Bob Loblaw's Law Blog
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Oct
28

This weekend, we watched a movie called Stay Alive with Milo Ventimiglia, Frankie Muniz, and a bunch of other actors who don’t really matter because it was a horror movie that barely broke the surface of the movie scene last year.  In the movie, main character Hutch’s friend is murdered at the very beginning, leading Hutch to get ahold of the last video game his friend would ever play.  The gang quickly realizes that as users log on to the “Stay Alive” game, they suffer the same deaths as their avatars in the game.

Expectations were extremely low, but surprisingly, we enjoyed the movie.  I would definitely not recommend it for non-Horror fans, but if you like a good Fall scare dealing with MMOGs…it’s a thumbs up (and a quite random one at that…).

This is why I don’t play World of Warcraft.  Because it would ultimately lead to my perpetual doom and destruction.

Ok…So I may or may not be slightly exaggerating.

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Oct
23

After registering with Second Life and going through the most painful setup/registration I have ever completed, it asked me to login with my fake name which I had already forgotten.

Insert groaning and eye-rolling here.

Download the client. Download the update. Yada, yada yada…

I’m sorry, but I can’t help but be pessimistic about Second Life.  I don’t think its a good idea, and honestly, I think its quite lame.  I’ve never played The Sims. I’ve played Animal Crossing once and hated it (albeit, before online gaming was capable).  I’m just not a fan of having a “second life”. I’m happy with the one I’ve got.

I played around in the tutorials for a bit. I walked around. I rode a segway. I flew.  I tried talking to a few people.  I just don’t understand why people can’t do the same things they do in Second Life another way.  Can’t we call our business partners?  Can’t we have meetings in private chats?  Can’t we conduct business transactions via paypal or any other normalized process?

I guess I can’t knock Second Life to those who use it “just for fun”, but seriously, I can’t understand why people would waste so much time scripting and creating this world just for fun.  I don’t get it, and will probably not become a regular Second Life.

Oct
22

In 1985, Nintendo developed and published Super Mario Bros., a game that went on to affect many youngsters’ childhoods and change the video game world forever (its impact can still be seen today on the Wii, as the franchise is as strong as ever). You all know it—a left to right, 2-D game of exemplary proportions. And by “exemplary proportions”, I pretty much mean “simple, basic, and fun as hell”. The granddaddy of all video games (at least to this 80’s child), Super Mario Bros. blew Pong out of the water and repainted gaming with bright colors and intricate worlds…at least for the time. While reading Andrew Hinton’s “We Live Here: Third Places and the Information Architecture of the Future”, I couldn’t stop thinking about my favorite little Italian plumber and asking myself: “How did we get here?”

I consider myself to be pretty with it. I’m a MySpace-r and I’m on Facebook; I enjoy fan forums and other Wiki-phenomena; and I also own a Wii. Despite all this, and even being fully aware of online gaming capabilities and the new-found abilities of the X-box 360, PS3, and Nintendo’s Wii, I was still shocked and amazed by taking a step back and really discovering just how far video games can reach. I’ve never played Quake or World of Warcraft, though I always understood them to be an up-and-coming genre of gaming. I havn’t even played an online game through my Wii yet because I’m still stuck downloading Super Mario Bros. and the original Zelda off of the Virtual Console.

Hinton’s description of the Quake began with a few of the conditions id Software had created in order to ensure Quake’s massive appeal. Hinton writes that they created “A game with open standards that allowed anyone to create new maps and game modifications, an open language (called QuakeC) that turned anybody with rudimentary C programming knowledge into an immediate game hacker, and a function that allowed users’ game servers to automatically update location and status at id Software’s central directory, so that any Quake player on the Internet could browse for a quick pickup game.”

Even Mario would be amazed….and probably overwhelmed!

As Hinton continues, “The truly amazing phenomenon, however, is the rapid growth of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs),” and he is absolutely right. “Multiplayer” online games were simply not enough anymore. Now, online gaming would be created to support hundreds and thousands of players, instantly and simultaneously, allowing all players to utilize a “massively shared world as a digital representation of yourself or a role-played character”.

Hinton’s point is interesting: “Game environments serve as useful prototypes for the future of conventional networked software design, both in the literal sense of learning from particular design patterns and in the more oblique sense of game architecture as archtype.” If the technology is here, and we are capable of such in-depth, online social interaction (or “experiences”) then why not? Onward to the future!

