Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nintendo gets ready for its biggest video game launch of the year: ‘Wii Sports Resort’

Hard-core video game players could care less, but one of the biggest video game titles of the year comes out tomorrow. It’s Nintendo’s “Wii Sports Resort” for the company’s market-leading Wii game console.
Nintendo is targeting the game at families and young kids. The game features a collection of tropical island sports activities, including riding Jet Skiis, sword fighting, and tossing a Frisbee to a dog on the beach.
Priced at $49.99, it includes one Wii MotionPlus accessory. This accessory attaches to the bottom of your motion-sensing Wii controller and provides much more accurate control of the on-screen movement.
Additional Wii MotionPlus accessories cost $19.99. Every family will need at least two. One for each controller. That spells “Ka-ching” for Nintendo.
“Wii Sports Resort” is a sequel to Nintendo’s popular “Wii Sports.” The new title includes 12 different sports activities.
I’ve held off getting a Wii console so far. But my son is sure to turn up the pestering now.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Twitter still has more spam accounts to purge



Despite Twitter’s efforts to purge spammers from its microblogging service on Thursday, it still has a lot of work to do.
I estimate that 20% of my current 66 followers are spam accounts. Here are a few and some of their sample tweets:

@Hailey_McKay60
Sample tweet:
“Go view my X-Rated pics” with a Web link

@digsin33
Sample tweet:
“Made $14 this hour filling out surveys” with a Web link

@Isabela_Black_7
Sample tweet:
“Cum check out my hot profile” with a Web link

@BuyThisStock
Sample tweet:
“proven to generate at least $354.97 per day from home Take a look !” with a Web link

@Kara_McNeill_67
Sample tweet:
“Come View My SEXY Videos” with Web link

@ GregHsnoW
Sample tweet:
“Learn the trick discovered by a mom to turn yellow teeth white for $5” with Web link

So if you’re a horny guy with a yellow teeth who wants to make money on the Internet, check out my followers. But hopefully Twitter deletes them first.

Photos:
A graph of my Twitter followers from TwitterCounter.
Two of my followers – “Isabela Black” and “Kara McNeill” – with photos that look like the same woman wearing the same leopard print bikini top.

It's official: Twitter clearing out spam accounts

Lots of chatter on Twitter now about people losing large numbers of "followers."
Many are sad that they're losing them, even if they're only spammers. It made them feel important and wanted to have a lot of supposed followers of their tweets.
Twitter posted a status report this evening that said it was making changes to "correct for spam accounts and data inconsistencies. No legitimate followings should be affected—we’re just cleaning up artifacts in the system." See report here.
Twitter users reported losing hundreds, even thousands, of followers. News flash: They weren't really following you.
Here are some sample comments on the purge:

calliekins wrote: “Damn! Twitter took away all of my followers! Ha! 60 something plus were porn. Priceless.”

fanbab wrote: “I just lost about 60 followers. Damn spammers gave me a false sense of popularity.”

amy_mclaughlin wrote: “i lost like all my followers! i feel lame now”

tboyle2244 wrote: “I'm back under the century mark of followers I feel defeated”

Gardenwiseguy wrote: “Dear former followers purged by Twitter: R.I.P., you bunch of useless leeches! The rest of you--MWAH! Luvzya!!”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Was it something I said?


I logged into Twitter this evening and noticed that I had lost 21 of my 85 followers since yesterday. That's 25% of my followers in one day. Why have they abandoned me?
It can only mean one thing – Twitter is getting serious about weeding out the suspicious accounts.
Twitter is jam-packed with spammers, people posting Web links to get-rich-quick-schemes, sexual aids and other products and services. They're polluting the microblogging service to catch search traffic and generate Web hits.
I've never been interested in building up a large group of followers for my tweets. Lots of suspicious accounts follow me and quite a few disappear after a while, probably because I don't reciprocate and follow them too.
But it is interesting to see what random people or companies decide to “follow” me on Twitter at @PatrickSeitz.

Lots of smoke: Marijuana in the news


Talk about marijuana legalization – or at least decriminalization – lit up the Internet this week.

Cook County goes to pot

Illinois’ Cook County Board approved a measure July 21 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure allows sheriff’s police to issue a $200 ticket for possessing 10 grams or less of marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county, which includes Chicago. Previously offenders were arrested on misdemeanor possession charges, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Thirteen states, including California and New York, have passed some form of decriminalization of marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Supporters of marijuana decriminalization say pot cases clog the jails and courts and are a waste of law enforcement and judicial resources.

Suggested reading:
A former police chief opines on HuffPost that marijuana should be legalized.

