YouTube People

I recognize that people come in different shapes, sizes, and intellectual abilities. Some people are articulate writers, while others struggle. Some people are naturals when it comes to spelling, but others have a really tough time. For the most part, though, we all go about our daily lives without a difference. The person in front of me in the supermarket checkout line might have their Master’s degree, or maybe they never finished high school. But when they’re paying for their toothpaste, the difference isn’t apparent. And I would wager that, even in, say, leaving a comment on Youtube, the difference isn’t really apparent. The person with the Master’s probably has better writing skills, but, in putting together a couple sentences in replying to a music video, it’s not really apparent. You’re not going to write a dissertation or worry about what a gerund is on Youtube.

Internet comments bring all sorts of people out of the woodwork, though, some of them with really loony beliefs. Read the comments on any news story remotely relevant to politics, for example, and nuts from both sides will emerge and argue about something that isn’t relevant to the article.

But Youtube is unique. Sometimes I believe that the site’s comments are overrun by people who are 13. But the thing is, people who are 13 should be way, way smarter.

Consider, for example, this absurd video showing the giant screen behind McCain being overtaken by a Barack Obama rickroll during the campaign. Obviously, this did not happen; it’s a ridiculous parody of a parody of a strange Internet meme.

It’s somewhat disappointing to see a lengthy discussion about whether this actually occurred. Of course it did not. Common sense might dictate that. But it’s more the way people ask that makes me grimmace. Someone says “did that really happen plz plz plz reply,” and then someone else comes along and gives their guess: “now i dont realy think this happend….not to kill anyones buzz, but i think we woulda heard about it if this happend, and im sure someone is going to jail IF (IF) this did happen for real,” says one commenter. (What, exactly, would you go to jail for?) Someone else replies, “this this happen for real,” just before someone else comes along and asks, “this cant be real??? is it?

Those are the good comments. This is why I want to cry:

Internet IdiotsSo a few comments. First, “you suck” is not terribly constructive criticism. While I’m very happy with the election results, I don’t go around leaving “YOU SUCK” comments on videos of McCain. I’m kind of over the heated election. And frankly, as of late, I think McCain’s been a nice guy.

Then there’s the issue that, out of ten words, six were spelled wrong. “John McCain,” perhaps among the easiest names ever, is wrong both times. First and last. The way embarrassment is spelled is, frankly, an enberesemt to humanity. The fact that they got the name “John” wrong both times is much more troubling than the fact that they never capitalized it or used any punctuation at all.

But none of that bothers me nearly much as something else. Do you see the author’s name? jordanprocutions? I have a sneaking suspicion that they were trying to say “Jordan Productions.” Not only did they get 60% of their words wrong, but they got their own name wrong, too.

So I’m left wondering something I wonder most any time I look at the comments on Youtube: who are these people, and what is wrong with them? First graders? I can’t imagine they’d have strong opinions about JHON MACIN. People who don’t speak English? I can’t imagine they’d be terribly involved in our politics, and I’d think they might go for a more phonetic spelling if they didn’t know. Crazy people? Well, that much is a given.

Facts for a Billboard

It seems I lost the MegaMillions drawing on Friday night. If I ever win, I think I’d like to take out a series of billboard ads displaying random facts that I think everyone should know, yet too many people don’t:

  • Pretty much 100% of spam has a completely forged “From” addresses. Do not reply. Do not complain to the ISP.
  • Your browser’s cache speeds things up and saves you from downloading page elements over and over. You do not need to empty your cache. Doing so will make your computer slower, not faster.
  • Cookies keep you logged into websites. You do not need to delete them.
  • You did not win the Nigerian lottery, or any lottery that you did not enter. It’s a scam.
  • Your bank does not need you to confirm your password. Nor does any other service. It’s a scam.
  • The First Amendment bars the government from censorship. It does not apply to private actors.
  • The First Amendment protects speech. The Second protects arms. Please do not confuse them.
  • The Iraq War was not, and is not, a response to 9/11.
  • “No prayer in schools” prohibits mandatory, school-sanctioned prayer in schools. You can thank the First Amendment for that. It’s the same First Amendment you should thank for the Constitutional right to pray in school if you so choose.
  • / is a slash. is a backslash. Geeks hate it when you get it wrong. Web addresses do not use backslashes.
  • Back up your files regularly. Your hard drive will fail some day.
  • Ctrl+- zooms your browser out. Ctrl++ zooms your browser in. Ctrl+0 reverts to normal zoom. If everything is suddenly big or small, that’s why.
  • “Loser” is a noun and a lame insult. “Looser” is an adjective and does not make sense unless comparing the looseness of two items. If you write “Your a looser,” well, you’re a loser.
  • Barack Obama was born in the United States. He has a birth certificate. Those who claim otherwise are delusional conspiracy theorists.

