Wednesday, October 31, 2007

One Thought After the Start of NBA Season

While the Lakers did run out of time in last night's season opening loss vs. Houston, they did not look horrible.

Clearly, the Lakers weren't at full strength. But they did have most of the pieces available from the team that got to 30-19 last season before injuries decimated the hopes and dreams of Forum Blue wearers everywhere.

There was actually something uncanny about the way Kobe and therestofthem seemed to coexist. On offense, #24 and #everyoneelse seemed to know what spaces to fill and when to get the hell out the way. The defensive rotations looked pretty crisp at times. And the team showed a fair amount of fight despite slipping into lapses of generally sloppy play.

The Lakers aren't gonna get near the Larry O'Brien trophy this year unless they're looking at a photo from one of their previous championship runs. But this team may not be awful after all.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One Last Minute Pre-Season NBA Thought

Technically, the very first game of the 2007-08 NBA season is in the books.

Not surprisingly, it resembled the very last game of the 2006-07 NBA season. A San Antonio Spurs win. Ho. Hum. What else is on TV?

But wait, this quickie entry isn't about bashing the Spurs. It's about the last, best, desperate hope for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Before the soap opera As the Kobe Turns becomes The Young and the Kobe-less, I'd like to suggest that the Buss family stop by Amoeba, pick up a dvd of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, orville some buttered reddenbacher and take a lesson from the 2nd best movie Julius Erving ever appeared in.

Pick a Zodiac sign. Any Zodiac sign that's compatible with #24. Hold open tryouts for players who share that sign. Negotiate buyouts for whomever is currently on the roster and isn't Zodiacally kosher. Then say a little prayer to the universe.

And hope that there are six legitimate Laker fans left six weeks from now.

'Cause this one--who officially jumped the broom only a season ago--feels like the guy whose wife gained 50 lbs before all the wedding bills were paid off.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Broken Cherry (Longest.Post.Ever.)

I broke my cherry today. (NOTE: Today = three days ago.)

Not that cherry. My Virgin Airlines (VA) cherry.

I am, of course, the 376,921st hack to make that joke the lead for a story. But that’s not what’s important.

What’s important is that I’ve never had a flying experience quite like I had on VX 0466 from IAD to SFO.

It began mundanely enough. The 8 AM was delayed. Turns out the redeye from SFO to IAD from the night before got caught in some weather. This is a problem ‘cause it appears that there are only two planes to service that route. I’m guessing that because there are precisely two flights going in either direction per day.

The passengers for VX0466 sat waiting at Gate 30. For two hours. A cute 22-ish Thai girl broke the delay with occasional updates to say that the plane had arrived. That unspecified maintenance was being performed. That said maintenance was still being performed. That the maintenance was complete. That paperwork was en route to clear the plane. That said paperwork was taking longer to process than should be expected. That we were almost done waiting. That we could board. At last.

(TANGENT: I think I was the only passenger who found her running narrative to be entertaining. Every other face I saw in the terminal was either frozen in sleep or tattooed with the iconic travel grimace that has become the uniform of sojourning Americans everywhere.)

I presented my boarding pass—one slip of glossy paper sized like an index card—and stepped into the lights. A Forum Blue illuminated the ceiling. A friendly magenta hovered over each seat. Both filtered through a clear purple divider separating first class from the masses in steerage.

I sat down in my leather seat and immediately started playing.

My knees didn’t touch the seat in front of me. A small miracle for a thigh that runs 27” from arse to kneecap. My elbow did, however, get stuck in the slot carved out of the arm rest allowing the user to access the removable handheld control for the in-seat entertainment center. I never quite got comfortable with that second one. But I only paused for a moment to ponder that problem before I launched the interactive environment known simply as Red. (Word to Laran Lee. Happy birthday kiddo.)

There are two ways to use Red: the touch screen and the remote control. Since I’m battling carpal tunnel syndrome, I opted for the touch screen. Though I did notice that the cursor activity on screen doesn’t keep up with how fast you may hit the navigation buttons on the remote. Nor does the remote navigation work intuitively. It’s close. But the touch screen is much more effective. There’s no confusing the machine when you’re using your own finger.

The menus consist of single action verbs that reflect the level of engagement VA seems to be going for:

watch – Movies and TV
listen - Music
play - Games
talk – Chat feature
read – No idea
eat – Order food
shop – not sure ‘bout this one either

There was a kids play option for the can’t-drive-they-own-self set. As well as quicknav, info//help, media player and main menu buttons.

Talk, read and shop were disabled. Shame. Would have been cool to pull up the Washington Post or try to holla at the blonde 12 rows behind me. Ah well.

As I clicked through and figured everything out, I discovered a few things:

1) You can only use certain applications simultaneously (e.g. Can’t listen to music and play games at the same time, but can listen to music and scroll through other menus.)

2) The eat button stays conspicuously on screen while you’re watching TV.

3) Parental controls to allow grown folks to filter the rated content that will be made available to their little spongebobs. A polite note to be mindful of young eyes sitting next to you appears as part of the home page.

