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Monday, March 12, 2021

I can’t tell you the last time I cracked open a copy of The New Republic.

I guess now’s the time to pick one up, just to get the full effect of the magazine’s new redesign:

For starters the magazine is fatter, with more photographs, articles, graphics (including a regular political cartoon by Drew Friedman) and even a few more advertisements than usual, all packaged under a lush cover painting of Barack Obama by the young, of-the-moment artist Dana Schutz.

Printed on thicker, silkier paper, the first issue includes an article on Mr. Obama’s days as a young street organizer, an essay wondering whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart troubles have affected his head, and a gentle “gotcha” about the humorist David Sedaris, whose biographical tales turn out to be not all that biographical. Contributors will not have to stick to any party line, Mr. Foer said, but the magazine’s own editorial viewpoint will be reliably left of center. (Straying from its traditional liberal roots in recent years has cost The New Republic — now with a combined Web and print paid circulation of 60,000 — some friends and subscribers.)

Who figured a hip makeover would result from new Canadian ownership? I’d have guessed the opposite. Perhaps CanWest can’t even believe it, since it doesn’t appear to even list TNR on its roster of pubs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/12/2021 10:35:57 PM
Category: Publishing
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Wednesday, March 07, 2021

quis custodiet?
Every day, there are bits and pieces of news that you take in, process, and then discard.

Then, there are those items that you absorb and simply can’t shake off, no matter what. Because they’re so compelling, yet so dread-inducing, that they cling to your consciousness.

And so, despite his considering the role and subsequently turning it down, the notion of Tom Cruise playing Ozymandias in the long-gestating movie version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen”

Wow. Just wow.

I’d have definitely paid to see that spectacle. And that’s saying something, because I’m not sold on a film adaptation of this seminal graphic novel, simply because it seems hopelessly dated now, 20 years later. But Cruise getting to play out some of his real-life psychoses through a costume hero with a God-complex would go a long way toward overcoming my skepticism.

We’re left to merely speculate on what a freaky trip-out it would have been on the silver screen. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”, indeed.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 03/07/2021 11:42:55 PM
Category: Celebrity, Movies, Publishing
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Monday, March 05, 2021

Man, that Stuart Elliott will publish anything.

Or at least, he seems to publish anything that I send him (on his email newsletter — New York Times print is more privileged terrain). I was surprised to see that he ran an email I sent him last week, which referenced a Q&A that dealt with the current Mercedes-Benz driver-testimonial commercials. It’s another of those fairly off-the-cuff notes I write that, improbably, find a wider audience than I’d ever expect them to.

Anyway, since Elliott published it with the intent of uncovering some long-lost information — many thanks — here it is:

I read the question last week from a reader who Googled the names of people who are appearing in a Mercedes-Benz commercial. That brought to mind a similar impulse I had, probably about 10 years ago now. Unfortunately, my memory’s pretty fuzzy on the details, but it was something like this:

An early Web site registrar, which probably also offered hosting, ran a TV campaign that featured business owners who took the plunge and set up corporate Web sites. Similar to the Mercedes-Benz commercial, their on-camera testimonials included their names, the names of their companies and the U.R.L.’s of their Web sites.

After seeing the spot for the millionth time, I finally decided to type those U.R.L.’s into my browser. What came back weren’t fully-functioning company Web sites, but rather parked pages owned by the advertising registrar. In other words: The testimonials were fictional, but that fact wasn’t indicated in the commercials.

Again, it has been a long time, but I believe I contacted some media outlet or another - probably my hometown newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times - to point out the flub. From there, the spots eventually started running a disclaimer, and the “phony” sites also got some sort of qualifier information. It was an early lesson in Web backlash.

If any of that rings a bell, please let me know. I’m pretty good at ferreting out this sort of stuff, but right now I can’t even imagine where to begin. I’m pretty sure the registrar is no longer around under its original name. And I think one of the fake companies had “Sun” as part of its name.

I certainly was winging it. Now, a week after sending it, I think I’ve jogged my memory enough to ID the registrar company: Network Solutions. I’m not positive on that, but it seems to ring correctly.

