The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

BUT MINE IS
not that i've measured or anything
A funny ha-ha comic strip, forwarded to me by my friend Jill (who must be in a "I hate anything with a Y-chromosone" funk).

I wish I could find out the name of the artist, and/or the syndicate that carries this strip (if any), so I could link to the appropriate website. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find one, and "This Life" is a pretty tough title to try to locate on the syntax-based World Wide Web. If anyone knows more about this strip, let me know.
SURREPTITIOUS CELEBRITY PRODUCT PLUGS
A rumor that's odd enough to be true: Celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Denzel Washington are supposedly dropping paid-for product mentions amid their "official" plugs for their movie/TV projects while on late-night talk shows:

It's been a while since there's been any real drama to the late night TV talk show wars. About the most interesting developments have been Jay Leno's hosting of has-been California gubernatorial candidates and David Letterman's disclosure that he's going to be a father. But now a new type of urban legend is suddenly popping up and it concerns celebrity appearances - and product plugs - taking place during the late shift. The first of these has zany and buxom actress Drew Barrymore appearing on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and plugging - of all things - Kraft Singles. Unconfirmed reports have the Charlie's angel pocketing a hefty under-the-table fee. So it isn't surprising that a similar story has been circulating concerning the appearance of hunky actor Denzel Washington's appearance on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman." According to this story, Washington was describing working conditions while filming a new movie down in Mexico. Asked if he drank the water, Washington said he noticed the locals were drinking Coca-Cola and that he preferred Diet Coke. Again, the rumor has Washington reaping a sizeable paycheck for the mention. If these were true, one would have to wonder how and why the networks would allow it. If they were simply ambush marketing tactics it would seem to deprive them of potential advertising revenues. Then again, if the networks were to profit directly from these plugs, it would likely spark the kind of government scrutiny that would make the 1950s game show scandals look tame by comparison.


Pretty sneaky. And I used to look up to celebrities, thinking they were the most perfect people on earth...

Monday, September 29, 2003

TV VIEWERS STAY AWAY IN DROVES
The viewership numbers from the first full week of the new network television season are in, and things aren't too pretty. Established shows that are way past their prime, unexciting new series, and the sharp increase of more channel options through digital cable and satellite services are getting the blame.

One week means very little. After all, the weather is still pretty nice in most of the country, so lots of potential viewers are taking advantage of that before they end up indoors and on the couch for the next few months. And some demo groups are still finding the Internet to be more enrapturing than the boob tube. Still, if the trend continues, we could be seeing the start of the long-anticipated seismic shift that would mean the end of television as we've known it.
GOOD GRIEF!
my favorite little round-headed kid
Turn that frown upside down, Charlie Brown! The good news, courtesy of Gael Fashingbauer Cooper's Testpattern, is that Fantagraphics will be reprinting the entire 50-year run of Peanuts, including lots of never-before-reprinted stuff from the early days.

I'm already sold (although I'd prefer a trade paperback edition instead of hardcover; just a preference). For the longest time now, I've wanted a collection of the first couple of decades of Peanuts. I've read those little paperback collections since I was a wee lad, and always wanted to revisit those reprints in a more comprehensive form.

Granted, the strip really got boring from around the mid-80s on. But the earlier runs were gold. Can't wait to get my hands on this collection.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES (ON MANY FRONTS)
Searching for intelligent extraterrestrial life can be a drag, man. At least if you're a kook with an aluminum foil deflector beanie on your head, people will make allowances for your unstable state of mind. But if you have PhDs out the wahzoo, and your whole career is based on listening to the skies? It can be tough to get respect, even if NASA finally comes around to your way of thinking.

Still, better to be searching for alien beings than to be going out with one.

I haven't seen any little green men... yet. I did have a German professor in college, the late Dr. Ken Keaton, who--no kidding--often took notice of the little green men who would occupy the seats in the back of his classrooms, and would let the class know afterwards that they had been there. It was a surreal experience, watching him pause for a few seconds in the middle of a lecture, nod or shake his head toward the back of the room, and then resume. But he was a sweet old man. His only other idiosyncracy (as if he needed another one) was an irrational dislike of the Germanic Christmas carol "O Tannenbaum/O Christmas Tree".
MORE FISHY NUMBERS
ice ice baby
Not that I want to make a habit out of this, but since he's revisiting a theme he brought up last week, I'll roll with him. Larry Brooks at the New York Post brings up another instance that calls into question the NHL owners claims of fiscal distress:

Two years ago, the league opened the books of four teams - Boston, Buffalo, Montreal and Los Angeles - to the union in a good-faith attempt to lay a foundation for collective bargaining. Slap Shots has been told by a well-placed source with connections to labor that when the PA's forensic accountants completed their look at the figures, there was an approximate $50M profit-and-loss difference in the conclusions of the two sides. Imagine the potential disagreement, then, regarding the books of 30 teams.

Union and league officials are prohibited from discussing these findings under a confidentiality agreement. But Ted Saskin, the NHLPA senior director of business affairs and licensing, did tell us on Friday that the union does not endorse the NHL method of financial reporting.

"When we're able to look at full sets of numbers, our conclusions are dramatically different than the league's," Saskin told Slap Shots. "We find significant discrepancies, for example, in matters such as the reporting of revenue from suites and local television deals."


As always, the shape of the final numbers is in the eye of the beholder. Naturally, the players' calculation could be, and likely is, skewed just as much as the owners', only in the opposite direction. Without seeing the entire balance sheet, it's impossible to tell. Even that highly-publicized fan examination of the Los Angeles Kings' books last season was certainly based on only the numbers the Kings chose to show that guy.

The point is, the owners are the ones who hold all the financial records, not only for the teams, but also for the arenas they own (de facto if not always de jure), the broadcast deals they sign, the marketing agreements based on their season-ticket customer data, their merchandising, etc. Unless they present a full accounting of all this, we'll never know for sure how much truth is in their protests. As private concerns, they are, of course, under no obligation to reveal any of this. But that cuts both ways: If their books are none of our business, then their problems are none of our business either. Put up or shut up.

Brooks also notes a wild rumor of a three-way blockbuster trade: Jagr to Detroit, CuJo to Washington, Kolzig to Colorado, and an Avalanche first-round pick back to the Caps to seal the whole deal. Fun concept all around; I'll believe it when I see it, and I ain't expecting to see it (neither is Brooks).

Sunday, September 28, 2003

GOVERNING GENERALLY IN CANADA
Despite all the ragging we do on our Great White North neighbors, don't you sometimes wish we were more like Canadians? Not only would we enjoy a lot more hockey and (slightly) better quality beer, we'd also have ongoing debates on the quality of job our Governor General was doing.
DEATH FROM THE SKIES
You don't see this too often: A meteorite killed five people and scared hundreds in eastern India.

The idea of some sort of celestial object interception system has been kicked around for decades. An event like this shows how it's a good idea, but the scale of disaster is too small. If a huge chunk of rock ever hits a major (First World) city, then we'll see some action on it.
THE SOUNDS OF OUTER SPACE
We all learned years ago, from Alien, that "in space, no one can hear you scream". But it turns out that under the right conditions and with acute enough hearing capabilities, someone can. That's especially true if you're a black hole emitting a killer B-flat, or even one that produces a sort of music of the spheres.
WHY, SARAH SILVERMAN??
betrayed!
I found out this weekend that Sarah Silverman is now banging Jimmy Kimmel (no, I'm not going to link to his sorry Morning Zoo-style ass).

Why? For God's sake, why?

I love Sarah Silverman. He's hot, she's raunchy-funny, she lights up the screen in almost everything she's been in. Even in minor roles like in There's Something About Mary. And it breaks my devoted heart to know she's wasting her time with a schmoe like that.

I'll still enjoy her work. I just caught her last night in the sneak preview of School of Rock, and she was great as the bitchy bad-guy girlfriend. But please, Sarah, break up with that guy! And give me a call! (Yeah, right, but I can dream...)

Saturday, September 27, 2003

WHICH SPORT DO YOU MOST HATE?
We are forever seeing reports proclaiming which sport is the most popular, or the fastest-growing, or the biggest hit with young males age 18-45, etc. Consider, then, that there must be a yin to this yang, as Atlanta-based Sports Marketing Group reveals teaser results from a telephone survey of 1,000 Americans asking them which sports they hate the most.

