The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, May 31, 2004

The unveiling of the new World War II Memorial coincided with this year's Memorial Day. Considering the diminishing ranks of the "GI Generation", to which the Memorial is dedicated, a poignant look back at the era into which they were born, from 1901 to 1924, highlights the unique and unprecedented circumstances which helped this generation achieve as much as it did.
The parents of the GI Generation had it rough. They were the "Lost Generation" of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis - generally, people born from 1883 to 1900. Few in that generation went beyond the eighth grade, and it showed.

"As a group they demonstrated no measurable improvement in educational performance over preceding generations," said William Strauss, co-author of Generations.

They were adults in the Roaring '20s, a time of prosperity but also of urban blight, sweat shops and massive immigration. They came home from World War I not to heroes' welcomes but to crackdowns on drinking and crime.

"There were issues of child health and safety," Strauss said. "The Lost Generation was not raising its children well."
It's noteworthy that a society had to hit bottom before its next generation could move up. It's debatable whether or not the Lost Generation was the bottom of the barrel in the American polity, and circumstances like World War I and the interwar years provided equal parts opportunity and disappointment.
All that would change for their kids, the GI Generation.

There were improvements in nutrition laws and vaccines. Vitamins became widely available. From 1900 to 1924 infant mortality fell by 50 percent.

The Volstead Act of 1920, which created Prohibition, failed as a social experiment but had an important benefit for the GI Generation.

"It reduced alcohol consumption in the home. The parents of the GI Generation spent less time drunk, on the whole," said Strauss.

Education improved dramatically. The GI Generation produced the "largest one-generational jump in education achievement ever," he said. "It was a generation of joiners, of team players."
Basically, a lot of medical/technological progress, combined with social experimentation, helped this generation come out in dramatically better shape than their parents.

I find the next phase of development most intriguing:
The GI Generation grew up in youth clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H and a host of similar organizations, helping build a strong sense of community.

"They wore uniforms from the time they were young - they were the most uniformed generation in American history," Howe said.

Home from war, they went to school on the GI Bill. As adults they built well-scrubbed suburbs and won flocks of Nobel Prizes. They took mankind into space.

In return they fully enjoyed the American Dream. Social Security and Medicare were constructed with the GI Generation in mind.

"There has been no generation in history with better access to affordable housing," Strauss said, "especially considering what today's young people have to deal with.

"The Lost Generation was poor; the GI Generation was not."

The core values that made the GI Generation good citizens were formed during the first 20 or so years of their lives, said Underwood, the TGI consultant.

"They had their early childhood during the Roaring '20s, generally a time of prosperity," he said. "But they were hit hard by the molding effects of the Depression and the war."

From the Depression, he said, the youthful GI Generation learned humility, "a rejection of wealth as a status symbol."

"This broke down the mystique of wealth, even for those who would later have it," he said.

From the war came a respect for teamwork, an understanding that "we're all in this together," he said.
It struck me while reading this that, in a lot of ways, the formative experiences and immediate (post-WWII) legacy for the Greatest Generation very much resembled the goals put forth by the facist/totalitarianist movements that were taking root during the very same period in Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union. The objective of the systems advanced by Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini was the creation of the "New Man"--better, smarter, and divorced from the past. It seems that this New Man was, at the very same time, being formed in United States.

This is not to say that the Greatest Generation was a product of a fascist organization. Rather, I think they're a good example of the hollowness of fascist/totalitarianist movements, in that their stated goals were achieved in a polity that was their direct opposite--a democratic society. For sure, the level of structure in the America of the 1920s and '30s had a certain hint of authoritarianism to it, especially as compared to today's much looser civic life. But it was still developed within a liberal democratic tradition--perhaps the purest example of such during the early 20th Century. The "New Man", apparently, didn't need a strong-arm state to grow and prosper.

This article touches on a lot of ground that's been covered before, particularly in Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation". But I found the presentation here to be particularly succinct and thought-provoking.
Quite the way for my state to ring in this Memorial Day: Four major fires were burning in different parts of Florida today, including one closeby at the Port of Tampa. The others are more remote, as far as this St. Petersburg boy is concerned: One in Lee County, near Florida Gulf Coast University, another on the east coast in St. Lucie County, and the final one up in the boondocks of Baker County, near Georgia (and the Okefenokee Swamp--be careful, Pogo!).

This isn't California, but Florida gets its share of wildfires every season. I haven't experienced any directly; I live in the most densely populated county in the state, and while that doesn't mean it can't happen here, there's less open space and time for something like that to get out of control. I know that every so often, areas between here and Orlando get lit up, and the far-spanning highway system tends to get gummed up all the way back to Tampa, but that's about the closest I ever get to being affected by it.

Besides, when it comes to natural disasters, hurricanes and tropical storms are more Florida's bag.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The law firm of Morgan, Colling & Gilbert is a familiar institution in the Central Florida/Tampa Bay area, thanks to a massive amount of advertising over the years. It's worked bigtime: The firm is one of the biggest in the state now. Much of that growth has been thanks to the aggressive strategy of the firm's President, John Morgan, who was the subject of a great profile by Cynthia Barnett in Florida Trend recently (free registration required).

As astute as Morgan is at marketing for the legal industry, I have to question his latest slogan:
We represent the people, not the powerful.
On the surface, it conveys what it's supposed to: Morgan goes to bat for the little guy, and spurns the fat cats who usually have all the advantages in the courtroom. It's an effective sound bite.

However, I think the implication this slogan creates is iffy. By saying he doesn't represent the powerful, he's saying that the people have no power. This is, of course, contrary to the founding principle of a democratic society: That political power and legitimacy stems from the people. To suggest that "the people" and "the powerful" are mutually exclusive is, to me, somewhat cynical.

I'm not saying that Morgan, Collings & Gilbert's advertising has to pass the muster of political theory. But the wording here strikes me as having a definitely negative undercurrent, which I think is the last thing the firm wants to get across.

So here's my suggestion for a more appropriate slogan:
We represent the people, not the privileged.
Replace "powerful" with "privileged". It gets across the same sentiment, without the cynicism. It's a distinction I think is worth making.

So, if you're reading this, John Morgan, consider this food for thought. If you go with it, consider it a freebie.
Does reading blogs make you smart, or stupid? That's essentially the question to be answered in Steve Rubel's self-inflicted experiment to limit his entire news media intake this week to nothing but blogs:
I am doing this to prove to myself that the blogosphere has reached a critical juncture. My theory is that there are enough really smart, influential individuals out there who will essentially filter "all the news that's fit to blog." All I need to know about life I can learn from blogs...

My self-imposed info-hunger strike, however, does not mean that mass media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it will only become more relevant as blogs act like a media magnifying glass and perform essential "checks and balances" on news reported by the pros.
I've poo-pooed the idea of relying on blogs as your primary/only news source, mainly because most are, indeed, just another news filter. Unless they're written as primary or secondary news accounts--and relatively few are, and even then in limited venues (soldiers in Iraq, etc.)--I don't see much benefit from reading a blogger's account instead of directly to the news outlet article that's being referenced. To me, a blog might point you in the direction of a news item, and give you an opinionated twist on it, but you're not going to learn much about the story unless you actually click through to the originating article.

Which leads me to the most curious part of Rubel's exercise:
I will also not click any blog links to journalist-written stories or browse non-blog RSS feeds.
This is in keeping to limiting his consumption to blogosphere-only content, but it also raises an interesting point: How often do blog readers actually click through to the hyperlinked article that's referenced in a blog post? And should they?

Presumably, the blogger includes a hyperlink to the news item that's being riffed on for a reason. Is it to provide the reader the full story? Is it a citation, as proof that the blogger isn't just making up a story? And more importantly, in the context of the writer-reader relationship, does the blogger expect the reader to actually click through to the link(s) provided in a post, or should the reader "stay put" and just take in the blog post as the entire story and regard the links as optional perusal?

This is something I've often wondered about regarding blogs, and regarding my own blogging. Should I bother digging for links to incidental information in a post, when the odds of anyone actually clicking on those links seems to be miniscule? Do I do it more for my own reference? Is the appearance of a hyperlink in a post just a visual notation that, yes, the writer is focusing on some external source instead of pulling things out of the air, but it's not necessary to actually check what's on the other end of that hyperlink?

