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Monday, January 31, 2021

words and pictures
I’m going to use this week’s Media Monday to wash the disagreeable presence of Elektra out of the collective consciousness. Jennifer Garner is a talented actress (and a hottie), but really, the movie is a waste of celluloid.

So I present the Word & Pictures Museum’s virtual exhibition of Elektra: Assassin. Even though it covers just the first issue/chapter of the entire book, it’s enough of a taste to show that you’re better off spending your time and money on this, instead of a movie ticket.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/31/2005 09:38:12 PM
Category: Media Mondays
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With the announcement of former Baby Bell SBC’s merger aquisition of AT&T, Dow Jones reports that the combined company might ultimately adopt the older AT&T name:

Given the cost efficiencies, it would be desirable to fuse these into one brand at some point or two brands maybe,” Alan Siegel, chairman of branding consultancy Siegel & Gale, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc.

“You use the best name … and you don’t get involved in ego,” he said. AT&T is “an iconic name. It’s got an amazing heritage to it. It’s got tremendous strength.”

While SBC has a name that’s strong in the markets it serves, it isn’t well- known in the rest of the country, let alone in foreign markets. “It just cannot compete with the century-plus strength of the AT&T brand,” says Rob Rich, an analyst at research firm Yankee Group.

The notion of the acquirer donning the acquired company’s identity isn’t as unusual as it might seem:

It wouldn’t be the first time an acquirer took a target’s name. When America Online bought Time Warner Inc. in 2001, it became AOL Time Warner, until it dropped the tarnished AOL part in September 2003. Chase’s 2004 acquisition of J.P. Morgan gave the tony investment bank top billing in the renamed JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Here are a couple more such examples, just from my memory (and past blogging):

- WorldCom morphing into MCI and moving its headquarters to MCI’s digs, albeit well after buying it

- NationsBank taking on Bank of America’s name

- First Union taking on Wachovia’s name

I know in more than a few such instances, taking the plunder’s name is a rather cynical maneuver: The buyer had done such a rotten job with customer service and other areas that their brand equity was practically beyond repair. So the quick fix is to re-boot under a brand that’s suddenly newly-owned, and has an established track record. I know this was the case with the First Union-Wachovia deal.

The notion of wayward corporate children eating their former parent companies, then assuming their brand identities, seems somehow perverse. But it keeps things interesting.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/31/2005 09:04:41 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business
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There’s a blood drive at the office this Tuesday. As usual, they’re offering little freebies as enticements to donate: A t-shirt, various coupons, etc.

There’s a twist this time around: Your pint of red enters you into a drawing for a $500 gift card from Home Depot.

Is that a big enough incentive to make someone roll up their sleeve, especially if they never usually give blood? Five bills worth of plywood, fixtures and the like is nothing to sneeze at. I have a feeling all those “I can’t stand needles” excuses will fly out the window.

If so, it’ll be a marketing jackpot for the blood bank, which traditionally has problems getting donors.

I like Home Depot, even though I don’t have much use for 90 percent of their offerings (since I rent, not own). I was planning on giving anyway; I’ll cross my fingers on winning the big prize. Maybe I’ll give it away, like I’ve done with past blood-giving swag.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/31/2005 07:49:58 PM
Category: General
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It sounds like the first draft of a Dead Kennedys song. But no, Club Med is planning to build a tourist resort in, of all places, former Communist isolationalist stronghold Albania.

It’ll be amusing to see Albania being pitched as a prime holiday destination to the Euro-tourist market. I suppose a beach is a beach…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/31/2005 07:11:06 PM
Category: Business, Society
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I’m sure some people’s idea of Hell on earth is being sans telephone access, even for too many consecutive minutes.

Those people would probably have shot themselves had they spent any time in Mink, Louisiana, which just today got landline phone service hooked up, one of the last rural areas in the U.S. to have gone without.

It seems like a quaintly outdated development: In an age where wireless phones and VoIP/Internet phone service are making traditional phone lines superfluous, this little corner of Louisiana is finally joining the 20th (or 19th?) Century. Geography made the new-tech phone methods just as cost-ineffective as old-style phones, but still. I’m betting this newly-installed phone network will be abandoned inside of 20 years.

Super-obvious joke, incoming:

“We started in early 1970 trying to get a phone,” [resident Alma Louise] Bolton said. “We’d talk to the phone company but they’d never call back.

How are they going to call you back if you don’t have a phone? Could it be that Mink never got phone service for all these years because of missed callbacks?

Anyway, there is a downside to getting the hook-up:

“It wasn’t 15 minutes after that phone was in before a telemarketer called me,” [resident Elaine] Edwards said. “But that wasn’t really a problem. I just told him I wasn’t interested and hung up.”

