As I listen to a DJ report on the best artists for the next decade

I heard about the radio payola scandal while listening to the news on my way home last night. Consider:

In late 2002, an official at Sony music was trying to boost interest in the song “A.D.I.D.A.S.” by Killer Mike, and considered sending disc jockeys at WAMO-FM one Adidas shoe to promote the song. Jocks at the Pittsburgh station, and others throughout the Northeast, could get the second shoe after playing the song 10 times, he mused.

To which I offer a resounding “duh” and “who cares?”. Who didn’t know, or at least assume, that this still occurs? Does anyone care, other than New York’s Attorney General? Yes, payola is against the law, but is it really the largest issue Mr. Spitzer’s office faces? So Sony has to pay $10 million to make the investigation go away. So what? How does this help the people of New York? The criminals are still free, with the newly confirmed opinion that they can pay a fine, courtesy of Sony’s stockholders, to whom they have a (now broken) fiduciary responsibility, and all is forgiven. How does that help enforce the rule of law? Perhaps, instead, it’s merely election campaigning.

But no matter, there’s a more important point in this. Consider:

How the Spitzer investigation will affect the way Sony and the other big music companies work with radio to get airplay remains to be seen.

What will it mean for the listener, who supposedly owns the public airwaves? Radio is already under pressure to compete with other forms of music — from satellite radio, with its diverse formats and commercial music, and Internet radio, which offers a smorgasbord of music for every taste.

Ultimately, tightening the definitions of payola and enforcing them may benefit both music makers and music consumers. For artists without a well-oiled promotion and money machine behind them, it may level the playing field. For listeners, they may get to hear what they want — not what the music industry wants them to hear.

Ummm, I already listen to the music I want to hear. Granted, some of the same issues of repetitiveness still occur, but I can change the station to one that plays something different. If that doesn’t work, I change the medium (not form of music – that’s stupid… form is chants vs. pop, not satellite vs. the Internets) to something else. It’s called competition and it works pretty well. Terrestrial radio, where this non-scandal (apparently) occurred, may not know that because they’re too busy being suckered in by free trips to see Celine Dion, but eventually they’ll learn. The free market has a way of teaching its lesson much more effectively than any bureaucrat could.

Those guys think they’re revolutionaries

Here’s an interesting business lesson:

Apple Computer Chief Executive Steve Jobs has a reputation for thinking different. But now he might be planning a move for Apple that will leave even his biggest fans surprised–becoming a phone company.

It might sound far-fetched, but the pieces are in place for it to happen later this summer. Apple is already developing a hybrid iPod/cell phone with handset maker Motorola. And companies ranging from the Virgin Group to The Walt Disney Co. are proving that a new network model can allow all kinds of businesses to easily enter the mobile market.

Essentially, this entails Apple releasing an iTunes-branded cell phone, with the cellular network leased from an existing company such as Sprint or Cingular. The startup cost is minimal compared to the early days of cell phones because the network infrastructure is already in place. And Apple benefits from popularity currently unparalleled in customer electronics. It seems like a reasonable idea. But why would Apple want to go through the trouble when it could simplify this opportunity with an iTunes application for mobile phones?

But Apple might have a problem getting the devices into customers’ hands. Carriers will probably be loath to sell and support it, since they want to sell their own music downloads–not have customers upload tunes from home. “The carriers don’t like it,” says analyst Rob Enderle, head of The Enderle Group. “They want Apple to change the design so the phone has to sync through their networks, not with a PC.”

Of course the carriers don’t like it. They want to pretend that customers care more about the gatekeeper than what comes through the gates. customers may like the gatekeeper (Apple is the perfect example), but content is more important. Where the carriers go wrong is believing that exclusivity and control of content aren’t important. If customers thought the way carriers believe they think, AOL would still dominate.

Perhaps an example… Last year I decided to switch cell phone carriers. I’d had minor issues with Sprint so I opted to transfer my phone number to Verizon. After purchasing a new phone with exciting features, I impatiently waited for the phone to charge so I could upload my unique ringtones. Reading through the instruction manual, I found no references to uploading ringtones. I searched the internets to figure out how to do it. And that’s when I found out Verizon’s little secret. Despite all the nice features of the phone, I was beholden to their wishes. I could have any content I wanted as long as Verizon sold it. No personal ringtones, no fancy pictures, no diversionary games.

