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Friday, February 09, 2007
6:16 PM      

I've already written two segments of this post so far today, and I'm realizing that much of this post might be sub-titled 'Why I Can't Stand CNN (or Any of the Network News).' A few years back, they seemed like a real alternative to the rest. At the time, I didn't realize how complicit they were in selling the first Iraq war to the American public. Now, they're just watered-down drivel like most. Their music themes rival the sound tracks of Top Gun and 24. The graphics are completely over the top. Are they really the most trusted name in news? And even if they are, how much trust are they afforded? They certainly don't deserve much.


Save the Cheerleader...
Yeah, I'm hooked on the slowly uncoiling suspense of Heroes on NBC. It amazes me, the way the show is developing. As an added touch, it was fun to see George 'Sulu' Takei playing the part of Hiro's father, speaking the entire role in Japanese. Nice touch. The question is, did you catch the nod to his famous role? As he and Hiro's sister depart, the camera follows her around the back of the car...

Denise pointed out at the end of the last episode, that several episodes ago, Nathan Petrelli told his brother to forget about the cheerleader. Apparently, he has no idea that said cheerleader is his own daughter. Her adoptive daddy seems to think he's M.I.B., and Mr. Mind Meld's work seems a bit more disruptive than Tommy Lee Jones' neuralyzer. Another question: did mom's own hot little hands start the fire she thought killed her daughter?


Grammy & Art
Somebody from Entertainment Weekly was on CNN this morning, handicapping the Grammy Awards on Sunday. One of the American Idol winners is nominated for a New Artist award, and the prognosticator said that the thing that made her stand out from all the other Idol winners was sales. She also said that the Dixie Chicks might not win one of the awards they were nominated for, because they're hated for their politics in Nashville.

All the award shows have always had an aspect of marketing and promotion about them, but there was a time where artistic merit held a lot more sway, and they seemed much more divorced from politics. After all, the Grammy is called the Golden Gramophone, an allusion to the technical achievements of Edison and others at the beginning of recording, and it's given out by the Recording Academy, which I think was originally called the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences.

The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.

– Official Grammy web site

I remember when Miles Davis won for Bitches' Brew. The first time I listened to it, I couldn't make sense out of what I was hearing, but I knew it was something extraordinary. There are no such innovators in the lineup of nominees this year. Instead, we have The Police getting back together — likely their only appearance together before they head off in separate directions once more.

I hope they fare better than Simon & Garfunkel on the 2003 Grammy show. Their performance of The Sound of Silence came off well, but when it came time for Dustin Hoffman — star of The Graduate, the film that put all three of them on the map — to introduce them, he couldn't get their names right.

As much as I love music, and perhaps because it's been such a big thing in my life, I haven't paid much attention to the Grammy Awards for some time. It always shocked me that the live performances are often loose, and for years the Grammy award show has been the one that has suffered the most glaring audio problems. I might TIVO the show, just to see the Police, but the rest? Ehhhh...

Truth is, I don't expect much from Sting and the boys, either.


Off Safari
I don't plan to use Safari much any more. When it first hit the scene, it was a breath of fresh air — it was much faster than IE, and had even better CSS support. As time has gone by, it's become a bit more unstable than its first releases, and Firefox has emerged as the new standard in W3C compliance. That and the web developer tools in Firefox are all nice touches, but the thing that broke it for me was Simpleviewer.

I've visited a lot of photographers' web sites over the last year or so, and a significant number of them present their images through older versions of Simpleviewer, which had a nasty code flaw: Under Safari, their sniffer script thinks that Flash is not installed, and redirects to a 'Get Flash' page. There's no way to get past the script to the content, so Safari users are locked out of those sites. I know people that have reinstalled Flash repeatedly, not understanding that Get Flash is a spurious error message.

When I hit one of those sites last night, I knew I had Flash 8 installed, switched over to Firefox, and had no problem viewing the site. What's more, I upgraded to FF2, which addressed the main quibble I had with earlier versions of Firefox: The default skin has been upgraded, and it no longer has that clunky, amateurish look.

I'm also very interested in some of the developer tools, which look as though my site-building process might be getting a little easier.


Barely Cold, Instant Pretext

...for crap. Spammers' command of the English language always impresses me. I wonder what the strange text strings at the bottom of these messages are for, and why they used my e-mail address, but some bizarre alias name in the To field. The only thing I can guess is that it helps them subvert some form of anti-spam measure.


Fat Actress?
As I started writing this, the autopsy wasn't even done yet. An army of cameras and reporters was camped in the parking lot of the coroner's office. Then, there was the press conference, where we heard it will be another three to five weeks before there is an official determination. It doesn't sound like a suicide by overdose, and she wasn't shot, stabbed, or beaten to death. The search for the cause from here on out will primarily involve microscopic pathogens or neurological causes.

