Saturday, December 12, 2009

Making a list and checking it twice

There's this list, see?

The Black List. Which you'd think is a list you wouldn't want to be on. But you'd be wrong.

Because the new Hollywood Black List is a list of the best — correction, "most liked," — un-produced screenplays of the year.

Personally, I would've called it Trumbo's list.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Yes, Tom, there really is...

As previously reported here, even Mr. Spielberg isn't immune to remake-itis and was planning a 21st century reboot of Harvey.

Luckily for us, Tom Hanks, in his infinite wisdom, evidently expressed concern at attempting to follow in Jimmy Stewart's Oscar-nominated footsteps and declined the role.

Atta boy, Tom! Stick to your guns — maybe someone (anyone? anyone?) will offer you an original screenplay, that mythical Hollywood beast that roams the streets, searching for a friend, a lover, an agent. Hey, the door was open. I just walked in.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Calling all bookworms

You've got to love a site that lists "The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles" on its home page.

I don't have to say more than that, because really, enough said. But since I, ahem, don't have the time to make this shorter, I'll keep writing.

ReadKiddoRead is a site I stumbled on, in that way I have that is sadly non-replicable nor explicable. It (the site, not my magical, mystical web wandering way) appears to be spearheaded by James Patterson, who writes relentlessly readable mysteries and has recently ventured into writing YA (or "young adult") books.

Since I firmly believe that readers make better people, become better citizens, and probably bake better brownies, I couldn't be happier to have found this site. Not to mention, since I have yet to grow up, I am even happier to have found a new source for kids' books recommendations.

Graphically, I have to say that the site looks weirdly ad-driven, even though it isn't. Also somewhat weirdly, the "if you like this" suggestion lists (which are tres helpful) aren't links to the suggestions. So you have to be fairly copy and paste proficient to navigate. Still, every book on the site has multiple purchase option links, including Amazon, B&N, Walmart, Borders, etc. A bookworm's paradise.

Bookworms of all ages.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Again with the irony

California. Land of entertainment. Home to Hollywood. Movies. TV. The state motto is "Maior. Melior. Magis." (Or it should be — that's Latin for "Bigger. Better. More.") This is a state that so believes in "big" it needed its own mattress size — Cal King.

Explain to me then why this is the state that is passing a law banning televisions larger than 58"? I'm not kidding. The state of California has evidently decided it has the right to limit the size of your TV in your home. (Not until 2013, so you've got a few years, but still.)

This is the second part of a TV energy bill, the first part of which limits sales of HDTVs in the state to only those which meet its energy efficiency standards. I'm down with that. But the next part, the "you can't have a really large TV because we said so" part? I'm thinking that Kit Eaton of Fast Company summed it up nicely:

The Consumer Electronics Association has publicly reacted to California legislators' ban on inefficient TVs by saying "You're all dumb, with about the same grasp on technology as Homer Simpson." I'm paraphrasing, but the CEA has a point.
That's like saying you can't buy SUVs anymore because they're not as energy efficient as small cars. Has anyone checked the energy efficiency of a Porsche 911 against a Highlander Hybrid? I'm just saying...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Promises, promises

Baby Einstein, the mesmerizing visual babysitter that parents have been relying on and feeling good about since 1997, is now offering refunds. Refunds you ask? Are the disks disintegrating? Evincing built-in obsolescence? No, not at all.

Baby Einstein is offering refunds to all those parents whose children did not become geniuses after gazing hour after hour wide-eyed and slack-jawed at animation and jingles set to the melodies of Beethoven and Mozart.

Shockingly, it turns out you can't plop your child in a swing in front of the TV and expect that the child you take out of the swing will be, for lack of a better metaphor, Einstein. Indeed, not only are the videos not flowers for Algernon, they are closer to poison in the well. Far from beneficial, "studies show that television exposure at ages 1 through 3 is associated with attention problems at age 7," not to mention "the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under 2."

The Walt Disney Company acquired the business in 2001 and are now on the hook to refund up to $15.99 to each household who purchased their DVDs between 2004 and 2009. Even that doesn't seem to be enough to motivate a change in the labeling, which not only still claims developmental benefits (all without using the forbidden word, "educational"), it also states that the videos are intended for babies 9 months and up. Hey, what do those pediatricians know anyway?

Now, my 5 year old niece is a veritable Einstein — if you don't believe me, ask her to quote any part of The Princess Bride. Spooky. Or to name like 100 extinct species of animals. Seriously. — and I don't know when she started watching TV or how much. But I'm pretty sure she could see right through Baby Einstein's new “enhanced consumer satisfaction guarantee.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Change is hard

But fun is... fun. And according to the folks behind The Fun Theory, fun is the, well, "easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better."

They're turning stairs into piano keys and recycling banks into arcades. And the people? They're playing and... playing.

Hear the music yourself:

(another video - you really should check it out if you can't see it)

The folks behind the fun Fun Theory? Volkswagen and their Swedish ad agency, DDB Stockholm. Funsters wanted.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where are the wild things?

On the silver screen, that's where. Turning this book into a movie is something I am sure I am not alone in contemplating with some skepticism. Where the Wild Things Are is a classic. Is anyone going to argue with me about that? I didn't think so.

Like Harold and the Purple Crayon, Goodnight, Moon, The Velveteen Rabbit, Bedtime for Frances. The very nature of the greatest children's books is how they live to come alive in each child's imagination. Differently. How can one movie accomplish that miracle?

Add to that, the history of children's books adaptations (Jim Carrey as the Grinch? Mike Meyers as The Cat in the Hat?), and I confess, I was far less than optimistic.

But... the trailers have been very enticing, and then I saw this featurette with Maurice Sendak himself and Spike Jonze talking about the movie, and hope swelled again:

(A video worth watching. Can't see it? Click here.)

So, as Max said, "Let the wild rumpus start!"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A picture, a thousand words

One week, two flowers, 97 cigarettes.

Fischer & Fala, a Brazilian ad agency, was tasked with coming up with a campaign to coincide with new anti-smoking laws in Sao Paolo. Point made, guys.

The smoking plant (With english subtitles) from Fischer Fala on Vimeo.
(Yeah, yeah, it's a video. Can't see it? Click here.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

There can be only one (scratch that)

"There can be only one."

Unless there is a remake. In which case, there can be only... two.

Yep, that's right, it's official. Highlander (RT-66), a cult classic if ever there was one, is being raped and pillaged. Sort of fitting, actually, when you think about it that way.

