Friday, October 31, 2003

TMQ update.

It appears that the Tuesday Morning Quarterback will soon return, although to a location yet to be announced. And if you can't wait until it's back for real, there's a wonderful imitation of it that will help you make it through the dark days.

Update: Tuesday Morning Quarterback has returned, at a permanent location on the NFL's own site.

Small print.

I enjoy reading the small print in things, to find out who's behind advertising campaigns or the real odds of winning the sweepstakes jackpot or somesuch other information that they're required to tell you but they really don't want you to know. (It's probably the same impulse that forces me to sit through the credits at the end of a movie where you can find out that the production actually had someone with the job title of "roach wrangler.")

Folger's Coffee has a promotion supporting The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, where they're hoping to raise as much as $1 million through donations and the purchase of Folger's Coffee, and the Foundation will use the money raised making improvements which will allow the Staute of Liberty to reopen, having closed on 9-11. A pretty decent promotion, I'd say. To have a purchase count towards the fund, you have to send the inner seal of the coffee to some address, and they'll give $1 for the first 500,000 inner seals sent in.

I received an email from Folger's telling me about the promotion - not spam, as I'd signed up for Procter & Gamble emails - and I was delighted to see this gem towards the bottom of the email (although it's not on the web pages associated with the production): The purchase of coffee is not tax-deductible.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Greek mythology.

Pan, as you've never seen him before. It almost makes one long for the days of The Dancing Baby.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

An idea for your next party.

It used to be that all you needed to have a party was a keg. But I guess that's just too pre-Millennium. So here's a hip new idea: Tattoo soirees. Yes, have a tattoo artist come to your house and perform his artwork on your guests - and you get a kickback for each tattoo he does. The guy in this article is in such demand that his Sundays are booked through next January, and his next open Friday or Saturday is next May.

Bobby Knight strikes again.

Bobby Knight skipped the NCAA's mandatory meeting earlier this month to discuss basketball coaching ethics. Knight evidently thinks his ethics are good enough for him, thank you very much, and he doesn't need to listen to his peers. "I would have rather listened to Saddam Hussein speak on civil rights," Knight announced. Takes a thug to know a thug, apparently, although my guess is that Hussein could learn some things about being unpleasant from Knight.

With friends like this.

Wonderful story out of Texas where an eccentric millionaire is on trial for the murder of a friend. The defendant is in the third day of his testimony, and he says that he can't recall the details of cutting up his friend, because he was really, really drunk, although he's pretty sure he used two saws and an ax. And his story is that he and the victim had a struggle after he found the victim in the defendant's apartment, carrying a gun. Somehow, mysteriously, the gun went off, and the defendant was afraid the police wouldn't believe his story, so he cut the victim up and dropped the pieces into Galveston Bay.

And just how eccentric is the defendant? Not only does he live in squalor, despite his millions, but he sometimes poses as a mute woman. They sure grow 'em strange down in Texas.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Cheap at half the price.

I've always wanted a Pulsed Plasma Mobile Hydrogen Generator, and one's up for auction on eBay.

Cow tools.

Possibly too much of a good thing: there is a two-volume set of all of the Far Side cartoons ever published. A bit more than your usual coffee-table book, this set weighs in at 17 pounds and contains all of the more than 4300 cartoons that Larson published. And it costs a mere $135. It's hard to imagine that it's been almost ten years since the series ended, but the cartoons have a timeless humor that makes them as funny today as when they first appeared.

Haunted house. In space.

A restored, "director's cut" of Alien is coming out this week. Ridley Scott's first blockbuster, Sigourney Weaver's breakthrough role. Wonderful movie. And the best place to see it? The Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C., fourth row, center. Worth a trip to town to see it - so I hope it shows there.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Cakebread Cellars.

Nice article on the history of Cakebread Cellars, and a cookbook as well. Really nice folks, and they make good wine, too.

Friday, October 24, 2003

It's not Evita, but what is?

Monday was opening night for a new production: Gilligan's Island: The Musical. Produced by children of Sherwood Schwartz, creator of the original series. Coming soon to Broadway, perhaps.

Glory review.

This week: three Washingtonpost chat questions published, and one published citation on Dave Barry's blog. For a week that started out fast, it sure finished slowly.

Blended wines - a new approach.

Blending wine varietals in an attempt to make a better wine - or a more profitable one - is a traditional tool of the winemaker. Blending cabernet sauvignon with merlot, for instance, adds the tannic structure of the cab to the smooth fruit present in merlot, yielding a wine with the strength of each covering the other's weakness. Here's a variation in New Zealand that's new to me: blending wines from different countries. For cost and supply reasons - the 2003 harvest was fairly low - some of the lower-priced New Zealand wines were made, in part, with juice from Chile, Australia, or France. I don't know whether any of these multi-national blends have been exported to the US market, but I'll keep an eye out for them.

