Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
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Saturday, April 30, 2021

A big reason I hate traveling is the screening process at the airports. We all know that 9/11 brought on the call for increased vigilance during the boarding process, to screen against any likely terrorist on commercial flights.

Who’s a “likely” terrorist? Basically, anyone of Middle Eastern origin, or who looks close enough. I would be in the latter category: I’ve got dark hair, darkish skin (especially during tanning season), and vaguely Near Eastern features. The end result: I get pulled off to the side during every checkin, without fail. All it takes is a look at my face, a look at my name (which isn’t Arabic or Middle Eastern at all, but sure isn’t “American”), and it’s off for several minutes of taking off my shoes and getting a pat-down.

On the one hand, I understand the need for vigilance. On the other hand, it’s happening to me. And it’s happened enough times now that I’ve gotten past seeing any bright sides to the process. Instead, I do a look-through of the rest of the boarding party and wonder, for instance, why the red-headed pasty-white fellow didn’t have to endure the same treatment I got — because after all, he looks Irish, so there’s a chance he could be IRA. (That the Irish Republican Army is unlikely to carry out operations against American targets is beside the point.)

What especially aggravates me is the hollowness of the whole procedure. It’s not going to prevent a single terrorists who’s worth his skills from getting on a plane. It’s just about entirely cosmetic: Other passengers see someone who fits an ethnic profile, so having that person pulled aside and cleared (or not) is designed to put everyone else’s mind at ease.

This is the nature of all security, really: The primacy of the illusion over actuality. The gated communities that are increasing in popularity across the U.S. are a perfect example. When any pizza delivery guy can get past the gate code or half-asleep guardperson, it doesn’t take much to figure that a determined criminal can get in and out without much hassle. But the gate serves as a visual reminder. It creates peace of mind, as faulty as that is.

All in all, I can’t complain too much about my experiences. Omar Khan goes through a lot worse, and he thinks there are concrete steps that can make the whole process meaningful and more efficient. It would eliminate wastefulness like this:

“You mean I have to go through this every time?” I asked. Apparently. I was warned to expect to spend two to three hours each time attempting to get back into the country of which I am a legal resident. This struck me as insane. How are we made safer by repeated security checks because of an indiscriminate emphasis on generic names? …

A month ago I came back to the United States. As predicted, there had been no update to the database. It took more than two hours again. The exasperated immigration officers told me they had to process the same people, even if they could verify that they’d already done so, because they weren’t allowed to use their judgment. One of their own supervisors had been detained for more than three hours, even after showing his credentials!

This fundamental failure in the security network just reinforces my argument: The screening is perfunctory, done more for show than to prevent damage. Why else go through needless repetition? Nothing is learned for actual anti-terror action — it’s primarily for show, to give the average person a warm fuzzy feeling that “something is being done”, when in fact, nothing substantially effective is being done.

In order to do something real in this space, a lot more resources are going to have to be dedicated. That’s usually where the bumpy roads begin: It’s easy to talk about stiffening up security, but when it comes to paying for it and putting the plan in action…

Apparently, the Philippines is better equipped at dealing with this stuff than the U.S.A.:

Earlier I’d had a similar experience in the Philippines. Another Omar Khan had written bad checks there. But unlike the bureaucratic Department of Homeland Security, the immigration supervisor there was empowered. After checking the facts and my passport, she waved me through. She suggested how I could avoid being stopped in the future: Present myself at the appropriate ministry and let them run a check, then be given a document for future visits. As I had a long-term consulting commitment there, I did so. The whole process took 30 minutes, and the Philippine authorities and I are now spared a needless hassle.

To a degree, this is understandable: Other countries have been dealing more directly with terrorist activity for years, and have honed their responses. But still, to be outdone by a Third World country…

The upshot is that I’m tired of being yanked aside for no other reason than to give others a false sense of security. If they’re going to conduct this nonsense, make it truly worthwhile.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/30/2005 08:08pm
Category: Politics, Society
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Friday, April 29, 2021

In addition to Daniel “Brainman” Tammet, the “Letterman” show on Wednesday also had the ever-quirky Amy Sedaris on.

