Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.

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Friday, March 24, 2021

Taking the Metro North train today, I was amused to see the beer-n-liquor kiosk set up right in front of the track entrance. One for the road, indeed. (I didn’t imbibe for the two-hour trip, but it’s nice to know that Grand Central Terminal thinks enough of its travelers to provide the option.)

What I found strange: The vendor charges $6.50 for a top-shelf drink like Jack Daniels, but the price drops to $6.25 for no-name brand liquor. What’s the point? Is someone seriously going to be dissuaded by a measly two-bits? I guess it’s a fallback in case the cart runs out of the premium stuff, but it’s still a bit unusual.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 03/24/2006 07:28:27 PM
Category: Food, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback (2)

In response to last month’s South Dakota near-total abortion ban, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecelia Fire Thunder aims to open a Planned Parenthood clinic on tribal land, arguing that the reservation’s sovereignty overrides state law.

There are extenuating circumstances to be resolved first. The South Dakotan law is going to be challenged, probably all the way to the Supreme Court (which, after all, was the very point why it was passed, overriding any regional imperatives). And the state Attorney General argues that it would be a criminal act for non-tribal members to avail of the services of any such facility.

First it was extra-legalized gambling, now abortion. What iffy propositions will the Indians dip into next? Bear in mind, I’m not judging at all — I’m cool with gambling and support abortion rights. Just saying, the tribes are in for quite a bit of collateral PR damage if this goes through.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 03/24/2006 06:56:25 PM
Category: Politics, Society | Permalink | Feedback (3)

team danger
After last night’s eked-out 4-3 overtime win over the hapless Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella said his team would be a dangerous playoff opponent.

Dangerous? To whom? The biggest danger the Bolts pose is to themselves, by sliding out of the postseason race. They needed to comeback again and again just to force OT against Washington. In the game before that, they needed to rally from four goals down against Florida — another team they should be plucking an easy two points from (and didn’t, falling to the Panthers 6-5 in overtime). Tampa Bay is one short losing streak away from being bounced.

With that kind of track record, there’s not a single reason why the Eastern Conference’s top four teams wouldn’t salivate over getting the Lightning as their first-round opponent. Tampa Bay’s isn’t showing anything near the consistency needed to survive in the playoffs. Unless their goaltending improves quickly (perhaps with Gerald Coleman somehow igniting the net), I don’t see them winning more than one game in a series versus Ottawa, Carolina, the Rangers or Buffalo. The only hope is for Philadelphia taking the Atlantic crown, as the Lightning has inexplicably owned the Flyers all season.

I’m sure Torts intended his comment to be a team morale-booster more than anything else. But it’s laughable to think anyone else in the NHL thinks the defending champ is a dangerous team. It’s going to be a brief stay in the postseason — if they get there at all.

- Costa Tsiokos, Fri 03/24/2006 08:48:20 AM
Category: Hockey | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Thursday, March 23, 2021

One of the stock gags for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani journalist character Borat Sagdiyev is the claim that his country’s most popular hobbies are disco dancing, archery, rape, and table tennis — presumably in that order.

Kazakhstan’s official rebuttal provided unintentional humor in its own right, with an embassy diplomat characterizing archery as being “not prominent” in the former Soviet republic — while more or less glossing over the rape citation.

It reminded me of the old “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” episode, “The All-England Summarise Proust Competition”. During the original airing, a similar enumeration of hobbies caused a stir:

‘Proust’ of course features one of the most famous pieces of Python censorship. Asked by quizmaster Terry Jones what his hobbies are, Graham Chapman’s keen contestant says “golf, strangling animals and masturbating”. This features in the original script and was recorded, but censored for its original broadcast on 16/11/72 - with the words “and masturbating” mixed off, leaving a second of silence and, for the TV audience a massive audience laugh seemingly directed at nothing.

Years later, one of the Pythons pointed out the absurdity of UK censors objecting to masturbation, but feeling that the “strangling animals” part was acceptable for broadcast.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 03/23/2006 10:34:42 PM
Category: TV, Comedy | Permalink | Feedback

For me, the essence of musical instrumentation isn’t the strum of a guitar or the beat of a drum — it’s the syncopated sound of needle scratching vinyl.

So I really dig these warmup sessions by Scratchadix, in preparation for the DMC World DJ Championships. Cuttin’ and scratchin’ in the oldschool way.