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/31/2005 06:47:02 PM
Category: Tech
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Sunday, January 30, 2021

Anyone who relies on the public buses in the Tampa Bay area knows how much wasted time is built into the system. Today’s St. Petersburg Times devotes not one, but two stories about this:

- On the Pinellas side, a look at the Route 19 bus, which takes about 2 hours to navigate 35 miles. If you have to transfer between buses, good luck.

When [Karen] Fernandez, 40, moved her family from the Chicago area to Clearwater, she was happy about all the sunshine but none too glad about taking the bus.

“It’s nothing like Chicago,” Fernandez says with a frustrated wave of the hand. “It seems like everywhere you need to go you have to take two buses. You almost have to have a car here.”

You can forget about that “almost” part — in order to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time, you need a car. Despite being an urban zone, Pinellas and Hillsborough are car-centric infrastructures more akin to suburbs. Even residential neighborhoods aren’t designed for much pedestrian movement.

- Meanwhile, in Hillsborough, the transit authority pays Mark Sheppard to be a “travel trainer” — someone who provides free assistance for people inexperienced with riding public buses.

While this is a nice idea — especially since most of the recipients of this help tend to be mentally or physically challenged — it strikes me as telling. HARTline’s bus routes are so complicated and spotty that there’s a need for someone to draw maps and give instructions. Shouldn’t it be a bit more effortless to use something as fundamental as a bus?

I can hear the guffawing in New York and Chicago now. Can you imagine NYC employing “subway trainers” to show people how to get on a train, or “taxi trainers” to show people how to flag down a cab? Tampa looks rube-ish by comparison.

In both cases, you’re seeing the results of a half-assed approach to public transport. The Catch-22 is clear: It’s hard to pour more money into a service if more people don’t use it, yet more people won’t use it in the shape it’s in. As bad as traffic is getting around here (and it’s getting perceptibly terrible), it’s going to have to get tons worse before any serious efforts are made to encourage people to bus it to work (or anywhere else).

Light rail, forever a proposal for more efficient state-wide people-shifting, might be something to look at on a metro level. Phoenix is embarking upon a rail project, and since the metrics for that city match up with Tampa Bay quite closely — spread-out infrastructure, congestion, etc. — it will bear watching as a possible future model. It’s obvious the current solution isn’t working.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/30/2005 08:36:57 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Society
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So you catch a cab. You slide into the back seat, shut the door and set off. The driver greets you thusly:

“Where to, buddy; and, are you looking for a girlfriend/boyfriend?”

Offhand, it could be a bit creepy. But Ahmed Ibrahim’s made a nice little matchmaking hobby out of it, linking up Manhattan’s lonely hearts.

“I was joking around with this girl … who said she couldn’t find a boyfriend,” he recalled. Ibrahim took her number.

Three days later, a man got in his cab and bemoaned his bad luck finding a woman. Ibrahim called the woman and gave her the man’s number. Three weeks later, she called back and said they had gone on a date and were getting along great.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is my new project,’” he said.

A star is born. In more ways than one:

Since then, he has been featured on Fox News Channel and NBC’s “Today” show and in The Wall Street Journal. He even has an agent shopping his story to producers in Hollywood.

I’m visualizing a Tony Shalhoub big-screen vehicle coming out of this…

In a way, this strikes me as a real-life flipside of the “Taxicab Confessions” environment. The cabbie hears all kinds of wacko stuff every day; instead of the seamier stuff, the romantic impulse comes to the forefront.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/30/2005 07:44:40 PM
Category: Society
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I grabbed a pair of shorts out of my dresser this morning. I hadn’t worn them in several weeks.

I thrust my hands in the pockets…

Hello! A five and two singles came up. Jackpot, baby!

It’s always a nice surprise to find money in your clothes. However, I’m so anal retentive about putting my money in the proper place, i.e. my wallet, that I practically never end up finding it in the random pocket. The notable exception: When I’m out at bars, and it’s too much trouble to dig for my wallet every time I want a drink. That might explain how these seven dollars wound up in the pocket — except that I can’t believe I’d go out wearing these particular shorts (they’re not what I’d wear for clubbing).

What can a shorts-clad lad do with seven dollars on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Hmmm… Not much, I guess. But I’ll try to dream up something.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/30/2005 01:09:10 PM
Category: General
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Saturday, January 29, 2021

heeeeeeere's dave
In the wake of Johnny Carson’s death, it was noted that he had kept his finger in the late-night pie by supplying Dave Letterman with a steady supply of monologue jokes.

