January 30, 2006
The cruelest reality show
For the last year, singles have had a new way to advertise openings for companions: television. Comcast's Dating on Demand service was launched nationwide in February, 2005, allowing viewers to pull up short video profiles of singles across the country. Comcast says more than 20 million videos have been viewed, and it's easy to see why. They're like distilled reality shows, turning the quest for love into a spectator sport, and can quickly become addicting entertainment. And as a gimmick for the soul-searching television industry, it's particularly smart: It mimics the interactivity of the Internet, and does so with a service that's been big business online. In fact, there's only one group of people Dating on Demand seems to be bad for, and that's the one it's ostensibly designed to help.
Although sometimes embarrassing or ego busting, the old ways of public love quests were more controllable. Personal ads are so tightly bundled that there's little space for humiliation; online profiles can be carefully crafted (sometimes with professional help), with pictures thoughtfully chosen; speed-dating services may be awkward, but they leave no paper trail. But sit somebody down in front of a camera and ask them questions -- a format frequently used to create the Dating on Demand segments -- and they're not quite in control. The singles are less eloquent than they might be in writing, they're at the mercy of the service's editors, and then their generally unflattering interview is distributed nationwide. In one clip, a man is asked what he looks for in a woman; after stumbling through an answer, he admits he just wants someone with "a favorable chest." It's great TV, but will it get him a great date?
Comcast and its Dating on Demand online partner, HurryDate, seem to know the answer. The only way to really gauge the success of Dating on Demand is to see how many people view a segment and then go online to contact the single through HurryDate. Comcast said it has no statistics except for segment views, and HurryDate won't release website numbers. A spokesman told me, "Basically we can say that traffic to our site has increased since the partnership with Dating on Demand was launched." I'm willing to bet they'd be touting the numbers if they were impressive. People are watching for amusement, not for dates.
That's not to say the service is worthless. There are no doubt couples that have met through it, just like there are people who pick each other up at supermarkets. Love is resilient. But like reality television itself, the entertainment-styled success of Dating on Demand likely says more about its viewers than its subjects. When it comes to other people's romance, we all have a little bit of schadenfreude. We like to laugh at them from the comfort of our couches, curled up with our loved ones -- or perhaps curled up alone, wondering how to find a date but thankful that nobody's watching us do it.
January 27, 2006
And I even bought a lousy $5.50 pizza
I went to a Bruins game for the first time last night, mostly because we found a half-off deal on tickets. For seats from the view you see in that picture, we paid $21 bucks -- and for a night of fun chanting, pretzels and watered down beer, that’s pretty reasonable. But then I thought: Wait, that means these seats are regularly $42. For the nosebleed section. For a team in last place. In a sport that’s struggling to retain fans after skipping an entire season.
Here’s a little tip for the Bruins front office: When I lived in Florida and the Marlins weren’t doing well, they’d offer seats for sometimes as low as 50 cents. People packed the stands and bought tons of overpriced beer. The games were the place to be. It’s something to consider.
Searching for context
President Bush spoke yesterday about the Palestinian election:
You see, when you give people the vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls -- and if they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know. That's the great thing about democracy, it provides a look into society.
And yesterday the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive. But what was also positive is, is that it's a wake-up call to the leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The people are demanding honest government.
And if the Abramoff scandal and other stumbling blocks lead to a tide-turning vote in November, it’ll be interesting to see how much his response differs from this rosy, empathetic summary.
January 26, 2006
♣FORGET THE AWKWARDNESS of stuff from Bar Mitzvah Disco. The real definition of cruel and unusual punishment is creating a cheezy website for your daughter's bat mitzvah, complete with a music video of her and her friends strutting around a mall. I particularly like how the front page contains two versions of the same picture of the girl -- one with her braces, and one with the braces photoshopped out.
♣AT FIRST I wondered why people don't always dance like they do in this video, but then I tried copying that girl's head shaking for about five seconds and understood why. (What the hell is that video, you ask? Answer's here.)
♣COMIC SANS, THAT ever-present informal-looking, childlike font, was originally designed for a cartoon dog's speech bubble. And on a totally unrelated note, other than that I got both these links from Kottke, here's a great list of how to get a human being when calling different companies' customer service lines.
