Movies for a Millennial: National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

From 1970 to 1998, National Lampoon published humor by WASPs for WASPs, and the first movie under its imprimatur was essentially that, as the likable privileged white guys squared off against the unlikable privileged white guys, creating the template for the slobs-v-snobs campus comedy that would pollute theaters for years after in the form of vastly inferior knockoffs. The film debut of comedy Challenger disaster John Belushi from Saturday Night Live, who basically eats the movie.

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For example, see the girl on the right? Gone in two bites.

Movies for a Millennial: Amadeus (1984)

Historically accurate? Probably not. But the real story of Amadeus is not the rivalry between Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), but rather a three-hour, big-budget rumination on the nature of Genius: who’s blessed with it, who isn’t, who deserves it, and who thinks he deserves it more. Outstanding performances, beautiful locations, fabulous costumes, and, throughout it all, the most beautiful music ever created by an insufferable little prick. With Jeffrey Jones playing Emperor Joseph II as every idiot boss you’ll ever work for.

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“Mnnyeeah, I’m going to need you to remove some of those notes. If you could do that, that would be great.”

Of Castles and Hamlets and Net Neutrality

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1960’s-era AT&T engineers laugh at your so-called packet switch-eeng.

Of all the facets of the net neutrality debate, the one that irks me the most is this: Private enterprise is railing against government regulation of a resource the government created, a resource that private enterprise could never have built if it had a thousand lifetimes to try.

A dramatic claim, you say? Let’s have a look at the landscape of online services, pre-1995. It looks much like a map of some medieval realm, with a few tall castles surrounded by small, disconnected hamlets. The castles were CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online (Apple and General Electric tried to build castles too, but they sank into the swamp).

If you were a paying guest in of one of these castles, you could communicate with other guests, buy from merchants who set up shops within the castle walls, and enjoy whatever amusements the castle had to offer. The data zipped across the country on high-speed lines, but had to slow down to travel across the phone line to the customer’s modem.

If you wanted to communicate with a guest in another castle, you needed to pay for a membership to that castle as well. Why, you might grumble, can’t I just send a message from Castle A to Castle P? Because Castle A wants Castle P’s customers as its own, and vice-versa, so neither has any incentive to allow interconnectivity. Likewise for the other content, the commerce, the games, the chat rooms: The monthly access fees pay for it all, so the castle will never offer these services free to outsiders.

And who were those outsiders? Tens of thousands of tiny bulletin board systems (BBS), running from home computers hooked up to jury-rigged trunk lines. Many were mini-castles, closed to all but their users, but some were linked together by software known as FidoNet, creating an internet (a network of networks).

Could this lower-case internet have evolved into The Internet? Let’s speculate. FidoNet used a “store and forward” approach to passing messages from one network to the next — acceptable for email and message board postings, but not robust enough for real-time communications. Furthermore, users dialed in using modems and phone lines.

But perhaps some enterprising entrepreneurs could step in and speed things up. They’d have to start by replacing FidoNet’s store-and-forward with a nimbler packet-switching system that broke large data streams into manageable chunks for efficient routing. And you’d need to do something about the speed; even if users are stuck with dialing in on slow phone lines, the individual networks could be tied together by high-speed lines.

Naturally, no entrepreneur or private capital will pay for all of this unless they can monetize it, so the whole thing will have to be exclusive. Users will have to pay monthly service fees, and there can’t be any connectivity with outside networks because you’d be giving a key product benefit away for free. And to help draw in customers, there would be content and commerce and games and… Hold on a second. This is starting to look like just another curated castle. So where is The Internet going to come from?

From the U.S. government, specifically the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense. Looking for a networking scheme that couldn’t be disrupted by enemy attack, its engineers developed what would become the Internet Protocols. (When one of these engineers, Paul Baran, presented the idea of packet-switching to engineers at AT&T in the 1960’s, they thought he was nuts.) These protocols fueled a network that grew and evolved until the government placed it in private hands in 1995, ushering in the era of the commercial Internet we enjoy today.

