A Few (Not Especially Political) Thoughts

Random thoughts from the extended Fourth of July weekend.

  • If you put your mind to it, you can see a heck of a lot of fireworks. And that’s without even counting all the amateur shows. Still, it’s weird that nobody seems to know why the city of Richmond puts on its show July 3 every year. I can theorize endlessly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that regardless of how it got started, the answer now is “Tradition”.
  • Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition. That’s what brings us fireworks on the Fourth to begin with. (And no, I’m not going to debate the ethical pros and cons of fireworks today. We had that discussion a couple of years ago.) Some modification of the tradition might be in order, given the risk of wildfires and all. But abandon it completely? Heck no!
  • A well-planned low altitude show is actually enhanced by low clouds. That said, strong cross winds not only distort the blossoms, but blow the gunpowder away from the viewers. I hadn’t realized how much of the total sensory experience of a fireworks show is olfactory.
  • If the fireworks show starts while you’re giving a speech, just shut up. Nobody cares how important your message is or how long it took you to write. You’re not the headliner. (This is a concept that applies to fields completely unrelated to fireworks, by the way.)
  • Don’t bother with an assortment of random music. Doesn’t matter if the songs are patriotic, popular, or traditional. Unless the music is synchronized to the fireworks, it’s just a distraction.
  • Reptile petting zoos are a concept whose time is now. I don’t know if kids are bored with goats, llamas, rabbits, and chickens (and who wants to pat a chicken anyway?) but snakes and giant lizards are a much better draw. Even the police are fascinated.
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    (Never has the “Scale Image” tool been more appropriate.)

 

Not That Simple

To those of you celebrating the Fourth of July and what remains of our civil liberties, happy holidays. Stay safe and sane.

I thought I’d give you a bit of a tech post for the occasion, because what could be more American than spending money on electronics? Remember, most retailers are having holiday sales through the weekend.

Note: I have not been paid for any of the comments below, nor will I receive any benefit should you run out and buy anything on my recommendation. That said, if the various manufacturers mentioned want to toss piles of cash in my direction, I’ll be happy to accept.

As you may have gathered, I did not wind up crushed beneath a pile of USB-C hubs and docking stations. As it turned out, my first test subject proved adequate to the task. You may recall that the goal was to connect two monitors, one with a VGA input and one with a DVI input to a thoroughly modern laptop which has only a single USB-C port.

I chose to begin my search with the j5create JCD381.
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Note the symmetrical layout: two HDMI ports on the left, two USB 3.1 ports on the right, balanced around the network port. Symmetry may not be important in a device’s functionality, but it is aesthetically pleasing. There’s also a USB-C input on the end next to the cable. As that leaves the end unsymmetrical, I’ve chosen not to show it here.

The big selling point for the JCD381–aside from its cheapness compared to similar, larger docks–was that none of the ads I saw warned against using HDMI-to-something-else converters.

And it works fine with my converters (more on that later). It does not, however, Just Work. It is necessary to install driver software for the computer to recognize the HDMI ports. And, in a reversion to the Days of Yore, it was even necessary to reboot the computer after installing the drivers. I may be a fan of tradition, but that was a little too retro for my tastes.

However, drivers installed and computer restarted, I plugged in the cable and darned if both screens didn’t light up. A quick trip to the display settings made the biggest monitor the primary, and presto! Word processor in front of me, email to my left, and system monitor and other low-priority attention grabbers on the smallest screen where I’ll have to make a conscious effort to see them.

The JCD381 isn’t perfect. (You’re not surprised to hear that, are you?) This is not the dock to choose if you’re running a Mac. There are multiple reports that even after installing the drivers, you won’t be able to have different outputs on the two HDMI connectors. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of those reports, but they’re pervasive enough that I wouldn’t take the chance.

More significant to Windows users, the dock lacks an audio/headphone jack. That would have been handy and including one could have fixed the lack of symmetry on the cable end.

That, however, is a quick and cheap fix if you’re converting one of the outputs to VGA. Behold!
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This is the Rankie HDMI-to-VGA adapter. Micro-USB port on the left to power it (and yes, it comes with an appropriate cable) and audio on the right. Eight bucks from that well-known purveyor of fine (and not-so-fine) goods whose name begins with an A.