Time to get married.

My mother has occasionally made these vague, subtle suggestions that perhaps it is time that I got married. I'm not entirely sure that this is what she had in mind, however.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

What constitutes a dangerous weapon?

In Massachusetts, apparently a pumpkin does. A woman has been charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, that weapon being a pumpkin. And the police have secured that weapon in a police locker until her case is resolved. Hope they've taken lots of photos of the weapon - my guess is that it won't be in quite the same condition after a few months in lockup, and it will no longer be the terrifyingly dangerous weapon it is today.

TV ads. Good TV ads.

It's always fun to watch good ads. Sadly, of course, they usually don't appear on TV - but sometimes you can find them on the Web. Here's a site that has a lot of ads, together with some short animations and films, and music videos. (You may come in through a sign-in page, where you let them know what part of the video business you're in. This is your chance to be a director, because they don't check what you tell them.)

Among the entertaining ads in the top quarter of the page of Commercials are the ones for Alexander Keith's, Barq's, Whiskas, Master Cabbie (especially the Finger ad), Pot Noodles, and the one for the Canadian Football League. And hand-in-hand with these ads being entertaining and well made: I've seen none of them on TV.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Do you identify your wines by location or by varietal?

Interesting article in the NY Times talking about the labelling of wine by location or by varietal: the history of each, and the strengths and drawbacks. As an oversimplification, with Old World wines, the vineyards have been around long enough that decades or centuries of experimentation have shown that pinot noir and chardonnay are the best wines grown in the region of Burgundy, so labelling a red wine as Burgundy also identifies it as pinot noir; New World vineyards are still experimenting to find out what wines they can grow best, so you can't just label a red wine as "Napa" and have much of an idea of what varietal it is.

The late Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

I liked Tuesday Morning Quarterback, a weekly football/entertainment column written by Gregg Easterbrook, and published originally on Slate and starting last season, on A good mix of decent football analysis and humor, the column would draw me onto the site every week to read it. He was such a good writer in this column that I started noticing his articles on other, non-football topics: NASA, the military, politics. And I found that I agreed with about a third of what he said, disagreed with about a third, and the remaining third got me jumping up-and-down frothing at the mouth. (All things considered, about what a columnist wants if he expects readers to come back.) And about a month and a half ago, he started a blog on The New Republic's website.

A week ago, he had an entry in his blog excoriating the movie Kill Bill and the Hollywood mentality that appears to glorify mindless violence in the desire to make profitable movies. And if he'd said it that way, he'd have been fine. But he made some unfortunate remarks that link the profit desire that overrides any conscience in exhibiting violence with the Jewish heritage of the production companies, Disney and Miramax. Within minutes of the column's posting, people had zoomed in on the offending sentences and labeled him an anti-Semite.

I think he's done the right thing since: he's apologized for his remarks, he's explained the circumstances and what he meant to say (which I think is supported by the remainder of his original column and other posts he's made), he's explalined what he's learned from the situation (among other things, to have an editor read his material before it's posted), and he's done the correct thing of leaving the offending column in his blog archives, where people can read it in its proper context, instead of deleting it and pretending that it never existed.

I think The New Republic has acted appropriately, too. They have distanced themselves from his remarks, but came to his defense as a person they've known for a number of years. And they have put links on their front web page to his apology and to their editorial discussing the situation.

ESPN, on the other hand, has failed to act reasonably. In classic overkill, they terminated the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, deleted all the old TMQ columns and any mention of Easterbrook's name from their website, and they did it all without contacting Easterbrook or making any public announcement of what they were doing or why. (By Tuesday, a few days later, they finally put this language onto the interior page where TMQ appeared: "To our readers: Tuesday Morning Quarterback will no longer be available on") A pretty cowardly action, done in secret (as such actions often are). If they think were doing this out of principle, they could at least tell us what principle that was - and how the newly-found principle didn't prevent them from hiring Rush Limbaugh and trying to keep him around for days after his far more offensive remarks (for which Rush has not apologized, by the way).

I hope Easterbrook finds a new home for his TMQ column.

Update: edited to get Easterbrook's blog onto the correct website - The New Republic just isn't The National Review, even if they have similar initials.

Update 2: Easterbrook hopes to bring TMQ back on another website. Soon, I hope.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

TV update.

