Thursday, December 11, 2003

Maryellen Hooper

The funny and lovely comedian Maryellen Hooper was back in the studio today to discuss publicly for the first time the brain tumor she developed earlier this year, along with other more traditionally funny subjects like electrical mayhem in the home and giving women compliments.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Monday, December 08, 2003

Out of Commission

My wife and I have been shopping around for a new video camera. Because I hate the "shopping" part of any new purchase -- going store to store, comparing makes and models and prices and options -- we divide the responsibility like this: she does the reconnaissance work (the "shopping"), narrows our choices down to two, and then I swoop in to assist on the final decision (the "buying").

She had completed her part, identifying our options and the store in which we'd buy the camera. Now, it was my turn, which I was going to handle solo. It seemed so easy.

After work on Friday, I went to the store, armed with the information she had gathered and the name of the salesperson who helped her. We figured that if that clerk was there at the beginning of the process, they should be there at the end and get the commission. When I got there, a salesperson asked, "Can I help you?" I replied, "Yes, I'm looking for Tony." He said, "Oh, Tony, sure, I'll get her."

Her? Okay, I guess it's Toni, not Tony. Doesn't matter. A couple of minutes went by, and Toni hadn't shown up. Another clerk asked, "Can I help you?" I responded, "No, thanks, I'm waiting for Toni, but I appreciate the attention." The clerk said, "Okay, I'm sure she'll be here in a minute."

A few more minutes passed, and I still hadn't talked to Toni, although I did see a saleswoman down the counter dealing with a customer. I assumed that was Toni, and since she was busy, I told the first salesguy I had encountered, "It looks like she's in the middle of something and I don't want to wait, so can you help me?" Ron was more than happy to assist me.

He patiently spent the next fifteen minutes going over the difference between the two camcorders we were considering, explaining the features, discussing the pros and cons of this and that, and generally doing a great low-pressure sales job. Halfway through, Toni came over, apologized for being stuck with another customer and making sure that Ron was taking care of me. I assured her he was, and she left us alone to go deal with yet another customer.

Finally, I decided which camcorder was best, took the plunge, and bought the thing. Ron filled out the paperwork and, when he heard my name, said, "I thought I recognized your voice." It turned out he listens to my show. Although this didn't get me any special discount (I bet he wouldn't treat Ryan Seacrest this way!), we did chat for a few minutes. As we wrapped up the transaction, I asked if he'd get a nice big chunk of the rather large amount I had just charged to my credit card. He replied, "Well, I'll get some of it, and Toni will get some of it." That's good, I thought. Sharing the sale is good store policy.

When I got home, my wife approved of my choice (I had a 50/50 chance!). I told her the whole story of Ron taking Toni's place but still sharing his commission with her, and remarked, "Isn't that nice, that she'll get something for starting this ball rolling, even though he's the one who finished it?"

My wife stared at me. It's the stare every husband knows. It's the "you're an idiot" stare. Then she blurted out, "I never dealt with a saleswoman named Toni at that store. I talked to a salesman named Tony at their other store! The one across town!!"

In other words, Toni is going to get a commission on a sale she never had anything to do with in the first place! Oops. Sorry about that, Ron!

The bottom line is that my wife is thrilled to have the new camcorder. Not thrilled enough to want to go upstairs and emulate Paris Hilton with it, but happy.

As for Tony, he'll have to contact Toni for his piece of the pie.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Class Action

Several months ago, I passed along information on how you could get essentially free money from a class action lawsuit against the music industry, if you had bought at least one CD between 1995 and 2000. No one was sure how much we'd get, but it was going be somewhere between $5 and $20.

Well, the settlement has finally been approved, and it's going to work out to $12.60 apiece, and the checks should be in the mail within a couple of weeks. It's not exactly hitting the lottery, but free money is free money.

What held up the settlement was part of the suit involving members of music clubs (BMG, Columbia House, etc.). I'm glad I'm not part of their deal. Instead of a check, they'll get a voucher good for 75% off on the next CD they buy from the club. So, while we're getting something for nothing, they have to lay out more money and be happy with the discount. Chalk it up as one of the pitfalls of believing you'll come out ahead with that 12-albums-for-a-penny teaser.

That's the kind of class action settlement I hate, because the lawyers get huge lump sum payments -- believe me, they're not being paid in discount vouchers -- but the consumers get screwed. I was involved in one of these about fifteen years ago when someone put together a class action suit against a major airline on behalf of everyone who had flown that airline in the previous decade. My wife and I had, so I filled out a couple of forms (on paper in those days, as opposed to the ease of online filing in the CD suit) and mailed them off.

Two years later -- I had completely forgotten about it -- we received an envelope containing discount vouchers for the airline. For every ticket we bought in the succeeding year for $500 or more, we could take $25 off. Whoopee! A 5% discount!

