Sunday, November 28, 2004

"BroadCatching" is catching on

Engadget posted this How-To on using RSS ("really simple syndication") and BitTorrent to automatically download your favorite TV shows to your PC as a sort of ersatz TiVo. If you have a broadband connection and no TiVo or you have one but missed a particular show, you can set up your PC to look for these shows on various torrent web sites, then download the shows automatically in the background. It's not exactly like a TiVo or a true DVR: you can't pause live TV with this method, and you have to hope that someone else out there is a fan of your show and has gone to the trouble of saving it and making it available for others to download. And it's still unclear if it's entirely legal to do this -- some people argue that this method of sharing TV shows isn't any different than recording them to VHS and giving the tape to a friend. But according to this comment thread on Engadget and this one on it's illegal in Canada to upload shows when you're not the rightsholder and Paramount is sending out cease & desist letters to broadband users who are sharing their programs, like Enterprise. I tend to think that "broadcatching" falls under the fair use rules the courts have allowed, but I'm sure today's lawyers and courts will see things differently. So try this at your own risk.

I haven't set up any automatic downloads of shows, since I do have a DVR, but I've downloaded a few odd episodes of shows that I forgot to record. And I can see one potential use: catching US TV shows when I'm traveling overseas. Anytime I go away for more than a few days, I come home to hours of TV on my DVR, and I have to catch up on those shows before I can watch the new ones. I don't like to get more than a week behind on any of my regular shows, so I feel pressured to watch all that TV all at once or in a big hurry. I'd love to have the ability to download my shows using my hotel's broadband connection and watch them instead of the outdated American shows you get overseas or, in the case of Tokyo, barely any English-language TV at all. I admit that I watch too much TV as it is, and when I'm traveling I'd rather explore the foreign city than sit in my room watching TV. But if I want to relax after a long workday, I'd much rather see a new episode of a familiar show than an old one of a show I never watch. Broadcatching gives me a DVR-like option when I'm on the road.

VH1's 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs

VH1 has been running a marathon of countdown shows all weekend, and I just watched their special on "awesomely bad" metal songs. While I disagreed with some of their choices (Guns N' Roses' "Estranged," Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity," and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" are excellent songs) most of the list made for inspired comedy. The message boards over at are aflame with outraged metal fans upset that Riki Rachtman, the onetime host of MTV's "Headbangers Ball" rips on bands he used to ass-kiss every Saturday night and that most of the commentators don't have any musical qualifications, let alone heavy metal credibility. To which I say: so what? VH1 doesn't make these list shows or decade review shows to please fans of the music or the times. They make these shows because they're popular and funny. Making fun of these metal songs and videos is easy and well-deserved in most cases, and while I threw up the horns and rocked out to some of the music, I laughed my ass off for the entire show. If you watched Headbangers Ball back in the day you should absolutely catch this two-hour metal extravaganza when it reruns on Tuesday and Thursday next week. Now I need to listen to a little Metallica to cleanse my musical palate.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Hoopin' it up from the skybox

One of our vendors at work gave us tickets to a skybox at Madison Square Garden for tonight's Preseason NIT championship games. Liz had to work, so I was joined by our friend Todd and my boss, his wife, a few of his relatives and their friends, and the vendor's sales rep for an afternoon of basketball and free beer at the "World's Most Famous Arena." I'd never been in a skybox before, but I knew a little about what to expect. Even so, I was still impressed with the amenities and the service. MSG has a separate entrance for the skyboxes, so we didn't even have to go through security with the rest of the crowd. The suite had its own bathroom, several TVs (one providing the feed from the arena's video screen, the others with regular cable TV), a refrigerator filled with beer and sodas, and a spread of sandwiches, chicken wings, chips, pretzels, and cookies. The box was near the end of the court, so we looked almost directly over one basket and an excellent view of plays at the opposite end. We spent most of the first game talking instead of watching Michigan and Providence, but we thoroughly enjoyed the second game, the championship, matching Wake Forest against Arizona. I'm not sure if it was the holiday or football commitments but none of the four schools brought their pep bands, and only Arizona bothered to send any cheerleaders (four -- two guys and two girls). But there were more fans of the championship game schools than I expected, given that Wake Forest and Arizona are so far from New York. Throughout the game both sets of fans cheered back and forth as Arizona took an early lead and Wake clawed their way back. We were pulling for Wake Forest as my boss and his wife both have North Carolina roots, and though we wavered in our support during the first half, the team came back to take the lead for good with about 10 minutes left in the second half.

