Primeval – S04E02 – Review

I got nothing.

The current series of Primeval is so ordinary that I have neither strong positive or negative feelings towards it. They aren’t screwing things up badly like they did last season, neither are they making me interested like they did in the first season. I’ve watched through this episode 3 times and still I’ve got nothing, so I decided to try my Fusion Patrol approach. I watch the show, take notes, fill in some comments and hope I have something to say.

Timeline/Notes

00:00 Five years ago a woman captures a bizarre baby anomaly animal and flushes it down the toilet. Yeah. I’m believing that. Looked too big to flush. Perhaps some kids would like to try some experimenting and report back to me on that one. What is the maximum size lizard you can flush. My guess is you’ll need to live in Australia or Indonesia to try that one.

00:04 Philip, “We’re poised on a new dawn” – hhhmmmmmmmm, New Dawn, that sounds fishy. What kind of scientific advancement is he hoping to get? Is it just an understanding of time, or is he perhaps trying to control time?

00:05 Danny Quinn still has a locker. They just keep reminding us about the missing Danny. Once again that seems to indicate Danny isn’t really gone yet.

00:06 Lot of old dumpy buildings in London, aren’t there? Actually, this looks like the same building they shot in during the second series.

00:07 Perky chick (what’s her name?) gives Conner the key to her apartment. Suspicious? Forward? Clueless? Not sure which. Isn’t she perky, though?

00:09 Rex is back. I hope he doesn’t feature in any more episodes. He’s such a technically stupid creature, that thing certainly couldn’t flap his wings and fly.

00:09 New guy (What’s his name?) is chatting with old guy (Is that an old Danny?) Clearly New Guy is spying for him.

00:10 We have our first fatality! Construction worker for dinner! It took 10 minutes for a fatality… this show is really slowing down.

00:11 Perky Girl’s apartment is nice. ARC must pay well well. At least she uses Macs.

00:14 Conner’s old friend, Duncan, has really moved up in the world, living rough and homeless and he has a collection of dinosaur poo! Nah, he’s not obsessing about the whole “best friend killed by dodo” thing at all.

00:20 Perky Girl has the hots for Becker!

00:21 “Are you (Abby) his (Connor’s) girlfriend?” “Wow, there’s hope for us all!” Best line in the entire series, although, I’m noticing that Abby is aging pretty fast, she’s never going to age well like Claudia Brown/Jenny Lewis. PLEASE bring Jenny back! At least we have Perky Girl.

00:24 It’s a Boar Croc (Kaprosuchus)

00:26 Abby has commandeered a boat. On what authority can she commandeer a boat? Do they carry ID?

00:27 Only the second killing. Not much of a body count. Ho hum

00:29 Becker to the rescue! Ever notice how the ARC has a team of crack military types, but none of them do anything except Becker?

00:30 Container breaks free with creature inside, falls 30+ feet… and the animal is still alive. Rubbish! Do we have to discuss the cube/square law?

00:32 I’m so glad the guys running this container port have stacked the containers in a convenient labyrinth pattern.

00:34 One utterly useless ARC soldier dead! Body count: 3

00:37 Conner has his job back! Was it ever in doubt? Wonder why they bothered with that subplot? Was it just to kill time?

00:39 Becker might have the hots for Perky Girl… and why not?

00:43 …and it’s all over. 43 minutes? That’s short!

Primeval – S04E01 – Review

All this tweeting and podcasting and suddenly I just don’t have time to review new science fictions shows – or, if I do, I do it on the podcast. That just doesn’t seem right, and one of the staples of my blog has always been reviewing episodes of Primeval. Pity they cancelled it, isn’t it?

Ah, but they didn’t, nearly two years later, Primeval is back. Is it better than before?

For those perhaps not in the loop, Primeval, an ITV science fiction program about temporal anomalies opening corridors between different times and the present, often allowing nasties such as dinosaurs into our own time, ran for 3 successful – if dubiously plotted and scientifically inaccurate – seasons, but, the global economic crisis combined with ITV financial difficulties lead to cost-cutting measures. Primeval, a CGI-heavy series, had to go, but creative financing has brought the show back to our screens. (Well, back to some people’s screens, anyway.)

