The other day at Home Depot I bought my annual copy of Fine Woodworking (Hey, I can dream, can't I?) and found inside a blow-in postcard that proclaimed that this was "The Last In-Book Request Card" sometimes called a "Reader Response Card." You remember those? In the industry they were called "Bingo Cards." For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, an advertiser in a magazine would pay a few dollars extra to be assigned a number on that card for that issue. The ad would be amended to say "Circle number 47 on the reader response card for more information" or shoehorned into the smaller ads as just "Card #82." The cards were called Bingo Cards because they had a large matrix of numbers on one side, one per advertiser. We, the readers, could circle up to about 20 of the numbers that corresponded to the ads we were interested in and mail the card back to the magazine's fulfillment house. We'd then receive further product information or a catalog from the advertiser by return post. I remember as a kid filling these things out from magazines like Popular Electronics. Now it appears that those days are rapidly fading. Now we're directed to each advertiser's website, or to the FineWoodworking.com/Marketplace url. Another form of print advertising thus yields to the immediacy of the web. What will I do with this last card? I'm tempted to circle my maximum allotment of numbers and mail it in as a last hurrah. But instead I'm going try to keep this issue with the card as a memento of days gone by, when we eagerly awaited the postman's rounds bringing us word from the outside world.
The other day the 'check engine' light came on in my car, so I took it in to the Trusted Mechanic who plugged it into his diagnostic computer to 'pull the codes' and decipher what the machine was complaining about. We reminisced about the simpler times when the most complicated instruments in a mechanic's toolbox were the timing light and dwell meter. He got the results from the computer, which was that the gas cap wasn't on tight. I tightened it up, he cleared the errors and the car's been humming happily since. But wait a minute: if the gas cap's not on firmly, the 'check engine' light comes on!?!? On my car the gas cap's at the opposite end of the car from the engine. There was nothing wrong with the engine! How hard would it be to replace the 'check engine' idiot light with a simple 80 character display that would say something helpful like 'tighten up your gas-cap, genius'? A current story says that car buyers are favoring high technology over horsepower in car-buying. If by 'high technology' one means communication in clear English rather than arcane computer codes and idiot lights, count me in.
Merry Christmas Eve, all! I just submitted an idea to the Mythbusters forum, starting with:
There have been several suggestions for Gilligan's Island Myths: mostly about recreating the idiotic contraptions the Professor cooked up. How about the One Big One that he didn't do, namely: Given the contents of a boat similar to the Minnow in the 1960s, and native island materials, is it possible to construct a radio transmitter? Assume the transmitter the ship was provisioned with was totally destroyed.
We'll see if it gets any traction.
God Bless us, every one....
One of our holiday traditions is making Chex Party Mix. As a Christmas present, here's our variation. Start with the original recipe, but tweek as follows:
- Leave out the bagel chips. I know it says 'original recipe' but come on! Any of you remember such a thing as 'bagel chips' back in the '60s?
- Cut back on the wheat Chex to about half what they say. Make up for it with more rice and corn
- Only use about half the mixed nuts, make up for it with pecans. Yum!
I admit it, I'd like an iPhone. But I didn't ask for one for Christmas this year. Why? The speculation is that Apple's exclusive contract with AT&T ends about the end of the year and that Verizon will start offering iPhones maybe as early as January. Cringely points out that Apple will have to come out with a new model of iPhone, to do that since the current iPhone only works on GSM networks and Verizon used CDMA. So the iPhone that will appear at the first of the year will be dual-mode to work with either carrier. iPhone users are notoriously unenthusiastic about AT&T's network. Cringe says that about 10 million of these users will have their AT&T contracts expiring in the first part of next year. How many of these will want to jump to Verizon? 10%? 25%? If only 10% do, that's one million users. But wait! They can't just jump to Verizon. They'll have to buy the new dual-band iPhone to jump. What will they do with their old GSM iPhones? Junk them? Give them away? Sell them? The current 16Gb iPhone4 goes for $600 new. There's 2,215 of them on sale on eBay, going for between $400 and $500 each. What happens when the better part of a million people want to unload their iPhones? My guess is the price on eBay will drop to between $200 and $300. At that point I'll ask Santa to bring me a belated Christmas gift of a nice used iPhone4. Stay tuned. We'll see if it pans out.
