The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

DOWN WITH THE SKYY
I think I've got a new favorite spirit: SKYY Melon Vodka.

I first tried it a couple of nights ago, and just had it tonight with tonic. It's damn good. It's just barely sweet, not at all sickly-sweet like most of these kinds of concoctions. Just the right balance of flavor.

Of course, I say all this without having sampled marijuana-flavored vodka. Not like that's actually going to happen.
GETTING BREEZED IN THE MONKEY HOUSE
blow your mind
Sometimes an ape just needs to have some fun with his human captors. Toward that end, the new Regenstein Center for African Apes at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo has a feature that allows the captives to shoot harmless bursts of air at human spectators.

They got the idea from the West Coast:
The Los Angeles Zoo, for instance, made its ape exhibit interactive by letting the animals pull ropes to ring bells near visitors or spray water at people, said Jennie McNary, curator of mammals at the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens.

"The chimps were smart enough to figure out they could startle people with it," she said.
Nothing wrong with a little harmless fun between primates.
LATE-MORNING COURT STARTS
The one slight perk about getting hit with jury duty this week: Later start to the day. The judge had to clear some stuff off his calendar early, so I don't have to be at the courthouse until 10AM. And the courthouse is a relatively short drive from my house.

It's something, anyway. Of course, the converse is that, unless the trial gets resolved really early, I'll be there until about 7PM tonight.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET: 60 PERCENT ACCURATE
Steve Rubel put the no-blog news diet to the test yesterday.

Similar to the test Rubel took to gauge the effect of his own all-blog media diet (that test was given, and written about, by Poynter's Steve Outing), my quiz consisted of a cross-section of notable news items that had particular resonance in the blogosphere last week.

So, without further ado, here are the questions, my replies, and Rubel's grades, all done via back-and-forth emails:
1. Fast Company started a spectacularly clueless policy on linking, in which they expect people who want to link to them to do what?
--->MY ANSWER: I know I saw some mention of this at one point, but I never did read through. Don't know.
--->STEVE: They need to fax them a request

2. Computer pioneer Bob Bremer died last week. What's his claim to fame?
--->MY ANSWER: He was the creator of the ASCII code.
--->STEVE: Correct

3. What site is holding a contest to create the "sexiest" one-minute video starring John Ashcroft?
--->MY ANSWER: I'm guessing MoveOn.org; again, I recall seeing something on this, but didn't read through.
--->STEVE: Incorrect. It was Nerve

4. What CNN commentator said he spends every morning reading Weblogs?
--->MY ANSWER: Don't know. Don't recall even coming across this one.
--->STEVE: Incorrect. Jeff Greenfield

5. President Bush broke a new online campaign ad last week that some say compared John Kerry to Hitler. What did the Kerry team do in response?
--->MY ANSWER: I believe they had to repeat their disassociation with MoveOn.org's original use of a Hitler-Bush ad a few months ago, which inspired this ad from the Bush campaign...
--->STEVE: Correct

6. A blogger who struggled to get his questions answered from one particular online company's PR team received a lot of buzz this week. What company was involved?
--->MY ANSWER: I believe it was NetFlix.
--->STEVE: Correct

7. What board did Dave Winer resign from?
--->MY ANSWER: Userland (am I correct in that being the current name of the company, and not Radio Userland?)
--->STEVE: Incorrect. The RSS Advisory Board

8. What did CERT recommend all Internet users do last week?
--->MY ANSWER: In response to the discovery of malicious hijacking code in several website that use Microsoft's IIS, CERT recommended using any browser other than Internet Explorer, which is vulnerable to this hijack attempt.
--->STEVE: Correct

9. What uses more sick days than US workers?
--->MY ANSWER: Office PCs.
--->STEVE: Correct

10. A blog broke the news last week that about a controversial meeting between a bipartisan group of Congressmen and a certain billionaire. Who was that billionaire?
--->MY ANSWER: I believe it was the Reverend Sun Moon (that may not be his full name; owner of United Press International and the Washington Times, among much else).
--->STEVE: Correct
So that makes 6 out of 10 right. Lo and behold, Rubel wound up with 12 out of 20 right on his. Thus, we each scored a 60 percent on our tests. Dead heat.

What does this say about blogs and what they do for the media consumer? I can't say for sure. It's clear that, at this stage in the evolution of blogs (and, really, of all online media), they don't provide the whole media story; but it doesn't seem that mainstream media does either, at least not with regularity. Is the only way of getting the entire picture, at least for some areas, a diet of both news and blogs? Taking the opposite view, is the measure of blogosphere buzz/popularity a reliable enough indicator of newsworthiness (any moreso than this applies to news sites and offline news)? Obviously, this raises more questions than answers for me.

Regarding the questions themselves: Question No. 5 threw me a bit. I wasn't sure that the Kerry campaign's canned response of disavowal actually qualified as a real countermove, and was wondering if I hadn't missed something. I guess I did read correctly what Steve was after. I'm kicking myself about missing No. 7; I think I link Winer and Userland so much that I didn't really think it through before answering. Similarly, I should have mulled a bit more on No. 1, as I instantly recalled news on Fast Company and hyperlinking.

All in all, a worthy experiment.
I, THE JUROR
Just my luck. My call-up for jury duty today resulted in my being placed on a jury.

Honestly, up until midway through the day, I had every expectation of being passed over. But as the selection process dragged on, I just got the strong feeling that I was going to get tagged. All I'll say is that I need to invest in a sickly relative that needs regular care, because that excuse seemed to automatically lead to a ticket out of the courthouse.

I hate to sound so anti-civic, but the fact is that the timing is not very good for me. As I mentioned, this is deadline time, plus a time of the year where I start some heavy-duty project work at the magazine. Plus I had a couple of other tasks to tend to before the end of June. Jury duty just piles on the plate.

Looking past that, the trial appears compelling enough; it's certainly not a mundane traffic violation. Unfortunately, I can't write anything specific about it. I'll be able to do so after the trial wraps, which, according to the judge, shouldn't be any later than Friday morning. Until then, I'll have to keep my big mouth shut--really not that difficult for me.

Predictably, the jury's been informed to avoid certain parts of the local media, as this case might be mentioned. The local newscasts are off-limits, which is irrelevant to me as I never watch those wastes of broadcast time anyway. The newspapers will be harder to avoid, but bearable.

The next few days will be hectic, as I'll be juggling quite a few things. It could be draining. As an immediate result, I won't be posting anything about the outcome of my no-blog news diet quiz until very late tonight, probably close to midnight.
DIAL-A-DREAM
Be your own sandman, with the help of Japanese toymakers. Takara presents the Dream Workshop, a sensory-stimulating gadget that's supposed to influence your sleeping state into dreaming a dream that you've pre-determined.
While preparing for bed, the user mounts a photograph on the device of who should appear in the dream, selects music appropriate to the mood — fantasy, comedy, romantic story, nostalgia — and records key word prompts, such as the name of a romantic crush.

Placed near the bedside, the dream-maker emits a special white light, relaxing music and a fragrance to help the person nod off.

Several hours later, it plays back the recorded word prompts, timed to coincide with the part of the sleep cycle when dreams most often occur. It then helps coax the sleeper gently out of sleep with more light and music so that the dreams are not forgotten.
Am I missing something, or is there any real point to putting a photo of your dream-object on this thing? The sound and smell functions make sense, but what good is a photo when you're asleep? I suppose you could nod off while staring at said photo, but you don't need an elaborate device to do that.

Call me a blackheart, but the thought crossed my mind that you could plant this thing in someone's room, unawares, to induce nightmares. Perfect for sibling hijinks!
THE LOST ART OF HANDWRITING
Pity the modern American gradeschool student. They've had computer keyboards at their fingertips practically since birth, and so haven't had to funnel much energy into penmanship. Now that neglect bites them back, as the impending longhand essays on the SAT and ACT has many a chicken-scratchin' kid sweating.

Is this along the same line of thinking that suggests people will someday no longer be able to read traditional minute-hand/second-hand clock faces, thanks to the proliferation of digital timepieces?

