Monday, December 15, 2008

Graphic discussion

I've been around news all my life. My parents were religious local news watchers and, for most of the time when I lived at home, we subscribed to a morning and an afternoon paper. My least favorite part of going off to camp was the disconnectedness I felt; no TV and no papers meant I was cut off from current events - even if I had no geopolitical understanding and, therefore, no context to those events.

We were lucky, then, that I got to experience news from several viewpoints. We got broadcasts from New York (where there's always something going on), Philadelphia (and its ruthless press corps) and Scranton (where a local fair was as likely to lead the newscast as anything).

And it wasn't always the news that interested me. The graphics were a big part too; of particular interest were the openings: WPVI's legendary quick-hit video with Al Ham's "Move Closer To Your World"; WNEP, which still uses a different Ham composition; and WCAU's multi-person opening that was used before I moved south.

I suppose it's natural, then, that this curiosity carries through to today.

For some reason, instead of the openings, the thing that catches my eye today is how stations and networks introduce breaking news. So when I stumbled across these two examples, it made for a fascinating contrast.

First, CNN:

It's bold, it's flashy. Three notes and the climax. And it has traditional elements too: notice the strings playing after the other instruments have faded. If you're of a certain age, you'll remember that back when, the sound of a Morse code used to be popular on news broadcasts. They're keeping an eye on the wire, ready to bring you anything of importance that crosses it. (Note that this version doesn't have a voiceover, which is heard in this example.)

Now, onto BBC World:

It's much more stylish, in a European sort of way, with all its half-spheres and curves. The music is far less dramatic and, though urgent in its opening notes, less attention-grabbing.

But such is the difference between the cultures. We're more bold and loud, they're more reserved and stylistic.

So I don't know if it matters a hoot to anyone, just something I found curious: cultural differences as seen in news graphics.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A restaurant that gets it

I've found a new favorite lunch place on the Wednesdays when I trek to Ashburn (and, of course, assuming there's time to be had for lunch).

It's called California Tortilla; I've seen them refer to themselves as Cal Tort for short, even if it sounds like a small, forgotten branch of a law firm.

I used to get my daily dose of humor on the hilarious bumpers for Lucy. Then Sirius went and ruined the channel, turning it into a soulless wasteland (though thankfully it doesn't have a DJ, unlike most other channels).

These days, CalTort fits the bill. Those are some of the freebies pictured above. The napkin should be easy enough to read; the drink behind it has some poor sap getting a drink dumped on his head by someone woman who looks to be having way too much fun dumping. The tagline reads: "Refills are on us!"

Yes, it's a silly gag. But when a place is full of them, it shows you that it doesn't take itself seriously. And that brings a smile to your face.

Just above the soda fountain is a sign that goes where a Coke or Pepsi logo would be. It's a two-part sign that's split by the ice dispenser. The left side reads: "Bad Bob fills his water cup with soda." And it shows some guy, Bob presumably, getting the finger-wagging treatment from another, equally random guy, presumably an authority figure. The right side of the sign says, "Good Bob fills his water cup with water!" Same two random guys, except the lecture is now a celebration. Conflict resolution while you tap the Sprite spigot.

This is part of a long, backward "L" shaped counter; this is the very top of the letter. The sign reads: "Need Help??? Use Megaphone or Bell!"

Sure enough, down the counter a bit - where near the point where the two lines meet - there was a megaphone and a bell. I wonder how many people opt for the former...

For all the silliness, it wouldn't matter if the food sucked. Fortunately, it doesn't. Twice, I've tried the - brace yourself - Buffalo Chicken Wing Burrito, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has shared a bar with me. It's good, and the wing sauce they have works well with the rest of the ingredients; I daresay it would beat what most places pass off as wing sauce.

A quick aside: If you happen to go, for heaven's sake, get the smaller size burrito. Not knowing any better on my first visit, I got the large. When I was finished, about 5/6 of the way through that beast, I couldn't eat another bite. And that was after untold contents spilled because I wasn't smart enough to keep the thing in its wrapper.

For me, the gem of the place was this:

It's called the Wall of Flame. I was heartened to see such wonderful, and ambulance-inducing, sauces. Just to the right of the Jack Daniels-looking bottle (more on that in a sec) is our old friend, Dave's Insanity Sauce.

In my younger stupider days, I bought a bottle of DIS from a German restaurant/novelty store/beer store back in the Lehigh Valley Mall. I couldn't wait to actually use it on my food, so I took a dab and rubbed it off on the front right part of my tongue. That spot burned - and I don't mean smolder, I mean unrecognizably charred - for a good 20 minutes. Not unlike this guy's experience.

It's part of a line of super-hot, XXX sauces, ones that do their damndest to give you space for a tongue ring. Many have catchy and humorous names.

But the Jack-looking bottle caught my attention this day. It may have the greatest product name in all the glorious history of American capitalism: Professor Phardtpounder's Colon Cleaner Hot Sauce, the Elixir of Capsaecin Extremus!

There's something to be said for a bottle of sauce who's biggest words jump out at you: COLON CLEANER.

And it fits in perfectly at Cal Tort, where it seems no gag is silly enough if it makes your day.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An important comment I hope everyone reads

A comment notification popped into the old inbox this afternoon. In full:

You know, I've been seeing this for a year, and normally I don't respond to ad hominem attacks, but finally, in this year of change, I thought I'd set the record straight.

