The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

THE CRITICAL BYE: 2002-2004
new school
Two years ago today, I started this, my very first stab at blogging.

One year ago today, I took a look back at the experience.

That would make today the third anniversary for The Critical 'I'. And as I've been hinting all week, there's something to announce about that:

This blog is closing down.

And Population Statistic is opening up. Because it's always showtime, here at the edge of the stage.

The logo above is the handiwork of Julie with Moxie Design Studios. It's a taste of the job she did on the new joint, so check it out! (Everything that's not working and/or incomplete is currently my fault; hopefully soon to be fixed, and enhanced.)

I'm also switching blogging software from Blogger to Wordpress. The reasons are obvious: Blogger is great for starting off, but simply isn't robust enough for more complex content management. What's more, the recent changes indicate that it never will get robust enough--in fact, it appears to be moving in the opposite direction, with an emphasis on blogging-with-training-wheels approach. That's great, but at some point, you take the training wheels off.

So that's that. Adjust your bookmarks, hyperlinks and the like. My BlogSpot space will remain here indefinitely, until I move all the archives over. But I'll eventually install an auto-redirect script that takes you to Population Statistic.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

REVENGE OF THE DOT-COM IPO
No profits in sight. Wispy business models. Hyper-marketing and brand promotion. VCs and underwriters lining up.

Yup, the dot-com era is back again, with Google's IPO inspiring ticker-symbol dreams for bunches of online fly-by-nights.

And just in case you forgot what it was like before the late-'90s bubble burst:
Peter S. Fader, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said some companies treat their IPOs more like a marketing opportunity than a capital-raising exercise. Buying these stocks "is no different than betting on what the temperature is going to be in Tuscaloosa tomorrow," he said.
That says it all. Buying shares in these instances is more akin to funding an ad campaign than acquiring equity in an actual company. Invest wisely!
FOXSPORTS.COM: A NEW NUMBER 2 IN TOWN
When Microsoft's MSN Network switched its allegiances from ESPN.com to FoxSports.com back in May, I considered it a good move--for ESPN. The Disney-owned sports network has been top dog among sports websites for so long, I didn't see what MSN brought to the party. What's more, I figured that MSN was in for a rough ride with Fox, which has made a name for itself in terms of shoddy content on its sports site.

Looks like I didn't know what I was talking about. Only a month into the marriage with MSN, FoxSports.com has seen a 360 percent increase in traffic, for a total of 10.4 million unique visitors and the No. 2 spot among sports sites. This is accompanied by a drop in traffic for No. 1 ESPN.com, from 14.1 million to 13.4 million visitors; part of that drop is attributed to the loss of the pipeline to MSN customers. All these numbers come from comScore; rival tracking service Nielsen//NetRatings shows somewhat different figures.

ESPN suddenly has some bigtime competition on its tail. I'm sure Bristol's numbers will be replenished soon, with the NFL and other fall/winter sports gearing up. And I don't expect ESPN to be knocked off its perch anytime soon; they'll make their countermoves.

I guess this underlines the advantage of having a major portal partnership that throws traffic your way. As much hype as the decentralized approach to online media consumption gets--especially with the en vogue-ness of RSS feeds--attracting eyeballs on the Web has an awfully familiar look to it.
2080: EUROPE'S ENDLESS SUMMER
That's if you consider the absence of winter to be, by default, summertime. The European Environment Agency predicts that global warming will put an end to cold-weather winters in Europe some eighty years from now.

I hate snow. This climatic shift is as good a reason as any for me to relocate Euro-side! Oh wait, by 2080 I'll be dead. Bummer.

As Hurricane Charley's unexpected path showed, meteorological prognostication is more speculation than science. So I'm not taking this report as gospel. Past predictions for long-term Euro-weather included both a tropical England and a colder Continent.
LAZY COMMENTING FOR PLUGS
I've got no problem with people using commenting and trackback functions as a way to spread the word for their own sites. It's at least a secondary function of these instruments--the primary function being, ostensibly, feedback.

However, do it right. The right way is to offer a pertinent, even thoughtful, note about the particular post that's attached to the comment box, and along with your URL (even incidentally so). The wrong way is to just paste your URL along with a sub-sentence along the lines of, "Check my site", without any contribution to the post subject.

The right way is much appreciated. The wrong way will be deleted every time, and the chance of me visiting that site decreases dramatically.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT, TO-MOR-ROW
Yeah, you know it boy! It will all be revealed tomorrow.

Are you excited? You're not? 'Cause I'm not. (Actually, I am.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

BELIEF IN GOD, OR BELIEF IN RELIGION?
light and way
I found this dual review of theologian-authored books on belief in God to be intriguing. The books were "In the Beginning... Creativity", by Harvard Divinity School's Gordon D. Kaufman, and "The Twilight of Atheism", by Oxford University's Alister McGrath, and the basis for comparison is the opposite ends each man reaches in this analysis. Providing the added twist is the divergence each one takes from his personal background: Kaufman was raised as a devout Christian, and McGrath has a Marxist-atheist pedigree from his younger days.

Rather than go through the entire debate, I'm more interested in looking at the condensed argument for McGrath's turnaround from Godless to Godly:
His basic theme is that in past centuries, Western faith squandered its moral stature when Christians ran around killing each other and oppressing dissenters. Back then, atheism seemed to promise human liberation.

Today, of course, churches abhor any hint of coerced faith and have long since embraced full freedom of conscience.

Meanwhile, when atheistic Communists or neo-pagan Nazis gained political power in the 20th century, McGrath comments, they proved to be even more bloodthirsty than their misguided Christian predecessors and produced "just as many frauds, psychopaths and careerists."

The conclusion: "It is not of the essence of atheism to be a liberator, nor of religion to be an oppressor."...

He realized that the great atheists (Marx, Freud) presupposed atheism rather than proving it.

Thus, "the belief that there is no God is just as much a matter of faith as the belief that there is a God." Impasse. "The grand idea that atheism is the only option for a thinking person has long since passed away."

Moreover, McGrath argues, atheism failed in matters of "imagination" and created mere "organizations" instead of the sort of "community" that humans crave and religion fosters. Apart from Western Europe, faith is booming.

Still, McGrath maintains a certain respect for his youthful credo. Atheism's past successes showed that "when religion is seen as a threat to the people, it will fail; when it is seen as their friend, it will flourish."
To me, it doesn't sound like McGrath is advocating faith as much as he's advocating religion. More to the point, he treats religion and atheism as competing devotions, and in the process regards the structure of religion as being more vital, socially, than any actual belief behind it. It seems hollow.

I suppose I might get a more complete sense of McGrath's (and Kaufman's) arguments by consulting the book. But I'm not all that interested.
DOWN WITH THE G
what's in a name
Among all the trademark battles that Google is fighting, the one over Gmail is probably the most troubling for the company. The search king is in fourth place for the race to register the "Gmail" name, putting its claim in some jeopardy.

I'm thinking that they'll still get it if they really want it, but will have to pay through the nose. Either they'll have to grease the wheels with the trademark authorities and the other claimants, or else will have to heavily pay off one of the three claimants in front of them to buy it from them.

A couple of things come to mind:

- As I mentioned regarding the Froogles.com dispute, it's surprising that such a gee-whiz tech company, whose whole business is based around information retrieval and research, would be so negligent with its own product development. It doesn't bode well for Google's operating ability as a public company--assuming the IPO ever gets off the ground.

- I'm wondering why Google felt compelled to create a new, distinct brandname for its email offering in the first place. Why not offer "@google.com" addresses? Or, if those are reserved for corporate employees (instead of something like "@googleinc.com"), then "@googlemail.com" would work. A mass market so enchanted by all things Google would be delighted to have the name in their email address. "Gmail" seems too abstract. The desire to have a short domain name is understandable, but I think it's offset by the equity in the Google brand.
NHL OWNERS' PROPOSALS: CAP-O-RAMA
icey-not
Another meeting, another load of rhetoric. The NHL and NHLPA concluded their third formal meeting today without getting any closer to a collective bargaining agreement for next season. About the only concrete move was a formal rejection from the players' union of all six of the owners' proposals, on grounds of all of them being some form of a salary cap.

