2012-05-13

If you're ever in Vegas, looking for entertainment...

... think at least twice before you see the Blue Man Group.

I hereby submit some of the worst money I've ever spent on entertainment:


First of all, this show is expensive. It's going to cost you $75 per person for an obstructed view. That's sort of in line with other shows in Vegas, perhaps a bit pricier. But that brings me to my second point:

It's not comparable to other shows in Vegas.

You're going to have a better time going to a movie theater. You don't even have to check what movie is playing. If you're in Vegas, just buy tickets to any movie playing at Rave Motion Pictures Town Square, and you're going to have a better time. Guaranteed. Unless the movie is Jack & Jill. And perhaps even then, maybe.

If you don't feel compelled to see Blue Man Group:
  • You could use the same money to see ten movies with your mate.
  • You could have a more than delicious dinner for two at Sushi Samba.
  • You could take your significant other to Spearmint Rhino, and have 5 lap dances, each.
  • You could bet it all on roulette and maybe double your money. Even if you lose, you still win - by not having to endure the Blue Man Group.
All of these would be better uses for $250.

Let me put it yet another way:
  • I've seen the Penn & Teller show in Rio twice. If someone gave me tickets, I would go see it again. Penn & Teller are genius.
  • I've seen Mystère at TI. If someone gave me tickets, I would go see it again. Mystère is a showcase of human athleticism in performance.
  • I've seen Zumanity at New York, New York. If someone gave me tickets, I would go see it again. It's trashy and crude and not as good as Mystère; but hey, free show.
  • If someone gave me tickets to Blue Man Group, I would bail.
  • In fact, if someone paid me $100 to see Blue Man group again, I would bail.
  • I would maybe see Blue Man Group again for $1,000. But I'm not sure about that.

If you do feel compelled to see the Blue Man Group, then let me go ahead and tell you what you're going to witness.
  • You're going to see 3 guys wearing blue latex pretend they're stupid while beating melodies on cheap plastic pipe instruments, usually accompanied with a rock band.
  • The most sophisticated talent you're going to see in the entire performance will be a guy catching thrown marshmallows with his mouth. He catches approximately 75%, and attempts to play it off when he doesn't.
  • The music isn't that good, and the performance isn't impressive.
  • There are no feats of athleticism that you might see in Cirque du Soleil.
  • There are no impressive sleights of hand, nor witty comedy you might expect from Penn & Teller. The performers don't attempt any difficult tricks. What they do attempt is cheap and easy, and they are slightly clumsy. They don't speak.
  • Not most, but all of the comedy comes from the blue guys looking at everything like they're stupid, attempting to imitate autism on stage.
  • While there are laughs to be had from silent comedy based on actions and movements, this show doesn't provide many. To be fun to watch, performers would have to be fast, precise, and unpredictable. But they're slow, clumsy and boring.
  • For most of the show, you're going to sit there and expect that whatever is going on - for example, blue guys strutting around, peering absentmindedly into the audience - is a clever setup for some gag. Time after time, it will peter out and transform into something unrelated, but stupid.
  • Parts of the show are dominated by uncomfortably bright strobe lights that make it painful to keep your eyes open. The good part is that not much is happening, so you don't have to watch.
  • The grand finale of the show consists of extremely long rolls of white toilet paper being unrolled from the ceiling onto the audience in the back. The audience is expected to pass the bulky unrolled toilet paper onto the people in front of them, who continue to pass it on until all of the toilet paper is picked up from the front row. There is no point to it, and it's not a setup for a gag. The gag is that you're helping convey unrolled toilet paper.

We did observe that some people enjoyed the show. Their enthusiasm escalated markedly after the final act of passing toilet paper down the rows.

We think you're going to enjoy this show if you're the following type of person:
  • You enjoy people pretending to be stupid, and silently looking dumb.
  • You have a strong crowd instinct, so that any group activity, such as passing toilet paper over your head, makes you happy.
  • You enter the theater while drunk or stoned.

Which brings me to...


This is probably the first show ever where I was compelled to go back to the ticket box to complain about the quality of the show. It went something like this - from memory:

Me:Well... I just got out of this performance, and I have to say that... "disappointed"... would be an understatement.
Salesman:I'm sorry to hear that.
Me:I understand you don't offer refunds for people who want to change tickets or miss the show, but - I'm wondering if you offer refunds in case of complaints about the quality of the show. Such as, the show being really, really bad.
Salesman:We don't offer any such refunds, no. Can I see your tickets?
Me:Here you go.
Salesman:If you just saw this show, why do your tickets still have the stubs?
Me:They just scanned them. The bar code here. They didn't take the stubs.
Salesman:Oh, I see.
Me:So, are there any refunds for people who are very disappointed with the show?
Salesman:Did you stay in the theater until the end?
Me:Sigh... Yes. I kept hoping it would get better. But it only got worse.
Salesman:Well, since you saw the show in its entirety, we can't give you a refund, no.
Me:I see. You know - I don't even want a refund to save money. It's to make a point. This show is so bad - you should put a warning on it.
Salesman:[shrugs]

And so went my $250.