Sure, I could have saved the eight dollars and just plugged my speakers into the computer’s headphone jack, but that would have meant an extra plug or unplug every time I moved the machine. Well worth the octodollar to have everything on a single cable.

There are other issues.

The USB-C input on the j5create box is a bit loose. If I accidentally move the dock when plugging or unplugging it, it can disconnect the power. Annoying, but not fatal, and I could probably find a way to anchor the plug more securely in the dock.

The dock does get hot in use. Not burn-your-fingers-and-set-the-desk-on-fire hot, but significantly toasty. Make sure it’s well-ventilated.

And, finally, the computer has lost track of the network port a couple of times. I’m still troubleshooting that one, but I suspect the problem is at the computer end–either a driver issue or a Windows bug–rather than with the hardware. Since the computer automatically falls back to Wi-Fi, I hardly notice. And the port comes back to life the next time I reboot the computer, so it’s not that big a deal. I’ll find a fix eventually, but it’s not affecting my quality of life right now.

So there you have it. Maybe not quite so simple that only a child can do it after all.

Misinterpretation

I know I’ve been talking about advertising a fair amount lately, but I hope you’ll indulge me in one more take on the subject. If it helps any, today’s focus is not TV commercials. We’re taking a look at poorly thought out and poorly presented print advertising.

Notice anything wrong about this ad? (Kate, I know you do. Give the rest of the group a minute to spot it.)
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It’s an interesting bit of technology, intended to solve a real-world problem. Unfortunately, the virtues of the product are undercut by the advertising department’s mistake.

Here me now: Unless there’s a deliberate joke involved (see, for instance, Chick-fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin” ads*), it is never acceptable to release an ad with a misspelled word.

* Great ads, deplorable corporate practices. But that’s beside the point today.

Does the copywriter know the difference between “hear” and “here”? It’s possible they don’t–their spellchecker would have flagged “hereing” after all.

But how does a blooper like this slip past? Does the company not realize there’s a difference between a copywriter and a copyeditor? Or were they too cheap to pay for a copyedit? If so, makes you wonder what they’re doing with the $120 bucks they take in for each set of headphones. (Yes, that is the price; I had to trim the photo.)

Stupid, easily avoidable mistakes like this one give a poor impression of the company. At some level, anyone who sees it is going to associate poor quality control in an advertisement with poor quality control of the actual product.

Moving on.

There’s nothing wrong with this ad.
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Okay, let me amend that. Regardless of one’s feelings about King’s Hawaiian buns and bread, the actual ad here is reasonable. It gives prominence to the unique feature of the product (an–IMNSHO–overly sweet roll), communicates the price and the product variations (beef and chicken), and incorporates a relevant tagline.

Perfectly legit.

The problem is that the advertisers (the Sonic chain of drive-in restaurants) didn’t consider all of the ways and places they’d be hyping the product.

What works well in a full-page graphic format doesn’t work so well in a text-only medium where space is constrained. Like, say, an LED ad board outside the restaurant.

Simplifying the message to “Try our King’s Hawaiian Clubs” points the viewer in the wrong direction:
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That’s a real King’s Hawaiian club, and yes, those are shark’s teeth around the perimeter. This is not something to sink your teeth into; it’s something that’ll sink its teeth into you.

(The maker of that particular weapon, by the way, sells a variety of related products. They look great and the prices are reasonable for what they are. I could quibble with some of the text on that webpage–I’d have said “indigenous” rather than “endemic”, for example–but most of my objections are concerns over artistic matters rather than effectiveness or appropriateness.)

It’s an oversight on the advertiser’s part. Not fatal–the context of the ads plays a part in conveying the message–but vexing.

Plan ahead, consider alternate points of view and possible misinterpretations, and–especially where multiple cultures are involved–include people from a variety of backgrounds on your planning team.

Are We Really Still Doing This?

I don’t know why I’m surprised, but I am.

Since the beginning of the year, Head & Shoulders shampoo has been running a pair of commercials promoting their product as giving you confidence to pursue your dreams.

Said dreams seem to be of smooching.

And I’ve got no problem with that. Other people, however, find the commercials offensive. See, for example, this blog post from somebody who finds the spot featuring a couple with mixed loyalties–Steelers and Patriots–to be highly unrealistic.

