Thursday, December 28, 2006

Marc Cuban on GooTube

Mark Cuban was skeptical about Google's purchase of YouTube, but now raises some other interesting questions about whether the YouTube concept can even stand up under its own weight, considering how little of the content is user-created.

He also makes an important point about social networks like MySpace and FaceBook:

Social networks are not new. Go back 20 years to CompuServe and UseNet groups and even chat rooms. They all cycled through the same way. They were fun and exciting when you found people with like interests. People found the forum, group or room usually via referral. People involved learned, were educated, were entertained, whatever the forum offered. Then if the forum grew, as in any group, some participants became more popular than others, and others tried, but failed to become popular. They tried to dominate conversations, and when they couldn't they tried different ways to game or sabotage the system. That pushed out the "purists" and original posters. Then the spammers came. When the forum reaches the point where no one has a strong connection, the spammers and people trying to game the forum take over till the forum dies. It's what has become "The Ecology of Forums." When a forum is open to everyone, eventually everyone shows up and the original attraction of the forum is lost.
When I bought my first PC in January, 1986, when most everything online was text-only, I used CompuServe for internet access and discovered some of their forums, such as the Broadcast Professionals Forum and the Consumer Electronics Forum. I quickly became a regular visitor and occasional contributor, and met some really smart and clever people there (one of those was Mark Evanier, whose tremendously popular website is still a must-visit everyday -- Mark was the one who tipped me in April, 1993, to the industry secret that an unknown named Conan O'Brien had been chosen by NBC to replace David Letterman as the host of "Late Night").

Unfortunately, as Cuban says, the forums' importance and relevance dwindled as the membership became tainted by bitter people desperate for more attention or those with an ax to grind. Like many others, I visited them less and less often, and eventually gave up on them completely, opting to maintain contact with some of the better contributors privately, rather than stick our necks out on that public guillotine.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bob Greene On Gerald Ford

Several thoughts crossed my mind last night after hearing about the death of Gerald Ford.

One was that he was the first President of the 1970s. You ask how that's possible, since he didn't move into the Oval Office until Nixon resigned in August, 1974? It's because that event marked the end of The Sixties for many of us, just as that decade had started with the assassination of JFK and the arrival of the Beatles. Then the 70s lasted until the hostages came home and the Reagan Era began the 1980s.

The other was that I had to invite Bob Greene back to my show to tell some of the stories of the time he spent with Ford while writing his book, "Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents." Fortunately, Bob made time in his schedule to talk with me about Ford as everyman, how he handled himself in his post-presidential years, and how he dealt with his image as a bumbling stumbler.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Ford Angles

Every media outlet is trying every angle they can on the Gerald Ford death story, with a twist that fits their specific news niche.

CNBC just found theirs, with a Wall Street connection, of course. They put up a graphic showing that the Dow was at 777 when Ford took over the presidency in August 1974, and rose to 968 by the time he left in January 1977. At the moment they had that graphic up this afternoon, the current quote for the Dow was 12,510, a new record high.

So, if you'd had the insight (and the intestinal fortitude) to invest in those 30 stocks right after Nixon resigned, you would have made a 1,600% return on your money as of today.

Customers You Can't Service

When you call a corporate customer service or technical support number, you'll often be told "this call is being recorded for quality assurance purposes and to ensure better service." Yes, and so they also have a record of some of the more bizarre requests and calls they receive.

Here are a couple of those, as compiled by the British newspaper The Mirror, that I mentioned yesterday on my show:

Caller: "Can you give me the telephone number for Jack?"
Operator: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand who you are talking about".
Caller: "In the user guide it clearly states I need to unplug the fax machine from the wall socket and telephone Jack before cleaning. Can you give me his number?"
Operator: "I think you mean the telephone point on the wall".

And this:

Tech Support: "I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop."
Customer: "OK."
Tech Support: "Did you get a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No" .
Tech Support: "OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?"
Customer: "No."
Tech Support: "OK. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point?"
Customer: "Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click'."

You'll find a few more here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Movie Weekend

Our holiday weekend included a couple of trips to the local multiplex.

I was surprised my wife wanted to see "Rocky Balboa," but we went and weren't disappointed -- probably because we had such low expectations and the movie exceeded them.

The guy's still a likable character, and Stallone was smart enough to remember that what was initially appealing about Rocky all those years ago was the small world he inhabited and how he negotiated life's littlest problems. He keeps the flash and razzle-dazzle to a minimum until the final fight sequence, when we enter the over-the-top world of Vegas, televised boxing, and extreme product placement.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't a great movie. Stallone pulls on the heartstrings so many times you'll have rope burn by the end, and the fight is another one of those brutal slugfests that no real fighter could endure, particularly if they wanted to shoot a final scene without a broken face. "Not as bad as it could have been" isn't much of an endorsement, but it'll have to do.

