The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, RIGHT?
do i have to actually say it??
Never let it be said that there's an upper limit in the arena of frivolous lawsuits. I suppose I could write at length on about a dozen a day. This one really caught my eye, though. A fellow who legally changed his name to "Jack Ass" is suing the MTV show of the same name for allegedly demeaning him and his life work. Apparently, Mr. Ass here adopted his new moniker after nearly being killed in a drunk driving accident (it obviously gave him some sort of brain damage, though), and subsequently went on a mission to educate people on the dangers of drunk driving.

Y'know, I never do this, but at this time, I'd like to send a personal message to Jack:

Hey, FUCK HEAD (try legally changing your name to that, as it seems even more suitable). There's a reason why the term "jackass" is used as an insult. The folks at MTV understood this, which is why they gave the show that title. Apparently, this nuance escapes you. The snickers you're getting aren't because of some fool stunt Johnny Knoxville showcased; it's because you named yourself after a universally-accepted put-down term. But, on the plus side, this idiot lawsuit does reinforce that you richly deserve the name.

In the way of a disclaimer: I'm not a fan of Jackass, either in TV or movie form. I've never seen the movie, and I don't think I've ever seen an episode of the show. I group it generally with other low-input reality shows. I can see the humor in it, but it's not really my bag, baby.
REALITY CHECK: A DANGEROUS MIND
GOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGGG! chuckie baby! circa 1976 circa 2002
With the imminent release of the George Clooney-directed film adaptation of Chuck Barris' autobiography (which I freely admit I'm looking forward to catching), the requisite supporting hype is starting to emerge. None is more interesting that the words of Chuckie Baby himself. He feels he's getting a bum rap on his legacy. Oh well, I suppose if he's really that ticked off, he could always whack somebody.

Actually, this interview from close to a year ago was much more insightful. Not only do we see how he looks today (way to lose that faux afro!), but we learn that he's been holed up in France, of all places. I'm surprised they didn't bestow a Jerry Lewis-style adoration on him; must be the CIA connection working against him.

Amazingly, this is not the first Chuck Barris movie ever made. Believe it or not, The Gong Show Movie actually exists and graced screens 20 years ago.

If anyone 25 years ago would have claimed that The Gong Show was a show way ahead of it's time, they'd have been tossed into the nuthouse. But let's face it: what is today's crapfest of reality TV shows but the refined spawn of this hard-to-forget classic? I'll take Chuckie Baby over that British asshole on American Idol any day of the week, thanks. (Actually, maybe they should give those American Idol judges a gong; it would give them something to do other than just sit there making obscene facial gestures.)

Friday, December 27, 2002

J-LO ON THE DOWN-LOW
guess i should gain about 100 pounds
Good news, everyone! Jenny Lo, about to embark on her third walk down the aisle, has absolutely no problem with people comparing her to Liz Taylor, another serial monogamist.

The thing is, no one, in fact, is making that comparison. No one except J-Lo herself, and her publicity machine. This is a rather obvious attempt at manufacturing buzz. Nice try, though.

Thursday, December 26, 2002

THE PROBABLE JESUS?
hello, messiah
Ah, those cheeky Brits! First they kick off the holiday season by airing a volatile documentary that suggests the Virgin Mary was a 13-year-old rape victim. And now, another documentary will make a case that Jesus looked like the above photo, in stark contrast to the usual tall, long-haired, light-skinned figure most Christians revere. I'm sure they'll get a ton of irate calls on this one too, which is probably the point.

This issue has come up plenty of times before: that the Caucasian European cultural sphere (which consists of, essentially, every part of the globe where European colonization left lasting impressions) long ago remade Jesus in the image of a white man. Aside from the Bible verse paraphrased in this article, I believe there are other verses that provide full or partial physical descriptions of Jesus. Some of the confusion comes in "which" Jesus they refer to: the man, the god, the spirit... even thing like circumstance and time period (e.g., at Resurrection) come into play. But the heart of the argument is that it makes no sense to portray Jesus as a more-modern European white man, when he was a Semite who more likely had darker Middle Eastern features.

This point has been over-emphasized a good deal, and ignores that it's not totally impossible that Jesus could have been lighter-skinned than your average Israelite. There was no single "look" among the ethnicities in the Levant at that time; there was a good range of physical traits people there possessed. And let's face it, a prophet who looked out of the ordinary would have attracted more attention by virtue of his appearance.

On the other hand, it's always been pretty obvious to me that the Jesus we usually see is an idealized, closer-to-white version than what probably existed. Just one more iffy concept to throw on the Christian pile.
LAWLER-KAUFMAN: NOTHING LEFT TO BELIEVE IN
grudge match
The Andy Kaufman-Jerry Lawler feud is an event that's reached legendary proportions. Many diehard fans of both men (but especially Kaufman) are convinced that the whole thing was real, and as a result one of the greatest wrestling rivalries ever.

But according to Lawler, the surviving half of this duo, the whole thing was a big staged hoax. This includes the highlight of the whole thing, their seemingly "real" confrontation on the old Dave Letterman show some 20 years ago. (I cannot wait to see the first monologue jokes Dave makes about this; I think he's on vacation for at least the rest of this week. Maybe he'll even book Lawler on the show to plug this!)

Actually, this news is really not new; it's just an official confirmation of what's been going around for a while now. It's been rumored that Lawler and Kaufman were good friends all along, which is typical of most pro wrestling events.

This story, and all the elements that go with it, hold quite a bit of entertainment for me, especially looking back. This was the early-to-mid 80s, and a lot of things/people involved here were different:

-Andy Kaufman was one of the bigger and more recognizable TV stars around.
-Jerry Lawler was one of the bigger wrestlers around.
-Pro wrestling was not nearly the phenomenon it is now. It was really more on a level with minor-league hockey and roller derby; there certainly wasn't prime-time national TV or any of the other spectacle that now goes with it. It was, of course, still staged. :)
-Dave Letterman was on at 12:30, and his show was much more of an oddball invention. There was practically no polish to it, of the kind that you see in his current show, or even that you see on the present 12:30 shows (Conan O'Brien and Craig Kilborn). As a result, it made viewing Dave much more of a guilty pleasure.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002

BOY, THIS BIG MAC TASTES FUNNY
mcdonald's is people
Even though it's become synonymous with American capitalism around the globe, McDonald's is experiencing some rough sledding of late. The company just posted it's first-ever quarterly loss, something that was unimaginable just ten years ago.

In an effort to turn things around, they've decided to play around with their age-old hamburger recipe. Sounds to me like a replay of the New Coke debacle waiting to happen.

Here's an idea: Maybe they could try putting actual beef into their burgers?
SIGNS OF, UGH, AGING
This sort of thing just kills me. There's nothing I despise about getting older, physically, than the little nagging things that crop up.

Case in point: I wake up this morning, and the middle finger on my right hand HURTS. It's sore and aching, and while it doesn't hurt horribly, it's definitely noticable. What's really bothering me is, what the fuck possibly could have caused this? I mean, I was sleeping, ferchristsakes. Was I possibly having an involved dream where I was flipping off people every five seconds? :)

I cannot think of a more bizarre concept that experiencing soreness or injury as a result of a full night's sleep. Essentially, my body is getting worn down from being in a state of inertness. As a kid, I used to laugh at my parents when they complained about their backs or necks hurting as soon as they woke up. I guess the joke's on me now. Merde.

Monday, December 23, 2002

THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE
just put some brut on and meet me at the party
And I say that without a trace of sarcasm or irony. Today at the office, I got the bestest Christmas present I could've ever ask wished for: a DVD of the comedy classic House Party! My joy knows no bounds; thank you, Jamie.

I have a copy of this movie on videotape. The tape is from my college days, and must have been watched about 50,000 times. Still looks good, but I'm grateful for the fresh copy and format. Can't wait to spend a couple of hours rolling to this one!

