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More Than Meets the Eye

Commercializing. Advertising. Merchandising. Marketing. All the consumerism I've been exposed to has made me irrationally despise anything under the marketing umbrella. I only listen to public radio. At first I did it to escape the yelling announcers in the 20 minutes of commercials every hour, but I came to love public radio for what it was - intelligent broadcasting. I found NPR on my own. My parents never listened to it, and at the time none of my friends talked about it.

Let's face it, peer pressure is potent stuff. When those around us tout something, we're much more likely to embrace it, even if it's something we would have ignored otherwise. Take baseball, for instance. Growing up, I never took an interest in any sport until around the age of 13, when I was swept into the baseball card craze. It didn't take long to come to my senses, but countless evenings in the spring, summer, and fall of 1989 were pissed away watching grapefruit-size balls zip around a stadium. Too young to drink beer at the time, I barely held out through the World Series, uneventful (except for the earthquake) as the Athletics won all four games. I've only watched a few games since.

Yes, I know, this is a terrible weblog post, but I insist it's this bad because I'm drinking an equally terrible beer, Ommegang Abbey Ale. Maybe I'm missing something, because Beer Advocate users rave and rate it well. It's a rather expensive beer, so perhaps the reviewers talk themselves into giving it a thumbs up to avoid feeling like chumps after spending $9 on a 6-pack. The last time I did battle with this stuff, I drank 3 bottles on a Saturday night and spent Sunday avoiding bright light and dry heaving until 4 in the afternoon. That killed any pride I might have had, so I have no problem admitting my chumpdom and telling you, dear readers, this beer is horrific and foul. Remember that I'm an avid Guinness lover, so if Guinness is too much for you, you shouldn't go near this stuff. The only redeeming quality is the 8.5% alcohol content, competing with wine for speed of buzz onset if you can stand up to the piercing headache after the fourth sip.

I will not be led astray by bad beer - back to advertising. What you've just read is a perfect example of what I'd like more of - truth in advertising. Don't invent reasons why I should enjoy your product, and most of all, don't go the way of infomercials and try to convince me your product is the ideal solution for every need.

Take "Snap Hook" as a fine example of the all-purpose tool. Perhaps you remember it. Not only was Snap Hook the answer to the age-old question of where to hang your robe in the bathroom, it was great for carrying around bowling balls if you didn't have a bowling bag. Although it didn't work on drywall, it was perfect for hanging toys in the closet everyone has that's conveniently lined with a non-porous surface such as porcelain. Too bad Snap Hooks weren't around when I was in high school - about 15 of them would have tidied up my eternally messy locker by providing places to hang those extra scraps of paper and graded homework assignments. Hate the clutter of those unsightly pots and pans stowed away in your kitchen cabinets? No problem, stick a few Snap Hooks on your non-porous refrigerator or kitchen tile, and viola!, they're a perfect decorative accent!

Not to be outdone, the "Pancake PRO" was the definitive solution to the question of how to make a perfectly round, golden, fluffy pancake. It's magical "non-stick surface means no more burned, scorched" pancakes. That's right, folks, according to the website, you cannot burn a pancake with the Pancake PRO! And look, the Pancake PRO even makes the perfect omelet! Just pour in the batter, close the lid, and flip! Grilled cheese fan? No problem - it's perfect! It even includes a free recipe book with hundreds of ways to use your Pancake PRO, and throw away all that expensive Calphalon cookware!

Finally, we have the "Egg Wave Microwave Cooker" for those anxiously anticipating an easy, no-mess way to adopt an egg-only diet. Traditional egg preparations - poached, scrambled, sunny-side up - are a snap! Ohmygosh! Imagine the egg salads, tasty omelets, and other egg dishes you can enjoy! But wait - that's not all! Order now and receive an Egg Scrambler, Egg Caddy for proudly transporting your eggs around the kitchen, and recipe guide for more egghead ideas when your creativity wanes! And look! When unexpected company pops in for breakfast, no need to get into an egg frenzy, because you'll receive a BONUS Egg Scrambler!!! Yeaaaaa!

You really have to wonder about the marketing managers and product designers who come up with this stuff. Do they honestly expect droves of consumers to believe the ill-conceived merchandising and buy such products? Apparently so... the "as seen on TV" consumer products industry has been around at least for as long as I can remember, and is going strong. Why, just this morning on the Discovery Science channel, I saw a commercial for the "Pasta Pro." Spaghetti, rotini, chili, macaroni and cheese, corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes and more - you name it.