♣CAN'T REMEMBER THE words to a song? Just tap them.
♣TWO NEW ADDITIONS to the blogroll: New York Hack, a blog written by a young female New York City cabbie who I learned about from this AP piece; and Under the Sink, the re-launch of a blog from my friend and one-time HappyScrappy guest blogger, Berto. Be sure to check out his episode of accidental voyeurism.
♣AND THEN, THERE'S this.
January 25, 2006
I can just hear Ahnold now
Q: You flip really big, heavy tractor tires. If I’m just starting out, should I practice by flipping old car tires?
A: No, they’re too little. You’d probably start with the girl tires.
She then goes on to say the “girl tires” weigh 350-500 pounds -- or, you know, about three to four times my weight. Maybe the old car tires aren’t too small after all.
Then she asked if he'd contribute to her fund drive
Bolivian President Evo Morales has been wearing the same sweater to many high-profile events, prompting his country’s residents to wear knockoffs of the garment. NPR had an amusing story about it yesterday, during which All Things Considered host Melissa Block interviewed Sergio Valda, CFO at one of the companies making knockoff sweaters. But at the end of the interview, things got a little spicier than usual:
Block: Mr. Valda, do you have a Morales sweater yourself?
Valda: Sure, sure. I have one. I have the first one.
Block: Are you wearing it now?
Valda: Yes, right -- right now.
Block: How -- how do you look?
Valda: (nervous chuckle) Very good, very well. It’s a very good-looking sweater, I think.
To which Block replied, “It’d look even better on my floor in the morning.”
January 24, 2006
Reason #256 why a doctor is better than Google
Here's a screencap of a referral link from my tracker today:
In case you can't read that, someone searched Google for "I feel like I constantly have to poop but whenever I try all I get is a little leakage" and found my website. Well, uh, I hope it did the trick.
January 23, 2006
Timing my bodily functions
As I was driving from Brooklyn back to Greater Boston yesterday, I had to go to the bathroom. This American Life had just started playing, though, and I didn’t want to miss it. It’s not that often that I’m in the car for an entire TAL, so the bathroom could wait. Three people called me during that hour, and I sent them all to voicemail. They could wait as well.
Afterward, I got off the highway somewhere in Connecticut to get gas and use the facilities. The first place I spotted was a secluded Sunoco, with no other buildings visible in either direction. Didn’t matter: My car was on empty and I was on full, and it was time to go. I filled up, then went in to the little shop and asked to use the bathroom. A bald, Middle Eastern employee in his late 50’s was the only one in there, and he shrugged at me. I went in.
Without being too graphic, let’s just all agree on one thing: Sometimes you take clean poops -- just out, one or two wipes, and we’re set to go -- and other times they come out with an announcement, and a good portion of the toilet paper roll is required for wiping. Maybe it was the TAL-inspired delay or maybe it was the big brunch I had that day, but I sat down in that bathroom and released the latter of those two poops. It wasn’t a big deal, though. I was probably in there for 15 minutes -- longer than normal, sure, but whatever.
When I got out, the employee was still the only one in the store. He stood away from the register with his arms in his pockets, looking annoyed.
“You should have called for help,” he said in a thick accent, but undeniably sarcastic and suspicious. “You were in there for an hour. You must have needed help.”
Seeing as I’m not in the habit of debriefing after my bowel movements, I chose to respond as if he were joking. I laughed. “Oh, well, it’s been a long day,” I said, which wasn’t true, and I realized it also didn’t really explain the long poop. So I added, “I’ve been driving straight from New York.”
“A long day?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Of driving.”
That also wasn’t true. I had been driving for maybe two hours. He and I knew this. I wasn’t helping the situation, and he clearly thought I did something else in that bathroom, although I can’t imagine what. Drugs? Masturbate? No doubt, people do some sick stuff in gas station bathrooms off the highway, but come on now. Give a guy a break. What if I had a medical condition? This would have been really insulting.
To change the subject, I asked him for directions to another highway. He explained briefly, I said thanks and then left. As I pulled away from the station, I watched him walk to the bathroom, push the door open and hesitantly stick his face in. It was the first time I ever hoped my poop stunk.
