bookmark_borderThe Upside

UniversumUNAM27
Does this mirror make my butt look big?
Yeah yeah, “search is awful.”  I say it every day, so often that I bore myself–and I think every word I say is FASCINATING, so I can imagine how it must be for people who aren’t, you know, on my level..

This park has both swings and roundabouts though. First of all, most people never really bothered to learn how to search for stuff anyway, so now there’s more even money to be made finding basic information for them now.

Plus, now that so many people have decided to let ad-placement agencies like teh Joogles and FB determine what information they can find on the 12netherets, it’s just a lot easier to put up stuff that smart people can find easily, and not-smart people won’t even know exists.

…and to be able to determine who is which.

bookmark_borderThe llama never gets a break

Rock it!
It was before your time

The llama’s ass will continue to get whipped!

You know, I used to despise AOL, but now I don’t. Now I see them as the corporate auto-Robin-Hood that they truly have been.

Thanks to their unique combination of cash reserves, hubris and goofiness, AOL have managed to absorb the difference between the grotesque over-valuation of several pieces of tech (WinAmp, Netscape, etc.), and the actual value of those same assets. They bought those things for the stupid, Facebook-level IPO messiah price, screwed up and starved the productive side of things in a vain search for profitability commensurate with their unrealistic investment, and refused to let go.

The end result: The tech ends up functional, freed of its greedhead investors, with only those who truly care about what it does left and providing the (usually simple) functionality that made it worthwhile in the first place.

And they’ve done it the old-fashioned way–by taking HUGE losses!

Yay market! Thanks AOL!

bookmark_borderNot currently in Denmark

A picture of an elk
I said “whelk!” Stupid auto-correct!

I just saw this.

What kind of world do we live in where it takes a threat to the entire planet to get famous people to pose naked with dead fish?

When I was a kid, people were much more caring. Why, all it would take is a mugging or a minor flood and the street would be lined with A-listers, covered in haddock!

On one particularly cold December morning, my mom was distracted by a flock of whelk, and overcooked the breakfast bacon—we prefer it a bit less crisp.

Within minutes, the entire cast of a local production of “Mourning Becomes Electra” was in our front room, starkers, fondling everything from a carp to a mollusk I still haven’t identified.

THOSE were the days. Kudos to these folks for taking a stand. A naked, fishy, not-very-widely-seen stand, the point of which is completely unclear, but a stand nonetheless.

bookmark_borderFree to read

Beer and Computers
“Free” as in “How the HELL do I pay my rent?”

“What is ‘RSS?'”  Pooh asked, as if he’d forgotten how to use a search engine, which once again, he had.

“It’s short for ‘Rich Site Summary'” said Christopher Robin, though he liked to tell people it meant “Really Simple Syndication.” But he just couldn’t be mean to his friend like that.

“All the new information from a web site gets put into a ‘feed’ that you can read without having to go to the site and wade through all the advertising and bad design.  It’s a great way to get just the news from news sites, or blog posts, or any content from sites that update often. You can collect and read all  your feeds in one place, which allows you to organize, filter and read a lot of information from a lot of sources very quickly.”

“So it’s like a FaceyTwitPlusR newsfeedticker?”  asked Pooh, quoting Buddha, or maybe it was Ghandi.  Or Oprah.  Evs.

“Well, it’s the other way around–those are kind of like what you can do with RSS if you aren’t very clever and like seeing the same thing over and over”  said Christopher Robin, photographing his cat eating lunch.  

“You don’t sound very much like yourself today, Christopher Robin.”  said Pooh.  “You sound kind of like a cranky person who just had a tooth removed and is very tired of yoghurt and Jell-o and smoothies just wants something crunchy something goddamn crunchy for chissake is every ad on TV for goddamn crunchy goddamn things? “

“No, I’m afraid I don’t sound much like myself at all, and it was a terrible idea to think that I would.  I’m sorry.”  said Christopher Robin, who was in no mood to think of a better character to use.

