The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, November 30, 2002

CLARET CUP, ANYONE?
have a cup
So, I'm hosting a little holiday shindig one week from today. I'm getting all the elements together: drinks, food, a little decor and a lot of cleaning-up.

I'm a little bit in a bind, though. I had intended to make a big ol' bowl of claret cup punch, which I consider to be a perfect addition to the festivities (it also went over very well the last time I made it, about two years ago). Problem is, I can't track down the damn recipe! I got it out of an old issue of GQ magazine, and I guess I must have tossed the issue and neglected to keep a copy of the ingredients! Woe is me...

My web research so far has come up snake eyes. There seems to be a couple of hundred variations on how to make this concoction, and I have yet to find the one that sounds right. I have narrowed down the basic components, I think, mostly from memory:

*Two bottles of claret (or French red) wine
*Powdered sugar
*Two bottles (probably 32 oz. total) soda water
*Some (how much??) triple sec
*Juice of one lemon
*A shot(?) of brandy
*Orange slices

That's the best I can piece together. Most of the recipes I've found online and in books include cucumber rind; I know that wasn't in the stuff I made, so I'll pass on that. Also other variations include more/other fruits and juices, chocolate liqueurs, mint and other strange stuff. If anyone is familiar with the recipe I'm thinking of, I'd greatly appreciate you cluing me in. Otherwise, I'll just have to wing it.
GOVERNORS: AFTER THE LAUGHTER
What's a state governor to do after he's all done running one of these United States? A wide range of things, it seems.
BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
In a situation that reminds one of the legendary killer bees south of the border, swarms of garden-variety bees beseiged a group of customers in a Los Angeles liquor store until finally being fought off by firefighters. Apparently, they had built a hive near the store's sign and were loath to give it up. Indications are that they weren't the Africanized killer bees, because they weren't particularly aggressive (just persistent).

Friday, November 29, 2002

AUSTRALIAN RIVER SHARKS!
Droughts can be really disruptive. While for us humans, the most manifest effects of water shortage are restrictions on watering our lawns and flushing our toilets, for animals it often means having to pull up stakes and find new hunting grounds. So it is with the bull shark, which has been showing up in rivers in Australia, uncomfortably close to human contact.
FACE OFF
Remember that crapola Nicholas Cage-John Travolta flick from a couple of years ago, Face/Off? Well, as brain-dead as it was, it appears that the central concept at play in that movie is now a reality. If you want a new face, and more specifically one that resembles someone dead, they have the surgical means to give it to you! Kinda gives me the creeps.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

TAKIN' THE DAY OFF!
In case anyone's keeping track, I'll be taking a break tomorrow from my daily blogging. Turkey Day and all. Back on Friday. Ahoy-hoy!
NATIONAL ENQUIRER MEETS FIT PREGNANCY
Almost two months after first announcing that its magazine properties were for sale, Weider Nutrition International has sold them to American Media Inc..

American Media is the publisher of everyone's favorite tabloid, the National Enquirer. They do have a few more straight-laced consumer magazines, and with this purchase, they'll add Shape, Muscle & Fitness and Fit Pregnancy, among others.

So yes, this little merger will spawn plenty of late-night jokes about how the pages of Fit Pregnancy will now include what to do in the event you give birth to a two-headed space alien.
A FROSTY (FROTHY?) MUG
woof, glug glug
Mug Root Beer is getting a new mascot: a bulldog named--get ready--Dog. An advertising column in the New York Times went at length about how Pepsi, the parent company of Mug, is pumping some money into the promotion of the brand after years of neglecting it. Giving it a character is the first step toward building it up; Dog's going to be featured in commercials, print ads and online comic strips on the Mug website.

Here are a few words from the ad agency's creative director on the development of this pooch:

"We went through some wild animals, some mythical creatures, but kept coming back to a bulldog. The bulldog represents what Mug is about, what the brand stands for and what root beer is," Mr. Hardison explains. "Root beer is exotic but familiar. There's a powerful quality to the drink, but it's mellow, laid back. It's old-fashioned, but still compelling. It's wild, but safe, and attractive, but not really a leading-man type." All those qualities are epitomized by the bulldog, he adds, and especially fit Mug because the breed is known by its face — yes, its mug. The plain name, Dog, also evokes the down-to-earth qualities of root beer as well as echoing the brand name.

Hmmm... correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't a signature character have, you know, a real name? Dog? I don't think so. You can have a laugh by thinking about how many thousands Pepsi Co. paid this agency to come up with such a distinctive moniker. Did anyone consider the name Mugsy, maybe? Hello??

That said, I do like the logo above. Nice artwork.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

SOAPS ON YOUR HARD DRIVE
If you're just too damn busy to sit down for an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful, the answer to your dilemma is just a mouse-click away. Sony is teaming with SoapCity.com to make episodes of soap operas available for viewing on your computer--for a subscription fee, of course. What a time saver!
BANDWITH CAPS
The file-swapping scourge is increasingly being combatted at the source: the hardware and the pipes. The latest tactic is taking aim at the amount of bandwith an individual account can use up in a set period of time.

Basically, an ISP subscriber would be limited to a set amount--2, 10 or 20 gigs--that they can use up in a month. That means for anything: sending and receiving email, surfing, etc. Most regular online tasks won't come close to using up all that bandwith. The only thing that will is the downloading and uploading of large files. That pretty much means music and movie files through file-swapping programs like Kazaa and BearShare. The idea is that such a cap would effectively kill the decentralized network that makes file-swapping work. With this cap in effect, no one would leave their computer on 24/7 for uploading because they would reach and exceed their cap in no time flat. Similarly, downloading would also be curtailed.

