Rudy: An iTunes love story

The following story is true. The names have not been changed. The guilty are still guilty. And named. The heroes are also named. As they should be.

This story begins in D.C. on a road trip with my wife about one week before arriving in South Bend Indiana for a conference I was attending on the beautiful campus of the University of Notre Dame. The plan was for us to spend one of our evenings in our hotel room eating popcorn and watching the classic Notre Dame football movie, Rudy. Since we were staying at the Morris Inn, just 200 yards west of the historic Notre Dame football stadium, and since my wife had never seen the movie, this seemed a fitting part of our stay beneath the golden dome.

On our flight from New York to Chicago, my wife asked me if we in fact owned the movie Rudy, and if so, whether I had thought to bring it. My response was that, No, we did not own the movie, and that I had, in fact, thought to bring it, but as I said previously, we don’t own it. However, no problemo, says I, because it should be blindingly obvious to the casual observer that all one should have to do to obtain a copy of Rudy is to step foot in the Notre Dame Bookstore. This was my plan.

On the second day of our stay at Notre Dame, I found a gap in the schedule and beelined to the Notre Dame Bookstore where I found multiple copies of Rudy on Blu-ray, but nothing on DVD. Another search by my wife turned up nothing. A third, more thorough search by me turned up a single straggling copy of Rudy on DVD, buried beneath some other Fighting Irish propaganda. For $26! You’ve got to be kidding me. Ha, bookstore prices. Of course. Not a problem. There’s a Walmart in this town, right?

That night we ate at a nice restaurant conveniently located near a Walmart in South Bend, and after dinner we made our way to the DVD section of the world’s most popular store. No luck. Ask the clerk. Ah, they only carry Rudy during the football season. Are you serious? This is South Bend, Indiana, for crying out loud! You’re telling me there isn’t a perpetual demand for Rudy at an arbitrary Walmart in South Bend Indiana on any arbitrary day in the off-season?! Alas, this was, inexplicably, the case.

Not to fear. I noticed a video rental joint not more than a few blocks from here. Surely they will have what we need. A quick stop, one question to the clerk, and the much sought after DVD was in my hands for the sum of 54 cents. We were in business.

Back to the hotel, pop some popcorn (in the break room of the kitchen staff downstairs at the end of the hall — don’t ask), and settle in to watch the DVD on my MacBook. Approximately 10 minutes into the movie, as Rudy races with great emotion through his fellow high school seniors to hit the pad carried by his coach, the movie freezes. We stare at the grimacing Rudy, wondering if he’s going to knock the stuffing out of his coach after he unfreezes. The DVD player on my Mac gives up the ghost and dies. We restart everything, but we’ve lost about 10 minutes of the movie and the bulk of the plot setup. Unacceptable. We instead decide to watch Invictus (inspirational rugby movie, almost the same thing), and commit to plunking down the cash at the Bookstore the following evening.

One day later I scan the DVD shelf in the Notre Dame Bookstore, but find that the random copy of Rudy that I had rustled up a day before has apparently been snagged at what now seems like a bargain basement price of $26. We roll back to the hotel, somewhat dejected, unwilling to romp around town further trying to find a local establishment with enough Fighting Irish school spirit to stock a functional copy of the best Notre Dame football movie of all time.

This is when the voice of Steve Jobs comes into my mind, and I realize that there may yet be a way. I jump on iTunes, and quickly locate the heretofore elusive movie. For just $9.99 (which now feels like an absolute bargain) I secure a downloadable QuickTime movie, consuming only 1.29 GB of hard disk space in the process. No physical disc to secure in some random building in a random town. No plastic to scratch and corrupt. Just a file. Just bytes flowing through the tubes to my laptop and the movie playing for me in my hotel room.

In about the time it took my wife to secure popped popcorn (downstairs, down the hall, etc.), we were watching the elusive movie on my Mac. The beautiful thing is that it may as well have been on my iPad, sitting with the squirrels under the trees near Touchdown Jesus. But it happened to be in the hotel room, on my Mac.

As always, the brilliance of Apple is not, strictly speaking, the engineering (although that’s clearly necessary). It’s figuring out what I want to do, plus when, where and how I want to do it, and then just making it ridiculously easy for me to do that. Most companies ignore that little part because it doesn’t feel like academic or engineering rigor. It’s not “the hard stuff.” But at the end of the day, it’s really just about the only thing that actually matters.

Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!

