thinglets: How The Word "Official" Became Dead to Me

The word "Official" became dead to me today.

In an envelope that came marked "Official Consumer Product Survey of Ontario", in a recycled beige envelope reminiscent of actual government mailings, with an image of the province of Ontario, marked inauspiciously with an official-looking bar code stripe that looks like it wraps from the front to the back, but actually stops as far to the back as on the front. With an official-looking red stamp warning "DO NOT BEND" on the front, and an upper corner greeting from Diane Simon of the Consumer Research Centre, I felt it was almost my civic duty for me to complete anything that might be inside. Surely it was easily as important as the census or an election.

I hastily opened the envelope and was presented with a document that looked like federal tax forms, or voter registration. I started feeling patriotic and considered how special I must be to be one of the #138 people to receive such a request in my local constabulary. Surely I must be a trend setter, an influencer of markets, or, as the Spanish as a Second Language people say: El Grando Consumerino Importanto!

And then, to bastardize a Yeats pearl, "things fell apart."

I took a quick look back at the envelope and discovered it was sent to Main Grocery Shopper. Well, I am the main grocery shopper, so perhaps a proper name wasn't required. I then scanned the bottom of the envelope and found out I could win prizes... prizes... I don't remember my government ever offering me prizes for filling out my taxes. I remember them offering to send me to jail if I didn't do my taxes. Maybe my government was getting nicer? Maybe this was a public works project to help me during this depression. I was somewhat relieved that the envelope and all subsequent survey information was lovingly inscribed by Diane... but perhaps this was just to lull me into a sense of false security.

Upon closer perusal of the "survey" itself, I was prepared to see complicated legislative questions and room for anecdotal commentary on tax reform. Instead, the first bold category that popped up in front of was the inauspicious "LAUNDRY DETERGENT". Scattered over the first few pages of survey were similarly inspiring categories like Adult Nutritional Beverages, Yogurt, Seasonings and Marinades, Shredded Cheeses, Feminine Hygiene. And then I discovered some categories that seemed buried amidst the innocuous like personal medical information: Pain Relievers, Denture Care, Vision Care, Severe Allergies, Snoring, Bedwetting, a long list of check boxes asking about Family Health. In fact almost two full pages of personal medical information requests that further included Diabetes, Athlete's Foot, Multiple Sclerosis, Psoriasis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

The last page included Vehicle Ownership, Insurance, Banking, Mortgages and General Information. 

General Information!?!

You already know what makes up my stool whenever I go to the bathroom and when I'm going to have the bank foreclose on my house. You already can surmise why fills my nightmares and when I'll probably die from congestive heart failure. Your character sketch of me has more detail than the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and you want General Information?

Oh sure, I could elect not to share all of the medical information with your member companies, but then my odds would probably go down to win the $2,500 dollar "Lucky Early Bird" prize or $5,000 Grand Prize which I plan on using to buy all of the awesome product on the survey. I have to. The interior note tells me to "Fill it out NOW - while it's in your hands." The opposite side of this note includes an inspirational quote by Diane Simon: "Please don't throw this survey away! It's really more important than you may realize!"

I soon realized my hands were shaking. Could my brain's protestation win over the patriotism of my heart and soul calling me to do my civic and perhaps legal duty to complete these important document?

Upon scanning the last document in the envelope which included stirring endorsements from C.P of Kensington, PEI, S.F. of Toronto, ON, D.S. of Medicine Hat, AB, and P.J. of Sechelt, BC, I start to wonder who the hell endorses a survey? And I suppose what really made up my mind was when kindly Diane pointed me (via Post Script) to the company's privacy policy. Via the website I read:

Legal Requests: In addition to the disclosure of your personal information noted above, we may use and disclose any information about you to law enforcement, other government officials or other third parties as we in our sole discretion believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose us to legal liability.

We may also disclose such information to third parties as we believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with any merger or consolidation with, or sale of substantially all of our assets or the assets of a line of our business to, a third party, provided that such a third party agrees to comply with the privacy policy that applies to your personal information and that appropriate notices are provided to you.

