Monday, December 13, 2010

Don't scratch that iPhone - never mind, you can't

Here's a little bit of personal insight: my sister often calls me "Miss Oblivious." It's not a compliment. Though it is affectionate.

I never really thought about how impervious my iPhone screen is to scratches and dings. In fact, I sort of never noticed it at all. Of course, had my screens become scratched and fuzzy, I have no doubt I would have complained vociferously and often.

Turns out, those screens are not made from ordinary, scratchable, glass. They're made from "gorilla glass."

According to myth, Steve Jobs attended a presentation where a scientist from Corning (yes, the same Corning responsible for those white casserole dishes with the abstract blue floral insignia that every mother has at least one of in her cabinets somewhere) dumped a small square of glass into a bag with a bunch of keys and shook. Hard. Then removed the still pristine and gleaming glass with nary a ding, scratch or scuff. And voila, the smartphone touch screen.

Reading up on it, because knowing all about Gorilla Glass is just the sort of useless information that delights me and renders my brain too full to retain anything useful, like, um, uh... See what I mean? Anyway, turns out Gorilla Glass is also making breakthroughs in the flat panel arena, because not only is it more durable and less scratchable — it is also stronger at thinner thicknesses (well, how would you put it?) than ordinary glass.

Besides, how could you not love a product with a logo of a gorilla doing a down dog?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brilliant, spelled "i-d-i-o-t-i-c"

To: Whoever is in Charge at Gap
Date: A day after too late
Re: Your new logo

Please refer to page 41 in David D'Alessandro's book Brand Warfare: 10 Rules for Building the Killer Brand wherein he describes the pitfalls of brand boredom. Note the fate of the senior executive at John Hancock who insisted they "drop the famous John Hancock signature from our logo and replace it with personality-free block letters. Never mind that we'd been using the signature since 1862, and it was one of Americas oldest logos and spoke volumes about our trust-worthiness and stability. Never mind that we had a trademark recognized by anyone who'd ever sat through a fifth-grade history class, and by removing it, he almost cost us our right to use it. He was apparently tired of it."

Hmmm... "personality-free block letters." Sort of like this inspired transformation?


I see that it has taken The Gap's new President, Marka Hansen, three years to fall prey to the "I'm new and important and I'm going to make my mark on this brand" syndrome - as evidenced by her post on HuffPo last week:

The natural step for us on this journey is to see how our logo — one that we’ve had for more than 20 years — should evolve. Our brand and our clothes are changing and rethinking our logo is part of aligning with that.

We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today.

We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current. It honors our heritage through the blue box while still taking it forward.

Please pay particular attention to the section where Ms. Hansen expresses surprise that Gap still connects with its customer base:

Now, given the passionate outpouring from customers... we've decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.

From this online dialogue, it's clear that Gap still has a close connection to our customers, so tapping into this energy is right. We've posted a message on the Gap Facebook Page that says we plan to ask people to share their designs with us as well. We welcome the participation we've seen so far.

So, now that she sees that the Gap brand, as it stands, resonates ("still") with its customers, she plans to enlist that customer base to redesign the brand image? Evidently the lesson she took away from this is that the Gap's customer-base are branding and marketing experts. This was all just a test?

What part of that presumably expert consumer-base's message, "leave the logo alone," did she not understand?

If you're wondering about the fate of the John Hancock executive? He (and his inspired branding ideas) soon found themselves somewhere other than John Hancock. Food for thought, people at Gap. Food for thought.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When coffee hits the road

I start my morning with an espresso. Every morning. Or so I thought. Turns out my beloved Mr. Bialetti moka pot does not technically produce "espresso." This is not to say that Mr. Bialetti's brew is looked down upon (check out this article in The Atlantic by Giorgio Milos, Master Barista for Trieste, Italy-based illycaffe), just that it's not true espresso.

There's only one response to that piece of knowledge: find a gadget or machine to make "true espresso" that meets certain criteria — paramount being that it fall within my budget, and also paramount (yeah, I know paramount is a unique position, but life is full of impossibilities) is that it be reported to be good at its job. Me being me (I being I?), that means research and lots of it.

Me also being me, it didn't take long for me to find the espresso machine that exceeds one of my criteria, but falls a just a wee bit short of the other one — The Speedster, a bespoke espresso machine made by Kees van der Westen, in the Netherlands (runs somewhere around $6,500, before shipping and not including installation).

The Coffee Geek compares the Speedster to the Maserati Gran Turismo and the Leica M6:

We look at these amazing achievements in design, technology, usability, aesthetics, performance and uniqueness, and combined, they make them "the best." Price isn't a factor. What they represent in terms of being a pinnacle of what technology and design is capable of during the period they were produced is.

I'm about as likely to be driving a Maserati GT these days as I am to be pulling my morning espresso on a Speedster, but a girl's got to have goals, right?

In the meantime, the hunt for the best espresso maker under $500 continues.

Coffee on the go

These days, I find I'm willing to make the effort to tilt the scales of my days toward excellence rather than mediocrity. Settling for settling is just not as acceptable as it once was.

I'm also, however, a big fan of convenience. And I've discovered that excellence and convenience don't often walk together down the same street at the same time. Which is where the fun starts — finding those secrets that transform ho-hum into wow, easily.

There's a big difference between ho-hum coffee (mediocre coffee you would drink) and wow coffee (excellent coffee you want to drink). The gap between excellent coffee and extraordinary coffee is not nearly as wide.

I can make my own self a cup of excellent coffee easily enough in my kitchen. One Mr. Bialetti, one bag Zabar's coffee (don't turn your nose up, it might not be a micro-roaster, but it's mighty fine), 7 minutes on the stove, and presto, my perfect morning joe. But what to do when not in my own kitchen?

Answer: Aeropress. From the company famous for its eponymous flying toy (the better frisbee) comes a portable coffee maker that produces a strong, clean brew. A cross between a drip filter (Melitta) and a French Press, the Aerobie seems to take the best and leave the rest. Unlike the drip filter, you pour all the water into the Aeropress and then you're done — no standing over the filter and steadily streaming in the hot water. And unlike the french press method, the Aeropress uses paper filters (small round discs), so the coffee is incredibly particle free and smooth.

And it's small. Perfect to stick in your suitcase. Carry one of these around and all you need is hot water and ground coffee. Ho-hum to wow with one small and BPA-free plastic plunger. Nice.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Because nothing should be taken too seriously

My sister, handing me Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead to read, simply said it was "a wicked good read." She was right.

I went on to write a thesis (or what amounted to one at my school) on Rand. But not on Objectivism, or Capitalism, or Selfishness (caps hers). I was more interested in making a case for using fiction (especially "wicked good reads") to teach science — at least, political science. Seriously, wouldn't you like a little Ayn Rand thrown in with your Hobbes? Or Adam Smith, as the case may be?

Atlas Shrugged by Rand is ranked as the second most influential book in print (after the Bible and before Wisdom from The Road Less Traveled) according to a 1991 study by Library of Congress and Book of the Month club. Strong viewpoints make for big targets, however, and Rand is no exception. See illustration on left.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Think twice about that diet soda

Once upon a time...

No, really, a long time ago, decades in fact, my friend warned me away from the "new" sweetener that was all the rage to replace saccharine.

