Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Congress May Pass "Guest Soda" Program for Mexican Coke

Some people say it tastes better because it has cane sugar instead of corn syrup, and others say it keeps its fizz better in the old school glass bottle. But either way, Coca Cola "hecho in Mexico" seems to be all the rage. I saw a random blog reference to it being available at the Wal Mart here in Napa, and today the SF Chronicle says it's being sold at Costco stores all over the Bay Area. It's news in Santa Cruz, too, and in San Diego:
"If there's a tiny amount of Coke from Mexico sold in the U.S., it's a pin drop compared to the ocean of American Coke sold by the U.S. bottlers," said John Sicher, editor of the New York-based industry publication Beverage Digest.
A "pin drop compared to the ocean?" Is that some kind of special beverage industry language, or just a mixed metaphor?

Anyway, over at this site I learned some people say Italian Coke is better than the regular stuff, and I also learned that Coke with corn syrup is apparently not kosher so you can get Coke with cane sugar in the kosher section of the market, especially around Passover.

From my angle, corn schmorn. It's all about the bottle! No matter what the science might say, drinking stuff out of metal and plastic does not compare with glass. (Eating, too, probably - we're into this fancy yogurt that comes in a tiny little milk bottle, and damn it's definitely better than the usual yogurt.) And what about beer? Have you ever known a person who cares about the taste of their beer who doesn't prefer a bottle over a can? Sure, I'll drink beer out of a can in an emergency - if, for example, there is no other option available within arm's reach - but I'd really like a bottle, thank you.

And beyond taste, there's the psychology of it for those of us old enough to remember getting a cold bottle of pop after riding your bike to the gas station on a sweltering summer day. Or, for me, a bottle of Dr. Pepper at the laundromat when my mom brought me along to carry the baskets. It was always a hundred degrees inside that laundromat and that Dr. Pepper hit the spot. And let's not forget the OK Bar, where I would sit beside my dad while he had a bowl of PBR and when I asked for a Dr. Pepper I got a glass of ice and the cold bottle - best of both worlds - and I would sit there looking at the "10-2-4" logo on the bottle and wondering what the hell that was all about.

So obviously, sweeten it with corn, cane, honey, beets - won't matter if you put it in a glass bottle and shove it down in a bucket of ice.

And don't ruin the moment with a twist-off cap.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A whale, a giant hog, and Rosie O'Donnell

I like to think if Johnny Carson was still around, he would be thinking that title would make a great Karnak setup. But Johnny's gone so we're on our own out here.

A whale, now and then, gets confused and swims through the Bay and heads up north or east and before you know it we have round the clock team coverage on every TV station. A few years ago it was Humphrey the humpback whale in Rio Vista or some such place, and right now we have a mother whale and her foal (cub? whelp? calf!) floating back and forth and just making a heck of a big stir. It always makes me wonder. If a bear or a cougar gets confused and shows up where it's not supposed to be, our first instinct is to shoot it but if it's a whale or a sea lion we get all motherly and need to take care of it. Whales always get cute names, too - somebody wanted to call these latest lost whales "Delta" and "Dawn," which created an annoying ear worm across the nation. Nobody ever names the misplaced mountain lion. Somewhere we decided that whales are smarter and nobler than we are, and they wouldn't beach themselves or get lost if it weren't for rotten old humans because we must be causing it somehow, just like we are responsible for every bad thing that happens in nature. Isn't it possible that a whale could have some kind of virus or head injury or even get hold of some fermented plankton and just plain get loopy? Or maybe some whales are just real dumb? Do you think if this whale could talk it might say "Why all the attention? I know May is sweeps month but isn't Britney Spears doing something more interesting right now?"