Are they? Bill Daly, the league's chief legal officer, admitted that one of the six plans was indeed a standard per-team payroll cap, but the other five weren't, strictly speaking. Let's take a look at the other five proposals, courtesy of the NHL via FoxSports:
- A performance-based salary system, in which a player's individual compensation would be based, in part, on negotiated objective criteria and, in part, on individual and team performance.

- A payroll range system in which teams could spend within a negotiated range of payrolls.

- A system premised on the centralized negotiation of player contracts, where the league would negotiate individual player contracts, either with players and their agents or with the union directly.

- A player partnership payroll plan (P-4), which would involve individual player compensation being individually negotiated on the basis of "units" allocated for regular-season payrolls, supplemented by lucrative bonuses for team playoff performance.

- A salary slotting system, which would contemplate each team being assigned a series of "salary slots" at various levels, each of which would be allocated among each team's players pursuant to individual player-team negotiation.
Now, which of these plans don't amount to a cap on salaries? The concept of centralizing contract negotiations between the league and the player means the disappearance of a competitive market for player services. Salary slots lock in pay. In short, each of these proposals are salary caps, either on a team-wide basis or an individual basis (the latter which was applied in the NBA on their last CBA, a move hoops players now regret).

Frankly, I don't see why any rational person (read "rational" as "someone who doesn't think players should play for free") wouldn't agree with the players. They're going to get screwed under any of these plans.

A better question would be why the owners feel they need to impose cost-certainty safeguards when they not only already extended the life of the current CBA once, but are also currently demonstrating how they can put a lid on market values. Granted, the lower salaries being tossed around wouldn't exist if not for the pressure of an expiring CBA. But it's essentially the same old story: If the owners didn't have the money, they wouldn't be spending it.

I'm still optimisitic, believe it or not. Adults know that agreements in these situations don't come about until the last minute, and I fully expect that to happen here. Until then, there's little to do but gawk and speculate. And watch the World Cup of Hockey, of course.
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT, TWO DAYS AWAY
Yes, I'm trying to build suspense over my big news flash this coming Thursday. What can it be?

I don't drop hints, but I will say it doesn't relate to anything that's been mentioned lately here.

Monday, August 16, 2004

BLOGGER NAVBAR, NO ADS?
When Blogger.com sprung its redesign on me back in May, I noted that one of the things they left out was a built-in search function for BlogSpot-hosted blogs. Considering that Google owns Blogger/BlogSpot, this would seem like a natural, especially since the general populace is so in love with the search giant that such a direct link between the brands would only enhance the blogging services. The absence seemed curious.

It appears I've gotten my wish--sort of. The Blogger NavBar sits at the very top of this blogpage, whether I want it or not. I had to do some quick-and-dirty template adjustment to keep it from encroaching upon my top banner.

The most notable feature of the NavBar is the Google-powered searchbox. The Critical 'I' is indexed fairly extensively by Google, so the utility is definitely there. Of course, it makes the FreeFind search function on this page superfluous. That may be just as well: FreeFind seemed to hiccup on its indexing once the blog went to page-dedicated permalinks, and thus has become somewhat less reliable to me. So I probably should ditch it. But I'll wait to see how the NavBar works first; no sense in rushing things.

The other links in the NavBar are really inconsequential; I'm not crazy about the "Next Blog" pointer, but I've got plenty of similar links of my own handiwork here, so it's really nothing to complain about. However, it does create the impression of a "BlogSpot network" of blogs, which doesn't thrill me either.

I note that the NavBar has displaced the GoogleAds banner that was formerly planted at the very top of the page. I was under the impression that Blogger/Google saw ads an important part of BlogSpot's revenue potential. I know some people resented those ads; frankly, they never bothered me, and I'd opt to have them back. I can't believe they'd abandon them; perhaps they'll reappear in some new form.
ANARCHY IN THE USA: TO THE POLLING BOOTH
How much has President Bush polarized the American polity? Even the anarchists are considering voting against him.
Susan Heitker, 32, of Athens, believes that the U.S. government is neither legitimate nor democratic, but she still plans to vote.

"To me, at least, it's important to vote," she said. "There was a time when I was not going to vote, but I really dislike Bush."
When doctrinarian anarchists are dirtying themselves with the state-sponsored political process, you know there's some resentment against Dubya.

Anarchists aren't the first group forced to reconcile their radical philosophy with political practicality. Over the past century or so, socialist and communist parties in Europe and the U.S. made the monumental decision to reject Marx's revolutionary precepts and engage in party politics. Moderate leaders in those movements saw a better chance at effecting change through peaceful participation in the electoral process than through violent overthrow of the existing state system. The anarchists never seriously considered this, probably because they consider the prospect of an "Anarchy Party" as ridiculous as everyone else does. Despite this rush to the ballot, I don't see a party coalescencing from this; but stranger things have happened.
RICKSHAW COMPUTING ON THE SUBCONTINENT
What do you do when you live in a country with only 12 computers and four Internet connections per every 1,000 people? You take the show on the road, in the form of a wireless-enabled computer dubbed "Infothela" ("info-cart"), making the rounds to India's rural villages via bicycle rickshaw.

Between this computer-on-wheels, and Cambodia's motorcycle-powered wi-fi connectivity, people in less-developed parts of the globe are finding novel ways to use modern technology.
MULTIMEDIA CONSOLE: BEATING A DEAD HORSE?
ps-sux
The prospect of a household computing device that acts as an all-in-one entertainment server is too juicy for the computing/consumer electronics industries to ignore. So convergence is the keyword in the rollout of gaming consoles like Sony's PSX, masquerading as digital Swiss-Army knives, despite the skepticism of analysts and a poor track record.
Some analysts even wonder if the entire convergence idea really makes sense. "Beyond the clock radio, what's ever worked better from putting two different functions together?" asked Schelley Olhava, an analyst at market researcher IDC.
Very much my sentiment. I've already trashed the motivating factors behind hybrid devices like this, and figured that the PSX specifically was going to flop. That's turned out to be true; even the tech-eager Japanese didn't bother to throw any money down on the half-baked PSX.

The assumption that the average consumer is chomping at the bit to experience all of his/her music, movies and photos through a computer-based interface is shaky, as recent Pew Internet & American Life data suggest people still prefer non-computer media channels. Granted, this is a trending situation that can change with the introduction of more digital devices, but for now, it's looking like a limited market.

Even worse is the notion of trying to market the same console device in multiple configurations:
The tepid response to the PSX means that Sony is unlikely to take a bet-the-farm approach to convergence with the PlayStation 3, analysts have said. Instead, the electronics giant will at best offer multiple versions of the console--a games-only version around the standard $300 price point for new consoles, for example, and a media-enriched model for those with cash to burn.

"I think this is heading to multiple types of products," DFC Intelligence's Cole said. "You'll have a basic PS3 that just plays games and other (models) with different kinds of functionality. If you can do that right out of the gate, you might be able to get more consumers to bite than they've had with the PSX."
Really dumb idea that I believe is helping to kill Tivo right now. These devices are unknown quantities, intended to introduce and build a product sector. You do that by keeping things simple for the consumer, who's already gunshy about investing a few hundred dollars into something that's more a luxury toy than a necessity. You don't do it by presenting a dizzying array of features that the purchaser has to sort out. You can do that with cars; you can't do it with consoles.

Some see that light:
Olhava has doubts about that notion, given the game industry's reluctance to irritate mass market retailers with multiple product configurations. "I'm not even convinced we'll see different" models, she said. "This is an industry that prefers simplicity."...

Nintendo of America spokeswoman Beth Llewelyn said the company has no plans to cram consoles with nongame functions.

"There's been talk about convergence for many, many years, and it hasn't seemed to stick yet," Llewelyn said. "Consumers like dedicated video game systems. We think there's a huge market out there for game-specific devices."

That may be the smart way to go, Olhava said, given the track record for convergence experiments.

"Combining a lot of different features usually doesn't work," she said.
OPENING CEREMONIES: NOT BAD
games on
Despite the tale end of Hurricane Charley, I did manage to catch the Opening Ceremonies for the Athens Olympics on Friday night. After reading about a sneak preview of what was in store, I was most interested in seeing how much of the speculation was true:
... the infield of the stadium was flooded at one point and that a giant statue of Athena -- the city's protector -- rose into the stadium through a hole in the middle of the field.

