The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A GLOSSY STAR
They say you can't polish a turd, but Florida's own American Media Inc. is sure trying. The company is giving its Star magazine a glossy transformation, from the newsprint tabloid format it's had for 30 years to that of a slick magazine.

It's funny. Earlier today, I took notice of the latest issue of the Star--the one described in the AP article, with a fat Kirstie Alley on the cover--while in the checkout lane at the supermarket. I don't know why my eyes lingered on that cover; I usually never do more than a quick glance of those titles.

The change in format is the brainchild of editor Bonnie Fuller, who's established a track record as a miracleworker for magazine title rejuvination. The article does a wonderful job of detailing her accomplishments, along with her professional vibe:

"I hate to use the word greatest. She's certainly the most commercially successful editor of our time," said media columnist Simon Dumenco of Folio, which covers the magazine industry. "But a lot of what she does is not journalism - it's entertainment, first and foremost. Trend pieces, quizzes about sex, pictures of stars."

"She has distinguished herself, if that's the word you want to use, by being pretty vulgar," Dumenco said. "She has an uncanny finger on the pulse of what the culture can take in terms of vulgarity."...

Fuller's track record suggests Star's numbers will jump like an agent when the phone rings.

The 47-year-old Canadian, a married mother of four, got her first high-profile editing job at YM, where she nearly doubled circulation in five years. Then she launched the U.S. edition of Marie Claire, which was a quick success.

Next stop: Cosmopolitan, where she replaced the legendary Helen Gurley Brown and boosted newsstand sales 8 percent. She abruptly left for Glamour, where she replaced another legend, Ruth Whitney, and experienced her only failure. Newsstand sales declined while Fuller chased other jobs, and her contract was not renewed.

When Fuller saw an opening at Jann Wenner's money-losing US Weekly, she seized the job and shocked the industry, raising circulation an astonishing 55 percent and putting the magazine in the black. She also cemented her reputation as a brutal taskmaster, enforcing horrific hours on her staff in search of the perfect cover line.

After a whirlwind 16 months that took US Weekly from shot to hot, Fuller bolted to AMI as editorial director of all the company's magazines for an outrageous pay package including a $1.5 million salary, $1.5 million equity stake, circulation incentives up to $900,000 a year, plus perks like car service and health club expenses.

Vicious Attack! Suddenly Fuller was the hunted, not the hunter.

Gossip items from disgruntled employees started turning up. An "isurvivedbonnie" message board was born. The killer was a devastating Vanity Fair profile in which an unnamed (the irony!) "former editorial assistant" claimed that after Fuller ordered a free dinner to be packed up and sent home by company car for her and her husband, the meal was befouled with various body parts and fluids.
MOE THE RAT
m-o-e, r-a-t
As if you needed more of a reminder that Disney's corporate mascot was a rodent, the International Longshoremen's Association is getting hassled by the House of Mouse for using a parody of Mickey Mouse, dubbed "Moe the Rat", in their protest against Disney's use of non-union workers for its cruise line.
"Moe the Rat is the method by which we are expressing our free speech, since it grabs the public's attention, and they will read the message," said union attorney Neil Flaxman of Coral Gables. "Disney Cruise Line refuses to allow us to give out leaflets to the public on port property, and we believe it's a violation of our First Amendment rights of freedom of expression."

"Moe the Rat is an acronym for 'More Opportunity for Employees,' " Flaxman said. "We're not targeting Disney, but we do want to get our message to the public."...

We've been getting some great reactions," [union member Charles] Barton said. "Cabbies are giving us the thumbs-up, bus drivers tell us to keep going, and families smile and wave at us, thinking Moe's a new Disney character."
Ironically, that last comment about families thinking Moe is a new Disney character would work against the union--it basically proves Disney's argument that their brand is being misrepresented.

Incidentally, the International Longshormen's Association is a pretty formidable opponent. They were behind that West Coast strike a couple of years ago that virtually shut down the Pacific ports for a time. They're one of the most successful unions around, and Disney will have their hands full if they keep fighting them.
GOOGLE EMAIL
branching out
Moving on a development that's been rumored for months, Google is about to launch it's own free email service, following in the footsteps of Yahoo! and other formerly pure-play search engines. Dubbed Gmail, its compelling features will include far more storage than other free email providers (1-gig) and, to complement that, the ability to search through archived messages.

The search/well feature sounds a lot like an online version of Bloomba, the email client that is itself inspired by Google's search functions.

I don't see how this does anything but pull Google's focus away from its core business of search. And of course, it's the same path that the former search engine kings like Yahoo! and Excite took at the turn of the century, when they tried to morph into "portals" that offered email and other features. I've maintained that Google owes its success, in large part, to the fact that the first wave of search engines ceded the search territory to Google, while they embarked on their fool's-gold quest of portalhood. Now Google is taking the same sort of steps. It feels like this is going to be a recurring theme in the Internet industry.

This is not surprising, given that Google is preparing for it's much-awaited IPO this year. In the run-up to issue stock, the company has to demonstrate that it's got solid revenue streams. For a media property like a website (or a magazine, or a broadcaster), that boils down to a handful of recognizable elements: Advertising, direct marketing, content creation/distribution, and similar services. Google's already got significant money rolling in from advertising, but it's got to diversify beyond that. Offering email is a golden opportunity to build a huge direct-marketing subscriber base; the plan is already in place for inserting advertising into the service in order to pay for it. As it matures, it'll be prime territory for all kinds of marketing efforts (which Google is counting on in lieu of charging for email, which is not considered a viable option).
CHARLIE THE OTTER
whatchu lookin' at?
I usually don't go in for cutesy photos of animals, but when I saw this mug prominently displayed in color on the front page of the St. Petersburg Times, well... Charlie the Otter is his name, looking like a tough guy is his game. He's also available in super-large wallpaper size.

I think the expression on his face is priceless. Reminds me of Popeye. Others have told me he looks like he's chomping on a non-existent cigar, sort of Winston Churchill-like. He's actually chewing on some cut fish snacks, and was photographed at just the right time.

I guess I have a soft spot for rodents. Charlie sort of looks like the ferret I owned back in college. I also get a kick out of runty little critters who have Napoleon complexes; my office pet betta is the same way, which makes for lots of entertainment.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

DATELINE DONALD TRUMP
fire him
"Dateline NBC" is planning a couple of hours of coverage on Donald Trump and his NBC show "The Apprentice", causing some clucking about the supposed news show pimping itself as a promotional infomercial.
[Former NBC News president Larry] Grossman, in a speech he gave recently at Louisiana State University, said that except for 60 Minutes, prime-time network newsmagazines have abandoned news "for a continuing diet of frivolous nonfiction entertainment that focuses on the latest rape victim, child kidnapping, rock star profile, Hollywood scandal and movie opening."
Is this supposed to be a revelation? My mindset, ever since I was a kid, was that all the newsmagazines are not even remotely related to real news. They've been sensationalistic crapola for as long as I can remember, and I'd even toss "60 Minutes" in there. I don't expect any better from these types of pseudo-news programs; they've been a lost cause for decades.
EARLY &$%*#!! WAKEUP CALL
Some jackass making just enough noise with his car managed to wake me from my slumber at 5AM this morning.

I typically tell people that, once I wake up, I can't get back to sleep no matter what (and along with that, once I settle into sleep, I can't wake up after a short period of time and feel anything but exhausted--thus, naps don't work for me). Over the past couple of years, I've found that to not be exactly true. It does hold true after I've gotten a certain amount of sleep, probably around six hours or so. In the case of last night, I didn't get to bed until about 1AM, so being woken up after only four hours of snooze means I can, indeed, hit the switch back to dreamland. But the thing is, after an interruption like that, the remainder of my sleeptime is not as sound, and so it's usually not very restful. Thus was the case today: I woke up, saw the time, then closed my eyes--and spent the next couple of hours in a groggy state of semi-sleep. When I woke up, I felt like crap. It took me all morning to shake off that feeling.

Had I been more cognizant during that unintended wakeup call, I would have turned on the TV and watched the Devil Rays whup up on the Yankees 8-3, live from Tokyo. At least then I could have gotten some use out of that awakening.