A giant hog, now and then, shows up in the news, too. In general, they're dead when they become famous. The most recent giant dead pig is the "Monster Pig" shot by an 11 year-old kid in Alabama. (The kid's got his own website where you can order a poster if you want. Check out the "negative comments" section if you like to see an 11-year old verbally abused. Wonder if any of these comments were posted by Alec Baldwin?) The big story here for those who follow the "somebody-shot-an-enormous-pig" genre, is that Monster Pig is allegedly even bigger than the famous Hogzilla. Funny that the general reaction to the "somebody-shot-an-enormous-pig" story is more likely to just be "wow, that's a big old pig." Not a whole lot of people feel sorry for Monster Pig and Hogzilla. Imagine the different reaction if we saw "somebody-shot-an-enormous-whale" in the news. There wouldn't be enough indignation in the universe to go around. All because somehow we deify some species, demonize others, and remain mostly indifferent to the rest, like great big pigs. If a wayward whale deserves our sympathy and undertsanding, doesn't Monster Pig deserve it too?

Which brings us to Rosie O'Donnell.

Maybe I should stop now.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just pretty pictures

At first glance you might say "nice painting" but in fact this image a photo, taken by an 18 year-old from Minnesota. At second glance you might say "that doesn't look like Minnesota" and you would be right - it's New Zealand. This is the grand prize winner in Smithsonian Magazine's annual photo contest.

This one's been photoshopped so it's in the "altered images" category - but still a heck of a shot. How do you get a lion to pose for you like that? Bacon on a string up there some where?

And this one from Lake Austin, Texas is amazingly unaltered.

You can see all 50 finalist photos here.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Inappropriately entertained by cruelty


MAY 24--In a recent raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Iraq, U.S. military officials recovered an assortment of crude drawings depicting torture methods like "blowtorch to the skin" and "eye removal."
Do you ever find yourself amused by something that really shouldn't be the least bit funny? I am ashamed of myself, but I found myself in that condition as I was looking at these "crude drawings." The first few were shocking, but when I got to this one...

Is it me, or is the guy with the iron smiling? There is something about the angle of his head that conveys a sort of contentment. "You know you are enjoying this, my friend. What did you say? No starch? When we are done with the housework I will make the Cup 'o Soup and we will watch Dancing with the Stars, ok my friend?"

OK, I got that out of my system.

There is something odd about this series of instructional torture illustrations. Do you really need drawings to teach people how to blowtorch someone? And if you are making these for al Qaeda, why are they in English? Maybe these are not really instructional, just the sketch pad from some jihadist who would rather be an art major?

Our world today seems to be rife with questions and short on answers.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ernie Pyle crossed with Charles Bukowski?

New word for the day: blook

"A blook can refer to either an object manufactured to imitate a bound book, an online book published via a blog, or a printed book that contains or is based on content from a blog." - Wikipedia

Recently, a Bay Area guy named Colby Buzzell won the "Blooker" prize for his Iraq war front blog. He wrote using the name CBFTW.

From Defense Today magazine, an article by Nathan Hodge:

Blogs are, in some way, a defining cultural phenomenon of the war in Iraq, much as psychedelic music provided the soundtrack to the Vietnam War. There are dozens of Iraq blogs, posted by ordinary Iraqis, civilian administrators living in the Green Zone, rear-echelon soldiers and combat infantrymen. One Iraqi blogger, known by the nom de plume Salam Pax, even saw his Web diary published as a book, The Baghdad Blog...

Some blogs are patriotic, others are personal rants. CBFTW—a native of the San Francisco Bay Area who listed his interests, variously, as "drinking, skateboarding, reading, [and] 7.62 fully automatic weapons" along with punk rock and barroom poet Charles Bukowski—favored the rant, his long posts unencumbered by spelling and standard punctuation. He was also an avid reader, peppering his posts with literary allusions as well as references to punk and metal classics (the title of his blog—"My War"—comes from a Black Flag song). In some respects, CBFTW's irreverent blog echoed the spirit of Dave Rabbit, an enlisted man who ran a pirate radio in South Vietnam called Radio First Termer.
If you're forgetting what the people over there are dealing with, read some of Colby's older posts, and look at the "Men in Black" video. It may the same ol' same ol' here, but we're still in a war.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Whatcha reading?

When summer approaches, I always think of a teacher I had in high school who rhapsodized about reading War and Peace. He said he loved it so much, as he approached the end he rationed the pages to a set number per day to make it last longer. Wouldn't it be great to have a week or two (or a month or two) to do nothing but read War and Peace, and love it that much?

