Previous “Features” posts

The ‘E’ Stands for “Extremely Lame”

Monday, April 1st, 2019

After updating my iPhone to iOS 12.2, I noticed a change in the status bar:

An iPhone status bar claiming 5Ge
The iPhone’s network indicator has been updated.

Where before my phone would indicate it was on a 4G LTE network, I’m now apparently getting two whole bars of sweet, sweet “5G E”. Of course, my phone’s hardware didn’t change, nor did AT&T’s network in Boston. Instead, AT&T simply renamed their 4G LTE Advanced network to “5G E”, in an attempt to one-up their competitors without doing any actual work. The new iOS update sadly reflects this reality distortion.

Anyone who used early iPhones (or other smartphones) will likely recall the crumminess that was the EDGE network.1 That was indicated by an “E” in the status bar, an E which caused no small amount of frustrated swearing due to slow loading of information. Given this negative history, it might have been wise for AT&T to at least go with a different letter for their little con job here. Then again, tests have shown AT&T’s “5G E” is actually slower than Verizon and T-Mobile’s 4G, so maybe the allusion to EDGE is helpful.

As part of a mildly amusing April Fools’ adjacent joke, T-Mobile introduced the “Phone Booth E”.2 In the video, T-Mobile CEO John Legare takes a well-deserved shot at AT&T, stating “You know it’s real, because we tacked an “E” on the end of the name. Wow!”. Well-played, T-Mobile.

Previously in misleading iPhone status information: Have You Gotten Taller?


Footnotes:

  1. Today I learned that “EDGE” is an acronym for “Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution, which is a real goddamned stretch. ↩︎

  2. The video is archived here. ↩︎

I Don’t Get Out of Bed to Stare at Ads for Less Than $10,000 a Day

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

Today in creepy, awful advertising: PreShow.

It’s an app that lets you earn free movie tickets for watching 15 to 20 minutes of branded content on your phone…The company has developed a way to track your gaze to make sure you’re actually looking at the PreShow commercial…If you look away for too long, or leave your seat, the ad automatically pauses and you’ll get a red border around your screen.

On the one hand, with movie tickets costing around $10 each, this would be paying a pretty decent wage of $20 to $30 per hour to watch ads. On the other hand, this is much, much too close to “A Clockwork Orange” to not be sickening.

Fun With a Gratuitous Photo Booth

Friday, March 22nd, 2019

On a recent ramble through Las Vegas, I found myself in the surreal Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.1 This is apparently the highest grossing mall in America by sales per square foot, but the retail collection occupies a place of dread in my mind. Its dim lighting and second-story faux facades combine with the bizarrely sky-painted ceiling to warp reality in almost Daliesque fashion.

Photo of the Forum Shops mall
This is a deeply weird place to shop, or even just exist for an hour.
[Photo credit: Simon Property Group]

Are you inside? Are you outside? Would you like to dine inside inside at Trevi, the Italian restaurant next to a paltry attempt at a Romanesque fountain, or outside inside to really soak in the lack of sun beaming down through the “clouds”?

Naturally, this mall featured a photo booth placed outside of a meatball restaurant. While I did not eat at Carmine’s, upon noticing their contraption, I was more than willing to take advantage of it. It paid off in spades.

Photo of me using the machine
Perhaps in sympathy to their hosts, the Carmine’s sign lacks an apostrophe.2
[Photo credit: T. Arment]

As you can guess from the Facebook and Twitter logos seen on the front, this machine is intended to aid customers in spreading the word about the restaurant via social media. You can do it “for FREE!”, no less, which is surely the highest price anyone would pay for this. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a meal after which I felt the need to send a digital postcard to my friends, but to each their own.

Wanting to see just how strange this would be, I took a photo, then punched in my own email address to receive a copy. I thought it best not to subject anyone else to this exercise in stupidity and data collection. Though the on-screen keyboard malfunctioned repeatedly, I eventually convinced it to send my picture. My task complete, I stepped away so that literally no one else could use, or even notice, the machine. I pulled out my iPhone to check my email, but there was nothing. I checked my spam filters, but still, bupkis. Feeling defeated and not just a little claustrophobic, I decided to move on and out of the mall.

Several hours later, however, I received an email from myself. With the subject line “I’m at Carmine’s Vegas!”, it indicated that “a friend” had sent me a uPostcard.

Success! My photo had arrived, in glorious, 800×600, framed, PNG-not-JPG glory. Here it is:

My dumb face
This photograph accurately captures what it feels like to be at the Forum Shops.

As you can see, I have been dubbed a “Spaghetti fanatic”.3 Shockingly, despite the unrequested title I’ve had bestowed upon me, this postcard design actually isn’t awful. While it seems completely unrelated to the restaurant outside of which it sits, with a smiling face, better alignment, and a lack of derrieres in the background, it could at least produce an acceptable reproduction of being at the mall.

