Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I have bought five computers in the past 18 years, and I have had major problems with all five of them at one time or another, from bad mother boards to bad CPU fans to viruses to planned obsolescence.
The newest computer arrived for my sons for Christmas - a new Dell to replace the six-year-old Compaq that can simply no longer keep up with 21st Century software. I opened the box yesterday morning and started putting it together. Everything seemed to be OK, and it booted up just fine... but there was just one problem. There was no sound.
I checked the speakers. I checked the audio drivers. The Windows Vista device manager became my best friend. I ran the machine through its paces, installing and uninstalling with wild abandon - all to no avail. Fortunately, my good friend, Bill, was coming for dinner last night. Bill and I have been through many a computer battle together, and he knows far more about them than I do. Bill and I spent more than an hour messing with the computer after dinner (and therefore avoiding doing dishes, too!), and we both concluded it was not a software issue. The sound card that had been built into the motherboard must have gone bad.
So, sometime around 11 pm, I called Dell support, and was routed to a "Mr. Williams", who I learned was speaking to me from Mumbai. "Mr. Williams" was a very pleasant and helpful-sounding man, who proceeded to ask permission to poke around my computer to see if he could ascertain the problem with my machine. I, of course, granted said permission, and was both bemused and amazed to watch him take over my screen from half-a-world away. He poked and prodded with my mouse cursor - and tried every trick that Bill and I had just spent the evening trying. Then he tried them all again. And again.
I was fairly certain "Mr. Williams" was under strict orders from his boss to find a software problem, and that he would be fed to the street rats if he found a hardware issue. Alas, "Mr. Williams" may now be Purina Rat Chow, because finally - at 12:40 am - nearly two hours after the phone call started, and long after Bill had gone home, he cheerfully announced that I must have a bad motherboard, and he assured me that someone in a Dell uniform would be by in the next day or two to replace it for me.
I was so relieved to A- get off the phone and B- have the knowledge that someone would be coming to my house to fix the computer, that it pretty much buried any outrage I may have felt that the machine I had spent several hundred dollars for was broken when it arrived at my house!
Thank you, Mr. Williams! Come again!
Friday, December 26, 2008
Building An Edgier Barbie
By Nicholas Casey
The Wall Street Journal
Barbie turns 50 next year, and her luster has faded over the years. Now, Mattel Inc. executives have begun a sweeping makeover of the doll's marketing in advance of her birthday.
The company wants to return the doll to her roots, doing everything from revamping the corporate structure that oversees Barbie to changing the way the doll is photographed for ads. The goal: to make Barbie fashionable again with older girls, who are dropping her for other, edgier playthings like video games.
For years after her introduction in 1959, Barbie reflected and even shaped fashion trends with her bell-bottom pants and power suits. But the Barbie empire started to lose its focus in the past decade as Mattel put the Barbie name on everything from animated cartoons to golf clubs.
Goosing Barbie's appeal is crucial for Mattel. The world's largest toy maker is suffering from weakening consumer demand as the industry prepares for what's expected to be more than a 5% drop in toy sales for the Christmas season, the worst in a decade.
Sean McGowan, an analyst at Needham & Co., recently reduced his estimate of Mattel's fourth-quarter sales by $21 million to about $2.28 billion, citing weak sales before Thanksgiving. "They needed to be smokin' hot and they weren't," he says.
Video games and iPods aren't the only cause of Barbie's declining appeal. MGA Entertainment Inc.'s teenage Bratz line and, more recently, the Hannah Montana line, a Walt Disney Co. license whose dolls are made by Jakks Pacific Inc., have moved into Barbie's turf with sexy outfits and cutting-edge fashions.
Barbie had largely ceded the "tween" customer -- kids eight to 12 -- to Bratz and other toys, instead making do with an audience that skewed younger and younger.
"We had lost a whole piece of the business, the older girl," he says.
Around the time of the Bratz dolls' arrival in 2001, Mattel launched a new line with Barbie dressed as Clara, a character from "The Nutcracker." The new fantasy tack proved a boon to the company, leading to new characters each winter and spring. But it also pigeonholed Barbie as a doll associated with younger girls.
