Category Archives: Internet

Farmville before the Internet

Having kids who are deeply into online games like Farmville can be a bit weird. The insistence of “I can’t let my crops wither” seems a little disconnected from reality from time to time.

Now, I get computer games. I enjoy them. So I’m not about to go on a “you kids need to get outside into the real world” rant. Although that’s not a bad idea. Just stay off my lawn. Farmville I avoid – I’m more of a Zombie Farm kind of guy:

Double Rainbow - so intense!

Double Rainbow - so intense!

My recent trip to the UK with my partner had many high points but one of the fun surprises was seeing a play set of hers from about 40 years ago that showed the more things change, the more they stay the same. This play set involves dozens of tiny plastic pieces that you put together to make and decorate a farm – Farmville before the internet or home computers!

Just like Farmville, with this toy you got a basic set that is designed to get you hooked so you spend money upgrading to more features and pretty things. You can move the components around as much as you like for many different looks.

They even provide a custom tool for inserting the flowers and other decorative items into position.

After playing with it for a few minutes we both wished you could still buy this in shops. I guess the addictive nature of this and its similarities to Farmville shows the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And just for a sense of perspective and scale, here’s my massive head next to the farm:

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Filed under Home Life, Internet

Should your website have a flash intro?

When Flash first landed on the World Wide Web (we still called it that back in those days) it was very popular and it became common for websites that wanted to look “cool” to load a Flash animation when a visitor arrived at the site. The standard method was to force the user to sit through this animation to convince them of how cool you were.

As time passed it became widely accepted that this practice was, to use the technical term, totally fucked. Despite years of frustrated users screaming at the websites to get that stupid fucking intro out of their way and let them use the site, some sites argue that there are certain cases where a Flash into is still a good idea.

Maybe so. I’m a helpful guy. Really. So I’ve provided this handy flow chart for all web designers and marketing people to consult before they put a Flash intro in place. Use this and no matter what your product, no matter who your target audience, you will always reach the right decision:

Flash flowchart

Thanks to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response to this post. I fixed the appalling typos that were in the first paragraph after they were pointed out to me.  Interestingly (to me at least) this post has also been translated into Italian: http://www.wafer.it/main/index.php?id_pag=52&id_blog_post=48

260 Comments

Filed under Charts & Graphs, Internet

BlogTV Shenanigans

I had a fun time on BlogTV tonight. If the idea of interacting with me live seems like fun to you, you should sign up to get notifications of my live shows.  Or follow me on Twitter to get tweets telling you what I’m doing. Or not. I completely understand if this doesn’t appeal to you.

But we have fun doing bizarre things like playing 20 questions. And I do occasional rants. And people frequently convince me to do stupid things:

Dalek or dickhead?

Dalek or dickhead?

And there are sexy goings on like me rubbing my nipples:

I'm dead sexy

I'm dead sexy

Plus you often get sneak previews into what I’m doing if you tune into the BlogTV shows – I was showing off prototype t-shirt designs today.  All in all, it’s fun.

If you’re into fun.

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Filed under Internet

Australian government plan to kill the internet

It’s for the children of course.

Last year when an American friend was visiting, he was appalled at how expensive and limited internet access in Australia is.  That’s OK, I’m appalled too.  Because of my YouTube obsession I’ve gone for basically the fastest service available.  It’s cable access but the broadband speeds are capped at 25GB.  When you’re on YouTube and other video sites as much as I am (all right, fine – when you download as much porn as I do) it’s dead easy to go over that limit.  So much so that I’m constantly monitoring usage so that my connection doesn’t get strangled down to dialup speeds.

Oh, and it costs $99 per month.

In other words it sucks.  But the new(ish) federal government had promised to go ahead with some much overdue investment in infrastructure so the future was looking brighter.  So I was delighted to learn of the government’s first major internet initiative.  No, wait a minute.  Not delighted.  What’s that other thing I always feel?  Oh yeah.  Really fucking angry.

