What do you care, Excel?

While doing some automation work, I unintentionally tried to open two files with the same name but from different directories in Excel. Then, this happened:

excel_two_files

I don’t think this is something I’ve ever done in the past, but I also don’t understand why this would be a problem. If the complete paths were the same, I would understand because Mac OS treats all network volumes as /Volumes/path/to/file.ext. Statistically, small but not to the point of being pragmatically impossible, two files on two external volumes could have the same path. But going by just the name seems…short-sighted…or something. Weird.

Watching Television Is Still Not Easy

I took another stab at watching MasterChef last night despite my final smug “259 day” comment from yesterday, and I actually got to see at least the first half (I fell asleep before the second half began, but that’s another story). This time, it was Verizon getting in my way rather then Fox.

For those unfamiliar, Verizon’s OnDemand organizes television shows in a myriad different ways—by network, show title, HD vs. standard definition—and there are sometimes multiple ways to get to the same episode. It also appears as though that making mistakes is easy for whomever’s job it is to upload new content to OnDemand.

To get to Masterchef, the path I typically go is Free & Premium > TV > By Network > Fox HD > Masterchef. But, the latest HD versions of the show are no longer listed here; there is now that n-day delay that Fox so explains on their own website. Things went wonky this season because there are two listings for MasterChef: “Masterchef” and “Master Chef”. There is little difference between the two except that one has the pre-season extras and the other does not. Neither of them contain the episode that just aired.

Last night, I took another stab at watching the show, but this time instead of going the Fox HD path, I went the plain Fox path. Again, there are two listings for MasterChef as in the HD menu. One has the standard definition shows, which I never watch because I paid good money for my HD TV and I’ll be damned if I am going to waste both my time and money watching anything standard definition, and the other contains the HD shows including the latest one. Bingo, but what a slog to get there. The cherry on top of this sundae is that in trying to figure which episode to watch, I started watching the second half of the episode that spoiled the ending of the first half.

Watching TV now appears to have at least two extreme paths. First is the one that has always existed where one sits down for the original broadcast at a specific day, time, and network, which is undeniably easy. The other is the path that exists for those that cannot, or will not, make that kind of commitment in their schedule for a TV show, a path that is fraught with seemingly pointless barriers to viewing.

I don’t understand this delay they have in place. No matter where I watch the show, I’m still seeing advertising before and during my viewing, which I am totally fine with. But the advertising obfuscates the purpose that delay serves. As such, I have a hard time listening to the entertainment industry complain about poor revenue and rampant piracy when they themselves establish all these seemingly arbitrary barriers to viewing. Clearly, what they are doing isn’t working and despite being in media and publishing myself I have little sympathy for them on this.

Remember when watching TV was easy?

I don’t watch a lot of television or movies. Between my nightly efforts towards a bachelor’s degree, my full-time day job, and two kids, I simply don’t have the time to watch a lot of television. The only time I have for TV and movies is during the summer, and even then the habit has been mostly broken. Still, when it’s late in the evening after the kids have gone to bed, I don’t mind an hour or two on the weekends.

One show I watch during the summer is MasterChef. I know, right? But by the time I get to a point where I have an hour to just sit, I’m not terribly keen on engaging deeply with anything. That’s about all the justification I have and all that’s really needed. I don’t waste my time much anywhere else (except maybe here), so I don’t feel I’m committing any great sins watching people cook, eat, and critique food.

Now that the semester has started again, I can’t watch the show at the time of broadcast because I have class on Monday nights. Also, I can’t watch the show on OnDemand like I used to because Fox made a change in policy recently as to when the latest show is released to OnDemand and Hulu by delaying the latest episode’s release by a day. Last night (a Tuesday) happened to be a good time to catch up on Monday’s show—I had a small window in between assignments—so I went to Fox’s website to catch up. I was confronted with this:

140910_01_fox

The text reads:

Why wait another day to watch the latest hit shows on FOX?

To watch your favorite FOX shows the next day after they air, just pop in your TV Provider’s Username and Password. It’s quick and easy with no delays. Don’t wait 8 days to keep up with the latest shows you love. Instead watch them in 24 hours – while they’re still the latest.
Next day access, sign in now.

Followed by a button, then this:

259 day delay, well, patience is a virtue.

I’ll leave the editorializing for later, for now here’s what happened: I clicked the button to enter my credentials, which then provided this listing of a slew of TV providers:

140910_02_cables

My “TV provider” is Verizon FiOS. I clicked their button and was presented with a link to either enter credentials at Verizon or “Get Temporary Access.”

140910_03_workaround

Given the opportunity to avoid entering credentials, I dove straight for the temporary access. I got into the show. I am presented with an ad, and then an episode that was 48 minutes long. But the preview for Monday’s show was a two-hour special, so something wasn’t right. I just happened to have two hours last night so I backed out of the show to go enter my credentials speculating, likely erroneously on my part, that entering my credentials would give me the whole show. Not sure why I thought that, it was late, but watching TV is so wonky these days for me these I don’t know what to expect.

