The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, April 30, 2004

WHY NO GAMING CONSOLE FROM APPLE?
While perusing this NYTimes article on how videogame developers are starting to favor the Xbox over PlayStation2 (short version: Microsoft apparently has paid off a bunch of developers), I got to wondering why the console field is still limited to just Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. In my mind, if there was a traditional computer company that were institutionally inclined to enter the videogame hardware world, I'd have guessed it wouldn't have been Microsoft, but Apple.

When it comes to thinking outside the box, Cupertino beats Redmond practically every time. Apple has demonstrated with the iPod that it can roll out a market-dominating consumer electronic product. Plus, it's an avowed hardware maker; producing the Xbox was a step away from Microsoft's traditional software-only route (WebTV notwithstanding). Apple has been recognized as having more of an edge in the graphics/multimedia zone than Microsoft, which would be a solid base from which to develop gaming expertise. Apple would be motivated by a desire to diversify its business away from just personal computing, as was Microsoft.

So why no iBox from Apple? The console business is a tough one to crack, and pretty unforgiving to all but one or two entrants. Each generation of new consoles seems to claim a former king-of-the-hill as a victim: Atari was done in by Nintendo, Nintendo by Sega, Sega by Sony. Apple's position is solid in the second coming of Steve Jobs, but probably not enough so to commit massive resources in a battle for console marketshare.

I think there's also often a too-easily made connection between the computer and videogame industries, due to the common foundation in computing product. Despite the seemingly natural connection, the two businesses have rarely crossed: Atari was always seen as a consumer electronics company, which works in a totally different environment than computer makers and related businesses (as companies like Microsoft and Dell are now finding out, as they embark on televisions and other non-computer products). Even the current king of consoles, PlayStation2, comes from Sony, a premier consumer electronics company. Despite the success of the iPod, Apple would be treading into unknown territory with a console.

Still, it would be cool to see what a Mac-inspired game console would look like. If not a home-entertainment machine, maybe a game-centric iPod-like device would be the ticket. There's less competition there, with just Nintendo's Game Boy owning the handheld market (although maybe not for much longer, between the coming PlayStation Portable and various mobile phone hybrids). Perhaps the PowerPod would become reality after all.
SPONGE FESTIVAL
absorbant the greek
On tap this weekend is the annual Tarpon Springs Sponge Festival. And how can you have a Sponge Festival in the year 2004 and not include the spongiest character of them all, SpongeBob SquarePants? (I'm guessing the Spongmonkeys were otherwise occupied.)

A friend who lived in Tarpon Springs until last year said she thought she heard something about a controversy over the inclusion of SpongBob in this year's festival. SpongeBob, you see, is an artificial sponge; his square shape is a dead giveaway. Tarpon's sponge-diving industry is based upon natural sea sponges, commonly found in loofahs and other products. So there's the basis for a conflict there. In SpongeBob's favor is that his parents were natural sponges--who somehow spawned a bright yellow household sponge.

I can't find any evidence of a real controversy. But maybe it's worth it to truck up to Tarpon this weekend and see if any fistfights break out between the pro-SpongeBob and pro-natural factions...

UPDATE: A day later, I've found some evidence of the controversy, from Tarpon Springs government no less:
But the porous cartoon prodigy raised eyebrows at City Hall last year after rumors bubbled up about his less-than-perfect pedigree. Like all sponges, SpongeBob SquarePants appears on the surface to be a member of the group of marine animals known collectively as porifera. However, the cartoon character's square shape has led some in Tarpon Springs to suspect he is, in fact, synthetic.

"I've had a couple calls from residents that are not happy," [Mayor Beverley] Billiris said. "They're not happy that we're spotlighting an artificial sponge when there are people who have died making their living in the sponge industry."

[WFLA-AM radio host Jack] Harris, however, contends SpongeBob SquarePants is the real McCoy.

"He has parents, so therefore he's not synthetic," Harris said.
So that settles that. Fetch, Gary!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: WHY
New York City's Tribeca Film Festival is getting ready to roll again, and despite being in it's third year, it still has no real focus:
To appeal to all those people she's talking about, the lineup again is eclectic: the first documentaries shot in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's fall; a screening of New York Minute, starring the grown-up Olsen twins; and a drive-in-style showing of the "Friends" series finale.

That something-for-everyone spirit separates Tribeca from older festivals, which can be competitive industry marketplaces where seeing and being seen is as important as seeing the films themselves.
Doesn't really sound like particularly enticing fare for a film festival, does it? The documentaries are fine, but the Olsen twins movie, which is going to be playing at a million multiplexes near you soon? The freakin' "Friends" finale?? Give me a break; nothing says "stupid" to me as much as paying for a ticket to see something you can watch more comfortably in your own house.

Anytime you try to be something-for-everyone, you end up being nothing-to-nobody. That appears to be Tribeca's problem.

My brother runs NewFest, another annual film festival in NYC. Maybe Tribeca should give him a call, get him to run their show for a couple of years. I'm sure he can come up with better ideas than this dreck.
THE CLUMSIES
Yesterday, at work and home, I managed to knock over and spill not one; not two; but THREE drink containers. And they all managed to be perilously close to some computer/electronic devices, too. Luckily, disaster was avoided--barely--each time.

Is there some subconsious trigger within me that's making me suddenly lash out at beverages? I've managed to leave all the bottles, cups and glasses I've encountered today upright; but for how long?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

ALMA MATER NEWSFLASHES
what the ec
There's some good, and some bad in the recent media mentions for Eckerd College, my alma mater.

The good: The school is recovering well in the post-President Armacost era. Finances are back on track, enrollment is up (along with tuition), and new projects are sprouting up. I may be visiting campus this weekend; if so, I'll get to see some of that myself.

The bad: In a story about colleges nationwide that are investing in retiree housing markets, EC is highlighted in the "don't let this happen to you" section, with the failed College Landings albatross on display. College Landings was undertaken while I was in school, and I remember consensus among students and faculty was that it would go nowhere; we turned out to be right. Besides, I plan on retiring on the Moon.
THE ROAD(S) TO ASIA
Eurasians who have been aching to take a road trip from Istanbul to Inch'on, or Moscow to Mumbai (née Bombay), can start long-range planning. The Asian Highway Agreement aims to unite 32 countries with over 87,500 miles of concrete. The map of the proposed highway system can be seen here.

The goal is to open up remote parts of the continent to the world at large, thus spurring economic development and social and cultural development. Sort of like what happened on another continent about a hundred years ago:
Most of the roads already exist but require upgrading to an international standard - much like the United States in the early 1900s, when smaller roads were cobbled together and improved to form the federal highways U.S. 1 and Route 66. Signs would be unified and border facilities improved to handle an expected increase in traffic.
WHY GOOGLE PICKED EMAIL
goo-goo
Why did Google decide to offer free email? Because it's looking to diversify its potential revenue streams beyond the search business, and email is probably the best bet for attracting and retaining eyeballs, according to the latest comScore Media Metrix numbers.
In conclusion, Dan Hess, senior vice president of comScore Networks, said "E-mail is a critical and time-intensive application, capturing significant share of mind among consumers. (This sends) a signal that Google will compete across a broad range of applications traditionally offered by portals."
If the goal is to build a subscriber base of dedicated, active users, then email is the way to go. But I've said before that this move to emulate Yahoo! and other portals is, ultimately, folly:
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.
So I guess we can shift our focus to the now-small, soon-to-be-growing upstart search engines that will move onto Google's former search turf while the big G fritters away its resources on Gmail and the like.

The comScore numbers on Google's collection of sites are most interesting, and strongly point to another reason for embarking on the email route:

Google Sites, February 2004
Unique Visitors
Google.com59,502,000
Google Web Search55,198,000
Google Images14,232,000
Google Directory5,292,000
Google News3,129,000
BlogSpot.com2,909,000
Google Groups2,154,000
Froogle472,000
Google Sites61,217,000


Froogle is conspicuously puny, with less than half a million views. And this is after months of beta testing. Froogle was really Google's first venture in mass-market services beyond search, a somewhat indirect way to challenge Amazon and (especially) eBay in another lucrative online space, e-tailing. Based on these numbers, it appears to be a big flop. I'm thinking Google decided to push ahead with Gmail partly to make up for Froogle's failure to connect with Internet users.