I mentioned this new law a while back that seems to have been passed here in Tinsel Town — that no new material can be developed, filmed or made. Upon further consideration, I think that may not actually be how the law goes. I think it's more something like this: for each film made based on original material, no less than 3 remakes must be in development and no less than 2 remakes must be in some stage of production.

Luckily, there are still some mavericks scheming and plotting to make original films (see 500 Days of Summer, RT-87, for an example). On the other hand, that adage, "if it worked once, it'll work again," or maybe it's this one: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be this town's guiding principle. Empirically, it feels like about a five-to-one ratio, remakes to originals. But that's just me.

What brings on this tirade you ask? Luckily not a third remake of Sabrina (I don't think I could survive that) — no, today it's the news about Highlander, which is being repackaged, reimagined and remade. Why? No, really, why? I mean, the movie is a veritable cult classic, spawning one of the most classic movie lines of all time.

Matching Justin Lin, one of the newest up-and-coming action movie directors (Fast and Furious) with sribes Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man) sounds like a fab idea. Why not have them cut their teeth on something we haven't seen before — I mean, we surely know the writers are up to the task.

What is it about Hollywood suits that makes them just love that brick wall? They must love it, to bash their head against it so persistently. Over and over and over again, never apparently feeling the pain. And I mean that. Because it's not like that brick wall is sprouting ticket sales and money. No, no, no. Not at all.

In this corner, we have the "Originals" weighing in at 600 lbs and ready to defend their championship, while in the other corner, we have the "Remakes," weighing in at just under 200 lbs, but stubborn as all get out. The "Remakes" just don't know when to quit:

Sabrina: Billy Wilder (1954) - 93, Sydney Pollack (1995) - 60
Love Affair: Leo McCarey (1939) - 86, Leo McCarey (1957 as "An Affair to Remember") - 64, Glenn Gordon Caron (1994) - 32
Charade: Stanley Donen (1963) - 91, Jonathan Demme (2002 as "The Truth About Charlie") - 33
(Let me point out that Audrey Hepburn starred in the original Sabrina, Cary Grant starred in "An Affair to Remember," and both Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant starred in the original Charade. Mark Wahlberg as Cary Grant? C'mon, you try saying that with a straight face.)
Psycho: Alfred Hitchcock (1960) - 98, Gus Van Sant (1998) - 37
The Bad News Bears: Michael Ritchie (1976) - 92, Richard Linklater (2205) - 46
Born Yesterday: George Cukor (1950) - 95, Luis Mandoki (1993) - 25
A Star is Born: William Wellman (1937) - 100, George Cukor (1954) - 100, Frank Pierson (1976) - 46

The originals beat the remakes by an average of 50 points per film. Fifty. Five zero. I myself would call that a rout, an ignoble defeat, an a$#-whupping of no small proportion.

And whether you blame it on the screenwriter, the director, or the dangblasted producer who put the whole thing together, I'd also like to point out that from a casting and talent perspective, The Bad News Bears traded Walter Matthau for Billy Bob Thornton, Born Yesterday traded Judy Holliday (in an Oscar-winning performance, no less) and William Holden for Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and A Star is Born traded Judy Garland (in an Oscar-nominated performance) and James Mason for Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Honestly, need I say more?

And before you get all het up, yes, sure, there are exceptions - Ocean's 11 (1960) gets a 48, while Steven Soderbergh's witty 2001 remake earns a well-deserved 81. But I maintain those exceptions are few and far between.

There can be only one. Except when there are two. That's show biz, baby.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Top 10 reasons to move back to New York

Reason #10. Ice cream.

You're surprised? Nah, you're not surprised. What better reason to move 3,000 miles than to be in the city that has to-your-door delivery of home-made ice cream in flavors like brown-sugar-peanut-butter?

This is a company that knows its market — the subscriber list is being limited to 50. Talking about the "in-crowd."

Homemade ice cream delivered once a month, right to my door. Sigh.

Reasons 9 through 1 coming soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Miles to go before I sleep

Math can make your head spin. I was reading Seth Godin's blog (catching up on his blog actually, but whatever) and came upon his post, "Not so good at math." He reprinted the classic miles-per-gallon example, comparing Suburbans to Priuses, in which two alternative performance improvements are proposed and you are asked which is the better choice.

His point is to remind marketers that the ordinary consumer is, as he puts it "not wired for arithmetic. It confuses us, stresses us out and more often than not, is used to deceive."

Have you ever heard someone say, "numbers don't lie"? Yeah, right. Numbers may not lie, but they sure can obfuscate some cold hard facts, especially when wielded by a master.

To me, it's like the age-old question is lying by omission lying?

The mpg example goes like this:

You want to reduce gasoline consumption and, lucky for you, there are only two kinds of cars in the world. Half of them are Suburbans that get 10 miles to the gallon and half are Priuses that get 50.

If we assume that all the cars drive the same number of miles, which would be a better investment:

  • Get new tires for all the Suburbans and increase their mileage a bit to 13 miles per gallon.
  • Replace all the Priuses and rewire them to get 100 miles per gallon (doubling their average!)

That seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, except for the fact that you know there's a trick in there somewhere.

This is a bit of a mind bender, but think about it this way (since you've obviously figured out that the answer is NOT replacing the Priuses) — if you drive 25 miles in an "unmodified" Suburban, you'll go through 2 1/2 gallons of gas, while going through only 1/2 a gallon driving the same distance in a Prius. That's easy enough, right? Okay, stick with me. If you modify the Prius, doubling the gas consumption efficiency, and drive another 25 miles you'll save a whopping 1/4 gallon of gas.

But, if you modify your Suburban, improving gas consumption efficiency only by a third, and drive another 25 miles, you'll save 1/2 gallon of gas (actually, a little bit more). Twice as much as you would save modifying the Prius.

Basically, the Prius is already so efficient, that making it more efficient doesn't save you that much. But the Suburban is so inefficient, that even making it a little more efficient makes a big difference.

To Seth's point, however, who of us ordinary consumers would jump to that conclusion first? And no, Dad, you are not an ordinary consumer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Friends don't let friends drive texty

I considered posting the four minute British PSA about texting and driving, but it's bloody bloody. It's at well over a million views - if you haven't seen it, it's here.
I settled for this clip from Albuquerque's KOAT (yeah, yeah, it's a video. Can't see it? Click here):

According to this report, you're five (5) times more likely to have an accident if you text and drive.

Did I mention that all the PSA videos I watched on YouTube on the "dangers of texting and driving" were accompanied by cell phone ads from Wal-Mart. Is it just me, or is that like having Jack Daniels sponsor your local AA meeting?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Viti, Vini, Twenty...

