erik lundegaard

Technology posts

Monday October 20, 2014

Google Reviews ... the U.S. Supreme Court?

I came across this last week during a Google search on SCOTUS and did a double-take:

Google reviews the Supreme Court of the United States

Um ... 3.5 stars? Because? Well, because the justices have no idea about the Constitution! And they're a bunch of ring-wing religious nuts! No wait, it's because their [sic] not Christians!

America, sometimes you make me long for censorship. 

The bigger question is why Google users even have the option of reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well, it turns out, they're not reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court. They're reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court building. At least, that's what they're supposed to be reviewing.

It's via Google+/Local. You see some sight, post your thoughts. But among the Google+ review policies is this: “Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants.” Which means no one's policing this thing. They're just placing it all prominently next to any Google search on the topic. No biggee.

Here are a few other famous sights, ranked, along with “reviews.” Basically if it's a political institution, people aren't refraining from political talk:

  • The Lincoln Memorial: 4.7 stars
  • The Empire State Building: 4.5: “Also WTF with making people climb 6 stories to reach the observation deck.”
  • The U.S. Capitol: 4.3: “Dear Congress. You suck. Re-elect NO ONE!”
  • The White House: 4.2: “I don't think I will go back since the current administration is balls.”
  • The Space Needle: 4.2
  • Experience Music Project (Seattle): 4.1
  • The Smith Tower (Seattle): 4.0
  • The Wells Fargo building (Minneapolis): 3.2

One of my favorite parts of this supreme waste of time? Finding Google's tips for writing great reviews. Apparently you're supposed to be “informative and insightful,” and you should “write with style” and “keep it real.” Sadly, nothing on “avoiding being obvious.”

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Posted at 09:49 AM on Oct 20, 2014 in category Technology
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Thursday November 21, 2013

Technology Killed the Video Store: Remembering Minneapolis' Last Blockbuster

The last video store in Minneapolis, a Blockbuster in the Uptown area, is closing. My friend Jim Walsh wrote a good article about it for MinnPost.

It's hard to get nostalgic about a Blockbuster but I went to this store a lot when I lived in Minneapolis from 2005 to 2007. It was only about six blocks from my apartment. It's where I rented some of the old Superman movies that allowed me to write this Op-Ed for The New York Times. If they hadn't had them, I wouldn't have had it.

But I only went there because Minneapolis didn't have any good video stores. I arrived searching for something approximating Scarecrow Video in Seattle, and friends steered me to a place called Discount Video a few blocks south on Hennepin, which, every year, invariably won “Best Video Store” in the local alt weekly.

The place was smaller than I'd imagined. Outside there was a sign trumpeting its 15,000 titles, a fraction of Scarecrow's, and inside it was cramped. At the time, I was writing an article about political thrillers, so I searched through their thrillers section but couldn't fathom a method. I turned to a clerk, a tall man in his 50s, who may have been one of the owners.

“Are these in alphabetical order or ... ?” I asked.

“We can’t do that.”

“You can’t ... ?”

“Alphabetize.”

My eyebrows shot up.

“Look, here’s what happens. Someone comes along and they’re thinking about renting a video and, oh no, they decide not to get it, so they put it back—in the wrong place. Now it’s out of order. We’ve got 15,000 titles. It would be impossible to alphabetize them all.”

I nodded and thought: Except everyone else does it. Scarecrow, with its 70,000 titles. Libraries, with their hundreds of thousands of titles. Volume, in fact, would seem to indicate a greater need for alphabetizing rather than a lesser need. But I just went back to my search.

That's when I noticed something else. Not many DVDs; mostly VHS.

“Is there a special section for DVDs?” I asked.

Oops. Another sore spot. I later learned Minneapolis hadn't adopted the DVD readily; many people, particularly video-store owners it seemed, nostaligized VHS cassettes as if they were LPs. As a result, even though it was 2005, this store was still mostly VHS. The clerk explained all this to me in a slightly impatient tone. Then he complained about the upcoming high-def format. New technologies kept swamping old ones, he said. In such a world, what was the point of keeping up?

At this point I just decided to ask outright. I was looking for ”The Kremlin Letter,“ a 1970 movie directed by John Huston. One problem: I couldn't remember the name of the movie. Second problem: it had never actually been released in any video format. But I didn't know that at the time.

“I’m looking for a political thriller,” I began.

“We’ve got those,” he said.

“It's from 1970 and directed by John Huston.”

“'Chinatown.'”

“Uh ... I think that came out in 1974.”

“Well, that’s close to 1970.”

“Right. But Huston didn’t direct it.”

“Yes he did.”

My eyes shot up for the third time. What I was about to do, for movie buffs, was akin to correcting someone on the name of the president of the United States. “I think Roman Polanski directed 'Chinatown,'“ I said.

“Well, John Huston was in it.”

“True. He was in it.”

But I'd had enough, thanked the man, and fled. I never went back. I went to the Blockbuster instead.

Unsurprisingly, Discount Video went under in 2006. Now it's Blockbuster's turn. Eventually, it'll be Scarecrow Video in Seattle with its 70,000 titles. New technologies keep swamping old ones.

In his piece about Blockbuster, Jim writes:

When it’s all gone, something else will be in its cavernous place, and a couple generations’ ritual of going to the video store to physically pick and choose and congregate with other customers or employees will go with it.

I have no love for the ritual of the video store—even when the clerk I'm talking to knows who directed ”Chinatown." But here's to congregation in all its forms.

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Posted at 06:58 AM on Nov 21, 2013 in category Technology
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Wednesday September 18, 2013

The Case of the Buffering TV

This is a post about modern problems, first world annoyances. I suppose it's the not knowing that's the annoyance. It's the not knowing where to begin.

Here's the problem: Buffering issues while streaming content (movies, TV shows) via Netflix.

