Category Archives: Observations

Events in which I took part in or witnessed.

Searching for “search engine”

Searching for the phrase “search engine” within several popular search engines generates some surprising results. While I thought that each search engine would list themselves first within their results, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Below is a list of search engines along the first 5 results of searching for the phrase, “search engine”. The number following the search engine name is the position that search engine appeared in its own results. Click the search engine name to run the search for yourself. Results below were run on 9/26/08 and are subject to change.

Google (#22 in its list… and it’s the UK site!)

  1. http://www.dogpile.com
  2. http://www.altavista.com
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine
  4. http://search.yahoo.com
  5. http://searchenginewatch.com

Yahoo! (#1 in its list.)

  1. http://search.yahoo.com
  2. http://www.google.com
  3. http://www.dogpile.com
  4. http://www.altavista.com
  5. http://www.webcrawler.com

MSN (#86 in its list.)

  1. http://www.search.com
  2. http://www.google.com
  3. http://www.google.com/coop/cse
  4. http://www.altavista.com
  5. http://www.dogpile.com

Alta Vista (#4 in its list)

  1. http://search.yahoo.com
  2. http://www.google.com
  3. http://www.dogpile.com
  4. http://www.altavista.com
  5. http://www.webcrawler.com

Ask (not listed in first 100 hits)

  1. http://searchengineland.com
  2. http://www.dogpile.com
  3. http://www.searchenginewatch.com
  4. http://www.searchenginejournal.com
  5. http://blog.searchenginejournal.com

Dogpile (#11 in the list. Note: Sponsored links were ignored.)

  1. http://www.altavista.com
  2. http://search.yahoo.com
  3. http://searchenginewatch.com
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine
  5. http://www.google.com

lyGO (not in first 100 hits)

  1. http://search.yahoo.com
  2. http://www.webcrawler.com
  3. http://www.lycos.com
  4. http://search.aol.com
  5. http://www.cba.ca

A9 (not in first 100 hits)

  1. http://www.dogpile.com
  2. http://www.altavista.com
  3. http://www.searchenginecolossus.com
  4. http://www.searchengineguide.com
  5. http://www.ask.com

Search.com (#9 in its list. Ignored all sponsored links.)

  1. http://searchenginewatch.com
  2. http://www.altavista.com
  3. http://www.dogpile.com
  4. http://www.search.com/reference/Web_search_engine
  5. http://search.yahoo.com

Yahoo! was the only search engine where they were listed at the top of their own results. Alta Vista and lyGO agree and listed Yahoo! first as well.

The others didn’t fair so well. Ask, lyGO and A9 did not show up within the first 100 hits within their results. MSN showed up 86th within their own results and while Google showed up 22nd, it was the UK site that showed up and not the US site, despite having conducted the search using their US site.

Do you think Yahoo! forced their name to the top or did it just work out that way? Are you surprised that the other search engine companies didn’t force their names to the top of their results? I am.

Serving Size

Everybody either knows somebody on a diet or is on a diet themselves. Why? Because the United States is one of the fattest countries on the block. While food labels have been standardized to make it easier to obtain nutritional information, I find them to be extremely deceptive and misleading, even if you are trying to do the right thing.

When I go to to the supermarket, I use the nutritional label to tell me some very important things. For instance, a breakdown of fat and vitamin content are available at a glance. But one of the most important pieces of information on the label is the calorie count. Knowing how many calories are in the food I’m going to eat helps me decide what food to buy and eat.

At first glance, that 6 oz can of tuna doesn’t look so bad. The label says that it contains 70 calories per serving. These tuna cans have been around forever and they are all the same size. It would never occur to me that the can contains anything more than a single serving. WRONG! Grab a can of tuna off your shelf and have a look. That 6 oz can actually contains 2.5 servings. Two and a half servings in one standard sized can of tuna… are they kidding? Who makes 2.5 sandwiches out of one can of tuna? I know that I don’t. Is it possible to buy a single serving 2.4 oz can of tuna? I’ve never seen them. If you do, let me know.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the food industry is largely responsible for making us fat. With so much information to sort through at the supermarket, why make us think anymore than we have to when selecting products. I spend part of my time comparing package sizes:

  • Is the 16 oz package a better value than the 36 oz package?
  • Is this brand name cereal a better value than this larger store brand package that I’ve got a $1 coupon for?

