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Matt McHugh
Matt McHugh.com - Blog - June 2005

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SUBJECT:
Marketing Cult Church Still at It
DATE:
June 30, 2005

The other day near my office, representatives of a "church" (that what they say they are) were handing out free snacks and color advertising postcards on the corner by the train station. They were back again today; I got a pack of Doublemint and different postcard, still advertising their pseudo-church that meets on Sundays in a public school.

I'm still convinced this is some kind of cult. What do I mean by cult? Well, I guess any religious organization that uses spirituality as front for psychologically extorting loyalty and money from members. Basically, it's a tax dodge with some mind games involved to help secure revenue streams. By that definition there's probably a lot of institutions one could find that qualify.

Religion is like art: if enough people aren't interested in it to support its existence, well, that's like a kind of natural selection.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Not Just Zombie Dreaming
DATE:
June 29, 2005

The other night I had a vast, cinematic dream inspired by the latest "Living Dead" movie (which I have not seen). I rarely have dreams of this kind that are so long and complicated--maybe one a year, really... at least that I can recall--that I like to record them.

I'm not a believer in dream analysis as some fantastic psychological tool. I think the imagery and content of dreams are more readily influenced by superficial conscious experience than deep subconcious longings. For example, I'd recently read a movie review with gave a plot structure to my dream. I'd been reading an article about race and class which gave a theme to the dream (the lead human and lead zombie were played in my dream by famous white and black actors), and not long ago I saw an adult with Down syndrome shuffling and yelling excitedly at a public park, which gave the personality to my lead character. I can find many other direct conscious emotions that gave rise to elements in the dream (concern over war, disease, shark attacks, etc). And I am, after all, a consumate dabbler in fiction writing, so it's logical enough to me that my brain keeps doing it when I'm asleep.

Analyzing my dreams might tell you a good bit about me, but nothing that I couldn't have told you already.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Zombie Dream
DATE:
June 28, 2005

Had a wild dream last night. I'd recently read a review of the new movie Land of the Dead, from genre granddaddy George A. Romero. Basically, the dream was a vast elaboration of that movie's plot synopsis, where survivors of a zombie-inducing plague live in a fortress city ruled by a evil corporate overlord while the legions of flesh-eating undead outside are becoming a little less mindless and a little more organized. (Note that I typically don't watch these movies; they seem kind of interesting as broad social commentary, but I generally don't enjoy gore for gore's sake in film.)

Anyway, my dream really went heavy on the social commentary aspect with the fortress city surrounded by a country club where the zombies had either agreed by treated and/or been conditioned by violence not to tread. The lead zombie was played by Laurence Fishburne as a kind-hearted retarded simpleton (a genius by zombie standards) who's presence at negotiations were condescendingly tolerated by the ruler of the city, played by Sam Neil. There was a woman--not sure who played her--who actually treated the Fisburne-Gump zombie with some kindess, actually going so far as to accept a childlike hug without display too much revulsion. There was, however, a strong sense that a betrayal was coming--i.e, the humans would reneg on some deal and the zombies would retaliate--but I didn't get to see that in the dream.

Beyond this main story, there were numerous chase and escape scenes. I was involved in the first person in at least two that I recall and they were quite harrowing. There was one scene where the regular humans, looting a deserted city for food, drove past crowds of zombies, beaning them with baseball bats like teenage punks bashing country mailboxes. In one graphic scene, two zombies captured and tortured a human. There was some backstory on the Fishburne zombie leader: he was a mortician when the plague hit and his exposure to embalming chemicals helped minimize the effect the disease had on him. There was even a medical explanation of the disease--something about massive necrotization or organ and nerve tissue creating an insatiable craving for living flesh. The dream spanned several REM cycles--I kept waking and then returning to it--and left me utterly exhausted by morning.

It was one for the books.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Church Marketing
DATE:
June 27, 2005

Here's a good one. I'm walking down the street near my office when I see a cluster of half a dozen people handing out free sample somethings and flyers. I take one. I got a package of those orange cheese crackers with peanut butter, which I thought were only still available in battered old snack machines in rundown bus terminals, but I was wrong apparently. The postcard I got with it has stock photographs of the kind that moron art directors (there are other kinds... so I've heard) always pick when they want something to look "funky" (girl with pink hair, a rubber duck, rainbow toe socks, a chicken with sneakers, etc.).

Turns out the card is advertising a church. The Harbor View Community Church, which meets on Sundays in a school (?) in Hoboken. The copy promises a "church where you can be yourself" with "no judgment, no criticism" just "great music and biblical (sic) messages."

Now if that don't sound like a cult, I don't know what does. I mean, who else has money for four-color printing and giveaway snacks? The Catholic Church is the largest private landowner on the planet, yet Our Lady of Whosiwhats still xeroxes bingo night flyers and green paper remaindered at Staples. I swear, if I had Sundays free, I'd pop by just to see what the scam is. I've always wanted to join a cult and write a book about it. Just one more thing I should have done before I had kids.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
American Dad
DATE:
June 26, 2005

Caught the cartoon comedy series American Dad tonight. I'd seen a few things about it here and there and was curious. It's from the creator of another cartoon comedy series, Family Guy, which I've seen a few times and found fairly wretched.

