Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

News Chum Stew: A Tasty Thread

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 22, 2014 @ 7:17 am PDT

Observation StewJust because I’m in Portland doesn’t mean I can’t prepare you some tasty news chum stew for breakfast. Let’s dig in, before you all decide to abandon me for Voodoo Donuts… luckily, I’ve been able to come up with a thread for this — no overall theme, only a connection between each article and the next…

  • Twisted in a Pretzel. Before NPR wrote about it on Friday, the LA Business Journal was writing about the invention of the Peanut Butter filled pretzel (which is where I saw it), how a company named Maxim’s pioneered the product 26 years ago, and how TJs picked it up and sold it. The crunchy snack became a major part of Maxim’s business, and Maxim oversaw the production by companies such as ConAgra. Then TJs decided to cut out the middleman… The point of the article being that even companies we perceive as “nice and good” are, at their heart, businesses.
  • Put a Ring on It. Perhaps you saw, a few weeks ago, the video showing how the entire engagement ring custom was designed by DeBeers to sell diamonds. Here’s another bit of news from the jewelry industry. Kay Jewelers is being bought by Signet, the owner of Zales. Signet operates 1,400 U.S. stores, including its higher end Jared chain. Zale has about 800 Zales and Gordon’s Jewelers stores, as well as 630 Piercing Pagoda mall kiosks. In Canada, Zale operates the successful Peoples Jewellers chain. The net translation of this: most of the jewelers you see in malls are all owned by the same parent company. As always: support local business; buy from a local jeweler.
  • All Generics Are Not Equal. Knowing from where you buy is important. In the US, when you buy brand name medicine, you know what you are getting and who made it, but you pay a big price for that knowledge. If you buy generic, you save money — but are you getting the equivalent? The answer… not always. In particular, it appears that medicines manufactured in India are creating safety concerns. This one actually hit home: my wife has one medicine that used to be brand-name only that has finally gone generic. Our 90-supplier recently sent us the generic. My wife checked with her doctor, and the first batch was fine — it was made in England. He told her he only wanted her to take medicines made in first-world countries. The second batch — from India. We had to coordinate getting it returned and replaced.
  • How We Look at the World. The mention of first-world and third-world makes one think about how we view the world. Here’s a question for you: Have you ever thought about why North is always at the top of a map? Al-Jazeera America did. What’s interesting is looking at the alternate maps — your bearings are totally off. By the way, having N at the top is a recent invention; N has been at the top only for about the last 500 years.
  • Whose on Top. It’s always a battle to determine who should be at the top of the heap. Alas, such a battle is happening over Casey Kasem — the DJ who used to be ubiquitous on the radio. Kasem’s children from his first marriage are battling over the right to visit their father. Who are they battling? Jean Kasem, his current wife. Jean, if you recall, played Nick Tortelli’s wife on Cheers. Note that this isn’t a battle over money — only the right to visit their father.
  • Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah. Speaking of mothers and fathers, Mark Evanier writes of a recently released collection of Allan Sherman’s early parody material. For those of us who remember who Allan Sherman was, this is of great interest. Mark notes: “But let me warn you of two things. One is that some of the 13 songs on this CD are kinda short. The whole thing runs around 34 minutes. And the other thing is that the audio quality is not wonderful. If you go to this page to order (and I’m not suggesting you not, especially if you’re a big Sherman fan), play a few samples so you can hear the quality of the recordings you’ll be getting.” Still, new Sherman music is quite tempting.

