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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vote, Scotland

I usually only do this for election days relevant to Wisconsin, but I'm going to make an exception. Scotland, I know you're well aware of the stakes in your independence referendum today. I know that you're aware that this is literally the most important thing you will ever vote on in your entire life. I am also going to decline to take a side in your vote. It's your home, it's your call.

But I do notice that the turnout in Scotland has gotten down to US levels since the millennium. That's not good. So let me just give you whatever little nudge I can give to you to get to the polls. I know the vote's gotten uncomfortably close for all involved and the polls may be a bit off. It may not come down to a single vote, that old chestnut of democracy, but it's not going to be a blowout. Your side needs you at the polls today. Get the hell out there and take your future in your own hands. This is a one-shot deal. Now or never. You don't get to reverse the decision in a couple years.

Get out of the house and move. Your. Asses.

Well, The Consequences Aren't Zero

Through all of its myriad scandals and general uncomfortableness, it's been taken for granted that, at least in the short term, the NFL is an unassailable juggernaut. It's not going anywhere, any damage done to it will be maybe a decade down the road or something. Take your pick. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, the Redskins name, the rumors that the league went around calling teams and asking them to consider signing Michael Sam to avoid the optics of him not having a job (denied by Jerry Jones), add them to the ongoing matters concerning 18-game seasons and continuous courting of London and concussions and former players shooting themselves in the chest so their brains can be studied for signs of deterioration (see also: Junior Seau), and even residual feelings from recent matters such as Bountygate and the suicide of Jovan Belcher. I may have missed something. I probably did.

(scans Google News) Oh, hey, Reggie Bush too. Why not?

In the end, the theory going is that the NFL simply has too powerful a grip on our collective consciousness. Too many people feel they not only want to watch, but have to watch, and as long as people care enough to watch, that's what the NFL wants. Eyeballs and money. And we are going to give it to them, disgusted as we are. The ratings are bearing it out. Maybe in a decade we'll stop. Maybe.

The NFL's sponsors, though, seem to be drawing the line right here, right now. The first appears to have been Radisson, sponsor of the Minnesota Vikings... well, at least they were until yesterday, when they pulled their sponsorship regarding the Adrian Peterson scandal. Although others have not followed them out completely, others are signaling their respective warning shots or scaling back in relevant ways. And they're not small sponsors either: Anheuser-Busch, Wheaties, Nike. Sponsors that always put themselves on any big-ticket sport they possibly can and sign big contracts to get their name associated with sports. These are not sponsors a major sports league wants to anger in any way, shape or form.

If anything results in the eventual ouster of Roger Goodell as NFL commissioner, as much as you'd like to think it's due to the moral degrade of everything associated with the NFL, it will in fact probably be a sponsor exodus. Time will tell if that in fact happens, but I don't think it'll be too long before we know if it does.

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Geography Quizzes, More I Say

As we have long since established, I am a sucker for map-based quiz shenanigans, and Google has come at me with the latest personal timesuck, Smarty Pins. Which has been around for a couple months now but it's new to me dammit.

The game works like this: you'll be asked a question that asks you to point out somewhere on a map. It's not going to be the straight 'point to Paris' stuff either; you'll be asked questions in which you first have to figure out that the answer is Paris, and then mark it off. You have 1,000 miles to play with, and you're minorly assisted by the fact that Google will zoom into the general region of the correct answer to start you off. For each question, you lose the amount of miles you're off. If you get close (or nail it completely), and answer within 15 seconds, you will get a couple miles back; however many of those 15 seconds are left get added to your bank. The goal is to survive as many questions as you can before your miles run out. After those 15 seconds, you'll get a hint.

Now, these questions generally aren't all that difficult, but they're enough to get you to bleed miles. I've played twice and both times got to 19 questions. Not the toughest quiz in the world, but then, I like them with some kick to them.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Puppy Power Outage

In the event that the NFL is still even a thing you're comfortable following by February, you'll probably be well aware that the de facto main competition to the Super Bowl every year has, because our gods are strange, become the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. The Puppy Bowl, of course, features various adorable critters frolicking in a play area designed to look like a football field. They're all technically up for adoption, but they're all long gone and in homes by airdate.

But that is roundabout where that kind of thing remains, actually, as a one-off program. Puppies and kitties running around being cute is typically the realm of the Internet. You don't really see much in the way of television being made of it past short little clips. But that doesn't mean someone hasn't tried. Meet the Puppy Channel.

During the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, retired ad executive Dan FitzSimmons went channel surfing around what was then a much smaller cable lineup than today when the trial would get too boring. It was a long trial; that would happen now and again. All he found, though, were soap operas (which the O.J. trial had yet to all but kill but was about to), game shows (which were in the last days of having a network home, to my eternal dismay because yay for game shows), talk shows and reruns (which are talk shows and reruns). He didn't like any of these options, and the moment stayed with him. As he would explain through his daughter Molly on NPR's This American Life in 2010- or rather as , he found himself hoping for "a parking place on television. If you don't want to watch something that is there, you could have the TV set on, and it'd be playing something that didn't bother you, and would hold the place until your favorite show or what you chose to watch."

