Thursday, June 25, 2009

I challenge you...

... to propose a pair of guests that I would enjoy more on a talk show than Jeff Goldblum and Mike Birbiglia. I don't know that it can be done. I enjoyed this episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon more than any episode of any late night talk show I've seen in a long time.

Go here if you want to watch in a non-tiny window.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why? Why, Regina?

Why must you be so damn cute? Why must you come up with these clever lyrics and amazing melodies year after year? I already have more than enough girly music in my iTunes library for people to question my sexual orientation, and you are not helping at all.

Listen to Regina's new album in it's entirety on NPR Music.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How do they do it?

Google, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook.

How much do you think it costs to keep those websites running and growing every day? A lot. When was the last time you paid your Google, Hulu, YouTube, or Facebook bill? Never? Hm. That's odd. How do they stay in business?

Advertising, of course. Google gets paid a few pennies by the advertiser whenever an ad gets clicked. You knew that already. You scoffed at my pathetic, pretentious rehetorical questions. But think about it for a minute. How often do you click on internet ads? Even if you have clicked some, how much stuff have you actually bought as a result of clicking on them?

For me, the answers to these questions are: "almost never", and "nothing I'm aware of", but apparently someone must be clicking. Google continues to make money, so advertisers must be paying them. My question is: Who is clicking? Are there really that many people in the world that are dumb enough to click on ads for sketchy internet companies? That's crazy.

Maybe the sketchy companies aren't the main money makers. Maybe, like with television ads, it's the Coca-Colas and the FedExes of the world that really drop the big bucks. In that case, I ask: How the heck do those ads bring in any business for the massive corporations that place them? Who on earth thinks, "Oh, Coca-Cola. I've never tried that before. Looks pretty neat, maybe I should buy some." How can the millions of dollars that these companies spend on ads every year be paying off when they already own their markets?

I am not a marketing or business major. I do not know how this stuff works. Apparently people that study this stuff think that it works, but my gut feeling is that it doesn't. I think we're in an advertising bubble. In a few years, companies will realize that their internet ads are not worth nearly what they've been paying for them and they'll pull the plug, and Google, Hulu, YouTube,, and Facebook will all fold or become subscription or fee-based sites. That's my crazy, uninformed, wildly speculative prediction: Ten years from now, far fewer things will be free on the internet.

Either that, or people are just really, really stupid and can be talked into buying anything. I hope this is the case, because that would mean that all the stupid people in the world are paying for the vast majority of my favorite websites, and will continue to do so. If this is what is happening, then I say: Thank you, gullible American consumers. I owe you one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

East Meets West

I'm nervous about the future of the Tonight Show.

I've watched most of the first week of the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, and it's been great. Conan is still funny, his guests have been good, and Andy Richter is a lot of fun as an announcer slash sidekick. The production value has been kicked up a notch from Late Night, and the show looks and feels a little different, but Conan has preserved most of his screwball humor.

But I see a problem. Actually I don't see it. I only hear it: the audience. Many of the jokes that would have worked well on Late Night are bombing with the Tonight Show audiences. The goofy ones. The funny ones. Friday night, when Conan himself was laughing at Andy's plan to make a movie based on the board game Backgammon, the audience was not amused. However, any time he makes a joke about the Clippers – who I had to look up on Wikipedia, because I am only tangentially aware of the NBA's existence – the audience explodes with laughter. Essentially, whenever I would laugh out loud, the audience would offer a polite chuckle, and whenever they would erupt into applause, I was bored.

This does not bode well. If there's one thing that late night talk show producers crave, it's big laughs from the audience. While they will try to preserve the overall feel of the show, they will also try to tune the jokes to the audience. Unfortunately I don't think there's a way to tune the audience to the jokes, apart from moving the show back to New York.

I always liked Letterman and Conan, and hated Leno and Daly. But now I wonder: Do L.A. based talk show hosts become victims of their environment? Would I have liked Leno better if he broadcasted from 30 Rock instead of Burbank? Would his jokes have been funnier? I don't know, but I desperately hope Conan and his staff figure out how to keep Los Angeles laughing without dumbing the humor down to the lowest common denominator.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Despite its aggressive (and clever) advertising campaign, I think Microsoft's new search engine, "Bing", is never going to amount to much.

Way back in the early '90s, as soon as the internet started to grow beyond AOL, people discovered that search engines were the best way to find what you wanted on the world wide web. Yahoo got in the game early, but soon Google's algorithms advanced the field of internet search by leaps and bounds. As a result, it catapulted to the top of the search engine pile, and consequently became the most visited website in the world. Despite everyone's attempts to copy or surpass it, it's held on to that top spot. Google is still the undisputed king of search, and it works perfectly for simple and obvious searches (Apple, Obama, lolcats). But once you start to search for something obscure or difficult to describe, the results start to get pretty dicey. There's definite room for improvement, and if someone can figure out how to better point people to what they're trying to find, there are millions and millions of dollars of ad revenue to be claimed.

Microsoft wants a piece of that. They claim (or at least suggest in their ads) that "Bing" will return more relevant search results than other engines. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think that until someone figures out how to make machines truly understand language like people do, search engines will always be stupid. That's just the way it is. Computers are very good at matching and very bad at making educated guesses. Whoever ends up teaching computers to truly understand the English language is going to make a billion dollars. Forget keywords and phrases. You write a short (or long) paragraph explaining exactly what you want, and the computer finds just that. I think that's the only thing that would endanger Google at this point. Actually, there are two other possibilities, but that's another topic. Check back tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

TwitBook: Proof of Concept

Here's an excerpt from a New York Times article from last Friday. Section: Automobiles. It's a review of the new Nissan Cube.
It is an antihero of a car — a cartoon car perhaps. Mr. Nakamura says it is appropriate for these belt-tightening times when expensive, macho and very fast cars seem out of place. The Cube’s engine has fewer horses (122) than a Tweet can have characters (140).
Totally superfluous twitter reference. Take a drink.