Outraged in fact.  It seem the government has decided that nobody in Australia is enough of a grownup to deal with all the naughtiness on the internet and so plans to force a mandatory filtering/censorship program on the entire internet.

This is bad on so many level it simply boggles the mind.  It’s a disturbing level of censorship.  It won’t work.  It will cripple internet speeds that are already shit.  And it will be absurdly expensive.  And they can talk all the shit they want about “protecting children” and “illegal” content.  Any filter they put in place will be trivially easy to get around.  But at least they’ll have fucked up the internet for law-abiding citizens.  Not one iota of difference to criminals but we can’t have everything, can we?

This has been my venting topic of the week on YouTube.  Here’s the ranty version of my thoughts:

And here’s my more rational take on the topic:

I’ve been recommending concerned Australians support the EFA and make some noise themselves.  It might be an horrific Big Brother/nanny state/police state nightmare we facing but at least we can have a laugh about it as well.

43 Comments

Filed under Internet, Politics

The problem with kids these days

I was just reading an article titled “On Stupidity” which in general terms is one of a long line of essays and books bemoaning the decline of intellectualism.  The article is written by an American Professor of English (I feel for the guy, it must suck being an academic in America these days) and he touches all the usual bases regarding the problems he sees with new students.

It was, however, refreshing how positive his conclusion was.  I was fully expecting this to be another “kids today” moan but he acknowledges that young people for all their perceived shortcomings may actually be better prepared for the rapid changes facing the world.  This was a relief because I hate it when people reflexively blame everything on young people.  I hated it when I was a kid and I hate it now.

If you could find the oldest writings in antiquity, I swear it would be complaining about kids at some point.  Daubed on a cave wall somewhere are marking that were the maker’s way of saying “What the hell is wrong with kids today?  They’ve got no respect, they never listen and don’t even get me started on that noise they call music!”  Every single generation has copped this shit and every generation of adults think they have a harder time with kids than the generation before.

The article provides a handy checklist of the shortcomings the Professor sees with his incoming students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their “feelings” — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while “needing” to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.
  •  

    Like I said, his conclusion is very balanced otherwise I’d be kind of pissed off by what looks like a “same old, same old” list of complaints.  But I would make two points about that list.  First, as I look around me, that list isn’t the problem with young people, it’s the problem with people!  Look at the debacle the “debate” going on around the US Presidential elections is descending into if you don’t believe me.  Young people definitely aren’t responsible for that bullshit.

    Second, kids don’t exactly have a lot of power over the path they follow to get to university.  Kids don’t run the schools that fail to provide them with a better education.  Kids don’t run the media that is consistently doing a disgustingly effective job of dumbing down public discourse.  And kids definitely don’t run the governments that seem hell bent on fucking up anything and everything that might possibly make things better.

    The complaints about digital media and the internet dumbing everything down really shit me to tears.  The powers that be are terrified of the idea of information getting out of their control.  The internet is one of the most powerful tools for the dissemination of knowledge that humanity has seen.  The fact that is can be used to spread trivialities and lies is not the fault of the internet, it’s the fault of people pushing lies and trivia.

    Like every generation, kids aren’t failing they are being failed.  Instead of obsessing that the internet is teaching kids to skim and they’re losing their ability to explore ideas in depth, educators and parent need involve the internet in the learning process.  And for that to work, us old people have to work!  It’s pathetic to think in a world that is changing so fast education has to be locked into old ways of learning.  The idea that the internet can’t provide depth is flat out ridiculous.  With one click on a search engine you can find thousands of references for any topic.  It just requires a little creative thinking to come up with ways to explore depth.

