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Sunday, November 30, 2021

In “Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America”, a 19th-Century version of network sabotage is illustrated thusly:

But in the fall of 1872, almost all these power units, better known as horses, came down with the flu, and America faced an energy crisis. In what became known as the Great Epizootic, horse influenza spread from Ontario down the East Coast of the United States, across the South and into the West, eventually reaching as far as California and Nicaragua. Forty-eight hours after it hit Boston, seven out of every eight of the city’s horses were feverish and coughing. In “Horses at Work,” Ann Norton Greene describes Philadelphia at a standstill: “Streetcar companies suspended service; undelivered freight accumulated at wharves and railroad depots; consumers lacked milk, ice and groceries; saloons lacked beer; work halted at construction sites, brickyards and factories; and city governments curtailed fire protection and garbage collection.” The disaster prompted an appreciation of the work done by horses, which had been somewhat overshadowed by the more voguish pursuit of steam power…

I also know that this all-natural horsepower reliance persisted into the mid-20th Century, with even the U.S. Army maintaining horse cargo-hauling services throughout World War II. I assume the equine flu was kept under control by then.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/30/2008 09:08:10 PM
Category: History
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pixels and pigskins
I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in commercials for videogame releases on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” this season.

I can’t find any industry reportage on increased Sunday morning ad buys by Electronic Arts or any other gaming studio. This is strictly my own observations, and from what I’m seeing, it seems like every other commercial break includes at least one promo spot for a high-profile game title. And it’s not even sports titles being featured, as you might expect given the context; it’s usually war or adventure games.

What accounts for this? “Countdown” visibly aligned itself closer to the gaming medium this year by incorporating EA Sports’ technology for the in-studio Virtual Playbook segments. The intent there was to capture gamers’ eyeballs, so I guess its succeeded to the point where the show is attracting more advertising during this two-hour bloc.

I’m guessing that a contributing factor is a pullback elsewhere. Again, anecdotally, I detect noticeably fewer Viagra and similar penis-pill/erectile dysfunction ads in this same “Countdown” airtime. Which, if it’s really the case, points to a demographic shift too — more younger men tuning in as the older guys tune out. Fair tradeoff all around, really.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/30/2008 02:34:11 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Sports, TV, Videogames
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Saturday, November 29, 2021

pinned
This backpack, with a woman attached to it, was in front of me recently on the No. 6 subway train. So I snapped a cameraphone photo of it. Bigger (not necessarily much better) version up on Flickr.

I guess the purpose of festooning yourself (or in this case, your accessories) with little metal buttons is to express your beliefs. Not much doubt as to which way this lady leans, with the Obama campaign and Locavore movement proudly displayed in pin-on form.

My favorite of this grouping, though, is the gender-disparity one, with the boy-girl lookyloos enclosed by the legend stating, “Oh, So That Explains The Difference In Our Pay”.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/29/2008 04:32:30 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Photography, Political, Women
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theTenDollarBill.com looks about as authentic as the proverbial three-dollar bill.

Mainly because the site is just too slick-looking. All the Flash-powered layout and navigation, and those nice-looking video clips, just scream of a professional job by some creative agency, probably to promote some upcoming movie. In fact, the premise sounds vaguely familiar to me:

I know this will sound crazy. It is crazy. But it’s true. Here goes: I met this girl last week in Sheep’s Meadow (Central Park). I was playing Frisbee golf, and accidentally hit her in the head, while driving for an oak tree near the public restrooms.

I grabbed some ice from some nearby soda dude, and the next thing I know, we’re throwing back a few glasses of wine, basking in the glow of a gorgeous New York City night and laughing like we were on the same mathlete team in highschool.

Well it gets better, or worse, depending on your opinion. My phone was out of juice, again. So she wrote her number on a ten dollar bill I found in my wallet.

I wake up the next morning and it’s gone. Not the wallet, the tenspot. Turns out my double dunce roommate decided to “borrow” some money. Says I “owed him.” Yep, he took the freaking bill and spent it.

So you see my dilema. I gotta find this girl, and to do so, I have to find the Ten Dollar Bill. PLEASE HELP. Check your wallets, your cash registers, your safes, everywhere. Someone has to have it. The number is written in glitter pen on the top left hand corner of the back of the bill. I wish I had a photographic memory. Please help.

Sure, it’s possible that this guy, one Vernon Wingfield of the East Village, really went through all this, and even set up a blog and Facebook page to spread the word. But I definitely wouldn’t bet on it — not even an Alexander Hamilton.

So why am I bothering to post this? The thing is, I can’t find an online trace of any ulterior motive. No “a-ha” clue like a suspect whois registration of the URL, no plot keyword find on IMDb, no entertainment-news tidbit, nothing. So, despite my innate cynicism, I might have to admit that this whole quest to find this elusive “Michele with one ‘L’” is actually legit.

Except, that my gut says it’s not. Maybe some flaky reporter from Jacksonville got taken in, but it’ll take more than that for me to become a true believer.