More serious, though, is the reaction to the other commercial. Because–oh, the horror; oh, the humanity; won’t somebody think of the children–the ad features a pair of young women.

Who kiss.

On camera.

Oh, woe!

Predictably, the commentary has been horrified. On one blog–which I won’t link to, because why would I want to give it any publicity?–the comments are running 15-1 against the commercial.

As I said, that was predictable. I expected as much. What did surprise me was the nature of the complaints:

Procter & Gamble shouldn’t be politicizing commercials and I’m never going to buy their products again.

What does shampoo have to do with lesbians? Fire whoever approved the ad!

Sex has nothing to do with shampoo.

Gay couples kissing on TV should only be allowed after 8pm! And certainly not during a Disney movie!

And–my personal favorite–If I ran a commercial featuring Christian values, I would be harassed and mistreated!

All these years of homophobic mistreatment and marginalization, and nobody has managed to come up with a new complaint? That is what really surprised me.

I’m not going to bother with a line by line refutation. If you’re reading this blog, you know the counterarguments at least as well as I do.

But it doesn’t speak well of the mental acuity of the complainers that they don’t know the counterarguments and see no reason to find new reasons to object. Another triumph of imagination over reality, I suppose.

Anyway, you may be expecting me to offer P&G kudos for not pulling the ad. I do, but only to a limited extent. See, there’s a message in this pair of commercials that I don’t think P&G intended. At least, I hope the didn’t intend it.

Consider: In both commercials, it’s a woman who’s nervous about smooching the object of her affection. A kind of nervousness that can only be cured by Head & Shoulders.

And yes, okay, it can be read as “We’re all the same under the skin, LGBT or not, we all have the same fears and desires.”

But something in the way the spots play out come off a little differently to me. I’m reading them as “Only women are so unsure of themselves that they need to take refuge in a bottle.”

Does anyone else remember when H&S was marketed exclusively to men? Maybe I’m watching the wrong shows, but I can’t remember the last time I saw it pitched to men as a confidence crutch. (I’d love to be proved wrong–let me know if you’ve seen H&S ads aimed at men recently.)

For that matter, the ads I remember pushed the shampoo as a cure for what was standing between you and the job of your dreams. Not the love of your life (or your casual hookup at the football game).

It’s an interesting shift of emphasis. Does P&G think women don’t want to be upwardly mobile in the office?

Anyway, if you want to see this hideously offensive ad for yourself, try here. Just don’t let your kids see it before 8pm, or they might turn into lesbians. Or, worse yet, Democrats.

Out, Out, Damned…You Know

Since we were talking about commercials…

Unlike last week’s example, this is not a good one. Quite the contrary. But it is instructive. Warning: once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

I can’t embed it, so you’ll have to go here to see it. And, of course, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it.

I feel a little odd about complaining about this commercial, since it dates from 2013 and hasn’t aired since. But criticism knows no statute of limitations. And I really don’t know how this commercial got made.

Consider what goes on here. We’ve got the mother who’s totally incapable of managing her family. We’ve got the large family (and, let it be noted, the large minority family at that) of uncivilized brats, intent on the total destruction of the house. We’ve got the tired father who has to call in help to fulfill the basic function of his role (literally bringing home the bacon–or equivalent. What did you think I meant?)

Am I reading too much into the commercial?

At least the Jimmy John’s delivery man isn’t white. On the other hand, there is that wink. Because we all know that [insert minority of choice] are wildly promiscuous, right? (I could go on in this vein–consider the shape of a submarine sandwich, for example–but I’ll spare you the rest of it.)

What make the spot so vexing is that it has many of the attributes of a good commercial. It gets its message across. It’s not gratuitously insulting–the insults are there, yes, but as part of the message, not a separate attention-getter. There’s even a story there. A clean, simple story, much easier to follow than Casper’s tale about goat hooves.

And yet.

I can’t help but wonder if the current occupant of the White House has seen this commercial, and how he feels about Jimmy John’s food. Probably not greasy enough, given his apparent preference for burgers.

But I digress.

To the company’s credit, they have stopped running the commercial. They make a decent sandwich, too.

But the ad does too good a job of getting its hopefully unintended message across. I haven’t willingly eaten Jimmy John’s since I saw the commercial, nor do I plan to change that policy. I’m not militant about it. I don’t shame anyone for eating there. I don’t urge anyone to boycott them. I’ll quietly eat the food if it’s served to me. I just won’t willingly spend my money on any company tone deaf enough to have approved this ad.

