Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Facebook, Scrabble, Scrabulous: Hasbro Unwittingly Makes A Political Point

Dad was always ruining Family Games Night with unwelcome commentaries on economic theory...

The ongoing cyberspace PR disaster over Scrabble on Facebook continues, and brings with it (unintentionally) an important point about political theory.

Consider for a moment some of the traditional arguments used by conservatives/neocons/libertarians that any given government function can usually be operated better and more efficiently by the private sector and competition.

-Large, complex structures produce large, complex inefficiencies. And governments are the largest, most complex structures of all.

-Competition reduces waste, because the private sector is inherently geared to make a profit, rather than to supporting a large infrastructure.

-Having many choices will tend to improve service, because if you don't like the job A does, you can take your business to B, or C.

In theory it looks pretty simple, and admittedly (even if conservative politics rub you the wrong way) it still has a certain ring of truth to it. But many may have made the mistake of assuming that "government" is the large structure prone to stupidity, and that "the private sector" are inherently the Good Guys. Consider the case of Hasbro vs. The Two Guys From India.

Hasbro has recently enforced its North American copyright on Scrabble and forced the Scrabulous application, a clone of their game made by two guys from India, off of Facebook... at least for users in the U.S. and Canada. Scrabulous was one of Facebook's most popular applications, with hundreds of thousands of games being played each day.

Scrabulous generally worked well and efficiently. Hasbro's official application, on the other hand -- which Hasbro has had months to work on, and huge financial resources to put into, has produced "Scrabble Beta"... that's right, it's still only a beta version... despite Hasbro's statement that the legal action " deference to the fans, [Hasbro] waited in pursuing legal action until Electronic Arts had a legitimate alternative available."

That "legitimate alternative" suffers from the following problems:

-At least half the time, the application doesn't proceed past "checking IP address" -- making sure that you are in fact in the United States or Canada.

-The IP address block makes it impossible for someone in the U.S. or Canada to play a game with anyone in the rest of the world, and vice versa... an important consideration given the nature of Facebook.

-Attempts to join games are usually greeted with the message "Error joining matches, try again later." This, despite the fact that at any given time there are hundreds, if not thousands, of willing players waiting.

-If one does manage to join a game, unnecessary animations slows the down significantly.

-The entire colour scheme of the "official" version is less authentic than it is with the "clone" version.

-The tiles are smaller and more difficult to read than with Scrabulous.

-Players must give a name to each individual game, rather than simply being assigned a number

-Apparently the game does not have the capacity to trade in your tiles if they all suck (like with the real game or Scrabulous)

-Scrabble Beta does not have a chat feature, so you can't exchange messages with the other player(s) as one could with Scrabulous. Note to Hasbro: Facebook is a social networking site. You might have considered that social interaction was an important part of the game.

And now, the final bit of "the private sector is becoming the enemy" unintentional comedy: ...Hasbro is blaming the terrorists, in a sense, for their problems with Scrabble Beta.

Maybe the neocons got it right, but forgot that there are many kinds of jihadists in the world. Maybe the conservative/neocon/libertarian point is right about how to best deliver a service. Unfortunately, we now live in a world where The Big Evil Lunkhead isn't necessarily and automatically "the government" any more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Facebook Shuts Down Scrabulous: How To Not Win Friends And Influence People

Facebook has shut down access from The U.S. and Canada to Scrabulous, a Scrabble clone that has turned out to be an insanely popular feature with Facebook users, myself included.

If you've been following this story at all, you'll know that this is a matter of copyright infringement, and that in North America "Scrabble" is owned by Hasbro. Hasbro has, of course, known about Scrabulous for some time, and could in theory have shut it down earlier.

I assumed (ha!) that one of the reasons Hasbro held off on taking this action was because they knew that Scrabulous is popular with hundreds of thousands of users. Since Hasbro was working on a Facebook-friendly online version of the game, it would make sense to wait until their application was ready to roll before pulling the plug on the clone. Whether or not Hasbro was losing money because of Scrabulous is debatable. But if you are going to yank a product that a lot of people really like for purely legal reasons in order to replace it... the replacement should work.


Users attempting to install the Official Scrabble application are getting this message today:

We're working on some tech problems and Scrabble will be ready to play as soon as possible!