Five days later I returned the phone to Verizon and became a Sprint customer again because Sprint allowed me to use the phone I purchased in the way I wanted to use it. Today, when my brother calls me, a Hokie gobble announces the call.

Customers aren’t always rational, but they’re not stupid. If the customer has an iTunes account, why would Verizon think she wants a middleman to sell her music from iTunes? The existing carriers imagine monopoly powers where they don’t exist. They will learn the lesson, but as the lesson often is for large companies, the lesson probably won’t be pleasant. Competition dictates an adapt or die mentality; Apple understands this better than most.

Although an Apple phone may not happen, some form of an iTunes-capable phone will. It makes too much sense and Apple has the clout to make it happen. In the scenario I imagine, Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, and every other cellular carrier should not be surprised when cell phones show up next to iPods and PowerBooks in every Apple retail store.

(Link via Slashdot)

Profit and Proper aren’t mutually exclusive

There have been many stories of potential identity theft and fraud making the news in recent months. (Here’s one of the most recent, just as an example.) An individual’s ability to protect himself is possible, though this ability seems to fade with each new technological advance. The reach of information is almost beyond comprehension. Yet, there is one tool, however primitive, that can be used: the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

The FACT Act allows consumers to request one free credit report every 12 months. Right, I’m thinking the same thing everyone is. Nice baby step, but when my data can be stolen by a diligent hacker with little more than an internet connection, how am I supposed to protect myself with that? That’s valid, and the consumer information industry should be doing everything it can to protect us police its business model. If it doesn’t… Okay, even if it does, legislation is coming. But we have to start somewhere and the credit report is the simplest method.

Equifax CEO Thomas Chapman doesn’t like this. Consider:

“Our company felt, and still does … that it’s unconstitutional to cause a public company who has a fiduciary responsibility to return profit to shareholders to give away the product,” Chapman said to reporters following a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on Monday [6/27]. “Most of my shareholder group did not think that giving away our product was the American way.”

Chapman was referring to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which since last December has required credit agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report every 12 months to check for inaccuracies and fraudulent activity. Chapman said that viewing a credit report once a year wouldn’t protect consumers against fraud.

“That’s like turning on the smoke alarm once a year,” he said.

His point is correct but wrong. Once per year is not enough and it won’t really do much to protect fraud. It will, however, allow individuals to see the information sold, at a profit by companies like Equifax, that could affect whether or not they can purchase renter’s insurance, to name an example that erroneously happened to me. So, even though it won’t likely prevent fraud, it can help to clear mistakes. Except, it’s notoriously hard to “encourage” credit reporting agencies to fix mistakes. But Equifax is now motivated to do the right thing for its business model.

Or does it?

To ward off excessive legislation, Chapman supports the idea of tougher industry standards pressuring companies to encrypt data. He suggested that increased funding for enforcement of data-theft laws would help reverse a trend in which few identity thieves are ever prosecuted.

Chapman also discussed the need to educate consumers about monitoring their credit records on a regular basis and being wary of giving out sensitive information. He noted that during a recent visit to a museum with his grandchildren, the cashier asked for his social security number as well as his home address and phone number when he tried to buy tickets with his credit card.

To ward off excessive legislation. May I offer protecting consumers (your supply) as a worthy goal from the beginning rather than only when something goes wrong? Where business fails to protect in accordance with reasonable standards (and even where it protects, but that’s a different rant), government steps in with regulation. Welcome to America in 2005. And if you think a business subject to high profile “disasters” is going to escape extra scrutiny and governmental “care”, you’re smoking something now regulated by interstate commerce, even when it doesn’t cross state lines. As for educating consumers to monitor their credit records on a regular basis, the technology exists, but you didn’t do it because it didn’t improve the bottom line. I seem to believe that’s why Congress, correct solution or not, passed the FACT Act. And it only gets worse from here, especially if you pursue this line of logic instead of catching up to your real starting point. Just a hunch.

(Consider reading No Place to Hide by Robert O’Harrow, Jr. for more insight into many of the issues surrounding information sharing. There are examples relevant to this story. Also, request a free credit report every 12 months from

You are one… sick… puppy.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association announced a new initiative yesterday. The new initiative intends to “help families manage their television viewing and protect children from inappropriate programming.” NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow offered the reasoning behind the new campaign (which can be found on the internets at

“The cable industry shares the concerns of many parents, who want to guard against TV content they feel may be inappropriate for their children,” McSlarrow said. “While many cable customers already have the tools to block unwanted TV content, many are not aware how to use parental control features.”

