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Matt McHugh.com - Blog - March 2004

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SUBJECT:
Toothbrush Technology
DATE:
Mar-31-2004

There's a truly bewildering array of toothbrushes on the market. Soft bristles, firm bristles, varying height bristles, diagonal bristles, angled heads, rubberized handles, enlarged grips, vibrating, rotary, sonic... on and on. Each new one is touted as a breakthrough, often with that wonderfully meaningless advertising word "revolutionary."

Let's assume for a moment that there are actually attributes of toothbrush design that improve effectiveness. Are there really labs at Oral-B or Colgate where scientists systematically test each variation? Is R&D an integral part of the toothbrush industry? Or does somebody just periodically change the look of the thing to give the illusion of progress so we'll tolerate paying more for a fairly simple device more or less perfected decades ago?

Something to consider next time you pay $4 for a little stick of plastic.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The 9/11 Blame Game II
DATE:
Mar-30-2004

With the ongoing commission hearings, and Richard Clarke's testimony that the U.S. government failed us--which I reject (See March 25, 2004)--one might ask me (though no one has) whom I think is most to blame for 9/11.

Well, aside from the obvious answer of a group of Islamic fanatics, the institution that must bear a big portion of the culpability has to be the airline industry. They lost control of four planes and allowed them to be navigated into residential airspace. Perhaps it's just hindsight, but seems like there's quite a few ways that could have been prevented in progress. Reinforced cockpit doors. Cockpit cameras. Emergency control lock-outs. Biometric or voice print pilot ID. Control-enabled avoidance radar. Even fuel dumping would have lessened the damage. All these are well within the current technical capabilities of U.S.-based airlines--and I'm sure there are many other procedural or technological safeguards that experts had probably recommended years ago.

The airlines all whined "we didn't expect this." Terrorists hijacking planes? Gee... who'd ever have considered that a possibility. Using planes as kamikaze missiles? Golly... totally unprecedented, too.

Yes, individuals willing to die are difficult to stop. However, regardless of their determination or preparation, it simply should not have been possible for them to do what they did. The airline industry had decades of warning. One lost plane, maybe. Not four. That's just embarrassing.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Budweiser's Drinkability
DATE:
Mar-29-2004

On the Budweiser label (the Anheuser-Busch brand, not the Czech), there is a banner graphic with some promotional copy. This short paragraph has a number of ad copy hall-of-famers that redline the bullshitometer (e.g., "We know of no brand...which costs so much to brew..."), but there's one word in particular that I love:

drinkability

What is this supposed to mean? How does one ascribe a degree of "drinkability" to a liquid? A low incidence of suspended particles? A lack of peristalsis-inhibiting ingredients? An adequately sized opening in the can? Or is that last one merely a measure of pourability? What about pissability? Surely, smooth, satisfying pissability is a selling point in a beer.

Statements which contain no fact can not be disproven: a cornerstone of advertising copywriting and political speeches.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Pets as Animals
DATE:
Mar-28-2004

Before I had kids, I had cats. Three of them at one time--now down to one. They slept in my bed, sat on my lap while I ate, were featured on my Christmas cards, and were generally treated like family (only better). I told anecdotes about them to anyone who would listen and carried their pictures in my wallet.

When the kids came along, the cats were lucky to get fed on a regular basis. One pined away under the bed until she became ill and had to be put down. The other started yowling her head off in the middle of the night trying--I swear--to wake the kids. If she was in a particuarly bad humor, she'd pee on one of their beds. She gets locked in the basement every night now.

Funny how your pets become just animals again once kids enter the picture.

My husband and I just got a dog. Now, he's not a child substitute. At least, that's what his pediatrician tells us.

- Rita Rudner

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Shut Your Pie Hole
DATE:
Mar-27-2004

I love this expression. What a great, slightly comical, gently insulting, vaguely dirty, literally insipid little gem to fire off from time to time.

Try it. Start easy by yelling it at people on TV. ("Shut your pie hole, Oprah!") Then work it closer to reality by expressing it as a wish relating to absent persons. ("I wish Bob would just shut his pie hole.") Say it playfully to your spouse or kids. ("Now, honey, shut your pie hole, please.") Finally, graduate to yelling it at strangers on cellphones. (Hey! Shut yer damn pie hole, buddy!")

