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Nerd Shirt Dialectic

July 22, 2009

I am ambivalent about this shirt from Forever 21:


On the one hand, it’s sort of cute.  On the other hand, it’s sort of poking fun at nerds (I believe those glasses have tape on them). 

The shirt also implies that the wearer is not a nerd (otherwise, it would say “more than I love math class” or “more than we nerds love math class” or “more than other nerds love math class,” if by chance the speaker, though a nerd, were overpowered by love).  

Here I appeal to the time-honored comedy tradition that one may only tell jokes about one’s one disadvantaged group: if you’re not a nerd, can the nerd-talk.

Also, who wants to be loved by someone who’s bad at math?  Dear god, not me.  Of course, who wants to be forever 21?  Probably people who are bad at math.

Brooklyn Gentrification Reaches New Heights!

April 14, 2009

I was in the soup aisle at Sunac Natural Foods last night. Sunac is a large, 24 hour health food grocery store located at Union and Metropolitan, right near the L train stop at Lorimer. I go there often after my Monday night shows at Pete’s Candy Store. Sure, it’s a little expensive, but it’s very convenient.

Prior to last night, the most outrageous prices I had seen in the store were $18 for almond butter, and $20+ for Burt’s Bees various hand/foot/body/face/shaving goop.

Next to the carton of vegetable stock I was thinking of purchasing were unassuming looking cans of “Whole Truffles” and “Truffle Juice.”

I thought, oh, how tasty (I imagine — I’m not totally sure what truffles actually taste like). You can buy truffles and their juice at the grocery store and put them in soup (I guess). I picked up the Whole Truffles:




And the Truffle Juice?




Not a mistake. In the ‘burbs, Walgreens keeps pregnancy tests and Mach 17 Time-and-Space-Bending Razors behind the counter because those things cost, like, $18. The $99.99 cans of truffle juice were just sitting on the shelf. Next to beans.

To think, just a few years ago this neighborhood was all falafel and pierogies.

“Weekly Barracking”

March 31, 2009

I thought you might enjoy this picture I took on W. 25th St, between 6th and 7th Avenues. 


“Barracks” are, of course, military dormitories.  My father once served a stint as a military policeman, and he was in charge of policing some barracks, in which resided any number of young soldiers and sailors whose hangovers caused them to not show up for work, which in the military is a quite serious infraction (hence the military policeman).

Barracking,” however, can also be used (mostly in the UK) to mean jeering or heckling, or sometimes cheering (in favor of).

In this ad, the implication seems to be that your car will be housed in a “barracks” — i.e., a parking garage.  And perhaps it will be retrieved for you with military efficiency? 

Metrocard Math

March 2, 2009

6a00d8341e31c353ef00e553b358838834-640wi.jpgThe MTA has proposed a plan that would cause the price of the monthly Metrocard to go up from $81 to $103, an increase of over 27%. So I did some research.

An unlimited monthly Metrocard is good for 30 days from the day you begin using it; it also has an expiration date on the back, assuring that you begin using it by a date about one year from purchase.If the cost is going to go up so astronomically, why not just buy a year’s worth of cards in advance, and save $264?

In fact, other than the law against it, there’s no reason a person couldn’t buy a large quantity of $81 Metrocards and sell them over the next year for, say, $95. People would totally meet you in a dark alley to save $8, and you’d make $14 on every sale. If you had $5,000 to invest in $81 Metrocards, you could buy 61 of them, with change left over. Selling each at a $14 profit would make you $854. That’s a 17% return on investment, which, if you are an average American, is not enough to keep up with the APR on your credit cards, but is certainly superior to the performance of the rest of the financial sector right now.

But even if you’re uncomfortable with Metrocard scalping, isn’t the logical move for every monthly Metrocard user who is able to purchase 12 at once for his personal use?

If you don’t have $972 all at once to pull this off (fancy that), compare the APR on your credit card to the $22 savings you’ll gain every month. For instance:If you have a credit card with an APR of 18%, divide 18% by 12 to get the monthly periodic rate of 1.5%.Now say you buy 12 monthly Metrocards this month. Your balance is $972. Your finance charge is $14.58 — a fine savings over the $22 extra you’d have to pay for a new Metrocard. But it gets better! Because, if you simply pay to the card some amount of money in between the $81 you would have paid anyway, and the $103 you’re avoiding, the balance will go down, and your savings will increase every month! Said another way, the first month, you’re paying finance charges on all 12 cards, but the second month, you’re only paying finances charges on 11 cards, etc….

