Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Discrimination against Black Astronauts?

An amazing story as told by Not Ken Burns. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be shocked, but you will never again look at the space program the same way.

Thanks to Everything Isn't Under Control for the link. I have a feeling my good friends over at Candleblog will especially enjoy this short movie.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Big Lie of Technical Support (Please send me $35 dollars for the answer.)

Reading this post reinforced a thought I've had for awhile. Who really "pays" for support of messed up computers? How many of you tech folks reading this article support one or more computers of friends and family? I polled people at a recent party. Every tech savvy person there supported from 7 to 13 computers.

Last month I spent 8 hours removing "Error Guard" from my father's computer. He said it "looked official" so he installed it. Later I spent another 4 hours removing spyware/adware crap from his lap top. On one hand I'm happy to do it since I can be the hero son, but I also resent the need to do it because:

1) Microsoft makes an operating system that is constantly breaking.

2) Microsoft will charge YOU to fix THEIR buggy software.

3) Third party companies that make crap like "Error Guard" or "Search Assistant" can mess up a computer and get nary a slap on the wrist. These aren't teens in a basement creating these products to cause havok. These companies can be found, they have assets. Somewhere money is changing hands to make and sell these products.

4) Hardware and software manufacturers have pushed the support of their products further and further down the responsibility chain. They know that as long as they can get someone else to take the responsibility to fix the problem they are off the hook.

Over the years we have come to accept these practices as the norm. Why is it okay for Microsoft to charge money to fix their broken product? Yes you can come up with all sorts of reasons WHY it is okay, but ask yourself, "Why am I defending this practice?" Are you so worried that Microsoft will lose money and you will stop getting calls to fix your families’ computers?
Last time a company took responsiblity for fixing bad software (photo circ 1977)

Do you work in an industry that makes money fixing broken computer software and hardware?

Or have you accepted the premise offered by so many EULAs ‘even if it breaks it’s not our fault’.

Companies are not rewarded by the marketplace or Wall Street for taking responsibility for their products. They are rewarded for passing the buck, charging money to fix their problems, doing it as cheaply as possible and using tech support desks of major companies and a legion of "free" technical support people to do their dirty work for them.

Lately I've become disappointed in the power of the media to accurately grasp and address these issues. They too have bought into the Microsoft paradigm "Our product breaks, you fix it!"(maybe because they don't have to fix their own computers!). Would a campaign from someone like Walt Mossberg yelling at companies about this issue make a difference?

"No I won't pay YOU to fix YOUR product!"

We can't use Walt because he is no long a befuddled person facing paying $35 bucks a shot for technical support at Microsoft or getting the run around from Dell in India. Additionally, a high level person who will talk about this probably won't admit to bursting into tears at the thought of opening his computer. And if he did, would he get sympathy or scorn?

Yet these people clearly are out there. They are our fathers and mothers, our Aunt Mary and our Uncle Jim. They are the ones who taught us about personal responsibility and how to balance our own checkbook and own up to our mistakes.

Who speaks for those people?

Is Elliot Spitzer our only hope? He seems to be the only person on the national scene who is looking out for the needs of the people first and not the needs of the companies. People create “if cars were like computers” jokes all the time. Maybe it is because nobody dies if a computer crashes. Is that what it will take for companies to financially and philosophically take responsibility for their own mistakes? Will they need to be sued and punished by some force other than a rigged “free market place” or a corrupt political system?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Note to self: Write Shorter Posts

BEK, Bruce Eric Kaplan interview. FYI he is also a producer for Six Feet Under

That's not right, we're big pants people!

© The New Yorker
Comedian Kevin Meaney's comedy routine, "We're big pants people." was one of the funniest things I've ever seen on stage.

Calvin and Hobbes had it right

"The Perry Bible Fellowship." by Nicholas Gurewitch.

Something for Cornhusker fans

More sick brilliance from "The Perry Bible Fellowship." by Nicholas Gurewitch.
Warning: The cartoons in the archive are not for the faint of heart. Contains adult and sick humor.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Focus on what's important

From "The Perry Bible Fellowship." by Nicholas Gurewitch.
Warning: The cartoons in the archive are not for the faint of heart. Contains adult and sick humor.

Friday, March 25, 2005

We will terminate the worker for practices developed by the owners

One of the curses/blessing of human emotion is empathy. It can really get in the way of a nice righteous rant at corporate structures and practices. Seeing the potential negative impact on the lives of the people who did nothing more than follow a script they didn't develop is sobering.

I recently saw the play The Voysey Inheritance by Harley Granville-Barker as adapted by David Mamet. Written in 1905 and adapted last year, it is very thought provoking. One of the key themes is a certain moral relativism when it comes to earning money and what people will do to justify and rationalize certain actions.

A while ago I wrote about inmyzip. Now, when people who were being solicited on the phone by inmyzip do a Google search on the company name my post about it, titled inmyzip -- What the hell? Scam? Legit? Is it a Business Directory? A SEO service? Is it legit? A Scam? is the number one result. Now I'll ignore the issue of a Search Engine Optimization company that can't even get the top Google link for their own name. They clearly have a different business model for how they are getting clients.

Now I'm sure that what they do is technically legal (after all, they are powered by Lawstar!). The service just wasn't for me. In my post I talked about my experience and simply wondered if this was a scam or a fraud. Unfortunately people must have searched for inmyzip and scam or fraud in the same query in Google. I want to be very clear that the people I spoke to were very polite and clearly knew their script. My issues were more in line with the tone of the script, the methods used to sell the service, the methods used to bill for the services, the lack of customer success stories, and the company’s inability to get their own website working which didn't inspire confidence. These were the factors in my decision and things I wrote about. NONE of these were the fault of the people calling. They were all developed by someone higher up and passed down to the poor call center workers.

