"The only blog we have to fear is blog itself."

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Up in Smoke 

Study: Cigarettes Cost Society $40 a Pack:
Cigarettes may cost smokers more then they believe. A study by a team of health economists finds the combined price paid by their families and society is about $40 per pack of cigarettes.

The figure is based on lifetime costs for a 24-year-old smoker over 60 years for cigarettes, taxes, life and property insurance, medical care and lost earnings because of smoking-related disabilities, researchers said.

"It will be necessary for persons aged 24 and younger to face the fact that the decision to smoke is a very costly one — one of the most costly decisions they make," the study's authors concluded.
That breaks down to about $33 coughed up by the smoker (pun intended), $5.44 by their families, and $1.44 by others. The research came from health economists from Duke University and a professor from the University of South Florida.

Of course, logical entreaties for people not to smoke seemed doomed to fail. Do smokers general make a decision to smoke? Does someone sit around one day and say, "You know, I think I'll start smoking!"?

It seems to me (a non-smoker who knows a lot of smokers or former smokers) that people start smoking to satisfy an unrelated need (e.g., to fit in with a social group), and therefore logic probably won't help dissuade them from starting. What has seemed to be effective is to create opposing social pressures.

It also seems to me that when you use a variation of the word "smoker" nearly a dozen times in two thin paragraphs, the word start to sound ridiculously funny.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Times They Are a-Changin' 

Newspapers Should Really Worry:
Young people just aren't interested in reading newspapers and print magazines. In fact, according to Washington City Paper, The Washington Post organized a series of six focus groups in September to determine why the paper was having so much trouble attracting younger readers. You see, daily circulation, which had been holding firm at 770,000 subscribers for the last few years, fell more than 6 percent to about 720,100 by June 2004, with the paper losing 4,000 paying subscribers every month.

Imagine what higher-ups at the Post must have thought when focus-group participants declared they wouldn't accept a Washington Post subscription even if it were free. The main reason (and I'm not making this up): They didn't like the idea of old newspapers piling up in their houses.

Don't think for a minute that young people don't read. On the contrary, they do, many of them voraciously. But having grown up under the credo that information should be free, they see no reason to pay for news. Instead they access The Washington Post website or surf Google News, where they select from literally thousands of information sources. They receive RSS feeds on their PDAs or visit bloggers whose views mesh with their own. In short, they customize their news-gathering experience in a way a single paper publication could never do. And their hands never get dirty from newsprint.
If it were the music industry, they'd sue those who were sharing their news for free on the internet--except in this case, it's themselves.

So there you have it--the 21st Century Media Conundrum in a nutshell. You need internet distribution or the competition will capture that audience and you have no future. But the internet's competitive environment creates savage downward pressure on prices (in the case of newspapers, free). Meanwhile, you will have to fight a never ending war against new technologies changing the lanscape beneath your feet, as RSS feeds are doing (of course, that's not entirely true--the war can end. With your demise).

It seems to me that one of the following is likely to happen:
  1. Ultraconsolidated Media. In this future, the media is in the hands of a couple of companies worldwide that are strong enough to dictate whatever legal, legislative, and technological rules they want. Think consolidation is bad now? Well, people in this scenario would think of today's media concentration as the good old days.

  2. Citizen Journalists. Businesses pull out of content creation altogether and merely act as service providers to a new class of semi-professional "citizen journalists." More original reporting would have to be done (since there wouldn't be any or hardly any professional outlets to which to link), but without the concentration of audience that Big Media has today, government officials and corporations would feel more free to deny access and be less responsive to queries from this Fourth Condo Estate.

  3. Publicly Funded Media. The BBC-type model, where the media is not seeking a profit or can even lose money. Independence is always a potential issue in this scenario. What starts as the Beeb can easily become the U.S.S.R.'s Pravda.
Am I forgetting any other reasonable possibility?

How quickly the mighty have fallen... 

Oil Spill Threatens Del. River Wildlife:
A tanker spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delaware River between Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, creating a 20-mile-long slick that killed dozens of birds and threatened other wildlife, federal officials said Saturday....

"We're working very quickly and diligently to expedite the cleanup," said Coast Guard Petty Officer John Edwards.
Sheesh, I thought he'd at least get to serve out his Senate term.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

My 20th Anniversary 

Tonight I celebrate my 20th anniversary of being on the radio.

November 25th in 1984 was the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I had just returned to Ithaca College from my New Jersey home after the holiday break, all geared up for my very first airshift. I was going to be filling in on the "Blues Progressions" overnight, which probably began at 2am (technically Monday morning). It might have been midnight--I forget. Memories over decades tend to stretch and bend like the Sunday comics pressed onto a blob of Silly Putty.

But it was definitely the Sunday-into-Monday overnight right after Thanksgiving 1984.

I was an eager freshman hoping to land a time-slot deejaying one of the non-specialty shifts playing what everyone just called "new music," our catch-all term for the '80s brand of college rock which would eventually morph into the modern rock of the '90s.

But I was no music snob--I was into radio as much as I was into the music. Perhaps even more so. I listened to radio drama on "The CBS Radio Mystery Theater" and a call-in talk show called, simply, "The Opinion Program" on Rochester's WHAM as early as age 9 or 10, and I didn't begin listening to rock radio until junior high (although, I must admit, before rock music I tuned in to "Dr. Demento").

So, while some of the other freshman would-be DJs were more interested in getting on the radio to play the music, I was more interested in getting on the radio to play the music.

Prospective DJs had to serve a brief period of apprenticeship to learn WICB's procedures and equipment--usually as a "phone slave," someone who would answer the remarkably busy request line and act as gofer for the DJ, an upperclassman who seemed impossibly cool and knowledgable. I was a phone slave for not one but several DJs, reflecting my eager nature.

One was Brian Corona, who was then WICB's Music Director. Brian was, to my freshman eyes, the apex of that Impossible Cool--he was energetic, fun, always dressed in up-to-the-minute fashion, and was notably well-versed in all of the "new music" that the station played. Instead of "Music Director," his title would better be described as the music's Chief Evangelist. He was indefatigable at promoting the new bands that emerged from the punk and New Wave explosion in the late '70s, always trying to steer the station away from playing classic rock or the mainstream rock that was then dominating rock radio--Journey, Loverboy, and .38 Special were bands he always mentioned as icons of the mainstream that WICB should steer clear of, in favor of bands like XTC, Ultravox, OMD, Heaven 17, and their fellow standard-bearers for a new way of envisioning pop music.

I also "phone-slaved" for Ray Ackley, a laid-back music devotee who was a fan--and borrowed the look--of Marshall Crenshaw. Ray had a manner of speaking, on the air and off, that was paced very deliberate and implied a thoughtful intensity. A simple gesture from Ray, like readjusting his Crenshawesque glasses or merely crossing his legs while seated, and he could transform himself from a central New York college student into a classic European intellectual.

Ray inadvertantly shared a very important lesson with me one evening. He had just finished playing Romeo Void's provocative "Never Say Never"--with its chorus
I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together
I might like you better if we slept together
But there's something in your eyes that says maybe
That's never, never say never
I answered the request line, and someone was offended by the song's implication of casual sex. Since I was just learning much of this brave new world of music--and had no experience in dealing with such complaints--I turned the call over to Ray, and he politely suggested that the caller had misinterpreted the song and that, before complaining, the listener should take a closer listen to such a song. It seemed like a polite brush-off, but damned if the same person didn't call back soon after and apologize. He said he had thought about the song lyrics further and "realized" that the chorus' "slept together" really meant platonic sleeping. The song had been, therefore, magically transformed in this listener's mind from a sleazy ode to lasciviousness into a courageous paean to abstinence. I'm not quite sure exactly what I learned from this incident--except maybe that people can take away from most music what they ultimately want to--but it made a powerful impression on me.

