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Star Wars: Return of the Franchise

Took in Star Wars Episode III last night at a 10 pm showing. Not bad. Not great. I found it overall enjoyable, but the challenge was that the plot hinges on a supposed love story between Anakin and Padme that is thoroughly unbelieveable. Natalie Portman has acted well before, so I’m left to conclude that Hayden Christensen isn’t a very good actor. Every seen in him tends to drag, to be awkward, but scenes with Chancellor Palpatine, Obi Wan, and Mace Windu are more tolerable since their acting chops are able to lift Anakin’s performance to near tolerable, particularly Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi.

This is the movie where the pieces snap into place, connecting you with the Star Wars you think you remember from episodes IV-VI. Kenobi becomes the powerful yet humble Jedi you’ve seen before. Anakin’s anger grows (and seething is one of the few things Christensen does well), and the sense of awe is still there as he shows up in the cape and mask of Darth Vader. Several parallel scenes are nicely interwoven in some of the best editing of any of the 6 films. Visuals are stunning, yet still obviously CGI in some places. State of the art isn’t quite to photorealism yet.

In brief, if you’ve slogged through episode I and II, you owe it to yourself to see Episode III with guarded expectations. In some ways, this is Lucas’ love letter to his original fans, and it almost makes up for the insults from the first two. If the last name Organa means something to you, go. If you know something about a pilot named Antilles, go. If you want to see a planet of wookies (though not nearly enough), go. If you want to be convinced once and for all that Yoda is the most masterful Jedi, and understand why he became a hermit on Degobah, go. The connection to the original trilogy will be enough for most fans to enjoy this movie.

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Amazon spamming my front door

One order. 15 of the same item. 15 separate packages. All shipped from the same place.

I don’t get it. In what I shall dub “The Snorkel Saga”, Amazon.com has made yet another mis-step. It started with a simple desire – my wife wanted to give each of her students an inexpensive yet functional snorkel. Amazon seemed to be one of the few places with snorkels under $10, so we ordered some in August – they “usually ship in 24 hours”. Suddenly after our order, they go out of stock. 2 months later, we’re asked to approve a delay, and again for 3 more months, getting apologetic promotional certificates along the way. Finally at 5 months, they cancel the order. Brilliant. They show up as in stock again. We order. Same drill. I ask customer service if they can fill my order with a different product, or a combination of 2 types of snorkel. They change the order to another type, never actually claiming to be able to fill it, and go through the approve-a-delay process again.

Fast forward to this week. We ordered 15 of these – total shipping cost $16.80. Imagine the surprise when shipping confirmations began rolling in one by one. Checking the account today, we have 15 different shipments, 15 different tracking numbers, all originating from Chambersburg, PA. Somebody needs to get their act together. They’re almost certainly taking a beating on shipping costs, and I don’t know how hard it can be to pack 15 items into 1 box rather than sending 15 different boxes. It will be funny, to be sure, to come home to 15 boxes on the doorstep, but what a hassle unpacking them all. The message Amazon is sending me is not to bother ordering items other than books, music, and games, because they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to those things.

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Corporate Naming Advice

My advice – make sure your company name will show up on the front page of Google when someone types it in, preferable without wrapping the name in quotes.

We’ve got a company-wide task of scrubbing our lead database and qualifying the leads. As I’m working through it, I keep running into awful company names that I can’t find a web site for. Information Resources 2000 is the name of one, Information Resources, Inc is another. Great names – neither catchy nor explanatory, just a cobbling together of generic words. One happens to have acheived a nice enough PageRank to actually show up at the top of a Google search. Still, for anyone starting out, you MUST be easy to find – PageRank only follows success, and success depends in part on the search engine these days.

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Contracting – 1 Month and Counting

February 10th marked the first day I logged hours in my after-hours contracting with my previous employer. 29 days, 68 hours billed, three incredibly complicated screens done. (Where each screen involved managing probably a dozen different entities, passing data to pop-ups and back, and some fancy DOM manipulation using Javascript.) The real challenge in the app is not only understanding all the different entities involved, what they mean, and how their lifecycle is managed, but also creating a web application that behaves more like a desktop application. The validations, notifications, dynamic disabling of fields based on other fields, dynamic addition and subtraction of rows to a tier structure is all pretty intense.

