The Verizon GPS Lady: Can She Tell the Future?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So my sister and I are barrelling along Route 76, heading east toward Akron. Mary's Verizon service includes a GPS set-up via which the Robot Lady not only tells us where to turn but also advises us of, say, "Congestion ahead in 6 miles." Suddenly, around 5 p.m., she pipes up, "Two-hour-and-10-minute delay ahead." No other information, no reason for the delay.

We figuratively scratch our respective heads, wondering about the possible cause, but she hadn't given a cause, just that there would be that delay in our travel. We figured there was some major problem in Akron, but Akron came and went (or, rather, we continued our brisk progress) without incident. We continued our planned route on 76, still heading east, and decided to stop for dinner in North Jackson, Ohio. It was yummy, and we returned to the car, driving a ways to get to Route 80 and then turning to head east again. Driving continued uneventfully on Route 80 until, wups! At 7:12, all traffic heading east in both lanes pulled to a halt. We sat there a bit. What the heck? Eventually, people began getting out of their cars to find out what was going on - and we learned that, about a quarter of a mile ahead of us, a semi trailer had flipped over, blocking both eastbound lanes. And we sat. Police cars eventually drove by us on the berm. The sun set. We sat. Cars and trucks eventually turned off motors. We sat. People wandered by, going to look at the truck and to see what the prognosis might be, eventually returning to report that we were in for quite a wait. I pulled out my Garmin to locate exactly where we were: past the Route 11 exit and just past the Bell Wick Road overpass.

At 8:50 p.m. a tow truck traveled up the divider between eastbound and westbound lanes. We applauded and continued to wait.

And suddenly, at 9:06 p.m., everyone turned on their lights, started their engines, and we were on our way, glancing at the semi, which was lying on its side in the left lane.

So here's the question: How the heck did the Verizon Robot Lady know that we were in for what she foresaw as a more-than-two-hour delay because of an accident that didn't happen for another couple of hours? And, given her foresight, why had her timing been off by about 15 minutes?

No, that's quibbling. Verizon can take justifiable pride in her accomplishments. Do you suppose this was a test of a new phone service: prognostication for an additional $10 a month?


Done in One

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In the midst of researching something else, I stumbled over something I'd been looking for in the back issues of Comics Buyer's Guide: the introduction of a "Done in One" icon. I thought I'd coined the term some time earlier, and I've been trying to figure out specifically when that may have been, if so, but this is a first step. Here's what I wrote in CBG #1168 (April 5, 1996):

"The idea of a Done in One icon came to me as I mulled the changes that had been wrought in comics since the Golden Age. There were serials in Golden Age comics. (For one thing, very early comics consisted of strip reprints, and many of those had ongoing continuities, of course.) However, sales led many publishers to adopt the idea that free-standing short stories produced the best results for the medium, and before long even most anthology titles featured primarily tales with their beginning, middle, and end in the same issue. Some Dell titles (Tarzan, Walt Disney's Comics and Stories, etc.) featured one back-of-the-issue serial in addition to primary content, but basically for your dime you got at least one or more complete stories.

"When the Silver Age began, it was the same situation, based on that conventional wisdom. The DC super-hero stories which, in effect, began the Silver Age, were stories that were complete in an issue. It was Stan Lee who made a magnificent sales success out of taking several issues to tell a story -- and expanding the concept to be the standard for his line of super-hero material. (And, yes, Don and Maggie decried the practice and boldly stated that trying to serialize comic books would never work.)

"Today, casual readers -- especially those new to comics -- may find it hard to locate a story they can read without having bought the preceding six issues or being obliged to buy the ensuing three. So, when we can, we plan to identify free-standing issues with the Done in One logo.

"Any publishers want to use it? Retailers for special displays? Call me; we'll talk."

Well, no one did, but the "Done in One" term itself has become common parlance. My hunt for the first time I used it will continue. And I seem to recall that the reason we gave up using the icon in our reviews is that we switched layout systems at some point and the icon (designed by Al West) never made the transition.

[And let me note, hours later, that my quest for that first-time usage continues. I've now checked editorials and my reviews column in CBG #1155 (Jan. 5, 1996)-#1167 but have found no such reference. Was it earlier? Or did I actually coin the term for this use for the first time in #1168? Sigh.]


A Month away from Blogging! Yiiii!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Apologies for the vacation; I've been hoping to become more constant in my posting -- and, of course, that trick never works.

So for today's post (and let's see whether I can pick up the pace), I take you behind the scenes of my recent book-store bargains, thereby providing a behind-the-scenes look at the sorts of thing that captures my attention. (You know how, when you go into an antiques shop, the staffer will ask you what you're looking for? I can never answer with a specific, because -- as in a used-book store -- I won't know it until I see it.)

Conkey's, a fixture in downtown Appleton, Wis., had been in business for 113 years. While the current owner still hopes to find a buyer, everything in the store is being liquidated, so I stopped by on a whim on Sept. 2, two days after the official close. Aside from the fixtures' flat pricing (I bought two tabletop items, one for a flat $2, one for $3), everything was 75% off. So -- in a store selling its stock of already-well-picked-over volumes, how could I find anything of interest?

$6.25 Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Topffer by David Kunzle, paperback, 2007. The biography (including a brief tracing of the influence Topffer had) accompanied Kunzle's collection of Topffer's strips.

$6 Harry Potter and the Order of the Court: The J.K. Rowling Copyright Case and the Question of Fair Use by Robert S. Want, paperback, 2008. It contains a lengthy discussion of what fair use is, a history of the legal actions taken leading up to the actual trial, Rowling's testimony, and the judge's decision.

$2.25 A Reconstructed Corpse by Simon Brett (Large Print Edition), jacketed hardcover, 1993. While the Charles Paris mysteries are my favorites of Brett's work, I also enjoy the Mrs. Pargeter novels.

$2 Talking Funny for Money: An Introduction to the Cartoon/Character/Looping Area of Voice-Overs by Pamela Lewis, paperback with 2 CDs, 2003. 2CDs: How could I not buy it? There's lots of solid information (even including contact info for the New York-area performers involved in the demos).

$1.75 Biblical Figures outside the Bible edited by Michael E. Stone and Theodore A. Bergen, paperback, 1998. Here are a number of scholarly essays on apocryphal tales of Adam and Eve, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Melchizedek, Joseph, and Ezekiel, among others.

$1.75 Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction Volume I: 1860-1979 by Colleen A. Barnett, paperback, 1997. Since the volume is complete in itself, I didn't need Volumes II and III (though I'd have bought them, had they been there). I'm not sure why Marlene Dietrich is on the cover; the photo doesn't seem to be sourced or explained. Nevertheless, the book is informative, and I like the notation on the dedication page: "In recognition: One hundred years ago, Anna Katherine Green published That Affair Next Door which launched Amelia Butterworth, the first female sleuth to play significant roles in three mysteries." I'm not nuts about the book's organization, in which the user needs to know the era of the character in order to locate her. (An index would have been more than handy.) Nevertheless, it's informative.

$1 Work Hard and You Shall Be Rewarded: Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire by Alan Dundes and Carl R. Pagter, paperback, 1992. I'm intrigued by urban myths and folklore in general, and here the authors take a look at a series of stories, gags, etc. perpetrated in faxed memos and the like. Some of these are, of course, now showing up in e-mails, on Facebook, etc. (I haven't done more than glance through the book at this point, but my guess is that some of the picture-plus-text material originated in greeting cards.)

Not a bad accumulation ...


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