Since then, business has put the resource to amazing use. In its nearly two decades as a commercial resource, the Internet has inspired new applications and products, replaced crumbling commercial models with shiny new ones, created new jobs while eliminating others — a rocket sled, for better or worse, into the twenty-first century.

And while the effects of private enterprise have been phenomenal, they took place atop a platform that private capital could never create. Only the government, free from any need to show profit, could create a network built upon open data sharing, with no admission fees other than the cost to connect.

Capital, by comparison, seeks rents everywhere, and it’s this impulse to monetize that would have limited the Information Age landscape to nothing but closed-off castles and humble hamlets for the balance of Time.

So when you hear some buffoon shriek that “the Internet should not operate at the speed of government,” remember that the government built that Internet when nobody else could. And now that private enterprise, in its predictable rent-seeking fashion, has signaled its eagerness to cut that Internet into two speeds — regular and extra-slow — it’s time for the government to stop them.

Movies for a Millennial: Wall Street (1987)

“I create nothing,” admits financier Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). “I own.” And it’s with this line that writer/director Oliver Stone reveals the sea change that defined the 80’s, from a nation of builders to a nation of outsourcers, in which ambitious Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) must choose between two mentors: his working-class father (Martin Sheen) and Satan in Suspenders. It’s mostly soap-opera sludge, but Douglas owns the movie as the slick seducer. Also, shoulder pads, bad décor, and cell phones the size of bricks.

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I mean, come on — look at that thing.

Movies for a Millennial: Amélie (2001)

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet creates whimsical cinematic contraptions that lack a human soul. Amélie is the exception: an intricate storybook romance about a waiflike waitress (Audrey Tautou) who follows a series of good deeds down a path that leads unexpectedly to her heart’s desire. This film popularized the urban legend of the traveling garden gnome; later, Travelocity would adopt him as a mascot.

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Seriously, dude booked some MAJOR frequent-flyer miles.

Movies for a Millennial: Run Lola Run (1998)

This is a “gimmick” movie, in which the story repeats three times, each telling a tweaked by a butterfly effect leading to dramatically different endings, as lowlife Lola (Franka Potente) races to raise the cash that will bail out her boyfriend from certain death. There are some moments of honest drama and emotion amid the frantic goings-on, but also a number of random contrivances on the sprint to the finish line.

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Second to nun.

Airplane! (1980)

For my niece, who asked me to recommend some movies from slightly before her time.

Earth’s most quoted comedy, Airplane! pours a dense layer of jokes and sight gags onto the plot of an obscure 1950’s drama to create a spoof of 1970’s-era “disaster” movies (in which dramatic subplots would play out against the backdrop of some catastrophe). Its secret weapon was a cast of veteran TV actors (such as Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack, pictured center), better known for their dramatic roles, delivering the goofy dialog with perfectly straight faces.

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New Project Launch: JJ Curran Crane

Working with graphic designer Cindy Romano and the team at JJ Curran Crane, Inc., we have just launched the redesigned website for JJ Curran Crane, a Michigan company with over 60 years of lifting experience.

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Built using Drupal, the site features a dramatic front-page slideshow, a custom-programmed rental request form, detailed profiles of major projects, an interactive timeline of the company’s history, and much more.

Drupal’s ability to define custom content types was very useful in this project. Even pages with complex layouts require no HTML skill to edit and maintain, which will allow the company’s front office staff to post news and project updates whenever they want.

WordPress or Drupal — Which Should Your Business Use?

A client recently encountered an IT professional who was very enthusiastic about using WordPress for building business websites. Long popular as a personal publishing tool, WordPress is indeed evolving into a versatile content management system.

But WordPress is just one of two platforms to watch in the coming years. The other one is Drupal. Whereas WordPress is primarily a blogging system, Drupal is an multi-purpose CMS with a toolbox big enough to solve any publishing problem.

In this article, we will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems as they affect business users.

Search Engine Optimization

A great deal of SEO outcomes are beyond the ability of any CMS to improve. The most critical is making sure the website has lots of keyword-rich writing of benefit to readers; only the business and/or its ad agency can supply that.