I'm sure she told me all sorts of terrible things about it, but the one that stuck with me and that made me swear to avoid NutraSweet® at all costs, was that they (yeah, "they") hadn't determined how your body excreted the chemical. Or if it excreted the chemical.

It's a product of my childhood that the pulsing, glowing bezoar of fake sugar I promptly imagined inside me bore a surpassing resemblance to Kryptonite. It was enough to scare me off the stuff for good.

A recent article on Huffington Post by Dr. J. Mercola made me really happy I don't ingest the stuff, which is back in the news with a name change, from "NutraSweet" to "AminoSweet," to highlight the manufacturer's claim that "aspartame tastes just like sugar, and that it's made from amino acids — the building blocks of protein that are abundant in our diet."

It's a common sleight of verbal hand, right up there with "all-natural." As they say (the other "they"), snake venom is all-natural, doesn't mean it's good for you. As for being made from amino acids, while they are "indeed completely natural and safe," according to Dr. Mercola, "they were never designed to be ingested as isolated amino acids in massive quantities, which in and of itself will cause complications."

Dr. Mercola states that the FDA has received more complaints, over 10,000 in all, regarding Aspartame than all other food additives combined. Take that statistic with a grain of salt, since he also goes on to say that "by the FDA's own admission, less than 1 percent of those who experience a reaction to a product ever report it."

Er, that is not exactly what the FDA admitted. In a 1993 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, then Commissioner of the FDA, David Kessler, said "fewer than 1 percent of all doctors report injuries and deaths following the administration of prescription drugs" (emphasis mine). Which is really not the same thing. At all. Like, in any way. I managed to find a few citations that the FDA estimates that less than 10% of people report adverse reactions, but I couldn't trace it to the source — so, more salt.

Well, that got me thinking, and digging. This is what I think I know about Aspartame now: "A 1970s study suggested that aspartame caused brain tumors in rats. However, the Food and Drug Administration persuaded an independent review panel to reverse its conclusion that aspartame was unsafe."

There does seem to be consensus that the FDA's approval of NutraSweet in the 70s was a political and financial hairball of liquid lunches and hidden (or not so) agendas. Everywhere I surf, I find Tamlin Carlisle's 1987 article from The Globe and Mail about the FDA's approval, both cited and not. I also found an interesting, albeit a little salty, time-line compiled by an anti-aspartame advocate.

There does not seem to be consensus regarding aspartame's harmful effects — a great summary of both high-profile sides of the argument is on the site care2.com. New studies from Italy published in 2007 caused the FDA to conduct its own new safety reviews and once again wholly dismiss any and all claims linking the chemical additive to cancer. At the same time, CSPI downgraded aspartame on its food additives list from a “use caution” rating to “everyone should avoid," and issued a brief castigation of the FDA's safety review as "perfectly predictable."

CSPI advises against Stevia (they're not alone on that one) and approves Sucralose. Mind you, CSPI itself is a little salty, given that in one sentence it advises avoiding sodium nitrite, saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-K, Olestra and caffeine. Come again?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

or maybe not...

C'mon IMDB, catch up!

Deadline Hollywood reports that Detective Winters, the lead in NBC's upcoming Lola (Law & Order LA), will be played by Skeet Ulrich.

I hear he gets mistaken for Terrence Howard all the time.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

If he could just shrug this off...

The book. The saga. The major motion picture. The movie event of the century.

Yep, the million dollar production of Atlas Shrugged from famed movie producer John Aglialoro, directed by the inimitable auteur Paul Johansson and starring Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggert, is underway.

Wait, wait. John Aglia-who-o? Paul Johansson — that guy from One Tree Hill — seriously? Not Taylor Schilling, Angelina Jolie, right? — those rumors have been around for a while. Nope.

Let me 'splain. No, no, it's too long. Let me sum up.

John Aglialoro (head of Cybex, a fitness equipment company, and also a trustee of The Atlas Society) acquired the rights to Atlas Shrugged, one of the most well-known and divisive (not to mention longest) novels of the 20th century, in 1993 for $1 million. Evidently the rights are close to expiration and so, this spring, he decided the time was right to go ahead with the film. Sans script, director, or cast. Why sweat the small stuff?

Since then Aglialoro, who intends to bring the book to screen in three parts, has commissioned a script by famed writer Bryan O'Toole — you must recognize his name? He is responsible for such masterpieces as Cemetery Gates and Evilution. Aglialoro has also brought on the directing powerhouse Paul Johansson. If you're not a One Tree Hill fan, you might remember Johansson when he played Steve's nemesis on Beverly Hills 90210, or perhaps as one of the guys in that memorable series of Diet Coke commercials? Think hard, it'll come to you.

Johansson is also slated to play John Galt. Of course he is.


If you can't see it, click here to watch Johansson deliver and drink some diet coke.

I did say million dollar production. That's right. A whole five million dollars. To compare, the production budget for Juno was estimated at around seven million.

Angelina Jolie, when asked by Cinematical.com about the movie (not this production, to be clear, just the movie adaptation in general) had this to say: "the thing with Atlas is just, we all feel that it's one of those projects where if you can't do it right, you really can't touch it." Unless you're a fitness equipment manufacturer, that is. Then, apparently, just doing it is good enough. If only he were making a Nike commercial.

In 1949, when Ayn Rand's earlier novel, The Fountainhead, was brought to the silver screen, King Vidor (five Oscar nominations) directed, Patricia Neal, Gary Cooper and Raymond Massey starred, and Warner Brothers produced. Oh, yeah, and Ayn Rand herself wrote the screenplay. According to the producer, Henry Blanke, Ayn Rand said "she would blow up the Warner Brothers lot if we changed one word of her beautiful dialogue. And we believed her. Even Jack Warner believed her. He gave her a cigar.”

Too bad she's not around now.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ssshhh, don't tell anyone

If you've been following the Law & Order saga, you might know that NBC rather precipitously canceled the mother ship, the original series, the only show ever to challenge Gun Smoke.

If you haven't been following the saga, because maybe, like, you have better things to do?, let me catch you up: in May, with little fanfare and no little acrimony, NBC announced the end of Law & Order after 20 seasons, after agreeing to a 21st. Dick Wolf (creator, producer, mastermind, power to be reckoned with) was reportedly furious at the renegal (renegement? there doesn't seem to be a noun for that. damn.).

Rumors swirled about Wolf's negotiations to bring L&O to TNT for its third decade, a la its sibling L&O: Criminal Intent. Meanwhile, NBC, fearing that its lone remaining spawn, L&O: SVU, might get despondent all by itself, announced yet another new Law & Order spin-off (Dick Wolf is the octo-mom of procedurals): Law & Order LA. With no cast and no premiere date, the show is nonetheless officially set to go on NBC this fall.

Right, no cast. For a show of no low profile supposed to air in just a few months. Promising.

Let me make that no cast announcement. A fortuitous perusal of IMDB revealed that Terrence Howard's latest credit is, you guessed it, L&O: Los Angeles (otherwise known as "Lola"), as Detective Rex Winters. Ming-na (remember her from, among other things, ER?) is playing Lt. Parker, which would be the role filled on various other L&O shows by S. Epatha Merkerson, Dann Florek, Jamey Sheridan, Eric Bogosian and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

My question is, do you think after the first episode, NBC will replace Howard with Don Cheadle?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I bet he's good at Scrabble too

Rare is the show that can make me laugh out loud.

