April 22, 2010

I Saw You Binging Your Wife on the Internet

My mp3 battery was completely drained this morning, so I flipped on the Fresh 102.7 for part of my commute (I'll save my bizarre attraction to this station for another post). A "not too old, not too light" song was coming to end and one of the morning hosts (Jim Douglas, of Jim & Kim) began a live commercial for Microsoft's search engine Bing. Well, technically it may have been a prerecorded commercial, but the point is that it was one of those testimonial type commercial that an on-air personality handles. I assume that advertisers feel this style raises the trust level by having a familiar voice throwing the pitch at you.  It also tricks listeners into not realizing they're hearing a commercial, and it probably saves the client money because they don't have to pay an audio production house put a slick radio ad together. Personally, I always feel like these pitches are phony, but what do I know, I'm just the catcher (in the rye).

Anyway, Jim starts his Bing spiel and for the "personal touch" portion of the ad, he brings up a vague anecdote about getting his wife a present.  Now, Jim is a consummate radio guy with a clear, professional radio voice, so I really can't tell if he's speaking from his heart or simply reading from a script--it all sort of sounds the same to me. My guess is that the Bing folks have some "make-sure-to-throw-this-in" bullet points on a piece of a paper, and it's up to him to string them into a coherent monologue.

Basically, Jim's story so matter-of-factly described him not knowing what gift to get his wife, but thanks to Bing, all he had to do was click a button to dig through his wife's search history for ideas. And because Bing so conveniently categorizes search history, he had no problem deducing what to buy her (probably that special rock t-shirt she wanted so damn much). While I don't think Jim's story really happened, I am confident that Bing wants it to happen... all the time. Is it just me, but doesn't this seem like sort of a potentially evil way to promote your search engine? I've only used Bing a few times, and I assume that this feature can be voluntarily turned on or off much like search history on Google. I also don't know what the default setting is, or if people are informed that their searches are being logged and categorized. I certainly don't think most people are aware that others are being encouraged to go check your search history when you aren't around and they're stumped on a gift idea. I realize the realization that in reality there's really no privacy on the internet, especially with search engines, but secretly going through your spouse's search history seems a bit like an invasion of it to me. 

It's possible that I'm just overanalyzing something rooted in good-natured intention. There is presented a problem we can all relate to--being stumped on gift ideas--and Bing is simply stepping in with a logical solution to that problem.  But paranoid me wonders if it's really that simple. I'm sure I could come up with great ideas for gifts by reading your secret diary, looking at your credit card statements, hiring a private investigator to follow you around all day, or implanting a miniature video camera in your glasses that records your window-shopping habits, but those are clear lines we shouldn't be crossing. Is search history any different? Is it just a 2010 version of circling items in a catalog, or is it more complicated?

Just knowing the search terms that bring people to this website make me afraid of what people might find looking in their partners' history. The 19 people looking for a "centaur sex doll" would obviously be easy to shop for, but what do you give your husband when you find the term "extended labia lady gaga" in his search history? Something tells me he's going to get a hard time and not the Deluxe Edition of The Fame Monster.

I know when it comes down to it, maybe it's good that we're being encouraged not to hide things from each other. I mean, I get a little voyeuristic kick out of knowing what people are searching for and how they end up on my site. And yeah, I can narrow things down to their city and type of web browser they use, but it's still quite anonymous. It's a different story when you start at the other end--knowing the person and the search--and speculate over where they ended up. I can't even imagine what my internet searches say about me. 

Now here's my anecdote... Last Xmas, I got a bunch of DVDs from the RoBeastress that were suspiciously familiar. I must say that I felt a little uncomfortable when she admitted that she spied on me while I was browsing FYE, and took notes on what I pulled off the shelf to inspect closely. As it turned out, some of her choices were on the mark and some weren't. My crude conclusion is that simply browsing someone's browsing is just not necessarily an accurate way to measure their degree of interest. Personally, I disable search logs, so I can't analyze my own search habits (and more importantly, so others can't either). I do know that I like my humor black and my entertainment edgy, so my internet searches tend to run on the curiously morbid side. I can't imagine what would happen if The RoBeastress had relied on my internet history in search of ideas. I'd probably have ended up with The Best of Russian Army Executions and Beheadings Volume 8 in my stocking. With Tubgirl wrapping paper. 