The Scratchadix boys better keep practicing, because I hear DJ Darth Vader is going to be dropping some Dark Side breakbeats this year.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 03/23/2006 09:11:36 PM
Category: Internet, Pop Culture, Creative | Permalink | Feedback

I first learned about Alienware Corp. a couple of years ago, while covering the Florida business landscape for Florida Trend. I thought it was a company worth keeping an eye on, editorially, for a couple of reasons: It was a tech company, it was in south Florida, it achieved nine-digit revenue generation via dedicated niche markets, it was a great organic-growth entrepreneurial story. Unfortunately, I never made much headway — the company got into the magazine’s pages occasionally, but never in-depth. I think the business of hard-core videogaming PCs was considered outside the interests of Trend’s core readership.

Now that computermaking giant Dell is buying Alienware, a little more attention might go toward the high-end custom computer biz.

I’d noticed that Dell was really pushing its XPS line, positioning it to encroach upon the territory that Alienware and Voodoo PC had carved out. Despite robust growth, Alienware couldn’t hope to compete with Dell’s resources in the long run, and wouldn’t be able to convince potential investors otherwise. I’m assuming the company’s founders decided to get out while the getting was good.

Despite initial news that Alienware is going to retain its branding and autonomy, I can’t believe Dell would maintain both that and the XPS label. Eventually, one will be abandoned, and I’d bet it’s the Alienware name that goes in the ashbin.

UPDATE: Analysis from BusinessWeek’s Louise Lee suggests that acquiring Alienware is a response to the cool reception XPS has had. Since Dell is known as primarily low-end, the premium-priced XPS was a tough sell; Alienware is an established pricey brand, so that market segment is easier for Dell to reach via acquisition.

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 03/23/2006 06:03:41 PM
Category: Florida Livin', Videogames, Business | Permalink | Feedback

Wednesday, March 22, 2021

mix 'er up
This was inevitable, given that I just outfitted myself with a spankin’ new video-enabled iPod. Plus it’s been months since the last go-round.

So here are the last ten tracks that my iPod spit out at me, on random shuffle play:

1. Talking Heads - “Sugar on My Tongue”

2. Squeeze - “Tempted”

3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - “Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood”

4. Nirvana - “Oh, Me (unplugged live)”

5. DJ Kentaro - “Introduction”

6. Camper Van Beethoven - “Pictures of Matchstick Men”

7. Madonna - “Bedtime Story”

8. Stereo MCs - “Connected (remix)”

9. The Police - “Man in a Suitcase”

10. Cirrus - “Back on a Mission (Cirrus’ Funky Joint Remix)”

Not really representative — where’s the rap music? I’ve got a couple of hundred loaded up at any given time. But not a bad list, otherwise.

Hit me with your own random runs in the comments, if you care to.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/22/2006 10:00:57 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Tech | Permalink | Feedback (3)

super genius
It wasn’t exactly of Twelve Monkeys magnitude, but the adventures of Hal the coyote as he led his human pursuers through New York’s Central Park was a rare wildlife romp in the heart of the big city.

I still have a hard time thinking of coyotes in these parts. I always think of them as Western beasts, not to be found east of Mountain Standard Time. There’s nothing to that, as the species has been living in the Northeast since the ’30s.

Still, I don’t recall ever hearing about them in New York while growing up. There were plenty of other wild animals in the woods adjacent to my boyhood home, including the occasional deer; you’d think coyotes would be attracted to that, if nothing else. The first time I became cognizant of them here was when a friend in Florida, who hailed from Connecticut, mentioned that they’d been causing problems at his mother’s house.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/22/2006 09:34:01 PM
Category: Science, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback (4)

Any other Yahoo! Mail users out there noticing more spam getting through the filters lately?

For the past week or two, two or three spam messages per day have been winding up in my Inbox. And these are obvious spams — the usual penis pill/low mortgage rate/free computer crap that routinely fills up my Bulk folder all day and night. I can’t see anything that distinguishes these particular missives from the rest of their ilk, but for some reason, they’re getting past the goalie.

I haven’t had a serious problem with Y! Mail in the years I’ve been using it. I continue to keep it as my “official” email address, despite having a couple of other accounts (including Gmail). It’d be a shame if it started buckling under the spam deluge now.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/22/2006 04:22:08 PM
Category: Internet | Permalink | Feedback

Yesterday, I noted the un-design similiarities between eBay and MySpace, suggesting that it was a key to both their successes.

