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Saturday, May 22, 2004

Where is he now? The "Ugly" from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" 

OK. If the ice-cream truck post didn't alert you to the fact that I'm not much of an intellectual, this one certainly will.

An updated version of the classic 1966 spaghetti western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is now available on DVD with new footage that never appeared in the original. Even better for big Clint Eastwood fans like me, the remastered voice-overs are provided by Eastwood (the Good) and Eli Wallach (the Ugly): two of the three original stars of the movie who are still living. The third star -- Lee Van Cleef (the Bad) -- died in 1989. Like so many other Eastwood movies, I must have watched The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly hundreds of times (thanks in part to the several "Eastwood Weeks" that were aired in the 70's by the NYC affiliate of ABC on its afternoon staple The 4:30 Movie). Even today, regardless of how many times I've seen something, I inexplicably drop the remote when I happen across one of those legendary spaghetti westerns while channel surfing. Though some of them are not technically spaghetti westerns, I'm equally spellbound by other Eastwood classics like The Outlaw Josey Wales. It's like I've been brainwashed into this behavior or something. If you know something about this affliction, please contact me. Anyway, I was alerted to the availability of the DVD by an outrageously funny interview that NPR's Scott Simon did with Eli Wallach who is a much more prolific actor than I've ever realized. In addition to being a major force on Broadway, his filmography covers 98 movies including The Godfather III, The Misfits (which starred Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe), and the Jack Nicholson-directed The Two Jakes. But, as far as I can tell, the biggest accomplishment for this 88-year old pop culture icon is his 57-year-and-still-going marriage to actress Anne Jackson (discussed in the interview).

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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Random thought about the ice cream truck 

For most adults, the music being played by the ice cream truck is background noise. But today, a little voice in my head told me to pay closer attention. So, I did. The song was the famous theme from "The Sting." The best thing about the Paul Newman/Robert Redford classic is not that it was about a con. The movie itself is a con on everybody who watches it for the first time. Don't understand? Go rent the movie. Anyway, this question occurred to me: Would you really want your kids buying their ice cream from an ice cream man playing con-music? Hmmm.
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Friday, May 14, 2004

Why people die on rollercoasters 

The last few times I was in Vegas, I had the opportunity -- thanks to vendors that rent entire night clubs for the night -- to go to the Ghost Bar on top of the Palms Hotel. The Palms will be forever emblazoned in our pop culture as the site of what was probably the most promiscuous season of MTV's The Real World. After all. A little Vegas here, a little Real World there.... and voila! There was only one direction a mixture like that could go. I was always impressed with the view from the Ghost Bar. That was until I stepped onto the observation deck of the Stratosphere this year. Christy (the producer for webcasts like one I did on zero-day worms) and I stayed at the Stratosphere this year. At $59/per night, the rooms were stockholder friendly for a public company like ours. The Stratosphere's rooms weren't that great and didn't have any high speed Internet access. But, the view from the hotel's observation deck -- the highest point in the entire city -- was worth a million bucks. Christy and I were stunned. It reminded me of the view that could be had from City Lights: the bar that was a part of Windows on the World (the restaurant that was on at the top of the World Trade Center in New York City).

From the Stratosphere's observation deck, one gets to see more than a view of all of Las Vegas. You also get to watch genuinely scared-to-death people as they ride on three amusement park rides that are perched on top of the hotel. If, due to some malfunction or "user-error," you were to be thrown from any of these rides like the way a man was recently thrown from a roller-coaster in Massachusetts, it would be a long way down. There would be no chance of survival. After that guy in my home state died at Six Flags, there was zero chance of getting me to try one of those rides. One of the rides -- the X Scream -- sends its occupants flying off the edge of the tower. Although I'm certain there's more to it, all that appears to stand between the riders and certain death are the ride's brakes. The ride is so close to the observations deck that I felt like I could reach out and shake the hands of its occupants while it paused between cycles. Instead of shaking their hands though, I just looked the riders in their already terrified eyes and said something about a loose bolt in the undercarriage (pointing to the underside of the ride). Cruel. I know. But so satisfyingly so. Christy yelled at me to stop. But looking at the terror in their expressions, I realized that, morbid as it may seem, real rollercoaster deaths have a purpose in the psyche of a thrillseeker.

