Greg MacLellan

December 30, 2005

Ticket Sales Down 3 Years Straight: A Trend?

Filed under: General — groogs @ 2:25 pm

This the third straight year of decline in Hollywood ticket sales. Sales are down 12.6 percent from 2002. More and more analyists are starting to wonder if it’s a permanent trend, and what the cause is.

I don’t know where these analyists and producers have been, but my feeling, and a feeling I see echoed on the internet in blogs or by talking to my friends, is that for the past couple years, the movies have just sucked. Here’s a bunch from the past couple years that all lost money: Walking Tall. The Alamo. Two Brothers. Catwoman (-$17m). Exorcist: The Beginning. Wicker Park. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Seed of Chucky. The Life Aquatic. Flight of the Phoenix. Elektra. Son of the Mask. Sahara. Star Wars III (ok, so this made $200m. It still sucked). XXX: State of the Union. Dark Water. Stealth. A Sound of Thunder. Doom. Memoirs of a Geisha. (see the biggest loser list about halfway down this page).

Some of these were supposed to be major blockbusters. I have only even seen a couple of them, and was disappointed to say the least. I could probably go back even farther, but that list (2004-2005) took long enough to compile already. Past trends of bad movies have made people skeptical. A good example is Stealth. When I first saw the trailer, I thought: wow, that is going to suck. I have never watched it, but everyone I’ve talked to that watched it thought it was bad. A few years ago, I probably would have went to watch it, but with the stuff Hollywood has been putting out in the last few years I knew not to waste my money.

I think that bad movies are only one factor. There are still actually quite a few decent movies. Going to the theater is expensive, and that is obviously a factor. $24 for a couple tickets, another $15 or $20 for popcorn and pop. Many people have surround sound systems and decently sized TV’s, so one of the traditional reasons to go to the theater – the big screen and sound – is not as big a draw anymore. My roommate actually just bought a 50″ widescreen TV (previously we had a 31″, which was still decent), and with our surround system and subwoofer I’d even say it’s got a better picture and sound than the theater.

I can put my feet up at home. I can lie on my couch. If I’m watching a movie with my girlfriend, I don’t have an uncomfortable arm rest in between us. I can pause, and go to the bathroom, or get food or drinks from my fridge.

A movie rental costs $5, popcorn and a couple drinks is maybe $4. So what added value is the theater giving me for the extra $35 it costs? The chance to see it a couple months earlier than if I wait to see it at home? That’s not worth $35 to me. It’s not even worth the $10 more it costs to go to the theater than to buy and own the DVD.

The theaters really need to get their act together and provide something worthwhile for paying this extra money. Maybe put in tables, and serve people drinks and food. Lay-z-boys instead of row seating. Alcoholic beverages. I’m not really sure, but I do know that I feel very little incentive to go to the theater anymore.

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December 16, 2005

Sendmail Wrapper

Filed under: Code,Technology — groogs @ 11:30 am

We had some spam problems last week, one of them caused by a form that wasn’t properly escaped. While that problem was fixed, the real problem was that it was hard to figure out what script had the issue.

To solve this, I wrote a sendmail wrapper for use by PHP (though really it could be used by anything) that logs the message along with the date, a message id (also inserted in th e headers) and the current directory (which gives the location of the original script).

It also extracts out the domain name from the current directory, but this is server specific so you’ll need to change the pattern to match your file system.

Eventually I’d like to include support to check for a maximum number of recipients, and maybe some other heuristics to check for spam.

You can get the script at:
http://gregmaclellan.com/php/sendmail.phps 

You should save this file as /usr/local/sbin/sendmail_logged.

The reporting script is at:
http://gregmaclellan.com/php/mailreporting.sh

There are instructions in this file for how to add it to cron.

Let me know if you have any comments, suggestions, do any improvements, or find any bugs.

 

December 15, 2005

New Design

Filed under: General — groogs @ 12:23 am

Decided that I didn’t like having a main "blog" page as well as a main "home" page, so now they both redirect here. Oh, and of course I have this fancy new layout. The picture above is from our houseboat trip last year. The person in the chair may or may not be me.. but I think it is me. If you know otherwise let me know.

December 13, 2005

Firefox users ignore ads, report says

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:10 pm

Adtech discovered that IE users are four times more likely to click on an ad than firefox users.

Digg users debate this in the usual fashion, and most people say it’s because of Adblock. I installed Adblock, but found the defaults to be irritating: it blocks many non-ad pages. I turned it off for a while before figuring out how to tone it down. It’s really only the pop-under ads that I block.

I’m not really sure why people are so adverse to looking at ads to begin with. I’m sure most people have more self control than to feel that they need to buy whatever is being advertised everytime they see an ad. Sure, there are obnoxious ads. The “hit the chicken and win” ones are pretty bad. Ads that make you wait a few seconds before going to the real page are relics of the old TV advertising industry. Anything that causes another window to open is just rude (it’s like the equivalent of and employee coming up to you in a store and jamming flyers in your pockets).

I’ve found that being on the internet for so long has changed the way I read. My eyes filter out big different-looking elements of a page, and I often have a hard time seeings headlines or links if they’re in too big a font. It’s like my eyes just skip over them, and I sit there looking for something, all of a sudden going “Oh! there it is!” when I notice it’s in giant letters in the middle of the screen.