    Try these:

  • Use a search engine to research a topic.  You have to use at least three different sources.  You can’t use anything that shows up in the first 50 search results.
  • Instead of saying you can’t use Wikipedia because it’s unreliable (a common restriction), use Wikipedia but you have to reference the talk page for each topic.  Explore the conflicts/differences of opinion that are creating edits.  Find other sources that back up the conflicting points of view.
  • Translate a classical text (poem, prose or play) into txt abbreviations and emoticons.  Discuss what bits of meaning get lost in the translation.  Do you think you can bring through the themes more clearly by using txt and/or emoticons?
  • Write a MySpace/Facebook/blog for a famous historical or fictional character.
  • Find someone (a journalist/academic/politician/pundit/blogger) you disagree with but you can still respect what they say/write.  Explain why you find yourself able to respect someone’s intelligence and/or honesty while still disagreeing with them.
  •  

    Wow, why am I giving this stuff away?  I should be charging some government department a fortune for saving the future like this.  If you’re a local teacher feel free to invite me in to run a session in your classroom.  Actually, no.  Don’t invite me into a classroom.  I’m sure one or both of us would end up being arrested.  But feel free to use any of these ideas.  I’d love to hear stories of any of them in action.

    If you want to see a horrible yet funny vision of a constantly dumbed-down future, watch the movie Idiocracy.  It may well be a documentary that slipped through a crack in space/time caused by the Large Hadron Collider.  But if things turn out that bad, it won’t be the fault of successive younger generations.  It will be the fault of successive older generations who fail their children.

    16 Comments

    Filed under General Angriness, Internet

    Internet self-analysis

    I’ve commented/joked before that the internet is essentially the largest human behavioural research laboratory in history.  I sincerely hope there are a few PhDs being worked on that analyse the group dynamic we see at play here every day.  I’m sure some great truth about the human condition is waiting to be illuminated.

    While being immersed in the horror that is the internet is more than enough to make you completely lose faith in human nature, taking a breath now again and stepping back can be very helpful.  Even the worst, most infuriating behaviour from morons can help you learn something if looked at from the appropriate angle. 

    For instance, people’s tendency to slip into paranoia and conspiracy theories freaks me right out.  From high end 9/11 “truth” whackjobs to the insane conclusions people leap to when interacting on sites like Facebook or YouTube.  There are days when I think the majority of the planet have their brains set to a default “crazy” setting – it’s the only explanation for the leaps some people make.

    It would be one thing if it was only paranoid schizophrenics having conversations with the saucer people who made these crazed dives into deep chasms of illogicality.  But perfectly rational people (or people who are good at covering a lot of the time) will frequently indulge in paranoid responses to perfectly straightforward situations.  One example is they way people respond to a glitch YouTube has been having recently.

    I suspect this actually coincides with the last “upgrade” to Flash as YouTube (like most video sites) uses a Flash player for their videos.  Whatever the source, this bug has gone unfixed for way too long (at least a month)  What happens is that videos frequently fail to play.  When you click “Play” you see a little spinny thing that suggests the video is loading but nothing ever loads – the screen goes black.

    Actually, not quite nothing.  YouTube make it worse by displaying an incorrect error message: “The video you have requested is no longer available.” Speaking as someone who occasionally takes on controversial topics, I am frequently receiving comments along the lines of “OMG what did you say? They’ve taken the video down!  Big Brother is silencing free speech!”  Well, no actually.  It’s just a shitty site with a shitty glitch.

    But a LOT of people leap straight to a paranoid conclusion.  I’ve learned to be less stunned by people’s tendency to descend into paranoia.  Besides, with the US Government making it clear they’re indulging in wholesale surveillance of the entire population, CCTV cameras on every street corner in the UK and an internet overrun with idiotic trolls determined to fuck up your enjoyment of life, paranoid may as well be the new normal.

    And then there’s the tendency of people to lie.  Most rational people have a healthy suspicion of authority figures and the media.  Great pronouncements of truth have a disturbing tendency to turn out to be self-serving lies.  And the internet has been a valuable tool in exposing many of these lies that would have otherwise escaped detection.