I also compare the nutritional content of multiple brands:

  • This can of tuna has more sodium but less fat than this can.
  • Which is better for me considering my current health situation.
  • These nuts have a lot of fat. Oh wait, is that good fat or bad fat?

With so many questions, who has the time to figure all of this out? Although the food industry is following the guidelines for nutritional labeling, something needs to change in order to allow us to make faster or fewer decisions during our busy lifestyles.Tuna cans are just one example but many foods contain more than one serving in a package that may seem to contain just one serving. Have you ever looked at a bottle of Snapple? That 16 ounce bottle actually contains 2 servings of 100 calories each. Does Snapple serve one serving bottles? I doubt it. Does anybody buy a single bottle of Snapple, drink half for lunch and the other half for dinner? Unlikely.

How about Ramen noodles? You know those small bricks of noodles that come with a soup packet. The package says: “Serving Size: 1/2 block of noodles with seasoning. Servings per container: 2. Calories per serving: 190.” Keep in mind that all of the other numbers double as well. The saturated fat is 3.5g per serving. But that’s 7g of fat per package.

The biggest, most shocking abuse of “serving size” was my visit a few years back to Boston Market. Along with lunch, I got a large brownie. Although this brownie was called “family size” it looked the size of a brownie you’d share with a friend. I don’t remember the exact details and this particular brownie and I can’t check it it on the Internet as it no longer appears to be available, but it contained something about 160 calories per serving. A quick glance at the label revealed. After eating the entire brownie, another glance almost made me lose my lunch. It contained, not 2, not 5, but 17 servings! That’s over 2700 calories in a large brownie. Even if shared, that would have been over 1350 calories. I’m not even sure how I would cut up a brownie into 17 even pieces but I think I’d look like an idiot doing that and taking the other 16 pieces at home to eat over the next week. If you ask me, we should be sending these brownies to starving countries to get them on their feet and give them a sugar rush in the process. That’s more calories than they probably eat in a month and will certainly hold them over for a while.

I’m convinced that the people who do look at the calorie content are indeed concerned about the number of calories in the food they eat. With so much information to process while shopping, why not make it easier for us by including the number of calories you would consume if you ate the entire package.

What I propose is a change to food labels. Right below calories but above “Calories from Fat” include a number for the “Calories in Package.” This number would contain the entire calorie count if you were to eat up the entire package, no matter how large the package is. The weight or volume of the package isn’t broken down into “per serving” measurements so why should the calorie content? Image for a moment if a 12 oz package said “3 oz” on the front of the box and you then had to multiply this number by the “serving size” in the box to figure out just how much you were buying. That would be nuts. Why should calories be treated any differently than package size?

For those that have ever sat down and ate an entire box of cookies, this change to the label might help talk you off your ledge. A standard 18 ounce bag of Oreo cookies for instance contains 160 calories per serving. There are three cookies in a serving and each package contains 15 servings. When you’re about to eat an entire bag of cookies, you’re not really thinking too clearly and need all the help you can get. Wouldn’t it be useful to know that you’re about to eat 2400 calories? Even if you might do it anyway, at least you’d know what you’re getting yourself into and it’s your decision.

I do commend Hostess and other companies for releasing “100 calorie packs.” This is a great start and you know exactly how many calories you’re about to eat. What you actually get in a package may be small, what do you expect? It’s all crap. What did you expect? You shouldn’t be eating it to begin with. But at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.

Do privacy statements help and do they destroy the environment?

Privacy has being a very hot topic over the last several years. Every company has some sort of privacy policy which is supposed to protect us. But how well does it work and are they really protecting us? In addition, is the attempt to keep our information private helping to contribute to the destruction of the environment?

A lot of paper is used to print out all of the privacy statements that we’re signing. The doctor’s office, the bank and even the car dealer all have privacy statements. When the privacy statement changed on my credit card, the credit card company sent me a letter and included a new copy of the privacy statement. Energy is used to produce paper, to send it to me and to deal with it when I throw it in the recycle bin.I moved into a new apartment but even a year later I have still been receiving mail for the people who lived here before me. In an attempt to cut down on paper usage, I called up a company that has been sending mail to my address for the previous occupant of my apartment. In the name of privacy, they refused to discontinue sending me their mail.

The company was “American Airlines” and my call to them went something like this:

(This is not an exact transcription, however the spirit of the conversation has been maintained.)

