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My Archives: March 2004

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Easter? I didn't even know 'er!
Posted by CKL @ 09:08 AM PST
As if you needed more evidence of the patriarchal (and, let's face it, misogynic) nature of modern Christianity:
On Easter Monday everyone gets up early; boys and men to set of[f] on a whipping trip through the village, girls and women to prepare, hide, or run away. Boys stop at people’s homes and whip the legs of every girl and woman who lives in the house. They sometimes catch the girl still in bed. Little boys say an Easter 2004 carol while whipping, usually asking for an egg or two. A popular custom is also to grab the girl and throw her in cold water, the "Easter dousing". The whipping and dousing is supposed to chase away bad spirits and illness, so this is actually good for the girl!
Okay, so a web site registered in Texas and featuring a banner ad for probably isn't the most authoritative resource on religious tradition. You can Google [Easter Monday] yourself.

For a woman's perspective on this, check out Easter Monday Blues, wherein Sarah Ellen Hinlicky (now Wilson) proclaims: "I would not shed one single tear if Easter Monday and all its traditions were permanently eradicated from Slovak memory. In fact, I might even jump for joy."


Monday, March 29, 2004

Five minutes is a long time when you're single
Posted by CKL @ 12:03 AM PST
"As a single man who eats 2-3 frozen pizzas a week, this was a better purchase than my microwave. Frozen pizzas cook in 15 minutes or less, as compared to 20-23 minutes with a conventional oven. When you wait until the last minute to start cooking, 5 minutes is a long time."
-- customer review

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Attack of the Giant Shrimp from Mars
Posted by CKL @ 06:28 PM PST
From the March 24th Long John Silver's press release:
NASA's March 23 announcement of evidence of the past presence of "a body of gently flowing saltwater" on Mars is big news for America, and giant news for seafood fans... To celebrate the success of NASA's Mars Rover project, the company is going to give America free Giant Shrimp on Monday, May 10.
Now, I live in Mountain View, California. The nearest Long John Silver's is in Watsonville, a good 36 miles away. It might as well be (wait for it) on Mars. And even if it were across the street, it wouldn't be worth my time to stand in line during business hours on a weekday for a single freakin' shrimp. It's free advertising for them, since local news loves this kind of stupidity, but let's be honest: they're not really "giving America" anything.

I'm also dubious of the claim that "Long John Silver's, Inc. was founded in 1969 in response to growing consumer demand for quick-service seafood [my emphasis -CKL]." Maybe I'm just atypical, but how often does anybody crave "quick-service seafood"? "Dammit, Mabel, I just cain't wait fer those shrimp t' finish defrostin'! We gots ta go t' Long John Silver's RAIGHT NOW!" I mean, there isn't even one of these things within 15 miles of San Francisco-- but maybe that's because you can get better seafood in any back alley in the city, without going to some greasy fast food joint. Perhaps it's different in the Midwest, far from the salty seascapes of our coastal paradise.

Anyway, it's too bad the estate of Robert Louis Stevenson isn't being compensated for the use of the name. I'm pretty sure Treasure Island was in the public domain well before 1969.


Friday, March 26, 2004

TV tirade
Posted by CKL @ 08:48 AM PST
50 years of color TV, and what do we have to show for it? Lots and lots of commercials.

In the SF Chronicle today, TV critic Tim Goodman laments the way Fox commissions brilliant and innovative new shows, only to cancel them when they have consistently low ratings and instead airing the latest crappy reality show:

Now, Fox always has good development seasons... The problem with critically acclaimed Fox shows is that they tend to tank, for a variety of reasons that, frankly, I just haven't had enough Diet Coke to really get into. But if you -- "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" -- watch the network -- "The Tick" -- you know what I'm talking about. Say no more.
Let's be honest here. I've always been of the mind that there are two big things wrong with free television:
  1. The Nielsen ratings are horribly broken.
  2. Advertisers, not viewers, determine which shows will survive.
Why does HBO have such cachet that people (like me) are willing to pay up to $20 a month for it? Because they produce great shows like Carnivale, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Six Feet Under.

HBO works because they don't have to answer to the people shilling laundry detergent or SUVs. I don't think all advertising is evil, but I believe that the interrupt-of-attention model that is the standard for American TV simply doesn't work. I'm frankly insulted by the implication that I will refuse to pay for the shows I love, that you have to extort payment in the form of wasting my time.

Hell, I would gladly pay $20 a month just to watch Angel. Seriously. But I haven't been offered the choice.