All that said, I will dutifully report that I came across one of Vernon’s paper flyers, right in the neighborhood. It was in a Starbucks near Broadway and Bleecker, right on the cafe tables. So if that helps this cause, there it is.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/29/2008 03:56:34 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, New Yorkin'
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Friday, November 28, 2021

Ongoing studies on how people react in traffic uncover what we already pretty much knew: The honking of the carhorn brings no safety nor communicative value whatsoever.

Jeff Muttart, a traffic-accident reconstructionist, has pored over hundreds of surveillance videos of real-life car crashes and near-crashes. In 2005, he concluded that emergency horn use is not associated with decreased accident involvement. He found that drivers never steered and honked at the same time, and usually they didn’t honk at all. About half of emergency honks were meant to chastise and came only after the danger was over. The other half were just preludes to a crash. “It really didn’t serve any purpose at all. It was just, Hey, by the way, I’m going to hit you.”

I’ve already weighed in against the use of this in-dash noisemaker, specifically in situations where a cellphone would make so much more sense.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/28/2008 08:51:28 PM
Category: Science, Society
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It happened last year, and it looks like it’s happening again this year: Foreign visitors are boosting Black Friday sales in the U.S..

Maybe not enough to save this recession-plagued season, though:

But with the dollar growing stronger against many major currencies, most stores better not count on a getting as big a boost from foreigners this year, according to Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

“Previously, because of the exchange rates, we saw tremendous holiday shopping seasons,” she said. “This year with the weakening global economy, we’re seeing retailers all over the world struggling. Consumers are pulling back.”

Personally, my cousin Mary from Greece is arriving in New York in a couple of days, and high on her agenda is cashing in on the Stateside bargains. So I’ll be seeing some of that Euro-conversion firsthand.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/28/2008 07:25:31 PM
Category: Business
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Thursday, November 27, 2021

damn dirty turkey!
Is Turkey Day a major holiday on Ape Planet? It must be, because Fox Movie Channel is running an all-day Planet of the Apes marathon today, including the 1968 original tonight.

The daytime portion is kinda lame, though. The first filmings are edited-together episodes of the POTA television series, resulting in the following latter-day made-for-TV movies:

- Back to the Planet of the Apes (1981)
- Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes (1981)
- Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes (1981)
- Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of the Planet of the Apes (1981)
- Farewell to the Planet of the Apes (1981)

Not a Charlton Heston sighting in any of those. Just a bunch of cheap monkey-masks and ’70s haircuts. Could be worse, I suppose.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/27/2008 11:27:22 AM
Category: Movies, Pop Culture, TV
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jivin' turkey
Happy Thanksgiving! What better day to roll out a fresh list of the last eight shuffled-up songs to play from my iTouch?

Well, actually, these songs have practically nothing to do with turkey, pilgrims, the Mayflower, or any of the holiday’s themes. Really, the day just came, and this random grouping came with it (early, yet).

But I will say that it’s one of the odder consecutive sequence of songs to flow out of my iPod, simply because it’s notably light on the pop-music vibe. In fact, with the lyrical snippets, there’s something of a somber tone at work — at least until Marky Mark crashes the party.

So anyway, here we go:

1. “Private Conversation”, Lyle Lovett - And she watched the shade go down.

2. “Come On Get Happy”, The Partridge Family - A whole lotta lovin’ is what we’ll be bringin’.

3. “Always On My Mind”, Pet Shop Boys - I just never took the time.

4. “Chance (Atmosphere) (Piccadilly Radio Session)”, Joy Division - Always danger.

5. “Sometime To Return”, Soul Asylum - The hourglass is draining fast.

6. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, Hank Williams Sr. - The moon just went behind the clouds.

7. “Spirits In The Material World”, The Police - But it’s the rhetoric of failure.

8. “Good Vibration”, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch - Made me want to know who done this.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/27/2008 09:17:04 AM
Category: iPod Random Tracks
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Wednesday, November 26, 2021

nugg this!
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the deep-fried munchiness that are Chicken McNuggets, McDonald’s is going all-out via TV, print, and social-networking Web to promote Nuggnuts, a branding label for fans of the bite-sized poultry snack.

Problem: The first time I ran into this campaign was via a TV commercial. And the first time the word “nuggnuts” was invoked, I could have sworn it sounded like… Numbnuts.

Nuggnuts-numbnuts, numbnuts-nuggnuts. Yep, they’re close. Hopefully this isn’t a widespread audible phenomenon.

Not that it didn’t work on me. Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I actually stopped into a McD’s and ordered up a 10-piece of the white-meat critters. Tasty.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/26/2008 09:26:48 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Food, Wordsmithing
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Seems like more and more people across these United States are taking a shining to playing in the streets — or near enough. Consider:

- In New York City’s Times Square, folks lounge in a supposedly pedestrian-safe esplanade that sits practically in the middle of car-clogged Broadway. No guardrails or anything significant to prevent a typically-hurtling taxicab from plowing into the lunching crowd.

- In Southern California, exercisers have turned a traffic median in the city of Santa Monica into a de facto outdoor gym, with all-day stretching and workout sessions. Again, no apparent worry about the cars that are whizzing by; in fact, efforts are afoot to knock down the law banning the congregations.