Unfortunately it appears that the people running this company couldn't possibly believe that a script that they created, a method that they devised for payment or a lack of customer references could be the problem. I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have NO IDEA that any of these things might turn a potential customer off. In their effort to ensure everything is legal, the might have missed the underlying 'feel' to the methods.

I'm spending all this time discussing because of the comment the client relations manager from MSMB2B posted to my blog.. MSMB2B was never mentioned in the call to me, and you will notice that the email is from yet another company, Lawstar. Now I don't want to quote from Hamlet, "The Lady doth protest too much, methinks." But read this letter and tell me what jumps out at you. I've made a few Spocko comments in blue.

Debra - Client Relations Manager - MSMB2B.COM said...(note: The domain name doesn't resolve, and is registered to yet another company, Medistar.)

Dear Sir, I want to first apologize for any and all inconveniences that you have experienced with our company. It is my job to ensure the satisfaction of every member, potential member and former member of our company. I wanted to take the time to let you know that we DO NOT practice anything that is remotely unethical and we terminate any employee that attempts to do so. I understand that you had an unfortunate time with the sales rep that you spoke to but believe me, that is not the practice of the company. I have looked on your website to try and locate a contact number but I was unable to do so, so this is the only means that I have to express how sorry I am that you are not pleased with our company at the moment. (Termination offer #1)

I also want to let you know that we do not outsource to Pakistan as you stated on your website, our call center is located in the Philippines (Actually I never said that. I guessed Kuala Lumpur which is in Malaysia) and we do our best to make sure that each employee that is hired has the ability to serve our U.S. clients with 110% satisfaction guaranteed.

Our goal here is to ensure the success of small businesses by using SEO. We want to help businesses succeed by beating out the bigger chains. It's important to know that the underdog can come out on top as well, without having to spend a mini fortune. And that is what we do here, there is no scam or thievery going on, we are completely open with all of our tactics and methods and whenever there is an employee that is not following our company guidelines we terminate them on the spot, we have a zero tolerance level for these types of practices. That is why I would like to have a conversation with you so that (Termination offer #2)

I can again apologize for the inconveniences and also to obtain some information so that I will be able to find the sales rep that spoke to you and terminate her immediately. I also wanted you to know that we are aware of our website being down and we are working around the clock to get everything up and running smoothly for our customers and we do credit our customers for the time that they are inconvenienced because of our technical problems. (Termination offer #3)

I would very much like to speak with you at your convenience so we can discuss this matter in further detail. You will find my contact information below.

Thank you for your time.

Map for the Geographically Impaired

I was WAY off, but at least I know that Kuala Lumpur is not in Pakistan!

I'm glad I have a pseudonym because they seem very eager to fire this poor call center worker. If my number was displayed here they might have simply done a reverse look up and terminated the worker. That would make me very sad, especially since she did nothing wrong. Again, for the record, I don’t think this is a scam or a fraud just a poorly thought out selling and billing methods for a product that I couldn’t determine the value of because of the company’s inability to provide a working website that contained verifiable users I could contact. Please don’t terminate the workers I talked to because of processes and methods the management put in place.

"Emergency Outrage" --My new favorite phrase

L.A.Times reports on the California Medical Association's vote this week in which 449 of 450 physician delegates voted to express "emergency outrage" at Bush administration maneuvering on the Schiavo case - Link from the American Journal of Bioethics

Sometimes I stumble upon a perfect phrase. "Emergency outrage" is just such a phrase.

For years we have had Outrage Fatigue. And the dumbest US Senator of them all, James Inhofe was "outraged by the outrage" when commenting about the protests about torture in Abu Ghraib. But I really like this new classification of outrage. In order to be exact, we need these new phrases to describe our levels of outrage. I look foreword to the proliferation of new types of outrage. Alert readers, please send us examples of other types of outrage. A few examples to get you started:

"Friday night Outrage!" This is Liberal outrage based on the Friday afternoon document dumps that reveal some new mendacity from the Bush administration

"Fox Faux Outrage!" The kind of spittle-driven fake outrage you see on Fox News where they whip themselves into a frothy swivet over some issue that is sure to please their viewers.

"Casablanca Outrage!" Describes the cynical outrage people mean when they quote Captain Renault's classic cynical phrase, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" No you aren't.

Now it's time for me to emulate the former San Francisco Police officer, Alex Fagan Jr., and use a very quick burst of energy-type action and do some emergency outrage research.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Relentless Attack on Americans

No, not by terrorists. The relentless attack underway is from this administration and its wealthy corporate donors.

It seems like every day there is some new story about a bleaker future for the middle-class and the poor. Last week it was the bankruptcy bill. Protect the credit card companies! Target people at the brink of financial collapse! Damn irresponsible credit junkies! (Of course irresponsible users are only a small percentage of the filers. The majority of bankruptcies are due to huge medical bills or from loosing a job.)

If a budget is our nation's theology walking, the bankruptcy bill is our kingmakers' attitude talking. What does this bill say to people? In a nutshell: Money problems? Boo Fucking Hoo!

Have a reoccurrence of your cancer after your insurance was cut?
Not. Our. Problem. It's between you, God and your family.
Couldn't get insurance because of your pre-existing condition? Too damn bad. Insurance companies shouldn't be told who to cover. Marketplace rules trump all baby. You should have saved more money.
God didn't cover it? You clearly didn't pray hard enough.
Family can’t help? Why should we help? You aren’t our kid.
Want Government help? What are you, a welfare queen? Fixing your problem isn’t the government’s job. If you wanted government to help you should have voted for the other guy. Now suck it. America, you missed your chance.
Empathy Ain’t Us.

