The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

PITY THE FOOL
jibber-jabber
Yes yes yes! Finally, an opportunity to post a picture of the one, the only Mr. T!

And just because the 80s were forever ago, don't think Mr. T's power has diminished! He can still take you down! The fool y'all need to pity now is Best Buy, because they have angered Mr. T by inappropriately procuring his image for their commercials! Go get 'em, T! And bring back The A-Team, too!
LIKE HEROIN ADDICTS
Probably the best quote that will come out of this year's NHL playoffs:

"Our arms look like we're heroin addicts from the slashes and the hooks." - Dallas Stars center Mike Modano, regarding their series against the Mighty Ducks.
HOLD ME CLOSER, TINY NOKI
teensy-weensy
Have you ever seen a goofier-looking doggie? It's Noki (short for "Tiny Pinocchio"), a one-pound Yorkie whose owner is hoping will take the world record as the world's smallest pooch.

Is anyone else slightly disturbed that the owner is so unabashedly looking at her little dog as a meal ticket? She has no reservations at all about exploiting it to the hilt. Sad. Almost as sad as this bizarre dog monologue.

But the little beastie will no doubt make St. Pete proud, as his legend continues to grow. Even if he won't.
TOO SMART FOR FOOTBALL
no foolin' league
Like any self-respecting chattel system, the NFL Entry Draft has a great amount of procedure behind it. This applies especially to the endless scouting and player evaluation teams do when preparing for selection day. By the time their turns come up to pick, every team will have oceans of data concerning height, weight, gameplay ability, injury history, and just about every other physiological stat you can think of on every player eligible. A meat market, in perhaps the truest sense of the word.

Less well-known is that teams also put the most highly-regarded draft hopefuls through their psychological paces, in the form of interviews and standardized intelligence tests. After all, teams don't want to waste a high pick on a guy who's going to be a basketcase as soon as he gets his signing-bonus money. At the same time, they don't want a player who's a complete concrete-skull. Then again, as far as most teams are concerned, there is such a thing as having too much brainpower to be an ideal NFL player.

Funny, insightful stuff from the AP's Jim Litke. I like the concept behind the New York Giants' gargantuan test, where the goal is more to wear down the test-taker's resolve rather than actually determine their IQ.

"We don't like to draft a guy who's too smart because he could do something else with his life," Young said, "besides play this silly game."


This quote by the late George Young, while funny and fitting, is a bit out of date in the age of million-dollar contracts. Even twenty years ago, an NFL entry contract wasn't laden with enough guaranteed money that signing was beyond question for a draftee. Now, when even a mid-round pick can usually get a substantial signing bonus, you'd have to be dumb not to sign (after the appropriate amount of wrangling). Naturally, a smarter guy has more options instead of, and especially after, a football career.

I also liked the curious concentration of the Giants on suicidal tendencies among their prospects:

"They asked that a lot of times in a lot of different forms," former Utah wide receiver and current Carolina Panther Steve Smith said in a recent interview. "You know, like, `Have you ever thought the world would be better off without you?'"


A lot of this is wasted energy, of course. No matter what a psych profile might show, it's hard to keep teams from salivating over a primetime physical specimen. And so, no matter how many tests they administer, teams will still make colossal blunders in the draft like Ryan Leaf and Demetrius Underwood.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

REALITY CHECK: REAL CANCUN, REAL FLOP
Well, you coulda fooled me. Along with most other people, I fully expected The Real Cancun to do boffo box office in its premier weekend. You got spring break, alchol, nekkidness, a foreign country--talk about stacking the deck! But improbably enough, the first big-screen entry into reality programming was colder than a bowl of ceviche.

Hindsight is 20/20. You could have figured that the primary audience for this flick would be tweens and high schoolers, rather than college students. After all, college kids already live the life depicted here (at least, some elements of it). The kids in the age bracket below them can't wait to get there, so they'd be likeliest to eat this kind of film up. But then, the problem presents itself: If you rate it R, then you (in theory) prevent, or make it harder, for your target audience to get into the theater. But if you trim it to PG or even PG-13, it sends a message that the content isn't going to be as crazy-go-nuts as it should be for a spring break movie, and so that would keep people away. I think MTV Pictures was damned either way here.

But I tell you, I am surprised, and a little skeptical, at the idea that the R rating was a major factor in keeping kids from seeing this thing. I know that theaters are supposed to enforce the ratings rules, but I never believed they did it with any vigor. If they are, it's a big change from when I was a lad. I have fond memories of boldly walking up to a ticket window, at the age of 9, and buying a ticket to see Stir Crazy. It was the first-ever time I saw an R-rated movie in a theater. (Not the last, either ;)

So yes, this could indeed be the beginning of the end for realitymania, from an unexpected source. Who would have guessed that the reality craze would incur its first serious setback, not on the boob tube, but in the movie theaters?

Then again, it could be that the preponderance of reality fare on TV has people feeling like there's no compelling reason to pay 10 bucks to see it in a multiplex. It's almost the same rationale why there was never a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire movie (hey, don't laugh--the precedent was set with The Gong Show Movie). It just means that reality stuff should stick to TV. And yes, I expect to see Cancun sell well when it hits the DVD racks; all kinds of stuff that would never survive movie theater release does fabulous on DVD.
A SHOUT-OUT TO MY PEEPS
busted!
Well, they're not just my peeps; I like to think they belong to the world. See what happens when everybody's favorite little sugar bombs go to the library for some research. (Thanks, Memepool)

Monday, April 28, 2003

REALITY CHECK: A WHOLE FRICKIN' CHANNEL
Yes folks, in a world where there's both a Game Show Network and a soap opera channel, it's inevitable that a channel dedicated to nothing but reality TV should get a look. If it actually comes into being, it'll be called Reality Central.

This is mid-range planning. I've talked recently of how some are looking toward this summer to see whether the reality craze plateaus or not. If it does, then this channel never gets the go-ahead. If people retain their insatiable appetite for the stuff, then Reality Central comes to life!

I imagine this would be a network exec's dream. Show costs would be super-low because you wouldn't need (as many) writers or big-name actors. All gravy, baby. And really, "reality" can encompass a lot of things, like outdoors/extreme sports, documentaries, even news magazines; so this kind of channel really has potential for long-term sustainability.
TALE OF TWO MAGS
cheap couture o'reilly
When I wrote about the coming of Radar magazine recently, little did I know that it was part of a new wave of high-living-on-the-cheap. But Collette Bancroft of the St. Pete Times did. Anyway, that's her story, and she's sticking to it.

For readers, most mags are a way to get a peek at another world--whether that world is fictional or might as well be. Let's face it, most of us are never going to be Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz, so reading about their fabulous lifestyles in a glossy are the closest we're going to get. These magazines operate on the same principle, really. For advertisers, it's a little different: they're hoping for a specific (ideally lucrative) demographic to be linked with a particular title.
TO THE VICTOR GOES THE NAMING RIGHTS
ultimate branding opportunity
The following list appears in the new (May 2003) issue of GQ. I found it funny; no matter what your opinion on the war, I think you might too:

21 NEW NAMES FOR IRAQ

1) People's Republic of Texaco

2) Bushstanistan

3) Islamabunkport

4) Bedrock

5) We-raq!

6) NotOsamabad

7) Crawford Ranch East

8) Afghanistan on the Euphrates

9) The Persian Golf

10) Burkini Beach

11) Rumsylvania

12) Country with a New Regime We're Now Supporting but Will Have To Take Out in Two Decades

13) Gasmaskistan

14) The Hussein Asylum

15) Allahwood

16) The Ponderosa

17) Ididitformydadistan

18) Infertile Crescent Nuclear-Waste Storage Facility

19) The United Emirates of Whup-Ass

20) Who'syourbaghdaddynow?

21) France


My favorite is No. 17 (tell me yours!), although Nos. 19 and 21 are also strong contenders. Here's one that would really piss off just about everyone in the region: "Kurdistan & Co.". Actually, considering the dollar signs that provided the path to this splendid little war, I'm surprised the concept of selling off a new name isn't making the rounds.

Then again, why not start up a bidding war for the liberated country's naming rights? It works great for sports stadiums, college football bowl games--think of the possibilities! You can't get any better branding opportunity than this! With the pricetag for this little adventure and cleanup looking to run up to $100 billion, a naming rights deal would defray some of the costs. Considering a major-league level stadium naming deal typically costs between $3 million and $6 million per year, you gotta think a whole sovereign state would fetch, what, at least $100 million annually? Hey, every little bit helps. Between that and the oil contracts...