Now I'm wondering if that game's 5AM start time had any connection with that anonymous jackass who woke me up.

Monday, March 29, 2004

DANTE'S INFERNO, DUDE
Does Hell look like California? For some, it does. Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders have adapted Dante's "Inferno" into an illustrated re-telling based in a nighmarish Golden State.

There's a great comparison between the classic and the contempory versions, in the form of Canto XII, lines 1 to 27 (the encounter with the Minotaur):

From The Inferno: A Verse Translation by Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander.

Steep was the cliff we had to clamber down,
rocky and steep, but - even worse - it held
a sight that every eye would shun.

As on the rockslide that still marks the flank
of the Adige, this side of Trent,
whether by earthquake or erosion at the base,
from the mountain-top they slid away from,
the shattered boulders strew the precipice
and thus give footing to one coming down -
just so was the descent down that ravine.

And at the chasm's jagged edge
was sprawled the infamy of Crete,
conceived in that false cow.

When he caught sight of us, he gnawed himself
like someone ruled by wrath.

My sage cried out to him: "You think,
perhaps, this is the Duke of Athens,
who in the world above put you to death.

"Get away, you beast, for this man
does not come tutored by your sister,
he comes to view your punishments."

Like the bull that breaks its tether
just as it receives the mortal blow
and cannot run, but lunges here and there,
so raged the Minotaur. My artful guide
called out: "Run to the passage:
hurry down while he is in his fury.'

* * *
From Dante's Inferno, text adapted by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders

Where we started to go down into Seventh Circle
was stony, sure, but there was something else
that made the whole scene totally bizarre.
It reminded me of the crumbled freeways
in Oakland after the Loma Prieta earthquake -
rubble and cement, burning fires and fallen girders.

The trail that led down the mountain was
littered with smashed-up bits of rock all
the way down to the bottom of the valley,
making it really hard going, almost climbing.

As we scrambled down the rocky path, we came
across the Minotaur, the legendary monster of Crete
who was conceived from a bull and a woman inside a
wooden cow. When he saw us, he freaked out by biting
himself, growling at us and going psycho.

Virgil yelled out at him, "Get down, you beast!
Maybe you think this is your murderer, the Duke
of Athens, coming back to kill you again? Get out of
here, you ogre, because this pilgrim didn't follow your
sister's thread down here. He's just here to observe
your hell and hopefully learn something from it."

It was as if Virgil's words were actual punches that stunned
the monster. The thing started twisting and squirming and
jumping around - confused because it was so mad. It reminded
me of when Moe hits Curly in the eyes and Curly starts barking.

Virgil expected that and yelled to me, "Quick, start running!
Get down the trail while he's consumed with rage!"


In addition to this adaptation, Birk was behind In Smog and Thunder, a satiric look at a fictional Californian civil war which I've referenced before.
TAMAGOTCHI'S REVENGE
feed me
The first signs of '90s nostalgia (not counting Nirvana reminiscences): The return of the dreaded Tamagotchi, now with the ability to mate through infrared connection.
My pet tried to foster a relationship with a Tamagotchi Plus I assigned to my husband. Our machines became immediate friends after a few button-pushing sessions with the two machines facing each other.

My husband's pet gave mine a ball as a gift. A picture of a ball showed up on my screen that my pet proudly bounced around on its head. Meaner creatures give fecal droppings or ghosts as gifts.

I managed to nurture my spiked-hair pet to adolescence in a few days. And my husband, who has been known to spend hours on more sophisticated video games but showed little motivation to rear his Tamagotchi, parented his to about the same level despite repeated brushes with death.

But our pets never made it to marriage.
I thought the original Tamagotchi craze was interesting, but not enough to buy one myself; I was way too old for it, and it seemed more like a girl-targeted thing (as the marketing push for this new version confirms). I recall a 40-ish part-time clerical worker in an office I worked in years ago who was hooked on it. She seemed to lavish tons of attention on the little digi-kid, scrambling to fish it out of her coat pocket when it would beep every 15 minutes or so. At the same time, she had a couple of real-life little kids at home, who always seemed to be in and out of trouble at school and doing strange things like eating their own feces. I'm sure it was the kids' fault that Mom turned to her little toy for exercising her parenting skills.

Will the kids go for something so monochromatically yesterday? It's certainly more portable and less time-intensive than the modern equivalent, Neopets.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

FIGURE SKATERS AND HOCKEY
where are the sticks
On the new NHL "Get It" promo ad featuring figure skaters Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan:

- The hockey stick Kwan's using is almost bigger than she is.

- Amusing that Yamaguchi plays the dumb one when Kwan drops her hockey terms, considering Yamaguchi is married to NHLer Bret Hedican.
CONTEMPORARY CROSSCURRENTS
chaotic
Nearly two months after first eyeing it, I finally got myself over to Tampa to see the Tampa Museum's "Crosscurrents at Century's End: Selections from the Neuberger Berman Art Collection" exhibit.

Loved it. Surprisingly for me, I liked the paintings/sculptures a lot more than the photography. Partly, that's because there were roughly twice as many paintings as there were photos, so there was more opportunity for range with the paintings. But for the most part, the photography was rather ordinary, I thought; and I tend to prefer photography in general. Probably the only photos I thought were exceptional were Anna Gaskell's "Untitled #36 (Hide)" and a series of pictures taken from a laundromat machine re-rigged into a stop-motion camera (can't remember the artist's name).

The collection of paintings had a good range, with a generous use of color being the common theme for most. Lots of very bold expressions, with a decidedly contemporary edge. One of my favorites was Michael Bevilacqua's "Do You Remember the First Time?", laden with pop-cultural references and commercial logo work.

I wish I had had the foresight to take notes while I was there; there were a bunch of pieces and artists that I can't remember now. Maybe I'll go back later this week; can't wait too long, as the exhibit leaves town on April 11th.
HIGH POWER BILL, HIGH TIMES?
Does your household electricity bill run into the hundreds of dollars each month? Then start turning off that fifth TV and automated catfood dispenser, or else you could be the target of a police drug bust.

And if you really are using all the juice to power your high-intensity pot-growing sun lamps, start baking your brownies sooner, rather than later.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

TODAY'S TRUMP: SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES
trumped up
It's hard to believe that Donald Trump was ever considered yesterday's news. But thanks to the runaway success of "The Apprentice", The Donald is once again as buzzworthy as he was during his '80s rise to the top.

And to think, he didn't even have to buy a USFL football team to do it this time.
OLD SPICE: SMELL LIKE A MAN
I got a haircut today at Tim's. It looks pretty good; haven't washed my hair yet, but it looks correct and all.

The barber shaved the back of my neck, a necessity for a Mediterranean like myself. He used shaving cream and aftershave that were both Old Spice-brand.

It smells really good. And it's stayed smelling good, even after I spent a couple of hours this afternoon sunbathing; I'm amazed it's got that much staying power.

I haven't used Old Spice in years. Maybe I should start again.
THE CAMPUS BICYCLE
My alma mater is making like some European village. Eckerd College has scattered 50 yellow bikes around campus for random student use, in an effort to make the campus less car-dependent.

It's a neat idea, although if you're so lazy that you have to drive to class, you should be shot. It's not a big campus; total student body is under 2,500. When you're in college, you should expect to walk around a lot; you've got the rest of your life to drive around. I had classmates who did regularly drive to class, and I thought it was pathetic.

I see that human nature is already starting to muck up the works:
A few riders already have done minor damage to the bicycles, while others have found creative ways to ensure the bikes stay put.

Some bikes have been found hidden behind trees. Others have been found without seats because the previous rider took it to class. Some bikes are being stashed overnight in dorm rooms.
It's not a surprise. People are greedy and possessive by default (see the case of the iceberg artist). If you make something like this freely available to everyone, most are going to try to abuse it.

The thing is, I remember that when I was in attendance, there was a constant problem with bikes getting stolen. I believe they'd routinely catch some off-campus highschool kids doing the stealing. I'm surprised they haven't run into this for the yellow bicycles. Now that the news is in the paper...
NASCAR DOESN'T WANT REDNECKS
It may seem incongruous, but NASCAR is making strides to shake off it's Southern/country roots and gain a more national character. The latest example: Rejecting a sponsorship bid by Website RedneckJunk.com because the governing body considers "redneck" to be an offensive term.