I also spent some time answering phones for John Webber, who hosted a punk rock specialty show called "Radio Waves." The show was a vestige of when WICB was primarily played mainstream rock and "Radio Wave" was the only outlet for that weird new wave and punk. Thanks to Brian's evangelism, though, the whole station played the new music and the mainstream rock was becoming--much to the chagrin of a dwindling old guard of DJs--the exception rather than the rule. So the "Radio Waves" show was making a transition to being more about the harder punk and its "hardcore" variant.

John was a natural on the radio--hip, infectiously passionate about the music he played, always at the ready to drop some hip or obscure pop culture reference, and endlessly charismatic. In fact, there were only perhaps two other people with whom I've worked in the subsequent 20 years for whom listeners responded with the same fervor.

He could even turn an on-air disaster into something fun and exciting. I saw him more than once open the microphone in a flurry of behind-the-scenes chaos only to realize he no record cued up to play. Other DJs faced with this situation would fumble for a tape cartridge and play a station promo or a public service announcement, and quickly throw a record on in the 60 seconds while the "cart" was running. Not John. He do something like calmly telling listeners that he was going to show them how DJs cue up vinyl records, and then proceeding to do it live on the air--narrating the process like a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary. I remember witnessing this lemons-into-lemonade process once, and no sooner did he close the mic and I congratulated him on his skills at gaffe-recovery when a listener actually called up to thank John for explaining how it all worked! (John would have made a good Tom Sawyer)

While all of the freshmen enjoyed being phone slaves for the Brians, Rays, and Johns of WICB, we all couldn't wait to get our own turns in the "Air Chair" and be piloting all that was cool and exciting and revolutionary among musical tastemakers in 1984 Ithaca, New York.

For there was a change in the air--or, at least, in the airwaves. The radio environment was changing and music itself was undergoing a slow sea change, and the the WICB radio studio was crisp with electricity as these waves broke onto shore. Rock radio on the FM dial had become bloated and stale as the Freeform FM days of the late '60s and early '70s had given way to consultant-guided "innovations" that limited DJ choice, narrowed radio libraries, and sought out bland, derivative recording artists. Meanwhile, the arrival of MTV in 1981 had provided a new avenue of discovering music. The channel broadcast a disproportionally high number of videos from artists who were largely being ignored--or given severe short shrift--by mainstream "Album Oriented Rock," or AOR, radio stations, as well as the even less hip pop stations. There was an awful lot of enthusiasm for these new artists (which actually began among the musical cognoscenti in the three or four years immediately prior to MTV's arrival on the scene), and it formed the nucleus for a new lifeform--one that would eventually grow up and become alternative rock.

To get on the air, a prospective DJ had to sign up for time in a production studio and record a demo tape of themselves simulating an hour on the radio. The Program Director would listen to these tapes and decide whether the would-be DJ was acceptable to go on the air or not. DJs whose tapes that didn't pass muster would be told to try again; sometimes it would take three or four tapes to do a good enough job to achieve the status of being "air-approved."

Being the eager radio enthusiast, I realized that there was a much shorter waiting list to get on the air in the handful of WICB's specialty shows. Most of the freshman want to play the new music, but there were also opportunities to play jazz, blues, reggae, and a few other musical niches. I figured blues would best suit my knowledge and abilities, so I made a blues demo tape in addition to my efforts to get air-approved for new music shifts.


I was air-approved for blues on my first try (even though it took about three passes for the new music approval). I think, in retrospect, that scheduling headaches worked in my favor--the station simply needed someone to cover the blues overnight in the wee hours of the Monday morning after the Thanksgiving break. "Kid, ya wanna stay up all night to play the blues your first day back from break? Well, ya got the gig!"

I have no firm recollection of what I played that night, but I ended up covering that blues overnight in multiple weeks and I distinctly remember playing Johnny Winter's "Lights Out" (from his then-new Guitar Slinger album) and a bunch of Stevie Ray Vaughan, as well as discovering Taj Mahal, Rory Block (I think I recall playing her Rhinestones & Steel Strings album), Lightnin' Hopkins, and host of other great players.

So right now the song "The Things That I Used to Do" by Stevie Ray Vaughan is playing (despite the song not yet being released when I was at WICB) and I'm being thankful about what a great time I've had over the past 20 years. And what amazing, talented, and entertaining people I worked with over those two decades.

If you are one of the people who has been part of that, as colleague or listener, I thank you. And, even if you're not, thanks for reading this brief sketch of my early radio exploits.

And I am just as eager for another 20!

UPDATE: I put together a quickie montage of the past 20 years on the radio. Actually, it only represents 1986-1998 and it's by no means "The Best Of"--as a matter of fact, it's fairly run-of-the-mill stuff. Download it (about 900k) or stream it. And yes, I used a vocoder for the year transitions.

Happy Thanksgiving 

"And the DJ spins his records
From here out to the sun
And he flings them through a big hole
In the ozone one by one
And somewhere beyond Mercury
The wax begins to melt
And we touched a perfect stranger
And we loved the way it felt
And we all hung together
In our crew cuts and our braids
Floating down Broadway
Above the Thanksgiving Day Parade"

~~Dan Bern,
"Thanksgiving Day Parade"

See full lyrics here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Enraging Speech Squelching 

Oh, man, nothing pisses me off like business who try to eliminate contractually that "pesky" First Amendment...

Fine Print Has Homeowners Scared To Discuss Damage:
"It's there in black and white. The customer should read his or her contract thoroughly before they enter into it," said Patrick Roche, Mercedes Attorney.

When you buy a Mercedes home, the fine print says you can't complain to your neighbors, call the news media or even carry a picket sign, even if your new quarter-million dollar home leaks through the roof, walls and windows.

"This is my little boy's room. The mildew's so bad he coughs all night long. It's despicable what Mercedes has done," one homeowner said.
When I read that lawyer's quote, the phrase "smug motherfucker" comes to mind.

I know, I know--I apologize.

That phrase is way too tasteful and understated to describe such behavior. Later, I'll think of a stronger, more appropriate epithet.

I can understand gag orders in some court cases. I follow the logic of non-disclosure agreements when it comes to trade secrets. But eliminating basic freedoms by "gotcha" contracts, like the ability to call attention to shoddy work and poor business practices (if the shoe fits), is beyond the pale.

Would contractual clauses in which a customer signs away their protection from racial or religious discrimination be acceptable? Clearly not.

So why is it acceptable to contractually sign away First Amendment speech protections? It shouldn't be, and let's all hope the verdict in a class action lawsuit proclaims this. And maybe breaks this company's back in the process.

The "Mall That Will Change Your Life"  

China's supersized mall:
It takes about two days to explore Beijing's new Golden Resources Shopping Mall - the world's largest. Minnesota's "Mall of America" is 4 million square feet. Golden Resources, built in an impressive 20 months and opened Oct. 24, is 6 million square feet.


Since Plymouth, Thanksgiving Day has seen its share of controversy:
Thanksgiving attracted controversy again in 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt decided the official holiday should be held a week earlier. Merchants lobbied Roosevelt hard for the date change to give people an extra week of Christmas shopping. But the traditional date had been so ingrained in American culture that the move to a week earlier caused rancor among some citizens, who began calling the new date "Franksgiving." In 1941 Roosevelt flip-flopped, admitted he had made a mistake, and signed legislation that set the fourth Thursday of November as the official date.
The National Retail Dry Goods Association was delighted to get the date change they had lobbied for. The head of Gimbel Brothers Department Stores crowed, ". . .it is an American tradition to begin Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving." The president of Lord and Taylor's predicted that the extra holiday sales week would pump an additional one billion dollars into the economy.

More conservative Americans opposed sacrificing tradition to aid retailers. Massachusetts Governor Leverett Saltonstall argued, ". . .not for the inauguration of Christmas shopping is this day set apart." Reverend Norman Vincent Peale questioned the President's judgment in ". . .tinkering with a sacred religious day on the specious excuse that it will help Christmas sales."

The nation's 48 governors catapulted themselves into the battle. Since only the District of Columbia was legally bound to honor the president's decree, governors issued their own proclamations. Partisan politics prevailed. Pundits started calling November 23 the Democrats' Thanksgiving Day and November 30th the G.O.P.'s Thanksgiving Day.
Great. Blue and Red holidays?

