Thursday, April 22, 2004

Conflicted about the Conflict: Body Counts

I’ve been hearing occasional numbers batted around about the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since the war “ended” almost a year ago.  The last number I read was 630, but I can’t pin a date on it, identify the breakdown of in-combat vs. other, or tell how many were soldiers and how many were civilians.

The term usually used for this is “casualties”.

That’s not accurate, though.  “Casualty” indicates those injured as well as those killed.  With all the focus in the past couple days about John Kerry’s war record (at least he has one!) and whether he really “earned” the first Purple Heart, you’d think we’d be focusing a bit more on accuracy in our terminology.
How many of our soldiers have received head wounds?

How many have lost a limb?  Or even just broken one?

Gone blind or deaf?

Nerve damage from crushed hands?

Lung damage from fumes and smoke and dust and other particulate matter?

Severe burns?

Exposure to caustic materials?

How many are casualties omitted from the numbers we’re being told, because the soldier’s life was merely permanently ruined rather than completely ended?  Why do we accept that only deaths are important enough to tally?
According to, it’s almost 4000 (as of April 22, 2004).  I’m not sure just what their numbers are drawn from, but they link to a page at the Department of Defense which tags 566 killed since May 1, 2003 (almost 400 Killed in Action) and 3100 wounded (with just under 2000 not returned to duty in three days).

We’ve got about 130,000 troops in Iraq right now.  A little under one-half of 1% have been killed, and 2.4% have been wounded.  That’s almost one soldier in 40.

Updated on April 23, 2004
I’m obviously not alone in the recognition of this discrepancy in the numbers that get pushed at us and the greater impact on our troops’ bodies.  This week, both Doonesbury and Get Fuzzy have moved to the issue of seriously-wounded-yet-not-killed soldiers.
Updated on January 21, 2011
The current numbers from say almost 4300 American deaths (3400 in combat) since “Mission Accomplished”, and almost 33,000 American wounded as the “official” number.  No idea how many non-American dead and wounded.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Undeleted Scenes

Probably the biggest attraction of DVDs, at least for me, is the extras.  I try (but don’t always succeed) in watching all the extras from any DVD I buy — “making of” documentaries, cast bios, trailers, insipid commentary tracks by the assistant producer — but the one thing I make a point of watching, including on rentals, is the deleted/extended scenes.

Often, you can clearly see why the scenes were deleted — because they don’t add anything, and may even contradict other parts of the film.  In many cases, though, they truly illuminate.  The second Lara Croft: Tomb Raider disk included an alternate ending.  Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde had numerous bits deleted which expanded on and explained small plot bits, and so on.

The classic case, of course, is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with each of the first two [1] [2] (and undoubtedly the third) having more than 30 minutes of additional footage available.  But most notable in this case is that these extensions and restorations were completely finished and incorporated back into the film, so they aren’t extras, they are inclusions.  One of the earliest DVDs I rented — damned if I remember what it was — had an option where the deleted scenes could be watched “inline”, but because they weren’t fully produced with sound and post-production filters and such, the result detracted from the film as much as it added.

Not so with Lord of the Rings, of course; here the DVDs are the real movie, what ideally should have been seen the first time, except for concerns of length and pacing.  While some fans would dispute it, I generally agree with the choices to make some of those cuts.  When you’re in the theatre, your bladder filling up from a 48-ounce Pepsi, an extra two minutes of the Fellowship floating down the river or wandering through Moria may not add to your experience, but at home, where you can pause or stop the film and come back later, the added lushness and dialogue bits have much greater value.

With Legally Blonde 2, there were enough extra scenes with real meat to them (or even just fun fluff, since it is a fun fluff film, after all) that I found myself really wishing they had been reincorporated into the DVD.  I suppose the answer comes down to money in the end: will the DVD sell enough extra copies if they do the extra work to pay for it?