Keep in mind, too, that our Chief Executive has plenty of experience in this area. In his former life, he was the owner of the big-league Texas Rangers baseball club. So he should be familiar with the naming-rights game.

So listen up, potential corporate sponsors, and try these on for size: Halliburtonstan, ExxonMobilland, Wal-Martica... Heck, why not even Disneystan? Or a country-sized Disney-land! (Come on Eisner, this just screams synergy!!)

Sunday, April 27, 2003

I HATE JIM ROME
doofus
Between the NHL playoffs and this weekend's NFL Draft coverage, I've been watching a buttload of ESPN and ESPN2 of late. (Truthfully, I watch those two channels a whole lot anyway, probably more than anything else on the tube.) Along with the programming, I've been exposed to the same commercials over and over again on those channels. This includes the promo they've been running for the new Jim Rome show that's getting set to debut, Rome Is Burning, being haled as this chucklehead's triumphant return to ESPN.

In case you missed the headline: I hate this guy. He's an annoying dipshit who's made a career out of stating the obvious, with no real conviction because his only aim is to elicit riled-up reactions. That doesn't make him particularly unique: Pretty much every sportstalk host, from the national headliners to the local schlubs, operate like this, because it works. That's why I don't listen to any of that crap, and haven't for, probably, 7 or 8 years. All through that time, Rome's been a major reason to keep me from tuning into the format. There's just something so smarmy and blatantly phony about this guy. I guess he just rubs me the wrong way. Not to mention that goofy-looking goatee; he looks like a greaseball caballero or something. Plus, it makes the rest of us goatee-wearers look bad.

In any case, my beef isn't that Rome is getting another shot on ESPN. What's making me sick is that they seem to have shot only one promo spot for this. And they're showing that same one over and over and ooooooover... again and again and again. Same stupid comments from Rome. Same background music (The Clash's "Train In Vain"). Same voiceover announcer. I mean, Christ, if they're so happy to be hyping his return, couldn't they have produced 3 or 4 different spots for him? A little variety to keep viewers from getting sick of seeing Rome before the show even comes on? That's all I ask, dawg.

To close, just because Rome seems to hate it whenever this is brought up, here's the infamous Jim "Chris" Everett pimp-smack that got Rome booted off ESPN2 TV in the first place. (There is a low-level rumor that this incident, which basically put Rome on the national map in a big way, was a staged hoax; even if it was, it's taken on a life of it's own, and Rome seems to be tired of revisiting it nearly 10 years later.)
HE'S GONNA BE HAN'S FATHER
raaaaooowh!
Wookie fans, rejoice! It's been anounced that Chewbacca will make an appearance in the next Star Wars prequel, Episode Three.

I've heard that Peter Mayhew, the guy who plays Chewie, is insanely protective of his role. He hates the idea of anyone else putting on a fur suit and putting him out of a job (although I guess there were a couple of Wookies in the Galactic Senate scene in Episode One). Considering that his filmography consists of almost nothing but the Star Wars flicks, I guess it's understandable. I think the guy who plays C-3PO is the same way.
APPLE, CRAPPLE
What a weird world. I came across this ode to bad, obscure movies from across the globe yesterday; I'm still having fun reading through it. While reading this page, I took note of this entry:

THE APPLE (1980) Extraordinarily, stupefyingly, painfully "for God’s sake turn it off, I’ll tell you anything you want to know!" bad sci fi musical/religious parable written, produced, and directed by Menahem Golan. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.


So I woke up this morning, checked the TV listings, and what do you think was on one of the movie channels at 9:30 AM? None other than The Apple! No way I could pass this up! Set in the far-flung future of 1994! When the glam-rock dialectic has taken over the world, and every New Yorker speaks with either a British or (West) German accent! You know, just like it really was ;)

I'm watching this dreckful creation right now, and only 15 minutes into it.... boy oh boy. I think I'd have to invent a new language just to properly express how terrible this is. They just started their first Xanadu-esque musical number--ack! It's like a third-rate Rocky Horror Picture Show. On third-rate crack.

Sometimes, it just hurts so good.

Saturday, April 26, 2003

ME WRITE PRETTY ONE DAY
(with apologies to David Sedaris) There's a dearth of coherent writing skills among the American masses. If you don't encounter that in your worklife, you surely do if you surf the web to any significant degree (especially message forums and blogs). The lack of competent writing skills starts early in life and is exacerbated by neglect in schools, according to the findings of the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges.

This is not really a surprise. We've known for years that students are allowed to coast in terms of their presentation, and writing is a key area where subjectivism sabotages efforts at improvement. The example put forth, about the majority of high school juniors not being able to craft an understandable paragraph, does effectively drive the point home.

As someone who works with words, this topic holds great interest for me. I hope I don't sound too snobbish when I say that writing does involve some talent. Some people simply have a better knack for writing, and for different types of writing (fiction vs. reporting vs. copywriting vs. journaling), than other people do. I don't think the objective is to have everyone become a master wordsmith. The aim should be to instill skills that will enable everyone to write well enough to be able to communicate effectively--i.e., eliminate the excuse of "you know what I meant" when encountering sloppy, barely-decipherable writing.

This absolutely blew my mind:

In high schools, seniors are rarely assigned to write extended research papers anymore because teachers don't have the time, the report says.


Are you kidding me?? Writing research papers was all I remember doing in high school. Now they aren't required? Just what are these students supposed to do when they get to college? No, wait, don't tell me: They'll spend the better part of their college freshman year in remedial writing courses. This represents a lowering of standards, and it has a trickle-down effect. Kids don't learn fundamentals in high school; they try to play catch-up in college, but because so many of them are lacking, colleges tend to let a lot of this slide; and then these same people join the workforce, where they stop trying altogether and drag everyone else down.

And what's with teachers not having the time? What the hell else are they doing? I know they're typically overloaded with big classes, but come on. If they think they should be able to do nothing but assign multiple-choice tests, then they need to get their own asses in gear.

As for the suggestions to bolster writing education, I agree with at least giving all of them a shot. I'd add this: Make sure high-level reading courses accompany these efforts. Nothing helps develop superb writing than being exposed to a wide range of authors. The usual great literature is a no-brainer; the curriculum should be expanded to include ample writing from the last couple of decades, as well.
MY TOP TEN MEDIA TRENDS
Earlier this week, I was asked for input on a top-ten list of current and upcoming trends in the media. My scribblings may or may not appear in MediaPost in the near future; regardless, I thought I'd put 'em up here. They're in pretty raw form. I could supplement them with about a million hyperlinks, but I don't feel like it on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Some of the ideas I've written on in this blog in the past, so a search through the archives might bring up further material.

Top 10 Intriguing Things to Watch in Media for the Rest of 2003

10. Blogging as a Marketing Vehicle: Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc. is experimenting with using blogs as viral marketing devices for its new Raging Cow product. If it's successful, it could lead to an explosion of such blogs, both among kids and other markets. If it flops, blogs become persona non grata for commercial use (at least so blatantly).

9. AOL Time Warner's online magazine pullback: Pulling People and Entertainment Weekly off the Web should be an interesting experiment, especially because AOLTW has made it accessible enough for people to still get at the content. In particular, the access code printed in each copy of the magazine represents the best of both worlds: Copies get sold, and readers are rewarded for their purchase with limited-time access. If this model succeeds, other publishers big and small will follow suit.

8. The reality of Reality TV: Most people are expecting a backlash against Realitymania by this summer. But what will the final result be? Some expect the format to become a settled standard on the TV landscape; others think it'll fade away entirely. Important to note that the last Big Thing, the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire phenomenon, is all but spent now, and it didn't really even give the general gameshow category much of a boost.

7. Post-theatrical movie marketing: While this has been done in the past, I've seen more and more examples of markedly different selling approaches for certain movies between their theatrical releases and their DVD/video debuts. This is especially the case where a movie might have had a weak box office. Lion's Gate Entertainment seems most adept at this; notice campaigns for the movies The Rules of Attraction and Secretary. Also, Disney seemed to slap its name on the Tuck Everlasting home video product, after declining to do so (at least prominently) for the theatrical release.

6. Cross-branding: TV and print: Disney and Hearst have launched Lifetime magazine this week, trying to capitalize on the Lifetime TV brand among women in their 30s--not coincidentally, the prime magazine-reading audience. Success here will spawn a parade of similar efforts; failure will scare others away.

