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Friday, February 29, 2021

I came across this unattributed quote today:

“Advertising may be described as the science of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.”

It’s got that cynical edge to it that never fails to turn me on.

In turn, this definition brings to my mind the concept of the willing suspension of disbelief.

In fact, I think the principle is similar in both cases, i.e. manipulating the mind in order to make it more accepting of a narrative construct — whether that construct consists of creative works, or a sales pitch. Maybe that’s what makes the one-two punch of content and advertising delivery so effective in the first place.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/29/2008 01:41:31 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative
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Thursday, February 28, 2021

eternal question
What would Garfield be like if that fat orange cat were expunged from the record?

It’d go something like this:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.

If anything, this highlights the out-of-context dark comedy that the set-up guy lives in. Without the conventional punchlines, you’re just a guy without a cat.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/28/2008 11:15:09 PM
Category: Comedy, Creative, Pop Culture
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It seems like only yesterday that “Quarterlife” was going to be the long-awaited breakout Web television hit. It had MySpace behind it, with a healthy chunk of its millions of users as a built-in audience.

Flash forward: On the strength of its online performance, “Q-life” gets picked up by NBC, making an improbable comeback to the broadcast medium that originally rejected it.

And then, it tanks hard with only 3.1 million viewers, the worst network debut in 20 years, earning it cancellation and a demotion to Bravo.

What does this portend for the Web-development model for future mass-market media vehicles? The lack of even one solid success in this Web-TV crossover indicates that what works online is simply not transferable to the boob tube, despite content being content. It could be that movers and shakers on both sides are beating a dead horse in trying to find synergy this way.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/28/2008 10:41:50 PM
Category: Internet, Pop Culture, TV
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Wednesday, February 27, 2021

Despite being greased by some of that good ol’ John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation funding, the Encyclopedia of Life, a megawebsite which aims to set up a page on every single species great and small, ironically died upon birth yesterday. The site’s servers couldn’t keep up with all the traffic, and organizers are scrambling for advice on scalability.

By the nature of the site’s intended content, they’re definitely going to need it:

Tuesday’s unveiling included limited Web pages for 30,000 species. There are also “exemplar pages” that go into more depth with photos, video, scientific references, maps and text of 25 species ranging from the common potato to the majestic peregrine falcon to a relatively newly discovered obscure marine single celled organism called Cafeteria roenbergensis. Eventually, planners hope to have all 1.8 million species on the Web and already have set up 1 million placeholder pages.

I assume there’ll be no ads, so good luck keeping the grant money flowing. I’m also leery about them looking at a Wikipedia model, especially for non-professional content contributions.

I don’t think the eggheads behind this site have a clue as to how the modern-day Web actually works — maybe their ivory-tower perspective is that it’s still largely a benign academic hangout, without all the mass-market input and persistent malware attacks.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/27/2008 08:17:32 AM
Category: Internet, Science
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Tuesday, February 26, 2021

A snippet of conversation I caught this morning while walking along somewhere near Times Square:

Man #1: “As an example, let’s say you killed somebody.”

Man #2: “Again?”

Yep. First thought is that this guy was asking for clarification so he could keep his past killings separate from his theoretical ones. I probably picked up my pace just a little just then.

But then I thought, maybe that “again” more innocently referred to a rehash of a conversation these two have had more than once. Or it could have even been an off-the-cuff joke.

All this shows how conditional that one little one-word response can be.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/26/2008 11:11:32 PM
Category: New Yorkin'
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trade fair
I’ll say this for the National Hockey League in this cap-strapped era: It’s damned efficient when it comes to trading players.

The league trading deadline came and went today at 3PM, and the teams exploded for 25 transactions. That’s more action than the rest of the year combined (even counting waiver-wire pickups that included notables like Ilya Bryzgalov, Sergei Samsonov, and Mark Recchi). As someone who enjoys trade news, I’ve resented the dampening effect the salary cap has had on trades for the past couple of years. So it seems Deadline Day is all I’ve got left.

As for today’s specifics, the biggest stories obviously were Brad Richards landing in Dallas, with Tampa Bay getting back a long-needed potential starting goalie in Mike Smith; and the Penguins surprising everyone by landing Marian Hossa.