This is Jon Stewart on Fox & Friends' "discussion" of George Axelrod's appearance on Jon Stewart talking about MMS and the phenomenon know as "blaming it on Bush." I recommend the section between 3:08 and 4:38, if you don't want to watch an 8 minute clip. It's all funny, but that's the sweet spot.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Blame
www.thedailyshow.com

Daily Show Full Episodes
Political HumorTea Party

YES! It's a VIDEO! Don't see it? Click here and watch it and shut up already.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Ghost Chair meets Crocs meets Greenpeace

Moschino Kartell BowWowsThey're calling it the update of the Jelly.

Moschino, a mildly successful Italian fashion company (read: sarcastic) and Kartell, a mildly successful Italian furniture company (read: very sarcastic) have teamed up to make... shoes.

Of course they have. Who knows shoes better than the Italians, who brought us, most notably, Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo... and Donald Pliner, whose marketing campaign proudly touts that his shoes are "made in the mountains of Italy?" Nor is he alone. Blahnik, Choo, Louboutin? They're all made in Italy.

BowWows, these new plastic ballet flats, won't be in stores until late this year, but if they're half as comfortable as they are cute, sign me up.

Did I mention they're 100% recyclable?

Let me recap: America brings you the Jelly, ugly and made from that poison plastic, PVC (can you say "phthalates"? No? Don't worry about pronouncing it, do worry about staying away from them). Italy brings you the BowWow, both gorgeous and green.

Italy-1, USA-0.

The Declaration of Independence in 140 Characters or less

Could you declare independence and start a revolution in 20 words or less? Slate Magazine ran a contest for best tweet to do just that. They put it this way, "rewrite the Declaration of Independence in a single tweet."

Straight from the magazine's mouth, here are the results:

declarationind.jpgThe third runner-up, for straddling the delicate balance between the literal and humorous: @Boston1775: "We seek independence based on noble and universal ideas combined with petty and one-sided grievances."

The second runner-up, for his direct and confrontational tweet, goes to @TJMonticello: "All peeps are equal. Sick and tired of your tyrannical BS. Seeking independence. Your permission requested, not required."

The first runner-up, for both historical accuracy and a Twitter-worthy modernization of communication, goes to
@badanes: "Our Rights from Creator (h/t @JLocke). Life, Liberty, PoH FTW! Your transgressions = FAIL. GTFO, @GeorgeIII. -HANCOCK et al."

And finally, our winner—according to his Twitter bio, a former writer for Conan O'Brien and The Daily Show—is @ApocalypseHow, for reminding us that brevity is the soul of wit: "Bye George, we've got it."


By George, I think we did.

Happy July Fourth, everyone!

iGoldilocks

ipad.jpgI think the iPad is tres appealing. It's cool and it's hot. It's slick. It's Apple's new product. And unlike the new iPhone 4, it apparently works. What's not to like?

Well, it's big. And it's heavy. I know I wouldn't want to hold it up and try to read a book on it for hours.

Of course, it is called the iPad. From that point of view, I get it. If you're a note taker — and I am a world-class note taker — it would be nice to have just one pad, with an endless "paper" supply. And a pad that would tag and index and sort and save and email and post your notes? Heaven. Playing movies and reading the paper and playing games could be nifty too.

Still, for reading books, I'm just not convinced. When I read, I want to read, not lift weights. I've been saying for months there should be an iDevice that's bigger than the iPhone and smaller than the iPad. Personally, I'd call it the iBook (cuz, you know, it would be about the size of a paperback).

And wouldn't you know — there are reports that Apple plans to release a new device in early 2011. A smaller, five to seven inch, device.

Ah, just right.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Miami is a crazy town

One of these two is a classically trained ballet soloist from the Miami City Ballet.



Here's a hint:


And hey — this post has two, count 'em two, videos, and not much else. If you can't see them, you're kinda missing the whole point. If you want in on the point, click here. If not, well, fine.

Total non sequitur: is it just me, or is that the first time ever you've heard it called "Miami City"?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mercedes does blonde jokes. Really.

And I thought car companies didn't have senses of humor.



This is a video. A video I think is funny enough to post, so if you can't see it, click here. No? Fine. Be that way.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

They're harmless, they're harmful, they're harmless...

Did you catch the latest cell phone radiation report published by the World Health Organization (WHO)? To be completely candid, I haven't read the actual report, but I have been reading the articles and responses to the report, thinking I'd get the lowdown that way. Which didn't actually work out how I expected.

Some articles, like this one from NPR, report that the study shows no link between prolonged cell phone usage and increases in brain cancer. Others trumpet that the link (and risk) has been confirmed. So, sadly, regarding cell phones, radiation and brain cancer, we're not really any further along than we were before. Does it? Doesn't it? Dunno.

The study is at worst inconclusive, at best it shows there is no link to increased cancer, according to Time, CNN, and The Washington Post. Several international (foreign?) outlets are rather more alarmist — a Scotland paper headline reads "Study links mobile phone use to brain tumours" and another one from The Australian says "Industry study shows brain tumour link to heavy mobile phone usage."

In England, you can start your morning with "Talking on the Mobile Just 30mins a Day Linked with Heightened Risk of Brain Cancer" in the Globe and Mail and then move on to pick up a copy of The Guardian or The Independent to read "Mobile Phone Study Finds No Solid Link to Brain Tumours" or "Steve Connor: Time To Call It a Day for All the Unfounded Hang-Ups About the Dangers of Mobiles." That should clear it all up for you. (Not.)

The one point on which there does seem to be a consensus? The study is flawed (ya think?). To wit:

  • the study was conducted from 1999 to 2004, so not only is technology different today, but "heavy" cell phone use at the time was defined as about two (2) hours a month. Yes, a month.
  • it classed other cordless/wireless device usage, such as cordless landlines (forget the oxymoron - you know what I mean), as "unexposed" to radiation
  • it didn't include children and young adults
  • more than half of the control group eventually declined to participate
  • the results point to cell phone usage actually being linked to a lower incidence of cancer

Microwave News puts it this way: "There's an old saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Welcome to Interphone."

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A to do list I could really go for

There's something about a list, isn't there?


Top 100 movies.

5 Fastest Cars.

10 Best Coffees.

50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.

And now a list of the 101 Best Sandwiches in New York, courtesy of New York Magazine's own Grubstreet. In addition to the NYC list, Grubstreet has kindly put together lists of the 26 Best Sandwiches in LA, 29 in Boston and (for those of you who might be moving westwardly) the 30 Best Sandwiches to be found in the windy city.

I'm pretty convinced that a great sandwich is close to the perfect meal. So you gotta admit, this list is way more helpful than 50 ways to leave your lover. I mean, do you really need 50 ways? It's kinda a one-time thing, isn't it?

You know you've made it when?

You're spoofed. Duh.


(Video alert. If you can't see the video, you know the drill, click here.)

I don't know about you, but I have problems keeping the Marvel comic book heroes (Avengers) and the DC comic book gang (Justice League) straight. When Iron Man came out, I tried to sum up.

Recently, talking to my brother, it occurred to me that Marvel's hero universe is by and large occupied by heroes created from scientific accidents (spider bites, genetic mutations, nuclear radiation), while DC's heroes seem to be more, well, mythologically generated (infants from other planets, women from islands of Amazons) or even self-generated (you know, that old childhood trauma meets/makes split personality). Before you purists out there get all up in my business, I'm not saying this is a hard and fast rule. Repeat, not. It is, however, a pretty good generalization.