5. Copyprotection of digital media: As more and more endproducts (music and software CDs, DVDs, etc.) come equipped with copyprotection methods, what sort of reaction will consumers have? Will they boycott such products, or just buy them without a squawk? How will it affect the filesharing programs/sites that depend on a fairly easy method of ripping content and uploading it? And will this be enough, or will those industries continue to go after ISPs to choke things off at the source?

4. Satellite Radio: This could be a make-or-break year for Sirius and XM. Both are starting to put together substantial subscriber rolls, which will fuel their growth and make one or both juicy takeover targets. Especially by year's end, after holiday sales could give both a big boost, the future of satellite radio could create a turf war in this medium akin to the cable-broadcast battle in TV.

3. TiVo Nation: Are consumers that willing to add another service bill to their home media universe? If cable systems across the country really start rolling out their own DVR settop boxes in earnest, this device will really have arrived, and the start of radically new media consumption will have begun. Accordingly, a lot of proposed countermeasures for advertising will at long last be put to the test.

2. Another ad downturn?: The last thing we need, but consider: The much-ballyhooed Iraq effect did nothing but provide a short-lived boost, for advertising and the economy in general. As the postwar experience drags out on shaky ground, and the cost of the war comes home, we could be right back where we were, or worse, by year's end.

1. June 2nd, 2003: The date of the FCC's decision on whether or not to change media ownership rules. 'Nuff said.
THE STORY ARC OF RUSSIAN ARK
an uncut ribbon
I dig experimental moviemaking. I've indulged this enthusiasm by seeking out films from Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls to the fairly recent Timecode.

So when a flick like Russian Ark appears, I get juiced up. (Check out the official site.) It's a historic epic fantasy that's shot in one complete, uncut/unedited 90-minute take, and it's garnering some widespread acclaim.

The danger of a film like this is that the main technical aspect of it--the continuous shot take--can override the story, and make the whole thing come off as gimmicky. In fact, while the overwhelming majority of reviews gush over it, the few critics that don't like it cite the format as a mask that distracts from the storyline. That makes me suspicious; I wonder if I wouldn't go out of my way to try to disregard the cinematography, and then be overly critical of the story. Also wonder if I'd need a greater appreciation of Russian history to get the most out of it.

Still, it's looking intriguing. I'll have to cross my fingers on it coming to the Tampa Bay area. Heck, it's set in St. Petersburg, Russia; I live in St. Petersburg, Florida--should be an angle there somewhere...

Friday, April 25, 2003

REALITY CHECK: FINDING ITS PLACE
Ad/marketing agency MindShare has released a white paper examining the reality TV genre, and concludes it's here to stay, soon to settle in as just another programming niche in the television landscape.

I believe I echoed those sentiments recently; can't find the post where I did so.
NBC: JUST SHOOT IT
NBC has all but cancelled the sitcom Just Shoot Me, and the show's producers are hopping mad about it. What they find especially galling is that they've been displaced by a schlock-fest of replacement specials, including reality-like "most shocking moments" one-shots.

"If they're going to toss you aside for 'Game Show Moments,' where's the integrity and dignity in this business?" said (executive producer Steve) Levitan."


In case you missed that, he's asking where the integrity and dignity in the entertainment business is. Not only integrity, but dignity, too. In the entertainment industry. Do I even have to deliver a punchline here?

As is usual for me, I'm surprised to find that Just Shoot Me is even still on. It sucked the couple of times I saw it, and I'm sure it never got better. The thing's been on since 1997, I'm sure it's gotten uber-stale by now. For all the crying Levitan wants to do over getting wiped by competition from unscripted reality fare, I don't think holding up a third-rate piece of crap that's running on fumes as defense is the way to go.
NEW NEIGHBORS MOVING IN
Hell's bells. Despite my fervent wishes that the newly-emptied apartment downstairs would soon be occupied by renters of the female persuasion, it looks like a couple of goofy-looking guys are moving in instead. Shit. I hope they're quiet, at least.

Why couldn't, just once, a couple of hot bikini models move in nearby? Is that too much to ask? I guess it is...

Thursday, April 24, 2003

DIXIE CHICKS: SAY IT WITH SKIN
label-makers
The best defense is a good offense (interpret "offense" any way you like). About a month after their big PR gaffe, the Dixie Chicks are firing back over the negative publicity.

The most visible part of their counter-offensive will be, obviously, the Entertainment Weekly cover. Why do those skin-labels remind me of this Mike Myers quote from Wayne's World?:

"Was it Kierkegaard--or perhaps Dick Van Patten--who said, 'If you label me, you negate me'?"


I said before that the whole thing would blow over. It would have anyway, but this shows a lot of initiative. Instead of laying low and hoping the backlash would peter out, the Chicks decided to address it and garner some more publicity at the same time.

Then again, what backlash?

Even with the slide, however, "Home" remains the top-selling album on the Billboard country chart — 19 weeks at No. 1 — and No. 30 on the pop chart...

Most of the shows on their tour had already sold out before Maines' comments. Their agent, Rob Light, was unavailable for comment Wednesday but told Billboard this week that of the 59 shows, only six have seats left and those are all 85 percent to 90 percent sold.


Looks like the celebrated boycott was a lot more noise than anything else. All over comments that wouldn't have been made in the first place if they weren't popularly held in the country where they were uttered (Britain). All in all, a big exercise in cynicism. But hey, we got a bitchin' cover out of the whole deal.
DAMN RIGHT SHE DOES
In what's as good a segue for the following nude Dixie Chicks item as I could find, the City of New York is gonna have to give $10,000 as reparations to Amy Gunderson, who was arrested in 2001 for going topless (albiet body-painted) in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. (Here's a photo of Ms. Gunderson at the time of her arrest; not really a pretty picture, you ask me.)

"A woman has a constitutional right to appear in public topless, the same right that men have," her lawyer, Ron Kuby, said.


Hear that, ladies? Get on with exercising your constitutional right! Hurry!
SEVENTEEN SOLD
lucky numba
After putting it on the block a couple of months ago, Primedia sold Seventeen magazine, along with related properties, to Hearst Corp. for $182 million, much less than the $200 mil-plus they were hoping to net.

This ends a week-long period during which speculative suitors like Wenner Media (Rolling Stone) and, improbably, marketer/catalogue company Alloy were rumored to be making bids.

So now what? The deal gives Hearst both Seventeen and CosmoGIRL!, probably the two biggest guns in this space. Some think that won't last:

"Hearst has to be seriously considering abolishing one of the titles and combining their subscription list," said (media consultant Scott) Stawski. "They have to be considering that because it is virtually an identical demographic."


True true. I don't think either title is folding soon, but I'll be surprised if they're both still around 4 years from now. It wouldn't be the first time that a publisher did a big deal like this just to get at the subscriber rolls--where the big money is, ultimately.

It's a no-brainer as to which mag will be the one to go: Seventeen will fold, for sure. CosmoGIRL! has tons more brand cache, in no small part due to the Cosmopolitan association.
DING, DING, ROUND TWO
kick ice
I'm watching the opening game of the Lightning-Devils second-round series, and I realized: I plumb forgot to revisit my earlier playoff predictions for Round One (Eastern and Western Conferences, natch).

Well, obviously I suck at such predictions. I knew there'd be upsets, like there are every year. I didn't think they would all come in the West! Neither did anyone else, though, so I feel no shame. Thinking Boston would take the Devils... what was I thinking?? At least I got the Tampa Bay-Washington series right (although I was off on how many games).

I don't really feel like doing an involved set of predictions like last time; too tired, feel like zoning out and watching the games tonight. I will offer up this:

East: I'm not convinced that Philly can sustain their offensive output for another round. Cechmanek will give the Senators plenty of trouble, and the Flyers can outmuscle Ottawa easily. But the loss of Desjardins, especially, is going to expose some holes that the Sens will exploit. I like Ottawa to advance. In the other series, I'm pulling for the Lightning, but realistically, there's no reason the Devils shouldn't take this series. They're too big, too fast, too skilled, and Brodeur and their defense is going to make life miserable for the Bolts. Plus, if Tampa Bay can't get another scoring line clicking, it's going to be a short series. New Jersey takes it.