As far as the offending phony ads, I’d have thought there would have been some sign of them in the Archive.org cache of NetSol’s website. But there doesn’t appear to be. So I’m out of ideas. If anyone can recall this advertising moment, please volunteer your thoughts.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 03/05/2021 10:34:51 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Internet, Publishing
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Friday, February 16, 2021

It makes sense that the support network for divorced people would include a dedicated print publication.

And I applaud “Divorce Magazine” for the most inventively punny of subtitles: “Help for Generation Ex”.

But seriously, do they really expect anyone to subscribe to this title? I’d think that level of commitment should be reserved for the next marriage try instead. Although seeing a few back issues of this on your fiance’s coffeetable might knock down the odds on that ever happening.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/16/2007 08:33:01 PM
Category: Publishing, Society
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Wednesday, February 14, 2021

At first blush, Bloc Party doesn’t look any different from any other homogeneous Brit-pop/alternative band.

So why did I recently purchase their single, “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”, after listening to barely a snippet of it on iTunes?

Because the lyrics I heard:

People are afraid to merge on the freeway
Disappear here

Confirmed what the title already indicated: The song was inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero”. The novel’s protagonist is named Clay, and “disappear here” and the freeway remark loom large throughout the story. The “disappear here” credo ends up becoming a recurrent theme in Ellis’ later works, culminating rather darkly in “Glamorama”.

Bloc Party don’t base their song wholly on Ellis’ work; the lyrics refer to life in London and a rock star mentality. But the mood of nihilistic detachment shines through.

I’m surprised it took 20+ years for some angsty singers to use “Zero” as source material. It seems like a timeless natural.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 02/14/2007 11:12:02 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Publishing
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Monday, February 12, 2021

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that this past weekend’s news of a TV movie deal with the New York Times over the bizarre story of NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak has turned out to be entirely false.

The disappointment doesn’t stem from my fervor to see a Lifetime presentation of Nowak’s rise and fall. Rather, I’m bummed that this seeming first instance of the Grey Lady’s showbiz-like licensing of its newspaper content to other mediums didn’t happen.

Or did it?

I first found out about the retraction from none other than Times reporter John Schwartz, via a comment he left on my original post. Schwartz has been covering the Nowak story, and was cited as being a critical player in the supposed movie deal with Granada America.

Partly to confirm that Schwartz was, indeed, who he said he was, I emailed him back for further info behind such a major and blatant error by the Associated Press. The following is his version of events (emailed to me and published here with his permission — thanks, John!):

I’ve put various versions of this explanation around the web, but it basically comes down to this: I don’t really know what happened inside of Granada or at the AP, and so there’s not much I can say about that.

I just know what happened in my shop. Early in the week, the New York Times was negotiating to sell the rights to a single newspaper article, the one on Wednesday, to Grenada, through an outside Hollywood guy who handles such things. I was not informed of the negotiations at the outset, and wouldn’t be since it has nothing to do with me. Individual stories are the property of the newspaper.

Then a person from the business development side of the paper called on Thursday, as a courtesy, to tell me that the negotiations for the rights to the single story were in progress, and that the Hollywood guy was also offering to get a consulting contract on my behalf.

I told the business development person that there was no way I could be involved in a consulting contract for a film while working on a beat, since it constitutes a clear conflict of interest and an incentive for me to pump up future coverage.

I then went to see an assistant managing editor of the paper in charge of ethical considerations to say that I thought that even the discussion of a consulting arrangement was inappropriate. He agreed, and sent off an email to the business development folks saying that there could be no further discussion of a contract for me. We all agreed that this was the way to go, and thought that it had all been put to rest.

So on Friday afternoon, I was stunned to see the AP wire, which stated I was going to “serve as a researcher on the project.” I went back to the assistant managing editor, and we kicked off a round of phone calls with our business development folks and public relations staff to get the article corrected or retracted and to find out what happened. From what they tell me, there wasn’t even a done deal with Granada to sell the rights to the individual article.