The top five most hated sports are:

1. Dogfighting - As the AP's Steve Wilstein notes in this article, it's hard to believe anyone would not cite this as a hated sport... unless they preferred it to, say, cockfighting.

2. Professional Wrestling - No comment from me, since it's not a sport (as I often try to convince many a friend and acquaintence, in vain).

3. Bullfighting - Ole! We may like eating our burgers and porterhouses, but that doesn't mean we want to see pre-beef getting stabbed by some loco hombre.

4. Boxing - I'm a bit sad to see this up here, but not surprised. Three decades of massive corruption (as opposed to the prior seven decades of moderate corruption), along with untimely ear bites, have taken their toll.

5. PGA Tour Golf - Kind of a shocker! The sport of Tiger Woods? But I can see how golf is still perceived as a rich man's game, inherently exclusionary, and so would inspire some loathing. Similarly, the PGA Seniors and LPGA come in right after this, at Nos. 6 and 7 respectively.

Take this poll for what it is: A sampling. You really can read way too much into surveys like this, especially on the lower end of it, where the NBA ranks low in revulsion overall (19.7 percent), but a big deal is made over that being an increase over the last time this was tracked. It ain't necessarily so. I'm in the thick of analyzing poll data right now, and I know the ins and outs of it.

Also, I'm betting that the surveying posed a lot of the response options, rather than let people name their own sports. I doubt the average person would even know that dogfighting existed, let alone cite it as their "most hated" sport, yet when they hear that option, of course they'll choose it. (When I first saw the title of the article, "Most Hated Sports: Going to the Dogs", I thought that dog racing would be the sport singled out as No. 1; I'm surprised it, and horse racing, weren't mentioned here, and that those weren't kind of confirms that the responses were multiple-choice prompts.)

It should be noted that hate is not the opposite of love; apathy is. So there's some weird kind of dynamic in feeling so strongly about a particular sport that you "hate" it. If you really don't care for it, you wouldn't bother with hating it--you'd ignore it. (Probably explains why my beloved NHL barely registered in these results.)

My most hated sport? I really don't dwell on stuff like that. But let's say it's, oh, curling. All sweepers must die!
SEGWAYS WOBBLE, BUT THEY WON'T FALL DOWN--NO, WAIT...
five grand for this?
We've discussed before how cool those Segway thingamajigs are. Part of the sales pitch for these things has been that, despite appearances, they will not tip over, and if you insist that they might, then you are branded a fool, a scaredy cat, a maladroit.

It turns out that Segway LLC is the maladroit, as an operational design flaw related to drained battery life can indeed result in the otherwise always-upright scooter tipping over, potentially injuring the rider. As a result, some 6,000 affected Segways sold in 2002 and 2003 are being recalled and fixed.

I guess we owe our President an apology for making fun of him over his Segway tumble back in June.
X-KARAOKE
load up achey breaky heart
If Halo's not your bag, then Microsoft is hoping the ability to turn the Xbox into a karaoke machine and digital file player will entice the consumer market beyond gamers to buy the console.

This strategy is aimed at making gaming console boxes more like digital media entertainment units, able to do more than just games and to appeal more to the entire family. It's not an entirely new idea--Sony's PlayStation One played music CDs, and the PS2 expanded that playback capability to handle DVDs as well. The Xbox also has this feature, and in fact a major reason why I bought myself an Xbox was to use it as a DVD player. There are also extensive hardware hack clubs that have come up with many ways to turn both consoles, especially the Xbox, into full-fledged digital media players, with even DVR capabilities.

Whether or not people will really go for a box that does a hundred different things is debatable. I've said before that next-generation consoles like the PlayStation X are nice to have, but probably won't fulfill the wild expectations of a completely wired household. I think a few add-ons, like karaoke playback, will accomplish their purpose: To expand the market in modest steps. There's a small tipping point, though, as to how many things you can jam into a box like this before most consumers get turned off. Keeping it simple is the better long-term strategy.

Friday, September 26, 2003

THE SUICIDE CONCERT
From those dying, to those wanting to die--in front of an audience, yet--a planned concert event here in St. Pete that was to feature a real, no-fooling suicide onstage has been cancelled. The band, Hell On Earth (the site is down as of this writing, presumably due to the massive amount of traffic it's getting as a result of all this), is vowing to go ahead with the performance despite having no venue.

I could write quite a bit on this, as it touches on so many topics I love to ruminate on: Suicide, publicity shock tactics, sucky metal bands, euthanasia, and so on. But really, I think this all speaks for itself.
PAPER LION, SIDD FINCH, AND MEMORIES
God, everyone (famous) is dying lately. There was a wave of celebrity deaths two weeks ago, and now today, we learn that George Plimpton, renowned literary figure, has died at 76.

He had such a wide-ranging career, from being a patron to a generation American writers (notably through his tireless work on The Paris Review) to various dabblings in acting (notably, to me, his voice work as the pompous-sounding George Templeton Strong in Ken Burns' "The Civil War").

Also on a personal note, I think one of the primary associations I'll always hold of Plimpton is his stint in the early 80s as the celebrity product-pitcher for the old Intellivision Videogame System (their baseball game, specifically). I never owned one of them--and with those rotten disc-centric control pads, I didn't want to--but that spot somehow burrowed its way into my childhood subconsciousness, and remains there to this day.

But sports is where Plimpton made his mark as a pop cultural figure, and he'll always occupy a special place in the hearts of sports fans. There couldn't have been an unlikelier friend to the sporting world: An upper-West Side diplomat's son, with the snootiest accent this side of John Houseman, and "dilettante" written all over him. And yet he dove into the world of sports, not only by lending the poetry of his written accounts, but by experiencing them (even if under controlled circumstances).

Is it a stretch to consider his brand of "participatory journalism" in the world of sports a progenitor of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, and an indirect precursor to today's embedded journalists? Maybe, but I think there's some connection there.

So, thank you George, for Paper Lion, for the legend of Sidd Finch, greatest pitcher to ever come out of Tibet, and, to paraphrase, for convincing us all that there's nothing inherently wrong in having fun.
POSSIBLE BLOG DISRUPTION
Posting this weekend is in some jeopardy, for two reasons: I have a good bit of work to take care of, and my home ISP is having some significant problems. The ISP problems are on the infrastructure end, apparently affecting Florida (me) and California; they couldn't give me a timetable on when it will be fixed. The result is that pulling up any given website is a frustrating adventure. I will be in the office for stretches of time over the weekend, so I'll probably post a couple of things from the office. But my mind will be focused on other things, so no guarantees.

Update: It appears the ISP problem has been fixed, as I'm now whizzing along at DSL speeds. The work issue remains. Having full funcationality at home increases the chances of my posting stuff this weekend. Joy!
TELL ME BABY (WOO-WOO) WHAT'S MY NAME
One of the big justifications for music fileswapping, and an explanation for declining CD sales, is that there's a dearth of worthwhile new music being produced right now, and thus no big incentive for people to run out and buy up the latest discs. I think that's a crock as far as being a motive behind fileswapping's popularity--that has to do with cost and convenience--but there may be some truth to this being a particularly stagnant period in popular music history.

Case in point: The Rolling Stones' 1968 recording of "Sympathy for the Devil" topped the singles charts at No. 1 this week, displacing a remixed version of Elvis Presley's "Rubberneckin", a song originally released in 1969. (It's not clear from this CNN piece whether this version of "Sympathy" is one of the remixed tracks, or the original cut.)

Two weeks of chart-topping by songs that were made in the 60s, one by a dead man, the other by a group of guys perilously close to death. Both songs given deft remix treatments by masters like The Neptunes and Paul Oakenfold, but still. It's a sad time to be a pop music enthusiast; glad that I'm not.

For myself, I always preferred the Laibach covers of "Sympathy for the Devil", especially the "Who Killed the Kennedys" mix. Female vocals on that one really give the lyrics a unique vibe, I think.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

BASELESS IMPRESSION OF LUTHER
I've seen the television trailers for the new historical drama Luther a handful of times now. I've had no other exposure to this flick, no buzz about the making of, the stars, nothing.

