Spoiled

You know how outdated media companies could combat piracy? By seeding file sharing sites with files that have spoilers in the file names. I’d be reluctant to try searching an illicit download site if I’m likely to come across Harry_Potter_6(DVDRiP)_SNAPEKILLSDUMBLEDORE.avi or SurvivorS01E11_Richard_Wins.XviD or Six_Feet_Under_hey_guess_what_everyone_dies.mov.

I don’t want to encourage them, but it’s not like dying industries read blogs or are capable of trying anything creative.

This new Apple TV, however, is at least a step toward aligning media distribution with this newfangled “internet” thing. There is a sweet spot where it becomes worth paying money to avoid the hassle of searching for something that is otherwise free. At $99 for a device that can instantly dish out 99¢ TV episodes, that sweet spot’s hit, at least for me. I’d rather just pay my loonie than take the time to hunt an episode down across multiple sites, download it into submission, then drag it back to the device I consume it on. Sometimes it’s better to just order a burger instead of killing your own cow, y’know?

Plus, if I can cancel my cable subscription, it’s a net gain.

By the way, I have a full time job now, so all my blog posts will either be really short, or rambling nonsense that randomly goes nowhere, fueled by sleep deprivation and the crushing weight of adulthood.

So, how about baklava eh?

The Emotional Ramifications of Bleeps and Bloops

The iPhone needs more options for the new text message sound. There are only six beeps, bongs, and honks available, with no ability to add new ones.

I say this not out of a vain need for customization, but for the emotional well-being of iPhone users.

This is modern life:

You meet someone you like, and she likes you enough to give you her phone number. You send her an innocuous text, then wait with breath abated for a reply. BONG, an innocuous text in return. You do this back-and-forth a few times and soon each message contains not just neutral words but embedded emotion.

Eventually it’s BEEP BEEP here are your plans for the evening; DING! here comes a compliment you’ll remember for the rest of your life. You precede those consequences with that sound enough times, and they become inextricably linked. A smile hits your lips and your heart leaps into your throat with every buzz of your pocket.

Maybe you go on a few adventures. Maybe you screw. Maybe you make plans for the future. But nothing lasts forever, and when things inevitably go sour, all the positive associations with that tone become ambivalent, then negative. Finally, DONG! we need 2 talk.

Those associations are embedded deep, and they never quite go away. Alerts for even the most frivolous texts now make your mouth go dry; they’re Pavlov’s bell in reverse.

It doesn’t take long to cycle through all six tones.

Technology is so embedded in our lives that we must increasingly consider not only its practical ramifications, but the full spectrum of human emotion as well.

Book Review: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

You could describe Ender’s Game as Harry Potter in space. It’d be a pretty crappy way of describing it, since Ender came long before Harry , but the similarities are there. We’ve got a school full of kids who are special, an upcoming war, a sport that involves flying around and reaching a goal, and one really special angsty kid who’s destined to save the world.

The similarities “end” there, though. Ender’s Game is not fantasy, but hard science fiction. For a geek like me, it was a delight to read the intricate details of how to maneuver in zero gravity; not only how it affects people physically, but mentally as well (“the enemy’s gate is down”).

The sci-fi doesn’t come at the expense of character development, however. Ender is a flawed, rounded out character. Flawed in a Jack Bauer kind of way though; you always know he’ll figure out a way to deal with any obstacle. Often violently.

I was amazed at the prescience of Card’s vision of the future. The short story the book is based on was written in 1977, yet many of the technologies described are just coming to maturity in 2010. The Internet plays a large role (especially in the interesting but ultimately rather pointless side plot about Ender’s sister), taking over media and political influence in a way we are sure to see soon. He even threw in a line about kitchen appliances being online; in the 80s, the idea of a human being able to type something up then post it for the entire world to see (hi) would have been mind-blowing, but somehow Card was already imagining Twittering fridges.