My own blog reading habits tend to fluctuation regarding this: Sometimes I'll click through to the hyperlinked article, sometimes I won't. It depends on my level of interest in both the subject and the blogger. I'd say that it's the blogger's job to make me want to look further into the matter that determines whether or not I should check out the links provided in the post.

And that's why I think this aspect of Rubel's "diet" is flawed. It might come down to definitions, but I think the purpose of a blog is not only to expose you to the ideas and opinions of the blogger, but also to point you to primary/secondary news items that inspired those ideas and opinions in the first place. Relying solely on the blogger's word seems unnecessarily limiting to me; if there's a hyperlink in the post, I look at it as an invitation to click through to read it. A blog's content doesn't materialize out of thin air; the story behind the blog story is provided for you, so you might as well make use of it. Rubel's approach almost contradicts the spirit of blog reading--to get both the blogger's opinion and other opinions at once.

So what will Rubel's blog-only reading yield? We'll have to see; he's started the insanity this morning. And yes, please, click on through!

(Via Poynter; yes, click through here too!)

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Tia at Night in the Big City frets about joining the ranks of adulthood. Specifically the same 'hood where this guy is living:
The man with the Maybach asked me what I’d been up to.

I threw my head back and giggled. "Blogging," I said.

He smiled. "You kids and Harry Potter," he said. "How old are you anyways?"
Can't say I blame her.
In a reversal of the assumptions that have had most TV programmers petrified with fear, DVR users tend to be more likely to watch television commercials, according to the research study "Demystifying Digital Video Recorders" jointly published by InsightExpress and MediaPost.
Most importantly, the research concludes that DVRs "recapture" TV commercial exposures that otherwise would have been "zapped" by non-DVR viewers. The study estimated that 51 percent of non-DVR viewers zap TV commercials, usually by using their remote control to change the channel when they come on. However, 96 percent of those viewers actually watch TV commercials when they become DVR subscribers, albeit in fast-forward mode.

While such fast-forwarding clearly diminishes the communications effectiveness of TV commercials, the study found that most fast-fowarders "notice" TV commercials either "always" (15 percent) or "sometimes" (52 percent) while zipping through the spots.
The "diminishment" cited here may not be that big a deal. The point of advertising is, foremost, to get the brand into the consumer's head. Even though the message not delivered as intended in fast-forward mode, as long as the logo/slogan/whatever makes it to the eyeballs, mission accomplished.

Moreover, notice that the favored method of commercial avoidance by non-DVR users was changing the channel. People who watch DVRed stuff effectively don't have this option--that's why they're using the DVR in the first place, to record what they want for viewing at their chosen time. So, short of turning the DVR off, the only choice they have for reducing their commerical intake is the fast-forward button, which at least keeps them on the same program. Ironically, this makes them even more of a captive audience, from an advertiser's perspective!

When you consider some of the features that are most often touted as the advantages of DVR living, this doesn't make sense. The miracle box is supposed to give the television viewer unprecedented control over what plays on the screen: The ability to pause "live" programming (actually setting the DVR to record programming in progress and make it available for viewing only a couple of minutes later, thus allowing for those pauses); time-shifting to record a program for later, more convenient viewing; and the ability to fast-forward through those commercial interruptions. Logically, having a DVR should encourage viewers to filter out everything except the scenes in the shows they record and want to watch.

Except, that it doesn't.

These findings boil down to a simple truism: Most people do not want their television viewing to be work. Think about it: Why, given the ocean of DVD purchases/rentals, videogames, pay-per-view and all the other entertainment options, do people still plop down on the couch and turn on their TVs to whatever's on at the moment? Because it's effortless. Most of the time, people don't want to go through the chore of deciding on specific entertainment content; they'd rather have it pushed at them. It's the same reason why radio still gets massive ratings, despite the presence of home stereos and car CD players. It's fundamental.

Actively sitting in front of your TV and fast-forwarding through commercials is a hassle--again, it's work. It's the last thing most people want to do; they'd rather sit back and absorb. So the commercials have to be endured for a few minutes; on balance, it's a small price to pay.

These findings confirm what I've always suspected: The primary appeal of the DVR for the majority of television viewers--and we're talking about the vast majority of media consumers, not the relatively small number who were early adopters of Tivo--is the ability to time-shift programming, and to do it in a lower-maintenance way than the VCR. That's it. The rest is gravy that may or may not be utilized.

While I always figured this was the case, I got a good taste of it at the beginning of this year, via a reader comment at
Just like a VCR, when you play back a previously recorded program on a Tivo, you can fast-forward through the commercials-- carefully watching of course, for the return of the program. Even then you still see the commercials-- they just go by faster. But since you have already previously seen each commercial at least 100 time before-- you know exactly what they are promoting even at the higher speed. Or, just like a regular television set, you can hit the MUTE button during the commercial. In our household, even with our dual-tuner DirecTV/Tivo unit, 99% of our television viewing is still in "real time" complete with all the commercials. Even when my wife watches a Tivo recorded show she rarely fast-forwards through the commercials. (italics mine)
As more polling confirms these attitudes, I think the panic atmosphere in the television industry will subside, much as it did when VCRs were looked at in the same threatening light. Hopefully, this will result in a rollback of all the proposed ad-centric content like "Pepsi Smash" that's been looked upon as the workaround for DVR ad-skipping.

(Via Follow Me Here...)
While inflation at the gas pump means reconsideration of holiday travel plans--and possible electoral consequences--in America, in Lebanon the reaction is a little different.

More photos of the carnage here.

Could this happen here? Not over gas, surely. But a coming spike in ice cream prices? Makes me udder shudder.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Since the Internet was born in the U.S., it's not surprising that morphing it into a truly World Wide Web has been a rocky road. The challenge of making it relevant to the developing world has been ongoing; now, infrastructure changes that would allow Arabic alphabet input for URLs are being planned, but hampered by differing standards in different countries.
"What Khaled [Fattal, chairman of the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium] says is true, because if you only speak Arabic, why would you be interested in the Internet?" said Paul Verhoef, a vice president at the International Corporation for Internet Names and Numbers (ICANN), which runs the .com register.

But in the case of Arabic, an alphabetic script which conveys at least four major languages and is widely used in more than 30 countries, a long-term solution could take another five years to implement, according to Charles Sha'ban, a member of the MINC board and an expert on the subject.
The root of it is that, just as multiple European (and other) languages use the Roman alphabet, languages other than Arabic use Arabic script:
Sha'ban agreed that coordination between so many players has been a problem and that commercial companies with a stake in pushing their own systems have complicated the process.

"You have 22 Arab countries, all of which would like a say. At the same time there are other countries who use the same Arabic script--Farsi, Urdu and Pashtun. So it does need more cooperation between them," he said.
I'm somewhat surprised this hasn't already come up, and been dealt with, especially in Asia. Japan and Korea are heavily into the Web, and their native alphabets are non-Roman. However, Roman script is familiar in both countries, and has been incorporated into the languages offline for years; so I guess the issue hasn't come up seriously there.

Where else? Greek, my second language, uses the Greek alphabet. But it's a small user base, and I'm sure, as with most pan-European things, they've adapted to using Roman. Cyrillic type is the norm for Russia and several other Slavic countries; again, as with the Greeks, they've probably made do with using the dominant Roman (although if this issue gets addressed, Cyrillic will probably be the first alphabets addressed).

Ultimately, it's all about accessibility: The more comfortable people are with an interface, the more likely they are to use it. That includes alphabets.
The clowning world was rocked recently when the International Clown Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Vance "Pinto" Colvig as the originator of the famous Bozo the Clown character, thus invalidating Larry Harmon's longstanding claim of being the true and original Bozo.

There are telltale differences between Colvig's clown, also historically referred to as "Bozo The Capitol Clown", and Harmon's "Bozo The World's Most Famous Clown":
Bozo The Capitol Clown had red mop hair and spoke with a drawl. Harmon's Bozo had bright orange-red yak hair and spoke faster and made up an entirely new vocabulary, like "wowie-kazowie." The laugh was also different.
I love it when the clowning world gets rocked. And it's getting rocked courtesy of ABCNews entertainment reporter Buck Wolf, who broke the story on this controversy.

