24 August 2020

Unhinged: The Batman Movie Nobody Wanted

Full Disclosure: I don't hate Uwe Boll. I legitimately admire his business sense. I also like In The Name of the King and Rampage. I'm going to lambaste the shit out of him here, but let the record show it doesn't come from a place of contempt, only brutally honest criticism. 

It's not easy being Russell Crowe. I should probably have another disclosure about him, how the controversies about his personality, his run-ins with the law, have been painfully blown out of proportion. He's a walking example of the "But ya shag one sheep!" joke. Tom Cruise at least has Top Gun and the Mission Impossible franchise to balance out his... more eccentric attributes. Crowe's filmography has been almost experimental for the most part, as if directors and producers don't quite know what to do with him. His early career tried to play him up as a suave, smooth-talking charmer or relatable everyman/hearthrob (A Beautiful Mind, LA Confidential). He seems most at home in action (Gladiator, Robin Hood), but he's also tackled very cerebral dramas (Master & Commander, Cinderella Man). Then, there's Noah and Man of Steel. Jury's out on those. I mean, I like them, and he's the best part of the latter. 

His films are few and far between compared to most auteur A-listers, which unfortunately means every new entry is a tough sell against the deluge of controversy. When the trailer for Unhinged was released, there was no shortage of wannabe jokers in the comments calling the film a cinema verite style documentary about Crowe's daily life. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that this is him effectively owning the controversy, some para-meta-ironic middle finger to his haters, but he's either too late to the party to pull the prank on the pretentious preppies, or he's killed the man and become the monster.

I'm calling this an unofficial entry/preview in a series of posts I've got in the pipeline entitled, "Reasons I Shouldn't Write Screenplays" an idea I freely admit to stealing whole cloth from Noah "The Spoony One" Antwiler. They're as much musings and meditations on various tropes and trends of the Hollywood dream factory as they are semi-serious sales pitches for reboots, reimaginings, retoolings, or redirects of some of the biggest franchises and flops dotting the greater pop culture landscape. 

The plot of Unhinged takes it cue from horror writing 101. Take a mundane, inconsequential thing, and turn it into a matter of life and death. This isn't a bad thing, only a little tired. No movie is ever released in a vacuum and some of the dialogue is not helping to convince people of idea parallelism (a fancy legalese-esque word for a coincidence). 

A single mother (Caren Pistorious) is driving home with her son when she gets stuck behind a pickup truck at a green light. In a fit of frustration, she emphatically honks her horn before giving up and driving around. The owner of the truck (Crowe) later confronts her that a brief tap of the horn would have been sufficient while explaining that he's been having a bad day, apologizing for earlier while expecting the same from her. She stubbornly dismisses him, and the conflict ensues. At one point on the driver's path of systematic destruction in the name of revenge, he reveals his intention is to show her what a bad day really looks like. 

That line struck more than a few familiar chords with film-goers, with many mentions of the Alan Moore story The Killing Joke going hand-in-hand with the comparisons to the recent Oscar nominee Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. The Killing Joke was written in 1988 hot on the heels of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns series in an effort to convince the wider public that the caped crusader was not the bright and colorful shark-repelling deputy cemented into the public perception by the Adam West-led TV series. It attempts to offer an origin story for the Joker, one that's meant to paint him as a tragic figure, a victim of circumstance. As part of his plot to garner sympathy for his situation, he opines that anyone could have become the Clown Prince of Crime as a result of "just one bad day." 

