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You’re an idiot. My dog food says so.

11 May

Most of us world-weary media-saturated types would probably consider ourselves above being manipulated by ads. We know they’re lying, and we know they think we’re idiots, and actually we’re much better than all that. You’re wrong. We’re idiots.

Consider the world of dog food. Not something that is especially cut-throat (unless you’re one of the target animals, which is what? Uh… rats, the wobbly bits under a chicken’s beak, and cow lips?). Nevertheless, they work hard at making you believe all sorts of nonsense without you realising it. For example, have you noticed that it’s a long time since they last called it ‘dog food’?

You’ll notice on the above tins that nowhere does it say, ‘Dog food’. You’ll struggle to find one that does. That’s because you wouldn’t like to be fed indiscriminate ‘people food’, so why would you treat your pet that way? (Hint: pets can’t read).

But of course it gets worse. Look at that tin of Husky. It is ‘Beef, Pasta, and Veg Flavour’; oh and it’s ‘Home Style‘. What they’re trying to conjour up is an image of a hearty, balanced meal around grandmamma’s dinner table, home cooked and healthsome; sharing a hot cuppa something with family; good times with good food. Those however are people pictures. Your dog doesn’t have a grandmamma that he visits, he doesn’t eat steak and veggies with the kids, and he regularly — given half a chance — would eat human faeces and unidentifiable grey slime out of the gutter (true stories from real dog walkies).

That Petley’s can is no better. In muted understatement, they claim that this food is to be associated with the words ‘Supreme Gourmet’. That’s right. They got the world’s most highly trained, highly reputed chefs to lovingly craft a tantalising côte d’agneau with spearmint and dark chocolate jus, all for your little poochiekins. And all they came up with was:

You can hear the dying screams of Keith Floyd as you open every can.

It is exactly the same garbage they’ve been scraping off of the floor of the abattoir for decades. Your dog still prefers it to eating faeces 7 out of 10 times, as he always has. All that effort on the tin wrapper exists to make you think that you’re giving Bozo the best.

But here’s the kicker. Even knowing all of this — even if they took two cans from the same conveyor belt — if they stuck that Husky label on the one, and a plain label that says ‘Dog Food’ on the other, you’d still buy the Husky one every time, even, I’ll bet, for a few bucks more. Heck, I would.

So yes, we watch ads with our ‘eyes open’. We know they’re trying to fool the idiots among us. We know their tricks. And yet we go for it every time. Fool me once, shame on you, as they say…

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Two kids’ toys designed by the devil

30 Mar

2. Finger paints not to be used with fingers

Beware of alien slime

When we were kids, my mom made us this stuff that the recipe book called ‘Pud’. It was made mostly of corn flour and water (although it may require baking soda… Who cares! Get on with it!). The point of this concoction is that it usually has the properties of a goopy liquid, but when you squeeze it, it has the properties of a solid. It’s a non-Newtonian fluid, apparently; one of those that thickens (or thins – e.g. tomato sauce) when pressure is applied.

Well, in spite of the fact that the goo requires a maximum of 2 common household dry ingredients, someone decided to package the powder as an educational toy, and someone else bought it and gave it to one of my kids as a birthday present. Unfortunately, to justify selling it as mysterious ‘Alien Slime’, or whatever they called it, the manufacturers added a third ingredient: weapons-grade colourants.

Artist’s impression

For the purposes of mixing the ingredients with water, I stirred with my finger for about 3 or 4 seconds. When I removed my finger, it was dyed bright red. After scrubbing with soap, I had done nothing more than exercise futility, and my finger remained that colour for more than a day.

Realising that this substance should not under any circumstances be allowed to touch anything important, let alone be put in the hands of children, it got binned.

Finger Paints

As far as I am aware, finger paints are not really intended for the use of the Great Masters of the art world. At least until artists get committed to convalescent institutions, finger paints tend to be off their repertoire.

Invented by Michaelangelo for all those fiddly parts of the Sistine ceiling

That is to say, it’s a medium intended for kids. It’s instant, there’s no need for set-up and brushes; they get to use their hands, make a mess. Oh except for the mess part. They shouldn’t make a mess. And they probably shouldn’t use their fingers, because kids tend to touch other things using their fingers.

If you or I were making a substance for the world’s messiest creatures to smear on things with their hands, it’d probably occur to us to ask, ‘Say, I wonder if this wipes off?’ This seems not to have worried whoever made this stuff. The photo above left includes my daughter’s dress after being laundered twice. Those blue drips haven’t budged. Here’s another part of the dress:

I have a shirt with a small blue dot on it where she merely touched me as I was dragging her to the sink to clean her off. It’s fading now after the fourth or fifth wash.

This is a product designed for making a mess. With psychotic staining power.

1. Game Token, Demonic

I was at the SPCA yesterday, and a woman who’d had her guard dog confiscated came in to get the dog back. She was on the warpath, and madly shouting and pointing at the lady behind the counter. The conversation went,

Mad Irish woman: ‘I want my dog back! I’m not leaving until I get my dog back!’

