Friday, July 29, 2011

Why are Rugs so Freakin' Expensive?

I’m hoping to move in to a house in the very near future, and the house we’ve put in an offer for has hardwood floors throughout. Not a speck of carpet in the entire place.

I’ve lived my entire sheltered, suburban, new construction life with wall-to-wall carpeting, which is probably why I broke my foot from walking barefoot on concrete too much. I’ve never known a living experience in which there was a hard surface to lay on other than the kitchen or bathroom floor (not that I’ve done that too much, ha ha.)

But I’m kind of a weirdo. My computer is on the floor, and when I say “on the floor,” I mean the main case, the monitor, and the mouse and keyboard—all on the floor. The monitor doesn’t even have a stand, it just leans up against a subwoofer.

So I spend a lot of time on the floor at home, laying on my stomach to type, game, or read the news. I can’t imagine doing that on hardwood floors, so rather than get a computer desk, I’m looking to drop my life savings on area rugs. How expensive could they be?

As it turns out, I could buy an entirely new computer for the price of one rug. And I don’t need a little one. Nope, no puny 3'x5' is going to work in my living room. I need something bigger. At least 8'x10'.

One thing I noticed pretty quickly about rugs is that 9 out of 10 look like something you’d see hanging on temporary display in a gas station parking lot. They’re the overstock oriental rugs you see everywhere, and even those are expensive. I’m more of a minimalist, so I don’t want stupid fancy decorations all over the floor, and floral is out.

Mission: Find a non-oriental, non-floral 8'x10' or larger area rug without spending too much.

Unfortunately, what constitutes “too much” is impossible to determine in the rug world. That’s because it’s an industry with such wildly insane prices that your spirit is broken within minutes of shopping, and you begin to think that $350 for something your dog’s going to wipe his ass on is a “good deal.” Example:

I’ll just Google an 8'x10' contemporary rug and sort results from lowest- to highest-priced. Ooh, look at that tacky one! I’d pay $50 for that.


Okay, so I can get it as low as $50. I’ll check out the Rug Stop because they also don’t charge tax and offer free shipping.


Oh, really? You mean it’s not $50, it’s in fact a mere $770?

Well, let me just get out my credit card and pay $770 for this tacky-ass rug. Note that the 2'x3' is still more than $50 by about 150%.

And so it goes in the world of rug shopping. You can see by now how one’s spirit can be broken so easily. Your choices are oriental rugs, flower rugs, or paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Shaggy Raggy
When we were first looking at the house I mentioned earlier, we noticed that the current tenants have this wonderful, huge white rug made from a material I’d never heard of. While in a baby store a few weeks later I saw the material and recorded what the consumer tag said: It’s called Shaggy Raggy. Stupid name, incredible material.

They had at least an 8'x10' in their house, so I figured if I can afford to buy their house, I’ll probably be able to afford this rug, right? Couldn’t be more than $150 or so. Wrong. It’s $280 for the 5'x8', the largest size I can find. But hold up for a moment, that’s not even totally accurate, as this comment on the Bed Bath & Beyond website eloquently points out:

I realize that for rugs they round to the nearest foot, however, you vshould know that this rug is 4'7" by 7'7" - In my opinion, the absolute minimum size you could be to call it a 5'x8' rug. Since is $280, I thought I would let others know. It is a soft rug.

Thanks, nickname55. I noticed this myself when I first looked up these rugs: Rather than calling it 4.5' by 7.5', (which would be 4'6" by 7'6"), they’ve technically moved up into the 5' by 8' category (by rounding up from 4'7" by 7'7".) Isn’t that sneaky? So, overpriced, too small, and practically false advertising. How much did the current tenants pay for their magical unobtainable rug?

55" x 91" = 5005 square inches, and 96" x 120" = 11,520 square inches. If the price scales evenly, then we can assume this logic:

$280 / 5005"^2 = $.056 per square inch, so 11,520 x $.056 = $644.48. Crap.

I can’t afford $650 for a rug! Not with a $932,698,326,903 baby due in 10 weeks! So, it’s off to Ikea to buy the world’s crappiest rug. Their selection is amazingly crappy, yet modern, like my tastes. No oriental rugs there.

Without looking too long, I find a $200 rug at 9'x10'. It looks like cheap apartment carpet. Oh well, that’s what I’m used to, and it’s what I lay on already, so cheap Ikea rug it is. But still... $200? Why are rugs so expensive?

Seriously, you walk on them, spill stuff on them, and your baby drools on them if you have one, so what’s the point in paying a crapload for one? And how do they justify charging so much? I asked Jeeves. A rug maker in India responded:

Expensive is a relative term. You need to get more objective here. Being a rug manufacturer in Agra , India ; I feel that my customers (who import the rugs) charge a King;s ransom when they sell a rug made by me to the retailer, but what the retailer charges from the consumer is even more than a Kings ransom.

An oriental rug of size 8' x 10' takes upto 4-5 months and 5 weavers to make. Thats a lot of time. A 8x10 rug may have anything between 640K Knots to 1.7 million knots in it depending on its quality. Each knot is tied by hand. IF you take out the price per knot it will be much less than a cent. Each knot takes an average of 7 seconds to tie.

If you ever happen to come to Agra, call upon me and I will take you to the looms where the rugs are woven. Then you will truly come to appreciate the value of these rugs.

Thanks man, but the plane ticket to India would cost me three rugs. Don’t we live in the era of robots? I just want a machine-manufactured piece of shit that emulates carpet and can eventually be rolled up and thrown on the side of the road somewhere so I can drive by it every day as it slowly decays without thinking about the 5 weavers that dedicated 4-5 months of their lives to creating it.

Mission accomplished, I guess. I just didn't think that $200 would be "not too much." I guess I have a different view of the American Dream.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

5 80s Movies that Should be Rebooted as TV Series

MTV recently broke ground by creating a new series about high school life. No, wait, they always do that.

MTV recently revived a classic 80s movie and turned it into a new series about high school life. You remember Teen Wolf, right? The hilariously bad coming-of-age Michael J. Fox movie where the teenage protagonist begins morphing into a lycanthrope, and discovers that his dad deals with the same thing? You know, the really, really obvious metaphor for puberty?

Yep, they remade it. Or rather, as is the popular phrase of the moment, they “rebooted” it, and it’s taken new form as a series of episodes—but there’s very few similarities between the 1985 movie and the 2011 TV show.

Both feature a protagonist named Scott and a best friend named Stiles; Scott turns into a werewolf sometimes. Remember anything else from the movie? Gone. It’s all different. Even Scott’s last name is different now.

Taking a cue from this re-imagining, here’s five of my own suggested 80s movie reboots, updated to fit a 2011 world.

Back to the Future

Let’s stick with the Michael J. Fox theme, because he’s a pretty easy target. The 2011 TV show takes place in San Francisco. Marty, played by Michael Cera, lives in the Castro, born to a gay couple who used a surrogate mother to conceive him. Marty takes frequent trips down to M5 Industries to hang around the Mythbusters set with Jamie Hyneman.

One of Hyneman’s more interesting inventions is the flux-capacitor-equipped Prius that is capable of time travel. When the show’s not filming, Marty and Hyneman take the vehicle to Naval Air Station Alameda, the only place in San Francisco where they can get a Prius up to 88 miles per hour.

Pilot episode: Hyneman appears at Marty’s Castro townhouse, frantic and worried. Since he never shows emotion, Marty knows something’s horribly wrong. Hyneman informs Marty that his life is in danger. They travel back in time to 1985 to stop one of his dads’ ill-conceived heterosexual marriages. In a bizarre twist, Marty’s surrogate mother falls in love with him.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Might as well squeeze all the life out of the time travel theme, right? Bill and Ted (played by Alex Pettyfer and Joe Jonas, respectively) are two aspiring professional snowboarders who run a grow-op in Denver. Their plan is to get Shaun White to appear in one of their iPhone 4-shot snowboarding videos, but unfortunately, they need a totally triumphant snowboarding video to get Shaun White.

