Hashtags to Cash Bags

The first I heard of this marketing method was with Squarespace. Now I had already heard of this hosting company because I listen to several of the TWiT (no relation to Twitter…besides, TWiT was first) podcasts and they are an advertiser there. But then I caught wind of a marketing campaign they were kicking off…using Twitter. See, in the world of tweets there are things known as hashtags. What you do is put a hash mark in front of some tag-like keyword in your tweet. This makes it easy to find tweets about a certain subject. It’s also where the trending topics list comes from. What Squarespace was doing is picking a random tweet with the #squarespace hashtag and awarding that person with a $199 Apple gift certificate. This was billed as the iPhone giveaway. They did one a day for the 30 days of June. It seemed to work pretty well.

This month it’s Moonfruit. They’re another hosting company, this time in the UK. They are giving away 10 13″ Macbook Pros. All you have to do is tweet with the #moonfruit hashtag during the contest duration. They are also giving away a couple of iPod Touches to the most creative tweets. Just like that, they’re all over the trending topics and getting face time with millions of users. Seems to me like this is smart marketing…but only for a short time. I cannot imagine it will take long for this to get really old with Twitter users and it will fall by the wayside. But I have to say, it does show some creative marketing and a brilliant way to leverage a new internet trend to your marketing advantage.

I won’t say this marketing technique is already dying, but I will say it has an extremely limited shelf-life. Things on the internet move fast. Marketing strategists have to move faster to keep up. Why? Because not all of their ideas are going to work. So they have to have time to try again before the crowds pass them by. I don’t know who first thought up the hashtag guerilla campaign, but he deserves a nice trip somewhere tropical for being ahead of the curve.

Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

How to Reboot a Franchise

There have been many attempts over the years by Hollywood to reinvent a franchise. By and large, they have failed miserably. The problem is studios try to fill every frame with as many of the currently popular cliches as possible while casting pretty boys and hot girls. There’s little wonder why fanboys and fangirls are pretty bitter about the whole thing. The atrocity that dared to be called Dragonball: Evolution is a recent example of how to do everything wrong and guarantee that you’ll piss off every fan of the original work. Such acts used to culminate in torch and pitchfork bearing mobs righting such disgusting wrongs.

And yet, I have the joy of saying somebody got it right. I just left the theater from watching Star Trek. I’ve been reading all week the various twitter posts from geeks and celebrities (and celebrity geeks like Wil Wheaton) about how completely and totally awesome this reboot of the flailing franchise is. I’ve pondered over the tales of how this one act of media beauty can finally give the fans a shred of hope that Hollywood won’t mercilessly rape everything we geeks hold sacred and dear. And I worried. I’ve heard this tripe before and it always ended in bitterness and disappointment.

Tonight was different. Tonight was fun. It was…GOOD. Somebody in the movie industry finally grew a brain cell and learned how to select an appropriate cast. Pine as Kirk was perfect. While it wasn’t quite the same attitude of ST:TOS Kirk, you have to understand he’s just getting his feet under him. I think the difference was completely appropriate for the time frame of the movie. He still has to put a few notches on his bedpost on the Enterprise before he can be the swaggering self-confident James Tiberius Kirk we watched when we were younger (No, I’m not that old. I saw re-runs as a kid).

Quinto as Spock was wonderful. Although I have to admit that it’s a little weird to see Sylar with pointed ears. You won’t understand if you don’t watch Heroes. His face is very reminiscient of a younger Leonard Nimoy and he can pull off the mostly emotionless Vulcan with style. I don’t know that there could have been a better choice for someone to fill those very large shoes. Besides, Quinto’s experience on Heroes as Sylar has given the experience of playing a range of emotional states and the ability to be very convincingly cold. That’s two for two.

Urban as McCoy was a joy. See what I did there? Though a little stockier than his namesake from TOS, his bearing and his screen presence is like seeing DeForest Kelley reincarnated in the role that geeks will forever hold in a special place. My only regret from this casting is that Kelley did not live long enough to see this wonderous sight and masterful portrayal of a role that defined and will forever be remembered for.

