The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, August 31, 2003

This sequel-heavy summer was supposed to be money in the bank for Hollywood. How did it turn out? Good, but not great, with as many sequel flops as successes, and the unexpected triumph of a little clownfish named Nemo.

I know for me, it's been a very tepid summer movie season, and this is coming from a movie fanatic. I generally pass on the mainstream crap, but even the independent and offbeat stuff has been less than fullfilling. I'm hoping the autumn will be much better.

Has this summer soured the film industry on the sequel formula? Regrettably, no:

"Anybody who tells you sequels are dead, sequels aren't going to be made, doesn't know what they're talking about," said Tom Sherak, a partner in Revolution Studios, which teamed with Sony on the summer hit "Daddy Day Care" and the season's big flop, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's "Gigli."

"Sequels are pre-sold pictures with a pre-sold audience that normally do really well. They are not going to go away. They're going to be a mainstay in Hollywood. It's just a matter of re-examining the economics of sequels."

And to back that up, studios everywhere are gearing up for more sequel madness in summer 2004.
It seems appropriate that Americans are clogging up the roads on this Labor Day weekend, because all that driving around, considered part and parcel of living the American suburban dream, also contributes to the clogging of the American arteries. It's getting to look like a road to perpetual fat, aided by urban planning that enables an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study from University of Maryland's National Center for Smart Growth.

We've been well aware of this for years. Outside of older cities like New York and San Francisco, it's almost impossible to get around without a car in the United States. Suburbia is pretty much a synonym for "at least 20 minutes' drive to or from anywhere". And of course, everyone wants their sizable plots of land, with enough buffer zone from your neighbors, so residential developments will find it hard to reverse this 50+ year trend.

Personally, I've always felt that this far-flung existence is dehumanizing. You never really interact with people in your neighborhood, you're always stuck in traffic, you shuttle yourself from one air-conditioned cocoon to another. It's a pretty sterile living environment.
I didn't wake up today until about ten minutes before noon. I didn't get to sleep until a little after 2AM, so that's almost ten hours of snooze. That's really incredible. I've gotten so accustomed over the years to getting minimal amounts of sleep that, even when I try to sleep in for extended periods, I end up waking up after only 6-7 hours just out of habit, or due to some normally ignorable noise (I'm amazed that didn't happen today, from outside or from my idiot upstairs neighbors).

The funny thing is, I wasn't even particularly tired last night. In fact, I kind of had to force myself to put my head on the pillow; the only reason I didn't stay up later was that I couldn't come up with a solid enough reason to do so. I guess my body was making up for accumulated sleep loss.

I still have the nagging feeling that I've wasted away half the day, as I often do on those rare occasions when I sleep in. But there's really no reason to think that. It's Sunday, the middle of Labor Day weekend, and the only halfway-concrete plans I had today was a little window shopping and laundry.

Saturday, August 30, 2003

The Onion has come a long way from its Midwestern dorm-room roots to become a satirical instituion. These days, the company behind that institution is actually operating in the black, and looking to expand.

Seven million in revenues is not bad, but it's a lot smaller than what I would have expected. Even though The Onion has made a name for itself, it probably seems bigger to people who track media (like me) than to the general public. The plan to grow the company 25 percent a year certainly is ambitious.

It's been a long time since I visited the site (I wasn't even aware that any print editions were still being published; there is none in the Tampa Bay area). It's the kind of humor that I ordinarily eat up, but for some reason, The Onion never really took hold of my funnybone. It seems like the headlines are funny enough; reading the entire stories that accompany them can often seem like milking the joke.

I will note that the success cited here seems to be in line with the general popularity the public gives to media that delivers news in a comedic wrapping. Other current hot examples of this: Al Franken and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart". Not a trend I necessarily approve of, at least not the concept of that being your only source of news. (Besides, "The Daily Show" currently sucks.)
Stopped by Einstein Bros. Bagel Shop for lunch today. I wound up getting my lunch for free.

What's my secret? No, I didn't fake a near-fatal fall or try any other con job. I just placed my order, sat down, waited about 10 minutes for my Asian Wrap sandwich to come up, and when I checked on what was taking so long, I found out that they either forgot to make it, or else some other customer mistakenly picked it up. I didn't even raise a fuss, the cashier/manager automatically refunded my money. She even offered to give me a free refill on my root beer; I declined that.

This is the first time I've gone to Einstein for lunch in a long while. I used to go quite a bit, both for a bag of bagels on the way in to work, or for a sandwich. But it seems like the production line problems in Einstein Bros. stores are endemic. Any time they get even a little bit busy, the people behind the counter just can't seem to handle it, and they slow down or screw up. In the 30-40 minutes I was there, I noticed at least two other orders get messed up, in addition to mine. It seems to me that their food prepartion area just isn't set up to handle sandwich-making and other lunchtime meals.

If I'm an exec at Einstein Bros. corporate, I'd think about hiring some mystery shopper firm to put together a study of how the average franchise operates, and then implement some serious changes.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Yup, this image fulfilled many a male's dream. It even spans generations, and you can't beat that. Based on this alone, the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards was a buzzworthy success.

Of course, if you're under the impression that Britney and Madonna (and Christina/Xtina Aguilera, not pictured) are really hot for each other, then you're dumb as a rock. This was purely a stage spectacle, choreographed, intended to get lots of attention. And to me, it's a perfect example of the metrosexual dynamic at work.

Frankly, for all the pre-hype the VMAs get, they never really seem to live up to it. I think this kiss might pay dividends in that regard right up until next year's show.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

If you spend any time in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, you've probably caught sight of Williams Park, aka Bum Central. Despite not being on a waterfront, its proximity to City Hall makes it, in a way, St. Pete's signature park. City leaders are trying to figure out how to make the park an appealing destination once again, without totally doing in the homeless people who hang out there.

I've had occasion to walk in and around Williams Park a lot lately; my office is located in the heart of downtown. It's really not as foreboding as it appears to be. The bums and weirdos are fairly thick in the area, but for the most part, they leave you alone if you leave them alone. I've rarely ever been hit up for a handout--I'm not sure if this indicates I'm not prosperous-looking enough to bother with, or if I just give off an unwelcoming aura. (In any case, I make it a point to not carry any pocket change, and little or no cash, so I can truthfully say I don't have anything to give out.)

It does appear to me that the imminent move-in of St. Petersburg College's downtown branch will turn Williams Park into a sort of de facto student commons area, which will be nice.

However, the one thing that strikes me--and I'm no city or parks planner--is that there seems to be too much paved terrain within Williams Park to make it as functional as city leaders would like. Although the park takes up an entire city block, it's really not that big, and the amount of sidewalks that crisscross it, along with the sizable band shell on the north side, makes it seem that much smaller. There's a good bit of green space (lawns and trees), but there doesn't seem to be any significant expanse of it where you could really lay out, have a picnic, or organize a friendly football game on it. I think the city should consider a new layout for the park, cutting down on the sidewalk area by 50 percent. The more uninterrupted grassy area and landscaping you have, the more attractive the park will be. Plus, less paved areas will probably give the bums less places to hang out.
Do you watch the movie trailers on that DVD you rent or buy? According to a new study from Knowledge Networks, 55% of you do.

Two thoughts on this:

- I notice that the writeup doesn't indicate whether those questioned said they actually liked watching those ads; it simply says that, yes, they admitted they do watch them. I realize that actively watching suggests you consciously want to watch, but that leads into my second thought...

- I believe that a lot of DVDs are set up so that you can't help but watch the ads and other crap they put on the discs. You can't skip over the ads, or even fast-forward past them when the disc is initially loading up. I know for sure that Disney rigged this a couple of years ago, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were still doing it.

