Archive for May, 2005

Notes to Self

Wednesday, May 11th, 2005

Self, remember:

  1. No matter how much you avoid political news, he’s still President.
  2. It is not time to dye your hair blue again, even if you’d use a pro this time. Save it for your mini-crisis at hitting the big 3-0.
  3. If at all possible, avoid checking out potential hot guys walking on the street when you’re supposed to be driving on said street. Keep your eyes on the road. (This counts for double at night.)
  4. If a leash is involved every time you find yourself walking outside, you need to get out more.
  5. Try to eat a vegetable now and then. It will probably turn out okay.

Some Perspective

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

We used to have one of these back in the day:
Compag luggable

That’s a Compaq “portable”, though we, along with everybody else, called it a “luggable”. (Yes, you can move it; there was a handle on the top. Also check that link to find out about the historical importance of the model.)

The beast was the size of a piece of luggage — note the full-size keyboard — and weighed around 30 lbs. [13.6 kg.] The processor was just 5MHz, the screen was green and black, and there were no wacky frills like a battery, either.

So I gotta say, as much as technology sucks right now, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Disorderly Conduct

Sunday, May 8th, 2005

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been buying stuff online (in what we’ll soon see is an ironic twist, Amazon’s order history page isn’t working right now) but it’s been many, many years. I’ve watched as online retailers who get it, like Amazon, have innovated, making the shopping experience smooth and worry-free.

Sadly, too few sellers “get it.” Just within the last week, I’ve been required to jump through unnecessary hoops to give companies my money. Moments ago, for example, I did what I should have done ages ago and bought a UPS so I could keep the bajillions of Firefox tabs I always tend to lose when the power flickers (as it’s done twice this weekend.)

The vendor asked for my credit card number with “no dashes or spaces.” Let me tell you a little something: it takes one line of code to strip out non-numeric characters from a sequence, and it’s something sellers should be doing anyway for security purposes. So why make it more difficult for me to ensure I’ve entered the right characters?

This site also had another of my pet peeves: the foreboding “click only once” or you might get charged twice message (in red, no less.) Again, it’s trivial to do a quick duplicate check. After all, when does anyone ever intentionally make a duplicate order in the space of a few seconds? Bingo: never. (Amazon goes one step further: they’ll even warn you if an item you’re buying appears anywhere in your purchase history, so you don’t inadvertently buy the same CD twice.)

To add insult to injury, the order confirmation e-mail from this site includes this:

Please remember that the advertised price does not constitute an offer to sell. The order confirmation does not signify our acceptance of your order, nor does it constitute confirmation of our offer to sell.

That’s right, the order confirmation is not a confirmation of my order. Super!

Slightly less annoying is the “cram the e-mail with junk” approach, which another (major) vendor took last weekend. In a message sent from ‘USPREPAID‘, I was told that “If you have already paid for your purchase, please retain [the e-mail]…” but “[i]f you need to send payment…” be sure to reference the invoice number. Is it too much to ask that a system smart enough to send me a message from the pre-paid confirmation system doesn’t waste my time with details about where to send a check?

All this sort of thing reminds me of the fuel pump I used the other day. I rolled up, got out, and saw the pump had a massive sticker: PRE-PAY ONLY. So I removed my card and scanned the menu, which offered two buttons: pre-pay… or pay inside.

Why Not International Standard Movie Numbers?

Friday, May 6th, 2005

We’ve got ISBNs and ISSNs, I think it’s time to devise a system for tracking movies.

I’d like to see an ISMN for a number of reasons, chief among them that it would allow me to track movies I want to see far more easily. As it is, I have a collection of random text files, a category in Gjots, a few entered in IMDb’s “My Movies”, and of course the various scraps of paper.

Step 1 would be to consolidate those, of course, but step 2 would be to start providing tools that would keep track of the ISMNs, and then be on the lookout. Knowing that I was interested in seeing a film, my computer (or mobile phone, or whatever) could scan movie listings, Amazon/Netflix availability, and television schedules, returning relevant information as it comes in.

A unique serial number would prevent annoying glitches such as the one I spotted on Y! Movies the other day, in which they claimed my local theater was showing the 1995 release entitled Man of the House starring Chevy Chase, when in fact it was the unrelated 2005 film with Tommy Lee Jones. Harmless, perhaps, as there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d see either picture, but still an avoidable error.

