Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Mom and Pop Grocery Store Makes the Cut – And why it still seems wrong.

DeKalb, Illinois is your average midwestern town, having gone through the financial trends and spurts of the decades like most town's it's size and location. At sixty miles outside of Chicago, it lingered just outside the edge of urban sprawl for most of the end of the last millenium, as early as the 70's, DeKalb area business and land developers rolled out the red carpet for the influx of money that would come with the relocating city folk.

A well known story around town is that of Dee Palmer, a local musician and involved citizen who invested an inordinate amount of money building a high end music store. It was nice, with beautiful display room and expensive grand pianos, but went bankrupt quickly. The market wasn't here. Around town, most Mom and Pop groceries gave in to the larger chain stores. Little Hydrick's on the northeast side, complete with the candy jars behind the counter and aisles barely wide enough for a cart, went broke. About ten blocks away,tucked off of busy fourth street between a laundromat, a gas station, and a car wash, was Inoboden's, another Mom and Pop grocer. This one held on longer than the other's though, because their meat was known throughout the area, and never disappointed. Year after year, the suburbs crept closer, and the chain grocers that had squashed Mom and Pop started getting squashed the by Wal-Mart.

Inboden's was still a goldmine. Come Christmas time, there were lines coming outthe door for their cuts of meat, prime rib, spiral ham, smoked sausage, every niche food you can think of, always down right at Inboden's, at a higher but still fair price. The store itself changed little over the years, it looked much like any other little store had but for the impressive meat counter. Around it the gas station changed chains, the car wash down-sized,and the laundromat eventually went out of business, to be taken over by, Inboden's! The little store that never changed was expanding.

Upon seeing this development, by noting plywood over the laundromat windows, and signs “excusing the construction,” I was intrigued. Over the years I had come to appreciate the store as an anomaly, having found their niche and exploited it to it's full potential, expansion opened up possibilities, but also vulnerability. In a town where the chain stores were constantly crying foul, was Inboden's trying to go big?

The truth is, there wasn't enough property there to expand that way, and they needed some expansion to simply keep up. What they ended up with is a store more than twice as big, set up around the meat counter, with beer and wine and cheese and beautiful hardwood floors. On a Saturday, it was packed, and they were actually running TWO registers, and from all accounts it stays that way. A full-on success story of a Mom and Pop grocery that outlasted the rest and did right. This is the type of thing that should make everyone feel good, even those that fell by the wayside over the years, so why does something still bother me about it?

It was the people in the store on our first visit. As I checked things out, I surveyed the crowd, looking for familiar faces, as all of us that grew up around here make our trips through the businesses as the open and evolve, and I didn't see anyone I knew. This bothers me, that while this business has lasted to a new era, many of it's customers and fellow citizen's have not. Then the new remodel becomes not so much a perfect improvement as to looking much like some specialty store in the mall,complete with unimpressed, slightly rude customers. Looking around the store again, I saw invaders to my once untouched little home town, people who could never appreciate what it took for this place to come this far. After all, they shot up in a month along the highways these days.

For a second, the cynic got hold of me, but could not last, because it's not true. If it looks like a mall store, it is because they are trying to emulate Inboden's, not vice versa. The people are not rude, they are simply strangers,a whole bunch of which should keep finding the little treasure of a store so that it can keep prospering. It is not bad, or anything for me to be bothered about, it is simply change, and there is no fighting it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

1 vs. 100 - Building a Better Game Show

Since I brought it up, and managed to put down three current game shows in my last post, I want to write something good about one of the current prime-time, network programming down-time game show.

In the landscape of prime-time game shows, 1 vs. 100 is a step or two ahead of the rest of them. First of all, the premise unbelievably has a little more meat to it than the rest. Down to it's bare bones, it is still a quiz show, with it's special quirk being a panel of 100 people from varying walks of life and intellects competing against the contestant. The questions are across the board, from pop culture to science and math, somewhere along the lines of Do You Want to be a Millionaire?, maybe slightly easier.

The pace, while employing many drama heightening and time stretching elements, is not maddeningly slow, they can manage to answer more than one question between commercial breaks. The host, Bob Saget, has the smarm knob turned down and moves things along fairly well.

