Thursday, 2 June 2016

When agencies get weird

One of the nice things about freelancing is that you get to see the different ways shops run. Some are very corporate, some are very not. Some have their shit together while others don’t. A couple years ago I encounterd a new dynamic: An agency that treats its employees as a captive audience.

I occassionally get emails from the agency because I think an address was set up for me and made to forward to my gmail account. Every once in a while, on of the partners, a ‘branding guru’, will send out something promoting his new book. Yesterday, one of the other partners sent out an email announcing his new agency – but it wasn’t a company-wide press release. It was written and designed like a spam email, treating all the recipents – even the ones who, you know, actually work for the guy – as strangers.

Very weird.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why I don’t use Facebook, Part the Eleventieth

I need to put down all the reasons I don’t use Facebook at some point (Note to self: William Gibson’s view that Facebook is like a mall is a good one), but here’s a new one:

There was a dustup when a former Facebook employee said that the people running the ‘Trending News’ feature omitted conservative sources like The Daily Caller and Breitbart. Naturally, wingnuts had a hissy fit. Also naturally, Facebook reacted by catering to the mouthbreathing, conspiracy-mongering right and announcing “sweeping changes”. Short story, they’re going to make it a point to include the fever swamp of conservative “news” media.

This is pretty much exactly what happened to CNN at the turn of the century, when dullard Walter Issacson took the reins and announced he was going to do something about Republican cries of CNN’s liberal bias. He skipped off to DC and met with right wing senators, promising to give them equal treatment in coverage, which of course meant that CNN was sure to tell “both sides” – no matter how dumb, lunatic or fact-free the conservative story was.

I guess Anodyne Mark Zuckerberg has a little bit of an excuse – he was actually hauled in by Republican senators. Nevermind that FOX News has never been called to the Senate to explain its bias, or that conservative views happily thrive on Facebook (There’s no shortage of wingnut Facebook posts or pages. Everyone’s no more than a couple of degrees from a racist, white supremacist or conspiracy theorist in Facebook). To the right wing, this is just another example of LIBERAL BIAS! and all they want is THE TRUTH!

So naturally, Facebook will overcorrect. They’ll hire some Breitbart/Daily Caller types to “balance” the news section with stories about climate change hoaxes and Clenis fantasties. It doesn’t matter whether or not there’s any truth in the reporting, they’re just letting both sides express their views amirite?

Fuck Facebook.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

AdChoices

adchoices logo

You probably have come across little triangle-shaped icons tucked in the corner of banner ads and, like 95% of people, have no idea what it’s for. Hell, I work in advertising and if I didn’t look it up I wouldn’t know.

It’s the icon for AdChoices, a program run by ad trade groups to allow people to opt out of personalized banner ad placements. Click on it, and the ads fed to your browser aren’t based on whatever tracking info Google, Yahoo and et al. have on you.

That doesn’t mean they’ll stop tracking you – only that the ads you see won’t be customized. Which raises the question: What’s the point? From a consumer standpoint, it’s hard to think of any significant reason to do so. You’re going to be tracked regardless. And as an ad creative, those little icons – with little thought apparently given to where the icon is (sometimes left, sometimes right) – are just ugly, pointless warts. Why does AdWords even exist?

The answer? Illusion. The consumer gets the illusion of control, and big advertisers get to present the illusion that they’re doing something. After all, AdChoices was created as the reponse to the FTC ‘suggesting’ that the industry start self-regulating, which means ‘do something that looks like you’re doing something, but don’t really do anything’.

But we are talking about advertising, so the fact that this is all based on pretending actually makes perfect sense.

Monday, 9 May 2016

SFGate Sucks: The stupidity of algorithms

One of the ways SFGate sucks is its dependence on SEO and automation. (I’m being awful generous here by assuming it’s not an incredibly dumb human making the decisions.) Friday’s edition had a beautiful example:

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This poor schmuck is a high school senior who let the tip of his wiener peek out of his pants in the football team’s yearbook picture. You really have to look to see it (which doesn’t say much for his gear). When school officials found out, the cops arrested him and charged him with an assortment of felonies. They eventually dropped them–whether this was a case of trying to scare him or Maricopa County asshole cops being Maricopa County asshole cops is unknown, but it’s a safe bet it was the latter.

