Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ay Pee

Greetings from the Washington DC Convention Center, where I am covering the NEXPO conference for WhatTheyThink. While four days of the newspaper industry may be more than flesh can bear, I did have the opportunity to attend the various Associated Press events at which the three Presidential candidates appeared.

Monday morning, I attended the AP annual meeting where Senator John McCain spoke (a basic stump speech) and then fielded some softball questions from AP reporters. While I am certainly not a McCain fan, and at times it seems as if the "Straight Talk Express" was run by Amtrak, he did make some points that I agreed with. For example, he was asked if a McCain Administration would be "more green" than the current administration. (Well, unless he has plans to personally burn down the Amazon rain forest, take up panda hunting, or club manatees, that would not be hard...) and while he is short on specifics (like any other issue, it seems), he did say that a focus on environmental protection, "Even if we're wrong and there is no climate change, the worst that will happen is we leave a cleaner planet to our kids." he also said what I have been saying for years which is why not use environmental issues to encourage
entrepreneurs and investors and drive economic growth through green products and services.

Still, McCain did seem a bit disingenuous when he started his speech by expressing mild annoyance at how the press picks up a line taken out of context and makes a false controversy out of it, then at the end of his speech he chided Obama for the gaffe du jour about the "bitter" remark. Um...what's the difference?

McCain--unlike Obama (see below)--was also conversant about the journalist "shield law" legislation which is currently wending its way through Congress, and this, as you would expect, is a big issue at journalism conventions. When he said he would sign it, he got a big round of applause, although he did say that he was only marginally supporting it as he was opposed to journalists giving away national security secrets to the enemy (what--like al Quaeda had no idea that we were tapping their phones? I think it would be more newsworthy if it turned out that we weren't!)

Anyway, while I can't say that I would ever vote for McCain, he seemed like an affable enough guy.

Shortly thereafter, I got to attend the AP luncheon at which Barack Obama spoke and, I have to say, I was somewhat less than impressed with Obama. His stump speech was less tailored for the event than McCain's, and at times seemed a bit more shrill and "on the attack" than the event really warranted. When asked about the shield law, he answered in very general terms, as if he had no idea that there was pending legislation. His answers to questions, even very simple ones, went on forever. I was reminded often of the Monty Python "travel agent" sketch where Eric Idle starts talking and doesn't stop until he is dragged away ("...and fat German business men forming pyramids, and frightening the children, and if you're not at your table spot at seven you miss your bowl of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, the first item, on the menu of international cuisine....and bloody Watney's Red Barrel....")

It was like: Q: "Senator Obama, wiould you like a glass of water" A: "I have traveled all iover this country and visited many small towns and in some of these small towns hardworking Americans drink water, but in others, they don't drink water, but they still have the utmost respect for water. I think a glass of water is one of the most fundamental things that binds us together as Americans..." Please stop talking!

Anyway, I guess that's a handy way of limiting the number of questions there is time for.

Still, I do like Obama, and I like his basic approach (but from what I have read of what he specifically plans to do...well, not so much).

What struck me about both these events (and Hillary is speaking in about 2 hours--gotta go queue up for that shortly) is that in a room full of reporters, they asked the lamest-ass questions. ("Senator Obama, how do you feel about the excitement that your campaign has generated?" WTF?) Although 0ne classic gaffe was when the chairman of the Associated Press, who was asking the questions, made a Freudian slip reference to "Obama bin Laden." OK, not a huge issue, but come on... In a conference that has done nothing but extol the virtues of journalists, they certainly didn't put on a very good show.

Off to see Hillary....

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Wow--a new award winner for cellphone-induced moronity. A couple hors ago, I was in Washington, DC, standing at a corner outside the convention center, waiting to cross the street. The light turned to "walk," but there was a police car barelling up the street with its lights and siren going, so everyone waiting to cross stopped and waited...except for one woman on a cellphone who started across the street, blithely engrossed in her conversation, and not glancing to look at the oncoming police car at all, to the extent that the police car had to stop and wait for the clueless yakker to cross the street. Wow. If I had been he cop, I would have stopped and cited her for "walking while being a clueless f&%$^%$ng moron." With my luck, at some point in the future, I will end up in an ambulance for whatever reason, and will croak because some cellphone idiot was too oblivious to the universe to allow the ambulance to go by. Yep, civilization is doomed. Pity.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Write Stuff

greetings from the New York Roundtable Writers conference. Blogging is light because the hotel I am staying at charges extortionate rates for crappy access, so I am posting this from my iPhone. Watch this space--and http://mediatrends.typepad.com for notes and commentary.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Album of the Day--April 10, 2008