Yeah, I know. To the uninitiated, the idea of NASCAR disavowing rednecks is akin to the Republican Party kicking out all the old, rich white guys. Despite the growth of the sport over the last ten years, it's assumed the bread-and-butter fanbase is still in the yee-haw district (I don't know how true that is; I know the NASCAR fan demographic has become more diverse, but if I had to guess, I'd say the traditional fan is still predominant, although I could very well be wrong on that).

The underlying issue this brings up is, what exactly is a redneck?
"Who's kidding who?" said [RedneckJunk.com owner Tom] Connelly, the company's owner. "People who like (racing, hunting, fishing) would consider themselves rednecks. People consider me a redneck because I live in Massachusetts and listen to country music in my pickup truck."...

Don Arnold, team owner of Cope's car, is carefully trying to avoid conflict with NASCAR and said he understands the decision.

"I know you have to be politically correct," he said. "The meaning of the word "redneck' has really changed. You used to be able to say it as a joke just in fun, but if one person thinks you're being serious, you can't say it anymore."
I appreciate that it's not assumed that "Southerner" and "redneck" to be synonymous in this context. I grew up 50 miles north of Manhattan, and I saw redneckish folks aplenty. Geography has nothing to do with it, despite the desires of most non-Southerners.

I had always figured that if "redneck" was ever considered gravely offensive, it was becoming a reclaimed term. I remember this lady that worked in the warehouse of a company I was with, a real Florida Cracker. She drove an old, beat-up pickup truck that had a bumpersticker that read, "Definition of a redneck? A Southern gentleman." Not sure how widespread that sentiment is...

Friday, March 26, 2004

THE PASSION OF THE DEAD
After three straight weeks on top of the box office charts, "The Passion of the Christ" was dethroned last weekend by the "Dawn of the Dead" remake. The Cosby Sweater thinks there's something fittingly odd about that.
TURKS AND CAICOS: CANADA'S "HAWAII"?
welcome to the islands, eh?
Balmy, tropical Canada. Nice ring to it, eh? That's the idea behind Canada's proposal to annex the British Caribbean colony of Turks and Caicos.

So... much... joke... potential... Let's see:

- I'm looking forward to the bumper crop of Turks-Caicoan hockey players to arrive in the NHL.

- Two words: Canadian rum, mon.

- Two more words: Sand curling.

- Hearing "O, Canada" played on a steel drum should be a real trip.

The most non-imperialist way of doing this is to make the little island chain the 11th Province, the Canucks' very own place in the sun. The distance between the Great White North and this Caribbean outpost brings to mind the inclusion of Hawaii to the United States.

What facilitates this is Canada's membership in the British Commonwealth. Ex-colonial ties and all that. The UK wouldn't be as open to such a proposal if, say, Mexico came calling.

I joked earlier today that, with a tropical destination to call their own, maybe the annual Canuck snowbirds would stop clogging the roads around here. It might have an impact, but as it'd be easier to drive to Florida than fly to Turks, it probably won't be noticable.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

RED MENACE
red men-ice
In what amounts to Arctic graffiti, Chilean-Danish artist Marco Evaristti has spray-painted a Greenland iceberg blood red.

Evaristti made some similar noise last year with his "Helena" installation piece, characterized by having live goldfish displayed in working blenders. The resulting goldfish puree was ruled to not be a crime of animal cruelty. Presumably, this iceberg makeover won't be either, as long as the paint he used wasn't toxic.

"We all have a need to decorate Mother Nature because it belongs to us," Chilean-born Marco Evaristti told the Associated Press news agency.

"This is my iceberg; it belongs to me," Mr Evaristti added.

A contradictorily funny sentiment: Declaring that nature belongs to all of us--except for this chunk of ice, which he claims in the name of... himself.

Examining these comments further, it's the classic man-appropriates-nature mentality, with an artistic embellishment. In Evaristti's mind, he took nothing, i.e. nature's supposedly blank canvas, and "made" something from it. Where the glacier was formerly worthless because it was mere raw material, it's now something of value because of his action. It's a very egotisitical worldview.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

THE ART OF THE HEADLINE
Congratulations to the St. Pete Times' Jim Webster for winning the American Copy Editors Society award for best headline writer.

Headline writing is a decidedly underrated skill. You often walk a fine line between being clever and being overly punny; and you only have a few words to pull it off. I love it, although I use it pretty sparingly on this ol' blog. Some days you got it, some you don't.

Here are Jim's winning heds:

Look out Barbie: G.I. George is a doll (on a story about a new George Bush action figure).

Looking for work? You and 9.4-million others (on a story about the jobless rate).

That better not be the water bill (over a photograph of a woman reaching into a mailbox as water sloshes around the wheels of her bicycle).

McDonald's takes a quarter pounding (about the fast-food chain's first-ever quarterly loss).

In Middle East, even optimism is guarded (over a story about the uncertainty over the peace plan there).

The McDonald's one is a keeper, for sure.

This brings to mind a couple of my favorites from the Times' Sports page. I can't claim authorship of these--one is from 1994, before I started there--but they've always stuck with me:

SHAW-SHAQ REDEMPTION - From back when Brian Shaw and Shaquille O'Neal were teammates in Orlando.

NIL-NIL... IT'S BRAZIL! - A most fitting topper for the championship game of the 1994 World Cup, a 0-0 game between Brazil and Italy, decided by penalty kicks.
CAMPAIGN 2004: GAS-PUMP POLITICS
Just yesterday, I was telling someone that today's record-setting gas prices are going to have a big impact on the polls in November. It looks like my comments were most prescient.

As with all economic matters, the guy in the White House gets disproportionate amounts of both credit and blame. Regardless of the policies and actions he may or may not undertake, Bush's bid for re-election is going to be affected in a big way by the price at the pump.
STALE CHIPS
For lunch today, I got a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a bag of sour cream and onion Dirty Potato Chips from Publix. The chips turned out to be stale.

I cannot tell you how much that bummed me out.
BLOCKING OFF WHAT YOU PAY FOR
The battle against indecency trudges on, and your cable television provider is only too happy to help you play household censor. The cable industry announced plans to make channel-blocking equipment available for free to its subscribers, and has even set up a website to show people how to do it.

Robert Sachs, president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, announced the plan at a gathering of cable industry executives. It comes just as both lawmakers and regulators, attempting to crack down on indecent programming, have discussed requiring cable companies to let subscribers buy individual channels or a family-friendly tier, rather than have to purchase packages that include both the Disney Channel and MTV. The cable industry opposes the idea...

"No one wants policy-makers to have to choose between protecting children or preserving the First Amendment," Sachs told the Cable Television Public Affairs Association. "So if we, as an industry, actively promote the choices and controls available to consumers, there will be no need for anyone to do so."

Here's the thing: You're still paying for those channels, even though you're blocking them. Thus, the cable companies get fatter for doing basically nothing. A residual effect could be that, in the event of outages, there will be fewer complaints because of fewer subscriber households actually viewing all the channels. It's a big racket.

This reminds me of that "Simpsons" episode where Homer finds all of the Flanders' household's television channels blocked off, tells Ned that he thought he had satellite service, and Ned proudly replies, "Sure-diddly-do! Over 200 channels locked out!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

GOOGIRL
First there was Booble. Now, straight outta Argentina, comes Googirl.

Based on some light experimentation, they need to load up on the indexed pictures. I tried searching for some fairly well-known chickies, and came up with nada.

Despite the name, and the nervous disclaimer on the homepage, I don't think Googirl has to worry about a lawsuit from big bad Google. There is no similar look-and-feel between Googirl and Google, whereas Booble's transgression was in copying the layout and colors far too closely.
FLYING SHARK VS. FLYING CROC
death from the sky!
For the past couple of weeks, Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block (home of, among other personal favorites, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force") has been running this bizarre little promo: Flying Shark vs. Flying Crocodile. I think the title, and accompanying picture, is self-explanatory.

