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Thursday, August 05, 2004

i do not want espn, the golf channel, or yes

Stanley and I have a high-end subscription to our local cable monopoly, Cablevision. We pay the bucks so we can get Showtime and HBO and well as IFC, Sundance, and Flix. Movies are our escape, and there are certain shows we love that are only found on premium channels free of the FCC bullshit that's dumbing down the airwaves.

But we don't watch sports. None of them. The closest would be the Eukenuba Dog Shows on Animal Planet. We're not Yankee fans, yet we have to pay and extra buck a month for Yes. We don't give a rat's ass for golf, yet we have to pay for the Golf Channel. ESPN: as far as we're concerned, is a ripoff for us.

And I'm sure the sports freak who doesn't watch movies much feels the same way about having to pay for movie channels she doesn't watch.

We could probably cut our cable bill in half if we could pick and choose the channels beyond the broadcast channels that we want and are willing to pay for. We would keep SciFi, but dump MTV. Discovery stays, Fox News: gone.

The cable industry says it would be too expensive. Congress will show it's usual lack of spine and probably not do anything about this any time soon. All kinds of alarmist warnings are strewn about. So it was kind of interesting to read an article that says giving consumer a choice really isn't that expensive, that some cable companies really would like to offer a la carte service, and that the biggie cable company in Canada is already offering this service:

Technology Review: Watching Channel Zero

The cable and media companies cited tens of billions of dollars in estimated costs to equip their digital cable boxes with the necessary "traps" to block individual channels. But that figure may be questionable. I spoke with Jean-Paul Galerneau, communications manager for Videotron, a Canadian cable company that has offered a la carte cable selection for over two years. He claims that his company didn't have to change anything at the infrastructure level to offer a la carte. Videotron customers can change their channel selection every month by calling a customer service representative or simply by visiting the Videotron website. He professes puzzlement as to why the U.S. cable industry insists that a la carte selection would entail an expensive transformation. "It can be done very easily," he says.

A quick call to Scientific Atlanta -- the manufacturer of the cable boxes used by Videotron and a leading supplier in the United States -- confirmed that offering a la carte channel selection wouldn't require any changes to the box. "From a tech point of view, there wouldn't be a problem," says Peggy Ballard, vice president of strategic communications at Scientific Atlanta.

Granted, switching to an a la carte model would incur some costs, such as training, upgrading the billing infrastructure, and marketing. But the $17 billion to $34 billion figures cited in a cable-funded study seem wildly off the mark. Whats more, not all cable companies are opposed to offering a la carte. The demarcation occurs around the issue of media ownership. Some smaller cable companies with no media interests are willing to offer a la carte, while large conglomerates oppose it.

Read the rest -- it's interesting (and I think it's one of the free articles in Tech Review).
posted by lee on 08/05/04 at 08:40 AM

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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

edwards’s tactical expertise

Reading the article below got me to thinking about John Edwards's somewhat disappointing speech at the Democratic Convention last week. It wasn't a bad speech, by any means, but not the one I expected from a winning trial lawyer. But it's been slowly dawning on me why, and the article linked below pretty much clinched it for me. I think Edwards toned down because he didn't want to clearly outclass John Kerry (in the speech making realm, I mean) at the convention. And it makes sense. But read it for yourself ... it's on which, I believe, is free.

A Rise Fueled by Risk and Rewards
John Edwards' unorthodox tactics -- in law and politics

Tom Schoenberg, Legal Times. 8-4-2004

John Edwards' first witness was one of the defendants -- a registered nurse who was in the delivery room when a brain-damaged child was born.

Calling the defendant to the stand as a witness for the plaintiff was a huge risk. If Edwards was unable to get the woman to recount the series of errors alleged in his opening statement, he essentially would be doing the defense team's work for them.

The gamble worked: The nurse confirmed nearly all the mistakes alleged against the hospital staff in the case. Three weeks later, Edwards and the defendants negotiated a confidential settlement before the jury returned a verdict.
posted by lee on 08/04/04 at 07:34 AM

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

wicked funny animation faces the copyright sharks

Go to JibJab and watch / listen to Our Land while you still can. Then read about the threatened lawsuit over the film in the Wired article written by Rachel Metz. Then, take a look at the Electronic Frontier Foundations's notes and letter to Ludlow Music about the suit (EFF took up JibJab's cause).