"yer" and "buddy" really help you get into the spirit of it. Use of "damn" or other modifiers is recommended only for advanced practitioners.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Skittles Undo Button
DATE:
Mar-26-2004

The cafeteria in my office building has a candy machine, the kind with the big glass front where all the items are visible inside on big corkscrews. To buy something, you have to select a letter-digit combination corresponding to the desired corkscrew slot. E1. C7. B6. etc. You punch the letter then the number on a keypad, and watch as the screws turn and your selection drops to the tray at the bottom.

My problem is this: it's too easy to press the wrong letter-digit combination. Sometimes you confuse which code goes with which slot, sometimes your fingers slip. Whatever the cause may be, the wrong button has been pressed and you're forced to stand there and watch helpless as something you did not want slowly, mockingly corkscrews to the front and plummets. It's traumatic. Like watching a busload of orphans drive over a cliff after you waved them on by mistake. No! Stop! Go back! For the love of God, stop!

This is especially true if you accidently press Skittles®. Nobody over 10 likes them. They're good for nothing except slingshot ammunition. They don't belong in an adult workplace candy machine, lurking deceptively between M&M's and David's Sunflower Seeds. It's like sticking a "Launch Missle" button on your phone between "Hold" and "Transfer." Mistakes will happen. Innocents will be hurt.

I'm starting a campaign for a Skittles Undo Button to be added to every vending machine manufactured in the last six years. Sure, it will be expensive and difficult, but think of how much we'll gain in peace of mind.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The 9/11 Blame Game
DATE:
Mar-25-2004

In this week's 9/11 commission hearings, Richard A. Clarke--a counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations--testified that the government, particularly the Bush administration, did not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough and this, in part, contributed to a failure to prevent the attacks.

Sorry, but I just can't buy it.

Setting aside any ulterior motives Mr. Clarke may have (disgruntled employee, election year politicking, publicity for his new book), I do think his testimony is credible. However, he wants to point a finger of blame, and even take some upon himself, offering a heartfelt apology to victims' families present at the hearing. All this implies that he thinks 9/11 could have/should have been prevented. I don't see how. How can you protect yourself against an enemy that has no concrete objective and no concern for consequence... only the desire to inflict damage.

9/11 was a publicity stunt... planned by an organization seeking political power under religious auspice for whom hatred of the U.S. is a chief recruiting tool, and carried out by individuals destined to die in the attempt. Maybe you can stop some of them some of the time, but a few are going to slip through. No matter what. Apologizing for that is an act of denial--a wish that its inevitability were not the truth. Yes, it is vital to investigate what happened before and after that day and try to learn what we can to help prevent future attacks. But, even as we do so, the other side is studying, too--looking for whatever we overlook. I have no doubt that, in the end, we'll win. But, sadly, I also can't imagine we'll come out totally unscathed. Despite all efforts, something will happen again someday. And, ultimately, the people to blame for it will not work in Washington.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Asimov's Foundation
DATE:
Mar-24-2004

Actually finished a book recently... something of an accomplishment in my increasingly distracted life. Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Earth, the fifth or sixth book (depending on how you count) in the Foundation series.

The book itself was so-so. Not his best, but even at half-throttle he still runs circles around most other sci-fi scribblers. There's very little about the novel that would appeal to anyone not already a fan, but if you've spent any time in Dr. A's richly imagined galaxy, Foundation and Earth does a nice job of bringing elements of both the Foundation and Robot novels to a satisfying resolution. With room for more sequels of course, that sadly The Grandmaster is no longer around to write... though I'm sure someone will.

The thing that impresses me most about Asimov (other than his incomprehensibly prolific output of some 300+ books) is how he crafted a massive, intricate, interconnected fictional universe. This is fairly common in the sci-fi/fantasy genre: Tolkein, Frank Herbert, Arthur Clarke, even George Lucas (heavily influenced by Asimov), to name a few. But I've found Asimov's work in particular to be filled with isolated little gems to marvel at even if you don't know the whole--an enormous tapestry that can be enjoyed as sweeping panorama or in focussed detail. As much, or as little, as you want is there for the taking.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Passion of the Brian
DATE:
Mar-23-2004

Members of the Monty Python troop have announced plans for a 25th anniversary re-release of The Life of Brian sometime in April 2004--apparently prompted, in some way, by the hubbub of The Mel's movie.

