Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Well I haven't had much to blog about lately, nor have I had much time to blog lately. Must be the holidays, oh yeah, and work.

Today I must say it took me until after noon to realize it was the last day of the year. For some reason I hadn't associated tomorrow with being New Year's Day. But while we're on the topic... what kind of ridiculous holiday is this?! Somehow just because it's the first day of the year, every country in the world decided that it's a day worth celebrating. This is fine with me, but what about the first day of the month? February 1st, March 1st, September 1st... these should ALL be holidays! Oh well!

I guess today was a productive day of cleaning... so at least I can start the new year with a clean apartment.

I also watched this quality cinematic feature called Men with Brooms. As you might expect, this is probably the only movie ever made that revolves around the sport of curling. It's definitely a comedy, though don't look to see it among the ranks of any Academy Award winning films. First, it's more bizarre than it is funny. There is a lot of subtle curling humor, that you'd only understand if you are a curler, or fully versed in curling lingo and etiquette. As it was, it was nothing more than a fully predictable plot, filled in with a lot of other obscure garbage. Oh yeah, and since it's a Canadian comedy, it takes every opportunity possible to make fun of Americans and portray them as stupid, uptight, pompous, or some permutation thereof. The most famous actor in the film was probably Leslie Nielsen, which makes perfect sense considering he's Canadian and probably has made more terrible comedies than any man alive. (Though I think he is still hilarious, and enjoy even his terrible movies.)

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Deal... or No Deal?

Tonight began yet another primetime gameshow that we stole from the Brits. The show, Deal or No Deal, is being run as a primetime mini-series-type special that will run each night this week at 8pm on NBC. Reminds me of the original schedule of Who Wants to be a Millionare, before they started running it every night for a month, and then eventually even syndicated it, until people got so sick of it they run away.

I digress... so Deal or No Deal. The premise of this show is so ridiculously simple I feel like I'm sitting back in my STAT 394 class determining the probability and expected value of each decision. Once you filter out all the lights, glitz, and strategically placed commercial breaks, you're left with this:

1) There are 26 numbered briefcases, each containing a value from $.01 to $1,000,000.
2) The contestant selects one of the briefcases.
3) The contestant then selects the remaining briefcases one-by-one, which are opened to reveal the values contained within.
4) At various points throughout the process, the contestant is made an offer to sell the briefcase they selected for a specified amount of money. If they take the offer (Deal) the game is over, otherwise (No Deal) the game continues until they either take a Deal or all of the remaining cases are opened.

That's all there is to it. The fascinating part (to me at least) is how "The Bank" a.k.a. the man upstairs with a yellow legal pad who is supposedly making the offers, though I consider it far more likely that a computer is making all of the calculations, is actually coming up with his offers. Now, I didn't take too close of a look at the values being offered at various points, but I'm pretty sure they're just offering the expected value of their selected briefcase based on the values remaining. For example, when the contestant tonight was down to just 2 briefcases (their own, and one other) the two remaining values were $50,000 and $500. So what is the EV of the case she selected? (50000+500)/2 = 25250. And what was she offered? $25,000 even. Sounds about right to me.

How long is this going to last? My guess is probably, oh... about 5 episodes. :) Why? Because the show has several fatal flaws that are the curse of all bad gameshows:

1) The audience can't play along. Well, they CAN, but really, it's about as much fun as when your friend goes "I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 26". "Oooh... sorry, wrong."
2) B-list celebrity turned game show host. The host of this show is Howie Mandel. Name one thing he's done in the past 10 years... yeah, that's what I thought. Now the same might have been said about Regis when he first took on the role as host of Millionaire... but he proved himself nicely... it helps that people knew who he was and he's a likable enough guy. Howie reminds me of when they got John McEnroe to host that failed attempt at a game show called "The Chair" where people were answering trivia questions while strapped into a chair and they lost if their heart rate went up too much. Can we say ridiculous premise?
3) Lack of variety. After about 5 episodes of this, every episode will start to feel the same. It's not like they can change up the questions, or have new celebrity guests, or anything different. See reason #1... how many times can you play "I'm thinking of a number" before it gets old... oh yeah, maybe twice. 'Nuff said.

