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I’m a freelance interactive content strategist and copywriter in Austin, TX. See my work here.

I post about whatever geeky stuff interests me. Sometimes I post funny stuff that I make up. About once a week I post videos of my cat Yeti ignoring me. I welcome reader suggestions and feedback. I seldom get any.

Oh, yeah. I’m also the recording artist currently known as ManChildATX.

Thursday
Dec182014

New Study on Teen Smoking Defies Warnings of Harm Reduction Foes

Nicotine molecule (not to scale)A federal study on teen smoking rates shows e-cigarette use among teens has surpassed their use of traditional cigarette smoking, and that the number of teen tobacco smokers continues to fall. This should be good news.

But wait. Nicotine prohibitionists who oppose harm reduction efforts tell us that as more teens try e-cigarettes, many of them will use them as a “gateway” to the traditional, vastly more harmful tobacco kind. 

The lede in the New York Times story about the study explains (emphasis mine), “A new federal survey has found that e-cigarette use among teenagers has surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes as smoking has continued to decline. Health advocates say the trend for e-cigarette use is dangerous because it is making smoking seem normal again. They also worry it could lead to an increase in tobacco smoking, though the new data do not show that.”

And, “E-cigarettes have split the public health world, with some experts arguing that they are the best hope in generations for the 18 percent of Americans who still smoke to quit. Others say that people are using them not to quit but to keep smoking, and that they could become a gateway for young people to take up real cigarettes.But that does not seem to be happening, at least so far.”

O, cursed data! How you confound knee-jerk, unsupported naysayer theories! And those stupid teens! Why are they resisting going through the gateway? Maybe it’s because unlike e-cigarettes:

Cigarettes taste bad
Cigarettes make you cough
Cigarettes make your hair stink
Cigarettes make your clothes stink
Cigarettes make your breath stink 
Cigarettes are way harder to hide from your mom (see stink items)
Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and thus cost more
Cigarettes are known by everyone as a reliable way to destroy your health and give you cancer 

All of these things nudge teens who are going to experiment with nicotine (like, probably all of them) to do so with e-cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes. 

Harm reduction foe: But then, just as with traditional cigarettes, a subset of teens who experiment with e-cigarettes will become hooked on nicotine!

Me: Riiiight, so? 

Harm reduction foe: All addiction is bad-wrong. Say, might you have a cup of coffee by chance? I need a little pick-me-up.

Me: Sure. Here’s a cup. 

For more of this kind of ranting, read my three-part screed, Nicotine Is a Great Fucking Drug: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

NYT: E-Cigarettes Top Smoking Among Youths, Study Says

 

Thursday
Dec112014

Latest rejected letter to the editors of People Magazine

Dear People Editor of People:

I am writing about your issue with “Bil Cobsy: Is He Really a Raper?” on the cover. Bil Cobsy was a famous entertaner with a big TV show. Now he stands accursed of drugging and raping women over periods of time.

I have give it a lot of thought about the question “Bil Cobsy: Is He Really a Raper?” Can not we give him the buffet of the doubt? Can not we say, “OK, yeah, maybe he raped those women, but he didn’t mean to drug them?” Or, “OK, yeah, maybe he druggded those women, but he didn’t mean to rape them. He fell.”

Let’s be fair. Here.

Sincerely and for fairness,
Viddra Chirm Yedalla

 

Monday
Dec082014

My cat Yeti declines statement about meaning of the word "state"

Wednesday
Dec032014

Nicotine Is a Great Fucking Drug, Part 3: Where's the Harm in Harm Reduction?

 

This post, the third and final installment in a series, is in response to a remarkable New York Times article called, “A Lesser Warning? Maybe,” about the efforts of Swedish Match (SM) to get the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a warning label for SM’s snus tobacco product that states it is less harmful than cigarettes, a move toward social harm reduction I am thoroughly in favor of.

I hereby nominate Hon Lik for the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Hon who?

Hon Lik is the Chinese pharmacist generally credited as the inventor of the modern e-cigarette. Hon was a former smoker himself and his father died of emphysema caused by smoking.

Cigarette smoking, by far the most common form of nicotine consumption, imposes enormous costs on every society where it is present, which is most of the societies in the world. And when I say enormous costs, I mean real money. Huge healthcare resources are devoted to treating smoking-related illnesses. Not to mention the loss of productivity due to those illnesses. Not to mention the personal grief of everyone who loses a loved one to smoking-related disease.

