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

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pointless Nostalgia - Part IV.B.01 

Former dwelling:me old home
18th Street near 8th Avenue, Chelsea. New York City. (photo via A9)

For a little more than a year in 1989 and 1990, I lived in a windowless room in this building's basement. The 8th Avenue subway line rumbled by my room at irregular intervals. Mice would wake me up in the middle of the night, rummaging through my wastebasket. No natural light reached the room, eventually necessitating me putting a small lamp on a timer so that I would at least have a vague idea of day vs. night.

One day, the hot water heater sprung a leak in a service area of the basement, behind a locked door and my room flooded. I slept there for one night with a soaked carpet and wet belongings and, by morning, I could barely breathe from the humidity. I called the superintendent and the owner to try to get them to do something, but they just told me that it was a matter for renter's insurance (which I didn't have--I could barely afford the rent). Eventually, they agreed to come and remove my sopping-wet carpet. Although I couldn't tell you anyone's name associated with any almost apartment since, I still have that super's named burned into my memory--Euclides Pagan, I'm looking in your direction! (actually, Mr. Pagan was not the problem--I remember him as being only helpful...hey, I wonder if this is him?)

Pine Tree DeliAcross the street from my apartment was the Pine Tree Deli (now apparently called the Pine Tree Market, according to the A9 photo), a 24-hour bodega which took possession of much of my few spare dollars. Often beer and late-night trips to the hot food at their salad bar, but that was only after I first moved in or just after payday thereafter.

I was unemployed for the first few months I moved here, living off the money I had saved working as a short-term employee of the U.S. Postal Service in the six months after I left college. I can think of few things more exciting at age 22 than spending several months with no responsibilities living in the greatest city on earth. I used to call it "the world's most dangerous amusement park," and it surely was both. Fortunately, I never ended up in harm's way (although it was mostly thanks to blind luck).

Eventually I had to knuckle down and get a job, though, and as an unqualified prospect for job after job proved to be a fruitless endeavor, so I followed the example of some of my friends and signed up with a temp agency. I had poor typing skills and even less experience with the then-popular office computer programs (although I wasn't too shabby with Lotus 1-2-3), so I ended up with what I was told by third parties was one of the goofball temp agencies--sort of the Rent-A-Wreck of H.R. world. At my interview, they let me retake the typing test several times so I could get my words-per-minute count up to their minimum.

But ah! They did get me the employment I was starting to need very much as I watched my bank account dwindle down to fewer and fewer digits. So I was pleased to show up for my first day on the job as a mailroom clerk at the home office of Guardian Life Insurance at 17th St. and Park Avenue, the northeast corner of Union Square (they've since moved down further downtown to 7 Hanover Square, and building is now a hotel). I had to sort interoffice mail, file paper insurance records in massive but dimly lit basement storage shelves, and four times each day, load up my mail cart and make the rounds of the offices assigned to me.

When I first began the job, my route took me outside of the building and to an extension office in a building on the next block. I thought I was going to feel like an ass, dragging my happy little mail cart with its happy little baskets of interoffice insurance mail down the street like some sort of guy friday for a pushcart arbitrageur.

But it was nothing like that--strolling up the sidewalk along the divided expanse of Park Avenue, leading up to Grand Central Station immediately followed by the looming presence of the Pan Am Building (which became the Met Life Building in 1991; photo via bridgeandtunnelclub.com), I could only think how lucky I was to be seeing as daily backdrop sights about which people all over the world only dreamed.

Like The Jeffersons, though, eventually I was to be movin' on up--heading uptown for a job in another mailroom, albeit one more in line with my eventual intended radio career. Thanks to my former college roommate Chris Regan, I landed a job taking care of mail business at the New York office of A&M Records. Located in the magificent Fuller Building at 57th St. and Madison Avenue, the mailroom was located on a separate floor from the company's main offices and with one of the 42-story building's setbacks. So, after hours, my only other companion in the mailroom would occasionally end our workday by bringing up some beer and hop out the window onto the setback roof, saluting the fading day and midtown Manhattan's departing masses with our upturned bottles.