Good Spot

Told you.
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Moving on.

For all the time I spend complaining about bad commercials–ones that insult their potential audience, are more than usually deceptive, or just plain don’t get their message across–it’s worth remembering that there are good commercials.

What’s a good commercial? Yes, it has to sell the product without insulting potential buyers or raising the general level of panic, doubt, and uncertainty in the world. But I’m going to raise the bar here. That describes an adequate commercial.

A good commercial does all that, but in addition, it entertains. It makes you want to watch it again, not just because you were too enthralled to write down the toll-free number the first time, but because you genuinely want to watch it again.

They do exist. Case in point:

 

By any interpretation, it’s an adequate commercial. No people doing idiotic things for no apparent reason, no flashing lights or blaring sirens, and it sells the product.

Full disclosure here: I haven’t been paid by Casper, nor do I own one of their mattresses. But I have been planning on buying a new mattress sometime in the mid-term future. I hadn’t considered Casper, but after seeing this commercial, I’ve added them to the “worth researching” list. I’m not laying down money, not yet. But any marketer worth their salt will tell you a potential buyer is worth far more than a non-buyer.

The question, though, is whether it gets past “adequate” and makes it to “good”? And the answer is “Absolutely.”

Those hedgehogs are totally adorable, I want to rub the rabbit’s stomach, and I could watch the black kitten fall asleep a dozen times. Heck, I watched the ad three times before I decided to write this post.

Mind you, as a viewer, I could do without the goats. I see those hooves and “relaxing sleep” is not the first, second, or third thing I think of.

But from a writing perspective, that’s a good thing. A story–and have no doubt about it, a good commercial needs a story–requires conflict. How do we get from hard, scratchy hooves to soft mattresses? That’s the story. And, believe me, it’s no accident that the spot begins and ends with the goats.

Heh. I just noticed that the black kitten has a grain of litter stuck to his paw. Talk about putting real life situations into your advertising!

Casper. Good commercial. Good mattress? We’ll see.

SAST 13

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of Short Attention Span Theater. Lucky Number 13! For those of you new to the blog, sometimes I do an SAST because I literally don’t have enough mental focus to write a full post on any subject. More often, it’s my way of clearing the blog’s to-do list of ideas that aren’t worth an entire post of their own.

I’ll leave it to you to decide, based on the internal evidence, which category this is in.

Ready? Too late, here we go anyway.

Perhaps you remember my handy theatrical guide to long-running news stories. For the record, the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch stayed in Act One for an incredible length of time before zipping through Acts Two and Three, bypassed Act Four entirely, and is now in Act Five.

I’m pleased to see that the Transbay Terminal mess isn’t following a similarly distorted trajectory. We got out of Act One in a mere five months, and we’re now solidly in Act Two. In mid-March, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority threw all the blame for the debacle on the various contractors, individually and collectively.

Naturally, by the end of the month, two of the three contractor had responded, saying in essence, “Hey, we did everything right. Take a look at the third contractor and the designer. They’re the ones that really muffed it.”

Putting on my QA hat for a second, I’ll just note that one of the jobs of the QA team is to point out problems with the design. It’s always cheaper to fix an error before it gets built. That’s true whether you’re talking about software or buildings. If the contractors had concerns about stress on the beams, why didn’t they raise them before construction started?

Anyway, I find it interesting that, so far as I can tell, the third contractor has yet to respond to the accusations of the TJPA and the other two outfits. Clearly, we’re not quite finished with Act Two, but we’ve got clear signs that Act Three is imminent.

That being the case, we may find ourselves watching a bold theatrical experiment, with multiple acts being staged at the same time. If the gimmick works, we might even find ourselves watching Acts Three, Four, and Five simultaneously.

I expect rapid developments in the play come summer. Remember, the terminal is supposed to reopen in June; we can expect a large PR push to convince commuters that it’s safe. That’s almost sure to provoke a lot of finger pointing and the launch of the inevitable lawsuits and countersuits.

Moving on.

For anyone interested in our litter box experiments, we’ve settled on a new long-term litter plan.

