Junior high humor — There were no survivors

It’s not often that one of my kids lays down some adolescent humor on the home front that I hadn’t already heard 30 years ago, when I was their age. Generally such attempts weren’t particularly funny when I was in junior high school, and are even less so now. Unlike cheese, lousy humor doesn’t age well.

So this last week one of my kids asked me, “What’s red, and not there?”

“I give up. What’s red, and not there?”

“No tomatoes.”

I think that’s hilarious. Still wondering just why but it makes me smile.

This rare score by my youngsters brought to mind one of my favorite childhood memories. I was in junior high school, and had just stumbled on the greatest joke of all time, which I needed to share immediately with my dad.

“An airplane crashes on the border between the U.S. and Canada. Where do they bury the survivors?”

My dad looked at me, completely serious, and said, “There were no survivors.”

Education Week resources

I want to thank all the BYU Campus Education Week attendees who dropped into one or more of my classes this week on Internet Safety. I’ve had a great week and have really enjoyed the interactions with you.

Here’s a summary of the eight classes:

  1. What are your kids doing on the Internet? — A look at various technologies such as instant messaging, peer-to-peer applications, etc.
  2. Who’s watching your kids on the Internet? — Understanding the tactics of predators and knowing what you can do to protect your children.
  3. What are your kids finding on the Internet? — Identifying threats and establishing safety guidelines
  4. Why would someone want my identity? — Learning to safeguard your information.
  5. Malicious email — Avoiding spam, phishing attacks, etc.
  6. Malicious software — Avoiding viruses, worms, spyware, etc.
  7. Online gaming — Being aware of the dangers and establishing safety guidelines.
  8. Handheld devices — Understanding the dangers on the new frontier.

As promised, I’ve made PDF files of all the slides I presented. If you click on the following link (www.charlesknutson.net/edweek), you should see all the slides. Depending on the interface of your browser, you should be able to either open them there or download them. The PDF file format requires the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is a very standard (and free) program. If you don’t have it, you can download it and install it for free here.

If you have any additional questions or comments, please email me. I’d love to hear from you. Remember that I’m heading into the start of Fall semester in one week, so you may experience a several week lag in response time from me as I try to dig out of the inevitable crunch that happens at the beginning of the school year.

If you have ward or stake leaders who would like more information about the materials from the classes, or who might have questions about any of the things we talked about, please pass my email address to them (knutson@cs.byu.edu), and I’ll do my best to respond as quickly as I can. This issue of Internet safety has significant moral implications for our lives (and the lives of our children), and I wish you the best as you grapple with these challenges. Please let me know if you have ideas or suggestions that might help me broaden the reach of this material.

If you have specific comments that might be of value to other attendees (or other visitors to this blog), feel free to leave a comment below.

Advanced Nutrition… Hairball Formula?!

Where have I been for the past umpteen years that we’ve owned cats? Obviously not spending enough time in the grocery store perusing the cat food selection. I was sent on a quest for cat food last night, so I began dutifully scanning my options in the cat food section of the local grocery store. The following stack of bags caught my eye, and this photograph should convince you that I am not making this up.

photo_082007_001.jpg

This is Purina Cat Chow, for adult cats, as you can clearly see. You can also see that this is “Advanced Nutrition Hairball Formula”. What can this possibly mean? I’m not sure I want to know. But I am comforted that this product is “Formulated with Yogurt”! And is in fact “Made with real chicken.” The hairballs are, no doubt, artificial.

“That’s not the real Mona Lisa…”

The following is a true story. I swear it on my hardback copy of “The Da Vinci Code.”

I’m in Paris about eight years ago with my wife on a business trip. Naturally we’re going to see the sights (or is it sites?). I’m stoked to visit the Louvre for one fundamental reason: the Mona Lisa by Da Vinci. I make my way to the room with a mass of people, try to get close enough to take a decent picture. I find a fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass.

paris-mona-lisa-02.jpg

I’m standing there absolutely soaking it up! In my mind I’m saying, “I am standing in the Louvre museum in Paris, and that is the actual Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci!” One of the euphoric highlights of my life. For about 15 seconds.

At about this moment an American man strolls up close to me with his kid, looks at the painting behind the plexiglass and says to his kid, dead serious, in a clearly audible voice, “Of course you know that isn’t the real Mona Lisa. The real one is currently on tour somewhere, and they put this fake one behind the glass to keep the tourists happy.”

