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Mon, July 31

Identi-T Theft—3:11 PM

Last week, someone apparently hacked into my eBay account, initiated a bunch of fake auctions, and then made a bid on another fake auction from my account. By the time I was made aware of this, eBay had already canceled all the fraudulent auctions and sent me e-mail to tell me what had happened, and how to create a new password to protect my account, then get it reinstated. (They temporarily blocked me from selling/buying so the bad guys couldn't keep up their malfeasance.)

One of the steps in reinstating my account was to contact eBay via their security department's "Live Help" option, which is like a chatroom in your web browser to talk to someone who can reset your account. Kind of a pain in the ass, since you have to stay at the computer until someone becomes available for the chat. But the other inconvenience is: for some reason the chat window won't let you type a lowercase T. At first I thought it was something wrong with my laptop's keyboard, but I tried other applications – even other Safari windows – it was just eBay Live Help.

I was immediately reminded of David Sedaris's Me Talk Pretty One Day, in which he was forced to eschew "s" sounds to hide his persistent lisp from his speech teacher. He'd go around saying things like: "the left-hand and the right-hand glove of Janet have fallen to the floor," in order to avoid plurals and possessives.

I accepted Live Help's drawback as a similar challenge:

My login was compromised around a week ago. Then, I received e-mail saying ebay had fixed my login problem and removed some fake sales from my user name. I did as I was asked and made a new ebay password, however I remain as a bidder on #280010964567. Can I be removed, so my feedback numbers remain pure?

The funny thing is, as soon as Hurst logged in to the other side of the chat, he said "feel free to use all caps if the lowercase T isn't working." So, they know about this, but that's their solution? By then I'd already created this t-less masterpiece and I wasn't about to take the easy way out. I mean, really... all caps? Don't they know that on the web, there's no quicker way to look like a brain-dead goober than to start shouting in all caps? "DOES ANYBODY KNOW WHO SINGS THE THEME TO CSI NEW YORK? MY COUSIN NEEDS A PANCREAS." – see what I mean?

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Sat, July 29

This Is Heavy—11:34 PM

I recently posted a link that discussed (among other things) a rapidly growing phenomenon in which we allow technology to take over a lot of the tasks for which our brains were previously used. The example I gave in another recent tangent was the use of the spell-check function instead of just learning decent grammar, but other examples abound: you don't know your friends' phone numbers, because they're stored on your cell; you can forget facts and figures, because they're just a Google search away; etc.

This is a troubling development, to be sure, but in other ways it's a good thing. The theory being, maybe we can use our brains for more important stuff, now that technology is taking care of some of the menial tasks. (Of course, the trade-off is a certain level of self-sufficiency. Depend on technology too much, and you wake up in the Matrix.)

Anyway, it's interesting how synchronicity works. Just while all this is swimming in my mind, I stumble upon a link to Back to the Future: The Enchantment Under the Sea Dance Revisited. Someone has edited together the complementary footage from Back to the Future and Back to the Future, Part II to illustrate how the pieces fit together when Marty returns to the same scene in the sequel. Which is another example of relying on the Internet to supply something, because here's an idea we've all had, a fascinating experiment, but something that we think, "Well, that might be a bit time consuming." Can't someone else do it? Well, yes. Someone on the Internet.

(Now, yes, perhaps we haven't all actually thought of doing this specific thing. I can't even say for certain that I have. But it sounds exactly like the sort of thing I would think of to do, and you have to admit it's unfathomably enticing once you hear that all you have to do is click on a link and you can watch it.)

Pretty incredible. I remember having the same feeling when I was searching for Maya tutorials and information. People are so generous about creating characters or textures or other plug-ins and add-ons and then providing them for free. I thought, "I must be sure to give something back; people should be able to save themselves a little time by downloading some simple little doodad from onebee, the same way they're saving me so much time now." I just have to figure out what that doodad might be.