January 20, 2006
Beetle's eating beetles... or is he???
Look at Sarge’s expression in the last panel of today’s strip. Are we learning something new about him today? That’s not the embarrassed face of a man who’s been caught substituting raisins for bugs. It’s the disheartened, deflated face of a man who wanted to eat bugs but realizes he's stuck with raisins.
Well, it’s that or the face of a man saddened by Beetle’s ability to grab his hand and, by some sort of localized gravitational pull, completely reverse the trajectory of the raisin-bugs Sarge had just thrown toward his mouth. How does Beetle do it? Who knows, but maybe it has something to do with the invisible jar he seems to be holding in the second panel.
If only a spider bit her as well
As a kid, I read superhero comics and marveled at the health trade-offs many of the characters went through. Folks like Spiderman, Hulk, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four gained their powers through some near-death experience, often in which a serious hazard took a wacky twist and improved them. I always thought that seemed like a reasonable swap: Suffer for a bit, and come away with greatness. If that happened regularly, wouldn’t it make illnesses so much more palatable? It’s like winning the lottery by going to the hospital. You get cancer and think, “Well hey, maybe I’ll come away with the ability to climb walls.”
Anyway, too bad that doesn’t happen. That is, except in England, where a blind woman had a heart attack and regained her sight. Now she wears spandex and calls herself The Eye.
January 18, 2006
♣BAUER POWER! YES! I am so excited by this season of 24. There was ass to be kicked from the very beginning. Strangely, the new season's launch has corresponded with a large spike in traffic for this old, goofy graphic I made of Jack Bauer kicking the O.C.'s Sandy in the head. More than 50 people a day are finding this through Google's image search, and I can't figure it out. (Meanwhile, in another dimension, Japanese terrorists apparently have captured Jack Bauer and forced him to make lame commercials for something called CalorieMate.)
♣AND IF THOSE Japanese commericals weren't enough, here's another wacky export from our friends across the Pacific: What happens when a girl dresses up like a seal and then goes to visit a polar bear? (video)
♣SINCE I DON'T normally catch Conan O'Brian's show (even though, yes, I think he's funny), I wasn't aware of his stumping for Finland's president, Tarja Halonen. His sole reason for the endorsement? They look a lot alike -- and it's true.
♣GOOGLE'S MAPS ARE now available on your cell phone. I haven't tried it out yet, but I'll let you know if I do. (And if anyone else has, please post your thoughts.)
♣ARE YOU A winter baby? According to the London Independent, "For centuries astrologers have sworn that the time of year a baby is born plots the course its life will take. Now extensive research conducted over a seven-year period appears to prove that babies born in the winter are more likely to grow into big, bright and successful adults than their summer counterparts." And hey, that's freakin' great. I was born in July. I can't wait for my small, dull and unsuccessful adulthood.
♣"THIS HIDEOUS PRACTICE will draw the anger of Allah," said cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi. What sort of divine provocation are we talking about this time? Why, oral sex, of course. But hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves: Clerics are still arguing over whether married couples should even get naked during sex.
♣AND THEN, THERE'S this.
January 16, 2006
Finally, a fortune with some truth
I got this fortune from a cookie at a Chinese restaurant on Friday, and love it for two reasons: One, it's a funny way to play off stereotypes. It makes me wonder if there's a fortune out there that says "Your waiter knows kung fu." And two, it's from a fortune cookie that's actually telling me about something in my future. Too many cookies just tell me something boring and generic about myself: I value friendship, my creativity attracts people to me, blah blah blah. But here, finally, is a prediction.
Too bad it wasn't true, though. I really stuffed myself with vegetarian moo shu that night.
January 13, 2006
Wonkette's bad night in Boston
I went to see Ana Marie Cox, formerly of Wonkette, speak about her new book at Brookline Booksmith last night. It was an interesting experience, at least from my vantage point. From hers, as she might say, it was one long ass fucking.