West: Who the hell knows? The lower seeds in this conference are world-beaters, all of a sudden. The Ducks are relying on Giguere to stay white-hot and carry them. I'm not sure the Stars are as susceptible to the shut-down Anaheim gave the Red Wings. Dallas gets scoring from all over the ice; they're not relying on just one line to do damage. I think special teams will really put it away for Dallas, who'll roll on to the next round. In the other series, I'm tempted to go with Vancouver with their scoring prowess. But I still think the goaltending, with Cloutier, is very suspect; if St. Louis' Osgood hadn't collapsed, it'd be the Blues facing off against the Wild. Minnesota has proven to be pretty adaptable, and can frustrate the hell out of a high-tempo attack like the Canucks'. Minnesota's Cinderella story continues with a win here and a ticket to the Conference final.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

[CUE LAFF TRACK] HAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA!
Oh gosh, maybe that's not appropriate. After all, a man is dead. But when that man is Charles Rolland Douglass, the inventor of the ubiquitous laugh track used in television shows hither and thither, well sir, then you're almost obligated to let out a chuckle or two.
VIACOM'S COMEDY CENTRAL DEAL: WHITHER CONAN?
ha
In a story that was equal parts about Viacom and AOL Time Warner, Viacom ended up buying AOLTW's share of the Comedy Central channel. For AOLTW, it's about cashing out for a little over a billion bones so that it can pay down some massive debt. For Viacom, it's a chance to add to it's extensive media holdings, and maybe the start of a shopping spree.

I watch Comedy Central quite a bit. I'm not particularly worried it's going to change much. But I wonder: What might this mean for the Late Night with Conan O'Brien day-after rebroadcasts that the network currently airs? After all, Viacom has a direct competitor to Conan in Craig Kilborn. I'm guessing that if the ratings for the day-after Conan are weak or getting there, they'll ditch it and perhaps replace it with Kilborn. Bummer.
IT'S GOOD IF THE PUCK HITS YOU
What do you do if someone takes a hard, dense, frozen piece of vulcanized rubber, and launches it in your general direction at around 90 miles an hour? If you're a hockey player--a good hockey player, mind you--you go out of your way to get in front of it.

This article reminded me of a discussion I had with some friends over lunch, a long while back. Someone was telling us about their kid or grandkid, who was just starting out in sports for the very first time, and how the main lesson being impressed on the kid was to get in front of the ball, rather than out of it's way. I pointed out that this is key in sports, and that in fact, it goes against basic survival instincts--i.e., to avoid potential pain or harm, by avoiding contact with a fast-moving projectile. Much of learning to play in sports, and even continuing sports training, consists of one simple rule: Ignore your basic survival instincts, and put your body on the line.

So, when a line-drive ball, or a puck, or even a defensive tackle, is coming right at you, the natural reaction to save yourself and duck out of the way is, for sports purposes, actually wrong. Thinking about this further, I realize that just about every contact sport revolves around this principle. Something to ponder.
OFFLINE SPAMMING
A phone call I got at work earlier this afternoon:

Me: Hello.
Voice: Hello, can I speak with Costa?
Me: This is Costa.
Voice: Hello Costa, this is (not-worth-remembering). How are you today?
Me: [Anti-salesman defenses up] Good, thanks. (Notice I didn't reciprocate by asking how he was, because I don't care, and hopefully it'll turn him off ever so slightly.)
Voice: Costa, you put your business card in the "win a free lunch" jar at (this-or-that) Deli recently...
Me: Oh yeah, that was about 2 weeks ago or so.
Voice: [Now off his rhythm and starting to mumble] Yeah, yeah, well it's been busy, I've kinda been backed up... so in any case, because you put your card in the jar, you now get lunch, and that also comes with a free financial portfolio review.
Me: ... Oooh-kay. (Pause) What exactly is that?
Voice: [Mumbles even more] Well, it's a free review of your holdings, your savings, assets... you know, with the weak economy, it's more important than ever...
Me: Yeah. I wasn't aware that this was part of the deal. It's not something I'd be interested in.
Voice: [Realized he's blown it] Okay then, thank you.


I can't think of anything lower than trolling for sales by coldcalling business cards that were deposited into a free-lunch jar at some greasy spoon. Pathetic.

I'm not raging mad, but I'm definitely irritated that my information was hijacked under completely false circumstances. It's not a case where I didn't read the fine print, because I always read the fine print. What happened is that a deli where I went to eat put out a jar with a simple sign that said "Win a Free Lunch", and neglected to mention that the cards would then go to some fuckhead who would waste my time with an unsolicited sales call. And who, I'm sure, will try again at some point--at which time I'll give him an earful.

I don't care what the circumstances are. I'm sure this is probably some relative of the deli owner. I don't care. It's a slimy way to do business.

What do I do now? It was the first time I ever went to this deli, and it probably would've been the last, even if this hadn't happened. I'm really tempted to print up a couple of sticky labels that explain what the true purpose of the jar is, then go to the joint and slap them on the appropriate areas. I might... but the easier, lazier and probably better solution is to just never go back. We'll see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

HAPPY EARTH DAY, GAIA!
our fav-o-rite planet
Oh yeah: Happy Earth Day, y'all.

This has been one of the most low-level Earth Days I can recall; no substantial media coverage I can recall all day. Probably will be some stuff tomorrow, and maybe some bigger events scheduled for the weekend. I'm guessing that with all the world's tumult lately, Earth Day is just too tame a notion to consider currently--indeed, it's almost oxymoronic to acknowledge a holiday promoting global harmony, and by extension peace, so soon after a war. Maybe next year. Besides, like they say, every day should be Earth Day. So refrain from littering, you trash generators you.

My favorite Earth Day memory is a prank I played 13 years ago. I was sitting in my dorm lounge with a dormmate. We were flipping through the channels (no cable TV in the dorms back then--the dark ages!!), and catching a couple of news reports telling us it was Earth Day. Then we land on Home Shopping Network, just as they start rolling out their fur collection for display and sale.

It hit me: Furs? They're hawking freakin' furs on Earth Day? Come on!

Now, I wasn't then, nor am I now, a hard-core environmentalist or animal-rights advocate. I'm sympathetic with those philosophies, to a point, but I eat meat, wear leather, etc. like your average dude. Nevertheless, some part of my sensibilities was offended by seeing such a bizarre juxtaposition. I think I was offended by the stupidity, or more likely ignorance, on display by HSN.

So, I decided to do something. I got my phone, dialed up the HSN order line, and as soon as the customer service drone answered, I yelled, "EARTH DAY! FUR IS MURDER! BOYCOTT! BOYCOTT!!". I did it a couple more times after that. Then I got my dormmate to call too, on his phone; he did a very low-key version of same spiel (sans yelling--that was my schtick).

We had our fun, and decided to keep watching the channel to see if our childish actions had any on-air effect. Lo and behold, about 10 minutes after the last of our calls, the show host mentioned, "By the way, folks, today is Earth Day", and then abruptly switched from the fur display to something else. We laughed our asses off! It looked like we had stuck it to the man!

Don't mention it, Mama Earth.
MEGAFIRMS: LIKE WE NEEDED ANOTHER REASON TO HATE LAWYERS
Lincoln Caplan, the editor/president of Legal Affairs (the journal I went ga-ga over just yesterday) offers up an op-ed piece lamenting the rise of huge coast-to-coast legal firms, and the correlating withering away of regional practices.

Specifically, Caplan is writing a eulogy for Hill & Barlow, a Boston-area firm that's got an illustrious history behind it.
G-FORCE, TRANSMUTE!
superstylin' anime action
If you were a fan of G-Force (or "Battle of the Planets") back in the day, the image above should set your blood racing. Ruben D. Canlas Jr., aka The Couch Kamote of the Manila Times, was one such fan, and he takes a stroll down memory lane.

I barely remember this show; if I were to see an episode today, it might further jog my memory. The helmets sorta look familiar. I doubt it was a favorite of mine. Generally, I tended to go more for pure humor cartoons as a little kid, especially the old Warner Brothers shorts. About the only pure anime I liked was Robotech, in my mid-teens.
MATH-CHALLENGED FOOTBALL LEAGUE
50 (checks calculator... yeah, 50)-yard indoor war
Pity the Arena Football League. It keeps insisting that it's not a second-rate bush-league operation, and then it can't even figure out the mathematics behind how a team does and doesn't clinch a playoff spot. Tsk, tsk.

Every time the AFL's marketing proclaims it's not a minor league, I gots to chuckle. I guess all the NFL washouts who populate the league isn't a dead giveaway. Plus, any time players and coaches openly declare they're looking for another (or even a first) shot at the NFL, that pretty much tells you where the "50-yard indoor war" ranks in the sporting universe.
TISN'T THE SEASON, LAZY ASS
season's greetings?
Sheesh, I thought I was lazy for waiting until February to take down my Christmas tree... The door of an apartment a couple of buildings down from mine has a holiday wreath on it, still up from December! Unbelievable. It's the end of April, for Christ's sake.

