Only true geeks will get this one


Yesterday, the day that Futurama returned, I printed out my boarding pass for this morning’s San Diego trip and discovered that my ticket number is something that could have haunted Bender in his most feverish nightmares.

The Same Only Worse

I was reading some old Molly Ivins columns yesterday and was struck by how history repeats itself. Read this snippet from Gulf War I and tell me if it doesn’t sound like it could have been written today, complete with news about Citicorp:

You may have noticed that many of our fellow citizens have slipped into wretched excess on the patriotism front. Yellow ribbons tied around the necks of pink plastic yard flamingos. A bumper sticker on a huge gas-hog that says, WHIP THEIR ASS, THEN TAKE THEIR GAS.
All in all, festive days for armchair Rambos.
For those of you who relish life’s little ironies, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has just bought $590 million worth of Citicorp, America’s largest bank, thus becoming its largest shareholder. I personally enjoyed President Bush’s presentation of his energy policy in midwar: He said he wouldn’t do anything to conserve energy because he didn’t want Americans to have to make such a sacrifice.

Well, everything is the same but worse now: the war drags on, designed to last forever. Instead of $590 million, Citigroup just got $7.5 billion from Abu Dhabi, surpassing Al Waleed as largest shareholder. And as for energy policy? I’ll bet the first Bush would have changed his tune had gasoline jumped to nearly $4 per gallon back then. Bush II doesn’t seem to think that it even requires a comment.
Welcome to the future, the same as the past but with a “New! Extreme!” label.

Yahoo will be writing utility checks to Google one day

Part of the Republican mantra is that government shouldn’t be empowered to do anything, it should be left to private corporations. This, of course, is often a bad idea since corporations are there to enrich themselves rather than mankind. So what does it mean that Google is stepping up to the plate because our oil-soaked government won’t?

Google Inc. said it is earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in developing renewable energy, as part of an ambitious plan to clean the environment by reducing the world’s dependency on coal.
The Mountain View Internet titan said Tuesday that it will open its deep pockets to foster innovation in solar, wind, and geothermal power, with the hope that green energy becomes a cheaper way to generate electricity.
As part of the initiative, Google said that it will invest tens of millions of dollars in renewable energy, spread over research and development and related investments, in 2008.
“Solar isn’t currently cheaper than coal,” Larry Page, Google’s co-founder said in a conference call. “That’s the point of this – to get it there.”
Google, which dubbed the project “Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal,” stands to benefit from cheaper electricity by reducing the costs of running of its vast data centers, which suck up large amounts of energy. Executives declined to discuss the exact amount electricity used in the facilities.
Google also hopes to license any technology spawned from the project to other companies so that they too can reduce their reliance of more polluting forms of energy while saving money. Google raised the possibility that it will collect licensing, but co-founder Sergey Brin insisted that the goal isn’t to rake in big profits.
In unveiling its plan, Google joins a number of companies and investors focused on the clean energy industry, an area that is getting increasing attention amid high energy costs and fears of global warming. Whether Google will do anything different from what already exists is unclear because the company gave few specifics about its strategy.
In general, Google said it will make investments and give grants to projects that show promise in developing energy at a cost below coal-fired power plants. Partners will include companies, universities and research and development labs. [SF Chronicle]

Of course, this sort of initiative has specific goals for the corporation: to produce cheaper energy. But isn’t it odd that a Silicon Valley search and advertising company is taking this initiative instead of, say, the Department of Energy? Texaco? Etc.?
Meanwhile, bravo to Google. But I think it is going to take more than “tens of millions.” That’s why governments need to be doing stuff like this.

Next Up: Presidential Idol

Is this a new thing? Did this just happen for the first time, or did I miss it in the past?

Everywhere I look there are ads for tomorrow’s Republican debate, with a big, eye-catching rendering of CNN’s lithe studboy (as opposed to their chunkier studboys, of which there are plenty these days.) A presidential debate is now, for the first time as far as I can recall, being promoted by who is moderating. Anderson Cooper is now, officially, the Ryan Seacrest of politics.

Mind Your Mouth

The woman known as “the voice of the Tube” on London’s underground has been sacked after criticising the network and making spoof announcements including making fun of US tourists, officials said Monday.

Sometimes it is easier to do it yourself

For a year from September 2005, under the nose of the Panthéon’s unsuspecting security officials, a group of intrepid “illegal restorers” set up a secret workshop and lounge in a cavity under the building’s famous dome. Under the supervision of group member Jean-Baptiste Viot, a professional clockmaker, they pieced apart and repaired the antique clock that had been left to rust in the building since the 1960s. Only when their clandestine revamp of the elaborate timepiece had been completed did they reveal themselves.

Time for an ex-Congressman registry?

