Skip Voicemail Messages

Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 1:40 PM | Filed under ,

Last night, I tried to call my aunt Karen, and I got her voicemail. I didn't want to listen to her recorded voicemail greeting, so I pressed star to skip it. Instead of hearing the beep, however, I was instructed to enter a password. I had pressed the button used for Karen to log in to her voicemail account.

It turns out that the keys you press to skip the greeting depend on who the recipient's cell phone carrier is. Mine is Verizon, so when you call me, press star to skip the message and get right to the beep. It turns out that Karen's carrier is Cingular; I was supposed to press pound to immediately leave a message. T-Mobile also uses pound; for Sprint, press 1.

The annoying thing is that even if you could remember what button to press for each carrier, you probably won't know what carrier the recipient has. If you were to call me, reach my voicemail recording, and press pound instead of star, you would instead be prompted to enter a password. This is why one of the first things I say in my voicemail recording is, "You can press star to leave a message now." Not only does it assist people in knowing which button to press, but also teaches people that don't know already that it's possible to skip the message.

My advice is that you should include a line like mine near the beginning of your voicemail recording. You could save your callers from having to listen to some thirty seconds of redundant recordings.

Premium Mustard

Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 8:45 PM | Filed under


I'm out on the annual family camping trip. An idea I had this year, since our site has electrical hookup, was to string up lights to illuminate the tables at night. One string my aunt brought is a bunch of picnic items: watermelon, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, ketchup bottles, and mustard bottles. It's all very whimsical. It's the mustard bottles, however, that got my attention. Why does it say "Premium Mustard"? Why not just "Mustard"? Why did they deem it important to make such a distinction? My cousin and I had a good laugh about this when we were putting them up.

A Waste of Time

Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 12:02 AM | Filed under

It bothers me when people remove food from the microwave early without resetting the countdown timer. The microwave blinks the time remaining and the message "PRESS START" repeatedly as it waits idly. I'm the one who has to reset it, even if I wasn't the one using the microwave. Someone needs to manufacture self-resetting microwaves.

Use–Mention Distinction

Wednesday, July 23, 2008 at 1:25 PM | Filed under

Here's a riddle you have probably heard before:

Railroad crossing, watch out for cars.
Can you spell that without any R's?


The problem is that the riddle doesn't really work when it's written out. The problem is that there is no use–mention distinction. When in writing a word, you mean to refer to the word itself, instead of what the word means, you need to offset the word in quotation marks or italics.

The riddle at the top of this article could mean different things depending on where you put quotation marks.

"Railroad crossing, watch out for cars."
Can you spell that without any R's?


In this example, the riddle is presenting you with the words "Railroad crossing, watch out for cars." Because the "that" is not in quotation marks, it's assumed that it is referring to the first sentence, which means that the riddle is asking you to spell it without R's ("Aiload cossing, watch out fo cas") or completely redo the sentence ("Locomotives go by, be mindful of automobiles").

Railroad crossing, watch out for cars.
Can you spell "that" without any R's?


In this second example, "that" is in quotation marks, which means that you are literally asked to spell "that" without using any R's, which is very easy to do: "T‑H‑A‑T." See, this riddle really isn't very fun if it's written out.

I want to discuss one last thing. Instead of putting a word in quotation marks, you could italicize it, but I don't prefer to do this. Some people may think of it as emphasizing the word's meaning. In the last example, if you italicized "that," people might think you're emphasizing it (Spell that, sucker!).

Express Lane Grammar

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 12:49 AM | Filed under , ,

My mom, sister, and I went to Food Emporium to order a cake. Something I know I'm not the first to notice about the express checkout lines is that the signs are ungrammatical.

You aren't supposed to use the word "less" when you're talking about things that can be counted. Since the number of goods being purchased can be counted, the sign really ought to say "12 items or fewer." Actually, I think this akin to saying "eight minutes and a half"—I would prefer the sign to say "12 or fewer items."

We also went to Safeway. It seems like they try to avoid the entire "less"/"fewer" issue.

Unfortunately, this sign brings up another issue. The limit of groceries a customer can purchase is more generous, but when "15 item" is used to modify "limit", because it is more than one word, it becomes a compound modifier, and needs to be hyphenated. The sign really ought to read "15-item limit."

I suspect that sign makers who know these rules may still prefer to break them, arguing that the signs may somehow be more readable. I also suspect that most customers don't care or are far too excited about finding a 15-item-limit express lane to even notice.

Useless Camera

Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 8:58 PM

Safeway has a bunch of security cameras along the back of the store, pointing down each aisle. This particular camera is blocked by a towering cardboard display for Frito-Lay chips, probably completely obscuring the view. If you were wanting to misbehave at Safeway, now's your big chance.

Aarrghh!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 at 11:54 PM | Filed under , ,

I'm up in Bellingham, helping my aunts set up for the 2008 Red, White, and Blue Fourth of July Celebration Blast (that's what we've named our party this Friday). After it got dark and started getting stormy, we quit setting up tents and went inside to play Word Yahtzee, a game I found at Value Village a few years ago.

My aunts love to play word games like Scrabble and Upwords, so they each have a little electronic Scrabble dictionary which is also good for "cheating", so they couldn't resist pulling them out at the beginning of the game. We had to play Word Yahtzee in turns, and after a while, when it wasn't my turn, it got a little boring, so I picked up one of the electronic dictionaries and asked it to tell me all of the words of any length—in other words, to provide me with a list of every word. I went through "aa" (rough, cindery lava), "aal" (an East Indian shrub), "aalii" (a tropical tree), "aardvark", and "aardwolf". Then I came across "aarrghh"!

Understand that I was playing with the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary: apparently an authoritative dictionary of words that are acceptable for use while playing Scrabble. Who decided that "aarrghh" is an acceptable word? It's not in the online dictionaries of Merriam-Webster, Cambridge, or Oxford. Why does the Scrabble dictionary say that "aarrghh" is okay, but "whah" and "teehee" are not?