Grumpy Old Man


Overdue!

My ongoing war with Telstra resulted in the above Overdue notice last month (after extended phone calls, and numerous ‘Our records are definitely correct sir!’† exhortations, revealed that a recent $700 bill was – surprise – their error). It smacks so much of petulance that one wonders whether or not they have a ‘Was SO Your Mistake!’ Department.

I was tempted to send them one of Peter Popoff’s pennies just to see what eventuated.

Further entertainment was provided by the Telstra Fembot during this time:

Fembot: Remember you can interrupt me at any time, if you…

Me: [interrupting] Oh yes, don’t you worry, I will.

Fembot: …[confused pause]… I’m having trouble understanding you. I’ll get a Customer Service representative.

After I discovered that particular loophole, I happily interrupted ‘her’ every time.

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*A friend of mine relates the following story: at a party, making polite chat, she kept wondering why an acquaintance seemed to be having trouble with another friend’s religious leanings. The conversation had gone like this:

So, how’re things?

Oh, you know, it’s been a rough few months. My wife lost her job, we’ve just enrolled little Eva in private school, my contract’s almost finished and there’s nothing on the horizon, Bill’s a Jew. I’m not sure how we’re going to get through this next year….

(Unfortunately this amusing anecdote probably won’t translate that well for American readers since you pronounce ‘due’ as ‘do’. You need to understand that here, a lazy pronunciation of ‘due’ is ‘djoo’).

†I was completely taken-aback by the insistence by the operators that Telstra could simply not have made the error, since they continue to make egregious mistakes on my cell phone bill. So far, the Blunder Count is Me: 0, Telstra 7

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I was loitering over at Radioactive Jam yesterday, where the Jamster was musing about an epiphenomenon of texting (namely ‘twittering’) and where he posed the following question:

What about you, my feiends? Do you use your phone for text messaging? If so how often, and how many people do you communicate with using text?

Well, for me, that question was like waving a red flag at a bull. Or, to be specific, since we evidently have so many pedants in our midst, like waving a Pantone 032 HC woven textile heraldic banner at a toro lidiado.

Because I absolutely detest texting. To me it seems like a useless 21st Century gimmick that will surely, and quite properly, go the way of CB Radio craze of the mid 1970s*. My reasons are many, and only one of them is because I’m a grumpy old geezer. Here are some others:

1: On a normal keyboard (that is, one designed for human fingers) I’m a pretty fast typist and it drives me absolutely BANANAS to try and tap out messages on those stupid little phone keypads. Especially when it is almost always faster and easier to dial the number and actually talk† to the recipient.

2: Predictive texting doesn’t help matters any. How many times have I sent a message to Violet Towne that says ‘DON’T WAIT FOR OF. I’LL BE GOOD LATE.’ or something equally as baffling. Additionally, the software for predictive texting (on my phone, at least) is written by an insane person. Let me give you an example: recently I was keying in a word, let’s say it was ‘hamster’ (because I can’t remember what it actually was – suffice to say it was a word in fairly common usage as opposed to, oh, quincunx, or something). Anyway I get as far as H-A-M-S… and the phone makes its irritating little ‘ping’ noise and says WORD NOT IN DICTIONARY. OK, so its dictionary doesn’t know hamster or hamstrung, even. Understandable, I suppose, if somewhat moronic. But then one day I find I’ve inadvertently keyed E-X-P-O-N-E-G-F-D-E-R and it’s still letting me merrily type away, with no advisory ‘ping’, as if somewhere, somehow, if I keep on adding on enough letters exponegfder… is suddenly going to turn into a word it retains in its feeble little nano-brain. What the fucking hell is that all about? It’s the kind of thing that can only happen because a mad person is at the controls.‡

3: I have a rare genetic disease¤ that means I am unable to write sentences without using punctuation or correct spelling. This slows texting down by nearly one million percent, because people who write the software for mobile phones are illiterate and don’t care about such things. So if you want to put an apostrophe or semi-colon in your text, you have to first have a Degree in Illogical Thinking to figure out how to do it, and second, spend an extra two minutes actually doing it.

