Onion to Shut Doors Friday, Citing Trump

CHICAGO IL—AP— Heralded news satire site, The Onion.com, announced that it would be closing it’s doors for good this Friday, laying off 200 staffers and ending it’s successful 20 year run as one of the best known humor sites on the web.

Citing the inability to keep ahead of the gaffes and random potshots and insults hurled in all directions by freewheeling GOP candidate Donald Trump, The Onion blamed weak web traffic leading to disappointing advertising results .

“Trump killed us. People are howling at the type of headlines they expected to be seeing from us in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even the National Review. These boring, straight-laced newspapers and magazines are publishing more shocking, outrageous and, frankly, more creative material than we can possibly dream of,” said CEO Steve Hannah.

According to Wikipedia, “The Onion's articles cover current events, both real and fictional, satirizing the tone and format of traditional news organizations with stories, editorials, op-ed pieces, and man-in-the-street interviews using a traditional news website layout and an editorial voice modeled after that of the Associated Press. The publication's humor often depends on presenting mundane, everyday events as newsworthy, surreal or alarming.”

Recent Onion stories that had to be killed at presstime included Trump saying he wanted to “hit so hard,” the speakers at the Democratic National Convention and his mocking an American Muslim couple who’s son was an unequivocal war hero in Iraq.

Choking back tears, Editor Cole Bolton said, “next he’ll probably say that the women who have abortions should be put in jail or something ridiculous like that.” When informed  that Trump indeed had said that already, he threw up his hands, saying, “that’s what I’m talking about. No matter how bizarre the story, Trump is likely to actually do it. He should have been our dream candidate, but instead he is ‘out-Onioning’ us.”

The Onion had increased it’s staff by 25% in mid-2015 as it anticipated a ripe season of satire with the coming election and the Zika Olympics but viewership waned as people spent their spare time Facebooking outrageous stories from traditional news outlets instead of turning to The Onion for entertainment.

Apparently The Huffington Post is also under pressure as it’s quarterly results release last Thursday indicated a 23% decline in traffic.

Vineyard Vines Hacked by Own IT Department

STAMFORD CT —AP—   A new type of Internet piracy has emerged in the growing battle between major retailers and hackers, as it was revealed that Vineyard Vines had been hacked by its own internal IT Department.

The vandals attacked through the marketing and customer service channels, thereby thwarting the usual SQL injection, phishing, spoofing and internal networking protection set up by many of the same people. The plan was unleashed on Cyber Monday with a flurry of e-mail reminders that caught the eye of at least one weary digital shopper, H Ted Bahr, 56, of Laurel Hollow, NY.  “I though it was a Denial of Service (DoS) attack….in reverse! I was getting hit with e-mail offers for ‘20% off on purchases over $200,’ about once every two hours.”

The crafty hackers never counted on what Bahr would do next; “I painfully said, ‘enough,’ and tried to unsubscribe from their mailings. It was there, on the e-mail preferences page, that I reached a bizarre presentation of unintelligible options written in the kind of language only an IT geek could love – or understand.”  In the “Subscription Center,” Bahr learned that he was subscribed to “Available Publications” like the 20141025_20141026 Wovens (auto-generated list), the 20141026 SUPRESS (suppress), but not subscribed to the Whale Rep VV Email (Whale Rep VV Email).

“What?! We are supposed to be about living the good life, not harassing and confusing customers with user-nasty, IT-driven gibberish,” exclaimed Shep Murray, CEO and co-founder of Vineyard Vines, “we’ve been HACKED!” Murray immediately called a meeting with his brother and Vineyard Vines co-founder Ian Murray, VP of Brand Communications Lindsey Worster, and Director of e-Commerce Stephanie Lynn. It quickly became apparent that nobody in the marketing department was aware that the IT department had taken it upon itself to manage the customer service experience without any input from marketers, customers, or real humans who might have pointed out the stone-faced, auto-generated, user-confusing experience.

The plot further unraveled when customer Bahr tried to point these things out to the company through its comment engine which allowed Bahr to ramble on and on until, when he submitted, cruelly informed him after the fact that he only had 500 characters, including spaces. The stone-age system, provided in part by SalesForce’s “Marketing Cloud” software, did not helpfully count the characters as Bahr typed along as has been the case with modern websites for 6 years or more. Bahr wearily cut and pasted his comments into Word, used the Word tools to get a count, edited and then cut and pasted back into the comment engine, putting the exclamation point on the entire customer experience.

