The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

DNC PROTEST PICTURES
A couple of days ago, I briefly wondered about any blogger coverage of the protesters during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The non-credentialed Tas at Loaded Mouth came through with plenty of pictures from outside the FleetCenter. Be sure to check out the one of the one-and-only Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
TYSON: THE LONG DECLINE
luda-crisp
You could characterize Mike Tyson's disastrous comeback attempt last night as the once-mighty falling.

Of course, for that to work, you'd have to disregard the last ten years. So it's more proper to view his fourth-round KO by Danny "Who?" Williams as the end of any serious athletic endeavour for Iron Mike.

That doesn't mean he'll disappear completely, though:
He will possibly now go into something called K1 in Japan - a mixture of boxing and kick-boxing that generates serious money.

Most of the participants are not very good and even a shot Mike Tyson can become a star.

So don't rule out seeing him in Tokyo in the near future.
Personally, I think Tyson should have taken a bite out of Williams' ear. Or was he planning on pulling out that maneuver in the fifth or sixth round? If you're mounting a comeback, you might as well pull out all the stops.

As for Williams, he's looking like the Buster Douglas story all over again. He better hope he at least gets a videogame out of this 15 minutes of fame.
DON'T DRINK IT, DON'T SMOKE IT
I went to see Coffee and Cigarettes last night. Even though I don't drink coffee, nor do I smoke cigarettes.

But hey, it was something to do. And I generally like Jim Jarmusch's stuff.

Incidentally, afterward, I'd never seen The Hub so crowded.

Friday, July 30, 2004

HOLIDAYIN' CAMBODIA
How many travel accounts to Southeast Asia do you figure get entitled "Holiday in Cambodia"? Probably far too many, at least as far as the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism is concerned. Of course, I'm guessing the Dead Kennedys are less evocative of genocide than the historical records of the Khmer Rouge.

Still, you sometimes come across a ripping good yarn about life and times in modern-day Cambodia:
We started the evening at the Cathouse, a nice little local hang, with the standard sign at the entrance "please leave all guns at this desk before entering", and standard expat looking people (ie male, overweight, red faced, 40 or so years old, probably HIV positive). We had many many drinks there before moving onto the "Sharkies bar", where Claudio had to meet a "girlfriend" of his. Boy are these guys studs, I wish I could have women like that all over me. Never did I realise that a fat red faced person with plenty of cash to flash is more likely to score than a humble young lad without a cent to spare.
Maybe a cheerier version of the Kennedys song would encourage nicer associations with visiting Cambodia. I nominate the fabulous Richard Cheese's Christmas-tinged rendition.
BRILLIANT? NO, MAGIC!
I'm proposing a new one-word catchphrase to ingratiate itself among hipsters everywhere: Magic! As in, "Oh, that's magic!"

It may already be in use in Ireland and the UK; it sounds vaguely familiar, enough so that I'm not totally sure I just dreamed it up. I know that "Brilliant!" has been a long-standing quip over there for a while, and we've gotten more of a taste for it via those Guinness ads with the "Brilliant!" brewmasters. "Magic!" would be a good change-up.
AVOIDING ATHEIST INFECTION
What happens when an atheist is invited to deliver the opening invocation at a city council meeting? In Tampa, three of the council members walk out .

First off, I agree that an invocation, which by definition is religiously (or at least, spiritually) based, is an odd platform for an atheist, regardless of the nature of the message. I understand that the established breach of church-state separation in even having an invocation at governmental meetings probably rationalized Michael Harvey's decision to make the delivery. Still, in the sense of sticking to your guns on the concept, I'm not sure there's as much for the atheists to gain as there is to lose.

That said, I think the reactions of council members Kevin White, Mary Alvarez and Rose Ferlita were tragically comic. If you want a good insight into the workings of a weak-willed, closed mind, here it is:
Later, White agreed that he was taking a stand. Listening to an atheist even one time could unleash a "snowball effect" on government. He compared it to having unprotected sex.
This is classic narrowmindedness: Don't let the scary ideas into your brain, or else you'll get confused! In other words, White thinks he's secure enough in his worldview, but isn't going to take the chance on exposing himself, and the council, to any different ideas. I'm guessing that these three members basically zone out during the audience portion of meetings, when they're supposedly giving citizens a chance to air their views.

Avowed atheism tends to bring this kind of hostility. The mayor's comment about the invocation properly being reserved for believers in God is nothing but a sop to voters, and false in any case. If taken literally, every invited speaker would be quizzed on their beliefs, which would invite a firestorm of criticism. That's not really the point, though. The ideal situation is that a religious or spiritual belief, of any sort, is considered a default in everyone's character, regardless of how much or how little it's demonstrated. An atheist pointedly rejects this, and thus is looked upon as hostile, or having a "political agenda".

Thursday, July 29, 2004

ATHENS OLYMPICS AND MARKETING OPPS
ring-a-ding
Two weeks to go until the 2004 Olympiad in Athens begins. We've all heard the stories of impending doom relating to preparation delays and poor ticket sales, but from Greece's perspective, the biggest shortfall might come from the lost marketing opportunities that normally come from hosting the Olypmics.

Could a better, more coherent and proactive public relations strategy have given the Olympic run-up a whole different complexion?
A second lesson is that the host country has to focus hard, and early, on addressing international concerns in the media to overcome negative perceptions – perceptions that have stuck to the Athens Games like wet clothing. It’s not enough for government officials to hold press conferences and say all is well. "They needed to be ahead of the curve," says [sports business expert Scott] Rosner. "But this (Olympic organizing) committee has turned out to be far more reactive than pro-active. The PR strategy was far too generic." [Cartan Tours sales & marketing VP] Don Williams suggests that a different PR firm might have been a better choice.
It's easy to see the cumulative effect: People think the Games are too much for Greece to handle, they predict a disaster, so they hold off on buying tickets. Re-spinning early would have neutralized this and set things right.

Ready or not, we'll be seeing the action soon.
CONVENTION BLOGGERS: MAKING NEWS, NOT REPORTING IT
Two weeks ago, I pointed out how the party conventions are essentially non-hard-news events, and thus the much-hyped addition of bloggers to this year's DNC wouldn't mean much, other than producing a lot of inane blog posts.

I think I hit it on the head, as the AP's Anick Desjanun describes the babe-in-the-woods result from Bloggers Boulevard that I predicted.

But to clarify my point, that I feel was lost over at Poynter.org: This is not being dismissive of the bloggers. Rather, it's being dismissive of the convention. Like I said before, the modern Democratic and Republican National Conventions are overblown pep rallies, devoid of anything but the most camera-ready events. Part of the hype surrounding the bloggers' participation was a false expectation that these new-media mavericks were going to worm their way behind the scenes and extract some "real" news (even though, in some of these bloggers' cases, their forte isn't actually obtaining first-hand information anyway). I maintained that you can't dig out any real news where, by design, there is none. So it was unfair to expect the blogs to reveal anything substantial. Even the mainstream media isn't doing that, although rampant cynicism explains this as an unwillingness to do so, when in fact the reason remains the same: There's nothing substantial to report.

To fill that vacuum, naturally bloggers will resort to lots of observational information. For first-timers, just being there and experiencing the atmosphere is the main story, so that's fodder enough for plenty of postings. For something like this, that's the best you could hope for.

As it turns out, the novelty of the bloggers' very presence helped to fill the news vacuum, for themselves and the rest of the media. Which further underlines my point about there being so little real news to focus on at a convention anyway (at least in the FleetCenter; the protests outside are getting little coverage, something you'd think bloggers would flock to).

I suspect things will be about the same for the bloggers at the Republican National Convention next month. I wonder if any bloggers who are now at Boston will also go to New York; checking in on a battle-tested blogger, no longer wide-eyed at the credentialed-media process, might be interesting.
S'REAL FRIDAYS, PART TWO
ding ding, round two
I had such a good time at the Salvador Dali Museum's S'real Fridays cocktail party last week that I'm going to go again tomorrow. I'm hoping they show that whacked-out movie again, so I can watch it all the way to the end this time.

I'm trying to scare up a small group to go with me. Wanna come, absorb some art and alcohol? Give a holla.
THE SADNESS INDEX
Feeling blue this day? That's one down and two to go, statistically speaking. The Centers for Disease Control reports the average American feels saddened or depressed an average of 3 days per month, with slight variances according to age and gender.

