The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, March 31, 2003

SIGNS OF THE TIMES
fire in the hole!
As you no doubt know, this is a treacherous world we live in. What with all manners of bin Ladens and Husseins running around, you just never know around which corner danger may lurk. So the U.S. governement wants you to Be Ready, and Be Informed.

But in the meantime, there's no reason why you can't make cruel fun of the warning signs. Yes, the humor is not all that sharp, but it has its moments.

Me, I always heed the advice of the late, great Robert Heinlein, and I quote (actually, I blockquote, and bold to boot):

"When in danger
Or in doubt
Run in circles
Scream and shout."

Sunday, March 30, 2003

OUTSIDE OUTSIDE THE LINES: CHUG-A-LUG
In just a couple of minutes on ESPN's Outside The Lines program, the question of the day is, "Does beer advertising during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament contribute to the well-established binge drinking on college campuses?".

Please, allow me to save you 30 minutes of your time: No. It doesn't. And it's stupid to suggest it.

College students have been drinking themselves silly for decades. To attribute any of that to advertising during college sports events is idiotic. The implication is, if ads for Coors/Budweiser/Miller et al were eliminated, that would impact consumption on campus. Yeah, sure.

What's more, it's pretty hypocritical of ESPN to put forth this premise at the very same time it's promoting a Quarter Bouncers Tournament contest on it's own website. If you weren't already aware that the off-line game of Quarters is a time-honored college drinking ritual whose point is to consume huge quantities of alcohol, then the 21-year-old age requirement in this online version should tip you off.

So what, ESPN--it's ok for you to co-opt the college drinking culture for your own commerce, but it's not alright for the beer companies to do so?

Saturday, March 29, 2003

TEACHERS, TEACH THYSELVES
LessonLab, an education consulting and research company, has just released the results of a four-year multinational study on the effectiveness of math teaching in the 8th grade, and has found American teachers to be severely lacking in the ability to teach mathematical concepts to their students.

In other words, most teachers take the quick-and-dirty path: Present the mechanics of problem-solving in step-by-step method and skip the thought process that imparts a meaningful understanding of the whole discipline. Basically, this gets the kids through the lesson, but it doesn't stick. All they really learn is how to "get through it".

This is the ultimate in short-term thinking. It doesn't really teach the kids how to use math as a tool, and the problems compound under this approach because the students never get to see how all the elements of mathematics relate to one another, and therefore make more sense.

I'd really be interested in seeing similar studies on other subject matters, because I'm sure they would reveal the same thing. I noticed throughout my education that this was the case especially with history. A lot of students complain how uninteresting and boring learning history is, and most teachers/professors I had in that subject did absolutely nothing to help matters. As we went through the term, they'd do nothing but take shortcuts by presenting periods of history as self-contained epochs that had the barest of connections to each other: For instance, when it was time to study the Mexican War, that's all we'd look at to a ridiculously exclusive level. There'd be little to no mention of how, for instance, that war served as a training ground for most of the major military players in the Civil War only 15 years later. And of course, lessons would often be reduced to little more than rote memorization of dates and names, with hardly any effort put toward exposing the meaningful connections between all these things. Instead of presenting history as a big, long, interconnected story narrative, it gets reduced to memory exercises.

It's easy to blame the teachers for all this. And I'm going to. Yes, they're working under a lot of pressure every day, with less-than-stellar support. But really, I've met a fair number of teachers in my area, and I haven't seen much that gives me confidence in their basic teaching acumen. It's no shock to me that these same people would excel at taking all manner of shortcuts in their lessonplans, in effect short-changing their students. By and large, the teaching professionals I've encountered--and I've been friends and acquaintences with quite a few--have all been pretty flaky, and strike me as having fallen into teaching as a road of least resistance, careerwise. I hate to conjure up the old stereotype of "those who can't, teach", because I'm sure there are some very good instructors out there. But from my experience, they aren't representative of the whole.

Friday, March 28, 2003

AOL TIME WARNER: NO MORE FREE MAGS
Well, just a day after ruminating about how good a splintered AOL Time Warner would be, the company took a step in something of the opposite direction. In a move that's been rumored for months, the company will be pulling all the free content off its magazine sites, forcing online readers to pay for them in some way, shape or form (either by becoming an AOL subscriber, subscribing to that particular magazine's site, or buying single copies of said magazine).

People and Entertainment Weekly will be the first ones to be pulled; eventually all their pubs will follow, I'm guessing. I imagine this won't extend to CNN and other broadcast properties, which in theory aren't as cannibalized by Web content.

Another chapter in the end of free, I suppose. It'll affect me most in that I won't be able to constantly check Sports Illustrated's handy sports transactions page throughout the day. Oh well. I'll survive... maybe.

Of course, if such a huge company is successful, the domino effect will extend to the rest of the Web, and pretty soon quality free content will be hard to dig up. Even now, most professional sites (especially newspapers and magazines) restrictively archive their stuff and charge for access to it, because it's a pretty sure revenue source. Unfortunately, it makes the permanence of blogs like mine pretty difficult.

I'm as much of a freeloader as anyone, and it'll be a drag not having free access to AOLTW's vast array of media holdings. But really, I was fully aware that the free lunch wasn't going to last forever. Eventually, companies have to figure out a way to pay for that content, and relying on comment boards and amateur bloggers ain't gonna cut it. You pay to play. I'm not going to subscribe to AOL just to get my peek at the latest People, but I'm not against a pay-as-you-go system--like, if I buy the latest issue of GQ off the newsstand, I then get an access code for the pay-only site that works only for that month. I got no problem with that. (I know GQ isn't an AOLTW title, but like I said, I'm sure the rest of the publishing world will follow suit eventually.)
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: PROS AND CONS
Product placement, or the "embedding" of sponsor products into the actual content of a TV show/movie/book/song, was supposed to be prevalent by now. I remember seeing an old episode of Siskel & Ebert back in the late 80s decrying the trend in movies (I particularly recall their Exhibit #1: a Coke machine prominently placed in the foreground during a pivotal scene in Rambo: First Blood Part II.)

In some ways, product placement has become standard operating procedure. The WB, in particular, seems to do it all the time, from using Warner Music recording artists as the background music in their crappy shows to inserting that stupid Verizon Wireless "Can You Hear Me Now" guy into a block of episodes on a given night. Anyone who's read a fair amount of Stephen King knows that he can't get through even a short story without inserting tons of brand-specific product names. And let's not forget Island Def Jam's intention to auction off product-specific lyrics in the songs of its recording artists, like Busta Rhymes.

Nevertheless, there's still plenty of debate on what the limits of this new type of advertising should be, and whether or not media consumers are feeling duped by it.

I have mixed feelings about product placement. On the one hand, when I encounter a pretty clumsy attempt at it in something I'm watching, I do feel insulted. My reaction is one of, "Can't they lay off on the sell-job for at least a minute and let me watch my show??". If it's something that overrides the entire plot, or just insinuates itself to a degree where it's annoying, I'll stop watching. In that sense, I can't see what an advertiser gains from this. Whereas with traditional commercial or advertising spots, you can at least hope that the audience will sort of pay attention to a designated period of time when they know that they're being sold to.

On the other hand... My outrage doesn't get too out of hand. Why, I don't know. Maybe it's because I work in media now, and I'm more aware of the necessity of advertising dollars to produce content. But as long as the placement is done in a way that's not hamfisted, I don't really mind. I'm just as aware of it, but I don't feel like it's being shoved down my throat. In a funny way, the example that most readily comes to mind is in sports. Sports constitutes the majority of my television viewing these days, and I'm acutely aware that it's impossible to watch any sporting event, from the Super Bowl to the World's Strongest Man Competition and not be exposed to countless product placement images: on the boards at a hockey game, on the outfield walls at a baseball game, when the game stats are shown onscreen, etc. It's a fact of life, and while I know it works on a subliminal level, it's also quite easy to tune it out.

Do I miss the days when, for instance, the Brady Bunch kids would turn on a radio and, instead of hearing a real song/band come on, some nonsense generic "rock-n-roll" music would blare out? I can't say that I feel that made for a better product; I can't say it made it any worse, either. What's ironic is that back in the day, a lot of companies prohibited the use of their names and properties in that way, because they didn't want to be associated with anything they didn't have a direct hand in creating. Nowadays, they're paying for the priviledge.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

NOT JUST A PASTA POT, A BETTER PASTA POT
but wait, there's more
Yeah baby! I'm in business now that I've received my Better Pasta Pot and bonus package through the mail! All that for just $37.97--such a deal!

