Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Americans: “If I can’t have it, neither can you.”

Posted in Holiday, Jobs, Law by Elliott Back on December 15th, 2010.

I was reading the news today and came across this article, US sues school over denial of Muslim pilgrimage, which details an interesting case of law:

The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district Monday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion. [...]

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year. [...]

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

Interesting stuff. As an employer, I believe that you should make every possible effort to strike reasonable work-life balance for your employees. Unpaid time away to get married, look after family, and fulfilling religious obligations are all the sorts of things that you would reasonably expect accommodation for. In more civilized countries, you would be accorded sufficient paid holidays to do much of this. Unfortunately, in the United States, by law, there is no requirement to offer any holidays at all!

Ignoring the religious and racial overtones in this news article, what I found interesting was the comments thread. Check these high-rated gems out:

  • “they want, want, want but don’t want to give. Special treatment! Whatever happened to the (former) American work ethic?”
  • “Contract, obey the rules and live with them or dont sign up”
  • “Whoever hired her should be fired.”
  • “This is a sham on the american way of life”
  • “Seperation of Church and State. Take a Religous Holiday when everyone else does.”
  • ” She signed a contract, then did not like it. Tough. Think I like paying my credit cards? No, but I have a contractual relationship to pay .”
  • “What a bunch of bull. This should not even go to court. She should be denied time off for this. Try this at a real job and they will tell you “no”! Here is why, if you want the time off then use your vacation time. That is what it is for. Your employer is not obligated to give you any more time off then what you have accrued.”

It’s an interesting fact that Americans have the least paid vacation days in the world (0 by law), some of the most mediocre students in the world, the largest wealth-gap between the rich and poor, etc. Yet when confronted by an individual who is trying to improve the American standard of living (by advocating for improved time-off rules), American internet commenters essentially say, “I don’t have this right; why should you?”

I don’t understand this.

Do you want America to suck? You should be cheering this woman and the ALCU on, because they are fighting for your rights. (If you feel like commenting that I’m an elitist foreigner who should shut up and work harder, please don’t even bother to leave a comment.)

Update: It’s nice to see Netflix lets its staff take as much holiday as they want, whenever they want – and it works come out today.

Amazon.com Promoting Internet Explorer 8?

Posted in Amazon, Browsers, Microsoft by Elliott Back on April 17th, 2010.

I was browsing Amazon shopping for a random item when I came across the following advertisements promotion Internet Explorer 8 as the “optimized for Amazon” way to “click, shop, and browse.” Check out the following ads, which showed up for me when I was using the Chrome browser:

While Amazon no doubt has the right to promote whatever browser it prefers, allying itself with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is the worst choice. Google Chrome is on the up-and-up, innovating a new faster web browsing experience, and capturing market share from Microsoft and Firefox. While Microsoft might be able to pay cash for coveted ads on Amazon’s massive web properties, Amazon, a company founded on Open Source software should be supporting and nurturing other open source technologies. Webkit might be the next renderer in it’s third-generation colour Kindle tablets–a technology that Google has heavily contributed to through its Chrome project. In the long run, Amazon would be better served promoting the open source software that powers its commercial success.

Staten Island Film Festival 2009

Posted in Movies, NYC by Elliott Back on June 7th, 2009.

I went to the Staten Island Film Festival today to watch Block Three: Love Is Hard To Find (1 hr 28 min). I saw the following films:

Love Bombing (7 minutes)
Director: Philip Lepherd


Four friends discuss the cult recruitment technique of ‘Love Bombing’. Three of them seem to know an awful lot about it. Is it possible they’ve tried the technique before?

I thought this film was absolutely a blast, from the brilliantly sharp production quality and cinemetography, to the lovely accents and crisp dialog. It’s a great short film on the concept of Love Bombing, a process cults use to attract new blood. Check out the trailer on IMDB, too, it’ll give you some sense of it.

Number Nine (26 minutes)
Director: Brendan Ferrer


Set in an underwear factory called Material World Garments, Number Nine tells the story of Inspector #9, a meek briefs inspector who is color-blind. This could be the worst day of #9’s life, until he meets Miss #9, his equivalent in the brassier department.

An excellent short film, Brendan’s choice to shoot in black-and-white perfectly matches the total colour-blindness of the protagonist. The 35mm gives the film and old-style Three-Stooges feel (although Brendan said he was shooting for Chaplain). At 26 minutes, it’s probably 6 minutes too long, but it rarely drags.

Avatars (30 minutes)
Director: Michael Ofenheim


When Lisa catches her husband, Tyler, cheating on her in cyberspace, HotWetLinda turns the tables on TyMeUp. And, when their avatars meet on a blind date, Lisa discovers that in real-life, two online wrongs CAN make a right.

Although you can buy this movie on Amazon, I don’t recommend watching it. From the start it drags–the cheating husband is so terrible an actor that you feel neither annoyed at him for being a bastard nor sorry for him for losing his love, but total apathy. The mercilessly repeated punchline “So, do you have any Pot?” is Avatars only attempt at humour. The plot itself is tripe, trying to weave together notions of solipsism and internet dating, with a touch of the implausible Nigerian 419 email scam. I don’t know if the director’s brains were addled with pot himself when he did this–but it’s no good at all.

2095 (25 minutes)
Director: Troy Romeo


A young man who falls in love with a woman he thinks is his female co-worker, discovers that his own computer may offer him more than any human ever could.

There’s an interview here. As for the film, it was OK. I felt that too much time and effort ($40,000 and 4 years, according to the director) were spent on the production, leaving the screenplay a bit spaghetti. Its major flaw is that it spends most of the time focusing on the things that don’t matter, and then blitzes by the important developments in seconds.

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