Obviously in the case of Lord of the Rings, the answer is yes.  That’s why they are doing, what is it, four DVD releases of each film?  (Initial DVD, initial plus extras, with reincorporated content, and collector’s volume with a statue — which will presumably be of an oliphaunt in the third box.)  The extension of this is that “fans” are the ones who will desire (and pay for) the extra content and extra work.  We can see that a trend is starting here, as they have announced two DVD releases for Hellboy, one with 20 minutes of extra footage incorporated.  (Sign me up now!)  I’m actually surprised that they didn’t do this with X2 (the second X-Men film) last winter, but I’ll bet Spider-Man 2 gets the treatment this Christmas.  It should become de rigueur for high-grossing “fan” films.

Updated on January 20, 2011
Turns out that the statue in the third boxed set was Minas Tirith.

So far as I can tell, the Hellboy DVD did not get the deleted scenes incorporated into it, even on the Director’s Cut version.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

You Like Me.  Right Now, You Like Me! (redux)

Last year, the Washington State Mr. & Ms. Leather Organization awarded be a Leather Emerald Award, recognizing service to the local leather community.

This year, the membership of Seattle Men in Leather — I’ve been Secretary and then briefly President for the past two years, plus I’m the current Seattle Leather Daddy titleholder, and other roles — voted to award me “Man of the Year.”

I remain both pleased and a bit stunned.

[Weblog title reference: Same as last year.  From Sally Field’s 1984 acceptance speech for the Best Actress Oscar for Places in the Heart.  Here’s the video of her speech.]

Updated on January 19, 2011

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Butch Fun Cars

For the past couple months, I’ve been thinking that it’s time to get a new car.  My current one (a Plymouth Neon) will be 9 years old in early August.  A few months older than that, actually, since I bought a demo model with 6500 miles on it at the time.

(Yes, Plymouth Neon, not Dodge Neon.  The hood has the Plymouth star emblem on it, not the Dodge ram.  Identical car, just made in a different factory.)

My green Neon — named “Pranth”; my previous car was a white Hyundai Excel GL which I named “Danth” (SCA and Pern fans should get the joke) — has served me well for the past 117,000 miles, some 14,000 miles per year.  It’s never been broken into (knock on wood), it’s never been in a serious accident (but it has the still-dented fender from when I hit something unknown on the freeway — not a car — 6 months after I got it, and the hanging rear bumper where I was rear-ended about two years after I got the car), and it’s only broken down on me once (last year with a water pump which went out while I was getting a blowjob while driving down the freeway, ahem, never mind).

In looking at my next car, I’m thinking about just what I want out of a car.  I want a “butch, fun car”.  I characterize that as a non-sports-car convertible: something to have fun driving in which looks appropriate for a leatherman, and which is large enough to carry home stuff bought at Lowe’s or IKEA.  (A VW Beetle convertible fails on two of those.  So does a ’Vette, to me.)  The classic example of this is the Jeep Wrangler (with a hardtop; no “clouded-up plastic windows and rip me open with a knife” soft tops, please!).

(Note that there are two things which some people would call “butch fun cars” which I don’t want: I don’t want a pickup and I don’t want a big SUV.)

So I go out looking at what is out there in this class.  Defining the class itself is hard.  Is it a “convertible”?  Is it an “SUV”?  Is it a “sports car”?  Is it a “pickup truck”?  My best term for the class I’m looking for is “(semi)convertible small SUV” (or a “semi-con” as opposed to a “non-con”, a regular, non-convertible SUV).  That at least makes it easier to look for similar things on car company web sites.

What I’ve found is that there’s almost nothing out there to buy in this class, although there used to be!  Jeep makes the Wrangler (in several flavors; I would probably want Renegade Sahara or Rubicon), and these can be found all over Seattle.  Land Rover introduced the Freelander in 2003 with the SE3 variant, which is an SUV with a removable back end; I have seen precisely one driving around Seattle since I found out about the vehicle.  Suzuki used to make the Samurai, a Wrangler look alike, but discontinued it years ago.  Toyota’s Rav4 used to be a semi-con, but it’s now a hardbody SUV.  Chevrolet used to make the Tracker in this class, built on the Suzuki Vitara, but that became a non-con only in 2004.  Isuzu discontinued the Amigo a decade ago, brought it back as the Rodeo Sport, and discontinued it a couple years ago.  Chevrolet also makes the SSR, a convertible pickup.  (But it’s a pickup, it looks even more fucked up than the PT Cruiser, and it starts at a whopping $42,000!)