Please note that this product is of Italian design--ooh la la. If you really want the low-down on this stuff, and are the masochistic sort, by all means view the commercial.

I actually ordered this over two months ago, and I was getting pretty frustrated over the extended wait. Apparently, there was a bigger demand for this amazing product than The Invention Channel anticipated, and so shipments took longer than expected. Let me tell you, an impulse buy like this really loses steam when you have to wait so long for it to arrive. In fact, I tried calling today to cancel the motherfucker, and if I hadn't been on interminable hold, I might have done it. And meantime, it was sitting in my mailbox all day long. Quite the coincidence!

Unfortunately, I don't have much pasta in the house right now; plus, I'm not really in the mood for it tonight. So I guess I'll wait until tomorrow to test out my new kitchen toys.
VODKA POWER
Alcohol is energy fuel! Any drunk worth his ravaged liver can tell you that. So it should come as no shock at all that an enzyme-catalyzed battery has been developed that runs on shots of vodka. One day, all our mobile phones and PDAs will run on vodka power!

Does it matter which brand of vodka? Probably not. Still, may I recommend Grey Goose, the pride of France?

Vodka-powered electronics. What's next, coconut-powered boats? (Too bad the Professor on Gilligan's Island didn't think that one up, they could have gotten off that rock years earlier.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

AOL TIME WARNER, DE-CONSOLIDATED?
Media behemoth AOL Time Warner's finances are in the toilet, and everyone's piling on to trash the company. Loudest are the cries that the merger between Internet high-flyer America Online and old-school media Time Warner never should have happened in the first place, for various reasons both high-minded and venal. (I can empathize: I was working for an investment banking firm when it happened, and the first thought that came to mind when the press release announcing the merger came before my eyes was, this must be a hoax. It wasn't.)

It's in that spirit that MediaPost's Tig Tillinghast ruminates on the benefits that would accrue from a complete splintering of the AOL Time Warner empire, with everything from HBO to AOL to Time going their separate ways.

It's an intriguing scenario, although pretty unlikely. Market corrections account for de-consolidation as well as the dreaded consolidation, but I can't remember the last time it happened on a significant scale in the media industry. But like I say, it'd be interesting to watch unfold if it came to that. Plus, it's good all around for more media companies to be in play: good for the diversity of the media consumer landscape, and good for media professionals to have more outlets to peddle their skills/wares.

Just an aside: What kind of a name is Tig?? Not to mention Tig Tillinghast. It sounds like the name of a prep-school fop. (I know, I know, people with weird names themselves shouldn't cast stones. I'm lobbing them anyway. No offense, Tig.)
THE BRAND AS A MOVING TARGET
Can a product or service mean many things to many people? It's a neat trick, if you can pull it off. Inc. Magazine makes an argument for the rise of sub-sub-submarkets, and offers up soy milk as an unlikely case study in success.

It's clever how the market for soy milk is such a hodgepodge of people with different motivations for buying the stuff: lactose intolerant, health nuts, environmentalists, etc. This for a product that was in the smallest of niches only 10 years ago.

Can this work with anything? I guess, but there are limitations. That is the purpose of branding and marketing, though: Selling the sizzle instead of the steak. As long as the wrapping is right, people tend to buy, or really buy into, near about anything.
GREEN IN THE DESERT?
desertwear?
I was wondering if I was the only one who had this on his mind. Note the familiar-looking camouflage the soldiers above are wearing. Now consider where they are: In the middle of a desert. Doesn't exactly help them blend into the background, does it? Which is, I thought, the function of camouflage. Turns out there is a reason for this: The Army goofed.

Have no fear, though. The error has been noted, and more appropriate khaki-colored gear is heading to the Gulf now.

Incidentally, that green stuff won't be totally useless. Most think of Iraq as nothing but desert, but in fact the Tigris-Euphrates Valley at the heart of the country is a lush green landscape. At least, it was before all the bombing...
EMMITT SMITH: DIS-CARD-ED
i used to be emmitt smithdis-cardsleague
Why, Emmitt? Why did you decide to sign with the perrenially God-awful Arizona Cardinals? Is it really so important for you to keep on playing, that you'll play for one of the weakest teams in the league, that will still reek even with you on the roster? What's the point?

It is hard for a player to hang 'em up, especially after the kind of career Emmitt Smith has had. I know he didn't get any other offers as a starter, so it was this or nothing. And he is going to get paid, at least for one year.

But really, this is just an unfortunate wrap-up to a Hall-of-Fame career. And please, don't say this is "how it is in today's NFL". This is nothing new: Great players have been put out to pasture for as long as the league's been around. Johnny Unitas with the Chargers, O.J. Simpson with the 49ers, Joe Namath with the Rams--all utterly forgettable, sad denouements to otherwise fantastic careers. This falls squarely into that category.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

SEINFELD SCRIPTS
masters of domains
Are you a huge Seinfeld fan? Then you've no doubt seen every single episode several times over. But perhaps, your reading material isn't Seinfeld-ish enough. If that's the case, relive the majority of the series in text form at the online Seinfeld Scripts site.
AN INSPIRATIONAL 2,400-YEAR-OLD INSULT
have you seen my cave?
So I'm reading this morning's Dear Abby column, which I find myself do less and less frequently because it's getting less and less interesting. What's more, today's is the kind I hate: Nothing but chime-ins on a past column--as if anyone retains the memory of a Dear Abby from 2-3 weeks ago!

However, something in this one caught my eye. Apparently, a bunch of people wrote in to show support for a little fat kid who was being picked on by the other kids. Here's one of the responses:
DEAR ABBY: The child in North Dakota should know that the Greek philosopher, Aristocles, was very short, too. His nicknames were "Shorty" or "Flatty." We know him today as Plato. -- FRANCIS A. BURKLE-YOUNG, GETTYSBURG COLLEGE

Sometimes it's nice to know another language, and to couple that with a fairly deep knowledge of history, because you get an insight that 99% of the population doesn't. Such is the case with this example of Plato.

What Francis said was true: The man who would write The Republic and Timaeus, among other tracts, was a dumpy little troll, even by ancient world standards (considering that nutrition and health wasn't up to today's standards). No doubt "Shorty" and "Flatty" were among the monikers given to him by his peers, both during childhood and as an adult.

We do indeed know him today as Plato. The real joke is, "Plato" was in fact yet another insulting nickname!

Plato, or in the Greek platone, means (both in ancient/archaic and modern Greek) "broad-shouldered". Basically, it's designed to be a descriptive compliment to a guy who's well-built or buff. As we've established, young Aristocles was anything but. The legends have it that as a kid, he was such a pipsqueak that his school instructors gave him the nickname Plato as a backhanded, sarcastic insult. (Some accounts say his mentor Socrates gave him the name; it's impossible to say for sure.) The idea, which is still alive today, is that you tag someone with a name that connotes the opposite of what he really is--like calling an ugly guy "handsome", for instance.

Obviously, Plato took on his new name and gave it distinction. Still, when considering this, the Dear Abby advice takes on a fun new meaning.
R.I.P. ADAM OSBOURNE
Mobile computing pioneer Adam Osbourne died yesterday at the age of 64 in a remote village in India.

Osbourne's mark on computer history was brief but flashy. The machines his company produced (the Osbourne 1 and Osbourne Executive) today look like fugitives from some public school's audio-visual basement, but believe it or not they used to be top o' the line. My choice of computer these days is the portable notebook (screw the desktop!), and Osbourne's old clunkers helped bring us to where we are today.

The other thing he was known for was how not to run a business. He rapidly grew his company to the point where he was selling 10,000 computers a month, and then, thanks to his big mouth, demolished it on a vaporware promise. The hypergrowth phenomenon he went through would be emulated, on a larger scale, some 15 years later in the dot-com boom and bust.

Monday, March 24, 2003

NYSE BARS AL-JAZEERA
Let the war hysteria on the home front begin. The New York Stock Exchange today barred a reporter from the Al-Jazeera from the trading floor, citing the Arabic news network's lack of "responsibility".

Since when can the NYSE decide which news organizations are "responsible" and which are not? They could stretch this, if they cared to, into barring any reporters that dare to report on any bearish rumors (that they won't isn't the point). Devising this as a punishment or protest against Al-Jazeera's unrelated earlier actions is ludicrous; business news and war coverage don't really have that much in common. If the guys in charge at the exchange don't like what the network's been broadcasting, tough. Media freedom isn't exclusive to American-based enterprises. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the U.S. have a problem with this concept.

