Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Another True Mother's Day Post

A few facts have been vaguely altered and a few others simply left vague in order to protect the innocent and the guilty (and just generally keep names out of the paper), but the below story is most definitely true. I've just lived it. If you don't believe me... tough!

On the eleventh, Friday, I received an email from my friend Marie announcing a "Greatest Mom" contest from a local promotional entity in honor of Mother's Day. The winner was to get a free spa-day valued at 450USD. Marie, who happens to be a mother, really wanted this prize. Hence the email requesting my vote. Yes, vote. You see, thirty contestants had submitted photographs of themselves as mothers, and the teeming world-wide web populace was now expected to rate each picture on a 1-10 scale so that the area's "Greatest Mom" might be properly recognized and rewarded. Being a loyal friend to those worthy of my friendship, I clicked the link and cast my vote.

One problem, though: A cursory glance showed that each contestant's family and friends had already flooded the polls, each voter rating their horse at 10 and everyone else's at 1. Meaning every picture ranked remarkable low, save one. That one, nothing truly special, held a seven-point-five. All right, who cares? Apparently, I did. A slightly deeper investigation revealed, however, that with everyone voting multiple times (as is the lowly tradition of internet polls) many thousands of votes had already been cast on the merit of each competitor. There seemed very little that one man could do.

Interestingly, however, this man knew just the other man for the job. I placed a call to TheLoneOperative, whose Scandinavian contacts would make quick work of this contest. Imagine the results, if you will, when two-percent of Norway's population votes together in an online poll. This was the plan, but with time zones it would not actually go into effect until the next day, Saturday. But, come the twelfth, Marie's rating shot from a three-point-six to an eight-point-seven. Quite dramatic.

Now, you might ask why I cared so much. So might I ask. But some of it probably had to do with the fact that this contest, before my arrival, was going to a wholesale volume of votes. And I've always felt that the quality of friends is far more important than the quantity. Maybe I was sending the message (if only to myself) that to have me on your side is to have an army on your side. Another factor would probably be the content of the photographs. As I said, the leader was nothing particularly special, but Marie's was of her frequent motherly task of tending to her youngest child's diabetes. A low rating here was insult, as was the scorn given to another photograph, one of a mother reading aloud to her offspring. I made sure a number of Norwegian votes went to the reader, as well. Those votes proved enough to give her a solid third when all was said and done. I also informed Marie of my support for this particular rival, and jokingly begged her not to do me in if the bookworm should pass her in the polls. Not that there was actually anything to fear there.

The next day was Sunday, Mother's Day proper, and nothing really happened. I found out on Monday that I was sick as a dog throughout Mother's Day, but unfortunately I was I actually too sick to know it. It didn't matter, as Marie maintained her lead of 8.7 over the second-highest of 7.5 throughout the entire day. With the tens-of-thousands of ten point votes sent her way, it was little wonder.

Then came the fourteenth, Monday. At 0600 I logged on and checked the ratings. No change. All was safe. At work six hours later, just before heading to lunch, I checked the website again. The main page proclaimed the winner, the "Greatest Mom!" I clicked the link. Our company's network connection is quite fast in itself, but I on the spur of the moment I had borrowed a computer terminal in a different department, and this particular machine was old enough that the page took several seconds to load. The text widened to make room for a smallish version of the winning photograph. The suspense grew. But how could there be any suspense? I knew who had won. And there it was. Only it wasn't. Here, proclaimed the winner before the entire online world, was a different picture. The leader a few days before, prior to the great Norwegian intervention, was being proclaimed winner despite its fall to second place. I was shocked. And somewhat enraged.

Unable to reconcile the differing information points, I logged in after lunch on a more modern computer in my own department and checked the ratings. Marie still led, eight-point-seven versus seven-point-five. Unbelievable. And the polls hadn't actually been shut down. Suspicious.

At day's end I prepared an email to those holding the contest.

I am writing in regard to your "Greatest Mom!" contest.
You have listed a winner, but a different photo has held the higher average since Saturday. I'm a little confused as to the system used; any clarification would be
To put it more simply, I demand a recount!

I again checked the ratings. The polls still had not been closed. Marie, still in the lead, had dropped to an 8.5 rating, which was very strange considering my personal and absolute knowledge that even a few thousand votes could not have dropped her average to an eight-point-six.

Later last night, at home, I found a reply to the above email. Someone calling himself Chino Griffith, Content Coordinator, had willingly written somewhat after normal office hours.

The contest ending on Friday & was removed from the website. Our winner had a higher rating when the voting ending but we are working on a solution.

Hmm. So, if it ended on Friday, why is there anything left to be worked out? And if it was removed from the website, how were 90,000 Norwegians able to access it after that time?!? I checked the main page of their website, and noted that the declaration of a winner had been removed. Maybe they really were going to reach some agreement with both my Marie and their "winner"? Right.

I developed a suspicion, soon confirmed when TheLoneOperative contacted me with his intelligence on Mr. Griffith's activities.

You see, as the individual upon whom responsibility for this online poll fell, Mr. Griffith was obligated to announce a winner Monday morning right after Mother's Day. But he took a shortcut. And a very reasonable one, it seemed. He checked the polls Friday afternoon before heading home, and on the basis of that information designed a proclamitory webpage for the site that could be easily uploaded when he got back into the office on Monday. The pack was so far behind this one entrant that it would take at least, say, seventy thousand votes of 10 to even make it a contest anymore. Considering the fact that fewer than four thousand votes had been cast in all the time the contest had been up, this seemed incredibly unlikely. Blame it on Norway. Or, better yet, me.