So, if this is the case for a lot of DVDs, then these results don't mean shit. Polling a captive audience is pointless. The observation that movie ads might be more effective than a soda ad, as brought up by Jon Swallen at Universal McCann, is solid reasoning, but again, means nothing if the ads run no matter what.
Yes, we're all well aware of Ah-nold's bid for governor of California. And most of the country is having a good laugh, knowing that Schwarzenegger's electoral antics will be limited to one state, and that he can't ramp up his show onto the national, i.e. Presidential, stage.

Or can he? Being the astute political scholars that we are, we know that, thanks to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the Austrian-born Terminator is ineligible to run for the United States' highest executive office. It would take an Amendment to change that. And it just so happens that U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is getting set to propose an Amendment that would allow foreign-born residents who have been citizens for 20 years be allowed to seek Presidential office (the 14-year residence requirement mentioned in the article is actually already a requirement, even for native-born citizens; see Article II, Section 1).

Of course, this is not as earth-shaking as it sounds. It's no easy feat to get an Amendment added to the Constitution; if it happens at all, it will take years. And disregarding the Schwarzenegger factor, it really is a good idea to change this law. Not that there are, or ever were, a huge number of quality foreign-born prospects for President that we were deprived of voting for. But it's an antiquated provision, a holdover from aftermath of the War of Independence, that really makes no sense to keep more than 200 years later.

I'll toss over further coverage of this item to MemeMachineGo!, as he so deftly incorporated a fictional foreshadowing of this from the extremely underrated sci-fi/action flick Demolition Man (yes, I said "underrated" with a straight face; give it a chance, man!).
green blood
Ain't that a purdy fishie? It's a green bloodfin tetra (as distinguished from your standard bloodfin tetra), one of several new fish species recently discovered in the Caura River Basin of southeastern Venezuela.

A small school of 6-7 of these little suckers would look great in my aquarium; I've been thinking lately of adding something to the tank. Of course, it'll probably be a long while before this new fish will be available for purchase in petstores. Plus, since they haven't been bred in captivity, it'll likely take a while before the green bloodfin will be hardy enough to be worth keeping for hobbyists like me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Yup, I've finally succumbed and added a blogroll. The list is current as of this second, and will be updated as necessary, and as I feel like it. Submissions/suggestions welcomed.

Why did I do this by hand, instead of through BlogRolling or a similar utility? Simply put, I felt like it. I don't wanna register for yet another thing on the Web--at least not tonight. So there.

Why did I add this? I've resisted putting one on this blog, because it just didn't feel right. Maybe I was afraid my little corner of the Web would look too much like any other run-of-the-mill blog. But, of late, I've been getting a lot of linkage via other people's blogs; and I admit, I felt a bit guilty in not reciprocating. Given that this blogging thing works, in large part, through cross-linking, I guess I should get on the wagon.

So. Anyway. I'm getting sleepy, so I'll just post this. Happy reading.
While many consider the entertainment industry's fight against file swapping and code cracking/reverse engineering to ultimately be a fool's quest, they're spending mountains of legal fees pursuing it. A couple of cases that have made news over the past couple of days:

- The California Supreme Court ruled that free speech protection does not apply to corporate trade secrets, as in the case of the movie industry versus Andrew Bunner, a software programmer who was sued for posting DVD encryption-cracking information on the Web. The matter now at hand is whether or not the encryption method, cracked through reverse engineering by some Norwegian guy, can still be considered a trade secret, since it's been disseminated throughout the globe--the cat's long out of the bag, as it were.

Just a layman's perspective, but doesn't the fact that Bunner helped kill the "secret" aspect of this count against him? I guess the court has to look at the here-and-now, i.e. things as they currently stand, rather than how the situation came to this point, and that's probably what Bunner's lawyers will use as defense. Still, I can't believe the court won't take this into account; essentially, the encryption technology would still be secret (or at least relatively secret) if it wasn't for the actions of Bunner (and others like him).

- Meanwhile, in Washington DC, the Recording Industry of America's fight to subpoena file-swapping users has uncovered some interesting information on how the association is tracking down offenders. At issue is an alleged violator's (known only by her KaZaA nickname, "nycfashiongirl") contention that she was unaware of engaging in any illegal fileswapping, never obtained songs off the filesharing networks, only used the KaZaA software as a ripper and player, etc. The industry had demonstrated, by going through nycfashiongirl's hard drive and the files/programs in question, that she's lying: Digital fingerprints on the music files show that they originated from sources other than the CDs she says she ripped, etc.

First off: Anyone even a little familiar with filesharing programs knows this girl is full of shit. No one uses a program like KaZaA or Grokster solely as a media player. That's nonsense. If you've got it installed, and you've got an Internet connection, then you're using it as part of the fileswapping network. It seems pretty ridiculous to assert otherwise.

Again, another layman's observation: The article seems to suggest that part of nycfashiongirl's defense is that she was trading only the music files she ripped off her own CDs, as if this constituted fair use. As I understand it, this isn't true. Fair use covers her making copies of the tracks onto her own computer or portable media player, for her own use; but it doesn't allow her to then make those tracks available for copying over fileswapping networks. That's the crux of the whole fileswapping issue, really: The RIAA generally couldn't care less if people make copies of music off CDs; it's the distribution via digital duplication/downloading that's the problem, that damages the industry by depriving it of potential sales. This is an important distinction, I think. The notion that she's out of trouble if it was only the files she personally ripped, from CDs she bought, that were set loose on KaZaA, is false. If her defense is really going with that argument, I'd say they're dead on arrival.

One common thread in both cases, aside from the obvious digital rights questions, is the ignorance tack both defendants are using. Bunner and nycfashiongirl are claiming they weren't fully aware of what they were doing or what they were dealing with, and for this reason, they're not guilty of malicious actions. That seems like a crock in both cases.
Now this is why cellular phone technology was invented! Oi, a fast-growing wireless phone company in Brazil, is offering up 40 animated clips of sexual positions that can be delivered directly to the screen of a mobile phone, for a mere 33 cents each. The positions are, of course, all derived from the mother of all sex manuals, the Kama Sutra.

With ideas like this, it's no wonder that Oi is growing so quickly. Although I note that they were inspired by similar efforts by European carriers. And I can't believe wireless-crazy Japan hasn't already gotten in on this too. Only us uptight Americans (and Canadians, I suppose) miss out.

I would love to read the follow-up testamonials on this! Or should I look up the Brazilian equivalent of Penthouse Forums instead? "I had her legs up in the air, ready to ram it in, when I picked up my mobile phone for some ideas..." Ooh, baby...

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Funny how I just recently referred back to the problem of preserving historical data in the electronic age, and now I come across this: A Dutch computer magazine, PC-Active, recently put some CD-R discs through an aging test, and found that they started to deteriorate in less than two years.

I don't understand Dutch, so I'm relying on the translation at the link above. I'm not sure how much of an endurance test they put the discs through; obviously weather, storage stability, and other factors play a big part. But it doesn't appear like these record-once discs had undergone any real stress. The results are less than heartening.

As one of the commenters noted, it makes a difference whether you're dealing with music or other forms of data on such storage media. I remember when CDs were just starting to come out in the 80s (not recordable CDs, but standard, garden-variety music discs), there was concern even then over the tendency for random errors to crop up while transferring any sort of data onto them. While those errors typically were small enough that they wouldn't affect the playback of a song, they were potentially problematic for computer programs. This new finding of lack of permanance seems to be in line with earlier issues.

What this means is that, far from backing up music and other files onto recordable discs and then no longer worrying about them, you have to check back every year or so and make new backup copies. On and on and on, for the foreseeable future, with every transfer containing the risk of distorting or deleting some portion of data: A random photo, a couple of paragraphs, a few seconds of song. Pretty much sucks! Hopefully, someone somewhere is working on a more permanent storage solution.
For the last couple of days, I've seen headlines about the death of Wesley Willis, but because I had never heard of him, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

Upon seeing the lyrics to his song I Wupped Batman's Ass, I understood.