The only speedbump is that ISPs are fearful of ticking off their customers, so they very cautious of implementing this. Still, I see this as the wave of future, unfortunately. After all these years of all-you-can-eat Internet access, it looks like we may have to get used to these limits.
MY BIG PROJECT
look ahead
Well, it officially hits all the mailboxes and newsstands this week: the 2003 Florida CEO Trends issue of Florida Trend magazine. Courtesy of yours truly... for the most part, anyway. This little puppy monopolized my time at work from this past August all the way through earlier this month. Editing ain't as easy as it looks, folks. But it's well worth it. Onward and upward.

Monday, November 25, 2002

AOL AND TIME: BRINGING IT HOME
I'm surprised this took this long. AOL Time Warner is considering making all the magazine content it currently posts for free at various websites solely exclusive to the AOL Internet service. In other words, instead of being able to go to Time.com, SportsIllustrated.com and so on for stories and information from those publications, those sites would instead redirect you to AOL.com and tell you that, unless you're an AOL subscriber, you're outta luck.

This is exactly the type of synergy that the big AOL-Warner merger was supposed to create; the fact that it's taken crisis situations to put it in the planning stages tells you how clunky the merger has become. It's sort of a return to the early online world, circa late 80s-early 90s, when you had to subcribe to a certain online service in order to get to certain information sources. It's also a sign of the further retreat of the "free Web", when everything was posted for free online in the hopes that advertising and follow-up sales would pay for it all later.

Although I'm as cheap as the next guy, I like the idea of setting up some price barriers of entry for online content. That said, I wouldn't want to have to get an AOL subscription just to access an article. But these things evolve, and some sort of sustainable model will emerge.
ROSES ARE RED, ROSES ARE BLUE
The elusive blue-tinted rose, long the dream of horticulturalists worldwide, may soon be a reality thanks to good ol' biotechnological engineering. But one example of the wonders that gene-splicing will bring!

Just think of the big Mafia order that will be placed for authentic black roses. It could transform the "whacking" industry as we know it.
ICH! AND A SNAIL
look at that 's' car go
Problem with the aquarium. It looks like a couple of my more fragile fish friends have come down with a case of ich. Ich is a very common aquarium fish disease, and, fortunately, a very easily treatable one. My friend Kirby lent me some of his ich medication, and it supposedly should knock the stuff out after a couple of days.

One problem, though. The ingredients of this ich cure are formaldehyde and malachite green. These are a couple of nasty toxins, but they shouldn't harm the fish. Unfortunately, they'll kill my apple snail real quick! Snails, from what I understand, have a lot more in common with ich and other bacterial organisms than they do with fish, and so most fish medications will take out snails too, whether you want them to or not. Bummer.

I came up with a simple solution: I removed the snail from the tank and put him in a little bowlful of water, and meanwhile added the medication to the tank. So far so good there. The snail is staying put for the moment, but the little bastard will eventually try to crawl out (he regularly tries to escape from the tank, without success). I suppose I'll put a lid on the thing to keep him in place. And I think I'll take him to work tomorrow and put him in the betta tank we have there. I was considering getting a snail for that tank anyway. He'll only be there temporarily, though; I'll bring him back home once the ich is gone.

Sunday, November 24, 2002

INSIDE THE GANGSTA'S STUDIO
yo comma dog
This little gem caught my eye when I went to check out the Esquire site. A short but sweet look at how an exit interview between James Lipton and Eminem might go. My favorite nugget:

Lipton: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Eminem: One of them motherfuckers that teaches motherfuckers manners and shit.
BLACK CAPTAIN AMERICA AND COMICS "RELEVANCE"
chest too broad, out of proportion
Captain America, a character who's been around for over 60 years, is getting a new chapter added to his mythos with a storyline that reveals a Tuskegee Experiment-type scenario at the root of his origin.

It sounds intriguing, enough so that I might just pick up a copy. It's been ages since I've read a Captain America book. This twist in the Super-Soldier Serum development has been touched upon before, sort of; in one of Frank Miller's return stints to Daredevil, he wrote in subplot about a continuation of the Super Soldier project after Captain America. But this looks like a deeper look. And it buys lots of exposure, which is the goal. You can also check out a few sample art pieces from the series, although truthfully they aren't much to look at.

Unfortunately, as with most news stories about comics, this one has the subtext of irony that "funny books" could possibly take on any subject matter that's not aimed at the adolescent-and-under mentality. A lot like this one, which is missing only a "Zap, Bang, Pow! Comics Are Growing Up!" style of headline. Even when a news piece is trying to be well-meaning, it comes off as condescending.

Ultimately, comics will be in a lot better shape once the parallels to rarefied artwork are dropped, the comparisons to rare collectibles are forgotten, and the hints of innocence lost are dashed. At some point, the greater audience out there may recognize comics as just another medium, like TV, text, movies or audio. What type, and quality, of story is delivered via said medium can be as varied as in any of those other media.
SUBSTANCE OVER STYLE--FOR A MONTH
Celebrities sell. Slap an image of Madonna, Britney Spears or Tom Cruise on anything from a magazine cover to a package of hot dogs, and that thing will sell in bunches. That's why you see nothing but a steady rotation of movie stars, musicians and models on the covers of various lifestyle and entertainment magazines. And plenty more celebrity-centric material behind those covers.

Amid this steady diet of celebrity dishes, doing something different tends to stand out. So it is with the new issue of Esquire, which features a bunch of superstars in just about every field except for entertainment.

It's a nice concept, even though I wouldn't expect it from a fairly lightweight mag like Esq. The trick is, for the other 11 months out of the year, it's back to the usual movie star and musician features. So I don't know that this gear shift is anything to get too excited over.
MAN'S BEST SYMBIONT
mooch my ass
How far back does the human-dog relationship go? About 15,000 years ago, starting in East Asia, according to recent studies. All this tries to make sense out of a senseless situation: Why Stone Age people would accept wolves as constant companions, especially when they were pretty dirt-poor themselves (as dogs, who need to eat meat to survive, would be pretty expensive to maintain).

