Thursday, January 31, 2008

Golden age of video-based news

My husband is watching TV for the first time in at least two or three months (neither of us can remember when he last watched TV, it's been that long). What could lure him away from the computer? The Democratic debates on CNN. News events are one of my exceptions to my no-TV rule, so I could have sat there with him, but I had some work to do in the other room. By the time I got to the couch, the debate was over and he was off to the blogosphere to watch the fallout and commentary.

There is just something about live TV for a news event like a debate versus a series of clips you can find on CNN. Even if you are watching TV alone and even if the video is posted to the internet within minutes of it airing, TV just feels more immediate, more shared, more raw, whereas video on the Internet feels like it's processed, editorialized for you by CNN before you've had a chance to absorb it first hand.

On the other hand, if you can't watch a debate live, watching news on the internet is not any worse than the 10 o' clock news. In fact, for in-depth news, it can be better--you can see full responses to questions posed by reporters, rather than 10-second sound bites. You can see related stories, you can comment.

But to be honest, most of us want our news pre-chewed. Unless we are political junkies, we want to fast forward to the good stuff. It's only the people who watch politics like sports who want more than the highlight reel, and those folks are few and far between.

But every so often, even non-junkies like me appreciate the opportunity to go more in-depth and watch the source materials and it's nice to have so many ways to do this.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This American Life DVD on sale starting today!

Back in 1996 when I was first dating my husband-to-be, he turned me on to a radio show on NPR called This American Life. We'd listen while driving over the mountains at noon on a Saturday, or late at night at 10 o' clock. The stories were so good, it would keep us in the car, even after we'd pull up in the driveway.

Public radio was that thing your parents would listen to in the car when all you wanted to do was turn on some music, but this show is different. Each week, they'll choose a theme and do three to four stories, fiction or non-fiction, on that theme: for instance, fiascos, the allure of the mean friend, and, appropo to this blog, what I learned from television. Whether the story is real or made up, they are always told in the most gripping, suspenseful, what's-going-to-happen-next, way.

I had the pleasure of seeing host Ira Glass talk about how he interviews people and puts a story together and if I was ever half as good as he was, I'd be awesome, that's how good he is. It was at this event that I found out he was doing a TV version of his radio show, quirky stories and all, for Showtime--made me want to go upgrade my cable right there, but figured I'd wait till it came out on DVD.

The first season is finally out, as of today, exclusively at Borders, but also on iTunes. Below is Ira talking about it, followed by a clip from the first episode.

Showtime had the entire first episode, "Reality Check" for free on their website last year as a promo, unfortunately, this is all that is left. So here's the set up: a rancher has pet bull, named Chance, who dies. Rancher hears about a cloning project at Texas A&M, begs researcher to clone his dead bull, and gets--wait for it-- a Second Chance. But let's just say Number Two is not as friendly as Number One, and this episode deals with the the rancher coming to terms with the fact that he's not really got his friend back.

Monday, January 28, 2008

One Degree: Carla Gugino and Matthew Goode

First, the answer to last week's One Degree: Waterworld, the movie that temporarily (some might say permanently) sank Kevin Costner's career, was the movie Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino first appeared in before both actresses went on to star in Showtime's Big Love. If you were one of the dozens to see that flop, Tina was the little girl with the map of dry land tattooed on her back, while Jean played her caretaker and Costner's love interest.

On to this week's One Degree. I am a latecomer to Watchmen, the groundbreaking graphic novel by Alan Moore. I found it on my stepbrother-in-law's shelf a couple Christmases ago and had heard enough about it to be intrigued. In 1986, it was one of the original iconoclastic comic books, using each character in this superhero team to represent a different type of morality and worldview; having read it I understand why it's beloved by fanboy and academic alike.

Having just discovered this book, I was excited to find out it had been greenlit as a movie last year, to be helmed by 300's Zack Snyder. I also thought most of the casting was genius--and happens to contain two One Degrees--what fun! Here's the first:

In the upcoming Watchmen, Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Sin City) will play the Silk Spectre and British actor Matthew Goode will play Ozymandias. In what 2007 movie did these two first appear?

Post your answer in comments for bragging rights--no Google, just your brain! Check back next week for the answers, as well as another One Degree!

UPDATE, here's a video of the pair being interviewed by Entertainment Weekly at Comic-Con.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Cat's out of the bag

OK, long week, short post. Here's the feel-good story of the day from the Today Show about a stowaway kitty that fell asleep in a suitcase, was checked in from Florida to Texas, got picked up by the wrong passenger at baggage claim, but survived and was reunited with her family a day later.

Look to Mr. Deng's "blog" and be happy!

In 2001, laid-off dot-commer Todd Rosenberg started posting semi-autobiographical cartoons about his life at and quickly developed an avid following. He scanned and posted all fan letters in 2002 and stopped in 2004.

But to this day, he continues to post letters of his most prolific pen pal, Mr. Deng (closest thing to a picture here). Postcards from Suzhou, China began arriving in Todd's mailbox in April 2004 and while the medium eventually switched to email and photos, his pen pal has written ceaselessly and enthusiastically at least once a month since then. All 3+ years of correspondence are archived here.

