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Permalink Comments Off on An E-Mail to The TowerComments Off on An E-Mail to The Tower By

Many moons ago, our building instituted a policy where the trash cans in people’s offices or cubicles were not longer to be used for trash, only for recyclables. If you have any trash to throw away, you have to walk it to a common area.

Now, think about that: every time you use a Kleenex, every time you have a small piece of food or a wad of tape or a soiled napkin or bloody gauze, you have to walk that trash to some common area. For some people, that means walking across the building to a kitchen or copier room.

A thoughtful building management company would have thought to do both: empty your trash and empty your recycling. But not our building.

For a long time, the janitorial staff has been just emptying our garbage anyway. But a while back, that stopped. I didn’t even realize it until about a week later. By then, my can was filled with apple cores and tissues and those gross parts of the mini carrot you have to bite off because it’ll taste like stem if you don’t. So I decided that I’d try it out. Maybe I can put my trash can in the kitchen every night to be emptied. Of course, that didn’t work well. My trash can is my last thought as I leave here every day.

So I came in today and had the following polite but infuriating note placed on my keyboard:

Well, that’s it, you jokers. Time for one of my patented rant letters. Here it is. It won’t affect change, but at least they have no doubt that one more person here hates the stupid policy.


I know that the Tower’s poorly-thought-out “no trash in trash cans” effort has been more strictly enforced in recent weeks. I was going to try to be okay with the new crack-down and empty my own trash can myself whenever I remembered to do so. However, I found one of the “Oops!” notices this morning on my keyboard, and so I have to get this off my chest.

Recycling pick-up is not an every-day need. Trash pick-up is.

I already walk to the kitchen to rinse out things like bottles, cans, lunch containers, frozen meal trays, yogurt cups, etc., so they can be properly recycled in the blue or green bins. I will not also be walking to the kitchen every time I blow my nose or pull off the non-recyclable top to a food container or dispose of leaves that have fallen from my plants or when a napkin has been soiled or when a piece of gaff tape has been pulled off a box or when a raisin or a cashew or a piece of lettuce from a sandwich has fallen on the floor etc. etc. etc.

Dry recycling—which I assume is really just clean paper, clean cardboard, and non-soiled plastics/glass/metal—does not need to be emptied every day. It does not rot, does not pose a threat of vermin or mold, does not smell. Trash, however, is another matter. It should be picked up and disposed of every single day. Office buildings have been doing this as a courtesy to their tenants for countless decades. (Citation needed, of course, but I think you get the gist.)

The “let’s all recycle!” message The Tower is trying to use for this program comes off as insincere, just some marketing speak wrapped up in a desire to get some kind of tax-incentive building accreditation and to, perhaps, cut costs. If The Tower really wants to “save our planet,” then they should have added an in-office and in-cubicle recycling program to the standard trash service. Two containers would be swell—most of us had two containers anyway! Why not empty the trash every evening, then empty trash and recycling once a week? Say on Fridays? Still a bump in cost, but then the program is truly about the tenants and making our lives here better and not just about other, building-selfish concerns.

Perhaps it’s petty to complain about something that, in the end, takes only a few more moments out of the day. But that could be said about The Tower, too, asking us to do what has been their job. The flawed logic of this program is what gets me so riled. So is the lack of input from the people who actually have to live here every day. So is the inequality of people of a higher pay grade and with nicer offices having their trash emptied without complaint.

So I will not be walking every single piece of trash to the kitchen. I will continue to throw it into my trash can, because that’s what it’s for. If I forget to then walk that receptacle to the kitchen every night before I leave for home, and continue to do so for a week or more, then so be it. I’ll get to it when I remember to do so. If it’s now my job to be a janitor for my office trash, then I’ll get to it when I can, and I’ll thank The Tower for not meddling in what is now my personal business.

Thanks for listening.


Ken and Frank:

I’m writing to more fully express some of the reasons behind my negative comments on Twitter following the ITVfest opening night party. I’m making this an open letter since my tweets were as well, and so others can refute any of my points if they had a different experience. I am also speaking on my behalf as only one of three producers at KATR Pictures. I do not speak for Robb or Tanya.

I got your letter this morning, and, truth be told, the two issues you mention in it are irrelevant to me in the end. So here is why I, as an excited and enthusiastic webseries producer and ITVfest participant, was so disappointed and peeved by the whole affair.

Communication is your festival’s primary issue. Your communication is terrible.

I tend to be more of an optimist. I tweeted that “the little hints at trouble with @itvfest have been building for weeks,” and this meant that I had been noticing some problems, but not letting them get in the way of our participation at ITVfest. Because this is your first year running ITVfest, most of these little problems were easy to shrug off. They were noticeable, and sometimes even aggravating, but nothing was detrimental, and I was assuming you were trying your best and working with situations others are unaware of.

Some examples of the early “indicators” were:

1. Lack of communication on festival details.

2. Lack of communication regarding technical aspects of the screening.

3. Inaccuracy of information.

Other issues, like the lack of passes for participants to see screenings and panels, and the expensive awards banquet that we as no-budget producers can’t afford to attend, really are just annoyances and disappointments. It’s the lack of communication that has created an air of “we don’t care” and “you are here for our benefit, not your own.”

To explain these 3 issues now would make an already long (LONG!) letter longer. So I will just talk about why the opening night was such a let-down and, to my eyes, an unprofessional mess.

When I arrived at 7:35 and saw the red carpet set-up, I was really excited. Call it vain—and, really, who gets excited about a red carpet without some vanity being involved?—but I couldn’t wait to take my first walk ever down a red carpet and talk to the media about a show on which I and my friends worked very, very hard and of which we are immensely proud.

There was no check-in table, which was very strange, and the only person with a clip board was the assistant to the photographer. I couldn’t pinpoint anyone there as being an official of the festival.

The red carpet line was huge. Robb and Tanya had yet to arrive, so I found some fellow webseries friends in the line and waited with them to see what was going to happen.

While the line wasn’t moving, word started spreading that we might be able to just skip the red carpet, join the party, and come back out later when the line was winding down. Then about 10 minutes after that, Frank was coming down the line telling people they could get their hands stamped if they wanted to just go up to the party. Some people took him up on the offer. After Robb and Tanya arrived, we decided to finish waiting in the line.

It was nearly an hour after I showed up when some lady with a clipboard started yelling something about being on a list. We couldn’t hear her, so we waited for her to come down the line. Turns out there was a list of who was allowed to be on the red carpet and who was not. This was a surprise, and not just to us, but to everyone around us. People were either VIPs or not. As I waited to check our names, listening to this lady communicate with the others in line made me angry. Her demeanor was brusque, unfriendly, and accusatory. She told every one of us that “our people communicated to us” that only two from each show were allowed on the red carpet. We were told that “our people” had chosen who the two would be. She was either misinformed or was making this up because no one around her knew what she was talking about.

The obvious irritation amongst in the crowd around this woman did not suggest to her that something had gone wrong and that she should take a more sympathetic tone with us. “I’m sorry, there seems to have been a miscommunication and we didn’t get the VIP info out. But let me find your names and blah blah blah.” That would have gone a long way. Instead, her tone was, as I said, accusatory. Whose fault was it that none of us knew about the list? Whose fault was it that we did not know to check in with someone? Whose fault was it that we wasted time in this line? Ours. That was the message.

Let’s examine this for just a moment. Here are well over a hundred people, waiting in a line without anyone having told them what the rules were. There is no check-in table, something even major studio motion picture premieres have. No one is wearing badges to identify themselves as staff. There has been no e-mail ahead of time saying there were red carpet rules for the evening. There has been no request for us to choose who would represent our show on the red carpet. Nothing. So instead, a large number of people wait in this line, then are told much too late in the evening that they should not have been in that line and it was all their fault for time wasted. This is why I called it an invisible lottery on Twitter, and why I felt it broke us all into castes.

I was not on the list, but Robb and Tanya were. This is not what upset me. Robb and Tanya can sell our show maybe even better than I can. Nor am I upset at your rules. Many projects have a large number of cast and crew, and to limit who gets to represent the production publicly at the event makes sense. (Though a case-by-case exception—in our case for 3 equal producers—would have been fantastic.) I am upset because you never told us—and apparently most others—about the rules. Being told by some rude woman that I should have known about it made me angry. We were, as I tweeted, treated like pigs. An exaggeration in the metaphor, perhaps, but the tone is accurate, and it’s how many of us felt.

That the limiting of red carpet participants didn’t do anything to speed up the process is another, most likely organizational, issue entirely.

I went into the party others who were also not on the VIP list. After being in the party for a while, many of us started getting texts from our friends below that they were not being allowed up because the bar was over capacity. Our colleagues, the supposed VIPs of the party, were shut out.

One of your defenses later that night was that you told us all to get there early because the event would sell out. Shouldn’t you have made sure there was room for your own festival people and designated VIPs? How does it help arriving early for a red carpet that starts, according to all communication, at 7:30? You guaranteed that people who were part of the festival would be left out.

Who was the party for? We had mistakenly assumed this event was for us, the participants, to kick off the festival and meet other folks involved. This was obviously wrong in hindsight. According to your letter from this morning, it was a success because the confusing and poorly-planned amassing of people brought press and dragged some executives back from Hawaii. Your defenses make it sound like gaining some cliché obnoxious Hollywood bragging rights helps us all. Exposure in 33 media outlets makes no difference if it comes with disrespect.

Drai’s can be blamed for kicking us out early, it seems, but they were not the ones selling tickets. That was all you guys. To have oversold the party to the point where people who are actually involved in the festival could not even get in is not Drai’s problem. And yes, to us, they did close us down early because your Eventbrite site said the party was from 7:30 to 1:00am. If the party was scheduled to end at 10:00 and you told us 1:00, whose communication error was that? (I can not find the Eventbrite page now, so I can’t confirm the ending time that I remember. But I know we all had 1:00am in our calendars.)

Event planners should know a thing or two about capacities, venue expectation, contracts, and attendee numbers. All of that, I imagine, would have been helped had you had a knowledgeable PR and event planner team to communicate continuously with you, with the venue, with the attendees, and amongst themselves.