Mark Knopfler
Sailing to Philadelphia
Warner Bros.
Produced by Chuck Ainlay and Mark Knopfler

I am heading down to NYC this morning and whenever I drive to the Albany-Rensselaer train station, I always play Sailing to Philadelphia. (What--I can't blog and drive at the same time? If all the other dorkwads on the road can text or yak and drive, I can blog and drive.) Anyway, Mark Knopfler was the guitarist, songwriter, and singer for Dire Straits, and he is one of my absolute favorite guitar players ever. This is the best of the five post-Dire Straits Knopfler albums and it is the most "Dire" in sound. I first heard it in 2002 in David G.'s car when I last visited California, and loved it, so immediately went out and picked it up, ripped it to my iPod, and it was played constantly while driving around the Southwest in the fall of 2002. Perhaps for that reason it is always the record I play when heading to the train station. It also lets me know if I am running late; if I hit the Northway and haven't yet heard the title track (a duet featuring James Taylor as Charles Mason to Knopfler's Jeremiah Dixon and about, of all things, the creation of the Mason-Dixon line), or reach Route 7 and haven't yet heard "Do America" (a parody of rock tours), or hit 787 and haven't yet heard "El Macho," then I know I'm running late. Appropriately, I always pull into the train station parking lot as "Wanderlust" comes on. Go figure.

Uh oh--I just realized--I'm not leaving from Albany; I'm leaving from the Saratoga Springs train station. Screech!!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Robot Holocaust: Geriatric Park

Japan seems upsettingly eager to cede the world to robot overlords--this time, they will use them to "take care of" the elderly. Uh huh. Says Engadget:
...the Machine Industry Memorial Foundation may not be too far off with its latest assessment. It's suggesting that the jobs of 3.5 million people in Japan could be filled not with younger folks, but with mechanical creatures by 2025. Currently, Japan's population is declining, and the proportion of those 65-years and up is continually swelling; analysts are asserting that the nation could save around ¥2.1 trillion ($21 billion) in elderly insurance payments by 2025 if it relies on robots (instead of humans) to monitor the health of the geriatric set.
And on a related subject (via the Engadget link), this is just freakish and disturbing:
Japan crowns top robots in lavish Tokyo ceremony

The Robot Awards were set up earlier this year by the Japanese government to "promote research and development in the robotics industry," and just ten creations took home prizes out of the 152 entries. The cream of the crop started with the currently-available My Spoon feeding contraption, which helps the elderly and disabled to eat with a "joystick-controlled swiveling arm." Not far behind was the Paro seal, who rocks a furry, huggable outfit with sensors beneath its whiskers that allows it to "open and close its eyes and move its flippers" when petted and held by folks in hospitals. In another instance of "robots replacing human jobs," a "mammoth, automated vacuum cleaner that uses elevators to travel between floors" was highly praised for its sucky actions.

Goodbye, Kitty

There seems to be a strange fascination with incorporating Hello Kitty characters into morbid settings. My favorite were Hello Kitty Tarot cards; now, we have a Hello Kitty tombstone. Wha?

Links Galore!

So many blogs, so little time!

Over at the Romano's Media Trends blog, Amazon attempts to screw small publishers.

Over at Expert Business Source, April Fool's Day dos and don'ts. (I enjoyed contributing to WhatTheyThink's annual April Fool's Day issue.)

A beta of the official Romano's Media Trends site is up...one of the perils of DIY cross-media development is that I am not as well-versed in, say, Dreamweaver as in any print design program. I miss print... Comments? Suggestions? Flames?

Album of the Day--April 9, 2008

Fountains of Wayne
Utopia Parkway
Atlantic Records
Produced by Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood

It's spring, the sun is out, the temperature is in the high 60s, and that means roll down the car windows and turn Fountains of Wayne up on the iPod. Over the course of 12 years and four albums (OK, so they're not very prolific) the duo of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood ahve proven that they are the Difford and Tilbrook of their generation--indeed, Fountains of Wayne reminds me a bit of classic Squeeze (but with more humor and less drinking). This is tuneful power pop; these guys have a hard time writing a bad song. They get slagged by critics who think their songs should be more earnest, but I think they're fun and funny--and often quite witty. Utopia Parkway is their second album and I think it remains their best (they are best known for the rent-a-Cars-sounding "Stacey's Mom" from 2003). Their characters are often hapless blokes, like the poor guy who's "fit to be dyed" and tries to impress a girl by getting a tattoo in "Red Dragon Tattoo" ("Will you stop pretending I've never been born/Now I look a little more like that guy from Korn"); the unhappy wife in suburban "Amity Gardens" ("If you knew now what you knew then/You wouldn't want to go to Amity Gardens"); the kids from Long Island going to the "Laser Show" at the Hayden Planetarium ("We're gonna make out way across the galaxy/Then we'll head back home on the L.I.E."). And of course, what town doesn't have a "Valley of Malls" ("And god forgive the passengers if we should fail/To find a penny fountain or a half-off sale/I need a merchant/I just started searching for a holy grail"). What can I say--great record.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Album of the Day--April 8, 2008

Alan Parsons Project
Turn of a Friendly Card
Arista Records
Produced by Alan Parsons

The Alan Parsons Project has often been called "the poor man's Pink Floyd," which I hardly find fair, as there are really no similarities--intended or unintended--between them to speak of. The only tenuous connection is that Parsons was the award-winning engineer of Dark Side of the Moon. The Project was hatched in the mid-1970s as a collaborative venture between Parsons and Eric Woolfson, and it was intended solely as a one-off...well, project (the name "Alan Parsons Project" was simply the term used on record company paperwork and it somehow stuck), namely, a musical tribute to Edgar Allan Poe. The resulting album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, is one of the classics of progressive rock, and was actually a hit in 1975, to boot. Parsons and Woolfson subsequently decided to keep working, and put together a more or less stable band (which never played live, by the way) and a revolving cast of vocalists. Over the course of 12 years, The Alan Parsons Project would release 10 albums, each of which encompassed a particular theme or cocnept (OK, kind of like Pink Floyd), which included robots (I, Robot), pyramid power (Pyramid), alienation (Ammonia Avenue), mistreatment of women (Eve), etc. 1980's Turn of a Friendly Card tackled gambling, and the album is almost a straightforward narrative. The hit single "Games People Play" (the one with the wobbly keyboard intro) sets up the story of a midlife crisis in the brewing, "Where do we go from here/Now that all of the children have grown up?/And how do we spend our time/When there's no one to lend us a hand?" The character bemoans the passage of "Time" (the other hit single) and decides to go to Vegas and gamble (side 2's "Turn of a Friendly Card" suite). It's a great record, with strong songs and sterling production.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Album of the Day--April 7, 2008

The Kinks
Low Budget
Arista Records
Produced by Raymond Douglas Davies

In tribute to the friends who have lost their jobs or been "made redundant" in recent weeks thanks to large-scale corporate freak-out, I offer up Ray Davies' wry, humorous soundtrack to troubled times, released at the height of stagflation in 1979. When the remastered CD version was released in 1999, it sounded horribly quaint--however, it became relevant again two years later--and is now relevant again, especially "A Gallon of Gas": "I've been waiting for years to buy a brand new Cadillac/But now that I've got one I want to send it right back/I can't afford the gas to fill my luxury limousine..." And let's all sing the title track in unison:
Cheap is small and not too steep
But best of all cheap is cheap
Circumstance has forced my hand
To be a cut-price person in a low budget land
Times are hard but well all survive
I just got to learn to economize

I'm on a low budget
I'm on a low budget
I'm not cheap, you understand
I'm just a cut-price person in a low budget land

Excuse my shoes; they don't quite fit
They're a special offer and they hurt me a bit
Even my trousers are giving me pain
They were reduced in a sale so I shouldn't complain
They squeeze me so tight so I can't take no more
They're size 28 but I take 34

I'm on a low budget (What did you say?)
I'm on a low budget (I thought you said that)
I'm on a low budget
I'm a cut-price person in a low budget land

I'm shopping at Woolworth and low discount stores
I'm dropping my standards so that I can buy more

Low budget sure keeps me on my toes
I count every penny and I watch where it goes
Were all on our uppers were all going skint
I used to smoke cigars but now I suck Polo mints

Art takes time, time is money
Moneys scarce and that ain't funny
Millionaires are things of the past
We're in a low budget film where nothing can last
Money's rare theres none to be found
So don't think I'm tight if I don't buy a round

Friday, April 04, 2008

Night Text

Hmm. Maybe the texts are from Rod Serling:
Dead wife contacts Lancs man via SMS
Texts from the Other Side