However, as I read B.J. Pine and J.H. Gilmore’s “Welcome to the Experience Economy”, I started thinking. Gamers don’t want to just move left to right on the screen in simple, two-dimensional ways. They want to be a part of a larger world. Something they can affect, control, manipulate, and much, much more. They wanted the experience, and not just the simple hour of escapism. This really has turned into a way of life.

As Pine and Gilmore explain, our economy is at a state of “experience”, where consumers want to feel something interesting and unique. Memories they will never forget and experiences that will remain in their brains for days and years to come. Commodities, goods, and services were discussed including the decline of goods and commodities once the service industry boomed; and more recently, the decline of the service industry now that the experience economy has hit us. Walt Disney had it right: Theme parks, experiences, and lodging your brand name into the heads of your “guests”. Hershey Park and the Rainforest Cafe were also great examples. Going out to eat. Boring. Riding a normal roller coaster. Simply not good enough. As Pine and Gilmore imply, we all know where the money is really at: Exploding fountains of chocolate and the shrill screams of baboons during a mock-thunderstorm. I know that’s what I want to hear as I’m chewing on a dry, overcooked burger!

I was sincerely taken aback by Pine and Gilmore’s writing. It was extremely interesting to read, and extremely true, though I don’t think many people really think about the types of marketing involved and the types of interactive experiences that are necessary in order to truly captivate an audience’s attention and make money on a product or service. The more interactive and the more out-of-your-element the “experience” can be, the more positively our society will react.

Seriously…do we all have major A.D.D or what?

I stand by what I said before. Onward to the future! Pro-technology! Log on to World of Warcraft and Second Life and blow things up, have a business meeting, or do whatever it is you do in that world. It’s just that sometimes I long for the days when everybody was simply stomping on Goombas and throwing fireballs at Bowser.

 

 

 

 


Oct
18

The Rise of iTunes: When music downloading and cell phones collide

A majority of today’s music marketplace rests on the sales of digital music via the Internet. Even more recent, these music sales are being transferred onto mobile media directly, such as the iPhone and other new technologies in the cell phone industry. Even the computer industry has seen an increase in the sales of laptops, rather than desktops, due to peoples’ preferences for mobile technology. Dating back to Napster in 1999, digital music has changed the industry, decreased CD sales, and led the consumer astray from the traditional method of in-store purchasing. These increases in technology have affected the music industry, as a majority of consumers rely primarily on music downloading, legal or illegal. Mobile phones are now in use for downloading music content, and in the future, will eventually replace the mp3 player, including Apple’s own iPod. We project that due to the limiting factors of iTunes and the inability to transfer files as you wish, the Industry needs to find methods to improve its service and coordinate its services with converging technologies i.e., cell phones.

Our sources included a mix of academic journals, newspaper sites, blog entries, and articles from educational books. To start, Dave Kusek is quite the expert in the field. His book “The Future of Music” was published and excerpts of it are posted on his website at www.futureofmusicbook.com. His extensive research covers all areas of the industry including music formats, publishing, file sharing, P2P, and marketing. Through his book and website, we will be filling in what we don’t know with his overview on how the industry is run and his details of the marketplace.

Another source we found from the journal “Advertising Age” is called “Rights protection may restrict digital music, but don’t blame Apple”. This source, by Abbey Klaassen, covers a topic we are still researching: digital music rights. Obviously, this source puts the fault on anybody and everybody that is not Apple, but we do know that DRMs remain a major problem in the realm of music downloading. We will use her work as a stepping stone to dive further into this sector.

Another book we found is called “The Future of the Music Business: How to Succeed with the New Digital Technologies” by Steve Gordon. Gordon’s work is similar to Kusek’s, though focuses mostly on the digital world. Kusek’s book will probably be a lead into Gordon’s, and though we’re still reading this material, Gordon is definitely another expert in the field. (Needless to say, we are going to research more works by these same authors as well).

An article we found pertaining to our topic, called “What’s the Download? Music Survival Guide” written by the WTD Interactive Advisory Board. This article was found online, and consists of strategies for music downloading for consumers regarding how to stay out of trouble. This article also discusses the decline in music sales, illegal file sharing (including court cases), the future of music, cell phones and music, and the rise of legal downloading. We see this as being one of the most important findings so far in our research, and will be reviewing the material extensively.