4: Texting is the method nonpareil for avoiding taking responsibility for bad behaviour. Let me draw you a picture (and tell me this has never happened to you): you’ve just spent 30 minutes standing in the rain, chilled to the bone by a raging blizzard, fighting off drunken louts who seem to think they have more right to the taxi that you flagged down than you do, arrived at the cinema for a film that you really don’t care too much to see but which you’re prepared to endure because, well, you’re a good friend and you do that kind of thing, only to have your message alarm make its chirpy little beepity-beep-ta-ping!: ‘SORRY CANT MAKE IT 2NITE CATCH U L8R!!!’†† When you try to call back, the phone goes straight to message bank. C’mon, hands up, who can relate to that? Even more pertinently, hands up who’s guilty of sending that message! Yes, just as I suspected.

Of course, in Ye Olde Days, being stood up in some similar fashion might have easily happened too, but back then we had GUILT™. In this new Age of Instant Communication, the text message somehow allows a weird kind of magical dispensation whereby the fink that ditched you can now be tucked up all warm and comfy on the couch at home with a tub of Cherry Garcia and the DVD Box Set of the Remastered Outer Limits Collector’s Edition and able to enjoy the rest of their evening somehow completely absolved of any remorse!

Because they texted you that they couldn’t make it.**

5: You don’t need even the smallest degree of commonsense to be allowed to use your phone to text. Last week I was traveling back along the airport freeway in the rain when a car just in front of me in the right-hand lane swerved so close that I was forced to slam on the brake to avoid a collision. As I slowed down, thanking the Spaghetti Monster that I was still in one piece, the culprit went weaving back into his own lane, oblivious to what had happened. Yes, you can guess what was going on. Whilst travelling at 100 kilometers an hour on a multi-lane freeway full of cars on a wet night, this idiot was texting someone. Not only that, I bet my entire Spam Fortune (which is quite considerable now – about 120 billion dollars at last count) that his message was something like ‘SORRY CANT MAKE IT 2NITE CATCH U L8R!!!’. This guy was equipped with a car, a phone and the English language, any one of which would been an obvious challenge for him to deal with on an individual basis let alone all at the same time.

Oh, there are many more reasons I could go on with but I’ll give it a rest now. Anyway, I can see you all twitching your fingers there below the table, undoubtedly Twittering something along the lines of ‘REVEREND A WAFFLING ON AGAIN PLUS CA CHANGE PLUS CEST LA MEME CHOSE’

(Does ANYONE see how pathetic and sad that phrase looks without the proper punctuation? Anyone? Sigh. I thought not).

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*Most of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about unless you’re around my age. And there’s a very good reason for that.

†Yes, yes, I know that talking business is SO Last Century.

‡I’ve spoken previously about other aberrant behaviour in the predictive texting of my phone that gives weight to this theory.

¤Its technical name is ‘Education’.

††The multiple exclamation marks are mandatory in cases like this. They do not represent ‘punctuation’ as such, but instead are meant to evoke a sentiment something akin to ‘Oh I’m just SUCH a kooky crazy wacky kinda person and, gosh, life is just so topsy turvy, and like ANYTHING can happen really. Wow! How can you possibly hate me?’

**Seriously, if you ever bother to take the matter up with the fink the next day, the response is invariably one of indignation on their part: ‘What’s your problem – I texted you to let you know!’

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UPDATE to the UPDATE: Blogger folk – here’s what you need to know to set your comments to allow links to blogs on other platforms. First, you need to log into your blog via Blogger in Draft, which is a kind of sandpit or beta Blogger that exists, supposedly, so that you can play with Blogger features before they’re actually released. What the hell is that? They implement a feature (OpenID) blog-wide on the main platform but you can only change it from the beta??? O-k-a-a-a-y… Anyways, once you’re in Blogger in Draft go to Settings->Comments and check ‘Registered Users – Includes OpenID‘

So, after spending ten minutes figuring this out, and with help from someone who was clued-in, I don’t feel quite as bad that I flew off the handle at Blogger. What kind of idiots alter their current release software to take away utility that existed previously and that can only be restored if you happen to be running the beta? And where is the notification on your Blogger Dashboard that says ‘Parts of your blog have been changed, and will not be accesssible to you unless you go and log in to another site entirely’?