Anyway,American Dad was actually slightly better than I expected. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend it, but if I'm flipping around on Sunday nights (which, now that Desperate Housewives is in reruns, I'm allowed to do), I might pause on it if nothing good is on Animal Planet.

Don't judge me too harshly. For years, Sunday night was my beloved TV night: 60 Minutes, Simpsons, King of the Hill, X-Files, then Star Trek reruns. Then came the Dark Time, when I lost control of the remote to the wife and the endless parade of HBO's hi-falutin' soap operas: Sopranos (don't like mafia stories), Sex and the City (the chicks are kind of hot, but, oh, so obnoxious), Six Feet Under (the most pretentious soap in history). I actually got into Carnivale, but it's been cancelled. Now, I'm stuck with Desperate Housewives (see S&tC comments)... so a lowbrow cartoon seems to me like a cathode ray of celluloid sunshine.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Last Throes
DATE:
June 25, 2005

I'm getting a kick over the hubbub over V.P. Dick Cheney's recent comment that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." Everybody from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the Commander of U.S. Central Command General John Abizaid has tried to back-pedal from this without seeming overtly contradictory or dismissive of Cheney, who has since stood by his rather oblivious comment. On one level, I really, really, really want to see the historically unparalleled stupidity and arrogance of the Bush Administration get its comeupance on this point; on the other, it infuriates me that U.S. soldiers are getting killed daily and no one in power has a clue how to turn that around. How this country failed to hold Dubya and Co. accountable for that still baffles, but does not surprise me.

Though, to look at it through red-state colored glasses: I'm basically doing OK. I've got a decent level of disposable income and a comfortable suburban life that far exceeds the standard of living of the vast, vast majority of people on this planet and which no small percentage of people in this country seem to perceive as a literally God-given right (don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for it... I just don't think it's a gift of Divine Providence for having been born in the right country). Fellow American citizens dying in a country I'll never go to doesn't really affect me much. How about you? Hence the conundrum: except for a few (relatively speaking) profoundly affected American families, most of us will glide right through this thing just fine no matter how bad it gets.

Now rising gas prices... oooh, that just makes millions upon millions of registered voters hopping mad. If I have to pay more to fill up my SUV, well, I'm just not going to stand for that. U.S. soldiers dying pointlessly in a conflict that will never yield a satisfactory ending? Heck, I'll just put a flag on my car and feel good about it.

Provided I can drive it cheaply... that's key.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
PC Booze Peddler Gardens
DATE:
June 24, 2005

Speaking of Anheuser-Busch theme parks, I just want to point out that I do remember when Europe-themed Busch Gardens Williamsburg was called "The Old Country" and African-themed Busch Gardens Tampa was called "The Dark Continent." That's going back probably 20 years or so now.

I can certainly see how both names have some decidely politically incorrect, 19th-century overtones, and changing them is a pretty simple business decision to avoid bad press. Still, it's an interesting detail in contemporary American cultural history that some marketing guy could have proposed those names and had them accepted, then have that decision--behind which who knows how many millions had been invested--reversed within two decades. For two hundred years, an American institution calling Europe the Old Country and Africa the Dark Continent would have seemed perfectly acceptable to the vast majority. Now, it's unthinkable.

Interesting, the ebb and flow of attitudes over time.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Theme Parks
DATE:
June 23, 2005

I've always been fascinated by theme parks. I guess most Americans are, which is why we have so many, but I've always been curious about the behind the scenes aspects as much as the upfront entertainments. How they're planned, designed, built, financed, maintained, upgraded, etc. I've seen tidbits here and there about this--there's always a slew of Discovery channel specials about roller coasters in early summer--but that mostly centers on ride design which, while fascinating, is not the whole picture.

A good theme park is the closest thing to planned city in a benevolent totalitarian world as I'd ever want to come. Somebody with a vision (and a shedload of money) concocts away to keep people amused and make a profit at the same time. You've got Uncle Walt, the original Philosopher King of the realm. Behind that, you've got your upscale Anheuser-Busch properties (Sesame Place, Sea World, Euro-themed Busch Gardens Williamsburg, African-) and your lowbrow Six Flags ridefests (any park that tries to accomodate, rather than remove, the gum stuck on park property--and all you that have been to Great Adventure in New Jersey know just what I mean--is clearly aiming an for a lowest common denominator). I'd just love to peek behind the curtain at the Board meetings of any of these places and see what goes on.

I suppose I could just get the Sim Theme Park computer game and see how that plays out. I've heard Roller Coaster Tycoon series is better, but the don't make a Mac version.