A Lancashire man whose house has a chilling reputation for poltergeist activity claims he is being haunted by text messages from his dead wife, the Blackpool Gazette reports.
Peace then reigned in Windsor Avenue until five years ago, when Jones suffered a double tragedy - the death of his son Steven, 32, from a brain tumour and wife Sadie, 69, three months later from a heart attack.
Jones says his family has since received strange SMS messages which they believe to be from Sadie. He concluded: "She always had a mobile with her. We buried her with her phone. There have been messages with words Sadie would say but there's no number."
I've often wondered how the Twilight Zone episode "Night Call" would translate today, with Caller ID and all that. I mean, if Gladys Cooper heard her phone ring and saw "Dead Fiancé" on the LCD, it really would lack that certain je ne sais quoi.

Going Green...

Soylent Green, that is. Given that the lede says that Ted Turner is a restaurateur, I think I'll avoid his place:
Ted Turner: Global warming could lead to cannibalism

Billionaire environmentalist says world has too many people

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Failure to address global warming will have us all dead or eating each other by mid-century.

So says Ted Turner, the restaurateur, environmentalist and former media mogul whose controversial comments have earned him the nickname "Mouth of the South."

If steps aren't taken to stem global warming, "We'll be eight degrees hotter in 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow," Turner said during a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with PBS's Charlie Rose that aired Tuesday.

"Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals," said Turner, 69.
On the plus side, a warmer planet will at least cook us faster. Questions I have, though: What wine goes with human flesh? Would humans be considered kosher? Would we be considered "the other red meat? Do we taste like chicken? Or do we taste like Colonel Sanders? I gotta know...

Album of the Day--April 4, 2008

The Wake
Sahara Records
Produced by Mike Holmes and Tim Esau

For reasons I shan’t go into, I was in an IQ mood this morning. Along with Marillion, IQ were part of the mid-1980s “fish out of water” neo-progressive rock movement that was not especially popular at the time, but inspired legions of followers in the 1990s and 2000s. Like Marillion and their forebears, IQ tended toward epic songs with varying movements and recurring themes, changes in time signature, outstanding musicianship, and a cult following. Singer Peter Nicholls sounds a little bit like Peter Gabriel, but that’s about where the Genesis comparisons end. Nicholls was also the lyric writer, and the words are dark and cryptic—one never knows quite what he is on about, but he sings it well. The Wake was their second album, released in 1985, and was a landmark in the annals of progressive rock. It incorporates a variety of 80s sounds (electronic percussion in places, newer keyboards, etc.), but never sounds especially dated. The title track and "The Thousand Days" are more or less straightforward songs that could have been singles, or at least received radio play, but, alas never did. IQ would get better over the years; they are still around, despite a few personnel changes, and their 2004 album Dark Matter was, IMO, their best.

Fare Warning

Air Canada wasn't the first airline that came to mind when I read about this idea:
Air Canada to charge for customer service

Airline adds fee to aid customers when flights delayed or disrupted due to weather, traffic

It was bound to happen eventually: Air Canada now wants you to pay extra for better customer service.

In an era of continued cost-cutting, the country's largest airline yesterday rolled out a new service called "On My Way" that, for a fee, promises to help passengers cope with delays and cancellations beyond the airline's control, including bad weather or airport traffic.

"This is something that many airlines used to do in-house," said Rick Erickson, a Calgary-based airline consultant. "But since the advent of the low-cost carrier, everybody wants cheap fares."

Air Canada said passengers who opt to pay an additional $25 one-way on short-haul flights and an extra $35 one-way on long-haul routes within North America will receive "speedy" access to "specially-trained" customer service agents who will help rebook flights on Air Canada or other airlines, as well as pay for hotel stays and meals, if necessary.
At the risk of using a cliched phrase that I'm not a fan of, it's funny how business is now becoming a race to the bottom. Or it's a brilliant money-making proposition; given how many flights are delayed and screwed up in some way, it's a sure-fire way for airlines to get essentially free money. Of course, for $25 to $35, that customer service better be damn good. I guess it's kind of like a first-class upgrade, or it's based on the same principle: make every other class incredibly cramped and uncomfortable and then charge for comfort. Wait until they figure out that they could probably charge extra for clean air (assuming they don't already).