Only one way to settle this: The Clown Way. Lemon-meringue pies at 20 paces.

FURTHER THOUGHTS: And how do I know that this is going to inspire a "Simpsons" episode? Probable title: "Will The Real Krusty Please Stand Up?" Too bad all this didn't happen six or seven years ago, when there was at least a chance that it would have been a good "Simpsons" episode; as lifeless as the series has become, I'm preemptively declaring that this spoof will suck.
It's amazing what a rotten night of sleep can do to you. A bad dream, or something undetermined, kept me from sound slumber last night, and I'm feeling the results today: Legs like rooted treetrunks, shoulders acutely feeling the pull of gravity, eyelids heavy... The proximity of the weekend doesn't help, either.

It's had an effect on my volunteering spirit today: Florida Blood Services has got their Bloodmobile parked out front today, and normally I'd let them hook a needle to my vein for the precious fluid. But the way I'm feeling today, it'd probably knock me out. So the blood bank goes without from this AB+ machine.

I'm amazed I got as much done this morning as I did. The rest of the afternoon is going to be rough. Maybe a little bit of goof-off blogging might help stimulate. It's either that, or head home...

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The lovely and funny Caroline Rhea (man, she needs to get that mugshot on IMDb replaced, it's terrible!) is bringing her standup act to Tampa this weekend.

Maybe I'll go. Maybe I won't.

Something that makes it likelier that I will is this funny little nugget she dropped in her newspaper interview:
Rhea, the youngest of three girls, remains close to her family and credits the gene pool, especially her mother, for her career.

"I have just a hilarious mother, so I talk about my mother a lot," she said. "My mother doesn't say someone is homosexual. She says, 'His name is Gary and I think the r is silent.' "
So Fantasia Barrino is the new American Idol. Wasn't it exciting?

Yeah, right. Like I'd actually watch something as crappy as "American Idol". I think staring at the wall for two hours would have it beat by a country mile.

But a thought occurs to me: How much do you want to bet that legions of "Idol" worshippers will be naming their newborn baby daughters "Fantasia" now? It doesn't register on the Federal baby name database right now, but it's worth checking a year from now for an expected uptick.

Actually, despite the Disney connection, "Fantasia" sounds like the name of an exotic dancer. So I guess all those little girls who get the name now will grow up into featured acts at the Mons Venus. Actually, just go ahead and give them the middle name "Serenity", that'll cement it for sure.
No, it's not a high-speed Internet porn service (although like all things Web, you can certainly use it for that). In the face of customers dropping their landline phones, Verizon is trying to retain customers any way they can by allowing non-telephone subscribers to get DSL as a separate service. So it's "naked" in the sense of being available without having to buy anything else along with it (although I imagine getting it as part of a bundled telephone package would bring a discount).

This represents an acknowledgement that consumers are abandoning landline phones en masse for mobiles, and there's no turning back. So in order to stay in the game, they're offering naked DSL. Just gaining or retaining that customer is worth decoupling DSL from a telephone package.

The other factor here is the continuing battle for broadband market share between telephone companies and their cable counterparts. After years of trailing cable by 2-to-1, DSL services, sparked by aggressive pricing policies and promotion over the past year, increased their share to 42 percent of the market. Buoyed by such growth, Verizon saw an opportunity to make even further gains by offering its DSL ala carte.

I'm not too clear on how this DSL-without-phone-service deal is being offered, though. I'm guessing you'd still need a live landline telephone? Or would just a phone outlet, sans activated service, work? What about all those wireless consumers who have ditched landlines altogether? I don't see how this would entice them to go for DSL, if they'd have to activate a landline phone to get it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

First it was Cerritos, California, and now it's Chaska, Minnesota. The little town on the outskirts of Minneapolis-St. Paul has blanketed itself with enough wi-fi coverage to make itself a city-wide hotspot. A further connection with Cerritos: The same company, Tropos, is doing the installation.

Like Cerritos, this isn't a freebie: Access to the wireless high-speed network will be available to residential customers for the low-low price of $16 a month. Sounds like a great deal, and wonderful alternative to the cable and phones companies. The more this spreads, the more the price of broadband will come down.

There is some concern over the structural design of this wide-area wi-fi deployment:
Using the short-range technology for long-range networks is like "using a hammer to drive in a screw," said Derek Kerton of the Curtain Group, a Silicon Valley wireless-technology consulting firm. "You can do it, but wouldn't it be better if you found a better tool?"

Such tools include wireless technologies such as EvDO and EDGE now being used by the likes of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless to offer citywide service around the country. Wi-Fi, in contrast, is designed to be a "wireless local-area network" technology, with an emphasis on the "local," Kerton argued.

While praising Tropos' ingenuity, Kerton warned that the firm's city networks could be subjected to interference from other Wi-Fi networks as well as from cordless phones, microwave ovens and other devices that use the same wireless spectrum.

Ron Pequette, a Tropos sales director who appeared with Mayer at a Tuesday press conference, said the firm has the interference problem licked.
It sounds like Kerton is pretty much shilling for the big telecom companies that potentially could be hurt by efforts like this. Not only would Verizon Wireless find it harder to push EvDO, the DSL service offered by affiliate company Verizon Corp. would also take a hit.

On the other hand, this kind of project does stetch wi-fi access points well beyond their original intended capabilities. A patchwork building of wi-fi zones might work in a tightly-packed urban community or apartment building, but over a miles-wide area... It could be that this is just a transitory solution before a more dedicated technology is ready to do the job.
charge me
Am I the only one who cannot stand those cradle-style recharge units that come with most cellphones? I got one with my new LG VX6000 phone, and I hate it. It takes me several seconds of fumbling to slide and lock the phone into the cradle so that the battery connectors are lined up for charging; you can't just drop it into place effortlessly. I think the basic problem is that the cradle is too lightweight, so it doesn't stay put when you place the phone in it. All in all, it's a pretty poor design.

I'd gotten used to not having to mess with one of these things, because my last phone came with a plug-in travel charger instead of the standard cradle. I very much prefer it--you just plug the phone in, keep the other end in an out-of-sight outlet, and you're done.

So, I'd like to have the travel charger for the VX6000. However, I'd prefer not to shell out 30 dollars for one. I've checked eBay, but I'm not comfortable with buying a cheapie knockoff that might (or might not) fry my phone.

So, I'm putting the call out: If you, or anyone you know, has a VX6000 travel charger available, let me know and I'll make an offer. I'd really like to do a straight trade, the travel charger in exchange for my cradle charger. Since the cradle retails for $10 more than the travel, I think that's a fair deal. Maybe there's someone out there who has the same phone, but doesn't like the travel charger? It's worth a shot.

I've also posted this offer on Craigslist. No bites so far.
anatomy lesson
In the face of battering from the low-carb dieting craze, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is going to start pushing low-sugar treats and other products to make up for the sales drop.

Of course, instead of dietary trends, the company's woes could be the result of people waking up to the knowledge that donuts hate them.

While I'm sure their research & development efforts are in overdrive to come up with low-carb/no-carb kruller, Krispy Kreme better not jump the gun on any announcements. Otherwise, they could end up like donut con artist Robert Ligon.
Yesterday I bought two Hershey's Cookies 'N' Mint bars. They were on sale at the cafeteria at my workplace. I gave brief thought to buying the whole damn box.

Why? Because I like it. And because, as it says right on the package, it's a "Limited Edition" bar. That means they don't make it too often, which is beyond me--it rocks!

Call me a sucker for marketing tags that are designed to move merchandise. Actually, call me a sucker for mint flavoring; I can't get enough of it. I drink at least one cup of mint tea at work each day, and I've rarely been known to turn down a York Peppermint Pattie. Maybe I'm a mint addict!

Is there such a thing at mint addiction? If there is, I'll bet Mint Snuff is the root cause.
it burns
As if getting beaten by the Flames on home ice in Game 1 weren't bad enough, Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle discovered after the Stanley Cup Finals game that his South Tampa home caught fire that very same night. The fire, caused by electrical malfunction, was contained quickly, but it still caused about $300,000 worth of damage and forces Boyle to find someplace else to sleep.

