The BBC’s new website.

Carrying on from my last post in the theme of open emails, I also recently sent the following email to the BBC about their new website design.

I loved the old BBC website. Even though I live in Toronto, the BBC was my main portal for international news. It was one of the few remaining websites that wasn’t just an assault on my eyes when looking for cleanly and clearly presented news stories.

Alas, the new version more or less copies the visual miasma of the other sites I’ve turned away from.

It mixes inconsistent layouts, pictures, text, and colours all on a single page, making everything a mess that can’t be easily scanned or consumed.

In the new “header” section alone, why does the left side have pictures, but the right side only text? The fact that it’s not balanced means you keep glancing at other sections without being able to concentrate on one story at a time. Why is the “Live” story in the middle, also detracting from the stories on the sides? If you need to call out one story, don’t mix it in with others. Instead, put it in its own row above all the others.

The “Latest world headlines” section is fine. That’s what I’m used to. Every story in the table has the same size box of pictures and text. It’s consistent. It can be easily scanned.

The brain dump of stories at the bottom of the page is simply impossible to scan through in any real way. There are too many. That whole section should be removed entirely. If I care about news stories in a particular category, I can just click that category from the menu at the top. Looking at the vast forest of stories hurts my brain and prevents me from caring about any of them. It’s the equivalent of a flash-bang.

Please consider unifying the layout of all sections so that everything is consistent. I can see a reason for having some content be presented in a different layout, but try to stick to only two general types of layout.

An open email to One of a Kind.

The following is an open email I recently sent to One of a Kind (OAK), a boutique clothing store. I was curious about their slogan “If you know you know.”

I never got a reply, but I never expected to:

I was walking past your 333 Queen St. West location in Toronto, and I was intrigued by your slogan.

Putting a comma after the first “know” significantly changes the meaning of the phrase.

  • If you know, you know.
    This means: if you are aware, then you know.
    It’s a complete phrase, but it requires the comma.
  • If you know you know.
    This means: if you are aware that you know, then …
    Without the comma, the phrase is not complete. Then what?

Do you intend the slogan to be taken in the second sense, where you haven’t finished the thought, or is the omission of the comma unintentional? Or perhaps you punctuated it as you did so people would ask you about it?

New Brownies Name

The Girl Guides of Canada dropped the name “Brownies” for reasons of political correctness. The action was well-intentioned, but the replacement name was unfortunate.

The new name, “Embers,” is supposed to mean that the young girls have potential for the start of something big in the future. I have two problems with this:

  1. I find it to be a kind of backhanded insult. As if to say that girls aren’t good enough people as they currently are, and must grow older in order to become better. I understand it’s supposed to relate to the message of training, learning, and improving, but I think the new name could result in a misinterpretation.
  2. Linguistically, an ember is not something that starts a fire. Instead, it’s something that’s a leftover of a fire that’s already burned out. Applying the name literally would mean that the girls’ promise has already peaked and faded, and it’s now just a slow burn until it dies out.

A far more appropriate name for the overall intended theme would be Sparks. A spark is what ignites a fire.

Please stop using the word umami for a flavour.

I really dislike it when people use unfamiliar words for something, rather than trying to use a familiar word that has more intuitive meaning. (Although worse is business jargon, where a familiar word is used in a completely unfamiliar way: case in point, almost every word used in the “Agile” business process.)

This is how Merriam-Webster defines umami:

the taste sensation that is produced by several amino acids and nucleotides (such as glutamate and aspartate) and has a rich or meaty flavor characteristic of cheese, cooked meat, mushrooms, soy, and ripe tomatoes : savory entry 2 sense 2

Wonderful. Except that I’ve never thought tomatoes taste meaty in any way whatsoever. I’ve heard people describe them that way, and that description has, to me, been nonsensical. The same goes for cheese. I’ve never once tasted any kind of cheese that I’d describe as “meaty” or have a flavour that I’d in any other way associate with meat.

Perhaps I might consider some mushrooms to taste meaty—but not really. At best, I might think some mushrooms cooked the right way can share a vaguely similar texture to meat. And a dish made the right way with mushrooms rather than meat could taste similar to the same dish where meat was used.

People also use the word earthy. But while I can associate earthy with mushrooms, I can never associate the word with tomatoes or meat.

In short, there is no single flavour in my personal experience that I think tomatoes, mushrooms, and meat all have in common.

I’ve heard other people say there are five different generic flavours: bitter, salty, sweet, sour—and umami. I understand the first four. But to then say that umami is a generic flavour that is not one of the other four does nothing for my understanding. That’s like telling me the colour blah is the colour that is not one of the colours described by any of the other colour words. Defining something to me as being the negation of everything else I have experience with is futile.

