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1999 Q4

Network Solutions has recently redesigned their site, dropping a graphic-intensive and slow-loading design in favor of a much cleaner and leaner one. It probably wouldn't be a good thing if every web site looked like Yahoo!, but their chief technology officer, Farzad Nazem, made a great observation in a recent Fortune article:
What people care about is how fast their pages turn. It doesn't make sense to make pages complex and use a lot of graphics. If you make a site look really fancy, it looks great the first time. The second time it's amusing. And the third time it's just plain annoying.
Yep. But why do so many marketing folks and web site designers still not get it?

Carlos Montaner liked the December 23rd weblog entry so much he forwarded it to TheStreet.com cofounder James J. Cramer himself. Carlos received the following reply:
What bullshit. I urge you to bet against me and us. That is what the market is for. Please please short our stock. You will make my day and year. Put your money where your mouth is and shut up about it.
Ouch! Looks like we may have touched a nerve! Rather than address the criticism, Jim responds with chest-thumping bombast that's more appropriate coming from a WWF wrestler than a director of a $400 million company. No surprise here.

Video rental highlights and lowlights from the long weekend:

Highlights (added to the sleeper list!) - Insomnia
Gripping, eerie Norwegian thriller in which a murder investigation's lead detective accidentally kills his partner, then collaborates with the "bad" killer in an attempt to cover it up. The film's main character is a tough, screwed-up cop played by Stellan Skarsgärd, who is the Norwegian version of a cross between Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and Harvey Keitel's Bad Lieutenant.

Lowlights - Summer of Sam
Meandering, pointless, mess of a movie that's quite possibly Spike Lee's worst. The film's less about the Summer of Sam killer than it is about a group of uninteresting, dumb, foul-mouthed Italian-Americans who say "fuck" just about every other fucking word, and it gets to be really fucking tiresome … especially when the movie's 2½ fucking hours long.

The January/February Fast Company is good for another juicy tidbit (see yesterday's post for the other): TheStreet.com cofounder James J. Cramer, who has a very big mouth and ego to match, is quoted as saying:
"The Net is the most overhyped investment story in history. It is so hyped that it is hurting those of us who have developed legitimate businesses that would do quite well even if there were no web and [that] would definitely perform much better now that there is!"
As Cramer himself would say: "Wrong!" A couple of points:
1. It's debatable whether the TheStreet.com is a legitimate business. It will lose over 34 million dollars in fiscal 1999 and even more in fiscal 2000. Can you say "burn rate?"
2. While the Net may be the "most overhyped investment story in history," it is the reason for his enrichment through TheStreet.com's IPO.

This month's Fast Company published a survey that asked, among other things, "From each of the following pairs, pick the person whom you would rather sit next to on a cross-country flight:" In a surprising upset, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates beat out beloved talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, 58.1% to 41.9%.

When posed with a real-life dilemma like this, the only sane response would be to either:
A. Ask the stewardess: "Excuse me, are there any empty seats back in coach?" or, if coach is full,
B. Open the emergency exit and be sucked out of the plane.

So sick ... barely enough energy to type this messagggggg ggggggggg g gggg ggggg gggg ggggggggggggg ggggggg ggggggg gggggggggg ggggggg gggggggg gggggggg ggggggggg ggggg

A lot more of the Web's audio clips are showing up as mp3 files instead of Real Audio files, and as a result, the world is a much better place. Real Networks' Real Player is one of the most insidious, poorly written pieces of software you're ever likely to cross paths with. Not only does it completely take over your computer, it can actually break it: my computer died a few days ago and it regained full health only after Real Player was uninstalled ... and I know several others who have shared my experience.

I'm interested in hearing your Real Networks horror stories. Please drop me a line if you've felt Real Networks' wrath.

Keep an eye on a Minneapolis band called Astronaut Wife. The singers' sequin dresses fit quite badly, but they've got a cool electronic sound befitting their name. A few of their songs are available for download off of their page on mp3.com. For those readers living in the Twin Cities, they'll be at the Walker Art Center's "After Hours" on January 14th. (See the "After Hours" addition to the Meat Market Guide. 4 steaks!)

Wanna make ol' Dack go postal? Start using the word "bandwidth" a lot when what you really mean is "time." Sample usage: "I just don't have the bandwidth to take on another project." Gahhh ... it hurts just to type. Anyhow, here's why I suggest you avoid it:
1. Its usage may make you may think you're in touch with the New Economy, but boy, are you mistaken. You really just sound like a dork.
2. Its usage is completely meaningless to the majority of the population.
3. Its usage doubles your syllable output, thereby limiting everyone's bandwidth to listen to you.

