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

Sunday, January 30, 2005


Pope Loses Battle With Peace-Symbol Dove:
Pope John Paul II shooed a dove — a symbol of peace — out his apartment window Sunday, chuckling with children who watched in delight as the bird flew back into his room overlooking St. Peter's Square.... The white birds, perhaps alarmed by Rome's unusual cold spell, almost immediately darted back into his studio.

Laughing, the 84-year-old ailing pontiff seemed determined to set the symbol free. He grabbed one of the doves as an aide returned the birds to the window sill, and he shooed it out the window and playfully patted the boy on the head.

After a quick flight over the square, the bird quickly fluttered inside again.

'Puters, 'Rents, & 'Rons 

Hot on the heels of the MPAA-funded Junior Achievement program "What's the Diff?" program to indoctrinate Our Digital Youths on copyrights, illegal downloading, and how notions of "fair use" are Communist in origin, the Motion Picture Association of America is now bringing their resources to bear on helping parents. Software has been created to allow parents to ferret out filesharing programs and illegal files on their children's computers (or, "'puters," as the kids say).

Unfortunately, however, the program has no way of determining whether such files are illegal. On my own computer, I've helpfully created a folder for this material named "My Illegal Filez" to assist in the effort should someone scan my computer. So the program, called Parent File Scan, returns ALL media files--including Windows' own event sounds--as potentially illegal. This will be extremely helpful to parents (or "'rents," as the kids say).

The program itself apparently does frequently disclaim this legal/illegal confusion by stating:
The program does not distinguish between legal and illegal copies. It is up to the user to determine whether the files found by the program have been acquired legally, or if the material should be deleted.
It also may not even be able to delete the P2P applications it discovers. So what good is this software? It sounds like a bid to get parents to delete everything on their childrens' computers' hard drive in the interest of being "better safe than sorry." This sounds like an initiative by morons, for morons (or "'rons," as the kids say).

These kids and their peer-to-peer networks! 

For the first time, sociologists have mapped the romantic and sexual relationships of an entire high school over 18 months, providing evidence that these adolescent networks may be structured differently than researchers previously thought.
According to the researchers' data, "Slightly more than half of all students reported having sexual intercourse, a rate comparable to the national average."

I can't help but wonder whether they correct this sample for all the lying? (and I don't mean of the supine variety)

Dear Intuit: 

I have purchased your TurboTax software in the past. However, I just read about your Sunset provisions on older Quicken products, which disables functional older versions of software to force users to purchase upgrades.

I doubt this would affect any software I might make--tax software is inherently outdated each year--but on general principle I decided against purchasing any more products from Intuit. In other product categories, I have dealt with companies trying to convert customers from "purchasers" into mere "renters" and I have an extreme distaste for that attitude.

You might defend the practice as resulting in "a better customer experience for millions of Quicken users" but I don't think the person who is happily and effectively using an older version of your product would see it that way.

Thanks for your past tax assistance. Goodbye.
Just sent.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Dispatch from Mosul, Iraq 

From a 1/28 post on A Star From Mosul (the pseudonymous blog of Najma, an Iraqi teenage girl):
They're announcing on Mosul TV that the names of the people in the lists of the elections will be announced soon! Imagine, you have elections, you have 3 days till the elections, and you still don't know who you're going to vote for! I don't know, is this really abnormal? Or am I a little confused?
Always a fascinating read. You can find other blogs from ordinary Iraqis on the blogroll here.

Tinfoil Hats...for your keys? 

Dr. Rubin said that if criminals did eventually duplicate his students' work, people could block eavesdroppers by keeping the key or Speedpass token in a tinfoil sheath when not in use.
So says Aviel Rubin, professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins, who led a team which cracked a cryptographic system in some car keys.
All that would be required to steal a car, the researchers said, is a moment next to the car owner to extract data from the key, less than an hour of computing, and a few minutes to break in, feed the key code to the car and hot-wire it.

An executive with the Texas Instruments division that makes the systems did not dispute that the Hopkins team had cracked its code, but said there was much more to stealing a car than that. The devices, said the executive, Tony Sabetti, "have been fraud-free and are likely to remain fraud-free."
We'll see.

Swimsuit Issue 

Monkeys Pay to See Female Monkey Bottoms:
A new study found that male monkeys will give up their juice rewards in order to ogle pictures of female monkey's bottoms. The way the experiment was set up, the act is akin to paying for the images, the researchers say.

The rhesus macaque monkeys also splurged on photos of top-dog counterparts, the high-ranking primates. Maybe that's like you or me buying People magazine.
Wonder what the religious right will make of this experiment. Denounce it as a perversion and an abomination perhaps.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Important News for Movie Fans 

There's appears to be a settlement in a class action lawsuit against MGM about certain widescreen DVDs. The films apparently had a slightly different aspect ratio on the DVD than the theatrical version, despite the DVDs clearly saying on the box "theatrical release version."

