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Posts tagged ‘greedy’

You’re Not Really Surprised, Are You?

The internet is a-Twitter (sorry, bad pun) with the news that most of the games offered on the social network Facebook – including the 10 most popular – sell information about their users to third-party advertisers. Privacy advocates are screaming that this is one more example of Facebook’s ongoing lack of respect for their users, and Facebookers are organizing boycotts.

I’m a frequent Facebook user, and I maintain a FB fan page for SCMO. I consider myself reasonably security-savvy on both Facebook and larger internet, and I have only one thing to say about this:

*yawn*

As is often the case, the truth isn’t nearly as exciting as the hype. It’s true that the game companies are passing along information about their users, but all they provide is the userid for their customers – nothing else. Now, having the userid does allow an advertiser to look up information about a specific user on FB, but they’ll only see what that user allows outsiders to see via their privacy settings – and by now, everyone should be well-versed on how to control those.

Beyond that, people need to take a step back from the keyboard and realize where they are. From the moment it stopped being a government-run tool, the internet has been all about one thing – making money. All that stuff you do online for free – do you really believe it comes with no cost? What you do is financed by advertisements, and website authors – remember, Facebook is just a big website – are all looking for better ways to target ads to their visitors.

Larry Flynt, who was one of the first people to use the internet as a business tool (remember, porn helped the internet as we know it today), sums it up pretty well:

“The minute you sign onto the Internet you are being watched, not just by our government, but also by our major corporations. They know where you go, what you buy, what your interests are and what illnesses you have. This is powerful information that can be used in any number of ways, not all of them to your benefit.”

My basic philosophy is to treat any information you enter anywhere on the internet as public, and never publish anything I wouldn’t be willing to see spammed across the net. Whether this blog, my forum posts or my Facebook wall, I assume the worst and that it’s all out there. There’s an entire generation of camwhores who haven’t figured that out yet, and will come to regret it one day, but that’s for another rant. For now, never lose sight of the fact that the internet is only as private as everyone wants it to be – and not everyone wants it to be private …

And It Comes With A Commemorative Full-Body Shoehorn …

I am one of those rare people who actually enjoys air travel – stick me in a window seat with my iPod and I’m good to go coast-to-coast. Sure, the cheap-screw nickel-and-dime-to-death policies of the airlines are an irritation, but I bring my own snacks and water bottle, so I’m just fine. But some ideas are so irritating that they even get to me …

An Italian company is introducing a new airline seat that would decrease the space needed for each passenger. Current airline seats leave between 30 and 32 inches between each row of seats, but the SkyRider seat would decrease that to 23 by using a design that is best compared to that of a horse saddle. Users maintain a semi-standing position that is more upright than a traditional airline seat, decreasing the knee room required for each row.

“The SkyRider has been designed and engineered to offer the possibility to even further reduce ticket prices while still maintaining profitability,” the site said.

The SkyRider was designed for shorter flights. The company compares the forward seating position to that of a motor-scooter rider or horseback rider.

“For flights anywhere from one to possibly even up to three hours … this would be comfortable seating,” Dominique Menoud, Aviointeriors director general, told USAToday. “The seat … is like a saddle. Cowboys ride eight hours on their horses during the day and still feel comfortable in the saddle.”

This strikes me as an example of a product that was designed by someone who had no intention of ever using them. Beyond the basic fact that a lot of the people who fly are more than 23 inches wide, one can’t help but wonder how the hell you get out of this torture rig in the case of an emergency. The FAA has yet to approve them (surprise!), but I’ll bet those cheap bastards at RyanAir are already salivating at the thought of a saddle-filled fleet.

I can just see what’s next … replacing the seatback entertainment with a mini-urinal – after all, you’ll be close enough and you’re already assuming the position …

Lock ‘Em Up!

As I was driving to work this morning, the local news radio station was a-twitter with a breaking story about planned street closures today in Century City, and the impact they will have on famously bad LA traffic. Road closures are nothing new to Angelinos … potholes, rockslides and broken water mains all take their toll on commute times. But this one is different … very different.

