Monday, May 31, 2010

Is 'customizable culture' a good thing?

Can you have too many options?
Does it benefit you to hyper-specialize?
Should we want, nay - demand to have everything "our way?"
This question was inspired by my trip to Starbucks this morning, to furnish my lovely girlfriend with a coffee to help her grueling 4 a.m. shift. In line, I witnessed people with orders so complicated they had to start ordering when they were third in line. Some required them to visually check the concoction before accepting it. And when one person's orders were not to their liking, they turned into rude jerks within seconds.
So do we win by having these incredibly complicated orders? This goes far beyond coffee - the leading technological culture is all about customizing setting to our whims - think iGoogle, or Ipod skins. So, yes, these customizations fit us better and serve our needs better, but do we lose the ability to compromise, to deviate from our norms, when we are given complete control over what we buy?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why we are all hipsters deep down

At a rather fun party last night, I was chatting with one of Dianna's workmates, who is a cool guy. He admits that he wears "hipster" clothing. He is proud to listen to "hipster" music. But he hates the label of "hipster." We had a good chat about labels, and groups, and the all-too human need to put people into categories.

He argued that hipsters have no distinct culture, since he likes both traditional hipster music (heavy on drama, odd-sounding vocals, interesting word choices) but also Delta Blues, jazz and other styles. So you can't easily define me by my tastes, he said.

He said that "hipster" is a word that usually is usually used offensively to demean others, to bemoan other people's false or hyper-aggressive trendiness. He would never call himself a hipster. In fact, we all agreed, no one would.

But isn't that ridiculous? You can hate labels and categories, but certainly you fall into some? Why can't people recognize the sameness of many parts of your aesthetic - music, clothes, language - and use a word that, like it or not, summarizes a part of your culture?

He countered nicely. "What kind of guy are you?" he said shrewdly. "What labels do you fit into?"

He was right. I hated all labels, and any particular one wouldn't really describe me. So maybe, deep down, we are all a little hipster after all.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Are veggie patties dangerous, Part II

The story thus far: I read about how some veggie burgers are created in a toxic substance. So I write Morningstar, the company that makes the best and best-valued veggie patties around. They sent me a lackluster response.
So I emailed again. Here's what I got back. I feel 5% more satisfied.

From: <>
Subject: Morningstar Farms® Consumer Affairs 020872476B
To: Me
Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2010, 10:31 PM


Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We hope this addresses your concerns.

Hexane is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a solvent in the processing of soybeans to separate the oil from the seed and has been used in the industry for over 70 years. Hexane is not used in the direct production of isolated soy protein or soy fiber products. Our suppliers of soy based products use processes that minimize any levels of residual hexane in the raw material. Any remaining residual levels of hexane present in the raw material would be eliminated during processing of our products due to the high temperatures used in production.

We take great pride in providing safe, delicious vegetarian foods. There are many benefits of soy that make it a good alternative to meat and other animal containing products. Soy foods are a good source of protein and many are low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol free. Soybeans also contain fiber, iron, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and the B vitamins. In addition, there is evidence that soy foods may play a role in helping to reduce the risk for heart disease and research suggests that soy protein may reduce the risk of developing some types of cancers and osteoporosis. Therefore, we believe that our soy-containing products fulfill our commitment to providing our consumers with great-tasting and nutritious products that can contribute to a healthy life.

We are sorry to learn that this ingredient has caused concern for you. We will share your comments with our nutrition and development teams.


Jill DeLong
Sr. Consumer Specialist
Consumer Affairs Department


Friday, May 28, 2010

Jon's Copyright Corner

Notice to all banks - you cannot steal my new awesome slogan.

Bank of XXX: Bank on It™®

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Impressively elaborate car insurance scams

Insurance companies are easily hateable. Less reported, however, is how feared they are.

I, for one, will do battle with insurance companies over their frequent wrongdoings - denial of claims, paperwork runaround, misinformed collections goons. But I would be very, very afraid to get on their wrong side, and unleash a horde of ravenous lawyers who thirst for their per-diems and retainer fees, or whatever lawyers thirst for nowadays.

So insurance fraud is something I would never entertain, because I'm sure they don't take that lightly.

Especially for complex, multi-person fraud schemes like this one:

Gangs of thieves stage accidents, fake injuries and then collect millions in fraudulent insurance claims. The criminals usually work in groups to stage the accidents and make fraudulent insurance claims. A typical scam might include paid witnesses, several drivers, passengers who will claim injuries, and medical providers who will make false claims for the treatment.

Wow. That is some well-thought-out fraud. Think about that. Let's coordinate a group of friends to all be in the same place at the same time, have a controlled accident, file fake witness reports fake injuries, bribe / fool medical folks and doctors... that's practically a three-part action thriller right there. The logistics here - this sounds like hours and hours of work, and much risk, to make what is certainly NOT a fast buck.