Ludlow claims JibJab took too much of the original, and that it isn't a parody of the song itself and so therefore JibJab infringed the copyright they hold on Woody Guthrie's song written in the 1930s. EFF says the song is transformative, that the original was lifted from a Carter Family song, and that it is too a parody and completely protected.

It's all pretty interesting. Guthrie would probably be howling with laughter over the whole thing since he allegedly encouraged people to steal the song.

It looks like Ludlow wants to cash in on JibJab's fifteen minutes of fame ... I don't think Ludlow has any inkling of the economics of the whole thing: no money tree to shake here. Face time on Fox doesn't necessarily translate to kaching at the register.
posted by lee on 08/03/04 at 07:41 AM

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Monday, August 02, 2004

missing crayons

Today I stumbled upon gapingvoid: how to be creative. I think via FURL. Read it and then spent quite a bit of time wandering about

"So you want to be more creative, in art, in business, whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for" Hugh MacLeod over the years.

I particularly like his discussion of the Sex and Cash Theory: "The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended."

And his cartoons.

Off to pay some bills.
posted by lee on 08/02/04 at 12:42 PM

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Saturday, July 31, 2004

What Brian did on his Summer Vacation

My nephew was laid off from Ford Motor Company a couple of weeks ago. He decided to take a road trip by visiting his New England-based aunties. He stopped here first, and we took him into New York City to see some of the sites. Then he headed to Natick, which is near Boston, just in time to encounter the Democratic Convention.

It was fun while he was here. We couldn't take much time off to do stuff with him (a day's notice is not enough to reschedule everything), which I was sorry for. We sent him off to Sherwood Island in Westport, where he got a dandy sunburn (at 19, he doesn't care about sunburn. Until afterward). He tried to go to Mystic Seaport, but got caught into one of those mysterious mid-day traffic jams the are seemingly caused by nothing and was forced to turn back (the Seaport battens down the hatches at 5:00, even during the height of the summer tourist season). They joys of I-95. So he turned back, and got a cracked windshield for his trouble (he got it replaced on Thursday). We took him to see I Robot (an awful movie -- a dishonor to Isaac Asimov) and Kill Bill Vol 2 (Tarrantino had two movies in him. This was not one of them.)

But we did manage to get into Manhattan last Saturday. Caught the train to Grand Central, where he got a small taste of what people mean by "As busy as Grand Central Station." We were impressed by the lower level -- lots of shops and a nice waiting area, sort of. We grabbed the shuttle to Times Square, then caught the #1 to South Ferry. Destination: Ellis Island.

To get to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, one takes the Circle Line Ferry. It's not a bad trip. However, we're there on a Saturday in July, and for some witless reason, visitors have to go through metal detectors to board the boats. The security is run by Wackenhut inSecurity (conspiracy theorists: have a field day ...) and a bigger joke we've never seen. It's one of those deals where very low-powered magnetrons are set up in a tent on the dock and they herd people through. The xray screens reveal nothing. They didn't even pick up the keys in Stanley's wallet or render anything visible in my backpack (keys, scissors, pocketknife, camera, etc.) All the screening did was waste time.

The trip out was uneventful, though pleasant. We circled Liberty Island but didn't get off there since it's not yet open again (not until August 3.) It was Brian's first close-up view of Lady Liberty though.


Ellis Island was the next stop on our 15-minute cruise. Stanley took this shot. Too bad it was such a gloomy day, though I was happy the sun wasn't out so I didn't turn into a neon glow.


This was our first trip to Ellis Island, ever. I'd been meaning to go there for years. I know my paternal grandfather came through Ellis Island because I found him in the archived manifests (and got a reproduction of it to give to my Dad for father's day a couple of years ago). I think my paternal grandmother came through as well, but I've not yet been able to find her.

I don't know what I expected. Some of the sense of history I got from visiting other places with lots of history, such as the battlefields of Gettysburg and Manassas, the Capitol, Fort Wayne in Detroit, the old cemeteries around here ... But I was hugely disappointed with Ellis Island. It is soulless. There is no sense of history here. Brian thinks, and I agree with him, that part of the problem is all the modern additions they added when "restoring" the place -- the light fixtures, the stairwells, the arcades.