I reiterate, this ship is taking an awful long time to go down and there is no shortage of rats.
One more: Trent Lott, who should never have been put back into leadership last year, is resigning next month. He’s not even waiting for the end of his term.
What does the resignation of all these notable right wingers mean? Are they trying to get out of the line of fire before real, live investigations begin? (As if the spineless Dems would be able to put a real investigation together at this point. I mean, really.) Are they getting off the stage before the Bush administration completely implodes and takes them with him? Are they all going into stasis, preparing to pop up again on the scene like a bad wart? Or are they all using escape hatches provided by big corporations who bought and paid for Congress years ago?
Of course, it occurs to me that this mass exodus is more about typically careful Republican strategy: by removing the lightning rods from their seats, the party hopes to avoid next year’s predicted anti-Republican landslide. Those vacated seats are turned over to unknown Republicans, depriving the Democrats of the chance to run against old, corrupt, and divisive names. In some of these districts, the only way a Democrat could win is by running against a Republican who is truly reviled; those Republicans are now being purged.
It’s really nice that people like DeLay, Armey, Helms, and the like are finally out of Congress. But I’d feel much better if, as with released convicts, I knew where they were now.

[Update: now rumors are swirling around that Mr. Lott was, as other prominent anti-gay politicos, visiting a male prostitute. I don't really know where the allegations began or how they are substantiated, but strangely I feel that this is not really likely. I don't know why I feel this way, and I don't know Trent Lott -- although in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I went to high school with his son, but probably spoke no more than 3 words to him in my high school years. This will be interesting to see where this story goes next...
I think it is far more likely that he has been offered a big money lobbyist or board job somewhere and that offer wouldn't last far beyond the coming Republican meltdown.]

Verity Lambert

Long-time fans of “Doctor Who” and British television will join me in mourning the untimely passing of Verity Lambert, the original producer of “Doctor Who” and the person who laid herself on the line to ensure the future of the series.
Lambert died yesterday at the age of 71. She was the epitome of 1960s chic, a feminist simply by her determination to succeed in the male-dominated television industry. Her fierce defense of the iconic Daleks in “Doctor Who” when called on the carpet by the BBC, who wanted to excise them from the program, ensured that the program became a hit and a national treasure.
From Variety:

In a career lasting more than 40 years Lambert, who famously became the youngest and only female producer at the BBC in 1963, was responsible for some of the most memorable and important small screen drama to come out of the U.K. in an era many regard as television’s golden age.

Lambert, born in London and educated at Roedean School and the Sorbonne in Paris, was the first producer of “Doctor Who.”

Her Midas touch extended to series like “Budgie,” “Rock Follies,” “Rumpole of the Bailey” and “Minder.”

Her early days in TV were spent as a junior secretary in the managing director’s office at ITV station ABC.

As a personal assistant in the drama department she learned about rehearsals and studio procedures, and followed her boss, drama topper Sydney Newman, to the BBC.

There she was given the opportunity to produce what became “Doctor Who.”

“Verity was as bright as they come, tough, and utterly fearless,” wrote the man who would be her director of programs at Thames Television, Jeremy Isaacs, where she became head of drama in 1974.

At Thames, her work encompassed mainstream hits like “Rock Follies” and “Hazell” and the breakthrough “The Naked Civil Servant,” starring John Hurt as gay icon Quentin Crisp.

By 1976, Lambert was CEO of Thames’ subsidiary Euston Films, four years later moving into film production at Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment working on pics such as “Dream Child” and “Clockwise,” starring John Cleese.

She set up her own successful shingle, Cinema Verity, in 1985, which scored across movies (“A Cry in the Dark”), sitcom (“May to December”), and drama (“GBH”), but her sure touch was absent from the BBC’s ill-fated soap “Eldorado.”

Lambert was due to receive the Working Title Films Lifetime Achievement Award on Dec 7.

Announcing the award Sophie Balhetchet, chair of Women in Film and Television, said: “Verity’s programs have consistently been voted among the greatest of the television era.”

From BBC News:

Doctor Who’s first producer, and the BBC’s first female TV producer, Verity Lambert, has died aged 71.

She was also the youngest person to take charge of a BBC television show when the sci-fi drama started in 1963.

Lambert also produced dramas including Minder, Quatermass, Rumpole of the Bailey and Jonathan Creek, while her company made 1990s BBC soap Eldorado.

She was made an OBE in recognition of her services to film and television in January 2002.

‘Total one-off’

Lambert oversaw the first two series of Doctor Who before leaving in 1965.

Russell T Davies, the current writer and executive producer of Doctor Who, said: “There are a hundred people in Cardiff working on Doctor Who and millions of viewers, in particular many children, who love the programme that Verity helped create.”

“This is her legacy and we will never forget that,” he added.

In 1985 Lambert formed her own independent television company, Cinema Verity, which went on to make the sitcom May to December and the short-lived soap Eldorado.

Most recently she completed the second series of BBC One’s Love Soup.

Jane Tranter, controller of BBC Fiction said: “Verity was a total one-off. She was a magnificently, madly, inspirationally talented drama producer.”

Lambert had been due to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Women in Film and Television Awards next month.

Her death on Thursday came the day before the 44th anniversary of the very first episode of Doctor Who.

