Jul 04

Amazing that with all the signs 

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Amazing that with all the signs  I have seen that say NYC airports are “getting better”,     and being allocated thousands of dollars over the years for improvements, JFK and LaGuardia airports have parts that look like skeletons with the “skin” (prolly tarp material) flapping in the breeze. Walking out of LaG the other day, there were mounds of uncovered dirt around active terminal areas. The only barriers were thin pieces of CAUTION tape.

Viva bureaucracy. Technology + city politics = Progress freeze

Whoever created dial up access deserves to be shot

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Whoever created dial up access deserves to be shot….or ever-so-slowly filleted. How is any self respecting night owl supposed to get her groove on, when even net radio on low bandwidth causes me to miss the odd word or entire verse? While listening to Radio @ AOL within the past 2 hours, my computer’s frozen 3 times.  Course, I never get the 2 seconds I need to SAVE that 22 K email I just got bloodshot eyes from typing.

In that perfect universe,  I’d say to hell with it and run for the nearest EasyEverything cafe( http://www.easyeverything.com) with its lovely , cheap T1  lines. But what to do when: 30 day access pass (A)  + eternal search for the green (B) doesn’t equal broadband access (C) ? Grit your molars and reboot your mate’s comp again.  As the whole world prolly figured out by now, no amount of “perky family” commercials will negate the fact that AOL 9.0 is complete crap. “Optimized”, hell: the connection is just as slow, and the time it takes to open its shiny, new homepage isn’t worth the time if you can’t actually move around once its open. Even using IE 6.0 as the browser doesn’t always work: I’d got the  Internet Explorer needs to close message twice, so far. 

At least I get to hear the gentle rumble of the garbage truck and avoid the glare of the sun in my eye as I dive into bed.  Just enough time to give my sense of humour the nap it desperately needs.

Feb 04

Old punks, beware, eh?

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Old punks, beware, eh? Apparently, not even John Lydon going walkies is enough to halt the roll of the reality-media machine. Don’t say that he’s getting responsible in his old age? I can’t help wondering if he truly got into a tantrum over his sitz bath going cold….and whether the media thought that writing about his fire dance would make better copy.

The pity is that I’m missing actually interesting UK reality TV for US TV crap like American Idol. No justice, I tell you. Scarier still that I’d even think about watching….

Oct 03

recent highlight

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The Human Fecal Genome Project

See if you can read this recent highlight from Nature Science Update — it’s a surefire icebreaker for your next awkward social interaction. It details the efforts of microbiologists at San Diego State University to gather genetic information about microbes which live in our guts by sorting through the DNA in our poop.

As disgusting a job as this may be, it’s pretty interesting for a number of reasons. Who hasn’t wondered about the vast, steamy ecosystem we all carry around inside us? And in the highlighted article, it turns out that our guts harbor a previously unappreciated vast diversity of viruses (called bacteriophages or phages) which prey on the vast diversity of bacteria living there. Many such microbes are hard to grow outside their natural habitat, so genetic analysis is a convenient way to catalog the suckers without having to grow them. Finally, as a Ukrainian colleague of mine informed me, bacteriophages were long used by the Soviets to treat bacterial infection, and as antibiotic resistance grows around the world, Western medicine is very interested in them.

Oct 03

Since I was a child

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Since I was a child, I’ve been certain that our planet is not the only place where life exists. I can remember staying up with the covers pulled around my head in bed, with my eyes glued to shows like Nova on late-night public television. Seeing colourful renderings of planets like Saturn and Venus made me start wondering whether aliens could truly exist….if there really could be something human-like existing in another atmosphere. These thoughts would brighten my eyes when watching NASA launch yet another probe into space.

Of course, I was only a twinkle in my mother’s eye when both Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong were launched into space. These major events were only as close as my unexciting school textbook, with dates replacing the pulse of flesh and blood. The first launch I can actually clearly recall is the 1986 Challenger disaster: being home from school watching Christa McAuliffe (at the time, only the second American woman since Sally Ride) board the ship with her fellow crewmembers, a truly multiracial team. I can still remember seeing the hope on their faces as they passed by, waving to the crowd, on the way to the spaceship. Watching the gradual lift as the ship started to rise into the sky….then the unbelievable explosion that made the ship disintegrate after 11 seconds.

