Friday, October 29, 2010

What Doesn't Kill You...

Dear Readers,

For the last few weeks, I've been a little worried about work.  Things have been a little slow for me, so I'm trying to generate some new assignments.  That's a little hard, but hopefully I'm starting to master the pitch letter and will get some ideas published.

It's a little hard not to get down about this, but luckily my friend Reikko-san popped up at just the right time with an idea:  Let's do NaNoWriMo together!

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which is held every November.  It's designed to help you write the first draft of a novel--just spit it out and get it done.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  

It's a challenge, but it can be done--and many people have managed to sell their novels too, so if you work hard during the month, you can definitely come up with a sellable piece of work.  Sure, you have to spend some time editing and rewriting, but at least you've finished the hard part.

I tried NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago and didn't finish the 50,000 words.  That will change this year.  The people behind the project recommend telling people about it so that you can get a lot of support throughout the month (especially when your initial enthusiasm wears off and you've got to slog away at it).  They're probably right, so I'm telling you all about it up front.  I'll check in regularly and keep you posted on how it's going.  More about the novel next week--I'm trying to work out a few plot points, so once I have those, I can tell you more what it's about.

Are any of you doing NaNoWriMo?  If so, look me up (jilljaracz), and we can be writing buddies!

Your pal,

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How Many Bags?

Dear Grocery Store Baggers,

You know those reusable totes?  They're a little sturdier than the plastic bag, and therefore hold more than a plastic bag.

I'm just letting you know because when I got home from my grocery trip today--with some of my items in plastic bags (not counting my dish soap--I appreciate that being separated from the foodstuffs) and plenty of room in the totes for groceries, I was a little peeved.  Why use the plastic, when there was still enough tote available?

Look, I'm just trying to do my part to keep my plastic bag consumption lower.  Please help me out here!

Your pal,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lack of Service

Dear Rajat Suri,

I read about your company E la Carte, which is an electronic menu board.  On paper, the concept sounds like it might be useful:  Tablet computers that serve as menus (mainly in sit-down restaurants).  Customers can place their order and pay directly through the tablet.  No more waiting for the server to take your order (especially if the server takes your order incorrectly) or bring your check.  And if you want to add on dessert, it's really easy to do that partway through your meal.  Plus, the tablet has games on it, so you can play while you wait.

Supposedly the tablet will help cut down on service errors and increase check amount--thereby increasing tip amounts.

Maybe I don't frequent the restaurants you're targeting with this product, but if I'm placing the order myself, and I'm generating the receipt, the server just becomes a glorified food runner.  I'm likely to start tipping 10% then, not the 15-20%/leaning toward 20%, that I do now.  Plus, I like interacting with my server.  If I have questions, the server can answer them.  The server can tell me what's good and what's not.  It's the server who makes the restaurant experience what it is.

Nonetheless, I can't fault an entrepreneur for trying, so best of luck to you.  One thing though--could you keep a client list on your website so I know which places to avoid?  Thanks!

Your pal,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hours, Schmours

Dear Cherry Bomb Bakery,

Yesterday I stopped by your establishment to use a Buy With Me voucher for a half-dozen cupcakes.  I was even going to buy a few extra so that I could take them to a meeting.

Except that when I got to your location, I discovered you were closed.  Closed on Mondays!

Boy, did I feel like a boob.  I'd gotten your address and directions off your website, but how could I miss your hours of operation?

Because they weren't on your site.

Really?  Really?!  Isn't that a basic thing to have on your website, the place where people will first look for you?  I hadn't thought to call to double-check, but should I have had to?  Wouldn't you get tired of all the calls about when you're open?

Anyway, I'll be stopping by later today to redeem my voucher.  No extra cupcakes though--I don't need them anymore.  It'll probably be the last time I stop in too.  My brain is full of enough random information--I don't need to retain your operating hours on top of it.  And if I don't know when you're open, I'm not going to make a special trek to Brighton for a cupcake.