An electrical fire, during the Lightning-Flames series. A bad omen?
Nothing like taking a day off in the middle of the week. I needed some down time. I find it serves as good motivation at the workplace, not only when coming back, but also immediately before--I get more energized to wrap some tasks up before packing it in for a day or two.

For today, I'm about to meet a friend for lunch. Then maybe catch some sun, and then some gadget tinkering and writing (including blogging) in the afternoon. Life in fourth gear (or is it first? I don't know how to drive manual...)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Peer pressure extends to the Internet, which is good news for marketers. Adolescents spend plenty of time online, and a select 17 percent of them are in a position to influence the larger group. More of the nitty-gritty research, from Jupiter Research, is available from eMarketer.

Interesting that, even with complete acclimation through IM, Web and email, television is still the more dominant media in the lives of the younger generation. As much as it's maligned, the effortlessness, immediacy and pervasivness of TV is tough to beat.
shock singe
Here we go... Tampa Bay vs. Calgary. As improbable a matchup as you could imagine. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

As far as getting a ticket to a game, as I'd hoped... It's not looking likely. All the games are sold out here, and the scalpers/brokers are asking for a ton. I'm slowly coming around to the view that it's not going to be worth it to shell out $200 for a nosebleed seat, and I'm not going to break the bank for a floor seat. I'll just have to settle for a comfortable seat at home.

And now, if I may borrow a battle cry from Edmonton, that I always thought was hilarious: BURN, FLAMES, BURNNNNNNN!!!

UPDATE: The Flames did some burning, all right--all over the Bolts in a 4-1 butt-kickin'. Just as well that I didn't attend.

Oh well. Only one game. I'm looking forward to a good, long series, with Stanley getting a tan by the end of it.
A little over a month ago, I bought a Venus flytrap. It took me about that long to kill it.

As I speak, I'm gazing at a pot full of semi-moist soil, with a mass of blackened stalks in the center. If it's not totally expired, it's pretty close.

What happened? Beats me. I might have put it in the wrong type of soil, I might have over-watered it (my usual method of killing off plants). Whatever I did, I did it wrong, because the trap never had a chance.

I can't say I'm too broken up about it. As is typical for me, I lost interest in my botanical experiment almost as quickly as I got fired up about it. It's the basic problem I have with all types of plants: They don't do anything, so they can't sustain my interest for very long. Even this one, with the potential for chomp-em-up action, managed to bore me. Once it started to wither, my apathy set in, and I let things slide.

There was a fitting irony to my failed plant stewardship. Yesterday, I saw a fly buzz across my living room. Serves me right, I suppose.

Monday, May 24, 2004

mein fuhrer, i can walk
I'm really intrigued by The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, an upcoming biopic of the 24-years-dead actor. Geoffrey Rush is playing Sellers, and indications are he did an amazing job portraying an oddball comedic genius who lost himself in his roles.
Sellers played three roles in "Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," including the creepy title character with the misbehaving bionic arm. In one scene, Sellers' mother comes to visit the set. When he sits down to eat with her, he stays in character as the mad scientist.

That happened in real life, said director Stephen Hopkins.
Funny thing about Dr. Strangelove... In addition to his roles as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove, Sellers was also supposed to play a fourth character: Major Kong, the gung-ho, bomb-riding lunatic. Sellers wound up breaking his leg, preventing him from taking on this additional role, and so the job went to Slim Pickens.

Sellers' reliance on a script, even off-camera, seemed pervasive and beyond even the much-mocked method approach:
The movie suggests that Sellers was so good at playing other people that he didn't have a solid grasp on who he really was. It was a lifelong struggle.

"If you really want to find out about Sellers, you have to watch his movies a lot, because I think that's the only way he ever really spoke," Hopkins said. "It's the only way he could really get out what was inside him."
Makes me wonder if a more appropriate title for this biopic might have been Being Peter Sellers, in tribute to what was probably his finest work, Being There. Given his persona and mannerism, it would have fit.
His name is Philip Glofcheskie, his site is Bitkraft (adjust volume accordingly). Look upon his works, ye mighty, and despair!

(With apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley)
I guess getting a dedicated Craig's List subdomain signifies that a metro area has a critical mass of Internet users. So it is with Tampa Bay, which now has a little corner of to call its own. Craig Newmark, the brains behind the List, says it was just time for the Florida Gulf Coast to get in on the action:
"I think it was just ready," Newmark said about the Tampa Bay area. Chief executive Jim Buckmaster explained the company's criteria - including the region's size (21st in the 2000 Census), 16 percent growth rate, the success of the site in Miami and "a large number" of requests from users - that led to the creation of the Tampa Bay area site...

According to the company, the bay area site attracted 32,000 unique visitors in April, ranking it sixth of the nine cities added in 2003, and had about 640,000 page views, for a ranking of seventh. By comparison, San Francisco had 314-million monthly page views.
Laudable. I can't wait to hear about people meeting and getting married and having babies, all thanks to a Craig's List hookup!

Craig's List's success has been the result of keeping things simple: Ease of navigation, layout, posting, etc. The sparse look of the site, and particularly the deliberate absence of overt advertising, works as well as Google's homepage. It's kind of an oasis in an otherwise bloated Internet. It's also gotten success without having to do much, if any, advertising (at least offline). I'm curious to see if it will really take off here; in San Francisco, it grew as a result of the very large techie community there, and spread from there to a more mainstream audience. I don't know if there's that same foundation here; but then, if there weren't at least the potential, they wouldn't have expanded here.

One thing, though: The chronology in this article is suspect:
"Tampa Bay has done very well and is not far behind where Miami was at this stage, which is mildly surprising given the considerably larger size of the Miami metro area," Buckmaster said by e-mail. "It'll be interesting to see how Orlando does when it kicks off (sometime in the coming weeks/months)."
Maybe Orlando is not officially launched yet--it's not hyperlinked in the list of Craiged cities--but it's there right now, and has a little activity on it. For that matter, I'm not sure how "new" Tampa Bay's entry is, as I remember coming across it a long, long, long time ago.

I've already been cruising the local List for the past few weeks. Haven't gotten anything off it yet, but just today, I did talk to this girl who's looking to trade an iPod for some furniture. If you can help her out, go for it!
give me the damn bowl
Keyshawn Johnson will be playing in Dallas this season, so you know what that means: Yes, his Tampa-based restaurant Profusion is shutting its doors. The other, primary owners (Keyshawn's just a minority owner, although he was prominently featured in advertising for the place) hope to reopen soon.

I'd heard good things about Profusion; it was supposed to be very innovative Asian cuisine, with very good sushi. Never did get a chance to go.
paper magic
To all those people who will be going to see Will Smith's summer blockbuster I, Robot, and summarily get freaked out by the prospect of robots attacking and taking over the world soon, consider this:

Carnegie Mellon University grad student Devin Balkcom just built a robot that can masterfully fold paper according to the ancient art of origami, and is about to earn his doctorate on the strength of that breakthrough.

In other words, robots are just now mastering the complex task of folding paper. So, unless they're able to dominate us human beings with fleets of attack paper airplanes, I'd say we're safe for a while yet.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

I just got a shiny new LG VX6000 camera phone. Which means that I also have an old, now retired phone: the Samsung SCH-n150 that I've been lugging around for the past two years.

It's a pretty basic phone, especially by today's standards: Monochrome screen instead of color, chirpy ringtones instead of polyphonic, no ability to download new applications to it, etc. On the other hand, it's WAP-Internet enabled, like any modern phone, and has voice-dialing capability (that I never bothered to activate). Aside from some annoying design flaws--like the inability to turn off the sound on the built-in games--it's a servicable handset.

While out earlier today, I spied a little hand-drawn flyer that said, "I BUY USED CELLPHONES", with a number to call. I figured I could see what they'd offer, and if it meant a quick 20 bucks, I'd part with the old Samsung.

I called the guy, told him the model number. He said it was a pretty old phone; I agreed. He said he'd give me two dollars for it. Then he started launching into a spiel; I cut him off right away, told him I'd keep it for two dollars, and hung up.