California sprouts 'green rush' from marijuana

A July 18 Associated Press article says the medical marijuana industry has become big business in California.
Marijuana is easily available in the state and not just for cancer and AIDS sufferers. You can get weed if you have seasonal allergies, insomnia or just about any ailment, the AP reports.
Marijuana has become “an economic force” for the state. “No longer relegated to the underground, pot in California these days props up local economies, mints millionaires and feeds a thriving industry of startups designed to grow, market and distribute the drug,” the AP says.
That includes farms and stores for selling pot and equipment for growing it. Also springing up are pot clubs and for-profit clinics with doctors who specialize in medical marijuana recommendations. All of these are legal, tax-paying businesses.
Some lawmakers are considering broader legalization as a way to shore up the state’s finances. “The state’s top tax collector estimates that taxing pot like liquor could bring in more than $1.3 billion annually,” the AP writes.
“Los Angeles County alone has more than 400 pot dispensaries and delivery services, nearly twice as many outlets as Amsterdam, the Netherlands capital whose coffee shops have for decades been synonymous with free-market marijuana,” according to the AP.

Finding marijuana with your iPhone

Apple on Monday approved an application for its iPhone called “Cannabis,” which lets users find the nearest legal supplier of medicinal marijuana.
The “Cannabis” app, which was developed by AJNAG, has gotten some pretty poor user reviews unfortunately. Bummer, man.

Photo: Screenshot from the iPhone “Cannabis” app.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chicago Transit Authority bans mature video game ads; industry strikes back

Video games rated Mature or Adults Only for violent or sexual content are a favorite target of politicians, public servants and special interest groups.
These groups frequently try to put special restrictions on the sale or marketing of such games in the interest of protecting impressionable children. These actions usually crop up during election season or whenever Take-Two Interactive Software releases a new edition of its “Grand Theft Auto” franchise.
The only thing these actions end up doing is waste taxpayer money. That’s because they never stand up under judicial review. Video games are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Video games can’t be treated differently than other expressions of free speech, including movies, books and newspapers.
Earlier this year, the Chicago Transit Authority banned advertisements for video games rated M or AO on its trains, buses and stations. The Entertainment Software Association today filed suit against the CTA, challenging the CTA’s prohibition on certain computer and video game advertisements as a violation of the guarantees of free speech under the First Amendment.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, charges the CTA with unfairly targeting the computer and video game industry by enacting an ordinance that selectively bans advertisements of computer and video games rated "Mature 17+" (M) or "Adults Only 18+" (AO).
The cash-strapped CTA should drop its ban on such video game advertisements now. Going to court will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. You don’t have to be a legal expert to know the ultimate outcome here.
For more information, see the Video Game Voters Network.

Photo: Artwork from Take-Two Interactive Software’s “Grand Theft Auto IV”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yahoo’s new home page is step in right direction, but needs work


Yahoo launched its new home page today after years of development. It’s a step in the right direction, but needs a lot more work.
Yahoo has been promising to bring together your online life in one place for a couple of years now. It’s a great idea. But Yahoo’s first crack at it with its Yahoo.com page doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The veteran Web portal and search engine needs a hit, but I’m afraid this isn’t it.
The new Yahoo.com features a customizable My Favorites column on the left side of the page. When you move your cursor over each favorite, you get a nifty at-a-glance pop-up window. The new site works best with Yahoo’s own applications like Yahoo Mail, Flickr photo sharing, and OMG! celebrity news and gossip.
You can add other Web sites, including popular social networking sites, but good luck getting them to work. I couldn’t get Facebook to connect with Yahoo tonight. Hopefully they’ll get that fixed.
On the plus side, the MySpace at-a-glance box on Yahoo looks great. I use MySpace solely to track my favorite music artists and bands and the new pop-up window gives me quick access to their latest blog, music and photo postings.
Google’s Gmail also works in a Yahoo pop-up window. But it only shows unread e-mail. I’d like to see all recent messages, just like Yahoo shows for its Yahoo Mail pop-up.
Surprisingly, there’s no ready Twitter button to add to My Favorites. You can make your own button from any Web site, but when I tried this with Twitter all I got in the pop-up window were Twitter corporate blog posts. Not tweets from those I’m following.
There also wasn’t a button to add LinkedIn, the professional social networking service.
After wasting time trying to get Facebook and Twitter to connect on the new Yahoo.com and setting up links for eBay, Gmail, Flickr and MySpace, I was pretty spent. It was a lot of work for not much utility.
Web surfers still need a portal to manage all their online activity – from social networking to e-commerce. The new Yahoo.com isn’t it. Not yet, at least.
I’m going to stick with My Yahoo as a starting home page. Yahoo should port the My Favorites preview capabilities over to My Yahoo and soon.

Screenshot: The new Yahoo.com

Monday, July 20, 2009

My 10 favorite things about Chicago



Between the last week of July and the first week of August, my family is moving from Chicago to Connecticut.
I’m going to miss Chicago, a.k.a. Chi-town (pronounced shy-town), the Windy City, the Second City, and the City of Broad Shoulders.
Here’s a top 10 list of my favorite things about Chicago (other than family and friends):

  1. Lake Michigan: Like a beautiful inland sea, this great lake provides a stunning blue border to Chicago’s east. There are lots of great beaches and parks along its shores in Chicago and the North Shore suburbs.

