Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween with celebrity vampires from

The Photoshop artists who play at have turned celebrities into vampires for one of the Web site’s latest contests.
The results are a mixed bag, but some of them are very well done.
My favorites include vampires Hugh Laurie, Charlize Theron, Keira Knightley and Monica Bellucci (see above photo).
Worth1000 finished its latest celebrity vampire art contest three days ago. It did a similar celebrity vampire art competition six months ago. Check out the doctored photos here.

Visited Countries: Create maps showing where you've been in the U.S. and the world

Visited 35 states (70%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

A fun Web site called Visited Countries lets people create personal maps of where they've been. You can do a map of the United States with the states you've visited highlighted in red. (I've got some traveling left to do in the West and central U.S. See above.)
You can also create a map of the countries you've visited. Mine is pretty lame. (See below.)
Check out Visited Countries. It's the work of Douwe Osinga of Zurich.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series on Tech-Media-Tainment’s favorite Web sites.

Visited 18 countries (8%)
Create your own visited map of The World

Friday, October 30, 2009

Asian Poses: Guide to the quirky poses favored by cute Asian girls

Asian Poses is a fun Web site that documents the cute and quirky poses that Chinese, Japanese and Korean girls like to strike when being photographed.
Steve, the Chinese guy who runs the site, has categorized 28 poses to date. They include tears, horns, “nyan nyan,” heart shape, claws and pillow.
Who knew there were so many?
Thanks for the info, Asian Poses.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series on Tech-Media-Tainment’s favorite Web sites.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Great Recession is over, but pain continues

The longest economic slump in the U.S. in 70 years is over.
The Commerce Department Oct. 29 said the U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate in the third quarter. The economy hadn’t grown in more than a year. The last time the country’s gross domestic product increased was in the second quarter of 2008. The GDP measures total goods and services output within U.S. borders.
Recessions in the United States are dated by the National Bureau of Economic Research and the private-sector group often takes months to make determinations, Reuters says. The economy slipped into recession in December 2007 and has been in the worst downturn since the Great Depression, which began in October 1929.
The GDP got a boost from federal stimulus. The Cash for Clunkers program helped auto sales and tax credits for first-time home buyers helped the housing market, according to the Associated Press.
But the recovery could wane once the federal stimulus wanes, according to
Next week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor is expected to show an increase in the unemployment rate, perhaps to 10%. More than 15 million people are unemployed nationwide, the AP reports.
Meanwhile, federal regulators have shut down 106 failed banks so far this year, according to Zacks Investment Research.
BusinessWeek jumped the gun on the economic recovery. It announced Sept. 14 that it was shutting down its “Recession in America” blog. BusinessWeek said it ceased the blog in light of improving economic conditions.
Let’s hope they’re right.

Art: Graphic from BusinessWeek’s “Recession in America” blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Meet the average blogger – Me!

I am pretty close to being the average blogger, based on a recent survey.
Technorati’s “State of the Blogosphere 2009” says this about today’s bloggers:
• Two-thirds are male
• More than half are married
• More than half are parents
• The majority are more affluent and educated than the general population
• 75% have college degrees (40% have graduate degrees)
So far that fits me.
The report also says that 60% of bloggers are 18 to 44. At 47 years old, I don’t fall into that group.
Technorati also says the average blogger has three or more blogs and has been blogging for two or more years.
I’ve been blogging for a year and have two blogs – Tech-Media-Tainment and One Stop Video. So again, I’m behind the curve.
The survey, in which I participated, also noted an increasing overlap between blogging and mainstream media. Technorati says 35% of respondents have worked within the traditional media as a writer, reporter, producer or on-air personality. That includes me. By contrast, less than 1% of the U.S. labor force is employed as a journalist.
I’m right in the middle of the pack in terms of updating my blogs. Lately it’s been about three or four times a week, but I hope to get back to once a day.
Sadly, I’m pretty average when it comes to unique visitors to my blog every month. The majority of survey respondents (49%) get less than 1,000 unique visitors a month. I’ve been averaging about 500 for my main blog.
See the full Technorati report here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Movie fans on Twitter say ‘Transformers 2’ and ‘Watchmen’ are too freaking long

American attention spans seem to be getting shorter, thanks to television, the Internet and mobile devices. But movies seem to be getting longer.
Studios frequently give in to directors who want longer versions of their movies released theatrically. The same is true for movies on DVD and Blu-ray Disc, which promote longer unrated and director’s cuts.
But longer doesn’t mean better. Film critic Roger Ebert said, “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”
But what he doesn’t address is that many good movies could be made even better if they were shorter. Editing can make a good movie great and sometimes make a mediocre movie good.