A Little Link Love

I’ve done just enough SEO at work to have been irritated when my search for “cancun nh mexican restaurant” didn’t turn up Cancun Mexican Restaurant, in Bedford, NH. Not that my site carries tremendous weight, but I’m hoping a link will at least get them into the first page of search results for their name. It’s kind of a shame they’re not on the first page, actually, because I’ve been quite pleased, and because they seem adept at social media, even using a Twitter account.

Saving in Video Games

I think I mentioned this a long time ago. It took me a long time to figure out why my saved game in Grand Theft Auto would always start at erratic points. I eventually figured it out: the Xbox 360 has no clock. When you turn it on, it seems to default to 11/22/05 at 7am, or at least, mine does. If you’re connected to the Internet, it will retrieve the time via SNTP. But since I never play online, I didn’t bother running network cable across the room.

It loads the “newest” file, which, in my case, is the save file from whenever I had the Xbox on for the longest. I once played for 43 minutes, so the 7:43am slot comes up first every time.

It occurs to me that this could be fixed pretty easily. Rather than using the time as the key, simply save an integer, and increment it with every save. And then select whatever has the highest integer. Using the clock seems foolish when there is no persistent clock. Rockstar, when will you learn? GTA4 and it’s still a problem?

User IDs

Most sites give each user a unique ID, which is usually implemented as a sequential integer. Some sites don’t show this information at all (since it’s really just a behind-the-scenes primary key). Some sites “show” it in the URL as the unique identifier for a person. Some sites, Slashdot being the only one I can think of, display it prominently, as a sort of badge-of-honor for time on site.

I’ve been toying with the Facebook API just a little bit, to see what it would take to build a game. Facebook provides a tool to allow developers to tinker with API functions, one of them being friends.get, which returns an XML list of all the user IDs of your friends.

I don’t know how Facebook assigns user IDs. I do know from their API documentation that it’s now a 64-bit integer, which is kind of crazy. Most people just make it an INT. What fascinates me, though, is the range. I tend to think of myself as an early Facebook adopter. My user ID is 18601506, which we can infer as evidence that I was the 18,601,506th user to sign up for Facebook. I know a lot of sites that would be floored to have that many users.

But that’s nothing. The list of friends comes back in ascending order. The last entry is a bit over 1,800,000,000, which one could (perhaps erroneously) infer means that there are more than 1.8 billion accounts on Facebook, although that would include deleted rows, too, and this count would be utterly wrong if they stopped assigning numbers sequentially, which wouldn’t be a crazy thing to do with a partitioned database. The first entry on my friend list? It’s under 7,000. That’s a pretty amazing range: under 7,000 to over 1.8 billion?

The Tree Game

I think most people have a mental filter. Ideas might randomly occur in their heads, but they’re run through that filter. They might have a thought like, “People don’t ever use fire extinguishers, leaving them unprepared. There should really be annual fire-extinguisher certifications that everyone gets.” I know I have. But most people would have this idea hit their filter and rule it out. Sometimes, though, I come up with ideas that wholly bypass this filter, and only after I’ve shared them do I realize how absurd they are. Besides an epic blog post about fire extinguisher training, certification, and practice, I’ve hatched a few other astonishingly bad ideas, including The Tree Game and the concept of Caramel Potatoes. (Like caramel apples, but with a potato instead.)

It started largely as an in-jest threat, but I decided that I want to make The Tree Game for Facebook. I’m hoping to use the knowledge and gaming expertise of my readers for suggestions, though. It looks like Facebooker is a Rails plugin for building Facebook apps, and it would be a fun project anyway.

For those unfamiliar, here is the description of The Tree Game: you play the part of a tree. You can grow or not grow. If you grow too tall, you might get struck by lightning. If you don’t grow enough, you don’t get any sunlight and die.

Now you know why no one really liked my idea The Tree Game. But it did have appeal in one way: it was so astonishingly lame that people remembered it and talked about it. I’d put it in the same category as John & Kate Plus 8 or Perez Hilton.

In actually making the game, though, I want some input. How should it work? I’m thinking it should be a turn-based game, where you’re allowed one “turn” every 15 minutes or so. You would have two choices, I think: “Grow” or “Don’t Grow.” “Shrink” might be an option at times, even though it’s not really possible in real life. As soon as you grew, the outcome would be decided. There’s a slim chance that a storm might come through. In that storm, it might rain (giving you points you can use to grow? do you need to spend a point to grow one iteration?), but there’s a small chance that you would be struck by lightning. Being taller would increase the odds exponentially. But being tall would also increase the points you get (via sunlight).