Perhaps your website is missing other crucial information that's keeping customers from stopping by.  I'm a professional writer, so if you want me to have a thorough look at your site, I'd be willing to help you out.  My fees are quite reasonable.

Looking forward to talking to you.

Your pal,

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Point in the War on Celebrity Interviews

Dear Philip Roth,

Bravo!  I just read the "Out to Lunch" piece on you in November's Vanity Fair.  Good job on flummoxing John Heilpern, the writer of the piece:
Philip Roth met me at the restaurant of his choice, the West Street Grill, overlooking the Green in Litchfield, about 20 minutes' drive from his home in Connecticut.  The famously private novelist had made an eccentric condition of our meeting, however.  I was not to mention what he ate for lunch.
Not that he ordered anything unusual.  (And the popular restaurant is conventional enough.) But, still... This was the lunch that dare not speak its menu. 
I suppose Heilpern thought it an "eccentric" request because after all, the column is called "Out to Lunch," and you're going out to lunch, so why not set the scene and give a little insight into what the interview subject likes to eat?

Personally, I don't know how you felt, but I'm going to hope you feel the same way I do:  It's stupid.  I hate those celebrity interviews that always take place over a meal and mention that some famous actress had a hearty appetite and dug into a steak.  Or that a writer nibbled on a salad.  Who cares?  It's not setting the scene--it's giving the reader another way to judge the interviewee, and we could use a little less of that in our celebrity-focused society.

Hopefully you're setting a precedent for everyone else.  I'm not holding my breath, but at least this was a breath of fresh air.

Thanks so much!
Your pal,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fashion Forward?

Dear Readers,

When it comes to sneakers, what brands do you like wearing?  Nike?  Addidas?  Brooks?  Asics?  Reebok?

How about the Gravity Defyer:

Ease your tired feet with springy shoes!  Sounds like heaven, no?  So, why haven't I heard of these before (unless I'm a compulsive SkyMall catalog reader)?  And why haven't I seen them on anyone's feet?  

Oh, I don't know.....maybe it's because of this:

I don't know about you, but I don't exactly think that wearing sperm on my shoes is very cool.  And I'm not sure "slick" is the right term either.  I'm guessing it's more "because somebody made a mistake."  Which I'm guessing could be said of some sperm as well.

Have a good weekend!
Your pal,

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shooting for Patience

Dear Readers,

Today was supposed to be some other sort of entry about my and the Boy's gun license applications.  We're trying to get gun licenses because we'd like to get our own rifles and handguns for a variety of reasons.  Partly, it's so we can get our own biathlon rifles, but there are other shooting sports we'd like to try and other lawful purposes for owning a gun.

The gun licensing process in Massachusetts is fairly involved, and the requirements vary from town to town.  One of the requirements in my town is an interview with the police department, and the Boy and I went in for ours today.

It turned out to be a meeting to fill out the online gun application, turn in some paperwork that proves who we are and who vouches for us as responsible people, and get fingerprinted.  Now the department will do a thorough background check on us, and then we'll schedule another interview to talk more about our potential licensing.

This means we'll have to wait at least three weeks for this next step.  Although it could be a little frustrating--after all, we started this process in the beginning of September--it's kind of a nice exercise in patience.  We had anticipated that it would take a while to receive our licenses, but getting confirmation that it actually will take that amount of time (or longer) just gives us the knowledge that we have to dig into our personal stores of patience and wait.

Those that live in states where it's easier to get a license might think Massachusetts is a bit crazy with its laws.  However, my state has its laws for a reason, and my police chief has a responsibility to make sure that these laws are carried out in the safest manner possible.  If that means I have to wait a little bit longer, then all right.  At least I know my application is being taken seriously and that all the steps are done to make sure that the town is being careful with its licensing process.

So we wait.

