The calm before a riotus storm

I was chatting Thursday with a colleague who noted that this week’s police log was relatively quiet although Chico State University students were back in town. I theorized students might have been more studious because the economic downturn.
Well, Thursday night wasn’t so quiet with a disturbance that some called a riot.
As an observer, I find it interesting how these situations develop and where. It’s worth noting that the two incidents this school year (including one in October) didn’t necessarily revolve around calendar events or even specific days of the week. In years past, Chico riots seemed to most often be associated with holidays or events such as Halloween or Pioneer Days. Not necessarily the case now.

Sacrificing online friends for a burger?

Burger King is definitely on top of the fast-food heap when it comes to viral marketing. Even if people would never wear the restaurant’s meat-scented cologne, they would sure talk about it.
Their latest campaign was called “Whopper Sacrifice” where people would get a hamburger if they axed 10 of their friends from their Facebook lists. The promotion appeared popular — more than 230,000 friends were dumped before BK pulled the plug. According to the Chicago Tribune, Burger King opted to end the promotion after Facebook raised privacy concerns.
I was curious about who would do this for free eats. Some people pointed out that it would be easy for a Facebook user to ax 10 easily re-addable friends who would get a laugh at Burger King’s silly de-friending notification
It just seems like a lot of trouble for a burger. I also wouldn’t like to dump 10 of my Facebook friends. I haven’t gone out and added hundreds of friends — I value nearly all of the few friends I have. I don’t know if you could put a price on my friends, but it’s definitely worth more than a free burger.

On Oscar noms: ‘Button’ shouldn’t be on top

The nominees for this year’s Oscars were announced today. I was surprised to see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” receive the most nominations, including for Best Picture. While the Brad Pitt-vehicle was amusing, I didn’t feel it was a satisfying movie or the best work from 2008.
Some critics didn’t care for “Button” — Roger Ebert said in his review that the premise of a man being born old and aging backwards was wrong. Even my family didn’t necessarily seem engaged by Button’s life experiences.
I could see the whimsy of a teenage mind trapped in a body that looks like a 60-year-old’s, but I felt the experience was entirely too superficial as Button grew younger while the world got older.
Ultimately, “Button” is a superstar vehicle and a special effects tour-de-force that is unable to find a decent story.
As usual, I haven’t seen many of the films nominated for Best Picture (which includes some intriguing pics like “Milk,” “Frost/Nixon” and “Slumdog Millionaire”). Instead of “Button,” I would’ve rather seen “The Dark Knight” or “WALL•E” have a shot for the top spot.

Getting burned by the cheapest products

Even before the economy decided to shop for toilets at Home Depot, I’ve tried to be a frugal consumer. I’ve been known to splurge once or twice, but I usually try to find the deal. It’s sad, but I’ve ended up getting burned twice in recent months.
Bluetooth headset — I’ve been on top of the law requiring drivers to use hand-free devices whilst talking on the phone. I don’t talk on the phone a lot, but I quickly realized that I needed a new headset.
Not looking to spend a lot of money, I dropped a $20 on a cheap Plantronics headset. Everything started out great. It lasted a long time and people could understand what I was saying … and then the battery died. The battery was replaceable so all I needed to do is find a replacement — a AAAA battery.
Do you know what I found out? After searching through several fine retailers, I don’t think AAAA batteries exist in the real world. Places had AAAs and tiny batteries for hearing aids and other uses, but no AAAAs.
I ended up buying a newer, slightly more expensive headset with a rechargeable battery.
Digital TV converter box — After testing a perfectly fine DigitalStream box, I decide to use my $40 DTV coupon for a cheaper APEX box that has analog pass-through. The results were disappointing — while getting only one channel could be chalked up to reception, the lack of options was frustrating. While the DigitalStream box could easily resize the screen, the APEX stubbornly refused.
I quickly put the APEX box away and hoped that I wouldn’t have a need to use it soon.
Can you think of deals that were more sour than sweet?

Unshackle your music before it shackles you

One of the big items from last week’s Macworld convention was Apple’s announcement that it was moving away from digital rights management on the music it sells on the iTunes Store. Apparently, Apple was able to win this concession from the large music companies in exchange for selling song tracks at different rates, including 69¢, 99¢ and $1.29.
A friend kinda scoffed at the move especially Apple’s plans to let users pay to “upgrade” their iTunes purchases to the new service. I think this is big news. I didn’t think Apple’s DRM policy was particularly onerous although ultimately your music was tethered to up to five computers, iPods that were paired with those machines and burned compact discs.
This applies to iTunes Store purchases and not music ripped from your compact discs or other sources.
Although I’m happy with the previous iTunes system, I will be upgrading my library to remove the DRM for one simple reason — there’s no way to know if Apple will keep its DRM service active for music. If you’re on a new computer and want to listen to your DRM’d music, you have to log in with Apple’s DRM service. Usually, it’s not a problem, but it could be if Apple ever decides to turn their DRM computers off. If there’s no way to log in, there’s no way to listen to the purchased music.
This nearly happened with several defunct online music stores. The retailers sent notifications that it was going to turn off its DRM service — and leaving customers in a lurch. Many of the companies backed off from the move, but it does point out the scary possibility that you might not fully own or control the music that you purchased online unless there is no DRM strings attached.
This doesn’t mean that DRM is going away — there are some pretty ridiculous technological strings attached to online video purchases, but ultimately moving away from DRM’d music is a good thing.