If you haven't seen this film, you must. Run, don't walk, to a store and rent/buy it. (Avoid the sequels: House Party II sucked; III was actually pretty good, but not great; and a fourth one was apparently straight to video and didn't even have Kid-n-Play in it!)
YO YO YO
In case anyone's got this site on their Internet speed-dial, or is otherwise checking in regularly: My posting will be somewhat sporadic for the next week. Holidays and all that. I'm sure I'll put up a couple of things, but maybe with a day or two's lapse between each. Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 22, 2002

POLL-HAPPY
This was a somewhat enjoyable little screed. Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly goes ballistic over the over-abundance of instant online polls.

I gotta admit I agree with him on the bulk of this. Putting up a poll to get public opinion on whether or not a knee injury looks serious--and this isn't much of an exaggeration, as I've seen daily polls, in sports and elsewhere, ask similarly inane questions--is just plain dumb. It's the result of the pressure of requiring the inclusion of some, any, poll topic on a site, and probably a poor understanding of the basic purpose of a poll (you don't ask for opinions on matters of fact).

Reilly does reveal himself to be an out-of-step curmudgeon in one instance:

Ask yourself this: How blinklessly bored do you have to be to sit there watching SportsCenter, hear that Stuart Scott needs you, leave your La-Z-Boy, run to your computer, log on, find the poll site and vote? I mean, have you even heard of the opposite sex?

I guess he's unfamiliar with the concept of having your computer set up in the same room that you television is in; I believe public opinion research has found that about half of households are set up like this now. Not to mention that as laptops wireless networks become more popular, this also makes it easier to enjoy the boob tube and the Web simultaneously. So it's not like all those thousands of Monday Night Football viewers are running from the couch to the "computer room" to vote on the play of the night.
THE CINCINNATI BENGALS AND CREAMSICLE NOSTALGIA
bungles
As football-crazy as this country is, there are some places in this grand land where the approach of NFL Sunday is regarded with a certain amount of dread. And those places are in and around Cincinnati, where the Bengals never fail to disappoint in fulfilling that sinking feeling. As they careen through another laughably losing season, the mood around the Queen City's pigskin ground zero is equal parts somber and comical.

I've ruminated before about how the Bengals make me feel oddly nostalgic for the days of the bad ol' Bucs. But I don't think I adequately got across the whole experience of living in the presence of such an inept football team (an experience which Cincinnatians are now numb to). Unless you've been around it, it's hard to properly convey. The inevitability of all the frustration, shame, and hopelessness makes for a heady brew, and eventually you just have to laugh over the whole thing.

And of course, now that the Buccaneers are regular playoff performers (and likelier Super Bowl contenders than ever), the times are, in some ways, less interesting. I keep things jolly by noting how many die-hard Bucs fans are crawling around the area--and how their years of die-hard support coincide nicely with the years that the team started winning.

Anyway, for one day, things are happy in Bengal-Land, as Cincinnati upended New Orleans 20-13 today.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE...
... I'd have to buy a shotgun. That is my reaction to the news that NBC and the cast of Friends have decided to run on fumes for yet another year.

Actually, this doesn't mean much to me. I haven't watched an episode of this show, either first-run or in syndication, in something like 3 or 4 years. As terrible as it was when I stopped watching it, I shudder to think how horrendous it now is.

I'd also like to point out that, despite the ubiquity of photo images of the Friends, both individually and in a group, I did not include on in this posting.
THE FENG SHUI BUNCH
so THAT'S the way they all became
While the ancient Chinese art of feng shui is only now making news in this half of the world, it appears to have been implanted into our collective consciousness years ago. None other than perennial syndication favorite The Brady Bunch exercised the fundamental principles of the Lo Shu square formula. But you already knew that, right?

To tell you the truth, this revelation actually sours me on the whole feng shui thing. I mean, are we supposed to take the Brady house as an exemplar of balanced home life? Consider: There were six kids crammed into two bedrooms and sharing one bathroom; the live-in maid was forced to sleep in a linen closet (or something, I don't think we ever saw Alice's bedroom); and the family dog just flat out disappears with no explanation. And I hasten to add, the man of the house was an architect, for God's sake.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

NO MONEY!
Sometimes, I wonder why I bother to carry a cellphone around, as it always rings at the most inopportune times. Case in point:

I spent a good part of the afternoon running errands, including wrapping up my holiday shopping (found a couple of neat things at some little hole-in-the-wall shops in downtown St. Pete, which I was very happy about). As I'm doing this, I stop at an ATM machine to get some cash. As I'm in the middle of getting the money out of the machine, my phone chirps. It's my brother. As I don't talk to him all that often, I picked it up and started yacking. We talk for a few minutes as I take my money, walk up the street and hit a couple more stores. The conversation ends, and I go about my business.

About five hours later, I'm at about the tail-end of my consumerish activities for the day. As I pick up a little trinket (a universal remote, for me), I take out my wallet to get my ATM card. HELLO! Not there. I search my pockets for a few seconds, and then it hits me: I LEFT THE DAMN CARD IN THE ATM MACHINE DOWNTOWN.

Goddammit.

I trucked down to the ATM machine, hoping against hope that the card was still in or near the machine (not totally farfetched, since it is the weekend and the location isn't an especially high-traffic area). No dice.

I'm really more inconvenienced, than wounded, by this. I called the bank and had them void the lost card, and my replacement card is in the mail. I've got some food in the house, so I'm not going to starve to death. The biggest sting is that I'm, for functional purposes, flat broke. I have exactly one dollar in my wallet, and a bunch of plastic that I'd just as soon not use, and in alot of situations, can't use.

So, the upshot is, I'm not going out for the remainder of the weekend. I can get some cash in my hot little hand on Monday by going into the bank (what a concept!) and getting money from a live teller (amazing!). But as far as tonight and Sunday goes, my ass is staying home. Sigh.
ODE TO REED'S CIDER
Mmmmmm... If there's a better soft drink out there than Reed's Spiced Apple Brew, I'd like to see it! I just found some at a local supermarket; they seem to carry it only intermittently, and only in their health-food section. This is the best stuff, and I don't normally even like apple juice or cider. It's a brewed concoction, with apple cider, sparkling water, lemon juice, cinnamon and other spices. It's sweet and pretty light, and just darn good stuff. It's kinda pricey--about $5.50 for a four-pack--but damn well worth it. Think I'll run out and pick up some more today. Yum.
RESTRAINING REPORTERS--NO LONGER
Sanity restored, after some wasted taxpayer time and money. The restraining order injunction issued against a Tampa reporter that prevented him from doing his job has been lifted. The judge in this go-round apparently was able to tell the difference between a deranged stalker and a reporter getting a story.

It's still ridiculous that this even happened. Hopefully it won't have any kind of residual effect, here or anywhere in the world.
POTATO SCOOPS
Is there anything more unappealing than seeing a serving of potato salad presented as a couple of ice cream-style scoops? Yuck. Turns me off bigtime. I just got something to eat from a little hotplate shack, and that's how they served me up my potato salad. The salad was not bad, but sometimes it's all in the appearance. I remember, years ago, a supposedly upscale restaurant I went to did the same thing; I never went back.
THIS JUST IN: TRENT'S SORRY
forgiveness please
In a move that was a question of "when" rather than "if", Mississippi Senator Trent Lott resigned yesterday as U.S. Senate Majority Leader. Meanwhile, the GOP is gearing up to elect Tennessee's Bill Frist as the replacement, all the while checking his credentials and potential chinks in his armor.

There's been plenty said about the whole maelstrom surrounding Lott's offending remarks. They've been sliced and diced and analyzed and denounced and reputiated many times over. So I don't feel like going over them again.

I think what it basically boils down to this: When Lott embarked upon his multiple-apology tour, what exactly was he apologizing for? Was he apologizing for having said what he said, or for having meant what he said? Or, was he apologizing for the fallout? That's the overriding reaction I had, and I suspect most people (at least in my generation) had. This was especially so with each follow-up apology, which, by the way, tended to diminish his credibility even further.

In any case, since this may be the only Trent Lott reference I make here now that he's (somewhat) out of the limelight, I'll conclude it with a trivial pop culture reference. No matter what becomes of Lott and his career from this point on, he's forever a part of the Star Wars movie mythology (along with Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut).