I enjoyed Skin, the new program from Fox. Okay, it's really Romeo and Juliet, set in LA, and the fathers of the respective families are a D.A. up for reelection and the head of a pornography empire. Good acting, very rich production values - the first episode seemed more like a film than a TV show - and executive produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, no stranger to successful TV shows and movies. The first episode was great fun, and I think it will continue to be fun to watch - but only for the length of a mini-series, covering the material in Shakespeare's play. But if the pair of star-cross'd lovers fail to take their lives at the appointed hour, or even if they do, how will they be able to maintain the level of drama and interest over the length of an entire season? Or multiple seasons? I'd suggest that you watch it now, while it's good and while it's on the air - the overnight ratings were awfully low, so it might not be around for long.

I've stopped watching The Lyon's Den. Two episodes were enough. I actually tuned into the third episode, went off to check my email during the opening credits, and never went back. But that was one episode more than I've seen of K Street, which could have been interesting but that first episode was so muddled, I had no great interest in watching more of it.

Fleeting glory update.

Already had 3 questions posted on Washington Post chats so far this week, and the week is still young.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Amelia Earhart's grave?

Someone has claimed to know the site of the grave of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. An American Marine, stationed on Tinian Island during WW II, had the spot pointed out to him in 1944 by a Hawaiian who claims to have helped bury a white man and woman dressed in aviator's suits in 1937, when Earhart went missing. The Marine claims to have tried to tell his story since then, but was taken seriously only within the last six months. He's been flown out to Tinian Island, and pointed out the exact spot. Archaeologists are to begin a dig sometime soon. Even the head of the archaeologist team thinks it's unlikely, but would be delighted if it turns out to be true.

I dunno: it's taken sixty years for the Marine to find someone to listen to his story? I'd have thought a phone call to either National Geographic or the History Channel would have sufficed.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Capitol City Oktoberfest.

Last Saturday was the fifth annual Oktoberfest in Shirlington, although this was the first time I've attended it. Well organized, lots of good breweries represented. You buy a plastic 12-oz. mug to get in, and $2 tickets, each of which gets you a mug of the beer of your choice. (You can also ask for a 1 oz. "taste" of a beer first, although I didn't see all that much of that happening.) Nice weather, prompt service bringing new kegs on line when kegs were emptied. Could have used a lot of dump buckets, instead of making you decide between finishing off the beer you had, or pouring it onto the walkway or into the bushes and flowerpots.

A lot of good beers: among them, Rogue's hazelnut brown ale, which had hints of mocha, was very rich; Dogfish Head's pumpkin ale had great spice flavor (but, like all pumpkin ales I've had, I wouldn't want an entire six-pack of it - so it's lucky that Dogfish Head sells 12-oz. bottles in a four-pack); fest beers from all over. My favorite beer of the day? Once again, hands down, it was the High Desert Imperial Stout made by Sweetwater Tavern of Northern Virginia. Gold medal winner in the "American-style Stout" category at the 2003 Real Ale Festival, and bronze medal in the overall "American Style Ale" category. An absolutely wonderful, thick, rich, gooey imperial stout. Still not quite the right weather to be enjoying it, of course (you need snow on the ground and a big fire in the fireplace), but that didn't stop me from enjoying every drop of it.

All in all, a nice festival. I'd be willing to go back another year. Still, there are a few things I'd do differently. I'd follow Old Dominion's lead in a couple of areas, and have actual glass tasting glasses instead of an opaque plastic mug, so that you can see the beer you're trying, and I'd have $1 tickets, each of which would get you 6 ounces of your chosen brew, so you could try more beers for the same price. (And I'd encourage people to get the 1 ounce taste more often.) But if it were really up to me, I'd do what is done at most beer festivals I've been to outside of Virginia and most wine festivals within Virginia, and charge a higher admission fee and unlimited tastes of all the beers.

Direct TV sucks.

Their services may be okay; I'm not expressing an opinion on that. But their marketing is repulsive (at a minimum, and possibly illegal), and it's entirely reasonable to base an opinion on the entire company on their marketing.

I got a phone call from them this evening. Two of them, actually, as they hung up just after I picked up the phone the first time. Completely unsolicited, of course; just the sort of thing that the National Do-Not-Call Registry is supposed to prevent.