We can try to argue over who this festival should benefit. But, really, it’s your show. You can make the rules. You can have all the expensive banquets and gift bags and more VIP-than-the-VIP VIPs and Hollywood-style attitude you want. It’s your show. Just make sure you communicate. Make your event professional. Allow us to work with you to create an amazing event for everyone. Apologize and recognize when your efforts may not have worked as you wanted them to. And if everything has indeed gone off just as well as you planned, then perhaps ITVfest is not what we were expecting based on the past. We cling to last year’s ITVfest because it was low-key, yet energetic. It was attendee-focued. It was friendly and accommodating. Since I was not part of an official selection last year, I can not speak to communication. But I can say that the vitriol you are experiencing from many of us is in response to the apparent New Douchebaggery of the event. That may be fine for the TV and the movie people. They’re used to it, I guess. And you’ll find plenty of webseries people who will join you in a more Hollywoodized ITVfest. Just know that the whining and complaining about gift bags is a symptom of real concerns. We have our own vision for what this new media can be, and a lot of us strive for a professionalism and honesty that, are we to take Thursday night’s events into account, do not mesh with the goals of this year’s ITVfest.

I’d love to be wrong about your intended tone and goal for ITVfest. The reason I’m even bothering to write this detailed letter is to see if I am wrong, and to give you guys a chance to see that maybe we aren’t just thoughtless complainers but truly passionate participants in what is hopefully the new and different future of entertainment.

We are not pulling out of ITVfest, as others have. Frankly, we understand why they have. But for our own selfish reasons, we are staying in. We have fans who want to come, we have prizes to hand out, we have fellow artists in our screening block who deserve our continued participation. We are hoping for a really fun screening. It could be by the end of the week, the festival will have righted itself from the mess of Thursday. I personally am withholding final judgement until the end, which is as it should be, I think.

Thanks for reading.

–Steve Lekowicz

Permalink Comments Off on “Fourth Floor: Men’s Delicates, Footwear, Bathing Costumes, 1+1=3…”Comments Off on “Fourth Floor: Men’s Delicates, Footwear, Bathing Costumes, 1+1=3…” By

In the move to get as much exposure and as many fans as possible for our new web show, Vampire Zombie Werewolf*, we are designing a site with a lot of clutter. Lots of thumbnails, lots of links, lots of boxes with text fed from other parts of the site, lots of badges to like or tweet or love or post, forms for commenting… Let’s just say it’s the opposite of a clean and orderly site.

The site will not be bad. In fact, despite the mess, I think it’s turning out to be quite nice. It will certainly be better than most sites out there, especially other video and social sites. But it won’t necessarily… be a visual pleasure, serene and welcoming. It will be strident, a salesman wearing a trench coat containing pockets overflowing with goodies. Watch our show! Here it is! You love it you can tell because you want to click on everything here on the page go ahead just don’t leave please no don’t leave!

The practicality of having a site with every possible trick to lure and keep an audience is, unfortunately, more important than a site with a few really wonderful experiences. Robb is right: just look at the most popular sites on the Web. YouTube? Disaster. Facebook? A mess. Google? Noisy. But people love them and flock to them and expect the rest of their world to be like this. Can we have a serene, fun, cool site without all that? Of course we can. But no one knows who we are. If we’re going to have any chance of catching the eyes of the Web-blind, we have to have something they expect. It hurts me to admit that. Hopefully we are balancing noise with style.

I’ve heard of Edward Tufte, but for the first time today, I read about his concept of 1+1=3. I saw it mentioned in a blog post about the design tweaks in a recent update to a program I use often, OmniFocus. Perhaps ironically, I’ve been searching for a replacement to OmniFocus because that application’s vast array of features and the design that has resulted have been factors in me not using the app as much as I should. I don’t think OmniFocus is badly designed at all, I just want something simpler, less busy, faster for me to use.

Alas, the major feature I truly do desire in a to-do app—invisible, automatic syncing among all instances of the app across Macs and iDevices—is only to be found in OmniFocus. And so, for now, I have decided to stay with it and purchase the iPad version of the app. When I can afford it.

Now, 1+1=3. The Omni blog post linked to this essay by Scott Jensen, which contains a design example I imagine we have all had a bad run-in with at one time or another: elevator open and close buttons.

I agree 100% that open and close buttons require too much thinking. It takes too long to decide which button is the one you need to press. I would welcome better buttons in my office building, that’s for sure. However, once Scott gets to the part about removing the close button altogether, to simplify the choice and remove the +1 (and therefore the =3), I start to balk. I do not do so because I think the close button should be there to save a few seconds. I do so because the fundamental design of elevator systems do not allow for a perfect timing of the closing of the doors.


Well, here, it’s like this: As with most elevators, the cars in my building emit a piercing alarm when the doors are allowed to stay open too long. Sometimes, as is currently the case here at the office, an elevator’s programming goes awry, and the doors will not close until the alarm has begun to sound. The only way to avoid the alarm? Hit the close button and hold it until the doors shut.

A more selfish case also exists in my office building. In the morning, until about 10:00am, the doors of the elevators on the lobby level are programmed to stay open until just before the alarm sounds. It feels interminable. I assume this pause is to allow each car to accept a maximum allotment of rush hour bodies before climbing into the building. But what if no one is coming? Why wait there like fools? No need to. There’s a close button.

In the non-close button scenario from Scott’s essay, we’d all be stuck waiting for technology to do whatever the hell it’s doing. If the technology is failing, we all get to stand, wait for the alarm to go off, then listen to it for the 3 seconds it takes the doors to close. In the morning, we all get to stand, waiting inefficiently, until the doors’ program allows them to close.

I’d be happy to take the door close button out of elevators, but another design consideration makes the door close button a near necessity: the elevators themselves. Design keeps the doors open a long time in the mornings. Design causes the elevator doors to fail until the alarm rings. Design allows for a pointless alarm in the first place.

And so it is with the Vampire Zombie Werewolf website. If we wish to attract a wide audience of people who frequent the Web, we have to keep the close button. I wish we could be the cool ones who have a stylish, beautiful, and minimal site that wins us millions of adherents by showcasing the quality of our episodes, but we can’t afford that. The current design of society dictates that we keep what others have come to expect.

A website without comments, three ways to get to everything, summaries of stuff from elsewhere, flashy thumbnail directories, and social linky badges?

An elevator without a close button?


*At this writing, the VZW website linked is not the one I’m referring to. Our new site will be up soon.

Permalink Comments Off on Neutralize THIS, McCain and Blackburn!Comments Off on Neutralize THIS, McCain and Blackburn! By

Thanks to an Ars Technica article, I got a bit sidetracked today.

Two bills have been introduced, one in the Senate and one in the House, that prevent the FCC from “regulating the Internet.” The fake front argument is that “no one wants the government regulating the Internet!” Because, you see, it’s so much better to leave that regulation in the hands of the people who provide the service in the first place. I hope you’re not missing the subtle sarcasm there.

These bills are really meant to allow your Internet provider to filter, restrict, or censor Internet content as they see fit if they feel it is in the best interest of… themselves. The argument that the companies need to do these things to protect their systems, their businesses, and the economy of the universe at large are so retardedly illogical and false that it gets me fuming. You could smoke gouda on my head.

The Senate bill S. 1836 by our friend John McCain and the House bill H. R. 3924 by some hack legislator named Marsha Blackburn (I base her hack status solely on this bill) are eye-rollingly named: “Internet Freedom Act of 2009” and “Real Stimulus Act of 2009,” respectively.

Internet Freedom Act, Mr. McCain? If you must believe that a handful of greedy douche bags with profits as a sole motivator are in need of freedom, fine go ahead. It must mean you’re ignorant or a complete douche yourself.

If the providers get their way, within the next decade, I guarantee you (really, it’s a guarantee), we’ll see limitations on our Internet access. “We have to limit the speed because speed is expensive and you don’t want to pay $400 a month for speed, now, do you?” “We have to limit P2P access because it’s stealing the Internet from others who need it!” “We have to make sure you don’t download .m4v files over 200Kb because, hey, we’re not here for your convenience!” Whatever the arguments end up being, I’m absolutely certain Time Warner will make sure I am not able to get fast download speeds from sites they deem “hostile to Time Warner’s interests.”

I am so pissed at this, I wrote to my congressfolk! You can do it, too. You can find your Senator here, at the top right of the page, and you can find your Representative here, at the top left. Write them if net neutrality is important to you. It should be, unless you’re a greedy douche bag.

* * * * * *

My e-mail to Henry Waxman:

I am flabbergasted at Representative Marsha Blackburn’s irrelevantly- and deceptively-titled Real Stimulus Act of 2009 (H. R. 3924).

It is ignorant to believe that cable companies and telcos have the true interests of their customers at heart when it comes to making sure we are all allowed to access what we want when we want on the Internet. These companies have to be TOLD that it will never be okay to limit our access. Money will always be the excuse for why speed has to be throttled, or why the amount of data we can download every month has to be limited, or why certain kinds of files have to be discriminated against.

We should all appreciate the money it’s taken to install the infrastructure capable of bringing such a phenomenon as the Internet into our lives (though it lags behind much of the rest of the technologically-blessed world), but claiming “too much” Internet will hurt profits and the economy is an insulting and specious position.

Real stimulus is letting the Internet continue to be an open, unburdened frontier, passing all data through at maximum possible speeds at all times. Business is not capable of monitoring itself, only the FCC can do so.

Please vote against H. R. 3924 and work to convince others of your colleagues to do the same.

Thank you!

Permalink Comments Off on I am DR AGAPE, Only NotComments Off on I am DR AGAPE, Only Not By

Sorry I have not posted in a while (except on Twitter). This post will be sad for many of you, because I’m revealing some of my Los Angeles driving habits. These are sad habits. Trust me, I could fill a book with my observations on driving in L.A., and I’ve been meaning to do some nice, long, hopefully funny posts about it here on The Wren Forum. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Consider the below to be but a glimpse into my world of L.A. driving.

The moment I first hit the L.A. freeways in my little green Civic, September, 1994, I’d just driven from Colorado, and could not believe the chaos and congestion in my new city. I got my Disney job not long after, and I have been doing the 34-mile round-trip commute for over 13 years. That’s plenty of time to learn I had to become a different kind of driver if I were to survive.

On the 101 East this morning, as I was coming into work, I saw a big, red Cadillac with the license plate DR AGAPE (license plate holder: “Motion Picture and Television Fund: We Protect Our Own”) ease from the right lane into my lane, cutting off the car in front of me. They practically scraped bumpers. Now, the car I was behind was one of those annoying “maintain 40 car lengths” kind of drivers, and I do my best to not to stay behind these types. Keeping a gap is safe, sure, but there’s a difference between safe and paranoid, in my book. I understand another driver’s need to get in front of such a driver, trust me. But not like this. DR AGAPE did not need to cut so close to this guy, he just did because, well, obviously, he’s the only driver on the road.

