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Archive for August, 2008

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Things You See While…Driving to Boston

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Hello and welcome to what I hope will be a regular feature here at I Should be Sleeping, “Things You See While…”  I’ve got a few photo collections that are two small to be Flickr photo albums, but would make interesting blog posts, so I’ll try to group them into categories and post them with commentary.

This edition of “Things You See While” is brought to you by my family’s recent trip to Boston, MA.  It was an eventful drive.  First, there was the rainbow that followed the rather impressive sun shower:



To pass the time on the trip, I gave the kids maps of the United States and magic markers, and told them to color in the states they saw on the license plates we passed.  Imagine my surprise when we passed this bus:



It’s a little hard to see, but that’s one vehicle with two license plates – one from New York and one from Connecticut.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before, leaving me rather unprepared to explain it to my kids.

And speaking on unexplainable, I told them from the start that there’s one license plate they definitely wouldn’t see – Hawaii.  We talked about how Hawaii was a series of islands, and how the only way to see a Hawaiian license plate is to find someone who had their car shipped to the mainland, which is expensive and rare.  Of course, by the end of the trip…



Sorry for the fuzzy picture (Hawaiians, apparently, drive like maniacs), but I did the best Photoshop job I could.  If you can’t see it clearly, you’re just going to have to trust me – it was an honest to goodness Hawaiian license plate on the Garden State Parkway!  Needless to say, there was much excitement and coloring with magic markers!

 

Categories: Family Matters, Travel Talk | No Comments »

Today’s New York Sports Trivia

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Q:Now that Brett Favre has been traded to the Jets, when will we start seeing New Yorkers walking around with Jets jerseys that have a #4 on them and say “Favre” on the back?

A: Today. Rockefeller Plaza. 9:15AM.

NOTE: Yet another case of “damn, I wish my cell phone had a camera on it…”

Categories: New York, New York, Sports Talk | 1 Comment »

The Beijing Olympics – a never ending source of stupid controversy

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Man…every time I think I’ve done my last post on a quasi-controversy coming out of the Summer Olympics, something new comes up.  Now there’s this:

 



That’s the Spanish basketball team in an ad campaign for the Spanish courier service, Seur, which ran in the Spanish language newspaper La Marca. The players are using their fingers to make their eyes look slanted. Get it? They’re trying to look Chinese! Because, you know, the entire Spanish basketball team is made up of extraordinarily tall eighth graders…

Spanish newspapers are currently debating whether the ad is racist, Chinese-American groups are denouncing the ad, and there’s talk of whether this will hurt Spain’s chance of landing the 2016 games (answer: it won’t). The group actually played China in basketball today, beating them 85-75 in overtime. Apparently, the usually reserved Chinese crowd booed them vigorously during the game. (via)

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | No Comments »

President Bush gets spiked by volleyball team, media

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Jason Bennion directed my attention to these two pictures of President Bush’s visit with Kerry Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, the U.S. women’s Olympic volleyball team who have won roughly one hundred straight matches, making them perhaps the most dominant players in any sport, ever.  In the first picture, Bush is understandably flummoxed when May-Treanor asks him to slap her on the backside for good luck, and in the second one, the President seems to be admiring Walsh’s backside from afar.

I agree with Jason that President Bush is getting a bit of a bum rap here (ba da bum!  Thanks for coming!  There’s a midnight show!  Try the fish!).  I believe the fault here lies both with the media and with Walsh/May-Treanor themselves.  The media just can’t resist putting a sexual spin on a story whenever possible. In fact, I suspect that the reason Walsh & May-Treanor have become minor media celebrities has to do as much with the fact that they compete in bikinis as their extreme dominance in their sport.

I’d feel bad for them in this regard if it weren’t for the fact that they seem to be bringing some of this upon themselves.  I mean, seriously, some of the Olympians are teenagers and can be excused some immature behavior.  But Walsh and May-Treanor are each over thirty.  What would possess either of them to say, “Hey, Mr. President!  Slap me on the butt for good luck!”?  The only conclusion I can reach is that they rather enjoy the attention they’re getting.  That, or they have an amazing lack of respect/decorum for the President of the United States.

Either way, none of this helps me to take beach volleyball, or its players, seriously.  Of course, maybe that’s the point…

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | 6 Comments »

More Fakery in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Just yesterday, I posted about how some of the fireworks in the Olympic opening ceremony were computer generated for television.  Today, I’m reading that the little girl who sang “Ode to the Motherland” was lip-syncing:

The real singer, 7-year-old Yang Peiyi, with her chubby face and crooked baby teeth, wasn’t good looking enough for the ceremony, its chief music director told state-owned Beijing Radio.