Like me, she’s of the Greek Orthodox persuasion, and so recognizes an Easter that usually comes weeks later than the rest of Christendom. She had a good zinger about the real reason for the discrepancy:

Amy is preparing to celebrate Greek Easter next week. Greek Easter usually comes later than regular Easter. Amy’s mom suspected it was later because then the Greeks could get all their Easter stuff on sale.

Makes sense to me. Although I don’t recall my mother, or any other relatives, bragging about any bargains they got on Easter egg coloring kits, or marked-down chocolate bunnies; and just try finding Peeps after mid-March…

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 04/29/2005 10:17am
Category: Comedy
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Thursday, April 28, 2021

Interesting guest on “Letterman” last night:

DANIEL TAMMET: he’s a mathematical savant and the subject of a new documentary on the Science Channel, “Brainman.” It airs on Friday. Daniel says he’s a prodigious savant possessing exceptional mental ability. At the age of 4, he had an epileptic seizure and his father rushed him to the hospital. It is believed his seizures as a child “kicked” something in his brain to unlock this gift. It makes one wonder if we all have this ability hidden deep inside our brain and only needs to find its way out. An example of Daniel’s talent is he can solve 37 to the 4th power in a little more than a snap of the fingers. What makes Daniel so special is that other savants do not have the ability to communicate for us to understand. Daniel can. He can explain how his thinking works and what is going on in his brain. He can also explain, or help explain his autism…

When thinking of numbers, Daniel says he sees numbers as shapes and colors and images. In the notes for his segment, he is asked to explain what he sees when asked what 37-squared equals. Daniel responds, “I don’t see a 3 and a 7 in my head. I see the numbers as shapes, as images. I see a bumpy thing on one side, and another bumpy thing on another side, and a space in the middle and they come together. And then I begin to see a sequence that looks rounded in some way that got bits to it and that look s a bit like lumpy porridge and it clicks . . . and the answer is 1369.”

I guess it works in reverse as well. Daniel looks at Dave and starts to explain something, saying, “For instance, you’re a very handsome man . . . .” Dave cuts him off and shyly says, “heh heh heh, well, you certainly got my number, heh heh heh.” Oh how I laughed at that. Anyway, Daniel says that David Letterman reminds him of the number 117; tall, lanky, a bit wobbly.

So this guy has not one, not two, but three high-functioning mental peculiarities: Savantism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and synesthesia. Talk about your brain working overtime!

Tammet’s appearance on “The Late Show” was intriguing enough to make me want to catch the “Brainman” documentary about him, airing tomorrow. But I doubt I’ll be able to watch it; right now, I’m slated to be flying back to Tampa while it’s on. Another time, maybe. (Or maybe I’ll just go rent Rain Man again…)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/28/2005 03:47pm
Category: Science
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I guess all those iPod car-kits are having an effect: Infinity Broadcasting is converting one of its AM stations in San Francisco to all-podcasting format.

It’s a very interesting experiment — the equivalent of transforming a TV channel to all-blog or all-Web content. There’s no risk on Infinity’s part: KYCY-AM gets no listeners as it is, so any change is worth trying. And no money’s going to change hands, to it’s an absolute free-for-all, content-wise.

But the only important question: Will advertisers go for it? Even in a Web mecca like San Fran, it might be tough to convince buyers that listeners are going to tune into a 24/7 amateur showcase. Even if an audience exists, will they opt to tune in, rather than fire up their iPods? Especially if they don’t want to deal with commercial interruptions?

I hold a dim view of podcasting, despite being one of those iPod car jockeys. I don’t put much store in the content — I’m quite happy with music on my digital player, and blog content on my computer monitor. So this doesn’t appeal to me; but since I’m cold to the concept in general, I’m probably not the ideal focus subject.

Is this the future of radio? I really doubt it. Broadcasting’s chief advantage is that it’s wholly portable and passive: You don’t have to remember to carry it around with you, relatively speaking. That’s the tradeoff for enduring listening to commercials. Podcasters might get a kick out of having their audio go out over the air, but I don’t see the appeal extending too far past that.

UPDATE: I’m guessing Tampa Bay’s podcasting community, including perhaps Area 51 and Digital Flotsam, is salivating at the prospect of getting local radio output.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/28/2005 10:17am
Category: Internet, Radio, iPod
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try my chutney squishee
Care for a ham-and-brie on artesian bread while you fill the tank with unleaded? That’s the theory behind upscaling the lowly gas station convenience stores to offer quality food, in an attempt to compete with other restaurants and boost revenue streams.