Any way you look at it, Marvel's Avengers does seem to be heading for a more cohesive movie universe than the Justice League. Whether that's a good thing remains to be seen.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

UV ABCs

It's summertime and the living is easy...

Y'all know the sunlight skin damage basics, right? Let me sum up:

1. It's the UV (ultraviolet) rays from the sun that do all the damage — from wrinkles and leathering to cancer. There are three types of UV rays (UVA, UVB and UVC), but for the foreseeable future, we really only have to worry about two of them.

2. UVB rays cause mostly superficial sun damage to your skin, as in sunburns, but are also responsible for skin cancer, particularly melanoma. Because, I imagine, UVB causes immediately visible damage, these are the rays that have been the focus of sunscreen since the 60s. UVB light is also weather and season dependent — the rays are absorbed by clouds and rain, diffusing their impact on your skin, and they are stronger the closer you are to the sun (e.g., depending on the season or the latitude of your location).

3. UVA rays, it turns out, are the real monster in the sky. These baddies don't care if it's July 4th or Christmas, and a little bit of window glass isn't going to slow them down a bit. Which is a real shame, because UVA light is responsible for the really bad things, like tanning, wrinkles and causing and accelerating skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate the epidermis (skin's top layer) to the dermis (skin's middle layer) below.

It's kinda like this: the epidermis is the grass and the dermis is the sod. The epidermis, layers of living cells topped by layers of dead cells, is what you see, and it can look lush, pretty and green or tired, brown and dry, depending on what's going on underneath. The dermis, entirely made up of living cells and blood vessels, is responsible for the firmness, elasticity, and strength of your skin.

Okay, yes, I said tanning as though it's a bad thing. Want to know how and why your skin "tans"? I'm going to simplify the heck out of this, but the fundamentals are sound. Tanning is the result of increased melanin production, which darkens your skins. Melanin production is regulated in your dermis (the sod beneath your grass), and is triggered as a protective measure when the cells in the dermis are damaged. Think of it as a shield against further attack. The problem is two-fold: a) the shield/tan only goes up after at least one hit, because your dermis can't see the sun coming, and b) the shield is imperfect, as in it's better than nothing, but it only ameliorates future damage somewhat, it doesn't prevent it.

Depending on your skin type, you'll tan less or more in response to UVA exposure. Regardless of your skin type, however, the UVA rays will damage your dermis. Think about the dermis as scaffolding. When the scaffolding is in perfect shape, it fits below the skin smoothly; when it's damaged, it breaks down and provides less than perfect support, which appears as wrinkles and sagging on the skin layer above.

4. So, skin cancer. My primary interest in all this is the photo-aging aspect. I'm in a perennial war against wrinkles. But... skin cancer isn't pretty. In any sense of the word. Recent research shows that while UVB rays are the primary culprit, especially behind melanoma, UVA rays can not only cause basal and squamous cancers (the other two types), they evidently initiate, accelerate or enhance (well, from the cancer's point of view) UVB-caused cancer. This really shouldn't be much of a surprise, since suntans are evidence of cell damage and mutations, and cancer is a result of mutating cells (vastly over-simplified, I know, but do you really want a cancer monograph here?).

5. And, lastly, Vitamin D. Which isn't a vitamin at all, it's a hormone. And another post altogether. But it's true that UVB exposure is necessary for your body to make Vitamin D. Or you can take supplements and eat Vitamin D rich food (including salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, egg yolks). Go figure, Vitamin D deficiency has been (though not definitively) linked with an increased cancer risk, among other things. How's that for irony?

6. Oh, wait, and the whole SPF thing. If you've hung around me for any time, you probably already know that SPF only measures a sunscreen's efficacy against UVB rays. There is not yet a metric for UVA protection. It is clear, however, that until recently, sunscreens didn't contain ingredients that blocked both UVB and UVA rays. Now that they do, there is a whole 'nother host of issues to address. Aha! Yet another post.

By the way, it's the ozone layer that absorbs the really bad rays (UVC and some of the UVB). So as that goes...

Third time's the charm?

A slacker he ain't.

Christian Slater takes yet another stab at TV with an upcoming pilot for Fox. This after My Own Worst Enemy, which really should have been so much better than it was, and The Forgotten, which was actually better than it should've been.

Currently untitled, the upcoming show from Adam Goldberg (that would be Adam F. Goldberg, writer, not to be confused with Adam Goldberg, actor), is reported to be a comedy about "a team of twentysomething geniuses who crack security systems."

But wait! Christian Slater isn't 20-something, you say? You are too right. He plays the "charismatic renegade who runs the Titan Team, a gruff ex-military misanthrope with a checkered past." Of course he does.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When is a nut not a nut?

When it's a coconut. Really. Well, almost.

The coconut is nut, I mean not, considered a "tree nut." According to US law (no kidding, there's a really a law about this) tree nuts include almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filberts/hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts (pignolia nuts), pistachios, and walnuts.

Coconut trees are not technically trees because they don't have bark, branches or secondary growth (the process by which trees increase their diameter through the production of wood and bark). They are, believe it or not, perennials.

Which means those of you who are allergic to nuts (and/or peanuts) are not necessarily allergic to coconut. I bring this up because there's been a lot of chatter (from all those health-nut stringers who camp out in lawn chairs and follow these things) about the health benefits of coconut water. Low in fat, zero cholesterol, electrolyte rich, and more potassium than a banana — this stuff was even used in WWII and Vietnam as a substitute for IV solution. It's being touted as the best hang-over cure, the better "sports drink" drink, and all-round hydration champ.

Consider this: 8 fl oz of Gatorade has about 50 calories, 0g fat, 16g carbohydrates (13g simple, or 'added,' sugar), 93mg chloride, 36.6mg potassium and 95mg sodium.

8 fl oz of coconut water has about 50 calories, 0g fat, 10g carbohydrates, 283mg chloride, 705mg potassium, and 60mg sodium. It is also listed as a good source of vitamin C, riboflavin and calcium, as well as dietary fiber(!) and magnesium.

By the way, peanuts aren't nuts either. They're legumes. Don't get me started.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Miss Life?

Although it seems as though Damian Lewis is headed to the silver screen and a theater near you, Sarah Shahi has found a new home on USA and the small screen in your living room.

USA has ordered a full (13 episodes) season of "Facing Kate" with Shahi. Created by Michael Sardo ("Caroline in the City"), the show centers on Kate, a top litigator so fed up with the system she becomes the ultimate anti-litigator, a (gasp!) mediator. Also starring Michael Trucco ("Battlestar Galactica", "Castle"), Virginia Williams and Baron Vaughn.

The show will premiere sometime in the fall, after the summer premiere of "Covert Affairs." As long as it's not Dr Laura meets Judge Judy.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Who's not there?

I went to see "MacGruber" the other night (don't ask) and one of the trailers was for Stallone's entry into the summer blockbuster race, "The Expendables." When it was over, we were left asking "how'd they do that?" Not the explosions and jumps and falls — we know how they do that. But the cast. How'd they do that?