While Holy Grail remains my personal favorite Python movie, Brian is a work of true genius on many levels. The way it skewers religion, oppression, terrorism, radical politics, political correctness, feminism, chauvinism, and government officials with speech impediments is more timely than ever. This movie takes institutions billions around the world hold sacred enough to kill each other over and strips them down to their most ridiculous essentials. In the end, it is not the institutions that are condemned, but the asinine, small-minded way we follow them. The movie doesn't mock God. It mocks us for being so self-important we think God needs us to stick up for His honor.

Everyone should watch this movie at least once a year. I recommend Good Friday, between noon and three.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Thank You Hiss
DATE:
Mar-22-2004

Have you encountered this one: you're in the office, walking the halls, and you hold a door or elevator for someone--fairly casually--and they softly hiss at you. "hssss." What they're saying is "Thanks" but in such a quiet, deferential way all you actually hear is the final sibilant. "hssss."

I noticed that I was doing this myself, and the more I listened, the more I heard others do it. Not everyone, to be sure. I think it's a personality thing. Some people give loud, hearty "Thank You's" with eye contact and make a point of using your name (transplanted Southerners are big on this.) But most New Yorkers seem to feel it's invasive to address passers-by too directly. Their instinct is to be inconspicuous, but in an office setting, there's an almost autonomic reflex for social politeness. So an odd blend of anti-social and social habits, salted with a little subway-conditioned personal-space etiquette, has given rise to the Thank You Hiss.

Am I imagining this... or making too much of a very rare occurrence? I'm pretty attuned to linguistic tics (I identified "yeah-no" over ten years ago, long before Ray Romano put it on TV, but that's another story), and I think this is an emerging one. Listen for it, and tell me if I'm crazy or what.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Near Miss
DATE:
Mar-21-2004

For all those as news-oblivious as me, Earth was nearly missed by an asteroid this week. It actually passed within the orbit of the moon, the closest asteroid pass on record. I've heard several times that the Earth is overdue for a major hit. Well... if at first you don't succeed...

When two planes almost collide, the airlines always say it was a "near miss." It's a near hit! It's only a near miss if they hit each other. Ooh, would you look at that. They nearly missed.

- George Carlin

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Will to Power Pop
DATE:
Mar-20-2004

So I'm watching VH1 We Are The 80's (the only thing sadder than how large a portion of my life cable is, is how large a portion of my cable viewing is 80's nostalgia), and this video from a group called "Will to Power" comes on. The song is a ballad-medley of Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird." I won't go into how bad the song sucks. If you know it, you know... if you don't, I just can't do it justice. Think karaoke wedding in a VFW basement outside of Pittsburgh, and you're maybe halfway there.

The really fascinating artifact here is the "group"--i.e., a guy and a girl and a studio. They named themself Will to Power, in the video pan over a paperback Nietzsche, and have a song on their 1988 album entitled "Zarathustra." Muscle guy and big hair chick cranking out remixed dancepop under a pretentious philosophical branding at the height of the narcissistic 80's. I guess the fact that the song is still kicking around nearly 20 years later counts for something. Well, congrats dude and dudette. You really bit the snake... or screwed the pooch ... or however the saying goes.

I guess you could say I'm just jealous. And you'd be right. I mean, I have as little musical talent as these guys--perhaps even more little. I want one of my tepid maulings of someone else's song on a Greatest Hits of the '00's compilation. Yeah. That'd be sick. Übersick.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Cellphone v. Gas Tank
DATE:
Mar-19-2004

Anybody else have this experience:

You charge your cellphone battery to 100%. It stays like that for a day, then another, maybe another. By day 4, it's dipped down to about 75%. The morning of day 5, it's beeping at near empty -- from 75% to almost 0 overnight. As Fred Willard says in "A Mighty Wind" ... wha' happened?