It’s an unlikely culinary revolution, but Slim Jims are making way for sushi as convenience stores transform themselves with upscale eats and shed their image as junk food pit stops.

I have a feeling that if they got James Woods to work behind the counter, this could fly!

“How can it be the same movie if they’ve changed my character from a tightly-wound convenience store clerk to a jittery Eskimo firefighter?

Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. Well, actually that’s a pretty good explanation.

Okay, look, book me a flight, rent me an igloo, and tell those dorks at the Kwik-E-Mart that boom, I am out of here. I’m a dot, I’m gone, okay?

What do you mean I gotta give two weeks notice? Lousy, fricking, no-good mother(bleep) (bleep) (bleep) (bleep) (bleep) cheese!… No, not you, I’m just talking to my oven.”
-James Woods on the phone

I’m skeptical about the approach, but not overly so. This concept can indeed work in highly affluent neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and the NYC ‘burbs. Outside that? Highly doubtful. It’s not the existing image of these quick-stops as junk food havens, but simply the lack of enough business beyond the booze-and-smokes staples.

It’s not touched upon in this article, but I know that the spread of pay-at-the-pump options has put a major dent into the convenience store sales. Think about it: If you don’t have to leave your car to gas up, why would you venture into the store unless your really needed to? Personally, I won’t waste my time at a gas station unless I can pay with my credit card at the pump — I’ll even drive away and find another station if necessary. So I guess the stores have to try different things to draw customers through the door.

And hey, if that gourmet sushi doesn’t move off the rack, they can just leave it there for a few extra days and relabel it “fishing bait”. That would appeal to the more traditional store clientele…

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/28/2005 08:53am
Category: Business
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well hello, britney
I’m not sure which concept is more unsettling to me: The great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong having done the original version of “Oops! I Did It Again” back in 1932, or that Britney’s rendition is actually a cover.

What’s next, the revelation that “Hit Me Baby One More Time” was first performed by Miles Davis back in the ’60s?

Calm down: I get the joke. In fact, it so happens that this brand of humor matches a comic exercise that I run through my head quite often: Grafting conflicting lyrics and melodies, and artists, together. Like imagining how Naughty by Nature’s “O.P.P.” would sound if performed to the tune of the Rob Thomas/Santana song “Smooth” (with Thomas’ vocals, of course). Yeah, I know it’s weird; that’s just how I roll.

(Via Alternate Merge)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/28/2005 08:32am
Category: Comedy, Pop Culture
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Wednesday, April 27, 2021

If you’re one of those cranks who wonders why pharmaceutical companies pump so many dollars into TV commercials for penis pills and cholesterol blockers, take heart: You’re only an indirect target, intended to influence the real audience.

In an unusual experiment in which actresses posed as mildly depressed patients who did not need medication, doctors were five times more likely to write them prescriptions when an ad for a specific drug was mentioned.

Drug companies spend roughly $3 billion a year on direct-to-consumer advertising, fomenting sharp debate over how much sway the advertisements have over doctors. The study showed the effect is significant.

“When patients ask for a drug, they tend to get a drug regardless of whether it is appropriate for them,” said Joel Weissman, a health-policy expert at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research. “That is a fascinating finding.”

Surveys have shown that in up to 7 percent of doctor visits, a patient requests a prescription based on an ad - a rate that experts say can significantly boost sales.

In other words, the consumer is the surrogate drug mule, whose purpose is to prompt the doctor to OK the brand-name drug purchase. It’s actually a classic application of advertising effectiveness: Create awareness in one group, triggering action from that group to another, until the sales start rolling in.

What this really tells me is that the medical professionals, who are relied upon to be an informed stopgap and clearinghouse for such health-critical decisions, aren’t really doing their jobs. So you can take that trust you’d normally invest in your doctor, tell him/her to take a hike, and just do your own research; you’ll very likely be much better off.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/27/2005 11:32am
Category: Advert./Mktg.
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Well, maybe it’s not dead yet, but it’s definitely on life support:

Only two of Nielsen Media Research’s top 30 programs last week were situation comedies and one of them - CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond” - ends its network run next month. The only other top-rated sitcom: “Two and a Half Men.”

