An Avatar For My Credit Card

December 30, 2009 ~ 09:33pm

A few days before Christmas I decided to watch Avatar with my brothers. I don't visit theaters often, so I thought it would be fun to watch it in IMAX 3D (based on great past experience). Considering it was the holiday season with more crowds the box office, I opted to purchase tickets online for a reserved seating show (a first for me). For security, I used a temporary credit card number (like I always do) and printed my confirmation/receipt and went to the theater a few hours later. I didn't think much of it.

At the Showcase Cinemas I waited in line to get my physical tickets and was told that they could not give them to me unless I had the actual credit card with me. So, like any place, I had to talk to the manager. He politely informed me that my confirmation number is inadequate (useless) and he "can't release the tickets from the system". He could not even cancel the seats which were already paid and re-issue them. The system does not provide for that feature. Before he let us pass and get our seats, he asked me to call back later and provide the credit card number. Apparently, that is the only way the theater can actually get paid for the tickets that technically movietickets.com sold me. I agreed and saw the movie.

About the movie, quick synopsis: Attractive blue monkey-tigers in a computer generated paradise world who mind meld their appendages with nature have to fight off stereo-typical technologically advanced civilized people-soldier-strip-miners with the help of a crippled former soldier psychically connected to an artificial monkey-man hybrid which is known as an Avatar. Basically the plot of Furngully: The Last Rainforest redone by the guy who did Terminator 2 and Titanic (with the stuffings). Really good stuff really, however unoriginal. The animation was gorgeous. The only let down was the IMAX 3D did not even come close to exploiting its full potential. Fun and exciting movie nonetheless.

The great irony for me: the movie's theme was clearly anti-technology. I think the blue monkey's mother deity glow stick willow tree was trying to tell me something: pay in cash you moron. I got the message.

When I got back to my computer, I debated whether I should call back. Economically the theater chain should take a hit and fix their broken system they have with their sales and marketing partners. Why should I be punished for being responsible for my online security? But alas, its Christmas dontchaknow, so I called back with the number. On the receiving line the clerk basically said people forget their cards all the time. So no major worry for me. Hmmm.

The moral of the story is: you can't trust the system.

CNN Internet Reporting is Useless

July 31, 2009 ~ 10:07pm

There is a pretty popular video featuring a staged wedding intro dance at a church in Minnesota. When I saw the video a week ago I think the view count was somewhere near the million mark(?) and as of today it is has passed 13 million views! Almost every news outlet has picked up the story considering the story is quite simple: a fun dance at a wedding featured on Youtube.

I saw this CNN link about the video via the blogosphere. From the article (emphasise mine):

"The joyous video of the group busting their loosely choreographed moves down the aisle went viral after the newlyweds posted it on YouTube."

The only problem is that the link to the Youtube video is not anywhere on the page from CNN. Don't you think it would be nice? The internet as a medium is meaningless without linking to content. This isn't a newspaper. Obviously the first thing any reader will want to do is see the video.

It seems incredibly out of date to report news about a website, a post or internet sensation without actually linking to it. I agree there are many things I don't want to see (violent images for example), but reporting on anything that is "viral" is naturally going to increase its popularity. Unfortunately this issue is not limited to funny videos. There are plenty of useful websites that news sites like CNN discuss at lengths (Wikipedia anyone?) but intentionally refuse to provide any links. In the least, it makes sense to place a link to the content at the end of the article so people can see it after reading (MSBNC for example). The effect of sites like CNN will make me completely disregard the news piece and just google for it myself.

No, I don't really visit CNN anymore. When they figure out how to use the internet, someone please let me know.

Star Trek

May 23, 2009 ~ 12:18pm

I saw the new Star Trek movie over a week ago, but I was too busy to post a review (or rant).

The movie by itself was an entertaining movie. It opened with a really well-done amazing epic scene and from there it flowed smoothly and didn't have too many dull points or lags in the story. I think as a science fiction movie, it was definitely above average, and in that you had semi-decent actors with countless cheesy lines, massive special effects, plot that almost kinda makes sense and of course a perfect setting for sequels. Perfect for a summer action flick.

Now, as a "Trekkie", who has watched every show and movie since the mid-80's, I was greatly disappointed. Anyone who has watched as much as I have is completely knowledgeable that none of the history really makes sense. Each show and movie was made in such different times that none of the time lines really make any sense and there are countless inconsistencies about how the "future" is supposed to play out. So in all fairness anyone trying to make such a movie would run in to these problems. So I ask: "Why bother?" Can we please stop with the prequels?

The story itself from the "Star Trek" universe essentially is a "fork" from the original story. So basically employing the most over used technique: time travel, a new "time line" was created, thus allowing the writers to do what ever they wanted. For 2 basic reasons: 1. bring in a new generation of fans and 2. make it more sexy. Or maybe they want sexy new fans? Hmmm, I don't know but in any event, I think this is the perfect formula for failure.

So what happens in the movie? I don't want to spoil it, but I will spoil one thing: my impression of the main characters.

  • Sulu - had no real role, a Japanese character played by a Chinese actor? ("Harold" nonetheless)
  • Checkov - what a terribly annoying fake accent and goofy acting as well, also did I mention the bad accent?
  • Uhura - the slight romantic subplot was quite disconcerting
  • Scotty - quite entertaining and great comic relief, but I don't see how he could end up to be our loveable "Mr. Scott"
  • McCoy - well done and really fit nicely

Which brings us to our final two: Kirk and Spock. I personally think Spock was the most annoying role. There was a bit too much emphasis on him and the acting was so flat and his wannabe Vulcan Voice was very vexing to my ears. And our man Kirk. I must admit he was the only redeeming aspect. He was totally refreshing and still completely believable. I liked his dynamic with probably everyone except Spock. Overall mixed casting for the whole crew, but I guess acceptable.