Over the years I’ve occasionally looked up definitions of umami. I’m pretty sure I’ve already captured the various ways of describing it. Oh, wait. There’s one more. Some people say “if you’ve ever tasted MSG, you know what umami tastes like.” I’ve never personally tasted pure MSG. I’ll admit it’s conceivable that if I ever did, I’d say to myself, “Well, how about that! When I taste it, I taste something that’s common to mushrooms, tomatoes, and meat.” But I really, really doubt it. As I’ve already said, for me personally, those three foods have nothing in common.

I’m beginning to think this is more like different people’s reactions to cilantro. While some people simply have a personal preference against the flavour, a minority have taste receptors that allow them to taste cilantro’s soapy-tasting aldehydes. Most people don’t have these receptors, and they think there’s nothing soapy about cilantro. But if you do have the receptors, you won’t like the taste of cilantro. (Unless, I suppose, you’re somebody who likes the taste of soap. I’ve never heard of anybody liking soap, but I guess it’s possible.)

Going back to umami. As I understand it, the word is originally Japanese, and it translates loosely to savoury in English. Except that while something having an umami taste might be considered to have a savoury taste, I believe something that has a savoury taste doesn’t always have an umami taste. So, the two things are not, strictly speaking, identical.

Do I know what savoury means? Traditionally, discussion of umami aside, I’ve always understood it to simply be something that is not sweet. In other words, a savoury dish is a main course rather than dessert. However, it’s possible that a savoury flavour is something different. (Some people serve cheese for dessert. But even if served for dessert, it wouldn’t normally be described as sweet.) And here we run into more difficulty. Merriam-Webster has two relevant senses of savoury.

First sense:

having a spicy or salty quality without sweetness

(Don’t ask me to explain what flavour spicy is … According to the “bitter, salty, sweet, and sour” categories it doesn’t exist. Although, without having looked at those four categories in the context of the fifth flavour of umami, I would have said that spicy was a fifth flavour—making umami actually sixth?)

Second sense:

being, inducing, or marked by the rich or meaty taste sensation of umami

And now we’re getting into circular definitions.

I can understand that meats have a “meaty” flavour. (That seems comedically self-evident.) And I can understand that mushrooms have an “earthy” flavour. (I suppose there’s some kind of association between the word and where the food grows—not that I would describe most other food from the ground as earthy.) But as I said before, meat does not taste earthy to me, nor do mushrooms taste meaty. And a tomato is as far away from meaty or earthy as I can personally get. (I’d probably describe tomatoes as tangy or even tart, but I don’t want to get started on that tangent.)

A different word associated with umami, and used in the second definition of savoury that I provided, is rich. But while I use that word to describe foods that are filling, I also use the word to describe foods that are sweet—something that people who describe umami clearly say it is not. What does Meriam-Webster say about the food-related sense of rich?

highly seasoned, fatty, oily, or sweet

That’s not helpful. At least not in the context of trying to pin down umami. Unless those people referring to umami are really saying that it has a fatty or oily taste. But I can’t see that either.

Relating this back to cilantro and taste receptors, the person who came up with the food-related sense of umami identified taste receptors for the—now 5—different classifications of flavours. (Although this still doesn’t help me understand what receptors identify spicy food.) All of this leaves me to wonder if I, personally, simply do not have normal umami taste receptors. If there’s a flavour that’s common to meat, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and also described as the flavour of MSG, then my best guess is that my failure to understand all of the discussion by different people is that I don’t taste it. Whatever is being described as umami is something I just don’t taste. (Or else I do taste it, but I simply fail to comprehend their attempts to describe it. Which means that either I’m unusually unintelligent, or they’re all unusually inarticulate. However, I find that the least likely explanation.)

The only way I can relate to the flavour of umami is to tell myself that it describes something that tastes meaty or earthy. Those two flavours (at least the English words) I understand. The problem is that meaty and earthy taste different to me. So, just saying something has an umami flavour isn’t a precise enough description where I’m concerned. In the end, I’d rather nobody ever told me that something has an umami flavour. Instead, I’d prefer they use a word that’s more understandable. And—I’ll say it—use a word that’s less pretentious and elitist. Because even if that’s not the intention, it’s one of those words that not only causes confusion in its everyday English use, but belongs to an exclusionary club. Just as Agile terminology belongs to the business-jargon club, the English use of umami more realistically belongs to the food-science-jargon club.

My disappointment in Denis Villeneuve and Dune.