Your pal,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Last Drop

Dear Readers,

Anyone have any effective way of totally emptying a liquid laundry detergent bottle?  Today I had to throw in a load of laundry, and I didn't have much detergent left in the bottle.  Yet, even when it looked like the bottle was empty because nothing else was pouring out, I could still see a fair amount of detergent in the bottle.  With enough shaking, I went from having almost no detergent for my load, to basically having a load's worth of detergent.

What gives?  Do I have to cut the bottle open to get the rest of the detergent out?  Or do I simply switch to powder?

Advice appreciated!
Your pal,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Time to Quit

Dear Netflix,

Today I will do it.  I will finally quit you.

I realize I'm the type of customer you love--the one that doesn't return a movie for six weeks (unless I get on a TV jag and watch a season in a week), but I have to quit.

I can't take the guilt--"The Savages" has been sitting around since September, and I got my credit card bill with yet another charge on it for a this great service that I'm just not using.  I'm one of those persons who has a queue full of movies I should watch--and I actually do want to watch them, but just not when they show up in my mailbox. On top of that, I've got a pretty full DVR that I'd like to clean out.  That's my new queue right now.

So, even though it's an honor to be one of your favorite types of customers, I'm going to have to stop being that person.  Maybe I'll come back, but for now, I have to quit you.

Your pal,

Monday, October 18, 2010

Start It Right

Dear Restauranteurs,

Whither the starter salad?  Maybe it's a New England thing, but I'm having a problem finding a decently priced, properly portioned appetizer-sized salad when I go out to eat.  It's driving me crazy--I'm tired of spending a ton of extra dough just to get some veg in my meal!

This last Saturday was about the worst.  The Boy and I were in Portland--I went for roller derby, he came along, and it just so happened, we were able to meet up with a college friend of his, which was really nice.  She took us to a good local establishment with a nice beer menu.  The food menu also wasn't bad--bar food, with a bunch of salad options.

 I wanted fish & chips for an entree.  I know, I know--not the healthiest of choices, so why I'm complaining about salad may be a shock, but still.  I wanted a little bit of salad at the beginning of my meal.  No starter salads on the menu, so I ordered a house salad.  Cost me something like $6.99--and the Boy got one too.  On top of an entree.  And to top it off, the salad was huge--I really could've done with 1/3 to 1/2 of it (though the salad alone probably gave me my 5 servings of veg for the day, which was the only good part), but I didn't have the option.

Should I have asked if they could do a half-salad for half-price?  I'm not one to order off the menu.  I don't like to make life difficult for the staff, especially when the place is full.

Still, I've found it difficult to find a small salad on a menu.  I'm not talking the "substitute your fries for a salad" option.  I'm talking about 1 cup of greens, with maybe some carrots, a little red onion, and a cucumber slice---and those last two ingredients are icing on the cake.  Dressing on the side (and about half of what you'd typically give for a regular salad).  Charge me $3.25-$3.50.  It's not a huge portion, but it's one that helps me get a little bit of vegetables in with my menu.

If you're worried about food spoiling, start upselling.  Make it an attractive deal, creatively mention it when people order, and they may want to start with it.  What could it hurt?  Not my waistline, that's for sure.

Your pal,

Friday, October 15, 2010

Crossing Words

Dear Irene Casey, Crossword puzzle creator,

I'm normally not one of those nit-picky people who gets all wrapped up in semantics and is easily offended by an incorrect phrasing.  However, your crossword puzzle "Failing Grades" (published on 10/8/10 in the Boston Globe) really failed with me.

Take a look at 14-Across.  A 5-letter word for "What a roller derby queen throws."  What's your answer?  ELBOW.

If you take a look at the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Rules, you will see in rule 6.4 that use of elbows is not allowed in roller derby. Heck, even banked track derby doesn't allow elbows, according to the Bay City Bombers.  Maybe it was back in the day, and perhaps that's what you meant by "roller derby queen," but today's roller derby is different.  The queens of today throw BLOCKS, not elbows.

