Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Biggest Liars

With help from his readers, Aaron Barnhart has uncovered a scandal regarding a contestant on NBC's "Biggest Loser" who claimed to have run an entire marathon but didn't, despite the show's depiction of him crossing the finish line. In the wake of Aaron's reporting, both the network and the producers have issued statements of apology and investigation.

Goodbye, Normund


On WLS/Chicago this morning, Dave Dellaterza and I mourned the loss of Nick Mitchell as an "American Idol" contestant. His Normund Gentle character injected more fun into the show than anyone else in the series' history, but chances are thin that he'll be asked back for the upcoming wild card round. Since Dave backed Nick/Normund on VoteForTheWorst.com, as he did Tatiana the week before, his track record this season isn't so good, but that doesn't keep him from having lots to say about which singers we've seen -- and will see this week -- deserve to stick around.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

WLS Saturday


I'm on WLS/Chicago this morning from 6 to 8am CT. You can listen live here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

KTRS Today


I'll be back on The Big 550 KTRS/St. Louis today from 3 to 6pm, filling in for Frank, including the Harris Challenge at 5:15pm. You can listen live here.

The Karate Pothead

As broadcasters have trouble filling commercial avails with paid sponsors, public service announcements have been getting more airtime lately. On both radio and TV, stations have to plug them in to fill dedicated commercial spots before the show returns. That's why you're getting a lot more "The More You Know" on NBC.

On radio, networks and syndicators have to run PSAs in unsold slots so that everything times out right for their affiliates. The local stations, meanwhile, usually have about a half-dozen recorded PSAs that air again and again and again until everyone is sick of them. And then they continue to run for another six months. You also get local hosts and news people (the few that remain) reading live PSAs occasionally, always with a station plug like, "99X reminds you that..." or "From the B101 community calendar..." or "Because KRAX cares about Sausolito...". It doesn't prove any kind of commitment to the community. It's because they've promised the FCC they'd do it, and plugging a church's pancake breakfast seems to qualify.

Alex Leo has compiled nine of the weirdest public service announcements, many of which are anti-drug, including this one (which alone may explain why the War On Drugs has been such a miserable failure)...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pat Congrats


Congratulations to Pat Walsh, a St. Louisan who just finished fifth in the LA Poker Classic main event, earning over $340k. Everyone here has known for a long time that Pat's a helluva player, and no-limit hold'em isn't even his best game -- he's an unbelievable pot-limit Omaha player with a national reputation. Since this was a WPT event, you'll see Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten talking about him when the final table airs in a few months.

Pat joins a group of guys who have been representing St. Louis very well in big tournaments for a couple of years: Dan Nassif (9th in the 2006 WSOP main event), Kyle Koechner (two final table finishes at the WSOP last summer), Pat McMillan (won a PLO event earlier at the LAPC), and of course, Dennis Phillips (3rd at the WSOP main event in November).

Spirit Satire

Ben Stiller got some attention for his one-note Joaquin Phoenix parody at the Oscars, but the night before, there was a much better version at the Spirit Awards (a much-looser and usually more-entertaining show in which the people who make indie movies reward each other). Here are Frank Coraci as Phoenix and Steve Coogan as Christian Bale...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Worth A Link

Final Table #5: Mori Eskandani


Of all the TV poker shows, "High Stakes Poker" is the best, because we get to see top pros playing real cash game poker strategies with their own money on the line, and talking it up around the table, too. With season five debuting this Sunday at 8pm CT on GSN, Dennis Phillips and I invited Mori Eskandani, the executive producer of "High Stakes Poker" (and "Poker After Dark" and the "Heads-Up Championship") to be a guest on my radio show, The Final Table.

Mori's the guy who recruits the players, and he has added some young internet pros and older high stakes cash players to the returning group, which includes Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Antonio Esfandiari, Barry Greenstein, Phil Laak, and others.

We asked Mori to explain how long they play and how much of the session we see, how Gabe Kaplan and AJ Benza do their commentary, whether having ultra-rich players like Guy Laliberte changes the game, and whether he's thought of doing a show where they play Pot Limit Omaha instead of No Limit Hold'em. He also told us why he's limited the buy-in to a max of $500,000 this season while raising the minimum to $200,000.

