Previous “Features” posts

Un Tacos, Por Favor

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

For many years now, Taco Bell has run various promotions to give away tacos to customers.1 During Major League Baseball’s World Series, this has taken the form of a “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion. If any player steals a base at any point during the annual Fall Classic, everyone in America can claim a free taco on an appointed day.

Of course, while you’re at Taco Bell getting your free taco, the company expects you’ll buy additional food and drinks. Given the relatively low cost of the item being given away, as well as the high profit margin to be had on soda, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this promotion is actually entirely profitable.

Whatever the impact is on Taco Bell’s books, it will once again be felt in 2019. Just three pitches into game one between the Nationals and Astros, Trea Turner stole second base. It was, I’m certain, the fastest this promotion has paid off. I’m hopeful it will mean we’ll hear much less about the promotion during the remaining World Series games. Now, Joe Buck won’t have to reference the gimmick every time a runner reaches first base. That’s appreciated.

However, what’s not appreciated is the bizarre way Taco Bell refers to this item. Specifically, they seem to refer to even one taco as “a tacos”, as seen in this image from tacobell.com/stealataco:

Get a free Doritos Locos Tacos

And here’s the legal fine print:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Open to residents of the fifty (50) United States and D.C. only. Limit one (1) Free Doritos® Locos Tacos per person at participating Taco Bell locations in the United States at a designated date and time, while supplies last.

Yes, it seems that like McGriddles, Taco Bell believes the singular form of Doritos Locos Tacos is “Doritos Locos Tacos”. Next Wednesday, if you so desire, head on in to Taco Bell and ask for “one free Doritios Locos Tacos, please”.

Previously in Taco Bell-related nonsense: The Bell Tolls for Glen


Footnotes:

  1. The first I’m aware of was when Mir was doing a semi-controlled deorbiting back in 2001. Don’t miss the image which accompanied their press release. ↩︎

Eliud Kipchoge Flew

Monday, October 14th, 2019

On Saturday, remarkable runner Eliud Kipchoge did something no human being has ever done before: He ran a marathon in under 2 hours. Kipchoge’s final time was 1:59:40.2, almost 20 seconds faster than the desired mark.


Eliud Kipchoge, triumphant after his successful run

You may recall that Nike attempted this feat with a 2017 event called “Breaking2”. Kipchoge took part in that, along with Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese, but all came up short of the goal. Now, two years later, the Ineos 1:59 Challenge has met with success.

This is, quite simply, an incredible achievement, the distance running equivalent of Roger Bannister’s 4 minute mile. Kipchoge’s accomplishment won’t change the marathon world record (which he already holds with a 2:01:39 finish in the 2018 Berlin Marathon), as this was not a sanctioned event. Nevertheless, it shows what’s possible. Just as the record for the fastest mile has continued to drop since Bannister’s 1964 run, I suspect we’ll see a sub-two-hour time in an official marathon in the coming years.

For now though, we should simply celebrate this amazing man, and his amazing achievement. Bravo, Eliud Kipchoge!

Previously in Eliud Kipchoge news: I Believe Eliud Kipchoge Can Fly

Bad at Rounding and Writing

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

After posting yet another tale of my Apple Dumbwatch on October 7th, I heard from several readers who correctly guessed that my screenshot might be from earlier in the month. In fact, I’d actually taken it on October 4th. Given that, it appeared that the Activity app might actually be doing live or live-ish updates to the required per-day average. Did that explain the seemingly bad math? It turns out the answer is yes, but it also exposes several other issues. Let’s have a look.

First, I looked back at a screenshot from earlier in the day on October 4th. This was snapped at 4:02 PM:

Challenge stating 'Earn this award with 2560 Exercise minutes - that's about 79 minutes a day'.

As you can see, this says “about 79”. I had 2,236 minutes left to obtain, and 28 days (counting the 4th) remaining. How does that math check out?

2,236 minutes remaining/28 days remaining = 79.86 minutes/day

Now, 79.86 minutes per day is sort of close to “about 79”, but it really ought to be “about 80”. Also, remember that at 4 PM, the 4th is already 2/3 over.

My original image was from 10:37 PM of that same day, October 4th. Here it is again:

Challenge stating 'Earn this award with 2560 Exercise minutes - that's about 79 minutes a day'.