We appreciate all the great feedback we've received over the past week and as a result we're making changes to Scrabble for its official launch in mid-August, including a streamlined app with the option to turn-off animations for faster gameplay and full keyboard functionality for those who prefer this way to play.

Please continue to let us know how we can make Scrabble - the best word game on Facebook - even better!

"The best word game on Facebook"? You mean, the other word games don't work at all, either?

As it stands, the games are off. And I couldn't help but notice that the "official" application is called Scrabble Beta. As in, "it's unlikely this thing is going to work nearly as well as a completed product should."

Besides... I was about to play "sequoias" on one of my games. Do you have any idea how many points that would have been worth?

So, despite months to plan ahead, Hasbro has resoundingly dropped the PR ball. But I'm willing to forgive you for now, Hasbro... just like I forgave you for selling me that copy of Cranium Cadoo that was covered in deadly Chinese lead-based paint. And don't even get me started on that Easy-Bake Oven problem with the third degree burns and the partial finger amputations on five-year-old girls.

Oops. Guess that was kind of cheeky of me to mention that. "Cheeky"...that's an 18-point word. A shame I can't use it now...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Your Search Engine Sucks: Cuil, Day One

To much fanfare, a new search engine claiming to have more links than Google, to work better than Google, and to have hired former Google engineers opened its virtual doors today to await an incoming huge rush of love, money and popularity. Cuil (pronounced "cool," as in "Isn't it cool how much money there is to be made on the Internet for just the cost of a press release and a promise to give Google a run for its money?") is available here, if you have large amounts of time to waste and/or are a big fan of frustration. If you don't, rest assured that The Church Of Mothra has already gone to the trouble of testing it for you... thank us with your generous donations.

Let's see how Cuil measures up against Google...

Number of entries found for search: "Church Of Mothra"

Google: 83,800
Cuil: 111

Direct Link To "The Church Of Mothra" Blog:

Google: First Item
Cuil: NONE


Number of entries found for search: "onion sombrero" (exact phrase)

Google: 1150
Cuil: 1052 (most of which do NOT contain the exact phrase as specified)

Location of Church Of Mothra article on "onion sombrero"

Google: Page One


Number of entries found for search: "Cuil sucks" (exact phrase)

Google: 1260
Cuil: 1 (and it isn't about Cuil at all)


Amount of investor money reported poured into development of Cuil: over $30 million dollars.
Number of Cuil investors actually happy about it today: NONE.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Do It Yourself Paranoia: Mothra Puts On The Onion Sombrero

You may have recently been exposed to a commercial for Coke Zero involving a disembodied tongue, eyeball, and brain, debating the merits of Coke Zero while a second tongue stands in the distance and watches...

No, this is not something that happened to me on LSD. It's a real commercial.

The thing ends with the brain breaking up the tongue/eyeball debate. He threatens to make the tongue eat dirt, and ends with this very peculiar threat to the eyeball:

"You are going to have to wear the onion sombrero. All. Day. Long. Señor."

I've seen the ad several times and I can confirm that yes, the brain does say "onion sombrero." At first I wondered if this was some slang term I simply hadn't heard before, like "Dirty Sanchez."

I think I have uncovered the secret of The Onion Sombrero. I think Coke is trying to launch a meme. It's a catchy phrase, and a Google search reveals that the phrase didn't exist prior to the commercial. And hey, if Google can't find something, it doesn't exist, right?

Long-time readers of this blog may recall my ongoing attempts to find a corporate sponsor. Given the underwhelming response to my entreaties, I've decided to attach myself to this meme while it's young... like a pilot fish attached to the Great White Shark of Coca-Cola's marketing department.

Thanks in advance Coke... in exchange for your unintentional generosity, I promise I won't mention that recent settlement where you paid out $137 million US to your shareholders regarding a little matter of stock price manipulation. Or at least I'll keep it to a minimum.

Time to sit back and rake in the Google-fueled attention!

And if Google brought you here (just like all those fine people looking for "Kat Von D Naked"), please... feel free to check out the rest of my blog. Who knows... you may end up accidentally having a good time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

It Really IS "McNews"

"Bitch, where's my traffic report?"