Wednesday, March 24, 2004

good news, everyone!
Posted by CKL @ 09:03 AM PST
Quite possibly the best thing to result from the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ: the impending, 25th-anniversary theatrical re-release of Monty Python's Life of Brian. (April)

Also, later this year, Disney will release new DVD editions of three Hayao Miyazaki animated features: My Neighbor Totoro, Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, and Porco Rosso. English dubbing will be done by Patrick Stewart, Michael Keaton, and Dakota Fanning, among others. (August)

No, those two announcements don't really have anything to do with each other.


Saturday, March 20, 2004

twist and shout
Posted by CKL @ 01:24 AM PST
Interesting... SHOUTcast Server Version 1.9.2/Linux doesn't want to list tracks in its song history unless they're more than a couple of minutes long. I'm guessing this is a feature to keep ads and station ID tags from appearing, but it's a bit of a problem when you're actually broadcasting short songs. I don't see an obvious way to change this in the config files, and it shouldn't really be a user-settable option anyway. Not a big deal in practical terms, but it does point out the dangers (or RISKS) of making assumptions about what your users want and not documenting those well.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Trek Trek Trek
Posted by CKL @ 12:31 PM PST
It's Trek times three on today:

'In the 23rd century universe of "Star Trek,'' people talked to each other using wireless personal communicators, had easy access to a vast database of information and spent hours gazing at a big wall-mounted video screen. On 21st century Earth, that future is already here...'

'...Cheesy props or not, "Star Trek's" futuristic sickbay tools presented a captivating vision of what medicine might one day achieve, inspiring legions of fans who later became some of the world's most inventive scientists. And in 2004, many of the high-tech instruments simulated on the "Star Trek" set are a reality, used to treat patients in hospitals and clinics around the world...'

'Before we get too cocky about our multitasking cell phones, global data networks and other gizmos that match "Star Trek's" sci-fi tools, let's remember: Most of the standard equipment on the starship Enterprise is still in the realm of "where no one has gone before." Replicators to instantly synthesize any food we want? Nope. Universal translator machines to convert any form of speech into English? Not yet. Transporter rooms to beam us to the next planet? No way. Warp Drive to speed between star systems? Fuggedaboudit. Some of these technologies are not only beyond what we can do, they're beyond what we can imagine finding a way of doing...'

(Aside: Is it inspirational or cruel that we can imagine things that are patently impossible? Imagination gives us regret as well as hope. Our dreams can be beautiful or horrific. And we can be driven mad by the absence of a thing.)


Friday, March 12, 2004

Game on? Game off.
Posted by CKL @ 06:46 PM PST
"In the entertainment world there are wives and then there are mistresses, long-term relationships and drunken one-night stands. Our culture is married to the cinema. Gaming is a series of flings with continually younger, prettier partners."
-- excerpt from "Life After the Video Game Crash" by David Wong

for the love of advertising
Posted by CKL @ 09:17 AM PST
'Of all the new TV technologies available to consumers, the ability to skip commercials is by far the most appealing, according to research conducted for the Home Technology Monitor at Knowledge Networks/SRI. As reported by MediaPost's MediaDailyNews, 72 percent of those surveyed also said that digital video recorders should not be lumbered with devices that would prevent commercial skipping. Paradoxically, 63 percent of those surveyed agreed that watching commercials is a fair price for receiving "free" TV. "They just don't want to be the ones paying it," said Dave Tice, director of the Home Technology Monitor.'

It's a real catch-22, isn't it? I know some people have fooled around with systems which force you to watch commercials before you can watch TV, but that's even more annoying-- like DVDs where you can't skip the FBI warning, or theatres that run ten minutes of ads before you even get to the freakin trailers, much less the movie itself.

Advertisements aren't the problem; it's the method of delivery. Everyone hates the interrupt-of-attention ad model. But with DVRs and such, you're no longer limited to simply displaying a data stream. Buffering is just the beginning.

Other people have experimented with adding "sidebars" or "L-banners" to display ads. This seems to work best during sporting events, when you don't want to cut away from the playing field, and was even lampooned in the movie Ed TV. Local stations also do this for weather advisories and such. Of course, this makes the picture a little smaller, or squashes it vertically, but it's no worse than those damned "bottom third" banners that FOX keeps running. Excuse me, I don't care about whatever reality show dreck you're peddling this week. Go away.

C'mon, guys, this is a no-brainer. As the world moves to HDTV and 16:9 widescreen displays, people will still want to watch older programs-- reruns of Star Trek, for example, which were created for 4:3 displays. Why not use the blank space on the sides of the screen to display ads? Sure, the ads would have to be silent, and ideally static (i.e., no crazy animated, flashing, or otherwise seizure-inducing effects), and some purists might complain about ruining the original composition, but the majority of viewers would be pretty happy, I think.