I wouldn't be so picky about this, except that I'm tired of explaining that roller derby has evolved and is different from the derby on TV that the old-timers remember.  Roller derby has moved away from the drama and the story lines and the fighting, and it's turned into a legitimate sport, where the outcome isn't pre-determined.  The roller derby queens of yesterday were fantastic, but the skaters of today are taking the sport to an entirely new level.  It doesn't help when people like you continue to perpetuate the myths that derby girls (and their officials, which includes me) are trying so hard to shed.

Next time you write a crossword puzzle, please check your facts.  Even though a crossword is entertainment, it's also a learning tool, and it should be as accurate as possible.

Your pal,

cc:  Timothy Parker, editor

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Define 4-Star

Dear Raffaello Hotel Chicago,

The Boy and I recently had a lovely stay at your boutique establishment.  However, I'm not quite sure you're living up to your billing.  Your website states:

Boutique luxury means you count at the 4-star boutique Raffaello Hotel. Personalized service blends with modern technology and luxurious furnishings to create 4-star boutique service unlike other Chicago downtown hotels.
Let's take a look at the 4-star boutique service:

Comfortable bed?  Check!

Flat-screen TV?  Check!  (even came with a DVD player!)

Rainshower head?  Check!  (pretty awesome, too!)

The guest pays for Internet service?  Check!  (somehow, mid- and budget-priced hotels can provide free wi-fi, but anytime "luxury" or "boutique" gets tossed into the description, wi-fi service suddenly becomes an extra charge.  I don't get it.)

Mini-fridge?  Check!  (granted, it was a mini-bar too, but there was enough room for our own beverages)

Microwave?  Check!

Decent toiletries?  Check!  (OK, they were Gilchrist & Soames, which is a fine label, but not one I'd really consider to be in the "boutique luxury" category of hotels.  I like G&S though, so I'm not really complaining)

One-ply toilet paper?  Check!

WHOA!  Wait a minute!  As any woman can tell you, one-ply toilet paper is NOT luxurious.  Granted, sometimes it's not so bad, but when you're trying to pass yourselves off as being fancy, the least you can do is provide some two-ply.  After all, toilet paper is one of the few amenities that a guest is bound to use.  We didn't touch the DVD player or the microwave.  We did use toilet paper though, and it was a memorable experience--but not in the type of way you'd want us to have (or tell other people about).

Is two-ply that much more expensive?  Or that much harder on a plumbing system?  I might be able to understand if it is, but right now it seems like you're willing to trim corners on service.  And if you're willing to be cheap on toilet paper, what else are you willing to sacrifice?

Your pal,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Busy Eating, Back on Thursday

Dear Readers,

It's not that I haven't wanted to blog, it's that I don't think I can squeeze my stomach underneath a desk, or perch a laptop on my belly.

One of my favorite ads from the late 90's was an ad for McDonald's, saying, "Chicago's the City of Big Shoulders, and we didn't get those shoulders by pushing back from the table."  Boy, you could say that again!  I've done almost nothing except eat during this trip--and I'm not even getting close to hitting all the places I want to go to.  There have been big dinners, huge breakfasts (can you say bacon cheddar potato pancakes and cinnamon rolls from Ann Sather?), filling lunches.  Today is another lunch, another big dinner, and I've got to try to get to at least one cupcake place.

So, excuse me while I abstain from blogging for the next day or's been an hour since I've eaten, and a hot pretzel is calling my name.

Your pal,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Postcard from the Air

Dear Readers,

The Boy and I are headed to Chicago today--it's a mix of business and pleasure.  The Boy has to give some presentations for work, so we decided to make a big weekend out of it.

So far, our big weekend mostly consists of eating and drinking.  We've got a fairly long list of our favorite establishments that we want to visit while we're there, and in the back of my mind, I have a few more that I'd like to fit in--you know, a snack here and there.  I'm vainly hoping that my stomach will digest everything really quickly so that I can fit the next course in.