  2. Chicago-style food: Deep-dish pizza and Vienna Beef hot dogs, also Italian beef sandwiches, gyros, etc. My favorite thick pizza in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s, multiple locations. For Chicago-style wieners, I’d go with Irving’s for Red Hot Lovers in Wilmette, Ill., or Mustard’s Last Stand in Evanston, Ill.

  3. The culture: Chicago is a melting pot of cultures with immigrants from around the globe. People here live up to the hard-working blue collar ethic that built the city. They’re a hardy people too, putting up with Chicago’s two seasons: Winter and construction. Chicagoans also like to have a good time as evidenced by the city’s many festivals, like Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza, Chicago Blues Festival, etc. Hey, and it’s President Barack Obama’s hometown. That’s some nice bragging rights.

  4. Museums and attractions: Lots of things to do in Chicago, especially with children. The Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are some of our faves. Then there’s Millennium Park with the Crown Fountain and Cloudgate (a.k.a the Bean).

  5. Chicago sports: Sports in Chi-town are about more than “da Bears” and “da Bulls.” We’ve also got the Cubs, White Sox and Blackhawks. Plus, the city has a good shot at winning the 2016 Summer Olympics. (The winning city will be announced Oct. 2.)

  6. Lake Shore Drive: Driving south into the city from the north suburbs along LSD is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Lake Michigan and beaches to the east of the highway and parks to the west (at least until you hit the Gold Coast). As you drive south you pass Lincoln Park and enter downtown with a great view of its wonderful skyscrapers.

  7. The architecture: I love the Chicago skyline with the John Hancock Center to the north and the Sears Tower (just renamed the Willis Tower on July 16) to the southwest. Chicago is world renowned for its architecture. A top tourist activity is the architectural boat tours on the Chicago River.

  8. Chicago traditions: You’ve got to love such Chicago traditions as dyeing the river green for St. Patrick’s Day or putting Christmas wreaths on the Art Institute lion statutes and lights on the trees along the Magnificent Mile shopping district for the holiday season.

  9. Theater: Chicago is home to many great theater companies. I’ve particularly enjoyed shows at the legendary Second City comedy club and the Tony Award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Chicago also has the Steppenwolf, Goodman and Lookingglass theater companies, among other talented troupes.

  10. Public transportation: Sure, the CTA’s L trains could use an upgrade, but the CTA and suburban Metra train lines provide great public transportation service. This is especially true for getting downtown and back from the suburbs. It’s vastly better than public transportation in other metro areas where I’ve lived. D.C. has a good rail line, but it can be slow, inconvenient and doesn’t go everywhere you need it to. L.A.’s train service is a joke.

Photos:
Chicago skyline and “the Bean” (from Wikipedia) and Lou Malnati’s pizza (from the restaurant chain’s Web site).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Our home-selling ordeal

The Great Recession is not a good time to be selling a house.
When we purchased our home in Wilmette, Ill., in July 2002 we thought we’d have no problems reselling it because of the desirable neighborhood and great schools. But that was before the credit crisis, Wall Street’s meltdown and the resulting recession – the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.
Because of our planned move to Connecticut, we put the house on the market on Feb. 9.
We priced the house aggressively – or so we thought – but ended up cutting our asking price four times.
We had 44 scheduled showings to possible buyers and held five open houses over five months.
We were willing to sell our house at a loss based on what we had originally paid and the improvements we put into it. But there were no bidders.
Eventually we decided that we couldn’t wait any longer. We put the home up for lease and, snap, we had a renter just like that. We’re leasing the home for two years and hope the housing market will have recovered by then.
Ours is a common story.
Our real estate agent has done 17 home rentals this year on Chicago’s North Shore and just two sales.
The housing market is bad. Lots of lookie-loos but few willing or able to pull the trigger on a sale. One young couple with small children came to look at our four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom house four or five times, but just couldn’t make a decision whether to buy.
A recent survey by Realtor.com found that more than half of potential homebuyers are staying on the sidelines, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The No. 1 reason for the reluctance to buy homes is job insecurity. The poll showed that 31% of potential buyers were worried about losing their jobs, followed by 16% who cited the inability to sell their current home, 15% who cited lack of available financing, and 8% who said they fear home prices will keep dropping.
The good news for the housing market is that the house rentals are taking a lot of homes off the market. As the supply of homes for sale dries up that should stabilize home prices.
Hopefully the housing market will be much improved in two years when we try again to put our home up for sale.
Fingers crossed.

Update: We sold the house in August 2011. The sales price was roughly break even for us, considering the capital improvements we made to the property.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Got Milk? U.S. milk consumption declines despite celebrity ad campaign


Investor’s Business Daily just published my Industry Snapshot on publicly traded dairy companies, which got me thinking about those ubiquitous “Got Milk?” ads.
The National Dairy Board launched the “Got Milk?” ad campaign in 1995. The ads feature celebrities with milk mustaches on their upper lip. Since then, scores of stars from movies, television, music and sports have been spotlighted.
But milk consumption in the U.S. continues to decline.
When the “Got Milk?” ads started in 1995, the average American drank 24.24 gallons of milk a year. By 2005, the consumption rate had dipped to 20.98 gallons of milk per year. (See report by ProCon.org.)
Of course, this doesn’t mean the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on milk advertising have gone to waste. The decline could have been much greater without those pictures of celebs with white creamy ’staches.
MilkPEP (the Milk Processors Education Program) has a list of celebrity milk ads here. Wikipedia has a more extensive list of celebrity milk endorsers on its “Got Milk?” page.