Since it's the end of July, I hope you've spread your malaise time evenly throughout the month. No last-minute cramming!

It goes without saying that depression will make you a bit more reckless:
The survey also found that the more days a month people were sad, the more likely they were to take risks such as going on a drinking binge or not wearing seat belts.
I'd like to see a worldwide comparison study on sadness. I'm willing to bet right now that, comparatively, Americans are less sad than other people. I'm making that assumption based on the U.S.'s relative global affluence, although having money is not necessarily a guarantee of happiness. Still, not knowing when or if you'll get your next meal, as is the case in some dirt-poor village in the Third World, is bound to put you in the dumps for at least a couple of days each month.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

CROSSROADS FOR TIVO, STILL
tbd
USA Today's David Lieberman reports on Tivo's critical juncture, as it's on its last chance to secure its position before competitors steal its thunder.

This is very much what I observed about Tivo's bleak future, back in late 2003. In particular, I noted this key factor:
... My feeling is that having a separate bill for DVR service, even if it's a nominal amount like $10-15 monthly, on top of a cable bill, is an impediment. Integrating that charge into the cable bill, even if it's for the same amount, is a much easier sell for the majority of consumers. Thus, the DVR that's provided by the cable company has a much better chance of penetrating the market, and dominating it, to the disadvantage of Tivo.
Compare that to the latest research, cited in Lieberman's piece:
Still, many TV viewers prefer cable's lower price and the convenience of having everything in one box.

About 11% of people who express a strong interest in buying a DVR opt for the $10-a-month cable box option, while only 5% like TiVo's model, according to a survey Leichtman commissioned in June.
Do I know that cable consumer market, or what? I'll mark it now: Tivo will be a quaint, defunct memory by 2007. The caveat kicks in if it gets acquired, perhaps by Rupert Murdoch as a way to bolster DirecTV; but I'd rate the chances of that as very long.
ORSON WELLES' BATMAN?
Who knew there was so much mutual admiration between Orson Welles and The Batman? Fresh off my "Citizen Wayne" post, I find out about Orson Welles' 1946 attempt at making a first-ever feature-length superhero movie, featuring The Batman!
He began meetings with National Comics (who would later become DC) as early as 1944 to discuss the Batman project, but his work didn't begin in earnest until completion of "The Stranger" in 1946 and Welles immediately threw himself headlong into the project. Gathering many of his old friends and colleagues together from "Citizen Kane," he proposed "a cinematic experience, a kaleidoscope of heroism and nightmares and imagery seen nowhere save the subconscious of Goya or even Hawksmoor himself." Welles planned Batman to be an adult psycho-drama, but combined with what he described as the "heart-racing excitement of the Saturday morning serials, given a respectable twist and a whole new style of kinetic direction unlike anything ever attempted in American cinema."...

[A] thirty-six page treatment for a movie that opens with the deaths of Thomas and Mary Wayne (why it's Mary I've no idea) and ends with Batman unmasked and fighting for his life against The Joker, The Riddler, Two-Face and Catwoman in a prison they've assumed control of.
What, another superhero movie unmasking?? Maybe Welles' conception here is what gave everyone else this loathsome idea.

Still, pretty ambitious stuff. Try picturing this classic cast, all of whom confirmed their participation:

- George Raft as Two-Face (after Humphrey Bogart declined)

- James Cagney as The Riddler

- Basil Rathbone as The Joker

- Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman

The casting of Bruce Wayne/Batman proved to be the deal-breaker. The studio wanted sure-shot leading man Gregory Peck; Welles saw himself playing the Caped Crusader, and was so miffed at the suggestion that he step aside (and possibly take the role of The Joker instead) that he ditched the project altogether.

What did the world miss out on? A whole lot, thinks Mark Millar:
The tragedy for movie buffs is that, like Welles' proposed adaptation of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," the world wouldn't get to see a Batman feature until the campy 1966 movie with Adam West. The tragedy for comic-book aficionados is that our big shot at respectability, when the genre was so young that people hadn't made up their minds about us yet, was blown because of an argument over something as small and petty as casting. The movie could have been a disaster, it's impossible to say, but the production notes, the treatment and the first draft I've been reading over the last couple of weeks makes me think this could have redefined cinema. This could have been his masterpiece and, who knows, might have launched the superhero renaissance we're undergoing at the moment with quality cast and directors two or three generations earlier. John Ford following up "The Bat-Man" with a "Captain America" movie? Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn as Clark Kent and Lois Lane? In some weird, parallel reality these things are DVDs collecting dust on our video-shelves and Clint Eastwood is wishing some studio would give his funny, old "Unforgiven" cowboy flick half a chance at the next pitch meeting.
I question just how much people were undecided about the superhero genre in the mid-'40s. Their presentation in comics pretty much cemented them in everyone's minds as kids' stuff--that, and the fantastical notion of costumed do-gooders. I'd like to think that an early graduation to a more "mature" medium like cinema would have altered this, but I'm skeptical. (Plus, even by the '40s, movies weren't completely embraced as a higher-art medium, like the novel or the play; many film critics still referred to their review material as "photo-plays" during this era.) If anything, the chances are a lot better that Welles would have tanked his career had he made this movie, despite the star power.

Still, it's nice to dream. When I was younger, I imagined that the definitive Batman movie would be in black-and-white, and maybe silent. This Wellesian proposal might have come close.
BAY AREA FANCY GOLDEN ARCHES
like polishing a turd
I'm pretty skeptical of McDonald's continuing plans to fancy up their menu and restaurants. But as long as they're doing it, I might as well be aware of where these upscaled shacks are around Tampa Bay.
The most dramatic outlet is a three-story McD's of brown brick and wrought iron that mimics Ybor's turn-of-the-century market and cigar factories

In a huge photo above the counter, cigar workers of the 1920s sit in endless rows rolling their leaves. Yet inside the new Ybor McDonald's (2101 E 13th Ave., Tampa) modern customers have seating that is varied, casual and abundant, appealing enough for a college student to grab coffee and spread out her homework. The interior is garnished with marble, tile, wood wainscotting and high ceilings, as historically enjoyable as anything on Seventh Avenue.
It's funny: I've noticed this remodeled beauty the last couple of times I've gotten off the interstate going into Ybor. I'm not curious enough to actually go in, especially when they're serving the same old crap.

I find this little feature at the Safety Harbor McDonald's Bistro interesting:
Remodeled with coffee equipment and a pastry case two months ago, this McDonald's also added classier tile and trim, a flat-screen TV and a power wall with phone jacks for the wired-in set.
Phone jacks? The franchisee here is an idiot, because he's just invested in obsolete technology. Especially since McDonald's corporate has committed to offering wi-fi service in its restaurants, thus making the plug-in option superfluous. Nothing like looking cutting-edge, circa 1998!
TENNESSEE'S PLATE ANARCHY
territorial claim?
This doesn't look right to you either, does it? But it's real. Not only is it on the State of Tennessee's website, it was also on a car in front of me on my drive home this evening. Thus my curiosity was piqued.

It turns out that Tennessee has several collegiate specialty plates for its citizens to choose from, and the kicker is that only about half of them are of Tennessee-based schools! So you too could put a schizophrenic Tennessee plate on your car, proudly displaying your out-of-town allegiance to Penn State, Ole Miss or Auburn.

What gives? I could almost understand it if they sanctioned specialty plates limited to just SEC schools. But this just seems random. So what if there are plenty of alum from those other schools (which I assume there has to be, for these plates to have been commissioned)? Is Tennessee going to keep adding plates until they've covered every college and university in the country? The plates look weird, fake even.

Florida, sensibly, limits its school specialty plates to in-state schools. Of all places, you'd think Florida would emulate Tennessee's example: Everyone here is from somewhere else.
SINGING 'BOUT SHAKE-ZULA
homies say ho
I've been watching--and enjoying--my recently-procured copy of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force": Volume Two. Probably a bit too much: Some of the music tracks have been running through my head all day today.

In particular, this one lyric:
Don't forget me, I'm Shake-zula
Nobody badder, and nobody cooler
It's part of the running soundtrack on the "Future Wolf III" special feature, which is actually just a bunch of storyboard sketches of the characters and episodes in development (don't ask who Future Wolf is, or what happened to Parts I and II).