I think the strong implication that the human-dog relationship is one of symbiosis is fascinating. It's obvious why dogs would leech onto humans: They get easy food and shelter out of the deal. What do humans get? Well, sentries, garbage disposals, and hunters. The thing is, those people and tribes who figured out how to domesticate dogs first would have had a distinct survival advantage over others who didn't. In other words, dogs played a crucial part in human natural selection.

The poochies also may have had a big part in the spread of humankind to the Americas. Good doggie!

Saturday, November 23, 2002

TECH EXCESS
A refrigerator with Internet access. A cellphone that's also a personal organizer AND an MP3 player. An oven that doubles as a refrigerator. What an age we live in!

It's an age where, in certain product sectors, it's increasingly difficult to buy a single-purpose device that does the job well. The reason for that is that manufacturers find it's a safer bet to pack lots of bells and whistles into products in the off-chance that the combo will catch fire. In further evidence of the convergence of technology with the everyday world, this strategy closely resembles the perpetual search for the "killer app" that's supposed to result in monster sales penetration.

I found the cellphone example to start the article to be most appropriate. In my own experience, I've found myself upgrading to a new cellphone every year or two just to get a couple of new little whiz-bang features. My current phone has WAP-enabled web access, a limited organizer/calendar, a couple of time-killer games, a calculator and an alarm clock. I use some of these features a lot, and others never.

Friday, November 22, 2002

SELF-DESTRUCTING MEDIA
you're on the clock
Well, this would appear to be the RIAA's dream come true. DVDs with promo material for the new James Bond movie came with a warning that they would "self-destruct" within 36 hours of being unpackaged. Actually, the discs didn't blow up or dissolve or anything, but they did undergo some sort of chemical reaction that turned them purplish after a day and a half, and therefore unreadable. Naturally, they were also copy-protected.

Interesting potential. Actually, I'd think this would be more useful for the software industry than the entertainment business. With software, it makes tons more sense to sell programs on discs like this, to prevent use on multiple computers; and it's more foolproof than required licensing and other nonsense. With music and movies, I don't think the concept of buying a disc and being able to enjoy it for a limited number of plays or limited period of time would fly too well; DivX already failed once. In the case of the Bond usage, it is pretty clever, though; and it was only promo stuff for media use.

Of course, this wouldn't be a complete solution to the piracy problem. After all, 36 hours is plenty of time to rip music tracks or video onto a hard drive or other storage. Copy protection might stop Joe Ordinary from making copies, but for the most part it's very crackable. However, in terms of stopping the casual-copying-and-swapping majority, this would work just fine.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

BEHOLD, THE ULTRAMERCIAL
Here's a fascinating piece on a new kind of advertising that seems perfect for Web-based premium content. These spot ads, dubbed "ultramercials" (I think that needs work), are placed as sort of gateways into premium content that would otherwise be fee-based. Basically, in order to access that content, the web surfer agrees to spend a few minutes watching the ultramercial before being allowed to move on. Sounds like a really good idea, for both readers and advertisers.
ROAD KILL
The Surface Transportation Policy Project has just released its list of the country's most dangerous--and safest--pedestrian roadways. It's not news, but the findings tell us that roads are pretty much always designed with automobile speed and accessibility in mind, rather than walking traffic.

I'd like to point out that five of the 10 deadliest sites are in my home state of Florida. My home area, Tampa Bay, is No. 2 on the hit list, and the deadliest single stretch of road, U.S. 19 in Pasco County, is but a stone's throw from my domicile.
FORMING LIFE
It begins? The worst fears of biotech Luddites are coming closer to realization with the announcement that scientists are preparing to create a new, single-celled life form.

What a rich subject for rampant speculation--of the good and bad kind. I think the biggest thing that irks people is the concept of "playing God", i.e. creating life. One of the chief roles we imbue into our deities is the exclusive power over life and death. Especially life. This development, along with cloning, organ transplants, even medicine, kind of knocks that exclusivity off its pedestal.

What I find most fascinating is the inevitable social and political shifts that will result from these further developments. It'll be fascinating to watch.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

WHAT WOULD JESUS DRIVE?
In this country of SUV nuts, it's hard to imagine a scaling-back to more fuel efficient, cleaner emission vehicles. But one group is trying to plead the case anyway. And they feel pretty sure that Christ is with them.

What would the Son of God drive? Hmmmmmm.... One of those new VW Beetles? Or a Viper? Maybe a big rig, 16-wheeler? This could be a denominational thing. Better check my Bible.

Then there are those who would argue that the Messiah would forsake four wheels altogether and ride nothing but one bitchin' hog.
MODELS OR MATRIMONY?
sashay, chantay i'm gonna score! uh huh huh huh
In an effort to see just how many people are stopping by here, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I put forth a poll question to start off the day.

Which ultra-hyped TV event will you be watching intently tonight: The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on CBS, or The Bachelor's big finale on ABC? Please post your answers through the "Talk at me" link below.

Keep in mind these two heavyweights are both broadcasting at 9 PM tonight, in head-to-head action that will prove (for a week) which network is mas macho. Both networks have been promoting the hell out of these episodes; you can't hardly watch 5 minutes of either channel without seeing an ad or two for them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

AOL GETS BACK TO ITS ROOTS
America Online, now a much-maligned division of parent company AOL Time Warner, is getting the royal turnaround treatment. One of AOL's native sons, Ted Leonsis, is being brought back into the fold to get that old magic back. They're definitely counting on Leonsis' mojo and something of a back-to-basics approach to revitalize what's still, by far, the largest single ISP in America.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, apparently. It appears AOL is planning to make a major shift away from its traditional advertising reliance and much more to games, auctions and other direct consumer-based services. If they're really smart, they'll get around to actually utilizing all that rich Time Warner entertainment content. Should be interesting.
57 STATIONS AND NOTHING ON
"And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anesthetize the way that you feel." - Elvis Costello

"Now our children are all prisoners, all their lives--radio listeners!" - KRS-1

Radio, radio. Other than NPR at work, I never listen to the radio. Literally never. I gave up on that idiot box several years back, both the music formats and the scourge of talk radio. I got pretty sick of hearing the same four songs played ad nauseum hour after hour until, even if you originally liked any of them, you'd get sick of them real quick. As for talk radio, it would do nothing but raise my blood pressure over the sheer stupidity displayed by the masses. And again, it was pretty much all the same, day in and day out.