“Let’s never do this again.” said Pooh.  And they never did.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to use Bloglines, which was an online RSS aggregator. That means that I signed up for an account, which was free, and then I subscribed to a bunch of RSS feeds, and then I could read and save the articles in those feeds on the Bloglines site.  That was really cool, because I could read my feeds from any computer that had an Interweresds connection.

Bloglines closed down, and then it didn’t, over and over.  I left the first time it closed.  I then started using Google Reader, which was pretty much exactly the same service as Bloglines, except I didn’t like the interface as much.  It worked just fine, but Google services are really a trade-off:  On one hand, the services are usually really good, and really reliable, for as long as Google feels like providing them.  On the other hand, it’s not much work to find the same services that don’t track and push advertising in my face all the time.

The other hand won, so I started using a desktop RSS feed reader. There are about infinity of these—you can get RSS feeds in your email client or through your web browser or whatever, if you want.  I was using a dedicated client for the Mac called Vienna, which is FOSS, and worked just great for me.

I don’t like being tied to one machine though, and I have hosting for my domains, so I knew that eventually I would want to set up my own web-based RSS reader on it.  I wanted something like Reader or Bloglines, that I could get at from anywhere, but not dependent on the whims of the pretend Inderenet “market.”

Then the power supply on my Mac let go.  That forced me to do something, because I couldn’t use Vienna to read my feeds.  Necessity is a mother, and all that.

I looked at a bunch of options.  I wanted Open Source stuff, and not just because I am cheap and clever and rugged and brave and very very handsome.  Generally when (when) the developer bails on an Open Source project, there is at least the chance that someone will pick it up, or at least document how to get your stuff out of it. With very few exceptions, when (WHEN) companies bail on closed-source, commercial software (or versions thereof), they give it  two to the chest and one to the head, lock the remains in a vault protected by ninja lawyers, and act like it never existed.

I didn’t want to get screwed AGAIN by some third party’s business plan, or lack thereof.

I quickly discovered the limitations of my hosting.  It’s running old versions of PHP, PostgreSQL and My SQL.  Most folks developing stuff will make it work with the current version of those packages, or only be one or two point versions behind. As a result, I couldn’t install the current versions of pretty much ANY web-based RSS reader I found. This is not the fault of the developers—in fact, it’s a virtue—but it meant more work for me.

Eventually, I found Tiny Tiny RSS.  It is small and light and simple and works very well.

Or at least, the version I am using does.  Because of my elderly PHP and database installs, I can not run Tiny Tiny RSS in a standard–or recommended–configuration.  Here are the problems, and how I solved them:

  • My PHP version is too old.  I found this very useful site by a person who has hacked/patched Tiny Tiny RSS to use older versions of PHP.  It works!  That is very cool, and I’m glad there are folks like this out there.
  • Tiny Tiny RSS can use either PostgrSQL or MySQL as the backend database.  The developer, along with everyone else who has tried both, recommends PostgreSQL, because the performance is just way better (faster).The version of PostgreSQL on my hosting is too old to work with Tiny Tiny RSS, so I used MySQL.  It works!
  • The developer, along with every non-annoying person who posts on the Tiny Tiny RSS discussion board, EXPLICITLY STATES that if you run Tiny Tiny RSS on shared hosting, you are on your own.  Also, probably dumb.  I am on shared hosting.  It works—ON MY HOSTING!  This does NOT mean that it will work on any other shared hosting, and if it doesn’t, tough. About the LAST thing you should do is bitch about that, because it says RIGHT ON THE TIN not to use shared hosting.

It took about an hour to get this up and running–most of which was spent reading and tracking down ways to make this work.  It took a few more minutes to subscribe to all my feeds.  It’s been working just splendidly for a couple of weeks or so now.

To recap:  Tiny Tiny RSS is FOSS, and I am running it in a configuration that it is NOT designed for—or supported under—and everything I am doing should give me terrible performance and problems.  And it is working just fine.

That is the highest, most backhanded compliment I can think of:  I am using this software the worst way I can, and I like how it works.  I am pretty sure the developer would slap me upside the head were I to tell him this over a beer, and I would not blame him if he did.  But I would still pay for the beer, because this is great stuff.