Twitter users tweet about overlong movies

Lately I’ve been tracking “movies too long” and “movies too short” as search terms on Twitter to gauge sentiment. Twitter users named more than 70 movies as being too long or too short during the last three months.
Unfortunately lots more people said things like “that movie was waaaaay too long” without mentioning the movie’s title. One-sided Twitter conversations are impossible to follow.
Anyway, here’s what I found:
By a wide margin, “The Watchmen” is the movie that the most Twitter users (14 in all) said was too long. The comic book movie clocks in at 163 minutes. The director’s cut is 186 minutes and ultimate cut is 215 minutes.
Tied for second in the “too long” category are “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” at 150 minutes and “Where the Wild Things Are” at 101 minutes. Each got seven mentions.
However, most of the “too long” comments about “Where the Wild Things Are” were about it being too long for kids.
In fourth, with six mentions, is “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” at 153 minutes.
Other movies getting multiple mentions were “Julie and Julia” (123 minutes), “Public Enemies” (140 minutes), “Funny People” (146 minutes and 153 minutes unrated) and “Inglourious Basterds” (153 minutes).

Twitter users say some movies are too short

Tweets about movies being too long far outnumber those about movies being too short.
Movies getting multiple comments on Twitter about being too short included “Paranormal Activity” (86 minutes) and “Zombieland” (88 minutes).
Others referenced as too short included “(500) Days of Summer” (95 minutes), “Taken” (93 minutes) and “Brüno” (81 minutes).
Maybe I should have searched for positive comments about short movies like “short and sweet” or “nice and short.” Because short movies can be a good thing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yahoo is not a ‘trustable entity’; puts a bullet in Web-site hosting service GeoCities

Yahoo took its free Web-site hosting service, GeoCities, to a remote location, had it dig a grave and then put a bullet in the back of its head.
Yahoo snuffed out GeoCities today and with it thousands of personal Web pages, many dating back to the early days of the World Wide Web.
I had three GeoCities accounts in which I created Web pages to post photos of vacations and family events. Over the weekend I downloaded 52 GeoCities Web pages that I’d built between December 1998 and December 2004. If I hadn’t downloaded the pages to my PC, they’d be gone forever after today.
Over the years, I didn’t visit those Web sites very much. But I liked the idea that they were there if I wanted to take a trip down memory lane.
I moved on to Yahoo’s Flickr for photo hosting and Google’s Blogger for Web logs.
GeoCities had become outmoded. Yahoo didn’t invest in the service after purchasing it in 1999.
A decade ago, I thought I’d be safe with Yahoo. It was one of the giants of the Internet and looked like it had staying power. For the same reason, I chose Yahoo for e-mail and My Yahoo as my browser home page.
In January, the Archive Team declared that Yahoo “is no longer a trustable entity” with your data because of its record of shutting down services. (See article.) Among the consumer services Yahoo has killed are social networking service Yahoo 360, video hosting and editing site, Yahoo Photos, Yahoo Pets, Yahoo Briefcase, etc.
A lot of the articles about GeoCities shutting down today have been about how ugly and tacky many of the Web sites on the service were. Bloggers and columnists have been joking about those GeoCities sites with annoying animations and “under construction” images.
As embarrassing as it may seem now, GeoCities is part of the history of the Web and our culture. Some efforts were made to preserve GeoCities pages for historical purposes, most notably by the Internet Archive, but undoubtedly a lot of data will be lost forever.

For further information about the end of GeoCities, check out:
“GeoCities’ time has expired, Yahoo closing the site today,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 26, 2009;
“Yahoo GeoCities closes on Oct. 26,” Computerworld blogs, Oct. 23, 2009;
“Deals from Hell: Yahoo Buries GeoCities,” Wall Street Journal blogs, Oct. 26, 2009;
“How to Blow $3.5 Billion,” Valleywag, Oct. 26, 2009;

See also, the Tech-Media-Tainment series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”

Photo: GeoCities page chronicling my May 1999 trip to China

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fall TV season summary: ‘Vampire Diaries’ a pleasant surprise, ‘Jay Leno’ a flop

One month into the fall TV season, “The Vampire Diaries” has been the most pleasant surprise. Meanwhile, NBC’s experiment with “The Jay Leno Show” has gone awry.