So, dumb kid does dumb thing. That’s the story. What sort of stories does SFGate think are related?

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SFGate thinks actual sexual assault and exploitation of children, a convicted child murderer and political blooper are all equivalent to a stupid high school prank.

Rape, murder, accidental elbows and a 17 year old doing the stupid things 17 year olds do are all related. That’s one seriously twisted conspiracy.

SFGate sucks.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Joe Paterknew

Five years after Jerry Sandusky was indicted on child molestation charges and four years after Joe Paterno’s death, a court opinion states that Paterno knew about Sandusky’s activities as early as 1976. Naturally, die hard Penn State fans are looking for ways to dismiss it.

To be fair, if forum comments are any guide, some ‘Joe Pa’ fans are seeing the light.  But for the most part the excuses remain the same: Paterno reported it to superiors and shouldn’t be expected to do more; and this is just a money grab by victims. The first one is ridiculous on its face–this isn’t about somebody illegally parking in a handicapped zone, this is about child abuse–and the second one is a dumb, reflexive argument.

Some Internet Geniuses are saying that the victim just wanted money. As pathetic as this line of thinking was five years ago, it still was logically possible. But this new revelation has appeared in a world where Sandusky has been tried and convicted. We know for a fact that he molested children. Claiming that the victim was just out for the money means that you have to believe a convicted child molestor only sexually assaulted children during the past 20 years.

Insane.

On a certain level, I can sympathize with Penn State fans. It’s not easy to accept that somebody who you’ve invested a lot of moral authority in participated in covering for a child molestor. I can only hope that a) I’m never faced with the same dilemma, and b) If I am, my personal ethics would be my guide and I wouldn’t come up with vapid arguments to cocoon my fanhood in.

Joe Paterknew for 40 years.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Space Jam 2: Twice The Nope

Word is that a sequel to 1996’s Space Jam is becoming more likely, with Justin Lin directing what would be a LeBron James vehicle (Somewhere Kobe is banging his head on a wall).

I’m too old to have any nostalgia for the original, and nostalgia is what’s driving this. I think I might have seen it–or part of it–a long time ago, but was completely unentertained. My bias aside, I wonder if the environment dooms this from the beginning.

The original was made because of a Nike commercial that paired Jordan with Bugs Bunny. It’s important to understand the culture at the time: Nike commercials were all the rage. It wouldn’t be an overstatement that the work by Wieden and Kennedy (mostly by Jim Riswold) made it possible for professional athletes to become cultural superstars. You didn’t have to like sports, or Jordan in particular for that matter, to enjoy Nike commercials. It was because of them that pro athletes were soon being snatched up by marketers to a greater degree than ever before. And outside of games and press conferences, commercials were the only access to them.

That’s not the case today. The big budget Nike commercials and their cultural significance are gone. Pro athletes are (arguably) overexposed, with everyone on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. And as great as LeBron is, he’s still not Jordan. As much as he played the pitchman, MJ’s dominance of the sport was at an all-time high. LeBron’s Cavs are good, but they’re not 2016’s version of the 90s Bulls–that would probably be the Golden State Warriors. I think there’s an argument that the cultural landscape, even adding in the nostalgia factor, is one that will make a sequel successful.

And then there’s Lin. His breakthrough movie, Better Luck Tommorrow, was great. He took the reins of the Fast and Furious franchise and turned it into must-see movies. But then he was handed control of the second season of HBO’s True Detective series, and the results were…meh. It wasn’t all his fault, it’s not like the storyline and scripts were anywhere near as good as the first season, but his results didn’t meet the challenge of following the first season.

His wheelhouse (pun!) is the action-oriented flick, which is why his upcoming takes on Star Trek and Bourne will probably be good and make a ton of money. A children’s movie with animated characters is not the kind of thing he does. But Hollywood is addicted to recycling ideas, and when a marketing goldmine like James is attached, this is a lock to be made.