Here are the suspects:

  • Netflix, the content provider
  • Comcast, the internet service provider
  • Apple AirPort, the router
  • Motorola Surfboard, the modem
  • Sony, the Blu-Ray player
  • Sony, the TV

We've had this problem for years, ever since we started streaming a few years back. 2009? 2010? When did that begin? It's part of the reason why I don't use the feature much. Too annoying.

“No, my dear, the REAL murderer is--”

*Buffering*

“No, Luke. I am your--”

*Buffering*

This year, for different reasons, we got a new wireless router, the Apple AirPort. But no change on the buffering front.

We also bought a brand-new, high-speed modem to replace the 5-year-old thing we rented from Comcast. Better. At least it would start better. Ten megabytes per seconds. Maybe 15 or 20 or even 25. Then, poof, right in the middle of the show:

“Yo, Mr. White, I said--”

*Buffering*

From 20 beautiful MBPS we'd be down to 2. Less than 2? Less than 1? C'mon, buddy. Pull up, pull up, pull up!

*Buffering*

“Is your network password protected?”

“Of course.”

“Does the buffering happen during primetime?”

“Now that you mention it ...”

That was a techie friend last month. He explained about fiber optic cable, and how Comcast, sure, uses it, but into neighborhoods, not homes; and once people get home they tend to use it, and all that use weighs on the system. Everyone's sharing, so everyone has a little less. That was the problem. That was the culprit. Comcast.

Comcast didn't think so. According to them—when I could finally reach them—we were getting a nice ... whatever. Count. Number. Head of steam. Head of stream. They were delivering what we had bought.

I began to doubt Comcast was the culprit, too. I began to realize (derrr) we had three items sharing our wireless network: two computers and the TV/Blu-Ray player. And the computers were fine. Always. I streamed, via Netflix, without issue on the computer.

But maybe streaming via HD TV takes a bigger hit?

So I decided to test it. One Friday. At noon, my computer, via the Ookla speedtest, was delivering 33.35 MBPS; the TV, via steaming, 18.1 MBPS. At 6 PM, it was 30.45 vs. 16.9. And at 9 PM? 23.37 and 2.

Whoops. Bit of a drop there. Even the computer took a hit during primetime. But not like the hit the TV took.

So now we were down to two culprits.

Both the TV and the Blu-Ray player had been bought about the same time. 2009? Not 2008, was it? Was it that old? Either way, I assumed Blu-Ray player, since that's what we streamed through, and since it was cheaper and easier to replace than the TV.

Or should I get an Apple TV? A complication. But not much of one. It would be another device next to the TV. It would be more wires added to my wireless network.

The ending, being without problems, was anticlimactic. I searched online for good 2013 Blu-Ray players. I bought one online. It arrived. I plugged it in and set it up. It works like a dream. A Hollywood ending.

And it only took 9 months.

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Posted at 07:42 AM on Sep 18, 2013 in category Technology
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Tuesday June 04, 2013

Embracing the Tetchy

Did you hear that The Chicago Sun-Times fired its photographers and is training its remaining journalists in iPhone photography? I know. Sad. A friend alerted me to the story but I wasn't a fan of the “Mac Rumors” piece he sent me to. It reads like: 1) Here's this awful thing that's happening for myriad reasons including this product; 2) Hey, this product is GREAT!

But he waved me off. No, he said, read the Comments field. Really? I asked. Generally checking the Comments field is like looking into all the toilets in a public restroom. They might be clean but the odds are against it. Most here weren't bad. One, though, was definitely clogged:

Photographers are pissed! lol

Gotta embrace the tech fellas. Reminds me of how audio engineers hated the move from analog to digital and then talked down about mp3's.

It's a new world we live in. Roll with it or get rolled over.

Apparently this troll (I'm learning the lingo finally) is 36 but still uses LOL. Apparently he has an empathy problem, too.

But he's right. It's a new world we live in. And it's getting newer all the time. And someday, in 10 years, in 20 years, it'll get new all over him, too.

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Posted at 12:51 PM on Jun 04, 2013 in category Technology
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Friday February 08, 2013

Is Redirection Affecting Andrew Sullivan's Google Juice?

About a week ago I noticed the number of hits on this site dropping off. They were never particularly big but they'd been steadily rising since 2008, and last year they took a great leap (for me) forward.

Now they were dropping again. By as much as a third. I was perplexed. I assumed that maybe the links to my site from more prominent sites had a kind of statute of limitations, and after time they had less value in Google's algorithms, and thus my own PageRank. As a result, all of those keyword searches would go elsewhere and the number of one-time visitors would drop. But by a third? That seemed extreme.

A few days ago, I hit upon a possible answer.

Last summer this site was linked to by Andrew Sullivan's blog, The Daily Dish, twice. Earlier this year, Sullivan, a longtime blogger previously associated with the Atlantic site, and now part of Tina Brown's The Daily Beast, struck out on his own with an ad-free, subscriber model. He was asking $19.99 from readers annually. I signed up quickly. I left a tip.

I think he finally ported over to the new site in late January or early February. All of his content went with him, of course, so any link to his blog when it was with the Daily Beast (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/) would simply redirect to the new site (dish.andrewsullivan.com).

But do such redirects affect PageRank? Apparently they do. And as Sullivan's PageRank went down, so the value of his links to my site went down. And so the numbers for my site went down.

Or maybe they don't affect PageRank. Opinions on this differ. So maybe the answer to my slump is elsewhere.

Thoughts from SEO folks most certainly welcome.

Andrew Sullivan leaves the Daily Beast

Who knew? The very break-up I urged, Andrew Sullivan leaving “the Carrie Bradshaw of websites,” has apparently impacted me.

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Posted at 07:48 AM on Feb 08, 2013 in category Technology
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