Taking each incident separately, you could dismiss it as localized kookiness. Together, you have to wonder what’s compelling people to want to dance with the automobiles. Why encroach upon the road, even in such an indirect manner? Is this some sort of low-level backlash against the decades-old car-centric American urban grid?

It brings to mind a personal incident that has stuck with me, for some odd reason:

Close to a decade ago, I was driving into a brand-new gated community to see a friend. As I swung around the roadway just past the entrance, I had to slow down right away because a father and his little kids were in the middle of the narrow street, playing wiffleball. As they made way for my car to pass, the father shot me a dirty look — as though I were the one doing something wrong! I guess he felt that, since it was more-or-less a private road, he had the right-of-way over auto traffic. I drove on thinking that, as soon as I had gotten old enough to walk, the first rule that was drilled into my head was: “Don’t run out into the middle of the street”; and actually felt sorry for this guy’s children, as it seemed like he was setting them up for some future calamity.

In light of the cross-country examples above, I’m guessing this idea of roadway propriety has spread far and wide. Results pending.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/26/2008 02:40:32 PM
Category: New Yorkin', Society, True Crime
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flyMy book-reviewing arrangement with Hachette has spurred a trickle of interest in my reading-for-hire services. The compensation ain’t much — with Hachette, it’s nothing more than the free reading material, and even the paying gigs (which haven’t appeared on this blog) are far from lucrative. But there are worse ways to occupy my time.

One of the review requests I’ve gotten in the past month was from Andrew King, who’s written “Website Optimization: Speed, Search Engine & Conversion Rate Secrets” (with companion supplemental website, of course). The book is part of O’Reilly Media’s popular ongoing series of tech how-to guides.

Why me? I can only assume Andy is looking for the Google-juice that will accrue from linkage for the book on this blog; it can’t be because he thinks I actually know what I’m talking about when I post on Web-media topics! But a free book is a free book, so I’ll throw in my two cents, for in-kind purposes only (assuming I ever write a book of my own).

“WSO” is predictably dense with under-the-hood info concerning the care and feeding of traffic-drawing websites. O’Reilly books are renowned as reference guides, and there are enough applied examples of CSS, metadata, and AJAX implementations (an entire chapter on that last topic) to make any programmer’s head spin. Since all these invocations are aimed solely at optimization efforts, they’re not particularly in-depth — but then, they aren’t meant to be. The task-specific focus is key, because it avoids the typical bogging-down that more comprehensive code guides deliver. Since it’s presumed that all you need is the nuts-and-bolts architecture to make a website (particular emphasis on ecommerce sites) a traffic- and revenue-generating machine, the brevity is a definite plus.

Where “WSO” shines is in the more non-tech sections, specifically on Web content and layout. King draws on loads of academic and market research knowledge to illustrate why the proper configuration of HTML, professional-level copywriting, and polished design is essential to effective optimization. A lot of SEO advice gives surface-level consideration to competent digital-content communication, when often it does little more than offer up keyword-gaming tricks for achieving prominent search-ranking placement. “WSO” doesn’t devolve into that sort of shortcut-seeking — it offers up solid marketing techniques for generating genuine Web media relevance (whatever “relevance” is supposed to mean in Googlespeak ;) ).

This guide’s not perfect. My main quibbles are with what I feel to be too much emphasis on the care and feeding of [meta] tags, which in my mind have been abused beyond credible redemption in the search-optimization field. And while the language throughout is informed and accessible without the need to know insider jargon, I think the discussion on paid-search (AdWords, etc.) keyword selection could have done with a bit more de-mystification of the process.

But overall, this is a great resource for building or enhancing a website from the ground up. “WSO” is a serious guide for serious Web development, and is worth the bookshelf space if you work in Web media.

PS: That signature O’Reilly colophon-animal on the cover of this book? It’s the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor). No, I don’t know what it has to do with website optimization, either. But it does look cool.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 11/26/2008 12:19:41 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Book Review, Internet
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Tuesday, November 25, 2021

foul territory
Remember Citigroup’s big-big deal with the New York Mets to secure $20-million per year naming rights to Citi Field, the new baseball stadium going up in Queens?

In the wake of the $345-billion bailout windfall that Citi is getting, some think that those naming rights should be amended, along fiduciary terms:

But now that Citigroup is getting billions of dollars in federal aid, Staten Island Republicans Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo say the ballpark’s name should be changed to Citi/Taxpayer Field.

Not much of a branding strategy. Who wants to go to a ballgame and be reminded of the IRS?

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/25/2008 10:51:28 PM
Category: Baseball, Business, New Yorkin', SportsBiz
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surfin' safari
With the recent release of version 2.2 firmware for the iPhone/iTouch and the attendant stability improvements provided to Apple’s native Web browser, some ask: Is the mobile version of Safari finally a finished, polished product?

I’d say no. True, it’s noticeably less crash-prone just from my couple of days of activity on my iPod Touch, so no complaints there. I could have done without the now ever-present search toolbar, but I can live with it. But those things are nothing more than taking the browser up to zero-basic.