You might say 'well, just turn it off then'. That really doesn't work. I run into the same problem a lot, often when I'm writing these, right now in fact. Turning the TV off just irritates. The image of the blank, black screen is in and of itself distracting and annoying to me. Even if the TV is on mute, I just for whatever reason need something going in the peripheral vision, and I'd like it to be something I can unmute and get to watching when I'm done or taking a break. So an inoffensive channel has its uses. For this to happen, Dan decided to start his own cable network. With blackjack, and hookers... well, no, with puppies. Just puppies. He had seen a group of puppies up for adoption and noticed the crowd that had gathered around them, and decided that's what he'd go with.

That was literally it as far as programming. 24 hours of puppy footage. No shows, at least in the way that we think of shows with timeslots. No commercials. No human voices (aside from Dan's, occasionally singing about puppies for station ID purposes). Just endless footage of puppy frolicking with instrumental music in the background. That was to be the entire channel. Take one of those 10-hour YouTube videos, fill it with the aforementioned, set it on loop, and that was what Dan wanted.

Though there was a 1-hour pilot video. You can buy it for $20 on the network's spiritual successor, thepuppychannel.com.

So how in the world was this supposed to make money without commercials? Dan's idea was a combination of fees collected from the cable operators and product placement- clips in which the puppies would play with sponsor products. And the focus groups hired gave encouraging word; 41% of test viewers preferred it to CNBC, for instance. So in 1997, the Puppy Channel launched, with Dan knowing the standards for success in the cable world were comparatively tiny.

He didn't make it to 'tiny'. He only got a couple providers interested in carrying it. Everyone else, the larger providers, never got on board. A channel of just puppies? No human voices? Why in Creation are we making room on our satellite to carry that? And while the focus groups said they'd watch it, the cable providers were the ones that had the decision on whether to make it available to watch at all. Today, in 2014, maybe he could get away with it, but in the late 1990's, cable wasn't big enough yet. There were still only so many channels you could put out there, and Dan's wasn't one of them. So after four years, the Puppy Channel went off the air in 2001, a victim of the dotcom crash.

But as I said, it lives on in dotcom form. And the pilot is still there, waiting for a cable provider... that has a lot more potentially inoffensive options to offer viewers these days. At least there's the Internet.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How To Rob A Home

1. Do not rob a home.
2. If you must rob a home, remember that time is of the essence. One must get in and out of the house quickly, because there's little knowing when someone might return to the house. In the Discovery Channel series It Takes A Thief, which ran for two seasons from 2005-07, cohost and designated burglar Jon Douglas Rainey was usually able to break in, ransack that episode's target building (typically someone's house), and get out inside of 15 minutes.
3. Therefore, do not dally inside the house.
4. Get out of the house.
5. Do not lay down on the homeowner's bed.
6. Do not fall asleep on the aforementioned bed.
7. Do not lay the goods you were in the middle of stealing next to you as you go to bed.
8. Wake the fuck up, stupid; the cleaning lady just showed up.
9. Do not sleep through the cleaning lady calling the cops.
10. Do not also sleep through the cops arriving at the house.
11. Do not also sleep through the cops taking photos of you, still snoozing next to the goods.
12. Well, at that point it really doesn't matter what you do, does it? I mean, the cops are right there ready to arrest you the second you finally roll your butt out of bed, assuming they even wait for that to happen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

This Seems Like A Stupidly Low Prize

The Palo Alto Longevity Prize is one of your X-Prize-style competitions, and I'm always a big fan of these. Take a big scientific question, stick a cash prize next to the solution and tell anyone who's interested and thinks they're good enough to go chase it. And the questions don't get all that much bigger than this: ending the aging process. It just launched today, calling for registration to enter the competition.

There are actually two prizes on offer, each offering half the prize money. According to the official website, the first prize will go to "the first team to demonstrate that it can restore homeostatic capacity (using heart rate variability as the surrogate measure) of an aging reference mammal to that of a young adult." AKA, restoring the youth of a mammal. The second prize will go to "the first team that can extend the lifespan of its reference mammal by 50% of acceptable published norms. Demonstration must use an approach that restores homeostatic capacity to increase lifespan." The global average for humans in 2010 was 70 years in 2012, according to the WHO, so if you're picking humans as your 'reference mammal', to win the money you'd have to run that average up by 35 more years, creating a 105-year global life expectancy. That's for everybody from Japan to Afghanistan.

The goal is fine, if you opt to ignore the overpopulation concerns. The prize money on offer, though: $1 million. Total.

For reference, 39 days on an island voting off a peer group also wins you $1 million, as does sitting in a chair and correctly answering 15 trivia questions, or any number of other game show and reality show feats past, present and future. In fact, as far as X-Prize-style competitions go, $1 million is barely enough to ante up to the bar. To stay with the game show analogy, this is kind of like offering $10,000 as the top prize. Enough to not feel completely chintzy, but there are all sorts of shows able to do better than that.

To illustrate what I'm talking about here, look at the bona fide X-Prize competitions and the money they're putting up. $10 million cash pools that litter the site. $10 million for private space travel. $10 million to build a tricorder. $10 million for 100 mpg cars. A $10 million prize for cracking 100 human genomes for under $10,000 per genome was cancelled when the organizers found that companies were routinely cracking them in a few days for under half that amount and the prize wasn't actually serving as much of an incentive. Lower down the scale, it's $2.25 million for digital healthcare. $2 million for work on ocean acidification. $1.4 million for cleaning up oil spills. The top prize on the site is $20 million, which is being put up for a robot that can go to the moon, move 500 meters once there, and send back HDTV broadcasts.

$1 million no longer looks like that big a prize, and it's being put towards the biggest question of the lot. But money never really was fair like that.