Laughs aren’t necessarily absent elsewhere: ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” is classified as a comedy, and reality shows have some funny moments. And CBS’ Sunday movie last week, “Locusts,” had its camp appeal.

But the ratings are otherwise dominated by drama and reality, with comedy at a low ebb.

What brought on this low ebb? One theory has a residual “Cosby Show” effect plaguing a too-insular sitcom creative field:

Twenty years ago, The Cosby Show helped revive network comedy. Perhaps ironically, some executives said the results of that success may be what’s stalling a revival this time around. Following comedy’s mid-1980s rebirth came an increasing demand for comedy writers, many of whom were plucked straight out of college. Now in their mid-30s, those writers, it seems, have nothing to say.

“Comedy is about point of view,” said one TV agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Without life experiences beyond college or the TV business, added the agent, “how can you have a point of view?”

It’s television feeding upon itself — and that’s a bad thing…

It’s hard for me to believe that there’s a huge mass of comedy-writer deadwood gumming up the works. Granted, hitting it big once or twice bestows upon you credibility, which is like gold in television development. But if the hits stop coming, that credibility dries up quick. Even with a talent diffusion into cable, movies and other outlets, it’s a stretch to think that a bunch of underachieving alums from the ’80s comedy bloom are in entrenched in network deals.

That said, these dire straits don’t surprise me much. Personally, “Seinfeld” was the last sitcom I made a point of watching regularly on a network. I haven’t seen anything compelling enough to draw me back, and it’s been nearly 10 years now. I guess I’m not unique in this.

Never fear though: With NBC grasping at anything to reverse its fourth-place fortunes, and the imitative nature of the TV biz, comedy’s primed for a (recycled) resurgence, quality notwithstanding.

I actually like the sound of some of this junk:

Fox, not surprisingly, has a world of weird-sounding sitcom pilots. Dave Attell stars in “New Car Smell,” set in a Las Vegas car dealership; “Grandmaster Freak and the Furious 15″ is an animated comedy about rappers back at the dawn of hip-hop: and “Freebirds” is described as “a partially scripted update of ‘The Graduate.’ “

I’m going to keep my eye out for that “Grandmaster Freak” — it actually sounds promising.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 04/27/2005 09:12am
Category: TV
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Tuesday, April 26, 2021

As mentioned, I extended my stay in New York into this week mainly to help close out some family business related to my father’s death. It didn’t turn out to be an awful lot, but it did take the past two days to do what little needed to be done.

Predictably, a good deal involved dealing with bureaucracy: Mainly getting my dad’s name removed from various accounts and adding/keeping my mom’s name. I wanted to avoid waiting in lines for hours on end, and looked at getting things done online or over the phone.

Sadly, in the case of a death, there’s not very much you can accomplish online. It’s understandable: It involves a major change for the account, and requires something in the way of verificaiton (i.e., death certificate). Upshot, you have to deal person-to-person.

Fortunately, the telephone was almost always an option. After diving through all the maze-like voicemail menus, I was able to get to the right person and do what needed to be done.

The only spot where I ran into significant interference was, predictably, the Social Security Administration. I’ll bypass the details here, but the options came down to either getting the administrative changes done via phone, or else heading down to the local office and waiting for a few hours.

I managed to get everything done (I hope) on the phone, and found out a couple of simple ways to get such things done when dealing with bureaucratic drones:

1. Call early in the day, as soon as the lines open

2. Latch onto a cooperative customer service rep (and try multiple times to find one if necessary)

Aside from the other obvious steps, like having all your info at hand when calling, the above proved to be invaluable when dealing with Social Security. The early thing wasn’t ideal for me, the anti-morning person, but it was well worth it: Their call volume is a lot lower, and there’s a stronger chance of getting things done.

The second part is a bit trickier. I wound up having to speak with three different people on three different calls. The first guy was very cooperative and a breeze to work with; unfortunately, I forgot to take care of one thing, and ended up having to call back.

I got a bi-otch on the second call, who proceeded to make me jump through every conceivable hoop before telling me that she couldn’t help me, and that I’d have to go to the local office to take care of the problem.

