Friday, December 20, 2013

Tropes I Don't Like (Part 1)— The Power Of Love

Today I'm starting a new recurring feature called Tropes I Don't Like. This is not a list of tropes that are bad, and I'm certainly not saying they can't be done extremely well. This is just a list of tropes I don't like, and therefore will not use in my writings.

Today's trope is The Power Of Love, but more generally, the concept of emotions having physical power.

This trope rubs me the wrong way in much the same way that religion rubs me the wrong way— it makes human experience the centerpiece of existence itself, saying, in essence, I feel it, therefore it must be physically potent. It registers strongly in my subjective experience, therefore its power must be objectively strong. What goes on in my head is perfectly reflective of the universe as a whole, therefore something that matters to me must matter to the universe at large. It privileges humanity to a grotesque level, and reduces everything else to a slightly overcomplicated human support system, which shatters my suspension of disbelief and makes me want to send very strongly worded missives to the responsible writers and their mums.

If a writer can pull off a story wherein humanity is objectively the most important thing in the universe without making me cringe, then this trope may slide but otherwise giving physical potency to human emotions is a trope I hate and will never use.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

They Actually Said It

So in previous posts explaining why I don't think marketers are human, I snarked that marketers seem to think people have "emotional connections" with brands. Unfortunately, my satire fell victim to the saddest death that satire can face.

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal about Facebook's intrusive new video ads (and reason #7 why I will never use Facebook). And in that article, I found this quote:

"Video is really powerful," said Shelby Saville, managing director at Spark, a media-buying unit of Publicis Groupe SA "Using sight, sound and motion is a way to get consumers to have an emotional connection to the brand, if it's well done."

Seriously. They literally believe that people have "emotional connections" to small pieces of intellectual property and the legal fictions that own them.

I have no idea what planet marketers originally come from, but I think many of us would prefer it if they could all go back there.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Random Things

Last night, I dreamed I was a werewolf. According to the dream, werewolfness was an autosomal recessive inherited condition, because my dreams like to be specific about those sorts of things. Symptoms typically manifest in mid-teens to mid-20s and include pronounced excitement or anxiety at the prospect of the next full moon followed by turning into a wolf for the duration of any night in which a full moon is in the sky. Exact nature of the symptoms vary, with some werewolves retaining full mental faculties while transforming physically while others act like wolves for the duration of their transformation.

In the dream, I secluded myself in a construction site for my first transformation, and discovered that I transformed physically while remaining mentally human. Except the next morning, I discovered that I'd killed four people who were trespassing in the construction site. After reverting to human the following morning, I was captured and imprisoned by an organisation that hunts werewolves but sued for my freedom on the grounds that being a werewolf isn't actually a criminal offence.

I was actually surprised to discover my subconscious wrote what sounds like a passable story. I don't think I'm actually going to write it though.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dispatches from Marketer World: Part 5— Facebook

So Facebook is now totally a thing and marketers are all over it because it lets them invade the privacy of average consumers that much more and because it gives them an objective, but thoroughly meaningless, number that they can pretend represents their "popularity" or summat.

Facebook does a lot of things for marketers— it somehow manages to convince people to dump their private lives and private information into the clutches of a company that explicitly exists to abuse it, creating a vast wealth of information about who's interested in what, and allowing marketers to attempt a form of ad targeting that's less bullshit than the normal cookie-based educated guesses— to target ads based on the kinds of products people express interest in and therefore might be in the market to buy. You'll notice I said "attempt," not "succeed" in that sentence. That's because, while Facebook has been quite successful in getting people to disregard all notions of privacy with respect to their lives, they haven't solved the fundamental problem that computers simply can't derive someone's interests from their activities with any level of precision. Sure, you can try keyword matching and various tricks like that, but it's still just educated guesses— the same kind of "targeting" you get from a tracking cookie. They have all the data, but no way to interpret it.

Facebook tries to work around this problem by implementing the "like" button. They figure, "people are willing to make us privy to all of their private information, maybe we can make them do the work for us by explicitly telling us what their interests are in a manner we can readily interpret. So, we give each company that wants to market through us a big fancy "like" button, and allow the users that like them to register this approval!"

The first problem with this is that real humans do not genuinely like companies, so the entire concept makes no sense outside of the marketers' fantasy world where people emotionally connect with legal fictions and small pieces of intellectual property.

The second problem is that even if there are a few subhumans out there who define themselves by what brand of crisps they buy, Facebook has transformed the "like" into a supposed measure of popularity. Companies are desperate to be more popular than their competitors, and therefore desperate to get more "likes." This leads them to pursue more effective ways of gaining "likes," namely by paying money for them. Most companies will, at minimum, offer a discount in exchange for your willingness to click the "like" button, with some paying cashy money to buy bulk "likes" from dummy accounts, thus completely defeating the supposed purpose of the "like" button and turning it into a measurement of how much money you have invested in purchasing "likes."

But the "like" system resonates with marketers in no small part because it reinforces one of their prime delusions— namely, that people can genuinely like a company and thus hold loyalty to it and its products, and especially its brands. Accordingly, marketers become quite invested in the whole Facebook thing.

And so, a recent market research survey asked: "What percentage of your Facebook friends have you met in real life?"

That I wasn't on Facebook never even occurred to them.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Little Things That BUG Me #10

Complaining about Internet Exploder has already been done to death, and the only people who still use it are old people who don't know what Firefox is and need their grandsons to install it anyway. That said, I'm a Mac user, so I get to complain about Safari instead.

It's rubbish. There. Got that out of the way. Version 4 had a remarkable tendency to crash every time I visited certain websites which is not a very good feature in a browser by and large. Version 4 was the version I had because I hadn't bothered to install system updates— it's a Mac so (a) there's no malware that needs to be patched against and (b) if there were, there would be no patch released because Apple dropped support in 1987.

Well I finally got around to installing the system updates and Safari 5.0.6 came with them. This version no longer crashes, but it's extremely slow and tends to go unresponsive for a minute or two whenever I try to load most web pages, and unlike the earlier version, it is not capable of playing netflix videos without dropping frames. So yeah, not a very good browser. But then, it makes sense that Safari would be crap— it's made by Apple.

Besides, I expect Mac users, as a group, contain a much higher percentage of old people who would need their granddaughters to install Firefox for them, given that Apple products have this bizarre reputation of "user-friendliness" (which ten minutes of using an iPhone would trivially disprove). Personally, I use Apple products because I'm allergic to paying money for things and I keep finding Macs for free in various bins.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Web Design Commandments

Here are the commandments for web design. I may add to this list as I think of new stuff.

1. Thou shalt not have autoplay videos or sounds.

Seriously. It's annoying. Any web designer who violates this commandment shall be sentenced to have the video or audio play in their house simultaneous with each time it autoplays for a visitor to their website.

2. Thou shalt not use Javascript exit popups.

Here, I'm talking about "var exitsplashmessage." It causes a dialog box to pop up when the user tries to navigate away from the page. Don't do this. Ever. Doing so carries a sentence of being locked into every retail outlet you visit until you agree to hear a lengthy sales pitch.