In the meantime, for God's sake watch the video, before Universal makes Google take it down. It's fantastically well executed and it not only shows how often Zemeckis & Co. managed to line up the timing exactly right (surprisingly often, although of course there are necessary changes), it also shows how meticulously they lined up the same action when they added shots in the sequel which showed action from the original film in the background. Down to individual extras' costumes and minor Michael J. Fox gestures. Groundhog Day did the same thing when they were repeating background action from day to day, and it's the kind of thing I find very impressive. In the case of Groundhog Day, maybe it's more obvious since the scenes often repeat back-to-back; in the case of Back to the Future, nobody would really be able to notice the subtle details without doing a video project exactly like this. But the filmmakers put that detail in there anyway. That's what you call "caring about your audience," as opposed to treating your audience the way, say, The Lake House does.

And it's also what it means to be a pro.

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Wed, July 26

Order—9:52 AM

I just took this organization quiz, which asks you whether or not you could immediately locate a list of common (and some not-so-common) household items. I did pretty well, except for a few items I don't have, like stamps (steal them from work) and mittens (yeah, right). I had to correct myself on the tape measurer because as it happens I just moved it to a new location this weekend, after I realized that it gets more frequent use than everything else in the Hardware/Tools category, where it used to go.

The quiz was posted by Gretchen Rubin, who's writing a book about self-help tips, called The Happiness Project. She's got a list of her own tips in the sidebar of her blog, and one of them is "My Areas of Focus for the Happiness Project." An excerpt:

  1. Order

  2. Marriage and Family

One hopes these are not in order of importance, although a glimpse at the site creates the impression that few things in Gretchen's life are not in order. I agree with her that organization improves efficiency, and I'm happier the less time I waste. But you don't want to get carried away. The last person I saw who put order ahead of marriage and family was that psycho on Wife Swap who cleaned five hours a day and then started cleaning again as soon as she was finished.

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Mon, July 24

Start Panicking Now—11:43 AM

The 37signals blog recently pointed out this intriguing contrast in news reporting styles:

Drama vs. information

Which reminded me of another example I intended to mention, but I was in an airport in Wyoming when it happened, and by the time I was within reach of the Internet's many tubes, I had kind of forgotten.

Remember a few weeks ago, that building that exploded in New York City? We now know that its owner caused the explosion as part of a divorce battle, but even 20 or 30 minutes after it happened, the fire department chief was telling us that it seemed to be caused by a gas leak. (This turned out to be correct; it was just an intentional gas leak.)

But what was the headline up on CNN's screen, while live and pre-taped footage of the rubble and the recovery effort played?

a. Gas Leak Causes Building Explosion

b. Building Explodes: Fire Official Suspects Gas Leak

c. Building Explodes in NYC

d. Beyonce Tired of the Term 'Bootylicious'

Unsurprisingly, answer C. Maximum drama, minimum information. Allows the casual channel-surfer to be panicked by the potential of another terrorist attack (which is an easy impulse, when presented with footage of a New York building reduced to rubble), and settle in to watch CNN until someone tells him everything is okay. (It could be a while.)

Also unsurprisingly, CNN expressed a clear preference for the sound bites in which eyewitnesses (including their own Larry King, who is a journalist like I'm a neurosurgeon) said things like, "it sounded like a bomb" or, "all I could think of was 9/11." My sister astutely observed, "How many of these people have ever actually heard a bomb go off? What they meant was, 'it sounded like an explosion,' which it was." Exactly. But if you've got someone making statements that imply murderous intent rather than what at the time was considered an accident, why not lead with those?

I can't say I'm shocked that all the neighbor lady could think of was 9/11. All any of us can think of is 9/11. The Bush administration won't stop invoking it!

Oh, and you can believe CNN also wasted two minutes on "humorous" banter between the anchor and Larry King over his reluctance to accept the cell phone CNN had forced upon him months earlier.