As the complaint states, "[C]ertain representations on the label and package insert of MGM's widescreen DVDs are false and misleading because MGM's widescreen DVDs for films shot in the 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio have the same image width as MGM's standard screen format DVDs."

Naturally, MGM denies this, asserting that "MGM's widescreen DVDs are not defective or lacking in quality in any respect."

They are, however, settling the suit. See a list of affected DVDs here (.pdf) or look at a plaintext list in comments to this post.

Affected DVDs include many Woody Allen films, a handful of Bond movies, and popular fare like Silence of the Lambs, The Terminator, and This Is Spinal Tap (I have 7 of them; I have 3 others, but fortunately, they're the Criterion editions and not the MGM release).

According to the terms of the settlement, if you have any of the afffected DVDs can get either a new MGM DVD from a list of 325 titles (no idea, though, which DVDs are on the list) or a cash refund of $7.10.

To participate, you must call the Claims Administrator at 1-800-285-2168. If eligible, they'll send a Proof of Claim Form, the list of MGM DVD titles and a postage pre-paid mailing label to return the Proof of Claim Form and each eligible DVD.

For more info, see the the settlement website.

Oh, no! Not again! 

First Brad & Jen, and now another A-list Hollywood couple!

I don't believe in nuthin' no more!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

¿Porqué Mosquito, Porqué? 

Why do you get bitten so much by mosquitos? Because you're smelly, Jack! Or, perhaps, you ain't smelly enough:
James Logan, a research student at the BBSRC-sponsored institute Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, has found that some people give off "masking" odours that prevent mosquitoes from finding them. His research builds on earlier studies on cattle at Rothamsted Research, led by Professor John Pickett, which showed that the number of flies on a herd depended on certain cows being present. The scientists found these key unattractive individuals gave out different chemical signals from the other cows. When these individuals were moved to another field the number of flies afflicting the herd increased.

James, working in collaboration with Professor Jenny Mordue at the University of Aberdeen, tested the behavioural reaction of yellow fever mosquitoes to the odour of the volunteers. James said: "The mosquitoes were placed into a y-shaped tube and given the choice of moving upwind down either branch. The air flowing down one branch was laced with odour from the volunteer's hands."
And shall I just say that that is one lousy volunteer position. But, hey--all in the name of science, right?

What is going on?? 

Has The Onion taken over the web? So much news reads like a joke today.

To wit:
An Oklahoma senator hopes to revive cockfighting in the state by putting tiny boxing gloves on the roosters instead of razors.

The Oklahoma legislature outlawed the blood sport in 2002 because of its cruelty to the roosters, which are slashed and pecked to death while human spectators bet on the outcome.

But State Sen. Frank Shurden, a Democrat from Henryetta and a long-time defender of cockfighting, said the ban had wiped out a $100-million business.

To try to revive it, he has proposed that roosters wear little boxing gloves attached to their spurs, as well as lightweight, chicken-sized vests configured with electronic sensors to record hits and help keep score.
Oh, okay, if you can assign an amount ascribed to "lost business," it must be a good idea to bring it back. You know, for the local economy.

Hey--illegal drugs are a billion dollar industry! Why not legalize these? You know, for the local economy.


"The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the UCC, welcomes SpongeBob Squarepants to the UCC's national offices in Cleveland. [January 2005] Randy Varcho/UCC Photo"

The UCC is the United Church of Christ. This is rather odd. And there's a whole photo diary of SpongeBob's visit to the church. One of the photos is captioned "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Perhaps they're unaware that rather than a person, SpongeBob is a cartoon sponge.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

In Loco Parentis, With an Emphasis on "Loco" 

The FCC just rejected (.doc) 36 complaints by the Parents Television Council alleging various television programs featured indecent material. The Simpsons was among the targets, for the episode "The President Wore Pearls" from November 16, 2003 (the plot features Lisa running against Nelson for class president).

Material cited by the PTC (.doc) include a scene depicting students carrying picket signs that read "Don’t cut off my pianissimo" and "What would Jesus glue?" and a Otto stating "Well, I guess this story has a happy ending after all. Just like my last massage."

I guess they chose to ignore other picket signs ("Flunk Me? Flunk you!" and "Don't take away our balls") which, like "Don’t cut off my pianissimo" and the Otto quote, are double entendres specifically crafted ostensibly to have plausible deniability. Yes, they sound naughty but they have an innocent meaning--and that makes them not actionable by the FCC.

And by citing "What would Jesus glue?" in their complaint, please be reminded that these groups wish to attack heretics in addition to the dirty-minded. The PTC's official "review" of The Simpsons cautions viewers that the show ridicules religion (in addition to educators and law enforcement officials). Which is fine--caution all you want, but don't ask the government to intervene on behalf of religious sensibilities.

But, unfortunately, it's not just the pious offended who want the FCC to step in. Some want the FCC to act in cases of mere bad taste:
A New York radio station apologized on Monday for repeatedly airing a joke song that ridiculed victims of the recent tsunami in South Asia and used racial slurs, saying the piece was in poor taste.

