Thursday, April 29, 2004

Google IPO filing

One of my old jobs required me to go through SEC filings fairly frequently, and I admit I enjoyed digging through details of company operations, results and discussions of their business.

So, couple that interest with Google filing their initial IPO prospectus today, I'm in web-geek/SEC-filing-geek heaven. Google's by far the most intriguing web company out there today, and the S-1 filing gives a fascinating glimpse into their operations.

Wired has done a great job highlighting elements of Google's typically unconventional filing, so I won't try to compete with that. But after wading through 161 pages of the filing, I'm at least going to throw out a few observations:

- Larry and Sergey (Google founders) will become billionaires when the stock price hits about $25 a share.

- Google is pacing to do about $1.2 billion in revenue this year. The year of its IPO, Yahoo! generated $19 million in revenue.

- With just under 2,000 employees, Google is generating about $600,000 in revenue per employee (that's high)

- Google is probably the only company whose SEC filing will include the section heading "Don't Be Evil"

Got a few hours to kill? Read the Google S-1

Weekly Pivik roundup

I think LSU Reveille "sex columnist" Jessica Pivik must have been called on the carpet by the paper's faculty advisor or something, because this week she attempted to write a meaningful and serious piece about being gay at LSU. She failed, of course.

She talked with both a gay man and a lesbian to gain important insight into what it really means to be gay. And we all benefit by learning things such as:

- Lesbians can both like the Indigo Girls and be former cheerleaders.

- The gay man she talked to thinks Tom Cruise, Lance Bass and Ricky Martin are, in fact, gay

So this week's column doesn't really fit the mold (except for being completely pointless and boring), but let's plug it into the new roundup forumula anyway

This week's topic: Being gay at LSU

"Shocking" sexual reference: "'Coming out' isn't as easy as Paris Hilton."

Sex and the City ripoff line: "Although Scales and Landry are both attractive and successful, I didn't have to travel far before I realized that for me 'there's no place like home.'"

Expert "quoted" in column: "UCSF Researchers" (about gay suicide)

Googled source of expert "quotes": UCSF press release

Actual piece of semi-useful information inserted by editors: "If you are queer and are afraid to come out, you can call Mental Health Services at 578-8774 for information and support."

- Bore yourself with "On Top"

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Feeling good about the 'Fe

When the wife told me about a year and a half ago that she thought the Hyundai Santa Fe might be the right SUV for her, I was - to say the least - skeptical. I'd seen enough rusted-out, smoke-spewing Hyundai Excels over the years to have a very clear and lasting impression of that particular automotive brand.

But over the course of a few months, it became clear that the Santa Fe was our best choice. The wife loved the "dune buggy" styling, it was the right size (bigger than a Rav 4, smaller than an Explorer), its interior matched the quality of a good mid-level Japanese ride and it was an absolute steal (fully loaded with leather, 6-disc CD changer, moonroof, etc. was $23K). And when I saw that their 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty was no joke (it's dealer serviced with no deductible), I felt pretty comfortable making the plunge into Korean autos.

And, as it turns out, our faith in the new Hyundai was warranted. The company has been climbing the quality charts steadily over the past five years, and we've had not a single problem with the Santa Fe in 15 months of ownership.

Then today JD Power and Associates released its 2004 Initial Quality Study and right there at the top is Hyundai.

Among manufacturers (which considers all brands within a company in one rating), Hyundai matched Honda for the second-best quality rating, just one point behind Toyota (including Lexus).

And in the brand-by-brand ratings, Hyundai passed Toyota, which has always been regarded as a standard-bearer for automotive quality. The only brands rated higher than Hyundai are Lexus, Cadillac, Jaguar, Honda, Buick and Mercury.

Those ranking behind Hyundai in initial quality include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti, Audi, Volvo and Acura.

So now the auto-buying public will start rushing out to buy Hyundais. Just remember that the Cap'n and his wife were ahead of the curve on this one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

At our house, the Little Black Dog plays the same game with guests

Never let it be said that the Louisiana Legislature isn't on the cutting edge of social responsibility.

A bill was approved in the state House of Representatives today that would outlaw "hog-dog" events in the state. For those of you not fortunate enough to have spent significant time in north Louisiana, "hog-dog" refers to a "sport" akin to cock fighting; the twist being that it's dogs v. pig, not chicken v. chicken.

In sponsoring the anti-hog-dog bill, Rep. Warren Tiche described the activity as "violent cruel, inhumane, barbaric and damn well sadistic" and argued that allowing such things to happen in the state contributes to Louisiana's poor national image.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "If hog dogging is made illegal, Cap'n Ken, what'll happen to Uncle Earl's Hog Dog Trials?"

Fear not, you hog-dog fan. The Uncle Earl event, since the dogs there only corner the pig, not kill them (think dog as rodeo cowboy, pig as rodeo calf), will still be legal.

But for the sake of Louisiana's reputation, they must end the "bad" hog-dogging immediately!

And then they'll turn their attention to cock fighting. Oh, did I forget to mention that Louisiana is one of just two states (New Mexico) where cockfighting is still legal?

Cap'n Ken's offseason overanalysis of the BCS

[editor's note: if you're not a fan of college football, please move along.]

The Lords of the BCS are meeting this week to talk about how to "fix" the system that allowed USC to be incorrectly called national champions by some after last season.

I suggest a simple solution: Print the rules of the BCS in bigger type next year to help the Associated Press writers and Pac 10 fans notice them before the season.