Watching a game from a skybox hasn't ruined me for sporting events the way that flying in business class spoiled me for coach, but it is great to have all the free food and drink you could want and no line for the bathroom. There's even a waiter who checks on you periodically and from whom you can order cocktails and more food. Liz had asked me if there would be shrimp, and while there wasn't any when we arrived I'm sure we could have ordered some. It occurred to me that skybox patrons never get the t-shirts, win the contests, or even appear on camera when they show fans in the stands. And with good reason: I can hardly imagine the overwhelming chorus of boos and howls of protest that would ensue if they announced that the person in skybox 1063 with ticket A5 had won a free dinner for two or whatever else they give away with those promotions. It would be like the "Simpsons" episode where Mr. Burns wins a car at a baseball game and the fans show their displeasure by throwing Marge's pretzels onto the field, injuring Whitey Ford. We also noticed that some of the other suites had more seats and possibly better amenities than we had. Next time Todd and I want the MSG suite equivalent to the "Ted Danson plane" that George insists on in the final episode of "Seinfeld." Why should we settle for any old skybox? We want the best they have to offer!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Starkville weekend wrapup

OK, it's a bit late for a weekend recap, but so what? It's my blog. You wanna make something of it? Why don't you come over here and tell me to my face? You throw that beer at me and I'm gonna go thermonuclear on your ass, beeyotch!

Sorry, I channeled Ron Artest and the Clemson-SC football teams for a minute. (And it wasn't funny.) Moving on to my review of our long weekend in Starkville, MS....

We left at the slightly more sane hour of 8 AM on Thursday morning. Typically, when flying out of town, we get the earliest flight available and leave our apartment before the sun is up in England. As predicted, we did in fact check e-mail and do a little web browsing from both LaGuardia and Memphis International Airport. At LaGuardia we stood at a high table outside a Starbucks kiosk and in Memphis we went to another terminal to the only Wi-Fi enabled gate in the airport. Not that there was any major news to track (other than the opening of Clinton's presidential library just across the border in Arkansas) but I was able to keep up with work and my other blogs for a few hours.

We got to Jackson, MS, in the middle of the afternoon where Liz's parents picked us up. We went straight to Corky's to meet Liz's aunt and uncle for an early dinner of pulled pork, brisket, sausage, onion loaf, baked beans, and slaw. That's what I ate, anyway. Corky's is a Memphis-based institution but they're expanding the business across the South, and I for one welcome our new barbeque overlords. After dinner we had a two-hour drive back to Starkville and an evening of “The Apprentice” on NBC. I haven't been watching the show all season and while I found this one episode interesting, it reminded me that I hate reality television and couldn't care less who stole which ad campaign ideas.

On Friday we met Liz's cousin for lunch at Harvey's (a Starkville institution) and I restrained myself by ordering the Tuscan chicken sandwich. Liz's cousin ordered the sandwich of the day: a country-fried steak on grilled sourdough with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. From just the one bite I had I must say it might have been one of the top five sandwiches I've ever tasted. I'm really tempted to try making this one at home, even though it would be but an echo of the glory that was the Harvey's lunchtime creation. I will need to find a good country-fried steak recipe for home use, though. Only for special occasions, of course.

We had dinner on Friday night at Gentry's, a new-ish restaurant just a few doors down from Harvey's. They have excellent steaks, one of which I enjoyed along with some grilled shrimp and their delicious brown bread covered with butter. For dessert we ordered their enormous chocolate cake and a smaller slice of coconut cake. It must have been fraternity or sorority formal night, because Gentry's was filled with well-groomed college students in tuxedos and evening dresses. Once again I was reminded that my college years are well behind me.

In case you hadn't noticed, food was a major aspect of the trip. It always is when we go to Starkville.

On Saturday, we went to the Mississippi State football game vs. Arkansas. Liz's parents have to arrive early to work in the president's box, so we went along early as well to check out the campus scene on game day. Right away we caught the Famous Maroon Band marching from a new amphitheater to the stadium, playing the school's fight song and leading the team to the locker room past cheering fans. We saw plenty of tailgaters (mostly in mobile homes or under makeshift tents instead of in parking lots), but none of them offered us any of their tasty barbeque treats. One group had set up a satellite dish and big-screen TV along with their grill and drinks. Now THAT'S tailgating! The student union and bookstore were busy with State fans loading up on school gear and cowbells. Just before we went into the stadium, we stopped by the MSU bakery for a scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream. Locally-produced foodstuffs is a benefit of a school with its own agriculture program.