‘The Vampire Diaries’

The series premiere of “The Vampire Diaries” on the CW was a little shaky. Early episodes dragged. Pacing was slow. The writing and directing were on the level of your average teen drama.
Since then, the makers of the show have amped up the action, added depth to the characters and thrown in some neat plot twists. “The Vampire Diaries” has become an epic, southern gothic “Dark Shadows.”
The show is about two vampire brothers who compete for the affections of the same young woman and cause turmoil in a small town.
The show is by no means perfect. It lacks realism (a town with that many strange deaths is going to attract outside attention) and its writing can be pretty bad (please, let’s lose the diary motif and narration). But “The Vampire Diaries” is still a compelling show.


ABC’s “FlashForward” is not as good as I’d hoped it would be, but its central mystery is so fascinating that I’m hooked for now.
The sci-fi drama suffers from occasionally cheesy dialog and hammy acting. But the big plot turns, such as tonight’s ambush of the Mosaic team members by unknown assailants, are thrilling.
“FlashForward” is about the aftermath of a worldwide disaster in which the human race loses consciousness for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. While unconscious, people see a vision of their lives six months into the future. What or who caused the blackout? Was there a reason why it occurred? Can people change the future in their visions? All intriguing questions.

Returning favorites: ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Dollhouse’

“Supernatural” is my favorite show on network TV right now. The CW show about two brothers who hunt down demons, ghosts and ghouls is now in its fifth and last season. And it’s a doozy.
Lucifer has been released from hell and Armageddon has broken out. And it’s up to Sam and Dean Winchester, played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, to try to stop the end of the world.
Joss Whedon’s trippy “Dollhouse” on Fox continues to deliver the goods. But unfortunately it looks like a candidate for cancelation with ratings dipping in its second season. (See article at

‘The Jay Leno Show’ a missed opportunity

A lot of people hate Jay Leno. They find his jokes lame and his shows pedestrian. NBC’s five-nights-a-week primetime experiment just gives them more fodder.
I happen to like Jay Leno. He’s an affable guy and can be a sharp interviewer. But his new show is a stinker.
To turn things around, he’s going to have to play up the variety aspects of the show. It shouldn’t all be about Jay. He should be introducing talented new comedians and musicians to a nationwide audience. Leno should quickly dump the bits that aren’t working, such as “10 at 10.” His show should strive to have one good bit a night that can go viral online to promote the show.
There’s still time to retool the show to make it work. But Jay’s going to have to rely on others to help carry the show.
On the horizon, I’m still looking forward to watching “V” on ABC and “Day One” on NBC.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Twisted Disney princesses

Following yesterday’s post about artists who blog, here’s an artist appropriate for Halloween.
Jeffrey Thomas, a story artist and character designer in Burbank, Calif., created a stir earlier this year when he posted his “Twisted Princess” series. Thomas did a series of 12 portraits of Disney princesses as if they were dark characters from some horror movie. They’re wonderfully detailed and gruesome.
Among his subjects were Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Pocahontas. Check them out at The Art of Jeffrey Thomas.
By the way, these characters and stories are in the public domain.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's 'party time' for artists who blog

Lots of artists blog to post samples of their work online. They get greater exposure for their art that way.
Here's a good example: Anthony Clark, who writes the Nedroid Picture Diary.
Clark recently did a funny series of comics featuring Party Cat, a feline who loves to party. Check it out here. You can see more of Clark's work at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Chicago holds fire sale on merchandise from failed 2016 Olympics bid

Two weeks after losing the 2016 Summer Olympics to crime-ravaged Rio de Janeiro, backers of Chicago’s competing bid are holding a fire sale on merchandise bearing the candidate city’s logo.
A notice on the Chicago 2016 Web site says, “Celebrate Chicago with 50% off all merchandise.” There’s no telling how many shirts, jackets, hats, umbrellas and golf balls the city has in stock.
Interested? Check out the online store.
I can only hope that over-confident organizers didn’t pre-order any clothing boasting Chicago as winner of the 2016 Games. They’d have to torch those.