But I suspect simply getting people to understand that the BCS system was created because human polls are so flawed (USC was not an objectively better team than LSU or Oklahoma - they were only No. 1 in the human polls because they had been No. 2 and the No. 1 team lost), won't suffice.

So the BCS will likely add more weight to the human polls in their formula, factor back in things like margin of victory and - in a move intended to shut up the pretend contenders of the MAC and other non-factor conferences - add a fifth bowl game to the BCS mix.

Word on the street is that Atlanta's Peach Bowl is a front-runner for the fifth BCS spot, and I'd be all for that. It was nice to watch LSU tear Georgia up in the SEC Championship game two miles from my house, and it would be nice to see us win a future national championship there, too.

But ABC is also pitching an idea called "Five Plus One" in which there would actually be six BCS bowl games. Under that model, the top 10 BCS teams would play in five bowls, and the top 2 teams among the five winners would play in the sixth and final BCS game for an "undisputed" national championship.

(God help the BCS if USC ends up winning one of those five bowl games, finishes as the No. 3 team and doesn't get to play in the championship game.)

Such a format would be a real financial win for ABC and the NCAA. Instead of only one BCS game having much significance, they'd have five bowls being played to determine the top 2 teams, and then a blockbuster BCS showdown a week or so later.

It wouldn't, however, resolve any of this "controversy".

The problem is that you'd end up with five winners of the earlier BCS games, and the "system" would still have to determine which two will play in the BCS championship game.

The Five Plus One plan as currently outlined would have the five earlier bowls host teams according to traditional conference alignments. The Sugar, for example, has historically been the home to the SEC champion.

There's also a move afoot - call it the Oklahoma rule - to eliminate any team from BCS consideration if they don't win their conference championship. Of course, that rule won't apply to Notre Dame, which doesn't play in a conference, and would favor Pac 10 teams, which don't play a championship game.

So let's say the system ends up like this: The conference champions of the ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac 10, MAC, WAC and Conference USA get automatic BCS bids. Notre Dame gets in if they are in the top 10, otherwise there's an at-large bid for the highest-ranked team that didn't get a conference-champ bid (of course, that would mean non-conference champs could be eligible).

The five early bowls would be aligned by conference. Based on historical alignments, I suspect the Sugar would be SEC/Big 12; the Orange would be ACC/Big East; the Rose would be Pac 10/Big 10, the Fiesta might be WAC/MAC and the new bowl might be C-USA/At large team. Already you have problems because the Fiesta and the new bowl would always have the weakest teams.

But say there is balance among all these conferences. In a year like 2003, the system would have worked perfectly. LSU would have beaten Oklahoma in the Sugar, USC would have beaten Michigan (BCS No. 4) in the Rose, and the final game would have been a clear 1/2 matchup. But what about a year in which Miami (in the ACC) is No. 1 going in and they beat a weak Big East champion in the Orange? If LSU were No. 2 and beat a so-so Big 12 champion in the Sugar and USC were No. 3 and beat a strong Big 10 champion in the Rose, who goes to the championship?

That kind of scenario would produce the same kind of debate as the 2003 season did. Miami would still be No. 1 in the human polls (you can't drop when you win, you know), but USC would likely rank higher in objective ratings. If you lean toward human polls, USC gets screwed; if you lean toward objective rankings, Miami loses out despite their No. 1 ranking.

Without a real playoff system, college football will always have someone or something determining off the field which teams are No. 1 and No. 2. And so there will always be somebody (see USC, 2003) crying about getting left out.

That said, I'm not a fan of playoffs in college football. I liked the good old days when the SEC champion always went to the Sugar Bowl. It made New Year's in New Orleans a guaranteed good time.

It wasn't a great system for determing a national champion, but I could live with the inexact science of human polls in the pre-BCS days. And I think the BCS is a good blend of the inexact science of college football and the satisfaction that comes from a 1/2 national championship game.

So, BCS Lords, tweak the formula (again) if you must. Double the influence of the human polls if it makes you better. Add a fifth bowl to the mix to keep the second-rate conferences happy. But don't try to make the NCAA the NFL.

There's a lot of beauty in imperfection.

Monday, April 26, 2004

TiFaux

I guess I shouldn't feel as guilty as I do when I refer to our DishNetwork DVRs as "TiVos."

From Wired: TiVo faces off with clones.

So I'm not the only one who thinks it's much easier to talk about "something I have on the TiVo" rather than "something I have on the DVR." And, as the article stresses, that's not a good thing for TiVo. The service is on its way to becoming the Band-Aid of consumer electronics.

Interestingly, the Wired piece is yet another example of a DVR story that fails to mention DishNetwork. From what I can tell, Dish was the first satellite/cable provider to offer their own brand of DVR (and they push them pretty heavily now), but nobody seems to know they have them.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Honor

Pat Tillman, the NFL player who felt so compelled to serve America in the wake of Sept. 11 that he quit football and became an Army Ranger, was killed in combat yesterday in Afghanistan.



The Web is full of tributes to Tillman, and I'm not breaking any ground by writing about his amazing heroism, but his courage, character and sacrifice is so unique, I feel the need to take note of it myself.

You often hear people referred to as "heroic", "courageous", "honorable" or whatever. Usually, those kind of terms are thrown around without much merit. An athlete who plays through an injury may be called "heroic" ... a cancer patient is "courageous" for putting up with chemotherapy ... and we stick "honorable" in front of the names of judges and congressmen for no reason whatsoever.

But in Tillman, we saw a man who absolutely and unquestionably personified those terms. And not because he gave up a job that paid $1.2 million a year.

