The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, January 31, 2003

GOODBYE COMISKEY
In a move that's sure to raise high-falutin' howls from all corners of the baseball world, Comiskey Park, home of the American League's Chicago White Sox, will be renamed U.S. Cellular Field in a deal worth $68 million over 20 years.

What will especially irk traditionalists, and anyone else who doesn't like to be reminded of the business end of sports, is not only that the White Sox sold out, but that they dared to graft such a techno-corporate name onto one of the temples of baseball.

C'est la vie, I say. If anything, I'd say the price was pretty low in light of other naming deals recently.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

"CATEGORY MANAGEMENT", OR PRACTICED MONOPOLY?
If you've ever walked into a store and considered that all the shelves look familiar, that's probably because they are. The latest wave sweeping the retail world is called category management, and it's being done by collusion between vendors and retailers, in the name of efficiency.

Excuse me, but don't these practices amount to monopolistic, or at least oligarchic, maneuvering? This is barely touched on in the article, but that's the main thing that kept coming at me while reading this.
REALITY CHECK: GUSHING OVER REALITY TV
Here's a nice little rundown of the latest and greatest in the reality-show universe, and how much money it's making. I think it's amusing that this writer somehow thinks that the reality format is the permanent future of TV, displacing traditional scripted programming. He even makes the comparison with trash-talk shows like Jerry Springer and Jenny Jones--shows that experienced a huge spike in popularity and buzz, only to eventually settle into an enduring, but undistiguished, niche. That's sure to happen with reality TV too, probably by the end of this year: The inevitable oversaturation of reality shows will lead to a drop in their popularity, and the genre will fall back into being just another format (albiet one that's, unfortunately, probably here to stay).
...AND IN WALKS MEG RYAN
This otherwise nondescript celebrity news item got my attention mainly because of the surreal-like quality of the writing. A newsconference with Mike Tyson was graced by the presence of America's sweetheart, Meg Ryan. She's fresh off filming a picture about a female boxing promoter, and apparently is still smitten with the boxing bug.

Incidentally, it's nice to see Tyson still shooting his mouth off after getting demolished by Lennox Lewis.
PROBABLY TASTED LIKE CHICKEN
4 wings good, 2 wings bad
So for some odd reason, the recent fossil discovery of an apparent four-winged dinosaur came to mind. The artist's conception above really drives home to me what a kooky-looking creature this must've been. Especially seeing it glide from tree to tree.

The accompanying thought I had regarding this find was, it just must have absolutelly pissed off creationists and other fundamentalist Bible/Torah/Koran-thumpers. Just seeing this ridiculous-looking critter, and knowing that most people handily accept that it once actually existed, probably drives religious types nuts. From their perspective, it's mind-boggling that the majority of the populace will believe in this Dr. Seuss-looking beast and the role of evolution in natural history, instead of what seems a more rational religious explanation.

Admittedly, it's possible that this fossil is being reconstructed all (or partly) wrong, and this dino didn't look anything like what we now imagine. But I still find humor in this.
XBOX HOCKEY ACTION!
game on!
I'm excited! Finally, my mailbox today had the package I had been waiting for for nearly two weeks--a copy of Sega Sport NHL 2K3 that I purchased through Amazon. I finally have a good game I can play on my Xbox!

(You may recall that I recently purchased my very own Xbox, but not primarily for playing games.)

I can hardly wait to pop this disc in, but I'm currently watching a real-life hockey game (Avs at Rangers). So I reckon I'll fire it up late tonight. Kickass!

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

TO SERVE AND REJECT
If you live in Los Angeles and think that a burglar alarm is all you need to keep your crib safe--think again. From here on out, LA's finest will not respond to a tripped alarm unless they get contacted with a confirmation on it from the property owner or a security firm.

Now, I can understand the police's problem. They get hundreds of false alarms and end up wasting time checking on them. So really, this solution makes a lot of sense.

Still... this ties into something that's been on my mind for a while. If you've seen any recent commercials for the home security company ADT, you'll see they follow a similar pattern: Somebody breaks into the house, the alarm goes off and scares the crook off, meanwhile the inhabitants are holed up in a room scared silly, and within seconds they get a call from the ADT monitoring service that serves to reassure them with an offer to notify the cops ("Thank you so much!" cries the frazzled lady).

What always struck me about this sequence was that, if you really pay attention, you'll see that the monitoring company didn't do SQUAT. I mean, the alarm doesn't have to be hooked up to a command central to be effective; it just has to go off when tripped, and be loud, in order to scare off the bad guy. And do you really need to have the security firm make the call to the cops? No. Even if somehow the robber cuts the house phone line, you can make the call yourself with a cellphone.

So, this begs the question: What does ADT really do? It's basically a scam. But perhaps an ominous one.

The thing that instantly comes to mind when watching one of these commercials is that ADT is positioned as a sort of clearinghouse for police notifications. In other words, the implication is that the cops will respond more quickly--or even will respond, period--when an authorized security firm makes the call. The further implication is that such a call is given greater weight than one from Mr. Joe Average, who doesn't have a security company behind him. I've always wondered if this would start a trend, where overworked and understaffed police departments would answer calls only made via security firms.

And so, this move by the LAPD really looks like the beginnings of this state of affairs. That's how I see it, anyway.
55, 75, 95--THEY'RE ALL JUST REALLY OLD
conga!
That appears to be the attitude of the AARP, anyway. (I believe "AARP" used to stand for American Association of Retired Persons, but in a bit of marketing glitz, they dropped the full name a couple of years back, in order to somehow brainwash potential members into believing they weren't joining a geriatric society.) In an attempt to rationalize a big budget cut in their media department, the organization recently merged its two magazines, aimed at distinctly different agegroups, into one single title that's supposed to appeal to everyone from age 55 to.... 155, I guess.

The magazine itself is a pretty nice product, actually. It's improved by leaps and bounds over the last time I looked at one of their publications, some 10 years ago (they started sending it to my father). But good luck trying to sell some big-money ads with such a ridiculously wide swath of demographic to pitch.

Oh, the picture above: It's of the new combined magazine's editor in his office. He's doing some kind of weird gyration, don't ask me why. And don't ask me about the cardboard cutouts either.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

THE FAT LADY SINGS FOR OPERA
If you ask me, it's just plain dumb to be in the browser business these days, unless your name is Microsoft (or possibly, AOL Time Warner or Apple). I mean, Internet Explorer, Netscape, Mozilla and a bushel of other browsers are available for free, so why on earth would anyone want to pay for one? Non-computer platforms (cellphones, PDAs and other devices) are one avenue of growth, I suppose; so is the corporate market for specialized custom browsers designed for certain kind of work. But what's the long-term picture, really?

In any case, Opera, the Norweigan-based software company, is giving it a go. But not as far as the Mac is concerned, apparently. It looks like the big bad Safari browser that Apple is coming out with is scaring Opera off of the Mac platform.

I've got to admit I agree with the peanut gallery on this one: Opera is just bitching about having to compete with Apple. It should probably just worry about trying to improve it's own product instead, although admittedly, a built-in browser is tough to compete with.
BRAND 'EM!
In just about any line of business, building a brand (or brand-name) is essential to being wildly successful. Companies like Coca-Cola, Levi's, Microsoft, Disney and a jillion others would be nowhere today if they didn't do a deft job of establishing a solid identity that attracted and kept customers.