You gas your car up to full. You drive to the post office, and it's at three-quarters. Next day, after back and forth to the supermarket, it's at half. It takes the rest of the week to get to one-quarter, and it hovers just above the red zone for two days.

To sum up:
Cellphone battery = Full Full Full Full Almost Full Still Almost Full then Empty
Gas Tank = Full Almost Full Half Full Almost Empty Almost Empty Almost Almost Empty (never quite) Empty

Seriously, it is just me?

-- mm


SUBJECT:
New Reality Show
DATE:
Mar-18-2004

I fear my crusade against reality shows is failing. Despite all attempts to shun them, I am appalled to discover they have seeped into my awareness in all their sordid detail. Clay has sold more records than any other American Idol contestant... Top Model hopeful Shandi cheated on her boyfriend... the dude the Average Joe chick chose dumped her because she used to date Fabio... it goes on and on.

Well, if you can't beat 'em ...

Here's my pitch for a reality show to bridge the Bravo/Sci-Fi Channel chasm into which many foolhardy would-be network moguls have vanished. Unfortunately, Comedy Central beat me to the punch with "Straight Plan for the Gay Man," but concept/audience cannibalism doesn't seem to make a dent in this genre at all. So, in that spirit, here's my trailer script for Geek Eye for the Gay Guy.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Luck of the Irish
DATE:
Mar-17-2004

St. Patrick's Day... a holiday that has more do with beer companies than ethnic traditions, but in any case, it got me thinking about what it means to be of Irish descent--because, for the most part, I never do. Other than seeing my nieces, like their mothers before them, being sent off to Irish dance classes, it just doesn't enter my consciousness much.

If folk history (and my grandparents) are to believed, the Irish were once a minority rather discriminated against in this country. Personally, being white, male, and Christian (albeit Catholic), I've never bumped up against prejudice of any real substance within national borders--and judging from the preponderance of Mc-O-Fitz-henny names one finds in positions of civic and commercial leadership, there isn't much anti-Irish feeling lingering in the halls of power.

Generally, the way these things go is that one group viewed as suspect by a larger group is eventually assimilated, and a new group takes its place as the reviled outsider. So, like so many things, bigotry is a conserved quantity: it is neither created nor destroyed, only transferred.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Snow in March
DATE:
Mar-16-2004

It snowed today -- mid-March in northern New Jersey. A heavy, wet, slippery, all-around unpleasant snow. In the evening, three teenage girls knocked on my door and offered to shovel my driveway for $20. They did a better job than I would have in about half the time. I gave them $30.

Man, do I feel old.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
"One Down, One to Go"
DATE:
Mar-15-2004

A few weeks ago along a highway near where I live, a banner appeared. It's about 30 feet long, professionally made, and strung across a private fence. It reads:

One down, one to go...
Osama, you're next!
God Bless America

One could tee-off on this in many ways, but what really catches my mind's eye is the one-down-one to-go concept. Does whoever put this up (presumably a private citizen) actually think that "getting" Saddam and Osama represents any kind of closure on threat to America? Or even that once both those individuals are captured or killed, U.S. citizens are somehow safer? Obviously, that's the relatively comforting myth that the administration would like the population to believe, but is there really someone out there with access to banner-making resources who believes it?

Regardless of your political affiliations, if you're that gullible and that committed, I say you're a pretty significant threat to society all by yourself.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Dragon v. Dragon
DATE:
Mar-14-2004

Caught a movie (it was TV weekend!) on cable called Reign of Fire (2002) about fire-breathing dragons destroying the world. For those of you (and you know who you are) that are into that kind of thing, it's a so-so film. Decent cast and production values set it above your average "Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie" but script-wise, it's pretty run-of-the-mill monster movie stuff.

One thing though: I recall seeing an interview with some people involved in the special effects, and they were bragging about how they created these unique CGI dragons--part bat, part serpent, part dinosaur, etc. They claimed that moviegoers had never seen a creature like this before.

Dragon apples.

The design of the creatures--which weren't bad as special effects--was completely lifted from a 1981 movie called Dragonslayer. The way the dragon looked, flew, crawled, breathed fire, had all been worked out using stop-motion puppetry 20 years prior. For these guys to not even mention that is unforgiveable. I don't think it undermines their craftsmanship at all to admit they were influenced by a pre-exisiting work. To not do so is just bad form.

