Previous “Features” posts

Much More on the Yellow Multipurpose Machine

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

One week ago, I made note of an email from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) about nearby railroad construction, taking particular notice of their reference to a “yellow Multipurpose Machine”. This machine wasn’t shown or described further, and I found it very intriguing. Since that post, I’ve received several relevant emails.

First up, it appears Bill K. managed to track down the actual MPM in question:

As best I can figure, they may be describing [the Herzog] Multi-purpose Machine. Here’s a promo video of what this machine is/does. The rail equipment would very certainly stop and start frequently.

The promo video1 says “Herzog’s MPM is a must-have for any railroad engineering department”, but after just 60 seconds of marketing, I kind of want one for myself. As I’m sure you’re aware, I, too, am serious about safety, efficiency, and cost control.

I also noticed something strange written on the front of the MPM in the video:

Emphasis (visually) added

If you’re wondering what the heck that could mean, as I was, this Straight Dope post has you covered. Sadly, it’s nowhere near as salacious as it sounds.

In last week’s post, I emphasized the fact that the MPM is “required to sound its horn when it stops and starts.” This led reader Michael I. to email some experts for a recommendation on perhaps lessening the overwhelming awfulness of this. I was CC’ed on that email, and while I doubt we’ll be receiving any sort of answer at all, it did allow me to learn of the existence of the Noise Abatement Society. They “raise awareness and educate about measured, considered, and responsible use of sound”. In a world overrun with far too much unnecessary noise, I’ll give a very soft cheer for that. Hip, hip, hooray.

MassDOT also sent its list a follow-up email, which included some additional explanation of the yellow Multipurpose Machine:

During all phases of construction taking place around-the-clock in the Lowell Line rail corridor, the yellow multi-purpose machine MPM (a long piece of heavy construction machinery on rail cars) will be staging work. Federal railroad regulations require the vehicle to sound its horn during stops and starts.

You might notice they’ve typed the machine’s name in a completely different way, and doubled it up to boot, rather like writing about an “automated teller machine ATM”. You should definitely notice that they’re now passing the buck on the mandatory honking, calling out federal regulations for that. I’m sure the nearby residents will be comforted to know they can blame Washington, rather than local officials, while being annoyed in the wee hours.

Finally, friend-of-the-site Don H. shared a tangential story of his own time dealing with MBTA construction, many moons ago.

Having spent my formative years in a quasi-Animal House triple-decker on College Ave many decades ago, this whole project also reminds me of the Red Line extension in the 80s. (That really dates me.) Harvard Square itself was that era’s Big Dig ground zero. Not a month went by without the construction company either chopping it up or subsequently repaving it, all while routing traffic through every available back street, alley, and store lobby to make room. At one point they literally applied the jack hammers to still-warm *week old* asphalt. We could only conclude that the construction crew didn’t like hacking through tough old road surface so they instead kept it fresh, with the smooth feel of cutting through brownies fresh out of the oven.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this bonus yellow Multipurpose Machine content. If you’ll excuse me, I’m suddenly craving a warm baked good.


  1. As always, the video is archived here. ↩︎

We All Hear a Yellow Multipurpose Machine

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

Planning for an extension of transit service north of Boston began all the way back in 1990, but it took more than two decades of planning and delays before the Green Line Extension finally broke ground in 2012. Though it’s likely difficult for residents to believe it, the project is now getting somewhat close to completion. Some of this construction is taking place relatively near me, and I receive occasional updates on it.

Last week, I was alerted to some night time work which will be done over the next several weeks. Here’s an excerpt from that email:

Somerville and Medford residents living near the GLX MBTA rail alignment— especially residents between Lowell Street and College Avenue—may experience elevated nighttime noise levels over the next few weeks.

“Elevated nighttime noise levels” certainly sound unpleasant, but I suppose to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs. The email detailed the work to be done, and then explained:

The yellow Multipurpose Machine will be on the rails most nights to support this work and the vehicle is required to sound its horn when it stops and starts. Additional heavy machinery in the rail alignment is expected to produce elevated noise levels which may be disruptive at times. The scheduling of the work at night is because its completion requires at least one line of track to be out of service.

