Tuesday, March 27, 2001

The Romans rule: Gladiator beats out Crouching Tiger, Traffic at Oscars

Obviously I'm disappointed, in that I wanted Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to win, but the lesson here is that the Best Picture award is above all a popularity contest. It's the only award that everyone in the Academy can vote for, and what we've seen in recent years is that studios spend millions of dollars campaigning. Dreamworks spent a great deal of cash getting videos and DVDs of Gladiator out to Academy members, including little gifts and other perqs to help them remember their movie when the ballots get filled out. No one is yet saying that studios are buying Best Picture awards, if only because everybody's doing it, so theoretically it evens out. Still, the best campaign wins - two years ago, Miramax campaigned tirelessly for Shakespeare In Love, and they beat Saving Private Ryan (a Dreamworks film). Since then, Dreamworks has been on a mission: never lose a Best Picture race again. American Beauty was a Dreamworks film, which beat The Insider, a Disney production. Gladiator beat Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Sony Classics) and Traffic (USA Films). This is not a coincidence, kids. Once Russell Crowe won for Best Actor, I knew Gladiator was a sure thing (nothing like a kidnap threat to up your Q rating before the Oscars). Just one last observation: is it just me, or is Ridley Scott, director of Gladiator, the grumpiest bastard in Hollywood? The guy didn't even crack a smile once, not when Crowe won, not when his movie won. Hey Ridley, take the stick outta your ass, okay? So you didn't win Best Director. You didn't deserve it, and you know it, so lighten up, willya?
'Survivor' scandal in Australia

Quote: "Australia's defense minister is demanding an inquiry into how the air force blew hundreds of thousands of dollars flying contestants in the reality television show "Survivor" to a remote forest."

The total cost, according to the defense minister, was about $150,000 US. What they should do is send the bill to CBS. I mean, let's be realistic here, it was CBS's show that wanted the plane, and they probably sell 30 second ads on 'Survivor' for 25 grand apiece, so six commercials later, the bill is paid off. I just can't believe they stuck the Australian air force with the bill. Everybody wants to have a close brush with fame, I guess. I think it would be like if Tom Hanks showed up at your front door, asked to borrow your car, got into an accident, and stuck you with the repair bills. A lot of us would be so star-struck that we'd pay the bill without thinking about it.

Thursday, March 22, 2001

The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Guide for the New Millennium

I could spend hours at this site. Now, I'm not really a skeptic by nature; I'm more of a cynic, really. I believe in ghosts, psychic abilities, and UFOs. However, I don't believe that the moon landings were a hoax, I don't believe in astrology, and I don't believe that the creature in that Bigfoot film was anything but a guy in a monkey suit. I guess I just prefer to keep an open mind - I enjoy the attempts of both the skeptics and the true believers to convince me, but I think it's dangerous to pick one side exclusively.
Anyway, The Skeptic's Dictionary is an excellent place to go if you've got that Joe Friday attitude, you know, 'Just the facts, ma'am.'
CNN.com - Travel - First-of-a-kind roller coaster making U.S. debut - March 21, 2001

This puppy goes from 0 to 80 miles an hour in two seconds. That's right - two seconds. You're propelled up this 165 foot tower, over the top of it, then straight back down the other side. I think even ardent coaster fans might need to wear a diaper on this one, 'cause there's definitely a large Holy Crap factor. The CNN story has a link to a video showing this coaster in action.

Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Visitors to New Art Show Draw a Blank

Quote: "A British art gallery has taken what constitutes art to a new extreme -- by putting on an exhibition of absolutely nothing. There are no paintings or sculptures. Visitors are simply confronted by the whitewashed walls of the 2,500 square foot hall at the Custard Factory arts center in Birmingham, central England, newspapers reported Tuesday."

They should call it the 'Seinfeld Exhibit'.
Shacknews - Shack Images - The New Stealth Fighter

This picture is evidence that the U.S. Military has a bigger sense of humour than you'd think.