We also went on Christmas morning to a 10:50am showing of "Dreamgirls," figuring the theater would be empty that early on a holiday. Wrong! The place was packed. I guess by that point, plenty of people needed a break from the family get-together thing, and the only places to get away on Christmas Day were the movie theater or Walgreen's.

I had seen "Dreamgirls" on Broadway in the early 80s, and was interested in how well it transferred to the screen, and whether its heavyweight cast helped or hurt.

The buzz is about Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" loser who gets the showy role of Effie, the Dreamgirl who is tossed aside on the ride to fame. She gives the same scenery-chomping performance that earned Jennifer Holliday standing ovations on Broadway, and her two big songs earned a lot of applause from the crowd (an unusual and uncommon phenomenon in a one-way medium like a movie theater, where the performer isn't present -- I wonder if they do that at home in front of the TV, too).

The problem I've always had with Effie is that the script wants us to have sympathy for her, but she's really an unpleasant person, a total diva with lots of talent but no discipline and no interest in anyone else. Of course, there's the irony of her singing her big song, "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," followed immediately by her leaving, though not of her own volition.

"Dreamgirls" succeeds when it sticks to its ersatz Supremes success story, with Beyonce as Diana Ross, Foxx as Berry Gordy Jr., and Murphy as a combination of Wilson Pickett and James Brown (who, coincidentally, had died that morning). There's also solid work from Danny Glover and a few people you've never heard of.

I'll bet I wasn't the only one who felt a little squeamish watching the group obviously modeled after the Jackson Five doing their number on a TV special. What made me smile the most was the shot at Pat Boone and all the other safe white acts that stole and covered songs by early black performers.

Unfortunately, "Dreamgirls" is guilty of the same sin. The movie is about Motown music, but what we get is pure Broadway -- the raw sound and appeal of those R&B classics stripped away and replaced by lush orchestrations and arrangements that the real Gordy would never have allowed. In the end, you walk out of the theater remembering the personalities and performances, but none of the songs that were supposedly The Dreams' big hits -- they are merely devices to drive the plot, unable to stand alone. That's not what you want from a musical.

Foot In Mouth Awards

Wired magazine's list of Foot In Mouth award winners for 2006 includes this classic from Senator Ted Stevens, who at the time was chairman of the Commerce Committee, which oversees regulation of the internet, about which he is positively clueless:

"The internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material."

Monday, December 25, 2006

More Movies You Might Not Know

The Movies You Might Not Know list has now grown to over 150 titles. Thanks to Archie for these suggestions, which I've just added: "2 Days In The Valley," "Taking of Pelham One Two Three," and "Smile."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?

Dr. Billy Goldberg and Mark Leyner were back on my show today with more odd questions and answers from their book, "Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?" We talked about those charley horse cramps that wake you up with a knot in your leg, whether athletes should abstain from sex before a big game, whether cockroaches would survive a nuclear blast, and much more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Highways, Freeways, Expressways

After talking to Mark Evanier this afternoon, he posted a link to the audio on his site, and added:

I'll tell you how stupid I can be at times. When you do these by-phone interviews, they call you and as you wait to go on, you're usually listening to the station. Waiting for Paul to introduce me, I'm hearing a traffic report that the 270 Southbound is jammed due to heavy holiday traffic and an overturned vehicle...and I think, "Ooh...better stay off the 270 Southbound." Of course, two seconds later, I realize that I'm not likely to be travelling the 270 Southbound in the next hour or so since it's in St. Louis and I'm in Los Angeles. I don't know why I keep falling for this...only that I do.
I laughed as I read that, not just because it was funny, but because Mark referred to "the 270." Only in California are highway numbers preceded by "the" -- "the 5" or "the 101" or "the 405" -- while here, it's simply "270" or "55" or "44."

Similarly, I've had to train our new sports guy, Kevin Wheeler, who just moved here from Chicago, to stop saying "freeways." We don't have any of those in St. Louis -- they're all "highways," as in "highway 40." Of course, I spent my childhood in a state with "expressways" and "parkways."

Any other road-naming quirks around the country?

Mark Evanier on Joe Barbera

As soon as I heard that Joe Barbera had died at age 95, I called my friend Mark Evanier because I knew he'd have a lot to say about Barbera, half of the legendary animation team Hanna-Barbera, who gave the world The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and many more. Mark was involved in several H-B projects and has been highlighting their work for several days, since word broke that Barbera was sick.