The honor, courage and heroism of Pat Tillman was demonstrated by a sense of duty that led him to put his life at risk and on hold for the benefit of his country. He was 25 years old when he enlisted. He was recently married and, yes, he had a pretty good job.

However, the deep-held sense of honor and duty in Tillman compelled him to do something to fight terrorism and protect America. He put that duty ahead of his own interests. Not many of us - no matter what we do for a living - would do that.

When I read about Tillman joining the Army two years ago, I tried to figure out his "angle". It would make a great book once he was done, I figured. Maybe he saw this as a way to cash in long-term. He could be the next host of Survivor when he got back or something.

But then I read a little more. There must be an "honor" gene that people such as Tillman - and his younger brother Kevin, a minor-league baseball player who joined the Army with Pat - carry. The year before enlisting, Tillman turned down more money to leave the Arizona Cardinals because he had loyalty to the team. After enlisting, he refused to give interviews, have photos taken or in any way call attention to his "celebrity soldier" status. He became a soldier, plain and simple.

He didn't plan to profit from his stint in the Army. He just felt a duty to serve.

Some stuff you might be interested in reading about Tillman:

- Remembering Pat Tillman (nfl.com)
- Remembering Pat Tillman (si.com)
- Doom of the well-known soldier (espn.com)
- The few ... the proud (espn.com)
- Original story on enlistment (nfl.com)
- Tillman follows beat of different drum (nfl.com)
- The NFL's wartime casualties

We will teach our twisted speech to the young believers

Thanks to the fine folks at Boing Boing, I came across a musical project today called London, Booted.

London, Booted is kind of like The Grey Album "mash-up" put out earlier this year, but was created as a challenge to DJs. Their mission was to deconstruct, rework, reimagine or otherwise mess around with tracks from The Clash's master work: London Calling.

With a good bit of angst - driven by my love of The Clash and the really, really bad DJ mixes of stuff I find from time to time online - I ventured over and downloaded the 19 London, Booted tracks and gave them a spin.

What's come out of this project is a mixed bag, to be sure. Some tracks, such as "Bubba's Got A Brand New Cadillac" (created from "Brand New Cadillac") utilize very, very little of the original song; using only enough to qualify as a derivative work (kind of like on Iron Chef when the French chef is given octopus and ends up making regular French dishes with a bit of octopus thrown in).

Other tracks go the obvious route of mixing in another artist's vocals with the London Calling tracks. "The Power of Rebelution Can't Fail" (created from "Rudie Can't Fail") is a pretty good execution of this technique, and "This Girl Wants a Cheat" puts Christina Aguilera's "What a Girl Wants" on top of "The Card Cheat" in a pretty entertaining way. But even just a couple of months after The Grey Album, this feels like a tired technique.

But hidden among the so-so cuts are a few absolute gems. "Lost Souls in the Supermarket" (created from "Lost in the Supermarket") uses electronic beats matching the original's rhythm and layers on an electronic voice "singing" the original lyrics along with new words hinting at some kind of soul-less world where information is everything. Heavy.

Similarly, "Death or Glory (Zeitgeist Mix)" deconstructs the original and rebuilds it using synth instruments and a great late-1980s synth voice.

Those tracks, plus the "bonus tracks" "Street Profile" (created from "The Right Profile") and "Super Sharp Card Shark" (from "The Card Cheat"), are my favorite new visions of London Calling in the group.

Considering I began my exploration expecting to hate these damn DJs for mucking around with one of the top 10 albums of all time, I was pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Weekly Pivik roundup

I'm switching to a new format for my weekly bit on LSU Reveille "sex columnist" Jessica Pivik. Hopefully this new, quick-read format will satisfy the appetite of Google searchers while keeping me from having to come up with clever things to write about a most un-clever girl.

This week's topic: Fetishes

"Shocking" sexual reference: "I have a foot fetish, but I suppose I'd settle for maybe seven or eight inches."

Sex and the City ripoff line: "I've heard men enjoy sex in the same way they enjoy food (fast), but turning your end table into the produce section is a whole other level."

Expert "quoted" in column: Dr. Susan Block

Googled source of expert "quotes": Dr. Susan Block's journal

Safe-sex disclaimer inserted by editors: "And no matter what prop you use for your fetish, condoms should always be included because no one fetishizes (is that a word?) about STDs."

- Torture yourself with "On Top"

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

And all along I thought I was just getting teary-eyed because of the emotional stories of the women on The Swan

Here's a shocker:

Atlanta is the worst city in America for spring allergies.

The pollen count that's put out by the Atlanta media has a scale that goes like this:

0 - 30 = Low
31 - 60 = Moderate
61 - 120 = High
Over 120 = Extremely High

The lowest pollen count for Atlanta so far in April has been 176.

On March 29, the pollen count was 5,156. That's just over 42 times the level called "Extremely High". So that made it, what? Insanely High?

I remember that day. I was in my boss' office on an upper floor of our building at about 5:30. Looking out the window, you could very clearly see the tire marks being left in the yellow/green pollen as people left the office for the day. The pollen dust on my car was at least a quarter-inch thick, and it blew off in a mighty cloud as I drove home.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

View from above

Tonight, I stumbled across one of those online destinations that I get hooked in to deeper than a Louisiana chemical plant worker playing video poker.

It's the National Map Viewer brought to you by the fine folks at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Essentially, it's a big, click-to-zoom database of all sorts of geographic images, maps and other thingys (pardon my technical language). The cool thing is that for a lot of metro areas (including Atlanta), included in the image set are really detailed aerial photos run through some process called "orthoimagery" that ... well ... changes the image ... into ... some kind of ... ...