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Vegas must be my mecca 

I hear all the time about these annual pilgrimages that devout people of one religion or another make to their holy shrines. To make these pilgrimages, people are even willing to put themselves in harm's way. How sad that people who go on these pilgrimages must now gamble with their lives. After returning safely from my 25th pilgrimage to Las Vegas in 14 years, I have suddenly realized that Vegas is my holy shrine: that bi-annual destination from which my safe return is not a given.

Except for a stopover in a camper when I was 16 (in the parking lot of the StarDust), I have never gone to Vegas for pleasure. Since the early 90's when Networld and Interop merged into one event and moved from Dallas and San Jose (respectively) to Las Vegas, I haven't missed a Spring Networld+Interop (N+I) or a Fall Comdex in Sin City. At first, I only had to go there once a year. Then, once N+I carpetbagged to Nevada, I started making the trip twice a year. If I had to go to CES in January, which thankfully I don't, that would mean going to Vegas three times a year. For business.

For a lot of people, leaving Vegas satisfied means leaving with more money than what they came with. For me, I'm just happy to watch McCarron Airport's runways disappear from my view through the airplane's window knowing that I'm alive and still in one piece. These days, leaving with my life intact isn't as much of a miracle as it once was. Maybe I'm becoming a party pooper. There was a period of time where the apres show activities didn't stop until the sun came up. There were at least a couple of years where a handful of us stayed up for three or four days straight. We would go straight from some industry all-night party, dance club, or the $5 BlackJack tables at the Hard Rock to a breakfast briefing where it took an act of God to get just one brain cell (let alone the entire brain) to focus on what was being said. We'd go to briefings all day and start the cycle all over again. It only takes two days of that sort of abuse before you start to feel your body slipping towards death. Once you hit the third or fourth day, a strange numbness starts to overtake your nervous system, you lose control of certain organs, and there's a very real danger of leaving the city in a body bag rather than the seat of an airplane.

Now, after several years of almost killing myself while in Nevada, I have a lot of respect for the place. Each time, as I head to Las Vegas, I remind myself that my wife and kids are expecting me back in one piece. A few years ago, I made a standing commitment to get at least five hours of sleep each night without so much as a peep from my liver, kidneys, or wallet because of the previous night's festivities. After this last trip, I have a slight modification: make sure that when I get some sleep that I get it in my hotel room and not in a prison cell or somehwere else (hint: had I not been sober this year, someone would have gotten hurt). On those terms, I know I'm virtually guaranteed of leaving Vegas alive. Even so, I still breath a sigh of relief every time I hear the sound of landing gear retracting into the underbelly of my return flight and wonder if, sooner or later, my luck will run out. After all, it is Vegas.

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Friday, May 07, 2004

Dog's brain: "Must have sandwich. Must have sandwich" 

