Friday, April 1, 2011

Less Insight a Good Thing

Our local cable TV conglomerate, Insight Communications, has now 'provided' us with a new problem--the little TV 'mini-boxes' that now sit on our sets.

Insight ostensibly provided them to us, to allow us to watch the new digital broadcast standard on our older, analog TVs--to 'ease' us into the digital transition.

The mini-boxes have MAC ID addresses on them.  Any kind of hardware with a MAC ID is made to be 'trackable' from the 'other end'--the provider, whether cable TV, broadband, or phone, can thereby track your user habits.  Items with these are 'always-on'--you don't turn them off.  To the company, this means they can always say they're providing you with 'better advertising', not necessarily 'more'.

How so?  Let's use a simple model to provide some real 'insight' into this oft-released statement.

Let's say that even just two people are watching a show on mini-boxes.  Insight is tracking both viewers' mini-boxes from their end, providing themselves useful data on things such as how often both users try to skip commercials, turning away from the channel they're viewing, turning back after they think the commercial break may end.

Well, that's easy to tell--let's say, to more easily visualize this example, one viewer is male, the other female.  The show might be something both sexes commonly view--'Dancing with the Stars', or even just the nightly local news.  Everybody hates commercials, but let's say the female viewer is being more patient, not turning away during the commercials, while the male is.  Now, she may even understand the recent change, that basically, Insight really is watching her viewing habits (at least not watching her...yet).

The male viewer, on the other hand, is constantly switching, hard to track his habits, so perhaps a little more trouble to program advertising for in the future.  That's okay, it's now easier for Insight to track him.  Since their system is computerized, and now, a digital network, it's not too hard to track any of the commercials the male will sit through, he may end up seeing more ads for male-oriented products during his regular TV sessions in the future anyway.

The woman, who 'patiently' sat through all types of commercials, may end up seeing all of the same ones in the future.  She may end up becoming more 'impatient' and begin flipping through channels herself.  Or, Insight may also use the personal information they have for her as an account holder to program commercials for her.

That's assuming the mini-boxes also allow Insight to throw out two different commercials to two different viewers at the same time.  If not, then Insight might use their collected data to simply track the type of products sold in the commercials most often watched, and just put more of those types of commericals in at the times they were watched, and on the channels watched.

Regardless, it may be the best Insight can do--we, as regular viewers, wouldn't know, because 'they're not telling'.  I'm not paranoid about it--I don't think they have mini cameras in them, I know they're not doing anything intentionally malicious about it either.  Simply put--they may have finally found a way to 'cater' the 'necessary evil' of commercials to our general interests.  They may have perfected this idea right away; they may need time to correctly use the data, and there may even be a few unforeseen 'bumps in the road' in our collective viewing futures.

The one characteristic of this new hardware that remains overall is the somewhat neutral aspect I mentioned in the last paragraph--that it really ends up being a 'necessary evil' for us if we're conscious of our viewing habits, and progressive about it as consumers at all.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Defensive Cycling: Or, 'A Primer for Cowardice-Oriented Harassment'

I'm writing this in response to several things I've seen going on in 'my hometown' of Bowling Green...


This time, it's about local bicyclists being run off the road, and generally being treated like idiots all over the city.  Several reports in the local paper, the 'Daily News', have been published, and many, many letters to the editor.  One local schoolboy was killed over a year ago, when an older driver hit him while he was biking in the area near his home and school.

Older, more experienced, bikers--the ones wearing the skin-tight neoprene riding clothes--have been run off roads around town, and in the county, when drivers come upon them from behind and either haven't been watchful, or just being plain careless, or even rude and hateful.

Yes, some of the stuff I've read on those reports does qualify as a hate crime--and 'No', not because the guy 'looks gay' to somebody else with a mean streak and a Jeep.  It's just another simple example of 'do unto others', remembering, of course, there were never any unwritten parts of that 'code' that mentioned 'but only if those others look and act just like you'.

Naw, that rule was spoken for exactly the same reason I'm repeating it here, and now, online, on 'some blog' somewhere...because people aren't doing it right.

I quit riding years ago, at first, for exactly the same reason as this--people buzzing by me at break-neck speed, little demons flying by, many of whom I could literally hear getting up so speed just to scare the living hell out of somebody a)they didn't know, b)who probably couldn't identify them, and c)didn't have a video camera, or a cell phone, to adequately report any incidents.