Truth is, I can't sit still for that long. The older I get the antsier I get. So I guess that's why I have a tendency to read several books at the same time. Well, not literally. That would be clumsy. What I mean is there are always three or four books around with dogears in them. Well, not literally. The dog would never go for that.

At the moment, here's the lineup:
The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki. This is my new Tipping Point book experience, the kind you look forward to at the end of the day, always some revelation, and you want to tell everybody about it.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves. When the HBO series Rome ended I was headed for a some serious withdrawal so quickly started this to take the edge off. It's intriguing but needs a little more zip. Needs Titus Pullo to bite somebody's tongue off. Should pick up when Caligulua shows up.

A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization by Jonathan Kirsch. I learned that our modern concept of Satan was entirely created by the nutjob who wrote Revelations, and that the Bible would be a lot more fun if they had just left this part out. I blame the editor. Probably an alcoholic.

So what are you reading?...

Monday, May 21, 2007

More on the Mumbai-Pasadena connection

A southern California web-based news entity has hired reporters to cover Pasadena news - from India. That was described here 5/15. C.W. Nevius wrote about the outsourcing local journalism story in the 5/20 Chronicle.

...Macpherson's core idea, covering sleepy Pasadena "block by block," as he says, is one of the trendy new theories in modern journalism.

"In this community, the local newspaper had to cut back and has left a vacuum," Macpherson said. Pasadena Now, which he says attracted 45,000 unique readers last month in a community of 155,000 and is now in its third year, intends to fill that need.

He's not the only one. Rob Curley, a self-described "Internet nerd from Kansas," has pioneered a new "hyper-local" coverage that he's selling to major news organizations. Starting at small newspapers in Kansas, his approach has been such a hit that Curley is now setting up a model for the big, influential Washington Post.

Curley's theory is to "cover children's baseball games like they were the New York Yankees." Or, as his colleague at the Post, Levi Chronister, said Wednesday from Washington: "Don't try to out-CNN CNN. Give the community what they want."

Radical! Give the community what they want! Who woulda thunk it?

Strange to recall that Ronald Reagan, the quintessential small-town American, triggered the slow death of community radio with his deregulation. Lots of newspapers have committed suicide by aping USA Today. If you are a small local media outlet with a finite market, the more you cut out the one thing that makes you unique - local news coverage - the less relevant you become. Yes, you can expand your internet presence, but your core audience is still the small number of people in your town.

For my money, Pasadena Now is doing the right thing, prioritizing covering the local news. Readers won't care if the person writing the story is next door or on the moon, as long as they get to know what's going on where they live.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"I crave your distinguished indulgence" part 2

In our last episode, antihero Phil Mycrackin, a purveyor of the Nigerian scam, was on display with an embarassing sign - the indication that he had become a victim of the scam-baiters. These intrepid do-gooders seek out the evil con men and women who try to steal our money with email scams and turn the tables on them, tricking the scammers into performing all sorts of demonstrations of gullibility in order to get their hands on the money they seek. Hence, the pages and pages of funny photos found in the "Trophy Room" at - like the one seen here. (Believe it or not, there are something like 2,000 photos on this site.)

The last post also referenced the article in the June Atlantic Monthly where I first learned about these scam baiters. And here's where the other shoe drops. As I am grinning along with the story and imagining the schadenfreude that would come from scam-baiting, the Atlantic article shifts into a collective white guilt theme. Notice that most all the scammers in the trophy room are black, says the story. Doesn't that make you feel bad? Haven't these poor Africans had enough misfortune? Didn't a lot of that misfortune come at the hands of greedy white men? Aren't they just getting back a little of what they've lost? Hmmmm. Suddenly I'm not having so much fun.

But wait - I should feel sorry for these people? Granted they don't live on easy street like most Americans, but is stealing the answer to poverty? If I am poor and want more, the way to get it is to lie and cheat and take it from someone more gullible than myself? What about hard work, getting an education, pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps and all that?