SPCA lady: ‘You’ll need to talk to the inspector who…’

Mad Irish woman: ‘I’m not talking to anybody! I just want my dog back!’

SPCA lady: ‘Um…’

Mad Irish woman: ‘Fine! I’m calling the POLICE!’

<Storms out>

Mad Irish woman to stranger in hallway: ‘If you take my dog, then I take your rabbit!’

<Attempts to take stranger’s rabbit>

<Confused stranger with caged rabbit enters room>

As this good article points out, shouting at the only person who can help you with your problem is a stupid decision. Nevertheless, there are not many circumstances that make people angry enough to attempt a public rabbit kidnapping (yes, that was an entirely true story). One thing that recently made me this angry was a game token for a snakes and ladders game, again given to one of my kids for a birthday present.

token

You shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but if the gift includes one of these, you should punch that horse’s teeth out.

The only necessary design features of a snakes-and-ladders game token are that it should fit on the board, and it should be distinguishable from other tokens (say by colour); that’s it. So the cone shape above with all of its flutes and lips has been designed for one purpose. That purpose is…

Finger trap!!

As a game token, this object is rather poorly designed. As a finger trap for three-year-olds, it is incredible. Firstly, making an opening that is exactly big enough to accept a finger but not release it is easier said than done. That alone must have required hours of research. To improve its effectiveness, the designers conceived of an innovative lip design, loosely like the barb of a fish hook.

It is smooth when pushing into it, but as you can hopefully see on the above image, a millimetre or two in, there’s a tapered, sharp-edged rim around the circumference. This means that when attempting to pull it off, not only does it grab and hold enough skin to thicken the knuckle, but it also hurts. So after promising once or twice not to hurt her, and failing to keep that promise, eventually she would not let anyone even look at the finger.

We therefore had to conduct our remaining removal experiments while she was asleep. These involved trying to immobilise the hand and gently saw through the plastic rim with a blunt hacksaw (night one); then clipping through the thin cone with hedge clippers and breaking through the remaining third (night two); and then trying again with the saw (night 3). By the end, we had discovered something else about the design of this thing:

They didn’t skimp on plastic quality. What one needs in a trap (but not in a game token) is strength, so that your prey cannot escape. This plastic is not flexible enough that it can be stretched, and it is not brittle so that it can be snapped or prised apart. It is also quadruple thick at the rim. The two pictures on the right show what the cone looked like on the final day: sawn, clipped down both sides, but firmly secured to the finger. My wife suggested seeing what could be done to break another token not stuck to a finger, and that’s what you see on the left. I sawed the lip as deep as could reasonably be done — and pulled apart harder than could reasonably be done — if it were on a finger, and nothing. Not even close to breaking.

Eventually, we went to a doctor, who I had hoped would have some sort of plaster-cast saw that could cut it off. Instead he helplessly poked at it with scissors. Having no more ideas, he had her tied in a blanket to restrain her and he me and the nurse hold her down while he grotesquely prodded around with a comically long needle in the soft flesh between her fingers. Then (as is typical for doctors) without giving the anaesthetic time to work, he declared that she could feel nothing and pulled it until it came off. The hysterical screaming and thrashing and bleeding suggested to me that she was actually feeling a few things, but, hey! You’re the doctor. So great, Doc, that was something I could have done for free while traumatising her significantly less. And you only charge, what? R350? Thanks, Doc. You saved us.

The petting-zoo-restaurant visit by which we hoped to mitigate the trauma afterwards cost about R100. I lost the rest of the day to depression. She recovered OK, but I don’t know what the therapy is going to cost me when she’s a teenager.

So, yes, if I ever come across the designer of that game token, I think I’ll do more than try to steal his rabbit.

The cost of looking poor

13 Mar

I don’t care much for fashion. In the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians, Glenn Close’s Cruella de’Vil, a famous fashion mogul, ridicules Jeff Daniels, a videogame designer, for being in a useless profession. The film seems not to see any irony in that, and certainly Jeff does not echo the obvious response that I always make, sometimes out loud: ‘Look who’s talking’. (My kids watch it often, so I have plenty of opportunity).

I recently came across these pics in a UK edition of Marie Claire that my wife was reading, and quickly (and badly — sorry) photographed two of the pages out of sheer disbelief:

 

The fashion model has clambered into various ill-fitting pieces of sackcloth and a child’s jacket from a thrift store. She hold a stale scone in front of her eye as if to say, ‘This is the only food I’ll eat today’.

As if to mock the homeless, the one caption reads, ‘Contrast a shrunken tee with wide bottoms to balance the look’. Because the homeless choose their clothes with balance in mind. So if you could only find an eight-year-old’s shirt to wear, the best thing to do is make sure that you draw attention away from it by seeking out obese-clown slacks.

