Sunday, February 27, 2011

Space Shuttle Launch Window

Neil Monday was on a flight out of Orlando on Thursday when he looked out the window and saw the departure of another flight -- the Space Shuttle Discovery beginning its final mission, the 133rd time a shuttle has lifted off from Earth -- so he pointed his camera out the window...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

High Stakes Poker Returns


If you're a "High Stakes Poker" fan, remember that the new season airs on Saturdays, not Sundays, beginning tonight at 7pm CT on GSN. Hopefully, the often-annoying-and-not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is Norm McDonald (who's replacing Gabe Kaplan in the booth) will say as little as possible and we'll get to hear more of the player interaction. That's the key to making "HSP" work -- yes, it's about big bucks and clever strategy, but the show is best when there's lots of table talk. And I wouldn't mind a little more Kara Scott, too.

Bad Rules, Badly Applied

Richard Dawkins on the stupidity of airport security screening, and the implacability of authorities who hew to the rulebook...

I'm writing this on a plane, having just passed through Security at Heathrow airport. An obviously nice young mother was distraught because she wasn't allowed to take on board a tub of ointment for her little girl's eczema. The security man was polite but firm. She wasn't even permitted to spoon a reduced quantity into a smaller jar. I couldn't quite grasp what was wrong with that helpful suggestion, but the rule book was implacable. All the official could do was offer to fetch his supervisor. The supervisor came and, equally polite but firm, she too was regretfully bound by the rulebook's hoops of steel.

There was nothing I could do, and it was no help that I recommended a website where a knowledgeable chemist explains, in delightfully comedic detail, what it would take to manufacture a workable bomb from binary liquid ingredients, working for several hours in the aircraft loo, using copious quantities of ice, in relays of champagne coolers helpfully supplied by the cabin staff.

The prohibition against taking more than very small quantities of liquids or unguents on planes is demonstrably ludicrous. It started as one of those "Look at us, we're taking decisive action" displays, the ones designed to cause maximum inconvenience to the public in order to make the dimwitted Dundridges who rule our lives feel important and look busy.

Same with having to take our shoes off (another gem of official wallyhood that must have Bin Laden chuckling triumphantly into his beard) and all those other classic exercises in belated stable door shutting. But let me get to the general principle. Rulebooks are themselves put together by human judgments. Often bad human judgments, but in any case judgments by humans who were probably no wiser or better qualified to make them than the individuals who subsequently have to put them into practice out in the real world.

No sane person, witnessing that scene at the airport, seriously feared that this woman was planning to blow herself up on a plane. The fact that she was accompanied by children gave us the first clue. Supporting evidence trickled in from the brazen visibility of her face and hair, from her lack of a Koran, prayer mat or big black beard, and finally from the manifest absurdity of the notion that her little tub of ointment could ever, in a million years, be alchemically magicked into a high explosive - certainly not in the cramped laboratory facilities afforded by an aircraft loo. The security official and his supervisor were human beings who obviously wished they could behave decently, but they were powerless: stymied by a rulebook. Nothing but a rulebook, which, because it is made of paper and unalterable ink rather than of flexible human brain tissue, is incapable of discretion, compassion or humanity.
Dawkins goes on -- read the whole thing here.

Bomb Detector Scam Update

Thirteen months ago, I brought you my interview with James Randi about a military fraud that was costing human lives. It had to do with bogus bomb-detecting equipment sold to security forces in Iraq, to the tune of $85 million despite the fact that the devices were useless. They were in essence nothing more than divining rods, the pseudo-science quackery that people have fallen for throughout history when a con man told them they could be used to find water, oil, missing persons, etc. You can listen to that interview here.

At the time, Randi wrote to several authorities in Iraq offering them the JREF million-dollar prize if they could produce evidence that the ADE561 dowsing-stick actually worked. Now he has an update:

None of these authorities ever responded, and I suspected it was because they were already making their own profit from fluffing up the price…

Well, Iraqi police have just arrested Major General Jihad al-Jabiri, the commander of the bomb squad and one of those who received my letter! He’s a high-ranking police official who handled the business involved in buying the ADE561 toy, which was widely used by police and soldiers at security checkpoints and was meant to be a key weapon in the defense against insurgents. Sure.