They've run with it for a lot longer than I'd expected. Their latest play on it was presenting the matchup as a shopping mall research study. It seemed like a bit much for the normally short-attention-spanned Adult Swim filler promos, but it was entertaining.

Then, a couple of days ago while watching a local Lightning game broadcast, I was bombarded endlessly with a commercial for Discovery Channel's "Animal Face-Off", featuring--surprise!--a simulated duel between a shark and crocodile. No flight ability in this one, because, since it's on an edumucational channel, it's supposed to be "real".

At first, I assumed the similarites were due to a shared corporate ownership. But that doesn't appear to be the case: Cartoon Network is wholly owned by Time Warner, while Discovery Channel is, along with parent Discovery Communications, a joint venture between media players Advance Publications, Liberty Media, and Cox Communications.

This doesn't preclude the possibility of the people working at both outfits engaging in shop-talk. So my question is, who's making fun of who here?

And for the record: Shark wins, baby. In a cakewalk.
POWER OUTAGE, LIKE CLOCKWORK
I have this digital alarm clock I keep in my spare bedroom. It's ancient; I've had it since high school. There's no particular reason for holding onto it, other than that it still works.

Strange thing about this little clock: For the longest while now, every time I would set it to the correct time, the electricity in my apartment would cut out, typically while I'd be at work. I'd find evidence of this when I got home in a number of ways: Chiefly, the water filter on my aquarium would be turned off (no dead fish as a result, yet). Other indicators included my television's last-channel setting being re-set, and, of course, that little digital clock's display blinking on-and-off.

Rationally, I know the clock couldn't have anything to do with the outages. This is Florida, and at certain times of the year, the weather (thunderstorms, high winds, intense heat leading to increased power consumption for air conditioning) will cause fairly regular (but brief) power failures. And the thing is, I never actually unplug the clock; it stays connected to a wall outlet, mainly out of my laziness. I'd just never bother to re-set the time on it, because I figure my luck would strike again in the form of another power cutoff. Sure enough, every time I correct the time, the futility of having done so would be apparent the next evening, when I'd come home to see it blinking, almost taunting me.

So anyway, last night I did some furniture rearrangement around the apartment. As a result, I decided to slumber in the spare bedroom. So I set that little digital clock to the right time, with the alarm, so it would wake me. It did the job the next morning, no problem.

I got back tonight. The aquarium's water filter was not working. My television's channel setting was re-set. And, of course, that digital clock was blinking, blinking, blinking.

Monday, March 22, 2004

WE GOT PARROTS!
There was some loud, incessant shrieking outside the window at work earlier today. Since we're on the 8th floor, and the noise was obviously closeby, I figured it was birds. But I was surprised to see it was a little flock of parrots.

Yup, we got wild parrots and parakeets flying around St. Petersburg, Florida. You see them around occasionally, often in the company of native birds like finches and jays. But sometimes, you'll see them flocking with themselves, a nice flash of greenish-blue zipping across the sky. They're the result of former pets being set loose or escaping; over the years, I guess they've found a way to survive in the wild and the relatively harsh (for these tropical birds) winters we have here.

These particular birds, which were only 4 or 5 strong, seem to have found some nooks in the building to make a nest. So they perched on the wall, and after some squabbling amongst themselves, settled down. A few of us gathered around the nearest window to check them out; they were definitely pretty birds. Rather big, too.

According to one of my officemates, these birds, with their distinctive black heads, were Nandy Conures, so they looked something like this.

So I guess we have some new outdoor mascots. It beats the usual pigeons, AKA rats with wings.
FREE TELEVISION!
Driving home from work today, I spied a TV set sitting on the ground, near a shut-down gas station where you often see a few cars for-sale-by-owners. The television had a sign taped to it that said, "Free TV--Works Great!"

I'm a sucker for free stuff, so I pulled over to check it out. Actually, I went as far as making a U-turn, heading back south on the road for a half-mile, then making another U-turn at the stoplight, and then heading back north to pull into the abandoned gas station.

I crouched down to inspect the set. Up close, it looked like it was in fine shape, no visible scratches or damage. But I could see why it was there for the taking: It was ancient, non-cable-ready, with a built-in antenna, and a pretty small screen (probably no bigger than 15 inches). It was, in fact, a JCPenney-brand color set. I quickly decided that I didn't need any more useless junk filling up my space, so I left the set there and took off. It was worth a shot, anyway.

On the way home, I idly wondered: Why would someone just leave a television there like that, with a sign on it? If they couldn't use it, or knew anyone who could, they could've just donate it to Goodwill (an outlet of which was only a few miles away from that spot). Or even just trash it. Why go to the trouble of placing it there? Could there have been something wrong with it? Going further, could it have been booby-trapped, rigged to explode or something?

I guess it's just as well I left that piece of junk by the side of the road.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

DON'T DRINK THE DASANI
Do you swear by bottled water? Do you blanche at the thought of drinking iffy tap water, like Liz and others do? Then wake up, because Coca-Cola has been exposed in the UK of filling its Dasani bottles with nothing but common Thames River water, that's full of toxins despite the processing they apply.

It's what I've pretty much always suspected: Bottled water is a rip-off. I remember years ago, in an office I worked in, some chump water delivery guy (I forgot the company) bragging about how good his outfit was, because he'd worked for a couple of others, and they both used to routinely fill their water-cooler bottles at the tap, sans any treatment. Of course, his current company did nothing of the sort. Right.

Technically, Dasani isn't billed as "pure" additive-free water. Coca-Cola touts that, in addition to the reverse osmosis they do to it, they pump in additional vitamins and minerals. That's not the case with their main competition, PepsiCo's Aquafina--that's sold as filtered, unadulterated H2O. I guess I believe them, because I use three bottles of it every week to change out the water in the tank of my office pet, Phil the betta. Hey, I've been using it for a couple of years, and he's not dead yet--quite the opposite, unusually frisky for such a little fish.
GOODBYE, WARREN
qb killa-less
Well, it's happened. A little over a week after turning up the heat in his search for a contract, Warren Sapp leaves the Bucs for Oakland's $36.6-million, 7-year deal. Thus does Tampa Bay lose one of the most entertaining and impactful athletes to ever come through town.

The move to the Raiders was a surprise, with most observers as late as yesterday morning figuring Sapp would go to Cincinnati. Despite the two clubs' histories, I think the Bengals would have been a better team to join, as they appear to be in more of an upward trend than the discombobulated Raiders. But you never can tell with NFL teams these days; Oakland might end up being the better club next year, or the year after.

John Romano's column pretty well matches my feelings about Sapp's departure. I think it was a good move for the Bucs in the longer term, but for the immediate future, going with Ellis Wyms as a replacement doesn't exactly instill me with confidence.

In looking back over Sapp's career (check out the photo of Sapp in a Devil Rays uniform!), I'm surprised it hasn't been pointed out how improbable the circumstances were that allowed Tampa Bay to draft him in the first place. When he skipped his senior year at Miami to enter the 1995 Draft, he was projected as one of the top five picks that year, even a possible No. 1 overall to the first-year Carolina Panthers. Then a few days before Draft Day, his positive test for marijuana came out, and speculation went wild: Was he a junkie? Did he demonstrate poor judgement in getting caught, which would reflect on his ability to play in the NFL? The upshot is that Carolina traded the No. 1 pick to Cincinnati, who took Ki-Jana Carter there. Expansion Jacksonville took Tony Boselli at No. 2, and the next nine teams in order also passed on Sapp, scared off solely by the positive pot results. When Tampa Bay got on the clock with the twelfth pick, they snapped him up, incredulous that he was still available. The rest, of course, is history. Sapp is rightly credited with being a major component of the Bucs' rise to respectability, yet his arrival was largely the result of dumb luck.
MORE CHEESE PLEASE, BABY
loungin' against the machine
Is it possible to not like the post-modern lounge-lizard experience that is Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine? Well, yes, I suppose it is. But I sure wouldn't want to swing with that scene, babe.

