Thursday, February 25, 2010

My favorite Martin

So we're pretty deep in to the college basketball season with only a few regular season games left before the conference tournaments and then the biggie NCAA Tourney.

And while good sportsmanship has prevented me thus far from cheering too loudly for the good guys from the Little Apple (another Twager, alas, wasn't in the cards for basketball season), I think now is a good time to raise a toast to the success of Frank Martin and his team for a remarkable season.

The Wildcats, currently ranked #6 in both polls, are having their best season since... ever ... and are considered to be a real contender for a Final Four spot come tourney time.

They have absolutely exceeded my expectations this year (duh). I took a wait and see attitude a few years ago when Bob Huggins pissed in my Post Toasties and the recent success of the team has been a bright spot for college athletics in this state.

So sure, let's raise a glass to Frank Martin for a job well done.

But the question is, a glass of what? Such accomplishments demand something special, something tailored to the occasion, something representative of the achievements to which we are toasting.

So, I submit to you a new cocktail: The Frank Martini

The Frank Martini

3 Part(s) Vodka
1 Splash Chambord Raspberry Liquor
1 Splash Sweet & Sour Mix
1 Drop(s) Lemon Juice
1 Dash(es) Extra Dry Vermouth

Add all ingredients into a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into 2 well chilled martini glasses.

Be sure to drink it with a glare in your eye...

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

Radio blah blah

Sometimes I forget things.

I'll leave my sunglasses in the wrong car, for example. Or, every couple of months I'll head out the door in the morning without the key card to the cube farm I work in. I've even been known to misplace the launch codes to the ... well, never you mind about that.

The point is every one is human (with the possible exception of Lady Gaga), and we all forget things from time to time.

That's what happened a couple of nights ago when I forgot to plug in my iPod to charge before catching some Z's. So when I hopped in the car for the next day's commute, the battery was pretty much deadsville. It had enough juice to play the morning's edition of Planet Money, and the quick and witty TODAY IN THE PAST (John Hodgman FTW!). But it finally gave out on me as Marc Maron was interviewing Antonia Crane on WTF.

Yes, for the past few years for some reason I've eschewed terrestrial radio in favor of web-based broadcasts. There's just a lot more content that is a lot more compelling, much more interesting on the 'net. And with an MP3 player I can control my listening experience the same way a DVR gives me control over my television viewing experience. It's all about the audience taking control.

That is until your battery dies.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a huge problem. I do still have a functioning radio in the car that I flip on every once in a while, for old times' sake I guess. And since the iPod was temporarily crapped out and since I was interested in hearing some discussion about the surging #7-ranked K-State Wildcats, I tuned in to Sports Radio 810 WHB for the last 10 minutes of my commute.

And I was almost instantly reminded of one of the reasons I turned off the radio in the first place. There was a commercial playing when I switched the radio on. I don't even remember what it was advertising. All I remember is that for the next five to seven minutes, I heard one commercial after another, possibly with a radio station promo thrown in.

In a future of sharply honed fastforwarding skills where content is king and the :30 spot is an endangered species, this is just waaaay too much advertising. It was more than I could take. It reminded me of why I stopped listening to terrestrial radio in the first place.

Look, I realize you have to pay the bills. There's no free lunch and even public radio has adverts now (not to mention the week-long pledge drives). I'll put up with the odd commercial break every once in a while. Hell, even the podcasts I listen to have ads in them. And even though I fastforward through Leo Laporte's ads on This Week in Tech, I can still tell you his sponsors include Audible, Carbonite.

But when 50 percent of your content is commercials, you're going to have trouble keeping an audience (at least if your audience it me).

I don't know whether a radio station can survive (let alone thrive) with a higher ratio of editorial to commercial content. It's a tough economy out there after all, and I get the feeling that the situation for terrestrial radio is analogous to the situation print newspapers are facing.

Be that as it may, this was a good reminder to me to charge my iPod and/or get a new car charger.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Putting the limp in The Olympics

I got a DM the other day from a friend/reader who wanted to know what I thought about Xavier Onasis's latest post about The Olympic games.