About 45 minutes before kickoff we found our seats in Davis-Wade Stadium and got as comfortable as we could given the metal benches underneath us. One of the things I like best about college football is all the pageantry before games, most of which involves the band. The band took the field before the game and played the alma mater, the fight song, the national anthem, spelled out “MSU” and “STATE” to both sides of the field, and then lined up for the mascots and players to run out of the tunnel. Along with the usual guy in a bulldog suit, the school has a real bulldog trained to run out onto the field just before the team comes out. That bulldog was so excited, his trainer could barely hold him back. Throughout all of this activity, the crowd got louder and more anxious until the team came out and the fans went wild. Even pro teams don't get the support that home crowds give to their local college team. That kind of loyalty runs deep. From the way the fans cheered for the Bulldogs, you'd think they were playing for the national championship, instead of just playing out the string in a lousy season.

MSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Arkansas, but then the Razorbacks scored 17 unanswered points as they pushed the Bulldogs' defense all over the field. State had a great chance to score just before halftime, but questionable calls by the ref prevented them from getting a play off as the clock wound down. The Razorbacks kept converting third and fourth downs, and when a team does that, it's hard to keep them from scoring at will.

The halftime show was a tribute to America's armed forces. The MSU band played the fight songs for each branch of the military as a member of that branch presented the colors. They played more patriotic music as everyone in the crowd, Liz and I included, waved plastic American flags we were given as we had entered the stadium. I made several remarks about how we must be in a red state to get this kind of display, not that there was anything wrong with it. I don't have anything against our military, just its leadership in Washington, and I loved all the music. Thankfully,they didn't play an arrangement of Lee Greenwood's “God Bless the USA.”

In the second half, MSU again drove down the field, and lined up for a field goal which would have tied the game. But Arkansas blocked the attempt and one of their defenders ran the ball all the way back to make the score 24-14. Arkansas controlled the ball for the rest of the game, and though the Bulldogs did score again to get within three points, they couldn't overcome the mistakes on defense and lost 24-21. They played a tough game and except for a few bad calls and that one kick return might have pulled out a win. Their season finale is this Saturday against archrival Ole Miss in Oxford. Hopefully they can beat up on the Rebels and end the season on a positive note.

We consoled ourselves with a barbeque dinner at Little Dooey's (always mentioned on TV by the ESPN crew when they broadcast from Starkville, and if you were at our wedding you might remember they catered the picnic dinner) and a late showing of “The Incredibles.” The movie was a bit long but extremely funny. The illustrations of the hazards of capes were hysterical. We missed “Saturday Night Live” but caught nearly every replay of the Pistons-Pacers brawl and most of the commentary.

On Sunday we enjoyed a combination early Thanksgiving and early birthday dinner. We had chicken tenders, peas (green and black-eyed), fried okra, stuffing, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and more chocolate cake for dessert. How many great meals can a person have in five days? All of them, apparently.

Yesterday we returned to New York, stopping first in Jackson for lunch at the Cracker Barrel. We will know when the red-staters have taken over the country when someone opens a Cracker Barrel franchise in Manhattan. Until then, Liz and I will have to enjoy their biscuits and gravy when we travel to more rural areas. We got back around 10:30 PM and our cats greeted us at the door. From their level of activity (wrestling, chasing each other around the place) you'd think no one came to see them while we were gone. I guess the cat sitter doesn't get the full performance.

One thing I learned this weekend: I am not yet a caffeine freak. It took me three days to realize that Liz's mother serves decaf coffee. I figured this out after I didn't get the shakes from my two cups in the morning. And because I snooped in the kitchen cabinets. Despite my non-caffeine-addled existence, I was able to function like a normal human being. Maybe it's the combination of coffee and work that makes me jittery. It's good to know that I can switch to decaf and still get along OK. And that when I'm in Starkville, Liz's grandmother drinks the “hi-test” so I can always stop by her house for a pick-up. She's 91, and if her constant caffeine consumption has anything to do with her longevity, I should be around for a long time too.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Going to Mississippi

Liz and I are off to Starkville for a few days to visit her family. We're going to hit all our favorite restaurants, cheer on the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Arkansas game on Saturday, and celebrate our birthdays and Thanksgiving a little early. I love Mississippi, but I've decided that it's the least-connected state in the Union, after I tried six wi-fi hotspot search sites looking in vain for wireless Internet access in Starkville. There are a few places I can try, including a bagel cafe near our favorite BBQ joint, but even the university's wireless system requires a MSU login ID, which I do not have. Except for the time we spend waiting at the gate tomorrow and maybe one visit to this bagel place, I'll be disconnected for a few days. I will have my Blackberry with me, so I will have e-mail access, and I might try again to blog via e-mail. I can always go back to *shudder* dial-up, if I really need an Internet fix. I will have Neal Stephenson's The System of the World with me so I'll get some great reading done while I'm offline. Anyway, not that this is the world's most active blog, but things will be slow here until next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