Either the occupants of that apartment are yet another set of Northern transplants who pine for "real" seasons, or else they're remarkably lazy.

Monday, April 21, 2003

A FRESH LOOK AT LAW
law-talkin' guys
Now here's a magazine I can get with. Legal Affairs is a relatively new title that takes a nonconventional approach to covering legal issues. From what I've read on the site, the m.o. is to avoid the forbidding legalese and examine the practical application of law and the mechanics of how lawyers and law firms function. Heady stuff, and I love it. I've got to get ahold of a print copy.
"IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THE WEATHER ANYMORE"
No siree. The Weather Channel is aiming to branch out from local weather reporting and into things like documentaries, newsmagazine features and reality-like programming, all in an effort to draw regular viewers.

I said it before, I'll say it again: You've got to be a particular kind of geek to want to make The Weather Channel your "destination viewing" option.
LOOKING AT THE SUN
fun 'n sun
Here's a snapshot at how the New York Sun, the upstart metro daily, is doing. You may recall that the Sun has been making a hard push to make it big in the Big Apple.

Looking past the rah-rah verbage, a circulation of 30,000 in New York is not much to shout about, even if it is a startup. Definitely has plenty of room to grow, though. I'm thinking for the near term, that growth will come pretty exclusively from Manhattan, where most of the coverage is concentrated; so the ballyhooing over offering subscriptions to the outer boroughs and New Jersey is pretty pointless.
CURSE YOU, CAJUN CHICKEN SANDWICH
Fuuuuuuuck. I've been sick every since this afternoon. I'm just now starting to recover. If you ever find yourself at Midtown Sundries in downtown St. Pete, do yourself a favor and avoid the Cajun Chicken Sandwich. It's a gut-buster...
SELLING JESUS
getcher jesus, right heee-ah!
The tower ad at right has been making the online rounds quite a bit lately, most noticably on Yahoo!. As you can see, it's promoting a special series of scholarly essays to be found exclusively on BeliefNet. BeliefNet is a site that features a range of religious discourse, including those dealing with The Big Three (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and also, in the words of The Simpsons' Reverend Lovejoy, "Miscellaneous" (Buddhism, Hinduism... you know, those religions with only a paltry 3 billion or so adherents). Very interesting reading.

This ad works quite well at attracting attention. I'm a seasoned Websurfer, well-adept at mentally screening out most ads. This one definitely caught my eye, and kept it (obviously, to the point where I'm now writing about it). So based on my strict standards, this qualifies as successful online advertising.

I think having the image of Jesus at the very top, so that it's likely the first thing you see as soon as the ad loads up, is a big part of the effectiveness. I'm also kind of bemused by the type of Jesus image used here: It looks more Eastern (Orthodox) than Western (Catholic, Protestant) to me. Eastern Christian imagery brings to mind the mystical aspects of the religion; not sure if that was intentional here or not.

As for the offer behind the ad... It's intriguing. This being the Easter season, I'd think it's the right time to pitch some quality writing on the Messiah. Of course, is this intriguing enough to get people to cough up some dough for access? It's notoriously hard to get people to pay for any kind of Web content. News video clips like the sort Yahoo! and CNN are trying to sell for around $10-20 have been tough to move. Entertainment content, like sports and movie stuff, hasn't fared much better. Financial services and--ahem--porn are about the only two areas of online content distribution that have been cited as being successfully monetized (i.e., in-demand enough to persuade people to pay for it). What makes BeliefNet think there's a market for this offering?

I guess the timeliness of this--again, Eastertime keeping contemplation of Jesus on the minds of a lot of people--is a key to the appeal. I'm thinking the target audience is not as much the general population as much as it is those with some academic or professional interest. If you look at it like an educational course or seminar, then it's a pretty attractive sell (especially if there's some level of interactivity, like feedback for the authors, chatroom time, etc.) But for a casual browser, it's probably not going to convince him/her to open the pocketbook.

Like I said, I'm intrigued by the offer. Depending on the details of the deal, I might even spring for it. Then again, it's certainly not something I have to have.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

SPACECRAFT THAT GOES NOWHERE
booster
Evoking the famous NASA X-15 spaceplane that never happened, aircraft designer Burt Rutan has developed a hybrid rocket-airplane that can take three people into low-level orbit.

I realize technical developments move forward in baby-steps, but still, I have to ask: What real purpose does this spaceplane have? I mean, great, so it can boost itself into orbit for a duration of about 20 minutes. Then what? I mean, you can't actually go anywhere from there. All it's good for is some exotic sightseeing, because it's not built for anything more than that. It's a stripped-down version of the Space Shuttle, and it can't even make it to a space station for docking. It strikes me as nothing more than a rich boy's toy.

On the other hand, I do like the star-spangled paint job on the rocket.
LIFETIME, IN MAGAZINE FORM
Synergies abound, especially where Disney is involved. The Mouse House, in partnership with publisher Hearst Corp., is launching the magazine version of Lifetime this week, hoping to capitalize on the popular women's-TV brand.

Since the target audience here--women in their 30s, constitutes a major part of the magazine-buying market, I'd have to say this is about as safe a bet for a successful launch as you can get. The advertising commitments reflect this.

Still, there may something to be said for this type of cross-branding not clicking. It's hit-or-miss, anyway. For every flop like Yahoo! Internet Life or Rosie, there's success in ESPN The Magazine and O!. If anything, the "magazine first, TV second" approach seems to work better, ala Better Home and Garden TV.
HAIL, E-STONIA
yet another european tri-color
Big countries and companies talk a lot of smack about harnessing the power of the Internet to make life easier: Using electronic means to reduce or eliminate unnecessary paperwork, speed up communications and get instant feedback. But we all know it's mostly talk. Established organizations--whether public or private--are so hidebound and married to ancient procedure that change comes along at a snail's pace. That's why it'll be a few years before you can do most of your business on the Web.

Unless you live in Estonia, that is. This former Soviet republic, where most people didn't even own a house phone ten years ago, is now the most cyberspaced country in Europe. Half the population engages in online banking, to the point where most people never even deal with a Western-style paper checkbook.

How can this be? I think this is key:

Estonia's progress is especially impressive considering its condition at the time of the Soviet collapse, when you could count the number of modern personal computers on two hands, said technology consultant Linnar Viik. That relative backwardness proved an unexpected benefit. Estonia leapfrogged countries wedded to older technologies.


So often, legacy technologies serve as shackles to progress. This is the whole reason for the Rust Belt, for instance. It's also a way for the bottom-feeders to gain advantage, as is the case for Estonia here. I understand that mobile phone technology has made similar large gains in Africa, because the dearth of traditional phone lines made it a snap for people to commit to wireless services.

Even government in Estonia has caught the e-wave:

"Cabinet meetings used to take between four and 12 hours," said Tex Vertmann, the prime minister's chief technology adviser. "Today, they take between 10 minutes and an hour."


Impressive. But what's with the name of that technology adviser: Tex Vertmann? Tex? I have trouble picturing an Estonian politico wearing a ten-gallon (litre?) hat and cowboy boots...
NOT MY EASTER
So, today's Easter Sunday, right? Happy... Messiah, I guess.

Although there were plenty of ways to point out my otherness while growing up, I think the Easter holiday was the one thing that really drove it home. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, I went to a church that observed a different date for Easter. Not only that, but the Orthodox strain of Easter hops (pun intended!) around the calendar every year, for some fool reason: Anytime between the end of March and the beginning of May, I think (I really don't care enough to pay attention). So, while the rest of the world would celebrate the holiday around the same time every year, I'd either have already gone through the motions a couple of weeks earlier or be waiting to do so later.

So, the result of this non-holidaytime for me was in, probably for the first time, feeling some empathy for the Jewish kids at school who also had to put up with supposedly secularized holidays that had nothing to do with them. I think it drives home that, no matter how many Easter bunnies and Frosty the Snowmen you inject into these things, you can't get away from the fact that, at the core, we do live in a solidly Christian (and specifically, Protestant) society. It's not suffocatingly so, but there it is.