“If it had been the ‘3-days before Christmas 40% off,’ sale with free shipping that I know they will offer on December 22, it might not have been so offensive to receive 5 EMAILS IN ONE DAY, but as any VV customer knows, 20% off for $200 or more is about the crappiest offer they’ve ever presented. But otherwise, I would never have discovered the hack,” concluded Bahr.

Hello Vineyard Vines,

This is a satirical presentation of a true story. 5 emails in one day. Really?  The rest of the customer experience is as presented – terrible and strange. To unsubscribe from all e-mail I instead unsubscribe to “all publications.” What publications?, I just can’t take 5 emails in one day (again, for a crappy offer, by your standards). Yes yes I know that 20141025 is a date range. I have an IT department  and guess what? They have loved to go ahead and take it on themselves to just write copy for these sorts of transactional pages without checking with anyone in marketing because it just seems so much quicker that way. But, they don’t think or communicate like us. That’s why they’re in IT. Get control.

Another suggestion. I was desperate for a “just slow down the e-mails” option. I love your offers and sometimes respond to them. But enough was enough. Many companies offer a “slow down the e-mails” option but with you it was all or nothing. A lot to implement, I know, but worth considering.

Anyway, that’s my story and I offer it to you because I like your products and consider myself a loyal customer.  Thanks for listening.  

The Weather Channel Declares, "Parking Problem Ezekiel"

NEW YORK – AP -  Following on the heels of its highly successful efforts to name winter storms, The Weather Channel has decided to begin naming additional inconveniences caused by large named storms. The first of these potentially harrowing disaster scenarios has been christened, “Ezekiel,” and refers to several somewhat large piles of snow in and around the pillars and creeping in on the edges of the parking lot at 7 High Street in Huntington, NY. A rapid-fire exchange between managers at BZ Media. the building’s largest tenant, revealed the extent of the hysteria and the problem, as meanwhile, #Ezekiel began trending on Twitter.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to park there if the plows have pushed snow up next to the pillars on the north side,” wrote a worried George Gupta, IT Director at the company. “Given the potential cold weather for the next few weeks, which would lock that snow and slush in there…sheesh…the entire staff may have to work at home for a few weeks, or, even until Spring” he continued.

HR director Stacy Burris and company president Ted Bahr tried to calm Gupta down, as Bahr noted that he was already parked under the building and that 23 cars – including his - were all comfortably parked in the 23 spaces normally available. He further suggested that employees “should just relax, drive carefully and get into work when they can.”

Despite Bahr’s eyewitness account, the Weather Channel’s top four lead stories featured headlines that brought the potential disaster into sharp relief, “Parking Problem Ezekiel Ready to SuperSize,” “Employees to be Stranded, Forced to Work Out of Homes for Weeks!”  “How YOU can Prepare for Zeke,” and “The Seven Cutest Little Kittens named Ezekiel.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone, running for his sixth term, declined to refer to the slight dusting in the covered lot as a named parking problem calling it “crass commercialism and an attempt by the Weather Channel to label every meteorological event just so they can get more eyeballs looking at their bizarre diet and debt-consolidation advertising.” Highway Supervisor William Naughton shook off that notion however, and freely used the term, claiming that, “my front loaders have got a few surprises in store for Ezekiel.”

A Weather Channel spokesperson said that David Kenny, CEO of the company, was so enamored of the success of the recent storm-naming of Nemo, that he ordered the successor to the program rolled out immediately. The selection of Biblical prophets as names for parking, traffic and other man-made structure inconveniences attributable to weather was defended by the spokesperson, “Ezekiel predicted the destruction of Jerusalem in 592 BC and the subsequent construction of the Millenia Temple, indicating that these prophet guys knew a lot about construction, as well as disasters.” 

The Weather Channel is said to be planning names for an expanding list of life’s little  annoyances including:

First Winter Frost Larch (named after trees)

Data Loss Kevin  (named after the first names of characters played by Macauley Culkin)

Bad Hair Day Winkles (named after extremely cute kittens)

AMEX and AFLAC Leave Me Alone!