A frustrating thing about Communication Arts' Advertising Annual is not being able to see the television commercials. The best they can do in a magazine, of course, is to show a few stills and provide a description. Thanks to a cool site called Ad Critic, a handful of CA's picks are available for viewing (requires Quick Time):

Cracker Jack - "Sizes" - :30
A "really, really big bag" of Cracker Jack stars in this really, really funny spot.

Fox Sports - "Locker Room" - :30
An 82-year-old baseball player is back in the bigs, and a teammate's playful towel snap leaves him on his back, writhing in pain.

3dfx - "Proud Worker" - :60
Workers develop a new chip that'll save the planet, but it ends up being used to make cooler video games.

Outpost.com - "Cannon" - :30
Gerbils are shot out of a cannon against a brick wall.

[Thanks to Brian Michelich for showing the way to Ad Critic.]

Some amusing vodka-induced haiku from buddy Steve Ulrich:

5 - tonight no coochie
7 - hence, i will have the luce
5 - mango martini

The party might soon be over for Napster and the rest of its Music Community as the Recording Industry Association of America has filed suit, seeking $100,000 in damages for each copyright-protected song allegedly exchanged illegally using its software. Clueless music industry guy Ron Stone chimes in with, "It is the single most insidious Web site I've ever seen — it's like a burglar's tool." You may be right about the burglar's tool, Ron, but it's not a web site.

Is there an editor in the house?

Shame on Borland for publishing the weekly user interface column by Constance Petersen. Individual publishers typically don't have editors to double and triple-check content for accuracy, so complete hooey abounds (dack.com being prima facie evidence), but there's no excuse for a developers' newsletter like Borland's to publish such poor content.

What originally got my attention was the article No Weak Links, in which she misstates Web Usability Guru™ Jakob Nielsen's view on visited and unvisited link colors. Digging a little deeper, I found an article called Stir-Fried Graphics that not only demonstrates an especially clumsy way to make images and HTML tables, but also gives the reader a JavaScript rollover example that works only with Internet Explorer. Pity the poor bastard who actually followed this advice!

I'm sure Borland's Developer News has some valuable and accurate articles, but a few turds succeed in throwing the whole site's content into question.

For quite a while now, cigar smoking has become about as trendy as having a cell phone. In a wonderful Forbes FYI piece, writer and illustrator Bruce McCall decries cigars' popularity with the hoi polloi, and calls for action "to repel the barbarians at the humidor." It's gotten so bad, in fact, that McCall describes having to "knock a Cohiba out of the mouth of a plumber!"

MP3s are great, but tracking down songs can be a big pain in the butt. The days of scrounging through dozens of FTP sites looking for Ricky Martin's latest are now over thanks to Napster, software that connects thousands of people's hard drives together into one big, searchable MP3 bonanza. The lightweight and very well-written app is available at www.napster.com. Once you get over the fact that complete strangers are downloading files from your hard drive, you'll soon be addicted ... and forced into buying a new hard drive.

[Note: As I write this, the Napster Music Community has 198,207 songs available.]

Last night was a mini Steven Soderbergh film festival, and unfortunately both The Limey and Schizopolis disappointed.

The Limey (1999)
A good performance by Terrance Stamp cannot overcome the half-baked and occassionally dim-witted plot, and this "thriller's" thrilling moments are spread too thinly between overly artistic shots of Stamp flying on a plane, Stamp smoking cigarettes, Stamp riding in cars, and Stamp staring off into space. To make matters worse, Peter Fonda plays a lead role.

Schizopolis (1996)
This oddball comedy's first act had me thinking, "Hey, this is sleeper list material!" but, sadly, it quickly became less funny and much less interesting as it veered from comedy to drama. Schizopolis is different, to be sure, and it may be worth seeing on that basis alone. Here's what the video's box cover says: "Warning! All attempts at synopsizing the film have ended in failure and hospitalization."

In the December 1st issue of Internet World, Epinions co-founder Mike Speiser claims his company doesn't "want to get gimmicky" in order to pay its reviewers. In October it established a multilevel marketing system for opinions: members who recruit friends as reviewers receive a slice of the royalties earned by their friends—and their friends' friends. Nope, that's not gimmicky at all.

Something about this whole Epinions thing just doesn't seem right, like the fact that even a popular reviewer like Robot Wisdom's Jorn Barger has written 22 epinions and made and average of 10¢ per review (at the normal pay rate). Hence, dack.com is 100% free of links to epinions.com.

Some excellent reading over the long holiday weekend was Joe Quennan's Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon. With a sharp wit and even sharper tongue, Quennan explores the murky depths of crappy American culture: Billy Joel, John Tesh, Kenny G, Liza Minnelli, Michael Bolton, Yanni, Barbara Streisand, Cats, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, TGI Fridays, Planet Hollywood, Deepak Chopra, Branson MO, Tom Clancy, Demi Moore, Riverdance, Adam Sandler, and many more.