Same Old Story 

I knew it! The lack of moral values and the destruction of our social fabric is all the fault of Bollywood Liberals!!

Bollywood accused over suicides:
A leading ethnic Indian politician in Malaysia has blamed Bollywood films for encouraging many in her community to commit suicide or turn to alcohol.

G Vimalah Nair says many Malaysians of Indian origin are trapped in poverty and face family break-ups.

A recent spate of suicides and gruesome family killings had prompted some to lay part of the blame at the door of the Indian film industry.

Ms Vimalah says Indian movies encourage people to take the easy way out.
If we can only get Shilpa Shetty and Bobby Deol and those other Bollywood stars to butt out of politics, everything would be hunky dory!

Warnings and Alarums 

As a Selective Luddite*, I thought I should warn you...

Exploding Cell Phones a Growing Problem:
Curtis Sathre said it was like a bomb going off. His 13-year-old son Michael stood stunned, ears ringing, hand gushing blood after his cell phone exploded. Safety officials have received 83 reports of cell phones exploding or catching fire in the past two years, usually because of bad batteries or chargers.

Burns to the face, neck, leg and hip are among the dozens of injury reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received. The agency is providing tips for cell phone users to avoid such accidents and has stepped up oversight of the wireless industry. There have been three voluntary battery recalls, and the CPSC is working with companies to create better battery standards....

"If you're cramming more and more power in a small space, what you're making is a small bomb," said Carl Hilliard, president of the California-based Wireless Consumers Alliance, which has been tracking incidents of cell phone fires and explosions.

Comcast to raise cable television rates:
Comcast Corp. is planning to raise cable television rates in New England by as much as 5.9 percent starting in January. Actual increases will vary by town. In Boston, consumers will see the smallest rate hike in 15 years. In Massachusetts, the average monthly price for standard cable service will rise to $45.95, up from $43.39.
Oh, you don't live in New England? Perhaps the Northwest? From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Comcast cable TV subscribers should get ready for another rate increase next year. The state's largest cable company announced yesterday that it was jacking up rates for most of its 1.1 million customers here. The company's basic cable service, which includes channels such as ESPN and CNN, will increase an average of $2.81 a month beginning in January. That means customers now paying $39.48 a month for basic cable will pay $42.29.
How about New Jersey? From the Asbury Park Press:
Customers of Cablevision Systems Corp. will see their cable TV bills go up next year, the company said yesterday. The company said it is raising customers' cable bills an average 2.8 percent across all levels of service. With the increase, a typical subscriber will pay about $58 a month, compared with about $56.40, the cable company said yesterday.
Don't worry, this road show will be stopping in every town before long. And having a provider other than Comcast will probably only delay the inevitable.

* Selective Luddite - someone who smugly shuns certain newer technologies while contradictorily embracing others. Yours truly currently shuns cell phones and cable TV yet the 3-computer home LAN disqualifies me from full rights and privileges of a Full Luddite.


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Gazpacho Relieves Stress 

Stressed Out? Have Some Cold Vegetable Soup:
Volunteers who ate vegetables consistently for two weeks as part of a nutrition study showed a significant increase in blood levels of vitamin C and a decrease in key stress molecules associated with health impairment. The findings from this study funded in part by the Agricultural Research Service appear in today's issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

The study was conducted by Antonio Martin, a physician specializing in nutrition and inflammatory responses, along with colleagues in academia and medicine. Martin is with the Nutrition and Neurocognition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, Mass.

The researchers fed 12 healthy volunteers--six men and six women--two bowls (17 ounces, total) of gazpacho every day for two weeks. The antioxidant-rich soup was made from tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olive oil, onions and garlic. Blood samples for each volunteer were taken prior to soup consumption and on the seventh and fourteenth days of the study. Starting on the seventh day, levels of vitamin C in volunteers' blood samples were found to have increased by 27 percent in men and 22 percent in women, and they remained elevated for the rest of the study.
That news is gazpacho soup for the soul! (I think I just infringed on a book franchise's copyright)

Kennedy "doodles" 

Kennedy's doodles add more to assassinated president's archive:
Some of the 135 pages that will be added on Tuesday to an existing archive of doodles are grim reflections on the day's top policy issues, while others are whimsical drawings and sketches. Still others are indecipherable scrawls with no hint to their meaning.

There are no blockbuster revelations to be found in the documents, [Kennedy Library staffer Maura] Porter said, but the notes, squiggles and sketches do show a bit of Kennedy that won't be seen in the polished presidential documents or official archives of the Kennedy White House.

"I don't think there's any smoking gun here. I don't think people are going to gain knowledge that they didn't have before, but it just adds to this whole picture of him as a man, and as a president," she said.
Well, since she made the unfortunate "smoking gun" word choice, let's add this item...

JFK murder game condemned:
A new computer game which allows players to recreate the assassination of John F Kennedy has been condemned as "despicable" by the former US president's family.

In JFK: Reloaded, players take the role of Lee Harvey Oswald and fire at President Kennedy's motorcade. The player who most accurately recreates Oswald's three fatal shots will win a $100,000 (£54,000) competition.

Buyer for grilled cheese "Mary" 

Follow-up to an earlier post...

Bidding Ends at $28K for Cheese Sandwich:
A woman who said her 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich bore the image of the Virgin Mary will be getting a lot more bread after the item sold for $28,000 on eBay.
Who bought the supposedly "blessed" sandwich? An online casino:
GoldenPalace.com, an online casino, confirmed that it placed the winning bid, and company executives said they were willing to spend "as much as it took" to own the 10-year-old half-sandwich with a bite out of it.

"It's a part of pop culture that's immediately and widely recognizable," spokesman Monty Kerr told The Miami Herald. "We knew right away we wanted to have it."

The Power of Bees 

Kit Williams knew it. Sherlock Holmes knew it (he retired from detection to tend bees). And now scientists are coming around. Bees rock!

Bees survived dino extinction:
New evidence shows tropical honeybees survived the devastating nuclear winter 65 million years ago that is thought to have helped kill off the dinosaurs.

An asteroid is thought to have hit our planet at the end of the Cretaceous Period, throwing up dust that blocked sunlight and dragged down temperatures.

Honeybees trapped in amber before the asteroid strike are nearly identical to their modern relatives, data shows.
Bees are actually a super-intelligent network of biological probes from the future which, ironically, tend us. Or, at least, that's what my invisible rabbit friend Harvey told me.

Lie of the Week 

Sumner Redstone, CEO of Infinity Radio's parent comany Viacom: "I have nothing but good wishes for Mel [Karmazin] and Howard [Stern]" in their respective future roles at Sirius Satellite Radio. (from CNBC via insideradio.com)

"Nothing but" good wishes for the people departing/departed from your company with the stated intentions of destroying same? Ha!

If true, that would be a serious breach of fiduciary duty and Redstone should be forced out immediately.


Sunday, November 21, 2004

Very Slowly Seeing America 

Stumbled across an interesting project and its website today. Here's how the participants describe it:
We recently quit our corporate jobs and decided to travel across America to capture a true sense of what this country is about. To force us to slow down, take a different road, and capture people's attention, Josh Caldwell is riding a Segway HT from Seattle to Boston. After we're all done, the stories we discover and the experiences we have will culminate in a feature-length documentary that is being directed by Hunter Weeks. This project is independent of Segway and plans are to find more ways to encourage approaching life at 10 mph in the future.
Sound like an interesting film, if a less dramatic variation on The Straight Story (based on a real-life story itself).

Smart Yarns 

Futuristic 'Smart' Yarns On The Horizon:
In a collaborative effort, scientists at CSIRO Textile and Fibre Technology (CTFT) have achieved a major technological breakthrough that should soon lead to the production of futuristic strong, light and flexible 'smart' clothing materials.