As you can see, I’d done some more Exercise minutes since 4 PM. I now had 2,214 minutes left to obtain, and 28 days (again, counting the 4th) remaining. The math on this actually works out to just over 79 minutes:

2,214 minutes remaining/28 days remaining = 79.07 minutes/day

That certainly is close to 79, though again, if you do 79 minutes a day, you’ll come up short. Worse, at this point the 4th was nearly over, yet it was still being counted in the averaging. That seems like a problem.

Finally, I did a check on the 7th, at 11 AM. Here, you can see that the estimate has gone up, as I’ve fallen slightly off the pace:

Challenge stating 'Earn this award with 2560 Exercise minutes - that's about 79 minutes a day'.

One more time, let’s check that math.

2,107 minutes remaining/25 days remaining = 84.28 minutes/day

As before, this is close enough to “about 84” for Apple’s purposes, at least. Clearly, Activity is doing live tracking as the month progresses, rather than just doing one calculation (2560 minutes /31 days = 82.58 minutes/day)). That’s a nice idea, but there are several obvious problems here. Specifically:

  • The current text fails to indicate that the estimate provided is for the remainder of the month. Something like this could be an improvement:

    “Get 2560 Exercise minutes this month to earn this award. You’ve earned 453 minutes so far, so you just have 2,107 left to go. That’s about 84 Exercise minutes a day, for the rest of the month.”

    That would make it much more obvious that this estimate is for the rest of the month.

  • Activity is counting the current day in its averaging, no matter when in the day you are. Surely at 10:37 PM, or worse, 11:59 PM, the current day should not be counted fully in the averaging.

  • Finally, anything over X minutes should be rounded up to X+1 minutes, to avoid ever coming up short. So, 79.8, and even 79.1, should become “about 80”.

It seems I was incorrect in maligning the Apple Watch’s math skills. However, its rounding skills could definitely do with some improvement, as well as its copyediting.

Return of the Apple Dumbwatch Part II

Monday, October 7th, 2019

As long-time readers and/or Apple Watch users know, the Apple Watch encourages wearers to be more active by issuing monthly activity challenges. While these challenges can be motivating, I’ve repeatedly found the Apple Watch to be bad at the math required to track them. I first noted this in November of 2017, and then saw it again in February of 2018.

It’s been 18 months since I last noticed such an issue, however, so I assumed that the problems had been fixed and the math was being correctly computed. Yet, like the living dead, these bugs just won’t stay down. Here is my October challenge:

Challenge stating 'Earn this award with 2560 Exercise minutes - that's about 79 minutes a day'.

This challenge calls for 2560 Exercise minutes in the month of October, and then states that that’s about 79 minutes a day. I found the use of the word “about” alongside a not-at-all-round number like 79 to be rather strange. I guessed that meant I’d need a bit more than 78 minutes a day, and checked the math.

Challenge stating 'Earn this award with 2560 Exercise minutes - that's about 79 minutes a day'.

In what universe is more than 82 and 1/2 “about 79”? If the claim was “about 80”, that would still be rather wrong. Even “about 82” would be problematic, because it would leave you 18 minutes short of the goal at the end of October. But “about 79”? I can only conclude that the Apple Watch has fallen right off the wagon again.

Ridiculous Products: Sexy Beyond Burger Costume

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Today marks the first day of October, which means it’s time to buckle down and decide what type of sexy you’ll be this Halloween.1 Will you be a sexy nurse? Perhaps a sexy pirate? You can even be a sexy Mr. Rogers.2 You know you have to be some kind of sexy, and the options are nearly limitless in the awfulness that is 2019.

New this year is a sexy Beyond Burger costume. This is problematic in multiple ways. In addition to its name likely being a trademark violation, it’s also the sexualization of a veggie burger. That’s more than a little bizarre, which I suppose pretty standard when it comes to modern costumes.

Initially, I thought the bestworst3 part of the whole thing was the headband. Multiple fake meat purveyors have had restaurants place little flags on their burgers, to serve as a tiny form of advertising. This costume goes with the more generic “plant based” phrase, which has become incredibly trendy in 2019, but the idea is the same.

However, this implies 1) That your brain is plant-based, which sounds sort of like an insult, and 2) That there’s a massive toothpick stuck right through your skull. The latter is actually rather on-point for a proper, scary Halloween costume, so maybe this horrible idea could be redeemed with a bit of stage makeup and effects.

