Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Abuse of Discretion

If your like most parents, chances are you've taken your teenage kids to a movie theater, dropped them off to watch a movie with some friends in the early evening, and come back to pick them up later.

Imagine your reaction if, at the time of your return, they weren't at the designated pick-up spot? No problem; these days, most teenagers have cell phones, so you call them up to let them know you're there -- only problem? No answer. You get out of the car and start looking - and your kids are nowhere to be found.

If you're like me, panic begins to set in - until someone flags you down and tells you your kid was arrested for a curfew violation. That doesn't make sense - you know all about the curfew - you're there fully 10 minutes ahead of time - and you also know teenagers are allowed leeway to get from the theater to their parents' waiting cars. Heck, the curfew law makes a specific stipulation for that purpose.

Nope, still arrested.

That's not fiction. It's reality. It happened in Oklahoma City just last week, on Friday, July 15th, with the full story appearing in "The Oklahoman". Please, please read it.

To make matters worse, as the story notes, these teenagers were detained until 6AM the following morning for having done absolutely nothing wrong. And that's the other half of the story that just turns my outrage into full boil.

I read this story with incredulity, because I thought surely there was something that would emerge that would justify the arresting officer's actions. Surely there was an "x factor," a rude comment, an altercation, something that would justify an otherwise pointless, frightening incarceration for kids doing nothing more than watching a movie.

But there wasn't. No aggravating circumstance.

Just an out-of-control police officer abusing their discretion.

We hear varying degrees of stories like these, but rarely does one hit so close to home. I'm not one of these parents, but I just as easily could have been. I've got two teenage kids, and they enjoy movies as much as anyone else. What if that had been my son or daughter walking out of the theater while I pulled the car around? I would have been absolutely infuriated. I'd love to say I'd been the calm voice of reason, but I can't. If it were my kids, I would have been outraged.

Police have a tough job. They serve the public in ways we'll never imagine, standing in harm's way day after day. It's hard for me to be critical of police. But, in this case, there's hardly any way not to be outraged. Police, like any other people, make mistakes. But this isn't just a mistake. It is an abuse of discretion and authority that has turned perfectly innocent kids into criminals. It's almost cliche to say it, but their rights were certainly violated.

Here's hoping someone in the OKC police is held accountable.

More broadly, let's hope this never happens to anyone else.

Like me.

Or you.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Google's Goof

These days, its virtually impossible to visit the 'net without touching, however indirectly, the usually benign touch of Google along the way. Google has become the de-facto 800lb gorilla in the search space, and seems on its own inexorable path to dominating its own little corner of the electronic world - with few missteps.

Until now.

In what was surely viewed as an innocuous change to its web search interface, Google introduced on Thursday (30 June) a new design to its erstwhile simple and unobtrusive web search page, now featuring a particularly unaesthetic black bar across the top. In a word, ugh.

It didn't take long for blogs, help engines, and message boards to take to the net and air its displeasure with the ugly black nemesis, along with at least with instructions on how to get rid of it.

To now, Google has been innovative, brusque, and unrelenting in its effort to dominate the web. And, for the most part, users have greeted their web tools and offerings with generally open arms. But not this part. Like a gang of hungry movie reviewers eager to jump on a Pixar flop, Google users around the world are pounding on this ugly misstep. Some have already jumped on the black bar as Google's own "New Coke" goof - and in the history of marketing flops, that puts Google's decision in a very dark historical light.

The question is, will Google heed the masses, and at a minimum make the ugly toolbar user-configurable? Or is this issue going to emerge as a next-step in what some perceive as Google's arrogance?

Lower the bar, Google. In fact, just get rid of it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pixar's "Cars 2" fun, but different...

When I first heard that Pixar was planning a sequel to "Cars," it left me a bit perplexed. "Cars" was fun, but hardly a landmark in storytelling on a par with either the "Toy Story" franchise or the yet-unsequelled (is that even a word?) "Finding Nemo."

And, coming away from the opening night of "Cars 2" at a local theater, I walked away feeling much the same. Make no mistake, "Cars 2" is a fun two hours of Pixar charm and energy, but it didn't leave me wanting more, nor did it leave me in awe of Pixar's animated magic (as do most of their adventures do). It did leave me convinced that my decision to drive to a different theater so as *not* to spend the extra 40% ticket price for the 3D version was absolutely the correct one. Will the 3D idiocy ever fade?

First, this was the first Pixar adventure where I found the animated backgrounds inconsistent. Only in the final third of the film did I find myself wondering if the landscapes through which Tow Mater, Finn McMissle and his crew drive were challenging the edge of photorealism; others, at times, looked flat and unrefined. More generally, the print used at our theater seemed muddy, and the projection in need of tweaking. Even my 13-year-old daughter made a similar observation.

Beyond the technical observations, "Cars 2" represents a decided departure for John Lasseter and the Pixar team. Departing from the storytelling style that has, with amazing consistency, managed to grace each Pixar feature with the perfect balance of sentimentality and introspection, "Cars 2" shoves Pixar squarely into the action-adventure genre. Where so many of Pixar's adventures are deliberately paced, "Cars 2" is a fast-moving, at times even frantic story of international intrigue and corruption. So fast is the pacing that the subtleties of the pleasantly complex "whodunit" story will almost certainly be lost on the younger viewers in the average "Cars 2" audience.

As if the pacing change weren't reason enough to raise an eyebrow, Pixar with "Cars 2" has clearly shifted the focus of the "Cars" franchise away from the Lightning McQueen character to that of his buddy Tow Mater. Exactly how this happens would be too much spoiler here, but anyone whose seen "Cars 2" would surely agree.

While I enjoyed "Cars 2," I must admit the most enjoyable parts were the fleeting moments spent back in "Radiator Springs," where Lightning McQueen "grew up," meeting a set of rich "car"acters along the way. Part of me can't help but wonder if others might not feel the same way.