I think the main reason that little bit is echoing in my head is because the singing voice sounds somewhat like Isaac Hayes' Chef character, deep and booming. I know it's not, but I can't shake the feeling.

Of course, the above lyrics are an alternate to those from the ATHF main theme, specifically the ones pertaining to Master Shake:
Shake-zula, the mic rulah, the old schoolah
You wanna trip, I'll bring it to ya
My friend Kirby misheard the song and thought it said "Shake-zilla". I've been trying to swerve him back to reality, but he's having none of it.

"Shake-zilla, the mic killa"? Now that's just crazy talk.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

ST. PETE'S BLACK-CLAD GIRLS
Downtown Clearwater has its hordes of uniformed Scientologists. To counter, St. Petersburg has its Aveda Institute girls, who stick out like sore thumbs in their ever-present all-black uniforms.

Hardly any of the Aveda students that I've seen strolling up and down 3rd Street are model-quality. In fact, half of them remind me of goth chicks, sans the grotesque makeup (which would never fly for aspiring cosmetologists). But given the choice, I'll easily take them over the L. Ron Hubbard-heads.

How much of a fixture are they? Their image is starting to worm its way into restaurant reviews:
Again, yes. Ratchada, named for a busy Bangkok thoroughfare has already done that. Credit goes to Liam and Pat Mahapirom, veteran local restaurateurs, and a hip young crew that wears as much black as the Aveda student body - and as smartly.
At this rate, the Aveda sightings will be noted in Fodors.
SUBWAY FOR SALE
Practically, anyway. New York's Metropolitan Transit Authority has officially put out the call for corporate sponsorship opportunities on the city's subways, buses and other transportation infrastructure. So that means more advertising signage in millions of people's faces.

While I'm sure this will set many a nerve on end, I don't think it's an earth-shattering decision. The divide was crossed practically from Day One of the IRT, when adspace was sold inside cars routinely. This is just more of the same, so it shouldn't be perceived as a desecration of hallowed ground.
C-8... VIAGRA!
drop baby, drop!
In Japan, you can buy just about anything via vending machines. In China, they put that notion to the test: A buck-eighty will dispense a four-pack of generic Viagra pills.

It sure would suck if that packet got stuck on the way down. What would be the alternative, chewing gum?
IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER
Like most workplaces, mine posts companywide notices when certain positions are newly filled. So it did recently, when one of the higher-ups got a new executive assistant.

The memo introduced the new hire, named Gina (or something that begins with a "G"; I likely never will have to deal with her, so whatever), and described her professional background at length. To wrap up, it mentioned that she's married to her husband Stephen, and that they have two children.

The name of the children? Get ready: Stephen and Stephanie.

Husband named Stephen, and both boy and girl offspring get named after big daddy. Issues, anyone?

Reminds me of ex-NFL cornerback Deion "Prime Time" Sanders, who named his son Deion Jr. and his daughter Deiondra. Of course, both families would have to take great strides to match boxing great George Foreman, who named all five of his sons, and two of his five daughters, George. But at least Foreman had a practical explanation:
"I called them all George because I was worried that when I was older I might suffer from memory loss. I would have called my five girls George, too, but my wife said she thought that was overkill. When one of them is naughty, I shout 'George!' and that one knows who I mean. The only time it is awkward for me is when a teacher calls up and says, 'We have a problem with George,' and I have to ask them which one."

Monday, July 26, 2004

AQUA TEEN QUOTE O' THE MOMENT
joisey's finest
"People like me... Because I force them to! With violence!"
- Travis of the Cosmos, during his mall job interview, in "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" episode No. 24, "Super Spore".
ABSURDIST THOUGHT OF THE EVENING
We all know of the delightful seasoning called ginger. Why, then, is there no corresponding spice called Mary Ann?

Chew on that one.
DONKEY TIME IN BOSTON
The 2004 Democratic National Convention kicks off tonight.

Gee, I wonder who they'll nominate?

Despite the decreased coverage from the major networks, there'll be ample TV time for political junkies. I'm sure CNN, Fox News and other news channels will have their cameras beaming from Beantown, and one of my local PBS stations apparently will be providing gavel-to-gavel coverage.

It's nice to know it'll be available, as I assume it will be for the RNC in New York next month. But I'm not going to be watching; the day-after analysis will be more than enough. If you don't know what the score is by now, these made-for-TV pep rallies aren't going to enlighten you a whole lot.

The new media wrinkle at this year's conventions, of course, will be the blogger angle. I maintain that the blogs aren't going to report anything of substance; but for those interested, Blogdigger has compiled a handy listing of all the bloggers at the DNC in Boston.

UPDATE: Poynter's Steve Outing adds a list of journalist/newspaper blogs at the convention. Of course, to some, the idea of established media professionals and organizations running weblogs is counter to the very spirit of unadulterated blogging. It goes back to whether you consider a blog to be a format or a genre.
WHY UNMASK THE SUPERHEROES?
de-faced
The following post contains some minor spoilers for Spider-Man 2, now in theaters. None of them are essential to the plot, so they won't give anything important away. Furthermore, the movie's been out for a month now, so I'm going to assume that most readers have already seen it, or else have no intention of seeing it (at least until it comes out on video or cable, in which case you should expect to have several details revealed to you).

Read on:
Why do the writers/directors of today's superhero movies insist on having their heroes reveal their secret identities? In Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker pulls off the Spidey mask in front of, literally, a whole trainload of people (which includes a little kid from his Queens neighborhood, who knows him), his nemesis Doctor Octopus, his nascent enemy Harry Osborne, and Mary Jane Parker. About the only people he doesn't blow his secret to is Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson!

This isn't the only superhero movie, nor even the only superhero sequel, to do this. Batman Returns, which I otherwise love for its delving into identity crisis and duality, took the same willy-nilly approach toward keeping the Batman identity secret. It pissed me off then, and Spider-Man 2 succeeded in pissing me off on this again.

I don't get it. One of the basic story principles in the comics is that these dual identity situations are maintained at all costs, for years/decades on end. I realize that in the age of surveillance cameras, satellite photography, voice analysis and DNA detection, the idea of someone like Spider-Man keeping a secret identity truly secret is highly unlikely. Still, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief in order to let the premise move forward.

Yet in the movies, the hero seems to be aching to tell anyone and everyone about his supposedly crucial secret. The motivation behind keeping that identity under wraps--to protect loved ones, as well as to keep a functional private life--is quickly forgotten.

What is it about the celluloid medium that brings this on? Obviously, the director and/or writers seems to feel it's important to introduce this element into the story. But why? Is it that hard for them to keep the two identities distinct during storytelling? If it's possible in the comic books, it's possible in the movies.

Note that all this face-time for the non-heroic alter-egos for both Spider-Man and Batman took place in the sequels, after super-successful first editions. Given this, I half-suspect that the stars in both cases lobbied hard and long to get more of their unmasked visages onscreen in the follow-up movies. I'd think this would be accomplished in scenes where Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne are going about their everyday lives. But if you consider that the maximum amount of time in these action films go to the costumed-hero sequences, it makes sense that the stars' wishes would have to be accomodated by having them show off their mugs while partially clad in their superhero duds.

In sum, I'm tired of it. Tell the stars to screw themselves and make them keep their masks on. Doing so might keep them from being typecast for the rest of their careers, so they should be thankful.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

ENTREPRENEURS: JUST WANNA BE FREE
Why does someone become an entrepreneur? When lauding the virtues of entrepreneurship, part of the profile usually includes the possession of an outside-the-box idea that simply can't be properly brought to market by an established, hide-bound, risk-averse company. Yet the latest annual global survey by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor indicate that the majority of start-ups are launched around a well-established product or service that's already being supplied to the market.

Thus, the question arises: What's the real motivation for entrepreneurs?

The Reuters article by Samuel Fromartz touches on teleological reasons:
"The grass-roots entrepreneurs are companies that take something someone has done before and do it better, or cheaper, or offer better service," [study co-author and professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College Bill Bygrave] said. "That's the core of the economy."
And while that may be a motivation, by itself it doesn't make sense for someone to strike out on their own and compete in a market where so many established companies have tremendous advantage. Even if venture capital and other traditional capital providers won't help unless the plan relies on low-risk propositions, risk re-emerges in the rather precarious chances for beating the dominant companies at their own game.