In actual numbers: The first month, when you owe $972, let’s take the money you would have paid for the $81 Metrocard and pay that to the credit card, and then let’s also be responsible and take care of that $14.58. So far, you’ve saved $7.42. The second month, you owe $891 (the original $972, minus the $95.58 you paid). Your finance charge is $13.37. Go ahead and pay $81 plus the $13.37 to the card — you’ve saved $8.63, or a cumulative total of $16.05! The third month, your balance is $729 and your finance charge is $10.94. Pay $81 plus the finance charge, and you’ve saved $11.06, or a cumulative total of $27.11! And this is allowing for a credit card with a usurious 18% APR!

Of course, few people pay off their credit cards with the discipline they originally intend when making large purchases in the first place. However, if you actually just have $972, you should really go buy a dozen Metrocards (or, if you’re less than halfway through a card now, maybe just 11 cards, to be safe).

Update: Don’t do that. I stand by all the math above, but I’ve been informed that the MTA is onto this plan, and will set “sunset dates” by which cards purchased at the old price must be swiped. I imagine that if you wanted to (illicitly) Metrocard-scalp, you could probably still do it for a month or two until the dates kicked in.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s consumer math post.



You may also enjoy How to Obtain Free Unlimited iTunes By Admitting That You Have an Addiction and are a Total Fucking Yuppie About It and What Happens When Math Teachers Read the Fine Print.

NYC Photo Post

February 28, 2009


I read the first two lines of this quote on my Starbucks cup and thought immediately, “It’s diversity! The next thing on this cup — clearly diversity. I’m reading your mind, unchallengingly inoffensive corporate-pandering Starbucks cup!”


Yep. It’s diversity.


And this — this is the front window of an HSBC on fiftysomethingth street. It says “This vestibule cannot be used as a thoroughfare.” What percent of the people for whom this message is intended do you think actually understand it?

Of Watch Batteries, Notaries, and Laissez-Faire Economics

September 15, 2008

Does anyone know where I can get a watch battery changed in Manhattan? (Note: In my experience, all watch batteries are changed by Korean-American small business owners. Am I wrong?)

My inability to find a place to have a watch battery replaced also reminds me of my incredible difficulty finding a notary public when I need one. I mean, there are lots of notaries public in the outer boroughs, often located in those shops that say something on the awning about “business services” and contain, inside, one creaking Xerox machine, one computer offering internet access in five-minute increments, and some vague promise to help you with your immigration paperwork.

images.jpegBut it is very hard to find a notary in Manhattan. Now, don’t be an asshole who Googles “notary public Manhattan” and posts the link. Seriously, try actually going and getting something notarized. Half the places you call are like “Oh, we don’t really do that anymore.” The other half are like, “The notary is only in on Tuesdays.” The internet will lead you to believe that Kinko’s offers notary service. They do — provided by one guy, at one Kinko’s (the one in the Empire State Building), whenever that guy happens to be working. I have something I need notarized, and I’ve been carrying it around for weeks, hoping to walk past a business offering said service. In Murray Hill, I did find an H&R Block with a sign about notary service; I went in, and was told, “Oh, he’s not here today.” Of course.

Do you know why this is? Because it is illegal to charge more than $2 for a notary signature. Therefore, businesses have little incentive to offer the service. It is simply not profitable. THIS IS WHY COMMUNISM DOES NOT WORK. Imagine if it were illegal to charge more than seventy-five cents for coffee — I would certainly not be able to patronize a Starbucks on every corner (something I very much like to do), because there would have been no profit motive to build the stores. And don’t be an asshole who posts that you wish it were illegal to sell coffee for more than seventy-five cents and you liked Manhattan back in the good old days before Giuliani when all the chain coffee shops were actually crack houses in which junkies drank Cafe Bustelo that they brewed inside the empty skulls of crime victims. I will beat you with a carafe of soy milk in one hand and skim in the other.Communism doesn’t work.

