We’ve got your back

Well, at least they got the story right.

I'll call you back later, I have to save the Earth

I'll call you back later, I have to save the Earth

In about 100 minutes they managed to explain a very complicated series of rapid-fire events in an understandable, and even entertaining way. The writing was engaging. The acting was great. And so forth.

But ultimately, HBO’s “Too Big To Fail”… fails… because it punts on the whole “blame” issue.

Why with the blame? Well, put simply, so we don’t do this shit again.

Yes, yes yes. The bankers were greedy idiots: hard-headed and childish zillionaires who nearly brought down our entire economic system because they were dumb enough to believe (or to convince themselves) that “real estate only goes up”.

(I mean, really? Real Estate always goes up? Never down? Really? It still boggles my mind that this is even a question. Gah.)

“Too Big To Fail” does a decent job of casting that concept in it’s proper light: a pale illumination of disdain.

Where HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” falls short is ONLY blaming the bankers.

This is a huge, historical mistake.

TBTF completely dismisses Congress and multiple decades of terrible, terrible decisions on everything from Freddie & Fannie, to the FHA, to the CRA. Instead, the film chooses to serve up the “de-regulation” canard in whispy, vague intro scenes (are housing quotas “regulation” or “de-regulation”?).

What’s more, “TBTF” completely lets consumers (us) off the hook.

In this case it took THREE to tango: 1) The greedy, bankers 2) the maybe-well-intentioned but ultimately bumbling and hurtful bureaucrats who first incentivized, and supported those bankers, and 3) the millions of willing homeowners who were also greedy, and bumbling, and now are whining a lot.

We can argue “chicken-egg-chicken” here, but anyone who knows anything about this mess knows that, although the bankers deserve all the disdain we can muster, the other two major players deserve just as much attention.

But “Too Big To Fail” isn’t about those other 2 legs of the stool. It’s about the bankers, and their interaction w/ Paulson, and the slap-dash series of events that took place in the fall of 2008. So it’s understandable that it didn’t dive deep into, say, specific legislation, or some poor, dumb family caught trying to flip some houses.

If “Too Big To Fail” had stayed on topic, then it would be fine. But they didn’t.

Understandably, though, they did try to explain what was going on.

In one painfully obvious scene (putting the 4th wall in much peril) Paulson and his advisors “talk through” how the shit actually got into the fan.

It’s in this scene where “TBTF” willfully ignores The Government’s role in encouraging the build-up, and at the same time washes away any homeowners’ responsibility with the old “American Dream” chestnut; all in about 20 seconds of screen time. This is a damn shame, because they really didn’t have to say much here to be accurate. But instead they chose to perpetuate the fallacy that it was ALL the fault of the bankers.

(Remember kids: bankers are evil, politicians are just there to help, and we consumers can do no wrong.)

The problem here is that, it’s movies like this, about crises like this, that will actually help shape history. And it’s in this little scene that HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” essentially absolves the other 2 legs of the stool of any blame.


And what’s extra frustrating is “TBTF” came so darn close to being nonpartisan. All they had to do here, in this short little scene, was be ACCURATE.

= Accuracy FAIL.

Instead, they chose pitchforks and populism. And they just might get away with it because the Bankers are, in fact, pretty darn evil.

So, ultimately, “Too Big To Fail” ends up being a love letter to Hank Paulson. Does he deserve it? Maybe so. But along the way they missed a simple, and important opportunity to help educate the public about what really happened. And why.

It’s a near-miss. Which sucks, because it’s not a bad movie. In fact it’s a pretty darn good movie. But as a historical document, HBO’s “Too Big To Fail” will be doomed to repeats.

Yeah. I just wrote that.

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Yes. I’m a geek.

I’ve waited a couple years now for this particular camera to come out, because I’ve so-loved the Lumix series from the get-go. I’ve gotten so much good use out of my old FX7, and took many fantabulous pics with that little bad boy, that, in my mind, Lumix could do no wrong.