The only other feature I'd want is a "premium" option, so I could pay to not see any ads at all. But then we get into digital rights management and copy protection and other things that aren't so much useless as hackable. The problem there is that nobody wants to set an industry-standard protocol that will help the consumer; they all want to come up with their own proprietary system which they each claim is the best on the market (hello, VHS vs. Beta). I'm all for competition, but these are just pissing contests.


the day after
Posted by CKL @ 12:49 AM PST
It's now Friday morning in Madrid, and I doubt anybody in Spain slept well last night.

"Spain mourned for at least 198 people killed in Europe's worst attack in 15 years as investigators tried on Friday to pin down if Basque separatists or Muslim militants were behind the bombs on commuter trains... Updated official counts put the total of dead at 198, plus 1,430 wounded. With 60 of the wounded in a serious or very serious state, the death toll was expected to rise."
-- Reuters

It's been two years and six months since September 11, 2001.

I don't want to start feeling anxious when I wake up on the eleventh day of every month.



Thursday, March 11, 2004

good news and bad news
Posted by CKL @ 10:06 AM PST
First the good news:

"Viacom and EchoStar Communications said Thursday that they had ended a contractual dispute, restoring CBS broadcasts to 1.6 million EchoStar viewers."

"The multi-year agreement restores full service of CBS in 16 markets as well as Comedy Central, MTV, MTV2, Nickelodeon, Noggin, GAS, VH1, VH1 Classic, MTV Espanol and BET in all markets. Additionally, the agreement extends the term of the carriage for CBS HD (East and West) channels, as well as Spike TV, CMT and TV Land. DISH Network will also launch Nicktoons on its America's Top 180 package this spring."
-- EchoStar/Viacom joint press release

Now the bad news:

"EchoStar then revealed it is subject of a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission that may require a restatement of its 2001 results, though it appeared that the company's accounting may actually have been too conservative... The probe relates to how EchoStar accounted for reserve funds it would use to pay for replacement smart cards... EchoStar said the SEC has told it that the company mis-accounted for $17 million and $9 million in 2001 and 2002. While the dollar amounts are small and it appears EchoStar erred on the side of conservatism, analysts said any irregularity is cause for concern."



Tuesday, March 9, 2004

It's only TV, but I love it
Posted by CKL @ 09:30 AM PST
DISH Network sincerely regrets that all MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and VH1 programming is currently unavailable. Viacom owned CBS stations are also unavailable at this time.

These channels and CBS stations, owned by Viacom, have proposed excessive rate increases which we feel are unreasonable. Viacom is demanding rate increases nearly 4 times the rate of inflation for various cable channels, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in fees that would increase the cost of our services to you...

The only channel I really care about here is Comedy Central, but I'll take this opportunity to say again: the current TV distribution model stinks. I don't care whether I get the signal by antenna, cable, satellite, or pack mule, and I don't want to pay for "programming packages" which are 90% uninteresting to me. I don't care whether Angel is on The WB or TNT, or whether Project Greenlight is on HBO or Bravo-- I just want to be able to watch the shows I want to watch. I'm even willing to pay for them. Is that too much to ask?


On the bright side, there's a slim chance that TiVo might help the Nielsen ratings actually (gasp!) reflect reality:

Nielsen Media Research plans to include people who watch programs on TiVo, Replay and other digital video recorders beginning in April of next year, the company said in a letter to clients on Wednesday...
And ghod knows they need all the help they can get:
If Nielsen Media Research employed spies to observe the television viewing habits of those it surveyed, it might come up with far different ratings results than it currently produces, a study by Ball State University's Center for Media Design indicates. Researchers there first conducted phone surveys with one random group of 401 persons; then asked another group of 359 to keep diaries; a third group of 101 individuals was observed "or shadowed" by the researchers. Phone survey participants told researchers that they watched television an average of two hours per day. Diarists logged 4 hours and 38 minutes a day, but those who were actually followed watched an average of 5 hours and 19 minutes per day...
I'm still not sure how anybody can watch more than five-- five!-- freakin hours of TV a day, but whatever.

The bad news is, not everyone loves TiVo:

Advertisers are not enthusiastic about plans by Nielsen Media Research to include households using TiVo and other digital video recorders in their ratings results ... ad buyers want Nielsen to provide information about whether viewers are skipping commercials when they watch their recorded shows. Kate Lynch, senior vice president-global research director at Starcom Worldwide, said that including the DVR information in Nielsen's ratings would serve only to boost the numbers of already top-rated "shows that we know people aren't watching our ads on." She said that her company's own research indicates that TiVo users skip commercials 54 percent of the time.
Oh, boo hoo. New technology is making your old business model obsolete. Wah! You can go sit in the corner and have a cry with the horse-whip makers, or you can start thinking about new and better ways to advertise. And hurry up, because we ain't gonna wait.