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

School's ban of Manson T-shirt OK

Yet another example of how kids' rights get trampled, Nicholas Boroff was a senior at an Ohio high school who wanted to wear a Marilyn Manson T-shirt. School officials told him he could not attend classes while wearing that shirt, as it was 'offensive'. Boroff sued, and yesterday, the Supreme Court gave his rights to free speech and due process the thumbs-down. Once again, we have a difference in how different generations view 'offensive' material. Marilyn Manson is a scary-looking guy who uses hype and shock tactics to sell albums. The T-shirt Boroff wore had a picture of a three-faced Jesus on the front and the word 'believe' on the back, with the letters 'lie' highlighted. Apparently, this is offensive.
It's not.
What is offensive is that kids' rights are being routinely denied by authority figures every single day, and it seems like there's nothing that can be done about it. After Columbine, students who wore trenchcoats, or Goth makeup, or were self-described loners got undeserved suspensions from school and harassment from educators and fellow classmates. Marilyn Manson puts the free-speech amendment of the U.S. Constitution to the test; he should be congratulated for reminding Americans how great their country is. Instead, students who wear his T-shirts are denied the right to free speech through supporting his music. Terrific. What's next - black students in Compton won't be allowed to wear Malcolm X shirts?

Monday, March 19, 2001

BBC News | BUSINESS | Coke on tap at home

Quote: "Mr. Daft (Chief Executive at Coca Cola) told the newspaper that he does not see Pepsi as a rival and will only be happy when customers are turning on their taps to drink Coke rather than water."

I love Coke as much as the next caffeine addict, but isn't this a little scary? It's hard enough to get kids to drink water and juice, now you're going to put Coke taps in the home? Of course, this story comes to us from the U.K.; maybe they're used to having bad teeth, but I'm not so sure about the rest of us.
The Register: German armed forces ban MS software, citing NSA snooping

German security authorities think that the U.S. government and Microsoft has worked together to create 'back door' access to Microsoft's software, so that U.S. intelligence agencies can hack into foreign computers. Now, I'm all about conspiracies, and I can easily believe this, if only because the NSA and CIA would certainly want this kind of access, and I understand a lot of things can be made to happen when you wave the 'national security' flag. You'd think that this arrangement would have had a 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours' effect, though, right? What does Microsoft get out of this deal? Wasn't it the government that pulled them into court on anti-trust charges? I'm sure a friendly chat between the National Security Adviser and the Attorney General could have cleared all this up, right?

Sunday, March 18, 2001

Ain't It Cool News - Highlights of Q&A with Survivor's Mark Burnett, Jeff Probst, and Richard Hatch

This is an interesting glimpse into some behind-the-scenes stuff, although it really makes you hunger for more if you're a Survivor fan. There aren't any real spoilers, and as Burnett says, 'Never believe a word I say.'

Friday, March 16, 2001

CNN.com - OPEC agrees to cut oil production - March 16, 2001

Quote: "The OPEC ministers said that a slowdown in the world economy is prompting the cut. By cutting 1 million barrels a day out of the world oil supply, the ministers hope that oil prices will climb back to the $25 a barrel level after slumping earlier in the week."

Okay, let me get this straight. The world economy is slowing, people have less to spend, so they want to create a situation where they can increase their prices? Thus screwing us over even more? What Bond villain is running this outfit, anyway?
CNN.com - Sci-Tech - Could hydrogen be the fuel of the future? - March 16, 2001

Man, I hope so. BMW has built a small fleet of hydrogen-powered cars that look and drive just like regular cars (the range is about half, though) in the hopes of convincing people that this cheap and clean fuel is the wave of the future. I don't need convincing; once industry and governments get behind this, we'll have hydrogen cars, buses, and airplanes before you know it. But wait - there's the problem. The oil industry has little interest in helping out alternative-fuel strategies, and they run nearly all the current gas stations. So it'll be a while before hydrogen cars start showing up on your block (at least ten years, I suspect). Still, it's nice to think about. Imagine that - cleaner air and cheaper fuel. Doesn't seem possible, does it?
Girl Scouts ticketed

"DECATUR, Ga. (AP) -- DeKalb County police are pretty tough cookies -- so much so that they'll ticket Girl Scouts for selling Thin Mints and Tagalongs without a permit. A boss later chalked the whole thing up to overzealousness. An officer ticketed two groups of Girl Scouts on Sunday."

