Amazon Bird Calls has some elegant and much-emulated software algorithms to suggest items we might be interested in purchasing. Suggestions are based on our own ordering histories, and also on related items other customers purchased after buying some item in our order history.

Thus, if you once ordered the Nash Ensemble’s recording of Schubert’s Trout Quintet (theme song for the BBC Britcom Waiting For God), the software might be smart enough to suggest a new release of the complete Schubert symphonies, while being smart enough not to set up associations with unrelated symphonies like Dvorak’s New World.

Hence, if you’re interested in a Field Guide to Birds: Arizona and New Mexico, why not branch out into bird calls, or, better yet, buy this new phone and place that bird call yourself?

Amazon Bird Calls

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“Black Friday”

As far as I can tell, this new buzzword “Black Friday” really exploded into popular media and advertising usage in 2010. But it crept up on me without warning. Where did it come from, and what do people mean by it?

Savvy shoppers would know it refers to the day after Thanksgiving. As you might suspect, it also refers to a really, really bad day. According to Wikipedia, the phrase originated with one Fisk-Gould Scandal, a financial crisis which occurred in 1869.

Also according to Wikipedia, there are well over a dozen distinct references to “Black Friday” with their own origins and meaning.

But the most popular meaning, the one currently saturating the newspapers, emails, radio and television, originates in Philadelphia as a “bad hair day” for both shoppers and police. Wikipedia’s citation:

JANUARY 1966 — “Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

If you have any interest in the origin of popular phrases, the article cited above is exceptionally interesting and well documented. I would recommend checking it out.

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“Resealable Bag Inside”

"Resealbale Bag Inside"

Since I grew up in the ’50’s, we as a nation have progressed from cardboard boxes and wax paper to hi-tech plastics and ziplock bags. All of us except the food packaging industry, that is.

Now, I love raisins. Yep, I have always loved raisins since I was a kid. And I usually buy Sun-Maid, because that’s what my mom bought, 60 years ago. I’m a transplant from New England, new to California in 1950, but I’m a loyal transplant.

Needless to say, when I saw that Sun-Maid now packages our excellent California Raisins in a new, improved Resealable Bag”, I had to put a box in the old shopping cart.

And, when I opened the box for my after-dinner raisin snacks, here is what I found:

Here you go, "resealable"

Here you go, "resealable"

In other words, in case anyone else is as dense as I was, what you get to make your space-age bag “resealable” is the piece of yellow tape with the instructions:

  1. To open: pull apart bag at top
  2. To close: fold bag in toward tab and reseal

In case it looks to you like I just cut off the bag top with a pair of scissors, that’s exactly what I did. The new bags are NOT wax paper, they are a super-tough non-tearable plastic; in fact, they are the same plastic used to protect your Krispy Crackers, but without protecting them from crumbling into cracker meal. This kind of plastic is fabricated to protect the contents from the purchaser.

Not even Charles Atlas nor Mr. T could pull the walls of the raisin bag apart by hand. The heat-sealed crimp closure is designed to withstand nuclear attack. If an endorphine rush gave you the super-strength to open one of these bags, you’d be cleaning an explosion of sun-dried Natural California Raisins out from under the couch, washer and dryer for the next several months and beyond.

While I’m no longer exactly in the prime of my strength, I shudder to think what an 85-year-old granny would do. Actually, I know exactly what she’d do: she’d go straight for the scissors.

By now you are probably wondering why they would make these things this way. And of course you knew I was going to tell you why they do. That’s so the marketing and packaging jerks who sit at the long, polished zebra-wood conference table can boast: “THEIR product is just dumped into conventional packaging and loses its freshness. OUR product is resealable.”

Resealable, my ass. I am still waiting for the yellow plastic tape to fall off.

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TV Ad “Golden Age?”