So, going solely by the trailers: It looks kinda chintzy. I get the impression that I'm watching a promo for a made-for-USA Network miniseries. That's the result of presentation, of course. But that's the feeling I'm left with. Hopefully the film itself turns out to be better.
CLEAR AS BLACK AND WHITE?
going crazy passion and love
A news item from this morning's St. Pete Times Sports page, by Bucs beat reporter Rick Stroud. I would link to it on the newspaper's site, but it doesn't appear to be online; certain shorty items tend to not get transferred to the site (transition problems, I suspect, as most papers have):

Keyshawn: Tell me the difference

The image looked familiar. Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon went ballistic and screamed at coach Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman during their 31-10 loss at Denver on Monday night. A year ago, Bucs receiver Keyshawn Johnson had a similar run-in with coach Jon Gruden on national television. But Johnson said that while the incidents were nearly identical, their treatment in the media was not. "If it ain't racist, it ain't," Johnson said. "But you can't tell me they're not identical. Mine was run over and over and over again. All of a sudden, I'm 'asking for the ball', I'm 'going crazy'. But (Gannon) has 'passion and love for the game'. Basically, that's the perception. You tell me, I'm selfish. I'm a loudmouth receiver from the ghetto. And this is some class-act quarterback. And I've got some blond pretty boy as my head coach. So I attack him 'viciously, maliciously'. And he goes after his coach and he's showing 'firepower' and this and that."

-Rick Stroud


Now, Keyshawn has gone off on this subject before, as part of a more general commentary on why he seems to draw so much criticism every time he opens his mouth. He's been a media magnet from the day the Jets drafted him, and the book he wrote after his rookie season pretty much cemented his reputation as someone who's mouth outpaced his pro achievements. It should be noted that he's now a "loudmouth" with a Super Bowl ring, which, at least in the short term, will go some way toward justifying his outspokenness (unlike in the past, when a chief complaint about him was that he hadn't won anything). But the perception is that he courts all the media attention with his comments, and so he deserves all the flack he gets afterward.

Does race enter into the perception of Keyshawn? It's easy to look at his sideline and media encounters as standalone events and say that race has nothing to do with it, that it's just Keyshawn being the ball-hungry hothead he's always been, and getting appropriately ripped for it. It's even easier to look at it that way when other black players around the league manage to get their points across much more effectively by using more understated approaches. And there are plenty of examples of white players who put on histrionics on and off the field that make Keyshawn look subdued; sometimes they're successful at it (Jeremy Shockey), sometimes decidedly not (Ryan Leaf).

Race is an issue, as it usually is in this country. In football, it's usually about juxtaposition: Black skill player, white quarterback, white coach, etc. With Keyshawn, his reputation precedes him with almost every move he makes, and that clouds the issue considerably. It's not fair to maintain the "give me the damn ball" impressions made about him when he was still a rookie, but that's the breaks, and the fact that he derives benefit from all this makes it harder to be sympathetic.

When you do compare events like Keyshawn's sideline argument last year with Gannon's earlier this week, the similarities stand out. Gannon may or may not have had legitimate beefs with his coach, but that was also the case with Keyshawn. On the face of it, the situations and actions were pretty much the same. So why was the perception so different?

Reputations do precede, and that's the heart of it here. Gannon's known for being mostly mild-mannered, no doubt the result of going through a journeyman's career before finding success with the Raiders. So when he goes off--and this is a crucial element--in view of the cameras, it's acknowledged, based on his usual behavior, as exceptional circumstances. Therefore, he gets the benefit of the doubt. If he starts making a habit out of it--assuming that doesn't get him benched--then it becomes a broken record, and suddenly Gannon is a hothead too. With Keyshawn, it's looked at as more of the same, although it should be noted that the perception that he constantly carps about the injustices he has to endure is something of a stretch too--it's just that, when he makes those comments, they make for juicier news than the just-as-frequent comments that he's doing fine.

In any case, Stroud's report is good food for thought.
"REALLY, I JUST GET SICK OF IT"
That's Barbra Streisand, commenting on how the creative process ends up with her tired and bored with her own music.

Join the club, Yentl. I actually take a shortcut, and don't bother to listen to her warbling crap, before getting sick of it, and by extension, her.

Gee, what a coincidence: She's also got a new album coming out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

PREMIUM CROSSWORDS
Do you like doing crossword puzzles? Enough to shell out 40 bucks for a year's worth? If so, head on over to the New York Times and get your high-octane crossword fix. Not only will you get some super-tough puzzles, but you can also:

"Play Against the Clock," "Play With a Friend," and "Challenge Matches." The idea is that crossword aficionados can invite friends to collaborate or compete in solving the same puzzle at the same time. There's also a daily competition to see who can be among the first 10 to complete the puzzle online; winners' names are published in the daily rankings.

Now that's competitiveness. No doubt the 40,000 existing subscribers to this service will think so, too.

When I was in college, and immediately after graduation, I used to do the crossword puzzle daily, and maybe a couple on Sundays. I eventually got tired of them, in no small part because the answers were often the same day after day. More than that, though, was that the payoff was often far from satisfying: Either it would be too easy, and thus I'd feel no sense of achievement, or it'd be way too hard, and I'd get frustrated over a stupid little puzzle. So I bagged it.

I always considered the crossword to be part of the newspaper package, though, and would never seek out any additional crossword fixes. I never then, nor would I now, buy a book of crossword puzzles. Similarly, I don't think I'm enough of an enthusiast to pay for something like this.

However, the last couple of mornings, I have done the crossword in an attempt to get a mental jumpstart on the day. I think it's actually worked, too.
DO NOT CALL REGISTRY ROADBUMP
off the hook?
A couple of months after first filing suit, the Forces of Evil--oops, sorry, that should have read "telemarketers"--have succeeded in getting a delay in the imminent implementation of the Federal Do Not Call Registry, which attracted some 50 million people.

Like I said, the telemarketing industry really has nothing to lose by fighting this, because if the Registry does go into effect, telemarketers will be in for a rough ride. I'm hoping the court-ordered stay is just temporary.
BOOB TUBE NATION
Maybe LL Cool J can't live without his radio, but I daresay that for the rest of us, we'd have a tougher time without our TV boxes. That's why we have so many of them: 108.4 million households worth, according to the latest tally from Nielsen Media Research, who's job it is to know such things.

Of course, we can buy all the televisions we want--I myself am eyeing a new set--but that won't change the fact that there's still, alas, hardly anything on.
THE TASTE OF CHEESEBURGER--IN A STICK!
deep-fried yummers
What's that? You say you don't have enough deep-fried appetizers to choose from? And you're concerned you haven't been consuming enough dead cow? Then I reckon that the newly-developed cheeseburger fries are right up your alley.

Honest to God, do we really need yet another way to ingest artery-clogging garbage? Is devising the perfect fry-worthy combination of beef, cheese and breading truly the best use of research and development labs?

Maybe it is, as there appears to be plenty of willing customers waiting to stuff their faces with these little cholesterol bombs. Also take note of this chilling foreshadowing:

"We want beef in dessert if we can get it there," [Betty Hogan, director of new product development] said.


How's that sound? Some beef jerky-flavored ice cream, maybe? Sheesh, sounds like some concoction Morimoto would make on "Iron Chef"...
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING?
canuck-skis league-ski
Nearly 20 years after an influx of non-North American players hit the NHL, we may soon be experiencing an influx of overseas-based ownership. Russia's Pravda (growing up during the Reagan era, I never dreamed I'd be getting news alerts from Pravda--unless we lost a war or something) is reporting that Roman Abramovich, the Governor of Chukotka in far eastern Siberia, is lining up his finances to buy the Vancouver Canucks from current owner John McCaw. This follows his purchase of the Chelsea Football Club in England, a move that conjured up a good bit of controversy.

Like any major pro team sale, this one would have to get league approval, so nothing is really settled. If this is all true, it'll be fun to watch what happens, both from the league and the media/public reaction.