Uhura and Sulu were well done. The former is more bold than her TOS counterpart but fit well if you include her character in the movies. It’s understandable considering the studios were already pushing boundries simply by having her in the cast back in the late 60’s. The latter did a respectable job. He was slightly humorous in the right places and effective at action when it was called for. Let’s face it, Sulu was a man that filled gaps but almost never took center stage. In this he succeeded admirably.

Weakest in the line-up was Chekov. They tried really hard to overplay the accent. He was nearly unintelligible because it was so thick. While it lended a gag or two, he is quickly tuned out. You have to go a little out of your way to notice he did a bang-up job running the transporter systems when others could not do it. If only they had made it more like Koenig’s portrayal where you have the accent but it isn’t the all powerful force driving the character as it seemed to do here.

Finally there is Scotty. Pegg stole every scene he was in. The accent was spot-on. The emotion was just right. Everything about his performance made everything else better. I’m not kidding when I say he literally owned every scene he was in. It didn’t matter if he was in the background with the rest of the starring cast and he only had one line. It was his scene and he did it all with style.

I could continue to gush about how ridiculously amazing the cast is but I have to have a word or two about the plot. While the story isn’t masterful, it is functional. They accomplish a total reboot of the Star Trek universe without invalidating everything we hold dear. Don’t get your hopes up about an epic story like LOTR. After all, this is Trek and few stories they tell are that epic. It was a fun ride, though. The token bad guy is just that…token. He’s pretty uninspiring and not worthy of cleaning Khan’s shoes. But I don’t hold that against Abrams. Every epic has to start somewhere and I’d rather he get the shaky footing out of the way now. Especially since this movie was pulled off with such an amazing cast that you can easily overlook the less than stellar plot and easily forgettable bad guy.

Bravo to everyone involved in breathing a fresh breath of life back into one of the most titanic and game-changing sci-fi creations of all time. May this reboot live long and prosper. (And burn slowly, Rick Berman, for the horror you visited upon a beloved mythos)

Tech Support – We’re People Too

Nobody likes calling tech support. There are droves of sites that recount horror stories of dealing with various companies and their failure to provide the help that is wanted and needed. This will probably never change. I, too, really try to avoid calling any tech support line as long as possible. I will beat Google’s search algorithm to a bloody pulp and turn my cable modem into a pile of molten goo in an attempt to fix a problem before I will pick up the phone a press a few numbers. Heck, I have a series of posts on this very blog recounting my experiences with Comcast support and they are not flattering to tech support (though the social media outreach team is a different story).

On the flip side of that coin, I am in tech support at the company I work for. I take the calls and do what I can to help. Having been on both sides of the fence, I think I can safely say that there are a few things you can do to give you much better chances to leave a support call satisfied. Now this may not work every time as every company and every support technician (or engineer or whatever the PC term is this week) are not equal. But the point here is by trying to adhere to a few common courtesies and being a little flexible can greatly increase the chances that you will have a pleasant experience when you pick up the phone to ask for help.

First and foremost, do not assume that you will be stonewalled or that your experience will be a bad one. This will put you in a negative frame of mind and that will come out during your conversation with the support rep. Job or not…that is a person on the other end and they don’t like being verbally abused or mistreated any more than you do. Try to remember that. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish since you are probably frustrated already with whatever problem has driven you to call in the first place but trust me, you don’t want to come off as belligerent.

Next, understand that your problem might be rare or unique in some way so it may take a little while to dig to the bottom of the cause. A good support rep is not going to just give you a quick answer and all but shove you off the call. I can tell you from personal experience that about 30% of the cases I deal with in any given day are unique in some form or fashion. This leads me to asking quite often for very basic information so I can be sure that I am thorough. After all, if you call back because the problem wasn’t as fixed as we thought it was because I missed something, you will, understandably, be less inclined to be patient or nice. Of course there is the exception of the other 70% of the cases I deal with. These are the things I see almost daily and can say with near absolute confidence what the solution is in fairly short order. Don’t confuse that answer with brushing you off. If you have doubts about which it is, then ask if it’s a common problem. I can’t speak for most companies but I can say that the one I work for values honesty with the customer.