When we get back next week, I'll have to find a running race or some sort of exercise challenge, just to give me an incentive to move and take off the pounds I fear I'll put on.  I can't even tell myself that walking around Chicago is going to stave off all the calories the city is going to serve me.  That's all right though--I'll just do the best I can and enjoy myself (just maybe not to the fullest this time).

Hope you have a good weekend!
Your pal,

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Three Times the Credit

Dear Deb Walden, Executive Vice President, Customer Experience, Chase Card Services,

This week I received three (3) credit card offers from you--all on the same day!  I'm pre-approved for:

  • The Slate card with Blueprint.  No annual fee.  It comes with a 0% APR through October 2011, and after that, 14.99% APR.  The Blueprint feature helps manage finances.
  • The Chase Freedom card.  No annual fee.  It too comes with a 0% APR through October 2011, and after that, 14.99% APR.  Earn 5% cash back in some purchase categories, 1% cash in every other category.  Up to 10% back if you shop online at select merchants.  Plus, earn $50 cash after your first purchase.
  • The Chase Freedom card.  No annual fee.  It too comes with a 0% APR through October 2011, and after that, 14.99% APR.  Earn 5% cash back in some purchase categories, 1% cash in every other category.  Plus, earn $100 cash after your first purchase.
Whoa!  Three cards!  Two of which are the same, but for some reason, one gives a slightly better cash bonus.  Do you know the damage I could do, if you actually gave me all three of  them?

I suppose you're telling me this is a sign of what's to come--apparently the economy is good enough that I'll be getting nothing but credit card offers for the foreseeable future.  Let me stop you short:  You might as well just take my name off your mailing list--I'm not looking for a new card right now.  

And if you're going to ignore my request, how about making a smarter system that sends different offers on different days?  Because this little incident?  Doesn't make me trust you.  At all.  And why would I want to have a credit card (or three) from a company I don't even remotely trust?

Your pal,

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Another Example of when Online Isn't the Answer

Dear Alex, the REI clerk,

The other night the Boy and I were in your store shopping for a raincoat.  You did a nice job of explaining the two we were considering, and overall, you were fairly helpful.  Except for your spiel about shopping online.

If you didn't notice, it was raining that night.  We were there buying a raincoat.  You know, to wear immediately.  Listening to you go on about how we could just order what we wanted and have it shipped to the store didn't work--and was actually a turn-off.  After trekking out in the rain, why would I want to go back home, shop online (where you can't try anything on and see if it fits a tall Boy in the sleeves), and then go back to the store in five days (probably when the weather has cleared), to pick it up?  We need the coat now!

Isn't the first rule of selling to close the sale?  If you have a customer that's in the store and is intent on purchasing something right then and there, shouldn't you be more concerned that that customer's needs are met?  Why send him out of the store in hopes that he does, in fact, go shopping at your website?  Get your head out of your iPhone, make the sale, and get the cash in your drawer.

By the way, we took your advice and didn't get the yellow coat.  It turned out to be a little smaller all over.  The one you suggested seems like it will work nicely.


Your pal,

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Build a Better Pyramid

Dear USDA,

You're one of my favorite government agencies.  Honestly!  In the "Who's your favorite government agency?" conversations I have with my friends (don't most Americans have those?), you are right at the top  of my list--all the data you collect, certain programs you have...most days I have incredible amounts of love for you.

However, I'm worried about the new food pyramid you're developing.  We as a nation have a problem with food--obviously.  Most of us are overweight or obese, and perhaps that has a little something to do with the guidelines you present.  In revamping the food pyramid, you have the opportunity to help us get back on track.  Half of weight loss is eating right, and your guidelines can really set the tone for helping us solve this problem.

But it really seems like the new food pyramid won't be impartial guidelines; it'll be guidelines set by various lobbies.  As reported in the Washington Post:
In public comments, the meat lobby has opposed strict warnings on sodium that could cast a negative light on lunch meats. The milk lobby has expressed concerns about warnings to cut back on added sugars, lest chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milks fall from favor. Several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation also weighed in against added-sugar restrictions in defense of the cranberry.
It's really sad to know that money and business interests are going to have more say in determining what's good for us.  Perhaps if these manufacturers and industries were forced to make their products a little healthier, they wouldn't be so bad for us in the first place.  Perhaps we Americans need to have a less sweet palate.  How will we know what's right, if the government isn't being totally truthful with us?