Who am I kidding? Like I have time to take on a new hobby... especially one that requires I spend more time at the computer? I doubt that's even physically possible without cutting into meals and bathroom time.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Sesame Place Day 2
DATE:
June 22, 2005

Day 2 of the family Sesame Place trip.

Got up, checked out of the motel, got breakfast, and were in the park by @ 11:30 (much later than we anticipated... you know how these things go). We went straight to a watery spot with a couple of wading pools and waterfalls. After yesterday's fiasco in the big raft slide, my son would have nothing do to with a very small inner tube slide, where even kids going through it wearing hats were coming out dry. In his defense, part of it was obscured by trees; he might have gone had he been able to see the whole thing. So mostly we just splashed around for an hour or so and had a grand old time. After that, there were a few rides (teacups, a Ferris thing, a moderate little roller coaster with about a 40-foot, 25 mph drop) and lots of playtime in giant sandboxes and a big padded pit (I've often thought that if I designed a day care center, a big padded pit would pretty much be it).There's also a three-story labyrinth of nets for kids--and their stupid parents--to climb on. For little ones who can easily walk on hands and feet, it's no problem. For creaky, middle-aged fat guys with bad backs, it's quite an ordeal, but I survived. Ripped half a thumbnail off, though. Had to sign a release form to get a band aid at the medical assistance stand.

Late in the day, we had one incident. There's a lazy river tube ride that we all went on. As soon as the girl realized she was going to be floating on a tube on the water, the memory of the plummet-splash flume ride caused her to scream the entire way. The boy freaked out a few times when his tube drifted close to the little waterfalls. I had to get out and walk him along so he didn't come close to any spraying water. What should have been a relaxing drift in the pool turned into a blood pressure-raising screamfest. After we got out, the boy whined about something or other and I yelled at him that he was being very bad and I would never take him anywhere fun again. He cried and I felt like shit--but we got over it. Actually, we felt kind of charmed because we took a dinner break outside the park just in time for a torrential cloudburst. When we returned, the sun was out and everybody around us was soaked to the skin. Suckers!

So, Sesame Place 2005... in the can, and all told, a good experience all around. I highly recommend it for the pre-school set, and there's enough stuff to keep older kids amused for a few hours at least. Note that we made sure to go mid-week in June when the park was pretty sparsely populated. I've talked to people who've gone on weekends in August and they say it's a half-hour wait to get into a bathroom. That don't sound like no fun with two little ones, so caveat emptor.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Sesame Place Day 1
DATE:
June 21, 2005

Took the kids (2 and 4) to Sesame Place today. It's a Sesame Street-themed theme park aimed squarely at the little ones--lots of costumed characters and wet and dry play areas, in addition to bigger (but still pretty mild) rides and water slides. We've been once before, when the boy was about 18 months--too young too grasp much of it. They're perfect ages now, and had an absolute blast. I'm figuring we can probably get away with this place for a couple more years before we have to graduate up to (shudder!) Disney. We did make the mistake of taking them on a big water slide in a rubber raft. The boy wanted to go, and we figured the girl would just think it was like a regular playground slide. My son is pretty anxious about getting splashed unexpectedly, so he didn't like that part. My daughter just wailed the entire time. OK, so the raft slide was a bust, but most everything else was a big hit. The 18" deep wading pool with squirty fountains paradise for them, and the Elmo's World Live show had them both shrieking for joy.

Sesame Place is located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, not far from where I grew up. It's about a two-hour drive (in moderate traffic) from where we live, so we stayed in a motel for a two-day thing. First time we've had both kids in a motel overnight... it went about as well as could be hoped. I took one, my wife took the other, in the two beds. At around 9:45 pm, We turned down the lights and rented a kids' movie (Shark Tale, better than I'd expected). She fell asleep an hour in; he stayed up and asked for another movie at 11:15--but took it pretty well when we said lights out. They slept till 8:00 am.

On to day 2.

-- mm

All about it on sesameplace.com


SUBJECT:
Most Popular, It Is
DATE:
June 20, 2005

So take a guess what the most popular file on my website is, according to my host server statistics report? Is it any of my well-crafted works of fiction I have labored mightily upon? Or one of the illustrations I created for a particularly story? Perhaps something in the humorous and/or thought-provoking and/or inflammatory vein in my ever-growing blog? An MP3 of some musical noodlings?

Nope. It's a goddamn animated GIF, with a picture Yoda that fades (I can't even say it "morphs") into Pope John Paul II. I just thought they looked a bit alike, so I put together a simple animation to illustrate the point. It's not even particularly well done. I made it using 10-year old freeware and it's grainy and rough. In the past three months, it's been served 6,884 times and constitutes over 73% of the total traffic on my site.