Here's the gist of the phone call:
[Before answering the call, I checked the caller ID, confirming that it was the same "Direct View" that had called and hung up 20 minutes earlier.]
Hello. Hello, this is [fake name] from Direct TV. Is this Mr. Stoner?
Yes, it is. Do you still have cable TV, but not satellite TV?
[Pause] Did I ask you to call me? No, you didn't.
You recognize that you're breaking the law. No, I'm not. You're not on the Do-Not-Call Registry.
Yes, I am. Well, then, your registration doesn't take effect until January 1 of next year.
No, it took effect October 1. Well, then, it doesn't apply when people in Virginia call one another. And since Virginia doesn't have its own do-not-call list, we can still call you.
Okay, but I don't want to talk to you. Good-bye. [click]

Well. Interesting phone call on so many levels. One, of course, is that I have to wonder about the wisdom of cold-calling someone and then repeatedly lying to them. She affirmatively lied to me twice, by telling me that I'm not registered with the national Registry, and then by telling me that if I am registered, it's not yet effective. I know what the truth is, and she wasn't winning herself any points by lying to me.

Mainly, though, I thought that was a huge loophole that she revealed: that the Registry doesn't apply to intrastate phone calls. Well, hmm, that makes a certain amount of sense, as the Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce, not intrastate. Still, Direct TV is a national company, and this call was probably part of a national campaign, so that might qualify as enough of a connection with interstate commerce that the FTC's jurisdiction attaches. (It would be enough to qualify for federal court jurisdiction, for instance.) And if it's not - if a company or telemarketing firm can get around the Registry just by setting up smaller calling rooms in each state to make in-state phone calls - that is a pretty impressive loophole in the program.

First things first, though. I went to the main Do-Not-Call Registry site, and confirmed that my phone number is, in fact, registered. (I wasn't aware that you could check so easily: just type in your phone number and an email address, and in a couple of minutes, you get an email confirming your registration status - for me, it said "Your phone number ... was registered in the National Do Not Call Registry on 6/27/2003," just as I had recalled, and in plenty of time for the October 1 effective date.) And, in hopes that it would eventually do something, I filed a complaint with the FTC against Direct TV, giving them the company name (and the different name they were using on Caller ID) and the phone number they called from (unfortunately, in my area code).

I then started looking around to find the actual text of the FTC regulation, to see what (if anything) it says about intrastate calls. The main Do-Not-Call website isn't much help - it once refers to interstate calls, and goes into length elsewhere about the types of calls that the Registry won't prohibit (political or charitable calls, or surveys, or calls from companies you have a business relationship with) and specifically tells you that even overseas telemarketing calls are prohibited ("Any telemarketers calling U.S. consumers are covered, regardless of where they are calling from"). Seems to me that it would have been easy enough to have added "or in-state calls" to the list of calls that aren't prohibited.

I ran across an independent site reporting on the national Registry, and while it doesn't directly address in-state calls, it has a lot of good information on the Registry, interaction with state registries, and the like. I've sent off a quick email to them, and I hope I'll hear back on intrastate solicitations.

I have not yet uncovered a firm answer on what the regulation says. I've found the Federal Register that has the "Final Rule" in it, but it's about 125 pages in length, and I don't want to stare at pdf files all evening to read it. I'll keep looking, and will hope to find something shorter to look at.

And whether the phone call I received was part of a national campaign by Direct TV, exploiting a loophole, or something truly being done by a local Direct TV provider, it really seems to me to be short-sighted to call people who have gone out of their way to be listed on a do-not-call registry: it's a waste of time and effort for them, and it just gets the consumers annoyed (and sometimes, really annoyed).

My conclusion: I had no prior interest in getting satellite TV from Direct TV, but I guarantee you I won't ever get it now. And if you're opposed to unsolicited telemarketing, you shouldn't give them your business, either.

Update: As usual, I think of these things after I hang up the phone. But I'll be better prepared for next time. After her telling me that the Registry didn't apply to Virginia-resident-to-Virginia-resident calls, my conversation with her should have continued:
Are you a lawyer? No, I'm not.
Then don't presume to tell me what the law is. [pause] You must have gotten an opinion from your lawyer that what you're doing isn't illegal. I tell you what: I'll hold off making a complaint to the FTC about this call until your lawyer talks to me about that, and I'll give you an hour to have her give me a call. Okay?

Now I'm ready for the next telemarketer who calls.

Another update: One of the folks I'd asked has gotten back to me, and says that while he's not sure about the FTC rules, the FCC rules apply to all calls. This issue apparently has come up, and that was the FCC's response. Might be grounds for a challenge, but they'd consider this to be a violation.

Supreme Court dashes Red Sox pennant hopes.

Hey: It worked three years ago.

Fleeting glory.

The Washington Post website has live web chats on a wide range of topics - sports, advice, breaking news, books, wine, among others - throughout the week. (Usually 8 to 10 chats daily, Monday through Friday. Hardly ever in the evening, and never on holidays or weekends, even though that would allow more people to take part.) The format is fairly standard: submit questions and comments through a web form, before or during the chat, and the moderator/guest will pick and choose which ones to publish and answer (or make fun of, depending on the chat).

