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Archive for January, 2011

Cars and Sauce

What does a jar of tomato sauce have in common with a new car?  Well, I drive a Toyota and I like Catelli Fine Herbs, but before I fully answer the question, and before you start guessing, let me recount a short anecdote.

A drummer friend of mine always used to equip his drum kit with Zildjian cymbals.  For many years I knew him as a Zildjian guy, but one day he got a new job working for a company that supplied Sabian cymbals and allowed employees occasional discount purchases.  One by one, over time, his old cymbals cracked and broke (as all cymbals do), and I watched the slow conversion that took place as shiny new Sabians claimed the spots of their old rivals on his kit.  He didn’t seem to mind.

Zildjian CymbalSome time later, he began working for a different employer; the balance between the two cymbal brands was made finally made equal again, and not long after, wouldn’t you know it, he found himself cymbal shopping.  He eventually settled on a Zildjian and a return to normality.  When I asked what he thought about going back to the brand he used to play with, he simply told me that his old job had provided a nice opportunity to try something different that he may not otherwise have tried.

So what does all this have to do with cars and sauce?  What trait do these two things share?  They are both subject to a phenomenon that I like to refer to as brand comfort, which occurs when a consumer sticks to a brand that he or she is satisfied with due to having had prior experience with it.

There are lots of brand names out there.  Oftentimes many for the same type of product.  Some are relatively equivalent in quality, some are not, but the fact remains that there is always a degree of risk involved—however small it might be—when we decide to “switch it up” and buy something we’re unfamiliar with.  Much of the time a strongly influential factor is price.  No one wants to spend money on something if they’re not sure that it’s as good as what they’re used to.  It sounds silly to talk of risk and price in regards to buying something like a new kind of tomato sauce, but the risk is there nonetheless.  The few dollars spent might be negligible, but you may still wind up serving your in-laws a pasta dish that falls flat in the flavour department.

A car is definitely not something for which you want to experience buyer’s remorse.  Of course, things can always be done to reduce the risk such as reading reviews, researching, test driving, etc., but the possibility of dissatisfaction cannot be eliminated completely.  Many people remain loyal to specific vehicle manufacturers for as long as they hold a license to drive, although I have seen people take the leap and buy something different.

Unfortunately, the risks are necessary.  Using a product that you have already deemed good quality may be easier than trying to find its equivalent elsewhere in the market, but trying a new brand—even if it takes an incentive to do so—can build experience and knowledge in the buyer.  I am not a businessman, but to me it seems that it’s partially our duty as consumers to purchase with diversity in order to prevent any single company from dominating too strongly.  Perhaps in the future you’ll see me driving to the store in my Honda to buy some Ragu.

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A Subtle, Wavering Vibrato

I think it’s safe to say that most people enjoy music.  I certainly do.  I often go through phases during which I’ll listen to one particular style more than others.  One thing that I’ve noticed is that sometimes bands of similar styles will have vocals that resemble one another.  It doesn’t bother me.  After all, the vocals only make up one part of the combination of sounds that gives a band its own feel.

Occasionally, though, there are singers that have very distinct voices, and I love it when that happens.  You can turn on the radio and hear a brand new song that you’ve never heard before and, whether for a thunderous baritone or a subtle, wavering vibrato, instantly recognize the artist.

Some singers that I listen to who contribute fairly unique vocals to their bands (in my opinion, anyway) are Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World, Brad Roberts of Crash Test Dummies, Amy Lee of Evanescence, and Ian Kenny of Karnivool.

I thought a short post was in order to make for a change of pace.

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ZodiacBy now most people have heard about the zodiac shift.  Because of slow changes in the Earth’s rotation over the past x-number of years, the dates that used to correspond to the astrological signs that everyone is familiar with have changed—some by several days, some by over a month.  There’s even a new addition: Ophiuchus, the snake-holder.

Astrologers are going to have a fun time explaining this one to their clients.  The people who have read horoscopes for years and always thought that all those short, daily paragraphs in their morning papers summed them up completely must be feeling as though their zodiacal walls are crumbling around them.

How can the horoscope enthusiasts possibly explain their rationale now?  All those little wisdom-filled blurbs that fit so perfectly and could so clearly be applied to their everyday lives came from the wrong horoscope entries.  Some people’s entries were even missing altogether!  Could it be that all of this star sign swapping will bring about the downfall of modern horoscopes and astrology once and for all?  Probably not, but at least it might finally snap a few people out of it.