My friend Berto and I sat down about 15 minutes before showtime. Near us were two older men -- I’d say late 50’s to mid 60’s -- who began quizzing us on what a blog is. They had never heard of Wonkette; one didn’t even own a computer. It turns out both just heard Cox on the radio that day, and decided to come check it out. After they said this, I looked around the room and guessed at least half the crowd was the same as them. I expected a young, hip, blogging crowd, but it looked more like an NPR event.
Cox came out, laughed as a bookstore employee introduced her, and then fielded a few silly questions about her experience at the now-defunct Suck.com and her presidential aspirations. I was a very Wizard of Oz-ish moment for me, having been a reader of Wonkette since its launch but never having seen Cox speak before. When you rip away the cocksure façade of the blog, she’s actually a casual, quiet-voiced writer. I’m not sure what I expected, but it was someone different. Someone with more swagger, perhaps.
A few minutes later, she began reading her book. I had a hard time following it -- not because of the writing, but because the bookstore’s speaker system kept fizzling and popping, vacillating volume every few seconds. Half the time, she sounded the way you might hear yourself if you speak with your ears clogged. Because there wasn’t really anything she could do about it, Cox just plugged along. The crowd laughed at some of her jokes, so at least someone was able to pay attention.
Then came another round of Q&A, and that’s when things really went south.Continued after jump...
January 12, 2006
♣IT'S A FEW too many years late for me, but finally science is coming around to what I knew as a high school student: It's biologically unreasonable to make students get up so damn early for school. "Children learn from kindergarten on about the food pyramid, but no one is teaching them the life pyramid that has sleep at the base," a researcher told the Washington Post. For serious.
♣WHAT WOULD IT look like to map out your work day based on where your earnings are going? Diddly finds out, and it ain't pretty.
♣FOR ALL OUR vanity, Americans apparently have a pretty good fattitude. A recent survey found that only 24 percent of Americans consider overweight people to be less attractive. (What's up with that word "fattitude," you might ask? Check out the address of that link. It ends with "Fat_Attitudes.html," which I originally read as "fattitudes." I thought that was funny enough to repeat on the blog. Hah! Fattitudes.)
♣IN THE ULTIMATE showdown, everyone you can think of starts throwing fists. And even better, it happens with a strangely catchy song. (via Heaneyland) And here's a video with a significantly less catchy song, but amusing nonetheless. (via What's the Code)
♣WHOA. I HAD heard about Marcus Vick stepping on that guy's knee, but I finally got around to checking out the video. What a jackass. I hope the NFL gives him the cold shoulder -- although of course it won't, because a lack of decency doesn't hurt professional athletes. Right, Jason Kidd? (Oh, and on the topic of football videos, I also recently checked out the infamous Stanford Band Play, which some friends were talking about during last week's playoffs. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look.)
January 10, 2006
A bettr pictr searchr
When Google’s image search came along a few years ago, I was thrilled. Here was an easy way to pull up pictures, and something I hadn’t seen before. But then, I encountered a problem: How do I find a picture if I can’t think of the right keywords? There’s a disconnect: Because the search engine doesn’t allow me to describe the picture I’m looking for (and I don’t know how something like that could ever work anyway), I must struggle to think of words that someone, at some point, might have associated with the picture when they posted it to a website. It’s not easy.
But someone is looking out for me, and it’s the good people who developed retrievr. The system allows you to draw inside a small box, and it’ll try to match your drawing with pictures on flickr. As the site frequently points out, it’s still in its experimental phase, and using the site makes that clear. Draw a black circle, and you’ll get an eye; draw a square below the circle, and you may get a man sitting down, or maybe a cat. And sorry, boys (and some girls): Draw two peach circles next to each other and you get smiling poop, not boobs. But no matter: The concept is great, and they’re no doubt working to improve it.
The graphic above is a little experiment I did with retrievr. I began with the simple face on the top left, and then added features to it to see how it would affect the search results. I’ve laid it out like this: On the left column are the three phases of my graphic; to each face’s right is the search result that I thought was the closest match; to the right of that is the result that wasn’t quite close but still understandable.