Synopsis

At the end of the previous series, Danny Quinn, team leader at the Anomaly Research Center (the ARC) was trapped, perhaps forever, in the Pleistocene, having defeated Helen Cutter’s evil plans to destroy mankind. Helen had been killed by a velociraptor that had followed them through the anomaly and Quinn was cut off.

Meanwhile, Abby and Conner had been trapped in the Cretaceous, also with little hope of an anomaly opening on its own.

One year later, with a Spinosaur on their trail, Conner and Abby find Helen Cutter’s anomaly control device and manage to return to the present day, brining a Spinosaur with them. They find themselves face-to-face with the new ARC team and must all work together to stop the Spinosaur.

Analysis

Typically the analysis section of these reviews is where I rip the piss-poor science and ridiculous temporal-plotting, but this episode is something new… there’s really nothing in it. It’s a straight-forward melodrama with no twists or turns and, once past the notion of the anomalies and creatures traveling through time there’s nothing in that to pick on, either.

There are a couple things to note, first, the ARC has been turned into a “public/private partnership” and new character, Philip, Nobel-prize winning genius and inventor of the room-temperature super-conductor now seems to co-own the ARC, and is clearly in a superior position – if equal on paper – with Ben Miller’s returning character of Lester.

Of the old crew, only Becker survived in the present, and he’s been made second-in-command to a new Irish guy who is so non-descript I have to wait for someone to call him by name before I can remember what it is. (OK, I just looked it up, his name is Matt.)

Matt has a secret, he seems to be collaborating with an elderly gentlemen and, if their remarks are to be believed, they’re working together to save the world, and Matt is searching for someone at the ARC.

My pet theory is that the old man is actually Danny Quinn, returned via anomaly to some point in the past and having lived his entire life waiting for this time. I’ve got nothing to support that; however, in the “summary” at the beginning of the episode, we saw the actors faces of Conner, Abby, even dead characters like Cutter and Helen, but we only ever saw the back of Danny Quinn’s head or a quick shot where his face was obscured. If the character has been written out of the show, why would they hide his face and not the others?

Considering it was such a long time coming, I’ve not got much to say about it.

Garmin 1490T GPS goes to DisneyLand

A couple months ago, I purchased a Garmin 1490T GPS at Costco. Although I’ve wanted a car GPS for some time, but couldn’t justify it just for driving around Phoenix. The pending trip to DisneyLand, smack in the middle of the freeway hell that is the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was ample justification. While I’ve had the unit and have gotten very familiar with its operation, I didn’t want to review it until it had its trial by fire.

I’m pleased to report that the unit came through with flying colors, in fact, it exceeded my expectations at every level. There was only one instance when I took a wrong turn and, to be honest, it was entirely my own fault. I made an assumption that the GPS was wrong and… it turns out I was wrong and it was right. We’ll say no more about that.

The 1490T has a large touchscreen interface, but unlike the iPhone’s glass screen, the 1490T has a soft plastic screen, which isn’t very responsive compared to the iPhone. I found myself having to push extra times on the screen, particularly when entering text. Apart from that, the interface is logical and easy to navigate.

The unit comes equipped with the ability to speak street names, and has several “voices” it can use. I’ve chosen to use the female “British” voice, but there are both male and female voices in American, British and Australian accents. The accents aren’t particularly strong, but it was initially confusing by the British voice’s insistent to call on-ramps and off-ramps “slip roads”. It’s a term I’ve never heard.

The GPS can also use a variety of voices in other languages, as well as ones you create and load yourself; however, these voice give only generic instructions such as “turn right” instead of speaking the street names, as in “turn right on N Beaver Rd.”