Blah, blah, blah. I commend the NCTA for undertaking this task, but it really is a $250 million waste of money. Ideally it’ll keep Congress at bay because Congress seems to react favorably only when money is thrown at a problem. It reacts extra-special, super-duper favorable when it gets to define the problem. The free flow of money makes them feel like maybe some more of that might come their way for the next election, I suppose. Absurd, sure, but it beats legislation.

My issue with this is that parents who won’t read the instructions for their cable box won’t be influenced by this ad campaign. They don’t take the time now, so why will they with a few more spiffy commercials? Besides, those parents aren’t the ones who send e-mail and write letters and place telephone calls to L. Brent Bozell and the Parents Television Council every time some one says “H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks” on the TV. The parents who do will not be happy with this for one reason: it’s voluntary. Put a different way, it still allows all of the so-called offensive content to go to people who want it (or can’t/won’t stop it from reaching their children). The real opponents who’ve made this an issue want morality legislation and nothing else.

Consider this statement from Mr. Bozell:

… L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, blasted the program as an attempt “to spin the public with a multi-million-dollar campaign to promote channel blocking and V-chip technologies as an adequate remedy for families concerned about their children being exposed to violent, profane and sexually explicit programming.

“This $250-million sham is being foisted on American consumers by the cable industry with the sole purpose of shirking responsibility for its product,” Bozell added.

What else would Mr. Bozell promote that allows free citizens to choose what they watch and don’t watch? Does he not realize that this “$250 million sham is being foisted on American consumers” because of his blathering about indecency and the downfall of America and the inevitable coming of orgies in the streets thanks to one (not-really-) naked nipple fifteen months ago? Does he realize that that $250 million isn’t coming from the charity of the NCTA, that it’s coming from those parents who don’t bother to read the instructions that come with the indecency machine cable box hooked to their televisions? Or that it’s coming from me, an American consumer who understands that changing the channel or clicking the On/Off button on my TV remote is free? I already paid for those instructions the first time and my mother paid the taxes that supported my education which taught me how to read those instructions I’ve already paid for. But, nope, that’s not good enough, you have to be an obsessed Luddite who believes that every American child is the direct target of indecency and every American parent is too stupid to parent. Thanks for looking out for me, guy, but stop it. Now.

Mr. Bozell does offer rationalizations for his concerns. Consider:

“In order for the V-chip to work, it must rely on an accurate ratings system,” Bozell said. Pointing to the PTC’s recent report, The Ratings Sham: TV Executives Hiding Behind a System That Doesn’t Work, he called the existing system “a fraud, rendering the V-chip a useless tool and an irrelevant, meaningless gesture.

“Currently, the networks — not an independent body — determine a program’s rating, and those same networks are financially motivated to lower ratings in order not to scare away advertisers,” Bozell said.

Mr. Bozell doesn’t seek a method for a television rating system to be meaningful. He wants Congress to be the “independent body” that legislates what is acceptable. According to his “independent” standards, of course. I’m not going argue the financially motivated part because it defies logic to bother beyond a simple explanation. Advertisers are scared away only when viewers come complaining. Mr. Bozell and his devotees don’t go complaining to the advertisers, they go to Congress and the FCC.

Mr. Bozell added:

“Finally, even if the ratings system were accurate and the V-chip useful, it does nothing to solve the root problem,” he added. “Hollywood is flooding the family living room, via broadcast airwaves and cable, with offensive material, much of it deliberately designed for impressionable children.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to literally kick my feet to brush aside the offensive material. It’s everywhere and I’m afraid that my landlord is starting to get pissed danged upset about the filth. Do you know how many times I’ve had to hide a pile of breasts and the random, scattered Victoria’s Secret lingerie show lying around so that my house would look presentable again? I fear the day that must be coming soon when one of the cats licks the carpet and comes down with some horrible STD from the three seconds my TV was stopped on MTV last week. I’m sending that vet bill straight to Hollywood. But we all know nothing in Hollywood is straight, so the kitty’s STD will probably bankrupt me before I can get paid. Good thing you’ve come up with this alternative:

“Better yet, why doesn’t Hollywood just stop flooding television with sewage?” he concluded.