There’s no redeeming the actual worst part though, which is this:

A stamp on the rear end of the costume says 'Certified Not Grade A'.

I guess the thinking was that since it’s not animal meat, your ass can’t be Grade A. But like the plant based brain, this too looks like an insult to the wearer. How about “Certified: Better Than Grade A”? Or “Certified: Hot!”. Anything would be better than this. Also, your ass kind of is animal meat, when you get right down to it.

This one detail alone is almost as bad as the previously featured Bad Ass socks. The total of all of it is much worse.


Footnotes:

  1. Alternately or synonymously, “slutty↩︎

  2. This may be a new low, and even more ridiculous than the Beyond costume. It’s also deeply, deeply weird, so weird that I don’t feel I can cover it properly. To each their own, I know, but if you’re a person who finds this appealing, I don’t know what to say to you. That hairpiece is something else. ↩︎

  3. I was torn as to which word to use here, and wound up creating a new one instead. I rather like it. ↩︎

Jimmy John’s Is Not Great at Order Notifications

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Last week, I wrote about the USPS not being good at email. More recently, I ran into a similarly poor notification from sandwich-maker Jimmy John’s:

We’ll set aside the rude instruction to “Come & Get it!”, because that’s in line with Jimmy John’s slightly odd brand. Note the times for these two messages, however. I placed the order at 6:08 PM, and I was told it was ready for pickup at 9:18 PM. That is not exactly “freaky fast”, nor any kind of fast at all.

Fortunately, this order did not in fact take 3 hours and 10 minutes to make. I picked it up around 6:20 PM, and I was enjoying it at home a few minutes later. In fact, when I received this notification, I thought “I just ate my sandwich, and it’s in my stomach right now”.

I don’t know if this was another slow computer server, or if someone simply forgot to tap the “Order Ready” button on the screen. Alternately, it’s also possible an entire second order was prepared, and that an identical copy of my sandwich sat there, lonely and unloved. That might be the saddest possibility of all.

Sadly, That’s Not Today

Monday, September 23rd, 2019

This past Saturday, while on a run, I saw a woman wearing a shirt that simply said “Sept 21” on the front. As I ran past, I turned around to see if there was anything else on the back, but it was blank. I remembered that Saturday was indeed the 21st of September, so I was obviously forced to assume that this woman owned 366 shirts, and she wore each of them on their specific day of the year.1 While this seemed a rather inefficient way of remembering the current date, literally nothing else made sense.

Bizarrely, however, this rational and logical conclusion was actually (most likely) incorrect. It turns out that in 2016, comedian Demi Adejuyigbe turned September 21st into the best new holiday in ages, and he’s been doing fabulous work promoting it since 2016.2 That year, he posted his first video set to an edited version of Earth, Wind & Fire’s song “September”.3

If you need a pick-me-up of any sort, that 66 seconds is pure bliss. In that video, you’ll also spot the original shirt design, apparently made just minutes before the video with a stencil and a marker. This is essentially what the woman I saw had as well. It makes a lot more sense here, with a soundtrack, rather than in a vacuum.

By September 21st, 2017, the world seemed a much darker place than it had just a year earlier. Still, Adejuyigbe returned, trying to fight back the gathering horror.4 We now had two full minutes of September 21st-related goofiness, just when we needed it most.

The festivities continued, and indeed grew larger, in 2018. That year’s video featured a body double, a tear-away jacket, and a children’s choir.5 It also included my very favorite moment, a brief mention of “December”, followed by an immediate course correction back to September.

This year, we got a marvelous single shot video, including a mariachi band and some hilarious video editing to place Adejuyigbe into the original Earth, Wind & Fire video.6 It continues to be tremendous fun. We now have over four full minutes of delightfulness, which is longer than the original song. Wonderful!

While I came late to this party, I’m fully on board now, and eagerly looking forward to September 21st, 2020.7 If you want to get into the holiday spirit yourself, you can purchase your own confusing t-shirt. Since 2018, Adejuyigbe has sold September 21st t-shirts to raise funds for some very worth charities. It’s too late to use such a shirt properly in 2019, but the next September 21st is getting closer all the time. Personally, I can’t wait to celebrate in slightly less than a year.


