The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

MEET THE SALARY CAP WIZARD
bustin' capscap buster
With the free agency period starting this week, NFL teams have some work to do on their payrolls. Enter the capologist, the front-office guy who has to decide who gets cut, who gets an accelerated signing bonus and who has to take a pay cut, all toward getting the team to that $80.582-million magic number.

The St. Pete Times provides this fun Flash piece to illustrate some of the finer points of capology (or, if you prefer, caprobatics). An interesting note regarding why the hometown Bucs can't do anything with their franchise-player designation:

In 1999, the Bucs made [Chidi] Ahanotu a franchise player, but because they did not sign him before the start of free agency in March, the six-year deal he signed in July made him the Bucs franchise player through 2005. Oops. Ahanotu was released after the 2000 season and has since played for St. Louis, Buffalo and San Francisco, all the while tagged as the Bucs' franchise player.

I've wondered about the finer points of the cap before, particularly about the so-called "dead money" it creates. I think today's articles clear some of this up for me; for instance, I was wrong regarding base salary being pro-rated and thus looking to me like money that's never actually paid out by a team. From what I've read here, teams eventually have to pay out the money that's proscribed under the cap limit, except for relatively small amounts that count as base salary in terminated contracts. Of course, the nature of the NFL's non-guaranteed contracts is, I think, the crucial reason why a hard cap works so well in football, and probably wouldn't work as well in other sports (pertinent as the NHL works toward a new collective bargaining agreement with its players).
LOSE THAT SUNSCREEN, GET THAT VITAMIN D
After being whipped into a fear frenzy for years over skin cancer, people have finally started to religiously use sunscreen with ridiculously-high SDF. So everything's okay now, right?

Well, no. As is the case with most health-related issues, doing one thing here results in a deficiency in another area. In this case, that's deficiency with a capital "D"--as in the vitamin by the same letter. It turns out that all that sun protection results in a lack, sometimes severe, of vitamin D, which leads to more health problems than previously believed. You can't win for losing.

I'm happy to say that I got my vitamin D production time in earlier today, in the form of an hour of tan time by the pool. No sunscreen or other additives to come between me and that sweet, sweet sunlight.

(Skin cancer? What skin cancer?)
NIKE PLAYS "WHAT IF?"
gridiron on ice
Leave it to Nike to come up with an eye-catching, buzz-worthy ad campaign. Inspired by usually inane subjects that come up during bar-bet banter, the "what if" campaign takes established sports stars and remixes them, placing them out of their chosen sports and into the uniforms of others:

The campaign, by the longtime Nike agency Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore., which also created the "Bo knows" ads, carries the theme "What if?" The commercials, in lengths of 15, 60 and 90 seconds, offer these unlikely crossovers by Nike endorsers: the tennis star Andre Agassi playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox; the cyclist Lance Armstrong boxing; the pitcher Randy Johnson as a professional bowler; the runner Marion Jones as a gymnast; the football players Brian Urlacher and Michael Vick as hockey teammates; and the tennis star Serena Williams playing beach volleyball.

The commercial is all over the TV right now. It's also on the Nike site. I'd like to find a copy to have; no luck so far.

I have to say, Michael Vick has a wicked-looking wrist shot; but he shoots, he scores, so whatever works. His position on the ice isn't specified, but the fictitious play-by-play on the commercial refers to him and Urlacher as a "scoring one-two punch", which suggests they're both forwards. Don't ask me why, but I think that Vick would be more effective as a potent offensive defenseman, in the mold of Brian Leetch or Rob Blake: Breakaway speed, great passing, good checking, and a nose for the net. Plus, naturally, the go-to quarterback on the power play.
CAREER PATHS FOR BUBBA
When the news of Bubba the Love Sponge's firing came down last week, I made a brief prediction on Bubba's future prospects as a free agent:

I guess this frees Bubba to pursue the Howard Stern-like fame he believes he's due. Given that he's flopped in the couple of times he's tried to break into larger markets like Chicago and Philadelphia, though, I'd say his more likely destiny lies in strip clubs and metal-rock festivals.

I still think emceeing gigs like the Livestock Music Festival is where Bubba will be making his bread-and-butter from here on out. Bubba himself is holding out hope of getting his show revived on satellite radio.

Others feel that Bubba has some marketable skills, often on display during his show's tenure, that could open the doors to many diverse fields. Some of the opportunities available from Monster.com:

1. Knowledge of hog slaughtering.

Senior butcher - "Manage inventory, place biweekly meat orders, cut and serve raw the world's finest beef, pork, and poultry. Extensive knowledge of butchery. Chance of a life time." Location: Cape Cod, Mass.

3. Familiarity with Federal Communications Commission standards.

FCC Regulatory Affairs Counsel - "We have an immediate opening for a Federal Regulatory Affairs Attorney to join our Legal/Regulatory team. The Attorney will represent Level 3 Communications before the Federal Communication Commission and other federal agencies in formulating policy positions, drafting comments and presentations, meeting with FCC staff to articulate Level 3's positions; serve as the primary contact for the FCC." Location: Westminster, Colo.

5. His "No-panties Thursday" past, which had listeners hanging skimpy garments on their car antennas.

Lingerie buyer - "The Wet Seal, Inc., a specialty retailer of fashionable and contemporary apparel and accessory items is headquartered in Foothill Ranch, California. We are currently seeking a lingerie buyer." Location: Foothill Ranch, Calif.
LEAP DAY
Geez, it's still February? When is this freakin' month gonna end, already?? It feels so much longer this year, for some reason.

Oh, right! Today is February 29th--Leap Day! The chronological equivalent of Metamucil (to keep all things calendar-related regular--get it?).

So, we all get an extra day. And it's on a weekend, to boot. So enjoy yourself, and thank Julius Caesar for the opportunity.
WHEN DISCO DIED
I'm watching VH1's "When Disco Ruled The World". Very entertaining. It certainly feeds my wasn't-there-really '70s nostalgia urge.

I think the key quote was provided by Charlie Anzalone, a disco DJ from back in the day:

When they did a disco version of Ethel Merman singing "There's No Business Like Show Business", I knew it was over.

In most of the civilized world, anyway. In Canada, I think it took the release of the Guy Lafleur Disco Scoring Machine record to finally kill off the genre there.
APPLE STORES, BUT NO MICROSOFT STORES?
This past weekend saw the opening of San Francisco's Apple Store, to the customary wild fanfare. The company's retail outlets are a testament to the level of loyalty Apple users have (not to mention providing Apple a sure-fire, if expensive, way to ensure their products have a bricks-and-mortar sales channel).

This latest showing of Apple enthusiasm triggered idle speculation in me as to why Microsoft hasn't followed suit and opened their own chain of Microsoft Stores. I mean, Gates and Co. have stolen so many other ideas and concepts from Apple, why not this?

The answer, of course, is that there are already a bunch of Microsoft Stores in existence--they're called Best Buy, Target, CompUSA, Wal-Mart and about a thousand others. Microsoft doesn't need to open its own retail arm because it doesn't have any problem getting its product onto store shelves; that's the benefit of running a monopoly. The only reason to start up a Microsoft-branded store is out of pure ego, and if nothing else, Bill Gates isn't stupid. Online retailing is the other factor--it's a lot cheaper to set up an ecommerce site to do some selling instead of opening up a physical store.

Still, it would make for some interesting PR for the Big Redmond Machine. Bill Gates, if you're reading this, remember to give me my percentage. I might take it in the form of Xbox stuff; we'll talk.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

NEW FAVORITE ARCHIVES
I don't know how much anyone but me notices this sort of thing, but I had neglected to update the "some of my favorites" Archive area of this blog's front page for... oh, several months now. I used to make a point of updating it at the top of every month, but that hasn't been the case in a looooong time.

Well, I just dug through the archives, and updated the links to point to some different past posts. Quite the stroll down memory lane...

I think I need to find a more automated way to update that sucker. Right now, it involves not only going through the blog's archived posts and deciding which posts stand out, but then I have to mess with the HTML code. It's generally a pain. A little piece of JavaScript or something would be ideal. If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.
RE-EXAMINING THE EXAMINER
It's hard to believe that the San Francisco Examiner, once the flagship paper of the global Hearst publishing empire, has fallen so low. It's current incarnation is as a freebie weekly, almost like an alternate but not quite, and a pale shadow of its former self.

