We live in an age of cynical marketing and I don't like it. I don't like it at all.

I define cynical marketing as when an advertiser preys on the uninformed, the ignorant or the easily swayed.

A classic example is putting the phrase "Digital Ready" on speakers, headphones or earbuds. Sound, as perceived by the human ear, is analog. It's the relative difference between waves of air pressure. Speakers generate analog sound - it's how they work. Speakers do not know what the original source of the sound is, they just take electrons coming on from wires, generate a magnetic field and use that field to move a cone of paper or similar material which moves air to generate sound. All analog. It doesn't matter if the source of sound is a human singing into a microphone, a string vibrating, a synthesizer, a CD, a vinyl record, or computer's MIDI output, all signals feed into an analog amplifier, which connects to an analog speaker. So there is no reason to put "Digital Ready" on a speaker's packaging unless you want someone to purchase your product instead of an identical product that doesn't state it. You may even charge a little more. Cynical.

I received two examples of cynical marketing recently. One was from Xcel Energy, my electric utility, which I still call - and always will - NSP. They are marketing their appliance warranty service, which is a worthy service as far as I can tell. On their flyer, the second sentence states "Prevent unnecessary liquidation of your assets if one of your appliances breaks down." Liquidation of your assets? Liquidation is a term most commonly used when describing bankruptcy, so NSP describing the consequences of an appliance breakdown in terms of some people's worst fear. What they really mean is that you may have to write out a budget-busting check but they are saying it in a way to generate enough fear to get some people to buy. And when you buy using fear as a criteria, you aren't making rational decisions and that is what they want. See? Cynical. Legal, morally grey, but 100% cynical.

The other mailer I received was from Becker Furniture World. I've never shopped there or even know where it is. This one included a scratch-off card. You scratch off an area to determine whether you get 40%, 45% or 50% off a limited time shopping spree. Imagine my surprise when my card showed 50% off! I got news for you - all the cards said 50% off. The furniture store is trying to find people who aren't smart enough to realize that an unsolicited mailer is always going to give you the highest discount, and to snare people who play scratch-off games, who, by definition, aren't well versed in math. That's right, the store wants customers who aren't smart enough to realize that everyone is getting the same discount and that the prices are probably double what the competition lists. Legal, kinda-sorta ethical, but 100% cynical.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The UnZen of Motorcycle Maintenance

My Goldwing is on the disabled list with a coolant leak. It's not too bad - the coolant doesn't leak to the ground and the level hasn't dropped appreciably, but I can smell it after driving even the shortest of distances. I can see evidence of the leak in the form of some dried up coolant residue on the left side rear of the engine, but I can't see the offending hose or fitting or what have you.

I just tried to remove enough of the fairing to get at the leak but pulling off all that plastic is pretty complicated and after doing the easy part, I realized it's time to pay for a professional to do the rest. I'll run over to the dealer in Hopkins tomorrow to set up an appointment.

And today would be a perfect day (78°, sunny, calm) to go riding with no particular place to go. Alas.

Digital TV Changeover

I wonder how many people need to replace Panasonic digital TVs today. I ask because I have one and it almost got thrown out the window yesterday. I'll bet I wasn't the only one.

On the day of the digital TV changeover, three Twin Cities stations changed their underlying frequencies, so I had dead air on those channels. A rescan of channels was called for.

The rescan added the channels that moved but didn't delete the old ones, illustrated by scrolling up the dial and having an extra blank screen in between the functioning channels. After half an hour I was able to delete the ghosts for channels 45 and 9, but channel 5 and its secondary channel were being stubbborn. During the following hour and a half, much frustration ensued.

Now, I'm a gadget geek, have a degree in Computer Science and I read the manual carefully (despite my guy reflexes not to). If I can't figure out something like how to add and delete a channel on a Panasonic TV, then something's wrong with the design.