Hollywood has toyed with this idea in the past, examples including the likes of Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Straw Dogs, and Falling Down (to name a few). Those movies predate the Columbine disaster by many years, and while mass shootings and other acts of terror by disgruntled individuals have a history predating those films (Dog Day Afternoon being loosely based on a real life event), an apparent increase in violent shootings and assaults have brought this trope under a new light of scrutiny. Much of the scrutiny feels misdirected, like it's working under a false premise that the main character of any movie is meant to be perceived as a heroic ideologue. It's true many misunderstanding movie-goers (mainly male) may make a manifesto of the malignancy and malice, missing the masqueraded meaning regarding motives, means, and opportunities. That is, these characters are only heroes by default, the lessers to greater evils. The circumstances that created them and drove them to their extremes are not triumphs, but tragedies not unlike those that befall the men who slay monsters only to become them in the process. The modus operandi of these misunderstood ordinaries are not meant to be mimicked outright, but mulled over. 

To put this process in perspective, Roger Ebert described the comedic machinations of the Naked Gun movies thusly: You'll laugh, then laugh at yourself for laughing. You may well find yourself rooting for Michael Douglas as he obliterates a phone booth with machine gun fire to spite an impatient man eager to make a call. It's easy to find yourself dancing to Joaquin Phoenix's beat as you traverse any long sequence of steps. None of these reactions are inherently wrong. That's the magic of movies, if not the whole of storytelling in general. 

I made an off-hand comment to a friend on Twitter about how Unhinged was essentially what we'd get if Uwe Boll adapted The Killing Joke but ran out of money and/or lost the rights to the Batman license partway through. Obviously, the film in no way, shape, or form resembles The Killing Joke beyond some throwaway lines that touch on the same philosophies about human nature, the choices we make, and our responsibility in light of the consequences of those choices. That said, the more I thought about it, the more I realized this plot has a stronger tie to the Batman universe than likely anyone involved in the film realizes. 

Put simply, the Joker is no stranger to road rage. 

Joker's Favor is an early, but much-loved episode of Batman: The Animated Series. While typically falling shy of any top spots, it often ranks highly on many best episodes list, and it's not undeserved. It also takes a mundane, inconsequential event and turns it into something far more sinister. An accountant named Charlie (voiced by Ed Begley Jr.) drives home from a bad day at work. His impatience with other drivers ends up getting him face to face with the Joker. Joker lets Charlie go on the condition that he may well ask him for a favor some day. Two years elapse before Charlie, despite having moved and changed his name, is contacted by the Joker to fulfill his end of the bargain from earlier. 

What follows is a rather predictable turning of the tables in the cat and mouse game via an ordinary man being driven to extraordinary actions, though with the saving grace of a timely and graceful step back from the edge. What makes it work is the show's complete and utter commitment to the subject matter. It's played perfectly straight and allows you to suspend disbelief on how things will turn out for those involved. 

Unhinged, just like Charlie's future in Joker's Favor, could go a number of ways. Monsters can be slain as easily as they can be made. Currently, its box office performance (including a delayed release thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic) is less than impressive, a few million shy of halfway to its 33 million dollar budget (Falling Down was made for 25 million in 1997, a little over 40 million adjusted for inflation). Critics have been equally cold, dismissing it as uninspired, unable to justify its own existence against other films of its stated variety. Those jokes about Crowe's temper seem to have run their course. As for those other comments calling Caren Pistorious' character a Karen... 

20 August 2020

The Great (IN)Famous Texting Experiment

A factoid is commonly used to mean any sort of brief, concise piece of news or information, supposedly because "trivia" is too on the nose. Its practical definition is a little more ominous, that its a piece of speculation or unfounded assertion that gets repeated and spread around so much its simply taken as fact despite a lack of authentication. 

My favorite example is a piece of information that goes something like this, "We only remember 40% of what we hear, 30% of what we read, 60% of what we see..." and so on and so on, the overall lesson or advice being that teachers and educators should engage with their students on a more "visually interesting" level. In fact, I first heard this string of statistics in a Powerpoint class. The truth is there's absolutely nothing to back up these statistics. Trying to find anything resembling a source is akin to tracking the origin of that joke you heard that one time from that one coworker or neighbor who seems to pull such things from the air itself. 