This year, Greek Easter will roll around next Sunday. Not that I plan to do anything for it. I suppose if I really wanted to pull a religious trump card, I could take a day off from work either prior or after this weekend. In fact, I'm looking to take Friday off anyway, but it's not for any religious reasons--I just want a day off to relax. The only thing to signify the holiday will be a parcel from my Mom, with some baked goodies.
RUSSIAN OIL MERGER
In a shift that will have an impact in the near-term future, Russian oil firms YUKOS and Sibneft are pondering a merger, which would create the world's 5th or 6th-largest oil company. The move is mainly seen as a defensive maneuver to keep non-Russian companies from gaining any more of the market.

It's slowly dawning on the general population that Russia is turning into a major player in the world oil game, likely bigger than OPEC soon. In some ways, this new role will make up for losing the Cold War and put Russia squarely back into a position of influence. At least, that'll be the case as long as oil is so crucial; despite dwindling reserves, oil will be the world's main fuel source for most of this century, at least.

I wonder how long it'll take for the usual image of the oil merchant--the Arab--to be supplanted in most people's consciousnesses by that of a Russian...

Saturday, April 19, 2003

BLOOMBERG TO NYC: DROP DEAD
the apple that never sleeps
So far, the 21st Century has been a rough one for New York City, for obvious reasons. Financially, things are in the dumps. The World Trade Center Towers attacks started the downward spiral. Now, the Big Apple is staring at a fiscal crisis of the type rivalling the infamous 1970s crunch.

Friday, April 18, 2003

CHOCOLATE FOR MONKEYS
chimp-errific
So, I finished dinner tonight (angel hair pasta with lemon-lime black pepper seasoning, nothing fancy), and I decide to partake of an after-dinner chocolate mint that I picked up on impulse at the healthfood store. It was the first time I took a good look at it since buying it.

As you'd expect from a healthfood store purchase, it was an organic chocolate product. But not just any organic chocolate. It was a Chimp Mint, made by the good tree-huggin' people at Endangered Species Chocolate Company. Ten percent of the money made from these mints goes to The Jane Goodall Institute, to help out our knuckle-dragging little primate cousins. Ook-ook!

The other bonus: Along with the chocolate, I got a mini-trading card, featuring one of the chimps in the care of Jane Goodall Institute. I got No. 35, a male chimp named Pax. He was born in 1977 (almost my age, I guess he's a GenXer), was horribly wounded at age 3, and since the death of his brother Prof in 1998, has been in deep depression. Feel better, Pax. Hopefully my little purchase will help you out some.

I'm surprised by the company's URL: chocolatebar.com. I would have thought such a generic phrase as a website name would have been claimed long ago by some huge chocolate company, like Hershey. I guess Endangered Species lucked out there.

Good work by Endangered Species Chocolate Company, helping out the beasties. I got a great idea for them to further help the chimps: Produce a line of chocolate-flavored cookies, shaped like monkeys. Call them Chocolate Chimp Cookies. C'mon, let's make it happen!
MEDIA GENERAL ON MEDIA OWNERSHIP RELAXATION
June 2, 2003 is the date on which the FCC will decide whether to change the media ownership-limit rules that have been in effect since 1975. Media General's Chairman, J. Stewart Bryan, shared some of his thoughts on how it would affect his company.

Full disclosure: I work at Florida Trend magazine, which is owned by the St. Petersburg Times, which is the chief competition for one of Media General's flagship newspapers, the Tampa Tribune. Got all that?

To sum up, Bryan basically favors abolising the prohibition against one company owning multiple media outlets (television station, radio station, newspaper) in one metro market, but opposes lifting the ban over a company owning more than 35% of the television reach in a market. In other words, the first move would greatly benefit Media General, the second would hurt it.

I thought this was a rather bone-headed example for him to cite:

"So, at that time [in 1975], there was no question that up until that day, the FCC had encouraged newspapers to put TV stations on the air, just like in the 1930s, they had encouraged them to put radio stations on the air. Then all of a sudden, they changed the rules."


Um, yes, dumbass, they did change the rules in 1975. When situations change, you change the rules to ensure a level playing field. In the 1930s, radio was just getting off the ground and wasn't immediately a dominating media format, so having one media sector(newspapers) own and foster the growth of a new medium (broadcasting/radio/television) doesn't create an overwhelming homogenization of format. (The other part of this equation is that back then, even mid-sized cities had at least 2 newspapers to offer competition and some level of diversity.)

Thursday, April 17, 2003

KNOCK OFF THAT NOISE! IT'S MESSING UP MY BRAIN!
Well, probably not mine--I'm at the age where my gray matter development has stabilized. But for the wee children, the cacophony of modern life can adversely affect the development of certain parts of the brain, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California-San Francisco.

The good news is children thusly exposed will eventually overcome the negative stimuli, albiet at a slower pace than kids with more quiet time. The bad news is that in the meantime, those noise-saturated kids will seem a little loopy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

DON'T BE SILLY, IT WAS A CIA COUP IN CHILE
oops
I realize that Colin Powell is supposed to be the counterbalancing Cabinet influence in the right-wing Bush administration, but this is almost too funny. The Secretary of State today pretty much admitted that the U.S. was behind the 1973 military coup in Chile, at the same exact time when the U.S. government is trying to convince a court of law that it wasn't responsible.

Why do I get the feeling that Powell's days are now numbered? If Bush wins another term, I'm thinking a new Secretary of State comes in.

As for the argument by Kissinger and his crony that Washington didn't take down the Socialist Allende government and set up 20 years of a brutal Pinochet dictatorship--get real. The whole world knew the CIA was in on it back when it happened. The attempt at revisionism is pretty weak.

I can't fault Kissinger for trying his best to save his hide, though. The Chileans haven't forgotten the hell the Pinochet era was, and are still dishing out justice decades after the crimes were committed.

Even the ex-general himself is in a sorry state these days. Thanks to Pinochet's arrest in 1998 while in Europe, I've heard that Kissinger himself has now given up travelling outside the United States, for fear that he'll be nabbed and brought up before either Chile's courts or the International Court of Justice. I guess some checks come due no matter how big the interval of time.
THE RETURN OF TURTLE POWER
heroes in a fuckin' half-shell
Everything old is new again in the toy biz. Because a shaky economy encourages a back-to-basics approach that incorporates nostalgia, and because Gen Xers are starting to become parents in large numbers, hot toy properties from the last 20 years, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are making a big comeback.

This Christian Science Monitor article points out that the tame storylines from the old cartoon series have been supplanted by edgier fare. Since the Turtles started life in the independent comic book market of the 80s, and were originally set in a grittier action/fantasy storyline in the books, this is a fitting full-circle turnaround.

I tell you, if the 80s nostalgia keeps coming--and past trends like this indicate it will--I won't have to grow up until around 2010.

In a related development, Optimus Prime recently shipped out to fight the bad guys in Iraq.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

PORTABLE MOBILE NUMBERS REVISITED
I recently commented on the proposal to allow mobile phone numbers to remain with customers when/if they switched wireless providers. Here now is the other side of the coin, from the providers' vantage point.

It's interesting that the wireless companies and the advertising community would have such diametrically opposed predictions on the impact here. Do the wireless people really believe it will create more (and unnecessary) competition? Or are the advertisers right that the removal of this last (albiet surmountable, for many people) barrier to random switching will lead to de facto consolidation?

I tend to go with the advertisers' version. The argument by the wireless industry that this will lead to more competition by virtue of better customer service and more customer perks is not that believable, at least not for the long term. Things like that add costs, and at a certain point, they can't be justified no matter how many customers they may net. When that happens, a company will just bow out of the running. That means one less competitor, leaving fewer options for everyone.
GONE ARE THE DAYS OF CHANNEL-SURFING
Yes they are, thanks to the interactive program guide, or IPG.

The IPG is that graphical grid of channel information that you get through your cable set-top box. Since you can bring up this info without significantly affecting your ability to watch whatever channel you currently tuned into, there's little reason to flip through the range of channels on your system to see what else is on. (In fact, with digital cable packages numbering into the hundreds of channels, it's really not practical to do the traditional channel-surf; so if the IPG hadn't been introduced already, it would need to be devised by now.) So in effect, the wide availability of this feature has changed the way most people watch and interact with their televisions.

There are different ways to achieve this, though. I've long been in this mode of watching television; I never, ever channel-surf now unless I'm flat-out dead-bored (and in that case, 9 times out of 10 I'll just turn the television off). But I don't use my cable company's IPG, because I don't use a set-top box (no need for it with the package I've got, and it would just be another group of wires). What I do use is the TV programming grid that's built into my Excite homepage. Very customizable, and just as easy to use as any IPG. My computer is on most of the time I'm home anyway, and since it's a notebook I can plant it in front or near the TV, so it's a natural fit. Saves a lot of time and guesswork too, obviously.