So it's absolutely no surprise to me that six years of media ownership liberalization has resulted in an increasingly bland radio landscape. The consolidation wave that's given rise to Clear Channel and a couple of other mammoths has been fascinating from a business strategist's viewpoint, but disastrous from a content diversity angle. And naturally, when taking a position similar to a monopoly, Clear Channel has acted predictably by buying ancillary businesses in the events promotion and outdoor advertising industries and going on to strong-arm vendors.

It's not like listeners are the only ones getting the shaft in this, either. When you've got only a small handful of significant players dominating a market like this, advertisers suffer too. It's such a laugh that the radio industry can deny what's painfully obvious; the widespread overlap between formats is especially telling.

What helps in my self-imposed radio exile is that, truly, it was never a medium that I much warmed up to. I didn't really get into any music until relatively late in life (like late teens), and frankly, if not for the advent of MTV, I probably never would have gravitated toward any music. Yep, without the visuals, I just didn't care. To a large degree, this is still the case.

The call for re-regulation is interesting. It supposes that, at the heart of the matter, radio is a medium somehow worthy of rehabilitation. I can't say I go along with that. It's an inherently limiting medium. You've got only one of your senses involved, and so any content being delivered can be put across in only so many ways. Radio advertising is probably the lowest form of product pitch around, and the overall quality of those ad spots stinks. Not to mention that the FCC is obviously moving toward far less media regulation, not more; the GOP victory this past Election Day will only hasten that. Lastly, let's not forget that there are market solutions at work, in the form of the much-ballyhooed satellite radio options, namely XM and Sirius. Whatever happens from all this, it'll be a hell of a ride.

Monday, November 18, 2002

HERE, ROCK ROCK ROCK...
too shy to come out
Ah, if only I were born a few years earlier, I too could have known the sublime pleasures of owning and caring for a pet rock. I suppose I could head over to eBay right now and purchase one; but somehow, the irony doesn't fit.

A co-worker of mine mentioned last week that she owned a pet rock in its heyday, and probably still possessed it somewhere in her archives. Lo and behold, she brought the little sucker in today, in its original packaging (which resembled the above photo). Wild stuff. Even had the training and care manual in it.

She thought I was making fun of her in an inter-generational way, and I guess, in my snide manner, I was. But hey, she's the one who blew four bucks (in 1970s money) on a lump of granite. :)
SEARCH ENGINE O' THE FUTURE!
your wish is my command-shift-space
If your brain tends to think in visual terms--like organizing facts and notes in a graph-like structure, versus in a top-down list of priorities--then you should loooooooove this. Kartoo is a new-fangled search engine that heavily uses a graphical interface to display its search results. Instead of generating a list of likely links, it shows a bubble-chart of results, represented by circles of different sizes depending on relevance.

I haven't used it for anything I'm seriously researching, and I'm not sure I'd turn to it right away. But it sure is fun to play with. The whole thing runs on Flash, but is surprisingly quick-loading. That little sprite above is, I guess, Kartoo the Magician, the site's mascot.

I can't track it down now, but I recently read an article on the emergence of a few search utilities and sites with this kind of design. The concept could very well be the wave of the future. I guess that means all of us who've gotten used to the Yahoos and Hotbots for their web research will eventually have to shift gears.
DRIVING BLIND
Videogames for the blind. Yes, not only is it a strange concept, but also, considering that the word "video" comes from the Latin videre ("to see"), somewhat oxymoronic. But just as playing most videogames requires using other senses (hearing and touch) as well, so it is that a group of students in Holland have developed a game aimed at blind children that uses only sound cues for its gameplay.

I tried the game, called Drive, earlier today. The computer I was using must have had a sub-par sound card, because I really couldn't understand the instructions given by my co-pilot, "Bob". But it was an interesting experiment for me.

So who cares about something designed for blind people? Well, I do.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

MY WAY, MY WORD
There's a new web portal on the block, and it's talking smack right out of the gate. MyWay.com is looking to attract users by luring former Yahoo-heads who have been put off by the conversion of formerly free features there into fee-based services. Toward this end, MyWay will be launching a lot of aggressive anti-Yahoo ads in order to catch attention.

MyWay is a name that really sounds like Internet circa 1998, with the "my" tag being used during that time on several domain names and sites in an effort to display a "personal" touch to many dot-coms. Aside from that, I think the whole thing is a good idea, if they can actually make a go of it. I'm skeptical that they can. How exactly are they going to keep the shop running? Advertising alone is just not going to do it. Getting users to register is nice, but unless they use those registrations to then do some marketing, that won't make any money either--and part of their pitch now is that they won't do direct-mail type stuff. My guess is they're hoping to build a user base by stealing Yahoo users, get to a certain critical mass, and then start spamming and charging fees. In other words, exactly what Yahoo has done.

These are the same guys who run iWon.com. I registered and used iWon for a brief time, then dropped it. I haven't visited that site in about 2 years, yet I'm still getting spam mail on just about a daily basis from them. Fortunately, I used a junk email account to sign up, so the spam doesn't really bother me. But it gives me a good idea of what to expect if I did sign up on MyWay.

I will say this, though: their games section is great! Especially the arcade ones; bring back a lot of memories.
ONLINE POLITICAL ADS: THE X FACTOR?
Political candidates have discovered the Internet as an effective advertising medium. This past Election Day, there were startling examples of online advertising making a significant impact on several outcomes.