My problem at that point is that I rarely ever go to Verizon’s website for anything—since I renewed my subscription things have been pretty much on cruise control—and I have long since misplaced my credentials. I think they’re on the file folder where I stash my paperwork in the cabinet upstairs, but I don’t remember and, in all honesty, I didn’t feel like getting up to go on the hunt. I took a couple stabs at the password, but after two (2!) attempts, I was locked out of my account. I was presented with the opportunity to reset my password. Resetting the password entails getting a text message with a temporary PIN. So, I pressed the requisite buttons.

Fifteen minutes of waiting and the temporary PIN still hadn’t come. By that time, any momentum I had for pursuing this is now gone. It was 21:30 and I have an 04:00 start the next day as I do every day. Clearly, I will have to properly manage my Verizon credentials situation this weekend when I have a bit more time, and I will have to work to carve out time this week or next to catch up on the latest, if I can.

Now I have some questions:

  • Why the “259 day delay?” What is that? Is that a scare tactic to get people to enter credentials? Do you want people to watch your TV and associated advertising or not, Fox?
  • Why does my “TV provider” have to enter into this exchange outside of providing pipes to a website?
  • Why is that if the credentials are technically required for easy access that temporary access is even offered? Requesting credentials at that point appears superfluous at best, and a waste of everyone’s time—Fox’s, the TV provider’s, the customer’s—at worst to get it all set up.

All I wanted to do was watch a particular TV show, that is what I had to go through, and I still wasn’t successful. This temporary PIN from Verizon never came as I write this the next morning. Perhaps all this makes me lazy or maybe I’m getting better at picking my battles. Either way, I’m glad to have been reminded that I’m not missing much, but I’ll try to check in again in roughly 259 days to see if anything has changed.

Fixed the dastardly green to orange on the site

Not the biggest change, I know. But it’s important to me. It does also bring to light one of my irritations with the default WordPress styles in that in order to change a dominant color, like the green, that there are multiple variations of ostensibly the same color. In this case, I had to change the green in three different places to get all the instances, and I have a doubt as to whether I caught them all. I’m not even going to bother with the Dashboard even though I can see green in there.

Whatevs. I have my orange in enough places that I’m happy. Ever onward…

Someone is wrong on the internet.

I don’t know what compels me at times to dive back into email discussions about fussy things like iPhone vs. Android, at least fussy in the sense that most of us have no skin in the game outside of what we paid for our phones. But here I am on Hacker News getting my feet wet again…

> JohnTHaller 3 hours ago | link
>
> If you bought your music after Apple finally ditched DRM,
> you can upload your AAC files to Google Music for free and
> sync/stream them to all your Android devices as well as your
> laptops/desktops.
>
> If you “bought” your music with Apple DRM, you can pay
> another fee to actually own it and be able to play it on a
> non-Apple devices.
>
> If you “bought” your videos with Apple DRM, consider it a
> lesson learned.

1 point by oatmeal_coffee 28 minutes ago | link | edit |
delete

Taking the entire migration process you describe changes the
“price” to be paid for similar phone, so my claim of false
equivalence still stands.

There’s no “lesson” when I have made the conscious decision
to stick with Apple all these years. I may have paid a
premium paying for iPods and iPhones, but I feel my time is
valuable enough to not have to mess around with my media
files in any way you describe. Nor do I feel the urge to
spend money on music I have already purchased, but I don’t
see that as being a mistake from which to learn a lesson.
Nothing has happened to me with Apple or its products so
egregious to feel compelled to take on anything like you
describe.

I think what gets me sometimes is the general smugness that comes with these types of discussions and the inevitable finger-wagging that ensues. Discussions about mobile platforms, for me at least, have gone into that same category about religion, politics, and sports: Everyone has an opinion while sitting in their armchairs, and none of the opinions are going to sway anyone one way or another because no one is in the mood to listen. It’s bullshit, and I’m just as guilty as anyone else in the discussion. I don’t dive into these sorts of things nearly as much as I used to, but something about Hacker News has changed in the past several months where this kind of smug finger wagging is happening with greater frequency. Myself included. Still…

Don’t claim there is a lesson for me to learn in regards to my situation without knowing my story. I could just as likely have chosen to be in the position where I am. There is no lesson to be learned when I feel I have not done anything wrong. I know nothing about you, and you know nothing about me, so you are in no position to determine what is a lesson for me to learn.

WordPress 3.x to 4.0 and a fresh coat of paint

I made the jump from WordPress 3.x to 4.0. Things went mostly smooth, though there is something about my server setup that does not allow for the archive to be unpacked automatically and I need to do a manual upgrade.

In an effort to make the site easier to maintain, I have decided to use the default theme as given. Previously, I had made a few tweaks to the CSS to scratch some itches, but since my free time is minimal, I’ll just take what they supply, the moral equivalent of grabbing cans of paint from the return shelf at Home Depot.