What I’m still waiting for, in this order:

1. Option to kill page auto-refresh
2. Cut-and-paste
3. Flash support

I cannot figure out why Apple sets Safari to automatically refresh content every time it’s called up, since it should be assumed that a mobile browser’s not always going to be connected to the Web. That goes doubly for my iTouch, versus an iPhone (and even iPhones aren’t always going to have a signal). When you restart the browser out of wi-fi range, you’re likely to lose whatever you had been looking at previously, leaving you with a blank white screen. Either kill this behavior or at least make it optional.

Cut-and-paste would make the iTouch that much more useful as a notebook substitute, especially for true mobile blogging. Flash support is, truthfully, a distant third-place request — it only comes up if a site I need to access ends up being completely unusable (and really, that’s more the fault of the website than Safari; if the popularity of the iPhone somehow leads to a decrease in Flash proliferation, I’ll be thrilled).

This is not much in the way of griping. The iTouch remains one of the most satisfying tech-toys I’ve ever bought. I’ve gotten lots of mileage out of it, for both work and play. If Apple addresses those three issues sooner rather than later, the satisfaction level will amp up that much more.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/25/2008 09:38:40 PM
Category: Internet, Wi-Fi, iPod
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ach
Well, I don’t know just how truly lost this 12-year-old sit-down between the “Late Show” host and Swiss publication Das Magazin is.

I just know that it’s nowhere to be found on the Web, neither with Google search nor via a direct-drilldown of the magazine’s website (nor of its parent publication, Tages Anzeiger). And yes, I looked for both English and German versions — bupkis. Just goes to show that more than a few items fall through the online cracks over time.

How did I get it? I recovered it from the depths of my hard drive. I remember coming across this translation at least 10 years ago and, recognizing it as the rarity it was, saved it. Good thing I did. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced Letterman being so serious and insightful about his vocational medium. He gets downright Marshall McLuhan in his insights. Best quote out of this: “Television was born with a smile on its face.”

The following is translated by parties unknown from the original Swiss German, published under the title “TV Provocer”. You’ll see it’s riddled with misspellings and awkward phraseology. I would take a crack at correcting it, but since I’m not working from the original (and don’t know enough German to make that useful even if it were possible), I’m letting it ride.

Finally, some context: This interview took place way back in 1996, so Letterman is talking about a significantly different media landscape. No mention of the Web as a serious challenger to TV, radio or any other mass medium, because it wasn’t one yet. Also, this was fresh off the 1996 Presidential election, so some mention of that. And there’s quite a bit of reference to Letterman’s groundbreaking work from his former “Late Night” show in NBC, clips of which are also fairly scarce on the Web. You’ll just have to imagine it all.

And with that:


Das Magazin: Mister Letterman, we’d like to talk about the future of television.
David Letterman: You mean, whether I’ll have a dog race on my show tomorrow night?

It would already be enough, if you would explain your background to our readers a bit.
14 years ago I found out that I hat TV cameras and TV studios. That’s all.

That’s why you’re called a revolutionary TV man, and are adolatrously worshipped in the US.
My God, that’s because of my loss of hair. People simply feel sorry for me. By the way, just call me Dave. I’m TV Dave, America’s best TV friend.

During your talk show “Late Night with David Letterman” an average of 6 million people sit in front of their TVs. And this all between 11:30 pm and 0:30 am, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. How is something like that possible?
Maybe because every once in a while I throw water-melons on Broadway.

And then you show the audience bursting water-melons in slow motion…
Yes, smashing watermelons always was a childhood dream of me. In my show I’ve been fulfilling my own childhood dreams for 14 years. And get paid for it. Crazy.

“Late Night” with more than 120 million dollars in advertisement revenue annually is CBS’ most lucrative program. How did you do that?
Seriously, I don’t feel like talking or analyzing my work to death now. Please do that in Europe. That doesn’t work here. It’s only about television. And I define my role more or less as America’s clown. That’s all.

You make more than 12 million dollars a year. And for that you’ve started the de-mystification of TV in the beginning of the eighties.
I’m really not interested in anything besides drawing the audience’s attention to my small hair piece on the back of my head. And sometimes I turn the picture 180 degrees for an hour.

When you turned the picture on the screen around for the first time ten years ago, especially young people were celebrating your “attack”. They seem to have seen it as a metaphor.
No, I don’t think so. They simply thought it was fun to see something different for a change.

After all some reknown guests were in the show, such as boxer George Foreman and actress Meryl Streep. They were hanging heads-down from the top of the screen for an hour.
We’ve always been playing with the unwritten rules of the business; we reflect, parody, and break them all the time. That’s why in the beginning at NBC I was on air at 0:30 am. But all of a sudden everybody noticed my loss of hair, and CBS gave me a chance at 11:30 pm.

What’s the difference between a 11:30 and a 0:30 show?
I don’t know exactly. The older viewers are still able to barely keep their eyes open. Boys and girls still sit quietly on the couch before they have other things to do. And a commercial costs about 30 per cent more.