The PEW Internet Project and Comscore Media Metrix also published an article called “The impact of recording industry suits against music file swappers”. This work contains lots of useful information regarding stats, numbers, and charts along with their findings in the field of music swapping. It also discusses music demographics, which are also an important aspect of our topic. We will most likely use their information and compare it with other sources to ensure solid numbers, (though, this source is highly reputable).

In tackling the topic of the Future of Music Downloading, we are aiming to draw interest in digital music consumers who own cell phones. This includes technology prone people who have significant interest in the music business as a whole. We will also provide perspectives for those with concerns and issues with the current model, and who are anticipating changes in the marketplace.

To research this fully, we have split the topic into three parts: Nick will be covering the introduction and overview of the industry. This includes when downloading started and why, what the problems were then and how downloading has remained in our current trends of music consumption. Sasha will be looking into the problems of online music downloading, by specifically looking into details of iTunes, Zune, and other popular marketplaces for music. She will present our problems statements, which will lead Umut into the final area of research: what is going to happen in the future. He will discuss the eventual elimination of iPods, Zunes, and other mp3 players, and propose the answers to our questions.

Oct
17

For our group project, Sasha, Umut and I are going to be taking a look at the future of music downloading, more specifically, how it should be done and how it will be different from the music downloading of today. We are meeting tomorrow to bang out some more of the details, and also to create our proposal.

Music downloading is so messed up right now. You still have your teens and college kids downloading illegally, and then you have iTunes, selling high quality files but loaded with buzz-killing DRMs. There has to be a happy medium between the DRM movement and the illegal downloaders; something that consumers and producers can both agree on. Our project will find that medium…hopefully. (Just kidding! It will. I’m confident!)

Tomorrow’s agenda will consist of making a few final decisions as to the exact angle of our approach, deciding how work will be split, and also saving a few other dates for other milestones in our project. We are also going to do some group research, and gather more thoughts for our proposal. After tomorrow, I feel we’ll have a great jumping point to sail right into the project and masterfully tackle the topic of music downloading as it pertains to technology and the future.

Oct
08

I hardly ever read the print version of news. Yes, we get it at the house daily, but who has time in the morning to sit back, cup of coffee in hand, and actually flip through pieces of paper that large (maybe on Sundays, but I’m trying to make a point here!). Online news is definitely my choice for consumption because really, there is no limit to it.

As our readings stated this week, the newshole is eliminated. Stories can be easily organized and presented without the worry of space in a tangible paper, sizing, art issues, etc. Even better, online news can incorporate audio and video, and much, much more. Interactive online news turns the industry on its side, creating a much more visual and interesting place for its readers to read content.

I find that the most usable interactive online news features are videos, but even those can be abused. I like having videos available, though I can’t always watch them. CNN sometimes has “video-only” stories, and that’s no good.  I like having the option between the story, in text, and the video so that whatever my mood (or audio capabilities at the time), I can still have access to the content.

I’m not sure if we can judge online news features on being “the most interactive”. I feel that every part of a newspaper’s website is like a piece of the puzzle. You have your videos of stories reported on, then you have a reader poll to judge popular opinion. You have forums and message boards where discussion can be furthered, and also links to write a letter to the editor. Though I find videos the most usable, I’m not sure I’d be able to judge each feature on their individual level of interactivity.

I personally read all my news entirely online, either via CNN.com or ConnPost.com for more localized news. I’ve been using my Google Reader a lot more than I thought I would too (it really turned out to be quite handy!). I honestly don’t know anyone my age who will pick up a print version of a newspaper and actually read it. I’d be interested in hearing from others in favor of print as to why they like it, though I’d assume that anyone within range of my blog is quite fond of online interaction.

It’s inevitable. News will eventually be confined to the Internet and TV Broadcast and I’m OK with it. It’s just more interesting that way.

