Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Putting Advertising in Its Place (and Geek Wednesday)

Quote of the Day:

"We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in an Associated Press interview. U.S. and Iraqi officials should be held accountable for the lack of progress, said Graham, a Republican

On the verge? Senator Graham, exactly what is your definition of chaos?

Maybe what we need in our confused, benighted political nation is this: a pot-smoking, tit-swinging, war-ending southerner.

Meanwhile, Keith Olbermann is getting more and more disgusted by the day with the follies of BushCo. What's got Keith's chili hot now? Click the link and watch him—it's Advertising--the same RNC-produced, fearmongering ad, in fact, that Terry McKenna exposed here on Monday.

Well, I've been thinking about advertising a lot this week. It came up again Monday night, as I watched the New Jersey Giants pummeling those other losers from Texas (not the ones from Crawford). I couldn't help noticing the advertising being done on the field. Self-promotion was evident on virtually every play. The best player of the evening's contest, Michael Strahan of the Giants (5 tackles, 2 sacks) put on a stunningly moronic display after each of his many tackles.

Frankly, I felt embarrassed for him. If you've ever heard him speak, then you know he's a fairly intelligent, articulate guy. He will, of course, be enshrined in the game's Hall of Fame at his earliest point of eligibility after his career's done. He has been one of the truly great defensive players of his era.

But on that field in Dallas on Monday night, here was Michael Strahan--a seasoned professional--behaving like a 3 year old. At work the next day, I asked the geeks, "how would you guys feel if every time I found a bug in your code I did an in-yer-face dance?" (They all said it would be hilarious, but that was them imagining me dancing). But the TV reporters who were covering the game for ESPN didn't seem to find anything strange or disturbing about Strahan's antics. In fact, they appeared to find it completely normal for a grown man to act like a snot-nosed brutish runt as he did his job. They spoke of his character and greatness, even as Strahan's behavior so clearly put the lie to this adulation.

Much of the problem behind the obvious dissociation between Mr. Strahan's behavior and the non-commentary on it from the so-called journalists covering the game has to do, of course, with TV itself. Advertising--the blatant self-promotion of wealthy corporations for their products--is television's life blood; thus, it is no surprise that the mouthpieces of TV will find nothing wrong with wealthy individuals engaging in the same kind of immodest self-display as the companies that foot the bill for the media show in the first place. This is a fact, and it's another reason why I say again and again: if you are looking for anything resembling journalism, the last place you want to look for it is on television.

But advertising is everywhere, isn't it? Just look at the web: it's on virtually every single page you open online. This morning, I was trying to read a news article on, but the content was blocked by one of those Flash media ads that are rapidly becoming ubiquitous on the web. I had to either wait for the ad to clear or find the tiny, 5-point font "Close" link. I found it in the left-hand corner of the ad, but it didn't respond to a single click. So I did what a lot of users do in frustration: I double-clicked that Close link, and the ad disappeared all right, but the banner behind it then opened in response to the extra click (by the way, I remember very clearly the product and company that was advertising there--it was a Panasonic laptop PC, and even though I'm currently in the market for a laptop, I promise you I'll not buy the Panasonic product, that's for damned sure).

All these experiences brought me back to examining myself. This is, after all, what I teach others: when you get upset about something, look within yourself to see where the problem is manifesting there. For where else can you more effectively change things for the better than within yourself?

So I examined myself to see where I have been indulging in self-display lately, and I found some instances of self-promoting behavior in my professional and personal lives. But I'd like to direct specific attention to what I discovered about what's going on here in the blog: we've been carrying ads in our sidebar; a few of them in the same kind of distracting Flash media that is especially annoying to have blinking beside what you're trying to read.

Well, they don't belong here on a page where you're trying to read a little perspective on what's going on in the world. You wouldn't expect to shop for underwear or computers or web hosting services while you were in the library, right? (and you do go to the library every so often...?)

So I'll soon be removing the ads to this page, and setting up a separate shopping page meant to be particularly useful to Daily Rev readers. I'll keep a link to it in the sidebar, so you can go back there whenever you're in the mood for some online shopping. Now, let's continue on to some online geeking...

Geek Wednesday

Just in case you've ever wondered why we have a regular tech column in a political blog, check out this video (even if you haven't wondered what Geek Wednesday is doing here). Geeks at Princeton show in detail how a Diebold voting machine can be hacked in a matter of seconds to do the bidding of whoever or whatever is controlling it. I've talked to several geeks about it, and they tell me it would be a fairly simple matter: the code is easy to write (for a geek, that is), and it can be installed effortlessly onto one of those machines. It's actually fairly sophomoric hacking, as hacking goes: like taking candy from a child. Or democracy from a nation.

Meanwhile, source code for Diebold machines has been leaked on multiple occasions. You can also look here to learn more and find out what you can do about it.