After that, it was late in the day, and I figured I’d try my luck the next morning with a third call. The third person I got was somewhere in between the previous two: She was a hard-ass to start off with, but then actually went to work for me after we went through the preliminaries. I wound up not having to go to the local office, and closed out business with that early (before 8AM) phone call.

So, I’d say that if you get a power-tripping CSR on your first shot, just end the call as quickly as possible (however you choose to do so), and just call back and cross your fingers. Odds are you’ll get someone, eventually, who’ll actually help you.

This kind of clean-up detail is unavoidable in this sort of situation. It went relatively smoothly, and, if nothing else, is valuable for future reference.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/26/2005 04:59pm
Category: Society
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face off
I haven’t seen them lately, but I recall that, at the start of Spring Training, Nike started running new versions of its “Warriors” spots featuring MLB players. Maybe they didn’t test as well as the earlier ones with NFL players, and were pulled; or maybe they’re still running, and I’m not catching them because I don’t watch baseball.

It occured to me that, if the NHL season had come off this year, we might have been treated to a hockey edition of this kabuki-like imagery. Just one more casualty of the lockout…

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/26/2005 10:15am
Category: Advert./Mktg., Sports
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What’s life like in New York State’s Mid-Hudson Valley, where I’ve spent close to three weeks now?

It’s the kind of place where a mild-mannered, 47-year-old police dispatcher and avid bowler can turn into a thieving music promoter with pierced nipples, all thanks to the evil influence of a third-rate rock band.

His colleagues say [Jim Dunlap's] downfall has its roots in rock.

Last year, Dunlap began hanging out with a collection of twenty-somethings, musicians who call themselves Human X, and who favor face tattoos, gloomy song lyrics and powerful guitar riffs.

The local rock scene gave Dunlap a glimpse of a world he’d never known in isolated Highland Falls, surrounded as it is by the West Point military academy and hemmed in the mountains of the Hudson Valley, friends speculate.

“I think he found something he felt a part of for the first time in his life,” said Officer Doug LaPerche, PBA vice president. “And things got out of control.”

Yeah. I need to get back to Florida, now. Before some dorks with face tattoos mesmerize me toward my downfall.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 04/26/2005 09:34am
Category: Society
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Monday, April 25, 2021

Even more oddball things to spy, here in the New York hinterland north of Manhattan (and the Bronx/Westchester/Rockland):

First, it was Dowser Natural Spring Water doing its best knockoff impression of Aquafina. Today, I saw some big landscaping/lawn supply company brandishing the slogan “Got Mulch?” — which is, of course, a send-up of the U.S. dairy industry’s iconic “Got Milk?” campaign.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good look at the name of the hick company that’s “borrowing” the concept. As with the Aquafina thing, I can’t believe the powers that be would let such an obvious lift go this far. Then again, maybe the grumbling from the dairy farmers over funding “Got Milk?” has led to apathy over any ripoffs…

I think both instances point to a curious acknowledgement relationship the average person has with intellectual property (both in advertising/marketing, and more broadly). Each upstart in this case will argue that they’re not stealing anything: They’ve changed just enough of the original template to serve their own purposes, and there shouldn’t be any confusion between their wares and the more well-known inspirations. The argument against them is that the recognizabilty of the original is what sparked that inspiration in the first place, and that recognition factor represents a lot of time and resources in building a well-known brand; and anything that borrows elements for other purposes constitutes a dilution of the original.

I just find it funny that this is going on in Manhattan’s backyard, of all places.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/25/2005 04:32pm
Category: Advert./Mktg.
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As usual, the ubiquitous technology movement is charging ahead without regard to accessibility considerations for the blind.

[AccessWorld: Technology and People with Visual Impairments editor-in-chief Jay] Leventhal and other experts on assistive technology say there’s no reason that can’t happen. The technology exists in voice chips, image processors, cell phones, cameras and personal digital assistants.

Someone just needs to put it all together.

That’s the principle behind the Levar Burton Vision Enhancement Technology Center, a fledgling venture that will pair the resources of West Virginia University and Georgia Tech with private-sector partners like Motorola Corp.

Together, they will use off-the-shelf technologies like lasers, magnifiers and global positioning systems to develop, test and market products to help people see better. The American Foundation for the Blind, which runs a technology evaluation center in Huntington, will advise the scientists.