Part of his genius was keeping descriptions just vague enough that your mind fills in the details with plausible technology. For example, the students’ “desk” computers are described as fitting on a lap and having a screen, but the exact control mechanism is never specified. Of course, I imagined them as iPads.

Speaking of which…I got an iPad. This is my first post written on it. My typing is slower and I can’t figure out a way to include a picture, but I still feel like I’ve arrived in the friggin future. Full impressions coming up later.

Podcamp London + Contemplative Goose

On Saturday I attended Podcamp London. A podcamp is a gathering of people interested in blogging, podcasting, social media, and other technologyish internetty stuff. It’s referred to as an “unconference”, because the format is unconventional. There are few rules, and anyone is free to throw a presentation onto the schedule. I guess I count as “anyone,” so I inserted myself into the timetable, and prepared a little presentation.

I talked to a packed room about internet fame, blogging, and how social media and the accessibility of the internet are changing the way creative people do their thing. I was a bit nervous, since I’d never done anything like that before, but I ended up enjoying the hell out of it.

If you wanna see my slides, you can get a clickable Quicktime movie (showing my spiffy slide transitions) here, or a PDF with all my secret notes (ruining the illusion that my witty jokes were improvised) here.

Actual audience reaction. I am mildly amusing.

I got a lot of flattering feedback, and some good suggestions for the coffee blog. From the always-creative Nik Harron came the idea for putting despair in coffee. That is, tears. I wonder if tears of shame taste difference than tears of mourning?

I imagine the former are a little more spicy.

It made no sense btw.

Also: I won a pool for predicting how many dongs would show up in Chatroulette in a 30 minute period (six). I’m like a psychic predicting how many children you’ll have, except it’s how many dongs you’ll see. (See also). It was good times.

There were more substantial thrills to be had, too. The sense of community was palpable. I have another psychic prediction: good things are coming in London Ontario’s future. There is an increasingly-less-underground group of diverse personalities who are passionate about making great things happen in this city and beyond. Upcoming projects like Changecamp London and UnLondon are just a few examples.

Between Podcamp itself and the sloppy after-party, I came across this Canada goose:

I’ve seen him there 3 or 4 times, always just standing there looking at his reflection in the window. He’s, like, a metaphor for life, man. Just staring, all day, pondering his place in this crumbling city. The goose is us, man. The goose is us.


Update May 10 9:30pm: I have been informed (thanks a lot @BillyW64) that the goose stares at his reflection because he thinks it’s his mate that he lost last year. There was a story about him on A Channel (I guess they interviewed the goose to obtain this information). The goose picture is now more sad-deep than intelligent-deep. Man.

Update May 11 3:15pm: Here is the fluffy A Channel story about the goose (thanks @joeradman, you are rad, man). Not sure about the veracity of the story or if it’s even the same goose (mine is in a totally different location). Maybe geese are just vain. Still, it’s sad to think about. There is also a Facebook page for him/her.

Me in Maclean’s. Also: Nuts.

Sooo there’s an article about me in Maclean’s Magazine (April 12th issue, page 62). It goes like so:

Plain old coffee can be boring, so Mike “Phronk” Battista of London, Ont., likes to put “weird things” in his (he keeps a blog about it). [etc.]

Conspicuously absent? The address of said blog. I guess there won’t be an influx of millions of visitors who will buy my crappy merchandise.

Oh well. At least when I’m old, I can brag to my grandkids about my greatest accomplishment. I’ll be all like, “STOP TALKING. Did you know that I was in Maclean’s?”

And they’ll be all like, “WTF is Maclean’s?”

And I’ll say, “It was one of Canada’s most popular magazines.”

And they’ll say, “WTF is a magazine?”

Then I will get angry and rant about the good old days when you had to physically leave the house to get information, then slowly absorb it from paper to your brain, rather than instantly downloading it into your neural implant. Then I’ll graphically demonstrate how the iPad can suck my wrinkly nuts.

Play TV Canada Pwned: Going Off the Air March 26th

Previously on MikeBattista.com: I complained about a televised scam called Play TV Canada, then examined the nature of the fraud in more detail, and got a response from Global Television.