New York FM radio station WQHT, or HOT 97, ran the segment on its "Miss Jones in the Morning" show. The piece used racial slurs to describe people swept away in the disaster, made jokes about child slavery and people watching their mothers die....

The piece drew wide criticism from Albany to New York's City Hall, with many lawmakers calling on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to fine HOT 97.

"At a time when virtually the entire world has come together to help in the tsunami tragedy relief, employees of HOT 97 have come up with this song," said New York State Assembly member Jimmy Meng, a Democrat from Queens. "We are disgusted and demand immediate action by the FCC."
Um, mere obnoxiousness--no matter how extreme--is outside of the FCC's oversight unless the material gets into sexual or excretory functions.


Hollywood Grumblings 

Dustin Hoffman:
Hollywood legend Dustin Hoffman has hit out at the quality of current films and theatre productions.

The star of Rain Man and Tootsie said the film culture was "in the craphouse" at a press conference on Tuesday.

The 67-year-old also said he stopped working a few years ago because he lost his "spark" for acting.
Fox Music president Robert Kraft:
"After the success of 'Titanic,' soundtrack albums were made for every film, and songs were crow-barred into films," Robert Kraft said during a panel discussion at the Midem music market. "Soundtracks were bogus. Songs are often just marketing vehicles, and the music gets forgotten. The music must serve the film."

The Grammy-nominated song soundtrack to the movie "Garden State" has been a recent success, but Kraft said it was because the featured tracks were particular to the film. "The director (Zach Braff) picked all the songs himself," he said.
It started with Titanic? Hmmm...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Needlessly Screechy on an AP Article 

I just read an AP article that was a little bizarre. The second paragraph of "Industry Aims to Deliver Music Everywhere" states:
A generation after the birth of portable tunes on the Walkman, technology has made music available nearly everywhere for today's on-the-go consumer — and the recording industry sees a new wave to ride.
Surely the 1950s transistor radio marks the mainstream "birth of portable tunes." Is the intended meaning actually the "birth of user-selected portable tunes"? Perhaps I'm being a little nitpicky on this point, so let's move to another paragraph.
Music industry veterans admit the Internet has democratized music, offering consumers the chance to be selective about songs without having the middleman of a record company producer decide for them.
Umm, exactly how does a "record company producer" decide music for listeners? Okay, let's grant that in some pop music the producer chooses the material and sequences the songs on the album, but these decisions are most often made by the artists these days.

Still nitpicky? Maybe.

I'll skip the phrase "fitful on-stage antics" to describe The Who, and move to this quote:
"It's become a trilogy: Elvis, the Beatles, the iPod — that should really be a band in that third spot," said Dean Hill, an artist manager who runs the Web site www.tourdates.co.uk. "The next revolution's not in bands anymore, and I find that quite sad."
Wow, just what does this quote mean? I mean, I'm pretty sure I understand the underlying intent, but "Elvis, the Beatles, the iPod"? Huh? And if one is to include changes in technology in this list--like the iPod--isn't the aforementioned Walkman noteworthy enough to go into that 30-some year gap between The Beatles and the iPod? Or maybe Nirvana?

And then:
"The most fundamental change is that people are experiencing this (music) without being tethered to a phonograph, a PC or a laptop," said [Ralph] Simon, who represents acts like U2, Justin Timberlake and Shania Twain.
Whoa! Didn't we already establish that the "birth of portable tunes" happened a long time ago, regardless of whether through the Walkman or the transistor radio?

Finally the article concludes:
"A compact disc is a bit like a Kleenex these days: You take it, use it and throw it away. Finished. On to other things," [bassist for French rock band 'Leon' Manu] Fleury said.
Hey, who's throwing away all these CDs? Huh?

Sometimes you just read something and scratch your head. I'll just assume it was due to a looming deadline and half a bottle of bourbon.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

My Summer Travel 

It looks like I'll be spending a lot of time this June in a place called San Andreas. Although it was previous suggested that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas wasn't to be released for the PC until the 3rd quarter of '05, I just realized that a June 7th release date has been announced.

I strongly recommend this game to anybody with a PC that can handle it, based solely on the game's predecessors. Personally, I can't wait.

Travel Odyssey 

So I was on vacation in Florida this past week (I'll be posting photos from the Burt Reynolds Museum soon), and set to travel home yesterday. By chance it happened to be Blizzard Day. That'll school me for not checking my Farmer's Almanac.

My first flight was cancelled. The day marked several "firsts" for me--I was rejected by a check-in kiosk and then got an itinerary card I've never seen before marked "Interrupted Travel for Sauter/Michael."

And it was the first time I've ever shared an airplane with Jesus Christ.

On the second flight, I had a layover in Atlanta. Shortly before the 767's descent, a guy about 5 or 6 rows behind me decided he was Jesus Christ. Seriously. He spread his arms wide and began bellowing "I am Christ! I am Jesus Christ!"

The flight attendants managed to calm him down, and paramedics met the plane at the gate. Particularly oddly, the when the man was being taken off the plane he turned around and addressed the cabin: "Sorry, everybody! I had no idea I was going to become Jesus Christ."