John pointed me toward a loose discussion of the topic that contained this kernel of insight:

As some of you may know, thefacebook.com just got a subtle redesign. It’s a nice CSS-based design. Nothing flashy, but definitely clean and professional looking.

Well, the other day, in the daily student newspaper for the University I work at, there was a commentary about how now that “the facebook is all-professional and stuff,” how long before they start selling our private information, add a bunch of advertisements, etc.

I just thought it was interesting that in this case, the professional design actually scared someone, rather than pleasing them…

I guess this is the heart of it for a lot of Web users. The more polished a site is, the more suspect it is. The amateur look is a sign of street cred: It implies there’s no money behind it, so it can be trusted. The funny thing is that this simple-is-good cosmetic factor extends to well-known blockbuster companies, like Google and eBay. I guess it functions as a mental sign/countersign, but it’s so easy for “real” companies to emulate and exploit it.

It also speaks to how much a site’s looks says about its ultimate audience: Users or advertisers. If a site gets to the point where its owners feel the need to “pretty up”, the message to many users is that it’s getting ready to do some serious business with the moneymen. That can be interpreted as threatening by a segment of the population, as that thefacebook.com example showed; or it can be a welcoming sign to those who prefer to interact with a more finished operation.

There must be some sort of meme going around on this. Site Reference’s Mark Daoust expands on the theme that the gobbledygook approach conveys mainstream trustworthiness:

The idea of an ugly website could present a positive message never crossed my mind. Yet the fact is, ugly websites do have the ability to present the perfect marketing message. What is that message?

You can trust us. We are a family run business and do not employ a marketing team. Our website is simple, but functional. Most importantly, our goal is to serve our customers, not necessarily learn HTML.

As Internet professionals, we often forget that a large part of our society is actually afraid of the Internet. Although online shopping is growing, most people still have concerns about online security and the impersonal nature of the web. Most people do not know how to surf efficiently and use only the default tools that are given to them when they take their computer out of the box.

And this is one reason that ugly websites can sell. The lack of professionalism and a polished look leads one to believe that they are dealing with an individual. Websites cannot be trusted, but individuals can be trusted.

He also cites Plenty of Fish, the bare-bones dating startup that raked in $10,000 in AdSense revenue in a single day. Further proof that the more comfortable a user is with an unfancy interface, the more willing they are to accept a sales pitch.

In fact, the key is comfort. If you’re not at ease with whatever the Web might throw at you, you might appreciate a low-tech-looking presentation. Conversely, more experienced and intensive Web users (like me) look at it just the opposite.

The other big factor, for me: Accountability. A shoddy-looking site tells me, more than anything else, that I can’t really count on whoever’s on the other end of the connection. It’s either a hobby or a scam, and if I give them any information or money, I have little guarantee that it won’t be going down the toilet. With a dedicated business, you assume there’s a stake in maintaining a good reputation, along with a fixed target for getting satisfaction. Sometimes, the desire for comfort overrides common sense. Witness the recurring issue of people making ecommerce purchases through unsecured sites, and wind up having their credit card numbers exposed on the Web; in those cases, reliance on a mom-and-pop setup gets them burned.

Does this effectively extend beyond just the Web? Word of mouth and homemade flyers are often considered more reliable marketing avenues than traditional commercial messages. Of course, they’re also eminently exploitable by big companies, via guerilla marketing techniques and such. But this can also be extended toward other services: Restaurants, repair shops, etc.

- Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/22/2006 03:20:54 PM
Category: Internet, Advert./Mktg., Business | Permalink | Feedback

Tuesday, March 21, 2021

This occurred to me recently:

MySpace has been a runaway success, much to the puzzlement of those who view typical layout-trainwrecks like this one as practically antithetical to attractive Web presence.

eBay has similarly been an ongoing Web success, despite (or because of?) crappily laid-out pages like this one.

Is there a connection? Both sites practically show off their lack of design aesthetic, and they have thousands/millions of dedicated users to show for it. Is an aggressively anti-polished look the key to online success? God help us if it is…

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 03/21/2006 11:17:34 PM
Category: Internet | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Well, that didn’t take long: The same day that Google Finance comes online, I get my first couple of traffic hits courtesy of the new Mountain View offering.