XO, noted sword collector and anti-pants revolutionary, outlined a cogent, point-by-point argument for why organized sports are a waste of effort and resources.
If we took all of the money in the world that is WASTED on sports and poured it into basic scientific research in life sciences and physics, we would have all of the energy we could ever use, everyone could live forever and no one would have to go without the basic necessities of life.
The sentiment sparked quite a discussion in the comments section. On the one hand, XO argued how dumb and wasteful competition and pets are. On the other hand, the commenters pointed out that competition leads us to excel and channels the animal spirit that would otherwise become destructive.

In actuality, this is yet another example of a logical fallacy that has become all to prevalent in our culture's discourse today. XO and his commenters have stumbled into the fallacy of a false dichotomy.

In the case of athletics, we don't have to make a choice between the two viewpoints above. They are not mutually exclusive. Do sports represent a waste of resources? Of course they do. The average salary for NFL players was just under $1.8 million. The league minimum is $295,000 and you get that you were on the roster for at least 3 games. That's a lot of cabbage to throw at grown men for playing a child's game!

At the same time, you can't dismiss the positive aspects of organized sports -- especially for youths. Participation in sports and athletics (as well as arts and music programs), helps teach character traits which are valuable -- even vital -- to a healthy functioning society.

Traits like discipline, focus, teamwork and good sportsmanship, winning with humility and losing with grace. These are traits that help people excel and succeed when they're not on the playing field (or court, or slope, or rink, or what have you).

It's unfair to downplay the contributions of athletes and former athletes to worthy charitable causes. Of course, let's not delude ourselves into thinking that all athletes (especially the Pro ones) are altruistic. Certainly we've seen many examples of selfish and antisocial behavior by the athletically elite.

But this selfishness extends way beyond sports. In fact, if you're making an accounting of what our society wastes money and resources on, you can add Hollywood to the list (does any movie really need to cost $500 million?), Washington, DC (the $46,000 toilet seat cover is legendary), professional wrestling, fashion, etc.

Indeed there seems to be no end to the many ways we can invent to waste our time and money. You can look for all kinds of conclusions and meanings in this phenomenon. Is it just that we have way too much idle time? Are these diversions, these trivial enjoyments, the things that make life worth living? Is figure skating really a sport?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: Big Chief

Just a little soundtrack for you revelers who are flashing your breasts and donning beads as you let the bon temps rouler.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Eastbound and down

We were driving home from a weekend mission into the deepest reaches of darkest western Kansas Sunday evening.

The details and purpose of the mission are not germane to this post, its enough to point out that we passed the I-70 East toll plaza at about 17:15 hours for the last stretch to home sweet home. About two minutes and two miles later, I was hitting the brakes1 as traffic was coming to a standstill.

Needless to say, there was some doin's a transpirin'.

We weren't exactly parked on the highway, but we were moving slow enough that no speed was registering on the car's speedometer. After about 5 minutes of barely moving, the ADD kicked in. I decided to do a little recon to pass the time.

Since there was no traffic in the westbound lanes, it was a fair deduction that there was some kind of traffic accident ahead. But where? And when? What caused it? The weather wasn't great, but it wasn't a blizzard either. Were any deaths involved? Any decapitations? Should I watch for rolling noggins along the median?

50 car pileup started by a sticking Toyota accelerator pedal
So many questions, but no answers on the radio. And there's only so much you can deduce when your stuck in your car. Luckily, it was a bout this time that I heard the familiar sonar ping that signals the arrival of a new email on my kickass phone. Since we're not really moving, I start my email app and see that the message is a news alert from KMBC apprising me of a traffic delay on I-70 (no duh!) because of a 50 CAR PILEUP! caused by a flash blizzard whiteout.

I share this intelligence with my Supermodel Wife, who wondered aloud whether the Kansas City Scout system might have any additional details.

So I started up the web browser on my phone/tricorder and typed in the www for the Scout's web page. Before we had driven another 50 feet, I had the latest report in the palm of my hand.