If you flip through the archive from the oldest to the most recent, it is easy to laugh at the postcards featuring glaring, Spock-faced Peking Opera singers in Maoist propaganda plays and at the broken English of Mr. Deng (First postcard: "I would make many happy to see this on my internet machine! It say onto your web sight that you will be a television star! That is exciting news you must be full of beans.") . While he talks about "sexing" and wanting to find a girlfriend, he's still seemingly innocent and thus hilarious:
I like to play the electronics and interwebs. But these days t gets to many e--mails these days that say the subject as "your bottle of enlargement tablets is ready." What this mean?Is it joking meaning or nauty?

The Franch man at my company want me to show this statyu photo to you. He think it is very funny, but I do not know why he think so that.
His cultural observations are equally funny. About a French co-worker's arty black-and-white photographs of the town:
The Franch man working in my factory give to me to show you the photo he make this time since I did not take the photo this week. It so strange he do not use the colour, his camera maybe is bad.
But if you keep reading, that naiveté and sincerity of his wishes and advice becomes poignant. While many Americans might commiserate with OddTodd over their crummy or non-existent job, here is Mr. Deng, who uses a nightsoil pot in the backyard, worries if he'll have enough money to fix his bicycle, and works in a factory making shoelaces, sending "Mr. OddTodd" snacks from China, encouraging him not to feel down, and sending him dating tips.

Deng, apparently, has ventured beyond the pages of and established his identity on as well as on YouTube, as seen below.

One writer at The Chinese Outpost says that while the correspondence is highly entertaining, Mr. Deng must be a fraud, due to the childlike handwriting and consistently funny "Chinglish," that he is the invention of a mid-twenties, Mid-western American girl who happens to be living in Suzhou (all the postcards are postmarked). On some recent posts, Todd added the ability to comment and others share that skepticism, even comparing him to Borat. When I first read these opinion, I thought, yeah maybe, but I've seen enough feminine and childlike handwriting out of men, Asian and Caucasian, as well as bad Chinglish to think that these examples could be real, especially in a population of 1.3 billion.

If anything would make me think this was pure fiction, it is the fact that, intentionally or unintentionally, his letters are a gentle satire-- not of China, but of the U.S. The simple things we take for granted are called out in many of his photo essays:
The man carry the recycle bottle on his bicycle. Many people in China earn the money by collect the recycle garbage and take it to the factory to get the money. You should try to do this job in USA also then you will be richer!

This man walk around yelling and fix the shoe. I take this picture from my apartment window. A forgeiner told me you do not have this kind of man in the U.S.A.! How can the People fix the broken shoe then?
While some may laugh at how backwards this seems, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has come away from these photo essays thinking that compared to the Chinese, we are all wasteful, complaining, slackers who don't appreciate what we have. Deng's letters are, in fact, the perfect counterpoint to OddTodd's own funny, navel-gazing animations.

And yet there is no hint of indictment or accusation in his words, only kindness. Every letter ends with some sort of an exhortation ("Please enjoy the life and always try", "Wish you happy forever!") and an invitation to write back, extended not only to Todd, but to the entire world. While he knows parts of his city are ugly and dirty, he shares his pride in the ancient beauty of Suzhou, the modernizations, like long distance telephone and the rash of new buildings and television shows sprouting up everywhere, his growing salary, and his wife's growing belly--yes, there will soon be a Deng Junior.

So I choose to believe he is real. If such a caring, funny man does not really exist, he ought to. I leave you with a typical hilarious and thoughtful translation of an famous American poem from Mr. Deng:

Bean, bean

The musicle Vegtable

The more of that you eat

You will Fart so much

But the bean is very healty so you should eat many bean and you will feel more happy to that.

I change the ending of the song now so the USA people can still like to eat the bean and so the farmer of the bean will not be crying.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A "Moment of Truth" in my TV Fast

I've been traveling this week, staying at hotels.

I was lonely.

I did things I wouldn't normally do and that I'm not proud of.

I watched a whole episode of Charmed, all of Boston Legal, most of Supernanny, and part of American Idol.

I can find some scrap of redeeming value in each of these if pressed, but I can't say as much for my last selection, The Moment of Truth. That was a pure moment of rubbernecking at a bloody car wreck and all I can say in my defense was that I turned it off after 15 minutes.

If you haven't heard of this show, it's the most controversial reality show since Temptation Island (and perhaps not coincidentally, hosted by the same guy). The premise is simple: A person is must answer 21 questions correctly. They get money for each correct answer and lose it all if they don't. They can walk away while they still have some money before hearing the next question, or keep playing for $500,000.

So far, sounds like Who Wants to Be Half a Millionaire. However in this case, the player won't be stumped by any questions--the only arbiter of whether they've answered correctly is the lie detector they are connected to. Their friends and family aren't sitting there in front of the contestant for support. They are there to witness and react to the contestant answer questions like "Have you ever said you were sick when canceling an appointment when you weren't" and "Do you think you are better looking than any of your friends?"

