Monday, November 30, 2009

London Olympics logo - is it child porn?

We begin this week with a touch of the bizarre. While we Canadians get ready for our Olympics in a few months, the Brits look like they've got their hands full with their own games, which are still two years away. It seems the games' logo is causing quite a stir. Have a good look at the image at right.

Okay, now what was the first thing you thought of? If your answer was "child porn," give yourself a gold star!

Yes, it's true. The London Olympics logo, which I think is admittedly a little strange, has already taken its share of criticism, but now some people are saying it's child porn. To be more specific, they're saying it looks like Lisa Simpson performing oral sex.

Here's a with more than 250,000 members (as of Sunday night) who seem to agree. The group has also taken the liberty of colouring the logo to make it more explicit. Adult entertainment news site Xbiz is citing some unnamed critics who say the logo may violate U.K. child porn laws, and that a formal complaint is sure to come.

Funny or outright ridiculous? I can't decide...

By the way, the logo is supposed to depict "2012." I'll be damned if I saw it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

KFC's grilled chicken most memorable new product of 2009

Just how ingrained is fast food in our brains? Extremely, according to a New York Times article. KFC's Kentucky Grilled Chicken menu item was the most memorable new product of 2009, according to the eighth annual study conducted by Schneider Associates, IRI and Sentient Decision Science, which was released the other day.

Moreover, five of the top 11 products (there was a tie for 10th place) were fast-food items. They were McDonald's McCafe coffees (#2), Quizno's Torpedo sandwich (#6), McD's again with the Angus Burger (#7) and Taco Bell's Volcano Nachos (#8). A couple of non-fast-food items made the list too, including the Blackberry Storm and the Beatles Rock Band video game.

The story indicates that the poor economy was to blame for the lack of memorable new products in 2009, and from my experience that's probably right. Over the past few days, I've been thinking about the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, which I'll be covering. I'm expecting it to be a pretty exciting one after last year's, which was pretty morose because of the economy.

Last year, the big electronics companies held back on introducing fancy new technologies because they knew no one would have the money to buy them. Now, with things looking up, I suspect they're going to let the new stuff rip.

But the survey, which may or not be based on dubious methodology (read the NYT article), nevertheless highlights more than just economic problems. It also shows how effective fast-food advertising is, which means the companies involved put a lot of effort and resources into making people aware of their new products. Food is, after all, the biggest industry there is (more than $4 trillion in annual global revenue) and it is fiercely competitive. It's no wonder some of the products are memorable.

In the end, it's probably a good thing that KFC's grilled chicken - which is considerably healthier than just about anything else on its menu - was the most memorably new product of 2009, and not the Double Down.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hookers for Jesus meets God's heavy metal

I got word this week that I'll be heading down to Las Vegas again in January to cover the Consumer Electronics Show, so it's only fitting that I share a story about possibly the best Sin City event there's ever been: a wedding between the guitarist of Christian heavy metal band Stryper and the founder of Hookers for Jesus.

Oh yes, it's true - Oz Fox, guitarist for Stryper (which apparently stands for Salvation Through Redemption, Yielding Peace, Encouragement and Righteousness) has married Annie Lobért, an ex-prostitute who gave up her profession after finding Jesus and now tries to get other ladies of the night to do the same.

Now, this monumental event happened back in June and I'm somewhat ashamed for not having this back then, but I only learned of it the other day when a friend (and former band mate from our university metal band Evilution) brought it to my attention.

First up, let's deal with Stryper. I simply never could get into a heavy metal band that loved Jesus. It just seemed... wrong. With Iron Maiden singing about 666, the number of the the beast, and Motley Crue shouting at the devil, Stryper just seemed like a big bunch of pansies. It's like they were missing the point of the music. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself - if this isn't the wimpiest metal you've ever seen or heard, I don't know what is:

Then there's Hookers for Jesus. On her website, Lobért talks about her 11 years as a prostitute and stripper and how she became a sex slave and drug addict because of it. She says she got out of it because of the strength she found in God, and all that stuff, yadda yadda yadda. Don't get me wrong - if it helps people get out of a terrible life, more power to them... it's just that I tuned out all that religious stuff at the age of six.

Hookers for Jesus is Lobért's way of saving others from the same fate. ABC's Nightline did an interesting piece on it back in March, which you can watch here. The one thing I found unsettling about the situation is that Lobért is getting help from a fellow named Pastor Benny in Las Vegas, who has given her group use of one his church's houses, which they've dubbed "Destiny's House."