So nearing the 134, I had to do my usual lane change to make it to the far left lane. And wouldn’t you know it, there was DR AGAPE, just behind me in the lane I needed. He was an older man, of course, and it turns out he’s one of those inconsistent drivers, leaving tons of space in front of his car, then closing the gap, then dropping back again. So I took the opportunity to change lanes in front of him during one of his gappy moments.

Here’s a truism that all L.A. drivers know, or at least should know: If you signal for a lane change as early as you’re supposed to, you will not be let in. I learned long ago to watch for a space, then signal just as I start the lane change. I know not to try to cram myself into a space where there is no space, so I try to change lanes into a gap where there’s enough room for my car. It does not matter when you signal, early or late; often the person behind will see your blinker and rush to close the gap, so best to already be half-way done with your maneuver.

Since I was trying to make a point to myself, I made sure I had just enough space to get in front of DR AGAPE, but not tons. I was nowhere near as close to him as he’d been to the guy he cut off, but that was my test, and DR AGAPE took the bait. As soon as I started to make my lane change and turned on my signal, he sped up, and then honked his big, blasting Cadillac horn at me. He was justified because, of course, DR AGAPE is the only driver on the road.

I raised my hand up when I’d finished changing lanes, and gave him a nice, long, languid hand wave, a thank you for his participation in my social experiment.

I have to be honest here; I am someone who will not always let another driver get in the lane in front of me. Horrible, I know. I have very complicated rules for when not to let someone change lanes in front of me. Are they heading for an exit or a freeway split, or just changing lanes for fun? Are they already going way, way too slow? Are they a “maintain 40 car lengths” kind of driver? Are they polite driver or an asshole driver? What kind of car are they driving? There’s lots to factor in. I learned that if I let that old mini-van, that Jaguar, that Prius, or that tiny truck with a lawn mower in the bed and three guys in the cab get in front of me, I’ll be behind their slow ass for miles, and as other cars fill the lane in front of them, they will maintain that huge gap, letting even more cars in front, and so on. It’s less about the minimal time I’m wasting behind such a driver, and more about how incredibly stupid such driving is in a region with over 10 million people. If everyone drove with huge gaps in front of them, no one would get anywhere. It’s incredibly sad, but true, and I hate it.

There was the chance that DR AGAPE had cut that guy off because he has similar rules of the road, and wanted to make sure he was not caught behind the slow guy. I guessed that was not the case, based on his car, his age, and the really self-absorbed way he changed lanes, slowly, ignoring the guy he was cutting off. He had no reason to cut so close to the other driver. But maybe. Maybe he doesn’t like getting caught behind slow drivers.

Once DR AGAPE and I were both on the 134, where traffic was flowing, I expected him to change lanes and speed by me. But he did no such thing. Instead, now that we were out of bumper-to-bumper traffic, he drove slowly, holding up his lane, and I was a quarter mile ahead of him by the time I hit my exit. And thus was my experiment a success. I had proven that DR AGAPE is a shitty driver, a clueless driver, and, without a doubt, the only driver on the road.

Permalink Comments Off on Uncluttered Apple®Comments Off on Uncluttered Apple® By

There is something I realized for the first time not long ago regarding Apple and their excellent sense of design, and I wanted to put it down here, now, on paper. As it were. My revelation is this: Apple does not use ® and ™.

I just got an e-mail from my sister. She uses Hotmail, now part of Windows Live. At the bottom of her message was a text-only ad saying, “Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync.” Now, I ask you, for whom is that ™ included? No one. No. One. Er, okay… maybe it’s there to alert that poor sap who’s almost finished setting up a new service for designing window treatments she intended to call Windows Live. Oh, no you don’t! See here in this e-mail footer? We already ™ed Windows Live, so hands off!

What a waste of time. What legal nonsense. And how ugly. Uselessly ugly.

Apple does not do that. Just go to their website and take a look around. Do you see a single ® or ™? Oh, well, sure… in the store, on the Microsoft® Office page, where you can read about Entourage® and PowerPoint® and Excel®. And Windows®. But Apple’s equivalents of these applications? It’s Keynote, not Keynote®; Pages, not Pages®; iWork, not iWork®.

iLife is not iLife®, Garage Band is not Garage Band®, Bonjour is not Bonjour™, QuickTime is not QuickTime®, Mac is not Mac®, iPod is not iPod®, iPhone is not iPhone®, MobileMe is not MobileMe™…

To be fair, Microsoft’s website does not have many ™s and ®s in the product descriptions either. Someone made a good decision to exclude those. Whew. But as soon as you get to any of the logos and packaging, the ™s and ®s make a strong appearance.

I should not pick on Microsoft alone, really, although it’s always great fun. The Adobe® Creative Suite® 3 Design Premium box in front of me right now has those two ®s plus a third, on the Adobe logo. I have a bin of Twizzlers® on my desk, and an unused Contour® Design ShuttlePRO™ v2. An Altinex® Cable Catcher™ is to my right, as is a Pantone®/GretagMacbeth™ i1 spectrophotometer and a butt-load of Sanford® Sharpie® pens. But I also have iLife, iWork, Aperture, Mac OS X, and MacBook Air boxes in my office, and what do I see? Not one ®. Not a single ™. The Apple logo itself, unlike most other companies’ logos, is beautifully unblemished by the annoying ®.

Including a ® or ™ is pointless. I know some lawyers somewhere would disagree, but certainly not for any non-esoteric reason. Once again I find myself thanking Apple for making the world just a tiny bit better.

My boss walked into my office today, saying, “I have a surprise for you!” “Are you being facetious?” I asked. “Maybe.”

He handed me this:

I think my reaction surprised him. “Oh, wow! This was my favorite mouse ever!” “Really?” I was not being facetious.

This, friends, is the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II. According to Mactracker—an awesome, comprehensive app that gives info on every Apple product ever made—this mouse was included on all Macs from 1993 to 1998. It was only the third mouse design since the Mac’s introduction in 1984. My boss found this one locked in a cabinet in some conference room. It cleaned up really nice, and I plan to keep it.

I began using Macs when they showed up in my junior high school, though it took a long time for me to have one of my very own. Macs were too expensive, so my folks bought a IIe while I was in high school. (I first used a IIe and learned Apple Basic when I was in 4th grade.) I used my Apple IIe to write all my papers in college, but I loved every moment using the Macs at school to create flyers or newsletters or graphics.

I got my very own Mac, an LC III, in 1993. It had the new Apple Mouse II. When I started doing scientific illustration and page layout for books at Birkhäuser, the LC III was quickly replaced with a faster mac, a Quadra 610, that could better handle Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker. (Here’s one of the books I typeset. For some reason, I thought I had put my name on the copyright page. I usually did. Anyway, I want to go on record saying that nowadays, I would never stretch a font like I did in those black boxes!)

I did not upgrade my Mac until 1999, when I got a blue and white G3. I had already been living in L.A. and working for Disney for five years. I got the G3 literally weeks before the brand new G4 towers came out. It was my first introduction to immediate obsolescence.

I got my G3 less than a year after Apple had introduced the bondi blue iMac, the machine that began the rebirth of Apple and the Mac. Perhaps the most maligned thing about the new iMac was the mouse: it was round, which meant you could never tell, by feel alone, if you were holding it upright or not. My G3 came with one of these horrible mice, but I did not mind, because the machine still had an ADB port, which meant I could use my old Apple Mouse II. (I think this was the last Mac to have an ADB port. It was the first pro-level Mac to have USB.)

When I got my 12″ PowerBook in 2003, I could no longer use my Apple Mouse II. I still have not found a mouse I love as much.

The Apple Mouse II was perfect. That seems like a silly thing to say, because it had only one button, used a physical roller ball, and had no scroll wheel or scroll ball. But I consider it perfect anyway.

The mouse was low profile, which meant it sat in the curve of my hand without me having to bend my wrist backward to accommodate its bulk. The button end of the mouse was very shallow, down close to the desk surface, so I never had to strain my fingers up to rest on the button. My hand could relax comfortably. Most mice, especially today, have unnecessary bulk. They force the hand to arch up to unnatural heights, and the buttons are far off the desk, which pushes the fingers higher than is normal. The Apple Mouse II was shaped so that you could plonk your hand down, relaxed, on the desk, and the mouse would just happen to be there, in the cavity, ready to go.

The button had perfect tactility, which meant you could rest your finger(s) on the button comfortably without the button accidentally clicking. It also clicked at just the right pressure, so I never had to strain my fingers to press down. If a button clicks too easily, finger muscles get strained as you hold them aloft, trying not to click. When a button mechanism is too strong, the muscles have to strain harder to click.

The single button that covered the entire front of the mouse meant I could relax my hand in a natural position, even to the very right edge of the mouse, and still move and click with ease. A two-button mouse where the left button is the default button forces your wrist to rotate farther left and your index finger to angle more than is natural, then hold the pose the entire time you use the mouse. Most mice are designed with the buttons inset from the sides of the mouse, so even if you can rest your hand at the very edge, you have to move your finger to click. On the Apple II Mouse, you could just click any part of the front, and you were okay.

All these tiny little alterations, muscle movements, and position-holdings add up over the hours, and, in my experience, at the end of a long mousing day, they hurt. My right hand is sore every day using “better” mice. For sure, hands of different sizes and shapes may require different shapes of mice. A large hand still rests its fingers at the surface of a desk, so the low mouse button works well there. Perhaps stronger fingers would need stronger button clicking, and a wider hand a wider mouse to more comfortably grip, but overall, I posit that the Apple Mouse II was a perfect, average shape.

My current favorite mouse is the Wireless Mighty Mouse. Yes, also by Apple. I have used a number of other brands of mice, and none of them works as well (though the Logitech MX 300, now impossible to find, was pretty decent). With the Mighty Mouse, I get back the low profile and the low, borderless button. I swap my left and right clicking, so the right side of the mouse is my “left” click. This way, I only have to strain my hand or fingers occasionally to execute a “right” click. My hand can rest as it did using an Apple Mouse II. (I tried swapping button mapping on other mice, but for some reason, it didn’t work so well, mostly because the unclickable side border made it pointless.)