I don’t think they empty their sewage into the televisions, but I could be wrong. (I would think it would do bad, bad things to the wires.) Maybe you should call them instead of Congress. Better go directly to the source. Not directly to the source, I guess, but the central office maybe. Start there.

(Hat tip:

Luckily, I have ninjalike reflexes

Before I go into this mini-rant, I qualify what I’m about to write with this basic fact: even when I’m bashing Sirius, it’s still much better than XM. I first tried XM more than two years ago but cancelled it because the music channels began playing more commercials, quickly approaching the level of terrestrial radio. If I wanted terrestrial radio, I’d turn it on. I didn’t, which is why I subscribed to satellite radio. Also, the diversity of music became, shall we say, eclectic. More and more songs crept into the playlists that I didn’t know. I don’t mind hearing new songs; I’ve found some of my favorite artists and songs through accidental wandering across the (satellite) radio dial and browsing through music stores. But I don’t want a plethora of songs that are closer to cats copulating than actual music. I want to want to listen again. XM didn’t stopped providing that, so I stopped provided my credit card number.

Last year, I subscribed to Sirius, which was inevitable because I’ve been a shareholder for more than 18 months. I immediately loved it. There are songs I actually know on the mainstream channels and songs I enjoy discovering on the non-mainstream channels. Plus, I get to listen to Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter. I needed nothing else and completely abandoned terrestrial radio, except for Don and Mike and Howard Stern. I enjoy the change.

A few months ago, though, I decided I needed to give XM another try. I did this knowing that my subscription to Sirius would remain. I wanted XM for the baseball coverage. The additional music choices would be a bonus. Except they turned out to be junk. The problem of having a terrible playlist has gotten worse. After the first few weeks, I stopped scanning other music stations on XM. Now, when if I’m not listening to the baseball coverage on XM, I’m not listening to XM.

But baseball was enough to break the barrier to my wallet. Except it’s not any more. XM can’t even get the baseball coverage correct. It hooked me from the beginning because wall-to-wall baseball is excellent. Yet, my urgency to listen to anything other than the Phillies broadcasts and “The Show with Rob Dibble and Kevin Kennedy” died. I do not enjoy the morning baseball show, not because of content but because of the deejays. It’s baseball, not music, so I didn’t expect deejays. I don’t want deejays. Mark Patrick is a deejay from beginning to end. His “act” wore thin within days. His vocal inflection is pure large-market, focus-group-tested deejay babble. I hate it. Yet, he sounds like heaven when compared to Buck Martinez. I don’t know where Martinez learned to do radio but he needs to ask for his money back. He has the worst up-and-down, wobbly, half-drunk, half-stroke inflected voice ever broadcast on radio. I can’t listen. So I don’t. When I’m paying $9.95 $12.95 for the service, I have to question why I’m paying.

The decisive factor, though, is much simpler. It’s very simple to broadcast a baseball game that another radio station is covering. The only requirement for XM is to flip the switch. They can’t even do that right. I know there are technical issues, blah, blah, blah, but that’s not an excuse. The marketing literature lies promised me every game. Showing up near the end of the first inning is not every game. If you’re not giving me every pitch, they’re lying to me. And by lying to me, they’re stealing from me.

Sirius hasn’t lied to me. I get what they promise. At work, I used to listen to my mp3 player, but now I just listen to Sirius all day. (An actual benefit from having my desk in an atrium, to go along with the sunburn, is that I get excellent satellite radio reception.) That I haven’t tired of it even though I listen almost eight hours every work day is proof of concept. I abandoned terrestrial radio for something new. More often than not, Sirius satisfies that. Even when it fails, it fails less often and on a smaller scale than XM. So I stick with Sirius.

When it fails, though, it annoys me. Which is the point of my mini-rant, which seemed to have started a few paragraphs ago but is really just beginning now. Mark Goodman, Nina Blackwood, and Alan Hunter are the only deejays on Sirius who I enjoy. I enjoy them because of nostalgia (they’re on the Big ’80s) and because they don’t act like the normal moron deejays. They don’t give ridiculous inflections. I normally hate deejay stories, but when those three offer them, they’re usually relevant to something. There’s a theme. It’s acceptable.

