Monday, January 31, 2011

UPS Store--U Positively Suck

Ten-and-a-half years ago, when I first moved to Saratoga Springs, I rented a mailbox at the local UPS Store (then Mailboxes Etc.) for my business mail and especially for packages, because I quickly learned that the USPS, UPS, and FedEx liked to leave packages out in the rain and snow. (FedEx in particular has a remarkable knack, I have discovered, for placing boxes exactly where water drips from the eaves of the house.) A PO box was out of the question, because it was predominantly to receive packages from couriers that could not deliver to a PO box.

For 10 years, this system worked fairly well, although once I moved out to the suburban hellhole I couldn't walk up to get my mail anymore, which had been convenient in winter when I can't get my car out of the driveway. The transition from Mailboxes Etc. to The UPS Store went fairly well, and, well, the original owner's idea of "good customer service" was to not actually hit anyone. It also meant that I didn't have to change my business address the three or four times I have moved. And may (hopefully) continue to move.

A week or so ago, the UPS Store location began having strange hours, being closed during my usual dedicated errand times, and cryptic signs on the door would say "Due to a change in ownership at the Wilton branch, we are closed." Which meant I couldn't get my mail.

Today, they appeared to have shut down for good--no notes, no nothing. No one answers the phone. The Wilton branch number doesn't even ring. I e0maled the Wilton branch and (shock!) got no response. I called the Post Office hoping to retrieve any mail that had not been delivered, but they "didn't have it" and they pointed out (I could detect the nyah nyah in her voice) that the contract I probably signed with them (I don't recall; it was a decade ago) gave them the right to take possession of the customer's mail and do with it what they will. So I guess my mail, including checks (assuming anyone has deigned to pay me in the past couple of weeks), bills (like for my first semester of grad school), etc., is all in limbo. It doesn't help that I have to go out of town tomorrow for the rest of the week and will be unable to resolve any of this. Grrrrr....

This is just really lousy business practice. If they are in the midst of a change in ownership, I hope they realize that they have lost a lot of customers (given the swearing I have witnessed as people tried to get in), including me. A simple letter or a phone call or an e-mail explaining the situation and arranging some sort of contingency plan would have gone a long way toward not making me feel like a complete schmuck for having been a loyal customer for 10 years. Never again.

I don't like to use this blog to bitch about things, but it has been an incredibly frustrating experience, and I feel I should warn folks out there to absolutely avoid using these services and "businesses" for anything important.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Via LiveScience:
Using a computer program, researchers at the University of Vermont simulated a population of naive "baby" robots. The robots had to complete various tasks in their virtual environment, such as finding objects and walking toward them. Those robots that performed poorly got deleted, while the best-performing ones remained "alive."

The robots that changed their body forms (like tadpoles growing into frogs) learned to walk more rapidly and developed the most stable gait, the researchers found.

“We learned that it is easier to breed robots that change shape,” said lead study researcher Joshua Bongard, a professor of computer science.
Yep, we're boned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Not So Precious Fluids

I refuse to ever buy bottled water, but it's a safe assumption that I will steer clear of anything called MeatWater: beef-salad flavored water. Beef salad? Okay. They also have cheeseburger-, barbecued chicken wing-, and Italian sausage-flavored water.
For the health-conscious (if that's the right term to use) they also have grilled salmon- and chicken salad-flavored water.

Speaking of vile beverage ideas, Audrey B. passed along a link to a new whiskey-in-a-can:
Wrong. So very wrong. What's next: vodka in a juice box?

Here's an idea, though: want a whiskey and water? Try mixing your canned whiskey with some Meatwater. It would make for some strange tasting notes. Well, stranger tasting notes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Born Under a Bad Sign?

Good grief:
An assertion in a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that our understanding of the zodiac is off by about a month - and that therefore people have been identifying themselves with the wrong sign - caught fire on the internet Thursday, and many folks are in an absolute panic on social media.
Some vowed to get their tats removed. Others groaned about losing the sign with which they’ve identified themselves for years. The zodiac and related terms - including Ophiuchus, said to be a 13th and neglected sign - were trending Twitter topics much of Thursday.

But before astrology fans scrape the ink from their arms because they think they're now a Virgo instead of a Libra, they should consider this: If they adhered to the tropical zodiac - which, if they're a Westerner, they probably did – absolutely nothing has changed for them.

That's worth rephrasing: If you considered yourself a Cancer under the tropical zodiac last week, you're still a Cancer under the same zodiac this week.
Yikes, people still take this stuff seriously?