What's always bugged me about organized religions is the fact that they have assets, such as property. I really don't think Jesus intended his preachers to be dealing in real estate. In fact, I'm pretty sure he would have been against it. Come to think of it, I'm not too sure Jesus would have been all that into heavy metal either.

Nevertheless, how can you not like a story about hookers, heavy metal and Jesus?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Universal Soldier 3: More Van Dammage

It was with mixed emotions that I watched a friend's link to the trailer for Universal Soldier 3 on Facebook the other day. On the one hand, I really like bad action movies (I can't wait for , starring Korean pop star Rain - you know that one's gonna be great!) I've also always kinda secretly pulled for Jean Claude Van Damme, and perhaps even a little bit for Dolph Lundgren. After all, the man who brought us Ivan Drago deserves so much better.

On the other hand, I can't understand why this movie is being made. It's not like the previous one did mondo box office. Have fans been clamouring for another sequel? Somehow I doubt it. Maybe Van Damme is about to undergo a Mickey Rourke-like resurrection after his acclaimed performance in , a movie that was about... him. (I won't even make the obvious joke about how he did well in it because he didn't have to act... wait a minute, I just did, whoops!)

Here's the Universal Soldier 3 trailer - check it out, it's full of Van Dammage:

I suppose the reason I sort of like these movies is because they reinforce what I've been talking about on this website for almost nine months now - that it's the military that drives technology. Van Damme and Lundgren are technogically enhanced soldiers in the movie, and while real-world troops aren't exactly emotionless cyborgs yet, there is definitely a push to move them that way.

UPDATE: Oh yeah baby, Ninja Assassin is getting panned across the board - it's got a 33 on Metacritic. Looks like I've got to go see it this weekend before it disappears.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Child porn: shouldn't the police do the policing?

The big news of the day is that our federal government here in Canada is set to announce new legislation that will require internet service providers to help authorities nail purveyors of online child porn. It's an issue that has, not surprisingly, provoked visceral reaction from Canadians in several ways.

Firstly, nobody in their right minds supports child porn - it's sick, horrible and the people who peddle it should rightly go to jail. Something definitely needs to be done about it - the question is what. As many commenters on the CBC story (which was written by a colleague of mine) pointed out, the government's proposed rules may not be the answer.

The legislation will force ISPs to alert authorities if they come across any host sites linked to child porn, and it will force them to guard any evidence of sites that may have used one of their servers. ISPs would also have to report any "tip" provided to them about potential child porn sites to police.

There are a number of questions that arise from this approach. What happens if your computer is infected and recruited to be part of a botnet, which automatically spreads the offending material without you having an inkling that it's happening? Also, what's to stop abuse of the "tip" system? If somebody doesn't like you, what's to stop them from reporting your personal blog to the ISP, who then sics the police on you? One commenter on internet guru Michael Geist's blog summed up the issue quite nicely (and somewhat emotionally) thusly:

Child porn is a lever which is used to pry away our privacy. Yes, child porn is wrong, but those who made it already committed crimes. The act of creation is alone illegal. What's scary is that child porn is ephemeral and suddenly when you are in possession of this ephemeral illegal information you can go to jail. Have fun proving you didn't know it was there because your PC was being used as a node in a botnet.

As the commenter said, child porn is indeed a lever - and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, if we allow the government to intrude in this sense, where does it end? During the summer, I posted about how a British ISP blocked access to this blog through its McDonald's hotspots, presumably because it had the word "boobs" in its URL (alas, rest in peace "boobs") or because I occasionally discuss sex and porn. Anyone who has read this blog knows that the most risque or offensive things that ever appear here are pictures of the latest fast-food monstrosity, yet it's already enough to get blocked.

I'm not sure what the answer is to stop child porn, but the Canadian government's approach seems like a fairly lazy one. Rather than trying to get the RCMP to do its job, the government looks like it's trying to offload the work of policing the internet from, y'know, real police to ISPs. The RCMP supposedly has a cyber-crime strategy - or at least they were working on one last year - so shouldn't they be in charge of finding and preventing this stuff?

Friday, November 20, 2009

How is popcorn made?

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook the other day about how horribly unhealthy movie theatre popcorn is, which brought up a question I've always pondered: how the heck is popcorn made anyway?