Wild day. I almost wish I had taken the day off for it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/26/2008 10:49:38 PM
Category: Hockey
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Monday, February 25, 2021

on the sixes
Funny thing about Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle and the freshly-inked contract that keeps him off the trade and free agent market:

TSN has learned that the deal will pay Boyle $6.66 million per year for six years [for a total of $40 million].

Sure, business is business, but that 6-6-6 per year is unusually satanic.

What’s more, the incoming new owner of the Lightning happens to be one Oren Koules, Hollywood producer best known for the Saw horror-flick franchise. It’s been acknowledged that Koules has been given the greenlight to make personnel decisions ahead of officially closing on the sale, so Boyle’s contract doubtless had his final approval.

So, did Koules engineer that mark-of-the-beast dollar figure, as some sort of subtle movie-marketing tie-in? Will every Lightning contract during the Koules era have some nefarious subtext attached to it?

I’m happy for Boyle’s bank account, but scared for his soul.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/25/2008 11:41:59 PM
Category: Hockey, Movies
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You’d think the prospect of cruising down the road without parental supervision would be incentive enough for America’s teenagers to want to get their drivers’ licenses as soon as possible. I know it was when I was coming of age.

Alas, today’s adolescents are a different breed, content to be chauffeured practically until the brink of adulthood:

The national rate of licensed 16-year-olds dropped to 29.8 percent in 2006 from 43.8 percent in 1998, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

The falling rate of teenage drivers is perplexing to Michael T. Marsden, an expert on car culture and dean of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis.

“It’s a big change in a major American ritual of driving as early as possible,” Mr. Marsden said.

What would be the longer term implications? Does this suggest that youngsters are not as car-obsessed as prior generations, and therefore might not be as receptive to the frequent new-car pitches from the auto industry? If so, carmakers might want to start revising their marketing strategies now, to counter a more challenging consumer market a few years from now?

Then again, it’s not like the majority of these deferring drivers can avoid getting behind the wheel indefinitely. They’re going to move out of their helicopter-parent cocoons sooner or later, and outside of New York and a couple of other concentrated urban cores, they’re going to need to drive to survive. So maybe the true longer-term impact will be… Even lousier drivers on the road, given that they’ll have had less experience?

I’m glad I don’t need to drive daily anymore. I’ll keep my Rollerblades nearby just in case.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/25/2008 11:18:49 PM
Category: Society
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voofPolice dogs in Germany will soon be stylin’ some serious footwear. Duesseldorf is outfitting its canine crime-fighters with blue plastic-fiber shoes for protection:

“All 20 of our police dogs — German and Belgian shepherds — are currently being trained to walk in these shoes,” Andre Hartwich said. “I’m not sure they like it, but they’ll have to get used to it.”

The unusual footwear is not a fashion statement, Hartwich said, but rather a necessity due to the high rate of paw injuries on duty. Especially in the city’s historical old town — famous for both its pubs and drunken revelers — the dogs often step into broken beer bottles.

Hmm. Wasn’t Hitler a dog lover? Just sayin’.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/25/2008 10:31:48 PM
Category: Comedy, History, Political
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Sunday, February 24, 2021

What do behavioral economists do, exactly?

Basically, they demonstrate how the straightforward rules of economic theory get mucked up when actual human beings enter into the mix, especially when social and market spheres overlap.

That’s what professor Dan Ariely does in his book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions”. There are several experimental examples, but basically it all boils down to this:

The fact that we live in both the social world and the market world has many implications for our personal lives. From time to time, we all need someone to help us move something, or to watch our kids for a few hours, or to take in our mail when we’re out of town. What’s the best way to motivate our friends and neighbors to help us? Would cash do it — a gift, perhaps? How much? Or nothing at all? This social dance, as I’m sure you know, isn’t easy to figure out — especially when there’s a risk of pushing a relationship into the realm of a market exchange.

To the extent that you can predict human tendencies, I’m not sure you can quantify this business-versus-pleasure dynamic. I’d guess you’d find behavior that’s deemed unacceptable in, say, St. Louis would be standard operating procedure in Mexico City.