I say to you again: WordPress, peeps.

UPDATE: rd5 comments that the reason this happens is due to Blogger implementing OpenID! So all you folks on Blogger, please read the comments on this post to find out how to allow other blog platforms to get active links. And I’ll just go eat a slice of Humble Pie that comes direct from the Oven of Shame set at gas mark ‘Egg on your Face’ ‡

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Once upon a time, so long ago that it seems like just a bad dream, Tetherd Cow Ahead started its life on the Blogger™ platform. All went well for a while, and indeed, I am grateful that Blogger™ was such an easy way for me to start The Cow rolling.*

But then, not long after Blogger™ was acquired by Google™, things started going haywire. There was the dreaded ‘smenita’ affair that intermittently took down Blogger™ Comments for weeks. After that, there was a several-week-long crapshoot in which nobody (including me) could tell whether or not The Cow was likely to be functioning or commentable. This was made aggravatingly worse by the fact that Blogger™ personnel went completely incommunicado, and made no effort whatsoever to let users know what was going on, let alone apologize for the problems. Then there were numerous smaller but infinitely annoying shutdowns and faults that served to make a quick read of The Cow into an interminable chore. Again, with no explanations from Blogger™. After weeks of frustration I’d had enough and (with surprisingly little effort) I migrated The Cow over to WordPress where I’ve maintained it with no trouble ever since.

Only now, it seems, I have cause to bitch about Blogger™ once again.

I visit many friends who have their digs on Blogger.™ Up until now, whenever I have left a comment, I have been able to enter my name as either a user from a Blogger™ account (which I can do, since my old account is still active)†, a name & url combination (which creates a direct link on my name to the url, in most cases TCA) or post anonymously.

My preference is to leave my name linked directly to my (non-Blogger™) blog. This means that if you want to visit my blog, you simply click on my name.

Over the last few days though, I have noticed a disturbing difference in the way that Blogger™ allows a visitor to comment: now, instead of having the option to link my name to a url, I am only allowed a non-linkable ‘nickname’. Either that or I must have a Blogger™ account. In other words, I can no longer leave my name as ‘reverend anaglyph’ and have it link back to Tetherd Cow Ahead.

This is a really shabby and pathetic impediment for Blogger™ (and one must therefore assume Google™) to have foisted on its users. It effectively says to your commenters: you cannot comment and be linked to your own blog without being a member of the Blogger™ club. It is, in fact, antithetical to the very concept of blogging.

If you have been thinking about shifting your blog elsewhere (and I do recommend WordPress supported by your own host if you can afford it) then now is the time to do it, as a protest to this extremely Microsoftian draconian imposition. Either that, or write to Google/Blogger™™™™™ and use strong language on them.

Blogging is about interaction, not about clubs & closed doors. These kinds of ideas will bring the utility of the internet to its knees if they get a grip. Acowlytes! Protest them, and protest them strongly!

ADDENDUM: And here’s a thought: if, in the course of your wonderful philosophizing, you manage to attract new readers to your blog, and they reside on platforms external to Blogger™ (and there are now dozens of free blogging sites) you can almost certainly kiss them goodbye as new connections in your blogging circle. Why? Because no-one will be able to follow them back to their own place to engage in the community that is set up by such a practice. Why should they visit you and engage in your show if their is no possibility of reciprocation? My best blogging buddies – indeed, nearly all my current blogging friends – came here via other people’s blogs, often on other platforms.

If you think I’m over-reacting a bit on this, go spend some time trawling around a closed community, like, oh, MySpace let’s say, and see exactly what calibre of intellectual tête-à-tête a whole lot of inbreeding gets you.

