A Man Without a Browser

I’m a web programmer. As part of my job, I look at web pages. For money.

To look at web pages, one needs a web browser. I clung to Netscape 4.5 well past 2000 out of sheer Microsoft spite. But IE 6 was clearly superior, and once I’d gotten used to the look of the icons and whatnot, I switched over. No more nasty browser crashes.

Well, almost.

Firefox is the big thing in browsing these days, though, right? Everybody touts the superiority of Firefox like it were Hitler’s assassin. So I started playing with it — it was useful to make sure pages were loading right for the odd minority that preferred it — but never really got into it.

Then, Microsoft released IE7. Only took, what, 6 years? Great. You’re doing great there, fellas. I downloaded the beta, and it would promptly crash every time I tried to open it. I went through a lengthy ordeal to roll back to IE6, and vowed to never try it again-

But I did. They released the stable version, and voilá, there I was downloading again. I liked the little tab button to assist me in opening new tabs. Nifty!

But I swear, for the life of me, that has to be the most convoluted bunch of menu bars in history. I can’t get my menus to look anything like they did before, or like they do in most reasonable programs (File menu up top, icons beneath), so I’ve now deleted the shortcut to it. We hates it.

So I’m stuck with Firefox, which doesn’t have that nifty new tab button in a convenient location, but I managed to find it and add it to the icon bar, at least. But I can’t get the bookmark toolbar to show my special bookmarks — a tool I used religiously for accessing reference works. So I’ve just hidden that toolbar.

Now I can’t get Windows Media Player to install. Which means I can’t play any videos from CNN.com, my primary source for news.

I don’t think I’m asking for much, honestly. And I don’t think I’m guilty of user-error. I’m a pretty bright guy. (My dad went to Harvard on a Fulbright scholarship, so even if I only got HALF his intelligence, I’m still at least Yale material. Oh, SNAP!)

Maybe the IE issues are because I have Norton on my box. Or the Google toolbar. But both worked just dandy with IE6, so why should I be having trouble now? “Well, sir, we replaced your entire transmission — it’s a beauty — but you’re on your own trying to get that engine to start. We were plain flummoxed there.”

Wow — “flummoxed”! Didn’t I tell you I’m bright? That word was right there in my vocabulary, ready to use. Yale, here I come!

Assuming I can get to their web page to apply.

Holy crap. They’re banning tag.

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/10/18/no.tag.ap/index.html

No more tag or other chase games, because you might get hurt, kids.

Now, I’m the king of paranoid parents. I make my 3-year old hold my hand in the parking lot, she can’t play with sticks, and swinging things on strings is a no-no. She’s never unsupervised in the bath. Et cetera.

But tag? Injuries from tag — I mean, at the very worst, what could happen? A broken nose, if you hit just right? LET THEM GET HURT.

Injuries do not outweigh the fun from games. My rules are generally to protect her life or her eyeballs. Things that are hard to replace, you know? But I let her do stupid stuff on our carpeted half-flight of stairs — at 30 lbs, she’d be hard pressed to gather the momentum necessary to break one of her bones. We let her climb on the jungle gyms and playgrounds now without spotting her. She has a bunk bed she uses as monkey bars.

And she’ll get hurt occasionally. She’s rarely without a least one red mark or bruise.

Me — tag in fourth grade was one of the happiest times of my life. (Except we played “Sole Survivor”, where each person tagged is added to the group of taggers, until one player is left. That’s the last sport I excelled at.)

If they’re worried about lawsuits, do this: make each parent sign a waiver that they won’t sue for any injuries that occur during supervised or unsupervised games. Oh, you don’t want to sign that? Okay, your kid can sit over here in the safety corral. I think there’s a nerf ball in the sandbox. Let’s see how long you hold out.

amphibious sports car

I could go for one of these. I don’t think I have it in me to buy a boat, and something to pull the boat, and a bunch of boat-knowledge. But this: http://www.terrawind.com/spyder.htm — man. I could definitely get in on that action.

Game Shows

Living in Los Angeles affords one a unique opportunity — to be on game shows. I was once on “Street Smarts” as a contestant, and I lost, quite badly. Sad, considering the incredible lack of skill required to succeed at that show.