Why is Blue Man Group so bad?


Blue Man Group shows every sign of being a corporate show: built to make money first, and entertain second, rather than than the other way around.

Can you name anyone whose reputation is tied to whether this is a good show?

I can't think of a single person. Performers are intentionally anonymous. The blue latex makes the three main performers indistinguishable from replacements. Their roles are designed to not require special talents or abilities - athletic or otherwise. The main roles of the show are designed for performers who are easily replaceable; just the opposite of superstars, who are expensive, talented, and irreplaceable.

The background of the show consists of one or two dozen musicians, who have even less identity, and are even more expendable. The stage is cheap. The props consist of paint, marshmallows, and lots of recycled paper.

This show is built like a Toyota. It's reliable, it's reproducible, and it consists of cheap parts. It's not inspired; it's not stunning.

And that's fine. It's okay to be cheap, reliable, and reproducible, if you're passing the savings to the consumer. I.e., you would expect the tickets to be $10.

What you don't expect is to see a show like this, and pay for it like it's the pinnacle of entertainment, in one of the best known hotels in a city renowned for its entertainment.

The Blue Man Group, as presented at the Venetian, is like a regular Big Mac, produced by regular minimum wage employees, served in a regular fast food environment, stiff chairs and plastic trays and all; but sold at the price of a gourmet Kobe Beef steak in a high-end restaurant.

The only quality this show has is that it's profitable - at the expense of guests who expect that a $100 show at the Venetian might actually contain something worth seeing.

2012-05-10

Economic woes of the US middle and low classes

My previous post was about religion and its scary effects on a powerful democracy such as the US. However, I started the post by saying good things about the US economic system. This attracted some comments, pointing out the growing income inequality in the US, the unemployment and the lack of income growth for middle and low classes.

I'm not decided on whether that trend is as grim as commonly assumed. For the time being, I think it's plausible to say that employee wages aren't growing, because employees have to compete with products and services provided by developing countries. That's harsh on US employees because they live in a first world country with first world costs, but they have to compete with third world workers who live on third world costs.

From a global perspective, someone who earns a minimum wage of $7.50 per hour, or whatever it is, is still vastly overpaid compared to a Chinese guy earning a few dollars a day. The only competitive advantage of the American person is that he's living in the US, not in China. He doesn't work harder or smarter, he just benefits from being born in the US.

Over time, this situation will normalize such that the Chinese will be richer. Their incomes are growing fast, and will catch up with the developed world. Then, they will no longer exert downward pressure on wages in the US and elsewhere.

The situation in the meanwhile is that those who can benefit from the new markets, can benefit tremendously. Those who can offer a globally attractive competitive advantage, those whose talents are in scarce supply, are rewarded richly. But those who don't have a competitive advantage suffer stagnating wages. That sucks for employees in the US, and elsewhere, who want wages that are globally high, but can't offer commensurate value, other than that they were born there. But on the other hand, the process is a boon for hundreds of millions of Chinese, and other truly poor people in developing nations, whose incomes are growing fast, and lifting them out of poverty for the first time in history.

Overall, US workers have had it great in the decades since WW2, and their standard of living improved to much higher levels than the standard of living of most people on Earth. Now it's time to let the rest of the world play catch up. That, of course, is the part that hurts.

2012-05-09

Yes, we are afraid

Let me tell you a few facts, some of them scary.

The United States is the world's largest economy according to nominal GDP. It's the world's largest democracy, and by far, the world's largest military force. It is capable of destroying the world many times over, but it thinks of itself as the world's protector; a beacon of prosperity, democracy, and liberty.

To a large extent, the US is those things. US citizens are prosperous, not because the country would sit on an abundance of natural resources, sell them to the rest of the world, and do nothing else; but because the country employs an economic system its participants can depend upon - a system that emphasizes honesty, consistency, dependability, and responsibility. As opposed to many places, the US system creates an environment where risk-taking is possible, and rewarded generously. The result has been a prosperous economy that makes even poor US people richer than middle-income people in many countries.

The US is also relatively free. It might not be, socially, the free-est country anywhere in the world; but it's up there. It's large enough, and free enough, that if you dislike social mores in your environment, you can move across the continent to a state that's more to your liking.

The US has issues on which there's polarizing public discourse; such as the role of money in politics, military adventurism, the health care system, and others.

But what I want to talk about is this.