Advertising experts claim, no other TV show in the US had a more attractive fan community. The “Late Show” appeals mostly to viewers with a high income, young, educated men and women, decision makers. The commercials during your show are sold out way in advance. Up to 60,000 dollars have been offered for a 30 seconds commercial.
I don’t think about that.

Two years Budweiser introduced a new beer - Iced Bud - nationally during your show.
After that I had bottles of Iced Bud stacked on Broadway, and some ice hockey players from the New York Rangers smashed them with slap shots. So much about Iced Bud.

Why is late night TV such a competitive market in the US?
They assume that whoever falls asleep with CBS-Dave, will wake up with a CBS breakfast the following morning. It’s that simple. However, I don’t care about that. During breakfast I always listen to the British BBC’ world radio.

But still you’ve changed the image of talk shows in the early eighties already, and have turned the world of TV entertainment upside down.
Can a reasonalbe human being make a show almost daily for 14 years, and create chaos doing it, without going crazy? No. Therefore we had to think of something. Every evening I want to have an audience that asks during my show: What the heck was that?

For instance, when you jump into a water container with a coat full of aspirin. And shortly afterwards give a canned ham to Madonna.
I like Madonna. She’s also called me an asshole. Those are the those clear and very precise moments, for which I get a lot of positive press afterwards.

Mister Letterman, how would you assess the cultural role of television in the US?
Okay, let me clear up a misunderstanding. In the US, nobody’s ever been talking about a TV culture, it’s always been about entertainment. I think the longing of Europeans to make more than a fairground is honorable, but pretty much useless. Therefore I would rather speak about a social role of television in the US.

Could you explain us this role?
My God, TV has a much longer tradition in our country than in Europe. We have started the age of television, and doing this offered the world an outlook into the future that can’t be found clearer, more playful and vivid anywhere else. That’s shocking the world. But they always forget, that American viewers are experts in dealing with TV. My grandfather has grown up with the movie soap opera “Three Stooges”, my mom with the first TV hero Lucille Ball, and I was worshipping comedians such as Steve Allen, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. All this at a time, when in Europe looking-out-of-the-window might still have been the most common pastime. Ever since the beginning of the fifties, America has been shaped by pretty trustworthy TV heroes. Only the growth of cable TV has disturbed this trust.

Why?
I believe we all want to be committed to one station, one anchor, one series, one TV friend such as Dave. But with 500 channels it’s not that easy anymore to develop loyalty. You know, this looking-around is only satisfying for a certain amount of time. After that, even the young viewers want to know where they belong. This is why one of Dave’s smashed water-melons can once again build trust into the box and a traditional network such as CBS.

What do Americans know about TV that other cultures maybe don’t understand yet?
The fact that TV can’t be used for the integration of high cultural values and for education, if you want to make a lot of money with it. But I’m sure I don’t have to explain this to you.

But what is the special role of a “Late Night” show with Dave?
A talks show as a traditional live event is especially well suited for those comedians who are constantly looking for a shocking authenticity in the studio. But always within a traditional, easy-to-understand form that hasn’t changed since the early fifties. With a guy behind an idiotic desk, an absurdly big microphone, a couch for the guests, and a band. A show with a lot of famous guests who announce their new movie, a new book, a new TV show, and with whom I much more enjoy talking about my collection of pencils, and forget the new CD or throw the book at the camera. Sometimes I give more time to a dog who shows a funny trick with his owner, than to Madonna, the superstar, for instance. That’s all.

And jokes like those are accepted by all those involved?
I too can’t understand that. Maybe it’s because, according to newest polls, two thirds of our viewers find TV commercials positive, unlike other countries. This approval also applies to new programs. If you dare to do something new on TV in this country, you can always count on a positive audience.

Mister Letterman, especially in Germany a lot of people try to copy your show. However, this Letterman magic can’t be imitated. Why not?
I have no idea. I don’t know those shows in Europe. I’m sure I could amuse myself perfectly in front of a German TV. Even though I wouldn’t understand anything. I don’t know what the situation in Switzerland is. I was told, Germans would use pseudo-Americanisms such as “dressman”, “catching” or “twen”. Those are words that I’ve never heard. Funny hotch potch. In Germany they also say “safer sex”. We in the US leave it at the non-comparative “safe sex”. The Germans truly are very funny.

Does America love David Letterman, because there’s no critical political TV journalism in this country?
You see, the “New York Times” has given my show the title “journalistic humor” once. I don’t get that, though. But such a title might have something to do with our cameras, which we take along on a tour of the CBS building sometimes. We then introduce our audience to the CEO of CBS, the security guards, the cafeteria staff, take janitors into the studio, where they give a toilet brush to Arnold Schwarzenegger, for instance.

And what’s behind that?
I’m not so sure. When we gave Arnold Schwarzenegger a toilet brush, he smiled a bit unsure. One viewer may think: Huh, huh, Dave gave Arnold a toilet brush, he sure showed him. Someone else thinks: Oh, that’s sweet, Arnold is holding a toilet brush in his hand, and he’s smiling. If you don’t have a sense of humor, you will never get anywhere in this country.

When is television harmful?
It may be that Americans know that TV is harmful, when it tries to lead serious discussions about news, politics, education, economy or religion. Maybe American viewers know instinctively that TV is the most useful when it’s talking about dumb things.