McDonald's wants to penetrate your consciousness some more... this time by making obnoxious product placements in major American news markets.

For one thing, this may mean you aren't very likely to see this story about a restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan that's willing to sell halal McNuggets but won't hire employees in traditional Muslim garb. Or this story about how McDonald's is participating in action to prevent a law that would require them to post nutritional information. One McDonald's veep says the "...could create confusion, increase the ordering times, increase our total experience times, reduce throughput at critical times of the day and adversely impact our customer's experience and our business." Apparently he expects the law to cause McD's to be swarmed by cardiologists doing research.

Not that any of these stories are getting a whole lot of airplay anyway.

Worst of all, it means my own ground-breaking research on the inner workings of a Big Mac is less likely to see broadcast any time soon.

Oh well. It's not like those are the ONLY news stories being shamelessly ignored.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oxycontin And Oil: Two Tales Of Addiction

1)  We had left home two days before, but had hardly been anywhere outside of either the car or the hotel room. Scattered on the dresser was an assortment of pills -- prescription opioids of every description. They were dumped out like a kid's candy on Halloween night. It was a festival of numbness.

I had been awake for over 24 hours, but had been fully alert for almost none of them. I had recently discovered the joys of crushing and snorting Oxycontin -- the champagne of cheap prescription highs. I slowly surveyed the remaining drugs... morphine mostly, with a healthy mix of methadone and some other things... but I had been snorting. Nothing makes the buzz come faster than crushing and snorting an Oxy. Well... nothing that doesn't involve a needle, anyway.

This is perhaps the only matter that I will ever wholeheartedly agree with Rush Limbaugh on. Oxycontin is fucking great.

We were out of Oxys. I half-seriously considered waking (if in fact "asleep" applied in the normal sense) the naked beauty on the bed to see if we could get more. Normally contemplating the generous curve of her hips would have me thinking other things. And sure, there was still plenty of other junk left, but I know what I like. Besides, the feeling was starting to return to my extremities.. and what kind of a vacation is that?

But then I saw it. Ground into the carpet was one last Oxycontin, trampled in our rush to get back into the room with our drugs. I sat on the bed for a long time (or so it seemed -- everything takes a long time on a good Oxy buzz) contemplating my options. I didn't like what I was becoming. But the sensation... or perhaps the lack of it... was simply too good a time to neglect. I also contemplated my dignity, and whether or not I wanted illegal brain chemistry to be the driving force in my life.

Eventually, I got up and wobbled over to the crushed tablet. I stuck my nose down on the carpet. I smelled powder and carpet cleaner and sneakers and dirt. And I snorted as hard as I could, taking in every last speck of pill and carpet fibre I could inhale.

I ran to the bathroom and gagged, as often happens when one snorts these things. I would have vomited if there had been anything left in me, but it had been a long time since I had eaten. And then I wobbled to the bed and laid down, watching The Weather Network and drooling, unsure of where the remote control was, and unmotivated to look for it.

And for a little while, things were good again.

2) A recent report from the US Geological Survey indicates that The Arctic holds 90 billion barrels of untapped oil... enough to keep the world's appetite for it fuelled for three whole years, most of it in Canada! And Alberta's Oil Sands are loaded with oil, at a cost of only 80 kilos of greenhouse gases for every barrel produced!

Let the good times keep rolling!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mr. & Mrs. Serious Voter Debate Voting For Obama, O'Reilly Style

(SCENE: The kitchen of Mr. and Mrs. SERIOUS VOTER. Mr. SV is sitting at the table, reading the Sports section of the newspaper, which he holds upside-down. Mrs. SV places a frozen chicken finger in the cat's food dish.)

MR: Me am confused by Presidential politics!

MRS: Me am too! Me am not sure which Barack Obama to vote for!

MR: Me want more choices from a President. Barack Obama not be like John McCain. John McCain be tortured when McCain am prisoner of war. Him big hero! Now McCain am in favor of torture so him look tough on terrorists! Him big bully!

MRS: John McCain give us choice of John McCains to vote for!

MR: McCain like choices!

MRS: (Sweeping away starved corpse of the the cat) And McCain NOT like choices! Him change mind, him say Constitutional amendment overturning Roe V. Wade am now good idea!