Late Friday afternoon I came back from some errands and ran into a buzzsaw of activity at work punctuated by - sigh - a call from AMEX Merchant Services. These guys call me every 3-4 weeks to "chat me up" and see if they can suck up my time trying to tell me how to use their services more (or something). It drives me fucking crazy because they don't leave a message and AMEX is very important to us and with fraud prevention I feel that I HAVE to call them back. Time after time it’s the same, “Hi Mr. Bahr, we just want to make sure that you are satisfied with our services and see if there is anything we can do to help your business grow?”

Now, usually I say something like, "increase my line of credit back up to where it was before the Great Recession of 2008," but that just leads to a greater time-suck that I know will not yield any results. (Kind of like going into your bank and they keep trying to refinance your mortgage - not hearing you when you say you are UNDER WATER). So, this time I just said, “you can help my business by not calling me each month to waste my fucking time by trying to see how else you can insidiously worm your way into my life and business. Just STOP CALLING ME!”

I won’t go into details but it was another few minutes before I just hung up. They are relentless.

Then there are those idiots at AFLAC (yes, the stupid duck people). What is AFLAC’s deal? They come into your company and offer (sell) your employees additional benefits (insurance). The pitch to the business owner is that we can claim we offer all these fabulous benefits but don’t have to pay for them nor deal with them. Of course not, the employees pay. It’s a very very clever way of simply reaching individuals and selling them insurance, under the auspices of our business.

And, about a year ago, we tried it. We gave our employees the hour off to gather in OUR conference room while the AFLAC rep pitched their products (no doubt earning our employees’ eternal gratitude). Bottom line? Could not get enough of our employees to sign up. End of story.

Except for this. AFLAC does not have their own sales force – they use outside independent reps, basically tons of fortune-seeking down-on-their-luck insurance salespeople. And they all get the same leads. (and this partially reflects the Curse of The Inc 5,000, where getting named to the list simply brings a boatload of useless sales pitches, hucksters, and boiler-room penny-stock pickers to your phone line.)

So, every 2-3 weeks someone NEW “from AFLAC” calls me.

“We already tried you and it didn’t work.”

“Well we have some NEW products! When would be best to come in, next Tuesday at 10 or at 11:30?”

“How about never? Does never work for you? Click.”

… and another thing!

So you want to explore your family tree?

A good friend asked me recently:

"I have an interest in my family tree. I looked at ancestry.com and have not committed to anything yet. I did, however, start the basic family tree on the site for free. I understand you have done (extensive) research and may have some ideas and experience with web sites. When you have time, I would be interested in your feedback."

Here was my answer, with notes on software and web sites.

I am assuming you want to build/record your family tree. The best programs are Reunion on the Mac and Family Tree Maker on a Windows PC. Family Tree Maker bought ancestry.com a few years ago so they are linked and it is a powerful pitch for using FTM. FTM just (finally) came out on the Mac. I would google for reviews of Family Tree Maker on the Mac if I were to go that route.

You may or may not know or recall that the reason I threw away my Windows (Dell) PC and got a Mac 3.5 years ago was because of Family Tree Maker. Well, not exactly but close.

FTM - at least back then - had a nice feature that automatically saved your work no matter what you did - meaning, after you opened up the program, did some work on your family tree, and closed the program, all changes were automatically saved. That was good....except that the program saved the files to their own special partition on the drive - like it's own separate file cabinet. One day I got a Trojan worm that I researched and realized it would take 6-8 hours of work to get rid of. So I called in The Geek Squad. They came, recognized the problem and "blew away Windows." (reinstalled it). They saved all the files in the normal places....but not the FTM files which were hiding in their own special little spot. And so. Ten years of work down the drain. Gone. Vanished. (I did not back them up becuase...I did not know where they were) That's why I switched to a Mac - no viruses, no worms, no trojans. Ever.

So, when I did this I found that.....FTM was not available on the Mac. I researched it and found Reunion was the best Mac program. I have it and use it but sparingly. Sadly, my interest is carefully typing in all of the basic info, getting the dates right etc etc has waned. I just don't have the heart.

OK, so Ancestry.com. This site is useful but it is also a typical internet money-suck come-on huckster site. Have you ever tried to look up a person on the web? Or a phone number? The most basic info is available free. BUT the REAL stuff you want is behind a paywall! And if you pay a little, they'll show you a little more. But then if you want, say, criminal reports....you can pay more....and then.... It's like Internet porn - (or....er....so they say!!)