So my choices are Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover Freelander SE3.  (Or last year’s Tracker, which I can still buy new 3 hours away in Portland, according to the Chevy web site.  The SSR isn’t a viable option, not at that price point.)  Nobody else produces something in this class.  Nobody.

Over the holidays, I went to Palm Springs, and I rented a Dodge Dakota for the week.  (It was the cheapest thing I could get at LAX, $100 less for the week than even a Ford Focus, believe it or not!)  After about five days of driving it, of getting in and out of it, I found that my knees started to hurt from the stepping up and down due to the vehicle’s height.  (I hurt them years ago playing volleyball, and then never took the long time to let them fully heal due to my performance dancing.  They don’t bother me much these days, but now and then they kick up.)  If anything yanked tall pickups and big SUVs out of the running for me for sure, that was it — I can’t (won’t) drive a vehicle that will cause me pain.

So what I want to do is rent these vehicles for a week to really test them out — find out how I will deal with them physically, and see what will really annoy me about the way they drive or their interior features.  But you can’t do that.  The dealerships won’t rent the vehicles, just test drive them for an hour.  The only major rental company which says online that they have Wranglers in their fleet is Dollar, but they won’t rent them to you in Seattle, and their phone people say “Are you sure we have those?”  (Some companies may have them in select markets.  Wranglers are apparently common rentals in the Caribbean, for example, not that such helps me here.)  Avis had the gall to tell me that they don’t have them because there’s no demand for them; gee, maybe no one asks for them because you don’t have any for them to rent!  I love the things that customer support and sales people make up to be able to not say “I don’t know why.”)  Land Rover, not even being based in the United States, is just about as easy (read: impossible) to rent, it seems.  I’ve found that Enterprise in Seattle has some Freelanders (but not SE3s), which should deal with most of my rental desires, leaving only “How is it without the top on?” to be determined by test drives.  Maybe I can find a recent model Jeep for rent via the yellow pages from a used car dealer, but I have no real expectation of that.

The overall frustration here brings up a more major point about our society: how do we make decisions to buy things?  We’re encouraged to (and really only allowed to) have limited information to make decisions with.  In many cases, a TV is a TV is a TV: so long as you like the look and can see that the remote isn’t too confusing, if it’s the right size, then it’s fine.  But when you’re talking about a $25,000 car you’ll be dealing with for several years — or to take it the next step up, I spent maybe three hours total in my house before offering to buy it for $250,000 — it seems like we should want to be really damn sure that we are going to be happy with what we buy.  Instead, we have to swallow and live with anything bad about what we buy that we didn’t notice before hand.  That’s a bitter, horse-sized pill.

Updated on January 18, 2011

Movie Review
    — Connie and Carla

This movie should be subtitled “My Big Fat Greek Drag Show”.  (The movie’s executive producer and one of the stars (Vardalos) are best known for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

Last night, Rusty and I went to a free preview showing of the new movie Connie and Carla, hosted by KLSY 92.5 (The New Mix).

The plot, as can be gleaned from the trailer, is that a pair of women (Nia Vardalos and Toni Colette) who do showtunes as (lousy) dinner theatre entertainment witness a murder and end up on the run, taking refuge posing as drag queens in West Hollywood where they are a runaway success.  One of them (Vardalos) falls in love with a (straight) guy (David Duchovny), who of course believes she’s a man posing as a woman.

This movie is hilarious!

(Okay, it’s made even better by the ticket being free, but I was interested in seeing it anyway, and this movie defijavascript:void(0)nitely worth a ticket price.)

What makes this film work is the realization that performers are performers, no matter what gender they are and what costumes they wear.  And that audiences most of all want to see something both fabulous and familiar, which is why drag queens in gaudy outfits singing showtunes works well.

I got a special kick out of this film because of Duchovny’s presence.  I remember him fondly in an earlier role as an FBI agent.  No, not the one where he battled weird phenomena, teamed up with Dana Sculley.  The one where he battled weird phenomena, teamed up with Dale Cooper: Duchovny appeared in Twin Peaks as the cross-dressing agent Denise Bryson.

