Slippery Italian Slope

Many folks close to me know my obsession with many things Italian. While I’m only one quarter Sicilian, the prominence of my full-blood grandmother in my upbringing and the associated happy memories have fostered a deep love for the food, language, culture, and country of Italy.

But lately, I’m kinda pissed at the Italian government.

You see, it seems that they’re performing a fingerprint census of all Roma (or Gypsy) people in their country – including the 90% which claim Italian citizenship – in an effort to “crack down on crime.” This fingerprinting includes Roma children, but doesn’t include any non-Roma Italians (sounds confusing, but this doesn’t refer to residents of Rome).

I hope this sounds as obviously horrific to readers as it did to me and many in Italy’s population. This is terribly similar in concept to how Germany treated Jews leading up to WWII; blame a minority ethnic group for societal woes (in Italy’s case, theft and such) and set them apart, treating them differently than the rest of the population. That certainly snowballed into one of the greatest human tragedies in history.

Thankfully this isn’t the 1930’s, and the European Union took notice early on, so I don’t foresee any larger-scale escalation without the intervention of the international community. There are currently political efforts within Italy and without to stop this practice, and I hope it picks up steam.

Oh, blogging! I LOVE blogging!

In case you had any doubts that Big Business completely misunderstands youth, technology, and how the two interact:

Marketing Exec: “Oh yeah, those kids love the blogging. That guy should talk about the blogging.”

Netflix, you’re making a HUGE mistake.

Here’s a shocking message that arrived in my inbox this evening:

email from netflix

I have to say that I’m extremely pissed off about this right now. I subscribe to the two-at-a-time/unlimited-per-month plan, and Valerie and I split the two DVDs between separate profiles. This allows us to maintain our own ratings for movies we watch, and the recommendation system (one of Netflix’s main strengths, in my opinion) for each profile remains unpolluted by each other’s differing tastes.

I’m calling B.S. on their reasoning for the change, too. I followed the link to the help page, and the “Why?” portion simply repeats the third paragraph from the email. Netflix has a solid reputation for going above and beyond customer service expectations, so maybe they’ll offer a better explanation when I call them tomorrow, but I can’t help feeling like their public reason is a PR answer. How will taking away a very useful feature (that I don’t think is very complicated) improve the website?

I seriously hope there’s sufficient customer push back to this ridiculous move. Otherwise, it looks like I’m going to drop my subscription to a single DVD, and get a second subscription for Valerie. This will bump up our cost by about $4 a month, but at least Valerie’s recommendations won’t be affected by my art-house flicks, and my recommendations won’t be affected by her chick flicks.

Not cool, Netflix.

HDR = Horrible, Dopey, Ridiculous

There are trends everywhere in creative fields. Brown and light-blue clothes. Chipotle chilis or truffle oil in food. Reflections in web graphics.

There’s also crappy creative output in these fields. Trashy romance novels. Kenny G. Soap Operas.

Tonight I’m a little heated about a collision of the trendy and crappy in the photographic landscape: High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. These images are actually composites of multiple exposures of the same scene which, when done well, can provide gorgeously detailed pictures.

Abused, however, we see work that gags me with thoughts of Thomas Kinkade. Blown-out and garish colors, strange exposures, and unpleasant artifacts around areas with large differences in brightness (such as where a building’s roof meets the sky) detract from what are in some cases decent photographs.

I sure hope this fades away in short order.

Dorkin’ Donuts

There’s a story making the rounds on the Interwebs about Dunkin’ Donuts pulling an ad in which Rachel Ray wears a patterned scarf. This scarf caused a furor because it apparently resembles an Arabic keffiyeh – a detail which enraged talking heads who are so xenophobically knee-jerk in their responses that they’re practically kicking themselves in the face over this. Besides the corporate idiocy of Dunkin’ Donuts’ response, I’m pretty pissed that none of the apoplectic objectors bothered to look into what a keffiyeh actually is. But I guess that would require caring about people who don’t look and dress like they do…

For the curious, the keffiyeh is cloth (plain or patterned) used by Arabic peoples to shield their heads from the sun. While it has become associated closely with prominent antagonistic Arabic figures, it’s origins and meaning are no more harmful than a t-shirt.