The down side of the Mighty Mouse is that I have to be very careful, and therefore strain my hand, to do a “click and pick up the mouse to move it before you unclick” maneuver. This is easy on most mice, but because the whole top of the Mighty Mouse is mostly one piece, the only place to grab and hold is the side-click buttons. I have to move my thumb up to the left side click button (because it does not naturally rest there), then sort of do a squeeze–hold while I click the main button, then do a cumbersome lift… Do you know how many times I accidentally squeeze too hard and bring up Exposé? And then suddenly I’m stuck, hand aloft, mid-click, with all my windows shrunken, and everything has to come to a halt while I repair the mess.

Another issue is the touch-sensitive button. I love the idea in theory, but you have to lift your fingers off the “left” click “button” to make the “right” click “button” work properly. If the mouse senses a touch on both sides, it does not execute a “right” click. This strain does get to my hand by the end of the day.

I could get into my issues with tracking sensitivity, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the Apple mice have the best tracking algorithmicity thingy I’ve used. Other mice are too sensitive and don’t get the acceleration right.

One could say that I simply like the Apple Mouse II because that’s what I got used to using. It seems a fair argument, but it doesn’t work here because I can just lay my hand down on my desk, let it relax, and see how it comes to rest. The Apple Mouse II fit right into that relaxed posture. I do not imagine other people’s hands lie in completely different ways than mine, all twisted to the left with fingers naturally hovering in the air and wrists bent backwards. Maybe I’m ignorant, or a fool. Or maybe it’s approaching 8:00 on a Friday night, and I’m here in my office writing a blog post about mice.

I have spent a lot of time at work testing mice, trying to find decent ones that haven’t been bastardized by forced progress and redesigned for redesign’s sake. It’s a constant battle. So seeing an old friend walk in the door was a great surprise and, perhaps pathetically, a happy one.

Thanks to a new round of fee nonsense with my Wells Fargo account, I’m done. I’m through. I have already signed up for a Washington Mutual account and plan to ditch Wells Fargo as soon as the WaMu account is all set up.

To try to make a long story short, here’s what happened this time.

I use ING Direct for most of my banking. I love them, but I still need a way to easily deposit checks without having to mail them in. I also like the ability to be able to go into a bank if I need to. So most of my paycheck goes to ING, with a tiny bit each week going to Wells Fargo to keep it active.

A couple months ago, a cute little $8 began to appear on my Wells Fargo statement. When I called Wells Fargo and asked why, the customer service gal said that my account needed a direct deposit of $100 a month to waive the fee. I asked her if me just upping the weekly deposit amount would work, as long as it gets to $100. She said yes. She refunded the fee.

The next month, my new direct deposit amount hadn’t taken fully, so I was under $100. I let the $8 fee go.

This month, the fee is back, and I had $100 of direct deposit. I call. The lady says, oh, no, you need at least one direct deposit of $100 for the fee to be waived. She apologized for my having been misinformed, the refunded both this month and last month’s fees.

Immediately last night, I researched other banks. All I need is a barely active account! Who could help me without being a complete dick about it? WaMu it is. So this morning, I set up a new account.

The rest of my day (between work chores, of course!) has been spent crafting a letter to Wells Fargo, which is reprinted below. At first, it was to be an e-mail, but all they have on their site is a limited e-mail form to fill in. I called to tell them I was as good as gone and could I please have an e-mail and a physical address so I could send a letter telling them how horrible they are? The woman was nice, and asked if there was anything she could do to help or to keep me as a customer. I said no. After me telling her that the fee thing is terrible at Wells Fargo, she asked if it would help for her to explain the fees. I said,

“You can ‘explain’ the fees all you want, but they are still horrible and suck.”

The nice woman fetched me a mailing address but said there was no e-mail address. She offered to transfer me to the corporate offices line. Wow. Okay.

I spoke with Kathy. She had raspy voice that could easily play the line between friendly or bitch-o-rama, whichever she might need. She was very friendly to me. I explained why I was leaving and she listened attentively. The only thing that got me was when I was detailing to her the silliness of charging me a fee to transfer money from one Wells Fargo account to another, both mine.

“You can transfer the money yourself online for free.” She had a slight hint of “so there” about her, but she was not rude.

“Well, of course, if I know I’m going to overdraft my account, I’d go immediately and transfer the money myself. But life isn’t so predictable. If I forget to enter something into Quicken and then I overdraft, I have no idea it’s about to happen. If I could catch it every time, I wouldn’t need something called ‘overdraft protection.'” That was the gist of my argument.

I realize that overdraft protection is a service, and no matter what happens, it is my fault if I overdraft my account. Well, mostly. Wells Fargo can charge whatever they want. That doesn’t mean they should. And the method of their fee madness is what’s so vexing. The fees are horrible and outrageous, yes, but to try to sell them as some kind of service is ludicrous.

Anyway, here’s the letter. Enjoy it. It felt very good to write and send!

December 5, 2007
Wells Fargo Bank
P.O. Box 6995
Portland, OR 97228-6995

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to tell you that I will soon be closing my Wells Fargo accounts. In fact, by the time this letter arrives, it may have already happened; my new Washington Mutual account will be set up and my remaining funds from Wells Fargo will be transfered either there or to my current ING Direct accounts. I am not what you’d call a “big” customer, since my accounts are never flush with cash. But I am a customer nonetheless, and one who is fed-up with how banks like yours work.

About nine months ago, I started using ING Direct as my main bank. I’d already had a great savings account with them (where I earned actual interest!), and their Orange Checking sounded useful. I moved most of my money and banking activity from Wells Fargo to them. ING has no stultifying fees or Byzantine requirements for minimum balances, minimum monthly direct deposits, minimum blah blah blah. They don’t pile on the fees for overdraft situations; in fact, their overdraft fee structure is sane and logical. Everything about them, so far that I’ve experienced, is good for me, the customer, for whom they are in business in the first place.

Wells Fargo, with whom I’ve banked since 1994, is a mess. For all appearances, you are in business for yourselves, not to help or serve people like me. I am more a minor, annoying necessity in your running a profitable business. A few times a year, for 13 years, I’ve had to call you about weird, unexplained fees or altered account requirements, and though everyone is very friendly on the phone, that mask can not hide your greediness. That your entire system is set up to collect fees from people like myself is infuriating.

I’ll delve into one example, for which I imagine you receive complaints often: your overdraft and transfer fees. They are the worst, jaw-dropping and preposterous. Having to pay an overdraft transfer fee of $10 to protect me from an overdraft charge of $33–$66 per transaction is insane. (Does it not sound a bit Mafia-esque for me to pay you $10 for doing no work to “protect” me from exorbitant fees you yourself charge? Hmm…) Worse, alerting me to the overdraft via snail mail and not having an option to do so via e-mail, in this day and age, can only be your way of assuring I rack up more fees in the days it takes to get that letter.

There is no better way to get your customers to hate you than to punish them for any out-of-the-ordinary banking situation.

Thanks to this and other frustrations, I use ING Direct for 99% my banking. However, as I’m sure you’re well aware, there are some limits to online banking; I still need to have access to a brick-and-mortar institution. I’ve chosen to move to WaMu to fill that role for many reasons. They may not have as many offices and ATMs as you do, and it may be a bit inconvenient for me to switch to a new bank, but Washington Mutual has no fees whatsoever, for any normal banking activity. I can have any minuscule amount in my account there without being punished. They don’t charge that ludicrous “this is not your bank’s ATM and so you will suffer” fee that most of you banks have discovered as a source of ill-gotten income. WaMu has no direct deposit minimum to waive some random fee. And on and on.

I wish I could say I will regret leaving Wells Fargo, but I won’t. I’ve wanted to do so for years, but had little choice, since banks operate in similar ways. It is only now, with some newer sane, logical, customer-friendly banks coming onto the scene, that I can pull this stage coach out of town and give Wells Fargo the lack of my business it so richly deserves.

With pleasure,

Steve Lekowicz

P.S.: I have just called your customer service center to get a mailing address so I can send this letter directly, and I was forwarded to your executive offices line. I spoke with Kathy there and was able to express my above concerns to her. She was friendly and listened to what I had to say (though she did try to use some marketing-speak on me, to which I am impervious). So again, I want you to know that the people I have typically had to deal with at Wells Fargo have been helpful and friendly.

In the end, your product and practices speak louder than your customer service reps.

Finally, here’s a letter I got from Wells Fargo back in 2004. Has nothing to do with this situation, but it makes for a nice funny ending.

Permalink Comments Off on Just Assign the Damn Seats, Already!Comments Off on Just Assign the Damn Seats, Already! By

Some people are a fan of Southwest airlines, but I’m not. I have only flown them a few times, and was not terribly enamored of the third-world feel of the whole thing. I often wonder why there are not goats and chickens runing around freely in the aisles on their planes. My guess is the only reason there are none is that hungry passengers, denied meals or snacks, would snatch them up and grill them on a makeshift spit set up in the back of the plane, near the lavatory.

Now, I am definitely not a fan of any of the major American airlines, and I am definitely not a fan of the seat selection process, but at least—at least—if you get a crappy seat when you buy your ticket, you can choose another flight, or, if you have no choice, you have a while to get resigned to the fact that you will be crammed in a middle seat between two unsavory types who eat their pork rinds with their elbows sticking into you, way in the back row where the seats do not even recline, and where the smoke from the goat spit will water your eyes.

If you go through Southwest’s new seating game (reprinted below in case it goes away on their site), it’s like choosing a seat on the school bus all over again.

Southwest seating cheat sheet

When I read this, all I can think is, “Why not just assign the seats? Why go through this rigmarole?” The whole thing is nedlessly complicated for a seating system that is meant to be simple. Seating people in the order they checked in sounds like a good idea, but it isn’t. People should be seated in the order they bought their tickets. If you purchased your fare months in advance, why should you not get the better choice of seats than the guy who just got his ticket online last night and got to check in at the same time?

It’s the burden, I guess. Putting the burden on the passenger. You already had to go through hoops aflame with hellfire to get a ticket for a decent price at times you can live with, but now you have to go back again to check in online to secure a decent seat. And this is not just Southwest. Lately, the airlines have not allowed me to have pre-assigned seats for work travel. I have no choice but to check in online the day before and hope something good in the way of uncomfortable seating is still free. God forbid I can’t get to the site in a reasonable amount of time or, worse, that I forget, and have to accept the dregs that are leftover for me when I get to the airport.