The guy appeared normal; he looked clean-cut and the opposite of any clichéd wild-eyed lunatic. It made the episode all the more disconcerting. As the woman sitting next to me pointed out, "Ted Bundy was a good-looking guy, too." Another passenger said he was just bracing himself for action in case the guy made a dash for the cockpit.

Strange days, indeed.

I was almost relieved when the only other issue was merely trying to convert the vehicle-sized ice sculpture back into my car in the 13 degree airport parking lot.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Blathering: Gates & me 

Bill Gates, during a BBC interview, on an all-media PC system:
People don't want lots and lots of single purpose devices. They do not want to have to learn how to set up something for photos, another thing for music, another thing for video. And you do want the richness, the graphics that only the PC can provide. Now we need to make it very easy to setup, we need to show this kind of simple user interface can be provided there. The PC has more software, more competition, more richness than anything else. So making it simple and rich, that means the PC will be the key device.
Hmm. I guess you can't really refute a statement that the PC has more software than, say, a TV or a radio.

It also doesn't really mean a damn thing.

While Gates may be correct that most people don't want a steep learning curve with each new media device they own--just as they get frustrated with a separate remote control for every such item--but he's completely ignoring another important observation.

Single purpose devices are engineered for obvious operation. Look for the "on" button and press, and the device takes over from there. Sure, you might need a digital Sherpa to climb the learning curve for advanced features, but basic use is designed to be so simple even the proverbial child can (and probably will) operate it.

Devices such as the PC can never be this way, precisely because they are engineered to be user-definable. My PC is frequently used to listen to, record, and edit audio, while perhaps my father's PC manages his money. Even if they're the same make and model of PC, each is extremely customized based on user needs.

It sounds like wishful thinking to want the PC to be both. "So making it simple and rich, that means the PC will be the key device," saith Gates. Simple and rich?

Can we look also forward to cars that are luxury models and affordable, food that is spicy and mild, and movie that are grittily realistic and family-friendly?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Worst Day of the Year 

'I don't like Monday 24 January':
Misery is expected to peak on Monday, as 24 January has been pinpointed as the worst day of the year.

January has been long regarded as the darkest of months, but a formula from a part-time tutor at Cardiff University shows it gets even worse this Monday.

Foul weather, debt, fading Christmas memories, failed resolutions and a lack of motivation conspire to depress, Cliff Arnalls found....

The formula for the day of misery reads 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA.

Where W is weather, D is debt - minus the money (d) due on January's pay day - and T is the time since Christmas.

Q is the period since the failure to quit a bad habit, M stands for general motivational levels and NA is the need to take action and do something about it.
You just have to be impressed by such a calculation, even if it could be about as accurate as a horoscope.

This is interesting news for us in Pittburgh, as the Steelers take on the Patriots Sunday night. The city's either in for an exceptionally bad "worst" day, or a joyful day completely smashing the misery formula.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"Your Mother Should Know" 

All-Mom Bands Rock the House and Cradle:
They're housewives, workaholics, PTA members and ... rock stars? Women fighting to shatter the stay-at-home-mom stereotype and rediscover their youthful voice are forming bands, such as Housewives on Prozac in suburban New York, Frump in Dallas and Placenta in Oakland, Calif.

These moms are rocking the house and the cradle, singing about breast-feeding, exhaustion and making kids do their chores.

"I feel like what we do is remind people about their passion and that sense of importance and that sense of vitality," said Joy Rose, a 47-year-old mother of four who founded Housewives on Prozac in 1997. "Life is really short and it's important to live colorfully."
I guess this is the delayed reaction to bands like the nine-year-old combo Old Skull.

Frump has a website. More info on Housewives on Prozac. Sorry, I refuse to google Placenta.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"Sleeping with" The Simpsons 

Union fights for Mexican Simpsons:
The actors who voice The Simpsons for Mexican TV are involved in a dispute over the use of non-union labour.

The performers, who have worked on The Simpsons for 15 years, fear losing their jobs because the dubbing company is seeking cheaper actors.

The dubbing company for The Simpsons says it has asked the cast to continue but needs to hire other actors....

Nancy Mackenzie, the voice of Marge Simpson, said: "You get to the point where you care deeply for your cartoon character.

"You love them. You go to bed with them at night. It's a sad state, and not because of the money. It's for love."
Wow. Bedding down with the characters? That's rather an odd way of phrasing it.

Thanks to Robin for the story tip.

Alarming Energy 

"But it now appears the warming from greenhouse gases has been offset by a strong cooling effect from dimming - in effect two of our pollutants have been cancelling each other out."
Gee, what a great solution! Solve global warming with a different byproduct of pollution.

The offsetting problem to global warming appears to be a dimming of the sun caused by pollutants in the atmosphere:
We are all seeing rather less of the Sun, according to scientists who have been looking at five decades of sunlight measurements.

They have reached the disturbing conclusion that the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's surface has been gradually falling.