Quennan's recounting of a handshake with Geraldo Rivera, which sent him spiraling downward even more deeply into the world of "High Suck," is typical of this book's amusing contents:
... there stood Geraldo, proffering his hand in friendship. Being a courteous sort, I clasped it, gazing up into his hideous, smiling face. No sooner had our palms locked than I felt an electric jolt race through my nervous system. Right then and there, I could feel the dark power of Satan coursing through my veins.
Save the trees! The New York Times Magazine needlessly killed thousands with yet another article about day traders. Year to date, that makes 1,398,739 articles/tv shows about day traders ... and there's over a month left. The whole day-trading phenomenon brings to mind a quote from an '80s classic: Wall Street. Whippersnapper Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) shares an inside stock tip with old-school curmudgeon Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook). Mannheim:
"Quick buck artists come and go with every bull market. The steady players make it through the bear markets."
Take that to the bank, Bud. Wall Street is good for another one of my all-time favorites. Gordon "Greed is Good" Gekko (Michael Douglas) talking to Darien (Daryl Hannah) about love:
"We are both smart enough not to buy into the oldest myth running: Love. A fiction created by people to keep them from jumping out of windows."
[Note: If you haven't lately, type "whippersnapper." It's fun!]

An update on the trouble with Digital Origin's tech support: After reading my bitter post in rec.video.desktop, DO's Director of Customer Support responded with the following email, and in the process made me feel all warm inside:
I am sorry your experience with technical support has been so unresponsive. I am well aware of the wait times and am working to remedy that. I have new people starting next week. I can have a rep call you, please let me know what day and time would be convenient.

Victoria Rasmussen
Director Telesales/Customer Support
Digital Origin, Inc.
Good on ya, Victoria!

Will this World Wide Web thing really ever catch on? I caught a bit of PGA Q School coverage on The Golf Channel (Holy crappy site, Batman!) this weekend, and heard that many of those who don't get their PGA tour card will qualify to play on the Buy.com Tour. Huh? The Buy.com tour? Yep. For just a few million bucks per year, Buy.com wrestled sponsorship away from Nike, who had been the tour's main sponsor since 1993. Seems like a heck of a deal, and one that Buy.com needs to gain name recognition.

Speaking of deals, I recently had a super ecommerce experience at Buy.com. The item I ordered was 10% less than any other online shop, and came via UPS ground in only two days. My only gripe: I wish they carried more stuff.

Some observations after putting together a new PC:
- Microsoft's web site is unaccessible with one of its own products: Internet Explorer 2.0
- The Philips 109B shortneck monitor is a big disappointment. It's going back. And their web site is especially annoying, too: "Do you want to install and run "Bitstream WebFont Player?" Ummm ... NO!
- HP's tech support is superb.
- Digital Origin's tech support is totally unreachable, even the fee-based support line. If you think you may need tech support, do not buy anything from Digital Origin.

You won't find any of his CDs at Amazon, but everyone should see/hear Pat McCurdy at least once. Pat was at Minneapolis' Five Corners on Friday night, and played the collection of dark, funny, and darkly funny songs that make his shows so much fun. Many of his best tunes are pure whimsy, like my personal favorite Sex and Beer (sample lyrics):

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians
Said, "It came to me upon a midnight clear
I finished writing all of my gospel
Now all I seem to want is sex and beer"

Marc Antony looked down on Caesar’s body
He said "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ear
I did not come here to praise Caeser
I came here for sex and beer"

Sex and beer, sex and beer
Are the two things we hold dear
Sex and beer, sex and beer
Are the things we like ‘round here

Click here to listen to Real Audio version.
Click here for full (and very funny) Sex and Beer lyrics.

Fans of Paul Fussell will be interested in My Kitchen Wars, a new book by his ex-wife, Betty Fussell. Mr. Fussell, author of The Great War and Modern Memory, BAD, and the priceless Class is exposed, shall we say, by a fairly vengeful ex-lover. Among the more juicy tidbits, Mrs. Fussel writes that her husband:
- was caught rolling around on the couch, "buck naked" and drunk, with a male student.
- took to wearing nylon bikini briefs in Day-Glo colors.
- occasionally paraded around naked in front of party guests.
- shaved his pubic hair.

If Sprint wants to be part of the handheld wireless revolution, they had better get their in-store reps up to speed on what their products can do. Last night a buddy of mine and I were told by a Sprint PCS in-store salesman that their phones only accessed a handful of web sites that were part of the Sprint network. Moments later we were showing him how to access other WML/HDML-enabled sites, and soon were surfing the Web with the very sexy Sprint NP1000. (Sprint PCS salesman's response: "Golly!")