The knee-jerk reaction is that such a purchase is some sort of hijacking of the sport. Despite the long tenure of ownership by American John McCaw (not to mention the fairly recent purchase of the Montreal Canadiens by American George Gillette), I'm sure many a British Columbian, and most Canadians, will be aghast at a foreign (more foreign than Yanks) owner taking over an NHL club. No doubt, speculation will start on the Canucks becoming an all-Russian squad, even a farm team for the Russian Elite League (perhaps aided by recent comments from ex-NHLer, and current chairman of Russia's State Sports Committee, Slava Fetisov).

It's a pretty provincial attitude, but only time will assuage such feelings. If the Canucks were to win it all under the proposed Abramovich ownership, I'd think any negative feelings about him (in Vancouver, at least) would dissipate.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE BUCCANEERS KIND
buc-aroos league
On the way home from work today, I stopped at the grocery store. I spied a much larger-than-usual number of cars filling the mall shopping center's parking lot, mostly centered on the Beall's department store. My curiosity got the better of me, and I headed into the store.

Once inside, I saw a bunch of people milling around excitedly. I rounded a corner, and found myself only a few feet away from Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber. To his left was a long line of people waiting to get various items, mostly jerseys and t-shirts, signed.

I suppose if I listened to sportstalk radio, I would have known of this. It might also have been in the morning's paper, but I don't remember coming across it. Just as well, as the way I found out about this sports celebrity appearance made it a nice little surprise to end the day. What's more, I was talking on the phone with a friend while I was making my way through the store, so I was able to give some play-by-play.

I did not get in line. Ronde's a great player, but I wasn't in the mood to wait around for more than an hour for some ink, Superbowl credentials notwithstanding. I'm not much for sports memorabilia anyway.
SO LONG, BIG GUY
Sad news from last night, with the death of Gordon Jump. Only he could have played the forever befuddled Arthur Carlson on "WKRP in Cincinnati", a show I always adored.

When I was a little kid, I came up with what I thought was very clever, almost joke-like phrasing: Gordon Jump, but Norman Fell. Thus uniting two of the titans of late 70s situation comedies (tongue planted firmly in cheek).
PHOTOPHONE OR DIGICAM?
If you want to get into the world of digital photography, you've got lots of choices--and I'm not talking about just cameras. While there are plenty of those, including the disposable digital variety, one product category is coming out on top for picture-taking: Photophones. In the first half of 2003, more photophones--25 million units--were shipped out by manufacturers than were digital cameras (20 million), a trend that makes Poynter's Steve Outing happy.

It occurs to me that part of the reason for these numbers is that the digital camera market is more established, and therefore more saturated. Photophones are the newer kids on the block, so fewer people already have them. The real news will be if this trend continues five years from now.

I have to admit, when I first heard of the phone-camera combos, I thought it was a stupid idea, just another in a line of all-in-one MP3/PDA/phone/can opener gizmos that serve no really useful purpose (the can opener was a joke--just making sure no one's head explodes...). It seemed like one more gimmick, aimed more at distracting mobile phone customers from noticing how lacking most wirless services were than in providing real benefit.

But I've since changed my tune. In fact, I'm anxiously awaiting April 2004, when my current wireless contract expires and I can upgrade my cellphone to a photophone (actually I can do that today, but by waiting I can probably get the new phone for free, or close to it, versus around 200 bucks). I have to say, this is the one instance when combining two seemingly disparate functions--picture-taking and telephony--into one unit has turned out to be a good idea.

For me, and I suspect most people, it makes more sense to include photo-taking ability into the one electronic device that you're almost never without, and for me, that's my cellphone. I'm not going to carry a phone, AND a camera, AND an iPod, and my keys, wallet, etc. It may be easier if you lug around a backpack, briefcase or purse, but even then, you reduce your load as much as possible.

Monday, September 22, 2003

FINALLY, A DISSENTING VOICE
cash-poor for over 80 years now
It's hard to get prepped for the upcoming National Hockey League season without hearing ad naseum about how all hell is going to supposedly break loose due to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring. The owners sure want to keep the doomsday scenario front-and-center, with their recent claim that their teams lost a combined $300 million last season.

As much as I love dealing with the business side of the sports world, I think it's more than a little silly to worry about something that's going to happen after this coming season ends. Has the looming CBA expiration already affected rosters? Sure. Is it going to affect how teams are run and, by extension, play this season? Sure. Is there any point in focusing on it to such a degree? No. Especially since it's been drawing excessive attention since last year.

Beyond that, as always, I'm tired of the owners' word being taken as gospel on stuff like this. It never fails to amaze me how the media and the fans automatically side with ownership, as if we should feel sorry for billionaires who are crying poverty. That's what makes me glad to, for once, find someone, in this case the New York Post's Larry Brooks, question how it is that that NHL owners are losing so much cash, and what their motives are for squawking about it so insistently.

It's pretty obvious that I'm--to put it kindly--skeptical of sports owners' claims of money problems. I've read enough history of major sports leagues to know that the "We're broke" cry has been invoked year after year, from teams that have been operating for decades. If you take the owners at their word, some of their teams have been bleeding cash since the 1920s (and earlier). And yet, every year they keep on chuggin'. What also keeps on chuggin' is the arena, concession, parking and dozen of other revenue streams that the owners pocket, none of which they'd have an opportunity to get if not for their ownership of a pro sports franchise. So forgive me for not swallowing whole the stories that regularly come out of the front office.
EVERYDAY VISIONS OF HOUSE PARTY
head like a rocket, stick your finger in a socket
Today I saw some younger guy walking down the street. He had a squared-off fade hairstyle, very reminiscent of Kid, although nowhere near the towering height that the co-star of the greatest movie ever made achieved, back in the day.

Seeing this, I was sorely tempted to yell out, "Lookin' good, Kid! What's Play up to these days, homey?!"

Then, on balance, I decided I would prefer to not have my ass kicked.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

HITLER, HOMES & GARDENS, COPYRIGHTS
who's your decorator?
Here's a strange item. A 1938 article that's complimentary of Adolf Hitler's home decorating style has stirred a hornet's nest of controversy, ranging from fair-use copyright debate to pre-war attitudes on the Nazi dictator.

The copyright issue is fairly clear-cut: The copyright holder is well within its rights to ask that the material be taken out of circulation. Whether or not posting stuff on the Web falls under "fair use" is the heart of all the wrangling over fileswapping. I did find it a howl that this British idiot doesn't realize that American laws don't apply to him:

[British revisionist historian David Irving] said he would argue that posting the material was protected under the First Amendment and the public interest.

Laws of the United Kingdom do not, however, recognize the First Amendment.

Duuuuuuuuuuh! I guess that's why they fought that little war back in the late 1700s. Apparently ignorance is making a big comeback. Oh, wait--it never left.

As far as the perception of Hitler by his contemporaries: The article in question shouldn't be a stark revelation. The demonization of Hitler came during and especially after the war, in light of the Holocaust. Prior to 1939, he may have been viewed as dangerous, but he was far from being a pariah, politically or otherwise. In fact, Time Magazine named him the Person of the Year in 1938, probably the ultimate English-language media coverage you could get in the early part of the 20th Century. So to me, the discovery of some fluff piece from Homes & Gardens doesn't mean much to me.
ALL MY PRETTY PICTURES
Anyone who dives through this blog's archives over the next couple of weeks (or more) will find a bunch of pages with broken image links. My apologies. The missing pics are a result of my recent migration from dial-up Internet service to DSL. I'd been using the Web storage space that came with my dial-up account to store the images (both photos and graphics) I use with my posts. With many of my posts, it turns out...

So, now that I've got a new ISP, I've had to transfer all those images to my new Web storage account. This was accomplished fairly easily, once I got my hands on the right FTP client software. The big pain in the butt now is to go through the archives' code, through Blogger, and change the hyperlinks for each and every image file that had been housed through my old ISP. (During the first month of this blog's existence, approximately mid-August to mid-September, I was just hotlinking to images hosted on external sites; some of those links are still good, some aren't. I'm not going to worry about them.)

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be an easy way to do this--like, doing a search-and-replace throughout all the pages (I've preserved most of the original file names, with notable exceptions for the sports team GIFs). Unless someone can clue me in on a better, less time-consuming method (note: I'm aware that Movable Type and other blogging setups probably make this easier, so no need to bring them up), it looks like I'll have to go through every single day of the archives and change the appropriate code in every post that has an image. Ugh.

