Archive: February, 2016

The failure of the American press

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 29, 2016, 1:00 PM | comments: 0

I think it's pretty safe to say that American politics have hit an all-time low. This presidential race, the Republican side in particular, has been an embarrassment to the nation. That Donald Trump could actually have a shot at the GOP nomination is absurd. He represents everything wrong with our culture, not worthy of being elected as the local dog catcher. I can certainly blame the fearful idiots among the population who think that a message of fear and hate is admirable, sure, but the thing I've noticed this election cycle is that the press is easily complicit in the Trump problem.

The American press, and by that I mean the bona fide journalistic institutions of the last two centuries, used to have an interesting scarcity problem. Even as late as the mid-90's, we essentially had three major TV networks, and a handful of newspapers that had national reach. Despite the relative power of this scarcity, I believe there was a sincere effort to honor the responsibility of that power. It's something uniquely American. The press made it their mission to investigate the facts and get the reporting right. While they tried to be fair, it doesn't mean that they never took a position on things. Editorial staffs would debate the merits of these positions, knowing full well that they could influence the public.

Perhaps it's my idealism and college journalism school experience that colors my perception, but this arrangement led to a far more moderate culture when I was growing up. Granted, the decades prior to my birth were pretty ugly, as the civil rights movement was a period 100 years in the making, and even our 80's and 90's didn't get it entirely right, but it was progress. From what I remember of Reagan-era politics, and certainly Bill Clinton-era politics, both sides were considerably more moderate than they are today. It's not even close.

The Internet brought with it the potential for unlimited voices. In my mind, this was supposed to be the thing that changed us for the better. In theory, anyone could have a voice, and if the cultural institutions were getting in the way or progress, we could look elsewhere. Not only that, but individuals would be empowered to seek fact and truth, because the filter of the gatekeeping press would be gone. That's how it was supposed to work.

Unfortunately, two things happened. First, people were quite content to only seek out the information that confirmed their own biases. I suppose that's not completely unexpected human nature, but it's disappointing, to say the least. Second, and perhaps even worse, the press no longer had a business or the power associated with scarcity, so it started in large part pandering to the pools of individual confirmation bias. We know this as cable "news" and thousands of web sites that link bait their followers in with "I knew its."

To be fair, the big three nightly news TV programs try to be what the news used to be, but they're so concerned about being grouped into the crap that's on cable that they tend to lack the depth or position that they had even 20 years ago. In the case of Trump, they won't call him out for being racist or xenophobic. They won't call out either side for pandering to fear, whether it's fear of brown people or rich people. Instead they endlessly report polls results and sound bites, and virtually nothing about policy or background on the candidates.

It's also an example of where citizen journalism doesn't scale. It works great for reporting on the street in a violent protest, but you do need significant resources to investigate and travel and get it done.

In an enormous fit of irony, Fox News, which is 24 hours of talking heads and not news (let alone "fair and balanced"), is starting to acknowledge that this is a train wreck. Maybe it's because Trump went after one of their own "anchors."

I'm not sure what the solution to this is, but news directors need to nut up and call the absurdity out. I'm tired of all this nonsense about how much the country sucks, when frankly it's actually a pretty damn good place to be. We can make America better, but "great again?" What the hell do people want to go back to, exactly?

What is a college education for?

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 10:18 PM | comments: 0

One of the big things that Bernie Sanders is pushing for is a government subsidy for college education. I don't particularly agree with this idea, but not because of the cost (though frankly that's not a pro either). My issue is more that I'm not confident that it solves any specific problem.

The issue of the value of college has always been colored by my own experience, as are most things, obviously. In the 90's college was sold to people my age as a means to a better future, and vaguely as a means for career training. Mind you, it was still understood to be a fair amount of work to complete in four or so years, but it was supposed to lead to a better future. The salaries of people who had college degrees were on average higher as well, so there was truth to the theory. In fact, the income gap between high school and college graduates has been increasing for decades (adjusting for inflation).