The set then turned into a mountain, topped by an olive tree, and volunteers danced around in ancient costumes, [the anonymous informer] said. Hundreds of musicians beat drums and a performer dressed as a centaur -- half man, half horse -- shot an arrow intended to look like a comet.

At another point in the show, mythological figures sailed on a boat -- perhaps symbolizing the ancient story of Jason and the Argonauts, in which the hero and his crew hunt for the legendary golden fleece.

The dress rehearsal also included a Trojan horse. In Homer's epic, The Iliad, the horse concealed Greek troops who sacked the city of Troy.
It looks like most of that info was bogus, either by design or through misunderstanding. About the only elements that did show up in real life were the centaur, who tossed a light-javeline instead of shooting an arrow; the drum-beaters; the flooded infield; and the boat, although it carried only a young boy, not a pantheon of gods. No Trojan Horse, no Athena.

The speculation on the torch did prove true:
The Olympic flame will burn atop a 100-foot tapered column resembling the torch used in the worldwide relay. The structure, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is fitted with a hinged base -- suggesting it could be tipped over to be lit and then repositioned upright.
Which is what they did. While I did like the lead-up marathon relay run through all the modern Olympic years, with the symbolic stumbles at World Wars I and II, I still wish the torch-lighting had been via a centaur's arrow-shot. It was dramatic at Atlanta, and a repeat feat would have been nice.
MOVIES BEHIND BARS
By coincidence, I've taken in an inordinate number of prison-themed movies this past week:

- I caught Midnight Express on TV last Thursday;

- I bought Life on DVD on Saturday and watched it that afternoon;

- I went to see Carandiru at Old Hyde Park Village last night.

While they all have the jail setting in common, they're very disparate films. Midnight Express is a minor classic, as notorious for the fictionalized (despite the "based on a true story" tag) depiction of life in a Turkish gulag as for star Brad Davis' real-life drug addiction during filming. Life is an overlooked Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence vehicle that's actually a quite touching comedy. Carandiru is a gritty Brazilian prison drama punctuated by some light touches, before coming to a rather harsh conclusion.

Why the preoccupation with prison flicks? I'll let you speculate. And no softball gay jokes, please, or else I'll be forced to rent Caged Heat--or at least catch Black Mama, White Mama on cable...
MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT, THIS THURSDAY
Like the title above says: Some rather large news coming up in a few days. Astute long-time readers of this space may be able to guess what it is; you may amuse yourself by speculating in the comment box. Otherwise, you'll just have to sit tight and wait.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

AMATEUR NIGHT: THE LAST LAUGH
Everybody's got to start somewhere. It might as well be the Tampa Improv's Open Mic night. There's a handful of aspiring jokesters trudging out to Ybor, looking for live experience. The basic lesson: It helps to have a full house.

I've kicked around the idea of taking the plunge into one of these amateur nights. The next one is on August 25th, just over a week from today. I feel I've got enough to do the solid 3-4 minutes they give you. I'm not sure I could scrounge up 10 people to come with me, and frankly, I'm not sure I'd want to have them there--could make me nervous.

But the full, lively crowd would be a big help for me. I have no problem standing up and speaking before a large group, but if it's just a small scattering, it becomes more one-on-one, and dicier.

I figure I can always fall back on a standup career, just in case my "Situation: Comedy" winning script doesn't pan out.
REALITY CHECK: WHEN CHANNELS ATTACK
Over a year ago, we got wind of an all-reality channel called Reality Central. Plans continue afoot with a new name (Reality 24-7), as well as plans for a rival channel from Fox.

Despite the industry experience and the slight headstart, it looks like 24-7 is going to get wiped out by Fox's venture:
Fox and its related studios have plenty of programming to choose from, including "The Simple Life" and "Joe Millionaire." Old Fox series such as celebrity boxing and "When Animals Attack" are on the shelves, ready to be dusted off.

Fox-affiliated companies operate all over the world; Vinciquerra has access to a dozen versions of "Temptation Island" from different countries, he said...

Fox's parent, News Corp., owns Direct TV, so it's likely that satellite provider will offer Fox Reality from its beginning. News Corp. is a behemoth in the industry, with a formidable track record of starting successful networks like the National Geographic Channel, Fuel and the Speed Channel.
Still, I wonder how much life the standard contest-based reality show has in rerun form:
Many reality series draw strength from being serials, leaving those in the industry to wonder how much interest there will be in "American Idol" reruns, for instance, when everybody knows who won.
And that's not even considering whether the reality genre is going to stay strong. It's hot now, but so was "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" not so long ago; the gameshow resurgence it spawned is long since spent.

I expect the Fox reality channel to survive as an outlet, but only because New Corp. will push it as part of a multichannel package. It'll eventually become a dumping ground for all sorts of half-baked projects and thinly-veiled infomercials.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

MOSQUITO BITES CELLPHONES
As much as mobile phone makers and wireless providers would love for us to drop some cash on the latest fully-loaded handsets, increasing news about prone they are to PC-like infections are sure to keep them on the shelf. In the past couple of months, we've heard about the Cabir virus and the vulnerability of Bluetooth-enabled phones.

The latest bug derives from a cellphone game that's named after a bug: Mosquito. Illegally-downloaded copies of the game have been hijacking cellphones and making them send automatically-generated text messages overseas, bringing people hefty phone bills.

I'm sure the concept of downloading anything, let alone videogames, onto a phone comes as news to the average consumer. The notion that a phone could be hacked to do malicious operations is equally bizarre, and unnerving.

As stories related to this spread, I expect to see more and more people eschew smart phones and stick with the basic free-with-your-service-plan clunker phones. Since most people don't want to do anything with their phones but talk anyway, it's not going to put a crimp in the average person's lifestyle by staying lower-tech.
GOODBYE CRAIG, HELLO CONAN?
It's hard to believe that late-night TV was, for decades during the Johnny Carson era, a stable terrain. Just when we've gotten used to the Jay Leno-Conan O'Brien vs. David Letterman-Craig Kilborn axises, Kilborn announces that he's leaving his show as of next month.

I'd like to think that Kilborn's recent stint on ESPN's SportsCenter Old School, which I enjoyed very much, is prompting him to return to the sports desk. But it doesn't look like it; it seems he wants to pursue other television/movie projects. I'd support him starring in an instant remake/do-over of Anchorman; I think he'd do a much better job than Will Ferrel, with the writing and the acting.

The speculation that O'Brien could be lured from NBC to CBS is nice to dream about. CBS would have to keep the seat at the "Late, Late Show" warm for over a year, though. That makes it extremely unlikely. What will happen is that CBS and Letterman (the producer) will find someone else, even on a short-term basis, and hope he becomes a hit.

I would love to see O'Brien and Letterman on the same channel, though. I realize that all four shows are distinct from each other (network promotion of "seamless blocks of talk/comedy" aside), but the pairings always seemed mismatched to me. Letterman and O'Brien have the same sort of irreverent, goofy sensibilities (although O'Brien's not nearly as deft with it, and his writing for the last year has grown increasingly stale). Leno and Kilborn seem paired by an identical devotion to style over substance.

I'm hoping that, in the meantime, CBS taps Chris Rock to take over the late late shift.
CHARLEY, THE HURRICANE THAT WASN'T (FOR ME)
false alarm
Hurricane Charley has come and gone. I'll reiterate my original sentiments:

Pain. In. The. Ass.

Charley made a surprise turn and hit the Fort Myers area yesterday, then worked its way up through Orlando and Daytona Beach. The originally projected path that had it coming up into Tampa Bay was altered by an atypical August cold front. It seems the Bay area's lucky streak with hurricanes came through once again. In fact, it was the ideal scenario: Charley's landfall to the south meant that we were spared the dreaded storm surges, which even with the Fort Myers hit could have been a problem for Tampa Bay.

Ironically, Pinellas County, which was anticipated to become a virtual island with a direct hit, turned out to be the safest spot in the state. As I write this now, it's a typical day outside: Overcast, but with plenty of daylight, and no more rain than we've normally been getting.

So was all that preparation and anticipation a waste of time? Government officials and experts will tell you no. I'll tell you yes.

A coworker from northern California, who grew up with earthquakes, told me that given the choice of natural disasters, she prefers earthquakes to tropical storms. With earthquakes, there's no real warning. It just happens, and whether it's just a tremor or 10.0, you only worry about it while it's happening. There's no build-up beforehand.