In partnership with the world-renowned NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas at Dallas, CTFT has adapted textile technologies used to spin wool and other fibres to produce yarns made solely from carbon nanotubes (CNTs)....

CNT yarns, due to their unprecedented combination of mechanical and electronic properties, are likely to be used in electronic textiles and electron emitters for ultra high-intensity fluorescent lamps.
Oooo, I want a fluorescent sweater!

Probably higher than a letter from Powers Boothe... 

Letter from Lincoln's killer sells at auction:
A letter written by President Lincoln's assassin two months before the 1865 slaying sold at auction Sunday for a record price.

In the letter, John Wilkes Booth asks a friend to send him one of his favorite pictures of himself, the one that later was used in his wanted poster.

The letter, dated Feb. 9, 1865, sold for $68,000.
And, in case you were wondering, the 55-year-old Powers Boothe has recently been a recurring character on HBO's Deadwood. He's only done about three feature films since 1995. So he's no longer the juggernaut star he was in Red Dawn.

Space Tourism Bill Passes House 

Space tourism legislation makes comeback:
The bill, designated H.R. 5382, was approved through a 269-120 roll-call vote. That margin wasn't as overwhelming as it was when an earlier version of the legislation was cleared by the House in March, but it satisfied the two-thirds majority needed to suspend House rules and move the bill along in the final days of the session.

As in March, the bill must still be approved by the Senate before it goes to President Bush for signing into law. The first time around, the legislation languished for months during negotiations between House and Senate staffers — and even within the infant suborbital space travel industry itself. The changes in the legislative language that resulted from those protracted discussions were rolled into the current version of the bill, and its backers hope it will face smoother sailing this time around.

Suborbital space companies have pressed to get the bill approved sooner rather than later, so that the FAA has a firm legislative foundation for regulation of the industry — and so that entrepreneurs and investors know the rules of the game they're getting into.
I'm just patiently waiting to get a postcard from space--I surely won't have the lettuce to buy space flights any time soon (outside of Disney World's very excellent Mission: Space ride).

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Data Goes Zoom, Zoom 

Very interesting article on the issues, implications, and possibilities of automobile data recorders. One of the more alarming passages:
While we might appreciate a call from an OnStar adviser if we're upside down in a ditch, we might not always want someone looking over our driving shoulder. But forget about the urban legends — what can all this stuff really do?

Eavesdropping, for one. In California, a federal court slapped the hands of investigators who tapped into illicit in-vehicle conversations via the car's built-in communications system (not OnStar), but the ruling did not focus on privacy issues.
Great. Your OnStar (or similar service) operator can be listening to you sing along with Prince's "Purple Rain" as you cruise the highways and byways.

Makes you want to go back to a horse and buggy. The horse might still not appreciate the singing, but at least he won't understand the conversations.

We Called It 'Murderball' 

Dodgeball Questions Raised in N.Y. Court:
The high-energy school yard game of dodgeball is getting kicked around a New York courtroom, where questions are being raised about whether it's just too dangerous for young children to play....

The game is also being targeted as unfair, exclusionary, and warlike for school-age youngsters. Some schools in Maine, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Texas, Massachusetts and Utah have banned dodgeball or its variations, including war ball, monster ball and kill ball.

"Dodgeball is not an appropriate activity for K-12 school physical education programs," according to The National Association for Sport and Physical Education, a nonprofit professional organization of 20,000 physical education teachers, professors, coaches, athletic directors and trainers. Dodgeball provides "limited opportunities for everyone in the class, especially the slower, less agile students who need the activity the most."
Translation of the NASPE statement: the game is too Darwinian.

Are those above-named variations, only variances in the name (like the "murderball" I mentioned) or are there rule variations? And is there "Dodgeball According to Hoyle?"

UPDATE: According to this site, the game is played with one team as throwers and the other being dodgers, with the throwers outside a circle trying to nail the dodgers with a ball. In my dodgeball days, it was played with two teams on opposing halves of the gym. Each team could simultaneously be dodgers and throwers (multiple balls were usually used to make for a faster-paced and a more complex game). So, yes, there are rule variations.

"Pat, I'd Like to Buy a Vowel..." 

The New York Times tells the tale of ol' Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, the Massachusetts landmark with the longest place name in the U.S.A., and a name which just might break this website's table width.

(NYT registration required; "vasref" and "cornaro" work)

Church May Be Harmful to Your Health 

Church air is 'threat to health':
Air inside churches may be a bigger health risk than that beside major roads, research suggests.

Church air was found to be considerably higher in carcinogenic polycyclic hydrocarbons than air beside roads travelled by 45,000 vehicles daily....

The researchers analysed the particulate matter concentration found in the air of a small chapel and a large basilica in Maastricht following lengthy use of candles or a simulated service in which incense was burned.

Fine particulate matter is a major ingredient in air pollution. Consisting of solid particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, it contains different types of toxic chemicals, including soot, metals and various carcinogenic molecules.

The particles can penetrate very deep into the lungs and trigger various lung and heart conditions.

The researchers found that, after nine hours of candle-burning, the church air had PM10 levels of 600 to 1000 micrograms per cubic metre - more than four times higher than before the start of the first morning mass.

This represents 12 to 20 times the European allowed average concentration over 24 hours.

The study also found very high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known to be carcinogenic.
This puts Pascal's Wager in a whole new light.


FCC Pooh-Poohs a la Carte Cable:
Federal regulators rejected on Friday the idea that allowing cable TV subscribers to pay only for channels they want would lower high cable bills. Consumer groups said the analysis was flawed.

In a report to Congress, the Federal Communications Commission said cable bills would increase under a system that would let people pay for individual channels instead of the bundled packages they currently are offered....

Consumer groups denounced the findings.

"The study was rigged against consumers in favor of large cable companies, giant broadcasters and other media behemoths," said Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy and advocacy at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.
My household will remain steadfastly cable-free. So, to quote from an estimable comments poster here, "Shove it, cable."

The Ad Hoc Booster-Box 

Sure, an equipment box lid with its reinforced corners and handy carrying handles works just fine as an ad hoc booster-box.

But you'd think that at the Presdiential Cabinet level, they could plan a little better for photo ops at appointment press conferences than this.

(for photo context, see original article)


"No, man. No!" 

Shocking Riot Ends Pacers-Pistons Game:
Just when it appeared tempers had died down, Artest was struck by a cup thrown from the stands and jumped up and charged into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.

"He was on top of me, pummeling me," fan Mike Ryan of Clarkston said. "He asked me, 'Did you do it? I said, 'No, man. No!'"

Jackson joined Artest in the melee and threw punches at fans, who punched back at them.

Security personnel and ushers tried to break it up. Former Pistons player Rick Mahorn, who was seated courtside as a Detroit radio analyst, tried to stop the brawl in the stands. Detroit's Rasheed Wallace and Indiana's David Harrison were also in or near the stands trying to break up the fights.

Later, a man in a Pistons jersey approached Artest on the court, shouting at him. Artest punched him in the face, knocking him to the floor. Teammate Jermaine O'Neal stepped in and punched another man who joined the scrum....

Quentin Richardson of the Phoenix Suns watched the brawl on television.

"I have never seen a fight like that in a game since I was in high school," he said. "Man, there are going to be some lawsuits. You don't think some of those fans aren't going to want some NBA money?"
Although this blog does not often venture into sports commentary (except for the occasional municipal boosterism), a few comments here.
  1. What the hell kinda high school did Richardson go to?

  2. Lawsuits? Duh!

  3. Ushers tried to break it up? I don't know what kind of ushers they have at basketball games, but from my limited experience attending baseball and some hockey games, the ushers I've seen might be a little overwhelmed trying to break up a Little League scrummage. Add work-comp payouts to those lawsuits...

  4. Between the baseball chair-throwing incident, this, and the usual risk of getting smacked in the face with a hockey puck, how long before an enterprising insurance company offers sports fan insurance?

Friday, November 19, 2004

The Great Lakes 

Geography lesson for Mike. I never knew prior to reading a BBC story that the Great Lakes in and around Michigan, Ohio, and New York aren't necessarily The Great Lakes but merely A Great Lakes.