But as the game progresses, the interrogation crosses the line from being merely personally embarrassing and uncomfortable to potentially destroying a person's relationships and reputation. I flipped away before they could get to the types of questions featured on the commercial, which included "Would you cheat on your wife if you knew you could get away with it?" and "Have you ever slept with someone for money?"

I have to wonder if these contestants had any idea what they had signed up for. Did they think they had nothing to hide, or did the prospect of winning that cash overwhelm their judgment? Or did they just never suspect that Fox would take it so far? By the nature of the questions, all of them must have been subjected to a questionnaire or even a background check, and I think only the worst were allowed to go on air.

For the longest time, my husband couldn't bring himself to watch The Office because he couldn't stand to watch even the fictional Michael Scott embarrass himself in every episode. I know what he would say about this show: Fox is making money off of the misery and embarrassment of others. That's not enough to stop me under normal circumstances. There are many shows that do this that I will watch--the audition episodes of American Idol, the "To Catch a Predator" episodes on Dateline. You might even argue that any reality show exposes it's contestants to unflattering portrayals. But all of these people volunteered to be on air, or in the case of Predator, were deserving of being exposed (I don't buy weak protestations of "I showed up to tell her not to solicit dirty old men on the Internet ").

I think subjecting yourself to that kind of scrutiny is one thing but allowing innocent family members to be collateral damage is another, and in this case, I don't blame the contestants, I blame Fox. I know that the friends and family must have signed waivers before they could appear with the contestant on the show but they couldn't have known what they were in for. Fox better have a bunch of episodes in the can because I think they will have fewer volunteers after the original episodes air. However, you never know. I found this blog review of the show at the Palm Beach Post and the only comment by a reader was "i want to apply to be on the show how can i do that????" [sic]

I made several rules for myself when starting this TV fast almost three weeks ago. One was that I couldn't watch shows on a TV set at home, but I could do it when outside the house. Overall, this has helped me to reduce mindless channel surfing. But while I've adhered the the letter of my rules this week, I'm not sure about the spirit. One day at a time.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Watch the 2008 Sugar Bowl, again

Hawaii's football team had a banner year, so in honor of my friends there, I'm posting the 2008 Sugar Bowl (Hawaii vs. Georgia), which recently became available on Hulu, courtesy of Fox Sports. Granted, it would be more fun for them to watch again if Hawaii had kept its undefeated season going and won on New Year's Day, but what you gonna do?

Kevin Bacon Turns Six Degrees into a Charity

In researching the start of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game for my new weekly installment One Degree, I found out that the actor, who had previously been embarrassed of this college parlor game, fully embraced it last year by using it to promote, an outgrowth of charitable clearinghouse Network for Good.

At, you can not only see what charities your favorite celebrities support, you can create a badge widget like the one at right (which I will keep up till the end of January) to promote any charity registered with Network for Good and embed it on your website.

In fact, between now December 13, 2007 and January 31, 2008, the eight individuals who have the most unique donors to their cause will receive an additional $50,000 for their charity and the 100 non-profits with the greatest number of total donations will get an extra $1000. Half of the top 10 badges promote animal-based charities while only three are for diseases or disabilities.

To learn more about SixDegrees, see this video:

One Degree: Tina Majorino and Jeanne Tripplehorn

My head is strangely wired for celebrity faces and names and thus I am great at the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. We actually bought this board game years ago, but most often, my husband and I will play a simpler version in which one of us names any two actors and tries to connect them when we are waiting for a movie to start. For instance, my husband might name Dennis Quaid (Traffic) and Dennis Haysbert (24, now the spokesman for Allstate). Here's how I might answer this:
  • Dennis Haysbert was in Major League with Charlie Sheen
  • Charlie Sheen was in Wall Street with Michael Douglas
  • Michael Douglas was in Traffic with Dennis Quaid
But sometimes you don't need six degrees, or even three. I had just picked these two actors for their first names, but without even realizing it, I had created a one-degree combo: Dennis Haysbert was in Far From Heaven with Dennis Quaid.

So I'm going to see if I can post a "One Degree" game every week for your amusement. Here's the inaugural puzzle.
Actresses Jeanne Tripplehorn (The Firm) and Tina Majorino (Napoleon Dynamite) appeared in HBO's series Big Love. What movie did they appear in together in the 1990s?
If you have no idea who these actresses are, click on the links above to the Internet Movie Database for their photos, but don't scroll down and look at their filmography. I will post answers in one week. If you know the answer now, write it up in the Comments for bragging rights.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Marathons and why they work for TV

I created a rule for myself that I could watch TV shows, but I couldn't watch them on a TV set. This may seem like an arbitrary distinction, a loophole in my decision to stop watching TV two weeks ago. However, the reason I stopped watching was that I found that once the TV was on, I was almost incapable of turning it off. While there are many reasons why TV lends itself to addictive viewing, I'm convinced the primary reason is the phenomenon of the marathon.

When I watch network TV, I either flip the station after my show is over or turn off the TV. The smartest thing cable channels have done in the last decade is to run an entire season's worth of shows in one sitting. If you tune in for a show and watch it till the end, you probably liked it--so why risk viewers switching to another show when you can serve more up just like it?