OK, I have no idea what "orthoimagery" is. But, as the very well-written federal government explanation clearly states:
An orthoimage is remotely sensed image data in which displacement of features in the image caused by terrain relief and sensor orientation have been mathematically removed. Orthoimagery combines the image characteristics of a photograph with the geometric qualities of a map. For this dataset, the natural color orthoimages were produced at 0.3-meter pixel resolution (approximately 1-foot). The design accuracy is estimated not to exceed 3-meter diagonal RMSE (2.12m RMSE in X or Y). Each orthoimage provides imagery for a 1500- by 1500-meter block on the ground. The projected coordinate system is UTM with a NAD83 datum. There is no image overlap been adjacent files. The naming convention is based on the U.S. National Grid (USNG), taking the coordinates of the SW corner of the orthoimage.

Alrighty.

So anyway ... here in Atlanta you can drill down to some pretty damned detailed images, and download them for free (my tax dollars at work).

To wit:



That's my old house in the center there. And that's the wife's old red car sitting in the driveway/yard out front.

Kind of freaky, ain't it?

The metadata that downloaded with the image even tells me when the photo was taken - April 7, 2002. Hey, that was the day after our wedding! At the time, the wife and I were still in NashVegas doing a post-ceremony brunch with her family.

And, that same day, a plane was flying over Atlanta taking hi-res images. Or, in fed-speak:
The aerial platform used during the photo acquisition for this project was a Rockwell Turbo Commander turbine-powered aircraft capable of cruise speeds of around 215 knots. This capability is very important for good production on a very large photo acquisition project such as this one. A Jena LMK 2000 lens high-precision photo-grammetric camera was used as the photographic instrument. This camera has a nominal 6-inch focal length with Forward Motion Compensation (FMC,) gyro-stabilized mount, airborne GPS (ABGPS,) and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). Dual-frequency GPS observation data was collected on-board the aircraft at a one second epoch. Additionally, inertial data was collected during all periods of flight and is collected at a rate of 0.005 seconds. The midpoint of each photo exposure was precisely captured as an 'event' by the GPS receiver. All ABGPS and Inertial data was then post-processed to provide accurate positional and rotation data of the camera for each exposure. Effectively, the three dimensional position (x, y, and z) of each exposure was determined from the ABGPS data while the three-dimensional rotation (omega, phi, and kappa) of each exposure was determined from the inertial data. The IMU data (which includes adjusted position and orientation of the camera at time of exposure) were orthorectified using the relevant USGS Digital Elevation Models. These were processed using Z/I's OrthoPro package. The orthorecitifed images were then mosaicked (if necessary, to reduce the effects of micro-relief on the final product). Product tiles were then extracted from the orthorecitifed images or mosaic and converted to GeoTIFF format. Product RMS accuracy was determined by measuring the metric displacement of common features in adjacent tiles or measuring the ground control that was collected. Metadata files were then created and populated to reflect the relevant tile and project data. Product tiles and metadata were then written to DVD for delivery to USGS.

Who knew?

Monday, April 19, 2004

Guess the caption

The photo below is from today's Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper):



The photo belongs with which of the following (paraphrased) captions?

1) Dutchtown High School principal Conrad Braud announced his resignation in the wake of a massive cheating scandal at the school.

2) Dutchtown High School principal Conrad Braud expresses sadness at the arrest of two students charged with plotting a Columbine-style massacre at the school.

3) Dutchtown High School principal Conrad Braud is assuring parents that the school will be safe Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

The answer is 3. Despite the "just damn" look on his face, principal Braud is working to convince parents that their kids will be safe tomorrow, the fifth anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Two Dutchtown students were arrested in January (and are now out on bail) for allegedly plotting a similar massacre.

Bonus question: Which of the following is the actual address of one of the accused students?

1) 1709 Swamp Road East, Raybon Trailer Park, No. 915

2) 1709 Bayou Teche Road, Shady Lane Trailer Park, No. 915

3) 1709 Nutria Trail, Boudreaux's Trailer Park, No. 915

It's 1. Is it any wonder the kid wanted to shoot up his school?

... because terrorists prefer Wal-Mart

The TSA is considering doing away with the post-Sept. 11 restriction that lets only ticketed passengers past airport security checkpoints.

"Why would they do that?", you might ask.

Is it because the TSA recognizes that there's no harm a non-flying person who goes through a metal detector can do on the concourse that a flying person can't also do? No.

Is it because the TSA wants to allow folks to be able to meet friends and families at the gate rather than out at baggage claim? Not really.

No, the TSA is considering relaxing this rule because business is hurting at the 100-store shopping mall inside the Pittsburgh airport.

The mall, you see, is inside the security area, meaning only people going to or coming from flights can shop there. And since Sept. 11, 2001, business is down about 12%.

Don't get me wrong. It's stupid to stop people meeting passengers from going up to the gates for "security" reasons. I like that the rules keep the concourses from getting so crowded and the security lines from backing up, but there's no legitimate "security" reason to keep the general public on the backside of the concourses.

But the change (if it happens), is being prompted by a loss of retail sales? Yeah, that's about right for the federal government. I imagine it doesn't hurt Pittsburgh's efforts to relax the rules that the head man in charge of homeland security is their state's former governor.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Paying off

I'm starting to feel pretty good about my decision to spend $5.99 a month for DishNetwork's equipment protection program. Loyal readers of the Wisdom will remember I was offered a free replacement DishPVR 501 if I took up the protection (after my 501 was already broken).

