Why would someone steal a Connect Four set from a charity group?

The title is the question running through my mind on the morning and throughout the day today that I originally started writing this (Monday 2017 May 15). I set it aside for a few days because I was on the fence about whether or not this needed to go up as a blog post. Yes, it’s been a week and a half, but I’m still pissed off enough about it that I think it should. Here is the background:

Saturday afternoon I was manning the Extra Life booth at Comicpalooza. Extra Life is one of the charity/non-profit groups I am involved with, we run an annual gaming marathon every fall (late October or early November, this year it is on November 4). It works just like a lot of other similar fundraiser events; players get others to sponsor them (suggested rate $1/hour or $24) and the money goes to the local Children’s Miracle Network hospital (in our case, Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH)). The event is one of the things we do to get the word out about our group and event as there are still a few out there who have not heard about us (and a few others who are getting us mixed up with at least one other similar event that has popped up since).

Anyway, one of the draws to our booth, at least through the time I closed up Saturday, was a Connect Four game set bought for our group (out of TCH funds, I would later learn). I secure everything as best I can before leaving Saturday evening at around 6:45 pm (I had been there since about 12:45 pm and spent the last 2½ hours or so staffing the booth by myself, for reasons I’m not going to go into here as that aren’t really relevant here). So it was to my horror that I saw a message early this morning that the Connect Four set was completely missing. Poof. Vanished without a trace. Thus, raising the question in the title.

I can somewhat get the idea behind ripping off a for-profit company for a small amount, though it wouldn’t make the theft any more morally acceptable in my eyes or any less illegal. But we aren’t a for-profit game company like the ones that were across the row from us; we are a fundraising effort for a non-profit group. This is just like taking the retail value of the game set out of the jar we have for cash donations, and it’s just as morally wrong in addition to being against the law.

On top of this, the Texas Penal Code section on theft has a specific provision in it enhancing the charge for those stealing from a non-profit organization to the next higher class of offense. And rightfully so: stealing from a non-profit is a particularly despicable act in just about any decent society, more so than a typical “garden variety” theft.

If anyone out there happens to know anything about the theft or the whereabouts of our game set, I would appreciate the information and I will make sure it gets to the appropriate people.

Gordon Ramsay makes it official: “You don’t put … pineapple on pizza”

Per a recent article in the Huffington Post, famous chef Gordon Ramsay had something interesting happen during his latest stint hosting “The Nightly Show” (a British talk show). From the article (profanity present in original quote):

While hosting the late-night British talk show “The Nightly Show,” Ramsay ordered a pizza on TV and turned to the audience for suggestions on toppings.

When one person volunteered “pineapples,” Ramsay was forced to put his call on a brief hold.

“You don’t put #$%&*@ pineapple on pizza,” the chef said, while covering the phone’s microphone. Then, he returned back to the order like a true professional.

Now, I know Gordon Ramsay is quite a controversial figure, with a large number of fans as well as a large number of detractors. The pineapple on pizza controversy pre-dates his popularity and no doubt will persist long after he fades from the limelight. Gordon will never be completely forgotten, the same way Julia Child is still fondly remembered by a generation of cooking enthusiasts.

That said, I’m definitely in Gordon’s camp. Even if I wasn’t, I’d give heavy weight to his opinion. I’ve eaten almost every topping imaginable on pizza, including not just the usual pepperoni, sausage, onions, mushrooms, and bell peppers, but also bacon, ham, salad peppers, jalapeño peppers, olives, tomatoes, and probably many others I can’t remember off the top of my head, with about the only notable topping I am sure I’ve never tried being anchovies (don’t worry, it’s on my bucket list). Pineapple just didn’t work for me. I don’t like olives (in general, not just on pizza) and I am not a huge fan of mushrooms on pizza.

I will eat pineapple. I will eat pizza. But I will not eat pineapple on pizza. You can say what you will about Gordon Ramsay and his penchant for keeping the bleep machine operators working overtime when editing his shows, or whatever you choose to hate about him. But as an authority on food, he definitely nailed this one spot on.

A botched technology squeeze play: The story of Juicero

Not that long ago, Bloomberg reported on Juicero and the surprising revelation that the $400 juicing machine was, strictly speaking, unnecessary and produced results not much better than hand-squeezing the juice packs. From the article:

Juicero declined to comment. A person close to the company said Juicero is aware the packs can be squeezed by hand but that most people would prefer to use the machine because the process is more consistent and less messy. The device also reads a QR code printed on the back of each produce pack and checks the source against an online database to ensure the contents haven’t expired or been recalled, the person said. The expiration date is also printed on the pack.

So basically, the machine exists for sometimes giving you juice, and sometimes saying “Sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”. Given the device costs $400, and the packs for it are priced with a similar needless markup (not to be confused with that needless markup), I really don’t see the advantage.

For some strange reason, I am reminded of the creativity that slot machine manufacturers used to get around laws, by disguising the slot machine as a vending machine for mints. Surprisingly, back in the era during which this was needed, it worked, though from what I remember reading the judges did wonder why so much machinery was needed for the simple task of vending mints. Indeed, I don’t see the issue with scanning QR codes by hand (with my phone, or perhaps with my laptop’s webcam), and looking up the result for a recall (the expiration dates are printed in human-readable form). Or, for that matter, I could pick my own produce and make juice using an old-fashioned juicer.