Global never responded to a follow-up letter highlighting the inadequacy of their justifications. However, every weekend, thousands of people have Googled their way to this blog, and hundreds have commented (especially here), collaborating to find a way to stop these unscrupulous people.

Well, good news! A commenter named Jeremy received the following letter:

“We are in receipt of your letter via the CBSC regarding Global Television’s broadcast of Play-TV Canada, February 20th 2010, on Global Toronto (CIII). In your letter, you have expressed concerns regarding this show suggesting it may be a scamming game show, with no logical answers to impossible questions.

Let me begin by saying that as responsible broadcasters, we are sensitive to the members of our viewing audience and we apologize if this program has offended you. I assure you that it is neither Global’s nor the producer’s intention to do so. As of March 2010, our contract with Play TV will end and the show will no longer air on Global Television.”

He added:

LOL PWN I GOT THEM TO REMOVE THE MOTHER F*****KING SHOW YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

March 26th they’re done.

I made them cancel their contract with them..
I’m a god!!!!!!!!!!!!

As of March 26th, Play TV Canada will no longer be airing. I’m sure this will be justified by falling ratings or other financial reasons. However, while I wouldn’t give this blog, or Jeremy, sole credit for Play TV’s downfall, I have no doubt that our collective complaining and bad publicity had an impact on the decision to end this contract.

A few people are worth singling out in this effort.

  • Jeremy, obviously, who complained and was kind enough to report back here.
  • Dave from CrimeBustersNow, who passion for exposing and taking down scams like this is personal and intense. We need more people like him around. See CBNow’s Post about Global and Play TV.
  • Lisa from Dublin, who brought information from the other, older front in this battle, Ireland. Over there, similar circumstances lead to Play TV’s downfall.

It looks like the next battle site is South Africa. There is a discussion forum for it here, and obviously people are welcome to continue using the comments here as a venue for discussion. Dave suggests further action here in Canada as well, such as trying to push for criminal charges. While I’m not sure about going that far, it is worth considering if you have the time and motivation.

Thanks to everyone who has followed and participated in this international effort. Score one for the good guys.

The Endless Cycle of Checking Stuff

My use of the internet has reached a critical point. A point where, if I’m not careful, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that is nearly impossible to escape.

It used to be, I’d wake up, check my email, respond if needed, then get on with my day. Maybe check my email again an hour or two later.

Now, it’s wake up, check my main email, check Facebook, check Twitter, check Friendfeed, chat on MSN a bit, check Tumblr, check Google Reader, chat on Google Chat a bit, check my other email address, check the news, and oh, it’s been an hour, so there might be something new at my main email. And Facebook. Can’t forget Twitter. Maybe in between, if there’s time, I think of something to blab about on the blog – hi – and then it’s time for the cycle to resume.

Then, oh, whoops, it’s bed time. I’ve been at the computer for 16 hours. And I’ve wet myself.

What I should do is unplug my router. I should turn off my computer. For seriously, what I should do is, I should cut off my electricity and chop up my desk to burn for heat. You know, really get back to the basics and focus on what’s important – family, friends, pets, a good book.

I’ll just check my email one last time.

———-

Edit: In related news, here’s an article on multitasking in Wired Science. It’s interesting, but could also win the award for most blatant contradiction between the headline and the article.

The Mathematics of Wrong Numbers

What is with getting calls for the wrong number?

I’ve dialed a wrong number once, maybe twice in my whole life. Most people would probably claim similarly low misdial rates.

I’ve received maybe 50 wrong number calls, minimum.

How does this add up? It must mean there is a small number of people making a large number of misdirected calls. Are there people out there who, instead of dialing a number, just mash the keypad and hope for the best? This is even more baffling in the age of cell phones, where you can just speak a friend’s name and your robot phone will call them for you.

Perhaps there are some psychological factors going on. Misdialing is an embarrassing mistake, so surely my biased self-serving memory reconstructs more instances of other people making mistakes (receiving wrong numbers) than me making them (dialing them). However, I doubt that a subtle memory bias could skew the numbers by such a large order of magnitude.