Firstly, the article. According to the Center for Science and Public Interest, a U.S. food health advocate, a medium popcorn with butter and a soft drink contains 1,160 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat. That's the equivalent of three McDonald's quarter-pounder burgers topped with a dozen scoops of butter and about three days worth of your fat allowance. Moreoever, every squirt of buttery topping adds another 130 calories. "Asking for topping is like asking for oil on French fries or potato chips," said one of the researchers involved in the study.

Normally, I'd be horrified, but in this case, I'm getting hungry. Movie theatre popcorn is one of the best foods in the world! In fact, if it wasn't for the popcorn, I might never go to the theatre. And it's not just me - I pointed the article out to my super-health conscious girlfriend, the same one who stopped eating chicken after watching Food Inc., and she said "I don't care." She loves movie popcorn as much as I do. Researchers can do all the studies they want (and they've been finding the same results for more than 15 years now), we won't stop eating it!

But let's get to the science. I don't know about you, but I've always wondered why the hard, round kernels found at the bottom of the bag don't look anything like the soft, somewhat rectangular kernels that you find on the cob or in a can. Well, I set off to do some learnin', and it turns out there is actually a special kind of popping corn. There are many different varieties of corn in the world, but popping corn is specifically rounder and harder. The kernels also get dried during the processing phase to remove some of their moisture, which makes them easier to pop. Then, when you heat the kernels, the starch inside them explodes, which produces a tasty snack.

The Learning Channel has a short video, reminiscent of those cheesy educational videos you had to watch in grade school, but it's interesting nonetheless. NASA also has an article on the history of popcorn, evidence of which spans the globe and goes back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations indeed had the food processing know-how to make popcorn (but probably not movies). Side note: I can't believe we're wasting money on NASA for this sort of stuff.

What's funny is that normal popcorn - the kind you can make at home with an air popper - is actually quite good for you. It's very high in fibre and is low in calories and fat. Movie theatres make it noxious first by popping in oil, then by adding tons of salt and butter. That, of course, is why air-popped popcorn is dull as dirt while the movie-theatre equivalent is awesome.

Oreos: tons of variety - and sugar

An old colleague of mine from the National Post pointed out to me the other day that there is a ridiculous variety of Oreo cookies out there. She mentioned it in regards to a column I wrote about how the whole Guitar Hero concept was getting tired - but man, Nabisco has really milked this cookie for all its worth (no pun intended).

According to the mighty Wikipedia, there are more than 20 varieties. Nabisco's website, meanwhile, lists like 50 different kinds, from the old faithful traditional Oreo to Pure White Fudge Covered Oreos to Halloween Orange Creme Oreos.

Exactly how bad are Oreos for you? Well, the first ingredient listed is sugar. In a 34-gram serving, 14 grams of that - almost half - is sugar. As if that's not sweet enough, there's also an (un)healthy dose of high fructose corn syrup, that technological wonder of the 21st century.

Ah, but it's Friday... who wants to end a week on a downer? Here's a YouTube video made by some guys (I have no idea who they are) who have created their own ways to enjoy Oreos. I particularly like the pecan - a very nice touch.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Permissions, permissions, damn permissions!

If there's one thing I've learned in writing a book (okay, there are many, but still...), it's that I can now generally tell how poor or cheap another author is just by skimming through their work. If the book doesn't have a lot of photos or those quotes that begin the chapter (a.k.a. epigraphs), chances are good the author is either broke or stingy because they can cost a lot of dough.

My book is in the later editing stages right now and just going into design, where the publishers gussy it up with photos and stuff like that. The thing is, it's standard for authors to put all those photos and quotes together, which includes the responsibility of securing the rights to use them. For photos, this can be a pricey endeavour. Often, the copyright holder of the photo will let you use it for free - especially if they're interested in having whatever is in the photo promoted in your book. In other cases - and there are at least two for me - the copyright holder wants some money for it because ultimately, your book constitutes a commercial usage of that photo. In this situation, the author must decide whether to cough up or go without. In my case, it'll sting but I'll probably pay up.

Quotes are similar. Normally, if you use a quote in the text of your manuscript that's from some other published work (a book or poem, for example), that's fine - as long as it's relatively short. If you use the quote at the beginning of the chapter, though, that's "prominent placement" so you need the permission of the person who holds the copyright on that quote. Sometimes the copyright holder wants money from you to use it, which are fees the author is also on the hook for.

That's not necessarily the problematic part because in the end, it's just a few bucks. The tough part can lay in trying to figure out who owns the copyright. In Canada, authors have copyright on their work until they die, plus 50 years. After that, their work - quotes included - are in the public domain, so authors like me can go nuts. In the meantime, you have to get permission.