Now that I've devoted more time than this show deserves, I have a question... what's the deal with America stealing all of our gameshows from the British? Are we not creative enough to create our own incredibly ridiculous premises and pretend to give away exorbitant amounts of money, but in reality give away nothing more than the slimmest chance of winning anything substantial? I have one thing to say: No Deal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If you don't think this is cool...

... there's something wrong with you.

Q: How'd they do that?

Now, if only I had:
1) a house
2) money to burn
3) creativity

I'd be all set. Well, 3's no problem, 2 might be able to work... but 1 is a sticking point. We'll see what we can do.

My name is Joe, and I endorse this product.

Celebrities and well-known people have been endorsing products since the beginning of television (or if you consider radio the precursor to television, long before the beginning of television). One thing I've always wondered though, why do celebrities do it? Admittedly, it probably depends on the celebrity, I mean your solid B-list celebrity probably genuinely could use the extra income it provides... so we'll forget about those. But pick someone rich enough that they shouldn't really need to do commercials for the money. In recent memory I recall Donald Trump hawking Domino's Pizza. Do I really believe that The Donald says to the wife "you know, let's order some pizza tonight" from his Manhattan penthouse, and even if he did want pizza, would he order that mass-produced cardboard that comes out of the Domino's ovens? Not in a million years. But surely he can't be needing the cash (though maybe to him, every dollar counts, so that measly $500,000 he gets from Domino's to act like a buffoon on national TV commercials is money in the bank)?

Enough about Trump, what about the new commercials for Campbell's Select soup with John Lithgow? Personally, I think the commercial where he breaks out into a spontaneous showtune about soup is absolutely hilarious. It's a great commercial, though I'd never buy the product. (Somehow I liken eating soup out of a box to drinking wine out of a box... just add "Mc" in front of the name.) Does John Lithgow need the money? Perhaps, though being the star of a top-rated sitcom for a few years (which is still in syndication somewhere, I'm sure) must leave a bit of cashola in the ol' pocketbook. Does he actually like the soup? Probably, but who doesn't like soup?

No, I think there is a commonality here that we have yet to explore. Celebrities are famous only as long as they remain in the minds of the public as a whole. What has Lithgow done since his sitcom? Can you name a single show he's been in? I can't, though I'm sure there are some. But what better way to get your face back on the screen and back into the viewers minds than by doing a cheesy TV commercial... one where everyone talks to their friends and goes "did you SEE that commercial with so-and-so... can you believe he did that?" It's perfect. Has anyone forgotten about Trump yet? No, probably not, but like him or not, he's a very smart man and knows business and how the public thinks. He probably thinks of his Domino's commercial solely in terms of keeping his name and face out there in the public. As long as he's still a star, people won't soon forget him, so it's time well invested (and he can buy a few pizzas with the chunk of change they gave him).

So by the same concept, as long as I keep blogging, people won't forget that I exist and people will keep reading. I'll be a Z-list celebrity yet!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Episode II: The Phantom Jury

Another day of jury duty, waiting to be called... the wheels of justice turn slowly apparently.

8:30am - I arrived and checked in, and took an obligatory seat in the jury assembly room. Today I got here plenty early, and got a nice table to work at over in the corner. Much easier than sitting with your laptop on your lap. It's decidedly more empty in here today, maybe removing those 40 folks from yesterday made a difference. As I count the number of people in the room I'm in... 37. There's probably slightly more in the other room, and a few more in the lobby. So yeah, I'd estimate at least 100 folks around here today waiting for their chance to serve (or more likely, sitting around hoping they're not called so they can go home for good at the end of the day).

9:15am - First announcement of the morning. 4 cases on the docket today with potential juries. Nothing as of yet, so more to come. I'll continue to sit here wasting time finding things to do online.

10:30am - Still nothing. We had an "official" jury break... but still no news. In one of the rooms they started a movie on the TVs, I guess it was good... I was already sitting in the "quiet" room and didn't feel like moving from my excellent seat. :)

11:15am - Finally some word. Of the 4 cases scheduled today, 3 of them have settled or otherwise been dismissed. That leaves only 1 jury remaining for the day, and we've got way too many people for that. So 50 people are selected to be excused with thanks for their service. My name is called, and I'm done.

