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

Monday, February 28, 2005

Info Commons 

If you're a fan of Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclodepia, there's a must-read, excellent article written by Aaron Krowne, the Head of Digital Library Research at Emory University.

Krowne is very effectively replying to a piece by Robert McHenry, a former Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, who seeks to discredit the quality of Wikipedia.

The encyclopedia industry--a concept we all knew must exist by still somehow sounds odd to say--is just another one threatened by glorified digital hobbyists. Like the music, movie, news media, software, radio, and other fields, new digital substitutes are arising to challenge old paradigms.

Traditionalists believe in the notion of the tragedy of the commons and can't seem to understand why people would behave outside of the profit motive. And that any product made outside of the marketplace/profit motive sphere is, by definition, amateurish and not to be trusted.

Clay Shirky and others have previously discussed how the digital "commons" is different from physical forms.

But the fact is obscured that contributors to many "open" or collaborative projects are seeking a form of "profit": immortality.

Well, perhaps, that's overstating it, but in our society fame has been vested with a motivational power rivaling financial remuneration. Owning, by recognition, a piece of data can be a viewed as a form of payment.

In the past 20+ years, I've done a lot of jabbering on the radio and I've also written a lot of words in some newspapers and magazines--most of that work has vanished into the ether. Very little of it can be retrieved online.

Oddly, two little bits of data have survived longer than most: two brief summaries of made-for-TV movies of variable quality (both the summaries and their subjects) I submitted to the Internet Movie Database in 1995, back when the IMDb was solely a collaborative project (it was bought in 1998 by amazon.com).

I've often wondered if these brief paragraphs might outlast my other writing--or, indeed, me. And therein lies the appeal.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sum 41 and "Alternative" 

Let's get this out of the way, right off the bat: I am not a Sum 41 fan (despite the fact that I did their first U.S. radio interview). I don't listen to their CDs and wouldn't care in the least if they suddenly vanished from radio or, indeed, the planet.

But a recent mailing list discussion (prompted by the wave of alternative radio format flips) led to the question: are they "alternative rock"?

The problem with alternative has, and always will be, that a strict interpretation of the word demands a necessarily elitist attitude: that "popular" equals "bad." But while the tastes of the masses are generally and notoriously mediocre, even mainstream music listeners get it right sometimes.

"Alternative" is similar to "pop" in that it has not a whit of defining musical characteristics associated with it. One can expect a certain general sound with "garage rock" or "reggae" or "folk" music, but not "alternative" (which has included in its past such artists as Tracy Chapman, The Cult, Yaz, Let's Active, and The Jam).

There have always been, at least since I started in the "alternative" radio world in 1984, heartfelt arguments about whether bands like U2 (or Pearl Jam or The Police or Coldplay) should be kicked out of the canon for being too popular.

So it's always the fuzziest of lines as to what is "alternative." My favorite example from back in my WHTG days: the station didn't classify either Public Enemy or Anthrax as alternative, yet when both collaborated on their joint recording of "Bring the Noise," we were all over it in 1991.

Aesthetic considerations are always, then, brought to bear when deciding whether to apply the "popular = bad" trigger. Since 1987, and arguably before, U2 is in no uncertain terms a mainstream band. But they've generally always been allowed leeway in the alternative camp because of creative risktaking.

But it's a slippery slope. I don't see how one could argue that, say, Green Day shouldn't be due the same leeway (especially after American Idiot). And, Cheshire Cat and Dude Ranch era Blink 182 is not that far off from Green Day, especially as it fits neatly within the sonics and sensibility of an alternative-embraced punk group like The Descendents. And Sum 41 is as much like Blink 182 as early Soul Asylum was to The Replacements.

The question becomes whether "alternative" as a musical category is (a) the strict constructionist meaning as "an alternative to the mainstream" or (b) a loosely-defined genre label in the sense that "new wave" is (A Flock of Seagulls being clearly "new wave" but just as definitely not "new").

If (a), then no popular artist is truly "alternative." You just then have to work out how you then define "popularity," a difficult task which can easily lead down a spiral of pointlessness in which obscurity becomes an end in itself and irrelevance is the highest honor.

If (b), then the genre is defined democratically: the approval of a majority of the people who claim to be fans of "alternative" create the de facto contours of what it is. In other words, popularity amongst alternative fans paradoxically defines it (similar to the A Flock of Seagulls one noted above; but with no pure musical criteria to define it, this conundrum has always been present in labelling a band "alternative").

Frankly, I think the solution to the problem is obvious. The word "alternative" has been hopelessly compromised--if, in fact, it wasn't doomed as a genre label from the start. Any proponent of the "alternative" genre who wants to exclude Sum 41 from her definition should probably give up the ghost and coin a new label. If a new term can be propagated, you solve many problems at once. Any association with the corporate co-optation of the genre is removed, and you are free to begin building a new musical heritage instead endlessly patching and defending a crumbling one.