Apparently, sixteen janitors are being laid off from buildings in the area and the local unions are planning to protest. Things are tough all over, so I find it hard to understand what makes this group so unique, but hey – it’s their right to protest. But these folks are taking it a step further, by planning to block traffic to raise awareness of their plight. What’s more, they’ve notified the police of their intent, who are assigning officers to work the protest – hence, the advance notifications that the radio was reporting.

Look, there’s a famous saying – your rights end where my rights begin. I respect your right to protest, and understand your desire to attract attention to your issue. But you have no right whatsoever to interfere with the daily activites of the thousands of commuters who would otherwise use the streets you plan to block. The minute you do that, whatever sympathy I might have for your cause goes right out the window.

The protest organizers have indicated that they are willing to be arrested to make their point. I suggest the LAPD accomodate their wishes – before they step off the curb in front of traffic.

Can Love Save The Shark?

There is something in the human psyche that makes us love animals. It’s why we have pets, it’s why we love zoos, it’s why we put up with the creepy clowns at the circus – we love animals and have a desire to be close to them. That love goes back as far as the record of man. We domesticate the once-wild animals we find around us, and continually to seek out additional animals. Technology has given us the ability to go places we never could otherwise, and to become close to animals in ways we never could before – and perhaps that technology can help us save some of those animals from ourselves.

Ask a group of people to name their favorite animals, and you’ll get all the old favorites … dogs, cats, rabbits, horses. Some may toss in some exotics, like ferrets or monkeys, and the marine lovers might opt for offshore species – whales, dolphins … or marlin … :-) Chances are, though, not too many would name sharks among their favorite animals … or would they?

Sharks are the ultimate alpha dogs of the oceanm sitting at the very apex of the predator pyramid. They are a very old species, slow to reach maturity and slow to reproduce – whereas a fish might spew forth thousands of eggs, a shark may only have a handful of pups each year. Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but while they may have no natural enemies, that doesn’t mean there are no threats. They have one decidedly unnatural enemy that has pushed them to the very brink of extinction – man.

Not so long ago, sharks were a mysterious predator of the seas, seen only by the rare fisherman or unfortunate shipwreck victim. Then came a little movie called “JAWS”, and sharks were painted as an object of pure evil. Shark tooth necklaces were a sign of machismo, killing sharks became some sign of manhood, and shark fishing tournaments became all the rage – just this past weekend, a thousand-pound-plus mako was killed in a tournament off Anacapa Island. Man was killing sharks at a prodigious rate – and for what?

For all the misguided machismo, the harvesting of sharks for teeth and trophies pales compared to the real evil that man does upon sharks. Shark fin soup was once a delicacy in the Orient, but the desire of the people to share in the treat has driven a slaughter of sharks on an unimaginable level. One report indicates that as many as 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins – most in the shameful process of “finning”, where the fins are sliced off the still-live shark before tossing it back in the sea to meet its fate. Another 50,000 sharks are believed to die as bycatch in fishing nets – every day. Most shark species are dangerously depleted and approaching endangered levels, and there’s no sign that we are willing to step up and do anything.

There may just be hope for sharks, though, and it comes from the strangest of places – cable TV. More than 20 years ago, the Discovery Channel started a week of programming about sharks as a promotional gimmick, and over the years it’s grown into one of the biggest ratings periods in all of cable programming. Shark Week, which is underway now, mixes special shark-themed episodes of current Discovery Channel shows like “Mythbusters” and “Dirty Jobs” with specials about various aspects of shark life and conservation. Along the way, common people are introduced to sharks in a way that shows them for what they are – potentially dangerous, but necessary to the oceans and certainly not evil. Much like the wild animals brought back from Africa in centuries past, sharks are gaining acceptance – and appreciation – among the populace.

As more people learn about sharks, they recognize the essential role they play as the scavengers of the seas. More importantly, they begin to understand the wanton waste of the resource that certain cultures are undertaking, and it helps develop a desire to help. The more people are introduced to sharks, the more they appreciate them … the more they love them … and the more embarrassed they become by the actions of their fellow man against them.