This technology is cool ... and really expensive: The NP1000 is $400 and the wireless connectivity runs $179/month for 1200 minutes of phone and web minutes, which will get used up fast at the maximum 14.4 Kbps connection speed. Here's what's so damn exciting: wireless now = the Web five years ago.

About the last thing I expected after writing a fairly harsh critique of TheMan.com (see lowly web log entry for 3.Nov.99) was a response from someone from TheMan.com. The author of the date movie article, Gordon R. Smith, responded to my criticism with a thoughtful, well-written, and humorous email. TheMan.com may not help dudes score with the babes, but they sure know how to manage their online brand. To you, Mr. Smith, thanks for providing me with a fun story to tell at this weekend's cocktail parties. Cheers.

After reading a Time magazine feature about a new internet startup called TheMan.com, I was excited to check out the site that claimed to be "the premier source of timely, relevant, customized solutions to improve men's lives." My advice to cofounders Calvin Lui and Steve Lombardi: Try again. TheMan.com is not your ticket to an IPO.

Never mind the site's sluggish performance and difficult-to-navigate design; the content is weak, too. Included on their list of ten great date rental movies is The Silence of the Lambs. I don't think I can think of a worse date movie. Most women I know are seriously spooked and in many cases deeply disturbed by that flick, moods that (typically) don't encourage sweet lovin'.

[From a female dack.com reader, regarding TheMan.com: It made me sick. There should be an additional site for women that includes a list of names of guys that actually went to "theman.com" for advice -- it would really help women out if someone could weed out those types of guys.]

Being John Malkovich is at once funny, disturbing, creative ... and disappointing. Director Spike Jonze's comedy/drama fails to create any emotional connection between its characters and audience, so viewers are left with an empty "So what?" feeling after each of the film's head-scratching plot turns. On the bright side, the cast is strong and does a super job, especially Catherine Keener, who, after this picture and last year's Your Friends and Neighbors, has the lesbian ice queen role down pat.

[Full disclosure: I'd happily pay lots of money to watch Catherine Keener read the White Pages.]

The Yankees won the World Series. How exciting. With over $85 million in payroll — tops in the majors — it would be a surprise if they didn't win it all. The Yankees swept the Braves, a team with the second highest payroll in the National League. Until baseball adopts an NFL-like revenue sharing model (pre Jerry Jones style), we can expect the same small handful of teams to be in the playoffs every year, making life a whole lot more boring for the rest of us.

[End rant from bitter Milwaukee Brewers fan]

Spend a little time on the Web (or at the Minnesota State Fair) and you'll soon discover that Americans are getting really fat. One in five of us is obese, being overweight can shorten your life, and men are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

Are you a man? Are you a man with cable? If you haven't already, check out Comedy Central's The Man Show: 30 minutes of outrageous dude-related content hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla. Warning — some of the content is aimed at only the most misogynistic of audiences: a recent episode had Kimmel and Carolla behind a booth at a fair-like setting promoting the end of women's suffrage. The funny, er, sad part was that several women signed the petition to end their right to vote.

There's now a strong front-runner for the most overrated movie of 1999: Fight Club. Over two hours of ultra-violent and utterly pointless fight scenes seasoned with lame attempts at social criticism and philosophy make for a painful filmgoing experience. Somehow, criticism of consumer culture, lamenting the marginalization of the modern-day male, and philosophical musings ("It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything") coming from Brad Pitt just don't work.

Three Kings' plot has holes big enough to drive an Iraqi tank through, but it delivers some delicious dark comedy that's become standard fare from director/writer David O. Russell's wonderfully twisted mind. I'm hoping he's not directly responsible for the movie's hokey ending, which will leave many filmgoers with that icky, syrupy-sweet, Hollywood-induced taste in their mouths.

I just discovered a gem of a column: ABCNEWS.com's Crabby Traveler. Author Christopher Elliott's most recent article argues for the banning of cell phone use on planes, even though they don't interfere with an aircraft's operation. In another, more spirited piece, he argues for the banning of babies on planes, or to at least create a special children's section. Right on, brother!

Today web outfitter Razorfish's stock jumped 23%, vaulting its market cap to $1.1 billion. Razorfish is somewhat profitable, making $1.2 million in the first half of '99, but its valuation sure seems batshitzany to me. If you own mutual funds, take heart in the fact that institutions hold less than 7% of the outstanding shares.

Inappropriate and conspicuous cell phone use is the scourge of modern-day society. It looks like things will only get worse, with both Nokia and Motorola predicting that there will be one billion cell phone users worldwide by 2003, up from the current number of 400 million. One can only hope that Peggy Post's cell phone etiquette guide becomes required reading.

From the back page of the October 4th issue of Forbes:
"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
—Frank Zappa

lyrics I dig
"Closin' time, ugly light, everybody's inspected. But you are a natural beauty, unaffected."

— Prince

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