lovehate: The "i" meets the "mart"

I've never been an Apple fanboy. Sure I kinda liked my Shuffle and I really like my Nano for allowing me to take video podcasts on the go. I do covet the iPod Touch and will probably pick one up within the next couple of weeks. And seeing that it mildly bothers me that iPhones are going to be sold at Walmart, I can only imagine what the Mac fanboys (and girls) must be thinking. Their world of brick-designed polished aluminum and stylized high end merchandise is going to be hocked under the "Have a Nice Day" octogenarian greeters of the uberdiscount leviathan.

Quite simply, Apple has made their continued mark on not only being ahead of the curve in terms of product design, but also on a "cool" factor that created a perceived higher class of gadget and computer buyers. Apple had a group of dedicated apostles willing to pay twice as much for hardware and the same price for music... even while it was held ransom through DRM!

The marriage of the "Holy Grail" product of the "i" prefix with the bargain basement of the "mart" suffix will drive Apple to common highway instead of the toll roads. The first time the acolytes of the Cult of Jobs see an iPhone on sale for 144.44 with the "Always" placard next to it, their hearts will die a little inside.

It's not that I don't understand the marketing angle and the potential cash to be made, but will I ever be able to take the Mac/PC ads in the same vein again? When I think of Justin Long now, will I envision Warren Cheswick in a blue apron making minimum wage?

Okay, look... I know that other Apple products have been available at Walmart for years and the shine hasn't come off the devotees. But along with the Walmart news comes the rumor that iTunes is going DRM-free. After years in the clouds, Apple is coming down to earth. What remains to be seen is if Apple can catch the even larger market of people who would never pay a premium for gadgets. Let's face it, consumers can get cell phones these days for next to nothing and pay as they go. Will bringing the iPhone into suburbia convince the $47.77, no contract buyer to spend $200 with a three year commitment? I'm guessing this is what Apple is banking on.

Maybe the "elite" market is getting tapped out in this economy. Maybe the days of techies paying $3000 for a Macbook that parallels the processing abilities of a $1000 PC laptop. I don't believe Apple is hurting by any means, but I do think they are hedging their bets. My only remaining question is do they have another landmark product on the horizon. We've been seeing a regular pattern over the last few years of Apple rolling out new models of devices that basically do the same thing - kind of like the auto industry... though I don't think an iBailout's in the works.

Is there a future for another portable media device/phone in Apple's future, or is it just model tweaks for the next five years? I have no doubt there is something up the sleeves of the development teams in Cupertino, but the last time there was something completely unknown that was rumored as different and "groundbreaking" Michael Kamen's was pimping It/Ginger - ultimately the Segway. And while the Segway was cool, it certainly wasn't the revolutionary product it was cracked up to be.

The proprietary has met the ordinary. The MOMA has met the dormroom poster sale. The Ferrari's available at Budget Rent-a-car. The "i" has met the "mart"... and the late adopters will carry their new AT&T contract in a plastic basket with a package of Twizzlers, a sweater made in China, and an impulse-buy horoscope scroll.


lovehate: a childhood in cereal form


I've always been a sucker for nostalgia. Never has any period in time so inspired me to reveries of childhood bliss as thinking back on 70s Saturday mornings. I spent my formative years engrossed by the idiot box to become a pre-pubescent afficionado of cartoons. From Bugs Bunny to Hong Kong Phooey to the Superfriends to the Flintstones and the Jetsons to Scooby Doo, the Laff-a-lympics and Yogi Bear and Roger Ramjet for good measure, there was never a cartoon that didn't fit into a Saturday morning. And there was never a morning that wasn't supplemented by cereal. From as early an age as I can remember, cereal WAS breakfast. But that's to be expected when I woke up an hour before everyone else in the house to catch the last five minutes of the pre-dawn Agriculture USA before pouring some milk and watching Bugs Bunny and Friends.

And while there were different cereals that represent different times in my life, the constant droning of the cereal company jingles and mascots turned me into a veritable jukebox of commercial hits. The Post family had its big three of course: Alpha Bits, Honey Comb and Sugar Crisp. The wizard, the Honeycomb Kid and Sugar Bear peering out from those primary-colored triumvirate of blue, red and yellow boxes almost daring you not to pour a second bowl. Sure they were sugar-laden, but hell, the Honeycomb Kid had just run Big Zeke out of town "when he kinda missed his horse on the way down and he never did make his get away 'cause the Honeycomb Kid saved the day." That was from memory folks and while I'm not proud about it, I am not unrepentant in my nostalgic haze. I remember years of Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles commercials that teased this young Canadian boy, but alas they were not be found (at that time) north of the border. Post did run into a logic wall in the mind of this 8 year old with Grape Nuts... I still haven't figured that one out.

