That’s How I Know I Hate Prison

Kid: “I hate college.”

Guy: “Are you gonna be a college dropout?”

Kid: (indignant) “How am I supposed to know?  I’m eleven.”

– Overheard on the Green Line

You may decide which of these movie quotes this real-life experience most resembles:

Option 1:

Guy: “What’s going on?”

Eric: “I don’t know.  But could you do us a favor and try to catch the lemur?”

Guy: “I don’t know how to catch a lemur.  I’m a dentist.”

Eric: “Well I don’t know how to catch a lemur – I’m nine!”

– Mr.  Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Option 2:

Joey: “There’s gotta be a way that we can stop this from happening.  Ooh!  Okay, you come with me and you tell them that the house is haunted!”

Mackenzie: “What are you, eight?”

Joey: “Okay, let’s hear your great idea.”

Mackenzie: “I don’t have any great ideas.  I am eight.”

– Friends

It’s Like a Bleg, But Without the Interactivity

Concluding the mini-series of quotes from my nieces, we have these three from just this weekend.

Jess: (contemplative) “I want to paint my nails.  (beat)  Do you want to paint my nails?”

Jess: We should make a scrapbook together!
: (enthusiastic) Ooh, yeah! (suddenly accusatory) Maybe when you give me my scrapbook stuff back!

Jess: (hopefully) “Can I have all your mints?  And you can’t have any of mine, in case you were wondering.”

Then, when I could no longer bear to let these gems (many of which remain unprinted) fly about the room without someone writing them down, I went to get my computer.  This prompted:

Jess: Wait, what’s a blog?

I never did come up with an answer.

Hot Dog Soup

Jessica (author of the best retort ever uttered) has always had a sarcastic streak.  At the age of about four, she sat down to lunch with her sister Rachel – Jess with a plate of bite-size hot dog pieces, and Rachel, who hated hot dogs, with a bowl of vegetable soup.

Having two different meals apparently prompted a moment of confusion.

Jess:  Whatcha got there?  Vegetable soup?
Rachel:  Yep.

Jessica contemplated this a moment, took another bite of hot dog, and then dumped the rest of her plate into her sister’s bowl of soup.

Jess:  Whatcha got now?  Hot dog soup?

Maybe Someday You’ll Have Eyes Too

A few years ago we went to see the Fourth of July fireworks at Lake Champlain – held every year on the third of July.

Some people arrive early in the evening and claim space on the grass with their blankets and picnic baskets, but we chose to walk around and get ice cream and enjoy the atmosphere.  We found a row of people standing at a railing just before the fireworks began, and joined them.

Immediately a delegate from the lawn squatters behind us approached and suggested – all but insisted – we might want to sit when the fireworks started.  Gesturing at the people around us we suggested there’d be little chance of that.  Besides, it’s not like we’d be blocking the view of the sky.

We heard her report back, quietly, “They’re not gonna move.”  A woman immediately shouted up to us – me, my brother, his daughter, and our two nieces, all clumped together – “Maybe some day you’ll have kids and then you’ll understand.”

Without missing a beat, my niece Jessica whipped around and shouted back, “What are we, the next door neighbors?”

With that, I introduce a mini-series of quotes from my nieces, and from Jessica in particular.

It’s Almost as Good as Getting an Actual Tour!

I went to tour an apartment recently in a brand new building.  When I arrived the leasing agent took me into the office and gestured for me to sit in front of a large plasma screen.

This immediately conjured memories of the BU Experience video – a 25 minute video designed to appeal to would-be undergraduates touring the BU campus.  They also show it at employee orientation.  Nobody gets to talk about health insurance until we’ve all listened to the immortal words of Martin Luther King (which, according to banners outside Marsh Plaza back in February, included the phrase “lorem ipsum“).

The Experience was a $3 million experiment that ultimately proved nothing more than that people are capable of editing segments of video into a presentation.  It carries graphics on par with Fox News, and flashy integrations of interviews and inspirational music.  It’s really the same video colleges have been producing for years, but instead of sending it out on DVD to students’ homes BU shows it in a theater dedicated to the purpose.  Promotional material and uncomfortable seats.  It’s a bargain.