Speaking of which, Tiny Tiny RSS is developed by ONE guy, who is doing it in what probably used to be his spare time. He also posts on the discussion board for the product’s support.  The software is free, but he does take donations. I’d be shocked (and happy) if those donations bought him even a quarter of the beer and coffee it must take just to get through the discussion board posts every day.

He’s kinda crabby on to some people on the boards—those who ask stupid questions, bitch about how this free software doesn’t do what THEY want it to, or make stupid demands—and I find that incredible.  I don’t know how he finds the time to even respond to that kind of crap. Much more patient guy than me.

Think I’ll buy him a beer.

bookmark_borderI don’t want to jinx it by looking too close

Munny
It’s all about the Benjamins, squared.

In the movies, when $64388488 gets transferred to someone’s account, they need to use a full-screen interface on one particular computer, and it takes like, two minutes and you have to watch a bar fill up across the screen, indicating that each individual money has moved from one bank to the next.

But over here, not-in-the-movies, I keep getting emails telling me that $64388488 has been transferred into an account at a bank where I don’t even have an account, without me having to do ANYTHING.

Now, I’m not necessarily calling bullshit here–I’ve already spent the money–but at the very least, one of these processes is a bit too complex, and the other a bit too informal.

bookmark_borderWe like to go out for home-style cookin’

Steel, man.
Doesn’t taste as good without the gravy

Kids, please. You have GOT to calm the hell down, because you are making the Ineerweebs boring by whining about the same things over and over, every time a big shiny new movie comes out based on a book or a comic or something else that you care about.

And it’s only going to get worse, because it looks like there are going to be tons of them in the next little while.

Take a second, take a breath, take a step back, and get this into your head.    It’ll seem all cynical and snarky, but you will feel better by the end, I promise.

Right.  The big companies that make expensive movies have one primary motivation for doing so:  To make as much money as possible.  Everything else–EVERYTHING else–they do is in the pursuit of this.  In a nutshell, the model goes like this:

  1. Spend a buttload of money making a movie
  2. Spend a buttload of money promoting a movie
  3. Make more buttloads of money than you spent, from people going to the movie in theaters + additional buttloads from merch and a few more buttloads over time from DVD/Streaming/On-Demand and whatever new formats you can resell the thing on later.

It’s pretty simple.  When it works, it really works, and when it doesn’t work quite so well, it still usually works OK, and when it doesn’t work at all, well, that’s what some of the additional buttloads from the movies that did work are for.  Yes, I read the stuff Spielberg and Lucas said recently.  Hilarious stuff, coming from two guys who kinda drove the whole thing in that direction.

I’m not saying this is how things SHOULD be, or even how they HAVE to be.  Please read this line again.

But make no mistake. Big money movies made by big companies are fundamentally money-making projects.  All the writing and the directing and the acting and the scoring and the promotion and the gaffers and clapper-loaders and grips, all that stuff is in the project because someone who controls the money thought it would make the movie make more money.  The people who do the actual work might have some other reason for doing what they do, and that’s nice. It’s great to do work you believe in. But the reason that those people are doing that work is so that the movie will make more money.

Every word of Step 1  is important.  It is VERY important to this process that the projects cost a buttload of money.  Have a buttload of money behind them is what differentiates these projects from other projects.  Hollywood movies HAVE TO LOOK LIKE Hollywood movies. There are two problems if they don’t:

  1. Not as many people will want to see the movie, because people are used to Hollywood movies that LOOK like Hollywood movies
  2. Instead of only competing with the few other movies that look like Hollywood movies, the movie would have to compete with every other movie.

Helicopters, cranes, exotic locations, big-name movie stars, directors and composers, huge stunts and really cutting-edge CGI are all expensive.  So are re-shoots, focus groups, delays, and two-storey trailers.  Having a buttload of money means that companies can put all that stuff in a movie, and it differentiates that movie from all the movies that can’t afford those things.  It doesn’t necessarily make it better (or worse) as a piece of art, but the primary intention isn’t to make a piece of art. It is to make a profitable project.