Nothing like a pseudo-military organization to start little girls off on a life of crime, eh? But come on, if they're going to throw the book at Girl Scouts, why the heck are Jehovah's Witnesses still running around trying to sell you copies of 'The Watchtower'?

Thursday, March 15, 2001

Survivor: Australian Outback: Episode Eight

Okay, so with Alicia gone, that leaves 5 former Ogakor tribe members vs. 3 former Kucha members. Jerri was never a threat to leave last night, because Colby, Keith, and Tina aren't that stupid. If they had voted Jerri off, that would have evened up the tribes, and then it's a free-for-all (which would have been more entertaining, really, but what are you gonna do?). So they gave Alicia the boot, but Jerri is obviously not long for this outback. With Tina noting that she wants the 'good guys' to win, and the Kucha members anxious to please (if we see Colby and Elisabeth walking off together, don't expect the cameras to follow, if you know what I mean), Jerri is a dead duck. She'll go in the next couple of episodes, probably before all the Kucha members are gone. I expect Elisabeth to worm her way into the hearts and minds of Colby, Keith, and Tina, and that voting bloc will get rid of Jerri and Amber when the time comes.

Is it that Nick and Amber have no personalities, or is it that they never have anything useful to say? There must be a reason why they've only spoken a total of, what, 20 words between them? If Jerri doesn't go next, it'll be Nick. Maybe that possibility will spur the guy to say something. Anything. And could Amber be any farther up Jerri's ass? It would be so sweet if Amber turned on Jerri for all to see, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

CNNSI.com - NASCAR Plus - Winston Cup - Senate committee approves Earnhardt bill - Tuesday March 13, 2001 03:10 PM

The Orlando Sentinel was trying to get access to Dale Earnhardt's autopsy pictures, and the Senate committee's bill requires a judge's approval before the public & media can see anyone's autopsy photos.
My question is, who the hell wants to see these pictures? I've seen autopsy documentaries, and these procedures aren't pretty. I seriously doubt that any racing fan wants to have the image of Dale's mangled body as their last memory of the guy, and it's not like a newspaper could publish these photos anyway, so why the hell were they trying? I guess this is the same morbid media impulse that spurred the frenzied bidding for snapshots of Princess Di's corpse.
Leave Dale alone. Respect the privacy of his family, and respect the man. I'm glad this Senate committee gave the Orlando Sentinel a shove and told them to move along, nothing to see here. For once, government does the right thing.
It's Spring Break for a lot of people, and that means plane trips to warm and sunny climates, while those of us who lack the funds have to live with the lingering winter. Airlines take this opportunity to hike their rates with the kind of naked greed normally associated with software companies from Seattle, and what do you get out of it? Cramped seating, washrooms that Calista Flockhart can barely squeeze into, crusty flight attendants, and let's not forget the possibility of crashing. Sure, flying is safer than driving, yadda yadda yadda, but at least with a car, you've got a seatbelt and an air bag to at least give you the illusion that you might survive an accident. When you're thirty thousand feet in the air and the main engines cut out, what do you get? A lap belt and an oxygen mask. Gee, thanks, Amelia Earhart, I was hoping my last breath would be pure oxygen. God forbid you should give me something that will help me survive, like a frickin' parachute. See, if they know the plane is going down, and it'll be a few minutes before impact, they should give passengers the option to grab a parachute and jump out. I'll take my chances with a skydive, thank you very much. I have to think my odds of survival are much better than bent over in the crash position, hoping the fuel tanks don't explode on impact. Come on, they give fighter pilots ejector seats, and they don't even have to pay to fly.