And while Post relied on its big three, Kellogg's stepped it up a notch. They were the kings of the cereal mascot game. Forget about Marvel and DC comic superheroes, I had Tusk the Elephant, Toucan Sam, Tony the Tiger, Snap, Crackle and Pop, and Dig'em the Frog. Sure, trying to secure one of these cereals was a bit of a harder task as the sugar level shot up... well, not so much for Rice Krispies, but that could be resolved by a generous spoonful of the white stuff that often left the remnant milk at the bottom of the bowl resemble more of a tooth-cringing sludge than anything else - but damn tasty! I remember the Kellogg's line-up most of all from their Snack Pack selections that would often accompany the family on camping trips. The challenge of perforating the mini box along the line and then peeling back the wax paper so that one could pour milk right into the box and eat out of the cardboard coffin was so satisfying. There was always a race between me and my sister to see who could leave other with the 40% Bran at the end of the weekend. Bran's not kid friendly at the best of times much less on a camping trip with a creepy outhouse 100 yards away.

But the sugar content of Kellogg's and their merry mascots were doomed when placed up against the monsters of General Mills. And I do mean monsters quite literally. The monster cereals were the Holy Grail of sugar delivery breakfast foods. Not only were there crispy colored bits made up of mostly sugar, but they were laced with tiny marshmallows that Mills called "marbits" that were made of 100% food-colored, densely-packed sugary goodness. These so-called "marbits" would only even soften up after being saturated in milk for three and a half weeks under a heat lamp - unfortunately, I didn't have time for that so I crunched away. The monster posse was led by one Count Chocula with his Luca Brasi-like strong arm Frankenberry backing him up while the deadly trio of Boo Berry, Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy mopped up. I had to put together a pretty cogent argument as a 7 year old to convince mom to buy one of the monster cereals. She would try to pitch me on one of the boring Mills cereals like Wheaties or Cheerios. Usually, after a tough negotiation, we ended up at Cocoa Puffs or Trix's silly Rabbit. On a better day I may get Lucky Charms with its own "marbits" of pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars and green clovers. Yes, I was a bit disappointed when they added Blue Diamond to the mix, but I was willing to forgive. And while I was past the point of caring when Purple Horseshoe was introduced, I'd felt they'd already jumped the shark.

The Quaker family was infrequent at the table due to the tasty, yet deadly, temptations of the Cap'n Crunch line which tempted young children with its sweet and, admittedly, crunchy goodness. Many was the time that a youngster would mercilessly lacerate the top of his mouth when reaching in for a handful of Cap'n, Choco, Cinnamon, Peanut Butter, Punch or Vanilly Crunch cereals. You can't accuse Quaker of not riding a good thing to death. Hell, I didn't mention Crunchberries in that list.

As I was sidling out the era of way-to-early Saturday mornings the Chex brand of cereals took the whole game too far. Sure, we'd been lulled to sleep by the Chex brands for years. What sugar-loving kid ever wanted Corn, Wheat, or Rice Chex. In 1977, things took a turn with the end of innocence for cereal lovers everywhere. Oh, we didn't realize it at the time, but Chex dropped a nuke on children with Cookie Crisp. Every kid wanted Cookie Crisp. Shit, they were mini chocolate chip cookies for christ's sake! But there was the rub. While you could, with best efforts and earnestness, try to convince your mother that any cereal, no matter how sugar-laden, was just cereal and still a viable breakfast option, Cookie Crisp blew that template off the map. There was no way she was going to buy me cookies for breakfast. Hell, decades later I would never buy myself Cookie Crisp for breakfast, but at the time, it was kiddie crack. They even pitched it with freaky Santa Claus-looking wizard named Cookie Jarvis... Cookie Jarvis... what kind of mascot name is Jarvis? It sounds like the creepy guy down the street that everyone thinks molests kids. But he was the pusher. 

I don't know if it was because my mother read the ingredients of Cookie Crisp and figured out that same crap that was in there was also in every other cereal I'd ever wanted and, by logical inference, if I wanted Cookie Crisp (which was bad), all other like cereals must be bad. From that year forward came the age of Shreddies, Muffets and Harvest Crunch. Don't get me wrong. I grew to have a great respect for the cereal of my burgeoning youth. I started to actually look forward to the 237 seconds it took for every Shreddie in a bowl to turn to mush. I found solace in the artificial sweetener that I carefully dispensed from the paper packet in circular precision over my bird's nest Muffet. I even learned, after several weeks, that a correct portion of Harvest Crunch is not the normal bowlful of other cereals - and that my jaw would hurt for the rest of the day if I over-indulged. I did not know, at the time, that my childhood was running away from me like so much mottled milky sugar remnants, upturned in the kitchen sink of life, waiting for the hot water to baptize the bowl anew.