Paradoxically, the decline in sunlight may mean that global warming is a far greater threat to society than previously thought.
The dimming might be affecting climate on its own, but it also might be keeping the real near-term global warming threat cloaked:
"We're going to be in a situation unless we act where the cooling pollutant is dropping off while the warming pollutant is going up.

"That means we'll get reducing cooling and increased heating at the same time and that's a problem for us," says Dr Cox.

Even the most pessimistic forecasts of global warming may now have to be drastically revised upwards.

That means a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius by 2100 could be on the cards, giving the UK a climate like that of North Africa, and rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable.
Well, that's just charming.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Fringes of the Menu 

Wikipedia Faces Growing Pains:
Since its birth in 2001, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia from the Wikimedia Foundation, has grown to include more than 1.1 million entries. The English-language version alone has nearly 444,000 entries, all written for no compensation by members of the Wikipedia community.

The project has grown to such an extent that it is sometimes mentioned as an alternative to other resources like the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But with that growth, questions about how credible Wikipedia is, whether it can be respected by the academic community and how it might change are more important than ever. And as Wikipedia continues to expand, at about 7 percent per month, many wonder if the project can stay true to its core principles of openness and co-creation.


To academics like Danah Boyd, a graduate student and instructor at the University of California at Berkeley, that is precisely the problem: Wikipedia, for all its breadth of coverage, cannot claim that each and every one of its entries meets any bottom-line standard for accuracy.

"Usually there's only one or two people involved in writing the entries," Boyd said, "and you don't know anything about who they are."

To Boyd, who said she finds the project "an exceptionally valuable tool," the problem is that while some entries, particularly those about technology, are well-read and edited by many community members, countless others have received little or no scrutiny.
The central strength of any wiki, those online collaboarative information tools, is also its primary danger: anyone can contribute. Like the Dolby noise reduction system in audio, the collective wisdom of the group has to be raised to greater than the unwanted "noise" of bad actors or self-important dumb people for the wiki to be useful.

Given a large enough pool of contributors, this should be the case. But this article implies an interesting point: when a wiki gets as large as the Wikipedia, fringe or specialized areas of knowledge almost function as a small wiki and the signal-to-noise ratio might not clear the threshold.

So I guess the moral of the story can be summed up as a parable.

When you go to a restaurant, many expert in food safety recommended that you order popular foods. That way, you are more likely to get relatively fresh and well-prepared food. But ordering the menu item that is made least by the restaurant is more likely to get food that's been sitting for a really long time in the freezer, and that hes been perhaps poorly prepared by the kitchen staff.

As a vegetarian, I understand that this approach can be problematic. But one must simply have more of a caveat emptor attitude when seeking those off-the-beaten track menu items.

Now go and seek knowledge, grasshopper.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Burt Reynolds Museum 

Jupiter, Florida is home to the Burt Reynolds Museum.

Yes, the Burt Reynolds Museum. I kid you not. They have a mission statement on their website:
The mission of the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum is to preserve the history of the cultural contributions of Burt Reynolds, and provide educational opportunities to young actors and filmmakers.

Our historical mission is to research and preserve the history of the state of Florida including the location, interpretation and preservation of Florida historical sites.
And, according to an article on the website:
"Ninety-nine percent of the things in here are Burt's idea. He and I hung a lot of the pictures, and he's a real good picture hanger," said Kreig "Mo" Mustaine, a friend of Reynolds since they played football together in junior high school.
The Burt Reynolds Museum Collection includes a pair of lucky boots from Gene Autry, the Deliverance canoe, the Bandit Car, boots from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, "debuty badges" from 14 localities, and a letter from Carol Burnett.

You can volunteer at the Burt Reynolds Museum. You can even become a "member" of the Museum, although its website doesn't exactly tell you how or why you may do so.

Perhaps it's to aid in the education component of the Burt Reynolds Museum. The website avers, "The stage area comes alive when Mr. Reynolds and guest instructors conduct scene study classes at the museum. Classes include the master acting class as well as classes in film-making, scriptwriting and documentary film-making.

Some final thoughts courtesy of the Burt Reynolds Museum website...
  • Jon Voigt: "You don't know what a pack rat is until you see the Burt Reynolds Museum."

  • Elizabeth Taylor: "Burt Reynolds is one of the most considerable actors of today. His sense of wicked wit mixed with vulnerability equals pure enchantment."

  • Charles Nelson Reiley [sic]: "I can't tell you enough about how he loves to help young people. It takes my breath away. He is a superb teacher."
Who'd'a thought there was such a thing as The Burt Reynolds Museum. I sure didn't.

By the way, this is the second such museum in Jupiter. The first one closed in 1999 when its namesake filed for bankruptcy. Visit this one sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Modern Life Is Not Necessarily Rubbish 

So I started my day as I often do, sipping coffee, reading new stories from around the web, and listening to music via mp3s using wireless headphones.

You know, just another typical day as a Digital Gadabout.