Over the past couple of months, I've been able to have one or two questions per week published on various chats: maybe every other Gene Weingarten chat, two out of every three Michael Franz bi-weekly wine chats, and every third Travel chat. One week early in September, I got five questions published; my record. Of late, I've been going through a dry spell, though: only one question made it this week, and no questions made it through last week.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Roger Ebert on raking leaves.

Roger doesn't just review movies. From time to time, he writes columns on things other than movies and actors and directors. Tuesday, he wrote a nostalgic look at raking leaves, lamenting the presence of leaf blowers and the prohibition against homeowners burning leaves. Well worth taking a look at.

Buying wine in Ohio?

Yeah, I know each state has its own bizarre laws regulating the sale of alcohol, and it's all the 23rd Amendment's fault. But here's one I hadn't heard before: Ohio requires a mandatory markup on wine of 135 percent. And only on wine: the mandatory markup on beer and liquor is less than one-sixth of that. Stores that violate this mandatory sales price by charging less are quickly visited by state agents, who don't seem to enforce other regulations quite so vigorously.

Ah, free enterprise.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Light beers.

Normally, a beer-tasting report by a college newspaper isn't worth the time that it takes to read it, but this one - from the student newspaper at Wake Forest had some good quotes. Referring to Coors Light, "Tastes like a monkey crapped in my mouth," and, referring to Southpaw Light, "My urine might even taste better than this." You know, I really can't disagree with this.

Why athletes shouldn't be role models.

Pedro Martinez, a manly man. He can beat up any 72-year-old who comes his way, and he's proud of it. Yessir, give him the chance to throw a 72-year-old man with a plate in head to the ground, and Pedro will step right up. I think Boston deserves its curse.

Friday, October 10, 2003

Honest work is good for you.

It teaches you the value of having a desk job.

Spent much of today - and bits and pieces of the week - clearing out hurricane debris from the back yard and hauling it out to the street, where the county will eventually come by and take it all away. And, of course, they want the long pieces (branches, trunks, what-have-you) cut to be no longer than 5 feet, so they can handle it more easily. So, after carting all the junk from the back to the front (and, as an aside, probably less than 40% came from my own trees; most of it came from trees in the yard behind mine, cut down by the power folks when they came to clear the lines), I then had to saw it into bite sizes. This takes longer when you don't have a chainsaw, and has the bonus of giving you blisters. About the time I was ready to stop, I saw the county's debris truck about 5 houses down from me. While the truck drove away, full, long before they got to me, I figured I had to get all the big stuff ready for them today, and I kept at it, instead of coming back inside to surf the web. (I mean, "work hard on my free-lance editing.")

Oh, well. Guess I'll sleep soundly tonight. Once the aspirin kicks in.

The elements.

I imagine there are more efficient ways to memorize the Periodic Table, but surely there are none that are more fun. Thanks to Tom Lehrer and Sir Arthur Sullivan.

A new clock for my computer.

Speak to me, my regular clock down in the corner of the tray does not.

Hmmph. A Jedi craves not these things.

Help the President.

President Bush told the press on Tuesday that he doesn't "have any idea" whether the senior administration officials who blew a CIA operative's cover will ever be found. But if he just asked his staff to sign a legally binding affidavit confirming that they weren't involved, and referred anyone who wouldn't to the FBI, it's possible he could flush out the perpetrators in a day.

Here's all they'd have to sign:

1. I, __________, do hereby attest that on or about the dates of June 1, 2003, through July 14, 2003, I did not contact, whether by telephone, facsimile, e-mail, in person, or by any other means, any reporter, correspondent, journalist, or any other member of the media, with the intent to or purpose of naming former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency.

2. I, __________, further attest that on or about the dates of June 1, 2003, through July 30, 2003, I did not have any conversation, whether by telephone, e-mail, in person, or by any other means, with any reporter, correspondent, journalist, or any other member of the media, during which the employment of Valerie Plame was discussed in any way.

I declare, under penalty of perjury, that the foregoing is true and correct.

[sign and date]

There. That wasn't so hard, now was it? Just xerox up a few and take them to the next Cabinet meeting.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

DC appears unlikely to get 2008 Super Bowl.