It occurs to me that political advertising has the potential to be much more effective on the web than products & services ads. Despite the general public apathy over politics, I think that politics, especially at election time, is one area that people want to delve somewhat deeper into, as long as it's in a time-effective way. Television and radio can't really do that, print media can but maybe not always in an appealing format. The Web, on the other hand, is well-suited toward this end: lots of sources for information on candidates and issues, often in concise and bulleted formats. Plus, while there's plenty of entertainment options on the Web, it's still more of an active media channel versus a passive one (like TV or radio). So a web surfer is more involved in his/her time online, and probably more receptive to the kind of information being pushed by political ads.

I'm betting this trend continues, and should manifest itself into some interesting campaign angles for 2004. Can't wait to see it, especially in light of this little nugget of info from the article:

"Whether political marketers choose to employ the Internet for direct response fundraising or less measurable branding purposes, recently released PoliticsOnline Research predicts the Internet exemption in the soft money ban 'will result in at least a 300 to 500% increase in spending online in 2004.' "
LADS READ MAGS
800-pound gorilla
There are some stirrings in magazine readership, according to a new study from Mediamark Research. Men's magazines are looking really healthy with 40 million readers buying them up, while other general news and media categories are also doing better. Unfortunately, the one sector still sucking wind happens to be business magazines--my home turf. Tsk tsk.

Back to men's magazines: Maxim continues to be the hegemon here, its 12 million readers twice the size of GQ's audience. The overall size of the men's magazine audience is something interesting to note. The basic industry rule of thumb was that men aren't as desirable a target audience as women, because men don't generally read magazines as much. The trend the past couple of years has dented this theory. A 40-million audience ain't nothing to sneeze at.

Saturday, November 16, 2002

JUST DO IT
little dab'll do ya
It seems like you can't hardly have an Olympics, a football game or even a bike ride without the issue of performance-enhancing drugs coming through. But could it be that our "Just Say No" society is looking at this all wrong? After all, doping and other tricks have roots that reach all the way back to ancient Greece.

Along with this, it's been well-documented that the ancient athletes were paid to perform and won prizes for winning events--in other words, they weren't really amateurs. And, to complete the trifecta, wagering on the games was big business back in the day. So, all these taboos associated with the modern Games (and really, to all bigtime sports) really have been cooked up in more recent decades, rather than being inspired by some ancient principles.

Friday, November 15, 2002

NIPPLE ACTION
So I'm strolling past a clothing store the other day, and notice the mannequins in the window. They're all dressed up in their winter-ish clothing, sweaters and such. Then I noticed something odd: the female mannequin. I could tell it was a female because it had a curvier figure, a flattering bust... and a set of protruding nipples. Like, protruding as in noticable from several yards away, from under what appeared to be a fairly thick sweater.

What's the deal? I'm not a prude, so it's not that I'm offended by such a bold display. But what's the purpose of including nipples on a mannequin? Does it make the clothes look any better? Is it some sort of subliminal sales booster? I'm really curious... for academic reasons only, of course.

This encounter did remind me of that fake-nipple product that came on the scene about a year ago. Prosthetic nipples, for nights when girls just wanna have more fun. They were featured in an episode of Sex and the City, so you know they're hip.

I'm glad I ran into another enquiring mind with thoughts on the nipple issue.
THE RULES OF PAGE-PROOFING
Bummer. I just bought a copy of Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction at a clearance sale at work (the newspaper gets tons of review copies all year, and every so often they have employee-only sales to get rid of the stuff and throw some money to charity). I loved the movie, so I was looking forward to re-experiencing the story through the book.

I was reading through it earlier today at a brisk pace--a very quick read--and enjoying it immensely. Then, I saw that page 30 jumped to page 64. Huh? No pages were torn out, but there was a 30-page gap. I first wondered if it was intentional, that the author or publisher was playing around with the book's structure. But flipping through the rest of the book, I could see that wasn't the case. The pages were just missing!

So, bottom line, I got hosed. Looks like the copy I got was a fouled-up printing, possibly an unproofed next-to-final edition. Damn. I guess I ought to buy another copy, or hit the library.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

IT'S IN THE GAME

This just in from the recent Street & Smith's Sports Marketing Conference in the Big Apple: sports programming gives you more bang for your buck. Remember this the next time you read a report about the NFL/NBA/NHL/MLB/NASCAR getting an ungodly amount of television money for broadcasting rights.
YO YO MAMA
Big fans of the "Switch" ads Apple Computers has been running will like--or hate--the next phase of the campaign: Using celebrities instead of "regular" people. One of the first on deck: Probably the world's most famous cellist, Yo Yo Ma.

This is interesting, because I recently had the brainstorm of featuring one Jerry Seinfeld in one of these commercials. I'm not sure why he occurred to me; I like him, and catch Seinfeld episode reruns all the time, so maybe I'd trust him (ha ha). I figured he'd go through his spiel, and wrap it up with a standard ID: "My name is Jerry Seinfeld, and I'm a comedian".

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

NOW JUST A MANUTE...
stylish in yellow
Now this is what I'm talkin' about. The one and only Manute Bol, the former NBA star who retired in 1995 as the league's leading career shot blocker, has signed on to play hockey with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. I cannot wait to see the video highlights on ESPN from his first game action.

This quite a journey for the 40-year-old Bol, who was born in the most primitive conditions imaginable in southern Sudan and has gone on to live a remarkable life. His teammate with the Philadelphia 76ers, Charles Barkley, once said that Bol had to be the smartest person he ever met to have been able to adapt to such a radically different lifestyle and culture in America. I don't care that his foray into hockey is a publicity stunt, I say more power to him. He should write a book about his life when this is all over.
YES, EVEN OPRAH
I'd like to share a special offer that was courteously e-mailed to me:

"As seen on NBC, CBS, and CNN, and even Oprah! The health discovery that actually reverses aging while burning fat, without dieting or exercise! This proven discovery has even been reported on by the New England Journal of Medicine. Forget aging and dieting forever! And it's Guaranteed!"