The emphasis in the above quote is added, and it bears repeating. In addition to all the noise which naturally accompanies the laying of new train track, a support vehicle used in this construction is required to sound its horn when it stops and starts. That sounds like it’ll be quite a night, or several weeks of nights. It also seems like adding real insult to injury for those living near this construction.

Fortunately for me, I don’t live near this construction, so I won’t be impacted. As a result, I’m most interested to know more about the “yellow Multipurpose Machine”. It’s capitalized as if it’s a proper noun, and yet at present, the only Google search results for it are from this exact press release.

Look at Me. Look at Me.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Yesterday, I received a flurry of emails from various charities to which I’ve donated. They all wanted me to be aware of a new global day of altruism created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak: #GivingTuesdayNow. The name’s a bit clunky, and I’m not sure if you pronounce the hashtag, but it’s a worthy idea.

However, multiple emails I received used a subject line I found rather aggressive:

  • Today is #GivingTuesdayNOW!

Between the phrasing and the emphasis, it’s like they’ve commandeered the “holiday”, and they’re that guy in “Captain Phillips” who tells Tom Hanks “I’m the captain now”.

Anyway, I hope you had a very merry #GivingTuesdayNow yesterday. If we’re going to make a hash of the calendar with repeated Black Fridays and the like, it’s good that we can at least double up on giving back too.

Lean Into That Name

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

I recently received a fairly unnecessary email from American Airlines, detailing their new safety procedures for travelers. However, despite the fact that I have no plans to fly in the near future, this text caught my eye:

  • Kurt Stache, American’s Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, talks about our new requirement for wearing masks in flight…

As did this image:

It was difficult to be sure of what I was seeing with that massive play icon obstructing things, so I clicked to watch the video. Here’s a still:

Alas, my fears were confirmed. American Airlines Senior Vice President of Customer Experience Kurt Stache has no mustache.

Kurt, what are you doing with yourself? How do you not grow yourself a nose neighbor? You can’t be just out there living life looking like a nerdier Joe Buck, while you’ve got a phenomenal name like “Kurt Stache” at your disposal:

L: Joe Buck; R: Kurt Stache

No, you have to lean into that kind of name. Embrace it! Go Rollie Fingers with it:

Or Groucho Marx!1 You’ve got the eyebrows for it:

Give us something, man!


  1. Did you know Groucho Marx’s mustache was fake? I did not! I’ve never seen his films, so I’m perhaps mostly familiar with him via novelty Groucho glasses:

    Now of course those are fake, but the eyebrows and mustache are quite bushy. And yet, in his vaudeville days and in most of his movies, Marx used simple lines of grease paint. Once you really look, it’s obvious:

    I was so blind. Even more confusing, in his later years, Marx grew a real mustache. ↩︎

Protecting What’s Important

Friday, May 1st, 2020

As discussed last week, our inboxes are being deluged with COVID-19 related emails. From financial institutions telling me all about the marvels of online banking to hotels I haven’t stayed at in years assuring me they’ve got a room for me, every company I’ve ever even looked at wants to let me know that we’re all in this together.

Behind each of these emails, there’s a tremendously misguided marketer responsible for sending it. I like to picture them sitting, sweating, terrified at the idea of a customer one day thinking “Hey! I just realized LensCrafters never checked in on me during the pandemic! Those insensitive jerks!”.

Since mid-March, I’ve been running an informal contest to find the absolute most ridiculous emails sent in relation to COVID-19. I’ve spotted some good ones myself, and friends have provided more. Most recently, friend-of-the-site Quentin C. submitted a real doozy. The subject gets us off to a great start: “Protecting Logs and Lumber in Uncertain Times”.

Oo, tell me more, UC Coatings LLC!

During these uncertain times you may find yourself storing logs and lumber longer than usual. This can cause problems leading to degrade and loss, impacting your bottom line. U-C Coatings, the leader in wood protection, is currently operating during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are here for you. We feature a full line of products to help you protect your logs and lumber from checking, staining and splitting, minimizing your risk of loss.