Other than cult scripted shows in deep syndication, the most effective marathons are reality TV shows and the master of this formula, in my opinion is Bravo, home of Project Runway and its spinoff Top Chef.

What's so effective about a marathon? Well, if you've never seen the series, they instantly get you caught up. If you were already hooked but somehow missed an episode, you can get right back into the storyline instead of drifting away. Reality shows, especially competition shows, get you caring for or hating their reality "characters"-- either way, you keep watching because you either hope your favorite makes it through or you can't wait to see the villanized contestant get their comeuppance. And during every episode, they will show a preview of the next show in which something happens that "you won't believe" or is "a first." And lucky you, you don't have to wait long.

I started wondering why the networks don't follow suit and run marathons of their hit shows and realized have several constraints. They have "appointment television"--shows that people build into their daily schedules. Their schedules are so packed that they can't do marathons without running into another show. And while the demographic for a particular show maybe relatively narrow, the demographic of the entire network is wide. So, even if they did have the space in their schedule to air a marathon, of say Medium, a very successful show on NBC, they would lose viewers in other demographics for several hours. People wouldn't ever know if they could tune into NBC without wondering if it was going to look like Oxygen or Spike.

On the other hand, Bravo and most other cable channels, are just that--channels. They are narrowly segmented to a specific demographic-- in Bravo's case, people who care about fashion, food, beauty, home design, and pop culture. As long as the show fits into the categories of shows that works for their demographic, a marathon of that show could easily gain a new fan that happens upon it while surfing with the remote. And while they do have regular time slots for new episodes of a series, their weekends and weekdays are completely free of local TV, sports, soaps and talk shows so they have lots of room for long uninterrupted blocks of time.

The best combination is when a network is part of a media family with cable channels; such is the case with NBC, SciFi, MSNBC, and Bravo. My husband and I got into the first season of The Apprentice because we were able to get caught up on MSNBC, then watched it on NBC going forward.

I don't see the marathon phenomena going away anytime soon. And in fact, the internet lends itself to the same "what's next" mentality that marathons have--I often find myself endlessly clicking links from page to page. However, the content on the internet will pretty much always be there, whereas TV is ephemeral, like it must be watched now or it will disappear (in reality, the number of reruns and reairings on cable as well as DVD releases makes this less of an issue).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Choices for Movie Downloads

I was in an all day meeting yesterday, went home, didn't read the internet or listen to the radio. I watched a rented movie, blogged about Hulu for the fourth time straight, going on and on about how they had 10 movies for free from two studios.

Boy, did I miss the news yesterday! This morning I found out that Steve Jobs announced Tuesday that iTunes would have 1000 movies available by the end of February from all major movie studios. I don't know how limited that selection was in the past--a post from TechCrunch from 2006 seems to indicate the only major studio they had was Disney. Downloads will cost $2.99, with more recent releases priced at $3.99 and high-def at $4.99. Depending on your connection speed and the distance to your nearest video store, it could compete with Blockbuster for price and convenience.

But is this revolutionary? I just checked Amazon Unbox, which offers identical pricing, similar download speeds, and they seem to have 4235 movies. While I don't know how many of those are from major studios, I think Apple may be playing catch-up in this regard, for once.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hulu wants you to go away

I've watched old episodes of Heroes on the NBC own website but I assumed that with the debut of Hulu (the topic of my last three posts), that all NBC's content would move there. I was surprised to find out that both websites were being maintained and that both feature streaming shows with commercials. Frankly, the browsing experience on Hulu seems relatively clunky compared to NBC's own site.

So why did News Corp. and NBC bother to build Hulu? It's not for better ads or better browsing for users--based on what I've seen, they want you to embed their content. They don't necessarily want you to just go to Hulu-- they want you to take their content and spread it virally, just like what I've done below. Instead of making everyone come to their site, Fox and NBC let fans take their ad-laced shows and embed them into their own websites and blogs--so long as the commercials stay with the content and the impressions are reported back to Hulu, who cares where it lives? Fans were already posting clips or full episodes of Family Guy to YouTube and embedding it in their own sites--now they can do that legally and the networks can finally make money off of the viral spread of their videos. Hulu is acting like an ad broker, but unlike most ad brokers, Hulu doesn't have to pay users money to embed their ads because those users are getting valuable content for free.

They should probably try to make the user experience on their site better, but speaking as a recovering TV addict, if they were trying to make Hulu into a TV-like site where they wanted users to stay, they would have a related video start playing as soon as you had finished watching one, much like episodes flow into one another on TV. Instead, it pauses on a screen that allows you to email or embed the video. It seems they would prefer to get new eyeballs, not hit the same pair over and over.

It's too bad for Google that they were not able to negotiate any deals with the networks for YouTube. With their (perhaps scary) understanding of each user and their likes and dislikes based on previous searches and Gmail, they could probably do a much better job of targeting ads than Hulu, which can only go by the main demographic of the show. If Google were running Hulu, I, as a woman, might actually see an ad for Tampax or Yoplait during Family Guy, even though I was watching a show that seems to be targeted at men 18-30 years old.