Both visits were to today’s earlier post about Tom’s of Maine being all but acquired by Colgate; but both also happened to come from Google Finance’s profile page for Capital One Financial Corp. Not particularly relevant, as I just mentioned Capital One briefly in that instance. It looks like the Blog Posts component is just a straight feed from Google Blogsearch, so I don’t know how helpful that would be for this would-be investor’s resource. As I often write about businessworld topics, I guess I can expect to see a regular traffic trickle from this part of Google, assuming they leave it as is.

Another oddball thing: The expanded AJAX-enabled information for company officers includes a link to individual trading activity, as provided by Yahoo! Finance — which Google is competing against in this space. I’d expect to see that get changed shortly.

As far as the bigger picture in yet another non-search offering from Google: It’s imperative for creating new advertising opportunities, so naturally that’s where Google’s going to direct its growth. As a public company, it has to pursue revenue growth channels, and there’s no surer bet online than providing financial information (or even an aggregate thereof — indistinguishable to the average user). I’m sure a sports news section is the next offering in this vein.

I’ve carped on before about how Google is traveling down a familiar road, and it seems it’s finally become apparent to everyone else:

Google’s expansion already has caused some people to draw cautionary comparisons to AltaVista, a pioneering Web search engine that set out to build a more diversified portal in the 1990s.

The expansion alienated AltaVista’s once-loyal users as its search results deteriorated, creating an opportunity for upstarts like Google. AltaVista eventually was sold and its technology now part of Yahoo’s effort to overtake Google in search.

“You wouldn’t think it would be possible for Google to repeat the same mistakes” as AltaVista, [Search Engine Watch editor Danny] Sullivan said. “You would think Google would remember that one of the reasons it exists is because of the dumb things other people once did.”

I don’t know why Sullivan is digging into the AltaVista gravesite for an example — I’d say Yahoo! itself is a good example of this irresistable search-engine-to-portal progression (or is that regression?), as it went from a search engine/directory service to a grab bag of content delivery. And I outlined this pattern dynamic upon the rollout of Google’s Personalized page:

But basically, like any other media business, Google is compelled to create a subscriber base, which it can pitch to advertising and marketing partners. Gmail and other non-search offerings were just the groundwork; this is a fuller realization of that.

Obviously, Google eventually will be presenting a default page just as cluttered as Yahoo!’s, with all sorts of advertising and other doodads. I guess they’ll eventually lose focus on search, and some fledgling upstart will fill the newly-created void — until it, too, goes through the portal process, replaying the cycle all over again.

Not only that, but I’ve always felt that Google’s climb to the top of the search game had less to do with its hyped relevance prowess, and more to do with Yahoo!, Excite and other circa-1998 engines willingly receding from the search to pursue the business potential that portal services offered. Google won because its competitors let it.

And now, with this foray into user-sticky financial information, Google will stretch itself to the point where it loses its search crown to a next-generation site like Clusty or Accoona. The cycle repeats.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 03/21/2006 09:14:54 PM
Category: Internet, Business | Permalink | Feedback

Hmm. It seems that any regional company that comes under my personal purview is getting snapped up by a giant rival. Last week, it was North Fork Bank being bought by Capital One, and now, Tom’s of Maine has sold off 84 percent of itself to Colgate-Palmolive.

I had just discovered Tom’s a few days ago, via a store display. For some reason, the box full of natural-ingredient deodorants had caught my eye, and I was contemplating buying one to try. I didn’t at the time, but maybe I will the next time I’m shopping (I’ve got enough artificial underarm stuff to last me for a while until then).

I don’t think I’ll try any of Tom’s other stuff, like the toothpaste. I’ve been told that the “unique taste” of such stuff is horrendous, and on top of that, doesn’t fight cavities as well as the usual stuff (I’d guess that’s because users of natural hygeine products tend not to eat as much tooth-decaying food, so they don’t need the industrial-strength toothpastes the general populace does; but still).

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 03/21/2006 06:16:01 PM
Category: Business | Permalink | Feedback (1)

I’ve been saving this “You Win 1-Liter Coke Product” plastic bottlecap for months now. I rarely pick a winner on these goofy things, so I’d like to cash it in for some syrupy-sweet carbonated sugar water.