How can you help? For starters, contact your senator and urge them to support the Shark Conservation Act of 2009, which will tighten loopholes in current law to make it illegal to transport shark fins in US waters. If you live in an area where shark tournaments are held, challenge the organizers to improve their tournament rules to help conserve sharks, particularly those large ones that make up the broodstock. Most important, help educate those around you that sharks are an essential part of the marine ecosystem – one we cannot afford to lose.

Epic Clusterf*#%

Our long national nightmare is finally over – yes, NBC has hammered out an agreement to end the Late Night Wars.

Bringing to an end one of the more contentious – and public – squabbles in TV history, NBC will buy “Tonight Show” host Conan O’Brien out of the remaining 2+ years of his contract for a whopping $32 million, with another $12 million going to his staff as severence.  Jay Leno, O’Brien’s predecessor on the “Tonight Show” and a prime-time failure, will return to his familiar 11:30 turf once NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics concludes next month.  O’Brien, meanwhile, will be free to return to TV on a competitor network this September.

We already talked about how they got into this mess, so I won’t burden you with it again (just urge you to go back and read the earlier entry – and tell a hundred or so friends to do the same … ).  But this is an ugly, expensive end to a sad tale of greed – one in which there are no winners.  NBC President Jeff Zucker looks like a fool, having tried unsuccessfully to have it both ways and ending up with nothing more than the status quo and a lot of expenses.  Leno – who was worried enough about how he was being portrayed in the media that he took time on his show to explain his position and unsuccessfully change the tone of the debate – still comes across as the guy who just wouldn’t go away, unwilling to live up to an agreement he made five years ago.  O’Brien, meanwhile, will resurface in the fall with an new show, and pockets 32 mill for his troubles – but he still has to live with the tag “fired ‘Tonight Show’ host”.

Everyone is trying to stay amicable, but it will be interesting to see how O’Brien handles his final “Tonight Show” tomorrow night.  He’s been beating his NBC bosses up pretty good since this whole controversy broke, but I suspect he’ll take the high road in his finale.  Not only does he want to be remembered as a good guy, but he’s been with the peacock for a long time (remember, he started out as a writer on “SNL”).  He’ll have his largest audience ever tomorrow night, and you know whatever he says will live on forever on YouTube.  Count on him keeping it classy.

Whatever happens tomorrow, this one’s gonna go down with the Edsel and New Coke … 😀

The Joke’s On Them

Shh … here that sound? It’s Johnny Carson spinning in his grave …

It’s hard to believe, but it was not that long ago that NBC was the leading broadcast television network in America.  My, how the peacock has moulted.  Nowhere is the lack of vision at the network so obvious as in their handling of Jay Leno and the iconic late night vehicle “The Tonight Show”.  It’s quickly turning into a classic example of how not to handle the succession of leadership – or leadership in general.

Throughout its long history, the Tonight show has seen old hosts go and new ones come.  Most people remember the classy way Johnny Carson departed nearly 20 years ago to make way for Jay Leno, and assumed there’d be something similar when Leno’s time came.  Behind the scenes, things were not nearly so smooth.  When Carson left, NBC has more hosts than timeslots, and when Leno was given the Tonight Show, David Letterman (who at that time followed Carson) bolted to CBS and direct competition with Leno.  No doubt fearing a similarly messy future, NBC promised Letterman’s replacement – Conan O’Brian – the Tonight Show slot once Leno retired.  They even went so far as to identify the point five years in the future when that transition would occur.  Apparently, thought, Leno either didn’t get the memo or simply didn’t sign off on it.

Last fall, as the five-year window approached closure, Leno began to grumble about leaving, indicating that he was being pushed out the door rather than retiring.  He even intimated that once he was off “Tonight”, he might bolt to another network and continue his late-night career.  Suddenly, NBC once again found themselves with an embarassment of riches.