I don't feel much sympathy for email scammers. But there's a funny bit of pscyhology here. No matter how much you may have been wronged, there's a point where your retaliation can go over the top, and you lose the sympathy of the crowd. Especially if you are bigger, stronger, richer or - face it - whiter. Suddenly you no longer a clever table-turner, just a bully.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"I crave your distinguished indulgence" part 1

If you have an email address, at some time you have gotten the "Nigerian scam" offering or some variant. Someone wants to give you a large amount of money, but to get it you have to give a small amount of money - it's a scam as old as dirt. Or more accurately, the concept dates back to the 1500s when it was known as the "Spanish Prisoner" con.

I heard a friend say recently that he likes to answer back to these email con men and engage them in a conversation. He said maybe it keeps them from pestering someone else. An altruistic act.

Imagine my surprise when I open the June issues of Atlantic and there's a story titled "The Art of Scam-Baiting." (I'd link it for you but Atlantic requires a subscription so here's an excerpt.)

A vicious and intriguing cyber-war has broken out in the Spamosphere, or more specifically in what I’d call the “Scamosphere.”

I’m speaking of the emergence of “scam-baiters,” the avengers of the Scamosphere, who’ve arisen to take on “419” con artists, the scammers who pose in spam e-mails as agents for the widows of deposed finance ministers of Dubai or vice chairmen of the Ivory Coast Cocoa Trading Board. The ones who promise you a share of a multimillion-dollar “inheritance” stashed in a Swiss bank account in return for your help in getting access to it by posing as the legal beneficiary. The ones who then try to persuade you (and it’s amazing how many are blinded enough by greed to believe the pitch) to fork over one “advance fee” after another to “estate attorneys,” “private bank managers,” and other fictional “facilitators”—until you awaken to the fact that you’ve been taken or are broke. (The name 419 comes from the number of the section of the Nigerian criminal code that applies to fraud, though the advance-fee fraud is actually a variation on the centuries-old “Spanish Prisoner” ploy.)
The photo here is from the site 419 Eater. This is a meeting ground for the scam baiters, and the photo is an example of the nutty stuff they get the scammers to do with the promise of getting the money they are after. There is page after page of photos and some of them made me laugh out loud.

OK, kids, digest all this, review the selected reference materials, and I will follow up with you on this next time...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Apu and Rajneesh blow the lid off Watergate

From the Boston Herald story:
PASADENA, Calif. - The job posting was a head-scratcher: "We seek a newspaper journalist based in India to report on the city government and political scene of Pasadena, California, USA."
Granted, the world is flat and outsourcing work to far-flung places is good for keeping prices down. (Perhaps not so good for actually getting help from the help desk in a dialect you can understand, but that's another story.) But one might think that there are some jobs that just cannot be done from a remote location, some things that simply require your presence in proximity to the job. Then again, maybe not.

The story in question relates to a web publication called Pasadena Now. Management of this outlet made news last week when it was reported that they are outsourcing news reporting duties to India. Pasadena Now is a very low budget affair, and James Macpherson is trying to beef up his news content affordably. It's the same problem small local news outlets face every day - how do you cover the news and still make a profit? Macpherson seems to have the costs under control - two reporters for about $20k. Here's the ad he ran on Craigslist:

We seek one to two 500-word articles each day Monday through Friday (depending on news that is occuring) PLUS two weekly in-depth Special Reports which focus on the City Council's weekly Council Meeting ... The Council meeting is televised on the Internet...
We do not believe that geographic distance betwen California and India will present unsurmountable problems, and that working together with you will result in your development of a keen working knowledge of this City's affairs. This will result in accurate and authoritative News reports.

Dude, that's a lot of story generation. So you can see what a bargain it is to get the work done for that money. And even more impressive when you learn that one of the people he has hired is a UC Berkeley grad. A thousand a month goes a lot farther in Bangalore that in the Bay Area.

It seems weird and it seems inappropriate, and most of the bloggers on this topic have worked up a nice righteous indignation. But the truth is, this is a fully functional idea. In my own experience I have seen radio news reporters cover meetings by watching video tape and making phone calls, and the essence of the story was conveyed. It doesn't matter if you are 5 miles away or 5,000 miles away when you're working on the phone and by email. Admittedly you cannot get the depth and texture a veteran reporter will provide when covering local news. But does that quality come from being there where a meeting is taking place? Or does it come from knowing the issues and working the beat? If the journalist in India knows his craft, he should be able to get the job done. Not only is it a functional idea, but it seems a heck of a lot better than the "citizen journalism" concept proposed by KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa back in January.