4) The interface contains elements of both the PC and the Mac experiences. Not sure hot that works, but that was my impression.

I also noticed that there was an outlet under my seat so I promptly plugged the G4 in and started building this gargantuan blog entry. [NOTE: There, apparently, are plans to install wireless internet. That was not available for the flight I took.]

Since I’m not a gamer, I didn’t spend much time learners-permitting the play section. I did, however, completely dissect both the watch and listen features. Before I did, though, I used the restroom. The lever to release the handsoap had a Method sign right above it. The only piece of non-VA branding I noticed on the plane.

On to the listen.

There are two options: music and radio.

Music acts as the jukebox. Most of the standard artists. Prince. The Dixie Chicks. Bob Dylan. Green Day. Earth, Wind & Fire. Nirvana. Mary J. Blige. Etc. Etc. Etc. Along with some eccentric choices. Mozart (+ a bunch of other iconic composers). Zappa, Tiesto, The School House Rock SDTK. Sun Ra. And Funkadelic. Well, Funkadelic is pretty standard on jukeboxes around the world, but I had to save the best for last.

In sum, the variety of genres and artists impressed me.

Except for the fact that not a single legitimate hip hop act placed anywhere in the catalogue. [NOTE: The Black Eyed Peas made the cut. But I did say legitimate.] There was no reggae either. Unless you count Sean Paul. [Robert Nesta Marley wherefore art thou?] And no world music of any sort—which is a strange disconnect from the options available in the radio stations. I’ll get to that in a second.

Rightfully pissed about the slight to the genre that made me, I built a playlist of some of my favorite artists who did make the cut. [No Rage either, homie. Can you believe it?] The playlist option works kinda like it does in your iPod. It’s clickable. Not quite as easy to edit, though. And completely at your discretion. I messed around and added some Funkadelic, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, John Lee Hooker, Prince and Nine Inch Nails. I really hope it survives for the next passenger. They’d inherit the sweetest seat on the plane.

Quick thoughts on a couple of those:

15 total Zeppelin songs. The usuals from from I, II, III and IV. Plus some tracks from "Presence," "Houses of the Holy" and "Physical Graffiti." Other than just Kashmir and Song Remains the Same. Sadly, though, no "Hots on for Nowhere."

James Brown on the other hand included nearly full disc of samplings from the double disc "40th Anniversary Collection." No "Down and Out in New York City."

Oh...and the Marvin Gaye failed to include anything from "Here, My Dear." For. Utter. Unforgivable Shame.

The other listen option, radio, acted as the standard pseudo-radio station that is to be expected from an airline. 20 channels including local stuff--The Sound of Va and Sounds of San Francisco--along with a fairly exotic selection of stuff like Mandarin Pop, Cantonese Pop, Korean Pop, Japanese Pop, Latin Pop. [This theme pops up again later, BTW.]

The Street Channel—which alleged to play hip hop and R&B—actually did so. The first song I heard when I selected it was Common’s “The People.” I also heard some Gnarls Barkley, Mos Def, Ne-Yo, De La Soul, Digable Planets. Lupe Fiasco. And Mary J. Blige. I abandoned the station like it was crazy-ass Howard Dean screaming “YAAAARGH!” as soon as the opening chords of “Umbrella” oozed into my ears. Overall, that station made me feel a little bitter for there being no hip hop artists in the library. But only a little. [NOTE: The radio feature does not provide song titles or artist names. Not a good look.]

All of that cruising around made me hungry. So I flipped over to watch some TV and ordered something to eat.

Very limited food selections. Three meals and four snacks. A cheese plate ($7). A mufaletta + salad ($8). Which was pretty small, though it came with a honey/almond/nugat Tobblerone for desert. And a pastry + yogurt ($6). There were also healthy snacks from the Archer Farms line. A cereal bar ($1). A cookie ($2). A nutbar ($1). A fruit roll-up (1). And buffalo wing chips ($2).

VA doesn’t accept cash. But it does have two in-seat touchpoints for you to run your credit card. After you pick what you want, slide the plastic and press “Pay.” An attendant delivers your order within 5 minutes or so.

I munched on my mufaletta while watching "Boyz N the Hood" on TNT. The sandwich was decent. But I became increasingly less interested in it as a problem began to plague my Red.

A dialogue box popped up on my screen reading “Airplay Error/Fork failed (error 12: Cannot allocate memory).” I clicked okay. It disappeared. Then popped up 45 seconds later. This routine played out a half dozen times before I summoned an attendant. She appeared pretty quickly and volunteered to reset my seat. Five minutes later, everything was functioning as it should.

Back to the watch. This feature offered five choices: movies, music videos, tv, premium tv and multi-lingual tv. TV, first.

22 total channels including 4 espns, cartoon network, cnbc, IFC, CNN, E, Discovery, USA, BET, Current, and Disney, but no MTV. [NOTE: That struck me as curious, too.)