The credit card companies (and the hospitals) shouldn't have to pay the price for your choice to have cancer, your choice to loose your job and your choice to save too little. You are either lazy, stupid or both. You must have chosen your investments poorly. Did you listen to lying analysts or
an executive from MCI, Enron, or Tyco? Idiot.
Smarter, better people like us put aside money for their cancer treatments, or we picked a rich family to be born into. You probably got that cancer from being lazy. Maybe you didn't work hard enough to retrain yourself so you could get a good job after yours was outsourced. You chose not to see the writing on the wall and got fired.
Smart people don't get fired. Or if they do they bounce back to a higher paying job in this great economy we have created. Hard workers don't get fired. We all know that people with friends and family keep their jobs. You must be stupid, lazy or most important; you didn't hook up with the right family or friends. You want sympathy? Go to church.

This is the underlying attitude of this bill. Of course we won’t say it out loud, but this is how we see you and your money problems. Your problems aren’t our problems. You are not our priority. We do what we are told by the people who really pay us.
Their view is that it isn't their fault that you got sick. They take care of their own. You are not their own. They didn't tell you to take that job in Information Technology, manufacturing, technical support or telecommunications that got outsourced --unless of course they did, in that case as Bluto would say, "Hey, you fucked up, you trusted us!". Like Molly Ivins says, Vote against equal rights for gays, get a soul crushing bankruptcy bill.

One of Spocko's good friends is struggling to find a job. She has been betrayed by the sanctimonious, oblivious rich, screwed by a massive corporation, swindled by her family and has endured physical problems that would test the toughest Klingon.
Her resolve is astounding. She doesn't see the dark future as this Vulcan often does when he looks at the statistics that represent human pain and economic suffering.
You see, Spocko doesn't just look at statistics loved by the rich, statistics like "The GDP, the only measure that really matters," according to one investor class member.

Karl Rove trick number 17.

Statistics that aren't seen don’t count. Don’t like the statistic? Change how it is counted.
Example, the unemployed after their 18 weeks of unemployment runs out. The underemployed, the "independent contractors" scrambling for meager project work from companies that laid them off two years ago to look more attractive to Wall Street.
Two other friends are leaving the Star Fleet area. Multiple colleagues are doing the equilivant of scrubbing plasma tubes because it is steady work. It lacks the inspirational quality of exploring new worlds and new civilizations, but it does pay the replicator bill.

This administration is always looking backwards. Backward to the glided age to be exact. Back to a time when the robber barons ruled and worker’s lives were cheap and expendable.

This administration longs for a time when worker and environmental regulations didn't exist. They are working to recreate that time, chipping away at protections that get in the way to maximizing money for the corporate partners. That is the highest of all goals. Anything that impedes that goal is suspect.

Others long for a time where aliens, people of color and women knew their place and didn't question the status quo.

Spocko's long time work of training Star Fleet employees to be more eloquent has slowed. There isn't a lot of optimism in the space exploration business these days. Investing in humans has a low ROI. Robot vehicles are ascendant. It’s yet another case of outsourcing humans’ work. This time the outsourcing from humans to machines is on other planets.

Maybe Spocko will go back to being a simple science officer or retreat to the desert to meditate. Why the desert? To avoid mind melding with the fear and depression that I see in the face of so many humans. It is hard to see a bright future when I calculate the odds. But as my Captain often says, "Don't tell me the odds." I want to believe in the positive human endeavors that must exist out there, but it is hard.

We are billions of quatloos in debt; many thralls have forgotten the past and believe there can be nothing better. The impact of the relentless attack on American’s is starting to show. I want people to know this is not about them, but it impacts them. Do not forget who orchestrated these attacks on working Americans. It is NOT Al Qaeda (The Base in Arabic). It is someone else's "base" that is behind this.

I long for a bright future that mirrors a recent past. A time of optimism and hope. Not of fear and revenge. A time where workers, as well as capital, were valued. Where regulation was seen as a vital component of a healthy marketplace. Does anyone still remember the bright moment when workers were considered an asset, not an expense to be cut?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

PR and Corporate blogging. Hiding in plain sight

Here is my letter to Amy Joyce, Washington Post regarding her story,
More PR Than No-Holds-Barred On Bosses' Corporate Blogs
This is from Saturday, March 19, 2005. Kudos to John Byrne at Raw Story for highlighting this.

Hi Joyce:
Nice article, you covered a lot of ground, you can expect to get lots of bloggers linking to it. Based on my observations, I also think that there are two things about "corporate blogging" and PR that you might consider covering the next time you write about this topic.

1) Lawsuits against companies because of employees’ blogs that revealed insider or material information will increase. A friend in Investor Relations said blogging would fall under the corporation policy for message boards and chat rooms that most companies developed in the 1980's. What he didn't know was how many of the employees who were blogging were aware of these guidelines. This is really an important internal education issue for companies. Is it good enough to give them a handbook and expect them to read it? What if a stock shorter finds a chatty blogger who talks about his product not shipping on time? Google has already dismissed a blogger for revealing financial information. Sun had a suit filed against them when a product was revealed first in a blog. Two years ago Delta fired an employee for blogging (

I recently went to a conference on blogging and PR in Silicon Valley. None of the people there who represented corporations had corporate policies for blogging. Of course this isn't a scientific sample, but I've talked to several others at corporations and they didn't know their company’s policy's about blogging.

2) In addition to having PR people write some executive blogs, expect to see more fake blogs or "flogs". Here is a list of a few that were busted.

Here is the link to a fake blog created by McDonalds

Companies will try to create buzz about their product or services by putting up a phony blog. They are already hiring people to go to hot blogs and create buzz about products or services by posting in the comments section (not to mention the whole blog comment spam issue!). I've already caught PR and marketing types hyping a TV series called "The 4400" in the comments sections of some blogs and I recently spotted someone promoting an indy movie on a popular blog.