It was predictable, though. When Hearst finally got to buy the crosstown rival San Francisco Chronicle, thus getting a more valuable newspaper property, it had to sell off the Examiner for regulatory reasons. Everyone knew they would try to sell it to an owner that couldn't possibly succeed, especially with the discontinuation of the two papers' Joint Operating Agreement. Enter the Fang family, publishers of a handful of rinky-dink news weeklies in northern California. They bought the Examiner for the token sum of $1 in 2000, thus doing Hearst a favor.

As predicted, the Examiner has been tanking ever since, and San Francisco, like many U.S. cities, is down to one hometown paper (although there are other Bay area papers, like the San Jose Mercury News, for the market).

Now, the Examiner is getting a shot at revival from billionaire Philip Anschutz, who bought it for around $20 million.

Can he resurrect the Examiner to something close to its former glory? It'll be tough. Hearst isn't going to sit back and let its Chronicle dominance wither. It also depends on how Anschutz wants to play this game: Does he want to invest a ton of capital into this venture, perhaps making it a foundation for broader media holdings? I'm thinking he'll have to take some unconventional routes to building the paper back up again.

Friday, February 27, 2004

TALK ABOUT THE PASSION
christ
I suspect I'll be catching The Passion of the Christ sometime this weekend. The weather is supposed to be pretty foul through at least Saturday night, so it's a good movie op.

Kenneth L. Woodward presents a thoughtful look at how the controversially violent imagery of Jesus' final hours provides a chance to re-connect with the more redemptive aspects of Christianity. I especially like the point he makes regarding the overly-easygoing faith that most Americans, and others, take for granted:

H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the creed of an easygoing American Christianity that has in our time triumphantly come to pass: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross." Despite its muscular excess, Gibson's symbol-laden film is a welcome repudiation of all that...

Indeed, Gibson's film leaves out most of the elements of the Jesus story that contemporary American Christianity now emphasizes. His Jesus does not demand a "born again" experience, as most evangelists do, in order to gain salvation. He does not heal the sick or exorcise demons, as Pentecostals emphasize. He doesn't promote social causes, as liberal denominations do. He certainly doesn't crusade against gender discrimination, as some feminists believe he did, nor does he teach that we all possess an inner divinity, as today's nouveau Gnostics believe. One cannot imagine this Jesus joining a New Age sunrise Easter service overlooking the Pacific...

Significantly, the Passion and death of Jesus is the chief element in the Gospel story that other religions cannot accept. In Islam, Jesus does not die on the cross because such a fate is considered unfitting for a prophet of Allah.

By Hindus and Buddhists, Jesus is often regarded as a spiritual master, but the story of his suffering and death are considered unbecoming of an enlightened sage. Like the Buddha, the truly liberated transcend suffering and death. But Jesus submits to it - willingly, Christians believe - for the sins of all.

This jibes with many accounts I've read of a general Asian (especially Chinese) opinion of Christianity; with tenets rooted in physical suffering, rapturous emotions and classic god-eating (i.e. the sacrament), classic Confucian philosophy regards Christianity as a savage religion.

A secondary reason for catching Passion is to amuse myself at how many people will get scared off by the two hours worth of subtitles.
PADDLING FOR THE BEAN
Are you a hardcore java-holic? Is a day without coffee a hellish prospect for you? If so, you too just might be crazy enough to get up at 3:30AM, paddle cold water in a kayak for an hour, and settle on an island campground for some fire-brewed Yukon blend.

I get my caffeine fix from tea (hot and iced) and soda, myself.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

INTRODUCTORY MOVIE-SNOB ARAMAIC
Aside from the brouhaha generated over The Passion of the Christ, director Mel Gibson's decision to make the film mostly in Aramaic has inspired hope among the world's dwindling native Aramaic speakers that the film could revive interest in the formerly widespread language.

Let the record show that GQ magazine is doing its part to spread the word. Much in the spirit of the movie, the new March issue includes some key Aramaic* phrases you can use when discussing Mr. Gibson's opus:

HAVE YOU SEEN THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST? >> Ha-hazeita yat Mityasrei di Mashiha?

I THOUGHT IT WAS QUITE GOOD. >> Sivreit ana di sirta d'na havah sagi tav.

JESUS CHRIST, THIS MOVIE IS BAD! >> Scheiss, sirta d'na hu b'ish ve-mitmall'ei dreck!

MEL GIBSON SHOULD HAVE "CALLED IT A DAY" AFTER WHAT WOMEN WANT. >> Levay di la mafsiq Mel Gibson leme'bad sirtin aharei Ra'avata di Nashayya.

*Keep in mind that this is a very tongue-in-cheek piece, and therefore any resemblance between this and actual Aramaic may be iffy. "Scheiss", for instance, is obviously not Aramaic at all, but rather the German word for "shit". Based on my general facility for languages, I think the rest of the translation here is definitely Semetic, so it's mostly at least a good try at Aramaic (although I wouldn't be surprised to find out it's a polyglot of Hebrew, Arabic and other languages).
NO VROOM THIS YEAR
no go
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which debuted here last year, has turned out to be a one-and-done event--for now. Thanks to the collapse of CART and subsequent local legal disputes, the St. Pete race has been dropped from this year's schedule. Fingers are crossed that everything can be resolved in time for a stab at a race next year, or even in 2006.

I've still got my tickets to the inaugural opening day of the 2003 race. I wonder if they'll eventually be worth something in the collector's market.
CRAPPLE OF MY EYE
You just know it's going to be a good day when you catch a midday showing of The Apple on FLIX! If you ever come across this flick, make time to watch it, and revel in the delicious pain. In my own words:

Set in the far-flung future of 1994! When the glam-rock dialectic has taken over the world, and every New Yorker speaks with either a British or (West) German accent! You know, just like it really was ;)

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

And yes, it was just as good the second time around.

I wish to God I could track down a copy of the soundtrack. It's not available through the usual online sources. It's possible every copy of it is lost forever, having all been used as projectiles during the film's grand premiere.
GONE SURFIN', SURFIN' TAMPA BAY
I was recently chatting up this young lady who had just moved to the area. She asked me what the surfing scene was like in Tampa Bay. When I told her there was no real surfing scene here, she couldn't quite believe it. "All these beaches here, and nobody surfs?" she asked, incredulous.

I've run into that before. People from other parts of the country (I think she was from Ohio; somewhere in the Midwest, anyway) seem to assume that miles of beaches equals surfboards, glassy waves and hangin' ten, dude. The fact is, this isn't Oahu, and the water conditions on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida are usually too calm for any serious wave-riding (the exception being when a tropical storm or hurricane passes close by, and then you have to be more than a little meshugah to be out on the water anyway). From what I understand, the conditions get slightly better on the Atlantic side of the state, especially on the Space Coast expanse between Palm Beach and Daytona. But even there, surfing is a similar experience to what the rest of the Eastern Seaboard has to offer: Fair at best, and hardly worth comparing to southern California and Hawaii.

Still, where there's a beach, there's a way, as this hardy little band of St. Pete Beach surfers can testify. The waves may not be much, and the thrill comes more from submerging yourself in 50-60 degree water than from actually riding, but I guess it's something.

I suppose I'll now have to revise my area surfing report, the next time I'm picking up women in a bar.
A JIFFY OF AN INSTANT OF A SECOND
On an average day, you're probably too busy to spare even a second of your time. But can you spare an attosecond? Or even less? Research scientists in Germany and Austria have managed to measure time intervals so small that they're meaningful only on a sub-atomic level.

So how long is an attosecond, anyway?

As an attosecond is a thousand million billionth of a second, the intervals recorded by the team are a ten million billionth of a second long. A gap of 100 attoseconds is to a second what one second is to about 300 million years.

So that would be the amount of time from... now-to-now! NOW! NOW! No, NOW! N--! Nnn! -N! Ah, forget it...

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

HOWARD STERN AND CLEAR CHANNEL'S POWER PLAY
At first glance, today's announcement by Clear Channel that it was suspending broadcasts of Howard Stern on its radio stations, coming on the heels of the firing of Bubba the Love Sponge, is an indication that the radio giant is really serious about stemming objectionable material from its airwaves.

At first glance.