Photos:
Rebecca Romijn in “Got Milk?” ad
Man wearing parody T-shirt featuring a doctored photo of Monica Lewinski and the caption “Not Milk”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tech-media-tainment moving headquarters from Chicago to Connecticut


The publisher of Tech-media-tainment is moving the operations of this respected catchall blog from Chicago to Connecticut in early August.
The staff isn’t too pleased with this move, having grown to love Chicago. But we’ve decided to go along with it. We’re team players.
The move will be a cultural adjustment. The new headquarters will be in New Canaan, Conn., which is one of the most affluent communities in the U.S. I like to say that the extra “a” in New Canaan is for “affluence.” (CNNMoney.com ranked it No. 1 in the nation in 2008 with the highest median family income.)
Moving from Chicago to New Canaan, Conn., will mean trading Mike Ditka for Martha Stewart, “The Blues Brothers” for “The Stepford Wives,” the Chicago School for the Harvard Five, Bill Murray for Katherine Heigl, “The Devil in the White City” for “The Ice Storm,” and Sears for General Electric.
Compared with Chicago and its North Shore suburbs where I live, New Canaan and Fairfield County, Conn., seem more like the sticks. Admittedly I haven’t visited the area, but from my research it looks like it lacks the amenities to which I’ve grown accustomed. (Abundant fast-food restaurants, shopping malls and movie theaters, professional sports teams, etc.)
Though I’ll miss Chicago, I’m looking forward to exploring Connecticut, New York City and New England.
If Tech-media-tainment starts taking on a snooty tone, let me know.

Photos:
Mike Ditka
Martha Stewart

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Are you ready for even more football? UFL and Lingerie Football League set to debut this fall


There’s no shortage of professional sports leagues, including upstarts that hope one day to be as successful as the top four leagues in the U.S.: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.
This fall, we’ll see the start of a rival to the National Football League called the United Football League. This fall also will bring to life every man’s fantasy, the Lingerie Football League, where beautiful, busty women in lingerie have a pillow fight … er, play football.
I’m fascinated by what it takes for a sport to go from nothing to a big deal with the American public. Why do some pro sports attract legions of fans and exhaustive media coverage, while others do not? At what point do people decide they’d like to plunk down real money to watch a game in person?
Earlier I speculated on some of the factors behind a pro sport breaking into the big time. Those factors include superstar players who give the sport a face, some personality and a human interest story. Television coverage is another critical factor. And of course, amazing athleticism is vital too.
But then there are the X-factors, those intangibles that are hard to gauge. Those intangibles helped push pro beach volleyball and the X Games onto the main stage.
In Chicago, we have Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, the NFL’s Chicago Bears, the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls and the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks.
But wait there’s more.
Move down the food chain a level and you’ll find a host of young pro sports teams and leagues hoping to make it big. We have soccer (Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer and the Chicago Red Stars of Women’s Professional Soccer). We have lacrosse (Chicago Machine of Major League Lacrosse), more hockey (Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League), indoor football (Chicago Slaughter) and even women’s roller derby (the Windy City Rollers). There’s also minor league and independent league baseball in the Chicagoland area.
Many sports teams and leagues have come and gone in recent years, including the Chicago Storm soccer and Chicago Shamrox lacrosse teams. The Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League was out for the 2009 season, but the AFL is trying to return in 2010.
With that as a backdrop, the UFL and LFL hope to make a go of it.
The United Football League plans to begin its premiere season in October and conclude with a championship game in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving weekend.
The Lingerie Football League kicks off Sept. 4 at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill., with the Chicago Bliss vs. Miami Caliente.
In the current economic climate, they'll need a lot of luck.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Classic artworks merged with ‘Star Wars’




I love the work that Photoshop artists do at Worth1000.com.
For a recent contest, artists were assigned to take classic works of art and add images from the “Star Wars” movies. That means Bouguereau, Rembrandt and Van Gogh meet Princess Leia, Darth Vader and C-3PO.
Artists were allowed to use “Star Wars” characters, vehicles and scenes in their mash-up creations.
The results are pretty humorous. I’ve posted a few of my favorites here, but check out the rest at Worth1000.com.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

One Stop Video going strong

One Stop Video, the sister site of Tech-Media-Tainment, is four months old tomorrow.
Started as an experiment in video aggregation, One Stop Video now contains 123 posts, including many funny short videos from the Onion News Network, Comedy Central, Barely Digital, CollegeHumor, YouTube and elsewhere on the Web.
The site also has music videos, entertaining television commercials and user-generated mashups, remixes and dubs. The subject matter is mostly at a teenage boy level, but I make no apologies for that.
If you haven’t browsed it lately, check out One Stop Video.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Singer-songwriter Sandy Stewart should have been a star


