Thursday, September 25, 2003

Do You Know about the Purple Pill?

Neither do I.  But I sure hear about it on the radio.  The latest commercials feature someone who interrupts the chatter of a cocktail party or similar event with the question: “Do you know about the purple pill?” The conversation thuds to a stop, as though people are looking at the guy, wondering “Who the fuck is this idiot?”, and then gradually comes back to normal.

In comparison, their previous radio commercial pretended to interview people on the street, all of whom just glowed about how their lives had changed since they found the purple pill.  With both commercials, listeners are then directed to ask their doctors if the purple pill is right for them.

Note that at no time do they offer one whit of information as to what the “purple pill” (brand name: Nexium, chemical name: esomeprazole magnesium) is for.  Depression?  HIV?  Weight loss?  Birth control?  Diabetes?  Puts hyperactive kids into a comatose state?

So I took the bait, and switched.  I asked my doctor if he gets a lot of people asking about the “purple pill”.  He told me yes, and he really dislikes it.  (He doesn’t hate the pill, he hates the marketing message: ask your doctor if random drugs are what you need, whether you even have a problem or not.)

Not that this marketing misbehavior is limited to the marketers of Nexium).  There was a big flak a few years ago with HIV medications which showed the people allegedly taking them doing things like climbing mountains, implying that result for taking their drugs, when more likely would be simply being able to get out of bed and maybe work again.  Since then, I saw an ad for a drug where the ad was a rose in a pair of hands (echoing some Buddhist imagery, I believe), the name of the drug, and the direction to ask your doctor.  By the ad’s placement in a gay bar, I presume it was an HIV medication, but there was no indication of that on the ad itself.

On the side, while discussing people panicking about mystery diseases, I do recommend the comic book (formerly a comic strip, but editorial hassles got too much for the artist) “Liberty Meadows” by Frank Cho.  Among the cast of characters is Leslie, the hypochondriac bullfrog, who periodically goes to the doctor/vet complaining of a host of imagined ailments.  My favorite strip was when he was asked what he was suffering from, and Leslie (who is male) replied, “ovarian cyst.”

Updated on September 13, 2010

Monday, September 22, 2003

Come Out to the Regal Beagle

Move over, Will & GraceQueer as Folk be damned.  Bury Six Feet Under and tell no more Tales of the City.  The most influential television show in terms of gay rights was Three’s Company.

In case you don’t recall, the original premise of the show was that the only way for Jack to share the apartment with Chrissy and Janet was for him to pose as gay, and thus was someone who would not be a “risk” to the pair of single women.  (As I recall, it was upstairs neighbor Larry who came up with the idea.)  Jack thus had to play gay — which means John Ritter had to play straight playing gay, an echo of Victor, Victoria — while around Mr. Roper, the landlord, while also pursuing the life of a swinging single guy in the 1970s.

Today, of course, we tend to dismiss the show as perpetuating ugly stereotypes, but for the time, this was pretty groundbreaking.  The plotline wasn’t used every episode, and my memory says it was pretty much forgotten after the first season, resurrected for a bit when Don Knotts came on as the fey new landlord.  But just the fact that “gay” was used with any regularity at the time is impressive.  And although played for laughs, “gay” Jack was still accepted and treated as a whole person by his friends and neighbors.

In other words, Jack Tripper was one of the formative influences in my gay identity.  I wish it hadn’t taken John Ritter’s death to make me realize it, though.  I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for the man in the past few days, thanks to this realization.

I’m also struck by the idea that Three’s Company is ripe for being remade into a new sitcom today.  (Three’s Company II, bouncing off the line from the old theme song?  [Track 36 on this album])  There are a number of twists which could be done, most obviously being to make Jack be gay playing straight (rather than the original reverse).  Or maybe Janet and Chrissy are a lesbian couple and Jack’s a straight boy.  Or move a single straight girl in with a gay male couple: Jackie, Jon, and Chris?

[Weblog title reference: The Regal Beagle was the local bar in Three’s Company.]