Look closer, though, and you'll see some key differences between the Stern and Bubba situations:

- Stern is not an employee of Clear Channel; Bubba was. Clear Channel's relationship with Howard Stern is only as a station carrier of his syndicated show. Thus the suspension, which is really just a removal of the Stern show from Clear Channel air. Howard Stern will still be doing his show, and it will still be heard in most of the usual markets.

- Stern's show is produced in partnership with Viacom, which owns Infinity Broadcasting, which is the second-largest radio network, behind--hello!--Clear Channel.

The same reaction to the Bubba firing applies here: I find it hard to believe that Clear Channel only now determined that a show like Howard Stern's could be construed as objectionable. The motivation lies elsewhere, beyond a corporate impulse to conform to decency standards.

Clear Channel is orchestrating the current climate to put pressure on its chief rival, Viacom/Infinity. Much like the firing of Bubba was designed to appease the FCC and lead to a reduction in the levied fines, the Stern action is designed to give the appearance of "cracking down", when it's really an opportunistic power play.

I haven't written much on the radio industry in the past. Mostly it's because I don't think much of it, the dollars involved notwithstanding. Just these past two days of looking at the shifty moves of industry hegemon Clear Channel is enough to keep me away for a good long time.

UPDATE: Just to show how little this move impacts Clear Channel's bottom line and is done purely for show, the AP reports that only six stations across the country--out of over 1,200 Clear Channel owns--were running Howard Stern in the first place. Real chutzpah.

Incidentally, two of those six stations are in Florida, including Orlando's WTKS Real Radio 104.1 FM. I wouldn't be surprised if these were the only two outlets in the state that had the Stern show (although Miami probably has it, come to think of it). I've heard that you can catch WTKS on your radio dial in the extreme eastern reaches of Tampa/Hillsborough County, and that some Stern enthusiasts actually made a point to drive around that area during the show's broadcasts. I guess they're stuck with just the E! show now.
NET ACCESS OUTPACING CABLE TV?
Is the Internet really spurring a revolution in American media consumption? A new survey indicates that's so, in dramatic fashion: eMarketer reports that more U.S. households have Internet access (68 percent) than cable TV (65.8 percent). It's a slight advantage for the Web, but the fact that it's ahead at all is amazing. The fact that television--the dominant mass medium of the last half-century--is being trumped is mind-boggling.

These results raise some questions. When I first read them, I thought the idea of a household having Internet access without cable seemed strange, and almost contradictory. Then I realized: I was thinking in terms of broadband Internet access only, which is typically obtained through cable. It's hard to keep in mind that the majority of online American households are still on dialup access, which, of course, does not require a cable company hookup. (Is it even possible to get broadband Internet access from the cable company without also getting the television service? I doubt it.)

In a way, I'm not surprised that so many people are dropping cable. Higher rates are really turning customers off. However, I wonder how many households in the eMarketer survey have satellite TV service instead, rather than just antenna. Even with just over-the-air television, there's presumably some television viewing going on; I can't believe there are that many households that have completely cut themselves off from the boob tube.
WATERBOY IN THE LONGEST YARD
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh NO! Why, why do they have to screw with a classic football movie like The Longest Yard by doing an Adam Sandler-fronted remake? I don't care if Snoop Dogg is in it, it's a recipe for disaster.

While the main story will remain, several elements of the original film will be changed, [Sandler's business partner Jack] Giarraputo said in a statement.

No kidding. They'll have to change significantly, as Sandler cannot conceivably pull off a convincing Burt Reynolds character type. I can see this becoming a remake in title only.

In fact, why not dispense altogether with the notion of re-creating the half-funny, half-gritty mood of the original? Play to Sandler's goofy strengths instead. Simply call this abomination The Waterboy II: The Longest Yard, and be done with it. Manchild Bobby Boucher goes to jail--that's the ticket!

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

IS DISNEY SCREWING THE NBA?
gettin' fouled
During Michael Jordan's heyday as the NBA's marquee player, you never could have imagined the league getting trumped by something as provincial as stock car racing. But in the LeBron James era, the unimaginable becomes reality: This past weekend's Subway 400 NASCAR race on FOX attracted twice as many national viewers as ABC's competing Cleveland-New York NBA game that featured James' first visit to Madison Square Garden.

There are a lot of ways to spin this in the NBA's favor: There are so many regular season games on that even a weekend network game isn't that big a draw; the Cavs and Knicks aren't playing very well this year; there's not a whole lot of overlap between the NBA's and NASCAR's fanbases. You could also blame the NBA in the sense that it doesn't have a Jordan-like player to pull in the viewers no matter what.

I think, though, that it's time to start pointing the finger at a more likely culprit: Disney, who through its ABC and ESPN networks is the NBA's main television partner.

Disney won the broadcast rights to the NBA two years ago, after the league had a lucrative run on NBC and Time Warner's TNT. It seemed like a match made in heaven: The NBA appealed to the youngest and hippest viewers, and Disney owned the gold standard in sports programming in ESPN and ABC Sports.

Yet look at what the results were during last year's NBA Finals, at the end of the first year of the new partnership (in a post I cheekily entitled "ABC Feeling Screwed By The NBA"):

ABC, which is in the first year of its valued NBA contract, is so disappointed in the lousy numbers that it's hoping for a forced Game 7 in order to dump off its advertising commitments as painlessly as possible...

As an NHL fan, I feel better about my sport in light of this. Let's see, the NHL ratings have been sucking for the entire five-year run of that league's broadcasting agreement. Then, the first year the NBA gets on board the Mouse networks, their ratings slide. So it wasn't the NHL's fault for those cruddy ratings, it was Disney's!

I was joking around when I wrote this, because I, and probably most observers, figured the weak ratings were an abberation, and the NBA numbers would rebound the next season. Now? With NASCAR beating the daylights out of the once-mighty hoops? I'm not so sure I didn't hit on the truth back in June.

It would follow that Disney is dropping the ball here. They've been mishandling ABC's non-sports programming for years now, to the point where shareholders have lost patience in the company's continued ownership of the network (indeed, it's a key reason for the recent attempts to oust Michael Eisner). If this bungling has seeped into the formerly rock-solid sports operations, it really casts an ominous shadow on the House of the Mouse. While, ultimately, the product on the court has to deliver compelling-enough entertainment, it's Disney's job to sell the sizzle through its promotion and marketing. The ratings strongly suggest that they're not doing that.

Maybe they got lazy from the reliable success of their NFL broadcasts (although the venerable Monday Night Football also has seen an erosion of viewership in recent years). The NFL sells itself, though, so it's had to screw that up.
RICH? SMART? YOU'RE READING A NEWSPAPER
Some good news for newspapers, for a change: Their readers tend to be more affluent and educated, on average. All the pretty numbers below:

Mediamark Research Inc. and Interactive Market Systems Inc. recently released a report prepared by NAA Business Analysis & Research Department that reveals 99.9 million adults (18+) in the U.S. read an average issue of a daily newspaper. And, on Sunday, 116 million readers nationwide read an average issue.

Income has always played an important role in segmenting newspaper audiences. Readership increases steadily with higher earnings. Among adults with household incomes of $75,000+, readership stands at 57% on weekdays and 66% on Sundays vs the national average of 48% and 56% respectfully.

Slightly more than half of all men (51%) read an average issue of a daily newspaper, followed by 46% of women who read a daily newspaper. Higher percentages of both genders read a Sunday newspaper, with men at 56% and women at 57%.

60% of adults who graduated college or more read a weekday paper and 67% do so on Sundays. Five daily issues reach 78% of adults who graduated college or more. In general, people in occupations with more job responsibility also show stronger readership of newspapers. 56% of Executives, Managers, or Administrators read a daily newspaper, and 66% do so on Sundays.

Forty-nine percent of whites read a daily newspaper, compared to 43% of African-Americans, 37% of Asians, and 29% of adults of Spanish/Hispanic origin. On Sunday, the reach among racial/ethnic newspaper readers is 57%, 58%, 42%, and 39% respectively.

I take these results to mean that the higher up you are on the socio-economic ladder, the more likely you are to want to intake different forms of news and media, since these same numbers largely apply to the most plugged-in media consumers as well. This suggests that format, while important, isn't the only consideration when choosing news and media sources.