The problem: I can’t find a freakin’ 1-liter product anywhere. Not at supermarkets, not at little grocery stores, not at Wal-Mart or Target. I’ve been told gas station convenience stores stock them, but I haven’t found any in the couple of those I’ve checked, either.

I have noticed, however, that stores do stock 1.5-liter bottles. I just bought one, and sure enough, my get-one-free bottlecap was not applicable, thanks to that exta half-liter. Not to mention the questionable use of this 1.5-liter mutant — why bother with that, when you can just go for the standard and familiar 2-liter?

In short, I think I’ve been rooked.

- Costa Tsiokos, Tue 03/21/2006 05:45:26 PM
Category: Food | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Monday, March 20, 2021

changing guards
The NFL has labor peace into the next decade, but it won’t have Paul Tagliabue as commissioner for much longer. Tags is retiring from the top spot as of July, citing in part the strain he endured during the recently-complete CBA negotiations.

The legacy of Pete Rozelle’s successor will be volleyed around for the next few months. In the early going, Len Pasquarelli pegs it well:

One has to wonder what might have transpired had the late Jim Finks, the man who was supposed to have succeeded Rozelle, been elected commissioner. A media darling, Finks might have returned every phone call from every newspaper reporter from Anaheim to Zanzibar. But what the NFL actually needed in moving forward from Rozelle, and in advancing beyond the mentality of a mom-and-pop operation, was someone to not only mind the store but also expand it.

In that regard, Tagliabue, it seems, was the right man at the right time. It’s part of any sport that people cling to the old ways and eschew progress because we prefer lore. Tagliabue brought progress while remaining a man who championed the history of the game. If he wasn’t always a lovable figure, there was never any doubting his love for or devotion to the game.

In my own background dealing with business-to-business transactions, I’ve seen that different players excel in different phases of organizational development. A lot of businesspeople are great at starting up companies — they get their energy from the process of fleshing out the business plan, lining up the financing, selecting the management team and personnel, etc. But once that’s been accomplished, and the show is running, they’re done — they have no interest in actually stewarding their creation from that point on. That often calls for a different personality type: One that can take over the reigns and grow the business from there.

These are the roles that Rozelle and Tagliabue, respectively, played for the NFL. While the league was already a going concern by the time Rozelle ascended to his commissionership, he effectively rebuilt what was a second-class sports circuit into the powerhouse it is today. Tagliabue picked up where Rozelle left off, and further cashed in on the promise of the NFL as the nation’s top sport. Pro football couldn’t have been luckier.

We’ll see if Tagliabue’s replacement can keep things going as smoothly. It’s a tough act to follow.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/20/2006 11:58:33 PM
Category: Football, Business | Permalink | Feedback

While walking down West 57th Street today, I passed by the edifice of the Sony Corporation. Every few feet, I heard a digitized voice that told me to “TURN LEFT NOW”.

Turns out there was a row of video monitors flashing promo imagery for Sony navu, a Global Positioning System device for the pocket (as opposed to the usual GPS locale, the car). The audio aided the effort.

I guess the pitch worked, because it grabbed the attention of this urban walker. Maybe too much so, because I kept thinking, “Stop telling me to turn left, damnit!”

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/20/2006 11:32:26 PM
Category: Tech, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback

This month’s issue of Forbes features a look at greatest residential real estate appreciations and depreciations neighborhoods, by ZIP code.

Sounds like a stat-cruncher’s dream: Import the data (probably provided by the Federal government and/or the appropriate real estate association) into Excel, sort away, and then target the Top 20s in both positive and negative movement.

One particular depreciator stood out to me. Philadelphia’s Kensington/North Central neighborhood, in ZIP Code 19133 , clocks in with a 2005 median sale price of $34,500. I’m not particularly familiar with Philly’s geographic makeup, but that’s ridiculously low for in-city living. I’m sure the houses are both tiny and dilapidated, but at that price, it’s worth buying a lot or two, and then renovating/rebuilding as necessary. Stacked against the national average, a buyer still comes out way ahead.

There are some comparably rock-bottom pricetags in Dallas and Baltimore, but Philly’s got them both beat. I’d expect to hear of some sort of neighborhood renaissance out of Kensington/North Central within the next year (probably of the gentrified variety).

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/20/2006 11:16:40 PM
Category: Business, Society | Permalink | Feedback (1)

I’ve been living in New York for close to two months now, and I’m chagrined to say that I’ve still not settled on a daily newspaper to call my own.

