Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Wonder If She Looked In Its Mouth

So the Canadian government gave a horse to the Queen of England. I can't imagine caring. However, a couple of details stand out from the rest of the story. First, the lead sentence:

First he was a star of the RCMP's Musical Ride, and now George, the black gelding from Pakenham, Ont., has joined the Queen's royal stables...
Poor George. Sure, his other accomplishments and honours get mentioned, but the writer can't make it even one sentence without bringing up the fact that his genitals have been removed. Put yourself in his four iron shoes. Wouldn't it be nice to go even a few minutes without some jerk mentioning castration?

Later in the article, we learn that the horse used to be much cooler before another alteration. I'm going to assume there's no correlation between the two changes.
The easygoing black horse with a white patch on his forehead was renamed George, in honour of the Queen's grandfather, King George V. But his previous name, (RCMP Superintendent) Peters said, was Terror - a name chosen by a child in the Mounties' Name That Foal Contest back in 2000.
Once again, try to empathize with the horse. One day your name is Terror. You rule the meadow. You get all the mares you can handle on the basis of your name alone (this, I suppose, assumes the gelding hasn't happened yet). Then one day you're minding your own business, swatting flies with your tail or something, and some guy walks over and says "Oh, yeah, Terror - I almost forgot. Your name is George now."

From "Terror" to "George", just like that. Yeah, you might as well go ahead and have that gelding now.

The horrible cynic in me, which is never far from (in fact, rarely below) the surface, loves that they changed the name of this horse after it was chosen by a young contest winner. Screw you, kid. In fact, the article ends with a choice quote from Superintendent Peters:
"We switched the name obviously from Terror to George," said Peters.
Yeah, obviously. Stupid kid, giving the horse a stupid name like Terror. When he's older, he'll understand that George is a much better name for a police horse.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of a failed Hostage Bunny rescue attempt. As you can see, Sgt. Pepper's Howling Commandos were unable to overcome the bunnynappers. (By the way, I'm the terrorists are pretty much out of ideas for torturing Hostage Bunny. I They welcome any suggestions. If and when the ideas run out, the end may draw nigh for our long-eared friend...)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

You Get More Of What You Subsidize

Lobster prices are apparently low in New Brunswick this year. The same may be true in other areas as well; I neither know, nor could be bothered to check, whether that's the case.

For those who enjoy eating lobster and live in an area where the price is down, this is a good thing. For my part, I don't care to eat underwater cockroaches, so this has remarkably little effect on my life. I always wonder two things about the first time a person ate lobster. Number one, how did they get one in the first place? Lobsters are bottom-feeding scavengers. They don't, to my knowledge, occasionally poke their eye-stalks above the surface to look around, or creepy-crawl up onto the beach for some sun.

No, it takes effort, and generally a big specially constructed wooden box, to catch lobster. I like to imagine that someone built one of those big wooden boxes and tossed it into the ocean on spec. "I don't know what'll wind up in there, but I'm eating it!"

Yes, yes. Tidal pools, accidental beachings, etc. Things that belong on the ocean floor wind up on the beach all the time. This doesn't help the case of the first person who ate a lobster they just happened to find. Take a good long look at a lobster. It looks like something that escaped from one of David Cronenberg's nightmares. The correct response of the first person who found one, not knowing what it was, should have been to run as far as they could, then dare their friends to go poke it with a stick.

This brings me to my second question about the first lobster-eating. How freaking hungry was that person? A lobster, even disregarding the possible hygiene and disgust factors of finding one lying on a beach, already dead and decomposing, is not an appetizing sight. A lobster is an aquatic earwig.

Of course, my scenario of that first lobster-finder daring their friends to go look (this, of course, assumes that finder was male) leads to another possibility. The first person to eat lobster may have done so on a dare, or possibly when bribed with the epochal equivalent of a dollar. Remember that kid you knew in elementary school who would eat pretty much anything for a buck? The first person to eat lobster was somebody who grossed him out.

Sidebar: at this very moment, somewhere out there a reader who enjoys lobster is preparing an indignant retort about how delicious it is. Save it. If it doesn't nauseate you, then by all means enjoy. The fact that I see eating lobster as pretty much equivalent to scarfing down insect-infested roadkill means all the more for you. You should be thanking me, really. End sidebar.