These specific results will help papers in their pitches to advertisers, as they can point to some pretty coveted demographics in their readership.
BOARD GAME PR
Home & Garden Television came up with a novel way to promote its upcoming new show, "Designed To Sell": It made a board game out of it:

A board game resembling the Riff's favorite game growing up, "Clue." In the series, homeowners are given advice by real estate experts and interior designers on how simple, inexpensive changes can boost their home's economic value. The game is no different. Complete with game pieces and cards, the players either choose to be the host or the designer featured in the TV show. The object is to reach the end of the game first, along with making minimal repairs along the way. "Replace that '70's wallpaper with a fresh, neutral color coat of paint."

I'm not much for board games, but I admire the ingenuity.
CD SUIT MONEY: ON THE WAY!
Oh boy oh boy, that class-action suit against the music industry over CD price-fixing has finally been settled. So the checks are being mailed out right now. It looks like the delay netted an extra dollar: From the original $12.63 estimate to a whopping $13.86. Cha-ching, baby.

I could take or leave the slightly-higher-than-token amount--I will take it, thanks--but fortunately, it looks like public libraries around the country will reap millions of dollars from being a part of this suit, which they can then use to expand their freely-available collections.

UPDATE: Got the check in the mail today. It came wrapped around a nice little note from Mr. Charming himself, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist (although suspiciously, the postmark is from Minnesota--doubtless the central location for check distribution). If I had a scanner, I'd throw an image of it up here. But I don't, so I won't. The check's going to the bank, but I'll keep the Crist letter as a memento.
TRACKBACKS FOR NEWS SITES
Amy Gahran makes an argument for having news sites provide trackback capabilities, as a way to enrich site content.

I've often wished for feedback functions on newspaper and other news sites, for adding my two cents to the article du jour. I would think that the average site would probably opt for regular comments over trackbacks, as commenting is more straightforward, and more inclusive (i.e., not everyone has a blog).

But I think the big disincentive for adding feedback features to news sites is, as usual, spam potential. Regular, run-of-the-mill blogs are getting plagued by comment and trackback spam to the point where many blog authors are shutting down those utilities. News sites, with their larger audiences, would be an especially attractive target for spammers, and would bring on unwanted headaches that would outweigh the intended advantages.

Aside from spam, I wonder how trackbacking would work with sites that require registration or subscription access. I suppose parts of the registration barrier could be dropped for something like this; again, I'm not sure it would be worthwhile to do this.

Gahran's post did alert me to the existence of Movable Type's standalone trackback tool. I guess MT wants to spread the love, hoping that it will lead to increased adoption of their full blog management software. Of course, this tool still requires the backend access to your blog's site that comes with owning your own domain, so it wouldn't have done me any good when I recently added the trackback function to this blog.
REALITY CHECK: THE MAVERICK BENEFACTOR
mav-elous
Wacky Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is tossing his hat into the reality TV ring this summer with "The Benefactor", an ABC show where he'll give away a cool $1 million out of his own pocket.

"You don't need special talents," Cuban said. "I'm not looking to find out who is the grossest, funniest, prettiest, smartest or able to go without food or water the longest.

"The right person is going to get on my good side at the right time, and whoever that is is going to walk away with a check from me for $1 million," he said.

Hmmm... I'm thinking the folks at ABC are going to want a little more fleshing-out on this concept. A hallmark of reality programming is (at least the appearance of) fast-and-loose, but the audience still needs some kind of structure to make it compelling viewing. Basing the series around just having Cuban act like his usual jackass self is good for one episode, but not much beyond that.

"Why has he agreed to give away such a large sum of money? Simply because he can and because he can't wait to devise the means through which applicants must prove to him that they deserve the money," ABC said in a news release to be issued Tuesday.

Applicants? More like supplicants, I'm betting. Cuban is going to get his jollies by having some poor saps get him coffee, brown-nose to him, and maybe do a little song-and-jig, all while he sits back with the camera squarely on him.

...So, where to I sign up again?

(I have a feeling this also will give fellow Dallas sports team owner Jerry Jones some ideas...)

Monday, February 23, 2004

BUBBA BOOTED?
You may recall the saga of Tampa Bay shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge, who recently brought down a record $755,000 FCC fine over some raunchy on-air material last year. Now, late-breaking news has it that Bubba has been fired by his corporate employer, Clear Channel Communications. Details to follow tomorrow. Thanks to my friend Kirby for the heads-up on this.

I guess this frees Bubba to pursue the Howard Stern-like fame he believes he's due. Given that he's flopped in the couple of times he's tried to break into larger markets like Chicago and Philadelphia, though, I'd say his more likely destiny lies in strip clubs and metal-rock festivals.

I can make a lot of guesses on this, but without any details, it's all conjecture. I'm sure Bubba's track record, both in terms of past fines and contentious contract negotiations, helped with this decision. Obviously, Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance has got big media players like Clear Channel nervous too, and hits in the wallet like the one Bubba brought drive the point home. I'd assumed Bubba was still the area's ratings king, which presumably insulated him from negative consequences; I wouldn't be surprised if the latest numbers may have shown a slip, thus providing a good excuse to can him. He also serves as a convenient sacrificial lamb, given the environment.

All this is somewhat negligible to me; I don't listen to any mainstream radio (only NPR at work, and I can take or leave that most days), and having Bubba off the air won't change my mind one bit. I'm sure there'll be a lot more made out of this by both sides of the debate.

UPDATE: It's now official, but Clear Channel managed to dismiss Bubba in the most hypocritical way possible:

"After conducting an internal investigation, we concluded that Bubba's show will no longer be carried on any Clear Channel Radio station," [Clear Channel President John] Hogan said in his statement. "This type of content is inappropriate and not reflective of the way we run our local stations or Clear Channel Radio."

Bubba's been on the Tampa Bay airwaves, doing pretty much the same schtick, for over ten years. Clear Channel has owned the stations where Bubba worked for just about that long. So what Hogan is trying to sell here is either one of two things: a) It's taken Clear Channel the better part of a decade to conduct this "internal investigation", or b) Corporate just now, after years of broadcasts, realized what was in the content of Bubba's shows. Both premises being complete garbage, of course.

The bottom line here: Clear Channel is trying to get out of paying the FCC fines, and is cutting Bubba loose as a good-faith move in order to get the fines quietly reduced or (less likely) eliminated altogether.

It's a cynical move, especially because it shows how slimy this company, and others like it, is. They'll put raunchy programming on the air, encourage the personalities to continually push the limits in pursuit of ratings, probably with assurances that they'll stand behind them. Then, once the heat gets too hot, they stab them in the back. That was the case with Viacom's "Opie and Andy Show" in New York, and that's exactly what happened with Bubba. It tells you just how meaningless a contract is in the radio industry.

I'll reiterate that I'm not a fan of Bubba's show, nor of any other crap, banal or extreme, that pollutes the radio airwaves. But I recognize a raw deal when I see it.
BIGGER DISK
biggie-sized
Are all those (legally-obtained, I'm sure) mp3s, mpegs, jpegs, avis and who-knows-what-else files rapidly filling up what once seemed like a gigantic 30-gig hard drive? Then you need more disc storage, and there's no sense in staying in the double-digit-gigs range when you could really up the ante with LaCie's 1-terabyte Bigger Disk.

That's 1 big terabyte, aka 1,000 gigabytes. To illustrate that: You could fill this bad boy with enough mp3 files, each at about the average size/playing time of 4MB/4 minutes, to play continuously--without repeats--for nearly two years. Chew on that!

I'm still continually amazed at the leaps and bounds that hard drive technology is taking. It wasn't all that long ago (the late '90s) when 1-gig was the high end of digital storage for the consumer market. I once worked with a client whose business was providing outsourced digital storage in terabyte-sized chunks for organizations like NASA; I wonder what he thinks of this.

At $1,200, the Bigger Disk isn't cheap, but it's certainly a reasonable price as far as computer components go. For a multi-computer household, it probably makes sense. Of course, I'm now waiting for the day when I hear about people and their kids filling one of these up, and needing to get another one...
COUCH-A-BUNGA, DUDE
Hey man, you got a couch I can crash on? You do? Killer! Then maybe you'd like to share the wealth by joining The CouchSurfing Project.

It's kind of kooky idea: You sign up, thus putting out notice that travellers are welcome to come by and stay for a spell. Should you get the wanderlust, you can put out the call to other CouchSurfer members. The network stretches from Indiana to India, so there are plenty of options (provided you can get yourself to wherever you're going).

Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind is: What about the psychos? Apparently, like many Web-based ventures, the guys behind this are relying on a self-correcting system of "verification"; that's basically referrals from one user to another. It's a nice idea, but I really don't see how this is anything to put faith in; for instance, I notice that Leo, one of the founding members, is himself not verified as of this writing.

Still, I guess if you're adventurous (and trusting) enough, you could really have some keen experiences through this. Just watch out for Funky Couch Syndrome; better keep a good supply of Febreze on hand!
OH TO BE LIKE DARRIN STEPHENS
sam!
So I'm reading today's Business section, which includes the weekly Business Briefcase Profile. This week, it was on Bill Carlson, the newly-promoted President of locally-based public relations firm Tucker/Hall. I believe I've spoken with Bill once or twice, as Tucker/Hall is the PR firm for Florida Trend.

I got a kick out of this part of Carlson's profile:

Carlson says he was inspired to go into advertising and marketing by the 1960s TV sitcom "Bewitched". The male lead, Darrin Stevens [sic], "was in advertising. I thought that was kind of cool. It influenced me," he said. "It thought it was great people could have a job in a field that was creative."

I've often suspected that "Bewitched" played a huge role in shaping scores of young minds' perceptions on the advertising business, and even leading some people to pursue it. I'm glad to finally hear someone admit it!

Of course, you'll often come across oblique references as to how Durwood Darrin Stephens inspired a career in advertising. And we all know that Larry Tate is a better-known advertising industry icon than David Ogilvy.

Perhaps the most impressive homage to the sitcom was the real-life ad agency of McMann & Tate, which is apparently now out of business (I guess they were overly-reliant on using witchcraft as their ace-in-the-hole). I remember coming across their site years ago, and I shot them an email asking if they were, in fact, "Bewitched"-inspired. Someone shot back in the affirmative.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

THE RANDOM 20
Here's a thing going around:

Step 1: Open your MP3 player.
Step 2: Put all of your music on random.
Step 3: Write down the first 20 songs it plays, no matter how embarrassing.

Well, since the random/shuffle setting is the default for my iPod, this should be pretty easy. I'm not going to add hyperlinks to these results, or even offer running commentary; if you're that interested in any song title or artist, search away.

So let's do this:

1. "Dancing Queen", ABBA
2. "Love For Sale", Talking Heads
3. "Boom! I Got Your Boyfriend", 20 Fingers
4. "What Goes On", Velvet Underground
5. "War In A Babylon", Max Romeo
6. "Above The Clouds", Amber
7. "Never Enough (Big mix)", The Cure
8. "The Emperor's New Clothes", Sinead O'Connor
9. "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel", South Park (Kyle Broflofski)
10. "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 - Blue Sky Revisit) - Transmission 3", DJ Shadow
11. "I Saw Three Ships", South Park (Shelly Marsh)
12. "Torture", KMFDM
13. "Aishiteru", Starecase
14. "Caught, Can We Get A Witness", Public Enemy
15. "All Apologies", Nirvana
16. "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding", Elvis Costello
17. "Running On Empty", Jackson Browne
18. "Mr. Jones", Talking Heads
19. "Surrender", Cheap Trick
20. "Time To Get Ill", Beastie Boys


I'm glad the Beasties finally got in there, at No. 20. It's a fairly representative list out of the 690 songs loaded on the iPod, except maybe the lack of real techno. I'll also note that I used my iPod instead of my computer, because I always listen to that and never listen to music on my computer anymore.

(Via Dustbury.com)
REALITY CHECK: REAL-LIFE ROCKY
In a weird convergence between reality television, movies and boxing, Sylvester Stallone has been attached to the development of "The Contender", a reality series about boxing. It's scheduled for debut on NBC in 2005, timed to come alive along with a new, apparently for-real boxing federation.

"We're looking to reclaim a part of America that's been missing," ["Survivor" creator Mark] Burnett tells Variety. "Where are the 'Thrilla in Manilas?' The Sugar Ray Leonards? We all agree no one can tell who owns what belt.

"We're all businessmen, and there's a serious business around boxing," he says. "It's the highest paying sport, yet no one believes in it anymore. What happens when we make it transparent and clean? Once clean, the upside is astronomical."

Boxing, clean?? I'm not sure that's even possible anymore. The sport's been crooked for a lot longer than most people like to think--even the golden age of the 1930s and 40s were shady times. It's just more obvious now.

Aside from Stallone's presence as the on-air personality, this show won't have an official connection with Rocky, because MGM owns the rights to that. That might change, though, depending on the prospects of "The Contender" and how the next Rocky sequel goes.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GREEK TRANSLATION
You'd figure a book series as massive as Harry Potter would be available in several languages. Heck, it's even available in Greek, my primary second language.

But it hasn't been available in ancient Athenian Greek--until now. Classics teacher Andrew Wilson has just completed a translation of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" into ancient Greek. (Note that this is the original, UK title of the book/movie known in the States as "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone"; I guess philosophy turns off American audiences...)

"I suspect very few people will read it all the way through," he said. "You will need a degree in Ancient Greek to get a great deal out of it."

But Wilson hopes students studying the ancient language will enjoy reading extracts of the book as a "relaxation."

I've tried reading ancient Greek before. It ain't easy, although I was struck more by the number of similarities with modern Greek than with the differences, considerable as they are. The Greek alphabet hasn't changed a whole lot over the centuries, which helps a little. Learning Cypriot Greek might help some too, as it's my understanding that it's the closest existing dialect to ancient Greek that's left.

I'll never forget one time, at a museum exhibit, looking at an ancient stone tablet, filled with Greek writing from around 200 BC. It was all bunched together (spacing was a concept that didn't come along until later) and worn away and hard to make out. But as my eyes passed along it, I finally made out a name: "Orestes". Clear as day. It was a slightly exhilerating feeling to have been able to personally decipher even such a small sliver of information, come to me from across the centuries.

Quidditch becomes Ikarosfairike or "Ikarus ball" -- in a reference to the mythological boy who few too high -- while Hogwarts is Huogoetou, deriving from words meaning "hog" and "wizard."
Harry Potter is Hareios Poter. Hareios means "belonging to Ares," the war god, or "warrior" and Poter, a "cup" or "goblet."

Lord Voldemort, Potter's nemesis, becomes Folidomortos, which literally means "scaly death."

"Ancient Greek has a massive vocabulary," said Wilson. "Now it's got a slightly bigger one."

Saturday, February 21, 2004

OH MY, IN ENGLISH
droppin' mad english
You may recall OhmyNews, the innovative Korean news website that relies on the average person on the street to provide their news stories. As the operation has hit its fourth anniversary, it's gained legitimacy in Korea as a respected news source, and has now rolled out an English-language version of the site.

Yi Sang Ho's essay celebrating OhmyNews' birthday makes a big deal out of the site's unconventionality, identifying it as the reason for its rapid success:

Saying someone has manners (beoreut itda) or does not have manners (beoreut eopda) relates to the traditional East Asian concept of propriety (ye, li), which stipulates strict hierarchal classifications and was created to support the feudalist government. Of course Confucius also presented us with a concept of reconciliation and unity through music (ak, yue), but all that gets applied today is "strict" propriety.

This kind of propriety is the strictest with people lower on the hierarchy, and behavior that does not meet with those regulations is said to have "no manners." The problem with discussion about manners is that it hinders normal communication between different levels in the hierarchy, and functions to keep people from speaking out. Organizations operate with subordinates maintaining their silence, while their superiors issue orders from above.

This same social structure ended up being applied to the media as well, media that should speak out. Power came to be regarded as identical to one's seniors, and "media that says it like it is" became outlets that lacked manners. In the history of the Korean news media, only sources willing to risk being silenced spoke up to power and authority, and that's why the media started minding its manners.

Ever mindful of its manners, the media unwillingly came to stand on the side of power and authority and speak on its behalf. Speaking for power and authority for so long meant that the media also became part of the powers that be, and now it fabricates its own argument for maintaining that power. Forget about speaking out – the media was no longer even able to say what it had to...

I hope OhmyNews remains a medium that has no manners. It needs to be more than a news outlet that just says what it says and then forgets about it. It has to be a source that actively speaks up, all the time, about everything.