Wonder what it would cost to get somebody to write this blog for me...?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A picture is worth....oh, I don't know... a lot of words.

When I was about 12 I had the walls of my room completely plastered with full-page color photos from Sports Illustrated. There was no place on the room where you could see the panelling. Every square inch was action sports, edge to edge, perfect rectangular symetry. Back then you had no other lasting memory of a great sports moment at your fingertips - no VHS recording, no ESPN highlights - it was just your memory, and Sports Illustrated. A lot of the pictures I had on my wall were of athletes I didn't know. It wasn't about being a fan of a particular sport or team as much as being a fan of the great photograph. There was something compelling about the fluidity, focus, intensity and power captured by those still cameras. If a photo also could tell the story of a whole game, if might become a true classic.

I think we may have a nominee for true classic standing in this one from the SF Chronicle:

I am no basketball fan, but we happened to be watching when the Warriors pasted Utah the other night, and this was a defining statement toward the end of the game that the series was far from over. 6'3" Baron Davis takes the 6'9" noted shot blocker Andrei Kirilenko to school - with a little help from a forearm shiver that would make Fred "The Hammer" Williamson envious. I have looked at the video of this slamma-jamma, and nothing compares to this still shot. I don't know if Sports Illustrated got a frame like this or not, but if they did maybe I will tape it to my wall.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Punched, stunned and tasted

Three items of Stupid News for you here.

Number one:
Fight breaks out at Boston Pops concert

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- Concert-goers, and even Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, were caught off-guard when a fight broke out on opening night at usually sedate Symphony Hall.

Television video of the fight Wednesday night showed two men struggling in the balcony -- one with his shirt pulled off -- as several people stood around them.
Top possibilities of what got them started.
1. Insulting remark about how all of John William's movie themes sound the same.
2. Disagreement over whether Barry Manilow was better than Billy Joel.
3. Noisy candy wrappers.
4. Dodger fan in the Giants section.
5. Misheard reference to Yo-Yo Ma thought to be a comment on "yo mama."

Number two:
The tampon taser/stun gun is the latest in portable and personal security systems. The beauty of this taser/stun gun, aptly named The Pink Stinger, is its ingenious design and ability to be concealed nicely and unassumingly into any purse for ultimate stealth. The taser's gentle glide zapplicator easily fits in the palm of your hand for incredible comfort and protection and ready for honorable discharge at a moments notice. In addition, its fresh floral scent helps eliminate the smell of fear, not just cover it up.

I wish I was clever enough to have made this up, but it's for real. I think.

Number three:

Thanks to the Big Man from Texas for this one, dubbed the "best sports headline of late."

Royals to Get a Taste of Angels' Colon

For those not baseball fans, Colon is a pitchers' name, so this is not a reference to the actual... well, you know. Baseball players like to slap each other on the butt, but it rarely goes beyond that. I think.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Conan goofs on Napa

You might have heard Conan O'Brien was in the Bay Area last week, and his visit included a trip to Napa Valley. Does the premium wine business still have a problem with being perceived as snooty?You tell me after you watch these videos.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Once in a lifetime

Thanks to my friend Dan, I flew in a B-17 yesterday.

There's a group of guys who travel all over with these restored classic planes. For a few bucks you can look at one up close. For a lot of bucks you can get a ride. Kind of indulgent, so I wouldn't have done it if I had to pay, but it's probably worth the money for the thrill.

I've done my share of flying on commercial jets, including some small ones where you get a real sensation of flying, but nothing could compare to this. Not just the history of the thing, but the way it felt alive, organic, thrumming and surging and powering through the air. Truly memorable.

There were two WW2 B-17 vets on the flight. You will see them at the end of this short video. You can only imagine the thoughts going through their minds, the memories...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Do as I supersay, not as I superdo.

Today is Earth Day. Well, not precisely, but in the grand scheme of things what's a few days difference? And aren't we supposed to think and act like it's Earth Day every day? So there.

