The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, October 31, 2003

"COMPETITIVE" ECONOMIES
In news that's apparently a bigger deal internationally than it is Stateside, the World Economic Forum released its annual Global Competitiveness Report, with Nokia-home Finland coming out on top.

I'll have to dig into this deeper when I've got more time and mental focus; luckily the WEF seems to have plenty of stuff available online.

One surface impression is that the criteria might be more favorable, in some respects, to developing countries. A big deal is being made over Italy being the bottom-feeding EU member in this survey, below even Greece and Malta. Italy is a major economic engine, as big as the UK and France. So I'm not sure how they're defining "competitiveness".
THE SCIENCE OF FEAR
Just a couple of days after I ruminated on what makes you scared cinema-wise comes this article on a scientific study on the psychological underpinnings of what makes horror flicks work.

The book, Film Structure and the Emotion System by Georgia State University professor Greg M. Smith, is unlikely to be a best-seller; it looks like an academic text. But the subject matter is worth a page turn.

I do object to one thing:

Smith argues that pacing and mood-setting are more important to a scary movie than the quality of special effects. When a movie-maker has a crack special effects team but flubs the mood, even graphic violence can seem ridiculous. Starship Troopers, anyone?

I don't know if it's Smith or the reporter who brings up Starship Troopers as an example of hokey horror, but whoever it was, he's an idiot. ST was not intended to be a scary movie, moron. The violence is over-the-top on purpose, for humorous effect. Not surprisingly, that sort of satire tends to fly over the heads of the more simpleminded. (Now, from the looks of it, Starship Troopers 2 likely will go for the scary gore minus the humor, which will unfortunately reflect poorly on the original; I'm making that assumption because Paul Verhoeven isn't directing the sequel. A look at Verhoeven's filmography will reveal, surely enough, liberal use of cartoonish violence in his flicks--again, this confuses the dumber elements of society.)

Thursday, October 30, 2003

SNOOP DOGG, PLAYA-MAKER
not playa-hatin'
I see from the promos that the one-and-only Snoop Dogg is going to be guest-starring on ESPN's much-talked-about "Playmakers".

No doubt, Snoop landed the gig by virtue of his current stint as coach of his son's peewee football team.

I love the Dogg to death, but I'm afraid he's not enough to entice me to make time for "Playmakers", tonight or any other night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

LITIGIOUS LIKE A FOX
calling lionel hutts
Doing nothing to blunt the perception of conservatives as wild-eyed pitbulls, Fox News Channel apparently threatened to sue fellow Fox property The Simpsons over a parody the show did involving FNC's unique newsticker, according to Simpsons creator Matt Groening.

One division of a company suing another division of that same company? What is this, the NFL?

Some of the parody newsbites featured in the offending episode:

"Pointless news crawls up 37 per cent... Do Democrats cause cancer? Find out at foxnews.com... Rupert Murdoch: Terrific dancer... Dow down 5,000 points... Study: 92 per cent of Democrats are gay... JFK posthumously joins Republican Party... Oil slicks found to keep seals young, supple..."

Aren't conservatives always bitching about how there are too many frivolous lawsuits clogging up the courts? Way to practice what you preach. Not to mention trying to shut up someone you don't agree with.
DIFFERENT GENRES OF FRIGHT
I had a short but interesting exchange with my officemate late this afternoon. It triggered some wondering on my part about what registers as fear-inducing in different people.

I mentioned to her the theatrical re-release of Alien, and how I was looking forward to catching it, and how I considered it to be a super-scary flick.

She was surprised that I thought the premise of Alien was at all scary. Even the famous chest-burst scene didn't faze her. She explained that, to her, "scary movie" meant things having to do with the supernatural: Witches, ghosts, the Devil, etc. That sort of stuff elicited movie-grade fright in her. Science fiction devices didn't ring the same way.

I thought about that a little, and realized that I'm just the opposite: Supernatural schlock in the cinema typically doesn't scare me, not even playfully. That stuff doesn't seem "real" enough to put a fright into me. Technological and scientifictive plots, though, can scare the beejezus out of me, I guess because I invest a little more believe in them (or their probability, anyway).

I think this points to my lack of spirituality; I'm not sure about my officemate's spiritual quotient, and I don't want to assume (we've never discussed it). But it seems that may be at the root of this. That which instills dread and fear inside you is a reflection of your worldview and philosophy.
FUCKING HTML
I'll repeat: Fucking H-T-Motherfuckin'-L. I hate messing with it, especially through Blogger. I just wasted about an hour trying to corral that referrers' JavaScript so it would fit into a preset-width table, instead of distending the table width to ridiculous proportions every time it got an extra-long text line in it. No dice. So to rid myself of the problem, I finally just moved the damn code to the very rock-bottom of this page. While I was at it, I also moved the BlogSnob code down there, as it's also sometimes a pain in this regard.

I might eliminate both of those things eventually. For now, I'm glad that they're not going to mess with my layout anymore. Begone!

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

BRITCOMS TO SITCOMS
In the wake of my observations on "Coupling" comes AP musings of why the translation from Britcom to American sitcom sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't.

I've noted before how many "classic" American shows are in fact British adaptations: All in the Family, Sanford and Son, etc. Obviously it can work, which makes the flops all that much harder to figure out.

The less-investment, less-risk model favored in the UK does foster innovation through more personal visions. I think something to consider is that, with so much of the world weaned on Hollywood product, the entertainment industry in other countries can afford to play at a lower level: They fill in the cracks, basically. In a way, ultimately the major risks are still being taken in the big American media concerns.
HEAR YOU SCREAM
Alien is being re-released in theaters tomorrow, with a few minutes of new material (new to the theater, as it's been included on the DVD for years). Among all the hype is a nice series of reminiscenes from Ridley Scott, Yaphett Kotto and others.

I believe I'll have to pull away sometime in the next few days and catch this. It'll be loads of fun.
LOONEY DVD
varmint!
The first DVD collection of classic Looney Tunes theatrical shorts is out, to the simultaneous delight and dismay of fans.

I want this! I love those shorts, I grew up watching endless repititions of them on weekday afternoon television.

Monday, October 27, 2003

THE POOL ALTERNATIVE
Then again, money-pooling concept, so useful in other mass media and services, might be the way to go. This Knight-Ridder article offers a pretty good briefing on the idea, including some figures.
MIT'S FILESWAPPING ALTERNATIVE
Much like a couple of college kids launched Napster from humble roots to create the fileswapping morass we see today, Keith Winstein and Josh Mandel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a peer-to-peer program that's something of cross between fileswapping networks and radio. There are some early high hopes that this approach may be the ticket, at least on college campuses (acknowledged hotbeds of fileswapping users), for satisfying all sides of the online music debate.

The whole thing works by running an end-around on format distinctions. Because the music they're outputting through this service isn't digital, they're not subject to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. In some ways, it's genius:

"I think it's fascinating. As a copyright lawyer, I think they've managed to thread the needle," said Fred Von Lohmann, a lawyer for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "They've basically managed to cut the record labels out of the equation altogether."


I'll be interested to see how this develops.

Update: It's developed a snag. MIT shut down the service after confusion arose over whether or not a license for broadcasting the music was ever actually granted. Not sure if this is a temporary setback, or the end of this experiment.
ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS: ENTER THE RED FIST
rock flies through paper!!
From the land that brought you the ridiculous "sport" of curling comes Rock, Paper, Scissors International World Championships. Brought to you by the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society, of course.

This year's winner--and I know you came here to learn exactly this--was Toronto's Rob Krueger, a member of the high-powered "Legion of the Red Fist" team. Rob took home a cool five grand, Canadian, for his deft handwork. And can't we all use some deft handwork... that we can actually display in public, that is?

