What chocoholics will do for a fix

So, recently the Mars candy company put out reward of 2,000,000 M&M candies for the safe return of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which was stolen in 2004.
And today, guess what happened?

We Hope You Will Enjoy The Show

It’s lunchtime, and I’m taking a break and watching the 1978 flop movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” — a film that was a spectacular failure when it was released.

No end to our consumer culture… and we’re paying for it

Things change slowly, and people get used to the change — even if it’s not for the better.
For example: advertising.
Remember how television used to be free, because it was advertiser-supported? Then came cable. Originally, it was a way to ensure good reception for areas that couldn’t receive a signal. Then came pay channels such as HBO. Without advertising, they showed premium movies, and therefore charged a fee.
But at some point, there arrived regular, ad-supported stations… which charged a fee. And we forgot that the advertisers were supposed to be paying for it. What a gold mine! Suddenly, these corporations were getting money from both the advertisers and the viewers! 
And cable companies kept raking in the cash as well, charging — like telephone companies — a multitude of fees. A fee for service, another fee for a “tier” so you can get the channel you want, a fee for the box (required to get the tier), a fee for the remote control. 
Which brings me to today’s rant about Comcast. I’m paying a fee for the basic cable. Then I’m paying a fee for digital channels. Then I’m paying a fee for high definition channels. Then I’m paying a fee for the DVR (which is required to get the previous two packages!)… and as of yesterday, Comcast is displaying banner ads — yes, the same kind you see on the web — on my DVR guide.
So, Comcast, my question is this: why am I paying for the DVR service when you are using it to advertise to me?
And my question for the rest of us is this: what will be the last straw? Where will out of control marketers place the ad that finally breaks the camel’s back? When will this explosion of consumer culture finally reach critical mass?
Why are we sheepishly paying people to market to us?

By the way, I removed the pointless, non-revenue-generating Google ads that once lurked at the bottom of this page. I pay to deliver this page to you, I paid for the server and the software, and I pay for the electricity. I pay because I’m certain you wouldn’t pay me to read this.

As if terrorists would advertise before getting on the plane

There’s a new addition to the list of prohibited items by the TSA. There’s the obvious: guns, knives, explosives… the ridiculous: liquids, and in the UK you can’t take pens and crossword puzzles.
But now there’s an incident that shows the true nature of what’s happening out there in the airports.

 An Arab human rights activist was prevented from boarding a plane at Kennedy Airport while wearing a T-shirt that read, “We will not be silent” in English and Arabic.

Raed Jarrar was at the gate to board a JetBlue Airways flight to Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 12 when four officials from the airline or a government agency stopped him and told him he could not board with the shirt on, he said Wednesday.

One official told him, “Going to an airport with a T-shirt in Arabic script is like going to a bank and wearing a T-shirt that says, `I’m a robber,’” he said. 

In other words, he was attempting to fly while Arabic. And on top of that, he had a dissenting opinion. And as we all know, these days a dissenting opinion is not only treasonous, but dangerous.

Paging Dr. Craig, stat

Can it be true? Is it finally happening?
The rumor is gathering steam: St. Elsewhere may finally be headed to DVD for Christmas!
According to TV Shows on DVD:

Fox hasn’t officially announced the first season of St. Elsewhere (and it’s been awhile since we posted the rumor it was coming), but a retailer was kind enough to send us the info for the set. The first season will be released in a 4 disc set (DVD-14s) on December 12. The 22 episodes (1078 mins) will be presented in Full Frame (1.33:1), along with English stereo audio, and mono Spanish (likely with matching subtitles, though we didn’t receive word on those). The set will retail for $39.98 US, or $54.98 CAN.

Now, if we could get Picket Fences out there as well, I’d be entertained for life…

Just as an aside: as you may know, the final episode of St. Elsewhere posited the idea that the entire run of the show had taken place in the imagination of autistic Tommy Westphal. Since St. Elsewhere referenced so many other television programs — which in turn referenced others — this revelation means that a significant number of programs suddenly became figments of a boy’s imagination. Check out this fascinating chart showing the connections between St. Elsewhere and other television series, all now dreams.

We’re (both) Number Two!