Blog and blog comments will be the next hot method to get the product, service or political message out there. Is it legal? Yep. Ethical? Depends on who you talk to. Might the people who were fooled be upset? Sure. Might they know when they are being fooled? Sadly, no. I’m not sure how big of an issue this is, but it will add to the level of garbage people need to sift through in their online lives.

How do I know this is the next big thing? Here is a blurb from a Bulldog reporter upcoming conference. Note the headline.

How PR Can Exploit Blogs, Ezines, RSS and Consumer-Generated Media

New "self-publishing" technologies create exciting opportunities for
PR pros — but how can you herd these new breeds of cats? Venture to
the cutting edge and learn what you can do today to tune in and
harness the explosion of commentators expounding on your company and

Pete Blackshaw, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, Intelliseek
Sally Falkow, President, Falkow, Inc
Dawn-Marie Yankeelov, President, ASPectx
Eric Schwartzman, CEO, iPressroom Corp

3) The last issue is trickier. What if the employee blogs about interests and issues that have nothing to do with revealing inside information about the company, but are in direct opposition to some political views of the owners or stockholders? What if they write about their private life and the employers feel that it reflects poorly on the company and they fire them?

My political views (progressive liberal) and religious views are very different from some of my clients and potential clients. When a company is hiring someone it is standard practice to do a search on their name in Google or other search engines. What if in addition to the things that get picked up about people professionally, they also pick up some "out there" postings on their blogs?

For example, the New York Times wrote about my blog in a story about blogs, but I didn't choose to reveal who I was. Why?
1) I know for the rest of time that the NY Times story would be linked to my blog and me and it would come up when people are searching for me. The topic, "Friday Cat Blogging", wasn't damaging, but it also wasn't about what I do professionally.

2) It is getting harder and harder to control information about yourself in a world of searchable records.
I also know that some people like to send hate mail to people they don't agree with. I really don't enjoy arguing with people. I'm more of a persuading kind of guy. So I created a pseudonym, Spocko. I named my blog Spocko’s Brain because like the classic episode of Star Trek my thoughts are trapped in a machine. I could communicate with the outside world, but people looking at the machine wouldn’t know it was me.

One of the disadvantages of creating a pseudonym is that I can’t bring my previous credibility with me. In real life I can name drop and remind people of the work I’ve done as a way to establish my credentials, but unless I want to reveal who I am people can only judge me based on what they read. I’ve come to realize just how much people use your personal history as shorthand for credibility. As a journalist you might want to talk to an “expert” on the topic. How is that defined? It is very easy to create fake blogs, fake identities and post under fake IDs to blogs. Frankly the situation is ripe for “exploitation” as listed above. The old cartoon, “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog.” is both an opportunity for free expression and an opportunity for marketing and PR types to subvert the new publishing medium like spammers subverted and clogged the email system with spam.


Spocko. Author of
Spocko's Brain, the blog that is sweeping the nation. Now with 13 readers!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Judge not

This makes me sad and angry.

The quote below is from a brilliant book by Stephen Mitchell. The Gospel According to Jesus, (A new translation and guide to his essential teachings for believers and unbelievers) He is talking about some of the authentic passages of Jesus vs. the ones attributed to "Jesus" that were added by the early church.

No careful reader of the Gospels can fail to be struck by the difference between the largeheartedness of such passages and the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church. It is not only the polemical element in the Gospels, the belief in devils, the flashy miracles, and the resurrection itself that readers like Jefferson, Tolstoy, and Gandhi have felt are unworthy of Jesus, but most of all, the direct antitheses to the authentic teaching that were put into “Jesus” mouth, doctrines and attitudes so offensive that they “have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust.” Jesus teaches us, in his sayings and by his actions, not to judge (in the sense of not to condemn), but to keep our hearts open to all people; the later “Jesus” is the archetypal judge, who will float down terribly on the clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations. Jesus cautions against anger and teachers the love of enemies; “Jesus” calls his enemies “children of the Devil” and attacks them with the utmost vituperation and contempt. Jesus talks of God as a loving father, even to the wicked; “Jesus” preaches a god who will cast the disobedient into everlasting flames.

The epitome of this narrowhearted, sectarian consciousness is a saying which a second-century Christian scribe put into the mouth of the resurrected Savior at the end of Mark: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn't believe will be damned."

Since I follow the teachings of Jesus I shouldn't condemn these people, but it is hard not to feel that way after the way they treated John McCusker, 31, of San Diego. But I'll ask these questions, "What would the authentic Jesus have done? The Jesus who taught the parable of the good Samartian? How would the Jesus who taught us the story of the prodigal son have acted? Can you see Jesus acting this way after he stopped the woman from being stoned? I can't.

Who will be the Samaritan to the Church's cruel treatment of this man's body?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Pickle Project: Vlasic Stackers and Me.

I sent a version of this letter to the wonderful columnist Jon Carroll a few years ago, before I started blogging. I refer to it as “The Pickle Project”. Since I've got an upset stomache and can't sleep I thought I'd share this food related story with my 13 wonderful readers (Greetings to #13 who revealed he was a reader at Mr. A's and Ms. F's party. I was flattered you read and remembered my posts. Give your self a handle and post! Oh, and Sage Potato Head, I won't reveal your identity on the Internets.)

Dear Jon:
Here is a minor issue that drives me crazy.

Branding is the big buzz word of the 90's. This trend in the supermarket is driving me crazy. Companies create a brand, get people to remember it and love it. Then they extend the brand. More variations of the product. Next is market research, who likes what? Finally, they kill the variations that are not hot sellers and make new variations. Company maximize returns to stock holders and everyone is happy.

But what about the poor consumer who isn’t in step with the majority taste buds? With a few notable exceptions (see New Coke), if a company decides to kill your favorite product version or reformulate the way it is made, you are pretty much screwed. My dear friend Ms. W calls this process, "The man who lives over the hill." This man keeps track of which foods you like and when he is sure it is you favorite, he kills the products.