In particular, the feature that turned out to be the most helpful was the “free” traffic updates. These updates are supplied by FM radio in major metropolitan areas and are ad-sponsored, and so periodically, ads for Red Lobster pop up (discretely) on the screen. The GPS takes your current route and compares it to the traffic database and arrives at a delay estimate, which is displayed on the screen. The GPS compares your current route, including traffic delays, against other routes to the same destination. If an alternate route is determined to be faster the GPS changes your route to avoid the problem.

I’d tested this a number of times in Phoenix and it was less than impressive. The unit would show me that there was a delay of several minutes, but would not re-route me. You can have it show you where the traffic problems are and even “force” it to avoid the traffic; however, in every instance it would complain it me, telling me this really was the best route and even if I told it to avoid anyway, it didn’t seem to do so.

If you know anything about the route from Phoenix to Los Angeles, you’ll know there aren’t any practical alternatives to Interstate I-10. Once you’ve gotten a certain distance outside of Phoenix (around 400th Ave), I-10 is the only choice for crossing the vast wasteland in any kind of direct route. Other alternatives take you hundreds of miles out of the way.

As we left town on I-10, at around 130th Ave, the traffic delay indicator started to go crazy. FIrst it read 10 minutes delay, then 20, 30, 45 and finally 53 minutes before it announced it was recalculating due to severe traffic. It then routed us along a series of byways as we got progressively farther out into the middle of nowhere and it finally returned us to I-10 at 339th Ave, at which point we could see there was a major construction project and that traffic was backed up in both directions as far as the eye could see.

There was a second couple traveling in a different car about an hour behind us. They chose not to heed my warning and spent two hours stuck in the jam. For this event alone, the Garmin 1490T GPS has won a permanent place in my car on road trips.

I recommend this GPS.

A Time to Feel Small and a Time to Feel Special

In this galaxy, there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don’t destroy the one named Kirk.

– Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy

Ol’ Doc McCoy may or may not have gotten his numbers wrong, but what he said ranks upon one of the most important thoughts ever spoken.

I was reminded of that quote earlier because I was doing some work on Fusion Patrol. I’ve been preparing a video with an interview with Ben and me and, because it was Fusion Patrol related, I tossed the most recent Fusion Patrol opening titles that I had onto the beginning of it.

What became immediately obvious was that the old, vintage credits, rendered in Adobe After Effects, were of a grossly lower video resolution than the footage being produced even by our iPhones, and so I set upon a project to develop an updated version at HD resolutions.

My first thought was to simply recreate the originals based on a new screen resolution, but I remembered that the old credits had been designed specifically for online videos – back in the day when bandwidth was slow and video codecs were considerably more inefficient. I had intentionally made the old credits simple to reduce artifacting and bandwidth usage.

I decided I would return to the constant theme that appeared in all the “TV” credits for Fusion Patrol: astronomical pictures from NASA.

I chose to use the single most incredible photographic image ever captured by mankind – the Hubble Ultra Deep Field [HUDF] image. Have you seen it?

The Hubble telescope looked at a tiny patch of sky. Image holding a piece of paper, 1mm square at your arm’s length. That’s how small of a piece of the sky the image is of, and it was chosen because there was nothing there. It’s a picture of the darkness that lies beyond our galaxy… and what did they find?

This:

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Look at this picture for a while and marvel and the most amazing thing you’re ever likely to see. Click on it to see it much bigger. I can stare at this picture for hours and marvel at it.

On a very dark night, with the unaided eye, they say you can only see about 2,000 stars; 8,000 if you could every star visible from Earth (which you can’t because the Earth is in the way of some of them) but that’s not true when you get above the Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why we have the Hubble space telescope.

While you’re standing outside, if you stuck a little 1mm square of paper on thumbnail and then stretched out your arm in front of you, you’d be looking at approximately the amount of the sky being pictured in this photo – and it was chosen by the Hubble scientists because it is an empty patch of sky.

Look at that picture again. Virtually everything you see is a galaxy. 10,000 of them! You are staring through a tiny hole in the light pollution of the stars of the Milky Way galaxy into the abyss of the universe beyond. The farthest away are approximately 13 billion light years away.

