This weekend I learned how to put snow chains on my car tires. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I had to pay someone else to put them on my rental car. I'm so cheap, I avoid valet parking because I don't want to tip the valets a dollar, so paying thirty bucks for someone to put chains on my tires was like willingly participating in state-enforced highway robbery. But I watched the guy like a hawk, and should the ridiculously unlikely events of The Day After Tomorrow ever come to pass, I'll be ready!

Tahoe In, Tahoe Out

The drive into Tahoe was easily accomplished. There wasn't any snow on the ground then. No, California likes to make sure it has you in its mitts before it tries to screw you over. The whole reason that I was in South Lake Tahoe in the first place was for the wedding of one of my oldest friends. I once swore that I would never again A) return to California or B) drive in the snow, both of which I violated for the wedding. If I've never mentioned it before, let me stress my disapproval of snow here now: it sucks. It's cold, it's wet, and it makes travel impossible. Sure, it looks pretty, but like most pretty things, it's just not worth the hassle. Some way, some how, I'll get Jason back for this.

If you've got to get married, you can't pick better scenery

Despite eating my own words (which, unfortunately, I've done more times than I can count), it was an otherwise eventful weekend for me. I gambled in a casino for the first time (and lost my seed money, all 50ยข). I had a Coca-Cola Slurpee made from fresh, real snow (better than you can imagine). I attended an informal bachelor party with a table full of lawyers and teachers (but no strippers. It was commented that no stripper was hired because one couldn't be found who knew how to play chess). And, of course, I got to play in the deep, powdery snow with Chere. (Who goes to a wedding without a date?)

Chere loves snow

That's two weddings I've attended in three months on opposite sides of the country (Panama City, Florida and Lake Tahoe, Nevada), with another one coming up in May in New York City. Even though I don't care for the outdated and unnecessary concept of marriage, I do like free food and road trips. So it all works out in the end. Also I'm pretty sure it won't be snowing come May.

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I would like to go on record as saying that Vonage has the worst television advertisements in the history of recorded man. Essentially, their commercials boil down to the simple phrase, "idiots and criminals use our product!" Now, I'm all for the peer-pressure approach to mass marketing, but I really think that Vonage has done something wrong here.

Vonage's previous marketing campaign, something that can only be called the "Hey, look! Things are happening in the world that are much more interesting than our sales pitch" sales pitch, was bad enough. But now, their ads feature an orange cross between the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and B. A. Baracas' A-Team van driving by and hitting people in the heads with pizza boxes like some twisted Grand Theft Auto side-mission. (I'm sure that the references are intentional, as Vonage is trying desperately to reach people like me who are computer literate and have a, shall we say, invested interest in popular culture.) While this would seem to be a step in the right direction, rising from "please ignore our product" to "assault and battery," the recipients of the products are always the lowest common denominators of society: the stupid, clueless, or criminally stupid or clueless.

Some people will tell you that the purpose of television advertisement is to simply get the name of your product stuck in the heads of potential buyers so that when the time comes, they think of your product. And, granted, most people don't think about the commercials on tv, their eyes simply glaze over as they wait for bumper music to tell them that Wife Swap is coming back in seconds. (I had a roommate once who had the uncanny ability to perfectly time all commercial breaks in his head. We'd be watching something and he'd channel surf during commercial breaks. I'd always get nervous about returning from commercial breaks and missing the cliffhanger resolution, but he'd always click back exactly as the show was coming back. Really, I think it qualified as a super-power. I'm sure that he'd make a fascinating case study for some up-and-coming Raleigh St. Clair. As a result of this ability, however, he NEVER watched tv commercials and had no memory of any ads.) However, I think that this approach to television marketing is too simplified. What you don't want your customers to do is to think about how they don't like the message that your sending.

Take, for example, the recent Visa ad where a well-oiled machine of holiday shoppers wanders in lock-step through a cafeteria line until some well meaning but unenlightened individual pays with cash instead of his Visa card and the entire operation is halted in its tracks as the cashier fumbles with change. Visa, while everyone does wish for smooth transactions, telling them that they are robots when they use your card isn't going to endear yourself to anyone's use. While people may be mindless automatons, people hate to be reminded that they are mindless automatons.

