Thursday, April 17, 2014

This is (Toll) Bullshit

In an Avis rental car a couple weeks ago, I was driving back to Orlando Airport after 3 days at a conference for work.  There are several tolls along the way and we used the cash booths to avoid using the rental car transponder and associated fees.

However, the last toll was unmanned, had no cash option, only the FL SunPass lanes.  This meant I had a choice of running the toll and incurring fines or flipping on the rental car toll transponder.  The one toll was $1.25.  Avis however charges an eToll Convenience Fee of $3.95 per day of the rental regardless of how many days you use their transponder.  Use it once and you pay for all the days of your rental.

So my $1.25 toll ended up costing $17.05.  This is bullshit.  The state of Florida knows it and the rental car companies know it too.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why do baseball games start at 1:05 or 7:05?

For the most part, football, hockey and basketball start times are always listed as the top or bottom of the hour.  But baseball lists odd start times, 5 minutes after the top or bottom of the hour is common, but I've also seen 7 minutes and 11 minutes.  Why?

Broadcast times are conveniently set at the top or bottom of the hour to fit TV and radio schedules.  And it's no surprise, in fact, common sense, that the first pitch or kick off or tip off or puck drop does not happen precisely at that time.  There is a bit of pre-game, line-up announcements, ads and even some pageantry.  I get it, I accept it, and for the most part enjoy it.  Give me a few minutes to get settled in.

So why is baseball different?  Why does baseball feel compelled to state the obvious, that the first pitch is going to take a few minutes after the broadcast starts.  The other sports are no different in that they require a few minutes to start the game.  I just feel a bit annoyed that baseball has to tell me, "hey cool your jets, the game doesn't start at 7:00.  It will be a few minutes later."  Yeah, no kidding.

I know baseball is steeped in tradition and the rule book is an enormous volume of rules, exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions, which may hold some historic, romantic or traditional reason why the games list a start time after the top of the hour.  I've read some reasons that line-ups need to be given to the umpire 5 minutes before start time and he has the final say on beginning the game.  Fine, do what you gotta do.  I've figured out that a game, any game, will start a few minutes after the start of broadcast time.  Why is it necessary to say anything other than "Red Sox / Yankees, tonight at 7 pm"?

And it seems ironic that the one sport of the four majors that is not timed and has no time limit, feels the need to get all accurate about 5 minutes.  If I've committed to a game that's probably going to last a good 3 hours, maybe more, possibly much more, do we really need the disclaimer that the first pitch won't happen exactly at 7pm?  If baseball thinks I'm that stupid, perhaps it's them.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Size Matters

It's an old complaint that we pay for more and get less.  But some companies are getting very aggressive with this lately.  They may tell you that this was more in line with customer usage or feedback, but it is the quickest way to deliver less and charge the same.  Result, profits go up. Examples:

Remember the "half gallon of ice cream"?  Well the big brands don't sell that anymore.  Nearly all brands now sell a 1.5 quart size instead, a 25% reduction.  Same price.  We got screwed.

This one took place over a long time.  When I was a kid, tuna fish cans were 7 oz.  Over time, the can started getting smaller, 6 7/8 oz, then 6 3/4.  This was an easy cheat because no one complained about an 1/8 oz reductions in their tuna helpings.  Very small reductions, down to 6 oz.  Last year, tuna fish made a leap further to 5 oz.; no more screwing around with fractional reductions.  And this had a real impact on consumers.  5 oz is a useless size.  It is too big for an average sandwich but not big enough for 2 sandwiches.  So now I have to open a second can which results in waste because 2 cans is too much for 2 sandwiches.  That was a double win for the manufacturer in going to 5 oz cans.  The 7 oz can was perfect, 3 1/2 oz each.

Nuts.  We buy the Emerald brand of almonds in the plastic container.  These had been 11 oz for a long time, then 10 oz.  Suddenly they disappeared off the grocery store shelves a couple months ago.  Did they stop carrying them?  No, they were purging the old inventory and switched to a smaller 8.5 oz container, 22% smaller.  Did the price go down?  Yeah, right.

