This is going to start out as a movie review, but it isn't one, so bear with me. There was a movie that came out a few years ago called Freshman Orientation. It didn't get particularly wide release so if you haven't heard of it, no big deal. Indeed, the film was originally released titled Home of Phobia, which may indicate why it didn't get much attention. That title, which is a double entendre, sounds like a bad horror movie.
The new title, Freshman Orientation, at least hints to what the plot is actually about. It follows a freshman who goes to college and wants to, surprise, meet women. The main female interest, in a plot machination that really seems contorted, is forced to join a sorority, the one her mom went to since there's some discount of such if she joins.
The sorority holds a contest where each of the sisters need to make a guy of a certain stereotype fall for them, and then they get invited to a party hosted by the sorority, where they will be unceremoniously dumped. The main female picks the stereotype from a hat (it's "gay" in case the movie title hasn't hinted that to you). The main male pretends to be gay because he's taken a fancy to this girl and will do what it takes to be with her, and hilarity ensues.
Well, not really. It's a not-so-great sitcom.
But let me get to the subject matter at hand. What exactly is homophobia? I can't claim to have a good definition, but the term suggests a fear (or hatred) of homosexuals, which is usually more prevalent among males than females.
Here's my thought. There are plenty of folks that say they are not homophobic. Indeed, they'd give you liberal credentials. They say they're pro gay marriage and so forth. That's fine. Perhaps, in the end, that's all that matters.
But here's the deal. Many young American men grew up at a time when parents were starting to be more homophobic. This came at a time when gay rights was becoming more prevalent (during the 1970s). Many middle schools had, up to that point, required gym for boys and girls and decided, for whatever reason, to "require" showers for boys and girls. Since the facilities were not extravagant, this meant "gang" showers, the kind that some gyms still have today.
This was an awkward moment for many teens who had been raised to have shame about themselves, which makes some sense. After all, left to their own druthers, many children might run around totally unashamed bringing shame to their parents who would be criticized for not placing more restrictions on their children's behavior.
By the 1980s, parents were starting to become even more concerned about their children's welfare. This may have been due to an increased sense of fear. News was being pressured to attract viewers and make money. Sensationalist news was replacing hardcore news. Parents were increasingly called "helicopter" parents who would hover over their children's every move, making sure they got to school safely, making sure they got back home safely. Kids were no longer considered safe enough to wander for hours on their own. Parents feared their kids would be kidnapped and they'd be accused of poor parenting.
Perhaps along with that perception, parents were now concerned that gym showers were a little too much for little Johnny or little Janey to bear. They'd be under scrutiny from potentially gay teens. Or perhaps it was simpler than that. Kids complained and then parents complained. This lead to many schools throughout the nation deciding to stop requiring showering.
This seems innocuous, and perhaps it is, but what that also meant was one way of acclimating teens to not be so body-conscious was gone, and so people continued to carry shame. Ironically, athletes who can be quite homophobic are usually not particularly homophobic in this respect. Athletes were still required to shower as part of their athletics.
Whatever the reason, more teens carried this notion of shame with them. Furthermore, even kids that aren't particularly likely to spew homophobic slurs still reacted badly to the notion of the unclothed body (especially males). If you mention that so-and-so might get nude, the reaction is generally "Eww" regardless of how handsome that person might be. It's similar to how some men feel the need to comment on the beauty of women.
Many men feel insecure in their orientation or feel the need to reassure their male friends that they are heterosexual by making saying how hot they are for some female, and by contrast, how male bodies are icky to them. This seems very much a male view, at least in the US. Women don't seem to have this problem. Women are allowed to be more friendly with women, allowed to comment on the physique of other women with impunity. They aren't considered lesbians.
Much of this may have to do with the pressure women have to look good to be attractive to men. They spend a great deal of time looking at how other women present themselves to the public and can admire women who look good. Men, by contrast, often care very little about how they appear, and so they don't spend much time looking at other men. The exception seems to be those who are heavily into fitness and working out so they look good to women. It's so much effort that they grudgingly admire other men who are putting in a similar effort to look good. They can positively comment on how some guy looks ripped because they feel it's worthy of admiration.