If things aren't getting jittery at Google corporate, they must be at least a little concerned. With the IPO imminent, the company is suddenly experiencing some unaccustomed bumps in the road: A weak showing for Froogle, and criticism over the privacy concerns connected with Gmail. These two offerings aren't just side projects: They're expected to develop into significant revenue sources for Google. If they somehow flounder, it's not going to be promising for the company long-term. Maybe that's why they're finally taking the public-offering plunge now, while these setbacks are not as noticable (and indeed, while Gmail is still full of the promise of attracting a huge number of subscribers, despite the privacy issue). If they waited another year, these problems might multiply to the point where they can't be disregarded.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

27 PAGES OF BLOGGITY GOODNESS
Perhaps inspired by my recent ruminations about how print and electronic information may be absorbed differently, I decided to print out this blog's main page today. I was curious to see how much ink and paper these scribblings could fill.

It was 27 pages, from the BlogSpot banner adspace at the very top, to the referral list and BlogSnob ad at the very bottom, with everything in between. Results will vary, naturally, based on browser and printer settings. But for me, it was 27 pages full of text, hypertext, images and general graphics.

It seems like a lot. I certainly don't get a sense of that sort of length when I read through it onscreen. The length will fluctuate from day to day and week to week, depending on how much (or little) I post. I shudder to think of how many pages my Blogathon 2003 entries would occupy...

Is this blog printout exercise worthy of a wider meme experiment by others? Eh, why not. If you're so inclined, go ahead and call up your own blog's current main page, hit the Print button on your browser, and see how many sheets of dead tree it fills up. Then come back here and comment and/or trackback on the results. And spread the word to others.
SO LONG SUE
sue-z
It's a sad day in Tampa Bay as longtime news anchor Sue Zelenko is hanging them up to get married and devote time to her family and private life.

Of course, I never watch any local TV news, so I can't say I'll be missing her broadcasts. But Sue has been a local celebrity and fixture on the airwaves for 13 years, and hard to miss through station promos and various appearances and activities. So her retirement will be a distinct loss for the area.

Sue did gain a measure of fame before coming to Tampa Bay. During her time as anchor at WJRT-TV in Flint, Michigan, she got about a minute of movie-screen time in Roger & Me, Michael Moore's breakout documentary. You won't find her mentioned in the credits, probably because her appearance was in the form of a clip from a regularly-scheduled news broadcast. But as you can see from this copy of the film's script, she's identified by name on Page 5.

I've never met Sue Zelenko. I did see her in person once, in a non-professional setting, at the grand opening of BayWalk a few years back. She was as perky and animated as you'd expect a blonde news anchor to be, leading her date from one storefront to another in quick order. No clue if the guy she was with that night is now the lucky groom.

I'm glad that Sue has demonstrated that it is possible to bow out of the local television news business gracefully. Not every newscaster can say that.
YOUR BLOG IS BEING SPOOKED!
Ever wonder exactly who is reading your blog? You may never know for sure, but if some in the intelligence community have their way, your online scribblings may soon be regular reads for the FBI, CIA and various other spook groups.
"News and intelligence is about listening with a critical ear, and blogs are just another conversation to listen to and evaluate. They also are closer to (some situations) and may serve as early alerts," said Jock Gill, a former adviser on Internet media to President Clinton, in a later phone interview, after he spoke on the panel.
Keeping in mind the less-than-flattering reports about the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence organizations in the wake of 9/11, the idea of the nation's spy network using blogs in their datamining efforts doesn't exactly inspire confidence from me. I can just picture future Congressional hearings:

SENATOR: You say you were monitoring the activities regularly, but the attack took place as scheduled anyway? How do you account for that?

INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: We felt we had reliable information on the situation from "joes-crazy-casa.blogspot.com", Senator. I mean, they posted something new two or three times a day, even on weekends! I admit that, in hindsight, that unannounced one-week hiatus he took from blogging should have tipped us off that something was imminent...


Yup, the thought of operatives actively monitoring a bunch of teenage schoolgirls' LiveJournal angst blogs is pretty darned funny.

Oh damn, I guess most of what I just wrote is liable to get me on some watchlist. If I abruptly stop posting, you'll know why. Tell the world my story.
THE DEATH OF 30 SECONDS
Digital video recorders may not be ubiquitous yet, but it appears that advertisers are seeing the writing on the wall, as a new Forrester survey reveals they're expecting to cut spending on television commercial time (i.e., the traditional 30-second ad spots) by 20 percent over the next five years. The retreat is expected to start on the national cable ad front, followed by national network ads, local spots and local cable ads.

Obviously, the advertising community is expecting DVRs to take strong hold in American households, and that people will actively use the ad-skipping button during playback. I have no doubt that DVRs will become commonplace, thanks mainly to cable companies pushing their versions (versus Tivo's) of the devices. I'm still somewhat skeptical about television viewers intensively skipping the ads they record. Regardless of how easy a DVR might make it, it still requires some effort from the viewer to forward past those spots; that means a lot of active interaction during viewing. This is generally the opposite type of behavior you usually see from a television viewer--most people take a passive role while they're viewing, which is why the 30-second spots are so effective now, even with remote controls and older recording devices at hand. I'm unconvinced that the DVR is revolutionary enough in function and capability to change viewership habits. It could be that all this planned retrenchment will just open up the medium to other advertisers savvy enough to zig where others zag.

As expected, the Web is expected to be the chief beneficiary of this, with a lot of that former TV money going online. It's important to remember, though, that other media will also see a rise from this, including publishing. The key is that ad placement in those vehicles are harder to skip/avoid; what's typically seen as an old-style drawback is suddenly an advantage.
CO-CREATION AND ADVERTISING
Interesting concepts being tossed around at The Advertising Research Foundation's annual conference in New York, as reported by Real Media Riffs. Gerald Zaltman, professor of business administration at Harvard and author of "How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market", is trying to impart the importance of trying to quantify the emotional quotient in advertising effectiveness, and learning from it.
Zaltman calls this process the "co-creation of meaning" and he says that really effective advertising does it and really great advertising professions should understand how to employ it. What it means is that advertising can only go so far, and that after a point, consumers bring their own thoughts into the shaping of a brand.
Essentially, it's the idea that less is more in delivering the ad message, with the target audience filling in the remaining blanks. There's no better way to establish a bond between product and consumer than to foster this sort of relationship. A very basic form of this relationship is when the need for the product is apparent: If you're overweight, you see an ad for a weight-loss shake; you need this, so you buy it and use it, thus "completing" the interaction. Higher levels of this should have the same goal in mind: You like your current car, but that flashy new model is nice-looking, will catch the eyes of more girls with you behind the wheel, etc. It's the familiar concept of "selling the sizzle, not the steak", dissected.
"Successful advertising results in the co-creation of personally relevant stories. The consumers are the primary authors," says Zaltman, suggesting an idea that is bound to send chills up the backs of any copywriter.
I'm not so sure why copywriters, or other creatives, need to worry should Zaltman's model become standard operating procedure. On the surface, it sounds like creative's role is being reduced, in that the closing part of the job is being "done" by the consumer. But not really; the trick is to craft the winning copy/visuals that leads to the desired reaction from the target. It's the same facilitative role that creative has always carried out; it's just perceived differently (more accurately?) this way.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A THREE-POINT BLOG
Daniel Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee, probably the best-known of the journalist-bloggers (or "j-bloggers"), dropped some of his new-media knowledge recently at the Western Knight Center's "Business of Online Journalism" seminar.