ISMNs would also enable another dream of mine: differentiating versions. Almost two years ago, I suggested creating a list of DVD differences. My ISMN idea is a superset of that proposal, identifying both the film itself (with a major number) and the release version (minor.)

So say we have a code like 52.2001.1920.2.1 or even MX-2001-1920-ES-UR1. The first group could identify country of origin (Mexico), the second, year of release (2001), the third the serial, the fourth the spoken language (Espanol), and the final could differentiate between theatrical, pan and scan, unrated, airplane edition, edited for length for TV, and whatever else.

I could create my movie list and instruct my electronic agent to keep on the lookout for the films I wanted to see, and set certain parameters I would be willing to accept (say, has to have English subtitles, but can be rated or unrated.) Also, it would be a great way to share reviews with friends and even shopping sites. Why slave over Amazon reviews when you could write up a post on your own site, tag it with the ISMN, and then let Google or Amazon pick it up in a scan?

While we’re on the subject, it would also greatly simplify finding the official movie sites for films. (Why do we not have a .film domain extension? I’m so tired of or Pop the ISMN into Google, you could get the official page for that film, or the nearest thing to it, working from most to least specific.

I recognize this is horribly esoteric, but I hope the studios similarly recognize that the more ways they provide to keep track of their releases, the better the chance they’re going to get watched.

Update [Sat 03:09]: If I didn’t care if the number itself had meaning (and I don’t; ISBNs don’t) I suppose I could follow IMDb‘s numbering. A couple of years ago they went from links like to, where the prefix ‘tt’ denotes a film (a person is ‘nm’). Other sites, such as Rotten Tomatoes, accept this numbering standard as well: works, for example.

Now if only somebody would break up the different versions by content, language, and country…

Don’t Knock It ‘Til You’ve Tried It

Thursday, May 5th, 2005

I admit it, I watch “The Apprentice.” (In fact, I also watch the UK version.) It’s not something I’m proud of, and often the show sure doesn’t make it easy. Take tonight’s episode, when Des Moines resident Tana made it to the final two.

Now, I don’t particularly mind Tana, though I think she didn’t do herself any favors when in one breath she implied that fate is controlling the situation, and in the next she’s thanking G-d for getting her this far. But whatever.

My beef is that following a battery of interviews, one of the CEOs reporting to The Donald had to trot out an old chestnut, saying that he didn’t think as a girl “from Iowa,” Tana would be able to cut it in a big city like “New York or Chicago.” I’m suprised he even recognized Chi-town, located as it is smack in the middle of the flyover states. (Perhaps he was aware it’s also home to the world’s busiest airport and the world’s tastiest pizza.)

It all reminds me of a similar incident back in 2001. It was March 25, and B and I were watching “Politically Incorrect”. If I recall correctly, the show was a special, live post-Oscars edition. The guests: Aisha Tyler, now sometimes CSI cast member, and several others who I don’t recall. The topic: the decline of movies.

Ms. Tyler lets fly with an observation that she didn’t think people in Iowa read the reviews. Then she said something very similar to: “I think they look in the paper and say, ‘Hey, Dude, Where’s My Car? I like dudes. I like cars. Let’s see that.'”

Needless to say, I was similarly unimpressed by Ms. Tyler’s lack of insight on this point. And I shared that with her, in an e-mail with the subject I'd rather be Middle American than you. (What can I say, I was a drama queen back in the day.)

To her credit, Aisha actually replied 12 hours later. She gave me a sort of half apology, saying compelling TV was about dramatic opinions. (I kept both e-mails, which is why my dates are so precise.)

Aisha would have been better served to engage on facts, and not stereotypes, but at least she clarified. I don’t expect to get even that much from the guy on tonight’s show. But I’m going to poke around for his e-mail address anyway…

Junk Day

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Been a tad heavy lately, so now back to our regular programming.

Today is Junk Day, or Spring Cleaning Pick-Up, or whatever pleasant euphemism is currently en vogue. Basically, it’s the day when people pile all sorts of crap on their lawns and the city comes ’round in a truck with a skid steer and carts it all away.

I really have no idea how common this practice is — I would have no trouble believing either that it’s nationwide in some form, or it’s just a small-town Iowa thing (Pech, you’re from TinyTown USA, do you have a junk day?) — but it’s always interesting, mostly because the day before you have all sorts of colorful characters sorting through the piles, looking for treasure. Depending upon how dedicated they are, this practice can even continue through the night.