In the future, Mr. Dickson says, the company plans to anchor the brand more firmly in the world of fashion. Mockup ads for 2009 include close-up shots of Barbie's face and show the doll posing as a model in what Mr. Dickson says is a deliberate nod to fashion magazines like Vogue.
The company hopes to regain the "tween" customers with the edgier look, while holding on to the younger girls, who like to copy older siblings.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Brad was the hit of the WMAL holiday party that year... Since he was so little, and was attached to a breathing monitor to boot - we had to bring him to the party, where everyone promptly fawned over him!
Finally, I told you recently that I was a department store Santa in my student days at Syracuse. Well, my sister Jill has unearthed a newspaper clipping (that I had completely forgotten even existed) from the Syracuse New Times in December of 1981, in which yours truly was asked what I, as Santa, wanted for Christmas... And my answer in those recessionary times is oddly fitting in these recessionary times!
I may or may not be posting in the next week or so - it all depends on whether something strikes my fancy - but most likely, I'll see you all back here in this space after the New Year! Happy Holidays, everyone!
Monday, December 22, 2008
His source? "That is the number I have heard on the television," he said.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
What can I say? The missus and I have a thing for Mickey Mouse! Our homeowners association must like the rodent as well, because last night, we found this in our yard!
Thursday, December 18, 2008
I have been enjoying Facebook for several months now, and have even enjoyed the occasional encounter with some folks who I knew from high school. I loved high school... I had pretty good grades, I was in some nice cliques, and I was heavily involved in music and theater. So to see high school friends and acquantances on Facebook has been a nice pastime.
Then, today, I received a friend request from someone I knew in elementary school. Elementary school was not anything like high school. My parents split up and divorced when I was in elementary school, which back in the late 60's was akin to having everyone in the family wearing a scarlet "A" on their chest. In addition, I was on the pudgy side, and every other kid in the school made sure I never forgot it! The real clincher came in fifth grade, when the new Phys Ed teacher called my out on the first day of school. Not knowing my name, he called me "Porky". That was it... I spent the last two years of elementary school and the first year (at least) of Junior High being called "Porky Pig", with the inferred endorsement of one of our teachers, no less! Can you tell this has bothered me for nearly 40 years?
But back to Facebook... OK... so I can handle being online friends with someone I knew when I was 8 years old... What's the big deal? This person was never a real nemisis of mine. I clicked "confirm" on the friend request, and soon thereafter saw a photo posted on his Facebook wall. It was a photo taken 2 months ago of a group of people, some of whom I have not seen in more than 30 years.
Among the people in the photo were most of the boys (BOYS? - No, nearly 50-year-old men!) who were my biggest tormentors when we were 10 and 11 years old. They now wear all manner of paunch and bald spots, but I really still saw them as being 4-foot-6, wearing Bobby Brady-striped shirts and evil "Scott Farkas" grins on their faces. It was more than a little disconcerting, and for a moment, it gave me pause to consider whether I really still want to be on Facebook at all.
Then, I took a breath. And another. And I realized that while I may still be stuck on the playground of Cresthaven Elementary School, all of the rest of those people left it behind decades ago.
They are now old, decrepit people just like me... Some of them, no doubt, are grandparents! And just like me, they are probably amazed at the power of the internet - Power that can transport us all back to the mean streets of Silver Spring (HA!) with the click of a mouse! Whatever head case problem there is here, it is mine, not theirs.
I went on Youtube and found this video from my childhood... I heard this theme song a lot on that playground. And I'm shocked to find the emotions are still pretty strong...
Anyone know a good shrink?
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
You can count me among the skeptics that mankind has caused global warming, but I really don't want to debate politics here...
I DO want to point out that Las Vegas had 3 to 6 inches of snow on Wednesday, which was enough to shut the town down, and no doubt make the casinos happy to have a whole crop of captive gamblers! It was the worst snow storm in 30 years in Vegas, and it pretty much closed the airport. No planes could take off because McCarren Airport does not have snowplows or deicing equipment!