However, this is not actually what a recipient will see. Instead, when the emailed link is clicked, this is the hideous train wreck you’ll be shown.

A real train wreck of a design.

From the words being shoved in my mouth via a misaligned dialogue bubble to the sprinkle of social media droppings including the just-about-to-be-defunct Google+, it’s all stomach-churning. So it is that I can say this for Carmine’s: Whether you eat the food or just use their unnecessary photo booth, one way or another, you’re not going to leave hungry.


Footnotes:

  1. No apostrophe, though there certainly should be one, ridiculous explanations aside. ↩︎

  2. The restaurant’s name is a possessive “Carmine’s”, and the horizontal signs include an apostrophe. ↩︎

  3. The business cards are due back from the printer any day now. ↩︎

People Who Like Brian Regan Also Bought Tickets To See Brian Regan

Friday, March 15th, 2019

I’m on the mailing list for a few Boston-area entertainment venues, which sometimes provides early access to shows and concerts. Last fall, I used this perk to purchase tickets for a show by comedian Brian Regan. While I’ve seen his stand-up specials on TV, I should note that I’ve never actually seen him live at a ticketed event.

And yet, on September 20th, the very day after I purchased tickets to see Brian Regan, I received this email:

In my best Brian Regan “Dumb Guy” voice

“HEY! HEY, YOU! We’ve got Brian Regan tickets on sale tomorrow! Open this email to learn more!”

“Hey, there’s a show we think you might be interested in! Perhaps you’ve heard of…Brian Regan?”

“We actually know you’ve heard of him, because yesterday, you bought tickets to see him. And when you did, we added you to our Brian Regan mailing list!

Hey, look at that! You actually bought tickets to see this very show!”

“Well anyway, we just wanted to let you know that tickets for this show go on sale tomorrow! So if you want to buy tickets to that show you already bought tickets for, they go on sale in the morning.”

“We figured you wouldn’t want to miss it, since you’re such a big fan of Brian Regan!”

Get your shit together, Ticketmaster.

The Once and Future Mayor

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

In 2015, Jasiel Correia was elected mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts at the tender age of 23. He earned a second term in 2017, garnering 61% of the vote. However, in the fall of 2018, Correia was arrested on charges of wire fraud and filing false tax returns. Fall River’s City Council urged him to resign, and when he failed to do so, they called a recall election.

So far, this reads as the relatively straight-forward story of a politician who may be guilty of some crimes. It’s unpleasant, but not altogether uncommon. However, the results of Tuesday’s election are really something to see. Here’s how it worked out:

Should Jasiel Correia be recalled from the office of mayor?

Yes: 7,829 (61.5%)
No: 4,911 (38.5%)

Assuming the mayor is recalled, who should be elected mayor?

Jasiel Correia: 4,808 (35.5%)
Paul Coogan: 4,567 (33.7%)
Joseph D. Camara: 1,971 (14.6%)
Kyle Riley: 1,460 (10.8%)
Erica Scott-Pacheco: 740 (5.5%)

In a single election, Jasiel Correia was both recalled from office, and then re-elected to that same office. There are many questions here, like “Why is a mayor facing recall also allowed to run on the new ballot?” and “Did 103 voters feel Correia should not be recalled, but then also go on to vote for someone else?”.1 Correia will face another election in the fall against a single opponent, and it seems probable he’ll lose that contest. Worse, he may well find himself in prison before then as well. For the moment, however, a great deal of time, energy, and money was spent on this election, and the only change is that Fall River now looks rather foolish.

To close on a serious note, this is a prime example of why ranked-choice voting is a superior system for elections. Almost two-thirds of voters wanted someone other than Correia to be mayor, and yet he won. That is a very flawed system, and ranked-choice voting is one very powerful fix for it. Learn the basics with this helpful video. If you’re in Massachusetts, check out Voter Choice MA for more information.


Footnotes:

  1. The tallies show that the new election had 806 more voters than the recall itself, and it’s impossible to know exactly what any voters were thinking. What is clear is that more people voted for the current mayor to stay in office/against the recall than voted for him to be chosen mayor. Perhaps some of the 4911 “No” votes in question #1 were protest votes against the recall process itself, rather than in support of the mayor.↩︎

Creeping on You in the Cold Drinks Aisle

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

A new digital door technology from a company called Cooler Screens is now being tested in Walgreens, and it sounds absolutely awful. Rather than a basic, transparent glass door, coolers and freezers will be sealed by screens that show a sanitized image of the products behind them. Supposedly, these screens will:

  • Save energy

  • Help monitor inventory

  • Help customers with poor eyesight

  • Make products more visually appealing

That’s all nice enough, and those mild benefits might even be worth replacing a simple glass pane with a complex TV screen. However, further reading ultimately makes those benefits sound like nothing so much as an after-the-fact justification for the real motives behind this technology:

Flashing banner ads float between the digital rows of goods…in addition to the flashy ads and “smart” merchandising, these screens are equipped with sensors and cameras designed to watch and profile the appearance and actions of customers who find themselves in their path, like me. Approximate age and gender. How long my gaze lingers on the bottles of tea.