And so I had the proof I finally needed. If my so-called friend, Diane, was going to send my information to the government - THEY COULDN'T BE THE GOVERNMENT! It was all a ruse. I felt betrayed by Diane and her deceptive attempts at getting my to fork over my innocuous spending habits and serious medical conditions. I don't think I can ever trust the word "official" again - foul temptress.

lovehate: In Defense of a 24 Hour Culture

Oh sure, I don't need a hamburger with a side of onion rings and a soft serve chocolate sundae at four in the morning, but I might WANT them. I might also need a new printer cartridge at 5am to print out a term paper that's due at 9. Perhaps I'd simply like to buy some stamps so that I could send a parcel to a friend in Spain, but need to do it during the "witching hour" because the contents of the package are under a Wiccan curse.

I applaud the fact that some of the businesses in my city are starting to respect the nighthawk and cater to the nighthawk's needs. Before continuing, I'll give credit to the convenience stores which started the tradition a couple of decades ago. Yours was truly the stuff of inspiration. But while your wares have expanded beyond what I thought was originally possible, there are only so many Ultra XL Chalices of Soda I can down in a lifetime. Also, the snack cake/refried beef torpedo conundrum is just too confusing to plan for.

There's one entire chain of supermarkets that's now open 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Of course that's incredibly useful if I'm feeling industrious and would like to actually shop, but often the late night craving is for something where I don't have to get out of the car. Somewhere there has to be a supermarket with a drive-thru that stocks only the essentials. I completely understand that a loudspeaker shout out for a hummus and a rotisserie chicken at 5am isn't going to cut it at a drive-thru window, but surely they can have some pop, chips, milk, and bread on hand so I don't have to by a week-old loaf at the Kwik-E-Mart.

In my 20s there used to be a 24 hour Taco Bell drive-thru near my house... OHHHH! Burritos at Dawn! (strangely enough, once considered by Sergio Leone as a sequel to A Fistful of Dollars). Now McDonalds has taken up the torch around this area, but Mickey D's is the last fast food place I want to consider. C'mon Wendy's, Harvey's, Subway, Dairy Queen! Get off your asses or the Nighthawk Alliance will start a daytime boycott... which is easy because we're not awake.

I've seen those Discovery Channel docs on Japan's crazy vending machine malls, where one can buy ANYTHING out of a vending machine. Why don't we have these places in North America? They'd be easy to staff. But I don't want some cheap-ass version of the Vendomart. I want to be able to buy ANYTHING. New car - check. New laptop - check. Hand-woven Armenian Bathmat - check. Homemade Perogies stuffed with Goat Cheese and Bacon - check. I'll travel to get there too. Just put two in every city and someone will be raking in my cash. They could also be at the hub of local hotels. When I pull into a town at 2am and am reduced to gas station culinary escapades, I get upset.

And that's another thing. Why do I have to look high and low in some towns to find a 24 hour gas station - it's the 21st frakkin' century! Would you rather I went back to a cart and left horseshit all over your streets?

If a casino can stay open 24 hours a day, with video surveillance, adequate staffing and ample well-lit parking, surely I should be able to find somewhere in any major town or city to buy a mosquito coil, a piece of sandpaper and a can of varsol to explore my McGyver-esque fantasies in a children's playground area... wait... maybe I've said too much... I should get home before the sun comes up.

thinglets: Why Blu-Ray Player Prices Aren't Dropping

“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” C.S. Lewis

(The following is not based on ANY proof. It is simply a collection of inferred conclusions from a tenuously logical construct.)

The Premise...

Snakebitten by a generation-old loss in the VCR market when Beta loses out to VHS, Sony vows that they will not lose again in the High Definition DVD war. They are willing to cut ANY and all deals necessary to ensure the success of the format. They set upon contacting major electronics manufacturers and studios to ensure a buy-in to the Blu-Ray format. The resulting cost: selling out on the hope for Playstation 3 marketshare.

Connecting the dots...