If there was a worldwide movement (led by the World Health Organization, perhaps), to move nicotine users from traditional cigarettes to Hon’s e-cigarettes, enormous benefits would ensue, almost instantly. Such a move would deliver the single greatest positive impact to world health—ever. Because, again, the problem is not that billions of people are addicted to nicotine. The problem is that most of them get their nicotine from the most harmful nicotine delivery mode available—cigarettes.

Promoting an activity that carries less risk over a similar activity that carries more risk is called harm reduction. E-cigarettes and tobacco-based snus are considered modes of harm reduction for nicotine consumption because, while not adequately studied yet and not risk free, they are, with a near certainty, far less risky than cigarettes, and the relative risks are probably not even close.

Yet, there are plenty of health advocates who want to see these products banned (along with cigarettes and all tobacco other products), or want them to be sold with warnings as stringent as those on cigarettes, along with tax levies that equally discourage their use.

So, according to these public health advocates, what’s the harm in harm reduction? Their arguments will probably be familiar to you:

  1. Addiction = bad

  2. Any activity that is less harmful will get more people to try it than an equivalent activity that is more harmful

  3. Anything pleasurable that is less harmful will always be a “gateway” to something similarly pleasurable but more harmful

These three tired arguments potentially stand in the way of a solution to what for decades has been an intractable health problem, a problem that is still growing rapidly in the developing world. Let’s call bullshit on each of these in turn, shall we?

Addiction = bad. Really? Have you been to a Starbuck’s near a high school recently? You’ll see a lot of minors there who are addicted to caffeine. In fact, underage kids can and do buy energy drinks laced with loads of the stuff. And I’m not aware of any age restriction on the purchase of any form of caffeine, even caffeine pills like No-Doz.

Personally, my addiction to caffeine is way more acute than my addiction to nicotine. By that I mean when I don’t have coffee in the morning, by the afternoon I have a wicked headache. Honestly, more than any other reason, avoiding that headache is why I drink coffee every morning. And it is very easy for me to overdose on caffeine by drinking a littl too much coffee, making me feel terrible—itchy, twitchy and ready to pull my skin off. I don’t have these problem with nicotine.

This all just goes to say that we’re irrationally selective in applying the addiction = bad argument. Alcohol is the other primary example. We know for a certainty that a huge amount of alcoholic beverages are consumed by alcoholics (i.e., alcohol addicts), at a huge cost to our societies. We’ve accepted the use of many addictive substances for centuries. People love ‘em, and they are gonna have ‘em.

The reasons for this kind of hypocrisy are way too convoluted for me to explore here. Suffice it to say that while acknowledging that nicotine is wickedly addictive, we must also acknowledge that modes of delivery aside, other wickedly addictive psychoactive substances are far more dangerous in an of themselves, and far more readily tolerated. So saying nicotine is bad simply because it’s addictive holds no water.

Let’s de-bullshit the second argument, that any activity that is less harmful will get more people to try it than an equivalent activity that is more harmful. Now, I could poke logical holes in that argument. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll wave the white flag and say, OK, you got me. Let’s assume it’s 100% true that making nicotine products with vastly reduced risks equally as accessible as cigarettes will get more people to experiment with nicotine, and get more people addicted.

My response to that is, So what? If we don’t care that people get hooked on caffeine, why do we care that they get hooked on nicotine—a drug enjoyed by billions over centuries—provided they consume their nicotine in a way that carries the least amount of risk to themselves and our public health systems?

Well, that brings us to the third bullshit argument: Anything pleasurable that is less harmful will always be a “gateway” to something similarly pleasurable but more harmful.

This is bullshit for many reasons. It has been proven false with illicit recreational drugs. The vast majority of people who try marijuana never try hard drugs. The vast majority of people who become regular users of marijuana don’t become regular users of hard drugs. On its face, there is simply no logical or statistical support for this argument.

Secondly, why would someone who gets hooked on nicotine through snus or e-cigarettes have any motivation whatsoever to switch to conventional cigarettes? Having used all three products, I can attest that cigarettes are far more noxious than the other two, without conferring significant advantages over them. This rationale for the gateway argument chases its own tail.