It’ll suck, I might watch part of it by accident, and in another 20 years we can all look forward to Space Jam 3.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

iPad Pro For Work: Almost perfect

I’ve been using an iPad Pro for a little more than a month, and it’s pretty damn close to being a laptop replacement. In terms of hardware, it’s excellent for what I need (writing, document annotation, basic graphics). Software is where it falls short – but the limitations are easily fixed, and as Apple moves ahead I hope they’ll address the issues.

Hardware

I’ve lugged around a MacBook Pro for years. 4.5 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but the weight definitely makes itself known pretty quickly when you’re traveling. I’ve been tempted to get a MacBook Air for quite a while, and was pretty close to pulling the trigger when the iPad Pro was released. Almost immediately after buying the iPad, I’m happy – ecstatic, even – with the choice.

At 1.5 pounds, it’s a dream come true. Even adding the weight of the Apple Magic Keyboard (about half a pound) keeps it below that of the Air. The Pro’s versatility also means I’ve stopped carrying around the one or two paper notebooks I usually do, because Apple’s Pencil is so damn good (with the right software).

How great the Pro is for people with more intensive hardware needs – designers, artists, etc. – I can’t say, although some reviews I’ve read by those folks seem to love the Pro as well. But as a writer, I can pretty much crown the Pro as a full-fledged laptop replacement. My MBP has sat almost unused ever since I started using the Pro. It’s still useful (and necessary) for messing around with coding and image work, but for all intents and purposes my laptop is now a desktop.

One important issue that needs to be pointed out is the battery life. Apple claims a 10 hour life, which is probably right, but charging takes a looooong time. It’s been suggested that the quickest way to fully charge it is to shut it down, but that’s kind of unacceptable considering how fast I can get my iPhone and older iPad to 100%. I know, I know, different hardware. But still.

Pencil

The awesomeness that is the Pencil can’t be understated. When I got an iPad 2, I also thought that could be a laptop replacement. While it worked fine with a keyboard, the jankiness of using a stylus kept me firmly planted in laptop/paper/pen land.

But the Pencil has changed all that. The palm rejection technology, speed and precision of the Pencil is great. While not all apps produce the handwriting results I like, it wasn’t hard to find one that did. First I tried Paper (which is designed around it’s own unique stylus), but it didn’t feel smooth. Notability, on the other hand, really works with Pencil nicely. That pairing is why I can leave notebooks at home, and no longer print out PDFs to scribble notes on.

Software

And since we’re talking about Notability, we might as well jump into the ‘not’ portion of this ‘not perfect’ assessment. Notability is great, although it suffers from a tiny case of oversimplification and fixing what ain’t broke.

What I’ve noticed is that many app developers come up with unique file organization that is different enough from standard OSX/PC conventions that it feels limiting. Notability, for example, uses a ‘subject’ and ‘divider’ scheme to organize files. With OSX/Windows I can move and manipulate files easily. I know what a folder is; I know I can move stuff between them. Subject/divider is different just enough to not feel natural, and I still haven’t completely adapted to thinking in these new terms.

A lot of that probably has to do with how apps store data in iOS. Simply put, each app basically has to create its own storage system. If you want to open a file in App A that was created in App B, it needs to be sent through some sort of middleman – Dropbox, Google Docs, etc. iOS doesn’t provide a single repository you can just put and pull stuff on/from.

This filesystem weirdness also makes opening zipped files unnecessarily complicated (in a relative sense, of course, because it’s really just an extra step or three). It’d be fantastic if I can unzip a file directly from Mail into another app, instead of having to open a 3rd party app, unzip it, then go to the app I want to use and download the file.

That said, it’s something that Apple and developers can work on, along with some other minor issues. Selecting and deleting text can be a pain, as it’s still geared towards touchscreen control. The ol’ Command-Delete to clear a bunch of text doesn’t work in iOS, and placing the cursor where you want it can be a hit and miss process.

There’s also signs of 3rd party web app issues. Namely Google. Many companies use Google apps now, but they aren’t optimized for iOS. For example, one of the new features in iOS 9 is a split screen view, where two apps can share the screen. Sadly, this isn’t supported by Google Docs. So instead of being able to keep client feedback up while working in Notability or Ulysses, I have to switch back and forth between the two. I can’t help but think this is Google’s fault, and they don’t want to fully support a competitor’s feature.