Batman got on my nerves
He was running me amok
He ridiculed me calling me a bum

I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass

Batman thought he was bad
He was a fucking asshole in the first place
He got knocked to the floor

I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass

Batman beat the hell out of me and knocked me to the floor
I got back up and knocked him to the floor
He was being such a jackoff

I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass
I wupped Batman's ass

Wheaties, breakfast of champions

Monday, August 25, 2003

It's been nearly two months since I last wrote of Spike TV, after a good long stream of following their sad exploits in attempting to finally launch.

Still, all that is in the past, and Spike, the self-styled First Network for Men, is chugging along. What's the verdict? As far as Gary Dretzka is concerned, it's been much ado about nada.

Gary laments that all the hype about how Spike was going to be a haven for cool, ballsy programming has dissolved into endless reruns of crap like "Blind Date" and Star Trek Voyager/Deep Space/whatever, with lame-o animated stuff slipped in during latenight. What makes it even more pathetic is that the programmers had months to get all this together, and ended up with a result that looks like it was cobbled together in a couple of weeks.

Not that I had great hopes for Spike, but I recognized this garbage trend early on, too; I deleted the channel's listing off my online programming guide when it was apparent that all they were going to show was old James Bond movies, which aren't my bag, baby.

I maintain the channel is cursed, and no amount of retooling is going to make it successful. Rather than put UPN in the guillotine, Viacom ought to put this puppy to sleep.
How the mighty have fallen. In an increasingly fragmented television viewing universe, both broadcast and cable networks have to scour high and low to grab eyeballs. Ad placement areas include pizza boxes, urinal spaces, gay-themed magazines and (in a synergistic touch for CBS and the Viacom family of companies) Blockbuster stores.

Far cry from the 70s, when the big three networks had a built-in 90 share of the viewing audience.
jailbait-free (in europe)
Gaze upon the Rolling Stone cover above. It represents the first salvo in the Olsen twins' transition from kid-friendly, Nickelodeon-approved wholesomeness to naughty sexpots, as Mary-Kate and Ashley count their way down to their 18th birthday.

Why are they even going down this road? By some reports, they've made untold millions off their careers so far, starting on "Full House" and on through countless direct-to-kid-vid productions. The answer is, why pack it in when they could rake in even more moula? You don't hang 'em up when you're at the top of your game.

I suppose the next step--probably as soon as they hit the big one-eight--is Maxim, or FHM, or whichever "lad mag" (I hate that term; then again, I'm using it) will cough up the most dough for the privilege of photographing the twins in all their semi-nude glory.

The rise of the lad mag has changed the landscape for coming-out parties like this coming one. If Mary-Kate and Ashely were ten years older, the only recourse they'd have had to demonstrate, with a bang, that they were "all grown up" would have been a nude pictorial in Playboy. All the hype from that would have done the intended job, but with a strong risk of backlash over America's former favorite baby girls appearing in what many consider to be a smutty porn mag. With the likes of Maxim, that sleaze factor is perceived to be lessened (which, as I've said before, is ridiculous).

Can the Olsen twins make a smooth transition from cutsie kids to steamy sexpots? They've certainly done a good job of building up the requisite buzz so far. Whether it works, time will tell. I'm not sure how much they can count on the "all grown up now" angle; it's worked before (Brooke Shields comes to mind, sorta), but it could fizzle if enough guys feel creepy about lusting after girls who, facially, still look a lot like they did when they first started appearing on-camera. I feel that way, and I never even saw a single episode of "Full House".

I'd like to end this by noting that I originally went into writing this under the false impression that Mary-Kate and Ashley were already 18. I guess the Rolling Stone cover and other hype led me to that assumption. That probably speaks of the effectiveness of all this hurleyburley thus far.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

I've said that 2003 would be the year when digital video recorders would take off, and it appears the big cable companies have gotten the religion.

I find it interesting how the cable companies are positioning their new product/service offering. Rather than using the DVRs to deliver more targeted advertising to their subscribers, they're merely using them as enticements to keep people from switching over to satellite service. It seems short-sighted; while I appreciate the refrain from building up personal profiles from their subscriber households, I can't believe they're not venturing into what could be a lucrative revenue stream. It's not like the majority of consumers are going to object, because they generally don't care (as long as the result isn't overly obtrusive).

Thanks to the cable companies' general marketing ineptness, I get the feeling that DVR penetration will take off despite the efforts of Time Warner, Cox and all the others. They just can't seem to get the message across on why these new devices are worth having; comparing them to VCRs is a pretty dumb way to do it.
With a Presidential election coming up next year, this would seem to be an ideal time to put to the test the Web's usefulness as an advertising medium. Poynter's Steve Outing thinks that contextual advertising, the ad-placement method that's driving growth for online properties like Google and Yahoo!, is just the ticket.

Could be. If any candidate jumps on this, I'd expect it to be Democrat Howard Dean, he who's been trumpeting how much the online campaign trail has been boosting his visibility.
How is it this took so long to happen? MTV has announced it's launching, on a trial basis, it's own MTV-branded music/lifestyle magazine, with the first issue coming in October.

I don't understand why MTV and corporate parent Viacom didn't think of this before. It screams synergy. Magazines aren't exactly dead to the youth market; if the male demographic is hard to crack, girls are a proven magazine-consuming group.

I guess there's Rolling Stone to consider, not to mention Spin, Vibe and Blender. Music mags can be a rough business; I recall reading years ago, when Spin was sold to a new investment group, that that magazine had never even come close to turning a profit in it's first ten years of existence, despite tons of money pumped into it. Still, with the gigantic Viacom machine behind it, the initial losses can be easily absorbed; the question is how long they want to absorb them.

I'm expecting some wild designs for MTV Magazine. I can't wait to see it.
and their Red Tape Defense
One of the longer-lasting mascots in professional sports may soon be history. A district court in Washington is preparing a decision that could strip the Washington Redskins of their trademark rights on the name "Redskins", deeming it an offensive term to Native Americans/Indians; thus rendering useless the commercial purposes of the team name. Basically, if the team has no legal protection of the name "Redskins", it can't stop any random schmoe from printing up a bunch of unauthorized t-shirts, caps, etc. Therefore, the value of the name would be practically nil.

So, naturally, Washington Football Inc. will need a new dba name if the court decides against it. What better than to name the football team after the profession that DC is most known for?

The other choices offered up in this CNN/Money article are the Lobbyists and Wild Hogs. Both are fitting tributes to the mechanics of government. Wild Hogs would also be a nice mini-tribute to Washington's diehard fans.

Yeah, I know, none of these appropos names have a chance in hell of becoming real. If they do have to invent a new moniker, it'll be something sanitized by intense market research; they'll probably come up with something like Generals, or even worse, a singular nickname (which I despise, being a Lightning fan notwithstanding) like Thunder. Heck, they could even take the next logical step and sell the naming rights to the team, calling them the Washington Honeywells or something (although I don't think any American major-pro league is quite ready to make that leap just yet).

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Just caught a rerun of "Inside the Actors Studio" with the cast of The Simpsons.

I'm not a fan of Actors Studio, as I've found it to be a boring ass-kissing fest on those rare occasions I've watched it. This one was no exception. It really wasn't a very noteworthy interview; in fact, James Lipton copped out even more than usual by asking the Simpson's characters questions for half the show.

I did find one thing interesting. At the outset of the show, Lipton casually remarks that The Simpsons has been "the most consistently funny show ever", or something like that. Which is complete horseshit, since it's painfully obvious that it's been absolutely unwatchable crapola for the past 5-6 years, and the contrast to the earlier seasons is painful to consider. I realize the current ratings for the sitcom indicate millions of morons disagreeing with me, but that's the way it is.