In general, the Lumix line is very underrated, and hence a darn good value (especially compared to Canon). In fact, the FX75’s big brother, the Lumix ZS7, has become the “sleeper” hit of the year. Being generally regarded as the best, most versatile compact camera without being a full-on DSLR.

But for the FX70/75 specifically, I liked the idea of having such a wide, bright lens (a Leica @ 2.2 no less), in such a small package.

Even though Panasonic is notorious for not including even basic manual features in their ultra-compacts, I have a fancy-schmancy DSLR for the really important stuff, so a micro-snapper, albeit totally “automatic”, is a good thing to have in my workflow.

The FX75 an extremely small camera (think deck of cards), with a very sturdy build. Its pre-set “modes” are nice and varied which helps offset the lack of manual control a tiny bit. It even takes darn good “flash” pictures (for weddings, parties, etc), with a better-than-normal color/flash/exposure balance, which is something even decent DSLRs have a problem with.

The image quality of the 14-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX75 is very, very good, too. As long as you’re under IS0-800, you’re going to get a low-noise, crisp image with great, accurate color. However, the built-in “sharpening” tends to look a bit wonky on small details like leaves, or other natural elements. But, weirdly, with more man-made details (architecture, bricks, cars) that same sharpening algorithm actually helps the image. So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In fact, I really wish they had an option to turn this “feature” off, allowing the user to apply their own “sharpening” in post via Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture.

But no. The FX70/75 insists on doing EVERYTHING for you.

The touch screen is a welcome feature too (even if you don’t use it to “take” pictures”, you can use it to assign focus, navigate menus, etc), and the visibility of the LCD in daylight really isn’t that big of a deal.

Because of that handy Touch Screen, there are very few physical buttons on the FX75. One of them is the “MODE” button which, when pressed, presents 4 on-screen choices: “Normal Picture” (a poor man’s “manual” mode); “Intelligent Auto” (which actually does a pretty good job of guessing your needs); “Scene Mode” (which takes you to a larger scene menu: sports, landscape, candlelight, etc, etc); and… “Cosmetic Mode” (which allows you to adjust face tones).

Wait. What? Really guys? You have 4 options and one of them is a “Cosmetic Mode”? Is this supposed to be “The Fashion Camera” or something? At the very least the user should be able to assign that 4th choice, either with a commonly-used “Scene Mode” or a user-created variation for an extra “Normal Picture” mode. But if that’s an option, I haven’t found it (because the 100 page manual is a bit intimidating, and a PDF). Nevertheless, dedicating such a prominent UI element to a “Cosmetic Mode” seems, well, strange.

That said, it’s not that big of a deal.

What IS a big deal is that this camera, as noted to some degree in all the reviews so far, is that the Lumix DMC FX75 has pretty major highlight and shadow problems, especially when shooting in the “normal picture” mode. If you’re outside, on a sunny-ish day, casually shooting pics, you are going to end up with a ton of snaps that are either blown-out, or way under-exposed. And, more often than not, you’ll have both problems in one picture. Literally white-white highlights AND black-black shadows. It’s really sad, actually.


(NOTE: these 3 images are shown in their original capture state first, and then as “adjusted”: my valiant attempt to eek-down the highlights and nudge-up shadows in post. As you can see, the progress even on these non-extreme examples was minimal, at best.)

Yes: all cameras have their pluses and minuses. But this little camera has SO much going for it that these very basic exposure issues are a huge let-down. Frankly, this is an issue that feels very “2001” in terms of technical performance. The FX75 has all these wonderfully modern bells and whistles, but when you check out your pictures of that family picnic, you’ll find yourself shaking your head and asking “jeesh…really?”.

The FX75 does provide an “intelligent exposure” option, which helps this dilemma a bit, but if you have that option turned on it overrides your ISO preferences even in “normal picture” mode. So all of a sudden you may get stuck with an ISO-1600 picture (which is extremely noisy) taken in the daytime (which is crazy).