Oct
06

It’s hard to think that anyone, accepting and understanding of the possibilities of the Internet today, would ever criticize the World Wide Web, given its massive abilities for retrieving and delivering any information users request at any given time. Yet, so is the case with Cass R. Sunstein’s “Democracy and Filtering“. The opposing, pro-“Daily Me” view, is held by Walter Bender. In his “Twenty Years of Personalization: All About the ‘Daily Me‘” writing, he discusses his time spent at MIT and his explorations with the use of interactive computing for news customization purposes. In the following blog, I’m going to discuss the main points of each article, comparing and contrasting them to show the different points of view. I’ll end with my personal stance on the situation. Either way, the role of democracy within a customized news hemisphere remains a very interesting discussion and debate.

Though Bender’s article was written in 2002, he states that he began his work on customization for individual users in the early 1980’s (pretty cutting edge!). It was at the MIT Media Lab where he and his associates coined the term “Daily Me” (which I will be referring to throughout this post; again, the source is here). A few interesting quotes to note on his second page: “The goal was to more deeply engage the reader in the news, ordering priorities and expanding scope rather than restricting it”. He also discusses the “agents” they created: “Paralleling the decision making process of human editors, these agents utilized multiple mechanisms to filter content for individual consumption, with the goal of ‘fine-tuning and prioritizing information based on criteria that include timeliness, importance, and relevance to the audience’—in this case, an audience of one.”

MIT’s News Peek program inhibited these qualities, and was just the tip of the iceberg. Network Plus was a follow-up project that integrated the use of multiple sources for information…which eventually led to a freshman class’s creation of FishWrap (under the auspices of Bender), a program that allowed for a sense of community at MIT, while also providing information from hometowns and the world. Bender and his class even went so far as to create “Page One”: readers added articles that they thought were important to the community, and those articles were ranked on the page according to the number of people who accessed them. Participation was explicit, and users were able to participate in the collaborative process. As Bender put it, “Page One directly leveraged the intelligence of the community by placing the reader in the role of he editor”. To avoid an excess of detail (for more info, the article can always be read), Bender’s experiences at MIT saw it coming: Consumers will no longer just consume. As we know, the consumer is now part of the creation process and can collaboratively aid in the process.

However, Bender does note that the Daily Me is still viewed by some as, what he quoted, “dangerous and deluded”. Well…is it? According to Sunstein, it is.

Although Sunstein does note that in many ways, the Internet is a good place for democracy, his main goal is to persuade readers that Bender’s “Daily Me” is destroying democracy and simplifying our minds. If we are not able to experience “unanticipated encounters” in our news reading (due to personalized news pages), then we are avoiding important topics at hand; topics we may not choose to read initially, but that are of importance to our society and democracy. He writes: “A risk with a system of perfect individual control is that it can reduce the importance of the “public sphere” and of common spaces in general. One of the important features of these spaces is that they tend to ensure that people will encounter materials on important issues, whether or not they have specifically chosen the encounter. And when people see material they have not chosen, their interests and even their views might change as a result”. Interesting. Sunstein’s notion of group polarization is also a key point to note, stating that after deliberating with one another socially, like-minded people will always be communicating together. Does this foster an argumentative, interesting, debatable society or only allow people to solely think in the manner that they would’ve anyways?

Though I personally don’t totally accept all of Sunstein’s points (which I deem to be a tad extreme), it’s an interesting perspective to the notion of customized news pages. I believe that there will always be people with inherently different interests, and all of which should be able to explore and read whatever they want to. Given the technological means and possibilities, why would we hold ourselves back as suggested by Sunstein (I’m sure many journalists will swing towards his train of thought though!). But what about democracy in choice? Having the power to choose what to read and view it however we see fit is also part of our democratic luxuries. I feel that Sunstein avoids this, somewhat, simply because he doesn’t want us to pigeonhole ourselves in what we read. The bottom line is that no one can tell us what we can or can’t read, though Sunstein’s attemptive persuasion falls a little short for me.

Personally, I sometimes force myself to read news stories outside of the realm of my immediate interest. Does it make me sound uneducated or immature to say that I “force” myself to read these things? Maybe, but I don’t care. At least I feel slightly better about myself knowing a little more about what’s around me than I would’ve if I had read Pitchfork or Stereogum all day.

If readers can choose exactly what they see, 100% of the time, will they wall themselves away from serious topics and will that eventually harm us in the long run? I don’t mean to totally discredit Sunstein, though I’m not so sure that I have a definite answer on this.  Any thoughts?