Or am I just weird? Do most of you dial just as many wrong numbers as you receive? C’mon, you can admit it. Everyone (else) makes mistakes. Leave an anonymous comment and let me know. Maybe this could be the next psychology study in my series of completely unrelated research topics.

P.S. I tried Googling “wrong number” for a nice picture to go with this post, but all I got was like 500 pictures of these guys:

It’s Almost Like ESP

Popular psychologist Richard Wiseman is currently conducting a unique study that uses Twitter to gather research participants. He’s seeing if his Twitter followers can engage in remote viewing to detect where Richard is located (explanation here). So the idea is that Richard goes to a randomly chosen location, then asks people on Twitter to use their psychic powers to give any impressions about where he is, then later choose which of 5 locations they think he was at.

When he gave the go-ahead this morning, I was happy to participate.  Here’s what I tweeted to him:

“First thing that came to mind was a star shape (oops, thinking of Zener cards?). Railing. Concrete. A lamp post. Playground?”

I also acted like a real remote-viewer and scribbled a few drawings:

Then it came time to pick which location I thought he was at, out of these five:

Well look at that! My posts, railings, and concrete all over the place. But I thought the most striking resemblence was between my middle picture and his middle picture (C), so that’s the one I guessed.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t where he was. He was at D.  So if I am psychic, it’s only for my future experience, not for remote viewing a real location.

Wiseman’s experiment isn’t really unique except for the Twitter aspect. Similar studies have been done many times, and strangely, usually find above-chance results (i.e., people are able to guess where the remote person is more often than if they were guessing). It’s also full of holes and flaws in its methodology (so many that I hope the true purpose of the study is remaning hidden and this is all a cover story for a better study).  Still, it’s good to see psychic phenomena – which the majority of people in the world believe in with little question – getting some attention and new technology applied to it. I think both religious and scientific bigotry have kept good research from being done in this area, and I hope we can overcome silly taboos to engage in more of it.

Go follow Wiseman on Twitter to participate – it’s going for a few more days. Or see his blog for more details and results.

Book Review: Playing For Keeps, by Mur Lafferty


I love Mur Lafferty. Her podcast, I Should Be Writing, was one of the first I ever downloaded and it hasn’t left my mp3 player(s) since. She’s come a long way, from a self-described “wannabe fiction writer” to full-blown published novelist.

So is she any good at practicing what she preaches?

Let me get the negatives out of the way first. This is Mur’s first novel, published with the small new publisher Swarm Press, and the lack of experience shows. Nearly every chapter is full of one or more typos, grammatical errors, or otherwise awkward prose. Jarring continuity errors crop up (e.g., there is off-hand mention of demons long before they actually show up), and characters often do inexplicably random things. A lack of polish usually doesn’t get in a way of a good story, but here it is so rampant that it can obfuscate the plot and kill any sense of immersion. One careful proof reader could have fixed this. They should hire a teaching assistant, like me; I brutally criticize writing for a living, and do it for almost no money.

But pushing past technical issues, there is a creative and exciting story here. Playing For Keeps tells the story of the superpowered people between superheroes and supervillains. They’re not good nor evil, just ordinary, and while they can do extraordinary things, their abilities are so specific as to be useless outside of a single purpose (e.g., a cook who can predict anyone’s perfect meal; an old man who can take off and regrow one leg). The highlight of the novel is seeing how, when put to the test, even seemingly shitty powers can be jiggered to do incredible things. The plot moves at a Flash-like pace, with twists and turns happening at the end of nearly every short chapter, making it a quick, fun read that’s hard to put down.

Playing For Keeps is a flawed, awkward mess, but it’s very hard to not have a great time reading it. With unlimited sequel and spinoff potential, and hopefully a bit more time and experience for polishing up future endeavors, I can’t wait to see more from Mur Lafferty and the Playing For Keeps universe.