Also on our show, Dennis talked about his adventures at the LAPC at the Commerce Casino, where he didn't play any particularly exciting hands, but a friend of his was involved in a triple-suckout. And you won't want to miss the story of the poker pro and the three hookers!

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Miscrosoft Mosquitoes

In discussing the work of his charitable foundation, particularly in fighting malaria, Bill Gates releases mosquitoes into a roomful of rich white people at the TED Conference a few weeks ago...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Amazing Windy Race


The new season of "The Amazing Race" is off to a good start, although its ratings were no doubt blunted by competing with the Oscars this week. I don't know why CBS insisted on beginning this edition of the show two weeks ago, knowing it would then be up against one of the most-viewed shows of the year, when they could easily have debuted it this Sunday instead.

Still, "TAR" continues to be the best reality competition on television, with the fascinating travelogue and detours (and less emphasis on airport drama) adding stress to the pre-existing relationships and quirks of the well-cast and extremely diverse teams. This season, along with some of the usual types, we have not only the mother-and-deaf-son team of Margie and Luke, but also the gay-guys team of screenwriter Mike White ("School of Rock") and his father Mel.

It was thanks to Mel, whose groin pull added extra drama to a hang-gliding roadblock Sunday night, that we got something rather unusual in reality TV, as Alan Sepinwall observes:

The drama with the shifting winds led to one of my favorite reality show moments ever, in Mel White's refusal to pray for them to change in his favor. It's such a staple of reality TV (and sports, for that matter) for people to crassly assume that God cares about who wins a game show (or a football game) and will reward whoever makes the loudest/earliest/most frequent prayers in His name, that it's so refreshing to hear someone instead believe that God has more important things to worry about. It sort of reminded me of David Cook's refusal to pimp out his dying brother for votes last season on "American Idol," in that reality TV has so lowered the bar for what we accept as human behavior in certain situations that it's almost startling to see people behave reasonably, or in any kind of manner that favors dignity over personal gain.

Colonel Mel Gibson

From Sunday night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," Mel Gibson previews his newest movie...

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Sandy Day

Today's office time-killer: playing with sand, virtually [thanks to Mike Floge for the link]

Oscar Snark

The best commentary on last night's Oscars telecast is by Ken Levine.

Not A FreeCreditReport.com

After he discovered the truth about the company, Mark Frauenfelder answers the question, "when is a free credit report not a free credit report?." And Dan Louisell adds to the chorus of criticism with this homemade ditty...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Vote For The Worst


With "American Idol" entering its voting phase for season eight this week, I invited Dave Dellaterza back to my WLS/Chicago show this morning. He's the guy behind VoteForTheWorst.com, the website dedicated to keeping the least talented contestants on the show for as long as possible.

We talked about the now-departed drama queen Tatiana (who Dave hopes will return in the wild card round), the blandness of this week's other contestants, and our hopes for Nick Mitchell's alter ego, Norman Gentle. We also discussed the addition of Kara DioGuardi as the fourth judge, why Simon Cowell is more than just an adjudicator of musical talent, and why the show's producers shut down one contestant's website while allowing another's.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

High Speed Rail


The Obama stimulus package includes $8 billion for high speed rail across the country, which is good news for Rick Harnish. He's the executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association and has been lobbying for more money to build out a better infrastructure to move Americans by train.

Today on WLS/Chicago, we talked about what that money means for people in this part of the country (as opposed to the Acela corridor on the east coast or the plans for high-speed trains connecting southern and northern California). He claims that within a couple of years, we could see trains moving at over 100 mph between cities. Although that's nowhere near the 200+ mph of trains in Europe and Asia, it's a beginning. I questioned him about whether there would be enough rail passengers to support such an infrastructure, considering how much Amtrak is already in the red.

For his answers, listen here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

WLS Saturday


I'm on WLS/Chicago this morning from 6 to 8am CT. You can listen live here.

Among my guests will be Dave Dellaterza from VoteForTheWorst.com, talking about the first week of voting for "American Idol" contestants, and Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, discussing the $8 billion in the federal stimulus package that's designated to build out high speed rail in the US.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Ebert on Siskel


To mark the 10th anniversary of Gene Siskel's death today, Roger Ebert remembers his colleague and close friend in a piece that will make you wish that someday, someone will say those words about you. He also includes video from "Remembering Gene Siskel," the show Ebert did a week after Siskel succumbed to brain cancer.