In spite of averaging 2+ hours a day, including weekends, in addition to the day job, I feel fairly relaxed about it. It hasn’t interfered with my ability to enjoy myself nor my sleep. I’m into a routine – get up around 8, get to work by 9, work until 5 or 6 (depending on whether I take a working lunch), head to the gym (3-4 days a week), spend prime time doing what I like, spending time with my wife, playing Gran Turismo 4, etc. Sometimes I’ll put in some hours during prime time, but much of the time, I’ll dig in again after my wife is asleep (~10 pm). I’ve always been a night owl, so I’m very alert and there aren’t as many distractions, so it works out nicely. I’ll turn in for the night between 12 and 2, lather, rinse, and repeat.

The biggest challenge hasn’t been balancing business with pleasure, it’s been balancing this project with my other side projects. It’s challenging not to fall completely behind when you’re working 1/4 the hours of everyone else on a project. It helps that the time I spend is unencumbered by the typical overhead that comes with being a full-timer in the office, and I know I’m not expected to produce 8 hours work in 2 hours each day, but it’s something I put on myself. I do know that at a high level, my supplemental work has helped make some ambitious project deadlines a little more realistic. It looks like the other projects are on track, though, and I’m still convinced that the opportunity cost of the time I spend on them has made my work on them more productive and efficient.

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Needed – Adobe FDF Toolkit

Adobe used to offer a free FDF Toolkit – a multi-language API for processing PDF forms submitted over the web. No longer available on their site. It seems they’re trying to rope everyone into buying some wonky LiveCycle Server that manges everything for you, but quite frankly, I have no desire to deal with all of that overhead when a simple API will do the trick. Anyone have this toolkit that they can share with me? Drop me an email – rkischuk at-symbol gmail dot com. Thanks!

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My "Apprentice" Audition

I tried out for Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” TV show this weekend. In preparing for this, I found a dearth of information on their tryout process on the net, so I’m fixing that. The preface is that leading up to my audition, I waited for several hours – arrived at 8 AM, received a wristband at 9 AM, interviews began at 10 AM, and I finally got to the front of the line around 12:30 PM. If you’re curious, I didn’t make the cut, but I have a nifty “Apprentice” wristband to show for it.

Now about the audition. I’m putting this out here because honestly, I don’t think it will actually help anyone game the system, but it is interesting. We were ushered into a room 20 at a time and seated at a set of tables configured in a rectangle – candidates on 3 sides, and the casting director on the 4th. He was a reasonably young-looking, [proud] Irish Catholic from Philly named Paul, and was already nursing a glass of bourbon. He seemed to enjoy his job as he positioned himself as provocateur and incredible multi-tasker. He told us that we had 10 minutes, and if he had to talk much during that time, then we weren’t doing well. He was going to give us topics, and we were supposed to pick a position and support it with a decent argument.

The first topic was “Did the right guy win the election?” and I can only describe what ensued as chaos. Yelling, lots of yelling. Everyone trying to make their position heard, trying to stand out. It wasn’t a subdued roundtable discussion, it was 20 people all clawing to get noticed above the rest. Some people clammed up, initimidated by it all. Some yelled into space, not talking to anyone in particular. More topics flowed, with each one ramping from silence to uproar in about 5 seconds.

I can’t tell you what they were looking for, especially since I didn’t have the stuff. I can speculate a bit. I think they were looking for quick responders, people who would articulate a strong position with good supporting points right off the bat. If you haven’t finished making a solid point on each topic in 5 seconds, I think you’re losing. This is why so many lawyers make the show. I think there are some intangibles in the mix – he probably looks at body language, style of speaking, ability to grab the attention of others. Some of it probably depends on what they’re trying to cast. The current season is “Book smarts” vs. “Street smarts” – I would expect they were looking for people to fill certain roles on each of those teams from the time they had their first audition.

I responded a bit slowly on some topics, did make some points loudly, did back up some of my points well, did hold some smaller, more direct conversations with people around me. I did yell to nobody in particular a couple of times (many people were doing this), but I don’t think that’s productive unless you;re the first one. So can I give you interview tips to get on the show? No way – I don’t even know what they want, but this is what you could expect in the audition process.

So why’d I do it? I don’t idolize Donald Trump, but I do respect some of his accomplishments. Between the knowledge and connections that a winner (or even runner-up) on that show develops, especially working with Trump, it IS a golden opportunity. If nothing else, I knew it would be an interesting experience, an amusing story to share, and a good time to reflect on things I can do better.

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Forking "Southern Fried Java"

I’ve been reading a good bit of Seth Godin and Hugh Macleod’s weblogs lately. Both are geniouses in marketing – Seth as the grand idea man, the viral marketing, the giving away of his work as a means to build his career and credibility. Hugh is less known, but there’s something very authentic in his bluntness that hits a nerve. He’s already turning heads, and I think he’s just getting started. Both recognize and evangelize that marketing as we know it is dead.