So terrorists often wear sandals. Am I gonna draw angry stares from people here in the US because I sport a pair of flip flops? Puh-lease.

The Worst Gets Worse

I’ve complained about the network goons at my company restricting access to harmless websites before. I’ve lost access to Twitter, kottke.org, Zeldman.com, and a number of other sites which seem to have no worse impact on my productivity than checking the news.

Well today they crossed the freaking line, without warning as usual. Now they’ve blocked Gmail. Yahoo! Mail is also blocked, incidentally, though I rarely use it. They’d already blocked the chat functionality, which was understandable, but blocking web-based mail in general? This is ridiculous.

Oh yeah, YouTube is still freely accessible, which continues to make little sense and boggle my mind.

Stinkin’ paranoid network goons.

UPDATE:
I have my access again. I don’t know whether it’s the email I sent to the Help Desk (likely not – I received no reply) or somebody many levels above myself complaining about the same problem. I’m just glad to have it back.

Taxing

Last year I received a notice from a collection agency regarding unpaid personal property taxes on my old 1991 Toyota Camry. It was about $25, I think, including the interest for paying late. The problem is, I’d traded in the car in 2004 when I purchased my Jetta. I basically had to contact the dealership and have them send me a copy of the sales information from their records so I could fax it to the city as proof that I really had sold it. Phew…that was settled.

Until this year.

I received THREE tax bills this year – one each for Valerie’s and my Jetta, and one for a 1991 Toyota Camry. That I still didn’t own.

Today I called the city offices and pressed “3” for the Department of Finance or whatever. When I told the customer service gal that I had a problem with my personal property tax, I was informed that that department was currently unavailable because of high demand. That is, the very group with which I had a problem during tax season wasn’t taking calls during tax season since IT WAS BUSY BECAUSE OF TAX SEASON!

So I left a freaking message. I may be too generous in assuming they keep records of what people paid in years past, but if they did, they should be able to see that I clearly paid only for two Volkswagens, and didn’t do a thing about a Toyota. We’ll see.

Hardee’s can eat it.

Attacking a Hardee’s commercial is a little too easy these days. Whether it’s for chauvinistic portrayals of women or the seeming attempts to make their burgers look as sloppy and disgusting as possible, the fast food chain’s TV ads don’t seem to find much praise outside the frat boy set. I usually just ignore the commercials, but this one finally ticked me off:

Besides the obvious offense to me as a guy who DOES bake (and cook all sorts of other things), there’s a really stupid element to this commercial that I can’t get over.

Can you honestly tell me that if a dude walks into a room with fresh-baked biscuits that the other fellas are going to look at him funny instead of greedily snatching the food right off the tray? I can’t think of a guy who’d rather stare at a baking man than eat the freely offered baked goods. Now I love me some Hardee’s breakfast, and their biscuits ARE tasty, but come on. This is ridiculous.

Text Me Never

The Nilson Report is a publication for they payment systems industry, and in the February 2008 issue they indicate that banks intend to start using SMS to communicate with their customers. One of the primary reasons cited is the reading rate of text messages vs. email: 94% and about 50%, respectively.

Do you want to know why 94% of text messages are read? BECAUSE WE DON’T YET RECEIVE CRAP FROM BANKS OR OTHER BUSINESSES. I bet that 6% of text messages going unread are the free ones delivered from the cell phone providers indicating the addition of a few new towers. What useful communication do financial institutions hope to deliver in 160 characters or less, anyway? “You have overdrawn. You are now in the hole an additional $50. Standard texting rates apply to this message.”

I’m sure some marketing “geniuses” were sitting in a room on the 32nd floor in Midtown Manhattan saying, “Hey! You know what all the kids use to talk to each other these days? Text Messages! There’s a channel we’re not already flooding with useless information!”