Two dollars? I understand the concept of resell value, but come on. Why on earth would I waste the time it would take to go meet with this guy for two measly bucks? I'd probably blow more in the value of gasoline than I'd get back. At that price, you better believe I'm going to hold onto the phone.

I do have a use for the old thing: I've been using it as an alarm clock. It's about perfect, because with the frequency of power outages here during the summer (from all those thunderstorms), having a clock with its own battery pack is a great idea. And I get to wake up to the tinny strains of Strauss' "Radetzky March" every morning.
Last night, my friend Kirby showed off his baby daughter Dayna's new trick; she's about a year-and-a-half, can't talk yet but getting closer and closer:

He'll ask her, "Dayna, what does Homer say?"

She responds, in her quiet, mousy little voice, "D'oh!"

Too cute.
zap! burn!
What more do I need to say? Who would have predicted a Stanley Cup Finals with these two teams?

I'm in Tampa Bay, I was at a Lightning party last night wearing my (now-)lucky Lightning third jersey, and I'm still in shock. Appropriately, given the team's name.

The Lightning are in the Finals. The Lightning! A team that was bad enough during its early '90s expansion years to be dubbed "the Bucs on ice". A team that went from 1997 to 2001 with at least 50 losses per season. A team that, despite earning the best record in the Eastern Conference this year, and second-best overall, was expected to eventually fold in the postseason. And now, this team is going into the Stanley Cup round as the favorite.

And on the other side, who expected the Flames to be here? (Aside from Liz; and sorry babe, but I've gotta go with the hometown team on this!). Calgary needed until almost the end of the regular season to clinch, and have been the underdog for the entire playoffs (although I expected them to take down Vancouver). They've gotten here with a castoff goalie who's been nothing short of amazing, a young defense corps that's become a joy to watch execute, and a power forward with whom everyone wants to chill. The Flames have an entire country rooting for them now (although I'm sure some diehards in Edmonton haven't been able to bring themselves to do so), and they deserve every accolade.

It's that best time of year. Let's get it on! And let's let the St. Petersburg Times and Calgary Sun provide the prose.

For me, the first order of business today is to go out and get me a replica Lightning Eastern Conference cap. The second order of business was going to be getting a ticket for Game 1 or Game 2, but as far as Ticketmaster is concerned, both games are already sold out. So it's time to hit the scalpers... How often do you get a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals in your own hometown? I'm gonna have to swallow hard on the asking price--I am a working schlub--but I'm hopeful of being in the Forum this Tuesday or Thursday.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

News that brings joy to my oldschool-joystick heart: Some of the most notable game showcases at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo were of classic game reissues like "Donkey Kong" and "Ms. Pac-Man".

Note that I read and wrote this the same day I engaged in a two-hour marathon of playing "Robotron: 2084" on my Xbox.
As I mentioned yesterday, Tampa International Airport this morning had their auction of items abandoned at the airport. My friends all decided to take a pass on it, but I went anyway, driven by curiosity.

I didn't come away with anything; I didn't even place a bid, and was barely tempted. Most of the items were crap or suspected crap. The most interesting items were the computer equipment (notebook computers, Game Boys, CD players) and mobile phones (including my new phone, the LG VX6000. The auctioning took place rather haphazardly, mainly because they were overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up: They typically get 50-100 people, but because this one was announced in the newspapers and on the radio, about 300-400 people wound up participating. I heard a lot of bitching from folks who were frustrated, although I'm not sure anyone really got overlooked during the biddings.

The way most of the stuff went up for bid was interesting. They would bring out a bunch of items in lots, and then conduct a "high bidder's choice". Basically, people would bid for the right to come up and take their pick of the items in the lot, and pay the amount of the winning bid for each one of them. After the winner was done selecting the item or items they wanted, the person who had the second-highest bid would then get the option of picking through the rest of the lot and buying any s/he wanted, at the price of the winning bid. After that, if there were any items left over--and there always was--they would start the bidding again, and the same process would repeat itself.

After the third or fourth re-bidding, the auctioneer would then put the next bid session under a minimum number-of-items purchase; so the winning bidder would have to buy, say, at least three of the items in the lot, each one for the price of the winning bid. The idea at that point was to move the merchandise quicker. Actually, this wasn't a particularly popular way to bid, and the auctioneer did it only a couple of times.

The more popular way to clear a lot off quickly, after a handful of high bidder's choice rounds, was to put the whole lot up for sale for a single bid price. This is the more traditional auction process. You'd think you'd be getting a deal by waiting for this, but considering that the earlier rounds of bidding resulted in the best stuff getting cherry-picked away, it was very likely that by the end, what was left over was pure junk.

As I said, the whole thing was run a bit haphazardly. There wasn't a riot or anything, but one thing I noticed was that, after the runner-up bidder had his choice of stuff, the auctioneer allowed everyone else to come up and pick out items to buy at the bid price. I'm not sure this was exactly what he was supposed to do, but in the interest of getting the stuff out of there, he allowed it.

Not all items went that way. They did had a lot of things in unbreakable lots, just boxes of stuff like lower-grade cellphones and medical equipment and the like. This stuff was disposed of in the familiar high-bid-takes-it method.

The famed mystery luggage lots were put up for bid close to the end, just a couple of items before the jewelry, which was the true big-ticket item. The luggage lots were the most sought-after, it seems: There were about three or four of them, and they all went for bid of between $350-550. Way too rich for my blood. If there were diamonds in any of those bags, I guess the winning bidders are laughing all the way to the bank by now.

The venue was the outside of a warehouse adjacent to the airport. It was held outside under a tent, so the heat and humidity helped make most of the people there cranky. An ice cream truck appeared about halfway through the thing, and I'm sure the driver made like a bandit from all the people getting their cones and popsicles.

The crowd was kind of a mix of rednecks, white trash, retirees and miscellaneous. I think a fair number were curiosity seekers, like me. There was a certain creepiness factor all around. One guy directly behind me was on his phone just before the auction started, talking about the selection of digital cameras and videocams available. As he was describing this stuff, in a surprisingly high-pitched voice (didn't match his physical appearance at all), he alternately was asking about a "floater" who turned up in a swimming pool, and if the person at the other end of the line had touched the body. He later moved to another part of the tent, for which I was grateful.

Chick report: I saw only two girls who looked good, and I didn't get a chance to maneuver close enough to either to talk to them. One of them was a hot little mommy--literally, with a baby stroller in tow--decked out in a tight Abercrombie-bought outfit and wearing some funky glasses that, somehow, made her look that much cuter (the second time in as many days that I've seen that effect). The other girl had a "Bahama Mamma" t-shirt on, accentuating her nice chest; blond, kind of pale skin and a nice smile. Honorable mention goes to a black woman with a great rack, but an unappealing tattoo on half of her chest and a general look that she had a lot of mileage on her.

I snapped about 12 photos of some of the lots of items, and of the crowd scenes, on my camera phone. Unfortunately, I don't have a quick way to transfer the photos to my computer, from where I can upload them for use here (I ordered a data cable for the phone earlier this week, and hopefully it'll arrive soon). As soon as I get those photos online, I'll present them here, along with some details on them that I didn't go over in this post. They appear to have come out decently enough, although I'll have to see how they look off the mobile phone display and on a computer monitor.

That's just about it for now. I don't know that going to this was a total waste of time. I mainly went just to see what it was like. I was a little disappointed that there were no truly weird items there, the sort that would make you think, "Why on earth would anyone leave something like that behind at an airport? And then not go back to get it?" I would have loved to have seen an artificial limb or something. Maybe next year.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The king of the Big Redmond Machine believes blogs, combined with RSS, are an ideal business tool for communicating effectively with customers and partners.
E-mail messages could be too imposing or miss out key people who should be included, said Mr Gates.
Not only that, but with spam overloading everyone's email nowadays, it's not a particularly effective way to carry on critical communications. Filters will probably stop even legitimate emails, unless the enduser actively makes sure to give approved senders the go-ahead. And spoofing makes it all even trickier.

I guess this means that Microsoft will be bundling some sort of blogging software and RSS reader into Longhorn.
Some friends I was having lunch with yesterday noted that Tampa International Airport is having one of its semi-regular public auctions of abandoned items, starting 10AM tomorrow morning. They're tempted to go; I told them to let me know if they do decide to go out for it.