For my own part, this very problem has prevented me from engaging in the TypePad and LiveJournal communities – every time I find myself at a TypePad blog and want to strike up some banter with the writer, I am supposed to ‘Join Up’ to do so. Bollocks! They’re gated communities by any other name, desperately trying to keep out the riff-raff.

Viva la revolucion! To the guillotine with the lot of them!

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‡TCA consumes and recommends The It Crowd.

*And as we all know, a rolling cow gathers no moss! (Cow rolling should not be confused with cow tipping which is a different thing altogether)

†On a technical note: I’ve hacked my Blogger site in such a way that if I do leave my Blogger name, you now never see my old blog – instead, you are whisked immediately to the proper home of TCA. I’m lucky – I know how to do these things, but it’s probably outside the capabilities of many less technically inclined bloggers.

Hey CowPokes!! Don’t Forget: the Christmas Competition is still running! Be sure to get yer entry in!

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A Crack

Speaking of things cracked, my poor little house is looking a little the worse for wear, and since I’m upping stakes and changing cities in a month or so, and renting it out, I figure it’s time for a bit of a spruce up.

So. For three days now I’ve been sitting at home waiting for plasterers to turn up to give me a quote on repairing cracks in the walls. Now, this is not just some little itty bitty job – pretty much every surface in my two bedroom terrace is cracked to a greater or lesser degree, so I’m thinking this is going to be a lucrative little earner for the lucky tradesperson who scoops the gig.

I want to get three quotes, so I picked three reasonable-sounding ads from my local newspaper and arranged for meetings.

Friday 3pm and I’m waiting for Damian.* Damian has someone to take his calls, and his ad was the most impressive (30 years’ experience!), so I’m assuming he’s on the ball. It’s pretty plain after an hour that Damian is a no-show. I call his number. No answer. His cell phone is off. 7.30pm I get a call from his office…

Oh… Damian got a bit busy today, sorry, can we arrange for another time?

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that not showing up on your first appointment with a potential client, and then not letting them know what’s happening until 4 hours later, is not such a great way to start a business relationship. Nevertheless, I am stupidly prepared to cut Damian some slack, and arrange for him to come on Tuesday at 4pm. I want to make sure his visit doesn’t clash with Arnie, who is coming on Tuesday at midday.

I also talk to Alexei on Friday, and arrange for him to come on Monday afternoon, 4pm. On Sunday, Alexei calls…

Oh, mate, sorry, I can’t come tomorrow. I’ve got a week down at the snow. This is my last chance mate, so, you know…? Can we do it when I get back?

Wha? The snow? Is that information I need to know (or care about)? Does he think, perhaps, that telling me how this will be his last chance to loaf off with ski bunnies and guzzle Jägermeister will make me sympathetic to the fact that he’s screwing me around? I tell Alexei that I need the quotes by the end of next week, so no, we can’t do it when he gets back.

Oh, mate, sorry. Hey, I can recommend another guy if you want. He’s really good. Done lots of big houses in Strathfield and that. Can I get him to come instead? I’ll call him and give him all the details. His name is Rob.

I stupidly agree, after first making sure that Alexei will get Rob to call me if he can’t make it.

So, Monday 4pm rolls ’round and there’s no sign of Rob. I wait for an hour. Now I stupidly don’t have Rob’s number so I can’t call him. 5pm. 6pm. 7pm. Thank Spaghetti Monster for internet diversions. Rob calls.

Oh, hi mate, my name’s Rob – Alexei gave me your number about a plastering job? When can I come over?

I tell Rob I’ve been waiting for him since 4. At least he seems genuinely apologetic.

Alexei just told me to call – he didn’t leave any details.

Now, having spoken to Alexei, I am quite prepared to accept Rob’s story, so I arrange with Rob for meeting on Wednesday at 10am.