Since people in other metros don’t even have a choice in their major daily (and, regardless, opt to not read a newspaper if they can help it), it’s something of an embarrassment of riches to have a selection here. But it’s not easy picking one rag that delivers all the news content that I’ve grown accustomed to with St. Pete’s paper of record.

The New York Times is the natural choice, in terms of journalistic chops and depth of coverage. I was regularly reading that while in Florida; I even had a weekend subscription to it for a while. The Sunday edition has, indeed, become a welcomed way to kick off the week. The main problem: Their steadfast refusal to run comic strips, or much else in the way of syndicated material. Yes, these omissions might seem trivial; but I’m used to having these as components in a daily newspaper. There’s little chance the Times will ever take on comics; they’ve held out for so many years now that a reversal will instantly be interpreted as an attempt to lure readership amid industry-wide circulation drops.

That leaves the Daily News and the Post. Normally the News wins hands down, as it’s actually got readable content and a decent mix of soft and hard news. The Post is, at best, a guilty pleasure, with only its Sports section resembling a real newspaper (although who am I to argue with the masses — the Post is on the verge of becoming No. 1 in this town, to the consternation of News owner Mort Zuckerman).

And yet… It’s just taking a long while to get used to the peculiarities of the News. I don’t mind the tabloid physical format (versus the tabloid genre, which it dips into every so often just to mirror the Post). It just doesn’t seem as substantial as the Times. I guess it’s not supposed to be, but I’d like to see it come a little bit closer.

I haven’t mentioned Newsday, the Sun, the Observer, or any of the other second-tier entries. That’s because they are, well, second-tier. I enjoy peeking at them about once a week each; I’m particularly fond of the Observer’s cultural beat. But none of them are really equipped to do the job as my daily paper.

None of this has changed my complete day-to-day news intake. I still get infochunks off the Web throughout the day. TV and radio news is as useless here as in Florida, and so I don’t bother with those channels. But I’ve grown accustomed to having a daily print newspaper as a personal news hub, from which I can casually absorb a range of stories. The ability to follow up further with those stories online (ideally through the newspaper’s website, making it extra handy for eventual blogging) is an optional extension of this intake.

I suppose I’ll eventually settle into the News, warts and all. It’s not like I can get the St. Pete paper Fed Exed to me in the meantime.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/20/2006 11:06:52 AM
Category: Publishing, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback (2)

Sunday, March 19, 2021

In movies, the usual ideal is to balance the storytelling with words and images. It’s a balance that seems to elude recent American animated films, so overloaded by dialogue that they seem to not trust the power of pictures.

American animation wasn’t always like this. Some of its most memorable moments have no talking: Mickey Mouse dancing with the brooms in “Fantasia”; the Seven Dwarfs weeping at Snow White’s bier; Bugs Bunny riding in as Brunhilde on a white charger in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Animation is often funnier, more dramatic and more powerful when words aren’t distracting the viewer’s attention from the stylized expressions and movements.

Walt Disney often made his artists prepare their storyboards with only pictures; dialogue was added at the end of the process, when they determined how few words were actually needed to tell the story. In 2001, Joe Grant, who did key story work on “Snow White,” “Pinocchio” and other Disney features, said in an interview: “Walt was a great advocate of pantomime. He would stand in front of the boards and re-enact the scene. You could see the reflection of him in the film: his pantomime was beautifully followed through. Today it’s all talking heads.”

Two factors come to mind:

- Voice talent is often touted as the star power behind most animated features. Since Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy can’t be seen onscreen, I’m thinking that they get extra helpings of lines to compensate, and to justify their salaries and participation to the studios.

- Because the visuals of the movie don’t exist in the physical world, directors and writers don’t trust them as much to stand on their own. As a result, the process of writing the screenplay tends to become overly telegraphed. I recall reading an interview many years ago, with an animator who expressed his frustration over the narrative constraints imposed upon the medium. His example went something like this:

“In a cartoon, when two characters come upon a cave, they have to vocalize their actions: ‘Hey George, is that a cave?’ ‘Yeah, it is, Bill.’ ‘Maybe we should go into it.’ ‘OK, let’s go in then, Bill.’ Whereas in a movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and his companion will come upon a cave entrance, look at each other, and then just walk in.”