While writing an entry about feature creep in our tiny pocket computers (that just so happen to have tiny telephones in them somewhere) we're all hopelessly addicted to, I remembered something I thought I'd heard somewhere that I used to tell people back when I worked for a cell carrier. I worked in that customer service job from around 2006-2008. By the time I was "promoted to customer" the iPhone was still firmly in the grasp of AT&T, one of the most significant events in the history of telecommunications since the birth of the Baby Bells or the launch of Telstar 1Google had been developing Android for years prior, but this one insignificant marketing tactic was the chocolate to their peanut butter. Still, smartphones, however accessible Apple had set out to make them, were still extremely niche at this point. Our bestselling phone was the Motorola Razr. We were on the verge of introducing unlimited minutes as a widespread offering, and unless you got a special little add-on bundle to your bill, every single text and picture message you sent and received would cost you. To be nickeled and dimed on this would have been an improvement as the real cost was closer to a quarter a pop. We offered various tiers, a few hundred for a few dollars, a thousand for a few dollars more, and unlimited for a fistful of dollars. 

A common story I'd often hear from customers, especially parents with kids old enough to be trusted with their own lines, was how they first grumbled and groaned at texting, calling it a step back and the like. Given the Razr, along with most phones that we weren't calling "dumb" yet, only had a standard telephone keypad with which to write out your 140-ish character message, it's understandable. T9 and other types of predictive text systems were fair (some almost looked forward to see what goofs and typos it would come up with), but hardly practical. Strangely, despite this, the usage of texting kept going up, and those parents who had rolled their eyes and even shaken their fists at the idea of having any texting on their plans were almost happy to have to upgrade to the full unlimited plan. Sure, nobody liked paying more for something already fairly pricey, but at the very least the appeal was recognized, if not fully embraced. 

This did not surprise me, and not simply because of my own addictive personality and a lifetime of clicking buttons to make things happen on a screen. It didn't surprise me because I had heard somewhere, from someone, at some point, about how Nokia, that Finnish phone maker some people still think is Japanese most likely because John Turtoro made a bad career move for a big paycheck and semi-steady work, had proven there was almost an inherent need for texting in a social structure. 

The story goes like this: Nokia hand-picked a small, tightly-knit local village near their main offices for a grand experiment. Everyone in town was issued a cell phone and given a fairly reasonable plan to go along with it. There was a catch, however. The phones could only send and receive text messages. All voice functionality was disabled at the software level. Landlines were also disabled as part of the deal. That reasonable plan was for unlimited texting, so there was no penalty whatsoever for being able to send and receive hundreds or thousands of text messages throughout the month. Naturally, there was much grumbling and groaning, eye rolls, and possibly one or two shaken fists, but I suppose nobody had anything better to do because nobody opted out and the rest of the experiment went off without a hitch.

At the end of the month, Nokia send out a notification to all users that the voice features would be turned back on, landlines would be restored, and as a bonus everyone could keep the phones for another month before they had to find carriers to get plans through. The final twist to the story, if it can be called that, is that although the ability to make and receive voice calls was back in business, the usage of texting had not changed in the slightest. In tracking people's usage of the texting feature (how many per day, to whom, etc.) went up within the first week, and stayed there. There may have been a slight decline when the voice functionality came back, but there was no great exchange or abandonment. Nokia had effectively proven that texting was not a novelty that would come and go, but was in fact here to stay. 

This next part may shock you, but I have found absolutely no truth to this anecdote. It's possible I'm missing something. Maybe the story has simply faded into the background radiation of the web. More likely, the story is semi-true, that a group of people were offered texting plans at no added charge, their habits monitored for a short time, and the data still showing that as it was available to them and didn't carry any added cost (or a nominal one at best) it proved itself useful, practical, and possibly even a necessity. Focus groups aren't anything extraordinary, and neither are public betas. 