The quote I'd really like to use to open my book comes from science fiction writer Aldous Huxley's 1937 book Ends and Means. It sets the tone for my book beautifully and reads:

We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.

Huxley died in 1963, which means his work is copyrighted till 2013, just a few years shy of hitting the public domain. So who owns the copyright on his stuff till then? I have no idea, and I'll have to go through the maze of trying to find out - and then I may ultimately have to pay for the quote anyway. You can probably see why it might just be easier to go with something older that's out of copyright. In the end, if you see this quote end up in my book, know that I went through a lot of trouble to get it!

Don't even get me started on quoting from entertainment sources. I'm told song lyrics are a nightmare to secure permissions for (luckily I don't have any), while any sort of epigraphs from movies or TV usually aren't worth the trouble. I had to scrap a lovely quote from Yoda about giving in to the dark side because I couldn't imagine George Lucas getting back to me in time for publication (we haven't been on speaking terms, anyway, ever since I did my impression of Yoda and Chewbacca having sex for him).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oprah talks women and porn

Man was I surprised to find out that Oprah (last name not needed, like Bono) had a segment on women and porn on her show yesterday. Alas, I didn't see it but her website has a bunch of features related to the segment.

The report was, by all accounts, quite fair and balanced, with Oprah even citing a statistic that's not very well known - that approximately one in three women watch porn. Her correspondent Lisa Ling talked to a bunch of people in the industry and found that it's not just men watching it, and that it really isn't the seedy business everybody thinks it is.

"It's not so much that it's gotten better. It's changing," Ling said. "Now there is porn that is being produced specifically for women by women, in some cases, and it just looks different. It feels different. There's more of a storyline. It's more romantic."

You can check it all out, including interviews with the Hulk Hogan of porn, Jenna Jameson, on Oprah's website. Here's a preview clip:

Ironically, presenting the de facto other side of this story is former vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, who appeared on Oprah's show the day before, on Monday, to talk about her new book Going Rogue. During the interview, she lamented the fact that Levi Johnston, the father of her grandchild, had posed for Playgirl magazine. Some of the things he's doing are "heartbreaking," Palin said. "I call that porn." Here's a clip of that:

Maybe Levi will come out with a book too - he could call it Going Commando.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Google makes Translate even better

Google yesterday announced some improvements to its , and this is one online feature that keeps impressing the hell out of me. If you haven't tried it yet, give it a go - it's remarkably good, especially compared to a number of . Just copy and paste a non-English website and Google takes care of the rest. Most of the time, the results are decent and give you the gist, plus more.

The updates introduced yesterday include instant translation (it translates as you type) and the Romanization of results that come in non-Roman languages. So, if for example, you type in a phrase in English and want the result in Chinese, you'll get the proper Chinese characters but also a Romanized pronunciation guide.

Even cooler is a text-to-speech capability, which so far only works for English. If you type in a German phrase and you want the translation in English, Google will speak it for you. That's of virtually no use to English speakers (we already know how to say the words, duh) but could be really useful if Google can do it in reverse. Imagine you're in a foreign country - it would be great to have a spoken foreign language pronunciation guide available right at your fingertips (via smartphone).

Here's Google's blog the updates, as well as a video that does the same:

I bring up Google Translate here because of its links to military research, which I've posted about before. The head of Google's program, Franz Och, won a DARPA contest a few years ago by building a new algorithm that translates languages based on their statistical patterns, rather than on grammatical rules. The military
is now using similar technology with iPod-sized translator machines. And, as I mentioned in that previous post, it's also worth noting that Google's algorithm could result in deadly killer Cylon robots.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Battle over porn rating fees hits Nova Scotia

It's fairly well known that porn producers are often quick to jump on new technologies - what isn't well understood is why. I discovered a number of good reasons during my research, but the best of them is probably exemplified by a story coming out of Nova Scotia last week.

Topline Entertainment, one of the province's top adult film distributors, is fighting a charge from the province for selling porn without it first being rated. The company, according to the Halifax Commoner, is arguing that the province is applying double standards in a couple of ways, in effect trying to drive porn distributors out of business.

Here's how it works. In Nova Scotia, if you want to sell an adult film in porn shops, the province charges you $3.47 per minute to rate the film. For an average 110-minute movie, that's more than $380. Given the small size of the market, retailers may only buy 20 to 50 copies of the film, which means the price tag ends up pretty high once that rating fee is factored in. Digital Playground's Pirates 2, for example, ends up over $90. That's extraordinarily high at a time when tons of free porn is only a click away.