Maybe the best part of it is the musical chair style of guests,called the "the Mob", that are brought in to fill the 100 seats, replacing each "Mob" member that answered wrong. Notable members of the "Mob" are Jeopardy King Ken Jennings, the man who beat him and the man who bested him in the Jeopardy tournament, Poker queen Annie Duke, Hooter's waitresses (for about three questions), valedictorians, janitors, Mensa members, and a nun. The mob has more than their reputation at interest too, as they get to split the pot if a contestant is wrong and they are right.

They are set up on a tall stand, and their booth goes dark when they answer wrong, forgotten until they are replaced at the end of the wrong, unless Saget singles them out for chiding after a particularly simple miss or parting shot.

The help options are slightly clunky, but at least workable, one is to show what the Mob voted, another to pick out two members of the Mob at random with two different answers and ask them why they voted the way they did, and the other a very similar variant of that same option. The Mob members can't lie about their choice and veer the contestant to the other answer, but they are uniformly vague in their answers.

Another good thing about the show is that it stays at pretty much the same time, once a week, though as I write I see a promo for a special Christmas episode. Hopefully they will not start using it to blitz nightly programming like they do everything else that works just a little bit. This show too would get tiresome if ran more than a couple times a week.

Altogether, it makes for bearable programming to watch while the networks gear up for January and bring us new seasons and episodes of Monk, 24, Sunset Strip, Heroes, the Closer, Rescue Me,American Idol, and etc. etc. etcetera.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My Five Reasons NBC Should Drop 'Identity'

The game show Identity with Penn Gillette as it's host is so bad it makes Show Me the Money, and Deal or No Deal, tolerable. I know this is a down time of the season for the networks, and they are trying to get by with cheap filler programming, but this show is beyond mindless, it's infuriating.

5. Slow pace - This, show, moves, at, a, snails, (let's go to a break before I finish this sentence) pace. And I am not exaggerating, Penn makes Regis look like an auctioneer. I am a Penn and Teller fan, and have seen this guy say more in his thirty second intro on his Showtime series 'Bullshit' than he does in an entire show here. I know they are trying to stretch out time, milk it, but this is insulting.

4. The experts - A cross between the American Idol panel of nitwts and the panel from the match game, the 'experts' available to consult as one of the help options are a joke. They are supposedly an FBI interrogator, a body language expert, and some other important sounding title, offer what the contestant is already doing, a guess.

3. They're Cheap - The stakes of winning a prime-time game show have raised, but nobody told these idiots. You take Deal or No Deal to the limit, it's a million, you can win more than that on Show Me the Money, I am told. I really can't stand that show either. The Price is Right gives away more money than this poor excuse for a Prime-time game show, $500,000 if you win it all, ( but you won't, more about that in number one).

2. The premise - This is Deal or No Deal without the hot models holding the briefcases and the banker on the phone. At some point it is just guessing, half of them are obviously easy and there are always at least two that it is simply a toss up. The wait for the 'stranger' as they are called, to tell if the contestant has guessed wrong is as annoying as Penn's slow paced talk, and their catchlines if correctly chosen are worse than campy. This is simply a guessing game, which moves at a snails pace and doesn't pay off.

1. They reneged! - Yes, they reneged, they welched, they cheated, they broke the only rule that should stand in these cheesy game shows, you pay off when they win, and that is why I think this show should disappear like most of its' predecessors. If someone is going to win, despite the odds stacked against them, let them win.

On the Thursday, December 21 episode, the entire hour was a young woman who went though the motions of the excruciatingly annoying show, and I watching her, to play a perfect game through 10 contestants. She guessed 10 identities correctly! Now, the three helps you have are; Ask the experts - which I've spoken of, Tri-dentity - where the field is narrowed down to three(also almost no help), and Mistaken Identity - A bogey, you get to get one wrong, and you're not out of the money.

Let me state that again, as Penn does many times throughout the show,using up time and pushing us toward that alway important next break, you get to get one wrong. Nice, you say, so if she is down to two people with her 'Mistaken Identity' still intact, she wins, it's simple, even if she misses her first guess, she gets another. Wow,cool, this girl played the game good.