I’m not sure what the ultimate goal is. To be the tallest tree? To live the longest? To get the most points? What would you do with points besides grow?

I’ve also thought about other things that might happen. For example, beavers might come and gnaw on you. Perhaps, if you were tall enough, it would take a few turns for them to finish your tree off, and you would be able to fend them off in some way. (Drop acorns?) Something good would have to be available, too, like tree-huggers coming and hugging your tree, which would give you lots of points.

At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be too sophisticated, but I’d love to make it something slightly addictive that I’d actually play, and perhaps something viral that others would install. But I’m not quite sure how the gameplay should go. Ideas?

Business Reply Mail

I received a letter from my bank today. Before the fold, it contains this simple text:

Matthew—We’re writing to remind you it’s important for us to receive the missing information indicated below by November 5, 2009.

“Oh no,” I thought in a panic. I’m in trouble with my bank. I must have missed something important.

I then unfolded the rest of the letter.

It’s a promotion for Accidental Death & Dismemberment insurance. It’s important that I sign up soon if I want to receive their promotion.

This is one of those things that really bothers me. I’m used to companies playing dirty tricks, but my bank—not just any bank, but DCU, which is usually above these things—trying to fleece me into believing that they’re sending me an important communication about my account, when it is actually a promotion? It left me somewhat upset.

I plan to write a letter to the bank. But in the meantime, I decided to engage in a bit of petty, passive-aggressive protest. I wrote a quick one-paragraph e-mail expressing my resentment for their practices and stuffed it in the Business Reply Mail envelope they sent along.

But then I got to wondering: just how much was my protest going to cost? And how are they billed? Will taping pennies as I’ve heard about drive up their costs?

I went to the source, and the answer is kind of depressing. The “Basic” plan costs them 74 cents per parcel. Score! But if you read on, it’s not nearly as fun. If they receive a lot of replies (891, apparently, not really that many) the rate drops to 8.3 cents each. If they use “Qualified” mail, which seems to consist of setting up a virtual ZIP+4 ZIP code and using barcodes for faster routing, the rate is 5.2 cents. If they receive more than 42,778 cents, they should go for the “High-volume QBRM” plan, which, after an outlay of about $2,500 to set up, costs them a mere seven-tenths of a cent per reply.

It does seem that there’s a weight limit of 2 ounces on the cheaper “Qualified” BRM, but I don’t know how it works. I can’t imagine that the USPS actually weighs every incoming message to make sure. So I don’t know if my fantasy of an envelope weighing more than 2 ounces actually gets me anywhere. If it does, note that there seems to be no reason to go beyond 2 ounces, so don’t waste your pennies.

I simply wrote them a concise letter and stuffed it in the envelope. While I’d love to think that I’m sticking it to them, odds are that I’m costing them 0.7 cents. The greater cost is probably in the 20 seconds it will take someone to open the envelope, glance at the letter, and throw it in the trash. But I don’t really care. I feel like I’m sticking it to the man.

Unfortunately, the reply goes to the insurance company, not my bank. I plan to write an actual e-mail to my bank, intended more at expressing my disappointment, and less at wasting their time and money.

Thinking about the News

A lot of times I see a headline and jump to a conclusion. I think that makes me a typical American. Or probably just a typical human.

But sometimes I actually think about the news and read the whole article. And sometimes I find that it’s actually very important to read news instead of forming strong opinions based on the headline alone.

For example, in Massachusetts, prisoners will get H1N1 vaccines first. My first thought? That’s absurd. Long before any long-abiding, hard-working people can get the vaccine, we’re going to give it to crooks and felons? Except there’s a perfectly-good explanation. If a couple people in prison got it, the entire prison would most likely end up with it. It’s the same reason college dorms are so fanatical about everyone having lots of shots. People live in closer quarters than usual.

But at the end, I was still angry. Except I’m not angry that prisoners are being given the vaccine first. I’m angry that it was on the news. When you understand why, it’s an utter non-news story. The only reason I can see to run the story is to hope to generate outrage and controversy.


I saw a handful of news articles about the Sidekick. Basically, all T-Mobile Sidekicks apparently store everything–contacts, texts, photos, etc.–in the cloud. If the device is hard-rebooted, it doesn’t bother saving them, since it can just pull them back from the cloud. No one was ever really aware of this, it seems, since it worked so well.