3. Thou shalt not hijack system commands.

Here's a relatively innocent example. In Fruit OS, typing command-N opens a new window in Firefox. Unless, of course, I happen to have Hotmail open, in which case Hotmail hijacks that command and opens a new email within the browser tab. Don't. Just don't do this. The command key is reserved for local applications, and is not to be used by web content. Microsoft's web designers and anyone else who violates this commandment will be sentenced to have a smarmy-looking bloke follow them around who deliberately misinterprets everything they say as a solicitation for sex directed at him.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Metaphors And Realism: Breaking Bad Redux

Having made a very brief My Media Habits post for the show "Breaking Bad," in which I dismissed it as shite, I subsequently found, on a far more popular blog, a review of the show which praised it for a thorough deconstruction of male power tropes in culture; apparently, in the episodes I couldn't be bothered to watch, Walter White goes on at great length about how he's providing for his family while effectively screwing them over, which starkly parallels the way "family values" is used to justify male power at the expense of everybody, including men.

I don't much care.

One of the first things I learned about writing, when I was still cranking out terrible short stories in secondary school, is that all the metaphors in the world are wasted if the story doesn't make any sense on the surface. You can thoroughly deconstruct, parallel, satirise, or do whatever the hell you want to anything you want, but if, on an entirely concrete literal level, the story is absolute dross, you have failed and the only people who will pretend to like it are literature professors.

So I don't care what metaphors Breaking Bad manages to pack into the later episodes. The basic premise is too unrealistic and I don't buy it, therefore anything built on it is lost.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Free Fizzy Drinks

Ah, another upside to taking market research surveys for money. Today I was just shipped a crate of free fizzy drinks. I will be getting paid to drink them. And next week, I will be getting another crate and I will be paid to drink those too.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Relevant Advert" Is A Contradiction

I'm in the middle of a market research survey that's asking me a whole bunch of questions about how much invasion of my privacy I'm willing to tolerate in order to receive more "relevant" adverts. The questions are all multiple choice, as usual, so let me spell it out for them here:

An advert is irrelevant BY DEFINITION. That's why you have to pay money to show it to me.

Are we clear now? Yes? Good.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Dispatches from Marketer World: Part 4— Tablets

Tablet PCs. Those things that are like laptops but don't have a keyboard or a proper operating system or any proper applications— just limited cut-down stuff they have to call "apps" for legal reasons. Or maybe they're mobiles you can't actually make calls on. They have some use, but you could invariably buy a laptop that does all of the same things as a tablet and more, but is also cheaper. Unless, of course, you get a knockoff tablet like the Shenzhen Haina Haipad, which barely works. I've mentioned tablets before (scroll down), and NO, I didn't sacrifice my principles at the same alter as when I bought the smartphone.

Apparently tablet PCs are all the rage among the easily swayed, to the point that they've effectively cannibalised the netbook market, although admittedly that's only because Apple doesn't make a netbook and people will rush out to buy anything Apple makes because they're mad.

Well apparently, as of the market research survey I took the other day, tablets are now something marketers simply assume that you own. In exchange for enough money to buy a tank of petrol for my three-inch-long model car, I provided my opinions on various brands (and it's always brands, innit) of electronic and whether I owned them and whether I'd consider buying them and similar drivel.

In this survey, it was simply assumed that I owned a tablet, and that I would buy another tablet when it broke or got stolen or couldn't run the latest update to "Where's the Rope's Angry Fruit" or a marketer told me it was obsolete or out of fashion or whatever.

They made a point of asking me whether I'd heard of Samsung and Motorola, in case I lived on the moon and wasn't at least familiar with the existence of major multinational corporations with advertising budgets bigger than the GDP of Namibia, but that I owned a tablet was simply assumed since even people who live on the moon own tablets because it's required by law.

Maybe it's because the names "Samsung" and "Motorola" are brands and marketers' obsession with brands makes them perpetually anxious that you won't have heard of theirs or won't emotionally connect with theirs, while the idea that you may not want their product because it's useless and expensive and the label has nothing to do with it never crosses their minds.

So yes. In marketer world, that you own an entirely redundant wad of electronics is simply assumed, but that you're at least dimly aware of the existence of Samsung and Motorola must be carefully ascertained because many people have never heard of massive multinational Japanese and Indian tech companies respectively. (That's what those are, right?)

At this point, clever people will have noticed that in the first paragraph I referred to a sacrificial location as an "alter" and, being clever, they got the joke in that I was sacrificing my principles and thus "altering" them. If you are observant but not clever, and thus noticed the "incorrect" term but didn't understand why it was used, then please refrain from commenting. It will only embarrass us both.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My Media Habits (Part 1.5): Bromine Eaking Barium D

The show "Breaking Bad" spells its name with the periodic table squares for bromine and barium, so I cannot possibly be blamed for pronouncing the full name of the two elements involved.

This show is not receiving a proper My Media Habits post because I quit midway through due to extremely high shit quotients but here goes.

A chemistry teacher learns he has terminal-ish cancer so decides to sell methamphetamine to provide for his family. Thus beginning the worst character development arc I've ever seen for a protagonist.

I suppose Walter White's transition from mild-mannered teacher to murderer is supposed to be the entire premise of the show, but it strikes me as unrealistic faff. I buy that a teacher who just learned he had cancer might put his skills to use cooking illegal drugs. I buy that he might seek out the advice of a junkie drug dealer with regard to the selling of said drugs. But that he would maintain absolute loyalty to said junkie despite his repeated failures is a stretch. That he would murder is a very big stretch; combine a massive mid-life crisis with having little left to lose still isn't enough to drive Mr. Vanilla to actually kill in cold blood. That Walter White would murder on behalf of the junkie he's mysteriously loyal to takes my suspension of disbelief and pummels it with a Wall Banger bat. Or wall. Or whatever.

In fact, Breaking Bad is at least a championship contender in making me scream at the screen: "PEOPLE DO NOT ACT THAT WAY." I would list many of those moments but I forgot most of them and I'm sure as balls not watching the show again for the sake of half a review.

They do earn extra credit for having an actual phone number and website set up for the sleazy lawyer— I like out-of-show peripheral bonuses like that. Unfortunately, those bonus features are like a delicious buttercream frosting— you wouldn't eat it on its own, and you certainly wouldn't eat it if it were spread on a turd.

Medium: Television
Genre: Action/Crime
Availability: Telly, Netflix
Bechdel Compliance: No
Rating: High on meth, low on quality.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Special Offers?"

I recently learned that popular online retailer Amazon sells a version of their kindle e-reader, quote, "with special offers." Basically, what this means is for $20 cheaper, you can get a kindle with ads in it.

I am of the opinion that you can either put adverts in something or you can charge money for it, but never both (unless the money charged is clearly less than the actual value). Whether or not putting up with ads is worth USD $20 is up to you, but I suppose this qualifies as not an abuse of advertising privileges, since the ad-supported one is genuinely cheaper.

