Thursday October 26, 2023
Xs on X's Eyes
Here's the Business Insider headline:
The banks which loaned Elon Musk money to help buy Twitter expect to lose $2 billion on the debt, report says
- Downloads of the app (once Twitter, now X) fell by almost 30% in just three months
- A marketing firm says only two of the world's biggest advertisers advertised on Twitter/X last month
- Fidelity has marked Twitter's valuation down by 2/3
A key graf:
Bankers close to the deal told The Journal that X could be given a junk-bond rating, meaning it is at risk of defaulting on the loans, due to both Musk's controversial management style and a waning ad market.
My farewell post, nearly a year ago:
I've said it before: If you had told me to destroy Twitter without anyone knowing I was destroying Twitter, I wouldn't have been able to come up with half the stuff Musk has done in supposed service to the company. So I guess, in a way, he is a genius.
Saturday July 29, 2023
This is HBO Max, so Warner Bros./Discovery:
They've since changed that heading to read “A Scary Good Time,” because saying “Embrace the Fear' about one of the best comedies of the 1970s makes you look a little stupid. At least they were only stupid for a few weeks.
Speaking of: This is Google, after a search on ”Bart Starr."
Coach? Starr was a quarterback for 16 years, a coach for eight. As QB, he led the Packers to three NFL championships and the first two Super Bowl titles, won an MVP (1966), and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 1977. He became legendary. During his years as a coach, the Packers appeared in the postseason once, losing in the second round to the Dallas Cowboys in the expanded 1982 playoffs. He was a little less than legendary.
It's still there, that designation. Google IDs him as a coach. Because Google. Because the whole damn thing is getting worse.
Embrace the fear.
Friday July 28, 2023
Elon's Brand: Ecch
For a few years during the 1960s, Marvel Comics produced a humor magazine called NOT BRAND ECHH, a title playing off of commercials of the time that pitted a named product (Pepsi-Cola, say) vs. an unnamed product labeled “Brand X.” That was the brand you never wanted: Brand X.
I thought of it again when hearing about Elon's latest supergenius move: rebranding Twitter as X. Apparently that happened on Sunday.
Per the NY Times:
Inside Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco on Monday, X logos were projected in the cafeteria, while conference rooms were renamed to words with X in them, including “eXposure,” “eXult” and “s3Xy,” according to photos seen by The New York Times. Workers also began removing bird-related paraphernalia, such as a giant blue logo in the cafeteria. Outside the building, workers took off the first six letters of Twitter's name before the San Francisco Police Department stopped them for performing “unauthorized work,” according to an alert sent by the department.
Supposedly this is a first step in making Twitter an everything company like China's WeChat, but it's a stupid, clumsy first step—more of a pratfall, really.
“It's natural to wonder why the world's richest man would spend his time dismantling one of the world's most recognizable social-media brands in favor of an inscrutable super app nobody asked for,” The Atlantic's Charlie Warzel writes midway through his article, “Why Elon Killed the Bird.” Jeff Tiedrich has less patience in his post, “Never Fuck With Your Brand,” writing, “Elon hasn't just fucked with his brand, he's poured gasoline all over his brand and set it the fuck on fire. He's replaced one of the world's most iconic logos with a generic letter of the alphabet—one that thousands of business already use.”
What's a tweet now? An X? Or ex? Or echh?
To coin a phrase: Who says a social media platform has to be good?
Sunday July 16, 2023
Before They Were Famous: Kevin Costner in ... What?
I think I got pulled in to the IMDb slideshow because I didn't recognize the actors and thought, “Well, if this is 'Before They Were Famous,' maybe this will help me figure out who among the kids is famous.” Win win.
Sashe Calle, for example. Here she is on the afternoon soap “The Young and the Restless” before she was famous. So why is she famous now? Ah, she's the new Supergirl in the new “The Flash” movie nobody went to see. Got it. And here's Anson Mount wearing flannel on some 1995 TV somethingorother. And now he's ...? Oh right, he's the new square-jawed Capt. Pike on the new “Star Trek.” Or the new old “Star Trek.”
And then I got to the one on Kevin Costner.
Before he was famous.
In “Dances With Wolves.”
By that point, he'd only starred in “No Way Out,” “The Untouchables” (the fourth-biggest box-office hit of 1987) “Bull Durham” (15th of 1988) and “Field of Dreams” (14th of 1989). I subscribe to newspapers.com, which digitizes and makes searchable hundreds of newspapers from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries; and in 1989, among the newspapers this website has contracts with, there were 40,113 references to Kevin Costner.