Overall, it’s almost as if they paid so much attention to the glitter and zaz of the FX75 that they glossed over the basics: ie., capturing a properly-exposed image.

They could’ve included an HDR or RAW option so at least you’d have some room to play on the back end. But, sadly, no. You’re stuck with more than an expectable number of badly exposed JPGs.

I don’t know if something like a “firmware upgrade” can fix this problem, but I certainly hope so. Because if they can find a way to fix this, they’ll have one of, if not THE best camera in its class. If not, I’ll probably have to try and sell this (quick, before word gets out!), and buy another mini-snapper. And that’s a real shame.

I’m sorry Lumix. I’m your biggest fan. But, as-is, the DMC FX75 (FX70) is a real heart breaker.


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Sloppy Seconds

Okay. So we’ve been assaulted by AT&T’s “Verizon Sucks” ads for a few weeks now:

Obviously, AT&T had to do something. Verizon’s “Maps” campaign (cue Yeah Yeah Yeahs) was the marketing equivalent of a bitch slapping. But what AT&T didn’t have to do was get an out-of-shape B+List actor to slap back.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Luke Wilson. I like his movies. In fact, I think I’d like to grab a beer with him and shoot the shit. But I’m not sure he’s the best choice to be a spokesperson. At this time. For this brand.

I’ll say what everyone else is thinking:

Luke Wilson AT&T

Seriously Luke, WTF?

He’s… doughy!

More seriously BBDO, WTFF?

I’m not one of those people who follows celebrities, indulging in their romantic escapades, and secretly reading Star on the shitter. And I don’t care who’s fat and who isn’t. In fact, I think we put too much pressure on movie stars, models and musicians to be super-skinny. I think it’s unrealistic and ultimately counterproductive for society.

That said, when a pudgy Luke Wilson first graced my screen a few weeks back, my first thought was “Oops!”

To put it kindly, it looks like either Luke really needs money, or AT&T doesn’t have a working sense of spokesperson quality control.

He just looks tired. Or maybe even hungover. But for both parties, this is a campaign FAIL.

Not that the commercials themselves are bad. They’re at least as good as the Verizon spots… on paper.

Execution? Not so much. And this is just another instance of just how important good casting is in the making of a good commercial.

Oh, and for the record: Yes, I have an iPhone. And no, I don’t hate AT&T.

I just hate this campaign.

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One of the most-aired, but somehow least-annoying commercials on is the “Valet” spot: where the Orbitz Guy exits his hovercraft, thows the keys to the valet, and says “Ah… the” to a surprised Hispanic-lite couple.

It’s subtle, but it’s a great opening. It’s a small, but ultimately pretty funny joke at the expense of trying to make a last name that is already plural, plural.

It’s something we’ve all stumbled with, and chuckled about, at some point in our lives. And it’s exactly the same as making the last name “James”, or any other word that ends in “s” or “z” plural.

Except this last name was Hispanic.

Orbitz has quietly re-edited their spot, and removed the extra “…”s, most likely at the direction of some easily offended letter writers with too much time on their hands.

But what is surprising here is the amount of outrage… not over the original version, but over this new, “cleaned up” version:

The original version (“…”) is what we in the industry call a “truism”. A little human touch that helps endears viewers to your commercial. Some commercials and even campaigns are awash in “truism” (see: Just Do It). But most commercials out there are pretty bland, and would fade into the woodwork if it weren’t for these little gems of humanity. A look. A unique line delivery. A perfectly-cast bit player with a strange face. Or, more often, as in this case, a seemingly “throw away” line, that people like. And remember.

Orbitz’s (“…”) removal of this small-but-powerful moment is a big deal. Not because it made a pleasantly decent spot bad (it did), but because it’s a symptom of a bigger, more nefarious issue: Political Correctness.