Think about it. The anti harm reduction folks say that if we openly acknowledge that some nicotine products are less risky than others, more people will try nicotine via those less risky products. So, why, if they come to enjoy nicotine and develop a dependence on it via those less risky products, would they switch to the more risky mode of consumption that inhibited them from trying it in the first place? Does that make any sense? Anyone? I drink about 16 ounces of coffee every day. It does the job for me. I have never once been tempted to crush up and snort a couple of No-Doz.

However, there are policies that could make this “gateway” argument more true. And, ironically, these self-fulfilling policies are being advocated by the anti harm reduction, absolute nicotine prohibitionists. Those policies would impose stringent restrictions and levies on less harmful forms of nicotine that are equivalent to those imposed on cigarettes.

Get it? If you say they are all equally bad, you remove any inhibition to move from a less harmful kind to a more harmful kind. And if you tax less harmful and more harmful forms equivalently, you also remove or weaken any financial inhibition against moving to the more harmful form.

I sincerely believe that what policy makers worldwide should do is to privilege demonstrably less harmful forms of nicotine consumption over more harmful forms. Raise taxes on cigarettes sky high and allow snus and e-cigarettes to carry warning labels that stress that while they are addictive and not harmless, they are far less harmful than regular cigarettes.  

And while they are at it, they should give Hon Lik the Nobel Prize.

Thanks for reading. You may also want to read Why Anti-Smoking Groups Should Endorse Snus and E-Cigarettes, an article on Forbes.com by Sally Satel. It was published three days ago, but I only discovered it this morning, and I haven’t read it yet, because I didn’t want her arguments to color mine, though I assume many are similar. I plan on reading it now.

 

Tuesday
Dec022014

Nicotine Is a Great Fucking Drug, Part 2: It's All in the Delivery

There’s an analogy here. 

This post, the second in a series, is in response to a remarkable New York Times article called, “A Lesser Warning? Maybe,” about the efforts of Swedish Match (SM) to get the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a warning label for SM’s snus tobacco product that states it is less harmful than cigarettes, a move toward social harm reduction I am thoroughly in favor of.

For millennia, indigenous people in South America have chewed coca leaf preparations. To this day, its use is widespread—and legal—in many parts of South America. Coca leaf contains small  amounts (well under 1%) of the psychoactive substance that, in its highly refined state, we know as cocaine.

But chewing coca leaves is a very different proposition from using cocaine. First of all, while snorting it can deliver the full potency of cocaine within 15 minutes, chewed coca takes much, much longer—as much as three hours—to deliver the full effect of its much lower potency.

Second, the effects are much different. Coca leaf provides a mild stimulant buzz, and has analgesic and appetite suppressant effects. I’ve read speculation that it was a key factor enabling indigenous people in the Andes to survive a life of hard toil and poor nutrition while breathing the thin air of a high altitude environment. Supposedly (I’m relying on Wikipedia here), when a longtime user stops chewing coca, he doesn’t even go through withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, cocaine almost instantly delivers a strong brain buzz, and, as is widely known, turns people into amoral gibbering idiots. And it is notoriously addictive, while at the same time creating a tolerance in users that forces them to use more and more to achieve the same effect.

Finally, by my rough calculations, it takes 1000 grams (1 kilo) of coca leaf to make 1 gram of cocaine.

So, coca leaf versus cocaine. A relatively benign application of a naturally occurring stimulant, versus a perverse, life-wrecking unnaturally concentrated use of the same substance.

Where am I going with this?

Cigarettes are to tobacco as cocaine is to coca leaves.

Though, granted, tobacco in its more naturally consumed forms was already more toxic than coca leaves. Though tobacco use was widespread for centuries before cigarettes, people knew that it made some users unhealthy, and even killed them. Still, over those many generations, the vast majority of tobacco users achieved moderate effects from moderate use, at minimal risk.

Then cigarettes changed everything for the worse. They did this mainly by combining two factors: first, they provided a faster, stronger jolt of nicotine than any other popular form of tobacco; and, second, they greatly concentrated the most harmful and addictive aspects of smoking tobacco.

Prior to cigarettes, most tobacco smokers didn’t inhale tobacco smoke; nicotine was absorbed through the mucous membranes in the mouth (as it is with smokeless tobacco). That changed with cigarettes.

Aside from non-lethal doses of nicotine, cigarette smokers inhale the deadly byproducts of tobacco combustion, which contribute to human mortality in a variety of ways. Furthermore, to increase the appeal and sales of cigarettes, tobacco companies used processes and additives that reduced the harshness, but not the lethality, of tobacco smoke. So users could smoke more cigarettes and get more nicotine—while also exposing themselves to much, much more toxicity and risk.