Updated on October 21, 2003

Updated on September 10, 2010
Added links.

Victor, Victoria is from after Three’s Company, so it wouldn't have been an influence on the show, but it is a remake of a German film from the 1930s.  The American musical version of La Cages aux Folles also post-dates the TV show, although the play and film it was based on are from the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Less Ovaltine, Please!

Several years ago at work, not having milk (much less Half-n-Half) available, repulsed by the idea of all the chemicals which go into “International Delight” (and such) creamers, and even more repulsed by Cremora and Coffeemate powdered chemical creamers (Cremora: doesn't that have the same root as “cremation”? — ewww!), I figured out that I could get my desired milk solids and sugars into my coffee by using instant cocoa packets instead, making for a creamy, sweet, yummy beverage.

I call it “Focha”, short for “Faux Mocha.”  Hmm, I think I need my afternoon focha right now, in fact…

Ah, that’s better.  Focha is also a great room odorizer.  You’ve never heard so many people say “What is that?  It smells good!”

This week, one of my co-workers offered me chocolate milk out of a carton to put in my coffee instead.  I’m sure it would have been fine, but I haven’t had chocolate milk out of a carton or a machine since college, 15+ years ago.  The Student Union cafeteria had big milk machines where you held a glass under a spigot and pulled a lever to dispense from what must have been a big plastic sack of milk inside. Once, I was getting chocolate milk from the thing and it went SPLORP!, belching out pudding-consistency milk into my glass, which came out so suddenly that I dropped the glass, which broke on the floor and sprayed me with dollops of milk pudding.

Later that same year, I got chocolate milk in a carton: I opened it, took a sip, and gagged on the half-congealed stuff contained inside.  You can see why I prefer to mix my own from Quik! powder (hmm, now just called “Nesquik”, much less enticing), where I get to see the milk first.  (Now, I’m sure these sorts of things could happen with regular milk, too, but they’ve never happened to me thus far.  Knock on waxed carton.)

As for Ovaltine, can’t stand the stuff, not since the first time I had it around age 10.  It may be chock full of vitamins and other good things, but Ovaltine vs. Quik! is like carob vs. chocolate.  (As the old line goes: “Carob works on the principle that, mixed with enough fat and sugar, it can approximate the taste of chocolate.  Of course, the same thing can be said of dirt.”)

[Weblog title reference: “More Ovaltine, please!” is the catchphrase for that foul chocolate milk powder.]

Updated on October 21, 2003

Updated on September 9, 2010
Added links and Cremora comment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

What Were They Thinking?
    — Pick a Card, Any Card

I used a Bank of America ATM machine today and was struck by how bad the user interface was.

First Question: What is the most common thing you do at the ATM?  That’s right: you get money.  You make a withdrawal.  So after you insert your card and enter your PIN, you are presented with a list of 8 or 10 different activities you can do, and where is the “Withdraw Cash” item?  In the upper left, as the first item in the list, so it’s very easy to find?  Hell no!  Bank of America sticks it in the middle of the right hand column, the hardest place for you to find it!

Second Question: What do you want to do after you get your money?  That’s right: you want to leave.  You want to grab the money and go to the bar, go meet your date, go do Christmas shopping.  What you don’t want to do is answer more questions.  No, I don’t want another transaction, just give me the damn card back!

So Bank of America designed their ATMs to make it hard for you to find the action you want, frustrating to conclude your action, and prone to leaving your card in the machine and your account wide open.  (After all, they gave you the money, so you may take it and leave, not realizing that you haven’t got your card back yet.)  Sure, use their ATM enough times and you will learn where everything is, but hey, rearrange the furniture at random enough times and you’ll learn not to walk around with the lights off, too.

Compare to the Wells Fargo ATMs.  They put the withdrawal item in the upper left, the first item that you read.  And when you make the withdrawal, they first pop your card out, forcing you to take it (and hopefully put it in your wallet) before they give you your money.  The downside to this is that it forces you into a particular workflow — always do any cash withdrawal last — but this isn’t an especially painful one (since you’ll typically be checking balances and transferring money and making deposits before taking money out anyway), and for the most common use of the system, it is very efficient.

