Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I Probably Won’t Forward My Previous Post to the Crayola People

Once upon a time, I was eating breakfast when I found a hair in my Frankenberry cereal.  I figured it was mine or my mom's.  Not matter.  Hairs in food don’t freak me out like they do some people, so I pulled it out and kept eating.  Then I found another.  I looked closer at my cereal.  There were several hairs floating around in the milk.  I slowly stirred, and when I lifted out my spoon, hanging there was a large, milky gob of hair.  Drip, drip, drip went the milk from the lowest hanging strand.

Even I thought this was a little gross.  I showed my mom, and we quickly figured out that the hair had been in the cereal box.  My brother, sister, and I—the passionate consumer advocates that we were—clamored for my mom to “write a letter”.  (This was back when people still did that.)  She didn’t.  I didn't blame her then, and I don't now.  And it's not that we were truly aghast; more than anything, we were just curious as to how a letter would be received by the offending company.

This next story will suck, because I don’t remember very many details.  But sometime after Frankenberry-gate, but before I left home for college, some company’s product didn’t do what I felt like it was supposed to do.  I wrote a letter.  I used to write a lot of letters, and I believed that I could change the world by doing so.  I was excited to send off my letter, and enlisted my mom’s help with mailing it.  She suggested I let my dad read it.

He read it, and suggested that maybe the company’s crime wasn’t as egregious as I thought.  Maybe their promises weren’t so explicit, and maybe my demands weren’t so reasonable, and these are the kinds of things that happen in a capitalistic society, or something like that.  I don’t remember if I still mailed it.  If I did, I’m sure I didn’t hear back.

Since I’ve been an adult, I have expressed dismay to several different companies through letters, phone calls, or emails.  Every time, my purpose is not to change the world, but to get something I want.

I called International Delight to tell them that I missed their old “screw top” caps to their creamers, and I wanted them to bring them back.  The man told me that wasn’t going to happen, but that he would send me some coupons for free creamers—maybe to give me the chance to get used to the new tops.  I thought that was nice of him.

I sent a letter to Williams-Sonoma because I felt like an employee had been rude to me when I returned an apple peeler that my wife had bought there.  I never heard back from them.

I sent an email to Scrubbing Bubbles when our automatic shower cleaner sprayer stopped working after I changed the batteries.  This had happened once before, and we had already footed the bill for a replacement.  Not this time.  Someone replied, asking if I had followed the directions for changing the batteries.  I replied that I had.  He wrote back, apologized, and told me he’d send me a coupon for a new sprayer.  The coupon had a hologram on it.  When I used it at Target, the sprayer was on sale, but the coupon scanned for the full price.  The cashier and I both noticed this.  She shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I guess you get a little more savings of your other stuff.”  That was a happy feeling.

As a regular reader of WPFF would have noticed, I was not very satisfied with my family’s experience with Crayola’s Digital Light Designer.  One thoughtful poster suggested I send my post to the Crayola people.  Maybe I will.  But probably not.  Why not?

For one, I was able to return the product for a refund, minus shipping and a re-stocking fee.  I’m not thrilled about the net loss, but such are the perils of purchasing online.  The point is, you could make a case that I already got my money back—what else would I want the Crayola people to do?  Maybe they would send me free stuff.  But I’m not sure that I deserve free stuff.  I mean, it wasn’t that their product didn’t work—it just sucked.  To me, there’s a difference.

Also, I’m not sure it would behoove the Crayola people to send me free stuff.  I’m not especially loyal to Crayola as a brand.  I don’t know if them sending me free stuff would make me any more loyal.

Also, if I knew that my sending my blog post to the Crayola people would help them make better products, maybe I would send it.  As it is, I suspect my post—with its admittedly over-the-top tone—wouldn’t be used in any useful manner.  Would one blogger’s opinion outweigh the affirmation of winning the “Innovative Toy of the Year” award?  (Not an award I was familiar with, but a win is a win.)

Finally, I think about why I am blogging in the first place.  There are three reasons.  One is “me focused,” one is “you and me focused,” and one is “you focused” (anyone else thinking “Venn diagram”?).

Me:  I am blogging to make myself write.  I’m trying to use my gifts, learn to be disciplined about it, and become a better writer.  Maybe I will become a better person, too.

You and Me:  I am blogging to connect and communicate.  Whether updating friends or connecting with strangers, it’s fun for everyone when communication happens.

You:  I am blogging to help you.  I’m so sweet, I know.  I’m not picky about how I help you.  Minimally, I know that faithful readers of WPFF become more and more adept at deciphering long and convoluted sentences that make abundant use of commas, dashes, and parentheses.  Sometimes, I try to help by giving you something to smile about in the midst of a stressful day.  Or, maybe a post or two will challenge you to ponder important-but-invisible things that are easy to forget about, things like love and justice and hope.  Maybe the words I write will inspire you.  Maybe you will change the world.