 

FacebookTwitterTumblrGoogle+LinkedInLiveJournalStumbleUponEmailPinterestMySpaceShare/Bookmark

--- *** ---

Saturday News Chum Stew, If Your Pipes Can Take It

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jul 13, 2013 @ 5:28 am PDT

Observation StewAfter my wonderful plumbing experience yesterday, my mind cannot make sense — or find a theme — in this collection of news articles. I’ll leave it to you to find the theme, or determine whether these items need to be tossed into the garbage disposal and washed away. Let’s just hope they don’t clog your pipes…

 

--- *** ---

Entertainment Chum: Grand Park, Dr Demento, Surviving Risk, and Bad Reviews

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 01, 2013 @ 9:25 am PDT

userpic=televisionToday’s news chum brings you three articles all related to media and music, in some form:

  • A Grand Park. Last Sunday, we took Metro to the Ahmanson. When we got out downtown, there was this wonderful party going on in the new Grand Park.  There were people enjoying themselves to free music, kids rocking out on their dad’s shoulders. There were food trucks and kids playing in fountains. Only later did I find out what it was: Sunday Sessions at Grand Park. I must say that it was delightful, and it was really neat to see my city doing this.
  • Dr. Demento. Growing up, I regularly listened to Dr. Demento on KMET (followed by Flo’ and Eddie by the Fireside). The Daily News has a nice article on what the good doctor is doing today. It discusses the death of novelty records, and the ability to do anything “novel” on radio today. The doctor, not surprisingly, has moved to internet broadcasts. He’s using a paid subscription model, and I’m not sure novelty records would be enough to entice me.
  • Surviving Games. Here’s an interesting idea: Someone is bringing together reality TV stars from Survivor and Big Brother… to play boardgames. The notion, developed by a former Survivor player turned podcaster, is to take some of the top players and pit them against each other. This could be entertaining…. but the game they have chosen is Risk (bleh). To my eyes, it would be much more interesting to bring these people together and have them play Diplomacy. Watching these players take their skills at strategy and negotiation (as well as alliances) could be quite entertaining. I’ve always viewed Survivor as a real life version of that game. But Risk? That’s just dice rolling.
  • Bad Reviews. I’ve written in the past how bad reviews can be entertaining. Given that we have a new M. Night Shyamalan movie, expect to be entertained — not by the movie, but by the reviews. The LA Times says, of “After Earth”: “There is no small irony that this sci-fi action adventure is about surviving a serious crash. The scorched earth left behind by “After Earth” is sure to leave a scar on everyone involved.”. It gets better. How about: “Speaking of overkill, flashbacks, thousands of them, become things to be feared as much as any space alien.” Or perhaps “As Gen. Cypher Raige, Smith has never seemed stiffer, like Patton without the personality. It’s as if his Ranger suit were two sizes too small and he’s trying to just deal with it.” The reviews conclusion? “If you’re still wondering whether “After Earth” is a disaster, the question is not if, but how big?” If you were thinking that’s just one review, here’s what the Atlantic has to say: “So I feel it’s incumbent on me to note that with his latest offering, After Earth,the writer-director seems to have arrested his precipitous decline. This movie is no worse than his last two.”

--- *** ---

Written and Spoken Media

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 24, 2013 @ 11:19 am PDT

userpic=booksThis collection of news chum brings together a collection of articles related to media of various forms:

  • “This is NPR”. Looking for a new job? Here’s one for you: you can be the announcer who reads the sponsors and says “This is NPR” at the end of Public Radio programs.
  • Paperback Writer. QANTAS airlines is commissioning paperback books. Specifically, they are commissioning books designed to take a single flight to read. Though the books for short flights are meant to be read continuously, for long flights, they are factoring in the thought that passengers will most likely put their book down for food and naps. The target audience for the campaign is Qantas’ Platinum Flyers, who tend to skew male. A range of popular airport genres including thrillers, crime and nonfiction are included, with titles such as “City of Evil” and “Australian Tragic.”
  • Feeding the Trolls. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I find reading comments on news articles infuriating because of the trolls. Here’s an interesting article where one fellow got fed up sufficiently that he went and interviewed the troll.  What I found interesting was that the troll was just like you and I, and he was doing it just because he found it fun.
  • Cutting Up Paper. Last weekend was the congregational meeting at our synagogue. The outgoing president was presented a beautiful papercut by the husband of one of our Rabbis (the official title is “Mr. Lucky”, derivered from something the now ex-husband of one of our favorite rabbis said when asked what you call the husband of a rabbi — his response… “Lucky”). Isaac, the artist, posted a picture of the papercut on the website along with an explanation. I particularly like how he used cut-up synagogue promotional material.