That said, referring to ads as "special offers" is a flagrant mutilation of the English language that should be punishable by three months in a prison referred to as an "enlightenment facility." It's a common euphemism that seems to be part of marketer-speak along with referring to companies as "brands," but it drives me several varieties of nuts, including, but not limited to, macadamia, wal, and almond.

Curiously, the cheaper version of the kindle with, *cough*, "special offers," is only available on the American version of Amazon. On and, they only have the regular ad-free kindle at $139 and £109 respectively. Apparently, America is the only country that tolerates that sort of shit. However, the British do tolerate higher prices, as their kindle costs the equivalent of CAD $178.

Also curiously, in the splash page for the kindle on American Amazon, the kindle in the picture is displaying a page from The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, while in the splash page on Canadian Amazon, the picture shows Above All Things by Tanis Rideout, and in British Amazon, the picture shows The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. My best guess was that they tried to customise each splash page with an author from that country but they had never heard of any American writers.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Can Flickr Stop Being Owned By Yahoo?

I am officially locked out of my flickr account. The reason for this is because, while I remember my Flickr ID, this is not sufficient to log in. This is because Flickr is owned by Yahoo, a wannabe internet service company with delusions of Google, and for reasons that probably make a lot of sense to their executives, Flickr is now "integrated" into Yahoo systems such that I require not a Flickr ID for login, but a Yahoo ID. This is a problem because I haven't the foggiest idea what my Yahoo ID is.

When I signed up for flickr, they demanded I also sign up for Yahoo mail and a bunch of other crap I don't need, so I signed up for a Yahoo address and gave them one of my spamtraps as an alternate. At some point, I deleted the Yahoo account and the alternate gmail address, assuming my Flickr account would die too, but it didn't. The next time I went to Flickr, my account was still active, and I was prompted to sign up for a new Yahoo ID to get back into it.

So I did. But I don't remember what it was. And I can't delete the old account either, because I can't get back into it.

This is why non-retarded people don't insist on "linking" shit or trying to foist unwanted crap upon people. But then, the idea of forcing me to sign up for a Yahoo account before letting me onto Flickr was probably thought up by a marketer, and marketers aren't even human.

Vital stats:

Flickr: Pants
Date: Today
Current Mood: Annoyed
Sleep Status: Yes
Word of the Day: Standard
Photos: Limbo
Yahoo: No
Google: 10100
Googol: Oh, right, see above.
Picasa: Also rubbish.
Photobucket: Copyright thieves.
My Website: Down
Host: Not invoked.
Photos: Wonderful, according to 100% of not-banned commenters.
Commenters: Umm... wanna sign this petition, my bromide?

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Universe Is Too Big

I've been of the opinion that anyone who can look at the Hubble Ultra Deep Field and not see the need for space travel is a terminally boring person, and recently the ALMA radio telescope captured a star being born. It's wonderfully amazing stuff, but it carries with it a set of petty problems: The universe is just too big.

We're all clinging to the outer shell of a pebble floating in a void so huge it might as well be infinite. We can't see the ends of it, because light itself takes billions of years to cross such distances. We can try to understand it, incrementally, one faltering step at a time, but we will never have anything close to a complete understanding of its intricacies.

And when it comes to even contemplating the universe, we run headlong into a major obstacle. Our brains are very good at understanding other people. We can read intent and emotion from subtle gestures; figure out what a person will do from their posture; even figure out what people thousands of years ago may have intended and done from the artifacts they left behind. That's what our brains do, and that's what our brains are good at; we are society-forming by nature, and so evolution has selected for brains that are well-suited to living and coping in a society. The problem is, the universe shows no indication of being manmade, and so understanding it is firmly outside our brains' area of expertise.

Yet my brain is all I have to think with. I'm trying to contemplate the universe with a tool made for fitting into society. Brains are wonderfully plastic things, and so I can freely contemplate the universe with it; people can study the universe, measure the universe, learn about the universe, and share that knowledge with future generations, but fundamentally, that's just not what our brains are "meant" to do. The scientific method, with its constant tests and retests, is fundamentally a workaround for the fact that our brains are wired to make all the wrong assumptions. Double-blinding compensates for confirmation bias; repetition of results accommodates for our innate failure to guess probability; peer review compensates for our tendency to favour pet ideas and dogmas even in the face of contrary evidence.

So when I try to think about things bigger than everyday life, I find myself overwhelmed in a manner hard to replicate elsewhere. I'm trying to understand something far too big to be understood; to impose purpose for no other reason than my brain is built to read purpose. The universe defies my understanding, and what little we do know about it just makes what we don't that much more intriguing. I suppose in a sense, the universe is literally awesome.

I suppose, though, that a post on the wonder of the universe would be incomplete without mentioning religion, if only because some knob is going to comment on their pet faith so I might as well head that off as long as I'm typing. As I said before, our brains are adapted to read and understand people, but the universe shows no evidence of being manmade. Religion is the failure to recognise that fact. Religion is the assumption that because your brain is adapted to understand manmade things, the universe must be manmade, because you have a hammer so that something may not be a nail is simply inconceivable. This is why the vast multitude of religions, though they agree on very little, all seem to reach the conclusion that the universe was made by humans (for an expanded definition of "human" at any rate).

That's not to say religious people are stupid; in fact, religion is probably the perfect culmination of our brains' inherent faults. Religion assigns the entire universe to the category of "manmade things," which exploits our desire to do what we're good at, and our natural tendency to anthropomorphise, while entrenching itself with confirmation bias, and our tendency to cling to pet ideas, as well as our natural societal instincts to follow authority and follow the group. Religion is the dust that collects on the white decor inside our heads, or the fingerprints that collect on the polished black surfaces.

Religion is also an arrogant declaration that the entirety of existence is limited to what we, personally, are good at doing and a fundamental failure to understand and compensate for the inherent flaws in our brains. Religion is the dogged insistence that you are the be all and end all of existence itself; the center of the universe, whose personal flaws and foibles dictate what is possible or impossible. An infant believes an object disappears if he stops looking at it, and an infant species believes that a thing is impossible because they have trouble understanding it. Religion is a phase that we as a species are just starting to grow out of, and any comments claiming otherwise will be summarily deleted.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Expanded Human

Having posted on politics and religion, it's now time to complete the trifecta of topics that inflame fanboys by posting on a trope that I feel should be on TVTropes (if it isn't already there under another name) but I'm too lazy to write out and consolidate examples of.

Specifically, the Expanded Human or expanded definition of "human."

Any character in any work of fiction that is officially declared to be non-human but who looks and acts human in all the ways that matter is an expanded human, so I guess the TVTropes-friendly definition would be any character who has non-humanness as an Informed Attribute, but unlike Human Aliens, their resemblance to humanity is never acknowledged, or its implications are buried, or the audience is ostensibly expected to file it under suspension of disbelief, along with why the alien planet resembles the lot behind the studio or a rock quarry they got permission to film in.