Adobe Cards

To promote one of their products, the people at Adobe put together a pretty neat animation featuring playing cards and the characters on them, engaged in battle. See it here. [thanks to Alan Portman for the link]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Conan's First

Before Conan O'Brien wraps up his fifteen-and-a-half-year run as host of "Late Night" tomorrow night and packs up Max Weinberg and the crew for the move to Burbank to take over "The Tonight Show," here's a look back at his very first show.

I remember seeing the debut and wondering if this lanky 30-year-old was going to pull it off. He had sidekick Andy Richter to lean on, and a pretty impressive guest lineup that night -- John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall. But as a broadcasting veteran myself, I knew that no host should ever be judged on his first show, in any medium. It takes awhile to find your groove, calm down, hone your style, figure out what works and what doesn't, and which bits are worth recurring status and which are one-and-done.

With that caveat, O'Brien showed that night that he had something different than so many failed late night hosts, from Alan Thicke to Pat Sajak to Chevy Chase to Magic Johnson. There was a natural affinity for the medium, respect for the path that David Letterman had paved in that time slot, and a relationship with the audience that said "stick with me and we'll make this thing work together."

While O'Brien's show has never been must-see TV in my house (we prefer Craig Ferguson), and I have my doubts about his ability to keep the "Tonight Show" franchise on top, you've gotta respect a guy who did the job pretty well for a decade and a half and created some of his own iconic comedy moments.

Quick side story: I was actually the first person to reveal on the radio that O'Brien would be Letterman's replacement, thanks to a message from my friend Mark Evanier. He had heard about a test show that Lorne Michaels arranged for O'Brien on the "Tonight Show" set, and since Mark knows pretty much everyone in show business, he got internal confirmation that NBC had hired O'Brien but hadn't announced it yet. Mark posted his news on the Broadcast Professionals Forum on CompuServe, which we both frequented early in 1993. I asked his permission to quote him on the air, and did so the next day on the morning show I hosted at DC-101 Radio in Washington.

No one thought I was serious, because O'Brien was such an unknown. In fact, Arch Campbell, the entertainment reporter at WRC-TV (the local NBC O&O), came to the radio station to do a piece on the revelation, but discounted it as mere rumor. Knowing Mark's connections, I stood by his story. It wasn't until the next day that NBC made the official announcement, which pretty much repeated everything Mark had told me. I don't remember him ever blogging the full story behind how he got the information, but if he hasn't, I hope he does soon.

So here's Conan's debut, as it aired on NBC on September 13, 1993...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Final Table #4: Vanessa Rousso


Straight from the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, that's professional poker player Vanessa Rousso, who was our guest last night at The Final Table.

Dennis Phillips and I talked to her about doing the photo shoot in the Bahamas, the reaction she's gotten from other poker pros, and how she uses her image against her opponents. Vanessa told a great story about ending up in a huge pot after she limped with pocket queens in a $5-10 cash game and was shocked to see what the two other players had -- a good illustration of how becoming better known has put a target on her back at the table.

Also on the show, I asked Dennis to analyze a hand I played last week in the Deep Stack event at the Venetian in Las Vegas. It was level 11, and I was pretty short-stacked at less than half the chip average when I made a move with AsTs against the chip leader. It didn't go well, but I wanted to know what I should have done differently, particularly since I was three off the money bubble with 30 players left. After you hear our discussion, please share your analysis in the comments section (you can also e-mail us a hand you've played that you'd like us to dissect on the show).

One other segment you shouldn't miss: Joe McGowan, the Poker Coach, with tips on how to know when to leave the table, whether you're winning or losing.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Meet Mac

Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the day that Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer to the world. Looking at it now, I'm struck by how far personal computing techonology has come in this quarter-century -- note the small monochrome screen for one -- and how good a salesman Jobs was (and is).

The date is January 24, 1984, just days before Apple's legendary "1984" commercial aired during the Super Bowl...