And from that point on, cereal was dead to me.

Fuck you Jarvis.

lovehate: Finding Your Inner Geek (Part Two - Tools)

While I endeavored, in Part One of Finding Your Inner Geek, to show how geek culture is just as applicable to fishing as it is to computer or internet technology. The argument stands that any knowledge of the microcosm of a topic pushes one ever-further toward a level of geekdom. The relevant medium used to explore that relationship with fishing was print periodicals that refined from the generic to the hyper-specific Euro-published Carp Web.

The standard seemingly set by any geek culture is dancing on the fine line between the zen-like esoterica revolving around the people, places and things and the unbridled acquisition of stuff. As one moves up the chain from Hobbyist to Ubergeek, the winnowing of things occurs as knowledge and expertise fills the need for experimentation. But there are people who know how to exploit the Threshold Geeks and Geeks who's prime motivation to buy everything about everything within their field.

And so go the trade shows/conventions/conferences that, with much hype and grandeur, promote products like they've found a cure for cancer. Perhaps nowhere, outside of computer or gaming technology, do products get pumped out with minor tweaks and no real differentiated functions that those of tools.

Everyone knows the tool geek. Whether it's you, your father, mother, sister, brother, someone in your life owns several redundant pieces of hardware (actual hardware, not a 5-bay tower) that do exactly the same thing.

To prove this to you, I offer up the following questions:

1) Do you know someone who owns more that one hammer or drill?
2) Do you know someone who owns more than one set of router bits?
3) Do you know someone who has a collection of tool aprons with various logos?
4) Do you know someone who wears a "Black & Decker" or "Ryobi" hat or shirt?
5) Do you know someone who goes shopping at Home Depot "just to look"?

Like any geek continuum, names beget opinions and opinions beget arguments and purchases beget bikini-clad women in calendars holding power tools with conspicuously-placed innuendos in quotation marks that include words like drill, pound, hammer, screw that inspire clever quips like "grinder, I don't even know'er", or "sander, no that's okay I like'em rough". In fact, porn geeks and tool geeks could probably speak exactly the same language and mean completely different things. When talking about a Ridgid Clipped Head Nailer with consistent driving power, adjustable depth of drive, and rear exhaust, who would've thought one could be discussing the menu options at Paris Hilton's new bordello instead of an item in a Home Depot catalogue.

While Nascar followers are total realm of geekdom in themselves, there is a Venn crossover with people who cheer for the cars with their tool brand emblazoned on the side. When your girl can draw the Dewalt and Makita logos before the age of four and your boy knows Milwaukee as a Hole-Hawg drill instead of a city, when your spouse's best friend Stanley is a worn tape measure, when the only glasses and mugs you have in the kitchen cupboard have Bosch etched on them and were won as a door prize at a stag and doe or golf tournament, you have a tool geek in your house.

And all of this proves only one thing: that the person you stereotypically think is biggest redneck you know might also be the biggest geek you know. Does someone in your family know more about one topic than you know about computers or the web? Can your partner name 200 kitchen utensils and prizes a collection of melon ballers - ball'er I don't even... nevermind. Can your grandmother talk intelligently about 20 different kinds of needlepoint? Do you know ANYONE that scrapbooks, because trust me, I guarantee you, there is no such thing a hobbyist scrapbooker; they are either a full-blown scrapbook ubergeek or they've given it up.

Find your inner geek and point out the inner geek in others, then go fishing.

tool orgy

lovehate: Targeted Web Ads

Now I know that with a lovehate topic like web advertising someone is going to expect paragraphs about pop-ups, but really, with the browser technology available today does every really need to see a pop up again? I don't remember the last time I saw a pop up for a poker site or porn but it wasn't too long ago that my desktop would be beseiged by them. I will say that almost as annoying as pop-up ads are the banner or sidebar ads that make noise. Try scrolling through the torrent compiler with a smiley banner droning out a constant "Hello?" or a sidebar ad that crackles with a plasma energy burst that sounds like the electric pulses from the Commodore 64's Impossible Mission.

Now that Google is perfecting its "Blog Search" technology, the site can, on a week by week basis, navigate the meme streets and provide the Adsense matrix engine fodder to figure out which ads to show me and when, privacy advocates will start to squirm, and surfers will seek out proxy servers, and the truly paranoid will shut off every cookie and manually fill out form fields every visit back to a site. But what's the real problem here? I've consigned myself to the fact that I'm not going to be able to exist on the web without advertising of some sort. That said, 99% of ads have become wallpaper to me.

So I ask myself, do I really care that Google or any other company is compiling data about me to better target advertising to my browser? And the answer is yes, I do care, but not for the reasons you might think.

