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Archive for September, 2005

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Friday, September 30th, 2005

My friend Mike was just saying that the market is missing a digital music player just for kids. Enter Disney.

To be fair, this isn’t exactly what Mike was talking about. He was suggesting a more Fisher-Price like device, with large plastic buttons that automatically played the kid’s favorite song. A device that could be thrown around, dropped, kicked, and covered with all the various liquid and semi-liquid substances that always accompany small children.

So it’s not ideal. But the price point is pretty good ($49.99), the storage is OK (128MB, expandable to >1GB), and the Disney brand can only be a plus. Also, nothing mentioned about any technical details (i.e., how do you get songs on there? Will Disney be selling MP3′s online? What software will they provide?)


Categories: Tech Talk, The Disneyverse | No Comments »

Commander in Chief – A Review

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Two years ago, my wife and I became so inundated with the number of primetime TV shows we were taping & watching later, that we instituted a “no new shows” policy. We would only watch the ones we were currently hooked on, and avoid all others, despite any rave reviews. This is how we escaped shows like CSI and Desparate Housewives. Last year, a couple of our shows went off the air, and we got a digital video recorder, which allowed us to watch while taping (so we didn’t have to wait until 10pm to watch The West Wing if the kids went to bed at 9:05). So, this year, we added a show to our repertoire – ABC’s Commander in Chief.

I was impressed when I watched it, and have grown more impressed the more I think about it. Obviously, a show about the first female President of the United States is going to deal head-on with the issues of feminism and sexism. That’s to be expected. What impressed me was the unique way the writers went about it in this case.

Only one character on the show (the Speaker of the House, played by Donald Sutherland) is a blatantly sexist man (in the traditional “male chauvinist pig” fashion), and his character comes off as a cruel, ignorant, assinine sonofabitch. He tells the new president (Gena Davis), who has assumed office after the death of the president, that her nomination as vice-president was just “theater,” and that we couldn’t possibly expect the world to accept a female president. When Davis mentions the whole “might invade another country once a month” problem, he misses the sarcasm entirely, and invokes menopause as the saving grace, insulting her age as well as her gender with “it’s OK – in a couple of years, that won’t be a problem for you anyway.” We all think the same thing: What a jerk!

So we’ve established that MCP’s are jerks. No shock there. What is fascinating is the inherent struggle the rest of the cast has as they trip over themselves to redefine gender roles, pronoun usage, and stereotypes. One of her aides calls her “Madame President” and “Sir” in the same conversation. Her husband, who was her chief of staff when she was vice-president, is referred to as “FLOTUS” (taking the POTUS acronym, made famous on The West Wing, and extending it into something right out of a Japanese garden), is asked to set the dinner menu for the White House, and is warned against participating in speech writing or spending too much time in the west wing. His chief of staff keeps warning him that Hillary Clinton did those things and they “didn’t go over well.”

In addition to the many levels of irony here, I was impressed by the writers’ willingness to define two kinds of sexism – the mean, ugly kind that is generally driven by ignorance or stupidity (or both), and the structural kind, committed by well-meaning folks who are being asked to adapt to a situation that goes against their long-reinforced instincts. This second kind of sexism affects both the men and women on the show, and takes the form of over-compensation almost as often as it takes the form of pure prejudice. We feel for these people; we don’t hate them the way we hate the Speaker of the House (who, by the way, should be the SOTH, no?)

This approach gives the writers a huge advantage. They are in a position to make the politically correct Hollywood point (men who treat women badly are evil), without allowing that message to hijack the show. They can simultaneously make a second point – that we all have preconceptions about how the world works, and when these preconceptions are shattered, well meaning people may act insensitively without actually being evil. More importantly, being able to explore both paths will allow them to keep the show interesting for a much longer time, which will keep me watching. And that, after all, is the point.

Categories: ISBS Reviews, Primetime TV | No Comments »

The Little Things that Make Life Fun…

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Seen on the streets of Manhattan today:

Man throws a wadded up piece of paper at a trash can and misses. Misses by so much, in fact, that when he picks it up, he’s too far from the can to reach, so he takes a second shot. He misses again. This time, he picks up the paper, looks around to see if anyone’s watching, and then sheepishly walks it over to the trash can, makes the easy layup, and moves on.

…and those guys in the NBA make it look so easy.