Like cocaine, cigarettes are a perversion of a naturally occurring psychoactive compound that had been used for centuries by millions of humans. In the case of tobacco, while health risks were not unknown, users balanced those relatively low risks with the enjoyment they got from nicotine.

Now, as exemplified by the Swedish Match effort described in the Times article, some are arguing that it’s time to stop trying to prevent humans who want nicotine from getting it. Rather, they say, it’s time to recognize that people who want it will get it no matter what, and that the best way to counter the horrible individual and societal effects of smoking is to privilege less harmful methods of tobacco delivery.

Swedish Match wants the right to say on their packaging that their snus smokeless tobacco product is less harmful than cigarette smoking, which it undoubtedly is. The testing that has been done to date (which pretty much everyone admits is not sufficient) seems to show that it is much less harmful than American-style smokeless tobacco.

But here’s something else I learned from the Times article. We’ve all heard how dangerous American smokeless tobacco is, about how it greatly increases the risk of oral cancers. What we haven’t heard (or at least I hadn’t), is that the risk of oral cancer from using smokeless tobacco is half of that from smoking cigarettes.

That’s right. Cigarette smokers get oral cancer at twice the rate smokeless tobacco users do. Want to immediately cut the incidence of oral cancer in the U.S. in half? Create strong incentives for smokers to start dipping snuff. Yes, they will be twice as likely as non-tobacco users to develop oral cancer, but they will be half as likely as cigarette smokers. Not to mention they will completely eliminate the risks associated with inhaling the other, non-cancer causing lethal byproducts of combustion, like those that cause emphysema and cardio-obstructive pulmonary disease, by which cigarettes kill more people than cancer.

Now back to snus. Snus is made in a way that actually reduces nitrosamines, the heavily carcinogenic compounds in tobacco. So it’s even less risky than smokeless tobacco. (By the way, I’m not advocating the use of American-style smokeless tobacco. First, it’s a disgusting habit that’s really tough to kick. Second, it carries other risks, like damage to the teeth and gums. Third, as discussed, there are less harmful alternatives.)

Finally, there are e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes dispense with tobacco entirely. Instead, they vaporize small amounts of pure nicotine suspended in common liquid food additives that most of us consume every day. Again, the research on the negative health effects of e-cigarettes is preliminary. What are the long-term health effects of inhaling tiny amounts of glycerin vapor? We don’t know. But based on present knowledge, e-cigarettes almost certainly carry much, much less lower risk than any form of tobacco, even snus.

For many (not all) people, nicotine is a great fucking drug. Decades of experience have proven societies that concentrate their efforts on getting people to stop using it in any form are on a fool’s errand.

And, as I hope I’ve shown, there are much, much less harmful ways that people can consume nicotine. Still, many in the public health community argue that reducing the harm of tobacco is, in itself, harmful.

I’ll explain why they are full of shit in the final installment.

 

Monday
Dec012014

Nicotine Is a Great Fucking Drug, Part 1: 50,000,000 Schizophrenics Can't Be Wrong

 

This post is in response to a remarkable New York Times article called, “A Lesser Warning? Maybe,” about the efforts of Swedish Match (SM) to get the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a warning label for SM’s snus tobacco product that states it is less harmful than cigarettes, a move toward social harm reduction I am thoroughly in favor of.

I started smoking cigarettes in high school, sneaking them when I could. Of course my mom knew, because I stank like cigarettes, but she merely chose to look wounded and remain silent. Better cigarettes than something else, she might’ve thought, though, of course, I was doing a couple of something elses, too.

For my part, I knew that cigarettes were made for me, and that as soon as I left home for college, I would become a full-time smoker, which I did, in short order.

Did I know cigarettes were harmful, even deadly? Of course I did. Even if I hadn’t been aware of all the warnings and evidence that smoking was harmful, almost every pack-a-day smoker soon learns that cigarettes can make you feel like shit, even as you crave them.

Eventually, after many episodes of quitting—some many years long—and then relapsing to cigarettes again, my body quit for me. No matter how much I cut back, every cigarette made me feel terrible, and I started getting recurrent bouts of bronchitis. At that point, quitting smoking was easy.

In fact, every time I quit smoking it was easy, because every time I had reached a point where I hated it.