Hello, Goodbye
Posted by CKL @ 08:40 AM PST
I've gotta stop reading news in the morning. Because it's usually bad, and it just sours the whole day.
Actor-writer Spalding Gray, who laid bare his life and mingled performance art with comedy in acclaimed monologues like ``Swimming to Cambodia,'' was found dead over the weekend, two months after he walked out of his Manhattan apartment and disappeared. He was 62.
-- San Jose Mercury News

Monday, March 8, 2004

Queer Eye Strain
Posted by CKL @ 08:51 AM PST
I watched a couple new episodes of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy over the weekend, and while I don't think it's quite jumped the shark yet, it's not doing too well. Herewith, some modest proposals for restoring the makeover mavens to their former glory:

No more random celebrities! What the hell is Kylie Minogue doing, tacked on to the end of the show? I don't have a problem with Rosie O'Donnell showing up as part of the makeover activities-- that's product placement, just like the rest of the show-- but at least respect the audience enough to make up a plausible, relevant reason for the appearance.

Less mugging, more tips. Sure, it's funny to see the Fab Five romp through the straight guy's pre-makeover domicile, making catty remarks about his lack of organization, messy kitchen, dirty bathroom, and so on, but we don't need to spend a full quarter of the freakin show on it. You're there to help the guy, remember?

Jai Rodriguez: Use him or lose him. I love Jai as much as the next guy, but the producers still haven't figured out how "the culture guy" fits into the show. I think they need to be a little bolder, to start having deeper and more interesting conversations than just reminding the straight guy to make eye contact. Not that it should turn into a therapy session, but culture isn't just skin deep.

Comedy Central just launched their parody series, Straight Plan for the Gay Man, and Saturday Night Live and South Park have already lampooned Queer Eye. It's difficult to recover from such an onslaught of satire unless you're self-aware enough to reinvent yourself without alienating your fan base. I'm not sure the QE crew are savvy enough to stay on mission, but I remain optimistic.


Friday, March 5, 2004

The Game
Posted by CKL @ 02:22 PM PST
I'm mentioned in the SF Chronicle today, though not actually quoted. I don't think my fifteen minutes have started yet, but it's still a kick.
Curtis Chen remembers hauling up a 2-liter plastic bottle filled with concrete from the bottom of a pond and smashing it with a sledgehammer to release a message-encrusted sheet of foil.
I should find a paper copy to send to my parents... it'll be payback for all those news clippings about eating more vegetables that my Mom periodically mails to me.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Good news, everyone!
Posted by CKL @ 08:54 AM PST
From Variety via
Universal Pictures has greenlit "Serenity,'' the feature film based on Joss Whedon's Fox TV series "Firefly,'' which was canceled in late 2002 after just 11 episodes.

Deals are in place for Whedon to direct and for the original cast of the TV show to reprise their roles. The pic, budgeted in the mid-eight figures, is scheduled for a June start and should be ready for a 2005 release...

I'm pretty damn excited about this. Joss has worked on quite a few movies, but only as a writer, usually uncredited, and often having his contributions steamrolled by directors or producers-- for example, he's publicly expressed his disappointments with Alien Resurrection and X-Men. I can't wait to see what he does as a director, with more creative control and a $50 million budget. Drool.

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Headline of the Week
Posted by CKL @ 09:34 AM PST
No pun intended:

Woman uses sex act as manslaughter defense (CNN)

"A woman charged with causing a fatal car crash in 1999 says that she couldn't have been behind the wheel because she was performing a sex act on the driver at the time.

"Heather Specyalski, 33, was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the crash that killed businessman Neil Esposito. Prosecutors allege that she was driving Esposito's Mercedes-Benz convertible when it veered off the road and hit several trees.

"But Specyalski claims that Esposito was driving, and she was performing oral sex on him at the time, said her attorney, Jeremiah Donovan. He noted that Esposito's pants were down when he was thrown from the car..."


Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Disney does Narnia
Posted by CKL @ 08:02 AM PST
From The Hollywood Reporter via CNN:
[T]he Walt Disney Co. has struck a deal with Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz' Walden Media to co-finance and distribute "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Budgeted at more than $100 million, according to sources, the film is scheduled to begin shooting in the summer, with "Shrek" director Andrew Adamson [my link -CKL] at the helm.

The film, the first installment of Walden's "Chronicles of Narnia" franchise based on the series of children's fantasy books by C.S. Lewis, will be released at Christmas 2005...

So, basically, now that Lord of the Rings has proven that fantasy epics can succeed at the box office, Disney wants to cash in by making a more kid-friendly saga which they can market the hell out of. I'm not saying it might not be good, but this appears to be a business decision rather than a labor of love like Peter Jackson's, and I'm not optimistic.

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