It pains me to see once proud companies succumb to the same dirty tricks as advertisers on the far end of the cable spectrum. Take candy, for instance:

Caramel Apple Candy Corn

What?!?! Caramel apple candy corn? Wait a minute - candy corn colored and flavored like caramel apples. Think about how ludicrous that is. It doesn't even taste like corn, and barely resembles the shape and color of the kernels. Candy corn looks more like someone's teeth after eating the stuff steadily for 10 years. At the hands of product managers and faced with declining market share against more favored chocolate confections and countless competitors like marshmallow peeps, yet another product attempts to become something it's not.

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/20/2002 @ 14:31 :: [link] ::

Senior Moments

Lately, I've been experiencing an increasing number of senior moments, certainly enough to give me cause for alarm. No joke. If asked to name the most likely hypochrondriacs in their lives, I doubt friends and family would include me in their list. I'm not one to suffer from the malady of the month, but I've toyed with the idea that all these senior moments are a sign something isn't right.

Today's senior moment at work was traumatic enough to tip the scales. I work from two office locations depending on my schedule; my primary desk is an office at a factory, and my secondary desk is a cubicle at the Forum Office Park. Our building at the Forum has an "A" wing and a "B" wing, which is rather dull, if you ask me, but corporate types embrace this sort of sterile simplicity, the kind that arbitrarily labels locations and objects as if they were bullets on an outline, using collections of meaningless names perfectly suited to languid lists: 1, 2, 3, 4. A, B, C, D. I, II, III, IV. You get the idea. At the very least, they could have been called the East and West wings.

Yes, even as I succumb to dementia, I take time out of my final days of lucidity to notice which cardinal directions the opposing sides of the office building are facing. It pays to know your place in the world. Heck, if you want to name a collection using some sort of sequence, fine, but why not spice it up once in a while to keep it interesting, using, for example, names of the elements? Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium, Boron, and Carbon. Nerdy? Perhaps, but at least it's not boring. Street names have tired the idea of naming after tree species, but I suppose grasses and agricultural crops could pass - fescue and turnip work for me. Other ideas I entertained were Us & Them, Black & White, Earth & Air, Pluto & Charon, Major & Minor, Peter & Wolf, Cable & DSL, Incandescent & Fluorescent, Deciduous & Coniferous, Romulus & Remus, Nickel & Dime, Strange & Charmed, Up & Down.

Ah, yes... the joy of weblogging, my old pasttime. How I miss it. Other time-intensive activities such as work, school, and Christmas shopping have robbed me of the pure, simple enjoyment of writing.

But what of my senior moment? Well, it was so traumatic, I only told one person three hours after it happened. I sit in the "B" wing. I was walking from the "A" wing to the "B" wing, when I decided to go to the restroom. As a force of habit, I took the path to the restroom as if I were coming from "B" wing, forgetting I was coming from "A." Once inside, I immediately stopped in my tracks. It took at least 3 seconds for the sense of complete bewilderment to pass as I slowly realized why there were two extra toilet stalls where the urinals should have been. After hastily exiting the women's restroom, I was relieved no one was inside and that no one on the outside had seen me go in.

Am I that stressed? Is there really that much on my mind? Maybe the shorter days and longer hours at work are leaving me depressed. I guess it's fair to say I'm not eating as well as I should be, and that more often than not, I'm not getting a full night's sleep, either. That's about it for the causes of dementia at my age, and all are reversible. Oh... but I forgot the chronic fungal and cryptococcal infections, also reversible. I'm hard-pressed to cite a single case of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's in a 27 year-old.

I found one of these heat guns recently. It's a lot of fun to play with, although my neighbors would probably have a hard time seeing beyond the fire hazard. I've used it to melt and reform candles, toast bread, dry out the cards in my business card holder that accidentally went through the washing machine, and melt zinc just for the hell of it. Speaking of zinc, another fun activity has been attaching two electrodes to the 12-volt battery charger I recently took on a camping trip and sticking them in a solution of warm salt water to form hydrogen and oxygen gas. Sometimes I collect enough hydrogen to fill a test tube or old baby food jar and hold it next to a flame. Other than that, I haven't found much use for it.

The heat gun and hydrolysis experiment reminded me of being a kid. And I realized that I'm not as inquisitive as I used to be. As a kid, I froze grasshoppers in the freezer and revived them. Once I tried collecting maple sap to make syrup. I chiseled a section from a slab of bedrock and tried to make concrete, but was unsuccessful (didn't have a source of quicklime handy) and ended up using the carved bedrock as a race track for my Hot Wheels, instead. I explored the creek across the road, drew a map of my travels, and named the islands. I could even be creative and write mediocre poetry. I peered at the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter through the telescope I made out of PVC pipe.

And now... well. What went wrong?

:: Bryan Travis :: 12/11/2002 @ 22:51 :: [link] ::