It's a total horseshit call. What exactly are they worried about--that the reporter is going to come in with a bomb strapped on his back and hold the place hostage? Or that the sight of an Arab in the joint will trigger a Dow drop? Idiocy.

Speaking of Al-Jazeera, they've just opened up shop on an English-language site.
THE SLOW DECLINE OF THE FAX
incoming!
Some five years after the concept of email fully invaded the business office, the facsimile machine still refuses to cede it's territory in the workplace. But the fax is definitely on the downward slide, inexorably slow as it is.

I'm almost always surprised at the high numbers I encounter when dealing with dying technologies and trends, and this is no exception. I can't believe fax machine sales reached their peak as recently as 2000! I'd have guess they would have started to decline by that point. And even worse for someone who can't stand paper (like me), looks like the real reverse won't set in until 2006. Sigh.

Part of the reason is that the fax didn't really a very long heyday. This was a bit before my time, but I know the fax machine didn't really catch on as indispensible business equipment for all industries until the late 80s. So really, it wasn't even 10 years by the time email came along as an alternative. Especially with older people, it probably seemed like the fax had just stopped being the exotc new technology when an even newer option arrived. Plus, for many people, a document just doesn't seem "real" unless it's actually on a physical piece of paper; this is why people rather stupidly print out every single email they get.

I once worked for a guy who went through the fax-email cycle. He worked out of his home office, and communicated with the storefront office by phone and other means. "Other means" apparently meant sending over dozens of faxes every day! When I joined the firm, he had finally just been weaned off of serial faxing, and had moved on to the joys of emailing.
CLEANING UP BIG OIL
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the big oil companies?... Yikes! Just as I suspected. Exxon Mobil knows you hate their and their brethren's guts too, and so is urging the industry to rehabilitate their public image by kicking off feel-good campaign that highlights how much good oil companies do for the world.

Hmm. I think it's kinda odd to try to extol the virtues of Big Oil while there's a blood-for-oil war going on.
THE PRE-COOKED HOTDOGS
make me one with everything-zen
Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle. And not just for fun, neither. Apparently, I've lived my entire 31 years of life never being aware that hotdogs are already somewhat pre-cooked when you buy them in the grocery store. I just found this out not an hour ago, while shooting the breeze with my coworkers. So my disgust at the thought of eating a frankfurter right out of the package, sans grilling, is unwarranted. (But, considering the suspect composition of your average hotdog, or any processed food really, I'm still never gonna do it.)

Would you like to know more about hotdogs? Sure you do.
INSIDE GOOGLE
googy-goo-goo
We're all familiar with the mighty Google by now. What with its rapid rise to the top of the search engine heap, and the way it's burrowed into the public psyche to become synonymous with online research, it's a rare example of latter-day dot-com success. Fast Company magazine takes a big in-depth look at the innards of Google the company, along with useful links to some of the offshoot projects the search utility has inspired.

It's hard to go wrong with the general tech community by embracing open-source, and Google's done it's part by giving away user licenses left and right. The Google proliferation across the Web is probably the ideal way to spread a product or service for maximum gain. Just when you think that the ubiquity of free Google would dry up all their revenue streams, they turn it around and use it to sell ads and corporate services. Not too shabby.

The corporate culture was interesting to look at too. Very reminiscent of the early days of Apple and even Microsoft.
FUN WITH SOCIAL MAPPING
The devil, as we know, is in the details. And when you scrutinze the details to the nth degree, all hell breaks loose.

Well, not really. But when you're talking social/organizational mapping, it sure can seem that way.

This is pretty heady stuff, and I admit a good chunk of it is over my head. But quite thought-provoking. I appreciate the Vonnegut references too; I think the entire premise can be summarized in the sentence, "Granfalloons are what you see in the annual report and the business plan; the karass is what actually happens on the ground, when things are going well." (Note the qualifier, "when things are going well".)
PHONE SPAMMING IN CHINA
When authorities in China say "Post No Bills", they really mean it. In response to rampant illegal flyer advertising, police in Hangzhou, China have devised an automated dialing program that bombards the perpetrators' mobile phone with constant calls until they answer, at which point they're instructed to turn themselves in.

Devilishly clever. There are ways around it, of course: call blocking, redirection, etc. The advertisers are limited in guarding against it in some ways; in order to get their business, they can't resort to posting a fake phone number, for instance.

The most immediate use I can see for this program in the U.S. is for bill collectors trying to get through to their deadbeats. It probably comes awful close to harrassment, though. And it's probably not the best idea to start copying tactics used by a profoundly undemocratic government.
MULTITASKING MAKES YOU STUPID
a serene scene
Are you a multitasking maniac? Are you, like, currently reading this blog in your office while simultaneously talking to a coworker and IMing another and, perhaps, slurping down a delicious Campbell's Soup-At-Hand for lunch? Are you proud of yourself as a result?

Well, don't be, because being a juggling fool ain't as effective as we've been led to believe. So sayeth The Wall Street Journal, which reports that there's plenty of evidence that multitasking winds up putting a huge strain on the brain and usually makes you less, not more, productive. In other words, you're not multitasking, you're really multi-tanking.

I've certainly experienced the brain cramps described here, and I'm sure they're attributable to having too many gears turning in the noggin' at once. Coupled with the chronic lack of sleep most Americans endure, it results in a less-than-sharp waking mental state. I'm sure that some people have the right kind of mental hardwiring that enables them to perform 4 or 5 things at once (a mere pair of tasks is probably bush league for people with this mindset). But as noted, you're kidding yourself if you think you can divide your attention X number of directions and still be able to devote a good amount of brainpower toward any one.

I've always felt multitasking was overrated, more an opportunity to show off rather than to be productive. Especially accursed are those who mix business and personal matters into their multitasked existences. I'm sure your loved ones really appreciate being patronized while you fiddle with that super-important Excel spreadsheet, Mom. That Campbell's Soup-At-Hand is a particularly stupid product because the marketing for it aims straight at these multitasking freaks; not only in their TV ads, but even the intro graphic on that website.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

CYBERTERRORISM? PHOOEY
It's the Internet Age, and a lot of hoo-hah has been made over the potential of warfare through cyberspace. It really started in earnest a couple of years ago, in the wake of some sabre-rattling between the U.S. and China. With the war in Iraq now past the theoretical stage, we've once again started wondering about the threat of under-the-radar attacks coming through the Web.

How real is this threat, and how effective can it be? Declan McCullagh puts up a good case for the cyberterror threat being way overblown.

It's a good point that, when it comes to warfare of any stripe (including terrorism), low-tech tends to give more bang for the buck. The 9/11 attacks were a great example of this: The hijackers used box-cutters as their weapons of choice--not exactly state-of-the-art weaponry. And in effect, they used the near-full tanks of plane fuel as crude giant bombs for their primary instruments of terror, which again is not the latest and greatest in 21st-century technology. Think about it: would 9/11 have been as jarring had it instead marked the date all email communication across the United States went down? I think not.

Even the U.S. Army recognizes this, or it wouldn't be rumbling through Iraq right now--it would instead be trying to spam or virus Saddam Hussein into submission. The closest it got was the rumored e-bomb, and even that involved doing a certain level of physical damage by knocking out mechanized instruments and communications equipment.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

DINERS IN THE DARK, EXCHANGING GROPINGS....
Following in the tradition of other unconventional dating services like SpeedDating and Neodates, Cosmo Party has come up with Dinners In The Dark, an opportunity for people to have a gourmet dinner with an unknown companion in total pitch blackness, which affords the opportunity to pull some stuff you wouldn't dare do with the lights on. (It's nothing as risque as you'd think: a little copping of feels along with a lot of food-fight stuff.)

I actually think this is a groovy (yes, groovy) idea. It's almost like Internet chatting with a real-world component. I mean, you can't go by looks at all, so your mouth and personality have to do all the work. Plus you get to eat. Actually, I'm something of a finicky eater, so that part of it might be a little tricky for me (although I'm not gonna be like that bitch Jennifer (another Jennifer!) in the article). What are the odds that this thing would come to the Tampa Bay area? And even then, what are the odds that I'd actually do it...

Do-be-do-be-do, do-do-be-do-be...
CONSPIRACY THEORIES AS SECURITY BLANKETS
What's so sexy about conspiracy theories? Why are people so drawn to notions that add seemingly unnecessary complexity to events that, on the surface, seem fairly straightforward? That's what a British researcher tried to find out recently, when he tested a bunch of students on the likelihood of conspiracy in a fictional political assassination.