This is the third time Hubble (and the most detailed) time Hubble has conducted this experiment in different locations, and each time is the same. The even distribution of matter throughout the universe is part of our understanding of the Big Bang, hard through it is to conceptualize unless you grasp that space/time itself is expanding rather than just the matter within.

Our galaxy has an estimated 200-400 billion stars, and you’re looking at 10,000 more galaxies. The estimate, based on these pictures, is that there must be between 100-200 billion galaxies.

In the face of it, we are unimaginably insignificant.

…and yet “…in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us.” We are also incredibly unique.

“Don’t destroy the one named [insert your name here.]”

Flip Mino HD vs Kodak Zi8 and Apple iPad, iPhoto and iMovie

Recently in conversation, the topic of using the Flip HD and the Kodak Zi8 mini-camcorders came up, and specifically, how well do they work with Apple products, like iMovie. As it happens, I own both the Flip and the Kodak camera, so I put down a few thoughts on them. For anyone who might find this comparison helpful, here then in a slightly edited and revised version of those thoughts.

Comparison Flip Mino HD and Kodak Zi8

I’ll start by saying that, as a camera, I prefer the Zi8 in virtually every way to the Flip HD with the exception of the shape of the bottom of its case, which is, I admit, a rather trivial – but valid – complaint.

As far as I can see, picture quality, macro ability, picture format options (30 or 60 fps, for example), SDHC card compatibility, spare battery capable, low-light ability… in every way, the Zi8 surpasses the Flip. It’s my “go to” HD camera – although I use my iPhone 4 often because it is always with me; however, as a camera, the iPhone 4 is still pretty limited.

My complaint about the “bottom” of the Zi8 is simply this: It’s rounded. Both have tripod sockets, but with the Flip, the flat bottom means you can, in a pinch, stand the camera on a table. The Zi8’s round bottom makes that virtually impossible, making a tripod mount absolutely necessary.

So, as a camera, the Zi8 is my preference, but if the question is: Which camera works best with a Mac (or, perhaps I should say, “Apple products” then I’d have to say that the Flip is somewhat more compatible.

One falls over, the other doesn't

iPad

First, let’s look how it works with the iPad.

I’m starting with the iPad because it is probably the most inflexible environment to use the camera with and supports a narrow range of formats as opposed to the Mac.

If you want to use a camera of any kind with the iPad, you must have the iPad Camera Connection Kit, which is a pair of dongles for the iPad. One is a USB dongle, which allows you to connect a standard USB cable to the iPad and then connect that to a camera, just as you might connect your camera to your computer. The other is an SD card reader, for plugging SD cards directly into your iPad. (These dongles can only be used to get stuff onto your iPad, not back off of it.)

Both the Flip and the Zi8 have built-in USB connectors so that they may be plugged into a computer without having to carry a cable. This is a great feature, but a little awkward depending on what other USB devices you have and the configuration of your computer. The Zi8’s is flexible and allows slightly greater freedom in connecting the camera to a computer. The Flip’s is fixed and I always have to disconnect all other USB devices from my MacBook Pro before I connect it. You could, of course, use an extension cable, but that defeats the purpose of having the connector built-in.

Using the camera connection kit USB Connector the Flip connects and the videos can be imported directly into the iPad. Under the same circumstances, the Zi8 causes the iPad to complain that it needs “too much current” and it will not recognize the device. Score one point for the Flip.

Using the camera connection kit SD Card Connector the Flip cannot connect because it doesn’t use SD cards. The Zi8’s cards are easily read and imported. Score one for the Zi8.

I’m going to make a note here that under each camera’s appropriate connection method, you can see thumbnails of the videos. That’s good because you sometimes don’t want to import every picture or video and you need to see a thumbnail to decide which ones to import.

However, once the videos have been imported into the iPad… you can no longer see the Zi8’s thumbnails… you get a generic icon that says “movie”. The Flip ones have thumbnails and can be watched on the iPad. You cannot see a thumbnail or play the Zi8 video on the iPad. That’s 2 points (thumbnail and playable video) for the Flip and non for the Zi8.