So the pigtailed Lin Miaoke, a veteran of television ads, mouthed the words with a pixie smile for a stadium of 91,000 and a worldwide TV audience.

During a live rehearsal before the event, a member of China’s Politburo insisted on the change.  Chen Qigang, the music director, felt guilty about duping the world, and went on Beijing radio to say this:

The little girl [Peiyi] is a magnificent singer.  She doesn’t deserve to be hidden.  We had to make that choice.  It was fair both for Lin Miaoke and Yang Peiyi.  We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance.  The audience will understand that it’s in the national interest.

Well not unless they’re told about it, no?…

He also said that Zhang Yimou, the event’s director, knew about the change.  When asked about Miaoke at a post-event press conference, he said, “She is a lovely girl and she sings well.”

But here’s the quote that really wowed me about this story:

The switch became a  hot topic among Chinese and raced across the country’s blogosphere.

Whaaahh??  China has a blogosphere???  And not only that, the opinions were not uniformly in support of the government.  One blogger wrote:

The organizers really messed up on this one.  This is like a voice-over for a cartoon character.  Why couldn’t they pick a kid who is both cute and a good singer?  This damages the reputation of both kids for their future, especially the one lip-syncing. Now everyone knows she’s a fraud, who cares if she’s cute?

Not bad for a country that was restricting Internet use altogether just a week ago, huh?

 

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | 18 Comments »

Calling Out Our Leaders on Oil & Gas

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Oh, for a politician who understands the financial markets…

Back in mid-July, President Bush lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling that was originally signed by his father in 1990. The move did nothing to change the supply or demand for oil, since there is a second ban – a Congressional ban – on offshore drilling that remained (and still remains) in effect. Basically, Bush was playing politics. By lifting the executive ban, he made the congressional ban (which could be lifted by Congressional Democrats) the only thing standing in the way of offshore drilling.

At the time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this:

Once again, the oilman in the White House is echoing the demands of Big Oil. The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence. It just gives millions more acres to the same companies that are sitting on nearly 68 million acres of public lands and coastal areas.

Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee said this:

This proposal is something you’d expect from an oil company CEO, not the president of the United States. The president is taking special-interest government to a new level and threatening our thriving coastal economy.

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters (an environmental group), said this:

President Bush has once again ignored the wise precedent set by his father and taken reckless action that has neither hope of reducing gas prices nor concern for long-term consequences.

And Bill Burton, a spokesman for Barack Obama, said this:

If offshore drilling would provide short-term relief at the pump or a long-term strategy for energy independence, it would be worthy of our consideration, regardless of the risks. But most experts, even within the Bush administration, concede it would do neither. It would merely prolong the failed energy policies we have seen from Washington for thirty years.

Countless others have appeared on Sunday morning talk-shows and other venues, repeating the Democratic talking point that offshore drilling wouldn’t put oil into the market for years, and therefore wouldn’t affect the price of oil (or gas) by more than a couple of pennies, if at all.

The chart in the upper-left provides a quick lesson on how markets work, and on how much politicians depend on our collective short-term memory loss.

The oil markets used to be filled primarily with oil consumers, and so the price of the commodity was driven primarily by supply and demand. Today, with a sputtering stock market and a beaten-down housing market, many investors have entered the oil markets, making the price sensitive to speculation as well as supply and demand.

When Bush lifted the executive ban, speculators saw it as a sign that the United States might be much closer to increasing oil supply than they were previously, and many of them began taking their profits and investing them elsewhere (probably the currency markets, since the dollar began strengthening at around the same time). The sell-off in the oil market and the strengthening dollar began driving prices down. Not by one or two pennies, and not in ten or twenty years. But within the same week, and (at the time of this writing) by more than 21%. Gasoline prices, which lag behind the oil market, are down almost 6% in the same time period. It stands to reason that if Congress lifted their ban on offshore drilling, we’d see an increased move in this direction, and could be looking at sub-$100 oil and $3/gallon gas again in a few weeks time, but now I’m the one that’s speculating…

Also, note that a 20% drop in the stock market (the threshold by which economists define a “correction”) is what began the incessant drumbeat of “recession” talk that has allowed the Democrats to paint President Bush as a failure on all economic matters for the last several months. That said, you don’t hear anyone talking about the “day the oil bubble burst,” do you?

To Barack Obama’s credit, he nominally remained true to his spokesman’s words – offering to consider drilling now that it’s been proven to “provide short-term relief at the pump”. I still have hope for that guy yet.

Of course, he back-pedaled as to the reason, though:

I still don’t believe that’s a particularly meaningful short-term or long-term position, [but I don't want to make] the perfect the enemy of the good.

