Archive for May, 2006


Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

Seems to me that any weekend spent mainly dividing one’s time between beaches and barbecues can’t be all bad. And if it’s possible to avoid a sunburn in the process, all the better.

Grab Bag II

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Just over a month ago, I posted a few random things that didn’t merit a full post of their own. Let’s do it again, shall we?

Let me start with some stuff I’ve had for a couple of months. These are two screens from Adorama camera. First, the checkout screen includes this option:
'Simple Checkout' form

Skip past the work of creating a password I’ll never remember? Kudos!

The same goes for the credit card form:
wide credit card blank

There’s a nice wide space, and it allows for spaces and dashes — just like all card input boxes should. Also, you don’t need to choose the card type; the system is smart enough to recognize it from the length/prefix. Not sure why they allowed “2005” in the expiration pulldown, but that’s a minor quibble.

Sadly, Adorama’s order processing doesn’t hold up to their order taking. Originally, I was so pleased with the smooth checkout experience that I took these shots with the intention of making a post entitled “I Adore Adorama.”

My adoration quickly faded when my camera order was held up with unclear status messages that were ultimately revealed to mean “We’re holding this order until a rep can call you and attempt to upsell filters, memory cards and other gear.” Very annoying. I’ll have to look to B&H in the future.

OK, next we have spell-checking by search engine. A few days ago I discovered a user from visited my site because I’m listed as using the non-(English-)word “reelation”:

Sorry, Norwegians! It was just a typo. Fixed now.

On to network names. A few weeks ago, I had to fire up my laptop for some Windows-related work. Our wireless router’s been a little hinky lately, so I did a scan and got this back:
networks list with phone number

Obviously, somebody within a few hundred feet of me thought it would be a good idea to use his/her telephone number as a network ID. Clever! Then when someone cracks the encryption, s/he’ll know how to find the address as well.

I also enjoy the “Customer ID” option. I picture somebody following instructions to the letter: “In the SSID field, enter your customer ID.”

Still, neither of these compare to one I found at home awhile back:
network named 'your wife has nice (o)(o)'

Stay classy, Fat Dog!

Speaking of classy, let’s move on to the reason Adblock was invented, also known as an incredibly tacky ad:

I went back and forth as to whether I would actually reward this advertiser by clicking it. Finally, I decided I should — so that I might report my findings, in true quasi-journo fashion.

Well, here’s the report: it makes no noise, but instead urges you to download a “jokes toolbar.” Ugh. Why do I use Safari again? Oh yeah, great PDF rendering.

…and also, how else would I get my weird-ass mortgage ad fix? This one comes from the Trib. She’s melting!
stills of woman pouring liquid soap on herself

Well, actually she’s… pouring body wash on herself? Outside? I don’t know. All I know is this Flash ad would continually loop this woman squeezing goo over herself and silently laughing/screaming like she’s having a gay ol’ time. Of course. It makes so much sense…

I’ll tell you something that does make sense now, in hindsight. That would be the reason C-SPAN pulled Colbert from YouTube. Sure, they’re said it was because they wanted to put an authorized version on Google Video, but seems they wanted to put it somewhere else as well:

Can’t blame ’em, I guess. Name another time everyone was clamoring for C-SPAN content…

Good on Ya, BoA

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

Sometimes, it’s the smallest details that please me. Take, for example, my recent experience with a Bank of America ATM. (I don’t bank with them, but circumstance led me to use their unit.) Upon card insertion, the machine prompted me with a list of languages it supported, as many do these days. The difference: when I selected English, I was given another screen asking me to confirm my choice.

Now, encountering not one but two unecessary screens would really irritate me normally, but I had a hunch what was going on: the machine was saving my preference. Sure enough, when I re-inserted my card moments later, there was no language prompt.

Do they store that preference on the card? On the network? Or on the machine itself? (Egads, let’s hope not.) I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just like the fact that someone has put just a little bit of thought into streamlining the interaction and remembering there are humans on the other end.

Now if they’d just get rid of that ridiculous tendency to require you enter “00” in the cents field during the withdrawal stage, we’d really be getting somewhere…

Read This

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

I’ll write something later, after I get some sleep. But it will be probably be light, fluffy, and just this side of meaningless. It definitely won’t be as good as this:

I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties,” Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) remarked at yesterday’s Hayden confirmation hearings, “but you have no civil liberties if you are dead.” This comes via Dave Weigel and nicely encapsulates at least three different pieces of horribly misguided rightingery.