I'm sure glad to know that this offer is Guaranteed, with a capital "G". I can find humor in a lot of things, even if there's a bittersweet edge to it. What I find most funny about this spam is the opening line.

Note how this miracle product has been seen on the major new networks: NBC, CBS, CNN (I guess ABC and others missed the boat?). But big deal. They may all be respected news operations that are on top of most fast breaking events and provide expert analysis, but hey, that's what they're supposed to do, right? What have you done for me lately?

No, what REALLY counts is that this thing has been seen "even on Oprah"! THAT'S where it really earns it's chops, because, as we all know, Oprah is the final word on whether something is the real down deal or not!

What's funniest of all is that this message really does have the desired effect by underlining the Oprah name-dropping. Sadly enough, there are legions of people out there who put more trust and credence in a recommendation from Oprah than a news media report. And yes, I know that television news is far from pristine, but come on. I don't think such attitudes have as much to do with any mistrust of traditional media as they do with suseptibility to the charms of infotainment. It's sad.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

WHAT GOES AROUND...?
Here's an interesting one, for all comic book geeks past and present--especially past. Stan Lee is a name nearly synonymous with Marvel Comics, the home of characters like Spider-Man, The Hulk and X-Men. Stan is now suing the company he helped build, claiming he's not getting paid his share of the big-budget movie money his "creations" are now generating.

I put "creations" in quote marks because there's been a lot of controversy over the decades over just how much of a claim Lee has on all the Marvel characters he says he dreamed up. The short version is, Lee has said, in detail, that he came up with the bulk of the concepts behind many of the Marvel characters created in the early 60s, including those listed above, as well as the Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange, Iron Man and a dozen others (at least). The artists he worked with during that period, especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, counter that those characters came about through collaboration with them, to varying degrees (both Kirby and Ditko assert that certain characters, like Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, were created with little or no input from Lee). When they tried to get some appropriate compensation for this during the 70s and 80s, Lee, backed by Marvel, fought back in court and basically told the artists to buzz off.

Now, I stopped following the comic book industry some 13 years ago. There may have been some sort of compromise reached since then; I know Ditko got a co-creator credit in the Spider-Man movie, for instance. But, I think it's a rich bit of karma to see Lee now in essentially the same position he put Ditko and Kirby in for all those years. Excelsior!
JACKASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!
look both ways
Let the banning begin! I'm sure that's the knee-jerk reaction by all those uptight types out there once they hear about what this 15-year-old idiot did after being inspired by the Jackass movie.

Weep not for MTV, though. They've had experience in this area before, going all the way back to the dearly departed and greatly missed Beavis & Butt-Head. They should be well-covered legally. In fact, I think they should be commended for influencing this kind of behavior. It really points out who the dumbasses are in today's world, and with any luck, thins out the herd through the self-inflicted mutilations. Darwin effect and all, you know.

This reminds me of a joke:

What are always the last words out of a redneck's mouth before he dies?

"Hey y'all, watch this!"

Monday, November 11, 2002

SAYONARA EBITDA?
Was there an actual science behind the way companies like WorldCom, Enron and AOL Time Warner cooked their books? Well, sorta. EBITDA, or Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, is a financial metric used extensively in the business world as a shorthand for how a company is doing. This piece suggests that an over-reliance on EBITDA, starting in the go-go 80s, may have led to the sloppy accounting that resulted in today's scandals.

In my former life at a boutique investment bank, I ran into the EBITDA measure a lot. I'm not a financial whiz, and I really learned only enough to be able to credibly present the numbers in a report. Basically, I agree with the ultimate message in this article, which is that you can't rely too much on any one metric, regardless of industry or conditions.

I should also admit that a lingering effect from my time looking at all those business memoranda and reports is that I go "oooooooooh" every time I run across an article like this one.
TROPICAL ENGLAND?
Mangoes, olive trees and bananas growing wild in the south of England? That's what's in store 80 years from now, according to a new study on changing global climate conditions.

Two things: It's sort of amusing, in a way, how matter-of-factly this news item is presented. It's not in panic mode, as you might expect over such a drastic atmospheric change. It puts forward the findings in a ho-hum sort of way, and even proposes that it's just something that people will adapt to (especially garden growers). Weird.

The other thing is, isn't this in a similar vein to other forecasts that have predicted huge changes in climate, only to turn out to be bunk later? I mean, the doomsayers in the 70s were predicting that pollution levels would bring about poisonous oceans and dirty air so bad that gasmasks would be required equipment on a daily basis. I doubt I'll still be around 80 years from now, but even so, I'll reserve my panic until a time when I see this sort of thing come about.
ALTAVISTA STRIPS DOWN
new look
Once one of the major search engines/portals on the Web, AltaVista is refurbishing itself in a Google-like image. The new look is fresh, although not all that "clean".
GETTING MORE OUT OF SUBSCRIBERS
As always, the publishing world strives to find as many revenue streams as possible, especially with the ad climate being as stinko as it currently is. Some of the bigshots shared their thoughts on this recently. It's good to see that intrusive telemarketing is taking a hit, and that the industry has moved on from the now-dead sweepstakes ploy. And as always, the Internet has had a huge impact on the ability to sell subscriptions.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

OH, TO BE SPIRITED AWAY
what's in a name?
I just saw "Spirited Away" a couple of days ago. I enjoyed it a lot. It was a fun, creative fantasy. A very un-Disneylike film from Disney, which is only right since Disney only imported this Japanese production and made a few modifications in the translation.