I turn and look at the man, incredulous. My mind is now processing several threads of thought at approximately the same time: 1) Have I just seen the real Mona Lisa or not? 2) Why on earth did this man have to stroll up to me at this moment and say that to his son? 3) What kind of man would take his son all the way from America to the Louvre museum in Paris and tell him that this Mona Lisa isn’t real? 4) How can this man possibly know anything about the real Mona Lisa in the first place?! 5) Can I possibly inflict some sort of bodily injury upon this man without eliciting a hostile response from the ample security detail surrounding the Mona Lisa? 6) Why do I even consider the possibility that this guy might be telling the truth instead of dismissing it out of hand?!

Over several years of pondering, I have arrived at the following answers: 1) Probably. 2) Fate. 3) A clueless one. 4) He probably can’t. 5) Not inside the building. 6) Gullible personality I guess.

I have therefore concluded that I probably did, in fact, see the actual Mona Lisa behind bullet-proof plexiglass with a crowd of people in the Louvre eight years ago.

About five years later, when I visited Paris with my second daughter Brooke, a high school senior at the time, we stood in the same room before the same fairly smallish painting of the mysterious quasi-smiling lady behind what is clearly bullet-proof glass. I said to Brooke, “Can you believe it?! The actual Mona Lisa!” She smiled, clearly experiencing a euphoric moment. I looked around furtively in the off chance that some clueless American would force an end to our reverie. No such misfortune this time. We were safe in our moment of awe.

So my daughter got to go to Paris, inside the Louvre, and stand before Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Me? I’m still not completely sure…

Don’t Believe the Hype: The 21 Biggest Technology Flops

Don’t Believe the Hype: The 21 Biggest Technology Flops by David Haskin

This is a very interesting collection of alleged over-hyped tech flops, put together by Computerworld. Some of these are specific products that clearly bombed (e.g., Microsoft Bob, the Apple Newton), while others are broad areas that may yet materialize into something extremely cool (e.g., virtual reality, smart appliances). In any case the main point is not just that the technologies flopped, but that they failed to live up to the hype. At the very least, it’s thought provoking with respect to design. Always easier to see misguided or over-anxious design in hindsight.

Here is the list:

  • Apple Newton
  • Digital audio tape
  • DIVX
  • Dot-bombs
  • E-books
  • IBM PCjr
  • Internet currency
  • Iridium
  • Microsoft Bob
  • The Net PC
  • The paperless office
  • Push technology
  • Smart appliances
  • Virtual reality

Runners-up

  • Apple Lisa
  • Dreamcast
  • NeXT
  • OS/2
  • Qube
  • Speech recognition
  • WebTV

They then put it to a vote of their readership, and the losers were (drumroll please)…

  1. Microsoft Bob
  2. Dot-bombs
  3. The paperless office
  4. DIVX
  5. Iridium

The follow-up article is actually as interesting as the initial, including rants and raves from their readership about flops that should have been included but weren’t (Windows Vista, Zune), those that were not viewed as flops at all by some significant cross-section of readers (OS/2, virtual reality), and those that were very controversial (Y2K, flop or success?!).

If I had a great deal more time on my hands right now, I’d love to dive into each of these legendary once-hyped technologies and discuss in greater detail. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome.

Support chat – From the sublime to the ridiculous

I want to say at the outset that I’m a big fan of online support chat. I wish it were more available. But most of all I wish it worked better. I don’t have concrete empirical data here, but it seems like more often than not I’m having some kind of problem getting what I need from an online support chat session. Even when it works properly from a technical perspective, I’m typically getting information that is of no actual use to me.

The following two examples serve to illustrate. The first one was saved a few years back (apparently for a moment of sharing just like this). My original question (not recorded) informed them that my XBox wouldn’t read any CDs or DVDs whatsoever.

Welcome to Microsoft XBox Support

The XBox Chat session has been accepted. This chat session is being recorded for quality monitoring; your IP address may be traced.

{Mylene} Welcome to the Xbox North America Customer Support!My name is Mylene.

{Charles Knutson} hi mylene

{Mylene} Hello Charles

{Charles Knutson} i take it you saw question/concern

{Mylene} I understand that you are having disc reading issues, right?

{Charles Knutson} yup

{Mylene} I’m sorry to hear that, Charles

{Charles Knutson} me too

{Mylene} you mentioned that none of your discs works

{Charles Knutson} correct

{Charles Knutson} no dvds, no xbox games

{Charles Knutson} none recognized when loaded

{Mylene} It seems that you’re experiencing a technical issue.