And to prove out that that's the way it is, after Lipton made his remark, the rest of the show was peppered with clips and references from The Simpsons that drew exclusively from episodes made well before the rot had set in! Everything, from the episodes the actors cited as their favorites to the most recognizable soundbites and skits, were from before 1996, when the show started going downhill hard. (The single exception was Lipton's own animated appearance on the show, but what do you expect there? The endless lame guest-star appearances are a big part of why the show's so weak now.)

Thus, this little filmed gathering only validates how much the current run of The Simpsons sucks. Their very actions give away the actors' agreement on this.
nyets league
After catching a lot of flack, the New York Jets have slightly revised their new $50 season ticket waiting-list fee, saying that the annual charge will be applied toward the eventual purchase of those same season tickets.

Not that I care that much, since I don't expect to ever put my name on the list; but I'd like to know a little more detail on how this is supposed to work. I mean, if you're on the list for 10 years--which is definitely possible--that really means they'll knock 500 bucks off the purchase price of your first season ticket plan? I imagine that if you're chump enough to skip a year, then you lose what you've already paid and have to start all over again. I guess this helps the team a bit: It gets money for, really, nothing, and the discount some long-termer will get really won't amount to much.
And so will this post be, because there's not much to say about it. Basically, a federal judge ruled against Fox News in its case against Al Franken's use of the term "fair and balanced". It didn't even come down to a silly little technicality, as I kinda hoped it would.

There's lots of comedic value to mining the idiot legalese arguments touched on in the report. But frankly, that's how it is with every court case.

Update: To make it all official, Fox News has dropped the lawsuit, but not without taking a pissy-fit swipe at Franken. Is it any wonder why conservatives have to continually justify their jackass views?

Friday, August 22, 2003


dialectic junction
While we're wallowing in the 70s, let's look back upon Schoolhouse Rock. I'm not sure how much I learned from it; probably the main thing that sticks with me is that, to this day, I cannot read the preamble of the Constitution without having the SR musical version of it running in my head. But no doubt, I remember it fondly, and I know I'm far from alone on that.

Imagine my shock, then, to uncover the obscure Red Shadow (The Economics Rock & Roll Band) - Understanding Marx recording. If you listen to it, you can clearly hear the roots of the Schoolhouse musical style. Friendly communism propaganda, delivered in a warm, fuzzy, mellow-rock wrapping. It must be true--the media is a bunch of pinkos!
I think I have a BIG problem.

I've been watching VH1's I Love the 70s since a little after 6PM. I'm still watching it now, as I blog this.

And I cannot pull myself away.

I mean, there's an NFL preseason game on the other channel, and I'm not able to tear myself away from reminiscences about Stretch Armstrong, What's Happening!!, Wonder Woman, mood rings and Studio 54. Granted, it's only preseason, but still...

Why am I mesmerized by a bunch of dweebs (including the annoyingly smarmy Michael Ian Black, who seems to be on this thing wayyyyyyyy too much) sharing their 30-year-old memories? I think for me, and others who were born during the 70s, it's due to a sense of having missed out on all the fun. I mean, I was there during that groovy era, having been born in 1971. But really, I wasn't. Not really. I was a little kid, and it took pretty much the entire decade to achieve some sort of general awareness of life. Thus, when I starting coming of age in the 80s and 90s, I came to a slow realization that a whole bunch of great stuff flew way over my head back in the day. It really makes that time seem magical. (I suppose if I were born ten years earlier, I would have felt that way about the 60s; or not.)

All I know is, it's taken me just about an hour to write this friggin' post, because I keep getting distracted by a new segment on this show. Ye gods.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

domo arrigato, mister roboto
I get the feeling that, in the very near future, "robot" and "Japan" will become inseparable and indistinguishable from one another. They must be pouring billions into developing the latest and greatest in robotics over there. The latest is a robotic suit, really an exoskeleton from the looks of it, that will help the frail and the disabled get around easier. The picture here is of a college student showing off a prototype; a finished commercial version is just about ready for sale. Future refinement will make this thing as concealable as underwear, so that you won't look like some kind of superpowered parapalegic.

Most intriguing: A mention that, in addition to supporting muscle movements, it will enable the wearers to "seat themselves to relax without a chair". That's kick-ass! Imagine seeing that on the street somewhere.

As always, the social component is what interests me most here, and indeed, this invention was designed to address Japan's rapidly increasing elder population:

[Yoshiyuki Sankai, professor and engineer at Tsukuba University and inventor of the suit] also noted that Japan's greying society was a key consideration behind the development of the suit.

"As the country is heading rapidly towards an ageing society, the demand for such a robotic support system will certainly grow," the professor said.

"Not only the elderly but also disabled people will be able to live comfortably, leaving heavy physical tasks to the suit," he said.

The need for Japan to take measures to deal with its ageing society is increasingly urgent. The proportion of people aged 65 or older in Japan came to a record high of 18.82 per cent, according to the latest government report on population released on Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I made what I thought was a pretty good off-the-cuff joke this morning. As I made my way through the front door of the office, I was greeted with a big box of fresh Krispy Kreme glazed donuts. Very tempting, and if I hadn't stopped off first on the way in for a bagel with cream cheese, I would've grab one.

So I turned the corner and walked down the hall to my desk. As I reached the end of the hall, what should be waiting there on the little coffee table? Yep, yet another big ol' box of Krispy Kremes! They were seemingly all over the place!

My assistant was already at his desk, and I exclaimed, "Davis, what's the deal with all the donuts? Were we acquired by Krispy Kreme overnight?"

Got a good little laugh. Imagine if Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. really did buy your workplace out! They probably don't keep the supply of free donuts (I prefer that spelling to the stodgy-looking "doughnuts") going, but it's nice to think they do. You'd probably gain 50 pounds and have one hell of a case of tooth decay (gotta believe that the corporation has a good dental plan)!

It turns out that one of our semi-regular editors (he works on a publication that comes out annually, so he's around for only about one month) brought the ultra-sugary treats in, for all to share. I ended up downing a couple during the course of the day; gotta get that afternoon saccharine fix!
Today's Real Media Riff at MediaPost was a generally thought-provoking read, concentrating on how wireless and mobile devices are on the verge of opening up a supercharged "seamless media marketplace". But while the author purportedly makes the issue of inadequate battery life the central focus of his essay, he really only barely touches on it.

The less-than-stellar battery life for portable/mobile devices, like cellphones and PDAs, is a theme I've touched on before. It's my feeling that, in one specific instance, all those bells and whistles being pushed on cellphones will never truly be consumed in a large way by consumers because they tend to suck up a phone's battery power. If they develop battery storage that will keep a device running (at full capability, i.e. common phone "talk-time") for 6-plus hours at a time, that's when you can really talk about a pervasive, wire-free Web.
buccos league-o
What's a football stadium to do when it's prime tenant wins the Super Bowl? It goes condo, of course.

No, the Tampa Bay Bucs aren't going to have to come up with mortgage financing (although that would be a novel way to try to keep an NFL from moving out of a city). Rather, the Tampa Sports Authority is looking at legally defining Raymond James Stadium a condominium, for the purposes of creating a tax loophole that would let Hillsborough County off the hook for $4.3 million in annual property taxes.

Funny to think the Bucs will be the only team in the league to play in a condo. Should be good fodder for TV and radio gameday commentators, if they're astute enough to hear about it (and if you learn about it here, do a brotha a solid and plug me, baby!).

Condo craziness is getting to be a theme in the Tampa Bay area, especially the St. Pete/Pinellas side. Seems like there's a new property going up or being redeveloped every day. Strange, as this is not really a tightly-packed urban center. The idea is that condo living appeals to two diverse groups: Retirees who no longer want to deal with an entire house and accompanying property; and twenty-somethings that are just starting out and want a hint of urban adventurism.
anatomy of a sponge
You wouldn't think something as lowly as a natural sponge would do a better job at technological engineering than us humans. But that's the case with the glassy, or "Venus flower basket" sponge, which grows ultrathin glass fibers that are superior in design to industrial-grade fibre optic cable. Fibre optics are considered the backbone of modern, and developing, telecommunications infrastructure.