To be honest, I have enjoyed being able to check in online. It’s helpful in other ways, like using the kiosks with the shorter lines once you got to the airport to check your bags. But to not be able to get my seat when I actually buy the ticket is a terrible trend. Flying has become so unpleasant anyway, why make it worse? We’ll see how Southwest’s new scheme goes over. Maybe it’ll be a smashing success. If not… more goats and chickens!

Permalink Comments Off on Please, Flash, Just Go Away!Comments Off on Please, Flash, Just Go Away! By

There has been much talk that the iPhone does not have Flash on its browser. Hooray.

There are some very good, nearly-noble reasons for why Apple wants to leave Flash off the iPhone… and, for that matter, get it off the Web entirely. Before reading about this, I was simply wanting Flash off the Web for reasons having to do with usability, speed, and aesthetics.

Smashing Magazine has an interesting post today about start pages, the first page someone sees when they go to a site. The examples they use are heavy with Flash and cumbersome, difficult-to-use navigation. Admittedly, some of these sites are very cool and have a very fun aspect to them, but forget ever really finding anything useful. Forget, too, sending someone to a particular part of the site via URL… they will have to follow your instructions to find a particular item.

Some Flash sites also love to re-size browser windows, which just happened as I was writing this. Go here, the first site mentioned by Smashing, then use the back arrow to return to this post. See what happened? Now you have to go a re-size your browser window to where you want it. Annoying.

Flash has also been notoriously slow on Mac browsers. This is not a function of the Mac, but a function of Flash. Some of these Smashing sites seem to be working quite well, however. There was a time when Flash in Safari would be so painfully slow that the site was unusable.

What should trump what on a site dedicated to showcasing design? The answer would seem to be, duh, design! Design does not only encompass the visual, however. The layout and function of a website is also design. A designer who wants to show off their goods on the interactive Web, then they need to be sure the site they present is also very well designed, easy to navigate, quick to load, and tolerant of the user’s own browser settings. A snazzy, animated site may seem cool and wow us with visuals and graphic shenanigans, but if it ends up frustrating me as well, forget it. I’ll move on.

Oh, and might I point out that Smashing itself is using another excruciating website junker-upper, the sponsored inline link. Horrifying. To watch the text on Smashing become diseased by ugly green double underlines that themselves then bring up invasive Live Search or ad pop-up windows is infuriating. Flash + commerce = butt ugly.

Well, friends, I just read a site that walks one through the new $27 million Creation Museum. It looks incredibly fancy. But, really, come on. Are there many museums out there based so much on ignorance and blindness?

This museum has every right to exist, of course. We all have the right to say what we want. But here’s a good question posed by The New York Times :

Given the museum’s unwavering insistence on belief in the literal truth of biblical accounts, it is strange that so much energy is put into demonstrating their scientific coherence with discussions of erosion or interstellar space. Are such justifications required to convince the skeptical or reassure the believer?

I just got done reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, and the details the poor guy has to slog through to disprove—er, sorry, counter—religion are tiring and incredibly painful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good read, but the fact that it had to be written at all is what’s so unfortunate. To have to argue against something so silly seems a waste of time.

Making things even sillier, here now are the creationists, once again altering their interpretations of the Bible and science to, among other amusing concoctions, include the dinosaurs in a 6,000-year Christian time line. The Creation Museum literally puts the dinosaurs with Adam and Eve. “Adam and apes share the same birthday. The first man walked with dinosaurs and named them all! God’s Word is true, or evolution is true. No millions of years. There’s no room for compromise.

Belligerent religion has become something of a nuisance in America lately, especially since the election of Bushy baby and that thing on 9/11. I think what’s happening now is a last, desperate grasp to hold on to something that, in today’s light, is so ridiculous and still unproven. Moderate religious people can hold onto science and still make room for their belief in God, but the flailing, glassy-eyed, bad-haired Christian extremists who do what they can to hold onto their moldy Bible and its antiquated teachings are running out of room to wiggle.

Let’s walk down a quick path through the past. Just for a moment.

We are back in the mists of ancient time, and humans are fairly ignorant about a great many things in this universe. There is no direct evidence of how the Earth and humans came about, so why not come up with something? Human invention fills in the gaps where our knowledge is lacking.

Christianity and the other one-god beliefs become an inevitable later chapter in the evolution (yes, evolution) of religions. So you have your one god, and he created the entire universe and, while you are making up the story, he created mankind in his image. Fine. Evidence of your god’s divine skills in creation are everywhere. How else to explain the caterpillar who so magically and inexplicably turns itself into a butterfly!

As you marvel at the creation all around you, this little mammal of a thing called science emerges. It’s timid and unsure at first, but within a certain amount of time, it can show how the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. No problem for you, however! It simply underscores the wonder of your god’s skill and imagination.

The world is filled with tiny mysteries that, as science grows, become less mysterious. Still glorious, perhaps, but not mysterious. Yet, still, it is very easy to keep an unwavering faith in your god because, you see, each little step shows his brilliance.

Science, however, grows exponentially, making incredible strides. It builds upon itself, each discovery being made upon the foundation of others. It is self-healing, evolving (yes!), and changing as observable states become more entrenched in its volumes of fact. With the smaller mysteries solved, the larger ones come next, and then the larger ones, and the larger ones…

And suddenly, boom. You find yourself in an age where many of those gigantic, unsolvable questions of the universe that your religion was created to answer begin to unravel under the gaze of science. It is proven (not suggested, but proven) that the Earth is much, much older than that clever book of yours suggests. The evolution of creatures on Earth has been discovered, and fossils demonstrate that it’s been going on a long time. More and more of your book is shown to be lacking in support of what others have observed.

At this point, the moderate religious person begins to simply accept most of the truths of science, writing your book off as allegory or symbolism. But because the existence of god himself is, by intelligent human design, impossible to prove or disprove, they can still take comfort in knowing that he still had a hand in all this.

Oh, but this will not do for you! Oh, my, no! You hug close the wisdom of your book, and believe in it with all your heart and head. As the “facts” in your book slough off into the trough of fiction, you can no longer simply do what the weak-faithed moderates do. No. The only thing left for you is denial. Deception. Acceptance of the fanciful and preposterous. The caterpillar is now the entire universe itself, and as science drills deeper into the truths of this universe, further expanding the borders of concepts the human mind can grasp, you have only one choice. Lie to yourself. Oh, and lie to others. Die a revered modern missionary.

That’s where we are now, back in the present.

There will forever be humans who believe in a god of some kind, and the concept is malleable, changeable, and adaptable—traits that will assure that the evolution of religion continues without dying. Unlike the evolution of science, which expands and improves as it builds upon itself, Christianity (and other religions, too, I suppose) stays the same as it folds in on itself, changing only as much as its narrow rules allow. It becomes inbred.

The fundamentalists, being deniers of evolution and, as time marches on, actual observable fact, have to fight. Their brand of belief is dying, and they are doing what all dying things do: struggle.

During this struggle, the rules of common sense are going wayside. Any tactic will be acceptable: lying, misquoting, ignoring pieces of arguments, and enthusiastically supporting only those tidbits of the world of science that fit into the biblical world view.

The Creation Museum is bold. Daring. That it can put the unsupported and unprovable “facts” from the Bible next to scientific “lies” that have been unquestionably proven and re-proven again and again is ballsy. It fits right in with the Intelligent Design crusade to get creationism taught in public schools. It’s all bullshit, but boy, is it marketed well.

Thousands of years of Christianity can not so easily be wiped away. The branches of Christianity that will not stray from the old ways are going to die and fade. But like an exploding star, the fundamentalists will make a big noise, engulfing new minds and capturing needy hearts, before ultimately fading away into the fringe.

Permalink Comments Off on No Patience for Helpful DronesComments Off on No Patience for Helpful Drones By

Adobe is not exactly good at providing an easy-to-use experience when you have to deal with their multiple licensing site. It sucks. I tried typing the password I was sent, but when you fail 3 times, the account becomes “invalidated” and you have to contact Adobe. After my third failure to log in, I noticed there was a colon (:) at the beginning of the password. Since that was right after another colon as part of the e-mail, I didn’t see it.

After some fumbling with the Contact Us maze Adobe gave me (it wandered through several Web pages and two PDF documents), I managed to get a chat session going with Adobe support. It began poorly.

Ethen: How may I assist you today?

Steve: Hey. I invalidated my password. I did not notice the : at the beginning. Can I get a new login?

Ethen: I understand that you are experiencing an issue while signing into the Adobe Licensing website. Am I right?

Steve: Are you a machine or a person?

Steve: Please see what I already typed.

[A very long pause. I imagine there was no automated response for such effrontery.]

Ethen: I am a real person.

Steve: Good.

Steve: Yes, I need a new login for that site. Is it something you can re-email to me?

Ethen: You need to reset password for your login.

Ethen: Would you like me to reset your password?

Steve: Yes please.

Ethen: May I have your login ID?

[A short pause.]

Ethen: We have not received a response from you in a while. Do you still need assistance?

Steve: Yup.


Ethen: Thank you.

Ethen: Please give me a moment while a look up for your account details.

When it took more than a moment for him to look up my info, I started typing, “We have not received a response from you in a while. Are you still providing assistance?” But then Ethen returned with a new password for me.

I’m still having navigation and download issues at the site, but things ended up perfectly cordial with Ethen. We’re the best of friends now.

Permalink Comments Off on Musical DumbkopferyComments Off on Musical Dumbkopfery By

I was hoping this appeal would turn out differently, but it didn’t. Am I really surprised?

For a few years now, I’ve been truly loving listening to Radio Paradise (easy playing available through the Radio area of iTunes, under the Alternative section). Through commercial-free RP, I have discovered some great new music. I have bought many CDs based on my RP listening, including three by Joseph Arthur. I have blown cash to buy numerous fantastic songs on iTunes that I’d heard first on RP. Check out some of my favorites (iTunes Store links, all):

“Annie Waits” by Ben Folds

“Luminol” by Ryan Adams

“(I’m Gonna) Kick You Out” by Caesars

“Nature Boy” by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Blonde on Blonde” by Nada Surf

“Collapse the Light into Earth” by Porcupine Tree

and many, many more.

You see what’s going to happen? If SoundExchange wins out in the end and gets to charge much higher fees for music played on the Internet, a tiny station like Radio Paradise might go under. Most likely will go under. Other Internet radio stations might have to start including commercials. And just like I did with terrestrial radio, I’ll stop listening. I won’t discover nearly as much good music, and my money won’t be spent on buying that music on iTunes or at Amoeba or Amazon.