Problem was, this was long enough ago that airplane tickets were a lot cheaper. The fare for a coast-to-coast flight was only about $250. In order to get an airline ticket that cost over $500, we would have had to fly to Europe or Asia, which we had neither the inclination nor credit limit to do.

The airline was counting on this in their settlement. You see, it's hard to get cash back from a consumer once you send them a check. But send'em a voucher that they might not use, and the company saves money -- not to mention that their expense only comes if and when you do use that voucher. Until then, the millions stay in the bank, earning interest.

That's why I'll be more than happy to take my $12.60 check and immediately use it to not buy a CD.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

High-Speed Chases

Today on my radio show, in a discussion of whether the police should engage in a high-speed chase -- such as the one that killed an innocent bystander earlier this week in Granite City, Illinois -- opinion was fairly well split, although most people don't blame the cops for the man's death. But several people said the police should take even more aggressive actions: bump the suspect's car with the police car, shoot out the tires, or use some high-tech weapon to disable the suspect and his vehicle.

There are several problems with these arguments.

Bumping the car sounds easier that it actually is. This guy was going 100mph. If you make contact with his bumper or fender, you risk wrecking your own vehicle, and possibly sending him hurtling into another innocent driver. Then you'd have the same complaints about cops needlessly endangering the lives of citizens.

As for shooting out the tires, that's part of the Dirty Harry Complex that too many Americans suffer from. It's part of the same thinking behind support for concealed-carry laws. They're sure that in any situation, the bullet from the good guy's gun will always hit its target perfectly, usually on the first shot, just like in the
movies. Of course, they would never miss, like movie bad guys do when they empty a hundred rounds without hitting James Bond or even nicking his tuxedo jacket. Unfortunately, in real life, it doesn't work that way. Firing a gun from a fast-moving, pursuing police cruiser at the tires of the suspect's weaving, speeding car isn't as easy as it sounds.

When it comes to high-tech weaponry, it seems that the most advanced devices local police can use are Stop Sticks, those spikes in the road that deflate car tires. They were used in the Florissant-Granite City chase, but the suspect drove around them. Meanwhile, where are all those other non-lethal weapons we've seen displayed on newsmagazines and the Discovery Channel for the last few years? Outside of televised demonstrations, I've yet to hear about a single incident in which the cops used sticky anti-riot foam, or giant capture nets, or directed electronic magnetic pulse devices. These and similar technologies may still be in the experimental phases, but are probably also too expensive for local department budgets.

So, it doesn't seem that the cops have many options. They can either chase the guy until they catch him -- which puts other lives at risk -- or let him go and try to catch him another day -- which may put other lives at risk.

If only they could literally corner the suspect between a rock and a hard place.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Simpleton Life

Somewhere, Jessica Simpson watched "The Simple Life" last night on Fox and thought, "I'm no longer the dumbest person on TV." That crown now belongs to Paris Hilton: "What does generic mean?" "What's a well?" And the piece de resistance, "What is Wal-Mart? Is that where they sell wall stuff?"

Watching "The Simple Life" last night made me vow never to let my daughter become a clueless ultra-rich party girl. That should be fairly easy. From now on, we'll just consciously avoid becoming ultra-rich. Oh, wait, that plan was already in place.

At the beginning of the show last night, Paris and her gal-pal Nicole Richie threw a going away party for themselves at the Hilton mansion. Paris was overheard saying she hoped that living on an Arkansas farm for a month would "make me appreciate my life here." Now there's a problem. She has every material thing she could possibly want, and then some, but doesn't appreciate it.

Blame that attitude on her parents, who apparently don't have a problem with what their kid has become at age 22, nor with her taking for granted the extravagant style in which she lives, simply by virtue of being born an heiress. Looks and acts like a slut? No problem. Hangs out with a heroin addict? No problem. Has the IQ of your average soccer ball? No problem.

I may be the only guy in America to admit this, but I don't find Paris and her "ho couture" style appealing. Yes, I've seen The Tape. She does nothing for me physically. I don't want to say she's thin, but she could hide behind Lara Flynn Boyle. She's slimmer than Dennis Kucinich's chance of becoming President. On next week's episode, she swallows an olive and everyone thinks she's pregnant. But, hey, I wanna tell ya.

So why watch? It's more than the fish out of water concept. There's something inexplicably fun about watching someone so privileged looking like such an idiot. Thus the "simple" moniker. I hope the show continues to play that up. But I'll drop the show in a second, along with many other viewers, if the producers make the mistake of having the show poke fun at the Leding family and their rural lifestyle. If they're smart, "The Simple Life" will continue to focus on Paris and Nicole's vapidity -- and make them try to define it, too.