I know the experience of handwriting anything more than a Post-It® Note is now a novelty for me. Still, I occasionally do indulge in that novelty, just for a break from the keyboard/monitor combo.

I wonder how this decline in handwriting skills will affect future development in handwriting-recognition technology. Is there any real point in trying to make it any better, when people grow up so accustomed to using a keyboard? I know PDAs, which use some form of handwriting recognition, are on their way to obsolescense, so no big loss there. But Microsoft's Tablet PC concept is largely built around the idea that users want to input with a stylus instead of pecking at keys. News like this might make that effort an eventual dead-end.

Monday, June 28, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET: RESULTS TOMORROW
Just minutes ago, I emailed my responses to a news quiz cooked up by Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion. It was designed to test my absorption of certain news items during my no-blog news diet, which concluded on Saturday. Steve should be grading me tomorrow, at which point I'll post the questions, my answers and Steve's correction or confirmation.

I'll hold off on predictions of my performance. All will be revealed tomorrow.

Much thanks to Steve Rubel for playing along. Thanks also to Steve Outing at Poynter, who once again plugs the bold no-blog adventure.
ACK, JURY DUTY
It's been some six or seven years, but I've finally been called up tomorrow morning for my second-ever stint of jury duty.

I'm all for doing my civic duty, but still, I'm not looking forward to it. It's a missed day of work, at just about the most inopportune time (the turn of the calendar is typically deadline time at a monthly, and that's when I'm busiest). Plus, I have a strong feeling I'll just be waiting around all day, waiting to be interviewed, only to be told in the late afternoon that I won't be needed and can go. And that's the best-case scenario; what if I actually get picked as a juror?? At that point, I'm hoping for a short trial.

I'm thinking of packing up my notebook computer and lugging it along. If I'm lucky, I can plug it into a wall socket, catch a wireless signal, and surf (and blog) away at least part of the time. (I can always use my mobile phone to check email, but it's not really suited for everyday Web browsing.)
LEECHEE NUT
bruce leechee
I got the gift of a leechee nut today from a coworker, who's got a tree in her yard and apparently is lousy with the things. They seem to attract hordes of squirrels and Asian trespassers.

She brought enough for my other officemates, and they promptly ate theirs. After some lukewarm reaction to the taste, I opted to not peel open mine ("peel", because as you'll read in the link, leechees aren't really nuts), but instead keep it for a spell and let it dry. I didn't know this early in the day, but that seems to be a good idea:
You can open the red outer shell with your fingers. Inside you see a firm whitish pulp that is delicious and mildly acidic. The dried fruit is eaten like a raisin and is even sweeter than the fresh fruit.
I can't hardly wait.
SOUTHERN NEPTUNE IN SPRINGTIME
deep blue
Is Spring your favorite season? Then the south of Neptune is the place for you, where springtime lasts for forty years.

Better hurry: Summer's coming in 2005, and, like Spring, will stick around for four decades.
BIRDS ON THE OFFICE WINDOW
pollywanna
About three months ago, I mentioned that my office building had been visited by some Nandy Conures (relatives of parrots/parakeets). They've got a nest somewhere in the building's walls/roof, but since that day, haven't been at all noticable.

Today, they decided to get adventurous, and alit themselves outside my big window. There were two of them. I managed to shoot a few pictures with my cameraphone; the above photo is the best I could snap. There's that regrettable reflection across his chest, but otherwise, not too bad, I think.
SURPRISE! YOU'RE SOVEREIGN
tba
The U.S. unexpectedly restored Iraqi sovereignty two days ahead of schedule, in a secret ceremony that was apparently designed to thwart possible disruption by insurgents.

In other words, the situation in Iraq is still unstable enough that there's little confidence a scheduled, public statehood ceremony could be held in a secure fashion. I guess having a bomb go off in such a ceremony would shake any state-building effort; then again, a surprise-party handover of power, forced by internal unrest, doesn't inspire much long-term confidence, either.

I guess the re-implementation of sovereignty means Iraq won't be able to sell its naming rights.
POPCORN MORE VALUABLE THAN HOTDOGS
cheap dog
I went to the movies last night. Since I had slightly more time before the show that I usually allow myself, and I was thirsty/hungry, I decided to hit the concession stand.

Now, I understand that movie concession stand prices are not even casually acquainted with real-world food prices. Furthermore, I understand that concessions are the primary moneymaker for theaters and the reason why the prices are jacked up so much, and I'm fine with that.

Still, riddle me this, Batman:

Combo Value Pack #1: Large bag of popcorn and large soft drink = $8.00

Combo Value Pack #2: Hotdog and large soft drink = $6.50


Doing some quick math, and assuming the soft drink would have the same value in both combos, that would mean the popcorn is priced at $4, and the hotdog at $2.50.

Call me crazy, but wouldn't you assume that a hotdog--which you could almost, conceivably, eat as a meal--would be worth more than a bag of popcorn? I mean, we're talking about a meat-based (at least I presume so) product and bread, versus some snacky kernels covered with salt and oil. Warped food pricing in a movie theater I can understand; warped pricing among movie theater items, I can't.

I did get the Combo Value Pack #2. And I must say, that dog was mighty tasty.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

IN ADVERTISING, MESS UP THE MIX
USA Today's Theresa Howard delivers a good wrapup of the buzz from last week's Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, where the overriding message was to diversify your advertising message beyond just television.
Network TV ads still deliver the big audience — this year in the USA alone, advertisers are expected to spend $22 billion on them, a 9.8 percent increase over 2003, according to ad tracker TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. But many experts think the days are past when an advertiser can bet on TV spots alone.

"Before, you had the good old days of broadcast and mass media," says Roger Hatchuel, festival chairman. "With the money, you had access. It was easy. Today, with technology and digital, the consumers are in control. They can avoid advertising."

Advertisers need to adapt their mix of media to match changing consumer media-consumption habits, says Steven Fredericks, chief executive of TNS. "Human attention as an economic resource is scarce. (As a result) there is a fundamental shift in the way advertisers and advertising agencies buy media."
The components of this new marketing mix are Internet, advertainment/advertorials, and old-fashioned print and outdoor. Online viral and stunt advertising garners the most oohs and ahs:
Major advertisers such as Burger King and Ford have enticed consumers with online entertainment. Word of the sites spreads from user to user electronically — or through viral marketing.

Burger King in recent months has created a pair of humorous Web sites aiming to drive home messages also promoted in TV ads and stores.

One features a silly, interactive Subservient Chicken. Millions of visitors have spent time at www.subservientchicken.com, where they can command the "chicken" — a man in a tacky chicken suit in an equally tacky living room — to do any stunt they want. It's an offbeat take on BK's longtime message: Have it your way.

Another site is a parody of high-fashion Web sites. Burger King presents faux designer Ugoff, creator of the "ultimate lunch accessory" — bags for BK's new salad line. The Ugoff site features the BK "pouch" as well as actual bags by real designers.

Burger King plans to double its spending on such non-traditional ad forms next year vs. this year.
I question just how truly effective these cutesy viral marketing initiatives are. I know the Subservient Chicken site made the rounds around the Web, and even got a couple of inches in most print media. But did it really work? If you asked 9 out of 10 people during the height of the site's popularly what Subservient Chicken was, you'd get blank stares. It's really easy to confuse media buzz over an ad campaign with public resonance; very often, media attention doesn't mean the ads are actually hitting the mark with the broader consumer audience.
UMBILICUS, REALIZED
in the not too distant future
They talked about it back in September, and now the space elevator idea is picking up steam, with scientists speculating that it could be a reality as early as 2019.

If there is such a thing as the power of blogs, I say we put it to the test and start an online campaign to give this space elevator its proper nickname: The Umbilicus. In fitting tribute.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

PHISHING, INFECTED WEBSITES, AND THE END OF ECOMMERCE
As if email phishing scams weren't enough to deal with, we now have to worry about legimate sites that get infected.
Thursday's Web site attack is a new direction for online criminals, said Dave Endler, director of digital vaccine for TippingPoint, an Internet security company based in Austin, Texas. "Instead of relying on the typical phishing e-mail scams to social engineer users into visiting malicious spoofed Web sites, these attackers actually went straight to the source and compromised known trusted Web sites in order to infect their visitors," he said.