This has happened to me before. You work hard at something that goes all but unnoticed, but everybody remembers the goofy little throwaway gag. I guess I shouldn't complain... no such thing as bad publicity, I suppose. Still it's hard to tell if this is people actually passing it around for a chuckle (which is fine) or just web spiders picking up on animated GIFs thoughtlessly (which is annoying). So it goes. Still, if this file gets much more traffic, I might have to take down, lest it cost me extra hosting fees.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Origin of Term: Trailer
DATE:
June 19, 2005

According to the website, wordorigins.org, the term "trailer" to describe a short film, often an advertisement of a forthcoming movie, was first used in 1928. It explains that, at the time, movies were shown continuously in theaters (Ever do that as a kid? Come in the middle of a movie, then stick around for the next showing until you got to the part where you came in? I remember doing that often with my perpetually late family.) and the coming attractions were typically spliced onto the last reel of the movie, hence--even though they trailed at the end, they were often see prior to the beginning of a movie by those sitting through multiple showings.

Sounds logical enough to me. I'll buy it.

BTW, wordorigins.org is a fun site to browse around in for a while. Now I know where "bimbo," "trip the light fantastick," and "say uncle" came from.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
The Trailing Edge
DATE:
June 18, 2005

I've been watching a lot of movie trailers lately. I used to try to avoid them--not wanting my cinematic experience "spoiled"--but with small kids, going to the movies is a pretty rare experience so I figure what the heck. The best of them are suspenseful little movies unto themselves; the worst--notably for romantic comedies--just give the whole plot away. Since I would never dream of actually paying money to see anything with, say, Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant together, the giveaway trailer pretty much gives me all the cinematic experience in that category I could want.

One of the reasons I've gotten so interested in trailers lately (besides my trying to figure out if I can rip bits of them off for gags at work) is my four-year-old son. He loves to watch "computer movies" and simply doesn't know any better--i.e., the 90-second little ditty on screen is the movie to him. I let him watch a lot of trailers where I'd never consider taking him to the movie: Fantastic Four (too violent), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (too bizarro), Herbie: Fully Loaded (too stupid); and even ones I might consider: SharkBoy and LavaGirl (he's borderline obsessed with it), Chronicles of Narnia (I can just hear studio execs looking at grosses from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter saying, "Hey, this crap actually sells if you put a little effort behind it!"), or Wallace and Gromit (though the claymation, which I love, seems to scare him a little).

Watching a few trailers with the kid has proven a very good way to get some concentrated entertainment in without the hassle (and almost unvarying disappointment) of actually going to a movie. I also like to read book reviews in place of books I'll never get around to reading. Hey... I'm a busy guy!

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Clipping Video
DATE:
June 17, 2005

I've been trying to come up with a way to add video clips to a PowerPoint presentation I'm doing for work. Ideally, I'd like to take famous movie moments ("Make him an offer he can't refuse" ... "Pay no attention to the man behind the screen!" ... "If you build it, he will come") and just use them as punctuation in an otherwise routine product presentation.

Unfortunately, I haven't found a really easy way to do this. You can't just rip out clips directly from DVD to Quicktime--the whole copy-protection thing makes sure of that. There seem to be ways around it of varying degrees of legality, but still nothing that's (to my thinking) really easy. It would be lovely if you could download famous clips--I'd even consider paying for them--but there doesn't seem to be a big market for that either.

Here's an interesting compromise I've found: extract clips from movie trailers. If you go to the Apple site, they have an area devoted to new movies with dozens of trailers, all neatly presented in Quicktime .mov format in varying sizes. Just pay the $29.95 for QuickTime Pro and you'll have the ability to save trailers and even cut out portions of them with a simple copy and paste. They may not be as classic as "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," but some are pretty good. There's a few moments from the upcoming Wallace and Gromit movie that are sure to get a laugh.

Lemonade from lemons!

-- mm

Movie trailers a-plenty at apple.com/trailers


SUBJECT:
eBay Slams Back
DATE:
June 16, 2005

Philanthropist concert promoter (talk about creating a new category for yourself) Bob Geldof recently created a stir by encouraging people to defraud eBay on auctions involving the free-by-lottery "Live 8" poverty-awareness concert tickets. Enough people either defaulted on ridiculously high bids, or placed false tickets for sale--all as acts of Geldof-inspired protest--that eBay reversed its policy and promised to remove any Live 8 ticket auctions.

Of course, they we're happy about this. It not only cuts into the cut they would have made from such tickets sales (which, given the total size of their revenues, would have been miniscule) but also reveals a serious chink in their armor. eBay has vowed to remove the accounts of anyone who falsely bid or falsely auctioned tickets--but since, I suspect, most people savvy enough to have done either would have created a "shadow" account (all you need is an e-mail address) specifically for their action.