What I said before about why OhmyNews resonates in Korea still applies, and Yi's comments reinforce that. Despite what most people probably think, I don't think American, or most Western, media behaves the same way, and so I question if OhmyNews' model would even be necessary here. A bedrock of American political culture is a free, and even adversarial, press; accomodation in the media is generally sniffed out right away.

UPDATE: It looks like the English language edition is just the tip of the iceberg. Poynter's Steve Outing reports that OhmyNews is angling to spread its citizen-journalist model throughout the globe. It's ambitious, and a good test as to whether something that's worked so well in Korea's political culture will gain favor in other countries.
FERAL ROBOTIC DOGS!
cherried-out!
Those robot dogs sure are tempting toys, ain't they? But how much fun can these kid-targeted toys be, right out of the box? See them fetch, hear them bark--whoop dee doo.

No, to get a real bitchin' experience out of these mechanized mutts, you have to pull out the toolbox and get to work. The result will be something like Yale University's Feral Robotic Dogs project. Amped-up robo-Rovers!

To hear Professor Natalie Jeremijenko tell it, these dogs were hacked to serve a social purpose:

The robotic dogs' "brains" are upgraded and their "noses" programmed to pick up the scent of common volatile organic compounds -- such as paint thinners or dry cleaning fluids -- or more dangerous toxins. They also are built to navigate a variety of terrains.

In addition, cameras are placed in the dogs' hindquarters to let researchers observe their interaction with handlers.

Doggie crotch cams? I question the scientific merit of that. I think these Yalies just decided to have some fun with robots, and came up with a justifying purpose for it later.

Jeremijenko is asking for donations of unwanted robodogs. If she wants to pay for the shipping, I'll gladly send her my Tekno the Robotic Puppy, an impulse buy that's been sitting in my closet for years now.

Friday, February 20, 2004

ESPN DREAM JOB: CODA
dare to dream
ESPN Dream Job, the sports network's latest stab at a reality/game show, is set to debut this coming Sunday. Accordingly, they've been running a lot of promos to remind us to tune in.

This naturally reminded me of my own Dream Job tryout, when the casting call blew through town last September, and the cold reality of not making the cut. (Cold, baby. So cold I'm still freezin'.)

As I said then, I figured no one in my group would be selected. We shouldn't feel too badly, since no one from the Tampa Bay leg of the audition tour managed to get to the final stage.

Considering that it's highly unlikely I'll watch any of this show, this news puts a fitting end to my angle. I'm not shunning Dream Job because I didn't get in; I stated at the outset that I wasn't counting on that, and that I went mainly on a lark. But the reality genre holds little appeal for me, so I don't watch any of those shows. I suppose there's a good chance I'll stumble upon it, since ESPN/ESPN2 are two channels I watch more than most others, but I doubt I'll sit down and actually take in an entire episode.
MY ROLE AS PATRON OF THE ARTS
beforeafter
Last week, Mark at Duh! got the itch to commit some art on a local street marker. He put out the call for the donation of a sawbuck to do it right.

I was surprised that, a day later, no one had coughed up the dough. So I did:

Wow, how often do you get a chance to become a patron to the arts, for the low-low price of $20 American? I'll pony up, artdude. Go nuts on the thing. My only demand: That I get an emailed advance heads-up for your next public wine tasting, whether it's at the busstop or whereever.

Also, of course, I absolve myself of any knowledge of your shenanigans in the event the fuzz nails you.

Thus equipped, Mark did his deed last weekend, the results of which you see above. I drove by it once (it's slightly out of my way), and it looks good. I wonder how long it'll stay in place.

Mark is, of course, a pro at this kinda thing (if it's possible to be a pro at guerilla art--I think that's an antithetical concept, actually). You can see samples of his past exploits on his blog, including the stunt that first brought him to my attention.

Was this the best twenty bucks I've ever spent? Sure, why not; at least until the next twenty comes along.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

ROBO-RECEPTIONIST
Why pay some semi-skilled schlub to sit, glassy-eyed, at a front desk just to greet visitors and sign for packages? Valerie the "roboceptionist" can do the job at least as well, while also giving your dump a veneer of cutting-edge cache. Carnegie Mellon University is putting Valerie through her paces.

Who decided that these robo-servants needed to be sassy, or even have a personality in the first place? Are they all using Rosie from "The Jetsons" as a role model?

Maybe I'm just jealous. Valerie certainly makes my Roomba vacuum seem dull by comparison.
NEXT, A BIKE THAT'S ALSO A JUICER
In the space of a few days, I've read about one bicycle that comes with a high-intensity watergun, and another that comes with a cellphone. Both bikes incorporate the rider's pedalling action as a power source for its add-on gadget.

I never figured bikes were so popular. I prefer rollerblades myself, although my back problems now make skating an adventure in pain.
FAT TAXING
If you want to be a big fat British slob, you're going to have to be a big fat well-off British slob, if the proposed taxation on fatty foods sold in the UK becomes reality.

As much as this sort of thing would raise the hackles of opponents of additional governmental reach, I think this proposal makes sense. Obesity (or even overweight conditions short of that) leads to widespread health problems, and that eventually impacts the economy and society. Everything from worker productivity to healthcare feel the resulting pressure. Consumers and the market alone, even with plenty of motivation, just won't solve this alone. I'm no advocate of a hand-holding state, but in this case, it's a good idea for government to prime the pump.

Obviously, there's plenty of precedent for government taking action in the name of public health. I don't know what the track record is in the UK, but over here, everything from anti-smoking efforts to the Federally-determined Food Pyramid came as a result of government support.
BEYOND THUNDERBUG
he scores
Hockey fans have heard all about the impending end of the current NHL collective bargaining agreement, and what that means for the owners and the players. But aren't we forgetting about the other people in this?

I'm talking, of course, about the team mascots. Those tireless performers that yuk it up all game long, and then take their act to every shopping mall and car dealership within 20 miles of the arena. People like Jason Franke, aka Thunderbug, who is putting it all on the line for next season:

How long Franke continues as ThunderBug "depends on the possibility of a lockout next year [the NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires after this season]. If that happens, I may be hanging it up."

If that doesn't motivate the NHL powers to get together and hammer out an agreement, then nothing will.

Ah, my cherished memories of Thunderbug... I remember years ago at a game that the Lightning was losing badly, he planted himself right in front of our section. A little kid started pelting him with peanuts; da Bug loved it and asked for more. So our whole section started shooting him with peanuts. Fun-fun!

There used to be a Mrs. Thunderbug, or Thunderbuggette, or whatever she was called; I don't think she lasted more than a season. Seeing them side-by-side, I used to absently wonder if there was a girl or a guy inside the female bug uniform, and whether or not that really mattered.

I always knew that being a mascot was harder work than it looked--the suit's unbearably heavy, it's hot, and all that. However, I had no idea of the advanced ergonomics involved in the costume design. Especially the importance of Head Superiority.
WUERFFEL ERA OVER
pray, away
Making official what has been de facto for years now, former Heisman-winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel retired from football. Nothing short of the second NFL coming of Steve Spurrier could revive Wuerffel's pro football chances now.

My God... How will the league survive this crushing blow??

By "league", I'm referring, of course, to the CFL. Because if Wuerffel had hung in there, he surely had a spectacular Kerwin Bell-like career in front of him.

Wuerffel's focus is on Desire Street Ministries, a New Orleans organization in one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods.

What is with these pro athlete washouts turning to Christ after they bomb out of their first chosen profession? The time to pray was when they were in the huddle or on the field, asking for a better throwing stance, or jump shot, or whatever would have kept them from being a footnote in league history. It works for some atheletes; I guess they give 110 percent in their prayers, unlike the duds.

So Wuerffel joins the likes of ex-Bruins/Sabres goalie John Blue in the path to post-sports salvation. He'd better save a seat for fellow God-boy Jon Kitna, another marginal QB who'll probably be looking for non-football work in a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

TRACKBACK COMING...
... I guess. HaloScan has rolled out trackbacking utility, coupling it with its excellent commenting system. I suppose I'll take advantage of it and add it on here (although I've always said that trackbacks are of questionable value, as they seem to be overly complicated).