Some of the other stations, though, pester lilsteners with deejays who think they work at the local Lite-FM station. Ugh. I don’t want dull stories about their dogs or their friends or their neighbors. Unless it’s me, I don’t care. Their mothers are the only ones who care and I’m not convinced about that. If they want to tell personal stories, they should get a blog and type with weird spelling and no punctuation like every pre-teen who might be interested. Otherwise, shut up and drop the needle onto the record push play on the computer. It’s not complicated. Sometimes, it’s so over the top that it makes me mad.

Listening to Jim Kerr this morning, the deejay on Sirius 31 New Country, provided me with a specific example of why I hate deejays with a passion. I will offer it to you now.

Because he can’t just shut up, he must “talk up” the record, giving an introduction until the moment before singing starts. The witty Mr. Kerr offered this wonderful transition.

That was “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney. I’m looking forward to seeing the second episode of “Revelations” on NBC tonight. Here’s SHeDAISY with “Little Good-byes”.

Not only is that the most ADD scatter-brained transition ever, it’s also flat-out wrong. Revelations is on at 9pm on NBC. Everyone knows that the only show on television tonight worth looking forward to is Alias. That it’s on at 9pm only makes the argument for Revelations more useless. Duh.

You want a revelation, Mr. Kerr, I’ll give you one. Just wait for the amazing way Jack Bristow evades his latest hurdle, a nuclear radiation-induced genetic mutation.

I only write the interesting bits

The House of Representatives is considering legislation “that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs”. Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush’s desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he’ll sign it. Here’s the surprising point: I don’t care.

I’ve written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn’t upset me. It’s a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn’t know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn’t surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don’t control. This is very much an “old media” strategy when there wasn’t money to be made in new ways or, wait for it… consumers who wouldn’t purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be family-friendly safe watered-down.

Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:

The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies’ creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.

But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won’t get sued out of existence.

An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the “activist judges” would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves “family”, so it’s a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves “family” against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:

“These days, I don’t think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn’t come with a remote control,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. “Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material.”

Yes, but wouldn’t strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny&#153 to “protect” children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I’m kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn’t change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.

Rather than write a new ending, I’ll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

But I still think there’s something to that whole invisible fence thing.

Beam me up, Howie.

Stern.jpgI’ve mentioned once or twice that I don’t like our government’s irrational and (unconstitutional) assault on free speech. I’m not going to debate that now because there’s no new information on that front, but I have to re-examine my beliefs. I was wrong about the entire debate. The last nine months have been wonderful and useful and beneficial, so I have a few thank you’s to offer.

First, to the people who complained to the FCC about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime debacle, I say thank you. You got the ball rolling while people like me were too busy watching another channel to even know that a breast had been flashed. Nice work!

Second, to the tight-panted bureaucrats at the FCC, I say thank you. You ran like lunatics once the fine, offended citizens of the United States gave you the ball. You threatened censorship. Righteous!

Third, to President George W. Bush, I haven’t said this before to you, but I thank you for your outstanding service to the nation. Without your overbearing hand pressing down further on the censorship machine, we might have artists criminals slinging curse words and flashing naked genitals on the radio and the TV. Kick ass hiney!

Why am I making such a bizarre turn-around on my previous opinions? The witch hunt was worth it. All of the sternly-worded, paternalistic slaps on the wrist for our moral depravity will pay off in a better society. If my beliefs had been embraced, we’d be at a status-quo, but they weren’t, so we’re not. Inspired by this re-interpretation of freedom, Howard Stern is moving to Sirius satellite radio in January 2006.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression about me and thinks that I’m excited because that means we’ll hear coarse language and sexual innuendo, that’s not why I’m excited. Ok, it makes me do a little dance of joy, but that’s not the point. I’m excited because our censorship-obsessed political climate is going to make me a lot of money. I bought many, many shares of Sirius in early 2003 and stuck them in the back of my investment vault. That decision is paying off today. Without the FCC witch hunt of the last nine months, Howard Stern’s move to Sirius would’ve been improbable at best.