So why did I keep going back? For the same reason that a few years ago I used a couple of newly available forms of smokeless tobacco and am now a confirmed e-cigarette user: because nicotine is a great fucking drug. Even though I hated cigarettes, I never fell out of love with nicotine.

To me, this is a simple and obvious reality that can’t be ignored in the battle against tobacco related diseases. Once Europeans started obtaining tobacco from the New World, they had a hit trading commodity on their hands. According to Charles C. Mann in his book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, tobacco was enthusiastically adopted by societies and cultures all over the world in less than a century.

And here’s the thing: not a single culture or society that has adopted tobacco has dis-adopted it. Why?

It’s the nicotine, stupid.

By the time Europeans learned about it, tobacco had spent centuries evolving to maximize its survival. And it did that by exploiting a chemical it contained: nicotine. Nicotine fits in certain human brain receptors like a key in a lock. For some people, putting this key in those locks makes our brains very happy, and we get addicted.

Ooh, addiction. Isn’t that bad? The answer is, it depends. The clue as to why is in this quote in the NYT’s story (emphasis mine): “Mitchell Zeller, who heads the Center for Tobacco Products—the F.D.A. agency that will rule on the Swedish Match application — has said that what kills smokers is combustion, not nicotine.”

Yeah, nicotine is addictive, but, at the doses consumed by tobacco users, it is not a health threat (like alcohol and caffeine, it is utterly toxic at certain doses). Furthermore, nicotine confers benefits to its users, which is the sole reason people consume it, no matter what form they consume it in, or what they claim are the reasons for their tobacco use.

Those people who say they don’t smoke cigarettes or cigars for the nicotine, but simply for the enjoyment of smoking? I believe that those people believe it. But I also believe they have been totally deluded by their subconscious.

Because the idea that anyone would consume tobacco for any other reason than to get nicotine into their bloodstream is bullshit.

As with alcoholic beverages and caffeinated drinks, two other psychoactive-containing substances that humans consume, nicotine has to work hard to convince our brains to continue using the product that contains it. Does anyone love their first taste of beer? Coffee? Does anyone find their first cigarette entirely pleasant? I’m sure some contrarians would say yes, but if there truly are such people, I’d assert they are rare exceptions. To some degree, alcoholic beverages, caffeinated drinks and tobacco products are noxious to first-time users. So why do we get hooked?

For most of us, I believe what happens is that our brains hoodwink us into becoming habitual users of these products that contain the substances they want more of. After a while, beer and coffee start to taste good, or at least their consumption seems to confer some aesthetic pleasure.

Why? Because our brain tricks us into associating the pleasure we get from alcohol and caffeine with the consumption of whatever product it is that delivers those substances to our brain receptors. Same with cigarettes and nicotine.

Back to the benefits of nicotine. Does it make me feel more relaxed? Check. Does it make me feel more alert? Check. To what extent does it do these? Very hard to quantify. The effect is ephemeral in the extreme. I just know that I’m happier when I have nicotine available when I want it—and I sometimes go for hours at a time without taking a puff of my e-cig, or even thinking about it—and that I never stop missing it when it’s not available.

When I started experimenting with less harmful ways of consuming tobacco, I was way, way past any physical addiction. I’d been off the smokes for years. But I still experienced moments where I “wanted a cigarette.”

That seemed totally counterintuitive. I had reached the point where smoking even one cigarette literally made me sick. There was never even a question that I would go back to smoking. No way. So what made me think I still wanted “a cigarette?”

The locks in my brain that were crying out to be opened by the nicotine key. And my subconscious brain knew that cigarettes delivered that key.

That’s when my conscious brain realized that my problem was not nicotine, my problem was how I was getting it.

As to the sub-title of this post, it refers to the fact that there are approximately 51 million schizophrenics in the world, and they are far more likely to be addicted to nicotine than the general population, and, on average, they consume vastly more nicotine than nicotine users who aren’t schizophrenic. Here’s what Schizophrenia.com, a non-profit online information clearinghouse, has to say (emphases mine):

Research during the past decade has revealed that nicotine is an especially addictive substance for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Approximately 85% of people who have schizophrenia are also heavy cigarette smokers (and 60% to 70% of people with bipolar disorder) and they smoke two to three times as much as an average smoker.

