Sunday 27 March 2005
Panera Block List Still Silly
The last time I wrote about Panera Bread’s counterproductive filtering of web content on their ‘free’ wireless network, I assembled a list of URLs and wrote some software to test those lists against Panera’s filter.
I was at Panera again recently, and I ran the test again. Some of the sites that were blocked when I did my original test in January are now unblocked.
However, some new sites have been added in the last couple of months. I used the same list both in January and this weekend, so these are websites that were positively not blocked then, but are now:
Unfortunately, I did not record why these sites were blocked. To be honest, I forgot the test script was running, and I didn’t check the results before I left. I will be modifying the tests to automatically record this in the future.
Posted by tino at 20:46 27.03.05
Friday 25 March 2005
Safari Drives Me Nuts
You probably won’t understand, much less care about this if you’re not a Mac user, and one who uses Apple’s Safari web browser, at that. I use Safari not because I think it’s so great — it’s not, in a lot of important ways — but because all the other web browsers for the Mac are lacking some important UI element that I can’t do without. In particular, Firefox doesn’t respect the standard Macintosh convention of pretzel-uparrow going to the top of a page. I use that all the time, and after about the tenth time it doesn’t work in five minutes in Firefox, I quit the thing and decide to put up with Safari again.
Anyway, here’s another extremely annoying thing Safari does:
Safari has a Downloads window, which shows you everything that’s currently downloading to disk, or that has been downloaded since you cleared the list. So if you explicitly tell the browser to download a file:
Now, there’s a lot that’s wrong with the Downloads window. The little icons should, by long Macintosh tradition, stand as proxies for the files themselves: that is, the Downloads window should essentially behave like a Finder window that shows only documents in a certain directory that have been downloaded through Safari since the list was cleared.
They don’t, though. You can’t delete files from here — you can delete them from the list, but not from the disk — and you can’t rename them, and you can’t do anything else except remove them from the list, show them in the Finder, copy to the clipboard the URL from which they were downloaded, and open them.
All of that is inconvenient, but none of it is really a big problem. The big problem is that, of the four things you can do from the window, one of them rarely works right. If you click on that magnifying glass, Safari will tell the Finder to open a window on the Downloads directory and select the file in question.
This it does. But if the resulting window has a horizontal scroll bar (these are pretty common in Finder windows, at least if you use the three-column view, which you do unless you are a Philistine because it is the One True Filebrowser View), the Finder doesn’t take the height of the scroll bar into account when it scrolls the file into view. In other words, it does this:
That little bit of blue at the bottom of the list (not to be confused with the blue horizontal scroll bar) is the policies.htm file we asked the Finder to show us.
This is the result of bugs in both the Finder and Safari; the Finder should figure out there’s a scroll bar there and take this into account when it’s deciding what is and isn’t visible, and, given that the Finder doesn’t do this, Safari should tell the Finder to scroll the list to the next file down, and then select our target file, which will be the last one visible.
NetNewsWire 2.0, the world’s greatest RSS reader, does this properly and it’s produced by a two-person company. Why can’t the 301st largest company in the world — at least from last year’s Fortune 500 — do at least as well?
Perhaps they will deign to sell us this a fix for this bug for $129 next month.
Posted by tino at 20:22 25.03.05
Thursday 24 March 2005
Yet More Rebate Fraud
I never buy products because there’s a rebate offered on them, but a rebate will occasionally sway my opinion in a situation where the product with the rebate sells for the same as or less than comparable no-rebate products.
That was the case this week, when I bought a Western Digital external hard drive for $220. There’s a $80 rebate offered on the thing, and the other disk I was considering purchasing costs $250 to begin with, and there’s no rebate: a clear advantage for Western Digital.
But I’m considering specifically excluding products with rebates from future consideration — no matter whether they’re cheaper or not — and here’s why.
Here are the terms of the Western Digital rebate:
Here are two views of the box the product came in, shrinkwrap and all:
Notice what’s missing? There’s no UPC barcode anywhere on this box. There’s a barcode on a sticker inside the shrinkwrap, but that’s for the disk’s serial number — which is not a UPC code.
It is, in short, impossible to comply with the terms of this rebate offer. Fortunately, the rebate form gives a number to call with questions:
This was, of course, no help. The person on the other end frankly didn’t believe me that there was no UPC on the box. Her recommendation was to return the disk and get another one that did have a UPC barcode.
So not only do I have to buy things wondering whether or not they’ll work, and not only do I have to screw around with mailing things in to get rebates, but I also have to be part of Western Digital’s packaging quality control staff. Fuck ‘em.
