Moving day

To the three of you that still check for signs of life on this so-called blog, the continued infrequent postings will now be conducted over here. Yes, it's powered by Tumblr. I did have the dignity, however, to make my own theme.

Redirections are in place for nearly everything, including, shortly, the RSS feed. So just sit back, relax, and continue to hear nothing from me.

In: Reflection 2010-01-29, 09:46 AM

My own Bernie Madoff

Update (January 11, 2010): In September, I received information about a company (My Free Travel) who was assuming the program, provided we send in a $10 processing fee. With not much to lose at this point, and interested in following this hopeless proposition to the bitter end, I did.

Of course, after three months of mailing in receipts, nothing was ever sent our way. Today I got my latest batch of receipts back in the mail with a "Return to sender/no forwarding address" sticker affixed. The company's website is down, their customer support voicemail is full, and the Chicago BBB reports that the company closed its doors on December 17, 2009. The BBB has received over 900 complaints thus far.

The amount of self-delusion that was worked up in support of this program is staggering. I feel most sorry for the local retailers who took part in this. I'll give our local participant, Slim's Home Furnishings, a friendly rejoinder but I doubt that others will be as kind.

After moving back to Wahpeton and finding ourselves with more space than furniture, I was persuaded to purchase another couch. Incentive was provided by Arielle's own unique way of prying my wallet open as well as the local furniture store, which was heavily advertising a free grocery program whereby one could receive $500 worth of gift cards at a local supermarket after making a purchase of $600 or more.

The catch? The $500 was doled out over 20 months in $25 increments. And you had to mail in grocery store receipts totaling over $100 to get the card for that month, whoring out your shopping habits to the lowest class of marketers who try to read all too much meaning in the simultaneous purchase of cucumbers, duct tape, and twine.

Still, it's a small compromise of privacy (I shudder to think what sort of trail I left behind in the Giant Eagle databases in Pittsburgh) for a modest gain.

Dutifully, I mailed my receipts in each month, eagerly awaiting the arrival of each corresponding card.

I waited.

And I waited.

Finally, at the end of the prescribed 12-week waiting period, I fired up my email client to send a passive-aggresive letter of inquiry and complaint to this increasingly non-responsive company. Though the timing was a happy coincidence, I was not altogether surprised to see this waiting for me:

Subject: Press Release

BBZ Resource Management, Inc. announced today that it has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in order to preserve the value of its business for its creditors. BBZ also announced that immediately prior to its Chapter 11 filing, it entered into a new strategic relationship in order to preserve and maximize the value of its data mining business for the benefit of its creditors, business partners and other stakeholders.

BBZ's historical business involved both the sale of rebate certificates and the accumulation and use of consumer data. Recent events surrounding BBZ's rebate certificate business necessitated BBZ's Chapter 11 filing. Early in 2009, BBZ entered into a 15-year contract with Kidz Idz, Inc. to purchase $345 million of rebate certificates from BBZ. Kidz Idz' performance under this contract was personally guaranteed by Michael Pouls, the owner of Kidz Idz. Relying upon that contract, BBZ entered into a long-term lease for a new fulfillment facility and hired new employees to deal with the exploding demand for the rebate certificates that BBZ sold. Rather than honor that contract, however, Kidz Idz and Mr. Pouls not only breached their obligations but also undertook what BBZ believes to be concerted campaign to co-opt the rebate certificate business and destroy BBZ. This effort culminated with the Pouls Parties filing a lawsuit on Thursday, June 25, 2009 falsely asserting that BBZ's business is a fraudulent "Ponzi" scheme. Ironically, that same day BBZ was working with outside counsel to prepare its own lawsuit against the Pouls Parties asserting their breaches of contract and other wrongful conduct.

The damage to BBZs rebate certificate business from the Pouls Parties' conduct made it imperative that BBZ act to protect its consumer data mining business for the benefit of its creditors, business partners and other stakeholders. Accordingly, BBZ has entered into a contract with an industry leader to take that business forward in exchange for BBZ receiving a share of the business's revenues. This new relationship will form the foundation of BBZ's anticipated Chapter 11 plan of reorganization.

In the meantime, BBZ has suspended sales, activations, and redemption of rebate certificates, as well as gift card distribution. Consumers awaiting gift cards or holding certificates are encouraged not to contact the businesses or brokers that sold or gave away the certificates, as suspension of this program is beyond their control. BBZ is committed to honoring its obligations and will be working diligently with its outside professionals in the Chapter 11 process to maximize the return to its creditors.

BBZ is a bit disingenuous about their position.

I did some more research on BBZ, who is now operating under the name "Incentive International" and uncovered what a delicious mess this whole ordeal is. They also sold this program as a way to get free gas and gift cards for big-box retailers. Countless car dealerships across the country used it as a way to prop up failing sales and one major furniture store, Ashley Furniture, is under threat of a class-action lawsuit from disgruntled customers for their participation in the program.