“It isn’t that there’s some special need a blind person has,” says Mark Uslan, director of the Huntington facility. “The problem is they’re not getting access to what other people have access to.”

Of the 18 million Americans with diabetes, for example, about 5 million have a visual impairment. But when Uslan’s lab tested 30 brands of blood glucose monitors, it found only one that was usable. It was 10 times larger and 10 times more expensive than the other models tested.

Mainstream companies need to consider the vision-impaired when designing products, Leventhal says.

“There’s no reason for someone to have to make an MP3 player that’s accessible to blind people when several companies are already making MP3 players,” he says.

Though many assistive devices are commercially available for the blind and vision-impaired, each has limitations and nearly all are expensive, produced in small batches by specialized companies. Even a software program that makes a computer talk is nearly $1,000 — as much as the computer itself.

Disregard for things like this is just another example of the lack of fundamental industrial product design principals in the computer/tech world. It’s a continual case of the tail wagging the dog. If a company ever gets it together and starts offering products designed with truly intuitive usability in mind, they could clean up huge.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/25/2005 10:57am
Category: Tech
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Drew Massey, founder of the late and great P.O.V. Magazine, is back trying to blaze a new media trail. ManiaTV is a Web-TV hybrid content farm, aiming to deliver on-demand video clips to that golden 18-34 demographic that’s glued to the computer monitor more than the TV screen.

Think early MTV, only this time it’s “broadcast” live on-line for worldwide audiences.

“The whole mission is to do with Internet TV what Ted Turner did with cable,” said Massey, 35…

Massey trademarked the ManiaTV name some 7 years ago, but waited to launch the venture until technology for showing videos on-line improved and until there were 20-million broadband users, the same number of cable subscribers when MTV was launched more than 20 years ago.

Still, ManiaTV faces competition from the slew of music channels on regular television, and on-line powerhouses like Yahoo Inc. are boosting entertainment offerings.

“There’s also an awful lot of people out there producing, from VH1 to Fuse. There’s not people demanding more,” Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said. “Now there’s also video on demand, where you can get a lineup of whatever videos you want to see. That’s the direction things are going: Program your own channel.”

MTV plans to do just that with the broadband channel “MTV Overdrive,” which launches Monday (April 25) with a mix of news and entertainment programming, its own studio and advertisers including Microsoft and Procter & Gamble.

ManiaTV’s principals say their service differs in that viewers control the network, calling in, e-mailing requests, sending in short films and appearing on air via webcam.

The show MySpace Mixtape even picks viewers to host a one-time, one-hour show with their own video lineup.

It’s an intriguing concept. But I’ve noted before that such ventures into “user-controlled” platforms are feeble attempts to graft old-style broadcast controls onto fundamentally de-centralized Web interaction. Why should anyone in the target audience want to play with ManiaTV (a name that sounds seven years old, by the way) when they can do their own programming, without a middleman?

Beyond that, the idea that there’s a huge demand for constant media interaction with the boob tube is, I feel, overstated. There’s a reason why TV, in its passive form, is so failsafe popular: It doesn’t require you to do anything but watch. Most people don’t feel a need to be engaged very second. There’s a time for Web-styled interactive entertainment, and for videogames, and then there’s vegging-out time. That model’s not going away anytime soon.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/25/2005 09:51am
Category: TV, Tech
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E! has developed this annoying little hook on some of the show promos it runs: For programs with start times of 10PM, it’ll signify the time by having the announcer rhetorically ask, “When? At ten!”

It’s kind of hip the first time. But after hearing it three or four times in a row, it grates on you. They need to lose it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/25/2005 09:31am
Category: TV
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first goal
Back in 1997, NBC was flying high. It had the lion’s share of hit prime-time shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends”, and was leading the field in those cash-cow zones of morning news programs and late-night entertainment. So the Peacock Network could comfortably spurn the NFL when it came time to renew its broadcasting deal to the tune of $4 billion for eight years.

Fast forward to 2005: With the loss of “Friends” and the resurgence of programming on other networks, NBC has plummetted from first place to fourth, and is more than happy to get back into the NFL business with $600 million for six years of Sunday Night Football.