Before he was famous.
Could IMDb get it more wrong? Could IMDb continue to get it more wrong in all of the ways they do? It's like they're gaslighting our cultural history. Costner became more famous after this, sure, and “Dances With Wolves” helped. And so did “The Bodyguard” and Whitney Houston and “I Will Always Love You,” and all that. In 1991, per newspapers.com, he's referenced 80,301 times. So that's twice as famous. He became twice as famous as he was before. But before, he was just one of the most famous actors in Hollywood.
Put another way: It's not like anyone went to “Dances With Wolves” in 1990 and said, “So who's this starring again?” We knew.
IMDb, if you can get a deleted-scene screengrab of him as Alex in “The Big Chill,” yes, that's him before he was famous. You might want to try that.
Monday June 19, 2023
Where's the “Not Ever” Button?
This is increasingly the thing. Corporations are constantly asking you how they're doing but they don't really want to know. It's just data. It's a number, not an explanation. And there's no out. There's just now or later but no never. How are we doing? How are you doing? You were doing OK until you kept asking me how you were doing.
We made a mistake not regulating these assholes.
Saturday June 17, 2023
Amazon Bug Report: An Update
The other day I noticed that Amazon.com fixed one of the many glitches on its site: the 1925 Richard Barthelmess movie “Shore Leave” was now listed as 1925 rather than 1969. Good for it! Someone somewhere was actually paying attention. Or maybe it was an AI fix? I'll take it either way. It made me wonder how they were doing with all the other glitches I've flagged recently.
Turns out, meh:
- Amazon-owned IMDb says you can watch the 1931 George Arliss movie “The Millionaire” on Amazon Prime ... but the link still leads to the 2012 Russian film “The Millionaire.” (First flagged: May 2020)
- Amazon-owned IMDb says you can watch the 1925 Lon Chaney movie “The Monster” on Amazon Prime ... but the link still leads to the 1975 Joan Collins horror flick “The Monster” (First flagged: February 2021)
- Hey, another fix! The 1933 Edward G. Robinson comedy “The Little Giant” no longer says it co-stars Ewan McGregor (born 1971). Wait ... No, sorry. They just no longer list actors and directors on the first page. You have to go into the “Details” section, where, again, the movie stars Edward G. Robinson, Mary Astor, and ... yes, Ewan McGregor (born 1971). Plus in the “Related” section, offering up other films to stream from the principles, they include Astor, supporting players Helen Vinson and Russell Hopton, director Roy Del Ruth, but bupkis on Robinson. (First flagged: August 2021)
I guess one small step for Amazon was just one small step for Amazon.
Thursday March 16, 2023
For years Twitter had a blue checkmark system to verify “name” accounts. Basically it was Twitter telling us that this famous person—Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep—is who they say they are. It's not some parody account or scammer. They're verified. That's why they have a blue checkmark next to their name.
When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he decided this vertification system smacked of elitism rather than common sense and announced that he was charging for the service. His original offer of $20 per month was lowered (during a hilarious real-time Twitter exchange with Stephen King) to $8 a month, but here's the thing: Anybody could buy it. Anybody could be verified. Anybody. Elon's Twitter did zero due diligence on the accounts, just took the money and ran. The checkmark verified nothing. That wasn't the reason I left Twitter but it was happening around the time I left Twitter.
Today, at work, I got the message below from Twitter about our work account.
You've turned off two-factor authentication for [account]
This means you'll no longer have this added protection when you log in to Twitter. Your account will be more vulnerable to compromise. You can turn on two-factor authentication any time in the Account > Security section of your Twitter settings.
I forwarded the message to our social media liasion, who informed me that it relates to the blue checkmark. Now, if you don't pay for the checkmark, you lose this extra layer of security that Twitter's own team put in place (pre-Elon) to protect us all from hackers.
What an absolute shithead this guy is. What a turd. First, he makes the verification system useless while simultaneously charging for it. Then, when not enough people jump, he says if you don't pay for my now-useless verification system we'll make your account “more vulnerable to compromise.” It's penny-ante extortion is what it is. The dude is just begging to be regulated. I hope it happens soon. I hope it leads more people to jump—off the platform. Permanently.
For what it's worth, you can find me on these platforms:
I'm a little bored with both, to be honest, since not enough people I know are on them. It feels like I arrived too early to a party and I'm just standing there with a drink wondering what the fuck. But at least I don't have to deal with the whims of that little turd anymore.