The lawyers for Anna Nicole and her deceased husband are still at work on her $x-billion inheritance case, and two other legal teams are working on the tug-of-war over who gets to raise Anna's baby. Sheesh! What a mess!

Strange that just ten days ago, CNN did a story about Tyra Banks' reaction to the rags that have been running pieces about her weight, suggesting that she's too fat. A bubbly talking head said 'good for her!' The resounding tone of the piece was that Tyra does not have a weight problem... They segued into a piece on Anna Nicole Smith, and her battles with weight.

This was what the home page of the Trimspa web site looked like today:

The text at the bottom of the page reads as follows. There is a link to a separate page that has a small number of wishes from Trimspa customers.

Whippany, NJ, February 8, 2007 – Today, Anna Nicole Smith’s grief stricken and tumultuous personal life came to an end. Anna came to our Company as a customer, but she departs it as a friend. While life for Anna Nicole was not easy these past few months, she held dear her husband, Howard K. Stern, her daughter, Dannielynn Hope, her most cherished friends, beloved dogs, and finally, her work with TRIMSPA.

Anna knew both the joy of giving life, and the heartache of losing a child. We pray that she is granted the peace that eluded her more recent days on earth, and that she find comfort in the presence of her son, Daniel.

-- Alex Goen, CEO and Founder, TRIMSPA


And Legal Fights
As of January 20, James Brown's body still wasn't buried, and it was moved to some undisclosed (and hopefully climate-controlled) location. His family is fighting over his estate, and there's discussion of turning his Beech Island, SC home into a kind of Graceland that includes a mausoleum. When last seen, his body was still in the gold-plated bronze coffin used for his December 30 funeral in Augusta, GA.

To make matters more interesting, the woman whom Brown had married in 2001 is not his legal wife. In 2003, James found out that she had never annulled her marriage to another man. That was never handled, and she wasn't included in James' will. She's suing for half his estate [surprise!], but lawyers are saying that even if the court determined that she is his spouse, reversing an earlier ruling, she's entitled to no more than one third...

James may be resting in peace, but it seems no one in his closest circles are. Good thing he doesn't need that body any more. James had a will, but it seems there were a lot of loose ends. In an interview shortly before he died, Helmut Newton said he didn't want to waste time thinking [or talking] about his death. He said that either way, it would come too soon or too late. He and James Brown may have had that in common — James had shows scheduled through the holiday season and early this year — but I have the impression that there wasn't much confusion over where or how to bury Helmut.


Florida, the Most Trusted Name, and the Shrink
CNN must be loving the Sunshine State this week. We start the week with the strange, sordid, slightly kinky tale of the astronaut gone bonkers, and finish with the mysterious death of the 21st Century Marilyn Monroe. I was tempted to keep a count of the number of times the talking heads mentioned Nowak's wearing diapers during her 600 mile drive. Clearly, that was the media's obsession on day one. On day two, they started to bring in the psychological experts to speculate at more than arms' length on Lisa Nowak's mental state — had the pressure of being an astronaut driven her crazy?

The thing that amazes and somewhat disgusts me about the 24-hour news cycle, is that CNN et al break stories before they have any substantial information to convey. They manage to find numerous ways of saying 'we don't have any information for you' while still filling a 2-minute segment, and repeat those uninformed segments for hours. Worse, they tend to move on to the next hot story about the time that they get any substantial information on a particular story.

The other thing that bothers me about CNN is sloppiness. In a post-Super Bowl story, CNN reported about the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation taking issue with a stupid Snickers candy bar ad that ran during the broadcast. Aside from insipid questions from the talking head, which seemed to assert that the ad was just meant to be funny, the graphics person couldn't get the acronym right: the screen read 'GLADD' instead of 'GLAAD' throughout the segment.

When they covered the story of Lisa Nowak, announcers had a habit of dropping the word 'attempted' when referring to the charges brought against her. I guess it sounds sexier to say she's facing murder charges, even if it doesn't tell the whole story. They could afford the milliseconds it takes to say that extra word, and I really think they massaged the language to hype the drama. The other annoying thing about the coverage, is that CNN seems to simply parrot the claims of the prosecution. A hunting knife is a potentially deadly weapon, but a BB-gun? At least Toobin had the sense to say that the charge of attempted murder seemed to be a failed negotiation on the part of the prosecution to keep Nowak locked up.

CNN's point of view on the whole story seems to rely heavily upon (and tacitly reinforce) two tropes: 'The Right Stuff' and 'One Bad Apple.' No one at CNN will enquire into whether the Astronaut as Super Hero might be mythology, proposing instead that this sad public debacle was simply the product of a breakdown in NASA's near-perfect mental health screening...