By the time you read this, Firefox 2.0 will have been released. Last week, MS released IE7. We've been running beta versions and release candidates of both browsers here, and reviewing them as they've moved through development (here and here).

In case you haven't been following along and aren't interested in the details, but simply want to know which is the best to use, we still recommend Firefox by a long shot. I also use Opera frequently, because it has so many usability features that set it apart; the only problem with Opera is compatibility with many sites and page types. I hope it does become more popular, because it certainly deserves to.

For example, one site that Opera can't load is Google's new online office, which incorporates the Writely word processor and Google's own spreadsheet application. Now if you have a Gmail account and a connection, you can keep all your spreadsheets and documents online (as I've recently discovered, it's great for a kid with divorced parents and two homes—her work is always with her, wherever there's a connection and a computer). And don't believe what you hear about the online office being a load of hot air until you've tried one of them on for size yourself. In a recent column for InfoWorld, some self-indulgent windbag named Rist pretended to find the entire experience of online office apps akin to torture (as if Microsoft's products for the local drive are paragons of stability). Rist made a fairly common error, assuming that what is true for him is true for everyone: because he's a famous magazine writer with lots of contacts, emails, and documents to keep straight, everyone else has, too. It's a very shallow piece of self-promotion from a second-rate hack writer for a geek weekly.


Apple, which never tires of making me drool over computer hardware, has just released the latest version of the MacBook Pro, featuring the new Intel Core Duo 2 processor. They start at two grand, and if you want a 17" model with 3GB of RAM, that will set you back $3,000. The strange thing is, even if I could afford one, where would I dare go with it?

The main point for geeks now is that Apple now has 64-bit processors in its machines, and is about six months away from releasing a 64-bit OS. This could be the closest you may get to geek nirvana on this side of the veil. If you've been saving for the perfect portable, your moment may have finally arrived.

Switching over to the Linux realm, Ubuntu Linux, which we have reviewed (here and here), is apparently being courted for a working partnership by none other than the database and corporate middleware giant, Oracle. An announcement may be coming as soon as Friday, which is the end of the Oracle Developers' Conference. The Ars piece indicates the most likely driving forces behind this partnership:

Since Canonical [the company that provides enterprise support for Ubuntu] has no middleware software of its own, it doesn't compete with Oracle, and the interests of the two companies do not conflict. A partnernship with Oracle would be beneficial to Canonical, because it would promote the use of Ubuntu in an enterprise environment and provide new opportunities for lucrative service contracts.

So Ubuntu may have to upgrade its slogan: "linux for human beings...and massive corporations."

Mind you, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with working for massive corporations. I do. They're just...well, massive, and that's their problem. When I was writing my Tao of Hogwarts book, I found a certain metaphorical meaning in the character of the "troll in the dungeon" from the first of Rowling's novels. Here's how it came out:

The Troll in the Dungeon: A Metaphor on the Corporate Giant

What’s big, ugly, smells really foul to anyone in their right senses, and can’t seem to move without stumbling or locking up in confusion? Well, if you work for a big corporation, you might have answered, “my department” or “the company I work for.” And you might be right.

In fact, you could take your pick: the mountain troll that corners Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a girls’ bathroom in Sorcerer’s Stone could be a metaphor on the monster of the modern corporation or the government. Since the government comes in for enough rough treatment from Mrs. Rowling in “The Ministry of Magic” (see Chapter 9), I prefer to think of the mountain troll as a massive corporation whose various parts can’t communicate or coordinate with one another. It stinks horribly, meaning that it’s offensive to people’s most basic and feeling-oriented senses: every time I read about another company downsizing (that is, ruining the lives of) its workers, I sense that same repulsive odor that Rowling’s children smell as they encounter the troll.

The corporate troll solves every problem by trying to stomp it into oblivion or by trying to eat what’s in the way of its lumbering, juggernaut movement. But for all its vast physical size and the ungainly length of its various parts, it is only part-being: its intelligence is blunted by its massive, organizational-chart body, and therefore it can act only through domination—swinging the dull club of Power onto anything and anyone that comes within its myopic visual scope.

Finally, as in the story, the corporate troll is inevitably knocked out by the wooden immensity of its own size and force: how often do we see the company that yesterday was bludgeoning other smaller firms into bankruptcy or submission suddenly subjected to the same treatment by another, larger “troll”? Or worse still, consider the fate of some of the ugliest of corporate behemoths—those that fell under the weight of greed as well as incompetence. The trolls known as Enron, Worldcom, and their like, collapsed amid their corruption, poisoning an entire nation with the foul stench of their depravity, while leaving investors and customers robbed, broken, and destitute. Ron, Harry, and Hermione were lucky to escape the mountain troll with only a brief scare and the vague breath of its odor in their memories; the investors of the corporate trolls of Greed and Excess are often left with ruined lives and uncertain futures.

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