But it goes farther than that.  Fast and Furious movies are not made to compete with ANY other movies in the world.  Neither are Die Hard movies, or Bond films, or any other franchise.  They are made because they don’t HAVE to compete with other movies.  A big movie project doesn’t WANT to compete–apart from the unavoidable part about being in theaters at the same time as other movies.  Competition means splitting ticket sales with competitors. Even if you come out on top, doing this makes no sense if your intention is to make as much money as possible.  The best product for a project like that is unique in a way that appeals to as many people as possible.

That means using as many things as possible that other projects can’t. The most expensive-looking shots and effects, the limited resources of stars, directors, and products.  And it really helps if the concept for the movie is some property that can be bought or licensed, and no-one else can use–like a comic book or a novel or a board game.

Yeah, I said “board game.” Crazy, right? What are they even thinking? A freakin’ BOARD GAME!

I know–Let’s make a movie based on a board game!  We’ll get a couple chunks of beefcake and have a famous sort-of singer shooting a .50 calibre machine gun, and tons of CGI and flying saw-balls and stuff blowing up and people saying “Let’s DO this!”  and walk Liam Neeson through a day of shooting, to add some gravitas.  We’ll call it “Battleship” and it will be universally decried as a cynical piece of crap.  It will cost about $209 million to make.  OH WAIT SOMEONE TOTALLY DID THAT!

Are you laughing right now because of how dumb it was to spend that much money on a crap movie?  It’s good for you to laugh.  Go ahead and get all the laughing out before you read the next sentence.

“Battleship” grossed about $100 million MORE than it cost worldwide.

One.  Hundred. Million. That’s about three times what “Blade Runner” cost to make.  It’s five times what “Gosford Park” cost.

And I’m sure that what you find most annoying about that movie is that it wasn’t ANYTHING like the board game.

Great time to bring up Step 2.  Every word of Step 2 is equally important.  It can’t happen until you have Step 1 in place, but it’s just as important. Ideally, everyone in the world will be aware that the movie is coming out, that it cost more than coating the Burj al Arab in prosciutto and took more organization, and then entire planet will be just PUMPED to line up at midnight on Thursday to buy a ticket.

Reality isn’t like that though, so the aim is to get a bunch of people REALLY excited, and they will drag their friends along to the theater. And then later, the less excited will watch it some other way for less money, which is better than nothing.

Some of that marketing pays for itself too, through cross-promotions and licensing.  Kids should want a toothbrush based on a character in the movie before the movie is even out.

Marketing a product is a heck of a lot easier when that product already has brand recognition in the market.  If people already know something–pretty much anything–about the movie you are trying to get them to buy a ticket to, then you have a hook to draw their interest with.  It could be actors’ or directors’ or even the writers’ name recognition, or it could be the title or whatever concept the movie was based on, but that hook is important.  You put Mel Gibson’s face on the side of a Whopper box, and people will want to know why. It doesn’t matter if they hate him, as long as people get curious about the movie, and buy tickets.

And the fact is, once the tickets are sold, nothing about the movie itself really matters.  The actors might do their best work, or they might phone it in, but the people who go to movies to see those actors are added to the number of people who will buy tickets.  It’s the same for everything about the movie, right down to the high concept, like a comic book or novel or board game or whatever the original idea was that started the project on the path to being done.  Once the people drawn to that idea have paid for a ticket, the idea has done its job.

Hollywood movie projects are expensive, and they have to bring in a LOT of tickets and rentals and copies–way more than the goofy little numbers that comic books or novels sell–in a relatively short amount of time. A Hollywood movie that sold as the same number of tickets as a typical best-selling book in the same amount of time would be a dismal failure.  If every person who read a particular comic book went to see major movie based on that comic, that movie would probably not make money, and if the comic was a niche title, the movie definitely would not make money.

The target market of movies then, is not just the people who bought the book or read the comic or played the board game–it’s all the people who have HEARD about the book/comic/game, plus all the people who are attracted by all the other movie stuff.