I'm thinking of going to it even if they pass. I got a kick out of the newspaper account of the one from a year ago, and figure it'd be something different. I'd probably even bid on something, just for kicks.

And who knows--maybe some mystery suitcase will come up for bid, I can get it for 20 bucks, and it'll turn out to be full of diamonds and jewels! If I stop updating here after the weekend, it'll either be because: a) I've cashed it all in and moved to the Caymans; or b) The owners of the bag full o' diamonds came back to claim their property, and have rubbed me out.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

i'm bringing back blassie too
They threw a party to welcome him back, so he decided to come back. The late Andy Kaufman made good on his promise to make a triumphant return to the land of the living, exactly 20 years after his death. Oops, sorry--make that "death".

The proof? His blog! If he's blogging, he's got to be alive, right? Dead men can't blog. Especially not ones who are bigger than Jesus.

I think Andy's first order of business should be a rematch with Jerry Lawler. For real, this time.

Of course, there is another perspective on all this.
With gigantic hard drives available for reasonable prices, and terabyte- gigabyte-sized email accounts available for free, what further use do we have for our old-style squishy brains? That's the consensus of discussions and presentations at this year's World Wide Web Conference:
"There is very little reason for anyone to throw anything away," Rick Rashid, head of research for Microsoft Corp., said of how the latest Internet software, cheap data storage and networked communication, can help preserve personal memory.

Forget, for the moment, your mother's advice about the wisdom of spring cleaning. And suspend those nagging Big Brother doubts you
may have about what can happen when mountains of personal data slips out into public view.
The "why bother deleting?" concept is a key part of Google's pitch for Gmail and its gigabyte of storage. It's a meme that's occurred naturally enough, with the tremendous drop in price for hard drive storage devices; that economic factor is the key to so much of modern computing technology innovations, from multimedia PCs to Tivos to iPods.

The privacy concerns that arise from an all-digital, all-archived existence, and how they can be perceived in a positive light, is something I just referenced concerning the upcoming June 2004 issue of Reason magazine.

I've touched on this theme before, particularly in the blend of blogging, storage and search technology to make a reality of Vannevar Bush's proposed Memex machine. The more recent SenseCam project from Microsoft is another move in this direction, as noted in the WWW2004 writeup.

While this is all very hopeful, forward-looking stuff, I can't help but be reminded of one fundamental impediment: The nomadic nature of data in the digital age. Do you really want to entrust your precious memories to an mp3 file that won't be readable by the media player du jour 50 years from now (or whatever file/app combination you currently use; the problem will be persistent regardless of format)? As I noted back then, computer technology is very weak in paying attention to backward compatibiity, especially long-term. Until this basic approach is addressed, the substitute brain is going to be a shaky proposition.
Last night, I noticed that the little coin jar I toss my pennies (only pennies) into was pretty much filled to the brim--and it took only about five years! (Rampant use of plastic over cash sharply reduces the amount of loose coins I collect on an everyday basis, although truthfully it used to take me just as long to compile that copper before the Age of Debit.)

Faced with the task of actually doing something with the contents of this jar now that it was full, I figured I'd find the nearest Coinstar sorting machine. There happens to be one only a couple of miles away, in the nearby Winn-Dixie Store. So this morning, before work, I set out for the store.

When I lifted the jar, I found it was mighty heavy; I'm guessing it was around 10 pounds. It was also densely packed, and when I set the thing in my car's front seat, a big crack appeared in the jar. That made the trip that much more urgent, unless I wanted a pile of pennies scattered all over the vehicle's interior.

On the way, I was trying to guess how much money was in the jar, based solely on the weight of it. I had the sinking feeling that, despite how heavy the thing seemed to be, it would end up being worth something paltry like five bucks--hardly worth the effort, minor as it was. But what the heck, I was already on the way.

So I got to the store, found the machine, and started feeding it. It took forever; I kept overloading it so that it had to slow down to count what was in the till, and then give me the go-ahead to add more. Tedious.

But as the Coinstar tallied up all that change, I was amazed at how many cents I wound up accumulating. Final count: 2,048 pennies! I was amazed; I guess it's hard to gauge how many coins you have from weight alone. I never would have guessed there were that many in there.

The catch: The way Coinstar works, it deducts 8.9 cents for every dollar of change it counts. So instead of $20.48, I ended up with about $18. Not exactly worth a lot of trouble, but decent enough.

Since I was already in a grocery store, I decided to use this minor windfall to get something for the office. As it happens, Winn-Dixie carries Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, so I grabbed a dozen, paid for them and was on my way. I tossed the cracked jar into a trash receptacle on the way out, as it was effectively ruined.

So tonight, I got home, took the couple of pennies I had accumulated during the day, and made my way toward the spot where the penny jar had been. Then I realized: No more jar. So I took an old beer stein off a shelf, put it in the right spot, and tossed the pennies in. Thus we start the next five-year cycle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

If you want a can't-miss exhibit of how illusory your privacy is, pick up the upcoming June issue of Reason magazine. The cover story, "Database Nation: The Upside of Zero Privacy" by Declan McCullagh, lays out all the ways that existing compiled information already tells anyone interested all about you, from a general demographic level all the way down to your personal data. McCullagh presents this in a beneficial light; you can decide for yourself.

The cover story is just the tip of the iceberg, though:
As subscribers pull the June Reason magazine out of their mailbox, something about the issue should look familiar. The magazine published 40,000 individualized covers displaying an aerial photo of the subscriber's home and the surrounding neighborhood.

Inside, the personalization continues. Subscribers can find out how many of their neighbors are college educated and what percentage of kids in their zip code are being raised by their grandparents. An ad for the Institute for Justice shows the number of eminent domain cases in their state where private property was seized and given to private developers. And an ad for the Marijuana Policy Project tells subscribers whether their congressman voted to stop federal raids on medical marijuana clubs in states where they're legal, says Reason Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie.

"Living in a database nation raises innumerable privacy concerns," writes Gillespie in the June issue. "But it also makes life easier and more prosperous. We may have kissed privacy goodbye -- and good riddance, too."
I applaud Reason for some terrifically inspired editorial initiative with this June issue. Nothing breaks through the media clutter better than this in-your-face approach that hits a reader (literally) where s/he lives.

What really makes this unique is that it's so suited to the print format, in a way that it wouldn't translate as well into any sort of electronic medium, online included. Having an entire bound magazine in your hands, knowing that it was mass-produced yet still containing so much content aimed directly at you, leaves a powerful impression. This whole print package is also an extremely valuable and enticing concept to offer advertisers, especially the microtargeting. I'm quite envious.

(Via Hearts and Dreams)
Thank God for Bible proofreaders:
"Bible readers are less forgiving of errors because they expect perfection in the Bible text," said June Gunden, who founded the business along with her husband, Doug...

With an ordinary book, "you can put up with more because it's not something you're basing your whole life on," June Gunden said. "It's information, but it's not really life-changing information. It's not something you believe to be infallible."
I'm not going to pretend I'm full of the spirit of the Lord, but I am a hell whiz of a proofreader and editor. If Peachtree Editorial and Proofreading Service is reading this and is looking to outsource, send the proofs on down; I'd love to take a look.

I'll be certain to avoid these famous Biblical snafus:
- Blessed are the place-makers (instead of "peacemakers"), Matthew 5:9.

- Thou shalt commit adultery, Exodus 20:14.

- Know ye not that the unrighteous shall (omitted "not") inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Corinthians 6:9.

- Printers (instead of "Princes") have persecuted me without a cause, Psalm 119:161.

- Go and sin on (instead of "no") more, John 8:11.

- The fool hath said in his heart there is a (instead of "no") God, Psalm 14:1.

- Let the children first be killed (instead of "filled"), Mark 7:27.

- These are murderers (instead of "murmurers"), complainers, Jude 16.

- The murderer shall surely be put together (instead of "to death"), Numbers 25:18.

- He hath ears to ear (instead of "hear"), let him hear, Matthew 11:15.

- I will ... that women adorn themselves in modern (instead of "modest") apparel, 1 Timothy 2:9.
Talking Points Memo recently addressed a misconception related to the lack of comment from a blogger:
You've just misjudged how I run the site and why I do so. I don't write about everything I think. I don't write just to say that X is good or Y is bad. I write when I feel I have something I can add to a discussion, and only then...