As you can imagine, I can’t have this meme out there that says I’m hustling a movie deal that would constitute an obvious conflict of interest and be sleazy besides. And I knew that the initial wire story would be spread far and wide, and that the retraction would not. So I’ve been contacting blogs, like yours, that run the original wire to set things straight.

And hopefully, this will go some ways toward clarifying the situation. As of this writing, the false story is still alive and well on the wire, while the retraction doesn’t seem to be registering.

But to the main issue: How could the AP release what turned out to be a baseless story? Standard procedure calls for confirming the facts with the primary players: Schwartz, Times management, Granada’s people, and the rest. Any of them could have debunked this story instantly. Assuming they were contacted, someone along the way obfuscated the situation.

There’s a story here by itself, for anyone who has time to track it (I don’t, unfortunately). I’ll take a highly speculative stab at what I think probably happened:

Someone on the business side of the Times — either the business development or PR departments — got ahead of themselves in promoting the nascent deal with Granada, and preemptively leaked some details to an AP reporter. The Times’ Hollywood representation, Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, may have also pushed this out. Granada’s promo people played along in order to spur completion of a deal. From there, the article broke prematurely.

Again, I’m strictly guessing here. But absent a more obvious smoking gun, it strikes me as predictable behavior for the business/promotional side of a media company. If there’s blame to be assigned here, I’m putting it at the feet of the likeliest suspects. If this is so, then it points to the dark side of the aggressive pursuit of additional newspaper revenue streams.

If anyone cares to follow up further with this, be sure to let me know.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 02/12/2021 11:07:40 PM
Category: Movies, Publishing, True Crime
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Saturday, February 10, 2021

[EDIT: The story behind this post has turned out to be completely baseless, as informed below. Further elaboration on the story behind the story can be found here.]
It’s not really so remarkable that the story of deranged NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak would be optioned for a television movie.

Here’s the unique aspect:

Granada America, which has produced made-for-TV films based on other real-life personalities, optioned a [New York Times] article written by reporter John Schwartz, who will serve as a researcher on the project.

In other words, they’re not optioning the story from NASA, Nowak’s family or anyone else directly involved. Rather, the production company is getting approval, as it were, from one of the media outlets who covered the facts of the situation. It’s an important distinction. It points to something of a loophole, too: If the primary source doesn’t want to play ball, you could always base your derivative work on a newspaper article, TV report, or whatever.

This development also marks the first (as far as I know) prominent application of the New York Times’ efforts to broker its content for Hollywood adaptation.

The saga of a diaper-wearing space cadet, trekking 800 miles to kill a romantic rival. Somehow, I imagine the Sulzberger family was hoping the paper’s first movie splash would be somewhat more high-class.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 02/10/2021 03:11:49 PM
Category: Movies, Publishing, True Crime
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Friday, February 09, 2021

that's mister to youI’m on an oddball-lit kick of late. No sooner did I finish reading a collection of stories told by severed heads, than I picked up “Mr. Thundermug: A Novel”.

What’s so odd about this book, by first-time author Cornelius Medvei? The cover image here should give it away, but in case it’s not clear: The title character is a baboon, who moves his family into an abandoned house in some British neighborhood, then somehow learns how to speak perfectly-dictioned English.

I’d say that’s plenty to drive a comic novel.

I’m already halfway through it, and it’s a slim volume. It’s proving to be a breezy, absurdist read. Probably just what the doctor ordered for me, of late.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 02/09/2021 04:57:36 PM
Category: Book Review
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Thursday, February 08, 2021

headstartI don’t suppose book publishing gets much more gimmicky than it does with Robert Olen Butler’s “Severance”.

The book is a collection of short stories. And I mean short — for a macabre reason:

Butler conceived of the idea after encountering a gruesome piece of trivia: that a human head is believed to continue in a state of consciousness for one and a half minutes after decapitation. Having then determined, from another source, that “in a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute,” Butler arrived at a new — and unlikely to be replicated — art form, the vignette of the severed head, told in exactly 240 words.

Not that Butler limited himself to human heads. Among his subjects are a dinnertable-destined chicken, a dragon, Medusa, and the Lady of the Lake. Not sure they’re entitled to the same wordcount as us regular folk, but I’ll let it slide.