For East Africa has its own Great Lakes: Lakes Victoria, Lake Malawi, and Lake Tanganyika.

I was wholly ignorant of such a fact, and even grew up near our Great Lakes' Ontario.


I cannot wait for this... 

U.S. archives offer digital look at America's past:
The government promises anyone with a computer will have access within a few years to millions of pages from old newspapers, a slice of American history to be viewed now only by visiting local libraries, newspaper offices or the nation's capital.

The first of what's expected to be 30 million digitized pages from papers published from 1836 through 1922 will be available in 2006.

"Anyone who's interested -- teachers, students, historians, lawyers, politicians, even newspaper reporters -- will be able to go to their computer at home or at work and at a click of a mouse get immediate, unfiltered access to the greatest source of our history," said Bruce Cole, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The better access we have to our past, the easier it'll be for people to learn about it.

Let's face it, we now live in an instant-data society. We've been training ourselves to, at least partially, factor in ease and speed of access into our value of information.

For most people, forget about going to the library to look up information when going beyond a couple of pages of Google results is beyond the threshold of tolerance.


Remember when all hyperlinks were often referred to as "hotlinks"? I guess they've cooled off by now. Regardless of temperature, here are some links of note...
Ouch, These hotlinks burned my fingers as I typed. Be careful out there.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Shoot Stuff Through the Internet! 

Hey, screw those video game shoot 'em ups. That moose may soon be just a mouse click away:
[John] Underwood, an estimator for a San Antonio, Texas auto body shop, has invested $10,000 to build a platform for a rifle and camera that can be remotely aimed on his 330-acre (133-hectare) southwest Texas ranch by anyone on the Internet anywhere in the world.

The idea came last year while viewing another Web site on which cameras posted in the wild are used to snap photos of animals.

"We were looking at a beautiful white-tail buck and my friend said 'If you just had a gun for that.' A little light bulb went off in my head," he said.
I just wish someone invented an internet method for shooting those little head-floating light bulbs sometimes.

The target shooting is actually a pretty interesting idea, although there are obvious safety issues--what if a visiting relative or lost non-virtual hunter wandered into the kill zone? If a virtual target shooter killed a hapless person in the wrong place, how would that case be charged/prosecuted? Murder? Manslaughter? Accident? One shudders at the worst-case scenarios.

I have big problems with "remote-control hunting," though. I have no problems with hunting in general, but I do with pure sport hunting (at least use what you kill)--which remote-control hunting would clearly be.

SIDE NOTE to NOTHING SPECIAL ALUMS: What was that sketch where I was the video-cam-toting surrogate at the slumber party? Is that just around the corner for real?

"Garbage Party" 

Lately, I've had occasion to quote John S. Hall's piece "Garbage Party." A lot. I tried to find it somewhere on the web, but wasn't able to, so I transcribed it myself from his now unavailable Real Men album. All paragraphing is mine.
Twenty years ago, they had a great big garbage party.

They had given up trying to clean up the mess. They said, "We didn't start the fire, we can't put it out, so let's make it burn as bright as possible."

And they all took their garbage to the big garbage party and they made a big mess, the biggest mess ever, 'cause they were all going to die of the plague or be burnt to a crisp by the fire.

They had a great big garbage party.

They threw garbage at each other, they went swimming in the garbage, they ate the garbage, they made love in the garbage. They didn't care.

They didn't care, they were all going to die. They just didn't care, they had a great big garbage party and then they all went home. They all went home and they waited to die.

They all went home and they all went to sleep. And while they were sleeping, something happened.

When they woke up, the plague was over and the fire was out and they weren't going to die. They were going to live forever, and the garbage was still there.

And they had to live with it. They had to live with it forever.

And after a few thousand years, they had cleaned up a bit but they knew they could never get it the way it was before the great big garbage party. They had to live with it forever.

~~John S. Hall,
"Garbage Party"

Interested parties should check out Hall's band King Missile or pick up his book Jesus Was Way Cool.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Tempus Fugetaboutit 

I don't want to alarm anyone, but do you realize that we're practically a sneeze away from cresting the halfway point of this decade?

Pac's Modern Men 

Pacman breaks out of the arcade:
A group of Singapore-based researchers are taking Pacman out of the arcade hall of fame and setting him loose on the streets.

The virtual reality gaming system allows players to become the insatiable cookie-munching hero of the classic computer game or one of his ghostly nemeses, simply by donning a backpack and a pair of goggles.
This is not to be confused with Pac Manhattan.

Exposed Shoulderblade Warning! 

So, ABC aired a cross-promotional vignette before Monday Night Football this past Monday featuring Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan wearing a towel and then dropping it for Philadelphia Eagle Terrell Owens. Her bare back (gasp!) was shown, implying nudity.

People apparently complained. ABC apologized. A tempest raged inside a teapot.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, in a paroxysm of drama, stated, "While ABC may have gained attention for one of its other shows, the NFL and its fans lost."

"Lost"? Is he trying to cross-promote another ABC show?

Sandwich Follies 

"After looking at it a second time, there's nothing to indicate that the seller isn't willing to give up this cheese sandwich to the highest bidder," he said.

That's an eBay spokesman commenting on their decision to shut down an auction of "half of a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich whose owner claimed it bore the image of the Virgin Mary." They later changed their mind and allowed the auction to continue.

This auction has inspired others, including:

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Sad Clown Crap 

Oh, jeepers! Can we just put the they're-really-crying-inside myth to bed?

Actor Geoffrey Rush, in an interview about the Peter Sellers biopic he's flogging:
Well, I think the writers...picked up on this element because his own life seemed to be filled with multiple aspects of his own very interchangeable personality. Because away from the celebrity and the legendary status that he has as a film performer, behind the scenes there was a very turbulent and troubled and rather sad kind of existence.

[CNN NewsClown Daryn] KAGAN: As is the case with a lot of people who are funny for a living.
Yes! Some funny people are really sad. And some of the professionally funny class are--gasp!--happy and well-adjusted!

Guess what? They're people, with all the wide range of moods and personality types just like the non-professionally funny.


Senate May Ram Copyright Bill:
Several lobbying camps from different industries and ideologies are joining forces to fight an overhaul of copyright law, which they say would radically shift in favor of Hollywood and the record companies and which Congress might try to push through during a lame-duck session that begins this week.

The Senate might vote on HR2391, the Intellectual Property Protection Act, a comprehensive bill that opponents charge could make many users of peer-to-peer networks, digital-music players and other products criminally liable for copyright infringement. The bill would also undo centuries of "fair use" -- the principle that gives Americans the right to use small samples of the works of others without having to ask permission or pay....

The bill would also permit people to use technology to skip objectionable content -- like a gory or sexually explicit scene -- in films, a right that consumers already have. However, under the proposed law, skipping any commercials or promotional announcements would be prohibited.
That last graf refers to a section that cheerily calls itself the Family Movie Act of 2004. It will give you the right to use technology to skip "limited portions of audio or video content of a motion picture," presumably for sex/violence/language objections, yet specifically proscribes skipping "commercial advertisements, or to network or station promotional announcements, that would otherwise be performed or displayed before, during or after the performance of the motion picture."

So if you are offended by most advertising (as any frequent reader of this blog knows that I am), your sensibilities are not protected by the "Family Movie Act of 2004." But, under this proposed law, you should be able to skip General Patton telling his men in a WWII movie, "I don't give a fuck for a man who's not always on his toes. You men are veterans or you wouldn't be here. You are ready for what's to come. A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you're not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-asshole-bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockful of shit."

Let's hope this bill dies.

UPDATE: In a move unrelated to the Congressional action, TiVo will "no longer skip past advertisers"; instead, "viewers will see 'billboards,' or small logos, popping up over TV commercials as they fast-forward through them, offering contest entries, giveaways or links to other ads." I'm glad I haven't bought a TiVo yet.

Musical Draft? 

