Thursday, April 20, 2006

Traffic School not what it used to be

I was a bad boy. 56 MPH in a 40 MPH zone.

Not that I believe I was as bad as that, but I'm not about to risk $500 on the possibility that I can convince the judge the officer had bumped the speed up a notch to make it more painful. I drive a fast looking car. I passed a slow-moving vehicle (which was in the left lane of a four-lane highway). And I can make all the excuses in the world.

I got caught. I got a ticket. And to avoid the biggest penalties in Florida, I have traffic school.

Quite a few years ago, I got nailed for 72 in a 55 zone. It was a righteous bust; I was remarkably stupid on some things, even when I was on top of my game as a pundit. I chose the traffic school route then as well. As the Internet had not yet come into its own, traffic school was a Saturday morning class at the only game in town - and boring. So boring, I'm sure someone had to make a B-movie about it, because it was so easy to parody.

Times have changed. Within days that had become obvious to me. I've received no fewer than a dozen invitations to enroll in a traffic school, and most offer options: classroom, of course, but also videotape, DVD, and even the Internet. Traffic school from the comfort of my living room or office.

And some of them even promise to be funny.

I'll drop names, but not links, because every one of them most certainly contribute to the spam problem in the blogosphere. I know this, because I went looking. I wanted to know what bloggers thought about each of these schools, and instead of well-composed opinions, I found countless ad blogs with no redeeming value. I wouldn't spend money on any of them, except that I do want the services of one of them. The only question is which?

  • American Safety Council offers "the lowest price without hidden fees" ($18.88) and tells me of "fees" charged by others (ranging from $2.50 to $7.50) that they suggest are not legit fees. I believe them on the fees issue, just as car dealers charge fees that aren't anything more than efforts to boost profit. But that doesn't mean I have to buy from them.
  • Sarasota County Technical Institute, an entity run by a local school board, will charge me $25 to go to school, or $32 to attend on the web. I know they're legit, but they're likely to be as boring as my first time at traffic school.
  • CheaperinFlorida, a dot com, doesn't give me a physical or mailing address (unless I visit their site to find a classroom), and starts their price at $13.95, plus a "state fee surcharge" that American Safety Council says might be as much as $2.50. And who knows about other fees applied at the point of purchase. But they say they have comedy classes.
  • Improv Traffic School certainly implies comedy, but doesn't come out and say so in their postcard. They claim they will beat any accredited traffic school by $2.00... probably before tacking on those fees.
  • FunnyinFlorida is definitely comedy-oriented, with classroom sessions costing $25, video and DVD for $29.95, and Internet for $24.95. No mention of "fees" and they "guarantee" the lowest price.

These are only a few of my choices. With the clock running, I turn to you, my readers, and ask for feedback on these courses. Let me know your thoughts on who's legit, who isn't. Please help me from getting burned.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Google is only doing what Google knows best

Lately, I've been reading criticism of what some call Google's two-faced
attitude towards censorship. These critics can't understand how Google
can justify cooperating with the Chinese government in censoring search
results to Chinese IPs, and at the same time refusing to cooperate with
the United States government in their efforts to fight Internet pornography.

Some pundits aren't surprised by the behavior. When Google cooperates
with the Chinese government, it makes sure it can have access to the
Chinese populace - something Google has to find desirable - and Google
never promised to be a political champion. Meanwhile, Google's fight
against the U.S. government's request for search results appears to be
anti-censorship, pro-privacy, and a little pro-pornography, but to these
pundits it's really a matter of looking good to its customers.

I don't see this to be so complex. I agree with the pundits who look at
Google's decision to filter the Chinese market as a business decision.
As a public corporation, this really shouldn't be a surprise; Google has
to do what's best for Google. As for their struggle with the U.S.
government, Google must also continue to do what's best for Google. This
means resisting requests for information that exceeds the government's
legitimate need. If the U.S. government is trying to build a case
against Internet pornography, it doesn't need Google to provide a list
of every request for pornography that it received. Statistics should be
sufficient, as no court is going to want to review individual requests.
The government should be more interested in where the porn exists, and
for that, they should have to perform a search, just like everyone else
(a search would also tell them a lot more about how easy it is or isn't
to find the content they wish to find). So, fighting the request
protects the privacy of their users, prevents confidential information
from becoming public record, and protects the business interests of
Google... which is, of course, what Google is mandated to do by virtue
of its public status.

So, don't blame Google for its seemingly inconsistent policies. Google
is simply being Google. It isn't politics. It's business.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pinch me - - Please!

It was one of those dreams.

You know the one. The one where you're in a video rental store, trying to rent The Ten Commandments and the clerk asks, "What format would you like it in?"

"BetaMax," you reply, thinking this kid is way too young to be renting videos.

"We don't rent betas of anything. What format do you want?"

And it keeps going like that. Then you realize the kid probably hasn't been keeping up, so the next time you add, "... You know, the format Sony is backing for movies?"

"Oh, you mean Blu-Ray! Let me check... Oh, I'm sorry, but the studio hasn't released your title in that format, yet."

Then you wake in a cold sweat.

You've had that dream, haven't you?

It started for me when I heard there were two standards for high-definition DVDs under development. The first, supporting between 25 and 50 gigs of content, is called Blu-Ray, and is supported by the likes of Philips, Panasonic, Pioneer, Apple, Dell, various studios and... Sony.

The second, called HD-DVD, supports only 15 to 30 gigs of content, but it's supported by Toshiba, NEC, Intel, and... Microsoft.

So, we have two standards. The superior standard is backed by Sony. The inferior standard is backed by just about everyone else (where just about everyone else = Microsoft). Now, who's likely to win out?

Hint: in the First Video War, Sony backed the superior BetaMax against the inferior VHS. And that was before Microsoft ever entered the picture.

Sometimes this punditing job is just too easy.