Monday, November 28, 2005

Mozzy Bear 

In an online Q&A with fans, Morrissey discusses his upcoming solo album:
Q: I think that Ennio Morricone is one of the great composers of our time. I regard the music to Once Upon A Time In America as a heartbreaking masterpiece. Is it true that Morricone has worked with you on your new album, and if so, how was it to meet Il Maestro and work with him?
With gratitude and tenderness,
Peter Birro

A: hello Peter
Yes, the Maestro came into the studio with his orchestra and worked on a song called "Dear God Please Help Me" – which was very flattering because he'd turned so many multi-million selling pop acts down (I won't mention their names – U2, David Bowie, etc.), so I was delighted that he said yes to scruffy old me. In the event, he was very shy, and he was heavily surrounded and shielded, and there was no way that he and I would end up at the local pub playing darts. But – that's OK. Life's rich tapestry, and so on.
Wokka wokka!


So, like, not to be all bragging and stuff, but guess what I had on Saturday? I got me some vegetarian breast!

No really.

And it was fine, I can assure you. The fillet is as well!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Popular, Kind of Hip Information" 

Chew Politely -- Uncle Sam Is Watching:
The government collects the data to monitor activities including economic output and Americans' health habits, information used to shape public policies and develop private business strategies.

[Robert Bernstein, a public affairs specialist at the Census Bureau] culls the holiday information from a variety of government sources, relying on the Agriculture Department for much of the data about Thanksgiving.

"We try to put out popular, kind of hip information," Bernstein said.
Se here's your "kind of hip" Thanksgiving update, courtesy of the Census Bureau:
What many regard as the nation’s first Thanksgiving took place in December 1621 as the religious separatist Pilgrims held a three-day feast to celebrate a bountiful harvest. The day did not become a national holiday until 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a national day of thanksgiving. Later, President Franklin Roosevelt clarified that Thanksgiving should always be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month to encourage earlier holiday shopping, never on the occasional fifth Thursday.


Number of places in the United States named after the holiday’s traditional main course. Turkey, Texas, was the most populous in 2004, with 496 residents; followed by Turkey Creek, La. (357); and Turkey, N.C. (267). There also are 16 townships around the country named “Turkey,” three in Kansas.
Why, I feel hipper already. Census hip!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Les Lincs 

Just a few entertaining links for your comfort, convenience, and hygiene...

2 down, 2 to go 

The second of the four major record labels was felled by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in his ongoing payola probe:
The $5 million settlement with the Warner Music Group, the nation's third-biggest record company, was the latest in Mr. Spitzer's widening investigation, which has exposed payments to radio programmers in exchange for playing music and routine manipulation of playlist information.
My former station WHTG--although now under different ownership, management, staff, and even location then when I worked there--was mentioned by name in the Spitzer document. Page 12 of the agreement features this paragraph:

(click for larger image)

Included in the document are a collection of internal Warner Music emails, two of which refer to WHTG. On page 41, in a roundup of WMG's attempts to promote The Used to radio stations:
He said he would take all this info to the PD - Gavin, who does not deal with record poeple [sic], only Binky. (redacted) has Binky on the case to help us here.
And in an email about Story of the Year:
Here is what I have as committed contest spend [sic] from you all this week... WHTG 3 mini iPods in different colors - $750
Although there appears to be no article in WHTG's local daily (the Asbury Park Press), there was a reference to the station in the Fox News article on the controversy:
Aside from the payola, you do get an idea of how stupid these radio people are, and how they’ve just about killed rock and pop radio in every market.

For example, at WHTG in Asbury Park, N.J., the program director “shys [sic] away from anything with ‘screams’ in it…” I guess they’re not playing any James Brown records.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cheese Act 

Ah, one never knows what one might find when searching our national legislature's searchable database for bills and resolutions!

Consider this:
  • Back in April, the Senate introduced the Quality Cheese Act of 2005. And I never called my Senators in support?

  • In June, the House considered a resolution "Condemning the Government of Mexico for printing and distributing blatantly racist postage stamps." Hmm. Odd.

  • The Senate, back in January, declared by legislative fiat that "Johnny Carson was bright and witty" yet "never forgot his roots." Awww.
Try it yourself. Just go here and type in any ordinary word or phrase into the search box. Who knows what you might uncover?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Side note to Sony BMG's incompetence 

In Sony BMG's own list of their 52 CD featuring the horrid copyprotection, they misspell two of their artists' names:

7. Billy Holiday (um, that's "Billie")
50. Trey Anastacio (er, it's "Anastasio")

UPDATE: They corrected "Anastasio." I guess living artists can call the home office.

Friday, November 18, 2005

SonyBMG copyprotection update 

Wow, what a difference a couple of days make!

When the week began, Sony was unrepentant about their onerous copyprotection software and consumer advocates were howling boycott.