My sister, Jill and my nephews are spending Christmas in Vegas, which is expected to see temperatures near or below freezing well into next week. I bet she's praying for a little global warming about now...
And in this early winter season where it seems most of the U.S. is significantly colder than usual, there are a couple of hosers in Minnesota who are also wishing for some greenhouse gas buildup! Please enjoy their excellent video!
I must say - it's kinda frustrating to have a holiday video festival when one website controls all of the Saturday Night Live content, and then fails to post most of the good stuff! Hulu.com is the exclusive SNL content provider... Just try looking for SNL clips on youtube, and you will see a bunch of videos that have been removed as a copyright violation. I guess Lorne Michaels is still making a lot of money on DVD's, because most of the really good Christmas content is not available online... I thought I had found one of my one of my all-time favorites - "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas", but it turned out to be "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Easter" - a pastel pale pretender!
So screw SNL... Enjoy this short piece of fluff instead! Ho Ho Ho!
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
I also signed up for Facebook, and further expanded my world of friends - I also know now when they are hungover, depressed, hungry, bored and tired. I found out that a girl I knew in high school and I are "soul mates" because we took the same movie quiz and it turns out we mostly like the same movies. I learned to write "lol" a lot, and I hate myself for it a little bit more every time I do.
But by far, the most interesting expansion of friends has come from a collection of folks writing e-mail to me. I really can't say I remember meeting any of them, but I must have because they are all really enamored with me, and we all seem to be on a first-name only basis.
This one girl, Ellen, even told me in the subject line "I think I'm in love wif u". Then there was Jane, who appears to be genuinely concerned with my health. She offered to get me big discounts on any medicine I want. I'm afraid Rhonda must have gotten the wrong idea about me. She writes, "I live 15 min away from you! lol, I'm horny!" And Deanna must realize that I'm pretty bad at names and faces together - She wrote - "UmmM do u remember me?? I hope so!!"
Rita offered me weight loss tips (how helpful!)... And Durfey told me there is a penis enlargement patch that really works - how I managed to miss Dr. Sanjay Gupta talking about that on CNN is beyond me! Karen offered to sell me a Rolex or Cartier watch for 99 bucks, and Delores offered me some "hot webcam action". I love having friends who are so dedicated to using technology, don't you?
Well, enough of all this. I have to go respond to all of this e-mail, and then grab some breakfast. I'm having a yen for a big plate of Spam!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Friday, December 12, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
The only bad thing that happened to me was one or two little kids peeing on my leg. That was uncomfortable, but at least I didn't own the suit or have to pay to get it dry-cleaned! The guy in this video had it MUCH worse!
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
Because I haven't been bleak enough for you lately vis a vis the state of the media business...
Here are just a few headlines from TODAY (and there were just as many yesterday and there will be more tomorrow!):
Big Stadium Provides Big-Time Atmosphere
By Toni L. Sandys
Washington Post Staff Photographer
Monday, December 8, 2008; E08
Most of the other Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association state championships are held at state university facilities. Six years ago, after a scheduling conflict at the University of Maryland, the football championship games were moved to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. They have been there ever since.
It's a field most people can only dream of playing on. The energy fills the air -- along with trumpets, screams, and cheers -- as the final minutes tick off the clock and dreams are realized. "We worked so hard for this," Sherwood senior Sosthene Kapepula said.
From the beginning of its 14-game season, the team felt underestimated by so many. But the Warriors powered through their opponents to an undefeated record. They won eight of their games by more than thirty points -- four of those games were shutouts. They earned their 4A championship by soundly beating Linganore, The Post's top-ranked team, 21-3. "I have no words for it," Kapepula said. "It feels so good."
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Maya Dillard-Smith tells the Post, "When you say the amount, it sounds crazy, but this is history. I remember my mother taking me to see Nelson Mandela at the Oakland Coliseum, meeting Jesse Jackson and being there when Desmond Tutu came when I was a child. Because of the historic nature of this election, I want my daughters to be there to see this in the environment where it is happening."