So how did Letterman show his appreciation?

You heard Johnny Carson had been slipping jokes to David Letterman. You may not know that the “Late Night” host would send his “Tonight” mentor a sly thanks on the air by doing a Carsonesque golf swing. Esquire writer Bill Zehme, who landed the last interview with Carson, tells us Letterman also made sure to send Carson a check for every joke. “Johnny would endorse the check with a smart-ass remark for Dave to read when the check came back to him.”

I’ve noticed Dave doing those swings every so often during his openings, with accompanying drumroll from the band. It was obviously a tip of the hat to Carson’s style, but I was unaware of the linkage as punctuation marks for jokes coming specifically from Carson. I think The Late Show should run a montage of those golf-swing moments, in tribute.

Leno should run such a montage, too. Oh, wait — he doesn’t have any golf-swing moments…

(Via Hooray for Captain Spaulding)

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/29/2005 02:37:03 PM
Category: Celebrity, Comedy, TV
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It’s Gasparilla time in Tampa again. Arrrrrr, matey!

Gasparilla rolls in at the same time every year. And somehow, it manages to sneak up on me. As does Guavaween. Do I have some sort of mental block when it comes to the local revelries? Maybe that’s why I haven’t attended either event in several years now.

Accordingly, I’m not planning on partaking in the pirate invasion today. The weather’s a prime culprit: It’s rather dank today, and isn’t expected to improve much. Aside from that, it’s generally a pain to navigate the area, find parking, etc. If I had someone to go with (or, better yet, someone who lived on or near the parade route), I might go for it. But as it is, it’s not worth it.

I do need to head over to Tampa early this afternoon. It’s not going to be particularly close to Gasparilla Ground Zero, but since I’ll be in the neighborhood — and have some beads on hand — the mood might strike me to take in the par-tay.

Or not. There’s a Studio 54-style party at the Dali Museum tonight for the closing of the “Dali & Mass Culture” exhibition. Sounds like more fun.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/29/2005 11:19:13 AM
Category: Florida Livin', Media
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Sandra Thompson laments the Tampa Bay area’s puny ranking of No. 72 on Men’s Health magazine’s “101 Best & Worst Cities for Men” list.

I’m not sure why she’s fretting about a list that came out back in November, but whatever.

Here’s the interesting info on the city that made No. 1:

Fremont, Calif. I didn’t even know where it is, but apparently it’s in Silicon Valley, where guys are young, smart and rich. But get this: In Fremont, the cops are paid to exercise. The police department has a top-notch, on-site fitness center, and officers can work out for an hour during every shift. How about it, Pam?

Of course, regular readers of this blog know about Fremont: It’s the city that made headlines recently for instituting a policy where the police will not respond to burglar alarms unless they’re accompanied by verification.

The reason cited for this rollback of police services? Lack of money and manpower. Fremont police simply don’t have time to respond to every alarm that’s tripped.

It occurs to me that sharply reducing the funds paid out to the cops for getting buff in their sparkling fitness center — during their freakin’ shifts — might go some ways toward solving their resource shortage problems.

True, their cops won’t be as sexy and buff, and probably won’t be tapped for a Men’s Health photo spread. But if I were a resident of Fremont, I wouldn’t mind having a dumpy cop respond to a break-in on my property — just as long as one responds.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 01/29/2005 10:48:28 AM
Category: Publishing, Society
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Friday, January 28, 2021

fully throttledThat’s one big-ass can, ain’t it?

Well, when you’re the Coca-Cola Company, and you’re launching a new ultra-caffeinated concoction, you damn well better have a big-time container.

So we have Full Throttle Energy Drink, available only in 16-ounce megasize. It might be a bit pricey at two bucks a pop, but at least you’re getting some volume for it.

But what’s inside is almost besides the point. The can is the thing, man. Mostly black, oversized, with wicked-cool graphics reminiscent of the finest Jersey auto-detailing garages. It’s like having the Harley Davidson of fizzy drinks in your hand.

Naturally, I had to get one.

And when I found it stocked in my company’s cafeteria yesterday morning, I couldn’t resist. Being a moderate Red Bull fan (and an even bigger 180 fan), I figured I could handle this new taurine-powered juice.

When I popped it open, the aroma hit me first. I liked it; it was citrusy, and promised something good. The color was bright yellow, very Red Bull-ish.

Unfortunately, it was downhill from there.

Basically, the stuff tastes like Red Bull without the flavor — and I consider Red Bull to be a bit harsh. The citrus I expected was absent. All I got from it was a lot of carbonation and unadulterated sugar. It wasn’t bad enough to stop drinking it, but it wasn’t particularly welcoming either.