The notary dearth is the Soviet bread line of Manhattan.

problems you didn’t know you had

December 22, 2007

I once read in a business book a (possibly apocryphal) tale that went as follows:

A big news story came out about how there were a shocking number of rat parts in commercial cat food. One company decided to capitalize on this by coming out with a product called “NO-RAT CAT FOOD.”

Despite the fact that it was, indeed, the only cat food guaranteed to have no rat parts, it sold terribly and was discontinued — it seemed people didn’t like to see the word “rat” on their cat food, even in the context of “Really, there are none in here!”

I mention this because I have purchased a bottle of fish oil capsules that claim to have a gelatin coating that doesn’t dissolve until the capsule reaches the lower intestine.

The claim on the label? “NO MORE FISH BURPS!”

I can’t believe I own a product that mentions something called “fish burps.”

Misogynistic Advertising of the Week

December 19, 2007

I find this repulsive. I have no problem with wanting to look good naked, or with shows dedicated to that purpose. However, all of the women here are naked and terrified, and that gross, facelifted man is fully-dressed and hideously smug. I know he’s gay, but I’m not any less repulsed. Gay men do not get a free pass to tell women to hate their bodies. Or — as is apparently the case — to pilfer clothing.

Certainly one could get across the message about looking good naked by picturing some attractive, lean, muscled men and women, perhaps the trainers who might help you look good naked. Only semi-repulsive might be an ad featuring both men and women looking terrified at the unattractiveness of their naked bodies. Also, all three of those women are way better-looking than creepy Botox-forehead-man. Maybe he needs a show called “How to Hide in Seclusion Until Your Plastic Surgery Relaxes.”

Click to enlarge: “The intelligence you require, with the beauty you desire.”
This I just find … disappointing. The Blackberry Curve? It’s … curvy? It’s both smart and beautiful, like a desirable woman you can put in your pocket and use to view miniature Excel spreadsheets? What? I think I’m more just disappointed that Blackberry thinks women don’t want to buy Blackberries, and are best used as a trope for selling Blackberries to men.

Also, E = 36-24-36^2 is just stupid. If those were your measurements, your hips would be 1,296 inches around, which is equivalent to 108 feet. Also, your hips would be 36 times greater around than your bust, which is taking the pear shape to a bit of an extreme.

Blackberry: We’re bad at math and think mini-computer-phones are like having sex!

Good work, guys.

American Apparel hates women

December 13, 2007


I’m also kind of tired of reading the Onion on the subway and having people see the back page American Apparel ad and assume that I am reading porn. A couple weeks ago I had some greased-up bridge-and-tunnel guy sitting with two friends on an otherwise totally uncrowded train see the back of my reading matter and say in a super-sleazy manner, “Well well, what are you reading?”

The Onion,” I said. And then I realized that this woman, pictured, was on the back page performing some hideous hipster contortion. She’s not even making it look easy. Or attractive. Or fun. Or like a good reason to buy leggings. I think they keep her in the basement, with only plaster reindeer for entertainment, and kept alive on a diet of PBR and ironically-purchased Hostess snack cakes.

Update from the Comments: Check out this video.

turned away from Britesmile

November 19, 2007

This morning, I got up early for my appointment at Britesmile, a teeth-whitening center. I made coffee, knowing it would be my last cup of coffee for 24-48 hours (almost certainly closer to 24, as I’d be surprised if I made it to the very low end of the recommended abstention period).

I arrived at Britesmile, filled out some paperwork (I had prepaid for the appointment online, to get a discount), and sat in the waiting room reading the copy of Bust I’d brought with me.

Eventually, I was taken to a little cubicle, put into a reclining dental chair, and ultimately visited by a cute Asian dentist-guy with great teeth and cool glasses. I almost commented that I’m sure they don’t hire ugly dentists at the 5th Avenue Britesmile.

The dentist and I had a long discussion about the coffee thing, during which he debunked my theory that, if I just had to have some coffee, iced coffee through a straw would be less staining than the hot, sipped variety. He reiterated the advice to stick to “white or clear foods and drinks.” He assured me that vodka would be fine.