Now--a few days later--Sony's agreed to exchange the offending discs with safe ones, business observers are declaring this situation a public relations disaster for the entire music industry (TheStreet.com rated it 91 out of 100 on their "Dumb-O-Meter"), and gadly industry commentators are saying that they "doubt the major labels will ever recover" from this overreach.

Thomas Hesse, President of Global Digital Business for Sony BMG, gave NPR an interview (broadcast on 11/4) in which he notoriously demostrates his contempt for customers by declaring "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is so why should they care about it?" He also apparently told NPR reporter Neda Ulaby that only about 20 CDs contained the problematic copyprotection.

But now the company has officially 'fessed up that 52 titles contained the rootkit software. So was Hesse (a) lying about the extent of the problem, or (b) ignorant of it? Either way, it's remarkable when an exec who reports directly to Sony BMG Music's COO would make such a brazenly untruthful/clueless statement.

Hopefully, in the future, labels and other media companies will include consideration for their customer as part of their calculus. And not be so full of contempt.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What he said 

Boycott Sony

Monday, November 14, 2005


As I've previously posted, I enjoy a good automatic internet language translation. And by "good," of course I mean "bad."

Here's a recent good--er, bad one (from a German blog):
Now to the topic: I bought Coldplays X&Y. With laut.de I before already read the message, according to which Coldplay brings a Song out as bell clay/tone. Geschmunzelt. Excluded!

And now, where I have the disk, the topic of Speed OF Sound is probably the only bell clay/tone, from which I could imagine that I would ever load myself him on my Handy.

The topic sounds nearly, as if only the bell clay/tone Trade Union of German Employees nature and Coldplay would be then a super song drausgemacht: -)

The plate is not bad by the way. Hmmm. Parachutes pleased me better. And about melancholy: I do not become depressive by its music. But somehow calmly. Perhaps contently. It already occurred that I course-greeted wild stranger of people from my car, while Coldplay ran.

Ok one, that was already times with Neil Youngs Ragged Glory like that: -)

The new OASIS I also bought. Hmmm.
I truly enjoy that "the disc" was translated as "the plate."

I can't wait to listen to some new plates tomorrow! Geschmunzelt. Excluded!

This is huge 

AOL says 'Welcome back' to old TV shows:
America Online early next year will begin offering free access to popular older television shows through video-on-demand under an agreement with Warner Bros., another division of Time Warner.

The new In2TV broadband network service will include 15- and 30-second video advertisements that will be limited to a total of one to two minutes within each 30-minute episode, compared with eight minutes of ads on broadcast television, AOL said in a statement....

The on-demand deal, which involves about 300 shows including "Welcome Back Kotter," "Kung Fu" and "Growing Pains," will feature six channels ranging from comedy and drama to animation and science fiction.
Offering the long tail of TV is a win-win proposition and will likely be a huge success for all parties.

There are quite a few old TV series of which I wouldn't be interested in buying a full DVD but I would certain enjoy watching every now and again (S.W.A.T. or The Six Million Dollar Man come to mind).

If they're smart, they'll make it easy to link to individual show episodes. If so, they can expect huge traffic from blogs as people immediately blog about and comment on episodes after watching them.

Hopefully one doesn't have to download proprietery software to view the programs (at least, hopefully no more than a browser plug-in). If so, there's no real barrier for blog readers to immediately go watch an episode after reading a post about it. Watch for armchair Nick-at-Niters to sprout classic TV video blogs overnight.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Like Avon for Policy Wonks? 

In an analysis on how political campaign marketing will have to evolve due to the changing media landscape, Matt Stoller, official campaign blogger for NJ gubernatorial candidate (now Governor-elect) Jon Corzine, opines thusly:
Social activities will be another outlet. Since political campaigns won't be able to just buy your attention, the political party that can be more social and fun will have a sustained advantage.
Putting the PARTY back into "political party?"

Friday, November 11, 2005

Oscar Trevor Madison 

So actor Jack Klugman has a new book out called Tony and Me and his current book tour brought him to Pittsburgh tonight. Fortunately for me, he was appearing mere blocks away from work--although it would have been a must-see situation no matter where Klugman was appearing.

He began his in-store appearance by announcing via P.A. that we were a good-looking audience and that he was determined that we would all have a good time. He briefly mentioned a past experience where fans were prevented from talking to him or getting what they wanted autographed, and he declared that it was his intention that everybody have a good time. However, he said, although he sometimes did a Q&A before the book-signing but he was unable to today. The now 83-year-old actor's throat (half his larynx was removed in 1989 due to throat cancer) was apparently not cooperating.