Ted’s dad works for the DEA and wants his son to quit the cannabusiness altogether. He’s planning to send his son off to a labor camp if he can’t make a profitable snowboarding video before the end of ski season. Fortunately, Rufus (Doug Benson) is sent from the future to inform the pair that they eventually bring peace to the world by being the ones who finally legalize weed.

Pilot episode: The local government wants to shut down dispensaries in Bill and Ted’s community, prompting them to use their iPad’s time-travel app to collect famous lawyers throughout history to have a debate against Harry Anslinger at the town hall meeting.

The Goonies

The Goonies are a group of pre-teen white-hat hackers split off from Anonymous and living in Astoria, Oregon. Led by an asthmatic 12-year-old named Mikey, they are facing pressure from the Secret Service to shut down their group, even though they’re just trying to expose security holes in major companies’ websites.

After finding a Power Mac in the attic and booting it up, the group discovers an email from Steve Jobs to Mikey’s contractor dad that includes blueprints for a personal underground lair beneath the campus at One Infinite Loop. Despite not knowing if the lair was ever built, the Goonies decide that this could be the ultimate security exploit if they can just get in.

Pilot episode: The Goonies discover Steve Wozniak, locked in a closet and screaming for “Baby Ruth!” Data correctly guesses a WEP key to connect to the WiFi so they can sniff traffic they think might be coming from a massive underground data center known as One-Eyed Willie.

Short Circuit

We’ll stay in Astoria for a moment. Big Dog is a protoype robot built by the UC Berkeley Robotics department, intended to be used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan to carry packs of equipment across unpredictable terrain. While on a top-secret test in Saddle Mountain State Park, the entire crew is killed by a lightning strike to Big Dog’s head, providing him with a sudden and unexplainable consciousness.

After wandering through the woods for a while, he finds himself at the apartment of animal lover Stephanie (played by Miley Cyrus) who satisfies the robot’s cravings for power by discovering a USB port in his belly. Her computer recognizes him as a storage device, and she copies documents over from his memory that reveal a torturous life condemned to the battlefield.

Pilot episode: As FBI agents come to town looking for the robot, she has to dress him up like a saint bernard to keep him from blowing his cover. Unfortunately, he can’t stop hopping around. She tells the agents that she feeds him a steady diet of Red Bull to win the Astoria Saint Bernard High-Jump dog show.

The Breakfast Club

And finally, the second reboot in a row that is courtesy of Ally Sheedy. This series features a group of five very different students who get to know each other during detention one Saturday. The show centers on the characters as they continuously knock each other up and get hammered, concealing their unlikely acquaintances from their friends.

Pilot episode: The group is tasked with collectively writing an essay to explain who they are before the end of the day. Instead, the jock hooks up with the pretty girl after beating up the nerd, and the criminal and crazy girl sit in the bathroom huffing spray paint.

How to Remove a Search Hijacker—for Free

The short answer: Install and run ComboFix. Details below.

I’m usually pretty good at removing viruses and crap from my computer, and I generally avoid using anti-virus software to do it. I’ve got good reasons. First, I’m a control freak, and I can’t stand the idea of something restricting my movements on the web. I don’t even run Windows Firewall. Second, they slow down your computer, and they might just delete stuff that you don’t want them to. Third, I know the Windows Registry like a freaking maniac.

Seriously though, when you do such processor-heavy stuff like video editing or playing Bulletstorm, you don’t want some resource hog hiding in the background, ready to jump up and say stuff like “CNN.COM IS TRYING TO REFRESH ITSELF, BUT DON’T WORRY, WE CLOSED YOUR ENTIRE BROWSER. PROBLEM SOLVED!” Your online Black Ops team will wonder why you suddenly decided to stand still in the middle of a battlefield and get shot to death.

Then there’s the boot-up issue, and this is the main reason I tell people to avoid Norton Antivirus at all costs. For years I’ve nicknamed this bloated software the Black Icy Hand of Death, turning an otherwise fully-functional computer into a crawling zombie who can’t even take commands from its master, spending half its life running a series of processes on every boot to ensure the maximum protection possible. It’s like putting bars on all the windows in your house, then boarding them up, putting 20 locks on your front door and then pushing all your furniture up against it. You’ve gotta take some risks if you want some freedom.

Usually, when I suspect I’ve got a virus, my normal routine goes like this:
  1. Start the Task Manager (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and look for weirdly-named processes
  2. Google those executables to find out if they’re known viruses
  3. If it’s a virus, search both the entire file system and the registry for that file name and delete all references to it
  4. Reboot
This is pretty much all anti-virus software does anyway; they just go about it with a different method. Sometimes the virus isn’t listed in the processes and I’ve got to run Ad-Aware or ClamWin to have it point out the files to me, but then I’ve got to remove them manually from the file system and registry anyway. So it was an especially frustrating week when I noticed a new type of virus I’d never seen before and had no clue how to remove.

The Asshole Search Hijacker

I noticed that my normal Google searches were taking me to suspiciously amateur-looking websites. I googled the IP addresses I was being sent to and discovered that I had what is called a “search hijacker,” also known as a “Google search hijacker,” "Scour Redirect Virus," and other names. But it didn’t stop at Google. It affected Bing, too. Not that I cared about that.

And it wasn’t just Firefox. It was Internet Explorer and Chrome, too. For days I used, and not for the usual ironic reasons, but because this search hijacker was ignoring it. I couldn’t find a process. I couldn’t find anything weird in the registry. It was baffling me.

Here’s what was happening: I would do a Google search, and normally, I could just click on results to move on to the linked website like we all do a jillion times a day, every day. But the moment I’d click that link, the URL would be replaced by a hijacked URL, linking me to one of many asshole websites. If I hovered the mouse over the link, it’d look like this:

And then, right-clicking the URL, it would immediately change to this:

For every single result. Here’s a list of IP addresses and domains that I was being redirected to (*WARNING* DO NOT VISIT ANY OF THESE URLS):


I ran ClamWin, and it didn’t find anything. I ran Ad-Aware, and it didn’t fix the problem. I then went on a free anti-virus installing spree, during which time I also used TFC (Temp File Cleaner), Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, and SUPERAntiSpyware. None of them solved the problem.

It wasn’t until I installed ComboFix, a curiously low-key program, that the problem finally went away. If you’ve got some variant of search hijacker, this should fix the problem.

Finally, the Details of How to Remove this Stupid Search Hijacker

TFC won’t harm your computer, and it may have helped solve the problem in my case since it removed 7 gigabytes of temp files. If ComboFix doesn’t solve the problem, I’d suggest running TFC first, then running ComboFix again.

So, download and install ComboFix, choosing all the standard options, and then let it run. It’ll close all your browsers without prompting you, so save anything you need before it does this. It’s all text in a box—no fancy graphics here. It could take up to an hour, but it probably won’t, and then it’ll automatically reboot your computer. When the computer boots, don’t do anything until it spits out a text file log. You might want to save that, just in case.

When you see that text file, all should be well. You no longer need to cry yourself to sleep using for your web queries. Remember, if this doesn’t work, try running TFC, then ComboFix. Hopefully you’ll be back to normal again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Incredible True Story of Bat Out of Hell

Sometimes three people collide in a way that changes the face of music forever. Sometimes they just end up making the most overdramatic song of all time.

