Friday, October 29, 2010

Cablevision v. Fox: The lesser of two evils

Sometimes in life, it's hard to figure out who to dislike more out of a field of d-bags. As a Cablevision customer current embroiled in the ongoing Fox/Cablevision dispute that has kept Fox's stations off the air for 3 million people in the greater NYC area for two weeks, that's the boat I find myself in. Some disorganized thoughts:

  • I'm predisposed towards being on the side of Fox, as they are the content creator. They have the stuff people want and they have a right to charge what they want for it. People (and other companies) can chose to buy it or not.
  • That being said, it's pretty objectionable that they want to charge someone for content that they distribute freely over the air anyway!
  • On the other hand, it's becoming clear that Cablevision isn't serious about actually negotiating. No serious talks are going on. I find their current cry baby, appeal-to-the-government-to-intervene-in-this-dispute-on-our-behalf strategy to be highly distasteful. Seriously Cablevision: you have an obligation to do everything in your power to deliver a service to your customers with whom you have entered into a contract to do so. It's shameful that you let an agreement with a content provider lapse to begin with, leaving your customers without content they pay you for. That you've let it go on this long without actually seriously negotiating is a disgrace.
At the end of the day, I actually don't understand this whole model of distribution and who pays who. Cablevision has a pipe into my house. Fox, a content provider, wants to use that pipe to send content to me and show me advertising along with it, thus making money. And Cablevision pays Fox for the privilege of letting them use that pipe? Seems backwards to me. I mean, I get my Internet service from Cablevision. Does Cablevision pay Google for the privilege of Google showing me ads when I search for stuff?

Seems like a broken, 19th-Century utility model that's not well suited for the 21st.

Anyone have DirectTV? How's that working out for you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: The Social Network

A criticism you hear a lot of Ayn Rand's fiction is that her characters aren't really characters at all but are merely broad, improbable caricatures. I think this is based on mistaking 'romantic' or 'large-than-life' for 'caricature.' Romantic characters are larger-than-life embodiments of ideas, personality traits, psycholical attributes, philosophical positions, etc., carefully designed to help convey the author's theme.

Rand's novels work for me because her characters are spectacularly and romantically grand and, as others have pointed out, Rand -- perhaps uniquely in all of literature -- takes great pains to include the philosophical and biographical background details that illustrate how her archetypal characters came to be who they are.

The Social Network doesn't work for me because it actually does what people acuse Rand of doing. I don't know anything about the real Mark Zuckerberg, other than that he founded and grew Facebook when he was very young. I'm fascinated by people who achieve extraordinary success at a very young age, particularly when that success is the result of both extraordinary ability and extraordinary effort and perseverance. This man is the world's youngest billionaire, for crying out loud! I'd like to know what makes him tick.

Instead, we get an opening scene in which he acts like and asshole towards a sweet-faced girl. She calls him an asshole. He goes home and blogs about her in an assholic fashion. We get it. Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole. We're supposed to accept it at face value. I've met thousands of assholes in my lifetime. None of them created Facebook. There's got to be something more to this guy than that (other than the fact that he wanted to meet girls).

The approach extends through the whole movie in progressively more laughable and cliched scenes. My favorite was the moment in which a character who is being unceremoniously forced out of the company is literally left standing out in the rain. Honorable mention goes to a scene in which an unstable character  with excessive appetites is shown with a group of people doing what... that's right: blow off of a co-ed's belly.

I will, however, give the filmmakers a free pass on the fact that two supporting characters (representatives of the monied, establishment Harvard student community) look so much like they just stepped off the pages of the Brooks Brothers catalog that a third character is actually compelled to comment on it because apparently that's exactly what these two douchebags look like. They also row crew. Some things you just can't make up.

And finally, as someone who has written software code, I would like to share the following public service announcement with the filmmaking community: coders very rarely pound on their keyboards with the force of a pneumatic drill. Sometimes if we need to count out a certain number of keystrokes (e.g. I need a string consisting of 37 spaces) we'll sort of bang on that one key a little as we count, but generally we just type like anyone else who is proficient with a keyboard. We're nerds. We know there is no correlation between how emphatic we are about something we're typing and the force with which we strike the keyboard. Only a n00b (or filmmaker) would think otherwise.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My review of Angry Birds

Why do the birds need a slingshot to send them hurtling through the air? Aren't they birds? Don't they fly?