(video alert! video alert! can't see it? click here)

And for those purists out there, check out this one:

(video alert! video alert! can't see it? click here)

The Vulture

From New York Magazine's Vulture, some insights on the upcoming fall season:

The most lawyered-up hour on TV:
If you're not fond of attorneys, you might want to avoid 10 p.m. Wednesday on the broadcast networks, when three new law shows will battle it out: ABC's
The Whole Truth (Jerry Bruckheimer law); CBS's The Defenders (Vegas law); and NBC's Law and Order: Los Angeles (Old-school law).

We have a copy-editor rebellion in the making:
CBS should have called its new William Shatner comedy Shat My Dad Says. Instead, this Twitter-inspired (really) show has been tagged $#*! My Dad Says, which we're supposed to pronounce as Bleep My Dad Says. We're suddenly longing for the simplicity of Numb3rs.

The show most likely to replace Lost:
NBC is hoping it's
The Event, a 24-like thriller featuring Jason Ritter (Joan of Arcadia) as a man whose quest to find his missing fiancée leads him to uncover a multilayered conspiracy. The show's tagline: "The answers only lead to bigger questions." And just when we thought we were done with TV shows stringing us along for six years.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sports is art is life is sports is...

Whatever else they do or don't do well, Nike does good TV. This time, they asked Alejandro González Iñárritu to film a micro-short (okay, I just made that up, but you watch it and tell me you'd call it a "commercial") about the World Cup.

I don't know exactly (or at all, frankly) what guidelines Nike offered to Iñárritu, but I imagine they were along the lines of: we would like to send a message that illustrates the universal language created from the shared experience of talent, skill, determination and triumph.



(There should be a video here. If you don't see it, it's worth watching, or I wouldn't have posted it, so click here.)


Message received.

and, finally, CBS for the couch

The last of the big three to announce, CBS received rather different reactions to its fall lineup: Stuart Elliott at The New York Times said "CBS shook up the upfront week... with the most startling moves of any network for the coming season." The Wall Street Journal, however, summed up the news in an article titled "Playing it Safe: New CBS Lineup Includes Crime Dramas, Remake."


Given that CBS' Tuesday is already a powerhouse with NCIS, NCIS:LA and The Good Wife and their Thursday is two-thirds full with CSI: and The Mentalist, I'm not sure you could say they needed that much of a shake-up. So, ignoring those half-hour things that persist in cluttering up my television watching landscape, here's what's going to be new on the eye:


Hawaii Five-O. Did I say "new?" I meant kinda sorta new. Because what we really need is another cop show, and what we really, really need is another remake. On the other hand, we do need another (or just "a") good Alex O'Loughlin vehicle, so it's got that going for it. If you don't know, this is the show from whence we get "book 'em Danno!" O'Loughlin plays McGarrett (Jack Lord), Scott Caan plays Danno, and Daniel Dae Kim plays the other cop. Unlike all the other new shows, the producer and writer credits for this show are, well, buried. Deep. That worries me. After some serious digging, I did learn that the show will be exec produced by Peter Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the latter two of JJ Abrams/Alias/Fringe/Star Trek/and so on and so on fame). Here's hoping this isn't Hawaii Five-O meets Three Rivers.


The Defenders. Hey, look Ma, another lawyer show! (This is what happens when you announce last.) Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell partner up as partners in a law firm partnership. The family guy and the womanizer. The serious and sincere lawyer "balanced by" the reckless but brilliant wild-card. No law show would be complete without an eager new associate, a winsome assistant, and a beleaguered wife. Add those, stir and, presto, it's a TV show. They might be going for The Blues Brothers meets LA Law, but I'm thinking this sounds more like Justice meets Trust Me. Ruh roh.


Blue Bloods. ...aaaand, it's a cop show. But with Tom Selleck (we can only count our blessings that — so far — no one has green lit a remake of Magnum PI). Selleck plays the current NY Chief of Police, Len Cariou his father (and former COP) and Donnie Wahlberg his son (next COP?). Bridget Moynahan plays the daughter, a DA, while Will Estes plays the youngest son. You know, the one who turns his back on his stellar academic record, including Harvard Law, to, shocker!, become a cop? Yeah, that one. From Leonard Goldberg, longtime partner of Aaron Spelling, and Mitchell Burgess ("The Sopranos," "Northern Exposure"). NYPD:Blue meets Dallas?


At some point mid-season, we'll see the Criminal Minds spin-off with Forest Whitaker.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I think I've heard that song before

Nah, I just saw it on Lifetime.


Coming out this fall is yet another Katherine Heigl rom-com (when does that girl sleep?), "Life as We Know It." In and of itself, that's not really remarkable, and in fact, I only stumbled on it because I was busy researching Greg Berlanti, co-creator on "No Ordinary Family," a show just picked up for the fall season by ABC (see "Couch Potato ABCs").

What I did, however, find remarkable is the movie's uncanny similarity to a TV movie I recently watched (okay, I admit it), literally, on Lifetime. Here's the synopsis for the brand-spanking new, yet-to-be-released "Life as We Know It" floating around:

Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming caterer and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) is a promising network sports director. After a disastrous first date, the only thing they have in common is their dislike for each other and their love for their goddaughter, Sophie. But when they suddenly become all Sophie has in the world, Holly and Messer are forced to put their differences aside. Juggling career ambitions and competing social calendars, they'll have to find some common ground while living under one roof.

And here's the IMDB synopsis for "Raising Waylon" (as broadcast on CBS in 2004 and on Lifetime more recently):

Ten years ago, Julia (Poppy Montgomery), a globe-trotting photographer with a thing for rockstars, and Reg (Thomas Gibson), a blue-collar coffee shop owner with a thing for models, came away from their lone date together with an intense dislike for one another. Nonetheless, their mutual friends (responsible for that one date) named them godparents to their son. When the boy's parents unexpectedly die, they're forced back into each other's lives and under the same roof to take care of him.

Um...?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Couch potato ABCs

What to expect from the alphabet network this fall?

No Ordinary Family
Greg Berlanti ("Brothers & Sisters," "Dirty Sexy Money") is co-creator of this show about a family who emerges from a plane crash in the Amazon with super-powers. Cast is promising, including Michael Chiklis ("The Shield," not to mention that movie where he played normal-guy-suddenly-has-super-strength), Julie Benz ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Dexter") and Kay Panabaker. "Sky High" meets "The Fantastic Four"?

Detroit 1-8-7
"Documentary style" cop show set in Detroit. Personally? Feh. The camera (hand-held and shaky?) follows two sets of cops as they, you know, do the cop thing. First we have (you'll never guess) a "damaged but driven detective," who also happens to be the "most respected and most misunderstood man in the division" (played by Michael Imperioli) and his brand-new partner, who (OMG!) has a baby on the way. Then, for a little change of pace, we've got ourselves a "sexy, edgy, rising star" female detective recently partnered with (now, isn't this a surprise?) a "streetwise, smooth-talking" detective for a "combustible pairing rife with conflict and sexual tension." This sounds like "Tired" meets "Retread" to me.

The Whole Truth
A courtroom drama from Jerry Bruckheimer and Tom Donaghy ("Without a Trace"). One episode, one case, two sides (you know, prosecution and defense?). Could be interesting. Starring Rob Morrow (didn't take him long to bounce back from his "Numb3rs" cancellation) and Joely Richardson. "Law & Order" meets "The Practice"?