Pew did research about this a couple of years ago, and it's a valid conclusion that college = better pay. However, the study I read also said that the difference in pay varied based on occupation, and the summaries at least did not seem to account for location. To me, that means that college isn't the only factor affecting income. If that weren't enough, I learned working in Seattle that an entire group of people who were graduating high school around 1998 or so didn't go to college at all, and still did pretty well for themselves, in technology areas as you would expect.

If those anecdotes aren't enough, there have been discussions in one of my majors, radio and TV, since I was in school about the role of college in preparing people for a specific career. One of my friends and classmates is now a professor for the evolved version of that major, and they're still trying to figure it out. Even more surprising is that in software development, many of the best people I've worked with didn't go to school, or majored in completely different areas (including myself).

So what am I getting at here? I'm not even sure. I'm not really trying to draw any conclusions. What I'm trying to understand is where the return on investment is for college education. We can probably draw some obviously conclusions that it's better for a doctor than it is for an art major (though knowing a few young doctors and veterinarians, that ROI is pretty far off). More to the point, I'm interested in knowing if simply throwing money at the problem means more people are lifted to middle class or better lives.

In the context of the political debate, I understand it to mean that more people in college means more people making better money. If college is only one factor, and location, vocation and market demands aren't factored into it, subsidizing college doesn't strike me as an efficient way to get more people into better wages. In fact, if you put more college graduates out there, doesn't that change the entire market dynamic of skill demand? I'm not an expert, it just seems like this is another over-simplification of another complex problem. It's not clear to me what college is supposed to achieve, and that seems like an important thing to understand before pursuing this kind of solution. If cost is the issue, then like healthcare, why aren't we looking at the cost issue first?

Microsoft buys Xamarin

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, February 24, 2016, 8:11 PM | comments: 0

There was pretty exciting news today in developer circles, as Xamarin is being bought by Microsoft. Xamarin makes tools that let you build apps for iOS and Android using C# and Visual Studio. I think a lot of people in .NET developer circles have been wishing for this for a long time, because the tools are valuable and priced as such. The hope in the acquisition is that the pricing comes down, and possibly even gets included in MSDN subscriptions.

I admit, I've been reluctant to get all that into mobile development because it's easier and cheaper to build a Web app, and that requires no stores or updates or whatever. Most mobile apps are really just thin wrappers over services that could be sites anyway. But the other issues were about code reuse and learning new platforms. Android development is actually pretty easy, even though the tools aren't particularly robust. iOS on the other hand has always had crappy tooling and an even crappier language to work with. Objective-C is syntactically ridiculous and a step backward in a world where managed languages like C# and Java make your life easier. I've honestly not been able to go beyond "hello world" with it because I don't have the spare time to use it.

Xamarin isn't perfect, but it doesn't limit you either. Code reuse is possible to varying degrees, C# is an easy language to use, and Visual Studio is still one of the best development environments ever made. I had my first real-life exposure to it at a previous contract gig, and while I didn't get to write code directly, I got to review a ton of it. That sold me on the platform.

Late last year, I got a free subscription for a year, for both iOS and Android, just because I had previously published a Windows Phone app (five years ago). Since I'm kind of suspending development on the forums for now (because the ASP.NET platform is in the midst of some serious change right now), I'd like to make something a little more real with it, and I have some science projects in mind.

In any case, pretty exciting times, even if I'm grumpy about the apptastic world of mobile. I'm looking forward to seeing what they announce.

Millennial victimhood

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 22, 2016, 7:34 PM | comments: 0

There has been some Internet buzz about a 25-year-old woman who apparently worked for Yelp and was fired after posting a long rant about not being able to pay her bills on her Yelp salary. I don't imagine that anyone would be surprised that she was fired. What's more interesting than her boo-hoo's is the response in various discussions on the Internets, especially in more age-diverse circles.