With storm systems, the tracking starts days in advance, and as the pathway becomes clearer, the storm warnings increase with frequency. All the information is supposed to prepare you, but in reality, it doesn't--it just panics you. The panic is senseless, because much like an earthquake, there's very little you can do about it; the storm's going to hit, and all the preparations you make aren't going to change that. My original inclination to stay put in my evacuation area reflected that.

My cynicism about all this is reinforced by a last little bit of storm news yesterday. Just as it was established that Charley would pass us, the meteorolgists "alerted" us to the formation of two new tropical systems--off the coast of Africa. Apparently, the weathermen were still in super-action-news mode, and couldn't help but apply their panic-now tone to this rather insignificant news (all tropical storms/hurricanes here originate across the Atlantic off Africa; they either fizzle out, or become problems, but it's ridiculous to make anything of them at such an early stage).

I'm still a bit peeved at having left home yesterday. It seems that the minute I set out, Charley changed it's course. It was nice to spend some time with my friends, and watch their kids run around, but honestly, I wouldn't have minded just chilling out on my own.

At this point, I'm tired of the subject of Charley, and weather in general. I'm looking forward to retiring that weather image above for a good while. I'm also looking forward to going out tonight and partying my ass off--a great tonic for the last couple of days' hassles.

Friday, August 13, 2004

I SKEDADDLED
not wet yet
Or chickened out, or got wise, or however you want to say it. I abandoned apartment.

Considering the revised Charley path that now has Manatee-Sarasota getting nailed instead of Tampa Bay proper, I should have stayed home. But I'm here in Tampa, with friends, and it ain't all bad. Still would rather be home, but...

It's still amazingly calm here. Even a little sunny. You honestly couldn't tell there was a big storm brewing. That's reinforced from earlier this morning, when I awoke to the same familiar fountain shooting water in the middle of the lake, and the seagulls divebombing into the water.
FRIDAY, 13, HURRICANE
It just occurred to me: It's now Friday the 13th. And we're about to get hit with Hurricane Charley. It figures.
THE CALM BEFORE
getting close
Given the uncertain conditions tomorrow, I'm making a rare midnight posting.

Still have no plans of leaving, even though I'm smack dab in the middle of an evac zone. What's more, if the current projection is accurate, Charley is supposed to come within a few miles of my front door. Again, the course could change in the next few hours; we'll still get something, but the hurricane itself could hit away from the Tampa Bay area. But for now, it's looking likely it'll be here.

The latest:
"MacDill Air Force Base will probably be mostly underwater and parts of downtown Tampa could be underwater if we have a Category 3," [state meteorologist Ben] Nelson said. "In a Category 3, you can almost get to the point where Pinellas County becomes an island."

"There will be a period of time where if you stay behind and you change your mind and you want to be rescued, no one can help you. We aren't going to go out on a suicide mission," Pinellas Emergency Management Chief Gary Vickers told people in the evacuation zone.
Me, nervous? A little. I always scoff at those diehards in storm areas who stubbornly stay behind, then yelp for help once the shit hits the fan. I guess I'm one of them now... But that's balanced by the knowledge that there's really not much to do. My option in Tampa is not that much safer than here, really. As long as I'm supplied, I should be okay.

In the meantime, conditions here are ridiculously calm. We had a brief shower this afternoon, nothing out of the ordinary. Otherwise, there's really no indication of what's to come. There was even some sunshine toward the evening. A friend in Clearwater said it was full-blown sunny where she was. Truly a calm before the storm.

So calm, in fact, that I had a nice dinner of crabmeat-stuffed salmon filet earlier, and a typical night of boob-tube staring. It's important to maintain some sense of normalcy.

Don't expect much in the way of stormwatch blogging from me. Even assuming the power and DSL line stay live, I'm not inclined to be a hero. I doubt I could snap any good photos of it from where I'm situated, and I'm not venturing out to the shoreline. If you want some of that action, Weatherbug is doing some Charley-chasing just south of here, in Fort Myers.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

THE GAY GUV
a state of mind
Who says politics is boring? Even if the White House race doesn't thrill you, the Illinois Senate race, with it's circus atmosphere and sleaze, should get your attention.

And if that doesn't do it for you, maybe today's shocker out of the Garden State will: New Jersey Governor James McGreevey resigned today, citing a homosexual affair he had while married with two kids.

I've really got nothing more to say about it. It's bizarre, it's certainly stranger than fiction, and it definitely adds fodder for the ocean of Jersey jokes out there.
MOVIE MIXER
There's a continual cycle of unconventional dating/meat market venues: Supermarkets, churches, health clubs, museums, etc. Presumably, if you hook up with someone at one of these places, you go on to date them, and what's more of a default for an early-stage date than the movies?

Since the movies are a natural in the dating game, you might as well make it the staging ground for meeting mates.

I think the name, "Click at a Flick", sucks. But the concept is alright with me. I'll rarely turn down libations, and I am quite the cinephile. If this concept crawls it's way to Tampa Bay, I'll give it a try. It'd have to be a movie I'd want to see, though.
INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS COME NOVEMBER
Does this officially make us a banana republic? The United States has invited observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor this Presidential elections.

There's a lot of context to this that makes it less sinister than it might seem. The U.S. is a member of OSCE, and has agreed to participate in exchanges of observing teams among all member countries. OSCE still has to determine whether or not it wants to do this (although I'd be surprised if it declined). Similar missions observed midterm and state elections in 2002 and 2003. Finally, the observers won't be able to do anything but strictly observe the process, and then offer recommendations (if any) afterward.

Still, the very idea of a U.S. national election being observed raised the hackles of the usual knee-jerk suspects:
The letters drew outrage from many Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives. They promptly attached an amendment to the 2005 foreign-aid bill banning the use of any of that money to finance UN monitoring of the election.

"For over 200 years, this nation has conducted elections fairly and impartially, ensuring that each person's vote will count," said Rep. Stephen Buyer during debate on the floor of the House of Representatives. "Imagine going to your polling place on the morning of November 2 and seeing blue-helmeted foreigners inside your local library, school or fire station."
Those blue-helmeted furriners will probably be accompanied by black CIA helicopters, too.

Naturally, it's hard to separate this from how the 2000 election went. Having international observers around during a Presidential contest for the first time implies that the last election wasn't clean, even with all sane voices acknowledging that it (mostly) was. The usual application of observers is in unstable polities where corruption is expected, so bringing them here paints the United States with that same brush. If nothing else, it's galling to national pride, especially that of the world's remaining superpower. I recall that while the 2000 fiasco was being sorted out, Cuba offered to send a team of election observers to help Florida count the votes; the message sent with that offer was unmistakable.

It would be a neat trick to spin this in a positive way to the public. The very phrase "election observers" conjures up Third World countries and 2000, and the non-active nature of the mission would be unconvincing to most. I'm wondering if the image of UN soldiers at polling stations would be an enticement or deterrent for the average voter.
INTERNET: STILL SECOND FIDDLE
New data out of the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that, despite the joys and wonders of digital shopping, media and communications, most people are still more likely to go with traditional offline conduits.

One of the most-hyped and contentious online frontiers, digitized music, is surprisingly limited among the general populace:
Digital music gets a lot of attention as an "in" category now, but the survey suggests that fewer than one in four users actually use the Net to listen to music or radio. [Pew senior research fellow Deborah] Fallows said it's still just plain easier for people to turn on a stereo or car radio.
The one area where people are ga-ga for online info is maps:
If there was a surprise in the findings, Fallows says, it was the overwhelming reliance on online maps. She said some people in the survey said they like Internet maps so much they will call a friend while driving and ask him or her to go online and get them directions.
Of course, if you make regular use of Mapquest and the like, you know that it doesn't always give you the most direct route to where you're going. That must account for all the clueless drivers out there who are constantly slowing me down...

The idea of maps as one of the more valuable online resources corresponds with my experience, sort of. I recall sometime just before the turn of the century hanging out in a friend's office, helping him pack stuff up for an impending business trip. He complained that the worst part about traveling to new cities was having to buy road maps, or else just not knowing how to get around in unfamiliar surroundings. I kind of stared blankly at him for a couple of beats, then said, "You do know that you can create driving directions and maps through the Web, right?" It was a revelation to him (this was circa 1998, so he can be forgiven for presuming the Internet was good for nothing but chain emails and porn). I showed him the magic of online map sites, and he spent an extra half-hour printing out driving directions.