They certainly checked all the boxes, including mentioning “these uncertain times” and letting us know they’re “here” for us. I’m not sure if they’re just letting me know they’re open, or also informing me that I can call them and sob if I need to. I mean, they don’t say I can’t.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the mindset of someone who thinks “We need to remind people to protect their logs!” in the midst of all this. But even if that were necessary, skip the lead-in. Just vaguely mention the economic slowdown, and this would be a lot less tacky. And as for being “here for me”? You’re not here for me! You’re there, for yourselves, to earn money. That’s fine – you’re a business! You can just say “we’re open”.

Have you seen your own amusingly needless email? I invite you to submit your own nomination for “Most Superfluous COVID-19 Email”. Good luck beating “wood protection products” though.

Don’t Be a Pence

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

It’s been several weeks since I wrote about how we should all wear a mask when going out in public. Hopefully by this point, you’re on board. Just in case you still need convincing, this article from the Atlantic lays things out with wonderful clarity. Put simply, your mask helps me, my mask helps you, and when enough people wear masks, the spread of COVID-19 is drastically reduced.

Wearing a mask is a simple and effective action we can all take to help move the world back to something closer to normal. Frankly, if I see someone’s nose and mouth out in public right now, I consider them rude and selfish. Wearing a mask should be viewed as an act of patriotism, as taking part in a collective effort akin to rationing or buying bonds during wartime. Refusing to wear a mask isn’t brave, it’s practically treasonous.

Nevertheless, there are still many people who have yet to see the light. Most egregious among them is Vice President Mike Pence, who toured the Mayo Clinic on Tuesday with his maw on full display. This occurred despite an established policy that all visitors must mask up.

It’s disappointing that the medical experts at the Mayo even allowed Pence to enter the premises. Even more cravenly, their Twitter account first tweeted confirmation that Pence had been informed of the policy before his arrival, then later deleted the tweet. At this point, no one’s coming out of this looking good. But hey, just to be fair, let’s see how Pence defended his actions:

“As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” he told reporters, saying he is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

“And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ “

No test is going to be perfect, and even if the results are extremely reliable, they’re also sure to be a lagging indicator. At the very least, despite what he’s saying, it’s impossible for Pence to be certain he doesn’t have the virus. When interacting with frontline medical workers, staff, and sick patients, it’s inexcusable to fail to exercise caution and follow policy, no matter how recently he received an all-clear test.

Even if Pence actually could be certain there was no chance he’d spread the virus, his decision not to wear a mask was also a failure of leadership. Good leaders know how to lead by example. In 1969, Fred Rogers shared a foot bath with a black man to promote racial equality at a time when swimming pools in America were often still segregated. To teach the world that HIV couldn’t be transmitted by touch, Princess Diana shook the hand of an AIDS patient on television. But Mike Pence? He shrank from the opportunity to set a good example.

Hang on, though. Let’s re-read part of that feeble defense:

I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to…look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’ “

Does Mike Pence not know the difference between a mask and a blindfold?

Next I’ll Be Shilling Flat Tummy Tea

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Recently, a photo of myself I’d posted to Instagram garnered a rather strange comment:

Weeks after I’d initially posted the picture, the folks from “@pierrearden_team_snowp” crept in to say:

  • Hey Paul, we’re really into your fashion and would like to organize a collab. Msg our main account @pierrearden_ and let them know we sent you!

They weren’t specific, so it’s difficult to guess what part of “my fashion” they like. Is it my Goodr sunglasses (Hey-oh, look who’s influencing now!)? The unbranded t-shirt and hoodie? Perhaps it’s that unfortunate pimple on my chin.

Whatever had caught @pierrearden_team_snowp’s eye, I knew I had to get aboard this gravy train, and fast. I was ticketed for the social media big leagues. I was going to “collab” with “@pierrearden_”, whoever the heck that was, on their “main account”!

