Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Judging By the Cover

"You can't judge a book by its cover," the old saying goes, though I'm pretty sure the saying dates back to before four-color printed dust jackets and back-cover reviews and sales pitches, which at least give you some indication of what's inside.

But it's not only books that have covers. All kinds of products have covers in the form of their packaging, and there are times when the packaging might actually be more important than the product inside.

Take the case of table salt. Now, I'm not going to get into a discussion of the merits of different kinds of salt, such as kosher salt and various sea salts, not because I don't think there is a difference, but because the subject of this post is simple table salt.

Or specifically, the packaging for table salt. For years and years, I fought with the familiar Morton salt canister, paperboard top to bottom with the little pull-out metal spout. Handy? Sure, until the paper separates from the spout and blocks the opening, or the spout falls off, or the kids leave a pool of water on the counter from careless dish-washing and then set the paper container right in the pool of water.

About a year or so ago, one of my local grocery chains came to my rescue, and started selling table salt in a paperboard container with a metal bottom and a plastic top. The top had a recloseable opening that formed a perfectly serviceable spout. It was beautiful, and it became the only brand of table salt that I bought.

And then, just a couple of weeks ago, they changed their branding, and they changed their packaging back to my old nemesis, the all-paperboard container with the dreaded metal spout.

I have complained, but I don't think anything will come of it. So now I am left to go searching for that wonderful packaging again, if it can even be found. I have no brand loyalty to that salt, but I am loyal to that package, even if it starts me shopping at another store.

Little things matter.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If This...

For some time now, I've been using a service called IFTTT (, which stand for: "If This, Then That." The idea is amazingly simple. You set up a trigger, the "If This" part. And if the thing happens that pulls the trigger, then that causes something else to happen, the "Then This" part. But as with so many things that seem simple, there is a lot of power lurking in this idea.

I've only scratched the surface. Up until recently, I only used it to simplify the announcements of my work. When there is a new song on SoundCloud, IFTTT generates a tweet, with the name of the track and a link. Automatically. Same for a new YouTube video, same with, for example, this blog entry.

I've also used IFTTT to tweet weekly reminders about my stories and songs. Basic stuff.

I've also installed two of their three smart phone apps, in the series they call "DO." The apps have you do something, like press a button, write a note, or snap a photo (I don't use that one—yet), and that serves as the trigger and input for some other action. A quick tweet or Facebook post, for example, or a note in Evernote. It can even send the location whence you pulled the trigger, which means you can get a map of where you were later. This has been really useful for my wife and me, as we're looking for property for the home we will, eventually, retire to.

But lately I've been thinking that my use of the service is too one-sided. I've been exploring ways that IFTTT can help send information to me. Say, when a certain search term comes up on Twitter. Then IFTTT can send me an email with a link to the tweet, and I can take a look and see if it's something that I want to retweet, or write about. It can do the same on a (so far) limited number of news sources, including NPR and the New York Times.

I might also consider using IFTTT to monitor activity on my Fiverr account, although the emails they send me might be as good or better. And that's the thing about using tools like this. It's easy to get caught up in finding ways to use such a neat tool, but you have to consider, in every case, if it's the best way to get the job done and, more important, if the job needs to be done at all.

Because as convenient as it is to have some of these things automatically happening for you, it's also too easy to get overwhelmed with information. That's why I don't "like" too many pages on Facebook, or follow too many people on Twitter, or subscribe to too many channels on YouTube. It's not that I'm not interested; it's just that it's important to focus on the things that are going to make my life and my family's life better.

So while I'm thinking of ways to use these powerful Internet tools, I also have to remind myself when it's appropriate not to use them.