My Generation
Based on a documentary about a Texas high school's graduating class of 2000. Well sort of. Because this isn't a reality show (thank god). And it takes place 1o years later (i.e., now). And the students are played by actors. With lines. But anyway, it's based on that documentary. Created by Noah Hawley ("Bones"). Hmmm. "7 Up" meets "October Road"?

Body of Proof
"Quincy M.E." meets "Bones" meets "The Closer" meets "House". I don't know what else to say. On the other hand, any network that is willing to give Dana Delany her own show gets a thumbs up from me. According to ABC's press release, Delany will play Dr. Megan Hunt, former neuro-surgeon turned "Philadelphia's most notorious" medical examiner.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Couch potatoes, part deux

Raising Hope
...quirky guy raises baby girl with help from wacky family. The half-hour comedy stars Lucas Neff, with Martha Plimpton and Garrett Dillahunt (whom they liked so much on "Deadwood" they had him play two totally different characters). My Name is Earl show runner Greg Garcia is onboard, other cast includes Cloris Leachman and Bijou Phillips.

Running Wilde
...another half hour comedy, this one about a wealthy playboy (Will Arnett) trying to make time with his liberal, responsible childhood sweetheart (Keri Russell). Brought to you by Will Arnett and the "Arrested Development" brain trust, told through the eyes of Mssr. Playboy's former housekeeper's 12-year old daughter. Hmmmm... "The Philanthropist" meets "Dharma & Greg" with perhaps a dash of "The Wonder Years"?

Lonestar
... a prime-time soap, Fox-style — Texas, con-men, double wives and double lives — from the creators of "Party of Five" (remember when we all loved that show?) and the Weitz brothers ("About a Boy"), pilot directed by Marc Webb ("500 Days of Summer"). Starring Jimmy Wolk, who is either a poor man's Kyle Chandler or the next Kyle Chandler, along with Adrianne Palicki (ironically, of "Friday Night Lights"), Eloise Mumford, David Keith, Mark Deklin, Bryce Johnson and Jon Voight. I'm going to say... "Big Love" meets "Dallas" meets "The Riches".

Ride-Along
Where: Chicago. Who: Cowboy cop (is there any other kind?), played by Jason Clarke, and new, first female, Chief of Police, played by Jennifer Beals. What: kicking butt and taking names to clean up decades of corruption in the Windy City. With Matt Lauria, Devin Kelley, Todd Williams, Billy Lush and Delroy Lindo. From Shawn Ryan ("The Shield").

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Summer on the couch

My, how times have changed. Once television's recycling bin, summer may now be the best season on TV.

May 19th — The Good Guys (Fox)
The way I see it, this show has two very promising things going for it: Bradley Whitford and Matt Nix. Bradley Whitford was one of the best things on one of the best shows on TV, "The West Wing," while Matt Nix is responsible for one of the, if not the, most watchable TV shows in years, "Burn Notice." Taking place in Dallas, "The Good Guys" stars Colin Hanks and Whitford in a rookie vs veteran, old-style vs new-fangled, buddy cop show. Hanks is the by-the-book newbie to Whitford’s bumbling but always-gets-the-job-done-even-by-accident veteran. "Law & Order" meets "The Odd Couple"?

June 20th — Scoundrels (ABC)
A one-hour comedic drama based on a show from New Zealand. A wife decides it’s time her family goes “straight” after her career criminal husband ends up on the wrong side of a long prison sentence. Virginia Madsen plays the wife and David James Elliott her “scoundrel” husband. Patrick Flueger ("The 4400") takes on dual roles as the couple’s twin sons. "The Good Wife" meets "The Grifters"?

June 22nd — Memphis Beat (TNT)
Jason Lee, and who doesn't like Jason Lee?, stars as a Tennessee cop who lives with his mom and is very attached to the city he patrols. Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov's shingle, Smokehouse Productions. This is too easy it's Earl meets Elvis (with a badge).

July 13th — The Glades (A&E)
Whadda ya know, it's another crime procedural set in Florida. This one about a relocated Chicago homicide detective. Australian actor Matt Passmore plays Jim Longworth, attractive, brilliant, and irascible and forced into exile after being wrongfully (of course) accused of having an affair with his former captain’s wife. Kiele Sanchez plays the love-interest, complete with a husband in prison and an adolescent son. Promisingly, the show was created and is exec-produced by Clifton Campbell ("White Collar," "Profiler," "21 Jump Street"). Really, Burn Notice is totally different. The guy forced to stay in Miami is a spy, not a cop. And the girl-friend doesn't have a husband in jail, though she spends a lot of time trying to stay out of it. Totally different. What do you say? "Burn Notice" meets "L&O: Criminal Intent"?

July 13th — Covert Affairs (TNT)
Piper Perabo ("Coyote Ugly") plays Sidney Bristow, I mean Annie Walker, a newbie CIA trainee who has to sink or swim when she is suddenly promoted to a field operative. Executive produced by Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity"), the show also stars Christopher Gorham ("Ugly Betty," "Jake 2.0") and Sendhil Ramamurthy ("Heroes" — and, may I say, a real hottie) as federal agents and Peter Gallagher ("The O.C.") as a CIA director. Think "Alias" meets... blonde?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Calling all couch potatoes

Coming this fall to NBC

The Event
...evidently trying to be the next "24" (even to bringing on some of that now available talent such as Evan Katz, one of "24"'s writer-producers, as show-runner), "The Event" is a conspiracy thriller about an average Joe, Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his fiancée (Sarah Roemer), only to unwittingly stumble on the biggest cover-up in U.S. history. Co-starring in the pilot are Blair Underwood as the newly elected U.S. President Martinez, Laura Innes ("ER") , Scott Patterson, Ian Anthony Dale and "24," "Heroes" and "Damages" alum Željko Ivanek.


Chase
... the latest Jerry Bruckheimer effort. Think "CSI:" meets "The Fugitive". The show follows a team of U.S. marshals as they hunt down America's most dangerous fugitives. Kelli Giddish ("Past Life") plays U.S. Marshal Annie Frost, a cowboy boot-wearing deputy from Texas who tracks down violent criminals on the run. Cole Hauser ("K-Ville"), Amaury Nolasco ("Prison Break"), Rose Rollins ("The L Word") and Jesse Metcalfe ("Desperate Housewives") also star as members of Frost's elite team.

Undercovers
Think “Hart to Hart" meets “Mr. & Mrs. Smith." J.J. Abrams co-wrote, produced and directed the "Undercovers" pilot, which stars British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Boris Kodjoe as a married couple who, years after they retired, are re-activated as CIA agents by their old boss (Gerald McRaney) to find a gone-missing agent. Undercovers will be the first pilot Abrams directed himself since 2004’s “Lost.”

Law & Order Los Angeles
Simultaneously (close enough) with canceling the "mother ship," NBC picked up the youngest Wolf cub, "LOLA" (believe it or not, I didn't make up that nickname) to start in the fall—even though not only hasn't a pilot been shot, but the show hasn't even been cast (well, nothing has been announced, sniffed out or leaked, anyway). As recently as four days ago, the big rumor was still that the suits were 'approaching' Jimmy Smits. Not very promising, given that that same network has already committed to another show starring Jimmy Smits, Outlaw.

Outlaw
...follows Cyrus Garza (Smits), a Supreme Court justice ("playboy and gambler") who starts to see the flaws in the system and quits his job to go back to practicing law to represent the underdog. Jesse Bradford ("West Wing"), Carly Pope ("24"), Ellen Woglom ("Californication") and David Ramsey ("Dexter") also star. I'm thinking this could be "Shark" meets "Vegas".

