Prostrate Yourself Before It

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:41 pm

I’m really sorry that my postings have been so anemic. I just got off of two weeks’ vacation, which I spent hanging out with Margaret and playing entirely too much Need For Speed: Most Wanted. (A fine old game, that, though with the harsh yellow lighting and HDR-styled gamma blowouts so reminiscent of Half-Life 2, I had to wonder if Valve Software plans on suing Electronic Arts for, oh, Theft of Atmospherics or something.) All that lazing around really sapped my creative energy….though not nearly as much as the subsequent return to work. I have no, repeat no grounds for whining, though: I know full well that I have it a hell of a lot easier this time of year than anyone else at my company. I don’t answer phones, I don’t take orders and I don’t ship packages. I just make sure all our product literature and packaging is up to date and hang the cute little xmas lights from the logo on our home page. I am a lucky, lucky man.

Now, what was I doing again? Oh yeah, a blog entry….

Our housemate Shawn went to the downtown Uwajimaya a couple of weeks ago to see what kind of cool wierd new Japanese stuff they had. (I like Uwajimaya; it reminds me of a very popular store in Hawaii called Shirokiya, where my friends and I used to go to buy cool import Micromen you couldn’t get at the “domestic” toy stores.

Anywho, Shawn came back with a couple of cans of Boss Coffee.

Boss Coffee

This isn’t a Food Fright segment. There’s nothing particularly unusual about this product as a foodstuff; it’s decent coffee, though I personally prefer Pokka brand myself.

No, what I really enjoyed about this product was the packaging. It is often asserted here in the West that the Japanese use English in their advertising in a sort of whimsical, amusingly clueless fashion, presumably more for the sound of various words than for their actual English definitions. That may or may not be true—the existence of such fine products as Collon Cream and Pocari Sweat might support this theory—but in the case of Boss Coffee, I get the feeling that the designers knew exactly what they were doing with the language.

I’m not at all sure why, but I simply adore the Soviet-esque Progressivist styling of the label. Just look at that there boss: pictured from the subservient viewing angle of 40 degrees off center and ten or so down, gazing upward into his craggy, impassive boss-like face as he looks to the future….or quite possibly stares the future down. He looks a bit like Lenin in an early Soviet propanganda poster:


In fact, the very name of the product seems to lend credence to the Soviet propaganda tie-in. “Boss” as in “Party Boss”.

And let us not fail to notice that his steaming cup of Vladivostokian Supremo is being poured for, rather than by him, further driving the point home. This is a man at the top of his game, a leader, a true visionary in his field. As such, he has no time for such frivolities as pouring his own coffee, or even turning his head slightly to tell you to get back to work. He has people for this sort of thing! Do the pipe and suspenders tell you nothing??

The whole effect is very over-the-top, and in that way very Japanese (whose firms’ marketing divisions so often seem to delight in out-Westerning the West). But it is also very perceptive and to the point. The label is not just a hash of words that someone thought would sound pleasing to their customers’ ear. It appears to be a fun little poke at the whole concept of commerce and leadership, and the stereotyped role coffee plays in both. Would that American firms like, oh, say, Wolfgang Puck might pay so much attention to the power of packaging. Or, for that matter, make such a decent cup of coffee.


Always Read The Directions

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:02 pm
Okey Dokey!

I’ve been a diabetic for—what, five, six years?—and I’d never noticed the instructions on the top of my bottles of insulin. Better late than never, I suppose.



Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:46 pm

It’s a Rant, It’s a Me-Mail! It’s….it’s a Me-Mail Rant!

Just dropped this one on the good folks at Intego Software, after discovering that their NetUpdate software (the Intego equivalent of Norton’s LiveUpdate) pulled a fast one on me after I booted up my Mac this morning:


Unless I’m missing something, this morning your NetUpdate software industriously deleted my lawfully purchased copy of Personal Backup X3 and replaced it with an unregistered copy of Personal Backup X4 which I have no interest in paying for.

This was what you meant by “Background Update”??? That you would “update” my software with a new version that I must then pay more money for? That’s not a service; that’s hostageware.

Not that I expect there’s anything you’ll about it, but what are you going to do about this? Will you send me a new Personal Backup X3 install disc FedEx Overnight to replace the software you stole from me? Will you give me a license of Personal Backup X4 for free as an apology for the major inconvenience and invasion of my digital privacy?

I’m a current registered owner of both Personal Backup X and Netbarrier. My confidence in your company and its products has been shaken to the core. I’d like to know what you plan to do to assuage my concerns.

Quite Sincerely,

Andrew Lenzer


I’ll let you know how they respond. This is the kind of thing you pay other companies like Norton, McAfee and Trend Micro to PREVENT some asshole from doing to you.

