The unfortunate mainstreaming of internet douchebaggery

Today someone spammed MetaFilter on behalf of Conde Nast publications, and it pissed me off way more than the average occasional spammy self-promoter on MeFi. We have a strict rule at MeFi (since there's no editorial vetting upfront) that you can't post about your own stuff, you have to make posts to interesting random stuff you found on your own. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter to the douchebags intent on ruining the web for everyone else with search engine gaming, as long as they benefit their clients, so we end up having to delete these keyword-laden posts that feature over the top fake testimonials about sites they "found" when they really worked for them.

What pissed me off today was seeing a normally reputable outfit like Conde Nast stooping to hiring a dodgy firm that employs such lame spammy activities. I know the response from Conde Nast or the spammy SEO company will be the same I've heard a thousand times: "It was one rogue employee" or "We didn't know the firm would employ such tactics." I heard the same thing when the Times (UK) was found spamming social sites earlier this year.

The point that seemed to be lost in the Times story was that a cornerstone of journalism that had been publishing for hundreds of years would stoop to such lame-brained antics. You'd think that someone higher up at a place like that would think maybe getting a couple percent more advertising revenue by ethically shady means wasn't worth jeopardizing the reputation or position of a 223 year old newspaper — that institutions with a long-term vision shouldn't be interested in a quick buck by any means possible.

It's a bummer to see Conde Nast hiring someone to "optimize" search engines for them (where "optimize" means spam the web and generally make social sites and tools less useful for everyone in the hopes they do better for certain key search phrases) but given the way the economy is going and where it is headed, I suspect we'll see a lot more big name outfits and longstanding institutions making these same mistakes and resorting to problematic methods of increasing their bottom line, and frankly it sucks for everyone involved. It sucks for anyone using the web and wanting decent honest search results based on real quality of information (not just the information promoted by self-interested parties). It sucks to see industry leaders with dozens or even hundreds of years of successful business think this is a sensible approach to the web. Finally, it sucks to see some chucklehead get paid to spam websites in ways that are becoming so normal that people think this is something every business should do.

By listening to this you acknowledge you are: Brian Davidson

I’ve been getting some annoying robot phonecalls recently on a daily basis. They always give me menu options to hear more, but never an option to tell them they got the wrong number (or some guy put down the wrong number). The robot leaves messages with half of their recorded message so when I was deleting a slew of them today I noticed one sounded very different from the rest, so I took a quick recording of it.

There’s something almost melodic in how the robot says the name and the message is pretty amusing in the way it reads like the worst EULA ever and that part of it sounds like the Miranda Rights being read to you.

Here it is, enjoy:
[audio:http://images.metafilter.com/BrianDavidson.mp3|titles=Brian Davidson|artists=Brian Davidson]

Anyone that wants to download it and put some beats or throw it into a mix is welcome to this direct link to the file.

Playstation 3: complete failure for casual gaming

The other day this thought popped into my head and since several people asked, I wanted to expound on my original point.

First off, let me just say I’m a casual gamer — for the past seven years I’ve usually owned one console game system and I play it about once a week for a couple hours. I might get obsessed about a new game and play everyday for a week, but on average, maybe once a week. I mostly like “organic” sports sims, games where no two plays are alike (tony hawk’s skate games are my favorite). I also bought the PS3 for the blu-ray DVD player and it works ok for that (more below), but for gaming, I wish I bought a xbox360 instead.

Here is a list of why I think the PS3 I’ve owned for almost a year sucks:

  1. While blu-ray movies look great on my 46″ 1080p Sony LCD TV, after about 30 minutes of any movie playback, the unit’s fan goes to 11 and it sounds like a hair dryer was left on in my media rack. Keep in mind I have a fully vented system with plenty of air circulation and space around the unit. I could understand if the PS3 got hot when it had to render a billion polygons per nanosecond, but does 30 minutes of Meryl Streep really tax a modern system?
  2. I’ve got it hooked up via HDMI, at 1080p, the max resolution. The menus feature teeny-tiny fonts that look about 8px tall, max. I’m only ten feet away from my almost four foot wide screen, but I can barely read text within the PS3 dashboard menus and online features. I’m not an old man complaining about tiny fonts — I stare at small fonts all day on my computer screen, but the PS3’s menus look ridiculous even on a large screen TV. Who was their target market for the tiny font choice? 12 year olds with 103-inch plasmas?
  3. Since I’ve owned it, there have been over a dozen updates to the OS. While it’s cool they keep fixing bugs and adding features, if you want to use any online aspect of the PS3, you are blocked and told to update your system. For someone that plays once a week, this means about every third time I fired up the device, I was told I had to download some 100Mb+ file and let it do its update thing for about an hour or so, rendering it unplayable.
  4. System updates and demo games are often in the 100-600Mb range in size. I’ve got a 8Mbit cable modem line at home and typically a couple hundred megabytes comes down in 10-15 minutes. The Sony network servers are really slow and I’ve had downloads take overnight to complete.
  5. Some of the online features are worthless. It has a web browser, but it renders pages vertically in a portrait-like layout (even though TVs are landscaped layout) and features those great 6px fonts. It’s basically worthless and after I tried Google on it once, I never launched the web browser again.
  6. Signing up for an online account is tedious and seems to take forever. Periodically you get kicked offline while trying to view game demos. Currently, I can’t stay logged in for more than 30 seconds before being dropped. This means downloads no longer work, since I get disconnected
  7. Every couple weeks, there are new free game demos to download. I’ve only successfully downloaded and installed three game demos in the past 10 months of owning the PS3. Downloads that fail in the night can’t be resumed and have to be restarted. It’s all very frustrating. Imagine if Microsoft’s Windows Update failed on more than half of your update attempts and took all night to successfully work the few times things went well.
  8. Games cost $50-60 each and the release schedule has been very slow since the introduction of the PS3. I’m still waiting for a GTA title and Guitar Hero to come out for the PS3. Most PS2 games play fine on it (though I didn’t own any when I got my PS3 — I sold my PS2 about two years ago), but some of the most popular don’t (like Guitar Hero and DDR, which just sort of work with some hacky attachments)
  9. The PS3 has an online store, but despite entering my credit card info into my profile twice, I’ve never successfully purchased anything. I get errors when I attempt to buy a downloadable game.
  10. The video player is ok, they just added video streaming from other computers in a recent update, but it’s nowhere near as flexible as something like the free open source XBMC I used to have.
  11. My other game system, the Wii, is still highly playable, fun, and innovative. Playing the average PS3 game still involves memorizing some button mashes. I’ll never play a button-mashing golf or tennis game on the PS3 when I can swing a Wii controller around and have much more fun.
  12. The controllers on a PS3 are wireless which is nice, but they use bluetooth. While that’s cool and forward thinking, it means that makers of alternate controllers (universal remotes, steering wheels, dance pads, etc) are way behind and the choices are non-existent. My nice Harmony universal remote can control thousands of devices but not the PS3, so I have to use a Sony DVD remote when watching movies. Driving games suffer from not having peripherals out there and things like DDR and Guitar Hero simply don’t exist for the PS3 yet, almost a year after launch.

Now that I’m almost a year into owning the PS3, I kind of wish I bought a xbox360 instead (which I would have last year if they only offered it with a HDMI output back then). I hear the xbox360’s online component works really well and brings a social multi-player component to games in a way I’ve never gotten to work on the PS3. I hear you can download games and movies without having to wait overnight, and there’s the HD-DVD option for that system (oh how I wish for a decent <$500 hybrid HD-DVD/blu-ray combo player instead).

I’ve never been much of a fan of Microsoft, but in the world of console gaming, they look a heck of a lot better than the PS3. So that my friends is why the PS3 sucks and why you should avoid it.

Heifer International

I’ve long been a fan of Heifer International and suggested it to others as a charity, but I never read the small print. Philip Greenspun and Michael Stillwell did and both noticed their marketing is fairly misleading — you’re not really buying a water buffalo or a cow, but simply contributing to a general fund that someday may result in animals getting to families. It’s not entirely dishonest but it sure feels like something different than what their site describes when you give money.