And no, that's not a spelling mistake. Caesar may have come, seen and conquered. I bet he didn't have nearly as much fun as my friends and I who came, saw and drank. Which would be veni, vidi, bibi, for those of you who keep track of these kinds of things.

Vitis vinifera (Viti Vinnie - sounds like he's in the "family") is the grape species responsible for over 99% of all wine produced. One grape can do a lot of damage.

Last week the challenge was to bring a red wine under $20 that no one would guess was under $20. We succeeded handily.

Here are the results, in no order except the first one:

#1. Ideology 2006, Cabernet Sauvignon from LA Wine Co. — $19.95. This was the hands down winner.

Celler Bartolome Finca el Mirador Bellmunt del Priorat 2006, Grenache/Carignena blend from Wine House — $17.99

Delas Cotes-du-Rhone Saint-Esprit 2007 from LA Wine Co — $9.95

Fetish The Watcher 2006
, Shiraz from World Market Cost Plus — $17

Vino Sfuso 2008
, Montepulciano Abruzzo blend — I don't know where this came from, but it's $6.99 at K&L

It may look like $72 worth of wine on paper, but it drank like $250. Or something like that. There is some mighty tasty wine out there for less than an Andrew Jackson.

There is also some fine wine out there that is decidedly not $20 — we did also pour two Turley 2006 Zins: the Juvenile and an Old Vines. Enough said.

We came, we drank, we ranked. We did a little stand-up. Hail Dino.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Never say no to dough

I'm a New Yorker. No matter where I live, I'm still and always a New Yorker.

I am also, however, an eater. With a weakness for the four major food groups: grease, chocolate, bacon, and coffee. Which means that wherever I go, you can count on me to suss out the best hamburger, donut shoppe (I don't know why, but they all seem to spell it that way), steak house and coffee shop (not spelled the other way).

It has come to my attention that although I am a Los Angeles newbie, I may have a firmer grasp of donut shoppes than some LA denizens. Therefore, for all residents, long-term and newly arrived, and visitors, allow me to introduce you to Stan's Donuts.

Stan's is on the corner of Weyburn and Broxton in Westwood, across from two old-time huge movie theaters, a fact I mention because I have been known (once or twice) to buy one or two (or three) donuts on my way into the movies. Dinner of champions: a Coke, popcorn and donuts.

Stan's has been on that corner for over 40 years and his donuts are beyond description. Given that I'm writing about them, I'll give it a try: they are perfect. Forbes Magazine itself rated them "America's Best Donuts" in 2001.

Actually, forget it. Try them for yourself.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Harvey, phone home

They've passed a new law. I don't know if you've heard yet, but no new material can be developed, filmed or made in Hollywood, under penalty of dire consequences (like being accused of having a brain or an original thought or thinking, horrors!, something different than everyone else).

Okay, so the law hasn't actually passed. But you'd never know. It's gotten so they don't even bother mentioning that the idea's recycled (you'd think they'd at least want credit for being eco-conscious). To wit, next year we'll see Keira Knightley helming Never Let Me Go, a movie about an isolated and idyllic boarding school that turns out to be breeding donor clones rather than raising British children.

If this sounds a bit familiar, perhaps that's because four years ago, we saw a small movie called The Island directed with typical delicate subtlety by Michael Bay. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, glowing and gleaming in an idyllic and isolated community, eventually race to escape, still glowing and gleaming, upon discovering they are, aha!, nothing more than organ donors for the rich and reckless.

Granted, Never Let Me Go comes with a far more distinguished literary pedigree — it is based on a novel by the author of "The Remains of the Day," Kazuo Ishiguro. Still.

Why do I bring this up? Because Mr. Steven Spielberg himself is jumping on the remake bandwagon. Why I'm surprised by this, considering that he broke the 11th commandment and made a fourth sequel in the Indy franchise, I don't know. One lives in hope. At least I am able to report that Spielberg is not remaking anything from the last decade. Thank heavens for small favors.

Instead he is going back to the 1950s to "update" Harvey, a movie based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and written by its original award-winning playwright, Mary Chase. The 1950 movie starred an invisible 6 1/2 foot tall rabbit alongside Jimmy Stewart in an Academy Award nominated performance for best actor. If you haven't seen it, do so. As for the "update?" It's being written by first-time screen writer, Jonathan Tropper. Who hasn't won a Pulitzer Prize.

Having said all that, it makes perfect sense that they are remaking Total Recall. Because we probably forgot the first one. Hey, I can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

My dog ate my homework

It wasn't me, officer, I swear. My cat downloaded the porn.

No, I'm not kidding. Evidently they grow their felines different in Florida.

According to Keith Griffin, he never visited a single porn site. Not ever. His cat, on the other hand, would jump on the keyboard all the time, and wow!, all this porn would just, like, show up on his, like, monitor.

Don't say it. Don't say it.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Define irony

Of all the books in all the world, Amazon chooses George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" to peremptorily delete from people's Kindle devices? You're kidding me, right?

This is the kind of thing that if I put it in my screenplay some reader would comment in the margin, and rightfully so, "Too spot on. Choose another book."

Yet, it did so happen that on the 17th of July, in the year of the Omnipotent and Everpresent, 2009, Amazon.com did in fact reach its eerie electronic tentacles out into the ether and remove every instance of "1984" and "Animal Farm" from every Kindle owner who had purchased the books. Just like that. Gone in an instant. Poof.

Big Brother comes to life and its name is Jeff Bezos. This is not a drill.

The irony of this situation is so incredible that you can't help but feel that some poor misguided PR peon is sitting in an office somewhere, cowering under his desk, muttering to himself over and over, "it wasn't supposed to happen like this."

To be scrupulously honest, I don't why, but why not, let's let Amazon 'splain. Or at least, sum up.

First, the books' publisher changed its mind about offering electronic versions of the books. Let me be clear, the publisher decided it wanted to rescind previously granted permission. Post-facto.
Next, Amazon crumpled under publisher pressure. Again, let me be absolutely clear. Amazon crumpled, surrendered, folded, caved like Kirstie Alley saying yes to a cupcake.
Finally, like the fog on little cat feet, Amazon snuck in like a thief in the night and absconded with its customers' books.

Well, that does clear everything up.

I hear that Amazon is promising never to do anything like this again. Promises, promises.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

They decide this is the year to do this?

You may have picked up on this. You may already know this. I'm a movie fan. Some might say a movie buff. However you want to slice it, I do love the movies. (And, by the way, that is a perfect example of the only time you should ever start a sentence with the word "however," otherwise, when you are using the word to mean nevertheless, "the word usually serves better when not in first position" — thank you, Mssrs. Strunk and White.)