Categories: New York, New York, The World Wide Weird | No Comments »

Plane Blogging…

Sunday, September 25th, 2005

I’m sitting on a plane bound for Orlando (business conference in a Disney hotel). Some immediate observations that didn’t didn’t occur to me until I acutally boarded the plane:

- Before we boarded, they announced that there are more kids on the flight than adults.

- They didn’t preboard people with kids as they usually do because, well, what’s the point?

- Any adult that plans on needing a bathroom during the flight might as well forget it. I can imagine that it will be occupied the entire way down, and that the line to wait for the next one will not be a pleasant one.

- I’m sitting near the back of the plane, so I got on before most people, but when I got on, there were already *NINE* strollers tagged with “gate check” tickets on the jetway. I’m guessing there’ll be at least 20 by the time we takeoff.

- Nobody’s crying yet, but there have been about a dozen digital pictures taken since I sat down, so the most common sound on the plane is “CHEESE!!!”

- The scheduled movie is “Monster-in-Law.” I’m *SHOCKED* that it’s not an animated movie. Anyone on the plane with a portable DVD player (and an Elmo disc) will be heroes once we’re in the air…

- Just as I’m typing this, the kid behind me began kicking my chair, and the mother began scolding him to stop. It will be a competition the whole flight to see which is more annoying – the kicking or the scolding.

UPDATE:The crying as now begun. One kid for now, but we’ll see if it spreads. The mother is offering something called a “Baa-Baa” which seems to be helping. Wheeeeeee!!!

UPDATE #2:Flight’s over – if there was any crying, it was not loud enough to outshout my iPod headphones. Gotta love technology…

Categories: Random Acts of Blogging, The Disneyverse | 2 Comments »

Fun with Mailing Lists

Friday, September 23rd, 2005

Here’s a familiar phenomenon:

Step 1:
Someone sends a question to an e-mail mailing list containing thousands of people. But they’ve got the wrong list.

Step 2:
People see an e-mail in their box that isn’t addressed to them (just to the mailing list) and reply to all, saying “Why did I get this e-mail?”

Step 3:
More people see the “Why did I get this e-mail?” mails, and reply to all with “Me too” messages.

Step 4:
Still more people (typically the ones who know how mailing lists work) start replying to all with messages that say “Please stop replying to all – this is a mailing list.”

Step 5:
People read these warnings and reply (to all) with “Why did I get this e-mail?”

Go to Step 2 and repeat

This happened at work yesterday. The initial e-mail went to a list with around 2,000 people on it. Then came 18 e-mails saying “Why did I get this.” Then came 22 e-mails saying “Me too.” That was followed by 34 messages saying “Please stop replying to all.” In total, 64 e-mails hit my box in the space of 17 minutes.

As far as I know, this process doesn’t have a name. Right now, I going with “mailing list mushroom cloud,” as in “I was worried when I had 74 unread e-mails this morning, but it turned out it was just a mailing list mushroom cloud.”

Suggestions, anyone?

Categories: Tech Talk | 2 Comments »

Helping the People Who Can’t Leave…

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

Here’s how Texas is dealing with the people who can’t afford to transport themselves out of harm’s way.

Again: Note the absence of the federal government in the picture. Note the absence of FEMA. Note the basence of state and local officials waiting for help to arrive.

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

Evacuating the hospitals

Monday, September 19th, 2005

Tropical Storm Rita could potentially be a Category 1 Hurricane by the time it reaches the Florida Keys, so Florida is taking standard precautions:

Officials ordered [40,000] residents evacuated from the lower Florida Keys on Monday.

The state was sending a National Guard cargo plane to evacuate 22 patients from Key West’s hospital to Sebring, near Lake Okeechobee. Several critically ill patients already had been evacuated to hospitals in Miami.

Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency.

This is because a Category 1 hurricane MIGHT hit the Florida keys in a couple of days. Note the absence of the federal government. Note the absence of FEMA. Note the absence of state and local officials waiting for help to arrive.

Now, one would assume that Louisiana, who’s largest city is below sea level would have a similar plan – at least for the hospitals, right? But then there’s this on the front page of the New York Times:

Of the dead collected so far in the New Orleans area, more than a quarter of them, or at least 154, are those of patients, mostly elderly, who died in hospitals or nursing homes, according to interviews with officials from 8 area hospitals and 26 nursing homes.