I discovered them about a year and a half ago, and enjoy their rendition of the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday In Cambodia" every time it cues up on my iPod. If you want even more Cheese, check out a generous sampling of these swingalicious covers. I highly recommend "Star Wars Cantina", sung to the rhythm of Barry Manilow's timeless "Copacabana". While supplies last.
POPE: KEEP IT TUBULAR
Pope John Paul II declares that disconnecting feeding tubes from vegetative patients is immoral, amounting to "euthanasia by omission".

No big shocker. The way he's going, he's gonna be hooked up to a feeding tube pretty soon. I call this preemptive survival technique on his part.
SATURDAY NIGHTS AND HYDE PARK: NO GO
For future reference: Think twice before heading out to Hyde Park on a Saturday night. Total Deadsville.

It was surprising. I was counting on some fun out there, because I figured Ybor would be overflowing with 18-to-20 year-old Spring Breakers, which wouldn't be worth the trouble. Maybe Fridays are just generally a better night for Hyde Park.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

PARIS IN TAMPA
partying in ybor
It's true: Paris Hilton busted her ass falling off a horse in the rural regions north of Tampa, and was tracked down at a Tampa hospital hours later.

As long as she's in town, she might as well take a well-deserved break from filming the second season of "The Simple Life" and spend tonight partying in Ybor City, where I'll be (changed my mind, I'm heading out to Hyde Park instead). I typically avoid blondes, but given her other a$$et$, I'll make an exception.

As the news crews packed up and rushed from the scene to prepare for broadcast, a man and woman walking out of the hospital looked at the scene, perplexed. What is going on, the man asked, what is all the commotion?

"It's Paris Hilton," shouted a cameraman.

"Who is that?" the man asked.

The cameraman shook his head.

"Who is that?" the cameraman said. "He needs to watch more TV."

No he doesn't, cameradude. He needs to hit the Internet, where Paris' best work can be found.
FUNDRACE 2004
Yup, you can indeed find out which of your friends and neighbors made political campaign contributions, and to which candidate, through Fundrace 2004. Here's what's shaking in my neighborhood (actually, it's more like my city--even searching by ZIP code, it's not particularly specific). Lots of familiar names in there, actually.

This may smack of unauthorized access, but by law, it's not:

Federal election law makes the snooping possible. Presidential candidates are required to disclose contributions of $200 or more, and the Federal Election Commission makes databases available for download.

The thing is, would the knowledge that such information is easily attainable dissuade some people from giving in the future? The big-time contributors won't be bothered, but is it worth the exposure to give a couple of hundred bucks?
GET THE LEAD OUT!
choo-choo
Are you a fan of Mexico's world famous Chaca Chaca candy bar? Going by this damning review, I can't imagine why anyone would be. Now, there's even less reason to enjoy it: The state of California has issued a health warning on it, saying it contains dangerously high levels of lead.

The Chaca Chaca is made from apple pulp and chili powder, along with tamarind. Where does the lead come in? I guess it's from the manufacturing process.

Friday, March 19, 2004

ACCIDENTAL VIDEOGAME PORN
bone-us round
We all know videogames are tools of the devil. They make you twitchy, nervous, violent and disrespectful toward your parents. Of late, they've even been accused of killing TV ratings. Evil, I tells ya.

The pixelated violence has been a given. But sexually explicit images? Yup, those game designers are one filthy lot, and they've been demonstrating that ever since the days of the infamous "Custer's Revenge" on the Atari 2600. Some people, particularly those at Berkeley, choose to believe that all those examples of joystick porn is accidental; but I say, a wink is as good as a nod to a blind man. Whatever that means.

The image above, by the way, is from 1989's "Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode", for the NES. Secret-agent-man Golgo has come a long way since then; these days, he's fighting against international currency fluctuation plots.
THE CARSON DALY CURSE
curses!
This just occurred to me, after an evening of watching images of Carson Daly, Tara Reid, and Jennifer Love Hewitt flash across the TV screen:

Dating Carson Daly is a career-killing move.

Consider: Hewitt's career has tanked hard ever since she dated and broke up with him. Same with Reid. Can it be coincidence? I think not.

So, the next girl who hooks up with Carson better not count on having a showbiz career after the fact. The man's toxic.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

REAL PHONE MISDIAL SCAMS
I must have had my psychic mojo working this past Tuesday. My seemingly crackpot suggestion that shady companies were buying up spare toll-free numbers in the hopes of snaring unsuspecting misdialers appears to be validated as fact by this FTC crackdown:

According to the Federal Trade Commission, three Utah-based companies bought dozens of phone numbers very similar to the toll-free numbers that "American Idol" fans call to place their votes. Viewers who misdialed and got one of the numbers were directed to dial a 900-number to place their vote. A message on the 900-number then gave the correct toll-free number to call.

The FTC said about 25,000 consumers were charged up to $3 per call during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

I wonder if there's any connection to the offending companies being in Utah, with that state's (801) area code being so close to the usual (800) toll-free code. I can't believe anyone would misdial the 1-800 part of a toll-free number, but I guess when you're talking about thousands, even millions, of callers, the odds are there. Said odds being markedly increased when you're talking about idiot "American Idol" fans.

This game has been played on the Web for years. Typos of popular website URLs used to be cornered regularly by the same sort of sleazy operators. Some still are--for instance, mistyping "excite.com" as "exxcite.com" will give you a bunch of popups and a redirect to some fly-by-night website. More commonly, the intended websites will buy up the typo URLs to ensure they don't get hijacked; Yahoo!, for instance, has got "yaho.com", "yahooo.com", and "yahooh.com" all redirecting to the proper homepage.
MOTIVATIONAL READING
reading is hack-amental
Just a couple of days ago, I spouted off:

What are the odds of a hacker buying and reading an actual book?

Today, The Boondocks' Aaron McGruder runs with that concept, in his usual funny way.
















BEWARE THE HERBAL PREPARATIONS
I was regaled with a funny story from my officemate this morning about her doctor's visit yesterday. When she opened her comments with, "If you've been looking for the worst doctor in Clearwater, call off your search, because I found him," I knew it would be a good one.

She's had this persisent coughing and sinus problem all week long, and after realizing that it wasn't attributable to allergies, she bit the bullet and set up a doctor's appointment. This was a first-time visit, so the first thing the doctor did was give her a once-over physical. She said she was fine with that, although I have the feeling that she wasn't completely comfortable, considering that she knew the problem was a throat/respiratory thing. But doctor's orders and all that.

So the doctor did his thing, and when he was done, asked her the following:

"Are you taking any herbal preparations?"

My friend was thrown by this. "What do you mean by 'herbal preparations'?"

"You know," the doctor said. "Herbal preparations."

"I don't know what that is. What sort of things are you talking about? Can you give me an example?"

A nurse who was in the room with them chimed in, "What we mean is, you know, herbal preparations."

Already peeved by having to undergo what she felt was an iffy physical exam, my friend was getting testy with this rather dense line of questioning. She made another attempt at clarity: "Are you talking about vitamins, something like that?"

Nurse: "No no, we mean more like--Herbal. Preparations."

They might have been alluding to some modern-day snake-oil remedy like St. John's Wort or something, and simply didn't have the communicative skills to get their point across. Or they might have been probing about more illicit substances like marijuana, and were desperately trying not to say so. Whatever the case, my friend was fed up by now, and just said, "I don't think so. Why?"

The doc delivered the kicker: "Well, it's just that a lot of women have been using herbal preparations lately when they're trying to get pregnant."

Getting pregnant is a sore point with my friend. She's pretty much dead set against having any kids, ever; but as a married woman in her late 20s, she's getting pressure from several directions to breed, already. To get this assumption from a schmuck doctor who seemed less than on-the-ball, and who she was seeing solely for a respiratory problem, was too much to take. Adding to the awkwardness was that a fellow officemate around the same age officially announced yesterday morning that she was a few weeks pregnant; I think the juxtaposition felt like yet another societal full-court press on her to have a child.

Despite telling the doctor that she was definitely not taking anything to get pregnant, herbal or otherwise, he kept insisting otherwise. At that point, my friend got her prescription and got the hell out of there.

Kind of harrowing, kind of funny. It made for a good morning story, anyway.

UPDATE: I checked with her later in the day on one point: The doctor did ask her directly regarding pot and other illicit drug use, so that wasn't what he was hinting at.