We tried Sledpress’ recommendation of Dr. Elsey’s litter with the Formerly Feral Fellows, and it did work as promoted. There was some scattering, though not as much as with the Nature’s Miracle. It did well at controlling odor, and the dust wasn’t as bad as some of the reviews led us to expect. On the downside, it’s hard to find locally, and even allowing for the fact that we got an entire month out of one jug, it still comes out more expensive on a per use basis. Most importantly, though, it seemed as though the Fellows weren’t very enthusiastic about it. They used their other box, loaded with more conventional litter, more often than before we introduced them to Dr. Elsey.

The more conventional litter we tried out is SmartCat All-Natural Clumping Litter. It’s grass-based, clumps very well–I’d even say “frighteningly well” given the size of some of the clumps we’ve found, and does a decent job of controlling odors. We are getting more scattering than I’d like, but it’s at a manageable level. No litter is perfect, but this stuff seems good enough that we’ve converted all but one of the indoor boxes to it.

The exception is currently using up what we expect to be our final bag of World’s Best Cat, and we’re finding that the gang would rather use the SmartCat boxes than the one with WBC.

Finally, there’s this.

Regular readers are already aware of my feelings about the devil’s condiment.

I’m delighted to note that we now have scientific evidence to support my purely logical reaction to that stuff. Forget HoldThatMayo, Bon Appetit, and JSpace. While it’s nice to see fellow travelers, one can’t help but note that their appeals are based on paranoia, emotion, and prejudice.

That’s why it’s great to see the word from Popular Science that there’s well-grounded, firm scientific support for the contention that mayonnaise is eeevil.

Take cheer, my brethren. The battle will be long–I expect the pro-mayo forces to be at least as persistent as the anti-vaccination loons–but with Science! on our side, we’ll win in the end.

Tiny Ball

Hey, remember last season, when I said I hoped the Mariners would be better on the field than in their commercials? Oy.

If the same thing happens this year, the Ms are going to give the Orioles some competition for the title of Most Painful Team to Watch.

At least there are only four this year. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can watch them here. Or you can just read on and let me save you the effort.

Let’s start with the worst and save the–well, not the best, but the least bad–for last.

The only question about “Hanimal Fanimal” is whether it’s the bottom of the barrel or the leaky septic tank under the barrel. A couple of seconds of Mitch Haniger in actual game footage bookends this paen to clueless bandwagon fandom. Unfortunately, all the joy of the spectacular catch is sucked away by the relentless idiocy of the spokesperson for the folks sitting in the bleachers. If he’s the sort of person the Mariners’ front office want to attract to games, I’m glad I’ll be watching on TV. Maybe there’s supposed to be an unspoken message here–that Mitch is too nice a guy to shove the moron away and get back to the game. But if so, it’s as poorly thought out as the rest of the ad. Leo Durocher may not have said “Nice guys finish last,” but there’s some truth to the sentiment. At the very least, the game comes first.

“Moving Target” isn’t bad. It’s just cliched, repetitive, and forgettable. Okay, Mallex Smith is fast. We get it. Couldn’t you find some way to show that without falling back on the quick cut? And there’s poor Kyle Seager forced into being the deadpan straight man again, just like in last year’s “Flip”. At least this year, he’s not clueless. But can’t somebody give him a decent punchline?

Next is “SpeeDee”. It’s cliched and forgettable, but at least it’s not repetitive. Okay, Dee Gordon is fast. We get it. Yeah, they really went with “he’s fast” in half of the commercials this year. I rank this one slightly ahead of “Moving Target” only because of the parachute. Having it pop open before Dee crosses the finish lineplate is the only real spark of creativity in either of the “fast” commercials. I’ll admit, that got a small chuckle out of me.

Finally–and not a moment too soon–we’ve got “Arts & Crafty”. Props for a decent pun and for giving Felix a decent punchline. The moving stadium roof makes me laugh, even on repeated viewings–I love the implication that Yusei Kikuchi knows the King is about to rain on his hard work. Unfortunately, the “It’s crafty” line just doesn’t quite work, leaving the ad about two-thirds of a joke short of brilliance. “Craft” does have additional meanings that could have been worked in to send the bit in a whole different direction. “It’s not just craft, it’s witchcraft.” Eh, maybe not. Have the stadium transform into a boat, thus alluding to both watercraft and Mariners. Better. Not perfect, but better. Seriously, with months to think about it, this commercial could have been fixed.