Is Twitter done? Miley Cyrus might be right

Maybe Miley Cyrus is on to something.
The 16-year-old singer and “Hannah Montana” star quit Twitter earlier this month. She posted a video called “Good-bye Twitter” on YouTube in which she raps about her decision on Oct. 9.
Why did she quit?
“The reasons are simple. I started tweetin’ ‘bout pimples. I stopped livin’ for moments and started livin’ for people,” she rapped. Cyrus added, “The truth is I’m too busy.”
She rapped that gossip sites were turning her tweets about doing her hair and who she was hanging out with into news. Cyrus had attracted about 2 million followers to her tweets.
Cyrus cited some of the same complaints about Twitter that regular people do. Specifically, Twitter is about people writing trivial things; it’s a waste of time; and it also can be addicting.
Maybe the general public is feeling the same way as Cyrus.
I’ve thought about quitting several times since signing on in April. But I'm a casual user who mostly just posts links on Twitter.
Statistics from comScore and Hitwise show that Twitter has been losing its momentum. The above chart from the Tribune Newspapers shows the number of visitors to Twitter wilting, while visitors to the much larger Facebook continue to climb.
Mashable writes “Has Twitter’s Growth Peaked?”
It certainly looks like the bloom is off the rose for Twitter.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

‘Balloon Boy’ goes from national news story to online video game in record time

Online video game designers have gotten very good at quickly turning national and international news stories into entertaining Internet diversions.
The story of a 6-year-old Colorado boy thought to have been in a runaway helium balloon on Thursday became a Web browser-based video game the next day.
The game, called “Balloon Boy,” was developed by three San Francisco-area software developers for Hey Zap. (See stories by Reuters, Game Politics and Sky News.) The company also made a ripped-from-the-headlines game about the swine flu called “Swinefighter,” when the epidemic first broke out last spring.
You can play “Balloon Boy” for yourself here.
Other topical video games lately have included ones based on the housing market slump and the Ponzi scheme of Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff. Those games are from AddictingGames and Cellufun, respectively.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Harold Ramis: One of the best comedy movie directors working today

Comedy is hard.
Making audiences laugh is one of the most difficult things someone can attempt. Humor is personal. What one person finds funny, another might not.
Even the best comedic performers, writers and directors can be hit and miss. Those with the highest batting averages are rightfully revered. Harold Ramis is one such actor, writer and director.
His latest film, “Year One”, got pretty poor marks from critics. But I'll reserve judgment because I haven't seen it yet. It was released on DVD Oct. 6. “Year One,” which stars Jack Black and Michael Cera, merited only 15% positive reviews, according to A rare misstep for Ramis.
I had the chance to interview Ramis in November 1992 before the release of “Groundhog Day,” arguably his best film. (“Groundhog Day” received 96% positive reviews, according to RottenTomatoes.)
I was working as editor of a prototype magazine called “Inside Comedy” at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. I interviewed Ramis by phone for a possible article in the magazine. By the time we spoke however, it was too late for inclusion in the publication. I wrote the article as a class assignment, but the article and interview were never published.
Until now …
At the time, Ramis was best known for co-writing and co-starring in “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” He also co-wrote and directed “Caddyshack” and directed “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Plus, he co-wrote “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Meatballs” and a bunch more. (Since then, he’s added “Analyze This” and “The Ice Harvest” to his filmography.)
Ramis got his big break with the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago working alongside Bill Murray, John Belushi and Gilda Radner.
What follows is a transcript of my Nov. 13, 1992, interview with Harold Ramis.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Handheld scanners at grocery store will take some getting used to for shoppers

At my local Stop & Shop grocery store in Norwalk, Conn., tonight I finally had a chance to try out the handheld scanners designed to speed the checkout process.
The idea behind the devices is that you save time by not having to unload and reload your groceries in the cart at the checkout lane. You simply scan and bag the items as you shop. It’s the logical next step in self-checkout technology.
I like the idea, but it will take some getting used to.
Stop & Shop, a unit of Dutch grocery giant Ahold, uses Motorola portable scanners with a system developed by Modiv Media of Quincy, Mass. The grocery chain began installing the systems in late 2008.

