June 27, 2006

Question of the Day

There are lots of everyday things I wonder about. Here is today's question.

Why do Corvette drivers drive with their parking lights on during the day? At least in San Diego, every single Corvette I ever see on the road has its parking lights turned on while the car is moving.

Is this a default setting by the manufacturer? Is it some kind of "cool" thing that 'Vette owners just do? Did some TV show make 'em do it? What's the reason?

Posted by brian at 06:13 PM | Comments (4)

June 19, 2006

Personality Mapping

Over at Ain't It Cool News there's a video showing how technicians at Rhythm and Hues, a special effects firm, created "new" footage of Marlon Brando from the old Superman movie, so it could show up in the new Superman movie.

I don't particularly care for the Superman films, but what this video (and the comments that follow) brings up is where things are headed. I've long expected the application of the concept of "texture mapping" to be taken to the extreme: "personality mapping" onto CG avatar characters, enabling entirely new episodes of Star Trek, say, with Kirk and Spock and all your favorite characters -- as if they were long-lost original episodes filmed in the 60s!

Think about it: take enough audio samples from the plentiful archival material, as well as facial and body sampling from all the archival footage, and create new characters with superrealism -- not only do they look, walk, behave like the original characters acted by the original stars, but they SPEAK like them too! Entirely new dialogue, entirely new scripts -- all done by enthusiasts on their personal computers.

Imagine mashups of Peter O'Toole playing Lawrence of Arabia, but embedded in a scifi movie about time travel? Or take newsreel footage of John F. Kennedy and create a new JFK movie -- told from JFK's perspective, as if the actor were a clone of JFK! Or take Gandalf and Bilbo out of LOTR and make a FAN version of The Hobbit -- because you just can't wait for Peter Jackson to do it.

Stuff like this is going to happen.

And if you thought "photoshopping" was bad, wait until you see completely realistic footage, including spoken audio, that never existed. The courts are going to have a field day with that sort of "evidence."

Posted by brian at 08:16 PM | Comments (4)

June 09, 2006

Avatar, the movie

Saw this Gamespot article which speculates that James Cameron's next film is none other than the long-awaited Avatar, and that he's building a massively multiplayer online game while making the movie.

There's also this BusinessWeek article.

One data point the articles don't mention: the domain name. I went and checked. "avatarmovie.com" is taken. (So is avatar-movie.com but that's, I beleve, something else.)

Here's the WHOIS report:

  Domain Name: AVATARMOVIE.COM
   Registrar: REGISTER.COM, INC.
   Whois Server: whois.register.com
   Referral URL: http://www.register.com
   Name Server: DNS24.REGISTER.COM
   Name Server: DNS23.REGISTER.COM
   Status: REGISTRAR-LOCK
   EPP Status: clientUpdateProhibited
   EPP Status: clientTransferProhibited
   EPP Status: clientDeleteProhibited
   Updated Date: 06-Oct-2005
   Creation Date: 02-Jun-2005
   Expiration Date: 02-Jun-2010
   . . . . 

   Registrant:
      c/o Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella LLP
      Sandra Del Pilar
      1900 Avenue of the Stars, 21st Floor
      Los Angeles, CA 90067
      US
      Email: sdelpilar@ggfirm.com

   Registrar Name....: REGISTER.COM, INC.
   Registrar Whois...: whois.register.com
   Registrar Homepage: www.register.com

   Domain Name: avatarmovie.com

      Created on..............: Thu, Jun 02, 2005
      Expires on..............: Wed, Jun 02, 2010
      Record last updated on..: Sat, Feb 25, 2006

   Administrative Contact:
      c/o Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman Machtinger & Kinsella LLP
      Sandra Del Pilar
      1900 Avenue of the Stars, 21st Floor
      Los Angeles, CA 90067
      US
      Phone: (310) 201-7430
      Email: sdelpilar@ggfirm.com

   Technical Contact:
      Register.Com
      Domain Registrar
      575 8th Avenue 11th Floor
      New York, NY 10018
      US
      Phone: 1-902-7492701
      Email: domain-registrar@register.com

   DNS Servers:

   dns23.register.com
   dns24.register.com

Interestingly, Greenberg Glusker is no stranger to movies or video games. Here's a writeup of a presentation they just gave last month at E3.

But even more interestingly, check this out. On the firm's "Entertainment - Transactional" page, there's the fact that the firm represents . . .

. . . wait for it . . .

. . . James Cameron.

Here's a screen grab of that section of the page (just in case The Firm changes it):

Me, I think he's doing Avatar. :-)

Posted by brian at 11:10 PM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2006

Orbitz Just Lost a Customer

Last time I use Orbitz.

The other day I'd used the site to get a hotel in downtown SF. Put in my credit card info, got an email confirmation of the reservation, everything went fine. Also reserved a car at Budget at SJC.

Budget had my reservation and the car; all went fine.

While waiting for a Sand Hill Road meeting to begin yesterday, I called the hotel to confirm that THEY had the reservation. "Sorry, sir, we have no such reservation."

I read them the confirmation code. "Sorry, sir, our confirmation codes start with the number '3'." And, of course, the hotel person had no idea who or what Orbitz was. "You will have to call them, sir."

