Monday, February 28, 2005

Potpourri 3 The Movie: Spell of the Unknown

Purchasing a Small Quantity of Toilet Paper
Why would anyone ever not buy the absolute largest package of toilet paper available in the store? If you're buying TP, don't you want to get the largest quantity you can? Why would you ever get the Charmin 4-pack? Do you anticipate not needing more than a 4-roll supply? TP doesn't go bad, it doesn't expire. You could fit a two year supply of it under the bathroom sink and still have plenty of room left in there. Why would you ever not buy TP in the biggest bulk you could carry out of the store? I don't get it. I recently lived in San Diego for 4 years and I think I bought toilet paper maybe twice.

The Da Vinci Code
Why is this so popular? What is the fascination? For years, this book has been a nonstop bestseller. I'm not planning on reading it, but I'd welcome an explanation. Many people have told me I *have* to read the Da Vinci Code. Oh my God, you have to read the Da Vinci Code! I don't want to be mean here, but have you ever known people that if they told you you had to read something, you'd be a little skeptical? I've gotten a lot of that with this book. (btw: I'm starting to think that "The Five People you Meet in Heaven" may also be heading down this road. Be wary of people whose literary judgement you don't entirely trust recommending this one.)

Stock Blurbs
How come, every day of the Iraq war, it was either "Stocks up today on war optimism." or "Stocks down today on war fears." Really, whatever direction the market was going that day they'd just spit out one of those two sentences, regardless of any actual news from Iraq. How does this make any sense? Can you cite war optimism, war pessimism and war optimism again as the driving force behind the market all within the same week?

Questions Asked by Pop Up Ads
"Should Bush have Won?" What kind of an idiotic, insulting question is this? Should Bush have won. Man. Well, if one believes that democracy is a just, fair process - and if one recognizes that Bush did win the popular and electoral college vote... well then yes! I guess he should have won! But wait, is the question really asking "Did Bush deserve his victory?" Ahhhh, a different question. Maybe I was wrong to judge the pop up ad so quickly. But correct me if I'm wrong, don't we already have an extremely accurate, nationwide comprehensive survey that addresses that very question, namely, the election? If the pop up ad really wants to get a sense of popular opinion on Bush's worthiness, do you think maybe the pop up ad should consult the official election results?

How about "Which one is Marge Simpson?" Ooooh I hate you pop up ad. Have you ever deliberately answered one of these questions wrong to see if the pop up ad has anything prepared for a wrong answer? Sometimes they don't, especially when a free DVD player or something is being offered for the correct answer. If you select Chief Wiggum the pop up ad goes through a bizarre hiccup and then returns back to the question.

I'd really like to see firsthand the person who squeals with delight when they see this pop up ad. The person who says "Wait a minute, I know Marge Simpson! I think I can win this thing!" I'm sure they're out there.

I think I'd like to buy a web ad to display on a random website, and the ad would say "If this banner is flashing, you've won!" and the banner wouldn't be flashing. And then if you clicked on it, you'd just get taken to a page reminding you that you didn't win, as the banner you clicked had not been flashing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Planned Community Street Names

I think I may be having a rare change of heart. I use to be an enthusiastic supporter of these monolithic, ginormous cookie cutter planned residential communities. The kind that dot my suburban southwestern landscape like so many prarie freckles. People may poo-poo them for the bland sense of conformity, the lack of flavor and imagination, the artificiality. But I like to think that I saw past all that. These communities are convenient. They're centrally planned. They're kid-friendly. They have round the clock maintenance staffs (staves?) They have tennis courts. Homeless don't even try to set up shop. And usually, there's a monthly community newsletter - complete with a crossword puzzle that is delightfully non-taxing.

I've lived in a few of these places now. Very few complaints. But just a few weeks ago I had a bit of a rude awakening. I was driving out to a friend's house in a different part of town. As I exited the boulevard and entered the well-manicured driveway of the residential community, I picked up my handwritten directions. Left on... Redwood Ash... Redwood Ash... not Crimson Clover... not Elk Lake.... okay Redwood Ash. Now a right on Pine Glen..... hmm, not Sprucedale.... not Jade Cliffs.... not Sleepy River....

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the truth hit me. "Wait a minute! This is all bullshit!"

Elk Lake? There is no lake, and there are no elk! Jade Cliffs? Wrong and no! Pine Oaks Bluff? There is no scenic bluff! There is no oak! And my friends.... there ain't no pine!

(FYI, this is Las Vegas valley we're talking about. It's nothing but parched, level, featureless desert scrub)

If a street is called Emerald Vista, does a person have a right to expect that somewhere in the vicinity there might actually be an emerald vista? If yes (and that's my position), doesn't that mean that streets with names like Emerald Vista should be relatively rare, seeing as how naturally occuring emerald vistas are somewhat hard to find?

And if you have three consecutive streets with the names "Cedar Forest", "Summit Point" and "Sea Palms", doesn't that put the lie to the whole idea that the street is named after some kind of organic natural feature?

I mean, let's be honest here. There are some ground rules that go into naming streets. You can name your street after a person - that's always a good choice. I live close to Jimmy Durante blvd and that's fine by me. Back east you could always use some local Indian word. Or hey, just make one up. Tuscalanat, maybe. Or Scatiteegwa. Out here it's even easier; you got "mesa", you've got "verde", you've got "paseo" - throw in a few caminos and you've got yourself a street.

But if you're going to go the time honored route of picking some feature out of the environment and naming the street after it, then by God, don't lie to me.