    Mind you, the internet is also obviously a massive source of the most outrageous lies imaginable.  And a horrifyingly efficient distributor of lies.  Like most people, I spent a lot of time being appalled at the most egregious lies being circulated.  I’ve spent time trying to debunk some of them.  But you know what?  Sometimes it’s enough to take away the lesson “Wow, a lot of people tell lies.  A lot of the time.”

    I’d love to tear down the houses of lies that the politicians live in.  I’d love to expose the venal media hacks who lazily and shamelessly circulate these lies without applying any critical analysis.  And I’d really love to make the gutless scumfucks on the internet take responsibility for the vicious lies they peddle.  But I can’t.  There’s too many of them.  Accepting that simple fact can be incredibly liberating.

    I see people lie about petty, trivial things all the time.  I see people tell lies that are absurdly easy to prove are lies.  Not differences of opinion, not misrepresentations, not mistakes.  Deliberate, premeditated, calculated lies.  And when so many people do this over completely meaningless things, how much more likely is someone to lie when there is something serious on the line?  As much as the liars I’ve been confronted with online sicken me, they’ve helped me by ensuring my bullshit detectors are usually turned up to 11. 

    Just because it’s on the front page of the New York Times doesn’t mean it isn’t a lie.

    So the downsides of the internet have actually helped me balance my worldview.  Learning those things about human behaviour is helpful.  But a helpful lesson I frequently forget is that it can tell a lot about me too.  How I respond to negativity can be a very good indication of how balanced my mindset is.

    The worst of the negativity is always on YouTube.  While I have had the occasional stupid troll on this blog, they’re few and far between compared to the cavalcade of idiots on YouTube.  I strongly suspect this is because interacting on a blog required the reading and the reading is more challenging than the looking YouTube requires of you.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the looking.  But there’s no denying the reading requires an additional level of commitment.

    My reactions to YouTube trolls have varied wildly over the last two years, something that may well have a relationship to my mood swings over the same period.  I’ve gone from grinding them into the ground, trading insult for insult until they give up, to having zero tolerance and deleting abusive comments instantly and blocking the worst offenders.  At the moment I’m leaning more towards block/delete but indulging in the occasional slugfest when it seems funny.

    But I’m very conscious of how much it consumes of my mental and emotional energy.  Case in point: a little while ago, there was a particular YouTube dweeb who was really pissing me off.  He was going the whole way, indulging in truly insane conspiracy theories about the motivations of myself and other people, telling pathetically obvious lies that weren’t even worth debunking.  And he would not shut the fuck up.

    I spent a bus ride to work thinking of a way to get back at him and came up with quite a good idea for a video.  I never go after individual people in videos so this would have been going after his sort of stupidity generally rather than him specifically.  But it would have been obvious that I was going after him.  And that made me pause.

    While I have a lot of fun going after the hater mentality I’ve been careful not to make it about them.  When I have a go at haters it isn’t from some deluded idea that I’ll make them change – it’s a message of support to the other victims of their stupidity.  Giving someone the message that they aren’t being attacked because they’ve done something wrong, they’re being attacked because their attacker is a fucking moron can really make  a difference.  It’s easier to bear stupidity when you have a sense of solidarity with other decent people.

    So I didn’t make the video.  Yet.  I’m still going to make it because it’s a bloody funny idea (IMHO) and I think people will enjoy it.  But it needs more distance so it’s about me doing something funny rather than simply me biting back at someone who pissed me off.  The moment I made that decision was incredibly liberating.  A huge amount of stress left me when I realised I wasn’t letting this mentality control me.

    And I didn’t even have to say anything to the fuckwit in question.  Because they don’t count.  That is something that I really hope decent people understand.  Sometimes, not responding is the most powerful thing you can do.  Because then you’re living life on your terms, not theirs.

    Living well really is the best revenge.

    22 Comments

    Filed under Blogging, Internet, YouTube

    Microsoft DRM – because fuck you is why

    I’m not a big fan of the way big companies approach issues of copyright.  Which is to say, fuck those guys!  As a creator of original content the principles of copyright are important to me.  I’d like to find some way to make money from what I do.  I get angry when someone flat out steals my work and makes money from it (which has happened multiple times).