Hold the presses: NFL sources report that DC and NY appear unlikely to be awarded the 2008 Super Bowl, even though the Commmisioner, Paul Tagliabue, has been pushing those cities since 9-11. As though either would be seriously considered: An outdoor football game at the end of January? And at night, for TV ratings? At the beginning of the game, it'd be below 20, and by the end of the game, down to 10 or less. (And that's at the DC stadium, the one that's farther south.) That's certainly a game I'd like to see, sitting in a metal seat, exposed to the wind.

"Unlikely" indeed. It'll never happen, nor should it.

Too much toast?

Ever have one more slice of toast than you really want to eat, and you just don't know what to do with it? Yeah, well, me neither. But just in case. What you do with the grape jelly is your concern.

Escher's "Relativity" in LEGO.

I am simultaneously impressed and horrified. Someone has recreated Escher's "Relativity" in LEGO blocks. Actually, they've recreated five of Escher's works so far, including "Ascending and Descending". To get the perspective effects, they primarily use precise camera placement, but sometimes resort to in-camera distortion and printing tricks.

Kind of a cool idea, impressive planning and implementation, but I still don't understand why. Perhaps that is the Nature of Art.

Pass Go, Collect $20.

New twenty-dollar-bills today, no longer green. Now they'll also have shades of peach, blue, and yellow. Allegedly being done to cut down on counterfeiting. If it makes you want to go play Monopoly, that's just a bonus.

There's no "i" in "team", either.

Proofreaders, shmoofreaders. Newport News police cars have decals that misspell "Virginia" by leaving out the third "i".

And when did they start putting these erroneous decals onto the police cars? Back in April. (Excuse me, that's Aprl.)

Ah, eternal vigilance.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Guns don't kill people.

Dogs with guns kill people.

Supermarket "savings" cards.

"Loyalty" cards, "frequent shopper" cards, whatever. I've got a pocket (and a key ring) full of them. Nice long article about the concept, describing their legitimate uses and reasonable concerns, and even some of the unreasonable concerns.

I don't really care that Kroger is keeping track of what I buy, or even that they're making assumptions about my life as a result (even if they're wrong, and decide not to eat meat loaf at my house after seeing how I often buy packages of ground turkey and cans of cat food at the same time). I'm more concerned (a) that they'll take their information about me and sell it and my contact information to other companies who will then spam me unmercifully, and (b) that these loyalty card "discounts" often don't seem to be real savings at all, but are just reducing inflated prices to their normal level.

Another concern I have with these programs is that even when they use their collected information the way they intend to, and their data mining leads them to give me "targeted" coupons, they can end up with unintended consequences. When I was in Durham, the nearby Harris Teeter kept spitting out targeted cat food coupons for me with the receipt, when their data mining made them realize that I had stopped buying cat food from them six months earlier. Of course, I didn't stop buying cat food because I'd found a cheaper source - I stopped because my 18-year-old cat passed away six months earlier. All these targeted coupons did was remind me that I no longer enjoyed the pitter-patter (well, "thump-thump") of little paws around the house, and for a while, I shopped elsewhere just to avoid those reminders. Probably not what they really intended.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Utility update.

<sigh> More time without access to the web.

The cable folks came by and disconnected my area yesterday afternoon, and didn't get us back online until this morning. All told, some 20 hours away from surfing the web.

Not as bad as 13 days, of course, but certainly unexpected. It was in a good cause, though: when they brought us back online after the hurricane, a week ago, what they did was madly tack line up on poles to get people hooked up again. This current disconnection was due to the permanent cable installers, going through and making the line placement a bit more permanent. Still, it would have been nice to have been reconnected on the same day they disconnected us.

My cat snores.

Really. She does. And loud enough to wake me.

When she woke me last night, I couldn't figure out why a stevedore had broken into my house, just to go to sleep in the hallway outside my bedroom. But no, it was Mia. Very odd.

Wine festival in Charlottesville.

I went to the annual wine festival at the Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville this weekend. They've had a festival there each year for 23 years; I've been to 21 of them, and I have good excuses for the other two years.

The festival was okay, although no better than that. They had no idea what they were doing with parking, other than not letting you park in the nearby (and unused) lot where I've parked for the past 10 years. Incredibly disorganized. The awards, as usual, bore no relationship to the actual quality of the wines. A couple of the gold medalling wines were abominable, and the same wines from someone else were wonderful and completely unmedaled.

Barboursville had some new wines out. A malvaxia; first release in 3 years. Pretty good, and I'd realized how much I'd missed it at festivals over the past couple of years. A new cab franc, a new release of Octagon, and a new cabernet sauvignon. The Octagon and cab sauvignon were for sale this weekend only, and then won't be officially released until next spring or summer. I picked some of the cab sauvignon to stick into my cellar for a couple of years.