But maybe the brand, an outer projection, can be turned inward, too. Pretty innovative stuff, if, like me, you're into business strategy.
MEANWHILE, IN BOOKSVILLE....
Strange how two allegedly similar media sectors can have such divergent business outlooks. Some say market pressures in this electronic age are forcing big changes in the old-fashioned book biz.

I take this with a heavy grain of salt (rock salt, perhaps?). Cataclysmic changes in book publishing have been predicted for half a century at least, and they've yet to come to pass. Books are probably always going to be around in some form.

I've always wanted to break into book publishing, as an editor or somesuch. Of course, the Tampa Bay area isn't exactly the place to make that happen.
COMING OUT OF SLUMPSVILLE?
Anyone who's been in the publishing business--or any media, really--is acutely aware of how tough times have been for the last couple of years. First, the dot-com bubble bursts, which took with it a bunch of companies that spent advertising dollars like there was no tomorrow (they turned out to be right). Then, the Sept. 11 events, which put a nice fat kibosh on the economy in general. That, combined with continued competition from broadcast and Internet media outlets, has resulted in a tough time to make money.

But glory be! If the big behemoths' performance is anything to go by, it appears good times are on the horizon. It's no guarantee, but it's hope.

By coincidence, I attended a Times Publishing Company open forum today. The people in charge gave their financial reports, and concurred that things are looking up, slowly but steadily. Guess I'll be able to eat for a while!

Monday, January 27, 2003

TAMPA BAY 48, OAKLAND 21
un-buc-ing real!

Sunday, January 26, 2003

I MISS THE HYPE...
buccaroos! the mistake--er, mystique a pirate's life for me
Yes sir, today is that greatest of all unofficial secular holidays, Super Sunday. And you know what?

I can barely feel it, baby.

How can this be? The hometown team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are in the big game. THE BUCCANEERS! A team that's never been in the Super Bowl, and judging from their sorry history, was never expected to get within smelling distance of an NFL championship. Even though the orange creamsicle uniforms are long gone, it still boggle my mind that the team of Testaverde, Reese, and Culverhouse could very likely be a Super Bowl champion by midnight tonight.

And what a matchup! On paper, this is probably the best, most compelling head-to-head Super Bowl contest in ages. That's not even counting the "Gruden Bowl" subplot. The teams are both excellent, without any glaring weaknesses (yes, if Brad Johnson goes down, the Bucs offense is in the toilet, but that's the case with over half the teams in the NFL; ditto for the banged-up Raiders secondary), and the football fanatic in me is licking his chops over watching the action.

So, why am I not supercharged? (I'm even heading out in a little while to pick up the chicken wings for the game party). Well... I guess I'm not as surrounded by the sports culture as I used to be. When I worked in the newspaper Sports department, I was innundated by sports, sports, sports all the dang time. And I loved it! Almost every second I worked there was more fun than actual work. I not only read and formatted copy, I also talked it--for work and fun. Just shooting the breeze with people who's opinions I actually respected when it came to sports (football, hockey, baseball, golf, whatever) was such a pleasure.

Well, it's been about three years since I've worked in Sports, and things just haven't been the same. No one at the magazine is that into football or any other sport. Oh, I've got plenty of other interests that are not even remotely related to sports. But shoot, if there was any time I needed to be innundated with tons of football hype, this week would've been it. And I found the absence definitely lacking.

Oh well... I'm sure I'll get boosted up watching the game tonight. The party I'm going to won't be wall-to-wall people, and there'll be enough friends actually into the game that I can feed off that energy. And plenty of chicken wings! Game on.
A DANGEROUS MIND
'fess up
I caught Confessions of A Dangerous Mind this past Friday. It's rare that I'll run out and see a flick on opening night; in this case, I had nothing planned for the evening (I'm sick sick SICK of this cold fucking weather!), and I really wanted to watch it, so off I went.

Loved it. It was plenty funny, and plenty offbeat. The cinematography was amazing; I guess come critics are speculating that's due to the presence of Steven Soderbergh in the production phase. Whatever the reason, it made the film a great pleasure, an increasingly rare hit among many misses I've seen lately.

One thing: While the star, Sam Rockwell, did a wonderful job as Chuckie Baby, I couldn't shake the way his physical appearance reminded me a ton of Kramer from Seinfeld. Perhaps that's a role for him in the future? Yeah, right...
RESPLENDENT
harvey is a tortured soul
The big big Sundance movie mania is wrapping up this weekend (just in time to jet over to the Super Bowl!), and us reg'lar folk can look forward to seeing some of the films featured there in a few months (or more). And just so we can easily tell which films were the good ones, all the various awards were presented yesterday in this quiet mountain town.

It's with a mixture of joy and dread that I see American Splendor, the long-talked-about Harvey Pekar biopic, getting so many accolades. The joy comes from getting to see a film version of Harvey's whacked-out world, that is apparently getting plenty of praise from plenty of sources. There's little doubt that I'll catch this flick when (or if, although it's pretty likely) it'll roll through the Tampa Bay area at some point in 2003, almost regardless of what I hear or read.

The dread? These kinds of projects often end up being a mess. I can't get over the feeling that this should have been a documentary instead of a fictionalized story. Although in theory I like the idea of blending animation and other fantasy elements together, there's a real risk of those things coming off as hokey and gimmicky. And I have to admit, even though it's an unfair comparison, that in my mind, I'll automatically draw parallels with the R. Crumb documentary, Crumb (which was great, by the way).

You'll see from Harvey's IMDb bio that he had a falling out with David Letterman. I keep hoping that they'll kiss and make up, and Dave will have Harvey on his show again. But maybe it's for the best that that never happen; Dave's current show is probably not the best fit for someone like Harvey. And even so many years later, I'd imagine Harvey would like to disassociate himself from the Letterman connection, which brought him plenty of unwanted attention.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

MESSAGE TO NETWORKS: BE RISKIER!
Why are the big broadcast television networks steadily losing their audience? Because they're not taking any risks when presenting their original programming, according to a new study. In stark contrast to wiley competitors like The WB and HBO, the old guard are seemingly too afraid of offending a mass audience to offer up anything that stands out as distinctly original.

Get this quote:

"Who would’ve thought that a show about an alien landing in an eggshell near Colorado would be a hit? Or a comedy about GIs in a Nazi prisoner of war camp could capture audiences? Maybe ABC and CBS should revisit the time that they took a chance with these two shows – Mork and Mindy and Hogan’s Heroes remain in a class of their own to this day.”

Mork and Mindy? Hogan's Heroes? In a class of their own? Note they didn't say what sort of class. Shazzbot!
OF COURSE THEY'RE NOT HUMAN!
marks the spot
Anyone who's ever read The X-Men, or even seen the movie, is familiar with the underlying theme of the storyline. That being that they're mutants (or homo superior), non-human and therefore feared by humankind. It's an established fact in their fictional world that they are distinct from humanity.