Let me give you few examples, from three major guy food groups, Pickles, potato chips and sandwich bread.

First, Vlasic pickles. Like any normal fast-food gobbling America, I expect my pickles to be round, just like God intended. Vlasic, in their need for something new and different, decided that what we really wanted were pickles sliced lengthwise. They called them Stackers™ so they could get that trademark (Lengthwise Pickle Strips™ was probably taken). Since they only paid for so much space at the supermarket (I know all about shelving fees) they decided that round pickles would simply disappear and all people from now on could choose what ever kind of pickle they want, as long as it is a Stacker. Now because of the economics of the food industry there are only so many companies that can afford the money to display their products. I couldn't show my displeasure with Stackers by buying Brand X pickles cut the right way because only four different versions of Stackers were available. I'm tired of being ignored when it comes to foods I like getting phased out based on some focus group testing done in some other state, or marketing and sales strategies that ignore the wishes of consumers.

I wrote them a letter to express my displeasure (see below). I thought it was pretty clever and compelling, and the response I got? So sorry, can't help you, but here are some coupons for the wonderful new Stacker™ pickle!

The FOX Sports Pickle Mascot! I'd hate to
meet him in a dark alley!

The latest trick is diversity WITHIN a brand. So even though it LOOKS like you have a bunch of choices for toothpaste, they are all just variations of Colgate or Crest. Why do they do this? Well because if there are 25 different variations of Colgate no other company can use that room to get its toothpaste in the consumer's hands. I'm sure this has to do with merger mania in American companies.

Cavity Creeps Attack! Demand more shelf space, better dental plan.

Another annoying food trick is the reformulation of the product. For some people this isn't an issue, but I'm allergic to corn syrup. My favorite BBQ potato chips from Eagle Snacks changed the oil they fried the chips in from Canola oil to "one or more of the following oils" (corn, safflower, something else). Now I'm sure from a cost perspective this makes sense. And to save more money they don't bother to print up separate labels to tell you which specific oil they used. But that assumes that all oils taste the same. And it doesn’t take into consideration the needs of the people who are allergic to one of those oils. I wrote them a letter about this situation, but the company went belly up about a week after they got my letter. (Boy did I show them!)

My most recent tale of woe has to do with sandwich bread. Most commercial breads are now made with high fructose corn syrup. I found two loafs of bread from Orowheat that didn't have corn syrup. One was their original and the other was made with oatbran (made when oatbran-everything was all the rage). I liked the oatbran version better and bought it regularly for years. This time I hoped to avoid the fate of the chips so I wrote them letters early on telling them "I love the product, please don't kill it and I'm allergic to corn syrup, so please don't reformulate the product with corn syrup". I sent two letters as I noticed them coming out with more and more new brands. (New Country Potato! Country Cracked Wheat! Country Cracked Egg Potato!) All of them used corn syrup. The sent back letters thanking me for writing and 2 coupons for .35 cents off of any bread they make.

"My Parents ate genetically
modified corn, but I'm fine!"

Another question is, what's with all the corn sweeteners in everything? Whatever happened to cane sugar? I blame the people at Archer Daniels Midland (Feeding and nourishing a growing world --with corn syrup.™). ADM to pay 400 million to settle corn syrup suit

"A lonely grain of corn" is a
GREAT song by Uncle Bonsai!

Well the letters didn't work because last week I noticed that Bran'ola was gone. It had been pushed aside by the new breads. I'm sure their "Original" one is the next to go. I don't know what to do. I don't think I can rally people to complain like they did with New Coke. I've written letters to the company, I've mentioned this to friends but just bringing it up makes me sound like a persnickety nut case. I'm sure people are thinking, "Don't you have any REAL problems to worry about Spocko? There are 38 million people in Africa alone that are victims of a vast hunger crisis. I'm sure the folks in Africa would love to have your little pickle problem."

And they would be right to say that, but I guess it is kind of a quality of life issue. It deals with what happens when one big company pushes out competition with their own products. While Vlasic is busy creating a new method to cut pickles (Ovals! Stars, Hearts, Clovers!) maybe they are figuring out how better to feed the world. But I somehow doubt it. Since I have no other choices I can't easily vote with my pocketbook to buy other similar foods. Vlasic owns the pickle section, if you don't want Stackers you're screwed. There is certain powerlessness in not having a say in the contents of the foods you eat. I've been reduced to a demographic in a region that has been told, "52 percent of the demographic in San Francisco like Stackers. If Stackers are the only pickles available for three months then other people will learn to like them too."

Before games Jose Conseco would work out his 'roid rage in disguise.

Here is my original Pickle letter. I wonder what ever happened to the Executive in charge of pickle products. I do know for a while they brought back hamburger dills but cut THICKER (so they could be different) and now they are back to Stackers and the new Ovals™ to which the have added, you guessed it. CORN SYRUP! Because you just can’t get enough sugar in your dill pickles.
Why didn’t they keep the original? Because they know they have you by the pickle.

Executive in charge of pickle products
Vlasic Foods, Inc.
Camden, NJ
08103 -1701

Dear Vlasic product managers:

I know how the new product marketing game works. You try and extend your brand by creating new products and selling consumers on the idea that they need this new product. So you sacrifice some of your shelf space for your current products in order to build a market for a new products.

But guess what? This consumer hates your new product, the "Stacker" chip. Unfortunately, it has totally taken up the shelf space that was devoted to your original hamburger dill chips. Even if I wanted to buy the original hamburger dill chips, I could not. I have been to three different stores in the San Francisco Bay area trying to find regular old hamburger dill chips. All of them have been replaced by your "stacker" chips.

Most recently in a store I saw rows and rows of "Stackers" not a single regular hamburger dill chip jar from Vlasic. So I bought another brand from called Springfield (let me guess, you are the maker of those chips for too.) that I didn’t like as much, but at least the chips were round.