And when it comes to the movies, I may not exactly be a gourmand, but I am definitely not a snob either. I am happy to be entertained by a movie. There are plenty of "cotton candy movies" — movies that are entertaining, even absorbing, for 120 minutes before they dissolve into nothing, leaving behind only the faintest memory of something slightly sickeningly sweet as you exit the theater — that make me happy, when they do what they set out to do. And I'm a firm believer that excellent stick-to-your-ribs movies, to stay with my movies-as-food metaphor, come in all genres, including comedies (It Happened One Night, RT-97, The Princess Bride, RT-96) and action movies (Die Hard, RT-94), as well as dramas (if I need to give you an example of an excellent drama, move on, you're probably bored silly by this column anyway).

But, 'tis true, bad movies also come in all genres. And this year, more than most, it seems to me, we have seen way more than our fair share of bad and disappointing movies. Movies that should've been good, or at the very least entertaining, were boring, or illogical, or too long, and just plain wrong. It's July and the best movie I've seen all year is a documentary. (Not that there's anything wrong with documentaries, but I'm a movie-girl. As in fiction. As in tell me a story, spin me a fantasy, show me the pretty people. I live to escape, what can I say?)

And because Hollywood doesn't do anything half-assed, except, evidently these days, make movies, the powers that be have decided that this year, this year, is the year they are going to expand the Best Picture Academy Award category from five nominees to ten. Yep, that's right, in a year when so far I have yet to see one picture I thought was fair, they're going to have to come up with ten (10!) to compete for best picture of the year. Now, granted, best is a comparative term, so sure, in that sense, it could work. Like Letterman's Top Ten movies not to see list.

Honestly, who is running Tinsel Town these days anyway? Somebody, stop them!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Pareto, shmeto - it's all 80/20 to me

Jim Collins (the guy who wrote Good to Great, that book about some companies that were good, became great, and some of which—Circuit City and Fannie Mae, for two—are now bankrupt...) once said that each of his books come out of questions. Someone asks him a question to which he doesn't know the answer, and next thing you know...

A question was posed to me today: what kind of gibberish is "80/20"? Now, I knew the basics of the 80/20 rule—80% of your results come from 20% of your input (be it profits and customers, comments and readers, or whatever). But, upon further reflection, I realized I had no idea where that rule came from.

Turns out there was this guy, Vilfredo Pareto, in 19th century Italy, who posited that 20% of the population owned 80% of the land. And so it was.

Now it also appears that it those two numbers don't have to add up to 100. It could be 80/10 or 90/20. But the rule of thumb is 80/20.

And you all know where "rule of thumb" comes from, right?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

that's Latin for...

You know when you're arguing with someone, and you know you're right and they're wrong—but all of a sudden you're defending yourself for something wrong that you did? And you're sitting in jail, thinking to yourself, "Wait. How did this happen? Tiffany's the one who said she could hot-wire the car in under 4 seconds. How come we're fighting about the time last year when I forgot to dope the doberman?"

It's a nasty bit of argumentative "tactics"—and it even has a name. "Tu quoque," Latin for "you, also."

Turns out there's a whole host of related argument derailers to be on the look-out, grouped under "ad hominem," which means (those Latin—busy, busy) "against the man."

There's the abusive ad hom way to go: "when an attack on the character or other irrelevant personal qualities of the opposition—such as appearance—is offered as evidence against her position." Often called the "red herring" argument.

Then you've got the circumstantial route: "in which some irrelevant personal circumstance surrounding the opponent is offered as evidence against the opponent's position.... The fallacy claims that the only reason why he argues as he does is because of personal circumstances, such as standing to gain from the argument's acceptance. "

If that's not enough, you can go with the ole reliable, Poisoning the Well:

To poison the well is to commit a pre-emptive ad hominem strike against an argumentative opponent. As with regular ad hominems, the well may be poisoned in either an abusive or circumstantial way.... Poisoning the Well is not, strictly speaking, a logical fallacy since it is not a type of argument. Rather, it is a logical boobytrap set by the poisoner to tempt the unwary audience into committing an ad hominem fallacy...

The underlying fallacy here is that the counter-arguments against the original topic are based on everything but actual arguments (past acts, circumstances, character)—when, as everyone knows, arguments and counter-arguments must stand on their own merit, regardless of the person advancing them (even if she did forget to dope the doberman).


Saturday, May 30, 2009

You're sure you want to call it that?

"Moxie," courtesy Merriam Webster:

Pronunciation: \ˈmäk-sē\
Function: noun
Etymology: from Moxie, a trademark for a soft drink
2: courage, determination;

Also the brand name for a new entry into the DVR wars, entering the lists against TiVo. I stumbled upon Moxi while comparing global annual movie attendance (twice as many tickets are sold in India than in the US—who knew? Sure, the data is 10 years old, but, what's a decade among friends?)

This Moxi thing sounded good at first read

before you spend your hard-earned cash on TiVo, you might want to consider something a little more robust, a lot more functional, and far less expensive. Tivo hasn’t upgraded its look and feel in nearly 10 years, and they stubbornly insist on charging you annoying monthly fees! Isn't electronic equipment supposed to get more functional, more powerful, and LESS expensive? Say hello to Moxi.

What could be bad, right? Ah, the power of curiosity combined with research (aided by the web, naturellement). According to cnet, "an $800 DVR has a tough row to hoe." No argument there.

I continue digging. Dave of ZatzNotFunny professes doubts regarding, hmmm, whether Moxi's UI will stay ad-free, whether its currently free features (such as HD programming) will stay free, and even whether the company will stay in business (to provide programming/guide data). He also points out that at $800, Moxi and TiVo are comparable in price over a four year span, to which I would add: who knows what technology lurks in the brains of geeks that will change our TV viewing lives by then?

So although I think Moxi is appropriately named—as in "they sure have Moxi to be charging $800 for that!"—I'm not really sure they made the best brand name choice. But that's just me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Because I don't have enough ways to waste time

You know the expression "herding cats?" Well go ahead, give it a try.

Not as easy as it looks, ay?

Oh look, there went 3 hours.

Friday, May 22, 2009

My kind of peeps

Don't you just love it when you stumble onto a brainwave that's in sync with your own whacked out brainwave?
And when that brainwave is online, happily snarking about movies and TV and books and pop culture in general, well, it just sends my brainwaves into a veritable spasm of glee.
The A.V. Club is "an entertainment newspaper and website published by The Onion"—that's how they put it. So humble.
They have a movie review category "I Watched This on Purpose"—current entries include The DaVinci Code and Max Payne. I feel for you, man.
There's a column called The Hater. Seriously, it's her job to snark.