Today's topic is superuse. I have just discovered this term about 10 minutes ago and have invested quite a bit of time in studying the subject since then, and now feel qualified to consider myself an expert. Superuse means going beyond just piling cans and bottles in a bin to be picked up - it's about finding another use for things. Like this, for example:

Here we have a collection of used up Rubik's cubes. (I can't imagine who would throw one of these away, they are so much fun.) Some superuser has superused the cubes to make this cool mosaic portrait. If you had enough Rubik's cubes you could go into business as a "portrait mosaician," make a lot of cash and superuse that money for lots of things.

Here's another great idea:

This chandelier is made from ballpoint pens. Admit it, you've always wanted one of these.

So be a superuser like me. I haven't done anything with Rubik's Cubes or ballpoint pens, but this blog post was made entirely from recycled pieces of other people's blogs.

Friday, May 4, 2007

I Tinker, as Ever, with the Chance of a great baseball name

Sports just ain't sports without nicknames. I don't know what happened exactly, but somewhere in the 70s I think the players decided they had too much dignity for nicknames. So suddenly all the Leftys and Whiteys and Big Trains were fading away and all that remained was Dave and Tom and Jeff. It's not the same, my friends, not the same.

You have your good boxing and football nicknames, but baseball was the game that seemed to make them mandatory. Dizzy, Daffy, Ducky, Dazzy, Bump, Cookie, Goose, Rusty, Red, Pepper, Scooter, Babe, Yogi - these from the great era of nicknames when a guy's real name would disappear completely. And then you have your great descriptors -Catfish, Mudcat, the Big Cat, the Big Hurt, the Big Unit, the Baby Bull, Shoeless Joe, the Iron Horse, the Yankee Clipper, the Splendid Splinter, the Rocket, Charlie Hustle, the Georgia Peach, the Spaceman, the Mad Hungarian, and my all-time fave, Three-Finger Mordecai Brown. (That's him in the picture.) Why is it that today we come up with so few great new nicknames? Granted there are a few good ones now and then - El Duque is nice - but in general, the best we get lately is something like A-Rod - wow, that's clever. Who's to blame here? A generation of lazy sportswriters? (And by the way, the stupid names that Chris Berman hangs on people don't count - that's just a bunch of meaningless wordplay. How is "the crime dog" a good descriptive name for Fred McGriff? It's a "funny-once" thing, not a great nickname.)

With all this as preface, I have established my love of the great baseball nicknames. Now I must take issue with one current player and his name, which does not pass the sniff test - Coco Crisp. Are you kidding me? This guy's real name is Covelli Crisp, so I can see how they got there, but everytime I hear an announcer saying "Coco Crisp at the plate" I am expecting some kind of comedy routine. ("And Cream of Wheat's on third.") It all just makes me hungry.

So give me the descriptive baseball nickname any day, but let's go easy on the breakfast cererals, ok?

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A plan for honest communication in the workplace

I was watching The Daily Show last night, and there was a bit where the correspondent was talking with someone who was supposed to be an expert in American Indian culture or something. He said "She showed me the ways of the Indian" or some such line, and the video showed her giving him an "Indian burn."

You may not be familiar with the "Indian burn," and I would like to show you in person, but since that is difficult we will rely on the definition from
  • A prank done by grasping the victim's forearm firmly in both hands, and then twisting the hands in opposite directions about the victim's arm, causing the tender skin to stretch making it red and sore.
Having had no reason for many years to perform, or even think about the "Indian burn," I was delighted to be reminded of this particularly painful technique for child-on-child torture. And I took a little trip down memory lane, recalling other signs of love we often inflicted on each other.
Dutch rub: headlock followed by knuckles abrading the scalp in a scrubbing fashion. In some sub-cultures may be called noogies.
Monkey bump: swelling inflicted by punching someone with the second joint of your middle finger jutting out from your fist. May be out of bounds during games of "slug bug."
Dead leg: result of the properly delivered crushing blow to the quadriceps, typically inflicted on a victim sitting to your left or right, at the moment the teacher turns to the blackboard if your timing is good.
Ear flick: use of the spring like qualities of the finger to render an unexpected and stunning impact on the back of the ear. Useful as retaliation for a dead leg. (Wait until you're on the bus.)