Since we're looking at a year's worth of posts, with daily postings, it's going to take a while. I'm going to do it little by little, so as not to completely lose my mind. Thank you for your cooperation.

One positive out of this: I am getting a kick out of revisiting some ancient posts.
REALITY CHECK: SURVIVOR EN PANAMA
pearly whites
It's that time again: The seventh edition of the mama of all reality TV shows, "Survivor: Pearl Islands", premiered last Thursday. In case you missed it, it's being repeated tonight.

I'm not a fan of Survivor, nor of any reality show. I've written on my distaste for the Survivor franchise before. One of my co-workers, a dear friend, is absolutely fixated on the show, so I have to do my share of suppressing my ridicule (most of the time ;).

But I am surrounded by hype over it, as always. And my curiosity has been piqued by the location: The Pearl Islands. I've never heard of them before, and I have an above-average knowledge of, and interest in, geography. Purely guessing, I had assumed the islands were located in the south Pacific, among the myriad tiny islands that make up Micronesia. It would be appropriate for the show's aura, that it'd be tossing its contestants into forbidding, isolated locales far from any civilization.

I did a quick search, and discovered the location of the Pearl Islands. They are in the Pacific Ocean--barely. Fact is, they are located just south of Panama City, Panama. While they aren't within a casual breaststroke of the mainland, they aren't exactly that hard to reach; in fact, they're something of a tourist getaway destination (a status which will, no doubt, be enhanced as a result of the show).

In other words, the miles-from-the-real-world sensation CBS is trying to sell on this show is largely bogus. (CBS is apparently looking to keep this under wraps, since, as of this writing, the words "Pearl Islands" on the navigation bar on the the show's official site have no hyperlink to them.) The contestants are probably seeing planes and boats, and even other human beings, on a daily basis. Yet another example of just how staged this stuff is.
WHERE SHE IS, MISS AMERICA?
Florida's own Erika Dunlap won the 82nd Miss America pageant last night. She's from Orlando and goes to UCF, both just 90 minutes due east of me.

Am I the only one who thinks, who cares?

I swear, I was completely unaware that the Miss America contest was going on this weekend. I heard or read absolutely nothing about it all week. I may not be completely plugged in on every single media and cultural event that takes place on any given week, but I am enough of a news junkie that I'm aware of relevant, broadly popular spectacles. This pageant used to be in that category; I think its invisibility this year speaks volumes about how far it's fallen from that place.

The 82-year-old beauty pageant, which saw its heyday as an American cultural icon in the 1950s, has struggled to remain relevant in recent decades amid changing social tastes and gender roles.

Television viewership has also slipped, reaching an all-time low of 12 million viewers last year.

How much you want to bet the viewer numbers sink even lower this year? I can't be the only one who didn't notice the ABC telecast. I say they'll be lucky to get 10 million. We may be seeing the last couple of years of this relic being broadcast on network television.

I think the years of assault that the Miss America concept has endured has finally taken its toll. And really, the ridicule has been well-deserved. What does it mean to be Miss America these days, anyway? Does the title really represent anything other than superficiality, only lately having more substantive qualifications grafted onto the crown? It's like, she's pretty and wholesome, AND she's smart enough to be a doctor too! It's trying to be too many things at once, and ends up meaning nothing.

Part of it is also the spread of other pageants that, while ostensibly not in competition with Miss Amerca, do siphon off attention and deliver more of what the old contest doesn't. Miss Universe, Miss USA, Mrs. America, Miss Hawaiian Tropic... To me, and others in my generation and younger, these all mean about as much as the Miss America title. What's more, you know that Miss Universe and Miss Hawaiian Tropic offer a lot more skin and better bodies; since that's what a beauty contest is all about ultimately, that's all you need (if you ever feel compelled to pay attention to these things in the first place).

Being Miss America meant a lot up through the 70s, and it's been a steady decline ever since. Not that the Miss America pageant is unique in this, but the only noteworthy news that comes out of it is controversy and scandal (and they "lucked out" in having none of that this year). The criticism that started during the late 60s from feminists and the left culminated in the 1984 scandal over then-Miss America Vanessa Williams's Penthouse Magazine photos; unexpectedly, since that event, Williams has come out in much better shape than the pageant! These days, the hottest thing to come out of Miss America is silliness like last year's winner going on an abstinence crusade.

Update: They got lucky--sort of. The 2003 pageant roped in just over 10 million viewers, still an all-time low. I'm really surprised it got that many; I was expecting more like 8 million, or less. Funny how ABC is saying that it's happy with that regardless, as it was enough to win Saturday night and the week.

Want to hear more on why beauty contests like this suck in general? Steve Timko shares his history with pageant shenanigans.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

SEX AND THE REALTY
While strolling around my fair city of St. Petersburg the last couple of days, I've spied a couple of commercial real estate "for lease" signs with an interesting name on them. The signs are up courtesy of a realty agent named Sarah J. Parker, whose name is prominently posted in big letters.

That "J" can't stand for Jessica, could it? It couldn't possibly be Sarah Jessica Parker, right? The big star and producer of "Sex and the City" likely doesn't have to take up a second career in real estate to make ends meet, especially not since the syndication rights for the show have just been sold, doubtlessly for mucho dinero. On top of that, I understand her husband makes a decent living, too.

If I had a little more boyish nerve, I'd call up the number on the sign and the question they've probably heard more than once. But it just seems too goofy to undertake. If Sarah J. Parker Realty has a website, maybe I'll drop an email on it. A casual search hasn't uncovered one.

Friday, September 19, 2003

GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL, ORIGINAL GANGSTA
word to thy mother
All those badass mofo musicians we have today? Nothing but poseurs, g. They're all trying to be like George Frederick Handel, a revered baroque composer who, unbeknownst to most of us, dropped some shockworthy tunes way back in the day.

Luckily, Apple's iTunes Music Store has spotted Deejay Handel for the doggy-dogg that he was. Earlier this week, iTunes tagged Handel's masterpiece "The Messiah" with its Explicit warning, putting the piece in the same category as many metal and hardcore rap selections (not to mention making it the only classical selection to be so marked).

Apple says it was a temporary mistake, but I think we all know better. West-siiiieeeede!
THEY'RE FICTIONAL, AND THEY MAKE MORE MONEY THAN I DO
all singin', all dancin'
The Forbes 400, ranking the richest people in these United States, just came out. The usual suspects are all there: supernerd monopolist Bill Gates in the top spot, a bunch of Wal-Mart heirs, and so on.

The editors had some fun storyboarding this year, as they also unveiled their list of The Forbes Fictional Fifteen.

The list is not species-specific, which accounts for the inclusion of non-human tycoons like good ol' Scrooge McDuck. Personally, I never realized that either Santa or Willy Wonka had that much scratch. But as soon as I heard about the existence of this list, I just knew that Springfield's own Monty Burns would be on it!

Note that Forbes welcomes you to add to the list.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

WUSA: BETTER DEAD THAN ALIVE
In case you hadn't heard, the Women's United Soccer Association shut up shop this week, abruptly but not altogether unexpectedly.

Funny how the WUSA's demise has prompted far more coverage for the league than it ever got while it was still operating (as of this writing, that links points to some 1,300 current news stories; this will decrease in time, naturally). I guess that's often the case: One is more appreciated after their loss in death than during life.
SPACE ELEVATOR
ahead of it's time
How's that old song go--"We'll take a stairway to the stars..."? Better make that an elevator, as in a space elevator that's actually got some serious theoretical history and brainpower behind it.

It definitely sounds like a kooky idea at first blush. Reminds me a bit of the old Umbilicus from "Mystery Science Theater 3000"--obviously (see photo above).

Arthur C. Clarke's involvement in this is a nice touch. He was probably the first science fiction author I avidly read (although I haven't read any of his stuff in years now). I do vaguely recall him writing about this concept, many moons ago.
RSS VS. EMAIL SMACKDOWN SPECTACULAR
There's a rather interesting bitch-slapping session going on between Steve Outing and Chris Pirillo on one side, and Vin Crosbie on the other. The argument is over whether the future of digital publishing (specifically for newsletters, but by extension other formats) lies in RSS (Outing/Pirillo) or email (Crosbie).