Joe Stewart, senior security researcher for Chicago-based Internet security firm LURHQ, said that the programs installed on victims' computers were designed to wait until the user visited a Web site like Paypal or Ebay. If the program had worked correctly, people would have seen pop-up screens on their monitors asking them to enter their credit card numbers or other financial data.
It occurs to me that a popup-blocker would prevent this evil little stunt from working. I realize that most online users, reliant on Internet Explorer, are still working the Web without popup blocking; I wouldn't say they deserve to get burned because of that, but they really are asking for a miserable online experience. (Others would argue that using IE at all these days guarantees a miserable online experience.)
"Phishing has moved from an e-mail attack to one that's really being brought to the desktop," Stewart said.
And that's the most disheartening part about it. Email's already become a pain to manage, with spam regularly filling inboxes despite filters. How long before merely visiting websites becomes as much of a pain? I could see sites that don't require any sort of registration or input of personal data being immune to this. But for the Amazons, eBays and banking sites out there, we may be coming to a point where there's little confidence in being able to use them without fear.

Then what? Disposable credit card numbers? Retro-ing back to telephone and postal mail money exchanges? It seems foolish to think of that now, but if things get as bad as they have with spam, I wouldn't be surprised.
NO-BLOG NEWS DIET: WRAPPING UP THE WEEK
My blog-free week is almost at an end. Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion will be quizzing me either tomorrow or Monday on what I was able to absorb from the non-weblog world (both offline and online).

Some scattered thoughts on the experience:

- It's kind of hard to avoid blogs if you spend a decent amount of time surfing the Web. Even search results through Hotbot and Google will net you a heaping helping of blog hits. So casual searching has been constrained by concern over accidentally stumbling up a blog.

- While I've been curious about checking out some of my usual blog check-ins--particularly Breakfast of Losers and Off Wing Opinion, but others too--I haven't found it all that difficult to abstain from them.

- I've probably logged more time than usual at CNN and CBS News, and other news sites, as compensation for not visiting blogs. Does this point to my regularly using blogs as an alternate news source? Not really. It's more a question of simply having some sort of content to peruse, and the news sites are a sure-fire source for fresh content. Further underlining the point: Many of the blogs I regularly read are only remotely (if that) related to news commentary, being more of the personal journal bent; so it really is a case of just looking for something, news or otherwise, to read.

- I feel I've kept abreast of the week's notable stories. I'm curious as to what sort of blog/tech-centric stories I may have missed; I think this will be the meat of this experiment's results.

- Regarding the no-click-thru rule: As I suspected, I haven't found it to be an issue at all. Consider the contrast with Steve Rubel's all-blog experiment.

- I think the buzz on this has been limited. Thanks go to Steve Outing, who gave it a couple of mentions on Poynter's E-Media Tidbits blog, and to Steve Rubel and a couple of other bloggers out there who've referenced it. I think I'll send a news release out after the quiz.
MY PHOTO GRIP WORK: THE END RESULT
knock you out
A couple of weeks ago, I described my pinch-hitting work as a photo grip at the office. Now, you can see the results in the form of Florida Trend's July 2004 issue, on newsstands now. (Particularly good issue this month, too; go ahead and register to read it!)

Funny thing: When I first got my advance copy earlier this week, it took me a couple of minutes to realize that this was the cover shoot I participated in. I think the yellow background, which was added in later in Photoshop, threw me off.
YBOR HIP HOP: BLAH
I've got to stop going to these fruitless local competitions. It sucked when it came to movies, and now I find it sucks when it comes to rap shows.

As mentioned, I went to Battle Basics 4 at the Orpheum last night. I figured it would be something with a good amount of activity, and some decent entertainment. As it happens, I also mentioned it to an old college acquaintance of mine, who's now a talent scout with Virgin Records; he said to keep him posted if I spotted anyone who looked even a little bit promising. So I had something of a professional interest in this, although it would be such a longshot in terms of anything actually coming of it that I wasn't really thinking in those terms.

Anyway, I can tell Dave, the Virgin scout, that there was absolutely nothing at the Orpheum last night worth his notice. Which makes sense, as there was precious little there worth my notice.

First off, the scheduled start of this thing was supposed to be 9PM. I got there late anyway, partly because I figured it wouldn't start until closer to 10PM. Well, they must have been scraping the bottom to find enough participants, because they kept pushing the start time until they finally started at 11:45. And there really wasn't much to do until then: Listen to some pretty weak DJing, looking at the sparse crowd, and noticing that that crowd was even more sparse because it was probably 90 percent guys. Luckily, the couple of cute girls who were there managed to sit next to me; I chatted with a girl named Taylor who had a very appealing laugh, described herself as a "poetess" and "wordstress", and said she originally entered the rhyming contest, only to pull out. She was nice to talk to, but overall the Orpheum experience was flat.

As for the competition... Weak, weaker, weakest. What stood out was a bunch of middle-class white boys trying to be something they're not. I didn't hear one guy, out of the 5 or 6 I stuck around for, who were better than a typical houseparty homeboy.

Anyway, the drinks flowed pretty regularly; I got fairly smashed, which I hadn't in a long while. But I'd had enough by about 12:30, and headed back home. Slept most of this morning away, which helped eliminate any hangover effects.

It's safe to say that I won't be going to any future Battle Basics.
A QUIET DRAFT YEAR
breezy
The 2004 NHL Entry Draft starts in a few minutes. No, really.

It's been an unbearably quiet buildup. I thought the lack of buzz was strictly local; the Cup-winning Lightning are nowhere near the top part of the Draft this year, and so both area papers have had practically no coverage until today. But even national outlets seemed to be unusually subdued; TSN, which in years past would run breaking stories every time one of the top 15 prospects blew his nose, has been fairly static this week.

What gives? I guess the impending labor staredown is dampening spirits. Plus, after the consensus top-two Ovechkin and Malkin, it's a fairly thin draft (although these are the kind of underrated drafts that end up producing plenty of solid players). The Capitals and Penguins are pretty set with keeping the 1-2 picks, so that's stunted most trade activity. All this has conspired to keep things understated heading into today.

Still, it's maddening, especially compared with the relatively robust coverage of the NBA Draft earlier this week. I realize it's a different bowl of soup for hoops: Most of the players there are NCAA stars that have had plenty of advanced media exposure, or else they're high schoolers whose entry into the pros is still a new enough phenomenon that it merits plenty of attention. In hockey, the draftees are still obscure enough quantities that they're unknown to the general public every year (baseball is pretty much the same way). But the proximity between the two drafts makes it notable.

Anyway, I'll be enjoying at least a couple of hours of the Draft on ESPN2 today. And for what it's worth, the Carolina Hurricanes' home newspaper, the News-Observer, has been running a very good package of lead-up stories, as the 'Canes are this year's Draft host.

Friday, June 25, 2004

IRAQ: NO ONLINE SOVEREIGNTY
virtual non-domain
It looks like Iraq's country domain of ".iq" is going to stay offline for a while yet. The company that's been administering .iq all this time is under indictment, leaving the domain's ownership in legal limbo.

I guess we'll have to wait that much longer before we start receiving spam from Iraqi-based email addresses.
GANJA-FLAVORED VODKA
legalize it
The nicotini satisfies tobacco lovers, but what about our stoner friends? A distiller in the Czech Republic has produced a marijuana-infused vodka.

Bad news for the tokers, though: It's got the flavor of weed, but not the kick:
The drink does not contain any tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the active substance in marijuana — but does have an alcohol level of 16 percent...
Which is good, because, as we all know, pot smokers are mainly drawn to the flavor of the herb more than anything else.
JUNE 30TH: BUSH WINS
We can dispense with the suspense, thanks to SunTrust chief economist Gregory Miller. He's come up with "the June 30th phenomenon", a historical analysis of how leading economic indicators--job growth and inflation--at the end of June in Election years indicate the outcome in November.

