Friday, March 29, 2002

The Zen of comedy.
A few weeks ago, I watched Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove for about the fourth time. It’s really an astonishingly good movie. In today’s New York Times, Barry Sonnenfeld (director of Men in Black, Raising Arizona, and Get Shorty) deconstructs the film and helps explain why. Says Sonnenfeld, “[I]t's a comedy in which no one in the movie is allowed to acknowledge that they're in a comedy. To me, that's the hallmark of the best American comedies.”

Thursday, March 28, 2002

What Would Jesus Blog?
Many Christian teens sport bracelets bearing the letters, WWJD—short for “What Would Jesus Do?” Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. But now the trend seems to have spiraled into absurdity. Physician Don Colbert has a new diet book titled, What Would Jesus Eat? Focus on the Family’s “five-prong approach to slaying the entertainment monster in your home” encourages parents of TV-loving kids to ask, "What would Jesus watch?" And anti-SUV protesters have begun showing up at rallies with signs asking, “What Would Jesus Drive?” (Noted in the fifth paragraph of this column from yesterday's NY Times.) All this makes you wonder: What would Jesus think?

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Da bomb.
Anybody who read J1Thing in early February knows I'm into Googlewhacking. Now I've just learned (am I always the last to know?) about Google Bombing---which is essentially a coordinated effort to trick Google's search engines into putting a particular site at the top of the list for a particular search. Folks do it for yuks, ego, revenge or just about any other human motivation. Read more Google Bombing in this excellent Slate piece.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Miami's juice.
I'm in Miami today--South Beach, to be exact. Curious place this. On the 15-minute walk I just completed, here are but a few of the things I saw: a store that sells only Speedos; two SUV stretch limos (one black, one white); a guy with a soul patch spreadeagled on a police cruiser being frisked by a Miami police officer; a sad little restaurant called "Wok and Roll"; a street named Leonard Horowitz Place; and a Range Rover painted completely with a Bud Light ad. I also overheard one man say to another--and, seriously, I'm not making this up--"O.J. was here yesterday."

Monday, March 25, 2002

Thumbs up.
Think we've overstated technology's impact on our lives? Think again. A University of Warwick study finds that the era of Gameboys and PDA's has actually produced a physical mutation in people under 25. As yesterday's London Observer reports, "The study, carried out in nine cities around the world, shows that the thumbs of the younger generation have overtaken their fingers as the hand's most muscled and dexterous digit." Young people are now using their thumbs to point and press doorbells. In Japan, people under 25 even call themselves oya yubi sedai--the thumb generation. To borrow the phraseology of fashion, thumbs are the new fingers.

Saturday, March 23, 2002

Friday, March 22, 2002

Report card: C in Algebra, B in History, A+ in Lunch.
Several schools around the country have begun sending parents letters warning them not that their kids are flunking social studies, but that they're dangerously overweight. This AP story-- with the delicate headline, "Letters Sent to Fat Kids' Parents"--explains the rationale. "The idea is to encourage parents to change their children's eating habits and help them get more exercise." Is this an unwarranted intrusion on family life or a wise move to protect a child's health? I'm not sure.

Thursday, March 21, 2002

Mr. Smith goes to Columbus.
Two Ohio schoolteachers have launched a quixotic quest to become the Buckeye State's next Governor and Lt. Governor. James Whitman and Tom Clark are refusing all campaign contributions and vowing to run a race that costs no more than $500. Is this a great country or what?

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

The kids are all wrong.
Let’s say you’re 16 and you want to help build sets for the high school play. Should you first have to urinate in a cup to show you’re “drug free”? That’s the question the U.S. Supreme Court took up yesterday—and their answer seemed to be a resounding, “Drink some water, drop your pants, and prepare to pee.”

“In an hour of spirited, intense and sometimes downright nasty argument,” the New York Times reports, “the justices examined the implications of upholding a program in a rural Oklahoma school district that requires middle school and high school students to pass drug tests as a condition for participating in any extracurricular activity that involves interscholastic competition, including the chorus, the band and the Future Homemakers of America.” The conservative justices somehow put aside their concerns with state intrusions on individual rights—with Scalia and Kennedy justifying this ridiculous policy by invoking fear of “druggies” (yes, they both used this word.) Amazing.

Meanwhile, in an excellent USA Today column, Tony Mauro reveals a little-known provision of the just-passed campaign finance law: It bans campaign contributions by people under age 17. If that’s not unconstitutional, my last name isn’t a pastel color. But the whole thing is beginning to make some sense. The way that Congress and the Supreme Court want to encourage kids to become responsible, autonomous adult citizens is to eliminate any responsibility or autonomy they have over their own thoughts or actions.

Maybe it’s time for mandatory drug tests for public officials.

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

The next 50 years.
According to this longevity calculator, I can expect to live until I'm 90. Makes you think.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Fourscore and seven slides ago.
I defy you ever to use Powerpoint again once you've seen Peter Norvig's brilliant creation -- "The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation."