So, here was the dilemma. The company conducting this contest had neglected to announce any deadline, meaning that in the eyes of a court of law, votes would have to be counted right up to moment of announcement. Complicating this was the fact that this announcement came without anyone at the company checking the current status of the polls. The announcement of this other individual as the winner of the prize was also legally binding. Someone would have to be out 450 dollars, and maybe a job. Very sad. Unless, unless...

Yes, that is what they intended to do. They gathered hundreds of people to, as many times as necessary throughout the night, vote a "1" on my dear friend Marie's photograph. Twenty-two hours and approximately 25,000 votes later, they had succeeded in bumping Marie's rating back down to a seven-point-one. They placed the announcement of their candidate's "win" on their homepage once more.

TheLoneOperative's warning had reached me hours in advance, certainly enough time to intervene. But, while LoneOp categorically refuses me the right to quote him directly, his message stated essentially "I won't do anything about it unless you tell me to do so." I didn't. There didn't seem to be a point in conducting an ongoing ballot war over something like this, or one where the outcome would be so impossible to predict. But honestly, I think I just felt sorry for Chino Griffith.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

With Special Thanks to NOAA Biologist Mary Hollinger

"Mortimer, could I ask you a question?"

Standard stuff, except that she looked so genuinely frightened. And a frightened teenage girl is never a good sign in this town.

"O.K," I replied.

"Could you help me with something?"

"Tell me about it."

She did.

"I'll see what I can do," is all I said.

At first I was a bit annoyed that she'd given me such a scare. Later that day, however, I could see it in a much more humorous light. This was great! She really is such a sweet little girl. Sweet, I tell you!

For all she wanted was a Mother's Day present for her (you guessed it) mother. Simple as that. The woman, you see, is crazed about turtles. Yes, turtles. Driving along a market road, if a tortoise is seen by the wayside the car must be stopped and the reptile adopted on the spot. Cool, huh? So, for Mother's Day, it was thought appropriate by my creative young friend that her mom should receive an original piece of art depicting a baby turtle hatching from its shell. But alas, she could not draw! But she was delusional enough to believe that I had some talent in the area. So she offered to pay me for the commissioning of a piece. I, of course, snubbed the idea of money. I also refused to promise any results, saying only that I'd see what I could do. That seemed to at least satisfy her and as she walked away she was no longer shaking bodily.

A few words about my "talent": I have none. Of course, I actually have many talents, but I do not possess what most people seem to view as an artistic talent. The stereotype of an individual sitting down with a pencil and paper, making a few sweeping strokes, and rising with a work of artistry simply does not and will never fit me. Then again, it didn't fit many of the "great masters," either. Some would reduce their subjects to grids so as to isolate individual angles and relationships; some would even project entire scenes onto canvass by means of a camera obscura. I use neither technique, but I will admit that virtually all of my sketches began with my finger on a cameras shutter, and that the end results are a product of careful labor's trickle and not artistic inspiration's flow. It has been said that my drawings are more forgeries of my photographs than they are actual art.

None the less, Alice (as I shall call my young acquaintance) had some sort of faith in my ability. And she may have been justified, for a week later she had the finished work in her hands. After plans to take my camera to every nearby herpetological establishment in search of baby turtles (I figured I could draw the egg perfectly well without a real one frame), I finally settled down in front my TV screen and, to the dialog of Bringing Up Baby [1938], produced a Red-Eared Slider leveraging its way from its shell. (I'd neglected to ak Alice her mother's favorite turtle breed, and so chose my own--I always wanted a red-ear as a boy.)

Alice gave the gift the day she received it, and some hours later I received a letter by courier explaining that

Even when I try hard, I can't give a gift on time. I wish I had cash to pay you, but sadly I'm broke.

None the less, a dollar bill jumped out of the letter as I unfolded it, making this my first monetarily commissioned work of art. I'm a pro!

And, according to the letter and the family (I'm better friends with Alice's dad than I am with herself), the gift went over quite well.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Pardon the Brains Dribbling Out My Ear

I'd been told about it. I'm not sure I believed it. But today, today I am no longer the ignorant child I was. For today I have seen. Seen, I tell you!

Yes, I have now witnessed the Star Wars Holiday Special!! I may wear an "I survived the SWHS" t-shirt for Life Day this year.

O.K, so maybe seeing Itchy and Lumpy filled with cheer at the sight of Chewbacca and Han isn't quite the same as seeing Bigfoot anymore (however uncanny the resemblance), now that folk can apparently watch the whole show over the Internet. (I did it the old-fashioned way myself; the only film I ever watched online was His Girl Friday [1940]) But, for those of you wondering if it's really as bad as you've heard I'll just say that yes, it truly is almost as bad as Episode III.

I mean, come on! Hamill, Ford, Fisher, Daniels, Mayhew, and Jones can be bothered for this, but only two show up for NPR's (superb) series? The great Jones took thirty seconds out of a busy schedule for this schlock?

Oh, well, wish me luck. I'm about to try getting back out of Mr. Lucas' vault, and I anticipate much more trouble than TheLoneOperative had smuggling me in.