Here's how it works:

As you enter the store, there’s a self-service kiosk with a rack of handheld scanners. You scan in your shopper loyalty card’s bar code and one cradle blinks, signaling you to remove the unlocked handheld.
The instructions tell you to take some of the plastic or paper bags there to bag your groceries as you go.
How many bags will I need? I thought. This is one of those things that will take some getting used to. I’ve never had to think about that before.
I didn’t want to be wasteful, so I took about four plastic bags. I had a minimal shopping list.
Scanning is easy enough. You point the device at the product’s bar code, press a button and the red laser line reads it. The product, pricing and any store discount information appears on the device’s color screen.
The device gives you a running total of how much you are spending and saving. It also gives you exclusive offers, but I was too busy learning the process to pay much attention to those offers this time.
At one point I fell back into my routine of placing items into the cart without scanning or bagging them. Old habits die hard. I checked my list of items scanned to make sure I had everything scanned, then continued shopping.
Shoppers can remove an item from their shopping cart by rescanning its bar code. But I didn’t have to do that this time.
My next hurdle was how to finish checking out.
The sign at the starting kiosk said I could go to any of the self checkout lanes. I chose one and looked for instructions. Above the register display there was a sign that had an “end-of-order” bar code to record the full shopping trip.
I scanned it and couldn’t figure out what to do next.
I swiped my credit card in the reader and nothing happened.
Eventually a store clerk came over and helped me.
I had to scan my shopper loyalty card again, even though I scanned it at the beginning of the process. Then I scanned my credit card again and was in business.
I was expecting to dock my handheld scanner, swipe my credit card and that was it. Scanning in an “end-of-order” code and re-entering my shopper card seemed like unnecessary steps to me.
The system also didn’t ask me to weigh my groceries like the self-checkout systems usually do. I would think that could lead to theft problems.
But it is a hassle when the self-checkout registers give you scale-related error messages like “Unexpected item in bagging area. Please remove item.”
These handheld scanners are a step towards the ultimate self-checkout experience. That system would simply identify all the items in your basket with RFID or some other technology at checkout. You wouldn’t have to scan your items individually any more.
Now that would be nice.

Kylie Minogue finishes first U.S. tour; Considers run in Las Vegas

Australian dance-music diva Kylie Minogue concluded her first U.S. tour with a final show tonight at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. And I was lucky enough to be there.
Minogue put on an incredible two-hour show featuring her hit songs, lots of dancing, costume changes, lasers and a stage lined with giant video screens. It was a spectacle worthy of Las Vegas, so it should come as no surprise that she’s been offered a residency in Sin City, according to various media reports, which offered no specifics.
Minogue’s show was marred by poor acoustics at the Hammerstein Ballroom, which muddied the sound. But Minogue and her crew were able to shine through anyway.
Standout numbers included “Slow,” “I Believe In You,” “In My Arms,” “Love at First Sight,” and a cabaret version of “Locomotion.” I like it when performers play different versions or arrangements of their hit songs in concert. It’s a treat for the fans when musical artists mix things up and don’t stick to the familiar recorded versions.

Photo of Kylie Minogue in concert by Chris La Putt. See more here.
Check out reviews of Kylie Minogue in concert in New York at and the Limewire Music Blog.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Teaching our kids false information

The other night while reading a non-fiction book to my 6-year-old son, I came upon a passage that sounded wrong to me.
“Endangered: Sharks” by Marc Tyler Nobleman, published in 2009 by Marshall Cavendish Benchmark of New York, contained the following paragraph on page 12:

Each of the following kills more people a year than sharks do: lightning, snakes, dogs, deer, elephants, pigs, bees, mosquitoes, falling coconuts, and even Christmas trees (sic) lights that electrocute people. At the seaside, people are more often injured by stepping on sharp seashells than by getting bitten by sharks.”