Saturday, March 16, 2002

SATURDAY SPECIAL: Photo of the Week
Helloooo, Cleveland!!

Friday, March 15, 2002

Bandwidth in Boston.
Sorry, folks. Another post about WiFi, this one based on a story in MacCentral. Seems that a Boston tech company has hooked up a Newbury Street bookstore cafe and created "street's first free public wireless Internet access." Anybody inside the shop can connect to the Internet without wires. The two gentlemen who worked this magic call their broader effort the Newbury Open Network. This is big, big, big.

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Silence of the laminates.
Two excellent design stories in today’s East Coast broadsheets. The Washington Post charts the fall—and perhaps soon-to-come rise—of everybody’s favorite counter surface: Formica. Last week, the Formica Corp. filed for bankruptcy, citing plumeting demand and consumers' new penchant for natural materials. But don’t count out Formica yet. Says new CEO Frank Riddick III, “Laminates are here to stay.” Meanwhile, the New York Times visits a company called Material ConneXion, which operates what its founder calls a “petting zoo for new materials.” This for-proft museum-cum-library shows off 3,000 substances that architects and designers can explore. As the Times reports, “For a price, they [can] run their fingers through the latest slimes, gels, resins, foams, holographic films and laminates.” Yes, my friends, laminates are here to stay.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Fat of the land.
Further proof today that obesity is about to rival smoking as America's #1 public health concern. RAND is out with a new study comparing the effects of smoking, problem drinking, and obesity on health care spending and chronic health woes. RAND's findings: "Obesity is the most serious problem. It is linked to a big increase in chronic health conditions and significantly higher health expenditures. And it affects more people than smoking, heavy drinking, or poverty." Obesity increases an individual's health care costs by 36 percent and medication costs by 77 percent. Being obese, the study found, is akin to aging 20 years. (For more on this topic, scroll down to J1Thing's Feb. 18 entry).

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

WiFi? Why not?
Okay. I'm now officially obsessed with WiFi. (See J1Thing's March 4 entry for my most recent gush on this topic.) At the Austin Convention Center today, site of this week's SxSW Festival, it seemed that everyone with a laptop was surfing the Internet or answering email--even though not a wire was in sight. How'd it happen? Matt Haughey of MetaFilter explained it to me. A couple of guys set up two base stations--devices that are roughly the size of two large hockey pucks and that cost about 200 bucks--in the Convention Center. That enabled everyone with the requisite card in his or her laptop to share to the center's high-speed connection. The center didn't have a say in the matter. This is gonna be huge. It'll move us closer to an always-on, anytime, anywhere connection to the Internet. And because spreading the love is so cheap and so easy, it's going to be damn hard for the telcos and other big kahunas to stop it.

Monday, March 11, 2002

Airport screens
I'm flying today. After two planes and three airports, nobody's mentioned that today is the six-month anniversary of 9-11. Weird. Here at the airport, though, I have noticed one interest new design feature: large flat screen monitors nearby every Delta check-in counter. The screens display all sorts of info: how the standby process works, who's on the standby list, when each row can expect to board, what the plane's seating chart looks like, even what the weather's like in the destination city. Good idea. Of course, it's not the biggest deal in the world. And perhaps it's not even that novel to those who fly Delta regularly. But it certainly reduces airport stress--though not apparently enough to let in a little reflection.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Strangely persuasive business maxim.
“Never pitch a major new idea on a cloudy day.”
-- Chris Schoenlab, author of Battling Marketing Myths

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

People go online to hook up. Why not go online to split up? That's the idea behind an intriguing new venture hatched by Seattle lawyer Randy Finney: online divorces. For $249, couples can use the web to break their vows. Finney's site is The story, natch, is in this morning's USA Today.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Free speech...for a price.
One of the most important changes taking place on the web today is the demise of free content. An ever-growing number of sites have stopped giving stuff away and begun charging for it. For the best account of this (not so) great migration, check out The End of Free, a terrific community blog dedicated to "chronicling free to fee and beyond." Don't worry. It's free.

Monday, March 04, 2002

What's the next big technology thing? Nanny Networks. That is, neighborhood area networks--a bunch of wireless internet connections knitted together to allow you and your laptop to tap the Internet from your backyard. Or your neighbor's backyard. Or the diner down the street. As today's New York Times reports, "Many Silicon Valley engineers now believe that it will be possible to take the tens of thousands of inexpensive wireless network connections that are popping up in homes and coffee shops all over the country and lash them together into a single anarchic wireless network." I've seen the future. And it's Wi-Fi.

Friday, March 01, 2002

Gentlemen, start your screenplays!
This morning's Washington Post leads with this stunner: "President Bush has dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating for the first time long-standing plans to ensure survival of federal rule after catastrophic attack on the nation's capital." Prediction: Within a day or two, Hollywood will be all over this like a cheap suit.