The way I see it, most entrepreneurs strike out on their own for three reasons, in descending order of likelihood:

1. They don't like working for someone else, to the degree that they need to be their own boss.

2. The companies where they honed their expertise are so inflexible that they can't efficiently conduct their core business, leading the entrepreneur to show how it can be done better.

3. Taking the longer-term view: An entrepreneur will launch a start-up in an established niche, with the realization that it will never reach the size of established players in the field. The goal, then, is to build the start-up to a state of critical mass where it become an attractive acquisition candidate by one of the established companies, whereupon the entrepreneurial founder can cash out--which would be the true goal of going solo in the first place.


I'd expect the first two reasons can be found as twin motivations for many freshly-launched small companies. Reason number three is more often the operating plan for those entrepreneurs who are businessmen first, and particular business-niche specialists second--in other words, those who are really in the business of starting businesses rather than any particular trade/service/vocation.

All this mainly applies to just the American business world. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor's report looks at the entire world, so different business cultures mean different motivations apply. However, I'd bet that the above three reasons are applicable to various degrees everywhere, regardless of country.

So, it seems the usual assumption of innovative spark coming from plucky first-stage companies is largely a business myth. Then again, that small percentage (around 4 percent of the global total) that really does dabble in unique concepts is what makes all the noise, and properly garners all the attention. Even when they eventually get bought up.
MISTER ICE CREAM
I ventured out to International Plaza this afternoon for a little shopping. While there, I stopped by the Haagen-Dazs store to get a Mint Chip Dazzler. Not being one to eat my ice cream sundae while running, I plopped myself into a plush chair just outside the food court area to enjoy my frozen treat.

A couple of minutes after sitting down and spooning the Dazzler, a dark-haired little boy of about 8 ran up to me, pointed to my cup and asked, "Ice cream...?"

I sensed a Latin American accent. I responded, "Yes, mint chocolate chip!"

"Here?" he asked, still pointing at the cup. He wanted to know if I had, indeed, gotten the ice cream in the mall.

"Yes, just back that way," I answered, and pointed back toward the food court.

He beamed a big smile, nodded, and took off. As he was running away behind me, I could hear him start to beg his mom for some ice cream.

I went back to eating my Dazzler. For the remaining five minutes it took me to finish the thing, I heard at least two other passers-by remark about how good that Dazzler looked, and how they needed to get some ice cream. I caught at least a couple of others staring at the cup for several seconds while walking along. All were heading in the direction of the food court and the Haagen-Dazs store.

So by my figuring, my few minutes of sitting there eating that Mint Chip Dazzler served as super-effective advertising for Haagen-Dazs. I might as well have been a spokesmodel. I'm betting the visual I provided resulted in at least two or three direct sales for that ice cream store--maybe more. Not to mention the brand exposure, which would undoubtedly lead to later store and grocery purchases.

As I pondered this, I thought about heading back to the Haagen-Dazs store, explaining all this, and asking for a proper commission for my work. But by then, I had finished the Dazzler, started feeling a little queasy, and decided to finish up my shopping and leave.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

CITIZEN WAYNE
rosebud
Citizen Kane is on right now on TCM. An undisputable Classic, with the "C".

This movie has become so iconic that it's an easy reference point for all sorts of works inspired by the story of Charles Foster Kane--even those that never see the light of day. Like Comic Book Resources staff writer Larry Young's ill-fated story pitch for an Elseworlds Batman story, in which Bruce Wayne, on his deathbed, utters "Bat... man...", despite living in a world where he never became the Caped Crusader and instead made his mark as an activist media tycoon.

It's a fun story overview, as well as being a how-to on how not to approach a freelance gig in comics. It's also a Web bookmark I've been holding in reserve for months, looking for reason to blog on it. I saw my opening, and took it.
WHY YBOR?
For a good part of my immediate post-college life, Ybor City was the only real option for partying in Tampa Bay. I was lucky enough to be here when the area was emerging from a decades-long decline to become the closest thing to party district we had. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it was to be able to park your car for the night and be able to stroll from club to club for several hours.

Times change, sorta. Ybor is struggling to redefine itself in the face of competing Bay area entertainment zones and an overload of young'uns. Of course, even some of the youngsters are ambivalent toward spending time on Seventh Avenue.

As I approach my mid-thirties, I have to admit I'm feeling more than a little awkward these days, trudging the streets side-by-side with 18-year-old gangta-wannabes, fratboys and hoochie-mammas. I typically just duck into a club for the night anyway these days, but with most of the clubs there letting in 18-year-olds and up, it's hard to avoid the kiddies. Not that I always want to, but there is a comfort level in being able to mingle with people who (you assume) have reached some level of mature consciousness. Yes, even in a bar.

Part of my deal is also sheer over-familiarity. Ten years of seeing pretty much the same joints is probably enough. There are other places to hit around town, but not that many; Ybor is still a prime option most weekends.

Of course, I'm not kidding myself as to the motives here. The merchants on Seventh Avenue don't care as much about fostering an adult environment as they do about trying to lure the demographics with the most disposable income. Nothing wrong with that.

I'm surprised these articles didn't tap the owner of Harpo's Nightclub to spout off. In the past, he was always willing to speak up about how much he hated running his club in Ybor, and how he couldn't make any money, and lots of other whining. Meanwhile, his club is packed every weekend, despite the rather lame scene. Maybe he's no longer the guy in charge there; or he figured people have long since tuned him out.
S'REAL, S'ALRIGHT
s'okay
As previously mentioned, I hit yesterday's S'real Fridays mixer at the Salvador Dali Museum. I met up with my friend Tom there, who had never been to the Dali, despite living here for years-long stretches since 1989!

It was a pretty good time. I got there way too early: I mistakenly thought it started at 5PM instead of 6 (pretty dumb, considering I had the above ad image posted here), so I arrived at about 5:30, when they were just getting set up. It gave us the chance to browse through the gallery and chat about the artist's different eras.

The cocktail area got fairly packed; I'm estimating about 100 people filled the room! Some good opportunities for mingling. While the jazz quartet played some decent tunes, they showed various film clips on the projection screen. One particular sequence that kept us mesmerized was of an elaborate 20-minute Goldberg invention; I looked behind me at one point, and saw that about half the room was fixated on the screen too! It was quite a moment of Zen.

The only thing I didn't appreciate was having to buy drink tickets every time I wanted a cup of wine. I didn't mind having to pay for my libations, but what a pain in the ass it was to go to one station to get tickets, then to another one to actually get the drink! At least the snack table was easily accessible, and free.

Tom and I hung out until around 8, then headed out to The Lobby in downtown St. Pete. We had a good time there for a few hours, then wound up the night sometime after midnight munching on pizza somewhere on Central Avenue.

I think I'll hit S'real Fridays next week. It's a good way to jump-start the weekend.

Friday, July 23, 2004

SLATE IN PLAY
It's amusing how much Microsoft ventures into new business areas that are unrelated to their core software business, only to pull out later for little tangible gain. The latest example of this exercise: It's in talks to sell its online-only magazine Slate, 8 years after launching it.

I constantly make a mental note to visit Slate more often; for some reason, that never sticks. It's a quality publication, but for some reason, I read it only occasionally.

MS is being reasonable enough with what a buyer will do with Slate:
[Microsoft division head Steve] Moore said Microsoft has been approached before about a possible sale of Slate, but this is the first time it is taking the offers seriously. He said Microsoft is especially interested in a deal that might allow it to create a partnership with another media company, which could potentially help increase advertising revenue on the MSN site.

Microsoft is most interested in a deal that would allow Slate to continue to be found through the MSN network of Web sites, Moore said. But he said it wouldn't be opposed to a deal that also put Slate content elsewhere, either on the Web or in print.
Naturally, no one would want to buy it if they couldn't distribute the magazine's content as far and wide as they wished. I often thought webzines like Slate and Salon would greatly benefit from launching a print version. Maybe new ownership of Slate, possibly by an established magazine publisher, would bring that experiment to life.
UNTUCKED AND LOVING IT
The men's untucked look: It's not just for guayaberas and t-shirts anymore.

I'm in favor of any fashion trend that loosens things up. In fact, I've been living this look for years. My regular officewear tends to be polo shirts, which I refuse to tuck in. Whenever possible, I go with my shirt tails flapping.