The first of the double standards, Topline says, is that the province's fee to rate mainstream movies is 11 times lower. The second is that satellite and pay-per-view providers are exempt - they can show all the porn they want without having to pay any such rating fees. If both those are true, it seems that Topline does indeed have a case.

In the meantime, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Workplace Development has been suspending retailers' licenses for selling unlicensed movies in what they're calling a "clean sweep."

Which brings us to technological innovation and why porn companies do it. Selling via retail stores - or "bricks and mortar" operations - is a very low-tech, old method of doing business that authorities have pretty much had centuries to figure out how to regulate and control. Governments and regulators, however, are often slow to apply laws to new and emerging technologies because they don't understand them, or they're afraid to hurt their growth and spread. Consider that we've had the internet for almost two decades now - we're only just now starting to think about how to regulate it, what with all the net neutrality proceedings going on all over the place.

As one of the executives who runs the popular porn site Twistys told me earlier this year, technological innovation happens because "everybody else continues to put limits on the industry so you need to invent ways around it. It’s the authorities, the hosting companies, the FTC... That invention is basically what comes out of everything we do. In order to deliver, you have to invent in order to circumvent other issues that may come up."

In other words, the smart porn companies are the ones that distribute their products over the newest - and least regulated - technologies. They make their money and once the authorities start breathing down their necks with new rules, it's on to the next technology.

Ironically, it's the internet's very unregulated nature that is putting such a hurting on adult producers. If there were some rules limiting who could get access to online porn, there wouldn't be so much free stuff out there and the companies that make it wouldn't be losing so much money.

What's that old saying about those who live by the sword dying by the sword?

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Onion previews Modern Warfare 3

Since I spent so much time talking about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 this week (I've now pumped many hours into it and it is awesome), I thought I'd share The Onion's take on the game.

The Onion reports that Infinity Ward is already working on Modern Warfare 3, and that it's going to be the most realistic war game ever. That's because players will spend most of their time waiting around for orders and repairing humvees. The single-player campaign will take a record 17,250 hours to finish as a result.

The best part has players settling an argument between two soldiers over who they'd rather have sex with: Jessica Biel or Shakira. In the final levels, players get approached by waves of people back home asking them how hot it was and how many people they killed. "You have to face down a college student who keeps asking if it was like Black Hawk Down," says one of the "developers."

Check it out. It's hilarious, as always.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Porn 2.0: don't count smut out yet

Current TV journalist Christof Putzel has put together a documentary called "Porn 2.0," which examines how the adult industry is dealing with the downturn in its business. The doc aired on U.S. TV Wednesday night and, surprisingly, I haven't yet been able to find it online (I'll certainly link to it if I do).

Putzel did give a synopsis of his work in a Huffington Post article and it sure sounds like he came to the same conclusions I did after talking to people in the industry. As he puts it, the adult business is known for its penchant for technological innovation but "contrary to their image as internet pioneers with an ever-increasing market, I found porn producers just as perplexed as other media as piracy and the plummeting costs of production sucked away the sizable profits they used to enjoy."

Indeed, that's definitely the case. It's well established that the adult industry is losing tons of money to file-sharing and YouTube clones that are shoveling out free porn. Some producers are fighting this by policing the internet and busting the pirates while others are trying some inventive approaches, like AEBN and its motion-synced Real Touch vagina simulator. Ultimately, though, no one has a good answer for how to stop the hemorrhaging.

It seems like Putzel's conclusion is that porn's days as an engine of technological innovation are over (to be fair - I'm only going on what he's written, not having seen the documentary). If that's the case, I'm not sure I agree. If you'll pardon the old cliche, in this case necessity truly may be the mother of invention.

Hollywood and the music business may complain about how file-sharing is costing them money, but the fact is they haven't really put their money where their mouths are. If file-sharing really was so damaging, these companies would have armies of lawyers patrolling BitTorrent tracking sites around the clock and shutting down new files just as soon as they went up. Which is exactly what some of the big porn companies say they do - and it's true; it is harder to find movies from producers such as Vivid or Digital Playground on Pirate Bay than it is to find releases from Sony or Warner Bros.