We all know the old fable of the dog with two bones, and what happened to him.  Actually, I guess everyone knows the story other than NBC’s Jeff Zucker, who wanted to keep both bones.  His genius move?  Scrap the expensive, unwatchable 10PM lineup and give the slot to Jay!  It’s perfect, he must have thought – we get old Tonight Show followed by the new Tonight Show!

Well, that worked about as well as you might imagine.  Leno bombed at 10, angering affiliates who lost their vital viewer lead-in to their local newscasts.  Conan, meanwhile, who was a tenuous fit at best for the Tonight Show, lost all the Leno fans who simply got to sleep a little earlier now.

For those wondering how long the experiment – and the pain – would last, the answer is apparently February.  Multiple sources are reporting that Leno’s show has been cancelled and will be off the schedule once NBC ends their coverage of the Winter Olympics.  O’Brian, meanwhile, was asked to accept having the Tonight show pushed back a half-hour to make room for a new half-hour Leno show at 11:30 and suggested NBC go pound sand, claiming he was “defending the franchise”.  NBC looks like fools, Leno looks like an ungrateful bully, and O’Brian looks for a new network.

What amazes me is that whoever owns NBC/Universal/General Electric/Comcast, or whatever they are, will allow the good soldier O’Brian to be shown the door while Zucker and Leno both keep their jobs.

More to follow, no doubt …

Not Surprising At All …

They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions.  History is littered with the carcasses of well-meaning souls who genuinely believed they were doing something good for society right up to the minute they discovered their error – often with disasterous results. 

It’s no different today, as politicians of every stripe struggle to juggle the often-conflicting desires to help their constituents and remain in office.  Too often, that results in short-sighted decisions that allow them to bask momentarily in vote-gathering spotlight while saddling their successors with a much larger problem.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone, but it takes money to run a society. Unfortunately, in today’s contentious political environment, the head of any politician who dares to suggest that the people reaping the benefit of living in a society should pay the costs will soon end on a pike outside the castle. As a result, government is always looking for … creative … ways to raise revenue without having to utter the dreaded “T” word … taxes.

Technology has helped government in this effort by creating new potential revenue streams. The idea of a toll road is nothing new – just ask anyone on the east coast about turnpikes. But RFID and wireless communication makes possible the FasTrak electronic toll collection system, which allows the state to maintain toll roads – and vary the tolls based on traffic and time – without the additional cost and nuisance of paying toll takers.  While I’m philosophically opposed to the idea of outsourcing government infrastructure to commercial entities who reap a profit off the transaction – clearly, a topic of a future MarlinBlog rant – there’s no denying the success of the concept.

A similar technology-driven concept that seemed to be a no-brainer was the “red light camera”.  People running stop lights has been an issue since the first one was hung nearly a hundred years ago.   Not long after, the first motorcycle cop figured out that hanging out around stop lights could be very … profitable.  Believe me, the “California Roll” existed long before America discovered sushi … :-)

Technology soon replaced the hidden cop, and thus was born the “red light camera”.  The concept is pretty simple – install a series of sensors, strobes and cameras tied to the timer on the light.  Run the light, or roll too far into the intersection, and smile – you’re busted.  A photo is taken of your car, your license plate – and in some cases, your face – and is soon in the mail to you – along with a bill, often in the several hundred dollar range.

For your average municipality, this would seem to be the ultimate win-win:  because the cameras are operated by an outside commercial vendor, there’s no cost to the city, and they get a predictable revenue stream.  As an additional benefit, the intersection becomes safer – or does it?

Everyone gets irritated at the idea of a faceless camera issuing tickets, but we all assume there’s at least an increase in safety.  The LAPD loves to crow about what a great idea they are. But the folks over at Channel 9 decided to check the facts, and were quite surprised at what they found

We crunched the numbers and the results may surprise you.

“Your data is shocking to me,” Sherman Ellison said.

Ellison is a ticket attorney and part time judge, who believes the cameras are there for one reason.

“No question. Purely a revenue generating device,” Ellison said.