In 1977 an unknown, seemingly unmarketable man who insisted on being called Meat Loaf was performing in a similarly unknown, seemingly unmarketable Peter Pan-based musical called Neverland. The musical’s principal songwriter Jim Steinman had worked closely with Meat and the rest of the cast to create an over-the-top performance about youth, love, and extreme manliness. It wasn’t like the Peter Pan everyone knows so well; this version involved knives, blood, motorcycles, and electric guitars.

It was an interesting time in rock n’ roll. Operatic performances, epic songs, and fantasy imagery were popular. Queen was getting ready to release “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Cheap Trick were about to drop their debut album and go on a world tour. Broadway favorite Annie opened on April 21st to immediate acclaim. The world was ready, Steinman proposed, for the “most extreme crash song of all time.”

In the 1950s and 60s, as cars became faster and more powerful, a car crash epidemic began to emerge. This resulted in dozens of pop and rock songs romanticizing the phenomenon that proved especially popular with teenagers. Steinman loved the mix of power and romance, love and tragedy. It was his destiny to pen the genre’s ultimate achievement.

One day, after an especially strong performance of Neverland, Meat Loaf and Steinman had a simultaneous epiphany.

Steinman and Meat Loaf
“Meat,” Steinman said to the overweight singer, “What if we...”

“Recorded the motorcycle song as a single?” Meat finished.

“Absolutely! It would be...”

“THE GREATEST CRASH SONG OF ALL TIME!” they both grandly announced at once.

But they didn’t stop there. They pulled three songs from the musical and combined it with four new tracks to create Meat Loaf’s debut album. But the real story lies behind the rewriting of that crash song, a single that would become known as “Bat Out of Hell.”

The two paired up with an eccentric producer named Todd Rundgren who was skeptical of the two at first, thinking they were ridiculous theatre idiots. But after listening to Steinman’s unique beyond-description vision of power and excess, he joined in for the humor of the whole thing. Rundgren told some of his bandmates the idea for the song, and they agreed that it would be funny to record it, and then he grabbed Bruce Springsteen’s drummer and pianist to complete the musicians who would go on to write history.

As Jim Steinman assembled the musicians on the morning of the first sessions, he briefed them on what they would expect in the following hours. “You all have been chosen to participate in something so ground-breaking, so spectacular, that you’ll be remembered for the rest of time as the musicians who performed it,” he said, hands folded behind his back as he paced back in forth in the front of the studio’s control room. “This will be the apex of your careers.”

A young Max Weinberg spoke up. “Really? Me and Roy recorded Born to Run with Springsteen two years ago, and...”

“DESTINY!” Steinman shouted as he turned and glared directly in Weinberg’s direction. “It begins with dark streets, hoodlums everywhere, someone being knifed in a corner!” he excitedly described while waving his hands wildly and looking up to the ceiling. “Suddenly, a man—a real man,” he motioned in Meat Loaf’s direction, “comes riding in on the most badass Harley you’ve ever seen, with a giant hairy skull mounted in place of the windscreen.”

Meat stepped forward sheepishly with an embarrassed grin on his face, kicking the ground. “Gosh, Jim, do you think he needs to be that manly? I’m not exactly a superhero.”

“HE WILL BE THE MANLIEST MAN OF ALL TIME!” Steinman shouted, unable to keep froths of saliva from being projected out of his mouth. His eyes began to roll back in his head, but eventually settled back into position. “Let’s do a take!”

The band burst forth an explosion of sound lead by a frantic piano and played nearly two minutes of instrumental music before Meat joined in on the vocals. He set the initial tone of the song, describing a dirty, dark city full of dangerous characters:

“The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling way down in the valley tonight. There's a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye and a blade shining oh so bright. There's evil in the air and there's thunder in the sky and a killer's on the bloodshot streets. And down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising, oh, I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter, he was starting to foam in the heat.”

The recording stopped. “Jim, are you sure these are the lyrics?” Meat asked.

Steinman calmly walked over to the vocal booth and looked in at him. “Meat,” he softly cooed, “You’ve just got to trust me, okay? We’re about to make history.” He then walked back into the control room, and with his back to the window, punched himself in the side of the head three times, took a deep breath, and turned around. “Let’s try that again!”

As the band played a second take, Rundgren sat back on a couch with his feet propped up on a table, laughing to himself.

“What’s so funny, Todd?” Steinman sharply inquired.

Rundgren sat up and leaned forward, removing the sunglasses from his face. “It’s too much, JIm,” he responded. “No one’s going to buy this record. It’s just too ridiculous.”

“People come to Neverland. What makes you think they won’t buy the greatest crash song of all time?”

“Okay, man, do you what you will. Just remember what I said.”

The band blew through ten more takes before the late afternoon approached. Steinman just wasn’t quite getting the feel he wanted from the song. It wasn’t loud enough, big enough, or remotely as epic as he had hoped. Steinman called it quits for the the day and sent the band home. He asked Meat and Rundgren to stay behind.

“You know what the song needs?” he said. The two sighed and shook their heads.

“A boy’s choir right when Meat starts singing. I think that would add the level of beauty and innocence that we’re looking for.”

Rundgren spewed water out of his nose and jumped to his feet coughing. “What? A boy’s choir? Isn’t this already crazy enough?”

“I kinda like it,” Meat Loaf quietly chimed in.

“Yes, a real boy’s choir. Let’s not do any weird vocal tricks or tape effects, let’s bring in an entire choir and have them sing during the section where Meat first comes in.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Rundgren asserted.

“Well why not?” Steinman asked. “There’s nothing in this world more beautiful than the sound of twenty boy sopranos singing,” he said as he began dreamily waltzing himself around the room with his eyes closed, humming quietly to himself. Meat and Rundgren looked at each other.

I think he's crazy, Rundgren mouthed to the obese singer.

“Look, let’s worry about that later. We’ve got a lot of post production to do anyway, and we’re already at close to four minutes by the time we get to the end of the first chorus anyway, so we’re going to want to wrap it up soon,” he said aloud.

“But that’s just when the bike is first introduced!” Steinman protested. “The story’s only getting started.”

Rundgren looked at him, disappointed. “Look, let’s just go home and regroup tomorrow.”

They split up and, took another crack at the song the next morning, moving into the second verse where Meat sang about the motorcycle’s introduction.

“I'm gonna hit the highway like a battering ram on a silver black phantom bike. When the metal is hot and the engine is hungry and we're all about to see the light,” he belted out over the roar of the band.

Steinman stood in the control room, banging his head furiously, tears flying onto the mixing board from his face. “Yes, YES, YES!!!” he shouted, “THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER!”

Meat Loaf put his full soul into the lyrics as he progressed through the verse.

“GET TO THE PART ABOUT THE DAMNING!” Steinman shouted through the glass.

“And I know that I’m damned if I never get out, and maybe I’m damned if I do. But with every other beat I got left in my heart you know I'd rather be damned with you. If I gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned, dancing through the night with you.”

“OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GOOD!” Steinman shrieked with incredible furiousness.

“If I gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned, gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned, gotta be damned you know I wanna be damned, dancin’ through the night, dancin’ through the night, dancin’ through the night with you!”

“GAaaAAAaAAHHH!!!” Steinman shouted as he fell to the floor and began openly sobbing. “That was... the most amazing... thing I have ever experienced,” he quietly whispered. Two shoes appeared in front of his face. He looked up to see Rundgren towering over him as he lay underneath the control panel.

“You ruined a good take with your shouting,” he said. “We were picking you up in the vocal mic. Just chill, baby. We gotta get through this song, and it’s already beyond what most radio stations will play. We haven’t even hit a second chorus yet.”