I feel a little bad for eBay, I mean inasmuch as a working schumck can feel bad for a corporation worth billions. They're kind of stuck in the middle, dealing with people's bad behavior on both ends. On the one hand, your got charity profiteers selling free concert tickets--a perfectly legal, if somewhat slimy, practice. On the other, you've got self-righteous rebels mucking with your business model and making you look bad in the press. Chalk it all up to the cost of doing business in the big, global cyber-city.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Geldof Slams eBay
DATE:
June 15, 2005

Bob Geldof, lead singer of the inconsequential Boomtown Rats who has achieved knighthood through his fundraising concert organizing (Live Aid, etc.), is currently putting together a new one, Live 8 (sounds like an obscure video format, no?). This one, is intended to raise awareness of global poverty and will coincide with a meeting of the G8 countries in Scotland this July. Simultaneous concerts will taken place in Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Philadelphia.

As mentioned, this one is intended to raise awareness, not money. Therefore, tickets are free and were given out recently by lottery. Now course, as soon as tickets were distributed, they started appearing on eBay. Geldof, peeved that some people were trying to profit from the free event, asked eBay to remove them. They did not, saying there was nothing illegal about them. Geldof then recommended that supportive fans undermine their sale by 1) posting false tickets-for-sale messages, and/or 2) ridiculously over-bidding for tickets. Apparently, enough people did this that eBay capitulated and said they would removed any Live 8 ticket auctions they found running on the site.

I love this. Geldof is definitely a bit full of himself, but you've got to appreciate his ingenuity here. Getting enough people to be disruptive in a non-violent (if user agreement-violating way) to compel a big corporation to change its policy in a day is a pretty impressive example of protest democracy in action for the digital age.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Citizen Ruth
DATE:
June 14, 2005

Caught the tail end of a movie on cable that I've seen before and like quite a bit. It's rather dark-humored social comedy entitled Citizen Ruth, starring Laura Dern as a drug addict who gets pregnant and finds herself at the center of a pro/con abortion firestorm. Given the prevalent assumption that all Hollywood is irrevocably left-leaning, this movie--which was independently produced--does a pretty fair job of presenting both sides' arguments then proceeding to mock them mercilessly. In the middle is Ruth, a deeply reprehensible person at almost every level, who utterly lacks the character to make any choice of any kind and simply agrees with the person who last spoke to her (usually in hope that they'll leave her alone so she can go get high).

Taking sides is real big nowadays, and no single issue is generally more politically polarizing than abortion. In light of that, I have a particular fondness for this film that refuses to take either side seriously, yet does not dismiss them frivolously. It's a satire of how people adopt causes for very personal, often highly irrational reasons. Both sides are intoxicated with a sense of moral rectitude, and neither cares a jot for Ruth (again, she's pretty much beyond caring about). The scenes of agitated crowds brandishing signs and screaming at each other as Ruth, supposedly the focus of their passion, slinks away utterly unnoticed says it all.

Everybody likes to be right, and to enjoy the feel of their own ethical vehemence from time to time. However, it's pretty hard to be fully right and fully honest at the same time. I just wish more people would sacrifice rightness for honesty a little more often.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Michael Jackson Verdict
DATE:
June 13, 2005

Here's all I have to say about the Michael Jackson verdict (besides I told you so):

It was announced that jury was in and it would be announced around 4:45 pm. However, it seems the whole Internet was clogged with people trying to log in to CNN.com so I didn't get a chance to check it out before I left work. At home, it was wrangling the kids for dinner and baths. My boy always gets to play computer before bed, and he wanted to play a game with Captain Underpants (for those of you on the outs, Captain Underpants is the hero of a silly, scatological series of children's books by Dav Pilkey). I opened my browser and did a quick CNN check for the MJ verdict (acquitted on all counts... it's nice to know we've come so far in this country that rich black guys get off as consistently as rich white guys). When the page came up, front and center was a close-up of the ghastly pantomime wreck that Jackson's face has become. My four-year-old boy took a look and asked: "Is that Captain Underpants?"

Yep. Pretty much, son. Pretty much.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Disposable Video Camera
DATE:
June 12, 2005

Here's the latest abomination soon to hit the dustbin of consumer marketing history: a disposable video camera. You buy (perhaps rent is more accurate) the thing from CVS (the current exclusive retailer) for $29.95, shoot for 20 minutes, then take it back to CVS and pay $12.99 to get back a DVD of what you shot. They keep the camera, supposedly re-fit and re-sell it up to five times, they claim. It uses no tape, just internal flash memory, so it should be fairly rugged and, ideally, infinitely reusable. Of course, you, the buyer/renter, can't reuse it. It has no way to allow the user to download the contents. Once it's full, it's locked up and you have to take it back for "processing" (at the additional cost)

Now, I admit this is an interesting doohickey and I'd love to give it a try. However, the whole sales model designed to keep you coming back and paying more for the DVD and building a piece of technology that will just get thrown away (yeah right... they'll be able to resell this thing after some yutz bangs it around in his gym bag for a while) really offends me. The right way to do it is to sell the same camcorder for, say, $79.95, allow uses to download the content themselves, and offer an optional DVD for $12.99 for those who don't want to bother.