Their first “red light,” as it were, was the reticence of the LAPD to even provide data to back up their claims of increased safety. If the cameras are producing the results they claim, you’d think they’d want to share them with the world. You don’t suppose the data doesn’t support the claim, do you?

We looked at every accident at every red light camera intersection for six months of data before the cameras were installed and six months after.

The final figures? Twenty of the 32 intersections show accidents up after the cameras were installed! Three remained the same and only nine intersections showed accidents decreasing.

At Manchester Avenue and Figueroa Street, accidents more than tripled from five before the cameras were installed to 16 afterwards. Westwood Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard tripled from three to nine. At Rodeo Road and La Brea Avenue, collisions nearly tripled from seven in the six months before the cameras were installed to 20 in the same period afterwards.

The reason?

“People see the light flash and they slam on their brakes,” Ellison said. “That’s just human nature. As a result, more accidents, more rear end accidents.”

Oops.

The truth, as they say, shall set you free. Now that the truth is out there – the cameras generate revenue, but negatively impact driver safety – how do you think the politicians will react? I predict a flood of press releases disputing the evidence and lauding the cameras … and a push to install even more.

Sad.

And You Think Your Neighbors Stink

As the saying goes, times are tough all over. Unemployment numbers continue to grow, bank failures are at record highs, and a trip to the mall is like visiting a ghost town. There aren’t very many good news stories in the economy thse days.

It’s the number of shuttered businesses that really catch my eye. The number of major chains that have failed is staggering, and some days it seems there are more empty storefronts than filled. It must be challenging for the small business owner as well, as they have to face the very real possibiity of abandoning their business. That’s an option that’s unpalatable under the best of circumstances, but for one town in South Dakota, the failure of one particular business has become an affront to much more than the palate.

Ilan Parente owned a small meat packing company in Bridgewater, SD, and faced the same economic challenges as most small businesses. He moved the business to Minnesota, but left behind the inventory – 44 tons of frozen bison. That’s where the story really gets interesting.

When the town about 40 miles away from Sioux Falls began to warm in the spring, the smell began to creep out. Some said the scent was like road kill. The mayor said he spent two tours of duty in Vietnam and could not recall smelling anything as bad.

Of course, by then, Parente was long gone. He claims to have had an agreement with a pet food company to gake the bison, and that they simply didn’t come. Once he – and his money – were gone, the power was cut and nature took over. And Parente clearly has limited concerns for the good folks of Bridgewater – or anyone but himself.

A woman who answered the phone at the Minnesota business said Parente is no longer affiliated with it. Requests for someone to comment went unanswered.

Parente has said before that he checked the meat in May and found it iced over due to a broken water pipe. He’s claimed the meat might have stunk but says he never put anyone in danger.

“I feel bad for the people of Bridgewater who had to live with the smell. But that’s really where the extent of my feeling bad goes. It wasn’t ever a health hazard to anyone.”

They ways that character is forged in the crucible of crisis, and it’s pretty clear that when Parente’s character was challenged, it simply melted away. Apparently, it’s all about you, pal …

Step Away From The Vagina

They’re at it again.

Our Lady of Perpetual Pregnancy, Michelle Duggar, is once again with child.  For those of you keeping count, this’ll be spawn #19 – conceived a scant 5 months after the birth of the last one.  You’d think that’s barely enough time to let the system reset, but I guess she’s had a lot of practice.

The Duggars – husband Jim-Bob and wife Michelle – have become famous through their cable reality show, “18 Kids & Counting.”  As you might guess from the title, what makes them famous is the size of their brood – you know how America loves their reality freak shows.  Much like John and Kate Gosselin and Nadia Suleman, people love to peek at the perceived chaos of trying to raise a whole flock of children.

The Duggars story goes something like this:  Michelle moved from Ohio to Arkansas where she had a religious conversion, and Jim-Bob was one of the churchmembers sent to “counsel” her.  Soon, counseling had turned to courting, and in 1984 the pair married.  After the birth of their first child, Michelle suffered a miscarriage that the couple attributed to a temporary use of birth control pills; after that, they decided against further birth control efforts and would “allow God to determine the number of children they would have.”  Apparently, God has been busy elsewhere and forgot to send the “whoa” signal to Jim-Bob and Michelle.