I have donated money to Radio Paradise twice. But I’m sure I’m one of the rare listeners who does. If the greed of the music industry shoots this particular outlet dead, they will once again have alienated those for whom the music is made, and they’ll be getting less of my money in the end.


In case you missed the link in the story above, here’s the earlier story about the fee increase case.

Steve Jobs, as is his habit, stirred up the entire universe two weeks ago with his open letter advocating the removal of DRM from music files.

Did you not read it? Oh. Well, where have you been? Quick like a bunny! Go read it now!

As you can imagine, response has been pretty negative from those who make money off music or make money “protecting” that music.

As a mostly law-abiding music consumer, I can only agree with Jobs. And I don’t just agree with him because I’d rather have a dinner conversation with him than with Jesus Christ, Ghandi, and Space Ghost combined. No, I just find that as the entertainment industries get more and more consumed with beating piracy, their schemes have become more and more intrusive.

One of the frustrating things for me has always been getting the music I used to own long, long ago into digital form. Before the iTunes Store even existed, I had to use Napster to go hunt down the wacky 12″ single versions I had of many songs that made up my high school mix tapes. To Napster’s credit, back in the day before it was bought, neutered, and then left to die with a sad, unheard wimper, I found all but one of the obscure versions of my old favorite tunes. Extended version of “Perfect Way” by Scritti Politti? Check! The extended version of “The Sun Always Shines on TV” by A-Ha? Check! Extended Version #2a of the theme to Miami Vice? Nope. That’s the one I never found. I got close, but no banana.

What I’m trying not very hard to say is that I had to go find these things “illegally” because the music industry offered me no way to get them otherwise. I might have paid for the files if they were offered… but I would not have liked it. Just because my record collection is sitting somewhere in the possession of my parents and I have no way to transfer the records I paid good, hard-earned, teenage cash for does not mean I should not be allowed to listen to that music now, here, in my free-wheeling near-40s.

Often, there are songs that I can not get to this day on iTunes. And the Napster replacements have all sucked. If I want something obscure, I can just forget it, unless I’m satisfied with the poorly-transfered, truncated file that is cloned a bazillion times. I’ll be good God-damned if I ever join a music subscription service. Sure, they’re Windows only, but even if I were clueless enough to use Windows, I would not be stupid enough to toss good money at something that, in the end, I do not own. Okay, sure, maybe it’s like renting a movie and then later deciding you want it for good… You just buy the DVD. I could, I guess, go buy the song I found so wonderful in my subscription. If I wanted to pay an astronomical fee and only maybe get to burn it to CD for safekeeping. Or spend $18.99 on the CD, if I can find it, for the one song I like.

So far, for me, the iTunes method has been great. One of the only issues has been the over-registering or duplicate registering of computers to play my purchased music. Both times, this has been easily fixed. The other issue has been trying to use a song a friend had bought in a video montage we were creating for Amelia’s funeral last year, and I couldn’t because it was registered to him. A simple CD burn and re-rip later, and this very legitimate use was accomplished.

As we get into the age of widespread digital movies, the issue of DRM becomes more complex. First of all, music and movies are incredibly different. Music is like fistfulls of MnMs you can scarf down while driving or working or jogging or falling asleep. Thoroughly enjoyable, singable, yummy. Movies are a gourmet meal you need to sit and pay attention to. (Well, okay, I know some people who watch their movies on their computers while multi-tasking, but that’s really not getting the full enjoyment from the movie at all. And, come to think of it, those people aren’t much into enjoying a good meal anyway.) I don’t think movies should be more protected than music, even though my paycheck comes from a home entertainment entity who would fight to the death to prevent me from doing much of anything with whatever copy of a movie I might own. (More parentheses: To be fair, the people at my work who are in charge of things have a more lenient theoretical stance on DRM than idiots like Edgar Bronfman, Jr., who, aside from being a businessman who cares only about money, is also a money-loving businessman who cares for nothing but money.)

Then there’s the DRM surrounding computer software. I asked myself, would Steve Jobs be so keen to get rid of the copy protections woven into his own company’s software? Sure, you can get iLife for free from anyone. There is no registration code. The $79 Apple charges for that is just for fun, really. Try to use iWork without a code and it won’t happen, but it’s also just $79, which is a bargain if you actually use it like I do. Though iWork needs a code, you can simply use anyone’s and you’re fine. The really pricey stuff like Final Cut Studio? That app will sniff out the code and make sure no one else on your network is using it, and it will refuse to launch if it finds a duplicate. Not horrible. It’s definitely made us be sure we have the right number of codes for our Final Cut installations at work. But if you only run it on one Mac at a time, you’re okay.

Once again, software is different than music. Back when I got my first Mac (I had always had to use ones at school or work until then), I was lucky enough to have won a full copy of the app I needed most, Aldus PageMaker. I won it at Macworld Boston. I was such a happy clam. But had I needed to buy it? It would have been a huge burden back then. I would not have been able to pay cash, and my credit card did not have the horrifyingly extravagant limit they seem to toss at us all these days. In essence, I would have found a way to pirate the software. I needed it, I used it, but I was not a rich company or corporation who could afford to actually buy it.

Fifteen years later, though I have a better-paying job and I’m on my 4th Mac (yes, Macs do last that long!), I’m not sure how much I’d be willing to shell out a huge chunk of cash for something I really use. I would consider dropping the $1,300 for Final Cut Studio because I know Apple’s DRM is not horribly limiting. Adobe, however, is another matter. Adobe has become a company run by sales guys instead of actual people and, therefore, their software design and functionality have suffered and their DRM scheme is vile. I’d be very hard-pressed to shell out $900 for the standard version of Creative Suite.

Back when CS 2 came out, Adobe decided it would be a great idea to have the software feed your reg code out to their servers and marry that particular machine to that code, meaning you can not install that software and use that code on any other machine. Right, okay, it sounds perfectly legitimate on the surface, but, really, come now… What a pain it has been at work when we get rid of a machine and find—OOPS!—that we can’t register a new machine with an older code because we forgot to unregister the code form the old machine. And so on. You see how annoying that can be. And unregistering a machine is not as easy with Adobe as it is with iTunes.

If I ever were to have three Macs in my personal service at once, I can install (but not run) Final Cut on them at any time. That’s acceptable to me. Here’s my money. Adobe would force me to have to install three copies of Creative Suite on my three personal Macs. Screw you, gents. I’ll “find” it elsewhere.

DRM is simply commerce vs. use. Edgar and his ilk would love, love, love to charge us all a fee every single time we move a song from disc to computer to iPod to Apple TV. And Edgar would charge something like $2.99 for a “good” song each time, when, really, even asking consumers to do that at the 99¢ iTunes price is a gouge. I dislike DRM because I dislike corporate greed. I get more fed-up with companies in the U.S. every year as I see them change little things here and there that, in the end, build up to more money for them and less product or convenience for those that they purport to serve.

I linked to it above, but I link to it again: Daring Fireball’s amusing dissection of Macrovision’s CEO’s response to Steve. (Sorry for all the possessives.) Slimy, slimy, slimy, this guy. He could give a crap about consumers. All he wants is money.

Similarly, consumers who want to consume content on only a single device can pay less than those who want to use it across all of their entertainment areas—vacation homes, cars, different devices and remotely. Abandoning DRM now will unnecessarily doom all consumers to a “one size fits all” situation that will increase costs for many of them.

Spoken like a true dimwad liar who has no clue what consumers really want. Make’s your stomach turn, eh?

Steve Jobs is right. Music should be free of DRM. Movies, probably, too. See, as I’ve always said, the people who will pay for media will do so. Those who won’t, won’t, no matter the price. If you start to make the price too high and the DRM too restrictive ($4.99 for crappy games for my Nokia… that I can’t backup or save or move to a new phone????), you’ll lose people, like myself, who are willing to pay. But no. In their minds, these corporate leaders see us all as flush with disposable cash that will all be earmarked for their multimedia product! Insane.

I hope Steve Jobs wins on this one. Gosh, what a great day that would be for people who actually buy and enjoy music!

The Zune. In Brown.

If you so desired, you could go buy a Zune today. Why? Well, if you’re an anti-iPod person, for one, or if you think Microsoft is da bomb, for another. Maybe if you’re a glutton for punishment. But if you think Microsoft is da bomb, you are, then, by definition, a glutton for punishment. Or maybe you had a bad experience with service at an Apple Store and somehow think Microsoft would provide better service for their more-likely-to-fail product.

So far, it seems the Zune is mostly not such a great device. Well, I take that back: the device is okay, but the software is not. How unlike Microsoft! Engadget, which is a pretty impartial site, says installing the Zune sucked. They weren’t the only ones.

In watching the videos and looking at all the still shots of the Zune in action, I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft has, once again, overdone things. Walt Mossberg liked the interface and said that there are a few cases where the Zune was easier to use than an iPod. But when you actually listen to how many menus and clicks it takes to get to some of the features on the Zune, it’s a tangled mess. The Zune is another product designed for people who get and enjoy using technology instead of for just people.

The more aggravating thing might be the over-use of transparency in the UI. On the iPod, nothing gets in the way of the information on the screen. But on a Zune, the text is displayed over wallpaper. The wallpaper can be the current album art, or your own pictures… but the text, regardless, is not exactly going to be easy to read in some of those situations. If you’re trying to navigate the Zune while you’re driving, say—yes, a very bad idea, but there you go—it’s going to be impossible over some wallpapers to quickly and efficiently see the text. I do not know if there is an easy way to tell the Zune to just print text over a solid background, but no one’s going to bother doing that.

The Zune software UI on Windows suffers from the same problem. It sure looks very sleek and stylish to have all that text and all those dialogue boxes over professionally-captured images of professional models having professional fake fun, but for an actual UI, where you need to interact with the computer, it’s not such a great idea. For a print ad or television commercial or something, sure, do anything you want. But for a UI, it’s simply poor design. Windows Vista, which starts shipping in January, is filled with hard-to-see interface elements, thanks to the overuse of transparency.

The Zune, of course, has an uphill battle, but we’ll see what happens. I won’t mention that the “click wheel” on the front is not a wheel at all, just a round navigational-type button ring. I also won’t mention that though the Zune has a bigger screen, it’s the same resolution as the 5th gen iPod. Nor will I mention the Zune store uses points, not dollars, so though songs seem to be 79¢, they are really 79 points, which comes out to about 99¢. And you have to buy the points in blocks. You can’t just buy one song.