Me: “Hi, I’m calling to let you know that you are mailing Mr. Smith a rather thick envelope each month, however they no longer live at this address. I haven’t opened the envelope, however since I too am a member of your frequent flyer program, I recognize the envelope and know that that the contents of Mr. Smith’s envelope is his frequent flyer balance and offers from your company.”

AA: “What is the name and address on the envelope?”

I give them this information.

AA: “And you’re saying that you are NOT Mr. Smith?”

Me: “No, however this is my address and I can assure you that Mr. Smith does not live here.”

AA: “Well, we can not discontinue mailing this information as you are not Mr. Smith and our privacy policy prohibits anybody other than Mr. Smith from discontinuing this mailout.”

Me: “But I can provide you with my electric bill, cable bill, whatever you want to provide that this is indeed my home address. Being that this is my address, it certainly can not be Mr. Smith’s address too.”

AA: “Sorry, but we can not do that.”

Me. “Look, this whole privacy thing is a complete joke. I know for a fact that the envelope contains his frequent flyer number. Although I never would because it is a federal offense to open mail not addressed to me, it would theoretically be possible for me to open up Mr. Smith’s envelope, go online and indicate that I forgot my password. You would then send a new password to my address where I would then open it up and gain total access to Mr. Smith’s account. Of course I would never do that because it is against the law to open his mail, however since it is coming to my home address, it is something that somebody not as honest as I could do. They would then have total access to Mr. Smith’s account and do with it what they want. How exactly is that protecting his privacy?”

AA: “I’m sorry, but I can’t really help you. It is our policy that we do not allow anybody other than Mr. Smith to change any aspect of his account.”

I didn’t get very far and in attempting to protect Mr. Smith, American Airlines actually put his privacy in jeopardy. My primary goal was to save some trees. Why should American Airlines mail out a thick envelope each month only to have it immediately tossed in the garbage. This however turned into a much bigger issue. The mailout would not be discintinued and in attempting to maintaining privacy, Mr. Smith’s private information could easily be compromised.

This exchange with American Airlines got me thinking about privacy made me question the following items:

  • Are privacy polices really designed to protect us, or are they actually policies that companies use simply to “cover their asses?”
  • When you move, how much of your mail is actually being delivered to the old address, therefore exposing your private information to others?
  • If you have a mailbox outside your house, rather than a door slot, are you exposing yourself to having your privacy compromised?

Sending your mail to somebody else could be considered similar to sending a crook keys to a bank along with a note stating, “if you use this key, you are breaking the law.” Considering that tons of mail must get sent to the wrong address each day, thousands of “keys” are being sent out each day. Statistically speaking, some of those people must be dishonest.

What really bothered me in my conversation with American Airlines was the following:

  • I was willing to take my time to call and correct their records, but this went unrecognized.
  • My information is verifiable. I have a phone bill, electric bill, cable bill and drivers license all using this address. In fact, they have my name and address in their records, as they have been sending me my own frequent flyer statement.
  • I tried to do my part to save the environment and cut paper use, but I did not succeed.
  • I explained how a dishonest person could gain access to another person’s account. If American Airlines was truly concerned about privacy, they should have taken interest in this issue.

While I would like to think that privacy statements are helpful, I think that until a company can listen to reason and logic, that our private information is still subject to public viewing.

Sprint’s unimpressive offer

The phone rang and I answered by saying, “Hello.” Then again, “Hello… hello??” Finally, the silence that greeted me was interrupted by a Sprint salesperson.

“Hi, I’m calling from Sprint. Don’t worry, this call is not using up any of your minutes and is completely free. We have reviewed your account and would like to let you know about special offers that you quality for.”

Like many of the cell phone companies, Sprint tries very hard to get you to sign a 2 year contract. When your 2 years are almost up, the offers start coming in. I know that my 2 years is almost up because I recently received an offer in the mail, and now this phone call.

The salesperson continued. “Do you know how much you pay per month for your service?”

“Yeah, about $40 per month.” I said.

“I’m looking at your account now and your last bill was $50. Well, we’d like to let you know that you quality for a free phone AND you can get 500 minutes per month for only $59.”

I responded. “I current use a Palm Treo 650, and that unless the free phone was a Treo 700p, then it’s not an upgrade to me. Is the free phone a Treo 700p?”

“Oh no sir, of course not.” she said.