Included in this brief recap are three tips Weintraub gave for writing a blog. They pertain specifically to journalist/reporter blogging, but I think they apply generally to any sort of topical (i.e., non-personal journal) blog. I figured I'd take a quick look at how "The Critical 'I'" stacks up:
- Blogs work best when they address a narrow, specific beat.
Anyone who visits this blog on any random day can see that it flunks this criterion with flying colors. The lack of concentration on any topic or topic area is by design, because ultimately, I don't want to constrain myself to a single theme. I could easily devote this space to just sports, just media, just pop culture or any of the various zones I regularly hit; but I would get bored with that real quick, so I don't. I realize the cost of that is (probably) a more difficult road toward building a large readership, simply because a lot of people prefer a single-purpose blog. I believe Dustbury.com, another blog that's sort of all-over-the-place, at one point noted that this scattershot approach is generally on the decline. If it is, it's probably for this reason. Regardless, for my purposes, which are largely non-commercial, I don't foresee changing my approach here. If I do get the itch for something more focused, I can always start a separate blog.
- Successful bloggers post frequently -- usually daily.
I've got this one covered, in spades: In the year-and-a-half (or so) that I've been writing this thing, I've missed only a couple of days, including weekends and holidays. If I do have a theme for this blog, it's a personal commitment to posting something every single day; so if nothing else, regular visitors know they'll find something new every day.

When I started blogging, I recall running across another beginner who asked me, of all people, for advice on how to attract visitors and feedback. Not sure why he had asked me for this advice, but also not wanting to blow him off, I recommended the only thing I felt confident in suggesting: Blog on a regular schedule. It doesn't necessarily have to be daily, but if it's going to be every other day, or three days a week, or even once a month, then establish it and stick with it. I explained that, if the object was to attract readers, you then have an obligation to keep the content on the blog fresh on a regular, predictable basis. In essence, you aren't blogging on your schedule, but really, on your audience's schedule.

That's how you cultivate an audience. If you don't want to stick with that regimen, that's fine, but don't expect to have a regular readership (let alone much in the way of feedback) when potential regular readers are left wondering when the next post is coming--or if it's coming at all. If that's not the motivation, then an irregularly-updated blog is the way to go, without any expectation of building an audience through it (although I'm generally skeptical that anyone keeps an online weblog while eschewing a wider audience; if that were the case, there'd be little point in putting it online for the world to see).
- Writers must remember that the readers of a blog represent a much different audience than those for a mainstream publication. It is appropriate to assume that they are a knowledgeable audience with a large amount of background, interest, and experience in the topic area.
This is a concept that, I must confess, I struggle with quite a bit. It comes into play for me on the dumbest things, like deciding whether or not to hyperlink "NBA" or "Nielsens" or "Disney", or any other references which I consider to not require anything further in the way of explanation. It's often a fine line with assumptions: Are readers of this blog familiar with certain topics to get the context? Should I even worry about that--if someone is really curious, they could always plug the name/concept/idea into a search engine themselves and satisfy themselves that way. But to me, that's something of a failing in the original written piece, in that you don't want the reader to have to go elsewhere. On the other hand, the idea of loading up a post with a hundred hyperlinks isn't all that appealing; it tends to bog me down.

This goes back to the general lack of focus for this blog: Because there is no overarching theme, I can't make many assumptions about the reader's interests and backgrounds, and so probably tend to overcompensate. I do make certain blanket assumptions, like that the reader is American (and so I often frame posts with that perspective). But beyond that, it's kind of a crapshoot.

So, overall, I guess "The Critical 'I'" doesn't conform neatly into the suggested format for a j-blog, or even the typical topical blog. I guess I'm okay with that, and will keep on keepin' on, regardless.
A STAR IS BORN?
bolting
Will these 2004 NHL playoffs be remembered as the watershed moment in the career of Tampa Bay center Vinny Lecavalier? With four goals and an assist in two games against Montreal, the St. Petersburg Times' Gary Shelton and Montreal Gazette's Jack Todd think so. Both writers believe the Montreal-Tampa Bay series is shaping up as a coming-out party for Lecavalier, who's finally starting to look like the dominating impact player everyone expected the former overall No. 1 pick would become.

I've always thought it was funny that Tampa Bay went from one Vinny to another as its sports savior: First Vinny Testaverde, and now Vinny Lecavalier. Both were overall No. 1s, too, albeit a decade and a sport apart. Things didn't work out with Testaverde and the then-awful Bucs; happily, things are looking better for Lecavalier.
MARTIAN LITTLE LEAGUE
This just in: Virginia has annexed Mars. At least, for the purposes of Little League Baseball districting:
Of course, the expansion to Mars raises several logistical issues for Little League, particularly with the always sticky question of age. Children must be age 12 or under to participate in Little League's core program, and Little League officials have struggled to enforce that requirement in some recent scandals at its World Series.

The Martian expansion muddles the issue, because a Martian year lasts 687 earth days. So a 12-year-old in Martian years would actually be 22 in Earth years.

Also, Martian gravity is a third of that on Earth, so a 200-foot home-run fence would have to be extended to 600 feet on Mars.
It's quite a coup for the northern Virginia district of Little League Baseball. But other districts shouldn't get down about this potentially long-term unfair advantage; last time I checked, Venus and the Moon are still up for grabs!
USHER FEATURING, OR FEATURING USHER?
Over the weekend, I got addicted to a couple of popular tunes: Britney Spears' "Toxic" (actually a hard-edge remix), and Usher's "Yeah". I've played and replayed each multiple times, and still am not sick of them. I'm sure that'll come...

Does anyone else feel like Usher is almost only incidentally connected with what's allegedly "his" song? It seems like the "featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris" parts of the song are stronger than Usher's vocals, especially Luda's rhymin'. Seems that way to me, anyway.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

MISSED OUT ON THE PARTY!
Where was my head today? I was just sitting around, lamenting that there was nothing to do on this Sunday night (a common theme in these parts), when I noticed that the comp invitation I got for the grand opening of the "Element H2O" club at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino was for tonight. Sonuvabitch! For some reason, I thought the date on the invitation was for sometime next month.

Looks like I missed out, too: Free hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, massages by "Zen" (I assume that's a masseuse service with the hotel; possibly it's the name of the masseuse!), some live techno/dance DJing. Plus, no doubt, plenty of other freebies, and at least the possibility of interesting mingling--or, failing that, some good people-watching.

Only drawback: The comp ticket was good only from 6-8PM, and the whole party ended at 11PM anyway. I'm not sure I was that bored to hike all the way out to East Tampa for that. Besides, I wouldn't have really been able to get out the door here until around 9, at the earliest, so I would have missed out on the free stuff anyway. No real loss, I guess.
TIME FOR THE CEILING FANS
Let the record show: This past weekend, it finally got hot and humid enough here in Tampa Bay for me to turn on the ceiling fans. It must mean summer, and those 90 degree days, are coming soon.

And I can tell you, without a trace of sarcasm, that I love every one of those 90 degrees. No kidding. I didn't move to Florida to live in air-conditioned chill; I want to feel the heat and humidity. But the breeze of a fan keeps the air circulating.
KAY JEWELERS: TEACHING FISCAL IRRESPONSIBILITY AND LYING
I realize things like this shouldn't get to me, but for some reason, a commercial currently running for Kay Jewelers is bothering me.

The commercial starts with a little girl, cute as a button, running up to her dad and saying, "I want to buy this," pointing to a jewelry ad in a flyer she's holding, "for Mommy." She thrusts a little jar with some coins in it to her father and says, "This is enough, right?"

Pop says, "Of course it's enough, sweetheart!" and takes the jar. Cut away to some closeup shots of the jewelry-of-the-moment, then back to our little family: Mom is now opening up her gift, and beams in delight to see it. The kid runs up quick and declares to her mother, "And I bought it all by myself!" Cue jingle, end transmission.

So what's wrong with all that?

I'm keeping in mind that this is just another dumb commercial, whose sole purpose is to push shiny trinkets. The use of the parents and child is designed to connect the consumer with the company on an emotional level. The kid is darn cute, with her stilted delivery of her lines more endearing than anything. All duly noted.

However, consider the poor behavior on display here: In two quick instances, Dad is instilling some bad habits into young daughter. First, he lets her think that a couple of bucks' worth of change is enough money to buy a gold/silver/diamond jewelry piece, thus setting her up for future ineptness with money (figuring that Daddy can make up the difference!). Then, he shows her that it's okay to lie when he thinks it's cute that daughter tells Mom that she bought it all by herself. Way to go, Dad!

Again, I realize this is just an inconsequential commercial. Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Maybe I'm just sick of seeing it (it also ran at about this time last year--must have been particularly effective the first time around). Maybe I've just wasted several minutes in writing this post.