Updated on July 9, 2004
Remixed into Weblog
Updated on September 9, 2010
Some ATMs have improved over the years.  Most of the Chase ATMs don’t hold onto your card at all; you insert it and then remove it, so it never leaves your hand.  They don’t limit you to doing a cash withdrawal only at the end of the process, but require a new entry of the PIN to go and do another action; while this can be annoying at times, the trade off is worth it, since you can do other activities after, or you can just leave without leaving your account open for the next person in line to loot.

However, the Withdrawal button is buried in the right-hand column of actions.  (I think; must verify.)

Monday, September 15, 2003

Voting: Scylla and Charybdis

Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 16) is election day in Seattle, with four City Council seats up for election, plus county council, port commissioner, and school board seats.

We also have two ballot items which have finally (for good or for ill) drawn some attention away from the California Governor’s Circus.  One will make personal-use marijuana possession enforcement the lowest priority for the police department.  (Which is about as close to legalization as can be managed at this time.)  The other, truly bizarre one is a 10 cent-per-cup tax on espresso drinks, with the tax monies going to fund child care programs.  (What espresso consumption has to do with child care is unclear, but this is definitely a tax on the rich rather than the poor; it takes a certain income level to warrant spending $3 on a cup of fancy coffee.)

I’m reminded once again about the true purpose of voting, of choosing one person over another.  The purpose isn’t to choose the best person for the job.  (The best person usually isn’t running, or if he/she is, it’s from a party or position that is unelectable.  Witness the 2000 Presidential Election.  Regardless of who won or should have won, neither Bush nor Gore was anywhere near the “best” person for the job.  I still can’t decide if I’m more surprised that Bush was the best thing the Republicans could put forward, or that Gore couldn’t beat the socks off him.)

The purpose in voting isn’t to choose the one who is in favor of your pet issue, either.  If you vote purely on single-issue grounds, whether that is gay rights or gun control or school prayer or abortion or the Middle East Peace Process, then you are ignoring the rest of the picture.  While that person may be spot on for one thing, they could be all over the board for others.

No, the purpose in voting is to choose the person who will do your issues (plural) the least amount of harm.  That is, the person who, in pursuing agenda items you are in favor of, won’t also pursue lesser ones you despise, or won’t ignore lesser ones you also favor.

So what will it be: The Devil or the Deep Blue Sea?

(For President, I’m currently leaning toward Howard Dean, but there are still months to go before I have to make a choice.  Of course, he’s the only candidate that the right-wing talk shows seem to be paying attention to, so he’s probably a pretty good choice.)

[Weblog title reference: Scylla and Charybdis are from Greek mythology, a sea monster and a whirlpool guarding the Strait of Messia.]

Updated on October 21, 2003

Updated on September 8, 2010
Added links.

Pity that Dean self-destructed — rather, that the media screwed him over — due to a hoarse voice and a sensitive microphone.

Curious: I always understood that “the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” was a reference to Scylla and Charybdis — the monster vs. the whirlpool — but the Wikipedia entries don’t confirm that.
Updated on September 14, 2010
Found an old David Horsey cartoon on the outcome of the pot-and-coffee votes:

Sunday, September 14, 2003

What Were They Thinking?
    — Everything’s a Dollar

Back in 1979, the United States decided to do away with the old Silver Dollar coins, and introduced the Susan B. Anthony coin (the one on the left).  The coin quickly failed to catch on, and the bulk of the reasons for failure are obvious.  The coin was almost the same size as the quarter, and it was the same color.  This made it hard to pick out as separate in a handful of change.  (In comparison, the old 50 cent piece was larger than this dollar coin, and the silver dollar had been larger still.  [Here’s a Wikipedia page showing the sizes.])  The Susan B. Anthony dollar also had a nice 12-sided shape stamped into the coin, but the coin was (foolishly) left round rather than using the angular shape as the edge of the coin, which would have allowed it to be differentiated by feel.  In fact, this dollar coin even had the same grooved edge as the quarter.