So I called them. They must use Tellme, which I loathe. Perky happy robot answers the phone, "speak or type your home phone number so that we may retrieve your records" the voice said. This was a business trip. I have no recollection providing my home phone number. I wonder who they sell it to. I typed in my office number.

The perky happy robot lady delightfully starts rattling off WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL about my itinerary. I don't care to hear it, particularly the part about how my rental car has AIR CONDITIONING and AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION. What I want to know is why they screwed up my hotel reservation. But they make me listen to this long description and then finally they provide a menu of options to change or cancel the reservations or talk to customer service. Of course, they don't give you a number to press for customer service, they make you say "customer service." I hate that.

I want to be able to call a company and have the system say, "If you hate robots, press 1. Otherwise, let me rattle on..." At least Southwest and American and other airlines that use Tellme allow you to interrupt the robot and say "Agent!" at which point they connect you to a human (who, unfortunately, is often dummer than the robot, but that's another story).

So now I am on hold for customer service. I wait a few minutes, after being warned every 30 seconds or so that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes." Finally a customer service rep comes on the line. I provide all of my information. I tell the whole story. The rep says, "oh, this is a hotel issue. Let me connect you with a hotels person." Suddenly I'm on hold again.

Eight minutes later, and about 15 reminders that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes," my meeting begins, and I have to hang up the phone.

After the meeting on the drive north to San Francisco, I call the hotel again to see if maybe the Orbitz reservation has gone through. "Sorry, sir."

I call Orbitz. I am now on Third Street, near the hotel in downtown SF. I can see the hotel building in the distance. After dealing with the perky happy robot again I get through to customer service. Strangely, he wants my home phone number. DAMN IT ALL TO HELL, what is with these companies that have their phonebots ask you up front for a piece of information "to retrieve your records," and then once you reach a human, they don't have the info you provided to the robot?

So I give the information to the human. I tell the whole story again. I provide the human with the Orbitz reservation number. I tell the human, "By the way, I am literally pulling into the hotel's entrance as I speak."

The human asks me to hold. I'm now listening to beautiful music and being reminded again that "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes."

I think I've finally figured it out. It's ME they're trying to train...

The valet is taking the car. The human comes back on the phone.

"I am walking into the lobby of the hotel," I tell him.

"We sent the email to the hotel. I have the record right here that the email of your order went to the hotel. Let me call the hotel directly. Please hold."

I am now standing in line at the registration counter. On hold, while Orbitz is calling the same registration counter that I am standing at.

Once again, I'm told "in an effort to provide superior customer service, this call may be monitored for quality or training purposes."

Well guess what, Orbitz, in an effort to provide superior customer service this call was BLOGGED so more people would know what an ordeal it is to use Orbitz.

I start thinking about what the Orbitz rep just said. "We sent the email to the hotel." So Orbitz sends emails to hotels when customers use Orbitz to make reservations? How secure are these emails? What details are in them? Is credit card information included? Name, phone, address, and other personally identifiable information? Do they use SSL connections? It sounds very un-secure to me.

I am now the next person in line. I'm standing there, listening to hold music. The people in front are done and walk away. I go to the counter and explain to Lisa Vaenuku (or so her name tag declared) that the reservation was made with Orbitz -- a company she has never heard of, of course.

The registration desk phone rings. Lisa picks it up. The lobby is very noisy, and I can't hear what she's saying exactly. But then she asks, "Reservation for Brian Dear?" It's Orbitz. I'm on hold with the customer service rep from Orbitz while standing in front of the registration desk lady, who's actually now talking to the same customer service rep from Orbitz. She says he's going to fax her proof of the registration. She disappears behind a door to retrieve the fax.

The customer service rep comes on the line, all triumphant, saying, "I just spoke to the hotel and---"

"I know you did. I was standing in front of the lady you just spoke to."

The Orbitz rep is not amused.

"The fax is going through now. I will let you know when transmission is completed."

A moment passes.

"The fax has gone through."

I end the call with Orbitz.

The hotel lady comes out. With a fax. I try to read it upside down. I notice the dollar amounts are MUCH LOWER than what Orbitz charged me.

The lady finishes the registration. I'm in.

As for Orbitz, I'm out.

Posted by brian at 09:15 AM | Comments (6)

Stepford Coders

On the shuttle bus at SJC yesterday, the woman sitting across the aisle from me had a Google name badge still attached to her lapel.

I asked, "How was your Google visit?"

"Very good," she said, wondering how I knew she had just visited Google.

"You're still wearing your name tag," I said, pointing to the tag that showed her name, her affiliation, and the fact that she was from Dayton, OH.

"Oh!" she said, quickly removing it.

We briefly chatted about Google. "Great food," she said. She found the experience inside the Googleplex a little surreal and cultish: "they're a little like Stepford wives there".

Posted by brian at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

San Diego New Tech Meetup . . . Not

After two months of trying to get speakers for the San Diego New Tech Meetup, and not getting any commitments from anyone to speak, I've shut down the group and have no intentions of starting it up again. It turned out to be a big waste of time.

To add insult to injury, this all happened on the same day San Diegans voted (or, the count was altered in favor of, take your pick) Bilbray over Busby.

Suffice to say, I am not a big fan of San Diego at the moment.

Posted by brian at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)
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