In 1984, singer-songwriter Sandy Stewart released a terrific album of ballads and pop songs that never found a wide audience.
Fleetwood Mac vocalist and solo artist Stevie Nicks sang a duet with Stewart and did background vocals for other tracks on the album, “Cat Dancer.” Stewart previously worked on Nicks’ album “Wild Heart,” co-writing songs and providing background vocals. (For more information, see description at FleetwoodMac.net.)
Stewart would later go on to form Blue Yonder, which released one album in 1987, according to AOR-FM.com. (See AOR-FM entry on Blue Yonder also.)
Yesterday I wrote about a forgotten Chicago pop rock band called Wild Blue, a.k.a. Jinx. What Wild Blue and Sandy Stewart have in common is that they each put out only one album in the 1980s and neither album is available on CD or for digital download. I had to digitize some vinyl records to enjoy their music again. (I discussed this in the first part of my series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”)
Stewart does merit an entry on Wikipedia however. It says she’s involved in a charitable organization called Purple Songs Can Fly, which provides a musical outlet for children being treated for cancer and blood disorders at Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston.

Photo: Back cover of Sandy Stewart’s “Cat Dancer.” (See earlier post for front cover.)
Below: A music video of Stewart’s “Saddest Victory” off the album, posted to YouTube.



Sunday, July 12, 2009

Portrait of a forgotten pop rock band: Wild Blue


This spring, a friend of mine digitized an LP record I had from a 1980s Chicago pop rock band called Wild Blue.
Two decades ago they looked like they were on the brink of mainstream success. But it didn’t happen. Creative differences with their record label Chrysalis, a forced change in band members and other factors led to their demise. It’s a common story in the music business.
I probably saw the group half a dozen times playing local clubs in the Chicagoland area while in college. They put on a great live show. I really liked their pop-electronic-bluesy sound. The group started off as Jinx, but ran into trademark problems with another artist using that name. They switched to Wild Blue and came out with their only album, “No More Jinx,” in 1986. When that record failed to catch on, the group, or at least lead singer Renee Varo, reformed as Primitive Prayer. Then I lost track of them.
But thanks to the Internet, where no information is too trivial, I’ve been able to glean more information on what happened to the band.
Wild Blue guitarist Frank Barbalace reminisced about joining the predecessor band, Jinx, and what happened after signing a record deal on his Web site at Ondavon.com.
Chrysalis was only interested in lead singer Varo and keyboardist Joe Zanona. Varo had a voice and looks similar to Pat Benatar at the time. The label took Varo and Zanona to London to record half the record with hired guns. They then returned to the U.S. to record the rest in Los Angeles with Barbalace and a new drummer and a new bass player, says Barbalace, who also performed with a progressive rock group called Trillion. (A review of Wild Blue's debut album by the Chicago Sun-Times dated June 13, 1986, is available from HighBeam Research.)
Varo and Zanona have formed a new band called Love Kill Me, which has a MySpace music page. But it’s hard to tell from its Web site how active the group is. The group set up the page in April 2008, posted a few songs, but hasn’t updated the site recently. Based on the three songs Love Kill Me has posted, it appears the group is going for a grittier rock sound than Jinx/Wild Blue. The songs “LoveKillMe” and “This Empty Room” show the group has promise.
Keep on rockin’, guys.

Photos:
Back cover of Wild Blue album “No More Jinx.” (See earlier post for front cover.)
Photo of Renee Varo from Love Kill Me

Saturday, July 11, 2009

“Being There” in the age of Twitter

The 1979 comedy “Being There” commented on the dumbing of America in the TV age. I wonder what a remake of that movie would say about the age of Twitter, where people communicate in 140-character blurbs online.
In “Being There,” Peter Sellers plays a simpleton who the upper class mistakes for an intellectual. Through a twist of fate Chance the Gardener (Sellers) becomes part of the inner circle of an aging political king maker.
Here’s my favorite scene from “Being There,” courtesy of IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. Chance, now called Chauncey Gardener, is approached by a book publisher:

Ron Steigler (played by Richard McKenzie): Mr. Gardner, uh, my editors and I have been wondering if you would consider writing a book for us, something about your um, political philosophy, what do you say?

Chance the Gardener (Peter Sellers): I can't write.

Ron Steigler: Heh, heh, of course not, who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my children. Look uhh, we can give you a six-figure advance, I'll provide you with the very best ghost-writer, proof-readers...

Chance the Gardener: I can't read.

Ron Steigler: Of course you can't! No one has the time! We, we glance at things, we watch television...

Chance the Gardener: I like to watch TV.

Ron Steigler: Oh, oh, oh sure you do. No one reads!

Twitter would take that scene to the next level.