Vonage is trying to hit that same market that Quiznos tried to tap with those two talking rat-toejam things a few years ago. (I once heard them described as Mr. Potato Rats, but I think they are officially called spongmonkeys.) As Quiznos soon learned, having unidentifiable rodents pitch for your sandwiches is a bad idea, even if it does get people to recognize your product. I haven't eaten at Quiznos since, and for the same reason, I won't even consider using Vonage. I just don't want to be among the people who respond positively to your advertising, people. (On a related note, Quiznos recently ran ads calling prime rib the "king of steaks," which so angered my father, I got an hour long lecture on cuts of meat. Needless to say, he's not eating a Quiznos, either. With all this bad marketing, it may come as no surprise that an Executive Vice-President of Marketing for Quiznos was recently arrested for soliciting an underaged girl for sex. Clearly Quiznos marketing department has a hard time figuring out what their target demographics should be.)

Why do I mention all of this? No reason, really. I just hate those Vonage ads.

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When I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas as a child, the cartoon was already 20 years old, but the primary sponsor was usually McDonalds pushing Happy Meals to children. Now, 20 years later, most commercials that aired on ABC's seasonal broadcast were pitching cars to adults. I'm not sure what exactly that means or how significant it is, but I don't think I like it. (That's the safe position for me, because I don't like much of anything.)

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Yesterday ran the following headline:

Couples takes six holes in Skins Game

Now that's a sporting event that I'd like to see!

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Over on today, they are running one story about how poorly people manage risk assessment in the modern world and another story on the fate of a missing woman who was found dead, trapped behind a bookshelf in her own house. Personally, I was amused by the irony. I think it's particularly comical that CNN, which like every other television news show thrives on fear mongering, would promote an argument from sister publication Time Magazine about how fearing the wrong things is a pointless endeavor that steals people's happiness and longevity. I guess we can only fear things so long as CNN (or it's parent, Time Warner) tells us it's ok.

Just yesterday I was reading a story about the death of a girl in a Porsche on a California highway. That story was accompanied by pictures of the crash. You might think that to make the decision to try to swerve past another car while traveling at over 100 mph through a tollbooth that the girl must have lost their head. Turns out that she did. (Though it's hard to tell if that happened before or after the crash.) One of the posters on the message board pointed out that at the age of 18, the driver of the Porsche was unable to ascertain that her actions behind the wheel were likely to result in her demise. Isn't that what why we were shown Red Asphalt in high school?

Meanwhile, while the net is abuzz about the Russian spy who died from rare Polonium-210 radiation poisoning in London, traditional American news media (tv and newsprint) seem much more concerned about the fate of celebrity Michael Richards in the wake of his tirade against hecklers. I mean, who cares what happens to a spy (unless, of course, it's the latest James Bond)? Now that the hecklers are demanding an apology live on CNN talk shows (which were on at Moe's the other night while I was trying to eat "The Full Monty"), I think that everything has going a little bit far. Especially when every news service seems willing to reproduce the cell phone video of the rant, but only after editing out the offending words. When mainstream America decides that it is much more dangerous to say the word "Nigger" to a heckler than to be concerned about, well, anything else, that's probably indicative of our poor choice of acceptable risks.

And that's not to mention the war in Iraq (with potentially a new impending draft), federal budget deficits (with no social security guarantees), or Wal-Mart's report of it's first sales decline in a decade (with other signs that America's retail giant may be floundering).

All in all, I probably shouldn't be too surprised about this failure to recognize and respond to risk in America. When the highest rated show on television is Dancing with the Stars while two-thirds of Americans are obese, it pretty much proves that no one is tuning in to watch the dancing.

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Georgia beat Georgia Tech for the 6th year in a row today. My father, a Tech graduate, was very irritable in the stands after Georgia scored the go-ahead points in the final 2 minutes. But even he still had a good time. I suspect that we'll be playing in the Dec. 30 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, but I'll be damned if I know what ACC team we'll play against.