I guess a NASCAR-like ascent is next on the agenda, right? They'll lobby to join the Olympics (tough call on whether it's more of a Summer or Winter game), you'll read about the top practitioners developing hand spasms that impair their quick-draw ability, performance-enhancement drugs will make the scene... I can't wait, baby!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

TV PROGRAMMING SCHEDULES IRRELEVANT?
With so much competition from cable, network television is showing less patience with programming schedules, shifting shows willy-nilly depending on ratings and counter-programming--much to the consternation of viewers.

I find what this article doesn't mention to be more interesting than what it does. The point is made over and over about how appointment viewing is becoming a thing of the past, especially with younger audiences; therefore, network execs have few qualms about messing with showtimes. Why no mention of how much TiVo and other DVR technology is starting to influence this thinking? I've said before how DVRs, aided by rollouts by cables companies, have the huge potential to radically alter television viewing patterns, divorcing set times from the viewing experience. I do think there's a long way to go before that happens, and it's not necessarily the reason behind what's happening right now. But to not mention the DVR in an article like this is baffling.

What's even more baffling to me is that another device is cited as a contributor:

Research shows that a high percentage of viewers return to their favorite shows week after week - the concept of appointment viewing - and that hasn't changed much over the years, Poltrack said. What's broken down is the idea that viewers will stick with one network for a night; the remote control has set them free.

The remote control?? That's what they think has brought about this radical change? News flash: The remote has been in wide use for close to 30 years now. If the networks think that it's all-of-a-sudden had an impact, they're nuts. People learned how to use those things decades ago, and have been using them on an everyday basis. That hasn't prevented the rise of "must-see" blocks of shows since then, and it isn't the reason for the lack of such programming now. To suggest that the remote control is a factor in the year 2003 is idiotic.
CONGRATS MARLINS
speared
I watched about five minutes of this year's World Series. That's probably more than I usually watch. I don't care for baseball, obviously. So clear from my consciousness was the Fall Classic that when my friend Tom called me from the airport a few nights ago and asked me who was winning the game, I thought he was asking me about the Tampa Bay Lightning game I was watching--not Game Five in south Florida.

I was aware of how the Series was going, because I still read the sports section every morning, and there was a buzz around town during the games. But aside from hoping the best for the underdog Marlins, I can't say I gave a damn one way or the other.

But I present the above graphic today, in the wake of Florida's second World Series win in ten years, because I like the design. A nice touch to have the fish poking the Yankees tophat.
A CUP OF COUPLING
I was surprised to find that one of my local PBS stations was showing episodes of the lately-newsworthy (on this side of the Atlantic) Brit-com "Coupling". They started late last night with the series' first three episodes, originally broadcast in 2000.

Since the Americanized version is off the air until December (and, given the low ratings it got, might be gone for good by year's end), I figured I'd sample the original series to see what all the fuss was about.

My impressions? Despite the protests of dedicated fans, I think it's painfully obvious how much of a "Friends" knockoff this is. I'd say the writing is superior to "Friends", and there's less reliance on gimmicky humor, but the bloodlines are still apparent.

The show was entertaining, but not of the can't-miss quality. There's plenty of eye candy for me--all three women are hot to trot, and for something like this, I can't ask for much more to keep my slightly-divided attention.

The controversy surrounding the NBC version was that they reshot basically the same scripts, leaving in the risque-ness that was sure to raise eyebrows among American audiences. Because they were using the same stories that had so much success in the UK, the reason for the remade show's flop is assigned to marked lack of chemistry in the American cast and, to a lesser extent, a disconnect between the root British sensibility and American audience expectations.

Watching these early British episodes, I'm not sure why this show wouldn't fly in this country. The content matter is a little titillating, but I don't think any more so than other shows. "Friends" was criticized for being too sexy when it first came out, and look at the success there. Then again, maybe there's been a shift in what audiences want. The shows that are pulling in the big ratings these days are domestic-bliss schlockfests like "Everybody Loves Raymond", "Yes, Dear", and "King of Queens". In many ways, these shows are about life after "Friends"--you wistfully recall your carefree singles days of your 20s, but in the meantime deal with your 30s and 40s and the attendant home repairs, childrearing, taming your mate, and all that crap. "Coupling", with a cast of characters in their 30s who are still playing the field, might be a too-painful reminder of what's been left behind.

One last thing: What is with British sitcoms and their God-awful theme songs? The British "Coupling" has this cheesy lounge-lizard quality song, I think titled "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps", sung by this wannabe-sexy female vocalist. I could have done without it. It isn't quite as bad as the sappy "Wheels on Fire" theme from "Absolutely Fabulous", but that's not saying much.
NUDE ANONYMITY
all nude
Spencer Tunick is an art photographer who specializes in utilizing nudes. Not supermodel-quality nudes, but the unspectacular, average person. As part of his "Naked World" project, Tunick gathered a few hundred women into Grand Central Terminal to photograph his latest piece.

Tunick's site has lots of samples of his work, both of installations (group nudes) and individuals in public places around the globe.

I personally find the installations to be more fascinating, because of the dynamic they create. Having a big group of people naked, laid out in a pattern, dehumanizes them--not necessarily in a bad way. Somehow, the vulnerability you'd expect to see from someone stripped of their clothing disappears when that person is joined by hundreds of similarly exposed individuals. A large grouping of naked bodies turns them into anonymous objects, or building blocks in a photo setup, making for a powerful end result. The photo above is from Tunick's 1999 shoot in Basel, a very good example, I think.

I see from Tunick's bio that he was born in Middletown, New York, right down the road from Newburgh, where I was born (four years after him).
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME=EARLY LUNCH
Yup, had to adjust half my clocks and other time-keeping devices (a few, like my VCR, automatically adjust themselves, for which I am grateful). Net result was an extra hour of sleep without losing valuable awake time.

Of course, the ol' body clock will take a couple of days to adjust to the new rhythm. For today, that meant having my lunch just minutes ago, at 10:15 AM. It felt weird having a turkey sub during the breakfast (or at least brunch) zone. It was good though.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

BLAMING SPORTS FOR YOUR CABLE BILL
How much are you paying every month for cable television? Too much, you say? The U.S. General Accounting Office agrees, and lays a good part of the blame on sports programming.

I guess the 10 iterations of Lifetime TV that cable companies try to pass off as "variety" don't tend to jack up the price? Feh.

I pay $37 a month for my cable. Yeah, it's low, and I like it that way. I don't have digital cable and its 500 channels of nothing on. I do have ESPN and ESPN2, though, and that's pretty much all I need. Well, and Comedy Central, and Flix, and a couple of others.

Friday, October 24, 2003

THE RISE OF THE BARREN WOMAN
More American women than ever are delaying childbirth--waiting until deep into their 20s, or even their 30s, before having their one-and-only kid. On top of that, according to the Census Bureau's study on the Fertility of American Women, about 26.7 million women of childbearing age have no children, and don't plan on having any, ever.

This is good grist for the mill for the reactionary-conservative elements, an expected result of setting the woman free from the kitchen. It'll be couched in shaky justifications: Adverse affect on ethnic population balances and all that.

The "kid-hater" angle is a common one. I'm hesitant to say too much, as many of my friends and relatives have gone on a procreating binge lately... I'll just note that children should be left to those who really want to have and raise them, and opting not to join in isn't necessarily an indictment of that lifestyle.
THE RETURN OF DEATH
Man, I was so shocked by the death of Rerun the other day, I clean forgot about my self-imposed ban on further death notices on this blog.

So I broke my own rule. So what. Can I help it if so many notable personalities are dying off? What a year...

By the way, I talked to my friend Kirby about the Rerun birthday greeting he had saved on his cellphone's voicemail; it's no longer saved on his voicemail. I have a feeling it's gone forever, and he never had the chance to transfer and save it. Dammit!

Thursday, October 23, 2003

BLOG METRICS
Do most bloggers have staying power? The blog population is estimated at between 2.5 and 3 million, which represnts some 2 percent of the total online population. Yet depending on which research method you believe, as little as one-third of all those blogs are actually maintained and updated on a frequent basis.