First of all, I thought Arrival was a fantastic film. It worked for me on almost every level, and I ended up crying after the “reveal” at the end of the movie. Few movies (or books) cause me to react that way. It’s in my collection.

I was tentatively looking forward to Blade Runner 2049. The original remains a classic, and one of my all-time favourite movies, but sequels rarely do the original justice. However, I was disappointed. While it was visually interesting, and I enjoyed watching it, no single scene provided any kind of meaningful impact on the rest of the movie or on what had happened in the original movie. At the end of each scene, I was able to say to myself, “Okay, this scene could be removed, and nothing would be lost in the bigger picture.” By the end of the movie, I’d literally said that about every scene, making the entire movie somewhat pointless. So, while I’d say it was a “fun popcorn movie,” I didn’t think it offered anything of intellectual value, or was anything more than just something riding the coattails of the movie that had come before it.

Then there’s Dune. The trailers didn’t appeal to me all that much, and I felt the movie itself lived up to (or down to) what I thought of the trailers:

  • It tried far too hard to be “epic,” at the expense of actual story.
  • Scenes were slow, and there was always dramatic music—often signalling drama in a way that didn’t match the information being relayed.
  • As with Villeneuve’s past movies, the visuals were impressive. But without anything to back them up, they just seemed like wasted resources.
  • I’ve read the books several times, so I know the story well. But the writing glossed over character background and plot points all the time. Things just suddenly happened without explanation. I know what the explanations are, but if I’d gone into the movie without having read any of the books, I would have been left scratching my head at some of the events and motivations.

In short, I was bored and frustrated. I never felt engaged with the story or any of the characters. In fact, I just wished the movie would end so I could move on to a more enjoyable way of spending my time. When something is a chore to sit through, you know something’s wrong. I thought the visuals and music were all just smoke and mirrors, designed to make you think something important was happening, but really hiding the fact that the screenplay was lacking in exposition.

While I could generously say that Villeneuve had little to do with the screenplay, there’s no way I can avoid blaming him for the plodding pace of many of the scenes that simply highlighted for me the fact that nothing was explained properly.

For example, I’d rather see Paul Atreides spend half the time he does trying to avoid the hunter seeker sent to kill him, if it only meant there could have been some kind of voice over or other narrative device that explained exactly what was happening during that scene. There was some tension in the scene, but not nearly as much as there should have been.

The same could be said for Paul’s encounter with the Bene Gesserit and the Gom Jabbar. For anybody not already familiar with the story, it’s clear that something is happening. But the way the scene is put together, and the way in which Timothée Chalamet has been directed to act out the scene, makes the dynamics involved and Paul’s internal thoughts and feelings unclear.

The end result is that for the entire movie, I felt as if my emotions were being played with in the form of the in-your-face music and visuals, seemingly used just for a forced “epic effect” rather being a natural extension of the story that builds to something epic without trying. I also felt that my intelligence was being insulted by the lack of background and exposition, as if it’s assumed that everybody already knows the story, and that the story is just a second-class vehicle for a long music video.

The David Lynch version of Dune deserved much of the criticism it received. However, despite that, it did a much better job of explaining the characters, their motivations, and the story. I felt far more engaged with Kyle MacLachlan’s portrayal of Paul, and the directing of the two scenes I’ve specifically mentioned. It had many more moments of “camp,” and induced eye-rolling and groans at times, but it at least kept my interest. It was another one of those “fun popcorn movies,” where I could put my mind on autopilot and just enjoy watching the movie as it unfolded. It was campy, but it never seemed as if it was trying to be anything else. So, I could appreciate it on the level it presented itself on.

In contrast, I found Villeneuve’s Dune to be boring, frustrating, pretentious, manipulative, and insulting. I am quite honestly amazed that it’s garnered the praise it has, not least of which its being nominated for all kinds of film awards.

Naomi Osaka’s press ban.

Naomi Osaka has said that she will avoid press interviews after any of her matches at the French Open. Participating in these interviews is part of contracts signed by players on the tour, and she’ll be fined $20,000 for each one she avoids.

The response has been mixed.

Most people say they understand, but that taking part in press conferences is part of a player’s responsibility.

But I say good for her. If she doesn’t want to give a press conference, she shouldn’t have to. And if she’s willing to pay the fine, then that’s okay too. If I really disliked talking to reporters—especially right after a match, and in particular if I’d lost—I’d be happy to do the same thing. Assuming I could afford to do so, as she can.

Different people handle things differently, and I’ve rarely let other people’s expectations of me dictate how I behave. Far more often than not, especially later in life, I think it’s very important to be exactly who you are.