And anyone who wishes to retain the word merely because a new one will be unfamiliar to people, or because it's a link to a past which is largely gone, is little different, in essense, than the corporations who latched onto the word for exploitation and ran it into the ground.

"Alternative" is dead. Face it.

In Fucking Perspective 

FCC Censorship:
A review of fines levied by other federal agencies suggests that the government may be taking swear words a bit too seriously. If the bill [that would raise the maximum FCC fine to $500,000 per violation] passes the Senate, Bono saying "fucking brilliant" on the air would carry the exact same penalty as illegally testing pesticides on human subjects. And for the price of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl, you could cause the wrongful death of an elderly patient in a nursing home and still have enough money left to create dangerous mishaps at two nuclear reactors. (Actually, you might be able to afford four "nuke malfunctions": The biggest fine levied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year was only $60,000.)
In other, related news:
Misdirection is also very important in magic. Misdirection is to direct audience eyes and minds to one place or trail. For example, when vanishing an object, you take the object in one hand and place it in the other. There the process of misdirection starts. You have to make people believe that the object is in your hand and that you're doing magic movements, and throwing magic powders and blowing. While you do this (the misdirection) you are doing your dirty work with the other hand.

The Deadly Appeal of the Gate 

Film captures suicides on Golden Gate Bridge:
Golden Gate Bridge officials are seething that a moviemaker who told them he was working on a "day in the life" project about the landmark was, in fact, capturing people on film as they jumped to their deaths.

Eric Steel initially told officials he planned to spend a year filming the "powerful and spectacular interaction between the monument and nature" and that his work was to be the first in a series of documentaries about national monuments such as the St. Louis Arch and the Statue of Liberty. That's how he got the Golden Gate National Recreation Area's permission to set up cameras on parkland overlooking Fort Point.

Now, however, Steel has revealed in an e-mail to bridge officials that the cameras -- which were operating almost continuously during daylight hours for all of 2004 -- filmed most of the 19 jumpers who went off the bridge last year plus a number of attempted suicides.
Ever since first visiting San Francisco in the mid-'90s, I've been fascinated with the bridge. As a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock films, lighthouses, and bridges, I had to visit Fort Point (beneath the bridge on the San Francsico side) when I toured the city. Besides being the home to Fort Point Light, it's also the site of Kim Novak's duplicitous jump into the bay in Hitchcock's 1958 classic Vertigo. (at right: my photo, taken to frame the same shot as Hitchcock; below: still from the movie)

But the span is more well known for its dubious honor of being the deadliest destination for the suicidal, and not because of the short plunge by Fort Point (a la Kim Novak). Rather, it's the 220 foot drop from the bridge's deck.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The Golden Gate Bridge for years has been the No. 1 suicide landmark in the world. About 1,300 people are known to have jumped since the bridge opened in 1937, but experts believe more than 2,000 actually have taken the fatal plunge.
They've tried crisis counseling phones and suicide patrols, but nothing has stemmed the morbid tide. The reports of this film have resparked the debate over erecting a suicide barrier, a controversial subject since the '50s. Many just aren't receptive to the idea.
In 1976, an engineer named Roger Grimes began agitating for a barrier on the Golden Gate. He walked up and down the bridge wearing a sandwich board that said "Please Care. Support a Suicide Barrier." He gave up a few years ago, stunned that in an area as famously liberal as San Francisco, where you can always find a constituency for the view that pets should be citizens or that poison oak has a right to exist, there was so little empathy for the depressed. "People were very hostile," Grimes told me. "They would throw soda cans at me, or yell, "Jump!"
Creepily, a large suicide barrier demonstration in 1977 was led by... Rev. Jim Jones:
Jim Jones and six hundred of his followers participated in a massive anti-suicide demostration on the Golden Gate Bridge. Each protester wore an armband bearing the name of a suicide who had gone off the bridge; the object was to convince the bridge authority to install suicide barriers to prevent people from climbing the low railing and leaping to their deaths. The media showed up and Jones delivered a speech which, in retrospect seemed chillingly ironic:... 'I have been in a suicidal mood myself today for perhaps the first time in my life, so I have personal empathy for what we are doing here today.'
Around 1995, when the bridge body count was edging towards 1,000, San Francisco media outlets were urged to tone down their coverage to avoid the circus which surrounded the 500th death in 1973. The media attention to the earlier milestone got so bad that one would-be jumper, ultimately dissuaded in his attempt, wore a cardboard sign declaring himself #500.