Beyond the specific case studies, the more interesting part is probably the concept itself — economics crossed with psychology and sociology.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 07:15:35 PM
Category: Business, Society
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making a point
The rampant parity on display this National Hockey League season is prompting more and more complaints about the so-called “loser point”, aka the conditional third point that each team is guaranteed when regulation time ends with the score tied. The perception is that this point-padding is responsible for an unnatural tightness in the NHL standings, even though some theoretical number-crunching shows that that isn’t the case.

That third point does serve a purpose: It discourages teams from playing clock-killing prevent defenses during the overtime period. That’s pretty much was what was happening before the three-point structure was instituted. Teams preferred to withdraw into a defensive shell, ride out the five minutes, and come away with the one-point tie. That led to some of the most purposeless hockey you’d ever see. The guaranteed point, on the other hand, makes it less risky for teams to open up offensively and go for the two-point win, because there’s nothing to lose and only something to gain.

That’s how OT works in hockey. Offensive chances simply don’t manifest themselves enough to do it any other way, unless you want to go back to ties.

On the other hand, the shootout is a different story. There’s no possibility of defensive sandbagging — it’s a simple offensive contest. No matter how many rounds it goes, it still comes down to a shooter getting one past the goalie. No nuances.

That’s why I think the “loser point” should be eliminated once an NHL game goes into shootout. In my mind, it loses its purpose once overtime ends: It no longer serves as incentive to ensure fast-paced gameplay, and it certainly doesn’t have an impact on how teams approach the shootout. If anything, it creates added urgency for the shootout, which would make it even more popular than it already is.

So it would go like this: Regulation win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser. Overtime win would result in two points for the winner and one point for the loser. Shootout win would result in two points for the winner and zero points for the loser.

I can’t see a downside to this structure. I suppose that if a team has a particularly strong shootout record, it may try to run out the OT with puck possession. But that would just give the opposing team that much more incentive to settle it in overtime. And regardless, if that strategy results in a shootout resolution, all the better.

Even this solution won’t satiate everyone, particularly purists. But it seems like the fairest way to minimize what’s perceived as point-padding.

FURTHER THOUGHTS: Well, I thought of a downside. If a team is determined to come away with one point, all it has to do is pull its goalie at some point in the OT, letting the other team win. That avoids the risk of going into the shootout, where the risk is greater because a team could end up with nothing.

So I guess the only true way to get rid of the “loser point” is to eliminate the overtime period altogether, and go straight to a winner-take-all shootout after a tied regulation. I doubt the NHL is ready for that complete break with tradition just yet, though.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 05:43:48 PM
Category: Hockey
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subway strumming
Yes, that would be a lady playing her harp on a subway platform. Specifically the L Line’s first Brooklyn stop at Bedford Avenue and North 7th Street.

Musical performers are a common sight at NYC subway stations, but the majority tend to use more compact instruments like guitars. I’m guessing this harp lady is fairly unique. Plus, how much of a hassle must it be to lug that huge thing around? (That big blue thing behind her is the harp’s case, by the way.) I’d hope that she makes an appearance at a Manhattan station, but I’m thinking the chances are slim.

I wish I could take credit for capturing this shot, but I can’t. The original is right here, along with larger versions for more visual details.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 02/24/2008 03:36:34 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Photography
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Saturday, February 23, 2021

We already knew that the hedge fund concentration in Connecticut has been luring a large number of NYC residents commute out of the city on a daily basis. But now, it looks like other outlying areas are getting into the act in a big way: A combination of the suburbs’ low unemployment rates and inadequate housing/infrastructure has led to recruitment of city dwellers who endure hours-long reverse commutes via subway and train.

What amuses me most about this article is the underlying tone that these workers are living in a Bizarro World. It’s like the average New Yorkers can’t comprehend why someone would live in the City and then go to Nassau or Suffolk counties to work. It’s not like other parts of the country don’t see this same sort of long-range commuting, albeit by car. But somehow, New York is supposed to be more self-contained, with just suburbanites trekking into the five boroughs for some action.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 02/23/2008 04:22:10 PM
Category: Business, New Yorkin', Society
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Friday, February 22, 2021

I’ve alluded before about the fundamental divide in the tech world between software developers and hardware engineers, i.e. code monkeys and wire-grabbers. I’ve always gotten the sense that they operate in pretty much separate worlds.