Cardinal Point's cab franc got a silver medal - one of the deserved medals - and is drinking well. Wintergreen finally released their "Black Rock Red Reserve", a Bordeaux blend. Rich and smooth, in large part because it's had another 10 months aging in the bottle beyond what they were expecting, while the BATF (or whoever they are this month) approved the label.

A new winery - Keswick Vineyards (not yet open for tours, but they were there selling their stuff) - had 5 wines: an unremarkable chardonnay, a viognier, a viognier reserve, and two reds, a touriga and a touriga reserve. (Touriga is the varietal that port is usually made from.) The regular viognier was fine, especially for a new vineyard. The touriga was interesting and the reserve touriga was better; each might have been reasonable at half the price being charged ($20 and $30, respectively). The reserve viognier wasn't being tasted - if you wanted it, you had to buy it, at $5 a glass. More reasonable than the $45/bottle they were charging for it, I suppose. What was especially amazing was their publicity for this wine - they had banners and you could buy T-shirts heralding the reserve viognier, which had been named "Best White Wine in the U.S." by the 2003 Atlanta International Wine Summit. (By the what?) It also got a silver medal in this festival's judging. And the vineyard owner seems to think that pricing his wines high is a strong selling point. Okay, not to me - I think actual quality of the wines would make a better selling point. But maybe that's just me.

And the music was pretty poor. This wine festival is called the "Monticello Wine and Jazz Festival" and it had one guy with an acoustic guitar, singing 60's era hits. Fine for geezers like me, I suppose, but even I know that wasn't jazz. Still, it's a whole lot better than the bad country singers they've had for the past decade.

Beer festival in Charlottesville.

While I was in Charlottesville this weekend, I went to the annual beer festival that's been going on for maybe 5 or 6 years. It's always a poorly-run festival, and this year was no exception. It's clearly organized by the marketing department of a local radio station, and not by anyone who knows or cares about beer. Free admission, and you had to buy a glass at a time ($3 for an 11-ounce plastic glass). Sometimes you could convince them to give you just a taste, sometimes not. And other than the people at Troegs, I didn't see anyone from any of the breweries there - the pouring was done by enthusiastically serious volunteers, who knew nothing about the beer they were pouring other than you had to give up a ticket before they'd let you have any beer.

Surprisingly, the festival had beer from the two Charlottesville brewpub/microbreweries. I don't think they had any from any of the Richmond microbreweries, or any from Harrisonburg or Northern Virginia. However, there was a brewpub from Blacksburg there - the Blacksburg Brewing Co. - and I'd heard good things about them, so I decided to stop by the festival to try their stuff. They *were* there, and had three good beers: a hoppy lager, a red/brown ale, and an IPA, made with rye. Enjoyed the last a lot; almost as good as mine. Then I started hanging out with the people at Troegs Brewing (out of Harrisburg, PA), and they plied me with their beer. Their nut brown ale was very good.

All in all, a better experience than I'd expected. But not as good as a real beer festival.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

What do you look for in a university? Climbing walls? Pool slides?

Article in today's NY Times talks about a new trend in colleges and universities, enhancing their recreation and entertainment facilities to attract more (and presumably, "better") students. Jacuzzis, room-sized golf simulators, on-campus nightclubs. To be paid for out of student fees - "chosen" by the students currently enrolled at those schools, but involuntarily imposed on students coming to school for the next few decades.

I suppose that if these schools aren't willing to improve the quality of the education they're imparting to their students, they may as well do a bang-up job of entertaining them.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

High schooler kicks 62 yard PAT.

These days, it's unusual enough for a high school team to kick an extra point. Last night, a high school kicker kicked a 62-yard point after. Why so far? Following the touchdown - a 69-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (made by the guy who then kicked the extra point), the team received three 15-yard penalties for excessive celebration, unsportsmanlike conduct, and taunting. The resulting kick was believed to be the longest in DC high school history, and was longer than the Maryland and Virginia field goal records.

The kicker is a senior, and will go to UVA next year. On a soccer scholarship.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Not everyone can run fast and jump high.

But one can still take part in world championships. One such competition is taking place here in the good old U S of A in November. The World Beard and Moustache Championships, to be precise. And all you have to do is not shave.

Personally, I like the style of the fourth and fifth gentlemen on the bottom row, but I fear I'd only have the style of the fourth guy on the top row.

Or, in the alternative:

If you don't like counting sheep, you can always poke them.

Feeling sleepy?

I know that sometimes I can't get to sleep without counting sheep.

Another new mall! Woo-hoo!