How are the numbers looking for this upcoming June 30th? Good enough that Miller is predicting another four years for George W. Bush.
There are fewer jobs since Bush took office in January 2001, but the trend coming into the summer has been good: 250,000 payroll jobs a month have been added.

The inflation half of the equation is a bit dicier.

A year ago, inflation rates were between 1 and 1.5 percent, and although they are still well below historical highs, they have about doubled in the past year.

Still, Miller said, inflation has not risen high enough or broadly enough for most voters to have noticed. Most of what voters have seen of price increases has been isolated to such things as gas and milk.
In addition, extraordinary events like the Iraqi situation and the war on terror shouldn't have a big enough impact to overshadow the economic factors. This underlines the primacy of the pocketbook in election politics--if it doesn't affect the paycheck, it ultimately doesn't matter enough.

It's a fascinating study. I especially appreciate the use of data all the back to 1948.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

REMOTE LOUNGING
death to videodrome!
I had heard about Remote Lounge back when it first opened, but I was reminded of it tonight when it was a featured stop on "Insomniac".

It's a great concept: Sort of a chatroom-meets-bar, with a twist of Videodrome. You'd think it would attract computer geeks, although perhaps the real-life interface would scare off those who prefer a wholly digital life. If nothing else, it provides a great observable sociopsychological experiment.

I'll have to check Remote Lounge out next time I go up to NYC for a visit. It has potential for being a unique bar-trolling experience. I can hope for the opening of a Remote Lounge outpost in Tampa, but I'm not holding my breath; Miami is probably the only realistic possibility.
TAMPA BAY HIP HOP IN YBOR
I think I know what I'm doing tomorrow night: Out to Ybor for Battle Basics 4 at The Orpheum.

I'm hoping the competition is entertaining enough to warrant hanging out all night. Most Ybor clubs tends to be rather slow on Fridays, so if Orpheum isn't kicking, the options narrow down quickly.

I'm also hoping that Celph Titled, AKA "The Rubix Cuban", will do a set.

Should I kick in an extra $5 fee to step up to the mic myself? I don't see that happening; my rhymin' skillz are somewhere between "no" and "way". I'd love a chance to mix some beats, but that ain't gonna happen here either. I'll have my iPod with me in any case, so I'll be prepared.
WITH THE GREATEST OF EASE
How do some songs manage to burrow their way into your mind, even when you haven't heard them performed in years?

It's a mystery. All I can think of is that I really enjoyed an old Popeye cartoon that was based around the classic "Man on the Flying Trapeze" song. So I looked for the lyrics, and discovered that the whole story was somewhat... perverse.

Once I was happy,
But now I'm forlorn,
Like an old coat
That is tattered and torn;
Left in this wide world
To weep and to mourn,
Betrayed by a maid in her teens.

Now this girl that I loved,
She was handsome,
And I tried all I knew
Her to please,
But I never could please her
One quarter so well
As the man on the flying trapeze.

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

He'd play with a miss
Like a cat with a mouse,
His eyes would undress
Every girl in the house.
Perhaps he is better
Described as a louse,
But the people they came just the same.

Oh, he'd smile from his perch
On the people below
And one day he
Smiled on my love.
She blew him a kiss
And she hollered, "Bravo!"
As he hung by his nose up above.

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

Oh, I wept and I whimpered,
I simpered for weeks,
While she spent her time
With the circus's freaks.
The tears were like hailstones
That rolled down my cheeks,
Alas, and alack, and alacka!

I went to this fellow,
The blackguard, and said,
"I'll see that you get
Your desserts!"
He put up his thumb to his nose
With a sneer,
He sneered once again, and said, "Nertz!"

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

One night to his tent
He invited her in,
He filled her with compliments,
Kisses, and gin
And started her out
On the road to ruin,
Since then l have known no repose.

But e'en now l loved her, I said,
"Take my name!
I'll gladly forgive
And forget;"
She rustled her bustle
Without any shame,
Saying, "Well, maybe later, not yet."

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

One night as usual
I went to her home,
And found there
Her father and mother alone,
I asked for my love,
And it soon was made known,
To my horror, that she'd run away.

Without any trousseau,
She'd fled in the night
With him with the
Greatest of ease,
From two stories high
He'd lowered her down
To the ground on his flying trapeze.

Oh, he floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
This daring young man
On the flying trapeze;
His actions are graceful,
All girls he does please,
My love he has purloined away.

Some months after that
I went into a hall,
And to my surprise
I found there on the wall,
A bill in red letters
Which did my heart gall,
That she was appearing with him.

Oh, he'd taught her gymnastics,
And dressed her in tights,
To help him to live
At his ease,
He'd made her take on
A masculine name,
And now she goes on the trapeze.

Oh, she floats through the air
With the greatest of ease,
You'd think her a man
On the flying trapeze,
She does all the work
While he takes his ease,
And that's what's become of my love.
YOU MEAN THE ORIGINAL WASN'T REAL??
Every time I tell someone that TBS is putting together a reality-show revival of "Gilligan's Island", they think I'm joking. It's just too ridiculous a concept, isn't it?

Apparently not. There was a casting call for all wannabe Skippers, Gingers and Mr. Howells today at The Pier in St. Petersburg. I'll be looking forward to the writeup in tomorrow's papers.

I'm afraid I can't see myself in any of the roles. But if they're looking for a reality version of one of those headhunters that always seemed to visit the island, I'll make myself available.

UPDATE (6/25/04): Just sit right back, and you'll hear a tale.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

REBELS AND REDCOATS
I'm watching "Rebels and Redcoats: How Britain Lost America". A unique historical documentary in that it's British-made, and looks at the Revolutionary War from the British perspective. Long overdue, although I'd be shocked if there weren't other documentaries made along these lines.
EMAIL AS AN "INTERNET ANCHOR"
I've noted before how it was a no-brainer for Google to build a registration base around a free email service. Now, here's more data to back that up: ComScore notes that email is a primary reason for people to go online and visit email-interface sites multiple times a day.

I used to find it odd that surveys would ask for the amount of time spent on checking email. In my mind, surfing the Web and checking email were two distinct things: One was communication, the other research/entertainment. I think this distinction becomes blurred when you consider Web-based email services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. Obviously, login pages provide ample opportunity for ad placement, and when you consider multiple visits a day, cha-ching.
A DOLLAR A GIG
With the breakdown of my Xbox, I've been browsing eBay for options--a good deal on a new/refurbished console, a much-fabled Xbox reboot disc, whatever. Basically, I'm trying to exhaust all options before sending the thing off to Microsoft and pay their $100 repair fee.

In the course such browsing, I came across an Xbox 10-gig hard drive, available for a "buy-it-now" price of $10. I don't know that the problem with my unit lies in the hard drive, although I suspect it has something to do with it. But I decided that 10 bucks was inconsequential enough to spend on an insurance drive, so I went ahead and bought it. It arrived in the mail today, and looks good.

I wondered about how good a deal I was getting. Ten bucks seems pretty cheap for any sort of computer hardware, especially a hard drive. But was it?

Well, according to Dan Gillmor, the dollar-per-gigabyte barrier was broken about a year and a half ago. Based on that, I should have paid less for a 10-gig drive. It's not like the Xbox uses a specialized hard drive--it's the same sort of drive you'll find in any standard PC.

Still, it seems like a pretty paltry price to pay for a hard drive. I wasn't aware ahead of time that hard drive prices had gone that low, so I don't feel like I've been ripped off. All things considered, it was a fair deal for me.

The next step is actually cracking open the console and swapping out hard drives. I'll do that as soon as I'm feeling ambitious.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

DO AREA CODES REALLY MATTER ANYMORE?
My friend Chris recently dropped his longtime (407) area code mobile phone number in favor of one in (202). Why? Because he now lives and works in (202) territory, and doing business while carrying a (407) area code proved to be awkward when dealing with other (202)-based business contacts.