Friday, December 20, 2002

DOES THIS QUALIFY AS ANIMAL ABUSE?
save me!
Look at the above picture. I could supplement that picture by mentioning that it came from a recent professional dog show in Orlando. But really, would that add to the pure aesthetic value of that image? I think not.
DEATH TO VIDEOGAMES
Beware, citizens: Today's videogames are so chock full of violence and--gasp!--boobies that some in the government deem it necessary to take action. And please, remember to think of the children.

I'm glad to see that the videogame industry is playing it smart this time, in the form of having a trade association/advocacy group to present their views. I always got the feeling that, in the past, publishers and programmers were in way over their heads on this type of thing.

One little factoid from this article I found interesting: It says that slightly over half of videogame consumers/players are male. Only "slightly over half"?? Come on. I'll bet you anything it's more like 90%. I have yet to meet any girls/women who actively play videogames (or at least admit to it).
REALITY CHECK: I WILL SURVIVE
thai, like kissing your sister
As I was walking in to work this morning, there were a couple of guys (don't really know who they are, they work a few floors below me) in front of me on the way to the elevators. They were having a really animated discussion about--you guessed it--last night's Survivor finale.

It was quite a sight, seeing them gesticulating about how this Survivor did this and the other one said that. One of these guys even bragged about how he had called the final outcome about 10 minutes into the show, and so went to bed secure in the knowledge that he was "the man" because of this. They were also speculating about the post-curricular fun from this latest Survivor edition, maybe in the form of a sexual harrassment suit.

The look of disgust must have registered on my face, because as they got off onto their floor, one of them gave me a glare on the way out of the elevator.

Do whatcha like, I always say. But nothing brings out the snob in me like the moronic crowd appeal these shows have (well, maybe the "sport" of pro wrestling does too). And I'll forever be grateful that these lowest-common-denominator junk shows don't strike any particular chord with me.

I mean, honestly, what is there in these things that gets people so worked up and captivated? The whole arena is staged, so it's not like these participants are in any danger. The big appeal, I guess, is throwing together a group of morons from different walks of life, different backgrounds and different ages and then watching the sparks fly (real or exaggerated, or whatever). I cannot think of a bigger way to waste my time; watching a crusty old rerun of The Ropers (to name a random, long-dead yucky sitcom) would be a comparative heaven over sitting through this reality junk. I have yet to watch more than five minutes of this crap, and unless they come up with something that just knocks my socks off (unlikely, since the whole premise is so silly to me), I don't think that tally will move up.

A couple of parting shots on this:

-This particular edition of Survivor was more in-your-face than normal for me, because one of the participants, Jan I believe, is a Tampa resident. So the local news and newspapers kept a special hometown-girl watch on her. I guess she made it to the very end, but didn't win.

-I watch The Late Show With David Letterman most nights (Dave is my god), and the CBS synergy is alive and well as they force Dave to feature what he calls the "Survivor losers" on his show every week. The show has handled this pretty well, actually, and gets some good laughs out of ragging on these people. But last night, as part of the whole finale, they got together all the Survivor participants in a row of chairs and had them read off the night's Top Ten List, which I think was the "Top 10 Highlights From Survivor". I don't know if the joke lines were all that bad, or the delivery by the Surviv-oids was so flat, but the whole thing got NO laughs. Utter bomb. And you could see Dave getting mad at how the segment was flailing. It's probably a losing battle, but I'm thinking that on the next Survivor go-round, Dave will pitch a hissy-fit to not have the tie-ins forced into his show.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

SUDDEN DEATH
Now there's a new way to get killed over a soccer game, in addition to the traditional soccer riot. A research study has determined that sudden-death shootouts in soccer matches have a direct correlation to cardiac arrests among more excitable viewers.

I'd like to congratulate the researchers on their contribution here. In my mind, it joins the ranks of other useless scientific studies like the dynamics of the stadium wave.

Actually, I guess this report is not totally useless. It could be used as a counter-argument in the debate over bringing the shootout to the NHL; that issue seems to get conjured up every time someone notices what they feels are too many tied games.

Hmmm.... I just thought of how lucky British "football" fans actually are, considering. It could be a lot worse: Imagine how many more heart attacks they'd suffer if they had to endure Andrés Cantor, the GOOOOOOOOOOAL! Guy.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

THE CULTURE OF FREE
If your favorite TV show, or favorite sports team's televised games, suddenly went to a pay-per-view format, would you: a) cough up the dough for each episode, b) find a new favorite to follow, or c) give it up and take up needlepoint?

Well actually, if you're like most people living in this Internet Age, you'll take recourse against what you consider to be a transgression on your person by finding some method of stealing your favorite content--or, semantically speaking, simply not paying for it.

This article is probably the most enjoyable I've read on the subject of the average person's perception of entertainment programming. It still floors me how people use the "information wants to be free" idiot mantra as specious reasoning to justify bootlegging movies, music, books, photos, etc. I haven't decided whether people just can't wrap their minds around the concept of creative ideas having a value that deserves compensation and protection, or whether they choose to ignore it in favor of convenience.

Part of this is the perception that entertainment information has been widely available for decades for what's considered to be no cost--"free" (or broadcast) television, for instance. The commerical breaks you have to sit through aren't considered to be a form of payment, although that's exactly what they are. The only reason television and radio weren't constructed on a more regular user-payment basis was because the techonology to enable that just wasn't there. In many ways, it still isn't; that's why e-commerce still hasn't really taken off.

Some choice quotes from this article that I especially like:

But people are not committing fraud simply because technology has made it possible. Their acts, say observers, are partly a defense of long-held expectations. For more than 50 years, Americans have been conditioned to expect entertainment services, in particular, that are cheap or free...

But studies show that even adults minimize the significance of stealing services as opposed to tangible products.

In several surveys over the past decade, University of Mississippi marketing professor Scott Vitell found that half of all consumers believe that it is OK to steal a service that can be replicated elsewhere - like cable programming or digital music. Yet nearly all of those people said stealing a can of soda, for example, was wrong. "There's some notion that if the original is still available, you haven't done anything wrong [by copying it]," says Mr. Vitell.

Consumers' failure to recognize the value of intellectual property, as opposed to a tangible product, is rooted in historical precedent.

"For most of the 20th century ... consumers grew accustomed to receiving [TV and radio] broadcasts for free, once having made the initial investment in the receiver," says Michael Rappa, a professor of technology management at North Carolina State University...

Rather than sue their own customers, businesses must adapt their own practices so they better fit consumer psychology, experts suggest. "Folks who sell intellectual property have to adopt models that make accessing entertainment feel virtually free," says Michael Carroll, a law professor at Villanova University.

One example: Charging customers a one-time subscription fee of $5 to download digital music. Under that scenario, music distributors will be more able to replicate the feeling people expect of unlimited access, without penalties.
THIS XMAS' HOT TOY: TEENY TINY CARS
zip-zip!
The gee-whiz factor plays big when it come to tech-toy gift shopping. I just love electronic gizmos! The iSun Portable Solar Charger mentioned here is something I'll have to look into; I'm always complaining about how my cellphone's battery can't make it through a typical day on the town without draining down. Also, Burn Rate looks like cool fun.

However, I'd have to say that the prize for neatest toy goes to the ZipZaps. In fact, I was so intrigued by them that I stopped by my local Radio Shack on the way home and bought the last one they had (the clerk told me people really were scooping them up like crazy). I got the purple PT Cruiser model, shown above.

Putting the thing together took me a few minutes longer than it should have. It's not that the assembly was complicated--the instructions lay it out pretty simply--but the parts are so damn small, I was afraid of breaking them while trying to clumsily snap them into place. But I got it all built, charged it up and did some test drivin'. I gotta say, the experience was underwhelming. The car worked fine, and there's some low-impact fun in running the thing around, but it wears off pretty quick. So it goes with impulse purchases... I think I need to get a couple more people with them together so we can race, or something.