I was performing a housekeeping chore in the kitchen (see, that's where those wireless headphones come in--full movement around the pad without loss of music in glorious stereo) which involved a series of precariously stacked dishes, and a brief instrumental song came on the headphones.

"Wow! What is this?" I wondered.

I was in a "je ne sais quois" mood this morning, so I was listening to 8,000 songs on shuffle. Consequently, I had no clue what the track was.

Unfortunately, my precariously stacked dishes were being rather unforgiving in allowing me to immediately return to my living-room computer to check the song artist/title. By the time I was able to negotiate a truce with the dishes, the brief song had completed.

And no DJ for me to call up and ask what song it was.

The story has a happy ending, though. I realized that my WinAmp media library keeps a handy record of when a song was played last. I sorted the list based on that criteria, et voila!

For the record, the song was "Welcome to the Soft Lightes," the gentle introductory track to the lastest album by The Incredible Moses Leroy. And it segues quite nicely into Re-Flex' "The Politics of Dancing," by the way...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

How to Make Bowl More Super 

Okay, so you've got your Super Bowl tickets for Feb. 6th. Yawn. Another Big Game crowning another football season. So how can one spruce up one's Super Bowl experience?

Why, by ponying up another $565 per person to attend Corporate Hospitality Village!

For that amount of scratch, you get live entertainment, specialty food, and beverage stations in a tent village next to the stadium. Plus--a Super Bowl merchandise kiosk! Oooo! (apparently the hoi polloi inside the stadium won't have the opportunity to purchase Super Bowl merchandise)

Another "benefit": the opportunity to purchase VIP parking! What? By paying an additional $565, I am allowed to pay an additional $25-$200 for VIP parking! Wow, sign me up!

Okay, maybe you're one of these jaded, blasé types who's completely unimpressed by the chance to visit a parking-not-included Corporate Hospitality Village. Well, you also get an NFL Corporate Hospitality Super Bowl XXXIX pin.

And if that doesn't seal the deal, check out this entertainment menu: Dennis Quaid & The Sharks playing live before the game (yes, that Dennis Quaid) and Boogie Knights performing afterwards. All you need to know about '70s-themed cover band Boogie Knights is summed up by this photo of their singer.

So this is a shindig that would probably be the biggest thing in town...you know, if it weren't for some sports event happening next door.

It's got to a be a night to remember when "non-smoking environment" and "ADA access to all areas of Stadium Club" are listed as items that the hospitality package "includes."

Well, they've got to justify the cost somehow...

Paper Tiger Philanthropy 

We'd better keep an eye on money pledged by governments for tsunami disaster relief. According to the Christian Science Monitor:
If history is any guide, not all government pledges of aid will be fulfilled. By some measurements, nations promised upwards of $1 billion to help rebuild Bam, Iran, after it was devastated in a December, 2003, earthquake. But only about $17 million of that money has actually arrived, according to the Iranian government.
That's pretty goddamn lame, if you ask me.

People expressed a lot of outrage at the (usually bogus) news that money donated to September 11th charities weren't being disbursed properly or in a timely fashion (e.g., see here). Hopefully, the same concern will emerge should the U.S. or the world renege on current aid pledges.

"I felt like I lost a piece of me" 

Forget about the 'Me' Decade. This is the 'We' Decade--and I mean that with all of the earlier phrase's narcissistic implications:
Karina Gonzalez, a sophomore at Newtown High School in Queens and a regular sender of instant messages by computer, had her phone confiscated by her mother after her text messages resulted in a $150 phone bill, triple the usual amount. "I cried," she said. "I felt like I lost a piece of me. You can send a million instant messages a day, and it won't cost you anything. If you send one text message, it can cost you like a phone call."

(from a NYT article about mobile & texting sticker shock)

Now people can more frequently update an ever widening gyre of others about me, Me, ME! Whether it be texting or blogging, we can now keep an already information-overloaded world abreast of the minute-to-minute trials and tribulations of daily life.

And please note: as a Selective Luddite, I can and will proudly tsk-tsk and tut-tut compulsive text-messagers and ignore all irony associated with my own blogging activities. So no 'gotcha!' comment-posting, thank you.

Finally, isn't the rapid and often dizzying changes in communications technology so wonderfully summed up in the exasperated line, "You can send a million instant messages a day, and it won't cost you anything. If you send one text message, it can cost you like a phone call."

That's, like, so...omigod!

Saturday, January 08, 2005

"Biblical Jesus Epics" 

Here's a website I chanced upon, an e-commerce site* called "The Hollywood Jesus Store" that points customers to Amazon to buy a series of biblically-themed films. Look at the third row of movies. Monty Python's Life of Brian??


* Isn't the word "e-commerce" so charmingly dated? Makes me weepily nostalgic for those days when people would throw together a series of links as an "e-mall" and expected people to simply do all their shopping there. Ha!


Ye Gods! 

Here's a series of before/after satellite photos of the tsunami that are simply awesome--in the worst possible way.