So, in a bizarre plot twist that has crossed over into the real world, a U.S. judge recently ruled that the characters are, indeed, not viewed as human beings in the eyes of trade/tarriff law. Let me clarify that: The X-Men, thoroughly fictional characters, have been declared to be not human in a real-life court of law. If that don't beat all!

Take special note of the last bit of this article:

"Veteran comics fan Christian Cooper, who once worked as a Marvel editor, thinks Judge Barzilay got carried away. If Kraven isn't human, what about the twisted villains in Dick Tracy? Or worse yet, Superman himself? 'Here's a guy who changes his clothes in a phone booth and flies through the air,' says Mr. Cooper. 'Does that mean he's now an animal?'"

Let's keep in mind, oh veteran, that Superman, aka Clark Kent, aka Kal-El, is indeed not of the Planet Earth! He's an alien from Krypton, remember? So by definition, he's already not a human being. Sheesh, these people... ;)

Friday, January 24, 2003

TOTALITARIAN INFORMATION AWARENESS
Have you heard of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) system? It's a proposal from the Pentagon that seeks to create a gigantic national database on just about every person living in the ol' U.S of A. All in the name of fighting terrorism on these shores--because, after all, we are living in wartime conditions.

"Wartime conditions" has taken the place of the Cold War-era euphanism "national security". And wouldn't you know, the man at the top of this little surveillance scheme is John Poindexter. He's probably the second-best known spook to be exposed in the Iran-Contra affair (after that true-blue American, Ollie North).

That this abomination is being proposed sickens me. And just because there's some semblance of Congressional opposition rearing it's head, I have little doubt that TIA will come into being in some form.

Y'know, EU citizenship is starting to look better and better every day.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

LIFETIME MAGAZINE EDITOR NAMED
Cathy Cavender, late of the now-dead Rosie Magazine, has landed the top job at the forthcoming Lifetime Magazine at Hearst. Proving that there is indeed life after Rosie O'Donnell... or at least, Lifetime.
NEW FISHIES!
looks like something outta dr. seuss
So, I got tired of putting up with my recalcitrant bristlenose pleco--the little bitch was extremely ornery--so I scooped her out of the fishtank, took her down to the pet store, and traded her in, straight up (a great deal!), for a rubberlip (or bulldog) pleco. The rubberlip is supposed to stay small too, which is key: should max out at 3 inches. And is allegedly a voracious algae eater, which is something the bristlnose was really starting to slack on the last couple of weeks (which is the chief reason why I decided to finally ditch her).

The picture above is not of the rubberlip pleco.

I spent about 15 minutes websurfing for a good picture of the rubberlip, but could find zilch. So I gave up. The pic above is of an emerald cory catfish. While at the store, I picked up one of these little critters. I already have two, and I decided they needed a little company. The new guy (or girl, like anyone can tell) adjusted in no time, and is now happily frolicking with his new pals. He's even starting to gain some nice color.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

THE NFL: MONEY MACHINE
For hardcore sports fans--of which I know to be one--the week leading up to the Super Bowl is one of giddy anticipation. I've long considered Super Sunday truly to be a modern-day secular holiday, the likes of which really cannot be matched. And there's no way this state of affairs could have come about if the National Football League were some ragtag garage league consisting of a bunch of shortsighted team owners operating private fiefdoms constantly at odds with everybody. The NFL is the most successful pro sports league in the world right now, and it's got the moola to prove it.

This accompanying graphic especially brings across the way the league keeps itself one big happy family, and how the other major league lag.

Gotta love the pigskin!

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

TALENT AGENTS FOR COMPUTER GEEKS
Power agents, or even more low-wattage agents, are only for actors, pro athletes and other entertainment industry players, right? Not according to Steven Pfrenzinger, who's convinced that the agent-rep systems is the wave of the near future in the IT industry. He has started the Carrera Agency after a tenure in Hollywood, where he noted that nothing gets done unless you have an agent in tow.

It's kind of a kooky idea. Sure, the creme de la creme of the IT biz can probably command top dollar and assignment, and like any worker, can probably use plenty of help in negotiating a deal. But through an agent? I can just imagine a typical negotiating session:

TECHIE AGENT: Look, babe, my client really wants to work for you. But he can't see his way clear to come on board without an assurance of wireless connectivity on an 802.11a standard! I mean come on, let's get real, honcho!
ROGER DODGERS
sell 'em back to brooklyn!
Less than six years after buying the team, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is looking to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers. This is a move that's been rumored for a while now, and the main motivation is generate some cash for making other aquisitions.

It looks to me that this is mission accomplished for News Corp. in their adventure in owning the team. The only reason they wanted the Dodgers in the first place was to secure their broadcasting rights--which of themselves, are probably the most valuable part of the operation. They've gotten that, and locked them up for several years regardless of who owns the team. So buying the team was just a means to an end. Pretty slick, if you've got the funds to pull it off, and obviously they do.
TAX INCENTIVES FOR GAS GUZZLIN'
Only a week after his administration panned sports utility vehicles for being such fuel hogs, George Dubya is now pushing a plan that would give SUV buyers a tax break.

Is there really any doubt that this adminstration is a complete whore to the oil industry? If anyone actually needs any more convincing, the imminent liberation of the Iraqi oilfields should just about do it, right?

Monday, January 20, 2003

MAGAZINE BRANDS INVADE TV
In the age of the 500+ channel digital cable universe (a ripoff, in case anyone asks me), there's plenty of room for cross-media branding. So it is that many consumer magazine titles have found fertile ground for launching namesake programming designed to supplement and boost the print product. This is, of course, the same principle behind any old product-placement branding of TV content. The only difference is that magazines come with their own set of content, and so in that sense they can add a lot more to the final program. It occurs to me that that can be both good and bad...

Similar thinking is behind Home and Garden TV. It just takes things a step further, by devoting an entire network to the magazine brand, instead of just one or two programs. The dynamic works in reverse too, of course: Witness ESPN the Magazine.
SUPERBOWL (AD) SHUFFLE
the bucs??!
The big game is right around the corner! And yes, I am STUNNED that that Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing... I've still got creamsicle orange on the brain, I think.

But hey, enough about football! We all know what the Superbowl is truly about, baby--advertising. Everyone knows at least one person who's sucker enough to watch the game and all associated pre- and post-game programming solely to see all the pretty new commercials. Even most people who care about the game have been brainwashed to look forward to seeing the premiere of the latest cola/pizza/movie ads. It's rather unbelievable.

In that spirit, here's a sneak peek at the final overall picture for this Super Sunday. I especially like the analysis regarding what is and isn't an effective ad, and what kinds of companies benefit most from this grand exposure.
$20 FOR GETTING RIPPED OFF BUYING THAT MADONNA CD
Think hard now: Did you, at some point, buy a music CD/cassette/vinyl record at a retail store at any point between January 1, 1995 and December 22, 2000? You did, you say? Then you qualify to file a claim in the big Compact Disc Minimum Advertised Price Antitrust Litigation suit (scroll down to the "Missing out on the CD settlement" headline). You may get a check in the mail sometime in the next year for up to 20 bucks! (Yeah, not a ton, but hey, it's still money!)