So, if you’re using the Flip with the iPad exclusively, I’d clearly recommend the Flip as the superior camera in terms of usability with the computer equipment. This is especially likely to be important if Apple ever releases iMovie for the iPad. Flip videos may be immediately editable. Zi8 videos almost certainly will not.

The Mac and iMovie

Let’s ignore everything I said about the iPad now and concentrate solely on the Mac. In this instances, I am referring to the iLife ’11 series of software. I was using them on older versions, but I’ll confine my remarks solely to the current version.

If you plug either camera in, iPhoto sees them as cameras and will import and play the videos. No problem and this is how I use both cameras, importing the videos directly into iPhoto ands then using them in iMovie from within iPhoto. They both work fine.

The Flip comes with some nasty video management software which is, at least, fully Mac compatible. I don’t like this software, but it does work. It is not necessary and can be ignored. On the other hand, this software also does the firmware updates to the Flip, so ignore it at your peril. There have been several updates since I bought the Flip. I do like the fact that the Flip has a planned mechanism for updating their firmware.

The Zi8 has none of that, and, as far as I can tell, no firmware updates since I bought it, nor does there seem to be a user-friendly way to do the updates when they do happen.

However, iMovie also has the capability to import directly from the camera, selecting only the clips you need, if you prefer to work that way. iMovie recognizes the Flip as a camera, it does not recognize the Zi8 as a camera. You have to get your Zi8 videos in from iPhoto or direct file import. Score one for Flip.

Otherwise, all things are about equal.

Conclusion

So… if I and my iPad were on the road without computer, and I need to view my videos, the Flip would be the better way to go.

On the Mac, since I use iPhoto to organize my videos anyway, this isn’t an issue and I use the same workflow for both cameras, therefore I prefer the better and more flexible Zi8 as a camera.

Some thoughts on the magic of the Magic Kingdom


There’s a scene in the movie Nation Lampoon’s Vacation that I never saw coming. After fighting their way across the United States, through horrible tragedies, dead grandmothers & dogs, the Griswold family station wagon barrels into the completely empty parking lot of Wally World – a thinly disguised DisneyLand – only to discover the park was closed for maintenance.

At that moment, I sat transfixed. Someone else had been there, too. Someone else had felt the crushing defeat just as I had when I was nine years old in 1974. Unlike the Griswolds, my father and I barreled into the massive parking lot, not in a station wagon, but a vintage Porsche 356B, but just like them, the lot (which is now Disney’s California Adventure) was eerily empty. Back in those days, DisneyLand was closed one day a week, and no doubt many a well-meaning father delivered their excited children unto the doorstep of disappointment.

That has, perhaps, colored forever my perception of DisneyLand.

We went back in 1977, and, while I remember having fun, it wasn’t so much so that I’ve had any reason to go back until 2010.

And so now we’re here with our children and I’m having fun. It’s hard not to have when so many people around you, and especially your own children, are having a blast. Fun is infectious.

The analytical part of me is dissecting each ride, marveling that what was cutting edge 1955 technology is still very much in evidence and musing as to why the rides are supposed to be fun, but I must acknowledge that they are fun.

I am, perhaps, too jaded (or cynical, as some have said) to completely switch off Mr. Analytical and enjoy myself unreservedly as a kid might, but I can nonetheless enjoy it in my own way, and I can enjoy, and even empathize, seeing that unreservedly joy in my kids’ eyes, laughs and smiles.

Location:W Convention Way,Anaheim,United States

Fusion Patrol Follow-up

It’s a long overdue update to my previous blog post about the tribulations of getting the audio right on the Fusion Patrol Podcast.

As last you may recall, I was testing Wiretap Anywhere from Ambrosia Software. Initial tests went very well and I subsequently purchased the software.

We’ve done several podcasts since then under a variety of conditions: our standard two-person editions and a couple three-person versions, once at three remote locations and another with two people being “in the studio” at my house and one at a remote location.