Clock is ticking for GeoCities


Yahoo has set a date for pulling the plug on its GeoCities personal Web site hosting service: Oct. 26.
I have a bunch of photo Web pages that I’ll need to download from the service before it’s terminated. I used GeoCities from December 1998 until December 2004 to post photos and document vacations, my engagement, honeymoon and the birth of my son, among other things.
I returned to GeoCities in July 2007 to make a quickie Web page that showed what me and a friend would look like as Simpsons cartoon characters -- thanks to a Burger King promotion for "The Simpsons Movie." (See photo above.)
Yahoo e-mailed GeoCities users late Thursday about its termination plans. In April, Yahoo announced its intent to end the out-of-date service later in the year, but offered no deadline. Now we know that GeoCities will end in a little over three months.
Yahoo’s e-mail said, “Don't Wait: Please be aware that after October 26, your GeoCities files will be deleted from our servers, and will not be recoverable.”
Looks like I’ll have to get busy.

Friday, July 10, 2009

10 reasons why Twitter is great


Twitter isn’t as revolutionary as the telegraph, telephone, radio, TV or PC, as celebrity douchebag Ashton Kutcher maintains, but it does have its uses.
Sorry, AplusK, but Twitter is an incremental technology advance that has its roots in Internet bulletin boards and Web logs.
Here’s a list of 10 good things about Twitter:

  1. Twitter is an excellent communications medium for people who want to get the word out quickly and broadly about a news event. The Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008 and the post-election upheaval in Iran in June are two oft-cited examples. People were able to bypass conventional means to broadcast their experiences. (Counterpoint: Sourcing is a problem for mainstream media that need to verify information on Twitter. Also, Twitter has been used to spread fake news, such as false reports of celebrity deaths.)


  2. Real-time search. People can do real-time searches of tweets to get a snapshot of what people are thinking about a news event, television show, movie or other subject.


  3. Twitter is great for complaining about companies and government agencies. And people might actually be listening to what you’re saying. Organizations are starting to track customer and citizen gripes to resolve their problems and improve their offerings. I’ve personally complained on Twitter about Dollar Rent A Car service and a bland new premium burger at McDonalds. Among the organizations that troll Twitter looking for disgruntled customers are Comcast, Dell, Southwest Airlines and the city of San Francisco. A startup company, CoTweet, has even sprung up to help companies do customer service on Twitter. WholeFoods, Starbucks and Microsoft are CoTweet users.


  4. Short but sweet writing. Because Twitter posts are limited to 140-characters, the service forces writers to condense their thoughts and focus on getting their points across simply and briefly. Some comedy writers on Twitter have perfected this.


  5. Twitter has become a good way for mainstream media to disseminate their content via Web links. These links drive traffic back to their Web sites and hopefully generate advertising revenue.


  6. Twitter is an open platform that developers can use to make compelling new applications.


  7. Being able to “follow” your favorite news media, blogs and comedy Web sites. It’s a simple way to get alerted to new articles, photos and videos. You simply scan the tweets like headlines and click on the embedded Web links that interest you.


  8. Attracting followers to your tweets. Even if they’re mostly marketers. Maybe I’ll grow an army of Twitter followers and command them to do my bidding! Bwha-ha-ha-ha. (Evil laugh.)


  9. In theory, getting unfiltered comments from public figures. Of course, many celebrities will have assistants tweet for them.


  10. Brian Deagon is on Twitter. Investor’s Business Daily’s esteemed technology business writer reveals his thoughts about classic rock, rants about Sarah Palin and current events. I’m not really serious about this one. Sorry, Brian. But the point is that Twitter lets people stay in touch with friends, relatives and co-workers, and gives them a starting point for conversations via e-mail, phone or even Twitter direct messages. On that note, Brian, you’re absolutely right about Blondie’s killer song “Atomic.” It’s awesome.

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s “10 reasons why Twitter sucks.”

Photos:
IBD colleague and Twitter celebrity Brian Deagon (top)
One of my Twitter followers, Nestor Pabon, living the good life. (Alas, the account, name and photo are a front for a sex meds marketing company.)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Newspaper woes make for good comedy


The Washington Post Co.'s Slate.com has posted a video that makes light of the fact that struggling newspaper companies are laying off thousands of journalists. I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
On a related note, media tracking service Vocus yesterday came out with a gloomy report on the state of media.
The newspaper industry was rocked by significant closings in the first half of 2009 (the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Baltimore Examiner and Seattle Post-Intelligencer all ceased publishing a print edition). Newspapers across the country also closed 110 bureaus.
In the first six months of the year, 556 magazines and newsletters closed, including consumer, business, trade and industry publications. During the same period, 154 magazines were launched.
Radio and TV news operations also have taken a hit this year, Vocus reports.

10 reasons why Twitter sucks

I’ve been using Twitter since April 22 and can honestly say the service is by turns great and a load of crap.
It’s much easier to come up with a list of negatives than positives for the microblogging service. So here’s my list of 10 reasons why Twitter sucks:

  1. Too much inane chatter. People with nothing interesting to say can now boast that their frivolous comments about breakfast cereal or whatnot are on the Interweb.

