Monday, April 18, 2005

New Scribblings: Two new essays over at Blogcritics. First, a review of a We Will Rock You, a stage musical featuring the music of Queen I saw in Vegas last time around. Second, a retrospective on a couple of older Kurt Russell comedies I hadn’t seen in years -- thanks Comcast Digital Cable!
Toob Notes: Deadwood is still clipping along, but not quite at the stratospheric level of the first few episodes this season. I know I sound like a broken record, but the dialog is absolutely mesmerizing as it waffles between striking, almost Victorian, formal beauty and guttural profanity.

This site provides a pretty comprehensive background on what’s fact and what's fiction in Deadwood. Also noted is the actor who is playing Wolcott this season, Garret Dillahunt, is the same one who played Jack McCall last season. Dude has some serious range.

HBO has now produced the best cop show ever (The Wire) and the best Western ever. Amazing work.

In contrast, sitcoms, as we all know, had their golden age nearly a decade ago. The middle seasons of Seinfeld marked the high point. The long slow deaths of Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Will and Grace have marked the whimpering end of that era.

And still, amidst the wasteland of CSI in all cities over 5,000 people, Law and Order down to the meter maid level, and the unmitigated and unrelenting vulgarity that is called Reality, there are wonderful signs of life. The new comedies don't follow the strict sitcom path of gags and irony, instead seasoning their fare with farce, satire, and black comedy. I'm talking about shows like Arrested Development and The Office, both of which tread new ground (well, in the case of The Office, new ground on this side of the Atlantic). You could even lump Malcolm in the Middle or Scrubs in there if you were feeling generous. So things are not as bad as they seem. And as the Dark Age of Reality slowly wanes, we may yet see a renaissance of TV comedy with these shows leading the way.

That is, if they don't get cancelled.
The Ongoing Saga of Ron Mexico: Long time readers will remember my Sick of Vick campaign from a couple years ago. This was during Michael Vick's rookie year as quarterback of Falcons when everyone couldn’t stop talking about him. He was worshipped far and wide, and deservedly so since he was not only demonstrating extraordinary athletic ability but he seemed to be a truly nice guy. So I decided to hate him.

Now you would think I'd feel tremendous gratification at the recent turn of events in his life but, while I do appreciate the indescribably perfect low-brow comedy of it all, I actually kind of feel sorry for the guy.

It starts with a lawsuit, like most things seem to do. Turns out our buddy Mike has a little problem in the privates. The word I'm thinking of starts with H and rhymes with burpees. Yeah, and he also had himself a little bareback roll in the hay with a lass who caught his fancy. Said lass, displeased with discovering she had said condition, decided to initiate said lawsuit. In the course of the suit it emerged that, when visiting the doctor for treatment of his condition, Vick used the alias Ron Mexico.

Allow that to sink in. Ron Mexico. Sweet Fancy Moses! Could there be anything more perfect? Ron Mexico. He needs an alias for when he gets treatment for a sexually transmitted disease and he makes up a porn star name. Ron Mexico. Thank you, God, for keeping me entertained.

Naturally my first thought was, I would kill for a Ron Mexico #7 Atlanta Falcons jersey. Well, it seems I'm not the only one. The NFL (No Fun League) is trying to stifle sales of Ron Mexico Falcons jerseys. Personally, I think this is a free speech issue and someone should notify the ACLU. One suspects this is primarily because the League has decided to push the Falcons in prime time TV -- three Monday nights and a Sunday night, same level of exposure as the champion Patriots. Luckily, it's eBay to the rescue. And, naturally, it was only the blink of an eye before appeared. In the immortal words of Nelson: HA-HA.

This is why I feel sorry for the guy -- it's just so comically bad. Here he is going be on TV in front of millions of people, essentially one of the NFL's front men, and he's going to have to face opposition crowds wearing Ron Mexxxico jerseys, and tailgaters playing James Taylor’s Mexico in the parking lot before the game, and fans flinging condoms on to the field, folks scalping tickets for "General Remission," while the announcers do their level best not to make mention of it, which will only make it stand out more. What's worse, I’m guessing the groupies aren't exactly going to line up to ease his pain afterwards.

The best he can hope for is a season ending injury before the first kick-off. It's going to be fascinating to see the activity during these games and how the media reacts to it. For now, I transfer leadership of the Sick of Vick program to the above mentioned lass.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Getting Sirius: Now that I am spoiled by the 9 gajillion TV stations I get via digital cable, I had to go out and get a Sirius Satellite Radio receiver so I can have an equal number of stations in my car, because I am all about being so overwhelmed by choices that my attention span drops into the negative. I decided on one of those mobile units that attach to your dashboard but can be removed for security or to plug into your home system. I first went to Best Buy after work where they quoted me a four hour wait on installation. So I shot over to Circuit City where they got to it right away while I went off to get something to eat and troll around at Border's. Ninety minutes later I was all set up. The next step was to call Sirius, or log on to the Sirius website, to set up an account and payment plan. It's cheaper on the web ($10 setup fee, vs. $15 by phone) but their site was not functioning so they gave me the web rate over the phone. Ongoing fees are $12.95 per month, adjusted down for various prepayment packages. Badda-bing, badda-boom, and Bob's your uncle.

Now all I need is broadband and new laptop to complete my transition to the new millennia a mere 5 years late. Broadband will open the door to VOIP which will potentially replace my land line phone with something dirt cheap, although Comcast probably offers and equally inexpensive phone service. Problem with broadband is that I would want to ditch my dial-up ISP and there-by lose an email address and web space that I use frequently. I could make a career out of transitioning technology even for my simple needs. Ain’t technology grand?