There are a lot of other things I won’t mention.

Well, good luck to the Zune. May its presence in the market spur Apple to even greater heights with the iPod.

UPDATE: Here’s a funny vid from CNN where two co-anchors keep ruining the Zune’s moment in the spotlight. Andrew Ross Sorkin from The New York Times is presenting the Zune and all the CNN peeps can do is make disparaging comments. The one lady even pulls out her new iPod Shuffle, and a few moments are spend gawking at the gorgeous gee-gaw. Says the other anchor about the Zune: “Why don’t they get some decent design people to make things look better? You know, I mean… It’s clunky. It’s clunky stuff.” “No comment,” says Andrew.

Steve’s gonna hate me for this.

About a year and a half ago, my sister gave me an iPod mini. Lime green. Love the thing. Yeah, it’s outmoded and old-fashioned now, what with its black-and-white screen and all. But, still. (I since got a 30-gig iPod, which is nothing by Steve’s standards, and it has become my primary one, but I still use the old green sucker.)

So, a few weeks ago, after several weeks of not being in operation, the iPod mini displayed a “sad iPod” when I turned it on. Now, I’m not Mac savvy, having not used a Mac since leaving Disney in 2001, but I know enough to recognize that a “sad” anything is very, very bad in the Mac world. (Does anyone actually call it “Macintosh” anymore?!)

Hoping that the little guy was still under warranty, I went online to see if I could send it in for service. Nope. Warranty’s expired. How convenient — a year or so after purchasing it, it collapses and the warranty just happens to have recently expired! The website says that my options are to send in the iPod for evaluation, but since they’ll have to see it to know what’s wrong with it I won’t know how much it will cost to get it fixed until they receive the gadget.

Or, the website says, I can take it to my nearest Apple store.

That’s what I did today.

What a nightmare.

I waited in line for 15 minutes at the cashier, only to be told that I needed to upstairs “and turn to the left.” (There are no signs that direct you to “service” in the store — there are no signs, really! It’s much too hip and cool for that.) Already exasperated (couldn’t they have had, oh, I dunno, a sign?!), I trod upstairs, turn to the left … and a hip and trendy, perky and cool employee says, “What can I do for you?” When I showed her my iPod and said, “I need to get this serviced,” she frowned. Like the sad iPod … call her the “sad employee.” She pointed. “Oh, you need to go to the Genius Bar.” (Emphasis mine.) That’s all. No further explanation. She turned and walked away.

Across the crowded upper level — an Apple seminar was being held — sits the “Genius Bar.” There’s no explanation of what this place is — explanations are, no doubt, far too 20th century for Apple. There’s a computer, though, that says, “Sign in here for the Genius Bar” on its screen. (Or some such wording.) There are two rows of images, with small words underneath like, “Apple Service,” “Creative Advice,” and other stuff.

So, I clicked on “Apple Service.” Then I got a screen that said, “Please enter your name and cell phone number to reserve a service appointment.” Wait a second, I think … an appointment? I enter the required information and click “Submit.” Then a nice little notice appears on screen. “The next available appointment is at 3:50 p.m.” I look at my watch … it’s half-past noon. Three and a half hours just so I can say to someone, “Can I send this in for service?”

I flagged down a way-too-cool employee. “Excuse me,” I say … already sensing I am losing my sanity. “I went onto the Apple website and it told me to come to my store to get my iPod service,” I explain, waving Little Lime in front of him. “Now I’m told I need to wait three and a half hours for an appointment?” He smiles at me, one of those smug smiles that people always smile when they have bureaucratic power over you. “Yes, that’s the way it works.”

At this point, thinking back to the screen that suggested I might hang out at the “Genius Bar” for “Creative Advice,” I’m envisioning Mr. I’m-Hot-You’re-Not Apple Employee hunkering down with a goth chick from Noe Valley, yammering on and on about how her nephew’s bar mitzvah invitation could look so much better with just a few sparkles around the Star of David.

I’m trying to be very calm, but I know I’m not going to succeed. “Well,” I say, “I drove here 20 miles from Oakland, and I just paid $16 to park downtown because the website told me to come here but didn’t say anything about needing an appointment to drop off my iPod for service.” He smiles again:

“You don’t drop it off. We need to look at it.”

“How am I supposed to know this, exactly?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” I say, starting to fume, “but it would have been nice if someone had explained to me that I needed to make an appointment; I’ve only ever done that for my car.” I flash the iPod at him again, as if to underscore the point that a $35,000 automobile and a $199 electronic gadget are not equal in importance, even if Steve Jobs insists on having us believe that they are.

He smiles. A long smile. Frankly, a “f**k-you” smile. He tries to add a tiny frown and a little shrug, as if a non-verbal, “Oh, well, it’s your fault, not ours,” will placate me.

At that point, I turned and walked away. “Forget it,” I said.

That got him. Mr. Techno-Cool suddenly got worried. “Wait a moment,” he says. I don’t turn back. “I can get you in in about five minutes.”

I still don’t turn back, but I’m thinking: If he can see me in five minutes, why does this so-called Genius Bar need an appointment system? Is it the 2006 version of the old ’80s “wait in the bar” admonishment at trendy restaurants? Is it just another way to try to be in-your-face with hipness?

The noise level in the store is unbelievably high, primarily with Bittersweet Symphony filling the air from various iPod speakers being tested. “Sorry,” I say. “I’m not playing that game.”

I start to walk down the stairs, waving my hand at him to give him my own non-verbal signal that I’m not up for this smug coolness. The last thing I heard him say was: “Actually, I could see you now, sir.” Then: “Sir? I can take you now!”

To no one in particular as I descended the stairs, I shouted out, “You’ve lost a customer.”

Whether I mean it, I’m not sure. But for now, Little Lime will just be a very expensive paperweight, until I can figure out a way to get it repaired that doesn’t remind me of what a tragically unhip 40-year-old I have become.

I got a real, honest-to-goodness, paying voice-over job yesterday. It was awesome. I was in and out of the joint in ten minutes. It was, without a doubt, the easiest money I’ve ever made. I like this voice-over thing!

The V/O was for HIT Entertainment’s DVD Auto-Play feature, which begins playing the DVD automatically after a short interval (and after my short announcement). I had to record two versions of the announcement, both of which ended with a single-word sentence: “Enjoy.”

I think I did a good job, and was very professional. But I had trouble on that last word. Mentally. A tiny flag went off in my head each time I came to that word. But I read it anyway, and in the most tranquil tone possible. Yes, folkarinos, it seems I’ve become part of a recent trend that has been growing in obnoxiousness in recent years. It’s the Enjoy Entreaty.

Just take a listen as you go about your life. Purchasing a yummy chicken sandwich at Wendy’s? Listen for the cashier to say “Enjoy” as she gives you your food. Acquiring a small souvenir for yourself at a little gift shop in the lobby of some touristy hotel in a vacation paradise? Notice how the smiling lady in the trifocals and the flower print shirt tells you to “Enjoy.” Buying a tiny plastic jar of chemical glop to apply to your hair for the perfect coif? Witness the purveyor urging you to “Enjoy” your new hair goop.

It seems that no matter what you go to do these days, someone is inviting you to Enjoy. They are doling out the Enjoy Entreaty. But why? How did this come to be so prevalent? Is corporate marketing to blame? Did it start with some new mandatory guideline at some mass market chain somewhere that required salespeople to say “Enjoy” to each and every customer? Or is it some kind of personal choice, where each individual salesclerk and serviceperson has decided that “Enjoy” is rather pleasant and wants to pass the delight on to others?

There’s nothing wrong with being told to Enjoy something. On the surface, and used sparingly, the word Enjoy is infused with positive vibes. It’s a comfy, cozy word. The key, though, is that “sparingly” part. When I am being hit with Enjoy at nearly every purchase, the word moves from the kingdom of Pleasantry to the dictatorship of Annoyance.

Perhaps the issue is that Enjoy is being used improperly. Really, when I purchase a movie ticket, should I be told to Enjoy? “Enjoy the movie,” yes, but just simply “Enjoy”? When I’m being handed my bag full of brand new cargo shorts, is it truly the correct suggestion? “Enjoy?” When I listen to the podcast of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! every week, should I be urged to “Enjoy” at the end of every cut-and-paste intro?

Here’s when Enjoy should be used. It should be used for food. Treats, preferably. Enjoying food is an accepted part of our lexicon. Boy, I Enjoyed that steak. Boy, did I Enjoy that marshmallow sundae. Did you Enjoy that homemade, oven-hot chocolate chip cookie? Boy, I sure did!

Beyond food, Enjoy needs qualifiers. Certainly, one can Enjoy a vacation. But the ticket lady at the garishly lit airline check-in counter should invoke the word in a phrase such as “Enjoy your flight!” or “Enjoy your trip!” She should never just say, “Enjoy.” Enjoy what? The trip? The ticket sleeve? The soon to be tedious immersion into ineffective security protocol? You may find the fit and comfort of your new clogs to be Enjoyable, but the clerk at Shoe Boot Shoe Shoe Boot Shoe should not say, nakedly, “Enjoy.” He should say, “Enjoy your new clogs!” The policewoman who so kindly pulled you over for speeding, thus sparing society an assuredly damaging and expensive accident, must take it upon herself to say, “Enjoy this financial deterrent to future misbehavior,” because a simple suggestion to “Enjoy” would exude a hint of smugness and righteousness.

My life is being made less Enjoyable by being constantly reminded to Enjoy the things I have myself sought out to Enjoy. “Enjoy” is so innocuous, so benign, so friendly, that to have it consistently misused and unwarrantedly thrust upon us is akin to a small child who, though adorable for a few minutes, becomes a nuisance when he simply will not turn around in his seat and stop staring at you while you Enjoy your Fatburger.

And so I take it upon myself to give you this apology. The voice-over that you may soon begin hearing before your new Barney, Bob the Builder, or Angelina Ballerina DVD bursts into spontaneous playing will invite you to “Enjoy.” It’s unfortunate and wrong. Am I telling you to Enjoy the video? To Enjoy the bonus features? To Enjoy the actual auto-play feature itself, movie be damned? What the hell does Enjoy mean at the end of the auto-play announcement? Nothing. It means nothing. So I’m sorry for being a part of the problem. I’m sorry I have been a party to the Enjoy Entreaty.

Well, I certainly am glad I got that off my chest. Thank you for listening, and have a nice day.

