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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/30/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 22
Table of Contents
Millennium Philcon Report:
My Millennium Philcon (Worldcon) report (including three panel write-ups by Mark) is available at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper/milphil.htm [-ecl]
National Testing and Research Center of the Consumers Union (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I have been a longtime subscriber to Consumer Reports, the magazine that tests various consumer products and reports the results. Few appliances do I buy without seeing what the Consumers Union has to say.
Evelyn noticed that they were going to have a business meeting for members followed by a tour of their testing labs. The location of the labs was not too far away, in Yonkers, New York so we decided to try it. So bright and early on Saturday morning, October 20, we set out for Yonkers, New York.
They gave instructions in the issue as to how to get to their labs. Now this is where the rubber meets the road, literally and figuratively. These guys are experts on the human use of tools and a set of driving instructions are a tool, right?
The instructions were in part a set of short phrases that should have been given in a list, but were compacted into a single sentence without being set off by commas, giving rise to a sort of run-on sentence that was difficult to read, particularly under the conditions of driving a car where snap decisions have to be made "snappedly", to coin a phrase, in the interest of the safety of their readers. I can understand why they made such a decision to save space, but they should have given us user-tested instructions.
As we arrived we pulled into the parking lot. I noticed there were a large number of Toyotas in the lot. Toyota is, of course, a car with an extremely good repair record in their magazine. I would expect that there would be some, but I was surprised by how many there were. If you have seen Hitchcock's THE BIRDS, imagine it as if he had made THE TOYOTAS instead, and that is what the lot looked like. I guess employees and subscribers do believe what they read in the reports. We parked our Toyota somewhat away from the others just in case they WERE intending to turn on humans.
As we got out of the card there were lot monitors who handed us safety rules. Apparently they were on heightened alert since the September 11 attacks. Photographic ID was required for entrance. My understanding is that 49 states actually do require a picture of the person on drivers licenses so photographic IDs are rarely a problem. The one state that has it only as an option, and makes you pay for the privilege of a picture on your license, is New Jersey where photography is considered to be a passing fad. The result is that Jersey-ites are the largest sub-category of Americans who get nervous when told that photo-ID is required. And let me tell you, it is not a good idea to start sweating when someone asks you for a photo-ID. That is why I have to fly with my passport hanging around my neck, even for domestic flights. Well the security people let us by with just a driver's license, but not before we had to return to the car for Evelyn to put her purse in the trunk. No purses.
Walking in, they have on the walls pictures of spectacular results of testing. War correspondents like to display pictures of enemy planes diving on them to show their courage in the line of duty. Consumer Reports people do much the same thing, but they have photos of things like stove fires, exploding tea-kettles, toys that we could be dropping on the enemy in Afghanistan, that sort of thing. They have display cases with steam irons that have been through major meltdowns. That is the sort of decoration they like. "See, we told you they were dangerous!!!"
We walked to their auditorium. Actually it was their lunch room which serves double duty as an auditorium. I am sure that is the sort of touch that appeals to them. On the way you see yourself walking on floorboard that are numbered. They must have been testing something. When the test is done, what are they going to do, rip up the floorboards and replace them? Maybe it is just a floor wax. "Ajax Floor Wax lasted twice as long but had a nasty tendency to explode when tread upon by visitors to the labs."
Walking into the auditorium there was a heating urn for coffee. Curiously, they do not have six brands of coffee. There was only one, and they didn't tell you what it was. I assume they give you a good brand, though I am not a coffee drinker so would not be able to judge. The room was decorated with large mounted posters of, what else, covers of Consumer Reports Magazine. Even this turned out to be useful. I saw an older issue that had information on National Parks and decided to go home and dig out the article.
I was impressed to see that before the presentation they followed their own philosophy and tested all the microphones. Science fiction conventions I go to frequently do not. They did not, however, test the name plates in front of each of the positions at the table. Once people were in the seats these tags were impossible to read from most of the audience. Their use could have been a little better consumer tested. They were probably visible only from the roped off seats. They had a section of the best seats roped off with a ribbon. These seats were for board members, senior staffers, special visitors, and lifetime members. I guess that even is consumerism there is an aristocracy.
Next week I will talk about the actual meeting. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Getting out of bed in the morning is an act of false confidence. --Jules Feiffer
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