When you see the words "Cougar Town" smashed together like that in your line of vision, what image stumbles to the front of your mind? A zoo enclosure, maybe? A cartoon about a city run by anthropomorphized mountain lions? Knives, just many, many sharp knives? The Real Housewives Of New York City? Courtney Cox drunkenly slurring "you're hot as balls" at some guy at a club?

Well, if you said that last one, you work for ABC.

Ouch.

And how can you not like a TV reviewer who says "Jane Lynch is, of course, hilarious, though she only pops up here and there, like a secret comedic weapon"? Or a music review that uses Eminem and Oprah in the same sentence? What about a "Gateway to Geekery"? Expressly designed to "help those who want to be enthralled, but aren’t sure where to start" become obsessed with some pocket of pop culture. Because lord knows we need help there.

Inducting Brick, you know, that movie that recognizes that "the common denominator between crime fiction and high school is a mood of heightened emotion obscured by a thin veneer of cool," into the site's New Cult Canon of film seals the deal. Brick is up there with Repo Man ("straddling the borderline between the New Cult Canon and the Old, Alex Cox's grubby, shaggy-dog tale feels like the starting line for modern dark-comedy indies"). Any site that has the chops to recognize that is a site for me.

It isn't every day you find an e-kindred spirit.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The things people say

According the founders of this site, TextsFromLastNight, the site (please note all typos and grammatical errors theirs not mine)

was founded in February 2009 by two friends for reasons that may or may not include: the tendency to press send more easily as the night turns to morning, friends social habits, Kwame Kilpatrick, exes, law school, closing down bars and leaving tabs open, general debauchery and/or a common disgust for all the negativity surrounding the "sexting" phenomenon.

That's not what got my attention, actually.

It's the self-revelation of the site. You have to send in your own texts—it's not like overhearing a conversation on the bus that amuses you and then you share it, like the good ol' days. Nope, now not only can (and evidently, do) we amuse ourselves, we can spread the word that we're amusing. Or self-deprecating. Or self-mortifying. Or self-important. Let's not forget that one.

Nonetheless, some people really do have an ear (and thumb) for what's funny.

(302): I'm trying to bond with my sister... Its like getting to know a person I never met that I don't like

(314): Does leaving at 3 give Sara enough time to take the bus or are you picking her up?
(573): I cant tell if your joking or not, but I'm picking her up
(314): Do you need some kind of permission slip from her parents or can anyone just go and grab a high schooler these days?
(Yeah sure, scary. But funny.)

(213): he quoted Bring It On. It's over.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bait and switch

Let me start by saying, I liked Crank. The first one. And I like Jason Statham. The only one.

So I expected the second Crank with Statham to be, you know, a sequel. In the way sequels usually are—similar, maybe not as good, but the cut from the same cloth, made from the same mold, more of the same. Not an unreasonable expectation.

I did not expect to walk into Die Hard meets Saw IV—and I use that analogy not randomly, as one of the first (in subtitles) lines in the movie is, I kid you not, "What can I tell you? He died hard with a vengeance."

If I need to explain the difference between a John Woo movie and an Eli Roth movie to moviemakers, we're in trouble. If these guys wanted to make a horror movie, who am I to say no? But it would've been nice if they'd said something to us ahead of time. I showed up expecting a brain-candy action movie, not a movie that was going to sear my brain with revolting images that are going to be months in the fading.

One reviewer said "the movie feels like a form of aversion therapy designed to take the fun out of dumb." And another one put it this way, "So gross, brutal and just plain bad that I may never want to see another Jason Statham movie."

So bad, I walked out after five minutes. Yep, you heard me. I walked out of a movie. It was that unwatchable. I went to see Fast & Furious instead. Which was, I assure you, a welcome relief.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Alien vs Predator? Ha!

This is a match up:

Yes. It's a video. V-I-D-E-O. Click here. Watch it. You know who you are.

Best movie so far... and it's not a movie

I could be accused of a little bias. I do, after all, know the producer/director.

But trust me when I say, Every Little Step is the best movie I've seen so far this year.

Which, you could argue, isn't saying very much.

So, let me say this. It's an amazing movie. Entertaining, and moving, and interesting, and so well-done. Whether you've seen the original (which I seem to remember seeing as a little girl) or not, seen the revival or not—you know the story. You know the music. But you haven't seen the chorus line behind The Chorus Line.

Look, I'm really not a documentary fan. Same way I'm not a non-fiction fan. But I told you not to skip Michael Lewis' Moneyball, and I'm telling you, this movie is not to be missed. Seriously. I enjoyed it. So go, have a good time!

Oh, and did you hear? They're making Moneyball into a movie. Go figure.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

My dad is a math teacher

Did you know there's a difference between understanding and calculating? Think about it. Or rather, don't.

Exactly.

Turns out we understand proportions—fractions—intuitively. Without having to calculate them. It has something to do with "the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and the prefrontal cortex — [the] brain regions important for processing whole numbers," or so says this week's issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Regardless whether the fraction is presented in words or numbers (you know, "1/3" or "one-third"), the subjects in the study responded the same way—appearing to understand the fraction implicitly, rather than needing to calculate it.

Wouldn't it be handy if when your boyfriend started speaking, you understood him implicitly, instead of having to think about what he really meant? I mean, way more useful than fractions. Seriously.

Every time...

You know somebody's doing something right when you hang up the phone smiling.

Yeah, yeah, I know you're tired of hearing about this already, but I'm just not tired of talking about it. GoDaddy's customer service rocks. I had another question—not a problem, just a question about how to do something—and once again, they came through. I wasn't on hold. I spoke to a nice guy named Jason. And he figured out what the issue was in about 15 minutes. Smart kid.

Smart company.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I was planning to come back with a bang, but...

First, my apologies for my absence.

Second, the latest rumor—and I sincerely, verily, to the depths of my love of movies pray (and I almost never pray) that it really is a rumor—to be pinging around the web is that a remake of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is in the offing.

As if in and of itself that's not bad enough—and seriously, that is bad enough—the players? Tom Cruise and John Travolta. You know, there are some things even I can't make up.

You've got to hand it to Cruise, who, through his newly jointly owned resurrected United Artists studio is evidently planning to also play the Scott Rudin role of producer in this debacle—the reports claim that months before his death, Newman himself gave Cruise his blessing for this, this, this... I have no words.

Do I have to post the commandments again?