Also, why are the pigs green?

This has been my review of Angry Birds.

It's nice to be talked about

Not sure how we only just noticed this, but here's a clip from CNN talking about the National STEM Video Game Challenge presented by E-Line Media (that's my company) and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.

Looks like CNN has disabled embedding of the video, so click here to view on YouTube.

UPDATE: It turns out CNN will let me embed it directly, so it's now posted above.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Turkey: the official bird of

A flock of turkeys has recently taken up residence in our neighborhood. I'm vaguely pro-turkey, and it is kind of fun to have them around, especially since I've lived in the area my entire life and never seen them in a residential neighborhood.

Well, it seems cool now, but I'm not sure how well the first turkey-beagle encounter will go.

Here's a photo Leigh took yesterday morning of part of the flock on our neighbor's lawn:

Apparently the tom was off in another little grouping.

I'm reminded of Ben Franklin's thoughts on his preference for the turkey as a symbol for America over the bald eagle:
For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Possibly the Greatest Thing Ever

Darth Vader riding a chipmunk. Enough said. Via Gizmodo.

Big2Show Fantasy Football Preview -- QBs

This weekend, I helped my good friends Dan Strafford and Joe Pisapia over at The Big2Show with the first of their Fantasy Football preview vidcasts. Check out their coverage of QBs below:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Misanthropic Facebook observations

Your child does not represent you in your profile picture, or in a court of law.

You know those people who post things like "Life is so hard right now. Everything seems dark and I wish something would happen to turn on the lights and make everything ok."? Those people are always looking for a response from someone specific (via Joey Manley).

True fact: 94% of all pictures posted on Facebook include at least one person who regrets doing what they are depicted doing in the picture.

I do not care about your child's bowel movements, even if they occurred on the potty. Like that's some big accomplishment. I've done that for years and only have an accident 2 or 3 times a month. Tops.

If you're so bored you feel compelled to post about it, it's probably because you're spending too much time on Facebook.

It's weird that your siblings appear above your spouse in your profile info.

True fact: Dan Rather is the person responsible for deciding what qualifies as 'Top News.'

I will never repost this status message.

I'm pretty sure it is a violation of federal HIPPA privacy guidelines to post information about your medical condition on your wall.

We had a Farmville once. Then the rains stopped. We headed for Californie looking for work, but there was none to be found. Now we have a Hooverville.

True fact: No one has ever responded 'yes' to a Facebook event invitation.

I will wind up with fewer friends than I presently have as a result of this post.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Business Bestsller: A Recipe


Hey, you're a highly successful, awesome executive, right? Like a lot of highly successful, awesome executives, you probably have this problem. Not to fear: I've worked as a management consultant for 25 years and have developed techniques to deal with just this sort of problem. They will not only make you a more effective manager but will also let you achieve that illusive state of work/life balance and wicked, screaming project planning orgasms.

Interstitial 1

Out-of-context quote from an historical figure that seems to be eerily supportive of the author's thesis.

The Insight

My [careful and exhaustive study / perusal of a Wikipedia entry] has lead me to the surprising conclusion that [the martial art of karate / thought of the Logical Positivists / ancient folkloric practice of Tibetan Yak Dancing] has surprising applications for the contemporary human resources professional.

Interstitial 2

Out of context quote from a well-known author or sports figure that seems only tangentially related to the subject at hand.

The Method

Never more than three core principles, each of them seeming just obvious enough that it feels intuitive but phrased in such a way that it appears terribly unique and insightful. Intersperse these with testimonials from ordinary people who have practiced these techniques with great success but do not, in fact, exist.

Interstitial 3

Highly relevant quote from someone the reader has never heard of and turns out to be the author's collaborator on a prior book.


Extended case study of the most successful and widely-known adherents of the author's approach, demonstrating that you too can be the CEO of a major airline if you religiously practice the techniques you've just learned, attend Harvard Business School and are born to a father who owned a majority stake in a major airline.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Following Guest

It used to be when you were the next person on line and suddenly it was your turn, the person behind the counter said "May I help the next customer, please?" I liked that. It was succinct, accurate, polite and respectful.