There is also a Rocky Horror Picture Show bit in this film (another favorite of mine: I’ve played Frank, Brad, Riff Raff, Rocky, Magenta, Columbia, and Betty Hapschatt in casts over the years, and I was also in the chorus in a stage production), which reminded me that every now and then you come across a film which seems like somebody desperately wanted it to become the new Midnight Movie sensation by loading it with bad dialogue and dramatic pauses to encourage the audience to call back to the screen.  This film doesn’t try to do that at all, but it sure has the potential: I can just imagine a cast — mostly in drag, of course — hamming it up, singing and dancing along with all the musical numbers.  To heck with “Sing-Along Sound of Music (or the “Sing-Along South Pacific” in this film), or even the “Rocky Horror Lion King” I know has been done; this film could do the job.


Awful Flight

I haven’t usually been in the habit of doing comic book reviews in this blog (or any kind of reviews, but what the heck: Go see Hellboy!), but this one sticks out like a sore thumb.  I don’t know when the last time was that I read a comic book this bad from a major publisher (you know, from someone who should know better).

This was published by Marvel Comics in March, 2004.  A second issue should be on the stands now, but you can probably still find this one.  Although why you would want to is beyond me…

You know, any comic which carries the cover title “You Gotta Be Kiddin’ Me” probably answers its own sales question right there.  Why should I bother?

A little history: The superhero team Alpha Flight premiered some 25 years ago in an issue of X-Men.  They were funded by the Canadian government (featuring such Great White North-themed characters as Guardian [then called Vindicator], Aurora and Northstar, Shaman, Sasquatch, and Snowbird), and they had been sent to recover one of their former members, Wolverine.  A few years later, they got their own book, adding members like Puck, Marrina, the Purple Girl (daughter of the Purple Man, natch), Manikin, a new Guardian (wife of the original), and Diamond Lil.  They had their ups and downs, had connections to the Avengers and the X-Men, and saw some notable storylines, including Northstar contracting AIDS (later revamped into him being half-Asgardian and “allergic” to Earth; that’s right, he wasn’t a fairy, he was a faerie), Sasquatch and Snowbird being killed and brought back to life as one being (so that the originally male Walter Langowski became the female “Wanda”), and the eventual outing of Northstar (see, he really was a fairy!), a story which got so much press that it sent Marvel Comics back into the closet for a decade until they decided to out one of their cowboy characters, Rawhide Kid.

This issue picks up a few years later, with Sasquatch — back to being orange and “Walter”, a story I undoubtedly missed and am probably happy I did — trying to form a new Alpha Flight.  No reason for this is given (AOOGAH!  AOOGAH!); I can’t tell from the story here if it’s to satisfy the government or just because he misses getting beat on regularly.  So to do this, he goes and recruits the members of the old team who are still around, right?  Not that I know who they might be.  Northstar is occupied in some X-Men title, and some of the others are dead, but I’m sure a couple are still around, right?  If not Alpha Flight, maybe the second or third-string groups, Beta Flight and Gammas Flight?  Maybe even the villains, Omega Flight, since a reformed villain always makes a good team member?  Nope, not a former Alphan to be seen.  (AOOGAH!  AOOGAH!)

Let’s pause to look at the first pages of this issue.  We start with a pinup rather than any of the story.  (This should be a warning.)  Then we go to the team in the middle of a battle with some robots, each giving a little quip (not that quipping and in media res stories are unusual for comics), with the page littered with day-glo colored maple leafs and title logos.  And dialogue captions commenting that this isn’t the best place to start the story.  The next page shifts in location and back in time, and the caption says “But as usual, we‘re getting too far ahead of ourselves.”  Probably, this is meant to be funny (but it ain’t).  Really, though, there’s a truism with comics: any time the characters complain that the story is bad, you know you’re in trouble.  When the omniscient narrator makes that complaint, you’re really in deep.