11. No third sequels. (If you're thinking about Bourne, Indy, Star Wars... those are trilogies, not sequels, so the commandment still holds. And Indy 4? Let's not even talk about it.)

7. Do not remake the classics, especially the classics with the inimitables (including but not limited to Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and so on). These would include but are not limited to: Psycho, Sabrina, Charade. There are no exceptions to this rule. Classics that have so far stayed untouched (and should remain that way): Casablanca, All About Eve, Chinatown, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, To Kill A Mockingbird, ET, Juno (who said classics have to be old?)

2. Do not remake bad movies - make good original movies. (With some few exceptions... Ocean's 11 the original was pretty lousy, Ocean's 11 the second was pretty nifty. Still.)

I reserve the right to complete this list of commandments.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Google + Feedburner = ??

Y'all know I think the world of Google. Usually.

But today something very weird and disturbing happened. And partly what was so weird and disturbing was the total lack of customer support, documentation or ANYTHING helpful.

I burn this fantabulous blog that you are reading using something called Feedburner, which many of my multitudinous readers unknowingly use to receive the posts via email. Fine. Lovely. All good. Or it was. What's my beef? you might be wondering. Well, evidently, some time in the not too distant past, Google gobbled up Feedburner and has been moving the feeds. And by some happenstance of working on someone else's blog, I stumbled across a notice that said if I hadn't moved my feed by February 28th, my blog and my readers would be, well, S-O-L. Hmpf.

Now you may also know, I can find just about anything on the web. But nowhere could I find any clear instructions for moving my feed. Just a lot of run-around. Am I going to have put Google into the customer service swill bucket with AT&T, Dell, and Microsoft? That would make me sad.

And I have this funny feeling that when I signed up for (yet another) google account because my old Feedburner account no longer works - with, mind you, no warning, all my loyal followers got the royal f-u. And I don't mean fine upbringing.

Well, I'll keep you posted if you need to re-subscribe. Feh.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's not just me

Evidently traumatic customer service experiences are universal. So much so that Emily Yellin has written a book, "Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us."

A whole book just on the infuriating, frustrating, maddening, impossible interactions that are mistakenly called "customer service." Ha!

As I was saying not that long ago, customer service centers are for the most part an oxymoron. But like everything else these days, it seems that the obvious solution is not the road taken. Robert Frost notwithstanding, sometimes the right path is the right path. I don't get it, but there you have it.

In the meantime, any business I can do with GoDaddy or Apple, I will. Their customer service actually is. Customer service. Go figure.

Plate of shrimp at the bookstores, who knew?

Speaking of lattice of coincidences, have you heard of this thing called "trends?" I only bring it up because, well, some people seem to think that if there's one product, or movie, out there on a topic, then that's all there should be.

Now, given history, and even my own anecdotal reporting on this very subect, I think we can agree that that person is sadly and hugely mistaken. As I was trawling through the news sites this morning, I stumbled on, you'll never guess—another teenage vampire book series.

To refresh, we've had "Twilight," the book series and the movie (sequels to come), starring the somewhat anemic Bella and the churlishly charismatic Edward. And we've had "True Blood," the TV series based on Charlaine Harris' Sookey Stackhouse novels (best-selling, of course). Now we have "Hunted," the fifth in the House of Night books, another tale of female blood-sucking rebellion and adventure, featuring Zooey Redbird, a teen-age vampire in training—Bella goes to Hogwarts?

"Hunted" hit the WSJ best seller list at Number 1, vanquishing "Eclipse," Stephenie Meyer's third installment in her Twilight series. All that female vampire-dom battling it out on the best-seller list and at the box-office. Makes you think that there can't really be too much of a good thing, huh?

Zooey vs. Bella vs. Sookey. I can see the movie already.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Plate of shrimp

Some people say to-may-to, some say to-mah-to.

I say "mental shleptichnach," my friend says "plate of shrimp." I gotta tell you, she has a point.


There's a video clip here. Don't miss it. Click here if you can't see it.

Someone wrote a book, "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." Not me. Everything I need to know, I learned at the movies. Or from my friends.

How do you spell disaster?

You would think that one horrible, horrendous, hellacious remake experience would be enough to put you off for life. But you would be wrong.

Scott Rudin, that mastermind behind the remake of Sabrina (for which he sort of apologized, "What was I thinking when I made 'Sabrina?'" he said in a 1997 article in the New York Times), has evidently decided that although he couldn't pull it off with Audrey Hepburn, he might be able to pull it off with the Duke in his Oscar-winning role. Yep, that's right, Rudin, along with the Coen brothers—you know, "Burn After Reading"?—is re-making "True Grit."

According to reports, they are not remaking the film so much as basing "their movie on the original Charles Portis novel, meaning that they will focus the story on the 14-year-old girl," Mattie Ross, who goes looking to avenge the death of her father. Because there isn't enough new material out there for movies? Some people never learn.

What Garcia effect?

Did I mention that hamburgers are still, despite a few negative experiences, on my top five favorite meal list?

Look, I love me a good steak (yeah, yeah, charred rare, and anyone who bothers to order their steak anything over medium might as well just take a fork and knife to their shoe as far as I'm concerned, but another post for another day), and there's no doubt that sushi can hit the spot like nothing else.

Still. A perfect hamburger, great fries and a milkshake? Tell me it gets better than that? See? I didn't think so.

New York Magazine today posted a story about the resurgence of double patty burgers. Which, I have to say, is pushing it. The perfect burger is all about balance, and once you start doubling the meat, or, say, adding ribs and foie gras (ye who shall remain nameless), you've betrayed the very essence that makes a burger a burger.

In 2005, The LA Times ran a story on Nancy Silverton's hamburger recipe. Yeah, the recipe got its own story. And it deserved it. You'll note that although the meat is muy importante (she suggests combining prime chuck with prime sirloin), and the fat content of the meat in particular (20% to 28% total), nowhere does she suggest that you put two patties on one hamburger bun. As if.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pica the magpie

By the way, the word "pica" comes from the Latin word for magpie, a bird known for eating just about anything. And also for being attracted to glittery items for its nest.

I just thought that was a little more irony for the mental shleptichnach-ists out there.

You know.

Here's another one

So what is the phenomenon where you learn something and then you see it everywhere? Seriously, how often does this happen to you? It happens to me all the time. It's kind of freaky.