Only students at Appalachian are really envious of BU’s approach.  Watch that video for even a few seconds and you’ll understand why.

In the leasing office of my potential future apartment, I saw a far more effective use of high technology as a marketing tool.

The plasma screen was mounted at an angle, with chairs in front of it.  At first, it just showed a 3D rendering of the floors in the building. Touch a floor, though, and it expands to show the layout of apartments on that floor.  The layout is color coded by price range, and labeled with the basics (e.g., how many bedrooms are in each unit).

Touch a particular apartment and it expands to show the floor plan inside.  Touch a secret spot (hint: it’s the corporate logo) and the screen adds the monthly rent to the display.  Touch buttons at the bottom of the screen and you can see views inside the space and perhaps out the window – features that I couldn’t use, since there were no photos available yet for the brand new building.

Nothing about this display is inherently novel.  Anybody in the world can download the same floor plans from the building’s website, and can explore prices for available apartments.  Touch screens have been around for decades, when their most public use was to order roast beef sandwiches at Arby’s.  Semi flashy animation is ubiquitous even on the web now.

What makes it exciting is that it organizes information in a way that makes sense, perhaps for the first time in the history of apartment leasing.  It generates the desire to explore.  I might want to check out the price differential between similar apartments on different floors of the building.  That takes just three taps per apartment.

You might be interested in comparing the views and floor plans for different apartments in the same price range.  Check out the dark blue apartment on one side of the building and you’ll see a small one bedroom with gorgeous Boston views; check out the dark blue apartment on the opposite corner and you’ll see a spacious two bedroom with views of the railroad yard.

It doesn’t take a lot of energy (just a lot of creativity) to put technology to good use.  An overproduced video?  No.  An interactive apartment finder?  Yes.

On the other hand, this was the same buildling that has a plasma screen in the mail room with little icons for apartments with packages waiting – 1313 with a little hanger icon means there’s dry cleaning waiting.  My current apartment solves this organizational problem by leaving a little tag on our mailbox – a system that hasn’t crashed once since I moved in.

Like a Million Bucks

Suppose that many students in New York public schools own cell phones.  Summon all your powers of imagination for this one.

Now suppose that instead of banning phones, the city gives one to every student in the system – a phone called the Million.

During school hours the phone can’t make calls or send texts, but it can be used to do research online and interact with materials teachers distribute electronically.  As students do homework and get good grades, they’ll receive an allowance of minutes to call their friends after school.

(via Freakonomics)

Speaking of Public Key Cryptography…

In the IT front office, a woman carries on a conversation about how to choose a new password, while her small child watches.  Then, out of nowhere:

Girl, age 5: This one time, my daddy had a hole in his pants, and I could see his underwear.

Colleague: And did you fix the hole?

Girl: Nope.  We threw out the pants and got new ones.

Maybe We Should Just All Stick to Salads

Boston has been abuzz lately with the sounds of absolutely nobody caring about how Legal Sea Foods advertises its restaurants.

The seafood chain began a campaign in January with ads on Boston cabs featuring its “fresh fish” – fresh like the prince of Bel-Air. The fish said things like, “The cab driver has a face like a halibut.” Nobody particularly noticed.  Including the cab drivers.

Then in May they debuted the same campaign on the sides of Green Line trains. Now the fish said things like, “This conductor has a face like a halibut.” Nobody particularly noticed. Except some conductors.

Stephan G. MacDougall, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, … fielded 40 phone calls from Green Line workers incensed by the ads.

“To say they are angered and offended is to put it lightly,” MacDougall said. “I will tell you this: If they don’t come down, we will not drive those trains.”

Boston Globe, 7 June 2008

With this, a few people began to care. They do have a point: it is offensive and insulting. Even things said as a joke can be offensive. Did we learn nothing from Mean Girls, in which Tina Fey cautions the high school girls, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores – it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores?”  Don’t tell me I’m the only one who watched that movie.

