Archive for March, 2012

TV and my opinion of some things on it

Downton Abbey – For a period drama this show rips along at a cracking pace. It’s all manners and intrigue but beautifully put together, with some truly nasty people you wish would hurry up and die of syphilis. It took me ages to give it a go, but I’m glad I finally did.

Archer – A few wobbly episodes this season but still a great show. Worth catching up on if you’ve not given it a go.

New Girl – Occasionally a bit stupid but often charming and at least the writers have finally realized that Schmidt is far more entertaining than Zooey Deschanel’s schtick. I think the show never really recovered from the clumsy black guy hot-swap (Damon Wayans Jr was great in the pilot, only to have to back out for other commitments).

Awake – This show has a simple but far-fetched premise which manages to hide its absurdity through engaging procedural detective show stuff and pretty decent acting (unlike Alcatraz). Although it too will probably be a bit anticlimactic once it has to reveal what the hell is actually going on, it offers a fascinating setup with parallel realities and handles it reasonably well. Jason Isaacs carries it by underplaying almost every scene.

Justified – Seriously brilliant. I can’t really compare this show to anything, it is just awesome and full of people trying to kill each other for all sorts of complicated reasons. I’ve never seen a tv show handle character arcs and shifting alliances better than this one does.

Revenge - this started well but seems to have morphed into a tedious soap opera/melodrama with people constantly talking to each other over the shoulder and casting evil menacing glances to the side. Especially annoying is the Tyler character who was obviously loathesome from the moment he arrived but we are supposed to believe he is some kind of smooth-talking hustler. Almost as bad is the dumbass little brother character from the bar, who has a massive chip on his shoulder even though he owns half a bar. I think he exists only to keep the idiot plots moving along.

Luck - This expensive looking production might be more interesting if I could understand a  single word of what anyone is saying.

Fringe - Why did I get stuck on this show– it gets stupider by the episode. John Noble’s Walter is the only thing worth watching here.

Alcatraz - Holy crap this is a dumb-ass premise, and feels like one of the later seasons of Lost for the sense that there is absolutely no plan for how this idiotic show will explain all of the unbelievably stupid shit that happens in it. Like if you were in a maximum security prison and suddenly got zapped 50 years into the future– do you think you would be so blindingly stupid as to rush straight out and start committing the same violent crimes you were incarcerated for? Yeah yeah I know it’s all going to be explained that there’s some kind of mind control thing happening…. but if you think for one second that there will be a satisfying motive driving whoever is behind it all, you WILL be sorely disappointed.

Useful tip about gmail addresses

I’d suspected this was the case but it’s nice to see it clearly confirmed here

Gmail doesn’t recognize dots as characters within usernames, you can add or remove the dots from a Gmail address without changing the actual destination address; they’ll all go to your inbox, and only yours. In short:

  • homerjsimpson@gmail.com = hom.er.j.sim.ps.on@gmail.com
  • homerjsimpson@gmail.com = HOMERJSIMPSON@gmail.com
  • homerjsimpson@gmail.com = Homer.J.Simpson@gmail.com

Mike Daisey’s Agony and Ecstasy

Just listened to This American Life’s unprecedented retraction of Mike Daisey’s story about Foxconn (Apple’s primary manufacturer in China). I hope it gets at least the attention that the original show did.

Basically it turns out that every element in the story with an emotional punch was either definitely bullshit or very probably bullshit. And once these are removed, all you have is a guy speaking annoyingly slowly telling you the same shit everyone already knew about Apple’s supply chain.

Of course when faced with the mounting evidence that he was full of crap, Daisey attempted to justify his work by going for the ‘it’s true in spirit’ defence; an attitude for which I have virtually no sympathy. It reminded me a piece from On The Media last month titled Lifespan of a Fact, in which essayist John D’Agata defends his art on the basis that people have been making shit up and serving it as Truth for thousands of years– and why should we let facts get in the way of a good story? Honestly, when such writers pat themselves on the back for ignoring mundane evidence-based truth for something that just feels true, I want to spit. It takes a whole lot more talent to weave a good story around the facts than it does to massage the facts to fit a ready-made story.

Mike Daisey will go on insisting that his work has been instrumental in increasing the pressure on Apple to do more to reform its suppliers, and therefore he is still the good guy. Never mind that the whole story was serving him very well indeed and raising his profile considerably (even now it’s unclear whether he’s better or worse off than before the original story aired – here’s his most recent blog post about it all).