Sunday December 18, 2022
Shore Leave, 1969
In my internet wanderings I came across this film on Amazon Prime. And then I noticed something off. Can you spot it?
Doesn't the poster look like it's from the silent era rather than—as stated—1969? And isn't Richard Barthelmess an actor from the '20s and '30s? Of course he is. Of course it's a silent film. It's from 1925, not 1969.
Here's the fun part. I've spent the last week trying to get Amazon to correct this error. There's a “feedback” link on each page, so every day for the past week I sent them a note. Some version of: “The year for the movie 'Shore Leave' is incorrectly listed as 1969. It's a silent movie from 1925. Both the director and its director were dead by 1969.” Sometimes I included the link to the page in case they couldn't figure out what I was talking about. They've corrected nothing. Like all of the other mistakes they won't correct. Poor Jeff Bezos must be rolling over in his grave.
UPDATE, JAN. 5, 2023: Still not fixed. And yes, adding the year is indicative of my confidence in Amazon's QA.
UPDATE, JUNE 15, 2023: Fixed!! How about that?
Sunday December 11, 2022
What is Domenick Lombardozzi 'Known For'?
IMDb has a new website design but not a new “Known For” algorithm. They fixed what wasn't broken and kind of broke it. The broken thing they didn't bother with.
Do you know Domenick Lombardozzi? I'll always think of him as Herc in “The Wire” because that's where I saw him most often and most memorably. I was about to say it's where I first saw him but based on his CV that's not true. But it's where I began to go, “Hey, that guy.” It's where I began to know his name.
Not everybody has the trajectory I do, of course. I remember an old girlfriend viewed Ed Hermann differently. I was eight years older, so I saw him and went “Hey, FDR!” (“Eleanor and Frankllin,” 1976-77). She saw him and went “Hey, Head Vampire!” (“The Lost Boys,” 1987). What someone is known for to us often depends on when and in what manner we jumped on board.
That said, I can't imagine many people see Domenick Lombardozzi and go, “Hey, it's the tow-truck driver from 'For Love of the Game'!”
No “Wire,” no “Boardwalk Empire, no ”Rosewood." I know IMDb's algorithm underplays TV series but maybe it should count the number of episodes someone was on? Feels like it might be relevant.
Anyway, thanks for the new shitty website design, guys.
Thursday December 08, 2022
What Kinda Stinks about Mastodon
From David Chen's SubStack piece “How Every Twitter Alternative Kinda Stinks (So Far)”:
The number one thing that stinks about Mastodon is that you have to choose a server to sign up for the service and the process of doing so right now is hopelessly broken. When you go to the page to choose a server, many of them force you to apply for an account and barely any of them seem like they align with general interests. (There are 2 servers for “Furries” but 0 servers for “Film” or “TV”). For this reason alone, I don't think Mastodon will ever be adopted by the masses unless/until a large institutional or corporate backer comes in to bring order to this chaos.
The highlighted is exactly what I found confusing and frustrating when I set up my Mastodon account last month. No film, no baseball, no ... whatevs. What server did I wind up with? I forget. (It wasn't “Furries.”) In fact, I thought I begged off at the last moment, but, no, I do have an email from Mastodon so ...
That's right, it's the CIM one. Or C.IM. Creation Innovation Masturbation or something.
Anyway, I'm there, at this name, if anyone's interested.
Sunday December 04, 2022
Olive Gardenia Hussey
Here's another example, like the Amazon Echo thing, of companies basically saying, “No need to think, human. Our algorithm knows all.” And of course it doesn't know anything.
This time it's Google's search-bar “autocomplete prediction.” Not the autocomplete suggestion based on your past usage. This appears to be: 1) automatic, or autocompleted, without your say-so; and 2) based on nothing to do with you. It's what it thinks you're about to ask.
Here's an example. The other day I got an email from SIFF, our local festival/theater company, that highlighted movies playing this month, including something called “Black Christmas,” with a photo of a woman making a phone call. “Is that Olivia Hussey?” I wondered. So I googled “Olivia Hussey,” but this is what I saw in the search bar when I was done:
Olive Gardenia Hussey
“Sounds like a drag queen,” a friend said when I told him the story.
Essentially I'd gotten as far as “O-L-I-V” and Google assumed I wanted Olive Garden. Even though I've never googled “Olive Garden” in my life. But between the “v” and the “i” Google just went “Here.”
There's supposedly a way to turn off autocomplete predictions, but the steps I followed led to a dead-end for me.