I have another issue, besides disgust, with eating lobster. I am neither a vegetarian nor an animal rights activist. I understand that every time I eat meat, I'm eating an animal that was killed for that express purpose, and I'm generally OK with that. However, I think that those animals should be killed in as quick and painless a manner as possible. I have a hard time seeing "dropped alive into a pot of boiling water" as humane.

Anyway, all of that was preamble to what I really intended to write today. My actual topic is the economy of lobster fishing (which should be called "lobster roaching" or something - are lobsters "fish" by any definition?).

The low price of lobster is not so good for lobster fishermen. Having learned something from the business acumen in the banking and automotive industries, lobster fishermen have responded to this downturn by asking for government bailouts:

On Thursday representatives from every wharf in the area met to discuss the issue with the hopes they can organize something to get the attention of the government, (a spokesman) said.

"We're not paid enough even to cover costs and we need help from the government."

(The spokesman) said they are hoping both the federal and provincial governments will step in to help fishermen.

Here's the problem with that line of thinking. This applies to every industry, not just fishing. The government cannot help. Oh, they can throw some money (your money and mine, by the way - the government has no money except what it takes from citizens) at a problem to try to put a band-aid on the bloody stump, but in the long term that does more harm than good. Here's how.

Let's assume there are 1000 lobster fishermen in New Brunswick who can't make any money at it this year due to low prices. I have no idea whether that number is remotely accurate, and don't care since it's only for illustrative purposes.

If the government steps in and hands them each a bag of money not to fish this year, or does anything else that has the same end effect of insulating them from any financial losses (regulating prices, etc.), then how many of them will come back and try to fish lobster again next year? Probably about 1000. Maybe more, since a government bailout means guaranteed profits.

The same problem will then repeat itself next year. And the year after that, and the year after that, ad infinitum. This is not indefinitely sustainable. At some point, an industry has to be allowed to suffer some negative consequences of economic cycles. Even if we ignore the debatable morality of the government stepping in and interfering (I'm not going there today; this is going to wind up long enough already), it destabilizes the market and leads to much larger long-term problems.

Now, consider what happens if the government doesn't interfere. Yes, it'll be a rough summer for some lobster fishermen. However, what would happen to those same 1000 lobster fishermen next year? I'll expect that by then, some of them would have found something more profitable to do. Let's say 10% of them move on to other occupations, go back to school, move to another region, whatever. That leaves 900 trying to fish lobster next year. That means less lobster on the market, which means higher prices, which means maybe the 900 can make a living at it. If not, then maybe only 700 will try the next year. Eventually, and in a shorter time than you'd probably expect, the market will stabilize and the remaining fishermen will be making money.

Sidebar for those who went to public schools in the last thirty years, or who don't see the problem with the bailout mentality: when the government keeps its nose out of things, the price of anything is normally determined by two factors: supply (how much of it is available) and demand (how much of it people want). This is called the free market, and it's a good thing for all kinds of reasons that we don't have time to go into today. Sorry to complicate this - I know those three italicized terms will be completely new and foreign concepts to a lot of people these days. End sidebar.

So if the government stays out of it, despite some tough times in the interim for a relatively few people, things will work out in the end. If the government gets involved, and they probably will, they'll destabilize the market and foster a cycle of dependency. Bailing out an industry to avoid a down market cycle (or even a long-term shift - if cars were just being invented now, governments would be making guarantees to buggy whip manufacturers) may prevent a little pain in the short term, but it causes a lot more in the long term. It's the equivalent of not teaching a child the alphabet, because that's an awful lot to ask of a toddler, to let them struggle through life as an illiterate adult.

And about that whole dependency thing, here's a quote from a spokesman for the fishermen, from later in the same article. He's talking about the possibility of the fishermen only running their boats for a few weeks this year: "How would you then qualify for EI?"

I'm not trying to belittle their situation. I appreciate how hard it is to find work under the best of conditions, and Atlantic Canada in 2009 is far from the best of conditions. However, I just don't see how it's the government's problem, or mine, if somebody can't work long enough this summer to qualify for EI ("employment insurance", which is what Canada calls unemployment benefits to try to put on an Orwellian happy face). Once again, maybe people should be encouraged to move on from an industry where you plan to collect unemployment benefits every year, and look for something more stable and sustainable.

For that matter, the fact that the I in "EI" stands for "insurance" makes the thought occur to me that planning to collect on insurance is normally considered insurance fraud. The law says I can't insure my house then deliberately burn it down, or take out life insurance on someone then kill them, and expect to benefit. Insurance is meant to compensate unforeseen losses. But this, again, is a whole other topic that I'll leave for today.