    So why don’t I like the actions of the big entertainment companies and their bought-and-paid-for political institutions around the world?  Put simply, because their actions are nothing to do with protecting and enriching artists and everything to do with increasing their controls over consumer behaviour for their own enrichment. 

    Often when I say “fuck copyright” people will say that we need copyright so that artists can make a living.  I agree.  Sometimes people will go so far as to say some of the insane behaviour in the US like the introduction of the DMCA and the RIAA suing music fans are good things.  I’m never sure if these people are naive or if they’re fucking morons.

    The big entertainment corporations do not give a shit about the artists who actually make them money.  Selling the works produced by creative artists is a massive profit centre for these companies.  Giving fair compensation to the artists is a cost centre.  These companies are frequently guilty of breaching contracts with artists who make them rich simply because they can get away with it. 

    I’m not talking about them having some moral responsibility to make artists rich.  I’m talking about them being legally responsible.  They routinely breach contracts because they’re the ones with the lawyers and the artists are the ones with nothing.  They can fuck over an artist, use them up and dump them because there’s always some other poor sucker eager to jump into their place. 

    And don’t even get me started on the insanity of suing and criminalising customers.  Again, this is supposed to benefit artists.  So, given the hundreds of millions of dollars these companies have made from lawsuits that fuck over consumers, how much money have artists received?  None, apparently.  It’s getting to the point where some significant artists are considering suing.  If the Rolling fucking Stones can’t catch a break, what chance do you and I have?

    The thing that has gotten me pissed off about this all over again is news that Microsoft have decided to fuck over their customers  to an extent that is in no way required by law in an attempt to suck up to big media companies.  Some of the provisions of the DMCA and other laws proposed around the world are outrageous.  But this act of bastardry is not even a requirement, despite the weasel talk coming out of Microsoft.

    What sort of moron breaks functionality their customers want for no reason?  Especially when there are alternatives available?  It’s as if they want to push consumers to free alternatives that aren’t encumbered with this bullshit.  Actually, I’d like to think this is all because of some deep cover free software mole buried deep inside Redmond. 

    “Hahahahaha” the free software mole cackles diabolically.  “The fools have put in restrictions that will drive more and more users away from Micro$haft products.” (Free software proponents can’t resist calling Microsoft “Micro$haft”.)  “They are sowing the seeds of their own destruction without realising it!”

    I would have a lot more respect for a company that was being duped by a double agent than I would for a company that purposely anally raped their customers this way.  Sadly, I strongly suspect it’s the latter.

    With this in mind, I visited the good folks at Despair.com to produce the following motivational poster

    microsoft - because fuck you is why

    I think that says it all.

    41 Comments

    Filed under Internet

    Self censorship

    When does it become acceptable to write something that’s funny at someone else’s expense?  By which I mean, when is it OK to ridicule an actual, real person?  You know, those things that have actual feelings and lives that may be affected by public ridicule. 

    No matter how much we don’t like someone, no matter how much we think they “deserve it”, there is ultimately a person on the receiving end.  Even if we don’t think they’re much of a person.  So what’s acceptable when we’re dealing with another human?

    Looking around, it seems attitudes range from “anything goes” (no matter how cruel, damaging or untrue it may be) to “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  I tend to be somewhere in the middle but get tipped more towards “anything goes” the more of a public figure someone is.  I see it as a case of live by the sword… the more you make your living from being in the public eye the more you have to deal with the fact that the public eye can sometimes be cruel and unfair.

    For me, that generally means politicians, movie stars and TV personalities are all fair game.  In terms of ordinary people who find themselves in the public eye (usually for doing something stupid) I try not to be too cruel.  And the one thing I always try to avoid is the internet lynch mob mentality.  The people who indulge in internet vigilantism have a tendency to justify their action by saying their target has done something really bad.  But I wonder how many of them would escape unscathed if their own life was subject to the same scrutiny.