Mister Letterman, in one of your shows you’ve counted how often Bob Dole has blinked with his eyes during a TV debate. Why?
No idea. I try to inform America. To inform precisely, if you know what I mean. It was exactly 40 blinks in 25 seconds, opposed to Clinton’s 4. Details such as those decide elections, don’t you think?

What’s the magic of ridiculous information?
Ridiculous is the wrong word. In my opinion television is an unbelievably bizarre medium, especially if used in context with the idiotic slogan “information age”. Television has very little to do with being informed. On the other hand, those who claim that a TV addicted viewer could not tell program and reality apart, simply talk crap. We proof it every night: Especially because TV does not depict reality it’s so much fun to watch. We always have helped transparency.

Is this self-mirroring an answer to the viewers’ mistrust?
I don’t make a show to diminuish mistrust. We entertain people using a medium which I don’t like too much. I simply feel better when I torture this idiotic camera, when I turn the whole thing inside out. I constantly try to free myself from this burden “television”.

You’re supposed to be very shy.
I think that’s very normal when someone looks like me.

Mister Letterman, now what’s the advantage of a society in which a serious talk almost always ends in giggling?
Come on, do I have to explain you again why TV is entertaining?

Not why TV is entertaining. But why it makes entertainment the normal frame in which experience is presented.
TV was born with a smile on its face. Nothing can shake it off. Or would you rather want a propaganda machine that explains you hour after hour what is culturally important, and what isn’t? The furthest I make my viewers go is, that they might die laughing about the pictures on the screen. TV is a box connected to a power outlet, nothing more. You just have to believe me. It certainly isn’t the Scala of Milan.

So you’re convinced that only the de-mystification of television would give some hope to gain a certain control over it?
You see, polls have shown that the more I move the camera around the studio, the more popular I am. For instance when I press my nose against it, run out of the theater with it, let trucks drive over it. Or when I force vice president Al Gore to a certain style during the interview in order to enable the viewers to see how strong his look is, how he smiles and tries to leave a good impression with funny remarks. Nothing can break up the smooth surface for a few seconds better than a talk show with Dave or a hamburger test with Zsa Zsa Gabor. The breaking of rules feels relaxing. Especially for myself.

What makes screens turned upside down, throwing snowballs aginst the camera, the Pakistan souvenir dealers from Broadway, turned into superheroes by you, so important?
I don’t like to see any real importance in it. Of course, some say I have started the parodical self-reflection of commercial TV. It’s my “fault” that nowadays serious car companies such as Ford make fun of themselves in their advertising, they say. I don’t know, I simply always wanted to entertain, in Johnny Carson’s tradition.

He was the “King of Lage Night Comedy” for 30 years. When Johnny Carson hosted his last show four years ago, more than 50 million people watched him, Why was he so important for America?
Johnny was our best TV friend. Some fans knew him better than their own fathers. NBC’s “Tonight Show” - our direct competition - has been part of our lives for over 40 years in the same way that Pisa’s tower belongs to Italy. Johnny has given a lot of comedians such as myself a chance. John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Eddy Murphy, Roseanne, Whoopy Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld and others might never have found their way into the wide world without him. Warhol said that every human being would be famous for 15 minutes. But for us comedians only the 6 minutes Johnny gave us to tell our little jokes were important. And when Johnny laughed we were heroes and our future was safe.

Was Johnny Carson political?
He appealed to both liberals and conservatives. How else could you make a successful show in this country? But serious politics have bored him. For instance, Johnny could have saved our unlucky president Jimmy Carter, but he didn’t want to. Johnny was the first TV person to invite Muhammed Ali into his show, at a time when millions in NBC’s home audience hated Ali. Maybe Johnny was “political” in the European meaning. Only nobody here noticed it.

Commercial television depends on ratings. How do CBS and the “Late Show” keep viewers from changing during commercials?
You’ll have to ask our producer. Some months ago I had a show without commercials. An announcer has kept yelling the sponsors’ names into the show - “Budweiser - The King of Beer”. After that the show went on as usual.

Was that comedy or parody that was arranged with the sponsor?
We got paid for it, if you want to know it exactly. But of course parodies uch as this one only work if the viewer knows the original. The joke must be recognized and acknowledged.

The viewer has two means today to show their disapproval of commercial breaks and the mix-up of communication: VCRs and the remote control.
That’s why the advertising people try to come up with commercials that even today still stick out of the mass. And it is then my job to put them down again, huh, huh…

A fatal event happened in November 1989, when you made fun of a battery producer’s pink bunny…
Oh no, do we have to talk about this?

You made it walk across your desk, with drum and the Energizer logo. It became clear that this wasn’t a commercial when you decaptivated it with a baseball bat. What happened then?
The damn thing kept on walking. Exactly like the commercials say, that those damn Energizer batteries would never die. It was spooky.

However, that wasn’t planned.
Of course not. But the people from Energizer liked the additional publicity a lot. This bunny has long since become a real hero and still appears in their commercials. Next time I’ll burn that son of a bitch!