Monday, March 12, 2001

Over the weekend, the director of 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', Ang Lee, won the Best Director award from the Director's Guild of America. This award has been an excellent predictor of who will win on Oscar night - the correlation is about 85% of the time. Of course, this makes me happy, because I picked CTHD and Ang Lee to win. :) I was thinking about CTHD again today, and I wonder what was going through the minds of the Wachowski brothers (creators of 'The Matrix') when they saw this film. I mean, you have to think the benchmark has been significantly raised now, because the fight scenes in CTHD kick the crap outta The Matrix's battles.
Also, how different are these two movies? In both CTHD and The Matrix, there is a student and a master; in the student, there is potential beyond anything anyone's ever seen; in the master, there is confidence in his abilities and trust in his choice of the student. The student has to try and save the master's life, although in CTHD (spoiler!!!), the student is not in time. Perhaps that's the difference - there is tragedy in CTHD, while The Matrix has a more conventional happy ending. I was thinking about this because The Matrix was never even considered as a Best Picture nominee the year it came out, even though it has had a greater impact on Hollywood and filmmaking than any other picture released that year. It makes you wonder what kind of standards are being used by the Academy. I'll bet that if Morpheus or Trinity had died, The Matrix would have gotten a lot more respect from critics. They're suckers for that kind of weepy crap. :)

Friday, March 09, 2001

Survivor: Australian Outback: Episode Seven

After the excitement of watching a man's skin peeling off his hands, last night's episode had a lot to live up to. Would that it had been worthy. Have you noticed that none of these people have anything interesting to say? Any dialogue we hear is all about the game, and so far, it seems like Colby is the only one who knows what the hell is going on. Has Amber even said more than ten words? I've seen Sly Stallone movies with more dialogue.
Please, Mark Burnett, no more footage of these idiots hiking through the bush, okay? Then there was the pole-standing challenge, which is about as visually exciting as a PBS fundraising drive. I have to give props to Keith for standing up there for ten hours, although now that I think about it, I'll bet they had breaks, like five minutes every hour. Ten hours straight? What if they had to whizz?
Now that Jeff is history, the scramble begins. The vote went along old tribal lines this time, but I get the feeling that this was a one-time only event. Future tribal councils will involve cross-tribal alliances, because otherwise the next four shows will be boring and predictable, and CBS doesn't want that.

Thursday, March 08, 2001

CNN.com - Entertainment - Sporty Spice pulls out of Spice Girls - March 8, 2001

What a sad day. Music will never be the same again. Who could forget the stabbing sensation in the brain felt when their first hit single dominated the airwaves? Or the press conference where they proclaimed that their slogan was 'Girl Power!', striking a blow for all oppressed girl groups that also had members who looked great in tight, revealing clothing. They paved the way for other pretty, empty-headed artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, while getting disgustingly rich in the process.
Do you wonder whether the guys in the boy bands understand how short their time in the spotlight truly is? The Spice Girls sold 38 million records worldwide, but were basically done by their third album. The downhill slope has to be close for the Backstreet Boys and N'Sync and 98 Degrees. Where's the next Nirvana to save us from pop oblivion?
I'll tell you where.
His name is Matthew Good. His band's new album, "Beautiful Midnight", was just released in the U.S. And he's got enough cynicism and vitriol to make Kurt Cobain look like a Backstreet Boy.
CNN.com - Study: Kids rate bullying and teasing as 'big problem' - March 7, 2001

In other news, it's been reported that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. For further updates, head on over to 'no-shit-sherlock.com'.