Try to understand the support rep’s point of view because he or she is trying to understand yours. Our goal is to get your problem fixed. Our goal is to do it as quickly and as thoroughly as reasonably possible. We want you to get full use of your product/service and we know how frustrating it is when something you need isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. We honestly do understand. We don’t get calls because things are working great, which is fine because that’s the job. Again, I can’t speak for other places but at my job we do it because we like solving problems.

I don’t know how many people notice, but if you are on a support call and your rep engages you in idle conversation while fixing the problem, you will probably leave the call with a positive feeling towards the experience. The chatting about random things gives you a personal connection with the person on the other end of the phone. It doesn’t seem as mechanical and that has a profound effect on the overall experience. I bring this up because if you are feeling overly frustrated by your problem, try initiating some idle chat if the rep has not. This can diffuse the potential for a bad experience rather quickly. It does not mean we won’t take your problem seriously, but it does make the solution finding process more pleasant which makes time seem to pass more quickly. This is a good thing since nobody wants to be on the phone for a long time with support. Well, it usually doesn’t make the top 10 list of things to do at work at any rate.

What brought on this particular post? Oddly, it was not having a bad support call. I had a great one. A call came in mere minutes before quitting time and ran about an hour or so after quitting time. The caller had every right to be really upset about the situation but never once let it show. We had a nice chat while we worked through everything that was going on and tried some different methods to fixing the problem. When we finally exhausted everything I knew to try we finally had to admit defeat and get the replacement process started. Even then the caller was understanding and only stated a desire to get back up and running quickly. I went on and stayed a while after hanging up to make sure the replacement process was fully in motion (at least as far as I can take it) before finally shutting down my computer and heading home. I do this job because I like to solve problems and I like helping people. Being in support lets me do both. Calls like this make the job a real joy. And amazingly, most of the calls we get are nearly this good.

Just remember that you are dealing with a person on the other end of the phone. This person is here to do what they can to help. Try to be nice to them even if you are mad at the situation. At the very least, take a breath if you start venting and apologize. Everyone’s emotions get a little out of sorts from time to time. I called Comcast for the eleventy-hundredth time and ended up griping at the poor lady that answered my call for nearly three minutes. The moment I realized what I was doing, I stopped and took a deep breath. Then I apologized for taking it out on her and explained I was just very frustrated by the problem and she did not deserve that because she personally had been trying to help fix the problem. Even after all of that I would dare say we both left the call on a happy note.

A little courtesy can work wonders.

Hollywood Never Gets It

I am an otaku. For those that don’t recognize the term, it means someone obsessed with something. In American slang it means someone obsessed with things Japanese. I love the culture, the food, and anime. Anime really isn’t a cartoon in the normal American sense. I’ve covered that before. The stories are deeper and the characters are far more complex than anything you’ll find on a Saturday morning show. It is an art form. What does this have to do with Hollywood being stupid? They don’t understand.

The braniacs at the movie studios usually have the sense to leave Japanese creations and ideas alone. They don’t have the mental capacity to execute the complex stories. Hollywood is little more than a large copy machine these days recycling scripts from previously successful movies by running them through the “update it for current times” formula. This formula usually consists of having actors that are either currently popular or fit the “hot girl” or “pretty boy” stereotype thrown into some situation where a love interest can be mixed in. Add a few explosions and some CG and you have an instant movie. The Japanese concepts and storytelling will never fit such a mechanical formula. They tell rich stories that can give you much to talk about and ponder for weeks after having seen it.

Unfortunately, some headcase in Hollywood does get the occasional idea to take a Japanese story and rape it mercilessly in the hopes of making a quick buck. The latest atrocity is Dragonball: Evolution. I went to see this with the expectation that it would be the worst movie I’d ever seen. The Dragonball anime series is probably the greatest loved action series ever created. I don’t know who could have possibly thought that making this abortion was a good idea, but they should be put out of our misery immediately. To have this piece of filth dare to call itself by the name of Dragonball is probably the most offensive act America has committed this year.