It's no wonder the Writer's Guild of America is striking now. It's probably true that networks weren't able to make as much money off of webisodes and shows distributed online compared to TV broadcasts, but with Hulu and Joost (where you'll find CBS and Viacom programming) coming out last year, the potential is growing.

Sideways. Streaming. Free. Legal. One catch.

On a summer day in the mid-nineties, my graduating class clustered around a hole in the ground, tossing in items that were personal but of little value. The hole was a time capsule, to be sealed up at the end of the day and to be opened in a hundred years. While everyone else threw in their student ID, my mother saw the future. "Throw in your Blockbuster card. In a hundred years, people will wonder what that company was."

I got a new card the next day and, over a decade later, and as of just yesterday, I am still using it. We've had TiVo, and Netflix, but the promise of online, instant content has not quite been met. If you are uncomfortable using Bit Torrent to download pirated films, there is no way to get films online for free. iTunes and Amazon Unbox are options if you are willing to pay, but Amazon Unbox also requires a TiVo.

However, now there might be Hulu. While Hulu is dominated by TV content, a couple of studies seem to be experimenting with a handful of full-length feature movies. For instance, Twentieth Century Fox has contributed five movies. At one end of the spectrum, they have Weekend at Bernies, at the other, the Oscar-winning Sideways, which you can watch below for free.

The catch? Advertising of course. As with every example I've posted, you must watch commercials, in this case, a trailer for the movie Vantage Point. After that point, there are no commercials and you can fast forward to any point in the movie, but "swipes" will pop up from the bottom of the screen while you are watching.

Perhaps Hulu will move to a dual model, where you can get ad-free content if you pay a subscription. After all, it's one thing for a swipe to pop up during a comedy, quite another during Gandhi. But I think most people will tolerate intrusive ads for the chance to watch most movies straight through for free, especially if the ad is for another movie I might be interested in watching. Would you?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Corkscrewed: What where they thinking?

In response to a suggestion that my husband and I are both addicted to the internet, we are going to try to institute an internet-free Sunday. However, I could not resist blogging about one last thing before I log off.

In 2006, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, the producers of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, starred in the reality series Corkscrewed: The Wrath of Grapes in which viewers are invited to watch their kooky adventures buying and running a vineyard, with guest appearances by Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul.

If you're in the demographic of mature wine connoisseurs who also secretly love to watch reality talent shows, or 18-25 year olds with a private collection of wine in their cellar, then this is clearly the show for you! The rest of us are scratching their heads. This ran on the Fox Reality channel--did anyone watch this?

I do not understand how this show got greenlit --it is not exactly a fish-out-of-water story when a pair of millionaires "rough it" by buying a vineyard, as it was for Paris Hilton in The Simple Life. I understand the whole idea of The Long Tail, which is why this is now being offered for web syndication by Hulu, but how long would it take for Fox to recoup its money on this clunker? And did Ford and Axe Body Spray, which appear in advertisements peppered throughout this show, have any say into whether they wanted to sponsor a show about two oxford-wearing brits, instead of, say, an episode of Family Guy?

While I would love to review these shows for the sheer obscurity of it, I cannot bring myself to watch them, only the first minute of them. My favorite quote, therefore, is the intro to Episode Six, where Idol judge, friend and potential co-investor Simon Cowell says "OK, two years time, they've lost all their money, the whole thing's a disaster, do I help them? No. But what I would be prepared to do is to give them advice on future projects."

I am also prepared to give advice on future projects--Rupert, do not to invest in a show that features millionaires unless they are firing people or giving cows rectal exams. Vanity projects, even ones that are a bust, are not nearly as marketable as abject humiliation. Nonetheless, I will help Mr. Murdoch, because he must be really down on his luck after this lemon: if you truly love reality shows, here are the complete episodes of Corkscrewed via Hulu. But if you truly love wine, you'd be much better off checking out the blog of my friend Alder at

1) To Buy or Not To Buy: American Idol executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, decide to buy a Vineyard (with a little help from some of their famous friends, including Simon Cowell, Randy J...

3) All Fired Up: With problems mounting, American Idol executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, hold a crisis meeting to try to decide what to do about their troubled vineyard.

4) The Wine School: Ken and Nigel enroll in a crash course for running a winery. Meanwhile, gophers and squirrels are getting into the vineyard.

5) A Crushing Blow: Nigel and Ken head for Pasa Robles to try to turn their fortunes around. Later, back in Los Angeles, it's the day when the Emmy Awards are handed out. With their fourth nominati...

6) Sweet Dreams or Sour Grapes: Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick finally meet the man who cancelled a major contract to buy their fruit. Later, they finally see the fruits of their labors as they witness their fi...

7) The Grape Escape: Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick witness the enormous damage that wild boars have done to their vineyard. Later, visiting their winemaker, Nigel and Ken see there is hope that one ...

8) Parades, Parties and Pioneers: Nigel attends Priscilla Presley's party and is arrested. Ken has to handle the American Idol auditions in Memphis...alone.

The Lost Journal of Robert Neville

Short post. What you didn't see in I Am Legend, as envisioned by OddTodd.

