Thursday, May 27, 1999

The Flying Car

Hey, didja hear about The Flying Car?

A California company called Moller International claims to have invented a car that flies. Ladies and gentlemen, meet George Jetson!

This is one of those technologies Baby Boomers have dreamed about our entire lives but never thought we'd live to see. C'mon, who doesn't want a Flying Car??

Who hasn't had that moment on the road, when traffic is backed up to a standstill, and you wish you could flick a switch and have the car lift straight up and fly over all the other jammed-up suckers? That's what Moller claims this "Skycar" will do.
I don't understand the aviation mechanics of the thing (you can check out their website if you want that), but here's what I understand from a layman's perspective.

The Skycar will take off and land vertically, using powerful rotary engines and fans, like a Harrier jump jet. It'll seat four people, get about 15 miles per gallon and -- get this -- do a top speed of 370 miles per hour. That sure would cut down on the commute, wouldn't it?

You could live 100 miles from work, and be there in 16 minutes. Domino's could deliver your pizza before they even cook it. That first backseat sexual encounter could include membership in the Mile High Club!

Now, before you get too excited, let me bring you back to Earth for a second. So far, they have only gotten the Skycar about six feet off the ground. That's a problem. I usually prefer the aircraft I'm riding in to be able to clear my house, or at least the stop sign at the corner. At this point, they'd be banging into the forehead of your average WNBA player.

It's also a tad pricey, costing somewhere around a million dollars. But once they perfect the design and start mass-marketing this baby, you'll be able to pick one up for about sixty grand -- probably right out of the Sharper Image catalog -- and that's before your factory rebate. That first model won't fold up into a briefcase like George Jetson's did, but you have to start somewhere, don't you?

Flash forward several decades. You're talking to your great-grandchildren: "You kids today don't know how easy you have it! When I was a youngster, we had to drive in cars that actually touched the ground! We didn't just pick up and fly around town like you young punks. We had potholes, red lights, construction detours -- it was hell! Nowadays, the worst thing you deal with is a little old lady dropping down 10,000 feet without signaling!"

Then some twenty-first century Elroy will tease you right back, full of altitude attitude, making fun of how much trouble you used to have folding your old-fashioned two dimensional map.

The real downside to the Flying Car comes when everyone has one. You think you're surrounded by too many SUVs filled with bad drivers now? Wait till they can fly. They can't even parallel park properly -- how are they gonna do a perpendicular park out of a vertical drop? On the other hand, when someone cuts you off, you'll be able to flip them an actual bird!

Until someone develops a personal jetpack or that Star Trek transporter -- and Scotty can beam me up, down, and sideways -- the Flying Car will hold the title of Coolest Thing I've Heard Of for a long time.

Sunday, May 16, 1999

Nothing But A Hound Dog

Did you see the new robot dog that Sony has created?

I know, you're thinking the same thing I did: "Finally, a robot dog! Our prayers have been answered!"

Here's what the Sony PR team has been barking about. The battery-powered robo-mutt is named

AIBO. It has sensors to keep it from walking into walls, a mechanical tail to show that it's happy, and green LEDs for eyes. It can dance, sit up and beg.
Beg for what, a bowl of cyber-alpo?

Granted, there are a couple of benefits to having a dog that's a machine. No fleas. No pooper-scooper. Although, as Woody Allen joked in "Sleeper," it may leave a trail of tiny batteries on the floor. And if you think bathing a real dog is tough, try the shock of sticking this electro-pooch in the tub.

AIBO's creators have programmed it to enjoy being petted. A sensor in its head can "tell the difference between a friendly pat and a scolding slap."

Now, just how frustrating does your life have to be to slap a mechanical dog? What was it doing, sniffing the rear end of your computer? Lifting its leg and leaking oil on the carpet? Mocking Astro while you were trying to enjoy a "Jetsons" rerun?

AIBO will be sold only over the internet -- naturally -- and will cost about $2,500. That's way too much, and besides, you'd be doing a lot for humanity if you'd get yours at the robo-shelter. There are always dozens of compu-canines who desperately need a home. Won't you please pick one up there and plug it in at your house (note: some assembly required).

I'm surprised that Sony hasn't arranged for AIBO to be the spokes-machine for the big event coming up on June 25th: Take Your Dog To Work Day.