For visual media, any character that is portrayed by a human actor without CGI is human, expanded or otherwise.

Likewise, any character that could have been portrayed by a human actor without CGI is human, expanded or otherwise, even if they were actually created entirely with CGI.

This particular trope is pernicious because even if you accept that aliens/gods/etc just happen to look human into suspension of disbelief and decide they're "supposed to be" different (but the budget didn't allow it or something), there are subtle effects that linger. For example, the basic premise of humans locked in a struggle to preserve/defend/build their society against alien interlopers has basically been done to death at this point, but in an example used above (namely, Avatar), the formula is turned upside down with humans declared the bad guys— and the only reason it works is because the "aliens" are clearly and unambiguously human. Swap them out for the aliens from, say, Alien, or Independence Day and suddenly the human society desperate for Unobtainium (yes, they actually called it that) doesn't seem so bad.

And then of course, there's all the hot romance with Green Skinned Space Babes that would be really disgusting except for the fact that the "aliens" are clearly and unambiguously human. Seriously, this is annoying. Would you be romantically interested in this? No? That's your closest evolutionary relative. That's not even this (which is at least a placental mammal), let alone this, (which is still a mammal), let alone this, (which is still a vertebrate). An actual alien is less related to you than THIS, (at least you share common descent). Yet more works than I can name include an alien love interest (it is, after all, a trope of its own) and no matter how committed one is to suspension of disbelief this leaves no other option than that the "alien" is, in fact, a bona fide human and is supposed to be that way. (Well, you don't have to assume it, but the alternative is unpleasant.)

And while this should get an entry of its own under LTTBM, it just bugs me when an EH character's non-humanness is stated, invoked, held up, or used to justify things narratively when the character never actually does anything that seems the slightest bit non-human. I suppose The Doctor from Doctor Who is one of the more prominent example of this, but Doctor Who gets a free pass on many things that bug me because it's So Bad It's Good; cheesy tropes and a budget of £10 per episode are what makes it what it is so the fact that the Time Lords are all clearly human fits right in perfectly. If Doctor Who suddenly developed a bigger budget and used CGI, however, than the humanness of approximately all the aliens with speaking parts would bug me quite a bit. Thankfully, the show was cancelled in 1989, so that'll clearly never happen.

So remember, no matter what planet he's supposed to come from, Superman is fully human, even if his weakness is krypton. (They do know krypton is a noble gas, right? Never mind.)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Religious Comparisons

I posted about politics a few days ago, but politics is a very contentious subject, so I've decided instead to post on a topic which is decidedly non-controversial: Religion.

Here are a few analogies to help you understand religion.

Comparing Christianity to Islam is like comparing Star Trek: Original Series to Star Trek: Next Generation.

The characters are different and the stories are a bit different as well, but to someone entirely uninterested in the franchise they're basically the same thing and only a fanboy would get upset if you mistake them.

Comparing Catholicism to Anglicanism (or Protestantism) is like comparing the idea that Kirk was the best character on Star Trek: TOS to the idea that Spock was the best character on same.

In this case, they are the same thing; the only difference between them is the fanboys' quarrels over the fine details. Someone who is entirely uninterested in the franchise wouldn't notice the difference and certainly wouldn't care.

Comparing Shia Islam to Sunni Islam is like comparing one obscure fan theory about one prop that appeared in the background of one episode of Star Trek: TNG to another obscure fan theory about same.

Same as above, but in this case the distinction is even more obscure and meaningless. Seriously, do you even know what it is? Apparently, these two factions have been killing each other for centuries over a dispute as to who was the proper successor of Muhammad— the various sects of Christianity may hate each other, but at least they're not killing each other today over whether Romulus Augustus was rightful ruler of the Western Roman Empire or whether Julius Nepos was improperly deposed.

Comparing Christianity to Hinduism is like comparing Star Trek to Star Wars.

In this case, the differences between the two are more pronounced and even someone uninterested in either franchise would probably be able to distinguish them, but they're still very similar in all the ways that matter and someone completely uninterested in the genre might confuse them.

Comparing Christianity to atheism is like comparing Star Trek to the Apollo space program.

What the latter lacks in promises it makes up for in delivery.

Comparing Christianity to ancient Norse religions is like comparing Star Trek to Firefly.

Although the latter was abandoned ages ago, it still has a small core of devoted fans who keep the ideas alive.

Comparing Christianity to Mormonism is like comparing Star Trek to Star Trek fan fiction.

Mormonism takes the official canon of Christianity and then adds its own book containing essentially nothing but a pile of its author's prejudices and fantasies.

Comparing Christianity to Scientology is like comparing Star Trek to Scientology.

This one's pretty self-explanatory; Scientology is itself science fiction.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm A Republican

Accordingly, I have dutifully ignored all of the hoopla surrounding one random baby who by virtue of birth alone is simultaneously one of the most overprivileged people on the planet and a stain on humanity's very existence.

This blog is a royal-free zone. (Except for royalties from people licensing my content; those are always welcome.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Little Things That BUG Me #9

When astronomers discover a new planet at the right distance from its star to have temperatures that can support liquid water and mainstream news sources report: "Astronomers discover habitable planet!"

First of all, distance from the star is not a guarantee of survivable temperatures; Venus is within the Sun's so-called "habitable zone" but its atmosphere full of greenhouse gases (96% carbon dioxide) make it the hottest planet in the solar system.

Even leaving that aside, just because a planet isn't hot or cold enough to quickly melt/freeze any human who lands on it doesn't mean it fits any meaningful definition of "habitable." The presence of water is hardly guaranteed, atmospheric oxygen is unlikely, and an atmosphere can be poisonous even if adequate oxygen is present.

And then of course, there's the issue of size. In a choice of language so appalling it really should have been in the opening sentence (or its own entry), many reporters have chosen the term "super-Earth" for a planet which is in its star's habitable zone but much larger than Earth. For example, the (relatively) recently discovered planets in the Gliese 667 system are maybe 10 times the size of Earth, so even leaving aside the issues of surface temperature, water, and oxygen, they're "habitable" only by a definition that forgets how gravitational forces are proportional to mass.

The discovery of a new planet is always interesting but badly-written headlines just bug me.

Addendum: This post was sitting unpublished in my drafts for some time, so it's gone a bit stale; the discovery of planets orbiting Gliese 667C was some time ago. Still, the principle remains unchanged so what the hell, up this one goes. If stale posts bug you, put that on your own blog.

Dispatches from Marketer World: Part 3— Assortment

I don't have a proper edition of DFMW this time, so here's a small collection of minor tidbits gleaned from various surveys I took.

Although the obsession with brands is something I've already written about at length, I was struck nonetheless by a particular example in a recent survey I took. In the midst of a long survey about dish washing products, the survey asked me:

"What drives your loyalty to the particular brand of automatic dishwasher detergent that you use?"