I can believe the number of dead blogs out there on services like BlogSpot and LiveJournal. When I was first picking out the tertiary URL for this blog, I found that my first two choices, right off the bat, were both stillborn, having been created and abandoned seemingly in the same day. The explanation is simple: The service is free, so there's nothing invested in it, and therefore it's easy drop it without thinking twice.

I'd like to point out that I'm in my umpteenth day of daily posting. Thank you very little.
LACROSSE-ING OFF
It makes for an entertaining story: General Motors in Canada embarrassingly finds it necessary to change the name of its upcoming new Buick LaCrosse vehicle because it's discovered that the term "lacrosse" is Quebecois teenager slang for masturbation.

This does, of course, bring to mind the old Chevrolet "Nova/no va" story, as this BBC article mentions. But we all know that that famous object lesson in transliteration a total myth, right?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

REALITY CHECK: JOE MILLIONAIRE 2 FLOPS
Those who loathe reality TV should be heartened by the news that the debut episode of the second edition of "Joe Millionaire" sucked eggs, coming in behind even the WB.

I guess the notion of seeing Euro-babes bamboozled by Fox just doesn't appeal to an American audience. My friend Kirby said the chicks weren't hot enough to pull in viewers. I've seen a couple of previews (Fox has been pushing it really hard, so it's difficult to avoid the hype), and the girls on those were pretty enough to me. Perhaps the premise doesn't stand up to repeated exposure, unlike other reality fare.

If I were in a really optimistic mood, I might look upon this flop as a harbinger for the entire reality TV genre. I'm not sure about that; the format is likely here to stay, although it won't dominate like it did when it was new.
R.I.P. RERUN
last dance
I cannot believe Freddy "Rerun" Berry is dead at age 52.

This year is turning into a celebrity graveyard: Four in one week in September, then George Plimpton, now Rerun. It's getting so I don't even want to check the news anymore.

This death is particularly poignant to me. I grew up watching "What's Happening!!". And only last month, I had gotten Rerun to call my friend Kirby to give him a birthday greeting; the timing on that now seems incredible.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

SUICIDE CONCERT SINGER RUNS FOR COUNCIL
Remember Billy Tourtelot, the idiot lead singer of Hell On Earth who drummed up international publicity by staging an alleged suicide concert? I noticed today a few posters of him up around town. It seems Billy is urging St. Petersburg voters to write him in as their candidate of choice for the upcoming November 4th citywide general election.

There'll be something in the paper tomorrow about it--given that a couple of large posters were planted right on the newspaper building's streetcorner, I have a feeling that Billy is looking for a little media lovin'. This guy has serious "Daddy-pay-attention-to-me" issues...
$10-MILLION WORTH OF HUSBAND BATTERING
boo!
Ah, the messiness of celebrity marriage. Poor David Gest is suing his estranged wife Liza Minelli for $10 million, alleging that she beat the hell out of him on a regular basis both before and after nuptuals.

It's bad enough that Gest is gay and involved in a hetero marriage. But getting liquor bottles lobbed at him by Liza is totally whack.

I've got to admit, though: Aside from the entertainment value, I couldn't give two damns about this insanity. But it does afford me yet another opportunity to show the above freakshow of a wedding photo. Just in time for Halloween, too!

Gest, an event and concert promoter, produced [Michael] Jackson's 30th Anniversary tribute concert.

Wow, I'm impressed. I mean, look at how well Jacko's career is doing in the wake of that tribute concert.
ONLINE STEREO SYSTEM
All the talk recently of online music retailing, sparked (of course) by the Windows launch of Apple's iTunes Music Store, presumes the use of the increasingly-mediacentric personal computer. But Any Music Planning Inc., a joint venture by Sony Corp., Sharp Corp., Pioneer Corp. and Kenwood Corp., is rolling out an Internet-connected stereo system that connects to online music store LabelGate, thus making it possible to buy digital tunes through a non-computer interface. It's going to be limited to Japan at first, including mostly Japanese-label music, but they have aspirations of going global.

Digital music without the computer? What are the chances? There have been lots of devices introduced over the years that have claimed to bring the online experience without making you mess with the scary, complicated, expensive 'puter. Remember the iToaster, iOpener, and even WebTV? All have pretty much flopped. I think the Internet and computers (or at least computer-like devices, like mobile phones) are inextrably linked in most people's minds, so trying to deliver the Web through devices not normally considered computerized (like a refrigerator, ferchrissake) doesn't fly for the mass public. I don't know about how the Japanese market might respond to this online-enabled stereo, but I wouldn't count on it succeeding in the U.S.
A NOTE
I find myself engulfed by a lot of things lately, at work and at home. A result may be less posting over the next couple of weeks, and more of the quick-and-dirty variety that the past couple of days exemplify. Only so much mental energy to expend, and right now other things take priority for the majority of it. I don't expect to skip a day, but the volume will likely be less than usual.
DVD IMPACT
In case you haven't noticed, movie DVDs are big big business. So much so that they've changed the way Hollywood does business.

The article is a good briefing on how lucrative the extra-theatrical factors are in the making and marketing of a movie. I remember years ago, before DVDs became big but well in the midst of the videocassette era, that it was determined that 80 percent of the money a movie could be expected to make was via overseas distribution, merchandising, licensing and home video. I'd think the percentage is probably larger than that nowadays.
LETTERMAN'S "MEET THE GOVERNOR" GAGS
der governor
If you haven't seen "Meet the Governor" clips on Late Show with David Letterman, you really need to. They consist of vintage 1970s videotape footage of Arnold Schwarzenegger at his goofiest, dressed like some kind of tiki warrior, shaking his groove thing in the middle of a dance floor. They're hilarious!

Dave has a history of mining Arnie's past on-camera silliness. I remember when Schwarzenegger would appear on Letterman back in the 80s and 90s to plug his latest movie, Letterman would set up the clip for the movie, and then sneak in a clip from Hercules in New York or some other obscure memento. Schwarzenegger always laughed at it, and claimed to enjoy that stuff, but I notice that after a certain point, he stopped appearing on Letterman's show.

I tried really hard to find a more appropriate photo of Ah-nold for this post, namely one of him in his crazy warpaint and warrior garb. Alas, I came up empty. However, I did find some Scharzeneggerful goodies: His newly-updated Rotten.com bio, which includes genuine risque photos; a recent woman-groping incident, captured on British TV yet; and my favorite, an campaign ad by a gubernatorial opponent in which Arnold tells about how he's always coming (uh, that may be a typo...)

Monday, October 20, 2003

ONCE A MONOPOLIST, ALWAYS A MONOPOLIST
Should this really come as a surprise? Microsoft's integrated music-selling feature in XP is raising questions from the government on whether the Big Redmond Machine is up to its old tricks again.

Considering that MS got less than a slap on the wrist for its previous monopolistic practices, there was no reason at all to think the company was going to stop operating the way it was accustomed to. As nimble as companies, especially tech companies, think they are, they are really ruled by inertia--if employees are used to doing things a certain way, they're going to continue to do it unless radical changes are implemented.

And that's assuming that Microsoft is even trying to change, which I doubt. The company's announcement months ago that it would soon be inextractably integrating Internet Explorer into future version of Windows was an early sign to me that nothing had really changed, and the lack of any real punishment from the antitrust suits is a direct result of that. If the intent is to have Microsoft really change its stripes, the government's going to have to nail it on rather obvious monopolistic behavior; if that doesn't happen, this kind of stuff will continually crop up.
PENTHOUSE FOR SALE
And I'm not talking about any deluxe apartment in the sky, either. Penthouse Magazine, which shut down shop back in July, appears to be on the block while its parent company reorganizes.