So why are these little buggers the must-have toy of the year, following in the footsteps of Pokemon and Tickle-Me-Elmo? Beats me. Sometimes simple just works. Or it could be that the Shaq-Diesel is endorsing them. I know that worked for me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

WIRELESS HEART ATTACK
Joggers with weak hearts no longer need fear about collapsing in a mid-stride and croaking. The good folks at International Business Machines have developed a heart monitoring device that will send out a cellphone call just as soon as the ol' ticker conks out. Naturally, you need to own a cellphone, and have it on all the time, for this to be effective.

Yeah, I know it's a lousy headline. Sue me. You get what you pay for, folks.

Monday, December 16, 2002

MUSIC ON THE NOGGIN'
You know how you get a song stuck in your head, and it may even be a song that you hate, and yet try as you might, you just cannot get it to stop echoing in your skull?

Oh... you don't? Well.... Then I guess you wouldn't be interested in knowing about the research that's revealed how the brain interacts with music, and why.

A co-worker of mine has an interesting way to "cure" oneself of the catchy-tune syndrome. She claims that whenever she's thusly afflicted, she starts to think about the theme song to Sanford and Son. Those distinctive rhythms seem to overpower any other music that attaches itself to her brain. I've tried that method myself; as much as I love Redd Foxx, I can't say it's worked for me.
TO THE "D" TO THE "N" TO THE "A"
lil' squirt!
Another advance has been made in the genetics field as scientists announced they have mapped out the DNA code for a tiny aquatic critter known as the sea squirt. Nope, I've never heard of it either, but apparently it's been known and chronicled since the days of Aristotle. It gets it's name from the way it intakes water from one end, absorbs the nutrients, and then squirts that water out the other end. Charming.

If this genetics jazz really rings your bell, perhaps you'd like to consider a vial of reindeer DNA as a holiday gift.
NO MAS, NO MAS
yo!
Say it ain't so, Rock! In a move that's been dreaded for years, MGM and Sylvester Stallone have agreed to a deal to create Rocky VI, the next chapter in the Rocky series.

As tempting as the approach sounds--going with a low-budget, gritty look--I think it's time to put ol' Balboa out to pasture, already.
NOW WHY DO YOU SUPPOSE THAT IS??
This here article goes into the latest facts and figures on the U.S. death row prison population. Things like the male/female ratio, averages, etc. But I don't really care about that.

What caught my eye about this piece was the headline:

U.S. Death Row Population Falling

To which my immediate reaction was: I guess that's because they're being put to death? :)

Sunday, December 15, 2002

ONLY TEN YEARS TO GO!
bleh!
According to the Mayan Calendar, which has been lauded as a remarkable piece of work, the human race will come to an end on the winter solstice of 2012. This being the final phase of humanity's existence and all.

With all due respect to the Mayans, I'd like to point out that they checked out of this mortal coil about a thousand years ago.
EXPANSION AND THE TURKEY JERK
europa
The European Union this past week embarked on a historic expansion plan by inviting 10 new member states. This further spreads the concept of a borderless Continent, within the framework of an organization that used to be a coal and steel exchange market.

Amid these bold moves come questions about just what a bigger EU would mean, both for the newcomers and the current members. It's an important point, since the primary way leaders in Poland, the Baltics and other prospectives have sold the concept of membership is to tout the way it would jumpstart their economies--eventually. The thing is, they tend to leave off the "eventually" part. Basic macro-economic theory sets up the new member-states as sources for cheap labor, material and markets, at the very least for the short term (and very possibly for the foreseeable future). As galling as it is, EU membership for a Poland or Lithuania really calls for that state to play an economic role like that of Mexico's to the U.S.

Of course, for the average citizen, this doesn't matter as much as the big tradeoff: Freedom of movement across borders for economic benefit (i.e., to find a better job). Again, this isn't coming immediately, but the chance for it beats out all fears.

Related to the future shape of the EU as a result of enlargement is the bureaucratic baggage the semi-state brings along. The way this evolves over the next ten years will be fascinating to watch.

Lastly, it can't be an EU story without Turkey, who once again got blown off in this process even as Cypus, it's regional hot-button issue, got in. I think it's funny that the Euros have pushed the Turks off for another 3 years, and are acting as though there's still some chance of letting them into their club. Let me be perfectly clear to what I feel is obvious: The European Union, will never, never, NEVER admit Turkey. Never. Never. Never. To paraphrase one Chris Rock: You know how they say "never say never"? I'm saying NEVER. There is no way Christian Europe will let a populous Muslim nation into their front stoop. Turkey has a better chance of becoming one of the United States than it has of becoming an EU member.

Saturday, December 14, 2002

ALIEN LIFE FORM, AKA GORDON SHUMWAY
hey willie!
The show is long gone, but ALF himself is still zooming across the television airwaves, thanks to collect-calling commercials (quick aside: who the hell even makes collect calls?).

I wasn't a fan of the show when it originally aired, and even watching the odd rerun, it's apparent what a crapfest it was. The puppet is truly the only thing it had going for it.

But I tell ya, there's something about the way they manipulated ALF's movements and facial expressions; pure comedy. And the bullseye was his voice: the cadence and delivery of the lines was just the some of the funniest stuff I've ever heard, and never failed to get a chuckle out of me.

It still works, too: In his latest commercial appearance, when ALF delivers his opinion of Hulk Hogan's poetry with the line, "Me think-eth / That stink-eth!", well sir, I just find myself smiling.
THE IMMERSION INTRUSION
Rough times in the media industry are unsettling for a number of reasons. The immediate financial downturn is really just the tip of the iceberg; the real battle begins as soon as advertisers recognize the opportunity to sharpen their knives and start asking for concessions that will remain in place long after the current depression passes. Case in point: the trending toward "immersion", or the blending of advertising/product placement and content.

Fox Sports Net has been the loudest cheerleader of this pandering; their chief will tell anyone who listens how it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sony, by virtue of its myriad product channels, has also taken the plunge (albiet in a much clumsier way that opens the door for heavy criticism).

I think it's important to note that Sony has a particular knack for stepping into this kind of cow patty. Only a couple of years ago, they made a good bit of noise over the release of a bunch of media publications and programming under the umbrella term "Sony Style". They all contained pretty unabashed plugs for, naturally, Sony products, performing artists, media properties, etc. Sony Style didn't fly for long. You could even see some elements of this approach as far back as the Sony Beta VCR format; fast-forwarding to the present, the PlayStation console is being developed as another stepping-stone to consolidate content and format under one wing. It makes me wonder if this is some fundamental coporate-cultural thing within Sony Corp. It think this approach is more acceptable, and therefore successful, in Japan... And when Sony Style and Beta flopped, the company was reportedly stunned that what they considered standard operating procedure failed so miserably in the West. Something worth exploring.

In any case, this creeping morph of the advertiser-programmer can appear to be pretty sinister. While I have serious misgivings, I think there's an ebb and flow--at a certain point, people tend to tune product placement out, even beyond the saturation point that marketers like to think brand names become entrenched. In other words, they can try to push all the Poulin Weedeater Bowls and Hostess Pie-Eating Contests they want into the fabric of programs; getting people to actually absorb that media is different ball of wax.

Friday, December 13, 2002

THE AMAZING ZEBRAFISH
spazoid
You're familiar with the little zebra danio, aren't you? Those spazzy, hyperactive pet store fish that are probably the cheapest things in the joint. Well, that humble little fish could hold the key to regenerative heart growth in humans.

I can't track down the source right now (actually, I'm just too lazy to hunt now), but this common little fishhead has been a prime experimental subject in all that DNA/genome research that's been in the news lately. I guess it's got just the right genetic code.

I kept a small school of danios for a long time. Loved them, always scooting around the tank at full speed. Very entertaining. I gave them to my friend Tom. I kind of miss the little buggers.
PLECO THE POOPSTER
such a pretty fish
Another in a series of stupid fish tricks... My bristlenose pleco has taken to hiding under the same rocks that my rainbow shark does. Plecos are notorious poop machines--they seem to shit more than the average fish, and their feces comes out in long strings that get EVERYWHERE. Sometimes I peek into that tank first thing in the morning, and I swear it looks like some little vandal had spent the night toilet-papering the interior, as if it were Halloween.