At the end of September, Gerald S. Lesser died.  He may not have been a household name, but he certainly affected generations of children.  As a psychologist and chief advisor to "Sesame Street," he really thought about what children should learn, taking into consideration who the show was aimed at (namely, disadvantaged kids who wouldn't have resources to a lot of things, but would probably watch TV).  His team came up with brilliant ideas to get educational concepts across to children (read the obit--if you're the type who still gets a little teary because Jim Henson died way too soon, this is a fascinating read).

Most importantly, Lesser and his team tried to do what was best for the children.  They put a lot of thought into creating a great product that's really become an integral part of our culture.  You have the opportunity to do the same thing--developing guidelines for how we eat is incredibly important.  You're the government--you're supposed to set the proper standards, not standards dictated by whichever lobby's willing to pony up enough money.

Our country is in pretty bad shape, health-wise, and if we eat poorly now, that will just drain our resources later when it comes to having to pay health care costs for all the people who have weight-related issues.  Let's not go down that path--let's get a better start and make a better America.

Your pal,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Time Flies--Again

Dear Readers,

I hate how life has become "blink, and it's 11:00."  It's been pretty much a wasted Monday morning--I had a no show on an appointment; I started taking an online survey that ended up taking me over an hour (and I wasn't nearly finished with it); and now I'm a little frazzled, but I need to focus and meet a deadline.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a little bit better--and bloggier.  If you've got a second, I'd love to hear some of your "blink and it's 3 hours later" moments.  It'd be nice to know that I'm not the only one who has time management issues.

Your pal,

Friday, October 1, 2010

Just Tell Me!

Dear Readers,

It's kind of a busy day here--dealing with a few deadlines, which frankly is a nice situation.  I'm glad to have work, and I'd like to produce some decent articles today.

At some point, I also have to send some gentle reminders to clients or potential clients who seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.  One of the most frustrating aspects of this job is dealing with a sudden lack of communication.  Past clients who won't pay up.  Supposedly current clients, who, in the past, had weekly assignments and now no longer contact you.  Potential clients who outline an idea, and when you respond with your vision of that idea and your pay rate, never reply.  

Look, I'm in the business of rejection.  I'm used to not hearing back personally on plenty of proposals/gig applications (it's like looking for a job--you mostly don't hear back from anyone.  It's frustrating, but that's life).  But if we've worked together, and you no longer need my services, please tell me.  If I'm too expensive for your project, let me know.  If I'm one of a handful of people applying for your gig, and my idea doesn't suit your project, a "thanks, but no thanks" would be nice.  

Honestly, earlier this year, I spent over a day working on an involved proposal for what would've been a neat project.  I had a question for the hiring person, and he responded right away, with a mention that he was looking forward to my application.  I sent it in and got nothing--no, "Hey, I got your application."  No, "Hey, thanks, but we're going with other people."  I don't know if hundreds of people applied for this gig, but it really felt like all the work I put into it went right down the drain.

Another gig I was shortlisted for involved another trial.  I spent several hours putting together a package of work, and while I did get a confirmation of receipt of the trial, I never heard back.  At that stage in the game, when you're only getting full-on proposals from a couple of people, have the courtesy to at least tell them they didn't get the job.  They're spending several unpaid hours trying to get this gig.  The rejection isn't the hard bit--it's the wondering if you're going to get hired.  Do you bother to set time aside in case you get the job?  Or do you keep throwing out a lot of feelers and then just deal with it when everything explodes at once and you have more work than you can really handle?

Am I being overly fussy?  Is there a way I can have better communication without being totally annoying to the person on the other end?

Your pal,