Note to the Internet: Videos aren’t THAT cool

A quick note to the Internet, especially those out there who run tech information sites. (Channel 9? Asp.net? I’m looking at YOU guys).

Videos are compelling. They get your face out there. You get a modicum of celebrity. People hear your voice. Heck, you can even show your family.

Please, keep it to YouTube.

I’ll watch videos on the internet when I want to waste a few minutes looking at a drunken squirrel, or check out Zero Punctuation. When I want information – a science based interview, or a good tutorial on how to use, say, Dynamic Data Entities in ASP.NET – believe it or not, I actually want text.

Why do I want text?

  • I can read really fast. I can skim even faster. When I’m looking for tech information, I’m looking for a couple of very specific bits and pieces.
  • It’s searchable on Google or Live Search. And you know what? I know ALL the keywords I need to know to get the search result in the first couple of links usually.
  • I can cut & paste it into OneNote if I really need to.
  • I can read it on my mobile phone if necessary.
  • I don’t have to shut out the world and put on my headphones.
  • I don’t want to look like I’m wasting time surfing the net at work (which I look like when I’m looking for tech info usually anyway). Watching a video? It’s the same problem squared.
  • Returning to point 1 – reading really fast – I don’t want to waste 15 minutes to an hour watching something that I could get through in less than 3 minutes.

If you put your information in video-only format, you’re actually just stroking your ego. If it’s technical information and it’s NOT a Photoshop tutorial, or a very SPECIFIC demonstration of new features in, say, Windows 7 - then please, don’t do it. Don’t. Just don’t. Stop it. I don’t want to hear your voice. I don’t want to watch you mug for the camera. I just want the information I came for. Give me a break.

What’s worse is when what I’m watching is someone’s cursor wandering around Visual Studio for 15 minutes. DON’T DO IT. IT’S BORING.

imagePointless ego stroking: hey look! It’s code! In a video! You can even hear them type! 

Video is great for some things. It’s my preferred medium for stories. I love it for comedy. Just please, give information in the most suitable form. And for 90% of people in a hurry, just trying to get their day-to-day done, that form is text.

(And Powerpoint mavens? I’m watching you… don’t get too complacent)

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Lesson Learned – The art of the Random Road Trip

Might I make a recommendation, dear reader?

Don’t decide on a whim to go to another country at 9pm at night.

Darci and I were out at one of her coworkers’ birthday parties yesterday, and in the middle of it, we decided to just say screw it and go to Vancouver BC for the night. That’s Canada, folks.

(For the record, it’s about a 2 hour drive to the border from Seattle).

Now, apparently, this is not the kind of decision that one makes lightly. After all, it’s not like Canada is just at the North end of I-5 or anything, it’s an entirely different fucking country, and they demand to be respected as such. In fact, cross the border after midnight, to go for a one night trip to a hotel with a themed room and a BIG hot tub, just because – well – you got the nomadic itch… well, that’s just not right. I mean, no-one does that right?

Apparently not. We ended up being detained at the border for an hour, while they grilled us on things like drug habits, whether we’d been drinking, etc.

The conversation went something like this:

“What states have you lived in?”

Me: “Er… Washington and Virginia.” … “and Ohio and Illinois. I mean Indiana, not Illinois.” (In my head I’m thinking… I was alive when I was driving through Pennsylvania too.. and Georgia, and the Carolinas… oh crap… I’ve stayed in Cleveland. Is that a state? Shit, no it’s Ohio, although I keep thinking that Toledo is in Ohio, and Cleveland is a world unto itself… and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to Iowa and Wisconsin. And I kind of stayed in a hotel in Illinois once. And I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times… and Nevada. And Arizona. Spent two weeks in New Mexico. Oh God What Do They Mean By Lived!?!?!").

Darci, however, had a smidge more difficulty remembering. Because she has live in at least 16 different states, and keeping track of them all gets difficult.

Next question was even more bizarre:

“So… do you ever smoke any drugs?”

Me: (because even if I had ever smoked anything, I’m not stupid). “No.”

Do you smoke nicotine? You have lighters in the car”.

Quick mental check time. Is Nicotine a drug? Yes. Of course it is. But I thought she meant illegal drugs. What the fuck? Did cigarettes get banned in Canada recently and I didn’t hear about it? And of course there are lighters in the car. They kind of go along with the cigarettes in the packet. In the car.

Me: “Er… yes. I smoke cigarettes. And yes there are lighters in the car.”

A disapproving look. Oh my god, I’m going to be refused entry to Canada, even with my Get Across Borders Free card(tm)* with me. Because I smoke Camel Lights. Well, I knew I should have quit… but what the hell?

