Posts from March 2017

A new low in obnoxious Internet advertising

March 23rd, 2017

Yesterday I was reading Dispatches from the Culture Wars, one of my favorite blogs, when I encountered a strange error. The page appeared to load fine initially, but after only a second or two was replaced with a “page cannot load” error message:

Patheos

The site had obviously already loaded (and its title was still displayed in the browser tab), so what exactly was the source of the connectivity problem? My suspicions were heightened by the error message itself, which (a) didn’t look like any Chrome error message I’d seen before, and (b) conspicuously focused on ad blockers as a potential source of the problem.

For context, Patheos (“the premier online destination to engage in the global dialogue about religion and spirituality,” according to their about page), the site which hosts Dispatches, is one of the worst offenders when it comes to obnoxious Internet advertisements, so I’ve always used an ad blocker when browsing it. In fact, Patheos is the main reason I bothered to install an ad blocker in the first place. It’s similarly the main reason I switched from Chrome to Firefox as my mobile browser, as the Android version of Chrome does not support extensions like ad blockers.

So I did a little digging and confirmed what I suspected—that error message is fake. Patheos is using JavaScript to replace the entire web page with an <iframe> containing the message, hosted on an external domain. I presume it includes a check for the use of an ad blocker, though the code is obfuscated and I didn’t look closely enough to determine how that works. I simply disabled JavaScript for patheos.com in my browser and all was well again. The main downside is that Patheos uses Disqus for its comment system, and Disqus relies on JavaScript. So I won’t be able to see comments on any posts. Some might argue that’s a good thing.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that advertising pays the bills, and that bloggers like Dispatches’ Ed Brayton rely on ad revenue to keep the lights on. In fact, I paid for an ad-free subscription to Freethought Blogs back when Dispatches was hosted there. But I have no patience for intrusive ads, and those on Patheos are among the most intrusive I’ve ever encountered from a “legit” site. They hijack your browser, take up bandwidth, automatically play video & audio, and generally make browsing the site an unpleasant experience. This fake “page cannot load” message represents a new low, flat-out lying to users in an attempt to manipulate them into disabling ad blockers altogether, and yet is completely in line with the contempt Patheos already shows to its users.

It’s sad how integral advertising has become to everyday internet browsing, and how many otherwise useful sites become virtually unusable due to obnoxious advertisements.

Jordan Peele’s Get Out

March 16th, 2017

I watched Jordan Peele’s sleeper hit Get Out last night, and I really enjoyed it. The central character is Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, a young black man anxious about meeting his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. They spend the weekend at her parents’ rural home, and while the parents at first seem good-natured but awkward, Chris comes to suspect that things are not as tranquil as they seem.

The movie’s genre is a mixture of comedy and horror, which seems odd at first but turns out to serve the film well (think Scream or The Cabin in the Woods), with the lighter parts being laugh-out-loud funny (especially Lil Rel Howery as Chris’s best friend, a bumbling TSA agent, which sounds dumb now that I type it out but actually works really well) without watering down the genuine horror. There are creepy, unsettling moments, and the plot that unfolds is deeply disturbing.

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington

I had a few minor reservations about the film. One of the film’s central mysteries is in the strange, Stepford Wives-esque behavior of certain characters throughout the first half. The audience expects that the explanation for their peculiar manners will be revealed, and there is a big reveal in the film’s climax, but it doesn’t really seem to fully explain the events from earlier in the film.

I was also slightly put off by the seeming lack of connection between Get Out’s important racial elements and its suspense/thriller plotline. At one point late in the movie, the protaganists flat-out asks one of the villains why they target black people. The response was basically “who knows?” and a shrug. Maybe that was the point—that so much of racism today is not overt and explicit, but subconsious and incidental—but I think the film’s critique of racial bias would have been that much more effective had it been more organically integrated into the main plot.

I think the film would have benefitted from sticking with the original ending, which would not have directly addressed this concern but would at least have underscored the racism angle and drove the point home that much more strongly.

If I’m focusing on the film’s negatives, that’s because so much has already been writing about how great it is (it currently holds a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I completely agree with all of it. Get Out is worth seeing, and I recommend doing so.

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