Long story short, I had to reset all the settings for the TV in order to clear out the old channels. Here's the stupid part. In order to reset, you have to create a PIN. Security for selecting the language, the antenna in and channel settings? Are you kidding? So anyone reading this, presumably just friends and family, the next time you're at my house (and why haven't you visited recently?) and want to reset my TV, the PIN is 0000. Be my guest.

New Computer

My new computer is up and running. For the technogeeks out there, here are the specs:

Athlon 64 dual-core processor
Four gigabytes RAM
Two one-terrabyte hard drives set up as RAID mirrors

It took a little arguing to get the drives set up as RAID. Here is a summary of the instructions: Load operating system. Use Windows to make a boot disc for the RAID drivers. Use the driver disc when prompted while loading the operating system.

Waitaminute. Fully load the OS, create a disc, use that disc to load the OS? I think the manual was written by a guy named Mobius.

Since I want to migrate all my programs and data from my old machine to the new, it would be real handy to set them up as a home network. Handy, maybe, but not possible. I spent four hours the other night trying to make it happen but they won't speak. Oddly, the new one can see the old one but when I click on it, it says the server is unavailable. I gave up and bought a new flash drive. I still have to load from the old then plug in to the new but having a 16 gig flash drive is like using a dump truck for yard work instead of a wheel barrow. I won't need to make many trips.

Moving Music is Going to Hurt

iTunes isn't designed to move music to a new computer intact. It has a back-up to disc function, but it only recognizes CD and DVD drives. Since I pulled the DVD drive from the old computer to use in the new one, the only way to off-load the data would be to CD. It would take at least 50 CDs and probably an entire day to execute. Nope, I decided to just move the music files and reinstall. Gone will be the play counts and notes in the files (notes as in "Cool Song," not "Do-Re-Mi") but there are worse things that could happen.

As you've seen in a previous post, my playlists are generally random in nature so play counts are fairly similar based on how long the song has been in the collection. The first song officially loaded, "When Doves Cry" by Prince, went in on December 4, 2003, and has been played 12 times. In contrast, I reloaded "FM" by Steely Dan on December 4, 2008, and it has a play count of 2.

I sometimes listen to albums and special play lists or just individual songs for which I have a yen, so some songs wrack up a higher play count than their randomly heard cousins. Here are my top three:

3) Kay Hanley - Mean Streak (Do You Miss Me, Too?) -- 41 plays
Loaded March 15, 2008. Yes, it's that good of a song.

2) Debbie Gibson - Only in My Dreams -- 46 plays
Loaded March 14, 2004

1) Jim Capaldi - That's Love -- 53 plays
Loaded December 5, 2003. I didn't like this song when it came out while I was in college. I obviously misjudged it then.

Now that all my songs will be starting out with a play count of zero, I'll try to remember to post the play counts from the new computer a year from now. It's anyone's guess who'll be at the top of the list.

Do NOT Eat Your Fruits and Vegitables

I made a quick run to the grocery store this morning. My list included the usual - bananas, grapes, a couple types of apples. Hearing my parents' voice in my head that there is all kinds of goodness in the produce section, I made an impulsive purchase of some fairly attractive nectarines.

At checkout, I was punished for my impulsiveness. My three nectarines added up to 0.98 lbs. At $1.49 a pound, they should have run me $1.46. Instead, they were rung up as olives - olives! - at $7.99 a pound. The charge was $7.83. A careless checker added $6.37 to my grovery bill this morning. I don't claim to be an expert but olives and nectarines don't seem to be very similar.

There are a number of lessens one could take away from this. Yes, I could have watched closely as the checker rang up my items (unlikely). I could have reviewed my receipt on the spot (I hate it when people do that). No, the lessen here is that you can't get ripped off buying unfamiliar fruits if you don't buy any to begin with.

In summary, if you're buying produce at Rainbow on 6th Ave North in Plymouth, keep a skeptical eye on your checker, and most importantly, don't eat your fruits and vegitables!