Seriously. Watch both movies sometime and see for yourself. Although, if you're the type of person who'd even consider watching movies about dragons, I'm sure you've seen both already.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The School of Rock
DATE:
Mar-13-2004

Rented The School of Rock tonight. Very enjoyable. Jack Black gives one of the best comic performances I ever seen on film. The manic energy with which he screws up his face and flings around his pudgy body is amazing. In itself, that could get old pretty quick, but his contortions are all in the service of something greater than slapstick. At it's core, the movie is about inviting others to share in something you love. He loves rock music, and his ludicrous enthusiasm draws in a group of kids--for whom "rock and roll" is as alien an artifact as a 45 record adapter (remember, the little yellow triskelion). Same thing with the performance. He has so much fun, you have a blast watching him.

The rest of the film is pretty good, too. The kids and the adult supporting cast are excellent. Joan Cusack channeling her inner Nicks is worth the price of the rental alone. The story is 100% Screenwriting 101 formula--you've seen it a hundred times--but it's so well done it feels fresh. Much of what could have come off cliched, even a tad offensive, is handled with such a smart, quick-witted touch that it goes down smooth. High Art it ain't; 113 minutes of entertainment it is.

The only thing that bugged me: how rock and roll--once vilified as the destroyer of youth and sanctified as a savior of individuality--has become quaint. Look at the cute kids playing electric guitars! No rebellion, no anger... just a school play with power chords. As a pushing-40 with kids, I enjoyed the sweetness of the movie--but somewhere in me there's a surly 16-year that thinks it was sanitized pap from the establishment. I guess I've become my own generation gap.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
See You in the Funny Papers
DATE:
Mar-12-2004

On my morning train commute, I always notice people reading the comics. You know, the funnies ... newspaper cartoons ... whatever you call them.

I never see anyone laugh, though. Mostly it seems they exist to provide a comfortable, brain-idling distraction when the news itself is overwhelming (what else could explain Marmaduke?). Still, over the years, there have been some I've enjoyed. The Far Side. Dilbert. Funky Winkerbean. Shoe. Calvin and Hobbes. Mother Goose & Grim. Tank McNamara.

Wow, that's a lot. I guess my brain idles more than I realized.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Train Bombs in Madrid
DATE:
Mar-11-2004

A terrible, senseless, tragic event. As someone who was in Manhattan on 9/11, my sympathies really go out to all the people affected by this.

If it turns out this was, in fact, an Al-Qaeda attack and the date was specifically chosen for the two-and-an-half year anniversary of 9/11--that will really piss me off. If there's anything worse than pointless violence, it's pointless violence some troglodyte thinks makes a point.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
L. Ron Hubbard's Millions
DATE:
Mar-10-2004

The economics of religion is an old interest of mine, and much in vogue at the moment. I was recently reminded of a famous quote attributed to sci-fi author and Dianetics creator L. Ron Hubbard. There are many variations and no one definitive phrasing, but this is essentially what he is said to have said:

"The way to make a million dollars is to start a religion." - for more detail, see Don Lindsay archive on Scientology

Now, I don't care much about The Church of Scientology. Yes, it's a big money-making, tax-dodging operation that has a mean litigious streak -- but I'll be Xenu's uncle if you can't say as much and more about almost any major religion or corporation. Like energy, wealth and power are conserved phenomena. You can't create them, only borrow them from other sources.

What strikes me is the simple truth of Hubbard's attributed maxim. If he in fact said it (and there seems to be some credible hearsay to that effect), he really hit the nail on the head. Believers make the best customers, prosletytes are the best salesmen, and the gods choose the best chief executives. Everybody from the Pharaohs on down has known this, yet you still find people who assert that faith and finance don't belong together.

There's a famous quote attributed to P.T. Barnum...

-- mm

P.S. - Note to Church of Scientology lawyers: Feel free to sue me. I could use the publicity.


SUBJECT:
--
DATE:
Mar-1to9-2004

No blog. Moving.

-- mm




 





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