But NO! After the commercial break, they come back on and say, that NO, the helps are no good if she is going for $500,000, that she has to guess straight up and risk everything to win it all. As Penn would say on his other, much better television show, BULLSHIT!!!!!

You can't change the rules at the end of the game. Someone is about to win and this comes up? I couldn't have been more annoyed.I mean, just the show is annoying enough, but there simply wasn't anything else on, and the girl was likeable, and winning. Then they stick it to her like that?

Maybe this was in the rules from the beginning, maybe it does make sense even from an excitement standpoint, but you don't drop it in like that. Somebody dropped the ball on this. He either should have been telling her that she would lose that help in the last round so she could use it to guess on those two that could be either one earlier or let her keep it, she earned it, she saved it.She could have taken the chance on the last two people, the ones that were simply a guess. The identities were a 'CSI Investigator' and 'Organ Donor' and the two people left were two middle aged women. It was a toss up even if the one that turned out to be the 'CSI Investigator' did look as if she idolized Marg Helgenberger.

If properly handled, the girl would have known that she should use her mistaken identity on an earlier round. Then she would have known which was or wasn't the 'CSI Investigator'. However, it was never pointed out that she needed too. Everything else was pointed out, elaborated on, drawn out, but not the simple fact that she needed to use her mistaken identity before she lost it.

That's why Identity is bullshit. For now on, I am going to backlog every program I can think of, or egad, not watch television during the time that Identity is on. Really NBC, if you want to go the cheap route at least use the time doing good civil service trapping sexual predators or exposing government corruption with a known to be cheap news magazine show.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Happy Feet - 4 Shreks

Happy Feet starts out a little wobbly. I was afraid it was going to be just one long animated music video. Don't get me wrong, the music was good, Beach Boys, Elvis, Motown, I was mentally tapping my feet and smiling at the characterizations, but in the end, I need a little more. Luckily that came.

The beginning is centered around the Penguin Colony. In an homage to "March of the Penguins," they show the passing of the egg and the male Penguin staying for his time to protect and hatch the egg while the female leaves and most of the time there is some musical number going on. It's engaging and entertaining but not as funny as I like.

Then Mumbles begins his story. Mumbles is the main character, a penguin that does not have a heart song, that can't carry a tune with ice tongs, but he can dance. I have read articles talking about Mumbles being a gay stereotype and just don't see it. Somebody needs to take a break. Mumbles is funny,if a little annoying and btw, more than half the movie is about him trying to win a girl!

What helps make this movie, and if anything can be called racial stereotyping, is the other penguins that befriend Mumbles when he leaves his main colony. For want of a better description, the Mexican Penguins. They were hilarious, and made every scene a standout. Robin William's voice is officially on two characters, a voodoo penguin with a six-pack stuck around his head and a harem, and the leader of the mexican penguins, but you can hear him everywhere throughout the movie.

The movie went fast, and besides a strong ecological theme, it was very enjoyable. I like it and will own the video when it comes out. The soundtrack also kicks major butt, I can imagine I will own that too.

My Five Points for Rating Kid's Movies

Here is where I explain my rating system and what I am looking for in a kid's movie as an adult. Sorry for the magnanimous tone, it seems to come with my blogging. Though most of these movies will be animated, this system applies to all the kids movies I review. There are several live action features that I will be adding to the Kids Movie Reviews list.

1 - Keeps a child engaged.
Of course this can vary from child to child, and very often I have seen these movies without a child right there with me. I am capable of looking around, and noticing how much the kids are paying attention. If it's hard to watch because they are running the aisles, it's not going to do very well with me.

2 - Keeps the adults engaged.

If there's not a little bit of adult humor woven in, I probably won't even make it through. I'm immature, but not that immature.

3 - Don't cash in too much.
  • Product Placement. I know this is a world wherein things are run by money, we all need it, to make movies they need very much and they make more with product placement. That's fine, but don't make it a ninety minute commercial, for example, "Castaway". Not a kid's movie by my standards, but a blatant cash in.
  • Video Game Tie -ins. Going overboard promoting the extra tie-ins like video games. Very often lately I am watching a movie and find myself in the middle of an action sequence that feels like it will be put right into a game, and the scene goes on much longer than needed if needed at all. That's annoying.
4 - Animation.
Not trying to be snobbish, but don't throw that sloppy old animation at me. I realize that good work has been done with pencils and clay and such, but if it's worse than South Park, it better be a whole lot funnier.