Just as the "factoid" about information retention is meant to encourage teachers and educators to be more creative and hands-on with their students (therefore the lack of credibility to the story is tacitly forgiven because it does more good than harm, so the reasoning may go), the takeaway from this story about Nokia and texting is that people don't know what they want. The common scenario is people will ask for X, but their real desire is for Y. For example, people in a survey may insist they prefer a rich, dark roast to their coffee, but a cursory glance at their spending habits shows a preference for milky, weak brews loaded with cream and sugar. There's no deception, simply a disconnect between expectations and reality. The opposite of this scenario is that people will insist to never indulging X, preferring Y over it every single time, only to practically forget about Y once X is readily available and easily accessible. People would moan about texting, calling it useless or even mocking it as primitive, only to wind up using it more than their voice. 

It's almost ironic that we've gone back to writing letters to each other. How much daylight is there between sending someone a brief text message and sending a telegram? The only real difference is there's no longer a middle man. 

When we first got e-mail in our home, the few people I knew who had e-mail addresses (which is a social phenomenon worthy of its own entry someday) often read like fully hand-written letters, lengthy and detailed, as though we were secretly afraid that our teachers were going to look over our shoulders and slap a grade on it. In time, we learned we didn't have to be brief. Next thing we knew, we were e-mailing our cousins thusly:

"When's the Packer game?"

"4:30 our time."


15 August 2020

My PS4 Died But NewEgg is The Real Ghost (BUSTED) (updated)

WARNING: I have the receipts. 

I use my PS4 almost daily. I stream music and shows through it as much as I play games on it. A few weeks ago, I downloaded Star Wars Battlefront II... because it was free. In general, my gaming habits since around the middle of the PS3-era have leaned further and further away from what's commonly known as "Triple A" titles, the big budget games from studios like EA, Ubisoft, Capcom, and the like. It's not due to the various ethical concerns surrounding these studios (though it doesn't help), more a matter of me being an old man with a life and responsibilities. The prospect of a game taking more than 10-20 hours to complete is not a point in its favor. I can understand getting your money's worth; if a game costs 60USD and up, 10 hours probably feels like a letdown, borderline fraudulent. At the same time, I know I've sunk more than 40 hours into some games that didn't cost me a dime, or at least nowhere near 60. 

The point is Battlefront II is a huge game, several gigabytes of data on a terabyte drive. What I discovered from this installation is that even though the game says it's done and installed and ready to rock and roll, it's not actually done. Admittedly, this is a neat feature. The console will load up enough of the game that I can start playing while the rest wraps up while I'm racking up points. I should take a moment to point out that I'm not blaming EA and Star Wars Battlefront II for what I'm about to describe. There was also a Gundam game that had the same issue. That feature I described where enough of the game installs to allow me to start playing doesn't seem to work the same way for most games. That is, most games will tell me enough has loaded upfront for me to dive in while the rest is still in progress. With Star Wars and Gundam, they told me everything was good in the neighborhood until I actually booted up the games and saw a progress bar saying it wasn't quite done yet. 

Now, why is this a problem, exactly? Well, the PS4 didn't seem to know how to handle this setup. The day after I "installed" Battlefront II, I turned my PS4 on to get an error message that it hadn't been shut down properly and needed to run some diagnostics before restoring things to normal. That usually happens when there's a power outage or if you accidentally unplug your console while it's in the middle of something. I didn't think anything of it at first. The second time it happened, now I'm a little annoyed. That was also when I noticed the in-game progress bar letting me know the game my console told me was fully installed was not actually fully installed. I poked around a few forums and found this wasn't anything unique. In a fit of frustration, I uninstalled Star Wars and never had the issue again... until I downloaded the Gundam game and lather, rinse, repeat. 

What followed were all the usual signs of slow death: locking up on loading screens, installs taking longer than usual before quitting altogether, the console needing to be restarted by plugging the controller into the console directly instead of using Bluetooth, and so on. Finally, after an attempt to rebuild the database (after learning the PS4 has a "safe mode" just like a PC) and trying to install a new game, the PS4 gave up and wouldn't get past an error message. It was time to replace the hard drive because either it wasn't that great to begin with, or I had asked too much of it without routinely maintaining it (rebuilding the database, erasing unused files, etc.). Fortunately, replacing the hard drive on a PS4 (and also the PS3) is extremely simple and straightforward. There's no "right to repair" issues going on here; Sony encourages people to upgrade their drives, and has a fairly broad list of supported drives you can get from anywhere. 