Yes, I did try the stacker chips but I did not like them. You can only mess around with brand loyalty for so long until people get pissed. I don't know how long you are going to try and force the stacker chips down people's throats, no pun intended, until you realize that you are losing whatever market share of the pickle business that you originally had.

Wake up and smell the coffee, do some current market research, check how your products are moving (or NOT moving) in the local stores and change your strategy. If we are not buying them (and I'm guessing I'm not the only one who isn't) stop trying to force us to buy them by ONLY offering one configuration of the chips on the shelves. If it is the stores that are screwing up and filling the shelves incorrectly, let them know it is annoying to the consumer. I would much rather have a choice to try a new product based on a discount or a promotion rather then removing my regular brand to force me to chose the new brand. Frankly, it's a stupid move.

Now maybe you think I'm a nut to get so worked up over pickle shapes, but I'm tired of being ignored when it comes to foods I like getting phased out based on some focus group testing done in some other state, or marketing and sales strategies that ignore the wishes of consumers. Most people won't write a letter, but will simply stop buying your products. Don't be the New Coke of the pickle industry.
Sincerely ,

Photoshop from fellow farker veganarian

Sunday, March 13, 2005

In fact, nowhere in the bible does Jesus say "In heaven there is no beer"

Or explains, "That's why we drink it here." The following letter of note comes from the Omaha World Herald, Public Pulse, March 13, 2005. As always Wingnut in black, Spocko logic in blue.

God grants the power

I always find it interesting when anti-capital punishment individuals such as Tom Lynch (March 7 Pulse) attempt to use the teachings of Jesus to back their arguments.

It is worthy of note that nowhere in the New Testament do Jesus or the apostles say that capital punishment is wrong, even though Jesus was sentenced to death.

In fact, when Pontius Pilate warns Jesus that he has the power to put Jesus to death, Jesus affirms this, telling Pilate that he has been given that power "from above" (John 19:11). In fact, Jesus told Pilate had the power only because God granted it to him.

The theme that government is from God and has the power to enforce laws and punish offenders is reiterated throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

If Mr. Lynch wants to oppose capital punishment, I support that right. I do, however, take exception to his thoughts that I can't support the death penalty and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ at the same time.
Bob Josjor, Ogallala, Neb.

It's always fascinating to see people quote the bible as fact. Thanks to my extensive study of human history and religious writing I've verified that methods to record the events in the earth time period ~03 B.C to 36 AD did not extend to video tape, audio recording, digital recording or images compressed into isolinear chips. Therefore using the term "In fact" when referring to sayings from this time is difficult to prove.
In 1838 a scholar in Leipzig, Germany, Christian Hermann Weisse, detected a collection of Jesus' sayings used by Matthew and Luke in composing their Gospels. was commonly referred to as a source of the canonical Gospels, scholars came to call it simply "the source," in German, Quelle, abbreviated Q.

The Christianity that step-by-step won over the ancient world, until the Roman Empire became the Christian Byzantine Empire, was primarily the Matthean rather than the Pauline kind of Christianity. It was a Christianity of mercy and philanthropy, which won the allegiance of the underprivileged and suppressed, that is to say, the mass of the population, more so than the Pauline theology that ultimately flowed into Neoplatonic philosophical theology of the educated minority (with literacy standing at about 15 percent).

--James M. Robinson
Robinson is the Arthur J. Letts Professor of Religion and Director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate School and Co-chair of the International Q Project.

Of course, Mr. Josjor has the right to wildly misinterpret the teaching of Jesus Christ. His use of the term "In fact," points out his failure to understand the source of his "proof." It would be most interesting to hear from the "teachers" of Mr. Josjor. Do they support his views, or would they gently correct him? Might they ask of Bob, "What is in your heart that you reject one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus to love one's enemies? What rage do your refuse to let go of in light of what we have taught you? Must you twist what you have read rather than admit you simply reject this difficult request of Jesus?"

Teachers of Bob Josjor, it appears you have been unable to help him grasp one of most basic tenets of the teachings of Jesus. It is especially troubling that with no one to refute these views they might be reinforced in yet another generation of Ogallalan's.

Now can the President go to a Few Funerals?

He won the election. The Democrats can't use that footage against him for re-election commercials. So when is the President going to go to some soldier's funerals?

Will Cheney be going? Wolfowitz? Rumsfeld? It is nice to know Rummy has finally started hand signing the letters to the dead.

They are still not allowing photos of flag covered coffins coming in at Dover.

They must still be concerned that there will be political fall out if he attends a funeral. I ask you, is this an honorable thing to do? If he is worried about his ratings, might he spend some of his political capital by showing up at some funerals? Regarding the toll of war he says, "I see on the TV screens how hard it is." Seeing a photo and being there listening to the sounds of crying mothers and fathers might make a bigger impact.

Is he still putting his politcal popularity over doing the right thing and honoring the fallen soldiers?

Today's pop quiz:

How many journalists have died covering this war?
How many people have died of torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and Afganistan?

Answers later. Here's a hint; both numbers are in the double digits.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Attention Spocko's Brain loyal readers (all 12 of you)

If any of you would like a gmail account I have plenty to give away. I've used mine for a while and it's pretty good. I don't find the ads any more intrusive than any other free email site with banners and forced interstatials. I would be happy to send you an invitation if you are interested. Just drop me and email, tell me which of my topics/posts are your favorite (fishing for praise!) and I'll send you an invite. My email is spockosbrain a t sign gmail.c()m (sorry about the intentional mispelling.If you are human or a sentient being I'm sure you can figure it out. I'm trying to avoid email harvestors and haX0rs.)

Number one hit on Google Image Search for "sentient being"
Photo from Lucius Monkey

Friday, March 11, 2005

inmyzip -- What the hell? Scam? Legit?

