Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Year of the Google Dragon

Happy Chinese New Year!  I believe today is the official new years day and according to the Chinese zodiac, 2012 will be the year of the dragon.  For me, 2011 was the year of the Google dragon, so it is a bit serendipitous.  It was not only the year Android and Chrome ascended to market prominence, it was also the year I got disenchanted.  (I may conflate a bit of history.  Do not take me too literally here).

Microsoft is the software company whose products I use the most.  Comparing Google to them, over any given period of sufficient length, say, 6 months, I run into about as many Google bugs as Microsoft bugs.  At the conscious level, I feel this is being kind to Google, but I also realize that I have used some Microsoft products for many years and they probably have some quirks I work around without thinking about it.  The complexity of the Microsoft functionality I use is several orders of magnitude more than the Google functionality I use.  By the time I booted my system and started my browser, I have already run millions of lines of code.  During most weeks I will use a whole slew of Microsoft products, such as most of the Office suite, Visual Studio, Visio, SQL Server and other back-office products, not to mention several versions of Windows.  (I understand that Google does have an impressive infrastructure, in both the logical and the physical sense, to serve up web pages, fast, to gazillions of users.)

I love my Microsoft products and could write other blog posts about why, but today I have been thinking more about Google.  I keep running into annoying bugs.  The worst is when they lose my blog post, and that only happens when I have been working for hours on one.  I cannot remember the last time a Microsoft product lost my data. 

It gets worse.  I develop browser extensions for a living (OK, that is an exaggeration, but it is part of my job).  In order to test these, I load various browser configurations and then hammer on it with automated tests until it crashes, or several days pass, whichever occurs first.  I can tell you that with IE8 at least, the naked browser does not crash.  (Earlier versions were also pretty solid, but they did have some CPU issues.)  Once I start loading other browser extensions, such as the Google toolbar, the Yahoo toolbar, the Flash plugin, etc, that is when the browser starts to crash.  Of these, the Google toolbar is by far the worst.  The time to live goes from open-ended to hours, singlehanded courtesy of the Google extension. 

Add to this that you have to be on your toes something fierce if you do not want the Google toolbar.  That thing spreads like a virus.  I have on a couple of occasions gotten it installed with some other software, probably overlooking some crucial checkbox, and have had to uninstall it. 

I am a firm believer in Heinlein's Razor: Cock-up before conspiracy. I am fairly certain no sinister plan was in play here.  It would have been a pretty neat trick, though: develop an unstable extension to your competitor's product, propagate it aggressively using any means available, then ship your own product and laud its stability. 

I could say more, but I am going to publish my post before Blogger loses it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Unintentionally Dislikeable Characters

Damages on AmazonI watched the first season of Damages, the 2007 show with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne. The show is outstanding and now one of my all-time favorites.  I wished they had stuck to legal and personal drama.  It would have made the show more realistic and there is plenty of tension and suspense to be had using that theme.  They added shocking violence, including several murders and attempted murders, which I thought was gratuitous.  That said, I understand violence sells and it still comes out as a great show to watch.  It is entertaining and the travails Ellen (Byrne's character) has to go through are real and poignant.

One thing I like in particular is that there are no good guys or gals.  There are gradations, of course.  Not all the characters are murderous villains.  There are just no obvious heroes.  Ellen Parsons comes the closest, but even with her, it is clear from the beginning that she is driven mostly by ambition.  There are some villains, but they are not obvious.  Frobisher (Ted Danson), the former CEO defending himself against Ellen's team, is the antagonist, and he is clearly of dubious moral character.  Still, some scenes elicit sympathy even for him, and it struck me that at the end of the season, it has not been revealed to the audience for a fact that he is guilty of all the actions charged.   It is also clear that Hewes (Close's character) is equally as heinous as Frobisher.

The character I disliked the most was Katie, Ellen's potential sister-in-law.  She is initially pegged as a witness against Frobisher.  I found her to be void of redeeming characteristics and full of despicable ones.  She is self-centered, self-righteous, conniving, lying, and vindictive.  She perjures herself out of spite, committing a felony lying about a man because she does not like him.  (There is some indication she is a good cook, which would be a positive, but since that is a skill and not a character trait, I am not willing to let that exonerate her, my high regard for the cooking profession not-withstanding).  I doubt it was intentional, but as written, Katie comes out worse than Frobisher himself.

This reminded me of another character partially fitting the same mold.  In Dollhouse, the main character is Echo, the most talented doll in the house.  Echo's real character, before she entered the Dollhouse and became a programmable doll, is Caroline.  I like Echo as a character and several early episodes piques the interest.  However, Caroline is naive, self-righteous and angry.  That is a dangerous combination.  I did not see a single scene that made Caroline come out in a good light, only as a rebellious, ditzy youth on a destructive bent.  To be sure, she did not have as many bad traits as Katie, but her personality makeup was more scary.

Again, I am doubtful that either of these characters were meant to be so dislikeable.  The shows work anyway.  In Katie's case, because she is not a main character and because everybody in Damages are so shady that she does not stand out so much.  In Caroline's case, because though Echo is a main character, Caroline is not and we see very little of her.