It also occurred to us that "herbal preparations" connotes Preparation H. Good for hemorrhoids, bad for babies?

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

TURKISH SONG OF THE DAMNED
Back from a St. Patrick's Day party at Bennigan's. Not too adventurous, but very close to home, so it fit the bill. It was okay, but given that I'm blogging in the aftermath, it obviously wasn't that good.

Anyway, to close out this St. Patty's Day, I feel like conjuring up a Pogues song: "Turkish Song of the Damned". The song itself is not that Irish, but the instrumentation is definitely Celtic, and the Poguers themselves are definitely Irish.

I come old friend from Hell tonight
Across the rotting sea
Nor the nails of the cross
Nor the blood of Christ
Can bring you help this eve
The dead have come to claim a debt from thee
They stand outside your door
Four score and three
Did you keep a watch for the dead man's wind
Did you see the woman with the comb in her hand
Wailing away on the wall on the strand
As you danced to the Turkish song of the damned

You remember when the ship went down
You left me on the deck
The captain's corpse jumped up
And threw his arms around my neck
For all these years I've had him on my back
This debt cannot be paid with all your jack

And as I sit and talk to you I see your face go white
This shadow hanging over me
Is no trick of the light
The spectre on my back will soon be free
The dead have come to claim a debt from thee
BROADBAND INTERNET: DSL CATCHING UP?
A few days ago, I mentioned in passing that DSL Internet providers had made a little headway against their cable competitors. Now, new findings from Leichtman Research Group back this up, along with showing the broader expansion of home broadband access for both cable and DSL.

As of now, there are some 24.6 million broadband customers in the U.S. That's big, but it's important to remember that it's still far less than the number of dialup customers.

Leichtman isn't prepared to declare a trend in DSL's stronger numbers, but it seems that, at least temporarily, the revitalized marketing efforts by the phone companies are paying dividends. The next step is seeing how the cable providers hit back, and if DSL can keep up these gains. The boost in download capacity from 1.5 to 3 mbps by most cable providers is one move, although I'm not sure it'll resonate with customers.
LIQUID PIZZA
Also spied by my eye during lunch today: Packages of Campell's Soup At Hand in pizza flavor. Pizza soup. Yuck.

I guess if you insist on being an inefficient multitasking showoff, you deserve the likes of liquified pizza.
LAUGHING MYSELF AWAKE
I rarely ever remember my dreams. That may sound odd to some people, particularly those who regularly have vivid recollections of their dream states. I've actually been accused of lying about this, and using that as a false excuse for not wanting to open up and share, out of fear for revealing something about myself.

But it's the fer-real truth. For whatever reason, I can't seem to retain very much from my dreams, and I believe this has been the case for most of my life. I think I dream as much as the average sleeping person, and I usually get the faint impression that I have dreamed most nights. It seems that if I wake up in the middle of a dream, or if I'm dreaming pretty close to the time I normally wake up, I will retain at least some partial recollection; but even then, half the time that memory fades to nothing within minutes of waking up. It's exceedingly rare that I'll ever recall a complete dream, from start to finish.

Why is this? I've never had it analyzed, but I suspect the prognosis would be something along the lines of avoiding whatever underlying meaning the dreams may have--by wiping them clean from my brain right away, I don't have to examine them, as I'd be wont to do. I'm sure the relative lack of sleep I get regularly is part of it: I tend to remember my dreaming from the occasions where I sleep longer than my usual 6-7 hours (which might suggest I actually dream more with more hours of slumber). I don't know that that's the whole story, though, because even as a kid who got more than enough sleep, I had the same trouble remembering them.

Since I've lived like this all my life, I've been used to it, and don't really feel like I've missed much. But sometimes, the lack of remembrance in this area is nagging, at least for the day or so after it happens.

Like last night, for instance. I was having some sort of dream, but if I had a gun to my head, I couldn't tell you any details. The only thing I know for sure was that there was something intensely funny about it. So intense, in fact, that I felt myself laughing really, really hard in the dream. The next thing I knew, I was awake, having woken myself up with my own hard, sustained, out-of-my-mouth laughter. I had dreamt something so funny that it managed to wake me up in the middle of the night!

And of course, as soon as I woke up, I didn't remember a damned thing about it.
TECHNO-DELI
Sign of the digital times: While at the Publix deli today getting my lunch (6-inch turkey sub on grain bread, if you must know), I noticed a 17-inch computer monitor sitting in plain view directly behind the counter, with a Publix screensaver flashing on and off every few seconds.

A computer terminal hookup in the deli department. No doubt a useful, even necessary, work tool for the supermarket employees. But it still seems a little odd. I'm sure it seemed odd when they first started installing phones in places like the deli and stockrooms about 30 years ago, too.
I THOUGHT EVERYONE WAS IRISH TODAY??
Usually, I'm the one who forgets to don some color-appropriate apparel on a holiday that falls on a workday. It'll slip my mind that it's 4th of July, for instance, and I'll wind up being the only schmuck in the office who doesn't wear a red-white-and-blue shirt/pant/tie combo (and in fact, probably will wear something starkly different, like all black--and rouse suspicion that I'm a closet anarchist or something).

This morning, I was proud of the fact that my waking mind actually remembered that today is St. Patrick's Day, and accordingly, I put on a green shirt to signify the holiday. For once, I remembered!

But so far today, it seems the joke is yet again on me. I've been around and about in downtown St. Pete today, walking from my office to the nearby Publix for lunch, getting a good eyeful of all the other downtown work denizens. Guess what? It's been a struggle to find many other people who are wearing a spot of green today. Even olive or khaki green would be acceptable, but no: I'd estimate at least every other person I saw walking around was totally green-less.

What's the deal? Is this a bad year for celebrating St. Patty's? Is it that it fell on a Wednesday, the traditionally blah humpday? Were there not enough Guinness "St. Patrick's Day Christmas" ads running over the past couple of weeks (which my assistant absolutely loves, by the way)?

As you can see, it's kinda bummed me out, not the least because green is also my favorite color. I guess I'll drown my sorrows in alcohol later tonight. Maybe something green, probably not beer.

UPDATE: It looks like my guesstimate of every other person in downtown St. Pete wearing green was fairly accurate, as this informal St. Pete Times poll indicates.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A DIFFERENT KIND OF BUSCH... GARDENS
Here's one way to get your Fun Card: Tampa's own Busch Gardens mailed out a marketing flyers with a mistyped phone number that happened to lead to a sex-talk line.

But was it truly mistyped? Take note of my observations on this phenomenon when it happened to Verizon, back in August:

Why does it seems that every time there's a wrong number in a case like this, the misdialed number always leads to a porn line? I realize it seems this way because that's the only time it gets reported in the media, but still. The crackpot conspiracy theorist in me would say that the porn outfits have cornered the market on every other toll-free number in existence, and their strategy is that they will hook unsuspecting customers every time they misdial a number. But no, that would make too much sense.
REALITY CHECK: SUGAR RAY JOINS THE CONTENDER
When the upcoming reality-boxing show The Contender was announced last month, mastermind producer Mark Burnett lamented:

"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?

Sugar Ray listened, and has agreed to join the show as one of its stars, serving as a trainer and business advisor. So it'll be him, a real fighter, and Sylvester Stallone, who played one on the silver screen.

(By the way, the accompanying photo on the Zap2It.com article is obviously not a headshot of Sugar Ray--unless he's changed a lot recently; it's of Burnett. Here's a nice photo of Sugar Ray.)

I just hope Sugar isn't thinking about using this gig as an opportunity to make yet another comeback. Then again, that would certainly spice things up: Sugar looking over the palookas, shaking his head, and declaring, "I can whip all your asses, I'm in it to win it now!" (I know, I know, in my dreams...)

Monday, March 15, 2004

SEE YOU AT THE CROSSROADS
Gobs of information was set loose today in The State of the News Media 2004 report (which includes a great chart-generating section). Not that all of it is good news: The news business is at a crossroads where media outlets are splintering along several lines, while general trust in the traditional industry is eroding. This is reflected in job cutbacks at traditional media outlets, just at the time when more journalists are probably necessary to verify and follow up on news data:

Much of the new investment in journalism goes toward distributing the news, not gathering it, the study said. Newspapers have about 2,200 fewer newsroom employees today than in 1990, and network TV news has cuts its correspondents by a third since the 1980s.