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Fri, July 21

The Prophecy Is Complete—5:20 PM

From a recent post on Ken-Jennings.com:

Ken-Jennings.com cannot endorse any cruelty to household animals, unless they’re cats.

(My emphasis.)

Well, that does it. Any last quivering atom of my being that wasn't totally in love with Ken Jennings has now sighed, convulsed, and blinked out of existence.

I finally believe that there is hope for love in my future. Because if I could be so wrong about Ken Jennings, then I could be wrong about anything. Michelle Williams and I will be sending out wedding invitations just as soon as she dumps that gay cowboy husband of hers.

For those keeping score at home, let me count the ways in which Ken is my perfect lover (or alter ego):

  1. Fairly funny in a nerdy sort of way.

  2. Self-effacing.

  3. Self-promoting.

  4. Self-effacing while self-promoting.

  5. Fascinated by dippy, trivial details. (No surprise there, of course.) I could totally see him obsessing over the Substitute posters.

  6. Takes potshots at Bush.

  7. References The Simpsons. (So far, only the good years.)

  8. Arrested Development fan, particularly Maeby.

  9. Likes Pixar.

  10. Promotes Netflix.

  11. Hates cats.

But the biggest surprise of all is the healthy amount of cynical, irreverent sarcasm. He's certainly nowhere near as profane or outspoken as I am at my worst (best?) but it's a far sight better than the bland Mormon schoolboy image projected on Jeopardy! – or maybe that was just my narrow-minded perception at the time. Needless to say, I've undergone a complete 180-degree reversal. One of the things I look forward to every day is a new blog post from Ken.


If this weren't enough of a dreamy summer crush, I'm swooning head-over-heels for VH1 and EW's World Series of Pop Culture. Everything about this show is excellent. (Except for under-lighting the contestants; there's a reason that effect first came to prominence in Lon Chaney flicks. Horrifying!) The set design, the game design, the host (Pat Kiernan, out of nowhere!), and most of all, the questions. (I like this show more than Jeopardy! because I can get 9 out of 10 questions right – if you don't count the music ones, which, again, I don't.)

So, just as I'm falling completely in love with the show, I start up episode 4 and the opening category is "Spielberg Movies." Well played, VH1. Remember five days ago, when I figured I'd probably never watch your network again in my life? Oh, very well played.

Arksie's absolutely right: if you're not watching this show, you "have no right to own a TV." So don't be like Hidalgo – catch up on VH1.com's VSPOT, and start watching today!

(And, if you're into trivia – as my heart seems to be trying to tell me I am – you should sign up for Ken's weekly trivia quiz. With Google tied behind my back, I know very few answers, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating when he reveals them the next week. That Spider-Man/Liberty Valance question was awesome!)

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Mon, July 17

Summer TV that's better than you think—3:57 PM

"Entertainment Weekly" had a cover at the start of the summer that touted something like 67 "can't miss" summer shows. That's insane. However, summer is not the reality/rerun/crapfest dumping ground it used to be. (Much to the surprise of many, your humble guide most definitely included.)

I tried It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Alicia. I really did. But I found it terrible. Hacky comedy, drearily slow plots, and line readings right out of junior high. Sorry.

However, Lifetime TV's late entry in the "mockumentary populated by idiots" category is not nearly as derivative as you'd expect. Lovespring International features Jane Lynch, Jennifer Elise ("Jan Brady") Cox, and the delightful Wendi McLendon-Covey (also of Reno 911!), and each episode is cleverly plotted and laugh-out-loud funny. (Mondays, Lifetime)

Lucky Louie is HBO's first multi-camera, live-audience sitcom, and it's riotously funny (though thoroughly inappropriate). I generally disparage shows that are on HBO just for the access to bad language, but Lucky Louie actually needs the naughty words, and thrives on them. It's the first sitcom to feature a full-on sex scene, and it's a hilarious scene. The ordinarily forgettable Jerry Minor (who formerly served as a cardboard cutout of a black person to increase the diversity in SNL sketches) is fantastically deadpan. (Sundays, HBO)