So anyway, I changed out some of the water earlier this evening (a weekly ritual), and I decided to shift some of the rocks around. I lift up a small rock in one corner, and underneath it there's an unimaginable amount of pleco shit! Totally disgusting. I had to put the water vacuum back in to clean it all out. As it is, I think I'll have to do another water change later this weekend to clean the rest of it up.

Such is the drill of aquarium keeping.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

QUITE DOUGHY
hee-hee!
Any fans of the Pillsbury Doughboy in the house? Then this one is just for you. Poop on.
RESTRAINING REPORTERS
There must be some sort of stupidity disease going around, afflicting judicial types. First there was that asinine Australian high court ruling. And now, a judge in my own backyard has deemed that investigative reporting is the equivalent of stalking, and has issued a restraining order on a television reporter who's doing his job.

Either these judges are smoking crack, or else they're being bribed. I really don't see any other explanation.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

ONCE AGAIN, FILTERED LOGIC
A new report shows that website filtering technology employed "for the children's sake" is more successful at censoring health and healthcare information in schools.

I've addressed this before. To summarize: Filtering programs are unnecessary, and they don't work anyway.
JOYS OF STEAK
charrrrrr-broiled
I've never been one to have doubts about my masculinity. I've got copious body hair, a good-sized penis (ahem), and a mean streak that does the damage when called upon. Plus all I watch on TV is sports.

But if I ever did reach a crisis of faith as to whether or not I was sufficiently manly, I've got an ace in the hole: I can cook one hell of a steak. I just finished off a steak for dinner tonight, and once again I'm amazed at what a great job I did on it. It wasn't burnt to a crisp, nor was it blood-dripping. I got it just right, charred on the outside and pink-n-tender on the inside. Mighty tasty.

This is actually an achievement for me, because I've only just recently discovered my prowess in cooking up the cowmeat. For something like 2 or 3 years, I pretty much avoided making steak at home, because no matter what I did, I'd manage to screw it up. Usually I'd cook the hell out of it, and it would taste like a piece of old shoe leather. I just couldn't figure it out, and would opt for going to Outback to get my porterhouse fix.

So what's my secret? That's for me to know and you to find out.

All this talk about steak has inspired me... I present here a darn funny comedy piece from the dearly-departed TimmyBigHands.com, circa January 2001. This was written by Mike Nelson, best known for his work on the best television show in the history of mankind, Mystery Science Theater 3000:

Socratic Dialogue
....with a Steak

by Michael J. Nelson

Mike Nelson: Steak, why is there you?

Steak: I simply exist. There is no why.

Mike Nelson: Steak? Think back to 20 years ago, why do you think you existed then?

Steak: I can’t remember back to 20 years ago.

Mike Nelson: What do you think that might mean?

Steak: I didn’t exist 20 years ago?

Mike Nelson: Very good, Steak. If you didn’t exist then, and you do exist now, how is it you came to exist?

Steak: You bought me.

Mike Nelson: Could I have bought you if you didn’t exist?

Steak: No.

Mike Nelson: Then who made you?

Steak: The man in the white hat?

Mike Nelson: And how did he make you?

Steak: He formed me from the Mother Steak.

Mike Nelson: What is the Mother Steak?

Steak: The source of all Steak. All my friends in the counter, they came from the Mother Steak, except the pork chops.

Mike Nelson: And who made the Mother Steak?

Steak: I... I don’t know.

Mike Nelson: Think.

Steak: A weed...

Mike Nelson: Are you green like a weed?

Steak: No. I am red.

Mike Nelson: What else is red?

Steak: Other steaks.

Mike Nelson: Think harder, Steak.

Steak: The bricks where the man in the white hat is.

Mike Nelson: Are you hard like a brick?

Steak: No.

Mike Nelson: What else is red, but not hard like a brick?

Steak: A dog?

Mike Nelson: Steak.

Steak: A hat?

Mike Nelson: Steak!

Steak: A shoe...

Mike Nelson: Steak, is the inside of a cow red but not hard like a brick?

Steak: Yes... (pause) The Mother Steak is the inside of a cow?

Mike Nelson: Yes, and...

Steak: And I am the inside of a cow!

Mike Nelson: Yes. And what do I do with the inside of a cow?

Steak: Sprinkle it with salt and pepper, perhaps a little olive oil, then throw it on a very hot fire?

Mike Nelson: No. I let it go, back to the Mother Steak.

Steak: Really?

Mike Nelson: No. Just kidding. Good-bye Steak.

Steak: (screams and sizzles)
"YOU'RE A WONDERFUL BREAKER..."
Whoa. Beat Street is on. Breakdancing, Puma sneakers and gold chains galore.

I'll be busy for the next couple of hours.
SNOW BROW
trim?
In case you missed it, President Bush yesterday named railroad executive John Snow as his new Treasury Secretary.

I have only one question on the matter: What's the deal with those eyebrows?? Look at them, they're out of control. I bet this guy could give Brezhnev a run for his money.
OH BY THE WAY...
I had the free time earlier this afternoon to buy my new Xbox toy because I stayed home from the office. I was feeling pretty cruddy yesterday, and woke up in the same sorry state. So I got some extra rest, and after having a pretty big lunch, I started to come out of it. (Then again, maybe I was still a bit groggy when I blew that wad for the Xbox?) I also managed to do some work from home, so it's all good. I'll be fresh as a daisy for the office tomorrow.
I CHOOSE... XBOX
power o' ecks
Today, I plunked down my money and I came home with an Xbox! I'm excited. It's the first videogame console I've purchased in some 10 years, when I bought the then-state-of-the-art Sega Genesis. (Still got that one, in working order too, along with my ancient Atari 2600.)

At the risk of sounding too much like a rabid computer geek... this thing ROCKS. The games it came with are pretty uninteresting--a car racing game and some extreme sports thing--but the thing is, who needs 'em? The Xbox has a big ol' hard drive in it, so you can not only play CDs and DVDs, you can also save a ton of tracks onto the drive! It's like a full-size jukebox that you can plug right into your stereo/movie/television/home theater system. Amazing. Right now, I'm listening to a randomization of music tracks that I loaded onto the hard drive. Well worth the relatively low pricetag.

Truth be told, I really bought this thing to serve primarily as a DVD player. Even as low as the price of a regular DVD player has gotten (as little as a hundred bucks for a quality brand), I was having a ton of trouble justifying buying one. The reason for that is, as it is, I rarely ever even use my VCR any more. I never rent movies, only occasionally tape something off TV, and even more occasionally pop in one of the few videotape movies I own. So, what would be the point in buying a DVD player? Still, it was tempting.

I finally decided that it made more sense to buy either an Xbox or a PlayStation2, since both play DVDs, and also provide another entertainment option. Long story short, Xbox won out over the PS2 after I did some research, and figured that long-term, the Xbox was going to be more useful.

So, I guess it's on to Blockbuster to rent/buy a bunch of crap! :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

INTERNET MEDIA AND SELECTIVE JURISDICTION
Here's a rather foolish item. Australia's highest court has ruled that a libel case stemming from an online article can be heard in Australia, despite the fact that the article was posted on a U.S.-based website.

The court's reasoning is that because the article was downloaded and read on Australian territory, it therefore became subject to Australian law. In view of this, the origin of publication doesn't count.

This is pretty idiotic. Aside from the precedent it would set--naturally, a company can be sued in any country in the world--it doesn't stand up to simple logic. If "the net is no different from a regular newspaper", as this suit's plaintiff claims as a result of this ruling, then what's to prevent someone from taking a print copy of a newspaper in one country into another country and then suing the publisher under that other country's laws? After all, the concept is the same: despite where the publication was produced, it would be "accessed" (read) on some other country's territory. If this viewpoint is taken literally, that would be all someone would need to claim that the work is from that point on subject to the laws of, say, Iran, China, Norway, Rwanda, etc.