Is it a Business Directory? A SEO service? Is it legit? A Scam?

Remember back in the '80s when companies would swap your long distance service to another company if you grunted wrong? They got tricky when calling and asked, "May I put you on hold?" Next month you find out you have signed up for long-distance phone service from "On Hold", a long distance company.

Well I just got a call from a company that sounded like it was for some directory listing for Mr. Spocko's business (I sell pointy rubber ears, Venus drugs that make you beautiful, Vulcan harps and of course fedoras, heaters and blowers.)

Be like Spocko! ----------- Me and Koik ------- The latest in blowers!

I've completed these listings from companies like Dun and Bradstreet or InfoUSA (In beautiful downtown Papillion, Nebraska!). This one just sounded suspicious. I started answering the questions and the nice young woman who attempted to pronounce my last name (unpronounceable to humans) started talking about how this website would help people find my company.

In her lovely Indian voice she gave me the URL, I tried it while on the phone with her, but it didn't resolve. I informed her of the problem and she gave me another URL, I went there and started reading. They appeared to do search engine optimization as well as a bunch of other stuff including website hosting, IVR, CRM and --wait for it -- LEGAL Services. So I'm expecting a strong letter from the mouthpieces at as soon as this post gets indexed by Google. (Note to self: Notify legal defense team at Star Fleet.)

Well I told them I wasn't interested after she started recording me and making me respond yes to questions like confirming my address and phone number. When she got to the part about the $49.95 charge after the first free month that will be "billed to my phone service" I balked. "Nope, I think this is a scam," and said goodbye.

I felt kinda bad because I knew that this poor kid thought she had a live one.
About 6 minutes later I got a call from her Verification Supervisor to explain the program better. I said I couldn't sign up for something until I could talk to a real customer. She gave me a URL, which also failed to resolve.

"Well gee," I said "This doesn't bode well for a company that does web hosting and offers high speed internet access." She also directed me to which had generic company names like R Barnes, Auto Body Shop Owner with no city or state.

"How can I call this person?" I questioned her. "There is no number. If you sign me up and I want to cancel I probably won't be able to because I can't get to your web site."

"But we will call you to see if you want to continue." she replied.

"What if I miss your call?" I asked. "How will I stop getting charged if we don't talk? Your websites don't work and I've been burned before. I just don't know if I can risk it."

Well since she couldn't get to the customer website on her end either (from her boiler room in Kuala Lumpur.) she finally gave up trying to send me something that would automatically bill me $49.95 if I failed to cancel with in 30 days.

According to the website they guarantee they will deliver the #1 Internet position for your business sector. How can they do that? Link farm? Blog spamming? Search hijacking like our friends at 180 solutions? Well it appears thatthey have reserved a butt load of domain names that end with "inmyzip" So supposedly for me it would be or or Now that might work as long as I don't get competition from T'Pol or Tuvok. But what if they sign up? Plus, aren't they making the assumption that people will type your sector and then "in my zip"? Pretty dicey if you ask me. Well, keep and ear out for these people. If you found this via a google search welcome, tell me your experience maybe it will enlighten others.

Remember shop Spocko's Brain for the latest in blowers, heaters and lyre's (not liars!).

Did you get caught by nice people at zwwisp? Have trouble canceling inmyzip? I'm sure it is all perfectly legal since they are part of LawStar and a crack team of lawyers have reviewed all the rules so that they are technical safe, but if you think that being sneaky isn't really nice, maybe you could contact the nice people at the FCC. Tell 'em Spocko sent cha. And if you are da mouthpiece for zwwisp, this is all a joke, a parody, you know-- free speech and all. (At least for the next couple of months)
The Communications Fraud Control Association, a non-profit organization, serves as a clearinghouse for consumer information and complaints regarding toll fraud. This association is located at:
1990 M Street, N.W., Suite 508Washington, D.C. 20036(telephone: (202) 296-3225)

UPDATE: Just found out that the number for the Communications Fraud Control Association has been disconnected. Maybe all fraud has been taken care of! HA! I Wish!
Here is the FCC number Federal Communications Commission
Common Carrier Bureau
445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554
1-888-CALL-FCC (voice)
1-888-835-5322 (TTY)
Good luck 3-17-2005

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Bankruptcy bill horror stories: Where are they?

This is the letter I sent to Professor Elizabeth Warren from Harvard who is doing a guest blogging stint over at Talking Points Memo.

What are your emotional stories attached to bankruptcy bill?

Dear Professor Warren, Michael Negron, Ryan Spear and Jason Spitalnick:

Excellent work on the bankruptcy bill issue! It is so nice to see
lawyers using their advanced knowledge working for the common good and
not to simply line the pockets of some corporate law firm. Law
students: remember this feeling of using your legal superpowers to
defeat evil during your grind under your corporate masters while
paying off your law school bills. It feels good doesn't it?

Two thoughts:

1) Since you are lawyers and soon to be lawyers: Is there anything
illegal in this bill? I might be asking a silly question, but in
something this complex might there be a legal problem that the
lobbyist who wrote it didn't catch? Lately I'm feeling like lawyers
are our last best hope when it comes to holding this administration
accountable for all their mendacious actions.

2) I really like how you discussed the impact on working families and
on soldiers. Things with numbers and complex regulations can be mind
numbing. What is the emotional hook on this bill? Do you have a frame
switching "death tax" vs. estate tax phrase you can use?

You might consider finding and then telling the story of Republican
Joe. He's a Hard working, flag waving, health insurance having kinda
guy whose Christian stay-at- home wife got some disease THOUGH NO
FAULT OF HER OWN. Heath insurance didn't pay it all. Big greedy
hospitals demanded money. Family helped, but it was still not enough.
What would happen to this "red state" soldier if the new bill passes?
How would his life change? Could you reach the "personal
responsibility" folks with a story like this? Maybe. Why should you
consider using their story? Lakoff says that if you talk to people
outside their 'frame' the facts simply bounce off.