“In patients with schizophrenia, cigarette smoking is probably the single most important risk factor for developing pulmonary disease, including asthma… and lung cancer,” stated Clinical Psychiatry journal (April, 2005). Experts estimate that smoking kills 200,000 mentally ill people per year.

Research now suggests that people with brain disorders smoke at a high rate partly because nicotine reduces some of the cognitive dysfunction that is a common symptom. In fact researchers are now working to identify and develop nicotine-like drugs they hope will provide even more relief but without the addiction and negative health impacts of cigarette smoking.

Schizophrenics are drawn to nicotine because it makes them feel better. Clearly, the problem here is not the nicotine—it’s the mode of delivery. That’s what I’ll write about in the next installment, whenever I write the next installment.

 

Friday
Nov212014

My cat Yeti not down with Uber's rumored cat slaughtering policy

Tuesday
Nov182014

Uber exec helps further define the brand

Buzzfeed: Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt on Journalists

Homeboy goes off at a swank, supposedly private dinner in New York, except no one told the BuzzFeed journalist in attendance—whose under table engorgement must’ve been considerable—that the dinner was off the record. 

In September I asked if Uber’s corporate tactics make it a big bully. 

Now it seems more like a psycho stalker. 

Tuesday
Nov182014

Selling Obsolescence: The Jitterbug Cellphone

Click for large print version you can see without your readers

I love these ads for the Jitterbug, like this one from the back cover of the NYT Book Review. They are pitched at aging boomers who find modern cellphones too complicated, hard to see and confusing to use.

Though it’s difficult to make out in the photo, the Jitterbug is nothing more than a Samsung flip phone. It’s the kind of phone that wireless carriers used to give you for free when you signed a two-year contract—like, about 10 years ago.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any product whose main selling point is that it is LESS capable than the competition. 

I love the headline—who are all these poor older folks tethered to phones they hate?

Also great are the potential objections used as bullet points in the copy: “I tried my sister’s cellphone… I couldn’t hear it.”

You can just hear the naggy, whiny tone of voice in these statements: “I had to get my son to program it.” “I’ll be paying for minutes I’ll never use!”

Not that these aren’t valid concerns for anyone to have, but reading the fine print, you could certainly argue that Jitterbug customers are paying more for less.

Fascinating business model.

Friday
Nov142014

Lolcat pundit explains the Democratic drubbing in mid-term elections

As good as any explanations I’ve heard:








Thursday
Nov132014

How to contact Ploom customer service about your Pax (hint: don't call me)

In the past couple of days I’ve received two phone calls from complete strangers seeking to contact Ploom, the company that makes the wonderful Pax vaporizer. Dudes, wrong number.

Ploom has FANTASTIC CUSTOMER SERVICE, but, like a lot of other online businesses, they do not offer a direct number for phone support. The two people who called me looked in vain on Ploom.com for a number to reach them. Failing to find one, they checked their search results and found my site, which up until this morning listed my phone number. I don’t exactly understand why they thought calling me would help them get in touch with Ploom, but I nevertheless had pleasant conversations with both callers, and assured them that if they got in touch with Ploom through the channels the company provides, they’d get a prompt response.

You can talk to a member of the “Ploominati” on the phone, but you have to arrange for them to call you by submitting a customer service request and setting an appointment.

But I’ve had wonderful luck getting help from them through both their online service request form and their online chat function. I recommend you do the same. 

But first, visit the Pax Vapor Tips & Getting Started page.
 

It will probably help you solve your problem without needing to contact Ploom. If not, you will find the “Start a Chat” link in the lower left hand corner. Chat services are available 11am-4pm Pacific time. If chat is not available, use the link below to submit an email requesting help. 

Ploom Online Service Request Form

Saturday
Nov082014

My cat Yeti can hear Fun Fun Fun Fest just fine, thanks

Friday
Nov072014

Get bowled over by Serial, a gripping new non-fiction podcast

 

Adnan Syed is serving a life sentence in a Maryland prison, convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, while both of them were teenagers in high school, in 1999. Syed has steadfastly maintained his innocence from the very beginning. He was convicted largely on the testimony of an acquaintance who claimed that he helped Syed dispose of the body. Did Syed really do it? Will a thorough reexamination of the evidence exonerate him or validate his conviction? That is the premise of Serial, a new weekly podcast from the makers of This American Life.

