Archive for August, 2004

I am Vengeance…

…and I am here for your cake.

a vision of customer service hell

File this, I guess, under “predictably strange side-effects of working in Times Square.”

So this afternoon, some of my lovely co-workers dropped into my office and dragged me (without much argument at the time) over to something called Coldstone Creamery.

Now, I’d never heard of this thing before, but apparently Coldstone Creamery is, like everything on 42nd Street between 6th and 8th, a franchise operation. Specifically, they’re a mid-range ice cream shop. The primary gimmick is that they’re not really interested in serving straight-up ice cream: instead, you order one of a number of deadly “creations” from a menu, and they assemble them for you by smashing in assorted additions (nuts, candybar bits, cookies, syrups, chips, etc) with metal paddles on a chilled bar before plating and serving.

Okay, nothing terribly horrible there except from a nutrition (and possibly taste, but YMMV) perspective, but we’re not actually done yet. Because Coldstone Creamery has one other little innovation to add in the customer service and presentation department:

They sing.

Every time someone puts some change into the tipjar, and also at just regular (roughly once every 2-3 minutes) intervals as the line of customers snakes through the store, the entire staff has to burst out singing, in unison, one of about a dozen or so Official Corporate Jingles, most of which are rewritten snatches from either current popular songs (My Milkshake, etc) or military marching chants.

The horror. The horror.

Now, I have had some crappy jobs in my life. I have spent months in a converted broom closet being sneered at by Wharton students. I have mowed lawns, walked dogs, dug ditches and flipped burgers. But none of them, not even Burger King, ever asked me to sing, on cue, in front of the customers.

For this, I am more grateful than I can ever express.

(For the record, I had the Mint Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip. I had the smallest serving they offered, and at the moment it is only by immense force of personal will that I am not vibrating a rift through the space-time continuum. If you notice any major violations of General Relativity in your area in the next 90 minutes, or hear a very large explosion from the vicinity of 40th Street, you know who to sue.)

Postscript: Since several people complained that the soundclip above was not actually a link to any of the Coldstone jingles… Well, their website, thankfully, doesn’t have any clips, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that this happened. Of the dozen or so we heard while I was there, the two that I was unable to blot out were:

“Coldstone, Coldstone / Whatcha gonna do? / Whatcha gonna do when we scoop for you?”
“I don’t know but I’ve been told / coldstone cream is mighty cold!”

…and there was definitly one based on Ferris’ “My Milkshake”, but I am thankfully unable to remember.

Remember: you asked.

Mars or Bust

Not much political commentary recently from this corner, because, well, christ, what’s to say? We’re not even three months out from the election and we’re already hip-deep and sinking in slime. What, you thought that this election might feature informed, passionate debate about the dozen or so crucially important issues facing the country right now?

Yeah, well, I did too: call it the last remaining traces of the Dean Reality Distortion Field. As a result, the last month has been one of those ones where I can barely bring myself to skim over the print news, and can’t even approach the TV: it’s the Pit of Despair, and it makes me want to throw myself out the nearest window. Swift Boats? Purple hearts? Are you fucking kidding me? Did Afghanistan and Iraq both turn into parlimentary democracies and join the EU while I was asleep? Did the budget get balanced? Was Osama captured yet? Can we just try to pretend like we’re giving a shit here?

But today? Today I am feeling better. Because I have been given the Best Pep Talk Ever, courtesy of the inimitable Atrios‘s comment section. I reproduce it for you here, verbatim, on the theory that you, my readers, could use some bucking up too.

For the best effect, imagine this in the voice of R. Lee Ermey after a six-day ether bender:

What a bunch of wussie boys. You better gird your loins: we have another 67 days of this shit. Did you forget that Bush has the office of the presidency, the ability to lie his ass off, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, $200 million dollars, and of course the media whores?

Did you think this was going to be easy?

Put your fucking backs into it, get busy, send lawyers, guns or money. Do Something.

Mars, my little bitches!

Can I get an amen? Do I hear a “yes, Lord?”

Actually, screw the amenning, just send cold, hard cash. Send it here, here, here or here.

Mars, my little bitches!

the show that never ends

Via the evil geniuses at Crooked Timber, a link to something that I had not previously known existed:

The New York Times Election 2000 Florida Recount-O-Matic

No, seriously. It’s a little web application that lets you set your own criteria for determining elegible votes, and see who would have been counted the winner in a full, state-wide recount based on you selection.

(It is perhaps historically relevant here to mention that there never was a full, statewide recount of Florida in 2000: for tactical reasons that seem awful dumb in retrospect, the Gore campaign requested recounts in only a few select counties, and even those recounts were disrupted by organized, imported rioters. But hey, you know, water under the bridge.)