I'm betting that some run-of-the-mill porno joint will end up buying the magazine and related assets (website, video operations, etc.). An ignoble end.
I DON'T LIKE COLD PIZZA
That's right, I don't. I took a highly informal poll around the office today, and found that I'm probably in the minority in playa-hatin' on the cold 'za.

Just to clarify: I'm talking about actual cold pizza--lower case. Not Cold Pizza, the new scorcher of a morning show on ESPN2. On that, I have no opinion, and likely will have none, because I ain't gonna watch it.

It's not that I'm opposed to it specifically. I think it's an interesting idea for ESPN, a way to grow yet another niche as part of the general ESPN Original Entertainment stuff they've been cultivating. The consensus in Bristol is that the sports fan audience is locked up, and saturated, so it's time to expand to the rest of the world (which, as we sports fans often forget, is a lot bigger and a lot more lucrative than the hardcore sporting world). I think it makes for a good alternative to the six hours of SportsCenter reruns on ESPN mothership, so it could very well draw an audience based just on that. Having three-quarters of the cast be chicks is actually a good move--especially considering that they're all pretty easy on the eyes (although I'd vote for Thea to be the main female host, instead of either of the other two--she's a definite cutie; then again, since I'm not gonna watch it, what does my vote count for?). And the name is cute--has a very college and immediate post-collegiate feel to it.

I'd rate it's chances for success at about 50-50. I see it as good background noise for the average American male age 18-35, but I don't know if it's a sustainable thing. It's not going to get anywhere competing against the Regis and Kellys of the world, and if it doesn't draw at least some of that audience, then Cold Pizza could be considered a failure.

Anyway, back to the lower-case stuff. I've never acquired a taste for it. I like pizza to be hothothot--in fact, I have a problem with it getting even slightly warm while it's still in the box or on the tray. So no go on it being ice cold. I've had it cold only once in my life: Driving back home from college after my freshman year, in a van with two other guys, we drove the full 24 hours from Florida to New York. Midway through, I got hungry, and there was nothing else to eat, so I went for it. Strictly survivalist stuff. I've never gone for it again. My feeling is that the microwave oven was invented pretty much for re-heating things like refrigerated, leftover pizza; if the microwave doesn't do it for you, then a toaster oven. Not going through the process of re-heating it seems ultra-lazy to me.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

THE NEW $20: WHY ADVERTISE?
lend me a 20?
You've no doubt heard by now that the U.S. Treasury is rolling out a newly-redesigned $20 bill. It's been hard to miss if you consume any media on a regular basis: They've devoted plenty of advertising on television, online and other channels to make sure the word is out, and even set up nationwide "events" where the bill gets spent for the first time. It's the opening round of a general reworking of the major denominations of U.S. currency over the next few years.

My question: Why bother with all this hype?

I mean, what is the point of advertising all this jazz? Who cares? Why on earth do you have to sell the idea of a redesigned bill? It's not like people are going to refuse to spend it--they have no freakin' choice in the matter! I'm sure people will eventually get clued in on the new bills once they see them floating around for a couple of months. Why does the government feel it needs to go nuts with this media frenzy? Do they honestly think people will be alarmed and think they're hefting around counterfeit bills in their pockets--which would be badly-made ones, if the idea was for them to look like the older versions?

I don't remember all this media blitz the last time they changed the look of our bills (which by the way, wasn't that long ago, was it?). In the past, there might have been a few stories in the news leading up to the new bills being introduced, and that was it. No fancy commercials, no banner ads, nothing. Because like I said, it's not necessary.

I hate to sound like some sort of curmudgeon, but every time I see another TV commercial for this new sawbuck, the thought that comes to mind is: How many of these new twenties are they spending on this advertisting campaign to tell me something I don't need to know?
SPORTS TEAM NAMES AND A MORMON MAG
You just never know where your name will pop up in this online world. It might even appear in Meridian Magazine, an online publication by and for Mormons (I can't really tell if it's officially affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; based on a cursory browse-through, it does not appear to be).

Kelly L. Martinez is Meridian's freelance sports writer. Recently he served up an article entitled, "What's In A Name?", which dealt with some of the more unusual, even goofier, sports team names in both the pro and amateur ranks (don't ask me on which side the NCAA falls). The article included thoughts on the matter from yours truly:

Costa Tsiokos, of Florida Trend Magazine, commented that if the name-givers of today were around when the Oakland Raiders or San Diego Chargers were created, Californians would be rooting for The Raid and The Charge.

I'm glad Kelly liked that observation; it's one I dreamed up years ago. The thing is, I never related that thought directly with him.

How did my comments end up in the Meridian article? Because they appeared as one of many article feedback contributions to a Poynter.org Dr. Ink column from Sept. 15, on the very same topic: Best and Worst Team Names. In fact, you'll see that Kelly contributed a couple of comments himself. If you read throughout the column and the feedback, you'll see that most of the Meridian article is made up of material derived from this little corner of the Poynter site.

So, what do I make of this? I appreciate being cited by name, especially when it seems that I was the only one from the Poynter.org discussion who was. But reading the article implies that I "commented" to Kelly personally, instead of "commenting" on an online board. My words were up for grabs as soon as I typed and submitted them, naturally, as were the contributions of everyone else in the discussion.

Still, for Kelly to use all that material without attributing the source strikes me as a little offbase. A simple mention right off the top that said the topic appeared on the Poynter site would have taken care of any uneasiness I have. Without it, the article seems to straddle pretty close to plagiarism, frankly.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

GREEN, I SAY GREEN LANTERN, SON
pay attention, son
Inspired by today's episode of "Duck Dodgers", in which Duck gets himself a Green Lantern suit and ring, I did a little lazy research on the Green Lantern Corps. That's how I found the above rendition of Foghorn Leghorn, Green Lantern.

The picture itself is funny enough, but his distinctive Green Lantern Oath is the cherry on top (sung to the tune of "Camptown Races", which everyone knows is Foghorn's signature tune):

"In brightest day, in blackest night, do-dah, do-dah,
No evil shall escape my sight, all the do-da day.
All the do-da daaaay, all the do-da niiiight,
Beware my power, Green Lantern's Light, all the do-da day."

Incidentally, the aforementioned "Duck Dodgers" episode wasn't all that good. Much like the only other episode I saw of this show, it's just not heavy enough on the goofball humor I expect from a Looney Tunes character--especially Daffy, who arguably can be considered the looniest one.
PROFESSIONAL VIDEOGAME GAMBLING
While this screams "geek" to me, I'm sure the time has come for real-money videogame gambling and competitions.

I especially liked the mention of Even Balance's "PunkBuster" anti-cheat software.
PERMUTATIONS OF MIX-A-LOT
baby got jack
Who could forget Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back"? A touching paean to the fairer sex's backside that had early 90s college crowds shaking that thang from east to west. (Trust me on that; have a Busch Light, it's easier that way.)

My fond memories of that song are bruised by the recent local ad campaign by car dealership AutoWay that uses the "Baby Got Back" melody to sell used trucks, ferchristsake. The first lyrics to this dumb jingle are, "I like big trucks and I cannot lie". Yes, it's truly as lame as it sounds.

But perhaps there's something inherently catchy about this song. So much so that admirers of Mr. A-Lot have taken it upon themselves to translate it into both Greek and Latin. (Thanks to Memepool for those two.)

Friday, October 17, 2003

DUCK DODGERS, THE GREEN LOONTERN
duck souped
Hooray for Captain Spaulding noted a week ago that tomorrow's new episode of "Duck Dodgers" has Duck gaining a Green Lantern uniform in a dry-cleaning mixup.

I see TV history being made.

I also see corporate synergy at work. After all, Duck (aka Daffy, the little black duck) and Green Lantern, as well as Cartoon Network, have the same corporate owner: Time Warner.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

ITUNES WINDOWS: A GATEWAY FOR APPLE
As previewed earlier this week, iTunes for Windows debuted today. As much as this is being trumpeted as a big development in the online music business, the current approach, by Apple and other players, is to use digital music storefronts as only a part of an overall hardware/software platform strategy.

