Archive for February, 2003

File under: avoiding actual work assiduously.

Have you seen
this man?

Schadenfreude for fun and profit.

The news from last week that Benjamin Curtis, the actor who portrays “Steven, the Dell Dude” in the monstrously annoying series of youth-market commercials from Dell Computer, had been arrested in Manhattan on a drug bust was greeted with no small amount of cackling from the sorts of people you would expect to be amused by this kind of thing: Mac users, linux-heads, people who hate annoying catchphrases, people who hate clumsy pandering ad campaigns, and the like. (In short, me.)

As celebrity scandals went, this one had a half-life of microscopic proportions: a few giggles were heard from the usual suspects, Dell quickly pulled all mention of “Steven” from their websites, and then Iraq and the weather erased all trace of the story from the newswires.

There was, however, one completely unreported aspect of the story that I think deserves a little wider recognition, so I’m mentioning it here. If Mr. Curtis is, in fact, found guilty on the charge and sent to jail, he need not fear for his employment: He can continue to work for Dell in prison.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is irony at its finest.

Fun With Other People’s Images

tupi i thi o .

SNOW DAY! (pix)


New York City is in the process of getting over two feet of snow dumped on it: 18 incues in Central Park so far, and it is still snowing.

Luckily for everyone’s sanity, a good chunk of the city was off on holidary today, so the chaos level has been blissfully low. The airports are closed, major roads are semi-passable, and it seems like most of the city is out playing in the snow.

Of course, I stayed at Miranda’s place on 207th Street last night, so I got to play Adventure Boy trying to get back to my apartment and cats in Brooklyn. The A train was running more or less normally, but when I got to Jay Street for the transfer to the F, it turned out that — oops, the F train isn’t running in Brooklyn. Further announcements made it plain that basically nothing running on an elevated track was running with any frequency or at all. Having nothing better to do, I hopped an F train heading back into the city, got out at Broadway-Lafayette, wandered over to Dean & DeLuca for a mocha and a sandwich, and then took the W train back out to Brooklyn.

Of course, nothing is that simple, and after slogging the four blocks back to my place, I found to my great amusement that I had been snowed out of my apartment. There was at least four feet of snow piled up in my yard, blocking the gate from opening, and promising to dump an avalanche into my front door if I were foolish enough to try to claw my way through it. So I trudged up to 5th Avenue, where a very happy local hardware store owner had stacked every shovel and bag of salt in his store in the front, and was making a small mint. $40 later, my new shovel and my 25-pound bag of icemelt were on our way back, and I got to spend the next hour digging a path to my front door, to the amusement of many passers-by.

A few small observations:

  • In a major snowstorm, you can get 2-foot snowdrifts in the subway tunnels.

  • Blizzards apparently do not stop bicycle pizza delivery in this city. I hope these guys are getting tipped well.

  • New York livery drivers are not well-trained for this kind of weather. From Miranda’s window, we watched an enormous 1987 Lincoln Town Car attempt to make it up one of the hills into the park near her place. For the record, folks, you should not try that in an old rear-wheel-drive vehicle.

  • There’s no happier creature in this city in a blizzard than a hardware store owner with a full stock of shovels and salt that lives upstairs from his store. And he’ll happily tell you so.

  • Wheeeee!

I haven’t seen snow like this since I was living in Michigan. I hope it keeps coming.

Victoria’s Secret Asks…

…Hung Over?
Observations that I can remember from two nights ago, courtesy of extending a bit of her fabulous lifestyle in my direction:

  • Heidi Klum is, go figure, fairly attractive in person. Also tall. Very, very tall.

  • The bathrooms at Peep are a bit panic-inducing when you’ve had several of their (excellent) Lemon Ginger Ade martinis.

  • Willem Dafoe is even craggier-looking in person.

  • I could make a happy hobby of being “and one.”

  • Open bars sponsored by premium vodka companies are a mixed blessing. Witness the following conversation:

    Me: Can I get another two Bellinis?
    Eurosnotty Bartender: All out.
    Me: Okay, two kamikazes please.
    EB: Vodka tonics?
    Me: um…gin and tonics?
    EB: Two vodka tonics?
    Me: Okay, two vodka tonics.

  • I love this city, even when it’s so cold my fingers hurt.

from the terrifying to the merely annoying

Few things are so pathetically distressing to the obsessive mind than watching a beloved bit of serial entertainment fall completely off the rails.

Yes, I’m about to whine about a TV series. Familiarity with show continuity is assumed here. Avert your eyes, this is fan-wankery at its most unpretty.

Watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” used to be a pleasure of nigh-sinful nature. There was a certain clubbishness about it: while most of the TV-watching public watched the ads and saw “Transylvania 90210”, those of us who were willing to look past the minimal budgets and horrible fight choreography were treated to some of the snappiest writing on television, some excellent ensemble acting, and a subversive and engaging metaphor for all of the trials of growing up and establishing an adult identity.

Or so it used to be. Then the writers got overextended and burnt out and the actors got bored, and we are left with episodes like last nights.