5 - Rating System.

One to five Shreks. I'll be using Shrek 1 as the Standard because I am loathe to think of any other children's movie that is better along all of the categories I just listed.

- 1 Shrek - Hope that your child doesn'tlike it and make you sit through more than 1 viewing.

- 2 Shreks - Still not tolerable, but you could see how someone else would like it.

- 3 Shreks - Has it's moments. Rent it and you won't feel ripped off.

4 Shreks - Good Movie, just a few flaws but worth watching, renting, or owning if you wait until the price goes down.

- 5 Shreks - Okay, it's not the Holy Grail of movies I know, and on given days I might even prefer other Kids Movies over this one, but it's a good measuring stick. If I see a movie that I think is even better, the scale goes up accordingly, to six or seven or as many Shreks better I think it is. I don't foresee that happening in the near future.

Okay, that's my rating system and general rules, with the latitude to change, ignore or add anything I want. Until I think of something else or Disney/Pixar comes after me and tells me I can't use their images.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is Studio 60 Finally Settling Into a Groove?

Studio 60 Settling Into A Groove?

I've been a fan since the first episodes, and a worrying, wondering type of parent as well.This is what happens to me when I take a liking to a marginal series. Of course, this one didn't come out of the blocks like a marginal series. It is well produced, with Aaron Sorkin and a cast of mid-level heavyweight actors full of talent and light on big star name-splashing crap to take away from what was being produced.

What is being produced is a smart, frenetically paced drama wrapped around a Saturday Night Live type television show, it's producers, actors, and power-wielding corporate executives. I've always liked Matthew Perry's characters, both in movies and on "Friends". This character, Matt, is an executive producer, he is smarter, more passionate, and tougher than "Chandler", with writing talent and some people skills. The show revolves around him and his best friend, Producer Danny, played by one of the other talented actors, I've read he comes from "The West Wing", all I know is that I like him here. The rest of the cast is strong too, and also come with great pedigrees, I'm not trying to belittle them, it's just that they are not what could be the problem with this show.

After the first episode of this show, it was my favorite this season. After the second, it gained even more steam. Then they lost me a little. It was around the same time that the ratings were bringing up rumors about cancellation that the scripts went to a way too somber tone. This is a drama but it should be rooted around it's core, a comedy, and thought provoking pieces are best placed carefully. A side plot about a black-listed actor from the McCarthy witch hunt era fell flat with me and many,calling on the dogs. Still, I rooted for it.

It quit being appointment TV for a few weeks, when one episode just didn't air and the next two, a two-parter with John Goodman as a back-desert judge, seemed to be all over the place. I watched it on DVR and it wasn't bad, and then, this Christmas episode once again shows why there is promise and the always lurking black holes it threatens to fall into.

We have witty and touching banter between Matt and Harriet, his once and probably future love. Where at first the interaction between these two seemed to be contrived, they are now developing chemistry. It is now possible to see them as having been a couple, without having to be told. There is a burgeoning romance between Danny and Jordan, the embattled Network head. This hasn't turned into a show about romance, but these little plot sidelines help with the other heavy tones. The heavy tones are a steady, drumming battle with powers that be over censorship. I'm sure tat being talented writers and all, it is not an accident that this plot line seems to be a nagging pain in the neck. This seems like a theme that should be recurring, not constant.

What also worked was the snippets of skits that make you wish that these guys were writing for SNL instead of whoever has that gig now. A takeoff on Dateline's sexual predator series where they catch Santa coming down the chimney? That was funnier than anything I saw on SNL last week alone. Okay, the bar is not exactly high anymore at SNL, but that's another show I can't give up on.

Network television is a wasteland of reality shows and mostly very bad sit-coms, I'm hoping "Studio 60" sticks it out. The last rumors I read say that it got picked up for the season, which seems to correspond with an upgrade in the scripts. I guess the writers decided to quit using their time sending out resumes and started developing their characters. There are those out there just waiting each week to chew episodes to little bits, and a devoted cheering blog , I'm hoping these things even out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Paint Jack Black Done?