Never mind that my Instagram account has just 1,000 followers, a number which is surely much too small to be worth, well, anything. I decided to take one for my readers, and see just what the scheme here was. Checking in on @pierrearden_, I learned it was a watch company with around 60,000 followers.

Against my better judgement, I messaged them the following:

  • Your @pierrearden_team_snowp account it “really into my fashion”, and want to “organize a collab”, so they told me to message here. I am…intrigued.

Hey, it was truthful. I was indeed intrigued by what the scam might be. In just a few minutes, they replied:

  • Hey Paul!

    We have been reaching out to a few people who fit our style for a potential collaboration.

    We don’t usually do this, but we want to offer you 50% off everything in our store, so that you can wear the latest timepieces.

    All we ask, is that you tag us in a picture of you wearing it and we will feature you on our page.

    Would this interest you?🙌

Nothing against these particular watches, but this offer would have been unappealing to me even if they were going to send me one for free. My response was brief, dismissive, and admittedly slightly rude:

  • Oh, ha. No, it would not.

Their social media handler could not be flapped, however, and even made a second attempt to get a sale:

  • No worries, we understand. And thank you so much for dropping by. We would love you to be on our team in the future! You can always get back to us and please feel free to look around. Have an amazing day! Here is a 25% off discount code for taking some of you [sic] time Code: THANKYOU25

I’m not sure a 25% coupon makes much sense when I was just offered 50% off, but perhaps they thought I’d share it. You may notice that I’ve opted not to even link to this company directly, and I’ve blacked the coupon code out. If you really want it, you can highlight the text to reveal it, though I suspect you could also just message them to request in on that 50% discount that they “don’t usually do”.

Of course, maybe they really did want me. If this was my one shot to break into the glamorous world of male modeling, I guess I blew it.

Be a Goodr Influencer

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Speaking of influencers, discount sunglass maker Goodr is appealing to influencers in their own unique way. At $25 a pair for quality polarized sunglasses, the company probably doesn’t have a ton of advertising cash to waste. Instead, Goodr is laying the disdain on thick, with an email campaign entitled “Influencers Welcome….to Pay Double”:

Text asking “Why do all the people with all the money and already living their dreams get all the free stuff?”

From the very real optional doubled pricing to a very sarcastic post on their site, it’s clear Goodr is no fan of influencer culture.

OK, You First, Mr. President

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Yesterday, at the daily White House train wreck press briefing on COVID-19, Donald Trump went on an ill-informed digression about light and disinfectants. From the official transcript:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. So I asked Bill a question that probably some of you are thinking of, if you’re totally into that world, which I find to be very interesting. So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that too. It sounds interesting.

ACTING UNDER SECRETARY BRYAN: We’ll get to the right folks who could.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you’re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.

That none of the “medical doctors” who were present rushed the stage to dispute this truly dangerous notion is but a sad footnote in the insanity that is Donald Trump’s presidency.

Thankfully, Trump’s hazardous ideas were swiftly condemned by the press, as well as anyone with even an ounce of goddamned common sense. Private businesses like Clorox and Reckitt Benckiser (makers of Lysol), as well as government agencies like the EPA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission, found themselves needing to issue statements warning the public not to ingest or inject bleach or other disinfectants.

Now, Trump is claiming he was being sarcastic, stating:

  • I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.

Two things:

First, no. He very, very clearly was not being sarcastic. For my own mental well-being, I avoid listening to Trump shitting at the mouth whenever possible. In this case, though, the video is clear, and available for you to see with your own eyes.1 It’s just over a minute long, and it is entirely clear that he is not being sarcastic in any way. Donald Trump has such a poor understand of health, and how the human body works, that he believed these were solutions worth looking in to. That would be disturbing to hear from any adult. It’s truly horrifying to hear from the president of America.

Second, let us briefly, against all reason and evidence, accept this obvious lie. Let us temporarily accept the clearly false premise that Donald Trump was asking this question sarcastically, “just to see what would happen”. Is that a good use of time and energy? Is that what the leader of the nation should be doing, while Americans are stuck at home and businesses are closed, while hospitals are being overwhelmed, while people are dying?