A small list of issues from just last night’s episode here:

1. To recap quickly, the following is a (non-exhaustive) list of the people we know for a fact are aware that a bleached-blonde vampire named Spike killed Buffy’s predecessor, Slayer Wood. (And is this poor woman ever going to get a first name?)

  • Buffy
  • Giles
  • All of Buffy’s friends
  • Slayer Wood’s Watcher
  • The entire Watchers’ Council
  • Angel
  • Drusilla
  • Every person still living or undead who has hung around Spike long enough for him to mention it. (Conservative estimate: six to ten thousand.)
The complete list of people who did not know this:
  • Robin Wood, her only child, raised by her Watcher

2. Two of the many reasons why having the “First Evil” be this season’s nemesis was a monumentally dumb idea:
  • Constant repetition of the word “evil” has turned extended portions of the show’s dialogue into an un-funny version of the “Doctor Evil/Scott Evil” riffs from Austin Powers except ironically lacking Seth Green.
  • …and one of the best lines of the third season was the one in which Buffy pointed out directly how lame it sounds.

3. Robin Wood, freelance Fighter Of Evil™, has carefully manuvered himself into the position of Principal of Sunnydale HS, in order to keep tabs on the Hellmouth and do battle with the demons who are gathering around it. He carefully disposes of the many bodies that he continually finds around it. He does not, however, bother to remove the block-and-tackle sacrifice suspension apparatus installed by the First’s minions that allow anyone with a knife, a rope and a struggling victim to use the room as a sort of cosmic Ubervampire Dispensing Machine.

4. …and the Hellmouth, wisely unexplained macguffin from the show’s early days, is, in fact, an Ubervampire Dispensing Machine? That requires exact change?

5. Falling prey to the same inexplicable madness that made George Lucas decide that The Force was actually a bacterial infection, Buffy’s writers have decided that Slayer-dom is actually a quasi-genetic trait that can be wiped out by killing everyone who carries it. Okay, that’s bad enough, but if Principal Wood is Buffy’s new love interest, doesn’t that make him her brother? Oooh, kinky. Wait, no, lazy.

I could go on. And on. And on. This season actually started out pretty promisingly, so if I didn’t know that the scripts were finished months ago, I’d strongly suspect that Joss Whedon was trying to punish his fans for not having watched Firefly enough to keep it from being cancelled. But no, this is just another case of a serial show breaking down for all of the standard inevitable reasons: everybody wishes they were working on something else, but nobody had the sense to pull the plug when they should have.


One of the interesting things about working at a news company is that every once in a while I get to ride the very edge of the spin cycle. To take a pertinent example, I got to find out about the anthrax in Dan Rather’s office a good 3-4 hours before most of the rest of the planet, because the Journalist Gossip Network was buzzing about it before the story actually hit the air.

Well, the Journalist Gossip Network seems to think that hostilities will break out in Iraq sometime this Monday.

Make of this what you will. I’m not entirely convinced myself; I believe that there are still UNSCOM inspectors on the ground, and I’d expect them to be formally evacuated a few days in advance of any real fireworks.

It’s a strange feeling to sit down with your co-workers and participate in prioritizing the to-do lists based on the likelihood of an imminent war breaking out. I feel…a bit more implicated than usual.

Year of the Ram

Dragons, dogs, acrobats and frozen beauty queens, oh my!

the dangers of working in the TV industry on no sleep

So at any given moment, it’s pretty much a safe bet that the Wall of Televisions on the other side of the office will be blaring out one of two things:

1. An update on the imminent war in Iraq, or
2. A promo for one of this season’s “Reality TV” shows

Of course, being just far enough away that the audio is a semi-subliminal irritation, the two memes start to blend into each other…

“Tonight on CBS! Survivor IV: Baghdad! Ten perfect strangers try to outlast the bombing campaign to win a lucrative oil drilling monopoly! See who gets voted out of the bomb shelter this week!”

MTV presents: Road Rules XI: Dodging Death on the Basra Highway!”

FOX’s newest reality show: JOE DICTATOR! Eight beautiful women fight to become the newest mistress of a man they THINK is an oil-rich middle eastern sheik. Little do they know that he’s been declared a member of the Axis of Evil and selected for Regime Change by the Bush administration!”
I should really get more sleep.

in memoriam

Crew of the STS-107
If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).

Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers.

In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?

Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard Feynman
sts107 patch

traipsing along the world’s top

More digging through the stacks of unscanned photos.

At the very end of April, 2001, my friend Adam came across a brilliantly gonzo-sounding offer: Icelandair would, for a stupidly small sum of money, fly us to Reykjavik, put us up in a hotel for two or three nights, and include in the package tickets to go see the Buena Vista Social Club perform in concert at Reykjavik’s Olympic auditorium. The idea of trekking to the land of the sagas to see a Cuban jazz orchestra in concert was just too weird to pass up, and with our mutual friend The Reverend Zoweee Wow accompanying us, we took a redeye to Reykjavik.

And now, at long last, I’ve finally dug up, scanned, cropped, folded, spinded and mutilated the pictures of the trip for your entertainment.