Michelle Duggar is 42, and will have spent nearly 14 years pregnant by the time this round is done.  After two Caesarians, you’d think her uterus couldn’t take the strain, but apparently they were able to patch her up like a steel-belted radial and send her out for another lap.  But I guess that’s to be expected – baby-making is the Duggar family business.  Oldest son Josh is about to bring the first second-generation Duggar into the world, and Jim-Bob and Michelle went on the Today show to announce her pregnancy.  Think they’d care what the Duggars were up to – or sponsors would roll up to the house with truckloads of product – if Michelle weren’t with child?  I doubt it …

The Duggars like to point out that, in spite of raising 18 kids in a 7,000-sq-ft home, they live “debt-free.”  Jim-Bob attributes this to a frugal lifestyle and wise financial planning, but I’m sure those checks from the network don’t hurt much either, eh J-B?  They’ve made the decision to subject their lives – and those of their children – to the scrutiny and judgement of the public, all in the name of money.  Maybe that’ll work and maybe it won’t – perhaps they might want to check with the folks at “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” to see how that can turn out.

I’m a Christian, and I respect the Duggars’ right to their beliefs.  I also believe in the right of an individual to do what they want in the world.  But, as the old saying goes, your personal rights end where mine begin.  Sure, they might not be sponging off the government for subsistence, but how about the impact of bringing so many new bodies into the world?  Maybe they haven’t gotten the word yet in Arkansas, but there’s a population crisis in the world, and this doesn’t help.  The world needs responsible decisions, not blind obedience, and it sure doesn’t need another Duggar kid.

Here’s a thought, Jim-Bob – next time you get the urge, try hand-firing one …

It’s A Failure, All Right …

As Peter Griffin says, some things in life just really grind my gears …

Trina Thompson graduated in June from Monroe College in the Bronx.  It’s now August, and she’s still unemployed, so she did what you would expect any normal individual to do – she sued the school.

In her complaint, Thompson says she seeks $70,000 in reimbursement for her tuition and $2,000 to compensate for the stress of her three-month job search.

As Thompson sees it, any reasonable employer would pounce on an applicant with her academic credentials, which include a 2.7 grade-point average and a solid attendance record. But Monroe’s career-services department has put forth insufficient effort to help her secure employment, she claims.

“They’re supposed to say, ‘I got this student, her attendance is good, her GPA is all right — can you interview this person?’ They’re not doing that,” she said.

Thompson claims to have contacted everyone recommended by the college placement office, and her complaint alleges that the school did not insure that each of them contacted the students to offerthey get an interview.

She’s so convinced that she’s right, that she’s advocating all graduates without jobs to sue their colleges.

“It doesn’t make any sense: They went to school for four years, and then they come out working at McDonald’s and Payless. That’s not what they planned.”

OK, deep breath.

I find myself reminded of the classic Dan Ackroyd line – “Jane, you ignorant slut!”  This person has been out of school all of 12 weeks, has taken no apparent steps beyond calling a list provided by the school, and feels somehow it’s the school’s job to guarantee her a job.  Apparently, “denial” is more than a river in Egypt.

Trina, have you visited Monster.com, Craigslist, or Dice.com (which specializes in IT positions)?  Have you networked with other IT professionals or Monroe College graduates to see what else might be available?  Have you noticed that the country is in a recession, with thousands of qualified professionsals unemployed – most for far longer than your miniscule three months? You delusional, self-centered little girl.

Trina Thompson would like us to believe that this is a failure of the educational system.  The only failure is that someone can complete four years of college, receive a degree, and still have such a tenuous grip on reality.

All I can say is that she’s better win big, because after this pathetic display, no IT manager in their right mind would hire her.  I’d suggest she take the time before her first court date to practice the skills she’ll need in her next job:

Paper or plastic?