The film and music businesses, despite making noises about piracy, ultimately don't really care because they have huge performance revenues to fall back on. You can't pirate the movie-going experience, which is why theatres are jam-packed every weekend and everyone involved is profiting nicely. Similarly, musicians have made virtually all their money from touring for ages now. Putting out an album is almost a loss leader, so who cares if it gets pirated? These businesses have no real impetus to innovate technologically - they can just fall back on old copyright enforcement methods and, when that fails, suck up the minor damages they suffer.

Porn, however, has no live performance to fall back on - which is why the bigger guys are vigilant in fighting file-sharing and 'Tube sites. They're also not traditionally friends with the law (decades of fighting obscenity charges at every turn will do that to you). Adult companies are therefore, if you'll pardon the pun, considerably more exposed to the disruptive effects of the internet.

The porn industry has its back up against the wall and the only real solution may be, in fact, to innovate like hell. Putzel is definitely right in that no one has figured it out yet, and the clock is ticking - much faster than it is for music or the movie business.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Violence in games - enough already

I wasn't planning on writing more about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 quite so soon, but after a full day of media exposure to it (I was on CBC radio twice talking about it), I'm a little taken aback by some of the attitudes that still exist out there and how games are portrayed by the media - particularly when it comes to violence.

I don't think I saw or read any coverage of the game yesterday that didn't somehow touch on the violence angle. One of the main issues, it seems, is that the plot of Modern Warfare sees players combat a Russian ultra-nationalist terrorist. To do so, they have to infiltrate his forces - and kill innocents in the process.

Modern Warfare 2, ergo, is a violent and immoral game that has raised the hackles of the usual suspects - i.e. conservative politicians worried about how this will affect the children, those poor, poor children.

Really? Seriously? Really? We're still beating this lame drum?

Okay - with the exception of this latest game and the other Modern Warfare precursor, all of the Call of Duty titles have been based on World War II. Call of Duty 3 actually borrowed heavily from Saving Private Ryan, going so far as to duplicate that famous, horrific beach-landing scene. Yet Saving Private Ryan wins numerous Oscars (and gets nominated for Best Picture) while Call of Duty gets attacked for its violence.

Some of the plot elements of Modern Warfare 2 also sound a lot like a recent storyline from 24, which last I checked was winning Emmy awards hand over fist. I even saw one report that criticized the game because Activision lets people watch trailers for it online without any sort of age verification. Again: really?

There continues to be this mistaken belief that somehow the only people who play video games are pre-school children, and they need to be protected from the harmful content found in titles like Call of Duty even though far worse violence is accessible with the simple flicking on of the television. In point of fact, the average gamer is 35 years old. That seems a little high, but given that my generation has grown up always knowing video games, it's not really surprising and probably close to the truth. This generation considers games to be a legitimate, vibrant and creative form of entertainment, much like (or even more so than) television or movies.

Unfortunately, most of the folks who still run the mainstream media are just a little too old to understand this, and it'll be a few years yet before they're succeeded by people who know better.

In the meantime, gamers will have to dust off the same old answers to the same old criticisms. Here's one: Would you let your eight-year-old watch Saving Private Ryan or 24? If the answer is yes, then you deserve to be on the news years later answering questions about how your parental failures resulted in your kid shooting up his school or workplace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Call of Duty = goodbye, social life

It's a good thing the lion's share of the work on the book is done because as of today, I can pretty much kiss away most of my spare time, at least for the next few weeks or so. Today, of course, is the day that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 hits stores. I've got my copy pre-ordered and I've got Wednesday off. I'll be remembering our fallen troops by shooting up terrorists all day. (Is that ironic or somehow twisted? I'm not sure.)

It goes without saying that the line between war games and the real thing is blurring - the military is using games to recruit and train while the games industry is incorporating real-life weapons and strategy into its releases. It's gotten to the point where the games are starting to become good sources of current or near-term military tech. (Let's not forget that video games as we know them were created by military contractors and scientists.)

Case in point: I remember playing Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter a few years ago and thinking how far-fetched the seemed. Lo and behold, that stuff was not science-fiction at all but really being used. Over the next few days, we'll see what kind of new tech Modern Warfare 2 reveals, if any.

That said, the reception this game is already getting is really amazing to watch. While we techie nerds have known this all along, the mainstream media seems to have finally woken up and realized that - gasp! - video games are a major business. In fact, it's been bigger than Hollywood for some time now. Call of Duty is getting all sorts of attention because it's expected to pull in up to half a billion dollars in its first week. That's bigger money than Titanic.

There's still a bias against video games, though - the older generation still thinks of them as kid's stuff. Perhaps the realization that the majority of people in their thirties (and younger) have grown up always knowing video games, and that we consider them as valid an entertainment medium as music or movies, is finally starting to set in.