The online world has lots of vociferous me-too-ism, going on record saying in fist-clenched tones things I think we all know we all feel. That's fine; I just don't like doing that. Once, when I wrote nothing about a rapid series of court decisions touching on gay rights issues, one reader wrote in and attacked me mercilessly for being homophobic since clearly, he reasoned, I had judged these to be of no importance. He was wrong; and you've made the same misjudgment. This isn't a publication of record. And you're not in a position to judge what I think based on my silence.
This has been on my mind lately, regarding my own updates here. This has especially been the case with a couple of recent newsworthy items: Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan, and, closer to home, the racial violence in southside St. Petersburg. After working both items around my noggin for a while, I decided not to mention them at all in this space. I'm not sure that I didn't have anything significant to add in both cases--although that was probably more the case with the St. Pete story--as much as a feeling that I wasn't going to do a good enough job in expressing my feelings ("good enough" as determined by my personal standards). It did occur to me, while I took a pass on these and other items, that my lack of comment, in and of itself, conveyed something.

In a related vein, I get a similar feeling when I don't follow up on something I've written about in the past. I don't think previous commentary obligates me to revisit the same news subject, or even general topic, unless I'm especially inclined to do so. I'll do it as the mood strikes me, but just as often, I'll feel like I've said what I wanted to say the first time around, and am done with it. Yet sometimes, I do wonder, if briefly, whether or not I should acknowledge any further developments, and depending on the circumstances, whether or not declining to do so is fair.

The policy expressed at Talking Points pretty well mirrors mine. I'd emphasize the part about this blog not being a publication of record: It's my outlet, and there's no intent here to be comprehensive, or balanced--or anything, really, aside from a medium to jot down what strikes me as noteworthy. The criteria for that is on a sliding scale that slides wildly from day to day. If you're looking for all the facts, you need to stop reading this blog--stop reading any blog--and find a true, dedicated news source, whether it's online or print or other.

I'm not pretending that this has been an issue with any regular Critical "I" readers; I haven't gotten any feedback to that effect, anyway. I suppose this very post is a testament to the dynamic described above.
Speaking of free online storage... Blogger's struck a deal with Hello to offer users cost-free and user-friendly photo/image hosting, via a utility called BloggerBot. Just the right companion for your blog!

Of course, Hello offers free image file hosting to anyone, Blogger-member or not. But tying BloggerBot into it definitely makes the process more seamless and less intimidating to non-technical bloggers.

This sort of hits home for me, because I've improbably hit my storage limit for images that I use here. A look through this blog's archives will show that I use images extensively. It's kind of a pain, and probably the single thing I despise most about online publishing: That images can't be integrated into the HTML structure of a website/webpage, but rather must be hosted and linked. It's a big problem, in my view.

That said, I don't think I'll be sampling the BloggerBot. It's too much like a spyware enticement; I'd rather have the option to upload the images to Hello's space on my own terms. I don't need some clunky app junking up my system, thanks.
Google gave some geeks wet panties when a glitch in its Gmail service showed a drastic increase in user storage space, from the regular 1 gigabyte to 1 terabyte (or 1,000 gigabytes).

Despite the conspiracy theories rampaging around the techie blogs, it's pretty clear this was nothing more than a software bug. I'm betting there wasn't even a terabyte allocated to any single user; the display just erroneously showed that much storage available, not that it truly was there. Given the circumstances, there's no way anyone could have actually tested to see if that much was really there. Again, it was an unintentional glitch, nothing more or less.

I don't know if my Gmail account got the boost. I didn't check it more than a couple of times during the day today, and didn't make note of the storage listed. I'm not sure what I would have thought had I seen it.

I guess anyone looking for a terabyte of storage will just have to pony up a grand or so for LaCie's Bigger Disk.
cash or charge?
The picture says it all, I think; we're all feeling the pain. If these prices keep up, the guy in the White House will feel the pain as well, warranted or not.

There is an alternative to paying the price at the pump: You can take a cheaper flight.
proud as a peacock
After months of speculation on my part, including a mention last week in wake of the creation of NBC Universal, it's now a reality: The NHL and NBC have struck a 2-year deal to broadcast games starting next year (or next season, whichever comes first).

So it's sayonara for Disney/ESPN. It's just as well, as hockey wasn't going to get much exposure there with the other big-league sports occupying space, combined with the NHL's perennially low ratings. While a move to NBC will be spun as a move the league had to settle for (especially the lack of upfront fees and Arena Football-style conditions), I'm optimistic that a shift to a new outlet will be a rejuvinating shot in the arm for the televised product.

As I've pointed out before, NBC needs this as much as the NHL does. The lack of a true major league sports on its airwaves has been tough for the network to explain away. The NHL, despite the perception it carries as a weak sister to the NFL, NBA and MLB, is still a major league, and so lends NBC that cache. This gets the network back into the game, which, considering its prospects in the post-"Friends" and "Frasier" era, it'll need. Plus, at two years, the deal is easy enough to handle.

I think we can look forward to plenty of games on the USA Network, as well as the NBC mothership. Lots of great branding opportunities there.

What would be the cherry on top of all this? I'm crossing my fingers for an accompanying revival of Peter Puck. I don't remember his first NHL on NBC go-round, as it was a bit before my time. But I'd welcome him back, maybe as a CGI-powered avatar. Or not.

CLARIFICATION: I was a bit hasty in bidding ESPN goodbye. For now, the NBC Sports deal only provides for NHL games to be shown on broadcast television; the league's cable rights are still being negotiated with ESPN, and could very well remain with Bristol.

I've kind of got my doubts, though. If NHL already has a deal with NBC for over-the-air games, they could always use that to expand an agreement for cable broadcasts; plus, they can use that option as leverage against Disney/ESPN. NBC has plenty of cable outlets now, and as I said months ago, they need fresh content for those outlets, too. So I'm hopeful of seeing rinkside action on USA Network; they'll just have to move their staple reruns of "Walker, Texas Ranger".

I also came across a little reminder of a Big Four sports league precedent in the no-upfront-fees model struck here: The ill-fated Baseball Network:
The last time such a deal was made with a major sports league was in 1994 and 1995, when Major League Baseball joined with ABC and NBC to create the Baseball Network. The players strike in 1994 wrecked the revenue-sharing model that was central to the agreement.
Naturally, an NHL lockout next year would also mess with this agreement, although that's already been accounted for.

LAST UPDATE: Looks like NBC Universal will have to find other content to fill up its cable coffers. The NHL has re-upped with ESPN for its cable telecasts, at a sharply reduced schedule and price. The specifics:
- Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals exclusively on ESPN;
- Exclusive coverage of the All-Star Game and All-Star Weekend activities;
- Continued exclusive Conference Finals telecasts;
- Additional exclusivities from each Conference Semifinal series;
- Extensive Conference Quarterfinal and Semifinal coverage;
- 40 exclusive regular-season games on ESPN2 - 23 on Wednesdays, beginning Opening Night, and 17 on Sundays;
- Coverage of the NHL Draft on ESPN2;
- Continued agreements for and ESPN International;
- Select telecasts on ESPN HD and ESPN Deportes;
- Rights for ESPN Classic, ESPN Video-on-Demand, ESPN Broadband, ESPN Wireless.
USA Today has a good wrap-up of the league's day full of television deals.

CNN/Money's Chris Isidore takes the results and declares the NHL to "officially" now be a minor league sport, with his argument basically boiling down to this:
The NBC deal is similar to the one the network has with the Arena Football League. That's all you really need to know if you think the sport can still claim to be a major player in the U.S. sports scene.
There's a degree of truth to this analysis, but the caveat is that the NHL is automatically assumed to be an also-ran league, and so practically any television deal would be seen as a demotion. By comparison, the new deal the NBA got a couple of years ago was given a positive spin, despite the drop in money and a virtual shunting of most games off the broadcast schedule and onto cable. I'm just happy they have a deal of any sort.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Tampa Bay's seeing two of its entertainment venues going in different directions: While the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa is gearing up to open with lots of big-ticket music acts, the Pinellas Expo Center in Pinellas Park is shutting down after only a couple of years of operation.