And The Times has a longer appreciation of Verity:

When Sydney Newman, the effervescent head of drama at the BBC during the 1960s, was looking for a producer to launch a new sciencefiction series to air on Saturday evening after Grandstand, he remembered a bright, young production assistant from his previous job at ABC Television. He called her and offered her the job.

Verity Lambert was 27, and Doctor Who was her first job as a drama producer. But Newman’s hunch paid off. She proved to be tough and capable, not afraid to tell writers to go back to the typewriter and try again, refusing to be overawed by more experienced actors and technicians and determined to be taken seriously in an industry where women executives were still a rarity.

Although Newman had conceived Doctor Who as believable, even educational, science fiction rather than dominated by “bug-eyed monsters”, he accepted the Daleks with equanimity and saw the series, under Lambert’s skilled guidance, grow and flourish, attracting an audience from a far wider age range than the older children for whom it was originally intended.


Verity Lambert was a pioneer for women, and a pioneer for television. She broke down barriers, pushed the envelope, and changed the world. And the universe.

Geeky for Helvetica

A bit of nerdiness this afternoon: before Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) arrived, I predicted that it would feature one radical change to its interface: a change from the Lucida Grande system font (used for menus and interface elements) to Helvetica. I based this on two things: first, the beautiful iPhone interface; second, on the strange inclusion of Helvetica as the interface font for some disparate pieces of the beta version of Leopard.

Lightspeed Briefs: As Seen in Your Dreams

I’m watching last night’s broadcast of “The Incredibles” on NBC, and just as I am drawn into this witty and beautifully animated film… a stick figure pushing a shopping cart with a Target logo runs across the bottom of the screen.

This is what we’re fighting for

I am a full, card-carrying member of the consumer society in 21st century America; as evidenced by my self-absorbed blog, my shiny MacBook Pro, and the 50 inch plasma screen in my living room.
But even I am disgusted by the way our actions reflect on us, by the way we must look to people around the world who have to fight for a bowl of rice or dirty water as we fat Americans fight over… shoes.

A throng of angry shoppers briefly held a store at the Tanger Outlet Center under siege early Friday morning, as two men fought over a pair of shoes — and the intervention of officers from the Riverhead Police Department was needed to restore control.

Meanwhile:

Thousands lined up to be one of the first 500 hundred people to receive a gift bag.

The crowd was so large mall officials called in Boise Police to handle crowd control. As thousands of people tried to cram their way through the front doors, many were scraped and bruised as people pushed to get in.

Mall security officials say some doors were broken, and some people got hurt.

Mall officials tell us Boise Police were there most of the day. They even called in ambulances and firefighters to deal with the crowds.

How did we get to this point, this society that exists only to consume, the economy based on nothing in particular other than our propensity to shop? We work harder and harder, making nothing in particular but instead making our money in service industries designed to serve people who are shopping with the money they made by servicing people shopping, or by selling advertising on every part of our landscape to encourage people to shop. This bizarre cycle is insane, but since we are all part of it we can’t really see it.
I didn’t shop today nor do I plan to. I am working to make money so that I can keep my house, my TV, and my laptop. At the same time, I am not working to keep my children from starving, to prevent my family from living in a refrigerator box on the side of the road; and while I am finding it difficult to hang on to my expensive Silicon Valley home and pay my escalating health care costs, I am not even close to living in poverty.
So while everyone else is scrambling over others to score a cheap DVD player, I’m here worrying about the future but at the same time thankful that things aren’t as bad as they could (or should) be for me.

We need a rat trap

Another day, yet another rat.

Matthew Dowd knows sorrow and loss. He has been divorced twice. A daughter died two months after she was born. And then there is the added heartbreak – a word he uses – of his split with President Bush.

Dowd, 46, is one of the nation’s leading political strategists, a onetime Democrat who switched sides to help put Bush in the White House, then win a second term. He spent years shaping and promoting Bush’s policies, which Dowd now views with a mixture of anguish and contempt.

Dowd was a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee, where he landed after Bush took office, and a top strategist for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign.

Dowd stuck by Bush and managed his 2004 re-election campaign because he assumed things would change once he was in a second term. It was, he said, like ignoring doubts in hopes of saving a marriage.

I give Dowd no benefit of the doubt. I am not a political insider nor do I have any privileged information, but I could tell from the first moment that Bush appeared on the national stage that he was not a uniter, not a smart guy, not a foreign policy marvel. And anyone who lived through his term as governor of Texas could have told you what a total idiot he is.
Dowd wants us to feel for him, a good guy who was duped. Yet he turned on his party both to strategize for Schwarzenegger and Bush? Was he really so dense as to believe that these Republicans were any different, that they would truly change the tone or do anything other than enrich themselves and their rich cronies?
Matthew Dowd is an idiot if he actually believed any of this, and he is an opportunist if he didn’t.

Dowd left his job with the Republican National Committee at the end of last year.

Jeez, it certainly took him an awful long time to come to the same realizations that many of us laymen came to seven years ago.