Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tiny triumphs: Skipping the commercials

You know what's surprisingly awesome? When one is watching a show recorded on one's DVR and one gets to the commercials and one presses that button on the remote that advances in 30-second increments, but one presses it multiple times so it advances multiple 30-second increments all at once. And then just as it resumes normal playback it's at the exact point where the commercials are over and the program is coming back.

If you think that's as simple as pressing the button four times (to amount to two minutes) I can assure you from years of experience that many breaks are longer than that. Also, depending on the show and the break in question it will be much more. The Colbert Report, for example, has breaks of varying lengths, and the last one (after the guest but before he says good night and the credits roll) can be almost four minutes. I think.

But the point is that when the playback hits at the sweet spot where the commercials are perfectly skipped it seems like one has accomplished something far greater than one really has.

Trust me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tiny tragedies: D'oh downloading

You know what sucks? When you download a song, spending actual money to get the track in mp3 format, only to later realize that you already had that song in the bowels of your iTunes library (and that clearly you were too lazy to bother checking beforehand).

Okay, on the scale of what sucks that is not even in the top million things, but still, it elicits a moment of genuine dismay.

Of all the things that don't go as one would want, most of them are well out of one's control, but this is something that could have been avoided with modest effort. And one has nobody else to blame.

Which, in its own way, only makes it worse.

[Problems people with very small music libraries avoid.]

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The evolution of music formats in my generation

On the recent WTF podcast Marc Maron spoke with Tom Scharpling, and the guest remarked on how those of us in our 40's have seen multiple major shifts in music format. It's true. Prior to our time vinyl had ruled for decades, and remained king through our youth. We got to see audio cassettes come and go, compact discs come and (let's face it) decline, and the rise of the digital era. (8-track tapes didn't survive long enough to be in there. Sorry.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Between you and I: The fallibility of the Bard

On Lexicon Valley's third episode they take on the phrase "between you and I" and the objection to it. They talked about a student who wrote to the New York Times many years ago and cited Shakespeare as one who used "between you and I." To which their columnist cited the clear grammatical rule about the form of pronoun to use when it's the object of a preposition, and it should be "me"; Shakespeare was wrong, according to the prescribed rules.

Of course, people had been saying "between you and I" since before there were rules, but let's not digress there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Freakonomics reveals media bias... duh

On a recent Freakonomics episode they addressed the question of media bias. They cited a study that attempted to empirically determine a political leaning on the part of 20 major media outlets, and in the end that study concluded that relative to the public (which tends to be more conservative) the papers were closer to being liberal; that is, they were somewhat to the (using the common mode of directional reference) left of the middle. They weren't all the way over, but certainly more liberal than would be representative of the public. However, relative to the way of judging Democratic politicians in the same way, the media was less liberal than those elected with a "(D)" next to their name. The man behind the study concluded that the media tends to pull some of the public more to the center, and thus the reason the public tends to vote more down the middle.

Of course, the man behind this study was one who considers himself to the right of the public, so make of that what you will.

However, as to why the media outlets were generally leaning more liberally in their content, in the end the conclusion was that it wasn't so much that the slant stemmed from an agenda by those in the newsroom or by those owning the outlets but from the leanings of the people who consumed the content of the outlet. In short, the media outlets are in the business of selling papers and drawing viewers, and give those people what they want. It is a business after all.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy What-Is-Still-Technically-Washington's-Birthday

Today is a national holiday in the U.S. in observation of our first president (whose actual birthday is in two days), but because the our sixteenth president (whose actual birthday was eight days ago) also used to have a holiday observation in his honor and eventually having two consecutive Mondays off was more than could be allowed this day's celebration came to honor both men and drew the moniker "Presidents Day."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remaking our outrage over remakes

On last week's Pop Culture Happy Hour they touched on "sacred cows" in pop culture, such as the coming prequel comics to Watchmen. Why is it forbidden to go back to that well, but Batman and Spider-Man can be re-imagined over and over?

Because it was so beloved by the geeks who idolize Alan Moore's creation?

While I understand—because I was one of those who had tremendous reverence for Watchmen (I worked in the comic shop back when it came out, and not only bought the serialized issues but the limited edition hardcover and a bunch of other merchandise; I then went on to write a paper about it in college)—I do see that those who have the rights to the characters can choose to do whatever they want with them. What's important is whether these new works are actually good. The assumption clearly is that they won't, but it does seem worth at least giving them a chance before declaring them unworthy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Proposing the prevention of propositions

On Fridays on the grounds outside the office there's a farmers market (or at least a bunch of booths set up with vendors selling items, amongst them some selling produce). I don't tend to buy anything there but I do walk past it on my way to lunch, typically at some restaurant across the street.

Last Friday there were a pair of women with clipboards on either side of the crosswalk. It was obvious they sought signatures for some potential ballot initiative.

As I crossed the street I veered off away from the woman on that side but she stepped over to intercept my path.

And as I describe our interaction it will become clear why I more or less tried to avoid her.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

VD Obsession

I love my wife more than words can express, and one of the many reasons that is the case:

Last week, amid the flurry of commercials for flowers and jewelry and all the typical stuff for the days prior to February 14, my wife turned to me and said, "Thank you for not proposing on Valentine's Day."