[thanks to Vince Flavin for the link]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Worth A Link

  • With all the talk of whether Sirius XM can survive much longer (and its possible merger with Direct TV), Sean Ross ponders what it would mean for both consumers and terrestrial radio stations if satellite radio went away tomorrow
  • Phil Plait explains why a scientific society has moved its annual convention (with 2,000+ attendees) from New Orleans to Utah because of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's pro-creationist agenda
  • Jesse Walker rates the recent presidents from a libertarian perspective on a scale of "least bad" to "worst"

Panama Canal

A trip through the Panama Canal in two minutes, from the perspective of a cruise ship...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Captain Dave

If you haven't been watching David Letterman over the last couple of weeks, you've missed more proof of how he's the best late night talk show host ever. Witness:

  • the interview with Joaquin Phoenix that was so odd, it joins the pantheon of strange appearances already inhabited by Farrah Fawcett and Crispin Glover
  • his pitch-perfect interview with the crew of Flight 1549, and how he got them to be relaxed, conversational, and comfortable
  • his discussion with impeached governor Rod Blagojevich, in which Letterman asked better questions and was more skeptical than any of the others who talked to him on his media blitz

Those are three very different sets of guests, who each required special handling. No one could have done it as well as Letterman, who injected varying measures of humor, pathos, sarcasm, cynicism, and (above all) curiosity into the proceedings.

Certainly, there are nights when his show runs on auto-pilot, but there are also nights like these where Letterman -- like Captain Chesley Sullenberger -- takes the controls and makes sure the ride ends smoothly, safely, and memorably.

Worth A Link

Let's Get It On


If you don't own Marvin Gaye's classic 1973 song "Let's Get It On," you can download it for free -- today and tomorrow only -- from this Amazon link.

End Of The Show Song

At the end of the taping of each episode of "Late Night," Conan O'Brien and the band perform a little ditty called "The End Of The Show Song," which the home audience never sees -- until now...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flying Economy

If you had walked into the East Terminal at Lambert Airport this morning, you wouldn't have believed we're in a recession.

I was there to catch a 7am flight to Vegas, where I'll play in a couple of tournaments this weekend. Normally, if I get there by 6am, I can breeze through, get a bagel and juice and a newspapers, and have plenty of time to get on the Southwest non-stop.

Today was anything but normal. The place was packed, with the line for the security checkpoint almost out the door. Only two airlines operate out of that terminal -- USA 3000 is the other one, and this was one of the days they fly to Orlando and other warm places.

Among the hundreds of people waiting to do the TSA dance were lots of families taking advantage of the holiday weekend to get away, with dozens of bleary-eyed children clutching teddy bears while trying to temper their early-morning exhaustion with their excitement about going to Disneyworld. I looked at them and thought, kid, if you think this is bad, wait until you see the line for Space Mountain.

Although one TSA agent went through the line lying to us ("this will only be a few minutes more"), another agent -- aware that some of these travelers may not fly very often and were thus unaware of the security rules -- kept going through the line offering plastic bags for liquids and gels and reminding people to throw away their water bottles. Still, there are always some people who don't pay attention, and they were the ones slowing down the proceedings even more. One guy in front of me either didn't understand what metal is, or he was begging for a strip search. If you listened closely, you could hear the more experienced flyers in line silently shouting, "C'mon buddy, I got a plane to catch!"

In the end, instead of the usual 5 minutes to clear security, it took me about 35 to get to the other side, where I quickly grabbed some breakfast to go and made it onto the plane with minutes to spare. Surprisingly, there was still room in the back -- even an aisle seat! -- but by the time everyone else made it, we were at capacity, and I wondered again what all of this said about the state of our economy.

Darwin Illusion

To celebrate Darwin Day (the 200th anniversary of the great biologist's birth), here's something new from Richard Wiseman and Rob Jenkins:

The picture below shows two monkeys. Set your computer monitor to maximum brightness and then stare at the centre of the picture for about 30 seconds without moving your eyes. Next, look to a white wall and blink a few times. The monkeys should suddenly transform into a perfect picture of Darwin!

For more on this illusion, click here.

Movie Mistakes

On most movie sets, there's someone in charge of continuity. They make sure that the characters wear the same clothes in different takes of the same scene, that the props don't change, that there's no Boeing 747 in the background of a shot that's supposed to be in ancient Rome, etc.