A clip from Hulu: Jon Stewart on The Simpsons

I applied to Beta test Hulu, a joint project between News Corp (owner of Fox) and NBC to bring streaming content to the web. A more detailed review of the service later, but one of the things I wanted to experiment with was embedding content into this blog, which they are clearly advocating, because each clip contains ads or links that cannot be edited out. So, here goes. For your viewing pleasure, Jon Stewart's recent appearance on The Simpsons:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Blog, Blog, Blog it All: The Travails of the Richter Scales

I've been scrounging voraciously for reading material ever since I quit TV and started this blog six days ago. In my foraging sessions, I managed to find an old Newsweek from December 17 that had gotten trapped under all the pre-holiday stuff. To my surprise, they had a brief write-up of a viral video by a local acapella group, The Richter Scales. I went to school with two of these guys (one of whom introduced me to my husband), took a computer science class from another, and did a crude website for the guy listed as their recording guy. However, I totally missed this very cool news last month!

Now the whole blogosphere knows about them. For those of you who haven't seen it, here is version 1.1 of "Here Comes Another Bubble," sung to the tune of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire." I just watched it and, wow, they are just spot-on--and hilarious! (Favorite Funny/Sad/True line: "Make yourself a million bucks, partly skill mostly luck, now you can afford a payment on a small house; if you want a bigger one--Hillsborough, Atherton--better hope the same thing happened to your spouse.").

But why version 1.1? Version 1.0 went up on YouTube Tuesday, December 4th and got 600,000 hits by Saturday the 8th, the same day it was featured in the San Jose Mercury News. By Monday, they were getting an overwhelmingly positive response, but also some questions over credit for the photos used. The following day, a week from the original posting, YouTube pulled the video following a DMCA take-down notice; a photographer had filed a complaint.

Reading their blog, I thought they handled the fallout like the decent guys they are. They were humble and apologetic and relaunched version 1.1 a week after the takedown, this time with credits for all the photographs, which was a pretty painstaking thing to do. They also made pains to mention that they didn't make any money off of the video.

Ever since I started this blog, I've been really tempted to insert videos into this blog using the embed tags you see all over YouTube and similar sites, but got completely paranoid and didn't go through with it. I work in educational media publishing and we are used to seeking credit and permission for all photos and videos we use; we are also used to some confusion on the part of our customers as to what is fair use.

Working in an industry that creates content, I am especially sensitive to copyright issues and want to learn more about it before inserting videos into my blog; I know what we have to do at work, but this is new territory for me. For instance, I have to guess that if a user posts a video they own to YouTube and makes no money doing so (there are no ads there), that they are cool with you inserting their video in your site. In fact, if the video contains a link to their advert-driven site or is a teaser for their full-length show or content, I would think they want you embed it.

But until I figure that out, all you will see are links to videos, not embedded videos, in my blog. If anyone wants to point out helpful articles on this point, I would appreciate the feedback.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

OddTodd + Robert Krulwich = Match Made in Heaven

Todd Rosenberg got laid off in 2001, started a website featuring hilarious animations based on his unemployed life, called*. It seems that in addition to fastidiously maintaining his website (which I and fellow laid-off dot-commers visited a lot during a similar fallow period years ago) he has now landed some freelance work working on stories for Robert Krulwich, for ABC News. Kudos to him! Here are some stories they did together.
Robert Krulwich, incidentally, is my favorite reporter. Not only does he know how to explain a difficult concept in an entertaining way, he has the most expressive voice. I'm a big fan of his work, for instance, on RadioLab, WNYC's science program that redefined that genre, as far as I'm concerned.

So I'm happy they are working together. Maybe I'm creating a Googlewhack right now by writing about them.

*Coincidentally, in checking out OddTodd for the first time in months, he has today posted a poll on addictions. Strangely, he doesn't mention TV, which is clearly one of his own addictions as you can see from his "Daily fact I learned from TV" post.

TV Withdrawl Kicking In

I want to watch TV. I have been working and feel I need to continue to do so tonight, but I need a break. This is the first real craving this week that wasn't merely tied to simply something to do while eating dinner. For 30+ years, my relaxation routine was to come home after work or school and completely veg out for 30 minutes to two hours, then maybe go back to work. Aah, sweet, sweet mind-numbing TV!

I am wondering if I can train myself to relax without TV. Yesterday, for instance, I went to the gym at night for the first time in a year. I don't know that I'll do that on a regular basis--I prefer to go in the morning because I have to wash and dry my hair anyway--but it may be one alternative.

Reading is another. I grew up an avid reader. Stopped reading novels in college, when all the required reading stomped that out. For all the flack I give my husband about reading the internet all the time, he does also read novels and non-fiction books, which somehow feels more like whole-grain and less like candy. He has a pile going by the bed of about four books simultaneously. I tend to read magazines, but the three to four books I read in a year (that sounds sad to me) are hand me downs--I just have to fish down by the side of the bed and pick something up.