Former G.I.'s, Ordered to War, Fight Not to Go:
Months ago, the Army said some of the former soldiers would be needed to play the French horn, the clarinet, the euphonium, the saxophone and the electric bass as part of the military's bands, but the notion drew criticism from members of Congress who questioned the need to order people to give up their civilian lives to play instruments. Colonel Hart said the Army has since filled the musician jobs with volunteers.
Individual Ready Reserve callups to fill a goddamn band?

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Atlantis Found? 

New claim on location of Atlantis:
American researchers claim to have found convincing evidence that locates the site of the lost kingdom of Atlantis off the coast of Cyprus.

The team spent six days scanning the Mediterranean sea bed between Cyprus and Syria using sonar technology.

They believe they found evidence of massive, manmade structures beneath the ocean floor, including two straight, 2-km (1.25 mile) long walls on a hill.

They say their discoveries match accounts of the city written by Plato.
Patrick Duffy cannot be reached for comment.


Students Fight Copyright Hoarders:
Students at a dozen colleges around the country are organizing to teach their peers about the consequences of overly broad copyright law, hoping to prevent creative freedom from being stifled.

They are forming Free Culture groups on campuses to explain copyright law to fellow students. Stressing its importance for culture and society, the group says copyright law is being abused. To illustrate their point, the groups hold remixing contests, promote open-source software and rally against legislation like the Induce Act, which would hold technology companies liable for encouraging people to infringe copyrights.
The "teach-in" is back!

Meanwhile, take a listen to a related (and hilarious) new track from the always interesting Negativland.

TV Listings 

Wednesday, 10:00PM EST.

NBC [4] Law and Order. In another ripped-from-the-headlines story, a lawyer sues an aging TV series for allegedly basing an unflattering character on him. Sam Waterston, Dennis Farina, Jesse L. Martin, Fred Thompson. Rated TV14 for strong language and mild Escherism. Closed Captioned.

This Just In.... 

...41 year old song is a threat to the republic!
The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities.

But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die.

Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate....

"Never was it rehearsed or auditioned with a change of lyrics. I want to be very clear about that," Boulder principal Ron Cabrera said.

Cabrera said Secret Service agents questioned him for 20 minutes and took a copy of the lyrics.
Sheesh, haven't they ever heard that song yet? Hello, it's on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan! That album kicks ass. They must only have Greatest Hits.

In case you needed a refresher, here's the key verse, directed towards the titular masters of war:
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

TV Nation 

Pat Robertson must watch a lot of Nick at Nite:
When asked who his pick for the Supreme Court would be, Robertson said, "I tell you, I think the most wonderful, delicious irony would be if Erik Estrada, who has been abused so badly by the Democrats on the Judiciary Commission--Committee, was picked and went onto the court. He's a superb candidate, brilliant guy."
He's almost surely speaking of Miguel Estrada. You know, the obscure cinematographer?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Hitchcockian Encounters of the Robyn Kind 

...as opposed to the Alfred kind, which would be scary and disturbing. Instead, my recent Robyn Hitchcock encounters have been whimsical and delightful.

The first Robyn Hitchcock song I remember hearing was "Strawberry Mind" in late spring of 1985 (from his Fegmania! album), playing it--and many, many subsequent songs--on the air at my college radio station.

I saw him live several times, both solo and with his backing band The Egyptians, from 1990-1991 (like, for example, this show or this one), and met him for the first time in the fall of '91 when he came by WHTG for an interview and in-studio performance. As one might guess from his wittily obscure lyrics, he's both witty and obscure in person.

He was playing a show this past Tuesday here, and he played many terrific new and old songs, but he was his usual sharp wit between songs. A momentary distraction led him to begin his show with covers of Jimi Hendrix' "Are You Experienced?" and Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco" and to declare that the '60s were still going on, he was the same 16-year-old he was in 1969, and that the current year was actually "1960-44." His choice of old material was terrific: "Swirling," "She Doesn't Exist," and "Queen Elvis," particularly.

When he concluded the main set, he announced that he would be performing the encore in the lobby of the theater (a converted movie house). Naturally, we thought it was another Hitchcock whimsical statement, but damned if he didn't play a four-song encore on an old baby-grand in the lobby with the entire audience crowded around.

Following those four songs, he dashed back into the theater proper, grabbed his acoustic guitar, and played another two songs with no amplification whatsoever: "Sleeping With Your Devil Mask" as a sing along and the terrific new "Full Moon in My Soul."

A great show all around, but that wasn't the last of my week's Hitchcockian experience. I was on the air yesterday, and at about 4:30 someone was calling the studio line.

"Hello, WYEP?" I answered.

Pause. "Oh, hallo," a confused British voice spoke. "Uh, hi this is Robyn Hitchcock."

Shocked and stunned, I goggled at the phone. "Um, Hi, Robyn!" I replied, "This is Mike Sauter, the music director." Since we had just met again on Tuesday when he came by WYEP for an interview/performance, I felt confident he would remember me (though he has a memory like a steel trap, I wouldn't have assumed he would remember from our previous meeting in 1991).

"Hi, Mike," he continued in a bemused and slightly sheepish tone. "I was just trying to ring my record label, and I rang you instead!"

I assured him it was no problem, and took the opportunity to tell him that everybody who went to the concert was buzzing about his unexpected encore lounge act. We chatted briefly (I think he was conversing until the achieved a politeness threshold when he could get off the line and make the call he really intended to make).

It wasn't until I said goodbye and got off the call that I put the two-and-two together: his U.S. record label is Yep Roc Records and we're WYEP. He must've scanned down his cell phone's stored numbers, saw our studio line phone number (which he was given in case he got lost while trying to find the station--a frequent scenario in Pittsburgh), and hit 'send.' A simple mistake, but also somewhat amusing in its improbability.

Thus was my Hitchcockian week.

"The past is over, and the present will be, sadly." ~~Robyn Hitchcock, "Full Moon in My Soul," Spooked, 2004


Now your printers and scanners might be spying on you. At least, they might if you use products from Lexmark.

Spyware charge levelled at Lexmark
Allegations have been swirling around an online newsgroup this week that printer manufacturer Lexmark has been installing spyware on its customers' computers.

Reports on the comp.periphs.printers Usenet newsgroup claim that Lexmark has been planting spyware on its customers' PCs in the form of undocumented software that monitors the use of its printers and silently reports back to a Lexmark-owned company website.

One user said that after initially denying the allegations, Lexmark acknowledged installing tracking software that reported printer and cartridge use back to the company for survey purposes. He claimed that Lexmark said no personal data was taken by the program, and that it was impossible to identify anyone by it.

However, users installing the software are prompted to fill in a registration form including their name and the serial number of the product.
I'm glad I have my printer on a network computer with no internet gateway (of course, my printer's an HP, so I hopefully woulndn't have to deal with this B.S. anyway). With this sort of setup, it's probably possible to not only track usage statistics but to sample actual printed content.

Remember those sepia-toned days when what you did in your home was your own private domain? Now your computer is tracked and your digital cable is monitored. Just wait until all your home electronics converge into one networked system. Look for a combined Nielson/TRW/Arbitron to sell all of your activity data to all comers.

The New Election Paradigm 

Coin Toss Determines Winner in Fla. Race:
The state that is the king of bizarre election finishes added another page to its quirky electoral history Friday: a city council race decided by a coin toss.

G.P. Sloan, 77, and Richard Flynn, 75, each received 689 votes in the Nov. 2 election. No one emerged a winner after two recounts, so the candidates and three dozen supporters gathered for a coin flip Friday in the community center of this town of 4,400 residents located 25 miles west of Orlando.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have just glimpsed the future. This is how it's going to be.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Odd-Things-Found- While-Reading-the-News Desk 

Evangelicals Want Faith Rewarded:
"Business as usual isn't going to cut it, where the GOP rides to victory by espousing traditional family values and then turns around and rewards the liberals in its ranks," said Robert Knight, who heads an affiliate of Concerned Women for America, a Christian conservative advocacy group.
Robert Knight? Concerned Women for America? WTF?