Love Bites
...and from Cindy Chupack (“Sex and the City”) we get an hour-long romantic comedy anthology series featuring three loosely connected, modern stories of love, sex, marriage and dating (shocker). Becki Newton ("Ugly Betty") stars as Annie, the "bubbly optimist," Jordana Spiro (“My Boys”) plays Frannie, the "pragmatist" — they are the last two single girls standing after all their friends marry. Call me crazy but could Annie be Charlotte, with a little Carrie thrown in for good measure (or vice versa)? And Frannie, Samantha with a dash of Miranda? Their story will anchor the series, while other romantically-challenged characters come and go each week. The pilot’s guest cast includes Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Ghost Whisperer”), Greg Grunberg (“Heroes”), Craig Robinson (“The Office”), Jason Lewis (“Sex and the City”), Lindsay Price (“Lipstick Jungle”), Larry Wilmore (“The Daily Show”), Charlyne Yi (“Knocked Up”), Pamela Adlon (“Californication”), Stacy Galina (“Hidden Hills”), Brian Hallisay (“Privileged”), Kyle Howard (“My Boys”) and Steve Howey (“Bride Wars”). "Sex and the City" meets network TV?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome to the party

Generally speaking, this blog—my blog—is not a "personal" log or journal. With few exceptions, I merely try to point out various interesting (or ridiculous or humorous or surreal) flotsam and jetsam I notice along the wayside of my life, without inflicting on you the flotsam and jetsam obstructing the path of my own life.

You might, however, have noticed a distinct slowdown of entries recently. Okay, okay, for the past year or so. Who's counting? That would be as much of my flotsam and jetsam as you were going to get—focus on what's not there, you'll get the point. Recently, though, I am happy to say that the, ahem, path of my life is becoming less littered and more clear. Which should mean interesting—ridiculous, humorous, surreal—bits of the world once again showing up with regularity on these pages. (Didncha miss me?)

All of which is a long introduction to a book and blog I found the other day, "Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put On My Pajamas & Found Happiness" by Dominique Browning, the not-so-recently laid off editor of House & Garden Magazine. I've got the first two down but good; I'm just still working on that elusive third item.

You might not be able to judge a book a by its cover, but perhaps by its title? Jobless, in sleepwear and happy. Now that's my kind of book.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I guess we're not in Kansas anymore

I'm a fan of Google, generally speaking. I remember, believe it or not, the first day my boss at Citigroup came into my office and told me about this new search engine I just had to try. Anyone remember Alta Vista or Lycos? Ya, I'm old.

(Think about that - I'm aging myself by remembering the good old days on the Internet. Not before there was the Internet, just those early, glory days, like remembering the wild west or something. Yeesh.)

In those days, the good ol' days, Google was cool. It was different (a blank page with no images? searches returned before you can blink? what?) and the company seemed different too. Part of the "air hockey instead of conference rooms," "free Coke and Oreos for programmers," kind of thing.

And even when it began to grow up, it seemed to stay cool. Eric Schmidt of Novell and Sun Microsystems? "Do no evil"? These guys weren't only geeky smart, they were business smart enough apparently, to admit their blank spaces and handle them. That's even cooler.

Sadly, however, I think I see the stocking clad legs of Google-the-good poking limply out from under the house that corporate greed and arrogance built. This company was founded on the premise of simple and uncluttered. One column of search results. No images, no ads, no fluff. They even fought for 5 years to patent that very look (think I'm kidding? Not. "Google owns the idea of having a giant search box in the middle of the page, with two big buttons underneath and several small links nearby.")

Apparently, they patented it only to ditch it, cuz the Google home page aint so simple no more. It's a mess. Seriously. We've got top nav (Google apps, options and whatnot). We've got right side nav (sponsored links). And, most recently, we now have a left side nav too. Ugh. And no way to turn any of it off.

If that weren't bad enough, you've heard the buzz about Buzz? How Google is opting its users in willy-nilly? Adding insult to injury by, almost literally, adopting the Facebook model of making it close to impossible to turn it off? Not nice, guys. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

They might want to rethink that whole "do no evil" motto. Or remember it.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Need a laugh?

For one thing, my sure-fire, need-a-laugh, go-to video clip is Robin Williams on the game of golf — I chuckle just thinking about that riff. For another, I'm not a big fan of stand-up comics. Really, I'm not. I almost never find them anywhere near as funny as everyone sitting around me, which makes them even unfunnier. When you're sitting there, thinking, "yeah? so?" and everyone else is gasping for breath and crying with laughter, you just feel awkward. Not amused. Just kind of irritated. So, no, stand-up comics are not my thing.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I watched a DVD of this stand up comic I'd never heard of and started laughing. Out loud. In front of the TV.

Jokes.com
Brian Regan - Animal Sounds
comedians.comedycentral.com

(Psst, this is a video post. If you can't see it, you're missing out, so click here already!)

This Brian Regan, he cracked me up. But that's just me.

Friday, March 12, 2010

It was a light and stormy night

This time, a mule by any other name is... a ginger beer rundown.

For years now, my favorite cocktail has been a "Manchester," a concoction of ginger beer, light rum (I'm a big fan of Appleton's Reserve), and a generous squeeze of lime — served on the rocks. This may sound familiar, as it's a variation on the classic Bermuda cocktail, the "Dark 'n Stormy," which is made with ginger beer, dark rum (traditionally Gosling's) and a lime squeeze. They're sort of your summer and winter clothes of rum and ginger beer cocktails.

The Manchester was my introduction to ginger beer (Barritt's Bermuda Stone to be precise), which it turns out is not alcoholic, it's more like ginger ale with personality. You drink ginger ale when you're not feeling well; you drink ginger beer when you're feeling just fine.

Turns out there are a few other ginger beer based cocktails, including something called the "Moscow Mule," which is made with vodka, lime juice and a lime wedge. Me, personally, I am no big fan of vodka, so this never really hit my radar screen.

Then my sister told me recently that she is now an avid drinker of something she called a "Jalisco Mule" — ginger beer and tequila (with a little lime). Now that's a mule I could get behind. Like everything that comes out of the kitchen or from behind the bar, a drink is only as good as its ingredients.

Would you rather belly up to the bar with Robin Williams or Tim Smothers? Bundaberg and Barritt's are the Jim Carrey and Stephen Colbert of ginger beer. They're not alone, mind you, you've also got Blenheim's, Grace, Stewart's, The Ginger People, Cock 'n Bull, and a host of others I haven't tried. To help you out — because that is, after all, my job — I found some ginger beer reviews. The Cocktail Nerd reviews a goodly number in his two part post (part one and part two). Scotte's Rum does a thorough ginger ale review, and tucks a few ginger beers in for good measure.

I'll tell you what I know for sure — Bundaberg has the coolest bottle by far. Not that I'm saying you should judge a beer by its bottle. It's not like anyone has trademarked some bottle that's shaped like an hour glass or anything.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A mule by any other name...

...is a landmark law suit.

Betcha didn't see that coming.

I was going to talk about Bundaberg and Barritt's Bermuda Stone Ginger Beer, Australian and Bermudan (?) brewed respectively.