Then he got to looking at my teeth. He had this object that looked like a ruler with a bunch of teeth attached to it (I could just imagine Pugsley Addams bringing the thing to geometry class), ranging in color from gross to white. The dentist looked disappointed.

Turns out my teeth were already at the whitest shade, and they just couldn’t get any whiter. (Apparently all those celebs with blindingly white teeth have veneers, also known as the fake shells you get glued to your teeth after an evil dentist has ground your real teeth down to pointy stubs).

“I’ll write a note on your paperwork, then you just take it downstairs to get a refund,” he said. And sure enough, the lady at the front desk just gave me a refund. So consider that an endorsement of the good business practices at Britesmile.

The whole experience did, however, take about two hours of my life — the longest I’ve ever spent traveling and sitting in a waiting room in order to receive a compliment.

(Insert horrible joke here about being “refused service for being white.”)

$300 richer than I’d expected to be, I celebrated with a big fuckin’ Starbucks.

Next stop: lipo clinic?

Naughty FreshDirect Copywriters

November 16, 2007

Seriously, did they think no one would notice?

“You’ll never take it in the can again”?

Maybe, actually, you’d want some hydrogenated oils for that.

I see that not all comedy writers are on strike.

(Also, it’s “the perfect complement“, not “compliment”).

How to Obtain Free Unlimited iTunes By Admitting That You Have an Addiction and are a Total Fucking Yuppie About It

November 8, 2007

I spend what some might consider an shameful amount at Starbucks, and I’m fine with that.

In fact, as I am such a frequent customer, I’ve become quite brazen in my interactions with the store — I think nothing of purchasing a beverage at one Starbucks and deciding, four blocks down the street and two Starbucks later, to enter another Starbucks* and add some milk, or use the bathroom.

*(This really only makes sense in Manhattan, with its walking culture coupled with a high Starbucks density. In fact, one of my little tricks is that, if I’m walking somewhere and want both a Starbucks egg sandwich and a drink, it’s hard to carry both while eating the sandwich, so I’ll buy the sandwich at one Starbucks, eat it over the next five blocks, and then duck into the next Starbucks for the drink. This, again, is a simple solution to a trivial life problem that applies only in Manhattan. I discovered on my last trip to Virginia that nearly all Starbucks have drive-throughs, so outside Manhattan I imagine you’d just order both at the same time and put the drink in your cup holder, and then attempt to eat your Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich while piloting your SUV).

To continue — I’ve even gone into one Starbucks to complain about a drink made at another Starbucks, and sure enough, the barista at the new Starbucks has uncomplainingly made me a replacement drink. (A note to “Mai” at the Grand Central Starbucks: “sub choco” is NOT the correct register code for a “one pump” mocha. “Sub,” as in virtually any non-Naval context, means “substitute.” A one-pump mocha is still a mocha, just somewhat less so. “Sub choco” means to substitute chocolate for espresso, resulting in a drink most of us call “chocolate milk,” which was great when I was five, but, when administered to a twenty-eight year old woman in a hurry, prompts swearing on the S train and all the way uptown on the 1 train. Mai, you’re like the bartender who assumes all your customers want to be served Shirley Temples. They do not).

In any case, I enjoy what some might call
“perfectly legal scams,” which I’ve written about in the post what happens when math teachers read the fine print, in which I obtain both unlimited thank-you network points and unlimited free phone cards via a Victoria’s Secret magazine-selling operation.

Starbucks currently has a promotion wherein purchasing a Starbucks card nets the buyer two free songs on iTunes. Now, logging into some website and entering some long code to redeem two free songs hardly seems worthwhile. But, see … I know how much Starbucks I’m likely to consume over any future period. I don’t mind paying for it in advance if I will consequently accrue a reasonable benefit.

“Why couldn’t I just buy 100 one-dollar cards, then?” I asked the lady at the register.

“Well, it’s a five dollar minimum per card,” she said.

“Great,” I replied. “I’ll take ten.”

Once the cards are purchased, one simply registers the cards on the Starbucks website (three at a time), receives an iTunes code for each card, and enters the codes into iTunes. iTunes will store the credits, to be redeemed anytime from now til February.

I have since completed this entire process … er, more than once. I’ve decided that eight cards is really the maximum a person can buy without rudely holding up the whole line for an undue amount of time.