But the biggest surprise of all has to be Psych on USA. I caught up on the first two episodes yesterday on TiVo, and it's really funny. In case you haven't seen the ads, the main character, Shawn, has a photographic memory. He solves crimes so effortlessly that the local police department thinks he's psychic. So he has to play the part, with his friend Gus (Dulé Hill) as the other half of his detective agency. It's funnier (and less dopey) than it sounds, and the mysteries are entertaining and fun to follow. The good news is, you can get up to speed by watching the entire first episode on the show's website. Check it out. – you may be surprised. (Fridays, USA)

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Wed, July 12

Baby Maeby—12:19 PM

I left town right after I discovered the Ken Jennings Blog and – in a feat of stupidity that will not be soon repeated – I didn't bring my laptop. So only today am I finally catching up on his posts, in a sort of haphazard, non-sequential fashion.

The first one I read: Speaking of giant heads. Turns out Ken is a big Arrested Development fan. It becomes more and more difficult to reconcile this version of Ken with the one we knew on Jeopardy!. Did it not seem that the quiz show version would've winced at most of AD's humor?

I don't know who's ghost-writing Jennings's blog, but I'm fast realizing that I'm in love with him. I want to have his Maeby.

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Tue, July 11

Studio 60—5:28 PM

Go watch the five-minute preview of Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip on NBC.com. Do it right now. (Sorry, Tidball... it's worth it this time.)

Now, there are opportunities for this to be mishandled, I grant you. You don't need all the fingers on one hand to count the non-West Wing cast members. There are moments that look like the syrupy, preachy epilogue scenes from many of The West Wing's worst episodes under Sorkin's stewardship. However, this has the potential to have the crackling energy of Sports Night, plus all of its heart, while also skewering the worst creative nosedive in television history... which just happens to air 45 hours earlier on the same network.

I don't know how to explain the leeway that NBC has granted here. I can only assume that things are so bad for non-reality network programming that it was actually easier for NBC's programming executives to swallow their own massively stupendous pride than let Sorkin shop the show elsewhere.

I hope it's a huge hit. I hope it lasts beyond SNL's cancellation; in fact, I hope it causes SNL's cancellation. I've been skeptical about this show from the start, because it tackles a topic so near to my heart. Then there was the battle with 30 Rock. (Remember Crisis in the Hot Zone vs. Outbreak?) Then "on the Sunset Strip" was added – I'm still unsure why. Maybe to throw Lorne off the scent. ("See? It's an LA show!") But I really really want it to be good. Okay, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip? Please be good?

(Also, I will be happy to download the clip of Amanda Peet saying "masturbate" as my new ringtone. Whoever makes that possible, go ahead and e-mail me.)

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Don't Fuck the Sea Nymph—11:02 AM

This week, TiVo is featuring a little behind-the-scenes clip from The Lady in the Water on its main screen. Whenever possible, I watch these little clips, because I assume TiVo tracks how many hits they get, and I want to encourage advertisers to keep giving TiVo money.

In it, we're reminded that Bryce Dallas Howard is just the cutest thing ever, and quite a compelling actress. (Also, a dead ringer for "Saffron" on Firefly.) Just who is Ron Howard married to, some sort of alien supermodel? Because it'd require a lot of counterbalance to get a child this fetching out of a gene pool that includes Clint Howard. Meanwhile, I'll need to get some achilles heel ointment, to stop all these bad movies from exploiting my weaknesses for certain directors and performers.

We also learn that the story for The Lady in the Water was originally a bedtime story that Night told his kids. Which just goes to show that he can't even tuck his children in without spinning some dopey, semi-coherent yarn with characters like "Tartutic" and a lackluster faux twist.

Must be a fun household. Shame he didn't end up as a rubik's cube champion and spare us all the trouble.

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