Get used to getting screwed, it comes at you from every direction.  Shop smart and speak with your wallet and your voice.

Why is the Golden Gate Bridge Beautiful and Different?

There is something about the GGB that sets it apart from all the others.  Having been an admirer for years (some say obsessed, but that's a misunderstanding), I gave some thought about just what it is that makes it unlike every other.

Certainly the color is uncommon.  There are some other bridges that use international orange and many silver bridges take on an orange glow at sunset.  So while the golden color fits the Golden Gate so well, that's not it alone.

IMO it is the design of the towers.

  • They are art deco in style.  Big openings that get smaller as you go up with lines that fit the 1930s yet remain classic today.
  • There are no X-shaped supports above the roadway.  This is huge.  The GGB towers have X-supports below the roadway and you can imagine how uninteresting it would look if they continued up to the top.  Just look at the SF Bay Bridge.  The X-supports all the way up those towers.  It takes away from its beauty and show no character.  Many bridge towers look like  they were built from an Erector set.  Even the George Washington Bridge in NY has one big opening in the tower above the roadway, but the rest of it looks unfinished.  The GGB towers make all the difference.
  • And the towers are a presence like no other in every view from and around the GGB.  The city of SF, Alcatraz and the Bay, Sausalito, the Marin Headlands, the opening to the Pacific.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Richard Feynman: The Challenger

Sorry, it's been a while since I've blogged regularly.  I'm planning to do more.  I've been caught up in Twitter largely.  But I miss writing here and will do more.

Not everyone will care or appreciate this guy.  I watched a Science Channel show "The Challenger Disaster" last weekend and thought it would be another rehash of the explosion and o-rings.  Instead it was the story of the investigation and a Ph.D. brought it to the committee who had a huge role in figuring out the mess at NASA and the O-Rings.  Richard Feynman was played by William Hurt.  Turns out he was on the Manhattan Project, Nobel Prize winner, kind of a super genius.  Never heard of him before this weekend.

Then I tripped across a show last night on Science Channel called "Richard Feynman: The Challenger" which told his life story.  Funny guy, diverse, quirky at times but really impressive.

Highly recommend watching or DVR'ing both shows.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Charities that don't give

There is a growing trend of charities out there that don't hand over the money you give the needy people for whom it is intended.  Large companies exist that raise millions of dollars for dying kids, breast cancer, natural disaster relief, but send only pennies on the dollar to those in need.  So where does the money go?  These compensated fund raisers have huge costs such as elaborate marketing programs, executive pay, travel, etc.  

Yes, fundraising is expensive and hard work.  Getting someone to fork over their hard earned money is not easy.  So unscrupulous companies raise money for the most heart wrenching causes to prey on your good nature.

So here is an interesting article from the Tampa Bay TImes that talks about the 50 Worst Charities in America.  Get ready to be outraged.


Monday, May 20, 2013

United "Turfs" Unpleasant Issue to Passenger


United needs to be more proactive about handling oversized passengers.  They clearly don't want to be the bad guys and deny boarding or force passengers to buy two seats.  Instead they "turf" that problem to the unfortunate passengers that have to see next to these oversized people.

On my flight last Friday, SFO-BOS, my seat mate was easily over 350 pounds.  From his middle seat, he "overflowed" above and below the armrest into my seat, squeezing me into the aisle armrest and partially into the aisle.  Of course, every time someone passed by in the aisle or the drink cart came by, I got whacked.  And because it was a full flight, I had nowhere to go.  When I landed, my back hurt because I was forced to sit improperly in the seat and in an awkward position.

So United, not wanting to deal with this passenger's sensitive issue, instead made my cross country 5 1/2 hour trip most uncomfortable and miserable.  Thank you for taking the cowardly approach to the problem and making it mine.  I'm sure United fears all the negative publicity by taking a hard line on appropriate passenger sizes on planes, but gauges a complaint like this more tolerable and less damaging publicly.