To find out that it was an avoidable mechanical defect (a weak ring around a fuel canister) shook my faith in the space program: with millions of dollars at NASA’s disposal, it would have been worth the time to give the ship an overhaul.

Seeing the Columbia explode in February brought the same questions to mind: What happened and why? Was it mechanical or human defect that caused this ship to explode as it re-entered the atmosphere? Discovering that the accident was created through a mixture of both has shaped NASA’s future. With the US budget money at a premium, and another launch on the horizon [Expedition 8 to the International Space Station], this one will be watched closely worldwide to justify NASA’s position as a premier ground for future scientists and astronauts.

Celebrity is what most people aspire to

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Celebrity is what most people aspire to, thinking that fame is only about the click and whir of the camera lens. This is true, though it also allows television advertisers an avenue to sell their products. Old Navy and Gap are the old guard at this, since they have been using pretty himbos and models to sell their shirts and new designs of cargo pants since the early 1990s.

Isaac Mizrahi and David Bowie are the latest celebrities hoping to reach a wider audience through commercialism. Mizrahi has tag-teamed with Target (a US superstore chain) , hoping to sell his new label of housewife-couture; while Bowie has turned to advertising to sell his newest CD, Reality. Mizrahi has been one of the most popular denizens of fashion for the last ten years. However, where you would usually need to have the deep pockets of a celebrity to afford the more expensive pieces of his collection (some of which can run in the $1000?s range), apparently the pieces at Target are cheaper. In theory, this should allow them to be more accessible to the masses.

Bowies ad runs like a 45-second lesson in rock history: you first see him in this usual blondness walking through the house, heading out. As he passes various rooms, you see him as Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke and Ziggy Stardust—albeit with a few more bags under the eyes. This being Bowie, I was a bit more intrigued than normal. Though I didnt view this as him selling out necessarily, I do wonder whether he was trying to reach a wider fanbase through his sea of cash. (Though critically acclaimed by music critics and rabid fans alike since the 70s, his unique sound and lyrics have kept him from selling the millions of CDs as the current rash of pop beauties.

The fact that these are celebrities would not make me any more eager to part with my money than I was before. Knowing that I could get halfway decent clothes where the seams wont split for my $25-30 and will last longer than one wash matters more. Since it has been harder to find any of the Mizrahi collection lately than the Easter Bunny, his publicists must be doing something right. Seeing Reality flogged on the TV wont make it sound any better in my headphones; I already plan to pick it up by hook or crook. Still, if seeing the commercial opens up someones mind to his music….viva la media!

Sep 03

Cable TV Manna: Survival Via The Remote Control

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Cable TV Manna: Survival Via The Remote Control

For the kids, life in a tropical climate is the prime time to play in the park, or at the community pool. Of course, this depends on actually being able to stay outside for more than five minutes. What is an adult to do, if you are living with temperatures hot enough to fry an egg? Rediscover the ‘joys’ of cable TV. When the nearest museum is hundreds of miles away, sometimes the journey to keep the synapses firing is as close as your remote control.

Unlike the networks, whose job it is to keep the advertisers happy, cable has always been hit or miss. Sure, there is supposedly a show for everyone, but would you want to bother? So far, I have been able to indulge my inner cartoon addict with newer shows like Samurai Jack, The Powerpuff Girls and Futurama. These shows are a step up from the norm as they teach patience [Jack is fighting various enemies and overcoming obstacles to return to the family and century he was ripped from]; female empowerment [despite being little girls, the PG regularly saves Townsville from itself] and finding your own way to fit in [Fry has to learn to live in a changed Earth centuries in the future, after waking up from a cryogenic nap]. When I need a giggle after a tough day, the mix of older shows (Looney Tunes, Popeye, Scooby Doo, etc) and the newer ones always leave me with a smile.

In the dark of the night, there is no better reason to pull out the tissue than to watch an old flick from the 30s and 40s: In the age before computers, romance was not any easier to find. However, as shown in films like The Shop Around the Corner[1940], it was not impossible. Here, romance blooms between a shopkeeper and his assistant via letters—and without each knowing the identity of the other. The dialogue is smart, there may be no explosions but the ending still makes sense. Finding out I enjoyed classic film was a happy accident. In the classic film world, the gutsy women characterized by Irene Dunne (Life With Father, An Affair to Remember), Jean Harlow (Bombshell) and Myrna Loy (The Thin Man series) had their place with the good guys and gangsters. For every murder, there usaually was a reason. Families sat down to dinner together every night. The men may have been standing in front, but it was the women that were the brains behind the operation.

