Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When feet and arms don't cost an arm and leg

Two years ago, when I was living in Baton Rouge, one of the feet on my laptop broke off. When I took it to the Apple Store, they told me the only way to fix it would be to replace the entire bottom panel. They were adamant that the feet weren't a standalone item. That prompted me to make this graphic:


Not long after, a second nub broke off. Being uninterested in dropping $87 for the privilege of fixing it (and having since acquired a ventilation support stand), I left it half-footed for the next two years. 

Fast-forward to last month. I brought my laptop to the Reno Apple Store to get a long-overdue new battery. The Genius Bar guy asked me if I wanted two new rubber feet while I was at it. He could just pop them on after putting in the battery, though they'd cost $10 extra. 

How I managed to say yes with my jaw dropped, I don't recall.

I don't know if enough people complained to Apple, or if the previous technician didn't know his stuff and/or assumed I didn't know mine, but I was glad that something I considered a lost cause had worked in my favor.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I set out to replace my rear windshield wiper. It's a custom item on my car that, for years, you had to buy as a complete piece from the dealership for $78. I got around this too-frequent expense by buying a wiper refill, cutting it to its nonstandard size and slipping it into the supposedly unrefillable arm. Apparently enough people did the same, so now you can buy the perfectly sized rubber refill from the dealership for $11 (and probably much cheaper elsewhere). I fixed it in minutes.

Both of these minor annoyances were once major expenses, and now they aren't. I like to think that these companies reached the limit of what customers would tolerate, and acted accordingly. Or that in being thrifty, I avoided a grift until it was a grift no longer.

Either way, it's the small victories that often get me through the day.

Dear mom who drives badly

Hi, I'm Ian. You cut me off twice within seconds in traffic yesterday — first when you sped up behind me on the on-ramp, giving me little space to merge where the second lane ended, and again when you jarred left and flew past me, preventing me from merging left (and nearly forcing me to make an unwanted exit).

When I turned to glower at you as you passed by, I noticed that not once did you swivel your head, in my or any other direction. That didn't surprise me, as many people who cause problems for others on the road tend not to be aware of their environment, like those baffling people who don't look toward oncoming traffic when making turns or walking across the street. What's up with that? I'm asking the wrong person, aren't I?

Anyway, as you screamed by me in your red minivan, I noticed that you had stickers representing your many children on the back. I'll bet you're a loving and devoted mother. You raise your children right, aim to keep them happy and healthy and would no doubt do anything to protect them from harm. You probably pack the latest in car-seat technology in that minivan of yours to ensure that end as far as transportation is concerned.

But apparently, no one else's children matter to you. Yes, I'm a grown man, but my own loving mother texted me throughout the day to send pictures and make sure I was doing all right. Because I'm her kid. 

I have no children of my own, but I try to treat everyone on the road fairly, not just out of common courtesy and decency, but because everyone matters to somebody. It's not just about "me and mine" on the road; it's about all of us being safe and reasonable. I get that. It's time you did as well.

If that means you have to think of me as a child, well, so be it. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Revised Saints prediction, part IV

5-11

(Last prediction: 6-10)

When the Saints were up 23-10 over the Lions in the fourth quarter, I was ready to adjust this to 9-7. I figured the Saints would win every home game and perhaps that one road game against the Lions. But after that gut-wrenching meltdown, I'm pretty sure they blew the best opportunity they'll have all year to take a road win. Seriously, they had zero excuses to lose that game. A lot had to go wrong, and it did. (To say nothing of how well-rested they were. That makes it that much worse.)

So now, I have no confidence they'll win any road games this year. And given what a loss like this does to a team's psyche, I expect it to seep into at least a few home stands as well.

The Saints are showing signs of life, but their inability to close only seems to be getting worse.

What a bummer time to be a Saints fan.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fear in the time of Ebola

Yesterday, Shepard Smith dropped the mic on the Ebola hysteria.

I expect that many people will accuse Smith of lowballing the threat of the deadly virus. They’ll accuse him of wishful thinking, delusions or even conspiracy. But that says more about us than about him.

To be sure, no one wants to catch Ebola. It’s a brutal virus with little recourse. An epidemic would be disastrous.

But after a week or so of hearing south Louisiana friends fret over how close Ebola is to them (“It’s one state away!”) while my Dallas friends and family have been mostly mum on the matter, I think there is another epidemic that is a far more immediate problem in the United States — lack of perspective.

Ebola is spread through contact with infected bodily fluids and needles. It is contagious only when a carrier shows symptoms. The amount of people who have tested positive for the virus in America can be counted on two hands. All of them had close contact either with the man who died in Dallas, or with another patient in a country embroiled in an epidemic. Apparent chaos and sloppy handling procedures at the Dallas hospital likely played a part in the viral spread there.

In other words, there is a very obvious logic to the spread. And with awareness bringing investigation and tighter medical protocols, it’s even less likely now to spontaneously pop up in every American.

Of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think, right? Smith wants you to calm down precisely because they’re hiding The Truth!

This mindset speaks to something wider I've had on my mind for awhile.

We're believing too much in what we want to be true, as opposed to what actually is.

Everyone has a primal desire to know something no one else knows; to be prepared for the the possibility of the deadliest threat; and to feel superior to someone who dropped the ball. They are sugar, salt and fat to the human mind. Mix them in the perfect ratio, as restaurants and snack makers do, and it’s hard to put down the fork. (It’s no surprise that such a diet breeds junkies — when it comes to conspiracy theories, no one can eat just one.)

The Ebola scare is a particularly potent recipe: “What is Shepard Smith hiding? I don’t want to die! Close the borders so this doesn’t happen again!”

Calm reassurance and appeals to logic face an uphill battle once that sweet spot’s been hit. Anyone convinced that teetering on the precipice of fear at all times is the only way to steer clear of violent death is not going to be talked down easily.

Many people say you can’t be too safe. But if an obsession over safety is crippling your ability to function or to think critically, you’re doing it wrong. Arming yourself with the facts and a healthy sense of perspective is the best recipe for genuine vigilance — not to mention health. 

Side effects include thinking like Shepard Smith.