I realize I'm in the small minority of people who still get paper bank statements every month. In fact, I'm one of the last six people who still actually balances his checkbook every month with that statement with paper and pencil. So this rant won't have any impact to the vast majority of Quickbooks, Mint or whatever else online money management users. But... The first blank I have to fill out on the balancing form on the back of the statement is "Enter the ending balance on this statement". There's a blank to the right where I'm supposed to write in the closing balance from the other side of the page. Question: why don't they do that for me? I mean the whole thing's done on a laser printer, my account number, the date and page number are on the top of the balance page already. So why don't they just carry the closing balance forward and fill it in for me? I realize I'm looking at the world through web-usability rose-colored glasses, but such issues carry over to physical artifacts as well. What other examples of real-world user interfaces would be different if we applied the same usability standards we do on the web?
I was at Costco the other day and saw raisins advertised as "Now Plumper and Jucier." I thought we used to call them 'grapes'. I also saw "Dried Plums." So what the difference between these and 'prunes?'
The fist job God gave to man in the garden of Eden in Genesis 1:28 was "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it;..." (NASB). Ok, so when do we get to cross this item off our collective to-do list? At what point do we consider the earth 'subdued'? With close to six billion humans, at what point can we say we've officially been fruitful and filled the earth? Shouldn't we be getting close? I say it's time to consider putting a checkmark by this one. What say you?
This week a couple wanted to rent our cabin for a few days this fall. They backed out when they learned that our cabin didn't have broadcast TV. They said they're used to starting and ending their day watching the news. I wanted to write them back and say "I'm sorry you've forgotten what a vacation's all about." A vacation is to take a break from our regular routine and to get away. If one's going to continue their regular routine, why go someplace different? You can continue your routine at home! A vacation is to renew our perspective, to rest, to learn again that the world continues to spin on its axis without our aid. If any of you would like to truly get away, then see our cabin's website and book now. It's DeerViewCabin.com. But no, you won't have Fox News or CNN.
Yesterday I taught a class at Emory's Center for Lifelong Learning, their name for their Continuing Education program these days. A couple of years back, all us instructors had to get 'certified'. Those that taught Adobe or Microsoft products with their certifications, or for us generalists, we had to pass the CTT+ exam. One of the things emphasized was that the instructor should always dress better than the student, creating an air of authority. Thereafter, all male instructors had to wear ties. One thing they don't teach you at the CTT+ exam is that some people are still intimidated by instructors. Chalk it up to authoritarian grade-school teachers, the nuns at parochial school, whatever. I noticed that the more successful instructors created what I'll call an 'Avenue of Approachability" to help this. What do I mean? I mean some bit of informality in the instructor's dress or demeanor that helps put the students at ease. Greg Creech wears color-coordinated Keds sneakers. Richard Roberts encourages students to call him "Doc", as one would one of the seven dwarfs. What did I decide to do? I've adopted wearing a tie, but leaving it slightly loose around the neck, with the collar button unbuttoned, as if I've just loosened up a bit after a more formal engagement. Any other examples or discussion are welcome.
I went to Costco (one of my favorite places) this week. In among the back-to-school items was a big box of ribbons: red, white, sparkley. The box wasn't labeled "Christmas Ribbons" but that's sure how it looked. So.. can we state that the Christmas Shopping Season has officially begun?
One day as I was driving past a suburban strip mall, I did a double-take at a sign that read like: "Smith School of Dance and Martial Arts". Clearly they were trying to appeal to both girls and boys. But what if we were to combine their end-of class recitals? What a great idea to enliven an otherwise tedious ballet? I imagine things like "Ninja Nutcracker", "Samurai Swan Lake", "Capoeira Cinderella" or maybe "Dojo Quixote". It could inspire a movie version of "Kill Bill in the Red Shoes" or such. Hey, ballet and martial arts are both about grace, balance and discipline. Why not?
A while back I saw a sign at a Picadilly Cafeteria proclaiming that Thursday night was Chinese night. My mind started to spin. Sweet and Sour Salisbury Steak? General Tso's Liver and Onions? Sesame Fried Chicken? What other culture clashes might be possible?