{Charles Knutson} you spose?

{Mylene} I suggest that you contact our Technical Support team to properly diagnose the problem with your console

{Charles Knutson} is this a script? or a real person?

{Mylene} I’m real, Charles :)

{Charles Knutson} uh, ok… if you say so mylene

{Mylene} You can reach our Technical Support team at 1-800-4MY-XBOX (1-800-469-9269). They are available 7 days a week, from 9AM to 1AM EST. The call is toll free in North America.

{Charles Knutson} i’m on it, eliza

{Mylene} ok

{Mylene} It was a pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you for inquiring about Xbox. If you need further assistance, please come back and visit us again. I hope you have a nice day!

The Support Professional has ended the session

If you look carefully, there’s only one single line that doesn’t look like it was clicked on from a pull-down menu by someone who didn’t know anything at all about the XBox, but could put two and two together and determine that disc reading problems might be a technical issue.

My reference to “eliza” was an inspired spur-of-the-moment shout-out to Joseph Weizenbaum’s computer program ELIZA from the 70′s. ELIZA was a rudimentary natural language processing system inspired by a typical psychologist who adds no information but simply listens reflexively (“I’m mad at my mother.” “Tell me about your mother.”)

I have to say that I was probably initially put off by the name “Mylene.” With apologies to actual people out there named Mylene, it sounded suspiciously like a feminized version of “mylar,” which is the magnetic coating on floppy disks. I’m always a bit suspicious that I’m talking to a natural language processing script anyway, especially when the answers come way too canned.

The next example is actually the last two of four interactions with the same system just today. In the first two, I try to ask for help for certain problems and find that after one response the rep vanishes, a canned message suggests I’m not there, and then my link disappears. Very frustrating. By the third interaction I abandon my original question and turn my attention to their online chat system.

Charles Knutson: I think your online chat system is broken… rep keeps saying he/she sees no action and then hangs up on me without answering my question… Can I get a non-canned answer from the rep this time so I know I’ve got a live person and not a natural language processing script?

[Brenda H - A representative has joined the session.]
Thank you for contacting AT&T. A Representative will be with you momentarily.

Charles Knutson: hi brenda

Brenda H: Welcome to AT&T Premier Support, my name is Brenda H. I am reading your question and will be right with you.

Charles Knutson: are you there?

Charles Knutson: i’d like to first establish that I’m interacting with a real person… are you there?

Brenda H: I’m sorry about the disconnects. How may I assist you today?

Charles Knutson: ah, thanks

Charles Knutson: are you still there?

Brenda H: I haven’t noticed any activity from you in the past few minutes, if you need to copy any of the information provided to you please do so now. I will be closing the chat window shortly unless you have more questions.

Charles Knutson: dang it!!! don’t hang up on me again

Brenda H: Thank you for using AT&T Premier Support. Have a great day. This chat window will close shortly. If you need to copy any of the information provided to you, please do so now. If you require more assistance, please feel free to log back in and another agent will assist you.

By the fourth try I’m mostly having fun, and seeing just how silly this can become. I was either disappointed, or not disappointed, depending on your point of view. :)

Charles Knutson: This is my fourth try at some help. EVERY time, i ask my question, get one response, type away, and then get a message saying that the rep doesn’t see anything, i keep typing, and then it disconnects on me. I think you may have a bug in your system. Since this may be the only thing you see from me before you hang up on me, could someone please fix this? I’m very frustrated by this system.

[Debbie S - A representative has joined the session.]

Thank you for contacting AT&T. A Representative will be with you momentarily.

Debbie S: Welcome to AT&T Premier Support, my name is Debbie S. I am reading your question and will be right with you.

Debbie S: I apologize for the inconvenience.

Debbie S: How may I assist you today?

Charles Knutson: you can report this bug to the people who manage that

Debbie S: I haven’t noticed any activity from you in the past few minutes, if you need to copy any of the information provided to you please do so now. I will be closing the chat window shortly unless you have more questions.

Debbie S: Thank you for using AT&T Premier Support. Have a great day. This chat window will close shortly. If you need to copy any of the information provided to you, please do so now. If you require more assistance, please feel free to log back in and another agent will assist you.

You get the idea. I hope you enjoyed this. If not, we value your input. Online operators are standing by 24 hours a day to assist you.

As far as you know.