Footnotes:

  1. That February 29th shirt is really not getting much use. ↩︎

  2. Adejuyigbe is surely best known for his work in Sandwich Video’s tremendous “How to Vote” project. ↩︎

  3. The 2016 video is archived here. ↩︎

  4. The 2017 video is archived here. ↩︎

  5. The 2018 video is archived here. ↩︎

  6. The 2019 video is archived here. ↩︎

  7. Also, November 3rd, 2020. ↩︎

On the Cutting Edge of the ’90s

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Out here on the Information Superhighway, it’s possible to do all manner of amazing things. You can get directions to almost anywhere, purchase just about anything, and even pay your condo fees online. Wow!

Recently, the management company for my condo association updated their website. Here, in all its glory, is their new-for-2019 login page:

Let’s ignore the fact that this page is using the word “portal”, because I want to focus on what really caught my eye:

It’s a small detail, of course, but capitalizing email as “eMail” feels like a throwback to about 1991. Wikipedia currently identifies five different ways of referring to email, and “eMail” doesn’t even make that overly comprehensive list. Heck, even a dash between “e” and “mail” has been out of style for years.

Still, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, this was the signature on the email announcing the new login page:

Ah yes, I can really hear the sincerity of this eMail.

The USPS Is Not Good at Email

Monday, September 16th, 2019

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to find the USPS’s “Star Ribbon” stamp designed by Aaron Draplin. I looked for it in multiple local post offices, and when I was traveling, I’d check in at their post office as well. Each and every time I was met with blank stares and a complete lack of knowledge about this product.

Eventually, I decided to place an order via the USPS website.1 This process was fast and easy, and I didn’t have to talk to anyone at all. To top it off, the shipping rate was a measly $1.30, and I’d easily pay much more than that to avoid another trip to the post office. I ordered on August 1st and quickly got an email receipt with a status of “Order Placed”. Just four days later, on August 5th, I received my stamps. They actually shipped via Priority Mail, which should cost about $7, so the Post Office is cutting themselves some kind of deal on shipping. I suppose they can get away with that.


Hey, Good Lookin’
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

As you can see, I had my stamps, and I was pleased. I also assumed our transaction was complete. As such, I was quite surprised to wake up a full 12 days later to email from the USPS:

Yes, on August 17th, I received a notice via email that my order had shipped. I was very much aware of that, as I’d received the package almost two weeks prior

I really can’t fathom what happened here. Is this how their system always works? That would be preposterous, and yet, not out of the realm of possibility. Worth mentioning, I actually received two identical copies of this email. That may point to a server issue which got overzealously corrected days later. Regardless of how or why this email was sent, though, it was more than a little confusing.

Perhaps because of this sort of thing, the email includes this footer:

A footer reading: This is an automated email, please do not reply to this message. This message is for the designated recipient only and may contain privileged, proprietary, or otherwise private information. If you have received it in error, please delete. Any other use of the email by you is prohibited.

That’s quite a catch-all at the end there:

Any other use of the email by you is prohibited.

I imagine “sharing this email to mock the post office’s bizarre handling of online ordering” might fall under that prohibited use, huh? Well, I hope you’ll all visit me in mail jail.

Previously in strange USPS status tracking: Make a Copy for Yourselves Too


Footnotes:

  1. As I write this, only coils of 3,000 or 10,000 stamps are available, for thousands of dollars each. Fortunately, when I ordered, it was possible to buy sheets of 20.↩︎

Sure, Sure, a House Hug

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

For reasons beyond my understanding, I receive catalogs in the mail. Though I actively work to get off mailing lists, this seems to only slow the stream, never stop it. Recently, I received a catalog from “Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams”. After a quick Google search, I determined that that’s both a furniture company and the names of the two men who co-founded the company.

According to the company’s website, Mitchell and Bob have a shared vision, “to make the world a more comfortable place: for all”. The cover of the catalog I received seems to indicate they may also have a shared mouth:

This is, supposedly, a quote, and it’s attributed to both men. It’s got quotation marks and everything. Are we supposed to believe they said this in unison? Did they have a script in front of them, and maybe do a little count-down so they’d be in sync? The whole thing seems ridiculous.

In completely related news, Catalog Choice is a quick and handy way to reduce the amount of junk catalogs you receive, and save a few trees as well.