A story in today’s Washington Post notes that, according to census figures, the DC region has the second-highest income of any major metropolitan area in the country.
I started to bemoan my move, until I realized that just because I lived there, that didn’t mean I was earning a high salary.
Then, I came across the same story in the San Jose Mercury News, which says that San Jose has the second-highest income.
The Mercury News reports that Plano, Texas is number one.
The Washington Post reports that Washington is second only to San Jose (which my math says would make San Jose #1).
Sounds like an old game of telephone — reporters seem to be interpreting the data differently. Check it out for yourself.
Interestingly, one of the reasons I moved to San Jose was the promise of a higher salary. So far, that promise has not come close to fulfillment; but the cost of living is far greater. I think I had a fuzzy math moment when I made that decision.

Just call it channel four

The new television season is upon us, and with it are yet more attempts to create networks. “The WB” and UPN are gone, replaced by “The CW”. Stations that lost their network affiliation in that consolidation are now promoting a loose network branded “My Network TV.” As if that weren’t a clunky enough brand, the new appelation gets a little weird on some stations. For instance, here in the San Francisco area, KRON Channel 4 (which, to confuse matters, used to be an NBC affiliate until NBC bought a station in San Jose and moved their programming)… where was I? Oh. KRON. It’s not known as K-R-O-N, but instead brands itself as the word KRON
And now, with the new affiliation, they’re calling themselves My KRON 4. 
Is it just me, or does Micron Four sound like either a synthetic fiber used in pantyhose — or a planet with a Class M atmosphere on Star Trek?
It’s also worth pointing out that all these stations that are only known by number — NBC 11, ABC 7, etc. — are rapidly coming up against a numbering crisis. Their station numbers will change, for the most part, come 2009 when the digital television transition is complete. Back in DC, NBC4′s actual digital channel is 48. WUSA’s 9 News (in high definition, ironically) should be called 34 News. And there’s a station here that goes by the extra-short-and-simple name of Action 36 Cable 6… and is on digital 52.
I think all stations should just use their damned call signs and get on with it.

Dear Comcast

I’ve suffered for a year with your horrible, horrible DVR service. The box is a lesson in frustration, with a bizarre interface, slow performance, and constant crashes.
And yet, because it records in high definition and is relatively cheap per month — $10 — I’ve dealt with it.
TiVo is about to (finally) release their dual-tuner high definition DVR. I tell myself that I won’t get it because it costs $799 and then $13 per month for service. 
But now the tide is turning. Because just a few moments ago I brought up the guide on my Comcast DVR to discover that the already too-small 5 visible channels in the guide has been cut down to four… because the last channel has been replaced by a banner ad! 
As if this weren’t bad enough, said banner ad gets selected when I use the arrow down key to scroll down the channel list.
I’m not sure if this is the last straw that makes me switch back to satellite, but I’ll tell you — it is damned close.

Love,
Gene Cowan

P.S. If I am now to be graced by advertising that inteferes with my ability to use the guide, I expect to stop paying a fee for the DVR service.

[Update, August 30: The ad has been removed and the Guide is back to normal -- Comcast claims that this was an error on their part; that the ad was mistakenly included in a firmware update. They go on to say that this was supposed to be part of their TiVo software package... so, in other words, when they roll out the TiVo software for their DVRs, it will have an intrusive banner ad in the guide. And evidently, they still plan on charging a premium monthly fee for the TiVo software. Ugh. I hate cable companies and phone companies. I hate our current economy based on advertising and marketing to us at every opportunity.]

[Update, August 30, 7pm: The ad returned prompty at 7pm. The current Comcast line is that it is taken away during the day because of laws restricting advertising to children. This is clearly bull. I say that they took it away during the day because their call center couldn't handle all the complaints.]

A special kind of madness

There is simply unbelievable news happening here today — some nutcase/asshole/freak took it into his head this afternoon to, put plainly, run people down. Evidently, he started out in Fremont around noon where he struck and killed a pedestrian. Then he headed for San Francisco, where — at the time I write this — he struck another 14 people in a hit and run spree through downtown. Seven of those people are in critical condition.

 Authorities have identified the man who was arrested as Ohmeed Aziz Popal, who has an address in Ceres.  

Popal was arrested at a Walgreens near Bush and Fillmore streets.

In San Francisco, the attacks began around 1 p.m., but it was unclear in what order:

• Two people, one of them a child, were critically injured around by a sport-utility vehicle on the 3500 block of California Street in the Richmond District.

• Three people were hit at California and Fillmore streets. Witnesses said they included a man with a broken hip and a woman with a gashed head.

• Two people were seriously hurt at Bush and Pierce streets and one person was seriously injured at Bush and Buchanan streets, police said. One person suffered minor injuries in an incident at 1850 Fillmore Street.

