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Fool's Gold Consumerism

After my recent "poo-poo on Wal-Mart post," it's in the interest of full disclosure that I admit to shopping there and tell you about a recent Wal-Mart purchase. I purchased a hand mixer from Wal-Mart the day after Christmas 2003, December 26. For our wedding in July, Rachel and I registered for a nice mixer. But with seven months to go, I was mixer-less. Thus, my goal was to find the cheapest mixer possible.

Low Price Gold Mine
The local Wal-Mart Supercenter carries more product models than you can shake a flimsy, $0.84 made-in-China stick at. When it came to sub-$10 hand mixers, I had two choices:

  • The $3.24 eco-friendly model resembled this
  • The $4.88 no-brand "Made in China" electric 5-speed model... dubbed simply, HMR12-2.

Of course, I bought the HMR12-2.

Except for Wal-Mart itself and some antique stores, a hand-powered egg beater can't even be had for that price. In fact, even a single beater can cost over twice as much!

I searched unsuccessfully for Wal-Mart's HMR12-2 hand mixer on Google and the company website. The receipt went in the trash long ago, so I can't prove the price, but trust me, it really was $4.88. The closest I found was this 125 watt 6-speed for $7.99. The HMR12-2 has a 100 watt motor and no cord storage.

Fool's Gold
At $4.88, my mixer was designed to mix the batter for one cheesecake (recipe) and burn out. It didn't even last that long, though. Per the recipe, it beat the cream cheese till fluffy, beat in the sweetened condensed milk until smooth, and nearly finished adding the melted chocolate chips when the cheap motor gave out. I mixed in the eggs and vanilla by hand.

The American Monster
The American consumer economy is a ravenous beast. It must feed. Those capitalizing on the consumer economy use subtle tricks to exacerbate the feeding frenzy ever higher. Two examples of consumerism follow. They are presented as analogies to American dietary excesses.

  • Cruise Vacation Consumerism
    The automotive industry wants to take you on a cruise vacation. On a cruise ship, the food is rich and filling, and it's everywhere. So you keep eating, even though you're not hungry. When the cruise is over, you have no idea how long it'll take to shed those extra pounds.

    Foreign competition forced the automobile industry to produce higher quality, longer-lasting vehicles. Demand for new cars and trucks decreased; manufacturers were punished for giving customers what they wanted. Solution? Lease programs! You can't help but admire how auto companies manage seemingly opposite marketing strategies. When you buy a new vehicle, the dealer guides your selection on quality, reliability and features. "It's built to last," they say in so many words. BUT in an instant, the dealer does a 180 and tries to sell you on a lease contract. The implication is subtle: "You really don't want to drive this old bucket of bolts longer than 3 years, do you?" And if you decide to buy, anyway, in 6-12 months they mail a steady stream of new car offers. Sure, your car is perfectly adequate, but don't you deserve the status of driving a new car?

  • Chinese Buffet Consumerism
    Wal-Mart has also capitalized on our "use and toss" culture, but from a different angle. Wal-Mart uses the "Chinese Buffet" strategy: "all you can consume" at a low price, but you'll be hungry again in a couple hours. Marketers abandon the quality play when the game is price. For $4.88, I wanted the mixer to last until July; after that, I would have tossed it, anyway. As it is, I don't use a mixer that often; thus, the mixer managed to last four months until the day before Easter. I probably won't require mixing services during the next three months, and if I do, the eco-friendly model will suffice.

I was weak! I played into the hands of the consumerism I so detest! Might as well be heroin. And there's a greater danger at play... read about it here (or here until Yahoo expires the article, if you don't want to register with latimes.com), here, and here.

The Fudge Truffle Cheesecake (recipe) was excellent, by the way. Despite my chocoholic appetite, even I had to take a break after a few bites. Note - the recipes calls for a chocolate cookie crumb crust. If you use a ready-bake crust from the store, you'll have extra filling. I used a ready-bake crust, thinking that's what the recipe called for, and poured the extra batter into a springform pan and baked for an hour under the main cheesecake to protect it from the oven heating elements (also used a water bath). The extra batter was overcooked, but steam from the water bath prevented cracking... it turned out to be a delicious flourless chocolate cake instead of a cheesecake - ah-ha, I always wondered how those were made! Use this recipe for the crumb crust if you prefer to use a springform pan and avoid the extra batter.

:: Bryan Travis :: 04/11/2004 @ 09:12 :: [link] ::

April Fool's Week

My 11 month project, a new sales commission system for our sales force replacing the older mainframe system, launched this week. The application's web front-end has 25 screens. Thirty-five Informatica workflows handle the back-end batch processing. The old system measured 4 incentive metrics; the new system measures 11, which is how, despite a powerful ETL tool like Informatica, the system requires such a complex batch process and took nearly a year from scope to implementation. This was a smooth project, thanks in large part to an excellent development team. They'll be a tough act to follow - I wish all my projects had teams that talented.

April Fool's Day was Thursday. I returned from lunch to find an envelope on my keyboard. A piece of paper was inside with the words "Help Me!" written on the back and centered in the envelope's panel. A cryptic message, "Clue #1," was typed on the front. Weird, I thought.

On Friday morning I came to work and began my morning coffee brewing ritual... except my personal coffee maker had gone missing. Aha, now the cryptic letter made sense: a clue to find the first piece of my coffee maker. I was the thick-headed target of an April Fool's joke. Each piece of the coffee maker included another clue to find the next. After rumaging through the desk drawers of one co-worker for the maker itself, behind the PC of a second for the carafe, and the corners of a third co-worker's office for the filter holder, the final clue led me to my own office for the box of cone filters. Oh, and I forgot to mention one small detail: the culprit drew sorority-esque designs in pastel paint pens. Like, gag me with a fistful of wet coffee grounds, already! That bottle of acetone nail polish remover prominently displayed in the common area Thursday afternoon should have tipped me off.

The poor management trainee in the office next to mine received the brunt of my retaliation, although she was only a collaborator. The real culprit skipped off to D.C. Calling on my NT registry hacking days, I connected to her PC with the remote registry editor and had some fun. When she logs into her PC, the login banner says "Abandon all hope ye who login here" (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\LegalNoticeCaption and LegalNoticeText), all the system events were assigned various .wav files in that most annoying Windows Jungle scheme (HKEY_USERS\[user-SID]\AppEvents\Schemes\Apps\.Default), her windows background is the Blair Witch Project logo (HKEY_USERS\[user-SID]\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper), and the screensaver was changed to Marquee with some cryptic haiku about coffee and computers (HKEY_USERS\[user-SID]\Control Panel\Desktop\Wallpaper and HKEY_USERS\[user-SID]\Control Panel\Screen Saver.Marquee\Text).

Next week the paint pen wielding perpetrator gets it when she returns from Washington.

:: Bryan Travis :: 04/05/2004 @ 01:22 :: [link] ::