The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

many faces of ipod
Easy come, easy go. Just as I get a small windfall of found money, I go and spend half of it on a new toy. The toy in question? A used 10-gig iPod off of eBay.

This is, of course, just under seven months after getting my current, 5-gig iPod from an eBay auction. I was a bit shocked to remind myself that I've had the 5-gigger for that short a period of time; as much as I've used it and carried it around, I would have sworn I'd had it longer, since at least 2002. It's a good sign--it signifies how much pleasure I've gotten from the thing. It's been working like a charm: Great battery life, great sound, easy to update with firmware and files, and I've filled up only about 60 percent of the drive with my music files.

Why get a replacement, then? Well... You know how it is with hard drives: No matter how much storage space you have at hand, you always want more, just in case. I guess that's the reasoning here, specious as it is; and it'll be the same reasoning I employ when I get my next one, which will have 15, 20 or more gigs of storage. That I'll never fill a drive that big is, of course, beside the point. It's more a psychological salve, in that I'll know that no matter what I add to the iPod, I'm never in real danger of running out of room on its drive.

Part of the thrill of this purchase, as was the case with the 5-gig, was to see if I could finagle a good deal for it. And I succeeded: Total purchase price for this new unit was $180, which is the same amount I paid for the one I have now. So I upgraded to double the disk space for the same price--golden. (It's not an exact tradeoff: The 5-gig came with headphones, a carrying case, firewire cable and AC adapter, while the 10-gig comes with nothing but the iPod itself. However, since I've already got the accessories, I'm not too concerned about it. The only hitch in that area is not having the accessories to package along with the spare iPod I'm going to sell soon, but it's not a big deal.)

So now, as is always the case when winning an eBay auction--or purchasing anything online or through mail order, for that matter--the waiting is the hardest part. I'm crossing my fingers that the seller ships that puppy out quickly. Indications from his posting say he will; we'll see. Hopefully I'll have my new toy by week's end!

Here's something to contemplate, and probably expand upon later: I've noticed that many used iPod listings on eBay tout the fact that the devices are "loaded". Loaded in this case means the iPod is filled at or near capacity with music, and the sellers make a point of advertising this in their listings. Obviously, the idea is that an iPod, or any digital music player, preloaded with music is worth more than an empty one. From the time I've spent today and yesterday checking the listings, it does appear that the iPods that had music already on them were drawing higher bids than the ones without. Is this a new eBay strategy? I should note that this could open up another digital rights issue in the music world. Does an iPod seller have the right to sell the music that's already on the device? Even if all the files on it are legitimately ripped copies instead of files obtained illegally through a fileswapping network (that's unlikely in any case), I'm sure the music industry would look unfavorably at a money transaction like this taking place; it definitely goes beyond fair use. Plus, it's apparent that the preloaded music adds value to the transaction, so if this practice really catches on bigtime, it'll attract the attention of the lawyers, and some sort of action will happen. Could be an interesting development.
Microsoft has gotten to where it is today by aggressively pushing its operating system onto computers in the home and office. So it makes sense that it should now target automobiles.

"We'd like to have one of our operating systems in every car on Earth," said Dick Brass, vice-president of Microsoft's automotive business unit. "It's a lofty goal."

Great, just great. I can't wait to have my car's OS crash and demand that I restart the ignition while I'm cruising down the highway at 50 miles an hour. Maybe an MS-powered car will be incompatible with some roads, preventing me from driving to certain locations.
I noticed a couple of weeks back that my referral log was showing a handful of visitors coming to this blog thanks to a Popdex citation regarding the Hilton Sisters. Obviously, the schmoes were on the hunt for the infamous Paris Hilton sex video, and weren't using a fileswapping network like KaZaA to get it. The joke was on them, as the Popdex citation was referring to this long-ago post from July 24th, 2003, which dealt with the Hiltons only peripherally. That's the only time I've mentioned the Hilton Sisters on this blog, either individually or collectively--until now.

Employing a bastardized interpretation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, I took note of the Hilton referrals and decided that it was as good an excuse as any to jot down something about the Paris Hilton imbroglio. Procrastination being what it is, I never did get around to it.

However, while casually surfing around today and doing some non-Hilton-related searching, I managed to come across a link to the taboo sex romp video (courtesy Whizbang!, by way of GS-7). And so I provide the link to you here.

Believe it or not, I hadn't seen it until just now; I'd seen some video stills here and there, but never the actual video. It's about what I expected. The blue lighting is very weird, giving the whole thing a space-alien quality. Without the accompanying audio, I don't think it would be nearly as entertaining.

By the way, I'm not the only one who experienced a spike from Paris-mania. I'll also leave the rundown on the situation to him.
I've lived in the Tampa Bay area for the past 13 years. Actually, since the first three of those years was while I was in college, and therefore living on campus sans automobile, it's more like ten years that I've really "lived" in the community. It's been a long enough stretch of time to see some major changes.

Growth has been as desired as it's been inevitable. As the second-largest metro region in a state that adds about 500 people a day in population, Tampa Bay naturally gets its share of transplants. That can be good, in terms of adding to the diversity of people in the area.

The bad part? The majority of those people moving in have cars. And that means monstrous commutes all over the Bay area, from Gulf Boulevard to Malfunction Junction to the Suncoast Parkway.

I can attest to things getting worse on the roads. I pretty much stick to my general work-play zone, which is roughly downtown St. Pete (where work, along with other things, is) to the north-northeast part of town (that's home), through to Tampa's West Shore (as that area is so close to my apartment--in terms of traffic time, it's the closest mall and movie theaters to me). I'll head out to other areas with some regularity, like Ybor and Hyde Park in Tampa or St. Pete Beach, but mostly, I stick near the southeast chunk of Pinellas County and the accompanying stretch of I-275 that I call home. Not counting some backroads areas like Pinellas Park and such, my zone is probably, overall, the least-congested part of Tampa Bay's traffic grid.

Yet even this area is no picnic. I think I've lucked out with my work commute, in that I can zoom down either 4th Street or MLK Street in a straight shot to my office building. I encounter some traffic along both roads, enough to annoy me, but nothing hellacious. The interstate is the third option, but one that I rarely take. I'm in a spot where there's no real time savings by going down the highway, mainly because whatever time is saved by the speed is offset by the time spent on the onramp-offramp routes. Plus, the traffic is typically worse there, and getting so seemingly every day. Add to all this that I intersect with Gandy Boulevard and Roosevelt Boulevard, which tend to be treacherously jampacked (fortunately, I never have to traverse either road, just cross it).

Beyond that... There are spots around town that I avoid whenever I can. I have a friend who lives in the northern part of Pinellas County. It's a nightmare to get to his place anytime near rush hour, because the congestion is unreal; what would normally be a 20-minute drive to his place ends up being at least twice that. At this point, we try to meet up on weekends. In general, the western/northern part of Pinellas is absolutely not worth the hassle it takes to get there, and really, there's not a whole lot worth going to there. There are parts of western St. Pete, and all of Clearwater and Largo and other areas, that I haven't been to in years.

Rush hour is generally tons worse than it used to be, and that's my barometer for how crowded it's gotten here. I used to be able to jet over to Tampa by the interstate right after work without much of a problem. Now, the congestion begins as soon as I get over the bridge and lasts until the middle of downtown. There's aren't many things that get to me like being dead stuck on a highway.

What's the solution? Public transportation would be great, and I'd definitely make use of it. For all the pain in the ass that driving to and from work is, it's just not worth having your car to save a couple of minutes, or to be able to stop by the store on the way home. I realize it's wishful thinking, though. Most people won't get on a bus unless they absolutely have to, and the bus system in this area has plenty of shortcomings. There is no rail system, and despite talk, probably won't be for decades, if ever. I wish there was a solution.
I got me a holiday miracle, a little ahead of schedule, to the tune of $351.26. That's the amount of unclaimed property from the state of Florida that I had coming to me, and finally got months after first making a claim.