BBZ has apparently fallen behind by some 100,000 cards and has started to lay off workers. One can easily imagine the sinking feeling that must have greeted the rank-and-file each day as they were deluged with emails, phone calls, and letters from irate customers.

It's hard to blame the retailers for their willful blindness when they bought into this. "Free" is a powerful word, and adding the word "groceries", or, especially, "gas" after it turns it into a drug of the most irresistible sorts.

It was, ultimately, a dumb decision but was understandable, given our collective dumbness towards deals of this nature. Like Madoff's cooked statements or the crumbling faux-Ionic columns in the McMansions outside Phoenix or Tampa, the returns on this investment were all an illusion, dreamed up by a populous too willing to believe in the magic but too afraid to ask how.

In: Society 2009-07-03, 03:00 PM

Words unminced

Kunstler on McCain's campaign tactics:

He's run a campaign of malicious innuendo and slander, seemingly aimed at voters who would have trouble qualifying for the Special Olympics.


May the best man win.

In: Politics 2008-11-03, 12:52 PM

Sharing the music

As part of my renewed appreciation for the cloud, I've been uploading my collection of live television music performances, circa 2001-02, to my YouTube account. This is, of course, in blatant disregard to all copyright law. Sue me (or at least send me a strongly-worded takedown notice).

So far my efforts have been successful, save for live performances from Saturday Night Live. NBC Universal has a tight hold on those, and all four attempts I have made at uploading different clips have been rejected.

NBC, through Hulu, has made great strides in recognizing the usefulness of digital distribution. It's disheartening, then, to find out that three-minute clips of shows aired over six years ago remain taboo.

In: Music, Television 2008-10-08, 12:51 AM

Just stop talking

I hate listening to politicians speak just about more than anything else. Hedged statements, buzzwords, half-truths, self-important promotion, and bravado are the norm, regardless of party affiliation.

But even worse is the stuff uttered by Sarah Palin over the last several days. I now understand why McCain kept a virtual gag order on her for a couple of weeks after her unveiling. She is clearly out of her game, struggling to keep up:

What she says is crazy, but the way she says it is even crazier. Pure syntactic nonsense. Haven't we endured enough of this?

In: Politics 2008-09-25, 05:22 PM Comment (2)

Anatomy of a to-do

In a brilliant act of sustained provocation, the Post-Gazette has kept the back-and-forth between bicyclists and drivers alive for three weeks running. Since the August 12 story about the appointment of a city bicycle "czar", it has been nearly impossible to go a day without witnessing an exchange.

Following the publication of this story, the letters to the editors on August 13, 16, and 17 had at least one bicyclist or driver opining on the awfulness of the other.

Sensing blood, the P-G collected anecdotes from frustrated drivers, wrapped some weak reporting around it, and threw it on the front page on August 18 under the headline "When bicyclists break the safety chain, driver complaints mount."

Predictably, this set off another round of furious letter-writing, some of which were published on August 20, 21, 23, and 25. The paper's normally conservative page 2 columnist also spent a column supporting the bicyclists' cause.

There has been ample debate on the topic on the paper's own discussion form as well as on at least one local blog, which has racked up an impressive 100+ comment count on a post that was just trolling for abuse.

I have little to add to this noise, except to say that I think that both sides are yelling past each other, and that no amount of increased law enforcement, or painted bike lanes, or bicycle licensing fees will change how cars and bikes interact on the city's streets, in their current state.

That's not to say things can't get better. What I would like to see is a fundamental rethinking of the function of the city street.

This story of Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer is a wonderful study in counter-intuitive approaches to better moderate the role of the automobile in the city.

While redesigning a major thoroughfare in a Dutch village after two children were fatally stuck, Monderman employed psychological tricks, not signs and speed bumps, to calm traffic:

Signs were removed, curbs torn out, and the asphalt replaced with red paving brick, with two gray "gutters" on either side that were slightly curved but usable by cars. As Monderman noted, the road looked only five meters wide, "but had all the possibilities of six."

The results were striking. Without bumps or flashing warning signs, drivers slowed, so much so that Monderman's radar gun couldn't even register their speeds. Rather than clarity and segregation, he had created confusion and ambiguity. Unsure of what space belonged to them, drivers became more accommodating. Rather than give drivers a simple behavioral mandate -- say, a speed limit sign or a speed bump -- he had, through the new road design, subtly suggested the proper course of action.

Of his approach, Monderman says:

"I don't want traffic behavior, I want social behavior."

Better social behavior is something we should all strive to practice. Perhaps as the oil era cedes center stage, we can once again reclaim our urban spaces and infuse them with a humanity that has been missing for far too long.

In: Biking, Pittsburgh, Urbanism 2008-08-25, 06:01 PM


Gus is lying next to me in bed, laughing in his sleep. It's wonderful to think that we may have done something so memorable today that it made it into one of his dreams. I love this kid.

In: Gus 2008-06-30, 10:05 PM