  2. Conversations between Twitter users are nearly impossible to follow. Too many posts where you see only one side of the conversation. Not worthwhile for anyone beyond the two people doing the chatting. Use the direct message feature, people.

  3. Too much media hype. Desperate to stay relevant with new technology and be on top of the “next big thing,” mainstream media have overdone it with coverage of Twitter.

  4. The marketers have taken over. Companies selling marketing tools, adult dating services and other things are everywhere on Twitter these days. Big name companies like Dell and Amazon.com are actively pitching deals on the service.

  5. People who follow hundreds or thousands of Twitter accounts. They can’t possibly read that many tweets. Most likely they hoping for a lot of reciprocating followers to boost their egos.

  6. There’s no way to see live posts from the masses. It would be interesting to eavesdrop on what people are talking about in real time. It would be like seeing the heartbeat of Twitter. You have to rely on Twitter’s Trending Topics or search by keywords. I'd like a button to click to see what people are talking about right now.

  7. Actor-model Ashton Kutcher has nearly 2.7 million followers on Twitter. That’s got to be a sign of the apocalypse.

  8. A cat named Sockington has 824,000 followers. That’s not good. Remember serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. He listened to his neighbor’s dog and look what that got him.

  9. Fake celebrity accounts. Stephen Colbert, Megan Fox, Tina Fey and Christopher Walken and others have said that widely followed Twitter accounts under their names are not theirs. (Twitter has been slow to roll out Verified Accounts.)

  10. Twitter has no business model. Media execs attending a gathering in Sun Valley, Idaho, this week dissed Twitter. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller and Liberty Media Chairman John Malone expressed doubts about Twitter’s potential to make money. (See New York Times article.)

I’ll follow this article soon with 10 positive things about Twitter.

Photo: T-shirt available online from MySoti.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Twitter has become Grand Central Station for marketers




Twitter has attracted a lot of users and that’s drawn marketers like flies to dung.
Judging from the “followers” I’ve attracted with my modest Twitter postings, marketers are mining Twitter for eyeballs and possible customers.
The two big types of marketers I see are adult dating or sex services (which I recently wrote about) and companies promoting tools to market on Twitter. (I’ve also had followers pitching acne meds, makeup, and business software.)
Among the companies pitching me lately are Hummingbird, MyTweetFollowers, Magpie, TweetROI and Twitter Submitter.
Hummingbird promises to “bring you tens of thousands of followers” on Twitter and build business relationships with them. Hummingbird sells its marketing software program for $97. It says services like TwitterCounter.com and TweetTornado charge hundreds of dollars a week or month for the same thing.
MyTweetFollowers promises to grow your Twitter network and “gain a ton of followers.”
Magpie is a viral marketing and advertising tool for Twitter users.
TweetROI is for creating marketing campaigns on Twitter. Customers can get the word out about products, services, events and Web sites by paying for tweets from Twitter users. So those rave reviews you’re reading on Twitter might have been paid for.
Twitter Submitter has built a database of Twitter users to which it can market products and services. It sends information to Twitter users who have expressed an interest in such things as "investment opportunities," "how to retire early," "natural and organic foods" and "gambling and casino sites."
Searching around Twitter and the Web you can find dozens of similar services. Companies are leveraging Twitter’s open platform and providing tools to businesses that want to reach Twitter’s growing audience.
These companies are finding a way to make money with Twitter where Twitter itself has not.
News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch today threw cold water on media speculation that microblogging service Twitter might be a takeover target.
“Be careful of investing here,” he said of Twitter, according to Reuters.
Twitter would be a tough investment to justify because it hasn’t found a way to make money, Murdoch said.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thumbs down for McDonald's new Angus Third Pounder

I’m an aficionado of fast food. Or in industry parlance, QSR, short for quick service restaurants. Hence recent Tech-Media-Tainment posts referencing Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts and Nathan’s Famous. So on a visit to McDonald’s tonight I felt compelled to try out the Angus Third Pounder.
The Angus Third Pounder is new on the menu in the Chicago area, but has been tried out elsewhere in the country for some time.
It debuted in Southern California in March 2007, but took its sweet time getting here to McDonald’s home market. McDonald’s is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill. The Angus Third Pounder has been available nationwide since July 2.
The photos on the overhead menus at the front counter looked enticing. Mickey D’s is offering the $3.99 Angus Third Pounder in three varieties: Deluxe, Mushroom & Swiss, and Bacon & Cheese. I chose the Deluxe, which includes a third-pound (before cooking) Angus beef patty, topped with mayonnaise, yellow mustard, thick tomato slices, pickles, red onion, American cheese and lettuce on a sesame seed bun.
It’s a big burger to be sure, but pretty unsatisfying. The beef is bland and overwhelmed by the flavor of the bun and cheese and mayonnaise. At 750 calories, it had better be damn good. But it isn’t.
Having lived in Southern California, I can tell you that the Angus Third Pounder doesn’t compare well to the offerings of Fatburger, In-N-Out Burger and Carl’s Jr.
Think I’ll stick with McDonald’s Big N Tasty ordered with no cheese, no mayonnaise – it’s healthier that way and you can taste that bland McDonald’s beef.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Shrinking newspapers, disappearing magazines