Let me first say that I don't entirely buy-in to the millennial stereotype of perpetual victimhood. I know a fair amount of 20-somethings who are hard-working, responsible grownups, changing the world. I realize that there may be some selection bias, as I'm probably not likely to encounter many people who fit the stereotype. But I still tend to reject the stereotype because it frankly sounds a lot like the one applied to my generation. Now we build electric cars, launch rockets that land, and we make the software that runs your life. So suck it, history. You got it wrong in the 90's. We're kickass.

In fact, I would suggest that victimhood is a pretty wide practice at this point across every generation. The political scene right now would certainly imply that. One side believes you're being screwed by Mexicans and Muslims, the other side believes you're being screwed by investment bankers. In fact, if you want to make a connection, I'd say that these 20-somethings who have parents approaching or in their 50's, now wanting to be victims, laid the ground work for any kind of millennial entitlement or poor expectations. Maybe I'm assigning blame, but perhaps they're the generation ultimately responsible for this phenomenon.

My generation was clearly not the last one to be sold a future that said college was the ticket to prosperity, but the messaging at the time at least implied that it would be a lot of work. I think shortly thereafter, the work part may have faded into the background. I imagine most people with a degree probably did do OK back then.

There is a lot of talk about a "living wage," which is not constructive at all because it's a loaded term. It means something different in every locale. It sounds like this Talia person makes around $23k a year, which is not enough to live in the San Francisco area. If that was the best I could do, I would make it my mission to move elsewhere. If a customer service gig is what you want, they can be found anywhere. Why stay? Clearly Yelp believes it can get away with paying that, and this woman validates that belief.

I'm obviously biased by my own experience. I lived very comfortably and took nice vacations in my post-college years on what amounts to $36k in today's dollars, which works out to about $17/hour. That's while my first wife was in grad school, and working part-time at $8/hr. Certainly our average wage was closer to $12. I imagine that if were both that age today, married, and living in Cleveland, we could make it work and be comfortable. Location made a difference, but not attempting to live rich made a big difference too.

I guess I'm not sure what to do with financial victimhood. Yes, there are many aspects of "the system" that put people at a disadvantage. I get that, and it's a legitimate problem that has to be addressed. I'm unconvinced that the scope of the problem is what some make it out to be, however. There is this broad spectrum of people ranging from those who feel beyond repressed and those who suck it up and make change where they can. I'm more likely to consider the opinions of the latter group than the former.

That time I shot some engagement photos

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 21, 2016, 7:49 PM | comments: 0

Everyone knows that I've been a photography nerd since I was a kid. What I've mostly enjoyed about photography, however, is the more candid stuff, and sometimes landscapes. Posed stuff, meh, I don't care for it, partly because I've never felt very good at it. So when my best friend Kara asked me to shoot some engagement photos for her and Sean, I said yes with a bit of anxiety.

The problem is that the exposure theory that came natural to me when I was shooting all of the time, and on film no less, is not like riding a bike. I forget. So when I get into hostile lighting, I forget what to do. This was the case a few weeks ago when I rattled off some shots of Simon and Diana. That was for fun, but this was for someone's important life event. I didn't want to screw it up.

Fortunately, there were two ideal conditions. The first was that we had a lot of time, as we budgeted about five hours. The second was that they were pretty patient, so they gave me the flexibility to experiment and correct a bit. So while I definitely had a lot of throw-away shots, I ended up with a lot of shots that even my overly-critical eye really liked. They picked about 80 out of the ~450 or so that I shot for some further refinement. I liked about 30, so that's a win.

There were two things I wanted to figure out for sure. The first was just some nice beach shots during "golden hour," and those turned out pretty solid. The other was under a bridge where there was a lot of sun being reflected off of the water, creating some interesting shadows filled with an off-camera flash. I'm not sure if they cared for them, but I was thrilled with them.

The net result is that maybe I don't hate the posed stuff as much as I thought. I suppose if someone is going to be your guinea pig, it might as well be your BFF who won't hate you if you get it wrong. Mind you, I don't think I would want to do it for a living, because honestly, that would take the fun out of it. It's certainly more fun when you know the people. They're happy, so I'm happy.