Oct
06

(This post contains spoilers from this week’s episode of “The Office”)

Anyone see this week’s episode of “The Office”? (Probably not, since it airs during our class…TiVo, people! TiVo!). This week, Ryan, the former-temp now corporate head honcho, came back to Scranton full up with Blackberries for the gang. His goal: launch a brand new website called “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” and lead the company to a more technology-prone life. Regional Manager Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) is against Ryan’s new proposals, not able to accept the leadership from one of his former temp workers.

If you know the show, you know the humor lies in the fact that Michael just wants to be the boss, especially the one that everybody likes. He decides to win back some former clients with gift baskets full of chocolate pecan turtles, peanut brittle, and other assorted goodies, claiming that the “business to business approach” is the way to be successful in the paper industry. After complaining about technology for the entire episode, he gets into a car accident while following directions from his GPS (“How does it know!?!?”). He covers his “accident” (driving his car into a lake) on the GPS system, and further leads his campaign to ban technology from the office forever!

Granted, Michael only used the GPS system as fuel for his fire because (if you don’t know the show) he really is just an idiot, albeit, a lovable one. This episode was hilarious in its irony and currency, and is extremely relavant to many of our weekly conversations. The old paradigm vs. the new. Older generations accepting technology and getting accustomed to its ways.

This could only be beneficial, right?

Not according to my father, who can barely type 10 words a minute (ok…slight exaggeration there, keyword: slight). He struggles with the most modern of computer basics: web browsers, checking his email, finding where to click, managing data in files, etc). On his behalf, he is 63, however it baffles me on a consistent basis that a business owner (a small business, but still) cannot work his way around the web when all his files and data are located in the computer (I’ll resist the urge for the “Zoolander” ref).

Point being, this week’s episode of “The Office” made me wonder if there will always be those people that just resist the modern ways of the world. Will people like my dad and Michael Scott always exist? Or are their stubborn ways only a product of a childhood of doin’ it ol’ school? Makes me wonder if everyone will be on board in 10 years…25 years?

I recommend checking out this week’s episode of “The Office” here (episode entitled “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”, click “Watch Full Episodes”) and TiVo “The Office”, Thursdays at 9:00pm, because A) it’s an amazingly funny show and B) because I sometimes find joy in shamelessly plugging things I like on my blog.

Oct
01

A few more readings:

Thanks to the links provided by Jessica Lipnack, I found this article posted in her blog that coincides with our discussion regarding virtual teams. In it, the author Kelly Pate Dwyer discusses rules and checkpoints on how to manage employees “in remote locations.” Like Verzuh, Dwyer discusses the role and strengths of the leader and manager, stating that passion, availability, patience and reliability are key in successfully managing a team. Her “five ways to build trust” checklist also brought up a few solid points that could help any team remain cohesive. Other sections of Dwyer’s piece include “Put Technology to Work” and “Master the Art of Communication” all again very helpful to managing group work and individuals in virtual teams. I suggest the reading if anyone has a spare few and is looking further into this topic.

Also while browsing Lipnack’s website, NetAge, I did find her and Stamps’ 2nd edition of their book “Virtual Teams,” published in 2000. As suggested by Lipnack, I began to read excerpts from the latter book to see if my outlook towards the “planning phases” was completely my fault or generally based on the time I grew up. As I mentioned before via comments, I was not in the corporate world pre-Internet. Although I’m still not sure I’d subscribe to some of the notions presented by the former 1997 version, I found some things in the 2000 edition that I preferred from the former. In Chapter 8, “People: On the Ice Together”, I liked the discussion regarding “complements, not opposites” as they write: “Cooperation requires independence. This apparent contradiction is the challenge of working well with other people.” Chapter 4’s discussion of trust in virtual teams, and the capital earned from it across the board (including virtually) also brought about some good points (Again, “Virtual Teams”, both editions, can be found at her NetAge site).

Jaded outlooks: Is it just me?