Studies have shown that media coverage can spark more suicides, and there are detailed guidelines for the media, stating:
Exposure to suicide method through media reports can encourage vulnerable individuals to imitate it. Clinicians believe the danger is even greater if there is a detailed description of the method. Research indicates that detailed descriptions or pictures of the location or site of a suicide encourage imitation.
So Golden Gate-area officials are loath to publicize the problem. One reporter noted that "In the Bay Area, the topic is virtually taboo," and quoted a bridge official as repeatedly telling him, "I hate that you're writing about this."

Regarding the film, "This could unfortunately add to people's interest to use the bridge as a final step," [Marin County Supervisor and bridge board member Cynthia Murray] said. "It seems the more you talk about this, the more there's a chance of copycat (suicides), and that would be extremely unfortunate if that was the case with this movie."

However, like the crisis counseling phones and suicide patrols, Marin County coroner Ken Holmes admits that despite "weaning" the media off bridge suicide coverage (usually only reporting bridge jumpers if they involve a celebrity or tie up traffic), "the lack of publicity hasn't reduced the number of suicides at all."

So the circus continues.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

'Remarkably Shallow' 

Study: Most U.S. teens serious about religion:
Though the phone survey depicted broad affinity with religion, the face-to-face interviews found that many teens' religious knowledge was "meager, nebulous and often fallacious" and engagement with the substance of their traditions remarkably shallow. Most seemed hard put to express coherently their beliefs and what difference they make.

Many were so detached from the traditions of their faith, says the report, that they're virtually following a different creed in which an undemanding God exists mostly to solve problems and make people feel good. Truth in any absolute, theological sense, takes a back seat.

"God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist" who's on call as needed, [sociologist Christian] Smith writes.
Isn't "Divine Butler & Cosmic Therapist" a new superhero show on the Cartoon Network?

And I guess one is destined to be a religion researcher when one is named "Christian."


Mayors charged in corruption sting:
Eleven local officials in northern New Jersey -- including three small-town mayors -- have been charged in a federal corruption sting.

Ten of the Monmouth County officials were accused Tuesday of extorting cash bribes and free work from a contractor who was working undercover for the FBI, and the other was charged with money laundering, prosecutors said....

Among those arrested Tuesday were the mayors of Hazlet, Keyport and West Long Branch, small, blue-collar towns along the Jersey shore south of New York City.
As a former West Long Branch resident, this is rather disheartening to hear. Between The Sopranos and government corruption scandals, it seems like New Jersey is not in line anytime soon to shed its image as a hotbed of the less-than-law-abiding.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Dying Technologies: How are Records Made? 

I know you've been burning with the question "how are vinyl record made?" for many years, so here's the scratch for that itch.

A tidbit: "The traditional black color of pressings is produced by a pigment. Without that, pressings would be colorless and translucent."

So those "special" clear vinyl pressing that collectors might prize are like brown rice: a premium perception of what is technically a more primitive state.

"Nothing to see here, move along!" 

Screens hide car accidents from passers-by:
State highway officials have a new weapon to prevent traffic jams caused by motorists who slow down to look at car accidents.

The Massachusetts Highway Department has bought 27 sets of large, portable, vinyl screens, to use statewide. The goal is to keep drivers moving.

"It's a great tool for us to prevent congestion," state Highway Commissioner John Cogliano said. "It's been very effective in stopping rubbernecking during traffic incidents."
This sounds like a pretty good idea. I don't even think most people even want to rubberneck (who wants to cause the very traffic congestion that's otherwise inspiration for vein-popping invective?), they just help themselves. It's just human nature. So blocking the view is the best alternative.

The Radio Soapbox 

Interesting Wired article about the "resurrection" of "indie radio."

I add quotation marks because while the spirit of the article has merit, some of the assumptions are a little dubious. What they really mean is the "resurrection of a non-corporate programming approach on commercial radio."

Non-commercial stations like mine, WYEP, have been doing "indie radio" for years (31 to be precise, as of this April) playing Johnny Cash next to Coldplay next to Suzanne Vega on standard broadcast FM airwaves.

The article's titular notion of "indie radio" is a little suspect, as well, profiling a station which despite a sterling reputation just happens to be owned by a corporation which owns 57 radio stations (along with 45 TV stations) and derives all of its advertising revenue from an ad-selling deal with the largest radio corporation in the country (Clear Channel).

Not that the Clear Channel connection should be emphasized. In my observation, these type of arrangements--when one radio company effectively subcontracts all of the ad-selling work from another--show a company that is in debt up to their eyeballs and can't raise any more money on their own stations without adding more commercials and driving even more listeners away.

But, clearly, one would be right to be rather suspicious of this brand of "indie radio."