Particularly interesting is that just a couple weeks after CompUSA settled with the federal government over their past practice (CompUSA’s, that is) of screwing people out of rebates (though that was a somewhat different situation).
Posted by tino at 15:20 24.03.05
Wednesday 23 March 2005
Superstardom And Business
This article is from earlier in the month, but it has recently come back to my attention, and this time I paid attention. It’s about the unfinished Guns N’ Roses album that’s been in production for the last eleven years. Axl Rose, whatever musical talents he might have or have once had, is for all appearances a lunatic.
In any other field, someone who behaved like him would have been shown the door a long time ago. It’s very difficult for a CEO of a large American company to screw up so badly that he’s drummed out of the CEOing business; the strange logic that applies at that level causes the CEO to get credit (read: $$$$) for everything that goes right, but little or none of the blame when the company goes bankrupt. In those cases, ‘market conditions’ conspired against the CEO, or ‘unforeseen circumstances’ did in the company.
The CEO then leaves ‘amicably’ to ‘pursue other interests’, and he’s handed a giant sack with a dollar sign on the side of it on his way out the door. He then spends a few months sailing his yacht around, after which he accepts a lucrative CEO position at a company in a totally unrelated field, the press releases talking about his ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’. Just you wait: even Carly Fiorina will find another job where she’s put in charge of things.
But that’s nothing compared to what appears to go on in Hollywood — by which I mean the movie, TV, and record business — and especially the record business. Once talent has attained a certain level in the record business, people in the industry will be willing to take them seriously forever after, logic be damned.
The Times article puts its finger (do articles have fingers? I’ve never seen ‘em fing) on the problem:
As the production has dragged on, it has revealed one of the music industry’s basic weaknesses: the more record companies rely on proven stars like Mr. Rose, the less it can control them.
The record industry — and, I suppose, to a lesser extent the whole of the copyright industry — seem to have managed to combine big business and art and get the worst of both.
Big business is famously risk-averse and slow to act without incontrovertible proof of what the future will bring: hence the industry’s reliance on superstars. No matter how bad it is, an Axl Rose album will almost certainly sell more copies than a Tino album, if for no other reason than that people have heard of Axl Rose.
But the world of art is quite different from the world of business, and not just in the sense that, these days, almost anything will be taken seriously as ‘art’ if only it’s subversive enough. (There’s more to life, and art, than subversion, but that’s another topic.)
Art is nearly impossible to quantify, and great art can stand on its own, independent of its creator: this is why society is relatively tolerant of ‘eccentricity’ on the part of artists. A CEO who talks about himself in the third person and who is, to all appearances, a lunatic is not likely to be a very effective leader. An artist who wears bedroom slippers in the street and who carries on shouted conversations with ‘voices’ can still create great art. So the painter’s a nut? Who cares.
A disproportionate number of artists widely considered to be great have been, to one degree or another, off their rockers, so some people have come to see certain eccentricities as markers for creativity. From the Times:
[Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead
First, I have to stop here to point this out: this guy calls himself Buckethead. He wears a face mask and a fried-chicken bucket on his head when he performs.
[Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead on a jaunt to Disneyland when the guitarist was drifting toward quitting, several people involved recalled; then Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire.
The guy’s a lunatic. Supposedly he’s a hell of a guitarist, but you can’t tell me that you can’t find a lot of guitarists in Los Angeles who are willing to work for $11,000 a month and who don’t need chicken coops built for them.
Here is where you’d expect the Big Business to kick in, but it doesn’t. Wearing a KFC bucket for a hat and talking through a hand puppet is not the strangest thing anyone’s ever done. But one of the reasons that artists are often so eccentric is that they don’t have jobs as we ordinarily understand them. They make money here and there, and occasionally they might sell some artwork, but they are not, by and large, paid $132,000 a year up front by large companies.
And this is the problem. Normally, excessive drinking, bucket-heading, hotel-room-trashing, drug-taking, and all the other things we think of as emblematic of rock stars at their worst are self-limiting. If you’re a rock star, though, at no point does anyone tell you to take the damned bucket off your head and put down the crack pipe. And independent artist would either produce something that people wanted — bucket on head or no — or starve to death. ‘Artists’ on the corporate teat can behave like spoiled children and claim that this is what’s necessary to create ‘great art’.
Posted by tino at 11:07 23.03.05
Sunday 20 March 2005
Stuffed Animal Bums At Wal-Mart
Pretty much self-explanatory. They’re $9.88 each.