Evolution is the only accepted scientific theory about how humans came to be. It implies that human biological lineage is hundreds of millions of years old, and dates back to very simple organisms in ancient oceans. Its main opponent is the creationist hypothesis, which implies that the Universe was created as recently as 6,000 years ago. This hypothesis is believed largely by people who subscribe to an Abrahamic religion, and is spread mainly by them.

Now, religion specializes in claims that are unverifiable on purpose. But over time, the domain of science expands, and it becomes possible to disprove some religious claims. Religious beliefs are benign as long as they remain restricted to claims that can't be verified. But the problem is, they don't remain so restricted. The inclination towards blind faith is harmful when it encourages belief in claims that have been conclusively disproved.

The problem, then, is that up to 60% of the US population are being incapacitated by religion to such an extent that they reject, or do not accept, one of the most important bodies of scientific knowledge, backed by mountains of empirical evidence, which anyone who sets their mind to it can validate and reproduce.

So why is this worrying?

Well, it's worrying because it's a departure from reality; and when the human mind departs from reality, reality does not follow with it. When your behavior and expectations are at odds with how nature works, you're going to be surprised in all sorts of unexpected and undesirable ways. The people who believe these things also believe in restrictive social mores which are not founded in evidence, make little to no sense, and tend to punish draconically for harmless transgressions.

When a plurality, perhaps even the majority, of population are this unreasonable, the very fact that they have voting control over the world's largest democracy, it's largest economy, and it's largest military, is worrying.

In United Arab Emirates, today, kissing in a taxi can get you a year in prison. The US is already not far from that. Possession of a harmless plant lands you in jail. Many people with largely innocent transgressions are being added to sex offender registries for life. Religion is the main uniting force through which this intolerance spreads, and disbelief in evolution is the dead canary in the coal mine.

Religious belief is not harmless. Reasonable people need to fight against it, or else that's the end of liberty, for everyone.

2012-05-02

WoW: Solving the Blizzard raid frame problem

If you play World of Warcraft as a healer, and you use the default Blizzard raid frames that were introduced in Cataclysm, you may have experienced a common problem where the raid frames become corrupted.

This problem manifests in the following ways: whenever a person enters or leaves the raid or battleground; or when anything else happens that would cause the frames to rearrange; some or all of the frames stop functioning correctly. The names on frames no longer properly correspond to the players these frames target. A single player's name may appear on multiple frames, but only one of those frames actually targets the right person.

The reason this problem occurs is because of an unfortunate and subtle interaction between Blizzard raid frames and third-party add-ons. The default raid frames expect to execute with privileges that WoW reserves only for trusted, Blizzard-provided UI code. When the frames work correctly, the buttons that correspond to individual players will adjust when a person enters or exits the raid while you're in combat. This in-combat adjustment of frames is a feature that's available only to trusted, Blizzard-provided code, but is not available to third-party add-ons.

Before the ability to move frames while in combat was removed from third-party add-ons, there were healing add-ons which sorted raid frames automatically by health percentage. This made it possible to heal with relative effectiveness by just repeatedly clicking the same button, which made manual healing boring, and made it easy to fully automate healing.

So how do the raid frames stop working?

Since secure code and insecure code in WoW can interact, Blizzard implements a "tainting" mechanism, which tracks how the insecure code is executed, and may cause a previously secure component to be labeled "insecure" if it is influenced, even in a very subtle manner, by code that is insecure. This, in a nutshell, is how the raid frames stop working. Another add-on - quite frequently an add-on that's completely unrelated to raid frames - causes the raid frames to become "tainted". This, in turn, causes WoW to start treating raid frames as insecure code, which means that the raid frames can no longer adjust while in combat. When the code that implements the raid frames tries to adjust to a person entering or leaving, the internal WoW security mechanisms prevent that from working properly, and the raid frames end up being corrupted.

If you're like me, you run WoW with something like 15 different add-ons. You're willing to give up some of them, but not others. So how do you determine which add-on is causing the problem?

Fortunately, there's an easy way. Create a macro with the following contents:

/run print(issecurevariable("CompactRaidFrame1"))

Give it a name like "Taint", and bind it to a key so you can execute it easily, at any time.

When you execute this macro, it will print to your chat log either the following:

1 nil

indicating that the raid frames are secure and untainted; or, it will output the following:

nil NameOfAddOn

indicating that the raid frames are tainted, and the listed add-on was involved.

Not all the add-ons involved in the tainting will be shown at once. However, the name of one add-on is enough to disable it, and then you can repeat the process until your raid frames are no longer being corrupted.

In my case, using WoW patch 4.3.4.15595, the offending add-on was Altoholic, and its component, DataStore. In your case, the offending add-on might be something different.