• Two other people suffered minor injuries when they were hit at Pine at Divisadero streets, and another two were hit and suffered minor injuries at Divisadero and Bush Street.  

One victim, Pedro Aglugov, 70, was sitting at a table at a sidewalk cafe at California and Fillmore with his head bandaged with gauze, holding an ice pack to one elbow.

“He was going real fast,” Aglugov said of the driver. “I was lucky I wasn’t hurt more.”

Eliseo Billones Jr., 24, a canvasser for Greenpeace, was standing on the corner when Aglugov was hit.

“He was going berserk,” Billones said of the driver. “It was a red light and he just ran the red light. I saw him (Aglugov) hit the corner of the bumper and tumble.”

Barclay Lynn, 39, of San Francisco, said she and a friend were driving east on Bush when they saw a black SUV driving away and saw a motorcyclist who had been hit.

“The motorcyclist stood in the intersection trying to signal the driver to stop,” Lynn said. The SUV then “went speeding in reverse on Bush heading west, weaving in and out of traffic. The whole right side of his SUV was smashed in.”

At Frankie’s Bohemian Cafe at Divisadero and Pine, a man named William, who asked that his last name not be used, said he was walking south on Divisadero when “we heard the thump, turned around, saw bodies flying.”

He described the vehicle as a black Honda Pilot SUV that looked new and had a windshield that was shattered on the right side. 

In the spirit of the ad hominem attacks that are the norm these days — and not meaning to make light of the situation — can I just point out that of course it was an SUV. Can you, for an instant, even imagine a Prius driver doing such a thing? Conversely, a Hummer is just too big and clumsy to do this. 
The most surprising thing is that the SUV didn’t roll over while flying down those San Francisco hills at high speed.

The late, late film review

I’m quite proud of the fact that I’ve never seen — nor had any desire to see — the last three Star Wars movies. I mean, I could tell from the previews that they certainly had nothing in common with the original or even its sequels. But tonight, “Episode II” is on television, and I tuned in for a little bit.
It is far worse than I even expected.
The CGI is, well, obviously CGI, lending an un-realism to everything that makes it hard to suspend your disbelief. Even the poor reviews call it “visually stunning,” but I was stunned so much that I was pulled right out of the story — whatever that was.
There was, to be sure, an exciting chase scene with Obi Wan Kenobi hitching a ride on some kind of assassin droid.. but it went on and on and on… and on and on and on. 
But the kicker is the horrible, horrible acting and the terrible, terrible dialogue. I can’t watch more than five minutes at a time (instead switching over to the gloriously better “Pirates of the Caribbean”) because it is like watching a high school play. Or a cheap dinner theatre. It’s that bad. And this film has Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan MacGregor, so you tell me — where does the fault lie?
Jeez, it’s amazing that George Lucas made such a brilliant, fun, exciting film as Star Wars on a comparatively small budget; then when confronted with limitless resources he just ruined it all.

The Bush Legacy: cities in ruins

One year after Katrina, a description of hurricane-destroyed regions around New Orleans sounds exactly like a description of Baghdad: unreliable and intermittent electricity, telephone, and other utilities, critical infrastructure such as potable water unrepaired and in many places, completely disrupted. Homes in ruins and neighborhoods devastated; crime on the rise and law enforcement dwindling.
Hundreds of billions of dollars are going from our pockets into the pockets of corporations — Republican donors, all — “rebuilding” Iraq due to an ill-concieved, disastrous personal war by George Bush and his cronies.
Can you imagine what New Orleans would look like if we put $300,000,000,000 into rebuilding our own devastated nation?
If the devastated city had been majority white and affluent, would this be tolerated?

And then there were eight

Bam. Just like that, Pluto is no longer a planet.

 After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn’t — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.

The decision by the prestigious international group spells out the basic tests that celestial objects will have to meet before they can be considered for admission to the elite cosmic club.

For now, membership will be restricted to the eight “classical” planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Much-maligned Pluto doesn’t make the grade under the new rules for a planet: “a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a … nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.”

Pluto is automatically disqualified because its oblong orbit overlaps with Neptune’s.

Instead, it will be reclassified in a new category of “dwarf planets,” similar to what long have been termed “minor planets.” The definition also lays out a third class of lesser objects that orbit the sun — “small solar system bodies,” a term that will apply to numerous asteroids, comets and other natural satellites. 

I feel a little bit sorry for Pluto; singled out because it’s different.