So Wednesday night, the batteries went dead in the remote for the DishPVR 721. I changed the batteries and started to notice a couple of odd things:

1) The top of the remote was getting very hot.

2) The top of the remote was beginning to smell like burning plastic.

Not good.

But not to worry. I called Dish, told them my remote was melting and asked them to send me out a new one. Of course, I have the equipment protection program, I reminded them.

So as I was checking the mail this evening, the UPS man drove up. He handed me a small box containing my Platinum Plus remote (retail value $40 - $60) and drove off. It was supposed to take 5-7 days to get it, but it was shipped out of Gwinnett County, thus 2-day air became overnight delivery.

If you figure the remote would likely have cost me about $50, that means I'm ahead another 6 months in the whole equipment protection sweepstakes. Between the remote and the 501, I figure I'll be living on Dish money until at least 2007.

The world of tomorrow

Two stories that came across BottomFeeder today absolutely blew my mind in a "here comes the future" sort of way. So I shall share:

- Soon, DVDs will be made out of paper and will hold 25 gigs each (on paper, mind you).

- Magazines may play videos in the near future thanks to spray-on electronics.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

... rinse, then repeat.

As I was waiting for a pot of coffee to brew at the office this afternoon, I noticed a big red box sitting atop the employee medicine cabinet. It is labeled "Bodily Fluid Disposal Kit."

So here - I kid you not - are the 12-step "Directions for use" for the kit:

1) Put on the Disposable Apron, Eye Shield/Face Mask, Shoe Covers and Latex Gloves.
2) Take the packed of Red-Z Absorbent and sprinkle it over the spill until fluid is completely absorbed.
3) Take the Scoop and Scraper and scrape up the Absorbent
4) Put the above items in a red Biohazard Plastic Bag and tie it shut. DO NOT discard latex gloves, apron, eye shield/face mask and shoe covers.
5) Pour half of the SaniZide Plus Disinfectant/Cleaner (1 fl. oz.) over spill area. Allow to remain wet for 30 seconds.
6) Use one of the paper towels to wipe up the solution.
7) Pour the remainder of the SaniZide Plus (1 fl. oz.) over spill area. Allow to remain wet for 10 minutes.
8) Use the second paper towel to wipe up the solution.
9) Place all items including the Apron, Shoe Covers, Eye Shield/Face Mask, and Latex Gloves into the second red Biohazard Plastic Bag. Caution: Do not reuse any of these materials.
10) Tie the red Biohazard Plastic Bag to prevent leakage. Dispose of in accordance with federal, state and local regulations.
11) Thoroughly wash hands with a disinfectant soap and water.
12) Rill out Exposure Report Form and return completed form to the appropriate person or department immediately.

Jesus. I mean, I know there's a lot of worry about HIV, Hepatitis, Ebola, Mad Cow, etc., but are our bodies really full of something out of The China Syndrome?

Pivik by popular demand

The Wisdom gets a lot of traffic from Google searches on "Jessica Pivik", so I guess I have a civic duty to keep up the commentary.

Plus, this "Ann" (or is it "Jessica") person keeps dropping in to leave comments supporting Pivik, so who am I do deny the public this forum?

[editor's note: The last comment "Ann" left read in part: "Isn't the experience of writing for a college newspaper is all about kearning how to write." I really hope she's not an LSU student, but I imagine she is.]

So this week, Jessica attacks the very hot and never-before-written-about topic of platonic friends.

Her attempt to sound like Carrie Bradshaw this week is:
"Platonic friendships are like lubricants; there are the good, the bad and the cherry-flavored. And, they will all put you in a slippery situation."

She quotes "students" on the chances that a guy and girl can be just friends, steals a quote from a CosmoGIRL editor and only manages to work in one other "shocking" reference (a Chris Rock quote with "dick" in it) in addition to her oh-so-clever lubricant line.

There's an odd Michael Jackson line ("Is Michael Jackson a pedophile?") and her brilliant summation in which she makes an incorrect reference to a song written 15 years before she was born:
"Until the day comes that you are mature enough to have a platonic friendship, take the advice of Stephen Stills: 'Love The One You're With.'"

I guess she's saying that you should just screw your friends to avoid any complications that might come along by not screwing your friends? Insightful, that Jessica.

[editor's note 2: "Love The One You're With" is about hippies and "free love." It's not about having sex with otherwise platonic friends. The line "If you can't be with the one you love ... love the one you're with" is a - rather obvious - clue to the meaning of the song.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Strapping on the feeds bag

I've become reliant on RSS feeds to the point that if something online is not available in an RSS feed, chances are I'm not seeing it.

So, as a public service, I'm presenting my own roundup of the feeds I like, the tools I like and especially what's currently lacking in the RSS world.

RSS Readers - I use Bottom Feeder as my RSS reader. It's got a DIY sort of feel about it ... and it's free. I've also played around with Pluck, but it seems too AOL-ish or something to me. Both of those readers are free, and I can't imagine why anyone would pay for a reader nowadays.

Good Feeds - It doesn't take long to figure out which feeds are most useful. These are ones I've found that update correctly, contain enough context in their descriptions to entice a click or do a nice job of creating RSS from sources that don't offer it directly.