So, my next 60 iTunes songs are free. And all I had to do was to admit the fact that I’m totally going to spend $150 on Starbucks anyway.

I like to think that Starbucks’ corporate offices know me, that they’re watching me as a sort of archetype of the Thinking Caffeine Buyer. That everyone in the marketing department wears a little bracelet: “What Will Jen Do?”

I’m hardly getting supersized on edamame

June 22, 2006

I am a little embarrassed at just how much I like McDonald’s lately.

For years (including years of veganism, years of bodybuilding, and years of snobbery, all with some overlap), I would’ve died before walking into the place.

However, they have salads. The fruit and walnut salad is delicious. It has yogurt dipping sauce, and it is often the only acceptable thing to eat in, say, the Boise airport, or even in various parts of Manhattan late at night.

The grilled chicken Caesar is an acceptable standard, and the new “Asian salad” is, of course, not very Asian, but it’s exactly the sort of faux-Asian you expect from McDonald’s (kind of like when you get a grape lollipop, you expect fake-purple-grape, and would actually be kind of weirded out if it tasted anything like actual grapes), and, by Jove, it contains toasted almonds and edamame! I ate my first one in wonder: I am eating edamame … from McDonald’s! Next I shall demand a little chevre on mixed field greens and a nice Pinot Noir (with a straw, no doubt).

The new iced coffee — also tasty, and welcome, although my attempt to order certainly went better than these people’s endless quest for a McDonald’s iced (not banana) coffee.

McD’s — for whatever cynical, profiteering, PR damage control reasons — has taken this healthy business to the point of Dr. Dean Ornish on McD’s website advising yoga for reducing stress.

However, the problem with the new healthy-McDonald’s for most people is that you might walk in wanting a salad, but the place smells like bacon double cheeseburger.

It’s like if someone opened a combination church and strip joint, and put a big sign out front that said “Save your soul!”, but inside it just smelled like pussy and Alizé.

what happens when math teachers read the fine print

January 18, 2006

So, my bank enrolled me in this “thank you points” program wherein I receive one point for every $2 spent with my signature or for every $3 spent with a PIN. In a month or two, I’ve racked up some 848 points (not sure if they’re counting online bill paying — otherwise it seems like I must have started with some kind of bonus number of points).

Anyway, to prevent scamming, the program specifies that if if you buy something and return it, the points you received will be subtracted. However, my experience with debit purchases has been that when you return something, you get your refund in cash. I can’t see how the bank would really know about it. So couldn’t I rack up points by buying things with debit and returning them?

For instance, last month I bought a $150 dress at Banana Republic and then returned it (I was going to wear it to my birthday party but then I took it home and couldn’t get it to work with a strapless bra), and was somewhat surprised to receive $150 in cash. I could buy and return a $150 dress, um … every day. I could buy the dresses three at once and then return them. Now, I have to imagine that the store would have some limit on the amount of money they’d hand someone in cash as a refund, maybe a few hundred dollars. So, three dresses it is. That’s $450 and 150 points — per day.

In just 167 days, I would have 25,000 points, which I could redeem for a 2 GB iPod Nano or a $250 student loan rebate (that’s really in the list of prizes). Hmmn.

I once had a similar idea for a (perfectly legal) scheme involving the Victoria’s Secret catalog and their free magazine offers. Oh wait, that’s stored in my email box, from six years ago (for real, yo):

How to Get an Unlimited Number of Free Phone Cards and Interesting Other Items

1. Obtain one of those Victoria’s Secret catalogues which offers free shipping and returns on orders over $100. Sign up on, and they would be happy to send them to you on a regular basis.

2. Call and order $100 worth of merchandise. Pay for it by credit card, getting free shipping. When they ask if you want to join the free magazine program, say yes. Select your two magazines. They carry over 600 titles (beauty, fitness, cooking, e-business, home repair, etc.)

3. When you receive your merchandise, return it all. The purchase price is refunded to your credit card, and, again, Victoria’s Secret pays the shipping.

4. Around the time you start receiving magazines, you will receive a card from the magazine program telling you how to cancel — or, should you forget to cancel, how to have any credit card charges refunded.