The police finally got around to wondering how a series of blasts had killed hundreds in recent years despite the use of the ADE561. Militants had gotten trucks, buses and cars packed with explosives through Baghdad’s numerous checkpoints, with no trouble – and those checkpoints had been “protected” by the fake device!

The Iraqi police said that they have documents and incriminating evidence in the explosives detector case that point directly to al-Jabiri, who would seem to have a very dim future in his homeland… He’s charged with corruption – no stranger to Iraq, I believe. He was just doing what the boys all do.

The UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced last year that it would ban exports to Iraq and Afghanistan of the ADE651 device, which is made in the UK. It’s shaped like a pistol and features a swiveling antenna meant to point at explosives. Of course, woo-woos continue to assert that the rod works, but the sound of explosions makes it hard to hear them….

The police say that al-Jabiri recommended that Iraq sign five contracts to supply security forces with the detectors for between $38,000 and $56,000 each. Jim McCormick, who makes the things in the UK, turns them out for $100 each.

Illegal Use Of Hands

Lots of athletes have been injured during sporting events, but very few of them were as self-imposed as this soccer player, who uses his opponent's arm to punch himself in the face. He obviously forgot the rule that you can't use your hands -- or anyone else's...


[thanks to Robert Knotbob for the link]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Worth A Link

Bob & Ray & Dave

Now, for no reason at all, a flashback to February 11, 1982, when Bob & Ray appeared on NBC's "Late Night with David Letterman" to perform a couple of routines in the guest chairs...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Worth A Link

The Thighmaster Is Not A Cancer Cure

Kudos to Dr. Nancy Snyderman and "Dateline NBC," which over the weekend aired an expose of doctors who prey on cancer patients by promising cures via medicines that have not been approved, tested, or peer-reviewed. In fact, the doctors practicing this quackery offer no proof, no evidence at all other than anecdotes. Unfortunately, there are too many desperate people in this world who, instead of seeking out the best scientific information from mainstream physicians, would rather get medical advice from quacks because they're recommended by noted oncologist Suzanne Somers...


And if that's not enough bullshit for you, watch this...


Here's a tip: if your doctor demands a check for $15,000 before he'll help you, or wants to put you on a daily regiment of organic coffee enemas, or wants to send your hair to be tested by a whack job who operates a spa in Louisiana and uses a device that does less than nothing, run the other way as fast as you can.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pension Tension

A question for the Wisconsin legislators who want to reduce pension benefits and collective bargaining rights for public employees like teachers, police, and firefighters: why don't you go first?

According to the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, once they retire and pass age 62, those politicians will receive lifelong pensions equal to 70% of their highest salary -- which is more than teachers make. Legislators' pensions are about $38,000/year, while teachers get about $19,000/year. The legislators' salaries average $51,000, while educators average $48,000 (if you exclude administrators, it's much less), a sad number when you consider the level of education required to become a licensed teacher and hold onto the job long enough to earn a pension!

I have yet to hear any of those legislators offer to give up or reduce their own pensions. As for collective bargaining, the politicos are a unit unto themselves and would no doubt find it unfair for each member to have to negotiate his/her own salary and perks.

So, if it's good for the cheese-heads at the top of the state's employee rolls, why isn't it good for those public servants in the schools, firehouses, and police stations?

It reminds me of last year's federal debate over health care and the members of the Senate and House of Representatives who didn't want you to have the public option -- to get health care benefits directly from the government. At the time, and to this day, not one congressman has declined that coverage while denying you that right.