Interesting stuff. Even more interesting is the field of study that led to this discovery. Biomimetics involves the replication of natural animal and plant processes, like spider webs, to build better mousetraps (among other things, like velcro). It's being used today on things as diverse as building artificial heart muscles to exploring Mars.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

mixmaster cornelius
Oh joy! AMC is having an evening with the Planet of the Apes! It started at 8 o'clock with the original that started it all, then follows up at 10 with the second installment, Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

I'm embarassed to say how many times I've seen these flicks. I have fond memories of what was probably my first exposure to them (though likely not my first exposure to the characters, who spawned so much pop cultural debris). Back in the early-to-mid 80s, the local ABC affliate in New York periodically would show all five of the films on weekday afternoons, right as I'd get home from school. What could be better viewing entertainment for a pre-adolescent boy?

(Incidentally, I'm betting POTA is directly responsible for those legions of little kids believing that "guerilla warfare" was waged by real gorillas.)

I don't think I have to even say that the originals, hokey as they were, are ten times better than the 2001 Marky Mark and the Monkey Bunch version.

Of course, the greatest, all-time best version had to be the musical extravaganza "Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want To Get Off!", starring Troy McClure as The Human! I will admit, though, that this funkified edition is no slouch, either, especially when it can offer up Dr. Zaius, Live in Concert! (WARNING: That last link is not safe for the workplace or other discreet locations; if you dare click, be sure to lower your computer speakers' volume.)
one year old!
Wow, where did the time go? This here blog is one year old today! Hard to believe it's been that long; I still feel like a rookie (and I suppose I am).

One year isn't an awfully long time, but as you can see from the inaugural post back on 8/19/2002, the style of this blog has evolved a bit:

I pretty much expect this to be a random rambling of my thoughts and observations at the moment, with a more fully-formed essay thrown in there every now and again. A lot of thoughts run through my brain, some good, some great, some pointless, and some just downright bizarre. Since I'm online alot, chances are pretty good that I'll be posting a good chunk of them right here; so hold onto your hats!

"Hold onto your hats"--ugh! Chalk it up to opening-night jitters. Yeah, that's it.

My original intent was to do a little bit of everything that's associated with blogging: Some commentary on current events, some wisecracking on same events, some personal journaling. Since I was trying it after a long period of observing other samples from the blogosphere, I felt like I should attempt to write in a variety of different voices and formats, if only to see how comfortable I'd be at it. Throwing open these musings to the World Wide Web audience was alsoa big part of the equation, and I was looking forward to the feedback I'd get. Finally, I intended for this blog to be a repository of the various hyperlinks I always come across, along with my thoughts on them.

After one year, the end result--and to a certain extent, this blog is still evolving, so perhaps characterizing it as an "end result" is a bit inaccurate--hasn't been quite what I envisioned.

For one, I haven't dwelled on a great deal of deep personal stuff, mainly because I've felt rather awkward in doing so in this format. Partly, that's because I know my writing here is going out to a group of strangers, and while that can be a liberating feeling in one sense, in another it's inhibiting. I mean, no offense, but I don't know you people. From what I've gathered, my offline friends and family read this blog only occasionally, if at all, so it's not like I'm going to write a whole lot for an infrequent audience. Plus, I'm sure anything of that nature will be appreciated much more coming from me "live", i.e. not on a website.

Related to that, I've found that, for myself, the blog format just doesn't lend itself particularly well to long-form essay writing. I'm not saying you can't write a lengthy, well-structured piece on anything you care to--fiction, opinion, commentary, reminscences, etc. But for some reason, I can't, not on this blog. It could be due to something as simple as the layout, the font, the background colors. It could be that, as has often been suggested, content on the web isn't meant to be presented or consumed in traditional long form, but rather as shorter, bite-sized morsels--and for the most part, that's the type of stuff I offer up on this site every day. I'd say I was also influenced by my parent blogs, Memepool and WHUMP DOT COM, both of which specialize in mainly quicky entries loaded with links.

Keeping in mind that I still approach this blog as a casual endeavor, it feels about right. After all, I'm not getting paid for this--that's why the best, usable stuff is reserved for my paycheck jobs.

The repository function of this site, as described best here, in a discussion of Vannevar Bush's Memex machine, has and hasn't come to pass. It has, in the sense that my impressions on a particular news story have been preserved in the archives. But fundamentally, the reliance of a blog like this--or just about any website--on external hyperlinks that, in most cases, have a limited shelf life, in a way dooms it. I'd like to build something here that will last for years, that I could look back on decades from now and get a pretty complete picture of what was going on when I was writing and ruminating. I realize that the nature of nomadic data means that it would be a neat trick for these scribblings to survive long-term, but still, it's depressing to me to consider that, probably, at least half of the link I planted on these pages are irretrievably broken. (This is a chief reason why you'll rarely, if ever, see a post on here that simply says, "[link]Check this out[/link]"; I know that there's no guarantee that the hyperlink is going to be good in even a day's time, therefore a post like that, without any supporting commentary, is pretty pointless to archive.)

I don't want to make this sound like a total drag. Overall, I'm satisfied with what I've done here. I like that I've made myself stick to a daily writing schedule; that the writing is not always top-calibre is beside the point. It's rarely ever a chore; in fact, I'm more often frustrated that I can't write more here. So, I think I've gained something useful out of this.

Do I want to keep going? For now, yes. I'm thinking the end will be abrupt; I don't like drawn-out goodbyes. But for the time being, I'll continue the daily routine. It might not be on this URL, but that's something for the future. I don't anticipate much of a change.

In closing: I'd like to point out that the very first link I posted, on the endangered tree octopus, is still live. That's gotta mean something, right?

Monday, August 18, 2003

league charge!
Will Doug Flutie ever retire? Someday he will, sooner than later. But entering his 20th pro season, he's not showing any signs of hanging them up yet.

It's mind-boggling to think that Flutie is still around; he's already a part of college football lore, and his CFL career and NFL comeback have served to disprove his doubters. Most incredible is that he represents one of the last active-player links to the USFL.
You'd think the Greeks would be getting pepped up for next year's Athens Olympiad. But as the cost of preparations pile up, and the likelihood of no tangible lasting benefit coming of it becomes more apparent, the Hellenes are losing enthusiasm for the first modern Games to take place on their originating soil.

For the last couple of years, reports of a shaky build-up to 2004 has been having most observers predicting that this Olympics will be a disaster-on-delivery. I'm hoping those assumptions are exaggerated.

Here's what I don't understand: If the cost of staging the Games is such a strain on a small country like Greece, why don't they get the EU to pitch in? What's the point in being part of "United Europe" if they have to go it alone on an international extravaganza like this? A successful Olympics in Athens will benefit all of Europe, so the whole EU should be interested in pulling it off.
I've been out of aspirin for a while now, and I would have replenished my supply long ago, except it's one of those items I continually forget to pick up at the grocery store.

But on my last trip to the store, I did remember I needed a bottle. I looked for the smallest bottle I could find, and got that. Above is a close representation of what that bottle looks like; only the label on mine is different (if you look closely, the bottle in the photo has a Bayers Children label on it; being beyond the age limit for children's aspirin, I opt for the adult dosage nowadays).

Isn't that bottle the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen? The child-proof cap looks gargantuan atop that teensy-tiny little bottle. When I took it out of its box and saw it, I had to laugh. It struck me as funny.