Disney Magic cruise, Bahamas, February 14-18, 2016

posted by Jeff | Sunday, February 21, 2016, 11:52 AM | comments: 0

I've written about our seven previous cruises, so in this case I'll just write about the different stuff. Most importantly, this is our second trip on the Magic, as all but one previous cruise was on the Dream. The Magic is a bit smaller, which in some ways is a good thing. This is also the first time we deviated from the three-night itinerary. This one was four, and in a different order. The Magic spends most of the year zipping around Europe, and takes its winter vacation down here. This was also our second cruise with my Seattle family. We did our first with them as well, almost three years ago to the day.

First off, this particular four-night itinerary was Sunday to Thursday, and in a different port order. They have to dance around the fact that the Dream and the Fantasy need their days at Castaway Cay, so instead of doing Canaveral-Nassau-Castaway, this trip did Canaveral-Castaway-Nassau with an extra day at sea. This is a fantastic arrangement. Usually there's a metaphoric cloud hanging over the Castaway Beach because you have to go home the next morning, but in this case the best day comes first. The extra day at sea also provides a perfect wind-down for the trip, with very little structure to the day. In fact, they even did three performances of the stage show, so knocking it out at 2 p.m. meant no pressure to keep the kids up for the 8:30 show.

There are also a few things that I like about the Magic better. While the oldest ship in the fleet at 18 years, the massive dry dock rehab they did in early 2014 (maybe late 2013) made it "like new" in most ways. The kids pool area is superior to what they have on the Dream. The regular water slide is doable by adults. The Aqua Dunk, with its drop-out floor chute, I could do without, but generally I like the public areas. The adult pool area in huge by comparison, even though it lacks the swim-up bar. The only negatives, which mostly apply to Simon's desires, is that it doesn't have mini-golf, and they don't have the "detective agency" scavenger hunt game that you roam around the ship for.

The biggest win had nothing to do with the ship though. We were finally traveling with my brother-in-law's family, which meant Simon could be with his cousins. We went almost three years in between, which is literally half of Simon's life. They seemed to bond pretty quickly and everyone had a good time.

New on the Magic is a stage version of the movie Tangled. This is the thing that Diana and I were looking forward to the most, as the show just started a month or two ago. It was pretty fantastic, weighing in just over an hour. They added at least two songs that weren't in the movie (presumably cut from the film). I thought that they missed out on an opportunity for a bigger dance number in the thug bar or the town square, but otherwise is was a really solid show. The puppeteered Maximus was very clever. The effects for the glowing hair were pretty cool when they worked (we saw both performances). The biggest stand out was the actress playing Mother Gothel. She played it pretty tight to the film version, without going over the top, and vocally was pretty amazing.

The other two shows included Twice Charmed, the remix of Cinderella, which I appreciate because it's an original story. The third show, Dreams, is one of those revue-style shows that they do on the dream, though they've mixed it up a bit in the last two years. I'm not a fan of repackaged IP, but the actress that did Mother Gothel in Tangled belted out "Let It Go" from Frozen in a very capable way. They augmented that performance with video projection effects that were really impressive. They also did a Lion King number that was very impressive.

The night that Tangled was playing, they also re-themed the O'Gills pub into the Snuggly Duckling, the bar from the movie. There the families could play "THUGO," which was basically character bingo. We were able to get a table before the later performance of the show.

This was the first cruise where I couldn't deal with the water at Castaway Cay. It was just too damn cold. The kids (and Ironman Joe) swam around, but I couldn't commit. I happily stayed ashore with my sippy cup of adult beverage. I'll say again that I'm not much of a beach guy, but I consistently have a good time at that beach. It's beautiful, there's great service, great food... it's just a perfect beach day every time. We need to watch for one of those rare itineraries where they stop there twice.

They made the very good decision to move up the fireworks at sea to right after the pirate deck party, because apparently people were complaining that they couldn't keep their kids up so late. I believe it... we've only seen the fireworks once on all previous sailings. Mind you, it's all "cold" pyro and not the kind of thing we see every night at Magic Kingdom, but it's still fun.

