Friday, November 07, 2014

This is what grinds my gear

So there I was on a Friday afternoon having a discussion with a co-worker about articles, subject-verb agreement and other arcane aspect of grammar (we were arguing over the help text on a report). As these things sometimes do, it bogged down to an understanding of rules of English grammar. He said one thing was right and I said the other was right. Then out of nowhere he goes "let's get a 3rd person in here to break the tie". Great, I thought thinking he was going to suggest someone with a BA in English Literature or something like that (lots of disciplines end up in IT). But no, he said "let me get someone that was born here". And thus ended my productive time that day. What the heck do you mean get someone that was born here, I wanted to say to him. I had to study for years and take multiple exams to be proficient in this language; why would you assume someone born here is automatically better than me (I wasn't interested in his estimation of his own proficiency at this point). Arrgggghhh.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

American Generosity

So there I was, watching TV on a Sunday afternoon, when a news item crawled along the bottom of the screen. It said that a 49ers fan who crashed the Seahawks post-Superbowl party turned out to be a 15-year old ward of the state who lives in an homeless shelter. It also said a GoFundMe page had been set up for him. GoFundMe is a fundraising site. So I started thinking, Americans are so generous when a poor person manages to make himself stand out from the rest. Waitress got stiffed by obnoxious guests, we raised money for her. When a bus monitor was insulted by her students, we raised a LOT of money for her. A homeless man with a great voice enthralled us all a few years ago and we all came to his aid.

The point is we Americans are very generous when it comes to this kinds of one-on-one giving. But what if we decide that in addition to helping poor people on an individual basis, we come up with a systematic way to raise ALL poor people? I am talking about social welfare programs. For some reason those never really get the generous side of Americans. Instead we make all sorts of excuses. We say there's fraud involved in the process even though the level of fraud in food stamp program is less than 3%. Meanwhile, that waitress that was insulted by her guests? Turns out she lied about everything. So why is it that fraud in individual giving (i.e. funding people one at a time) doesn't discourage us from coming to the aid of the next waitress but we use the relatively low level of fraud and waste in govt programs for the poor as an excuse to cut those programs?

Americans are generous people. I just wish we would extend that to ALL the less fortunate. It'll be cheaper and way more effective. So next time a politician wants to cut a social welfare program, say Head Start to provide pre-school for poor children, why not imagine the back story behind all the beneficiaries of the program: the single mom trying to make ends meet; the precocious 3-year old whose parents can't afford pre-school; the ex-drug addict trying to keep it together for his son because the mom is dead from a drug overdose. So instead of thinking of those abusing the system (i.e. Ronald Reagan's infamous welfare queens and young bucks), let's personify these programs and maybe we'll find it easier to advocate for those programs. After all, how many of us will refuse to give to a hungry child?

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Spot the difference

When I was growing up, there used to be a game called "Spot the difference" in the newspaper. That and the sports section are just about the only parts of the paper I read (the cartoons back home tended to be more political than funny). Basically, you are given two pictures with slight differences between them. Your task is to spot the differences between the two pictures. Sounds pretty simple, right? Except some are really tough because the differences are where you least expect them to be.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. Grocery shopping these days has become an exercise in spotting the difference. Except here, your hard earned money is at stake, you are forced to play and the game is rigged. See if you can spot the difference between these 2 packages of flushable wipes from Costco:


If you can't spot the difference, here's a hint:



You still what happened there? The package went from 6.8 x 5.9 inches to 7.1 x 5.1 inches. That's a difference of almost 4 square inches per wipe (40.12 inches - 36.21 inches = 3.91 inches). And the price? Remains the same. But don't worry, the new smaller version comes in "New! Decorative Packages".


I love Costco, I do but this is why I think American companies have an adversarial relationship with their customers. Their #1 goal is to separate us from our money...providing good value is a distant #2. This is not the first time this has happened...in fact it's so common now consumer advocates call it "grocery shrink ray".