Overheard at the grocery store this weekend, a man who had just picked up a Sunday Chicago Tribune turned to his female companion and said, “The Trib used to be so much thicker.”
He’s right. The Sunday Chicago Tribune used to land with a mighty thud on driveways and doorsteps across Chicagoland. But that was before the Great Recession. Now the major metropolitan newspaper is struggling to make money. It’s gone through a couple of redesigns, shrunk its news hole and laid off a boatload of staffers.
A sad state of affairs for a once top-flight newspaper.
A June 24 article in Editor & Publisher noted that more than 100 papers in 32 states have dropped at least one print edition per week in the past year. A few have gone online only.
Also, 279 magazines ceased publication in the first half of 2009, according to MediaFinder.com, a database of U.S. and Canadian periodicals. During the same period, 187 new magazines launched. (See report in Media Daily News.) Major titles that folded in the first half included business magazine Condé Nast Portfolio and music magazines Blender and Vibe.
Fans of print publications can only hope for the end of the recession and the return of advertising spending to help the industry.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First “creative vandalism,” now “reverse graffiti”


I’ve written a couple of times about “creative vandalism,” but I recently stumbled upon something called “reverse graffiti,” which I’d put in the same broad category.
An English artist created a mural in a San Francisco tunnel using stencils and a spray cleaner that removed layers of dirt and soot covering concrete walls. The artist, named “Moose,” accomplished this in April 2008 in San Francisco’s Broadway tunnel. I’ve embedded a YouTube video of the project below and posted photos above.
You can read more about it at the Web site of the Reverse Graffiti Project. The project was sponsored by Clorox to promote its Green Works natural cleaners.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Winner of Nathan’s hot dog-eating contest downs 68 franks and buns

Congratulations are in order, I guess, for Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., who won this year’s Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Chestnut snarfed down 68 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, 3 1/2 more than archrival Takeru Kobayashi of Japan.
Chestnut has now won the contest three years in a row. Before that, Kobayashi held the title for six straight years.

Portraits of American Life




Happy birthday, America.
In honor of the USA’s 233rd birthday, I’m posting a couple of random photos I took this week with my iPhone. Sorry for the poor quality shots; they’re from an original Apple iPhone with a crummy 2-megapixel camera.
The first two photos show a cop this morning at Dunkin’ Donuts in Wilmette, Ill. A walking stereotype to be sure. Maybe he got some “stars and stripes” frosted doughnuts like we did.
The second two photos show an artist drawing representations of models from the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue using wax pencils or grease pencils. He was sitting at Taco Bell in Glenview, Ill., earlier in the week doing a drawing of Slovokian model Lucia Dvorsk√°. Certainly a better subject than a bowl of fruit.

Friday, July 3, 2009

July 4: The Super Bowl of competitive eating


For the fringe sport of competitive eating, July 4 is the biggest day of the year. It’s when Nathan’s Famous holds its annual hot dog eating competition at Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Last year’s winner, Joey Chestnut of San Jose, Calif., downed 59 hot dogs and buns in a 10-minute regulation match, tying Takeru Kobayashi of Nagano, Japan. Chestnut then beat Kobayashi by seven seconds in a five-dog overtime match.
The Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest has been held each year since 1916.
In May 2008, I attended a regional qualifying event for the Nathan’s competition in suburban Chicago. As a spectator sport, hot dog eating is pretty gross. Contestants soak their hot dog buns in water, Gatorade or other drinks to make them easier to swallow quickly. The resulting mess is disgusting. As the contestants (known as “gurgitators”) stuff dozens of hot dogs down their throats, there’s also a chance that they could throw up. And paramedics are standing by in case they choke.
The Nathan’s hot dog eating contest is the premier event for Major League Eating, the professional franchise set up by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
In addition to Nathan’s hot dogs, competitions have involved Krystal hamburgers, Jimmy John’s sandwiches, Pizza Hut P'Zones, fried calamari, ribs, gryos, clams, sweet corn, chicken wings, burritos, waffles, potato wedges, and just about every type of food imaginable.
I spoke with George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating, in May 2008 when I considered writing an article on competitive eating. He said Major League Eating had ramped up from 20 or 30 events a year several years ago to about 85 a year now.
The Nathan’s Fourth of July event gets a tremendous amount of news coverage, he said. It’s broadcast on ESPN.
“The growth in media coverage has been truly remarkable,” he said. “Essentially it’s a contest with a lot of pageantry and humor leading up to it. It’s funny and kind of dramatic.”

Photos:
Top: Joey Chestnut receives his mustard yellow belt for winning the 2008 Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating competition in New York.
Bottom: Qualifying event for Nathan’s hot dog eating contest held May 17, 2008, in Matteson, Ill.
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