Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Enough is Too Much By Half


I had the misfortune of travelling internationally this week.  That doesn't sound too bad considering that I just went to Canada and it was to spend Christmas at a ski resort.  But the problem wasn't the destination or even the journey there.  The problem was the trip back.
What happens when a Nigerian Jackass tries to blow off his own testicles on an airplane?  The TSA suddenly embarrassed and needing to justify it's existence uses it as an excuse to:

  • Frisk everyone - including children, with their hands down the back of your pants using the same rubber gloves to touch everyone
  • Ban ALL carry-on items - leaving thousands of laptops to the mercy of the throwers/baggage-handlers
  • Not allow anyone out of their seats for one hour prior to landing.  Standing up is a crime during that time - either to go to the bathroom or to access the overhead bins.
  • Change the rules during the process - thereby allowing the first batch through security to keep their laptops but not the cases - which then had to be thrown away on the spot.
At what point to do we, the paying customers, cry 'foul' and draw the line?

Delta airlines has placards posted and pamphlets that they hand out to say that they are not responsible for any property that you lose by 'complying with regulations' - i.e. arbitrary rulings at the security booth are final and you have no recourse to keep your property if they arbitrarily tell you to throw it away.

The Delta pilot went out of his way to lay blame for the 1-hour-in-seat rule on the TSA, Northwest airlines, and the idiot in question - at least 3 times.

If children were required to be frisked to the extent that they did at the airport when they went to school - we would call it Child Abuse.  But you are not even allowed to intervene on your children's behalf because you might pose a danger in doing so - in the same way that you may not touch your wallet as they rifle through it.

How all of this benefits the airlines:
  • More checked bags means more luggage charges
  • 1 hour less cabin service (I watched from first class as my cabin stewardess did crossword puzzles) 
  • No laptops means more sales of in-flight entertainment services on seat-back screens
How to get around this crap:
  • Charter your own plane - a turbo-prop is $400/hour and a jet is $1,200/hour plus the pilot's time for layovers.  This is split across everyone in the plane.  There is NO security at all.  You leave your shoes on and bring your bags from your car to the plane and no one says anything to you with the exception of the pilot.  Money talks and the rich do not suffer the indignities that the peasantry must lightly.
  • Ship your luggage - for $500 I sent my snowboard bag fully loaded on a round trip from New York, USA to Whistler, Canada.  It went through customs without me and was at the hotel when I got there. Zero hassle.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One Month I Want Back


Many retail-based businesses in America experience their peak sales period during the Jud├Žo-Christian "Holiday Season".  As a result it seems as though every year some wishfully thinking business-people are responsible for trying to extend that season.

"Traditionally" the shopping season starts the day after Thanksgiving in America.  This is because unless you're working in retail - you have a day off to go shopping.  In my opinion if you have any sanity you do anything BUT go shopping that day if only because that is when it will take the most of your time standing check-out in lines.

It is also the day that it is considered 'acceptable' to start playing Christmas-music in the stores.

However this year I saw attempts at selling Christmas-related merchandise immediately-after-if-not-overlapping Halloween!

I heard on the radio this morning a DJ quoting a 'fact' that 70% of Americans still haven't begun Christmas shopping today - and it is December 22nd.  i.e. 3 days before you are supposed to be giving these gifts.

If this is indeed a Fact - then no amount of lead-time is going to improve your sales.  Indeed I would think that  shoving Christmas down everyone's throats too early has the opposite effect from that intended.  I know that I personally will walk out without buying anything if I have to suffer through too many of those torturous ditties while being forced to wait before being allowed my turn to fork over my currency.

So I say to all Marketing People - research this.  PLEASE.  I, and many like me, find these "Holidays" a tiresome burden.  If you can find any truth in this - may we please get that month of our lives back?

My theory for this pattern of behavior is not one of laziness as much as one of managing your funds.  Have you ever noticed how eager bill-collectors are at this time of year and the threatening tone that regular bills take on?  I think most adults are used to this cycle by now and have adapted to the idea of holding on to as much money as you can for as long as you can & then when you know everything is taken care of - only then do you go and spend whatever meager savings you have left.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Go.... fish?



Google has a new experimental programming language that they are calling "go".  The problem is that for the last 10 years there already is a language with that name, or more precisely "Go!"

Now I don't know about you but my semantic filter fails to see a capital letter and a punctuation mark as creating a new word - in any case.

The joke is "Google didn't Google for Go before using the name".  But the sad truth is that I have read some troll-like comments from clueless & disrespectful people who think that Fame-makes-Right and that brand the work of McCabe as "little known", etc. in a dismissive way.  (Someone introduces it using those very words in the Wikipedia article on the subject)

I don't care that Google has a lot more money than Francis McCabe - it does not supercede his usage of the name for a programming language.  He has even published a book on the subject.  If they want the name that badly they should have to part with some of it to compensate the man for a decade's worth of his life put into something they are stepping on.

McCabe's problem seems to be that he did not Trademark the name.  The question stands "is what Google is doing here considered to be  'Evil'? "

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Robot Arms Race


I have noticed that there is a sort of arms race between online games and people who leverage the power of macros.  Anything that you can automate in a game can be performed on the user's end via automation - in theory.

The reason for this is simple - game providers charge a fee to use their systems.  They built the game & they want to be the ones to make money from it.  People who can automate playing the game can 'farm' for the rewards handed out from playing.  Sometimes this is called 'gold farming'.  It can be for anything that is freely exchangeable between multiple players in a mutually shared on-line game world.  Often the objective is to exchange those wonderfully coveted prizes for actual real-world currency.

This is behavior is not limited to games.  Using automated scripts/macros/bot-programs to access web pages & follow links is a business unto itself.  This is because online advertising works on two tiers - click-throughs and conversions.  Just clicking on an ad makes somebody a fraction of a cent.  Actually buying something after clicking through gets a lot more.  The difference between those two prices is actually because of people using scripts.  Since you can write a script to click on an ad link all day - it devalues that ad.

The captcha is one development in this arms race.  However, there is commercial software that can defeat this with OCR out there.  So if you can do this often and effectively enough to pay for your computers, an internet connection & some fancy specialized software and still clear a profit on top of it - then this might be for you.

Randomization seems to lie at the heart of every method to trying to subvert any automated script.

World of Warcraft does this kind of thing with activities like fishing - where it requires human interaction to respond to the random location on the screen and timing when your little float bobs so that you have to click on it.  That way you can't walk away & let your computer fish all day.  You could do it yourself - but you would have to sit there getting bleary-eyed, pale & fat doing so all day.  Odds are that you can't support yourself and your family on selling virtual fish without a little help.

Kingdom of Loathing being wholly web-based is far more susceptible to this sort of thing and deals with it by randomizing combat results.  Other popular web-based games do something similar.