“And another thing,” I continued. “If you have my bill in front of you, you’ll see that I only used about 200 minutes last month. My $35 per month bill is $50 after adding $10 unlimited Internet and taxes. You’re now offering me 500 minutes for $59, which will become $75 after the extras for minutes that I won’t even use. I don’t see now this is a good deal for me.”

Silence.

“Why would I even consider taking this offer. The phone you want to give me is inferior to the one I use now and you want to charge me more for minutes I won’t use. If Sprint makes me a real offer that is better than what I have, then I will listen, but until then, don’t try and make me an offer that is clearly inferior.”

With nothing to say in response, the salesperson hung up in me in a polite way. “Ok sir, if we have a better offer for you, we will let you know.” Long pause. <click>

Suggested Gratuity

Several restaurants are now printing a “suggested gratuity” right at the bottom of the check. However, if you take a close look, you’ll see that restaurants are trying to bump up the tip by calculating the suggestion on the check total, not the total minus tax.

For instance, if the check total is $50, the suggestion claims the following:

  • 10% = $5.00
  • 15% = $7.50
  • 20% = $10

This seems to be correct at first glance, however, the total includes tax and the tax is an extra cost that the restaurant neither charged nor keeps. By including the tax in the total, you’re basically tipping 10%-20% on the tax.

So, let’s assume that your tax rate is 8%. If the check total is $50, you really should be tipping on $46.30. The suggestions should then be:

  • 10%= $4.63
  • 15% = $6.95
  • 20% =$9.26

To put things into perspective, if the suggestions for this check that includes tax in the total are followed, here’s how much you’re actually tipping:

  • 10.80% = $5.00
  • 16.20% = $7.50
  • 21.60% = $10

While this seems minor, it probably is. However, you should be aware that the suggested tip is not accurate if you are depending on it to tip appropriately.

Sign here

I went to Banana Republic to purchase a pair of pants and brought them up to the cashier. After signing the sales receipt, the cashier looked at my signature and then looked at my card. He then proceeded to rip off a strip of blank register tape. He handed me the blank paper and said, “Could you sign this for me please?”

“What for?” I asked.

“Your signature didn’t match, so I need to have you sign this paper again.”

Boy, did I feel uncomfortable. He wants me to sign a blank piece of paper? What was he going to do with it? I refused. “If I sign this paper, it will look the same as the receipt I just signed.”

“Well, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’m required to get your signature again.”

I asked him what he would do with the signature once I signed the blank paper.

“Oh, I don’t need to keep it. I just need for you to sign it. I’ll even give it back to you.”

I signed the paper. He looked at it, and crumpled it up. I then held my hand out. He looked at me and then handed me back the crumpled paper. I placed the paper in my pocket and walked out, not understanding what had just happened.

The only thing I could figure was that they felt that if I signed my name again, it would be a better match with the one on my credit card. What I didn’t understand was why he didn’t simply ask me for some other form of ID, like my drivers license. My license has both my picture and signature. That would seem to be a much better form of identification than my signature.

Besides, my re-signature looked identical to the sales receipt I signed. Perhaps it was just a test to see how I’d react. Who knows. While I think he was following orders, I don’t really think that their method of confirming that the credit card was mine really proved anything.

And my credit card number is…

Lets face it. Your credit card number is never truly safe unless you never use your card. Every day, there are opportunities for your credit card number to get into the wrong hands.

I’ve spoken to friends who have never shopped online. “Is shopping online safe and have you ever shopped online?” they ask. They seem to have “heard” from some unknown source that shopping online is bad and will cause your credit card number to be compromised.

My response? “Do you go to a restaurant and pay with credit card? When you had the waiter your card, he walks away. Do you follow him? Are you sure he hasn’t copied your number down?”

You can see the wheels.

If your credit card ever truly safe? What does the waiter do when he walks away? I trust that he’s running the card through the machine, but can he quickly grab an imprint of the card for use later? Can he press your card quickly into a small mound of silly putty to get the number? Sure he can.

Does he? Probably not… but he could if he wanted to. Can your card number be compromised when it’s used online? Sure! Is it? Probably not, but again, it could be.

I called State Farm today to pay my bill with a credit card. I read the number to the operator who then read it back, along with the expiration date to me to make sure she had it right. Was a customer in the office while she was on the phone with me? It’s possible, and even likely. Is my card number now in the hands of another State Farm customer? Possibly.