Back to the story.  Instead of recruiting his old buddies, Walter “recruits” (blackmails, actually) Nemesis, a character who appeared a couple times in old Alpha Flight issues; her schtick is that she can’t be killed, can’t remove her mask (something about demonic possession), and she has a sword that can cut through anything.  (Sounds like a Wolverine team-up waiting to happen.)  He also pulls in Major Mapleleaf (cheesy name alert!), the son of the original one who starred in the issue where Northstar came out; I vaguely remember something about MM’s son in that issue, maybe that he was gay, but there’s zippo reference back to that story here (even though it’s the same writer), so who can tell?  It’s also not clear he is anything more than a guy who does public appearances at middle schools on behalf of the Mounties, a là “Officer Ron of the Highway Patrol.”

And he pulls in three new characters.  There’s a tattooed girl who is the owner and super-strong bouncer of a bar in Montréal.  (We know it’s Montréal because we’re told so, not because the artist included any scene-setting landmarks or because the girl or any bar patrons speak French; Zut alors, not even comic book pidgin-French, mon cher!)  Super-strong tattooed female bar bouncer?  Oh, you mean like Grace from DC Comics’ The Outsiders?  Original, original.  (She’ll be co-opting the name of former Alpha Flight-member Puck.  Apparently it has been lost that he used that name because he was small and he tumbled in circles; she is/does neither.)  [Update: it ended up that she was the daughter of the original Puck, but that wasn't mentioned here.  Here, the name came out of the blue.]  Walter also pulls in an 96-year old geezer on his death bed; the guy only has “latent” super powers until Water-as-Sasquatch tries to kill him by scaring him to death.  (Attempted murder.  That’s a good way to build team spirit.)  And a native shaman (but that’s not the codename he’ll use, and of course his real name is “unpronounceable”) from a never-before-known Arctic civilization (not even when Alpha Flight was fighting the Great Beasts up there?) who wears just fur boots and a loincloth (brrr!) and will adopt the name… wait for it… Yukon Jack.  (Naming a Native American, er, Native Canadian after alcohol.  Now that’s politically correct!)  Oh, and lest we forget, he speaks in “thees” and “thous”, but he gets them wrong!  (Sample dialogue: “I have given thou request its proper merit…”.  “Thou” is the second-person archaic form of “you”; what writer Lobdell needed here was a version of “your”, which would be “thy” or “thine”.  Hasn’t he ever read at least an issue of Thor?  [Now, this was in a dream sequence, but it’s still shoddy writing.])

I should revise what I said above: Sasquatch does not recruit them.  Every one of the characters refuses his offer.  (He makes cliché offers to each, like “help the world that will hate and fear you.”  Remember what I said about not knowing why the team is being reformed?)  Obviously, he will get them together by the end of the first six-issue arc — sorry, not going to wade through this for that long! — but based on the end of this issue, he still plans to do it by manipulation rather than honesty.  Will none of these characters have anything else going on in their lives to hold their interests, able to just jump away to new lives as government-directed superheroes?  Like say, communing with nature, or being a role model to kids, or running a business they own, or dying?  (You know, the stuff they were shown to be doing earlier?)  Apparently not.

In the end, the ultimate test of a book like this is: Why this book, why now?  There is no answer to this question coming from this book.  The most likely answer is simply that Marvel needed to bring the team back together in order to keep hold of the trademark; that’s why even the most stupid characters show up again once a decade or so.  But a big question comes with why Sasquatch is the anchor of this book.  You see, Marvel also publishes Exiles, featuring a group of characters from alternate universes hopping from world to world, trying to “fix” the timeline.  (What If…? for the new millennium.)  One of the characters there is Sasquatch — a white sasquatch who transforms into a black woman named Heather McDonald-Hudson, who as a white woman in the main Marvel universe, was the second Guardian.  Confused?  Think you’ll be any less confused by two Sasquatches running around with different colors, names, and genders?