The bigger point is: I don't get why companies think we want them to think for us. Particularly when they're so bad at it.
Oh, and it was Olivia Hussey. “Black Christmas,” 1974, directed by Bob Clark, and starrring Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, and Andrea Martin(!): “During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.”
See, was that so hard, Google?
Thursday December 01, 2022
'…And Similar Songs': The New Effed-Up Amazon Echo Programming
I don't think I've ever used the Amazon Echo correctly or efficiently. My wife wanted it, we got it, it sits in the kitchen. Mostly I just ask it to play music or the local NPR station. And if I'm in the kitchen for a short chore—feeding the cat, for example—I might ask it to play a specific song. That way I can walk away and it'll stop on its own.
I did this at the beginning of November but instead of doing so, per normal, Alexa, the voice of Echo, responded, “Shuffling [whatever song I requested], and similar songs.”
And similar songs?
But I was busy getting ready for a trip to New York so I didn't investigate. And then I got COVID in New York. And now it's a month later.
And Echo is still doing this.
I searched online for a way out but there doesn't appear to be a way out. This product no longer plays the music you ask it to play; it plays the music it wants you to listen to.
And someone at Amazon—enough someones at Amazon—thought this was a good idea.
So what are those similar songs? How good is Amazon's algorithm? I decided to test it out. I went with a fairly obscure song by a not-at-all obscure band: “Why Don't We Do It in the Road?” by the Beatles. And Alexa said: “Shuffling 'Why Don't We Do It in the Road?,' remastered 2009, and similar songs.”
These are those similar songs, in order:
- “Oh, Darling!” by the Beatles (Sure)
- “Don't Stop Believin'” by Journey (Really?)
- “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor (Oh, come on!)
- “Livin' on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi (What's with the '80s playlist?)
- “We Will Rock You” by Queen (Without Freddie's vocals?)
- “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty (Why all the g-dropping titles?)
- “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen (OMG)
- “Africa” but Toto (OMFG!)
And that's where I ended the experiment. Not because I wasn't curious if it could get worse than Toto, but because I ran into yet another change to Echo's programming. After saying “Alexa, next,” Alexa told me, or admonished me, thus:
“Only six skips are allowed every 60 minutes.”
And then it went back to playing the song I didn't ask it to play.
Just think what Amazon has done here. They've decided that the user should no longer be in charge of deciding what music they listen to; and if you don't like the choices it gives you, well, too bad.
I suppose I should count my blessings. When the Amazon Echo wouldn't let me skip Toto, at least it let me turn off the Amazon Echo.
Monday November 28, 2022
Jelani and Me
It's been tough quitting Twitter. Several times a day, I have to quell the itch to put aside what I'm doing, particularly if it's difficult or boring or both, to see what's going on elsewhere, anywhere. To see what's going down. That's what Twitter did for me. It temporarily sated that insatiable emptiness—the thing that keeps saying “Feed me, feed me,” all of our inner Audrey IIs. Last week I described this to my older brother and he said it was classic addict behavior. Yep.
So it's been a little tough. But I feel better about quitting Twitter learning Jelani Cobb has done the same. He cites many of the same reasons I laid out: How it was fun for a while watching Elon Musk screw over his $44 billion investment, as he made one boneheaded decision after another; but reinstating Trump was just beyond the pale.
I like this line:
The singular virtue of the fiasco over which Musk has presided is the possibility that the outcome will sever, at least temporarily, the American conflation of wealth with intellect.
I've thought about that, too, and certainly hoped it might nudge us in that directon. At the same time, our capacity to buy into the strong man/rich man bullshit seems neverending. Gabbo? He'll tell us what to do.
Sunday November 20, 2022
My Last Tweet
I left Twitter last night. I deactivated my account. I'll have to find something else to fill my fidgety soul.
I was enjoying it, how much Elon Musk was screwing over the site he paid $44 billion for, our daily reminder of what an idiot this supposed genius is; but when he put out a poll about reinstating Donald Trump, and then took the results of that poll as gospel, tweeting pompously, “Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” or the voice of the people is the voice of God, I don't know, it just wasn't funny anymore. People who chide Musk can get booted off the platform. But the man who attempted to violently overthrow American democracy? Who shattered our shaky democratic norms? Who has made it OK for racism and anti-Semitism to creep back into the town square? And is trying to do it all over again? Sure, let's welcome him back.