Two other issues with the article: it makes the common mistake of assuming interchangability between "National Public Radio" with "public radio stations." That's like saying the "WB Network" is the same as "any non-major network affiliated TV station." Public radio stations can run entirely NPR programming, a few NPR shows, or nothing from NPR at all.

And, finally, on the subject of digital radio, an executive for the firm making the technology is quoting as saying, "No more crackling, pops, losing reception.... you'll either get a signal or you won't. If you can pick up a station, it'll sound good."

While true, the idea that you don't "lose reception" is misleading. While it suggests some magical perfect reception, it really means you won't be able to pick up distant signals. So in areas of fringe reception, think of the hated "rebuffering" effect of net radio. You "get a signal or you won't"--period.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox now.

Better Than a Sanford & Son rerun 

Barry Bonds:
You guys are like rerun stories. This is just -- this is old stuff. I mean, it's like watching Sanford and Son, you know, you just, rerun after rerun after rerun. You guys, it's like, what, I mean, you can't -- it's almost comical, basically. I mean, we've got alcohol that's the No. 1 killer in America and we legalize that to buy in the store. You've got, you know, you've got tobacco number two, three killer in America, we legalize that. There's other issues. You guys are going to be the same people next week as some tragedy happened, how we need to save our children and everything else and next week, you're the same people sitting there coming, how we should be doing this and how we're evil people, or, you know, you guys, it's one thing after another. You know, pick one side or the other. Are y'all going to be good people or are you all going to be who you are and make the game or sports what it is? It's become "Hard Copy" all day long. Are you guys jealous? Upset? Disappointed? What?


All you guys lied. All of y'all and the story or whatever have lied. Should you have asterisk behind your name? All of you lied. All of you have said something wrong. All of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet's clean, then come clean somebody else's. But clean yours first, okay.
Oh. Well. Never mind. I guess we should all just let this whole steroid story drop, then.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Write Direction? 

Like the post below, this is another "technology changing our world" story.

The Web Not the Death of Language:
"Resources for the expression of informality in writing have hugely increased -- something not seen in English since the Middle Ages," said David Crystal, an author and linguistics professor at the University of Wales at Bangor....

Some believe the informality of internet-mediated communication is causing the language to deteriorate.

"The prophets of doom emerge every time a new technology influences language, of course -- they gathered when printing was introduced in the 15th century," Crystal said.

But linguists should be "exulting," he said, in the ability the internet gives us to "explore the power of the written language in a creative way."
I've believed this for a long time. Fifteen years ago, Learned Authorities were lamenting the death of writing by the younger generation. Then the internet arose, and for the first time in a long time people--young and old, but especially young--were excited about communicating in written form. But the Learned Authorities scratched their chins and proclaimed that it wasn't the correct type of writing.


Any writing is a good thing. And writing begets reading.

BTW, the article quotes from a very interesting study of IM communications by college students. Here's a tidbit: "When they could have used contractions they did so only 65.3 percent of the time."

Unexpected, and fascinating!

Are you ready, fingers? Start walking... 

Yellow Pages Trace Changes in Society:
"Society tells us what the book should look like," said Jim Palma, marketing director for the directory-publishing business of Verizon Communications Inc., which is based near Dallas. "It's a living record of what's going on in society."

The 1952 phone book for Dumas, a small town in the Texas Panhandle, included listings for adding machines and phonographic records. As recently as 1976, the book for the Dallas suburb of Plano had nothing under computers but plenty for citizen's band radios.
The article also includes a bit of wishful thinking by phone book publishers:
Phone companies say their books will survive the Internet because they're handier than a computer when sitting at the kitchen table.
"Survive the internet"? I hope they say this for the sake of their shareholders and not because they really believe this. While it would be incorrect to suggest phone books are a fad like CB radios, neither were adding machines fads but they're just as dead.

I use five phone books in my apartment. Fully functional...as a counterweight to a cat scratching post. That's the only action they've seen in two years of service.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Hooey from the TV trades 

The FCC recently declined to require cable operators to carry the digital "side channels" of over-the-air broadcasters.

These side channels are made possible when a TV station broadcasts digital and decides to divvy up their alotted bandwidth for multiple channels (forgoing HD transmission in the process, I might add). It's like suddenly being able to split the family car in half, so different family members can go to two different places at the same time.

And saith the blog of Broadcasting & Cable magazine:
Now that the FCC has officially concluded that broadcasters should rely on marketplace negotiations for cable carriage of any digital spin-off channels, don't expect the high school football game or local City Council meeting.

That was the kind of programming broadcasters were pledging to offer up in exchange for mandatory cable carriage, and they could have done that with at least some of that real estate had they gotten a government guarantee that all their extra channels would get space.
Does anybody really expect that such side channels would be used for local City Council meetings or other public interest programming? Okay, sure, stations might occasionally program some fig leaf block in an off-hour, but the idea that these side channels would be used for anything other than revenue enhancement is laughable.