Gordon Ramsay’s new show: 24 Hours to Hell and Back.

I’ve only just discovered this show in its second season. It’s similar to Kitchen Nightmares except that hidden cameras are used.

But here’s my question: How can the owner of a restaurant not know that their restaurant is being filmed by hidden cameras? If the owner doesn’t know (and several episodes make it appear that they don’t) from whom is permission to install the cameras given? Nobody in any of the episodes I’ve seen is shown giving approval for this. But surely the producers of the show aren’t breaking the law by installing cameras without somebody’s legal permission.

The fact that this isn’t explained throws the legitimacy of the show in general into question. If it is the owner of the restaurants who give permission, then the reactions they show are fictional and they are provided to the audience only for entertainment purposes. In other words, if this is faked, there’s no reason to assume that anything else is real.

It reminds me of other shows where the audience is shown a surprised reaction by somebody as they encounter somebody else. But in order for the audience to see this reaction, there must be a camera crew somewhere. In fact, more often than not, the camera crew is positioned inside a house or apartment when somebody knocks on a door and surprises them. If they’ve already admitted such a crew into their home, there’s no way that they can possibly be surprised by the person coming to the door. At best, it’s a reenactment of what their reaction originally was.

But on Ramsay’s show, it can’t even be a reenactment. If the owner of a restaurant gave permission for hidden cameras to be installed, then they can’t possible be surprised by the fact that hidden cameras were installed.

Did my computer drink too much caffeine?

I recently starting having a strange problem. Video on my computer became “jerky.” For example, things would look normal for about a second but then the video would “pause” for a fraction of a second before resuming. The audio was just fine, but I kept seeing this slight “jerk” in everything I looked at, including TV (WinTV, from my cable input), video files (both VLC and PowerDVD), as well as computer games.

I can’t say when this started exactly, but I’m guessing a couple of months ago. It didn’t make things unviewable, but the more it happened, the increasingly annoyed I became with it. Finally, I’d had enough. I hunted down the problem and fixed it.

The problem was related to the “NVIDIA High Definition Audio” driver. When I removed this, and rebooted, the jerkiness disappeared. I’ve had my graphics card for a while now, and things used to work just fine. I don’t what changed, but this was the culprit. (I don’t need that driver anyway, since I use HDMI-connected Bowers & Wilkins speakers—which I think are fabulous.)

That would have been the end of the story except that, shortly after this was resolved, I noticed that the jerkiness had returned—as had the audio driver. Some process on my computer was automatically reinstalling it. Whether it was an NVIDIA driver update, or something that Windows itself was doing, I wanted to prevent this from happening again.

To fix it, I ran Device Manager, observed that my video card was on PCI bus 1, and then disabled the entry for the “High Definition Audio Controller” that was also on PCI bus 1. After doing this, the custom installation of the NVIDIA graphic driver no longer indicated an option for its high definition audio component, and it never reappeared in my list of installed software.

I found Star Trek: Discovery best left undiscovered.

I turned it off after the first 10 minutes and stopped watching it. I almost never do this with anything (at least in the middle of a show), and I’ve watched every episode of every Star Trek series up until now. But I found the dialogue in the script so unappealing that it held no interest for me whatsoever. Not only was I completely disinterested in anything either of the two characters had to say, but there was no context given for anything that happened. Even looking beyond the writing (which I found sterile), I was annoyed that the Klingons were presented as yet another “reboot” of their conception—making them not fit into any of their previous portrayals. Even trying to forget about all of the lore from everything that’s gone before (as the producers clearly want to reimage everything), there still wasn’t enough about it to make me even want to remain interested. I could have kept watching for the entire hour, hoping to get a figurative foot wet in the universe, but I just didn’t care enough to do so. It failed to provide any kind of hook to rope me in, and I couldn’t force myself to follow it based on any kind of “brand loyalty.” It’s visually interesting. That’s about the only good thing I can say about it.

Instead, I will continue to watch The Good Doctor, which, although not great and burdened with cliches, and still struggling to provide a genuinely interesting narrative arc after the first three episodes, I still find myself enjoying …

Really blocking popups.

Strangely, despite what you would think, most browsers still allow popups—even if you’ve disabled them in the normal UI. With Chrome, you can download one of several different popup blocker extensions. With Firefox-based browsers, you can go to about:config, search for dom.popup_allowed_events, and remove all of the entries there. (This does not prevent new windows or tabs from opening when you click on a legitimate link and, so far, I haven’t encountered a site where a desired popup is blocked; but, even if so, you can still allow popups from specific sites.) I’m not sure what’s available for IE as I never use it under normal circumstances.