Because now I see what's going on. I never knew it before my little epiphany the other day, but now I know. These street signs are ADVERTISEMENTS. They are a marketing tool! They don't just exist as a handy navigational aid, as they have for hundreds of years. No, they're doing much more. They're saying "Hey chump, wouldn't you like to live here... on Balsam Creek? ... We know you know there isn't a creek, and that there isn't any balsam wood for hundreds of miles in any direction, and yet... Balsam Creek! Yeah! You know what I'm talking about!"

The fake-0 street names exist solely so that someone will be marginally more tempted to purchase property. How f'd up is this?

Sometimes, as all greedy deceitful marketers do, the street namers accidentally tip their hand.
Every street name I've mentioned so far is an actual, confirmed street name from the particular community I visited that weekend in Summerlin, NV. But here are a few more that caught my eye:

Winter Teal - Shouldn't this be part of a description for a v-neck sweater? How is it a street name?

Knox Gold - Yep. Knox is actually an adjective. Bet you never knew that. You probably thought it was a noun. Specifically, the name of a guy from the revolutionary war for whom Fort Knox was named. No, it's an adjective. It means "a goldish, gold-like color".

Prime View - Here they just gave up. They couldn't be bothered to withdraw one more stupid name from the endless reserves in their asses and so they just put the selling point directly in the street name. They could just abandon the facade now and name all the streets "Perfect for Kids" or "Pets Welcome" or "Sunday move-ins must be approved".

So I think I've now realized the folly of my support for the giant soulless residential planned communities. From now on I'll treat them with the same suspicion and distrust I have for everything else.

Okay, one more: Hawk Bay

Cause you know how the hawks like to hang around sea level.

(Update: 10:50 pm - Well okay, I guess the seahawk does. Point taken.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More Potpourri!

Let me try to make the case against camping as succinctly as possible. Imagine that you go to the zoo one day. You have a great ol' time. You see the primates, the reptiles, you even catch the 3:00 dolphin show. A fine day. Then, when the zoo closes, you don't leave. You stick around. For dinner you can have any snacks or drinks that you brought with you. If you need to go to the bathroom you go behind a bush. Then, at night, you find the most comfortable bench you can (probably next to the 25-cent petting-zoo food machine) and try to get some shut eye.

And as you're lying there, unsuccessfully trying to sleep on the wooden bench, you think "I had a great time today. Primates, reptiles... dolphin show. Good stuff. But, here's a question... why am I sleeping on a bench?"

Who Wants to be a Millionaire
The $100-$1000 questions. Is this not a complete waste of time? "According to the classic rhyme, Mary had a little... what? A. Goose.... B. Dog...." Wouldn't we all just rather watch color bars and listen to the Emergency Broadcast System's high-pitched tone for those two or three minutes?

Why do contestants always, ALWAYS use "ask the audience" as their first lifeline? This is your gimme! This is your sure thing! It's your ace in the hole! Why are you wasting it on the $2000 question? Wouldn't it be better to ask your friend the $2000 question? He ain't gunna know the $64,000 one, that's for sure.

Certain people can quickly identify an Avril Lavigne song from a sample lyric, and certain people know the atomic weight of sodium, but nobody knows both. Why does Millionaire require this impossible dual-knowledge from its contestants? Don't contestants on a trivia show have a right to presume that the knowledge they will be tested on is, at some level, knowledge worth having? Isn't is a cheap shot to ask someone who just correctly identified the poet Shelley to name the main bouncer on Jerry Springer? How could he possibly know?

The Uselessness of French
From 5th to 11th grade I had seven compulsory years of French. Why? What was the point? I never use this knowledge. Every day a little more of it slips away. I realize for much of the world, becoming a polyglot is an absolute necessity. But not here. And even if you want to make the case that learning another language is good exercise for the brain, why French? Wouldn't Spanish have been more directly useful? Wouldn't Chinese have opened up more of the world? Imagine if all of that class time had been used to teach, say, candle making. Imagine the great candles I could be making right and left, with total ease, after 7 years of grueling study.

The Apprentice
They're doing it again. They're taking a hot TV show, one that with proper care and nourishment could be a cash cow for decades, and they're running it into the ground through overexposure and oversaturation. See exhibit A: Survivor, exhibit B: Queer Eye, and hey, exhibit C: Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Nobody seems to want to acknowledge that the only reason Survivor became a megahit was because it originally aired in summer - a time with no other network primetime original programming. It had no competition. It was airing against reruns of sitcoms. It was the only game in town. It spawned the current reality TV revolution. Everyone thinks reality is a brilliant idea. It's an okay idea. Airing original programming in the summer is the brilliant idea.

And Millionaire. It had monster ratings for a while, spawned a lineup of imitators, and then died. People were expected to watch a whole hour of this show every single weekday. How long did they think they could pull that off? Isn't it fair to say that with a little moderation, they could have milked that phenominon for years and years? If they had made it, maybe, a twice-a-week show?

Now look at Apprentice. It's an honest to goodness hit, despite that it's not really that good. If this show had one series per year, it would run forever with stellar ratings. But that's not good enough, is it? Apprentice 2 ended and Apprentice 3 began immediately. No break. Apprentice 4 is feverishly in the works (the student body at my school were invited to audition just a few weeks ago). You realize what's going to happen. People are going to tire of this show and then it's going to die. Then there won't be any more Apprentice. Don't the people who make the show realize this?