They worked into the later afternoon to perfect the second chorus to the high standard of Steinman’s expectations of ultimate epicness, with the end of this chorus seamlessly moving into a powerful bridge with a sudden, jarring ritard.

“Then like a sinner before the gates of heaven I’ll come crawling on back to you,” Meat Loaf crooned. Steinman stopped the recording and sat back on the couch, weeping. Rundgren walked into the studio.

“Is he okay?” Roy Bittan asked.

“Yeah, he does this all the time,” Meat Loaf confirmed. Everyone waited patiently for the eccentric songwriter to get his wits back together to continue beyond the bridge, but he never came out of his sobbing bundle. The recording session ended for the day.

Finally, Rundgren entered the control room again to reason with Steinman. “What’s the problem, man?” he asked as he began to try a different approach with this clearly tortured genius.

Between gasps of breath, Steinman finally began to become intelligible again. “It needs...” he began. The sobs choked out his words.

“What? What does it need? More guitars?” Rundgren asked.

“No... it needs a crash, but I don’t want to see this glorious man die,” he softly revealed. Rundgren cocked his head to the side and looked directly into Steinman’s face.

“Are you shitting me?” he asked. “We’re almost six minutes in and you want to do a crash now?” he angrily shouted.

“I have an idea. Let me think about it tonight and we’ll start again tomorrow.”

In the morning, Steinman arrived slightly hung over but fully ready to work. He assembled the entire band and asked Meat to come stand next to him.

“I want you all to imagine this,” he began. “Our protagonist is riding his phantom bike with its skull windscreen’s hair flapping in the wind. He’s going fast. Faster than you can imagine.” He looked up to the ceiling.

“Faster than any boy’s ever gone before.”

The band looked around at each other. Meat, generally a pretty easy-going guy, became defensive.

“Wait, this song keeps going? What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the crash,” Steinman responded. “And he never sees the sudden curve until it’s way too late. He’ll lay torn and twisted at the foot of the burning bike, but that’s not all. Meat’s got the lyrics; everyone else just play the music.”

Everyone headed back into the studio. “Todd, I need the sounds of a motorcycle in this section. Can you handle that?”

Rundgren looked at him as if he was crazy. “You want me to bring a motorcycle in here and record it? I think we might all die.”

“No no no NO! Use your creativity, man! We need a freaking motorcycle! It’s a MOTORCYCLE CRASH!”

The band struck up again and Meat took to narrating the story.

“I can see myself tearing up the road faster than any other boy has ever gone,” he read off the lyric sheet.

“Yes! Feel the speed!” Steinman shouted.

“And I never see the sudden curve until it's way too late,” Meat continued.

“Feel the danger!” a frenzied Steinman interjected as the music barreled on.

“And I never see the sudden curve 'til it's way too late!” Meat screamed.

Steinman abruptly halted the recording and turned to Rundgren.

“Todd! We need that motorcycle NOW!” he demanded.

Rundgren sighed, walked into the studio and plugged in his guitar. “Cue up the bridge,” he said. The engineer rolled the tape back and armed a channel. “Hit it,” he said.

Holding down the tremolo until the strings were literally hanging off of the guitar, he struck a low note and whipped the tremolo bar up and down. His guitar growled the sounds of a powerful bike revving up its engine and accelerating, screaming directly into a guitar solo.

“OH MY GOD! THIS IS PURE GOLD!” he could see Steinman mouthing through the control room window. Man, I hope his voice doesn’t come through on this track. I really want to just do this once, he thought.

Meat blinked his eyes. He couldn’t believe what was happening. With no rehearsal, Rundgren had just spewed forth the greatest guitar solo of all time, and he did it directly out of the emulated sounds of a phantom bike. When the solo was done, everyone stood in silence for a few seconds.

“Was that good?” Rundgren asked.

Everyone erupted into cheers. The applause lasted for several minutes as Steinman fainted, Weinberg catching him on the way down. The entire band gave him the thumbs up to come back in for the playback.

“Holy crap, how is that possible?” bass played Kasim Sulton said to him as he patted him on the back. They listened to it and decided it was worth pushing on beyond the eight-minute mark.

Steinman came back to full consciousness. “Meat, we’ve no time to lose. You’ve got that lyrics sheet, right?”

Meat Loaf nodded.

“Get in there! You know what to do!”

The band piled back into the studio and prepared for the most tear-jerking moment in rock n’ roll history. In a quiet lull in the song, Meat sang the tender words.

“Then I'm dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun, torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike,” he sang, shedding a single tear.

“And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell.”

Rundgren got up off of the couch with a mesmerized stare and stood with his face pressed up against the glass, hands on the mixer.

“And the last thing I see is my heart, still beating, breaking out of my body and flying away—like a bat out of hell!”

Steinman slapped himself in the face to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. “More! Bigger!” he shouted.

“Then I'm dying at the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun!”

Weinberg’s eyes shut and he grit his teeth as he struck the drums with maximum force.

“Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike!”

One of Sulton’s strings popped as he struck it with his thumb harder than he’d ever played the bass before.

“And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell. And the last thing I see is my heart! Still beating...” Meat Loaf restrained himself as he built up to the song’s climax.

“Still beating...” he continued, while everyone looked around the room anxiously.

“Oh, breakin’ outta my body, and flyin’ awaaaaaaay... like a bat out of hell!! Like a bat out of hell!! Like a bat out of hell!!”

Steinman and Rundgren turned and grabbed each other in a triumphant embrace. The engineer sat frozen, unable to concentrate on the mixer. Bittan banged his head as he smashed his hands down on the piano keys. Meat Loaf delivered the final notes.


Everyone collapsed to the floor except Sulton and Bittan, who held it together just long enough to finish the epilogue of the song. As they played the last notes and the song came to a close, no one spoke or moved.

Finally the engineer shut his open jaw and stopped the tape reel. “I think that’ll do, guys,” he said through the studio monitors.

No one spoke as they left the studio. They knew what they had done. There was nothing to be said.

The single failed miserably on release.

Thirty-four years later, the album Bat Out of Hell has sold more than 43 million copies, solidifying it as the fifth-best-selling album ever. There’s something to be said about creating the most epic crash song of all time.

This story is factual to the best of my knowledge and is therefore proclaimed as “true.” Any embellishments are added purely for satirical purposes. This story used the following references with the purpose of being as accurate as possible:

Classic Albums: Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell
Jim Steinman's Bat Out of Hell
Neverland by Jim Steinman
RIAA: Sales data for "Bat Out of Hell"
Songmeanings: Meat Loaf - "Bat Out of Hell"
The Julia Child of Rock and Roll
To Hell and Back: An Autobiography by Meat Loaf
Youtube: Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Google Circles will Breed a New Type of Vanity

Google+ is rapidly gaining users at an unprecedented swiftness. But as so many make the mass exodus to the newest social network, they know the routine: Pick a profile picture, write some snappy commentary about yourself, and then hunt down everyone you know. Google+ makes this even easier by using your Facebook connections (if you're signed in to Facebook) to suggest people you know, and by raiding your Gmail account (if you have one.) But making connections on GP is slightly different than FB.

With the previous social network kings—Facebook, Myspace, and Friendster—users would make friend requests. These connections amounted to a mutual acknowledgement which resulted in a public announcement of the friendship. If a user had a person in their friends list, you could definitely find the opposite to be true as well. Any unanswered friend requests remained private, invisible to everyone but the requester and the requestee. Furthermore, friend requests could be denied, killing off the attempted connection entirely.

Facebook altered this process a little bit by allowing the originator of a pending friend request to see (but not comment on) the status updates of the target. The result of this was the potential for hundreds of people to "follow" one person without the favor being returned.