The results, to my ears, are outstanding. The quality of the audio (if not the actual content) is, I feel, on par or ahead of with the vast majority of amateur podcasts out there. We still have an issue in that Skype merges multiple remote sources into one, and I don’t know any way around that; however, Skype also seems to equalize them well enough that it isn’t too much of a problem.

In putting together our two-in-the-studio episode we did get some cross-over between the mics, which resulted in some echo problems, most of which I was able to remove in post-production.

Now I think it is time to move on to the next goal: increasing our audience size.

I’m not going to give numbers, but I’m frankly amazed at how many people do actually listen. It’s far more than could be accounted for than by “just my friends” but, at the same time, you couldn’t keep a radio program on the air with an audience of this size either.

FaceTime for Mac Stays Resident

Forget all the iLife ’11, OSX 10.7 Lion and MacBook Air at the Apple Event today, the really fun announcement was FaceTime for Mac.

I’ve been playing with it all afternoon, and there are a couple interesting things about it that aren’t immediately obvious.

For starters, video quality is good (with a caveat), both from Mac to Mac and from Mac to iPhone. Initially, video quality was poorer on one end of the conversation, but through testing, we determined that the MacBook’s built-in iSight camera (now FaceTime camera) did considerably worse under low-light conditions; however, this was not a FaceTime issue, as we got the same result from iChat also.

The FaceTime program itself is basic, and does nothing more than make or receive calls from your address book (with a caveat). When you first install the program, you register with your Apple ID, identify the email address you want associated with your Mac and you’re done. It’s that simple.

So here are the interesting things I’ve learned.

  • You can place FaceTime calls directly from Safari, using the URL format of “facetime://email@address.com” or “facetime://phonenumber”
    • This works on both Safari on the Mac and Safari on the iPhone 4.
    • Using this technique, you can bypass the need for someone to be in your address book.
  • FaceTime, once installed, “stays resident” on your Mac. It appears to load a hook at boot time and your Mac and it will respond to incoming calls even when FaceTime isn’t open
    • I wonder, though, how it will respond when I take my Mac to another wifi network? Is it beaconing my address on a regular basis? What information is it sending?

While there are some issues concerning how FaceTime is being maintained constantly diligent, I think this will make a big difference in people making video calls. One of my main complaints about FaceTime is that you don’t know, when you call someone, if they’re not answering, of it they’re not on a WiFi network. Similarly, if the Mac required that you have FaceTime open, callers would likely have to call first to see if you were ready to take a FaceTime call, which really defeats the purpose of the whole thing.

I do think this explains why FaceTime wasn’t built into iChat.

I Don’t Know If I Should Laugh or Cry

It’s been a frustrating evening.

About three weeks ago I received a surprise. I received a text message and a picture message from an unknown Arizona phone number. The text message looked like it was a piece of forwarded junk. You know the kind, some idiot receives a humorous picture by email and then forwards it to every poor idiot they know. That’s what this looked like, only it was via SMS/MMS from a phone number, not an email address.

The message said something like, “Somedays you feel like you butt is draggin'” or some other stupid reference to being tired or lethargic. The accompanying picture was an animated picture of a naked woman’s butt as she walked on a treadmill.

I must admit, it popped up on my iPhone while I was at lunch and I was quite surprised. It wasn’t what I’d call it “obscene”, but it certainly a tasteless and not-family-friendly image, and certainly not something I’d like popping up on my phone while I’m at work, either.

Because it came from a phone number within Arizona, and because I didn’t recognize the number, I assumed that some moronic jackass has forwarded this stupid message to me by mistake. I almost contacted him back, but then my suspicious nature got the better of me. E-mailers send out spam designed to look like a mistake in the hopes that people will respond, thus confirming their e-mail address. It would be far worse if that was what was happening with this message. SMS spam, unlike email spam, costs money.