I searched the site with the first few letters of my last name, just on a lark. I didn't find my exact last name, but dig it: One of the results did come up with a last name really close to mine, off by a couple of letters, with my first name, and my city of residence. I dug further, and saw that the street address connected to the account was my old address from some six or seven years ago. There was no information on what kind of property it was, so I was instantly curious. I went ahead and submitted my claim.

This being government bureaucracy, the process I set in motion would take many, many weeks. Most infuriating, after the initial contact, it all had to take place through postal mail--argh! Long story short, I had to provide some proof that I really was who I said I was, which, since they had a misspelled name on their files, wasn't quite as easy as it would seem. Plus, because I no longer live at the address I have on file, and haven't for several years, I couldn't come up with any proof of my former residence (I got no cooperation from my former landlords at the old address, fucking schmucks). After a couple of phone calls and false starts, I finally submitted my claim along with a note that stated that, while I had no tangible evidence of my former residence, it was fairly obvious that the misspelled name was me, since my name is unusual enough that there was slim chance it was someone else with such similar first and last names. I basically washed my hands of it after that, and figured that if they accepted that, I would get a nice little surprise at some point; and if not, I gave it my best shot. Happily, I got my surprise.

How did I miss that money all those years ago? I'm not sure. I think I was probably in the middle of moving and starting a new job, and just forgot about a stray paycheck. It's harder to figure how my name could have been misspelled on that paycheck and not on the previous ones I had gotten from the same place. In any case, the funds got mislaid. I'm glad these things do revert to the state, and are kept on file for so many years.

In the grand scheme, 350 bucks isn't a huge amount, and if it were, say, half that, I'm not sure I would have bothered to go to the trouble I did for this. (On the other hand, if it were $500, or a grand or two, I would have really driven to the hoop a lot harder to make sure I got it.) But hey, found money is found money, and I'll take it. Just in time to throw onto the holiday shopping pile, too!

So, let this be a lesson to you: Take a gander at your state's unclaimed property list. Odds are pretty good that it's searchable online. Take a few minutes to search by a couple of variations of your name, or just using the first couple of letters of your last name; if I hadn't done that, I never would have found my claim. There could be something of value waiting for you in your state's capital!

As for me, all I need now is that $12.63 worth of CD class-action suit money and I'll be all set, baby.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

We all know about what a great time it is to buy a house, with all those low mortgage rates and abundant housing on the market. The yin to that yang is that apartment owners are feeling the pinch from the resulting vacancies, forcing them to lower rents and/or offer big incentives to keep residents.

I'm one of the lucky beneficiaries. I got two months free rent on my last lease, the first real decrease in annual rent I've experienced. I expect the same deal, if not better, the next go-round, which will likely be my last lease. It's all good, I reckon.
I never hear more complaints about mobile phone shortcomings than I do from users in New York City. I'm sure other high-density population areas, and places with lots of hills and mountains, have just as many problems with dropped calls and lack of reception, but the Big Apple seems to be especially notorious.

In response, the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications invited residents to submit their complaints to them. The result is the Mobile Phone Reception Problem Survey, which maps out connection problems throughout the five boroughs (not surprisingly, downtown Manhattan is the site of the most problems) and by service provider (they pretty much all sucked equally).

The purpose of the survey is to submit the results to the providers, in an effort to get them to build more towers, improve equipment, and anything else they can do. The idea is that a consolidated complaint, coming from city government, will carry more weight than would several individual squawks.

I was just up in New York. I didn't spend any time in the city, though, so I can't say whether reception there was any worse than anywhere else I've been. My phone cut out in the train tunnels, naturally, but there's really nothing to be done about that.

Friday, November 28, 2003

I'm back from New York! The only way to visit family: Arrive Wednesday, leave Friday. Just barely enough time to have Thanksgiving dinner and see family members, not enough time for them to get on my nerves (or me on theirs). Didn't even have enough time to get that bored.

The weather is turning pretty foul back here at the homestead, so going out is not looking like a good option. Plus, I've spent eight or so hours travelling, and while I'm not particularly worn out at the moment, I feel as though I'll hit a wall pretty soon.

But before that happens... I see that Turner Classic Movies is having an Akira Kurosawa festival tonight. I've already missed Seven Samurai, but I can try to pull an all-nighter by watching Yojimbo and Throne of Blood. Throne of Blood especially appeals to me, as it's a Macbeth adaptation, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays.

Eh, why not? I've got nothing planned for tomorrow.

I couldn't figure why they decided to show a samurai filmfest tonight, until I saw Tom Cruise in a between-films segment just now. This is all promotional support for the soon-to-be released The Last Samurai. Always gotta have a commercial tie-in. Actually, Last Samurai looks promising; I'm a Civil War buff, and something of a fan of Japanese history too.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

In comments that I'm sure are causing a snit among devout bloggers, John Dvorak declares that the blogging phenomenon is doomed to failure, about to be snuffed out by blogger boredom and big media manipulation.

This is the type of critique that will prompt many regular bloggers to insist that it doesn't apply to them, because the audience they may (or may not) attract is secondary to the personal satisfaction of putting their thoughts out there. Of course, that Dvorak's opinion would prompt that kind of self-defense only betrays the lack of conviction in that belief.

This argument builds upon survey results released over the last couple of months that suggest the much-hyped blogging revolution is much less than the sum of its parts: The preponderance of dead blogs, and infrequently-updated blog sites; and the relatively small impact blogs really have in the larger population, contrary to assumptions among hardcore bloggers.

I don't think Dvorak is saying anything that's not apparent: Yes, the majority of blogs out there are crap, not worth the time it takes to locate and visit them. But you can make the same argument about just about anything, in media and other areas. The most frustrating aspect of Internet media, professional and amateur, is being able to separate the wheat from the chaffe--probably 10 percent wheat and 90 percent chaffe (I'm probably being generous there). That's why established brands have a leg up, and always will.

I think it's a mistake to view all blogs as true news sources. I've always said, blogs work best as punditry, not as breaking news sources. My approach here, for the most part, is to present my thoughts on some topic, usually a news story, and include any insight or comment I think is pertinent. I'm not expecting to blow the lid off any story, but if someone stopping by finds some value in it, then great.

That leads into what remains my main purpose for this blog: To serve as my "outsourced memory", approximating Vannevar Bush's Memex model. For me, that function overrides any other considerations.

As far as the prospect of big media co-opting the blog world... I definitely see the possibilities. Business has been experimenting with the blog format for a while, with mixed results. Also (personal plug coming up!), I made the potential use of blogging as a marketing vehicle one of my top ten media trends to watch this year; I'm not sure anything will be resolved in that area soon.

Part of the issue remains finding a basic definition of blogging. Is it an inherently amateur presentation? Is it a genre at all, or just a streamlined method of creating Web content regardless of format? Does the general perception attract certain types of audiences, who expect a level of amateurism that they interpret as a "keeping it real" filter? Without settling on this, it's hard to dope out the related issues.

One thing I found unsettling from Dvorak: His take on writing in general:

Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a blog mystifies a lot of professional writers.

Obviously, this is more his bias. Writing sure can be tiresome, but as someone who does it for a living (most of the time), I've found that blogging is a good daily workout that helps keep me in practice. I'm conscious of not including my best material here, but what I present is usually satisfying for me.
money makers
I wanted to link to Forbes' annual coverage of the NHL, centerpieced by a ranked list of team valuations. Unfortunately, the Forbes site appears to be down at the moment, so this post will serve as more of a reminder to look it back up in a couple of days.

In the meantime, TSN has some of the numbers, mainly for the Canadian clubs, along with short comments from team and league execs. It's the usual drill every time listings like this come out: The owners huff and puff about how way off the numbers are, question the credibility of the publication (in this case, one that's been around for decades and is a trusted, respected source), and insist that their little mom-and-pop shops are bleeding enormous amounts of cash, as they have been for every single year since they were founded (but somehow, magically manage to stay in business).

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I was surprised to see this article about my old boss, Anver Suleiman, in yesterday's paper. He's launching a new "consultant's consultant" business, and got the chance to explain the thinking behind it.