It might be worth a shot to find a Republican Joe who is willing to talk. The more reluctant the better.

"Hell, I voted for George W. Bush, and I'm a Christian Republican, but if all my troubles had happened to me under the new proposed rules I would become an indebted servant to credit card companies and the Humana Hospital chain. Mary didn't choose to get Leukemia, I had medical insurance, it still wasn't enough. I mortgaged my house, is it still wasn't enough. Should we end up on the street so that the First Card and Humana executive can get an additional 5 million dollar bonus? "

When republicans defend this bill, what examples do they use for who
this helps? Maybe they assume "everyone knows" that the people filing
are yuppie bums and free spending "welfare queens". Is that true?

They assume that a good red stater would have:
1) Saved enough money for emergencies (they don't)
2) Had enough medical insurance some do, still not enough
3) Had a family that can bail them out, not all were born into wealth.

If you can show with numbers (as you have) and emotional stories of self reliant, non-yuppie bankruptcy filers this might help connect the dots for people to see how this will hurt people "just like them". And only help the bottom line of an already very profitable corporation that isn't happy with the market forces already making them wealthy.

They want more and they will change the laws to get it.

P.S. Prof. Warren you were great on the radio. Good job!
I called the senate today to push to keep the debate open. I never
even got through! I've also written to my senators about the topic as
well as my home state senators.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Torture and Truth

Tomorrow I'm going to see Mark Danner talk about his book, Torture and Truth, America, Abu Ghraib and the war on Terror.

I've got a lot of questions I want to ask, if you have any you want to ask, please post them.

I want to know how he would respond to views stated by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Oliver North. When talking about America and torture they use positioning techniques that minimize the involvement of Americans and seek to avoid demanding true accountability in favor of apologizing and making false comparisons. One argument suggests "if you publicize Americans torturing Iraqis you are jeopardizing the troops because they will be retaliated against." To make that case they linked the release of Abu Ghraib photos to the Berg beheading as a proof point.

Hannity has also used the "It's not THAT bad." technique to downplay US torturing.
We've learned the difference between mistreating, which is wrong, and atrocities. Because this is an atrocity what they did to this guy (Berg).
Oliver North uses the "it's just a few bad apples" positioning method favored by President Bush.

In addition to hearing how Danne would respond to those guys I'd also like to hear his response to the scenario often used to justify torture, "The terrorist knows where the Nuke is and it will go off in 5 hours and will blow up New York city. What are we supposed to do, ask politely and if he doesn't respond just let millions die? Shouldn't we torture him? Is the life of one terrorist really more important than the life of millions of innocent children? What would you do?"

I especially want to get at how to respond to people who create scenarios where torture is deemed necessary and is in fact a-okay. People like James Inhofe.

"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists,they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

I want to understand people who believe that torture is essential to winning the war in Iraq as well as the "Global War on Terror" or GWOT.

On the religious side, in a presidency increasingly invoking the involvement of a Christian God in all decisions, where does torture fit in? How is it justified?

Soldiers tortured this person to death

Soldiers tortured this person to death

Monday, March 07, 2005


I've never understood people who sign their business letters with "cheers." Were they drinking when they wrote me?

Why does Coors Light exist? Are there actually people in this world for whom the hearty, bold taste of regular Coors is too much?

In my elementary school there was a kid named "Christopher Malistopher." Why do parents do that? Why not just name him "Beat Me Up Malistopher."

-- Questions by Steve Altes, from Funny Times, March 2005

Friday, March 04, 2005

Sarek and Amanda were in town

Sorry I've been away for awhile. I always felt it was a little pretentious when I read a blog saying, "Light posting this week" like others were hanging on your every word. But now that I have 11 readers I suppose I have a obligation to at least let you know when I'm away and that I wasn't zapped by a plasma bolt. Thank you Ellroon for inquiring about me. Just another reason you are such a good egg and such a valued reader. And thanks also to one of my newest reader, Blak1, for noticing.

Mr. Spocko's parents were in town and as you can imagine there wasn't much time for blogging, what with all the Tellarites fighting with the Andorians on the ship and all.

It was an interesting visit. Sarek now knows about my blog. In fact he may be reading this right now. I'm proud of my stated positions, but I knew that Amanda and Sarek don't always share them. Making a big deal about the blog might just strain the conversations on topics that I've learned to avoid. But during the visit I was reminded of their love for me and I was able to talk about the context of my blog posts instead of using them as arguing points (which was what my brother was hankering for, but I didn't choose to engage in). I also hope that they see that although we disagree on some issues, some of my deepest values were instilled by them and the education they provided.

Interestingly there were a lot of parallels in the episode Journey to Babel and their visit.
One thing that struck me was how much I straddle and attempt to bridge two different worlds.
Logic. Emotion.
Science. Faith.
Seriousness. Humor.
Engineering. Art
Fiction. Non-fiction.

As Spock's mother in the episode said, "It hasn't been easy on Spock... neither human, nor home nowhere, except Starfleet." One of the wise women in my life, Ms. Z said, "It can be hard having one foot in two worlds, both need you to understand the other, but you never feel totally part of either world. You need to find others who can understand this in-between place you occupy in your mind."

I like to think that understanding different worlds helps me provide insight on what is happening and might influence people's perceptions or strengthen one's proof points. My posts--as well as giving me an outlet for my frustrations and feelings of powerlessness over mendacity and illogic--give me a feeling of engagement in the face of attitudes and events that are beyond my control.

In my next post I'm going to talk about the power of ignoring negative comments.

And, on a final note to Amanda and Sarek, "Live long and prosper."