I decided to let the matter pass and I deleted the message. I would rethink my course of action if I received more messages and could decide if it was an honest mistake or some cunning plan.

A week or so went by and I received no further messages. Then I received the second one. It followed the same pattern, the message looked as if it was forwarded but it came via SMS/MMS. Again it seemed like one for those jokey picture mails, but this time the picture was quite a bit worse. Suffice to say that the subject was “You’ve been bushwacked” and the picture featured a much more explicitly posed picture of a naked woman in desperate need of a bikini wax… or more likely, electric hedge trimmers. It was not a pretty sight. This time the picture popped up on my phone while I was at work. I deleted the picture, but this time I kept the SMS portion. It was also an Arizona (east valley) phone number and if it happened again, I wanted to know if they came from the same number. Now I was sure this was a scam to get me to reply.

Today, about a week later, I received a third. This time the message said something “Shut the f*** up, or I’ll stick my foot up you *ss” – the accompanying picture, again of a naked women, demonstrated in no uncertain way that such a feat (or should I say ‘feet’?) was anatomically possible.

It was time to take action. Not only am I now sure that the goal is to get a response, I’m convinced that it is a logical pattern. Each message gets more obnoxious and more obscene with each try. They know if they keep pushing something will give. I don’t even want to think what the next one might be!

So I called AT&T to see what could be done. After all, I have to pay for text messages, surely there’s something that can be done. Wouldn’t you think?

The AT&T rep was very sympathetic. I told her my tale, and she told be that, “Really there are only two things we can do. You could change your number, or we could setup a block on the offending phone number.

The later choice sounded much better to me and so she started to set it up for me. After we’d gone through quite a bit of the process, she dropped the bombshell: The can only block SMS messages, not MMS messages. In other words, they could only block the text not the pictures.

I expressed how ridiculous that was to the rep, and she was most apologetic, but totally useless.

I vented my frustration with AT&T on twitter. Then I called the police. Surely having someone harass me with obscene photos was something they could do something about.

Apparently not. The messages aren’t threatening enough. It seems; however, that if I get enough of them (although it’s unclear how many that is) they could “try making a harassment call”, which I assume means treating it like harassment and calling up the perp and giving them a stern talking to. The police were of little use unless this problem continues for some greater, but undetermined, length of time.

Then, the twitter gods smiled upon me. Or more specifically, some automated twitter scraper setup for or on the behalf of AT&T noticed my tweet rant and brought me to the attention of someone at AT&T whose job is apparently to help out when customers are publicly expressing their dissatisfaction with AT&T.

I hate the fact that we live in a world where the phrase, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is true more often than not, but I was glad that someone was going to try to help. Big points to AT&T for that, at least. They were on it within an hour.

I laid out my story to the new AT&T rep via twitter and e-mail and he got with his colleagues and they discussed it. They sent me info on how to disable the pop up preview on the iPhone and more importantly, they took the offending number and promised to look into what could be done.

A while later, I got a call from the rep. He’d checked out the number and it was a prepaid cell phone from a company he’d never heard of. No real way to know who the person was, and nothing they could do about it. The only option available to me was to change my cell phone number, which they would graciously do for free under the circumstances. I’m not quite ready to abandon my phone number of 5-7 years just yet.

He was very nice and very sympathetic and I discussed with him that I thought it was ridiculous, from a technological standpoint, to believe that AT&T could block SMS messages, but couldn’t block MMS messages. He explained that the SMS message ride on the phone portion of the carrier channel while MMS message ride on the data portion – this, he explained, makes it impossible to block.

“Impossible” is clearly the wrong word because, ignorant though I am of cell phone technology, AT&T must, in some way, be routing that MMS message by phone number to my phone, and if they route it, there must be a way to block it. “impossible” in this case clearly means, “we don’t want to spend the money to set that up”, “It’s too much hassle” or any of a number of potential real reasons, but “impossible” as in “not possible to ever do” is clearly bullshit. I don’t blame the rep for this, it probably is impossible for him to set this up, but AT&T could find a way.