But there are a few points where the content management system can help, by automating routine chores and enforcing consistency. The <TITLE> tag of each page should reflect that page’s subject. The URL should suggest an organizational structure, rather than all pages dumped into the root folder. The <META> “description” tag should contain a summary of every page, which Google may display in search results.

On all these points and more, WordPress and Drupal are in the same state: incomplete. Both systems require add-on modules to provide the most SEO benefit. Happily, these modules are free and easy to find, but they must be installed and configured properly.

Out of the box, WordPress can create SEO-friendly URLs, using a collection of pre-set patterns, plus a custom option. A module for Drupal titled Pathauto provides the same function there.

Advantage: WordPress, but only a little

Custom Data Formats

Many businesses need to display data to their customers in a specific, structured format. Perhaps it’s a listing of rental equipment that changes from time to time. Maybe it’s a product catalog with detailed specs and a picture for each item.

In both WordPress and Drupal, one could create a series of blog articles to list and display these items, but a blog is an imperfect solution. A blog article consists of a title, text, and some categorization, such as tags. If it’s important for items to always display certain specs, or follow a consistent graphic layout, there is no way for a blog to enforce such rules.

Only Drupal goes further, by allowing the site administrator to create custom content types, with fields for every detail needed. Each content type gets its own data-entry system that makes management easy and foolproof. And when it comes time to display the results, a Drupal module called Views can create grids, lists, or any specialized layout needed.

Advantage: Drupal

e-Commerce

On their own, neither Drupal nor WordPress have e-commerce functions, but both platforms have free add-on systems available for these functions. Drupal takes it a tiny step further, with a distribution package called Commerce Kickstart, a turnkey solution that installs Drupal plus commerce modules and needed functions all at once.

Advantage: None

Blogging/Page Creation

A well-written blog can help a business in many ways: It can answer customer questions, establish the business as an expert in its field, and create an always-growing body of keyword-rich articles that can lead Google users to the site.

Both WordPress and Drupal have blogging functions built in, but those in WordPress are more polished and easier to use, unsurprising given its origins as a blogging platform.

Both systems allow articles to be grouped into categories, and also tagged with keywords that help readers find related content quickly. But WordPress’ functions are more elegant and intuitive than Drupal’s, for example, allowing new categories to be created on the fly.

The WordPress text editor, the heart of any publishing system, is pleasant and uncomplicated. Built using the TinyMCE editor, the uncluttered toolbar has only the most-used editing functions. Adding images into articles is effortless; just click “Add Media” and then drag items from your computer into the browser.

By default, Drupal offers no text editing toolbar, but can be configured to use TinyMCE or several other editing systems.

Want to edit a blog from an iOS or Android device? Only WordPress offers free apps for both. For Drupal, a third-party iOS app named Drupad costs $5 and does not work very well.

Advantage: WordPress

Social Media

The toughest challenge for any business website is attracting readers. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn let customers spread the word about products and services. There are helpful add-ons for both WordPress and Drupal, but the Jetpack module published by WordPress is especially noteworthy, because it incorporates in one module the two most vital social media tasks: Publicizing new site content to the business’ social media sites, and a sharing bar that lets readers share articles with their friend lists.

Advantage: WordPress

Design and Development

Some people think that WordPress imposes a “cookie cutter” look and feel on its websites, but that’s only because many WordPress users change few graphic settings from their defaults, such as selecting a theme. But WordPress, like Drupal, can be styled to meet any company’s exacting layout needs.

WordPress and Drupal both support mobile devices by using responsive design, in which the page layout adapts itself to smaller screens rather than merely shrinking to fit.

Both platforms have a large and growing library of modules that extend the system to do more things, and if a needed function doesn’t exist, there are many talented developers who can create one for either platform.

Advantage: None

Conclusion

If a business intends to publish frequently and make heavy use of social media, then WordPress is a better business choice. If a business website needs to wrangle large amounts of delicate data, then it should run on Drupal. Apart from these distinctions, either platform is a good choice.