Offensive language and stereotypes are kind of like Global Warming. You won’t find anyone who will readily admit to thinking that pollution is GOOD, just like you won’t find anyone who will willingly cheer on the insulting of groups of people, religions or cultures. Especially minorities. But the problem is, with this kind of thin-skinned knee-jerk skiddishness, we’re ultimately missing the larger point. And when we focus on these little, unimportant, but still-perceived “slights” we take the focus off of larger, more harmful, and “real” racism.

The natural reaction to people or groups that are overly sensitive is to treat them like little children. And, for groups that are ironically clamoring for respect, that is the most offensive thing of all.

Yes. It’s a stupid commercial about a silly guy in a hovercraft. But it’s a glaring example of a larger, more insidious problem in our World today: PC Thuggery, the attempt to control other’s thoughts and speech, and the overall wuss-i-fi-cation of our society.

Hopefully this reverse-outrage will garner some attention, and start a proper, grown-up discussion. It’s long overdue.

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That’s the sound that my “replacement” 2TB drive –Lacie so graciously gave me after my drive debacle last year– is now making, meaning it’s cheap power supply can no longer spin the disks. Obviously, it’s days are numbered.

Thank GOD I had everything double-backed-up onto my spiffy new 2TB MyBook.

So, if you weren’t paying attention before, Lacie makes crappy products. Especially the “larger” drives. Avoid them at all cost.


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Cnet writes great reviews, and I love when they have their review “roundups”.

The slideshow interface isn’t the best, but it does the job.

The problem is that about two months ago they stopped their 1-10 rating scale (you know, the tried and true one) and replaced it with this… um… 1-4 scale?

Honestly I can’t even tell if it’s 1-4, because every single thing gets either a 3.5 or a 4.

Maybe it’s a newfangled 3.5-4 ratings scale?

Whichever, it’s annoying.


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Customer 2.0

Attention shoppers: we have arrived.

We’ve all been doing the ecommerce thing for a while now. We’re all semi-pro online bargain hunters. We all finally feel safe using our credit cards online. And the government is finally getting around to taxing online commerce (bastards), because they know it’s gotten to a level that some pesky tax won’t pull us back from.

Online sellers are giving Main Street a run for it’s money like it’s never seen before.

Think about it: 20 years ago we were bemoaning big, bad WalMart swooping into smalltown America and squeezing out the Mom and Pops.

– The mom and pops cried “foul!” Economists cried “competition!”

And then a few years later it was the demon spawn Barnes & Nobles and eviler still Starbucks hastening the extinction of our local bookstores and coffee shops.

– The purists cried “foul!” Everyone else cried “vente soy latte!”

But now we find ourselves in the middle of an even braver, newer world: ecommerce has fully matured. And now no one’s safe. Even brick-and-mortar behemoth WalMart.

Oh, the irony.

Today a small town semi-savy Grandmother with a little extra time on her hands can easily find most of what WalMart offers elsewhere, for cheaper. With free shipping. And points. And she does.

We have arrived.

There’s a lot less cries of “foul” now too.

Why? For one, it’s not just the hardware stores, bookstores, or the coffee shops that are getting a beatdown; it’s every kind of shop imaginable, save for restaurants and nail salons.

But the main reason no one’s complaining is that the benefit to the consumer (you know, us) has finally gotten past the tipping point: everything’s cheaper, and who’s going to cry “foul” on that?

The unfettered competition made all the prices lower, just like it tends to do. And it’s a beautiful thing.

But lately another powerful phenomenon has come to the fore. One which will certainly throw yet another wonderful wrench in the works: Consumer Reviews.

You thought consumers had power before? Well, you’re in for a treat.

Now it’s not only their pocketbooks they’re speaking with. It’s their mouths. Fancy that.

Welcome to Customer 2.0.