Why should this be? After all, we're living in a world where you can now hold onto your mobile phone number indefinitely, almost regardless of where you actually live. Combine that with the increasing number of folks who are forgoing landline phones in favor of mobile-only, and increasing number of locales that are requiring ten-digit dialing for local calls, and you'd think that a person's area code would connote nothing upon which to base an assumption.

In Chris' case, the background is even more convoluted. He had his (407) number for several years, during which time he had his residence in DC, his official work office in Northern California, and his actual work location in Chicago and other Midwestern cities. With that maze of geography, his mobile number was the only assured way of contacting him. Now that he's shedded himself of the California connection and the business travel, having a Florida-based number no longer makes sense--allegedly.

I'm wondering if such things will continue to be an issue. Little indications I see around here, in (727) and (813) land, tell me that it will. I see plenty of ads, business signs and everyday announcements that don't bother to include a contact phone number's area code. I get increasingly annoyed at this. The area's covered by two area codes (and even more, if you go only a few miles beyond metro), and it's flat-out dumb to assume everyone's going to know which area code to use.

Is it really that hard to memorize a phone number with an area code? When ten-digit dialing does come to the Tampa Bay area, I imagine a ton of people are going to blow a capillary trying to deal with that.
PRAVDA TRANSLITERATIONS
Growing up during the final salvos of the Cold War, I never dreamed that I'd ever read news from Pravda in my lifetime (unless the USSR ended up winning).

But I can, in fact, now read news from the former Soviet propaganda rag, and what's more, I'm reading headlines like this:
Battered body discovered in Saturn's moon Phoebe
My first reaction: They're reporting some National Enquirer-type story about finding a corpse in deep space (probably dumped there by the Russian mafia). Reading the story, you quickly realize that the headline is the result of fractured English translation; the "battered body" refers to the the surface of Phoebe, pockmarked with countless meteor impacts.

Still, I'm wondering how much of that headline was accidental, and how much was intentional, as a lure to draw in readers. It worked on me. I'll have to keep an eye on Pravda. And keep reminding myself of who won.
LOLLAPA-LOSER
No Morrissey, no PJ Harvey, no Flaming Lips for you this summer, you wannabe hipsters. Lollapalooza has been cancelled due to "poor ticket sales across the board".

I guess this means the '90s are officially over.

Monday, June 21, 2004

MY OWN TABOO TIKI TOTEM
doodle-doo-doo-doo
My coworker Janell returned to the office today from a three-week vacation in the South Pacific. She visited her daughter in Samoa, and also took in nearby Tonga. Somewhere along the way, she picked up a few souveneirs for the office. Mine is pictured here: An 8-inch tall wooden totem figure.

Is it a good-luck charm? A fertility aid? A religious icon? I'm guessing it's whatever you choose it to be.

It goes without saying that anytime I see one of these Polynesian objets d'art, I am instantly reminded of "The Brady Bunch" Hawaiian Vacation episodes, which featured the bone-chilling accursed taboo tiki charm melody.
EVERY 7 OF 9 SENATE RACES SHOULD BE LIKE THIS
a 10 of 10
I usually don't follow news items about celebrity marital relations, or about non-local Senate races. But these two great tastes certainly taste great together when the Senate candidate is Illinois Republican Jack Ryan, his ex-wife is "Star Trek" alum Jeri Ryan, and she alleged during divorce and child custody proceedings that he tried to force her to have sex with him at raunch clubs:
Jeri Lynn Ryan charged during a custody hearing that Ryan took her on surprise trips to New Orleans, New York and Paris in 1998, and that he insisted she go to sex clubs with him on each trip.

She said that after going out to dinner with Ryan in New York, he demanded that she go to a club with him.

"It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling," she said. She said Ryan asked her to perform a sexual act while others watched, and she refused.

She said they left and Ryan apologized to her and said it was out of his system. But then, she said, he took her to Paris and again took her to a sex club.
For once, I wish I was a Trekkie. I have a feeling I would get so much more titillation out of this if I owned a pair of Spock ears.
MIXING AND MATCHING IN MALLS
I've got a good bit of mall rat in my background, which I've noted here before:
As someone who grew up in the '80s, I spent quite a bit of my formative years in malls. Especially in a small town, when there was precious little else to do, the mall was pretty much the only place to be. Parents had little concern over leaving their kids there, because it was perceived to be a safe place (although I dispute that; it's not like that crack mall security inspired tons of confidence). I probably spent more time in the bookstores and movie theaters than anywhere else. Very often, I'd spend entire days at a mall--literally from 9 in the morning until 7 at night. It's a wonder my brain never turned to mush... entirely.
Between that and untold hours of childhood television watching... mush indeed. Of course, I eventually got tired of television, and likewise, I never developed much of a recreational shopping habit.

Still, I maintain a solid interest in the evolution of malls and retail macro-strategies. The direct socio-economic signs of how our consumer-commercial space intersects with our living space says a lot about our society in general.

The movement away from cookie-cutter enclosed malls to open-air collections of standalone stores has been underway for a while now. The next step? Putting upscale (Nordstrom, etc.) and midscale (Target) retail outlets side-by-side in all manner of mall spaces, thus committing what was once an unthinkable shopping juxtaposition.

I don't think it was ever a secret that affluent people regularly slum at discount stores. But in the retail business, you never assume--you commission market research for validation:
"The affluent look for discounts and bargains just like everybody else," said Howard Waddell, executive director of the American Affluence Research Center Inc.

The Miami market research company, which tracks the consumer behavior of the wealthiest 10 percent of the population, asked a random sample of 400 people with a net worth of at least $750,000 where they bought something in the past 90 days.

About half of them bought something at Target, Costco or Best Buy. Home Depot drew 69 percent of the men and 60 percent of the women. Nordstrom was the only department store to crack the top 10 and Neiman Marcus was the only other one in the top 15.

"One definition of convenience says get shoppers in and out of a store fast. But convenience also means parking once and walking to several stores rather than getting in and out of the car repeatedly," said Brett Hutchens, president of Casto Lifestyle Centers Group, a Sarasota developer planning to open a 600,000-square-foot outdoor mall in Lakeland next year that will have a Belk department store, Kohl's, Talbots and a Bed Bath & Beyond.
I'm thinking this is a cyclical trend that turns over every two or three decades. Once another generation has grown up with this open-air model, the next wave will see a retreat back to the enclosed mall. Since that'll be the far-flung future of 2030ish, I hope it'll be underwater, or in space!
WACKY WALL CRAWLING FUN
tricky sticky
I was shopping at Target yesterday for a few knick-knacks when I saw the Official Spider-Man Wacky Wall Crawler displayed at the end of an aisle. It was retailing for three bucks.

I thought, "Man, what a rip-off. Three dollars for a little piece of molded plastic with super-sticky quality. It's nothing but merchandising junk in advance of the new movie."

So, naturally, I bought it.

I've been tossing it against my glass patio doors and my aquarium this afternoon. Is it loads of fun? For three bucks, sure. I have some huge single-pane windows at work, so I'll get even more amusement out of it there tomorrow.
SICK BAY
Following the pattern of the past two weeks, I had another breakdown to start off this Monday: My own body. Strictly speaking, it's not of a mechanical nature, but it's a bummer, nonetheless.

Basically, it feels like whatever was afflicting me this past weekend is lingering. I went to the office this morning, tried fighting through the fog inside my head, then finally gave up after a couple of hours and headed home.

I've taken some supplements and had lunch, and otherwise have laid low. We'll see how the recuperation goes. If I'm still not up to speed tomorrow, I can see a doctor.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

BIG BROTHER ATKINS IS WATCHING
the year the diet
I'm just finishing up watching 1984's 1984. (And it's not even April, nor 13 o'clock.)

I've never noticed it before, but I'll be darned if the Atkins Diet logo doesn't strongly resemble an upside-down 1984 logo.

Draw your own conclusions.
A NARCOLEPTIC WEEKEND
Strange weekend. I've been dog-tired practically the whole time, from the end of the workday on Friday on through right now. Not just tired, but tired enough to be in a constant state of drowsiness. Copious amounts of sleep (I snoozed through practically the entire morning today) combined with caffeine and other stimulants during waking hours don't seem to have had an effect.