Oil Trumps All

In the NY Times today, Thomas Friedman echoes what I've been saying about America's attitude regarding the human-rights-squashing oil-rich dictatorships of the middle east:

For the last 50 years, America (and Europe and Asia) have treated the Middle East as if it were just a collection of big gas stations: Saudi station, Iran station, Kuwait station, Bahrain station, Egypt station, Libya station, Iraq station, United Arab Emirates station, etc. Our message to the region has been very consistent: “Guys (it was only guys we spoke with), here’s the deal. Keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t bother the Israelis too much and, as far as we’re concerned, you can do whatever you want out back. You can deprive your people of whatever civil rights you like. You can engage in however much corruption you like. You can preach whatever intolerance from your mosques that you like. You can print whatever conspiracy theories about us in your newspapers that you like. You can keep your women as illiterate as you like. You can create whatever vast welfare-state economies, without any innovative capacity, that you like. You can undereducate your youth as much as you like. Just keep your pumps open, your oil prices low, don’t hassle the Jews too much — and you can do whatever you want out back.”
Read Friedman's whole piece here, particularly the passages about the lack of freedom, education, and women's empowerment, all of which will make growing the region from corrupt regime-driven states to places we can respect for more than their natural resources a very tough task.

Dancing Ginger-ly

There's a viral e-mail going around with the subject heading "Never Underestimate An Old Broad," which purports to show Ginger Rodgers, the star of so many Hollywood musicals with Fred Astaire many decades ago, doing a salsa routine recently at age 92 with her 29 year old great-grandson. Unfortunately, that's impossible, since she died in 1995 at age 83. According to Snopes, the woman is actually 75-year-old Sarah Jones, and the guy is her 35-year-old dance instructor. It's still inspirational, though...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Worth A Link

  • More details about the horrific attack on CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt on the night Mubarak resigned.
  • Fareed Zakaria says the revolutions in the Middle East remind him of earlier revolts led by young people in the US in the late 1960s and in Europe in 1848 -- when the new mass information technology was newspapers!
  • Chris Wilson says IBM's Watson was kinda impressive on "Jeopardy!" but wonders whether they can build a supercomputer that can beat top poker pros at their game.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cartoon Voices

If you've ever wondered what it's like when they record the voice session for an animated TV show (like "Garfield"), Mark Evanier explains it in detail. He knows it first hand, since he's directed some of the most talented voice actors in the business, often from his own scripts.

Disadvantage Car Rental

In my travels over the last few years, I've found that all car rental agencies offer essentially the same makes and models, so the choice of who to do business with comes down to price and service. Often, I'll book through Hotwire, which doesn't tell you which company you're using until you agree to pay up front. It could be Hertz, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Alamo, etc. -- but it doesn't matter because the vehicle choices will be so similar.

One company that's not included in those deals is Advantage Car Rental, which I have used several times (mostly in Las Vegas), because their prices have been consistently lower than even the Hotwire competition. That's why I booked through them for my current trip to Florida.

I'm sorry I did.

When I arrived Thursday at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, I went straight to the Advantage counter, gave my reservation information to the clerk, and was promptly told that they didn't have a car for me. When I showed him the printed confirmation e-mail, he said, "That was for noon. It's now 4pm, and we have given your car to someone else."

True, I had made the reservation from noon that day until noon on Monday because that's when I was going to arrive and depart, but a few weeks ago, I switched my flight to a later Southwest non-stop. Because it was only a matter of a few hours, I didn't even think about updating my car reservation. The Advantage clerk told me that this was not his problem, and that he had no cars available. I asked how long they held the car before giving it away, and he said, "One hour."

I asked what the company does when passengers arrive late through no fault of their own, like a flight that's been delayed due to weather or mechanical problems. He said, "That's not my problem. If you don't pick up the car within an hour of the reservation, your reservation is cancelled and we have the option of giving the car to someone else."

Option. That's an important word here, which I'll explain in a minute.

President's Day weekend is very busy in south Florida because kids are out of school and families from the north and midwest want to get away from the horrid winter they've lived through. Thus, none of the other major car rental agencies had cars available, either. At the Budget counter, they did have a few vehicles, but the price for my four-day rental would be over $1,000 -- way higher than the $163 deal I'd booked with Advantage.