My father-in-law ("Paps") is here for a visit and he's one of the few men that the dog likes. Somehow, she knows who is family, and who is not. If you're not family and you're a man, and there's a clear path between you and our dog, all I can say is, I hope you can make it to the nearest tree in time. Do not try to outrun her. We're rather certain -- by virtue of the low, ears-back, aerodynamic position she assumes when running -- that she's part greyhound or wippet (or is that "whippet"?). For an eight year-old dog, she can really haul-ass (and bite yours). The other thing she's a master at is finding and eating human food. She's got us trained perfectly. We never leave the kitchen with so much as a mostly empty cereal bowl on the counter. What we think is out of reach for her is really nothing of the sort and she knows that the first step to taking control of anything is to get it on the floor first. This, as you can imagine, has resulted in several ceramic and glass items getting broken. So, everything goes away before leaving the kitchen unattended. It took us years to master this basic principle of living with an ex-street dog. To her, visitors like Paps are sitting ducks. This morning, while getting started on my work day, I heard the "trademark" tingling of a spoon bouncing around a cereal bowl coming from the kitchen. This sound, caused by the dog's tongue working around the spoon, is well known in our house and is a warning that the next sound will be the bowl crashing to the floor unless someone moves like the wind towards the kitchen. Fortunately, I save the bowl from certain death. I explained to Paps the risks of leaving dishes and food out and it's always a funny moment when relatives discover this little idiosynchracy (my cousin wasn't laughing though when the dog took the Thanksgiving turkey she spent all day cooking).

Paps laughed, but unfortunately, forgot to heed my advice later in the day. Sometime between the point that he and my wife returned from the corner gourmet food store with some sandwiches and 4:00 in the afternoon, a sandwich was consumed. How did I know it wasn't consumed by Paps? Like most dogs, this dog has no shame nor is it very good at covering up its crimes of passion. It left the cellophane, wax paper, and a tomato on the floor. Yes, the sandwich was wrapped. But like I said in an earlier post, this dog can open a peanut butter jar.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Ga-ga over Google? Oy vey. 

Nowathesedays, you can't hide from all the excitement surrounding the forthcoming initial (and controversial) public offering for Google stock. If for no other reason, the Google IPO merits the attention it's getting because of the unorthodox approach the company's executives are taking in terms of structuring the stock and communicating with the outside world about the offering. I love how the company is saying "Look, we're not paying attention to the same high pressure quarterly mumbo jumbo that makes other public companies priortize tactics over strategics" (no one said those words, but that's the drift). Beyond that however, why all the attention? Google strikes me as a company that can be leapfrogged just like any other search company. Yahoo did it to Netscape. Google did it to Yahoo. Indeed, it's the best out there right now. But, if I were thinking about buying tech stocks (which I cannot), Google doesn't strike me as having a protectable business that will grow according to some other index. Google has a technology advantage that can be taken away. Other than the quality of the company's technology, what else "sticky" is there about Google. On the other hand, eBay is a company that's sticky. The bigger the Internet gets (in terms of numbers of users), the bigger eBay will get. Anyone that wants to participate in an online auction as a buyer or seller knows that eBay is the best place to go. The company's monopoly is virtually inpenetrable and it's not the technology that protects eBay's market. It's the need to do your business in the most vibrant marketplace on the Internet. I'm not recommending stocks. So do not take this as stock advice. If Google was the only stock you could buy, then it might make a good choice. But if you want to get back into DOT COMS as a part of your portfolio, I think there are other good bets that are equally if not more poised for growth.
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Saturday, May 01, 2004

America on Trial 

I just read on the New York Times web site where the finger pointing over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is already starting and how John Kerry is struggling to find a campaign theme. Gee, if I'm not mistaken, a theme is being handed to Kerry on a silver platter. America is now on trial in the court of worldwide public opinion and just when I thought the evidence against us couldn't get any worse, it did. Am I alone, or does anybody else have the same feeling as me: that since 9/11, the US not only blows every golden opportunity that comes its way to sway world opinion in its favor (eg: Kyoto), but it seems to be unearthing and leveraging new opportunities to give people that never hated us before a good reason to hate us now (ie: Iraq, the prisoner abuse, etc.). If the people who run our country really want to protect it and secure its future for our children, then don't they have to address the hatred? Whatever there was for the world to like about America, it seems as though there's pretty much none of it left right now. If Kerry is looking for a theme, how about "Restoring America"? The America I'm reading about in the papers isn't the America I know. It's certainly not the America I want the world to know. But I never hear either of the candidates talking about why they think we're so hated and how they plan to address that problem.
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