And that was the story of my jury duty experience. I guess it wasn't a total waste of time... though it's hard not to think that when I spent two days doing nothing short of sitting around doing nothing. Oh well. At least I've served my time until next time.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Doing my part to uphold the Seventh Amendment

Is this what we have to go through to uphold the American right to a trial by jury? Perhaps so. I must say, they have gone to great lengths to make the process as painless and efficient as possible.

As one might have guessed, I'm sitting here in the Jury Assembly room of the King County Superior Court at the Regional Justice Center in Kent. Fortunately they have wifi internet connectivity here, which makes for a slightly more efficient way to pass the time. But in the interests of infotainment, here's a running commentary of today's events thus far:

8:00am - Arrive at the courthouse, make your way through the metal detectors at security, and check in with the nice people at the desk in the Jury Assembly room. Nice facility, I must say... and very efficient process. Just have to grab a clipboard and fill out my "Juror Biography" form (in triplicate, of course... gotta love bureaucracy) that basically asks your age, occupation, where you live, and various other classifying questions that would be provided to the lawyers should you be picked for a jury pool.

8:30am - I'd suspect about 150-200 potential jurors are gathered by now. One of the judges dropped by to welcome us all and give us an obviously scripted spiel about how important we are to the judicial process and such... though she obviously ad-libbed a lot of it too and added much more sincerity than a scripted list would do. This followed by a well-designed, yet incredibly cheesy "How to be a juror" video describing the activities. I felt like I was watching the pre-flight safety briefing video you see on some airplanes.

9:00am - Orientation complete... time to sit around and do nothing. We get the first announcement of the day, informing us that there are 4 potential jury trials on the docket today. Sit back, relax, and enjoy doing nothing.

9:30am - Update... 1 of the 4 potential trials will not be requiring a jury. Make that 3 potential jury trials remaining. I think it's a slow day at the RJC.

10:20am - After a brief 20 minute break to walk around and stretch our legs outside of the JA room, we receive the first jury impaneling of the morning. 15 names are called, and they all immediately leave for their mission. 2 potential juries remain.

11:00am - The 2 trials may still need juries, but definitely not before lunch. Since official lunch time is 12:00am-1:30pm, we may leave now and be back by 1:30pm. A nice 2 1/2 hour lunch break. I realized that I should have brought my laptop, and now with a 2.5 hour break, I drove back to my parents house in Federal Way, got my laptop and had some lunch... and then got back to the RJC at about 12:45 or so to sit and relax with the wifi connectivity.

1:30pm - Everyone's back from lunch, and time to call more jurors. This time they're going to impanel 40 jurors. (Based on this, we guess that it's probably a pretty big criminal trial they're dealing with.) I was not one of the 40 selected. Good news or bad news? We shall see. The 40 all turn in their juror bio forms and receive a number, and come back to relax some more while the counsel reviews their forms. Tick tick tick... 1 potential jury remains.

2:15pm - The 40-member jury panel receives word that the case has settled (I've watched enough Law and Order to piece this together... lots of legal bluffing from one side or the other... threatening to go to a jury, scared the defense enough to take a plea). As a result, those 40 people who did nothing but get assigned a number, are dismissed with the thanks of the court. They were technically on a jury even though they never actually left the jury room... so they don't have to come back tomorrow and they're done. Suddenly everyone's wishing they were one of the 40 selected. :)

2:30pm - With one potential jury remaining, and by my estimations well over 100 potential jurors in the room, it's quite clear that a lot of us will be returning tomorrow. But, at this point I have a minor celebrity-sighting. Who is one of the other potential jurors in the pool, none other than former Washington State Governor Mike Lowry! As my friend Jonell said, "That's a mug you can't miss!" True enough. Anyway, shortly after 2:30, we get the final announcement: the last trial has plenty of work to get through the rest of the day, and won't need a jury until tomorrow. So, we're all excused early, and will report again at 8:45am on Thursday. If we still aren't selected, that's the ballgame and we've served our time. Otherwise in the unfortunate event that I get selected for a jury, I could end up back again later the following week to continue on a trial. We'll see how things turn out. Time to go home!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You have now entered... the twilight zone...