I used my Kayak app to try to locate another rental car in the area at a non-airport location. Nothing, anywhere. So, I went back to the Advantage counter to talk to the manager and plead my case. He was even more of a jerk, adamantly refusing to give me a car. He was also giving the same line to two couples whose Advantage reservations were also not being honored.

At one point, I interrupted him and raised my voice, and he said, "Sir, if you talk to me like that, there's no chance I'll give you a car." Amazed, I replied, "Do you mean that if I calm down, you do have a car for me?" He quickly said, "No, we have no cars." So I responded, "Then it doesn't matter what I say or how loudly I say it, your company is still screwing us."

Here's what he didn't say, but was really going on. The Advantage personnel saw an opportunity to make more money by canceling the cheaper reservations (regardless of how long ago we'd booked them) and re-renting those cars to people who had arrived without reservations but were willing to pay exorbitant prices for those vehicles. I think the word is gouging.

They had us over a barrel. I decided to cough up the extra money, but was certainly not going to do it with Advantage. Instead, I found the counter for a local company, Royal Auto, where a very nice woman told me they had exactly two cars left -- a Lincoln Town Car and a new Volvo SUV, either of which I could have would have for four days at a rate of about $800.

That's a helluva lot of money, but I had to have a car for the weekend, and there were literally no other choices. I wasn't going to chauffeur myself around in a Lincoln Town Car, so I took the Volvo. I figured I'd just have to cover the expense with my winnings from the World Series Of Poker Circuit Event I was here to attend (and I did, thanks to some very juicy cash games on Saturday).

As she was doing the paperwork, I told her what I'd been through with Advantage. She was shocked that they'd given away my car after only a few hours, saying that she used to work for two bigger car rental agencies, and none of them would have treated me like that, nor would the small one that currently employed her. Her best line: "I guess they don't care about their customers, only their money."

Bottom line: I've learned two lessons. One is to make sure that my car reservations match up exactly with when my flight is schedule to arrive. The other is to never do business with Advantage again.

Doonesbury vs. Jenny McCarthy

I've written often about the evils of zealous anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy, who spread lies about vaccinations and autism, thus endangering the lives of children worldwide, despite the fact that such claims were debunked years ago.

Today, let's welcome Garry Trudeau to the battle, as he goes after her in today's Doonesbury.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Song That Paid Off

There are things you learn, and there are things you know. For instance, I knew that Paul Anka had written the song Johnny Carson used as his "Tonight Show" theme, and had composed it specifically for that show.

In my mind, that was simply a fact. Until today, when I read veteran sitcom writer/producer Ken Levine's post about paying for the rights to use music in television shows. After some anecdotes about songs they used on "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," and "Frasier," Ken finished with this:

If a song you write gets used as a theme song for a show you get royalties every time it airs. Paul Anka wrote this innocuous little tune for Annette Funicello in the early '60s. The record sold maybe eight copies, but Paul Anka will tell you it's the greatest song he’s ever written. Why? See if you can recognize it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Final Table #106: Erik Seidel



Today on my Final Table radio show, we talked with Erik Seidel, one of the most successful poker players of all time, with 8 WSOP bracelets, 1 WPT title, and over $13 million in tournament winnings -- $3.4 million of that last month alone!

We talked with Erik about the super-high-roller tournament he just won in Australia (with a buy-in of $250,000), from how it came together to how he rallied back from a huge chip disadvantage to beat Sam Trickett heads-up. He also reminisced about his early days at the Mayfair Club in New York, where he and other poker legends like Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, and Steve Zolotow, played and learned from each other. Erik responded to several questions from listeners, including whether he thinks anyone over 35 can win the World Series Of Poker Main Event now, considering the crop of extremely talented young players in the field, as well as some strategy questions about what to do when you're in a slump.

Speaking of strategy, Dennis explained how, in a recent $1,000 buy-in deep-stack tournament at the Venetian, where he was below chip average from the very first round, he managed his stack well enough to finish 11th in a field of over a hundred. We also touched on Peter Eastgate's announcement that he's returning to poker, and plugged that Greg Raymer will be here in St. Louis for the WSOP Circuit Event in April, where he'll conduct one of his Fossilman Poker Training clinics (more details on that next month).