Of course, there's no way to keep track of everything over the weeks it takes to shoot the movie, so mistakes occur now and again. Or, all the time. Sometimes the filmmakers notice them, but they've moved on to other locations, or are behind in their schedule, and can't go back and fix them. More often, the mistakes slip through unnoticed by anyone affiliated with the movie.

But they don't slip by movie fans, which is why there's a site called MovieMistakes.com. It's the brainchild of a British guy names Jon Sandys who started the site in 1996, when he was still in school. Since then, he's logged 81,365 mistakes in over 5,000 movies and 500 TV shows. Some of it is really nit-picking, but much of it will make you wonder whether anyone was paying attention on the movie set.

For example, take this continuity error from "Spider-Man" (Jon won't let me embed the frame grabs, but you can see them here). It's a scene Mary Jane is being mugged by four men, and Spider-Man shows up to save her. He throws two of the muggers into windows behind her. Then the shot switches to Spider-Man beating up the other two guys. When it cuts back to Mary Jane the two windows are intact.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nanny MODOT

Last spring, MODOT added variable speed limit signs to Interstate 270. Instead of keeping it at 60mph all the time, they lower it (but never go higher) on occasion when they feel conditions warrant. Yesterday was one of those occasions, when the rain was really coming down during afternoon rush and traffic was jammed so much we were crawling at about 20mph, without an accident in sight.

My question: if drivers were already going that speed, why change the sign to tell us the speed limit was now 40mph? We didn't need the taunting ("you could be going twice as fast!"). In fact, we didn't need the state to spend who-knows-how-much to regulate behavior we were handling just fine on our own.

For decades, we've been able to determine what the correct speed was, based on traffic conditions. You just stayed with the traffic flow and you were good. Thanks, Nanny MODOT!

Eight Misbehavin'

Scott Reames wonders if this was the inspiration for Nadia Suleman's octuplets.

Final Table #3: Greg Raymer

On this week's installment of The Final Table, the poker radio show I'm doing with Dennis Phillips, we talked with Greg Raymer, who won the 2004 World Series Of Poker Main Event (and then went on to finish 25th in a huge field the next year, too).

Last month, Greg played in the World Cup of Poker, a international team event with a unique format. We also discussed all the requests he's gotten to back other players since becoming a poker millionaire, why he doesn't like the WSOP decision to do away with re-buy tournaments this year, and the poker training he's doing with his new video website.

In another segment, our regular contributor Joe McGowan, the poker coach, explained how to profile players from the moment you sit down at the table, and how important it is to pay attention even when you're not in a hand. And Josh Schindler, The Poker Lawyer, explained how tournament players can parlay their success at the table into lucrative endorsement deals.

You'll get all of that when you listen to the show, or you can click here to subscribe to get all of our podcasts each week via iTunes.

Modern Biathlon?



Jon Michelson tipped me to a year-in-review series of photos that the Boston Globe published at the end of 2008, including this one.

Those are members of China's armed police demonstrating a rapid deployment during an anti-terrorist drill a few weeks before the Beijing Olympics, on what look to be specially-designed Segway scooters (or, knowing how China works, devices that use the same intellectual property of Segways, but without regard for international patent and trademark law).

See the whole series here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Jury Duty

Three weeks ago, on the day that Barack Obama became President #44, I became Juror #681.

That's the number assigned to me when I reported for jury service in the St. Louis County Circuit Courts, ready for a day that I knew would not include my being impaneled.

Several attorneys have told me they would never choose me because they try to keep the jury room free of opinionated people who might try to sway the verdict by injecting reason and rational thought into the process. Logic and the ability to persuade, while central to the talents of a talk show host, are apparently anathema to the jury process. Besides that, I have a beard, which is an immediate giveaway that I’m a witch who has the ability to cloud men’s minds. Wait, that’s The Shadow. Anyway, there was no chance I’d become a juror that day.

So, I brought along some reading material and some headphones and sat patiently in the Jury Assembly Room with several hundred other county residents. Court personnel made announcements about how to get reimbursed for our parking, how much we’d get paid for our service, which forms to take back to employers as proof we’d been there, etc. Every half hour or so, a bailiff from one of the courtrooms would appear, call out a couple dozen names, and those people would forlornly pick up their belongings and go off to do their part in the legal process.