It seems there’s money to be earned by creeping on you in the cold drinks aisle, and Cooler Screens is determined to try and earn it. If this takes off, animated advertisements, eyeball tracking, and customer profiling will all become part of our simple shopping experience. But don’t worry, Cooler Screens has a privacy policy:

A. Information Collected through our Smart Coolers.

We work with retailers to deploy Smart Coolers in their stores. The Smart Coolers are equipped with computerized cameras that record videos and images of consumers who walk by or stand in proximity to the Smart Coolers. The cameras are connected to software provided by our Service Providers. Depending on the jurisdiction, the software may process facial images of consumers in real-time to determine gender, age or age range, number of consumers, and/or how consumers interact with the Smart Coolers. We do not save the videos or images beyond this processing. The software develops statistics concerning the environment where the particular Smart Cooler is located. We use those statistics for purposes of understanding consumer trends and purchase behavior, which may be used to inform advertising campaigns and product placement.

Cooler Screens does not collect or retain any information that individually identifies consumers.

Unwritten, but implied, are the phrases “…at this time” or “…yet”, or perhaps most realistically, “…until we can earn a few more cents by taking things even further”. Because of course, the privacy policy also includes this catch-all:

10. Changes to this Privacy Policy. We reserve the right to revise and reissue this Privacy Policy at any time. Any changes will be effective immediately upon posting of the revised Privacy Policy. Your continued use of our Service indicates your consent to the Privacy Policy then posted. If the changes are material, we may provide you additional notice to your email address.

As a customer, continued use of the Cooler Screens “Service” might simply mean “walking into the grocery store”. Individual consumers have very limited control over how this sort of encroachment affects our lives. At some point, those with more power need to have the backbone to simply say “Enough”, and refuse to indulge in the mindless pursuit of every last possible source of revenue. Failing that, I don’t know how we stop the continual overreach by companies looking to mine our data and our eyeballs for profit.

While I’m sure it’s a futile endeavor, after poking at the Cooler Screens website, I felt compelled to send the following to their public email address:

  • To anyone who might listen at Cooler Screens,

    Please, just stop. You are making the world a worse place. Reconsider what you’re doing. Not every single thing that can be tracked and monetized must be. Is this what you want your legacy to be?

    Yuck.

It’s unlikely that the founders and employees of Cooler Screens will have a sudden moral awakening, but at least it was cathartic. Perhaps this technology will instead be killed by the marketplace itself, failing to generate enough revenue to be worthwhile. That would at least be something. One way or another, I hope Cooler Screens is shuttered before bright, blinking advertising gains yet another foothold in our lives.

I Hope Someone Signs This Dog

Monday, February 25th, 2019

The “Alliance of American Football” is, apparently, a professional football league in America which now plays during the NFL off-season. The AAF was actually inspired by the XFL, which famously crashed and burned after a single season. However, in just its third week, the AAF has already provided more quality entertainment than the XFL ever did. I haven’t seen any actual games, but thanks to J.C. Carnahan, I have now seen an 83-yard completion to a dog.1

The perfect lunge

That is quite a catch. You might also be thinking that it’s an impressive toss, and it is. Still, given how long the dog was waiting for the Frisbee to come down, it’s clear that this unnamed canine is being held back by the thrower. Hopefully someone can pair this pooch with someone like David Wiggins Jr., who can chuck a disc over 350 yards, and they can really shatter some records.


Footnotes:

  1. The video is archived here. ↩︎

Did Disco Stu’s Disco Shoes Ever Really Exist?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

While writing about the TSA last week, I got on the subject of Disco Stu and his disco shoes, as one does. To refresh your memory, here are the shoes in question:

Upon seeing the shoes, Homer points out that the fish are dead, to which Stu sadly replies “Yeah, I know. I can’t get them out of there”.

This points to just one of the many problems there would be with such shoes. Ultimately, it all led me to search the web to determine if such a thing really existed back in the ’70s.

The first thing I happened on was this current, available-in-the-year-2019 product

These shoes feature a plastic fish inside a small, water-fill compartment in the heel. They’re utterly ridiculous, though if you’re attempting to create the perfect Disco Stu costume, they’re as essential as visible chest hair. However, a fake fish doesn’t really match what we’re looking for.

The more precise question is “Did any disco aficionados in the 1970s wear shoes with fish in the heels?”, which is a very strange and specific thing to be asking, while also being terribly difficult for the internet to answer. More digging turned up an interesting article from just three months ago.