And overarching all this is the persistent characterization of animation as genre rather than medium, i.e. children’s fare in all cases. That’s the usual pitch and approach from the start of production, and influences how the film gets to its final form.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/19/2006 09:55:26 PM
Category: Movies | Permalink | Feedback (1)

I don’t know how I missed this the first time around. During my look at New York’s reborn Silicon Alley, I neglected to point out that one of the co-founders of Thrillist.com, Adam Rich, shares the same name as one of yesteryear’s since-fallen child actors.

I’d like to think that height-challenged Nicholas from “Eight Is Enough finally turned his life around by building a successful Internet company. But it’s not the case: Thrillist’s Rich is only 25, while the former Bradford kid is pushing 40 (but aren’t we all).

I sure do miss those “Eight Is Enough” reruns…

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/19/2006 08:36:21 PM
Category: Internet, TV, New Yorkin' | Permalink | Feedback

winging for goaltending
Every trading deadline leaves behind scores of unrealized blockbusters, with only rumors to mark them. Perhaps the biggest non-deal from two weeks ago was the Tampa Bay Lightning offering up right wing Marty St. Louis to Chicago in order to bring goalie Nikolai Khabibulin home.

No telling how realistic this pursuit was, or that it was the Blackhawks’ counter of getting Vincent Lecavalier instead that killed any deal. But Larry Brooks is usually pretty reliable in terms of reporting stuff that’s credible.

It’s no secret that Lightning GM Jay Feaster was burning up the phone lines on deadline eve. He even admitted that he had three deals in place before they all fell apart at the last minute. Given the shakiness of his team’s goaltending all year, it’s no surprise that he was targeting a backstopper. (Just guessing, but I’d bet Feaster was also targeting Phoenix goalie Curtis Joseph.)

What’s less clear is why Chicago would go for such a deal. True, earlier this season, Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon publicly expressed frustration with Khabibulin’s failure to play up to his All-Star calibre (which was probably just a relaying of notorously cheap owner Bill Wirtz’s gripes). Trade rumors concerning the goalie had been circulating ever since. But before the injury that sidelined him for a couple of months, Habby was starting to play back to form; and in any case, Chicago’s young team didn’t offer him much support. One year doesn’t seem like enough time to commit to this experiment.

As for getting St. Louis back: It’s looking like last year’s Art Ross performance was a fluke. Chicago’s got developing scoring talent, like Tuomo Ruutu, that will soon be more reliable than St. Louis. It doesn’t make much sense to take on his long-term deal. Lecavalier would obviously be more desirable, just because of his age; but the Lightning have always let it be known that they weren’t going to part with their franchise cornerstone.

The cap factor would seem to have been fairly even, although another player (Sean Burke or John Grahame?) would probably have been tossed in to even things out.

Anyway, that’s more than enough speculation on a deal that never happened, and never will. But should the Bolts miss the playoffs, they can always wonder.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/19/2006 08:23:45 PM
Category: Hockey | Permalink | Feedback (1)

Finally, a mommyblog that’s not a nonstop chronicling of what baby spit up or pooped out.

NYC-based Mom-101 finds other ways to be compelling, thankfully. Her just-wrapped visit to LA is a typical gem, as is her ungarnished look at her old ad copywriting material. And even when she does indulge in babytalk, like a quickie on her missing out on daughter’s very first word, she keeps it sharp.

There’s hope for the subgenre after all.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sun 03/19/2006 12:31:48 PM
Category: Bloggin' | Permalink | Feedback

Saturday, March 18, 2021

It wasn’t hard to see this coming. The Business Experiment, an exercise in collaborative online business-building that I dumped on a couple of months back, shut down today due to all-around apathy.

The matter was put to a vote. But in corresponding with TBE founder Rob May, I found out that voter turnout was low — around a tenth of the high-water mark of registered users. Plus, considering the sputtering pace of progress, Rob and other members of the executive team were looking to kill what was becoming AskSpace almost from the start. So the way things were going, I think it would have shuttered up no matter what.

I already spewed my say on the deficiencies of the whole concept the last time. All I’ll add this time is two things:

- I can honestly say that I never had a solid grasp of just what the “wisdom of us”/AskSpace idea was supposed to do — not during the voting, and certainly not during the building process. That is, not until a week ago, when Rob casually mentioned that it was to be a business-expert answer service, ala the Answers services launched by Google and Yahoo!. I’d guess I’m not the only one who couldn’t interpret the basic mission statement — a heck of a problem if you’re trying to get people engaged.