He's apparently the director of the "Culture and Family Institute" of the Concerned Women for America. That's one concerned woman!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Obligatory Resident Boosterism 

The Steelers are rockin'.

Thank you. That is all.

Broadcasters Strike Back 

After the FCC got post-Janet's-breast tough on the broadcast indecency front, it seems a number of television stations are striking back in a very persuasive and plausible way.

TV Stations Cancel 'Saving Private Ryan':
Several ABC affiliates have announced that they won't take part in the network's Veterans Day airing of "Saving Private Ryan," saying the acclaimed film's violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.

Stations replacing the movie with other programming Thursday include Cox Television-owned stations in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., three Midwest stations owned by Citadel Communications.

"Under strict interpretation of the rules, we can't run that programming before 10 p.m.," said Ray Cole, president of Citadel, which owns WOI-TV in Des Moines, KCAU-TV in Sioux City and KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Neb.

The Oscar-winning film includes a violent depiction of the D-Day invasion and profanity.
And, according to the article, ABC is contractually prevented from editing the film.

This is a perfect protest for these stations. This broadcast's motives are unimpeachable--showing this film for Veteran's Day, even in its decidedly raw unedited form, is clearly not being shown for shock value. The movie has been shown in this manner for the past two Veteran's Days with not a peep from the FCC.

And the stations can't be accused of grandstanding. This is a very real threat--targetting a respected war film being telecast for Veteran's Day is the last thing the FCC would like to do but if they receive formal complaints, they might have to for consistency's sake. Though ABC has offered to pay any fines incurred by individual stations, the protesting broadcasting companies plausibly counter that the FCC could take actions beyond simple fines, like license revokation.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Digital Archiving 

The New York Times has an interesting article describes a situation that's been increasingly worrisome as most of our lives become digitally archived (registration required; feel free to use "vasref" and "cornaro"):
"To save a digital file for, let's say, a hundred years is going to take a lot of work," said Peter Hite, president of Media Management Services, a consulting firm in Houston. "Whereas to take a traditional photograph and just put it in a shoe box doesn't take any work." Already, half of all photographs are taken by digital cameras, with most of the shots never leaving a personal computer's hard drive.

So dire and complex is the challenge of digital preservation in general that the Library of Congress has spent the last several years forming committees and issuing reports on the state of the nation's preparedness for digital preservation.

Jim Gallagher, director for information technology services at the Library of Congress, said the library, faced with "a deluge of digital information," had embarked on a multiyear, multimillion-dollar project, with an eye toward creating uniform standards for preserving digital material so that it can be read in the future regardless of the hardware or software being used. The assumption is that machines and software formats in use now will become obsolete sooner rather than later.


In the meantime, individual PC owners struggle in private. Desk drawers and den closets are filled with obsolete computers, stacks of Zip disks and 3½-inch diskettes, even the larger 5¼-inch floppy disks from the 1980's. Short of a clear solution, experts recommend that people copy their materials, which were once on vinyl, film and paper, to CD's and other backup formats.

But backup mechanisms can also lose their integrity. Magnetic tape, CD's and hard drives are far from robust. The life span of data on a CD recorded with a CD burner, for instance, could be as little as five years if it is exposed to extremes in humidity or temperature.
The only current solution, as it seems to me, I'm sure makes hardware manufacturers smile. As storage media capacity grows, one must keep copying files forward to the larger media to prevent data loss from the older, smaller media.

Personally, I've had files migrate from small hard drives to floppies to Zip disks to CD-Rs to large hard drives (internal and external). And I'm sure that files have been corrupted along the way.

The problem isn't so much outdated file formats, although that can be an issue with more obscure programs which save data into unique or proprietary types (the key is to always save backup copies of files in wide-usage formats, like text files; even if the data is unformatted and ugly, at least it's retrievable). The more frequent problem is outdated media (like those couple of 5.25 floppies I still have but can no longer access) or degraded/corrupted media (as in a CD-R scratch or a fatal hard drive crash).

And the solution is a Sisyphusian constant copying of one's digital life into larger storage media.

So that WHTG-FM radio interview I have on tape with the late Kirsty MacColl was taped onto audio cassette, converted to mp3 preserved on CD-R, and now resides on a hard drive. If data from either the hard drive or the CD-R becomes irretrievable, I can recopy from the other. My only issue is whether I keep the analogue tape copy (an option increasingly unavailable, as the article points out, as more and more archives are digital in the first instance).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


I don't have cable anymore. By choice.

And if my cable TV "friends" send me one more mailing with a "deal" for a month or two of "cheap" cable service before they jack up the rates to their current astronomical levels, I shall undoubtedly become a "crime statistic."

This message brought to you by the American Council on Cable TV Bill Rage, in conjunction with the Citizens for Needless Quotation Mark Usage.

Thank you.

Pumpkin Hurlers 

Businessman Loses Pumpkin-Hurling Title:
A businessman's effort to defend his pumpkin-hurling title literally fell short.

Bruce Bradford and his nine-ton contraption held the World Championship Punkin Chunkin title for two years until Sunday. A rival's machine claimed the crown by shooting a gourd that soared 4,224 feet before a crowd of about 40,000 in Sussex County, Del.

Bradford's mechanical device finished second in the field of 100, sending an 8- to 10-pound pumpkin 4,056 feet across a farmer's field with a blast of compressed air.
I knew something was missing from the Olympics this summer!

The Belushi-Newmar Feud 

Jim Belushi sues Julie Newmar for harassment:
Actor Jim Belushi has filed a $1 million lawsuit against his next-door neighbor, veteran actress Julie Newmar, accusing her of a "campaign of harassment" designed to drive Belushi from his home.

Belushi claims that Newmar, 71, who played the villainous Catwoman on the 1960s "Batman" TV series, destroyed a fence and landscaping on his property, spied on his family and blared loud music into his backyard.

The star of the ABC sitcom "According to Jim" also accused Newmar of spreading "defamatory statements" about him, calling him a "peeping Tom," "voyeur" and "sick."
Is Newmar pulling a Margot Kidder? Or is Belushi, indeed, "sick"?

Or should they, along with the Olsen twins and ALL entertainment reports and photographers, be repeatedly flogged for crimes against taste, decency, and the public order?

Find out in the next exciting--and increasingly curmudgeonly--installment of Mike's Minutiae vs. Everyone!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Licking Muppets 

That's perhaps the most unsavory-sounding blog entry title I think I've ever written. But it's not what you think. It's just this...

Kermit and friends get US stamps:
Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and other Muppets are to be honoured with their own US stamps next year.

The US Postal Service will produce stamps for 10 Muppets favourites plus one for their creator Jim Henson.

The Swedish Chef, Bunson and Beaker and Statler and Waldorf are among the other puppets who will be on mail from March.

Horshak Alert! 

In case you were wondering, Ron Palillo is available for personal appearances.

For those not familiar with Ron Palillo, he did a voice on the enormously popular The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley with the Fonz Show.

That and Welcome Back, Kotter.

As for the other Sweathogs:

Friday, November 05, 2004

Atlantis It's Not 

Drought Uncovers Memories of Neb. Village:
The Schlitz beer can was all Warren Plummer needed to get his bearings.

When his friend picked up the clue, rusty from all those years under water, the 81-year-old Plummer was pretty sure that's where the pool hall used to be. He knew the church had been over there. The lumberyard there, and the school there.

In the 62 years since Plummer left Lemoyne — chased off by a mammoth state water project that deep-sixed his hometown — he has been able to go back only twice. Both were when drought dwindled the vast lake down to minimal levels.

Lemoyne turned from burg to lake bed when the Platte River, which runs east-west across the entire lower half of Nebraska, was dammed. The water that filled up behind the dam in the early 1940s is today's Lake McConaughy, or "Big Mac," the state's largest lake.