And then John McCain, rather than pointing to market data to prove the point (as I’ve done here), simply called him a “flip-flopper” and hammered another talking point about nuclear power and other alternative fuel sources.

I’m not asking for a president that’s an expert in the world’s financial markets. I’d settle for one who has strong economic advisers and who is willing to talk to the American people about what really drives the markets, instead of painting his opponent as a shill for oil company CEO’s or the environmental lobby. But when the guy who got it wrong changes course and then tells us he still thinks he got it right, and the guy who got it right seems to be unaware of why he was right in the first place, my confidence in both men drops significantly, as does my ability to trust their next, dire predictions about the world economy.

Categories: Money Talk, Political Rantings | 13 Comments »

Familygreenberg.com Health Check – July Edition

Monday, August 11th, 2008
Metric June July % Change
Visits 1,140 2,196 +92.63%
Pageviews 1,800 3,724 +106.89%
Pages/Visit 1.58 1.70 +7.40%
Avg Time on Site 1:21 1:17 -5.00%
Bounce Rate 82.89% 74.86% -9.69%
% New Visitors 89.56% 87.11% -2.73%

Now that I’ve lived through the dark times where my blog wasn’t functional at all, I’m happy to return to my regular self-indulgent feature, the monthly Health Check. If you are not so happy, I totally understand. These are mainly for me, although I suspect there are a few out there who are geek-nation enough to read it anyway.

That said, I can’t help but be pleased with the July stats. Granted, the bar was a low one to jump over, since I hardly blogged at all in June, but I hasten to note that Visits, Pageviews, Pages per Visit and Average Time on Site are all at the highest levels since I began tracking this kind of thing back in May, 2007. Bounce rate is also at its lowest level ever, so not only are more of you visiting, more of you are staying. All of which is, of course, awesomely gratifying.

What was it Sally Field once said? “You like me! You really like me!”

(NOTE: The truly hard core will realize that my other monthly feature, “How People Found Me” did not return this month. That’s because it took me until the 11th day of the month to get the stats together, and by now, the Google results are all stale. Suffice to say, Billy Joel queries are up, given that he performed in July and I blogged about it extensively. Also, there were almost 100 different ways that people Googled “can’t get into Webkinz” and wound up at my site. I’m a public service to those with small children & lots of hi-tech stuffed animals. So proud. So proud. Next month – full-fledged self-indulgence. I promise!!!)

Categories: Blogging about Blogs | 1 Comment »

Fireworks that are really fake (or fakely real)…

Monday, August 11th, 2008

This story raises those kind of technology vs. morality questions that we see quite often these days, as our ability to do things gets ahead of our laws deciding what we should or shouldn’t do.  Consider this picture of the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Beijing (click to enlarge):

It turns out that some of the fireworks in the picture were computer generated, so what TV audiences were seeing at home were not actual pictures of what was going on in Beijing as they were led to believe.  On the other hand, we’re told that the fake fireworks actually did exist at the ceremonies themselves, but safety concerns over flying helicopters that close to them for the TV pictures led organizers to replace them with computer generated equivalents in the TV coverage.

So we saw something that looked just like what was actually happening, but wasn’t really the real thing.  No harm, no foul?  Or deceptive practices unmitigated by the “ends justifies the means” defense?

Granted, the fireworks display at the Olympics opening ceremony is nothing to get that worked up about.  But does Reuters, for example, get a pass the next time it decides to photoshop a picture of a war-torn city if it claims the actual picture would have put the photographer’s life in danger?  what if they promised us the actual scene looked just like the picture?

If we don’t establish rules around this kind of thing quickly, people will stop trusting what they see in much the same way they’ve stopped trusting what they read/hear.

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | 1 Comment »

Jason Lezak Enables NBC to Continue Hyping Michael Phelps

Monday, August 11th, 2008

I’m not what you’d call a swimming fan, watching the sport only during the Summer Olympics, but what Jason Lezak did yesterday (last night? this morning? the timezones here are confusing enough to drive Doctor Who insane) was amazing regardless of whether you’re a fan or not.  Some snippets from the NBCOlympics.com news report:

The U.S. men — Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak — set a world record, finishing in 3:08.24. France took second, Australia third.

In 1988, at the Seoul Olympics, an American team lowered the record to 3:16.53.  Before the preliminaries at these Games, the world record in the 4×100 relay stood at 3:12.46. That mark was set by an American team swimming in 2006.  One day ago, during the prelims, a U.S. team broke that record, swimming 3:12.23.