Today is Tuesday and Arnie (who I imagine in my Trade Pantheon as ‘The Plastinator’) is due at midday. The sun goes past High Noon and Arnie is a no-show. I am no longer starting to feel any amount of surprise. I give him an hour and a half and call him.

Oh, mate. Right. When did you want me to call around?

Jesus. These people are astonishing. If I ran my business like this I would have gone bankrupt 20 years ago. I tell Arnie not to bother and he gets pissed off.

I can only assume that business is so good in the plastering trade that these people just don’t give a toss whether or not they get a job.

4.30pm on Tuesday. No sign of Damian. I call him. His cell phone is off. I attempt to tear out my hair and remember I haven’t got any left. After an hour there is a call from Damian’s office:

Damian is on his way! He should be there soon!

Her exuberance is infectious, but I think I’m getting excited merely due to the possibility that I might actually see someone…

Damian arrives a full two hours late. He is a little rotund man with one tooth. He also speaks little to no English. No wonder he never answers his phone.

Here is a snippet of our lengthy attempt to communicate:

So. I need you to give me a quote in writing.

Yes! (shakes his head as if to say ‘no’).

Can you do that this week?

Yes.

Can you send it to me by the end of the week?

(He brandishes his business card) Have you got lines?

Lines?

Lines! Lines!

(He waves his card again. I look confused. He points at my computer. A lightbulb pops on over my head).

Oh! You mean email!

No! No!

(He shakes his head violently and waves his card again. I have NO idea what he means).

Now I have no in-principle problem in dealing with a plasterer who doesn’t speak English (it’s not like you need any language at all to plaster a wall), but I begin to fear that he might be mad as well. How would I know?

And more significantly, since I may well have to deal with him from a different part of the country on the phone, it’s unlikely he’s going to get the gig.

An hour after Damian leaves, Rob texts me:

Hi. Unfortunately i wont be able to make plastering quote for 10am. Tomorrow. Maybe thurs or early next week. Cheers. Rob.

Maybe I’ll just forget about the walls and get plastered myself instead. If there’s one person I know I can rely on, it’s my bartender.

UPDATE: Damian was going to drop his quote ’round last night. Hands up who thinks that actually happened?

Also, a new player, David, who I had arranged to see today (Thursday) rang (at least ahead of the appointment) to postpone till next week.

To sum up: out of 5 plasterers, all have failed to keep appointments (one twice), and the one that managed to get here eventually has failed to deliver a quote.

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*Their real names. Don’t work with them.

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I had cause today to phone an insurance company and when I got through heard the following message:

Your call is important to us and has been placed in a priority queue.

Priority queue? Priority queue? Wha? Wha?

So now, apparently, there’s (at least) two kinds of queues that you can get on people’s switchboards? Since I just dialed in using a number from the phone book it got me to wondering just how insignificant you’d have to be to get the normal ‘non-priority’ queue.

I waited and waited on the priority queue. But at least I eventually got through. Some schmuck is still hanging on…

Not a Hologram

Trendhunter is carrying a story about a fashion show that was recently staged by Diesel for their 2008 Spring/Summer Collection. They lead with the headline Holographic Fashion Show – Diesel’s Fashion Show Adds New Dimension and breathlessly claim (undoubtedly cribbing from the Diesel press release) that this it ‘the first time that holograms have been projected along a traditional catwalk’.

Dear oh dear. It looks like the Reverend is obliged once more to step into the fray with his Big Stick of Reason and bash a few heads with it.

The Claim: That this runway show is using some fancy-schmancy system to make holograms of digitally created underwater creatures swirl around and ‘interact’ with the models.

The Implication: That you will see fully realised holographic 3D images floating in ‘thin air’.

The Actuality: The system being used is a simple theatrical trick more than a century old, even if it does use some clever hi-tech riffs. It is not holography.

For starters, this isn’t even the first time that a fashion show has used this particular technique on the catwalk, so Diesel’s trumpeting of this great new idea is a tad overblown. Last year in August, an Alexander McQueen show conjured a ‘holographic’ Kate Moss as the finale to their fashion spectacular. It was done pretty much the same way as this effort, although on a smaller scale.