- Wired News - Wired offers a number of feeds, all of which are excellent.
- Tapestry - An aggregator of online comics, which render in full in your news reader. I'm partial to Dilbert.
- Topix.net - I'd never heard of this news compiler before RSS. I've got an "Offbeat" feed set up in addition to local news feeds for Atlanta, Baton Rouge and Nashville.
- World Sex News - This comes through myrss.com, an often-annoying service that sends you to interstitial pages if a category isn't sponsored. The sex stuff, though, always has a sponsor. And "sex news" covers everything from "Yale sex gets bad award" to "Naked women protest circus animals", so it's not all about porn and stuff.
- Yahoo RSS News - A good and growing selection of Yahoo's top stories available through their own RSS feed system.
- Fark - This feed is hosted by the Pluck reader folks, but is usable in other readers. Good stuff.
- RSSweather.com - RSS feeds of current conditions and forecasts for whatever city you like.

Blog Stuff - I have to really, really like a blog to read it often if it doesn't feature an RSS feed. Blogger users, it's easy to create a usable RSS - just enable your Atom feed, then run it through 2rss.com.

I've got an RSS feed set up for the Wisdom and for my other favorite (RSS-enabled) blogs.

Right now, these are the blogs I have in my reader (the links are to their RSS feeds). If you've got a blog that has RSS and you think I might like it (especially if you're somebody I already have in my left rail), please feel free to leave a comment with your RSS URL.

- Coffee Achiever (the wife)
- Aubrey Sabala
- Day's Limit
- Dizzy Girl
- Espresso Sarcasm
- Joeventures
- Reading in the Dark
- Sour Bob
- Sugar, Mr. Poon?
- That Yellow Bastard
- Tiger Beat

Also, HaloScan generates blog comments in RSS, which makes it real easy to track new comments at the Wisdom and elsewhere.

The Wish List - These are the sites and searches I want to see get RSS-enabled. If anybody knows of a good way to make these happen, please leave a comment.

- Google News: Yes, there are a few tools out there that create a Google News RSS feed based on a keyword, but they lack the advanced search features such as limiting searches to a specific news source that Google itself has. How can Google not yet be in the RSS game? Bounce me off Google.com on my way to the news site if you're worried about audience.

- AJC.com: The hometown newspaper remains a decade behind in technology. I talked to That Yellow Bastard about making a feed out of their online print version (http://www.ajc.com/print/content/epaper/editions/today/ - the full text of the entire paper is available online for free every day, in case you weren't aware. Add metro.html, sports.html, business.html and living.html after the /today/ to get the other sections), but he hasn't come through yet. Somebody with more tech skills than me needs to help a brother out here.

- The Advocate (the Baton Rouge daily, not the national gay newspaper): My old hometown newspaper remains two decades behind in technology. A better Google News search might help me grab the Advocate news everyday.

- Ebay item search: I want a feed that shows me new items with "LSU" in the title. I can get that by email; it should be available through RSS, too.

- Monster RSS: Another thing that typically is delivered by email that would be much more useful in RSS. A jobs feed based on your requirements. No-brainer.

- Pollstar RSS: Or another concert feed to keep me up on new shows booked for Atlanta.

- Directory of RSS-enabled blogs: Not an RSS feed, per se, but give me an easy place to find blogs that have RSS feeds, ranked by popularity or something.

- New RSS RSS: A feed that shows the latest feeds from the big content players.

And there you have it. If any of you have other favorite feeds, wish lists, etc. please feel free to leave a comment. I'm always in search of new and better feeds.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

I still vote for Amy

That Yellow Bastard seems to think my Miss USA piece was nothing more than an excuse to post pictures of hot chicks and pit bulls here at the Wisdom. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

To that end, FHM magazine is featuring four (the hot four) of the former Apprentice chicks in its May issue.




Amy



Ereka



Kristi



Katrina

The full (and really slow to load) piece can be found here.

Monday, April 12, 2004

... and smart, too

Tonight, the wife and I watched a good bit of the Miss USA pageant, Donald Trump's slightly-more-trashy-than-Miss-America parade of over-made-up girls with fake smiles.

We watched for a couple of reasons. First, it's fun to mock the contestants. The girl from Utah looked like some Mormon version of Jenny McCarthy, more than a few looked like $1,000/hour hookers and I'm convinced the geeky little Miss Vermont actually was a Howard Dean volunteer until a couple of months ago.

But even more fun are the Q&A sessions with the finalists. I remember a few years ago a contestant was asked who she would most like to spend a cross-country flight sitting next to. Her well-rehearsed answer to the "famous person" question was - Thomas Jefferson.

I believe a cross-country plane ride conversation wtih Thomas Jefferson would go something like:

"Dear God in Heaven!!! What hath Hell wrought???" (see, T.J. died about 100 years before the birth of modern aviation).

In any case, the highlight of tonight's Q&A with the finalists was the very heavily-tanned Miss South Carolina's exchange with the pageant host:


Host: "You are a Healing Species advocate. Tell me what that is.

Miss. S.C.: "It actually takes stray dogs and stray children and brings them together, and teaches them love and compassion."


Well, thank God somebody's finally stepping forward to help solve South Carolina's feral children problem.

Then in the "final question" (not to be confused with the Q&A), she gave us this exchange:
Host: "Do you think it is acceptable for celebrities to voice their opinion on political issues?"

Miss S.C.: "Absolutely not. I think they should be given the same right that we as Americans are given. We are allowed to voice our opinions by going and voting, and so they do the same thing. And I think that they can help us to encourage us to go and vote and share their opinion. You can have a variety of opinion ... so ... it's fine."

I guess she thinks: a) "acceptable" means "bad" and b) "celebrities" currently lack the same right "we as Americans" have.