New bill before Senate would outlaw fast-forwarding through commercials

The lame-duck session of Congress has a nasty copyright bill under consideration that would make it illegal to fast-forward through the ads and previews on movie DVDs via hardware or software. So you don't have to worry about the cops busting down your door to break your remote's FFWD button...yet. But It's not much of a stretch to think that if this bill becomes law, sooner rather than later it will be illegal to fast-forward through commercials on your TiVo or DVR. Wired has a less-biased but still informative take on the story, and you can read all the gory details at I don't usually send letters or faxes to my congressional representatives, but this might be a good time to take action. The publicknowledge site has a link to e-mail your rep. There is an excellent chance that if the bill passes its provisions will be tied up in lawsuits for years (like the various Internet indecency laws passed in the 1990s) but why let things get that far?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Al Reynolds had the world's worst bachelor party

The New York Post's Page Six has the story of the Star Jones-Al Reynolds prenup (he's got to stay with her for at least two years before he can get any of her money in a divorce), but what bothered me were the details of his bachelor party last Friday night at the Time Hotel.
First of all, he had 60 guys there. That's not too bad -- you can have a helluva party with that many people. But they had to get naked and wear bathrobes to sit around and drink. Right away I'd be uncomfortable. I wouldn't want to take off any of my clothes around my closest friends, and I'm talking about people I lived with back in college who saw me in various states of undress on many occasions.
Second, the bars at the party were sponsored by two liquor companies and a beer company, so presumably the be-robed partiers were limited to the brands the sponsors provided. That might be OK, but the sponsors were something called Hypnotiq, Remy (which I think is a liqueur, based on the ads I've seen in the subway) and the beer was described as "awful."
Finally, the topless girls arrived just before midnight, but they were "butt-ugly" according to the Page Six spy. Two of them did put on a simulated lesbian sex show, but some guests had had enough by that time and left. Now, I like girl-on-girl action, but not after drinking crappy beer in a bathrobe for two hours with 59 other similarly-attired guys.
The whole night sounds extremely unpleasant. This guy got married in Manhattan, for Jebus' sake! What happened to the old-fashioned hit-every-bar-and-strip club-on-the-island bachelor party? At least Reynolds could have used his bride's money to rent a nightclub for the evening and let his guests keep their clothes on. This fiasco makes my bachelor party (a Wednesday night visit to a Baltimore-area industrial park strip club) sound like a bender in Vegas with the Maloof brothers.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Dancing Citroen Transformer

This ad takes me back to the 1980s, when the Transformers ruled daytime cartoons. I'd like to think that at the end of the day, Optimus Prime and Megatron would get all the Autobots and Decepticons together for a big funky Transformers dance party. If that ever happened, we might have seen something that looked like this ad.

"Orange Alert for nerds," indeed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I've added a new links section on the right side there for things that aren't blogs or the personal web sites of friends. The first link (and the reason for me to create the new heading) is to a new business that our friend Lynette has just launched: We've known Lynette since we first moved to New York five years ago; we met her through a mutual friend who worked with Liz back when we lived in Washington, DC. Lynette is now running a personalized New York City tour service for Japanese tourists. With her background in Japanese and business and her experiences studying and working in Japan, Lynette is uniquely qualified to assist Japanese tourists and help them make the most of a visit to New York. I wish her the best of luck with her new endeavor.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Sylvester Croom and Mississippi State football

Neely Tucker, a Starkville, MS, native, and graduate of Mississippi State, writes about Coach Croom and the MSU football program in this article published today. It's more favorable toward the university and the football program than some of the other articles written about State's hiring of Croom last year. For those who know a little about Starkville (or attended my wedding there in 1998), the article mentions the breakfast crowd at the Starkville Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants and a must-visit every time we see my wife's family. We're going to Starkville later this month for a pre-Thanksgiving vacation and we've got tickets to the State-Arkansas game that weekend. I can't wait to sit in the stands at a big-time college football game, wearing my MSU gear and maybe even clanging a cowbell if I can smuggle one in. And don't forget the stadium cuisine: chicken-on-a-stick. Mmm, that's good eatin'.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Star Wars Episode III teaser trailer is online

You can download your own copy here via a variety of links. The quickest links are probably the Bittorrent ones -- my copy downloaded in about two minutes (though at less than 9 MB it's a quick download any way you get it). If you haven't tried Bittorrent yet, give it a go. It's a P2P download method, but instead of your PC just downloading the file from others, you also upload the file as you download it. It's hard to explain, but it usually means quicker downloads for me than with traditional P2P apps (Kazaa, Gnutella, etc.)