But I am reading something now he didn't buy--Eat, Pray, Love. It was left here by his visiting sister and it is definitely a chick book, but more weighty than chick-lit. The premise: successful but recently divorced playwright Elizabeth Gilbert feels empty and depressed despite outward appearance of having it all and decides to live abroad for a year in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Italy is where she wants to "Eat," both in the literal as well as the broader sense of experiencing pure, sensual pleasure and enjoyment.

She wrote something that spoke to me when I read it last night--I shared it with my husband and now I share it with you, because it relates to this feeling I'm having:
Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today...many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes. Of course we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don't really know how to do nothing.
There is a lot to think about there, and I'd love to unpack why that resonated with me (the nature of leisure, the inability to just be) in a future post. But frankly, I am tired. While this blog keeps me occupied, it doesn't help me escape from my own thoughts, which is, to be honest, what I really want at this moment. YouTube, here I come!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

No More Nights on the Couch Together?

My husband and I used to watch TV together. We had our shows. There was Survivor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Sopranos, Sex in the City, Battlestar Galactica, Grey's Anatomy. There were a few he watched on his own, like The Wire or Rescue Me.

My husband no longer watches TV. There were two turning points for him.

1) He just got too busy with school in 2007. First, he started prioritizing his shows. Eventually, even his favorites fell away--he didn't even have time to catch up on Battlestar Galactica, Lost or Heroes when they were recorded on TiVo. I would call out and say I was watching it and he'd say go on without me. Then, he just fell too behind to catch up and I'd either fill him in, or pause it when he walked in the room so he could enjoy it on DVD if he chose to catch up later. At most, he'd watch The Colbert Report, My Name is Earl, or The Office--nothing with a long story arc.

2) He started using Google Reader to review any and every blog and RSS feed in the world (morning ritual) and found an abundance of online games (nighttime ritual--I can hear him now). The Internet is his god now.

He would often put down my TV habit, because the internet was so much more active and engaging. Perhaps, but I would say, no less addictive. He cannot go a day without it.

He has more time now that school is over, but we will not be watching TV shows together in the forseeable future--he has no interest in anything but the internet, and I have forsworn TV. The best we might do is, per my new rules, rent or buy shows for our computers or DVD. More likely, though, on any given night we will be sitting at our mutual laptops, typing away. At least we can bring our laptops into the same room.

Speaking of Google Reader, I learned this morning that my husband now subscribes to my blog. So honey, I am thinking we ought to establish one internet-free night a week, what do you say?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


It took three nights but for the first time since quitting TV, I did not go for the remote upon sitting down for dinner. I ate and read a magazine. Granted, that magazine was Entertainment Weekly, but it's progress, right?

Why did this issue make it into the shopping cart today among the chicken and yogurt? Because it was all about the mid-season premieres of some of my favorite shows...that I will not be able to watch on TV anymore. Does that mean I can't watch the shows? Hopefully not. I'll be looking for ways to watch Lost and Battlestar Galactica online--legally. Thank goodness for iTunes and the upcoming Hulu, assuming they are going to be carrying these shows--I've got some research to do before January 31.

About that writers strike, I thought this article on Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's return to the air without writers from Salon was an interesting take on how shows will fair without writers (hint: the host with the improv background did a lot better).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Fringe Benefits

OK, first work day without TV. Again, just like yesterday, I'm noticing that the eat-watch-TV pattern is ingrained: heated up some sautéed beet greens in microwave, looked for remote. Instead, I cleaned the kitchen. Headed to the couch with dinner and looked for the remote. Instead, I read Newsweek.

Earlier I said I didn't have time to concentrate on fixing bad habits, quitting TV was going to be hard enough. But watching TV is like the keystone for a bunch of other bad habits--remove it, and maybe they all fall away: snacking, not cleaning, not calling friends or writing letters, not exercising, going to bed late, etc.

We'll see. Like I said, I may just get addicted to the Internet.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

One Degree: Index of Celebrity Trivia

One Degree is a game where film geeks show off their knowledge of obscure celebrity casting trivia. The rules are simple--be the first to identify the movie or movies that feature two actors. Of course you can use Google or, but it's less fun if you do.

Sometimes the answer is a film in which one or both marquee movie stars got their first break. Sometimes the answer was such a bomb or so obscure you'll think I'm making it up. And sometimes, I'll talk about actors most people have never heard of yet, but could be headed for stardom if they play their cards right.

Here is a list of all my past challenges, but be sure to scroll to the bottom first, or you'll see the answers, since it's listed with the most recent first.

Terra: Original science programming on the web

A guy I knew from work went to Montana State U's Science & Natural History Filmmaking school a few years back. He put his thesis project "The Search for Life on Mars" on Terra, which is how I first heard of this video podcast site. Terra programming is devoted to science and the environment.

Terra is produced by MSU and Filmmakers for Conservation Ltd. and runs on TV in Montana PBS, but also runs these shows online in entirety. Many of the films were student projects from MSU--but keep in mind, this is the training ground for many of the filmmakers that go on to work for the Discovery Channel and National Geographic. Lucky us, because their online portfolio includes full-length, high-quality productions on interesting topics for free. Case in point: The Story of Stuff.