(Conspiracy-minded folks would say that these similarities were intentional, ensuring that the coin would fail.  That the coin also had a woman on it, and not just any woman but a major feminist symbol, surely adds to the conspiracy “proof”.  Less conspiracy-minded folks note that stores have a set layout for the coins and bills in their cash registers and thus don’t have an empty slot waiting to fill with dollar coins.  Or $2 bills.)

In 2000, the US Mint gave another run at a dollar coin.  This one, featuring Sacagawea, was the same size as the previous one, but with its smooth edge and gold tint, it was able to avoid much of the problems built into the previous coin: you could sort of tell it apart from the quarter by feel, and there was no problem by sight.  It still failed, though.  (And it still had a woman on it…)

Somehow, the Canadians have been successful with their dollar coin (the Loonie): it is slightly larger than our dollar coins, and it has a beveled edge.  And their two dollar coin (the Toonie) has a gold circle embedded in the silver: you can tell it apart even in a dimly lit bar.  (Of course, having a woman — the Queen — on their coins is not going to be a problem.)

With the Sacagawea coin, I am told that the intent was to have it replace the $1 bill, much like the Canadians did in 1989.  One bar in Chicago was giving them out rather than bills for change when I was there in November 2000.  (I winkingly accused them of doing it to boost bartender tips, since people often just dump their change into a jar without counting it closely.)  The replacement effort failed or was abandoned, or perhaps never was more than a rumor; it’s hard to imagine it would actually succeed in this country.

Today, pretty much the only place you can get these coins is in post office vending machines, whenever your change would be more than a dollar. (When it’s less than a dollar, the change all seems to come in nickels: not even dimes, and certainly no quarters.)

Updated on July 9, 2004
Remixed into Weblog
Updated on September 8, 2010
Added links, made other revisions

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Letter of Comment
    — Why So Negative?

Here’s my latest published letter to the editor, to the Seattle Gay News, in the September 5 issue (2nd letter, 2nd column [no longer available online]):
Why so negative about gay marriage?

Marriage: the uniting of two people in love via a public ceremony.

Is it my imagination, or do the gay arguments against gay marriage always boil down to “I’m single” and “Don’t rock the boat?”  That’s what comes across from Jason Fleetwood-Boldt (“Gay marriage isn’t necessarily the next step for Queer nation”) and Hastings Wymann (“Capital Letters — Gay marriage: Gain or pain?”) in your August 22 issue.

Fleetwood-Boldt covers his complaints in a veneer of “Why should we want gay marriage when marriage itself is such a bad thing?”  He then goes on to say nothing that is bad about marriage itself, just about the legal benefits that our society attaches only to marriage.  While he’s right that it would be good to apply many of those benefits to a broader spectrum of people, their attachment to marriage doesn’t mean that marriage itself is flawed, or even tarnished.  In other words, he has some beef with marriage that he can’t express with a logical argument, so he has to toss rocks from a distance.  Only he can say what exactly that issue might be, but I’ve seen other cases where it boils down to the person bad-mouthing marriage solely because he has no marriage-type romance prospects on the horizon.

Wymann’s piece is, if possible, worse.  His argument against gay marriage is that it might shake things up.  If gays and lesbians got married, they might move in with each other, settle down, have fewer sexual partners, raise kids and become pillars of the community.  They might even gain the respect of straight couples.  And (gasp!) they might even on occasion break up and have to go through the same messy things straight couples do!  “Don’t rock the boat,” Wymann might have said at Stonewall.  “Just let the police do their raids and we’ll all be just fine.”

Gays who don’t want to get married don’t want resources expended on gay marriage.  Ones who don’t like the army don’t want us to waste time on gays in the military.  The ones who ditched the church want to ignore gays in the priesthood.  Those who don’t want kids don’t want to give to funds which fight for gay adoption rights.  If it’s not something potentially fatal to every one of us — AIDS — then we’ve got naysayers wanting to distance themselves from it and in the process distance us all from it.