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

One Producer, One Star

Chuck Lorre, the producer of the hit sitcoms "Two and a Half Men," "Mike & Molly," and "The Big Bang Theory," uses a second of airtime at the end of all his shows to post a vanity card for his production company. But rather than simply showing the logo, he writes something clever each week -- a tradition that goes back to his earlier shows, "Dharma & Greg," "Grace Under Fire," and "Cybill." The text on the vanity cards goes by too quickly to read at normal speed, so many viewers (myself included) pause the DVR to see what Chuck has on his mind, which usually elicits a smile if not a guffaw.

This week, Chuck used his moment at the end of "Two and a Half Men" to poke a little fun at the troubled star of that show, Charlie Sheen...

I exercise regularly. I eat moderate amounts of healthy food. I make sure to get plenty of rest. I see my doctor once a year and my dentist twice a year. I floss every night. I've had chest x–rays, cardio stress tests, EKG's and colonoscopies. I see a psychologist and have a variety of hobbies to reduce stress. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I don't have crazy, reckless sex with strangers.

If Charlie Sheen outlives me, I'm gonna be really pissed.
See more of Lorre's vanity cards here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pre-Jeopardy Watson

IBM's supercomputer, Watson, has been pretty impressive playing against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings on "Jeopardy!" this week, but earlier versions of the machine didn't do so well when it was tested on other shows, like "Wheel of Fortune," "Family Feud," and "The Newlywed Game"...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Last Play At Shea

As I browsed past the Grammy Awards last night, I was reminded again how much contemporary music is about extravaganza, not musical artistry. I'm not just talking about the Spinal Tap-like egg that Lady Gaga emerged from, but all of the giant props, blazing fires, and more dancers than the audition sequence of "A Chorus Line." It seems that the song, the actual music and lyrics, haven't just taken a back seat -- they've been pushed into the trunk.

That thought was reinforced as I watched the DVD of "Last Play At Shea," a documentary about Billy Joel's concert at Shea Stadium in 2008, the last event there before the ballpark was demolished to make way for the new CitiField. While Joel has always been a good showman, his concerts don't include explosions and gyrations -- they are about the man, his words, his music, and his connection to his fans. Most of the time, it's Billy at his piano, backed by a pretty tight band (including the remarkable multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero), singing the songs that made him famous.

But this is more than a concert film (for that, you'll have to wait for "Live At Shea Stadium" to air on PBS in March). It's also a history lesson. Director Paul Crowder tells the story of the ballpark, from Robert Moses' idea of opening up the New York suburbs to the Mets going from baseball's laughingstock to World Series champions in less than a decade to Bill Buckner's Big Error and on and on. Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, and Darryl Strawberry share stories, but for some reason, Crowder glosses over the fact that Shea Stadium was also home to the New York Jets for 20 years, but he does not ignore the fact that the place was a dump (Strawberry says, "Yes, but it was our dump").

Crowder also traces Joel's own life from Levittown to his early bands The Hassles and Attila to his success on the stages of the world, with financial betrayals and other obstacles along the way. There are interviews with all three of his wives, close compatriots, record company executives, and many others (though not a word from villains Artie Ripp and Frank Weber).

In "Last Play At Shea," you see Joel delighting in the sea of fans on their feet and the guests who joined him that night, including Tony Bennett helping out on "New York State of Mind," Roger Daltrey doing "My Generation," and a guitar solo from John Mayer. John Mellencamp, Steven Tyler, and Garth Brooks were there, too, but their performances are not in the film.

"Last Play At Shea" closes appropriately with Paul McCartney, a nice bookend to the history of Shea Stadium, since he and the Beatles did the first-ever rock concert there in 1965, an historic event that also was devoid of extraneous nonsense. Just four guys playing and singing to a stadium full of crazed fans.

That's what rock and roll should always be.