Unfortunately, it looks like he got some bum information on the first part of that creepy equation:

After decapitation, consciousness remains in the severed head not for a minute and a half, as your reviewer explains Butler’s premise, but for about 30 seconds. In 1905, a French physician timed how long the eyes responded when he called the decapitated man’s name…

To appreciate the full pathos of Butler’s subjects, readers may want to pause at the end of the first 80 words, when the thinking has to stop. Beyond that lies only the author’s hope.

Maybe that’s what I should have done when I tore through the book over the last couple of days; I could have completed it in one sitting instead. The book’s physical size wouldn’t have changed — as it is, each story is self-contained within a single page (plus a preceding section cover page).

I don’t mean to imply that “Severance” wasn’t entertaining. I thought the stories for the Biblical figures (the apostles Paul and Matthew, and John the Baptist) were excellent, as was the one for the Lady in the Lake. And the inclusion of Nicole Brown Simpson was sly, as was Butler putting himself on the chopping block (fictionally) for the finale. But I agree with the Times review: The stream-of-consciousness motif resulted in an overbearing sameness, especially toward the end. It didn’t help that the author overreached on a few, trying to shoehorn the narrative of what led to the character’s death into what should be final, frenzied contemplation.

For those interested, this all has a Sunshine State connection. Butler lives in Capps, Florida (which I’ve never heard of), and is a professor at Florida State University (which I have heard of). Figures that something this kooky would come out of the F-L-A.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/08/2021 11:51:01 PM
Category: Book Review, Creative, Florida Livin'
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Saturday, February 03, 2021

Wikipedia did a job on the kingdom of facts. Now, it’s fiction’s turn to get wiki’d: A Million Penguins is an attempt by publishing house Penguin Putnam to foster a collaboratively-written novel.

It may or may not ever see the legitimization that comes in a print edition. For now, expectations are modest:

The experimental novel, which Penguin says is the first “wiki novel” to be started from scratch by a major publishing house, will be online for at least six weeks.

But it warns budding artists that the work is not a talent search and insists it expects a variety of tones and abilities.

“In an ideal world we could throw in a sense of plausibility, balance and humor,” Penguin’s blogger, Jon Elek, wrote in an entry earlier this week.

“That’s asking a lot, and in truth I’ll be happy so long as it manages to avoid becoming some sort of ‘robotic-zombie-assassins against African-ninjas-in-space, narrated-by-a-Papal-Tiara’ type of thing.”

Hey, I’d read that! Or catch the movie, anyway. (Can the wikiscreenplay website, sponsored by some Hollywood studio, be far behind?)

Naturally, the theorum about a bunch of typewriting monkeys eventually producing Shakespeare looms large here. I don’t know if Penguin explicitly admits that that’s the inspiration for the “A Million Penguins” title, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

Of course, going with “penguins” instead of “monkeys” fulfills a crucial branding function. Regardless of the end result, Penguin grabs a bit of mindshare with this project. So that by itself makes this a success.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 02/03/2021 08:08:28 PM
Category: Creative, Internet, Publishing
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Monday, January 29, 2021

Finally, a sensible use for podcasting. The San Francisco Chronicle is posting audio files of voicemail complaints left by its readers.

I’d have guessed that this crowdpleaser would include complimentary messages as well as nit-picky gripes. But hey, who wants to listen to that?

This takes me back to my agate desk days at the St. Pete Times Sports desk, when I’d have to field frequent incoming calls. We didn’t record them, but there were several regular callers (sports, as you’d expect, attracted the compulsive types) who would have been tailor-made for podcast presentation. Alas, that was way back in the early-to-mid ’90s, before the Web was ready for today’s audio escapades.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/29/2007 11:56:22 PM
Category: Internet, Publishing
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Monday, January 22, 2021

OK, I think it’s official: The Grey Lady has a distinct fixation on pornography.

Witness: It closed out 2006 with a look at the aging demographics of adult performers (which somehow threw me for a loop when it described a graying female actor’s hairdo as a chignon). Then, it reported on the financial potential of pay-per-view porn in hotel rooms, obviously laying on a thin veneer of business-news merit to mask its curious preoccupation.