So....I have not used ancestry.com for a while. There is a little available for free. Then they want your money. And they will keep wanting your money, endlessly. Let's say you want the ship your great grandfather came over on....buy the Ellis Island ship registry database. They will tell you if there are people named, say, "Bill Johnson" in the database. Why yes there IS a Bill Johnson in the database....buy now! BUT is it YOUR relative??? They have no idea. Of course they are motivated to have as much info as possible and as many names as possible to suck you in.

Ancestry.com also is big on linked family trees. Let's say my mother's cousin has "done" her family tree. Well that's almost the same as mine!! That can be a big help!! BUT sometimes these are inaccurate (I should say, "usually" they are inaccurate). So you might find a gold mine, you might not.

What I would do and I am contemplating this is pick the 6-month period or one year period when I am ready to dive into this stuff again and then buy a 6-month or 1-year subscription and get taken gleefully by ancestry.com again.Go ahead and prepare to spend maybe a few hundred dollars. MUCH of the stuff they have is in the public domain, but what the heck. It gives you a huge head start in some cases. It is certainly not all bad. The Web is the best friend and worst enemy of family tree research. It offers a wealth of information (for example, there are people who go to graveyards and copy down all the info on the stones and put the info on the web - invaluable!!), but lots of the info is INACCURATE. Real family tree research involves primary records: birth, marriage, death certificates and other on PAPER official records (think Obama!). You have to have the backup. I have a large tree on my mother's side and there are plenty of places on the web where amateurs who are linked some way in my tree (strangers) have things wrong. So you have to be careful with what you find on the web - use the web as a resource that leads you to some way of verifying what you learn.

Who should care? If you get it right, future generations will thank you and it's your unique personal history, shared only by brothers and sisters. Your kids will thank you.

By the way, the best place to start is free and it's called familysearch.org This is the Mormon site. You may know that the Mormons have the largest genealogical research facility n the world out there is Salt Lake. Why? I am told that the Mormon's believe that if you convert to Mormonism, then all of your ancestors were secretly Mormons too. Therefore it was important to them to know who your ancestors were! I have not confirmed this.

Hah - Now I have:

"The Mormon interest in genealogy is closely linked to their doctrine of baptism for the dead and their belief that the family unit will continue to exist beyond mortal life. Mormons trace their family trees to find the names of ancestors who died without learning about the restored Mormon Gospel so that these relatives from past generations can be baptized by proxy in the temple. Once baptized, if the ancestor's spirit has accepted the Gospel, they will be able to be together with the rest of their baptized Mormon family in the celestial kingdom. For the Saints, genealogy is a way to save more souls and strengthen the eternal family unit."

So, to answer your question. If you just want to fool around, go to familysearch.org. If you want to build a family tree using software, try Family Tree Maker for a PC (which includes 6 months free of ancestry.com I think) (although how deep they let you go is another story), or, on a Mac either Reunion of FTM for the Mac (which again has the ancestry.com free offer). Also, once you start searching around, there are many many many places to find stuff. Ellis Island ship registers are freely available for example. You just have to google and search around a little bit.

have fun!

Overly Cheery Woman Hospitalized in Snowball Incident

NEW YORK -- AP - Apparently the goodwill surrounding the month of December has worn off in this unusually snowy January. Agnes Fernbach, 62, found this out the hard way and suffered a mild concussion under a barrage of snowballs.

What started out as a rather harmless response to Ms. Fernbach’s bright outlook on the weather soon turned nasty. The baling and binding department of the Blatch Corrugated Packaging Company of East 163rd Street in the Bronx went out for it’s weekly team lunch at the Papadopolis Diner this Thursday. The team of 8 co-workers had been working together at Blatch for upwards of 30 years and the contempt bred by familiarity finally went over the top.

The New York Metropolitan area had suffered it’s seventh significant storm which left a record amount of snow on the streets. While navigating the slush and piles of snow the group began cursing winter heartily, “enough snow, ENOUGH, already…”
Fernbach, whose exceptionally cheery disposition was normally tolerated by the cynical, bitter group of crusty New Yorkers, made the mistake of retorting that she liked the snow. She was exclaiming this and looking toward the heavens saying, c’mon winter, bring it on,” when the first snowball hit her in the mouth.