“Falling coconuts”? That can’t be true, I told my son. I promised to research it for him.
The book says there are 75 to 100 shark attacks reported worldwide in an average year and usually fewer than 20 are fatal.
Let’s review the book's list of deadly things:
Lightning – No argument there. The National Weather Service says lightning kills an average of 58 people every year in the U.S. alone.
Snakes – Poisonous snake bites cause at least 20,000 deaths a year, especially in South Asia, according a study published on PLoS Medicine.
Dogs – More than 30 people are killed by dog bites every year in the U.S. alone, according to Dog Bite Law.
Deer – I assume the author is talking about fatal car accidents involving deer, not homicidal deer. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there are 1.5 million deer-auto accidents each year. Such accidents on average result in more than 160 deaths annually in the U.S.
Elephants – Death by elephant is still common in parts of Africa and South Asia where humans and elephants co-exist, according to Wikipedia. It provides a link to a Smithsonian article that says 50 to 100 people are killed each year in Sri Lanka as a result of human-elephant conflicts.
Pigs – No explanation given, but I would assume the author is talking about pigs crushing farmers. Those hog pens are dangerous – I know because I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz.” But the author also could be talking about deaths from contaminated pork or people choking on ham sandwiches. Anyway, there’s lots of skepticism on the Internet that pigs kill more people each year than sharks. I can no find no data to back up this claim.
Bees – About 40 people die each year in the U.S. from allergic reactions to bee and wasp stings, according to sources in an ABC News report.
Mosquitoes – This one’s a no brainer. Mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria, kill more than 1 million people worldwide every year, according to the United Nations and other sources.
Falling coconuts – Not true. The Straight Dope says this claim was made up along the line and keeps getting repeated as fact. It could confirm no reports of death by falling coconut, much less 20 or more a year. Coconuts can cause injury, for sure, but they’ve gotten a bad rap as killers.
Christmas tree lights that electrocute people – More likely, Christmas tree lights spark house fires that kill people. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that Christmas tree fires kill 16 people a year in the U.S. Fires in Canada and Europe most likely put this item safely in the category of killing more people than sharks do.
So Nobleman went eight for 10 on this one. That would be great as a batting average, but I expect more from my children’s educational books.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

‘Paranormal Activity’ is this decade’s ‘Blair Witch Project’ thanks to Internet marketing

A new horror movie has masterfully used social media to create a grassroots marketing campaign to build buzz for the flick.
The distributors of “Paranormal Activity” promised to put the movie into nationwide release if it reached 1 million online demands at its Web site. It spread the word on Twitter, through blogs and movie news Web sites.
Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, plans to release the movie nationwide on Oct. 16.
The marketing strategy for “Paranormal Activity” is similar to one used by “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). The producers of “Blair Witch” used the Internet to generate interest in the movie. Their campaign included a Web site that alleged that the fictional documentary film was real.
The wide release for “Paranormal Activity” was never in doubt. The film has earned rave reviews and is garnering 90% positive reviews on
For the strategy to be successful, a film has to deliver the goods. “The Blair Witch Project” did so and was a huge hit. “Snakes on a Plane” (2006) earned tons of pre-release coverage and had an ingenious online campaign, but it bombed at the box office because it didn’t live up to the hype.

Related material:

Official movie Web site for “Paranormal Activity”

Press release announcing nationwide release of the movie

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sports writers knock UFL as ‘Unseen Football League’; Opening attendance sparse

The United Football League kicked off its debut season last night and sports writers had a field day making light of the sparse crowd at the first game.
With the lack of interest in the new league, the UFL should stand for the “Unseen Football League,” said CBS Sports online columnist Mike Freeman. He wrote:
The United Football League had its debut on Thursday night and in its infinite brilliance went against college football and the baseball playoffs. In other words, someone threw the UFL a shovel and told it to start digging its own grave.
The Las Vegas Locomotives beat the California Redwoods 30-17 at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas.
“UFL officials were hoping for a crowd of 15,000, but the actual draw wasn't even a third of that,” the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. However, the official attendance was announced as 14,209.
The four UFL teams will each play six games in the regular season. (The two other teams are the New York Sentinels and the Florida Tuskers.) The championship game is set for Nov. 27 in Las Vegas, the Associated Press says.
The UFL might have a better chance for success in the spring when football fans are starving for gridiron action. As it stands, the odds are stacked against the UFL succeeding.
It’s hard enough for fringe sports turning pro, much less upstart leagues in established sports trying to make a go of it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Living in the age of consumer self-service

We’re living in the age of consumer self-service. What started with ATMs, pay-at-the-pump gas and Internet e-commerce has spread into many areas of American life. That includes self-checkout at grocery stores, automated DVD rental machines, and restaurant self-ordering kiosks.
For more information on this fascinating trend, check out my package of stories and photos in the Oct. 9, 2009, issue of Investor’s Business Daily or online at
In the package, I cover the overall trend of consumer self-service technology, take a look at the fast-growing market for food-ordering kiosks, and provide a timeline of major milestones for the industry.

Cultural implications of consumer self-service

On a lighter note, the age of consumer self-service technology will have some interesting cultural ramifications.
For instance, young men can buy condoms without feeling embarrassed handing the box to a store clerk. Instead they can go to a self-checkout register to pay for them. This video by CollegeHumor on the subject came out last month.
How far will consumer self-service go? On the sitcom “Seinfeld,” Kramer had an idea for a make-your-own-pizza restaurant. Will this happen? Probably not. But robotic pizza machines that make custom pizzas on the spot? Maybe.