If ever called to provide a succinct explanation for my belief that marketers aren't actually human (thus ruling out my usual verbose rants), I would offer up that quote. A marketer writing a survey to try and learn the opinions of consumers assumed (a) that all consumers buy soap (a parity product) based on brand over all other factors, (b) that all consumers will only ever buy one brand of soap unless extraordinary external factors persuade them to change, and (c) the reason for this is because all consumers have loyalty to specific corporate trademarks. Keep in mind that at no point did I suggest anything that might support this conclusion even out of context; the question came completely out of the blue and not as a response to something I said.

Incidentally, the question was multiple choice; possible options included such delights as "I trust the brand" and "it's the brand I grew up with," plus the odd-sounding "it's the premium option."

To offer some semblance of actually answering the question, the idea of "brand loyalty" is ridiculous, especially when applied to a parity product like detergent; while I know I have dishwasher detergent in the cupboard under the sink I couldn't tell you what brand it is without getting up to check and I'm far too lazy to bother.

Moving on to another topic, many surveys on a wide range of subjects have blithely assumed I have a television, that said television is connected to some form of broadcast receiving equipment, and that I regularly watch said broadcasts when in fact, only the first is true and only barely. Many a survey has asked me how much television I watch in a multiple choice question that offered no selection for "none," forcing me to provide the awkward, if technically true, answer of "less than five hours weekly." At least three surveys have asked a series of half a dozen questions in a row where they would present a set of still images from different adverts and ask if I've seen that advert on the telly— without asking whether I actually watch television.

I suppose this is to my advantage in a way, since surveys are written for specific target demographics and they don't pay if you don't fit them; I'd have missed out on quite a few survey payments if they'd specified "television watchers" as a target demographic rather than simply assuming everyone watched. Still, it's symptomatic of a general culture among corporate interests that assumes television is the norm and "cord cutters" (to say nothing of "cord nevers" like me) are weird outliers— and that culture permeates through the media and content industries who habitually cut us cordless folk off from the best content because they assume we're a tiny and irrelevant minority.

Moving on to one more topic, it's hardly news to most people that many online retailers keep track of what products you look at to help them market at you. It's a form of ad targeting that's obnoxious as any other in principle and very hard to escape given that many online retailers won't let you buy anything without an "account" that ties your viewing habits to your name and identity, but it's one that in practice we generally let slide because the targeted ads are mostly limited to the online retailer itself; ads are more tolerable when we're in a buying mindset since they're not qualitatively different from the list of products being presented for sale anyway; basically just an aisle-end display.

That said, I have to question their value in actually driving sales. I've mentioned before that ad targeting is hit or miss under the best of circumstances; the list of "products you recently viewed" are not inherently likely to be the products you want to buy for precisely the same reasons that any targeted ad is likely to fail— a complete inability of computers to automatically determine why you looked at something from the fact that you did look at it.

The list of "products you recently viewed" is liable to be full of the products you want-ish but not that much, the products you considered inferior alternatives to the one you actually bought, or the products you did buy and don't need another of.

And then, of course, there's my list of recently viewed products from a well known electronics retailer.

Click to embiggen.

Well done, popular retailer. Well done. That ad will surely be responsible for driving many sales.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My Media Habits (Part 1): Orange Is The New Black

So according to this Buzzfeed, the (relatively) new Netflix-made series Orange Is The New Black is "one of the year’s best offerings on any platform." Unfortunately, I only watched the version that's available on Netflix, which is mediocre at best.

In this newish series, Piper Chapman, played by someone I can't be bothered to google, is a shallow ditz who got convinced to transport drug money for dubious reasons and is now, ten years later, sent to prison for having done so. So basically, it's a prison drama. Yeah, I'm not sure why I watched it either.

Now I'm not saying I have to like a protagonist (I've written protagonists more unlikeable than Piper) but a problem arises when most of the tagonists (of both "pro" and "an" varieties) are so shallow and uninteresting that I simply can't move myself to give half a shit about what happens to any of them. Am I supposed to care that a shallow ditz is thrown into an unforgiving environment and being slowly molded into a more aggressive ditz? My caring about her personal struggles was out the window the moment she was more concerned with her weight than the fact that she was about to go to prison. Some of the other characters have more depth (there's a transexual who stole credit cards to pay for her surgery, an old Russian lady with an interesting backstory, and a slaver and murderer who is somehow supposed to be sympathetic) but they're minor characters compared to Piper and her drug smuggling ex-girlfriend.

And here is the point at which my disconnect with the show becomes complete. I'm asexual (and aromantic, if that's actually a thing), and because of this, using "true love" as a character's motivation will always strike me as an Ass Pull. I know intellectually that a majority of the population are animals who will abandon all pretense of higher functioning at the suggestion that they might get to mate, but on the semi-emotional level of understanding characters and why they do what they're doing, it just doesn't work. This is problematic, because about 90% of the plot rests heavily upon this authorial crutch. Why does a seemingly intelligent man fawn over a ditzy bimbo who's about to go to prison? Because he wuvs her. Why does said ditzy bimbo jeopardise the relationship she wants so much to have a fling with the crazy criminal ex who sent her to prison? Because she wuvs her. Why does one of the guards risk his career and his freedom over a relationship with an inmate that's legally considered rape? Because he wuvs her. Time and again, characters do things so stupid and out of character you want to scream at the screen and strangle the writer and we're supposed to just roll with it because "love." Maybe it's different for the 99% of people who have a biologically hard-wired compulsion to do weird things with their genitals, but my suspension of disbelief is just not that big.

Incidentally, my asexuality also means that the large quantities of fanservice are instantly transformed into squick, giving the show a decidedly minefield-like nature and meaning the single one emotional reaction that dominated my experience was "oh god, I did NOT need to see that."

Credit where credit is due: The show makes a point of revealing backstories for even the more minor characters, all of which are more interesting than the primary characters anyway. It also pulls off the difficult task of creating a character so unlikeable that we might declare nothing to be too horrific for her only to put her in a situation that is clearly too horrific even for her— and which is apparently true to life for American prisons at that, so full marks there. When the characters are not being motivated by "love" for someone they hate or driven by the absurd coincidences that plague Netflix-original series, they actually tend to be strong and well-rounded; even the ditz gets a proper development arc although it's too little too late to make me actually start caring about her.

Unfortunately, its comparatively minor selling points don't outweigh the problems with the show. Even if you're willing to buy that someone will throw away everything they love and want to preserve or maintain a relationship with someone they hate because "love," the writers clearly need to do a bit more thinking about how people act and react. Ditziness notwithstanding, a person who is being literally starved to death over a petty prison dispute with an inmate cook goes to the authorities to request a transfer to another prison— but then refuses to say why and then backs out of the whole thing. Maybe this is just one of those weird emotional things I'm just not capable of picking up, but I would think that the desire to (a) eat and (b) not die should override the loyalty to or fear of someone you've literally met once. Yet she doesn't tell the authorities, or her lawyer. She tells her fiance, but he doesn't think to do anything about it (even though he proves himself more than capable of interceding on her behalf later). Then, she's offered food after having eaten literally nothing for the past 72 hours, and she throws it away out of fear/loyalty to the prison cook or spite for the ex-girlfriend who gave it to her, when she should by all rights be too hungry to think before eating it. Later, a misplaced screwdriver creates a massive kerfluffle, and upon realising she inadvertently took it, she goes through an entire episode's worth of machinations to hide it and to try and return it secretly rather than turning it in at the earliest possible opportunity; it's not like the prison staff have proven so unreasonable that they'd overreact to an honest mistake.