A BBC News story suggests instead that astronauts are in fact human, and that NASA's real specialty is in keeping bad behavior out of the spotlight. Much of that story is a condensation of an entry called 'Crashing to Earth' on the blog of Dr. Pat Santy. Her most intriguing assertion:

Why bother to go to the trouble of choosing "the right stuff" in the first place when the superstar culture of the astronauts only encourages the worst sort of narcissism and sociopathy? Even if an astronaut didn't have an iota of such psychopathology before they their selection as an astronaut, they are at extremely high risk in the toxic NASA culture of developing it.

If you read The Right Stuff, or even saw the movie, you'd know that Tom Wolfe exposes some of this myth-making, and reveals some of the bad behavior. It's interesting that the phrase 'The Right Stuff' does not elicit any of those negative connotations.

Santy's suggestion has the ring of truth, but I don't think she'll be my go-to person for a psychological take on current events. She distills some Bush haters down to the following:

The psychology of some of the Bush Haters is pretty cut and dried. They hate Bush because he stands between them and the implementation of their collectivist "utopian" vision. I have no time to waste on them, except to note that their intentions are deliberately and decidedly malevolent toward this country. They want it to fail at anything and everything it does and they openly cheer for the barbarians at the gate.

Through her entire assessment, it seems she's unwilling to say explicitly that she's a Bush supporter. As for the rest of the Bush haters, she seems to corral them into a broad category of people who are using displacement to cope with threats (like terrorism) that they can't do anything about. But, hey, it's a blog — no one expects her to be rigorous.


An Unscientific Survey
On February 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued what it called 'a comprehensive and rigorous picture of the global present state of knowledge of climate change [i.e. global warming].' This is some pretty heavy stuff, worthy of substantial coverage by the media.

I happened to have ABC's AM news show on, and wondered why their weather guy was giving his report from Paris. He blathered on about the gardens and the Peace monument behind him, and in the space of about 15 minutes, he gave two standard weather reports, never mentioning that he was in Paris to cover this story.

Next up on ABC was a minutes-long segment on a fake 'bridezilla' segment that is posted on YouTube. It's a successful publicity stunt by several aspiring actresses and a filmmaker. For some reason, the filmmaker didn't appear on air, though he at least got a mention. I flipped over to BBC news, when I saw that Laura Bush was going to be the next guest — she was there to promote people wearing red to raise awareness of heart disease. I don't know when ABC finally covered the IPCC story. I have the impression that it was a very light piece, considering the hard news guy they'd sent to cover it.

On BBC, I saw at least three different segments in 15 minutes, including an in-studio interview with an IPCC spokesman, and a field report from Beijing on China's reliance on old-style dirty coal for home heating.

I'd call that anecdotal evidence of a very different set of priorities driving what each of these news organizations deems as news-worthy.


Windows Vista
finally shipped. Bill Gates was on CNN and even on The Daily Show. He's clearly no Steve Jobs, who is said to exude a 'reality distortion field.' When Gates talks, he barely seems excited. His smiles seem rehearsed.

And now, this OS release. Bill almost winced when the interviewer suggested that Vista looks a lot like OS X and asked whether they were going after a particular look... Gates went on to say that there were places where Vista was ahead, saying something about it being easier to burn a DVD, browse photos, integrate with the living room TV, and institute parental controls. These seem like mild enhancements, not innovations. Interestingly, he said absolutely nothing about enhanced security.

I think it's particularly telling, that the segment began with an accounting of how many $billions were spent and how many millions of lines of code were written. Less than a week later, a report ran about how Vista's voice recognition could be exploited to breach its security. While plausible, I doubt that anyone will ever capitalize on this particular hole. I just wonder how long it will be before we hear the first reports of worms and viruses successfully targeting Vista. Apple's ad about the warning dialogs in Vista is pretty funny.

Recent news reports suggest that few people are running out to buy Vista and install it on their existing machines. OS upgrades can be painful on any platform, and I think a collective memory of negative experiences upgrading Windows before means that there isn't likely to be a big wave of upgrading. Instead, it seems people held off on buying new machines until they could get them with Vista pre-installed. In the last week or so, there's been something like a 200% jump in PC sales. The question: is that a spike, a surge, or an escalation? In other words, how long will Vista be a boost to PC sales?

There is an infrastructure question about Vista's release that may also be salient: what is Vista's potential as an application development platform? Microsoft released the ASX streaming format a few years ago, never bothering to create a Mac-compatible client for it. More recently, they dropped development and support for Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer on Mac.

I still come across the occasional web site that has features that don't work with Mac at all, or only support IE or Netscape. Do you suppose there might be some developer hooks in Vista that will eventually emerge as web-based services available only to Windows users? Time will tell.

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