Unfortunately, it's not like that. Extortion and waste have become perfectly viable sales models nowadays. It's the way of American business today, folks. My main consolation is that as soon as it's on the market, somebody will figure out how to hack it and render the whole business model moot. That's the way of American outlaw consumer resourcefulness... and I'm damn proud of it.

-- mm

Disposable camcorder article npr.org


SUBJECT:
Wikipedia Edit
DATE:
June 11, 2005

Speaking of Steve Guttenberg (bet that's this the most you've heard of that name in years) and his 15 minutes of comic infamy in the Stonecutters' song, I decided that deserved a little wider visibility than my humble blog could give. So I added it to his Wikipedia entry.

Do you know Wikipedia? I've read somewhere that it's the largest encyclopedia ever assembled. Basically, it's a completely open source document where anyone can come in and edit or add to it. There are supposedly 1.5 million entries in 76 languages, and it constantly grows. Founder Jimmy Wales still maintains a measure of editorial control in some areas (he locked the John Kerry and George Bush entries during the election), and it has profanity-scouring software, but for the most part, it's simply the result of what each person leaves. Spend some time in it and you'll find it's pretty fascinating. Most entries read like an overkill of obsessive detail, but a consensus of style and even accuracy does seem to emerge.

In many ways, it is the ultimate expression of democracy in action. A whole to which all are free to contribute at will. Messy sometimes, contentious often, yet, in the end, ultimately something much greater than any one person or team could achieve. Check it out sometime: wikipedia.org, English version.

-- mm

An article about Wikipedia and its creator on time.com


SUBJECT:
Steve Guttenberg
DATE:
June 10, 2005

Steve Guttenberg. There's somebody I haven't thought about in years. I have nothing against him. Just a movie actor who's had some ups and downs. Probably overdue for an up, though. Checking over his resume of the last few years, it's got some serious clinkers. Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus. P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Casper: A Spirited Beginning. I haven't seen any of them... don't think I have to make an educated guess about their quality. I see he's in a TV miniseries remake of The Poseidon Adventure. Hey, at least he's working.

Heck, he's survived four Police Academies and two Cocoons... that's got to count for something. He actually seemed to have a pretty respectable early resume, appearing in Something for Joey, The Boys from Brazil, and Diner. I actually remember him very clearly from a very short-lived TV show in early 80's called "No Soap, Radio." It was an utterly bizzaro comedy that was all the rage in high school for the four weeks it aired. I'd love to dig it up and see if it's anything like I remember.

Actually, I'll never hear Steve Guttenberg's name without thinking of his mention in The Simpson's Stonecutter's song. For you non-hip folks, the Stonecutters are a take off on the Freemasons ("Tonight my brothers, in honor of our 4,000 years of continued existence, we are having ribs."). During one of their weekly beer blasts, they sing a rousing drinking song cataloging how they secretly shape history ("Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do!"). The line I can't forget: "Who holds back the electric car? Who made Steve Guttenberg a star?"

Who knows. Might be true. I mean, Short Circuit would have killed any mere mortal's career.

-- mm

Steve Guttenberg's filmography on imdb.com


SUBJECT:
First Celebrity...Four Syllables...Looks Like...
DATE:
June 9, 2005

Riding the train home from work the other night, I see an ad for a new game show on AMC--the $1 movie theater of basic cable--called Celebrity Charades. The tagline reads: "It's every actor, writer, director, comedian, and fashion-queen for themselves." So, apparently, it's a game show featuring celebrities playing charades... sort of a Win, Lose, or Draw without paper (there's something profoundly twisted in that I remember that and make the association.)

On the ad poster, they have pictures of bunch of, presumably, celebrities playing this game. I don't recognize many of them. I think one is perpetual-career-slump actor Steve Guttenberg, though he looks old (I guess he's getting on... what? late-forties?*). I believe another is ER alumna Julianna Margulies; I've always found her fairly hot, so she sticks in my mind. And there's the flaming guy from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (though the "fashion-queen" in the tagline gave that one away). Everybody else on the poster, maybe six or seven faces... complete blank. No clue. I guess they're some of the aforementioned actors/writers/directors/comedians (the fashion-queen is accounted for).

Now these people--the known and unknown to me--may well be acclaimed and popular in their fields, perhaps graced a few magazine covers here or there, but whether they meet the celebrity criteria is open to interpretation. As I see it, if you require a footnote explaining what you're famous for, you're not really famous. I'm not knocking them; I'm just knocking the concept of selling a second-rate game show (is there another kind?) with obscure celebrities. I guess it's a tried-and-true formula, but I enjoy seeing nobodies make fools of themselves just as much as the quasi-famous. Besides, the nobodies work much cheaper.

-- mm

* BTW... Steve Guttenberg - born 1958 in New York.