That said, even I think exposing dress shirts this way is a bit much; not sure I'd be comfortable with it. But if everyone else is doing it, I'll have to be a good little sheep and follow along.

The article hints at a practical, cosmetic reason for this look: The increasing paunchiness of men as they get into their 30s and 40s, and how tucked-in shirts accentuate this unfortunate detail. I think there's a corresponding anatomical consideration: It covers up men's rear ends too, thus hiding many a male's flat butt. (This is actually the downside for me: I have a great ass--ask the ladies--but the untucked look tends to detract. It's a sacrifice for comfort's sake.)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

BOOKIN' IT
There was a benefit book sale at work today, consisting of the thousands of review copy books received every quarter. The money goes to the corporate scholarship fund, so it's all good.

I have to be in the proper mood to scour through the endless stacks of books, CDs and videos. I was sort of there today; I wasn't looking for anything in particular, so I was browsing for anything that looked interesting.

Anyway, I came away with a small haul of three books:

- "Gossip Girl: A Novel", Cecily von Ziegesar: From the jacket, I got the impression it was "Sex and the City"-meets-Bret Easton Ellis, which appeals to me. I guess it's more young-adult-oriented than I thought, in which case I'm wondering if I should have even admitted to buying it! But I'll give it a try.

- "Vicious Spring", Holis Hampton-Jones: Somewhat similar themes to the above, but a bit seamier. Junkies make for good reading. The Jay McInerney blurb on the front cover definitely helped lure me.

- "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game", Michael Lewis: The much-beloved book of baseball "purists". I've heard all kinds of effusive praise for it, so I decided to pick up this deeply-discounted copy. Baseball's not my favorite subject, not even the business side, so I'm not sure I'll give this much more than a surface read, and may even give it away when I've finished it.

I have a feeling I'll get through these three fairly quickly. I still have a pile of other books I need to get through, so these will be nice temporary diversions.
AMAZON AND "PLOGS"
The proliferation of blogs is bound to produce some mutant offshoots--especially where filthy lucre is involved. So it is at Amazon and their newest knick-knack, the plog.

The Amazon plog, or "personalized blog", really isn't a blog at all. Rather, it's a list of product orders and product offerings, arranged in blog-like format, that greets you when you first sign in. PC World's Harry McCracken wonders if this is a permanent new method of presentation for Amazon's in-channel marketing, or just a nod to the current trendiness of blogs.

I'm voting for the latter. Basically, they're looking for a way to make those "based on your previous purchases, we thought you'd like to buy..." plugs more appealing. It's a little sinister, in that they're obviously appropriating the non-commercial spirit of blogs and using them as a soft-sell tool, easing people into buying additional stuff. I guess this ersatz-blog approach is worth a shot. And it's not supplanting their other tools that do this, like the Gold Box.

Making the plog recommendations more accurate might be a better route. On my page, one of the first items alerts me to the release of Mario Puzo's "The Last Don". Why did the Amazon-plogbot think I might be interested in buying this? Because I once bought Waking Life. See the logical connection between a schlocky Mafia mini-series and a beautifully-animated series of dream sequences? No, me neither. Maybe both productions had the same best-boy working on them, and Amazon tagged that as a match.
MEDIA PR PREFERENCES SURVEY
Bennett & Company has released the results of its 14th annual media PR preferences survey.

Some interesting stuff. Most of it is self-serving, and practically all of it is generally disregarded by PR wonks who follow a rigid, clockwork process no matter how little response it gets. But it's worth looking at some of what the media professionals said:
-- Fifty-eight percent of journalists say they prefer to receive information via e-mail, yet only one-third of the correspondence they receive is electronic. Wire service was journalists' second preference for receiving information - a first in the 14 year history of Bennett & Company's Media Survey.

-- Seventy percent of journalists say they read every e-mail, except for obvious spam, yet 65 percent of those who received our media survey via e-mail did not even open it. [Note: Guess why they didn't open it? Yup: Most consider unsolicited PR pitches to be spam.]

-- Fifty-eight percent of media chose e-mail as their preferred method of communication (a climbing statistic since 1997).

-- Only 37 percent of media say they receive e-mail most often. Mail trailed closely with 25 percent followed by fax (16 percent), wire service (12 percent) and telephone (11 percent).

-- According to Bennett & Company's 14th Annual Media Survey, 68 percent of journalists indicate that they do depend on PR firms for story ideas and content, however 62 percent say that PR materials only account for one to 10 percent of their story content.

"Often PR firms are most helpful for me in suggesting stories and setting up access for a feature as opposed to expecting me to use press releases," Bill Becher, writer for the Los Angeles Daily News

-- Although the majority of journalists (61 percent) do not feel PR firms are getting more credible, many do - 39 percent to be exact - an 11 percent increase from 2002.
My own experience is that PR firms are helpful about 10 percent of the time. They're good for some access, some information, and some facilitation. But that's where it ends. Ultimately, they're middlemen who specialize in running interference, and thus are best kept to limited roles. If I have to deal with some idiot PR reps for too long, I start hearing the same exact thing out of them, and quickly find every possible way to bypass them.
GOOGLE'S TROUBLE WITH TRADEMARKS
identity crisis
It looks like the legal tussle Google is facing from the Googles is just the tip of the iceberg. The search giant and intended Wall Street darling has so many pending trademark infringement suits against it on tap, concerning the Gmail and Froogle brands and even the "googol" inspiration concept, that you have to wonder if the company does any serious research before picking a name.

Even though the Froogles.com owner has a case based on registering the name before Google devised Froogle, I can't say the numbers indicate he was ever going to make it big in e-commerce:
"Now that Google has started using Froogle, it has been downhill" for Froogles.com, says [owner Richard] Wolfe. He said his savings have been depleted by $28,000 in legal bills. Wolfe added that "hits" on his site are down from a high of about 300 a day to fewer than 100 since he has been devoting more time and money to the legal fight than Web development.
I wouldn't call 300 daily hits a "high". Shoot, I approach that with this blog on good days, and I'm not even selling anything (other than entertainment ;) ). That could hurt his argument that Google actually had an effect on his business; it was so fledgling that it didn't look like it was going anywhere anyway.

UPDATE: The trademark-rights advantage suddenly shifts to Google, as it's revealed that the search engine got its start in the early 1960s. (From Fury.com via Dustbury)
STATE-OF-THE-ART MAC, 1994
I get a kick out of running across old relic computers that are for sale. Today, I found a Craigslist ad for a Macintosh Powerbook 520c for the low-low price of $25.

A computer for 25 bucks? What a bargain!

Until you get a gander at some of the specs on this vintage model:

CPU Speed: 25 MHz
ROM: 2 MB
Minimum RAM Speed: 70 ns
Onboard RAM: 4 MB
RAM Slots: 1
Maximum RAM: 36 MB
Level 1 Cache: 8 kB
Screen: 9.5" dual-scan
Maximum Resolution: 8 bit 640x480
Slots: modem, optional type II/III PC Card bay
Floppy Drive: 1.4 MB SuperDrive
Hard Disk: 130-320 MB
Ethernet: AAUI-15
Minimum OS: 7.1.1
Maximum OS: 8.1


Suddenly, it seems like the guy should be offering you $25 to take it off his hands.

Actually, the seller's not trying to pull a fast one. He admits it's got limited usefulness, with Internet connectivity doubtful. You probably could find a way to Web surf on it, but it would be so much trouble, and so unbelievably slow and clunky, that it wouldn't be worth it.

Still, I wonder what something like this is worth on a collector's market.

UPDATE: The Powerbook 520c would probably make a fine addition to the Computer History Museum. (Via Fury.com)
DALI S'REAL FRIDAYS
surreal
Happy hour at a museum? If you must, there's no better place for it than the Salvador Dali Museum. Because regardless of how sober or how drunk you are, the surrealist paintings are guaranteed to look distorted.

I know museums around the U.S. have been implementing various offbeat marketing initiatives in order to attract visitors. S'real Fridays is targeted at downtown St. Petersburg's large after-work population of 20ish-to-40ish wannabe sophisticates.