I mentioned this to some friends last night, joking that I thought I had a touch of narcolepsy. I'm starting to wonder, though. I don't know if narcolepsy is something you develop or catch--I've lived with sleep deprivation for years, so I can't believe it would suddenly lead to this. But it certainly feels like I've got something close to it. Hopefully I'll shake it off by tomorrow morning.
DODGEBALL AND A TERMINAL CONDITION
Who would've guessed a movie that had Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg going for it would lose out to another dumb fratboy comedy? But that's the summer movie season for you. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story won out the weekend, easily beating The Terminal, a scenario that most figured would have the two films in opposite positions.

I'm thinking that marketing for The Terminal will get amped up this week; the studio's not going to give up on it right away. In particular, the ads will over-emphasize Catherine Zeta-Jones' co-starring role in the film. From my vantage point, she was hardly featured at all in the previous promos, to the point where you had to really pay attention to notice that she was in it. In light of the weak opening, combined with the flop that The Ladykillers was, you have to assume that audiences are tired enough of Hanks that he's currently not much of a draw; so it makes sense to shift the marketing focus on Jones and use her as the attraction.
THIS WEEK: THE NO-BLOG NEWS DIET
I'll have fewer mouseclick options all this week, as I embark upon my self-imposed no-blog news diet.

Simply put: Starting today and extending through the end of Saturday, I will not direct my browser (or newsfeed reader, although I don't regularly use one of those) toward any sort of blog. I will not click on any of the links in my blogroll, I won't click through to any links on other sites that point to a blog, and I won't even visit news aggregator sites (like Blogdex and Daypop) that include blog results. The goal is a blog-free online existence for the whole week.

After the end of this week, I'll be given a short quiz by Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion (whose own all-blog news diet inspired this) to see just how abreast of things I was without having blogs as part of my media consumption.

Why do this? Rubel's blog-exclusive exercise was meant to show how extensively blogs have penetrated the online media landscape, and whether or not that penetration was complete enough that one could rely solely on them instead of traditional media sources for keeping current. The results were somewhat mixed. I think an experiment with the opposite criteria would serve as a good counterbalance to Rubel's test.

I'm especially interested in seeing if this demonstrates how much of the daily topic lists that fly around the blogosphere--in a range of subjects--are reflected in the larger mainstream media. A very recent example of this is the controversy, on a couple of blogging-related fronts, surrounding Dave Winer. As I illustrated it last week:
However, consider that, for a variety of reasons, certain news items generate different levels of enthusiasm within the blogosphere than they do in the mainstream media. A quick check at Popdex and Blogdex today illustrates this: Along with broadbased stories like the death of Ray Charles, relatively obscure items like "10 Super Foods You Should NEVER Eat!" and a list (from 2000!) showing how some globe-spanning corporations outrank small countries' GDPs top the most-popular rankings on these online news aggregators. This effect has been noted widely within the blogging world, often critically as creating an echo chamber environment.
I'll deal with any grey areas as/if they come up. Many specialized news sites are getting closer and closer to being structured like blogs; those will be off-limits. (If assumptions about more sites taking on blog-like characteristics is true, then my timing on this might be ideal; anotehr six months, and it might be impossible to make a distinction.) Basically, I'll be going on my gut instincts: If it looks like a blog to me, it'll come off my monitor screen.

The blogs listed on this page are obvious first casualties. While only a couple of them regularly do news-aggregation as a core mission, most of them include a good sampling of current events, especially of the offbeat-news kind that, I've found, I might not otherwise find out about. Off the blogroll, Poynter's E-Media Tidbits is pretty much the kind of blog-like news aggregator that I'll have to avoid (and whose daily summary I'll have to promptly delete from my work email inbox). Other, less-frequent destinations will also have to be abandoned.

So, let's begin. I won't provide daily updates on this; I'll probably post something of a status report by midweek, and then a short wrap-up on Saturday, followed by quiz questions and results early next week. Otherwise, it should business as usual, for the most part, around here.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-TOMORROW!
Tomorrow's the day. From Sunday to Saturday next week, I will withdraw from all blog reading, to see how smart or stupid that makes me. My brain can't wait.

As you can see from a couple of the preceding posts, I've taken advantage of this last day of otherblog-viewing to pick up some tasty nuggets. How I'll miss bizarre, and the sublime.

I'll roll out the fasting period tomorrow with a mini-essay of what I think I'll be missing, what I hope to achieve, and what it'll all mean in the grand scheme. Or somthing like that.
BLOGS AND THE PAPER-TOWEL-ROLL PROBLEM
Blogging about blogging strikes me as hopelessly inbred. But I suppose you should devote at least a little time to form and craft, especially as it relates to the capabilities and formats available under your blogging tool/content management system.

To wit: Kathryn Cramer is frustrated with the top-down format of blog posting, especially the lack of easy intra-blog cross-linking and presentation. A discussion on this with Whump led to a rough idea structure:
1. As you write, you put sections of a post in DIVs with unique ids...

2. You link between the divs.

3. When displaying the page, your onload handler sets the proper initial state for showing and hiding the divs, and binds onclick events that show and and hide.

4. The reader then bounces around the long post as if it were a little Hypercard or WML stack.
This is the sort of thing I'd have to see actually applied in order to get, but as I'm comprehending it, this makes longer blog posts somewhat more interesting to read and understand. A 3,000-word post, depending on topic, amount of linkage and blockquoting (Cramer cites this post as the reason for exploring alternative structure), might have a better presentation if the reader were able to hyperlink-jump to different portions of it, instead of scrolling up and down.

I don't know how much of this extends to overall cross-linking within a blog--that is, linking back to older posts. I do that a lot, as I tend to revisit topic areas. It's sometimes a chore, especially since I can't categorize entries on Blogger; but even if that were available, I'd think it would still be something dependent upon my memory of having written about it before (aided by this blog's search engine).

I've been thinking lately of making use of the trackback utility here to provide links on older post that lead to later follow-ups. There would be cross-linking in any case, but unlike now, where there's no indication on the older posts that something new has been written, a trackback entry would provide a link to a forwarded section of the blog to read further. I know Technorati might be useful for this (when Technorati is actually running smoothly--it seems to conk out at least three or four times a day, in my experience), but this would be a more integrated solution. Might be worth more thought here.
DEEPNET EXPLORER
Deepnet Explorer is a combination Web browser/peer-to-peer client/newsfeed reader.

It's worth checking out; something to try out this weekend. Hopefully it's not laced with spyware. I wonder if it's truly a stand-alone browser, or just a link-up with IE? The information on the site is a bit fuzzy about that.

I'm not sure about the P2P component, but the built-in RSS-Atom newsreader is probably a preview of what Microsoft will be including into the next full version of IE, when the browser is integrated into the upcoming Longhorn version of Windows.

Accordingly, I think this little venture is playing with fire by using the name "Deepnet Explorer", as it's awfully close to "Internet Explorer", enough so that it's easy to see the basis for confusion. If this browser achieves any sort of critical mass, Microsoft's lawyers will be calling and demanding at least a name change, if not more fundamental feature changes. Perhaps that's part of the plan--to incur Redmond's wrath, thus bringing plenty of David-versus-Goliath publicity.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PALM "READINGS"
MemeMachineGo! brings news of two hands-on psychics: One's a breast-reader, the other's a buttocks-reader. A few minutes of groping, and your future becomes clear.

It's a good thing MMG recorded the breastreading ad when it appeared on NYC Craigslist, because it's since been removed. Luckily, you can still read all about the ass-reader.

Friday, June 18, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-2
No mo' blogs for me, starting this Sunday. So I guess I'll cram on them tomorrow, for one last look; probably write a few posts based on what I find.

Not much to report at the moment. I'm dead exhausted; it's been a long week. I'll gather any final preparatory thoughts regarding blog consumption and what my experiment may say about it tomorrow.