One thing I will say about the new theme is I’m not pleased with their use of green as the accent color and the inability to change that color within the dashboard. I’m not a big fan of green outside of plants. (I own a couple green shirts, but they were chosen at the behest of my wife to add color to my wardrobe.) I’m surprised that it’s not possible to easily change that accent color except by editing the CSS given its prominence now that the theme is almost entirely black and white and other aspects of the theme’s colors can be changed in the dashboard. But, since I am walking away from tweaking the styles, I have to go by my family’s maxim “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

Regardless of that, WordPress still has an insanely easy upgrade process despite its complexity. I’m very pleased since having moved over a year ago.

UPDATE: While surfing the web this morning, I realized that by picking the default theme my site now looks like Wil Wheaton’s. This is not necessarily a big problem if only because I always felt his site looked really sharp. But now the underlying designer in me feels that my site ought to have some distinction to its design. Not sure when I will find the time to do that since school has started, but now I have that “itch” to scratch.

The Unexotic Underclass

To your left are single mothers, 80% of whom, according to the US Census, are poor or hovering on the nasty edges of working poverty. They are struggling to raise their kids in a country that seems to conspire against any semblance of proper rearing: a lack of flexibility in the workplace; a lack of free or affordable after-school programs; an abysmal public education system where a testing-mad, criminally-deficient curriculum is taught during a too-short school day; an inescapable lurid wallpaper of sex and violence that covers every surface of society; a cultural disregard for intelligence, empathy and respect; a cultural imperative to look hot, spend money and own the latest “it”-device (or should I say i-device) no matter what it costs, no matter how little money Mum may have.

Slightly to the right, are your veterans of two ongoing wars in the Middle East. Wait, we’re at war? Some of these veterans, having served multiple tours, are returning from combat with all manner of monstrosities ravaging their heads and bodies. If that weren’t enough, welcome back, dear vets, to a flaccid economy, where your military training makes you invisible to an invisible hand that rewards only those of us who are young and expensively educated.
The Unexotic Underclass

Ars Technica: Same box, better graphics

In the never-ending war between PC and console gamers, one of the PC side’s favorite points is the fact that console hardware stays frustratingly static for years at a time, while PC users can upgrade everything from the RAM to the graphics card as technology improves. Thus, by the end of a given console generation (and sometimes earlier), a price-competitive PC will almost always be able to outclass the performance of its aging console competition.

This is true, as far as it goes. But as any console owners can tell you, unchanging hardware does not mean unchanging graphical performance over the life of a console. On the contrary, as time goes on, developers are often able to extract more from a console’s limited architecture than anyone ever thought possible when the system launched.
Ars Technica: “Same box, better graphics: improving performance within console generations”

Great retrospective that highlights how much those early consoles improved over time, though not so much on the later consoles. I’d be surprised if the same retrospective would be applicable to the consoles coming out today or in the next couple of years.

I am surprised, however, they didn’t highlight the Nintendo 64. I think of all the consoles listed in the article, the N64 would be the best example of just how much progress developers could make in a single generation. The Ocarina of Time was an amazing game in terms of story, scale, and mechanics, but the graphics, frankly, paled in comparison to Star Wars Episode 1: Racer and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Despite the games being so expensive, I was really disappointed when the N64 was discontinued because the games looked great and had none of the load times seen on the PlayStation. I still miss that console sometimes, and if Nintendo would get their act together, face reality, and start releasing games on the iPhone, I would pick up pretty much every one of them.

The Economist: True Progressivism

Compete, target and reform

The priority should be a Rooseveltian attack on monopolies and vested interests, be they state-owned enterprises in China or big banks on Wall Street. The emerging world, in particular, needs to introduce greater transparency in government contracts and effective anti-trust law. It is no coincidence that the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, made his money in Mexican telecoms, an industry where competitive pressures were low and prices were sky-high. In the rich world there is also plenty of opening up to do. Only a fraction of the European Union’s economy is a genuine single market. School reform and introducing choice is crucial: no Wall Street financier has done as much damage to American social mobility as the teachers’ unions have. Getting rid of distortions, such as labour laws in Europe or the remnants of China’s hukou system of household registration, would also make a huge difference.

Next, target government spending on the poor and the young. In the emerging world too much cash goes to universal fuel subsidies that disproportionately favour the wealthy (in Asia) and unaffordable pensions that favour the relatively affluent (in Latin America). But the biggest target for reform is the welfare states of the rich world. Given their ageing societies, governments cannot hope to spend less on the elderly, but they can reduce the pace of increase—for instance, by raising retirement ages more dramatically and means-testing the goodies on offer. Some of the cash could go into education. The first Progressive era led to the introduction of publicly financed secondary schools; this time round the target should be pre-school education, as well as more retraining for the jobless.

Last, reform taxes: not to punish the rich but to raise money more efficiently and progressively. In poorer economies, where tax avoidance is rife, the focus should be on lower rates and better enforcement. In rich ones the main gains should come from eliminating deductions that particularly benefit the wealthy (such as America’s mortgage-interest deduction); narrowing the gap between tax rates on wages and capital income; and relying more on efficient taxes that are paid disproportionately by the rich, such as some property taxes.
The Economist: “True Progressivism”

“A new form of radical centrist politics is needed to tackle inequality without hurting economic growth”

I never was one for ready-made politics, but this is really good.