Why did I buy such a small bottle (only 24 tablets in it)? It's not because I'm cheap, although it's nice to pay less. While I like to have the stuff in the house for the occasional headache, I tend not to have enough of those that would cause me to use up a big supply of aspirin. I've bought "regular" size bottle of aspirin (like 75-100 tablets) in the past, only to have them sit in my medicine cabinet for years until they finally go bad. Yes, seriously. Even with an expiration date 2-3 years in the future, the last couple of aspirin bottles I've bought have not been even half-used-up before I've had to chuck them in the trash. (Expired aspirin smells terrible, like stale vinegar.) So, I figure this tiny supply will last me a couple of years, and hopefully won't expire before I empty the bottle.

Did you know that, despite being around for over a century, aspirin still produces side effects and symptoms that doctors have yet to figure out? That's the case with aspirin, for crying out loud--what most people consider to be the most mild curative drug. They haven't even doped out a drug that's been in wide use for over a hundred years, and now they're aggressively pushing all sorts of new crap as cure-all solutions. That's why I'm highly skeptical of the modern medical profession.
When is a blog not a blog? For some, predictably those bloggers who've been blogging away since the 90s, it's when a hint of polish enters the picture.

This Economist article gives a good, brief overview of how the blogging movement is maturing, drawing apt parallels with the Web in general. In fact, I'd draw comparisons with the birth of other media: Radio, television, even publishing started as non-commercial ventures, dominated by small niches of practitioners.

The article does contain a couple of flat-out errors, though:

Blogger was totally free until Google took it over, and now it charges only for souped-up versions of its programmes—those that offer spell-checking and greater upload power...

This is why Google started putting advertising on some blogs after it bought Blogger, says Jason Shellen, who came with Blogger to Google.

No, actually Blogger was offering Blogger Pro, it's premium (non-free) blogging software/service, months before Google took over. Likewise, part of the deal on the free Blogger/BlogSpot service from the start was the placement of contextual ads on the blog pages; again, Blogger was doing this well before Google entered the picture (this part may have been misinterpreted by the reporter; I'm sure Google added it's own touch to the advertising placement after it took over, but as delivered, it makes it seem like there were no ads on Blogger blogs prior to the Google purchase, which simply isn't the case.) In fact, related to all this, I'd have to say that, so far, it doesn't look like Google has done anything with Blogger; the rollout of the 2.0 version of the Blogger software was in the works before Google took over, and while Google helped pay the bills on that, it doesn't represent any new infusion from the new ownership. I'd say the takeover has been a loud-sounding nothing to this point.

Steve Outing at Poynter takes particular exception with Dave Winer's comment about amateurism (i.e., lack of editing) being a prerequisite for a blog, and, since I am an editor, I have to agree with Outing on how ridiculous that stance is. There's more than enough unintelligible scratchings all over the Web that's not worth trying to decipher, much less read. To dismiss a blog that relies on a collaborative (writer-editor) effort is dumb.
They're creepy and they're kooky,
Mysterious and spooky,
They're all together ooky...

Well, it's not quite The Addams Family, but the iguanas that are overrunning South Florida are certainly a creepy-crawly pain in the butt. I've heard they've become as common a road-kill sight down there as armadillos and opossums.

Maybe they can make a fantastic monster movie about this. The precedent is Alligator, where some mean dad flushes his kid's pet baby gator down the toilet, where it grows into a man-eating monster! (And apparently eats Ed Norton.) It would have to be better than this clunker.
I noted recently on how the California Recall Spectacular effectively took the heat off us here in Florida over the 2000 election fiasco. I'm not the only one to make that assessment.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

oldschool has-been newschool has-been
It's been said that America has little tolerance for B-list celebrities. Sure, we wonder about whatever happened to Ian Ziering, but not to the point where we want to see them make an undoubtedly embarrassing comeback.

Thankfully, there is another avenue for these faded stars, one that keeps them in a spotlight (of sorts), while keeping them well under the top-tier radar. lets you hire the likes of Lorenzo Lamas and Lou "The Incredible Hulk" Ferrigno for a brief telephone greeting, all for twenty bucks. Brilliant!

I can see myself making use of this service. Who would I pick to call-greet my friends and loved ones? Freddy "Rerun" Berry would be my senitmental choice, but Ferrigno is tempting. A tough call.
Think of computer hardware, and you think of metal-and-plastic boxes full of wires and chips, the parts mostly non-moving but still distinctly mechanical. Don't expect your grandkids (or great-grandkids) to have that image of computers. By the time they reach adulthood, the structure of computational devices could more closely mirror biological cellular constructs, doing their input-analysis-output functions along the same lines that DNA manages the building blocks of life.

Fascinating, fascinating stuff. Much of it over my head. It's incredible to think of the parallels between two seemingly different scientific fields: Biology and computers/mathematics. The genesis of this new field shows the merits of drawing ideas from areas outside your established expertise, as Leonard Adleman did when he started reading Molecular Biology of the Gene.

I do wonder about how controllable this wetware technology is. As the article points out, biological functions can be as unpredictable as anything else in nature, with cancer being the most obvious example. If the aim is indeed to "someday inject tiny computers into humans to zap viruses, fix good cells gone bad and otherwise keep us healthy", then I hope they don't unwittingly create whole new problems to replace the solved ones.
In time of economic uncertainty, people take fewer risks and retreat to the familiar. So it shouldn't be a surprise that traditional board games, long derided for being too low-tech, are experiencing a sales surge.

But I'm skeptical about all the claims made in this article. So board game sales have experienced an increase--so what? They've been in the pits for years. Naturally, any uptick is going to seem huge. I wouldn't call it the second coming of Monopoly.

And what's this about electronic games?

Electronic games, usually played by one person, were popular in the mid-'90s, experts say, but board games can be played by a group, making them more value-for-money.

Have these "experts" ever played a modern-day video game? It sounds like they're fixated on the 1970s-era Mattel Electronic Football or something. You can play games like The Sims with your entire household, or with millions of people on the Internet now. Board games create more of an intimate communal gathering, but they're not the only way to get people together.

Bottom line, I think this is a bit of puffery. Any sales spike the board game niche is experiencing will disappear once the economy picks up, and then they'll be back in their usual downward spiral.
If you look upon The WB with envy, you know you've got problems. UPN is floundering under a combined $1 billion in losses since it's inception back in 1995, and much of that is blamed on a lack of consistent identity. New UPN president Dawn Ostroff is charged with imbuing the network with a recognizable brand identity, under dark rumors that parent company Viacom is getting ready to pull the plug on the whole shebang.

Some really good numbers and factoids in here.

I guess UPN is looking for a more flattering identity than the one that Public Enemy's Chuck D gave it back a few years ago; he declared the initials in "UPN" to stand for "United Plantation Negroes", thus showing his distate for what he considered to be pandering afro-centric programming.
Strange how life's little coincidences crop up. I was having lunch on Friday with my friend Kirby. We were shooting the breeze about the recent news events, chiefly the big blackout. Although terrorist action had been ruled out early on, that it instantly comes to mind in a situation like this speaks much about the state of the American mind at the dawn of the 21st Century. And when an American thinks of terrorism, s/he instantly, and wrongly, conjures up Islam as the root.

Following this train of thought, Kirb wondered why the representations of Islam we constantly see are exclusively of the radical, anti-Western kind. He knows he's not well-versed in the Muslim religion or cultural sphere, but to him, the steady stream of news reports makes it hard to believe there's any such thing as a moderate Muslim society.

I pointed out to him that, as far as the news goes, extremist events are what generate headlines and sells papers, so naturally that's what's going to dominate the media reports. In a similar vein, ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal Christian groups tend to grab more news coverage out of proportion to their actual numbers (e.g., Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell make the evening news every time they say yet another stupid thing; also, the recent Episcopalian gay bishop controversy brought more news coverage than that group normally gets). The moderate middle tends to not do or say anything all that exciting, and so doesn't make as many headlines.