1. I was the starting guard for my JV high school basketball team.
2. I was a starting member of the tennis team for 2 years in high school.
3. I regularly played intramural sports through college and law school.
4. I taught tennis at the Special Olympics when I attended Cal.
5. I hosted the Tiger Woods Foundation Golf Clinic at Harding Park in San Francisco in 1999.
6. I play golf whenever I can, having taken up the sport in 1997 after watching Tiger Woods win the Masters. Something about "role model" and "opportunity" made me want to compete in a sport I had heretofore not identified with minorities.

If you bothered to read the entire transcript, you would understand the issues involved. If women are not provided a chance to engage in intercollegiate athletics, what does that say about our country? Everyone uses the old saw that "football, baseball, basketball" will be cut. The evidence hardly exists to support that conclusion, except perhaps in those rare instances in schools where the programs were marginal to begin with. The fact of the matter is, college athletics is more robust, and college campuses are richer, and our nation is stronger because of the passage and enforcement of Title IX.

Yes, sometimes choices have to be made. But the fact is, they have always been made in college sports. Prior to Title IX, campuses determined what mens' sports teams to support and which ones would be self-sufficient. Blaming Title IX for the demise of some mens' programs is an easy blame-shifter, rather than focusing on the fact that we are creating the same opportunity for camaraderie, teamwork, and excellence for young girls and women. I say that's a positive.

It certainly doesn't suck.

Michael Yaki
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

First, I'd like to offer sincere thanks to Mr. Yaki for taking the time to write his comment.

Here's the original post. I think Mr. Yaki missed the long-running gag, that people and things who committed silly acts got thrown into the ever-popular "You Suck" series. Other members of the club include current D.C. council member Marion Barry, electronics maker Sony, faux weight-loss product Lipozene, and the folks who compose the scrolling ticker on CNN.

So you are not alone.

All that being said, I stand behind what I wrote. While your accomplishments are numerable and commendable, particularly your involvement with Special Olympics, they do not qualify you to be in a position to be advising on aspects of intercollegiate athletics. I am as much qualified to be an instructional pilot at Delta based on my hours spent on Flight Simulator.

We agree on more than you may think. The growth of women's athletics in this country is a wonderful development. I pray that the WNBA stays afloat for as long as possible; they provide role models to a generation of girls that may otherwise find few of them.

Title IX, at its essence, is good legislation.

What it has become, however, is not good. It does suck.

See, the thing that blows my mind is this: You're essentially saying - and please correct me if I'm wrong on this - that collateral damage in men's sports is OK, so long as we provide opportunities for women's sports.

That, and your unfortunate choice of words in that hearing, are my primary concerns with you in your capacity as it relates to Title IX. (If you believe the Associated Press wrongly quoted you, please let me know and I will happily post that. I will leave it to our readers to decide.)

Here's what I want from our higher education system: Opportunities for all to participate in as many varsity sports as possible. These days, that is not possible. Wrestling programs are being eliminated at an alarming rate; other Olympic sports on the men's side have also been dropped frequently.

Much of this, as best I can tell, happens to bring a particular school in line with Title IX.

I have no concerns that the big three of football, basketball and baseball will be adversely affected. At the I-A/FBS level, football drives the athletic department; basketball helps out too; and baseball, in certain pockets of the country, is incredibly popular.

Instead, I worry about the minor sports. What if I have a son who runs cross country but goes to a school where the program is cut? What if he wrestles? Can I demand a campus wave off federal funding in order to support my son's team? I can, I suppose, but I'll be laughed out of the building (with a security escort, no doubt).

Let me say this as clearly as possible: My feelings have nothing to do with gender, race, ethnicity or even sport of choice. I will fight with all of my power to ensure that young women have a chance to benefit from athletics.

But what kind of a person am I if I don't fight with that same intensity for young men and their opportunities? Do they not deserve the same chance?

I want equality for all. Not some, or half, or most. All.

Title IX, for all the excellent intentions behind it, fails in that endeavor at this point.


Mr. Yaki, you are always welcome here. Though I disagree most vehemently with your position and the way you present it, I believe in the power of free speech as well.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The difference between the East Coast and the West Coast

Depending on where you live, one of the following statements will be shocking to you.

1. The drive from Bend, Ore., to Portland takes three hours. Using the most common route, you'll pass through 14 different towns.

In order - with an assist from Google Maps - it's Redmond, Prineville Junction, Terrebonne, Opal City, Madras, Warm Springs, Government Camp, Rhododendron, Faubion, Brightwood, Alder Creek, Cherryville, Sandy and Gresham. That's every place name, regardless of size, along the route.

On average, that's one town of some size every 12.86 minutes.

2. The drive from my hometown, Lehighton, Pa. to State College takes three hours. Using the most common route, you'll pass through 28 towns.

In order - again from Google Maps - Jamestown, Packerton, Jim Thorpe, Hudsondale, Beaver Meadows, Hazleton, Conyngham, Sybertsville, Hetlerville, Mifflinville, Lime Ridge, Lightstreet, Bloomsburg, Kaseville, Mooresburg, New Columbia, Rosecrans, Mackeyville, Clintondale, Lamar, Nittany, Snydertown, Hublersburg, Mingoville, Zion, Pleasant Gap, Dale Summit and Houserville. That's every place name, regardless of size, along the route.

On average, that's one town of some size every 6.4 minutes.