Linkage to Outing's, Pirillo's and Crosbie's arguments pretty well cover their views (although Crosbie's parody argument is a little tedious to read without constantly referring back to Pirillo's original list; this post and comments is a little easier to read, and offers a pointer to unfolding arguments). Breaking it down, the pitch for RSS stems from the spam overload that's clogging email servers and making it hard to break through the clutter to reliably deliver requested correspondence; this is supplemented by the latest round of virus spread that's further made email flow harder due to more rigorous filtering. The argument for email is that RSS is still an infant format that most people have never heard of, and thus can't/won't access as readily as the familiar email format.

Crosbie's bigger beef is his contention that the other side's argument is based on the assumption that email newsletters are falling out of favor, as an extension that all email in general is losing its appeal in the face of the spam wave. Crosbie's experience is that subscriptions to email-published newsletters and magazines are in fact gaining in popularity. Whether or not that's the case industry-wide, and if it will remain the case in the foreseeable future, is probably the most salient point in this free-for-all.

My feelings? I'm not overly familiar with the big picture here, and my experience as an end-user is probably typical of others'. A couple of things occur to me:

- Crosbie is right about RSS being far from a universally accessible delivery format. His argument that the dearth of RSS-reader programs on computer desktops and portable computing devices (PDAs, cellphones, etc.) means the format will remain stillborn may not pan out, though. Services like Bloglines are starting to make RSS more accessible to a wider audience by allowing the user to read the feeds through the familar browser interface. If these sites take off, then RSS could catch fire in a hurry.

- If RSS does catch on--and the expansion of the format among major outlets like the Christian Science Monitor, Yahoo! and the New York Times indicates that it is--Microsoft could have a big hand in advancing it by including a built-in RSS reader into the next edition of Windows.

- For all the problems that have cropped up with email, I don't believe it's ever going to die. I wouldn't mind seeing fancy-schmancy HTML-formatted email go the way of the dinosaur, as in my experience that's the type of stuff that's the biggest hassle in terms of script-aided tricks. I very much prefer receiving basic text emails; frankly, I've never seen a solid enough reason to send or receive anything with advanced formatting or graphics. URLs can easily be written out and either autoformatted on the receiver's end, or else copy-and-pasted into a browser.

- Outing and Pirillo are obviously passionate about the possibilities of RSS, perhaps to the point of forgetting that not that many people are as into it as they are. Reminds me of the self-enclosed community mentality that grips many blogging proselytizers.

- I think the continuing fallout from the SoBig/Blaster worms will have a big effect on email publishing. True, viruses have forever been traversing via email default settings, and that hasn't soured people on the utility of email before. But I've really sensed something different this time around, both personally and professionally, and it could really put a choke on the business-as-usual of business emailing. Could Outing's/Pirillo's assumption about email losing its usefulness come true from all this?

- It's my impression that RSS feeds appeal mainly to active news junkies and hardcore Web users, and I'm not sure that'll ever change. Similar to Usenet newsgroups, which have loyal geekish devotees, but have been dying a slow death since the website-centric Web took root. It could be that mainstream adoption will never happen, possibly aided by the emergence of some new online publishing/delivery standard; if so, then obviously RSS won't be the way to go.

That's what I think, for now. I'll be interested in hearing more about this, especially once cooler heads prevail.
ADIOS AOL
shove off!
The hammer finally came down. A month after the long-rumored move picked up steam from an unlikely impetus, AOL Time Warner is officially no more, as the world's largest media company has gone back to its pre-merger Time Warner moniker. Even their stock symbol will revert back to the old TWX instead of the current AOL.

It's very much a cosmetic move, but symbolically major. It really puts an emphatic nail in the coffin of what was the dot-com boom era, the ultimate triumph of old media over new (at least in an assimilative way). If the stock starts to rebound from this, it'll make the whole years-long saga that much funnier.

This brings to mind a similar recent corporate makeover, that of MCI "overtaking" its former WorldCom parent. The industries are different, but both this deal and the AOLTW merger took place around the same time, so there's that connection. All this will make for interesting chapters in the history of American big business.
PUSH-TO-TALK WALKIE-TALKIE
Even though the direct-connect talk feature has been around for years through Nextel's phones/service, it's just now spreading to other wireless providers. Verizon Wireless is getting ready to launch their version, and you can expect a pervasive ad campaign to announce it.

The catch with direct-connect (or push-to-talk, as it's known overseas) is that it works only between phones on the same wireless service. So you can't use it to contact your pal on a Nextel phone if you're on Verizon. Very similar to the way instant messaging is now set up.

In response to this conundrum, Fastchat offers up its service, which replicates push-to-talk through wireless Internet connection. This makes it possible to hook up this way with others regardless of service providers or phone models, gives you a global reach (taking into account the Web's global structure), and even lets you archive conversations. The AP's Jason Straziuso took it for a test drive, and found that after a little getting used to, it works splendidly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

CAMPAIGN FINANCE GRADES
The Campaign Disclosure Project out in California has released it's first Grading State Disclosure, which ranks the 50 States on how transparent their political contribution processes are by virtue of their campaign finance laws.

Interesting stuff. I'm glad to see Florida made the top ten, despite a middling C average. The technology angle sunk the Sunshine State, as apparently the Web resources and electronic filing mechanism was found lacking.

I'd like to see how this ranking system develops. Right now, it seems to need more substance. I'm not sure that subpar website navigation should be weighted enough to drop a State's ranking. Some more ranking criteria would probably help too; limiting the examination to just four items really doesn't give much room for variance.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

SLEEPING-STATE BODY LANGUAGE
perchance to dream
Pick your sleepy-time position. Or rather, let it pick you, because the way you lay in bed reveals a lot about your personality, according to a new study from the UK's Professor Chris Idzikowski at the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service.

Based on my personal experience, I have to question the validity of the findings. My sleep position is that of the Freefaller (the second-rarest--I feel special!), which would tag me as gregarious and brash. I feel secure is proclaiming that no one I know would even think of describing me in those terms. On the other hand, the nervy, thin-skinned, aversion to criticism or extreme situations part is probably somewhat true. Maybe I should start sleeping in the fetal position?
FOOTBALL, HOLLYWOOD-STYLE
Much as MTV has moved away from showing actual music videos most of the time (I read recently that videos pull in the weakest ratings of anything they air), the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN for short, or "espen" if you're really down with the sound) seems intent on establishing programming options that are an alternative to its bread-and-butter of sporting events and news. Why? Because non-sports shows have higher upside potential: Better shot at catching a more universal audience, etc. So gameshows and reality fare, along with a healthy serving of movies, have been thrown against the wall up in Bristol, just to see if anything will stick. All are sports-related, or at least competition-related, in theme--for now.

The latest experiment is "Playmakers". It's basically an up-to-date version of North Dallas Forty (more so, I think, than Any Given Sunday), except it's padded to mini-series length. All the dirty dealing you suspect your sports heroes of--crack smoking, steroid-popping, infidelity, gratuitious violence, general sneakiness--is on display on a team that looks like an NFL club, plays like an NFL club, but please remember, is definitely not an officially-licensed NFL club. (Let's get that straight, before Disney/ESPN offends its broadcast partner.)

In any case, "Playmakers" has not gained many fans among the NFL players' community, because it's over-the-top storylines and portrayals are charged with being damagingly negative. Upshot: Don't even think of buying the boxed DVD edition of this series as a Christmas gift for Warren Sapp, baby.

It should be pointed out that, while the criticism from the players is valid, you have to remember: This is Hollywood. They're not going for an accurate portrayal--not even close to it. Wildly exaggerated, even absurd, situations are what draw viewers in and gets them talking. Shows about the medical and legal professions do the same thing, to the derision of those real-life professionals. While you could debate whether most viewers are smart enough to distinguish this exciting fantasy from not-quite-as-exciting reality, it's still naive to expect any better from the movie folks.