So here’s my quick guide to going to other countries (aka Canada) for road trips:

  • Cross the border no later than 9pm. Anything later than that, and they’re wondering why the hell you’d waste so much money on a hotel room for such a short trip.
  • Speaking of short trips – don’t bother with one night trips unless you’re crossing the border around 1pm. They will think you are crazy, because you’re not taking advantage of everything that Canada has to offer, and most places up here close around 10:30pm anyway.
  • Print out your hotel reservation. They want proof that you actually thought your trip through, and aren’t just planning on getting a hotel room when you get up here. After all, no-one ever goes to another country and just wings it. (Nor does Canada want to admit entry to anyone that spontaneous).
  • Pack light. Clean out your car before you go. Anything that you don’t need for the trip? Don’t take it. Your gym bag? It’s a clear sign that you’re not really going on a trip – you’re actually planning on emigrating and using the free, Government sponsored gym memberships that all Canadians get as part of their health care package. Just don’t do it. (Or bring your Gym Insurance card to prove that you won’t be a burden on the state).
  • Both passengers should be fully conscious when crossing the border. You don’t get to let your tired sweetie sleep in the passenger seat. They want to make sure you haven’t drugged her, and aren’t transporting her out of the country to sell her into the white slave trade.
  • That picture of the Queen on the wall in the border station? It’s bullshit. They use it as a dartboard. Either that, or they thought I was a traitor because I had a British passport and a green card.
  • Do not tell them that you’ve been to Canada several times before without incident. They know that this is a lie, because no-one would ever want to visit Canada more than once.
  • But most importantly, more than anything else, don’t try the seasoned traveler tactic late at night. The guards want to see fear in your eyes. They don’t want to see someone who’s been through this a million times before being helpful and cheery and taking it all as routine. (Although I tell ya what, fuck’em. I’ve been through immigration at JFK SEVERAL times. Anything else is a freakin’ cake walk).

*That would be my green-card by the way. It takes a lot of work and effort to get one, but once you have it, it usually means that border crossings are a smile a wave and a handshake and you’re on your way. Mainly because they have my home address, sexual history, complete set of fingerprints, innoculations, criminal records, blood types, the addresses of everyone I’ve ever slept with, and my favorite cocktail all embedded on the back of the damn thing in a strip of data that looks like an old laser-disk. It usually bypasses all the crap that border people give you because, well, when it comes down to it, you’ve already had a much more thorough background check than they had to go through for their job.

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Fashion Prophecy: Complete! Welcome to the Depression

Back in March of 2008, I wrote this article:

http://www.accidentalscientist.com/2008/03/beards-and-skirts-and-sht-hitting-fan.html

Why did I write it? Well, believe it or not, it’s because I was pretty sure there was a huge storm coming. I noticed people around my office going for the bearded look – even people without beards. Heck, even I’d grown one again.

For the record, I’m so totally not immune to this stuff. I last had a full time beard around 2001. Just in time for the dot bomb. Around 2004, I shaved it off, and got my hair cut short and highlights put in.

Yep, I wanted to look risky, not safe.

I’m quite sensitive to these things, to be honest. I don’t know why, but I can feel the pulse of the economy whenever I’m tied to a moderately large company. Lots of little signals add up to one big gut feeling.

So cheers, beards. You are indeed the number one economic indicator. Now everyone – quick – shave them off and let’s party!

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#life, #economics, #psychology, #subliminal cues
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How to fix the US News Media Circus

I'm sick of the media - such as Rush Limbaugh - hiding under 1st Amendment protections by claiming that their political punditry is "for entertainment only".

The news media is not an entertainment force. That is not the "press". While parody and satire serve an essential function (the Court Jester principle), and could be considered entertainment, it's only a side-function. The purpose of it is to skewer the government, and keep it on track. To provide accurate information that the populace might not otherwise get.

Today's media has completely stepped outside the bounds of its role. Part of the social contract here is that the media MUST be truthful. It cannot dance across the line of fact vs. fiction.

Why is this distinction important?

Because when people such as Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh side-step slander & libel laws by claiming that their shows are for entertainment purposes only (which I've never actually heard them say on their shows), they are deliberately playing with a loophole we set up via the constitutional right to freedom of speech. Because these people are NOT citizens as far as the constitution is concerned - they are the PRESS. They have more power than individuals, and as such, as in a separate category - even in that original document.

With today's media reaching millions of people instantaneously, they have more power than ever.

I say we should stop this. And we can do it without risking affecting the 1st amendment.

The FCC already mandates that stations report their ident several times an hour, on both television and radio. The FCC should also mandate, that to receive protection from libel & slander lawsuits, media should CLEARLY label whether their shows are true News, or are using the loophole and running under the auspices of Entertainment.

How this should work is simple:
At the start of the show, the host must clearly state that this is for entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to be news or provide any factual content. (We can shorten this over time, once people get the idea - but at some point during the show, we should get a full statement of intent if the content is not intended to be factual. If it's intended to be factual, no warning is necessary).

Throughout the show, along with the station ident, a brief disclaimer should be played. We can do this every advert break.

Pretty quickly, people would get the point. No need to strengthen our libel & slander laws and go down that slippery slope - and it entirely gets around the fairness doctrine argument.

If they want to lie to us over the public airwaves, they need to play by OUR rules. So let's change the rules.

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One of the BEST Magic Books Of All Time – Now Online

I’m happy to say that the Library of Congress is doing wonderful amazing things by putting their books online.

About 16 years ago, I came across a book in Altrincham Public Library called “MAGIC: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions, Including Trick Photography”.

It’s one of the best magic books I’ve ever read. Sure, there’s no much card manipulation in it, but it covers lots of grand stage illusions, side-show geekery (in the dancing on broken glass, eating lightbulbs sense) and even some old Greek & Roman tricks from their temples.

I never found the book again. Which isn’t surprising, because it went out of print some time in 1897A.D.

But yesterday, I found it. If you’re at all interested in magic, history, ancient greek temples, or anything along that spectrum, check it out. You can find it here.

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