Basically, it's a class action lawsuit against the music industry over suspected price-fixing--the reason why a CD routinely costs $20 and more these days. So, if you've ever felt ripped off after buying some crappy album just to get at the 1 or 2 songs on it you actually liked--and who hasn't?--and you purchased that crappy album during that time--again, who hasn't?--then go right ahead and complete the form (I've linked directly to the webform, rather than to the general site cited in the Times article; I tried to get it to go through 3 times the conventional way, and it kept erroring out, so I finally just did it through this, and it zapped through no problem).

Rough time for record companies, isn't it? First, they're getting hammered by file-swapping on the Web. Now, to add insult to that injury, they'll have to actually pay out money to their once-loyal consumers! Not that 20 bucks a head is going to break them or anything...

Sunday, January 19, 2003

HALLELUJAH! NEW COMIC STRIPS
I'm very happy to report that my hometown newspaper (Florida's best they say, but I'm biased) is giving its comics lineup a very long-overdue overhaul. Us readers will be getting a gander at 10 contenders over a 10-week period; first up is Zits. In an effort to closely acquaint readers with the new candidates, they're running interview profiles with each strip's writers and/or artists.

I'm not sure how many new strips will actually come in, and which old ones will depart. I'd like to see several leave, like Cathy, Gasoline Alley, Snuffy Smith and other wastes of space; as it is, I habitually skip over about half the strips they currently run. But, from past experience, the audience in this area has some peculiar (read: BAD) tastes, and I'm sure there'll still be plenty of sucky strips still running after this redo. But at least we'll be getting something new, and (hopefully) fresh.
R.I.P.: INTERACTIVE RALPH WIGGUM
my cat's breath smells like catfood
It's a sad time. I offer up a link to Interactive Ralph Wiggum, even though it's no longer there. The former University of Oregon engineering major who created this delightful site, Robert W. Rose, graduated recently, and so the school 86ed his account.

Why do I care? Because Interactive Ralph Wiggum was among the first little corners of Web I ever discovered. Rose started it up in (I think) 1996, and that was the first year I started really using the Internet (mainly at work; good ol' AOL 3.0!). I was probably messing around on Yahoo!, and thinking of different search terms to plug in, and happily discovered an early example of the frivolity of the online universe.

Basically, it was a simple artificial intelligence interface, with Ralphie as the star of the show (with a picture similar to the one above, only larger). You would type in a question in a text input field, hit Enter, and get a reply back from Ralph. It was usually something along the lines of, "I think you're funny" and "I love Lisa Simpson and when I grow up, I'm going to marry her!", and other Simpsons-lore gems. The best part, though, was that if you asked just the right question, you'd be treated to an audio reply! My favorite being, "When I grow up, I'm going to Bovine University!" (keep in mind, this was in 1996, advanced high-tech Internet back then!)

I've kept a bookmark to this site on my browser for all these many years, even though I rarely click on it (I just now discovered what happened a couple of days ago). Now, I'll have to kill that off too.

Or will I? Maybe Rose can revive/recreate his creation? I'm sure he's busy with his life, but maybe he can be persuaded... If you're reading this Rose, what do you say? Please?

Saturday, January 18, 2003

HUMAN DNA SET TO MUSIC
soundtrack of our lives
Finding musical elements in nature--the so-called "music of the spheres"--has been a pursuit since the time of Pythagoras and earlier. Certainly, the popularity of new age CDs that feature the sounds of flowing water, forest creatures, etc., taps into this.

Keeping with this theme, scientists in Spain have managed to put the human DNA sequence to music.

This sounds like a neat piece of work. I'd like to hear it sometime.

Friday, January 17, 2003

SYNCHRONIZED PENGUINS
pen-gu-ins is practically chickens
Here's one:

A group of penguins in the San Francisco Zoo are doing synchronized swimming routines for hours on end, much to the consternation of the zookeepers. Apparently, some new recruits, late of a waterpark in Ohio, are responsible for this abberant behavior.

I thought the quote from Jane Tollini, the zoo's penguin keeper, was rich:

"We've lost complete control. It's a free-for-all in here. After 18 years of doing this job, these birds are making mincemeat of me."

Lost control? Like, that's assuming she ever had control in the first place? I guess this is a blotch on her career... Bad things afoot in Penguin-town!

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer / Things fall apart / The center cannot hold." - W.B. Yeats

Thursday, January 16, 2003

YES, WE'LL HAVE NO BANANAS
ripe!
Savor that next banana split, boyo, because according to those who should know, 'nanners as we know them are heading for extinction.

To tell the truth, this story set my bullshit detector off right away. It just doesn't seem very plausible. But the banana-expert organization cited does indeed seem to exist (not that a website in and of itself proves anything), and enough news outlets are picking this up, through the right channels, that I guess there's something to this. Who knew?

Maybe I'm suspicious because this reminds me so much of the extinction of the blondes hoax. The color yellow, and all. But I wouldn't be surprised if this one turned out to be fishy, too.

In a more serious note, the genetic engineering aspect of this is fascinating. I could easily go on for a while about how cloning and other genetic advances have the potential to eliminate the concerns over the endangerment and extinction of species, both animal and plant--and what implications that would have for all of us. Maybe later.
RATBOTS, SMART DUST AND LILY PADS
....oh my. These and other tech marvels will be part of an intriguing tech future, comin' right atcha! Never a dull moment when it comes to circuits.
STRANGE (MEDIA) BEDFELLOWS
Just a couple of months after splitting up with the New York Times over its partnership in the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post has found a new overseas partner with which to tango. Dow Jones & Company, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, will be carrying Post stories in the Euro and Asian (Eurasian, even :) editions of the Journal.

This little comment wins the understatement of the month award:

"The Wall Street Journal's editorial board believes free markets solve all problems, while the Post's has a more active view of the role of government," (independent newspaper analyst John) Morton said."

Indeed. The inclusion of contrasting (side-by-side?) op-ed pieces should make this an exciting, entertaining package. Wish I could see it every day; I'll be lucky to get it once a week.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

MUSICAL PHONES
Who would've guessed that the mobile phone industry's killer app would turn out to be the ability to play Britney Spears' latest single as a ringtone? That appears to be the case, as the sale of specialized ringtones netted the wireless companies a cool $1 billion in 2002.

I've noticed the proliferation of these things myself. It can get a little grating, but do whatcha like. And as long as they continue to make accessing (downloading through the phone) and paying for these things so easy and cheap, I can see why they've taken off and will continue to do so. I really don't see that much upside for the music companies, though, other than using these things as promotional items. But who knows what the future holds, eh?

My phone's not equipped for this joviality. But you'd better believe, when I get my next model, I'll be looking forward to being alerted to my next incoming call to the immortal strains of Nelly's Hot In Here.
ACCURSED POP-UPS!
Yeah, if you spend any amount of time on the Internet, you know what pop-up ads are. And you hate them. (Heck, I guess they're even on TV now--some of those promo graphics that creep onto your television screen during a show owe their existence to the pop-up.)

There are, of course, ways to fight them, if you're adventurous and tech-savvy enough to try out alot of software that may or may not work, and may or may not fuck up your system. Beyond these utilities, some of the major ISPs (notably EarthLink) and even browser producers (Mozilla) are building in safeguards that combat the appearance of these little devils.