First thing that comes to mind is, these students must not have been particularly savvy. The news articles they read were about a fictional country and a non-event. I realize not everyone has even a fair grasp of geography and geopolitics, but if you're a college student, shouldn't you be able to tell if a country exists or not? I guess ignorance knows no bounds.

In any case, the results of the study were enlightening. I think they're capsulized best from this paragraph:

More surprisingly, Dr. Leman found that if the fictional president “died” after the shooting, readers were much more likely to believe that the gunman was part of a conspiracy. This was true even though the other facts in the story were unchanged, and even if the death was due to an unrelated cause, such as a heart attack. This curious observation is the basis of Dr. Leman's hypothesis that there is some underlying process in human psychology that assumes that the bigger the effect is, the bigger the cause must have been.

In other words, a U.S. presidential assassination, or the 9/11 disasters, or the Columbia explosion, or even the Bigfoot hoax were all too significant and far-reaching to be attributable to merely obvious reasons. That sort of thinking leaves a lot--heck, I'd say most--people dissatisfied.

I've pondered the thought process of conspiracy theorists in the past. Without doing any in-depth research on the subject, it seems to me that placing faith in "unseen forces" is actually a comforting thought for many people. In an odd way, it makes more sense that the improbable is behind monumental events, rather than what's (mostly) apparent. People who subscribe to these points of view can't accept basic facts, and will take the slightest sliver of doubt to keep crackpot theories alive.

On the other hand, maybe the inherent skepticism behind all this hoo-hee is a positive thing. It does breed a healthy disrespect for authority, which (despite what some may think) is a distinctly American characteristic. Besides, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Friday, March 21, 2003

FRIDAY NIGHT DOLDRUMS
Feh. It's Friday night, and I kinda feel like going out. Then again, I kinda don't. Which means, more than likely, I'm staying put for the night.

Part of the problem is, where is there to go? I mean, I can't really think of a new place to hit, and really, what do the old standbys have to attract me?

I dunno. The urge to commingle is strong, but the active motivation is weak. Guess I'll stay in and find a way to amuse myself.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

WAR NEWS ONLINE: BAD FOR ADS?
In times of war, people want the latest news. The Internet is as much in the mix as TV and radio, especially for us white-collar working drones who like to periodically check the online headlines while diligently working. But strangely, instead of taking advantage of the surge in traffic to sell some advertising, it appears the major news sites like CNN, ABC News and MSNBC are stripping away advertising from their entry pages, in an effort to present cleaner looks and quicker-loading pages.

I guess the strategy is to offer readers less ads now to help snare them in, then start selling ads later after the visitor levels have been established (indeed, some of the sites are going on this reduced-ad fare for only the first 24 hours of hostilities). But still, why? I don't see how this really attracts visitors; people know to go to recognizable news sites for qualified information, so why not take advantage of it from the very outset? I can't believe loading time for pages is an issue--aren't we in the broadband age here? (Actually, most Web users aren't, but that hasn't stopped modern page designs before.)
SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM
no, the email kind
Regardless of your thoughts of the pork-based foodstuff, you most definitely hate the spam that shows up in your email inbox. What you gonna do about it? A study on the subject reveals some pretty basic things you can do to reduce the flow of unsolicited junk email.

As always, the key is not to spread your email address around if you don't want to let it potentially get to every conceivable corner of the Internet. Posting your email address on a webpage, message board or any other online medium is the equivalent of spraying graffiti on a building, or (even better) writing your phone number on a bathroom wall. You can't do either of those things without expecting to get noticed.

All I know is, I've used freebie Yahoo email as junk addresses, and I haven't had much of a problem with spam. The only time I notice any, in fact, is when I make a bid on eBay, and the next day get a bunch of junk (I just bid yesterday, in fact, and that's what happened). So it also pays to know which sites are spammer (human and robot) harvest fields.
JENNIFER--WHAT'S IN A NAME
I got a call on my voicemail earlier this evening from a girl who identified herself as "Jennifer". It took me a few seconds to realize who it actually was, and even though I did, that short period of uncertainty reminded me of how many girls named Jennifer I know or have known.

Though I'm too tired to rack my brain, offhand I can think of nine Jennifers with whom I keep in regular or semi-regular contact. There are probably as many more with whom I've lost touch. And who knows how many I've flat-out forgotten. What gives?

The only common thread is that pretty much all of them are in my age group (25-35 or so). Which indicates that Jennifer was a super-popular name for little baby girls 30 years ago. I wonder if there's a single-source reason for that, or if it's just coincidence.

In any case, it can get confusing. I first sort of noticed the preponderacne of Jens in middle school, when I knew a handful of girls with the name. This accelerated slightly in high school, and got flat-out ridiculous in college: My senior year, I lived a couple of doors down from a dorm suite where four of the eight girls living there were named Jennifer (we distinguished them by yelling for them using their last names: "Barnes! You up there?")

Anyway, despite its widespread application, I actually really like the name Jennifer. And there's one place where I don't encounter it on a daily basis: At work, where none of the women have that name. However, in a weird twist, all three women at the office in my immediate vicinity do have the same first initial, and it's "J": Jamie, Janice and Janell. Freaky.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

CATFIGHTS SELL! RIGHT?
take it off!
If you've watched any TV at all these past 3-4 months, you've seen the Miller Lite girl catfight commercial (Quicktime required). I know I did... Ahem. Where was I?

The point is, I don't even drink that piss-water they like to call beer, and it got my attention. It got my full attention, including the tongue-in-cheek nature of two guys shooting the breeze over the perfect beer commercial while their girlfriends look on, appalled. Naturally, those who are easily jolted (one way or the other) over titilating images will focus on just the boobies.

I have to admit that, despite the eyecatching nature of it, I didn't think this ad was anything all that special. But it appears that the buzz inside the advertising/marketing industry is that it represents a broken barrier. Miller Brewing has earned something a bad-boy reputation from this, and everyone expects it to keep rolling with this type of "outrageousness".

Sorry, I don't see it. How is this commercial so radically different from everything else out there? It's not like Miller invented the notion of sex selling beer; the examples are too numerous to list. I just didn't pick up on anything new and exciting coming as a result of two hot chicks rasslin' in a fountain. But maybe it's just me.
IS THE FUTURE WIRELESS?
Wi-fi is all the rage among techies. Everything from mobile phones to Internet-enabled cars signal the coming of an everything-always-connected world.

Is this a good thing? Some people think so, to the point where they can envision taking instant messages and emails in the middle of meetings and business travel. Oh yeah, that'd be real productive: Trying to communicate with someone while they're screwing around on the computer. Like the average meeting isn't unproductive enough.

I think the whole thing is overblown. There are definite drawbacks to being constantly reachable. I know people who've uninstalled their instant messaging programs; after the novelty wears off, it can be a drag to get online and be bombarded every minute. I definitely relish my alone time; that's why I'll let the phone ring, or let email sit in my inbox (on occasion).
SICKNESS
I hate getting sick. Hate it. Hate feeling lousy. Did I mention already that I hate it?

Just about this time of year, right as our mild winters roll on out, I seem to catch a cold. Actually, lots of people around me catch colds, and so I do as well. This one has been floating around the office, and it's started hitting me in earnest today. I've got the whole magilla: Runny nose, sore throat, general aches, slight lightheadedness.

Ah well. All I can do is ride it out, and pump myself full of medicinals. (I'm thinking of freebasing some Vitamin C.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

VIRUS WRITERS--ALL THEY NEED IS LOVE
Profiling is a tricky business. When it comes to painting a portrait of your typical computer virus writer, though, I guess some things are just obvious. Gee, you mean these rogue programmers are computer geeks that have no lives, no girlfriends and boundless hostility? I never woulda guessed.

I have to echo the sentiments of at least one commentator of this ZDNet article and say that I've never seen the term "chronic lack of girlfriends" put to this use before.
THE TRACTOR TERRORIST
Dwight Watson certainly is passionate when it comes to tobacco farming. And he sure knows how to grab attention: I'd say staging his protest over declining farm subsidies by camping out in his tractor in the middle of Washington, DC qualifies as effective.

When it comes to brains, though, I think Watson comes up short. Especially if he really did tell the cops he had explosives. With the immediate war jitters, and the general post-9/11 nervousness, it's not like law enforcement's not on a hair-trigger.

Even though he didn't drive the tractor all the way up to DC, this event reminded me very much of The Straight Story--which, incidentally, was also based on a true story.
MIGHTY PHARAOH HAS STRUCK OUT
The all-American game of baseball has roots going back to old Europe--cricket, rounders and other British-origin games. But new research suggests that the grand old game goes all the way back to ancient Egypt (New York Times, free registration required).