For movies, we watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens again. I see little new things every time. Simon and I also saw The Good Dinosaur again.

With the tax refund coming, and after being lured in with discounts, we both did spa treatments. I did a 75-minute hot stone massage (for the price of the 50-minute treatment). It was pretty much life changing. The stones make a huge difference. I haven't had a massage in two years, and I don't know why I go so long in between treating myself to it. Diana did a combination of treatments as well (I forget which). At the end of the trip, we didn't really spend any more than we usually do, probably because we spent less on drinks (we brought our own for Castaway day).

On the last night, I was not content to sit in the room and be sad that it was all over. Since we saw the earlier show, I noticed the slides were open, and I knew they would be practically unused, so I suited up and went up. I did six laps on the Twist-n-Spout. It's a nice slide that starts up in the aft funnel in between the exhaust pipes for the main engines, so it's toasty up there. Then the lifeguard indicated that the Aqua Dunk was also open. With liquid courage, I did it. It's creepy because they close you in that capsule. Even on this small slide, the G's on the pull-out are pretty intense. I don't know that I'm in any hurry to do a bigger one, like those at Aquatica.

Overall, it was a fantastic cruise, and being there with the Seattle unit made it particularly awesome. Lots of great photos, too. I wish the water would have been a little warmer at Castaway Cay, but other than that, good times, start to finish.

Seattle family

posted by Jeff | Friday, February 19, 2016, 10:00 AM | comments: 0

We had the excellent opportunity last week to have our Seattle family component here, and together we did an awesome 4-night cruise aboard the Disney Magic. It's the first time in too-long that Simon has been able to hang out with his cousins.

While I still tend to bitch and moan a bit about the decision to leave Seattle (good financially, bad socially and for career, blah blah blah), I think not having the kids in the same place is probably the hardest part. As adults, we can kind of pick up where we left off with my brother- and sister-in-law, but it has been two and a half years since the kids have seen each other. I hate that.

The interesting thing is that Mason is just a few months older than Simon, and Nina is a few years. The cool thing about this is that we kind of see a preview, in terms of child raising, with Nina, while Mason is kind of an alternate story. They've got a similar story in terms of a "late start" building a family, so it's a relatable situation. We also had the benefit of having frequent babysitting trades, which was always cool because, you know, who doesn't like spending time with their nephew and niece?

Simon being an only child, I miss this. It's not that Simon doesn't have friends in the neighborhood, but kids move, change schools and such. Cousins are still cousins. It's remarkable how quickly the boys hit it off, and Nina acts as the big sister in both cases. It's just types of relationships that Simon doesn't otherwise have.

On the plus side, it's not the only cruise these kids will be doing together...

Wedding conventions

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 11, 2016, 1:05 PM | comments: 0

If there's one thing that I recall about planning my first wedding, it was the number of conventions and practices that you were "supposed to" follow. You know, the clothes, the church, the cake, etc. It was a really fun wedding, but I didn't realize at the time that we were certainly free to stray from those conventions. When I got married again, I suppose our age made it more obvious that we could really do anything we wanted to do. And that's what we did.

Diana and I had a very nearly perfect wedding. The only serious issue we had, aside from a few friends not being able to make it, was that we had rectangular tables on the boat instead of round (it felt a little cafeteria-like). Otherwise, we got married barefoot, in the sand, by the boat captain, in about 10 minutes. We had one "best" each stand with us. My father-in-law wore his tux, I wore beach attire. We had the reception on a boat, minus cake, plus two kinds of pie. We had 50 people instead of 150. My iPod was the DJ. A budding photographer friend shot a thousand fantastic frames. While people talked about it for a long time, it was a win because Diana and I had a great time. That's what really mattered.

We haven't been to many weddings since. We went to one last year for two dudes, which I'm sure for a lot of people was about as non-conventional as it gets. They had a french fry bar late in the reception, which was the best idea ever, if you don't count having the wedding and reception at Walt Disney World venues you probably never think about. There was cake, too, that we ate while a scuba Mickey watched from the Living Seas through the glass. We're still talking about that one!

