Friday, May 30, 2008

Expectation Brain Jarring By Bear Sites

When I first hit Beartopia after The A-List Bears To End All A-List Bears posted about helping with the launch, my very first impression was that it was designed like someone was trying to do a parody of Web 2.0 sites by redoing the least Web 2.0 kind of site, the adult hook-up bear site, as all the Web 2.0 way one possibly could.

See, I have been to a lot of adult-encounter sites, and I now have certain expectations of how that category should look: a little clunky, a little sleazy, a lot ugly. Beartopia totally drops that. No porn-stars on the front page, just guys in pictures that could almost be stock shots, even if one is shirtless in his garden and I know men would pay to watch him do porn. No huge bear paws, logos, cartoons, or everything beige. It is such a change I have to keep reminding myself Beartopia is for real instead of a design project meant to hit Digg's front page ironically, using Google maps and shared calendars and allowing you select friends for your profile in a social website way.

Here I was in the middle of a design office of Vodafone Germany, sitting at a huge table as German design weenie contractors were chatting and mulling around me in this open-plan office, typing in my profile info, on a page with luscious forest shots for backgrounds instead of hairy torsos, and sane typography on a single page instead of blue courier on sand in three pop-off windows that both make your eyes bleed and communicate to everyone you are up to 0 professionalism. Until I hit the 'Bears in My Area' results and opened profile headings. Yeah, it's the user-generated content that in the end makes an Encouters site an Encounters site, and this is immediately where I had to close the page in that office. Because Beartopia's users are men out for a good time after all, and God bless 'em for it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It Really Depends What You Compare It To

So every review I read of the Roku box to stream Netflix movies directly to the home laments that only 10.000 of Netflix' 100.000+ video titles are available to stream down. Well, for reasons I can't really specify I have been exploring the Video On Demand offerings in Europe and the USA, and let me tell you, a good catalog of VOD items in Germany or France is 4000 titles.

Now those 4k titles include the latest movies, but a lousy back-catalog of stuff that isn't a Hollywood extravaganza. I am sure that Netflix will get the rights to stream the latest releases as well too, if they haven't already, but at least I can get something else than Will Smith battling zombies*. There are things to not like about the Netflix / Roku box at all, like its picture quality and the fact that most broadband is probably not up to it, but compared to its actual VOD competitors, Netflix has made a catalog available that in sheer numbers is twice as large as anything I have found from any cable or IPTV provider.

*I Am Legend banners and trailers are all over every IPTV portal I am hitting to explore. I am just a little tired of it.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fun With Utilities

Just before I left, my DSL started acting up in the evenings. This saddened me, because O2 had been cheap, fast, and rock-solid up to now. I diagnosed as much as I could last night, because I really, really, really did not want to call some call center 6 time zones away and go through endless scripts of rebooting and checking my wireless. But it was unavoidable, the router was telling me the connection was going up and down like a yo-yo. I decided to eliminate as many variables as I could myself: attached the Mac laptop directly with a cable, switched off wireless, got all the settings, got ready, and called.

I chose O2 because they are not a reseller of BT, but they can go into the local switch themselves and set up their own equipment, which is why they can offer faster speeds than BT does, but also, they are responsible for the whole chain themselves. No passing the buck. I immediately got a rep on the line who took my info. Indeed, attaching the Mac with a cable made him skip most of his script, since they do not have special management software for the Mac, and yeah, wireless is not fault issue then. All I did have to do was a hard reset of the box to factory settings, but that didn't help and I was at Tier 2 within 10 minutes. Tier 2 first told me he could see I had dropped 90 times in the last 8 hours, and they didn't like that at all. (I was more wondering just how much they could see about my link... If tomorrow I get an intervention for checking ICHC, I will know.) He first had me switch filters -- I never knew a solid state filter could fail, but he said it happens, and he called me back on my mobile -- and when my link still kept dropping while I was still on the call with him, he decided to set the line tolerance for noise on my line to really low (which degrades speed but makes the connection very reliable) so he could push the latest firmware to my box. Once the new firmware was on, he reset the line back to normal tolerance, and then he told me to browse for two minutes. I told him I already had been doing so obsessively. It was working. Still, we both agreed it was too early to close the case, so we agreed the case number will remain open till mid-Saturday. It was really pleasant, good troubleshooting as if we were both software professionals, a willingness to exchange information so I could learn, and he wasn't intent on getting me off the line ASAP at all. Also, my box is faster than ever now.