Serial is already the number one podcast in the country. It is insanely compelling. Producer and host Sarah Koenig says that each season of Serial will cover one non-fiction story, with as many weekly episodes as needed to cover it. And that’s part of what is so compelling about it. Not only do listeners not know where the story will end, neither does Koenig. The whole thing could end up as much of an ambiguous muddle as it was when the Serial team’s investigation started.

You can listen to episode 1 right here. Visit the Serial site to subscribe. And enjoy it while it’s free, because I have a very strong feeling Season 1 is our l’il taste. Serial is so good, I would pay to get more of it, and I suspect Season 2 will be offered under some kind of paid model.

 

 

Thursday
Nov062014

Need money for life's essentials? Download DoFor!

Tired of complaining that you work your ass off, but still don’t have enough money for decent food, shelter and clothing?

Meet DoFor! DoFor! is the revolutionary app for our times.

Even with full time employment, lots of us—well, lots of you—are still just barely hanging on.

The unique DoFor! algorithm is driven by the latest income inequality statistics. With DoFor! you can find people near you who are willing to give you cash for doing the things they just don’t want to. Like spending quality time with their model girlfriends. Driving their Maseratis so the engines stay lubed. Tasting their gourmet food for off notes that may (but probably don’t) indicate poison. Or even polishing their gold.

Just open the app, tap the map, and within minutes you’ll be matched with a CashTasker near you. But hurry! Whichever DoFor! gets there first gets the work—and the money!

Worry less about being evicted, malnourishing your children, walking with holes in your shoes, or going without heat in the winter—download DoFor! today!

 

Thursday
Nov062014

Got more money than time? Download DoFor!

Are you tired of complaining that you have more money than you need, but not enough time to wipe your own ass? Well, now you don’t have to complain! Or wipe your own ass, for that matter!

Meet DoFor! DoFor! is the revolutionary app for our times.

You’ve got plenty of money, it’s just that you don’t have enough time to enjoy the finer things in life, much less the drudgery of everyday living, like cleaning your house, shopping for groceries, nurturing your children, or, well, wiping your own ass.

The unique DoFor! algorithm is powered by up-to-the-minute income inequality statistics. With DoFor! you can find people near you who need cash and are willing to “DoFor!” it. Just open the app, tap the map, and within minutes you’ll have a DoFor at your door, and at your command.

We carefully vet all of our DoFors, so you’ll know you’ll get someone who knows how to step-and-fetch-it, pronto! To sign up, all DoFors must show proof of full time employment, a pay stub proving they make less than $100,000 per year, and a breakdown of annual expenses proving they are just barely hanging on.

You may wonder, how do our DoFors have the time to DoFor! you? They need the money, so they make the time!

Download DoFor!, and never wash your car, pay your bills, stand in line at the DMV, buy gifts for your spouse, give blood, clean your toilets—or wipe your own ass—again!

 

Monday
Nov032014

ManChildATX (hearts) Tribeza Magazine

SWEET! Thanks for helping me get the word out about the new ManChildATX record, Tribeza! You are my best friend!


Thursday
Oct302014

Halloween posts from my neighborhood listserv

HEELo nAYBOSR! DOES ANyONE HAVE A BLACK cAT BILLY CAN BORRO FOR HOWWOLEEN? HE WILL RETORN IT IN GoD CONDITION OR GET RID OF IT FOR YOU. YOUR CHOICE LEt ME KOW!!!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE

Fellow Ashtown Heights residents: Not trying to be alarmist, but just a reminder that every year thousands and thousands of children die right here in our neighborhood from gluten-laced Halloween candy. As an alternative, consider bringing your kids to the Fall Earth Spirits party at the Ashtown Heights Preschool Child Potential Center on Ashtown Way, where we will be handing out natural organic treats, such as red apple slices. Oh, and also, green apple slices. Yours in shielding children from real world experiences.—Ms. Srisatva, Preschool Director.

OK, NAYBORSS! I GIT IT! BILLY WILL RETURN thE BLaCK CAT WITHER YO WAnT IT BAC OR NO. i BET MOST OF YOU HATER S DoNT’ EVEN HAVE A BLACK CAT SO WHAT DO yOU CARE NOSEY PARKERs!!!!!!?????—BERtHA ON HOLMES AVE

This is my annual reminder to neighborhood parents that just because tomorrow night all of my exterior lights will be off, my house will be utterly devoid of any exterior holiday-themed decorations, my shades drawn and my house completely dark inside except for the glow of my TV DOES NOT mean I am running a Halloween “spook house.” And not to reopen old wounds, so to speak, but I’d remind everyone that I won a full acquittal in 1999, and was allowed to keep the shotgun. Fair warning.—Otto on Bark St.