Complaining, however, was the worst move the Carmen’s Union (Local 589) could have made.  They have a right to take offense, but it’s rather akin to arguing with the homeless guy about whether or not your drugs smell.  Trust me.  Nobody ever beat me up in middle school, and I was the guy who wore a vest to school every day.  Ignoring the bullies must have worked at least a little.  (Except that kid who tried picking on me on the last day of school – he ended up mopping hallways for the first week of summer while I was in Disney World.  Seriously.)

Legal Sea Foods CEO Roger Berkowitz threw fuel into the fire the next week, with an “apology” on the radio:

“We should have never, ever said, ‘This conductor has a face like a halibut,’ when the truth is, most conductors don’t look anything at all like halibuts,” Berkowitz says in the new radio advertisement, produced by the New York ad agency DeVito/Verdi. “Some look more like groupers or flounders. I’ve even seen a few who closely resemble catfish. And there’s one conductor on the Green Line that looks remarkably like a hammerhead shark. So we feel very badly about this mischaracterization, and we won’t let it happen again.”

Boston Globe, 12 June 2008

Somewhere in Boston 40 Green Line conductors were out purchasing soapboxes, and 350,000 Boston Globe subscribers were thinking about whether or not Legal Sea Foods was funny – and as a follow-up question whether they felt like some halibut for dinner.

Then Legal threw on the last log:

Initially, the MBTA said two of the five ads had to come down, but, without cause or warning, we found a third ad subsequently had been taken down.

This might lead a company to question whether its First Amendment rights have been violated. Nevertheless, we have bigger fish to fry, and hope that the conductors can accept the ads in the spirit they were created. I doubt any are truly offended. And if so, a halibut dinner is on us.

– Ida Faber, Marketing director for Legal Sea Foods.  Printed as a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, 19 June, 2008

Let’s stop right there.  We’re already poised on the brink of raising a generation of illiterate txt spkrs (isn’t that the best editorial ever, by the way?) so let’s clarify something.  The first amendment makes no guarantee whatsoever about who can advertise on the T or what those ads can say.

While Legal Sea Foods has a constitutional right to shout at the top of their voice that conductors look like fish, no advertising venue in the country has a constitutional obligation to print it.  As Aaron Sorkin says, “You want free speech?  Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Of course, the real purpose of the statement was to keep the dialog going.  When it failed, giant ads appeared a few days later announcing that Legal really had sent gift certificates for free dinners to the Carmen’s Union for any conductor who wanted them.

We can only hope this wraps up a publicity battle that was fought absolutely nowhere but the pages of a newspaper, and sufficiently drives up Legal’s sales revenues for the month of June.  And the award for Best Supporting Actor goes to: the Carmen’s Union, for making it all possible.

And the Rain Crashed Down

Imagine that you get off the T and find that although it is cloudy out it is not raining.  You need to walk one block but it begins to sprinkle lightly.  Describe the most appropriate emotional reaction to this situation.

If you’d asked me at 5:26 this evening, I would have answered, “You’ll get wet, and in 45 seconds you’ll be indoors and dry.  Only an infant would complain about this situation.”

If you’d asked me at 5:27 this evening, I would have answered, “It’s sprinkling?  If you value your life flee the streets for dry land with all the speed your legs can offer, sacrificing whatever possessions and money you must to secure the nearest shelter.”

I swear I am not exaggerating when I say that in the time it took me to walk one block the skies opened from “no moisture of any kind” to sheets of rain so thick that when I tried opening my mouth I had a very realistic fear of drowning right there on the street.

Then the leasing agent I went to see showed me apartment 1313.  I can’t discount the possibility that some very powerful forces want to keep me out of this building.  Besides, what happened to superstition (the jokes featured in the latter half that 1.5 minute video)?

Now, to make up for telling a story that, while admittedly very exciting for me at the time, basically reduces to, “I got very wet today,” I will balance it all out with a link to some of the best music ever written, beginning with the song And the Rain Crashed Down.