My supplemental comments to my previous post noted that the iPod is the key driver for Apple's iTunes expansion to Windows. In a way, that music player symbolizes the most tangible, "real" part of the music biz for Apple. iPod sales are becoming a major revenue source for Apple, and online music selling is intended to be the way to make more money from the devices. And the key is to do that beyond the traditional Apple/Mac market:

With the Windows store, as well as partnerships with America Online and PepsiCo, [Apple Senior Vice President Phil] Schiller said, Apple is hoping to reach a larger audience beyond the Mac enthusiasts who tend to follow Apple's moves closely.

I think the AOL connection can be a huge boon for Apple. As much as AOL is dismissed these days--and no doubt, its days as a leading ISP are likely numbered--in the here and now, it still represents a 30-odd million subscriber base. Many of those people might not venture into online music unless it was presented to them in a familiar package, e.g through AOL's services. The potential for tapping that market is major, and Apple made a great move there. (I'm wondering if AOL's sometime-contentious relationship with Microsoft helped warm it up to a deal with Apple...)

In any case, I'd like to experience the Windows iTunes myself. I'm a bit leery now, though. According to the minimum Windows system requirements for iTunes, my machine might struggle a bit. I've got a three-year-old 400 MHz box, with 160 MB RAM. I have to consider if I want to deal with any potential headaches. My system is already running a bit sluggish lately. We'll see. It could be the right excuse to buy a new computer.
PUBLIC LIBRARY OF SCIENCE: SHADES OF FILESWAPPING
It turns out that the story about the third-arm monkey was the result of a new initiative in scientific news reporting.

The Public Library of Science is on a mission to break the superlucrative scientific publishing industry. Its proposed business model, which calls for researchers to pay for dissemination of their papers online, was taken lightly when it was first announced. But the success with which PLoS generated buzz over the monkey story has people wondering if a new model has arrived.

The role of the Internet in this brought to mind the peer-to-peer filesharing networks for music. It's not a completely apt comparison, as there's a solid, if controversial, economic model behind PLoS' approach. But it is another example of how the distributive structure of the Web helps undermine the traditional information industry.

"There is a lot of excitement in the library community about this," said Barbara Epstein, interim director of the University of Pittsburgh's Falk Library of the Health Sciences. Libraries now pay for 85 percent of all subscriptions to academic journals. "PLoS will certainly benefit a lot of institutions that had their budgets crunched."

Still, Epstein and many others question who will ultimately pay the $1,500 fee the new journal charges each research team to publish. The fee could prove a budget killer if it is passed on to research-intensive universities that publish thousands of papers a year, Epstein said.

Public Library of Science founders hope to persuade agencies such as the National Institutes of Health to pick up the tab, since it is taxpayers who ultimately pay for the work.

It's intriguing to think that that $1,500 would become an automatic grant amount from the NIH. The thing is, it would make PLoS almost like a government-funded entity, since the fees it would get and operate on would come from Uncle Sam.
REDEFINING "JUNIOR" IN CLONING TIMES
Yesterday's story about Rodney Dangerfield's cloning adventure prompted some wonderment on my part about one of my favorite topics, cloning. I've written about it here before, probably not as much as other topics, but it's still an issue that I like to keep track of, as I feel it's bound to have a huge impact in social, scientific, political and other terms.

Less weighty issues also come to mind. For instance, what would a proud "father" name his clone-made "son", who would actually be a replica of himself and, therefore, more closely related biologically than traditional offspring? Naming the kid Junior would be a natural, even more appropriate than giving that moniker to a child conceived with a mate. Over a long period of time, during which cloning becomes standard practice, could the name "Junior" take on a completely new meaning? Instead of being defined as the next generation male offspring of a parent, could it become the exclusive identifier of cloned individuals? To the point where, a hundred years from now, anyone with a "Jr." at the end of his/her name will automatically be recognized as being a clone?

Not a major issue, but seems like a possible detail in a future world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

GREAT LEAP SKYWARD
taikonaut
China made a loud and clear statement this week by sending its first taikonaut into space and back. The message was, not only that the People's Republic was as technologically advanced as any other world power, but that it's also staking an early claim on any renewed space race in the 21st Century.

Sending a human into space is more of a symbolic gesture. The real money in space technology right now is launching satellites and other payloads--something countires like Australia and Brazil are cultivating. China's aim with this event was to make it differentiate itself from those countries for the present, and to throw its ante in for the future.

Could this trigger the start of a new space race, with the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and, perhaps, India and Brazil jockeying for position? Would the Moon be the object of that competition, for colonization, mineral exploitation, etc.? China has already committed resources toward getting lunarside this decade, and this seems like a way to set the stage for later exploration. Of course, China's far from alone in targeting the Moon.

Update: Flush with this success, China outlined plans to follow up with the establishment of its own space station. And while analysts don't believe any of this will re-ignite a new space race, Japan is uneasy enough over the possibilities of falling behind to its Chinese neighbor that I think it's very possible, perhaps becoming a defining event for the first half of this century.
THEY CLONED RODNEY DANGERFIELD!
no esteem, either
Well, not yet they didn't. But they're talking with the bug-eyed comic genius, and other celebrities, about growing some little versions of the original.

"They" are Clonaid, the whacko cloning company owned by the whacko Raelian cult. This is the same outfit that caused a media frenzy a few months back with claims of successfully delivering a couple of cloned babies--for which they have yet to produce any real proof. Since the media spotlight has long faded from that, this is they bid for re-entry on the front pages.

I guess these nutjobs could redeem themselves with a Rodney clone. The kid could grow up just in time for a Caddyshack remake, circa 2050.

It occurs to me the Raelians may be making this move in a bid to supplant the Scientologists as the kooky Hollywood cult-of-choice. I mean, think about it: Celebrities are by nature narcissistic; what could be more narcissistic than cloning? I think they're on to something!

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

MANUTE BOL, WORLD'S TALLEST JOCKEY
get the horse
Yup, he's at it again. Nearly a year after lacing them up as a minor-league hockey stunt, former NBAer Manute Bol takes on his next sporting challenge: Horse racing.

Saddle up and ride, proud chief. More power to you.
NEWS SITE FOR THE BLIND
I'm always interested in news relating to blindness, so this item about Argentina's La Nación Online setting up a vision-impaired-friendly site is good news to me.

Unfortunately, my Spanish flew out of my head during my Senior year in high school, so I'll have to take Juan Carlos Camus' word for it that the site delivers what it promises.
MONOPOLY TIME AT MCDONALD'S
lovin' it
It's that time again: McDonald's is relaunching its Monopoly-themed promotional game. It's been slightly rebranded this year as the Monopoly® Best Chance Game.

This gimmick is boffo biz for Mickey D's. I have friends who will never go near a McDonald's all year, except for the time when this contest is running. I'm surprised the world's biggest burger joint doesn't run it more than once a year.

In light of recent events, do you suppose McDonald's might opt for substituting that new sensation Ghettopoly in this promotion, at least for its inner-city stores? Nah, probably not.
TRAFFIC EXPLOSION, COURTESY MACSURFER
So I checked on this little blog this morning, and noticed that that hit counter was racking up the numbers in a BIG way. I usually average around 100 hits a day; by midmorning, I had already gotten over 300.

Naturally, I wondered: What gives? Something I had posted last night had caught someone's attention, and was bringing lots of visitors my way. I was hoping it was the Guy Lafleur, Disco Scoring Machine post (that's the second time I've direct-linked to that one, if anyone's counting). As things were, I could only guess.

By the end of the day, the visitor count was at around 500. I was considering just putting a post up asking someone to clue me in to the explanation. Then I decided that would be too caveman-like, when the alternative was obvious: Just add a well-known Javascript command to this page that would tell me where my referral traffic was coming from.