As a postscript, that newspaper I linked to earlier has a "public opinion" feature in their editorial section. I like to call it the Uninformed Person On The Street feature (I used to call it "Ignoramus On The Street", but decided that was too harsh). It doesn't seem to be in their online edition. Like Jay Leno, they send a reporter out to ask people in the streets what they think about various issues. The problem here is that most people haven't given most issues a moment's thought. This includes me - as I've noted before, I don't know enough about most things to form an opinion, and you can assume that the things I write about are the rare exceptions.

So the odds are that this feature will consist of a lineup of citizens expressing uninformed opinions about situations they don't remotely understand, and offering untenable solutions. Sure enough, that's almost always what you get.

In a recent edition, the reporter asked about this lobster situation. Several apparently random people were asked whether the government should step in to help the fishermen (without defining what that means - obviously, we all understand that it means "give them a pile of money").

Every single one of them said yes, most with emphatic emphasis.

I can only hope against hope that none of those people vote.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of evidence that Hostage Bunny is being mistreated in yet another way: the use of stress positions. You may notice that in every picture his body has been in precisely the same posture, indicating that his fiendish captors are not allowing him to move. Unless he's allowed to stretch occasionally, cramping is inevitable.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hunger Hurts. Who Knew?

So Mia Farrow has called off her hunger strike. She did this, because - wait for it - apparently not eating can be bad for you.

I can hear the shock in the voices of the Hollywood elite now: "Oh, so that's why all those people die in places where they don't have enough food!"

I recently wrote about the silliness inherent to hunger strikes, which are nothing more than tantrums for supposed adults. I stand by that piece, especially the Blazing Saddles joke.

At least Rosemary (and her acolyte Richard Branson) was throwing her public tantrum for a worthy cause. The situation in Darfur is horrible, and calling the world's attention to it is a good thing. Although I'm not quite sure what most of the world is supposed to actually, you know, do about it. Prayer is always good, and about the only way I can see to personally contribute.

So in a strange roundabout way, I sort of admire Ms. Farrow's accomplishment. She managed to draw some attention to Darfur, which was her stated goal all along. She even managed to get mentioned on at least one blog written by some Canadian dweeb, thereby getting her name in front of upwards of four readers. She did it in a very silly way, but it worked. It reminds me of John Lennon and Yoko Ono saying they were willing to play the world's clowns for peace.

Well played, Hanna (or possibly one of the Sisters - haven't actually seen the movie). Well played. No longer will I think of you only as Woody Allen's girlfriend and / or mother-in-law. Now I also think of you as a canny publicity hound, in addition to being Woody Allen's girlfriend and / or mother-in-law.

But hunger strikes are still a stupid idea.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny, taken by an unmanned aerial reconnaissance drone. There are unconfirmed reports that a rescue attempt is in the works, but even if I had details, I wouldn't report them because doing so could compromise the mission. What do you think this is, the New York Times?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kodak Customer Service Is Good

Way back when, I bought a Kodak Easyshare 5100 printer. It gave me a lot of trouble, but I eventually got it working. These three posts tell that story.

Over the months that I've used this printer, it's proven itself a finicky beast. I've often had to randomly remove and reinsert ink cartridges, cycle the power, run nozzle cleanings (which suck back a lot of ink), and recalibrate to keep it chugging along. I take all of that in stride. I've been a PC user since the days of dot matrix printers that were the size of suitcases, were loud enough to annoy neighbours, and printed at speeds measured in minutes per page rather than pages per minute. I've wrestled with printers for many years, and I expect a certain amount of trouble from them.

That being the case, I shrugged off this printer's quirks. It was hard to get running in the first place, and needs more assistance to perform than Hugh Hefner without Viagra, but I can live with it. The fact that I only print once or twice a month probably doesn't help. (Another Hefner joke could easily be placed here. One could argue the greater comedic potential of either drawing a parallel or a contrast. Discuss.)

However, I hit a whole new problem not long ago. Colour was printing fine, but no black ink was making it to the page. The printer was reporting plenty of ink left in the cartridge, and I even tried a new cartridge, but the printer would only produce occasional faint grey lines where black text should have appeared. Since colour appeared as normal, as a workaround I printed the handouts for my Bible study sessions in red or blue, then photocopied them.

After accepting that this wasn't just another of the printer's quirks that I could talk it out of, I began Googling the problem. I quickly learned from sites like this one that my problem was not unusual, and indicated that the printhead needed to be replaced.