As for Gas & Electricity, I really expected a bill by now, which I haven't gotten. I did, out of curioisity, open a bill from British Gas that keep coming for the previous tenant: You Are About To Be Disconnected This Week, And We Will Tack On £200 For Doing So. Um. Um. Eeeep! I called British Gas collections department and I said, look I do not have a customer number for me, but I do for the previous tenant and this ain't right. The collections woman said that this was no big deal and she would put me through to the moving department since I was a new move (Hello? I have called 3 times now?) but I said "No." Huh? "Before you do that, please tell me I won't get disconnected this week?" Oh, I won't get disconnected this week, seriously. The moving department was annoyed on my behalf as much as I was, and said he would stop the bill for the previous tenant now and start me on a whole new account and can I just have your last name again? Oh well, let's hope this one sticks. Also, if I want to they could also do electricity? I answered no, tell me who my current provider is now because I expect there's another screw-up there?

And indeed, calling E-on, I have hit the mother of all possible screw ups: my downstairs neighbors are paying my electricity bill. heck, if I were them I'd want to do that too since I am never home. You see, there are these two meters in the hallway, and they each have a serial number, and they are labeled which flat they are for, and when I mentioned my serial number the man said "Ok, we'll stop the bills for the previous tenant" and on a hunch I said, can you tell me who that is? He can't, that is confidential. "Look, if it the C*****, thos are my downstairs neighbours, and you can't just take them off the account" because hell if I am going to have my neighbors slammed. He called a super and we had to now test whose meter was whose, can I please switch on something that consumes a lot of energy, go look which meter is running fast, switch the devices off, and see if the mete goes slow? This is how you test a power meter from afar. I switched on the washer to tumble dry, and ran the food processor. And the test confirms what I expected: my downstairs neighbors are paying my power bill, and lord knows who is paying the other meter.

E-on is dumbfounded about what to do now. They'll call me back.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


“The people who complain about retouching are the first to say, ‘Get this thing off my arm.’ ” I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Retouchers, subjected to endless epistemological debates—are they simple conduits for social expectations of beauty, or shapers of such?—often resort to a don’t-shoot-the-messenger defense of their craft, familiar to repo guys and bail bondsmen. When I asked Dangin if the steroidal advantage that retouching gives to celebrities was unfair to ordinary people, he admitted that he was complicit in perpetuating unrealistic images of the human body, but said, “I’m just giving the supply to the demand.” (Fashion advertisements are not public-service announcements.)
Pascal Dangin, master digital retoucher, in "Pixel Perfect: Pascal Dangin’s virtual reality.", Lauren Collins, The New Yorker, 2008-05-12

As found for me by , who turns 28 today, and brings me the best gifts from the Internet every night.

Friday, May 02, 2008

For Some Reason I Find This Paragraph Incredibly Interesting, But I Can't Explain Why

I had this interesting discussion with [Mozilla Chairman] Mitchell Baker a while back around the downloading of Firefox. She was talking about how imperative it was that they get the download to below five megabytes and I said, "That's interesting. What's with five megabytes? Why does it really matter?" And she said, "For us that's where we see a real knee in the curve of people willing to say, 'Yes' quickly and just get it, so we want to get it down to that." And I said, "That's interesting, because for us the OpenOffice download, which I think is now around 70 or 80 megabytes, we've seen no real cessation of demand or change as that has gone up or down." And she said "I don't save my users five hundred dollars."
Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun, as interviewed by Engadget Mobile

I think I find it interesting because it is all about the nuts and bolts of disruptive Internet culture, and so much more insightful about that phenomenon than what I was hearing from Scott McNealy in his last years at Sun Microsystems.