And today, the smut parade continues, with this hard-hitting report on the cosmetic challenges presented by the onset of the high-definition video format in the adult film industry.

Call me crazy, but I think there’s a directive at New York Times Co. to push the porn as a way of pushing print copies and pageviews.

Anyway, on to the obligatory pertinent snippet:

Jesse Jane, one of the industry’s biggest stars, plans to go under the knife next month to deal with one side effect of high-definition. The images are so clear that Ms. Jane’s breast implants, from an operation six years ago, can be seen bulging oddly on screen.

“I’m having my breasts redone because of HD,” she said.

The stretch marks on Ms. Jane from seven years ago when she gave birth to her son are also more apparent. But she deals with those blemishes in a simpler way: by liberal use of tanning spray.

Who figured hi-def TV would be a boon to plastic surgeons and makeup manufacturers?

Incidentally, this article mentions Pirates, the landmark first high-definition porn flick that was filmed in my former hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. And wouldn’t you know it: One of my original sources for that story was, yes, the New York Times…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/22/2007 11:24:35 PM
Category: Movies, Publishing, Tech
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Monday, December 04, 2021

For a couple of weeks now, the current issue of Marie Claire beckoned from each newsstand I passed.

It’s not like I’ve never seen a nekkid celebrity on a magazine cover before. But this time, it was Ashley Judd — who, as far as unattainable Hollywood women go, is the most drop-dead gorgeous ladies around. And for this particular cover shot, the amount of skin she’s showing is practically beside the point. Rather, the contour of her neck, and the sparkling of her eyes, and the sheen of her hair, do the job for me.

Oh yeah, there is the cover story about Judd’s efforts in raising awareness for YouthAIDS research, a pleasant enough read from features veteran Lucy Kaylin. And sure, I’d wanted to get a gander of the new Joanna Coles editorial regime at the magazine (pretty creative layout and flow, not as fashion-rag as I’d expected). Those serve as sufficient cover for picking up my copy of this December issue.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/04/2021 11:39:34 PM
Category: Celebrity, Publishing, Women
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Thursday, November 30, 2021

It’s 2006, so that means goodbye to Encyclopedia Brown. In his place is a Wikipedia version of the boy sleuth.

Sadly, Wikipedia Brown’s crime-solving business doesn’t fare so well when his precious reference facts can be manipulated at will by an Internet-enabled Bugs Meany and Sally Kimball. The kid’s psyche is fairly shattered as a result.

I read a couple of the EB books back in the day. However, they didn’t stick with me at all; I remember pretty much nothing about the series.

(Via Sarcasmo’s Corner)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/30/2006 10:04:02 PM
Category: Comedy, Internet, Publishing
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Saturday, November 25, 2021

Japan is renowned as a highly rigid, structured society. How do you deal with that if you don’t fit the acceptable mold?

A couple of recent media observations point to markedly divergent reactions, breaking along gender lines:

- Michael Zielenziger’s “Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation” examines the hikikomori phenomenon, where men in their 20s and 30s retreat from societal expectations by becoming noncommunicative shutins:

Across Japan, more than one million men and boys like Jun and Hiro and Kenji have chosen to withdraw completely from society. These recluses hide in their homes for months or years at a time, refusing to leave the protective walls of their bedrooms. They are as frightened as small children abandoned in a dark forest. Some spend their days playing video games. A few-an estimated 10 percent-surf the Internet. Many just pace, read books, or drink beer and shochu, a Japanese form of vodka. Others do nothing for weeks at a time. Unable to work, attend school, or interact with outsiders, they cannot latch onto the well-oiled conveyor belt that carries young boys from preschool through college, then deposits them directly into the workplace-a system that makes Japan seem orderly and purposeful to outsiders, even as it has begun to break down.

These young men withdraw in the most extreme sense. This is their mode of escape from Japan’s high-pressure rat race.