One can always hope, right?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Postcards from the McDonald's museum

We're just about to move into the design stage of the book, which means that photos are top of mind right now. In that vein, here are some photos from my visit earlier this year to the McDonald's museum in San Bernardino, which is a stone's throw from Los Angeles.

One thing to keep in mind is that the museum in San Bernardino is not the official company sanctioned version - that one is in Des Plaines, Illinois, which was the home base for Ray Kroc, the franchising mastermind who built the company. The museum in L.A. is near the site of the very first restaurant opened in 1940 by the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, who sold the franchising rights to Kroc in 1954. The unofficial museum is a hodge-podge of memorabilia that has been donated over the years - it also has a small shrine of sorts to Route 66, the famous highway on which it (and the restaurant) are situated.

Here's a view of the original sign, and the exterior of the museum. That's Route 66 off to the right.

There's some glare on this one, but if you click on the photo you can make it out as the original McDonald's menu. A hamburger and fries cost 25 cents back then. Wow.

Here's a little stylized model of what the first McDonald's looked like in 1955.

One of the themes covered in my book is how McDonald's has been a technological innovator in both big and small ways. One of those smaller innovations was its ketchup and mustard dispensers, which shot out precise amounts of the condiments - thereby saving time and money. Very efficient. Here's the patent application for the dispenser.

And here's the dispenser itself.

By the way, kudos to anyone who noticed that I've changed this blog's URL to The old Bombs, Boobs & Burgers domains (both .com and .net) should continue to work, but you may want to update your bookmarks.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Eat like a bear, end up like a pig

Looking to lose weight? Well, you may not have to give up eating fast food. You may, however, have to learn how to eat slower.

A new study finds that eating quickly stops the release of a hormone that tells the brain your stomach is full. People who eat lunch at their desks without taking time to have a proper meal are therefore at a higher risk of obesity, according to Stephen Bloom, a professor at London's Imperial College who worked on the study.

"Speed-eating, eating at work or when you're doing spreadsheets on the screen so that you keep stuffing food into your face are likely to increase the risk of obesity," he said.

Oh really? Well, if that's true, how does he explain this:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A real fast-food emergency

Some people get inspired to start their own companies when McDonald's screws up their orders. Other people? Well, they call 9-1-1.

Raibin Raof Osman, a 20-year-old Oregon man, just couldn't take it. After a McDonald's in Aloha, a town near Portland, forgot to give him the box of orange juice he ordered, he called the police and complained. Staff at the McDonald's insisted they got his order right and that he never asked for orange juice, and they also called 9-1-1 after Osman refused to move out of the drive-thru and started banging on the windows.

How do we know all this? Because a recording of both calls is available here. It's priceless, it really is. Especially the 9-1-1 operator's initial reaction to Osman's complaint. She replied in really the only way a person could in that situation: "Uhhhhh..."

The officers who responded to the call tried to explain to Osman that they were not in the business of sorting out fast-food orders, and in the end he has to pay a $300 fine for misuse of the emergency service.

Sigh. Exactly how much more do fast-food companies need to replace their staff with robots? Robots can't screw up orders - and in the off chance they do, they can just terminate the customer.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Going in reverse: mainstream to porn

Further to the post the about MMA fighter "War Machine" and his budding porn career... it is worth nothing that while it's usually porn stars who are looking to cross over into the mainstream, some people do occasionally go the other way. There have been plenty of rock stars who have in one way or another released their own home-made sex tapes (i.e. Poison's Brett Michaels and nearly every member of Motley Crue) and of course there was Snoop Dogg's foray into the business, although as far as I know he simply "presented" the action and didn't actually take part.

Perhaps the best example of crossover, though, is Evan Seinfeld, who was the bassist and singer for metal band Biohazard (he also played biker on one of my all-time favourite shows, Oz). In 2004, he married porn star Tera Patrick and decided to, well, get in on the action. The two formed their own distribution company, Teravision, and Seinfeld became her exclusive on-screen partner. Surprisingly, the two announced a split just over a month ago.

I interviewed the pair earlier this year and while I've previously posted of Patrick, I thought I'd share a few highlights of what Seinfeld had to say:

On the internet and porn:
“The barrier to entry is certainly lowered a lot by technology. You can shoot some video and build a website in one day. Will anybody go to it, I don’t know?”
“If you’re independent, now is your time. You don’t need to go through a Vivid or a Wicked or a Hustler to get into the business. You can just open yourself a website and if you have something unique or good, you have the technology to get it out there and it’s the wild west. Have a good time.”