That's how Musk came in, as a self-professed “free-speech absolutist” and card. He thought he was forthright and he thought he was funny. This was one of his first tweets as owner of the site:
One assumes he was alluding to “political correctness” and “wokeness.” But to give you an idea of his comedy chops, he also posted a video of himself bringing a sink into Twitter headquarters so he could tweet “Let that sink in.” I think he thought he was the cool teacher coming into the classroom whom all the kids would dig; instead he was pelted with spitballs and erasers from day one. It was glorious to watch.
Every move was wrong. Twitter has long used blue checkmarks to verify famous people are who they say they are. I.e., That's really Stephen King, not someone pretending to be Stephen King. Well, Musk thought this smacked of elitism and he wanted to charge for the service: $20 a month. When the real Stephen King balked, Musk responded, “How about $8?” I have to give Musk credit here. He's not funny, but that's the funniest thing he's ever tweeted. It's inept negotation in real time from the World's Richest Man. My favorite take on the fiasco came from Michael Schur, who said that Musk already had a platform in which the Taylor Swifts and Stephen Kings of the world gave him content for free ... and now he thought he could charge them for giving him content for free.
Worse, nothing was being verified. You just paid $8 for the blue checkmark but you could by anybody pretending to be anybody. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. Someone pretending to be George W. Bush tweeted how he missed killing Iraqis. Someone pretending to be a drug company said insulin was now free. Someone pretending to be Pepsi Co. said Coke was better.
And tens of thousands pretended to be Elon Musk.
And what did this self-professed free-speech abolutist do with all this? He reversed course without saying he was reversing course. He said anybody pretending to be anybody would be permanently kicked off his site. He also fired top executives, particularly those who had objected to him taking over the company, fired half the staff, then sent out SOSes for some of them to return since the company could no longer perform certain necessary functions. Meanwhile, according to James Surowiecki (“Why Elon Musk Is Blowing Up Twitter's Business”), he sought to assure big-name advertisers that his platform was a good, safe space in which to advertise.
There was also the less-funny stuff: tweeting conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of the Speaker of the House; urging people to vote Republican to “balance things out”; blaming advertisers leaving Twitter on left-wing activist groups rather than his own ineptitude.
Then Trump. And that's where I draw the line. This was my last tweet.
OK, so not exactly Fran Lebowitz.
I know I'll miss it. I'll miss the real-timeness of it. I'll miss the top-notch lawyers that I followed whose legal opinions were way more straightforward and helpful than the slow, cautious, often confusing reports from the likes of the Times and Post. I'll miss thinking “I should share this” and then immediately sharing it—usually into a void. I'll miss the baseball cards and baseball talk.
I also know I'll be better for being away from it. When I feel that need—“Is there anything now? Is there anything now? Feed me feed me feed me”—I'll just have to deal.
- Elon Musk Reinstates Trump's Twitter Account, The New York Times
- Trump's Terrifically Stupid Return to Twitter, by Quinta Jurecic, on the Atlantic site
- I Was the Head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. This Is What Could Become of It, The New York Times
- The Fradulent King, Ed Zitron, Substack
- I Studied Trump's Twitter Use for Six Years. Prepare for the Worst., by Brian L. Ott, The New York Times
Sunday October 30, 2022
I met some friends at a Wallingford bar the other night and we wanted food with our drinks. And they served food; they had a kitchen. The problem was ordering it.
The bartender told me I couldn't order through him, that I had to scan the QR code on the bar and do it that way. I looked at the thing. “What if somebody doesn't have a phone?” I asked. “Doesn't have a phone?” he said, then made a face. I told him, “Last week I went to the Chris Rock concert where they made you put your phone into one of those locked bags, so I just didn't bring it. But at the restaurant beforehand, it was a QR code for the menu so I was SOL.” The bartender told me some girl recently claimed she didn't have her phone, but she did; he saw her using it later.
Anyway, that's where we are now. Menus have apparently been around since 1100 A.D. but in less than 15 years the smartphone has all but wiped them away. At the pre-Chris Rock dinner, when I said I had no phone, they didn't bring me a menu; they brought me an iPad.
Still a few bugs in the system, too. QR stands for Quick Response but sometimes it's not quick nor a response. At the Wallingford bar, my friend tried to order for our table via the QR code but after he inputted all the orders it kept asking for our table. He would respond and it would ask again. He's the calmest person in the world but after 10 minutes he began to curse a blue streak. One of the people who worked there owned up: “Yeah, it's not you. It doesn't work right sometimes.”
In the end, we downed our drinks and walked over to Chutneys Bistro, which still has physical menus, and where I had some of the best Indian food I've had in years.
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