I used the contact form on Kodak's site to report my problem on a Monday morning. I outlined the diagnostic steps I had already taken, and advised them that I thought I was having the same printhead problem that others had reported, with a link to the site above (i.e., "My symptoms are just like this."). I told them my printer was out of warranty because it was over a year old, and asked how I could go about buying a new printhead, since they don't seem to offer that part for separate purchase.

I got an automated reply within a couple of minutes. More impressively, I got an actual human reply about four hours later, saying that if I would send them some info (my name, address, and "Kodak service number" from a sticker inside the printer), they would send me a new printhead free of charge, no further questions asked. I replied, and after one more quick and polite exchange because in my infallibility I forgot to include the Kodak service number, they said the printhead would be shipped out ASAP. I got that message just after midnight on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after my initial inquiry.

They said it would probably take 3 to 8 business days; it arrived Thursday morning, less than 72 hours after I first contacted them. It was very easy to swap out the old printhead and put in the new one, and in case it hadn't been, they included both written instructions and a link to a section of their website that explains the process in so-clear-Grandma-could-do-it detail with lots of pictures.

Their service is a lot faster than mine. It finally occurred to me over a week later to let them know that I got the part, it worked (more on that in a moment), and I was impressed with their service. I got another human reply early the next morning, thanking me for letting them know how it turned out.

There's lots of good news here. My printer works again, although it's still as temperamental as ever. Whenever I use it now, it gives constant warnings that my black ink is below 30%, even though I just replaced the cartridge. This has trained me to deal with that warning just like I deal with the Check Engine light that's always on in my car: by ignoring it.

I wanted to write this up for the same reason that I sent that last "attaboy" e-mail to Kodak: their service was superb, and I think it deserves recognition. They were amazingly fast, and each of the reps I dealt with was polite, friendly, and knowledgeable. They never questioned my need for the part (although, having been a tech, I spelled out what I had already tried pretty thoroughly in my initial description), they didn't give me any red tape, and they offered me the part freely despite my explicit inquiry about buying one. I couldn't be more satisfied with the service I received.

Kodak met my definition of good customer service perfectly with this incident. I don't define customer service as never having a problem with a product or service. Every company in the world is run by human beings, and every one of them makes mistakes. Every assembly line produces an occasional lemon. Customer service is measured by how well a problem is handled once brought to the company's attention. By that standard, Kodak gets a perfect score from me.

Incidentally, one of the forms included with the printhead was a packing sheet showing its retail price: $70. At that price I wouldn't have purchased one, since that's rather close to what the printer cost brand new. This is why Kodak can sell their ink so inexpensively. Many printer models have the printhead component attached to the ink cartridge. When you replace the ink, you're also replacing the printhead. That increases the cost of the cartridge dramatically, but has the side benefit of preventing some printhead-related problems.

However, I'm not here solely to praise Kodak. Their customer service is phenomenal, but the actual product is mediocre at best. As you can see from this article and the other ones I've written about this printer, it's been quite a headache at times. If you aren't willing to nurse a printer to get it working and don't get your onsite tech support for free, then I can't recommend an Easyshare 5100, despite their low cost of ownership. I've also never - not once - printed a photo that looked nearly as good as a professionally produced print. On the rare occasions that I want prints, I still take a jump drive to a kiosk and pay a quarter each.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny surrounded by his captors. Note the rare glimpse of evil mastermind Shirtless Dr. Zaius, who could also use a belt.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Insert Your Own 'Snow' Joke Here

A Canadian snowboarder has been busted for trafficking cocaine. Allegedly, of course.

Ryan Wedding was a hopeful for the 2010 Olympics -- a promising snowboarder who placed 24th in his first Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.

But now things have gone downhill for the former Olympian, who's in a California prison awaiting trial for cocaine trafficking after two Vancouver co-accused pleaded guilty to their role in the massive smuggling ring.

[snip-a-dee-doo-da, snip-a-dee-ay]

Wedding, 27, is fighting to have the case against him dismissed because of "outrageous conduct" by the American government, which he alleges used a violent former KGB agent as an undercover operative.
I suggest a new entry in the record books, in the category of World's Easiest Job: prosecutor in a drug case against a professional snowboarder. The Crown's opening statement, exhibits A through Q-17, and closing argument should all be the fact that this guy is a 27-year-old snowboarder. The only way your case could be any stronger is if he drove around solving mysteries with a Great Dane.