I noticed he never directly mentioned his supposed main business concern, Luntz, Suleiman & Associates, where I was formerly employed. In fact, after reading the article, I went online to check the site to confirm that the firm was still in operation. It is, although I wonder how active the storefront is. I see they did redesign the site, which was long overdue (although I recognize tons of stuff that I put up there myself, over five years ago!).
Do you want a videogame console, but you care nothing for either PlayStation or Xbox? Or GameCube, even? Then maybe Phantom will ring your bell. It's a new game console being developed by Infinium Labs, a company down the way from me in Sarasota.

Don't count on this upstart entry making any kind of impact, though. Judging from the facts available on the company, and the general close-mouthed atmosphere, plus the basic logistics of trying to position a gaming console in the face of a market dominated by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo (even if they're aiming toward a smaller, hardcore niche), means that this puppy likely won't last a year, if it ever gets off the ground at all.

I think the lack of company commentary in the article is as much a result of Chip Carter's lack of reportage skills; digging out person-to-person information is not his forte, obviously. His generalizations could use some work too, although the editing is partly to blame too. For instance:

But Infinium is entering a field littered with companies that tried and failed to make their mark. Remember the Atari 2600? It shared the market with Mattel's Intellivision in the 1970s and early '80s.

This is an awkward statement, because it implies that the 2600 was somehow a failure. The opposite is true: The Atari 2600 (aka VCS) was arguably the most successful game console ever, having revolutionized (indeed, pretty much created) home video gaming, and staying in production from the late '70s until 1991.

I also question the "half-dozen game machines" Sega is supposed to have launched and botched. I can think of only four Sega consoles that saw American shores: Master System, Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast (in that chronological order). There was probably a portable/handheld machine in there too, that I can't recall. The Genesis was nowhere near a bust; in fact, it pretty much killed off the old Nintendo NES and ruled the roost for most of the '90s until the PS1 came along.

Anyway, regarding the Phantom... It's a nice idea, especially the move toward non-gaming applications. But really, this sounds like nothing but an Xbox with a $200 markup, and practically no major label software support. The niche gamers they're supposed to be shooting for are more enamoured with PC gaming; I don't see this new box as being enough to lure them away. Providers of customized gaming PCs can make a good go of it; another Florida-based company, Alienware, does that very well. But a console approach... I doubt it.
Well, obviously I missed a day of posting. Not entirely my fault; I got in late, and both Blogger and this blog were down. Obviously my hands were tied. I had a couple of things I wanted to post, too; I'll dash off a couple right now, then maybe more later today/tonight.

The unintentional break in action foreshadowed an intentional break, coming later this week. I don't expect to be posting anything on Thanksgiving Day, and probably not that following Friday, either. I'll be out of town, with family for the holiday, and highly doubt that I'll have Internet access (beyond my WAP-enabled phone, which I can't use for blogging). We'll be back to normal on the weekend. Gobble gobble.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

After spending yesterday at a boat show, and subsequently being wiped out for the rest of the evening, I visited Madstone Theater in Tampa for the last day of their free movie weekend. I got to see Amélie for the very first time. I liked it a lot more than I anticipated; it was a whimsical fairy tale through Paris, with the lovely Audrey Tautou portraying a sad but determined good samaritan who ultimately gets what she deserves.

On the way out of the theater, I considered: I've seen, comparatively, a lot of movies featuring Audrey Tautou. In addition to today's flick, I've seen He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, L'Auberge Espagnole, and Venus Beauty Institute. Four might not seem like many, but for an actress who's appeared exclusively in European cinema, it is. I guess it marks me as an art house goon. It also signifies that Tautou is the Euro-"It" girl of the moment, and with her pixie-ish good looks and charm, she'll likely be in that spot for a few years.

I had intended to make a full afternoon of it and catch Y Tu Mamá También right after Amélie. However, I somehow lost my weekend pass, and so would have had to fill out another form to get a new one, and I didn't feel like going through the hassle. Besides, I had already seen Y Tu Mamá months ago, and while I would have liked to see it again, it was no loss. So I hit the Tampa Museum of Art to see the Toulouse-Latrec exhibit (it was good, but I expected more; I'm a big poster art fan), then headed to a dinner get-together at a friend's house.
Do you imagine that you're seeing an increase of tech warriors around you? Every time you turn around, do you see yet another geek with a cellphone AND pager hanging off his belt, along with a PDA in his hand, and probably an iPod in his pocket?

It's not your imagination: These techno-fetishists are growing in number. That's the findings of the latest Pew Internet & American Life survey, which finds that some 31 percent of Americans consider themselves to be "tech savvy".

Nearly one-third of the U.S. population? That sounds pretty high to me, and study author John Horrigan agrees, although there's no reason to doubt the conclusions. I think the study itself, and the study questionnaire, should be looked at closely. I suspect there are plenty of shades of savviness in that 31 percent. Someone who knows how to check email and use Excel may consider himself/herself to be on the ball tech-wise--especially compared to his/her Aunt Martha, who can't even turn on a computer. That doesn't mean much, though.

In the meantime, let me take a closer look at some of the other general findings:

They spend, on average, a total of $169 a month on broadband Internet service, satellite or cable TV, cell phones and Web content. That is 39 percent higher than the national average, $122.

My average monthly tech/communications bill is just less than the national average. If I jacked up my wireless phone minutes, I would be average; similarly, if I spring for digital cable, I'd definitely get closer to the tech savvy average. I'm not sure what "Web content" is defined as being (have to check the report). If it includes ecommerce purchases, then I might be there. Regardless, I'm not sure this spending measure is a real indicator of savviness. I'm sure many a techno-geek will argue that the ability to avoid paying for some of that stuff (i.e., music downloads) is a truer measure of techieness. On the other hand, that's the purpose of a survey like this: To build a consumer demographic profile that advertisers and marketers can use.

Some 29 percent of them have broadband connections, compared with 17 percent of everyone else.

I've only recently gone to broadband. Again, I'm not sure that's a real sign of being "with it" in your relationship with technology, although that's certainly the marketing pitch that's used to encourage upgrades. Indeed, I know plenty of people who have broadband connections, but they're not the least bit tech savvy; in many cases, the prime motivation to get broadband was to free up their home phone line, which according to this survey, would be a petty consideration (since the wireless phone is probably the primary or only phone connection for this demo).

About 7 percent of technology aficionados have canceled their landline phone and gone all-wireless. Only 2 percent of nontechies have done that.

This is probably a defining characteristic of a techie, only because it signifies a high comfort level with advanced phones and their features. It also points to a different mode of thinking vis a vis mobile phones and where they fit into a lifestyle: I know many people who still persist in considering their mobile phone to be an "extra" or emergency phone (much as they were first marketed when they started to become popular); a landline phone, in a fixed location, is a more "real" phone, and so they can't conceive of ever giving that number up.

Despite being plugged in to the Internet and other sources of data more often, only 13 percent of the tech-savvy crowd feels overwhelmed by information. By contrast, a sense of information overload plagues 25 percent of the rest of the population.

This is a question I get asked a lot when I take consumer surveys, and I've always been dissatisfied with the answer options of either "yes, I do feel overwhelmed" or "I like having all that info". Because in my mind, both answers are accurate. I'm an information junkie, and while I feel like I've got more, and access to even more, than I could ever practically use, I like the fact that I do have it. Naturally, it's what you can do with that data.
back in the saddle
As announced back in September, Berkeley Breathed's back in the comic strip game with the Sunday-only "Opus". I was hoping that my newspaper would be carrying it, and sure enough, it is. I haven't read through the entire comics section to see what, if anything, they've displaced.

The art's pretty ornate, something of an evolution of Breathed's style. Looks good. The first strip was nothing special; I guess it's a warmup.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

pond hockey
Tonight the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens will make NHL history when they play before some 70,000 spectators at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium in a unique outdoors game. (Check out the behind-the-scenes actions in building the outdoor rink.) I wish I could see it; obviously I'm not going to Edmonton, and it's not going to be on TV for me until next week.