- The root of this experiment was whether or not a broad democratic collaborative could put together and run a company. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of the TBE attempt, I’d say the answer came with the vote to dismantle.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/18/2006 07:32:18 PM
Category: Internet, Business | Permalink | Feedback (1)

As much as I’d like to think that I can claim a working knowledge of the German language, the one year of it I took in college was so long ago, and so seldomly used since, that by now I can barely spell “kindergarten”.

To make matters worse, the one phrase I could always remember, and felt I could always fall back upon, is rarely heard in Deutschland, thanks to full-contact urban living:

Not that Germans are intrinsically rude. No, mostly they’ve just learned to come to terms with more day-to-day physical contact that many of us. Walking down the street can often feel like a rugby scrum… Occasionally Germans go looking for physical contact. This writer was jabbed decisively in the ribs by a bitter old lady wanting to clear space for her grandson to watch a parade. (No Entschuldigung was forthcoming.)

If someone draws blood, of course, the magic word might be uttered.

Better pack the hockey pads for the next visit to Berlin…

The full phrase that’s burned into my brain — thanks to a thoroughly cheesy language-instruction video — is: “Entschuldigung sie bitte; wo ist die Kirche?”. That translates to, “Excuse me, please; where is the church?” That would take care of Sundays in Stuttgart, but I’d be stuck for the rest of the week.

(I’m more or less improvising with the title of this post; it should translate into “Don’t excuse me, please”. But no guarantee on that. My apologies to my German visitors for any linguistic offense.)

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/18/2006 05:42:39 PM
Category: Society | Permalink | Feedback

This past Wednesday’s “Jump Start” strip made use of a grammatical annoyance that I would be happy to see die: The “try and/try to” goof.

Replace “try and” (I will try and fix it) with “try to” (I will try to fix it). Some grammarians label “try and” as incorrect when really it is just very informal and best used in conversation. “Try to” is standard usage and appropriate for all levels of formality in both speech and writing.

Actually, I don’t fully accept this definition. Saying “try and” unintentionally separates the message into components: “I’ll try and call her”, if taken according to literal word choice, means “I’ll try ____ ” (something undefined) “and then I’ll call her.” Really doesn’t make any sense, colloquially or otherwise. It’s not like you’re saving a syllable by used “and” in place of “to”. It’s just laziness.

I’m not stickler enough to correct anyone who does this conversationally. I avoid using it myself while speaking, but I’m sure I slip every so often. But I really cringe when someone does it in writing, even in an informal email.

Appropriately enough, in the comic strip this nitpicking is being delivered by an overbearing mother. Don’t think I don’t get that message. But I’m endorsing it anyway — try and sue me ;)

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/18/2006 04:49:28 PM
Category: Comedy, Society, Creative | Permalink | Feedback

A few days ago, I came upon Ajay D’Souza’s guide for upgrading the security features on WordPress 1.5.x installations.

I was a little surprised to find something like this. With the release of WP 2.0 (since upgraded a couple of times, to the current 2.0.2), I’d have thought that further tinkering with previous versions was dead. Not only that, but Ajay mentions the development of a full upgrade release, to 1.5.3.

I haven’t kept up on the latest scuttlebutt over WordPress development. I can’t find anything on the WordPress site (still as disorganized as ever). I know the rollout of 2.0 was anything but universally accepted, but I never figured that enough diehards would hang onto the 1.5 version to warrant divergent efforts.

So, does this represent a full-fledged forking of WP software development? Are we going to see two separate tracks from here on: The official 2.x and the unofficial 1.5.x?

Nothing is surer to sink an open-source project than the confusion caused by two different versions competing for users. I’ve stayed with 1.5, because it’s working for me and I don’t want the inevitable headaches that come with upgrading. And despite the security fears, I’m of the opinion that I’m realistically no more at risk than the codemonkey that downloads each nightly release (there’s always going to be some malware taking potshots, and a current attack has as much chance of hitting your site as an old one). But I accepted that I was holding onto a system that would eventually have to be replaced, and wasn’t counting on anything new being provided. Now, it seems like 1.5 users like me can hang on for something closer to indefinitely.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/18/2006 12:01:19 PM
Category: Bloggin', Tech | Permalink | Feedback (2)

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