Strictly speaking, these two facilities are not comparable. The Ford Amphitheatre (briefly known, during its construction, as the Tampa Bay Amphitheatre before the Southern Ford Dealers came through with naming rights money) is built primarily for concert entertainment, with a 20,000-seat capacity ideal for such shows. The Pinellas Expo Center is designed for less glamorous fare like tradeshows and conferences, and, if it had to be used as a seating arena, probably is about half the capacity as the Amphitheatre. Each venues' bread-and-butter business is, at best, sideline business for the other.

Of course, this is all small potatoes as far as today's big public-facility news goes. That comes out of Noo Yawk, where the New York Jets unveiled their escape-from-the-Meadowlands plans for an impressive new stadium on Manhattan's West Side. Worthy of an Olympics in eight years, if not the J-E-T-S, nyets-nyets-nyets.
During the workday, I find the need to compulsively check HaloScan every 30 15 minutes, because I just have to know if/when someone has left feedback on this here blog. Rather than go through the trouble of creating a bookmark, I simply rely on IE's auto-complete function to fill in the blanks when I quickly type in "h-a-l-o-s" and hit Enter. Because I visit the site so often, it's retained in the browser's history, and so there's no need to retype the entire URL.

Sometimes, though, I'm a bit too quick with that Enter key. Like yesterday. I typed in the familiar sequence as shown above, and hit Enter before the auto-complete had a chance to fill in the "c-a-n-.-c-o-m".

So what happened? Rather than just give me an error and allow me to retype, IE decided that I wanted to visit this cuckoo site, which boasts of "Unrefuted Evidence for Earth's Instant Creation!" (unrefuted because most people don't bother refuting laughable gobbledygook).

The initial visit was bad enough. But today, I found that, out of habit, I continued to type my usual shorthand for HaloScan, and because was stuck in history, it would come up as the first option, and invariably I'd hit Enter to bring it up. The final kicker was that, by calling it up even once, I've guaranteed that it'll stay in the history for at least another day, thus creating a self-perpetuating retention. Argh.

Guess I'll just have to be more careful for the next couple of days. Maybe I can even train myself into typing "h-a-l-o-s-c" in rapid shorthand, thus breaking the cycle. Hopefully, there's no lunatic URL lurking at

So anyway, that's one way to take in some of the Web's kooky fringe. Blunted found another way, courtesy of my blog's GoogleAds.
Just a couple of days ago, I pondered the impact that wi-fi enabled mobile phones would have on the telephone industry:
Would wi-fi calling kill off the Verizon Wirelesses and Sprints of the world? I doubt it. Just as the present mobile phone networks can't cover everything, neither can decentralized wi-fi hotspots, no matter how widespread. Even if many of those hotspots are accessible (and not encrypted or otherwise restricted), they're not going to be wholly reliable, and they're not going to be present in many areas (interstate highways, for instance).

I do think that a combination of traditional wireless phone networks and wi-fi clouds would be a great solution. If more devices like Motorola's "switcher" phone become commonplace (perhaps based on Bluetooth technology?), wi-fi would definitely become part of the telecommunications equation.
This sort of scenario seems to be the foundation upon which AT&T Corp. struck a deal to get back into the wireless market by using Sprint's network. The future is already here, as far as AT&T is concerned. The reliance on wi-fi to supplement this re-entry is intimated here:
AT&T expects to add wireless service to its local and long-distance calling packages. In addition, AT&T plans to offer handsets that also allow customers to make VoIP calls over Wi-Fi connections in homes and businesses.
The sell-off of AT&T Wireless to Cingular now makes a lot more sense, from a competitive angle. AT&T Corp. leveraged a way to get ahead in the wireless game: Concentrate on handset manufacturing, bet big on those handsets' wi-fi capability (and by extension, wi-fi's role in reshaping future telephony), get liquidity from the Cingular deal, and most critically, not have to maintain a costly and increasingly irrelevent proprietary network system.

It's brilliant. Who'd have guessed such a forward-thinking strategy would have come from such a hide-bound company like AT&T?
A tip-off from Steve Outing at Poynter informed me of a survey on blog reading habits, commissioned by BlogAds' Henry Copeland. Go ahead and follow the link to the survey; it's only some 20-odd questions and shouldn't take more than 5 minutes of your time. As Outing points out, there's even an opportunity to promote your own blog!

I guess I'd especially encourage all the ladies out there to take this survey, as the early indications are that the results are heavily skewed toward male responses.

Some disclosure on my part: I put a "Never" for almost all the blogs listed as potential reads. I didn't even recognize half of them; only the most buzzworthy ones like Instapundit and The Volokh Conspiracy elicited recognition, and I've probably visited each of those only once. I guess I'm not the ideal hardcore blog junkie.

I was also amused to see Drudge Report listed among the other blogs. As I understand it, Matt Drudge resents being identified as a blogger, despite the appropriate fit.

Monday, May 17, 2004

I've just spent the last couple of hours scrubbing my home computer of a virus. No, it wasn't the latest security threat, Sasser. It was some Trojan program that somehow hijacked my Windows Media Player, and rendered it useless.

The Trojan didn't manage to do any damage--I have a firewall setup that prevents a program like this from making an external connection. But it was a pest, because my Norton Antivirus program apparently couldn't identify it and wipe it out. A couple of free online scanners couldn't pick it up either.

Then, while reading Chris Corrigan's post about open source software, I came across a link for the free AntiVir Personal Edition virus scanner. I figured I had little to lose, so I uninstalled Norton and installed AntiVir. Bingo! AntiVir found the offending files and wiped them out. It killed off Media Player as well, but that's no big loss, as I've got an older version of it that works as well (and I could always get the most current version from Microsoft for free).

So, my system is clean, for now. It's really frustrating to find crap like this, when I take what should be every precaution: A strong firewall, no opening of suspicious attachments (including all Office files, regardless of source), no downloading of executables unless I know they're legit, etc. That's why things like Google's use of ActiveX for Gmail is so disturbing to me: It creates one more hole through which sneaky stuff can invade your computer.

One of the consequences of messing with viruses is that it makes me want to get off the computer for the rest of the night. And so today's shortened blogging session is brought to you by the letter "T" for Trojan.
wake up!
The above banner is a memento from my participation in last year's Blogathon. It's going to have to last another year, as the Blogathon folks will be taking 2004 off to fine-tune things.

The next 24-hour blogging-for-benefit session is scheduled for July 30th, 2005. Whether or not it actually comes off... Call me a pessimist, but I'm predicting Blogathon is permanently in the past tense now. I don't question that Cat and the others have the best of intentions for coming back in two years, but things like this--especially in the online world--tend to lose their momentum during a hiatus, regardless of the purpose of that hiatus. Over time, the people behind Blogathon are going to have other priorities, move on, and this pet project will become an afterthought--if that. Plus, from the participants' end, two years is an eternity; out of sight, out of mind. Attempting to drum up renewed interest will be essentially like starting from scratch, which will only further frustrate those involved.

For me, it's just as well that the 2004 edition has been scratched. I've wondered a couple of times, since the start of this year, if I'd want to do it again. I can't say for sure until the deadline for decision would be imminent, but my early reaction would have been a "no". Reasons are various, stemming from last year's experience: The lack of pledges I got, troubles archiving it on a BlogSpot site, whether I want to commit to a whole Saturday and Sunday (counting sleep time) again... Having enough to write about is not, as you might suspect, a concern; as I noted at last year's finish, I had enough to go well beyond the one-post-per-half-hour pace then, and am confident I could do so again.

I guess ultimately, on top of the reasons above, I have a general sense of "been there, done that". I wouldn't have taken part in Blogathon 2003 if I didn't expect to get something out of it for myself. I experienced the marathon scribbling session, found I could do it and do it pretty well, and don't feel I'll get anything more out of a repeat performance. I certainly didn't raise much cash for the sponsor, and even if my readership has expanded since then to make more pledges possible, I'm afraid that's not enough motivation for me. All of which, of course, is moot now.

In any case, some people are going to have a Blogathon-type event to compensate. For this blog, the archives from last year will have to suffice.