Archive forFebruary, 2006

(WTFbrb) Rank(s) Late Night Talk Show Hosts

With the week coming up (how rare is that!), WTFbrb assesses weeknight talk-show hosts based on how smart they are, how smart they think (or pretend) they are, how mean they are to people who come on their show, how funny they are, and how newsy they are:

Smart Thinks Mean Funny Newsy
Leno 3 4 3 4 3
Letterman 4 5 5 3 1
Conan 5 2 2 5 1
TV’s Craig Ferguson 2 2 2 4 2
Jimmy Kimmel 5 3 3 2 1
Carson I am not that unemployed (:
Jon Stewart 5 4 3 4 5
Stephen Colbert 4 5 4 5 4

WTFbrb hopes this helps.

Comments (2)

Danny Tanner is the reason!

The full house is the thing that makes poker interesting.

No, I don’t mean that flushes or straights aren’t fun too, they certainly are. But imagine if there was no full house. Allow for the fact that quads and straight-flushes never occur, especially when you consider relative frequencies in 7 card hands like those in many popular variants of poker. Then your “attainable” hand ranks are basically flush, straight, trips, two pair, pair, blah. This is less fun! Why? because matching ranks have no chance at all against fancy hands—there is no draw to the full house! This is kinda like a microcosm of a society in which those of a low caste can never move up: such a society is no fun. The little guys want to be able to move up!

It also makes flushes and straights less safe. I mean imagine if you have already hit your flush, how boring is that. But the fact that someone can be playing two pairs at the turn and hit a full house at the river means you have to worry. Sure the odds are on your side, but it’s not a sure thing, so it’s fun.

Next time you hit a full house on the river (or seventh street for all you studs out there) or your opponent does against your ace-high flush, appreciate how much fun you had doing it, because it is the reason poker is fun!

That is all.


The worst thing you can put in a webpage

The worst thing you can put in a webpage is a little tiny menu of (many) choices of which the user needs to select one or more. This is one of the most frustrating things a user can ever have to go through. Drop down, or scroll box style doesn’t matter, it is enough to make me shout WTF out loud, and stop using the web page. Now I have no HCI or UI design experience, but I am an avid user of all sorts of software (tee hee), and the kind of guy that wants to fix things that are bad, instead of live with them (for real).

You might ask, what is this blogger’s problem, is he just a lazy ass? Well, hopefully not. I sincerely believe that these menus are really (really) bad design. They hide information from the user, information that the designer presumably assumes the user needs. For example. I might be selecting jobs I might want on (which sux for other reasons, please recall). I am required to scroll through a 5-line tall menu, and select as many as I want. The problem is, I have to remember to control click on any past the first, lest I remove my other selections. This also goes for industry/category selections, and job location selections. That’s one hard form to fill out. Does Monster (or CareerBuilder, which is even worse) even hire UI designers?

Here’s my proposed solution. Don’t use scrolling or drop-down menus. Don’t ever force the user to navigate ultra-precisely with both his mouse and keyboard precisely for more than a couple clicks or scrolls. Since each of these options is important, and the user doesn’t even know what they will all be before scrolling the list, lay them all out for the user to see, and allow freedom to click on each without worrying about screwing up previous selections (checkboxes, anybody?). If you have a huge amount of things to choose from, narrow it intelligently. Maybe have 10 or fewer choices for a general category, and then list all position titles relating to the ones the user chooses (at this point, its probably ok to have 20 to 30, as long as they are clearly displayed). If you have to display more than this number of things, you’ve already done something wrong on your end. Simplify your categorization scheme. If you’re finding where the user is willing to work, list general regions of the world/country and have the form auto update as the user narrows it down. Ex: USA->West Coast->Bay Area->Choose from a list of towns or areas within the region.

None of this has to be a proper tree either (this is an arbitrary rule often self-imposed by the designer). Maybe LA shows up in South West and West Coast, maybe NY shows up in North East and East Coast. Etc. Again, the important thing is to always display all items the user might want to choose.