Honey, you are very welcome.

Guys, remember: There's 364 other days a year (actually, 365 this year) on which you can pop the question that will seem more special than today, when it probably comes across as lacking in imagination.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A little quibbling about Lexicon Valley

On the premiere episode of the new Lexicon Valley podcast they took on the question of the origin of the prescriptive rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. The host opened the proceedings with the question "Where is this discussion going to lead us to?"—intentionally breaking the rule. His co-host then tried to ignore it, but the host took it upon himself to point out the joke.

The co-host noted he was ignoring it and moved on.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

MIA and what's M.I.A. in the Super Bowl Halftime Show

It was reported that if any fine is levied about MIA's obscene gesture during the Super Bowl halftime show that she will foot that bill, as the NFL and NBC had indemnity clauses in their respective contracts. Somehow I think she'll find a way to pay or to get out of it. But the money's not the point anyway.

Although a source claims it was not intended as a statement, I find myself unconcerned with what the performer meant by it; she did something on international TV that stirred up controversy, and when I ruminate on it, her intent is also beyond the point.

I must admit there's a small part of me that kinda-sorta-in-a-tiny-way applauds not so much the stupid action but the way it subtly reminded the NFL that no matter how safe you think you can make the halftime show by selecting aging rockers or pop stars, rock (including pop and hip-hop in that general musical idiom) should not be sanitized. The rebellious element of it largely has been hollow, but it's not absent.

It also showed the network that even with a six-second delay and bleeping of profane lyrics there's no way to blur out a split-second waving of a middle finger if the performer is so inclined.

Don't get me wrong: I think it was juvenile and stupid, and really accomplished little more than working up the Twitterverse into a lather, but the NFL and CBS (who airs next year's big game) will have to take this into account when they decide who will bore us during halftime: There's no completely taming this art form.

And they shouldn't try.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Monday Morning QB: What the Super Bowl Analysis Says About Us

It's the day after the Super Bowl, and anybody who actually follows the NFL—particularly those who get paid to talk about it on a network (TV or radio) or publication (print or online) is wringing every last bit out of that.

There's no dearth of debate to be drawn from a sporting event where there was a definite winner declared. It's not a subjective victory as one would find in an awards show like the Oscars (with the inherent absurdity of having artistic works that were not made to be part of a competition vying for the role of being "the best"); all the NFL teams played by the same rules with the same objective. Ideally the officiating was fair and it's a matter of which team better executed their game plan, and that's objectively determined by which one scored the most points by the end. It would seem like all there would be to say afterward is essentially, "Yep, that team scored more."

However, that doesn't fill air time or column inches.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Camera-less at the Magic Kingdom

In the last post I talked about a recent trip to Disneyland. Something of extremely modest note about that: I took my trusty Canon S3 camera, but did not even take it out of the case in which I carry it. That didn't go to waste, per se; with that strapped over my shoulder, it provided something on which I could hang my jacket during the warm afternoon.

I did snap a few shots with my phone's camera, and even used that for the photo the waiter took of us in the Blue Bayou (which was slightly out of focus, but oh well).

Walking around Disneyland I was not inspired to want to pull out a regular camera. It was either the convenience of this device I had in my pocket, or it wasn't worth bothering. After so many trips to the Magic Kingdom, most everything falls into the already-took-pictures-of-it-before category.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Post-birthday Disneyland report

As I mentioned in the birthday post last Friday we went to Disneyland. Who wants to hear about that? Okay, who's willing to pretend to want to hear about that now that I've gotten around to writing about it?

Yep, I'm wearing a stormtrooper  shirt.
When we got to the park it was not crowded, but given it was a weekday in January that was not surprising. We got "park-hopper" passes that allowed for going both the Magic Kingdom and to California Adventure in the same day, and allowed us to come back another day (and go to both) anytime before June. And of course I got a "Happy Birthday" button on which the ticket agent wrote my name.

That essentially obligated all park employees to wish me an appropriate greeting as we passed. While that seemed nice at first, after a while it turned into a modest burden to have to thank them for each "Happy birthday" they utter. They are trained to say it so cheerfully; one cannot be rude, especially in the so-called happiest place on earth, but after a few hours one does get tempted to take off the button.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

When did Groundhog Day go mainstream?

There was a time, long ago, when I'd really pay attention to Groundhog Day, but that was when the relative absurdity of the celebration seemed worth appreciating. Also, that was before the Bill Murray film came out. I'm not saying the movie put the holiday on the map, as it did receive modest attention in the media before that, but it probably put the 2nd of February and a forecasting rodent more in the public eye (at least more than I noticed prior, but it's entirely likely I may not have noticed it as much back then). I suppose there was something that seemed to be out-of-the-norm to liking Groundhog Day outside of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania that made it worthwhile.

However, in the era of the internet and Twitter, etc., it's clear there's lots of attention heaped on Phil and whether he spots his shadow, and frankly, any novelty has long since worn off.