I've followed Pew Internet's findings closely. Their reports are fairly uniform about Internet permeation being more hype than fact (search the blog to find older posts; I'm too lazy to do it myself, and besides I'm on hurricane watch). I realize this looks like party-pooper work, but it's refreshing to step back from the tech/Web/blogging echo chamber and realize what the real world is doing.
ROCK YOU LIKE A... YOU KNOW
pending
Pain in the ass.

That's how I characterize the largest mandatory evacuation in Pinellas County history, ordered today, as I type this from my home in Pinellas County. Hurricane Charley (or, as I prefer to call him, Clyde) is coming, and the latest data has it hitting the Tampa Bay area square in the nose. If that holds up, it'll be the first direct hit the Bay area has had in close to a century.

I've been through this drill before. Evacuations are ordered, the major bridges to Hilllsborough County/Tampa are closed well ahead of time, and everybody gets more and more jittery as the barometer drops. Then, the storm du jour makes a left-hand turn and passes us by completely (except for the backlash of rainclouds, really nothing unusual for here).

Things appear more serious this time, although hurricanes and tropical storms are so unpredictable that Charley very well could miss me and hit either north or south of here.

The immediate results: My office is closed for tomorrow. We had to move as much stuff as possible (files, reference material, etc.) away from the windows, and put plastic wrap over our computers. Most places around here are battening down the hatches. The stores and gas stations are packing up with people as they rush to fill out their emergency supplies checklists. I got my stuff on two separate trips, last night and this afternoon (a girl in line in front of me was stocking up with two 6-packs of Bud; she said that was more fun to drink than water).

What will I do? I'm very much inclined to stay right where I am, even being practically on the water. I have the option of going to a friend's house in Tampa, where it's safer from immediate problems (flooding and direct high winds). Because of the bridge closings, starting at 10 PM tonight, I'd have to decide fairly soon; I could still get to Tampa after that, but it would have to be the long way. And I'd dread having to navigate in a hurricane-flooded aftermath.

Still, I see no real reason to go. If the storm does hit the area, we're all screwed. Power will likely go out regionwide, cellphones will be iffy, and forget about Internet. I'm on the second floor here, so the floods aren't going to touch me. The winds, on the other hand...

Friends and acquaintences are making plans, in a mostly laid-back way (most of them, like me, have gone through the motions before). My friends Kirby and Angela were flying out of town tomorrow anyway, on a week's vacation to Chicago, so they're lucking out and hoping that there's no huge mess when they get back. Another couple are in a similar spot as mine, only worse because they're on the ground floor; they may head for Kirby's house in Tampa, and if that's the case I might join them. A co-worker is at home alone, her husband out of the country on vacation, and she's worried about being at home alone more than anything.

Upshot, I'll hold out as long as I can. If the posting abruptly stops sometime tomorrow and doesn't resume over the weekend, you can assume I've been swept up. I'll return as soon as the storm dumps me in Cuba or Galveston, and I find an Ethernet hookup.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

TOYS AREN'T US
Kids grow up so fast these days. Too fast for Toys R Us, which is looking to sell itself out of its core toy-selling business to focus on its lucrative Babies R Us division.

I can understand why Wal-Mart and Target is winning the toy retail war. Parents have to be crazy to go to a store where they'll blow all their money on nothing but toys. Going to a superstore means they'll be able to buy at least a couple of more practical items while they indulge Junior (in fact, they'll probably wind up spending more money overall in that instance, but there's the illusion that they at least didn't blow too much on toys). The discounts help a lot, too.

The suggestion of Wal-Mart using their toy sales as loss leaders to draw in customers is rather rich. Toys R Us used to sell diapers in their stores at huge discounts, reasoning that young families would have newborns as well as older kids to take care of. That was held up for years as a textbook example of classic loss-leading strategy.
CONAN'S LATE-NIGHT INFOMERCIAL
Like I need another excuse for sleep deprivation: Tomorrow's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" will be infomercial-ized, partly as a joke and partly to shill a couple of show-related DVDs.

It's an interesting dynamic: O'Brien is going to parody the familiar low-grade look and feel of the average infomercial (many of which share the same timeslot as "Late Night"), which is good for a sure-fire laugh. Bringing in C-list celebrities like Bernie Kopell and Bruce Jenner reinforces the in-joke, as both make their living through "star" appearances on the infomercial circuit.

On the other hand, the joke is on the viewer, because the episode really is an hour-long commercial for selling DVDs. Actually, it's an extended commercial that's also selling time for other commercials, so NBC makes out exceptionally well. So O'Brien is becoming exactly what he's mocking, and the fact that he's doing it with a smirk doesn't change that.

With that all said, I'll still watch it. I'll probably pass on the 12:35 AM broadcast, though, and just catch it on the following day's Comedy Central repeat. An appearance by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is more than enough for me to tune in.
POWER POLITICS, THE GAME
Want to be the next Karl Rove or Dick Morris, a kingmaker in the American political system?

Well, that ain't going to happen. You'd have to lift your ass up from in front of the computer, find a golden boy/girl and hitch your wagon. All highly unlikely.

The next best thing is to play Power Politics III, where you can simulate being in charge of a Presidential campaign. You can choose to go back to the Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960, through the decades to this year's Decision '04.

Please, no wagering.
POLITICAL AD CAPTURE
It's campaign season, and the sooner you know what your opponent is saying about you, the sooner you can fire back. Campaign Media Analysis Group is in the business of providing the ammo, in the form of tracking political TV ads in major metro areas across the U.S. They're so good at it that media analysis giant Neilsen figures to take several years to become competitive.

Notice that CMAG deals exclusively in television. That's because that's unquestionably the most effective ad medium for political ads (and really, most types of advertising). There's more than enough business just slicing and dicing the boob tube. Print, radio, direct mail and online are all useful in election years, and probably represent niches of analytical opportunity. But for now, television is the one that counts.

I wonder how much use CMAG gets out of DVRs in their work? You can't program them to record political ads, but obviously they can capture hours of news channel programming and other likely timeslots for political advertising. But they'd have to look well beyond that, to primetime network and all the other slots where all candidates are targeting voters. Ad coverage has to be intense, because not only are both Democrats and Republicans going after undecideds, but also pushing hard to get the people on their side to actually get to the polls and vote.
BONNIE AND--CHARLEY??
wet
The above is not a current weather map of the Tampa Bay area; it's just stock imagery that I use for all foul-weather postings here. (There've been quite a few, and I've spared my readers the offline bitching I've been doing for the past week on that subject.)

In any case, I'm sure the aerials will be looking like this, or worse, soon. Different parts of Florida are bracing for an imminent double dosage of hurricane action, by the names of Bonnie (to the north) and Charley (to the south). The Bay Area is more or less midway between where the two storms are projected to make their landfalls, so we'll probably be getting doused as a result.

Bonnie and Charley? Shouldn't the meteorologists have shown some foresight and named the "C" storm system "Clyde"? As in Bonnie and Clyde? Considering all the hassle and grief these storms are going to bring to one state, I think it would be an appropos naming.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

CITIZENS' MEDIA: LIKE VOTING
There's been a couple of items posted at Poynter about user-produced online content initiatives:

- GoSkokie.com is a community news site built by students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. The goal was to run the site with as much resident-written contributions as possible, and compare the experience with similar efforts around the country. Results are available in the free report, "Hyperlocal Citizens' Media: Connecting Communities, Improving Journalism, Building Democracy".

- In a slightly different tack, the Open Source Media Project is looking to build a massive repository of open-source media files, with the goal of allowing people to utilize media anywhere, anyhow, anytime. The Internet Archive has offered to provide the storage.

Each proposal is based around the centralization-through-decentralization concept: Draw material from the public at large, then present it in one consolidated location. As such, it relies on fairly active audience participation.

And that's why, ultimately, they're both dead ends.

Ideas on the dissemination of media through Internet-based vehicles always assumes that there's a desire among the masses to create and contribute content. Those who see blogging as a phenomenon count on this.