North Dallas Forty and (to a much lesser extent) Any Given Sunday drew the same gripes when they came out. The league was especially sensitive to North Dallas, and fought hard against it; it pulled its active participation in Any Given Sunday after getting a good look at that script. How it will react to this presentation by business partner Disney is debatable. I'm thinking if Tagliabue and Company had any real objections to it, they would have put up more of a fuss ahead of time.

I watched the first episode of "Playmakers"; mainly I was drawn in by the gimmicky inaugurual presentation that had no commercial breaks. I've since caught the last ten minutes of the third or fourth episode. Obviously, it didn't grab me. I don't think it's particularly well-made: The acting is at best adequate, at worst (like with the incumbent running back who's in danger of losing his job) laughably stiff; the pacing and narrative are pretty poor as well.

Do others agree with me? Is that why the ratings have dipped with each new episode? I'd like to think that, but I seriously doubt it. Rather, I think ESPN outfoxed itself by waiting until September to premiere it. I'm sure the thinking was that the start of football season means rabid fans will want as much football-related stuff they can get, even in fictional drama form. But I think the opposite happened: With the start of the real thing every Sunday, who needs to watch this fairy tale? I actually think that if they had run it during the summer, it would have done great. Hell, I'm so desperate for some real sports programming during the summer (I'm aware of snoozeball--I mean, baseball), I'd probably have eaten it up.
WHO NEEDS PROOFREADERS?
Something humorous I got forwarded to me at the office today. I guess it's true: Grammar is overrated! All those subliterate Internet dwellers know what they're doing after all.

Amzanig!!!

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

amzanig huh?

Monday, September 15, 2003

HAPPY HUNDREDTH, HERALD!
Birthdays are often occasions to treat yourself to a makeover. And when you hit the big one-oh-oh, there's even more reason. Of course, the Miami Herald has a more compelling reason to launch a major layout redesign as it hits it centary mark--like most American dailies, its core readership is literally dying off, and so new generations need to be lured in.

I love layout talk:

A major difference is a new feature called "5-Minute Herald," a single page on the back of the local section printed vertically, with a collection of briefs highlighting the biggest news and sports stories of the day. "It is our hope that the time-pressured person can know what we think are the most important things in the paper," he said. "5-Minute Herald" is one of several new navigational devices, which include a new left-side rail on Page One, as well as each section using a color-coded system similar to USA Today. The paper also will utilize "Smart Boxes," short blocks of information with stories offering nuggets of facts pertinent to the article. The Herald's broadsheet feature section, "Living and Arts," becomes a tab in this design.


A glance at the new design can be seen here on their subscription page, for now. Their 5-Minute Herald feature is also now a part of their online edition.
A LICENSE TO SURF?
The rapid spread of the SoBig/Blaster worm recently gave rise to the question of whether the average person has any business monkeying around on the Internet. Failure to install patches, leaving ports wide open, eschewing firewalls and virus protection... the list of transgressions against Mr. and Ms. Average Computer User goes on and on. Virus writers rely on the fairly unsophisticated nature of the casual surfer to help along the spread of all those wicked wares.

How do you stop all these irresponsible reprobates? You propose the implementation of a licensing system, whereby anyone wanting access to the online world must first pass some sort of certifying tests.

First off, the chances of this happening are nil. The Web has become such an ingrained part of the United States' media and information structure that there's no way to not have wide-open access to it. Even homeless people are expected to be able to get to a public library computer to get information to help themselves (if they're so inclined). Plus, there's no way to enforce something like this on a worldwide level, and the lack of universality on this makes it pointless. So the argument is largely academic.

Beyond that, it's interesting to consider the approach that resulted in this idea: Basically, it places the bulk of the blame for all the virus-caused havoc that sweeps through the Net on the enduser. Not everyone agrees with this. You could argue that the ultimate blame lies with companies that fail to build in enough security and proper default settings into their software; and since the ubiquitous Microsoft operating system and programs are the most frequent targets, the Big Redmond Machine is the one that gets the most flack for the frequent messes that happen.

Who's more to blame? While it's impossible to devise a 100 percent secure system, I think MS deserves a lot of the criticism it's getting. How many patches is it going to release this year alone? Rather than rushing its next OS out the door, which seems to be its modus operandi, it should take security and accessibility issues into account the very first thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

BILL O'REILLY AND THE SHUT-UP FACTOR
Devotees of "The O'Reilly Factor" probably are aware of Bill O'Reilly's low tolerance for dissent. He'll generally let you know when he's reached his tolerance level by telling you to shut up. Jack Shafer at Slate offers up a list of some of O'Reilly's more memorable "shut up" moments over the years.

I think it's safe to say that O'Reilly's using the phrase in the traditional meaning, rather than in the new-style positive sense.

Like I've said before, I used the phrase myself quite a bit while growing up. My parents really hated hearing it, and managed to curtail my use; while it's in my lexicon today, I can't say I resort to it very often. In light of O'Reilly's example, I guess I ought to thank Mom and Dad.

(An aside: When I visited "The O'Reilly Factor" site on Fox News just now, I was greeted by a large, prominent banner ad for--of all things--the New York Times! Talk about sleeping with the enemy, for both sides...)
BEN-LO: THE END OF THE AFFAIR?
still jenny down the block how's my hair?
You could have seen this coming after the big Gigli bomb (at least that flick is Number 1 at something, as of this writing, although I'd still give it to Manos). If these things can be believed, it appears that the Affleck and Lopez union is now Splitsville, baby.

No Ben-n-Jen wedding? Oh no! Now we'll never know what the divorce would have been like!
SWEDISH VOTERS SHOOT BLANKS
Today was referendum day in Sweden, as the voters decided whether or not to join most of the rest of the European Union in adopting the Euro as the national currency. Sweden would remain an EU member regardless, but business and economic issues with other member countries would be complicated by sticking with the krona. Coloring the voting was the shocking stabbing death of the country's pro-Euro foreign minister Anna Lindh last week.

The people spoke, and rejected the Euro. While the 97 percent turnout was impressive, what I found even more impressive was what 2 percent of those voters did:

Some 2 percent of the ballots were reported to be blank, confirming, at least initially, the prediction of some analysts that many Swedes might choose to cast their ballot as a show of support for democracy after Lindh's death on Thursday , but were still undecided about the euro issue.

"I thought about this for I don't know how long," said one undecided voter, a 32-year-old junior high school teacher, voting under an unseasonably sunny sky in the western part of the capital. "I chose a blank ballot. I decided I can't decide. But I wanted to use my right to vote."


Imagine--people who value their right to vote so much, that they'll trudge out to the polls even if they're undecided on which way to vote. Stunning. A stark contrast to the American voter, who typically can't be bothered to get off his/her fat ass to cast a ballot.
LIQUID CIGARETTES
liquid smoke
If you're a smoker AND a barfly, you're starting to see the handwriting on the wall. New York State and Florida recently passed laws outlawing smoking in restaurants and (in the case of Florida) most bars. California, of course, has had such laws on the books for a couple of years. It's only a matter of time before this spreads to the rest of the country, either state-by-state or (more likely) on the Federal level.

What's a nicotine addict to do? Turning more fully to alcohol is one option. And some creative bartenders now are making the booze even more appealing, because they're devising cigarette substitutes in pourable form:

- In New York, the Smokeless Manhattan treats the smoker's tastebuds to the Flavor Country that is Marlboro Reds. Unfortunately, taste is all you'll get; there's no nicotine kick to this concoction. It sounds pretty disgusting: Churchill's port wine, Laphroaig scotch and orange bitters... yuck! On the other hand, I have no doubt it delivers what it promises--like drinking an ashtray, to modify a popular explanation against kissing a smoker. I guess this would appeal to the same schlubs who like non-alcoholic beer.

- In South Florida, the nicotini goes for substance over style, as the main thrust of this drink is infusing vodka with tobacco leaves, thereby providing the drinker a wicked kick. The nicotini is available in two flavors: Menthol, with creme de menthe, and Black Lung, with coffee-tinged Kahlua. The verdict?

"It tastes like a cross between vodka and chewing tobacco," said Fort Lauderdale resident Jonathan Cook after trying his first nicotini. "That's not necessarily a bad thing."