So, in the end, I can't tell if these criminals are smart or stupid. But they certainly are task-focused.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Great movie / comic book title

I need to write about this before some Hollywood studio steals it.

A project about a computer programmer by day, and Punisher-style vigilante by night. He works numbers by day, and body counts by night. He has no mercy for the miserable scum he eradicates from the earth. He is:

Code Blooded™®

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Virtual bar fights

A long time ago, in an internet far, far away, there used to be this thing called chat. Not AIM, or Google Chat, but websites where you'd sign up, pick a topic group and chat with strangers. This was before social networking, so it was one of the few places where you could quickly meet new people without having to give up any private information.

I had a favorite tactic: I would pick any chat room - gardening, new moms, whatever - and I'd try and initiate a "virtual bar fight."
They would go something like this:

Lollypop1:Does anyone know how to get confectioner's sugar extra tart? Trying to make a blueberry pie.

Ovenmastr: What kind are you using?

Lollypop1: Lawsons' extra fine.

Me: (Stumbles toward the bar)

Ovenmastr: I like to heat it beforehand. Low heat in an iron skillet.

Me: (He smells like a dead horse. His eyes are bloodshot and he's covered in dirt)

Ovenmastr: Conf sugar can be tricky, though. Not for beginners.

Me: Gimme a whiskey

Lollypop1: I think you have the wrong room

Me: I said GIMME A WHISKEY. (He pushes himself away from the bar and stands up at full height, grimacing. His eyes narrow)

Now from here, one of two things would happen. Either an anonymous chatroom member will play along and enter MY scenario, either as the bartender, a lawman or another surly patron. Or I go on solo. I'm fine with that. Inevitably my character will start calling people out, or break a bottle over the bar, or start throwing chairs.

It was a great way to blow off steam and get my writing jollies all at the same time.

Nowadays, however, chat is beyond passe. I tried Googling for it and most required passwords, or were "Adult" or "Teen" chat, which you couldn't pay me to visit. The one I found that was free, quick and legit was Chat Avenue. I tried out their music room. It did have real people, although ads for "Sexy Single Chat" appeared automatically after every sixth message. The patrons had lot to say, but not about music. It was mostly jokes in progress about gays, pedophiles or diarrhea.

Well, at least you know where your kids are at this time of night...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Through sheer ignorance, I mistake "Panic At the Disco" for an obscure 1980's New Wave band

Anyone could have made the same mistake. I was at Karyoke with Dianna and two friends in Adam's Morgan. A "hip" looking girl, short and toughish looking, belted out a song I had never heard before called "Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off."
Only three people in the whole place knew the song, which made me think it was obscure. The lyrics made me think it was older, too:

Let's get these teen hearts beating. Faster, faster
So testosterone boys and harlequin girls,
Will you dance to this beat, and hold a lover close?
So testosterone boys and harlequin girls,
Will you dance to this beat, and hold a lover close?

So I bought the song on iTunes and listened to it as I walked to work. I couldn't figure out if it was any good or not. I still can't. I think about Public Image Limited, Dead Milkmen, and The Kinks, other bands that I never heard of until much later. Just another band that never got played on the radio that I'd never heard of.

Until I heard another song of theirs, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies." This title sounded emo as hell. And when I heard the song, I remember I'd heard it four years before, when I was chaperoning my sister's boyfriend's teenage daughter to a Fall Out Boy show. And it was terrible and pop-crapular. And, apparently, from 2005, not 1985. So, yeah, I got duped.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Picketing to the Oldies

I propose a solution to America's two big challenges - one, they themselves are big (i.e. obese-city) and two - they are largely absent from civic involvement.

The answer: combine exercise with protesting, in the form of picketing, and you get "Picking to the Oldies."

Think about it: You're outdoors, hefting a sign, talking to people about issues, for hours on end. Good cardio, god for the arms. The shouting is good for your lungs (unless you're smoking). It is super simple and yet effective. I hearby endorse my own idea thoroughly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Public speaking smackdown

For me, writing is easy and speaking is hard. It's hard to keep all your topics together, to avoid the "ums" and "uhs." You need be relaxed but polished. And engaging. And to read the crowd and know when you're losing them.

Despite my five years at the head of RI's Jewish paper, and all of the board and business committee meetings I've led, I've still found public speaking to be a considerable challenge. That's why I joined Toast Masters, and I think it's been a big help. (Note: When you read the word Toast Masters very fast, it seems like "Taoist Masters," which, I think we can agree, is Rokkin.

Due to my new job, I've been asked to speak in front of large crowds twice in the past month at conventions. DC is awash with conventions - there are literally multiple conventions in town every day year round. But that doesn't make it any less scary when you're speaking in front of 500 people, all eyes on you.