They're pretty much the silent majority. That's the case with Islam, with huge populations in Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim country) and Turkey comprised of propserous middle classes that don't make many waves, and thus don't invade the American consciousness as much as radicals in the Arab world do.

As I hinted with the reference to the middle classes, economics and enfranchisment play a big role in this too. When you're fat and happy, your religion tends to be less radicalized (there are always exceptions, of course).

Well, I fumbled around trying to explain all this on Friday while lunching, when I could have referred my friend to Professor Bhikhu Parekh's look at the assimilation of Britain's 1.6-million Muslim population, and how they prove out the influence of high benchmarks of quality-of-life and economy on religious and cultural identity.
Cooked myself a little plate of pasta for lunch earlier today. I generally don't cook for lunch, and very rarely do I have pasta for lunch (although I'll make it quite often for dinner). Main reason I made this was because I wanted to try my hand at a new recipe for pesto-baked salmon I had come across.

It was just the type of dish I love to make: Very few ingredients, very little prep work, very little cooking time. While I like to cook, I don't like investing a whole lot of time and effort into it. So this was right up my alley.

It came out remarkably well. Just rinse some cut-up salmon, add a little olive oil, a little garlic, and a lot of pesto sauce. Then put that whole thing in a covered dish, and nuke it in the microwave for three and a half minutes. Then serve on a bed of angel hair pasta.

The biggest pain in the ass was preparing the pesto sauce. I went with a dry-mix pouch of pesto that I had to cook up with water and olive oil. Big mistake. Despite following instructions, the end result was of dubious quality, although it tasted fine when the final dish was all done. I should've gotten the prepared pesto sauce in a jar, but I figured I would never finish the whole jar, and so opted for the single-serving mix. Never again.
the kosher mc
(Thanks Memepool) If you're a rap fan--and good for you if you are!--but chart toppers like 50 Cent aren't kosher enough for you, there's good news: 50 Shekel is in the hizz-ouse. The tizz-emple, even.

Who is 50 Shekel? According to his bio, he is "the new Jewish hip-hop artist of his generation".

Hmmm... Let me go out on a limb and assume that he's the only Jewish hip-hop artist of his generation. I admit I'm not down with the latest and greatest on the rap scene, but I'd like to think that if there was a burgeoning Jewish rap movement, I'd have caught wind of it. Who is this guy's competition supposed to be, the Adam Horowitz-fronted Beastie Boys?

By the way, in case you're slow on the uptake: The shekel is the name of the currency in Israel, both in ancient times and today. 50 Cent, 50 Shekel.... get it? Good.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

The whole country is having fun with the California gubernatorial recall effort; how can you not when you've got 150 candidates running in an electoral freakshow? But from the start, regardless of the motives that initiated the recall, I felt that the wide-open nature of this election would have, ultimately, a positive effect by encouraging such a huge chunk of the electorate to get off their butts and go to the polls.

True, the notion that a simple plurality of as little as 10-15%, without the logical runoff, is enough to win the governorship strikes me as a stupid. Still, I consider this a good step toward increasing political awareness among all Californians.

In a way, observers note, the California recall represents an American version of the parliamentary system: a leader loses the confidence of the people and must stand for election again. In the 18 states that have statewide recall provisions, a recall is part of the democratic system of checks and balances. It provides a safety valve for a state that would otherwise be stuck with a deeply unpopular leader for the rest of his or her term.

Of course, you could argue that the only reason this election is attracting so much attention is the absurdity of it, and the presence of entertainment celebrity. If it were nothing but politicos and undistiguished citizens running, perhaps it wouldn't be causing as much of a blip (outside political news).

Friday, August 15, 2003

That would be the United States, in light of the massive power blackout in the Northeast that has observers around the globe taking (relatively) playful digs at the predicament.

The "superpower" quote was from former U.S. energy secretary Bill Richardson, who I guess would be in a position to make that assessment about the power grids that juice this country. (While the term "Third World" is effectively descriptive for backwater conditions, I wonder: Didn't the Third World cease to exist when the presumed "Second World" (the former Soviet bloc) went down? Then again, try telling that to some poor starving bastard in Ethiopia.)

My favorite zing:

"Now we understand why they (Americans) have been unable to get the electricity running in Baghdad," said 47-year-old engineer Ghassan Tombin in the Gulf Arab country of Dubai.

I don't think anyone should read too much anti-Americanism into these reactions; I think it's more just an opportunity to take a playful shot. Hey, what else can you do in a situation like this, where the majority of people got inconvenienced more than harmed?
Not just yet, but the goal is to have it in place and running by the end of this year! City bigwig Don Shea is aiming to turn St. Petersburg, my hometown, into a free wi-fi hotspot mecca on Florida's gulf coast. Shea is the president of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership, a group that can push this kind of thing into reality.

I can't wait! I'd love to be able to bring my notebook down here, find some outdoor cafe to snack at, and instantly hook up on the Web. Maybe do some on-the-street blogging.

Of course, this idea seems to ignore the likely objections from providers of pay-for wireless access, like Starbucks (two downtown St. Pete locations, with more likely on the way) and various hotels. How would this free wi-fi spread coexist with those services? Would it even be able to get off the ground if it was perceived to be hurting businesses? I'm crossing my fingers.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

It's reassuring to know that, if I ever get sent up the river (i.e., incarcerated in prison), I can throw a shoutout to my peeps over the radio.

This idea is almost certainly taken from another local Tampa Bay area station, the nonprofit WMNF. For years, they've had the Underground Railroad show from 11PM to 2AM on Saturday nights, all rap and hip-hop. The funniest part about listening to that show was all the phone calls they'd get from listeners who would give a shoutout to their friends/loved ones who were in prison. The sheer volume of prison messages was what made it so funny; at least every other phonecall was directed toward jail. WFLZ has just reversed it, having the message come from the inmates instead of to them.
Small wonder that I was able to catch The Front Page on TV last Sunday. It turns out the original play turns 75 years old today, marked from it's stage debut on Broadway. Professor Robert Schmuhl at Notre Dame offers up a nice tribute to Page's impact on the perception of American journalism.
le boudoir
It looks like my reports of's demise were greatly exaggerated. Not only is the site still around, it appears that the company has reached something pretty close to financial viability, with paid subscriptions now accounting for the bulk of its revenue. In other words, it's operating like a "real" magazine now.

Good news. It's nice to see Salon having pulled it off. Perhaps success here can serve as a model for future online media channels.
Well, the day came to an interesting end in the northeast. What's looking like the biggest blackout in history has struck an area of North America stretching from the New York tri-state area through to Ohio, including much of Ontario.

Naturally, times being what they are, terrorism was the first thing to come to mind. It appears that wasn't a factor; this looks to be reminiscent of the big power outage in the western U.S. in 1996. Still, the idea of knocking out a single-source power grid to cripple large population centers is pretty daunting.

I made about a half-dozen calls up to New York and Boston. I wasn't able to get through to any but one (to my parents). Most of the calls were to cellphones, and the circuits were overloaded, according to the canned message I got back. Of course, with the power out everywhere, the cellular towers that would transmit calls are all defunct, so that's the likely reason I wasn't able to get through to anyone.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Slapstick lives on in the 21st Century! Exhibit A: Ralph Nader got a faceful of pie today in San Francisco while in town to endorse a fellow Green Party member in the governor recall race.

But what's with the said candidate, Peter Camejo, trying to pin the blame on the event on the Democrats? Surely, he's heard of the Biotic Baking Brigade, based right in San Francisco? All they do is smack notable figures with pies. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to hear them claim credit for this.
When a household decides to take the plunge into high-speed broadband Internet, it invariably chooses to go with cable instead of DSL. In fact, cable outpaces DSL by a 2 to 1 ratio, and according to Yankee Group, that disparity is likely to persist as broadband adoption increases this decade.