Call the tally a triple, a sacrifice bunt, a weak pop-up, and a three pitch, no swing strikeout. In the right order, that’s one run anyway.

May this be the year the Ms play betters the standard set by their commercials. Because if it’s not, this will be a long season–and not in the good way.

I’m Back

And I’m back. Did–no, on second thought, I won’t ask if you missed me. If you did, I’ll be mortified at denying you the pleasure of my company for two weeks. And if you didn’t, you’ll be mortified at having to admit it. So let’s just not go there and save us all the embarrassment.

Taking the time off was definitely the right move. Not having to fit blogging around a work training schedule, holidays, and family time simplified my life enormously. I’m still on a training (read that as “variable”) schedule, but everything else has settled down enough that I think I can get back to blogging on the usual Tuesday/Thursday/Friday plan. I’ll worry about possible changes to the blog posts once I’m done with training and have a more predictable work schedule.

No, I didn’t get much fiction writing done over the break. But I’m ready to get back to that as well. As soon as this post goes up, I’m starting the second draft of Demirep. Unlike many authors, I enjoy revising. Finishing a first draft is a rush, but sometimes the actual writing is a slog. Rewriting is almost always easier, because I know where I’m going and how I’m getting there. Fewer false trails means faster, more enjoyable writing.

Moving on.

There’s progress on the Bay BridgeTransbay Transit Center. The repair plan has been made and approved. Not a whole of detail has been released yet–it sounds like there will be more after the Transbay Joint Powers Authority board meets on Thursday–but the gist is that steel plates will be attached on the upper and lower surfaces of the vulnerable beams.

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a structural engineer. That said, the fact that the plan calls for reinforcements to be added to both the Fremont Street and First Street beams suggests to me that the tests found nothing wrong with the metal–that the problem is more likely to be design or construction. I’m looking forward to hearing more, including the estimated date for reopening the Transit Center, which will depend in large part on how long it takes to find a source for the reinforcement plates.

Moving on again.

Actual employment that requires leaving the house does mean I’ll have less time for television. That may be a problem come baseball season–though, as I’ve said before, I find having a ballgame on in the background helps my writing–but at this time of year, it’s arguably a good thing. Yes, the latest seasons of Worst Cooks in America and Kids Baking Challenge* started this week, the former on Sundays at 9:00 and midnight Eastern, the latter on Mondays at the same time. Which is, by the way, very nice scheduling for those of us on the West Coast: 6pm and 9pm fit very nicely around dinner and bedtime. (As usual, those of you in other time zones get the awkward scheduling.)

* Shouldn’t that be “Kids'” with an apostrophe? It’s a competition for, i.e. belonging to multiple kids.

But I’m having doubts about WCiA. It’s a cooking show, supposedly. But it seems as though each season we see less cooking, and the antics of the competitors are getting more predictable. Both, IMNSHO, are the result of competitors being chosen for their personality traits, rather than their willingness to actually learn to cook.

We’ve got the wacky ones. We’ve got the one with a crippling lack of self-confidence. The annoying fan of one of the instructor chefs. The one whose mother still cooks all his meals. The model (and, goddess help us, we’ve got two models and a bodybuilder this season). The one who thinks sugar is a universal ingredient and the one who thinks the same of capsaicin. And, of course, the one who thinks her cooking is just fine and doesn’t understand why her relatives forced her to go on the show.

The producers think this will lead to wacky hijinks. The point they’re forgetting is that arguments aren’t story. Nobody wants to see watch people snapping and snarling at each other. We want to see the contestants successes and, yes, the failures that don’t threaten to fill the set with flames. It’s their growth as cooks that’s the story.

Last season the show spent so much time on personality clashes that the cooking seemed halfhearted. Even in the finale, the cooking competition seemed muted and the food wasn’t up to the standard set in previous years. If this season goes down the same path, I won’t be watching. Which would free up an hour a week for writing. Hmm.

KBC, on the other hand, is still a delight. The kids all have their quirks, but they’re not extremely exaggerated stereotypes. They’ve clearly all been working hard at their craft for years, they’re thrilled to be on the show, and they understand that stuff happens–forgotten ingredients, knife cuts, and bad days–and has to be dealt with.