To my surprise, last night as Rebecca and I were watching the brand-new game show “1 vs. 100” (which I think will make it through perhaps 6 episodes before being cancelled), I saw that one of the 100 opponents was a girl I had once kissed on stage at ComedySportz.

(Further backstory: she was someone I knew from work, who happened to be an audience volunteer one night when I was performing, and we were pressed into the kiss by the improv and my fellow players. Also, Rebecca was in the audience that night, and though we weren’t dating steadily, we had just been kissing perhaps an hour before, and she was so angered by the scene on stage that she left the show fuming.)

(Later, Dana Willard turned to the dark art of improv comedy herself, and we performed together in a show in Santa Clarita, near Los Angeles. We did not kiss this time.)

Anyway, Dana Willard — who was Dana Suman when we kissed, but who later married a guy from my mission–

(Do the coincidences ever cease? I submit that they do not.)

–got highlighted on the show, and she had to convince the actual contestant that she was right in her answer of a question. (She was wrong, however.)

She failed to convince the contestant, so she was booted from the 100, along with some others — I won’t give you more details about the show, which is doomed to cancellation, as I mentioned — and suffice it to say she could have won money, but did not.

So I lost on a game show, and a girl who had been chosen randomly from an audience but whom I knew from work, whom I kissed mere hours after kissing my later-to-be wife, and who later married a guy from my mission, and whom I ended up performing with in another comedy show in another state, also lost on a game show.

Even weirder when you consider that you can spell our names with the same letters!

Netflix Million Dollar Challenge

So, Netflix wants somebody to come up with a better algorithm for suggesting movies for users.

The problem, though, isn’t the algorithm. It’s the dataset. They don’t have all the data they need.

A simple one-through-five stars won’t suffice for generating accurate predictions. The definition of “genre” needs to be re-written. I believe in this enough that I think it’d be my Master’s thesis if I ever had the desire to go back to school. That said, let us argue.

The term “genre” encompasses too much; it includes both the intended emotional response to a film — let’s just call that the “intended emotional response”, since I can’t think of a real word for it — as well as story-type factors. Instead, I say “genre” should ONLY refer to the story-likenesses.

Story likenesses are like the following (remember, these are generalities, or genre-alities):

  • A sci-fi includes non-existent technology (and frequently extrapolates the consequences of that technology); they can be set in the present day or the future, on our planet or a distant one.
  • A western is set in the 1800s American frontier, with man vs man conflicts.
  • Film noir includes a femme fatale, a crime, etc., and is generally set in the WWII and just-post-WWII era.
  • Cop dramas follow the dark side of a detective’s duty.

I think you get the idea. With the new definition of “genre”, though, you’ll start getting more and more specific — “Zombie movies”, “19th Century Romance”, “Birth of a Superhero”, etc.

But these genres can fall anywhere in the spectrum of intended emotional response.

The Intented Emotional Responses in Movies

That’s my first idea of how movies should be mapped — it may have some stuff I haven’t considered.

But note how sci-fis can fit anywhere on the spectrum. To say “Jack and Jill like science fiction” isn’t adequate. Perhaps Jack likes only the most incredible science fiction, whatever the intended emotional response, whereas Jill really only goes for the more believable adventures in the sci-fi genre. Jack’s favor towards sci-fi will make a ring around the outside of the spectrum; Jill’s will make a small blob — maybe an arc — in just one area.

I believe it’s safe to assume that NO MATTER THE GENRE, a person’s like or dislike of a given area of the spectrum will remain constant.

To determine where a movie falls in the spectrum is tricky. You can’t take the director’s word for it, because what he finds merely thrilling might be horrific to the majority; every individual has a personal spectrum. (That said, a movie that is intended to be funny, but fails, is still a comedy. Failure to elicit the intended emotional response is a primary factor in a movie’s quality to viewers, but it doesn’t change its position in the spectrum.) For that reason, you probably need to ask more questions in each user’s review to determine how close they are to the average spectrum, and adjust as necessary.

Not that any of that is viable for Netflix. Getting more out of users is unlikely. But at the very least, they could establish the baseline position for a movie in the spectrum of intended emotional response, and start qualifying folks’ ratings from there.

Gimme my million. Or my Master’s.