Above right is a pic from my latest one, when I was on a panel of "Young Government People" talking about the different expectations in regards to technology that happens between generations. It was me and six others in front of a large crowd towards the end of a day-long conference. Right after this event was the open bar, and yet the room was surprisingly filled. All my preparation for the event turned out to be for naught, so I had to improvise. I remembered some good advice a colleague had given me for panels: "Don't try and sound smart. Just talk from experience. Tell them what's it's like to be you."

Which I did. The other panelists were more seasoned than me, but I still kept up OK. I found a lot of my journalistic career anecdotes came up, as well as stories from the beginning of my government career, and a few more recent events. I also found myself telling a lot of improvised jokes, which seemed to go over exceptionally well, I'm happy to say.

Example: One of the other panelists (representing the "Older Generations") was from Texas, and he used a cowboy / herd analogy to talk about leading a group into uncharted territory regarding social media. My response, "Wow. Seriously, younger people are very intimidated by cowboy metaphors." The crowd cracked up. I wasn't sure if I had come across as insulting or not, so I added, "Seriously, we do."

I emailed him later to say congrats and he told me my material was great and that I sparked some good discussions with my smart-ass remarks, so perhaps my humor has a place on the podium after all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Benches cruelly designed so you can't lie down on them

There is an old adage that says, "The test of a society is how it treats its elderly." I think that's valid, but I'd like to add an addendum: "And how it designs its furniture."

All humans hate airport chairs with their built-in and immovable armrests, which makes reclining (and comfort) impossible when your flight is delayed for 6 hours.
But there is a more sinister side. In public places, benches are also designed with this back-paining center metal rod in between the seats, that makes reclining or lying down impossible.

First off, outside of airplanes and movie theaters, do we really need armrests? And second, all the benches outside the Arlington Public Library have these separation, which makes it a bitch for homeless people to lie down. Since libraries are a key homeless destination, the benches are obviously intentional, and intentionally rude. It's not like homeless people have a lot going their way already, but now you take away their ability to lie horizontally?

What's next - a gravity tax?

Friday, May 7, 2010

How BP's public relations does damange control

So everyone hates BP. Not as much as Goldman Saks, sure, but things are looking pret-ty grim over there. In especially in light of this damning Foreign Policy article, which says that BP spent $200 million to convince that public that they were a "green" energy company, while at the same time fighting all environmental and safety regulations and derived less than 1% of their profits through "alternative energy."
So if you work in PR at BP, what do you do? Well here is what they did on their home page - they put the work numbers of ALL of their PR folks, wildlife management people, investor relations and more right on the homepage. Here's a closeup of the numbers.
I find this pretty amazing...
Note to self: Great name for a Jewish ska band - "Oyl Spill."
Patent pending.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Minotaur hybrids are AOK

My friend Geo left me a garbled phone message concerning something about an NPR story, human hybridization and a scientist saying, "Sorry everyone, there won't be any minotaurs anytime soon."
As far as I'm concerned, that's too bad. Because minotaurs are awesome.
Thanks to a childhood spent obsessing about Greek mythology and role-playing games, I know a lot about minotaurs - half-human, half bull, all bad-ass. For some reason modern images always have them with battle axes, which is fine by me.
Here's why I think we need these hardy abominations - they can alleviate mankind from the tremendous loss of life of modern warfare. Because all war ever is is trying to show who has the bigger, badder, nasty fighting force. So why not take a page from the book of antiquity - Instead of pitting two huge forces against each other, why not have each side choose a single champion who will duke it out for the fate of the conflict. Two enter, one leaves, problem solved. It doesn't matter if one is juiced, or knows Karate, or has long hair or whatever. We can engineer our own, put them in gyms and feed them Goo all day. Our nations will be richer, safer and spend less on costly weapons, and can get back to actually running our counties and caring for our citizens.
Nobel prize, please.
P.S. Yes, this is my most ridiculous post to date.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Would I look like an asshat with long hair?

Some of my older friends will recall my experiment with a goatee in college.
The result?
The nickname "Rabbi Rubin." Nuff said.
But I've never really tried to go long on top. And since I'm a few weeks overdue for a haircut, maybe I should just suck it up and try and grow this thing out.
How would it look? I certainly don't want to look like a filthy Jewish hippie in a ponytail - that's not me at all. And I'll never have straight hair, either. That's OK, since it's not the 60's and I'm not 6"3 and 125 pounds, a la Marilyn Manson.
Could I handle blow drying in the winter? Dunno. And Dianna gave me the most troubling news of all - I'd sweat like a whore in church with an extra pound of hair on my head, especially in the humid D.C. summers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Running ain't no fashion show

Anyone who can run has the right to run - that much we all agree on. But once you actually start running, it very quickly becomes a competition - not only in fitness but in fashion as well. Women have their athletic, vented tops and hip-hugging shorts, men have the "I'm in super shape" shorts and the arm-revealing shirts. Some of these are not merely clothes, they are outfits, pre-planned running ensembles.