At first, I was surprised that the program didn’t always respond to my drawings of faces with pictures of faces. In fact, at one point I put green hair atop the face and the closest result was a picture of a green donut. But the site’s creators explain this shortcoming: The search works on an algorithm, and “doesn't do object/face/text recognition of any kind, so if you're drawing an outline sketch of a chair, it almost certainly won't get you one back (except your index only contains images of chairs). The same holds for corporate logos, icons &c. It helps to think of it as matching the most pronounced shapes and slabs of colors.”
Indeed, that makes a lot more sense. Great idea, retrievr. I look forward to future versions.
January 09, 2006
Update: No love from the TSA
In July, I moaned on this site about the Transportation Security Administration creating a leak in my baggage. During a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Boston, a TSA worker had searched through my stored luggage and opened a bottle of contact lens disinfectant. The person closed the bag but never recapped the solution, and the stuff leaked everywhere. There was no actual damage done, but I felt the TSA owed me an apology. So in addition to the blog post, I wrote them and demanded one. (Not that I actually expected to receive one, but it seemed like a worthwhile experiment at the time.)
A few weeks later, the TSA sent me a claims form that I needed to fill out. I tried being clear on the form that I wasn’t looking for a monetary reimbursement; an apology would do just fine. On the line requesting an estimate of how much of value was lost, I wrote “five dollars” -- a pretty good guess of how much contact solution had drained into my clothing.
The wheels of government may turn slowly, but by golly, they do turn. Over the weekend, the TSA wrote me back: “your claim is denied.” And, echoing the suggestion of somebody who left a comment in the original blog post, the TSA told me that, “We recommend that you place all tubes, sprays, shampoos, etc. inside sealed plastic bags to minimize the chance of such an occurrence in the future.” Sound advice, perhaps, but hardly a solution: If the TSA person uncapped the bottle and forget to recap it, wouldn’t that person be likely to also forget to reseal the plastic bag he or she opened to get at the bottle? Then again, maybe TSA workers don’t touch anything inside plastic bags. I hope Osama doesn’t figure that out. “Jeez,” some future TSA worker will think. “This looks a hell of a lot like a bomb, and there’s even a little clock ticking backwards, but oh well. It’s inside a plastic bag, so it ain’t my problem.”
Anyway, none of this would have happened if the TSA heeded my suggestion: “When you're done invading someone's privacy, please put everything back where you found it.”
Full letter after the jump.Continued after jump...
January 06, 2006
Giving never tasted so good
Snack-Stop Red Laces edible panties from Knitty.com
A newspaper near me recently referred to food pantries as “food panties,” which many people appropriately found hilarious. But to my surprise, a LexisNexis search showed that this error -- as egregious and obvious as it is -- is pretty common. (In fact, even Google News has a few recent ones displayed.) Here are some examples from 2005, culled from my Lexis search:
Besides the food panty, Crisis Control also operates a free pharmacy for individuals who cannot afford medications. -Winston-Salem Journal, 10/28/05
Church members helped build a food panty during the summer at New Hope Tabernacle. -The (Rock Hill, S.C.) Herald, 10/27/05
AIDS Ministries/AIDS Assist is seeking an energetic volunteer to work semi-independently in the agency's food panty for 10 to 15 hours per week. -South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, 8/29/05
"The Fairview Heights Ministerial Alliance first recognized the need for a food panty," Kinsella remembered. "Before that nobody thought there were poor people in Fairview Heights." -St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7/18/05
It has a food panty, clothing closet and Thanksgiving program and has provided survival-skills workshops since 1990. -The Nobelsville (Indiana) Ledger, 6/21/05
All food items will be donated to NAM's food panty. –Houston Chronicle, 3/3/05
Even the country’s major newspapers have stumbled into this one. Since 1990, the New York Times did it once (in 1999); the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times twice (1997 and 2002 for the Globe, 1994 and 1995 for the Times); and with an impressive five occurances, the Chicago Tribune takes the prize for most errors from a major paper (2001 and 1998, 1994, 1993 and 1990).
I’m guessing the error is so ubiquitous because “food panties” or “food panty,” aside from suffering from one missing letter, won’t show up on a spell check. Or hey, maybe they're Freudian slips and there's just a lot of pent-up sexual frustration in newsrooms. After all, have you seen what these people look like? (Hey, just joking! I'm one of 'em.)