I was watching Law & Order: SVU the other night and not really paying attention. Anyway, the whole case seemed to hinge on the fact that this kid ate pencils and it was this doctor's fault for not noticing that the kid had had unusual amounts of lead in his blood when he was little. Actually, it turned out to be this toy manufacturer's fault for lying about the paint they were using on their toy cars, but that came later. The shrink on the show did a major double-take when he saw the boy eating the pencil and then in the big reveal scene, he diagnosed the boy as suffering from this condition that made him eat things. Non-food things.

Now, if the next day, or even this morning, you had asked me to name that condition, I would have drawn a total blank. But then, this morning (are you following this?), I was looking up how high-fructose corn syrup is made (from some really nasty-sounding chemical treatments to the least healthy part of the corn grain, in case you were wondering) and saw an off-hand reference to a condition called amylophagia—"the compulsive consumption of excessive amounts of purified starch. It is a form of pica..."

Pica?
I thought to myself. Hmmmm. That sounds familiar. Click, click.

Pica is a condition that causes people to compulsively eat things that aren't actually food. Yup. That was the word the shrink used on the show. Which I promise you I've never heard before this week. And now it's been twice inside of seven days. And it's not like that's an ordinary word.

My partner called this phenomenon "mental shleptichnach," but I'm pretty sure that's not a technical term. Though I like it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My sister rocks

Did you ever wonder where Answer Girl turns when she doesn't know the answer? Her older sister, of course.

The "psychological mechanism behind the refusal to eat something that once upon a time made you barf" (see my post on such query) is called the Garcia Effect.

Studying, what else?, rats, Dr. Garcia discovered that the rats would associate unpleasant experiences with taste and would avoid that taste in the future to avoid the experience. It's thought to be a survival mechanism, which I suppose makes sense. Get ptomaine poisoning from peanut butter and survive—never eat peanut butter again. Good plan. Still doesn't quite explain why I continue to eat hamburgers.

So now I know, ergo you know. Thanks, sis, you rock!

It's just food, folks

895,000.
327,00.

Those are not small numbers—nearly a million Google results for "food phobia" and about a third of that for "food refusal." None of which gave me the information I was looking for. Don't you hate that? I was just wondering... what is the psychological mechanism behind the refusal to eat something that once upon a time made you barf?

It's not a fool-proof mechanism, by the way. It seems to work like selective hearing. (You know who I'm talking about.)

For instance, I won't drink a screw-driver for love or money. I don't care what you offer me. So not happening. As they say... fuhgettaboutit. And go ahead, just mention "Duncan Hines frosting" to me or my sister—you'll never see anything turn greener faster. Well, maybe chameleons in grass, but not much else.

On the other hand...I've eaten hamburgers to very ill-effect (sad, but true) and believe you me, hamburgers still rank high on my favorite foods list. Very high. Top five meals high. Go figure.

By the way, now that "to google" is a verb, is it still capitalized? I'm just wondering. You know I'm a stickler for that kind of thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No, really?

This just in: "Health care costs too expensive, Americans say."

This latest newsflash is courtesy of a poll conducted by CNN. Tune in tomorrow to see the results of their next groundbreaking survey: "are you worried about the economy?"

So sad...

When Paul Newman died, it was sad because it was the end of an era, the dying of a light.

This is heartbreaking in a whole different way. Married to Liam Neeson, with two children, Natasha Richardson died skiing in Canada. She was only 45.

I didn't see her in many movies, but somehow, I always enjoyed her when I did see her. And that's saying something.

RIP, Natasha.

Goldilocks goes shopping

I want to talk about the joys of comparison shopping. Now there is certainly joy to be found, I'm sure, in not having to look at the price. I'm sure, but I wouldn't know.

There's a whole 'nother level of satisfaction to be gained from being told one price and then, through a combination of dogged determination, persistence and sheer orneriness, finding that same good or service for a lower price. This I do know.

Just yesterday, my car dealership wanted to charge me $355 plus tax to replace and mount my tire. Leaving there convinced that couldn't be the best price, I stopped into DiscountTires, sure they would beat that price. Shockingly, they wanted $453 to do the same thing (as an aside, I think they might want to consider changing the name of their business).

A few minutes on the internet turned up a source that would sell and ship me the tire for $235. I actually contemplated the look on the face of the nice man who runs my mailbox center when he received that box before continuing my research.

Finally, I found the tire source that was "just right"—Big-O Tires would sell and mount the tire for $250, including tax. And they're just down the street from me. Tell me that's not satisfying.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

May I propose a new tag line?

"When it's people who do the right thing, they call it being responsible.
When it's an insurance company, they call it...
not being AIG."



Hey, guess what? There's a video here. Yeah, really. Click here to see it if you can't.


Couldn't really be better timing for Liberty Mutual's ad campaign, huh?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Funniest movie review ever?

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for a cheerleader movie. I was going to say "for a good cheerleader movie," but the truth is, I'll settle for a decent one. Fired Up! is just such an animal. Standard fare, not as good as some, better than most, it's in theaters now.

Let me repeat, this is "standard fare," by-the-books, could-not-be-more-ABC-123 movie making. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

You know the formula:
1. Movie starts, we meet our feckless football player heroes
2. Ten minutes in, our heroes make their fateful decision (in this case — gasp! — to attend cheer leading rather than football camp)
3. Twenty minutes in and — wouldn'tcha know? — complications arise (the boy's girl already has a boyfriend)
D. Forty minutes in (or so) and it's all or nothin' — there's no going back now
E. Twenty minutes left, everything seems hopeless, all is lost (betrayal! eviction! blah blah blah!)
Finally, five minutes to go and — holy wrap-up, Batman! — all is resolved (our heroes return in the nick of time, the nemesis team is confronted, the boy gets the girl)

Mind-blowingly innovative? Revolutionary? Ground-breaking? Not so much.

Imagine my surprise then, when scanning the reviews on RT, I read this snippet—and from a fresh (in RT terms, that means positive) review, no less: "[Fired Up!] violates the most basic rules of cinematic storytelling grammar." Remember folks—this is a boy-meets-girl—boy-loses-girl—boy-gets-girl—cheerleader movie.

I had to read on. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy read:

Fired Up! is rather a kind of anti-movie, peculiar and terrible in the most garish ways conceivable, closer perhaps to surrealism than legitimate Hollywood narrative cinema. First-time director Will Gluck and first-time writer Freedom Jones haven't just made a crappy cheerleader movie, they've made something that violates tens of rules governing classical filmmaking

"Anti-movie?" Really?

Even if it's by accident, Fired Up! is perhaps the most experimental film released to mainstream American cinemas in months, if not years.

Did I mention, it's a cheerleader movie?