The group soon piled on, sending a hailstorm of packed snow and ice toward the hapless optimist until, finally, baling foreman Bruno Roccotelli pushed her into a snowbank. The group, laughing, then trundled off to the diner, not realized that Ms Fernbach was still dazed and in need of help. Fortunately a good Samaritan saw the incident and was able to transport the injured idealist to a nearby hospital. The baling and binding group was horrified when they heard the news and offered Tylenol and flowers to Ms. Fernback while still finding a way to blame the entire incident on the “goddamned snow.”

Why The Lexus Was Hated

Know me, know my car.

Many of us name our cars. Oh, we’ve had a Skip, a Haakon, and let’s see.., Nalla, Peppy, Dexter, and Declan. And then there was my most recent set of wheels, known only as “The Hated Lexus.” Why, you may ask, was this premium 2005 ES 330 despised so fervently by it’s owner? Basking in the glow reflected off the brand new Caspian Sea-blue 2011 Volvo S-80 T6 All Wheel Drive vehicle which has just replaced the Hated Lexus in my driveway, I’ll tell you.

I bought the car two years ago under duress. The previous car, Nalla, the 1997 Volvo, had swerved after hitting some debris on the Long Island Expressway and made the ultimate sacrifice of itself to keep it’s two passengers safe after smashing into the concrete divider and thankfully not getting hit by oncoming traffic. So you can say, pun intended, that I got the Hated Lexus “by accident.” My rental car while searching for a replacement was a pickup truck. Fun if you’re moving into a new apartment or have dirt bikes I suppose.

This was 2008. The Fall of 2008. The dreaded, horrible, wretched and terrifying Fall of 2008. The car was not the only thing that had crashed. The very last thing on my mind, given the state of the business and the world, was buying a new car. We hurriedly looked around and decided that the Lexus was the best bet – three years old and with about 20,000 miles on it.

Some things I noticed right away. Like the complete absence of places to put your wallet-sunglasses-pens, and other junk you bring into your car. Or the high-buffed overly glossy interior wood trim which made me feel like I should be chewing gum and wearing some gold chains. The slick steering wheel always felt vaguely greasy in my hands. There was a center console located back by my right shoulder. It consisted of a deep storage area, and a very shallow one on top of it – maybe an inch deep. The problem here was that the latch to each compartment was right next to each other so if you wanted to open the top (shallow) compartment and grabbed the wrong latch the top compartment would go vertical….and all your stuff in there would go flying.

The electric windows were overly sensitive – the slightest touch sent the window all the way up or all the way down. To open a window only partially involved a comical up-down-up-down-up progression until I finally zeroed in on what I wanted. I figured it was just a matter of time before I adjusted to it but no. This was in the minor irritation category, like the dashboard readout of time, temp, radio settings etc…. that would disappear when you put on sunglasses.

There were a number of attempts by the car to think for you that I did not enjoy. The headlights always stayed on for 20 seconds after I left the car leaving me to wonder if they would go off by themselves or if I had somehow screwed up. The trunk had no “handle” – you could only open it by pressing the key fob. Doors would automatically lock once you got moving - makes sense to an engineer but how many times do you stop to pick someone up quickly in town and don’t bother putting it in Park? Answer: a lot! And each time I would have to slap my forehead and say Oh right, I have to unlock the doors (that I did not lock)

There was no ipod connection (one year too early). The car was absolutely and inexcusably terrible in snow. There was some sort of oddball airfoil on the trunk that prevented the use of our bike rack. I asked the dealer if he could remove it. Nope. I did not trust the car dealer (who wanted to change my brake and transmission fluids for about $180 each) and they were located about 15 miles away in the other direction from my short commute.

The rain sensor was beyond annoying. Instead of a controllable intermittent wiper setting, you had no choice for intermittent except to let the car do it on it’s own with a rain sensor. At first it didn’t work at all. I even poured a bucket of water on the windshield. No reaction. Of course all the time I was trying to get this to work I was driving in rain with my windshield wipers OFF, very safe, that. I took it to the dealer and they said, oh yes, common problem and they fixed it. But now once it got going, it started going very fast. Or again not at all. It never ever worked. The Volvo has a rain sensor too but you can turn it OFF (which I DO) and use a manually adjustable intermittent wiper setting.

And so, it became The Hated Lexus. Did it drive? Yes? Good power and handling? You bet. I desperately wanted to find some way to get along with this car but it was just far too annoying on a daily basis. The Hated Lexus is no more. And symbolically, so too is the nightmare of the Fall of 2008.

Welcome, the Beloved Volvo.