I've seen this game being hyped as the first outdoor game in NHL history. I'm not sure if the league has confirmed that... I could swear that in the NHL's formative years, one of the teams (the Montreal Maroons, perhaps?) played their home games on an outdoor rink. I'm not in the mood to research it right now; if anyone knows, chime in.

Naturally, this being a record-setting event, there has to be a record that's being broken. That record belongs to--ta da!--the local NHL franchise, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts set the regular-season single-game attendance record ten years ago on Oct. 9, 1993, with 27,227 watching Tampa Bay lose to the first-year Florida Panthers 2-0 at St. Petersburg's ThunderDome (now known as Tropicana Field, or, as us locals call it, The Trop). I hate to see the home team lose out here, especially since I was part of that record-setting crowd. I was in the middle tier, and was astounded to see so many people fill up that huge cavern of a hockey arena. My clearest memory of the night was seeing the game in progress (great sightlines, truly was no bad seat, which was a miracle for such a non-hockey facility), and catching two Lightning players collide into one another in the middle of the ice. The charming early days of an expansion team, I tell ya...

Oh well. The team will have to take down the banner the proclaims it has the regular-season record. But, it can keep the banner that signifies the playoff single-game attendance record of 28,183, set April 23, 1996 versus Philadelphia. I wasn't at that game, but I did watch it on television, at a playoff party.

Update: It seems that 70,000 was a bit high. The final attendance tally was 57,167 who braved the subzero temperature to watch the hometown Oilers fall to the Habs 4-3. Not to mention the Oilers-Canadiens alumni game featuring Wayne Gretzky, where the Oilers old-timers won 2-0.
As we approach the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, we're getting to the point where the event has passed out of the active, living American consciousness and squarely into the history books. To a large degree, 9/11 may have supplanted the Kennedy assassination as a watershed moment.

I was born 8 years after Kennedy was shot, so I'm part of the population that doesn't have a personal recollection of it, even through the prism of early childhood. Frankly, I don't remember devoting any serious amount of thought to it, despite a love of history in general, until JFK came out in 1991. That movie is nothing to base your historical scholarship upon, but it was definitely thought-provoking. It also imparted upon me the creepiest post-movie sensation I've ever had while walking out of a theater, before or since.

Other general person impressions of the assassination:

- The "Camelot" label was, in fact, never actually used during the Kennedy White House years; it was a tag given to the era afterward. It stems from a magazine interview that Jackie Kennedy gave right after the assassination; it was JFK's favorite line from the musical "Camelot".

- The conspiracy theories... I guess this answer will have to suffice, until all the records are unsealed in around 20 years (or however long it'll be). I'm skeptical of conspiracy theories in general, and the Kennedy ones are demonstrative of why. I'm not saying it's impossible that there was a grand plot, but I'd need more evidence 40 years after the fact.

- Related to the above, a couple of my old uncles once illustrated for me just why the unsealing of all the Warren Commission files in the mid-21st Century is less than satisfying. I pointed out to them that, eventually, all the facts would come out in the year two-thousand-whatever, so it would be all good. They pointed out: "Sure, after those of us who were around then are all dead." That struck me as significant.

- Lastly, one of the most poignant, and funny, memories of the assassination isn't even mine. It's the recollection of one of my older cousins, who was five years old when it happened; he related it to a group of us only a few years back.

His parents took him over to one of the relatives' houses in New York the day after the shooting for some social gathering. It was, obviously, a somber atmosphere all around. Once they came through the door, my cousin remembers all the aunts and uncles sitting around, low-level chatting and watching the endless news reports on the television. Seeing all this, his father asked the room, in Greek, "What's going on here, then?"

The response, from someone in the room (no one quite remembers who exactly it was) was in Greek. It's pretty much untranslatable. Technically, I can render it into English, but without the context and cadence that a Greek speaker would have, it wouldn't really have the same impact, or the same, almost unintentional, bittersweet humor. Therefore, I'm going to present it here in Greek, and to any Greek speakers reading this, enjoy. I'm not going to use the Greek alphabet; I could, but I have a feeling it won't render correctly in most browsers. So, here it is in Roman alphabet, more or less phonetically:

Na, vlepumeh ta halyah mas.

... It occurs to me that I've just written a fairly lengthy post about historical event I wasn't even alive to witness. So maybe there's still a good amount of relevance to Camelot, after all.
mad skillin'
As previously mentioned, I hit Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa last night to catch some free movies at the new Madstone Theaters. Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.

I watched Dr. Strangelove and Pulp Fiction, a couple of old favorites. I'll go back today to catch Amélie and Y Tu Mamá También today; I'm not sure if I want to go this afternoon or tonight.

It's been a few years since I last saw Pulp Fiction. That I was able to remember so many details, right down to minor character dialogue, is a testament to how big an impact the film has had on pop culture in general. The Simpsons alone must have parodied this movie a million times.

I'm considering springing for a membership to the theater. Normally I don't go for things like that, since they invite a flood of junk mail marketing for which the perks are scant compensation. But the theater is located next to a couple of fairly active nightspots, and it occurs to me that the setup is ideal: Go to the movies, then walk across the street for dinner and drinks, thereby making a night of it without a ton of driving (free parking garage is another plus). I'll think about it.

Update: I guess I'll have to hit the movies tonight, or maybe even tomorrow. I clean forgot about a boat show here in St. Pete I was to attend this afternoon with a couple of friends, starting at 3PM.
sniff this!
Think the job market is tough for you? Just imagine if you were a dog. Think about it: Employment options for your average canine are limited. The entertainment industry is there for a select, talented few; otherwise, there's the seeing-eye profession and law enforcement. That's it, really. The only other options are being kept by an owner--a real crapshoot--or else the life of a stray. Talk about a dog's life.

And wouldn't you know, it looks like technology is conspiring to downsize Fido out of one of his few career tracks. A "dog on a chip" is faster and more accurate at detecting hidden drug cargo than any dog, threatening to put a bunch of mutts out of work.

The poochies can take heart, though. No matter how good this gee-whiz chip is at sniffing out smack, it'll never be able to replicate the time-honored doggie art of sniffing one another's butts.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Whatchu doing tonight? If you're a film snob like me, you'll be hittin' it at Madstone Theaters' free weekend of movies in Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa. You can get your free passes right here.

The movies on tap (in no particular order, they'll all be shown at multiple screenings):

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Sunshine State; Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; Amélie; Y Tu Mamá También; Pulp Fiction; and Adaptation.

I've seen all these flicks except for Amélie and Priscilla. I have no desire to see the latter. I also don't plan on seeing Adaptation or Sunshine State again; I didn't hate them, but was less than satisfied with them both (especially Sunshine State). So, I'm looking forward to catching Amélie; it was one of those flicks I meant to catch, but never got around to. Also looking forward to catching the others, especially Dr. Strangelove.

It's a good excuse to go party in Hyde Park afterward. It's been years since I've hit any places there. If it's looking dead, I can always head elsewhere.
Speaking of Tivo, some devotees of the wondrous box are finding that they're getting overloaded with hours of television recordings that they feel obligated to watch. Ironically, the device that was supposed to free up more of their time has instead tied more of it up.

On one hand, I can sympathize. I feel the same way whenever I tape a program: It's almost like a homework assignment I have to watch. This is idiotic, because what's on the tape is always something that I wanted to watch, to the point where I went to the trouble to set up the VCR recording process; but for some reason, that's the feeling I associate with firing up the VCR. By extension, I rarely ever rent movies, pretty much for the same reason (and on those occasions when I do, I only rent one movie at a time). Catching something as it's being broadcast, while demanding in terms of time commitment, takes the decision out of my hands, and therefore makes it easier to experience.

On the other hand... Are these people morons? If the Tivo is pulling in too much stuff, then change the settings. Why create more headaches for yourself?