Who knows; maybe this post will end up getting the kind of traffic my “Why We Hate The Bedroom Superstore” article does. Seeing those hits in my Referrer log always brings a smile to my face.

Thank You, Penn Jillette

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:52 am

Not to push the God thing around my plate more than is necessary, but Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller had a wonderful essay entitled “There is no God” on NPR this morning. Very uplifting. Seriously!


You Can’t Spell “Illustration” Without “Lust”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 3:35 pm

Margaret and I have what I would call a mature relationship. Neither of us is the type to take umbrage when the other pauses to appreciate the human form in its many and varied permutations. We both know that we want to spend the rest of our lives together in monogamous exclusivity (or perhaps exclusive monogamy [which is really just a redudant tautology {which is in fact yet another redundancy}]), and that a momentary outbreak of “wandering eye” here or there is harmless and of no significance.

That being said, I may be on the verge of getting myself into trouble. You see, I’ve got a mild case of the hots for Erin Esurance, the perky spokescartoon for esurance.com.

Erin Esurance

I don’t know whether it’s her pink hair, big green eyes, or her cartoonishly lithe-yet-buxom figure, but those bastards at Esurance sure figured out how to push some buttons.

Look, I’m not proud of this. You think I’m thrilled to be attracted to a cartoon character? I assure you I am not. Thank God my wife is sufficiently level-headed to not feel threatened by the situation….although, it must be said, she has to be wondering what kind of wierdo she ended up marrying.

Friends and family might recall having heard me talk about my “mediopathy”, my unhealthy relationship to media, mostly motion-based media. I have yet to finish the game Doom 3, despite my having waited anxiously for almost two years to play it, because it terrifies me. I get sucked into the plot of even the most formulaic movies, so that I am unable to anticipate the hackneyed plot twists and surprise endings. I get tears in my eyes when television tells me to. This is a problem. It is not the sort of problem that requires immediate action like medication or electroshock, but it is a problem nonetheless.

It has long been my feeling that the human brain is not really cut out to distinguish between a series of fluidly transitioning sequential images, coupled with attendant audio input, and actual experience. There are already terms in the human neurologic lexicon for this sort of thing: imagination and memory. I’ve often said that, in the future, the cutting-edge video game experience might well involve paying to have the memory implanted in your head of kicking some alien ass on a distant planet.

I think I’m simply more susceptible to this particular brand of toxification of my amygdala than many people. Hence my attraction to Erin.

But Lord knows I can’t be the only one. You know—just know—that she was built from the ground up by a team of advertisers and marketers to draw people’s attention. I don’t say this just because of my reaction to her; I say it because nothing on a multi-million-dollar ad campaign is there without a reason. Makes me wonder who statistically buys more of the insurance in America, men or women?

Just the fact that they gave the character a name, despite the fact that her name is never used in any of the ads, should give you an idea of how much attention she’s drawn. She has her own blog (as sterile and anemic a corporate shill as has ever been created), where you can among other things view streams of all her commercials. Could desktop wallpaper—the pin-up of the digital age—be far behind?

And of course this isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happend. Lara Croft, anyone? (Though I never personally found her all that alluring. She always looked too much like a thirteen-year-old trying to smuggle a couple of watermelons out of the market in her tank top.)

Anyway, this is not the sort of thing that is going to cause a rift in my relationship with Margaret. I’m not writing Erin mash notes, I don’t have her picture on my desktop, I’m not staying up late teaching myself Flash so I can make my own Erin Esurance pr0n. I don’t look at her in the same way that I would look at, say, an actual attractive human female. I just think she’s cute. That’s wierd, but not, like, intervention wierd, is it?

Is it?

Ahh, what do you people know; none of you understands me.

But I’ll bet Erin does.

I used to have a script embedded in this post that provided an up-to-the-minute roster of every visitor who arrived here by entering the word “Esurance” in a search engine. Eventually the list got so long that it was causing fatal timeouts on my blog. I’m still recording these hits, but the list has been removed to a separate page. You can see it here.

Date/Time: $serverTime
IP Address: $ip
Host Name: $hostaddress
Referred Via: $referrederin
Browser: $browser




Let Go, Let God, Let GOP

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:28 pm

Heard a fascinating article on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday. Democratic politicians are making more of an effort to express their faith publicly these days. Many feel that the electoral triumph of Virginia Governor-Elect Tim Kaine is due in large part to his vocal acknowledgement of his Catholicism.

Apparently, this tactic has caught the attention of other Dems. In fact, Kaine’s campaign was partly funded by the Democratic National Committee as a pilot project for reaching out to the faithful.