When full, the lake measures 22 miles long, four miles wide and 142 feet deep. This month, it was 75 percent empty but a little fuller than at a record low in mid-September. By next summer, water and power officials predict it will be more than 90 percent empty — comparatively speaking, a puddle. The only other time the water level was low enough to see Lemoyne, which sat just west of Nebraska's Sandhills, was in 1956.
Reminds me of Deliverance. Only without the sodomy.

Paging Principal Joe Clark 

Fighter jet strafes New Jersey school:
The target was an object on the ground well within the confines of the Warren Grove firing range, a 2,400-acre scrub pine expanse used by the military to train pilots in bombing and strafing techniques.

But when the heavy gun in the left wing of an Air National Guard F-16 fighter jet fired Wednesday night, it sent 25 rounds of 20mm ammunition smashing through the roof and zinging off the asphalt parking lot of the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School 3 1/2 miles from the range.

Military investigators are trying to determine how it could have happened.

A custodian was the only person in the school when the shots hit at 11 p.m., and no one was injured.
The next step up from detention: 20mm strafing.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Freedom of Speech for Game Characters? 

At the end of October, the New York Law School and Yale Law School co-sponsored the second annual "State of Play" conference, at which you could've attended such panel discussions as "Avatar Rights, Virtual Liberty and Free Expression in Virtual Worlds" and "Virtual Property/Real World Markets: Making a Living in a Virtual World."

It might sound a little goofy at first glance, but some of the issues inspiring the conference are weighty, including:
Should we import copyright and trademark into virtual spaces? Can we exclude them? What should be the relationship between real and virtual world economies? Should legislatures protect virtual world property? What are the possibilities for using virtual spaces to practice the activities of real world democracy? Should virtual worlds be treated as separate jurisdictions with their own evolving norms and forms of dispute resolution? What is the potential for using virtual worlds to promote democracy and self-governance?
A Wired article reports on the conference and gives some concrete fr'instances of issues.

More PBS Reality Shows 

'Regency House Party' plays the 1800s dating game:
What kind of reality dating show is right for PBS? One with impeccable manners, of course, and a British accent.

Make it a period piece, and it's a perfect match.

"Regency House Party" lacks hot tubs, a glitzy Malibu mansion a la "The Bachelor" or contemporary canoodling. But it offers an elegant country estate, bare-knuckle boxing and a secret nighttime rendezvous.

For empty thrills, however, look elsewhere. The series weaves early 1800s science, medicine, politics and class and race relations in with the flirting.
Although this one doesn't sound very interesting personally (perhaps a little too Merchant/Ivory for me), I was very impressed with Frontier House two years ago.

Angry and Naked on the Tarmac 

Cornucopia of dangers:
"This was an extremely dangerous thing for him to do. If he had continued to cling in there with the aircraft taking off at over 200 miles (320 kph) per hour, he might have fallen out and could have been sucked up by an engine," she said.

"If he had survived that and was in the wheel well when the landing gear was retracted, he could have been crushed by the mechanism. And if not he very likely would have frozen to death during the 15 1/2 hour flight at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres) while wearing no clothes."
So says a spokesperson for LAX, after an angry Canadian man stripped, dashed onto the tarmac, and entered a moving plane's wheel well.

Probably not the image they want... 

Farmers tackle pests with colas:
For farmers in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh it is cheaper than pesticides and gets the job done just as well. The product? Pepsi or Coca-Cola.

Agricultural scientists give them some backing - they say the high sugar content of the drinks can make them effective in combating pests.

Unsurprisingly, Pepsi and Coca-Cola strongly disagree, saying there is nothing in the drinks that can be used in pest control....

Agricultural specialist Devendra Sharma says farmers are mistaken in thinking that the drinks are the same as pesticides.

He says the drinks are effectively sugar syrups and when they are poured on crops they attract ants which in turn feed on the larva of insects.

Mr Sharma says using sugar syrup for pest control is not a new practice.

"Jaggery made from sugar cane has been used commonly for pest control on many occasions. Pepsi and Coca-Cola are being used to achieve the same result," he says.

Fellow scientist, Sanket Thakur, says: "All that is happening is that plants get a direct supply of carbohydrates and sugar which in turn boosts the plants' immunity and the plantation on the whole ends up yielding a better crop."

Vikas Kocchar, regional manager for public affairs and communications of Coca-Cola, says claims that the drink can be used as a pesticide have no scientific backing.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

From a dog-eared book I've been re-reading recently... 

After months of quasi-public brooding on the whys and wherefores of the disastrous beating he absorbed last November, McGovern seems finally to have bought the Conventional Wisdom -- that his campaign was doomed from the start: conceived in a fit of hubris, born in a momentary power-vacuum that was always more mirage than reality, borne along on a tide of frustration churned up by liberal lintheads and elitist malcontents in the Eastern Media Establishment, and finally bashed into splinters on the reefs of at least two basic political realities that no candidate with good sense would ever have tried to cross in the first place....To wit:
  1. Any incumbent President is unbeatable, except in a time of mushrooming national crisis or in a scandal so heinous -- and with such obvious roots in the White House -- as to pose a clear and present danger to the financial security and/or physical safety of millions of voters in every corner of the country.

  2. The "mood of the nation," in 1972, was so overwhelmingly vengeful, greedy, bigoted, and blindly reactionary that no presidential candidate who even faintly remind "typical voters" of the fear & anxiety they'd felt during the constant "social upheavals" of the 1960s had any chance at all of beating Nixon last year -- not even Ted Kennedy -- because the pendulum "effect" that began with Nixon's slim victory in '68 was totally irreversible by 1972. After a decade of left-bent chaos, the Silent Majority was so deep in a behavorial sink that their only feeling for politics was a powerful sense of revulsion. All they wanted in the White House was a man who would leave them alone and do anything necessary to bring calmness back into their lives -- even if it meant turning the whole state of Nevada into a concentration camp for hippies, niggers, dope fiends, do-gooders, and anyone else who might threaten the status quo. The Pendulum Theory is very vogueish these days, especially among Washington columnists and in the more prestigious academic circles, where the conversion-rate has been running at almost epidemic proportions since the night of November 7. Until then, it had not been considered entirely fashionable to go around calling ex-Attorney General John Mitchell a "prophet" because of his smiling prediction, in the summer of 1970, that "This country is going so far to the right that you won't recognize it."

~~Hunter S. Thompson,
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72


Tuesday, November 02, 2004


Shuttle Enterprise takes center stage, at last:
Space shuttle Enterprise was born to be an astronautical bridesmaid, never a bride.

Built in 1976 as one of the first trio of U.S. shuttles, Enterprise never left Earth's atmosphere and was used as a test vehicle to help its more famous sister ships Challenger and Columbia carry a generation of astronauts into space.

Both Columbia and Challenger were destroyed in deadly accidents, but Enterprise has come out of storage and into its own as the centrepiece of a new exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington D.C.
I remember watching with great interest Enterprise's test flight on February 18, 1977.

In a bizarre twist of art imitating life imitating art imitating life, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was named after the Star Trek ship, which was named after real-life ships named Enterprise.

Then two years after the shuttle test flight, Star Trek: The Motion Picture featured a remodeled starship Enterprise, and depicted it with a gallery of past namesakes, including the space shuttle.

"All these ships were called Enterprise," actor Stephen Collins intoned to the former Miss India, the late Persis Khambatta.

On a semi-related note, Stephen Collins continues the long tradition of Star Trek actors with questionable forays into recorded music. Download Mr. Collins' music here.

William Shatner's and Leonard Nimoy's old releases are perhaps the best known in this notorious genre (btw, Shatner's new Ben Folds-produced album is quite entertaining), but let us not overlook the bad country of Tim Russ or the weak standards of Brent Spiner.

Day of the Klutz 

So far today, I've spilled coffee grounds, sugar, and the actual liquid coffee itself. It's been a regular slapstick comedy-fest around here.

If I end up pulling a lever I don't intend in the voting booth, I'm gonna have to put the hurting on someone.

Plus, I've got a cold. Yeesh. Terrific.

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