So...'fun'?  Really?  No, for me, it was just plain stupid, with a little tinge of anger thrown in, because most times I was out riding, I was tired, sweaty, and maybe even a little hungry as well.

The anger kicks in when you think of how easy it was for some ignominious ass to buzz you like 'Maverick' in Top Gun, even though this coward most often couldn't qualify to be the weight-guesser at the SoKy fair.  Also, the fact that the cross-section of jerks doing it became atypical.  Once the behavior became acceptable enough to make inroads into our many culturally diverse population, I was getting buzzed, even clipped a few times, by mini-vans, trucks, even a motorcyclist, more than once each.

Why?  Because nobody did anything about it.

I didn't.  I'm 42; when I was getting harassed this way, nobody had cell phones, much less 'helmet cams'.  So, the only cameras would have eventually been in the cars and other vehicles doing the harassment.

'Nothing funner than buzzing a cyclist', except maybe this short list of still-popular local activities, all of which share a nefarious common thread with this one:

  • Wife-Beating
  • Clan Rally
  • Burglary / Theft / Vandalizing Property
  • Child Molestation
  • Racial / Hate Crimes
  • Tagging / Graffiti
Believe me, these are not in any particular order--most of the time, I lump those involved in those 'activities' into one big group I like to call 'People who need to get shot'.

But, long after the anger subsides at hearing of one of these things, that common thread remains--it's cowardice.  Yup, these are all things that are done by people who aren't thinking of anyone or anything, but themselves, and what they can get out of 'life'.

I'm not perfect, so far be it from me to even 'blog' about this--but I've got to live with myself, so I count cowardice as one thing I try to stay away from.  Most of the time, this just serves to make me seem angry, and even over-reactive, at little stupid stuff like this, but it's because I hold the personality trait at the opposite end of the behavioral spectrum--bravery--so high.

Bravery is what we should all shoot for.  I rarely achieve it myself, and think maybe we don't have enough opportunity to show it.  Heck, nobody's perfect there either--or else, for one thing--we wouldn't need any more superheroes in our lexicon than just one.  Whether you pick Superman, Jesus, Lance Armstrong, or even Larry King, it's a matter of self-respect, as well as respecting your neighbor, the 'other guys' out there just minding their own. even if they're spinning along on a bicycle wearing some ridiculous outfit that makes them look like Andy Warhol body-painted a technicolor yawn on 'em.

It's just not your right to trounce on their 'pretty day', not to mention their self-respect, their rights to be out riding, exercising, or even if they're out just to look ridiculous.

Respect their space, edge that round thing you're holding to direct your car's path just that little degree to make sure you don't rumple their hair, and breeze on by to your Sunday drive, every day of the week.

I'm posting some 'alternative' ideas on how to maximize your 'down-time', for the severely misdirected  'gentle reader' who somehow gets the faulty idea that I've no idea myself of what a sense of humor really is:

  • Cow-tipping
  • Flaming Bag-O'-Poo
  • TP'ing Somebody's House
  • Rubber-banding the sink sprayer
  • Prank Phone Calls (but only if asking the classics, like 'Is your fridge running?', etc.)
  • Inhaling helium and quoting Tweety Bird
  • Anything involving Diet Coke and Mentos
  • you get the idea
Note: these are not necessarily brave pranks to pull, but sticking around afterward might qualify.  these notions are listed for those who find the crimes listed above funny at all.

Finally, here are some hastily-Googled resources (but the exact ones I was looking for) to show what I'm talking about:
"Bicycle accident with truck was very scary"
"Greenways Path needs relocating"
"Boy injured after being hit by car while on bike"
"Boy dies after a collision with car"
From The Daily News:
BG Police Reports--December 02, 2009:
Accident — A man on a bicycle was hospitalized Monday after being struck by a car.
According to the Kentucky State Police, Tucker Carmichael, 41, of Bowling Green, was traveling west on his bike in the 5000 block of Ky. 526 when he was struck at about 3:15 p.m. Monday by a 2006 Nissan Altima driven by Bradley Bell, 18, of Bowling Green.
The front right bumper of the car, also traveling west, collided with the rear of the bike, throwing Carmichael, who was wearing a helmet, into a ditch line.
Carmichael was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville for his injuries.