Last night, in fact, I had to remind myself it was “Junk Eve” after I heard cars slowly idling up the street. At 2am, you must appreciate, cars are something of a rarity. From about 10pm on, the only sounds I usually hear outside are the two papers getting delivered (typically 3:15 and 4:45) and, if I’m up too late, those infernal birds chirping merrily to greet the day. (Normally, I go to bed about 4:30 or 5.) So when suddenly you’re hearing clunkers creeping along outside in the dead of night, with people using flashlights and talking in low voices, your interest is certainly piqued.

Then you remember what day it is and you go back to watching whatever you’ve downloaded lately. After all, it’s just a more immediate form of recycling.

Remembering Kitty… and Our Responsibilities

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005

March 13, 1964. 3:30 AM. Twenty-eight year-old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese returns to her home in Queens after her shift as a bar manager. After parking the car at a train station, she starts to walk the hundred feet to her apartment building in darkness. Just as Kitty reaches the glow of a streetlight outside her building, a man attacks her, stabbing her once. Kitty cries out, and the man is frightened away. Minutes later, he returns, stabs her again, and again disappears. Kitty manages to crawl inside one of the doors, but the assailant returns once more, and stabs Kitty a final, fatal time. More than a half-hour has passed since the first attack, and 38 of Kitty’s neighbors on Austin Street watched some or all of the assault.

None called the police.

Genovese was not an isolated case, recent victims such as Breann Voth have suffered in similar circumstances. So how could otherwise good people allow such a thing to happen? Pyschologists have a name for the phenomenon: “diffusion of responsibility”, a condition where people in groups assume that others, more qualified than themselves, will take action. This effect, a component of “bystander apathy”, grows stronger as the group grows larger.

I think of Kitty Genovese and the concept of diffusion of responsibility quite often, and not just in the morbid way of watching a violent crime and doing nothing about it. I also think about it in terms of voter apathy, media bias, corporate excess, government corruption, and any other situation where we’re all tempted to say “there’s nothing I can do about it, someone else will take care of the problem.”

Politicians are supposed to be public servants, acting solely in our interest. Yet lobbyists seem astonishingly successful. Corporate officers are supposed to bow to the shareholders. But unless that shareholder is Carl Icahn, CEO deals for tens of millions in annual compensation will often go unchallenged. The press is supposed to act as a watchdog. Yet no one is held accountable for a bogus war with a constantly shifting rationale.

I certainly don’t claim to have the answer for any of these problems, but I strive not to ignore them and trust that someone else will do all the work. If there comes a time when I can speak up and make things better, in whatever small way, I will try to be there to do it, as I hope others will.

We all deserve nothing less.

Open Secrets

Monday, May 2nd, 2005


This is a postcard from PostSecret, a site that encourages people to mail their secrets to be posted on the site. They range from funny to stunning, such as the one above.

Assuming this card is true, imagine the consequences: someone left everyone (s)he knew behind. How selfish. How liberating. How daring. I couldn’t do it, but then I certainly wouldn’t want to. I love my family and friends very much, and I know they love me. I’d never want to abandon them. I’d lose far more than I gained.

Yet in a tiny way, I can see how the idea of being able to completely re-invent yourself is an attractive one. Even on this site, when I sometimes think about my “editorial mission”, though I’d never call it that. Back in ’02, when I started the site’s current incarnation (those who remember the Summer (School) Stories know I actually began “blogging” circa ’99) I thought I might do some personal, “thinking out loud” sort of stuff, with the goal of being truly open, consequences be damned.

That never really got off the ground, in part because my thinking out loud turned out to annoy me, as it seemed weak and indecisive. (And, worse, poorly written!) The controversial stuff was also tempered by my awareness that my relatives were checking in frequently. So I began to fall back into my more “family-friendly” persona: a sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” on the stuff that made people uncomfortable (such as being queer, atheist, etc.) It’s just so much simpler to rail against misguided intellectual property policy than to say I wish I had a boyfriend.

After all, you can only tell certain people, certain things. Except, writing that, I don’t know if I believe it. Privacy is important, but shouldn’t we tell each other more, not less? Shouldn’t we allow people the opportunity to try out new versions of themselves? Easier said than done, of course, as people will automatically try to reconcile every action with the likeness of you that lives in their minds.

I don’t know. I don’t have a snappy ending here. Since this is one of my more incoherent posts, maybe that’s appropriate…