I recall one short spell in 4th grade when we boys became enamored of racing about and gleefully kicking each other in the groin. Sounds vicious, but it was all in good fun. The principal didn't see it that way, and so our pleasure was cut short. Perhaps we were just looking for a little something new in the way of inflicting pain on each other.

I wonder if we would all enjoy our adult lives a little more if we could reintroduce just a bit of this jollity. Imagine the pleasure of sneaking up and ear-flicking the clerical assistant now and then - or administering a dead leg to the sales associate next to you at a presentation - or finding the heinous theif who ate your yogurt from the break room fridge, and giving them a thorough Indian burn.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Fun with mashups

Mashups using Google Maps: the salvation of mankind, or tool of the devil?

Perhaps I draw the parameters a bit broad. But these mashups are proliferating, and they range from silly fun to useful to kind of subversive. (A mashup, by the way, is a blending of different things. The term seems to have originated with music, and now has gone multi-media.)

Examples of Google Map mashups:

Napa Valley vineyards map
A basic use of the concept.

Find Starbucks
Now this is useful. How many times have you bumbled all over a strange town looking for a Starbucks. Never more.

Roadside America - Guide to offbeat attractions
Every state is included here. This link will take you to the Missouri map. You can see how useful this mashup can be - otherwise you might miss the statue of Marlin Perkins or the world's largest pecan.

The Geography of Seinfeld
If you want to know where the real soup Nazi can be found...

Following the Dollars: Map Political Campaign Contributions in Your Area
Here's where it gets subversive. Enter your area of interest and click on the dots. You'll see the name of the donor, who got the money, and how much was given. Don't even say anything about privacy, you have none...

For eleventy-million others, go here. Write if you get work.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"A more common word for a vagrant would be a tramp, or formerly, a bum." - Wikipedia

Back in about 1987, KRON-TV discovered the delicious irony of a homeless problem in Napa. (Great in-depth story here on the days when KRON had a real newsroom.) Imagine! Homeless people in Napa, where each and every citizen receives a volcanic mud scrubdown and bathes in milk each morning, and breakfasts on Beluga caviar and truffles before being carried in a litter to their chateaus, where they oversee the production of their $100 per bottle boutique wines. (That's really the way it was back in '87. If you weren't living here then you really missed out.) Sylvia Chase, who was the star of Bay Area TV news at that time, oozed with indignation. "Some people here have so much, and you let these poor wretches live in the gutter - how I pity your souls." I am paraphrasing here.

So flash forward 20 years and guess what? We still have the same problem, only there seem to be more of the them. And we have the same debate points - the homeless are local people, they grew up here, they are squeezed by the new economy, they have had some hard luck. They need a shelter, they need a program, they need a haircut, clean clothes, and second chance. OK.

But we also seem to have new angles on the issue this time around. Some people are pointing out that there are lots of homeless people who are illegal immigrants. They're opting to live in the weeds down by the river as part of their financial plan for success. And then there are the boozers and druggies you see making their treks to the liquor store on Third Street. About the same time regular folks are going in for morning coffee, these folks are ready for a quart of the hair of the dog, every single day.

It feels like things are heating up after a couple of crimes involving homeless people (albeit in one case the homeless person involved was the victim) and I have the feeling there's going to be some change. Some people are starting to see them like stray cats - if you feed them, they keep coming back. And one letter in the Register even goes so far as to use the word "bums" - which of course is the accurate term for a fair number of these people, but heaven forbid we should call a bum a bum. (My other pet peeve is the use of the word "campers" for homeless people. These people are not "camping" they're squatting or trespassing.)

Do people have a right to be homeless? If it's true that most of them have either an addiction problem or are mentally ill, shouldn't we compel them to get treatment? Are we really being compassionate when we let people live this way, or are we enabling them? How much caring is too much? Would some tough love be a better strategy?

If Jonathan Swift was still around he might have a "modest proposal" to solve this problem, but I fear they would be tough and gamey.