- Meanwhile, the New York Times’ Sheridan Prasso wrote last month about the trend among young Japanese women to “escape” to New York City for months at a time, in order to come into their own minus the traditional restrictiveness they face back home:

In the East Village on any given weekend night, throngs of such Japanese crowd the restaurants known as izakaya that have sprung up on and around St. Marks Place, in an enclave sometimes called Little Tokyo. With red paper lanterns and cacophonous dins, the restaurants serve delectables like raw liver sashimi and grilled rice balls, to tables of expatriates known in Japan as “freeters” (a combination of free and the German word for worker, arbeiter), or “NEETs” (Not in Education, Employment or Training).

As a Japanese version of slackers, such young people are often derided at home as selfish for drifting through part-time jobs or trying to develop talents in the arts — photography, music, painting, dance — rather than contributing to society by joining a corporation or marrying and having babies. The pressure can be intense.

Many escape to New York, staying from three months to three years. “In New York they feel they don’t get any pressure, that New York gives them freedom,” said the Japanese-born owner of the Sunrise Mart, a Japanese market in Little Tokyo.

The influx is at least a decade old, but unlike in the mid-1990’s when men and women freeters came in equal numbers, now it is largely a female wave — a result of the recovering economy in Japan that has made it slightly easier for young men to find corporate jobs upon graduation.

So New York is the safety valve for Japanese women who feel pressure to conform back home.

It’s easy to generalize all this: When faced with social/cultural heat, Japanese men turn inward (both literally and figuratively), while Japanese women strike outward (both literally and figuratively). This applies just to the relative minority who are non-conformists; still, it’s an interesting contrast in how the gender reactions are so much opposite from each other.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/25/2006 07:52:40 PM
Category: Publishing, Society
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Friday, November 24, 2021

It’s not online, but Chuck Klosterman has a sidebar piece in the latest Esquire about some biochemical advice he picked up from Bill Romanowski’s autobiography, “Romo: My Life on the Edge-Living Dreams and Slaying Dragons”:

Romanowski started taking magnesium supplements in 1995. “From then on,” writes Romo, “my dreams were so real and so vivid that the only way I can describe it is this: It was as if the rare dreams I had [in the past] were broadcast in black-and-white. The new ones were being transmitted in high-definition TV.”

Amazingly, this seems to be a very real phenomenon. I’ve started “mag loading” before going to bed, and my dreams have become memorable, dynamic, and beautiful; taking magnesium is akin to ingesting Michel Gondry in tablet form.

Better dreaming through chemistry, as it were. Not one of the benefits touted by BALCO, I’m guessing.

This resonates with me somewhat. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had problems retaining what I experience during my dreamstate. Very rarely — literally, once a year — I’ll recall what I dreamt about the night before. The rest of the time, the best I’ll get upon waking up is the impression that I had, in fact, dreamt, but with absolutely no memory of what it was about.

I’ve always figured that a chronic lack of sleep was the reason. That, and timing: It seems that the closer my dream episodes were to my actual wakeup time, the better the chance that I’d remember something. From that I gather, Romanowski is a big advocate of using magnesium to achieve sounder sleep — an essential for professional atheletes’ well-being — and from that, the enhanced dream experience follows.

So, will I run out and get me a bottle of magnesium? I don’t see it. Once you start playing chemistry lab with your body, you’re asking for all sorts of unforeseen developments. I’ll stick with the hit-or-miss of my usual sleep patterns.

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 11/24/2006 06:14:38 PM
Category: Football, Publishing, Science
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Sunday, November 19, 2021

Late last week, I had the pleasure of dining with my friend Tom, who made a one day/one night trip into New York on business. We had a decent Italian meal at Biricchino, which was a few steps down the street from his hotel.

While shooting the breeze over steak and lobster ravioli, Tom shared with me his new made-up word: “Manniving”. It’s a mash-up of “conniving” and “manipulative”, more or less. He found it a necessary linguistic invention to describe the evolving behavior of his precocious toddler of a daughter, who’s learning how to work her daddy for special favors like extra pieces of candy. Manniving joins “dramastic” — “dramatic” and “drastic” — as Tom’s unique contributions to the lexicon. Dramastic was born back during our college days; Tom’s been riding that word-coining as a mark of distinction among our social circle ever since. (And here I thought I was the group’s wordsmith…)

As it happens, Tom dropped his new word-stylin’ at the same time that I received a review copy of “Mixtionary”, a little humor book that contains about a hundred such hybrid words, accompanied by illustrations. And so the timing of my dinner with Tom was indeed fortuitous for me, because it underscored what I found to be both enjoyable about “Mixtionary” — and what was disappointing.