I liked the reimagined "Casey At The Bat" coda:

O somewhere in the Aten's circuit, the sun is shining bright
Nubian drums play somewhere and Hittite hearts are light
In Babylon men are laughing, in Nineveh children shout
But there is no joy in Mud-brickville
Great Pharaoh has struck out.


The Abner Doubleday myth, by the way, is completely false. I cannot understand why it's still being perpetuated despite copious proof that it's a crock.
OH TO BE A BLOGSNOB
Well, the linkages on the left-hand side were looking a little lonely, so I decided to add one. A rather unique one, I think. BlogSnob is a link exchange program for bloggin' types. Basically, I sign up, then agree to placement of a dynamic link ad that features another BlogSnob member blog. My own BlogSnob ad will be popping up on other blogs to boot--exposure, baby!

I've been kind of resistant to placing links to other blogs on here, because I'm not sure I want to. Because... I'm not sure why. It feels too clubby, somehow (espcially ones like Blogrolling). I'm not worried about competition, but I do feel like this is my space here, and the attractions should be my own. A little selfish, but hey, that's the nature of blogging, right? (That's what I've been led to believe, anyhoo.)

So, the next step is to get approved for membership in BlogSnob. Approved? Ye gods, this does sound like a club, don't it? We'll see how it goes. I'm mildly excited.

Monday, March 17, 2003

THE SIMPSONS, WIRELESS
dooo do do, de dooo do do
Even though the show currently sucks, The Simpsons are more popular than ever. So I imagine there'll be plenty of demand for "D'oh!" and "Don't have a cow, man!" ringtones in the near future, as Fox has licensed the Simpsons characters to videogame publisher THQ for use in various wireless applications, including screensavers and games.

And oh yeah, you better believe my next mobile phone will have Homer Simpson's exasperated exclamation as it's ringtone of choice, if I can help it. Even better, I'll get Nelson Muntz's signature "HA-HA!", always one of my favorites.
ADIOS HALOSCAN, HOLA BLOGOUT
Today, I rather capriciously swapped one commenting system for another on this blog. Other than replacing the text in the link from "Talk At Me" to "Shout Out", I don't think anyone will notice much difference. I can't change the "Shout Out" text, which is just as well as I kinda like it.

Why did I make the change? This past weekend, the HaloScan comments went down for a little over a day. Again. It's been happening every weekend for the last month or more, with the outages varying in length. I've mentioned before how I find it ridiculous to complain about a service for which I pay nothing, and that it's not like I get many comments anyway. But, fact is I just don't want to have to think about the commenting system on this site, and with the instability HaloScan's been showing, I'm tired of it being on my mind. I still have my HaloScan account, and I can always re-instate it, but let's be real: As long as BlogOut stays up most of the time and does the fundamental job I want from it, I won't be giving the comments another thought.

So, without further ado... Gimme a Shout Out!

Sunday, March 16, 2003

DIXIE CHICKS NIXED
up yours, dubbya
For a prime example of diarrhea of the mouth, look toward Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines. She's quickly backpedalling over her remarks about being ashamed President Bush comes from the same state she does, after it's apparent they will hurt the group's exposure and bling-bling.

I guess it's hard to be on guard 24-7, but really, when media is in your face constantly, shouldn't you know better than to speak without thinking? These days, it's not like anything a celebrity says isn't going to make it to all corners within hours. And when you're a country music star, you gotta know your core audience is a bunch of conservative rednecks, so you're really hitting yourself where it hurts.

I don't like country music in general, or even country-pop, so I never cared a whit for the Chicks either way. But, I have to say that I would've had some respect for her if she had stuck to her original comments and left it at that. This half-assed "apology" is so phony that it's laughable. If her business wasn't on the line, she wouldn't be taking anything back. This retraction is completely unbelievable, and I doubt anyone's buying it.

Then again, note the end of the referenced article, where the DJ says his station might keep the Dixie Chicks songs off the air for "as long as a month". That's not exactly a long-term sentence. I'm sure the proper amount of spin will be applied, and memories will shorten enough that this will blow over in no time.

Another take on this is from E!, which includes a wider look at other reactions to celebrity anti-war comments. I don't recall the absence of that Martin & Charlie Sheen Visa commercial from the airwaves; coulda sworn I saw it just a couple of days ago.
TRADE YOU THREE ABRAHAMS FOR ONE MOSES
collect the whole set!
Place this one under the it's-all-been-done file. Last night, I was at a friend's house, lazing around with a few others, and we started shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. Somehow, we got on the topic of moneymaking prospects in the world of organized religion. One idea, arrived at very tongue-in-cheek, was to come up with sets of trading cards based on Biblical figures and events. It'd be a goldmine!

Well, a short Web search netted me the above trading card image. Moses never looked so good. You can find the whole set here, and I'm sure at other places. No doubt you can find cards for various other religions as well. What a world!
YOU ARE GETTING SLEEPY
I get around six-and-a-half hours of sleep per night. I've averaged this amount through most of my twenties, and I've convinced myself that this is my optimum amount of sleep--any more, and I'm actually more tired than if I had less sleep. It's even to the point where when I try to sleep in on weekends or on a day off, I find I can't. I just sleep more than around seven hours until I automatically wake up.

I'm aware it's a crock. I need a lot more sleep than I actually get, and I can feel it when I get tired practically every evening. Unfortunately, it's hard to crack out of a lifestyle you're used to. Plus, I never take naps, because they tend to tire me more than they refresh me (at least that's my perception).

In any case, I'm far from the only one who accumulates a sleep debt. What's more, chronic under-sleeping takes its toll in terms of lessening of mental sharpness and productivity. I guess we're all sleepwalking zombies, eh?

Saturday, March 15, 2003

FRENCH ON MY CHEST
So I'm having lunch yesterday with a few friends. We're shooting the breeze about everything and nothing at once, generally trying to outdo one another. As our food starts to come to the table, I bring up the topic of freedom fries, because I just cannot get enough of them. This launches us into a foreign policy debate, with everyone considering the other one an idiot. Business as usual.

After polishing off my chicken wings, I excuse myself to go wash up. As I'm returning to the table, my friend Tom points out that I've got a French slogan on my t-shirt, and wonders if I didn't do it as political statement, or at least to stir up some low-level trouble. This was crucial, because three of us (we all got the day off from work, woo-hoo!) were going to a spring training baseball game right after lunch.

You know, that sounds like me. But for the life of me, a motive didn't cross my mind--and I found myself surprised that it didn't. I even remember a minor dilemma in deciding which t-shirt to wear for the afternoon, and I decided on that one just because it seemed to be the right color. Even though French antics and backlash were on my mind the last few days, I didn't even consider my ownership of this $10 shirt.

Honestly, I don't think I'm risking anything wearing it. No one at the ballgame took notice. Things would have to get much more heated between us and the French for something like that to bat an eye, even if someone were looking for trouble. But, it was something that gave me pause.

For the record, the slogan on my t-shirt says, "Laissez les bons temps rouler!". Give yourself a pat on le back if you know what that means, and for the heck of if, say so in the comments link below.

Friday, March 14, 2003

WHAT IF NETSCAPE HAD WON?
I love alternate history (although being somewhat oldschool and raised on Marvel Comics, I still prefer the term "alternate reality"). I could write at considerable length on my specific preferences within this subgenre, and what a great intellectual puzzle a well-crafted story can present. But, perhaps another time.

In the meantime, my appreciation for alternate history means that I enjoy when I run into it in unexpected places--like in business reporting, for instance. Or on ZDNet. Charles Cooper indulges in some idle speculation on what might have been if Netscape had won the browser wars with Microsoft.

I'm not going to hold Cooper's ideas up to severe scrutiny, because I'm not sure how developed they are. But they are interesting. I think the challenge to Windows is far-fetched, as is the network PC idea (it was questionable to begin with, and the startling advancements made in hard disk/storage technology is what really sealed its fate).

Note the type of reaction these musings get in the comments. What ifs often inspire strong backlashes. I think a lot of people get squirmy over the prospects of different roads taken, probably because it makes them dwell too much on their own lifepaths and whether or not they made the right decisions. Plus, examination and recollection of history (personal and non-personal) tends to instill a view that the courses were unavoidable, and so suggestions that they weren't so concrete can be, I guess, unsettling.
MEMORY BOOST!
It's embarrassing to admit, but my home computer has been limping along on a laughable 64K of RAM. To tell you the truth, I didn't even realize it until a couple of weeks back, when I installed a little freeware memory optimizer program. And it's funny, but I don't think I was really put off by how slow the system was running until I consciously knew the memory number... and then of course, it was intolerably sloooooow. It makes sense that it would be, since I'm running Windows 2000 Pro, which is a respectable memory hog.