The post quickly gets even more ridiculous. After noting that envelope-pushing programming is what really works in today's marketplace:
Think of broadcasters as George Bailey trying to build a Bedford Falls community theater but forced into opening up another Pottersville Burlesque House when the government refuses to lend a helping hand. If I were a broadcaster, that is the story I would be telling to my nearest and dearest Congressperson.
The George Baileys of TV broadcasting are largely dead, retired, or fired. Mr. Potter runs the show now, and everyone knows it.
"You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn't, Mr. Potter!" ~~George Bailey to Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life

War For Drugs? 

Ecstasy trials for combat stress:
American soldiers traumatised by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are to be offered the drug ecstasy to help free them of flashbacks and recurring nightmares.

The US food and drug administration has given the go-ahead for the soldiers to be included in an experiment to see if MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, can treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Also from the article: "The existing drug-assisted therapy sessions last up to eight hours, during music is played."

No word on whether patients prefer Fatboy Slim or old-school Madchester bands.

UPDATE: Wow, now Harvard researchers are going to use "ecstasy to help ease the crushing psychic burdens faced by dying cancer patients."

Saturday, February 19, 2005


This story is simultaneously inspirational, strange, amusing, and touching:
"Getting to meet [Kim Peek] the real-life Rain Man was inspirational." Peek was shy and introspective, but he sat and held Tammet's hand for hours. "We shared so much - our love of key dates from history, for instance."

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Iranian Area 51 

Catch the fever:
Iranian media has been gripped by a kind of "flying object" fever with dozens of reported sightings in recent weeks. State-run media has reported numerous sightings of unknown objects flying over parts of Iran where nuclear facilities are located.
U.S. drones? Or E.T. joyriding? You make the call!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose... 

Fatima Mary vision "witness" dies:
Portugal is holding a day of national mourning for Sister Lucia, the last of three shepherd children who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary appear.

Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos will be buried later on Tuesday at a convent in the city of Coimbra. The Roman Catholic nun died on Sunday, aged 97....

Sister Lucia was just 10 when she and her two younger cousins, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, are said to have seen the Virgin Mary above an olive tree near Fatima.

The cousins were tending sheep when they saw the visions.
For further perspective, see here.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

An Analysis of Ketchup 

If you've ever wanted to go deep, way deep into the world of ketchup--with some detours along the way into mustard, umami, and the "amplitude" of foods--just go here. A sample:
The world's leading expert on ketchup's early years is Andrew F. Smith, a substantial man, well over six feet, with a graying mustache and short wavy black hair. Smith is a scholar, trained as a political scientist, intent on bringing rigor to the world of food. When we met for lunch not long ago at the restaurant Savoy in SoHo (chosen because of the excellence of its hamburger and French fries, and because Savoy makes its own ketchup--a dark, peppery, and viscous variety served in a white porcelain saucer), Smith was in the throes of examining the origins of the croissant for the upcoming "Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America," of which he is the editor-in-chief. Was the croissant invented in 1683, by the Viennese, in celebration of their defeat of the invading Turks? Or in 1686, by the residents of Budapest, to celebrate their defeat of the Turks? Both explanations would explain its distinctive crescent shape--since it would make a certain cultural sense (particularly for the Viennese) to consecrate their battlefield triumphs in the form of pastry. But the only reference Smith could find to either story was in the Larousse Gastronomique of 1938. "It just doesn't check out," he said, shaking his head wearily.
A little bit more on the Great Tomato Pill War of 1838 can be found here.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

An Offer I Don't Know If I Will Be Able To Refuse 

Duvall, Caan in 'Godfather' Video Game:
Robert Duvall and James Caan aren't taking themselves or their latest reunion seriously. No, the pair find anything and everything funny, especially the fact that they're reprising their memorable roles for "The Godfather" video game....

"Not to be maudlin about it, but my kids can play with me after I'm gone," says Caan, sitting next to Duvall in a suite at the Four Seasons....

Before his death last year, Marlon Brando recorded his voice for the Electronic Arts' game, which loosely follows the film's plot. In the game, players create unique personas and go at it in shoot-'em-up missions similar to the "Grand Theft Auto" series. They'll also be able to interact with the likes of Caan's mobster Sonny Corleone and Duvall's consigliere Tom Hagen.

A cool [sounding] game, and Brando beyond the grave! What more can you ask for?

Friday, February 11, 2005

Charting Changes 

Billboard Magazine Now Includes Downloads:
For the first time, Billboard magazine will include songs sold by download in its weekly calculation of the nation's top hits. The change reflects the booming popularity of digital music players like Apple's iPod, which has accounted for dramatic increases in download sales.