So let’s see: duplicate characters, politically incorrect character names, clichéd and inscrutable reasons for creating the team, horrendous dialogue.  Oh, I forgot to tell you that some of the characters don’t even get names (codename or real names) this issue.  And that the art is of the new “popular” Amerimanga art school, with big feet and ultra-gelled hair, but mediocre anatomy and little detail in the art.  Oh, and an unengaging story which gives you no reason to come back for #2 (unless you like watching train wrecks).  I’ll be surprised if this makes it to issue #6 to conclude the first story arc; it should die at #4.  (No, at #2!  Do I hear a plea for the Exiles to “fix” the timeline by stopping it before #1?)

But really, don’t take my word for it.  Go pick this up at the shop.  Page through it.  And then put it back on the stands.  Quick.  To paraphrase what friend told me to do with the excrement that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, “Wait for it to end up in the quarter bin, and then don’t buy it.”

Updated on July 12, 2004

Updated on January 12, 2011
The series got a second 6-issue arc, and then got cancelled.  A 5-issue Omega Flight series showed in 2007, most US heroes transplanted to Canada (which rather loses the point)  Recent Chaos War-event appearances imply yet another run may be in the offing for 2011.

Friday, April 9, 2004

What Were They Thinking?
    — Which Way is Up?  Which Way is On?

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

In March, I stayed at a Days Inn in Nashville.  The light switches in the room were all of a design like the above diagram: about the same size as a standard light switch, but horizontal, with no projecting toggle, just a divot divider down the center, and very pale text on the switch itself.  (Which is technically just like on a normal toggle switch: indecipherable unless you looked closely at it to read the labels.)

These switches caused me no end of frustration.  After about 24 hours, I finally realized that they were at least all consistent: when you can into a room or were facing the bathroom mirror, “On” was away from you, in the “going in” direction.  If you pressed the away side, the light turned on (or stayed on), and if you pushed the toward side, the light turned or stayed off.

Of course, we’ve all encountered rooms with two light switches — or just ones installed upside down — so that such consistency is pretty meaningless.  The apparent state cannot be trusted because it may be “wrong”; the only true way to tell the state of the switch is by the state of the light.  To turn on or off a light, you put your hand on the switch, feel for the current state, and flip the switch in the opposite direction.  (If the bulb is burned out, tough luck!)

With these switches, while there is a mapping to the real world, there is no indication of current state from the switch at all (whether or not that matches the state of the light).  (Since the state is binary — on or off — we don’t need consistency of indication, just indication at all.)  And thus the typical behavior with these switches is not to change the direction based on the light’s state, but to fumble and push several times until the desired state is achieved; inefficient.  This problem is abetted by the inobviousness of the switch: you can’t just put your hand in the area and find it with tactile ease, but instead you have to sense where the slight indentation of the horizontal switch is and then identify how to fit your finger onto the switch before you can move to the on/off part of the task.

Undoubtedly, this was a case of someone wanting to get a patent of their own, which they hug and squeeze and call George.  It’s not of much value beyond that.

To make matters worse, this room was fitted with a panel next to the bed, with five of these switches on it (in vertical mode rather than horizontal), rigged to control the various lights in the room. Presumably, this was intended so that the person in bed could turn on lights before getting up.  But none of the switches were labeled, and they were arranged in a grid, so the only way to tell what went with which light was to try them all out and memorize.  (Like that’s going to happen when staying in the room for one or two nights?)  But wait, that’s not all: one of the switches was apparently not hooked up to anything!

Updated on July 9, 2004

Updated on January 7, 2010

Stupid, Stupid Ads!
    — It’s Got a What?!

“Stupid, Stupid Ads!” dissects ads that try to do something underhanded or just plain stupid.

Needless to say, stupid advertising annoys the fuck out of me.  See this item.

The latest one to get under my skin is for the Dodge Ram.  The billboard is about 2/3 black with the truck’s logo, and 1/3 an image of the truck’s rear bumper, with a bumper sticker reading “Yes, it’s got a Hemi!”

So what the Hell is a “Hemi”?  Beats the heck out of me.  I guess it must be something good for trucks to have.  Hmm.

They are showing the bumper, and I’ve seen that those big chrome rear bumpers are not being included on some trucks these days, so maybe this means that this truck has a nice bumper?  Or maybe a “half-bumper” (whatever that might be), since “hemi” means “half”?  (Nope, it’s not the bumper.)