For the most part, the joy of reality TV has totally escaped me: Real World, Jackass and the like from MTV exposes strangers you would not otherwise care about. Compared to the early 90s, where it was an original concept, cable TV has turned the idea of stretching a series to infinity into an art form: another cast, another location, but the situations are still the same. Either that, or ‘Look Ma, no padding, no seatbelt and no brain’.

Therefore, I was ready to point out the stereotypes, but was pleasantly surprised by a new cable series on Bravo called
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. It is no mystery that 95% of the male population could use help to shave, dress, clear the rubbish from under the sofa and to learn how to address a woman. The twist of having five homosexual men as the life experts made me pay closer attention. Though each one addresses a specific topic (fashion, culture, food & wine, grooming and design), they do not put down their client for needing the help. Well, not much. The subjects are secure straight men that seem happy enough to get any. This series uses deprecating humour to teach, and those folks with limited exposure to other lifestyles may come to understand that there is nothing wrong with being gay.

My hunger for history has been fed in one of the only places I could see the body of a real mummy 6000 years after Ramses and King Tut, as well as the results of the fatal Franklin expedition in the Arctic. The History and Discovery Channels turn back the clock and allow me to see the daily lives of people that cannot talk about themselves. I have learned the former megalomania of Saddam Hussein did have a basis in monarchs like Henry VIII, both of whom believed that they could do whatever they wanted.

Sometimes it IS possible to mentally check out to a better location—-even if you return the second you click off your set.

Sep 03

60’s kitsch can rarely be done better than

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60’s kitsch can rarely be done better than Modesty Blaise, which I recently saw on American Movie Classics. If you haven’t seen this film, you should: Modesty (portrayed by Italian actress Monica Vitti) uses her Mod-style to bring down the bad guy. In an age where the men were seen to have the fast cars and buxom lovelies, she was one of the few superagents: smart, clever with a quip and an independent spirit. Sure, there is the obvious comparison to James Bond, but I believe there was more to this film than psychodelic colour and go-go boots.

I admit when I first saw this film years ago, I could hardly sit through it as at the time. It just reminded me of Barbarella, and I had had enough of half-naked women and the lack of a strong plot. Somehow, as I got older I began to see the inherent politics and humour in Modesty and its idea of eye candy for the masses. Though she is initally used as a decoy by MI5, she finds a way to turn the tables. That world was simple: the good guys always won and (eventually) the bad guys always lost. In the age before political correctness, it was OK to indulge in a bit of wine now and then; casual sex was the norm. When the diamonds get stolen by Mr. Gabriel (the villain), it is Modesty (and not her assistant Willie Garson) that takes the lead to find them.

In this film, it is purely the women that have control: the superagent is a woman, the villain’s wife runs the show (when not disciplining her “pets”). Well worth killing a few hours with some mates and a box of popcorn. If you pay attention, you can see how it became the blueprint for the women of Charlie’s Angels and Alias: inventive women who allow their male bosses to believe they have the upper hand.

Aug 03

There are actual times when I want to shout at the American tv powers that be

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There are actual times when I want to shout at the American tv powers that be, such as when I found out (earlier in the Summer) that there were plans to create an American version of Coupling for the masses here. Insanity! Apparently, the fact that only All In The Family (“based on Till Death Do Us Part”) was a success —in the 70’s!—taught nothing.

How to accurately translate the sexual neuroses of Steve and Jeff? The utter cluelessness of Jane? The tired studliness of Patrick? Part of what makes the show so funny is the wry British style of humour….and the freedom to show your girlfriend handcuffed to the bed on TV. American networks still believe that BB4 is the height of sexual daring: television movies-of-the week and the daily soaps show more skin than the nighttime US comedy shows.

I’m tempted to keep my fingers crossed, but am simply waiting for the usual effect: either the scripts will be flat in translation, the pricey American actors will be wooden, or the general viewing audience won’t get the relevance. 13 potential episodes for a season will turn into a mid-Summer one-off. Sad, but inevitable. Thousands of US dollars to buy the rights will be wasted on unimaginative planning and execution.

If I’m wrong, I’ll gladly buy the beer.