SUBJECT:
Intel on a Mac
DATE:
June 8, 2005

The recent announcement that Apple is looking to start using Intel processors in future Macs reminded me of an incident from a few years ago. There was an Intel commercial (circa 1995?) that showed their processor swooping like a stiff flying carpet through a fantasy cityscape of circuit boards until in plugged itself into the motherboard slot and dissolved in an apotheosis of light. It was a computer-generated animation back when such things were a novelty, and I recall shortly after it aired, it's dirty little secret being revealed in Macworld (back when I subscribed): the commercial was done on a Mac.

Little victories like that made being a Mac fan through the Sculley-Amelio-Spindler Dark Ages palatable.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Schundler in Hoboken
DATE:
June 7, 2005

New Jersey Republican gubernatorial (still love that word) candidate Brett Shundler showed up in Hoboken train station this morning, passing out flyers and shaking hands. Didn't get a chance to needle him about his website lifting a Howard Dean rally pic.

Schundler is a Harvard alum, former Wall Streeter who served two terms as a mayor of Jersey City--which is actually an interesting proving ground for New Jersey in its ethnic diversity, troubled economic and education spots, and the way it butts against serious New York money (the Jersey City Harborside Center is commonly known as Wall Street West nowadays). Actually, the main thing that gives me pause about Schundler--other than my innate distrust of Republicans (yes, I know Democrats can be shits, too--I've just become more comfortable with the smell of theirs)--is his penchant for talking about his devout Christian faith and God's calling him to be governor. People who like this kind of talk from politicians tend to argue (in the rare cases where such people actually have the wit to construct an argument) that someone with strong beliefs shouldn't be afraid to speak of them openly. Of course, they only mean this in application to those of the Christian faith. You won't find conservatives rallying around outspokenly devout Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, or Secular Humanist politicians... no matter how much they vow to cut taxes.

The principles of religious freedom and separation of Church and State, to me, mean just that: you should be free to believe in and practice whatever religion you like, but such beliefs and practice should be kept out of public policy. Of course, every person is informed and influence by their beliefs, but politicians who trumpet their "devout Christianity" are simply playing to a current fad of overt religious prejudice toward institutionalizing nominal Christianity (actual Christians would never support preemptive invasions nor piss and moan about their taxes supporting welfare) as the state religion.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Apple Goes Intel
DATE:
June 6, 2005

Steve Jobs announced today that Apple would start looking to PC-industry leader Intel to make processors for the next generation Macs, citing problems and limitations in the current PowerPC processors made by IBM and the chip-maker formerly known as Motorola. Apparently, Steve's been planning this for years and has had OSX developed so it can be easily ported to Intel's architecture.

Now, I'm definitely a Mac fan though not quite of the full-blown Apple faithful. Steve is certainly capable of making bad business decisions covered up with exquisite marketing--in fact, he excels at it--however, I think this is a good one. Intel's definitely pulled ahead in the last few years on speed, power consumption, and cost control and Apple's wise to not simply pretend they haven't. It's software and design that makes the Mac an exceptional personal computer; it's hardware, frankly, is sometimes clunkier than it ought to be. I've owned five--not to mention had at least as many at work--and I've encountered my share of hiccups. Still, nothing in my Mac experience has compared to the almost daily buggy-crashy-glitchy and just plain obtuseness of Windows and other MS products.

Still, I don't relish the thought of seeing commercials with those multi-colored cleanroom suit guys dancing around with new Powerbooks. A sad day in geekdom come!

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Self-Full-of-It Prophecy
DATE:
June 5, 2005

Sat through a 1995 movie called The Prophecy tonight. Christopher Walken stars as the archangel Gabriel gone bad, walking the Earth searching for the soul of a recently deceased psychotic general to help him wage war in Heaven against the angels who still support God in His love of humanity. Along the way, respectable actors such as Eric Stoltz, Amanda Plummer, Virgina Madsen (pre Sideways) and Viggo Mortenson (pre LOTR) get to say some silly, Biblicalesque lines about Heaven and Hell, Life and Death, Good and Evil... and have fun calling humans talking monkeys and skin bags.

This movie was not quite as bad as it sounds, though it was band enough. I can sit through almost any kind of schlocky sci-fi, but schlocky Biblical bugs me. I can't help but think about how theologically nonsensical it all is and that just gets in the way of me taking a nice, relaxing soak in the schlock.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Just a Crowd in the Face
DATE:
June 4, 2005

New Jersey Republican gubernatorial (love that word) candidate Bret Shundler has been campaigning hard already. I see his Schundler reFORm Governor signs all around already. Apparently property tax reform is the thing foremost on NJ voters' minds. As a North Jersey property owner, I suppose I wouldn't mind paying a little less for the privilege residing on my 32nd-of-an-acre plot-- though when I drive by the more blighted neighborhoods of Patterson and Newark, I wouldn't my paying a little more to see them cleaned up. But I digress...