Hi, everyone. Skip surprised me with front row tickets to Foo Fighters tomorrow, and he’s arranged a full-blown night on the town with a limo, dinner at La Tony’s before and a VIP table at Baccarat later. Any parents of youngsters out there mind taking Sasha and Julius trick-or-treating, and maybe keeping an eye on them until, oh, I don’t know, 1am or so? I’d gladly pay you. I’ve accumulated a ton of gift cards to the kind of chain restaurants that I’d never be caught dead in. Lemme know.—Janice on Moore La.

PS. It’d be great if you had a couple of extra little costumes.

NEvER MIND, NAYBORS. My HUbSAND SAYS HE’LL JUST TRAP A STRAY AND DIE IT BLACK.—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE

Thursday
Oct232014

Yeti the Siamese cat can't choose favorite affectionate nickname

Wednesday
Oct222014

Clay Cooley badly wants me to visit his Nissan showroom

The mailman brought me the latest direct mail come-on from Clay Cooley Nissan, and it’s a doozy!

It’s another “match the number in our showroom and you win a prize” sweepstakes. And look, it came with a secret Combination Box™, a little plastic box booger-glued to the side. I bet the mailman hates Clay Cooley days.

Back to the Box™ in a minute. First, let’s see what I have to do to qualify for a prize:

Oh, man! What are the odds the number under the scratch-off patch AND the number in the Combination Box™ are going to match 83329? Let’s see. First the scratch-off:

Dude! I’m almost there. But what about the Combination Box™?

Lookin’ good so far. It could be, it might be…

It is! Another match! Wow, how lucky can I get? Who’d a thunk? But wait, the real mystery is not what appears on the front of the Combination Box™. The real mystery is what appears on the back of the Combination Box™:

The Combination Box™ is a “digital electronic device?” WTF?!

I guess I’ll just have to visit Clay Cooley Nissan to see if somehow, someway the three identical numbers on my mailer match one of the numbers on Clay’s prize board. And also to ask about the electronic capabilities of the Combination Box™ that I am apparently missing. 

Be seein’ ya soon, Clay!

 

Friday
Oct172014

The manifold joys of the enormous Uline catalog

I don’t remember when I became aware of Uline, the self-styled “leading distributor of shipping, industrial and packaging materials to businesses throughout North America,” but it wasn’t all that long ago.

But I recently made a minor purchase or two from them, and now I am on their mailing list. And I am infatuated with their 627 page catalog (subscribe here), which is full of esoteric items I don’t understand, would never use, but covet nonetheless. If your business does shipping, warehousing, packaging, retailing, materials handling or any other semi-industrial task, OMG, is this catalog chock full of treasures for you! Let’s take a look, shall we? 

First of all, the cover is a paragon of attractive, simple, candy-colored design:

Now, about those esoteric items. So you say you’re tired of your bollards going sleeveless? Sleeve them shits, homie:

You’re sackin’ lots of material and sealing the bags is no cinch? Go whole hog ring:

Oily rags. Your mother warned you about ‘em, my mother warned me about ‘em. How much damage do fires caused by oily rags do every year? Millions of dollars worth! Because people have never had a place to stick ‘em! Until now:

The professional eyewash station cognoscenti don’t say, “Give me a top-of-the-line, best-in-class, leading edge, fully OSHA compliant, no-plumbing-needed eyewash station.” No, they have a shorthand for that. They just say, “Motherfucker, I want a Fendall™ 2000!”

OK, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, wow, that’s great that Uline has all that stuff, but what does Uline have for the Tuscan smoker? A POLE, that’s what! Just for Tuscan smokers! Unbelieves! 

Sick of posers trying to front their way into your spot, but not quite ready to get rough with them? Control those fools and keep them up outta there with some plush class:

Those anguished cries of, “Where’s my tape?! I can’t find my tape!”??? They’re a thing of the past, mofo. Put some conspicuity to that shit:

Your foam is too simple, son!

I’m not too sexy for my zebra snap-blade knife, my zebra snap-blade knife is too sexy for me:

And that’s just a tiny fraction of the stuff I found to highlight. Catalog rating: delightful