Meanwhile, quite a few people had found chairs in one of the two areas with televisions, where they were watching the inaugural pre-game show going on in Washington. By 10:40am, with the oaths of office about to be sworn by Biden and Obama, those rooms were overflowing with American citizens who wanted to witness history, myself included.

At 10:42am, another bailiff appeared to call a group of jurors away. Everyone let out a moan in unison, and those whose names were called looked even more upset than usual. The ones left behind let out a sigh of relief as we went back to concentrating on the events in DC.

No bailiffs appeared for the next hour, so we sat there watching America’s first black President take the oath of office. Some applauded, some cried, some were just happy to have the diversion. While feeling proud of how far the US had come in my lifetime, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to see this moment in our nation’s executive history pass while sitting on the sidelines of our judicial system.

I wanted to be chosen. I’ve been called for jury duty several times, but never served on a case, and would like to experience that at least once. I don’t want a civil case that’s going to drag on for months and include experts testifying about the chemical effects of exposure to chlorine gas under high pressure in a subterranean blah blah blah -- but I wouldn’t mind spending a day or two on a fairly simple criminal case.

Problem is, I know I’ll never make it to the jury box. The closest I’ve gotten was undergoing voir dire with 20 or so other prospective jurors several years ago. The attorneys were questioning each of us, before accepting or rejecting us as arbiters of justice:

They started with a woman who had applied so much hairspray to her head that she risked spontaneous combustion every time she passed anything as warm as a glowing incandescent bulb.

Attorney 1: Mrs. Jenkins, you say that your son has been the victim of a crime similar to the one involved in this case. Do you think that would keep you from rendering an impartial verdict in this matter?

Mrs. Jenkins: There’s no way I can be objective when it comes to scumbags like the guy you’re defending.

Attorney 1: She’s acceptable, your honor.

Next was a guy in his mid-20s who had last showered in junior high school and had come to court wearing an MTV Spring Break t-shirt.

Attorney 2: Mr. Belton, have you or anyone in your family ever been involved in an automobile accident?

Mr. Belton: Yes, all of us were in a minivan that was hit by an 18-wheeler last year. Although none of us was seriously injured, I tracked down the next-of-kin of the truck driver in order to steal their identities and ruin their financial life by filing false reports with two of the three major credit agencies.

Attorney 2: He’s acceptable, your honor.
Then it was my turn.

Attorney 1: Mr. Harris, I always enjoy your radio show.

Me: Thank you.

Attorney 1: You’re excused.
That was it, I was out of there.

On inauguration day, my role as a cog in the judicial wheel was complete at 4pm. Along with the hundred or so other leftovers, I collected my paperwork from the clerk, who assured us that in about three weeks, we’d get a check for $11.37 to reimburse us for our time.

She also told us that, even though we hadn’t been chosen, our presence had served as an impetus for some of the parties to settle their cases or reach plea bargains. I assumed their attorneys took one look at us and decided there was no way they were going to leave their clients’ fates in our hands.

After all, most of us at this point were men with beards.

George Carlin's Commandments

I missed this bit when Carlin did it on an HBO special in 2001, but caught it on last week's PBS special honoring him posthumously with the Mark Twain Prize For Humor. Here's Carlin once again proving himself a brilliant linquist and logician as he deconstructs the ten commandments (note: if you're easily offended, don't watch this -- that way, I won't have to delete your complaining e-mail without reading it)...

Monday, February 09, 2009

Valet Values

As I was coming home from an evening out tonight, I noticed that the two women who were working as parking valets kept running to get the cars. There was a steady stream of customers, so they were fairly busy, but as soon as they brought a car to the door and handed over the keys to its owner, they ran to pick up another ticket and get another car.

It was good to see them hustle like that, particularly after a recent experience I'd had with the exact opposite behavior. A couple of weeks ago, when I was in Tunica, the valets at the hotel never ran anywhere. I didn't have a stopwatch, but I don't think it even qualified as walking briskly. Meandering, perhaps. Tortoises were passing these guys, despite a dozen or so people waiting patiently for their cars.