Maybe I'll just turn off the TV.
KILL BILL: VOL. 2 LONG
cut cut cut
It's been about a week since I went to see Kill Bill: Vol.2. At the time, I said that I enjoyed it, noting that it had "a very different vibe from the first one".

Well, I've had some time to reflect upon it, and I've come to the conclusion that I didn't enjoy this second installment as much as I initially thought, and that the "different vibe" is more due to a lot more unnecessary dead space than a movie like this should have.

(WARNING: There be spoilers ahead, minor though they be; so if you haven't seen Kill Bill: Vol. 2 yet, and plan to, you should just skip the rest of this post. Lots of other stuff to read instead, just keep scrolling...)

Basically, long stretches of this movie just seem to go absolutely nowhere. Seeing Vol. 2, I can understand how the entire Kill Bill story was originally going to be just a single film, and was repackaged as two only because Miramax gave in to Tarantino's reluctance to make the necessary cuts. The sequel reminds me of the extra footage and deleted scenes you find on DVD releases. Specific examples:

- The wedding chapel scene at the beginning. It went on forever, with Bill being formally introduced and then hanging around to chat with the groom, etc. It seemed like a good twenty minutes (it may have been shorter--I wasn't timing it), and it was pointless: We already knew, from Vol. 1, how it would end up. Why go through all that meandering? Once Bill appeared, it should have just ended then with the shootout commencing. It seems like a prime example of where Tarantino should have made his cuts.

- The majority of Budd's sequences. His first appearance, during his meeting with Bill, right on to through his hanging out at the strip club he worked at, was of little purpose. It added nothing to the story, or to his development as a character. In fact, what appeared to be the main purpose of the meeting with Bill--that Budd had pawned his priceless sword--turned out to not be true later on.

- The Bride's detour to visit the retired Mexican pimp was easily disposable. As with other scenes, it added nothing to the story--even less so than the other examples.

These are the main areas I thought felt like unnecessary filler. Other scenes, including the ones with Pai Mei and when The Bride first discovered she was pregnant, probably could've used some trimming too. All told, I'm guessing a good hour, at least, could have been chopped right out of Vol. 2, with no real loss to the story. That would bring it down to around an hour of total running time; combine that with Vol. 1's 111-minute running time, and you could have had a good 3-hour epic (I'm assuming the consolidated film would have had several editing adjustments, making it different from a simple melding of the two existing movies, even with the cuts I mentioned).

I realize the general tone I've struck here is of "cut, cut, cut". I'm not against slow, deliberate pacing in a movie; often a film-maker should take his/her time in letting a story unfold. My argument here is that, for the most part, the over-long scenes in Vol. 2 don't serve the purpose of letting the story unfold; they're just filler, mostly. If they truly added some value to the story, I wouldn't suggest doing away with them. But in my view, they don't, so they can go.

Basically, I think Miramax's Harvey Weinstein should have pushed harder to get Tarantino to make the cuts any director would have to make; it would have made for a much tighter, and more satisfying, film. Vol. 2 felt like a collection of scenes that should have seen the cutting room floor.

Of course, the way it worked out, Weinstein made the right move, and then some: Instead of releasing a single movie--that, admittedly, would have probably done great business--he got two movies that both will do tremendous business, meaning twice as much money as would have been the case originally. I still don't think it was the right move artistically, but it sure was financially.

The problem now is the prospect of other studios mimicking this approach: Releasing projects as two-parters, where the two movies are chock-full of overly-long footage that should have been trimmed. It worked well for Kill Bill, but I smell disaster if this approach becomes standard operating procedure. We could be in for a lot of pointless film time, release solely for the most bang for the studio buck.
A SHORTER SCHEDULE
getting short
So, it appears that no matter when the next hockey season gets underway, there'll be less of it. The NHL and players' union are working on a new scheduling formula that will result in a reduction of regular-season games, from the current 82 to 72, with no cross-conference play at all.
Sources tell TSN the league has a working model for a 72-games season that would eliminate all interlocking play between the Eastern and Western Conference teams.

Under this proposal, which has tremendous support amongst most NHL owners, each team would: play its four division rivals eight times for a total of 32 divisional games; play its 10 remaining conference rivals four times each for a total of 40 conference games and a grand total of 72 games.
I can understand why both sides would favor a reduction: The players welcome a less-intensive schedule that's not as grueling, and the owners can ditch games against the other conference that tend not to sell as well anyway. You could argue that fewer games would allow players to play at a higher energy level, thus perhaps actually increasing the scoring and the general quality of play.

Still, I'm not particularly for it. For one thing, I'm of the minority opinion that there's actually not enough hockey, as it is:
And contrary to (apparently) the rest of the world, I don't think there's enough NHL hockey played throughout the year; the summers are unbearable for me, sports-wise.
Yes, you read that right--in my mind, 82 games, plus playoffs, is not enough for me. 100, 150 games? Maybe closer to fine. (Okay, I'm joking; but it irks me to constantly hear alleged hockey fans bitch about "too many games", as though they'd rather watch something else...)

It's not like it's a dramatic reduction; 72 games is still a pretty good run. What I don't like is the idea of killing off East-West matchups. I don't want to see a Major League Baseball-style setup of two separate leagues (although even MLB now has regular limited interleague play). I'm not happy about the current half-assed approach the NHL takes with this, with teams playing cross-conference rivals once per year, or in some cases, not at all. The NBA manages to get a full slate of home-and-away East-West games worked into their schedule, and they have basically the same number of teams; why is it such a problem for the NHL to do the same?

This is more of an irrational complaint by me; I realize most Western teams are tough ticket sells in the Eastern Conference, and vice versa (the Maple Leafs in western Canada being the notable exception), so it makes sense that that would be where the fat would be cut. But personally, I like seeing the Western teams come into town; hell, I liked it when the Winnipeg Jets, terrible as they were, came into town back in the day. Again, I'm in the minority here.

It does occur to me that the rollout of a shortened schedule could have an impact on the resolution of a new collective bargaining agreement. Fewer games would be a valid justification for salary reductions, one I daresay the players would accept. That could be used as the basis for a general league-wide trimming of individual contracts, logically by the same 12 percent that the regular season would be shortened by (or somewhat less, based on negotiation). If the owners could convince the players to somehow institute this reduction for a set period of time--say, the next three years--it might serve as an acceptable alternative to the owners' desire for a salary cap. It would result in lower average payrolls, at least for a little while. Something to chew on, anyway...
GOOD THING THERE ARE NO GAY KLINGONS
I don't know what disturbs me more: That that these grown-up geeks dressed up themselves and their wedding party in Klingon costumes to get married, or that they'll start breeding soon. Yikes.

So, does anyone want to run that "protecting the sanctity of marriage" as justification for blocking gay weddings claptrap by me again? Between stuff like this, and Britney Spears' capricious 55-hour marriage/annulment, it's no wonder homosexuals are pissed off.

(Via Electric Bugaloo)
BABY ANNE AND DJ DISHIN'
boomin' babe
Went to Amphitheater in Ybor last night. Started slow, but it got real good in due time.

DJ Icey came on after midnight, as part of his CD promotional tour. Naturally enough, his pal Baby Anne was in the house; I've liked her ever since I picked up her latest disc, "Mixed Live: Ra Las Vegas".

I didn't get a chance to meet her, but I did hear that she was out celebrating her divorce party... Don't know how true that is. Fact is, I didn't even know she was married. What are the odds it's true?

Saturday, April 24, 2004

WI-FI THE PUBLIC LIBRARIES!
I got up fairly early this morning, and got myself down to the nearby branch of the St. Petersburg Public Library.

The library? On a Saturday morning? What am I, a geek?

Perhaps. But I brought some work with me from the office, and despite good intentions, I didn't see a strong possibility of getting it done at home. I find there are too many easy distractions around the house, and it's a real struggle for me to get much real work done, unless I'm super-motivated. And work from the office, on a Saturday, is not the type of thing to get me super-motivated. I figured the library was a good alternative to going back to the office, mainly because it's closer to home.

As I packed up the files and my notebook computer, I wondered if the library was wi-fi equipped. I needed my computer to do the work; I didn't necessarily need to be hooked up to the Web, but it would have been convenient. Only one way to find out...