Things are a little different with Google+. "Friend requests" don't even exist; rather, people add each other to their "circles." This means that anyone can follow anyone else, and the person being followed will be notified of this. Our instinct, when we get these notifications, is to "accept the request," but the action button that is provided leads the user to follow them as well. We're not actually required to return the favor.

In this way, Facebook's model of allowing the requester to see updates from the target exists, but in a much more public way. GP's equivalent of "friend requests" is entirely public. There's no way to stop them.You can't remove yourself from their circles. You can block them from seeing your content, which allows you a little bit of control over who sees your content, but you have no control over that number.

What you end up with is a pair of categories that shows up on your profile:
  • People in your circles
  • People who've added you to their circles

However, these categories translate into:
  • People you think are cool
  • People who think you're cool

Here comes a new type of popularity contest! On other social networks, the first category would be a number that would symbolize mutual friendship; the second number would indicate unrequited friend requests, but would never be visible to anyone but yourself. Ideally, this number should be roughly equal. Most of us would like to think that we're interested in approximately the same number of people that are interested in us.

But for the vain, this will become an indicator of popularity. The ratio of one to the other will be a quick way for people to show how sought-after they are. For example, check out the ratio of Ben Parr, editor of Mashable:

Obviously, there's a lot of people that know who he is, because nearly 13,000 people want to follow him. But Ben just can't keep up with 13,000 people, so he's only added a more intimate tally of 1,018. His ratio is roughly 1:13. Clearly, he's a popular guy.

More depressing is when the ratio goes the other way, which is where my account is sitting as I write this. Well, it's not so bad: It's 11:9, and that's mostly because I've invited a few people who haven't signed up yet. But if you're following 1,000 people and only 100 people want to follow you, your ratio is 10:1, and you begin to look desperate. At least, that's the way egomaniacs will view it.

Fortunately, Google's thought ahead to help you avoid embarassment. You can choose to not display these categories on your profile page, thus returning the unreciprocated circle-add to the shadows. Clearly though, there will be a lot of people who will be proud of their high ratio, especially since GP doesn't limit followers to 5,000 like Facebook does. I suspect we'll see a new form of vanity take shape in the coming months, with users bragging about their "Google+ ratio."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Burn Your High School Diploma

Image courtesy of; could you tell?

It's no secret: Higher education becomes more and more prevalent each year. That's why your high school diploma is worth about as much as a bag full of soda cans.

We've entered a period of somewhat exponential growth in education over the past decade. Where a college degree used to be the key to success, a Master's degree is often seen as necessary. Not all fields of study have reached this level, but it's coming. We have the highly competitive job market to blame for this.

Back when our grandparents were attending public school, many of them dropped out before they even got to high school. They'd go to work for friends and family building a skillset that would take them far in their careers and allow them to provide for an entire (sometimes enormous) family. That's right—it was normal to be a successful seventh-grade dropout.

A limited job market influenced an evolution in education during the next generation. Breakthroughs in science as well as higher standards for language and historical knowledge encouraged many teenagers to push through high school to get their diplomas. This was seen as an easy, logical, and beneficial way to have an advantage over the competitors in the job pool. It also meant that high school dropouts had to take the less desireable jobs—if they could even find them.

Another wave of job scarcity pushed a higher percentage of those high school graduates to go to college. Even a portion of college education was viewed favorably by many employers, but to have the ultimate advantage, a student needed to obtain a Bachelor's degree. Because of the overwhelming number of job applicants with these degrees, many job listings began to weed out those with less education by stating up front that the Bachelor's was a minimum requirement.

Throughout all these years, there have always been college graduates. Doctors always needed to push through a massive amount of schooling to be able to practice medicine, and for good reason; mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and other scientists have always needed the intense studying to grasp these complicated and sometimes abstract concepts. But for those not in the medical or scientific communities, higher education was never really necessary until the push for the Bachelor's degree.

Poor economies and the barren job markets that generally accompany them are typically characterized by a high rate of re-enrollment. This is specifically because those who are unemployed or are seeking a higher-paying job need something to one-up their competition, or they need to learn a new skill set. The damaged economy of the past few years has upped the ante yet again.

Now many disciplines—such as Psychology—practically require an applicant to have a Master's degree to be considered for a decent position. Since a typical college career that results in this level of qualification lasts about seven years, we're now talking about an average education length of twenty years—roughly a quarter of a person's life. Think about that: To get a decent job in Psychology, you need to spend 25% of your life preparing for it.

So what's a high school diploma worth? Pretty much nothing. No employers list it as a requirement. It doesn't get you a discount at the grocery store. The only thing it's used for is allowing you to be considered to enter college. When it comes down to it, graduating high school is basically just a ticket to go to college—but even that doesn't guarantee you'll be accepted.

However, there are plenty of jobs that don't require higher education whatsoever. I'm not just talking about janitors and bus drivers, though these occupations are entirely necessary and an integral part of society. Many hands-on vocations can result in high-paying jobs, but if a dropout can secure a position in a field without the degree, whether via nepotism, charisma, or an impressive grasp on the important material, they might not ever need a degree. Actually, ten years in a career is roughly equivalent to a Bachelor's degree anyway.

Therefore, if an individual is fully aware that they'll never go to college, there's no real reason to finish high school. It would be more beneficial to drop out as quickly as possible and begin focusing on a career. If a student quits school at 16, they can have a decade of job experience under their belt by the age of 26. By this point they've already learned just about everything public school has to offer them anyway. The final two years of high school are basically just college preparatory, and the information that doesn't get retained for later use in college is effectively forgotten. Remember anything from senior English? I don't.

Yep, a high school degree doesn't really mean anything, which is a shame because just living through those four years qualifies you for a medal. I guess it's at least worth the satisfaction of knowing that you completed that level of schooling, but it's definitely not helpful in the job hunt. And when the stakes rise again and we all need doctorates to find work, you'll find yourself wondering: What's the worth of a high school degree? Not a damn thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Rise and Reign of Awesome

Some slang terms come and go. This is the story of the one that wouldn’t die.

In the early 1960s, a new faction of counter-culture began to emerge. This was an era of youth in revolt who were actively seeking to reject everything their parents stood for. They adopted radically different clothing, music, and philosophies; they experimented with substances, new and old; but very much like every generation before them, they developed their own slang terminology.

Slang has always been a way for the youth to stay one step ahead of the older generations, a sort of “code language” so that information can be passed between the young while leaving everyone else completely ignorant. When those slang terms begin to be used by the older generations, they tend to die off. This is partially because the code is no longer secret, but it’s also because no one wants to hear this stuff coming out of their parents’ mouths.

So when the word “awesome” took on an altered definition during the cultural revolution, it was no surprise. Its new meaning was very similar to the previous centuries-old use, but with a youthful approach: Instead of meaning “profoundly awe inspiring,” it was basically reduced to a casual, “impressive,” or “very good.” Teens and young adults across the United States adopted this new sense for the word and used it liberally—sometimes merely as an interjection.

By the early 1980s, “awesome” was still being used by younger and older generations alike. It had outlived the lifespan of the typical slang term, but rather than seeing a reduction in use, it maintained a more-or-less steady existence in the lexicon of the American public. However, as this decade rolled forth, the word grew. It became the go-to term for seeming youthful and cool and selling everything related to 80s culture.

The more bizarre or re-defined a slang term is, the shorter its lifespan. This is why nonsensical words like “gadzooks” never last. It’s why “rufus” from Never Been Kissed didn’t actually catch on. But it’s also why words like “radical,” and “tubular” died off in the 1980s (both sharing a slang definition with “awesome,” but with the former’s actual meaning being “deviating from the norm,” and the latter meaning, “tube-shaped.”) The startling longevity of “awesome” can be entirely attributed to its adoption as a slang term that actually means what it says.