Now, my best friend is planning her wedding, and I'll be in it as a bridesmaid bridesman. That word is a thing now, because the wedding party need not be composed of same-sex members. They're hoping to have a mashed potato martini bar, which sounds amazing. Indeed, they too will make the wedding what they want it to be, free of the conventions that an industry pushes as the "normal" things you're supposed to do. And most importantly, I'm sure it will be a wedding that they'll love.

I know that it may seem like I have something against tradition, and it's not that. It's just that tradition has a way of blocking your view of something better. You don't want to miss out on better.

Financial habits are like dieting

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 8, 2016, 6:19 PM | comments: 0

I'm sure this may seem like an absurd comparison, but I find sticking to good financial habits to be a lot like dieting. If you have issues eating right, then you know that sometimes it's hard to stick to the physical routine, and it's easy to binge now and then. Financially, you can spend money on stupid shit, use credit in an irresponsible manner, etc., which is a lot like binging in my mind.

But here's the thing, I try to stick to some kind of weak routine for diet and exercise because it's what you're supposed to do, and I understand the theory about why I should be doing it. No need to invite extra ways to die by living on pizza, wings and soda. I don't, however, do it because of some kind of bad experience (well, not beyond seeing photos of my fat ass 12 years ago, or remembering being winded walking up stairs). This is in stark contrast to the financial binging. I avoid that because I remember buying whatever useless crap I felt like buying, and then making minimum payments on credit cards. Then when I started Act II of my life, with a new wife, a move and a baby, I got my shit together and promised myself I would never be like that again. A bad experience motivates me.

In the last few months, I noticed I've had a lot of anxiety about money, which is mostly unwarranted. Buying that damn car meant emptying our savings and deferring paying for certain things. It all went according to plan, mind you, and I didn't pay any credit card interest or whatever. The somewhat dishonest thing that I did is think of it in terms of the tax credit associated with the car. Basically I ended up financing that, but figured that investing the money back will far offset the interest. It all works out, but I don't like obligations and borrowing, even when I can beat "the system," so to speak. Then I also did some binge spending on our big family vacation for next summer and some living room furniture.

Why so anxious? Again, it's because of the situation in Act I of my life. I've been in a bad place, and don't want to ever go back there. In this instance, I didn't take on a lot of risk, but it's still funny how even harmless borrowing causes worry. I guess this is being scared straight. I wish I could tell 20-something me not to be cavalier with money.

Nothing I have to say (creatively) is any good

posted by Jeff | Saturday, February 6, 2016, 10:50 PM | comments: 0

We were watching the special features for Pitch Perfect 2 tonight again. Along with the first film, they're a lot of fun, and I'm jealous of the people who get to make movies like that. The collaborative nature of it has to be incredibly satisfying. I know that when I was doing TV, it was the most fun when it was a crew of more than two (typically sports went that way).

Why haven't I done anything beyond some loosely (very loosely) cut quasi-documentary stuff? Mostly because I'm afraid that anything creative that I have to say is probably not very good. This is a huge blocker for me. It's hard for me to get over because I don't really know what the cause of it is. Almost everything else that I don't like and want to change about my personality I can figure out, and deal with it as I choose.

I don't have this issue professionally. I'm reasonably confident in my ability, and when my confidence is challenged, I'm generally able to do what it takes to learn or get it done and be successful. But when it comes to creative endeavors, I'm such a non-starter.

While I'm not one to make resolutions, I do want to resolve this. I want to make something, even if it's terrible. For starters, I'm going to do an homage to a certain Web series that I enjoy. It could be a little funny. I'm trying to come up with some ideas for a short as well, but I never manage to feel out anything beyond the first act.

Have you seen the Constitution? I know it's around here somewhere

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 1, 2016, 10:49 PM | comments: 0

There's a segment of the voting population, particularly the Obama haters and Trump boosters, who don't really understand their own government. I'm not sure that it's willful ignorance. I think maybe they just don't know.