The book, released through IDW Publishing, is an attractively-bound mini-hardcover edition, ideally packaged and priced (at $9.99) for the giftbook market. It’s intended to be a breezy read, and Shawn McManus’ cartoon illustrations, accompanying every word definition, certainly help move you through the pages.

As for the invented words on those pages… The premise of this collection, as related by the authors, is that it’s the result of organic slang development, forged through emails and IMs to describe various modern-day situations for which old verbiage can’t do justice.

That’s a neat premise, but I don’t really buy it. Certainly, some of the catchier mix-words “feel” natural; but most of them feel wholly concocted to serve as filler material. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe 10-20 percent of the book’s content was born from genuinely spontaneous conversation; the rest was more likely cooked up just to get the book up to 100 pages. And of that rest, half is mildly amusing and potentially catchy, while the other half is just plain forced and unlikely to ever be used in common parlance.

Which words sing? I found “foodswings”, the inevitable mood swings suffered by people with blood sugar problems, to genuine. Others I found convincing were “mantiques” (vintage pop-cultural artifacts that grown men hang onto), “escape goat” (the fallguy/girl for a failed corporate concept), and “noclueitall” (someone who thinks s/he’s an expert despite obvious ignorance).

Which words seem contrived? “Dumposure”, describing one’s reaction to the end of a long-term relationship, doesn’t ring true. The brief Superlatives section — consisting of “elevenacious”, “excrucianine”, and “asiten” — especially smacks of cheap padding (especially since it’s not new; who hasn’t heard of a forehead so big that it’s a “fivehead”, for instance?). And the six — yes, six — variants on shoe-appreciation terms hint that one of the authors needs to cut back on the “Sex and the City” reruns.

I also found a couple of the words to be fine in concept, but awkwardly formed. Instead of “wronglomerate” for a corporate merger between two mismatched companies, why not “contraglomerate”? Same with “wronguist”, for someone with a penchant for mangling vocabulary — when “malinguist” works better.

All told, “Mixtionary” is a nice little piece of printed fluff, with definite creative potential behind it. But I don’t think there’s too much naturally trend-flowing about it, and comes across as trying too hard to be uber-hip. If I may be allowed a quick-and-dirty mashup of my own…

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/19/2006 11:44:44 PM
Category: Book Review, Wordsmithing
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sanitized...... for your protection
It’s not very much, but I (and my ever-needy ego) will take it: Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited me, by name, in today’s edition regarding impressions from Discover Card’s “Shear Madness” TV commercial for its “What If” campaign:

Costa Tsiokos, a New York City marketing consultant, wrote on his blog that the ad reminded him of the “creepy Zuni doll” that came to life and attacked Karen Black with his miniature spear in the 1975 TV horror movie “Trilogy of Terror.”

No link in that article, dang it. I’m not surprised, as I’ve found that lots of traditional news outlets do little but dump print content into webpages, without adding hypertextual context. But I’m satisfied with having just my name published in one of the Steel City’s papers of record. Besides, if anyone in western Pennsylvania is sufficiently interested after reading the paper, I’m easy enough to find.

There’s some background to this. The Post-Gazette reporter, Mark Roth, got in touch with me three weeks ago for a 15-minute interview on this. Basically, we swapped thoughts on whether the little animated scissors came across positively or negatively, and how much of a risk Discover Card was taking on the chance of a backfire. For more insight on that, Roth also talked to the creative team at Martin Agency, including campaign creator (and Pittsburgh-area native) Ty Harper.

So I knew this piece was on the way. But, being acquainted with the newsgathering process, I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t get in the article at all. And as it is, that one mention didn’t cover everything I touched upon with Roth (although I can tell he incorporated a lot of my perspectives into the final product). So I didn’t bother mentioning anything about it, online or off. Now that it’s out, I’m blabbing.