Message boards. Blogs. Dedicated, free review sites like yelp. Dedicated, paid review sites like angieslist. And even company’s own sponsored forums, customers are making themselves heard. And loudly.

Consumers are making their experiences known, and their opinions count in ways that were simply impossible to count before.

And, moving forward, it will be very, very interesting to witness how this will affect individual businesses, and the marketplace in general.

I predict the consumer will win once again.

No, the customer isn’t “always right”. Just like “there’s no bad PR”, there’s always exceptions to rules like those.

But there aren’t just “angel customers” and “devil customers” either. There’s a patchwork spectrum of anything and everything consumers have to offer. From the truly good, bad and ugly, to suspiciously-glowing self-reviews and the vendetta carpet bash. It’s all valid, and if handled correctly, all helpful. But if business merely try to “bucket” them instead of simply learning from them, they will =fail.

So, with billions of consumers sounding off about the good, bad and everything in-between, how will we know what’s worth listening to?

Well, the market will sort that out, too.

Crazy, that.

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Well, well, well. They folded.

About 5 weeks ago I got this 3-page note from my New York State Attorney General:

(original diatribe here, legal documents here, and follow-up here)

And I must say… As a very, very anti-government guy (to a point) I was a little torn with using this State “service” to do my dirty work. But the fact of the matter was that TMobile essentially dared me to hire a lawyer. And a lawyer is a lot more expensive than their get-out-of-contract fee of $300+. And, well, I pay taxes. So it sortof made sense.

And again, the main (and very specific) reason I decided to involve the New York State Attorney General is to answer the question:

“if they can’t produce a copy of a SIGNED contract, is it TRUE they can only hold me to 1-year?” –a tactic listed on just about every “Get Out Of That Pesky Cellphone Contract!” webpost.

And that answer is… well, I still don’t know. Because even though TMobile quickly relinquished it’s dominion over me, and mine (even though they tried to enforce the “handset upgrade” which they had promised me wouldn’t extend my contract), it’s still NOT clear whether it was because:

a) they couldn’t produce the signed contract, or…

b) simply because I had Big Brother as my bodyguard.

The reason this update has taken 5 weeks is when I initially received the good news I immediately wrote my SAG back, asking them to clarify the main point (that pesky signed contract thing).

And only yesterday they called me back, and said: “Sorry, but we don’t provide legal advice”.


(Apparently they only provide tax-payer-funded bullying services).

Oh well.

I can’t say I’m totally disappointed. I did manage to wiggle out of TMobile’s clutches, and I’m happily on AT&T with my awesome new iPhone 3G (review forthcoming).

But the question still remains: does this “signed contract” argument hold any water?

In lieu of hiring a lawyer, I’m putting the question right back out there, into teh internets, into the ether…

Well, does it?


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Today @ 5:00 pm.

Myself and about a thousand other sweaty would-be commuters peering down the track at the 34th Street Stop of the A train.

For 20 minutes. No train.

And then there was one. Only it was the local, E, on the other side of the tracks.

15 more minutes. No train.

And then another train on the local side. This time it was an A.

So along with just 15 others, I darted down the stairs, under and through the tunnel, up the other stairs (bursting through some poor tourists with luggage) to barely squeeze on the train.

Is this the A train?


So, let me get this straight MTA: you run the A on the local track, and for some reason don’t announce it?


But it gets slightly better.

We run local ’till 59th Street. But then we run express to 125, and then 145. For some unannounced reason. At 145 we pull alongside another A train, which everyone teams into. “Why?” I asked the conductor. “Because that one might leave first.” Then he shrugged.

Very fitting for the MTA. A shrug.

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And they’re taking the case!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the situation (long-winded spew here), I essentially asked my NYAG to see if the ‘ol Get-Out-of-Your-Cell-Contract “net legend” -where if you don’t have a WRITTEN contract, you’re only liable for ONE year-… was bullshit or not. Apparently not. Or maybe. Whatever.

Proof, here:

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