Of course it is not. This presidency can’t end soon enough. I urge you to register to vote. I urge you to get your friends and family registered. And then I urge you to vote in November to make certain the Trump presidency ends on January 20th, 2021.


  1. The video is archived here. ↩︎

Ridiculous Products: Idiotic COVID-19 Touch Tools

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

If you’ve been reading the news online, watching television, listening to the radio, or having conversations with any other human beings, you may be aware that there’s a global pandemic going on. It’s smart to take some basic safety precautions to protect yourself and others. This includes social distancing, frequent hand washing, and wearing a mask when you go out.

What you really don’t need is a fake metal finger to touch things for you. And yet, in recent days I have been shown five different variations of a “touch tool”, via ads on Instagram and other places.

These are promotional images from five different products.

Firstaball1, just how many elevator buttons is the average person pressing in a day, particularly these days? And secondaball2, has no one considered just using a knuckle?

I suspect part of the reason I’m seeing this pop up so much is that I just can’t stop clicking the ads. The first time, my sheer amazement at the stupidity of the idea compelled me to learn more. Since then, I’ve been stunned that hey, there’s a different version of the same nonsense again. The various robots working behind the scenes are undoubtedly mistaking my clicks for serious interest in this ludicrous concept.

From the $6 “Clean Key” by “Vetted Security solutions” (who also offer an optional $15 Tiger King-themed paint job) all the way up to the egregiously expensive $35 “Keychain Touch Tool” from Peel, it seems everyone is looking to cash in by making a touch tool. Three of them are even using the exact same “Clean Key” name! One claims to be “The Original Clean Key”, but much like a Ray’s Pizza in New York City, you should be skeptical.

Meanwhile, KeySmart’s version of the CleanKey has the benefit of looking sort of like a Tommy Gun:

If you get this model, you can make rat-a-tat-tat machine gun sounds as you imagine you’re blowing away the virus. You won’t be, of course, but it’s fun to pretend. Keep the change, ya filthy pathogen!

KeySmart’s site features an infomercial-style video, which included this delightfully cheesy frame:

The “As Seen On TV” production values you see should tell you a lot about what we’re dealing with here.

However, the version I’ve seen advertised most often makes a point of focusing on quality. The COVID-KEY is made by Milspin, a company which sells “high end CNC products for American patriots”. That appears to mean making accessories for motorcycles and firearms that feature all manner of trademark infringement, as well as juvenile quips like “Get McFucked”. But hey, if you need your handgun to show off the brand of chewing tobacco you favor, Milspin has you covered:

Barvd 🙊

Milspin is making their own claims to originality, urging customers not to fall for “the knock-off pre-order China made keys!”, which appears to be a jab directed at KeySmart.

Regardless of who makes it, or in what country, a touch tool remains a useless waste of time, energy, and material. The design implies you should attach it to your keychain, where you also have, ya know, keys. If you really feel the need to avoid pressing buttons, those keys themselves have you covered pretty well.

It’s true that a standard key can’t grip and pull, while these tools can. But after they do, they’re going into your pocket or purse. Unless the tool is sanitized after each use, it’s just going to serve as a possible vector for moving the virus onto your other possessions. When you reach in to pull it out again, you’re definitely getting virus all over your hands.

The idea for this trumpery3 is itself like a virus, one which has infected metal fabricators across the internet. It’s often said the great minds think alike. The proliferation of these touch tools makes it clear that dumb minds think alike as well.


  1. This is an amazing formulation I received in an email from someone for whom English was a second language. I have since adopted it for comedic purposes. ↩︎

  2. Honestly, “secondaball” cracks me up even more, but I seldom manage to get to it in conversation. ↩︎

  3. Unlike the two previous example this is a real word in the dictionary and everything. It has centuries of history, but I learned of it only recently. It’s a fancier way of saying “crap”:

    I can’t believe “trumpery” hasn’t gotten traction in the past four years. Let’s change that! ↩︎