I'd have to say this is the most pathetic case study of them all:

"I get to the point now where I skip going to the gym so I can keep up with watching 'Dawson's Creek' reruns," which are broadcast for two hours each day, [Kevin Coto] said. "I look forward to when they end so I won't be stressed."

News flash, Kevin: YOU'RE RECORDING RERUNS! Reruns of A CANCELLED SHOW! Not only are they episodes you've probably already seen at least 2 or 3 times each, but they're very likely going to be broadcast again and again and again, for years to come. Not to mention that you could always get them on DVD, or burn them to disc yourself. This is the stupidest reason I can imagine for taking time out for television viewing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Kevin is borderline addicted.
look ma, no tapes!
Is the party over for Tivo, just as its brand name has become a synonym for any type of digital video recorder? That's what analysts like Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research think, as they believe the continuing rollout of settop/DVR combos by cable providers makes Tivo's days numbered unless they can find a partnership with one of those cable companies.

I've said as much, as part of my top ten media trends for 2003 (No. 3). My feeling is that having a separate bill for DVR service, even if it's a nominal amount like $10-15 monthly, on top of a cable bill, is an impediment. Integrating that charge into the cable bill, even if it's for the same amount, is a much easier sell for the majority of consumers. Thus, the DVR that's provided by the cable company has a much better chance of penetrating the market, and dominating it, to the disadvantage of Tivo.

There is the question of whether Tivo's headstart over more generic DVRs, and its brand power, won't help it survive. That's the tack that Tivo enthusiasts like GreenGourd take. Not surprisingly, Mac users also feel that Tivo is in a similar position as Apple Computer, i.e. being able to thrive despite serving a niche market. The feeling here is that Tivo doesn't have to concern itself with becoming the choice of the majority of consumers, because a fiercely loyal fanbase that relishes being on the cutting edge of this sorts of service will keep it afloat.

Obviously, I don't agree. The Apple analogy doesn't really work, because the niche for Tivo is much smaller, and not as well defined. Apple can point to key industry loyalties like publishing, advertising, education, etc. Tivo doesn't have that; even if you point to a higher-income/better-educated demographic that's adopted Tivo (for instance, I notice more and more celebrity endorsements for Tivo, to the point where I'm surprised the company hasn't recruited a few to do ads), it's not a situation where a group of users need to stick with Tivo in order to enjoy similar service. Fundamentally, you're using a DVR to record television signals; you don't need a particular brand of recorder to do that. So unlike a computer, you don't have the issue of different software working on different operating systems. Long story short, I don't see a real strong reason for Tivo to withstand a flood of competition from cable company-provided boxes.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Kids today. Rather than suffer the potential separation anxiety from the worldly goods mommy and daddy bought for them, they pack it all up and take it with them to college, where the institutions end up having to up the power ampage to cope.

I guess the concept of using college as an opportunity to start fresh has gone out of style.

All I can think of is that, when I arrived at my college in 1989 as a freshman, things were so primitive that we didn't even have cable TV in the dorms (gasp!). I like to bring that up with colleagues now, to illustrate how I experienced a taste of the campus dark ages. I guess we compensated by drinking heavily and having unprotected sex; I know I did.

We did get cable hookups in the dormrooms and the common lounges the very next year, though; and I immediately noticed the decline in casual group get-togethers in the dorms as a result.
It's pastels-n-putts time, off-Broadway style, as Golf: The Musical makes its long-awaited debut.

I am headed up to New York next week for Thanksgiving. Alas, I don't have much time to hit a show, and if I were to hit one, I think I'd opt for something more like Boobs! The Musical. Plus, if I'm in the mood for golf-related entertainment, I can always fire up my copy of Caddyshack.
Ah, the wonders of daytime television. I just saw a commercial for Natural Bionics, a dietary supplement that's supposed to re-build cartilage in your joints. Guess who the celebrity pitchman was for it?

It was none other than the six million dollar man himself, Lee Majors! He was looking pretty young--in fact, much younger than he looked the last time I saw him in some commercial or program or whatever. I'm thinking he's had some work done.

Just think: If Majors lives long enough for the advent of real bionics to become mainstream, he could be in for a bonanza of endorsement opportunities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

ice gridiron field court
Something that drives me bonkers is how even the casual fan will, in conversation, refer to his/her favorite or local team as "we". Like, "we're looking good to beat Team X this week!" I personally don't know any professional athletes right now, so it goes without saying that when I hear this in a conversation, it's coming from someone who will not be playing a professional down, or shift, or at-bat any time soon. It's the ideal end-result of sports marketing: You get the fans to identify so closely with the franchise they root for that they consider themselves to be part of the team.

I notice that the level of identification is strongest when the team is winning, and decidedly less so when losing comes around. To wit: "Boy, we really kicked some ass yesterday, didn't we!!" versus "Man, they sure sucked the other night, they deserved to lose!"

You can see my feelings on this dynamic. So I read this piece by St. Petersburg Times Sports copyeditor John Strickhouser with a knowing nod. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with this opinion.

I'll have to remember to compliment Strick the next time I stop by the Sports Department.
modern stone-age... nevermind
I'm watching "The Simpsons". The rerun in question just featured what's probably my favorite joke from the entire series. From episode No. 53, "Separate Vocations":

Bart: Wow, you guys get to carry clubs!
Police Officer Lou: They're called "batons", son.
Bart: Oh... What do you use them for?
Lou: To club people.

Simply priceless.

By the way, according to commentator Jon Bonné at MSNBC, the show no longer sucks as much as it has been the past five or so years, thanks to a de-emphasis on Jerkass Homer. I'll believe it when I see it; maybe I'll keep in mind to catch the new episode this coming Sunday.
Well, maybe not wrath, but unintended consequences, anyway. Following up on what to do when your mommy finds out about your blog, Blogger serves up tips on how to avoid work-related problems from your blog and blogging.

Very cute, Blogger-dudes. Just see that your Creative Tutorials don't get in the way of providing timely maintenance and support for us users.

I've blogged from work. It's been situations where things are realllllllllly slow, and I'm dead bored. Occasionally, I'll post something during lunch as well. Definitely not something to make into a habit, least of which because the timestamp makes is so obvious as to when you're doing it (you could always go back and monkey with the timestamp, but it seems like a lot of trouble). You may notice that I'm posting right now on a weekday afternoon, typically work time; however, I'm actually taking this week off, so it's my time burning away here.
all played out suckaneers
When you're 4-6, a drastic move is expected. The Super Bowl champion Bucs did just that yesterday by deactivating receiver Keyshawn Johnson for the rest of the season and telling him to stay home.

The only reaction I have is, where are Keyshawn's catches going to go now? For all the news he'd make over complaining about getting only one catch in a game, there are plenty of other games where he'd get the ball a lot. So far this season, he's led the team in receptions in three out of ten games, including 10 grabs for 123 yard against the Saints on Nov. 2 (a 17-14 loss). Call him a cancer all you want, but it's going to be hard to replace him in the middle, even with Joe Jurivicius back now from injury (and tabbed as Keyshawn's replacement in the slot).

It's hard not to see this as making Keyshawn the scapegoat for what's turning into a dismal season. He's the vocal one, he's the one who's always complaining, and he likely was going to be gone after this season regardless. However, if the Bucs don't make any other moves, in areas that are looking like much bigger problems--the defense's inability to protect a lead, the special teams' ineptness--then it looks pretty bad from their side.

While this move is making the national rounds, and will continue to do so through this weekend and beyond, the coverage from the St. Petersburg Times offers some very good inside perspective. Most of the stories are on the Bucs coverage page; however, since I can't find an archive-ready version of today's edition, I'll list out the stories below:

- Q&A on what exactly the Bucs did and why, including why they didn't just release Keyshawn outright (the NFL trade deadline passed in October, by the way);

- Columnist Gary Shelton on who's side of the story you believe--Coach Jon Gruden's or Keyshawn's;

- Reaction from the Buccaneer players, who mostly weren't tremendously surprised (note the reference to how similar this is to former Cleveland Browns receiver Kevin Johnson getting released last week; he's since been picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars);

- Various statements from both Gruden and Keyshawn from the preseason (July 2003) to earlier this month, referring to their working relationship, including Keyshawn's feather-ruffling statement about how Bill Parcells was the best coach he ever played for;

- Reaction roundup from the Bucs and other sources, including ESPN, NFL Network, and Keyshawn's agent;

- What the Bucs' receiving corps now looks like, barring any further moves;

- The official statement from One Buc Place;

- Finally, the online consequence of this news bombshell, as got swamped with more hits than ever before, including during the Super Bowl run.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

In the most bizarre of coincidences, today marks not only the 75th anniversary of Mickey Mouse's birth, but also the 25th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.