MR: Him call Jerry Falwell "an agent of intolerance" then him kiss Falwell's ass and hire Falwell's debate coach!

MRS: Him co-sponsor campaign finance reform bill... then him NOT support own bill!

MR: See? Lots of McCains to choose from! Obama? Just one Obama. Me not sure which Obama to vote for.

MRS: Me vote for Obama who states a position, or Obama who follows through on what Obama say?

MR: Me am confused by only one Obama! (repeatedly smashes a sealed can of beans against his forehead) And me am hungry! Ow! Hungry hurts!

MRS: Me try to open beans! (Looking in refrigerator) Hey! Shotgun am not in fridge! How me open beans?

MRS: (Excitedly) Look! Bill O'Reilly am on TV!

MR: Him help us make informed choice!

MR & MRS: (chanting) No spin! No spin! No spin!...



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The "Bill O'Reilly Quote Of The Day" Translator

Hmmm. People should read up on Plato before they vote? People should know they have a world-view? They should know what it is? They should understand how preconceptions influence perceptions? The USA (itself not a living being with a central nervous system) nonetheless has a world view? America sometimes gets it wrong? Jihadists, in seeking an ordered world based on their perceptions, nonetheless want LESS order?

Oh, right. Barack Obama is the enemy of America. Um, I guess it really is "that simple," Bill.

Bill O'Reilly is always at his most straightforward and easy to understand when he speaks on matters that are truly near and dear to him. Like this...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Please Ignore The Children's Corpses: Enjoying Your Italian Vacation

Italy has found a way to steal some vacation business from The Beijing Olympics, with a fun-loving nationwide re-creation of the golden age of Italy. No, no the Roman Empire part... the fascism and genocide part.

Here are some of the exciting events you'll see:

-The registration and identification of ethnic minorities (ie, the Roma (Gypsy) population

-The peaceful silence as the European Union and the rest of the world does absolutely bugger all about it!

-Mysterious deaths of ethnic minorities where local officials take the patently ridiculous first story they hear that claims it was "an accident."

-Hand out racist leaflets. You have the backing of Italy's courts. Who knows... it might even help you get elected mayor, like Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona!

Coming soon: free train rides and tattoos!

Here are some handy Italian words and phrases for you to use while enjoying all the fascist, genocidal charms that bella Italia has to offer:

"Mussolini was a good man, and he made the trains run on time":
Il Mussolini era un buono uomo, e ha fatto i treni corrono in orario.

"Ignore the economy... there are strange-looking people next door!"
Ignorare l'economia! Ci sono le persone di guardare strane vicine!

"All Gypsies are thieves."
Tutti gli zingari sono ladri.

"They drowned. There was no crime."
Hanno annegato. Non ci era crimine.

"Don't worry. The rest of the world isn't paying attention. This happened before, in Germany."
Ne preoccupazione. Il resto del mondo non sta prestando attenzione. Ciò è accaduto in Germania.

See? Even hatred sounds better in Italian. Memorize these phrases and hateful attitudes and you'll fit in perfectly! And of course... you'll want to fit in, in Italy. Look what happens if you don't.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Do It Yourself Paranoia: Why Is The Jolly Rancher So Damned Jolly, Really?

It's easy to be paranoid. Most people are, to one degree or another. The Church Of Mothra... like all good belief systems... is here to relieve you of your unfocused, ill-defined suspicions and replace them with very specific ones. Today's installment: what horrors lurk within Jolly Rancher candies?

I've been disturbed by this for a while. Not only do Jolly Ranchers have an uncanny ability to spot-weld themselves to my fillings, they also disturb my mind. Consider:

1) They are fruit flavoured... not meat flavoured. Fruit is grown in an orchard. Meat animals are raised on a ranch. The kind of place run by a rancher.

2) Why would someone... namely, a rancher... be so jolly if he's apparently in the wrong line of work?

3) Why do I need pliers to get one of these things off my fillings?

The truth... as is so often the case... could be far more horrifying than you might think.

The ingredients of a Jolly Rancher are, in order: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Butter, Citric or Malic Acid, Salt, Glycerin, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Modified Concentrated Butter Flavor, Lecithin, Artificial Colors (FDC Yellow #5, FDC Yellow #6).