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I’m late to the game on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, so instead of ranting myself, I’ll let the tack-sharp Keith Olbermann do it for me.

Thanks, again, to Alan for sending me this.

So if yesterday’s post contained good news, and the post before that contained bad news, this post contains some mixed news.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released reports yesterday (on Friday, a day you come out with stuff to bury it in the news—I learned that on The West Wing!) concluding that, among other already known facts, Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no connection to Al Qaeda. Okay, so duh. But considering Bush just used that excuse again defending himself (see yesterday’s post), it’s pretty helpful that official documentation came out concluding this.

Why is this mixed news? The good news is that Bush and his cadre of nasty little friends are, little-by-little, getting caught for their misdeeds. The bad news is that their misdeeds have pulled the wool over the eyes of most Americans, making them look stupid, and, worse, causing insane amounts of harm to America in the form of disastrous anti-American sentiment and tens of thousands of deaths through unnecessary war.

You can read about the Senate reports at Reuters [story no longer available] and, before they start charging for it in the archives, at the Los Angeles Times[story no longer available… at least for free]. The Times buries a very interesting and important fact in the last paragraphs of the article (another tactic to make sure most people don’t get the info):

The Senate report also offers new theories as to why Hussein’s regime was unable to convince U.N. inspectors before the U.S. invasion that it no longer had stocks of illegal weapons.

A recent CIA analysis concluded that Hussein was stunned by the aggressiveness of weapons inspections after the 1991 Gulf War, and ordered the covert destruction of undeclared weapons and documents.

In the process, Hussein destroyed the very records U.N. inspectors sought a decade later when putting pressure on Iraq to account for its illicit weapons.

“The result was that Iraq was unable to provide proof when it tried at a later time to establish compliance,” the report said, citing the CIA study.

Of course, Bush and friends knew that already, you can be sure of that, but how could we have possibly gone to war in Iraq without ignoring all the facts?

The Times story also has this fantastic comparison of senior administration officials statement and facts from the new report:


A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee found no evidence connecting Iraq to weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda:

* * * * * *

On connections between Iraq and terrorists

“We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of Al Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time.”

Condoleezza Rice, Sept. 25, 2002

“We are especially concerned about Iraq because of the developments we see with respect to [Hussein’s] weapons of mass destruction, because he has in the past, for example, had a relationship with terrorist organizations, has provided sanctuary in Iraq for terrorist organizations of various kinds.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, Sept. 9, 2002

Committee finding:

“According to debriefs of multiple detainees—including Saddam Hussein and former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz—and captured documents, Saddam did not trust Al Qaeda or any other radical Islamist group and did not want to cooperate with them. Hussein reportedly believed, however, that Al Qaeda was an effective organization because of its ability to successfully attack U.S. interests.”

* * * * * *

On Iraq’s desire and ability to acquire nuclear weapons

“Saddam Hussein promised the U.N. that he would destroy and cease further development of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and that he would submit to unrestricted inspections. He has flatly broken these pledges, producing chemical and biological weapons, aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program and working to develop long-range ballistic missiles.”

Vice President Dick Cheney, Sept. 27, 2002

Committee findings:

“Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) judgment that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Information obtained after the war supports the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s (INR) assessment in the NIE that the intelligence community lacked persuasive evidence that Baghdad had launched a coherent effort to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.”

“Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that ‘Iraq has biological weapons’ and that ‘All key aspects of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons (BW) program are larger and more advanced than before the Gulf War.'”

“The ISG [Iraq Survey Group] uncovered no evidence indicating that Iraq maintained a stockpile of chemical weapons or had been producing chemical weapons. Since the spring of 2003, coalition forces have discovered approximately 500 filled and unfilled degraded chemical munitions. All of the munitions appear to be pre-1991 CW [chemical weapons] and not part of an active weapons stockpile. Postwar inspections of the sites suspected of having a CW role revealed that they were likely used for the production of non-CW dual-use materials, and had a limited capability to restart the manufacture of CW.”

* * * * * *

On Iraq developing unmanned aerial vehicles for delivering weapons of mass destruction

“We know that he has been working hard on developing a means to disseminate those weapons. We have evidence that he has been looking at aerial vehicles.”

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sept. 8, 2002

Committee finding:

“Postwar findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessments that Iraq had a developmental program for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) ‘probably intended to deliver biological agents’ or that an effort to procure U.S. mapping software ‘strongly suggests that Iraq is investigating the use of these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.’ Postwar findings support the view of the Air Force, joined by the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] and the Army, in an NIE published in January 2003, that Iraq’s UAVs were primarily intended for reconnaissance.”

In case you are keen to read the original reports, you can find them here:

Postwar Findings about Iraq’s WMD Programs and Links to Terrorism and How they Compare with Prewar Assessments and The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress. (Warning: Big PDFs!)

This is all very interesting, if not at all surprising. This is absolutely the time when one half of the country can say to the other half, “We told you so!”

And we did tell you so! Over and over and over. We told you in 2000, when we could tell what an idiot and a sleaze Bush really was. We told you in 2001, after 9/11, when Bush’s actions began to turn to vengeance… financially-lucrative retribution. We told you in 2003 before Bush started the Iraq war. And we told you time and again as the war has dragged on. As each and every piece of Bush’s lie-spawned tale of terror and attack has been refuted and shown for the nonsense it is, we have told you.

Yet 43% of you, according to the Times article, STILL think Iraq had something to do with 9/11! Many, many of you still support the war, and still support this son of a bitch as our President.

What is wrong with you people?

The answer to that is easy, but multi-faceted. It has to do with laziness and weariness, I know. Oh, it’s so much easier to give a shit about Taylor Hicks than it is about the thousands of people who’ve been killed in the wars we’ve started after 9/11. I know, it’s so easy! But come friggin’ on, you louts! Really, what does it take to get any of you mad?

I know, abortion. Gay marriage. Stem cells. No, somehow, these are items to enrage and beg for calls of morality from God’s fat ‘n’ lazy couch brigade. But the killing of over 2,500 U.S. troops and wounding of almost 20,000 more in Iraq, the death of over 41,000 Iraqi civilians, these are not facts that enrage you.

George got all foamed at the mouth when he was talking about 3,000 of our citizens being killed in 9/11 (again, see yesterday’s post), and yet here we are killing so much more than that in a war that has no roots in 9/11, no roots in Al Qaeda, no roots in anything of any significance other than it makes some of us very, very rich.

Half of us know Bush and his jack-ass friends are horrible people. We could tell this from the get-go. I could cut the rest of you a little bit of slack for not being very good judges of character back in 2000, but not any more. You’ve all tried so very hard to keep George a good man in your minds, despite that the universe demonstrates otherwise. Your brains must be tired of the charade. Really. Come on. Enough of this ignorance and hollow patriotic support. You can have an American flag stuck to your car and still dislike Bush.

Come on, wake up. You can do it. Be brave. Have a spine. Let yourself be angry. You’ve been good about being angry at so much that doesn’t matter. Well, it’s time for you all to get angry about something that does. Because I don’t want to be back here in 2008 telling you that you all should have seen the tragedy in Iran coming…

I just got done watching Super Size Me. The movie was very good, and it has me thinking more deeply about some of the food choices I have already taken steps to fix in my own life.

However, that’s not why I’m here tonight. No, there was a part early on in the film where an interviewee is talking about how it’s socially acceptable to chastise someone in a public place for smoking, and not for being overweight. His point was that someone was being told off in public about how horrible smoking is for you and that the smoker should quit, while no one went up to the overweight person to tell them off about how bad overeating is.

While perhaps I’m taking his point and skewing it, I think perhaps what has become publicly acceptable is what has become publicly unacceptable: smoking. Because smoking in public is now not acceptable (in general), that person the man in the movie was talking about was able to go up to the smoker and say, “You shouldn’t do that. It’s bad for you.” That will never happen with the obesity issue for a couple important reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that smoking befouls the social space. One cigarette can turn a large, clean room into a smelly one. One cigarette can turn a pleasant outdoor meal into a nasty, polluted one if the breeze is blowing the right way. Ignoring the factors of public health and the costs society has to pay for those who die of smoking-related illnesses, whether a person chooses to smoke is up to them, and it’s not up to strangers to tell them otherwise. EXCEPT when that person chooses to do it in a public place where many people gather. Their smoking is not contained within their body, but wafts out to affect their entire surroundings. It’s downright rude to smoke in such situations. Screw their health, they need a lesson in propriety.

As obesity continues to grow (sorry…) in the U.S., we certainly have cause to worry about medical costs to society, just as we do for smoking-related illnesses. However, unlike smoking, obesity does not have a casual effect on others. Many people may find obesity unsightly, but that’s not the same as filling a room with the smoke from one cigarette. There will never be laws banning overweight people from public places.

There are many touchy topics that come up when talking about obesity, and I’m sure, if anyone wanted to try and take the other side on this one, we’d see some of the arguments. But none of them are specific to obesity. A thin person might smell just as bad as an overweight person, for example, or even worse. An overweight person might, in fact, smell just fine and have perfect hygiene. But a smoker, when they smoke, no matter what their hygiene, religious beliefs, political affiliations, manner of dress, or hair color, sends that smoke out so everyone else has to deal with it.

The second of the couple of important reasons is that smoking is, truly, a choice. Yes, eating right is a choice as well, but in this case, food is involved. People have to eat to survive. Because the landscape is littered with easier, cheaper, unhealthy choices, eating healthy food is quite difficult to do. There is no good reason to smoke; it is a purely extraneous activity. Smokers choose to smoke. Addiction to nicotine may keep a majority of smokers from quitting, but the entire activity is not a requirement for biological survival.

Eating-related obesity can also be an addiction, and it may even be a choice as well. But it is linked to a function we have to do to live. A fat, messy, sloppy eater might be a disgusting sight to someone, but if the room is filled with obese people, not all of them, and probably none of them, will be eating like pigs. If the room is filled with people smoking, all of them will be filling the room with smoke.

So there’s my poorly-worded point for today. I thought it was silly for the guy in the movie to compare public smoking to public obesity in the way he did. As health issues, they are both important and, in the end, do affect society. But as for being called out on them in public by someone who just happens to be passing is silly. Neither the smoker nor the overweight person should be told by someone they don’t know how dangerous their habits are.

Okay, now you should go read what TAM has to say about smoking. It’s much funnier than this post, and that makes it more of value to the modern blog reader.

(Oh, look. It’s the second time I’ve linked to Robb’s post. It must really be a quality post.)