What’s more, I didn’t really get much of a lift from it. The stimulation I expected from all the caffeine, taurine and whatever else it’s got never materialized. If anything, I felt weighted down by the stuff. It made me wish I had gone with an orange juice instead.

Well, the can is still cool. And I’m sure Coke will market the hell out of this thing, which should make it a success. But as far as I’m concerned, they need to inject this stuff with something, anything, to give it potency. Sixteen ounces of blah is still blah.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 01/28/2005 08:43:40 PM
Category: Food
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Thursday, January 27, 2021

Headline seen while scanning a news website:

Meth Becoming a Threat in Some Cities

My eyes tricked me into thinking it said, “MATH Becoming a Threat in Some Cities”.

I think we all know what a scourge mathematics can be

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/27/2005 07:14:46 PM
Category: Comedy
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Do you tend to use a lot of big words in your speech? If so, you’d better watch your tongue, because it could get you fired.

At least, it can if you work in a comic book shop. And you’re a girl. And your boss is an insecure over-the-hill quasi-lesbian.

I sometimes worry about this myself — not really in professional settings, but in social ones. I get quizzical looks every once in a while over my word usage. It’s not like I’m trying to sound overly-intellectual; honestly, in the course of conversation, certain words flow better than others. I try to keep in mind who I’m speaking with, and on what level, but ultimately, I’m going to express myself the only way I know how. People who know me well get that (mostly); everyone else, deal with it.

If it ever got horribly awkward, I could always claim that English is my second language (which is true — sorta).

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/27/2005 07:01:55 PM
Category: Comedy, Society
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fantasy state university
Months of heated controversy over a proposed school of chiropractic studies at Florida State University came to an end today, as the state’s Board of Governors torpedoed the idea.

I hope this doesn’t derail plans for the other schools in the now-infamous joke map of FSU’s campus. In particular, the Foundation for Prayer Healing Studies holds a lot of promise.

I probably wouldn’t have bothered to follow-up on this story. But I just couldn’t resist the temptation of running that map again.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/27/2005 06:07:55 PM
Category: Comedy, Science
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supersize me
His name is Eric “Badlands” Booker, and he’s “America’s Favorite Competitive Eater”.

You can tell he’s a professional, because he’s wearing a crash helmet. He’ll probably die from artery clogging, but at least his skull is safe!

Unfortunately, speed is not in his competitive eating repertoire: A 100-pound woman managed to eat the megaburger shown above in less than half the time it took fatboy.

Come to think of it, isn’t it always that way? The skin-and-bones types often end up the unlikely winners at these asinine eating contests. Heck, this isn’t even the first time Booker got his clock cleaned by someone a fraction of his size: He got beat by a 113-pound Japanese guy at a hotdog-eating contest.

So, really, there’s absolutely no excuse for becoming a disgustingly obese fat-ass. Hit the treadmill, bitch!

UPDATE, 2/1/05: It’s come to my attention that the picture above may be Photoshop-altered. The likely suspects, the burger and Badlands himself, are true to life; but the helmet may be “not real”, i.e. added to the photo afterward.

If so, it’s a pity. The helmet is what grabbed me. Without it, I don’t think I would have bothered with this post at all.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/27/2005 05:49:44 PM
Category: Food
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Wednesday, January 26, 2021

goin' humpin'
This hasn’t been formally announced yet, but since advertisers and other business partners have already been informed, it’s not exactly a secret. So here it is:

tbt*, the free news/lifestyle weekly launched back in September by the St. Petersburg Times, is switching publication day from Fridays to Wednesdays. The change will take effect either next week or the week after.

Why the move to Hump Day? The official line is that it was deemed people wanted their news roundup and weekend planning in their hands earlier in the week.

Unofficially? Bear in mind, the following is purely speculation on my part; just because my gig is part of the same parent company doesn’t mean I have any special insider knowledge. So looking at it strictly as an observer…

Publishing on Wednesday, a day before the Weekly Planet and two days before the Tampa Tribune’s Friday Extra, gives tbt* a jump on the competition. Specifically, it’s something to offer to advertisers: Getting their ads in front of readers’ eyes earlier. There’s a limited ad market for these pubs — companies aren’t going to buy space in all three, so earlier publication date is a big incentive to choose tbt* over the other two.

The flip side is that Wednesday might be too early for targeting the weekend crowd. But there’s really no alternative: Saturday is devoid of competition, but it’s too late in the week; and Thursday is already taken by the Planet and the Times’ own Weekend section. Wednesday is open territory, and it has the appeal of early ad placement.