Anyways, I think I was a bit more satisfied with my older Star Trek, warps and all (laugh its a joke). I don't have very positive view of seeing "Star Trek Action Figures" or "Star Trek Happy Meals" at McDonald's. If this is the resurrection of the Star Trek franchise, I think I might just check out here. When the obvious sequels come out, I don't think I will care to watch them. ... Unless maybe, just maybe, if someone forces me into a theater and pays for my ticket.

On Careers and Personal Development

April 24, 2009 ~ 08:23pm

I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as job security. Given the current economic situation, I am pretty sure I am not alone. If I were evaluating a position for employment, it would be the last criteria I would use to assess the quality of the job. Someone once told me that job security causes one to neglect his or her own personal development. Somehow, subconsciously, I have always believed that. I think its rather naive to think that an individual education halts when he gets a college diploma or higher degree. Even worse is the notion that all that learning is sufficient to guarantee someone a prosperous career for the rest of their life.

Some people do beleive that there is great potential to "learn on the job", however I question the value of that learning. Corporations generally expect their employees to revel only in what they have to offer - whether it is obsolete technology or antiquated business models. And, for the right paycheck, most will do just that. However what happens when one realizes that years of dedication to a dieing product or diminishing market shows no future promise? Does dedication mean anything at all?

It seems logical that seniority and experience in a company hold some value. If one has done the same thing for so long don't they become an expert? Maybe, but consider the alternate view: If that person is such an expert he or she may be doomed to always work on the exact same thing, because they have made themselves "irreplaceable" and their very career depends on that product to always exist. Is that secure? Or just as plausible: what if someone of 3 years is just as competent as someone of 10? How much time does it take to realize there is only so much potential in one subject? Something about all your eggs ...

Once upon a time, young professionals could join a company and dedicate their entire lives to the career that ensued. They would be mostly content and retire happy. However somewhere in the past few decades greed and corporate malfeasance has completely eroded the value of the employee: the basic building block of any company. And even sadder is that people, as employees, have taken so long to recognize this. Neglecting to learn new skills or focus on personal development, they may find themselves no better off than the same companies who laid them off. The exact companies struggling to survive in the current economic crisis.

There is one thing I have come to realize over the past few years, and that is the fallacy of expecting someone else to guarantee your career. While not all companies are failures, they are all subject to the same trends and changes that are ultimately unpredictable. It is each and everyone's own responsibility to ensure their own success whatever that may require. All the years of your professional life should be for preparing for what comes next, not what has been. Investing in yourself may be the best decision you will never come to regret.

Don't Give In To Cybersquatters

January 12, 2009 ~ 01:22pm

Almost everyone familiar with the world wide web knows about cybersquatters. These are annoying opportunists who purchase domain names for website that they do not intend to use, but sell for a profit. Considering it costs less than $10 to purchase a domain and host a blank web page for a year, squatters will sell for much more, sometimes in the $100's or $1000's price range. Typically on these sites there are links which are basically ads. From the ads, squatters only need to recover the $10 cost per year to be profitable.

I registered this domain (mjmwired.net) in 2003, but over 2 years passed before I bought another domain name for a new site. It was incredibly difficult to find a good name both times. It occurred to me that if I ever had an idea and wanted to create a site around it, I would keep running into the same problem. Since then, anytime I think of something (however vague), I register a domain name. I'm fighting the squatters on their own turf.

Well, I thought I was. I picked a ".net" domain instead of a ".com", thinking it would be more personal and less commercial. I was shocked in Sept 2007 to see that some squatter had registered mjmwired.com. I only noticed when a google search for "mjmwired" put it on the first page, sometimes as the 3rd or 4rth result. Upon visiting the site it showed the standard list of ad links. The automated ad system these sites use place links that are relevant to the domain. For any normal domain that would make sense, but in this case it was showing all sorts of links that would be typical on my site. Now anyone who was looking for my site and ended up there would be confused. As annoyed as I was, I decided to sit still. If it did not show up on google, I really would not care, but I get majority of all my traffic from google searches.

Over the course of the year, I was tempted many times to email asking how much they wanted for the domain. However by doing that, I feared they would just raise the price. So I ignored it for a year hoping that it would not be renewed. Unfortunately at the end of Sept 2008, it auto-renewed. I was disappointed until I started receiving emails like this (emphasis added):

Our company specializes in acquiring expired domain names to help individuals and businesses protect their brand online.
The domain name MJMWIRED.COM is expiring and will be available to the public very soon.
We noticed that you own MJMWIRED.NET and felt that you may be interested.
We can assist in trying to acquire the domain name, as there are likely many interested parties competing for it.
We do not charge upfront, and the fee if we are successful is only $199 USD.
If you are interested, please let us know by December 16 at the latest.

It is not even clear if that price includes the actual cost of the domain, which most likely would be inflated through bidding and who are these "interested parties"? I ignored these emails and waited till the end of December hoping no one would purchase it. Unfortunately, sometime after Christmas another squatting domain service bought the domain. By this time I had totally given up.

About a week ago, as I was drafting this post, I looked up mjmwired.com again. To my shock it said it was available! I was uneasy for a few hours since it took a great deal of time to get approved after I purchased it, but it only cost $10! So that ends 16 months of minor irritation. Now I guess I can protect my brand online. ... There's only one thing that bugs me though: should I be worried about this problem for my other domains?

(FYI: I use 1and1 for all my new domain purchases.)