So, I ordered a 128K RAM chip through Tech Depot, got it in the mail yesterday, and just installed it minutes ago (first time ever, it was a breeze). I am now running on a robust 160K (32K is built-in, I had to remove the other 32K module). The noticable results? Menus and windows do seem to snap up quicker, but not tons quicker. But it's an improvement.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

THE LUDDITE WITHIN
Are we due for some devolution in our technological progress? The Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman certainly thinks so. She thinks packing a multitude of features into devices does nothing but confuse, especially when less-than-intuitive interfaces gum up the works. So, ditch your MP3 player for a phonograph, already.

Part of me sneers at such old-style resistance. I encounter people every day who can't handle routine interaction with all manner of modern technologies: ATM machines, computer programs, escalators, etc. And sometimes I just want to grab these braindeads and shake some sense into them--HARD.

But, sure, even though I have an above-average aptitude for the technical (basically, enough of a grasp to get me in trouble), I can see other viewpoint. And no doubt, it's hard to justify the existence of a cellphone that also plays MP3s, and has an FM radio, and can access the Web, and serves as a PDA... and at the same time, can't give you a decent phone connection. In my office, for instance, when our primary fax machine died, I pushed hard for a low-level, dumb-terminal kind of fax machine, one that simply sent, received and that's it. I was overruled. Now, we've got a machine that supposedly can do all sorts of things, but never does, partly because half the people who use it are afraid to or don't use it enough to make learning worthwhile. C'est la vie.

Back to Goodman, this bit reminded me of something:

If that were not forward (to the past) thinking enough, Microsoft is marketing a brand new little tablet PC that you can write on with -- blast from the past -- a pen. They boasted loud and far that this invention had all the versatility of paper. What will they do next, patent papyrus?

Paper is indeed a wondrous medium, and let's face it, more reliable in many instances. I read some article ages ago that posited that if paper and pencil were somehow not invented until just today, they would be touted as revolutionary innovations. Consider:

- Power-source independent.
- Crash-proof.
- Automatic save function.
- Redo function (the eraser).
- Compact and portable.
- Supports a huge range of inputs (different languages, graphics, etc.).
- Fully erasable without a data trail (via shredding, burning or your destructive method of choice).

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

WHAT WILL THEY CALL IT, THE DOLLAR OR THE... DOLLAR?
Pity Canada. Right across the border from a behemoth, and an overbearing one at that. Economically and culturally, the U.S. has an unavoidable influence on what the Great White North is and will be (at least the English-speaking part). So it's not so far-fetched to envision Canada eventually sharing the same currency with the States at some future date.

Let's not kid ourselves, any shared currency would be the U.S. dollar, assuming America stays are powerful as it is 20-30 years from now (you never know; what goes up must come down, eventually). Other countries in this hemisphere have already adopted the greenback as the national currency, officially (Costa Rica, Ecuador) and unofficially (practically everyone else). So it's certainly not unprecedented. As this article points out, though, there's really no advantage for Canada to do such a thing at this point. If the two economies become more intertwined in the medium-term future, then things like monetary policy will fall into place.

I think this will benefit one area of Canadian national identity significantly: Pro hockey. If a monetary union did come about, then those Canadian-based NHL clubs can stop whining incessantly about how the currency disparity is always killing them.
WATCH OUT FOR THE KRYPTONITE!
kal-el was here
You like superheroes? Capes and costumes and such? Then perhaps you'd like to vote for who will be the next movie Superman. Go for it, Jimmy Olsen!

Does anyone else shudder at the mere idea of Nicholas Cage putting on the red cape? He's been rumored to be the next guy for years, and my God, I cannot think of a worse candidate. Great idea, let's have a sunken-chested over-actor with a naturally whiny voice portray the Man of Steel. Hollywood!
LOOKING BEYOND THE BUSINESS PAGE
Businesspeople like to fancy themselves as creative. As in most walks of life, only a very few are. But countless drones, hepped up on snakeoil books by Peter Drucker and Tony Robbins, etc. ad nauseum, psych themselves into thinking that they can think outside the box. So it is in that spirit, partially, that Inc. Magazine recommends that businesspeople look at more of their daily newspaper than just the predictable business section.

Actually, this piece is pretty well written, and makes some excellent points. Being one who habitually reads the entire newspaper every day, for equal parts business and pleasure, I fully endorse the ideas espoused here.

One thing I'd like to point out: In the course of dressing down the typical content of a daily newspaper's business section, the author mentions how much focuses on personal, vs. corporate, finance and news. That sound familiar, as I bemoaned that very trend a while back. Glad to see I'm not the only one unhappy about it.
NO MORE MOVIE PREVIEWS?
Loyal readers of this space may recall the class action suit being brought against the Loews theater chain over excessive pre-movie advertising, and my habit of showing up several minutes after the announced screening time to avoid said advertising.

Well, funny thing. The last time I went to the theater (last week, in fact), I noticed that I got in just after the main feature had started. In other words, either no or very little junk before the show started. Weird, huh?

It gets weirder: A couple of coworkers also went to the movies this past weekend, and they confirmed that there were no, repeat NONE, movie trailers or ads before the start of their films. The movies just started at their announced start times. Imagine!

So, what's going on? Is this happening just in my neck of the woods, at select theaters? Or is it also happening elsewhere? And either way, why? Are theater owners worried about the class-action suit, and so are taking preventative measures? I wouldn't think they'd be able to make that call--isn't playing trailers and such part of the deal in getting major film releases to show? Not to mention that ads are a big revenue source. Questions, questions.

In any case, if trailers and ads are gone from our moviegoing experience, I'll just sit back and imagine that I had something to do with it. Heavy, baby.
NORMAN LEAR AND SOUTH PARK
quiet mountain town
Could it be? Is it possible that television legend Norman Lear will be writing episodes of South Park? Yup, apparently he will.

I think the tone of most media reports on this will be along the lines of "how could Lear lower himself to this?". To which I say: Screw you, hippie!

South Park was probably the last regularly-scheduled television show I ever watched religiously. I felt it really started to slip the last couple of years, with below-average writing and, increasingly, copout endings. I haven't watched the new episodes much. Still, it's probably heads and shoulders above the rest of the crap out there. And I have an affinity for the characters: Sound bites from Stan, Kyle and Cartman (sorry, Kenny) abound on my home and work computers. Plus, I own South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, and various show trinkets.

As for Lear, you can see from his IMDB entry that he hasn't done a lot of work these past twenty years. What's the last notable thing he produced, 704 Hauser Street (which was cancelled after like 4 episodes) ten years ago? So, this is a good chance for him to get back into the game. I doubt the show will really change much, if at all, as a result of him getting writing credits, however.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

AMERICAN MEDIA: BEYOND THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER
I'm not sure the National Enquirer will ever shake its laughable past of killer-UFO-transvestite-vampire-lovers. At least, I'll always remember the good ol' days. But this is the 21st century, and the Enquirer has gotten slightly more respectable, and as a result its parent company is raking in the dough and using the proceeds to diversify bigtime.
WI-FI AND A HAPPY MEAL
america's favorite meat-flavored sandwiches
And while you're downing those delicious freedom fries, why not check out your favorite websites and zap out some email? That's what McDonalds has in mind for you. The Golden Arches will soon be offering up a free hour of wireless Internet access in select restaurants when you order some of their slop, so you can surf as you scarf.

A couple of thoughts:

- Who in the hell actually wants to hang out in a McDonalds for an hour?? I never eat the stuff anymore, but when I did, the idea was to get your food quick, eat it quick, and get out of there. Better yet, hit the drivethru. No way in hell I'd want to spend any more time than necessary in there, with the sickening aroma of grease wafting all over, and an ambience that doesn't exactly entice you to just sit there and pass the time (although I understand McDonalds restaurants do attract a lot of hangers-on from the extreme ends of the age range: Younger kids and senior citizens, the common thread there being that neither have anything better to do).

- Imagine how coated with grease your keyboard will get as your fingers glide from computer to fry pouch.