It could work out well. All it takes is aggressive marketing and distribution to encourage a habit of picking it up.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/26/2005 08:14:31 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Publishing
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Yoga for hockey players? That’s crazy talk. Only super-hot “Desperate Housewives” actresses do that one-legged pigeon pose stuff. Like ballet for football players, it’s a nice idea, but it’ll never fly in practical application.

Then again, when you’re leading all OHL goaltender statistical categories, and your pregame prep includes controlled breathing and visualization exercises, I have a feeling that yoga will catch on in a big way among junior players (and maybe the pros too).

The yoga master in question is 19-year-old London Knights goalie Gerald Coleman, and he’s ripping up the OHL with a 24-1-2 record, 1.60 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and six shutouts.

Not too shabby. The Lightning look to have a real gem waiting in the wings for whenever Khabibulin hangs them up.

Ah, hockey talk. If only they’d get the season geared up soon…

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/26/2005 07:47:15 PM
Category: Hockey
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beer 'n fish
Neon window sign, Ratchada Thai Restaurant & Sushi Bar, downtown St. Petersburg

Snapped this shot today on my stroll back from lunch (at another joint). I kind of liked the look of the sign; its colors were more vivid than this pic indicates.

I think I was partly inspired by a couple who were walking around downtown, taking pictures of various people and things. I need to better develop my shutterbug instinct, and actually get some use out of this cameraphone.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/26/2005 07:10:57 PM
Category: Florida Livin'
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Tuesday, January 25, 2021

As expected, the recent St. Petersburg Times feature on the all-sports all-time greatest uniform numbers list elicited a good amount of reader response.

Which was the point, after all. Selecting Mia Hamm as the definitive No. 9 over Ted Williams, Bobby Hull and others guaranteed a stirred pot (which the paper readily admitted to in the first place). A bit of a surprise: The representation for NBA legend Oscar Robertson as the pick for uni No. 1.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 01/25/2005 11:15:35 PM
Category: Sports
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search your tube
Google is now in the video search business — but not in the manner that you might expect:

With Google Video (www.google.com/video), Google is indexing the closed-caption transcripts from PBS, C-SPAN, Fox News, the NBA and others. Closed captions, originally intended for people with hearing impairments, are the text translations of program that typically scroll across the bottom of TV screens.

For now, the Mountain View search engine will not link directly to video content. Instead, when users click on a search result, they’ll be taken to a “preview page” that will show excerpts of the closed-caption text alongside relevant still images from the video program.

Where available, Google will also display programming information, such as the date and time the show aired and when it will air next.

“The idea is to help users find programs they know about and find upcoming programming they might want to know more about,” said Jennifer Feikin, director of Google Video.

So instead of locating the megabytes of mpeg, avi and other digital video clip files floating around the Web, Google’s just pointing the way to supplemental information. I can think of three reasons for this:

1. Most of the television video clips on the Web are unauthorized copies. At some point, rightsholders may go the RIAA route and decide to sue people/services that are providing these copies for Web distribution. I’m thinking Google is sidestepping any potential legal issues by only indirectly pointing the way, rather than directly linking to these shady files.

It’s worth noting that the competition isn’t concerned about this so far. Yahoo! Video Search brings back links to the real-deal video clips, without regard for where they reside.

2. For all the advancements, Web search technology is still basically primitive: It relies on text identification to harvest results. Even things like Google Image Search works by indexing the text information that surrounds the media being sought (in this example, the captions and accompanying text on the same page as the image files). So at root, it’s easier for Google concentrate on transcribed data instead of the files themselves, which is far trickier.

The search method for Yahoo! works on the text-search principle: It goes strictly by the filename. So the search service is dependent on people naming their video files accurately. To an extent, this is unavoidable, and a good bet regardless, but still not foolproof: If someone decides to use numbers instead of titles to name their video files, those files are harder for search engines to find (if they can find them at all).

3. Combining the prior two points, Google can position itself as an attractive search technology provider for DVR manufacturers/services. By building this search index now, based upon video content descriptions, Google can present it later as a ready-to-go utility to be bundled into a set-top box. And by demonstrating ahead of time that it won’t aid and abet the recovery of unauthorized copies of intellectual property, Google becomes a strong good-faith partner to the television industry. Yahoo!, with its current video search offering, can’t make that argument.

So I’m seeing this branch-out as laying the groundwork for bringing the Google logo to your television screen, in the mother of all convergence plays. The search heavyweight will soon be ubiquitously; I suppose someday, you’ll be Googling your refrigerator…

(This musing was inspired by a comment I made over at Blue Glow Worm)

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 01/25/2005 10:56:47 PM
Category: Internet, TV
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