The point that these people make is not a bad one, namely that Democrats are not lacking a spiritual side. For no particularly sane reason, the Republican party has managed to convince religous Americans in ever-growing numbers that the Democrats are not merely the party of free-wheeling, no-orifices-barred secular liberalism, but that in fact we are anti-religion. The underlying suggestion seems to be that, left unchecked, the liberals will ban religion altogether….doubtless to be quickly followed by the Compulsive Child Sodomy Act of 2006.

It would be nice to make concerned religious Americans aware that this is not the case.


This is the core of true liberalism; the conviction that people with vastly different belief systems can live and work together, with the judicious application of a little self-awareness and common courtesy. It is the philoshopy at the very heart of the liberal rallying cry, “Strength Through Diversity”. Conservative talking heads can always come up with a hard-core leftie whack job or two to flesh out their anti-Democratic diatribes, but I think it’s safe to say that, by definition, liberals tend to be more accepting of people’s differences than conservatives. Contrary to what a Bill O’Reilly or Michael Medved might say about it, this tendency includes accepting those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Jehova, Allah, Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Those of us who believe as you do celebrate your faith. Those of us who don’t wish you all the best.

But—and this is a big, bouncy bubble but—we don’t particularly want to hear about it. It just doesn’t seem necessary to the acknowledgement of your right to worship to be forced to experience your epiphany with you. Sometimes we feel like seeing what all the fuss is about, in which case your calm and friendly indulgence might help to win a few of us over to your side. Other than that, however, we’d prefer that you try not to go overboard showing yourselves off.

This is the very behavior in which all of our friends of faith—the people who in my mind represent the very best of what it means to have one’s life informed by a divine Presence—participate on a daily basis. They artfully and earnestly straddle the line between the terrestrial and the celestial, living the life they feel God wants for them while bearing in mind the sensibilities of us, their poor, benighted, hellbound friends. I joke, but I’m serious when I say that I appreciate their efforts. These people know, really know, that their friends and loved ones are destined for the Lake of Fire if they don’t change their ways. They also know that hounding us until we can no longer bear to be in their presence will not save us, that it might in fact drive us further away from the path that will save our eternal selves. All they can do is live their lives as they are expected to do, and hope that, by example, by chance or by divine intervention, we find our way back to the light. That, to my mind, is the pinnacle of adherence to the liberal social contract. We should all be so virtuous.

“But Uncle Andrew, what about other groups like, say, the gays? Don’t you think they go out of their way to shove their lifestyles in our faces? Aren’t they violating the social contract you’re describing here?”

Um, yeah, sort of, but not really. First of all, some leeway has to be granted for groups that are marginalized by the greater society. Expressions of personal pride and empowerment are bound to be more pointed and exuberant among embattled minorities than among members of the majority. In this context, gays certainly count as a minority, both in terms of their population numbers (the numbers for this are all over the place, but most folks would probably agree that the total lies somewhere at or under ten percent) and overall national sentiment, particularly in relation to religion.

And yes, religious people in general and Christians in particular are in the majority in America. The idea that Christians are as a group locked in a battle for their survival in this country is, well, it’s pathetic. The threats, be they gay marriage, Wicca or the desire to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, are to my mind so much smoke, nothing but a bit of underdone potato.

The fact that Christians have been told by a reliable source that the world will be rent asunder might help to explain why some of them try so desperately to identify the social cancers that will rot our nation from within and bring about our downfall. (Me, I’m counting on drastic climate change to fuck us all, so I’m more inclined to blame the world’s ills on the Hummer H2.)

Here’s a handy litmus test: if a member of your group faces a quantifiable probability of being beaten with chains, hung from a fencepost or dragged to his/her death behind a pickup truck in America’s heartland simply for being a member of said group, in my book you’ve earned the right to some extra consideration when expressing your pride publicly. If, on the other hand, your group’s core message is so prevalent that it appears on your nation’s money, you probably have all the support and empowerment you really need, and can safely consider reigning in your public self-aggrandizement just a bit.

(This is not meant to suggest that anything remotely resembling a plurality of middle Americans would ever dream of participating in such brutality, just that, barring some sort of mental illness, none of them would ever consider doing such a thing to their Caucaso-Christian brethren.)

Secondly, organized marches and parades really don’t count. You’re welcome to witness them or not, depending on your preference. Ditto with television, movies and other media. Don’t like it, don’t watch it. If you are referring to “offensive” content on T-shirts, magazine or album covers, posted bills, etc., well, there’s a remedy for that: it’s spelled out in Miller v. California. Freedom of expression does not trump obscenity as perceived through the filter of community standards. So file a lawsuit, if averting your eyes seems like too much effort.