Billboard's Hot 100 list has always been the music industry's chief hit barometer, from the days of sheet music to 45 rpm records to now, when many people buy songs through services like iTunes. It's the list people cite when they talk about having a No. 1 hit — as Mario has had for seven weeks in a row with "Let Me Love You."

The list was calculated for years using a combination of radio airplay and retail sales. That changed in the late 1990s, when the music industry largely phased out the single as a product. Some singles were being sold at a deep discount in what Billboard concluded was an effort to manipulate the charts, so for the last several years the rankings have been almost totally based on radio play, said Geoff Mayfield, Billboard's director of charts....

"It really helps bring back the consumers' voices," Mayfield said.
This is a good thing for the music industry. It'll make this chart less susceptible to record company manipulation. Happening (coincidentally) in tandem with a NY attorney general investigation, hopefully it will help to remove the modern version of payola.

Record companies will still always try to manipulate the music industry yardsticks to give themselves a competitive advantage. When I was a lowly mailroom clerk at A&M Records in 1990, everyone was once given a memo asking us to call Top 40 station Z100 over the weekend and request a song from the dance group Seduction. Staff members would routinely go out and buy singles on the company dime at key record stores to try to prop up chart positions.

But including downloads into the chart will make it at least somewhat harder to successfully manipulate. And that's a positive step.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Animal Adrenalin Junkies 

Chuck the Car-chasing turkey run over:
A wild turkey who lived life in the fast lane near this eastern Iowa town has died doing what he did best -- chasing cars.

The turkey, called Chuck by some and Jake by others, showed up more than a year ago and starting harassing drivers by standing in the road with his feathers ruffled.

Neighbors say the turkey was run over Jan. 31 by a car flying through town that no one recognized. They buried him.

"At least you can't say he lived a dull life," said Shirley Hadenfeldt, who lives nearby.
The locals are sad at the turkey's death, but frankly this sounds like a really unpleasant bird.

Just in time for Valentine's Day... 

Bad news really can break hearts:
Hearing shocking news, such as learning of the death of a loved one, really can break your heart, US researchers say.

A team from Johns Hopkins University suggests patients can suffer days-long surges in adrenalin and other stress hormones which "stun" the heart.
The phenomenon is mostly observed in older women, but I just thought you'd like to know.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Lights Out 

How GPS Is Killing Lighthouses:
The popularity of the satellite-based global positioning system has led to the closure of lighthouses along the German coast. Many more may soon be extinguished. But critics question whether the new system is reliable and safe enough to warrant the closure of these historical beacons of safety....

With the high cost of maintaining lighthouses and the ubiquity of global positioning system (GPS)-based satellite navigation systems and highly sophisticated electronic sea maps that pin-point route information aboard virtually all major freighter ships and tankers, the physical need for lighthouses has greatly diminished in many areas. Along Germany's rivers, which are major shipping lanes in their own right, directional radio beacons now help to guide ships. But GPS, a service of the United States military with satellites that circumnavigate the globe, remains the only system available that covers the entire open sea. In addition to helping cars and cruise missiles find their destinations and targets, it also guides the ships of the world's merchant marines. And that, unfortunately, spells bad news for the fate of Germany's lighthouses.
As a fan of lighthouses, this is a sad phenomenon (not, of course, limited to Germany). But proper preservation of the historic structures is the key thing, not whether their lights are actually in service or not.

SIDEBAR: My favorite lighthouse is Twin Lights in Highlands, NJ. Unique look, great building, amazing view.

The Powerful Suspender Lobby Strikes Again! 

Va. Bill Sets Fine for Low-Riding Pants:
Virginians who wear their pants so low their underwear shows may want to think about investing in a stronger belt.

The state's House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday authorizing a $50 fine for anyone who displays his or her underpants in a "lewd or indecent manner."

Del. Lionell Spruill Sr., a Democrat who opposed the bill, had pleaded with his colleagues to remember their own youthful fashion follies.
Man, if I lived in Virginia I'd be wearing underwear outside my pants today.

What a foolish bill. This clearly won't pass constitutional muster--visible underwear is not obscene, and I doubt Virginia can demonstrate a compelling state interest in keeping undies unseen. Meanwhile, I wonder if there's a specific exemption for plumbers (although, by few standards would this normally be construed as a "lewd manner").

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"To rock or not to rock" 

"To rock or not to rock," this is the critical question rocking many Christian churches today, including an increasing number of Seventh-day Adventist churches. A generation ago there was almost universal agreement that rock music, in whatever version, was inappropriate for personal and church use.... Today, if a Christian teenager wants to listen to the same "worldly music"–and in many cases much worse–he can do so with the encouragement of his family, church, Christian school, and friends.
I am fascinated with the process of co-optation that's been going on over the past ten to fifteen years with rock music by hardcore religious types. After all, the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" spirit has previously produced no less a stunning success as Christmas by co-opting pagan traditions, so the processing of rock 'n' roll data by the religion machine is a truly interesting experiment.