First off is the sheer cowardice of it. Sure, liberal democracy is nice, but not if someone might get hurt. One might think that strong supporters of civil liberties would be willing to countenance the idea that it might be worth bearing some level of risk in order to preserve them.

Second is just this dogmatic post-9/11 insistence on acting as if human history began suddenly in 1997 or something. The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can’t even surface publicly abroad for fear they’ll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.

Last, there’s the unargued assumption that civil rights and the rule of law are some kind of near-intolerable impediment to national security. But if you look around the world over the past hundred years or so, I think you’ll see that the record of democracy is pretty strong. You don’t see authoritarian regimes using their superior ability to operate in secret and conduct surveillance to run roughshod over more fastidious countries. You see liberalism prospering — both in the sense that the core liberal countries have grown richer-and-richer and in the sense that liberal democracy has consistently spread out from its original homeland since people like it better. You see governments that can operate in total secrecy falling prey to crippling corruption. You see powers of surveillance used not to defend countries from external threats, but to defend rulers from domestic political opponents.

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don’t have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what’s the point in defending it?

On Work, in English and Otherwise

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Yep, sucking at the updates again. Go me! At least this time, I have a fairly good excuse: I’ve been just swamped with stuff for a new client. For example, I went to bed at 7a this morning, after rising at 10a (!) on Sunday, because I have been totally putting in the hours. Since this project is being billed by the hour, yay me.

Speaking of hourly work, I noticed something interesting on the walk to the bank today. There’s a take-out pizza joint a block from here, and they’ve put up three signs in the windows, each of which reads simply “Estamos empleando.” I asked, and this means: help wanted.

Now, for a bit of context, I would point out that I am not living in an especially Hispanic part of Chicago — not as far as I know, anyway. There certainly aren’t a bunch of billboards in Spanish as there in certain other parts of the city.

So why not put the sign in English, or perhaps both languages? I think two explanations are most likely. One, the owner/manager/hiring person has a personal preference/bias for Spanish-speakers, for whatever reason. That’s possible; I don’t know. Either that or, two, they don’t think English-speakers would even bother to apply.

I don’t know their motivation, but I do know I was in that place awhile ago and saw a worker leave with a pay stub. He had a girl waiting, and as he left the back he glanced at his stub and said to her: “Ouch. $70 for 12 hours.”

“Ouch” is right. That hurts no matter what language you speak.

Note to Dancing Queens

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Went to my first gay bar in aaaaaages last night, and was suitably impressed by all the revelry.

Based on the experience, I do have a little tip for some of the gay boys out there:

  • If you feel confident enough to jump up on the stage and dance in front of the crowd, you go on with your bad self.
  • However, if you feel the need to jump on stage, turn your back to the room, and use the mirror to watch yourself dance in front of the crowd, maybe it’s time to rein it in a bit.

And by “a bit”, I mean “a lot.”

Thanks, iDVD!

Saturday, May 6th, 2006

blank iDVD alert box

Now I feel alert. If I only knew why…

On the Marketing of Marches

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2006

Monday there was a big immigration-related rally here in Chicago. I decided that sounded both interesting (a lot of people) and annoying (a lot of people) so I came up with a plan: go check it out, but later, when things were relatively calm. (OK, this was less a conscious decision than a function of that fact that I don’t get up too early.)

Anyway, I went down to Grant Park around 3 and wandered around. I took my camera, and since I’m pretty conflicted about the whole immigration issue, I paid special attention to the signs.

Here’s what I saw.

The very first thing that caught my eye was this guy, walking along near Millennium Park. I’m really not sure what his deal was. He just strolled along the edges of the park, proudly holding this flag high. I won’t speculate on the symbolism.

Half a block from him was Mr. Jingle Bells (cropped to allow a hint of the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion):

Again, draw your own conclusions about this message.

On the same corner:

Doesn’t Jesus love everybody? How does that help narrow it down?

I have to admit, by this time — just a few minutes in — I was feeling apprehensive. Was everything going to be this confusing?