Speaking of food, one long-time area of self-service tech has been vending machines.
MooBella, a company based in Taunton, Mass., is marketing a “make-your-own” ice cream machine, according to the Boston Globe. The vending machines will offer 12 ice cream flavors as well as add-ons such as M&Ms. (See photo of machine above.)
Japan is way ahead of the U.S. in terms of using vending machines to sell stuff. The country has vending machines for beer, eggs, umbrellas, neckties, batteries, you name it. See list and photos of Cool Japanese Vending Machines here.
The Wikipedia entry on vending machines also has a lot of interesting examples. My favorite is the machine that makes fresh French fries in Australia. Sounds yummy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DJ Tiësto rocks Microsoft party in New York

World-renowned electronic dance music producer DJ Tiësto provided the entertainment Tuesday night for the inaugural Microsoft Open House at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.
Tiësto put on a great show for the small crowd of about 100 guests at an evening reception. The Microsoft event was set up to show the media what products the tech company has planned for the holiday shopping season. Smart phones, Xbox video games, Zune HD media players, Windows 7, computer peripherals and other products were on display and available to demo.
It must have been an interesting experience for Tiësto, who is used to playing packed nightclubs. In Europe, the Dutch DJ entertains thousands of fans at big venues.
Still, Tiësto worked the mixing table with zest and appeared to enjoy playing for the assembled VIPs. Certainly the ladies in attendance appreciated his music (and perhaps his good looks) and danced along.
Tiësto is in the middle of a North American tour. His fourth studio album, “Kaleidoscope,” was just released this month. Check out his Web site.

DJ Tiësto at the Microsoft Open House event in New York City on Oct. 6, 2009 (top)
Two lovely ladies dance to Tiësto’s grooves at the Microsoft Open House
For comparison’s sake, the bottom photo shows Tiësto playing at Creamfields in Daresbury, U.K., on Aug. 24, 2008. Note the huge crowd at the music festival.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Microsoft Surface computer entertains young library patrons in Darien, Conn.

Recently I visited the public library in Darien, Conn., and discovered it had one of Microsoft’s first Surface touch-screen tabletop computers.
A librarian told me the Surface computer was donated to the library and has been available for patrons to use since January. Getting applications for the tabletop computer was a challenge because most of the apps for Surface computers are for casinos and hotels, she said.
The kids I observed playing with the Surface computer really enjoyed it. They manipulated photos and played video games like Pong.
Microsoft debuted its Surface computers in May 2007. The table-top computers with 30-inch displays and multi-touch interfaces were deployed commercially in 2008 in Sheraton hotels, AT&T retail stores and Harrah’s Rio hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
The Surface computer in the Darien Library is either a sign that the devices are becoming more widely available or that a commercial market for the devices never developed and units are being redeployed for end of life. We'll see.

Photo: Two girls play with a Microsoft Surface computer at the Darien Library in Darien, Conn., on Sept. 20, 2009.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Embarrassing videos and photos – the only things that last forever on the Internet

The failed promise of digital content – Part 6: Embarrassing videos and photos

There’s an exception to the rule that nothing lasts, or can be guaranteed to last, on the Internet.
And that’s embarrassing videos and photos that go viral and entertain millions.
While content from established media companies and the general public might be on the Web one day and gone the next, you can be sure some videos and photos will always be available. Those are the videos of average Joes and Janes making colossal fools of themselves.
In this category, I’d include the “Star Wars kid,” the college sportscaster who coined “Boom goes the dynamite,” and Miss South Carolina 2007 talking about geography. The list goes on.
These are videos that they’ll be regretting and resenting for the rest of their lives. When their obituaries are written, they will mention the embarrassing videos that made them famous. has collected the stories behind these Internet viral videos. Check them out here at CollegeHumor’s Web Celeb Hall of Fame.
A similar phenomenon occurs with celebrity sex tapes and nude photos. Once released into the wilds of the Internet, they can never be brought under control. They’re out there for good.
The Associated Press recently posted an article titled “Photos of mullets, leotards return to haunt online.” It discussed how embarrassing photos of family members and friends are turning up online. Web sites like and specialize in exposing such embarrassments.
Fail Blog is another Web site that celebrates mistakes caught on video or photos.