I just hope I don’t get pigeonholed now as some sort of a wacky-commercial expert source for the news media. I can’t imagine there’s much money in that.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/19/2006 08:36:49 PM
Category: Advert./Mktg., Movies, Publishing
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Thursday, October 26, 2021

Do you need to buy a copy of Paul Dickson’s “Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms”?

Find out by testing yourself with this excerpt from the book, highlighting modern-day cube-speak:

Britney: Boy, I needed a break from the cube farm.

Kevin: No kidding! Did you catch the prairie-dogging when Caitlin’s coffee-maker exploded?

Britney: At least it provided a little drama to a morning when I was definitely glazing. Although did you get that weird e-mail that was being forwarded around?

Kevin: No, I think the digital hygienist struck again.

Britney: What are you working on?

Kevin: Oh man, I need to get granular on the latest fire drill.

Britney: Yeah, Irving is such a seagull manager. It’s like, you gotta have triorities with that guy. I can’t believe how long the obfun lasted yesterday, as if we didn’t already have enough to do.

Kevin: At least they served lunch. Did you see Tiffany’s canfusion?

Britney: Yeah, and the catering vultures lurking in the hallway? Don’t those people have any shame?

Kevin: Anyway, there was a cloud of bozone in that room. Where are all our idea hamsters?

Britney: I think they realized working here was a big fat wombat.

Kevin: Amen to that. Well, I guess I better get back to my cube. Nice facemailing with you.

Britney: Excuse me, my cell is vibrating.

Kevin: Shhhh! Don’t go all yellular.

Britney and Kevin exit, stage left. Irving emerges from the shadows by the water cooler. He is their boss.

Irving: Darn those young people. I didn’t understand a word they said!

Confused enough yet? No worries, here’s the standard-English translation. If you actually want to admit that you’re not down with the sound in the office. (I’ll admit, I started to lose comprehension at the “cloud of bozone” stage…)

And if you couldn’t figure out who Britney and Kevin are, then I’m afraid you need more help than any slang guide can offer.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 10/26/2006 10:20:15 PM
Category: Comedy, Publishing, Wordsmithing
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Tuesday, October 24, 2021

what a babeLet me tell you what I love about this cover of the October 2006 French Vogue:

The way the model, Natalia Vodianova, is so blatantly treating the baby she’s holding as a prop. She’s standing akimbo-ish, acting all come-hithery toward the camera, while baby’s presence in the photo is largely incidental. And it’s comically obvious how unlikely it is that Vodianova should be the kid’s real mother, despite (or because of?) how the scene is shot.

I’m sure photographer Mario Testino was going for this imagery. Somehow, the use of a miniature human being as fashion accessory neatly sums up everything you need to know about fashion.

And furthermore, if this shot doesn’t win something in next year’s Magazine Publishers of America cover competition, I’ll be, like, totally bummed out.

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 10/24/2006 10:41:17 PM
Category: Fashion, Publishing, Women
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Sunday, October 22, 2021

Quite unintentionally, over the past week I’ve indulged in three creative works whose (completely unrelated) stories take place in parallel decades, separated by 100 years:

- First, I cracked open my copy of Alan Moore’s and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell” for long-overdue re-read. It’s a highly fictionalized/speculative take on the Jack the Ripper murders, so the bulk of it takes place in the late 1880s.

- Then, at the start of the weekend, I caught the opening of Running with Scissors. The Augusten Burroughs autobiopic covers the late 1970s to early 1980s.

- Finally, today I took in Marie Antoinette, which centers primarily on the 1770s and 1780s.

So that’s the 19th, 20th and 18th Centuries in the spread. Which, if you think about it, represents a roller-coaster ride of societal transformation.

The temporal/historical juxtaposition is largely coincidental, and is really the only thing linking these three diverse works of art. But seeing as how I’m occupying my leisure time with them in such a compact window of time, it seems to hold some significance from my perspective.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 10/22/2006 08:55:13 PM
Category: History, Movies, Publishing
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