The thing is, from what I've seen, it may be darned near impossible to totally eliminate pop-ups. Every add-on program I've seen works, at best, most of the time. The trouble is in distinguishing between a good pop-up--an extra browser window you want to open, or need to open while navigating a particular site--and a bad pop-up--the junk. The nature of these things is such that it's almost impossible for any program to figure this out accurately 100% of the time.

And if this wasn't depressing enough, even more bad news: Pop-up ads have been found to be the most effective means of online advertising. In theory, this means somebody--in fact, a lot of somebodies--is clicking through on these things. Whether or not they're doing it intentionally, or instead getting "gotcha-ed!", is up for debate. All I know is, this particular passage really pisses me off:

"One new type of ad clicks through to the advertiser's site even if Web surfers simply move their mouse over the ad."

I would have to kill the geek who invented this.
IS GOOGLE CRACKING?
The acknowledged 800-pound gorilla in Internet search engines is Google. That it has been able to achieve this position in such a relatively short period of time is remarkable (although, it should be noted that its ascension was helped by the fact that long-timers like Yahoo! and Excite basically ceded the territory in favor of morphing into more broad-based "portals").

But how long will this monkey reign? Already, there are signs of Google's supremacy being challenged on several fronts. It'll be interesting to see this shake out.

I've said before, as good as it is, I always considered Google to be quite a bit overrated. For a professional researcher--which is what I am about 80% of the time at my job--a lot of things about the search interface, query abilities, and rank criteria Google uses leaves much to be desired.
REALITY CHECK: JOE SPIN
That's funny. In the wake of my recent speculation that the central figure in the Joe Millionaire show may not, in fact, be the poor boy he's being hyped to be, there's suddenly some nice little background stories being printed about his humble upbringing.

This is a byproduct of the slam-tastic ratings the show has been getting, of course. But really, why does Fox feel the need to keep repeating how this guy isn't a millionaire? It really seems to me that they're protesting too much. And note that the People article doesn't actually dispute that he has money connections.

I still say, he turns out to be a real millionaire, in a double-cross twist in the final episode. We'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

FROM NORTH KOREA, WITH LOVE
a heartwarming message
The above photo caught my eye. It's a propaganda poster from a factory in your favorite totalitarian state, North Korea. Obviously P'yongyang is strutting its stuff in terms of wartime rhetoric.

From a strictly artistic standpoint, I think the poster is pretty slick-looking. Very reminiscent of the old World War I and II posters produced in the U.S. and elsewhere. Wish I knew exactly what the slogan on this poster said--although I can take a wild guess.
NEW LIFE FOR PAYPHONES
Remember the news about how payphones are quickly dying out? Sure you do. Well, good news for those now-obsolete, aging hulks: Companies in Canada are devising ways of remaking payphones into high-speed wireless Internet dataports. These wireless hot-spots would be popular for mobile computing warriors who are working on the road. They might even draw slackers with nothing else to do.

I think this is a pretty cool idea. Makes perfect sense, as a lot of the wiring and such is already in place at each payphone terminal. So someone tell that dude who rips out decommissioned phones to stop!

Monday, January 13, 2003

CABBIES
I swear, I must have the absolute worst luck when it comes to the cab drivers I flag down.

First, a little background. I don't regularly take cabs. I live in the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area, aka Tampa Bay. But there are metro areas, like New York City and Boston, and then there are metro areas, like Phoenix and Los Angeles. Tampa Bay is more like LA in terms of the lack of density: there are a lot of people around, but all spread out. So even in the downtown areas, it's pretty rare that you'd resort to taking a taxi as the primary form of conveyance. The upshot is, I take a cab in my hometown maybe once or twice a year, max.

Now, when I travel up to New York to visit my family, like I did this past weekend, I have more of a need to cab it. So it was this last trip, when I got a cab after setting down at LaGuardia. Since this was me getting the cab, of course the cabdriver was an absolute idiot. I told him right away that I wanted to go to Grand Central Station--not exactly an obscure address. He couldn't seem to wrap his mind around this, so I had to repeat "Grand Central Station" about three or four times. Geez....

So, naturally, he drives me into the City... and makes his way to Penn Station. Not Grand Central Station, but Penn Station. And then he argues with me, claiming that I had said Penn the whole time. FUCKING IDIOT.

After arguing with him for one minute, I decided that I was better off just ditching this guy altogether rather than hope that he'd be able to get me to Grand Central on a second try. So I paid him, middle-fingered him goodbye (well, not really, but I should have--it was Manhattan, after all), and found another cab in front of Penn. This one had a driver with a brain, and he got me to my chosen destination promptly.

I don't know, I guess I just have a weird knack for this. I'm always getting stuck with cabbies, here in Tampa Bay especially, who just cannot do their jobs. I can't tell you how many times I've told a driver to take me to a certain location or address, and then have him ask me how to get there. I mean, shouldn't a basic requirement for driving a cab be that you have an above-average knowledge of the city in which you work? Or am I crazy? Sheesh.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

WHY THE INTERNET WAS CREATED
What an age we live in! I just now, a couple of minutes ago, ordered a pizza online. Did it through Pizza Hut's site. I think this act signifies me as either a super-cool cutting-edger, or an insufferable geek. Or maybe both.

I gotta admit, I'm very much attracted to anything that takes place in cyberland. I've shifted almost all of my bill-paying--including the electric, phone and cable bills--to online processes. It's just sooooo much easier to not deal with the paper, stamps, and so on. I've found it to be a godsend.

On the pizza front, the Hut is playing it smart. The registration process is pretty quick and pain-free, and they throw a bunch of Internet-only coupons/discounts at you as incentives. And perhaps most effectively, the plug the online-ordering option to you while you're on hold when calling in your order on the phone (how 20th-century! :). Smart moves.

Update: It looks like pizza-delivery-through-the-Web technology needs some refinement. The pie got here in about 40 minutes, like they said. However, instead of the toppings I requested--green peppers, mushrooms, sausage, and extra cheese--I got a pizza with only extra cheese. Dagnabit!

Normally, I'd have called them up and made a stink about it. However, I was hungry, didn't feel like waiting another hour for the next delivery, and I'm fine with just cheese (with a sprinkle of garlic powder and other seasonings, added by me). So I ate it, failed experiment and all.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

PERSONAL FINANCE BITES IT
Only days after raving and faving about the magazine, Bloomberg LP announced that it's killing off Bloomberg Personal Finance. Despite a circulation of 400,000--and I'm assuming it was a highly targeted one, since they're about to make some dough off the subscriber list--the ad market and growth options simply were too bleak to keep going.

It's interesting that one reason cited here for the cancellation is the growing consumer distaste for a personal finance-focused magazine, in the wake of the dot-com/stock market decline. If that's the case, then why is newspaper after newspaper beefing up it's own personal finance section, often at the cost of space to more "traditional" (corporate) business news? If this isn't working for the magazine business, is it folly for newspapers to take it on?

Actually... probably not. Newspapers have a different focus than magazines, and personal finance might be a better fit in a daily format, especially if it's part of a the entire newspaper package versus a dedicated publication. If so, it has the potential to save the papers' bacon, in terms of perhaps reversing (or, more realistically, stalling) perpetually declining circulations.