My experience is that it's a much more limited impulse than most new-media acolytes would like to admit. In the larger context, there's a relatively small group of motivated content creators out there. Once the novelty of blogging/open media/whatever wears off, those numbers dwindle further. Eventually, these sites that rely on fresh infusions of user input slow down or become stale. This is particularly the case with community news sites; in the case of the Open Media Project, I can easily see it becoming hijacked into a porn depot.

Referring to these projects as citizen-oriented is appropriate--but not in a positive way. Citizenship is a status that's taken for granted by most; it's just there, and rarely exercised in the form of voting or other government participation. Online content contributing would probably be regarded the same way: Nice to know it's available, but likely to be rarely exploited.
WELCOME, TIM BROWN
brownout
It took a week, but as expected, WR Tim Brown is now a Buc.

A bit of a backstory: Tim Brown was somewhat close to becoming a Buccaneer about ten years ago. Back then, the orangesicle-clad Yucks were embroiled in a prolonged contract dispute with restricted free-agent tackle Paul Gruber, who was the only player on that roster of any real value. It got to the point where the team tried to work out a deal to ship him out to the Raiders (then still in Los Angeles). Tim Brown was initially thought to be the player coming the other way. I'm not sure just how solid that was; I think Al Davis was pushing a draft pick instead. Eventually, talks broke down, and there never was a deal. Gruber stayed a Buc for the rest of his career, and Brown stayed with the Raiders--until now.

In any case, I don't think Brown's addition is going to make any difference for Tampa Bay this year. I don't expect all these imported vets to jell, and the result will be seven wins--if they're lucky. (Actually, I'm thinking more like five or six wins.)

I'm a bit surprised the Dolphins didn't go after him, in an effort to reverse their run of bad luck. It could be that Brown made up his mind to reunite with Gruden earlier than today's signing indicates. In any case, Miami's likely going to tap Antonio Freeman as David Boston's replacement. Like it matters at this point.
24 SECONDS AND 50 YEARS
shoot!
Hoops fans said goodbye to any serious notion of defense 50 years ago today, when the 24-second shot clock was demonstrated during an informal pickup game at Vocational High School in Syracuse. The then-fledgling NBA adopted it the following season, and the rest is history.

Well, not quite. The article makes it sound like the NBA caught on right away once the scoring shot way up. In reality, the league floundered for the next couple of decades, until it really started taking off in the 1970s. You could even argue that pro basketball didn't achieve big-league status until the '80s, with the coming of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and later Michael Jordan.

The shot clock really did transform basketball, helping to turn it from a game that was originally conceived to be played on the floor to one that's now played through the air. The players obviously had a lot to do with that, too.

The idea of applying the shot clock to baseball (for pitchers) and hockey crops up every so often. The feeling is that an accelerated timeframe works (or used to) for hoops, so it should work wonders on those other two sports, which become plagued with low scoring and drawn-out gametimes. Thankfully, it never gets off the ground. (Football, of course, has it's own version of the shot clock--the play clock.)
BIBLEMAN--AND HIS SIDEKICK
A random visit to Deadly Cupcake 3 reacquainted me with the holy cruddiness that is Bibleman.

Bibleman's alter-ego is none other than Willie Aames. The same Willie Aames of "Charles In Charge" and (my personal favorite) "Eight Is Enough" fame.

Now that Aames has hit his post-cocaine holy-roller bigtime, I think he should extend some Christian charity toward his former co-stars. I propose that Bibleman pick up an Old(school) Testament-style sidekick: Torah-boy! Adam Rich would be ideal, but I could see Scott Baio in that slot instead. I'm sure both could use the work.
"SITUATION: COMEDY" AND THE TED DANSON FACTOR
So I've been thinking a bit on Bravo TV's "Situation: Comedy" reality show/contest. Specifically, the payoff for getting to the last stage:

- $25,000 cash
- A year's exclusive representation with Creative Artists Agency
- A 15-minute film presentation of your skit on Bravo (really not a prize per se, but it is exposure, even if you come in second place)

All very nice. But does it compare to what NBC (which owns Bravo) gave to Ted Danson back in the day? I think not! I think I'll pull a George Costanza and hold out for less money.

Monday, August 09, 2004

CELEBRITY BYLINES AND STAR POWER
If you're a struggling scribe trying to break into the exciting world of journalism, give up on submitting clips. To prove you have the proper writing chops, you have to first make it big in the movies, music or any other glittery entertainment field.

That's how it works of late, with stars like Ben Affleck, Julia Stiles and Alicia Keys leading a new trend in celebrity magazine and newspaper work. Ah-nold Schwarzenegger's part-time stint at editing a couple of fitness magazines also represents this mini-phenomenon.

What's the reason for this transference of star power to print?
... Star-written stories draw readers as well as advertisers, particularly in the overcrowded magazine field, says Richard Botto, editor in chief of Razor magazine. Editors there are working with Willie Nelson for an upcoming piece on Ray Charles.
That's basically the heart of it. For every writer that achieves household-name status, there's probably a hundred actors and musicians that are already in that position. The buzz factor a publication gets from having some Hollywood prettyboy or glamour girl pen a piece is like pure gold. The unique access that some of these celebs have with their peers is a strong secondary lure.

That said, let's not kid ourselves: Celebrities aren't going to take over all reporting. Using them as authors and editors is a pure publicity stunt. Overuse will kill the novelty and the cool factor, so doing it annually or so keeps it effective. The well-known names are what are doing the work, not the actual editorial content produced. I daresay that a mag like GQ could run Matt Damon's monthly grocery list under the star's byline, and it would sell.

In many ways, this reminds me of Wil Wheaton's announced book deal last year, and the false claim that his blogging got him the contract. As I said back then, his name and his Star Trek pedigree are what got him a book contract. Those same things will probably get him one of these bylines, too...
ATHENS OLYMPICS SECURITY, 1896
seems like old times
If it weren't for the "birthplace of the Games" thing, Athens would probably never get an Olympics. Today's security concerns echo those from over a century ago, when Athens' big problems during the first modern Games wasn't Mideast terrorists, but thieves and kidnappers:
At the start of 1896, the authorities in Athens learned from reliable sources that pickpockets from Istanbul, Cairo and Alexandria were preparing to invade the Greek capital to take advantage of "the good business opportunities" which the Olympics would provide for their deft fingers.

But they weren’t the only source of worry for those in charge of security. Few in Greece had forgotten the so-called "Marathon murders", in which, in 1870, three Britons were kidnapped and killed by Greek thieves.
THE STEALTH PRESEASON
futbol
I must really have a lot on my mind lately. I completely forgot that the NFL Hall of Fame Game, between the Redskins and Broncos, is tonight. The brainfreeze is even more inexplicable given that I was fully aware of yesterday's Hall inductions, headlined by John Elway and Barry Sanders.

I guess it's something to watch. But it is preseason, so it's hard for me to get jacked up over it.

Let me take this opportunity to give some friendly advice to all those football fans out there who are going to watch tonight's game from Fawcett Field and get caught up in it: It's meaningless. All of it. Despite all the chatter from the on-air crew about how Joe Gibbs is DC's second coming of Jesus, despite the familiar four quarters of gametime, the game means absolutely nothing. It means nothing at all for how Washington's or Denver's regular season will go. It's a spectacle purely for television, and both sides are just looking to get out of it without injury to anyone important.

In fact, if it were up to me, I'd prohibit the tallying of scoring plays in NFL preseason games. What's the point? The proper way to view these glorified inter-squad scrimmages is by individual drives and player performances, so there's really no reason to give them even the semblance of an actual game. That would also eliminate the moronic notion of preseason standings.

With that mind, I'll add a special note to the gambling junkies out there, who are stupid enough to bet money on game results that are of no consequence to either team: Just PayPal me the money directly. If you're that eager to toss your dollars away, I'll gladly oblige you.
REALITY CHECK: SITCOM STYLIN'
Who hasn't slumped back into the couch, disgusted at the realization of having squandered a half-hour of one's life watching some crapola like "Everybody Loves Raymond", and thought, "I could write something better using half my brain!"?

Time to put your money where your mouth is. Or at least, your creative energy (assuming you have any). Bravo Television's "Situation: Comedy" will be a contest/reality show about the search for the next sure-fire sitcom, and it's soliciting script ideas from the general public.