Whether I liked the explanation or not, I had it, so I pointed out that I was receiving 2 (actually 3) messages each time. The first was SMS, looking like a subject line, the second, the MMS picture and the third was the body of the message text. So, by turning preview off, I wan’t going to be “shocked” by any progressively more disturbing pictures – or worse, have my children see them. If I could get rid of the SMS part, that would help, so I told the rep I wanted to set the SMS block up.

…and he said, “Now comes the part you’re not going to like.”

Honest, that’s word-for-word what he said.

Apparently, setting up the ability to block SMS numbers costs $5 per month and the first rep never bothered to tell me.

Basically, I’m screwed. Surely this problem, and problems like it, warrant some mechanism to stop unwanted harassment without the solution being pain on the victims’ side!

I’m tempted to publish their number in this post so that Google will pick it up, in case anyone else is getting these messages from them.

If Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth, Facebook is…

…the most depressing place on Earth.

(Needless to say, I’m not cross-posting this one to Facebook.)

Facebook is a fascinating phenomena. You can, for example, find out what Mini-Me is doing right now.

It is certainly also an amazing tool for finding old schoolmates and even long-lost friends. The “net” that the social network casts out has lead me to some really surprising “finds” of people I thought I’d never, ever hear from again.

The thing is… it’s all rather grim. For every one person who grew up and became mildly interesting, 10 more grew up to be ignorant racists, crystal loonies, ultra-rightwing republicans or worse. I have Facebook “friends” who subscribe to religious beliefs that include listening to snakes talk and glossolalia (More commonly called “speaking in tongues” -in effect, gibbering and making bizarre-assed noises and pretending this power is gifted from god.)

It’s all so depressing. These people had the same education as me, where did the system fail them?

I’m not going to deny that I may have had an advantage in terms of raw brain horse-power. It would be disingenuously for me to deny that I was identified as “gifted” by the time I was three and put in a special school. (Hated it!)

Nonetheless, arrogant and self-important that may have made me as a child, I have still always believed that most people can absorb and use the vast majority of the education that is afforded them.

Facebook proves that premise is horribly, horribly false.

I had a brief exchange with one of my classmates from back in the 70’s. It wasn’t pleasant as I was being given a dressing down for both being (supposedly) a smartass and apparently for being educated. Funny thing was, I wasn’t actually being a smartass. I suspect there was some simmering resentment or hatred towards me that has been there for 30+ years.

I’m going to reproduce the last piece of the exchange because, lest you think I’m exaggerating, I want to document just how depressing some of these people can be.

This has had all names changed, but the spelling and punctuation are exactly as I received them. Can you imagine this is from a 45-year old person and not a second grader?

YOU DONT KNOW ME TO WELL TO SAY THAT . OKAY FOR ONE . AND I REALLY NEVER CARED ABOUT WHAT YOU SAY AND 2I HAD FRIENDS AND I HAVE GOOD CHURCH GOING FRIENDS .AND PAGAN FRIENDS AND FRIENDS THAT PRACTIC WICKA AND YOU DONT KNOW ME THANK GOD .. SO DONT ASUME THAT I WAS A PERSON THAT WAS A PROBELEM .. I THINK THAT YOU NEED TO REFLECT ON BEING A BELIVER OF GOD AND STOP ACTING LIKE YOUR BETTER THAN ANY ONE YOU UNDERSTAND ME .. DONT WRITE TO ME BACAUSE I HAVE NO NEED FOR YOU ANY WAY NON BELIVER

Well, I won’t write back, instead, I’m going to ridicule your English skills just by putting them out there for people to see. (Now I am being an arrogant smartass.)

Ironically, the original discussion was started because this person was slagging off our English teacher back then and I think you can tell that this person might not have learned a lot in that class.

Most tellingly, there was not the slightest reference to religion prior to this message. Apparently, they found out I was an atheist from my profile. It’s amazing how some people can really get their backs up against the wall and attack when they learn you don’t share their… umm… as Richard Dawkins would say, “delusions.”