The “Star Wars kid” (top)
“Boom Goes the Dynamite” sportscaster
Miss South Carolina 2007

See previous articles in the series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”

Here today, gone tomorrow – Web content

The failed promise of digital content – Part 5: Content on the Web

Nothing’s permanent on the Web. I’ve said it many times.
Unlike physical books, CDs or DVDs, there is no assurance that content on the Web is going to be there from one year to the next.
If you bookmark a news article that interests you, often times it isn’t there weeks later. This happens with Associated Press and Reuters articles on Web portal Yahoo, for instance.
Many newspapers put older stories in archives where you have to pay to view each article or can access only as a subscriber. But sometimes the content just disappears without explanation. All you get is a dead Web link.
Other times, especially with user-generated content, writings and images vanish because the Web service hosting them shuts down.
Yahoo is preparing to erase many thousands of personal Web pages later this month when it shuts down its GeoCities service.
I have to transfer or download my GeoCities pages by Oct. 26 or they’ll be gone forever. Among my personal Web pages are those devoted to my engagement, my honeymoon, the birth of my two children, and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
GeoCities is by no means the first such Web service to shut down and it won’t be the last.
Since the World Wide Web burst on to the scene in a big way in 1994 with the launch of Netscape’s Navigator browser, countless articles, documents, photos, videos and other records have been lost to the ether. Deleted. No longer available. Gone.
One popular Web blog “Queen of Sky: Diary of a Dysfunctional Flight Attendant” by Ellen Simonetti was deleted in December 2008 when the host of her blog suffered a massive technical failure. She did not have a backup for her blog, according to Wikipedia.
A Web site called YouTomb tracks videos that have been pulled after getting takedown notices for alleged copyright infringement. YouTomb is a research project of MIT Free Culture.
There have been some efforts to preserve Web history, such as Internet Archive. But the task is enormous.
By contrast, consider the treasure trove of information preserved in old newspapers. In addition to the articles and photos, you have display advertisements, classified ads, obituaries, birth notices, wedding announcements and other minutiae.
You won’t find details about what was being sold on eBay, Craigslist and other services years from now.
Or how about Web logs or blogs? Letter writing and handwritten diaries have gone the way of the VHS tape. But what about those personal journals compiled as blogs? Will they be around years from now when historians try to document what people were thinking at the dawn of the Internet age?
Certainly most blogs from failed blogging services are gone. But what about blogs from ones currently operating, such as Google’s Blogger, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
A quick check of Blogger’s Blogs of Note from its inaugural year in 2001 shows that many of those featured blogs are no longer available.
That doesn’t bode well for Web historians.

Previous articles in the series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”
Part 1: Music
Part 2: Video
Part 3: Newspapers and magazines
Part 4: Books

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chicago’s Olympic failure cheered by many Chicagoans; Chalk up a victory for Chalkie

As a native Chicagoan, I was disappointed that Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics was rejected. But it was probably for the best.
Family members who live in the city’s north suburbs were against the idea of Chicago hosting the Olympics. They argued that construction of the Olympic venues would be marred by graft and sweetheart deals in a city known for corruption.
They also figured that the city, and ultimately taxpayers, would end up footing the bill for cost-overruns.
Then there were concerns about traffic gridlock associated with the games themselves.
Needless to say, they were pretty relieved when the International Olympic Committee knocked out Chicago’s bid in the first round of voting Friday. Rio de Janiero ultimately won the honor.
Now Chicago will have to focus on its problems: aging transportation infrastructure, schools in need of aid, and the city’s crime rate, to name a few.
One wag sold T-shirts suggesting that Chicago’s Olympic mascot be a chalk outline of a murder victim holding a torch. Chalkie became the unofficial mascot of the city’s anti-Olympic movement. Check out the “Chalkie 2016” Web site here.
Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass proposed a T-shirt that said “Chicago 2016” on the front and “Terre Haute 2020” on the back.
As every Chicago politician knows, Terre Haute, Ind., is home to a federal prison. That's where a few would be tossed after boodling their way to Olympic fortunes. And why 2020? That’s how long it would take for grand juries to do their work.
Read his full column here.
Most Chicago news coverage about the Olympics was supportive of the city’s bid. But there were many opponents. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote that anti-Olympics activists cheered as the rest of the crowd at Daley Center Plaza mourned the voting that sent the 2016 games to Brazil. For more coverage of Chicago’s Olympic bid, check out the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.