"Major incident," the report read. "West bound I-70 passed K-7 exit. 3 lanes closed..."

There wasn't a lot of detail, but there was one item of importance. The report indicated that authorities expected the lanes to be cleared at 6:36 p.m. I checked the time on my phone/tricorder/chronometer. It was about 5:50 p.m. and the traffic was showing no signs of improving. In fact, a flashing light up ahead was telling all cars to merge left.

So with no other choice but to crawl, passed the time chit chatting and making jokes at the expense of other vehicles on the highway. The big Frito-Lay truck was good fodder puns for a few minutes.

After a while, we began to see a little more room between the cars ahead of us and behind us. We began to move a little faster until, almost without knowing it, we were up to normal highway speed. I checked the clock on the car's console.

6:26 p.m.

It may have been a coincidence, but it was amazing how accurate the Scout system was. And it was amazing how awesome my phone technology was that I could access it. This is what it's like to live in the future.

1. I'm a jackass for misspelling this word before.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Because She Would Ask Me Why I Loved Her

If questioning would make us wise
No eyes would ever gaze in eyes;
If all our tale were told in speech
No mouths would wander each to each.

Were spirits free from mortal mesh
And love not bound in hearts of flesh
No aching breasts would yearn to meet
And find their ecstasy complete.

For who is there that lives and knows
The secret powers by which he grows?
Were knowledge all, what were our need
To thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?

Then seek not, sweet, the 'If' and 'Why'
I love you now until I die.
For I must love because I live
And life in me is what you give.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Movie Mini Review: Leap Year

Title: Leap Year

Cast: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode

Plot Summary: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl hate each other. Boy and girl go on epic journey full of contrived events. Boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after. I blow my brains out.

My Thoughts: Let's face it. This is a chick flick. With no apologies and no pretensions to be anything more or less. As an unabashed chick flick, this movie automatically get's my "unscoreable" score. However, because it was honest, and for a couple of other reasons, I will say that this is one of the very few watchable chick flicks I've had to sit through.

So let me fill you in on what you won't miss. We are introduced the female lead, Anna Brady, while she's working at her job as a real estate stager (ooookay?) dressing up condos/houses so they will sell faster. Her girlfriend drops a hint one day that Anna's boyfriend was spotted carrying a little red box out of a high-class jewelry story and that a proposal was imminent.

Of course, the dude doesn't want to get married (the box contains a crummy pair of 40-carat diamond stud earrings). They're two modern, urbane, sophisticated adults who don't have to truck with such trivialities as marriage. Then Anna's dad tells her about this Irish tradition that states women can ask a man to marry her on Leap Day and he has to say yes.

So much for being modern and sophisticated. Anna, bitten by the romantic bug, hatches a plan to surprise her beau at a conference in Dublin. But fate conspires against her. On her way to Ireland, she's stranded in Wales during a storm. She insists on hiring the SS Minnow to sail her across the Irish Sea to Dublin. The boat is blown off course (of course), and lands in Dingle on the southwest end of Ireland. This makes no sense when you look at the geographical relationships between Cardiff, Dublin and Dingle. But this is a chick flick, so there you go.

Anyway, in Dingle she meets the male lead and proprietor of the local pub, Declan, who immediately hates her because she is entitled and annoying. But again, this is a chick flick, and as fate would have it, he needs a load of cash to stave off creditors. So he offers to drive Anna to Dublin for the low, low price of €500 (I think that's, like, $1,500).

The next hour or so is comprised of the couple's misadventures as they travel by jalopy, foot, train and buss to Dublin.You learn about the tragic romantic history of hunky Declan while the two are placed into painfully contrived situations forcing them to fall in love.

There are all kinds of plot holes and time line inconsistencies to complain about (uh, it's like two years until the next leap year), but only if you're paying attention. But the biggest offenses are the extremely cliche situations foisted upon the audience. The car breaking down, only one room at the inn that the two have to share, missing the train, accidentally stumbling into a wedding. PUHLEEEZE!!!