Hmm. Glycerin. Better known among your chemist buddies as "glycerol." It's a thick gooey clear fluid with a lot of uses, like soap, nitroglycerin, toothpaste, and (in suppository form) makes a nice laxative. It can be made from plants. Often as not though... it's made from animals. And according to a respected source of science information, The Hare Krishnas, the source of the glycerol in Jolly Ranchers is... pork.

Never mind the millions of Jews and Muslims and vegetarians who have unwittingly enjoyed pork because of this. Pigs aren't raised on a ranch, either. That's for cows. Pigs are raised on a farm.

So... why is this Rancher so Jolly? Could it be because he's found a way to profitably dispose of those who would actively voice dissent against The System?

Maybe he's laughing at you, because you're next.

For further details, please refer to the 1980 classic horror film "Motel Hell," featuring the tag line '"IT TAKES ALL KINDS OF CRITTERS TO MAKE FARMER VINCENT'S FRITTERS."

You've been warned.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sympathy For The Diesel - A Love Letter To (Most Of) The People In Oil And Gas

A recent article in The Globe And Mail attempts to explain the peculiar mood among the people of the oil and gas industry in Calgary. Despite record oil prices and record profits, there is an unusual mood of unease among the individuals working in the industry.

Unfortunately, I think an otherwise thoughtful and well-written piece has mostly missed the point. The usual concerns that make the Business section of a newspaper are all there: will prices hold? Is now a good time to make an acquisition? Do we expand, or stand pat? Will there be new regulatory concerns? And so on.

I believe there's another reason for the frowns and worry lines crossing the faces of oil and gas people here in Calgary. The same article, written for the Lifestyles section of the paper, would have an entirely different spin. Yes, there is a dark mood brewing among the people who work in the petrochemical business here. I've seen this mood a lot, having recently had the chance to work among a large number of Calgary's oil and gas people. And, for the most part, I don't believe any of it is directly caused by any of the above stated reasons.

Even in a relatively open and democratic company structure, decisions about company strategy are not usually the concern of most employees. For every one high-level decision maker, there are many engineers and secretaries and assistants and accountants and receptionists and so on. They are in the majority, and I believe their general mood is slowly filtering upwards, as opposed to the usual "boss has a bad day, everyone has a bad day" dynamic.

And why is this? Not only are the underlings the ones who have to struggle with three dollar loaves of bread, expensive gasoline, and ever-dimming public opinion . The main reason is entirely simple, and I can demonstrate it to you in four simple steps:

1) Find someone who is an employee of an oil and gas company. Start a conversation with this: "So... how long have you been working in oil and gas?" Your test subject will then answer with "(X number of) years."

2) Refer to the following handy table, showing the change in price per barrel since back in the day:


Since 20 years ago: +580%
15 years ago: +400%
10 years ago: +360%
5 years ago: +370%
4 years ago: +380%
3 years ago: +210%
2 years ago: +185%
1 years ago: +140%

3) Ask your friend/neighbor/acquaintance: "So, in X years of work, has your income increased by Y, just like the price of the commodity you work with?"

(Trust me, the answer will be "no." Anyone in oil and gas who is in a position to say "yes" isn't going to be getting involved in a personal conversation with riff-raff like you or me.)

4) Then ask: "And during that X number of years, do you find you've been working harder, or less hard at your job?"

(The answer here is almost certainly going to be "harder.")

5) Pause thoughtfully... perhaps rubbing your chin in a scholarly manner... and say something like: "Hmmm. In a free market, SOMEONE must be getting rich off of what you do. I guess it isn't you though. How does that make you feel?"

Now, sit back and enjoy the show as the truth of the matter... whether the person you are talking to has consciously thought of it in these terms or not... bubbles to the surface like Jed Clampett's Texas Tea.

Of course the world needs energy. The problem is petro-power is not the energy being most egregiously wasted here. There is a source of energy more powerful (and less exploited) in Alberta that could change things for the better. Here: Public Image Ltd. wrote a song about it back in the 80s... when oil was 20 bucks a barrel...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What If Telus And BCE Ran The Post Office?

BCE and Telus have announced that, starting in August, customers without service contracts will be charged fifteen cents per incoming text message... even the ones they didn't ask for.