On having to do affiliation deals with free porn sites:
“Until porn becomes advertising driven, it’s just going to be the way it works.”

On porn driving technology:
“The mainstream is slow on the go. They need a hundred people to make a decision. In a corporate structure, people are afraid to go out on a limb because if something goes wrong they could lose their jobs. In adult, if you came to Tera and myself and said, ‘hey, I’ve got this new technology to deliver your content to people via an iPhone,’ we could run a check on your company in a matter of days, have a contract and be up in running within a week. We don’t have to check with anybody, Tera’s the boss.”

On competition in the industry:
“I wish I could say our movies are twice as good as anyone else’s but when it comes to shooting sex, it’s not that anyone does it all that much better than anyone else. It all comes down to your branding, marketing and your crossover into mainstream.”

On sex and its social acceptance:
“Sex has always been more powerful than anything - money, religion, power. The only reason a guy wants more money, a fancy car, power, is to get sex. People are more willing to embrace the reality that sex is the most powerful force in the world.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Is NASA a waste of money? Like hell it is

I wouldn't normally criticize my employer (!) but a recent report on The National that asked "Is NASA a waste of money?" was so astonishingly bad that I just couldn't let it go. Especially given that I sometimes have to report on space news, and I may want to actually have NASA folks return my calls.

The report, found here, had host Wendy Mesley questioning how much NASA spends and joking about how the space agency's recent "bombing of the moon" was met with yawns. She had a consumer watchdog in the U.S. suggesting that space exploration should be privatized because "the thrill of going to space is gone," and because "there's no need to go to Mars." Mesley even took to the streets of Toronto to see what passersby, including a young girl, thought of the billions spent by NASA each year (they weren't impressed).

NASA's budget, y'see, is about 40 per cent of what the U.S. spends on education, and African people could spend that money on "a snack," Mesley said. Clearly, the young children she spoke to are eminently qualified to critique fiscal policy.

To round out the debate, however, she did mention some of the technological advances NASA has supplied, include weather prediction and satellite communications. Phew, good thing we got those things.

I'm not even sure where to begin in pointing out how bad this segment was. How about with this: many people have asked whether the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (for whom we both work) is a waste of taxpayer money. It most certainly is not, but as the saying goes, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

NASA's contributions to every-day life are actually almost too numerous to count. Let's take HAACP as just one example. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points was created by Pillsbury as a thorough system for testing food safety for the moon mission back in the sixties. Over the years it has been expanded and adopted by just about every food producer in every developed country in the world. Without it, thousands or even millions of people would be getting sick or even dying from the food they ate every day.

That sure seems like a contribution worthy of what amounts to a drop in the bucket of the U.S. government's annual budget.

There are a zillion other things that have spun off from NASA research, like safer tires for our cars, solar power, just about every aeronautical invention over the past 50 years, bioreactors for developing drugs, oxygen gauges for operating rooms, sensor technology from telescopes that's used in arthroscopic surgery, even margarine (a byproduct of rocket fuel). NASA has a full database of its spinoffs, chock full of technologies and goods derived from the pursuit of space exploration.

Ultimately, NASA has more than paid for itself many times over - even if we had never set foot on the moon. And that's not even getting into how many jobs it has created over the years. It's the farthest thing from a waste of money.

UPDATE: Bob McDonald, host of CBC radio's Quirks & Quarks science program, agrees with me. As Bob puts it: "If you want to talk about ways we waste money, don’t pick on the space program."

Monday, November 2, 2009

MMA fighter goes porn

It seems like I may have found a spokesman for my book: mixed martial artist turned porn star War Machine (a.k.a. Jon Koppenhaver). Adult Video News reports that Koppenhaver, who has legally changed his name to War Machine, has officially filmed his first scene for Digital Playground and is actively looking for a career in the business.

Mr. Machine, who has been on Spike TV's UFC show, told AVN that he's simply pursuing a dream of doing what makes him happy:

I’m still going to be fighting, [but] I’m a free agent now. It’s my passion. Porn is just another way for me to get paid for doing something I love to do. My mentor told me to find something you’re passionate about. That’s why I fight — and I love to f*ck, so this is going to be good.

So basically, he's got two of my book's three themes covered. If he goes out and does some Burger King commercials, we're going to have to put him on the cover.
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