God forbid that we as a community should seek something which we as individuals don’t immediately need for ourselves.  Because after all, if it isn’t for Me Me Me then it’s not worth it.
(With slight edits to remove the SGN’s forced capitalization of “gay” and “lesbian”.)

The SGN doesn’t have the two articles referred to on their web site, but here are links to them elsewhere:
Click here for Jason Fleetwood-Boldt’s “Gay Marriage Isn’t Necessarily The Next Step for the Queer Nation” (from Fleetwood-Boldt’s own website).  [No longer available online]

Click here for Hasting Wymann’s “Gay marriage: Gain or pain?” (courtesy of the archives of the Texas Triangle).  [No longer available online]

Updated on September 7, 2010
The SGN archive now only goes back to 2005.
Jason Fleetwood-Boldt’s website is defunct.
The Texas Triangle (and its archives) is defunct.

Boy, you can’t get a historical trace on this stuff at all!

Monday, September 1, 2003

I Hate My Job II

(This follows up on an earlier item.  Read it here.)

Well, I hate my job less these days.  We finally got to the stage where the software was actually working well enough to test (after they dropped a bunch of features), which means my ratings look a lot better because I can actually do something.  I’m also getting a lot less flak from my manager.

But I also got crappy results from my review.  The review was good — not stellar, but above average.  But when I got transferred to this project, the company apparently downgraded my job classification without telling me (or my new manager).  The result being that for my pretty good review, my raise was going to be a pay cut.  They apparently had to push it all the way up to the CEO, saying “You don’t do this to someone with ten years seniority” in order to make my raise be absolutely nothing instead.  Which means I’ve now had a 2% raise in the space of two years.  (Which isn’t great for retaining employees.)

I’ve been pretty scared for my job for a couple months, though.  Our company has gotten in the habit (if twice can be considered such) of doing layoffs in Q4.  It’s a great way to shore up the bottom line at the end of the year, by taking 10% of the people off the books.  That’s how I got on this project, by being “reallocated” rather than being “reduced”.  The last project concluded at the start of Q4 and then got the runaround about when we could start on the next release, until they ended up moving the project to India and laying off 85% of the team.

So you can imagine my trepidation with this project slated to be done in Q4, this and several others at the company.  Do I smell a 15% layoff in the air, despite the stock price being 50% higher than it was a year ago?  Fortunately (I think), they’ve decided that our project needs more time, so they pushed out the schedule by three weeks or so, and then after that, we’ve got perhaps another two months of localization releases to push out: Spanish, Finnish, Simplified Chinese.  This is a great relief; maybe I won’t have to go job hunting again this year.

The project has been plagued by communication issues.  It’s bad enough that we have to deal with (coordinate with) several other teams, each with their own agendas and demands.  But our own team seems to have no sense of process and communication within the team.  A couple weeks ago, there was discussion of a late-coming feature change which I had heard nothing about.  I asked when it would be available for review, and I was told in a day or two, after it had been approved.  In other words, only after they had decided to make the changes would those of us who would have to test it get a chance to know just what it would do (by which point our input would not be usable).  After I complained about this in that meeting, they sent out a copy of the text of the change by e-mail, and after I commented heavily on it — including that I didn’t think it was needed at all — then other people (in management) also spoke up against doing it, and the change turned into a “guidance” document.  (That is, here’s some desirable behaviors and workflows, but we’re not changing how things actually work.)  In other words, none of the people who were supposed to be steering the ship were paying attention, so that a few people were running roughshod over the process and bypassing the safety checks of a proper review.

Click here for part 3.

Updated on September 7, 2010
Clarified the process fuck-up mentioned in that last paragraph.

The previous project was AWS (Adobe Workgroup Server), which then became Version Cue.  We then got dumped onto what became Adobe Bridge.  So far as I know, Version Cue was never touched after that, although it was part of Adobe Creative Suite through CS4.  I doubt very many people ever used it.