That all sounds well and good, but when those things happened, Mom took her daughter down the street, not across the country. I do not want to diminish the significance of Obama's historic inauguration, but to me, this woman's rational for dragging her kids across the country for an event that the two youngest children will not even remember is not only foolish but irresponsible at a time when the nation is in recession.
Dillard-Smith works for the Oakland city government, and her boyfriend owns a small construction company. Those don't sound like the type of careers that will allow them to pay off an 11-thousand dollar credit card debt (and that assumes this is their ONLY credit card debt) in just a month of two. And what happens to their memorable and historic trip if one of the babies comes down with the flu or snow puts a damper on their plans?
Our country is in the shape it's in right now because we, the people, have been foolish enough to trade our good credit for stupid and irresponsible things like 11,000 dollar inauguration vacations. I don't see how anything this family is doing jives in any way with Barack Obama's call for change in America.
Sadly, it smacks of "same old, same old" America. Enjoy your trip.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
- When young Rudolph is born and his "impediment" is discovered, his parents don't seek help - they effectively put their "handicapped" son in the closet, by forcing him to wear a fake nose and pretend he's just like all the other kids.
- Rudolph's ruse works OK for a while, but in a fit of adolescent excitement, just as he's impressing Santa with his flying skills, Rudolph's fake nose falls off, revealing his radiant proboscis. Once Rudolph's "handicap" is revealed, the VERY FIRST character to comment on it is none other than SANTA, who says (paraphrasing) "What a shame - and he had so much potential, too!"
- All of the other reindeer promptly fall in line behind their leader, humiliating Rudolph and proceeding to immediately isolate him, banning him from joining in the reindeer games.
- Rudolph, of course, runs away with another deviant outcast, Hermie, the elf who wants to be a dentist... And where do they go? The Island of Misfit Toys, where all "handicapped" toys are sent to be banished rather than be allowed to assimilate.
- Rudolph and Hermie eventually meet up with the Abominable Snowmonster of the North, who is holding Rudy's parents and girlfriend hostage. They manage to free the hostages, but the fail to finish off the snowmonster because they realize it would be better to "get the women folk" (that's a quote) back to safety.
As we all know, everything works out in the end and Rudolph saves Christmas - but only because he could prove that his "handicap" had an upside! Otherwise, he and the misfit toys would still be chillin' back on the island!
Just imagine what would happen if this scenario played out in real life in 2008. Somehow, I think the outcome would be quite different - and a lot of lawyers would be getting rich!
I wanted to include a clip from the Rudolph TV special, but Rankin/Bass has been successful in pretty much banishing its material from Youtube. I did, however, find this fabulous parody clip, in which the Rudolph special is produced by Martin Scorcese. It's a hoot! Enjoy!
According to the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), total ad revenue for all U.S. radio markets dropped 10 percent in October from a year earlier. Local revenue fell 15 percent, while national revenue slipped 1 percent.
October marked the industry's 18th consecutive month of year-on-year revenue declines, according to James Boyle, a senior broadcast analyst at research firm C.L. King & Associates in New York.
"One actually has to go all the way back to 1954, when radio ad revenue was down 9 percent against the prior year's dip of 2 percent" to find a worse decline, Boyle said. "1954 was the fourth straight year of substantial radio advertising underperformance versus total domestic ad revenue."
That was also the year, Boyle quipped, "when 'The Lone Ranger' had its last new radio episode and Sen. Joseph McCarthy was railing against hidden Communists."
The future doesn't appear bright, Boyle said. "If the recession lasts for all of 2009 and the weakness persists in many of the major radio ad categories, such as auto, to the point where spending severely plunges, then it may be 2010 or beyond before radio revives," he said.
Leaders of four employee associations, representing more than 22,000 workers, agreed Tuesday to forgo the raise all workers would have received in the fiscal year that begins in July. Weast said he and other top administrators in Maryland's largest school system would also lose annual raises.
School officials said it was the first time since the early 1990s that Montgomery school employees had given up a contractual pay raise, a sign of the magnitude of the economic challenge. School board President Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) credited unions with "tremendous sacrifice during these tough times."
You can read all about the teachers' pay raise cut HERE.