Pass It Around

On a recent episode of "Family Feud," a contestant gave an answer that surprised host Steve Harvey and the audience. While unexpected, the answer really isn't as outrageous as his over-reaction indicates -- but the topper is how the other contestant's answer scores...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Democracy No, Freedom Yes


With Mubarak leaving power in Egypt and jubilant crowds filling the streets, the storyline is all about losing a dictator and gaining a democracy. Whether that happens, how long it takes, and who ends up in charge all remain to be seen, but the United States shouldn't be pushing for democracy -- we should be pushing for freedom.

In a democracy, you can still end up with bad leaders making bad decisions and limiting the rights of some citizens. Majority rule doesn't always ensure that the voices of the minority are heard and their liberties respected. Ask anyone who's been on the losing side of an election where simple human rights were on the line in our own country -- women who wanted to vote before 1920, blacks who wanted equality before 1965, or gays who want to marry now. It may have been democracy in action, but there were no freedom guarantees, no simple human decency afforded.

If we want free and fair elections in Egypt, the only role the US should play is to encourage candidates who stand first and foremost for freedom. We can no longer prop up some goon just because he'll play ball with our military-industrial complex or make deals that favor commerce at the expense of humanity.

That policy should apply beyond Egypt, as well. Our nation deserves blame for standing behind lots of oppressive oligarchs, like the Saudi royal family, solely because they have a valuable resource in their land. Those who know their history will remember that we stood with Saddam Hussein for many years (including when he was killing his own people en masse) until he was deemed to have gone too far.

Perhaps the new generation of under-30-year-olds in Egypt, who outnumber their elders and drove this 3-week-long revolution that toppled a corrupt regime, can lead that nation down a path towards freedom. If so, perhaps others in the region will follow their lead.

It is the only path we should support, but it must be borne of their own free will.

Second Place Was Ben Dover

You want to name that city building after WHO?


[thanks to Stuart Snyder for the link]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Worth A Link

  • On the commentary track of a new DVD of "Broadcast News," James L. Brooks talks about why he decided against having Holly Hunter's character end up with either William Hurt's Tom or Albert Brooks' Aaron, despite test audiences hating the ending.
  • Jeff Greenfield on his pet peeve in political movies, the presidential speech that changes everyone's mind.
  • Bill Gates, whose foundation has pledged $10 billion to provide vaccinations for kids around the world over the next decade, goes after anti-vaxxers who spread the long-debunked lie about an autism link

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Driver Error


Remember last year when some Toyota drivers claimed their cars were suddenly accelerating on their own and blaming the electronics when they crashed? The never-skeptical media, always looking to run video of banged-up vehicles, ran with the story so much that Toyota had to recall 8 million cars, pay the government over $48 million, and watch its sales drop dramatically.

As a Toyota owner for more than 25 years, I said at the time that I didn't believe it -- that the anecdotal claims seemed bogus, the result of drivers who had made mistakes and were looking to put the blame elsewhere. I was so sure about it that we even bought my wife a new Camry in the midst of the hubbub. Now, a comprehensive investigation by NASA says there's no evidence at all of electronic flaws in those Toyotas, chalking it all up to, yes, driver error.

Final Table #105: Tony Dunst



Today on my Final Table radio show, we talked with Tony Dunst, the poker pro known online as Bond18, who will be part of the broadcast team for the new season of the World Poker Tour when it premieres this weekend on Fox Sports Net. He explained some changes in the show, shared stories from his travels to Melbourne for the Aussie Millions and the wild action in Macau, China, and joined us in answering strategy questions from listeners (if you have one, e-mail us and we'll try to get to it on a future show).

In our news segment, we covered the arrest of the Bellagio Biker Bandit, Norm McDonald replacing Gabe Kaplan on "High Stakes Poker," and why you didn't see PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker advertising on the Super Bowl. We also discussed recent comments by Doyle Brunson, Jennifer Harman, and Phil Ivey bemoaning the lack of big games in Las Vegas.

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

Comitted To The Dunk

At a Phoenix Suns home game, an acrobat is doing one of those trampoline dunk stunts when he bounces a little too far and, instead of just putting the ball through the basket, he goes through the rim, too...


