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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
January 14, 2002

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Worst Ideas of 2001

Loud Movie Ads

I didn't mind the slide-show ads in movie theaters. They could be amusing to make fun of while we waited for the previews to start.

But at the Carousel, they have added a soundtrack to the ads, like a really obnoxious radio station turned up way too loud.

It makes conversation before the movie impossible.

Now, I understand why they started doing this. Even though the Carousel on Lawndale is the best theater house in town (I love the high-class snack bar in the foreign-and-grownup movie section) they are too close to the Grande at Friendly Center to show the same movies.

That means that the Grande, being part of a national chain, is more likely to have the big blockbuster movies. The money-making popcorn movies.

So the Carousel's management may be looking for ways to maximize revenue. I can hear their salesman: "Our ads aren't just passive, for people to look at or ignore. Our ads grab their attention by talking to them!"

Well, guess what: If the ads drive people out of the theater, then they don't reach anybody at all.

Going to the movies is a social event. Since we try to be polite and not talk during the show, the only time we can converse is when we're sitting there waiting for the feature to start.

But if the theater takes that time away from us by overwhelming our voices with the sound of obnoxious shouting, then we're better off staying at home with a video, aren't we?

Shut off that soundtrack. It has the opposite effect from what is intended. It makes me notice how badly written and badly photographed and badly designed the ads are. It makes me want to shout back and heckle the ads.

It makes me want to boycott the advertisers.

It makes me want to go to the Grande instead.

And I don't want to always go to the Grande. I want the Carousel to thrive. Without the Carousel, I would have had to go to LA or DC or NYC or ... or ... Raleigh ... to see "Amelie" and "Life as a House," two of the best movies of the year.

Windows XP

Poor Bill Gates. He was worried that people might actually take a Windows installation disk and illegally use it to upgrade more than one computer without paying each time.

(Never mind that no version of Windows is ever really an upgrade -- it's merely a new set of nightmares.)

So to stop the cheaters, here's the scam. Windows XP memorizes all the key components of your computer. And if it boots up and finds that too many of these components have changed, you have to phone Microsoft and explain to them what you've done with your own property. And if they don't like your answers -- your computer stops working, period.

This is right in line with the philosophy that forces you to keep a stupid directory named "My Documents" and an icon called "My Computer" and "Network Neighborhood" on your machine, as proof that you don't actually own your own machine, Bill Gates does.

Well, guess what, Bill. Since your clumsy, oafish operating system never works properly, ever, then when you come out with a new version that supposedly works better, I think I'm entitled to have that new version free, if only to make up for the aggravation you caused me up to now.

Nevertheless, being an honest person, I pay you again and again for each attempt to get what I should have got the first time.

But with this move, Bill, you've finally given me the reason I've been waiting for to switch to Linux. With Linux, I can't run all the cool software. But I can run WordPerfect and I can get online, and I can do it without asking your permission.

Mandatory Self-Checkout

The new self-checkout counters at Harris-Teeter are actually a good idea. When you run in to the store for a couple of items and don't want to wait in a long line, it's cool to be able to go to a counter, scan the items yourself, pay with a check card, and leave without ever having had to wait for anybody.

But self-checkout really stinks if you are doing your week's grocery shopping.

Here's how it works. When you scan an item, you immediately have to set it down inside a bag on a big scale. The weight of each item is already inside the computer, so when you scan something, it knows exactly how much the weight on the scale should increase when you set it down.

That makes it so you can't "forget" to scan everything you plan to carry out of the store.

That's for things with bar codes. When it comes to fresh produce, you have to set the item on the scanner, look up its code on a sheet of paper, and mash the buttons. That takes time, because unlike the professional checkers, you probably don't have those codes memorized.

And just to make things more interesting, the scale doesn't always register the weight properly. So the machine starts barking at you to "set the item in the bag" when in fact you already did. (I found that if you pick the item up and set it back down, only harder, it usually gets it the second or third time.)

The scale where you set the things you've scanned is large, and it rotates so you can reach every bag. But it's still not large enough for a cartful of groceries.

Which is fine -- you can always go to the regular checkers when you have a lot of groceries. They're always faster. The only time self-checkout is faster is when there's a long line at the checkout stands with human clerks.

But wait! I'm so wrong! Because someone at Harris-Teeter got the really cool idea that late at night, they won't have any human-operated checkout counters! From eleven at night till sometime in the morning, every single shopper has to go through self-checkout!

What a nightmare. There are times when I have to buy a lot of things late at night, and so I get the privilege of taking three or four times as long to check out.

And they don't always follow that eleven o'clock rule, either. Twice in the past few weeks I've come in at 10:30 or so, having made sure to arrive before 11:00, only to discover that the manager decided it was a slow night and so he sent the checkers home.

It's a vile trick to play on an unsuspecting shopper. When they promise human checkers until eleven, they'd better keep their word if they want to keep this customer.

The irony is that they still have a human there, responsible for watching the four self-checkout stations and helping anybody who is having trouble.

If that one human simply operated a single cash register in the normal way after eleven at night, everybody would check out faster and with a lot less aggravation.

So Harris-Teeter isn't saving money -- they're still paying a checkout clerk. And we customers aren't saving any time -- it takes so much longer to check ourselves out.

They've sure spent a lot of money on equipment whose primary effect is making people think twice before they shop at Harris-Teeter.

One Good Idea

Come see the wittiest play ever written, Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," this Friday and Saturday night, the 18th and 19th of January, at 7:00 p.m. at the LDS meetinghouse on Pinetop Road, just off Westridge in Greensboro. Admission is free; the public is welcome. (Young children won't enjoy it, so please leave them home.) The actors in this production are superb and the play is wonderfully funny, even if it is the director telling you so.

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