No, not all snowboarders are druggies. That's an unfair generalization. Not all Magic: The Gathering players are huge nerds who live in their parents' basements, either. Just look at me. I'm hardly ever in my parents' basement these days. I pretty much only go down there to fix their computer.

Waitwaitwait. Something else from this story just filtered all the way into my brain: snowboarding is an Olympic event now?

If snowboarding gets a thumbs up from the Olympic committee, why not Ultimate Frisbee, or Synchronized Hacky Sack? How about Following Phish Around In A Van Full Of (Other) Smelly Hippies? (That last joke was originally going to name-check the Grateful Dead, but that's a bit dated now. On the other hand, many Deadheads remain blissfully unaware that Garcia is gone; they just occasionally notice that these days it's a little quieter in the parking lots where they live.)

Finally, I love that this guy wants his charges tossed on the grounds of "outrageous conduct". I'm pretty sure that's not a technical legal term, and judges generally like to hear terminology that actually means something before they'll throw out a case. However, his original motion to dismiss on the grounds of "total bogosity" was denied, a fact which is in itself totally bogus.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny being waterboarded. I'd like to point out that this surveillance footage was obtained by our double-secret operatives before TB's reference to "apple-boarding" a couple of entries back. Many toy Bothans died to bring us this information.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Quick Notes

It seems like everything I've written on here of late has been epic-length, which contributed to the dearth of entries for April. Time to shake that pattern. Some of these will be jokes, some will be a bit more serious, some will be pure self-indulgent diary entries. Onward.

My wife and I are playing a lot of Magic again lately. Our current deck count stands at 20 decks built and ready to shuffle and play. Several of them are untuned beyond all the mana bases having been checked to make sure all the cards are playable, but they're all ready to go in a pinch. And that's after I tore two decks apart over the last week ("Odyssey & Grab Bag Green" and "Odyssey & Grab Bag Black"). Since my wife almost always plays the same deck (Thallids), I rotate frequently between all the others.

She's dividing her spare time between that and reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. Since she won't be writing any Reading Log entries, that's probably the last you'll hear of them around here.

I was looking through a German cookbook, and I noticed that every recipe starts the same way. "Step 1: round up all the kosher foods you can find and stuff them in the oven."

My son is a creature of habit, to put it mildly. I call him obsessive-compulsive, although the more accurate technical term is "rigid". Here's a list of his current fixations.

Breakfast - a waffle. He went through a phase of eating nothing but (toaster) French toast for breakfast for months, and before that it was oatmeal. The waffle must be plain. Don't dare offer him a chocolate chip waffle, and blueberry is right out.

Lunch - A cheese sandwich, non-grilled. He insisted on a grilled cheese sandwich for a long time before that, and a Fluffernutter (peanut butter and viscous marshmallow goop sandwich) for weeks on end before that.

TV - Teletoon Retro is now the only channel that matters. I agree with him wholeheartedly. He's arrived at some insights about Looney Tunes that probably deserve their own entry.

Current play fixations - 3-D jigsaw puzzles, Transformers, and online Flash games. As I write this, he's a few feet away playing something called "Twang".

My walk to work takes me along a set of railroad tracks that run parallel to the road. Recently I noticed some odd litter along those tracks. Hundreds of unopened bright yellow artificial sweetener packages were scattered all over the ground, for about fifty feet. Then, in the middle of that, a single, opened, presumably empty Viagra box.

What sort of party went on down there?

Actually overheard at work: "I have to try that new exercise equipment at the gym. I don't know what it is or how it works, but Madonna uses it."

Those two sentences encapsulate much of what is wrong with our society.

That lady is in for a surprise when she arrives at the gym to find that this "exercise equipment" is a pair of Dominican baseball players.

When I was very young, my family moved and were assigned a new phone number that used to belong to a dentist who had long since retired or moved away or died or something. We would occasionally get calls from people who didn't know this, and my parents (I was too young to answer the phone) would politely explain that this number was no longer the long-closed dentist's office.

Most callers understood that, but there was one guy who was persistent. He kept calling, over and over, trying to book an appointment. My parents would explain that this number now belonged to a young family in a tiny second-floor apartment, but this guy just wouldn't get it.

Finally one day when he called, Dad said, "You're in luck! We just had a cancellation. If you can be here in fifteen minutes, we'll get you right in!" The guy was thrilled, and said he'd be right over.

He never called again.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of Hostage Bunny being menaced by a guard Hey Bulldog.