Meanwhile, I'm just going to enjoy living in the Underground Garage. (Sirius station number 25.)
Travails: It looks like TSA is about to be put to death. This amazes me for the simple reason that I have never heard of an entrenched, unionized government agency simply going away. I’m no fan of politicians, but the one that made this happen has to be something of a hero. Not that I ever had any problems with TSA--in fact, short of the few weeks immediately following 9/11, I had a harder time getting through security pre-TSA that I did post-TSA. (Except for the time in Charlotte when a particularly sleazy TSA goon decided he needed to search inside my pants.) No doubt I am in the minority. Apparently the expectation is that a lot of security screening will go back to private industry. That’s probably good. At least that way they should be able to fire any complete losers, and if they piss enough people off, an airport can hire a different company. Still in case of a security breach that costs lives, it opens the door to enormous lawsuits. And it certainly won’t prevent cock-ups like what Cory Doctrow over at Boing!Boing! had to deal with. As much as people hate TSA, there are trade offs in all things.

Except Flash animation. There is nothing good about Flash animation on websites. An enormous number of hotels (speaking of travel; yes, an atrocious segue, I know) use Flash animations on their home pages. Why? To show me pretty pictures? You do understand that I would never accept hotel site photos at face value, don’t you? Look, if I am coming to your website I am likely checking rates and availability, possibly location and amenities, but I am never ever trusting you when you try to convince me your hotel is fabulous. I will check Trip Advisor for that. So don’t make me waste time by putting up splash screens or forcing me to download Flash animations, or worse -- both. The vaunted new Wynn in Las Vegas gives you both. Click through to the site and you get the splash screen. Click enter and you get to download the flash application. I hope the hotel is better designed than the website. Please see #4 in The biggest web page design mistakes of 2004. To wit:
You sell an expensive product or you're a fundraiser getting ready to make the ask for a large sum of money.

You walk into a potential client's office, introduce yourself, and place an information packet in front of the client.

As you start to make your big presentation, the client reaches into the packet, extracts the contract/pledge form you hope he'll sign and grabs a pen.

As the client starts to sign the lucrative, long-term contract/pledge, you reach over across the table, grab the client by the throat, and yell "Not so fast, a**h***, I haven't finished my presentation!!!"

All hoteliers listen: Everyone of you should have a page with the following URL: reservations.{your hotel site}.com, which will take interested parties directly to a standard HTML page to check rate and availability. No animations and no ads -- we are already visiting your site with a mind to possibly making a reservation. DON’T PUT ANNOYING CRAP IN OUR WAY. To be annoying in pursuit of a goal is just plain annoying; to be annoying in the pursuit of self destruction in an order of magnitude more annoying. That would be annoying10, for those of you keeping track.

Anyway, here are a couple of hotel hotlists. A fairly comprehensive one from Travel Intelligence and a less detailed one from Tablet Hotels. Both of these have finds I had never heard about before. Worth a look if you are travel planning for something special, but beware the Flash if you venture to the official hotel sites.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Another Hour Lost: Is it too much to ask that somebody, somewhere mention the Sunday morning time change? I didn't need someone to specifically remind me, I just needed it be mentioned; to hear of it in any way, shape, or form -- a reference in an eavesdropped conversation, a casual comment by a radio DJ, a complaint about losing an hour's sleep from an acquaintance -- anything that would have clued me in. Apparently, the rest of the world is so thoroughly organized and in tune with each other that it's not even worth wasting your breath to bring it up. Thanks. Thank you very much. Well, here's a clue -- I am congenitally incapable of staying on top of such things. It is a weakness I was born with; there's probably a syndrome for it, but I can’t be bothered to research it. And frankly, if you accept that civilization requires that the strong protect the weak, and that it should extend to those whose strength is in the organizational skills and short term memory, it does not bode well for the future of mankind that I was not given the slightest notice. This world gets crueler every year.
Fat, Drunk and Stupid: Ann Arbor is Overrated is a site devoted to, yeah you guessed it, Ann Arbor news and links. Despite the name, it's not overly negative, just a wee bit cynical. They've linked up a Live Journal thread asking for stories of outrageous drunkenness here in Ann Arbor. Naturally a number of dimwitted Joe College-types chime in with their quasi-literate tales of crudity and vomit. To wit:

i drank at this one girl's dorm who i had a relationship with, and we both got drunk to the point of puking. while she was puking, i was calling her a dirty whore and a f***in bitch. two days later, i got mono. and i haven't talked to her since.

Was I ever that hideously stupid as an undergrad? Yes I was. The thought of my former self makes me want to change my name.
A View From Boston: Undergrads aside, here is a write-up on Ann Arbor from the travel section of the Boston globe. All in all a pretty good job, although I would pick the following restaurant nits:
  • Way too much emphasis on Zingerman's.

  • Gandy Dancer may have the freshest seafood in town, but there are more interesting places to eat in town and just out of town in Chelsea there is the Common Grill which I prefer for seafood.

  • The Fleetwood Diner is not really a student hang-out. It's mostly seedy locals.

  • Ben and Jerry's on State St. seems to be doing fine to me.

  • Arbor Brewing Co. is vastly superior to Leopolds.
However, they get major kudos for even mentioning Kerrytown, Michigan Theatre, Washtenaw Dairy, Fleetwood and The Art Museum, when most overviews never get past Zingerman's and football Saturday.
Crescent City Again: My complete recounting of my all-too-short recent trip to New Orleans is now available. It includes the hotel review I wrote for Hotel Chatter so the first part may be redundant to you if you are keeping up on things.