But then Juicero wouldn’t make any money, and we can’t have that, now can we?

I like technology. But there is a difference between using technology to solve problems, and making a technological solution in search of a problem. The Juicero machine takes its place right next to the failed DIVX discs and players as an example of the latter.

Cookie-cutter failure: thoughts on WordCamp The Netherlands

The Netherlands WordPress team recently announced that WordCamp Central would not approve a WordCamp The Netherlands event for 2017. The blog post is in Dutch of course, but the emails exchanged with WordCamp Central are in English and tell the story quite well.

Let’s keep a few things in mind: The Netherlands is a rather small country. Small enough that the US states of Vermont and Connecticut put together would have a comparable land area, or looking at it another way, The Netherlands has around one-sixteenth the land area of Texas.

The culture over there is a lot different as well. Quoting one email from The Netherlands WordPress team:

The Netherlands has its own culture, which is unaffected by decisions made in other communities.
The second, and more important reason to keep WordCamp The Netherlands is because it is for everyone in The Netherlands. We as a people are proud to be Dutch. Being Dutch is something that unites. Being Dutch overrules all the issues there are between people from different cities and regions.

For example, if we drop WCNL in favor of city-based WordCamps, the people from Amsterdam wouldn’t visit a WordCamp in Rotterdam, or any WordCamp east of Utrecht. The people of Rotterdam wouldn’t visit a WordCamp in Amsterdam, or any WordCamp east of Utrecht. The people from Groningen wouldn’t visit a WordCamp in Eindhoven, and vice versa. Of course, you could argue that WCNL could become WordCamp Utrecht. But that has a few issues too.

I’m keeping the quote as short as I can to get the point across, though it does mention fragmentation and the fact that none of the current WordCamp Netherlands organizers are from the larger cities in The Netherlands, and would thus be disqualified from organizing. (As it stands right now, the first city-based WordCamp in The Netherlands would be in Utrecht, and the status is listed as “Application vetted, Needs Orientation/Interview” as of about a week ago. Unfortunately I did not follow the WordCamp status page closely enough to see when the original application for WordCamp Utrecht was submitted, but I can’t imagine it being all that long ago.)

The response from WordPress Community Support contains quite a few points of note. In order:

We have worked hard in the past eight years to move the WordCamp program away from country-named events and toward city-named events for a number of reasons that focus on the health and longevity of the community as a whole.

While I can see how the city-named model would work in many countries, it is obvious to me that The Netherlands is something different. It’s just a guess, but I suspect that none of the “hard work” mentioned was put into looking at the culture of The Netherlands and why it still had a country-named WordCamp after all this time. Of course, if it was, that’s even more damning, as this change is being forced on the WordPress community of The Netherlands despite knowlege of that cultural difference.

In the case of WordCamp The Netherlands, the discussion around moving to a city-named event has been ongoing for five years. We requested the change (via phone calls or in person, with volunteers or with paid staff) and received verbal agreements multiple times.

There’s a somewhat humorous saying (original author unknown): verbal agreements aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Apparently whoever entered into this verbal agreement either lacked the authority to do so or did so without advising the rest of the community team in The Netherlands. Or, perhaps “verbal agreement” is a misrepresentation of what actually took place during the conversation. If the call starts off “we aren’t approving WordCamp The Netherlands in 2017, you guys need to start organizing city-based events” and the gist of the response is “we still want our WordCamp”, that’s not an agreement, that’s coercion. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but it’s one possible situation.

The Netherlands is not the only community we’ve asked to make this change (other examples include the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, and Israel to name a few). We realize it is certainly a hard thing to ask. But we also have seen benefits for the WordPress community as a whole in areas that have taken this chance.

Do any of these other countries have the same culture as The Netherlands, where they all unite as Dutch at events like previous the WordCamps (held as WordCamp The Netherlands versus WordCamp The Hague, WordCamp Utrecht, etc)? I would be willing to bet the answer is no. How willing were smaller countries like Denmark willing to make the change? I would guess they made it only reluctantly so they could continue to have events.

What does this mean for WordCamp The Netherlands? We previously recommended they rename the event WordCamp Utrecht and continue to do the outstanding work they already do. WordCamps in other countries have moved on to new names and have been successful, and we’re hopeful that the same will happen here.

I read two things in this: “we’re hoping the same ‘cookie cutter’ solution works for The Netherlands despite there being clear cultural differences” and “what we really got our undies in a wad over was the country name as the WordCamp name”. The former is at best rather short-sighted. I’m not even sure how to best characterize what it could mean at worst. The latter is just plain silly. Clearly the Dutch are happier continuing to call it WordCamp The Netherlands. I fail to see the harm in that.

Jumping back to the beginning:

We’d like to start by saying we are truly thankful for the hard work WordCamp organizers in the Netherlands have put into their events over the years. They have invested countless hours working on their events and the community, and we value their dedication and contributions.

Actions speak louder than words. To me, the non-approval of WordCamp The Netherlands 2017 sends quite a different message than the words written in this post. I believe if those in charge of approving WordCamps are truly thankful for the hard work and dedication of the community leadership in The Netherlands, the right move is to maintain the status quo and approve WordCamp The Netherlands 2017, or allow the current WordCamp Utrecht to change its name to WordCamp The Netherlands at the organizer’s option.

[Update 2021-07-25: correct punctuation error]