Here’s the fun part: as the CT commentator noted, if you apply the seemingly-reasonable standard of “optical ballots filled out correctly; unanimous assent by observers on recounted ballots, three corners punched out on hanging chads”, George W. Bush appears to have won Florida by…two votes. Don’t think that’s a reasonable standard? Pick your own, and have endless fun hectoring people at cocktail parties about how your standard of counting is obviously the only rational one.

In the meantime, if you yourself are a resident of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or any other state where the election is likely to be fully contested this year, it might be a good idea to make certain that everyone you know is registered. It would be an even better idea to wander down to your local Board of Elections and volunteer to help out come November.


Raised by quasi-hippies in Columbus, Ohio, television was a carefully rationed pleasure for me growing up: when I was allowed to watch at all, it was mostly PBS. Coincidentally, both parents were avid cooks: my mom TA’ed cooking classes at Ohio State that were taught by my dad’s mother, and they were united in their belief that there was better food to be had than white bread and American Process Cheese Product.

So as a result of those otherwise unrelated facts, a lot of my earliest childhood memories of the boob tube involve an energetic, amazonian woman with an idiosyncratic accent bounding around a TV-set kitchen, doing wicked things to poultry with an unflagging smile on her face.

Years later, away from home for the first time at a college with the worst cafeteria service in the western hemisphere, I spent my entire sophomore year pooling my meagre funds with my housemates in order to cook recipes from the copy of The French Chef Cookbook that I had lifted from my mother’s collection at home. After a dozen tries or so, I got to be reasonably good at the Chicken Breasts and Risotto, but never quite managed to get Chicken Kiev down. An actual chef would have been justifiably horrified at the atrocities I was committing, but it was still lightyears better than the cafeteria, and my housemates seemed to enjoy it.

So thank you and goodbye to Julia Child, who saved four (and occasionally more) starving college rats from a fate worse than death: the Simon’s Rock Cafeteria’s Mystery Seafood Gumbo.

“Whenever she was asked what her guilty pleasures were, she responded: ‘I don’t have any guilt.’”

Julia Child: 1912-2004

Surely a few of my friends will want to help…

Probably a few of you have heard of Mil Millington, author of Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About: The Web Page, which thereafter became Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About: The Book. And, well, if you haven’t, you should at least read the webpage, because it’s funny and stuff.

As it turns out, his girlfriend is also a writer, and is putting together a book of stories about casual sex. And, um, I think a few of you out there might have, you know, one or two amusing stories to tell on the subject.

The details are here.

the joys of hindsight

(Severe nerdery ahead; turn off now.)

John Gruber (no, not the arch-kook of late-1990s Usenet: that was John Grubor) has a great article up on his site talking about one of the great shibboleths of this industry.

In a nutshell, if you ask any geek, industry pundit, or even a random person on the street, “What did Apple do wrong in the 1980s?” they’ll pretty much all say the same thing, because it’s been repeated so many times that it’s become Received Wisdom:

“Apple should have licensed the Macintosh OS, or ported it to Intel hardware.”
Everyone “knows” this: if Apple had just ported the MacOS over to the PC AT and/or licensed it to all comers, they would be Microsoft now.

Now, Gruber goes into a great number of the reasons why this is nowhere near so “obvious” as it seems, and he’s entirely right about them. (I won’t rehash his points here: go read it yourself.) But to my mind, he’s forgotten the most obvious case against this argument: other people did this, and it didn’t work.

GEM. GEOS. DesqView. DesqView/X. Remember any of these names? Unless you’re a pretty hardcore geek, the odds are that you don’t, and that’s fine, because there’s no reason you should: in greater or lesser degree, they all did the same thing (put a vaguely Mac-like interface onto a standard desktop PC circa 1986), and they were all, in the long run, total failures. Digital Research, Berkely Softwarks and Quarterdeck Software, their respective makers, are all historical footnotes now: long-dead or absorbed into larger firms.

Heck, for at least a few years there, even Microsoft couldn’t sell a graphical interface on a PC to save their lives. Remember Windows 1.0? Windows 2.0? Windows 386? If you’re lucky, you don’t. If you had to use any of them, I’m sorry.

Seriously: if “an integrated GUI desktop on a commodity PC hardware platform” were really all that you had to create in order to make yourself into the Richest Company Ever, then by all rights Digital Research Inc should be a world-straddling colossus right now, and Microsoft a piddling vendor of second-tier office productivity software. But that’s now how it worked out, and people looking for glib explanations for Apple’s shifting fortunes would do well to look elsewhere.