When the 90s arrived, no one actually expected it to disappear. It was a tried-and-true descriptor that began to take shape for use in ironic situations and casual conversation. It was no longer something that anyone paid attention to; rather, it was just a normal component of speech. It seemingly graduated from slang to proper language.

However, something spectacular happened within the past few years. From its steady use through the previous two decades, “awesome” suddenly began to grow again. Starting in early 2008, the word began to pop up with increasing frequency. By 2010, the word was experiencing incredible growth in popularity. Social networking most likely played a large part in this, but there’s something more here: Awesome became a philosophy.

The word became the definition for a worldview in which certain objects, experiences, or individuals feature a significant level or combination of positive excess, power, unattainability, rarity, and/or supernaturality. Countless images popped up across the Internet depicting the visual descriptions of what “awesome” is, and then marketing agencies caught on and began utilizing the viewpoint to sell their products to a young demographic. Here’s a few examples of “awesome” in marketing, starting with the Old Spice guy commercial series:

Taking a cue from the success of these ads, Dairy Queen began pushing their own similar commercials featuring the, uh, Dairy Queen guy:

Both commercials reek of a specific brand of attitude and combine an over-the-top situation to imply that their product is, of course, “awesome.” Here's another one, which proudly proclaims its awesomeness in explicit terms:

 This trend’s not going away any time soon, if Google Trends is a good indicator:

It looks like we might just be in another burst of activity in the lifespan of this word, but it’s not going away any time soon. We can love it, lament it, or ignore it, but the fact remains that it’s an integral part of our culture at this point. However, I’d avoid overusing it if I were you, because there are dozens of perfectly appropriate synonyms just waiting for their chance to describe your experiences.

Can't Sign In to Gmail Business and Personal Accounts at the Same Time? Here's the Fix

My company uses Gmail to power its internal email. This is incredibly useful because we don’t have to moderate our own mail system, and everyone’s using the same setup from within a browser. We can all stay signed in all day and send messages to each other, and we get to use our company’s domain name in our addresses instead of “”.

I also use my own personal email account because I don’t want to mix everything business-related and personal. This way my business account remains spam-free while my personal account—which is now my Google+ profile as well—can do its own thing.

I keep both of them open within the same browser window right next to each other so I can see emails come in on the tab all day long. This increases my productivity, multi-tasking, and allows me to keep up with both business and personal affairs instantaneously.

But then I came in this morning and I was signed out of my business account. Signing in sent me to a window that said this:

Your X@X account now works more like a full Google Account.

It then signed me out of my personal account. So I signed back in, and it said that I was already signed into the other, and gave me the option of switching accounts:

You are trying to access Gmail with the following Google Account:

However, you are already signed in as:

You can either cancel this request, or switch to a new Google Account to access Gmail.

This is not what I wanted to do. However, I had heard that you could could tweak a Gmail setting to allow signing in with multiple accounts, so I found that setting, enabled it, and figured I was in the clear. Not so. I’ve been having this problem all morning. As soon as I sign into one, the other signs out. Seems I can only have one or the other open at any point. Not a good move at all.

In order to get around this and have both accounts open at the same time, I had to use two different browsers, with one account open in each window. Fortunately, I have the monitor space to run them side-by-side, but not everyone has this option.

However, after messing around with it for quite a while and getting frustrated, I believe I’ve finally figured it out. I had to enable multiple sign-in on both accounts in order for them to work simultaneously. Here’s how to do it:

Complete these steps for all accounts that will be open simultaneously.
  1. Click your account name in the upper-right corner of the window and choose Account Settings.

  1. Under Security, there is a setting that says Multiple sign-in. If it says On, this account is set up already. If it says Off, click Edit.

  1. Click the radio button next to On and select all four checkboxes. Click Save.

    That’s all there is to it. If you’ve been having this problem, everything should be back to normal as soon as you change this setting on all your accounts.

    Google usually has their user’s experience in mind when they roll out new features, and they must acknowledge that many people want to keep their business and personal emails separate while keeping both open at the same time within the same browser. Hopefully soon they’ll figure out a way to make the two work in harmony a bit more efficiently.

    [UPDATE 7/16]: Google has apparently tried to defuse this situation a bit by auto-enabling the "multiple accounts" setting when signing into a second Gmail account. You need to have the feature enabled on a currently logged-in account for this to work, but when you reach the signup page, you'll be given this notice:

    Notice the line in red that says "Multiple sign-in will be turned on for the account you're signing in to." Hopefully this helps clear up the confusing alterations to this policy change. Just be aware that you're allowing Gmail to be signed in to two different accounts simultaneously, so don't get your accounts mixed up.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Also, Twitter Kills Mystique

    At the risk of sounding like a bitter Twitter-basher, we’ve got to acknowledge that the medium is not for everyone. The other day I talked about how comedians generally don’t fare well in their chosen profession via the tweet because they’re expected to entertain their followers. I said that Twitter works best for celebrities when used for live updates (mass dissemination of information) and as a “virtual autograph” (fans interacting with the famous). However, this doesn’t mean that this approach works with all types of celebrities.

    For comedians, being on the audience’s level can work. We often identify with people we see as bearing many similarities to us, which is what comedians want. They want us to imagine ourselves in their shoes in order for us to understand their jokes. This is one of the reasons that comedians can be famous without being hyper-attractive. Telling jokes through Twitter may not generally succeed, but interacting with the fans and informing them of current news can be really useful for them.

    We see the same thing with many actors and musicians in tabloid magazines. (Look, they drink water—just like us!) But they’re not just like us. They wear crazy expensive clothes. They don’t really have to worry about their car payments and stuff. They’ve each got an uncountable number of stalkers. Actually, they deal with tons of things the average person doesn’t have to, no matter how much we want to believe that we’re just like them.

    But there’s a certain type of person whose persona works because they’re mysterious. I’ll throw into this category anyone who seems bizarre, dangerous, or can in any way be considered “Larger than life.” Whether they know it or not, they’ve worked hard to preserve the mystery that surrounds them. It makes them seem untouchable. But more importantly, it makes people want to know more about them. It’s intriguing.

    This is one of the reasons that newcomers to music, acting, or practically any other field are exciting: We don’t know who they are, so the possibilities of what they produce could be endless. Before even finding out, we make our own—often fanciful—assumptions of what the person is like. So when someone pops up onto the scene, and there’s something about them that grabs our attention, we keep watching, waiting for something to happen. There’s got to be something to spark interest, but the mystery will keep it going.

    So when a newcomer who is mysterious appears out of nowhere, demands our attention, and limits the amount that we can know about them, it’s a highly successful business model. But when that person becomes ultra-transparent, it loses a bit of excitement. For some celebrities, this is perfectly fine. A-list movie stars will do a hundred talk shows for each movie they release and post to Twitter all day. We pay attention because they’re either hyper-attractive or really good at acting/playing music/etc., or both.

    A good example of the mystery-to-transparency transition is Lady Gaga. When she first appeared on the scene, no one knew anything about her except for what we could gather from her music videos and albums. We didn’t know her real name. We didn’t know which of her looks was really her. We didn’t know her thoughts, feelings, passions, or anything beyond the lyrics of her music. Her strange, bizarre, possible dangerous persona grabbed the attention of a huge audience.