My newspaper of record, the St. Petersburg Times, just recently did this, signifying it by changing the title of the business section from the sensible "Business" to "Money". Lots of other papers have done this over the past couple of years; the groupthink among publishers is showing! I don't care for it; it seems rather phony.It's still business news, and frankly, I think coverage that has a more macroeconomic bent to it is far more interesting than the usual "tips for retirement" crap personal finance consists of. But perhaps, that's just me.

Friday, January 10, 2003

NO WHAMMIES, NO WHAMMIES
I understand why they have to do it, but it still kills me how all these supposedly specialized TV channels quickly backslide into showing the same variety of crap that all channels do. The most obvious example is MTV: everyone jokes about how it's gone from it's original raison d'etre--a 24-hour music video channel--to... well, whatever it is now. And making loads of cash, to boot. Perhaps even more ridiculously, The Weather Channel is also going down this road.

The reason why this happens, of course, is because any time the advertising market dips, it becomes apparent that whole networks/channels based around niche interests suffer badly. (By contrast, when the ad market is robust, these channels do fantastic; it's a feast-or-famine situation.) Thus, the imperative becomes broadening audience appeal, and all of a sudden the All-This Channel becomes the All-Everything Channel.

So it is with The Game Show Network. Instead of showing reruns of The Price Is Right all day long, it's decided to produce cutting edge documentaries on subjects like the Press Your Luck "scandal", and a reality show based on the life of Chuck Woolery. Yikes.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

MY BIG FAT GREEK ETHNICITY
By now, everyone knows about My Big Fat Greek Wedding, that little movie that could. It's gained fans all over the place with its funny, quirky look at the inner workings of an old-world family, and how it reacts when an outsider enters the picture. And of course, it's a feel-good love story, about how the plain-jane girl eventually has a fairy tale ending.

I'm Greek. I've never seen this movie. I'm not sure I ever will.

I could write a veritable book going into the reasons behind my severe distaste for having a version of my life splayed across the screens of North America (and now, the world). But maybe another time. For now, I think I'll let this article about the curious reaction of European Greeks to the "Big Fat" phenomenon speak for me; it's actually pretty close to my thinking (although not quite).

More bad news: there's a television series based on the movie on the way. The torture never ends!

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

THE NEXT ONE-PAPER TOWN: SEATTLE
The news out of Seattle looks bad in terms of newspaper options. The Seattle Times is getting ready to dissolve the joint operating agreement it shares with its junior partner, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Killing off the JOA pretty much means the Post-Intelligencer will get shut down, as it's not selling enough copies to account for the added expenses it would incur by not sharing resources with the Times.

Joint operating agreements are odd ducks. They were devised about 25 years ago as transitionary vehicles in the newspaper industry, at a time when most U.S. cities were seeing their dailies folding up left and right (New York City, which today has three major dailies, once had as many as 12 scrapping it out in the five boroughs). JOAs were seen as the best of all possible worlds: For the media companies, it saved them from facing anti-trust and regulatory headaches while saving some costs; for the public, it was a way of having some diversity in the media landscape (allegedly). I don't think anyone expected the half-measure that JOAs represented to last this long; it certainly seems like their days are numbered.
LOSING A $20-GRAND PHONE
chitter-chat
If you've got nothing better to do with $20,000 worth of scratch, consider buying a genuine Vertu mobile phone. Because once the chicks see you with a platinum-plated, jewel-encrusted talking gizmo, you'll be geting more tail than you can shake a stick at!

Jay Christian Rado, who is of some repute for being a racecar driver, and of even more repute for being the first person to pony up the dough to buy this ridiculous status symbol, predictably lost the thing during the holiday season. The article here makes it seem like it was purposefully stolen off him; other accounts I read indicated that he actually misplaced it and then couldn't find it later. Either way: Idiot!

Interestingly, the dictionary definition of the word virtu, the theme after which this phone is named, talks of "a love of the fine arts" and "a taste for curiosities". Somehow, I kinda doubt that someone vain and materialistic enough to blow such a wad on this trinket exbihits either of these traits, or even aspires to.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

REALITY CHECK: AN AVERAGE JOE, OR...?
Well, the reviews are in, and I'm glad to see that my opinions on Joe Millionaire are not just my own. Like I said, it's hard to believe this premise is going to sustain itself for more than one night (although I guess seven episodes isn't such a long time).

This article does, however, give me some information to chew on. Mainly, that Mr. Joe Millionaire may not be what he appears to be, and not on just the obvious level. Allow me to explain:

This guy's real name is Evan Marriott. Marriott is not that common of a name. One of the uncommon families that happen to have that name is the famous, fabulously wealthy Marriott clan that controls the huge-mongous Marriott International hotel empire. We're talking major moula there, folks. I think it's a bit too much of a coincidence.

Here's what I think: Fox is planning a double-cross on the audience. They'll run the show right to the very end, then "reveal" to the woman who wins that her millionaire is a $19,000-a-year construction worker, then wait for her to fall apart. Then, after she does the predictably backslide performance and all... they'll reveal that SURPRISE AGAIN, the real truth is that the guy really is a millionaire after all! A real no-one-saw-THAT-coming for everybody to revel in.

Gee, all of a sudden, I can't wait to see what happens now.
A CUPERTINO SAFARI
It's Macworld Expo time again, when Apple rolls out its new toys. Great fun!

While Cupertino Steve didn't deliver on the much-rumored video iPod, he did spring one curveball: Safari, Apple's very own browser. It's a curious move. Internet Explorer is the world's default browser--the world being Windows-based, of course. I guess Safari can establish itself on the Mac, but then what? It'll fly only if it's packaged free with the Mac OS. I can't see why anyone would want to pay for it. All it'll really accomplish is making a bunch of web developers mad at having to code for an alternate browser platform.
KRYPTONITE?
two fish
Past meets present as Christopher Reeve, who'll forever be known as Superman, will make a guest appearance on The WB's Superboy--er, I mean, Smallville. He'll play Dr. Swann, a sort of mentor to the young Clark Kent. It might become a recurring role, depending on if Reeve wants it to be and is up to it.

I wonder if Reeve will fill the youngster in on the Superman curse.
THE DARK AGES MARCH ON
to the max genuine tibbar
Playboy Magazine, following a pattern they established a few months ago, have swiped yet another editor from upstart rival Maxim.

By the way, I am now a subscriber to Maxim. My friend got me a gift subscription for Christmas, and I got my first issue just last week. So in light of these events, it seems I'll be receiving a brain-draining mag that's experiencing it's own editorial brain-drain.

Monday, January 06, 2003

CNN, ABC NEWS, BBC: URGE TO MERGE
The long-rumored, but unlikely to happen, merger of CNN and ABC News into a new free-standing company is taking a new, unexpected twist. The British Broadcasting Corporation is set to enter the fray as an alternate partner for ABC News. The chief reason seems to be the BBC's fear of losing its current partnership deal with ABC, and thus one of its primary trans-Atlantic outlets.

Meanwhile, ABC News' original dance partner, CNN, is giving itself a facelift by cutting loose a bushel of on-air talent. I'm guessing people like Willow Bay and Garrick Utley just didn't have enough flava.
A POLL ABOUT... POLLS
Ba-dum-bump. Yes, as silly as it seems, the results from a poll about who takes online opinion polls is actually useful. It's nothing very new, as you'd figure that those who regularly take online polls would spend a lot of time on the computer; and if you spend that much time on the computer and the Web, you must be a rich Republican with lots of time to waste.