You can see the results, stage left. It turns out that the good people at MacSurfer liked what I had to say about the outlook for the imminent launch of Apple's iTunes Music Store for Windows, and so included that post as one of their Analysis/Commentary/Editorial/Opinion links for today.

Kudos to MacSurfer for the notice. Always happy to know that these electronic scratchings are attracting eyeballs.

Monday, October 13, 2003

MOBILE PHONE GROWTH IN DR CONGO
An informative look at the rapidly-developing market for mobile telephony in Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire. The country is rebuilding after years of civil war (which is not quite finished in some areas), and the handful of wireless providers are building out their networks at breakneck pace.

What's fascinating to me is that the providers are focused completely on growth, no matter what. It was a poor country even before the war and regime change made things even more unstable, so these are far from the most lucrative mobile customers in the world. But because infrastructure and licenses are so cheap, they're able to maintain a profit right now, and quick expansion fuels that and lays a future foundation.

I've noticed that wireless communications infrastructures offer a real powerful way for the underdeveloped world to take a leapfrog step in their development. Instead of having to invest in a lot of landline grids, mobile technology provides a way for whole countries to get modern in terms of telecom, fairly quickly. It's an interesting development that merits long-term watching.
MONKEY SHINES WITH A THIRD ARM
i could use a third arm
News that a robotic arm has successfully been manipulated by brain impulses, in an effortless manner, is a fascinating development. That they managed to include the subject of monkeys in this development makes it doubly interesting.

I always say, put a monkey in the mix, and you've got my full attention. That applies to sports, entertainment, science, whatever (within reason).
ITUNES FOR WINDOWS
tuning up
Finally, Apple Computer will be rolling out this week a Windows version of its popular iTunes Music Store.

(I wonder if I can get that Guy Lafleur disco hockey album through iTunes? Ehh, probably not, unfortunately.)

The tone of this Reuters article is pretty negative, mainly taking the line that Apple waited way too long to enter the Windows market, and therefore can't replicate the Mac-only success it's had with iTunes up to now. I think this is pretty simplistic. None of the current Windows options for buying digital music have taken off in a big way, so I can't believe there's an established base of loyal customers for those services that will stymie Apple. The big competition is still, of course, the filesharing networks, not the likes of BuyMusic.com. Even the reconstituted Napster 2.0 doesn't represent a particularly big challenge to iTunes.

On the other hand, Apple is a long-lasting, highly-recognizable name that's familiar with consumers. Really, the other music-selling services can't really say that. That alone is worth something. I think iTunes will be successful in the Windows world--maybe not a runaway success, but I'd bet it'll find itself leading the market within a year.

I'm looking forward to trying it. I've got about 40% of my iPod's drive free, time to load that puppy up!
GUY LAFLEUR, DISCO SCORING MACHINE
super disco breakin'
If the thought of Hockey Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur hawking Viagra* seems undignified to you, consider that this is far from the first time "The Little Flower" has delved into questionable commercial enterprises. (And I'm not talking about his coming out of retirement in the late 80s, after being inducted into the Hall.)

Exhibit A: Lafleur's disco-groovin' hockey instructional album, featuring the inspirational "Scoring" track. Yes, this could only come out of the 1970s.

I know that whenever I'm charging down the ice with the puck on my twig, I'm always thinking, "Nothing sounds better than an 808." Now I know why. Thank you, Monsieur Lafleur.

*Of course, Lafleur now has plenty of jock company in pushing the pill: Rafael Palmeiro and Mike Ditka, for instance.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

THAT "VINCENT PRICE" LOOK
getting spooky dead and looking good
Is it just me, or is Sean Penn looking more and more these days like the late Vincent Price? It's definitely the mustache, and possibly the hair style.
PROFESSOR TELEVISION
Who is Robert Thompson? He's a Syracuse University professor who loves him some television.

The opening discussion of Homer Simpson reminded me of the old Simpsons episode where Troy McClure was touring the Museum of TV & Television...
BRUINS BLOG
ursines ice
If you're a Boston Bruins fan, I'm sure you just cannot possibly get enough of P.J. Stock. Cognizant of that, the team has set up Stock as author of his very own player journal.

Depending on what you define as "blogging", this might not do it for you. It's updated very infrequently, with weeks between new entries, and each entry is rather lengthy. Still, as intended, it's an inside peek at the life of a professional hockey player.

And yes, I know the Broons aren't the only team featuring something like this. Lots of individual players also keep logs in their personal websites too. I'm not in the mood to look for these. If anyone wants to offer other examples, comment away.
RESIDUAL EFFECTS FROM A SUICIDE CONCERT
You may recall the big hullabaloo a couple of weeks ago over the planned Hell on Earth concert that was to co-feature a live suicide, direct from my hometown of St. Petersburg.

The story took some bizarre turns, with the band being forced to go the webcast route, that webcast being sabotaged by a denial-of-service attack, the uncertainty over whether the suicide attempt actually went off, claims of a video that may or may not be of the successful attempt surfacing, and the band (or at least lead singer Billy Tourtelot) going underground to avoid prosecution. The whole thing generated plenty of news coverage, locally and internationally. At this point it's all seemed to cool down, especially beyond the Bay Area; the local paper has done a pretty good job of covering the various angles. That the media attention has already faded points to how amateurish the band is in milking a potentially lucrative event; even using this as precedent, they'll likely never get this kind of exposure again.

As of this writing, the Hell on Earth website is out of commission thanks to all the hits and attacks. But HellOnEarth.com is alive and humming, and has an interesting story about how the recent controversy brought it plenty of traffic, as well as the previous brushes with Tourtelot's silliness.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

BROADBAND TELEVISION
We're now well-accustomed to regarding cable companies as default Internet Service Providers, probably because, in the home, we consider the Web to be just as much an entertainment option as TV is. Now, a reverse dynamic may be on the way: ISPs that deliver television service through the Internet. That's what Microsoft and partners are working on, with the hopes of piping in high-quality television transmissions and position that as an additional killer-app feature that will entice households to adopt broadband service.

There's a certain amount of sense to it, although I'm not sure I'd want to put all my eggs in one basket. If the ISP goes down, then the TV would go down along with it. What a pain...

This piece of info is something else:

Microsoft said that through the compression technology of its Windows Media Player 9 it can now offer standard broadcast quality television over an Internet connection of 1 Megabit per second (Mb/s). High definition TV will be offered if a consumer has a broadband Web connection that allows four to five Mb/s.

Most DSL offerings in Europe and North America offer slightly lower speeds than 1 Mb/s, but in South Korea and Japan average broadband speeds can be as high as 10 Mb/s.

TEN?? God! My DSL connection is considered great at around 1.2 Mb/s; my friend Tom just switched from DSL to cable, and seems to be getting around 400 Kb/s. Those speeds are fine for standard Web surfing, but won't cut it for high-intensity media streaming like this television stuff.
THE BIG APPLE™
I guess when a media mogul like Michael Bloomberg ascends to Gracie Mansion, it's to be expected that he'd turn New York City into one big ad-buying opportunity. Following up on the deal to make Snapple the five boroughs' official drink, the city is now planting advertising on trash receptacles, additional newsstand kiosks, and soon on about 4,000 other structures. And I believe the subject of corporate naming rights for city parks and other areas is also being considered.
SO MUCH FOR MONEYBALL
With all the fawning praise tossed at Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, I thought this quote from Oakland Athletics' General Manager Billy Beane, delivered after his team got bounced out of the MLB playoffs by the Red Sox, was a nice back-to-earth observation:

"I'll tell you one thing, if you want to give me $50 million more, I'll promise you we won't blow the 2-0 lead."

His words indicate that he, of all people, doesn't take Moneyball's premise as unshakeable gospel--which, it seems to me, many people do.