When worlds collide, we enter a dimension known only as... the twilight zone. In tonight's episode... two of my favorite things come together in an unexpected place. But more on that later. First, last night was the usual Monday night curling league, we had what I would call a supremely decent showing. We actually got lucky when it mattered, but all in all played very well. The line score follows:

Now for the obscure connection. Tonight I'm watching the Amazing Race, as usual, and nothing too odd happening. But then came the previews for the finale of the Amazing Race 8, where in my usual attempt to discern where the race will go next week I saw the greatest thing ever. They'll be CURLING on the Amazing Race next week! From the looks of it, it appears to be some sort of detour or roadblock, my guess is that they have to throw a rock and sweep it into the house, or perhaps something more complicated. It's great! Now I MUST watch next week!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why DVR is the greatest thing EVER!

Rarely do I like to praise anything that comes from those money-grubbing fools at Comcast, but despite the fact that I think they charge too much for the services they provide, I can't dispute the fact that they provide top-notch products. I think their high-speed internet is far superior to DSL, and their cable TV I can't argue much with either.

So yesterday, I upgraded my cable box to one of the new fandangled dual-tuner DVRs from Comcast. For those of you not in the know, a DVR is a "Digital Video Recorder". If you hear people talking about a Tivo, it's essentially the same thing. Tivo is a brand name, but they make DVRs. Of course, what can you DO with a DVR? I'm glad you asked!

In its simplest form, it works just like a VCR, except that instead of recording things on a VHS tape, it records it digitally on its internal hard drive. You can play the shows back whenever you want, fast forward, rewind, pause, basically everything you can do with a regular VCR. But that is where the similarities end.

The excitement begins with the fact that it's fully integrated with the on-screen TV guide. The advantage here is that all you have to do is find what you want to record in the TV guide, and press the record button on the remote, and you're set. It knows exactly when to record it, and won't forget. No chance of messing up the times or anything like that.

The excitement continues... say I want to record the same show whenever it's on. For example, I set it up to record The Price is Right every day. Now, if I get home from work and want to watch it, I can watch that morning's show whenever I want! And I can even set the option to only keep the most recent episode, so my DVR doesn't try to store weeks worth of shows, but only todays. It's... ehem... Comcastic?

The excitement builds... so since I'm too tired to stay up and watch David Letterman at 11:30 every night, I can just watch it the next day when I feel like it. But what's better? Since it's all pre-recorded, I can fastforward through all of the commercials. An hour long show is immediately cut down to something like 40 minutes or so. Plus who really wants to watch all of those commercials anyway.

The excitement never ends... it's more than just for watching pre-recorded stuff. You can also do lots of neat stuff with live television. Last night I was watching Law and Order and I got a phone call (during the most exciting part, of course), so I missed part of it. Then I remembered... I can actually PAUSE live TV. So I hit the pause button and the DVR and all is well... except that it took me about a minute to remember that I could pause it, so I missed some stuff. NOT A PROBLEM... I can also REWIND live TV because the DVR automatically saves the last 20-30 minutes of what you're watching, so it's easy to go back if you missed something. (I haven't tried this with say, a football game, but sounds like a pretty neat feature there!) No chance to miss anything.

So, why am I so thrilled? Why can't I live without this? I probably could... but wow is it a neat thing and now even when there's nothing on live TV, there's plenty of stuff I can watch pre-recorded. Is there a catch? Of course, it costs me more. But I was actually considering a Tivo before I realized how far superior the Comcast DVR is. Tivo costs $12.99 a month, PLUS you have to buy the Tivo box which is NOT fully-integrated with your digital cable. With the Comcast DVR, no up-front costs-- the box is provided-- and the monthly fee, only $9.95 a month on top of my current cable bill. BUT... this actually replaces the HDTV box that I'm already using, which was $6.50 more a month... so if you subtract that, add the other, you realize that it's only costing me $3.50 more a month! Well, that's what the original plan was. But there's one more catch there (leave it to Comcast to zap every bit of money out of your wallet)... you MUST subscribe to Digital Cable in order to get DVR. I was originally just using the basic cable package. So another upgrade to the Digital Classic base plan was an additional $10 more a month. The result... $13.50 more a month, but that also includes a whole bunch more channels (including my good friend the Game Show Network). Somehow that all worked out I'm paying $13.50 more and am perfectly happy with the result.

And believe it or not... despite the price that I still think is higher than it needs to be... it's still Comcastic. :)