Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Whispering Into The Void

I'm feeling like a stalker these days. I'm talking, of course, about my recent forays into the worlds of Facebook and Twitter. It's a bit of a lark - just seeing what all the fuss is about. I'm finding that while I have nothing very compelling to say, I'm really not alone there. The up-side is that the whole experience feeds the minimal attention-span I've honed to a fine edge on a steady diet of Sesame Street re-runs and random YouTube searching.

So here's the thing: I'm lazy about finding online friends. In my laziness, I'm leaning on some of the Usual Suspects who form the core of like-minded wiseacres to whom I tend to gravitate in cyberspace. Said another way, they're the folks who are silly enough to (1) let me post comments on their much-better blogs and (2) make themselves easily found elsewhere on the Innertubes. So now I'm showing up on Facebook and Twitter like a creepy version of whack-a-mole, and I'm leaving little messages on their Walls and following their Tweets. Every click of the 'OK' button brings the giddy anticipation of Wilde-ian repartee followed by the dismal self-doubt that maybe I'm just another ant at the picnic.

I'm not sure how long this will last. The pressure to feed personal commentary into the great maw of social networking might overwhelm my fundamental laziness. But if you see that I'm becoming a pest (and you know who you are), just know that it's all for science. And for the rest of you, you can find me on Facebook over here and on Twitter over there. And if neither of those work for you, there's always email.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Got Shovel?

This is an actual headline from CNN:

CNN retakes lead in Twitter battle with Ashton Kutcher

Let that sink in a moment. Let it roll around your brain and mingle with your stored-away facts and thoughts and aspirations.


Now tell me honestly: You're thinking it's time to build that bomb shelter and get it stocked, right?

I thought so.

Right For All The Wrong Reasons

Not since Chocolate Rain has the Innertubes seen a bigger feel-good-story-cum-meme than that of Susan Boyle. My genuine hope is that Ms. Boyle is able to translate her 15 minutes into a modest singing career. By all measures that matter, she deserves it.

But here's the rub: parts of her story makes me damned angry.

As she walked out on to the stage, my very first thought was that I was seeing a character from a Wallace & Gromit film. I mean that only in a good way - middle-class English from a snug little village where people tend to their own lives. Her cat, Pebbles, was just icing on the cake.

On one level, her story is remarkable, of course. Out of nowhere special comes an obviously gifted voice and a secret drive to share it with an audience (beyond Pebbles, of course). But there is an ugliness at work, too. It was in the audience that night and it's on the news every night since.

Like a story with a surprise ending, Susan Boyle doesn't look the part - and we're startled to discover otherwise. She's not glamourous or fashionable or thin or blonde or glib or whatever she's supposed to be. And for all that, we have no expectation of greatness for this woman. And when she proves otherwise, we shriek and clap and say "Good for you, Susan" in a voice typically reserved for speaking with foreigners and the infirm.

Good for you, Susan. And I really mean it.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

When Choice Hurts

London's Alpha Geek recently posted a review of the new Nintendo DSi - and it got me thinking a bit about choices. By rights, I think most people probably believe choices are a good thing. If I'm hungry for pizza, I like that I can choose my toppings. If I need shoes, I'll probably look at several pair before I pick my usual white sneakers. But sometimes, when more than a few bucks are on the line, I wonder of choice is a bad thing.

Let's start with Nintendo. Is it me, or is their product cycle for handheld gaming getting shorter with each crank of the Nintendo widget machine? Game&Watch begat Gameboy which begat Gameboy Pocket which begat Gameboy Color which begat Gameboy Advance which begat Gameboy Advance SP which begat Nintendo DS which begat Nintendo DS Lite which begat

Nintendo DSi (and I'm likely missing something, somewhere here). We now seem to measure the distance between models in months when it used to seem like years.

With every new device - a new feature or two and the subtle threat of backwards incompatibility. In the Nintendo mould, new features are put out there in the hopes of finding novel ways for Developers to incorporate them into games. But this constant evolution usually leaves me cold insofar as I hate to leave behind solid old investments to make way for better ergonomics or web surfing on a tiny screen. Maybe I'm too old and cheap for this racket.

Exhibit Number 2: selecting a GPS. I've been meaning to replace my long-gone GPS with a new one - mostly for car trips. As I've discovered, there are lots of choices. I just want a device with a nice screen, color maps, and a pleasant Moneypenney voice that tells where to go and when to stop. Instead I have to decide whether I want MP3 support, FM-based trafiic reports, selectable vehicle icons, routes, waypoint support, multi-calc auto-routing, books-on-podcast subcriptions, and 50 other options I cannot remember. The good people at Garmin have managed to package and re-package these options into about 4 different product lines and 30 different models. Predictably, I'm stumped. Just when I find one that does simple stuff for a fair price, the model is discontinued and I have to start over. I'm lost with or without a GPS, I fear.

I think Henry Ford probably had is right - and I'll just take the black one, thanks.