The other way to achieve this is through a digital video recorder like TiVo or ReplayTV. Here's a good up-to-date primer on DVRs.

I'm tempted to join the TiVo Nation, but have yet to be convinced. The point about the 500-channel universe making the DVR a necessity for getting full value out of your cable bill is a good one. However, I can think of an alternative other than investing on another piece of equipment and another service: Just don't buy the deluxe package. What's the purpose of having 500 channels if you only watch 5 or 6 with any regularity anyway? I don't watch much TV anyway, and I don't think it's due to a lack of awareness of programs that I'd like; it's because there simply isn't that much on that's worth my while to watch. I'm never going to get to the point where I want to come home every night and have a hard disk full of crap that I feel I need to watch, and that's what this invites.
RADAR SCOPE
radar cover
Launching a general interest magazine, even one with hipster sensibilities, is a daunting task. To do it as an independent, without the resources of a media/publishing conglomerate behind you, is pretty much asking for a death by a thousand cuts.

Still, when a title like Radar brashly makes a go of it anyway (NYTimes, registration required), you kinda hope it beats the odds, almost regardless of content and purpose.

The cover evokes nothing so much as a tabloid magazine, especially the garish orange background color, the italicized sans serif title font and the near-overload of subheads.

Hey, it's hard to underestimate the public's appetite for pop-culture and celebrity dish. Based on that, Radar has a chance. It'll have to defined and distinguish itself in a hurry, though, if it's going to survive more than a couple of years.
SPIKE!
In a move that's been anticipated for months (and that I riffed on a little while back), TNN--the former and still-thought-of The Nashville Network--is ditching it's intials, and name altogether, and is being remade as Spike, the all-male network.

Like I said before, the "TNN" had to go. I think it's idiotic that Viacom was so insistent on keeping those initials in the first place. Just what sort of cache did they really think they had in those letters, anyway? You'd think a sustained period of ratings slide would drive the point home, and it did, eventually.

And yet, note this little bit of info, which I'm thinking was more of a spur to finally shove through the revamp:

The switch also enables TNN, and parent company Viacom, a chance to outmaneuver the publishers of Maxim magazine. Dennis Publishing is developing a cable channel called the Maxim Entertainment Network, or MEN.

Monday, April 14, 2003

A "BREAKTHROUGH" LESBIAN KISS
hot girl-on-girl action
Apparently, ABC has deemed that the soap-opera crowd is ready to be exposed to lesbianism, and will milk it for all it's worth. In what's sure to be an over-hyped event, the first "daytime television" (that's soap opera, to you and me and the rest of the world) lesbian kiss will be shown on the upcoming April 22nd episode of All My Children.

Whoop-de-frickin'-do.

Considering that this formerly taboo display is firmly in the realm of been-there-done-that, thanks to similar gimmicks on shows ranging from Friends to Howard Stern, it's pretty pathetic of ABC to try to make hay out of this. What's more pathetic is that it'll work, of course. They'll show the kiss, the usual conservative and religious groups will express their outrage, the countering groups will offer their support, and ABC will position itself as some sort of progressive pioneer. And everyone will forget about it in about two months. Like clockwork. Yawn.

And people wonder why I'm so cynical.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BROWSER!
You are currently using a browser. You've gotta be, or else you wouldn't be able to access and read this blog. As ubiquitous as the browser has become on computers and computer-like devices (PDAs, cellphones, etc.), it's hard to believe that it hasn't been around forever. But in fact, it's been a mere ten years since the graphical-interface Web browser has been around, first conceived as the Mosaic browser. It's been a wild, revolutionary ten years, for the computer world and society in general.

Lots of great tidbits of info by ZDNet's Mike Yamamoto here. Let me focus on a couple of key passages:

Just as important as the browser's practical role is the psychological shift it has produced. Today, people expect to be able to find all manner of information in an instant, an assumption that would have been unthinkable before the Web became a mainstream medium--a phenomenon that cybersociologists call "expectation transparency."


So true. More and more, it seems like the pre-Internet days were a dark ages, where getting information required a good amount of exertion, whether you were doing a school report or trying to get a new mortgage. Thorough research still requires a good deal of effort, but the Web makes the first steps so much easier.

"No fact is ever lost. Obscure texts, not to mention musical recordings, are almost as easy to retrieve as today's local newspaper," said Andy Oram of technology publisher O'Reilly & Associates, who is a member of the activist group Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.


While in theory it's true that "no fact is ever lost", this is actually a case of wishful techno-thinking. Twenty years of reliance on digital formats has taught us the hard way that electronic methods of information recording is extremely unreliable on a long-term basis, and in fact is a disaster waiting to happen. Plus, you can find the limits of what's on the Web without too much trouble; by no means is everything in world civilization available online, and a lot of those "obscure texts" may stay that way for a long time.

"Every organization has to have a Web site, and by now an organization would be considered some kind of suspicious, underground entity if it doesn't."


How funny! That's usually my first reaction too, although it's an unfair generalization to some extent.

Evidence of this tectonic change can be seen at the earliest stages of childhood for those growing up in a household with a computer connected to the Web. Elementary games and PC-resembling toys are being marketed at toddlers 2 years old or even younger, making the computer a staple in the home from the time they begin to develop their cognitive and motor skills.

The result, behavioral psychologists believe, will be a new thought pattern influenced by the Web that was unimaginable only a decade ago but accepted as natural human development by coming generations.


What will all these little Web-heads be like when they come into the world as young adults? I anticipate it with equal parts dread and wonderment. Keep in mind, having grown up with it, these kids aren't going to think of the Web as anything other than the standard background utility--a contrast from those of us who didn't experience it until adulthood. Same experience as the telephone, television and other technological benchmarks.

All this was catalyzed by the graphical browser, opened up so that practically anyone could use it. It is important to note, though, that many people consider the browser model of experiencing the Internet to have outlived its usefulness, and are looking forward to alternatives.
WE WANT OUR WEBSTUFF, WE WANT IT FREE
Guess what? People still don't wanna pay for content on the Internet.

Of course, when do people actually want to pay for anything, online or off? Especially when so much Web material is still thrown up for free. Whenever the free lunch approach dries up significantly, people will have to decide how much they really want access to the information to which they've become so accustomed.
KOSHER COCA-COLA
mazel tov
While in the grocery store yesterday, I noticed a shelf devoted entirely to Coca-Cola products, but not in the usual beverage section. Looking closer, I saw a few signs with Hebrew script on the shelves, and then realized that this Coke was specially kosher-ized for the Passover season.

I found this discovery curious, because I thought I had heard that Coke was kosher anyway. Turns out that, for Passover purposes, it's not, and there's a neat story behind the establishment of the Passover-worthy version of The Real Thing. In addition to the signifying "K" or "U", a Jewish coworker informed me that a yellow bottlecap is another visual identifier of bottles that contain this special brew of Coke.

Alas, any time Judaism and industry converge, there's no shortage of whackos out there ready to dredge up the fictious Zionist Conspiracy. In this case, it's centered around the concept of "the secret kosher tax that raises food prices".
GOODBYE CYPRESS GARDENS (AS BIG AS ELVIS??)
the un-theme park
It was a sad day in central Florida this past weekend. The section of the state that's largely defined by theme parks said goodbye to one of its oldest venues, as Cypress Gardens closed rather abruptly after 67 years of operation.

The park had been floundering for years, as its sedate flower gardens and waterski shows just couldn't compete with the dazzle of all the Disney and Disney-esque megaparks in Orlando. Being situated in Winter Haven--the middle of nowhere, basically--didn't help either. Although it was part of the Busch Entertainment Corporation network of parks for a long time (not for the last few years, though; if it still were, it probably would've gotten shuttered years ago), it's roots really were the same as those of other old-timey roadside Florida attractions, and like most of those, its time has passed.

I liked this reaction to the closing; it just drips Cracker sensibility:

"To me, this hit me as hard as when Elvis died," Tom Allen said. "This is serious."


Daaaaaaaamn, G! No foolin', as bad as when The King croaked? That's heavy, babe.
GOODBYE WORLDCOM, HELLO MCI
If you check both the above hyperlinks, you'll note they both take you to just one website: MCI.com. That's not a coincidence. WorldCom, which along with Enron is a posterboy company for the crooked accouting practices of the past few years, has revealed its plans for emerging from bankruptcy this year, the central components of which include changing its name to MCI (it's largest operating subsidiary) and moving corporate HQ from Clinton, Mississippi to the Washington, D.C. area.