January 05, 2006
And no, Bill Gates won't pay you to send an e-mail to ten friends
Yesterday, a friend forwarded me and about a dozen other people a funny collection of lawsuits from the so-called “Stella Awards,” named in honor of the woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling coffee on herself. They were a great snapshot of what’s wrong with our legal system, as well as a culture in which people refuse to blame themselves for their own mistakes. But alas, they were also completely fake. Snopes proves it -- and in fact there actually are Stella Awards, and that organization also refutes the content of the e-mail. So, I did what I’ve done numerous times: I responded to everyone on the list to announce the fiction. This is what I sent out:
In a blame-first culture like ours, there is no doubt numerous hilarious and frivolous lawsuits filed every day, some of which result in stupefying payouts. The ones on this list, however, are not of the same nature. They're all fake.
See http://www.snopes.com/legal/lawsuits.asp for more info. And in fact, it's best to check Snopes or other reputable sources before passing along anything that had been forwarded to you by e-mail. Forwarded information is almost always false, and a little research will save you from having a jerk like me respond to all your friends to announce it.
I realize this method is a little rude, but I do it anyway. I can’t help it. E-mail forwards constantly spread misinformation, and I think I’m providing a service by stopping other people from passing this junk along. But as a result, perhaps I’m making people unnecessarily irritated. My mom stopped including me on forwarded mass e-mails -- but she does now forward me things individually to ask if they’re real, which is a service I’m happy to provide (especially because it usually just means checking Snopes). I'm sure others stopped as well, but just haven't told me about it. And while the friend who sent me the forward yesterday can roll with the punches, she told me that one of the people on that list wrote her to ask why I’m such an asshole (or something to that effect).
It's a battle of tact vs. truth. But maybe the two sides should meet. That might be nice.
January 04, 2006
♣MY FRIEND ZACK really needs to whiten his teeth. (video)
♣LAST NIGHT, I was reading an interesting New Yorker piece about the developing cures for baldness (sadly not posted online), and then came across this sentence: "The hairline was symmetrical, he explained, and its distance from the eyebrows was roughly equal to that from the eyebrows to the tip of the nose, and from the tip of the nose to the tip of the chin." I did a quick measurement on myself and sure enough, it's true. Pretty neat. (And here are some unrelated but also interesting body factoids.)
♣IF IT WASN'T for this guy, we might never have known that, while the movie Chocolat was set in the 1950's, it featured a font that didn't debut until 1978. And that's just the beginning. (via Heaneyland)
♣I WON'T EXPECT you to remember my name, my usual order, or my personal history. If you do, that's great, but I will always be aware that you see hundreds of people every day and that I am only one of them. If I see you outside of where you work, I won't assume that you recognize me. New Year's resolutions from a middle aged guy who teeters on the edge of having a crush on his waitress.
♣HERE'S A LINK that's most definitely not safe for work, but worth some amusement anyway: The year in porno DVD covers. I'm not well versed on the subject, so I'll just give my first impressions. The first one on the descending list -- "Jose Pusher’s Pimping Adventures 2" -- is exactly what I'd expect from a porno DVD cover: Some girls sitting around naked, and the words "real whores" splashed across the bottom. Similarly, "Mr. Pete's Fuck My Face" (number 8 on the list) displays just what it claims to contain. But scroll around and perhaps you'll be as surprised as I was, because some of these covers are actually designed somewhat well. Yeah, sure, the cheese factor is still pretty high, but some of the designs are slick and thoughtful, with way more attention to detail than I'd expect for the product (or that I'd expect the producers to expect their audience to care about).
♣AND THEN, THERE'S this.
Another year, uh, behind us
Hi and Lois clips from (l-r) Dec. 13 and Jan. 2.
And by "good year," Lois actually means, "The year all those New Year's Eve snacks go straight to my ass." I bet Hi appreciates a little more junk in the trunk, though. Because really, when Chip, Ditto, Dot and Trixie go to bed, it's just a little more cushion for the pushin'.
Well! Now that we've steeped to that level, this year can only get better. Welcome back. We'll now resume our regularly scheduled heapings of useless crap.