Until, last week, the service went down across all of T-Mobile. Minutes (it’s a smartphone. It’s like crack.) turned to hours, which turned to days. Finally, it was announced that anything that wasn’t restored was probably irretrievably lost.

An additional, confusing detail: T-Mobile runs the network, but Danger, who created the phone, runs the servers that this all runs on. Except Danger was bought by Microsoft, so Microsoft is essentially at fault. (Which explains something that confused me greatly at first: why Microsoft was being blamed for a failure on a non-Windows phone.)

A few coworkers and I were talking about this at work. It boggles my mind that the data is just gone. Take, for instance, our database at work. For reasons that irritate me, our site runs off of a single server. But we have enough copies of it, including multiple hot spares, that I don’t feel like counting them to tell you how many we have. They not only span different storage mediums and switches (so that, say, a SAN failure, or an Ethernet/Fibre switch failure would be inconsequential to our operation), but they span physical locations, although only our “real” data center is online. You could detonate an atom bomb in one of our cabinets and we’d still have all of the data available offsite. The other side of things is that deliberately-deleted data (“DROP DATABASE master_database”) would be merrily replicated across most of our servers. But we have enough backups (again, spanning both physical locations and storage mediums) that we would probably only lose a few hours’ worth of records.

Our site is probably considerably smaller than Sidekick’s setup. They apparently ran an Oracle RAC setup, for example. So it should be next to impossible for all that data to just disappear.

AppleInsider completes that sentence with an “unless…” that many of us probably didn’t even consider: unless it was internal sabotage.

Poison Ivy is Taking Over

For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I have an irrational phobia of poison ivy. I’ve never had poison ivy, which means that it’s theoretically possible I’m not even allergic, though I doubt that. It’s just that poison ivy and its toxins seem terrifying to me.

So I always assumed it was just my paranoia when I noticed that poison ivy is everywhere, and in a bad way. While it’s not that uncommon to see it as a short plan with three leaves, I’ve noticed that the entirety of the Interstate Highway System, or at least the 50 miles I spend on it, is covered with a mass of poison ivy that is overtaking rocks and vegetation, and, in places, growing as tall as I am. (“Growing as high as I am,” as I initially wrote, seems to lead to a different conclusion about why I’m terrified of poison ivy, incidentally.)

BoingBoing posted in April that poison ivy really is taking over. With increased CO2 emissions, Satan’s plant is able to not only grow more quickly and larger, but also to produce more toxins. In other words, it’s bigger and badder.

Their most recent post about this mankind-dooming discovery includes something that looks like it’s straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory, or perhaps a science-fiction horror movie about super-fertilized poison ivy. CO2 seems to be a sort of catalyst to poison ivy, the sort of unfair advantage you might read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. The higher levels of CO2 help the poison ivy grow larger leaves, which, in turn, allow it to process more sunlight, which, in turn, allows it to grow even bigger.

The Forestry Service has an interesting page on poison ivy, too. Poison ivy seems to be a favorite food of white-tailed deer, for example. They’re not affected by it. (If we prohibit hunting white-tailed deer for a few years, is it possible that they will become plentiful enough to eradicate poison ivy?) It’s deliberately planted in the Netherlands to keep dikes from eroding. (And here I thought I wanted to move to the Netherlands…) It’s supposedly planted in gardens because some people find the leaves, with their red color in the autumn, to be pleasing to the eye. (Others of us find it horrifying to the eye.)

The Forestry Service page also mentions that “[i]ngested leaves do not confer immunity,” debunking a myth that I’m pretty sure does not actually exist at all. Other studies have found that, when it’s soaked in wastewater (i.e., sewage), the growth of poison ivy was not affected. It is also somewhat tolerant of floods. It even seems okay with fires, because its roots can extend deep enough to not be considerably affected. They do note a perhaps-unsurprising conclusion, that burning poison ivy after it has already been treated with an herbicide will decrease the odds of it returning. In other words, if you kill it and then set it on fire, there’s a chance that it won’t regrow. (But note that setting it on fire is generally an awful idea, since the oil can be turned into a vapor; also, fire-damaged poison ivy seems to grow back more densely, according to the Forestry Service. Ergo, you may apply poison-ivy killer, and, when it’s dead, set it on fire. But then you’ll breath in the vaporized oil, getting poison ivy in your throat, and the poison ivy will just grow back stronger next year.)

There is hope, however. The Forestry Service mentions Pileolaria shiraiana, a parasitic rust affecting poison ivy. Hopefully, President Obama will take this up as one of his next priorities.