So, I think the suggestion of a worldwide legal precedent being set here is hogwash. I doubt it'll stand in Australia, even.
SPARE PARTS
In another example of an inevitable move forward, Stanford University's medical research school has declared it will be cloning human cells for medical research purposes. Naturally, this is a short step away from breeding cloned humans.

The cloning controversy holds endless fascination for me. I think it'll provide a lot of vibrant debate over the next couple of decades, on scientific, ethical, political, social, and countless other levels. It should be a blast to watch it all unfold.
BALD BEARS
baldy
Looking like "a large, bald rat" (what an insult!), this critter is one of several completely hairless bears in Florida's Ocala National Forest. They seem to be the end result of a widespread case of mange, similar but more extensive to what dogs get. The good news is that the bears don't seem to be suffering much from it, aside from more bug bites. Human involvement appears to have been discounted as a cause.

This reporter left the best for last, with a mention that these weird-looking things may be the source of the state's legendary Skunk Ape (Florida's answer to Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti).
DAZED, DISORIENTED
Ugha. I may be coming down with something... I had to leave work at 2 PM today because I was feeling lightheaded and kind of sick to my stomach. Not sure what it is; it might have been a combination of things I ate today by noon (time for a fast, perhaps?), or it could be this virus/crud thing that's been floating through the office. I also suspect the air filters at work; it seems as soon as I step into the building, I start to feel ill.

Oh well. If I feel up to it, I'll post a couple of interestin items later tonight.

Monday, December 09, 2002

CHEATERS NEVER WIN, WINNERS NEVER CHEAT
Online gaming is getting to be big business. Thousands of geeks spend thousand of hours consumed by games like Ultima Online and Everquest, and they actually pay real money to participate, buy in-game enhancements, and improve their game standings.

Alas, some people just can't play nice. Just as this enterprise is starting to roll in the big bucks, the spectre of massive mega-cheating techniques threatens to blow the whole thing apart.
AND EVEN MORE ON IP RIGHTS
I seem to be on a roll here... or perhaps this has become an overriding topic for a lot of people, in light of recent court decisions and public debate. In any case, ZDNet's John Carroll gives us an enjoyable run-through of patent management, specifically the distinction between active and passive enforcement. There's an especially good breakdown of the purpose of patents, and the conclusion ties things together nicely, with a Hayek reference, no less (Friedrich, not Salma).
INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IN ACTION: MICROSOFT
So much has happened over the past half-decade with Bill Gates' baby that it's probably impossible to find an utterly objective viewpoint on it. Even Microsoft supporters now tacitly accept that the company behaves in a monopolistic fashion, whether purposefully or not.

The folks at Harvard Business School have decided to take another approach toward Redmond. Putting aside the issues of market share and business practices, it examined Microsoft's propensity for designing product (software) that addresses several layers of the end-user market: developers, consumers, etc. In this way, it found that the company has built itself up to its dominant position through a combination of flexible strategies, centered around skillful development and use of its intellectual property.

I think in some ways, the examination is a bit too academic; putting Microsoft's evolution into a vacuum and ignoring three decades of trends in the computer industry that shaped thousands of companies, including Microsoft, doesn't give you a complete picture. But I do think they've hit on something, and it's a fascinating perspective.
THE MYTHICAL "CRUSH" OF EMAIL
Pundits of all stripes will, with a regular frequency, dash off columns complaining of the hundreds of spam emails they have to sift through every day. Invariably, they'll demand a solution, usually along the lines of transforming email into a fee-based service (which will prevent spammers from sending out so many mails, since they'd have to pay for each one), or devising more sophisticated filtering programs, or similar schemes.

To all those who constantly complain about this: Wah. Fucking waaaaaaaaaaaaah.

A new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project on email usage and management has punctured a lot of what have become assumptions about this communication method. The notable finding is that most people, at work and at home, really don't find that they're getting slammed by an over-abundance of unwanted email. Most email users have figured out some very basic ways of keeping their frustration level down when it comes to spam--like actually using the filtering options in their email programs, for one. Being circumspect in giving out your email address also works wonders (see more below). More detailed results of the study are available here, and are well worth diving into.

So what's all the hubbub about how spam will cripple and kill the Internet by overloading servers? The loud whining comes from a relatively small group of "power users", who do most of their communicating via email. (Truth be told, I skew toward that behavior myself, both at work and home.) Apparently, they send out hundreds of emails a day themselves, then get miffed when they have to go through as many or more themselves. Sort of like when you shop for all your holiday gifts exclusively at the Dollar Store, and then getting mad when the gifts you receive back are of equal quality.

I've had this argument before, and there's a common thread that connects people who constantly have their inboxes stuffed to the gills: they give out their email addresses to EVERYONE! I mean, they give it to business colleagues, friends, family, message boards, EBay listings, etc. etc. etc. And then they complain when, predictably, they get tons of unsolicited mail.

Here's a clue, folks: The Internet is a public place. When you post your address on a message board, even an obscure one, that means it's available to everyone and everything (bots, etc.) out there. It's electronic graffitti. It's the equivalent of writing your phone number on a bathroom wall. The same goes for giving it to other people, because you know that Aunt Sally is going to come across some joke-of-the-day site that asks for a friend's email address so she can forward that clever little pun on to you. Once you let the secret out, the damage is done.

The solution is pretty simple: don't give your email address out indiscriminately, unless you're willing to get a lot of stuff back. Most ISPs will give you a few extra addresses; use them for different purposes. If that's not an option, get a free mailbox from Yahoo, Excite, Hotmail, etc. Be smart, and stop blaming everyone else for problems you bring on yourself.
WHAT A WORLD--WIDE WEB
At the risk of sounding like an oldtimer, I do still sometimes find myself amazed at what the Internet has wrought.

I bought a new telephone answering machine a couple of months ago (my old one, which was in fact the first one I ever bought, died after 10+ years!). It's you basic digital answering machine, not much in the way of frills. I'm still getting the hang of some fundamental functions, though. Today, I got a message that I listened to once, then needed to repeat. Couldn't figure out how to do it. The obvious press-button combinations didn't do the trick, and after about a minute I gave up in disgust and started hunting for the manual. It wasn't where I figured it would be, and I started to suspect I had tossed it.

So I'm screwed, right? Not so! I figured right away that I should be able to track down the manual online. So I fired up the computer, went to AT&T's site, tracked down the consumer telephone products section, and in about 2 minutes found the manual I was looking for. I found out how to retrieve the message and repeat it to my heart's content.

Sure, if there was no Web, I suppose there would be a 1-800 help line, but that probably would have taken a good 10-15 minutes. And if I look really hard around the apartment, I probably will dig up the physical manual. But it's just extraordinary that there's such a huge knowledge base right here, accessible for even such mundane purposes. What an age.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

PUTTING IT IN THE HOLE... IN ONE
fore!
My friends Kirby and Angela brung me a Christmas present last night at my party. It's a Hole In One Game, straight from The Bombay Company (although I couldn't find it on their website; must be a discontinued item).

Mucho fun-o. You have to manipulate the two metal rods to use them as tracks for a ball, and the idea is to maneuver the ball so that it'll roll far enough toward you to land in the highly-coveted Hole In One hole. I've been playing it on and off all day, and I've nailed holes-in-one several times.

I love games like this: very simple, requires little effort, yet always manages to entertain. Plus, it's quite stylish-looking (not that you can tell from the above photo; I had to take it myself as I couldn't find one on the Web, and I'm no Ansel Adams).
WAS HAD BY ALL
A fun time, that is (any journalists out there? that one was for you ;). Had my holiday bash last night. I ran out of time on the clean-up and furniture rearrangement detail; I was sweatin' it right up until the first guests arrived. My biggest regret, I guess, was I had no time to set up my fake Christmas tree. Oh well.

But it was a pretty good night. People started arriving all at once, and in no time there was plenty of mingling. I was a hoping for more of a crossing-over between my work and non-work friends; but you can't have everything. It also turned out I could have gotten away with putting out a couple more invitations--a few people who were going to show up didn't, for a variety of reasons. I really had struggled with who to and not to invite, especially at work.