I’ll do my part for the economy when I buy a beach house with my profits. (Insert super-cool slick thumbs up gesture and sparkle from winking eye directed at Michael Powell…)

Pride for the low, low price of $0

Today’s news that Yahoo is buying MusicMatch is amuses me. I’d slowly begun moving away from MusicMatch because v8.2 and up is like the old Netscape browser. It’s bigger than it needs to be, including every possible feature a user might need, as though it’s supposed to be an operating system. So it’s as slow as a slug crawling through molasses. When the software isn’t locking up my PC. I might be willing to give Yahoo a chance to get the software into shape, but I still haven’t gotten the $5 back that they stole from me last September, so they can go fuck themselves. Hello, iTunes.

Not that I hold a grudge or anything childish like that…

Speaking of holding a grudge against the evil fascist empire that is Yahoo, I’ve switched my e-mail to Gmail, Google’s new free e-mail service that offers 1 GB of storage space. It’s not Yahoo, so it’s a winner. The ease of use within Gmail’s interface kicks Yahoo’s ass, so that’s a nice bonus.

Now for the shameless hucksterism… (is that a word, hucksterism?)

To get Gmail, you have to be invited. I got my invite a few months ago and now have 5 invites to give out. I don’t wish to imply that I’m special for having 5 invites. I’ll go all the way and say I’m unspecial because anyone with an account now has invites to give out and I STILL have 5 invites to give away. I’m so lame. So, anyone who wants a Gmail account, leave me a comment with your e-mail address included and I’ll invite you. (I’ll delete your e-mail address from my comments once I invite you, in case you don’t want it there.)

Those 5 invites are mocking me. Don’t make me extra lame by having to beg someone else. Please.

Get Your Geek On

From the moment Danielle and I landed at McCarran Airport, getting to the Las Vegas Hilton was our sole focus.

&#60begin tedious details here&#62

– We picked up the rental car.
– We navigated through Las Vegas lunch hour traffic.
– We avoided random traffic cones in the street that served no apparent purpose.
– We parked in the free garage at the Hilton.
– We meandered through the Hilton casino looking for the Star Trek convention.
We Danielle asked for guidance from a quaint security guard who pointed us to the convention area.

&#60end tedious details here&#62

At 12:15pm we arrived at the Will Call window table in front of the dealer auditorium. After some brief information gathering, we figured out that we hadn’t missed the Wil Wheaton autograph session. We didn’t yet know when it would be, but we hadn’t missed it. One step at a time.

Looking through the program, we discovered that the schedule included Wil Wheaton’s book reading at 1pm. His improv group, Earnest Borg 9, would perform at 6:40pm, forty minutes after the scheduled end of festivities.

Since we had more than forty minutes before the reading, we circled the dealer auditorium to learn what kind of crap memorabilia was for sale. We saw little of interest, with the limited array of oddball items available. It was just Star Trek figures, t-shirts, videos, and pictures. Our senses were overloaded, so we weren’t scanning closely enough to find the hidden gems.

The multitude of autograph tables with unrecognizable celebrities did catch our attention. Most of these people seemed to be no-name, B-list stars, but in the Star Trek universe, they were Big&#153. Even if Big&#153 is defined as Alien #3 in any random episode, Star Trek actor is never a small role. Strange.

(I was excited to see one particular star, one not named Wil Wheaton. More in my next post…)

Realizing that we wished to get good seats, we left the dealer auditorium to seek out the room for Wil Wheaton’s book reading. We found this quickly, but it was occupied by an appraiser who determines the value of Star Trek memorabilia. Think Star Trek Antiques Roadshow. With thirty minutes to go until 1:00, we picked seats near the front and waited. I don’t wish to give the impression that the appraiser was boring, because he wasn’t, but we were restless. We had no Star Trek memorabilia to sell, so we just wanted some Wheaton.

We got the brilliant idea to seek out the Photo-Op with Wil Wheaton in the dealer auditorium. We had some time to kill and pictures would be cool. We journeyed back. After some head-scratching, misguided navigation, we found the booth and got in line. Within a couple of minutes, a volunteer let us know that only one actor was taking photos at the time. It wasn’t Wil Wheaton.

Twenty minutes to go, so we had to hustle. When we got back to the correct auditorium, more people had filled the seats. Worst of all, the front row was packed. We were bummed that our plan had backfired on both fronts, but we gambled and lost. Vegas, baby, Vegas.

At one o’clock, the moderator thanked the appraiser and led into his Wil Wheaton introduction. He then pointed and asked Wil to come up front. He’d been sitting in the audience all along. Doh!