No, no, just kidding, y'all. But if you spend a lot of time accessing and working on the Web, it's a strong hint that you hold a higher-than-average profession (i.e., one connected to the knowledge industry); of course, with all things statistical, this is not a blanket rule, but just the likelihood. So, it tells us that the population for online poll participants tends to be skewed toward an upper-class demographic, and so any results should take that into account.

I guess I'm one of the few Democratic frequent poll-takers, all registered and everything. I just took two online surveys earlier today, in fact; both had to do with consumer spending habits. Always happy to toss my hat in.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

REALITY CHECK: WEATHER AND HIGH SCHOOL
I guess I have reality on the brain today. Here's a couple of quickie shots on the latest entrants to this burgeoning field:

Storm Stories - Our favorite meteorological programming provider, The Weather Channel, is coming out with its very own weather-based reality series. This is a pretty ambitious plan, actually believing that a sane human being would consider The Weather Channel to be a viewing option on an average night. Reminds me of a joke on the old Cheers sitcom, where Cliffy lets slip the embarassing fact that he has a favorite on-air personality on The Weather Channel and that he regularly watches, regardless of weather, just to see her... I'm guessing they'll continue to deliver their primary mission--real-time current weather conditions information--by scrolling that data across the bottom of the screen while that reality show is on.

High School Reunion - The WB, which by its inherently schlocky nature as a network should be the leader in reality-ness (surprisingly it's not), is rolling out a kind-of interesting show based around an extended high school reunion and all the attendant expectations that come from such a gathering. When I first heard about this, I was assuming that the people in it would be fairly young, like maybe just out of college, so that this would be their four- or five-year reunion. I assumed this because: a) this would deliver a younger cast of characters, which would appeal to a younger demographic, and b) being removed from high school for such a relatively short time, and yet having college or work life in the interim, would set the stage for some relatively fresh interaction when revisiting their high school memories. Surprise! The clowns in this show are from the Class of 1992--only a couple of years younger than me. The first thought that comes to mind is, what's wrong with these people?? High school was over a decade ago, and they still have enough issues from then to want to revisit them? I mean, grow the fuck up, already. Then again, I'm sure the free trip and stay in Maui was a big enough incentive. Plus, they get to ham it up and, if any have any sort of acting aspirations, this is a perfect vehicle (one of the fundamental fake things about reality TV that makes it such a farce, in my opinion).
THE FREEING OF THE BOOKS
into the wild!
Remember my posting about BookCrossing.com? Well, as I suggested there, I've finally gone and signed up and joined in on the fun. Check out the books I'm setting loose (that's right, I am oldschool; ask anyone).

I'll probably free a couple of books tomorrow; I'm trying to think of some creative and worthwhile places to leave them in downtown St. Pete. Let's face it, the park is full of bagladies and bums who'll more likely put them in a grocery cart where they'll never be seen again, so it's pretty much like throwing them away to leave them anywhere near there. It does occur to me to leave them somewhere at my work building, since there are plenty of literate booklovers around there. Maybe in the cafeteria, or near the lobby...

The added wrinkle for me is, I'm going to be flying up to the family homeland in New York this coming weekend, so naturally, leaving a book or two at the airports (Tampa International and LaGuardia) is a natural! I can even find a couple of long-forgotten books up at my parents' house that I can label and release.

A couple of funny things about this exercise:

-If you read through the site, you'll note that the ideal situation is that participation in this read-and-release is that you get rid of a book that you really enjoyed reading. The idea is that you liked the book so much, that you want to share it with someone else, even if (or maybe even especially if) that someone else is a total stranger. I guess this makes sense for someone who rips through a ton of books a month, and simply doesn't want to keep a huge library in his/her home. But for me, and I suspect others, my motivation is more to get rid of books that I either didn't like, or am long tired of. It's probably the packrat in me, but why on earth would I want to give away books that I really, really like? To let someone else have it who may or may not like it, and may or may not let me know of that? Screw dat.
-I took a quick look through the release rates of some of the other people on this thing, and I've noted that they're pretty low. There are people who've set loose bunches of books, and haven't had even one release recorded. What a bummer! I freely admit I'm looking to get something out of this besides ridding myself of some pulp: Some feedback from whoever picks up the book (thus my aversion to having some bum find it). I mean, there is some work involved in the process, in that you have to print the BookCrossing.com labels, then make a journal entry for each book, and then record the actual releasing of each book and the location where it was left. I bet plenty of people register here, set free a load of books for a month or two, get disgusted by the complete lack of feedback, and subsequently quit doing it. I wouldn't be surprised if that happened to me; we'll see.
REALITY CHECK: JOE BLOWS
I see from the TV schedule that the latest reality show claptrap, Joe Millionaire, is about to debut. (Hey, I just now saw from a typo I made that they could make a female version of this ala The Bachelorette: Jo Millionaire!)

Now, I've noted before that the reality show format does not speak to me, so I might not be the one to judge whether or not the various iterations of these shows will be popular. However...

The deal with Joe Millionaire is that all these women throw themselves at this guy because they think he's worth $50 million, when in fact he's some schmo who makes $19,000 a year. The concept is to "expose" how superficial and bloodthirsty these ladies are, in that they'll surely change their tune as soon as they find out that the guy they declared to be a dream catch is in fact poor. (I write "expose" because it's supposed to be some sort of amazing revelation that greed instead of true love is the motive here.)

Now, I'm wondering about why, exactly, Fox is letting the cat out of the bag about this show before it even begins. The central theme of this show, the only thing that makes it at all different from the other reality match-up shows, is that there's a big surprise shock waiting for the "winner" when all's said and done. But what's the point in letting the audience in on this secret at the very start? I mean, I suppose it heightens the anticipation, and gives viewers a smug satisfaction from being in the know before the contestants are.

Here's what I think: I think the secret behind Joe Millionaire was leaked out months ago, without Fox's consent. I'm basing this mainly on the promos that I saw for this show back during the summer, when they were much more vague about what the whole thing was about. By contrast, the promos they're running now reveals everything. I'm guessing that, once the secret was out, Fox cut its losses in that department and is trying to turn it to its advantage. (Plus, the original approach probably wasn't generating the right kind or amount of buzz.)

Given this, I have to question how this premise can sustain itself as a series. Think about it: If you already know the punchline, are you really that interested in watching the joke for some 20 weeks (or however long the show's supposed to run)? If I were running Fox, I'd turn this into a two-hour movie special instead, probably get a lot more out of it that way.
YOU BIG DUMMY!
it's the big one Elizabeth!
Yes, it's the big Sanford and Son 48-hour marathon on TV Land, which runs until this evening. Comedy genius--genius, I tell you!!!

I'm a big fan of the show, from the funky theme song to Redd Foxx's excellent delivery. And it's mainly because Fred Sanford is a better TV dad than Mike Brady ever was.