Hell go one step further, collect data on who chooses what when, and when users choose nothing, this might teach you more about your design than any documentation you read while designing it.

Call that a freebie, Monster. Next time I’ll charge you for my advice.

The second worst thing you can put in a webpage is an ad with a black and white flashing background.


Sufjan Steven’s Illinois: not the real thing

Since its release, critics and music lovers everywhere have been hyping Sufjan Steven’s Illinois as the great album of 2005, even a revitalization of indie rock. This album, however, isn’t that. But the album deserves respect as an achievement of some sort, so I’m going to attempt what I believe is an honest discussion. After a couple months of rave reviews I decided to buy it, and gave it a couple listens. The first time through I was interested but not blown away. The album is indeed somewhat clever—especially in its song titles—and an original creation in its own right. But the name-dropping and gimmicks get old, even if they are the flair that holds Stevens’ apart from others.

A couple more listens began exposing the weaknesses of the album. The lyrics are contrived and forced. I enjoy lyrics that deliver deliberate and descriptive narrative when done properly (Try Tallahassee by The Mountain Goats for some excellent lyrics in a concept album), but Stevens’ prose comes through as awkward at best. The stories he tells aren’t anything special, or particularly well told. For all the hype around “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, I’d take a yarn woven by Colin Meloy of the Decemberists or Craig Finn of The Hold Steady over “Gacy”—or any other song from Illinois—any day of the week.

Beyond lyrics, the music itself is contrived. Stevens applied some amateur theory, making it different from your standard indie music, then brought in some orchestration and fanfare to make it sound big, and let the album ride on it, but its unable to evoke the feelings or histories it is presumably meant to. If you want grand themes that work, try Arcade Fire’s Funeral on for size, or if you’re willing to go back a few decades, Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd. When Illinios invokes folk themes, it unfortunately breaks utterly, these spots are times when the album does indeed become nearly unlistenable. The redeeming fact is the use of string parts to connect songs and preserve the album as one opus.

More than anything vocals are a matter of opinion, so if you absolutely love Sufjan’s voice, I won’t try to tell you otherwise. But again, I feel that Stevens is attempting to deliver a soft-spoken singing performance that doesn’t come through properly. As I see it, Elliott Smith or Avey Tare (of Animal Collective) deliver much more inspired vocal performances, both in similar but unique soft-spoken ways. Indeed, their vocals ride over better musical backdrops as well.

Song for song, there is nothing special about Illinois. The songs are average creations that any moderately successful artist is just as likely to deliver. That the lyrics and music themselves leave much to be desired doesn’t help put any of the songs from Illinois on any top 10 list of mine. Even as simple catchy tunes, nothing sticks in my head, or gives me any sort of inspiration beyond double clicking another song in my library. A breakway hit might redeem the album, if in a way unintended by Stevens, however none of the songs stands much above the rest. As a concept album, Illinois is able to invoke similar themes throughout, which isn’t as easy as it seems, but these themes aren’t inspired enough to merit such a lengthy opus.

Now, as for tying it all together, this is what can make albums truly great. (I’d again point to you to any of the examples above for artists that have created truly great albums). Sufjan Stevens put care into the production of Illinois. The recording and mixing is near flawless, you’ll never hear something that sounds just plain wrong or out of place. For this reason, the album deserves respect and recognition. However, even if the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, Illinois remains lacking. Perhaps call this album a truly great recording of generally mediocre songs. Considering Sufjans half-joking threat to compose such an album for each of the 50 states in the Union (48 to go), I’d suggest passing on Illinois altogether.


Out Now

They had their chance. They screwed up and didn’t protect our nation, and the people gave them a chance. They got their USA PATRIOT act passed, now they’d never have to miscommunicate again.

This proves that this administration is not fit to run our country.

Politics has nothing to do with this. This administration has proven itself incompetent and unable to run our country in times of disaster. You want patriotism: I say my country is too important to allow this administration a third strike before we call them out. Get them out now.

Comments (4)

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