I’ve seen a lot of trucks in past years where there’s no tailgate.  (How can you have a tailgate party without a tailgate?)  They are replaced by a nylon web.  Some people claim that this is to cut wind resistance and thus boost gas mileage, but I’m sure it’s mostly to add another option to the truck which the companies can charge more for by having to do special.  So since they are showing the rear part of the truck, maybe a “Hemi” is some kind of a new half-tailgate?  That could be cool.  (Nope, it’s not the tailgate.)

So called “King Cabs” — space behind the front seat sufficient for people to sit in with only minor discomfort — have been around for years.  As people buy pickup trucks more as around-town vehicles than purely as work vehicles (“metro rednecks”), there’s increasing demand for more in-cab space and the ability to comfortably sit a family of four.  I see now that there are even four-door pickups out there — from Dodge, in fact, and I think they look stupid— so maybe a “Hemi” is one of these super-extended cabs?  (Nope, it’s not the passenger space.)

I finally looked up the ad phrase online.  Turns out that it refers to the HEMI® Magnum engine inside.  (And studies apparently say that 50% of purchasers will pay a premium for the most powerful such engine they can get.  Probably mostly people who never use the truck for more than hauling lumber from Home Depot, I suspect.)

Is advertising successful if it doesn’t tell you what it is advertising, annoys you every time you see it, and eventually builds up enough bile to force you to go to the web to find out what the heck it refers to?  On some level, maybe: it got me to look it up.  But I have no interest in what is being advertised, and I’m annoyed enough to bitch about it in public.  I’d say that qualifies as failure.

Updated on July 12, 2004

Updated on January 11, 2011

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

What Were They Thinking?
    — That’s Why They Offer Wake-Up Calls

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

In February, I went to Houston for the LUEY event weekend.  The hotel I stayed in (Holiday Inn Select / Greenway Plaza — now the Crowne Plaza / Houston River Oaks) had this alarm clock.  The manufacturer was something like Empire or Elite; wish I could remember just what so I could avoid them forever more.

The blurry picture here doesn’t do this device justice.  We’ve probably all seen clocks which have minor control quirks, especially never knowing which dial is volume and which sets the station until you move one (since no one ever checks the hard-to-read label beforehand), or the way you have to closely read the labels next to the dots to be sure which indicates the alarm is on and which indicates AM/PM.

No, this clock goes beyond the pale in three ways:
  1. The tiny snooze button.  Think about it: if you are going to use the clock as an alarm clock, what is the most important thing next to the time display?  The snooze button.  This should be big and centrally placed, ensuring (a) that you hit it easily in your jarred-awake, groggy, no-glasses-on state and (b) that you don’t accidentally hit buttons which turn the alarm off or change the time while you flail around for the snooze button.  Which are exactly (a) what I didn’t do and (b) what I did do.
  2. The button for setting the alarm.  This clock, like many, requires you to push an extra button when setting the alarm, which prevents you from accidentally hitting a button and changing your alarm and thus causing you to be late for a meeting.  (This one didn’t, however, require pushing a second button to set the regular time, so you could easily bump things and change the current time, making you wake up an hour or two too early!)  Since most people are right handed, they will hold the alarm set button with their left hand, and use their right hand to do the major manipulation of the hour and minute buttons.  But here, the hour and minute buttons are to the left of the alarm set button, which means that most people have to cross their right hand over their left to do the setting.  But wait, that’s not all!  With the alarm set button in the middle, the hands crossed, and the buttons above the time display, your hands are right in front of the time display, so you can’t see the alarm time as you try to set it!
  3. The radio dial.  Lest you think that the design stupidity ends with the above minor things, it’s really too bad you can’t clearly see the radio dial in the photo above… because it is backwards!  No, really: while every other dial in the (Western) world has the smaller station numbers on the the left on of the dial, here the smaller station numbers are on the right end, and the larger ones are on the left, so the interaction is the reverse of what any user (in Houston) will want.  Whose idiot idea was that?

Updated on July 12, 2004

Updated on January 10, 2010
Boy did I have typos in the original post!