The bottom line is that your card number is just not safe and for me, the convenience of having a card and using it far outweighs the need to worry everytime I use it.

I’ve been using credit cards since 1987 and so far so good. My number has never been used by anybody other than me. I buy almost anything and everything with my credit card and pay my bill in full each month.

My favorite story however involves a visit one day to Macy*s. I had a registry there and wanted to buy out the remaining items. We were told to go to a special office where a woman would help us to place the order. We sat in her office with the door open. Occasionally, other customers could be heard mulling about.

“Your order is complete. How would you like to pay for that?” she said.

“I’ll be using my MasterCard.”

“Ok, what is the number.”

I recited the first 4 numbers in a soft voice. She repeated them in a voice that was only slightly lower than the store’s PA system.

“Umm…” even softer, I said the next 4 numbers.

Not taking the hint, she said the second set of numbers as loud as the first.

“Excuse me.” I said. “I’m not really comfortable with everybody hearing my credit card number. Here’s my card and use it so that I don’t have to say the number out loud for everybody to hear.”

“Ok.” she said.

I handed her my card and she placed it down next to her.

She then proceeded to look at the numbers and like Austin Powers, she had no internal monologue. Now she was reading the numbers out loud AND typing them into her computer for validation.

“Excuse me, but would you mind not repeating the number out loud?”

“Oh sorry.”

She started over, and again said the number out loud, but maybe not quite as loud as before. If anybody was standing nearby, they could have easily heard my credit card number.

I let her finish and I took back my card. I didn’t cancel the number and in the end, my card number was not stolen and all is well.

So far.

The Subway incident

Occasionally I’ll head over to Subway to buy a sandwich for lunch. On this particular day, the line was longer than normal. The people ahead of me were all together and one of them had a sheet of paper with additional orders from back in their office. After ordering one of the sandwiches, the Subway sandwich assembler informed them that they were out of the bread that they wanted.

To fix the situation, one of the guys got on his cell phone and called up his office to speak to his co-worker in order to pick another type of bread. This conversation followed. Note: It’s much better to hear than to read, but I’ll do my best.

Since he was on his cell phone, I only got one side of the conversation:

Hi Mary, get me Sue. Tell her I’m over at Subway and they don’t have Italian bread. (pause)

Hi Sue, yeah, I’m over at Subway and they’re out of Italian bread so you’ll have to pick something else. Ok let me look at what they have.

(he walks to the list of bread types. He sees the different breads in a case and the name of the bread below it on a small tag. The different tags say, “Honey Oat,” “Wheat,” and “Jalapeno”)

Ok, let’s see. It says that they have Honey Oat, Wheat and (phonetically he says) gel-op-ano.

I said GEL-OP-AN-O. Yeah. I don’t know what it is either, let me look.

(steps closer…)

Looks like it has jalapeno’s in it or something.

No, he never did put it all together.

The inseparable couple

Working in tech support for a company exposes me to many instances of ineptitude. Some make me roll my eyes, others make me laugh out loud.

My first encounter was also my most memorable and to this date, my favorite story.

The setup: This story dates back to around the year 2000. I’m on the phone with an elderly man who called in for support with software for his PalmPilot.

Note: The product name has been changed to “Funkyware” to protect the innocent.

Me: Hello, how may I help you?
Man: Hi, my name is Leo and I’m having trouble with Funkyware.
Me: Ok, can you tell me what you see on the screen?
Man: (moves phone away) “Mildred, what does it say on the screen?”

Long pause as I hear Mildred say something to her husband.

 

Man: It just says Funkyware.
Me: Does it say anything else?
Man: (slightly muffled) “Mildred, does it say anything else?”
Man: No, that’s it.
Me: Can you tell me what version of Funkyware you’re using?
Man: “Mildred, what version of Funkyware are we using?”
Man: I don’t know. How can I tell?

I can see how this call is going, so I take a different approach.

Me: Sir, would you mind putting your wife on the phone. I think it would be easier if I spoke directly with her.
Man: “Mildred, the guy wants to talk with you.”
Woman: Hello?
Me: Hi. Ok, We want to find out what version of the application you’re running.
Woman: How do I do that?
Me: Please tap on the top left part of the screen.
Woman: “Leo, the guy wants you to tap on the top left part of the screen…”