He bantered, then read from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot. We laughed. Even though I’d read all the stories, he entertained me. Hearing him read his stories is the same as hearing David Sedaris read his work. The words are great written on the page, but reading them aloud infuses them with their full spectrum of life. I can’t wait for the unabridged audiobook. (Here’s a picture from the reading.)

Brent Spiner’s speech was scheduled to begin at 2:00 in another room and that was fast approaching. A steady stream of people had begun to leave the book reading for that already. I like Brent Spiner’s work, but even if I wasn’t at the convention specifically for Wil Wheaton, the reading was too good to think of leaving. Since many other people were enthralled enough not to leave, we had a surprise guest. From WWdN:

My performance from Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot was awesome! The room was almost full, and I felt like the audience was “with me” the entire time. Near the end of my time, Brent Spiner walked into the room, and told me, in front of everyone, that he’d read Dancing Barefoot “cover to cover,” and that he liked it! Then he told me to wrap it up, so “these people can come over and listen to me talk.” It was really funny, and really cool.

Two pictures I took are here and here.

At the end of the reading, he announced that he’d be in the dealer auditorium to sign autographs, which was our cue to run, don’t walk to his booth.

Ok, so we walked. We were semi-self-respecting adults conforming ourselves to public standards. Besides, we had to look cool since Wil was behind us. He probably didn’t notice us, but he certainly would’ve noticed if we ran to the auditorium like a couple of dumbasses. So we walked.

While he settled into his booth, greeting people he knew along the way and chatting with his wife, we waited. When I meet celebrities, I hate to be anything other than last in line. I get self-conscious and would rather not have the added pressure of people behind me, waiting for my brain to snap back on its hinges. If we didn’t have a tight time window with just enough time to check in at New York, New York and munch at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez, I would’ve snuck my way to the back of the line. Instead, we waited in the middle, in the order that we arrived. This was ideal, I realized, because I had time to “prepare” my comments without over-rehearsing. Who knew?

The moment arrived. We focused on Wil and stepped to the table with autograph tickets in hand. “Do we give these to you,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “What would you like me to sign?”

He had pictures available, which were included in the price of the autograph (I think). He also had books available for sale, so Danielle bought a copy. Having already purchased mine, I handed it to him.

“Did you buy this in a bookstore?”


He looked at me, stood up, and stuck out his hand. “I want to shake you
r hand. Thank you so much for buying my book in a real bookstore. That’s so cool.”

Not being a published author, it struck me as quaint that a person buying your book in a store would be so shocking. When I imagine myself in his situation, as someone “washed up” in his first profession, who has found his next passion, it made sense. I liked him more than I did when we arrived in Vegas.

I began to tell him how I’ve never seen Star Trek and the rest of the story about my original impression of him. I got through my being from Virginia and that I knew an extra on Toy Soldiers. When I mentioned the title of the movie, a pained look comes over his face.

“I was an asshole to your friend, wasn’t I?”

“I believe the word he used was ‘dick’,” I said.

“Tell your friend I’m so sorry.”

Danielle speaks. “How old were you when you made that film?” I know the answer to this, only because Wil is 11&#189 months older than I am. That’s simple math for me.

“I was 18. I was a bit of an asshole to everyone at that age.”

“You were a teenager, that’s what teenagers do,” she said.

“I know, but tell your friend that I’m so sorry.”

“We were really just high school friends,” I said. I followed with the shortened version of the remaining details about how I became a Wil Wheaton reader. Anne Wheaton walked to the table and sat down next to Wil.

“Anne, this is Danielle and Tony. They came all the way from Virginia.”

She looked at us and smiled. She seemed a little timid about his enthusiasm, which we suspect is due to the crazy Star Trek stalker factor. A logical and valid concern.

She wrote a few posts for WWdN that I thought were excellent, so I compliment her on her writing ability.

“Oh, but it takes me 50 times longer to write than Wil,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You write well and that’s the key.”

“Thank you.”

Our time was up (which is why I like being in the back of the line… more time to stare at the celebrity), so we thanked Wil one more time and walked away.