Are those the fatal consequences, when TV talks about itself?
I don’t think so.

What you wanted was to make the entire nation laugh about how TV itself critizises TV commercials. However, at the end the viewer should laugh, not the advertisers.
No, TV-Dave is the one who laughs at the end. Everything else woud be very, very unfair.

What will be the problem of TV viewers in the far future?
Maybe when they don’t know anymore what they’re laughing about.

You mean, when they don’t think about why TV-Dave’s hairpiece is growing all of a sudden anymore?
No, the “Late Show”’s magic will only be in trouble when the viewers don’t ask anymore: Why does this guy throw water-melons onto Broadway?

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/25/2008 03:13:41 PM
Category: Celebrity, TV
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Monday, November 24, 2021

yours, mine, oursMy visit last month with Hachette Book Group’s Kelly Leonard continues to pay back — in reading material. In addition to the two books that Kelly herself gave for my review, her associate Miriam Parker sent along an additional new release. Below is my review for that one-more, Maria Semple’s “This One Is Mine”.

That Maria Semple’s first novel should concern itself with the vicissitudes of life in Los Angeles isn’t surprising, given that she’s spent a good chunk of her life there. Semple is a self-described refugee from Hollywood, having left behind an established résumé in television writing in favor of family life in the Pacific Northwest.

That desire for escape resonates among the characters in “This One Is Mine”: Escape from a loveless marriage, unfulfilled expectations, and self-destructive tendencies. Portraits of sad, damaged people set against a sparkling Southern California backdrop is familiar territory; Semple makes this story fresh and enlivening with her unique voice and brilliant pacing. However much personal experience she’s imbued into this book — and, just from comparing her prose with her abbreviated bio, it seems like a lot — she’s used it to provide a healthy dose of authenticity that balances an overall tragi-comic tone.

“Mine” centers mainly around Violet Parry, a burned-out new mother and former TV writer (essentially Semple’s fictional doppelganger). She’s in an advanced stage of post-postpartum depression, struggling with LA-allergic physical imperfections to go along with a void that a near-perfect child and lap-of-luxury lifestyle can’t fill. Eschewing better opportunities to rejuvenate herself, she latches onto an irrationally obsessive affair with Teddy Reyes, a down-and-out junkie musician. Violet’s determination to sabotage her marriage drives the story, keeping things delightfully off-balance as things unfold.

Violet is far from the only wounded animal inhabiting this landscape. Her husband, David, copes with his wild mood swings in reaction to his wife’s increasingly aberrant behavior, along with his personal weariness over a lifelong burden of responsibilities. His sister, Sally, provides a parallel narrative, as she strives for marriage, social-climbing, and a desire to emerge from David’s protective shadow. Thrown in for the ride are a conniving ex-boyfriend, an undiagnosed Asperger’s savant, yoga groupies, and a fake Kennedy — all, in one way or another, looking for liberation from their circumstances, with mixed (but entertaining) results.

Semple manages to capture the quirkiness of a modest cross-section of Los Angelenos without succumbing to outright farce. Even some of the more outlandish plot turns — especially Violet’s persistent relationship with Teddy — stay grounded thanks to the author’s deft intertwining of each character’s storylines into a tight, satisfying whole. If anything, I would have liked some of the subplots to have been expanded a bit, even if this would have sacrificed the brisk pace… Or maybe I simply wanted to keep on reading.

For a rookie, Semple has this beat down cold. “This One Is Mine” is an impressive telling of urban alienation, with a dark undertone tempered by fittingly improbable resolutions.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/24/2008 12:17:03 PM
Category: Book Review
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Sunday, November 23, 2021

The standard lament over MTV’s ongoing de-emphasis of its once-staple videos somehow fits into the recently-launched music video repository on MTVMusic.com.

I say, there are worse options than to have the so-called Music Television network shunt its onetime bread-and-butter content online. At least now we can call up whatever video we want, whenever we want, without being a slave to TV scheduling. Let the cable channel get clogged with celebutante crapfests and such — the heart and soul of MTV will have a welcoming home on the InterWebs.

I feel compelled to embed a contributing video from MTVM. I would make it one of my favorites, except that I can’t really think of any personal favorites from the annals of music videography. If I ever had any, they’ve long since faded from my memory.

So I’ll serve up this hoary (but rockin’) chestnut, “Judge Hot Fudge” by Didjits. Only because it’s so obscure that I was genuinely surprised to find it among the online selections (doubtless, its memorable appearance on “Beavis and Butt-Head” probably helped it make the cut). Enjoy:

Didjits |MTV Music
by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/23/2008 08:53:15 PM
Category: Internet, Pop Culture, TV
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“Boundless energy” and “tombstone” don’t usually go together, except in Spain (or, more accurately, Catalonia):

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a gritty, working-class town outside Barcelona, has placed a sea of solar panels atop mausoleums at its cemetery, transforming a place of perpetual rest into one buzzing with renewable energy.

Flat, open and sun-drenched land is so scarce in Santa Coloma that the graveyard was just about the only viable spot to move ahead with its solar energy program.