(SCENE: Dave Consumer's house. The doorbell rings and DAVE answers. The LETTER CARRIER is there holding out the mail, but does not hand it over)

LC: Here's your mail.

DC: Thanks (Waits for LETTER CARRIER to hand it over)

LC: That'll be one dollar and forty-three cents.

DC: Umm... what for?

LC: We have a new policy. Your mail is fifteen cents a piece unless you have a contract with us.

DC: What? Fifteen cents a piece?

LC: That's right... plus tax. It's all driven by market forces. Can't argue with market forces, can you?

DC: Sure I can. Most of this stuff doesn't look like mail I even expected.

LC: I dunno... looks like Ming's Kitchen here is having a take-out deal. That might be something you'd want.

DC: Or it might not. Either way, I won't know until I've paid for it. And... wait a minute... none of those things say "postage due"!

LC: No, of course not. We don't do COD any more.

DC: So, let me get this straight... you expect me to pay to receive mail I didn't ask for that someone else has already paid for to send to me?

LC: Look pal, you want your mail or not? Of course... if you have a "rate protection plan" in place you could get all your mail for one low monthly price (some conditions apply)! We have a number of options all tailored to your individual needs, and you can change your rate protection plan at any time over the three year term ($20 change fee applies)! Imagine the convenience of getting all your mail for one low monthly fee (subject to a network access fee)!

DC: All my mail that someone else already paid to send to me.

LC: Well, like I said, we don't do COD.

DC: So you're doing this to make me agree to a service contract, aren't you?

LC: I prefer the term "rate protection plan" or (better yet!) "bundled service."

DC: Call it what you will, it's still a contract. (Sigh) I give up. (Hands over the money)

LC: Okay. (Hands DAVE the mail) Here's your power bill, your cell phone bill, a letter from your Aunt, four take-out menus, and a package from Taser International of Scottsdale, Arizona.

DC: (Examining the Taser parcel) Hmmm. These things usually take less than 24 hours to charge up. Will you be back around this time tomorrow?

LC: Yes.

DC: Good. I'll be waiting for you.


Click below to do something about it!

Stop the text message cash-grab

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

(Don't) Let Them Eat Pancakes -- The Assholification Of The Calgary Stampede

The city of Calgary is once more in the grip of its annual Big Party -- The Calgary Stampede. Every year a large portion of the city dresses like ranch hands and glorifies a way of life that primarily existed before the popularization of the internal-combustion engine... where it existed at all.

I moved here about twenty years ago and, like many newcomers, I was fascinated by the tradition of "the Stampede Breakfast," in which various sponsors -- businesses, mostly -- would serve up free pancakes and sausages and juice packs to all who were willing to show up early in the morning and stand in line. I was intrigued by the concept. It was nice to know that the people making money in this town, back when oil was an outlandish $20 a barrel or so, were willing to share a little something with everyone else, even if it was only a tax-deductible token gesture.

The whole notion of Calgarians being better or more generous people than others because they come from "a Western tradition" or because "they're cowboys at heart" is a lie of course, but some lies can be ennobling. And I admit I am a sucker for free food.

Twenty years later, the Stampede Breakfast concept is still going strong. I've seen five of them in the last three days. Hardly anything has changed.

Except that since I got here some twenty years ago, the average person's real income adjusted for inflation (in this town where everyone works so frantically) has gone down about 50 bucks a year. The banks and oil companies who usually host Stampede Breakfasts? Their profits are setting records. And now oil is $145.00 a barrel.

Put another way: a barrel of West Texas Intermediate is now worth about six months income for one of the Chinese slaves made to stitch the Wal-Mart purchased boots and shirt of every faux cowpuncher lined up for those free scrambled eggs.

One more thing that's changed? The five Stampede Breakfasts I've seen in the last three days have all had big "PRIVATE FUNCTION" signs posted in front of them. That, and security guards to keep away the homeless, the wage slaves, and the riff-raff.

I wonder: if Tsar Nicholas II were to appear at one of these early-morning pancake flip-offs, would anyone recognize him? Probably not. There's no money to be made off of dire warnings from the past.

See that homeless guy over there? Ride 'em cowboy. Ride him until he bucks you off.