In some ways, ponying up less than $1 billion for NFL rights is a bargain, and in line with NBC’s philosophy of putting minimal investments into sports programming. And confining football to Sunday nights minimizes the potential disruption to other show on the network’s schedule, in cases of overtime, etc.

But let’s get real. NBC’s got tepid Arena Football broadcasts and the crash-and-burn spectacle of the XFL as examples of what happens when you try to sub in Brand X for the NFL. Being left out of television’s premiere sporting even left a huge hole in NBC’s roster, depriving it of a failsafe foundation.

As long as the primetime schedule performed, there was little to worry about. But, even though fortunes can turn over in a hurry, the current prognosis for NBC isn’t good: They haven’t found a “Friends” successor (“Joey”? Don’t make me laugh — which would be more than the show itself can do), and other standbys like “ER” are sputtering toward death. Despite still being number one in the mornings, “Today” is facing serious competition from ABC’s “Good Morning America”, enough so that NBC took preemptive action by shuffling producers in the hopes of injecting new life. About the only area that’s going right is late-night, and that’s as much due to complacency by David Letterman and CBS as to anything that NBC is actually doing right with Leno and O’Brien.

So now, NBC is forced to go back to partnering with the NFL, just to combat “Desperate Housewives”. It’s a bit pathetic. Shows you how vital big-league sports are in today’s TV programming mix.

If nothing else, just getting a Super Bowl out of the deal should pay off for NBC. We’ll see if it helps reverse the overall slide.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 04/25/2005 09:25am
Category: Football, TV
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Sunday, April 24, 2021

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to search for any statistical studies that illustrate how much the average American household spends on media and telecom services. In particular, I’d like to see a comparative study over the past, say, thirty years.

I haven’t mustered up enough time to really hunt down that info. But here’s something just off the top of my head, unsupported by hard data but probaby not too far off the mark.

Here’s what I figure are the average monthly household bills related to media and telcommunications, by item:

In 1975
- Telephone (single line, long distance, no frills): About $15
- Daily Newspaper: About $4
- Magazine Subscriptions: About $4
(That’s just about it, unless I’m missing something big. Cable TV was around in the mid-’70s, but didn’t really start catching on until the early ’80s; the average person still went with over-the-air fare.)
TOTAL: $23

In 2005
- Telephones (landline with long distance, call waiting, etc.; second line, cellphones, Blackberry pagers, etc.): About $200
- Internet (broadband): About $40
- Cable/satellite TV: About $80
- Magazine Subscriptions: About $10
- Daily Newspaper: About $10
- DVD/Video Rentals: About $25
(We can probably add satellite radio subscriptions to this lineup in the next five years; and I realize that the newspaper subscription is probably getting dropped in most households these days.)
TOTAL: $365

That’s a rough estimate, but I think it’s fairly on-target. Even accounting for three decades of inflation, this is a really big spike. It says a lot about how much we, as a society, have invested into our media consumption. I think the media and telecom industries have also done a deft job in marketing these services, many of which would have been inconceivable expenditures back in the ’70s.

Are we more “connected” these days? It does seem that we need/want more distraction, even if we don’t fully make use of it (for instance, we’ll pay for the 800-channel digital TV package, even if we only watch a half-dozen channels of it at any given time). I don’t know if it makes us more attuned to a collective knowledge, though. And who’s to say that we truly need to be accessible as much as wireless phones and the Web make us…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 04/24/2005 06:40pm
Category: Media, Society
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Saturday, April 23, 2021

A combination of a very rough week, rotten weather and being out of my home based kept me indoors for most of this Saturday day and night. Luckily for me, I’ve had today’s NFL Draft coverage to waste occupy my time.

I didn’t watch all eleven hours on ESPN/ESPN2. I’m a football fanatic, but not terminally so. After the first round, I was content to peek in for 5-10 minutes at a time, just for refreshers and a healthy injection of football chatter.

I did tune in for the end of today’s action, mostly because I was amazed that Rounds 1 through 3 stretched all the way to 11PM. I’m glad I did, because I wouldn’t have learned about the Denver Broncos’ closing out of the third round with the surprise selection of controversial tailback Maurice Clarett.