However, after an hour of trying to implement them, I haven't been able to get them to work on this blog. I think the problem is a result of several hacks I've made in the original HaloScan commenting code, basically overriding the original JavaScript commands. I'm too tired to try to figure it out tonight; in fact, I may not be able to do it alone, so I'm going to revisit it either tomorrow or next day. 'Til then, it's business as usual around here. NEVERMIND! It came to me in a flash, and I figured it out. Trackback away, y'all!

I have noticed that trackbacks have been largely a Movabletype feature, almost exclusively so. The only trackback-enabled non-MT blog that comes readily to my mind is Whump.com.
MR. POPULARITY
Somebody's reeling in the eyeballs in a big way today. As of this writing, this blog is approaching 200-odd hits since this morning; that's about two or three times as many hits for an average day.

I'm gonna venture a guess on my Beyonce post being the breadwinner here. She's bootylicious, you know.
HOCKEY BECOMING TOO ELITIST?
the elite
A mind-boggling report out of the Great White North finds that most Canadians feel the national game, hockey, is getting to be too much of a rich-boy's (and girl's) sport.

The survey found that 82 per cent of Canadians feel all children living in Canada should have the chance to play hockey but that 66 per cent feel the sport is becoming elitist due to the high costs associated with playing the game.

The survey suggest it can cost around $1,000 for a child to play minor hockey for a year, depending on such variables as equipment and number of tournaments played in.

This is more than a little disconcerting, because these are the exact same reasons cited for why hockey doesn't take off in a big way in the States. The lack of resources and opportunity among lower-income kids serve as a barrier to entry, while the low everyday investment required of sports like baseball and basketball (and, relatively, even football) keep hockey from being a realistic option for most of America's youth. Actually, these factors apply just as well to families that otherwise have the means to buy hundreds of dollars worth of hockey equipment; just because they can doesn't mean they will.

Could this foreshadow a crisis in the talent pool foundation that the NHL needs? I can't believe this is all of a sudden a major concern. I'm sure there are still plenty of rural kids spending endless hours skating around backyard rinks, learning the basics with whatever equipment they could find. Cost was a significant disincentive before; I have to believe that where there's a will, there's a way.
IS IT SPAM IF YOU ASK FOR IT?
Online marketers take great offense to being compared to spammers. Their definition of spam is limited strictly to the junk that shows up in your inbox complete unsolicited; this is different from legitimate email marketing, or permission email, which is requested. Unfortunately, the war against spam employs tools that often can't tell the difference, and as a result, it costs more for marketers and others to ensure that their missives get delivered.

The question is, if you end up not missing that blocked newsletter or daily news update, is it particularly worthwhile to get it in the first place? My workplace recently put in stricter email filters that have dramatically reduced the amount of spam we get (although the levels are already starting to rise again). These filters did their job too well, taking out a few newsletters that I had been getting as well.

But the thing is, I didn't even notice that I wasn't getting those things until a couple of weeks later. With quite a few of them, it had gotten to the point where I deleted them without looking at them, because I found they were no longer worth my time to review them. When the filters were adjusted to let them through again, I was actually disappointed.

Additionally, I think a lot of organizations play it pretty loose on what consitutes permission. I've found that once I've signed up for one newsletter, I start getting a lot of other useless junk, most of it barely-disguised marketing pap. At that point, you're obviously getting spammed, with the flimsy excuse that "you asked for it" stemming from requesting something totally different.

UPDATE: Recent research related to this topic apparently reveals that I'm not alone in having these attitudes.
SCHOOL OF SCRATCH
perfesser scratch
Are your DJing skillz not as mad as you'd like? Are you getting kicked out of the club before you even get a chance to lay down your latest beats? Nobody will tell you to your face, but it's probably because your scratchin' sucks, G.

So off to Berklee College of Music with you, to enroll in Professor Needlejuice's one-of-a-kind scratchin' symposium. Cut faster, mixmaster.

My awesome street cred prevents me from lowering myself to taking a college course in the art of the scratch. However, if Berklee should come up with Human Beatbox 101 as a natural accompanying elective, then I'm there.
DREAM ON, DREAM ON, TEENAGE QUEEN
I was watching "Late Show with David Letterman" last night. They had rock piano legend Leon Russell sitting in with the band all night, lending a good twang to the show's music.

One of the show's guests was Lindsay Lohan, the 17-year-old star of Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. When she was introduced, the band played the customary intro tune to usher her in. Thanks to the presence of Russell, the CBS Orchestra made the atypical move of playing a tune with vocals (provided by Russell) to bring in Ms. Lohan. That tune turned out to be the opening strains of Johnny Cash's "Ballad of a Teenage Queen":

Dream on, dream on, teenage queen
Prettiest girl we've ever seen
There's a story in our town
Of the prettiest girl around
Golden hair and eyes of blue
How those eyes could flash at you

It was a bouncy little number. There was something about those lyrics--the presence of which gives the guest intros a decidedly different dynamic from the usual instrumental accompanyment--and the way Lohan walked toward the camera, with her flowing hair and a big smile, that seemed just perfect. As a result, I've had that scene stuck in my head all day, along with the song.

I'd attribute this to a fixation on the cute little Lohan, but actually, I don't find her all that appealing. She made for a good guest, and seems to have more upside than most of her contemporaries, but she doesn't do anything in particular for me. Probably (hopefully) it's her ridiculous age, just more than half of mine. Then again, she did say she was looking for an older guy. Probably should wait for her to get past the jailbait zone, though.
BIG BOOBS AND FIRE
Quite possibly the best blog name ever.

Typically, it's written by a guy. A Canadian guy, even.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

MERGERMANIA
It's been a wild couple of days in corporate America. A quick rundown:

- Disney turned down what it considered to be a lowball acquisition offer from Comcast, and Comcast is saying (for now) that it's not going to up the offer. I noted that the offer of some $60 billion seemed really low, and I was right.

- Disney celebrated its diss-off of Comcast by buying the Muppets, after pursuing them for over ten years.

- Cingular won the bidding war for AT&T Wireless in a move that the investment community hopes finally jumpstarts the long-anticipated wireless industry consolidation. Nice bit of crapspeak from Cingular CEO Stan Sigman:

"Any way you look at it, this combination makes sense for our companies and for our customers," Sigman said.

Complete garbage, of course. This deal sucks for consumers, as does any consolidation move, because it portends higher prices in the long run. That's the whole point of consolidation: Cutting the field down to just two or three players, who can then stop worrying about the pricing pressures that comes from more sustained competition.

This all gets the blood pumping. Now the fallout from all this comes, which will be even more fun to watch. Can't wait.
BEYONCE: NO BOOBGATE?
boobylicious
The above image is of Beyonce Knowles, in all her bootylicious glory, at the NBA All-Star Game. Matt at The Goat Belt wants to know why this instance of generous breast-tissue display didn't incite the same uproar as Janet Jackson's now-legendary Super Bowl revelation.

I respond, probably a little too succinctly. Let me expand a bit:

First and foremost, as irrational as it is, it's generally understood that a display like this can show off as much skin as possible as long as the critical zones stay covered up. Those zones in this case are the nipples. Yes, Beyonce probably showed off just as much as Janet did; but she made sure her pointy-pointies stayed in place (doubtless with the aid of some sort of adhesive, as J.Lo did a couple of years ago with that much-talked-about dress she wore to some award show or other). That was the difference. I'm sure plenty of uptight people got hot about this too, but because she technically didn't flash, it's not as big a deal.

The scope of the events is another factor. As popular as the NBA is (even in the post-Jordan era), it's not the NFL, and the NBA All-Star Game isn't the Super Bowl. Even if this were the NBA Finals, it wouldn't be the same, because the audiences don't measure up. The Super Bowl is the biggest TV event of the year, one which people plan parties around. The NBA All-Star Game? It draws an audience, especially among hardcore fans, but it's not a capital-"E" Event like Super Sunday. So the spotlight was smaller, even in anticipation of another Janet-like occurence (which the seven-second delay would have negated anyway).

Finally, the expectations. Generally, the NBA is perceived as more "ghetto" than most other sports leagues. That's manifested in both positive and negative ways; the negative, as it applies here, is that the NBA is almost expected to deal in a higher degree of lewdness than the NFL or other sports. The average viewer, looking at the combination of hip-hop acts, youth-targeted production, and overall showboating, frankly expect to get racier visuals from the NBA, fairly or unfairly.