Let the images load, and then click on the before/after button to toggle between the pair. Then look at other pairs in the series. You'll probably never buy oceanfront property, ever--even on the Atlantic--after seeing these images.

Friday, January 07, 2005

An old friend slays the Garfield dragon... 

A college friend has brutally and unceremoniously murdered Garfield.

You know, that comics page cat which started out as a cute idea but turned into a bloated and shameless excuse for endless merchandising? Well...

'L.A. Times' Drops Daily 'Garfield' as the Comic Is Blasted and Praised:
The Los Angeles Times dropped the daily version of "Garfield," the most widely distributed comic in syndication.

"Garfield" has received mixed reviews in recent years, but the Times is one of the few papers to ever dare pull it. Reader reaction? "We are getting complaints," said Jennifer James, a Times editorial aide, but she declined to reveal how many.

The Times dropped the daily "Garfield" effective two days ago -- while keeping the Sunday "Garfield" -- to make room for "Brevity," a new comic by Guy Endore-Kaiser and Rodd Perry of United Media.
Rodd is a fellow WICB alum, and I am tickled pink by his worthy cat-slaying. Of course, the vicious little beast has his claws out now. I hope the L.A. Times has intestinal fortitude.

Those Garfield fans are dangerous. They're all still pissed that the bottom dropped out of the Beanie Baby market, and they're looking for a scapegoat.

UPDATE: Read Brevity yourself here.

Admiral Peary, We Hardly Knew Ye 

Race is on to claim the Arctic Circle:
An eight-nation report in November revealed that the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet and that the North Pole could be ice-free in summertime by the end of the century. Around the Arctic, salmon are moving up into more northerly waters, hornets are beginning to buzz and barn owls are appearing in regions where indigenous people have never seen a barn. The Arctic report said polar bears were "unlikely to survive as a species" if the ice disappeared and they were left to compete with their better-adapted brown and grizzly cousins.

What is for some an environmental catastrophe might be a great commercial opportunity. Diamond finds in Canada's Nunavut have fired a mining rush and propelled the country into the ranks of a top-three producer. Ottawa is counting on tapping what the Government suspects are major natural gas reserves in the Beaufort Sea, the frigid zone bordering the Yukon and Alaska, where diplomatic swords were crossed with the US when it tried unsuccessfully to auction the area to oil companies last year.

What no one disagrees with is the riches that would come from the thaw creating a north-west passage. The centuries-old bane of Arctic explorers could become a reality thanks to global warming, cutting thousands of miles off the shipping routes between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and delivering a windfall to any country able to tax its users.
So Denmark (thanks to its Greenland territory) and Canada are competing with Russia and possibly the U.S. to annex, or at least divvy up, the North Pole.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Spotlight on Trade Mags! 

In an ongoing effort by this website to enlighten readers about up-to-the-minute items that are rightfully being ignored by fellow citizens everywhere, it's time to once more shine our metaphorical green laser pointer on an obscure industry's inscrutable trade publication.

For this installment, let's take a look at Better Roads, a publication devoted to busy road and roadway maintenance professionals, and of course, that fairly sizable audience of general asphalt enthusiasts. You've gotta admit, it's hard not to go completely fanboy perusing the Better Roads website.
  • Mission:
    Better Roads is the most authoritative source of information for highway/bridge construction and maintenance, project management, design and engineering, safety, equipment and trucks utilized by governments and contractors, winter maintenance, vegetation management and roadside landscaping, and related projects. (link)
    Unlike trade magazines of many other industries, I like how this one doesn't feel the need to continually kiss the ass of its readers (like frequently telling them that they have "vision" for reading the magazine). The readers of Better Roads are no-nonsense; they're the best at winter road maintenance and vegetation management, and don't need some egghead magazine writer to tell 'em so.

  • How they fancy themselves:

    • For the government/contractor project team (link)
    • Where the government/contractor teams of highway professionals meet for information about topics of mutual interest (link)

    Sounds rather like a sordid tryst, doesn't it? And, in many cases, government contract work is very much so.

  • Target Demo:
    The 39,000 highway professionals receiving Better Roads are part of the government/contractor team who manage, build and maintain North America’s highways and bridges. (link)
    Note that they don't claim that anyone is actually reading the publication--only "receiving" it. Makes a great mat on which to wipe one's road-salt-encrusted work boots!

  • Upcoming events:

    • Feb. 13-17: The National Asphalt Pavement Association's 50th Anniversary Annual Convention "Pavement Paradise." The Hilton Waikoloa Village, Hawaii. (link)

    • April 17-20: The American Public Works Association's North American Snow Conference ("The Show for Snow!"). Kansas City, Missouri. (link)

    I'm all over that "show for snow," although those weary road professionals get to reload their mental asphalt mixer in Hawaii. Aloha snowplows!