Bonus Media Item: “Star Trek: Into Darkness” – The Spoiler FAQ. I hadn’t had a strong urge to see this picture, even though I grew up with Star Trek and loved the franchise. Reading this, I think I’ll wait until it is on the small screen.

--- *** ---

The Digital Disenfranchised

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Apr 25, 2013 @ 12:32 pm PDT

userpic=verizonA number of articles I’ve read in the last week have highlighted an increasing digital divide in our society. This subject and these articles have been running around my head all week, so while I eat lunch I’d like to share them with you and get your thoughts.

What triggered the subject was Harry Shearer’s Le Show. Its host station, KCRW 89.9 FM in Santa Monica, abruptly yanked the show off the airwaves and moved it to be Internet-only. KCRW believes that growth is going to be on the Internet side, and those that listen to the show will find it there. Now a number of broadcasters have done this in the past — think Adam Corolla or Tom Leykis –but arguably the audiences for those shows is very different than the NPR/Public Radio audience. I think Shearer captured my concern very well:

People are sawing the legs out from under the idea of radio as we speak. Television, when it came to prominence, was supposed to kill radio outright, and it didn’t. The question is: Will online audio kill radio broadcasting? I listen to about 80 percent of my audio content online, and I look at a lot of my video content online, so I’m not a Luddite in any sense of the word. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in radio broadcasting.

A lot of people driving in their cars don’t have the facility or haven’t mastered yet getting online audio into their car’s audio system. A lot of poorer people don’t have the wherewithal for broadband everywhere that they might want to hear something, and older people don’t want to mess with that stuff. Radio better be around, because in any kind of emergency, my experience has been the first thing that goes down is the electric grid, and the second thing that goes down is the telephone grid. And if you don’t have a portable battery-powered radio, you are seriously out of luck. People who are trying to dismantle this system are way in front of themselves, and may not be doing the public a service.

I, too, have seen a growing number of articles predicting the demise of terrestrial radio. NetFlix is predicting the death of the TV channel. The problem is that the movement to Internet  based approaches for TV and Radio are not available to all — due to either the financial or intellectual cost of the new technology. Do we have the right to disenfranchise these people?

But the problem is not just radio. Look at music in general. iTunes is turning 10, and there are numerous articles on the changes iTunes has brought. One article notes the following:

The iTunes store dominated by downloads “is on its last gasp,” says Bob Lefsetz, a former music industry lawyer and blogger at the Lefsetz Letter. “YouTube is where most young people listen to music now.” (More than 1 billion people visit the site each month.)

“When iTunes turns 15 years old, we won’t be talking about downloads, because Apple won’t be selling them,” he says.

Here’s another quote from the same article:

Ten years ago, Apple’s most popular iPod was the largest-capacity model with 80 gigabytes of storage. Now the top seller is the 32 GB iPod Touch starting at $299. The entry-level iPhone comes with 16 GB of storage.

“If downloads were still important, we’d all need more storage,” Lefsetz says. “Apple knows which direction this is going.”

Yet again we are creating a community of digital disenfranchised.  Not everyone wants to stream media — they may not know how to do it; they may not be in a location that permits it; they may not have the signal to do it; they may not be able to afford the cost of doing it. Yet the assumption seems to be that it is something the public wants. What this is really doing is hurting the public: no longer can you own a personal copy of your music you can listen to at any time in any place. You become tethered to the (for profit) streaming service, who can dictate if you can listen to your music and where and when. Is this the right direction for society?

We all know technology is everywhere, and in increasing cases, it is not serving to help but to hurt. What used to be broadcast is now exclusively on the web, eliminating as a potential audience those lacking the financial or technological wherewithal to find it. Others are starting to embrace a return to old media.   We need to make sure that in our rush to embrace the latest and greatest technology, we don’t cut off those not quite as nimble.