Then, of course, there's the Netflix Coincidence problem; the tendency of Netflix-original shows to rely on absurdly contrived coincidences. She just happens to have a lawyer who's not good enough to get a fairly weak case against her dropped. Her crazy ex just happens to be in the same prison she is. The less that's said about the chicken, the better.

One other thing, the Buzzfeed article mentions the following little tidbit: "While love isn’t a word I’d apply to Pablo Schreiber’s sadistic prison guard, George “Pornstache” Mendez, even he displays an unexpected soft side." Apparently, that part was in the Buzzfeed-only version of the show because the closest I saw to that in the Netflix version was decidedly the opposite— the character is outwardly creepy and disgusting ("rapist"), but when he gets drunk and starts making tearful confessions, he reveals that he's actually a complete sociopath ("rapist who complains his victims don't appreciate him as a person") as well. So maybe Buzzfeed's Jace Lacob liked the show because he's a robot with a prototype emotion chip that still has some kinks to work out.

Rating Summary:

Medium: Television.
Genre: Prison Drama
Availability: Netflix
Bechdel Compliance: Yes
Rating: 5 to 15 years for assault and battery on my sensibilities and tastes.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Trouble With Brands

This is kind of a follow on or postscript for my previous long post about brands so I'm not giving it a "Dispatches from Marketer World" title because it's kind of an expansion and clarification.

One of the points I made was that brand is a very limited and flawed proxy for quality because brands can be bought sold and licensed, but the example I gave was downright obscure.

Here's a slightly less obscure one. Ben & Jerry's is a brand of ice cream that was actually invented by two guys named Ben and Jerry, specifically Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, two ordinary blokes who decided hey, they liked ice cream so let's start an ice cream company. So Ben & Jerry's began, and was a different kind of company, an independent company just started up by two blokes who overcame adversity (Ben doesn't have a full sense of taste) and built themselves a little slice of success by selling a better product than the corporate mass-produced crap.

You'll notice I used a lot of past tense there. That's because Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield haven't had anything to do with Ben & Jerry's since April of 2000.

Ben & Jerry's is owned by Unilever, the same company that makes Lynx.

The independent company started by two blokes that makes a better product went out of business 13 years ago, but its name and logos live on, attached to the same mass-produced crap that everybody else makes. And it's perfectly legal because the name "Ben & Jerry's" is a brand which can be sold, even though using the name and association of one product to sell a completely different product is fraud in a moral sense even if not a legal sense.

That's why shops touting that they have "my favourite brands" is so nonsensical; the brand is irrelevant, since it can mean something completely different one day or year to the next.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Playing Bejeweled?

All of my bejewels just got sucked into a vortex. I hate it when that happens. :(

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Little Things That BUG Me #8

Any form of communication that says I can find/buy/save money on "my favourite brands."

Look, copy writers, just because you're obsessed with the idea of "brands" doesn't mean John C. Consumer cares what name or logo is printed on the side of the jam jar.

Sensible people don't care about what is effectively the civilised version of which dog pissed on a particular tree, and yet high street shops that want a hand in my wallet will promise "we offer discounts on your favourite brands" with such consistency that I think it may be required by law.

But even if it were, it would still bug me.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Console Gaming

Well, another generation of gaming consoles is underway, so let's have a quick rundown of the available options.

Option A: Nintendo Wii U.

Having decided the one thing gaming needed was an irritating motion controller system that shattered any form of immersion and turned even the most simple game into an exhausting flail that leaves you feeling like the Hf'ra'rkc'tal after his mating dance ends, Nintendo has now decided the primary problem with the Wii is that it has a controller one can physically use. You'll be pleased to know they have rectified this problem by redesigning the controller to weigh fourteen stone and need to be plugged in every two minutes. Thankfully, this isn't much of a handicap to the console's ability to play games, since there aren't any released.

Option B: Xbox One.

Don't ask me how the naming system works. Considering this prequel of a console hasn't been released yet, we're basically limited to what Microsoft has told us, which is that (1) it will require a constant internet connection, (2) it will spontaneously delete your games whenever Microsoft or your ISP have any downtime, (3) it will sometimes charge you money for games you've already bought, (4) it has no backwards compatibility with older Xbox games or hardware, (5) It comes with a mandatory camera and microphone that will monitor you at all times and cannot be turned off. Literally. As I've noted before, Microsoft has fantasies of taking on Google, but their offerings in the area are rather pathetic; Bing is clearly inferior despite the lies they post about it. However, Google developed a patent some time ago for a software program that would hijack users' computers' webcams and microphones to record their activities and conversations to sell to advertisers only to find themselves unable to actually deploy this software lest people descend on Mountain View with burning chromebooks and flay them alive. Thus, the Xbox One represents the first real attempt Microsoft has made into edging in on Google's territory and may be the one invention that finally allows them to get sued by Google because Google has already patented the concept of spyware and American intellectual property laws are outright ridiculous.

Option C: Playstation 4.

Sony has not released a lot of information about this theoretical future console, but given what I know about Sony it presumably consists of nothing but a box containing a court summons because Sony is now suing you.

Option D: PowerMac G4, which may or may not have a playstation emulator.

Now that I have a new(er) computer, the old Power Mac is now going to be repurposed as Games Console. It's got all the games I like, and no one suing me for playing them, installing Linux, or anything! Plus, I already own it (and I mean really own, not that I paid a bunch of dollars for the privilege of borrowing it from Sony or Microsoft for an indeterminate period of time).

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Little Things That BUG Me #7

Websites that hijack well-known keyboard shortcuts to do things they aren't supposed to.

Notable examples: On a website, pressing delete takes you back a page. That's what the key does and it's often more convenient than clicking the "back" button. However, in Yahoo Mail, pressing delete deletes the message you're currently reading— and just to add insult to injury, it doesn't even return you to the message list as a result, choosing instead to open the next message automatically. Meanwhile, in any page of Google search results, pressing delete will automatically select the search query box and delete the last letter of your search query, automatically updating the results accordingly.

This wasn't always the case, but apparently Google's corporate charter requires them to replace every user interface every few months with one that's just a little more shit.

Meanwhile, anyone who has ever had to use a Mac knows that command-C is "copy" when using FruitOS. Except Microsoft (which is fitting enough), because in Hotmail, pressing command-C opens some obscure menu that no one ever needs and the only way to copy text is to select "copy" from the edit menu which no one ever does because it's stupid.