Sony (the king of proprieta ry technology) tries to buy the battle against HD-DVD, which the Xbox 360 had already bought into, in the hopes of taking a stab Microsoft. With several Southeast Asian manufacturing powerhouses they open up manufacturing specs for Blu-Ray while assembling the following partners:

Apple Inc.
Dell Inc.
Hitachi, Ltd.
Intel Corporation
LG Electronics (Lucky GoldStar)
Mitsubishi Electric
Panasonic (Matsushita Electric Industrial)
Pioneer Corporation
Royal Philips Electronics
Samsung Electronics
Sharp Corporation
Sony Corporation
Sun Microsystems
TDK Corporation (Tokyo Denki Kagaku)
Thomson SA
20th Century Fox
Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

Missing, of course, from the above list are Microsoft (Sony's only real gaming competitor at the time) and Toshiba, the last supporter of HD-DVD. Presumably Sony believes that by assembling this coalition, it can ensure a win in the HD media war, and, in the long term, put up a real battle against the Xbox 360 for gaming supremacy.

Flies in the Ointment...

Broadband: The ability to download content and get it to a gaming system has saved Microsoft from a higher demand for removable media with greater space. Removable media is seen by many to be dead or dying. The successes of interactive "live" gaming over networks has also shifted the core demand of gaming systems to better network play. Console gaming is becoming network gaming.

Upscaling DVD Players: People are happy with "good enough". Upscaling DVD players have given new "leases on lives" to old DVDs. They're not as good as Blu-Ray, but when you don't have a Blu-Ray, you'll never know it. Also, you don't have to re-buy your entire collection. The lower than anticipated demand for Blu-Ray players and discs further ups the options for upscaling DVD players which every low end player manufacturer pumps out with glee.

Risk of Mass Production Locks Prices: All of the manufacturers in the list above start to worry about taking the plunge. Sony WANTS everyone to take the plunge. If the Blu-Ray component prices go down through increased manufacturing, players will shoot down to $100 and the PS3 can follow to a $200 price point which would threaten the Xbox 360 market share. I honestly think Sony was ready to go there over a year ago and take the loss, but knew that the Blu-Ray coalition would ostracize them. If the PS3 drops to $200, no one else can sell a player for above $100 - EVER! This formidable corporate assembly could kill the Blu-Ray format in six months if they wanted to; Sony takes the hit, instead, by not being able to reduce PS3 prices and losing the gaming war.

Nintendo Wii: Coming out of nowhere, Nintendo reopens the console gaming war to a three ring circus with the Wii (notice how they're not on the list either). Nintendo not only kicks Sony's ass, but kicks the Xbox 360's ass as well: (as of June 30th, 2009 - units sold)
Wii – 102.49 million
Xbox 360 – 33.20 million
PlayStation 3 – 27.73 million

The Oven Timer Rings...

Blu-Ray has largely been a flop from a market share perspective. That's not to knock the technology, but, as with any removable media, technology, it's transitory, and the evolution of networking may render removable media obsolete altogether. And the final, perhaps the most disturbing, death knell to Blu-Ray could be that people really just DON'T CARE about HD for much of their "disposable" content. For the same reason that tens of thousands of people watch pirated film downloads from a shaky camcorder, or watch on their iPhone, is a pretty strong indication that there are a number of people who prefer quantity and free availability to cost and quality.

If Sony and the coalition could afford to make the $100 player, Blu-Ray would evolve and take. Until that happens: stagnancy.

thinglets: Breaking News... Eggs Contain Egg

While I know the litigious-minded proliferation of the western world with regards to out-of-court settlements with big corporations, the fear-mongering has become absurdly ridiculous when on a carton of eggs that contains pictures of eggs and a rendering of a chicken, the company has to list the allergy advice: CONTAINS EGG.

Have we been absorbed so far as consumers into the Sham-Wow death grip that in the future we will need our peanut butter to warn us of peanuts, our orange juice to warn us of oranges and our cucumbers to carry a label that says "contains cucumber"?

I also like the claim of "free range" eggs. It's good to think these eggs were allowed to graze openly on the lush plains well before they were packed. I know that PETA has been advocating for eggs to have a minimum of two weeks on the range before they are packed and subsequently boiled alive and dipped in dye for Easter festivities.

Eggs Contain Egg