Begging The Question

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Peeve of the Year
Prof. Desai at the Co-Op has a perfectly ranty post about the cell phone business model. You know, the notion that you can't buy a new phone without starting a whole new contract and all. This kind of thing has kept me from giving lots of money to the phone companies over the years.

I know the theory is supposedly that they sell the phones at big discounts in order to rack up big profits from the service contracts. The old razors and blades model. But in my case, I would have bought a more advanced phone, and upgraded to the high-dollar service contract with internets and everything, if they had made this less annoying.

To me, this is like wanting to buy a new tv, but having to go to the cable company and get a new HBO subscription first. Surely someday they'll run out of truly "new" customers -- babies will be issued cell phones at birth; look for that iPhone app that will let you take your baby's footprint on the phone -- and they'll change this dumb business model.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Teapot Dome Scandal
We had our office holiday party the other day. We do one of those gift exchanges where everyone contributes a gift, then they draw numbers, and we go around with the option of taking an unwrapped gift or stealing someone else's already-opened gift. We call it a Yankee Swap, but it goes by other names. I'm sure you're familiar. A note, though -- we do generally try to get useful or wanted gifts, not the humorous or useless gifts one sometimes sees in these events. There are usually a few funny ones, but rarely a pure "white elephant."

Anyway, my turn came about a third of the way in, and amazingly, there had not been a single steal by then. I decided to steal my neighbor's gift, a nice housewares product. It was stolen from me pretty quickly thereafter. I decided to take my chances on something still on the table, and ended up with a decent gift -- a gift card to a store I don't go to very often. But it was at least something I could use. Naturally, it too was stolen, and I faced a dilemma. I wasn't particularly thrilled with any of the unwrapped gifts, and there were still a lot unopened. So I once again rolled the dice and opened one up.

I peeled back the paper and it started to dawn on me. Short, stout, handle, spout -- check, check, check, check. Yes, it was a little teapot. With a little teacup! Just to rule out the faint possibility that someone had just used the box to wrap a better gift, I even opened the box. Nope, still a teapot. I heard a couple of "Oh, that's cute" mumbles from the older ladies among us, but mostly I noticed stifled laughter. And sure enough, we finished the game without anyone taking so much as a second glance at my white elephant.

The kookiest thing about it was the instructions, including these: "1. Boil good water. 2. Give yourself the pleasure of using one of the many high quality teas available today. 5. Sit down with a lovely cup of tea. Take a moment to admire what a pretty scene you've created." Yeah, I'll get right on that. And to top it off, the box had a Barnes & Noble label on it, meaning that someone went in a Barnes & Noble, looked around at all the useful, noncraptacular gifts available today, and picked this gem. (The idea is so unlikely that I'm convinced someone just regifted.)

I don't want to disparage whoever brought this thing. I'm sure it would be a fine gift for someone who drinks tea. I don't (at least not hot tea). Of course, someone who drinks hot tea would already have plenty of teapots and teacups. So the box sat on the edge of my desk for a few days, with me occasionally pondering just what the hell to do with it. I knew I would never use it. I didn't know anyone to give it to. I figured it would sit on a shelf or in my attic until I could take it to Goodwill to give it away.

And then, a Christmas miracle! One of my co-workers came in my office and asked, "Are you extremely enamored of your teapot?" I answered, "I don't think that's the phrase I would use." But she volunteered to switch her gift with me so she could give my teapot to some family member. I don't want to know about that family dynamic, but that's her business. I was rid of my little teapot! And even better, my co-worker's gift was a gift card to a store I actually frequent!

I was planning on writing this post before this welcome development, and it would have been a lot more ranty. But I will trade a better post for a better gift. Someone should write a short story about this: The Gift of the Magunk.

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