The Crayola post was “for me,” so I could practice writing.  And it was “for you” so that you could learn from my experience and perhaps derive some amusement from it.  And it was “for us,” so we can communicate.  This is how I want to change the world.

Of course I could have spent this time figuring out how to get in touch with the Crayola people and writing them a preface to my post explaining that I am not just some crackpot, but I’d rather spend it connecting with you.

I may send the post to the Crayola people.  I don't know.  I wanted to make you a priority, but maybe after I post this, connecting with the Crayola people will feel like a bigger priority.  If I end up sending my post to them, for whatever reason, you’ll be the first to know.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Toys of Summer (Winter Edition), PART 4: "Crayola Digital Light Designer"

Click here for intro and PART 1.
Click here for PART 2.
Click here for PART 3.

Crayola Digital Light Designer

[The Hungry Preacher and his family have been working hard to expunge the memory of this product from our brains.  Thus, we have destroyed all visual records of this product.  Sorry.] 

"Grab the digital stylus and get ready to draw in an amazing way—with colored, spinning lights! Drawing, special effects, animation, games, activities, and so much more—it’s hours and hours of creative fun! You can even sit back and replay your favorite creations as they appear to float in mid-air on the 360° surface. You won’t believe your eyes!"
(from Crayola Website)

It’s like drawing, but your canvas is shaped like a cone and your medium is light.

I am grateful for the CDLD, because it has given me a new appreciation for things like coal and Etch-a-Sketches that can also be used for drawing.

Buying the CDLD has also taught me that returning a product to a third-party seller through Amazon can be difficult and full of hurdles.

On the Crayola website, this product has 71 user reviews, and the average rating is 1.9 stars out of 5.  That’s actually a little misleading, because 1 star is the lowest rating you can give.

Accompanying the ratings are user comments, and I agree with most of the concerns expressed:
-It’s loud.  Probably not quite hair-dryer loud, but close.
-It’s pretty crappy that, unless you pay extra for the cord, you need 4 size-D batteries to use the thing (plus 2 size-AAA batteries in the stylus).
-It’s annoying that the dome needs to be almost completely level to be used.
-It’s cumbersome.
-It’s expensive.
-It’s hard to figure out how to use.

All of this is potentially able to be overcome, except for the small detail that
-It’s not very much fun.

No, really.  The pictures that you can draw are no more precise than something you could do on a Light Bright 30 years ago.  They are so pixelated that even using the word "pixelated" to describe them is misleading because it implies that they are still on the "spectrum of pixelation."  But to achieve even this level of precision, you have to be very exact with the stylus.  Of course, it is difficult to get the stylus to illuminate the exact spot you are going for.  It’s like when you’re at an ATM and you realize that you need to touch the screen about a centimeter above the icon you’re trying to highlight.  Now imagine that in the middle of your transaction, the touch-screen suddenly begins to accurately respond to the location of your finger.  Then it doesn't.  Then it does.  Then you realize that how the screen responds to your touch seems to be related to some combination of the angle of your finger, the duration you leave your finger on the screen, the suddenness with which your finger touches the screen, and the precision with which your finger touches the spot you are going for.  Now imagine you are six years old.  That's how much fun this product was.

The descriptions of this product on both Amazon and read like those of a realtor spinning a house that no one wants.

From Amazon:
“The Crayola Digital Light Designer lets children express their artistic side, without the mess of traditional pens.”

Traditional, like with ink wells?  OK, I guess I can see that.  But clicky pens with a little adult supervision aren’t that messy, are they?  Especially for a 6 year old (the minimum suggested age for this product), right?

“The round dome responds to the touch of a stylus to display up to seven colors, providing unlimited imaginative fun.”

Up to seven colors?  As in, “One less than the number of colors included in Crayola’s most basic box of crayons”?  Is that the seven you’re talking about?  If seven colors provides unlimited imaginative fun, why do you make a box of crayons that has 120 colors?

To be fair, a thorough study of the Crayola website reveals that boxes of crayons come in seven different sizes.  This can't be a coincidence, and it stands to reason that the type and degree of fun that can be experienced with seven colors of light is the same as that which can be experienced with 120 colors of crayons.  This handy table should help you convert how many colors of light you will need to match what you experience with crayons:

# of Crayon Colors
# of Light Colors
Predicted Experience
Unlimited, imaginative fun
Slightly limited, imaginative fun
Moderately limited, imaginative gladness
Severely limited, rote gladness
Structured, uninspired ambivalence
Highly structured, disillusioned melancholy
Mundane, bitter hopelessness

“Kids can make their drawings move with animation options or even create short movies by combining drawings.”

A few paragraphs later, Amazon tells us just how short those movies are:

"They can also create six-frame movies with the Movie Maker activity on the light dome."