Friday, October 10, 2003

VIOLENCE AND WOMEN
killing billing
Today the much-anticipated Quentin Tarantino killa-thrilla Kill Bill: Volume 1 opens in theaters. I'm looking forward to catching it this weekend; it's been a fairly barren movie season lately, so I'm jumping on the chance to see something that looks as funky as this.

I hope it's good so that I can look forward to Volume 2.

I chatted briefly about Kill Bill this morning with my coworker Janell. She's reluctantly going to see this film because her boyfriend is charge up for it. She doesn't think she'll like it too much because, even though she likes Tarantino's other movies, this one looks like it's going to be too violent, which turns her off (we're both going solely by the previews). I pressed her on it: What makes this movie look more violent than most other action films? She couldn't quite put her finger on it. I asked her if she liked Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino's debut film; she did. So I pointed out how ultra-violent that one was. She agreed.

At that point, she touched on what it was that made her so uneasy about Kill Bill: The violence was being committed by women, instead of men. That seemed not-quite-right to her, almost incongruous. Not that women aren't capable of violence, but the kind of in-your-face, extreme stuff didn't seem to her to look right coming from female characters. But she saw no problem with male characters doing that--that was normal. At this point, I made a crack about the Miller Lite catfight commercials, and to my surprise, Janell did latch onto those as an example of what she was talking about, nearly equating the imagery from Kill Bill with what she considered to be titillatingly exploitative eye candy. She even described the action in the film as containing "scantilly-clad girls" beating up on each other; I pointed out to her that, as far as the previews go, I haven't seen any evidence of lots of skin, and she admitted that neither had she. That tells me she pretty much assumed, sight unseen, that since there was lots of violence, it followed that there must be the complementary amount of sexual imagery as well.

I was getting a kick out of the rationale, while also considering how much truth there was to it. Is there a big built-in, visual appeal to this movie by virtue of having a bunch of hot chicks kick serious ass? Probably. Even I think so: Consider my brief comments when news of this flick surfaced over the summer: "A bunch of babes doing kung-fu moves? Punch my ticket." My early expectations were that this film would combine sex and violence--even though it appears, upon deeper inspection, that it's much heavier on the violence than the sex.

The thing is, I'm sure most of the audience will go in thinking, at least subconciously, that they're in for plenty of skin. Why is that? You don't have that expectation in a typical action flick. Is it just an automatic assumption that if women are engaged in something like this, sex is part of the equation? This opens up plenty of cultural and cross-gender arguments.

In any case, this sounds like a recipe for box office bonanza. I'm sure it'll open at No. 1.

Update: Yup, it opened at No. 1. Not that that means as much as it used to; odds are it won't still be in the top spot next week.

I also went to see it this weekend. It delivered what I expected, with some significant curveballs in there, like an extended anime sequence. Very entertaining stuff. As I expected, it was all violence, no skin and very little mention, even, of sex. Like I said, the incoming perception was very different from what actually wound up onscreen.

I'd take issue with the "ultraviolence" description that's being tossed around regarding this flick. It's getting that tag because of all the blood splattering. Yet to me, it was cartoonish violence. The firehose-like gushing of red every time a limb or head was chopped off inspired more humor in me than revulsion; I'd even venture to guess that that's the intent. There's a big difference between blood and gore, and Kill Bill does not really display any gory stuff. Or maybe I'm just desensitized to violent imagery; I am a child of the 80s, after all.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

BROADBAND PENETRATION IN Q2 2003
Some of the latest numbers on broadband expansion earlier this year. These numbers don't include me; I didn't switch to DSL until August.
PENGUIN OASES
practically chickens
It's hard to believe that the frozen continent of Antarctica could have "hot spots" (then again, with the ozone layer depletion, I suppose that makes it more probable).

But hot spots ("hot" being a relative term in a place where the constant average temperature is just below freezing) there are in the land down under the Land Down Under, and that's good news for the penguin population. NASA has used its satellites to analyze the biological makeup of polynyas, the open-sea areas within Antarctica that are teeming with the plankton that's the basic link in the local food chain. These polynyas function very much like cold-weather versions of oases, in that their rise and fall impact the size of the penguin population.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

PRESIDENT GATOR
chomp
After a months-long search, the University of Florida is expected to name its new President later today, with current University of Utah President James Bernard Machen the apparent favorite to get the job.

I'm no Gator, but this pending announcement is impacting my life, at least for today. We're right at deadline time here at the Trend, and it so happens that some material for next month's issue relies on the identity of the current UF President. So, I've got to wait until the anticipated news conference at 6PM tonight to confirm that Machen (or William Jenkins, or Richard Herman) is the new guy. Not a huge deal, but they could have made life a little easier for me (that's right, me and me alone) by making the decision earlier today.

In any case, in light of last week's disastrous loss to Ole Miss, I'm wondering how soon the new Prez will be asked, "When do you plan to fire Ron Zook?" Heck, maybe that's the interview-clinching question...

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

RISE OF THE GOVERN-ATOR?
i will governate
We should have a good idea by later tonight whether Ahh-nold ascends to Sacramento, as a record voter turnout made the California Recall election a success in terms of participation.

How surreal. All I can say is I'm glad I'm three thousand miles away. Florida's electoral hijinks occur only during Presidential contests.
TAMPA BAY'S MR. HOCKEY
espo from the soo
The new National Hockey League season starts tomorrow night, so it's time for some... reading? It is when Hall of Famer Phil Esposito writes a book of his memoirs.

Thunder and Lightning: A No B.S. Hockey Memoir is supposed to be a no-hold-barred look back by Espo, with half the book detailing his playing days, and the other half relating his days as GM of the Rangers and GM/part owner/founder of the Lightning.

Athlete memoirs can often be a chore, going long on the "players today aren't as good as back when" mentality. Espo's comments in this article point to a good dose of that. But he is a good storyteller, and I think the book is worth a look.

I know Esposito will forever be a part of the Boston Bruins landscape, but his role in bringing the Lightning to Tampa Bay (through plenty of hook and crook) has earned him a hallowed place in this area's sports history. The establishing years of the Bolts look good in retrospect, despite plenty of wackiness: The invisible Japanese ownership, the smudged fax in the Chris Gratton deal, the seasons of play in St. Petersburg's 28,000-seat ThunderDome (now known as Tropicana Field)... I'm glad I was around to witness it all.
RELIVE YOUR FAVORITE ENRON MOMENTS
Who says democracy doesn't work? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is kind enough to make a huge amount of internal documents from the Enron implosion available online.

Boring stuff, you say? Well, if the juicy machinations of insider energy commodity trading don't thrill you (and how can it not??), consider: Along with work-related stuff, there's plenty of typical inter-office email banter archived there as well. That means that for the intrepid data-digger, there's plenty of sexist jokes, post-hookup boastings, and shrewish gossip from the halls of Enron.

So hop on over to the searchable email/document database (go to the above link and click on "Search iCONECT 24/7"--direct hyperlink apparently is not possible) and start searching. For the maximum in juvenile fun, I recommend plugging in the following search words:

boobs
drinks
chicks
bastard
freak

You pick up the ball and run with it from there.
THE SPREAD OF SPAMMERCRATS
I noted earlier that recent emailing campaigns by Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd could take hold nationwide:

Just imagine if Byrd's emailing exercises catch on with other politicos across the nation. Who wants to get a bunch of campaign propaganda from your local representative in your inbox? Pain in the ass in the making.

Well, the Spammercrat mentality has indeed spread, with California's Recall campaigns jumpstarting the process. Just lovely.
SONY PSX UNVEILED
pronounced piss-ex
Ain't she a beaut? It's the Sony PSX, the next (intermediate) version of its PlayStation gaming unit that can also burn DVDs, store digital photos and play digital music files.