About the trailer itself: It's 90 seconds long. The first half is the late Sir Alec Guinness narrating footage from Episodes I, II, and IV, then it delivers the good stuff: shots (and voice) of Darth Vader, Yoda, Mace Windu, a space battle, Padme and Anakin, and the climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. It's better than the early teasers for Episode II (quick snapshots with Vader breathing audio), but it doesn't reveal much of anything about the story. Which is the general idea, I suppose: get the fans excited, give them a little eye candy, and remind everyone else that this franchise has one more installment on the way. I'm trying to stay positive about this movie, even though the last two were disappointing. Episode III could be the one that redeems the prequel trilogy, or it could put the last nail in the Star Wars coffin. Either way, I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Four more years...

I guess we all should have known after last time that early exit polls are to be taken with an exceedingly large grain of salt. Despite what I said yesterday, I had a hard time containing my optimism. Unfortunately, Kerry wasn't able to pull out a win for the Democrats, and by winning 51% of the nationwide popular vote, Bush will be able to claim a mandate for just about anything he wants to do. With the gains the GOP made in the House and Senate, it will be even easier for them to push their legislative agenda. Still, I found a few hopeful signs in Robert Kaiser's chat this morning on the Washington Post web site. While the Democrats are essentially leaderless at this point (Hillary freakin' Clinton is the early front-runner for 2008!) and need to determine how to win elections in an increasingly Republican nation, the GOP doesn't have an heir apparent either. Even Jeb Bush will need the help of a successful 2nd term for his brother. And while I'm wondering if the Democrats have any relevance in American society anymore, Kaiser points out that in 1964, Republicans were doing similar soul-searching in the wake of a landslide Johnson victory over Goldwater and Democratic gains in Congress and governorships. Four years later Nixon took the White House. It's not much, but it's a start.

I keep reminding myself that twenty years ago I thought that Reagan's reelection meant the end of liberal policies everywhere and a nuclear war with the USSR. I was wrong about a war, and in 1986 the Democrats took back control of the Senate. Many, many things are possible between now and the next election. I'm not happy about these results, but I'm not moving to Canada either. I still have a wonderful wife and family, three cats who don't give a damn who runs the country as long as they have food in their bowls, a great job and a good life in the big city. I don't see any of that changing as a direct result of Bush's win.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Early exit poll results

If you haven't voted yet, you should probably not visit Wonkette until later tonight. She's putting up exit poll results as she gets them from her secret sources. I'm trying not to put much stock in these numbers yet, as it's early, no polls have closed yet, and we all remember how off the exit polls were four years ago.

In his chat today, Gene Weingarten pointed out how amazing it was that polling place lines were so long and no one was complaining. Even the woman in front of me who was upset at having to wait twice (and let the poll worker have it) seemed in decent spirits despite the delay.

For Liz: I am having a busy day at work, but when there's interesting news, I have to post. That's what good bloggers do. And like Passover, today is not like other days.

Here's yet another reason to vote

I'll just post the link: My Father's Vision (

I fulfilled my civic duty

I chose, so I didn't lose. I voted, and thus did not die. I rocked the vote.

I had to wait about an hour to vote this morning at the school around the corner from my apartment. There were about six precincts crowded into one small cafeteria, and for some reason, mine had to work differently from the others. Every other time I've voted in New York, you wait in line to sign in, then you go directly to the booth and vote. But my precinct had one line for signing in and another line for actual voting. Of course, it was so crowded I got in the wrong line first and had to wait again after I'd signed in. And I didnt't even get a sticker that said "I Voted!" I had to skip my regular Tuesday morning workout, but I felt good anyway for having cast my vote. And on the way out, I saw Samantha Bee from The Daily Show with a camera crew. I smiled and made eye contact with her, and she smiled back. There's my celebrity sighting for the day.

It's the big day

All the campaigning is over. No more speeches, at least until someone concedes defeat (and hopefully that will happen on Tuesday night). The talking heads will keep quiet for a few hours. We go to the polls on Tuesday to pick a president. Unfortunately the options aren't much better than South Park's choice last week between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (I'd take the giant douche -- the sandwich would really reek after a few hours). But I've made my choice, and early tomorrow morning I'll go to the polls and make it official. I keep reminding myself that either way this election goes, it's not the end of the world. We'll do it again in four years. And four years after that. And again and again.

If you're registered to vote, please do. Even if you're voting for the other guy.