Six frames?  Six?  Forget for a second that the first movie ever made (of a horse galloping, in 1878) was 16 frames.  Forget that for a second.  Is there anyone in the world who would chose the word “movie” to describe what it is you’re saying my kid can do with the Crayola Digital Light Designer?  Words have meanings.  If you want to use a word (like “movie”) to describe something that it has never before described, shouldn’t you blaze that trail in something other than an official description of a product you are trying to sell?  Is that asking a lot?

"The dome also features eight engaging activities and games to keep kids entertained."

I can’t really address this, because we didn’t make it to all eight.  After about three, we realized we were neither engaged nor entertained.  We were mostly bored and confused.  I don’t want to think about what would have happened if we’d tried all eight.

In summary, if my kid had been born in the 1910’s and time-traveled to the present, maybe she would be completely engaged with this product.  Maybe then she would “sit back and replay her favorite creations as they appear to float in mid-air on the 360° surface.”  Maybe then she “wouldn’t believe her eyes.”  But for non-time-traveling 6-year-olds and 39-year-olds living in 2013, the messages our eyes sent to our brains regarding this product were very, very believable.  On the other hand, that a 6-year-old kid living in 2013 with $60 to spend (or have spent on his behalf) would be intelligent and patient enough to learn how to use this product, but still be inexperienced enough in his use of electronics to be fascinated for hours and hours with all that this product can do?  If I saw that, it’s fair to say “I wouldn’t believe my eyes.”

1 star out of 5

Thus we conclude "The Toys of Summer, (WINTER EDITION)."  Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back in a few days when I will arrange letters and words in an entirely new way, thereby communicating thoughts that have never before been communicated by another human being.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Toys of Summer (Winter Edition), PART 3: "Blobimals"

Click here for intro and PART 1.
Click here for PART 2.


[see below]

Very few people are saying anything about Blobimals.  Even the Blobimals website doesn’t offer an entry-level description of the product.  Instead, the website invites you to enter the world of the Blobimals, and I can’t find any place where they “break character” for Blobimal novices (“Blobimalices”?) and say, “OK, so here’s what a Blobimal is…”  Same for the Blobimal Facebook page.

While it’s hardly an official product description, a writer at squidoo has this to say:

"Blobimals; my guess is that they'll be this year's hot playground toy this autumn/fall term… Blobimals are really easy to make.
1. Simply pop open the tub, and take out all the bits.
2. Start shaping your monster's body in the squishy putty and when it's done, place it on a clean, flat surface.
3. Stick your monster's feet, arms, horns, eyes, and mouth into the putty body - wherever they look cool!
4. Admire your monster creation, and take a photo for your friends.
5. Pull off those monster limbs and face, squash that monster body, and start all over again, to create a brand new monster every time!
6. Or, leave your Blobimal overnight to melt into a pool of monster slime - yucky!
Blobimals are available in three varieties: a one-eyed toothy green monster, a two eyed fanged monster, and a three eyed spikey red version."

You get a ball of clay that seems like a cross between Play-doh and Silly Putty.  Shape it into a monster.  Add the accessories.  Check back later and find your monster melted into a puddle.

I’m a sucker for things that do what they’re supposed to do.  Once, Beth and I saw some ad that was bragging about how this fancy new vacuum cleaner sucked up dirt.  And I said to Beth, “Sucking up things is what makes something a vacuum!  If it doesn’t do that, it’s not a vacuum!  By definition!”  She told me I was so cute.

And while I have lived long enough not to be shocked when a product doesn’t work exactly as advertised, at the same time I am especially satisfied when it does.  Would Blominals provide that level of satisfaction?  Could a putty really be firm enough to mold but soft enough to melt into a puddle?

Even though we bought it as last-minute stocking stuffer and didn’t have a lot riding on its functionality, we still hoped.  At first, the clay was a little firm.  We softened it up.  The girls sculpted their monsters, then accessorized.

These pics are recent—not taken from that first day—but they are a fair representation of “take one”.

Yes, they melt.  We were all pretty delirious, though none of us fully understood it.  But they didn’t promise we'd understand it.  They promised “mold and melt,” and on that basis, I offer my highest compliment: “The functionality of Blobimals exceeds even my greatest hopes for a product making these particular claims.”

With the passing of time (and half-lifes?), the Blominal clay has become more liquidy and harder to shape.  The re-uses may be finite in number.

It would have been nice to get just a little bit more clay to work with.  I suspect that in the very near future, we will combine the blobs of clay and make large monster sculptors a few times before we dispose of the Blobimal clay.

I think we paid $6, which seems a little bit high.  I don’t know what the ingredients are, so maybe $6 is a bargain.  And, like I’ve said, the product does what it’s supposed to do, so I can’t fault them too much for trying to make some cash off of their invention.

5 stars out of 5
To borrow an old slogan from the Army, this product is all that it can be.  I respect that.  The PROS are significant, and the CONS are nitpicky.  Consider it stamped with The Hungry Preacher’s seal of approval.

Next up:
Crayola Digital Light Designer