So here's the point. I believe many guys who are otherwise pretty pro-LGBT are nonetheless homophobic. Their reaction to other men are not that different from the men who spew homophobic epithets, except rather than give in to their natures, they restrain themselves and say the "right things". Were such guys indifferent to other guys like women seem to be indifferent or even partly admiring of other women, then the idea of being pro-LGBT would be met with an attitude that backs that belief.
Here's a scenario. You are busy doing something. You are asked to spend a few minutes calling up a place, no more than 5 minutes, by a friend or significant other.
Do you do it?
Or do you say "No, I won't do it. I need to get what I'm doing done first, and then I'll take care of it". There are quite a few people in that second camp. Why is that? What is the big deal being interrupted?
Joel Spolsky noted this when he posted the following problem. He imagined two tasks that needed to be done, each lasting 10 minutes. He asked which is better, for a computer to do one task to completion then the other, or to interleave the two tasks. That is, give one minute to one task, then one minute to the other, and so forth.
It may sound identical to you. Both tasks are finished in 20 minutes. Or the second might seem more appealing because each task makes more progress. But consider when both tasks complete.
Start the clock at zero. If you interleave, one task will finish at minute 19, and the other at minute 20. However, if you did one task to completion first, it would complete at minute 10, while the other would complete at minute 20. The average in the first case is a wait time of 19.5 minutes while the average wait for the second is 15 minutes.
This assumes no penalty for switching tasks. In reality, computer tasks pay a small penalty to switch from one to the other. This is called "context-switching". Apparently, for humans, context switching is a very real penalty. Thus, minor interruptions may not be so minor. I find it baffling personally, especially if the time to carry out the task is very little.
The point is this. Some people are definitely inclined not to be interrupted, not even for a few minutes so they can get their task done. I wonder if that is symptomatic of a certain mindset or personality. Is a type A person likely to dislike interruptions and want to be fully engaged, no matter how short the interruption?
OK, so we're embroiled in a health care debate (if you can call it that) because health care costs are spiraling out of control and because millions are uninsured. I was going to discuss whether the attacks on Obama racist (indirectly, they are), but instead, I'll talk about the kinds of changes, mundane as they may be, that I'd like to see changed.
First, Internet bandwidth. I don't really download or stream movies, but one can see how nice it'd be if the bandwidth was comparable to say Japan or Korea which reportedly have 10 to 100 times the bandwidth.
Up-to-the moment reporting of how much electricity and gas I'm using. Why does someone have to come and check meters once a month? I want to know how much I spent cooling my apartment today. I want to know how that money is really being spent? Who oversees this anyway?
More intelligent traffic monitoring. Why am I sitting at a red light when there's no one in the crossroad? Why are lights based on very simple information about who is on the road?
Getting groceries easily. I would like to order groceries, and I know I can, but the cost! Is there some better way to do this?
Companies that pay for auto maintenance. Would be nice if an on-site mechanic did routine maintenance so you wouldn't have to worry about taking it to the shop when something breaks down.
Or perhaps better public transportation. I look at the Metro and it makes a stop every stop. Why isn't there an express that stop every 5-10 stops the a smaller train that visits those 10 stops all the time. You'd need twice the trains, but people would get to where they were going faster.
I'm sure I could think of more things, but there are changes that would affect my day-to-day life more, and yet these changes are much slower to come.
If you were at a software company and could only have one person, you'd probably want an engineer, someone to build the product. That person might have an engineer's mindset. Get it working, do what's easiest. They may be less concerned about how the user will use the product (I'm assuming there is an end-user).
The problem with this mindset is the lack of someone to see things from the user's point of view. Engineers typically complain when managers pick a feature set because they can be fickle. Managers become idea generators and can come up with and discard ideas quickly mostly because they don't have to implement the feature.
Meanwhile, engineers have to implement stuff, and so they may not be so motivated to implement something that's easy to use because it may be hard to implement.
However, without a separation of concerns, someone who is relieved of the burden of having to implement a feature, then getting a good product, one users will want to use, is challenging.
Thus, it's very common to have someone be the user advocate. The only problem with this viewpoint is that it's easiest to have the prototypical user be the person making the decisions about what features to implement. In other words, the ideas guy typically doesn't want to talk to lots of people to get their ideas because this person thinks his (or her) ideas are the best, and likes the autocratic nature of making that decision.
So there is the dilemma of trying to create a good product, and thus separating the guy who comes up with the features with the one implementing it, and controlling the idea guy from coming up with ideas that don't make sense and aren't really looking at true users.