Whatever you say, dude.
COACH DOGG
for rizzle
It's Sunday--football day! What better day to learn about Snoop Dogg's new gig as coach of his son's junior-league football team?

Imagine some of the playcalling from Coach Dogg: "Okay my chizzles, we're gonna run the rizzle-dizzle, with a fake-reverse pizzle." No danger of the other team catching wind of the play, because they probably won't understand it anyway.

You just know that the Orange County Junior All America Football League has it's own website (a rather crappy one, though). As does Snoop's team, the Rowland Heights Raiders. No sign of Snoop, aka Calvin Broadus, on either site, though.
SEE YOU LATER, E-BOOKS
Who says the digital age has no new-wave casualties? Electronic books and dedicated e-book reading software and hardware were all the rage back around the turn of the century. Microsoft, Adobe Systems and other heavyweight companies bet big on them, and the market was anticipated to hit $250 million by 2005. I myself was sorely tempted to buy one of those shiny new e-book reading tablets, so awed was I by the concept of having bunches of reading material in a compact package.

Well, three years into the experiment, e-books appear to be not ready for primetime. They haven't taken off in anything more than a niche way, and so the powers that care are hanging back for the time being.

Interesting that the two groups identified as being most receptive to e-books are the demographic extremes: kids and baby boomers/elderly. I recall years ago that these same two groups were considered to be the greatest beneficiaries of the wired revolution, because both had the most inclination and the most amount of time to learn how to adjust to the digital life. Not sure how true that was then, and I'm not sure how true it is now in the case of e-book adoption.
CONTEXTUAL ADS TANKING
In the world of Internet advertising, contextual ad placement has become the greatest thing since sliced bread. In hype terms, anyway. While companies like Google and Overture (soon to be acquired by Yahoo!) have made this ad format their bread-and-butter, there's increasing industry evidence that contextual ads aren't any more effective than the old static banner ads.

Frankly, I'm not overly shocked that something that Google has been trumpeting has turned out to be full of hot air. Google's entire business seems to be built on overhype, and the ceding of search techology by companies like Yahoo! that went into the ill-advised portal business in the late 90s.

The technology behind placing these ads is far from perfect, as the usual example of a luggage ad appearing alongside an airline crash so ablely demonstrates. Beyond that, the real problem is presentation: These ads tend to be boring little text boxes that blend into the background--in some ways, worse than the old banners. Who cares what the wording is in those boxes, if it just sits there?

The most effective ads for online are going to be Flash- and Java-based embedded ones. They're as obtrusive as pop-ups, but harder to get rid of.
FROM DARKNESS TO (IMPERFECT) LIGHT
breaking it down
Blindness has always been of special interest to me; I've written, briefly, about the subject before. So any news item about the experience, and advances relating to it, always catch my attention.

The story of Mike May is one such item, and a really unique one at that. May lost his sight before his fourth birthday, then had it restored 43 years later. But the unusual progression of his case has revealed some intriguing things about just how vision develops on a neurological level, and what happens when the pertinent areas of the brain atrophy for decades.

The chart at right has some really good examples of what's going on with May. It's fascinating to me.

It turns out that May kept a journal/blog on his experience back into sight. What a great opportunity for insight. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be updated very often. Still, a good read.
INCIDENT AT BAYWALK
jampacked
The photo above shows what 500 people filling up St. Petersburg's BayWalk shopping center looks like. This was the scene yesterday evening, when some jackass calling himself "the Money Man" spread the word that he'd be tossing $2 bills into the crowd, which caused injuries to 12 people.

I almost was at this mob scene. I had been considering going to the movies at BayWalk, and maybe hanging out afterwards for the nightlife. The only reason I didn't was because I was pretty well wrecked all day yesterday, the result of too much partying and too little sound sleep during the previous night.

I wonder how word of this stunt got around. It's strange that such critical mass could have built throughout the Bay area. I suspect this Money Man (I originally read the headline as "Monkey Man", which, upon reading the article, fits better) worked at making sure a big crowd would materialize; doubtless it's designed to drum up more business for his realty operation. I sure didn't hear about it, but again, I was out of it for most of the day.

Of course, you have to lay a lot of the blame on the idiots who were trampling each other for a measly few bucks. It's amazing what people will do.

Update: I was wondering how the word spread so far and quick about this, leading to such a crush of people showing up. Turns out Money Man had the foresight to alert the media:

Several TV stations, radio stations and newspapers carried advance stories about the giveaway on Friday night or Saturday morning. At least two television stations used the Money Man story in commercials to attract people to their Friday newscasts.


I figured it had to be something like that; there is no real "word on the street" buzz in this area that would enable news like this to spontaneously travel. As I never watch or hear the local news, it also reinforces why I didn't hear anything about this.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

DEATH TIMES FOUR
It's been a big week for celebrity death. The death of any man or woman deprives us all, of course. But let's face it, the passing of the rich and famous is what grabs the headlines. So it was with Leni Riefenstahl (age 101), Warren Zevon (56), John Ritter (54) and Johnny Cash (71).

I've said before that high-profile passings tend to come three at a time, and I confess that, based on that belief, I held off on posting anything about Riefenstahl's and Zevon's deaths earlier in the week. I didn't expect the body count would increase to four!

Well, enough morbid talk; even I have some scruples. Just some brief notes on my impressions of those lost:

- Riefenstahl: No offense to the other three, but she's easily the most historically significant of the bunch. I couldn't believe she was still alive, and super-active in photography and film-making, when I saw The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl ten years ago (can't believe it was that long ago!). In fact, I was more shocked that she hadn't been locked up after World War II, as she was such a prominent member of the Nazi regime (naturally, she spent the rest of her life denying just how deeply she was involved with Third Reich policies, often contradictorally). Her life was a good example of the general difficulty most people have in separating the artist from her artwork, as Triumph of the Will and the Olympia films still shine as examples of masterful film-making.

- Zevon: I'm not a big music fan in general, so I can't say that I was a fan of Zevon's. Still, I liked his popular ditties, like "Werewolves of London", although I think the less-played "The French Inhaler" is my favorite. The circumstances of his death, where he was diagnosed terminal a year ago, made the time leading up to his demise noteworthy. His appearances on David Letterman made him more memorable to me.

- Ritter: This one was a total shocker. When I saw the obit report early Friday, I was waiting for its revelation as a hoax. Alas, the guy I grew up watching on "Three's Company" truly did meet an untimely end.

- Cash: Much of what I said about Zevon applies here, both because they were musicians and their ends were foreseeable. I did, just this morning, just see the video for his cover of "Hurt"; it was very well-crafted.
GAME BOY VIDEOPHONE
phoneboy
This is a neat little gizmo. Campho Advance is a device add-on for Game Boy Advance that turns the handheld videogame console into a videophone.

It works only if the person on the other end of the line has the same equipment; also doesn't seem to be wireless, which would be a natural for a portable device like this. Still, this is cool. It's got more value as a gee-whiz toy than as a real phone. As usual with this kind of stuff, it's available only in Japan.
SWEATING UP A STORM
I've been concerned about the amount of sweating I do lately whenever I sunbathe. I've always been a fairly heavy sweater, but for the last several months, it's been ridiculous. An hour of sun time results in my beach towel getting drenched--not just a little damp, but actually wet, almost to the point of dripping. My swim trunks are at least as saturated, usually more. Even accounting for the monstrous levels of humidity in the Tampa Bay area, my sweat glands seem to be working overtime.

I don't have a problem with excessive sweating in general. My hands never get clammy, my armpits tend to stay dry, and even a brisk walk or jog won't make me break out into tremendous perspiration. But if I get just ten minutes of heavy sun exposure, it's Sweating to the Oldies time, times 20!

I guess I first attributed this to aging, a side effect of the inevitable creep toward middle age. But from what scant research I've done, it seems that it's more typical for a person to sweat less as s/he gets older. Something about higher heat thresholds, etc. I seem to be doing the opposite.

The thing is, all this sweating is probably a healthy sign. Despite the general stinkiness and messiness, sweating indicates your body is doing the job of keeping things cooled down. Inability to sweat is a more acute problem, resulting in heatstroke.

Anyway, it could be worse. I could be suffering from hyperhidrosis, apparently the scourge of countless Canadians.