The method by which Jim Jones carried out his mass death--stirring cyanide into fruit punch and ordering his followers to drink it--has given rise to the term "drink the Kool-Aid". This is much to the chagrin of Kraft Foods, especially since there's evidence that the powdered drink in question wasn't Kool-Aid at all. I think it's a case of what sounds hipper and catchier; plus, Kool-Aid has become a universal brand name for the type of product it represents, much like Kleenex or Band-Aid.

In any case, it seems to me that the "drinking the Kool-Aid" phrase has been used with more frequency lately. I especially notice it in sports, where it's probably a natural for some disgruntled player and/or his agent to complain about a coach's approach in those terms. The example that comes to mind is former New Jersey Devil Mike Danton on Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.
Happy birthday, Mickey Mouse, you little transnational, sacrosanct, corporate imperialist, antichrist, friendly little guy, you.

I just couldn't resist hauling out the above picture from my archives. It's a safe bet that neither Walt nor Ub Iwerks ever envisioned drawing their little rat in this manner.

Monday, November 17, 2003

come a long way
You may recall the plight of poor little Pottsville, the would-be 1925 NFL championship city. It came down to a league owners' vote, and some interjection by the league commissioner and the Governor of Pennsylvania, to decide that the old Maroons did not have enough of a case to overturn history.

Did Pottsville ever have a leg to stand on? The whole debate has provided us with a great look back at the NFL's humble, hard-scrabble beginnings, when teams made their own schedules and disbanded at will.
Sonofabitch. I clean forgot about the screening of Tarkovsky's Solaris earlier tonight at the St. Petersburg Main Public Library. Or maybe I thought it was tomorrow night, I dunno.

I've seen Solaris a couple of times, both in the theater and on TV. But I wanted to catch it on the big screen again. I even emailed the library a couple of weeks ago to confirm that they were showing the original, and not last year's George Clooney remake. Damn.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of Russian/Soviet cinema.
If you grew up and went to gradeschool in New York State during the '70s and '80s, you learned about the Erie Canal. You learned about how that engineering marvel of the 19th Century practically made New York City into the commercial colossus it remains today. You even learned a folk song about the Canal:

I've got a mule and her name is Sal
15 miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
15 miles on the Erie Canal

They must have taught us a hundred sing-a-longs in elementary school, and for some reason, "Erie Canal" is the only one that's really stuck with me. Go figure.

Go figure, too, that a waterway that played such an important part in American history, and was well-mapped only a hundred years ago, could somehow become "lost". But that's what happened, sorta. As the Canal fell out of active commercial use, parts of it became buried and undocumented by the middle of the last century. So today, it's been left to the archaeologists to uncover the Erie Canal.

This piece brought back lots of memories, despite my never actually having seen the thing. It's nice to know what happened to the subject of that old tune.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

One of the prime impetuses in my buying a cellphone a few years back was finding myself in situations where I'd get separated from my friends in a crowded venue, and then spending hours trying to locate each other. I figured mobile phones would solve that problem much more efficiently.

Little did I know that learning a time-honored whistling language from the Canary Islands was a viable alternative. Well, maybe not viable, exactly, but an alternative... presuming I could get my friends to learn it too. Which would have been unlikely. Ahem.

I wonder what sort of encryption possibilities this unique language has?

Anyway, "Silbo Gomero" is making a comeback after a few decades of disuse, and is being recognized as a unique cultural heritage of the Canary Islanders, predating even the introduction of Spanish culture centuries ago. I like that this AP article included an MP3 sampling of the language; the one-minute exchange translates to the following:

"Hey, Servando!"


"Look, go tell Julio to bring the castanets."

"OK. Hey, Julio!"


"Lili says you should go get the kids and have them bring the castanets for the party."

"OK, OK, OK."

Nope, I can't grock it out either; it sounds like just some random bird whistling. But I'll take the silbadors' word for it.

It might seem appropriate for a language that sounds like birdsong to exist in the Canary Islands, but scholarly theories as to how the archipelago got its name make no mention of whistling.

I wish they had expanded on this a bit... The Canary Islands figured prominently in the Age of Discovery explorations by Spain and Portugal, and having read a good bit of that history, I've run across the guesses on the origin of the name "Canary". Contrary to popular notion, the islands weren't named after the birds; it's more like the reverse, the birds having been introduced to the islands well after the initial naming. The islands have been known to Europeans since at least Roman times, and there's stong evidence that "Canary" is of Roman/Latin origin, being the root word for "canine". Records show that some of the islands were home to breeds of large, wild dogs, and so were named after them. Those dogs, over the centuries, have been hunted out of existence.
It stands to reason that every secret code is crackable. After all, encryption doesn't work unless the intended receiver is able to decipher it and therefore get at the information being relayed; so if one party is able to do it, a third party theoretically should be able to solve it. The primary goal of the encoder is to make it as hard as possible to unwrap the encrypted package without having the proper tools. This can take the form of various things, from the simplest--secret decoder rings, mental riddles--to the most complex--special inks, software, biotechnological keys, etc. But the point remains the same: Since it's possible to decode the encryption at one point, it's very possible to do it at an unintended point, albiet with lots of work.

That's why, when I read about a new technique in encryption that, thanks to the use of quantum physics, is declared uncrackable, I was skeptical. The more I read, though, the more it seems that the hype might very well be for real. I'll admit that much of this stuff is over my head, although I understand the basic concepts and remain interested in it overall. From what I'm reading here, cracking this stuff would take unprecedented effort.

I like how Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is invoked. Again, that's part of what fascinates me about this field. The historical aspect of Heisenberg's work is at least as compelling to me; for anyone who's interested in such things, Michael Frayn's Copenhagen (the script of the play) is a great piece to absorb.
What are the roles of shopping malls in modern America? The short answer is that they're simply retail zones chock full of stores. The more complete answer is that they're social interaction centers, where people congregate out of lack of satisfactory alternatives. You can call them "third places", "lifestyle centers", "commercial spaces"--the upshot is, malls, by their very existence, generate a social and economic dynamic that's hard to ignore.

This view, of course, seems to fly in the face of the fairly recent news that suggests malls are dying out, much to my surprise. I guess you could apply the characteristics of a traditional mall--a fairly tight, enclosed cluster of retail establishments--to the newer supercenters from Wal-Mart and Target. These supercenters, while having their own dedicated parking areas and commercial space, are often grouped in the same general districts by design, so you could argue that there's still a mall-like environment there--only more spread-out.

A number of examples come to mind regarding the mall as a social space: Pop princess Tiffany starting her career in the late '80s by doing a mall concert tour (to much derision, although it appears she may have been ahead of her time); a recent flashmob gathering in a Tampa mall (which I berated the organizer over in an email--I cannot think of anything lamer than gathering in a freakin' mall, for no better reason than to antagonize the security guards); various political protests that target malls, where the action is (as referenced in Glenn Harlan Reynolds' article above).
movin' on
Tonight on ESPN2, the World Series of Poker will be telecast from 7PM to 10PM Eastern time, basically as an ESPN alternative to the NFL Sunday Night Football game on the mothership. This, despite there being an NHL game tonight starting at 8PM, and a Sunday night hockey game has been a standard for the last few years of the NHL on ESPN. Not only that, but it's St. Louis at Anaheim, a game that's seemingly tailor-made on the schedule to be a national ESPN2 broadcast, as parent company Disney tends to broadcast games involving their wholly-owned (for now) Mighty Ducks as much as possible.