    This entertainer has become somewhat of a poster child for social interaction. She has an extremely popular Twitter account that she updates several times a day; she appears in press conferences plugging Polaroid; she’s done a hundred talk shows, and we know all about her. Pictures from high school surfaced, along with her real name. But it’s the Twitter account that really lets the general public peer into her personal life, like this most recent post:

    My performance+cooking show appearance on SMAP SMAP is airing now in Japan. Kawaii Monsters! Tonight running around Sydney in my OXFORDs. X

    Look, she’s just like us! She’s going to be doing stuff in a place! Ok, so this is partially a plug for an appearance and a quirky bit of minor daily detail. But what about older posts?

    Will be tweeting soon how little monsters can get involved to mobilize social justice. NY State needs us, and the time for change is now.

    Look, she has political views! Now we know even more about her. Now we know that she’s not some weird blood-thirsty alien with musical talent who would rip your throat out if you met her. Which is actually bad for her image, believe it or not. The mystery is gone.

    Let’s talk about somebody that we hardly know anything about: Elly Jackson, the singer of La Roux. People don’t really know a whole lot about her. Some of them don’t even know her gender. Actually, a lot of people think her name is "La Roux." There seems to be a lot of interest in the band, even if very few people actually know who they are. Here’s how she feels about the whole deal:

    This new generation of pop stars are killing their careers with the social networking thing. They're promoting their careers in the short run, but in the long run they're telling people way too much about themselves and making themselves too accessible.

    I'm fascinated by artists such as Prince and David Bowie. Neither have Twitter profiles, because they're not stupid enough to be on Twitter. Prince doesn't like to have pictures on the Internet, let alone interviews. That's not by mistake or because he's an arsehole. It's because he knows the intrigue and mystery need to be upheld.

    I used to go see bands play at a dirty club in Atlanta called the Masquerade. In my teens, this was unbearably exciting. There were no band websites yet, because hardly anyone used the web. The music wasn’t featured on radio morning shows or MTV because it was too obscure or extreme. Everything I knew about the people who made that music came directly from the albums—music and included booklet. Often, an album wouldn’t even include pictures of the performers, so I’d have no idea what they looked like. The band (or more accurately, record label) was under complete control of their image.

    These concert tickets would always say “NO CAMERAS” as well, probably because the bands wanted so much control over their image. No one had a phone in their pocket yet, so it was a lot easier to enforce the no-camera rule back then. The end result was that I had no idea what to expect from a live show except the music I knew and loved. The excitement of seeing those people in person was overwhelming. The potential of meeting them seemed like an impossibility. The little bits of speech we’d get from the lead singer in-between songs was pure gold. After the show, the band would head “backstage,” a concept that conjured images of incredible excess surrounded by lavish luxury.

    Years later my own band played on that same stage, and I got to go “backstage.” It was a plain dirty room with one couch, barely large enough for eight people to stand. There was no bathroom. There was a hole in the floor. The walls were painted not green, but bright orange. The illusion was partially ruined.

    It was even worse when I met Peter Tagtgren, lead singer of metal band Hypocrisy. I pictured him as this strange supernatural being who spoke with a shrieking demonic voice, using eloquent archaic european terminology. As it turns out, he was just like me, which was worse than getting punched in the throat.

    People always say, “Never meet your heroes.” They’re probably right. Twitter brings us one step closer to the day-to-day activities of these mysterious people. Even if you don’t end up hating them after meeting them, you’ll probably just be bored.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Why Twitter isn't Funny

    What would celebrities do without Twitter? This communication channel brings unprecedented transparency to a famous person’s life while allowing them to maintain a safe distance from the crazies. They (or their team of publicists) can spew forth their personal news such as projects or live performances, give the people random musings, or—as most comedians choose—use the platform to deliver jokes. The problem with this is that Twitter just isn’t funny. But why?

    The one-liner is dead. If you’re going to tell a joke in 140 characters or less, it’s going to be a one-liner. There have been a lot of comedians over the years who were excellent at telling this style of joke, and nearly all of them hit their peak before the current social media era. Actually, this is a joke style that thrived in the mid-20th century and waned after cable TV came about. There just aren’t that many comedians that choose the one-liner style anymore, and yet this is exactly the approach that they’re pigeonholed into using when they try to make people laugh with Twitter.

    The one-liner greats—Groucho Marx, Rodney Dangerfield, George Carlin, and the King of One-Liners, Henny Youngman—have all passed on. Modern comedians generally choose a more casual, often offensive route. Though these comedians were sometimes known for their shocking subject matter, the focus of the humor wasn’t to gross-out, disturb, or make the audience feel uncomfortable. There’s only a handful of people these days who can deliver a one-liner without it sounding like an old-fashioned cheesy gag.

    Shocking the audience is a more sensitive subject these days. Lenny Bruce and not-as-good comics like Andrew Dice Clay may have broken ground by shocking their audiences and pushing the envelope, but they did it in a closed setting: A nightclub, a movie, a comedy record, etc. In all these cases, they knew what they were doing, how it would be received, and they had a team of people working to preserve that person’s image. Audiences in those times experienced a widespread cultural shift weren’t surprised when they heard something offensive, especially before the more recent push for a more politically correct atmosphere.

    Thanks to the Internet, broadcasting is no longer a one-way conversation. Couple this two-way model of communication with mobile phones that can connect to the Internet from everywhere and you have a broadcast device in every pocket. This allows for immediate public reactions by just about everyone to voice their opinions while their comments are still fresh in their minds. Now, if a comedian pisses someone off, the audience can tell everyone they know all about it before they have time to forget or calm down.

    Text kills the comedian’s voice. The way a comedian tells a joke is every bit as important as the joke itself. Indeed, “Timing is everything,” and most people don’t have good timing, so when they read a joke, it ends up not being nearly as funny as it would have been if the pro had said it aloud. Sure, comedians can write successful books, but that medium usually involves a much longer format that provokes thought and utilizes long setups in order to reach a different kind of funny. When you reduce that joke to 140 characters or less, it’s all about the wordplay and the way it’s delivered. Since most people aren’t comedians, it really comes down to just the wordplay when Twitter’s the delivery method. And most one-liners, let’s face it, just aren’t that good. That’s why you have to tell a million of them.

    So let’s look at some Twitter accounts. These are people who are supposedly funny, right?

    My mother told me that if i didn't stop touching the CN Tower everyone in Canada would go blind. -Jim Carrey

    I like a girl with a little junk in her trunk. To be clear, not a big ass but small clumps of debris in her suitcase. -Dane Cook

    Eclipse gum: guaranteed to make your bad breath smell like minty bad breath! -Sarah Silverman

    Wait, at the end of "Shout", the singer tells everyone to, "Take it easy." Hey asshole, you're the one that riled us up. -Patton Oswalt

    Why is it whenever someone says, “If you know what I mean” I always wish I didn’t. If you know what I mean. -Jim Gaffigan

    If these people are comedians, why aren't these tweets very funny? There’s a good reason for that. It’s because they’re human. They’re just like you and me. They post random stuff to their Twitter accounts just like we post our random crap that no one wants to read. The reason it comes off sounding like a joke is because we expect them to be telling jokes, and they’re used to telling jokes, so it’s sort of phrased like a joke, even if it’s not intended to be one. With the exception of Dane Cook who tries to vomit ten one-liners a day onto Twitter, everyone else is pretty much just relating a daily musing without trying too hard to be funny. Hey, you wanted to peer into their personal lives, right? That’s why you followed them on Twitter, isn’t it? Well, you got it, and it turns out that it’s not actually that funny.

    So then you’ve got other comedians who are actually intending to use their Twitter accounts to deliver jokes, but without any filter. They’re restricted to the one-liner, relying on the reader to capture the correct tone, inflection, and timing. Add to that comedians who have a history of being highly offensive and making tasteless jokes that were previously tolerable in comedy clubs who are now dropping one-liners on the people’s medium. For example, this series of Japanese tsunami-related jokes by Gilbert Gottfried cost him his job as the Aflac duck:

    I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, "They'll be another one floating by any minute now."