Certainly a full Woo, and maybe a Woo and a half. Stony Point Mall (excuse me, "Stony Point Fashion Park") opened a couple of weeks ago, the second new mall to open in the Richmond area in September. They had the misfortune to schedule its opening for the day that Isabel hit - they were actually open for about 2 hours before they shut the place down due to the approaching hurricane - and were without power and water during their entire Grand Opening weekend. Not that this stopped loads of people from checking out the mall then, and watching the Grand Opening entertainment.

Another mall with the new concept of "open air" malls (well, okay, perhaps not so new, after all: When the Seven Corners shopping center opened in Falls Church, Va., in the mid-1950's, it was open air, but covered. Once you got into the area with a roof, you weren't going to be rained on. They enclosed the walkways sometime later, perhaps during the 1970's, to keep up with the newer malls, like Tyson's Corner), this one seems to implement the concept better than Richmond's other new mall, Short Pump. Perhaps it's because the mall is only one level, and perhaps it's because the walkway between the shops looks more like a small town shopping district, with paving stones and park benches, but you do get more of a feeling that this is something other than a shopping mall.

The stores are shopping mall stores, nothing terribly special. Like Short Pump, this mall has some first-time-in-Richmond stores. Also like Short Pump, the restaurants will be the mall's saving grace. P.F. Chang's for chinese food, Fleming's steakhouse and wine bar (which passes my quick-and-dirty wine quality test by having Cakebread on their wine list), a "cheesecake bistro" (which sounds like fun), Champp's, Brio's Tuscan Grill, among others. (Not all of them are open yet.) And there seems to be a good connection between the parking lots and the nearby highway.

On the other hand, the open-air design has flaws, in that you can't walk between stores without exposing yourself to the elements. There's no continuous awning or other covering that would allow you to walk the length of a "block" of stores, let alone the entire length of the mall. Fine, if it's a nice day; lousy, if it's raining, or it's 97 degrees, or 24 degrees. Do mall designers not understand that people would fill in this blank - "It's cold and rainy. I think I'll go ______" - with "to the mall and shop" means "shopping at a mall where I can get out of the elements" and not "shopping at a mall where I can revel in the elements"? Apparently, they don't. And I'll take off points because the mall doesn't have a movie theater, either with it or nearby.

Summary: High points: Actual character in the design and implementation of the shopping center; good restaurants. Low points: Incomplete implementation, such that you wouldn't want to shop there if it's raining, snowing, too hot, or too cold. No movie theaters.

TV, or not TV.

Since my cable has returned after Isabel deprived me of it for almost two weeks, I guess it's time to talk about TV again.

The West Wing. The new-and-really-not-improved Sorkin-less production is a real disappointment. In two episodes, they've resolved virtually all of the pieces of the season-ending cliffhanger (except: where are the members of the missing sleeper cell? Will we ever find out?), and in a boring and suspenseless manner. This show has gone from "tape-and-rewatch" to "Is it on? Oh, I think I'll do a load of laundry, instead" in record time. As one TWOPper put it, "At least TWW didn't jump the shark. The new team flew it over in a chopper. "

The Lyon's Den. Maybe Rob Lowe was prescient and saw in advance that the West Wing was going to take a header. Maybe. I prefer to think that it was his ego and wallet that made him decide to leave. He couldn't stand to be "just" a member of an ensemble cast of terrific actors on a show with then-great writing, when clearly he should be the star. So now he's the star, on a show with an ensemble cast of second-rate actors and extremely muddled writing. (I'm glad to see that the HoloDoctor has expanded his repertoire beyond Italian opera, though.) Hope he enjoys it, while it lasts - I don't really expect it to be around for an entire season.

Nova. This week's season opener, on the rediscovery and translation of Archimedes' "Method of Mechanical Theorems," was good. With elements of a detective thriller and the high-tech tools of C.S.I., it shows the excitement of prying the secrets out of this 11th-Century copy of his book; a copy that was turned into a palimpsest in the 13th Century. Great fun, in a geeky sort of way.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

All is right with the world.

Or, at least, relatively so. My cable connection came back on around 10 this morning, and I've been out happily surfing the web ever since. And I'm looking forward to watching real TV again. Buying the indoor antenna seems to have done the trick, much as buying a generator got the power company to restore the electric service.

Flat Stanley.

Flat Stanley is the one on the left.

Slowing stream of new jobs helps to explain slump.

Article in the NY Times talks about the current slow job market, and how businesses are creating fewer and fewer new jobs. "A lack of hiring, rather than a wave of layoffs, appears to be the main problem afflicting the American economy." Well, that certainly seems to be the main problem afflicting my economy.