Based on my flippant attitude towards this week’s readings and planning in general, I pose to myself: Am I jaded by the readily available technology I’ve had my entire life? And, is that a good thing or a bad thing? The changes that occurred between 1997 and 2000 were huge, but I’d argue most my age didn’t really understand the large effects those years had on technology (or, any three consecutive years, nowadays). The benefits of growing up in the tech-age are obvious, however, I do feel we’ve lost out in a few areas. One, our perceived lack of need (want?) for face-to-face communication, as we’ve discussed the importances and differences a few times now. We’re of a digital kind now, most rather wanting to communicate virtually, rather than in a room full of people (frankly, I almost rather individual work, than group work, but that’s a whole other tangent). And two, our impatience for anything that doesn’t happen now, when we want it and how we want it. It could very well be that I’m an impatient person at times, though technology has quickened our pace of working, thinking and doing. Words like “impatient” and “careless” are too harsh for me to use to generalize “my generation”, though in a way, isn’t this frame of mind exactly how the Internet and surrounding technologies have made us?

Sep
29

Collaborative work needs to be coordinated. I won’t argue against that. Like any other type of group project, there needs to be some sort of structure and more importantly, a leader or two who will step up to guide the project towards the group’s desired end goal and results. However, while reading articles from both E. Verzuh and J. Lipnack and J. Stamps, I couldn’t help but be critical and appalled by some most of their prescribed methods of group interaction.

I definitely favored Verzuh’s article, though allow me to begin at the more absurd: Lipnack and Stamps’ chapter called “Working Smart: A Web Book for Virtual Teams“, from their book Virtual teams: reaching across space, time, and organizations with technology. Throughout the reading, I made notes in the margins, as I usually do. My notes ranged from things like “sharing = good” and “face to face = good”. I think these quite explain my general attitude towards this piece. I found most of what they had to say ridiculous and superfluous. I might be biased, working for a company that is quite informal and a little more lax in its approach, but this piece just seemed too corporate and unnecessary.

Again, I would never argue that collaborative work should be wild at large. Game plans are good. So are strategies , planning, purpose statements, assigning tasks and so forth. However, Lipnack and Stamps suggest 2 complete phases, both largely revolving around intensive conception, which made me think they were more about the planning aspect than the actual “doing” of the project. On page 191 of Chapter 8 of their book, they give details regarding these “phases”, which really seem like extra projects and work on their own. Flow charts, key people listings, bands of involvement, team types, responsibility matrices. Who does that? Sure, it looks and sounds great on paper, but is this realistic? I beg to differ. They write, “…virtual teams benefit enormously from face-to-face meetings.” Yeeeeaaaaah. Rather than harp, I’ll move on.

Verzuh’s “Building a High-Perfomance Project Team” was much better, and often insightful. Within the first two pages, I was already buying into this author much more than the former ones. Verzuh seemed to understand that everything doesn’t always fall into place when you’re working with large groups. “…there has always been an unspoken assumption: that the people on the project team would work together in harmony to build plans, manage risks, perform tasks, and commit themselves to achieving the clearly stated goals of the project. But that is not always the case.” Now we’re getting somewhere.

Verzuh put focus on aspects of group work that were actually important: communication, leadership, keeping morale up, listening skills, meeting management. All good things. I couldn’t help but compare this piece to my own work situation, and the many group projects I’ve been assigned in the past 2 years at my company. I have two “bosses” at work. One of them stresses things like fostering a good work environment, active participation and acceptance of all ideas and opinions, meeting management, a relaxed, stress free environment. I love working with him because he can keep everyone happy and cohesive, while still getting the job done. The other boss is a terrible leader and has terrible managerial skills. She’s a “drop everything and do this for me now” type. She doesn’t take feedback or criticism well. She’s bossy and cold, and we all hate her for it. Working under her is the most painful aspect of working with my current company, and my attitude and output because of her “leadership” (note the quotes) reflects that. Therefore, I was interested in reading about Verzuh’s outlook towards a good leader, because as everyone knows, it’s greatly important towards high-performance and success amongst a group and team project.

Scholarly articles aside, I’m a go-getter. I’m a “get the job done” type of person, though, I don’t feel the need for this much organization and planning. Even for virtual teams, I still feel that situations can be easier to manage than what was suggested by Lipnack and Stamps. Digital communication possibilities are endless. With a solid leader willing and able to keep everyone informed and oversee interactions, positive results can be achieved with much less stress and emphasis on every last little detail. Lipnack and Stamps were attempting to make some sort of organizational sense out of controlling virtual groups, but instead, came across rather muddled and ironically nonsensical.