I liked Jack Black even before it was cool. He was hilarious playing bit parts like the record store reject in “Hi Fidelity”, a scene stealing, cool, geek, funny man. I loved the guy, but has the act ran a little bit too long. After suffering through a few too many of his latest comedies, I’m wondering when he is going to deliver. After this latest flop, “Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny”, might be out of fans in the movie development business too.

This last week, he’s done a PR blitz, from Letterman to “Saturday Night Live”, as a musical act, he did everything he could to keep his movie from going to the second run theatres in it’s third week. It wasn’t enough to keep him in the top ten this week. He is getting dusted by the likes of “Borat”.

Is he just too weird for the mainstream? Or does he take it too far, like I’m inclined to think. He reminds me of Robin Williams in that he is an incredibly funny person but possibly too frenetic to run free of rein. He is much better to let making the most of his small moments as a supporting character. Still, I thought he would come up with something so well envisioned that it would be one of those great comedy moments.Much like I have seen Borat described in reviews.

I didn’t even make it through “Shallow Hal”, and his preening rocker schtick was old already in “School of Rock.” I am going to wait until video, which could be before Christmas, for “Tenacious D” and “Nacho Libre” might not get a chance with me until it is on USA or TNT, which could also be before Christmas.

Jack, if you’re out there, I’m a big fan, but pull it together dude. I love the whole fact that you make it cool not to take care of ourselves or change clothes or shave and stuff like that, but to make it work, you have to be funny. I don’t think Gene Simmons would have done the power strum or stuck his tongue out as many times as you did on your SNL gig. Could you guys have least done one of your funny rock songs? The two “Puff the Magic Dragon” knock-offs didn’t do it for me.

I’ll be waiting eagerly to see what develops, but not at the box office line. Am I just too old to get it? If so, the entire United States agrees with me. On Letterman, Jack and his sidekick didn’t have any clips from the film aired, and made outright fun of how bad the movie was doing. First, they said it would come back and be a “cult” movie, which very well be where it makes it. There is a niche for movies that just don’t get through to anyone the first time around, and with cable channels, it is possible to exploit that niche. Really, how else do movies like “P.C.U”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Call Off The BCS, We Don't Need It This Year

Okay, we all know what everyone does at this time of year when their team is vying for a bowl game, the Ultimate college bowl game. Every year since they started the BCS, college football has not only proven that we need that game, but that even this added, privileged game wasn't enough.
"We need a playoff system!" We all cry.

Well, what now? Who needs another game to prove who is the best team in College football? Only one team has walked the walk and talked the talk all season, wire to wire, head of the pack, however you want to call it. I'm not even an OSU fan, but there is no ignoring the facts.

Ohio State is best and any system that doesn't anoint them is flawed. Football being a game capable of wielding victorious underdogs they could still lose in the title game, but I wouldn't bet on it. This should be the first title game that is off the boards in Vegas, and if by some miracle they do lose, the should have to be beaten twice, like in a double elimination tournament.

Looking at the scenario now, hate to say it but Florida should be going to that unnecessary 'title' game, to be thwacked on National TV, the Craig Ehlo's* of College football, spending a night getting posterized by the champions. It won't be a game it will be a crowning ceremony, and Florida will look like bigger idiots than they made Arkansas look in the SEC Championship.

Still, they deserve it, in accordance with what I perceive as the NCAA BCS crazy-ass rules that apply. Don't tell me Michigan does, please. Unless you're from Michigan, you have no excuse for even thinking so, zip it! Michigan had their shot, and it's not like they didn't know it then. This is college football, no do-overs!

USC shouldn't be able to slip in the back door like some last minute slime-bucket sneaking into the prom and getting made King. Just sit this one out, Hollywood. Thankfully, they did everyone a favor a dropped duke againce UCLA. Even the PAC-10 has those conference rivalries that come back to haunt you.

I'm not a Notre Dame fan, but I was hoping that somehow the Golden Domers would work their way into the title game. The stage would be set. Everyone in the country would get a little bit of what they want. ND fans would get a lottery ticket one punch KO dream of a chance. The rest of the country, who seem to loathe ND more than any other college team, could watch them get pummeled. Unfortunately, ND couldn't take down USC, or Michigan, or much of anyone except the service academies to warrant even a heavily biased BCS selection.