    The reason I’m musing on this topic is a news story that seems like perfect fodder for me.  A pair of New Zealanders described as “experienced pilots” have put themselves out front for this year’s Darwin Awards with their method of demise over the weekend.  They were killed when they crashed a microlight plane they took for a joyride.  In the middle of the night.  While it was raining.  And foggy.  And there was lightning.  To top it off, police believe the two had been drinking at a party before the flight (which could explain why they thought a midnight joyflight in shitty weather was a good idea).

    Now, these guys seem to me to pretty much fit the definition of “asking for it”.  But at the same time, I’m sure there are people who are very sad they’re dead and wouldn’t appreciate the loss of their loved ones being made light of.  I think I’ll hold off saying anything too disparaging until there are more details confirmed (like whether or not they had definitely been drinking) but I suspect the nature of this story means these guys are going to be slammed around the world.

    Of course at the back of my mind in all this is I’d really rather not have all my personal details used for online fodder.  Quite a few people have a go at the fictional entity of Mr Angry already (many of whom seem to have no clue that this persona isn’t actually me) so I’m always kind of expecting a wider public “outing”.  I’m not stupid enough to think that if I’m nice everyone will be nice to me but at the end of the day I’d rather be able to hold my head up regarding my own actions rather than worry too much about what someone might say about me.

    5 Comments

    Filed under Internet

    Bigotry online

    Let me tell you what the problem with niggers is…

    Better still, let me tell you how I’d solve the the Jew problem in this town…

    Or maybe I’d be better off explaining how the Muslims are invading our country…

    Actually, speaking as someone who’s been called gay, black, Asian, Lebanese, Jewish, Muslim and several other weirdly inaccurate things by people who thought they were insulting me, allow me to have a little ramble on the topic of bigotry. I’ve even chosen a pleasant setting in which to discuss this unpleasant topic.

    12 Comments

    Filed under Internet, Video Blogging

    Great moments in ad placement

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve stayed out of the so-called next generation DVD wars.  I’m old enough to have actually bought a Betamax VCR and paid the price.  Besides which, neither of these formats will enjoy the dominance DVD has had for the last ten years because they’ll be replaced by digital downloads before they gain that sort of foothold.
    A series of nails seems to be getting nailed into the coffin of Toshiba’s HD-DVD format so I wasn’t surprised to see an article predicting that Toshiba were about to admit defeat.  But I was amused while reading the article in The Age website  to see an ad for HD-DVD prominently placed in the same article pronouncing it dead in the water.
    There’s an old advertising joke that says “50% of all advertising money is wasted – if only we knew which 50%.”  He’s a tip: the money spent advertising a product next to an article saying that product is dead?  That’s probably wasted.
    As the advertising for sites like The Age is dynamic this little gem of irony will be a fleeting thing.  If you have a similar sense of humour to me, you may appreciate the fact that I saved a screen shot of this little piece of advertising magic:
    screen shot
    For the pedants:
    • I know nobody at Toshiba said “please place an ad for our product next to an article saying our product is dead”
    • I know nobody at The Age said “Let’s put an ad for HD-DVD next to an article saying it’s dead” – Toshiba simply bought an set amount of advertising and the ad was placed an arbitrary number of times in a particular section of the website
    • Get a fucking sense of humour
    • No, your sense of humour isn’t fine, if you can’t just appreciate a simple joke without deconstructing it and finding fault you are fucked up!
    • If you’re the sort of obsessive dweeb who behaves this way, here a few more to set you off:
    • Ron Paul is a gay nazi paedophile drug-smuggling terrorist
    • Open source software is a communist plot designed to destroy our way of life and murder kittens
    • Your mother fucks truck drivers for 50c a throw and most of the time they ask for their money back

    Can anyone tell I’ve had to deal with some really stupid obsessive-compulsive pedants recently?

    10 Comments

    Filed under Internet