As a journalist, what can I say? The same skills that go into professional journalism can be applied to a number of other fields that are way more lucrative: Public relations, advertising, corporate communications, financial analysis, etc. I know several people who've gone into those fields after becoming disenchanted with news, for a variety of reasons. And the resulting vacuum has to be filled by the people who are left, who are then stretched thin and can't do as thorough a job as otherwise possible. This isn't a new trend; it's been that way for the past couple of decades, at least.

The fact remains that you have to be a little crazy, and a lot dedicated, to make a go at journalism as a profession. There are certainly easier ways to earn a paycheck, and generally a bigger one (although you're never going to get rich working for someone else; that's the case in just about any industry).

More on this from me later, probably.
WHY BEAR WHEN YOU CAN ROLL?
More Ybor fun:

The obnoxious sidewalk preachers are a common sight in Tampa's party district. With Spring Break starting up, some churches figure that the Lord's message might have a better chance of sinking in with the kids if it's coming from their peers. So this past Saturday, there was probably a dozen or so youth ministry kids trolling up and down 7th Avenue, all smiles and wearing brilliant white t-shirts with the name of their church group (I don't remember the name; I was stone sober, honest).

Instead of following the usual preachers' example of reading loudly from the Bible to no one in particular, these kids had a special gimmick: a group of three or four of them would group together, with one tugging a large cross on his shoulder Jesus-style (thus literally having a cross to bear), while the rest would ask passerbys if they wanted to take a "The Passion of the Christ" quiz. It was clever, although I don't think I saw one person take the bait (then again, I wasn't keeping track of them all night, but I did see them several times while they did their back-and-forth).

When I was getting set to leave, I caught one last look at one of these cross-bearing troupes, heading in the opposite direction. They had this 40ish drunk guy tailing them, laughing with them and excitedly shouting. As I got closer, I could see the drunk was pointing wildly down at the foot of the prop cross. I looked down to where he was pointing...

And saw that there was a wheelie roller screwed to the bottom of the cross.

So it turned out that these intrepid youths were actually rolling their crosses up and down the street. Understandable, in that there's no sense in putting their cross (and themselves) through needless wear-and-tear, as they probably use it every week. Comical, as it sort of lessens the overall impact. Jesus still wept, I'm sure.

I can't believe I didn't notice that little detail before; but as is often the case in life, a drunk showed us the way. I have a feeling the other crosses had some sort of covering over the base to hide the little wheel.
CLUB CZAR
I spent a small part of Saturday night at Club Czar in Ybor City. It's an attempt at a Soviet-theme bar, with the main attempt coming from having club employees stroll around in Red Army/Poliburo-style costumes (with an occasional guy-in-a-nun-habit thrown in for variety).

Although I've never met them, I have a hunch that this would be the kind of bar that the people at Grammarporn would totally dig.

In any case, it was pretty dead, despite the recent completion of a St. Patrick's Day night parade and the midnight-ish hour. The music was okay, basically a selection of '80s New Wave B-sides, which I guess is standard fare for a Saturday night (and probably every night, with a little variation). I find it funny that Czar likes to brag about all the different kinds of vodka it has--again, part of the Soviet decor--yet they didn't have the Smirnoff I ordered (I settled for Stoli instead).
MCDONALD'S WI-FI: DEAD ON ARRIVAL?
wi-fry
There's an interestingly-crafted article at CNET, by Richard Shim, on the current status of McDonald's proposed wi-fi hotspot offerings in its restaurants. It starts out with a field test:

Signs at a McDonald's in downtown San Francisco cordially beckon customers to surf the Web using its wireless Internet service, but no one is biting during a recent Wednesday lunch hour.

In fact, none of the 20-odd patrons scattered about the restaurant's two dining areas appears to have a laptop computer or wireless PDA on hand. A few peer over newspapers, while others talk quietly or stare out the window over trays of french fries and hamburgers.

The scene is typical, says supervisor Margie deGroot, whose restaurant near Market and Second streets became, last year, one of the first McDonald's in the country to offer wireless Net access to customers: "Why would these customers use this service when they can go back to their offices to use their computers?" she says.

So based on this opening, you'd think the rest of the story would continue to underline how iffy the prospects are for McDonald's wi-fi offering.

But inexplicably, the rest of the article goes on to tout the rosy promise of charge-per-session hotspots, hinting at established setups at other restaurants like Starbucks. It feels like a clumsy grafting; I almost suspect that the editor decided to stick the San Francisco episode at the top so that it could then be quickly dismissed. It's a clumsy attempt at spinning this into a positive, despite very little to base that on (other than the usual analyst remarks). The 6 percent figure for Schlotzky's customers who find the hotspot a compelling reason to visit is more disheartening than encouraging; 6 percent is nothing, hardly worth considering.

I still maintain, as I did a year ago, that it's a weak idea for a place like McDonald's. No one wants to hang out in a McDonald's, Web access or not. The store manager in San Fran summed it up perfectly: Why would somebody on their lunch break want to pay for wireless access when they could more comfortably do it for free at work (assuming that the risk for getting chewed out, or even fired, for goofing off on the Web in the office is "free")? It's a good idea to target road-warrior types who would actually have need to utilize this kind of access point; but those types would more readily opt for a Starbucks instead. I see this effort dying within two years.
DRIZZMAL
drizzie in the hizzie
So dreary was this day, with its perpetually overcast sky and lazy rainfall, that I've coined a new phrase to describe the environment: Drizzmal. Dismal and drizzly. Drizzmal.

Hey, I admit it's no nuculer, but what can you expect on such a downer day?
"NUCULER" REACTION
nuculer activity
The President's been a pretty reliable source for comic fodder with his commonly-acknowledged mispronounciation of the word "nuclear". But is he really flubbing it? Maybe not, since both "noo-clee-ar" and "new-cew-lar" are so frequently used that both versions are gaining currency.

What can I say but, "That's My Bush!"

Language is evolutionary, of course. And nothing accelerates that evolution more than what comes out of the mouths of prominent personages, Presidential or otherwise. So Bush is probably helping the much-disparaged pronounciation become more acceptable.

I have to admit that I sometimes slip up and use the "nuculer" version. I think the real reason for it is the frequent use of the shorthand "nuke", most often used as slang for cooking something in a microwave. The "noo" sound in "nuke" seems to lend itself more to being followed by another "oo" syllable. I'm just going by my own instincts on that; I don't know if there's any real linguistic basis to it.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

GEORGE MICHAEL "RETIRES"
George Michael has decided to wake us up before he go-goes by declaring that he's likely retiring from the music business--which is not to say that he's retiring from music:

He revealed: "I think (‘Patience’) is going to be my last commercially promoted release. I’ve been very well remunerated as they say for my talents over the years so I really don’t need the public’s money. I’d really like to have something on the Internet with charitable donation optional, where anyone can download my music for free. I’ll have my favourite charities up there and people will hopefully contribute to that."

I'm sure this will make Michael an instant hero to the legion of dedicated fileswapping mavens, who'll tout him as a model for how music should be created and distributed in the Internet age. Of course, considering that Michael wouldn't be doing this if he hadn't already made a comfortable pile of money over the years, it's a bit of a hollow example. Plus, he had other, more personal reasons for doing this:

He explained the move would also help him reduce his profile, and so media intrusion. "I’m not pretending I won’t be famous any more, but believe me, in the modern world, if you take yourself out of the financial aspect of things, i.e. you’re not making anybody any money or you’re not losing anybody any money, believe me I’ll be of very little interest to the press in a certain number of years."

I could make a crack about most of the world, the press and beyond, considering Michael to already be, effectively retired for a few years now. But I won't.
DUCK FIGHT 3000!!!
destroy!
I love Sunday afternoons, particularly at this time of the year. Nothing to do all day but decompress, and drink life in.