So it's Florida, good old reliable, semi-pro Florida, the classy program in the state for a change. Pack your bags Gators, make sure to take advantage of the gift bags and the sweet food spread, after this it's to the NFL for all of you and you won't be posturing for your last game of the season anymore.

When they modify the system again, they should make sure to put in a clause about years like this, where the National Champion can be announced in November. Instead of going on and pretending that they matter, the Bowl games can just revert to what they were before, pageantry.

*yes, the Craig Ehlo reference is old and regional, but I just can't let go.

My Foray Into Open Source Apps

My Foray into Open Source Applications.

Open Source applications have always had an appeal tome. The story of the original Open Source pioneer, Linus Torvalds, writing Linux and opening it up to the world as an alternative to the closed minds of Microsoft and Apple Operating systems always appealed to me, and then I would try to use Linux.

It has happened many times over the years of my using computer.I go through phases, where I languish in the ease of sticking to my comfortable Windows Apps and Operating system. I may not have paid for every MS application I have, but very close,and I'm very good at installing them, and reinstalling them. Truth be told, I like them, I insisted my mother get XP so that I wouldn't spend a lot of time showing her how to use it.That mostly worked.

I have, at different times, had Linux running nicely on a computer that I owned, once as a project in a Computer Science class, and once after that just to see it work again. About two years ago I installed Red Hat Linux once more, played a game of solitaire with it, and promptly reinstalled Windows. It just feels more comfortable.

I mean,where is my MS word? My Power Point? Excel? These are handy and not tough programs to run. My first computer ran an OS called GeoWorks, and I like it and was comfortable with it too, and everything I wrote with that program, is lost. There are a few reasons that will never happen again (finger's crossed), but this explains my sticking with MSWord and it's siblings, right?

Luckily, there are more talented and determined people than I to keep holding forth the banner of Open Source code and applications. Bless their hearts. Now, there is a substitute for Word(AbiWord), Office(OpenOffice), and even Internet Explorer(Firefox). I started using Firefox because it seems to work better. I try new things every once in a while, and it was Firefox. Then, when I tried the new version of IE, I recognized a few things. Wow has Microsoft gotten even lazier.

I'm sure Firefox didn't invent tabbed browsing, but IE came in after they had made it work right. I'm also sure there are hundreds of other nicer features on Firefox than on IE that I'm not good enough to recognize. I've got Opera too,but at this point it is almost too pretty for me. Both are superior to IE.

I put Firefox on my girlfriend's computer as a browser and she will never realize how much trouble I have saved her. She supports my crusade against Proprietary software, right up to getting rid of her MS word.

All this aside, I read an article yesterday, 30 Essential Pieces of Free(and Open) Software for Windows. That blog explains everything about the apps I have mentioned that needs to be said and I highly recommend giving it a read,and saving it as I have have. The author, of a blog called The Simple Dollar, approaches it more from a frugality standpoint because, yes, one of the great things about Open Source is that it is usually associated with "free". I have to be honest, the chances of me opening up the source code, writing in an update or modification and redistributing it are less than slim, but it could happen.What isn't fare is the plodding way apps come out when left to big money.

The article amped me up enough that I downloaded and am now writing this article with AbiWord, I download Thunderbird, Firefox's email client that finally has me getting my AOL mail without locking something up, Open Office, which I have only opened my one personal spreadsheet and looked at it with, GIMPshop, which I edited a pic with and think it seems a lot like Photoshop, and ClamWin, which is currently sifting through my hard drive looking for viruses. That's a lot of faith in this one article I think, but it kept working nicely with each new app, so goes my foray into the jungle of Open Source Apps.

Allof these applications are free and install fairly easily.There is some dancing to do with GIMPshop to get it to run, but not any more than any video game out of a box for a PC.

Setting up Thunderbird as an email client was simpler than Outlook Express, which every time I have to do it seems to be a pain in the ass for something I never liked to use.

All across the board, people are writing new and wonderful applications are being designed and given to the masses. How these people make money I am not sure. I hope they make something.Together they are pushing the envelope that big business wants to move at a snail's pace.

Thanks to them and Mr.SimpleDollar for bringing me into the fold.

Man, I love you guys.