Now I am not railing against the movie because it isn’t exactly like the anime. Nobody would expect any transition to the big screen to survive completely intact. But the only things they managed to get even close to right are the names. The story was terrible and really would not make sense to anyone that isn’t already a Dragonball fan. The characters were poorly cast. The wardrobe looks like rejects from the clearance rack at Wal-Mart…and the screenplay as a whole completely sucked. You would have thought that after Godzilla, somebody would have learned a lesson. Perhaps I expect to much of the American Movie Machine.

Why would you have a story about Goku and not include Krillin? They were best friends and stood by each other through every saga…through every series. At what point did it seem right not to have him there? I thought part of the formula would have included the best friend that has to be saved. And Bulma being fearless and wielding guns? If you were gonna do that, you should have called her Lunch. She better fit the character written in the script. And then there’s the nit-pick stuff like Gohan and Roshi teaching crane style…WTF? Roshi is the turtle hermit. He does not use crane style.

I could easily fill a book with all of the little things that were just plain wrong in the movie. But I think the fact that the Hannah Montana movie on average has 2 more stars in online ratings speaks volumes. And if at any point you think I’m making up how bad this movie is, see if you can find the scene of Goku summoning the dragon. I have never in all my life heard a more ridiculous line delivered so badly…ever…by anyone…at any age. That is not an exaggeration. I went to the movies with a friend that is also a Dragonball fan and we laughed so hard when this line was spoken that we thought we’d be kicked out of the theater. It really is like being smashed in the “dragonballs” with a hammer.

Do us all a favor, Hollywood. Keep your nose out of all things Japanese.

Of Things SBR

I had an apostrophe today. Lightning just struck my brain. SBR is my site. It’s whatever I want it to be. SBR is a reflection of whatever is going through my mind and whatever has my attention at the moment. So I’ve decided to stop worrying about where to focus this site. I think what makes a good blog is that it’s personable. What I mean is that you feel that by reading it you have gained a connection to the author. I give you Wil Wheaton’s blog WWdN as an example. I’ve never met Wil. Odds are I probably will never be lucky enough to sit back with him and just chat about gaming and sci-fi and just general geeky things. But every time I visit his site and read his posts I feel that I know him a little better and that we could be friends. That’s what a good blog is about.

So in that spirit, I think it is time that I simply start writing again about anything and everything. Sure there will be a lot of tech stuff here. I’m a geek and I work at an awesome software company. But I’m a study of human folly and love to cook. I was raised in a mechanic’s household through much of my teenage years and early 20’s so I can do many things with wrenches and hammers and lovely lovely power tools. I’ve worked in commercial construction. I’ve been in IT related jobs for the majority of my working years. I’ve had jobs that have made me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a small European country. I’ve had jobs that were really hard to leave. I’m currently in my dream job and I never would have guessed that this would be the position to make me this happy. Heck, I voluntarily worked for like 5 hours this past Saturday from home. That says a lot about how I feel about this job.

What’s my point? I don’t really have one on this post. It’s the springboard for me writing posts that individually are focused on a particular subject while the site itself is focused on nothing but my general interests. As a matter of fact I will probably be finishing the half-dozen or so drafts I’ve got sitting in the wings just waiting for me to stop procrastinating. Then again, I’ll be adding at least a dozen more I’ve been considering for some time now. I won’t promise a regular posting schedule. That’s for companies and businesses. This is a hobby and I’ll add something when I feel it’s time.

On that note, I’m off to start the next post which will be up “soon”.

Still Alive

No, I haven’t abandoned SBR.Net. I’m still here but life has been busy and I’ve been considering whether or not I want to continue technology commentary here. There are already a ridiculous number of tech sites out there but not so many that cover humanology as my occasional rants do. So that’s why I’ve been so quiet. I am deciding the future direction for my site and don’t want to clutter it up until I have made a firm decision.