The chorus that says "Obama is ruining the country," and let's be honest, Obama hasn't really done much of anything, suggests that he's going to take your guns and going around Congress and whatever. That's giving him too much credit. I may not always agree with him, but the dude is a Constitutional lawyer and professor, he knows his shit. All of the nonsense about executive orders is silly, because the orders have to be lawful under existing law. They can't change or subvert the law. Heck, the only president to issue fewer orders in my lifetime was the first Bush, while Reagan issued the most. And as is the case with any rule making (rules are issued by all kinds of agencies, like the FCC, FAA, CSPC, FDA, etc.), the rules can and are often challenged in court. Checks and balances work.

And the Donald? Dear God, he has no idea what the Constitution is. You don't get to just do anything once you're president. That means you don't get to repeal laws on "day one," because only Congress gets to do that. You don't get to declare war, because Congress does that. You don't get to replace Supreme Court justices, and even if you do seat one, their job isn't to pander to you, it's to scholarly interpret the Constitution. If you believe any of that crap, you're about a hundred steps behind the immigrants that you hate so much. They had to know this stuff to become citizens, whereas you just had to be born here.

The structure of our government moves very slowly. Sometimes that's frustrating, but given the reactionary stupidity that a lot of folks want to enact, maybe that's why the founding fathers made change a little harder. Things like abolishing slavery and enacting civil rights took entirely too long, but we got it sort of done (still a lot of work to do). It's odd that we spend so much time worrying about the executive branch, when to me it seems that it's the legislative that's doing the most damage. I guess it's harder to attribute that to the hundreds of people who make up the branch on the hill.

Best Buy is still a thing

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 1, 2016, 3:08 PM | comments: 0

I went in to Best Buy last weekend to spend a gift card. I honestly haven't been inside of one probably in a few years. Honestly, I can't believe that Best Buy is a thing.

Since it's been so long since I last saw the inside of a store, I have to tell you that I was first struck by how small the media section is. It used to occupy the middle 50% of the store. I spent entirely too much money on CD's and DVD's back in the day there. Obviously these days I buy music as MP3, and movies I buy mostly from Amazon, and now and then I buy digitally. But now, CD's occupy a short row of racks, and the movies are maybe three short rows. Video game space is still fairly respectable, but it's striking how there are brands buying big pieces, like Disney Infinity, Lego Dimensions and Guitar Hero.

As far as media shopping goes, honestly the experience was crappy. I can get any of that stuff online at Amazon for less. Heck, even video games I'm starting to lean toward digital purchases. The only win for getting the physical media is resale, but considering I buy maybe four games a year, and never part with them, it's a non-factor.

Much of the space these days is dedicated to selling mobile phones, which is not surprising. It's right up front. I avoided that area. I went right over to the TV area, just for fun. It makes me sad. Here they have these massive 4K TV's. What are they showing? Highly compressed video, with big chunky artifacts. If that weren't bad enough, they're all set to crush the blacks and crank up the saturation. And then they all do the ultimate sin, which is use that goddamn frame interpolation. That's where the TV takes two frames, normally 1/24th to 1/30th a second apart, and fills in the space with extra frames. It makes everything look like a soap opera, and I hate the way it looks. It's distracting and movies in particular, normally shot at 24 frames per second, look bizarre. This is not a feature, it's shit.

When you wonder back to the computer area, things are actually a little better. The pricing isn't great, but at least you can touch stuff, and they have a pretty wide variety of merchandise. Clearly Apple and Microsoft feel people are coming here, because they both buy a lot of space in the stores. So you can play with a MacBook Pro or a Surface Book. There are plenty of Best Buy Minions to answer questions, too.

Still, I can't get over the terrible presentation of the TV's. And the worst thing is that it's probably not their fault, it's the consumers who don't understand what quality is. Mind you, I had a lot of practice eye-balling color bars to adjust monitors on my previous profession (and my current TV does gen bars!), but you would think people would understand that erased detail and glowing red isn't optimal.

In any case, yeah, Best Buy is still a thing.