I'd give Microsoft a pass except they're a massive developer of Mac software so they should know better.

Apparently, the Hotmail command-C problem has now been rectified but only because Microsoft decided to rip off Google (in ways other than Bing) and has replaced Hotmail outright with "Outlook" which is exactly the same except that the user interface is pants.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lactose-Free Milk Is Not Horrible

So I may have mentioned previously that I was particularly miffed at the dearth of decent lactose-free dairy products despite all the effort the food industry has put into "gluten-free" cake, pasta, etc.

I must now update that position slightly: Lactose-free milk is not horrible. According to the lactose-tolerant milk-chugging people I know, it's much sweeter than regular milk, but I can't taste any appreciable difference between the hot chocolate or egg creams I can drink and the ones that will make me miserable, and if my experience is anything, the lactose-free milk has a much longer shelf life than the unmodified equivalent.

Also, while I know hard cheese (gruyere) is lactose-free, it turns out even softer cheeses (mozzarella) are also pretty much fine. (And I never liked brie anyway.)

That just leaves ice cream. I need my lactose-free ice cream! No one makes lactose-free ice cream. And that the food industry is ignoring the majority of us who are lactose intolerant but require ice cream while making sure to accommodate the <1% of the population with gluten allergies/coeliac disease/etc just bugs me, so that entry can stay up.

Vital stats:

Retraction: Partial
Date: Today
Current Mood: Tasty
Sleep Status: Too much!
Word of the Day: Suzerainty
Egg Cream: Milk, chocolate syrup, soda water. (Not disgusting.)
Sugars: Glucose and galactose. Probably sucrose too from the syrup.
Trans Fat: Yes; preferred gender pronoun = "she"
Gluten: Plant protein
Nation: Obsolete as a social construct.
Rapture: Obsolete as a constructed society.
Bioshock: Apparently it's decent. Doesn't run on my computer. I prefer older games.
Marathon: I play that.
ShadowWraith: That too.
Halo: Revoked due to banishment from Celestial Realm.
WOW: I know! Totally unfair! I didn't even do it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Features That Need To Happen

So I hit command-A, command-O (select all, open) only to discover a millisecond too late that I wasn't in the window I thought I was and had accidentally opened over 500 diverse documents in a dozen-odd apps between them all at once.

Obviously not the end of the world, but definitely annoying.

Way back when Macs were actually Macs instead of PC clones running a Unix-based OS, typing command-period immediately after making such a dumb mistake would nullify said mistake and make everything right again by canceling the app openings before they started fighting over RAM and clock cycles. It was a very useful feature that fixed a lot of boneheaded mistakes in the past.

Unfortunately, that feature is no longer in place. And it needs to come back.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Way Too Tired

I haven't gotten enough sleep and I'm way too tired as evidenced by:

The fact that I saw an odd flickery shadow and had to get up and chase the dog around to monitor the effects on said shadow, just to make sure I didn't have a vashta nerada infestation.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dispatches from Marketer World: Part 2— Brands

What better way to emphasise the regularness of this feature than to include two in a row?

If I'm to make a habit of highlighting how marketers think (as gleaned from the types of questions they ask or fail to ask in market research surveys), I suppose it's best to start by addressing the biggest concern: Brands.

What is a brand? I'm sure you already know that. A brand is a name, a logo, a design, a slogan; a bit of intellectual property too small or simple to be eligible for copyright protection (usually), but protected by trademark instead, and used by its owner to mark a product as having come from them.

Marketers, however, use the term "brand" to refer not only to the trademark, but to the product emblazoned with it, the company that owns it, and (in most cases), anything that can be identified as a cohesive entity. To us regular people, this is a brand. To a marketer, however, the physical can of sodypop with that logo upon it is also a brand, as is the Moxie Beverage Company that made it, and Cornucopia Beverages, the company that owns them. To a marketer, even a non-profit entity such as Oxfam or a semi-organised social movement such as Occupy Wall Street is also a brand.

This oddly expansive definition of the word "brand" means that most market research surveys are written in a comprehensible-but-awkward creole where I'm asked to evaluate a brand, provide opinions on a potential new brand, all so that an existing brand can better make decisions about which brands it should create in the future.

The over-reliance on the slightly misused word "brand" makes it a little bit difficult to comment on this next topic, but I'm fairly certain that marketers are overly concerned with brands above and beyond their obsession with the word itself.

Nearly every market research survey either assumes that which brand is emblazoned in a product must necessarily factor into my purchase decisions to a much greater extent than it actually does. It makes sense that they would think this way; they've almost certainly invested a lot of time and money in the idea that the key to success is to advertise a brand and assume people will buy products based on their resulting familiarity with the sight of the logo. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case.

Not all products are created equal, and because a brand connects a product to its manufacturer, a brand can serve as a proxy for distinguishing quality manufacturers from those best avoided. However, brands are a limited and flawed proxy at best, for several reasons.

First, the vast majority of our purchases are for small everyday things like toothpaste and napkins. These items are called parity products, meaning that all the choices on offer are the same in every respect (except, potentially, price). Many of the market research surveys I've taken asked me to evaluate a new sales pitch or piece of ad copy for one of these products, and then asked me to what extent it made me more likely to purchase the product made by the advertising manufacturer; those marketers were fooling themselves because price is the only consideration on these products.

Second, even when there are distinct differences between manufacturers, brands don't correlate to manufacturers directly. In many cases, a heavily advertised brand and a less advertised brand will both be placed on the same product; the former will be more expensive than the latter despite being exactly the same thing. It's generally a safe bet that any product endorsed by a celebrity can be found much cheaper by looking for one without the celebrity-endorsed brand slapped on it; unless you want to pay money to a celebrity who doesn't need it or deserve it, you can probably find a non-endorsed version of the same product cheaper.

Third, even when a brand directly correlates to a specific manufacturer, brands can be bought, sold, traded, and licensed like any other form of intellectual property. Many years back, my family would make a point of obtaining Stella D'oro cookies whenever we could find them. The Stella D'oro brand was owned by the Stella D'oro Biscuit Company, so any product with that brand was made by that company. The Stella D'oro Biscuit Company produced all of its delicious biscuits at a plant on West 237th Street in the Bronx, employed union workers and paid fair wages, and used high quality ingredients. If you saw the Stella D'oro brand on the package, you knew it was quality stuff.

Problem is, then the company got sold, first to Nabisco, then to Kraft Foods, then to Brynwood Partners, then to Snyder's-Lance, Inc. Snyder's-Lance and the various intermediate owners closed the Bronx facility and demolished it, fired the union workers and moved production to a state that banned unions so that they could pay insufficient wages to their employees, and cut back on manufacturing costs by switching to lower-quality ingredients. Any product with the Stella D'oro brand on it today is low-quality garbage churned out by a conglomerate, made by underpaid workers in a state you'd normally fly over.