Case in point: I just walked over to my patio window and caught about five full minutes of a couple of the local ducks engaged in a death match on water! It was hilarious. They were facing each other bill-to-bill, alternately rising up with wings fully spread and then on top of one another, biting and writhing. Lots of splashing around and angry honking. I felt like cueing up the classic Captain Kirk vs. Mr. Spock hand-to-hand combat music; it was just that gripping.

These ducks are pretty amusing in general. They're Muscovites, meaning they're some of the ugliest fowls you'd ever want to see. Plus, these local duckies are ridiculously inbred, meaning they're that much uglier and that much stupider. They waddle around the grounds like they own the joint. And they're fat, no doubt from all the handouts they get (I suppose I'd give them something too, but I live on the second floor, so it's not easy to toss food to them).

I'm kind of hoping they have some repeat performances, ideally on a predictable schedule. I can get a cockfighting-style gambling ring going, make me some extra scritchy-scratchy.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

SHOCK THERAPY THROUGH DOGWALKING
The perils of life in the big city: City construction crews are leaving underground live-wire cables exposed, leading to electrified pedestrian walkways. This negligence has led to several canine electrocutions and at least one human death, in New York City.

Interestingly, thanks to rubber-soled footwear, humans tend to be safeguarded against these deadly shocks. But dogs, being barefoot, usually are the bigger risk; and when a pooch in distress gets shocked, his owner will tend to reach down to hold him, and the rest is history.

One way to protect your doggie is to invest in a set of doggie booties. Just be prepared to provide moral support when the other dogs start laughing.
THERE'S ALWAYS PEANUTS AND CRACKERJACK
god forbids!
Has there ever been a more arduous time to be a Boston Red Sox fan? First the team gets bounced out of the playoffs by the hated Yankees, then it loses out on the Alex Rodriguez chase to that same AL East rival (and winds up sounding like a bunch of crybabies over it). Now, Catholic Sox fans are upset about Opening Day at Fenway falling on Good Friday this year, meaning they can't indulge in their traditional ballpark goodies like hotdogs and meat-topped pizza.

In typically soft American religious fashion, several fans are asking for special dispensation to eat meat at the game without the risk of going to hell; the Boston Archdiocese ain't going for it. It seems that in 2004, being religiously faithful and Red Sox-faithful are mutually exclusive things.

"I would hope it was just an oversight when they were doing the schedule," [Archdiocese spokesperson Rev. Christopher J.] Coyne told the Boston Herald. "I think it's very insensitive to the huge number of people who are Christians and fans."

Oh, I agree. It's very insensitive to keep a religious fan from stuffing his fat face with a footlong for three whole hours. What a crisis of faith! I've got news for you: If you can't go to a ballgame and resist the temptation of meat-flavored munchies, even with Godly devotion on your side, then you should seriously question your value system. Not to mention your waistline.

Friday, March 12, 2004

FLYING ELVI AND INDIAN CASINOS
thank yew, thankyewvurymuch
The Seminole Indian Tribe here in eastern Tampa is holding the grand opening of its Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino this weekend. So naturally, the tribe had The Flying Elvi skydiving team dive-bomb tribal grounds to celebrate.

What a weird time to have them jump, Thursday morning. If they had done it over the weekend, I would've gone out there to see it. It's not every day you see something so kitschy. Plus, with any luck, there might be an Elvis splattering.

As for the new gambling mecca, I can't say I'll be blowing my quarters there on a regular basis. I'm not too big on gambling. It might be something to check out once in a while, although I have a feeling it's going to be teeming with eighty-year-olds 24/7, a real turn-off. But maybe a good place to check out the sleazy scene.
CHAMPPS: LAND OF AUDIOVISUAL TECHNIQUES
I'm going out to dinner tonight with a group of friends, including a couple I haven't seen in a long while. We're converging on Champps (that's "Champps" with two "p"s--more stupid-looking than distinctive, and probably created just to secure a unique trademark), a self-described upscale sports bar. I'm sure the only difference between their greasy-fried mozarella sticks and the mom-and-pop place across town's is an extra five bucks. But whatever; the main purpose is to get together and mingle, not eat.

Would you like to read a description of the Champps at International Plaza in Tampa, the location I'll be hitting? Sure you would:

Champps is an upscale casual dining restaurant that offers a broad menu consisting of freshly prepared food coupled with exceptional service. In addition, Champps creates a visually exciting environment through audiovisual techniques and several large screen televisions.

Gripping, isn't it? Especially the "audiovisual techniques", which, just in case they don't do the whole job of creating the "visually exciting environment", are backed up by a mess of big-screen TVs. I'm not sure it can be more obvious that that little scrap of text was ineptly written by some sub-literate mall marketing assistant. (Hell, who am I kidding--it's probably the work of the sub-literate mall marketing manager.)

It's little, everyday incompetencies like the above that give me enough smiles to make it through the day.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

M-M-M-MAX HEADR-R-R-ROOM-M-M!
catchthewave!
Ah, '80s nostalgia. MediaPost's Real Media Riff reminisces about the late, great "Max Headroom":

For those of you who're too young to remember and too old to recall, the show's storyline was set in a not-too-distant future that is eerily like the one we are living in now. Can you guess what year it took place? Yep, it was 2004, when the show's protagonist Edison Carter (an intrepid reporter, not unlike the Riff) uncovers a plot by corporate America to begin airing "blipverts," compressed TV commercials that would be played so fast, that viewers wouldn't be able to react quickly enough to zap them.

While we are sure this is a concept that may have actually been tested somewhere, sometime - and for all we know, may be going on right now - the "Max Headroom" version of blipverts had at least one nettlesome drawback: they caused TV viewers to spontaneously explode. Obviously, this would be bad for the business of most major marketers, and would also wreak havoc on Nielsen's sample, (we can only imagine the weighting scheme associated with this one), but at least it would be an ingenious solution to digital video recorders: "If you zap our ads, we'll blow you to smithereens."

Thank goodness, our 2004 isn't exactly like "Max Headroom's" 2004. In the TV version, books were illegal, because they kept people from watching TV. TV sets were provided to the poor to keep them occupied and docile. And it was even illegal for manufacturers to install "off switches" on TV sets. No, that's nothing like our society today, much to the chagrin of Madison Avenue. If anything, it seems there are forces afoot that would like to make it illegal to install "on switches" on TV sets.

As far-fetched as blipverts might seem, the notion of short, fractionalized TV spots apparently is not. The ANA panel kicked around scenarios that would bust the :30's hold on advertising formats, with a range of longer and shorter form options.

Definitely a show that was ahead of it's time, and yet firmly a part of it. In my mind, anyway, Max Headroom is an iconic '80s symbol, probably as much for the Pepsi and MTV ads he did as for the TV series.

Pegging the show's setting in the future year of 2004 involves a little bit of conjecture. Officially, the show's storyline never explicitly revealed the exact year; indeed, the show's subtitle was "Twenty Minutes Into The Future", a purposefully vague and quirky premise, intended to convey the mood that the future depicted, while absurdist, was not so very far off. However, piecing together some plot elements from the original UK pilot, mainly the age of one of the protaganists, yields the year 2004.

I had a Max Headroom t-shirt back in the day. I even brought it with me to college here in St. Pete. I managed to lose it my freshman year.
MOBILE PHONE AS THE ONLY PHONE
In-Stat/MDR has a new report out on U.S. mobile phone usage, specifically on how mobiles are displacing landline phones. The meat of the findings:

- 14.4 percent of consumers use their wireless phones as their main (only?) home phone.

- Said consumers tend to be young (ages 18 to 24), single, urbanites, and mobile data (text messaging, Internet) users.

- Nearly a third of mobile phone users will not have a landline by 2008.

Personally, I'd have no problem giving up my landline; I use my mobile phone almost exclusively right now. Had I opted for cable broadband Internet instead of DSL, I'd have definitely dropped the landline phone. As it is, I find having an alternate phone number does come in handy just often enough to warrant keeping it. It's a bare-bones service, though: No long-distance nor any other extras like call waiting and such.

The trend is definitely moving toward the abandonment of landline phones. I have friends who, only a couple of years ago, considered the prospect of going exclusively wireless to be just too far out to consider. Now, with pricing plans fairly reasonable, they're looking seriously at it and even taking the plunge.