I'd like to think that people are generally lightening up over such nonsense as televised semi-nudity. But that would be too easy.

UPDATE: Eric at Off Wing Opinion adds his two cents, and brings up an important point that I brainfroze on: That because the NBA All-Star Game was on cable instead of broadcast television, it falls outside the jurisdiction of the FCC. Therefore, Michael Powell would have no official reason to get into an uproar over Beyonce's exposure.

However, I'll point out that this wouldn't necessarily prevent the powers that be from taking action, if a Super Bowl-like flash had somehow occurred. Cable stations don't have a free pass on this sort of thing. For all the boundary-pushing cable does, especially with language, it still stays well within broadcast-like limits, because the media players know if they go too far too fast, the FCC will find a way to come down on them. If there were nothing for TNT to worry about in this regard, it wouldn't have bothered with the seven-second delay it used for the intermission show.
GIRLS AND THEIR BLACK SHOES
I rarely notice much about trends in women's attire. Generally, I go with the concept of less being more, provided the gal has the bod to pull it off.

I have, however, detected the growing popularity of these sort of formless black leather shoes among the younger (teens to late-twenties) female set. I don't know enough about shoes--men's or women's styles--to adequately describe them. But from what I've seen, there's nothing special about them--they seem more functional than anything else. They're not "feminine" in the least.

And yet, when I see a girl wearing these shoes, with the appropriate jeans or pants, I can't help but look, and almost admire. The first few times this happened, I couldn't figure it out.

Then it dawned on me: They're women. I'd check them out from head to toe (with several stops between those two points) no matter what was on their feet. The male radar is sophisticated enough to filter out silly details like footwear.

I went into some detail about women and their shoes before. I'm not sure if this post validates or negates those prior thoughts.

Monday, February 16, 2004

AN UNINTENDED NAFTA CONSEQUENCE
Look away from your neighborhood illegal chop-shop the next time your car is stolen. Look instead south of the border--way south--as many purloined U.S. vehicles are finding their way to Central America.

I mean, hell, if it could happen to Alonzo Highsmith, then it could happen to anybody, right?
NOT KARAOKE, BUT MOVIEOKE
I've never really taken to karaoke. The embarassment factor is part of it, as well as lack of confidence in my singing voice (although I've often suspected that I'm not as terrible as I think I am, my tone-deafness aside). Mostly, I don't think I get enough enjoyment from music in general to really get the full effect from a night of rousing wannabe rock-stardom.

Now, movies... fuggedaboutit. I love movies. Eat 'em up with a spoon. I am a cine-file. I can re-enact notable movie scenes, and their pertinent dialogue lines, at the drop of a hat. So I'm thinking the growing movieoke phenomenon is right up my alley.

I got dibs on Al Pacino in Scarface. Any scene will do, since the odds are the word "fuck" will be well-represented.

Here's an amazing coincidence: The club where movieoke took off, the Den of Cin, is actually part of the New York City landmark, the Two Boots! Go figure. My brother took me to Two Boots Pizzeria years ago, when he was living in Alphabet City. I got a kick out of the funky names they gave their pies; the Larry Tate and Mr. Pink varieties especially stood out for me. I understand Two Boots has become sort of a tourist trap now; too bad.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

LIKIN' THAT DAVE CHAPPELLE
I caught the new episode of "Chappelle's Show" last night. The whole show was about Charles Murphy (brother of Eddie) and Rick James talking about their friendship/feud over the years. Chappelle's involvement was in recreating the various episodes the two (mainly Murphy) were talking about, with Chappelle playing Rick James in all his 1980s Super Freak glory.

It was so damned funny. I can't remember the last time I had that many long, sustained belly-laughs. Every time Chappelle said, "I'm Rick James, bitch!", I lost it. It was highly enjoyable. I especially liked the "What did the five fingers say to the face?" joke...

I referenced "Chappelle's Show"a couple of weeks ago. I think I'll have to make watching the show more of a habit. I still think it could do without the audience-participation thing and musical guests, though.
SUNDAY NIGHT CRUISIN' BLUES
I just stepped out to run an errand. It turned out the store was already closed. So I took the opportunity to hit a couple of bars in the short-distance vicinity of my house, to see what was happenin' in the 'hood.

Came up empty. I stopped by a Benigan's, by a new place I've been meaning to hit called The Rack, and the default Ale House. All of them were dullsville, baby. Total waste of time to even step through their doors.

I suppose I could have ventured further afield, to downtown St. Pete, the beaches, or Tampa. But I wasn't really in the mood to do a hard-target search for... I'm not sure what, which was part of the point. I'm not in the mood to go out partying. I guess I just felt like planting my ass on a barstool, having a couple of drinks, and being surrounded by human activity. Interesting human activity.

This is all a little disheartening, since I recently got through defending this area as a hip, happen' place to be. I mean, if this is a bustling metro area, it stands to reason that you can step out the door at night and find some action.

Maybe I shouldn't expect much from a Sunday night. Prime time is Friday and Saturday, with the rest of the week a crapshoot. That's pretty much the case everywhere. Still, I'd like to expect some entertainment.

I think what deflated me most was the driving around--it's a drag. One distinct advantage to living in New York, San Francisco or other compacted cities is that you can just walk from spot to spot, and it's a delight. In other cities, you have to drive all over the place. It's harder to just flit from one place to another, looking for what's going on--when you're driving, it makes more sense to have specific destinations in mind. And that's often inhibiting.

Oh well. There's always the rest of the week.
COMCAST-DISNEY: WHO NEEDS WHO?
Rich Gordon at Poynter posits that the Comcast-Disney deal foreshadows the coming ascendancy of digital distribution interests over content holders. Robert Niles disagrees.

I have to go with Niles on this. This deal has already drawn comparisons--unfavorable ones--to the AOL-Time Warner merger. Indeed, the crux of that deal was the supposition that AOL was in the driver's seat by virtue of its role as king of the online world, without which Time Warner would get left in the digital dust. We all saw how that ended up. I don't see much substantial difference this time around.
TRIUMPH OF THE WILL... TO POOP ON QUEBEC
pour moi a epuiser dessus
Who figured a silly-looking dog puppet with a vaguely Eastern European faux accent could stir up so much trouble? Triumph the Insult Comic Dog has brought down charges of racism and hatmongering after his antics in Quebec during a segment on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

I caught the segment, as I'm a big Triumph fan. I certainly thought it was one of the weaker efforts from the people behind Triumph. The language barrier was the main culprit, as it ruined the rapid-fire exchange between Triumph and victim that usually makes this humor work so well (I'm guessing the Triumph crew was surprised to run into so many Quebeckers who didn't speak English, otherwise they would have been able to piece together more and better segments with people who understood the insults). I did think the restaurant scene toward the end, with Triumph sniffing the bouquet of a French poodle, was good; and the streetsign-switching ("Rue des Pussies" and "Celine Dion Sucks Street") was funny.

Interestingly, the next night's Late Night episode didn't make any mention of the resulting controversy. There are any number of reasons for this: The show may have been taped before the news hit, there were legal issues to consider, etc. I'm betting they bring it up this week, maybe as early as tomorrow.

I think the key to the uproar is that the Canadian government paid the show a big chunk of money ($1 million Canadian, which equals something like $750,000-$800,000 American) to come to Toronto, as part of a boost to the city's image after last year's SARS scare hurt tourism. There was some grousing over that before the Triumph thing, especially from conservatives, who felt it was a waste of public funds. Pushing buttons in Quebec, a particularly sensitive area, was sure to ruffle feathers.

This isn't the first time Triumph has been a magnet for trouble. The Eminem thing is widely cited; even further back, Triumph attracted a frivolous lawsuit from the now-defunct Pets.com. He's a marked pooch!

Saturday, February 14, 2004

"THAT'S WHY YOU'RE THE JUDGE AND I'M THE LAW-TALKIN'-GUY"
a bad-court-thingy
What are the chances that somewhere in this world, there really is a lawyer named Lionel Hutz?

Given the worldwide familiarity of The Simpsons, it'd be a tough row to hoe for that attorney. Maybe he'd just have to work that much harder, to blunt all the negative aspects of the legal profession that the late Hutz has come to symbolize.

For the record, I could have sworn that his name was spelled "Hutts".