That's the day that you're supposed to bring your pooches along with you to the office, so they can see that there are a lot more career options available than just sitting at home staining the rug and scratching up the inside of the door.

What dog wouldn't love the opportunity to be shoved into the corner of your cubicle with nothing to do except listen to you bitch about the boss all day? It is also the perfect way to say to your co-workers, "Here, have some dog hair on your pants, just like me!"

Once you open the floodgates by urging people to bring their dogs into the office, it's inevitable that other pet owners will want to bring theirs, too. Where do you draw the line? Cats? Birds? Fish? Guinea pigs? Rhesus monkeys? Giraffes?

On the other hand, we've allowed jackasses for years, so the precedent is already there. No, I'm not talking about the person down the hall from you. I'm talking about the one who can't wait to buy AIBO, bring it to the office, and then show everyone how it can fetch a virtual stick (sold separately, batteries not included).

Monday, May 03, 1999

Star Wars Bores

Let me be the first to say: I don't care about the new Star Wars movie.

Sorry, George Lucas. I know this goes against every grain of the media hype you have carefully choreographed, but it's just a movie.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Star Wars. The sequels were okay, too. But even if this new one turns out to be the best movie ever made – a stretch, since none of the previous three would even be in the top ten of all time – it's still just a movie.

Here in St. Louis, a thousand people lined up outside of Toys R Us stores in order to be the first to buy the new Star Wars toys and merchandise at midnight last night. One couple sat in folding chairs beginning at 5pm! I hope they spent some part of those seven hours in line considering what they really should get once they got inside the store: A Life!!

This wasn't a one day, come-and-get-it sale. These are toys that will be in stores for a long time to come. Believe me, they're not likely to run out of Star Wars merchandise anytime soon.

To make it even better, we now have the super-hype combo in action: Star Wars and The Internet. This will make that whole Beanie Baby thing seem like a passing fad.

You think I'm kidding? E-Bay already has over 200 "Phantom Menace" items up for bid, including my favorite: an unused Phantom Menace Diet Pepsi can (it's going for five bucks). No, I didn't bid on it. I'm waiting for the one that Mark Hamill drank a few sips from.

Oh, and by the way, if you're an adult and you're walking around with one of those plastic light sabers, you're a dork. Your friends won't tell you, but I will. None of us is jealous because you got one first. None of us want one to begin with.

On the contrary, I have absolutely no problem with the people who have been in line for this movie for a couple of weeks already. In fact, I've had the leader of the line at Mann's Chinese Theater on my show a couple of times. He's funny. He realizes how silly this is. He's doing it for charity. And most of all, he's 22 years old.

You can do that sort of thing when you're 22 years old. In fact, you should do something stupid at that age. Enter a hot dog eating contest. Bungee jump. Hitchhike across Europe. Date Cher.

This is his shot at the brass ring of stupidity, and he's grabbing it with all the gusto he can muster. Good for him. But once you get into your 30s and 40s, your life should serve some other purpose than being the first person in line for ANYTHING.

I was talking with Roger Ebert about this on the air the other day and he agreed with me, saying he wouldn't even stand in line for an hour for a great hamburger. Here's a guy who -- obviously -- loves food, yet he realizes that there's always another place selling a hamburger.

There will always be another showing of the movie. So, you're the second person to see it. Or maybe you're a heretic and you wait two weeks before seeing it, or a month. So what? It's not like you're missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And do you have any idea how annoying that first-person-who-saw-it is going to be to everyone they talk to for the next week?

Finally, a simple eight step test. Here's how you can tell that you are far too interested in the new Star Wars movie, "The Phantom Menace”...

  • You refer to your bathroom as “The Phantom Mensroom.”
  • You have personalized license plate number R2D2 or C3PO.
  • You call your computer “my desktop droid.”
  • You can't pass Pizza Hut without saying the word “Jabba.”
  • You have ever discussed the merits of the Meko disco version of the Star Wars theme versus the John Williams original soundtrack.
  • You refuse to believe that Yoda is a puppet.
  • Your answering machine message includes the phrase "May the phone be with you."
  • Your next destination on the web is the "Phantom Menace" section of E-Bay, to see what kind of cool items they have up for bid right now!