I'm so there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

DEGREES OF FLORIDA WILDLIFE SEPARATION
You may recall the story of Bobo, the tiger that was killed by Florida Wildlife officers in Loxahatchee, Florida after it had escaped from its residential owner. That owner, of course, was Steve Sipek, AKA Steve Hawkes, a retired B-movie actor who's main claim to fame was starring in a series of Tarzan-like Spanish-language movies; thus, the story was tagged with a "Tarzan lost his tiger" angle.

Electric Bugaloo guest blogger Laura found herself in a six-degrees-of-separation situation related to this story, when she ran into Sipek's son, who is a manager at a Denver-area Hooters she visited. The guy even showed off his scars from when Bobo attacked him as a child!

I myself have a six-degrees connection to this sordid case. Willie Puz, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, has been getting threatening messages over the incident, directed both at him and the Commission in general. Most of the agency's employees, which include scientists and field staffers, are being told to not wear their uniforms, to avoid drawing retaliation.

I went to school with Puz. He graduated a year ahead of me. We weren't close friends, but we partied together some. He was a fun guy to hang out with. I knew he had gotten into the conservation field, and heard he was working somewhere in the southern part of the state, but I hadn't kept in touch with him for years. It's a bit strange to be reading about him in this context.

Here's hoping Willie comes out of this crisis without harm. Maybe I'll see him come reunion time; if he shows up, he'll get a lot of attention from this.
XBOX REPAIR GUIDE AND THE CENSORED REVIEW
x-rated
You may recall my recent experience with getting my busted Xbox repaired through XboxRepairGuide.com. It was a generally positive experience, in that I've got my Xbox back and working well.

At the request of Kris at XboxRepairGuide.com, I submitted a review of the repair service, which I re-present here:
I shipped out my Xbox after the Dashboard and hard drive stopped working. Kris diagnosed the problem (error code 21), suggested a new hard drive, installed that and returned it to me in good working order!

Overall, I was very satisfied. However, nobody's perfect. So here are the pros and cons to Xbox Repair Guide's Console Repair Service:

PROS:
- Excellent price, which includes a wide range of repair contingencies and return shipping
- Very active communication during repair process
- Good diagnosis and explanation of options
- For me personally, proximity: About 90 minutes from my home city

CONS:
- Turnaround time was nowhere near the stated 2-6 days; I did initiate service on a holiday weekend, but even accounting for that, it took longer than I expected
- Website could use a major redesign for better usability and organization
- Related to the website design (but really a separate issue), the order processing webpages should use standard encryption (https://); frankly, if I had had to pay via credit card instead of PayPal, I likely wouldn't have bought the service.

Rating: [4 of 5 Stars]
It's necessary for me to reprint my review here, because it differs somewhat from what's posted on XboxRepairGuide.com:
I shipped out my Xbox after the Dashboard and hard drive stopped working. Kris diagnosed the problem (error code 21), suggested a new hard drive, installed that and returned it to me in good working order!

- Excellent price, which includes a wide range of repair contingencies and return shipping
- Very active communication during repair process
- Good diagnosis and explanation of options
- For me personally, proximity: About 90 minutes from my home city

Rating: [4 of 5 Stars]
Notice the difference? Yep: All the "cons" have been edited out, leaving more space for those kind "pros". I don't think I need to point out that I wasn't the one who did the editing.

Seeing as how my name is attached to a review that's basically not mine, I sent off this email earlier today to Kris:
Had I known that you wanted nothing but nice things to be included in your customer reviews, I could have saved myself the time and trouble of writing my review on your repair service:

[link to XboxRepairGuide.com review]

You've got a lot to learn about business ethics. Selectively editing customer reviews that you specifically solicit reflects very poorly on you. Not to mention the word-of-mouth you're obviously relying on to build your business. If you've got no problem doing something like this, how are you to be trusted in any other aspect of your work?

If you don't want honest customer feedback, you should just write all the reviews yourself; that's essentially what you've already done.

You can do any one of three things to rectify this:

1. Restore my complete review, as originally submitted;
2. Remove my name from the hatcheted review you've got there now;
3. Remove the review altogether.

I'm not holding my breath that you'll do any of the above. But just so you know: I've already got my original review, word-for-word, on my blog; and you'd better believe I'm going to blog about this development. The next time someone is researching for Xbox repair options, hopefully they'll come upon my blog entries(faithfully indexed by Google and the other search engines), and won't have to wonder too hard about which review is the real one.
To my surprise, I got a response from Kris tonight. In the spririt of his treatment of my feedback to him, I'm going to treat his reply selectively here: Namely, I'm not going to print a word of it. But I'll summarize his defense:

- The portions of the review that were removed were "irrelevant" or "out of his control". Go ahead and re-read those points and decide for yourself. When I refer to business ethics, this is the heart of it: It's not up to the merchant to define what's relevent in customer feedback. Take a look at customer reviews at Amazon or any other reputable e-tailer: There's good and bad, without a screen for relevant content. That's the only thing that makes customer reviews useful.

That Kris deemed only the negative portions of the review as lacking relevance, while leaving the positive parts untouched, erodes any credibility in this defense. If he was really concerned about staying on-topic, he could have also removed the positive comment about the proximity of his location to me; unless you live in the Tampa Bay area like me, that's not a particularly helpful point.

- The longer-than-advertised turnaround time was due to an unexpected part replacement, thus extending the process. A nice bit of revisionist history. I paid for the repair service through PayPal on June 24th and shipped the Xbox out the next day, which was a Friday. Accounting for the weekend, I'm estimating that the latest he would have received the package was that following Tuesday. I got no indication that work began on it until that following weekend (4th of July weekend). That means the Xbox sat there for the better part of a week. When it was diagnosed--and I'll stand by my original comments regarding the good communication when the unit was actually being worked on--the hard drive defect was detected, at which point I mailed out a replacement drive. Again, I didn't hear back from Kris until the following weekend, when the job was done, and the Xbox was shipped back. I got it back on July 13th, and blogged about it the next day.

So, that makes 19 total days from payment to return. Accounting for the weekends, accounting for the holiday, accounting for the second stage of hard drive repair, it's a reasonable amount of time. However: It's nowhere near the advertised 2-6 days turnaround time. If that estimate is unrealistic, fine--revise it. But don't sell it if you have no intention of delivering it. Working as a weekend warrior guarantees an extended repair time period.

I wasn't bent out of shape over the timeframe. But I thought it was worth mentioning in a review, as fair notice to anyone else expecting to get their Xbox back in less than a week--something that, from my experience, isn't going to happen.

- The website design and organization has nothing to do with service provided. The website is his storefront. It's how the bulk (or all?) of his potential customers are going to learn about his services and place orders. It's going to determine whether he gets any money or not. Somehow, this isn't relevant.

Website interface is a subjective thing; what seems less than optimal to me may be just fine to others. But given that I was offering a review on my experience--please note, that's mine, me--I think it's well within the scope of my comments to include my impressions of the site, and how easy or hard it was to use.

This was a minor point with me. I kinda doubt that someone reading my comments on the site is going to affect their opinion--that will rely upon their own experience clicking through the site.

- Standard encryption (https://) isn't on the order page because he's had trouble with it in the past, and he's got some sort of secret encryption that takes care of any security issues with ordering. I find it really hard to believe that some little one-man repair service in Sarasota has found a more reliable encryption method than that used by every reputable e-commerce operation on the Web. It's an outright lie. If there was any truth to it, there would be a notice on the order page stating this; there is none.

If he's had trouble with SSL encryption, he needs to get it fixed. He's not doing himself or his customers any favors by allowing unsecured credit card transactions to go through. If it's that hard, then he shouldn't accept credit card payments and limit himself to PayPal and check/money orders.

What's more, I'll repeat the germane point here: My experience was such that, yes, I wouldn't have ordered the service if I had to input a credit card number. Again, that's me and my experience--which is what a customer feedback review is supposed to be about. Worrying about whether or not that's going to sway others is bush league. Any astute online consumer will see the lack of SSL encryption as an automatic red flag.

- He makes note of the immense workload he has, past favorable feedback, the bonus of recovering the saved game information on the old hard drive, etc. This type of justification is par for the course: He's a little guy who goes the extra mile, so he has a right to keep opinions he doesn't agree with off his site. This seems to be a growing trend with small businesses: Their limitations affect their ability to handle their workload, so they use that as their defense.