When the valet brought my car tonight, I tipped her nicely for doing her job so well and told her about my experience down south. She commented, "Sounds like a couple of idiots. Don't they realize we do this for tips, and the more cars we get, the more we make?"

Exactly! Then she ran off to retrieve another car.

The PC Talks

You know John Hodgman as the PC in the Mac commercials and as a contributor to "The Daily Show," but he's even better in a longer format. Here's Hodgman at the TED conference last October rambling through a story about physicists, aliens, time, space, and love...


Hodgman's latest book is "More Information Than You Require."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Pigeon Legged

From Australian customs, a photo of a man caught with pigeons in his pants (the birds probably took one look at his leg hair and thought they were in a nest)...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Merge Left For Undead


Someone's been hacking into roadside traffic signs and changing the messages.

Tuesday morning, a sign on southbound I-255 in Collinsville, Illinois, read "Daily Lane Closures Due To Zombies!" On Monday in Carmel, Indiana, a sign was changed to say "Raptors Ahead -- Caution!" And signs in Austin, Texas, recently flashed "Nazi Zombies! Run!!" and "Zombies In Area! Run!"

Authorities have no suspects yet, but are checking Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video for clues as to who the hacker zombies are.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Final Table #2: Barry Greenstein

On this week's edition of The Final Table, we talked at length with poker legend Barry Greenstein. Barry has won 3 WSOP bracelets, 2 WPT titles, and millions of dollars in both tournaments and cash games over the years. He's also author of the poker strategy book "Ace On The River."

Dennis says,

"I got to know Barry when he was nice enough to play in my Chip Leader Challenge -- a two-table $10,000 buy-in event I put on at the new Poker Lounge at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas two days before the final table of the 2008 WSOP -- along with Michael "The Grinder" Mizrachi, Hevad Khan, David Benyamine, and several other pros. It was some very tough competition that helped me hone my skills at a crucial time."
Speaking of the WSOP, since Bary is on the committee that recommended changes for this year's series, he explained why they decided to get rid of the re-buy events. We also discussed his early days of playing poker around Illinois while working on his PhD in math, and what it was like in the days before you could go to a local casino and find a game any time.

Listen here, or subscribe to all of my podcasts via iTunes by clicking here.

A Decade Without Siskel

This month marks 10 years since Gene Siskel died of a brain tumor.

From 1975 to 1999, he and Roger Ebert were the gold standard for movie criticism on TV, and no one has matched their rapport, knowledge, or insight since. Gene appeared on my radio show a few times (here's a transcript from 1996), and was always a money-in-the-bank guest because he was such a good communicator, and his passion for the movies was evident.

Some thought their act was all about disagreeing and arguing with each other, but what made the show work was their genuine enthusiasm for film, so when they both praised a movie, you knew you had to see it. For example, here are Gene and Roger reviewing and thoroughly enjoying "Broadcast News" in 1987...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Worth A Link

  • They're working on a stage musical version of "The Addams Family," Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as Gomez and Morticia
  • Contrary to popular belief, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations (if you're wondering why I cared about this, I happen to have a 14-year-old girl living in my house)

Song for an Upscale Supermarket

An ode to Trader Joe's...

Monday, February 02, 2009

War Waste

The reconstruction of Iraq was supposed to cost us $2.4 billion, based on initial Bush administration estimates. To date, the actual retail price is over $50 billion. That's a five with ten zeroes after it.

How did the figure get so bloated? We're not just talking about waste and lack of oversight, according to Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general who has looked into where your tax money went. There are myriad examples (and 154 criminal investigations) of fraud, theft, bribery, and more.

Today, Bowen is releasing a report called "Hard Lessons," which lays out how all that money was wasted, embezzled, stolen, or simply mismanaged. He says that he would have much preferred to publish a series of reports on how well the rebuilding program had gone and that the money was all accounted for, but that's not what he found.

Even in instances where there was no corruption, there were still corners cut in Iraq so that the private contractors (Halliburton, Blackwater, CACI, etc.) could profit from this war, often at the expense of American lives.

With $4 billion more in reconstruction funds already appropriated but still unspent, and even more expenses to come as the battle shifts back to Afghanistan under Obama, attention must be paid to this vast waste of money, time, and effort. Unfortunately, just as it did with the financial bailout package, Congress signed the checks but never cared who cashed them or what they were used for.