And that’s why major movie adaptations that are “just like” the source material are very rare exceptions.  Making a big-money film project that can only be appreciated by people who have absorbed the source material is an enormous risk that is simply not worth taking most of the time.  It makes much more sense for a big company to make a movie that a lot more people will buy a ticket to than it does to make a movie that will satisfy a smaller number of people who will probably buy a ticket anyway.

It doesn’t matter that the folks who loved the book hated the movie, as long as they bought a ticket.  Or enough other people bought tickets.

So there it is. Getting bent out of shape over a movie because you happened to know the source material makes about as much sense as getting bent out of shape because the food you eat in a fast-food restaurant isn’t just like the food you eat at home.  That was never the plan, and you’re being silly when you act like it was.  Over and over and over.

There are lots of movies that aren’t particularly true to the source material they were based on and still worked out pretty OK, like this one, this one, and this one.  I would wager that most of the people who loved those films never actually read the source material.  Something about bliss, I think.

If you managed to read this far, you might also find this article from the New Yorker about “About Schmidt” a bit enlightening as well.  Didn’t hear a lot of bitching about that one.

Haven’t seen it myself. I’m waiting for the graphic novel.

bookmark_borderThe baked beans are off.

not spam
With lots of pepper!

A while back, there were some big takedowns of a couple very large spam sources, which caused an enormous drop in the amount of spam worldwide. It appears that other parties have recently picked up the slack.

There has been a marked increase in the amount of email spam firing around over the last week or two.  I’ve been seeing a few hundred showing up in my filters daily, and the number seems to be growing.  There are a couple of things that can be done to protect yourself and others.

Luckily, these new attempts are pretty clumsy (eg emails claiming to be from MySpace containing warnings about bank accounts), but these new spammers won’t stay clumsy forever.

Also, because so many people are depending more on “private” messaging services (Facebook, Skype, etc), and/or have got new devices that use mail apps with limited  or hard-to-find controls, a lot of folks simply aren’t aware of what spam is and how to deal with it.

There are lots and lot of resources on the Weebs to help you find out if a message is spam.  Here’s an old one that is still pretty good,  and here is one more with more detail and a charmingly naive opening sentence.   I recommend you learn more about this stuff, but the most basic way to protect yourself is simply not click on anything–either a link or an attachment–unless you know FOR SURE that it is OK.  This applies even if the message has made it past your spam filters.  You can always send a reply to whomever sent you the message and ask if it is legit.

Oh, and spam occurs–and usually looks similar, on all them fancy chip jewelries you kids spend all day rubbing as well.

A quick and simple way to identify spam is copy a couple of sentences from the message and then paste them into a Google search, surrounded by quotes. It doesn’t always work, but if the spam has been around for a day or two, you’ll usually see search results about it.  This also works quite well with heartwarming stories and pithy quotes that have political overtones, talk about “a local [profession]” or use the term “studies have shown” but don’t cite any ACTUAL studies.

Some basic mail account maintenance would also go a long way in slowing this stuff down.

A lot of people have moved to newer email providers (Gmail being the most common) over the last two or three years, and just abandoned their old accounts without emptying or deleting them.  This provides a great hunting ground for bad guys, because:

  •  Those old addresses still seem legit to the people who used to receive mail from them
  • A lot of those old accounts were started back before people learned to use stronger passwords
  • Those old accounts are full of email addresses that are probably exploitable as well

If you have old accounts out there that you no longer use–especially if they are web mail accounts  (like yahoo.com or whatever MS is calling hotmail this week), please take a moment to shut them down.

If the mail provider is foolish enough NOT to provide means to delete your old account, you can do the following:

  1. Log into the old account
  2. Send a message to all your contacts telling them that you are no longer using that address, won’t be receiving messages sent to it,  and that they are free to block it.

    You should probably include something that makes it obvious that you are you, such as your current email address, in case they have questions.

  3. Delete everything in the account, including all sent messages and especially all contact/address book entries.
  4. When you are sure that you will never need to get back into the account, reset the password to a very long string of gibberish with capital letters and numbers.  At that point, you can just mash the keys at random, using caps and numbers and stuff, and make as long a password as the thing will accept.

Spamming asshats will always be with us, but we don’t have to make it easy for them.