Somehow, Miss South Carolina came in as First Runner-Up, beating out the smokin' Miss Oklahoma:



... who shot herself in the foot by blowing both the Q&A and the "final question" (she said if she could have dinner with anyone in the world tonight, it would be Justin Timberlake ... sad - but she's only 18.), the also-smokin' Miss North Carolina:



... who may be the only Emory graduate who looks good in a J-Lo nipple-tape dress, and Miss Tennessee, who would be really hot if her gum-heavy fake "pageant" grin didn't make her look like a rabid pit bull:



Oh yeah ... Miss Missouri won:



She's pretty cute in a "beauty queen" sort of way, I guess (but she's no Miss Oklahoma ... excuse me while I scroll back up ...). But she said the craziest thing she's ever done is wrestling a greased pig in a mud pit. That's pretty cool. But, then again, she apparently was in the Miss America pageant in 2002, also as Miss Missouri. Somehow that seems like cheating or something, doesn't it?

Tuning the bullshit meter

There's a story out today about a British dude who "sold all of his possessions", raised $135,000, bet it all on one spin of roulette in Vegas this weekend - and won.

It sent the Cap'n Ken Bullshit Meter to about 7 (in comparison, the "girl wins slam-dunk contest" story was a full 10 on the CKBM).

First off, why are there TV cameras capturing the big moment when Ashley Revell bet everything he has in this world on red? Turns out SkyTV is doing a mini reality show on Ashley's big gamble (they say he's not getting paid by them). Fair enough.

Then I learn that Ashley is actually a professional gambler. He plans to play in the World Poker Tour next. Ah, a little advance publicity to create buzz for himself in the growing "sport" of poker. And therein, it seems, lies his motivation.

We were pitched a story about a humble 32-year-old Londoner who figured he's still young enough and free enough to pool together all of his resources and "let it ride" on the hopes of a big payoff.

But consider this:

He says he sold all of his possessions (including the extra-special hook that he sold all of his clothes and only had his rented tux to wear) and the $135,000 represented everything he had in life. The story isn't clear on what exactly he sold - real estate, stocks, cars or what - so it's hard to know what profit or loss he may have realized on the "liquidation".

For argument's sake, let's say $120,000 was in things such as real estate or stocks that he realized a gain on. British tax laws are pretty complicated, so let's assume he had to paid capital gains taxes on $35,000 of the appreciating asset sale value at 15%. That would mean he sold $125,250 worth of assets to raise that $120,000.

If he raised the other $15,000 by selling things - cars, furniture, clothes - that do not appreciate in value, then conservatively I'd think it cost him at least $25,000 to buy the items he ended up selling for $15,000.

So it seems reasonable that in order to raise $135,000 in cash, he had to get rid of assets which were either worth or cost him at least $150,000 to aquire.

In Vegas, he won $135,000 on his big roulette bet. The IRS taxes the gambling winners of foreigners at 30% (most foreigners don't end up paying this tax because the casinos don't have to report table game winnings to the feds - but the tax is harder to avoid when your win is all over TV). Assuming he won't have any additional British income tax liability (although I imagine he will), he's out $40,500 in taxes.

Stay with me here ...

At this point, he's liquidated about $150,000 in assets in order to gain $94,500. If we are to believe he sold "everything he owned" to raise this money, then he's going to have to replace it when he gets back to London. He now has $229,500 in cash to his name. If he spends $100,000 on a new house, he'll pay a 1% "stamp duty", or $1,000 on the purchase.

Now he has a house, $128,500 in cash and - we are to believe - nothing else in the world at all. If he buys $25,000 (the estimated original purchase price) worth of cars, furniture, clothes, etc., it will cost him $29,375 to do so, thanks to Britian's 17.5% VAT.

After he puts the remaining $20,000 worth of his original assets back in to whatever he sold off to raise the money (no doubt incurring more fees, commissions, etc.) he's left with as best $79,000.

We're supposed to believe that a professional gambler would put up $150,000 in assets in order to gain at best $79,000 on a bet (red or black) that carries odds of [corrected: slightly worse than] 1:1?

Friday, April 09, 2004

WTF?

Ok, this is about the weirdest thing I've ever seen.

Subservient Chicken

Thursday, April 08, 2004

The ugly ducklings

When the wife came home tonight, she hipped me to something on Fox called "The Swan." The show, she told me, will take ugly women, try to make them "pretty" and put them in a "beauty pageant".

Seriously.

So, with wifey out at girls' night and Fox running and encore of Monday's show, I had to see it for myself. Hey, I like to gawk at car wrecks - that's why I read Jessica Pivik's columns.

The show in a nutshell goes like this: They introduce two homely women at the start of the show and then have a discussion with a group of plastic surgeons and fitness coaches about what it will take to turn the poor creature into a "beauty".

This was an actual exchange between the doctors and the host about one of tonight's women:
Doc 1: "Kelly is a really cute girl. She needs to be able to feel sexy. And to do that is pretty easy. You do breast augmentation, you do liposuction, a lot of training, and she's a winner. We can really transform her."

Host: "What about facial surgery?"

Doc 2: "I think she needs a focal point of interest in terms of her face. I think she'd look really nice with fuller lips. Soften her up, bring some sensuality."

Doc 1: "She also needs some more definition. I mean, you want to take some fat out of her face, take some fat out of her cheeks, take some fat out of her chin. Open up her eyes, really make her prettiness come out."

All of these comments are set against a faux 3D computer model of the girl in her underwear with little targets appearing on the areas they're going to "improve" through the magic of plastic surgery.

So we meet the girls, listen to the docs talk about their problems, and then the show goes in to 30 minutes of watching the girls get cut up by the doctors and yelled at by the fitness guy (I breezed through this on the PVR).

During all this time, the girls can't see any images of themselves. That's saved for the big overblown "reveal" at the end of the show.