The AP's Frazier Moore has some interesting plot pitches, based on the Hollywood regurgitation method of series creation:
Just consider the new Fox sitcom "Method and Red," where two rap stars cope with living in a stuffy gated community. Will Smith was living with a starkly similar concept a decade ago on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." And what about the WB's fall show "Commando Nanny"? It's a Y-chromosome twist on the 1990s Fran Drescher sitcom "The Nanny."

In the eyes of sitcom-makers, to copy is an act of genuflection.

So ... how about six attractive young Manhattanites who hang out and drink a lot of, I don't know, maybe herbal tea? How about a button-down version of "Will & Grace" with Log Cabin Republicans?...

Or what about a cutting-edge sitcom for post-9/11, set in the Department of Homeland Security? Laughs galore! Someone keeps stealing office supplies. The boss's deputy has agoraphobia. One of the operatives (too bad Andy Dick isn't available to play him) spends all his time swapping music files with suspected terrorists.
They all sound like winners! Damn, I'm not even going to try now.

Moore does touch on a pertinent point: Many TV shows, especially comedies, are built around a specific star in mind. Indeed, that's factored into a network's commitment to go with a show. "Situation: Comedy" isn't going to be like that--it's presumably going to be judged largely on the merits of the writing. God help them.

On second thought, I think I will enter the contest. What the hell, I can write, and I'm damn funny. I won't even need to resort to Plotto to do my dirty work; I already know what it takes to make a successful sitcom these days:

- Ensembles with hot chickies and metrosexilicious men!
- Monkeys, monkeys, and more monkeys! That solve crimes!
- Going for youth market--straight to the womb!


I know what you're thinking, and you're right: Don't bother entering. I've got it sewn up, baby. See you in Malibu...
THEY FORGOT TO ADD CANADA AND MEXICO, TOO
California Alternative High School takes that "alternative" in their name to heart, as the cut-rate diploma mill is being shut down over laughably false information in its curriculum, leading to worthless high-school equivalency certificates.
The school's chief executive officer, Daniel Gossai, claimed to have a teaching credential and two doctorates, but prosecutors said they found no evidence that he does. He was a teacher at Victor Valley Community College in the late 1970s, but was fired for immoral conduct, dishonesty and being unfit for service, [California Attorney General Bill ] Lockyer said.
Among the gaffes to be found in their "textbook" (with correct information hyperlinked):
- The United States has 53 states but the "flag has not yet been updated to reflect the addition of the last three states" -- Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico.

- World War II began in 1938 and ended in 1942.

- There are two houses of Congress -- the Senate and the House, and "one is for Democrats and the other is for the Republicans, respectively."
Plus one more, from the Los Angeles Times via Joanne Jacobs:
- There are four branches of government. They are the legislative, judicial, executive and "administrative" branches. Asked about the fourth branch by investigators, one teacher responded that "not much is heard about it because it works behind the scenes." The Treasury Department is part of the "administrative" branch.
Astounding. I'm wondering if this stuff was put together in an insomniac-produced glaze, or if some severely-underqualified dunce actually thought these were the correct facts (probably gleaned from some random webpage). Or did the school's honchos intentionally put in the false info as a joke, almost daring someone to call them on it?

Maybe the home schoolers are onto something. Or not.
OPENING CEREMONY: SNEAK PREVIEW
jumping through hoops
How do you keep a secret among 35,000 people? You don't. And so we have an early peek at Athen's Opening Cermony show this Friday to kick off the Olympics.

Pagans rejoice! It sounds like it'll be a Homeric spectacle:
... the infield of the stadium was flooded at one point and that a giant statue of Athena -- the city's protector -- rose into the stadium through a hole in the middle of the field.

The set then turned into a mountain, topped by an olive tree, and volunteers danced around in ancient costumes, [the anonymous informer] said. Hundreds of musicians beat drums and a performer dressed as a centaur -- half man, half horse -- shot an arrow intended to look like a comet.

At another point in the show, mythological figures sailed on a boat -- perhaps symbolizing the ancient story of Jason and the Argonauts, in which the hero and his crew hunt for the legendary golden fleece.

The dress rehearsal also included a Trojan horse. In Homer's epic, The Iliad, the horse concealed Greek troops who sacked the city of Troy.
Nice little swipe at Troy! Good thing the city is no longer around to complain about it.

The centaur's arrow shot sounds an awful lot like the flaming arrow shot in Atlanta in 1996 to light the Olympic torch for those Games. I would love to see that neat little trick repeated; I thought it was very dramatic and memorable. I'm not sure if the speculation on Athen's torch display gives any indications:
The Olympic flame will burn atop a 100-foot tapered column resembling the torch used in the worldwide relay. The structure, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is fitted with a hinged base -- suggesting it could be tipped over to be lit and then repositioned upright.
Man, I should have gone. Hopefully NBC will have excellent coverage.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

THE DVD ABOUT NOTHING
what's the deal
I've often wondered when the timing would be right for a release of "Seinfeld" on DVD. I know that Amazon's had a holding spot for orders for years.

It looks like time is fast approaching: The first three seasons will be released on November 23rd, and the DVD package looks like a winner.

Among the secrets to be revealed in the bonus material: The whereabouts of Kramer during the real-time structured Chinese Restaurant episode. I can't say I've ever wondered about that, but it would make a nice story-lette.
WRITER JUICE
What makes us writers go? Writer juice, of course. Dan Trujillo is taking a month off from his playwriting to refill his tank with this precious liquid.
I intend to keep writing here, but I will devote my playwriting time to cleaning and gussying my office. The place where the magic happens should have a sense of magic to it, after all. I'm sick of coming in there to work, and thinking, "What a dump." Double the shame, because I'm lucky enough to have an office.
Everyone could use time to recharge every now and again; that's what vacations are for. But the well tends to run dry at the more inopportune instances, and sometimes you have to find unconventional ways to prime the pump. Doing some redecorating may seem like trivial busy-work, but the point is to remake your environment, leading to a rejuvination in the creative process.

It's not always easy. What can seem like the simplest procedure--banging out a few word on the keyboard, hoping it builds steam--isn't always doable. But like any other work, you manuever your way through it.

At the moment, I'm not feeling overly juiced up. But I write on, nevertheless.
MOBILE PHONE DATE RESCUE: MISSPENT MONEY
There's nothing like an emergency phone call to get you out of an awkward situation. That's the rationale behind Cingular's Escape-A-Date and Virgin Mobile's Rescue Ring, wireless services that buzz your phone with fake calls that enable you to ditch your social commitment of the moment.
When the cell rings, one of Cingular's eight "emergency" messages says: "Hey, this is your Escape-A-Date call. If you're looking for an excuse, I got it. Just repeat after me, and you'll be on your way! 'Not again! Why does that always happen to you? ... All right, I'll be right there.' Now tell 'em that your roommate got locked out, and you have to go let them in. Good luck!"

And bingo, the bad date is history.

The rescue-call service is part of a Cingular package that costs $5 a month. Virgin Mobile offers its Rescue Ring at 25 cents per use, plus the price of the call.
Ingenious. Of course, one has to question the point of paying anything at all to your wireless provider when you could just duck into a bathroom, make a quick call to a friend, and arrange for a fake call that way.

An even easier option would be to surreptitiously set the built-in alarm (a basic feature on every mobile phone sold these days) to ring at a pre-set time, and then pretend to chat on the phone for the few seconds it takes to weasel out of the date. (This is the option that makes me shake my head at that dumb "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" commercial, where some guy asks for his hotel's wakeup call to be routed to his cellphone.)

Regardless, I'm sure there's a healthy market of ill-informed consumers out there who'll eagerly sign up for this useless service. It's things like this that encourage wireless providers to treat their customers like crap; after all, if people will part with their money for this, why not assume they're thoroughly stupid?
OLYMPIC NASCAR?
racing ovals
Load up the Equestrian section of the St. Petersburg Times' look at the ancient Olympic games, and one of the first things you'll see is a big full-color picture of a NASCAR crash. What's one got to do with the other?
Obviously, chariot racing no longer exists - or does it? When it comes to horse-powered thrills and spills, auto racing is the modern-day equivalent to chariot racing, be it Formula One or NASCAR. Today's charioteers receive a greater share of the glory, but drivers are hired to take all the risks. Consider that the fastest chariots were powered by four horses, while an F1 engine produces nearly 1,000 horsepower. Where the Greeks put 40 chariots on the three-quarter-mile hippodrome course, NASCAR puts 43 brightly painted stock cars on the half-mile track at Bristol. And just like the hippodrome, the most treacherous spots on a race track, be it road course or oval, are the turns. The smallest miscalculation by the driver or the slightest touch between two cars can trigger a spectacular crash.
I should point out that the statement about chariot racing no longer existing is questionable if you take into consideration harness racing.