Frankly, I don't care. As a customer, it's not my problem that the store is having trouble with its internal processes. All I care about is getting the service and getting it done in a reasonable amount of time. When I order something, whether it's a burger, a phone line or a repair service, I care only about the end result. The rest of it is, yes, irrelevant to me. Get the job done, the way you said you would, or else don't take the job in the first place.

So, that's the size of it. I'll stick with my original overall assessment of XboxRepairGuide.com's service: It's a good option, as long as you're willing to wait for it. In light of this situation, I have to question just how much you can trust Kris to be completely forthcoming. And naturally, I'd skip the review process altogether.

UPDATE (7/22/04): Amazing what a little persuasive argument can accomplish. The truncated review with my name on it is no longer there as of this writing. Which suites me just fine. The original review remains on this blog, for anyone interested.
FREE DUKE UNIVERSITY IPODS
go dukies
I'm thinking about going back to school. Preferably Duke, where they're giving freshmen free iPods to see if they work as learning aids.

I think it's a radical concept to most: That these latter-day Walkmans also work as bona fide portable disk drives. It's that aspect of the iPods that make them so appealing to techies. I've made limited use of the storage drive capabilities on my iPod; fact is, I rarely ever connect it to my computer, so it doesn't come off very often. But I did load a bunch of contact information on it at one point, and it did come in handy.
NUMBA TWO IN THA HOOD, G
assemble!
"Aqua Teen Hunger Force": Volume Two is in my possession. I've been thoroughly enjoying my copy of Volume One; while I don't think some of the episodes in the second season measure up to the earlier efforts, there are still enough funnies in this second edition to keep me rolling. And there's always the DVD extras; I'm looking forward to the fabled "Baffler Meal" origin clip (I understand Frylock was radically different in his initial appearances from the character that he would develop).

I really like the package design for Volume Two. Very minimalist, with black background and simplistic line drawings.

"ATHF" is still the only thing I regularly watch on Adult Swim. I can see signs of wear and tear, with a trending toward weirdness solely for weirdness' sake, and cop-out endings. But I'll enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

THE FUTURE OF AIRLINES
The evolution of the U.S. airline industry since 1978's deregulation has been fascinating. If the analysts and smaller carriers are right, it could be even more so: Predictions are for only two of the current six dominant, or "legacy", airlines to still be around five years from now.
Downsizing, merging with another large airline or folding could be inevitable for some legacy carriers, said Paul Biederman, who teaches about the airline industry at New York University.

"There will be one or two big ones left and then you will have medium-sized ones like Southwest and AirTran, and then the regional carriers," Biederman said. "It's going to happen by hook or by crook, either by voluntary merger or bankruptcy. The market is going to decide this, not Congress or the (Air Transportation) Stabilization Board."

Last month, the government signaled its desire to stay on the sidelines when the board denied bankrupt United Airlines Inc.'s bid for a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee. The board, created in September 2001 to approve financial aid for the nation's airlines, said such assistance "is not a necessary part of maintaining a safe, efficient and viable commercial aviation system in the United States."

The major carriers are well aware that some of them may not survive.

Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein told a group of his flight attendants in May that he believes only two of the legacy carriers will remain after the next five years, according to a partial transcript of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.

In an AP interview last month, United CEO Glenn Tilton, asked if he sees future consolidation among major airlines, acknowledged that the legacy carriers "recognize that the market is simply going to get more challenging and there isn't going to be any reprieve from the pressure."...

Dan Kasper, an airline consultant for LECG in Cambridge, Mass., said major carriers will need to improve customer service and change the way they are viewed by passengers.

"I am very comfortable that five years from now, there will be several large network carriers," Kasper said. "Whether the names on the board are United, American, Delta, Northwest, Continental and US Airways remains to be seen."
SHADES OF CHRISTIANS
What does it mean that the long-time Protestant majority in the United States is about to disappear? Aside from the possible implications for the nature of this country's political culture, I think it just means that Protestants are so at ease being the default that they no longer have to explicitly identify with a particular denomination:
Among the reasons for the decline were the large number of young people and adults leaving denominations as the number of non-Protestant immigrants increased, comprising a greater share of the population. Also, a lower percentage are being raised Protestant, [General Social Survey director Tom] Smith said. Smith said it is also possible that some former Protestants are now identifying themselves only as "Christian," a choice on the survey.
A "Christian", in this case, is someone who believes in Jesus etc. but doesn't care for the trappings of church worship. It's a particularly American approach to religion and spirituality.

I got a kick out of the last paragraph:
People who said they belonged to other religions - including Islam, Orthodox Christianity or Eastern faiths - increased from 3 percent to 7 percent between 1993 and 2002, while the share of people who said they were Jewish remained stable at just under 2 percent.
It's great to see Orthodox Christianity get lumped in with the "other" religions. Small wonder that when I tell people that my official religious affiliation is Greek Orthodox, I get boneheaded replies like, "So, you worship Zeus then?"

Monday, July 19, 2004

YES, I AM STARING AT YOUR CHEST
Why? Because there's a good chance that your shirt will be displaying a video ad at some point, like the ones Brand Marketers produced as part of a guerilla marketing campaign for I, Robot.

Here's hoping they find plenty of women for future ad placement. With ample ad space.

Moving pictures certainly are eye-catching; according to the whiz-kid behind this concept, that's the only way to sell today:
"People of my generation and younger are so used to moving images on TV that if it's not a moving image, it doesn't move them," Brand Marketers' Adam Hollander, 30, tells the Los Angeles Times.
Good to find out that static images/words aren't supposed to "move" me, a 33-year-old male. Still, I've always thought that Internet advertising worked better when it utilized motion video (the more recent success of text ads notwithstanding). I suppose this blooms from the same concept.
The TV T-shirts have an 11-inch screen across the chest and several hidden speakers, meaning the shirt weighs more than six pounds and isn't machine-washable. They also cost about $1,000 to assemble, so Hollander isn't looking to take the concept to retail any time soon.
So I guess these shirts won't be available off-the-rack in time for Christmas.

If video chests don't attract your attention, perhaps ad-plastered hubcaps will do it.
PSM: SMARTER MBA
Who would have guessed that majoring in math and science would lead to success in the business world--after the dot-com crash? The professional science master's (PSM) is developing into the MBA for the technical set, allowing them to transition into the executive-level positions they desire.
"The students that we turn out are not future cubicle rats, but future project managers," says Charles MacCluer, director of Michigan State's PSM program in industrial mathematics.

"Business is getting too scientific to be managed by businessmen," he says. "They need a new hybrid, a scientifically trained person."
Fairly warned, Warren Buffet.
ABC'S FAMILY DYSFUNCTION
When you shell out $3 billion, you'd think you'd have some idea as to what to do with your expensive new aquisition. Unless you're The Walt Disney Company, and you're revamping the Family Channel for the umpteenth time, much to investors' and advertisers' chagrin.

I think it's hilarious that Disney sunk over $5 billion into this investment ($3 billion in cash to purchase it from News Corp./Fox, plus assumption of $2.3 billion in debt), and they're still lost. This, despite what seemed to be a natural fit between Disney's bread-and-butter of wholesome entertainment:
"When Disney bought them, we thought, 'Here is nirvana -- a family content corporation buying what we think is one of the premier channels,'" said Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior vice president at Starcom Entertainment, a division of the advertising firm Starcom MediaVest. "We expected positive changes immediately."

So did Disney executives, who predicted the purchase would increase advertising revenue for its media networks division by 50 percent within two years without a substantial increase in programming costs. The Fox Family Channel, now renamed ABC Family, would achieve the ambitious goal by showing news programs from ABC, sports programming from ESPN and comedies and dramas from ABC -- a strategy called "repurposing."

Instead, the channel has struggled to define itself, adopting and then abandoning a slate of reality shows and behind-the-scenes peeks at such ABC shows as "The Bachelor."
So much for synergy. If Michael Eisner can't make something this obvious work--after grossly overpaying for it--he might as well pack up his office now and walk.
IPOD: GENERATION NEXT
Progress marches on: Apple has sprung the newest model of iPods, the 4th Generation, on the market. It's purty.

I'm glad they addressed the most crucial limitation of the 3rd Generation models: The puny battery life. The new editions have 12-hour-power; naturally, in real life, this will vary, but it's bound to be a higher average than previous models.