Old Habits, New Habits

So I was blogging till 11:30 last night, which is way past my bedtime. Staying up late is something that only happens when hubby is not around to say "come to bed," and last night he was out playing poker. But I was excited about my blog. I made three posts and started saving drafts of ideas I wanted to write about, all of which were about not watching TV.

This morning, I woke up late and lay in bed thinking about all the other things I want to write about, namely litter boxes (check back later, I'll explain). I could have done that all morning, but have decided I want to get some work done today. So I showered and headed to the kitchen to make something to eat.

Then a funny thing happened. I had some roasted veggies, so I put it on some bread with some Monterey Jack and popped it in the microwave for two minutes. And then I grabbed the TiVo remote and hit Power.

Wow, I thought, were it not for the fact that I made the decision to unplug the TV last night, I would be watching TV right now, less than 24 hours after resolving not to. And the thing is, I didn't even think about it, it was like a fixed action pattern.

A minute later, I pulled the sandwich out of the oven, added some spinach, and headed to the couch to eat, picking up the remote again and ... oh, yeah, I'm not watching TV.

So I ate at the dining room table, like a civilized person. It's kinda amazing that something as simple as unplugging the TV would stop me--I would have thought I would have had to haul the TV to the garage or ask my husband to hide the remote. So maybe I'm ready for this.

I am somewhat concerned, however, that blog-is-to-TV not like methadone-is-to-heroin, more like crack-is-to-heroin. So I'm leaving home to get away from the wi-fi so I can get some work done.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

43 Things

They say you're more likely to stick to your resolutions if you write them down and share them with others--I suppose that's partly why I'm writing this blog. It's also why the social networking site 43 Things was started --this social networking site allows people to post a list of the things they want to do in life and receive encouragement from others who share their goals.

So I was looking at 43 Things because I was curious how many other people wanted to stop watching TV. However, when doing a search on "TV," the most frequently cited wish is not to stop watching TV--quite the opposite! Here are the most-cited, TV-related goals:
  • 306 people want to "be on TV"
  • 95 people say "watch TV"
  • 51 people say "watch more TV"
  • 45 people say "turn off the TV"
Another thing I learned--the primary investor in 43 Things is Amazon. Yes, it's old news, but it was news to me. There was some conspiracy talk about 43 Things simply being a cover for Amazon, since it was started by an ex-employee. However, it's not like Amazon would get more secret marketing info about people's hopes and dreams than what's already publicly available on 43Things.

Surprisingly, though, there are no Amazon links on these pages, but there are from Google. I have no problem with the idea of advertising, in general. If a company sees that I'm interested in something based on my email, the website I am browsing, or my search patterns and is willing to pay for the content I'm viewing by showing me a few ads, woo-hoo!

Still, I'm not planning on posting my goals to 43 Things. It's going to be hard enough to write this blog and not watch TV--I can't be expected to maintain 41 others goals.

I'm not one of those people

Why no TV? The fact is, I watch TV the way I eat food: I love heirloom tomatoes and Niman Ranch beef and Michelin-rated restaurants when I can afford it, but the fact is, I'll scarf the Doritos too. I'll eat because the food is there, I'll eat when I'm bored, I'll eat when I'm procrastinating.

And it's the same with TV. There is a lot of great TV out there. But it is way too easy for me to casually turn on the TV on a Saturday while I'm eating breakfast and end up watching a marathon of, say, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila and then it's 3PM and I haven't showered, worked out, or done any of my chores. Ugh, don't you hate it when that happens?

So I'm not one of those people who turns their nose up at TV, only reads literature and occasionally deigns to watch PBS, the news, and documentaries. I'm not cutting out TV because I'm opposed to reality TV or commercials. I just hate it being a time suck. I going to start treating TV like ice cream: I won't keep it in the house--if I really want it, it's fine, but that craving has to be strong enough that I'll have to actively go out and get it, and when I do, it will be by the scoop, not the carton.

So here are the conditions under which it is OK for me to watch shows
1) No broadcast or cable on the TV, but DVDs of the shows are OK
2) Video on the Internet are OK--more on why in a future post
3) TV outside the house at friend's or at gym are OK
4) TV for news or major sporting events is OK

Other ways of procrastinating

I’ve always wanted to start a blog, but didn’t know what I should write about. My more lofty ideas (writing on education, new media, the environment, etc.) seemed like they’d just be a lot of work.

I’ve also wanted to quit TV but never had the guts to pull the trigger on that resolution. There was always some good reason to keep the cable hooked up (Buffy, Battlestar Galactica).

But in the midst of the writer’s strike, I found myself looking forward to the new American Gladiators. Big red flag.

So hey, I didn’t intend to disavow TV and start a blog as a New Year’s resolution —it’s just a coincidence! My blog is called "stead of" because maybe this is what I’ll do instead of watching TV. Also, I couldn’t think of just one thing to write about, and “things that are not TV” is a pretty broad category, so I'm not limited in the number of topics I could write about.

Ironically, I may find myself writing about my relationship to TV, watching YouTube as a substitute for TV, or spending as much time procrastinating online as I ever did watching TV. Cut me some slack, I’m a life-long addict!

Copyright 2008