For my part, thanks to the disingenuous Mike Daisey, I now feel less guilty for liking and buying Apple products than I have for years, because in order to make me feel more guilty in the first place he had to make shit up.

In a fact-based followup, a comparison was drawn between factory conditions in China today vs the US early last century, which were of course terrible. In America, decent people worked and fought to institute fairer labor laws as well as health and safety conditions that made life better for everyone. No American worker today would tolerate the conditions and pay of a Chinese factory, so maybe we in the west should feel bad that shitty factory conditions have merely been exported…

The thing is, Apple doesn’t have the power to enact Chinese labor laws. And most people accept that it doesn’t have the option of taking its business elsewhere. It is likely they could push harder and see some positive results in the conditions at Foxconn. But last I checked, China wasn’t some shitty little third world country under the thumb of the west… it was a terrifyingly huge emerging world power. Is it so strange to imagine that ultimately it’s the Chinese people who might win for themselves better working conditions, to be codified in law? There’s a lot of socio-economic change going on there right now, with a rapidly growing middle class, and I can’t help thinking that working conditions are going to be changing a lot more due to this than any outside pressure.

The best way to get rid of a sweatshop is to make it illegal to run a sweatshop, and Apple simply doesn’t have that power. What they’re doing right now… I think it might actually be enough for my conscience to bear.

Also, I really wanted Ira to ask Daisey to ‘field-strip’ his Macbook right there, as he claimed he liked to do in the original monologue.

Counterpoint: Mike Elk sees things rather differently and applauds Daisey’s passion.

The iPad doesn’t want your crap

It’s remarkable that even at 20 times normal speed the movement is only barely perceptible.

I first noticed the effect when the mini-microscope I was using to check out the tiny RGB pixel elements started wandering across the screen of its own accord. Turns out it’s not unique to this model, and likely is common to most modern touch screens– it’s just something I never noticed until now.

Note that this does not mean that the screen is frictionless; merely that the coefficient of static friction is negligible– static friction is the effect that (normally) allows us to place one thing on top of another and find it where we left it the following day. By nearly eliminating static friction these screens avoid the problem of sticking/jarring motions as you drag your fingertip across the glass.

Why I’m buying “the new iPad” ASAP

It’s all about the pixels :)

Here’s a screen shot of my (plenty large) 27″ iMac screen, with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, overlayed with a red rectangle representing the pixels in the new iPad’s 2048 x 1536 display. Hard to believe but a screen capture from a new iPad won’t even fit on a screen that people generally see as ‘huge’.

Of course the new display is only 10″ diagonal as opposed to 27″, so those pixels are less than half the size of those of my iMac, resulting in a pixel density around 260ppi. This will make for a rather splendiferous reading/browsing experience, and also bodes well for future Mac releases.

UPDATE: I bought one! Just the base 16GB Wifi, because it will rarely be needed outside the house and I am not interested in keeping movies on it. Click on the image to see a full resolution screen grab of this blog entry as viewed on the new iPad, in all it’s megapixelly glory.

Microsoft ♥ Chopra

This does nothing to improve my respect for Microsoft as a company

Dear Mark,

Prepare to hear new perspectives and develop insights. Are you ready to share in the experience and learn from the best? Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, the internationally renowned physician and author, and thought leader of the mind-body-spirit movement will be the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2012 guest speaker! The Wall Street Journal called his business book, The Soul of Leadership, one of the five best business titles of 2011. Hear this speaker live and in-person.

This is not the first time he’s been involved with the company, so this isn’t just an isolated decision by some misguided conference organizer.

Now I hate Javascript too!

This is some code I wrote to evaluate a form with structured data in it on the client side, attempting to build the same object heirarchy Ruby on Rails would build once the form is submitted.

Unfortunately I got stuck for ages getting this right thanks to 2 very very stupid Javascript quirks.

  1. at line 10 I was previously using for (var n in names), and this actually caused the code in line 21 to fail unexpectedly with the array lookup always returning null. The fact using the for…in construct on an array does not give you the value but does not give you an incrementable index either was something I had no reason to anticipate.
  2. A well known type checking error I had forgotten about since last time it bit me: typeof Array returns ‘object’ and not ‘array’. Unbelievably dumb. Hence my use of the helper function is_array in line 14.

That both these problems were occurring at the same time made it very very difficult for me to see why the code was failing, until I had added debug trace messages to practically every line to try to work out what was going wrong.

It doesn’t help that I am also quite sleepy and haven’t washed in a few days since my hot water system failed on the weekend– It’s now fixed and I am about to enjoy a good long shower.