Buying hard drives on Amazon can always be a bit of a gamble, and I definitely don't recommend it; sellers don't always know what they have and that makes doing any kind of research a game of Russian Roulette. So, it was Newegg to the rescue, and that's when things got worse. In the interest of full disclosure, some of what's led to this current state of affairs is my fault. I don't deny that. My issue is with the complete lack of a response I've gotten from either Newegg or the vendor who shipped me the drive via Newegg

Here's the mistake I made: I forgot how big my PS4's hard drive was. Somehow I had it in my head it was only 500GB. As I said, I don't play a lot of big-budget games, so most of my installs are within 4-5GB at the most. Maybe a few were closer to the 30GB mark, but I was probably years away from getting to that 500GB threshold. It's simply something I didn't think about and didn't double-check. So, I ordered a 500GB drive from Newegg that would ship via a company called Evo Micro, based out of Florida. The drive had a lot of positive reviews and many specifically mentioned using it in PS4’s.

There I was, on the 7th of August, having only placed the order maybe an hour or two ago. I hadn’t gotten any notice about my card being charged or my order being fully processed. Everything was still up in the air. I go to my order history and try to change course. There’s no option to outright cancel the order since it’s through a third-party seller instead of Newegg directly. I click on the option to contact the seller and I explain the situation. This is an email I received with the transcript of the message. 

I get no response for 3 days. Granted, you’re advised that in the case of 3rd party sellers, replies can take one or two business days and this was the weekend, so I may end up having to just return the drive when it arrives. My card gets charged and a tracking number gets generated a few days later, but only after I message them again on the 10th. 

Bear in mind, I’ve gotten no response from the seller. I haven’t even gotten a “We heard you, but sorry.” sort of reply (which I found later is a typical response of theirs when it comes to addressing grievances). It would have been annoying, but at least it would be an acknowledgment. In any case, they couldn’t exactly have helped me because they didn’t have a Terabyte version of the drive I’d ordered. That is, it wasn’t an option I could have selected for that particular brand on that particular listing, like when you can select the size or color of a piece of clothing. I would have had to place a whole new order. I figured that may have been why they hadn’t responded, that it wasn’t something they could simply switch over and then charge me the difference, but rather a whole new order. Again, I’m fully accepting of my gaff. 

On the 9th of August, I place an order for a 1TB drive. This one is coming from Newegg directly. That order goes though by the 10th when I send my second message to Evo Micro (the seller of the first drive). Since I couldn’t find a terabyte drive through them that was within my specs and price range, I’ve resigned myself to returning the drive, going through some RMA process and dropping off a package at UPS. A hassle, but again, my own dumb fault. 

Both drives arrive the 14th of August, Friday. I have still heard nothing from Evo Micro. Zero acknowledgment. The installation of the 1TB drive into the PS4 goes smoothly enough. All of my save data and various other settings were already backed up thanks to Playstation Plus. The rest of that process is just time spent. Needless to say, let this be a lesson to all of you out there. There are two kinds of backups: backups that fail, and backups that fail a little later. When was the last time you backed up your stuff? Trick question, it’s been too long. Go do it now. While the Terabyte drive sets up shop in the Playstation, the 500GB drive remains untouched in its bubble-filled envelope. It is for all intents and purposes utterly immaculate. Worst case scenario, my PS3 gets an upgrade, which may require me getting another drive to serve as an intermediary storage medium that I was likely going to buy anyway. I start the return process to see what needs to happen next. I’m going to call this my second mistake as it may well not do me any favors in the long run. 