Somewhere along the way it became simply "Next customer!" Now it was a command, not a request. No longer polite, but still clear and accurate.

Then we got "Next guest!" That's when I started to have a problem.

I'm not your guest. We are conducting a business transaction. I have different expectations of someone who is providing me with a good or service in exchange for money than I do of someone who is providing hospitality to me out of a spirit of friendship and benevolence.

In the last couple of months, I've detected the beginnings of a transition to "Following guest!"

First of all, what a complete 180-degree flip of the perspective of customer service. From my perspective, I'm about to be served: I'm next. It's only from your perspective behind the counter that I'm 'following', i.e. I'm the new schmuck after the previous one in the uninterrupted chain of schmucks that marches up to your counter. I guess that's the message the people in management who came up with the customer service script wanted to send. OK: duly noted.

Secondly, I'm not being lead to you by the random stranger who happened to wind up on line in front me. Our relative positions in no way imply a relationship of leadership or stalkerism. I don't follow anyone.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I don't care about you, World Cup

Sorry soccer, I don't care.

Sorry rest of the world, I hope you enjoy it. I wish you well. I just don't care.

Many years ago, you calibrated the game wrong. The field and goals are too big relative to the size of a human being. It just looks like a bunch of guys running around for an hour and occasionally something threatens to happen.

You won't be hurting for my lack of intrest. Godspeed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Black Coffee

My standard coffee order is light and sweet.... way way too much milk and sugar (or, nowadays, Splenda).

Today, there was no milk in the house, so I'm having my coffee black and really enjoying it. It may have something to do with the method of preparation, which involved freshly ground beansand a French press (one of the nice things about getting married is being given all these cool kitchen gadgets I'd never buy on my own. The Rabbit Wine Opener Tool Kitis also the balls).

At any rate, I'm enjoying the bitterness, which is something I'm in the habit of producing rather than consuming. It's a nice change of pace.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Netflix Diary: Brothers

Going to completely parrot Mr. Manley's Netflix Diary meme and generate some blog posts from my incessant moving watching.

If you've seen the trailer, you know what's up with this film. Good son Toby Maguire goes off to war leaving behind wife Natalie Portman. His perpetual screw-up brother (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts to nose in on Portman after Maguire's chopper is shot down in Afghanistan and he's presumed dead... or is he?!?!? It's all melodrama that I could take or leave at the end of the day. Certainly more smartly observed melodrama than one might expect, but melodrama nonetheless.

What really surprised me was the difference in quality in Maguire and Gyllenhaal's performances. I've always thought of them (and countless other actors of their generation) as basically interchangeable. But even though he had much less to work with here, I thought Gyllenhaal absolutely smoked Maguire. His performance was pleasantly understated and he communicated a lot while doing very little. Maguire's role, on the other hand, called for a certain gravitas that he just wasn't able to pull off. You can tell that Maguire just doesn't have it in him while Gyllenhaal, much to my surprise, does.

Still, they're neither of them Mare Winningham.

iPad Reflections, Week 2

I am left a little more disenchanted after the second week of my iPad experiment than I was after the first. Further observations:

  • There is a noticeable dearth of quality iPad-optimized applications in the App Store. No iPad optimized Facebook (though AIM for iPad with its Lifestream feature is a decent alternative). Similarly, no Blogger support (either an app or a version of the Blogger web client that works on the iPad).
  • The Gmail iPad interface is quite well designed but performs poorly. The Inbox doesn't refresh properly half the time when you navigate back to the page and often gets into some weird loop where it keeps redirecting until Safari finally barfs.
  • Not really great for using on a bus. It's just hard to use without sufficient elbow room, so if there's anyone next to you, you're constantly clocking them in the ribs or contorting your body and fingers into odd positions.
  • The heaviness bothers me more and more. It really makes the difference between a go-to device you can use at will and something you have to dedicate yourself to using, and it's really not functional enough to rival something like a laptop if you're going that far.
  • I've fallen into a nice pattern of leaving my laptop in the office and carting the iPad home with me at night to do email, web and document reviewing at home at night. It's nice not to have to lug my MacBook home every night, but there's no way I would attempt this if there wasn't another real computer at home that I could use in a pinch.
I'm left wondering if there is an audience I would recommend this to. It can't replace the utility of a laptop or the use-it-anywhere quality of a smartphone for the road warrior. It certainly does not replace anyone's primary computer (laptop or desktop).