That said, I’ve also clicked on ads. I’ve even purchased things from ads I’ve clicked on. Usually from a Google search results page (the Ads are a great way to find companies that actually sell what you’re looking for, if you ignore the eBay, nexttag, etc ads that somehow show up when you search for specific manufacturers and model numbers, even if they don’t have/sell them). Targetting is key here, and is the reason why Google has done so well with ads. You’re much less likely to sell jewelery to someone looking at a page about music than you are to sell CDs.

So back to the digg story. Why are IE users more likely to click on ads? My guess would actually be that Firefox blocks popup ads by default, and there used to be (and probably still are) tons of pop-up ads that look like dialog boxes. Most users click the fake “ok” button.

In fact, this is exactly what the original article says. It also goes on to talk about the targetted ad thing. [In retrospect, I should have read it *before* writing all of this. Oh well.]

It would be much more useful to do a longer-term study, see stats of what kind of ads they’re clicking on, and see what percentage of users are actually buying something (though this can be difficult, as I’ll click on an ad, find a site, then come back later and buy it after researching a product more. When this happens, the adclick doesn’t get counted as a sale).

It’s kind of sad to see so many people with Adblock though. There are so many good ad-based services out there. If everyone used Adblock, Google and Yahoo would eventually die and we’d be left with that other search engine. Yeah, you know the one I mean. That can’t be a good thing.

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All moved in!

Filed under: General — groogs @ 9:39 pm

Well, I got tired of dealing with a couple little issues with Blogger, so I decided to install WordPress and host my own blog. It’s not too bad of an application. It has categories, which are definately handy for me to seperate out my many blogging topics.

I know I haven’t posted in a while (mostly because with the time I’d normally spend blogging, I was installing WordPress and migrating things over), but I will try to do it a bit more often in the future. I think probably once or twice a week is a good target. No promises on that though, it certainly may be less. Not that any of my — apparently two, according to feedburner — readers are complaining. :)

 

December 5, 2005

Seach: Time vs Relvancy

Filed under: General,Technology — groogs @ 11:25 am

Something that seems to be missing from searches is time. Search engines base their results on relevancy, which makes finding newer methods of doing something difficult.

For example, I will search for how to do something in linux, like configuring a RAID array. There is a ton of information on this, but the most relevant hits you get are about configuring raidtools. Mdadm has replaced raidtools as the tool of choice, but since raidtools has been around so long, and there are so many old pages that link to it, it scores the highest. I’m sure there’s millions of other examples of this on other topics too.

Google has an advanced search where you can specify pages modified in the last x months, but it doesn’t really help much. One of the pages returned when I limit the search to the last 3 months has a revision history typed out at the top of it, and it shows the last update in 2003. MSN has a "Search builder" function, where (among other options) you can specify how important it is to be recently updated, popular, and a relevant match. This still doesn’t bring up really relevant results. Yahoo is the only one of the three that actually does return an mdadm-related result as #1 when you search within the last 3 months. (I should point out that both Google and Yahoo return this same page as #5 and #6, respectively, but my point here is that someone who knows nothing about it is probably going to pick #1 or #2, and implement raid with the older raidtools method).

MSN’s search-tuning functions

All three have a news search engine that returns date-based results for recent news items, but this is pretty limited in that it’s only searching news sites. Linux software RAID developments aren’t exactly breaking news on CNN, so the news search isn’t exactly the place to find this stuff.

I think one problem with the date-based results as they are now is the way they are likely determining the date of the page. If they are using the last modified header (part of HTTP specifications), then that would explain a lot of the problems. It’s quite possible that the last-modified header is changed due to content that is dynamically created, content that is moved with ftp to another server, copying without preserving date/time or even a misconfigured webserver. What they should be doing is comparing the contents of the page to the contents the last time they indexed. It wouldn’t be totally accurate (depending on how often they index the page), but it would at least give a real representation of when the contents were changed. They would have to ignore dynamic things like ads and current date displays (via pattern matching) but it wouldn’t be that complicated.

Hopefully it’s just a matter of time…

On the topic of search engines, I came across a few new Google features while researching for this entry that I didn’t know about:

December 2, 2005

Smart Meters

Filed under: General — groogs @ 1:43 pm

I was just reading that Kingston is about to get 1,500 "smart meters" to monitor electricity, water and gas. There are a number of benefits – from ending the the monthly "estimated" bills (and then charging more/less a few months later when the meter is actually read) to encouraging people to reduce consumption during peak times, as they’ll be charged more for it.

The article mentions that the company makes an in-house display to show the current energy consumption, but it will not be installed in this pilot study. Since it’s all computerized and collected in real-time, why not just have a web page where customers can view their use, along with graphs of their previous day or week or month’s usage? I think this really would help reduce peak usage. If people can visually see that they’re using tons of energy during that period, and getting charged the most for it, then they can do something about it.

Something I thought was interesting is the article mentions that it can be used to find leaks (from increased and constant water use). The main project I work on at work is basically this display stuff, and in fact, one of our case studies is about detecting leaks. Of course, for the smart meters, it would require having either the in-house display, or some online graphs.

It seems the company they’re using, Itron, actually does have a web-based interface. I can’t find the in-house display they talk about. Some of their meters have a display on them, but I don’t see why the city would replace meters when they could just retro-fit them.