Despite effectively getting my PS4 back, I was not in a great mood that day, and it’s not much better as I write this the following day. Returning the drive was going to cost me 12 dollars. 12 dollars to return a drive that cost me just over 30 and is completely untouched, unused, and undisturbed. I got angry. I'm not going to share the messages I sent to both Newegg and Evo Micro as they mostly just repeat what I've already asked of them with more colorful language along with airing my grievances about getting the silent treatment. In my defense, I’ve been ignored twice going through customer service. I reached out to try and make the situation right and find a way to let this small business out of Florida make a sale. I have gotten ignored, and Newegg has yet to respond as well. Yes, I could well just go for shipping it another way which will cost me significantly less than the 12 dollars, but I’ve got two issues with that. First, many of the reviews for Evomicro mention restocking fees, which means I have no idea whether or not I’m going to get that full refund regardless of what Newegg tells me. Second, given Evo Micro has ignored me up to this point, what’s to stop them from saying they never received it despite my tracking information confirming someone there took it back? This is hardly worth taking any sort of legal action, and there’s a distinct possibility they’re well aware of that, that I’ll just eat the cost and keep a drive I don’t necessarily need. They still make their sale, and as far as they are concerned, our business has concluded. 

I’m not totally unwilling to give either Evo Micro or Newegg the benefit of the doubt that they are simply swamped and unable to answer customer correspondence in a timely manner. I get everything is inundated with one damn thing after another with interest. There is still a distinct possibility this can all be turned around and I will sing their praises from the hills. I’m not even asking for much. All I wanted was a bigger drive. I wanted to pay more to get more than what I initially asked for. Now I don’t want to give either of them anything whatsoever. If they’re going to pretend I don’t exist, it’s only fair I return the favor in kind. 

UPDATE: I emailed Evo Micro once again today with the links to this entry. At the same time, I contacted Newegg and managed to get someone in their chat support. The chat support rep alerted me to the response and I checked my messages. Sure enough, there it was. They apologized as they are understaffed and agreed to give me a full refund, along with keeping the drive. Meanwhile, Newegg is submitting an internal report to make sure the refund goes through. 

I never wanted any of this to reach this level. 

08 August 2020

Razer Left Me Wanting

As I've likely prattled on about before, I use a mouse left-handed. I am not actually left-handed, at least when it comes to handwriting and most of my artistic ventures. The art I make on my computer benefits from a mouse over a pen tablet since the number pad does most of the work whenever the slower, precise movements of a mouse are not adequate. Most legit lefties I know have cruelly forced themselves to simply use their mouse right-handedly, especially when they're at work, and especially at work if someone got it in their head that everyone should have a so-called ergonomic mouse. Fortunately, most of the mice at my work are as ambidextrous as they are basic. 

As much as I don't mind keyboard shortcuts, having some of those shortcuts on the same hand as my mouse is extremely convenient. Perhaps it's from years of console gaming wherein all your important moves are managed by your thumbs rather than your fingertips. Before the Apple Pencil, my favorite stylus for my iPad was from Adonit, and it had two little shortcut keys near the tip. I mapped my un/redo keys to these two buttons and I got so used to it that when I used a real pencil and needed to erase, I instinctively squeezed the end I was holding. As for the mice I've had, there have been many, and I'll spare you the long, drawn-out narrative and get to the point by showing you the mouse I'm currently using at home:

No words. Should have sent a poet.

I like the Maus. I love the styling, it's got a good heft and weight to it, and the wireless has never been a hindrance to me. My only real gripe about it is it's a little small. This is hardly a dealbreaker as you shouldn't necessarily be resting your palm on your mouse anyway. Your forearm should be parallel to your desk and you shouldn't drag your arm on the surface, just as you shouldn't necessarily be resting your wrists in front of the keyboard. When the workaround is getting rid of a bad habit, I can let some things go. Given that, there is another gripe that's a little harder to ignore. It's that little silver button below the scroll wheel. It controls the DPI. 