There were piecemeal plans. Hospitals were required to have enough emergency provisions to operate for two to three days during a disaster. State officials said it was their responsibility to evacuate patients if necessary. Nursing homes were required to have their own evacuation plans, complete with contracts with transportation companies.

In two public hospitals that primarily treat the poor, emergency generators and wiring were located on the ground floor, vulnerable to flooding, because state legislators had repeatedly refused to pay for upgrades. Both washed out in the storm.

It goes on and on – hospitals and nursing homes were not clear about whether Mayor Nagin’s evacuation order applied to them. Private hospitals, which could afford to do so, hired buses and helicopters, but when the time came, the bus companies had no drivers.

At HCA Healthcare (a large, for-profit hospital), the president had to be awoken at 3AM to be told the water was rising in the building. He had leased 20 helicopters, but the helipad wasn’t accessible from the hospital. He tried to turn Tulane University Hospital’s parking garage into a helipad, but Tulane was evacuating their staff before the other hospital’s patients. Tulane denies this, but most of the staff did get out before some of HCA’s incubator-ridden babies. You do the math.

Virginia McCall, director of the ICU at Methodist Hospital (who got all their patients out) says that Universal Health Services, the company that runs the hospital, told her that they had rented trucks, but that the trucks were commandeered by FEMA for other priorities. The company has no comment, and FEMA denies the accusation. FEMA, of course, has been roundly criticized for having no one on the ground until several days after the storm had passed. Again, you do the math.

People have argued with me recently that there’s no way a city can effectively evacuate 100% of its citizens in an emergency. There will always be people who don’t get the message, or who refuse to leave. I’ve argued that regardless of this, a plan should be in place. Even if it doesn’t work, at least there’s a plan, and people know what to expect.

But the hospitals and nursing homes? No bed-ridden patient is going to refuse to leave if his doctors and nurses tell him he has to. The lack of a plan for these people epitomizes the extent to which the city let its people down.

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

Pot to Kettle: Where did you get that tan?

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

It seems iTunes 5.0 for Windows is buggy. Good thing I’ve been so swamped lately that I haven’t had time to upgrade.

And for some comic relief, we have this:

MacDailyNews Take: Behold the beauty of horizontal integration. Isn’t having a range of problems with the same piece of software on one PC

Categories: Tech Talk | No Comments »

Shop Amazon with What’s Under the Couch Cushions

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

This is a great idea:

Amazon.com on Tuesday said Coinstar Inc., best known for coin-counting machines found in many supermarkets and drug stores, has agreed to let customers exchange their loose change for certificates redeemable at the online retailer. Under the deal, customers can insert their coins into a Coinstar machine and receive a receipt with a redemption code that can be used to make purchases on Seattle-based Amazon.com.

Categories: The Future is Now | 2 Comments »

I Couldn’t Have Said it Better Myself…

Thursday, September 8th, 2005

You know, whenever I get it in my head that I’m halfway decent at putting words down on a page, I read something from a guy who really knows what he’s doing, and then crawl back to my safe little world, where I spend most of the day talking to computers. In this case, it was James Lileks covering the same ground as my Blame Bush First post, but with infinitely more style & grace.

Highly recommended reading. Here are some highlights:

I am somewhat surprised that RIGHTEOUS ANGER is now the default mode in situations like this – but not too surprised. If the biggest problem in the world is Bush, then everything is naturally his fault.

But wait, there’s more!

Oh, the lessons we learned from Katrina. Bush’s refusal to invade New Orleans tells everything you need to know about Republican racist perfidy. The local government’s incompetence tells you nothing whatsoever about Democrats ability to govern at the micro level. Lethal storms can be turned aside months in advance by signing the right treaties. Or so they’re saying in the reality-based community.

And then finally, some lessons for us to take away:

Lesson one: Don’t rely on the government. Four years after 9/11, it’s apparent that some local governments are not well-oiled machines when it comes to disasters – more like a box of sand and busted gears. Blame for that can be promiscuously distributed.

Lesson two: the next terrorist attack will not unite us for a warm hug-filled fortnight. The hard left won’t wait 24 hours before blaming President Bush, and the country will enjoy the sight of prominent pundits angrier at the President than the men who nuked Des Moines.

Well said, Mr. Lileks. Well said.

Categories: Political Rantings | No Comments »

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