If on the other hand your objection has to do with such impositions as normal public displays of affection between homosexuals (kissing, holding hands, etc.) well, I’m sure your local Yellow Pages has complete contact information for many fine therapists in your area.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, religion and the Democratic Party. The point is, you are welcome to express your faith—or lack of same—under the Dem’s tent. The fact that it is not brought up every single time a liberal talking head opens his or her mouth should not be taken as an ominous sign; quite the opposite, in fact.

Let’s face up to something here, shall we? While the Republican platform treats religion in general as crucial to both the character of the individual and the survival of the society, the vast majority of the Republican leadership is Christian in particular. As a (lapsed, non-observing, half-) Jew, lemme tell you that being welcomed with open arms by evangelical Christian conservatives kind of creeps me out. There’s the very real possibility that their support of Judaism stems solely from their understanding that the Rapture will not occur unless the nation of Israel is in existence on Earth….so it can be destroyed.

From a purely objective standpoint, which political party do you think a devout member of a non-Christian faith would really feel accepted in? The one whose members believe with all their heart that “Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me” (particularly considering that members of this party seem to have trouble accepting the existence of people who believe in no God at all, much less those who pledge themselves to “the competition”)? Or the one whose stance is closer to “sure, whatever, it’s all good”?

Which would the impartial observer most likely decide was a good home for those who might not necessarily believe Jesus was the son of God? Or even just white?

And while we’re on the subject, does it bother anyone else that conservative Christians seem to put such a premium on their political leaders’ incessant and public proclamation of their faith? Does this not ring somewhat hollow after a while, even to those who feel they have a vested interest in seeing that people of religious conviction make it into public office? Three words, guys: Matthew Six Six. Apparently, God Himself isn’t impressed with your pious public overtures either.

Maybe, just maybe, the Democratic Party has not felt it necessary to toot their own celestial horn, not because they are utterly without a spiritual and moral core, but because to do so makes one appear smarmy and self-righteous. This would seem the, well, the honest and unassuming way to go about one’s faith.

Until, of course, some other group hoping to discredit you launches a cynical campaign to portray you as morally bankrupt and, more galling still, furthering the aims of the Enemy.


If You Believe….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:02 pm

Margaret and I were watching an interview with astronaut, college professor and all-around good egg Neil Armstrong on 60 Minutes last night (transcript can be found here), when Ed Bradley asked him, “In the midst all your professional achievements, you’ve managed to get married, to have a family. Was it a difficult balance for you to maintain both sides of your life?”

Armstrong pondered this for a second. “The one thing I regret was that my work required an enormous amount of my time, and a lot of travel, and I didn’t get to spend the time I would have liked with my family as they were growing up.”

At this point Margaret piped up, “‘A lot of travel’. Boy, that’s an understatement!”

I did not hit her with a sofa cushion.


Food Fright, Part 8

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:34 am

This installment of Food Fright features a product from diminutive restaurateur Wolfgang Puck. I personally have never eaten at any of Mr. Puck’s establishments nor sampled any of his other consumer wares, so my first tentative step onto the fertile plains of his culinary imagination involves today’s subject, the Wolfgang Puck Self-Heating Gourmet Coffee. Shawn spotted these at the local Fred Meyer and, being a professional in the coffee field, couldn’t resist snagging a couple and bringing them home for evaluation.

Food Fright Part 8

Let me just say up front that I have dreamt of this day for years. Ever since I read Alan Dean Foster’s snowbound sci-fi adventure Icerigger as a child, I have imagined a time when, if one was in the mood for a meal, one would take a silvery, cylindrical or rectilinear container out of a cupboard, press a button or pull a tab, and moments later enjoy a piping-hot cup of hot-and-sour soup or plate of lasagna. To a young person addicted to food, obsessed with technology and almost pathologically lazy, this seemed like the crowning achievement in the realm of Science.

Sadly, as a fledgeling attempt at this sort of indolent gastronome’s vision of utopia, Wolfgang Puck’s Self-Heating Gourmet Coffee seems doomed to flop ineffectually along the ground, never quite taking wing, until it has exhausted itself and is pecked to death and consumed by a raven. Or possibly a seagull.

The first impression you get when looking at one of these things is, “holy crap, that’s a lot of coffee!” This notion is, unfortunately, incorrect. The superstructure apparently required to support a self-heating beverage means that, for a container seemingly the size of a can of Sapporo Reserve, the actual total yield of coffee is ten fluid ounces. As much of a fan of gadgetry as I am, I can’t help but feel disappointed by the low coffee-to-container ratio….not to mention a little guilty at the amount of waste generated through the consumption of this product.