Sadly, I found out that there was no wireless cloud into which to tap. I did find a nice quiet corner, and managed to get a couple of hours of solid work done. Even wrapped up right at lunchtime, so it worked out well.

I continued to wonder about wireless access at the library. It seems like a natural, and I was more surprised that it wasn't available than if it were. Computer and Internet access have led to a revitalization of the nation's libraries, and St. Petersburg is no different: When I walked in, every computer terminal was occupied, with several people (kids, half of them) waiting for their sessions. Computer use is largely what draws people into branches these days; they expect to have access to them, even if they have to wait for it.

Where would wi-fi fit in? Aside from being a convenience for computer-carrying patrons ("computer" encompassing PDA, mobile phones and other devices that can tap into the Web), it would enable libraries to increase the number of Web-connected terminals, and be able to do so without restriction as to placement (fewer wires to run, aside from the power cable). This would be an ambitious plan for the average public library, but I'd love to see it. It'd be great to be able to tap into the Web, bring up the library's online card catalogue, and look up titles from your own monitor. Convenient all around.
Libraries in the UK have taken off bigtime on this, even planning to distribute their own notebook computers for visitor usage.

U.S. libraries are already rolling out wi-fi access, in New York City and other areas. Even St. Petersburg says it's planning to implement it in the future (although "on the horizon" sounds a lot like "we're looking, but have no real plans"). Libraries, with free access, would be a welcome alternative to Starbucks or other retail-oriented hotspots.

St. Petersburg's civic leaders have already dabbled with wi-fi; the Downtown Partnership tried to get a wireless zone established late last year, only to abandon it when sponsorship money proved elusive. I say, why not refocus those efforts toward wi-fi in the libraries? It may not be as sexy as an outdoor wi-fi business corridor, but it's probably more useful. Plus, there won't be any concerns about conflicting with businesses offering pay-for access points.
PLAYOFF AFRO
grow wild
We've all heard of the proud NHL postseason tradition of playoff beards. But why stop the follicle fun at the chinny-chin-chin? Calgary Flames defenseman Mike Commodore has gone all-out with a tremendous redheaded bouffant/afro, which he somehow manages to fit under his helmet for games. It's gotta add a good four or five inches to his height.

I just saw it on display during a pregames skate before today's Flames-Red Wings game. I wish I could find a photo of it; the only mugshots of him I can find are all from the start of the season. But take my word for it, it's something else.

Incidentally, I've always thought Commodore should change his uniform number to 64, regardless of what team he's playing for. Because then he'd always be, y'know, "Commodore 64". Kickin' it in that oldschool computin' style. I'm sure John Buccigross would appreciate it...

Friday, April 23, 2004

MAGGIE THE MONKEY'S MAD PICKS
kickin' monkey butt
With the start of the NHL postseason, how could I have neglected to check in with TSN's Maggie the Monkey and her amazing playoff picks? Sure, she's had a rough first round this year, but her place in sports history is secured, thanks to her call on the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' improbable run to last year's Stanley Cup Final. Even if they did eventually fall.
G IS FOR GOAT-MAIL
get his goat
Give the people a free email account, and there's no telling what strange things they'll start doing.

Take Matt at The Goatbelt, f'rinstance. In order to test the much-feared contextual ad placement that Google is going to use in this service, he asked for goat-related messages to be sent to his shiny new Gmail address:
Im now thegoatbelt@gmail.com. I encourage everyone to send me a message, but make sure its regarding goats, or has something to do with goats. In fact, use google to search for goats, and just copy and paste whatever text you find into an email and send it to me.
And by God, he's getting it, along with the desired Google-relevant ads.

I, of course, am waiting for him to start getting the inevitable porn.
IS PRINT STICKIER?
So I'm perusing a trade op-ed piece by publishing consultant Bert Langford, singing the praises of the printed magazine, as opposed to electronic media. Several very good points about the advantages print has over electronic: Portability, ease of navigation, layout--really nothing new. But Langford made one brief mention, almost an aside, that stood out to me:
I also find I retain paper-based content better than what I read online.
On the face of it, this doesn't make sense. Why should it matter if the words you read are ink on paper, or pixels on screen? It's the same information, and your brain should process it the same way. But I thought about it a little, and wondered if there wasn't something to it, something tied to the implicit perception most people have about permanent versus temporary media.

Simply put, electronic data -- computer-based information delivered through the Web and email, but also user-created with word processing and other applications -- is expected to be malleable. A Word document can be edited, a Web page can be updated and customized, etc. Print data, particularly mass media, is looked at differently: Once it's been committed to paper, it's "done". It's more of a permanent document and record at that point, not subject to further editing or changes. Even if it's a draft, or something as non-critical as a personal email message, printing it gives it a permanence it wouldn't have if it existed only on-screen.

Given this, I wonder if most people don't mentally approach reading, or even visual-input, material according to the medium upon which it's presented. If you're reading something on a monitor, does a part of your brain think, "This is for-the-moment stuff, it's not going to stay relevant for long"? When you read a book, is the message, "This is the finished, crafted draft, it's worth paying closer attention to"? In other words, all other things being equal, does the printed word merit more "stickiness", or retention, on a mental level?

This may explain why online advertising, at least with relatively static text copy, has been to hard to push: It may inherently be at a disadvantage on electronic media. The concept of ad "stickiness" was tossed around a lot during the dot-com boom; maybe they were trying to achieve something that was unachievable. Same goes for e-books, which were expected to take off in a big way, but to date have not.

I realize this probably isn't a universal mental process, and probably is markedly different according to age. I've often looked upon people who print out every single email they get as hopelessly foolish, but following the theory of better retention that Langford mentioned, it could be that there's a real purpose to doing so. Since those same people often print out all manner of Web content for later reading, I think it points to a widespread practice.

What about my own reading habits... Overall, I'm not sure I favor one medium over another. I often find that I can't remember where I've picked up bits of news and information I've read somewhere, and usually there are equal chances that it was via online, print, television or even conversations. I will say, though, that in general, I prefer to read material on the Web that's broken up into shorter paragraphs and sections; this is not unique, and in fact is often cited as the ideal way to present information on Web pages. I don't have this issue in print, for the most part. I guess that indicates a degree of different handling of media by my noggin.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

BROWN BUTTERFLY
The athlete as art, one more time: "Brown Butterfly" is a multimedia stage presentation that celebrates Muhammad Ali's life and times.
Three video screens show Ali in action, both in and out of the ring. Montages of his contemporaries in sports and popular culture show the audience that Ali was both a product and a shaper of his time. The only words you'll hear are Ali's words, mixed as samples, [composer Marlies] Yearby said. "So you'll hear Ali's voice, and sometimes you'll even hear his breathing."

Even the use of samples is something of a tribute to Ali, Yearby said. It was through Ali's vocal rhythms, his good-natured braggadocio and his improvised rhymes that mainstream America got its first taste of what would become hip-hop. Rapping and sampling was already, in Ali's heyday, popular among poor black kids but was seldom heard outside of urban basements.
Add this to the Czech Olympic hockey opera and "NASCAR Ballet", and call it a high art/sports hat trick. No more such examples, if there be any more, from me, for the near future at least.

My own perspective on Ali:

Looking back, he was my first recognizable sports figure, although hardly at all through sports. Growing up in the late '70s and early '80s, I remember Ali being everywhere on the media landscape: Magazines, advertisements, and (especially) television. By this time, his boxing career was largely over, but that didn't matter. He was doing commercials, guest starring on variety shows, and appearing on Wheaties boxes. He wasn't the first boxer, or athlete, to transcend the sports world into the greater entertainment arena, but he was probably one of the most skillful to do it. Thanks to that, whoever was the heavyweight belt wearer at that time was irrelevant, because Ali was the champ, period. Everyone in my schoolyard knew exactly who Muhammad Ali was, and you couldn't say that about any other athlete back then.

Probably as significantly: Not only did us kids know who Muhammad Ali was, we had never heard of Cassius Clay. By this time, the whole Muslim conversion and Army draft incident was ancient history, and my generation had no inkling about his past controversy. Not only that, but the very name "Muhammad Ali" didn't carry the defiant connotation that many people a decade earlier inferred; to us, it was just another name, his name. So in many ways, Ali found fame and admiration among us with a wholly clean slate.