Another problem is the exhibits themselves. Some were interesting -- the ones showing photos of what the place looked like before the "restoration," particularly since the objects in the photos were displayed in the same room. Stanley like the photos of the restoration itself. There were cases and cases of objects, such as clothing, household goods, toys -- but they weren't organized in any way and were badly lit so that you couldn't really see them properly. There were walls of documents, but they were impossible to read.

Then there were pictures of the immigrants themselves, and the places they came from. These are so large that any sense of intimacy is destroyed. They looked more like photos of Big Brother in the 1984 sense than anything meant to draw you into feeling any kind of a connection with a long-ago immigrant.

Everybody who's never been to Ellis Island thinks there's a wall there with each immigrant's name listed. If there is, I sure didn't see it.

I think the main problem with the exhibits is they weren't categorized in any way that would let you grab hold of a narrative thread. I wanted to see my grandparents' trail from Scotland to New York City, the ship my grandfather sailed on. I'm sure other visitors would want to see the paths originating in other parts of Europe. There was no path to trace, nor a timeline. It is a jumbled mess.

They should have left the place the way it was when it was abandoned in 1924, and maybe set up a visitors' center in another building. Such a shame -- a tremendous piece of our history "restored" to death.

Brian_ESB_shrine072404.jpgAfter we managed to get back to shore, we took the subway up to 33rd Street to go to the Empire State Building. I've been up to the top a couple of times, but neither Brian nor Stanley had even done that particular tourist thing. I love the building, the lettering, the marble so polished it's almost alight.

It was very busy. We got to the escalator that you take down to get tickets to go up, and the line mover guy said there was a 90-minute wait just to get a ticket. By this time, it was after 7:00 and we were all very, very hungry. We let Brian decide, and he said it probably isn't worth waiting 90 minutes to pay $12 each to spend ten minutes looking at the view. I think he was pretty tired at that point, and I know he had a headache.

So we decided to head over to Grand Central.

Walking up Fifth Avenue was fun, and we showed him the New York Public Library, watched the people, looked for a likely place to eat dinner. Which of course we didn't find.

brian_empirestatebuilding07.jpgIt's weird seeing all those Jersey barriers surrounding Grand Central. I guess it's plausible that a vehicle laden with whatever could plow into it -- I assume they're placed there to prevent this. It's also very yuck to see soldiers patrolling a train station, besides the 50 or so visible cops. It didn't leave me feeling any more secure than I did after going through the toy security setup to get to the Statue of Liberty.

We looked around a bit, but there wasn't much to see at 8ish on a Saturday at Grand Central. I really wanted to go to the Oyster Bar for dinner -- I love the food there and I just think it's a cool place. Fortunately, Stanley loves seafood (and I think he was pretty hungry). We had a good gasp at the prices, but decided we would count this as one of our long-delayed celebrations and, hey, what the hell. Neither of us drinks, and Brian isn't old enough to, so we knew the bill wouldn't break us. The food was great. It felt good to sit there and enjoy the place and I'd forgotten how much I like New York City water. We had a nice waiter, who filled us in on the labor situation there (they got a decent contract).

Then, time to go home. While we were disappointed with Ellis Island, and didn't make it to the top of the Empire State Building, it was an interesting day and I enjoyed it a lot. We had to wait more than an hour for our train, but I read the Sunday Newsday. The air conditioning was broken on our car, so it was a hotter than hell trip home, but I was just so exhausted I couldn't bring myself to move until we got to the train station.

Ginger, of course, thought we'd totally dropped off the face of the earth and that she'd never ever see us again, so she was deliriously happy for longer than she usually is when we come home. The demented cat yowled for a while -- I guess that's his way of yelling at us for leaving him with only the dog to keep him company.

Brian headed off to Massachusetts the next day, and the dog moped for days afterward. We'll see Brian once more before he heads back to Michigan -- he's going to be in Bridgeport to see the WWF, spend the night here, and then head home.
posted by lee on 07/31/04 at 06:12 PM

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