I know the TV schedules are set months in advance, so the lineup for tonight wasn't a recent decision. Still, I think it speaks volumes that pucks are being pushed aside for chips tonight:

- The ratings for hockey are still low-low-low, while the World Series of Poker has been a surprising ratings bonanza; so do the math.

-There's a certain ignominity in a sporting event being pushed aside for a non-sporting event (that's not necessarily a slight against the World Series of Poker, but note that even ESPN slots it under the ESPN Original Entertainment umbrella, where the network's non-pure sporting events go.

- This being the last year of the NHL's broadcast deal with Disney (which encompasses mainly ESPN/ESPN2, with ABC broadcasts mainly in the postseason), a move like this tells me that this marriage is over after the season. (Hello, NHL on NBC?)

Update: Looks like the broadcasting schedule was out of date, to the chagrin of poker spectator fans. The World Series of Poker is nowhere to be seen on the ESPN networks tonight; instead, the Deuce is showing men's tennis. Either way, it ain't hockey, meaning there's nothing for me.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Are you blogging your brains out on a regular basis, bragging about all the sex, drugs and rockin'-and-rollin' you're doing every night? Figure that your friends and loved ones won't find out, despite the fact that you're broadcasting it on the World Wide (take note: that's World Wide, not just your little monitor) Web? You'd better hope they don't, or else this Onion satire about a blogger's mom discovering his little corner of the Net could happen to you.

Fortunately, the folks at Blogger put some thought into this matter, and integrated the scenario into their help files.

(Anyone else who uses Blogger as their blogging service already knows about all this, but I thought it was something the non-Blogger world would enjoy too.)
aerial view
Today I went for an impromptu hike through Weedon Island (take note, it's not really an island--that's a misidentification from early exploration of the area, and it's stuck with the name). It's the most amazing place--a 1,500-acre nature preserve five minutes away from my house, and smack in the middle of St. Petersburg, a decent-sized (300,000) city. It's a great feeling to go from the din of city noise and crowding to the tranquility and relative (if you don't mind a few fellow hikers) isolation of the woods.

I was planning on going to Weedon today anyway, but just to stay on the paved trail, and linger on the pier that overhangs Tampa Bay. I took a pen and pad with me, and had in mind to do a little drawing (plenty of bird life around, and with luck, some exotic fish like manta rays). It turns out that, once I got there, the bay was at a really low level--couldn't have been more than 6 inches deep. That's not too unusual, but the upshot was that there were no fish to see, and the birds were wading too far out to really capture in drawing. I ended up jotting down some randome thoughts for about 15 minutes, then headed down the trail.

On the way back, I stopped by the new learning center. It was a neat place, still in development but stocked with interactive displays and artifacts. It was a nice touch, but sort of felt intrusive--too much technology and developed space in what's otherwise a bucolic setting. I guess that's why as soon as I walked out of there, I headed for the first dirt trail I could see, and went at it.

Like I implied, it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. Therefore, I wasn't really geared for it--I was wearing an ancient pair of boat shoes instead of sneakers or hiking boots, and shorts that didn't offer any protection against brambles and other low plants. So I stuck strictly to the trails. It was still a pleasant few hours. We'll see if my feet agree over the next couple of days, if blisters show up.

It was a nice day for it--temperature is down to 70 today, so it was nice and cool (yes, I know those of you north of here think it's crazy to think of 70 degrees Fahrenheit as cool; but for an area that's an average of 85-90 degrees most of the year, 70 is almost chilly). It's been so long since I've had an afternoon to devote to a hike. I'll have to do it again soon, maybe while I take next week off from work.
No sooner do I wonder about what the heck "shapewear" is, and get my answer (thanks Liz), than I see a television commercial promoting Silkies.

I take it this is what shapewear is all about--tummy-tuck control, curve-enhancement, etc. Hey, beats going to the gym!

One thing: The commercial, which had production values just a hair above K-Tel top-hits records, threw me a curveball by making casual but frequent use of the word "butt". Like, "do you wish your butt looked better?" It caught me a bit off-guard. I guess I'm not used to hearing that word in an everyday low-grade commercial. I think it reveals a lack of solid copywriting, though. There are less blunt terms for the buttocks: Backside, posterior, rear...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Lesson learned: Don't leave a Charms Blow Pop (apple flavor or, presumably, another other) in your knick-knack basket, because eventually it'll crack open and leak its gooey, sugary innards. Fortunately, the damage was slight and limited, taking out just a small pad of Post-It Notes. I'm pleasantly surprised I didn't find a bunch of insects swarming all over it.
Like two great tastes that taste great together: Pornography and blogging come together, right now, at Fleshbot.

It's like oldschool Internet meeting the new kid on the block. Online porn has been around since the days of 14.4k modems (and probably even before that); blogging, in the form that we recognize, is relatively new. The combination was natural.
jenny's secret
There's no stopping Jennifer Lopez as she builds herself into a one-woman commercial empire. Jenny-down-the-block's latest venture is the JLO by Jennifer Lopez Lingerie collection, coming at you in Fall 2004.

As creative director, the Bronx native will use her personal style in designing the line's sleepwear, loungewear, bras, panties and shapewear which will include sizes for the full-figure woman.

Let's see... Sleepwear--check. Loungewear--check. Bras--check. Panties--check. Shapewear... I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that one. Any ladies want to enlighten me?

Given J.Lo's notable posterior, I just know she'll be making bottoms that are heavy on the bootilicious.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I suppose United Airlines could have picked an even stupider name for it's cut-rate discount airline than Ted. But it's hard to believe that's possible.

In case you don't get it: It's "Ted", derived from Uni-TED. Ha. Ha.

Considering that UAL is just coming out of bankruptcy, I can only conclude that the strategy behind this inane name is to send the company right back into Chapter 11.

Take note of the other knucklehead names for low-frills airline offshoots:

SONG: Delta Air Lines targeted women when it launched its new low-cost airline with simple fares and sky-blue leather seats. The name was "meant to evoke feelings people have about their favorite piece of music," according to John Selvaggio, CEO of the carrier.

VIRGIN: Virgin Atlantic, the "rock 'n' roll" airline, was formed by Richard Branson, who also founded Virgin Music after a publishing venture failed. He opted for Virgin because he and his partners were such novices.

JETBLUE: Expensive consultants came up with duds like "egg," "it" and "Air Hop." The airline toyed with "True Blue" but found out that name was owned by a rental-car business. With time running out, the company went with "JetBlue," an employee's suggestion.

HOOTERS: The owner of the Hooters restaurant chain, known for waitresses in tight T-shirts and shorts, bought up the assets of bankrupt Vanguard Airlines and named it after the chicken wing eatery, which is named for, well, you figure it out.

JAZZ: Air Canada's regional carrier had operated under four names. Last year, the airline combined them under the Air Canada Jazz name to "build on the strengths of the four existing brands," said Joseph D. Randell, president of the carrier. He said the Jazz label "acts as a metaphor for being youthful, vibrant, innovative, flexible and part of the local community."
Here's a good overview of what's hip in the latest and greatest mobile phones and their wireless services.

It makes me think that making an actual voice call on one of these phones is practically besides the point. Why bother straining your vocal chords when you can exercise your thumb muscles, or use your photographic eye?
A roadside sign for the Boat Angel charity program caught my eye on the way home today.

Are there that many homeless people out there in need of a slightly-used sloop?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

It's not quite as dramatic as getting punk'd, but it's something, anyway. The spread of Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones has given rise to the new pasttime of bluejacking--sending a text message to someone a short distance away, primarily for shock value.

I can see this being a boon to social maladroits too shy to actually approach another human being. Scope out that pretty girl with a cute electronic message, then wait for reaction. Pray you don't creep her out, like, totally, dude.