I needn’t have worried. A few strides later and I happened across this fellow:

Here’s a message with some punch. Good contrast for the key words, with special bonus points for “forced.” He manages to evoke both the touchy-feely “melting pot” clichés as well as the flip side: slavery. The Bush/cronies line feels a little shrill, but is nominally on point, as it addresses security issues.

My only quibble is with syntax: they’re not “forced descendants”, they’re descendants of forced immigrants.

Here’s another guy with a similar message:

Here, the “this country is made up of immigrants” message is familiar, but I was totally drawn to the protester. What’s up with the mask? (More on that in a minute.) Also, check out the sign in the background: “We Are Workersing Not Criminals!” I saw a few others that read in this exact way; I don’t know if they were printed in that fashion or modified after the fact. Regardless, it’s a strange choice. Would you willingly hold a sign identifying yourself as a criminal?

Back to Mr. Mask. Here’s the front of his sign:

That’s certainly a more provocative message, but does it merit an attempt to disguise his identity? (Note also that this was actually written on top of another, milder message: “Look around you! What do you see? Immigrants!”) The whole mask thing really undercuts the message for me. It makes me think of CNN and firebombs and all sorts of unpleasant things. Not a wise choice.

This is much better. The choice of a chef’s hat is fun and evokes a skill, carrying with it a not-so-subtle reminder that many of these people are hard at work behind the scenes. The “We Love USA” message is similarly open and friendly.

This guy had the same idea:

It’s misspelled, but it’s sweet. I think this is particularly effective because it’s polite and slightly subservient. Couldn’t be more different than the masked man.

Nearby, I saw this gentleman:

He’s working a “we were here first” theme, which I’ll come back to later. For the moment, though, notice the discarded placard near his feet: “We Also Have a Dream!” This is an interesting approach, because it references the struggle (and legitimacy) of the American civil rights movement.

Other signs took the same approach, even invoking MLK:

But are immigration quotas really the same thing as Jim Crow laws?

Some others went a lot further back in time than the ’60s for inspiration:

I call this the “stolen”/”we were here first” theme:

As I see it, there are two major problems with this argument. First, you get into something of a reductio ad absurdum situation. Which governments stole, and which were legitimate? The Spanish? Aztec? Mixtec? Zapotec? Mayan? How far back do you want to go? It seems there are others with a claim:

Secondly, let’s be real here. Is this about living in Denver, or is it about making a living in the richest country in the world?

And on the subject of work, let me show you my pick for least effective sign of the day:

If you spend any amount of time reading up on immigration issues, you’re bound to hear that immigrants “do what Americans won’t” — and since many come from poorer companies (Mexico’s per-capita GDP is a quarter of the USA’s) they do it for cheap. Except: how are these not connected? Supply and demand is the most basic economic principle there is; just increase the pay and you’ll be surprised what Americans will do.

And so what if that makes some goods more expensive? In fact, just imagine the beneficial side effects of more expensive fast food! Or, for that matter, having to cut your own grass… After all, nobody ever said a cheap Big Mac is an inalienable right.

Oh, did I mention a “right”? I’m not the only one:

Typo aside, this sign was one example of the most common themes at the event: “rights”/”justice”/”fairness.” This included everything from speeches (“unfair treatment and unfair wages”, “fair and just immigration reform”) to Statue of Liberty iconography:

Closely linked was the concept of families:

(I saw a similar T-shirt depicting a family with one member missing, the word ‘Deportado’ over his/her outline.)

…and basic humanity:

Except I can’t help thinking that, while it’s indisputably true that “no human being is illegal,” so too is it true that there are illegal acts, with forseeable consequences. If a man sneaks across the border, later brings his family, then is discovered and sent back home, isn’t he ultimately responsible? (After all, by definition it’s impossible to deport citizens.)

Or, perhaps, after a certain amount of time America is his home, and the law should be changed to recognize that.

It’s a tough question.

Making Excuses

Monday, May 1st, 2006

You know, there are those who point to Brokeback Mountain losing out for Best Picture as proof of Hollywood’s underlying homophobia. That may be — we’ll never know — but at least Brokeback fared better than the movie I saw last night, Making Love.

That picture, a 1982 release, actually began with a warning:

(These stills are from The Celluloid Closet a documentary in which Making Love screenwriter reveals an incoming studio head at Fox referred to the film as “a goddamned faggot picture.” What was that about “proud to present” and “applaud its courage” again?)