I especially liked the artists' portrayal of dragons. Instead of the reptilian creatures we usually see, they were depicted here as fur-covered beasts, still fearsome (maybe even more so) and even more other-worldly.
TODAY'S SHOW: BAT-HEAD BITERS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM
freshen your drink, guv'nor?
With the regrettable success of The Dr. Phil Show, the rush is on to find the next home-run hitter in the daytime talkshow arena. Based on the stardom she's gained through The Osbournes, Sharon Osbourne, wife of Ozzy, has been tabbed as the next Oprah. Gee, I can't hardly wait.
IT'S SABADO, IT'S GIGANTE
mi nombre esta Mario
I simply cannot get enough of Don Francisco and Sabado Gigante. So it is with relish that I present a new report on the greatest show on el munde.
THE END OF AGATEERING?
Big big news that could affect many newsrooms around the world. A new computer language has been launched that greatly simplifies the formatting of agate type. Agate type is that teeny-tiny typeset that you see throughout the sports sections of newspapers for boxscores, standings, etc., and also in the business pages that list all those stock quotes and financial data. There are demos aplenty of the new tool, dubbed SportsML, right here.

Right now, most newspapers and media services employ a certain number of people dedicated to editing and formatting just this type of information, because it's so time-consuming. While working in a newspaper sports department, I spent many a night coralling box scores, standings, individual career stats, and a whole lotta other things and making them make sense to the naked eye. There were plenty of shortcuts built into the editing system, but even with that there was still a ton to do by hand, and you usually needed 2 or 3 other people to pitch in. With most of the coding and formatting taken care of at the source, handling agate would be much easier. So easy, in fact, that many outfits might not need to keep as many dedicated agate editors on staff. As rough as most newspapers have had it in the ledger the last few years, I imagine they'd jump at a chance to reduce payroll anywhere they could.
PALETTE OF THE APES
portrait of the artist as a young primate
Anyone looking for an interesting conversation piece to add to their abode should look here. Koko the gorilla, she of the 1,000-word sign language vocabulary fame, is also a budding artist. Her works, and those of her companion Michael, are on display here in the Tampa Bay area and are for sale, too. Maybe I'll scoop up one of those t-shirts!

I'm no art critic, but I think Michael had more artistic talent; and so I've planted his photo above instead of that of his more famous "sister". Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. But hey, the great artistes are never really recognized until after they've died, right?

Saturday, November 09, 2002

THE TOYS OF YESTERYEAR
Are you, like me, a Generation Xer? Did you grow up with Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Smurfs and the like? Then you'll be happy to know that retro toys are the Next Big Thing for the upcoming holiday season.
"AND NOW, YOUR CALGARY-PORTLAND-SEATTLE-LAS VEGAS.... FLAMES!"
league
This comes off at first like a crackpot notion, but the more I read it, the more it liked it. A proposed solution to the fear of professional sports franchises leaving small markets--in this case, NHL teams leaving Canadian cities--is to allow teams to set up shop in two cities, one north and one south of the border. The basic argument is that it's better to have half a franchise, as it were, than none at all. And with ticket prices getting higher and higher, selling a season-ticket package for 20 home games instead of 41 is more affordable for Joe Average.

Like I said, it's not a half-bad idea. I believe there's some major-league precedence for this; back in the 70s or 80s, the NBA franchise that is now the Sacramento Kings spent some time as the Kansas City/Omaha Royals, with a shared arrangement. A similar scheme is being proposed for the Montreal Expos for next season, with them playing in a number of cities. I'm sure plenty of minor league teams do this as well.

Unfortunately, I can see a lot of deterrents here, too. Team owners typically like to own their teams and the arenas, too. It's hard to see this being the case in some sort of shared ownership. Also, while this partly alleviates the problem of doing business in Canadian currency, it doesn't eliminate it. After a couple of years, I'd imagine that the owners would question why they should play any games in Canada at all, when they could move them all to the States. Plus, would fans in either city really embrace a part-time team? Questions, questions.

Friday, November 08, 2002

"NOW READERS CAN TAKE SLATE TO THE TOILET WITH THEM"
Amen, brother. As part of Microsoft's rollout of it's new Tablet PC product, it announced a deal with several magazine publishers to produce new-fangled electronic editions of major magazines. These new electronic formats will supplant e-books and websites... in theory. The whole thing depends on how popular the Tablet PC becomes. There are plenty of detractors there.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

SMALL BIZ GOING APPLE?
boot me up
With Microsoft really starting to put the screws to businesses through increased licensing and upgrade fees, lots of companies are looking at alternatives. Apple is an established natural, and it may even be a very cost-competitive solution.

I've often said that I wished Apple would've won the war with Microsoft. They may still. Mac OS is just a lot less hassle. The only reason Microsoft is so predominant is because tech geeks can't part with programmable code. Meanwhile, Apple just develops easier-to-use designs that are naturally intuitive.
WHY NOT SUE FOR THE GOALIE AWARD TOO?
A shining example of how frivolous lawsuits aren't just a U.S. phenomenon. A typically overbearing hockey dad in Canada is suing the kid's hockey league his son played in because they didn't pick his kid as league MVP. Apparently, his contention is that since his son was the league's leading scorer, that was enough to guarantee the MVP award for his boy. I guess no one's ever explained to this doofus that the leading scorer is not automatically anointed MVP.

Poor sonny boy was so distraught over not winning the personal acolade that he now wants to quit the game altogether. Gee, could it be that the voters didn't appreciate being browbeaten by out-of-control hockey dads, and that influenced their votes? The whole thing is idiotic.
"I'LL NEVER TRUST SQUIRRELS AGAIN"
nuts to you, bee-atch
So goes the terrified cry of a London resident who has witnessed the wrath of a vicious attack squirrel. That's one baaaaaaad-ass little tree rat.
WHO DRIVE?
How many bells and whistles can a car have? BMW is betting more is better, as it unleashes a jetplane-like cockpit in it's newest luxury models. I liked the test drive here, as it displayed how counter-intuitive alot of tech advances are when applied. Don't these companies devote any time to field-testing these things on average people?