I’m not a marketing guy by trade, I’m a technologist with a decent business sense. But I’ve seen so many awful, feeble attempts at appealing to potential customers that I’m poking my nose into that realm. And as a potential customer, I feel for than qualified to raise a voice on what is and isn’t working. Instead of clogging this feed with my riffs on marketing and ways it’s done poorly, I’m developing a split personality. If you’re interested, head over to BadMarketing, Atom feed here. I’ve kicked it off with my treatise, Miserable Marketing, a , and a look at the odious Lovemarks marketing scam. Hope you’ll join me over there. If you decide I suck, at least check out Seth and Hugh.

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FahrenHYPE 9/11 – a compelling rebuttal

After watching Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 a few weeks ago, I took interest in FahrenHYPE 9/11, an interesting rebuttal to Moore’s film, apparently driven largely by Dick Morris (one of the more enigmatic characters in U.S. politics. I can’t say for sure that the film is any more factual than what Moore puts forward in his film, but if you watched one, you should watch the other, in the interest of hearing both sides of the story. I don’t know whether to trust Dick Morris, so I don’t take the whole thing as fact, but there is plenty in the film to show why Michael Moore can not be trusted.

One of the most easily challenged charges of Moore is regarding now-CIA-Director Porter Goss. In Moore’s movie, Goss is shown speaking, saying that there’s an 800 [toll free phone] number people can call, I think regarding terrorism. Moore charges that there is no such number, insinuating that Goss is an irresponsible liar who is negligent in facing terrorism. The fact that HYPE brings to the table is that the number was actually an 877 number. So while Moore is FACTUALLY correct, the malicious intent is clear. Most every American would take Goss’ statement to mean a national, toll-free phone number. Moore preys on this by discrediting the statement on literal inaccuracy without giving the viewer enough detail to form an informed opinion. It’s sloppy, underhanded moves like these that call Moore’s credibility into question on ANY topic – he’s clearly willing to mislead you if it accomplishes his goals.

Perhaps the most compelling parts of HYPE are the parts that show real people in their own words, not the pundits spouting hard-to-check facts and figures. The double-amputee soldier and Oregon patrol officer are both shown expressing how Moore completely twisted and edited their own words to show viewpoints completely opposite what they believe. For instance, Moore showed the patrol officer talking about how he is the only one assigned to patrolling Oregon’s coast, and only part-time due to budget cuts. Moore uses this to suggest that the entire coast of Oregon is vulnerable to terrorism, and that it is due to Bush’s fiscal policy. In reality, that department is funded at the state level, so the cuts had nothing to do with federal policy, and furthermore, Moore completely ignored several other state and federal departments that are actively patrolling this coast, including the Coast Guard. Moore wanted you to believe that this one guy was the only one looking out for us on the Oregon coast. Also interesting is camera time with the school teacher in the classroom Bush was in when he was informed that the second plane had hit – the much maligned “My Pet Goat” photo op. She didn’t vote for Bush in 2000, but expresses strong admiration and respect for the way he handled himself that morning, and feels that it was quite appropriate and presidential.

I won’t say that FahrenHYPE 9/11 is completely true. Somewhere between Moore’s allegations and Morris’ rebuttals regarding Bush, Clinton, and everyone else’s ties to the bin Ladens, Saudi Arabia, etc. lies the truth. What I do know is that if you’ve only watched Moore’s propaganda, you’ve only heard one biased side of the story. HYPE may also be propaganda, I don’t know for sure, but in the name of intellectual honesty, you ought to watch it to get a bigger picture.

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"Ogle and Save"

That’s the message that greeted me on the front page of Amazon.com today. Such is the title of their promotion offering some sort of deal if you purchase a Sports Illustrated subscription in time to get the swimsuit issue. Very odd since I’ve never purchased or even browsed as much as a GQ subscription or a racy movie on their site. I guess they just looked at my records noticed that I’m male, and splashed it up there. Good for a laugh at least.

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"Rediculous" – Spelling word of the day

The correct spelling is ridiculous, derived from the same root as ridicule – few people write redicule. I’ve seen this abomination in spelling become very common online recently. Maybe you have friends who pronounce it reee-diculous, but that doesn’t change the spelling. I never cease to be amazed at how many college educated people I know with not a prayer in the world of spelling simple, common words. Don’t even ask about writing coherent sentences. How do we turn out so many highly-educated people with so little ability to use our primary language, much less learn a second language? It’s so common that it’s ridiculous.