I've often been called officious--but not Ophiuchus. Of course, there is absolutely nothing to astrology--well, except for The Onion's horoscopes:
You're getting better at figuring out what your dreams really mean. However, all that stuff that happens when you're awake is still pretty baffling.
My favorite debunking of astrology is via the great James Randi:

Fonts of Knowledge?

Says LiveScience:
Want to remember what this article says? Maybe you should read it in Comic Sans.

Okay, I'm better. What are they talking about?
Fonts, or styles of typeface, that are relatively difficult to read (including the much-maligned Comic Sans) help people learn new information, according to a new study. The font effect works both in lab experiments and in real classrooms, perhaps by forcing students to work harder to process the information.
Dieman-Yauman, his faculty mentor Daniel Oppenheimer and their colleagues published the results in the January issue of the journal Cognition. Keeping with the theme of the research, they titled their paper, "Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes." Diemand-Yauman was the lead author.

People generally assume that the easier it is to learn something, the easier it will be to remember the information later. But education research has shown that in many cases, it’s the struggle that makes information stick.
Dieman-Yauman and his fellow researchers were interested in whether switching from easy-to-read fonts to more-difficult ones would create a desirable difficulty and improve learning. They began by presenting information about three made-up alien species to 28 volunteers. Each alien species had a strange name, such as "pangerish" or "norgletti," along with seven physical characteristics. Volunteers got a list of alien names and characteristics and had 90 seconds to memorize which characteristic matched which species.

Some of the lists were typed in an easy-to-read font, Arial. Others, the disfluent lists, were typed in either Comic Sans MS or Bodini MT.

After the 90 seconds was up, the researchers distracted the volunteers for 15 minutes, then tested them on their new alien knowledge. Turns out you want your alien hunters to study up in Comic Sans: The scores for those who read the disfluent lists averaged 14 percentage points higher than those who read the list in Arial (86.5 versus 72.8 percent, the researchers found).
Trouble is, Comic Sans is not an especially difficult typeface to read--at least not visually. Sure, it makes me vomit, which is distracting when trying to comprehend something, but it's legible.

Anyway, the researchers then took their experiment to the real world...well, if high school can be considered the real world:
The researchers recruited teachers in six subjects — advanced placement English, honors English, honors physics, regular physics, honors U.S. history, and honors chemistry — from a public school in Ohio. Each teacher sent copies of his or her classroom presentations and worksheets to Dieman-Yauman to be transferred to difficult-to-read fonts.

He and his colleagues chose three difficult fonts based on preliminary studies: the crowded and boxy Haettenschweiler, the cursive-like Monotype Corsiva, and the bubbly Comic Sans Italicized. When there was no electronic version available to alter, the researchers made blurry copies of the worksheets instead.
The students who learned with difficult fonts got better grades and didn't seem to notice the font switch – in surveys after the study, the researchers found no differences in how students liked the material based on font. Novelty could play a role in the results, the researchers wrote, but the novelty of the fonts — which weren't too outlandish compared to regular textbook fonts — should have worn off over the course of the experiment.
As for Comic Sans, this famous photo pretty much sums it up:

Work for Free?

A very funny ('cause it's true!) flowchart for determining whether or not you should ever do work (I am guessing graphic design work) for free.

Click image for large, legible version.
h/t The Big Picture

In Pod We Cast

Dr. Joe interviewed me this morning for a podcast for my WhatTheyThink special report, The iPad: What it Is, What It Isn't, and What It Means for Graphic Communications Professionals. Check it out here.

Coming to a Phone Near You

I guess it's now official: the iPhone is better for making movies than making phone calls. From Reuters:
An award-winning South Korean film director shoots a 30-minute movie using only Apple's iPhone 4.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Damn You, Autocorrect!

Anyone who has an Apple mobile device--iPhone or iPad--has likely at one time fallen prey to the dreaded "Autocorrect," a predictive text correction feature that half the time is helpful, and the other half of the time creates confusion--or hysterics, usually while texting. A wonderful Web site I discovered called Damn You, Autocorrect! collects screen shots from mobile devices and the linguistic anguish it causes. (Warning: Bad language and many autocorrects tend to be obscene. Also, some may find really bad typing and spelling offensive...)

Fake Criterions

Any self-respecting cinephile is familiar with the Criterion Collection, which, according to the company, "has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements." Criterion Collection DVD artwork has a distinctive look. I just received my latest CC newsletter, and was reminded of a very funny site Derek L. had told me about a few months ago: Fake Criterions, essentially a Tumblr feed of faux Criterion-style DVD art for movies that would, I dare say, never actually make the real Criterion Collection. For example:
Now I'm tempted to try my own hand at one...