Archive for July, 2008

Advantage, Mr. Bay
28 July, 2008

The other day I heard an advert for the Volkswagen Jetta with copy something like “the Autobahn-inspired Jetta”. I guess expectation does color perception because I heard “Autobot-inspired Jetta”.

A Little Chin Music
25 July, 2008

Yesterday in a minor league baseball game in Dayton, Ohio there was a bit of a donnybrook. Peoria Chiefs pitcher Julio Castillo threw a baseball as hard as he could at the opposing team’s dugout. Unfortunately, he missed the dugout and hit a fan in the stands, a father sitting with his wife and two children. Castillo later appears to come back out on the field with a baseball bat.

Even just watching the video set my blood boiling. I couldn’t throw a baseball through wet rice paper. But Castillo is a professional pitcher; he can probably throw a baseball 90 miles per hour. At that speed, a baseball can cripple, as evidenced by the first base coach who was hit in the head a year or two past. Castillo throwing that baseball at the opposing team’s dugout with a grandstand full of fans behind it is just as dangerous as an officer shooting at a criminal who’s is standing in front of hundreds of bystanders.

In the video Castillo obviously lost his mind completely. Short of a deadly attack on himself, I see no excuse for that behavior. But, as a parent, contemplating what it must have been like to be sitting next to your family as that nutcase attacked is both chilling and enraging. If it was my family at whom Castillo threw the baseball, I hope my instincts would be as good as my dad’s and would hurl me in front of them. But I do know that, if I survived the initial attack, I would have counter-attacked Castillo immediately and overwhelmingly.

Since the victim has already been released from the hospital, I’m hopeful that the injuries are relatively minor. Castillo is still in custody, awaiting trial. Hailing from the Dominican Republic, perhaps the judge will deport him and bar him from returning to the U.S. However, I suggest an alternative: tie Castillo to the backstop and let the victim fire a dozen or so 100 MPH fastballs at him with the pitching machine. Then deport him.

I Resemble that Remark
18 July, 2008

I read a reference by the Blogess to a site that finds the celebrity you most resemble. Ever unwilling to let a silly diversion pass, I browsed on over and uploaded a photo.

The results? #1 Sean Hayes and #7 Elton John.

Are they trying to tell me something?

Wall-E
6 July, 2008

I saw some video wherein the principals at Pixar said that they had originally made a list of films they wanted to make and Wall-E was the last of them. The typically top-notch animation couldn’t save it from two fatal flaws. Apparently, they didn’t save the best for last.

First, Wall-E isn’t a sympathetic character. I doubt it’s coincidental that Wall-E and E.T. bear physical and behavioral similarities. The difference is that in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial the special effect doesn’t carry the picture; it’s about the boy. Wall-E, though, is the lead. But he’s a lead with no acting skills. Wall-E lacks a mouth. Not only does this prevent him from speaking, it prevents him from emoting. Whether toys, bugs, or fish, Pixar’s characters have always had faces. Wall-E doesn’t. It emotionally cripples the character and prevents the audience from connecting to him.

Second, the film pushes an agenda: technology makes people fat, dumb, and lazy. The opposition to progress that appeared in Cars blossoms into neo-Luddism in Wall-E, rather ironic given the technology that Pixar uses to make their films. Buy n’ Large is obviously a surrogate for Walmart and Costco. (However, I suspect that Pixar’s antipathy will not prevent them from selling their toys in Walmart and Costco.) The film lacks internal consistency about the humans’ degradation. For example, if they had got so lazy that they no longer touched each other, how were there so many babies? And why would they even bother if they were that lazy? Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to evoke The Matrix but it just comes off as a string of fat jokes.

Other than the short film, Presto, and some Apple shout-outs, Wall-E offers very little entertainment. Save your time and money.

The Customer Has Spoken
1 July, 2008

About a fortnight ago, we received an email from Netflix announcing that in September they would remove Profiles, a feature that allows multiple queues for the same account. For example, in my home my spouse is the primary account holder with the default queue, my kids have their own queue, and I have my own queue. All three queues together count against the number of movies out at a time. Given the widely divergent tastes in movies amongst all of us, the three different queues (or “profiles”) allow us to more easily manage the movies we want to see.

The shamefully vague email announcing the degradation of service said “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers”. Netflix spokesperson Steve Swasey reiterated that asinine position with “the decision will ultimately benefit all Netflix members … we will be able to put more focus and resources site and service improvements that benefit everyone”. As if those who use profiles are somehow preventing those who don’t from using the web site.

To say I was slightly peeved would be a gross understatement. I hate using the telephone but I was angry enough to call their customer support and ask for a better explanation. The poor gal who answered said that it was in response to requests from the users. I have a very hard time believing that anyone actually called to complain that someone else could use multiple profiles. The script she read implied that profiles confused the majority of Netflix users. Again, I find that explanation tenuous at best since you have to specifically activate extra profiles and most Netflix users I know use profiles without confusion.
Two decades of working in the software industry give me a strong hunch about the real impetus behind this horrible decision. This kind of bonehead maneuver has all the hallmarks of someone with strong opinions unencumbered by facts, no objective criteria by which to have their performance measured, and lots and lots of spare time to stump for their pet idea du juor. (Think Ryan’s web site on “The Office”.) Said clown probably concocted the “users demand it” line as justification after the fact. Given the outrage at the proposal, it is obvious that quite a significant percentage of the Netflix users are in favor of profiles.

As I explained to Netflix in the email of complaint I sent, in software (including web site development) the cost for supporting multiples of anything is almost all in the transition from supporting one to supporting many. Since the profiles feature had already been developed, that was a sunk cost; removing profiles would not, and could not, recoup any of the costs of its development. The only thing removing profiles would do is piss off the customers. It would actually cost more to remove it than to leave it in place as removing code is more than just a cut-and-paste exercise. Certainly a company the size of Netflix could afford to hire a web site designer who knows enough CSS to accommodate multiple profiles in their new web site. Heck, they could even dream big and consider using AJAX to present a different web page based on whether or not the person had multiple profiles. The point is that support for multiple profiles is technically feasible and cheaper than removing said support.

Luckily, this idea crumbled under the withering fire of protest from the users. Netflix has relented and will keep profiles. In their email they said “You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.” This decision is as mindful of the customers as the previous was ignorant of them. Good on ya, Netflix.