I've mentioned the PSX before, mainly debunking the idea of this all-in-one box becoming the center of all household entertainment. My opinion hasn't changed, and the news revealed today confirms that the PSX, on its own, will have no long-lasting impact.

The suggested price for this box starts at more than $700. Hello? For what, a game console? That's exactly the reaction the average consumer is going to have to this--that it's a videogame toy that costs many times more than other systems. Sony's going to have absolutely no luck at all marketing this as a DVD player/recorder or a PVR. If they wanted to put the emphasis on the variety of things it can do, they shouldn't have branded it with the PlayStation name.

Why do I get the strong feeling that this machine is intended to be a loss leader for Sony? After all, serious gamers know that the PlayStation 3, a dedicated gaming machine, is being developed for release in a year or two, so they aren't going to bite on this. The only purpose for the PSX is to whet the market for a later, more refined PVR/media center with a much lower price tag.
AN AFTERNOON WITH HAMLET
It looks like I picked the right day to stay home sick! Starting right now on a movie channel is Kenneth Branagh's 1996 version of Hamlet, all four hours and two minutes of it. What better time to sit through and watch the whole thing, when I basically can't do much else? I'm so lucky!

This is easily my favorite version of the play. The vaguely fascist imagery is an especially nice touch.

I don't know if it's his favorite, but John Updike cited this version of Hamlet as inspiring him to write Gertrude and Claudius, his prequel to the Shakespeare play. Great stuff.
DUNGYBOWL-THE GREATEST MNF GAME EVER?
yucked bucked amok
And I missed it.

I was all set to go to the Bucs-Colts game last night, until sickness caused me to bow out. It would have been my first Bucs game in ages, and first in RayJay Stadium. And what did I miss?

Perhaps the greatest comeback game ever, as Tampa Bay amazingly coughed up 28 fourth-quarter points and committed a bizarre penalty to choke the game away, 38-35 in OT. A Bitter End, indeed (which I think would have been a better headline than the ones I've seen this morning).

I had a sinking feeling that once Bucs corner Brian Kelly left due to injury, it would be a dicey game, because he was shutting down Marvin Harrison all night. While there were plenty of other defensive flubs, undoubtedly Kelly's absence and the resulting reshuffling of the Tampa Bay secondary was a big part of the collapse. Harrison went on to torch the Bucs with 11 grabs for 176 yards and two TDs, including a couple of plays where he totally undressed Kelly's replacement, Tim Wansley.

It figures that on a night when I had to ditch my tickets, a game like this would take place. But, I have to say, I'm not devestated. My physical state last night really would have made it tough for me to enjoy the game in the stadium: The thought of fighting the crowd, negotiating the stairs, and fighting the traffic just drained me. Plus, I'm sure I would have ended up leaving the game early when it seemed to be in hand, which would have made me feel especially stupid. Frankly, MNF's coverage provided me with all the action I needed. While I definitely would have gotten my money's worth had I gone, I'm not kicking myself over it. There'll be other games.

Update: The St. Pete Times' Gary Shelton's reflections on the game included this interesting piece of trivia:

Let's face it: A gut-wrenching, head-spinning loss aside, it was grand to see Dungy again. It was like watching an old episode of Cheers and having your very own Norm stroll into the place where everybody knows his name. That's never happened around here. No other coach the Bucs ever had coached a down as a head coach once he was ejected here.
(Emphasis added)

A nice conjuring up of the Yuccaneers' less-than-glorious orange-clad history. Jim McKay, Leeman Bennett, Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson, Sam Wyche... All of them brought their coaching careers to Tampa Bay to die. Ah, the memories...

Monday, October 06, 2003

MUSIC FILESWAPPING, FROM THE KIDS' PERSPECTIVE
A major battlefield in the music fileswapping/piracy debate is the hearts and minds of young people. Because they are the consumer lifeblood of the music industry (and of most other entertainment industry segments), their behavior toward online music is critical, not only in the present but also in terms of how it will affect their future attitudes toward entertainment products. With that in mind, Dave Scheiber of the St. Petersburg Times held a roundtable discussion with a group of 13- and 14-year-olds to get their opinion of what's right and wrong with the present state of online music.

It's an insightful read. Not surprisingly, these Tampa kids don't see anything wrong with getting music via KaZaA, Grokster, etc., and offer up the usual reasons: It's free, CDs and other products cost too much, it's almost effortless to do it, and so on. Some salient points:

"I think that what they should do is maybe try to decrease the available downloading sites, 'cause that's basically the reason we do it," says Jessella Jaramillo. "It's because it's available."

"And it's available to us for free," adds Alex Edinborgh. "Kids don't want to have to go to the store to pay for a CD if they can just go on the computer and have all these sites to get music. You're just going to blame a kid for wanting to get music free. That's kind of stupid."...

"I think it's just ridiculous that they're going to try and sue 13-year-olds and stuff," says Alex. "It's like if there's a drug bust. You don't just get the guy who's getting the drugs. You get the dealer, too. And they're all over the people downloading, but they're not even thinking about the people who are making it available."

Again, a classic defense: It's possible to do without expending much effort, so the enduser shouldn't be blamed for doing what comes naturally. There is some logic to it, and naturally the site/software providers are getting heat themselves. But that rationale goes only so far. If the enduser is absolved of any blame because s/he is simply doing whatever's possible, that opens up a moral morass in all areas of life. These kids could go to a store and buy a butcher's knife, go on a stabbing spree, and then place the blame on the store that sold it to them. That's an extreme example, but a valid one. (The same day's paper tells of a 16-year-old delinquent who phoned in a bunch of bomb threats to Hillsborough County schools, and is now in jail for it; again here, he did what he did because he could; that doesn't make it right, and the blame for it doesn't belong with the phone and 911 service he used to carry out his crimes.)

This defense is also applied later in the article toward hardware makers for including CD/DVD burners as standard equipment, the argument being that there's no other purpose for that capability than to grab music. Computer makers are guilty of instilling this attitude, as I've seen product campaigns that promote the music-management utilities of their machines practically to the exclusion of other uses. Still, it doesn't take a genius to realize that disc-burning has storage uses far beyond transferring mp3s.

Opinions fly. Elizabeth Gibbons wants to point out that people have been letting friends make copies of their CDs or tapes for years.

"Isn't that the same thing?" she asks.

This is the heart of it, and the failure of the recording industry to frame it properly is a big reason for this mess. Too much of the focus has been on the mere act of copying music files. That alone, while objectionable to the industry, has been going on for decades and really isn't a problem in and of itself. The difference now, of course, is in the distribution capability of those copies. Instead of making a mix tape that gets passed around to a couple of dozen people max, online files through fileswapping networks get distributed to millions of people. The old mix tapes didn't do any commercial damage because they were limited in scope and not entirely easy to get ahold of; the new fileswapping networks do damage because their scope is so large and are practically effortless to access.

James Mullady thinks the record companies are being greedy.

"I know that as soon as the song even comes out on the radio, they already get a ton of money from that," he says. "It's not like they're just going to go broke all of a sudden (from downloading)."

"Yeah, the big stars are driving around in Cadillac Escalades and stuff, so why are they complaining?" adds Alex.

"I don't know why they're suing people, because they got all these millions of dollars and now they're going to sue people for more money." says Richard Marquez. "They'll live."

These attitudes could be forgiven based on the naivete of the kids; that grown adults hold the same opinions is a bit harder to grasp. The idea is that, because the companies already have so much money from earlier endeavours and other sources, they don't deserve to continue to make more money. Ridiculous, of course, and really doesn't merit defense.

"Our teachers always tell us to use the resources on how we do homework and all that," says Sarah Regal. "Well, we're just using resources off the Internet. That's really what we're doing - what's there is what's there."

I found this one an amusing justification--for once, they're tuning their teachers in, but applying the lesson in unexpected areas! It does show that the kid is pretty sharp.

Like I said, it's a revealing sampling of what the youth market is thinking.