I say to hell with all that. My summer wardrobe is pretty minimal - I think I'm down to one pair of black shorts and a beige "New England" pair that I can't really fit in. I have one pair of sneakers, so those come too.

Which brings me to the crux of this entry: my decision to run shirtless. In the pageantry of modern running, there is one rule that trumps all others - if you're a guy, you must be in ridiculously good shape to run with your shirt off. You must be able to open a beer bottle with your abs. Your chest must be hairless and ripped. Your arms should have more ridges than... I don't know... Tom Ridge's family reunion.

As elitist as I am culturally (more foreign films, please!) I am am also a populist when it comes to some things, and having the freedom to not be in fantastic shape is one of them. So when I ran this evening from my abode in Arlington across the Potomac towards the Lincoln Memorial, a common running path in my area, I broke all the running stereotypes: I, a non-athletic specimen, ran sans shirt. Imagine it: I am not buff. I have a respectable mini-paunch that befits a 32-year-old. I may have a degree of Semitic "shag" on my upper torso. And I may have a surgical scar or two that knocks me even further from pedestalistic perfection.

But that's OK. On that road, huffing and puffing, I have as much right to be there as the ultra-marathoners and the Iron Men / Women. For those moments, shirtless in the afternoon sun, a much-needed sweat releasing itself from my pores, I feel more God than man.

And hot damn, is this God sexy or what?

Monday, May 3, 2010

On the merits of the $100 toothbrush (or Why I love tote bags)

Scene: Dianna and Jon's apartment. Both are lethargic after a soup + sandwich dinner from Cosi. Realizing Dianna is in a weakened state-- from the sodium coma that is Cosi -- Jon decides to unveil his latest acquisition.

Jon: I may have made an unwise purchase
Dianna: Uh-oh
Jon: Ok, so I was at the doctor's...
Dianna: Dentist's.
Jon: Right, dentist's. And they've been telling me for years that I had a tough mouth to brush and oddly shaped teeth....
Dianna: You have normal teeth.
Jon: But they're hard to brush! And... well... they've been telling me to get an electric toothbrush. So I got one
Dianna: So that's it? That's the big purchase you made. How much was it?
Jon: It was $100
Dianna: Oh man, you got taken.
Jon: (Uncomfortably) But... it was an investment in my teeth!
Dianna: You paid $100 for a toothbrush, and it'll probably cost $20 to get replacement heads every three months.
Jon: The dental hygenist was pressuring me!
Dianna: She probably got a commission.
Jon: Yeah, I saw her put her name on the purchase order. Ok... now, I'm going to show it to you, but first: You love me unconditionally, right?
Dianna: Give it to me.
Jon: Unconditional love, right?

Dianna: Jon! Look at this thing. Jon, this isn't the first time you've been hoodwinked by dentists. Remember when they told you to get that waterpick? You bought one and you only use it twice a year, both times the night before you go to the dentist.
Jon: Unconditional?
Dianna: ......
Jon: Should I return it? I can return it? I have the receipt.
Dianna: Did you buy the mouthwash too?
Jon: No! It was free with purchase. So was this tote bag. (puts tote bag on head)
Dianna: If you return it, you have to give back the tote bag. You only bought it so you could get the tote bag, didn't you?
Jon: ........
Dianna: You should write this up as a blog post.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Marilyn Manson covers 'Nightmare Before Christmas'

I'll admit I haven't made up my mind about Marilyn Manson yet. He's very smart, atheist, knows how to market them hell out of himself but also seems to know how to take a joke (remember him playing himself as Joe Sensible on Family Guy?). So when I saw this, I was in disbelief for a second, and then I LUL'D.

Interestingly enough, he also collaborated with Lady Gaga on "LoveGame," of all things. Not sure if I like it yet, but creative is creative.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Needed: Additional lyrics for 'Carryout'

Let me get my ticket baby, let me get in line
I can tell the way you like, baby, supersize
Hold on, you got yours, let me give mine
I aint leave until they turn over the closed sign
- "Carryout," Timbaland feat. Justin Timberlake (full lyrics
here and song here)

If you don't know this song, you are missing out. It's just plain awesome - superstars using every food analogy to making out there is. And it's funny and clever - I may actually have some respect for JT now.

But now to this important piece: This song is ripe for parody and additional lyrics. Here are some I'm happy with- help me get more:

"I'm a full meal girl... Double Down-ing
This ain't Mickey-D's... I ain't clowning
I'll drink you like gravy, girl - come to me
You make my heart... race.. like KFC"

Word :)