- For McDonalds' sake, I hope access to this wi-fi network is wholly automated--like, you get a computer-generated password printed on your receipt, you log on to the wi-fi network, enter that password, and that lets you on. If they somehow have to involve the restaurant staff, then good-night. From my experience, people who work there can barely handle chewing gum; I think it'll be a tall order to expect them to provide tech support of any kind.
"HEY MAN, ARE THOSE FREEDOM FRIES, MAN?"
greasy goodness
Ah, the disease spreads, and into the corridors of power yet. The freedom fries phenomenon, which I mentioned briefly yesterday, has been applied to the mess hall on Capitol Hill. Now, your visits to Congress can include a serving of freedom fries or, if it's breakfast time, freedom toast.

I hate to break it to you, patriots, but I'm thinking that greasy, starchy foods are something from which the French would be glad to be disassociated.
BLOGGING'S EVOLUTION
Just where does the blogging phenomenon go from here? There's no shortage of opinion, particularly with the recent Google-Blogger news. Here's a pretty good overview of what's what currently.

"Productization" (or more properly, "monetization", as in "money") is a normal step in the development of any media. Back a hundred years ago, cinema and radio both went through essentially the same process, moving from curiosities that a small handful of enthusiasts messed with to large-scale affairs. It was common, for example, for organizations like churches and granges to own and operate their own low-level radio stations right through the 1920s. Regulation and consolidation then put an end to all that microbroadcasting (although this is now changing somewhat).

This, of course, assumes that blogging represents the birth of some sort of new medium. While that view is shared widely by blogging evangelists, it's not one I subscribe to. All that blogging represents is an easier, automated way to establish an online notebook. What goes into that notebook is up to the whim of the user, and let's face it, the majority of blogs out there are nothing but diaries that are of questionable reading value, at least for a wide audience. While I don't think anyone should be required to compose a blog focusing on timely matters or even though-provoking ideas, there's something to be said in hoping for more substance out of the blogosphere.

What amazes me is that the most enthusiastic blogging proponents actually view a blog as a credible news source, no matter what. This has got to be the same mentality that relies on corporate press releases for all their news information from a company--never mind that a PR department isn't going to air any dirty laundry. To me, this is akin to trusting the veracity of some schmoe walking down the street. If he gives you some crap piece of information, you have no way of knowing if he's a liar or not, and shouldn't expect any assurance from him anyway. That's blogs. They're hobbies for most people, and so there's no real compelling reason for the authors to be accountable. This is why those who are at all serious about delivering some sort of news do so by linking to--ta da!--traditional news media, like the oft-criticized newspapers. If blogs are supposed to displace newspapers and other journalist vehicles, then where exactly will the reportage come from? I guarantee you no blog writer is going to go out and dig, trying to get quotes and so on, to get an actual substantial view of a story. That's a full-time job, i.e. journalism.

Monday, March 10, 2003

HAPPY E.T. DAY!
if we took a holiday
In a bid to make New Mexico the extraterrestrial place-to-be--and a terrestrial laughingstock--a state legislator there is proposing a holiday that would comemmorate and celebrate alien visitors past, present and future. Predictably, the town of Roswell is part of this legislator's district.
LUCKY FOR MEN
now for men too!
In what strikes me as an odd gender-bending exercise (don't ask why), the ridiculously successful Lucky Magazine will be expanded to a men's edition (NY Times, free registration required).

I'm not one to question a magazine that makes gobs of money in this shitty publishing market. My question is, why are people dense enough to buy this rag? I mean, honestly, what is the difference between Lucky and a product catalogue? Especially those junk mail catalogues that jam my mailbox every week and automatically get deposited into the garbage without a single glance from me? Boggles the mind.
TAKE THAT, FRENCHIE
i fart in your general direction!
Those pesky French! How dare they get in the way of Dubbaya's little Iraqi Adventure? It's darn near enough to hit 'em with a highly symbolic boycott of all things (obviously) French and French-ish.

Of course, in an increasingly globalized world (at least the developed part of it), where corporate and macroeconomic concerns are so intertwined that it's hard to tell if most products even have a national origin/identity, boycotts like this are not at all effective. I'm betting not one of the pinheads in this piece is even considering boycotting, say, any of Vivendi Universal's media properties, which consist (at least for now) of a big hunk of American popular culture.

But of course, that's not the point in actions like these. It's all about symbolism--you target those things that are obviously, distinctly French. Even when they're not. To wit: I especially like the renaming of French fries to "freedom fries"; very reminiscent of the "victory cabbage" moniker given to sauerkraut during World War II. (Note that that didn't last.)

I really like how this referenced article sets this latest division between America and France within the context of the entire history of Franco-American interaction:

To historians, however, these sorts of jibes are as old as the two republics themselves. Born from the same intellectual ferment of the late 18th century, they are at once closely intertwined, yet radically different... Both see themselves as models for new nations — America's ideal of a democracy unencumbered by government vs. France's notion of a state as the central and active agent in society. Both see themselves as leaders of the new global statecraft — America's might vs. France's consensus...

"French culture is influenced by aristocratic images," says Jean-Philippe Mathy, author of French Resistance: The French-American Culture Wars. "That clashes with the popular culture of the U.S."


When you get right down to it, the French just make such tempting targets, cheese-eating surrender monkeys that they are. Much more satisfying to attack than the Germans or Russians, who of course are just as opposed to an Iraq war.
COLD BUSTIN' RHYMES ON VIDEO GAMES
If you like rap, and you like video games, then you'll love Def Jam Vendetta. At least, Def Jam and Electronic Arts hope you will, because they're rolling out this new game in which you can play avatars of real-life rappers like Method Man and DMX whilst listening to their songs as soundtrack.

Although there's mention here that this is a first-of-it's-kind production, that's not true. I know Aerosmith appeared in their own videogame not that long ago. And I'm sure there've been other examples over the past twenty years. Wanna bet that Michael Jackson had a themed game back in the day?

What I don't get is, it says here that Def Jam Vendetta will be released for PlayStation 2 and Gamecube--but not Xbox?? What up with that? Not that I'd necessarily buy it, but I might rent it just for curiosity. Don't leave me hangin', Def Jam!

Sunday, March 09, 2003

"PRETTY FUCKING NAKED"
take it off!
That would be Christina Ricci, describing her upcoming role as the lesbian lover of Florida serial killer Aileen Wournos. Wuornos will be played by Charlize Theron.

This flick is a train wreck waiting to happen, Ricci's (and perhaps Theron's) nudity notwithstanding. Wuornos herself was not even close to being a glamour girl. She was dead ugly, and not particularly sophisticated as she went about her murder spree. Her story is one that should pretty well dash the romanticized view of prostitution--that is, of attractive women with great looks in their arsenals which gets them work. With Wuornos, there was nothing "pretty" about her existence. As much as they'll probably gritty up Theron and Ricci for their roles, I'm betting they're still going to look like what they are--pretty Hollywood actresses. And the script will make use of that. I'm betting this won't be any better than the cruddy made-for-TV movie from 10 years ago.

Back to the main article: It's interesting that it refers to Caspar as Ricci's breakout film. Maybe that's how it's perceived in the U.K. I think most people Stateside would point to her role as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family as what put her on the map at an early age.

It also appears to me that Ricci has lost a ton of weight. The picture above sorta shows how skinny she's gotten. I recall an appearance by her months ago on some talkshow, and she really looked emaciated in that appearance.
THAT THING GOT A HEMI? WHO GIVES A SHIT??
Nobody asked me, but if I was Dodge, I'd think real long and hard before building my truck ad campaign around the inane "That-Thing-Got-A-Hemi" Guy, as it seems to be doing by featuring him in a "sequel" commercial.
THE GURU, AND FUN WITH PORN FLICK TITLES
big fat hindu wedding?
I went to see The Guru earlier this weekend. Fun movie! I was hooked to see it when one of the stars, the delectable Heather Graham (God, what a hottie, as is co-star Marisa Tomei), did an appearance on some latenight talk show. The clip she brought with her showed a Bollywood-styled recreation of the "You're The One That I Want" scene from Grease, and it was just too enticing for me to miss it. I was just crossing my fingers that the rest of the movie would hold up.

It could have used some work, especially the editing and especially in the final third of the film (I seem to be mindful of that more and more these days), but I wasn't expecting a work of art, and it was definitely a satisfying, feel-good movie. I think the backers are trying to build it slowly and hope for a My Big Fat Greek Wedding-type success.

I hope for her sake that Heather Graham doesn't get severely typecast after this one. She revisits her Boogie Nights past (as Rollergirl) by playing a porn star in this one too; and her last big-time role was as a hooker in From Hell. I kinda doubt she wants to specialize in "fallen women" parts.