Leave it to those cheeky Brits to give us step-by-step instructions on how to pull this off:

- Turn Bluetooth on
- Ensure your phone is discoverable by other Bluetooth devices
- Create contact using your message as the name
- Choose to send this contact via Bluetooth
- Phone searches for Bluetooth-enabled phones within range
- Pick a victim from the phones within range and send the contact to them
Just a day after I note that the upcoming popup-blocking features in IE will put the final nail in the coffin of the popup ad format comes an update on the ever-growing online ad market.

It's a good overview of what's working as we approach 2004. Not surprisingly, interstatials--those page-embedded ads with animation and sound--are the most popular way to go. Advertisers are frothing at the mouth over the prospect of further incorporating rich media, i.e. full-motion video.

The use of [rich-media] ads surged in the second quarter, but they still made up just 6% of all ads, according to the IAB.

That share should continue to grow, said Allie Savarino, senior vice president of Unicast Communications Corp., which provides technology for several standardized rich-media ad formats. Unicast, based in New York, expects a tripling in volume of its full-page "superstitial" rich-media ad format in the first quarter of 2004 from a year earlier, Ms. Savarino said, and will see renewed interest from a new format that will display video at higher speeds than had been possible.

"In 2004, what you will see is [brand advertisers] finally saying, ``There are opportunities here that rival offline media,'" Ms. Savarino said.
rockin' in the free world
Guess who turns 58 today?

I wish I was a trapper
I would give a thousand pelts
To sleep with Pocahontas
And find out how she felt
In the mornin'
On the fields of green
In the homeland
We've never seen

And maybe Marlon Brando
Will be there by the fire
We'll sit and talk of Hollywood
And the good things there for hire
And the Astrodome
And the first teepee
Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me

- Pocahontas, 1979

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

hellllllooooo, ball
I'm not going to wait for the death-comes-in-threes theory to play out to take note of the death of Art Carney.

I got to see Carney at his finest through endless reruns of "The Honeymooners" on WPIX-Channel 11 in New York. I'm glad I grew up watching those late-night treasures. I'm also glad I never asked Carney any smart-alecky questions relating to his Ed Norton alter-ego:

Carney told a Saturday Evening Post interviewer in 1961 that strangers were always asking him how he liked it down in the sewer. "I have seasonal answers," he said. "In the summer: 'I like it down there because it's cool.' In the winter: 'I like it down there because it's warm.' Then I've got one that isn't seasonal: 'Go to hell.' "

Update: TV Land is showing a 24-hour Honeymooners marathon to commemorate Carney's career on the show. I'm very tempted to watch the whole thing; it's been years since I've seen some of them. Can't see staying cooped up in the house all night, though.

I've also come across a couple of incidental Ed Norton-related musical stuff: Carney singing "Song of the Sewer", and the Eddie Murphy-Joe Piscopo "Honeymooners' Rap" record (which I think I listened to maybe once, on NYC radio when I was a kid, and yet I remember it in an amazingly vivid way).
Do you want to take in the notorious miniseries "The Reagans", but don't have Showtime? You can take a look at what all the hubbub is about by downloading a PDF of the script from (if you're not a Salon subscriber, you'll have to click for the Day Pass; it's painless, but you should backtrack to the original article link and refresh to get at the PDF link).

Granted, you won't get the full effect from reading the script; in particular, you miss out on the visual treat that is James "Mr. Streisand" Brolin walking around with an overload of brown shoe polish in his hair. But it's the next best thing, I suppose.
After hemming and hawing over it for years, Microsoft will finally build in automatic popup/popunder-stopping capabilities into the next upgrade to Internet Explorer.

Given that IE is the default browser for at least 90 percent of the online world, this pretty much will kill off the scourge of popup advertising. I'm sure not many will shed a tear, save the shitheads who actually employ the super-annoying technique.

A lot of tech-heads will point out how every browser other than IE already incorporates popup-blocking; therefore, in their view, this move by IE is superfluous. That's a blindman's view of where the majority of eyeballs are, of course. I love the Mozilla browsers to death; I even started using the new lean-and-mean Mozilla Firebird a couple of days ago. But I'm well aware that they, and all other non-IE browsers, will forever be a puny minority as long as Windows is the dominant operating system--and that's going to be the case for the foreseeable future.

In a lot of ways, those putting significant money and resources into Internet advertising have already moved beyond the popup model. Embedded ads and other channels will be more effective in the long run. Fortunately, some media, like newspapers, didn't have much riding on this ad format anyway, so nothing's really lost.
lost cause
The controversy over Howard Dean's comments regarding his desire to be the candidate for Confederate flag-waving white Southerners represents the first real fireworks in the 2004 Election season.

As is usual in a situation loaded with charged imagery and symbolism (see above), whatever distinctions and qualifications that the original arguments may have contained get blurred. So it is in the early going that Dean is getting loads of flack for courting racists, to frame it in the simplistic, sound-bite version.

A more thoughtful perspective on Dean's intent is offered by Constance L. Rice. The most insightful quote:

[Martin Luther] King realized that the grand old bargain this country had always offered to poor whites – namely, accept your poverty and we will ensure your racial caste superiority over blacks – must be destroyed before universal opportunity could be realized.

This is a direct challenge to "herrenvolk democracy" standard that's been a foundation of the social order in the United States since at least the Civil War, if not before; and not only in the South, but nationwide, I'd argue.

Obviously, Dean is shooting for breaking the divide-and-conquer race strategy that's worked so well for the Republicans for the past 40 years, especially in the formerly Solid (Democrat) South. I'm not betting it'll work, at least not now. I suppose the Democrats have to lay the groundwork for two or three elections ahead, though.

Monday, November 10, 2003

movie star
I caught American Splendor tonight, nearly ten months after first writing about it and looking forward to seeing it. (Hey, that's life in a non-select city; Tampa Bay's not New York or Los Angeles.)

I enjoyed it. It was pretty much what I expected, and I was fine with that. Paul Giamatti was a good casting decision as Harvey; he did a good job playing the misanthropic grouch you can't help but love. I liked how the real Pekar was injected into the film too.

I think the opening scene with the superheroes was a deft touch, and set an appropriate tone for the whole movie; plus, it was a nice little bone to toss to us comic book enthusiasts. It was s great way to convey how out of sync Pekar's work is with the perceived status quo in comics, and really with Harvey and life in general.
Don't know why I thought of this notable quote today; I've known of it for years. I've always liked it. Let's not even analyze why. From our 33rd President, "Give 'Em Hell Harry" Truman:

"I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Today's "Pearls Before Swine" strip is a good one, and thought-provoking to boot. The idea of Mozart, Miles Davis and Paul McCartney being diagnosed as Ritalin candidates is funny enough; the musical end result is even funnier.

The humor derives, naturally, from the element of truth in the joke. The big selling point used by the doctors, counselors and (ultimately) pharmaceutical companies that push behavior-modification drugs is the desirability of conformity. It plays on a parent's worries about raising a child right, and so hits the highly vulnerable side of a person. I'm not saying that every little spazoid out there is a budding artist or outside-the-box genius; but surely, this knee-jerk prescribing of medication at the first sign of atypical behavior isn't the answer.

It's pretty disturbing how much reliance the average person puts in drugs to make it all better. Don't want your kid to fall behind in school? Give him this pill. Depressed all the time? Take this pill. Not getting hard on a regular basis? Take this pill.

Side effects? None that we've seen yet, and if there are, I'm sure we'll have a pill for that too.

One of my kookier irrational attitudes is that toward the continuing legal drugging-up of America. My view is that doctors are pushing this crap on their patients way too readily, and placing way too much trust in the pharmaceutical companies to guard against adverse effects--which I'm sure they're not. I have no doubt that, 10 to 20 years from now, we'll be seeing all kinds of reports of how fucked up people will be as a result of growing up in a constantly-medicated state.

And obviously, there's something screwy about a society that, on the one hand, is so accepting of a non-effective "war on drugs", and on the other readily pops a pill that's been approved by any old quack. Quite the contradictory message: "Always remember, kids, Don't Do Drugs™. Now take your Ritalin and go take a nap."