The writers (if there were any writers) pulled out every overused chestnut in the "Romantic Comedies for Dummies." Really, you could pretty much outline the entire movie after the first 10 (5 probably?) minutes. You knew who was going to get the girl and why, blah, blah, blah.

But, as I said, this particular chick flick ranks as one of the more watchable for one important reason: The locations.

For all that the movie lacks in plot and originality, it makes up (somewhat) in beautiful, breathtaking even, wide shots of the Irish countryside and the Dingle Peninsula. In fact, I found myself thinking more about the logistics involved in shooting some of the scenery than the actual story (which, let's face it, doesn't require a lot of cognitive bandwidth).

Final Rating: Zero out of five stars (But three out of 5 on the chick flick scale).

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Thursday, February 04, 2010


One of the interesting... not necessarily good, but interesting... things about the time we live in is watching the changes in what us old-timers used to call journalism.
I'm sure you're aware (you being of above average intelligence according to the data I get about you from Quantcast) the newspaper industry as we know it is in it's final death throes. Saint Nick is keeping us abreast as the bells toll for the Kansas City Star's parent company and even that of The Pitch.

As an old newspaper man, I have mixed feelings. Its easy to wax romantic about my previous career in journalism -- late nights in the newsroom, the panic and thrill of pushing a story right up to a deadline, the smell of and feel of wet ink on fresh newsprint as you examine the first pages hot off the press1. I've got some great stories from my newspaper days. Stories involving poisonous snakes, dismembered fingers, bloody hand prints, bullets lodged in brains -- most of which never made it into print.

So in some ways, it's sad for me to watch what's happening to the newspaper industry.

But it's not surprising. A lot of us saw this coming years ago. I opted out of the newspaper biz about 13 years ago. Decided working late nights and weekends for little pay wasn't conducive to family goals I had. I went into an editorial position at an Internet company because I could see even then that printed paper as a medium was a losing proposition.

That's not to say that the gathering and disseminating of information is a losing proposition, only that the "traditional" print media haven't been able yet to develop the business agility needed to find a new and relevant business model.

Sure, they are trying to convert their old business practices to work in a digital venue -- notably the Press+ system that is currently in beta2. Unfortunately, in my view, there are a few problems with this effort.

First, it's nearly a literal translation of the failing offline subscriber model to online. Yes, many organizations have shown that micropayments can be a significant money maker (Amazon and iTunes). But Press+ seems to ignores the fact that money from subscriptions never was the primary revenue source for most publications. It's difficult to see how people will be willing to pay more through online micropayments than they would be through traditional subscriptions.

It also ignores the fact that once information is released "into the wild" it will be pretty much impossible to collect micropayments on it. Just like people who subscribe to dead tree publications like to pass on what they "read in the paper" or even leave the paper at a barbershop or coffee shop for others to read, online micropayment subscribers will want to pass on what they've read. Copy-and-paste makes it all the easier.

Now, lest I be branded a pessimist, I still think there is a way that advertisers can continue to support journalism-- at least for the larger news organizations. In my opinion, the plan being considered by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and Microsoft is heading in the right direction.

Essentially, Microsoft pays a fee to the news organization (Wall Street Journal) for exclusive access to the product of their newsroom. Stories from WSJ (and presumably any other NewsCorp organization) don't show up in the Google search results. So NewsCorp gets paid for the content, Bing gets a competitive advantage and the end user pays nothing for the content.

In theory Google would follow suit, bidding for the content of other news organizations -- or maybe even for NewsCorp content. One could even see the news organizations selling "clicks" to content the same way the search engines sell keyword ads. Content creators could "flip the script" on Google resulting in the search engines bidding for their content.

This is the kind of paradigm3 shift required for "journalism" to move forward as a money-making prospect.

1. Note: Presses are no longer hot. In fact, the moist ink is a bit cool to the touch when the pages first come off the press.
2. Hat tip to Nick.
3. Off topic: The other day my 7-year-old daughter asked me what a "paradigm" was. I told her it was twenty cents.

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