Since a big part of this movie is a parodying of the porn industry, I got to indulge in several laughs from one of my favorite humor sources: Porn film titles, specifically those that are takeoffs on "legitimate" movie titles. I find these hilarious! A couple from The Guru, with the hyperlinks to their non-porn "inspirations", were:

- The Prime of Miss Jean's Booty
- Star Whores (Episode 69)

And here's a couple that should have been included, but weren't; I'm not going to check to see if these are real-life porn movies or not, but if not, they should be:

- Splendor In The Ass
- There's Something About Mary's Vagina
- Against All Bods
- Hannah Does Her Sisters

Saturday, March 08, 2003

A FUTURE DIRECTION FOR BLOGGING
The purchase of Blogger by Google has set off speculation as to why Google would be interested in getting into the blogging game in the first place. Slate's Steven Johnson offers up the intriguing concept of integrating Blogger's archiving utility with Google's search engine to create instant long-term records of one's online research. This would be a crucial step forward in realizing the Memex machine theorized by Vannevar Bush half a century ago.

This is some really cool stuff. A sample of the applications:

"One feature might work like this: Each time I search for something on Google, a list of URLs is generated. When I click on one of those URLs, the page I've selected is automatically blogged for me: storing for posterity the text and location of the document. If I were an exhibitionist sort, I could choose to publish this list to the world, but more likely I'd keep it as a private archive, visible only to me. It would be a kind of outsourced memory, but one capable of making new connections on its own. Google could easily generate a list of all the pages that linked to the pages in my archive, or notify me if a page I discovered two years ago suddenly grew popular. I'd have the option of searching just my personal archive, instead of the entire Web—or searching the archive's extended family: both the pages I've surfed through, and the Web sites that link to those pages."

This resonates with me. I've been aware for awhile now that, in a very rudimentary way, I've been using this blog as my "outsourced memory" of interesting links I come across on the Web. I used to send myself an email from work to home most days, filled with nothing but links to articles, games, news items, etc. Those emails would reside on my computer for months at a time, my little reference library. I now find that I hardly ever do this, and much of the stuff I would have formerly kept to myself in email storage now winds up getting blogged instead.

So in a sense, I'm already doing what's proposed above. I'm not all the way there, for a couple of reasons. One, it takes work to remember to save a URL to every item of note I find; if it were an effortless task, like I'd imagine this Google-Blogger meld would be, then it would blossom. Two, not everything I run across is deemed worthy of saving by yours truly, even if it is interesting, because it's not enough so or because I don't feel it's blog-worthy. Third, it's something of a challenge to keep up with my archives; if I ever move this blog off BlogSpot, that's the first thing I'd improve. Still, it's great to know that I'm on the cutting edge.

I put the question to you, particularly any other bloggers reading this. Has keeping a blog changed your online habits similar to my experience? Naturally, this would apply more to those who keep news-type blogs with plenty o' links, versus what amounts to an online diary/journal.

Friday, March 07, 2003

THE TYSON SCHOOL OF PARENTING
got your ear!
What's left to say about Mad Mike Tyson? A long, strange trip it's been, indeed. He's got a little of his swagger back after laying waste to a sack of fat named Etienne, so I guess we can look forward to some residual antics from that.

Let's not overlook that wacky face tattoo is good for quite a bit of mileage. I believe Mike said it was a warrior symbol from some tribe or another (I want to say New Zealand's Maori, but I'm going by faulty memory). My favorite comment on this was from Charles Barkley, who quipped, "Which one, the Knucklehead Tribe?"

So anyway, about this picture: It was sent to me by an out-of-town friend, for chuckles. I think it's safe to assume there's some trick of illusion here. Either Mike was having a little fun in front of the cameras at a recent press conference (possible, although I think I would have remembered this), or the photos have been manipulated (most likely). In any case, funny.

And because I can't complete a blog entry without including a hyperlink, let's revisit Iron Mike's foray into commercials, and some choice words of wisdom.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

STRAIGHT PIMPIN'
better have my money
After meaning to catch it for a while, I finally watched American Pimp on cable the other night. Pretty entertaining! Nothing like watching a bunch of superinflated egos pRimp for the camera.

One thing that was especially enlightening was finding out that the Pimp of the Year contest was real! I thought it was something made-up from I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, but no, it's all too real.

I wonder if any winning pimps ever had as cool a poem as Flyguy's classic "My Bitch Better Have My Money".
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORING
I bet you get bored a far bit. In fact, boredom might have been a contributing factor to your reading this blog. With so many entertainment options permeating every second of our lives, how on earth can we claim to suffer from boredom?

I liked the connection drawn between the onslaught of marketing and media and the resultant feeling that we "need" to be constantly amused. I often feel that way too. It's like I can't bear to just sit there and not do anything; I have to flip on the TV, pick up a book, surf online, etc. Yet indulging in that boring feeling can lead to some unexpected insights.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

MAYBE HE SHOULD'VE USED A FRENCH ACCENT
sacre bleu!
If you're one of those 17 million who watched the Dan Rather-Saddam Hussein interview last week, you heard an appropriately-accented translation of Hussein's end of things. Well, sur-prise. It turns out the translator was not, as you'd assume, Arabic at all but a Caucasian voice actor who specializes in foreign accents, and this is generating some controversy.

I'm not going to be an apologist for CBS, but really, what's the big deal? The suggestion that this taints the interview is ridiculous. You could make the same claim over the fact that this guy's voice doesn't sound anything like Hussein's either; or, taking it to extremes, that because the translation was in English, it's not as authentic as the original Arabic. I think the other networks are making something out of nothing here, just to get digs in. Sure, CBS could have gone with just a flat American English accent instead, but I really don't see how this impacts the integrity of the piece.
THE GOOSEKY IS LOOSEKY
When I think of vodka, I think of Russia. National drink and all. Maybe, just maybe, Poland comes to mind too. I can tell you that France does not enter my head by association.

But the distillers of Grey Goose vodka are aiming to change that. They, along with their American partners, have been letting loose with a variety of innovative and break-through-the-clutter ad and marketing approaches (New York Times, free registration required).

Hey, if we can think unequivocably of pizza and beer as wholly American cuisine, then I guess this isn't much of a stretch.

However, this notion that Grey Goose's taste is what makes it so distinctive is hogwash. Anyone who does a fair amount of drinking knows that vodka is vodka is vodka--it's all the same. It's not a spirit that can be aged or refined; in fact, the lack of refinement is what's kept it so popular for centuries. Do a blind taste test of Absolut, Grey Goose, Stolichnaya and grocery-store brand, and people will not be able to tell the difference.

This, of course, does not apply to the flavored varieties. Speaking of which, let's give a nice, big online hello to Absolut Vanilia.
TV'S INITIAL REACTION
What do TLC, BET, TNN, MTV, CBS, ABC... and on and on.... stand for? Increasingly, it seems, nothing. That's the idea behind the current trend of reducing some television networks' brand identity to mere intials. Much more versatile.

It's very much a hit-or-miss affair. I know in the case of TNN, it's idiotic. I think The Nashville Network did too good a job of establishing itself, which makes it a constant uphill battle to redo it as The National Network. Plus, the words "Nashville" and "National" just sound too much alike, further eroding any distinction, the content on the channel be damned. They would have been better off coming up with a completely new name in the first place, which is what they're now mulling.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

GOO-GOO-GOOGLEY TRADEMARK
the original googler
Becoming a victim of your own success can be a bitch. So it is in the case of Google. While on the one hand it loves that it's brand name is quickly becoming synonymous with conducting Internet research, on the other that level of ubiquity can lead to brand deterioration. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Incidentally, the Xerox example cited in the article is a curious one. These days, someone using the word "xerox" as a verb or lower-case noun is showing his/her age. The company was so vigorous in stamping out the use of its name in a generic fashion that by the time I was growing up (1980s), it was supplanted by the more sensible "photocopy" (or even just "copy"). I think it was a dumb strategy; now Xerox is just another dime-a-dozen copier company, whereas with strong brand correlation it could have been a real hegemon in the industry.

Anyway, back to Google. Note that if these Internet wunderkinds really want to push this sense of propriety, opponents can just fire back with good ol' Barney Google. Largely forgotten today, Barney was a wildly popular comic strip character in the early part of the last century. He even had a song written about him--no mere search engine can say that! Alas, he eventually got dumped out of his own strip in favor of some redneck hillbilly sumbitch. Still, he can claim to having the "Google" moniker decades before the Web was even born.

Yeah, yeah. I know Google's story about the origin of their name. Doesn't matter. In the intellectual property arena, it's all about who cross the finish line first (at least, usually). I don't see any fuzziness here--Barney Google debuted in 1919, Google.com some 80 years later.