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    Entries in David R (24)

    Sunday
    Nov062011

    Letter From America #27: Political Yard Signs

    There's a particular crop that peaks at this time of year in rural America. It's easy to spot along roadsides, on lawns and any highly visible patch of public green space. It blooms as early as September but strangely it’s all gone by the second Wednesday in November.

    It’s yard sign season, the fruits of the fungus known as local elections. Everyone running for town supervisor, clerk or highway superintendent plants them and you can spot them where their most ardent supporters live. There are three main classifications of yard sign: plastic board on wooden stick; plastic bag over metal frame; and wooden board on wooden post, the latter being hand-made.

    The messages are similar, Elect/Re-elect Name for Some Office, as there isn't much room for anything else, but the designs can vary quite a bit. As the designs of the signs are chosen or approved by the candidates, they often tell you something about their personalities. Depicted here are some of the more common varieties, clockwise from top-left:

    The Endorsed

    If a candidate is endorsed by the local Democratic or Republican committee then their signs will be professionally designed. Clean, legible typography in red, white and blue, with a smattering of stars and stripes.

    The Maverick

    Eschewing traditional message constructs, the Maverick will opt for one word, perhaps just their first name, and hopes that everyone will start talking about the originality of their sign.

    The No-nonsense

    A candidate that isn't interested in the look of their sign will fill out a form online, pick a template, hit submit and hope that their opponents haven't chosen the same ugly layout or colour combination.

    The Chancer

    Why spend good money on signs when you can make your own? All you need is some wood, paint and some stencil lettering. Most likely to be a write-in candidate, (one whose name does not appear on the ballot). This variety is quite rare, due to the additional energy required for production.

    Sunday
    Oct302011

    Letter From America #26: Trick or Treat?

    Halloween in the U.S. is just like my memory of it in the U.K. – my childhood memory that is. It’s all treats and no tricks – the streets are full of kids in costumes collecting goodies from silver haired old people, who are prepared with armfuls of candy. I don’t know if that even exists in the UK anymore – when I grew up I never bought sweets in the U.K. to hand out, and instead turned out the lights, pretending not to be in when there was a knock at the door.

    My wife grew up over here and has a different childhood memory of Halloween, her mother hated it and used to warn her about pranksters. It’s possible that since then it’s been sanitized over here, or as I have long suspected, our village in rural upstate New York really is living in the 1950s.

    Whether you are tricking in the Old Country, or treating in the New World, this 1977 public information video will help you to be road-safe. Kids in black witch costumes may look scarier, but they are far more likely to get run over than the kids in the white costumes. Oh, and add some reflective strips and lose that mask too. Did someone say sanitized?

    Sunday
    Oct232011

    Letter From America #25: Inflatable Yard Decorations

    Every year Americans go full tilt at Halloween celebration, and that means that some homeowners will be decorating their yards.

    At this time of year there are a few options; there’s the understated pumpkin arrangement, or a harvest festival arrangement that has been bought from the chain craft-supply store in the mall. And at the other end of the spectrum? Huge inflatable displays.

    Inflatables have been around for years but it seems each year they get more advanced. The one that caught my eye this year is the Horse Drawn Hearse Pumpkin Carriage Reaper Skeleton – “The Grim Reapers head turns for a spooky effect and the light flashes behind the Skeleton!” At over 9 feet long and six feet tall it’s sure to be, um, noticed.

    One house near us fills their yard with these things at every opportunity. It always looks to me like an expensive display and I assumed that the owners worked for the distributor, but having learned that you can get a Horse Drawn Hearse Pumpkin Carriage Reaper Skeleton for only $139, it's clear that's not the reason. They just don’t have any taste.

    The inflatable is the most extrovert of American yard decorations, it says "look at me! I’m larger than life, a bit gaudy and can barely support my own weight!”. And in the morning if they are on timers or the fan breaks, they deflate into sad deformed versions of themselves.

    I think I’ll just put a couple of pumpkins on the front steps. Real ones.

    Flickr: slgckgc
    Sunday
    Oct162011

    Letter From America #24: The Coupon Casino

    All big stores in the U.S. have loyalty cards and for the most part they operate the same way as in the UK – one percent of what you spend is awarded to you in points. Some stores though, notably drugstores, prefer to give you your coupons at the till and this tends to make for extremely long receipts. A typical receipt might have four or five coupons (some for products you may never need) advertisements, customer surveys and a money-off-anything coupon that will expire after a few weeks. I didn't understand the system at first, and must have thrown away many dollars in savings, but I've wised up to it now.

    I was in Rite-Aid this week, buying Halloween candy – Halloween is huge in our village with hundreds of kids being bussed in to grin at old people in exchange for candy. Halloween candy is only in the shops for about three weeks but always seems be on sale, so I bought a few bags. The girl at the till informed me that I had earned a $2 coupon, so I went back and picked out another bag, except that wasn’t enough so I had to pick up a second bag. As she rung those up she predicted, correctly, that I would get another coupon. This time it was for a dollar. I was tempted to see how long I could play this game; would the next coupon be for fifty cents, a quarter? It dawned on me that I was in some kind of Coupon Casino, and knowing my luck couldn’t last forever, headed for the door.

    Sunday
    Oct092011

    Letter From America #23: October 2003 – The Democratisation of Cool

     

    It’s sad that Steve Jobs didn’t live to see the tenth anniversary of the iPod on October 23rd. It was the launch of the iPod in 2001 that many commentators tell us was the moment that changed everything. Without the iPod, Apple may never have created the iPhone or the iPad, and the rest is history or as Barack Obama put it “… there may be no greater tribute to Steve’s success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented.”

    Although in 2001 the iPod was the device that everyone wanted, it only worked with Macintosh computers and that severely limited sales. I remember owning the first model and in the early days, as it was a toy for the creative class, we could easily spot each other in public by the white cords snaking from our ears.

    The real tipping point came when Apple released iTunes for Windows in October 2003, allowing anyone with a PC to own an iPod, and sales started to climb. Apple was for the first time developing software for Windows, which was as Steve Jobs put it “like giving a glass of ice water to someone in hell”. 

    Suddenly, everyone was wearing the little white earbuds and I remember feeling a little snobby about that, a sense of disappointment that the private club that I belonged to had relaxed it’s membership rules. However, without iTunes for Windows, and its subsequent democratisation of cool, the iPod would have lost to the Zune, Apple may never have got into the phone business and we might all be stuck in Windows/Nokia hell today.