That assumption is proved out by the discovery by Princeton researchers of a decidedly low-tech way to crack government-grade encryption: Flash-freezing the memory chips so they retain the in-transit unprotected data, then simply stripping the info off them.

Granted, it’s not the easiest maneuver. Remote hackers can’t try this — someone has to physically steal the computer, and then within minutes spray the innards with liquid nitrogen. This is strictly a professional-level corporate espionage move.

Still, that’s probably the most dangerous target to leave unguarded. And it comes back to a fundamental lapse in how advanced computer functions work:

“The software world tends not to think about these issues,” said Matt Blaze, an associate professor of computer and information science at the University of Pennsylvania. “We tend to make assumptions about the hardware. When we find out that those assumptions are wrong, we’re in trouble.”

Expecting 100% bulletproof security is unrealistic, but is it too much to ask for a little bit more in the way of coordination?

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/22/2008 07:28:24 PM
Category: Tech, True Crime
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It’s getting to be contagious: First South Harlem gets re-branded as SoHa, and now — well away from Manhattan, no less — Yonkers is getting into the act by promoting its southwestern area as SoYo.

If you’re going to pimp Yonkers as a desirable place to work/live/play, I guess it makes sense to stick to the part that’s as close as possible to NYC. Basically, the folks they’re looking to attract are the ones who’ll shuttle themselves from their cheaper-rent residences to the Metro North train station leading to the City on a constant basis, thereby spending the minimal amount of time possible in the Yo.

Again, makes sense. As does the concept of identifying Yonkers with the five boroughs, since in a lot of ways it’s practically the sixth borough. I know some Bronx neighborhoods (including Woodlawn, which might just be part of SoYo) straddle the borough-municipal border. Why not strengthen those ties mindshare-wise?

I’m not sure how long SoYo, aka the Southwest Yonkers Planning Association, has been around. They don’t appear to have a web presence, which is not a good sign. Can’t depend on garbage-can wraps and subway placard ads alone to spread the word, especially since, well, we’re still talking about… Yonkers.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/22/2008 06:01:17 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., New Yorkin'
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Thursday, February 21, 2021

The lure of the fairway seems to be losing its appeal, as fewer and fewer people are playing golf these days:

The total number of people who play has declined or remained flat each year since 2000, dropping to about 26 million from 30 million, according to the National Golf Foundation and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

More troubling to golf boosters, the number of people who play 25 times a year or more fell to 4.6 million in 2005 from 6.9 million in 2000, a loss of about a third.

The industry now counts its core players as those who golf eight or more times a year. That number, too, has fallen, but more slowly: to 15 million in 2006 from 17.7 million in 2000, according to the National Golf Foundation.

The suspected problem is the time commitment: Four hours to get in 18 holes, which is a lot to squeeze out of a weekend these days. I admit, a big reason why I never showed much interest in the game was because I could think of better ways to waste my leisure time; a couple of golf-obsessed friends back in the day certainly seemed to practically live on the course on Saturdays and Sundays.

I have an innovative solution to draw the crowds: Screenings of Caddyshack at the 18th hole! That’s major motivation for plowing through a full course, I’d say.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/21/2008 11:10:23 PM
Category: Movies, Other Sports
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Macroeconomics doesn’t get much hairier than when stagflation, that old invisible-hand smacker from the 70s, makes a comeback.

“[The Federal Reserve is] cutting rates with a bill to be paid later,” said John Ryding, chief United States economist at Bear Stearns. “The question is not, will we get inflation, but how much will it cost to stuff the genie back in the bottle. This has the feel of 1970s stagflation.”

Over the last 12 months, consumer prices are up 4.3 percent on average, according to the Labor Department. The core index of consumer price inflation, which excludes food and oil, was 2.5 percent higher in January than a year earlier, significantly above the Fed’s unofficial comfort zone of a 1 to 2 percent underlying inflation rate. That’s a far cry from the double-digit inflation rates that battered the economy at times in the 1970s, but still worrisome.

What’s next? A re-experiencing of “malaise forever”?