So I stumbled across this website featuring online sample chapters from a book titled The Christian and Rock Music: A Study of Biblical Principles of Music from (apparently) 1999 which offers a modern alarmist view of this co-optation process from the inside (from a Seventh-Day Adventist vantage point).

A few choice excerpts....

On the nature of rock music:
The basic musical elements of rock, including "Christian" rock, are volume, repetition, and beat. It is a music designed not to be heard, but to be felt, to be drowned in. "Turn on, dive in and drop out" is the motto and the effect searched for. Its main instruments are amplified electrical guitars, electrical bass, drum set with a dominating one-beat, often accentuated on the second and the fourth beat. Keyboard instruments like piano and synthesizers are often added.

Rock music conveys a physically driven feeling called "groove." This feeling is caused by a slight difference in timing between the main "one-beat" in the drums and the "offbeat" effect of the other instruments or the singers. This "groove feeling" compels people to dance. Some "bang" it out with the whole body.
On rock music and muscles:
Diamond relates the unexpected way in which he came to research the effects of the rock beat. "Several years ago my research on the effect of music took an unexpected turn. Shopping in the record department of a large New York store, I became weak and restless and generally ill at ease. The place was vibrating with rock music. Later I did the obvious thing–I tested the effect of this music. . . . Using hundreds of subjects, I found that listening to rock music frequently causes all the muscles in the body to go weak. The normal pressure required to overpower a strong deltoid muscle in an adult male is about 40 to 45 pounds. When rock music is played, only 10 to 15 pounds is needed."
Hey, I now feel like turning on, diving in and dropping out! And a little weak, too.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The "Shove It, Cable" Update 

[Thanks to Chris M. for inspiring the title line.]

My cable junk mail count for the young year has now hit 8 pieces of direct mail (for some odd reason, I always get two identical mailers by the cable company). And it's what, 5 weeks in?

The newest pitch is for cable modem services, but it's perplexingly referring to its service as "100% Pure Broadband." This odd sloganeering left me scratching my head. The best first guess I could come up with was perhaps they are worrying that their own service's self-description as "high-speed internet" might be missing the boat of all the media hype about "broadband." If so, it wouldn't be the first time that a knucklehead company insisted on dumbing down their terminology only to be caught off-guard when people embrace the ostensibly geeky verbiage.

But when I googled around for "100% Broadband," I came up with this business to business site featuring this sentence:
Comcast is also the largest 100% Broadband ISP with over 5 million high-speed Internet customers and thousands of business customers.
Perhaps they are trying to paint themselves as a "pure" broadband ISP, as opposed to phone companies peddling DSL which also bring you those uggy analog phone lines?

Which, if true, would be just as dumb as my first thought.

Any idears?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Papal Bull 

So I was reading some info on Papal succession and checked out this book on Amazon, Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election. Although all book self-descriptions tends towards hyperbole, I thought this was a little much:
The next time a conclave unfolds in Rome, some 6,000 journalists are expected to descend on the Eternal City to cover the death of John Paul II and report on the election of his successor. The man in white who emerges from the Sistine Chapel at its conclusion will automatically become one of the most important figures on earth, a leader who commands a unique combination of political and spiritual power. Depending on how he chooses to exercise that power, governments and political systems may rise or fall, religious wars may heat up or abate, and the Church may undergo a radical transformation.
"Governments and political systems may rise or fall"? Huh? Is this still the Holy Roman Empire?

Link Farm 

Sorry to toss out a couple of links and run right now, but the Superbowl is about to begin and I'm hoping to catch a glimpse of the Corporate Hospitality Village.

Meanwhile, enjoy these sites...
  • The Apostrophe Protection Society:
    The Apostrophe Protection Society was started in 2001 by John Richards, now its Chairman, with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark in all forms of text written in the English language.
    Its a worthy site--no linguists labor's lost there!

  • Celebrity Life Masks: A little bit silly, perhaps. A whole lot creepy, definitely. Yet I'm still very tempted to get the Hitchcock. On the other hand, of course, Geena Davis? Wha?

  • The club of pathetic former MTV VJs includes Riki Rachtman (look! he managed 275 members for his Yahoo group!), Tabitha Soren (not a VJ, but clearly pathetic), and Kennedy. The club of still cool former MTV VJs include my ex-coworker Matt Pinfield (although you wouldn't know it from that link, and he's also on my shitlist right now) and (surprisingly) Adam Curry.
Perhaps I'll be back with something more substantive during the second half of the game when it'll be a Patriots blowout.