I'm thinking this adds fuel to the fire for a lobbying effort to get auto racing added as an Olympic event. Not that such a move should be good news for NASCAR fans; if racing were to find itself in the Games, it would almost certainly be of the F1 variety. And there's not a whole lot of crossover appeal between NASCAR gearheads and F1 enthusiasts; it's like the difference between Budweiser and Dom Perignon.

By the way, if you want to see some nice graphics on the actual equestrian events from the ancient Olympics, the Times put together some cool graphics.
PROFESSOR DRUID AND THE INTERNET
On Friday, my boss mentioned that one of her daughter's new high school teachers was a declared Druid. A cornerstone of Druidry is reverence of trees as living beings, and thus an aversion to harming them or using products made from them. As such, he's informed his students that all assignments for the year will be delivered and received wholly electronically--no paper whatsoever.

My initial thought was that it was a kooky way to structure your class. But then I thought that, these days, it's probably not very unusual. More and more, the college classroom experience includes Web-based syllabi and back-and-forth emailing between instructor and student, cutting down on paperwork immensely. It's only natural that high schools should adopt this too, where possible (this particular teacher is instructing an advanced honors program, so there's a certain expectation as far as having access to computers, etc.).

I also noted that the Internet Age is the perfect time for a Druid to be a teacher. In years past, there really was no way to avoid dealing with paper all the time. Now, electronic media allows this guy to practice his beliefs closer to the letter than he ever would have been able to, and still be employed. Of course, he's still teaching in a building that's made at least partly from wood, and there's tons of other dead-tree products all around; but every little bit helps.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

HOLLYWOOD DUCKS
dethpicable
I would have assumed that spots on the Hollywood Walk of Fame would be reserved for flesh-and-blood Tinseltown types. I'd have assumed wrong, because Donald Duck is getting his star next week, joining fellow celluloid-only honorees Bugs Bunny, Micky Mouse and the Simpsons.

If I'm Daffy Duck, I'm on the phone with my agent and raising holy Hell.
SPORTSCENTER REUNIONS, SANS OLBERMANN
In case you haven't heard, ESPN turns 25 this year. Along with several other marketing gimmicks to commemorate the quarter century, the Mothership is bringing back a few of their most notable SportsCenter alumni to do their thing in front of the camera. The schedule for this reunion, dubbed "SportsCenter Old School", next week is as follows:
SUNDAY: Craig Kilborn and Dan Patrick

MONDAY: Charley Steiner and Bob Ley

TUESDAY: Gayle Gardner and Stuart Scott

WEDNESDAY: Greg Gumbel and Chris Berman

THURSDAY: George Grande and Chris Berman
Nice to see pretty-boy Kilborn back behind the sports desk. He made a fan out of me with his ESPN work, and then later on the original incarnation of "The Daily Show"; I'm not nearly as enamoured of his current work.

I'm also curious to see the granddaddy of them all, George Grande, in action. He was well before my time, and all I've ever seen of him is archival footage.

The pairings are nice, but there's an obvious omission: Keith Olbermann. It's not like they forgot about him:
"We didn't want to bring him into the workplace," said ESPN executive vice president Mark Shapiro. "The damage he could do in one day in the newsroom could put us in damage control for two years."

When Olbermann was told of Shapiro's statements, he said he was a little surprised, adding he would have loved to return to ESPN for a reunion.

"Of course I would have accepted," Olbermann said.

If there is too much baggage, as Shapiro suggested, "the label doesn't have my name on it, it has ESPN's name on it."

Shapiro was open to Olbermann's return at one point. He said two years ago, when he was hired at ESPN, he met with the former anchor about possibly coming back to the network.

This despite Olbermann's surprising and head-scratching split from ESPN and some less-than-flattering things about the network's management in Michael Freeman's book, ESPN: The Uncensored History.

But time had passed, and Olbermann had written an apology of sorts, published on Salon.com, for some of the things he said in Freeman's book.

There was hope then, Shapiro said. But others at ESPN weren't so eager to forgive.

"I was blown away by how much that one meeting ... how people reacted to me even taking the meeting," Shapiro said, adding he had no idea how many "bodies were buried along the way."

He was undeterred, though, until a short time later. Just six months after Olbermann's mea culpa on Salon.com, ESPN/ABC president George Bodenheimer hired Lisa Guerrero for Monday Night Football, and the final piece of the bridge demolition disintegrated into ash.

"It's a complete repudiation of Monday Night Football's tradition," Olbermann was quoted as saying. "(John) Madden and (Al) Michaels should walk, and Bodenheimer should be led away in handcuffs."

And so ended Shapiro's flirtation with Olbermann.

"Personally I couldn't get past that," Shapiro said. "Even though he did leave a tremendous legacy and helped chart the course of the show, there was too much bad stuff that came with it, unnecessary bad stuff."
I think it's important to note how much Olbermann did for ESPN without getting much gratitude. Chief among this was when they tapped him to become the personality behind the launch of ESPN2 in the mid-'90s. They pulled him off the main ESPN channel for a year while they tried to fashion The Deuce into an un-sportsnetwork (an approach that's long since been abandoned, although in some ways it may have been ahead of its time, and worthy of a revisit in today's quest to re-attract young male viewers). He bitched about it long and hard, but did the work. The lack of appreciation led him to leave the network shortly thereafter.

I'm crossing my fingers on the improbable happening, and Olbermann will somehow appear on the now-open Friday slot with Dan Patrick. But I'm not putting any money on it.

This reunion stuff is doing the intended job on me: It's enticing me to watch SportsCenter again, for the first time in ages, and in the deadzone of summer, too. I recently alluded to how weak the show's become, and the reasons for it mainly concern attempts to artificially recreate the Patrick-Olbermann "Big Show" chemistry. This week's alum watching will be fun in and of itself, but will also serve as a painful contrast to how low the everyday rendition has fallen.
THE CREEPINESS OF EHARMONY.COM
I'm sure you've seen the pervasive TV commercials for eHarmony.com, featuring founder Dr. Neil Clark Warren.

Is that guy vaguely creepy, or what? Combine his unctuous quality with that twangy guitar background music (that's supposed to convey a down-homey mood), and the whole thing just makes me think "snake oil".
BLUETOOTHACHE
Bluetooth is getting to be the latest techno-craze among mobile devices, especially the latest and greatest phones. But before you run out and buy that shiny new model, consider how much of a security nightmare Bluetooth-enabling can cause:
[Salzberg Research's Martin] Herfurt demonstrated three different ways to attack a phone: He could send unsolicited text messages to the phone's screen, download all the data stored on a phone (or manipulate the data on the phone itself), and turn the phone into a roaming bug by forcing a targeted phone to call another phone.

This last attack, which the pair call "BlueBugging," is potentially the most damaging because once the attacker initiates a call on the victim's phone, there's no need to stay within Bluetooth range, typically about 30 feet. The target need only be in a phone service area to be exploited.

This kind of attack could also be used to commit fraud, according to Laurie. For example, an attacker could force victims' phones to dial a phone service that bills the victim per call or per minute.

Increasingly, "phones are being used as portable data stores" for information such as passwords, PIN numbers, and other sensitive data, [AL Digital's Adam] Laurie added--another danger if a phone can be hacked.
Basically, an open door is an open door, to anyone. You'd think these tech companies would build this stuff with failsafe security measures. Maybe that's just impossible, or maybe it'll take a couple of decades to factor in the hacker safeguards. I often get the feeling the big companies justify their lack of security features by dismissing hacker attacks as isolated and rare instances. This was true even ten years ago, when such practitioners were small grouping, really a limited underground. But with the Internet as a ridiculously easy communications and exchange medium, that's no longer the case--the ability to share information on how to pull off large-scale scams is almost effortless. Put it all together, and it seems like it'll be more years than anyone wants to admit before people live a casually digital lifestyle.

The other downside to this Bluetooth phone vulnerability is that it could curtail the bluejacking. Not to mention the trysting fun of toothing.