As it is, with all the liquor and mixers I have left, I should probably have another get-together in the next month or two, just to get rid of that stuff!

Anyway, I had fun, I think most everyone had fun too, so it was worth it.
CASHING IN ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
data mining
The reason for the layman scoffing at intellectual property claims is probably due to a fairly recent spate of companies digging through their vaults, discovering a few long-forgotten patent claims, and then raising a legal stink by trying to collect retroactive licensing fees. By fair standards, such backhanded land grabs smack of the ultimate in greed.

Nevertheless, a lot of companies do devote financial and human resources into research and development (whether they actually call it that or not), and it only makes sense that they capitalize on any valuable properties such efforts yield. What's most surprising about this is that the majority of corporations leave their rightful intellectual properties dormant, thus depriving themselves of a ton of unrealized profit. In fact, McKinsey estimates that up to 10 percent of a company's operating income could come from the proper exploitation of such properties.

The McKinsey site does require free registration to get at the whole article; it's worth it.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

PERSON OF THE YEAR: BRITNEY OR KOFI?
In an obvious effort to generate buzz, Yahoo has opened up the voting for the most influential person during the year 2002. Among the selections are Britney Spears, Howard Stern, J.K. Rowlings (the Harry Potter author), Barry Bonds, and Kofi Annan (U.N. Secretary General).

I smell something amiss, as in heavy advertiser influence. This is really a hodgepodge, apples-to-oranges group that really has no business being in the same running. I'm betting Stern's, Spears' and Rowlings' agents/companies are behind their being on this ballot. How the hell do you do a comparative between entertainment figures and political leaders? A dumb dumb poll.
STILL STRUGGLING WITH "USABILITY"
Few things in life can be as frustrating as computer software that has no intuitive feel to it. As accustomed as we are to Graphical User Interface (GUI) as the way to use our computers, it's really a helpless feeling when you start up a program, and there are absolutely no prompts to guide you on how to get started. The dominant comptuer companies--Sun, Microsoft, etc.--have apparently decided to address this problem by recommitting themselves to making usability a priority in software design.

This is as pathetic as it is laughable.

Do these techies ever even bother to turn on a Mac? I mean, it's only been around for twenty years, and it built around the concept of user-friendliness. And two decades later, these companies still haven't figured out that it should be the primary consideration in their wares? It's unbelievable that this industry isn't being hammered away from some new entry.
PARTY, T-MINUS
My holiday party will begin in about four and a half hours. I've still got a bunch of things to do: vacuum, wipe down the counters, set up the music... plus I have to make one more run to the grocery store. Sheesh. This better all come off well.

Friday, December 06, 2002

BIGFOOT A HOAX: NOTHING LEFT TO BELIEVE IN
Yeti, Sasquatch, Abominable Snowman... all rubbish. Or at least that appears to be the case for Bigfoot, who was exposed as a fraud stemming from one man who died recently. But it was a good run, wasn't it?

When I think of Bigfoot--and I can't say it's more often than once a year or so--what comes to mind is the mysterious primate's appearances on the old Six Million Dollar Man TV show. Easily the best opponent Steve Austin ever tussled with!
JERRY SPRINGER THE OPERA
it ain't over 'til the fat lady... shows her ass
In what may be the perfect fusion of art and reality... and art, The Jerry Springer Show has been adapted into, yes, an opera. We can thank the good people in the UK, specifically at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for this tour de force.

The reviews are in, and they like it (I agree with the concept that it should have been executed as a musical instead of an opera; but hey, it's Britain). With the show now heading for the big time with a London premiere in 2003, can a stateside debut be too far away? I think not.

What is it about the Brits and Jerry Springer? They just can't get enough of him over there. I suppose it's as fascinating, and probably more so, for them as it is for the legions of fans in the U.S. Then again, it may be because Springer is, by birth, one of them! I just found out, through a brief bio, that the former mayor of Cincinnati was in fact born in London during World War II (and that's probably the least interesting thing about his amazing life). In light of this, I'm surprised that Springer didn't make the list of all-time top Britons.

Among the showstoppers in The Opera are:

*a diaper fetishist confessing all to his true love
*a dance routine by the Ku Klux Klan
*Jesus launching into a swearing tirade against the Devil

Yes, yes, yes, I know exactly what you're thinking, because I'm thinking it too: I ABSOLUTELY MUST SEE THIS OPERA!!
PAINTING YOUR PUSSY
someone's gonna pay!
Oh, get your mind out of the gutter! (It's crowding mine down there ;) A co-worker of mine showed me this book today, which was chock full of examples of kitty-cats with their fur painted in peacock-like colors. I was, I admit, totally befuddled.

Call me crazy, but looking through the photos, I could see the absolute loathing in the eyes of each defiled cat. Telling you, they were pissed off. If I'm one of these owners, I'd sleep with my door locked.

These cats have to be house-bound. Imagine the abuse they'd get from other felines! If I were another cat, and I saw one of these paint jobs come around, I'd consider it my duty to kick the crap out of him.

As far as an answer to the question "Why paint cats?", I'll let the The Museum of Non Primate Art answer that one for me, in the form of "Why Cats Paint".
PARTYYYYYYYYYYYY DUDE!!
Well, I'm hosting my little holiday get-together tomorrow night. And I've got some pretty heavy clean-up to do in this dump! Unfortunately, I seriously doubt I'm going to do it tonight. I'm dead-dog tired, as is often the case on Fridays. Plus, I've been running around most of the afternoon getting more party stuff, and I've still got plenty of things to get tomorrow before I'm ready. In the meantime, I've got some touch-up painting to do, some laundry, some dishwashing, some floor-mopping...

Merte.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

EBAY CORPORATE POLICY
copyright? what copyright?
There was an EBay auto fraud story with a local angle that broke yesterday. The story speaks for itself. There was one snippet of information, however, that I found pretty interesting:

EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said Tuesday that after receiving the auction numbers from the newspaper, the company took action. It had failed to act on an earlier complaint by (Ralph Goddard, executive at Dimmit Chevrolet auto dealership) because they thought he was worried about copyright infringement, not fraud. (emphasis added by me)

Now, every company on this planet sets its own business operating priorities, and no doubt customer service and satisfaction is typically at or near the top of everyone's list. In that respect, EBay is pretty smart about covering itself and its customers over threat of fraud, and if it wants to remain a successful business, it should take action on stuff like this.

But notice that when someone came to them with what they assumed was a complaint over copyright infringement, the strong implication here is that they basically blew it off. Bring up any random seller's page on EBay, and you're very likely to see plenty of images, copy, etc. that's been swiped by an EBay seller and used on his/her selling page to help them sell merchandise. So I'm betting that EBay gets a pretty large number of such complaints from copyright holders every day. And it appears their policy is to put a low priority number on such matters. I'm guessing that standard procedure on this is to send out a form letter that explains how EBay is legally covered on this (and if this is the case, I'd like to see how it would stand up in court).

I guess in this sense, EBay is the archetypical Internet company--or, perhaps more properly, an Internet-cultured company. That is, it has no regard for other people's/companies' intellectual property. Which is pretty interesting, since it has no problem calling out the lawyers when its own copyrights are in question.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

A TALE OF TWO DISCS
How big a business is digitized, consumer-oriented media? With margins of 50% and up, DVDs have emerged as the cash cows of Hollywood studios. Meanwhile, mom-and-pop music stores are taking it on the chin thanks to the popularity of file-swapping programs.

Why the disparity? From a non-strategic/analytic viewpoint, let's look at the tale of the tape: DVDs cost an average of $15, even for new releases. They typically contain not only the original movie, but loads of extras like extra footage, interviews, commentary, etc. On the other side, CDs cost an average of 20 bucks. And let's face it, most of the time you buy it just for one, maybe two, singles on it, and the rest is filler of variable quality.

Is there really much guesswork involved here?