Clarett’s road to the NFL has been a bumpy one. He attempted to get into last year’s draft, in defiance of the National Football League’s edict against extending draft eligibility to anyone younger than college juniors. He took his bid all the way to the Supreme Court before the door was completely shut. Because he was expelled from Ohio State, his college stomping grounds, Clarett was forced to sit out a year before getting his name into this year’s round-by-round merry-go-round. (For more detail on the Clarett case, look-ah here.)

Because of all the baggage, a lot of observers guessed that Clarett wouldn’t get selected until around the sixth round, and possibly might get bypassed altogether. So being picked so early was a stunner, and being picked by the Broncos doubles that impact.

Denver’s been a running back factory over the past several years, with a specialty in producing top-flight rushers out of low-round prospects. Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis, and Reuben Droughns are all products of the Broncos system, and all save Portis were drafted in the fourth round and lower (Portis was a second-rounder). So the fact that Clarett was tabbed by an organization that, apparently, is unequaled in appraising and developing the league’s leading runners is a great signal for his future NFL value. If the Broncos’ track record holds true, then Clarett will become a major factor in the league — which would be the ultimate capper after everything he’s been through.

It was a hell of a way to close out the first day. No one expects anything close to a noteworthy selection with the very last pick of the third round, and Denver manages to toss a major curveball. It’s about as exciting as it can get for the offseason, and for an otherwise lackluster draft.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/23/2005 11:27pm
Category: Football
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the originalthe knockoff
The oddball things you run across in upstate New York… Like Dowser Natural Spring Water, formerly known as Big Indian Water. It’s the local bottled water concern, with a market comprised of the no-man’s land between NYC and Albany (aka the Hudson Valley).

As you can see above, the bottle design for Dowser is damned closed to that of Aquafina, the heavyweight bottled water made by Pepsi. It actually warranted a doubletake by me, and I have an acute eye for this sort of brand recognition. I’m sure it’s suckering a bunch of consumers out there who absently grab a bottle and just assume, from the color and design, that they’re getting their familiar Aquafina.

So, how long before Pepsi’s legal team lets loose the attack dogs? I can’t believe they even allowed Dowser to get this far; I’m assuming the re-branding was fairly recent.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 04/23/2005 09:21pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food
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Friday, April 22, 2021

My father was buried today.

Today also happened to be Earth Day. I’d draw a parallel between the two events, but it seems a bit perverse. (I’m sure it’d seem less so if it weren’t my parent…)

There was the requisite amount of tears. Aside from the immediate family, there were scads of folks who came out to pay their respects. You tend to meet a lot of people over the decades, and my father drew in a lot of friends and acquaintences who remembered him fondly. It was good to see so many people come together, albiet under less than ideal circumstances.

Thanks to everyone, online and off, who’ve sent their condolences. I appreciate it, as does my family. My mom, who’s as far away from being computer-adept as you can get, is sheerly amazed that all this sentiment is coming out of cyberspace, from people she’s never even met.

I’ll still be here in New York for a few days. There are various bits of family business that need tending, most of which I hope to complete on Monday. Then it’s back to Florida, and plenty of catchup, along with some reflection.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 04/22/2005 08:32pm
Category: General
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Thursday, April 21, 2021

We had the wake today for my late father. Yes, we move fast around here. It’s amazing how quickly things fell into place: Funeral arrangements, picking the cemetary plot, arranging for the service. The feeling was that delaying the experience, even by a day or two, would only prolong the experience for everyone, particularly my mother; and the sooner we could settle everything and move forward, the better.

Tomorrow is the funeral itself. I’m delivering the eulogy. After that, I guess my dad will be, in a final sense, gone. It may take me a while to fully digest that.

Coincidentally, today the large wooded area behind my parents’ house started being cleared away by a big tree-smashing bulldozer. Its demise had been rumored for years, but I never believed it would actually happen — the professional office space that’s supposed to be constructed was always on the drawing board, but never very close to realization. To me, having grown up with “The Woods” as a fixture bordering the backyard, I just assumed that that sylvan stretch (from where woodland beast like deer would sometimes emerge, improbably enough in a most urban setting) would persist forever.

I’m not equating the loss of one of my parents with the knockdown of a bunch of trees. But the juxtaposition of these events seems telling to me. It’s like a lot of things I’d always (irrationally) thought would be there indefinitely are suddenly disappearing.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 04/21/2005 11:08pm
Category: General
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