Posted by tino at 22:51 20.03.05
Saturday 19 March 2005
Why I Do Not Buy Much Online
I am a proper man of the early 21st century, and one who is, financially speaking, more than fairly fortunate. I sit in front of a computer nearly all of the time I’m at home and conscious, and I have a number of gadgets that allow me to sit effectively sit in front of a computer with an Internet connection when I’m anywhere else.
Further, I live not in the middle of nowhere, exactly, but on the edge of nowhere, or at least somewhere along the Nowhere Pike. There’s an excellent old-fashioned hardware store near here, meaning that I’m in an excellent position when I need random nuts and bolts, or plumbing fittings, or welding supplies, or other things that are hard or annoying to buy at Home Depot etc. Less-utilitarian things, though — or things that are utilitarian in a different way, like a new disk for my computer — are not available nearby.
All of this places me squarely in the demographic of People Who Tend To Buy Things Online.
And yet nearly everyone I know seems to buy far more online than I do. Why is this?
There are a number of reasons, but as I just stumbled on a perfect example of one of them, I’m going to talk about that, namely: It’s Still Amateur Hour online.
I want to buy a pen. Specifically, I want to buy a Waterman Carène fountain pen.
I’m a fan of fountain pens in general; at the moment, my regular pen is a left-handed Pelikano P450 that I bought at a German post office some time ago. The Pelikano is a pen targeted at the German elementary-school set when they’re learning to write. There are special grippy things near the nib that help the tykes learn how to hold the pen: I use the left-handed version even though I’m not left-handed because this results in the nib being turned in a different direction which I think helps make my handwriting more interesting, if not more legible.
My hands are considerably larger than a German schoolchild’s, though, and this pen isn’t very fancy, either. If there were a larger, swanker version of the Pelikano, I’d be all over it.
Unfortunately, the adult-fountain-pen market seems to involve only two types of pens: pens meant to impress others (i.e. big and flashy), and pens meant to convey how hyper-rational you are (i.e. hexagonal and bare metal). Neither of these appeal to me. The Carène, though — most models, anyway; you can buy the thing encrusted with diamonds if that’s your thing — strikes me as being nicely-balanced between the two. It’s neither too fancy nor too plain. So I set out to buy one.
And here I get to the point. One of the first pages I came across in my search was this one. It’s a Carène in blue, which is an nice and unusual color: I generally don’t like gold on pens. It looks like there’s something different going on with the finish there, too, so I click on the ‘Click to enlarge’ link under the product image.
And I get a pop-up window with the same picture in it. On close inspection, it’s not precisely the same image; the image on the main page is 300 x 365 pixels; the ‘enlarged’ view is 320 x 389: over 13% bigger! Of course, since the pen only occupies a small portion of the frame, that’s an even smaller increase than it sounds like.
This is really one of those situations where a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s a little Flash movie showing the small and ‘large’ versions:
It looks interestingly like something out of an SCTV 3-D movie, but it’s not really helpful to a prospective purchaser.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Shopping On The Internets! Convenience! Selection! You can buy a perfectly good pen for $1.50; this one costs a hundred times as much, largely for aesthetic reasons. It’s being sold by a merchant that specializes in ‘luxury’ goods, i.e. things that are distinguished from functionally identical other things primarily by subtle aesthetic improvements. But you can’t get much of a look at it, because they can’t be arsed to put a giant picture on there. There’s a separate link! People buying $150 pens are not, by and large, going to be connecting over dialup connections (and, if they are, they’re likely to understand that they click on the ‘larger image’ link at their peril)! Give us a damned big image!
But no. (Very slightly larger images, both of ‘em, are available through this link direct to the Ashford site rather than through Shop.com pressents Ashford.com, Powered By Altura.com. Altura.com innediately redirects to http://admin-amos.catalogcity.com/amos/cc/main/altura_home/ccsyn/251 — which inspires so much confidence anyway.)
It’s a small thing, and I’m sure that there are larger pictures of the pen available online, and in any case when buying a product online that’s so much an artifact (as opposed to a device), one should ideally have had some real-world exposure to the thing.
And I am well aware that the end result of this is that my purchase of a $150 pen is made a tiny bit less convenient than it otherwise might be. The world’s tiniest violin is playing: click here for a 13% less-tiny violin.
But, regardless of the triviality of this particular case, why on earth should this experience be so lousy? Why should it be so hard to buy something? If you go to buy this thing in person, the pen store has special lighting black velvet to make the thing look its very best, and to allow you to see it as well as your eyes will allow. The online pen store, on the other hand, works against you from the very start because they haven’t given much thought to what it is they’re doing.