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

The Official Site of the Toronto Blue Jays

Before this year, the Blue Jays ran their own website, which wasn't too bad, although it lacked a lot of features that advanced netsurfers take for granted. In fact, nearly every team had their own website, and the quality ranged from serviceable to excellent (the Chicago Cubs' site was probably the best). The sites were unique, like their teams, and they reflected the marketing strategies of their organizations.
Then, over the winter, something bad happened.
Major League Baseball took over the websites for every team.
Now I don't know if this was voluntary or mandatory, but the change sucks. Big time. I flip through each team's new MLB-sponsored site, and they're all the same. Big, bandwidth-hogging pictures, a static layout, and a boring, cookie-cutter design. I feel sorry for those baseball fans who are still stuck with modem access. There's no heart here, no sense of wonder or fun. Just corporate blandness.
I've harped on poor website design before (ew.com, anyone?), and everybody needs to take a step back and realize that netsurfers like a quick-loading, clean, unique design that's easy to navigate and doesn't piss you off. Yahoo! is probably the best example of how to keep surfers happy. Few graphics, a lot of content, a lot of links, and little confusion.
This is the philosophy I've tried to stick with on my site, and I think it works pretty well.

Friday, March 02, 2001

CNN.com - Sci-Tech - Pentagon's latest weapon: a pain beam - March 2, 2001

To quote: "The Pentagon is touting a new "non-lethal" weapon designed to control threatening crowds by using a directed energy beam to inflict a painful but brief burning sensation."

Doesn't this sound like something a James Bond villain would concoct?
"I want one billion dollars deposited into my secret Swiss bank account, or I will fire my pain beam at the world's greatest city."
"Dr. Evil, you don't mean..."
"That's right: Cleveland, Ohio."

The Pentagon says they want to use this weapon during peacekeeping missions when deadly force is not an option (in other words, when the troops are in a country the U.S. wants to be allies with). I think that if they want to subdue and disperse rowdy crowds, the obvious tactic would be to fly in the Backstreet Boys for an impromptu concert. Well, now that I think about it, that might cause a riot.
Survivor: Australian Outback: Episode Six

Yes, it's me again with my weekly Survivor comment. :)

It's curious that there wasn't a camera on Michael when he inhaled the smoke, passed out, and fell into the fire. It made me wonder how many camera crews there were out there; I had assumed at least one crew for every two contestants, but I guess the crew assigned to Michael was following somebody else. Or, they did get footage of Michael falling into the fire, and it was too graphic to show on prime-time. (Survivor: Too Hot For TV!!!)

Wasn't it weird how Michael's fellow Kuchas stood on the riverbank while he flailed in the water with pain? Rodger kept yelling at him not to go deeper; hey, Rodg - would it have killed you to get your feet wet? I guess they were all in shock; up to this point, I'm sure everyone was living the illusion that it was all a game, and nobody actually gets hurt. Then Michael's accident brings them all back to reality. I wouldn't expect this to bring the Kuchas closer together, though; their new 'team resolve' won't last more than a couple of days before greed sets in again.

I like Colby. The Texan refuses to be played by anyone, and is suitably disgusted with Jerri's wishes to dip him in chocolate and eat him alive. (...said the spider to the fly.) Wasn't it great when he doused uber-bitch with water after their tribe lost the reward challenge? Across North America, 50 million people yelled in unison, "YEAH!!!"

Now the tribes are merging, and here is my prediction for who will make the final four. Keith, Colby, Nick, and Jeff. If the girls were smart, they'd band together and pick off the guys one by one, but that seems unlikely. Instead, since both tribes go into the merge at even strength, I think voting will go back and forth until the end. I expect Nick and Jeff are keeping their true physical abilities secret, and will try to win immunity challenges to stay alive, while Colby's vote is always sought after. Keith will use Jerri as a rallying point, and use the momentum to keep himself alive.

Or I could just be talking out of my ass. :) We'll see, won't we?

Thursday, March 01, 2001

E! Online - Features - Specials - LotR - On Location: March 2001 - Page 1 of 4

As the slow build to the Lord of the Rings movie release continues, E! Online has a cool little interview with the actors playing Merry and Pippin. I think it's neat that a couple of unknown actors got a chance like this; as much as I'd like to cast known movie stars in Wheel of Time parts, it would be the unknown folks making up the majority of the cast list in real life.