Upon reflection, I decided not to send out any press releases just yet. I'm registered with PR Web, and have the release ready to go. But really, there's not going to be much for the press (or anyone else) to observe during the next week; I'll be doing my usual thing, more or less. The real news will come at the end, after the test. So that'll be the time to send it out. Maybe I'll send one out just prior too, we'll see.
NEW JERSEY: DRINK UP, LADIES!
oh what a night
Call off the Garden State suicides: New Jersey's recent ban on ladies' night has been overturned.

Just in time for happy hour, too.
MADONNA, WITH A SHOT OF ESTHER-GEN
So Madonna has adopted the Hebrew name "Esther" as part of her continuing exploration of spiritualism.

Kabbala, shmabbala. Wanna know the real reason for this transformation?

She's a mother now, and she feels that the Italian/Catholic nagging module doesn't provide enough firepower; so she's upping the ante by adding the overbearing Jewish Mother character set to her arsenal.

Pray for her children.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-3
It's a'gettin' close.

I've done nothing on prep work today--not that I need much prep for this. But I did want to set up a couple of things ahead of time. What the hell, it's my birthday, I'm entitled to a little goof-off time.

I believe I'll craft and submit the news release through PR Web early tomorrow morning (best time for it to hit the wires, anyway, on a Friday during summer). Also check in with Steve Rubel to see if he's still game for testing me at the end of next week.
BIRTHDAY
blow me
It's the 17th, and it's my birthday. And 17 is my lucky number. What a coincidence, huh?

33 is not my lucky number. But I'll have it for the next 365 days, so I guess I'll try to make some luck out of it.

Despite the image above, I have not had any cake today. I've had a bagel, a scone, a muffin, and some Reese's-flavored Swoops (adjust volume accordingly). But no cake. I'm fine with that.
WINER'S PROBLEMS: WHAT I'LL BE MISSING
Dave Winer is being assaulted on (at least) two fronts of late:

- Direct flack over his decision to pull the plug on his longtime Weblogs.com free hosting service (everyone should know how bloggers hate being deprived of something they've taken for granted; witness the flap over Movable Type adopting a pay-for model);

- Indirect pressure, but ongoing criticism, over his perceived control over the RSS syndication format, and how that's encouraged splintering into Atom.

Some people just naturally draw this kind of stuff.

It occurs to me that both these very blogging-centric news stories--particularly the one about Weblogs.com--are the sort of things that would (and are) causing a rage in the general blogosphere. It must be enough so, in fact, to have warranted that little scrap of Associated Press reportage. But normally, it's a bunch of geekish stuff that wouldn't see the front pages of any newspapers or mainstream news sites.

Consequently, this is the sort of thing I'll largely be missing during my no-blog fasting period. The emphasis on tech and online media machinations is noteworthy.
MAKING ST. PETE A HOTSPOT
in the zone
Nearly a year ago, the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership had big plans to turn the city into a great big wi-fi hotspot. While little towns in California and Minnesota managed to unwire themselves, St. Pete couldn't quite pull it off.

But hope springs eternal. Partnership President Don Shea is still looking for the right partners to dance with, noting that the costs have come down significantly (it could take as little as $30 grand to get it started).

The map here shows the initial coverage area, which is all of downtown St. Pete and a good bit beyond. Unfortunately, this area does not cover my domicile; but if they're serious about wanting to eventually cover all of Pinellas County, then I can look forward to some free wi-fi action!

I'm sure this is pie-in-the-sky for now. The issue of a free city-sponsor wi-fi service conflicting with pay models from hotels and restaurants is still a major issue (although I don't think a pay-for service for this is ever going to work). But I'd like to see it come together.

UPDATE: According to today's (6/18/2004) print edition of the St. Petersburg Times, the above map reflects the coverage area that would be provided if one of the possible vendors, Wave Communication Technologies, provided the wi-fi service. Other coverage areas are possible under other vendor plans.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-4
Heading toward Sunday and the start of the no-blog news diet.

I think a key thing about withdrawing from blog reading is that it will close off some unexpected linkages. A good example: Off Wing Opinion's off-topic citation of the infamous Mark Morford's latest column. I'd likely never would have read Morford anytime soon (he's not one of my regular reads) had Eric not featured it on his blog. I think that should be the area where my end-of-experiment quiz should focus: The news that's pertinent, but not necessarily front-and-center in headline news roundups.

My example also points to what I consider to be the chief function of a blog: Its role as a personal filter for news items. The fact that Eric chose to carve out some space in his blog--especially for a non-sport item--to provide a link to Morford conveyed to me that it was worth checking out. In the absence of blogs, I lose that device. Can I function without it? I sure hope so.

I think I'll send out the aforementioned PR Web release tomorrow, along with a touch-base email to Steve Rubel, who's joining the fun.
THE FINAL MINUTES OF 32
As midnight approaches, I'm about to kiss off my 32nd year of life. The big double-trey is staring me in the face.

Bring it on! Hell, I'm a man; we're supposed to age with disdain. Women are the ones who are supposed to be preoccupied by aging; so I'll leave that to them.

What better way to usher in a mid-week birthday than by catching one of my favorite comedies? Manhattan is about to start up on FLIX, and I haven't watched it in a while. A black-and-white look back on the close of the 1970s; I'll take it.
FINALLY! BITPIM'D MY VX6000
(Could that headline be any techno-geekier??)

The preceding post included a picture taken with my LG VX6000 phone. Since I refuse to use Verizon Wireless' pictures-by-email service, that means that, after much tinkering, I've managed to connect the phone to my computer, and transfered my pictures to my hard drive. Hoo-rah!

It's been a chore. I had to get a data cable, along with (this is key) drivers that would allow the cable to work on Windows 2000. Then, I had to find a way to get the finicky Bitpim transfer/sync program to actually recognize the phone and allow me to dig into it. It took a couple of weeks to pull off; either the drivers wouldn't work, or Bitpim wouldn't work, or the phone's settings wouldn't stay stable--always something. I think it was something of a fluke that I actually got it all to work tonight; in fact, at one point, Bitpim started giving me the same "can't read" errors just as I was in the middle of pulling the photos off the phone (it cleared up after a few seconds). But I got it working, so I'm satisfied. I can always tweak stuff later, including transfering stuff (like music-based ringtones) onto the phone.

So, this could mean the appearance of more personally-shot photos on this blog. I'll have to hone my photography skills further; the Coke C2 photo was okay, but far from great. The VX6000's camera isn't professional quality, but it seems decent enough, especially for indoor shots.
COKE C2: NICE CANS
c2cme
You know the no/low carb craze has fully permeated our society when something as fundamental as Coca-Cola jumps on the bandwagon. The pre-hyped Coke C2 finally hit the store shelves here in St. Pete, and I sampled it.

Weird thing: They're selling the stuff in 8-packs. Why 8? Beats me. I'm familiar with 6-packs, 12-packs and the classic case of 24; 8 is new one.

My personal taste test didn't do much for me; others may disagree. To my palate, it tasted the same as regular Coke. That's good--I like Coke, and avoid Diet Coke because of the aftertaste. I guess if I'm ever looking to cut the calories/carbs/whatever, I'll have no problem going with the C2.

What impressed me more than the actual drink was the C2 logo design; it's probably half the reason I bought the stuff. I like the use of black in place of the normal white; makes for stark imagery. This is by design: It gives the new brand familiarity, yet at the same time distinguishes it as separate. I like it, indeed.

Incidentally, Coca-Cola has a fantastic online image archive available for public use.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-5
Word seems to be spreading, even to Australia(!), as I get closer to my no-blog news diet test. The blog and news aggregators are taking the message far and wide, which is good: The more people that find out about it, the better. I ain't doing this solely for my own amusement; I hope, in combination with the all-blog news diet, to provide a learning experience for anyone with an interest in online media.

Toward that end, I'm considering sending out a news release on this, probably via PR Web. The question is, would a PR Web-branded release have any credibility to it, in light of the role that the free press release service played in overblowing the "Andy Kaufman Lives!" hoax? (Not to mention other PR Web gems like the one about the Martian ambassador that was scared back to the Red Planet over a spam deluge.) I'll have to weigh the pros and cons: The possibility of wider traditional (and non-traditional) media dissemination, versus the chance that this could come off looking like a joke. Hmm.