If you don't know, DPI stands for Dots Per Inch and it refers to the sensitivity of the mouse, how fast you can move your cursor across the screen. The higher the DPI the faster and farther the arrow flies across the screen with less movement of the mouse itself. Most of you probably never bother with this, especially if the computer isn't technically yours (even if it is yours in the sense that you use it regularly and are expected to be productive with it). Some of you probably know you can adjust this sensitivity setting in the control panel, especially if some jerk who used your computer before for some reason needed the sensitivity way down so you'd have to practically sweep everything off your desk just to move your cursor halfway across the screen (or picking it up and putting it back down over and over, feeling a little more ridiculous each time you repeat the motion). 

By the way, that so-called "natural" option for scroll direction can kiss my ass.

Some mouse makers have decided burying this slider in a menu not many people bother with until something goes wrong and solved the "problem" by allowing you to adjust the sensitivity of your mouse on the device itself. It makes sense, but I've always wondered why the button to do so is typically below the scroll wheel and tilted towards the wheel (as it's following the slope of the mouse's shape) to make accidentally clicking on it virtually inevitable. The Maus compounds this problem by giving you the option of about a half-dozen different DPI settings, at least four of which seem to be for people who move their mice by gently breathing on them. Maybe on a 4K monitor it evens itself out, more pixels on screen means a higher DPI is needed to cover the same distance. 

There is a genius alternative to this that I hope more mouse makers catch on to. It's called a clutch. The idea is that your mouse is set to a higher DPI to let you navigate the screen faster. When you need to slow down to make more precise and controlled movements, you push a small button on the mouse to bring the DPI down to its lowest possible setting. When you need to go fast again, simply release the clutch. 

It's currently on the Razer Basilisk and the Logitech G502, both of which are ergonomic mice with no left-handed option. In fact, Razer used to be rather friendly to the lefty crowd, with left-handed versions of some of their most well-regarded mice, including the Death Adder and especially the Naga. The Naga has a full 12-button keypad for the thumb, which may sound crowded, but is fairly navigable. I had one of these mice for a long time and it served me well. I speak of it in the past tense because the middle click gave out. Despite their internal switches being rated to some insane number of presses, the one under my scroll wheel missed that QA inspection. 

Fortunately, Razer has a pretty generous support and warranty policy. Unfortunately, that doesn't guarantee they'll be able to replace or repair everything in their product range. As the left-handed Naga was no longer made, they offered me a short list of mice to replace it with, which were all right-handed ergonomic mice, including the Death Adder, whose lefty counterpart had also been axed recently. 

How's about HELL NO!?
Further mucking things up was the oversight of these many alternatives being out of stock. The silver lining to all of this was that I could opt to take a store credit and wait for a mouse they had coming out called the Viper. I could conceivably have gone for a cheaper mouse that was ambidextrous, but that would have left me with almost half of the store credit left over and nothing to use it on besides maybe a really nice mat. The choice before me then was either to take a gamble on this new mouse, or remap the middle click of the Naga to one of its many programmable buttons and therefore throw off my entire workflow (as I would have proper middle click on every other mouse I'd use). I chose the former option. 
Have I ever mentioned how much I love braided cables?
The Viper has been good, but it is so very just shy of perfect it almost brings the whole thing down. For what it costs and what it offers as a mouse, it's overpriced compared to other offerings in the catalog. Given it cost the same as my Naga did when it was new, it really felt like a downgrade. However, as I didn't have much of a choice what with being given store credit and all, I figured its size would be its saving grace, being near enough to the Naga that I wouldn't have to reorient myself with its feel. It gets a lot of other things right; it's got the braided cable, the DPI switch is out of the way (on the bottom of the mouse, in a small recess that you need a pen to push), and it is truly and legitimately ambidextrous. 