Disclaimer: Even though I know how to listen to podcasts, I still like the radio sometimes. I like to physically own my music (in fact, I’m looking to buy some LP storage crates and a media center), even as I have over 31,000 songs on my iPod (160GB). Further, I do not have a smartphone. I feel cut-off everytime I see a QR scan-this discount code.

Music: Destry Rides Again (1959 Original Broadway Cast): “Overture” [recorded from LP to MP3 using Roxio Easy Media Creator, loaded into iTunes, currently playing on my iPod]

--- *** ---

Impacts of Technology: Movies, Radio, Lectures, and Powerstrips

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Feb 15, 2013 @ 11:22 am PDT

userpic=frebergEarlier this week, I wrote about the negative impacts of the Internet on society. Today’s news chum deals with a similar subject: the impacts of the Internet and technologies on industry and academia:

 

--- *** ---

Friday Miscellany: Entertainment News, History News, and udder stuff.

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jun 08, 2012 @ 11:30 am PDT

It’s Friday at lunchtime, and you know what that means — time to clear out the bookmarked links…

P.S.: Two good net comics today. College-bound and college-attending folks (such as my daughter) should appreciate today’s XKCD on college laundry  (I remember those days). Secondly, those into art and art history would appreciate today’s Dork Tower.

Music: Nunsensations (Off-Broadway Cast): Sin City Sue

--- *** ---

Living on Planet Money

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Aug 09, 2011 @ 8:25 pm PDT

OK, I admit it. I’ve become addicted to Planet Money on NPR, and it has started to teach me about economics.

I was thinking about this while reading the news over dinner. For example, could we make it so that what the government invested in were purely public goods? You know, like lighthouses. In particular, I’m thinking about using the government to invest in things that provide public services and public benefits: highways, transit, science, research. Things that bring long term benefits to the country but don’t make sense for private enterprise. Further, let’s get the government out of those areas where private enterprise is doing just fine. All those tax benefits for private companies: why is the government supporting them? If we’re going to give money to industries, let it be industries that will ultimately improve the economic growth of this country in the long term. In other words: let’s invest in education, science, and energy research. Look at the economic engine that DARPA’s investment in the Internet proved to be?

I was also thinking about health insurance. Planet Money has had some good pieces on this, pointing out that one of our biggest problems today is employer-funded health insurance. It came about in the 1940s when employers could not raise wages, so they competed by adding perks. But employer-funded health insurance makes us not realize the cost of our health services. They like to use the thought experiment of employer-provided food insurance. You could go to approved grocers and buy all the food you want for a $40 co-pay. Would you make good economic decisions? Would you buy the expensive imported beer or the Budweiser? But by now, this form of health insurance is so tied up in our benefits package, it is suicide to propose getting rid of it. Still, I was trying to think what the alternative might be? Giving larger salaries and letting employee’s pick their plans and pay 100% of the cost? Would people pick the insurance companies that got the best deals on costs and negotiated the rates the best?

Planet Money has gotten me thinking about the interconnectedness of our economic actions. It has also made me realize that most of our elected officials don’t understand economics. I mentioned this last night: if you’re having financial trouble at home, you don’t just cut expenses: you work to bring in more income, and you make sure that everyone in the family is equally sacrificing and giving their fair share. We’re not doing that. We’re like the family with the spare bedroom and the rich uncle loafing on the couch, who we feed and cloth but doesn’t contribute to the house. We need to make the rich uncle contribute if he’s going to live in the house, and we need to rent out Wyoming.

In past economic downturns, there have been two traditional solutions. A good war and war spending. That won’t work here: we can’t afford the deficit war spending. The only other solution has been a government funding stimulus — not in the forms of checks to families, which are never large enough, or tax cuts to families, which work to pennies in the scheme of things, but in the forms of government programs that create jobs. We can’t do deficit spending to create these, so we need to cut our spending that is not creating jobs (again, some of those subsidies to profitable companies come to mind, as well as programs we can privatize), and start spending on research and education that enables people to work, and to work innovating the next idea that will make this country great.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I strongly recommend people listen to the Planet Money Podcast.

--- *** ---