Every 20 years or so, there is an advertising cycle in which sponsors rebel against the insultingly mindless TV spots, offering us a few brilliantly executed ads which endure in memory for years. If you are “Baby-Boomer” or older, you probably still remember the “No matter what shape your stomach’s in” ads of the 1960’s, with clever photography and the Anita Bryant Singers — Alka Seltzer.

The television year 2007 has offered a bumper crop of fun, imaginitive ads, the kind that make you stay so you can watch the commercial, and then leave for the kitchen or whatever.

A survey of Google reveals there’s quite a cottage industry devoted to ranking and displaying videotaped TV ads. Nonetheless, would like to propose our awards for the Best of 2007.

First prize goes to General Electric for its wind energy commercial “Catch The Wind”:

Catch The Wind TV ad for wind energy, by General Electric

To the familiar sound of the Donovan song “Catch The Wind”, a little boy goes to the seashore and captures the ocean breeze in a glass jar. Racing back home by a number of conveyances, he makes it to his Grandpa’s birthday celebration in time for the old man to open the magic jar – SWOOSH! You only need to see it once to remember its magic forever, but I watch it every time I can.

YouTube has proven to be a safe, reliable source of video images, and you can watch the commercial at their posting “GE General Electric commercial – Wind Energy”.

Honorable Mention

  • Geico Gecko – I did an informal dinnertable survey on this imaginitive advertiser. Everyone loves each one of the gecko commercials – the cute little green lizard with the Aussie accent.
  • Geico Caveman – Not everyone liked this one, many sensing that the usage of the Caveman theme was somewhat exploitative. But others find it delightful, and it became somewhat of a cult thing. I enjoyed the theme song “Remind Me“, from Royksopp, and ordered the CD from Amazon.
  • Comcast Turtles – “You push it real good!” – Bill Slowsky the turtle has a little spat with his wife, right in front of millions of viewers. But hey, when you’re a turtle, who’s in a hurry to switch from DSL to cable?

Dishonorable Mention – All The Rest

When 1960’s FCC Chairman Newton Minow complained about TV as “the vast wasteland“, everybody remembered, but everybody still watches. My current irritations:

  • Car salesmen doing their own ads
  • Cialis and Viagra ads
  • Pharmaceutical ads that describe a horror show list of possible side effects in graphic and very mortal detail. Diarrhea followed by heart failure and general shutdown? Hey, who wouldn’t jump at the chance?
  • Credit card ads (just about all of them) promoting irresponsible credit use or abuse in order to gain credit card points, peer approval or social equilibrium: would you swipe your credit card into a card reader just to pay for a 99 cent burger and fries?

In the vast wasteland, the occasional oases of cool entertainment and bona fide information are a welcome relief from the fetid winds that blow off the swamps and alkali flats of American television.

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Hardworking Farm Boy

You’ve all seen the ad. But what was the story? Is it true what they say about love?

The Rosetta Stone ad

Dear Mamma Mia,

This is a picture of the boy I was telling you about. One look and I knew he must be mine.

But only if he learns to speak Italiano! Oh Mamma, I know there are so many differences between us! He is a simple farm boy from Kansas. I am an Italian supermodel. Oh Mamma, I know he is not even the most handsome of catches – he has that dumb but determined look, that cute “I can’t believe I just stepped in that cow pie” expression I adore so much.

I could make this work. I would give up the supermodel business and raise his family. I would take care of the books. I would attend the 4H events and root for our children. I would even give up our villa in Lido. Oh, forgive me, Mamma, but you and Papa are already set for life. Of course you could keep the chauffeur and our Gulfstream … and you could come and visit your grandchildren in Kansas.

But he knows he would have just one chance to impress me. If he can get his Master’s at Harvard, he can surely do this one small thing for me. And I know he will. Then, somehow, we will make our future come together with his down-to-earth American know-how. In America, you know, even a man of the soil can provide a respectable living for his family.

I even learned his name the other day. I think it is cute. You know how the poor in America are given to overly-fancy names? Mamma, can you believe, he calls himself Archer Daniel Midland … get this, the third.

All my love to you and Papa,


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