But the brand hasn't changed. Snyder's-Lance, Inc, may be the antithesis of the family business which made the stuff I used to love and their products may be poor imitations of my beloved biscuits, but the brand is exactly the same, because they bought the rights to use it. This isn't the only case where a company bought the rights to a brand associated with quality goods in order to use that association to peddle crap but it's the one case I always think of because of how thorough the reversal was.

Maybe I'm unique in this respect - an extreme outlier on a chart of the advertising-molded opinions of sheep - but I refuse to believe that the advertising industry's obsession with brands actually has any meaningful effect on consumers' purchase decisions.

As far as I've always been able to figure, advertising is what corporations do because they're not physically capable of masturbating.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dispatches from Marketer World: Part 1— Maple Syrup

I really wasn't intending to turn ITIHAB into "Why Marketers Suck" but these market research surveys contribute significantly to my disposable income and the more I take the more I become convinced that marketers just don't live on the same planet as we do. So I guess my only option is to turn this into a regular feature, in which I share the many ways product marketers just don't think the way us humans do.

Today's report comes from a recent survey I took that wanted to gauge my opinion to some new breakfast product or summat; I'm not actually sure what it was since I bounced from the survey a few questions in.

The survey asked me whether I ever ate pancakes or waffles, and upon my confirmation that I did, it asked me what I typically put on them.

Maple syrup was not one of the options.

The multiple choice question offered options for various combinations of fruits, ice cream, whipped cream, and so forth, with the top of the list offering two choices of syrup: Corn syrup with fenugreek (the typical formula for cheap knockoff imitation maple syrup) or corn syrup with other flavouring.

Seriously? I know maple syrup is a tad expensive, but it didn't even occur to them to list it? Why, when I was growing up, serving pancakes with anything that listed "glucose-fructose" on its ingredients panel was considered a faux pas on roughly the same level as screwing your sister at the table.

And the marketers didn't even think to list it. From what I could tell, they were marketing some form of pancake or waffle mix; you would think a product's marketers might have at least some knowledge as to its complementary products.

I have to confess, however, that I've discovered a fondness for putting cream and jam on pancakes, largely due to a meal I had on a train a few years ago.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Have A New Computer!

Yes, I have been using a decade-old computer I found for free in a bin, but no more! My local computer store offered me a deal too amazing to pass up! (By which I mean I found another computer for free in a bin.)

As of a few days ago, my local computer store (the bin two streets away) has furnished me with a five-year-old Macbook with nothing but a head crash separating it from a long(ish) career as my primary PC.

As of now, it has a brand new hard drive and is running quite happily. So a hearty thank you to whoever didn't realise that hard drives could be replaced or that a hard drive failure was the reason their magic box stopped working, and decided to chuck it where I could find it.

Now I get to experience the thrill of computing luxuries as yet unknown to me, such as a reasonably up to date version of Firefox and a flash player that's still reasonably serviceable! (The PowerPC maxed out at 10.1, while this happily runs Flash Player 11.3, a version that was still supported within some semblance of recent memory.)

The PowerPC has been demoted to Computer I Can't Use Without Getting Out Of Bed status, but I'm keeping it anyway; turns out I'm not willing to abandon ShadowWraith and Diamonds 3D and other wonderful games just because they can't run on Intel hardware.

Vital stats:

Computer: Newer
Date: Today
Current Mood: Bouncy
Sleep Status: Not a wink
Word of the Day: Lurid
Platform: Macintel
Browser: Actual proper Firefox now.
No, the RAM on the table: That was the broken one from the old computer.
Why?: Well now it's my bookmark.
Oh: Yeah, it's not very useful as RAM anymore but it holds my place in books.
Redundancy: A bit.
Do you has?: Five bucks.
Boond you like?: No.
Favourite character: The Doctor
Doctor who?: I believe his name is Graben.
Sayan?: No, and the demonym is "Siana."
Rambling: Yes
More: No

Monday, January 28, 2013

Little Things That BUG Me #6

The companies that produce food for public consumption collectively expend approximately zero effort producing lactose-free dairy products (except for straight-up milk) and exactly zero effort making lactose-free dairy products that actually taste authentic (seriously, lactose-free milk is disgusting). Proper, good-tasting, real-tasting lactose-free milk, cheese, and ice cream just aren't priorities for the food industry; none of them bother trying.

And yet, they readily churn out gluten-free pasta and gluten-free bread and gluten-free versions of anything that may potentially be made from wheat, and although they may be more expensive, they usually make their gluten-free items taste like the real thing.

Gluten intolerance is a very rare condition, affecting less than 1% of the population.

Lactose intolerance is the default condition, with the mutation that causes lactose tolerance in adulthood present and effective in less than half the population.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Advice To Ad Agencies

In order to further transition ITIHAB into "Why Marketers Suck," here's a post containing some advice to them.

This will probably come as a surprise to absolutely no one who knows me in real life given that I'm perpetually broke, but I take market research surveys for money. This fact is also unsurprising to people who found my blog through some random Google search because they don't know or care about me, and it's not particularly surprising as far as facts go; if I had revealed I was secretly an alien, or the Queen, or that I had recently used the Book of Parallels that showed up in my postbox anonymously to retrieve a cure for cancer from an alternate universe, then that would be surprising but that I take market research surveys for money is generally more of a resident of the "meh" territory, like revealing I had a movie about aliens, or that I was a queen, or that I just made up the Book of Parallels and you shouldn't bother googling it because it's not a reference.

I typically can't share any juicy (or gruesome) details about experimental products because of confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements and most surveys not actually having any. However, I can share my comments from these surveys because they're, you know, mine.

One survey asked, on its final page, if I had any advice I'd liked to give to ad agencies and the people who make adverts in general. As it turned out, I did have some advice, and so I answered thus:

On balance, an ad is a BAD THING. By definition. If it supports content, then "ad + content" might total out to a positive, but "ad" is ALWAYS negative. Nobody *wants* to see ads, so stop trying to pretend that you can make your ads "better" so people will enjoy them. So basically, telling us that an invasion of privacy is justified because it means you can show "more relevant" ads doesn't just insult our intelligence; it makes you look like some freakish alien that's doing a really poor job of trying to imitate human behaviour.

As for what will make your ads "work" (in the sense of actually driving traffic/sales/etc), I can't help you. My browser has an adblock, and my mind has an adblock as well, so I can't remember ads once I'm no longer looking at them. If a company advertises, I will interpret this to mean that their products are inferior or overpriced since they obviously can't rely on quality or price to drive sales. I have never clicked an online ad unless I was (1) paid to click on it or (2) clicking on it repeatedly because it was offensive and I enjoyed the prospect of making them pay for a dozen-odd clickthroughs for zero conversions. I have responded to direct mail adverts by filling business reply envelopes with various items including (1) rocks, (2) direct mail adverts that didn't come with prepaid reply envelopes, or (3) the lyrics to "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley and mailing them back at advertiser expense. And I don't watch TV so don't think you can advertise at me there either.

Oh, and happy new year and stuff I completely forgot to blog about at the time. Cheers!