Here’s a vid of the Diesel presentation from YouTube. You only need to watch a bit of it to get the idea.

Now, I want to say at the outset that I don’t aim to diminish the achievements of the clever technical people and artists behind this show. The effect they have created is pretty cool, for what it actually is. Which is not anything to do with holograms.

The trick they are using here is a variation of an old stage illusion called Pepper’s Ghost. If you have been to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion you have seen this effect in the Ghostly Ballroom.

There’s a very comprehensive explanation of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion at Wikipedia, but it’s an easy enough idea to understand. Have you ever stood in front of a window at night, and looked outside into the lit street and seen your reflection superimposed over the view? That’s how Pepper’s Ghost works.

In the classic method the audience in a theatre is looking through an angled piece of glass at a dimly-lit stage. The glass is unlit, and therefore completely invisible. In the wings of the stage is a blacked out area with lights that can be dimmed. An actor dressed in light-coloured clothing stands here waiting in the dark, and when the lights come up, the audience sees a full-sized transparent ghostly apparition in front of their eyes, apparently right on the stage (it is a reflection, in the glass, of the now illuminated off-stage actor). The actor can move within the confines of the off-stage black set, and even interact with onstage characters with some minimal preparatory choreography. If you don’t know what you’re seeing, it’s a pretty neat effect.*

The Diesel show isn’t using exactly this technique. My guess is that it exploits a combination of the Pepper’s Ghost principle and the use of a synchronised video projection system on screens below and right along each side of the stage.

This is how I think it works: look closely at the runway in the Diesel show. You can just see a hazy barrier that runs all the way along the stage between the audience and the models. I’m guessing that it’s some kind of glass, or perspex or possibly plastic film. Something clear and reflective. It would have been humungously expensive and a real bitch to set up. It’s angled from the floor at the side of the runway over the heads of the audience. The makers of the illusion boast that it’s the first time that this kind of illusion could be seen from both sides of the catwalk at once – that would be impossible using the conventional Pepper’s Ghost with just one piece of glass. I think therefore, that there are probably two reflection panes, and if you look even more carefully at the YouTube vid you can see a thin line at the top of the heads of the models that is probably the edge of the pane on the other side of the catwalk, conducting a little bit of internal reflection inside the glass. Note that this thin blue line is behind the models, and all the other images are in front of them. Having two panes of reflection would require two synchronous video projections, one on either side of the runway†. Because of the properties of this kind of reflection, the audience only sees an image on their own side, and not the one on the opposite side. Optically, the projected images would appear to be the same distance from the glass pane as the pane is from the projection screen. Probably in this case, the floating creatures would seem to occupy centre stage with the models.

The projection equipment and the screens are lower than the audience (maybe some of it is under the runway) and hidden by barriers that run all the way along the sides of the stage. The models can ‘interact’ with the images because they can in all likelihood see the projection screens down the right and left of the catwalk at their feet.

Here – I made a little animation that shows how it could be achieved:

The projected image is mostly likely corrected for the distortion of the slanted screens (unlike my example) and despite the claims of viZoo, who invented the technology‡, I don’t for a moment buy the idea that the image you are seeing is 3D. It might be a 2D projection of a rendered 3D object, but it is not 3 dimensional looking in the way that a real projected moving hologram would be (if you could actually do such a thing, which you can’t).

It’s a really, really clever piece of wizardry, for sure, but it isn’t done with holograms. And it reminds us that some of the best ideas are the very simplest.

Oh, and the clothes? No, I didn’t notice them either.

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*I once saw the technique used in a Star Trek show at Universal Studios where members of the audience were dematerialized in the Enterprise ‘transporter room’. It was a marvellous effect and I was so unprepared for it that I was completely flummoxed for a second or two.

†Or, perhaps, some kind of prismatic image splitter on each projector to make two identical images, one for each side.

‡And who, incidentally, never once claim on their site that their system creates holograms.

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