Those early impressions left their mark. Today, I can see he's older and in sorry physical shape; but his face, his eyes, remind me so much of thirty years ago, and I feel almost like a kid again just by looking at him. Does that sound like hero worship? I wouldn't go that far, but undeniably, Muhammad Ali is a part of my personal history.
MEMORIES OF STICKIN' IT TO THE MAN, EARTH DAY-STYLE
one world
As long as there's an Earth Day to celebrate, I'll never get tired of telling my tale of how I, once upon a time, nobly made a difference for the planet. From last year's Gaia Day commemoration:
My favorite Earth Day memory is a prank I played 13 years ago. I was sitting in my dorm lounge with a dormmate. We were flipping through the channels (no cable TV in the dorms back then--the dark ages!!), and catching a couple of news reports telling us it was Earth Day. Then we land on Home Shopping Network, just as they start rolling out their fur collection for display and sale.

It hit me: Furs? They're hawking freakin' furs on Earth Day? Come on!

Now, I wasn't then, nor am I now, a hard-core environmentalist or animal-rights advocate. I'm sympathetic with those philosophies, to a point, but I eat meat, wear leather, etc. like your average dude. Nevertheless, some part of my sensibilities was offended by seeing such a bizarre juxtaposition. I think I was offended by the stupidity, or more likely ignorance, on display by HSN.

So, I decided to do something. I got my phone, dialed up the HSN order line, and as soon as the customer service drone answered, I yelled, "EARTH DAY! FUR IS MURDER! BOYCOTT! BOYCOTT!!". I did it a couple more times after that. Then I got my dormmate to call too, on his phone; he did a very low-key version of same spiel (sans yelling--that was my schtick).

We had our fun, and decided to keep watching the channel to see if our childish actions had any on-air effect. Lo and behold, about 10 minutes after the last of our calls, the show host mentioned, "By the way, folks, today is Earth Day", and then abruptly switched from the fur display to something else. We laughed our asses off! It looked like we had stuck it to the man!

Don't mention it, Mama Earth.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

YUP, I'VE SOLD OUT
Faithful readers will notice a new fixture in the upper-left corner of this blog: An ad. An ad from ShowMeTickets.com, an online ticket broker. Specifically, it's for you Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos fans out there, for all your ticket-buying needs.

So, I guess I'm open for business. Make me an offer, get yerself some primo advertising space in my little corner of the World Wide Web. While supplies last.

Why have I taken this step? I don't know how it is with other bloggers (actually, I do, at least for the politically-oriented heavy hitters), but I've been getting at least one ad query a week for the past few months. I guess my blog seed has spread far and wide, thanks to search engine indexing and RSS feeds. I guess this blog has come up enough times when hitting certain keywords that it's getting targeted by the ad guys. It's been easy enough to reject most of them, as they tend to be of the porn/penis pill/escort service variety (I'm so flattered). But ShowMeTickets, for some reason, piqued my curiosity enough to check further, and they made the right offer, so I took it.

I may change the look of the ad, specifically the color, typeface, etc. May even move it, although it'll remain up near the top (part of the deal). It's here for at least the next year. So do a brother a solid, and click it!

This has been a paid announcement...
DYING YOUNG VIA POETRY
Roses are red,
How red is my rose?
Poets die young,
I'll stick with my prose.
I'M ON GMAIL!
g-spot
I should have seen this coming... By virtue of my use of Google-owned Blogger, I've been invited to be a beta tester for Gmail. And I've accepted, despite the rather cynical view I took the email venture a few weeks back, not to mention the rather knee-jerk privacy concerns and other limitations it has.

I find it interesting that Google is using Blogger as a means to extend beta testing. Obviously, the intent is to get the blogging community buzzing about Gmail, thus giving it a positive, anti-establishment cache. In effect, Google is using Blogger as its very own news service! This would counter the bad-to-lukewarm reaction that it's gotten thus far in the mainstream and tech press, over the privacy issues spurred by the ad-placement strategy. Assuming the use of Gmail isn't terrible, the strategy should work. It's no surprise--I've noticed that Google is very adept at employing low-level public relations initiatives to generate gee-whiz good spin and exposure in the media. It's a big reason for their success.

I'm all set up with my account, and so far it looks like a standard Web-based email interface. I don't know how extensively I'll be using it; I suppose if I want to take full advantage of the massive storage and archive search function, I should fill that sucker up quick! But that'll come. If I discover anything noteworthy while using it, I'll post here; if nothing else, it should make for good blog filler.

I do have a couple of minor quibbles right off the bat:

- It doesn't seem to play nice with the Mac environment, even using the latest version of Internet Explorer. The reason it doesn't leads me to the second beef:

- It makes use of ActiveX to run, which is a major drawback. ActiveX is a welcome mat for malicious code to infect your computer, and does nothing to enhance the browsing experience. It's certainly not a requirement to run a Web email service; Yahoo! Mail, which I've used for years, doesn't bother with it. I think Google should dump the ActiveX component; otherwise, it's indirectly helping to make the Internet a less secure place.

- Maybe I just haven't dug enough into it yet, but so far, there doesn't appear to be a way to create and store an automatically-appended signature to the end of each message you send out. That's a pretty standard feature for email clients, both system-native and Web-based (Yahoo! Mail has it, for instance).
ALLEZ CUISINE!
fukui-san!
I got a nice little gift from my officemate Jamie today: "Iron Chef: The Official Book"! Basically a miniature coffeetable book, with lots of glossy color photos and official Iron Chef recipes. Unfortunately, none of them appear to be specifically designed for head-to-head kitchen combat, ala Chairman Kaga's Kitchen Stadium...

Anyway, it was a nice gift; I'll take all the freebie books that come through. I'll proudly display it near my kitchen area.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

"AN OPERA IN THREE PERIODS AND ONE OVERTIME"
The intersection of sports and performance art continues unabated--and internationally, too! On the heels of the awe-inspiring "NASCAR Ballet" comes "Nagano", an opera based on the Czech Republic's 1998 gold-medal winning Olympic hockey team.
"Nagano," billed as "an opera in three periods and one overtime," is the first Czech opera about a sports event.

Characters include [Dominik] Hasek, [Jaromir] Jagr, Robert Reichel and Martin Rucinsky as well as Vaclav Havel, the former anti-communist dissident turned Czech president.

The opera, based on a script written by Jaroslav Dusek, follows the final stages of the Czech team's Olympic run and the celebrations afterward, during which a chorus of fans yell Hasek is God and Hasek for president.

The Czechs defeated the United States and Canada before beating archrival Russia to win their first Olympic title.
Seriously, is there a batch of wacky Kool-Aid making the rounds in the arts community? What's next, an orchestral symphony in praise of Tiger Woods?

I can't help but think that, if the 1998 Olympic hockey champs have merited an opera, then the miraculous 1980 winners are way overdue. Then again, the American boys did get a nice movie treatment.

UPDATE: I found a first-hand review of "Nagano", and I can't not reproduce some of the highlights here:
"Nagano" names names and takes no prisoners. Jaromír Jagr has a nice duet with the ice he skates on, Dominik Hasek sings in a godly tenor, in godly Latin, with his padding looking for all the world like a cross between a samurai's armor and an angel's wings. Milan Hnilicka's parents are caricatured as the embodiment of the Typical Czechs, staring po-faced into their televisions, his beer-bellied father knocks back one after the other while his mother, in curlers and a muu-muu, knits away.

But for all the satire, "Nagano" has some lovely moments as well. Jagr sings a duet with the ice he skates upon. And we learn in a lullaby that Hasek, wrapped in swaddling clothes and cradled by a geisha, was really born on the Japanese island of Hockey-do.
Could sprout a cross-entertainment trend: Some basketball players dabble as rap singers; hockey players can fiddle at being concert tenors.
BROADBAND WARS: DSL CLOSING THE GAP
The latest Pew Internet & American Life findings on broadband penetration are out, and they're somewhat startling. Whereas last summer, cable broadband outnumbered DSL 2-to-1 and appeared set to stay that way, DSL services have caught up dramatically since then, to account for 42 percent of all broadband hookups.