But again, all these minor problems will probably be fixed sooner or later. In the meantime, it’s just a matter of accepting things as they are – which are still pretty great.

Apps Writers Will Like

In OSX my standard tools were a combination of Scrivener (currently in iOS Beta – yay!), Google Docs and WriteRoom. With the iPad Pro, it’s all about Notability (perfect for annotation and jotting down notes with Pencil) and Ulysses. I still use a little bit of Excel on the laptop (subscribing to MS Office is a non-starter for me; I’m very anti-subscription), and will probably switch to using the included Apple Numbers at some point.

I give myself a huge pat on the back for taking the leap and getting an iPad Pro. As the line matures, I’ll have fewer reasons to get another MacBook Pro. (A MacPro, on the other hand, is a different matter…)

Solidarity Wins

SEIU, which had been negotiating a deal with Airbnb, announced that the talks were off.

The agreement would’ve had Airbnb promoting unionized cleaning services and supporting a $15/hour minimum wage in exchange for an official endorsement by SEIU. Not only was it being done without knowledge by other unions, but those unions were adamantly against it.

The argument in favor was that SEIU was doing what it was supposed to: Working for their members. But that’s an incredibly short-sighted and narrow position to take.

San Francisco (the city in which the deal was being worked) has been facing a serious problem in affordable housing. Part of that problem is due to Airbnb, whose business model encourages the removal of residential housing from the market.

This is a classic case of the chickens inviting the fox into the henhouse. Or more precisely, the chickens letting the fox kick them out and renting the shed for a tidy profit.

Thankfully, it seems other unions got SEIU to see the light. What good is getting people $15/hour when it’s going to be eaten up by higher housing costs anyway? Not to mention that $15/hour is being treated like some huge windfall when it’s really just wages catching up with reality.

And what’s really key here is that it was a bad deal. Airbnb’s “promotion” of unionized services would be just that. Home “sharers” would be under no obligation to use SEIU members, and a union endorsement of Airbnb would be worth a lot more to Airbnb than anything Airbnb would’ve done to “support” a higher minimum wage.

Unions aren’t required to stand together, but history has proven time and time again that a union is stronger when it works with other unions. They all stand together, or they all fall together.

News SFGate.com thinks is more important:

• Bay Area Bars With The Best View

• Bird Strike Leaves Large Dent On Jetliner’s Nose

• SF House for under $500k: Look inside and see why

 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

SFGate Sucks – A Continuing Series

I need to get this out: SFgate.com, the digital component of the SF Chronicle (kind of, not really – more on that later), is a steaming pile of regurgitation, amateurism and SEO run amok. The articles are craptacular, starting with the use of inane stock photos to illustrate stories (not even bothering to change the Getty/Corbis/Shutterstock caption) and incomplete, sometimes incoherent writing.

Because the scope of how much SFGate.com sucks is so large, it’s impossible to cover in a single post. Instead, I’ll just start with what will probably be a series: A look at today’s horrible SFGate.

sfgate 042716

Breaking News – A dead body (no foul play suspected) at Apple merits the red banner, I suppose. But people probably kick the bucket at Genentech, HP and other big important area companies, too. Sadly, this is a relative good use of the alert. There’ll be examples of typical sorry SFGate use to come.

Latest News – Cruz selecting Fiorina, Hastert’s sentencing and some local items are valid. The weather? Cracker Jack toys? It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for…

Main Story – SFGate thinks the most important piece of news today is that people are visiting the building used for the opening credits of a 90s sitcom. The cherry on top is the headline. How can people mob a specific place “everywhere you look”? Standard awful writing from the buffoons at SFGate.

Real Estate Ad Count – There are three real estate ads posing as news articles today. I think that’s about the average.

Bonus Reguritation – They’ve been pushing this “Detour” app story on and off for the past year. It’s a good idea for an app, but not worth repeating – unless they’re getting paid to do it, which is entirely possible.

Some News SFGate Doesn’t Think Is Important:

• Trump wins all Super Tuesday states; Clinton wins all but one

• The vile human cheeto also delivers his first foreign policy speech

• US to release report on its bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital

• More racist texts by SFPD discovered

SFGate sucks.