Actually, the difference is one of scale. Music fileswapping is widespread and pretty easy to pull off, even if you have a pretty slow dialup connection. Movie fileswapping exists, and is growing, but because the file sizes are so big, it's just not very time-effective for most people to do it. If that weren't the case, the movie business would be as up in arms over piracy as the music business is (and in fact, Hollywood is taking action against fileswapping, but in a much quieter way than their music counterparts).
SHOE-TYING CALCULATIONS
screw crop circles, this is where it's at
"Over and under, in and out / That's what shoe-tying is all about."

Forget your little infant nursery rhymes! Tying shoes is serious business! Don't you know that the optimum method of lacing up and tying your footwear can be determined through sound scientific and mathematical means?

Of course, these results come from using the ideal shoe model, one facet of which is that it exists on only one plane/dimension. Which means it's flatter than flat. Which means your arches would have to fall WAY down for you to wear it.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

MICHAEL, MICHAEL, MICHAEL....
hobbling along, much like his career
If you're Michael Jackson, the fun just never ends. Whacko Jacko's latest life development is being bit by a spider in the foot and subsequently developing a crippling infection.

Hey Mike, think positive! Maybe it was a radioactive spider and you'll get super Spider-Man kind of powers! Or not.

Actually, I find the report of Jackson "wearing pink lipstick and rouged cheeks" for this court appearance to be the most disturbing thing of all. A Joker-like look, I assume? Is there anyone out there who has any doubt about this guy having completely lost his marbles?
FOX'S "IMMERSION"
Product placement by any other name... Fox Sports Net is touting its new extreme sports show, "54321", as some sort of bold new initiative in sponsorship programming. It's funny, but to me it looks no different than any other filler crap that ESPN and ESPN2 airs every half-hour on weekday afternoons.
NO LANCE ARMSTRONG JR., I GUESS
I think the concept of bicycle seats contributing to low sperm counts has been floating around for years, a sort of urban myth. So naturally, it demaned some scientific examination, and now it's got it.

My medical advice to all those biking enthusiasts? Switch to rollerblades, dudes. They're way cooler anyway.
TOTAL ECLIPSE
blot out the sun!
While I'm on the subject of celestial happenings, tomorrow the Southern Hemisphere will be experiencing a rare total solar eclipse. Since this won't occur again until 2030, you may want to consider coughing up ten bucks and watching a webcast of said eclipse, live from Messina, South Africa. Plenty of good seats still available, I hear.
EARTH AS ART
west fjords, iceland
I love space photography. I visit NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day Archive every day just to check out their latest photo, and most of the time I make that photo my desktop background. My preferences run toward stellar or galactic photos, with brilliant colors always a favorite.

But why seek out nebulae and star clusters millions of lightyears away for a space art fix? The U.S. Geological Survey has presented a number of stunning satellite images of good ol' Planet Earth. Mighty impressive snapshots of Mother Gaia.

Monday, December 02, 2002

THE IDIOCY OF THE MASSES
This week will see a legal decision, in one direction or the other, regarding the future of file-swapping of copyrighted material. Namely music and video; frankly, no one carries on a huge amount of document or book swapping through Grokster, BearShare, etc.

As is often the case, the more interesting component on a ZDNet page is the reader comments. In this case, it's the unbelievable stupidity on display. The fact that these morons can't grasp the concept of intellectual property--that, supposedly, it's not really "property" unless you can physically touch it--makes me indescribably happy that such issues aren't up for popular vote. As someone who works in the world of ideas, obviously I have a pretty good feel for the worth of ideas and concepts as commoditable property.

Of course, there are different levels of intellectual property protection. At the same time that courts on this side of the Atlantic are contemplating this issue, European lawmakers are leading a charge to dismantle similar protections as they apply toward patent law.
DROPPIN' RHYMES FOR 30 YEARS
A big ol' happy-happy birthday to American Poetry Review, the bo-hemiest of bohemian literary journals. The casual rag reaches the three-decade mark this month, quite an achievement for a mag with a circulation of 17,000.

I'm far from a regular reader--I like poetry, but it's by no means a hot topic for me--but I've been known to pick up a copy every now and then. I like the casual format, it makes the content very engaging.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

A REHABILITATED ACLU?
After so many years of being tarred-and-feathered by the right wing, the American Civil Liberties Union may be making a public-perception move back to the mainstream. This by virtue of the high-profile addition of a couple of arch-conservative Republican leaders, Bob Barr and Dick Armey, as consultants. Probably more important, though, is the much lower-profile addition of some 50,000 new members since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I think this underline how apolitical the ACLU is (or should be; it's not immune to the political winds either, really). That it takes up unpopular causes like Nazis in Skokie, challenges to expansion of Federal authority connected to the wars on drugs and terrorism and too many other examples, is its raison d'etre. Its mission is not to be popular, it's to be a guardian for basic democratic safeguards. Thus the newfound appeal by conservatives.

That Armey would consider joining a group he helped villify seems especially bizarre. But a deeper look shows that, on a very basic level, the ACLU and conservatives like Armey share many of the same principles. The methods toward protecting and promoting those principles are probably where the main divergence lies.
JEN SAVES BEN (THE VIDEOGAME)
can we get divorced yet?don't touch the hair
Here's a unique wedding gift; wish I'd thought of it! Kevin Smith, the multi-talented film director and comic book writer (most famous for his run on Daredevil, as well as films like Chasing Amy and Clerks), had a retro-80s-style videogame made for soon-to-be-wed Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. The game stars Jenny Lo as the heroine who has to save her Ben-Ben from the evil clutches of a monstrous Smith and Matt Damon. Making the soundtrack out of MIDI-ized versions of JLo's hit songs was an especially nice touch, I thought.

I wonder if there's any chance this game will get leaked out? I'd love to get a peek at it.
ROCKET GUY
What could be cooler than building your own rocket to zoom you into space? Brian Walker of Oregon is the man with just such a plan. He's got a homemade rocket that will take him just out of the Earth's atmosphere and into orbit for a brief time, before falling back planetside. More details of his spacequest can be found at his very own aptly-named website.

One thing in the very last paragraph of this article disturbs me a bit:

Walker met with the FAA about his launch license, and before he even contacted them, they already had a large file on him. He says officials there are impressed with his plan.

The fact that the Federal government had already compiled a file on him is just casually mentioned, as though it's nothing noteworthy. Doesn't it warrant some concern that the FAA had this guy under surveillance? Granted, it's their job to keep him and the public safe in case something was amiss, but does this hobbyist action actually call for spying on the guy? They knew pretty quickly that this wasn't some terrorist whacko. That this is brushed off so nonchalantly, as if people should expect the government to keep tabs on people without dissent, bothers me a lot. Erosion of civil liberties and basic freedom starts with tiny steps like this, instead of large, dramatic moves.
ROLL YOUR OWN
A cigar humidor with the computerized guts? What a concept. It's all part of the latest developments in computer hardware that has produced dirt-cheap smaller components that can be used to make computers that go beyond the standard beige box.

The move to more creative industrial designs, ala Macintoshes, is long, long overdue. And not to the liking of the techie geek community, predictably (check the comments at the bottom of that page).

It's funny reading the reader comments around ZDNet.com; it's very much a closed-minded community of tech-heads that have little or no concept of why computer products should be at all consumer-friendly.

I have a couple of techie friends in IT that I like to needle every so often on the Mac-Windows issue. They inevitably come at me with the argument of "What does it matter what color your computer is??" To which I respond, "You're right; it matters as little as why you chose to buy that striped/checkered/solid-colored shirt, or that midnight-blue car, when you could've chosen just any old style in each case." The point being, when designing for a retail/consumer market, the pointless details like that do matter a whole lot. Which is why IT types should not be involved in such areas of concern. There's a point where industrial design engineers get involved, and since computers are consumer products now, this element of product development needs to be addressed.
BIG WHOOP
why are we following this guy?
Gotta love this picture. It's an action shot of some rare whooping cranes getting an assist from humans on their winter migration. Because there are only 400 of these critters left, people figure they need all the help and guidance they can get.

I wonder how they convinced the birds to follow the plane?

I'd also like to point out that this is probably the only time this century that Chassahowitzka, Fla. will get a national news article lead.