As I’d learned from his writing and acting, Wil Wheaton is funny. He’s a great writer and performer. When I meet celebrities with sketchy reputations, I’m always apprehensive because I don’t want to be disappointed. Wil Wheaton did not disappoint. He exceeded my expectations. I’m happy to report that Wil Wheaton is cool.

Compromise isn’t censorship

Wal-Mart is the first retailer to sell the RCA ClearPlay dvd player. Built into the dvd player, ClearPlay software offers the following exciting benefits:

ClearPlay works with the regular DVDs that you already rent or purchase from your local stores. When you put a movie in a ClearPlay enabled DVD player, you can enjoy the show — without needing to worry about the occasional R or PG-13 content. It’s as if you had super-fast fingers and were able to punch remote control buttons fast and accurately enough to skip and mute certain content, but still maintain the movie’s continuity and entertainment value!

Wowie! That’s awesome! Now parents need not be bothered with monitoring what their children watch. It’s MovieNanny&trade!

All sarcasm aside, I don’t have a problem with this software or how it “modifies” movies. It’s a filter that leaves the movie whole, which should be obvious to all but the most obtuse critics of ClearPlay. A dvd player can’t hack up a dvd to leave only the “non-offensive” parts. Anyone who wishes to not see or hear objectionable material may use a dvd player with this software to make viewing simple. There is definitely a niche for this.

I think this next quote from Michael Medved is simplistic and utopian, but it explains a little bit about the audience interested in this type of technology:

“Movie fans who have been worried about excesses in violence, sexuality, and language can now enjoy their favorite films with a sense of security and satisfaction.”

For example, in its analysis of About a Boy, ClearPlay has found offensive material. The original version contains moderate Blood & Gore, moderate Sex/Nudity, heavy Profanity, and minor violence. The filtered ClearPlay version contains minor Blood & Gore, minor Sex/Nudity, no Profanity, and minor violence.

I’m not sure which movie they watched for the Sex/Nudity component, but I don’t think it was the About a Boy starring Hugh Grant. However, I don’t have the same sensibilities as others, so I’m willing to consider that I’m “immune” to a moderate abundance of Sex/Nudity. I’m not sure about the moderate Blood & Gore, either, but I’m willing to consider that some people don’t want to see a kid get beaten up, even if it’s necessary to move the story along.

As for Profanity, I fully agree that it’s pervasive throughout the movie. However, it’s important in this movie to have profanity. Real people swear. When writing a character, the writer’s goal is to make that character real. Thus, movie characters swear. When Will says “Fuck” in response to a statement by Marcus, it shows Will’s sense of being overwhelmed better than “I’m overwhelmed”. Marcus acknowledged that he didn’t know why Will swore, but it made him feel better. Someone had understood him. Filtering it out detracts from the movie, which gets back to the concept of parenting versus a government/corporate provided content nanny.

Of course, this technology will sell. Despite my opinion, people want it, and they will get it. Being America, there is, of course, another side.

This article explains the legal brouhaha that’s erupted because of the software. I don’t see a compelling justification for legal action because of ClearPlay’s software, but it’s happening:

…Clearplay and its rivals face a challenge from the other direction.

A Hollywood consortium, including some of Tinseltown’s top directors, has sued Clearplay and others, arguing that they are abusing the films’ artistic integrity.

By producing – without permission – altered versions of intellectual property, censors are effectively pirating directors’ and studios’ work, the lawsuit argues.

Clearplay hopes to escape through a loophole: instead of making new versions of films, it argues, its technology is simply another way of playing the existing movie – no more an abuse than a viewer fast-forwarding a tape in his own home.

That last sentence doesn’t explain a loophole. It explains a clear answer to why legal efforts to stop this are silly. There is no legal basis for stopping this. ClearPlay is not altering the source material. The copyrighted source is never touched, so none of the author’s rights as the creator of the work are infringed. The only arguments for attacking it are philosophical.

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

Since America is pre-occupied with “objectionable content” issues this year, I’ll leave it to the British to have the appropriate response to our hysteria:

American cinephiles will soon be able to enjoy their movies without sex, violence, swearing – indeed, without any of the interesting bits.

That’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s representative of reality. Beyond the instances where sex, violence, swearing, and drug use are necessary for a story, humans are interested in those topics. Not all humans, but enough that there is an industry for it. Right or wrong, it will continue. But there are legitimate ways to “please everyone” while not infringing upon anyone’s free speech. Imagine that…