I also wonder if the day will come when a driver would need to be certified and trained to properly use a specialized navigation system. A driver's license test would change from parallel parking tests to knowing how to track your tachometer.
THE POWER OF THE SEA
An interesting piece on utilizing deep-sea tides to generate electricity. As alluded to here, the provisions called for in the Kyoto Treaty have really spurred the further development of alternative energy sources. Too bad the U.S. isn't in on the action.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

BRANDING FOR DOLLARS
Brand time! Here's a nice case study of re-branding efforts in advertising. It includes the interesting estimate that only one in 10 new products will stay on the shelves for longer than two years, which is the minimum benchmark time period for brand longevity. And for God's sake, avoid the New Coke trap.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

THE TREACHEROUS WEB
It seems the anti-professional roots of the Internet are hard to shake. A study has determined that the majority of information sites fail to provide proper documentation and verification details.

Of course, bear in mind that you get what you pay for. All this stuff is posted for free, so you should expect that the quality isn't the greatest.
PREENING PREMIERE
Because the usual beating it gets from Entertainment Weekly is increasing daily, Premiere Magazine is getting a bit of a makeover, mostly behind the scenes.

Monday, November 04, 2002

THE DAVE RADIO HOUR
you're listening to W-D-A-V... uh, E...
Synergy in action. The Late Show With David Letterman will now be simulcast on the radio waves, so people without a TV can get their fill of Dave every night.

I consider David Letterman my personal god. So of course, I approve of all steps to spread his presence.
CABLE CHANNELS FOR SALE
If you're looking to buy a cable television network, you could be looking at a buyer's market. Today's announced sale of Bravo TV by NBC has triggered speculation that several other channels, currently owned by debt-laden media companies, may also soon change hands. It's always fun to see the dominos fall... although it won't happen as quickly as this article makes out.

Sunday, November 03, 2002

TRUSTWORTHY COMPUTING?
The struggle over file-swapping and pirating of programs and files over the Internet has, to a large degree, focused on the software platform. This is ultimately a losing proposition, since software measures can always be hacked and rendered useless. So the solution is to target the hardware. The plan is to get computer and computer component manufacturers to build security safeguards directly into the machines, thus making barriers to copying and distribution more reliable. This is the root of what's called "trustworthy computing". Kind of like the difference between a security camera and a security guard: a camera can be fooled or rendered inactive pretty easily, while a live guard is usually harder to neutralize.

The ultimate goal, I suppose, would be to create a whole network of machines that would be capable of sending and receiving data only through these physical security gates. When enough of these new computers are on the market and in use, they will have supplanted older, unsecured machines, and viola! Problem solved, as far as content providers are concerned.

Interesting reading. I'm surprised it's taken the concerned parties so long to cut a deal like this. I've noticed a while ago how computer retailers and manufacturers were using the ability to locate and copy music as the killer app for selling machines. It struck me as a blatant promotion for the pirating that the music and movie industries were trying to curb. If they could get the computer makers on their side, they'd be able to solve their problem.
KUWAIT SHUTS DOWN AL-JAZEERA
It's tough trying to run an independent news agency in a region dominated by authoritarian political culture. Thanks to some overly-intrepid reporting, Arab news network Al-Jazeera had it's Kuwait bureau shuttered by the government.

Al-Jazeera has gotten a bad rap in the States, due to the fact that the Bush administration considers it a forum for anti-American propaganda. From what I've seen, it's a fair, balanced news service. Looks like it can't win for losing.
BIG BEAR STORY, ILLUSTRATED
live long and prosper big game hunter
This little yarn, along with photos, was forwarded to me by a friend. Could be one of those Internet myths, but it's certainly plausible. I'm not sharp enough to be able to tell if the picture's been monkeyed with or not. In any case, the text:

"The attached pictures are of a guy who works for the forest service in Alaska. He was out deer hunting. A large (large?) Grizzly charged him from about 50 yards away. The guy unloaded a 7mm Mag Semi-auto into the bear and it dropped a few feet from him. The thing was still alive so he reloaded and capped it in the head. It was over one thousand six hundred pounds, 12' 6" high at the shoulder. It's a world record. The bear had killed a couple of other people. Of course, the game department did not let him keep it. Think about it. This thing on its hind legs could walk up to the average single story house and look on the roof at eye level!"

What's up with Alaska, anyway? First humongous pterodactyl-like birds, then an earthquake, and now this.

Saturday, November 02, 2002

AWAKE
Boy, do I hate waking up early on a weekend. Especially when I didn't intend to. I'm one of those people who typically can't get back to sleep once I've been awakened; even if I've had only 4 hours of sleep, I just can't return to slumber, or at best I'll go into a very unsound half-awake half-asleep state for a couple of hours. Something woke me up around 6:15AM this morning, probably a dream; and the recent Daylight Savings Time change is also screwing with my body clock. Because I couldn't get back to sleep, I just got out of bed, got the paper, and took a shower. Bleh.

Friday, November 01, 2002

PLAY THE GAME, WATCH THE UPCOMING MOVIE
In a tip of the hat to a valuable creative source for Hollywood, one of the biggest talent agencies in the entertainment business has created a business unit that will help adapt video game properties into movies and TV shows.

Boy, I can't wait to see Galaga and Yars' Revenge made into blockbuster films!

The first thing I thought of was that this is quite a reversal in the traditional synergies between these two media. It used to be that a bigtime adventure or sci-fi movie would come out, and in among the merchadising avalanche of t-shirts, coffee mugs and breakfast cereals based on said movie would be a trinket video game based on the film. Ancient Atari 2600 examples come to mind, like E.T. and Halloween. Now, it's the game that's the driving force, and the movie is the auxiliary product.