On Schundler's website, there's a REFORMGear page where you can buy $20 t-shirts and $3 buttons to support Schundler, if such is your bent. The page had an image of a joyous crowd, t-shirted and buttoned, waving behind a confident-looking Schundler. However, some wag on the left-leaning blog DailyKos noticed that the crowd of happy supports backing Schundler were actually lifted from a photo taken at rally for Democrat Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid. Dean had been replaced by Schundler and the name changed on the shirts, hats, and buttons.

Now, there are two possibilities here: this was either done on purpose, or by accident. Accident meaning somebody on the Schundler site came across the Dean photo and thought nobody would notice if they modified it--after all, it's just a crowd at a rally. On purpose implies they wanted someone to notice as a political comment. I'm guessing it's by accident, but you never can be sure.

Anyhoo, here's the Schundler crowd page and Dean rally picture noted on DailyKos

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Hoagies
DATE:
June 3, 2005

Aside from my beloved, often-imitated/never-duplicated Philly Cheese Steak, another gastronomic delight from the City of Brotherly Love (FYI... that's just what the name means; it has nothing to do with the city's character whatsoever) that I can never pass up is the hoagie. Subs, grinders, po' poys... they're all essentially similar (a deli meat sandwich on a long roll with lettuce, tomato, and onion), but a good old Italian hoagie from Philly is a unique beast.

Here's what goes in one:

  • Genoa salami
  • Capicola ham
  • Prosciutto ham
  • Provolone cheese
  • schredded lettuce
  • thin sliced tomato
  • thin sliced raw onion
  • hot and/or sweet sliced peppers
  • sprinkle with olive oil and vinegar
  • make on a six- or twelve-inch Amoroso roll.

Best place outside the greater Philly area to get them? Wawa. Subway is OK, if you're further away.

-- mm


SUBJECT:
Philly Cheese Steaks in Hoboken
DATE:
June 2, 2005

Went out with a buddy tonight--a rare and treasured excursion for this family guy. We frequented the lowly, all but forgotten, Hoboken drinking establishment we favor precisely because of its aforementioned characteristics. However, as a change of pace, we left earlier than usual and walked along Washington St. looking for something to eat. Again, the main criteria was to find a lowly, all but forgotten, venue on that bustling, yuppie party strip.

We came across a little Philly Cheese Steaks place. Having grown up near, and hung out in, Philadelphia, I'm a snob in this area. Many times I have ordered the Philly Cheese Steak--from New York to Seattle--and been served some abomination. One place literally put a steak on a toasted bun. Most use hard sourdour rolls and American cheese. Uh-uh. A real Philly Cheese Steak is made with Steak-ums (you know, those frozen wafer-steaks you get at the supermarket), Cheese-Whiz, and onions grilled within and inch of their lives. This is a pretty easy recipe to mimick, yet so few places manage to even come close. I think that most self-respecting cooks can't really believe that's what people want, so they actually produce something of better quality. Ehhppmp! Thanks for playing, but I'm sorry, that's incorrect. A Philly Cheese Steak is crap. Wonderful, greasy, addicting crap.

Actually, the number one reason that you can't get a true Philly Cheese Steak outside of Philly is the bread. A true Philly Cheese Steak is made with an Amoroso hoagie roll. The Amoroso bakery is a Philly institution and produces a truly unique bread with a thin, soft crust and absorbent, chewy texture that perfectly compliments the steak-cheese-onion-grease ensemble. Can't make a real Philly Cheese Steak without an Amoroso roll.

However, this place in Hoboken... damn close. Easily the best Philly Cheese Steak I've ever had north of Olney Avenue.

-- mm

The story of the legendary Philly bakery at amorosobaking.com


SUBJECT:
Mediocrity Rules
DATE:
June 1, 2005

Having just had my 16th annual performance appraisal at my job, it's reminding me of what an ordinary schmoe I am. Oh, I'm doing all right, thank you very much. Nice house, with a hefty though not insane mortgage. Lovely wife and two beautiful, healthy children; they drive me bats sometimes, but I'm sure I return the favor. Decent job where I'm fairly well regarded, but essentially inconsequential. I'm in relatively good health, though I have lots of back problems that keep me constantly achy and have made me give up the strenuous physical activities I used to enjoy--but that's about par for course for a 40-year-old man.

Over the last two years, I've even managed to craft a dozen or so short stories I'm proud of to varying degrees--even published a few for (extremely paltry) pay. None are likely to live on past me, but so few writers produce work that does. Heck, even this blog, which has over 400 daily entries, I consider something of an accomplishment. Of course, nobody but a handful of acquaintances read it, but at least it exists.

I won't say that I don't dream of breaking out and becoming exceptional in some--really, any--area, but I'm not going to wither and die if it doesn't happen (i.e., if I fail to make happen). Excellence is hard work, and I'm just too unfocused to make a serious bid for it. So I am and will remain an average schmoe. It's not so bad, really. Come and join us. Sit down and have a beer. Chicken wing? Chips and salsa? Some of the guys are going bowling later... wanna tag along?

-- mm




 





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