More manana (forgive the lack of the tilde).
"FIRST" MOBILE PHONE VIRUS?
With mobile phones having become more and more computer-like over the years, it was a given that the handsets would become targets of malicious code. So the discovery of the Cabir/Caribe mobile phone-system virus should come as no surprise.

However, how accurate is the claim of this being the first phone virus program? I'm almost positive that's not the case. I recall reading about some sort of virus, or virus-like program, that hit Japanese mobile phones a couple of years ago. They caused the phones to automatically dial random numbers, and I think propagated through phone-to-phone email. So I'm betting this Cabir is far from the first instance of phone infection.

I thought that, somehow, phone operating systems were immune from virus-type threats? Something to do with a "sandbox" restriction on their programmable capabilities. Maybe that's not the case, or perhaps Bluetooth enabling, which is how Carib spreads, somehow overrides that.

I guess we can look forward to story after story about virus-hijacked phones running up thousands of dollars of charges, leading to a mass exodus away from cutting-edge mobiles and back to "dumb" phones. Or perhaps all the way back to smoke signals--completely virus-resistant! (Unless you count a stray breeze...)
MISSION OF MYANMAR
Following the precedent I set when I offered (unsolicited) advice on an overdue name change for Sonic Youth, I now turn my sights on Mission of Burma.

A legendary punk-rock product of the late '70s and early '80s that wound up having an influence ranging far beyond its brief existence, the band is re-formed and out with a new album, "ONoffON".

Can they go home again? We'll see. But "Burma"? There's some dispute over it, including in Washington, but as of right now, the people running the country prefer to use the name "Myanmar". So I'm thinking the band needs to do an update.

You know what? Up until now, I could have sworn the band's name was Mission to Burma.
E-GOV SOLUTIONS VIA PHONE
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has come out with its latest report findings, "How Americans Get in Touch With Government".
"When citizens think about a tool to contact government, they have a Swiss Army knife in mind," said Senior Researcher John B. Horrigan of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and principal author of the report. "People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to government. The Internet's main benefit is arming people with more information."
The upshot: Most Americans like having the governmental information resources available on the Web, especially for reference, but generally prefer to do the nuts-and-bolts dealings in person or on the phone. In general, getting actionable results from government bureaucracy requires live one-on-one interaction that a Web interface can't quite provide just yet.

My personal experience reflects this. Just today, I had need to order some publications from the state of Florida. I was able to get the right phone number off the website, but needed to call to actually do the transaction. Similarly, I was able to renew most of my car's license plate registration online, but still had to go to the motor vehicle bureau's office to finish the whole thing.

A more pertinent example: I never would have found out about a missing paycheck from nearly a decade ago had I not been trolling around the Florida state government's website last year. Even then, I had to prod the process along by making a couple of phone calls to Tallahassee to finally extract the money.
MESMERIZED BY YANNI
yanni-rific
I am sitting here, watching "Yanni's Visions of Greece" on PBS. Willingly.

That's got to be the most embarrassing admission I've made in a long while.
FREE COMPUTER NOW WIRELESS
In light of my Xbox dying, and the continuing challenges in getting a data cable to properly sync up with my new LG VX6000 phone, I'm about due for some good news on the home technology front. And I got it today, with the arrival of the Syntax Wireless USB LAN Adapter I ordered last week.

When I set up my Craigslist-procured free computer recently, I wondered how I could best get the thing hooked up to my wi-fi Internet connection. Since it was designed to connect to the Web via its built-in 56K dialup modem, I figured that I could somehow make use of the USB ports to achieve a broadband connection. But I figured I'd have to dig for some sort of obscure device that would do that.

Well, I mentioned it to my friend Mike, a tech guy by trade, and he instantly sent me the link to the Syntax Adapter. It was perfect! To top it off, I was able to buy it with a rebate offer that would end up costing me practically nothing for it--only the three bucks for the shipping! So I owe a big thank-you to Mike, who once again helped me out immeasurably in my stumbles through computerland.

The little device ended up being practically effortless to install: Some minor program setup, driver installation through Windows ME, and the computer was Internet connected in about 10 minutes. Now I can really get to work on it!

As a bonus, it looks like the wicked thunderstorms that have been hitting Tampa Bay the past couple of nights are taking a break tonight. So, I can hack away on all my computing devices without having to worry about them getting zapped.

Monday, June 14, 2004

NO-BLOG NEWS DIET COUNTDOWN: T-MINUS-6
Just whittling down the days of this week before I start my no-blog news diet this coming Sunday. Latest ponderings on it:

It's starting to occur to me that the no-click-through rule that was such a big part of Steve Rubel's experiment might be irrelevant in my exercise. Generally, most major media outlet news stories are fairly light on hyperlinks, especially the citation-type links that are so identifiable with blogs. Moreover, even when such articles include hyperlinks, it's rare that they ever link to blogs; they'll usually connect to the main websites of organizations and such. There may be a couple of areas, notably in tech reporting, where you will find more extensive referencing of blogs. Generally, this might be a building trend, but for the present, it's probably not that widespread.

So, I can certainly adhere to the no-click-through rule as Rubel did, only reversed--where he didn't click on any media links, I won't click on any blog links. But again, I doubt it will even come up.

More rumination tomorrow.
EGGMAN
Yet another instance of my iPod's random/shuffle play mode intersecting with my real-life surroundings:

As I pull out of my office parking lot this afternoon, I spy a car parked in the next row over, with a Florida license plate that reads "EGG MAN".

Strange enough. But then, I start up my iPod for the drive home, and what tune cues up? That's right: The Beastie Boys' "Eggman", off the Paul's Boutique album. It seems like forever since the last time that track loaded up.

I couldn't make this kind of stuff up. So I don't even try.
AFTERSHOCKS
Lest you think that I was overly-cautious when turning off my computer during yesterday's lightning storm, Kalyn Slebodnik's lingering aftereffects from getting shocked through a telephone receiver 13 years ago should tell you where I'm coming from.

(And no, I'm fairly sure my Xbox problem doesn't stem from last night's inclement weather; the malfunction happened well after the storm had passed, during which time I managed to get those last few minutes of gameplay out of the unit.)

The experts will tell you: During a storm, don't take a shower, don't stand too near a window, and get off the (corded) phone.
BILINGUALIN', GOOD FOR THE BRAIN
Being fluent in more than one language makes you at least feel smarter, even if it doesn't necessarily make you so. If nothing else, you gain entry into another word of communications, literature and culture, which broadens your horizons. Plus, it increases your chances of knowing when others are talking about you, right in front of you, in a foreign tongue.

Now, research out of Canadian academia reveals that packing a spare language makes for a more flexible, active brain, thereby making you, indeed, smarter. (A more full report is available here.)

Having been raised bilingual, this is good to hear; nice to know my brain is nice and flexible. Of course, my brother and cousins also had this bilingual upbringing, and on average, I'd say we're all pretty bright.

I have friends who are rearing their newborn offspring right now, and they've all been at least considering second-language instruction at an early stage. News like this should encourage them. I would suggest they pick a second language with some more practical facility than my secondary lingo (I also know a good bit of German and Spanish, but nowhere near enough of either to claim fluency).
HASSELHOFF AND ICE-T: NO RAP
When the news of David Hasselhoff's recent DUI hit, the rumors of his collaboration with Ice-T on a rap album also bubbled back to the surface.

The horror, the horror.

But we can all breathe easy again: During his appearance on last Friday's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien", Ice-T officially debunked the story. Apparently, a newspaper reporter posed the hypothetical question to Ice as to whether or not he could make a rapper out of even the likes of David Hasseloff; Ice said something to the effect of, "sure, for about $5 million, call him 'Hassel The Hoff'", and it took on a life of its own from there. Turns out there's no basis in reality for it.

I know it was all hypothetical, but personally, I think "Knight Rapper" would have worked better than "Hassel The Hoff".