  • Didja know?
    Producers of asphalt are one of the fastest growing audiences of the Better Roads, and their thirst for information and ideas is boundless. (link)
    Boundless, I tells ya!
Wow! I feel great knowing just a little more about government/contractor project teams, and will soon delve into learning more about exciting career opportunities in road striping subcontracting!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Shaming Rights 

Bank gives up FleetCenter naming rights:
Bank of America Corp. has agreed to give up its rights to put its name on the FleetCenter, freeing the arena's owner, Delaware North Cos., to open up a bidding war for naming rights to the home of the Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins.

Bank of America will pay an undisclosed fee, likely in the range of $2 million to $3 million, to get out of the final six years of FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s 15-year, $30 million contract that put its name on the FleetCenter. Bank of America bought Fleet for $48 billion in April, acquiring the naming rights in the process. The arena is expected to keep the FleetCenter name only until Delaware North can find a new buyer for the naming rights.
Limited-term naming rights for arenas, stadiums, and other buildings are a bad idea. Sure, it raises revenue for the building owner. But it also contributes to a culture of cynicism and rootlessness.

I have no problems with corporate naming of buildings, like Chicago's Wrigley Field or New York's Woolworth Building, as long as it's a lifetime proposition.

But renting of names to the highest bidder can only help in encouraging cynicism instead of citizenship. If people feel a declining sense of a lasting community--which includes places just as much as people--why should they make an effort to contribute to that community's long-term well-being?

This practice is akin to land developers assigning arbitrary but pleasant names to housing developments and street names. How often have you encountered a development with a name like "Rustic Village," or the like, in a suburban area that isn't even remotely "rustic"? I'd prefer that a developer would simply use their own name, as Alfred and William Levitt did when creating the Levittowns on Long Island, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. At least this is real history and actual roots instead of an ersatz pastoralness.

I'm under no illusion that everything will, or even should last forever. New York's Pan Am Building became the Met Life Building in 1992. New Jersey's Levittown lasted only a mere four years under that name and became Willingboro in 1964 (the area was "Wellingborough" prior to becoming Levittown).

But planned obsolescence in place names is only going to make communities weaker. Personally, I doubt that that's worth the money raised from naming rights.

That said, "Mike's Minutiae" just signed a sponsorship deal and will become the "Microsoft Wal-Mart Faceless Monolith's Minutiae" effective January 31st. Address all new correspondence to mike@TheWealthyButHellbound.com. Thank you.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Great Tangshan Earthquake 

On July 28, 1976 at about 3:43AM local time, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked northeastern China. Centered in the city of Tangshan (just east of Beijing), the earthquake claimed at least 240,000 lives. Some say the actual death toll was closer to 500,000 or even 650,000.

This quake, along with a 1970 cyclone (and its subsequent 16 feet storm surge) in Bangladesh which killed at least 300,000, appears to be nature's most deadly single event in history (several floods in China--in 1931, 1938/1939, and 1959--are said to have a death toll in the millions, but these tragedies appear not to be from a single, catastophic event).

During the Great Tangshan Earthquake, one Chinese county saw 180,000 buildings destroyed but only suffered one single death. And that one was from a heart attack.

There's a very interesting timeline here of how this was possible.

An excerpt:
On July 21, 1976, administrator Wang Chunqing returned to Qinglong County. He reported on the Tangshan conference, highlighted the talk given by scientist Wang Chengmin [about the strong possibility of an imminent earthquake], and included updated information from the county's 16 lay monitoring stations. Public officials of Qinglong County took the report very seriously and acted upon the information immediately.

School classes were relocated and held outdoors several days before the eventual earthquake....

By July 26th, temporary earthquake tents were set up. Led by County Secretary Ran Guangqi, who moved into an earthquake tent himself, over 60% of Qinglong County's more than 470,000 residents moved out of their homes. Those who did not move were instructed to keep their doors and windows open at all times to avoid being trapped in case of an earthquake.
Absent 100% incontrovertable evidence, I can't imagine disaster management officials in the U.S. moving schoolchildren outdoors and asking people to move into tents.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Cartons Bested By Bottles 

So much for the school milk carton:
Encouraged by a milk industry study that shows children drink more dairy when it comes in round plastic bottles, a growing number of schools are ditching those clumsy paper half-pint cartons many of us grew up with.

Already more than 1,250 schools have switched to single-serving bottles. While that is still a tiny fraction of the nation's schools, it is a significant jump from 2000, when there were none, according to the National Dairy Council....

Jeanette Kimbell, food service director for schools in Nashua, New Hampshire, tried bottled milk at the city's three middle schools last year after earlier efforts -- including offering milkshakes -- had failed to get children to drink more milk.

Now the district's 3,300 middle school children are drinking 10 percent more, and they are telling Kimbell bottled milk tastes better. And lunch program participation is up between 8 percent and 18 percent at each of the schools.
So not only does milk in plastic bottles outsell the old cartons, but it also has a "coattails" effect in overall lunch sales? Weird.

SIDEBAR: Check out that "CNN Student News" logo at the top right of the story page. Are they suggesting that schools are poorly funded and can only afford equipment with an offset letter "e"? Or are they going for the "kids don't know any better" school of design most often exemplified by a backward "S"? Hmm.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com