While it doesn't have the full 12 keys of a Naga, it's got two shortcut buttons on either side of it. Assigning my two most common shortcuts to them has, for all intents and purposes, made up for it not being a Naga. What it doesn't make up for is Razer's slow crawl towards a right-handed catalog. There's also the weight, which is my biggest complaint about it. For its price, the Viper feels cheap, almost fragile. I'm almost convinced the cord weighs more as sometimes the cord slipping off the back of my desk will pull the mouse down with it. It hasn't sent it tumbling into the narrow chasm between the desk and the wall, and I doubt it would, but I don't get why this mouse needs to be this lightweight. 

Computer mice occupy an amusing space of product design. Once upon a time, the computer mouse had to be the size and shape it was to accommodate a rubber-coated metal ball. Too big and the mouse would be hard to move. Too small and the ball would just as soon slide on a surface as roll. More importantly, the mouse had to house the mechanism needed to make sense of the ball's movements, little roller pins and optical sensors reading off tiny slotted flywheels. Later on, the optical sensor took center stage and could read off the surface directly. This meant the pins and flywheels had to be replaced with a few more chips and other components because it had to do more processing power to make sense of what it was seeing. As time went on, those components became smaller and smaller, with less hardware needed overall for the sensor to make sense of where it was on your desk. This made for a fair bit of empty space inside the mouse. 

One of the most audacious uses of that empty space was an arrangement of slots for metal weights. Weighing down a mouse seems like a weird thing to do, but just like the DPI adjustments, sometimes you need to be able to move your mouse in a fairly controlled and precise manner. A high DPI combined with a weighty mouse gives the best of both worlds. 
So you now understand the weight of the situation.
The Viper definitely has the empty space for such weights, but the only way I'm going to get that is the DIY route, and I'm not about to start drilling holes and prying stickers and panels off of an 80USD mouse (that's also what the G502 costs, weights included). 

Luckily, I've found a few alternatives outside of the Razer catalog such as Steelseries and Corsair. They don't have weight options, but they are notably heftier than the Viper along with sharing a similar form factor. That includes those shortcut buttons on either side of the casing. To be fair to Razer, since its release, the Viper's price has come down a little. It's still not low enough for me to begin exploratory surgery, but I don't hold the price point against them anymore. Last week, I was looking through their site to get some specs for a LinkedIN post I'm writing covering this topic in a little more work-related depth. I saw they offered two new versions of the Viper, one wireless, and one labeled "mini." I thought all my problems were solved. Wireless mice make use of that empty space by storing a battery. The battery adds weight, and I've got hefty where wimpy once was. However, Razer, in their wisdom, found a way to make the wireless Viper weigh virtually the same as the wired version. That's okay, I thought, I've got an option. Yes, the mini is smaller, but it's also about half the price, well within the territory of being modified with no real blow to the bottom line. 

Then I got a better look at it. 
Can't see the problem? That's okay. I didn't spot it right away, either. 

... Razer? I want you to look at me. I want to ask you a question and I want you to think long and hard about your answer before you tell it to me. I want you to think about all that I've said about the past designs of your products which I have praised you for. Okay, here we go:

How can it be an ambidextrous mouse when the shortcut keys ARE ONLY ON ONE SIDE!?
It's the LITTLE things....
Look, I get that making left-handed versions of your ergonomic mice isn't ideal for you. There simply are not enough left-handed mouse users to justify production on that scale. 

By the way, LoFree isn't off the hook either.
Define symmetry for me, please.
In their defense, the place on the right-hand side where some shortcut keys would be nice is taken up by an adorable little storage compartment for the wireless dongle as well as the charging port. As I said, I do like the Maus, but I prefer it as a portable accessory for my iPad when I need to use a mouse with it. The same goes for the keyboard I've got at home right now. It's fine enough for the Mac mini, but it's better suited to accompany a tablet. 

A wise one once said that art is never finished, only abandoned. I suppose I've got the same philosophy with my workspace, a constant work in progress. That reminds me, I have to get back to designing my new desk.