Back in the ’70s disco era, fish were briefly subjected to physical injury and death (as well as humiliation, along with really bad music) when someone came up with the idea for the disco fish platform shoe. One could plop a live goldfish into the platform sole or heel, which was composed of clear acrylic or Lucite.

While many are convinced [the existence of these shoes] was an urban myth, I had a friend who owned a pair of these. (Which largely explains why she soon became my ex-friend.) The legend comes from the fact that no seems able to produce an actual pair of these shoes or even a picture of them from their brief heyday in the 1970s. The lack of evidence could be because the shoes were not mass-manufactured.

No offense to Alissa Wolf, but I’m unwilling to put much stock in the claim of one lone author who “has an ex-friend who owned a pair”. It has the ring of an uncle who works at Nintendo. Still, her general explanation seems logical:

Instead, the clear platform heels or soles were either removable or had some kind of flap at the back that lifted so that the wearer could fill with whatever he or she wanted. People report filling the heels with teddy bears, gumballs, marbles or crinkled colored tissue paper.

It certainly seems possible that shoes with a clear compartment existed back then (they’ve absolutely been made since). It also seems possible that a few terrible people put live fish in that compartment before taking to the dance floor. Still, a complete lack of physical or photographic evidence from the ’70s leaves me unwilling to give a definitive answer. Perhaps some future archaeologist can uncover more.

The Real Mystery Is Why Almost a Quarter of a Million Accounts Follow the TSA on Twitter.

Monday, February 4th, 2019

If you like seeing eight consecutive drives end in a punt, then Super Bowl LIII was the game for you! And if you attended the game, and purchased a program, you should apparently not check it in your luggage on the way home:


[Via a tweet from @TSA]

That’s really weird. We’re talking about a publication printed with ink and paper. What exactly could be going on here? And how is it safe enough to fly, but not to be checked?

These questions led me to the TSA’s “What Can I Bring?” list. There, I found just nine items which are permitted in carry-on bags, but not in checked luggage. I’ve reproduced them below, exactly as the TSA’s poorly edited list shows them:

  • Butane Curling Irons (cordless)

  • Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices

  • Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt hours

  • Live Coral

  • Live Fish

  • Medically Necessary Personal Oxygen

  • Power Banks

  • Power Charger

  • Safety Matches

The TSA’s tweet doesn’t show the full program, so I had little choice but to assume it contains a small compartment with a goldfish inside of it, like Disco Stu’s disco shoes:

Cartoon shoes with fish in the heels, sadly dead
As seen in “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson

Eventually, I discovered the real issue. An earlier tweet with the same content also included a semi-helpful reply from TSA spokesperson Mark Howell. Under the atrocious username of “@TSAMedia_MarkH”, Howell explained the reasons for this instruction:

The programs are produced with materials that causes our screening tech to alarm, requiring a physical bag search by an officer. Carrying it with you to the security checkpoint and placing it in a bin will allow us to visibly inspect it without having to do a bag search.

If false positives are getting triggered by a Super Bowl program, perhaps better screening equipment is in order, rather than trying to get tens of thousands of people not to check an item that shouldn’t be an issue.

Making Medical Walking Boots Fun

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

I broke my foot last May, as readers may remember from the post on my iWalk. In addition to that high-tech peg leg, I also had to wear a medical walking boot. This was also decently advanced technology, but it was more than a little bland:

A dull gray Aircast

In an effort to give the boot a little pizazz, I stuck on a gem of a sticker:

A sticker reading 'Now slower and with more bugs'
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

However, what I really wanted for the boot was some rad flames, because flames make everything faster. A dope flame decal was more difficult to find than I’d have expected, but I eventually acquired these:

Some sweet flames stickers

This set included not just flames, but snakes! I used several of these stickers together, to really spice things up:

Stickers in place on the boot
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

This was a small way to put a smile on both my face, and the faces of anyone who noticed. However, the stickers also led to something which gave me a terrific laugh. After posting the above boot images on Instagram, I noticed this:

Instagram showing that flauntboots liked a post

When I saw this, I thought “Is that a medical boot accessorizing account?”. I’m delighted to tell you that yes, yes it is! A medical boot accessorizing account which wisely searches for the hashtag #brokenfoot, no less. This company sells all manner of covers for medical walking boots, to make them look more stylish.

A flauntboot and a regular heel
[Photo via Flauntboots]

As long as they match, surely no one will notice that you’re wearing one small shoe and one comically huge one!

Honestly though, I can’t knock the idea. I know from experience that anything which makes having a medical walking boot less awful is a good thing. So if you’ve ever got a broken foot and money to burn, your medical boot could look sort of like a Chuck, or an Ugg, or several other types of shoe. Alternately, you might just check your local hobby shop to add a few sweet decals.