And it’s obvious they’ve studied the show’s earlier seasons. They know what’s coming, and it was charming to see them literally fleeing in terror when the twist arrived in yesterday’s episode. And yes, though we’ve seen it before, it’s still nice to see them pitch in to help each other finish when time is short.

That’s an hour of potential writing time I’m going to sacrifice willingly every week.

Not a Train Wreck

Let’s talk about Ralph Breaks the Internet (to be referred to as RBtI henceforward, ’cause, you know, lazy.)

As usual when I talk movies, there are going to be spoilers. Don’t want to see the spoilers? Stop reading now and come back after you see the movie.

And, not to spoil the post, I am recommending it. Yes, you need a good high-level grasp of popular culture and internet practices. If you don’t see the humor in Disney princesses discussing their own tropes, this isn’t your movie. Nor is it your movie if you haven’t rolled your eyes at your favorite search engine’s attempts to guess what you’re about to ask it.

If you don’t have a favorite search engine, this is really not your movie.

You don’t need to have seen Wreck-It Ralph to enjoy RBtI, but it will help. There’s a fair amount of world building in the first movie that the second film simply takes for granted. But with a few exceptions, I suspect you won’t be considering RBtI at all if you haven’t seen W-IR.

Anyway.

So yes, it’s good. The jokes are mostly on point, and the pace is fast enough that when one joke does miss, there’s another one coming right behind it. There are plenty of cameos, background gags, and audio jokes to keep you entertained when the main story drags. Which it does a couple of times.

The Disney princesses are a high point in both of their appearances, and I loved the big race scene.

Sure, there are a few things I could quibble about–an eBay with no snipers? Nah! The biggest curb I tripped over, though, is the way the monetary thing was handled. I can live with the idea that BuzzzTube lets you directly convert likes to dollars. It wouldn’t work in the real world, but we’re aiming at kids, so okay, I suspend my disbelief. Where I fall down is on the exchange rate. Ralph’s first video racks up, if memory serves, about a million and a half likes, giving him a balance of $43. That’s a weird ratio. But if we take that as given, the numbers just don’t add up later. Sure, we don’t see all the videos he makes, but the ones we do see show similar like counts. Counting on my fingers, that suggests Ralph had to make something upward of 600 videos. And collect the necessary views in a limited (and apparently rapidly changing) amount of time.

That “spung” sound you just heard was the spring in my suspension of disbelief punching through the cylinder.

But it’s still a quibble, not a major flaw.

RBtI had a couple of significant missed opportunities. (This is the point where you should leave if you don’t want to see me wearing my writer hat.)

Remember how the first movie was Vanellope’s film? Sure, it had Ralph’s name on it, but the heart of the movie was Vanellope coming to terms with her glitch. W-IR got a lot of kudos for the way it handled that part of the story. Along comes RBtI, and that all goes out the window. Vanellope uses the glitch twice (once to evade capture, once to cheat in the big race). Then it blows up on her, taking down “Slaughter Race”. But the solution is just to reboot the server–it’s got nothing to do with Vanellope or what she’s learned during the course of the film.

Sure, this was Ralph’s film–his chance to grow–but it shouldn’t come solely at the expense of the other characters.

I don’t have a solution to this one, but then, I’ve only been thinking about it for a couple of days. The film’s writers had four years (I gather there wasn’t much discussion about possible directions for a sequel until 2014.)

The other missed opportunity is smaller and easier to solve. Vanellope’s “princess song”. Okay, yes, it was a great bit. Gosh, she really is a Disney Princess. I laughed as much as anyone else in the theater.

But.

That song just didn’t work stylistically. Vanellope is caught between “Slaughter Race” and “Sugar Rush” and her song ought to reflect that in the musical as well as the lyrics. Sure, start it off with the stereotypical Disney Princess song and get your laugh. But then give us a nod to the “Sugar Rush” track from W-IR–even just a line or two–and then slide into a verse done as something you might find on the “Slaughter Race” soundtrack. Metal. Hip-Hop. Reggaeton. Something with a serious bite. Come back to the Disney Princess song at the end if you have to, but give us that explicit link to Vanellope’s past and future.

Okay, hat off.

The bottom line? Ralph Breaks the Internet: good, but not as good as it could have been.