How did the phone companies pull this off? There were some indications of small gains by DSL earlier this year, but no indication that the tide had turned this much. It seems the aggressive pricing discounts designed to lure dialup users worked, and worked fabulously well.

This explains why cable providers recently upped their download capacity from 1.5 to 3MB. I guess it's a real horserace now, for a change.
SPYWARE SPREADING, BACK TO DIALUP?
Spyware (AKA adware, malware, etc.) is a royal pain in the tuchus. In some respects, it's worse than viruses and worms--at least with those, the damage gets done in one swipe, and you can move on from there. Spyware, on the other hand, lingers on your system for extended periods of time, sucking away performance power until the average know-nothing user figures the computer's hardware is conking out. As this scourge spreads, it's costing consumers and companies more to combat it, and so the wagons are circling.

I realize that the majority of spyware is avoidable simply by not installing it, or shady applications that carry it; and generally, it's good policy to not install anything that looks to have the potential to run in the background maliciously. But it's taken this long to get most people to not open virus-infected attachments (although plenty still do); it's going to take forever to educate them on something so arcane as programlettes that run practically invisibly.

In one insider's opinion, the hassles of spyware are having a potentially significant consequence:
"The typical 25-minute calls mean a difference in cost of $15; that can wipe out an ISP's entire margin," Hill said. "People call their ISP angry and frustrated that their Internet is doing something unexpected. They assume it is the ISP's fault. Some are moving away from broadband and back to dial-up because they feel they didn't have the same problems with dial-up."
Can it be true that the new-fangled broadband connection people upgrade to suddenly becomes the scapegoat for spyware-infected machines? I think it's more a case of broadband connections making it so much easier (quicker) to download potentially harmful programs that's leading to this logical leapfrogging; it's like, "I wouldn't have been able to get myself into this mess if I hadn't been able to pull in such a big program; I never could do this on my old, slow dialup connection!" It's obviously the wrong blame path, but that's irrelevant. That broadband adoption could get a big chill thanks to such a perception should be enough to spur the industry to action.

I can relate to this, somewhat. One of the rationales I used for sticking with dialup for so long was that it made me less vulnerable to security intrusions; really, it's the same assumption.

Monday, April 19, 2004

THE MOST BORING SEX COLUMNIST EVER
Apparently there's been a proliferation of sex-talk columns in college/university campus newspapers across the nation. If they're anything like University of South Florida Oracle's "Campus Bedpost" column by Stephanie Oliveira, there's a lot of ink and paper being wasted on some very banal scribblings.

When I first read this article this morning, I thought it would make for an interesting blog post. After re-reading it, and reading Oliveira's current and past stuff (including the letter of complaint regarding her first rape column), I almost reconsidered, because it occured to me that it was, ultimately, much ado about very little. And I arrived at that view thanks to the details revealed about the author, the would-be (but, she stresses, would-rather-not-be) Carrie Bradshaw/Candace Bushnell. To me, she makes for a pretty lacking sex columnist.

In reference to the commentary on rape, I'll limit my reaction to saying that rape, while sexually motivated, is more an issue about violent force than sex, and so I can understand the objection to seeing it discussed in the same space that deals with masturbation and anal experimentation. It's interesting to note Oliveira's curious reaction to the criticism:
A day later, Oliveira stood in line at Einstein Bros. Bagels with college pal Lani McGettigan and fumed over the letter-writer.

"Say whatever you want ... say I'm a tramp, but don't say I don't care about rape victims," she fumed, her brown eyes narrowing.
Considering her background, I don't see why it would occur to anyone to call her a tramp:
She talks openly and freely about her own experiences. She has called herself a "well-read little nympho." She has referred to a five-second kiss with an "unforgettable girl crush" in high school...

She has kissed many but made love to only one, her 22-year-old boyfriend of a year. She pulls her thick red hair up into an almost '50s-style, bunlike ponytail and wears a tenth-of-a-carat diamond promise ring from her boyfriend on her left ring finger.
Am I missing something here? She's slept with a grand total of one person. One. The definition of "tramp" doesn't cover someone who talks a whole lot about sexual subjects, but whose experience is limited to one guy, along with her hand and (probably) a few dildoes. I'm sure she'd like to be thought of as tramp material, but despite her vicarious wishes, it ain't gonna happen. No one's calling her a tramp because, frankly, she doesn't qualify--not even close.

From that, I don't see how she has the credibility to pen a sex column at all. I'm not saying she needs to have slept with the entire football team, but some breadth of experience is an expected prerequisite for this subject matter. She can read all the "Sex for Dummies" guides available until her head explodes, but that's not an adequate substitute for actual experimentation. A sole sex partner really doesn't cut it; it's the equivalent of reading a restaurant critic who frequents only one restaurant.

We learn early on in the article that Oliveira is the product of Catholic school tutelage, and I have to assume that this background is what's giving her the false impression that she's "with it" regarding sex chat:
She bought book after book, filling the bookcase in her tiny peach-colored bedroom in St. Petersburg. Sex for Dummies. Sex in the South. Sexplorations. Sex and Temperament. Sex and the City.

She was a playwright in high school. The subject of one of her award-winning plays? A nun who gets pregnant.

"I have been the 'sex girl' ever since high school," she said.
Only in the cloistered world of a Catholic high school could a girl who never (at that time) had sex, but owned books with the word "sex" in the title, be considered the "sex girl". News flash: The real "sex girls" were actually having sex instead of only talking about it. Without even knowing them, I'd rather hear about their insights into sexual issues.

All in all, anytime you're producing an allegedly sexually explicit column that your parents and school officials approve of wholeheartedly, you have to figure you're not doing it right. The reason it's not really offending anyone is because it's doesn't have the capacity to even be offensive, and that stems from the lack of anything truly meaningful to convey. If Oliveira actually has some comparative sex in her life, she might develop something interesting for a column; until then, it's all empty talk.
FROM JACKING TO TOOTHING
What is it about communications technology that inspires sexualization? I think Jerry Seinfeld had some sort of bit about that: Internet--online porn; phone--phone sex; photocopier--put your ass on it!

That proud tradition is being carried on in the UK, as the fast-spreading Bluetooth technology in mobile phones is giving rise to "toothing", an anonymous method of flirting and trysting.

This new craze grew out of the relatively benign practice of bluejacking. I guess that was inevitable; how many times can you send out innocuous "I see you!" messages before it gets boring for both sender and receiver? Eventually, you have to go somewhere with it--even if that is to the nearest restroom for a quickie.
SPAM SUBJECT LINE OF NOTE
asteroid-free
As big a pain in the ass as spam is, every so often you come across a piece with a subject line that catches your attention. So it was for me today, with this one from work:
it depends on your asteroid bribery
Let the record show that I have never bribed an asteroid in my entire life, nor any other interplanetary object. I'd like to say that I never will, but with technology, and computers, and stuff, who can say for sure?

Little nuggets like this almost make me see why some people use spam as poetic raw material.
NO TIME FOR PUNISHER
blowin' away the box office
I neglected to make note of this past weekend's premiere of The Punisher. Not that I'm in the business of announcing every movie opening around here, but considering that The Punisher was set and filmed in Tampa, and that I thought about trying out for an extra's role (but ultimately begged off), it's not just another movie. Plus, it gave me an excuse to once again post the above picture, which I think is rather cool-looking.

As I originally predicted, I didn't catch it this weekend, and I doubt I'll be persuaded to see it while it's in theaters. The promos for it gave me a bad feeling, and the lukewarm-to-bad reviews pretty well sealed it. The prospect of seeing Tampa Bay area locales and landmarks on the silver screen just wasn't tempting enough to draw me in. Besides which, other flicks took priority for me.
HER SCENT LINGERS
I went to a late-night screening of Kill Bill: Vol. 2 last night. Liked it, quite a bit... although this one had a very different vibe from the first one. Can't wait for Vol. 3, in several years.