The times in the prelims were so fast that it took 3:13.8 to get into Monday’s final. Russia, at 3:14.07, didn’t make it — a second and a half off the world record, and not good enough for the Olympic final.  During the final, five teams went under the mark the U.S. team had set in Sunday’s prelims — the Americans, French, Australians, Italians and Swedes. World record-breaking times for the Italians and Swedes — and no medal.

But that’s not all.

The world record [for a single leg] going into the race [was] 47.50, by France’s Alain Bernard.  [Michael] Phelps swam the lead-off leg for the Americans. He swam 47.51.  Eamon Sullivan of Australia pulled lead-off duty as well. He touched ahead of Phelps, in 47.24.   With the pressure of all of it on him, [anchor leg swimmer, Jason] Lezak threw down the fastest split of all time, 46.06.

Before Sunday, the closest finish in the event in the Olympics had been in Sydney, when the Australians beat the Americans by .19 of a second.  Lezak . . . touched a mere .08 of a second in front of Bernard.

Some pretty amazing swimming all around, huh?  But surf around the headlines this morning, and you’ll notice something strange.  MSNBC: “Phelps wins second gold of Games.”  ESPN: “Ultimate Team Effort:  Michael Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals at one Olympics is still alive.”  Sports Illustrated/CNN: “Phelps collects 2nd gold in relay.”

You see, the American media decided before the games began that the story was Michael Phelps.  He’s the guy with the shot at wining multiple gold meals, so he would be the hero of the games.  Hours of back-story video have been shot.  Interviews have been done.  Analysts have been hired to, well, analyze.  Merchandising has begun.  Wheaties boxes have been designed.  Nothing as picayune as “what actually happened in the race” is going to get in the way of all that work.

And so despite the fact that Phelps swam a slower leg than Lezak, despite the fact that he didn’t even win his own leg of the race, and despite the fact that in a race with a half-dozen or more records set simultaneously, Phelps didn’t set any of them, the hero of the story is Michael Phelps.

In describing Phelps’ quest for eight gold medals, Matt Lauer actually uttered these words on The Today Show this morning:  “Someone owes Jason Lezak a fruit basket or something this morning.”  A fruit basket?  Seriously?  How about a Olympic Freakin’ Gold Medal?!?!?  Because that’s what he got.

Just like Michael Phelps.

Categories: News and/or Media, Sports Talk | 3 Comments »

Billy Joel Confirms Location of “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” Restaurant

Friday, August 8th, 2008

There was a fantastic Italian restaurant on 57th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Manhattan called La Fontana di Trevi  (i.e., “The Trevi Fountain”). I went there many times for business lunches when I worked for Accenture on 54th Street and 6th Avenue, and my wife and I would go there for dinner frequently when we lived on 56th Street and Broadway. The place was across the street from Carnegie Hall, the Russian Tea Room, several retail piano stores (e.g., Yamaha), and Sony’s New York offices.

The wait staff at Fontana di Trevi would always claim that a) they served the best Caesar salad in New York, and b) the restaurant was the inspiration for Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I definitely believed them about the Caesar Salad (made table-side and with a touch of Worcestershire sauce, the closing of this restaurant was a big blow to Caesar Salads everywhere…), but I was always a bit suspect about the Billy Joel thing.

Granted, the Sony offices and the piano stores were across the street, so it made sense that Billy Joel would spend a lot of time in the area.  I always thought it could be true, but I never really heard confirmation of it. Also, I kind of suspected that the restaurant in question would be in Little Italy, since Joel has talked and written about that part of Manhattan frequently (e.g., “Big Man on Mulberry Street.”)

Well, the newly redesigned BillyJoel.com contains a new video section, and the top video on the list right now is a retrospective of The Stranger album, which is celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year.  In the video, Joel confirms that Fontana di Trevi is truly the location he was writing about.  Apparently, when people were lined up around Carnegie Hall to see Joel’s 1975 concert there, the owner of Fontana di Trevi recognized him from the concert poster, and from then on would get him and his band a good table whenever they wanted one.  In the video, Joel says:

There’s a restaurant right across the street from Carnegie Hall – it’s not there anymore – called Fontana di Trevi, but sometimes you’d have a hard time getting a table, and the owner of the restaurant sees a line going around the block, and there’s a poster of me in front of Carnegie Hall.  And he was looking at the poster and he looks at me and goes, “Hey – you’re datta guy!” and from then on, I was always able to get a good spot.  People wonder where “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” was, well that was the place.

The picture above is a screen shot from the video, and I recognize it as having been taken in the restaurant.

Another one of life’s little mysteries revealed…

Categories: New York, New York, Words about Music | 2 Comments »

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