I have no doubt that this will soon turn up in more and more industries. Better check the fine print on your cellphone bill; I'm pretty sure that's where this idea will end up next.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Album of the Day--April 3, 2008

The Clash
London Calling
Epic Records
Produced by Gus Stevens

Steven H. from London called me yesterday, which naturally got me humming the title song—plus I had to go grocery shopping which inevitably sends “Lost in the Supermarket” coursing through my head. Funny thing about The Clash—their albums have always been literally hit or miss: their first album, The Clash, was really good, but their second one, Give ’Em Enough Rope, was not all that great. Their third album, London Calling, was great, and their fourth, Sandinista!, was so not great (although there is probably a decent single LP’s worth of material on what was, in the age of vinyl, 3 LPs). Their fifth and last album, Combat Rock, was really good. So with the Clash—the odd-numbered records are the ones to listen to. Anyway, London Calling is the best of the lot and even as a double album has no filler on it; every song was really good. It was also the album that showed that The Clash were a lot more than a one-dimensional punk band; London Calling features horns, keyboards, and an unabashed love of all types of music, including classic rock’n’roll and, gasp!, pop. It also shows a respect for the past that was the antithesis of the whole original punk raison d’ĂȘtre. The famous story of the album is that the song that would become the “hit”—“Train in Vain”—was added to the end of the album at the last minute and after the record sleeve had been printed, so on the original album, the song title does not appear. Why Epic saw fit to replicate this mistake on the initial CD issue I have no idea.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Album of the Day--April 2, 2008

Go Away White
Produced by Bauhaus

Although known for being the godfathers (or gothfathers) of so-called “Goth Rock,” in the early 1980s, Britain’s Bauhaus were initially trying to be glam in the tradition of David Bowie and Marc Bolan. Of course, how they got from glam to dressing in black, rising from coffins on stage, and lurching through tracks like “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and “Stigmata Martyr” remains a mystery. Still, as long as one forgoes the drinking of human blood, musically, the band were quite inventive, although they were never more than a cult band. After four albums, they disbanded in 1983, singer Peter Murphy going on to a respectable solo career (“Cuts You Up” was a minor hit in 1989) and the other three members reformed as Love and Rockets, whom I liked better than Bauhaus. There were a couple of Bauhaus reunion tours in the 1990s, but I was not expecting a new album in 2008, a propos of nothing. Shockingly, it’s actually really good, easily on a par with (or perhaps even better than) their original albums. All the trademarks are there: Daniel Ash’s spiky guitar fills and feedback wails, David J’s nimble bass, Kevin Haskin’s inventive drumming, and of course Peter Murphy’s menacing baritone singing about god-knows-what. This one has been on the iPod since it came out last month. “Endless Summer of the Damned” indeed!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Come She Will

Over at WhatTheyThink, Dr. Joe, Noel Ward, and myself present this year's April Fool's edition. And (no fooling!), the Romano's Media Trends blog is up and running here. And thanks to mi hermano for the cool logo.

Album of the Day--April 1, 2008

The Kinks
A Soap Opera
RCA Records
Produced by Ray Davies

I also heard The Kinks’ “Everybody’s a Star” in a commercial, sending me back to the original album. A Soap Opera—the full title being The Kinks Present A Soap Opera—came in the midst of their mid-70s “rock opera” phase, a year after the mammoth Preservation albums (Preservation Act 2 was two full LPs of fairly tuneless tracks that comprise an incomprehensible plot involving evil real estate developers). The story of A Soap Opera involves The Starmaker (a celebrity artist who can “turn the most ordinary person in the world into a star) taking on the guise of “Norman,” an ordinary bloke, living his life including boring 9-to-5 job, post-work trips to the boozer, even a holiday dalliance. At the end, it turns out that Norman was himself all along, fantasizing that he was a big star pretending to be him...yeah. As Dave Davies (Ray’s brother and Kinks guitarist) says in the liner notes to the 1999 Velvel reissue, “I thought it was an exercise in Ray disappearing up his own ass.” He’s got a point. It may not work as musical theater, and it would work as a collection of songs if it weren’t for the dialogue interrupting some fairly decent tunes. Still, “Everybody’s a Star” is a good song (and was Ray Davies’ poking fun at his own reputation for his skill at chronicling the lives of everyday folks) and other highlights tend to be scattered throughout, like the “When Work is Over”/”Have Another Drink” section, and the closer “Can’t Stop the Music.” Often, the record just gets too damn silly. Fortunately, the band did an intervention after this one and curtailed Ray's operatic aspirations.