    In the past, we’d just yell, “Too soon! Too soon!” and shake it off, but now that everyone can instantly communicate their shock—directly to the comedian, even—the outrage just snowballs after something like this. Gilbert Gottfried’s one-liners sank because the audience is too sensitive, because we’re not looking at his squinty eyes and hearing his irritating voice as he says them, and, as mentioned before,  one-liners just aren’t that funny anymore. How is a comedian supposed to thrive on Twitter?

    They don’t have to. They can use Twitter for what it was originally intended for: Updates and communication. They’ll tell people when and where to hear them being funny. Talking one-on-one with fans through Twitter is the new autograph, so it’s totally worth their time. But they don’t need to utilize that space to be hilarious. They have dozens of other channels to accomplish that. Here’s what Louis CK had to say in an interview with CNN:

    I'm not motivated to entertain people through Twitter, so just by having Twitter and not saying anything, I make people mad. People write me, and they're like, "Why don't you fucking entertain me?" Or they go, "Stop promoting yourself and say something funny." But I'm not a Twitterer! It's not my profession. It's not what I do. I just opened a Twitter account to tell people what's going on, and once in a while I get an impulse to say something.

    We should all do ourselves a favor and stop expecting Twitter to be funny. We follow these people because we want to peer into their personal lives, not because we expect this to be a method by which to be entertained. Just check their updates, find out how you can hear their jokes, and then go to them. Don’t just sit around waiting for the jokes to come to you.

    [UPDATE 7.17]: Jerry Seinfeld opened a Twitter account a few days ago. Fifth tweet:
    Going to Maine today to pick up kid from camp. Why did Nazis call it Concentration Camp? So misleading in so many ways.
    Perhaps Twitter just died?

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    When Will Internet TV be as Good as Cable TV?

    There’s no doubt about it: Online television is the way of the future. We move closer to it every day. From high-technology content providers like Netflix and Hulu to network websites that stream their own content, more and more people are ditching traditional television in favor of these more net-savvy formats.

    It’s an inevitable evolution of the technology. It used to be that the telephone and the amateur radio were the only two-way communication devices, with radio and television broadcasting blindly to a massive audience. The only way that the content providers could close the feedback loops was with tedious surveys (Nielsen ratings, among others).

    Then the Internet came along and changed everything. Uploading became as important as downloading. Web 2.0 pushed the importance of social media and the idea that everyone’s voice is equal. Anyone with an Internet connection became a broadcaster as much as a member of the audience.

    This doesn’t mean that each individual, myself and yourself included, carry as much clout as a major network like CNN or MTV. The major networks still stronghold broadcasting thanks in part to the prevailing saturation of cable television in the average household. The problem with this method isn’t just limited to the aforementioned lack of immediate viewer feedback, however. It’s also an incredibly inefficient broadcasting method. Here’s basically how the cable industry works:

    Producers sign contracts with networks who help fund the development of programming. Networks make agreements with cable providers who then broadcast not one or two channels, but all channels at once to each and every home they service. Subscribers view only a few channels at once despite generally having hundreds of choices. This is equivalent to your cable company constantly spraying a massive fire hose on full blast constantly, and you use that humongous stream of water to wet a toothpick. Everyone gets their own fire hose, too. Since cable lines can only handle so much data, most television stations viewed through traditional cable get compressed to hell. They’re sub-standard quality, in effect.

    The networks get paid a lot of money from cable providers for the right to run their shows, and then the cable company adds their own fee on top of this to arrive at the ghastly figure they bill you for each month. The entire system is designed to generate as much money as possible for people who benefit from being gatekeepers, one-way broadcasters, and content producers. And many of them deserve the money they make, too.

    Unfortunately, you end up paying to have a fire hose of content you don't want permanently spewing into your house. The idea of being able to pick and choose the stations you want is as old as cable television itself, but cable providers have always had a good excuse: They can’t do this because they wouldn’t be able to afford all the channels, and everyone has different tastes. That means everyone has to pay for everyone else’s channels so that everyone can have the few that they actually want.

    But what if we were to trim down this entire business model and make it a heck of a lot more efficient? This is the idea behind Internet-based television. Not only can you turn off the fire hose, you can choose a specific episode of a specific show that you like. This is the difference between Niagara Falls and your kitchen sink.

    The next major hurdle with this concept is that it’s inconvenient to go to the website of the network or show you want to watch and hunt down the content. This is where services like Netflix and Hulu try to bridge the gap; they give you an easy interface that works not just through your computer, but within your entertainment center’s media devices such as your TiVo. The pairing doesn’t always work out, but it’s still better than the alternative of going to and looking up the show you like.

    The networks still don’t like this setup because they tend to lose a lot of money this way. Hulu has a hard time securing the right to show many shows because of the deals they run with other networks and their attitude toward advertising. Also, the streaming from the networks’ own websites can carry some flaws in the way advertising works.

    So it looks like we’re not going to see Internet television at the level that cable television exists until someone can figure out how to simplify and coordinate the economics of the entire thing. Media giants like Viacom are too protective of their brands, but like the idea of people paying for 10 shows just to get the one that they want. It helps secure funding for the other shows. Commercials as well don’t seem to work as effectively online as they do through cable.

    Here’s my proposal for how Internet television should work in five years:

    It’s like Apple’s App Store. Consumers pay for a service like Hulu or Netflix that works through any one of many home media boxes such as the TiVo, Roku, or Boxee. The consumer pays for each channel, or bundle of channels, like an app in an app store. This way you pay for exactly the channels you want, and the content providers get you to subscribe to bundles of content at once, ensuring payment for all of their shows.

    Each network is responsible for providing the stream through which their media is accessed. Viewers choose episodes of specific shows, or watch the live stream from that network. This takes the burden off of the service provider who no longer has to worry about providing the stream, just the bandwidth. Content comes in more reliably, with less artifacts, and in higher resolution than before, because the information is sent when requested by the viewer. Because the Internet is a two-way communication channel, the viewer interacts with the stream in many ways, including instant feedback. Monitoring the number of streams being provided at once ensures highly accurate viewership statistics.

    Instead of paying a monthly fee for both Hulu and TiVo, like I unfortunately do, the consumer pays a single bill. That bill includes a small subscription fee for the service, a larger fee for the Internet connection, and monthly subscriptions to each channel’s “app.” Therefore, the viewer can customize their bill to include exactly the channels they want; mid-month, if they choose, they could even include a new channel by paying the monthly fee for it (in my estimate, less than $3) to watch a show that they otherwise may not have.

    The Wii U's controller and browser
    Advertising could be more creative than just commercial breaks during shows. Viewers could choose to fill out surveys during a program or watch advertisements later for discounts off of their bills. Short quizzes after this content could ensure that the viewer is watching the adverts, with the alternative being that the viewer could simply accept paying more for the luxury of having commercial-free programming. An augmented reality remote control could be used to remotely “tap” on on-screen content to launch a mini-browser with advertisements; clicking through those ads while the show plays could allow the viewer to skip any upcoming commercial breaks. The Wii U’s controller is quite an inspirational device in this regard.

    I know that what I’m describing is basically Google TV, but with Google aggressively targeting a purchase of Hulu, we may be seeing something like this in the near future. We’re not going to see cable go away anytime soon, but with viewership rates steadily declining due to poor quality and outrageous bills, these kind of Internet-related alternatives are becoming more attractive. I’d say we’ve got about five more years before we see a completely useful consumer service that allows Internet TV to surpass cable.