5. Call and attempt to cancel your magazines. They will offer you a free 20 minute phone card or an Entertainment book (containing, among other things, three $5 off a $25 purchase coupons to Borders) for continuing to receive your magazine, with the continued option to cancel at any time, or to have any credit card charges refunded should you forget to cancel. Select your free gift — one per magazine. (Plus, of course, free magazines).

6. Call back the next day and attempt to cancel your magazines. They will offer you a free 20 minute phone card or an Entertainment book… (etc.)

7. Repeat as necessary.

As far as I can tell, there is no limit to how many times you can call and accept a free gift in exchange for NOT cancelling your magazines. As for Victoria’s Secret, after you ordered $100 worth of stuff and returned it a couple of times, they might stop giving you free shipping, but by then you could have gotten TONS of free phone cards. Plus, if you frequently order from Victoria’s Secret anyway (as I do), then you get more magazines every time you order.

Isn’t that neat?

In my own defense, while I have called the magazine program many times to get free phone cards, I have never taken advantage of the free returns by ordering things I never meant to keep; all of my Victoria’s Secret orders were real.

UPDATE: So, I just called again and got more free phone cards. So far, the company has shown no signs of not wanting to send me an infinite number of them.

The problem with their incentive program, of course, is that it offers a material reward every time you maintain the status quo, and there are few limitations on how many times I can maintain the status quo in three months.

When I call up, they ask which magazine I’m calling about — at first, I sort of figured that they wouldn’t send me free gifts more than once for each magazine, so I would wait for the recording to name the various magazines, and select a free gift for each one. I have now realized that that is not necessary. I can select the first-listed magazine each time, and punch in the appropriate buttons before the recording-lady finishes talking, bringing the whole process down to about a minute. So, theoretically, by spending an hour on the phone — during which I could very likely do other unrelated things, like eat lunch, or actually read the magazines — I could get 60 free 20 minute phone cards, worth $5 apiece.

Maybe I should start reselling them on eBay?

Maybe I should just take this up full-time. If I found a way to resell my $5 phone cards for, say, $3, I could still make $180/hour, in exchange for agreeing to receive free magazines which I enjoy reading.

Also in theory, if I spent only one hour per day on the phone, I could get 5,400 free phone cards, with a retail value of $27,000, per magazine (I get three months per magazine to request the cards).

Working full-time over three months, I could obtain 43,200 phone cards, for 864,000 minutes of long-distance domestic calling time, with a retail value of $216,000.

If I order from Victoria’s Secret at least once every three months (and I can always order more than $100 worth of merchandise in order to get free shipping and returns, and then return it all), I can enroll in the program indefinitely.

Doing this over the course of one year, I could obtain 175,200 free phone cards, for 3,504,000 minutes of long-distance domestic calling time, with a retail value of $876,000.


some sugar in my smoking?

June 30, 2005

Yesterday I bought a coffee from a street cart and it came in one of those cups with advertising printed on it (maybe the coffee carts consequently receive the cups for free?)

I have sometimes gotten cups that were a little weird, like one with a bright blue Colgate ad, but then again, I’ve also posted here about Freshdirect’s peculiar but astute cross-marketing wherein, when you buy coffee, the bottom of the page says “Customers who bought this product also purchased: Half and Half, Crest Whitestrips.”

This cup, however, was garishly bright yellow, pictured a happy face with a cigaratte coming out of its mouth, and was an ad for an online discount cigarette outlet. I don’t want to walk around holding an ad for that! Even if it’s run by Native Americans!

It took me a minute after buying the coffee to realize just what I was holding, and it seemed too frivolous to go back and request another cup. I mean, if I had been in an actual store, I would certainly have complained.

That, of course, is one of the benefits of Starbucks or other corporate leviathans — if I don’t like my drink at Starbucks, even if only because I ordered something made with, say, caramel, and I don’t like caramel, I can go back up to the counter and tell them the drink is terrible, and they’ll toss it out and make me a new one. Your risk is absorbed. And if I want my drink in an extra-big cup, or super-insulated in two cups, or half-skim with a Santaria blessing over it, they’ll even hold back on the eye-rolling while complying.

The cigaratte cup, though … how unappetizing! What’s next? Maybe the pro-lifers could sponsor a bloody-fetus cup. How persuasive!

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