I was going to go on about the coolness factor of the form factor of the Bundaberg beer. That bottle! That cap! From there, I was going to transition smoothly into a discussion of the authenticity of Barritt's, to which I was introduced at a sadly missed Jamaican/Southern restaurant, Maroon's, in a drink they called the "Manchester" (which the rest of us would probably call a "Light and Stormy," if there were such a thing).

But instead I'm going to discuss a law suit. It's simple, really. As I was trolling about, searching for the perfect ginger beer image, not to mention the origin of the name "Moscow Mule," a cocktail of lime juice, vodka and ginger beer (if you're interested — Moscow because vodka is mostly ascribed to Russian origin and Mule for the kick of ginger beer), I stumbled onto something far more fascinating: the role of ginger beer in what seems to be considered one of the most famous common law cases in Great Britain. No kidding.

Evidently, in 1928, in a town called Paisley (and I'm pretty sure it's that paisley, but don't let me get off-track), near Glasgow in Scotland, two friends entered a cafe. Friend One ordered and paid for both of them, including an ice cream drink with ginger beer for Friend Two. The cafe owner brought their order and poured some of the soda out of its opaque bottle over ice cream in a glass and left the pair to their own devices. A few sips later, and Friend One considerately poured more soda out of the bottle for Friend Two. Lo and behold, along with the frothy liquid, out tumbled a snail. Actually, the decomposed remains of a snail.

A diagnosed case of gastroenteritis later for Friend Two (a Ms. Donoghue) and voila, law suit. Now that doesn't sound so interesting in our day and age, where we have customers suing restaurants because the coffee is hot. But, evidently, this was a landmark case for a several reasons. One, Ms. Donoghue brought suit against, not the abjectly apologetic cafe owner, but one Mssr. David Stevenson, an aerated water (I'm guessing that's soda by any other name) manufacturer in Paisley, and the source of the, ahem, enhanced ginger beer. Two, the grounds of the suit were the manufacturer's "duty of care" to the ultimate customer, the consumer of his product. Prior to this, although the concept of duty of care existed, it was closely proscribed, and this situation was far removed from precedent.

But justice, at least in this case, prevailed, and new case law was written and manufacturers everywhere (at least in the United Kingdom) became legally accountable to their ultimate customer, regardless of the layers of distribution behind which they tried to hide.

Okay, so it's no Inherit the Wind. But the next time you find something gross in your crunchy cheetos and you want to sue, you know who you have to thank for your odds of winning. The Paisley Snail. (You don't really want me to get into the earlier case, referenced by the judges, in the US — McPherson v. Buick — do you? It's not nearly as interesting as the snail.)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sweet and salty and everything nice

Priorities. Everyone is always going on about getting your priorities straight. I have my priorities straight — my number one priority is making sure I am never more than 3 feet from good dark chocolate.

I learned this direct from my fairy god-mother who also believed that your bag shouldn't weigh more than a small car (I haven't quite got that hang of that one). The chocolate thing, though, I got that. She never went anywhere without a stash of dark chocolate secreted away, usually in a ziploc bag that looked about 100 years old. Except that they didn't have ziploc bags 100 years ago. Still.

So you can usually find some portion of a dark chocolate bar floating around in my bag somewhere, usually wrapped haphazardly in its foil and paper wrapper. The ziploc thing is one step too deliberate for me. Without it, I can still discover the chocolate in my bag as an unexpected and welcome surprise. Hey! Look! I found this chocolate tucked away. How did that get here? Yum.

Recently, however, I discovered Trader Joe's mini dark chocolate covered pretzels, not to be confused, by the way, with their pretzel slims, which are $1 more for half as many. Don't ask me, I didn't price them, I just eat them.

They are the perfect chocolate craving pacifier. The chocolate is ridiculously good, not to mention that the chocolate to pretzel ratio, which is of vital importance and often woefully miscalculated, is perfect. Three of these little babies and all food yens are happily met— chocolate, snack, chewing, salt. The major food groups all in one tiny loop de loop.

Which means that I had to give in to the ziploc chocolate container methodology. When I labeled the bag (if you're going to be deliberate, you might as well go all the way, right?), I wrote "Toni's chocolate" in big letters. xo.

Monday, March 01, 2010

So right... and then so wrong

It's sad when something that starts so right goes so terribly wrong. Ted Bundy, AOL/Time Warner, the Segue, "Leverage."

I believe it's season 3 of Leverage that just ended — truthfully the second and third seasons blended together in my mind in a mix of bored-out-of-my-skull and "huh?" — I'm not really sure if it's 2, 3 or maybe even 4 that just shuddered to a halt. Which is a real shame, because the first season was great. Really. Like, can't wait for next week's episode good. Like, what will they think of next? good. And then came some major sophomore slump. Screech to a halt, slam on the brakes, make an emergency brake 180, what in blazes happened? slump-eroo.

In the spirit of cloud/silver lining, I'm going to say that Leverage Season 1 v. Leverage Seasons 2 & 3 provides great lessons in what makes for good episodic TV and what doesn't (and some other things thrown in for extra credit). Like all rules, these rules can be broken, if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, rules are rules for a reason. Like cliches.

What's the first rule? Underlying story arcs make better episodic television. Think about the first season of Veronica Mars. Think about any season of Friday Night Lights (talk about a built-in underlying story arc). Think Burn Notice. Think The Mentalist. When there aren't story arcs, there are character arcs. Bones. NCIS. And don't talk to me about Law & Order because it's a law unto itself. I did say that rules can be broken.

Are we all on the same page? To sum up: Leverage is about a motley crew (ha!) of thief, grifter, muscle, hacker and ex-insurance investigator/mastermind (Thomas Crown Affair, anyone?) that bands together for a little revenge on behalf of one of the crew and a big pay-off for all of the crew (the story arc). As they pursue the big prize, they help the little guy they encounter along the way who is being unfairly pressured or treated (the episodes).

By the season 1 finale of Leverage, revenge has been served, nicely chilled. Along comes season 2 and things get hinky. Why are they still working together? What happened to — ah, next rule. Keep your facts straight. There's nothing more annoying then plot fundamentals that change on a whim. By the end of Season 1, this crew each had raked in some 8 or 9 figure pay-day and were working out of some awesome, fully loaded space in a Chicago high-rise (one stone, two birds: 1) these guys didn't need their "clients" money and 2) they had some very cool toys). Come season 2, and our hero is living in and working out of some nice but surely not spectacular apartment over a bar in Boston and apparently no one is fabulously rich any more. Huh?

Here's what I find so sad. How easy it would have been to fix. Re the story arc, I'm no professional, but, hello? there are five main characters. Give another one of them a past, present or future they can all connive and scheme about. Seriously. How hard would that be — take the thief. Her biggest score was stolen and she needs to get it back or there will be dire consequences (How to Steal a Million, To Catch a Thief come to mind). You've got a hacker, you're telling me you can't come up with some nefarious past or future thingymabob that's got to be resolved? You know, an ex-partner genius computer geek who's now scheming to take down the world (Remember Die Hard 4? or Sneakers?)? What about the grifter, a grifter for crying out loud. One of movies' easiest characters. One of her old marks isn't hunting her down for revenge? Another grifter isn't trying to muscle in (Matchstick Men? The Grifters? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?)? As for the muscle — don't even get me started on the possibilities there.

Final verdict. Season 1 — yes. Season 2 and following — no. And that's all she wrote.