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/21/2008 10:43:42 PM
Category: Business, Comedy, Politics, Society
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Black is not a color so much as it’s the negation of color: A shade that absorbs 99 percent or more of the entire light spectrum directed at it, thereby reflecting back the minimal amount to make it visible. (White is the same condition, only reversed to absorb most of the spectrum.)

But there’s black, and then there’s superblack: Researchers have cooked up a thin material that absorbs 99.955 percent of the light that hits it, making it by far the darkest substance ever made — about 30 times as dark as the government’s current standard for blackest of blacks.

Sort of a visual black hole that sucks up illumination. Applications abound:

Solar panels coated with it would be much more efficient than those coated with conventional black paint, which reflects 5 percent or more of incoming light. Telescopes lined with it would sop up random flecks of incidental light, providing a blacker background to detect faint stars.

And a wide array of heat detectors and energy-measuring devices, including climate-tracking equipment on satellites, would become far more accurate than they are today if they were coated with energy-grabbing superblack.

And the light-refracting nature of this phenomenon opens up the possibilities for invisibility cloaking. Although you wouldn’t be able to see anything from behind that donned cloak, since all the light is being absorbed more or less absolutely.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/21/2008 08:54:27 AM
Category: Creative, Science
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Wednesday, February 20, 2021

I guess the well of book properties is in danger of drying up, because Hollywood is raiding the toystore for movie source material:

Universal Pictures has announced a six-year partnership with Hasbro to produce at least four feature films based on branded properties.

The properties include “Monopoly,” “Candy Land,” “Clue,” “Ouija,” “Battleship,” “Magic, The Gathering” and “Stretch Armstrong.”

Last I checked, traditional board games are on the decline, so this is something of a nostalgia play. Of course, these games are getting second lives in computer-game form, so there’s still some relevance there. And undoubtedly, the backstory behind each game’s premise brings a built-in cinematic plot synopsis. (Not sure what Stretch Armstrong is doing in that group, but a Plastic Man knockoff action figure has entertainment potential all its own.)

I’ll point out that “Clue” already got the movie treatment, more than 20 years ago. I guess it took that long for the potential of the rest of the tabletop roster to shine through.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/20/2008 11:08:18 PM
Category: Business, Movies, Pop Culture
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sold separately
Greg Wyshynski holds special affection for the distinctive TV commercial toy pitches of his youth:

As a child of the ’80s, the art of the goofy action figure commercial has always fascinated me. Somehow, two little kids holding up He-Man figures, talking to their father on an exercise bike while a bombastic theme song pounded in the background was the pinnacle of marketing genius back in the day. Hell, just seeing it again made me want to run out to Toys ‘R Us and purchase Man-E-Faces.

Which is why this modern-day application of that advertising style for the Los Angeles Kings’ upcoming player figurine giveaway nights resonates so deeply, for Greg and probably other twenty- and thirtysomethings:

I dunno. Even though the kitschy angle is obviously the aim, to me it comes off as overly cheesy. I think they were trying too hard. And I’m not at all convinced that the players were properly into it.

Or maybe I’m holding the NHL club’s production values to too high a standard. I can’t help it — for I’ve seen the light when it comes to this strain of advertising, in the form of this Biblical epic selling the Jesus Christ Action Figure:

I wonder how Jesus Christ Action Figure Night would play in National Hockey League arenas around North America. Maybe if He were wearing full goalie gear — y’know, “Jesus Saves”?

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/20/2008 10:40:43 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Comedy, Hockey
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Tuesday, February 19, 2021

The most significant thing about Blu-Ray triumphing over the competing HD DVD format as the standard for next-generation media discs is…

Not any of the hogwash about picture clarity and interactive content capabilities. At the end of the day, a video is a video, and either format would have made the latest release bright and shiny enough.

No, the truly notable thing about this outcome was that Sony for once was successful in advancing its entry for a consumer-targeted media format. This, after a long string of failures in the consumer electronics arena. I can’t find a comprehensive list, but here are the prominent examples:

- Betamax
- Memory sticks
- Minidisc
- Universal Media Disc (UMD)

Yes, a few of these — particularly Beta — found success in professional applications. But they fell well short of their intended goals of being mass-market standards.

But Blu-Ray finally breaks that string. Perseverance prevails!

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 02/19/2008 11:24:11 PM
Category: Media, Tech
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