Posted by tino at 22:16 19.03.05
Thursday 17 March 2005
Argument and Media
It’s interesting that thirteen-year-old girls have not hit on the rhetorical tactic of claiming that someone they’re arguing with is being ‘defensive’. Or maybe they have; my contact with thirteen-year-old girls these days is mercifully nonexistent. Thirteen-year-old girls, you see, are horrible creatures. Most of them have been told, recently, that they are ‘maturing’, and that girls ‘mature’ earlier than boys.
This is true, of course, but most of these girls tend to confuse puberty with intellectual maturity, and they take to haughtily complaining that anyone or anything that annoys them is ‘so immature’. ‘You’re so immature, Kevin.’ Whereupon they retreat with their friends to giggle and trade stickers. Or whatever it is kids do these days: exchange heroin needles or swap morning-after-pill stories, no doubt.
But anyway, I was talking about ‘defensiveness’. It’s really a remarkable approach, but unlikely to produce any great wisdom. An argument where it’s used goes something like this:
B: Counter-assertion, or refinement of assertion for the purposes of greater accuracy in my opinion!
A: You’re just being defensive!
B: No I’m not!
Accusations that someone is contradictory can be used in much the same way (‘You’re just being contradictory!’ — there’s no real response to this when you’re arguing with an idiot, except to walk away), but as there are more syllables there it it outside the scope of this particular discussion.
why are us wasps so damn defensive? make fun of me; i know i haven’t solved all of my prejudices when i can’t respond.
Posted by tino at 12:42 17.03.05
Wednesday 02 March 2005
Pain Was Too Good For Him?
Last night, I was killing some time in Barnes & Noble; specifically, I was browsing through the ever-growing section of the store dedicated to things that are not really what I would call books.
Barnes & Noble now has a substantial section of their floor given over to desk accessories, greeting cards, fancy paper clips, and all kinds of other stuff that’s really better purchased from Levenger. The nucleus of this — and the connection to books in the first place — is the amazing selection of blank books, address books, diary books, and notepads, each of them with very little or no ‘content’ and most of them with ISBNs.
Anyway, among the things that caught my eye were a number of notepads, address books, etc. that are part of the ‘They Hated To Spread Gossip’ line, illustrated with collages by Anne Taintor. I took some pictures there with my cameraphone, but cameraphones being what they are, I looked for, and found, better images of a couple of the collages on the Anne Taintor website. Clicking on these images will pop up bigger versions:
‘Pain was too good for him’ (detail via phonecam)
‘And then I ripped his lungs out’
‘It would, of course, have to look like an accident’: the general theme of women vs. men suggests what she’s thinking of.
‘At last they had found the perfect hiding place’: also potentially innocent unless you look at it in the context of the less-ambiguous messages it was bound with.
Imagine, just for a moment, that the same art was produced, but with the genders reversed: a group of men standing around smiling, with the caption indicating that one of the people in the picture was saying ‘and then I ripped her lungs out’. It would be denounced not just as being in bad taste, but of being grossly offensive, of being a hate crime even.
There are some vaguely similar things, to be sure, with women as the butt of the joke. At the moment, Google lists 5,720 results if you search for reasons why a beer is better than a woman (‘A beer doesn’t get jealous when you grab another beer’ huh-huh-huh-huh-huh). I am sure that, in many truck stops across this land, you can buy ‘clever’ caps with wisdom about the nature of women printed on the front in puffy letters. And Ms. Taintor’s own work also includes a lot of things that reflect badly on women, playing on their alleged sensitivities about their age and on their stereotypical propensity for shopping.
However, I can’t remember the last time I saw something in a middle-class, suburban, cultural-mainstream environment — like Barnes & Noble or the shopping mall — that actually advocated or in any case drew mirth from the idea of violence against women. (See also this.)
But these images are themselves a kind of violence against women. Not only couldn’t you sell ‘smack my bitch up’ postcards at Barnes & Noble, you couldn’t sell a whole class of similar products featuring other Victim Groups instead of women.
‘And then I ripped honkey’s lungs out’, with a picture of smiling black people: you’d have the NAACP on your ass in about five minutes.
‘Pain was too good for the gringo’, with a picture of a smiling Mexican: the National Council of La Raza would organize a boycott.
If you published an image of a Jew with text indicating that he’d like to do some violence to Nazis, the B’nai Brith would make noise about how awful you were.
But ordinary women ripping out lungs, making things look like ‘accidents’, etc.: ha ha ha ha ha. How droll. Presumably Ms. Taintor thinks she’s subverting the image of middle-class femininity, but she’s really just perpetuating the stereotype of woman as vindictive hussy (when she’s not perpetuating the stereotype of woman as shallow consumer or bitter hag).
Posted by tino at 14:14 2.03.05