Tech 12, UGA 15

It's been a long, puzzling season for the Bulldogs. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that we finished with a respectable 8-4 record. After the Homecoming loss to Vanderbilt, I figured we had no chance against Auburn or Georgia Tech. I guess that goes to show what I know.

Looking back at the season, I remember the hecklers during the Tennessee game, the buffalo on the sideline at the Colorado game, and the UGA tailgaters offering the Vanderbilt faithful barbecue after their victory. Yes, it's been a pretty good year, all things considered. And there are only 280 days to go until our September 1, 2007 kickoff against Oklahoma State. Go Dawgs!

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Today was Thanksgiving, one of the few secular "holy days" on the American calendar during the so-called "holiday season." I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my family and friends (and anyone else who visits, for that matter) for the enjoyment and support that you provide throughout the year. Though I am naturally an argumentative, curmudgeonly fellow, I do recognize and appreciate your contribution to my life. Thank you.

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Back on October 24, I blogged about my affinity for Atlanta radio station 96 Rock, which has been on the air in the Atlanta area for my entire life. Apparently, Clear Channel Communications was listening. And 96 Rock is no more, out with not quite so much as a whimper.

As of November 17, 96 Rock has been replaced with Project 9-6-1, moving their focus from "classic rock" to "active rock." Frankly, I don't know what's so active about their rock, since their website advertises that they play songs from "Metallica, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, RHCP, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Pink Floyd, Green Day, Ozzy, Nirvana, and Korn," 11 bands who have combined to release 4 albums in the past 3 years. Four of these bands haven't released an album in a decade!

Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an article on the changeover that was published this weekend. It includes the following great quote:

John Dickey, an executive vice president for Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, said he hopes this move will benefit his station, the struggling alternative rock station 99X. "I'm surprised they dropped the name 96rock," Dickey said. "It's like blowing up the Varsity and renaming it Project Fast Food."

I suppose that there is a lesson to be learned here. Since I usually learn the wrong lesson so far as Aesop is concerned, I don't think I'll dwell on this one for too long.

So long, 96 Rock. Thanks for the good times.

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For the past few weeks, I've been working off-and-on (more "off" than "on," really) on some minor repairs to my mother's house. The goal was to complete some painting & cleaning before winter set in. Note below the new casing around her front door that I built and painted. On the surrounding brick, you can still see the paint outline of the old, rotten door casing that I removed. (Lest you think I'm a one-trick pony, I also repaired and painted the door and polished the brass door fixtures. Oh, yeah.)

Door and Casing by Walter

So you see, I'm like a super-hero: by day, I'm an average handy-man and carpenter. By night, I'm a computer web designer and artist. Of course, I generally try to keep my dual identity a secret to protect my friends and loved-ones, but try as I might, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep my two roles separate. Don't tell anyone, but I'm slightly concerned that I'm becoming Schneider from One Day At A Time.

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I've been trying to determine if I want to spend the cash to get my hands on Justice League Heroes for the PS2. One of my real questions has been, "is Batman any fun to play?" says, "Sadly, the most popular DC character, Batman, is easily the most useless and joyless character you can select. Even Aquaman is more fun to play." Aquaman is more fun than Batman? I think that answers my question. Aquaman is like the guy who stands alone in the corner at the party while everyone else is wondering who invited that loser. Though I'd hesitate to call Batman the life of the party, Aquaman shouldn't even have been on the guest list.

Apparently the game forces you to play certain characters in certain levels. What's the point of having Batman as an available character if you're going to spend a bunch of time in space? What good is Batman in space? I don't think you can jam enough equipment into a utility belt to really make a difference against the vacuum of freezing, airless space. (Which makes me wonder: is there an underwater level where I'll be forced to play Aquaman? Ugh.)

Adventures of Superman 488

Now, I'm sure that Guy Gardner & Captain Marvel can survive in space. I'm also sure that they'd be really cool characters in a video game. I'm also, also sure that I'm going to be very, very old before that ever happens.

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To be continued...