[thanks to Danny Thakker for the link]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Randi Vs. Homeopathy

James Randi takes on the con artists behind homeopathy, issuing a Million Dollar Challenge to prove their claims, and urging major pharmacies to put a label on homeopathic products saying they are NOT medicine...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Spy Shoe


That's not the fictional shoe-phone that Don Adams wore as Maxwell Smart on "Get Smart." It's an actual spy shoe with a hidden transmitter that the KGB used in the 1960s, which you'll find on display at the International Spy Museum. Here's the story of the spy-shoe, according to Alyssa Danigelis of Discovery:
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Western diplomats in Eastern Europe avoided buying suits there, preferring to mail order clothing and shoes from the West. In Romania, the secret service used this to their advantage, working with the postal service to install a transmitter in shoe heels. Boghardt says that the recording device was discovered during a routine room sweep that revealed a signal, but the signal disappeared when all the diplomats left the room.
Here are other gadgets in that exhibit.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Super Bowl Ads

Random tweets about the Super Bowl broadcast:

  • This is the 45th consecutive Super Bowl I've watched without eating any tofu
  • Love the irony of an "excessive celebration" penalty at the Super Bowl, the sporting event that singularly redefines excess.
  • The three best Super Bowl commercials:  Volkswagens Darth Vader + Dad, Bud Light's Product Placement On A Film Set & Chevy's Tommy In A Well.
  • Special Mention for the montage of TV clips -- from all networks -- promoting the NFL.
  • Michael Douglas: the depression, the civil rights movement, the 9/11 attacks, and the Super Bowl are all the same thing?
  • Using Sam Elliott to introduce both teams must mean that the NFL couldn't afford homeless voice guy Ted Williams
 And my tweets about the commercials that ran in the Super Bowl telecast:
  • Good to see Adam Sandler doing high-class comedy again in his new movie w/Jennifer Aniston. Cerebral really sells for him.
  • What's the over/under on how many minutes into the game we'll see a commercial for a movie whose target audience includes me?
  • Living Social is a good Groupon competitor, but their ad seems say that using their service turns men into transvestites
  • Meanwhile, Groupon went for forced controversy that didn't work in its Tim Hutton/Tibet spot.
  • Audi, the official car of escaped prisoners.
  • Dual Message: wash down Doritos (which turn you into the office creep) with PepsiMax (which turns your wife into a violent bitch)
  • No other vehicle flies down the steps of an ancient pyramid like Kia, the #1 car of dead civilizations.
  • Tomorrow, no one will remember what product Eminem was selling w/Claymation. Tonight, no one cares.
  • After the Budweiser "Tiny Dancer" spot, Cameron Crowe is wondering why he didn't remake "Almost Famous" as a western  
  • Classic rock still rules in SB commercials: David Bowie's "Changes," Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," Ram Jam's "Black Betty," Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz."
  • Too bad Mini stole Simon Cowell's thunder using "Cram It In The Boot." He was going to use it in an X Factor promo as a JLo reference.
  • Eminem's Chrysler has just been towed from the no-parking zone in front of the Fox theater, cuz that's what they do in Detroit.
  • The Bridgestone beaver spot didn't make me want to buy tires, but it did make me want to swerve around roadkill more often. 
  • Hugh Laurie as Mean Greg House + kid w/churro + cane toss = funny
  • Does anyone still fall for GoDaddy's go-to-our-website-for-more tease?  Doubtful.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Presidential Coin Toss

With the Super Bowl tomorrow coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth, Harry Shearer dug this out of his Found Objects file.

It's raw footage from the satellite feed of a live TV camera in the White House as Reagan did the coin toss for Super Bowl XIX (49ers-Dolphins), the first President to do so, and the first time the game was broadcast on ABC (with OJ Simpson among its broadcasters). This is rare video from a White House that carefully controlled every sound and image it could. There's nothing embarrassing here, just an interesting moment in broadcast history which runs about 15 minutes...