I've shed a tear as many of the cast members have passed on over the years, including the most recent, Aunt Esther.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

ARTIFICIAL HYPE MACHINE
far, far
Ah, I've really got to stop falling prey to all that media/marketing entertainment hype. I just went to see Far from Heaven, which has earned accolades from hither and thither. I really was underwhelmed. The cinematography was good, performances decent, and it succeeded in emulating the Douglas Sirk style it was patterned after (probablly too well--I was never a fan of melodramatic schmaltz). But it just wasn't so much of a much for me. It was a very pretty period piece, but without a whole lot of depth. I could see every single plot development a mile away--which made me wonder if that was a result of the abundance of hype out there about it...

Speaking of the attached hype: An interview with the star, Julianne Moore, that I read after watching this flick had her saying that she decided to wear a blond wig for this role. Now, I may be a bit colorblind, but I'm pretty sure that her hair was not blond, but her natural red in this film. Sure looks like it from the above photo, too. Not only that, but in the film, it's noted that her character once had the nickname "Red", an obvious allusion to her hair. So what gives??

Oh well. It did get me out of the house, and down to the beautiful St. Pete Beach Beach Theatre. Where I met a cute girl who was working the counter. So not a total waste of time after all.

Friday, January 03, 2003

BABIES
A few days back, my friend Kirby came over with his newborn daughter in tow. Within about three minutes of coming in, the little squirt started bawling her head off. Nothing unusual for a little baby, but she was really getting into it, to the point where she turned all red and got really worked up. And LOUD, by the way. This persisted even as her father and I were doing all the funny faces and cooing we could think of in an effort to cheer her up. Dad even changed her diaper, figuring that was the main source of her discomfort; no dice, she kept crying without a pause. Finally, after about 20 minutes, they left, and I later learned that she stopped crying pretty much as soon as her baby seat was strapped into the car seat and they were mobile. (Must have been the room temperature or something; she's been here before without that reaction).

Now, my reason for recounting this isn't to claim offense; after all, it's an infant, who knows why they do half the things they do. Rather, what struck me was the way that her father handled the episode. Kirb was pretty calm and patient the whole time, even as he was making goofy faces, calmly talking to her, carrying her around, etc. He even admitted that she had never cried this badly and to this extent before; yet he was pretty placid through it all, (almost) like a seasoned pro.

I, on the other hand, was kind of on the edge of panic (although I don't think it really showed). All that I could think of was: How do I get this kid to stop crying?? I mean, I was genuinely worried about her, that somehow she was in real pain and was in some kind of trouble. And all that was running through my mind was what I could possibly do to stop this, whether that was jumping up on the furniture and dancing around, or what have you.

I'd like to think that this stemmed solely from a deep affection for the kid and wanting to make her happy. That was surely part of it, but I've got to admit: Just hearing that pained crying continuing on-end also hit some sort of paternal nerve (I wonder if that's a built-in human reaction? I'm guessing yes, that people are somehow hard-wired to react in a protective way when they hear a baby crying; a survival mechanism that ensures babies are well-cared for) that was uncomfortable, and impelled me to make it stop. In a positive way, of course; I guess more unstable(?) people resort to less desirable ways to "make it stop" (i.e., physical abuse).

What made it more unnerving at the time was, as I said, how unfazed Kirby was. I mean, he was concerned and doing all he could, and I suppose he also could have been panicky in his mind. But he sure didn't look like it; and I think, since he's been experiencing parenthood for some 4 months, he's developed some coping skills for it.

The upshot is, I have to say I admire Kirby to an extent. I mean, it's got to be a huge stress to be worrying about the kid every step of the way, and be able to handle it so adroitly. His wife, Angela, also deserves like praise, for an even bigger achievement. She's a neonatal nurse, and probably hears babies crying the whole time she's at work. Between the two of them, caring for the kid keeps them on their toes. I see single mothers (I'm guessing) walking around with their kids all the time, and I can't imagine how they can handle it; I can see how hard it is for a mom-and-dad couple doing it.

Parenting. Quite the challenge. I think I'll leave it to others for the time being.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

REQUIEM FOR THE PAYPHONE
With the ubiquity of cellphones across the country and across class lines, it's inevitable that public payphones, once a fixture in places from restaurants to rural gas stations, are dying a pretty quick death.

It really is the passing of an era; public phones have been around for, what, a bit over a hundred years? Phone booths used to be regular and distinctive sights around cities; take London's famous red phone stations, for instance. Now they, and most other pay phones, are soon to be yesterday's news.

I really like the closing anecdote to this article, where some lady turns up her nose at the idea of having to use a pay phone. It's intimated here that the reason for avoiding a public phone is the stigma of looking low-class or poor. However, the aversion reasoning I've heard has to do with some of the other things mentioned earlier in this piece: public urination, general dirtiness, and the idea of some stranger having touched or breathed on the receiver before you put it against your ear. (Of course, in the pre-cellular days, this never seemed to be a consideration.)

Given all this, it's odd that the advertising space on New York City phonebooths is considered such prime territory. After all, if phone kiosks are supposed to be on the way out, then why contend for them? I'd think Viacom had this in mind when they dumped the properties in the first place. Then again, dense urban areas like NYC might be more profitable for a little while longer, making them viable. But I doubt it, frankly.

Final thought: Whither the Payphone Project?
COPYRIGHTS IN NEVERLAND
In another example of how much is at stake in the current copyright law debate, a dispute over whether or not Peter Pan is now in the public domain is about to hit the courts. The decision from this case will affect whether or not this new Peter Pan book, "After The Rain", ever sees the light of day.

I could have sworn that Peter Pan did, in fact, pass into public domain a few years back. I recall some story about when it happened, and how creators/publishers were urged to continue to make some sort of payments to the children's hospital regardless. I guess the Sony Bono Act has now clouded all that.
KNOW WHEN TO FOLD 'EM, DUMBASS
I was sorely tempted to resurrect the "Jackass Xing" sign for this posting as well, but I don't want to be repetitive. Besides, I think this schmuck's story about how he almost got arrested for trying to shake down Robert Redford for some autographs pretty well speaks for itself.

He could have gotten a little something out of returning the card without a hassle--free ski passes, his name in the papers, maybe even a note or brief meeting with Redford. Instead, he gets greedy, and stupid. I mean, think about it: How valuable did he think a freakin' credit card was? It could be cancelled and replaced just like that; only reason it wasn't was probably because of the hassle of having to change a bunch of business account records and such. Then what? It's not like it was an invaluable, irreplacable keepsake. Best he could have hoped for was to sell it to some Redford-obsessed freak. Just plain dumb.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

ONE DAY, YOU WILL KNOW ME AS IRON CHEF GREEK
fukui-san!kaga!
What more sublime way to spend New Year's Day than to indulge in a day-long marathon of Iron Chef? Chairman Kaga rules, baby. And so does his wardrobe.

If you've never seen this show, you have to. It possibly may be the most entertaining show on the tube today. Don't believe me? Ask this guy. Or this guy, even.

Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto used to be my favorite Chef. But lately, I've come to favor the infrequently-seen Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe, not least because he alone, among all the Iron Chefs, boasts his very own string section.

My friend Tom, who also loves this show, actually met Morimoto-san once! While in Philadelphia, he ate at Morimoto's restaurant, and the invincible man of culinary skills was right there! What a thrill.