Gluck's direction doesn't just exist separately from Fired Up!, as is often the case when it appears that a filmmaker is trying to privately amuse himself when given a rote script; his direction actively distracts from the movie, as though he actually had a vendetta against the story and wished to make it disappear.

Wait — as though who actually has a vendetta here? I'm just saying.

So much of the film is just so damn strange! The film's requisite villain, an arrogant college freshman, is associated on the soundtrack exclusively with rock songs composed before his birth, from both the '70s and '80s; this makes no sense whatsoever, but it is a theme which is never dropped or treated with anything but the gravest sincerity.

By the 70s and 80s, I presume he means the late 90s? Tubthumping, by Chumbawumba, was released in 1997 and Lou Bega's Mambo #5 in 1999.

But, really, why sweat the small stuff? When you can just say things like:

by far the most common tack for the gags in this film to take is that they are befuddling. Not befuddling in the sense, "Why would someone think this is funny?" but in the sense, "What the hell is happening?" And that applies both to the rapid-fire, colorful, completely opaque dialogue as well as the narrative framework itself. If the film is not funny, and it very much is not, I think this is mostly because it is so absurd - bearing in mind that absurdism, in its pure form, has nothing to do with comedy and everything to do with anarchy and nihilism.
followed closely by:
I have basically just described a bad comedy, and that is because Fired Up! is a bad comedy, and even a bad film, by any standard yardstick. But its badness is aggressive, anxious: it is not the result of doing things poorly, but of doing things that have no earthly reason to be done whatsoever. Looking over what I've written, I see that I have not communicated, and probably cannot communicate, how much of Fired Up! violates the most basic rules of cinematic storytelling grammar; and for this reason it transfixed me body and soul. The film is a disaster that has chanced its way into being a bold, terrifying experiment, where the idea of "good" or "bad", or even the simpler concepts "works" and "doesn't work" don't really matter. It amazed and delighted me simply by dint of existing so far outside of what actual filmmaking is supposed to look like.
Part of me wishes that every movie were so callously disrespectful to the rules; cinema would be a much more exhilarating artform. We'd also probably all be insane by now.

Let me end by saying: I have basically just recapped a very bad review, and that is because it is a bad review, and even bad writing, by any yardstick. The review chanced its way into being a hilarious and entertaining bit of writing, where the idea of "relevant" and "irrelevant," or even the simpler concepts of "accurate" and "inaccurate," don't really matter. Part of me wishes more reviewers were so unconcerned with the basic rules governing artistic critique; movie reviews would be far more entertaining. This review amazed and amused me simply by dint of existing and being so flat-out wrong. Perhaps the author is insane.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

... back to Krugman

When you quote someone's tweet on Twitter, it's called "retweeting"—I don't know the term for doing the same thing in the blogosphere. Even without a name for it, I'm doing it anyway. Here is Krugman's post from yesterday:

I’m as cynical as they come. Even so, I’m shocked by the total intellectual collapse of the Republican Party in the face of this economic crisis.

I suggested a little while ago that the GOP has become the party of Beavis and Butthead, reduced to snickering at line items in legislation that sound funny. And we’re not just talking about the usual crazies: we’re taking about Saint John McCain, cracking jokes about “Mormon crickets” and “beaver management” when a minute or two on Google reveals that these are, in fact, serious issues.

But it’s getting truly serious when the House minority leader — essentially, the nation’s second-ranking Republican (after Rush Limbaugh) — declares that the answer to the economy’s downward spiral is a spending freeze. That’s not a retrogression to Herbert Hoover; even Hoover knew better than that.

I’d really like to see some genuine bipartisanship in America. But that can’t happen until we start having at least somewhat sane partisans.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Actually, I couldn't have said it at all, but I found it, I read it, and I posted it. That's gotta count for something.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Can we talk customer service?

If I asked you which would you expect to provide better customer service—a large, well-funded, established, blue-chip consumer products company... say, Dell? Or a new start-up company, known for its low prices and salacious advertising, what would you say?

Yeah, yeah. I gave it away with the logo. But seriously. In the last couple of weeks, I have been on the phone (for different reasons) with Sprint, H-P, Microsoft and Dell. And on the phone with GoDaddy.

How did it go, you ask? Let me say that I've sworn to do everything I can to never buy another HP product again. I can't seem to find anyone at Dell who wants to take my money. And Microsoft? Imagine, if you will, the following:

Tech support: "Click Properties."
Me: "Properties for what?" [note to reader: there is a list of items, you can highlight any one and hit Properties for that item]
Tech support: "Do you see the Properties button?"
Me: "Yes."
Tech support: "Click it."
Me, frustrated: "but Properties for what?"
Tech support: "Let's go back to the beginning"
Me, more frustrated: "Beginning?"
Tech support: "Are you in the General tab?"
Me, even more frustrated: "Yes."
Tech support: "Do you see the Properties button?"
Me, incredibly frustrated: "Yes."
Tech support: "Click it."
Me: [throws phone through window and accidentally kills innocent dog on sidewalk.]

Eventually this astrophysicist who is staffing the Microsoft help-desk for kicks and giggles tells me that because I have Microsoft's latest service pack installed, I am simply out of luck; something I manage to disprove about two hours later through a combination of googling and determination. Please note, though, it is because I installed Microsoft's own latest update to their own software that their representative told me she couldn't help me.

I still haven't actually managed to find someone at Dell that I can simultaneously understand and who can find my account in their system. This is especially a shame as I am trying to figure out how to pay them.

I've spoken to Sprint four times since May and each time I get a different story, a different resolution and hear a different policy. Not one of the representatives has a direct line or email address, and the few (read: many) times I was disconnected, you'll be shocked, shocked I say, to hear that no one called me back and of course I had to start the endless wending through the automated voice system from square one.

As for GoDaddy? I called them up the other day because about 10 urls renewed automatically that I don't want. I spoke to this intelligible and intelligent guy named Matt, who lives in northern California and who couldn't have been nicer. He took care of my refund right away, walked me through some ways to save money on my upcoming renewals and the hosting plans I was considering, sent me several incredibly clear emails regarding how to transfer my current site from one hosting plan to the other, and gave me his real, direct email address in case I had any trouble later on.

So here's my idea. GoDaddy opens another business—operating the customer service centers for large companies that can't do it for themselves. Because leaving these companies to their own devices is clearly not working.

Oh, and the exception that proves that rule? Apple. I was on the phone with them the other day, and spoke with Jason. Nicest guy ever. Fixed my problem in 20 minutes, even though I was hooking up an Apple peripheral to a PC. Badda bing, badda bang. It's not even design, and Steve still gets it right.