I care because I remember the layers of porn popups upon visiting warez sites and ads that were simply reaching for a clickthrough by sheer numbers. I care because I once had to sacrificially frag a Bonzi Buddy in effigy to keep myself sane. I care because I would rather see an unobtrusive column of a few links and text that maybe, once out ten thousand times, should I choose to click it, will actually be about something that I may have a fleeting interest in instead of some peripheral perception of static cunieform.

Let ads line me up in crosshairs. Show me something from a tech store or a blogging service or a social networking site instead of some banal cartoonish test of skill that I'm supposed to strive for in a sidebar. Show me something about Guinness or Jack Daniels instead of St. Pauli's and Bacardi. Pitch me an HDTV or a torrent app instead of an instant messenger add-on that will allow me to send sparkly smileys. Try to tempt me with a some consumer electronics or gadgets instead of mutual funds or insurance. I'd rather at least hold up the facade that at least somewhere in a server wearhouse The Gibson is parsing an algorithm to learn something about me instead of just sitting there cranking out spam into a billion killfiles.

Make no mistake, if I could choose between surfing the web with or without ads, I'd definitely forgo banners and pop-ups and sidebars - oh my! But if I have to live with web ads, I'll take the enemy I know over the enemy I don't.


lovehate: The Gates of Seinfeld

The hordes of yea and naysayers hurling their two-bits in about the latest Gates/Seinfeld Microsoft ads have, if nothing else, provided more coverage for the OS giant than almost anything in recent years. And the fact that it may be half good and half bad is at least half better than most of coverage during that time.

It's curious that media critics seem to realize the ads are no different than most other huge companies but... more on that later.

It's the so-called tech experts and bloggers that seem to have the most analysis invested into the most detailed minutae of these spots. On "This Week in Tech" last week, gdgt's Ryan Block performed a deconstruction on the first ad that made the entire spot into an allegory about the "common man's" experience in an Apple Store. On this week's TWiT, John C. Dvorak wondered why the hell Microsoft wasn't "selling" something with such an expensive campaign. Today CNET is reporting that critics are abuzz over the fact that the third installment of the ads will NOT feature Jerry and Bill and, as such, this constitutes a surrender to the bad press and a radical shift in the campaign. Of course further in the article it is revealed that Microsoft actually announced this shift last week and that the dynamic duo would return.

All of this proves one thing: no one is talking about "how bad Vista is" anymore.

Let's get back to how these ads are no different than any other mega-sized company. When was the last time you saw a Nike ad that talked about the new sole design technology or comfortable insoles or crazy grommit technology advancements for the laces. My usual Nike experience is watching someone running in slow-motion while an intended inpsiration passage in read in the background by a famous athlete while a slow string pad crescendos in the background. When was the last time you saw a Coke or Pepsi commercial that talked about the drinks themselves and not just about "wanting to buy the world a Coke" or being "part of the Pepsi Generation". Every McDonald's ad essentially says one thing: "Hey look! We're McDonald's. Try and not be dragged here kicking and screaming by your kids."

Huge brands do not have to sell product, they simply have to sell the brand. The point/counterpoint Apple commercials always have bullet point features that help to explain the great features of Macs because, simply, most people do not have a Mac, most people have not seen a Mac in operation, and most people, if they're going to switch, NEED to be sold on product AND brand but the fact that you will be paying between 30-50% more for an equally-powered system.

A used car lot often has a loudmouth talking a million miles a second trying to explain everything they've got and are selling at lower than everyone else. Commercials from the big automakers show cars whipping around long sweeping mountain curves with techno music pumps up the jam and, if you're lucky, you may get a chromakey blurb or two at the bottom with a logo at the end.

Videogames will often show a bunch of cutscenes strung together with a grandiose synthesized orchestral score. Gatorade will be similar to a Nike commercial with less talking and a lot of orange sweat. How much can you say about potato chips without talking about the thousands of migrant workers that got paid 25% of minimum wage to harvest your Wavy Lay's? How many ads for financial establishments don't include a young or retired couple sitting across from a suit smilling and nodding their heads while words like "easy", "friendly", and "future"?

I'll be the first to admit that these Microsoft ads are clever while not brilliant, and I'm not trying to be an MS Apologist 3.1, but the inner Samuel Beckett in me could not help but revel in the absurdity of the first ad's punchline: "Just wondering, are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cakes so we can just eat them while we are working?" That the agency behind this was brave enough to make it (as every other big company's ads) about nothing, makes me love not the ads themselves, but the mindset that acknowledges the quirky, the bizarre, and the just plain ridiculous still has a place on television. And if anyone spends too much time sitting around WTF'ing their television while these spots are playing, maybe they'll understand when Godot appears.

gates robot