As for the Movie...25 movies available at $8 a pop. Also intriguing for its variety. Ocean’s 13, Shrek the Third, Spider-Man 3, And the third Pirates of the Carribean. But also: Waitress, Breach, Disturbia and The Lives of Others (won an oscar for best foreign language film last year). Along with some random Anime, and a couple of Chinese language films (one Mandarin and one in Cantonese), As well as a Spanish and Korean language film [NOTE: What? No Bollywood love?]

Plus something called—a collection of 20 shorts made by film students. I watched about half of them. A few stood out:

Tangent—knock off Twenty Bucks, but really skillfully done
55: A Meditation on the Speed Limit – ill project to measure effectiveness of speed limit
The Importance of Playing Yardball—kind of amatuerusih, but had a lot of haeart and was structurally sound

And then there was Cocaine: The Musical.

It was terrible and cheesy. The good kind. Where you can’t help but laugh. And sing along with choruses like this:

“Man, this coke is really good. Man, this coke is really good.”

There's not much you can follow that with. There is, of course, the cheesy "Man, this flight was really" good option. But, uh, I'm not gonna do that.

I'll just leave this post here. I will update it eventually. Probably with some pictures. For now, this mini-novella will have to do.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gossip v. News

I am no fan of the 24-hour newscycle.

By nature, it amplifies events that really aren't worthy of our collective attention in order to fill time and space. And it tends to extend the lifespan of those events well past their reasonable expiration date. The end result is that news devloves into mere gossip. And gossip miraculously morphs into news.

Take, for example, Kobe Bryant.

Unless you've been searching for Osama Bin Laden underneath a rock on the surface of Mars, you probably saw his name in a headline or two this past summer. He demanded a trade. Then rescinded the demand. Then made the demand again. Sort of. Then went quiet while setting the competitive tone for Team USA as it steamrolled through the Tournament of the Americas.

Somewhere in there was some news. Maybe it was the absurd arc of trade demands. Maybe it was the basketball played in Vegas. Maybe it was just the fact that a famous person did something. Anything.

Then, yesterday, folks started talking about what Jerry Buss said.

Which, to any mildly intelligent person, is simple, obvious and the most profoundly common of senses. The kind that doesn't need to be spoken to be known.

A bit like the episode of The Simpsons when Lisa declares herself a vegetarian.

I can't find the clip on youtube, but I did find this weird German web site with a partial transcript. In the relevant scene, Lisa is being taunted by her classmates about her love of vegetables. Her friend Janey asks, "Lisa, are you gonna marry a carrot?" A frustrated Lisa responds, "Yes, I'm gonna marry a carrot." To which all the other kids starting singing, "She admitted it! She admitted it!"

When I read through the "story" about Dr. Buss expressing his willingness to consider trading Kobe and the ensuing difficulty of the business proposition, I felt like someone was asking the Lakers owner if he was going to marry a carrot. Everyone who picked up the story had to recognize the superfluous nature of the question and/or comment. But very few could resist the urge to carp about the admission.

[TANGENT: Is it just me or is the word "admitted" becoming more and more popular among mainstream media reports? Can someone do a study on that or point me to one? Thanks.]

The Jerry Buss story isn't really news. It's not hard and fast gossip either. Its more along the lines of filler. Which, of course, begets more filler. Hours and pages analyzing the admission. Then Kobe's response. Then more analysis. Then Shaq's response. Then more analysis. Who knows how long the tail of this "story" will extend?

There is, however, news to report from the NBA.

Kenyon Martin might be back. I'm no Nuggets fan, but that team has too much talent not to be paid attention to. For better or worse, K-Mart's ability to get his game back will be the centerpiece of their story this season. My money says the Bearcat is gonna beast through this season. Which will be very good for Denver. Bad for the rest of the league.

If you're not interested in talking about the game itself, then there is other news for you about Gilbert Arenas. Apparently, he cheats at Halo 3. Which is entirely forgivable. Though he probably oughta set up an event to prove himself. Som'em for charity maybe?

Oh...and the countdown to the opening tip of the new season is officially underway. Oct. 30 is right around the corner.

Hopefully, it will bring us more news than gossip.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A Double Fortune

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend drinking my way through Columbus, Ohio.

Two days ago, I took a redeye flight back to IAD from OAK following a weekend at the SF Doc Fest.

Today, I opened a fortune cookie that contained two little slips of paper. The first one said:

"You are one of those people who 'goes places in life.'"

No shit, Sherlock. The other read:

"A good time to finish up old tasks."

That one, I'll take. 'Cause I've got this cinematic albatross that's been hanging around my neck for seven years. And counting.

In the good news department, though. It's almost all the way done. Really. Like to the point that it actually has a release date. [SPRING 2008.]

It just needs a lil' more work to get there. As in paperwork. And commentaries.

But, first, I gotta pack this bag for my next trip next week.

The Blind Leading the Broke

No one will mistake Iraq for Disneyland anytime soon.

From what I gather, things are pretty bad there.

So bad that a blind man is leading the charge to get food and supplies to the people whose needs are most dire. NPR has the story.

Then again, perhaps that is a sign of hope.

[Bad pun alert!]

One way or another, we'll see.