All hail the miracles of plastic surgery and reality TV!!!

But then comes the good part. One of them doesn't get to go on to the "beauty pageant" after all. How cool is that? The show spends three months making these girls feel "beautiful" and then tells one of them they're not good enough to go on to the "pageant" with the other formerly-ugly chicks!

I hear season two of The Swan will feature ugly midgets, and the winners each week will get to go on to compete for the love of a guy who is either a) rich, b) gay or c) neither.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Cobain

I'll be really glad when the clock strikes 12 tonight and the date rolls from April 5 to April 6.

And not just because April 6 is the wife and my 2nd anniversary.

I'll just be glad to be done with the dead-hero worship that's been all over the media today to mark the 10th anniversary of Kurt Cobain blowing a hole in his head with a 20-guage.

Sure, Kurt was a talented guy. He wrote some good stuff, and - thanks to David Geffen - changed the face of rock and roll in the 1990s. But today marks the 10th anniversary of me not feeling one little ounce of pity for a 27-year-old multi-millionaire not being able to cope with life.

Kurt would still be almost exactly one month older than me (he was born Feb. 20, 1967; I came along March 19, 1967) if he hadn't offed himself in the greenhouse of his Lake Washington mansion a decade ago.

And maybe because we were just about the same age, I have very, very, very little sympathy for a man who had all of the means and ability to get himself help but instead chose to leave his wife and baby daughter alone in the world.

Kurt, of course, complained about the pressure of being a rock star. I believe Courtney Love's response to that in her weeping recitation of his suicide note was something to the effect of "well, just stop f*cking being one!".

Wealthy young fathers like Kurt have no excuse for suicide.

He could have gotten himself clean. He could have cared more about the future of his wife and daughter than ridding himself of his fame-induced agony.

But he didn't.

And I still can't pull together an ounce of sympathy for him.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

POOB

I just finished re-reading Party Out of Bounds, the well-regarded but previously out-of-print account of how Athens, Georgia spawned the B-52's, Pylon, R.E.M., etc.

In the spirt of full disclosure, I should note that the author, Rodger Lyle Brown, is a friend of mine. He's Encyclopedia Brown at U-Joint Trivia nights, in fact.

As I learned when I met him about three years ago, Rodger is an interesting dude. He created The Blotter at Creative Loafing, headed up the "editorial" side of Playboy.com for a bit (yes, he has good stories), holds a Ph.D in American culture and just happened to spend his formative years at the University of Georgia when the Bs were breaking and Berry, Buck, Mills and Stipe were getting to know each other.

Rodger does a good job in P.O.O.B. of not inserting himself into the story, but Pete Buck's book-jacket quote hints at his status as a true scene "insider."
"Really captures the rhythm and feel of the Athens music scene. Rodger should know - he was there from the beginning."
Before the book was re-released a couple of months ago, it was considered a prime catch for used-book hunters. Rodger lent me a manuscript copy back when we worked together, and I bought two copies (one to share) of the new version (it's cheaper at amazon.com, by the way).

The thing I like most about the book is that the central character isn't Michael Stipe, it isn't Fred Schneider or Kate Pierson, it isn't the 40 Watt. It's Athens. Rodger goes back 225 years to trace the city's evolution from an outpost of swindled Indian land to a podunk college town to a secret society of artists and musicians and finally to an over-hyped "hotbed" of American musical genius.

The "stars" are just pieces in the puzzle. After the B-52s move away to New York, they barely appear in P.O.O.B. The story of how the R.E.M. guys ended up in Athens, met each other and became a band commands about three chapters; their post-Murmur success gets about three paragraphs. Near-equal time is given to Pylon, The Method Actors, Love Tractor and others who almost became "the next big thing" to follow the Bs.

It's a great story about an interesting little college town and how strange things can happen to strange - or even normal - people.

Of course, I'm no literary critic, and it's easy for me to say "buy my friend's book". That said - it's good, and you should buy it.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Hard to swallow

After writing my first piece on LSU journalism student Jessica Pivik's "On Top" column a few weeks ago, I thought about making it a regular feature. Her's is a weekly column, after all, and a lot of folks are finding their way to the Wisdom searching for Pivik.

Problem is, her stuff is flat-out boring. Last week she wrote about body and pubic hair; the week before the column was about sex-toy parties. Both pieces seemed like forced attempts to be "shocking".

This week, she tried to get back her shock value by writing about "spitting, swallowing and gargling."

But Jessica is so focused on playing herself off as a "shocking" Carrie Bradshaw wannabe, she still hasn't taken the time to learn how to write an entertaining column.

She quotes a couple of students' views on swallowing and fills the rest of the column up with Googled facts about semen (she must have a research class this semester). But because of the "shocking" subject matter, I guess we're supposed to see Jessica as a bold, important "writer."

Sure.

The best part of this column is a disclaimer inserted near the end, just after her line "Guys, try this diet and maybe she'll come back for seconds."
But, no matter what your preference is, it is possible for you to contract HIV and other STDs through oral sex.

So, play it safe.

Obviously, a Reveille editor (or more likely a J-school advisor) made her drop this health warning in to her celebration of semen.

A good writer would have taken the health warning and run with it. Is it really dangerous to swallow? Do LSU students practice safe sex except when it comes to hummers? Is that a problem?

When she was given that line, she could have turned it around and written a meaningful piece by tossing her pointless observations on swallowing and digging deeper into an actual issue.

But no. "Look at me! I'm shocking! How cute is that???" is Jessica's motivation.

And she's still not very good at it.