UPDATE: Okay, obviously it wasn't a blowout. In fact, it was a nailbiter (huzzah!). Same result as expected, though.

The Hundred Years War... 

...otherwise known as the Superbowl Pre-Game Show.

Just spoken by one of the Fox Braniac Announcing Team: "Without any further ado, it's time to go right down on the field and join the pre-game festivities!"

Said at 5:45 PM EST, after nearly four hours of pre-game coverage. Morons.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Fragments of Lincoln's Skull? 

According to Ford's Theatre website, the bullet which killed Abraham Lincoln was, in 1956, "placed on display and may be viewed today along with fragments of Lincoln's skull at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C."

Which, of course, begs the question: are many pieces of former presidents on display anywhere?

John Vernon, 1932-2005 

Most people will remember actor John Vernon, who died Thursday at age
72, as Dean Wormer of Animal House.

Me though, I'll remember him best as Coach "Bulldog" Malone in The
Kinky Coaches and the Pom Pom Pussycats

"When they play... everybody scores!"

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Sexy Da Vinci Code 

Milan bans Da Vinci parody:
Scantily clad women help sell cars. And there's nothing wrong with using the odd man in a G-string to advertise shoes.

But when a clothes company tried presenting a group of well-dressed women in a Last Supper style pose, their poster campaign was banned in Milan.

The poster, by French fashion house Marithé and François Gribaud, is a version of Leonardo da Vinci's work with an almost all-female cast. Angelic-looking women clad in the company's "casual chic" pose around a long table as Christ and his apostles. One man, John the Baptist, sits on a woman's lap, his torso bare and jeans riding low.
The poster looks like what might happen if your TV set got jammed between the WB Network and EWTN.

Or, at least, I assume so. I have both networks v-chipped.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Shearer on Carson 

On the most recent edition of Harry Shearer's Le Show, the host began a segment with the following intriguing statement:
Ladies and gentlemen, the week began with news of the death of Johnny Carson... and was followed immediately by what can only be called a barrage of revisionist show business.... Now I'm going to save my own personal Johnny Carson stories for my memoirs, not yet written, but my memory of the show is most accurately reflected in this piece of work....
I was hoping Shearer might explain his reference to "revisonism" (although perhaps he's talking about drivel like this), and naturally, I'm curious about his saved-for-the-memoirs anecdotes.

But the general tone of Shearer's attitude about Carson were, indeed, loud and clear in the piece he then played. "Where's Johnny?" (by his old comedy troupe, The Credibility Gap) is an absolutely devastating piece of satire, centered around Shearer's dead-on impression of the Tonight Show star. Recorded in 1970 when the generation gap was as evident in the comedy world as it was in the rest of the country--and when Johnny still had 90 minutes of airtime to fill every weeknight--Shearer creats his golem Carson the same way Alec Guiness built his characters: he starts with the tics and the nuances, and then fills in with the broad strokes.

Perhaps the best known Carson impression was Dana Carvey's SNL characterization (influential enough that some obit headlines suggested more Carvey than Carson) which was, in true SNL style, based around a catchphrase. Shearer's take was much, much closer to his subject; whereas Carvey merely pointed at his subject, Shearer draws blood.

Click here to listen to the bit. It's not brief, about 14 minutes, but very worth it for any fan of satire.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Shut Up and Drive 

Study: Driving while using a cell phone turns you into a virtual senior citizen:
Talking on a cell phone makes you drive like a retiree — even if you're only a teen, a new study shows. A report from the University of Utah says when motorists between 18 and 25 talk on cell phones, they drive like elderly people — moving and reacting more slowly and increasing their risk of accidents.

"If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, his reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver," said David Strayer, a University of Utah psychology professor and principal author of the study. "It's like instant aging."
And, says the article, a previous study found "motorists who talk on cell phones are more impaired than drunken drivers with blood-alcohol levels exceeding 0.08."

Strayer says that any activity requiring a driver to "actively be part of a conversation" likely will impair driving abilities--so the question of hands-free calls is irrelevant.

Although I have to believe that the psychology of phone calls makes them worse than conversations with in-car passengers. Any person doing multiple activities at one will silently and instantly prioritize which activity gets the main focus, and the neccesity of sudden action while driving will immediately take priority. The driver knows that the passenger understands, and implicitly agrees with, that the conversation has moved to a lower priority due to circumstances.

Cell phone psychology is different. The distant party cannot know what is occurring on the road, so the driver cannot shift the conversation into lower priority without explanation. The result: slower reaction time, as the driver tries either to shift back and forth between the call and driving or to make a quick explanation or running commentary to the remote party.

So shut up and drive. Unless you have no objection to driving on a road full of people with a blood-alcohol level exceeding 0.08.

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