All your blog spam are belong to us… (part deux)

Another round of “crazy comments from offshore spammers”:

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All your blog spam are belong to us…

I recently inventoried the blog spam that my filter is catching. I’m amused by some of the offshore messages left in the blog comments. Thought I’d share a few of these (sans URL and full sales pitch, of course) for our collective entertainment.

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Capitalism: Fail?

I almost never blog about political topics, but this morning I couldn’t resist. Check out the two headlines on CNN.com.

capitalism.png

“Ahmadinejad blames capitalism for crises.”

“Michael Moore:  Capitalism has proven it’s failed.”

I have a lot of opinions about both Ahmadinejad and Michael Moore. All I can say this time is, “I rest my case.”

Chick-Fil-A Labor Day Giveaway: FAIL!

I learned midday today that Chick-Fil-A was hosting a fairly bold and dramatic nationwide promotion for Labor Day: Show up = Free chicken sandwich. Nothing to buy. The only catch is that you had to arrive sporting the logo of your favorite sports team. No problem. After Saturday’s BYU-Oklahoma game (BYU 14, Oklahoma 13), donning some Cougars paraphernalia would be no sacrifice at all. :)

Chick-Fil-A Giveaway

My next task is to find a local Chick-Fil-A. I’ve seen billboards on the freeway so I know there’s one nearby, but I’ve never been to it. I then realize the brilliance of the promotion. Get everyone in the area to realize that there is a Chick-Fil-A nearby and build some local Chick-Fil-A love and loyalty with a fairly modest investment per customer on their part.

Turns out my local restaurant is in the food court of the University Mall in Orem, Utah. No problem, especially since we have five cousins from up north to return home anyway. Next I have to supply sufficient BYU logos for all 12 small people. Not a problem at our house. I raid my t-shirt shelf and we’re in business.

Next stop, Orem! Avoid Labor Day freeway parking lot by taking back roads. No sacrifice because we’re heading to Orem to feed 14 people for free just because we show up in BYU gear. Starting to feel some positive vibes about Chick-Fil-A.

Arrive at the mall outside the food court and 14 of us pile out of our 15-passenger van (yes, I do own one), all decked out like it’s game day. As we near the door, an interested bystander says to me casually, “Going to Chick-Fil-A? They’re all out.” I go, “No!” in sort of mock horror. He says, “They’ll give you a coupon. Just thought you ought to be prepared.” Hmmm. Well, understandable that they might run out with such an unrestricted giveaway, although far more classy to actually stock enough chicken to get through the day. I mean it’s still hours before closing. Well, let’s go get our coupons and see what they do to make lemonade out of this.

No dice on the lemonade. I roll up to the counter while the other 13 Cougar fans in my party stand back so as to not create a mob scene at the register. Girl in the uniform sees us and says, very apologetically, “I’m sorry, we’re all out of free chicken sandwiches.” I then calmly reply, “We’ll take 14 coupons then.” She raises her eyebrows, I gesture behind me toward the cheering section, she coughs up the coupons. This is the moment when the Fail emerges. Out of curiosity I ask her if they’re completely out, or if I can still buy a chicken sandwich if I really want one. Just call it a hunch on my part. She says that, yes, in fact, I can still buy a chicken sandwich. Apparently it’s just the free ones that they ran out of. The ones you buy they still have in stock. Yikes.

I take my 14 coupons and then I look at her and say with that gentle but slightly condescending grandpa tone of face that I’m trying to perfect, “You know, if I were running the show here, I’d give away the chicken sandwiches until there wasn’t a single sandwich left for sale.” To her credit, she gives me a pained and knowing nod and says, “I know. I agree.” Much smarter play on her part than whatever management was thinking.

Meanwhile, the good cheer is just gone. I was planning on spending no cash for dinner, and now I’m standing in a food court with 12 hungry kids in tow, and the teenage boys are getting that vacant look in their eyes like they’re about to kill something large and eat it raw if necessary. I now realize that I’m about to fork out greenbacks to feed this crew because I am a doofus with no backup plan. Of course, I’ll be danged if I’m going to now go back to the Chick-Fil-A counter and order 14 chicken sandwiches (the ones you pay for, which are, in fact, in stock). So instead we slide over and cause a near riot situation at the Taco Bell counter and drop $40 there plus another $12 for my wife and me at whatever it is in the food court that’s trying to be Panda Express. 50 bucks down and all I have to show for it is a detour plus 14 coupons for mythical chicken sandwiches.