So I waited my turn in line, clutching my copy of his book, and silently ranked my options for what I wanted to say or ask him. As he gave me the official "you're-next" nod from the desk set up for him in the fiction section of the bookstore, I noted that although he's obviously more frail-looking than the last time I saw him in something (which I think was in the 1993 reunion TV movie The Odd Couple: Together Again) he still looks pretty good for his age.

I shook his hand, told him what an honor it was to meet him and handed him my book. As he signed it ("Mike-- Best wishes, Jack Klugman"), I told him that it was nearly the perfect day to meet him since it was on November 13th that Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. He smiled and nodded (although I couldn't tell if it was a "hey, that's right" smile or merely "another geeky fan" politeness), so I asked him if it wasn't true that November 13th was used as the date for those opening credit narration because that was producer Garry Marshall's birthday (It is--Marshall was born on November 13, 1934--I only acted uncertain on the point to use it as a question to try to draw him into a conversation).

He said he didn't really know (support for the "another geeky fan" theory), but then he looked thoughtful for a moment. "Maybe that why he called," he said, more to himself then me. And then, to me, "He left me a message earlier, so maybe he wanted to know if I was in town to get together for his birthday."

I then asked if he was nostalgic being in Pittsburgh again, since he went to college at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University) after WWII on the G.I. Bill.

"No," he said flatly, his raspy voice polite but emphatic. "Sure, it's nice to be here, but I never look backwards, only forward."

Then he gave me a brief nod, as if to say "we've got to move along," so I thanked him again and dutifully moved along. Naturally, as I walked away, I immediately thought of at least three questions that I would have rather asked, but that's almost inevitable when meeting celebrities.

So while I got to see Tony Randall on stage on two separate occasions but never met him, now I've met Klugman although I've never seen him acting in person.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I almost feel like a New Jerseyan again! 

In a recent post, I noted two robocalls I'd received urging me to vote for NJ gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester--which would be illegal, since I don't live in the Garden State (and this is the third Election Day in which I have not).

Since then one more robocall has been left on my answering machine, but, even more amusingly, I received yesterday two direct mail pieces from the "Monmouth County Republican Organization" in central New Jersey. One is a simple oversized card promoting one pair of candidates and trashing their opponents but the other is a full 8 page newspaper talking up the whole ticket, both county and statewide candidates.

What's amusing is that all this politicking is going on at someone (me) with a Pittsburgh address right there in black and white.

I still have no idea how they got my name and phone number, and I'm curious to find out. When I moved, my mail was forwarded so I can buy the argument that any list I might be on (and I was on many, of many political stripes) could have been updated, somewhat uselessly, when I moved to Pittsburgh. But that wouldn't explain how they got my phone number.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

Emergency Alert Systems 

I just read at FMQB.com that:
The FCC is...seeking to develop a next-generation alert and warning system that takes full advantage of digital media's potential, including the Internet, wireless technologies, and high definition digital content sent via fiber optic cables.
Sounds like the FCC just found an old six pack of tech-bubble kool-aid.

The current system, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) was established by the FCC in 1994 to replace the Cold War vintage Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) as a public warning system.

Apart from having a bizarre logo, the EAS system is a ridiculous farce. It's massively prone to error, and it doesn't work at all like it should.

I wonder whether this "next-generation alert and warning system" includes a method for interrupting cell phone calls across an entire wireless system with emergency alerts. This is likely the only method with can actually give emergency information directly to individuals, although it opens a series of cans of worms.

For example, what if such a system was in place on September 11th and the government decided to activate the system and send an urgent message to all New York area cell phone users? This would necessarily interrupt all person-to-person communication and turn the entire network into an ad hoc radio system. But you probably wouldn't be too happy about this move if you were just then speaking to a loved one trapped on the top floors of the World Trade Center. Or making an unrelated 911 call. Or trying to calm down a panicked son/daughter/elderly parent.

The political price of an inappropriate system activation would be increased if it's going directly to citizens, which will makes it increasingly unlikely that it would ever be activated. The paradox of any such system is that the more dangerous a crisis, the more likely that events are moving fast enough as to make extremely difficult any useful activation of the system (note that there was no EAS activation on 9/11).

Additionally, I find it odd that the story includes the internet is one of the avenues which this proposed next-gen EAS would take "full advantage" of. Just how do they propose meaningful and timely emergency warnings via the internet? An email? A website? Some sort of all-ISP, all-content hijack? Sounds either impossible or pointless.

Well, whatever keeps the FCC busy and distracted from going after broadcasted curse words...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Political Robocalls 

I find it fascinating that both yesterday and today I have received political robocalls for a particular candidate in advance of this Tuesday's election.