So it's been a while since I blogged, so I'll do this one for Justin.
Let's start off with a supposition that may or may not be true. You work 9-5, but you have enough free time in the evenings to do something. But what is that something? If you were growing up in the 1970s and even into the 1980s, the most common evening activity was watching television.
You didn't have much control over what you were watching. If you had TV prior to cable, you might get 4 channels over the air. If you had cable, then you might have 20-30 channels, the numbers of channels growing as the years passed. However, you had to watch the content live, at least until the advent of the VCR.
The VCR allowed entertainment to expand in several ways. First, it allowed you to record programs that you could watch later. The technology wasn't terribly sophisticated. You could only set the time and duration. The VCR was, as a group, poorly designed, mostly because usability was not something anyone thought about. Get engineers to design something and they'll design what's easiest for them to build, not what's easiest for the users to use.
More importantly, VCRs meant people could also buy and rent videotapes and a whole new industry was born: renting movies. For a time, if you wanted to watch movies, you had to go to the theater. If you were lucky, the movie was popular enough that it would show up on TV and you could watch it there, filled with commercials. When cable came around, channels were devoted to showing movies all the time (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax).
Movies at home were wonderful. Sure VHS tape quality was poor, and the more you watched, the worse the tape became--more snowy, more jittery, but at least you could watch it in the comfort of your own home. This was especially important for parents who lack time to go out and watch movies. Prior to this, going out would require a babysitter to stay a few hours. These days, the paranoia about having other people look after your children seems to have pressed parents to stay home more.
Fast forward to the 2000s, and the entertainment has changed, but mostly in technology. By 2000, videotapes were being replaced by DVDs that were smaller, less resistant to wear, and much higher quality than VHS. Instead of getting DVDs at a local movie store, companies like Netflix were offering DVDs by mail.
DVDs also liberated televisions. Shows like LOST couldn't be made without DVDs (although that's changing now). LOST has a plot so complex that it requires understanding shows that preceded it. Admittedly, soap operas also had a similar structure, but most fans seem happy getting other folks to fill them in on details. There also wasn't a huge puzzle which fans would scrutinize each episode for.
If you look at programs from the 1960s, they had to create one-off shows with few references to past episodes because if a person missed it, they would be, well, lost. Now, fans who miss entire seasons can buy or rent DVDs and catch up on whole seasons, commercial free. Some argue that commercial-free is the only way to watch television.
Netflix meant you didn't have to run to your local video store to get content. You could get it sent to you via mail and return it via mail. You didn't have to feel pressure getting it back to the video store in 2 days or risk getting fined. Netflix charged a montly rate and only controlled how many videos you could have out at any time.
Technology has pushed the concept further. The problem with the original Netflix model was the delay between ordering a movie and getting it. If you didn't feel like watching a movie, you had to return it and wait for another. There was a lack of instant gratification.
Fortunately, Netflix could rely on the biggest game changer of them all. The Internet. Of course, the US lags behind countries like Japan and Korea in sheer bandwidth, but the bandwidth has become good enough to stream videos (in Japan/Korea, you can download videos in minutes rather than hours, so streaming is less of a big deal). That means you get all the benefits of every technology. If you don't like the video you're watching, watch another one.
But the point is this: we're still watching movies and by extension television.
What are the alternatives? Some alternatives are simply what people watch. A subculture of Americans are heavy into anime. Anime has never been widely adopted by the popular media and is the closest thing we have to counterculture entertainment.
There are video games. Video games have been a staple of entertainment almost as long as VCRs have been around.
With the Internet, there's surfing the web. You can watch movies on the Internet, or viral videos, or read articles of interest. You can play games on the Internet, chat on the Internet. The Internet (via web browsers and websites) allow you to devour information of all sorts, from politics to sports to cooking to photography to conspiracy theories to whatever. Still, it's not a very social thing to do. If you're hanging out with a significant other, surfing the Internet means you are doing your own thing. This isn't to say movies are all that social, but it's somewhat more social.
That leads me to the point of this entry. What are the next forms of entertainment? Why do we still gravitate to the entertainment choices we've always made. Why is it like so many other people's entertainment?
I don't have answers to this except that we have a herd mentality, whether we like to admit it or not.