On a side note, until I looked it up, I wasn’t sure how to pronounce the name of the new zodiac sign, and I’d been saying it the way I thought it looked.  When I finally found the correct pronunciation on Dictionary.com (as well as several other sources) I thought it sounded weird.  Apparently the phonetic pronunciation is [of-ee-YOO-kuhs], or [oh-fee-YOO-kuhs].  I personally prefer the way I thought it sounded, which was [oh-FAHY-uh-kuhs], with the second syllable stressed and rhyming with the word “eye”.  I suppose I’ll be saying it correctly from now on, even if it sounds funny.

Image credit: NASA

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Letting Ideas Flow Naturally

In an effort to promote creativity and good habits, WordPress.com recently issued a challenge to its members: post one blog entry each day for the entire year.  There is also a once-a-week challenge, as well as a more lenient once-a-whatever-you-feel-like.

I’ve always been a believer in letting ideas flow naturally rather than sitting and staring at a blank screen and trying to force an idea onto the page.  Posting once a day is a great plan, but what happens when you are genuinely out of topics?  This very question occurred to me not long after I started WordPressing, so I went out and bought a playing card-sized notebook and miniature pen to keep with me because I knew I would run out of blogging ideas eventually.  With the notebook always in my pocket, I can quickly scribble down any thoughts I have during the day that I think would make interesting posts.  That way, when I sit down at my laptop, I don’t have to waste time trying to think of something to write about; I just flip through my notebook and pick an idea.  I love working this way because I get to spend more time doing the fun part: writing.

Pocket-sized notebook

Those undertaking the challenge just need to take care not to turn daily blogging into a chore, because that can suck the fun right out of it.  Hats off to the future blogging aces of the one-a-day who stick it out for the duration.

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For as long as there have been reasons for people to conspire for mutual interest, there have been those who would suspect others of conspiracy.  I think that the reason conspiracy theorists often garner attention in today’s world is because in the event that the plots that they claim exist are exposed, said exposures would be in the public interest.  Does that mean that a conspiracy theorist, in his or her simplest form, is an advocate (albeit a potentially crazed one) for the freedom of information?

Lets use a fictional example.  Certain toiletry companies come to a private agreement that they will all add a chemical to their toothpastes that causes tooth sensitivity.  They have therefore created a need for a new (and potentially expensive) product that they can market to combat the very same sensitivity.  If this conspiracy were to be unmasked, the responsible parties would be brought to justice and the public would benefit by no longer consuming tainted products.

Sometimes I think conspiracy theorists want conspiracies to exist, and that nothing but exposure will satisfy them.  So what happens when a suspected conspiracy is, in fact, nothing but conjecture?  The person hunting for answers will likely be hunting forever.  Time for another example.  Some people believe that proof of extra terrestrial activity is being covered up and kept at Area 51.  Let’s assume that Area 51 is nothing more than a research and development facility for military projects and so forth, and that no extra terrestrial business has ever gone on there.  Area 51 representatives will deny claims that they have covered up anything alien-related because they have no choice but to deny; it is the truth.  But since they are involved in top secret government projects, they can’t exactly open their doors to prove anything.  To conspiracy theorists, a denial is simply fodder for suspicion, and will accomplish nothing.  Even if Area 51 were to throw open their doors and start giving tours of the place, the theorists would just assume further plotting — a cover-up of a cover-up: that all the evidence has been moved to another location, or some such assumption.

What I’m getting at is that for people with adamant suspicions of conspiracy, no explanation but their fabricated truth is good enough.  If what they believe is not, in reality, true at all, they’ll never be satisfied.

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I have a terrible little habit when writing short texts that I’m planning to use online, like forum posts or blog posts.  I open up a raw text editor and type away until my text is finished.  My editor is gedit — that would be closest to Notepad for you Windows users and who knows what for those of you off in Mac land, but I’ll bet it cost you an arm and a leg.  Anyway, the editor isn’t the point.  The point is that I’m guilty of breaking one of the cardinal rules of working on a computer: Save your work frequently!

That’s correct, while working on a draft of a blog post, I managed to accidentally close my editor without saving by mistaking it for another file I had open at the same time.  I only had a couple of short paragraphs written, so it could have been much worse, but it was still outrageously annoying because I had already done a bit of editing and was just getting those paragraphs to sound the way I wanted.

I never do that with important files, mind you.  Only small, personal texts that don’t really rank highly on the importance scale.  In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I lost work because of a neglectful attitude towards saving; I must have been in elementary school.  I’m usually very cautious about stuff like that.

Let my loss be your lesson!  Save your work often, lest it be forever lost in the green, electrical reaches of cyberspace.

Back to the lost text for just a moment.  Even after closing the editor, it just ticked me off even more to know that my paragraphs were probably still floating around in RAM somewhere.  Had I really wanted the work back, I’m sure there would have been a way to dump the memory so that I could search through it, but I’m not sure offhand, and after researching a way to do it . . . the memory probably would have gotten overwritten anyway!  Sort of a catch-22.

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