Why does cable outdo DSL? I've often thought it was because the cable companies tended to advertise and market their wares at a higher volume (if not a higher effectiveness level) than phone companies do. That's certainly part of the equation. But I think I've found the best, most succinct explanation for cable's greater success I've ever seen from this article. According to Yankee Group analyst Michael Goodman,

"It's also a function of how consumers view broadband -- whether they see it for entertainment or communication."

Since many consumers seem to associate broadband with entertainment, he explained, they tend to choose cable. Those who perceive high-speed access as a business tool or a way to communicate with others are more likely to pick DSL, since the phone is viewed in a similar way.

That makes perfect sense! I can't believe I never viewed it that way before. It goes a long way toward accounting why most people never think twice about calling the cable company for their Web hookup. If the phone companies want to catch up, they'd be well-advised to position their DSL services with entertainment in mind (at least for residential; they're doing pretty well in the small-business market).
Yes, that might seem oxymoronic to all you telemarketing haters (that's like 99.999% of you, isn't it?). But there are degrees, such as the experience I had today.

I checked my answering machine at the end of my workday today. I had but one message. It was a recorded telemarketing pitch from my phone company, Verizon. The purpose of the call? To inform me of their great DSL service, and why I should order that service from them and start living the good life.

Sounds great! Except. Except that I have already switched over to Verizon DSL, and started using it less than a week ago. So the call was not only as obtrusive as any telemarketing call would be, it's also the equivalent of preaching to the choir.

Now, the timing of this call was interesting. As I said, I had just ordered DSL from Verizon only days ago. I can't say for sure that I've never gotten any telemarketing calls from the phone company before, but if I have, it hasn't been for a long while. So why should they call now?

The answer is that, by making contact with the company for a specific service like this, my phone number was tagged at some point as a likely prospect for buying other products/services. I'm sure it's all automated, from start to finish. That explains why the software system decided to call up an existing customer to pitch a service he has already ponied up for.

This, in a nutshell, is why I, and I'll bet most people, have such disdain for all the telemarketing, spam and direct mail junk we get. For all the claims of how targeted their pitches are, and how much number-splicing and analysis they do before launching their sell jobs, it's ridiculously obvious how slipshod these companies are when they send this crap out. The fact is, it's a shotgun approach, no matter what. That's why women get tons of spam that tries to sell them Viagra and penis-implant procedures; that's why 25-year-old single men get arts-and-crafts catalogues aimed for grandmothers in the mail; that's why 70-year-old retirees get phone calls that try to sell them subscriptions to Vibe. They are constantly trying to sell us things we don't want and never will want, and it's done with such obvious stupidity that we feel insulted to have our time wasted with such poorly-executed approaches. Until that changes--and I doubt it will under current conditions--the whole direct marketing game will be a sewer.
Speaking of the younger generation, here's a news non-flash: They prefer to consume their media in electronic form. People between the ages of 13 and 24 spend almost triple their entertainment time engaged with the Internet as they do with printed material like books and magazines. By the numbers:

Time Spent with Various Media Among Teenagers and Young Adults in the US, June 2003
Online (excluding email)16.7
Watching TV13.6
Listening to the radio12.0
Talking on the phone7.7
Reading books and mags (not scholastic)6.0
Source: HarrisInteractive and Teenage Research Unlimited, July 2003

Always interesting, but is this really news? Print material has come in dead last in the youth market for decades now, ever since the explosion of television in the 50s. The rapid acension of the Internet is the big story, but this too has been apparent for a while now.
Looka here: Market research in the UK finds that some 400,000 children under the age of 10 possess their very own wireless phones. I'm sure the numbers in the rest of Europe, and in the U.S., are at least comparable, if not higher.

Nothing blows my mind, or makes me feel old, more than the concept of kids having their own cellphones. It just seems so... wrong, somehow. It's a knee-jerk reaction, old-fogeyish, but that's just how it strikes me. Maybe it's because I didn't get a mobile phone of my own until my late 20s (when they really started to become ubiquitous, anyway). Maybe I still, subconsciously, think of wireless phones as a high-end item, as they were when those massive brick-like handsets started becoming noticable on Wall Street in the 80s. Whatever it is, I can't get my mind around the concept.

And yet, kids have their phones, and they're gonna keep them. I've talked to parents about this, and their attitude is that it's ideal for keeping tabs on their kids, keeps the home phone from getting tied up, and makes the kids happy. As this news item suggests, such a large youth market, connected to a device they absolutely love to use, makes for a primo advertising target.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

fjordly goodness
Just picked up some Valhalla Norwegian Ice Cream at the grocery store. I went for the Odin's Exciting Wildberries flavor; you know, seeing as how Odin is the head god. (Actually, I was just in the mood for berry-flavored ice cream, more so than for Thor's Chocolate Choc.)

Using Norse mythology to sell ice cream... I hope they don't have an ulterior motive, like promoting the revival of a pagan religion! I'd love to see some wacko Christian fundamentalist group work itself up into a boycott over this.

Anyway, I hope Valhalla expands its flavor offerings soon. I can't wait to try some Ragnarok Crunch! Hmm, on second thought, maybe I can wait on that one...

Monday, August 11, 2003

If you ever open a spam mail and think to yourself, "Why on Earth are they sending this to me?", this case study presented in Wired should shed some light on the way spam marketing works, and works well.

Honestly, the general population can be so fucking simpleminded:

All [customers] were evidently undaunted by the fact that Amazing's order site contained no phone number, mailing address or e-mail address for contacting the company. Nor were they seemingly concerned that their order data, including their credit card info, addresses and phone numbers, were transmitted to the site without the encryption used by most legitimate online stores.

"There was a picture on the top of the page that said, 'As Seen on TV,' and I guess that made me think it was legit," said a San Diego salesman who ordered two bottles of Pinacle in early July. The man, who asked not to be named, said he has yet to receive his pills, despite the site's promise to fill the order in five days.

I also liked the hilariously inept rogues gallery that's behind this chop shop:

Records on file with the New Hampshire secretary of state show that Braden Bournival, a 19-year-old high-school dropout who is also listed as vice president of the New Hampshire Chess Association, owns Amazing Internet Products.

Bournival refused repeated requests for interviews about his business. When approached for comment at a chess tournament in Merrimack, New Hampshire, last month, Bournival, who is a national-master-caliber player, ran away from a Wired News reporter...

An investigation last month revealed that Bournival's mentor and business partner is Davis Wolfgang Hawke, a chess expert and former neo-Nazi leader who turned to the spam business in 1999 after it became public that his father was Jewish.

It couldn't be funnier! I smell a made-for-TV movie in the offing.

But seriously, folks... This might be an entertaining example, but the reality is, there are thousands of outfits like this that regularly employ spam. The reason they send out so much of it so indiscriminately is that there's truly nothing to lose. The emails cost basically nothing to send out, and a return rate of only 2% more than makes it a successful business model. And as this episode so vividly illustrates, it's hard to go broke underestimating the great mass of stupidity out there.
In a move that everyone could see coming, AOL Time Warner is strongly considering dropping the "AOL" out of its corporate name, thus putting the final nail in the coffin of the most notable business merger to come out of the dot-com era.

But there's a twist! It appears that the name change request is coming from, not the corporate parent, but from the America Online division:

[America Online head Jonathan Miller's] rationale for seeking the change is that he is concerned that negative publicity regarding the parent company is often associated with the America Online division, the source said, particularly since the full name of AOL Time Warner is often abbreviated to "AOL" in news stories.

And from this, it's not helping the beleaguered unit from turning itself around.

That's rich! AOL management raided Time Warner with fistfuls of inflated stock options, took over the world's biggest media company, then proceeded to run what should have been a golden opportunity into the dirt. And now, the sputtering division that's dying a death of a thousand cuts is blaming the parent company for the mess it's in.