In November, 2006, I discussed much of this with filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who chronicled those financial abuses, and the human cost, in his documentary "Iraq For Sale." Afterwards, Greenwald gave me permission to do a free screening of the movie for my listeners, and hundreds of them showed up to see it and become even more outraged. More Americans should have seen the movie (which is still available on DVD).

This is the link for that interview, and here's a trailer for the film...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Simply Super


If you don't live in one of the cities whose team is playing in the Super Bowl, you want to see three things -- a close football game, an entertaining halftime show, and some clever commercials.

Tonight, the Steelers and the Cardinals delivered in grand style, with a big comeback by Arizona that was only outdone by the game-winning drive by the Steelers with under a minute to play. As a fan, you can't ask for more than that, and the final score made a lot of bettors happy, because while the Cards lost, they covered the seven-point spread.

There was a lot of talk before and during the game about Kurt Warner being a lock for the Hall of Fame if he won this Super Bowl, but it's really time to consider Ben Roethlisberger as the Canton-bound heir-apparent to John Elway when it comes to strength in the pocket and the ability to lead his team on a come-from-behind game-winning drive.

I'll add kudos for the NBC production crew. Despite the redundant obviousness of pretty much everything that comes out of John Madden's mouth, the people behind the scenes captured every angle, every close-up, every "NBCee It" zoom shot of close plays and controversial calls. And it was Al Michaels, not Madden, who knows the rule book backwards and forwards, and once again explained precisely what we needed to know in every circumstance the game presented.


At halftime, Bruce Springsteen provided one of the best halftime shows in a long time. Clearly happy to be there and to play to the home audience, Springsteen and the E Street Band proved again what a tight unit they are and -- unlike previous Super Bowl performers who came off as little more than oldies acts -- managed to work a plug for their new album into the midst of their energy-filled three-song set of classics.

Speaking of performers, that was a helluva comeback-from-catastrophe moment for Jennifer Hudson singing the anthem.

When it came to the commercials, Alec Baldwin stole the show, with this spot for Hulu.com...


Coca-Cola clearly won the soda wars with this one, entitled "Heist"...


And with this one, "Mean Troy" for Coke Zero...


At the other end of the spectrum, aren't we about done with ETrade's talking babies and GoDaddy.com's ability to make blatant sexual content boring?

Schneier On Security

I have been impressed with the work of Bruce Schneier, a security expert who has taken on the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security, questioning their methods and the whole notion of protecting us from attack.

Schneier joined me on my WLS/Chicago show yesterday to talk about whether we are in fact safer with current airport procedures than those before 9/11 and whether government and private industry are doing enough to harden security at possible terrorist targets like nuclear and chemical plants. We also talked about technology's role in global security (e.g. whether Google Earth deserved the criticism after investigators found that the terrorists who shot up Mumbai in November had used the imaging information to plan their attack), and about the restrictions on taking liquids onto commercial flights -- the 3.5-ounce rule -- and whether there was any proof that a terrorist could construct a bomb from two liquids they mixed in an airplane lavatory.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


Bruce Schneier is the author of "Schneier on Security" and "Beyond Fear." Read his blog here.

Worth A Link

As Tom Cruise walked through a mall in the movie "Minority Report," the ads on the walls scanned him so that their messages could be personalized for him. It was a futuristic conceit, the notion that advertising techonology could be combined with an individual's identity information to market products specifically at him at that level.

Well, welcome to the future.

Don't Blame The Game

Next month is the one year anniversary of the shooting at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. April will mark the second anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech and the tenth anniversary of the rampage at Columbine High School.

In each of those cases, along with many others in the intervening years, questions were asked about what turned the boys involved into murderers, and far too often there was a leap to judgment and part of the blame was put on violent video games. In our national desire to find a scapegoat cause for everything, conclusions were reached, hands were wrung, and laws were passed regarding the sale of those games. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that the shooters were any more obsessed with those games than the people of both genders, by the millions, who have played them and never shot anyone.

That's what Professor Christopher Ferguson of Texas A&M, who conducted extensive research into the subject, told me yesterday on my WLS/Chicago show. You can listen to our conversation here, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!