The latest iteration of Apple's miracle music player is sure making my 1st Generation 5-gigger look downright primitive. And while it's still working well, it's starting to show signs of being oh-so-2001. Doesn't mean I'll be buying a new one anytime soon, though.
HOWARD STERN DEBUTS IN TAMPA BAY
Today was the day: As previously announced, Howard Stern's radio show made it's debut this morning on 1010 WBZZ-AM, "The Buzz" (formerly WQYK-AM).

No, I didn't listen. Not sure I even remembered it this morning; regardless, I don't listen to the radio, and Stern's not going to change that.

I will be curious to see how the ratings will be. I certainly haven't seen any noticable marketing to announce either Stern or the station's new format. I hope the local radio schmucks aren't relying solely on media reports to do the job.

For what it's worth, today's informal poll at the St. Pete Times' website (currently not working, else I'd link directly to it) bodes ill for the show: Some three-quarters of respondents said they had no intention of tuning in.
FUNNY JOKE FROM A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
From this month's issue of Esquire (August 2004), as related by Vanessa Ferlito:
One night a man rolls over in bed, giving his wife a big grin.

She says, "Not tonight, honey. I have a gynecologist's appointment tomorrow. I want to stay fresh and clean."

The man, feeling rejected, rolls over and tries to go to sleep.

A few minutes later, he rolls over again and asks his wife, "Do you have a dentist's appointment tomorrow?"
Yes, I like it. I also like the accompanying photo of Ferlito. Although honestly, I don't recall her performances in either of her bigtime movies, Spider-Man 2 and 25th Hour.
GMAIL OUTAGE
g-whiz
Let's pile it on this fine Monday morning: The 72-hour rain marathon, locking the keys in the car, and now Gmail is down. It's been down for the past two hours that I've attempted to access it.

It figures. Instead of just idly checking in, I'm actually waiting for a reply to a business email that I sent via my Gmail account. This is a rare occasion where I've actually used the Gmail address for something critical--I figured I might as well put it to some use. It serves me right, I suppose; I've noticed Gmail has been having outages with increasing frequency lately, and just recently some sort of login bug was discovered. It's still a beta program, so no one should be relying on it just yet--it's simply not ready for primetime.
DAMNED RAIN
soaked
It rained for about three-quarters of the weekend. In fact, yesterday brought us a downpour literally every half-hour; I didn't even bother stepping out of the house. Today is looking to be more of the same--except, of course, that I have stepped out of the house, to go to work.

This morning, while gathering together the stuff to take with me from my car to the office, and trying to be careful to avoid exposing them to the wet weather, I wound up locking my keys in the car. Easily retrievable, but majorly annoying.

I hate the rain.
CHINESE KINDERGARTEN SEX ED
Serious part:

Because of the growing epidemic of AIDS, other STDs and illegal abortions among schoolchildren, the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou will start sexual education coursework at the kindergarten level. Presumably, the rest of China will eventually follow suit.

Humorous part:

Life mirrors art as the "South Park" episode "Proper Condom Use" saw the quiet mountain town institute sex ed from kindergarten on up. The highlight was Mr. Garrison instructing his tykes on the names of all the different sexual positions known to man and woman, and giving a demonstration on how to put on a condom--with your mouth. Presumably, China will find instructors who will teach an alternative set of methods.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

A WICKED PERSPECTIVE
I recently finished reading "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. I picked it up due to all the hubbub over the musical it inspired (although beyond the general plot, I think the two have only the barest resemblance to one another).

It was hard to get through in certain spots, and while the notion of presenting the Wicked Witch as the victim of marginalization and smear tactics is compelling, I don't think Maguire did a complete job in bringing it all together. In particular, I don't think the Witch's fixation on the ruby slippers was presented convincingly enough.

In any case, publisher HarperCollins has a PDF of the first couple of chapters online, for your perusal. It includes the birth of Elphaba (the Witch), as well as a neat-o map of the Land of Oz.
PROGRESS WARRIORS
ProtestWarrior is the right's answer to left-wing protest groups. With the Republican National Convention coming, the New York chapter of ProtestWarrior is awaiting for its time to shine by counterprotesting the expected RNC protests.

Does ProtestWarrior have a codified mission statement? They do--nominally. However, their current plan of action probably gives a more accurate picture of their operational rationale:
For now, ProtestWarrior's convention plans are unclear because they depend on the anti-Bush groups.
Pretty much wholly reactive then, more anti-something than pro-anything.

Someone may want to clue ProtestWarrior's leaders in on the definition of the word "reactionary".
ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GATOR
It's a well-known fact: If you piss off the wrong person in Florida, you're liable to get a 3-foot alligator flung at you.
THE MANCHURIAN AGGRAVATE
When news of The Manchurian Candidate remake hit last year, I was cautiously optimistic. Remakes are automatically burdened with comparisons to the originals, so they really have to be topnotch to avoid the question, "Why did they bother?"

The remake is here, soon to be released, and the marketing is in full swing.

It's in such full swing, in fact, that I'm getting sick of being bombarded with the TV ads for it. I've literally sat through programs where the trailer will come up twice within a minute of each other. It's now at the point where I'm probably not going to see it in the theaters, simply out of spite.

What's more, I've just watched the original by John Frankenheimer again. I doubt it can get much better.
CATCHING BABY ANNE
bass queen
Funny things can happen when you force yourself to step out. I was sitting at home last night, slowly working my way into a lethargy that would wind up with me sitting around all night doing nothing. I managed to screw up enough motivation to actually get dressed and head out to Ybor. I decided ahead of time to hole myself up in Amphitheater; no sense in wasting time.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I lucked out and showed up on the night Baby Anne was spinning! I had no idea. That cemented my intention to forego barhopping and just groove out at Amphitheater.

She didn't get set up until late--around 1:15AM. I was getting a little pissed at waiting so long, but she made up for it when she started the cuts. It was almost all new stuff, and I was glad it was all high-energy uptempo stuff (I have no use for slow jams in a techno club).

It was an unexpectedly fun night. I took a few pictures with my camera phone, but they didn't come out at all good. Just as well; it was all about the audio, not the visual.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

STOP THE MUSIC
It looks like Lollapalooza's demise from weak ticket sales was indicative of a general malaise in the concert industry this summer.

A hundred bucks for a decent seat to see Cher in her umpteenth final farewell concert, and they wonder why business is slow...
DAVE CHAPPELLE AND THE PRICE OF FAME
This may be old news, but it's new to me... By way of Hooray for Captain Spaulding, we find that Dave Chappelle doesn't appreciate the increased heckling that comes with being a TV star:
"The show is ruining my life," Chappelle told the crowd. Besides requiring him to work "20 hours a day," he said, it has made him a "star," which has resulted in the inability of fans to treat him as an individual.

"This (stand-up) is the most important thing I do, and because I'm on TV, you make it hard for me to do it," he said.

"People can't distinguish between what's real and fake. This ain't a TV show. You're not watching Comedy Central. I'm real up here talking."
It occurs to me that Chappelle's not helping his case in how "Chappelle's Show" is set up. It begins and ends with him up on stage, riffing and setting up skits, in front of an audience--in other words, replicating a stand-up show. Small wonder people are having trouble distinguishing between that and his "real" stand-up.

It sounds like someone's about ready to quit doing stand-up. At least in Sacramento.

This brings to mind Jerry Seinfeld's similar hissy-fit in a scene from Comedian, after he gets interrupted during his set on Long Island by some chattering patrons. I'm paraphrasing, but in effect he says, "How big do you fucking have to be, before they finally stop talking and pay attention??" Of course, Seinfeld waited until he was done and backstage before letting loose.

Despite the two-minute disappearing act and berating of the audience, Chappelle does make some excellent points about the folly of celebrity fawning:
"Stop listening to celebrities," he said. "They do what they do for money - that's all. I don't even know why you're listening to me. I've done commercials for both Coke and Pepsi. Truth is, I can't even taste the difference, but Pepsi paid me last, so there it is."

Celebrity worship harms the object of affection as well, Chappelle said. "One day people love you more than they've ever loved anything in the world. And the next, you're in front of a courthouse dancing on top of a car."

In case the audience didn't get the reference to Michael Jackson, he said, "You know why Michael Jackson's had so many surgeries? He wanted you to like him more."
More recently, ex-Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith made much the same point about sports celebrity, citing it as a chief reason why he retired in 2000, in the prime of his career.