What is so utterly criminal is that while the homeless dig ugly clothes out of the garbage bags of the deceased, you as a privileged Marie Claire reader can have the above look for the low-low price of:

  • £330 for the thrift-store jacket (that’s R4000; get it while the pound is still weak!)
  • £99 for the kids’ tee
  • £105 for the sack trousers

For the whole ensemble, then, expect to pay R6400, or with the earrings and bangle included make it R11,000. (Model not included).

On the next page, there was this one:

 

To have ‘Chloe’ (again, I’m pretty sure that’s the name of the sack, not the model), a ‘wardrobe essential’, you merely have to pay £1,250 (R15,000). That is not inclusive of the handbag, jewellery, or even the belt. And unless you’re shaped like one of the clothes horses above, you’re going to look like an utter bag-lady in it.

Photos from the Shop

2 Sep

Here are some of my favourite photos from some recent shopping trips, kicking off with a bang:

Dongbang

I don’t know what these baby wipes are meant for, but they sound painful, if only for the boys. If I read the label correctly, I believe it says that if you administer a Dong Bang, it’ll make the baby tender. Not sure what the kid in the picture is doing with his left hand, but I’ll bet he’s holding some sort of shield. Poor little guy. That stuff will make…

childrenswear
This department in a clothing store seems more concerned about making a statement concerning the prevalence of bad language among our youth than telling shoppers what’s for sale. If someone gave my dong a bang, I also might swear.

become a rock who

The toyshop carries some beautiful Chinese toys, with inspirational messages, such as ‘Become a Rock Who’, which of course makes perfect sense.

A rock Who

A rock Who

 

The Chinese also would have us pause to consider the environmental impact of our purchases.

exploiter

You can talk, China!

 

And finally, while we should be able to forgive the Chinese for their inability to speak sense in a language not their own, what excuse does this guy have??

Notes from the Universe

I love you too, Universe, but I just don't see you in that way.

 

Buddhists have spent centuries trying to persuade us that desire keeps us chained to the wheel of futility, and that enlightenment is all about forsaking self and realising your oneness with everything (and then poof! you disappear in to Nirvana forever — nothingness, that is, not the band).

That’s bad for selling books, apparently. There’s no buzzkill like desiring the heck out of a book about Buddhism only to read it and discover that your desire has angered Buddha, and he plans to chain you to samsara reincarnated as a baby wipe. So to avoid this paradox, the author of ‘Notes from the Universe’ has decided that a universe that wants to kill your desires and absorb your individuality is not so enlightened after all. On the contrary, the actual universe is the dribblingly sentimental love child of corporate America and Santa Claus.

'I'm making a list, checking it twice!'

Also, why is it good to learn that all my dreams have the real possibility of coming true? Have these people never had dreams? I am horrified to learn that the universe intends to make me sit an impromptu make-or-break science exam the next time I visit my old high school. Plus I may not be able to find my pants, and I may be chased by a dinosaur. I’m also distressed to discover that the universe loves me too, too much to let slide an opportunity to create that world made out of human innards for me that I dreamed about some time ago. Thanks a lot, Universe, you can be a real dork sometimes.

Killing them softly with its song

14 Jul

Mortein Moron“How can we get people to spray poison arbitrarily in the air, even when they don’t have any pests?” says the bug-spray strategy man.

“Maybe we can market it as a child’s toy? They love things that spray”, suggests the man from marketing, who had recently been demoted from the foods department for producing a range of hanukkah-themed bacon products.

“I know! We can sell it with a more-expensive arbitrary-in-the-air-sprayer!”

Strategy man was onto something. Or on something. Either way, that was what the smart guys at Mortein decided to do. So they produced the Naturgard TM Automatic Indoor Insect Control System, which sprays a polite little spray every quarter of an hour and promises to use less every day than you would if you sprayed continuously for 4 seconds.

Foolishly we bought one. Not because it looked like a good idea, but because it said ‘insect control’ on it, and we assumed from that that it would somehow control pests. We were desperate, because ants had recently built sizeable nests (seemingly overnight) in our computer speakers, our DVD player, two alarm clocks and my Wacom Tablet. Many more were seen scouting our refrigerator.

Needless to say, this ‘system’ under-delivers on ‘insect control’. It has a number of serious limitations not suffered by an ordinary can — besides the obvious problem that it requires batteries. It must be wall mounted. Two metres above ground. But not too close to the ceiling. And not anywhere your face is likely to be every 15 minutes or so. And not above carpeted areas. Or near kids. Or pets. Or your food. Or appliances. Allow me to summarise by means of a diagram:

So instead of walking to the place where the insects are and spraying far too much poison straight into their faces, Mortein reckons it is ‘more convenient’ to inject small amounts of poison into a forgotten nook of your living environment in the hope that an insect wanders in front of it. I mean, what kind of an idiot buys this thing?

Erm…

Look, it’s not my fault. The ants were getting busy in my Wacom Tablet.  I had to try.