I had Mark on my show to talk about Barbera's work and legacy, and about those ever-repeating backgrounds that were always part of H-B cartoons, like Quick Draw McGraw running by the same rock and tree over and over again.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Reporting From Iraq

Laura Bush thinks she knows more about what's going on in Iraq than the reporters who are there, and blasted them for not showing more of the "good news" in that country. Today, I talked to USA Today media columnist Peter Johnson about whether that criticism is valid. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

I called upon Johnson because of his piece on just how hard it is to be a journalist in Iraq, putting your life on the line to try to tell the story. He quotes ABC's Dan Harris:
There are "plenty of bad guys who would gladly and quickly kidnap or kill you," Harris says. "I said to my driver casually the other day, 'If I get out of this car, take off my flak jacket or get rid of all my security and walk down the street, how long would I last?' He said, 'Four or five seconds.' "
Then there's the problem of endangering the lives of everyday Iraqis by telling their story:
Simply being seen with a foreigner is now enough to get an Iraqi killed by insurgents, reporters say. As such, normally talkative Iraqis are now more reserved. Many want nothing to do with the media.
Or maybe Mrs. Bush should read the Iraq Study Group report, which says that when it comes to telling the truth about what's happening during this war, the Pentagon and the Bush administration have been the ones who have tilted and spun reality:
There is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq. The standard for recording attacks acts as a filter to keep events out of reports and databases… For example, on one day in July 2006 there were 93 attacks or significant acts of violence reported. Yet a careful review of the reports for that single day brought to light 1,100 acts of violence. Good policy is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals.

Recipe For Radio Disaster, continued

Several months ago, I wrote about the problems at Air America and noted that they all stemmed from one central problem -- the conceit that they could run a radio network without anyone who had been successful doing radio. In that column, I said:

If you were starting a new restaurant chain, and hoping to have outlets in every major city in America, you probably wouldn't hire a staff of people whose only experience was eating out on a regular basis. You'd want chefs and waiters who had not only worked in the food service business before, but were good at it. So why would anyone believe that model could work in radio?
In a NY Times piece today, Douglas Kreeger (former CEO of Air America, who may be part of a group that will take control of it again) admits their mistake:
I have come to understand very clearly that the radio component of this requires a radio professional.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Ameren Forest

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the November 30th ice storm, and about a week since most people have had their power restored, an interesting phenomenon is occurring regarding public perception of Ameren. While they're still being blamed for their response after the storm hit, people seem to be softening on Ameren's responsibilities when it comes to trimming the trees around power lines. It was the icing of those trees and fallen branches that contributed to over two million people losing their power, but many callers to my show today were more willing to put the blame on homeowners who don't do their part by trimming their own trees, or even keep them from being planted near the power lines in the first place.

In his tele-conference with the press today, Ameren CEO Gary Rainwater tried to make that case, but added that the utility can't possibly get to all the trees surrounding those wires when they're on other people's private property, and it's not reasonable to think they can.

He also, for the first time, broached the idea of putting more of Ameren's wires underground. That would be a massive project costing tens of millions of dollars and taking a couple of decades to accomplish -- but it's about time they at least started down that road. The Missouri legislature and Public Service Commission should make it a law that all new subdivisions and other construction must include underground wiring, and force Ameren to develop a plan to move their wires off poles and underground in the areas that tend to be most vulnerable in bad weather like we experienced twice this year.

When I asked my listeners if they'd be willing to pay more on their Ameren electric bills to help underwrite the cost of burying the wires, the response was a near-unanimous "no!" The public wants that cost to fall on the shoulders of Ameren's stockholders, especially after Rainwater said today that, despite over $200 million in losses from this year's storms, the company is going to make a profit once again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spy Chips

This afternoon, I talked to Katherine Albrecht about her book, "Spy Chips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move." It's about RFID chips that are implanted in millions of products for tracking purposes, and can be implanted in humans, too. Listen to Katherine explain what's wrong with this technology, the privacy problems, and the concerns from a civil liberties perspective.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ideas For Aaron Sorkin

Mike Wuebben offers Aaron Sorkin ideas for his next TV project -- maybe an animated drama:

The TV audience expects cartoons to be funny so the tough part will be to squeeze every last drop of comedy out of the script from the beginning. This shouldn't be a problem. Just do what you did with the fictional sketch comedy show in "Studio 60."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Back To The Moon

Phil Plait returned to my show today to talk about NASA's plans to put humans back on the moon by 2020 and set up a permanent base there by 2024. He explained the science that can still be done there, whether the base could be self-sufficient (rather than constantly having to bring food and supplies from Earth), and how this could be a launching point for further adventures in space, including a trip to Mars.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

How To Swindle The Suckers

Remember Miss Cleo, the scam organization that was busted in Florida a few years ago -- the one with an actress pretending to be a Jamaican who could predict your future? James Randi, who fights this sort of nonsense and flummery every day, has gotten his hands on one of the scripts the bogus psychics (I know, that's redundant) used on suckers who called in.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Movie Notes

  • New to the Movies You Might Not Know list: "Into the West," "Why We Fight," and "Into The Night" (recommended by Michele Wagoner).
  • Nikki Finke says that, if a recent list of top-earning actresses is right, then Hollywood is severely overpaying Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, and Cameron Diaz -- and underpaying Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon.
  • It's bad enough Sly Stallone is reviving Rocky Balboa, but now Eddie Murphy's planning to gag us with another Axel Foley spin in "Beverly Hills Cop 4." Once again answering the question, "Is there a drug problem in Hollywood?"