The appropriate irony would be if this graveyard turned out to be a cellular deadzone…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/23/2008 01:05:51 PM
Category: Science, Society, Tech
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Anyone who speaks more than one language (like me) can relate to the truism, especially in literature, that “there is no such thing as a literal translation”.

At times, we should be thankful for that:

The differences between cultures can be a challenge. When working on “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, [literary translator Burton] Raffel translated Middle French into modern English. Written in the 16th century, the novel was set in a time of filth and squalor. Raffel found he had to overcome the limits of the English language.

“Rabelais, the author of this very strange book, ends the chapter with a sputtering iteration. I believe it’s something like 43 different words in French for [shit],” says Raffel. “My problem was finding 43 different words because English is not so plentiful in these things.”

Highlighting that there’s such a thing as being too literal.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/23/2008 12:34:52 PM
Category: Publishing, Wordsmithing
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Saturday, November 22, 2021

say cheese
Here’s something I stumbled upon yesterday, right after updating to the latest 2.2 firmware on my iPod Touch:

To take a screenshot all you need to do is hold down the Menu button (the black circle) and press the power button at the top of the device - you will see a white flash on your screen which means the screenshot was taken. In order to access the screenshots just go to your [Photos] on your iPod Touch. It will appear within your saved images.

Sure enough, I tried the dual-pressing of the buttons (the only two physical buttons on the thing, unlike the iPhone or the new 2nd-generation iTouch, both of which have volume-control sidetabs). It took the freeze-frame and saved the results in the Photos section. I must have taken a half-dozen shots of the home screen, album cover art, in-action gameplay, etc.

What good is this? After all, it’s not a real camera — it’s nothing more than a Windows-like Print Screen function. But you can use this to take pristine images of iPod App results in games (high-scores), maps directions, emails, and so on. Even more creatively, you can take a shot of the album art from one of your favorite songs, and automatically set that as the iTouch’s wallpaper (after appropriate cropping), all without going through the trouble of syncing up via iTunes first.

Looks like this works only with the 2.x version of the iPhone/iTouch firmware. I assume it also works on the iPhone. I wonder why Apple kept this on the down-low as a hidden feature; I thought they were through with such Easter eggs…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/22/2008 04:07:33 PM
Category: Photography, iPod
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It’s opening weekend for budding blockbuster Twilight, which stars the most teenaged heart-throbbingest bloodsucker evah.

With full knowledge that, being a 37-year-old male, I’m well outside the intended demographic for this movie, I nevertheless have to lodge my complaint against yet another rendition of the supposed “unconventional” vampire.

I mean, how many retreads of this concept do we need to see? No, this ain’t your grandfather’s Dracula (who himself has undergone various image reworkings since his original Bram Stoker incarnation), because these vampires dress/act like hip goths and aren’t garlic-intolerant, etc. Okay, we get it — so what? What else you got?

Partly this backlash is a result of a late pop-cultural overload of this treatment. In addition to Twilight, HBO’s “True Blood” has been offering up the same imagery over the past year. Also in that same timeframe, 30 Days of Night took its turn in presenting the vampires-who-aren’t-like-regular-vampires meme (it even promoted itself as “a re-imagining of the vampire genre”, or somesuch). In between all that is, I’m sure, plenty of other under-the-radar presentations in film, TV, and print.

But it’s not like this revamp of the vamp is a new thing. Along with the aforementioned steady evolution of the original Count, you can trace the breaking of the mold at least back to the 1970s. In that decade, Blacula and the original Marvel Comics “Blade” character were probably the first mass-market examples of the undead beyond the old Victorian horror standard of Dracula.

Of course, the full realization of the brooding, alluring, adolescent vampire came in 1987 with The Lost Boys. The direct bloodlines between today’s stories about angst-ridden and disaffected undead and this 21-year-old iconic schlock-flick are obvious; even the young-love angle that seems mandatory today is carried over from that Los Angeles-cum-Transylvania howler.

But yes, that was 21 whole years ago. Meaning enough already — what used to be fresh and inventive is now the tired norm. The romanticization of the dreamy nosferatu should signal the end of the line for this fantasy-fiction aesthetic. I don’t know that future vampire tales need to revert back to the Bram Stoker trappings, but a fresh reinvention is in order.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/22/2008 01:26:47 PM
Category: Movies, Pop Culture, Publishing
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Friday, November 21, 2021

While I appreciate that “Brooklyn” as a baby name quickly has become passe, I don’t think moving on to other New York City boroughs for offspring-tagging is the answer, as musicians Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz did with their newborn daughter, Bronx Mowgli Wentz.

I mean, what’s next? Clutches of little tykes running around called “Staten” and “Queensie”?

Actually, I could almost seen those two attaining mainstream status. But as far as NYC’s northermost borough saddling some poor kid, I have to echo the late Ogden Nash’s signature couplet:

The Bronx?
No thonx!

With that de-personalizing “the” article, almost required for any reference to “The Bronx”, making a naming-application even more thankless.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/21/2008 07:25:35 PM
Category: Celebrity, New Yorkin', Pop Culture, Wordsmithing
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