Memo to Chick-Fil-A management: If you’re going to play an incredibly bold marketing game, then play the game boldly. Stock enough chicken to feed the entire community, because in a college town people are definitely going to show up for free food. When you run out, start giving away other stuff, whatever you’ve got. It’s a make or break day. When your cupboards are completely bare, and you’ve given away the last french fry, put up a huge sign saying something like, “Thanks for your love, [your city name here]! You cleaned us out!” and then stand there cheerfully handing out the coupons to anyone that walks by with a logo on. Act like it made your day to get cleaned out by the locals on Labor Day. If that wasn’t your point, then why run such a gutsy promotion in the first place?! Instead, you come across looking chintzy when you could have been a hero and really built some customer affection. My wife is a sucker for this sort of thing, and you had her right up until, “You can still buy one if you want.” I’m not seeing her as a regular after this.

Memo to myself: Figure out a way to motivate my lab students using coupons for free chicken sandwiches…

CBC Radio — Ideas: How to Think About Science

Commuter recommendation: Turn off the classic rock. Now! You can only listen to “La Grange” by ZZ Top so many times before you realize that you’re wasting your drive time every single morning and every afternoon. If you’re commuting 20 minutes like me, it’s a modest waste. If you’re living somewhere more metropolitan, the cost is far worse.

What, pray tell, do you do with the time if not drum on the steering wheel or air guitar on the emergency brake? You equip yourself with some MP3 capable sound transmission device (iPod, iPhone, Zune, doesn’t matter) and start looking for meaningful podcasts to energize your mind and soul during an otherwise monotonous daily commute.

First recommendation: CBC Radio has a regular broadcast program called “Ideas” in which they explore a stunningly broad area of topics. Regular broadcast reception is limited to Canada and the northern U.S. But courtesy of podcasting, you can enjoy all these programs at your leisure.

A year or so ago CBC ran a 24-part series entitled, “Ideas: How to Think About Science.” Great material, and very thought-provoking. From Episode 1 (“Leviathan and the Air Pump”) to Episode 24 (“From Knowledge to Wisdom”) this series presents a fresh perspective on science, research, and the nature of what we consider truth and knowledge. Whether you agree with every point made or every interviewed guest, the program is bound to cause you to examine the way you think about the world.

My preferred access is via iTunes subscription with content synchronized to my iPhone. Total running time is about 24 hours, which took me approximately two months to work through during my modest commute and occasional pedestrian meandering. (For those of you in the Bay Area, you should be able to bang this out in about 3 commuter days… ;)

Enjoy!

Shopping for a Professional to Write Your Thesis? Keep Looking.

As a professor, a published author, and a graduate advisor, I’m intimately familiar with the challenge (and occasional frustration) of learning how to write well and publish one’s way to academic glory. I’m also familiar with the challenge of teaching students how to express themselves in writing. I’m confident it’s one of the most significant takeaways from the graduate school experience.

So I’m intrigued at the rationale that would drive a student to purchase a graduate thesis or dissertation. I stumbled on a website recently, quite by accident, and was struck by the irony. Here’s a snip from the page. (No, I will not provide the URL.)

thesis-writing-specialist.jpg

Here are my favorite tidbits from this literary masterpiece:

Already hundreds of students and business organizations have experienced excellent writing procedures, so you are not going to be a new one.

Whew. Thank goodness. Always makes me nervous to be a new one. Especially at my age.

We professional help you on Custom Thesis or Dissertation Writing or Rewriting.

And I grateful appreciate them for this.

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Huh? Wait… I get it. My turn… “All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time.”

Finally to say, it is our quality that makes students returning back to us.

No doubt. And it is my blogging quality that makes readers returning back to me.

The Walmart Cashier and Cell Phone (Dis)Courtesy

Tonight I made a quick stop at the local Walmart on my way home from campus. Standing in line with my items I noticed the lady in front me in one of those self-absorbed cell phone trances. You know the trance. You’re in the zone, speaking too loudly, oblivious to anything around you, sharing your personal conversation with a host of perfect strangers, and yet sleep-walking through the physical world in which your oblivious body moves.

As I watched with interest, I saw the Walmart cashier looking at the cell phone trance lady with an amused but detached look, as if daring the cell phone trance lady to acknowledge the Walmart cashier’s humanity. I also noticed that the cell phone trance lady never once made eye contact with the Walmart cashier or exchanged a single word of verbal communication. The cell phone trance lady took four tries to get her PIN correct (she seemed distracted somehow) and then scuttled off, sharing her animated conversation with all in the path of her oblivious sleepwalking.