The appearance of MCI, once a highly-coveted aquisition for WorldCom, swallowing up its former parent company is amusing to consider. Although the parallel isn't exact, the same sort of thing is going on at AOL Time Warner, as most of the execs of the former America Online Inc. have been forced out and replaced by former Time Warner guys (and some extreme critics of that company have even suggested eliminating the "AOL" part of the corporate name, thus completing the re-transformation).

This turn of events for WorldCom brings back some professional recollections. When I worked for a boutique investment banking firm, I produced a bi-weekly column on the mergers and acquisitions field. One column concentrated on the importance of due diligence, and I used the then-still-pending-but-imminent WorldCom-MCI deal as an example of how not to carry out the process. Basically, thanks to poor preparation and freewheeling negotiations, it took WorldCom about three times as long as it should have to close the deal for the long-distance provider, and competitors like British Telecom kept sniping right to the end.

Such a shaky start certainly didn't portend a promising future for the combined company. While the problems that eventually brought WorldCom down weren't directly related to the merger, they were certainly in line with how the whole thing was established. I can't say I saw the disaster coming, but then again, I wasn't too shocked when they were caught with their pants down.

Poor Mississippi. It's not like it's home to the headquarters of a bunch of world-class companies, and now it loses the only notable one.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

MAGNA GRAECIA, MAGNA AMERICA
great greece!
Today I went to The Tampa Museum of Art for an exhibition I've wanted to catch for a while now: Magna Graecia. It consists of unique artifacts from the southern Italian region that typifies the ancient Greek settlements that thrived there for centuries. Tampa is one of only two cities in North America (the other is Cleveland) where this collection is being exhibited.

It was a fascinating experience. Lots of stuff to gawk at. I was most taken by the white-clay pottery, which I thought was stunning. The various bronze and terracotta figures were also great.

What really struck me was the parallels with modern society, and how little we've really changed. Prime example: At a few places, the notes that accompany various pieces make note of the fact that ancient/archaic art overwhelmingly depicts youthful, beautiful figures. In fact, this is the case to such an extent that whenever an elderly person was included in a fresco, piece of pottery, etc., it was a notable exception.

Well, guess what? Our media today--everything from print to TV to paintings--focuses strongly on the young and the beautiful. Is that a coincidence? No. All forms of art are basically involved in commerce, and what sells is whatever is easiest on the eyes. It's supply and demand, all the way. So just as it was 3,000 years ago, so it is now. The youth culture is just as strong today as it was in ancient Greece.

Things like that remind me why all the people who villify the media as some kind of aberrant, evil force that influences people really have no clue. They're working on the assumption that all the beautiful faces, waif-thin models and other non-average people are being force-fed to the media-consuming population. This is a belief founded upon a very, very insular worldview. Fact is, if the stuff wasn't in demand and didn't sell, then we wouldn't be seeing it. As in most cases, media rarely, if ever, dictates to the populace; it's really the other way around. That a lot of people can't accept this doesn't make it any less real.
THE DECLINE OF MSNBC
John Ellis wrote this piece for Fast Company, on the continued meandering of the MSNBC news network and what it could portend for the future of TV programming.

It's a bit of doomsday scenario, assuming you consider giving over everything from sitcoms to news shows to reality-television production values. I'm not sure the parallel is that accurate. The argument also assumes that reality TV is the continuing wave of the future, instead of a fad (which I admit I believe it to be).

In a way, I don't care about this. I never access MSNBC, either on the tube or online. I agree it's not distinctive in any sense, so that's a problem it needs to address. But any way it chooses to do this, I don't have much patience for the newstalk programming concept anyway, regardless of network, ideology or personalities. I don't consider listening to a bunch of opinionate jerks spouting off, and correspondingly causing my blood pressure to rise, as particularly entertaining. (As you can tell, the "freak show" approach doesn't tickle my fancy either.)

Saturday, April 12, 2003

MAC MUSIC
Leave it to maverick Steve Jobs to heat up an asset sale. It was leaked Friday that Apple Computer Corp. is in talks to buy Vivendi Universal's music business, the largest company in the global recording industry business with 25% of the market, for around $6 billion. I bet Bill Gates is fuming that he can't conjure up this much excitement (MSNBC and Microsoft TV notwithstanding).

It's definitely an odd coupling, a computer hardware/software maker taking on the likes of Shania Twain, 50 Cent and U2. The stock market figured as much by taking Apple's stock price down to close out the week's trading. Even some of Apple's most strident acolytes are questioning the move.

I think it's got some potential. The manipulation of music, illegally or legally, is becoming such a central part of the average person's computer experience that it's not like throwing music into the equation is such an alien concept. Apple especially is investing in this content through the production of the iPod MP3 player.

Now that I think more of it, perhaps this bid of Apple's, if successful, will be the first application of the incentivization of music content. Think of it: Apple selling brand-new iPods preloaded with 20 hours of music from Universal recording artists' songs, and charging a (somewhat) higher premium for them.

Update: Damien Barrett's take on this brings up an important detail: If Apple does indeed pull off this purchase, that would give a computer hardware/software company a seat (a very powerful one, in fact) at the table of the Recording Industry Association of America. How would this impact the RIAA's copyprotection and anti-piracy efforts? What a bizarre scenario! Sleeping with the enemy, bigtime.
TV THAT WATCHES YOU
There's something I forgot to include among the childhood "I Used To Believe" items I listed earlier. It involves that device that was oh-so-influential in my childhood upbringing: The television set.

When I was a kid, I used to believe that the broadcasters knew whether or not you were watching a certain show. More accurately, I thought they could tell whenever you were tuned to a certain channel at a certain time. I think I must've heard about the concept of television ratings at an early age, but didn't catch how they were determined through sampling a small percentage of the viewing public. I probably figured that the only way the television execs could get numbers like that was that there was some kind of transmitting device, either in the television set or in the cable, that gave them feedback whenever a TV was tuned into a this or that channel.

The upshot of this was that I was pretty fanatical that any shows that I hated, or deemed were stupid, COULD NEVER be allowed to come through our TVs, not even for a few seconds. If they did, that meant that me and my family were actually helping that rotten show's ratings, and thereby keeping it from being cancelled. Shows that I liked, of course, were all systems go.

I noticed that at least one other person on "I Used To Believe" also had this belief growing up, and I seconded her contribution rather than add mine and be redundant.

Anyway, I'm not sure when I overcame this faulty information; probably not until mid-adolesence. There is a lasting effect from this for me: Even today, if there's something on that I particularly don't like, I tend to switch the channel a bit quicker than I normally would. I guess in the deep recesses of my mind, I still sorta cling to the idea that the TV can tell what I'm watching.

But wouldn't you know, today the technology is in place, in the form of cable set-top boxes, digital cable input, and Personal Video Recorders to turn my childhood fantasy into reality. Chilling reality, for some.

Friday, April 11, 2003

WRISTPHONES!
watch the watch
Tired of carrying your mobile phone in your pocket, on a beltclip (I hate those things, I refuse to get one), or in your purse? Then you might go for the Wristomo, the slick new number from NTT DoCoMo, Japan's biggest mobile phone maker.

For me, this would be a great item to have (too bad I don't live in Japan). I never wear a watch, and never have. But I always have my mobile phone on me, and I frequently take it out of my pocket to check the time. So, naturally, if I could just wear the thing on my wrist, it would be much more easily accessible.

I wonder, though: Would talking into your wrist look cool in the referenced Dick Tracy way, or geeky? I guess you could always plug in a hands-free earpiece and mike, like many people do with their phones now.
FROM THE BREWMASTERS OF 7-ELEVEN
drink our beer!
Are you a beer drinker, but not really a Budweiser or Miller kinda guy/gal? Not one for the premiums or imports either? Then perhaps you'll cozy up to Santiago, the new sudsy sensation coming your way courtesy of 7-Eleven. They'll be making their own wine, too!

Without even waiting for this swill to hit the refrigerated shelves, the bargain-basement pricetag and convenience-store lineage should place this stuff somewhere between Hamm's and Black Label in the Beer Hierarchy Chart. I'm not even going to bother to comment on the wine.

Of course, since I never drink beer these days, I couldn't care less about this development. But I'm sure in my college years, the arrival of a "more-bang-for-your-buck" brew like this, so conveniently accessible, would have been cause for much rejoicing.