Perhaps it's an alternative to a smartphone for someone who does a lot of note taking or media consumption in situations where the ultra-portability of a smartphone is not important (e.g. college students, frequent coffee shop patrons). I could see where a dumbphone plus iPad is better than a smartphone for these folks. This is allegedly the market for netbooks, so in the final analysis, the iPad may just be a netbook killer. I'm just not in that demographic and never 'got' netbooks anyway, so while it's an occasionally fun toy, I'd get along just fine with only my laptop and smartphone.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

iPad Reflections, Week 1

I've got an iPad. Well, not exactly. My company has an iPad. We're a gaming company and it's becoming an influential platform for games. So we got one. And it syncs with my computer, so possession being 9/10 of the law, it's been mine for the last week.

Before we got one, it just seemed like a tweener to me. There's space in the world for a device that fits in your pocket, can be used anywhere in any position, connects to the Internet, plays music and makes phone calls (smartphone). There's space in the world for a robust productivity device that has to be carried around in a bag and used in a constrained number of positions (laptop). I'm skeptical that there's room in the world for a media consumption device that has to be carried around in a bag, offers a lousy content creation experience and has to be used in a constrained number of positions. It's why I (and Steve Jobs, kind of) don't get netbooks.

After a week, I still believe all that, it's just that I don't think the iPad really meets with that description. I'm not convinced it's a useful device yet, but here's what I've observed so far.
  • It's heavy. Much heavier than you think it will be. Much heavier than a Kindle. When you hold a Kindle, you think "It's almost like there's nothing there. This is way better than a book!" When you hold an iPad, you think "Wow, this is really heavy. If I've got to hold something like this to use it, I'd almost rather sit down at a desk with a laptop."
  • Consequently, you can't really hold it with one hand. You can hold it with two hands. You can rest it on one forearm and operate it with the other. You can rest it on your lap. You can sit semi-recumbently on a couch and use your knees as a little stand. But you can't hold it with one hand for any extended period of time.
  • The landscape keyboard is really good. Amazingly good. I'm able to do a sort of half touch typing / half high speed hunt-and-peck thing with it sitting on my lap or a flat surface and type almost as quickly and accurately as I can with a physical keyboard.
  • The portrait keyboard is crap. The device is too big to hold it like an iPhone in portait mode and thumb type. Utter waste. They'd be better off with the big landscape keyboard and then a portrait keyboard the same size as the iPhone one offset to one side of the screen or the other so you could thumb type with one hand.
  • Note taking is the killer app. Because the landscape keyboard is so good, I've been brining it into meetings instead of a laptop or paper notebook. It's unobtrusive and with software like Evernote (which still needs work in the iPad version... no formatting, really?!?!?) syncs to the cloud. I could very easily see this becoming the device of choice for, e.g., college students to take to class and have a desktop or laptop back in the dorm room.
  • No multitasking? Seriously? I know it's allegedly coming, but being able to jump back and forth between, e.g., Evernote, Safari and Mail is going to be key. It feels hobbled without it.
  • $500 for the base model seems reasonable, but $830 for the top of the line with Wi-Fi and 3G?And AT&T 3G at that (at least in NYC)?  No way.
  • Not directly an iPad comment, but the Incase Neoprene Slip Sleeve Plus for iPad is a piece of garbage. I don't know how this product got greenlit. I mistakenly brought it thinking it was the zippered version. Instead, you slide the iPad into it from the top and then have to fold a flap over maybe the top 10% of the device. This is impossible to do without getting your fingers caught, pushing the wake button so the screen turns on or dropping the thing (and frequently all three).
The provisional verdict is that it's much more useful than I thought but maybe not useful enough. I strongly suspect I'm going to tire of it after another week. I'll keep you posted.