As the cell phone trance lady vacated the space in front of me, I turned to the Walmart cashier and somewhat enthusiastically said, “How are you this evening?” She was gently jolted out of her detached revery, and returned my warm greeting. I then told the Walmart cashier that I was a university professor with a research interest in the interplay between technology and society and asked her two questions: 1) How frequently does a cell phone trance person (such as we had just witnessed) come through the line? 2) How does it make you feel?

In answer to the first question, she guessed that about 10% of all the people that came through her check-out line in a given day were in a cell phone trance and failed to make eye contact or exchange a single word with her. 10% is not a huge number per se, but the cultural implications of 1-in-10 people in a check-out line at Walmart failing to simply acknowledge the humanity of the person taking their money is staggering. The Walmart cashier commented, “I could charge these people double and they’d never even notice.”

In answer to the second question, she waxed a bit more reflective and said with some emotion, “It’s VERY rude. What are people thinking?!” Then a pause. She continued with some resignation, “It’s VERY VERY rude.” She was being honest and a bit tender in her communication at this point. I could tell that she hadn’t intended to get a little emotional, but I could see it welling just beneath the surface. The sleepwalking cell phone trance people will never notice their impact on the Walmart cashier and others around them because they can’t be bothered to connect even for a minute while performing the transaction at the cash register.

Dr. K sez: If you are talking on a cell phone in a store, when you approach the cashier, either terminate your call or tell the person on the other end that you need to interrupt the conversation for a minute or two. Then pull the phone away from your head and interact with the cashier. It’ll only take a couple minutes. Repeat after me… “People in my physical space are as important as people in my virtual space.” Smile. Say, “Thank you.” The Walmart cashier is a real person, worthy of your validation. Baby steps…

The BCS and the “grass ceiling” or “Welcome to the NCAA. No you can’t play for it all.”

The single most glaring inequity in the Biased Cash System is the “grass ceiling” that grants to a little more than half of the teams in college football the right to play for a national championship, while the other half simply doesn’t get to. You have a situation this year with currently six teams from four non-BCS conferences in the top 25 (four have been in the top 11, three in the top ten), and at most one with automatic access to a big money bowl game come January. That’s bowl game, not to be confused with having a chance to play for it all. Meanwhile mediocre (but anointed) conferences get to send their barely-ranked champ to a large payout bowl as long as they can muster six wins. Repeat in your mind… This is not a problem. Have some Kool-aid.

In 2004 the season ended with four undefeated teams. Of the three anointed teams with a right to play for it all (USC, Oklahoma, Auburn), two were given the chance to suit up and let the players and coaches decide who was best. Auburn got shafted (no sympathy — they’re in the family by their own choice). The BCS Kool-aid vendors spouted about Utah getting to play Pitt in a BCS bowl as proof that “the system works.” Works for whom?! USC and Oklahoma play for the crown while undefeated (and never-challenged) Utah got to play Pitt, mediocre champion of the mediocre (but BCS-anointed!) Big Least. If your goal is to keep the championship inside the family, then the system works. Urban Meyer had to go to Florida to put a national championship on his resume. Can’t do that in the Mountain West. Not permitted by the cartel. You got to play Pitt for $13M. The system works. You should be happy. Go home and celebrate that we let you ride at the front of the bus. Once. The system works. You love big brother. The system works. More Kool-aid?

The poster children for why the BCS is not only broken, but monopolistic, segregated, and un-American are (this year) Utah, Boise State, Ball State, (and in years past) Marshall, Tulane, and every other great one-loss team in the NCAA College Football Non-National Championship Division that went home after the holidays without having a prayer of playing for it all (or even showing just how good they really were).

If the BCS were Microsoft we’d already be in anti-trust hearings.

Learning to Weld :)

I really like the feature that Amazon.com provides, where they send you emails about books you might be interested in, based upon other books you’ve purchased. It’s a great value add for me as a customer.

I recently received the following email from Amazon. Really made me smile. :)

amazon-learning-to-weld.png

In case the picture is too small to read on your browser, here’s the first sentence:

We’ve noticed that customers who have purchased or rated The Internet and Your Kids: Healthy Habits for a Safe Online Home have also purchased Learning to Weld on DVD.

I’m now left wondering what the connection could possibly be between the people who purchased both items… :)