To heat the coffee, you must turn the can upside-down and remove the tabbed metal lid on the base. Underneath you find a plastic bubble that must be depressed in order to release and blend the chemicals (calcium oxide, aka quicklime, and water) that will heat the coffee.

Food Fright, Part 8 Food Fright, Part 8

Upon pressing in the plastic bubble on his Mocha, Shawn swears he saw a tiny puff of smoke. I personally saw no such thing when I did the same to my Vanilla Latte. After the chemicals mingle for five seconds, you turn the container right-side-up and let it sit for six minutes.

During the six minutes, two of our test subjects (Margaret and Shawn) noted a distinct odor arising from the cans, a smell vaguely akin to both chemicals and candy, presumably a byproduct of the reactions taking place within the containers. Not necessarily unpleasant or off-putting, but definitely not the aroma you associate with the neighborhood coffee bar or espresso stand.

A handy temperature-indicator on the side of the vessel changes from pink to white when the coffee has reached the optimal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Food Fright, Part 8

After the patch has changed color, you give the thing 30 seconds of gentle oscillation to evenly distribute the heat, rotate the plastic guard on the top of the can to access the opener tab (or, if you are more perceptive, you pry the entire guard off the top of the unit, properly assaying that it is nothing but a piece of pointless and awkward gewgawery designed to force the unobservant to think twice about simply opening the can without first following the heating instructions), open the container much as you would any other canned beverage, and enjoy your steaming mug of delicious gourmet coffee. Or, if you don’t feel like dumping the contents and replacing them with delicious gourmet coffee, you can just drink the stuff that’s in there already.

For some insane reason, Mr. Puck elected to make these products “low carb”, which means using artifical sweeteners such as Splenda and acesulfame potassium to offset the natural carbohydrates found in other ingredients (milk, cocoa powder, etc.) The resulting combination of mediocre coffee, canned whole milk, artificial sweeteners and “natural flavoring” leaves a lot to be desired. More specifically, it leaves one desiring a cup of actual coffee, instead of this sad Frankenstein’s Monster of a beverage, more machine than mocha.

To be sure, the science behind this product is cool, and I’m sure there will be many refinements in the technology over the coming months and years. The major stumbling block of this particular implementation isn’t the technology itself, but the quality of the product to which it is married. Perhaps this kind of gimmick would work better with something savory like soup, or instant noodles, or Cup-O-Beef-Wellington. Or even coffee that didn’t happen to taste like it was brewed using a diabetic’s urine. Sadly, I think I can go out on a limb here and say that showy gadgetry like this will probably always be the provenance of the marketers of junk.

For a dissection of the self-heating container, consult Gizmodo’s nice article on the subject.


Talk About Timing….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:54 pm

Checking my referrer logs just now: at just after 11:00 last night, someone hopped onto a blog search engine and did a search for the LG VX9800. Whaddaya know, by pure chance last night’s blog entry showed up number one on the returned results. Can’t imagine it was much help to you, whoever you are. My apologies. 😀


Phone Sex

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:42 pm

Margaret, Shawn and I were just watching South Park (has anyone else noticed that Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to be off their game this season?) when a commercial came on for the LG VX9800 cell phone. It just so happens that I’m due for a new phone sometime soon, and this ad pushed all my “gimmie” buttons.

“Oooooooooooo”, I said.

“Eh, looks like it’ll give you brain cancer,” Shawn said.

“Yeah, but holy shit, just look at it,” I mumbled, mesmerized.

“It’ll give you brain cancer!” Margaret shouted.

“It’s giving me an erection,” I replied.

That’s when she hit me with a sofa cushion.

Sony Music and Viral DRM

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:15 am

Heard about this? Play a Sony Music CD on your Windows PC, and you’re treated to an End-User License Agreement. Click “Agree”, and Sony installs a rootkit on your computer. You’re never informed of the install, and attempting to remove it manually can trash your operating system.

Oh, but wait, there’s more! One of the functions of the thing is to render totally invisible to the OS any application or process beginning with “$sys$”. So now all the malware coders have to do is deploy viruses with names like “$sys$fuckupyourcomputer.exe” and target anyone who listened to their new Destiny’s Child CD on their computer.

Congratulations, Sony: you have given the PC community a solid, technical, fact-based argument in favor of music piracy. And people get on Apple’s case for their digital music DRM. Sheesh.

UPDATE: The first (but undoubtedly not the last) virus exploiting this security hole has been found in the wild. Yay Sony! You insolent, inconsiderate fuckers. Hope you get buried in lawsuits.

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