But the movie itself is not what left a lasting impression with me. What did was the perfume of some woman sitting fairly closeby. I noticed it about halfway through the film; it had a distinctly citrus scent to it, very unique. Let's say that it got my attention, bigtime.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that the sense of smell is the most persistent among sensory inputs. Something about this fragrance managed to plant itself into my memory banks, and that's half the battle, I guess. So if you are a female who was in attendance at the Sunday 10:30PM showing of Kill Bill: Vol. 2, at BayWalk, give me a holla.

(And, if by some bizarre chance, you were a guy wearing some sort of sissy-smelling citrus cologne, just keep it to yourself, because I don't wanna know.)

Sunday, April 18, 2004

FATHERS AND SONS, IN THE SOUTH AND QUEBEC
I went to see The Barbarian Invasions this afternoon. It was the second time I've gone to a theater to see it; last time was about a month or two ago. I practically never go catch a movie in theaters twice, so it's a strong indication of how much I enjoyed it the first go-round.

As it began today, I was suddenly struck by how much the core theme from Invasions mirrored another film I've seen fairly recently: Big Fish. Essentially, both movies are about strained relationships between fathers and sons, with the impending death of the fathers triggering moves toward reconciliation and resolution (of sorts). That one movie was largely a fantasy (Fish), while the other was a more sober look at mortality and regrets (Invasions) doesn't diminish their common strengths. In each case, it made for an engrossing and (for me) unexpectedly touching story. It's hard to craft a good male-bonding relationship on film without it coming off as either sickly sweet or else goofy, but I think the directors for these two flicks did it beautifully.

The other common theme in them is their settings: The American South for Fish and Quebec for Invasions. Both regions are hinterlands of sorts; I tried to get across my feelings on that for the South shortly after seeing Fish, and more recently found those ideas recast in terms of the political landscape. Quebec, in relation to the rest of Canada (and even North America), is often cast in the same light. In both movies, place is as much a factor in shaping the characters that propel the story.
LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: THE BATTERED WIVES OF AMERICAN POLITICS
Even these days, many people uncomfortable with homosexuality insist that it's the result of a confused mentality. The logic is, the person doesn't know that s/he isn't supposed to like people with the same set of genitalia, and all that's required is the proper "straightening out" (pun intended). Sexual orientation, then, is perceived to be determined by clarity of mind, or lack thereof.

Bunk, of course. It's nonsensical to characterize gay people as fundamentally confused because of their sexual preferences. When it comes to political preferences, though, it's hard not to label a group like the Log Cabin Republicans as deeply, comically confused. In fact, they're so confused from the past four years of Bush bliss that they're now twisting themselves into knots over whether or not to support the Republican ticket in November.
"It's difficult for me to reconcile him having turned his back on an organization that supported him," said Mr. Gardner, who was among an estimated 1 million homosexuals who voted for the president four years ago.

Many homosexuals see the proposed amendment banning same-sex "marriage" as an assault on equal rights.

"The nation is in the midst of a culture war, and conservative gays and lesbians are on the front line," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the organization. "We have shifted all of our resources and energy to protect the Constitution from being messed with."

The president has jeopardized what should have been an automatic endorsement from the group, Mr. Guerriero said.
Talk about someone who needs straightening out, hoo-boy...

Do these idiots honestly believe Bush and other conservatives are worried about losing the support of an insignificant portion of the electorate? What's more, a portion that's part of a larger group of Americans whom they've done their best to alienate? Wake up and smell reality: Gay Republican groups routinely get turned away at legislative offices on the national, state and local levels; their fundraising and rallying efforts are almost always rejected. The message is clear: Republicans aren't going to jeopardize their core conservative support base by opening their doors to a group they, frankly, revile. Bush has absolutely nothing to gain, and much to lose, by even acknowledging the Log Cabin Republicans. It's that simple.

And yet, the Log Cabins stay the course. Their theme song must be Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man". They truly are a runaway case of Battered Wife Syndrome in the American polity: "I still love him because of what he stands for; and he hardly ever hits me, too!"
OR MATT DAMON, IF HE'S AVAILABLE
From Paul Mooney's hilarious "Mooney on Movies" sketch on "Chappelle's Show":
"Hollywood is crazy... First, they had The Mexican with Brad Pitt, then The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. Well, I've written a movie, maybe they'll produce it... It's called The Last Nigger On Earth, starring Tom Hanks..."
GEARHEAD GLISSADE
gliding toward the pits
Strange things brewing around NASCAR these days. First, they deem the word "redneck" to be incompatible with their product and audience. Now, the Roanoke Ballet Theatre is reaching out to the stock car faithful by producing the "NASCAR Ballet", complete with dancers wrapped in colorful spandex meant to evoke racecar paint jobs.

I have a strong feeling that we've found something here that tops the famous "caddy synchronized swimming" number from Caddyshack.

It's amazing how they've adapted the racetrack experience to the dance stage:
At one of her rehearsals, dancers in purple, blue, yellow, green, orange, pink, red and silver jumpsuits whirl around the track, in lifts and leaps. They need to build enough stamina to keep this up for a 90-minute show.

After a few revolutions, a dancer in silver falls to the floor. It's a crash -- a choreographed one this time -- and a pit crew of teenage girls meets him in the center. He's lifted, then rotated off stage as the crew log rolls underneath. The race continues. After jockeying for position, the cars are off again.
ESPN's Mike Massaro, for one, doesn't think there's a proper synergy between structured dance and motorized racing:
Seriously, NASCAR Ballet? Honestly, there should be separation of dance and motorsports. A couple of examples why immediately come to mind. Darrell Waltrip's Icky Shuffle after winning the 1989 Daytona 500 truly was icky. And Mike Bliss' victory dance, truly pathetic.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

SMALL PORTIONS AND EGGS
I'm watching Annie Hall, for probably the thousandth time. My favorite jokes from this movie come from the very beginning and the very end, in order:
- There's an old joke. Uh, two elderly women are at a Catskills mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly.

- I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" And the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much how I feel about relationships. Y'know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but, uh, I guess we keep going through it because, uh, most of us need the eggs.
ASIA, THE NEXT BRANDING BOOM
We should be well used to seeing non-U.S. brand-name products on store shelves. But will that make the acceptance of emerging Asian consumer wares automatic? Probably not, but we'd better brace for it, because China and other countries will be home to a new wave of distinctly-branded products ranging from cars to fast food.

It took a few years of hand-wringing to get comfortable with Japanese and Korean entry and acceptance into the American economic picture (although even today, some die-hards refuse to buy Asian-branded cars, for instance). I'm sure there'll be a similar initial resistance toward Chinese and other newcomers, too. This especially will be the case if it impacts a long-familiar niche area; for instance:
The Philippines has Jollibee, a fast-food chain that claims to outdo McDonald's by more than 2-1 on its home turf - boasting a 65 per cent market share. Jollibee has expanded elsewhere, into markets including Hong Kong and Brunei where it's followed Filipino migrant workers.
So imagine if Jollibee "invaded" the U.S., and started kicking Ronald McDonald's ass. Mass revolts, I tell you!

It'll be interesting, if predictable, to see the societal impact if this comes off. I'd like to think that those Americans who can't fathom why the global spread of U.S.-based commercial ventures inspires such negativity would get a taste of what it feels like when they end up having to consume Chinese, Indian and Indonesian goods. But I doubt most people would make the intellectual linkage.
I SUCK AT PREDICTIONS
cup crazy
Well, it's official: The Dallas Stars have been bounced out of the first round of the playoffs. Therefore, my name should be getting crossed out shortly over at Off Wing Opinion, as I picked the Stars to win the whole enchilada. Pretty dumb, huh?

What can I say, I had a feeling. Dallas had a certain dark-horse quality to it coming into the postseason, having put together a very impressive second half record in the regular season. I figured they could ride that wave onto an extended playoff showing. What's more, they were matched up against Colorado in the first round, a team that looked kind of sputtering as the season wound down. I never expected the Avalanche to respond like it did. I think loads of credit goes to unheralded Marek Svatos, who came alive bigtime after being injured practically all year.

Oh well, all I lost was my credibility, and not much of that. It's not like I blew some cash on my Off Wing prediction. Maybe the other half of my Stanley Cup matchup prediction (unpublished), the hometown Tampa Bay Lightning, will come to pass. Their 4-1 series win last night over the Isles is a good first step.