April 6, 2010

Garry Shandling: Renegade Angel

I was sick for most of last week, really bad allergies and whatnot, so I stayed confined to my bedroom most of the time taking 24 generic Claritins. Last time I took the pills for a week I did nothing but play Tetris and have crazy dreams. I also must have lost ten pounds from having absolutely no appetite.

This time was a little different. I missed out on the appetite loss and I never had stretches of sleep long enough to even begin dreaming. Most nights I just tossed and turned, sweating and talking to myself or imaginary people I thought I heard breathing in the room with me. I obsessed over songs and phrases I heard during the day. The most bizarre was the night I couldn't stop thinking about how the words "Climb" and "Limb" were spelled so similarly, but were pronounced completely different. With all this time on my hands being insane not sleeping, I turned to my red envelopes for help. Netflix was already feeding me Xavier: Renegade Angel and It's Garry Shandling's Show, so I went ahead with the program.

I wasn't really into Garry Shandling when it originally aired back in late '80's. We were an HBO family, and Shandling's Show was on Showtime. Eventually it ran on Fox, but I usually fell asleep by the first commercial break. Of course that meant hearing the amazing theme song that played over the opening credits, but not much else. I did enjoy The Larry Sanders Show years later on HBO, so I knew Shandling had the ability to make me laugh, something that's not very easy. It wasn't until 2009 that It's Garry Shandling's Show made it to DVD and once it hit Netflix, I added its four seasons to my queue. 

I've always been a big fan of Wondershowzen's absurdist humor, and I've most recently been immersing myself in Tim & Eric's Awesome Show Great Job!, so I decided to take a second crack at Adult Swim's Xavier: Renegade Angel. I watched the first episode years ago when X:RA first came out in 2007 (at the insistence of Kirk, who is begging for the credit), but I had a really hard time dealing with the CGI animation style (I hadn't yet made my brief foray into Second Life). Plus I was still morning the loss of Wondershowzen (by the same creative team, PFFR) and wasn't ready to invest my time in another series. I typically don't watch any television shows as they unfold anyway. Instead, I wait until seasons or series to finish completely so I can watch everything at once on DVD. X:RA was something I just kept forgetting to come back to, but eventually, Netflix picked up the save.

I usually don't divide my attention, televisually, but in my pseudoephedrine haze, I went back and forth every night watching both. It turns out that these two programs from different generations are somehow cut from the same loin cloth. They are both postmodern powerhouses. Shandling's Show constantly makes you aware that you are watching a television show--he walks between set pieces, defers to the script, talks to the audience, and hums along with the theme song. One of my favorite moments is when he is sitting on a couch and is suddenly pummeled with 14 rolled up newspapers--we are fast-forwarding two weeks, he explains.  

Xavier's meta comedy of pseudomysticism is even more of a rapid-fire assault because it only has 11 minutes to get its story finished. A truck speeding by with the word "FORESHADOWING" written on the side of it is probably the most straightforward of things that happen. The fact that the show is 100% CGI makes it much easy for them to twist the screen until it breaks. It is pretty much a nonstop mindfudge, and much like Wondershowzen, by the second season the bizarre bar is set so high you either have to be high or stop at a bar to mind the fudge at the seasonal bazaar, even for a second. I watched so many of episodes multiple times and I'm positive that I still haven't caught the majority of what's actually happening onscreen, and I look forward to diving in again from a different angle in the future.

Eventually, I started to feel better enough to stop taking the generic Claritin, but there was still to be a final blow to my fragile body. On the third disc of It's Garry Shandling's Show, there is a scene where Garry takes some Chinese food out of this oven. He starts to put on a pair of oven mitts, then abandons them in favor of another pair, then turns to the camera to talk to me...



April 1, 2010

Google's April Fool's Joke sucks.

Topeka? Meh. It would be ten thousand times funnier if they change the name to China, and redirect all searches to Chinese websites.