The candidate is Doug Forrester. The office is New Jersey governor. But I have't lived in New Jersey for two and a half years.

That's the fascinating part: why the hell are they calling a Pittsburgh phone number to get out the vote for the NJ governor's race?

Now, I know that these days area codes can become completely unhinged from geography. One of my co-workers here in PGH, for example, has no land line but a cell phone with a Cleveland area code. So perhaps the Forrester campaign thinks that my land line is a cell phone and I'm actually a current NJ resident. But I can't, for the life of me, figured out how they connected my phone number and NJ. Unless they're just robodialing every phone number in all states bordering on NJ for good measure.


Friday, November 04, 2005

New Invention Watch 

A drink somewhere between coffee and beer could soon be on the menu. Nestec, part of the Nestlé empire in Switzerland, has filed patents in every major market round the world on a "fermented coffee beverage" that pours and foams like beer, but smells of strong coffee and packs a concentrated caffeine kick.
Ah, that long sought-after mix of stimulants and depressants, for that perfect body-confusing rush.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Study: Mice Sing in the Presence of Mates:
Scientists have known for decades that male lab mice produce high-frequency sounds — undetectable by human ears — when they pick up the scent of a female mouse. This high-pitched babble is presumably for courtship, although scientists are not certain.

But it turns out those sounds are more complex and interesting than previously thought.

"It soon became ... apparent that these vocalizations were not random twitterings but songs," said researcher Timothy Holy. "There was a pattern to them. They sounded a lot like bird songs."

To make their point, the researchers provided audio recordings of the sounds, which have been modified for human ears. The recordings do indeed sound birdlike.
It's pretty shrill, but you can hear a sample of the mouse song on this page.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Marketing Goes Old School 

Like, "door-to-door salesman" old school...

Creating buzz, one peer at a time:
The exchange was a corporate marketer's dream -- and one, in this case, come true for Microsoft Corp., which hired Gossett to peddle its notes-organizing software on campus. Microsoft is among a growing number of companies seeking to reach the elusive but critical college market by hiring students to be ambassadors -- or, in more traditional terms, door-to-door salesmen.

In an age when the college demographic is no longer easily reached by television, radio or newspapers -- as TiVo, satellite radio, iPods and the Internet crowd out the traditional advertising venues -- a microindustry of campus marketing has emerged. Niche firms have sprung up to act as recruiters of students, who then market products on campus for companies such as Microsoft, JetBlue Airways, The Cartoon Network and Victoria's Secret.

"There is a paradigm shift in the way that corporations are marketing to college students," said Matt Britton, a managing partner of Mr. Youth, a New York-based firm that specializes in college student marketing. "The student ambassador tactic embraces all the elements that corporations find most effective: It's peer-to-peer, it's word of mouth, it's flexible and it breaks through the clutter of other media. For all that, it's growing very quickly."
Mr. Youth? Yikes, check out their website, featuring such blather as this:
Mr. Youth® now offers its partners access to nation's largest college marketing event, now in it's 20th year!

CollegeFest® gives college-aimed brands the opportunity to interact, demonstrate products, conduct sampling, collect data, and even perform market research with nearly 15,000 college students from throughout New England during the critical back to school period.
Reading breathless text like this, one's mind starts to wander and envision what other exclamatory copy points are lurking 'round the next hyperlink....

Yes, it's a marketing EVENT! Must-See Marketing®! College students get the opportunity to "interact" with your youth-friendly products on the trade show-styled Killing Floor®!

It's like a marketing-oriented Social Networking Website®, except without that tedious internet part! And social networking websites are today all the rage according to Mr. Youth's(®'s) exclusive marketing market research, which we call Markety-Market® Excluso-Research®!

And, coming soon, our new regional offices!
  • In Brooklyn, Mr. Youts®
  • In Chicago, Mr. Youse®
  • In the South, Mr. Y'All®
  • In Pittsburgh, Mr. Yinz®
  • And, in California, Mr. Perpetual Youth®

What a ghastly nightmare.


Smoking ban lights up love life:
Welcome to the practice of smirting (smoking and flirting), a craze which has swept Ireland since the introduction of the pub and restaurant smoking ban in January 2004. As it took hold, enterprising pubs and bars introduced outside areas for smokers to gather and with them came a more relaxed attitude to meeting people. Now, instead of spending time in crowded bars, people find themselves striking up conversations over a quick fag.
"Fag," of course, being a cigarette. So smirt away!

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