Not So Incredible

Obligatory Spoiler Warning. Though the box office says you’ve probably already seen Incredibles 2.

Before I start talking about the movie, though, a couple of comments about the stuff that aired before the movie. No, not the commercials. I ignored them, as I generally do. And I did it so successfully that Maggie had to point out the Hyundai commercial was filmed a couple of blocks away from the house I grew up in.

Do we really need another remake of The Grinch? Apparently someone thought we did. Come on, gang, give it a rest. If you have to do a Suess movie–and I think that’s a perfectly legitimate idea–there are plenty of his books you haven’t touched. I’m not sure there’s enough in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to justify a full-length feature, but how about Bartholomew and the Oobleck (worth it for the title alone) or And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?

Does it add anything to know the Grinch is down on Christmas because he never had one in the orphanage? No. No, it doesn’t. Sucking pickles and putting them back in the jar isn’t particularly funny. Certainly not enough to warrant that bit showing up in every trailer so far.

The audience seemed disinterested. I regard that as a healthy development, and I hope it means the film bombs come November.

Moving on.

Completely at the other end of the spectrum was Bao, the short film that’s showing before the feature. Despite being aimed more at the parents in the audience than their kids, it drew rapt attention from the entire room. The universal gasp of horror at the climax was the kind of applause that’s better than cheers and clapping because it proves that everyone was invested in the characters. Simply amazing engagement in five minutes of wordless film. And then it nailed the ending as well.

Big kudos to the director, Domee Shi, and the entire crew.

And that, unfortunately, brings us to Incredibles 2. Or rather, that brings us to the “We’re sorry it took us so long to make this film” bit that preceded the movie. “We wanted to make sure we got it right.”

Sorry, guys. I said “unfortunately” because, frankly, you didn’t get it right.

Every reviewer has pointed out that putting the final battle after the emotional climax means the fight comes as an afterthought. The audience doesn’t care by that point. The Parrs have already reconciled.

And then the film compounds the problem by splitting up the family for the supposedly-climactic scene, instead of showing them working as a team. What were they thinking?

Mind you, it doesn’t help that the solution to the big problem–the ship bearing down on the city–was so stupidly done. Stopping the ship was the right answer; turning it was dumb. Can’t get to the engine room door to shut it down? Find a different way in. Bash a hole in the bulkhead. Go through a window. In the worst case, put a giant block of ice in front of the propeller–those things are more fragile than they look–or simply freeze the water around the prop. To be fair, those last solutions don’t give Mr. Incredible anything to do. Can’t have that. But he seems to be nigh-invulnerable. Throw him in front of the prop to smash it. Problem solved, ship halted before it gets anywhere near the city.

Moving on.

Was I the only one who found Screenslaver’s message rather more compelling than it probably should have been? Not the solution (get rid of superheros), but the core complaint about getting someone else to solve all our problems? Does that sound familiar? “Hey, here’s a guy who says he can save our jobs, solve the budget crisis, and make everything sunshine and roses. Go to it, Dude!” How well did that work out?

There were smaller problems, too. Yeah, having the ship come to a halt without destroying the building it was aimed at was obviously intended as a callback to the opening battle against the Underminer. So why didn’t they do that right: don’t slew the ship sideways, bring it to a halt with the bowsprit touching the window glass without breaking it?

For that matter, what happened to the Underminer? Yeah, he got away. Why didn’t they bring him back at the end? Instead of sending the family off after a random carload of gun-firing criminals, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to send them off after the guy who got away because they didn’t work as a team at the beginning of the film? It wouldn’t even have taken a script change. All they would have needed to do was replace that car of anonymous thugs with a drilling machine popping out of the middle of the street. Leave every bit of dialog and every other cel of animation in that epilogue the same. And you still give that final throwaway scene some emotional resonance by providing a little bit of closure.

They did get some things right. Violet’s arc was handled nicely, for instance. No sappy musical interludes (and I loved the heroes’ theme songs playing during the credits).

But when the absolutely unquestioned best scene–Jack-Jack’s epic battle with the trash panda–comes in the middle of the movie, you’ve got serious problems.

I did enjoy the movie. It’s amusing and it held the attention of a theater full of viewers of all ages well enough (though I did see more mid-movie popcorn runs than I would have expected). But it’s not up to the stand Pixar has set for itself.

The Belated Father’s Day Post

Not belated because I forgot, or anything stupid like that. Belated because I don’t normally post on Sundays. Okay, so maybe it is a stupid reason. But sticking to a schedule helps me avoid slacking off. For the same reason, I work on novels in the afternoon–so I can start at the same time every day, even when I’m working on blog posts in the morning.

Bad night’s sleep? Doesn’t matter. Gotta write a blog post. Distracted by something shiny (or ragged and cat-eating)? Tough. Go write some words of fiction.

Dad was mildly amused by my schedule adherence, but he understood. “Do what works for you,” is a bit of writing advice that made perfect sense to him. Much as he loved word processing, he absolutely couldn’t edit on a computer. He printed every draft, edited it with a pencil, and then typed his changes in. Which mildly amused me, but again, it worked for him.

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Last week, I linked a story in the Sedalia Democrat about the Smith-Cotton High School String Orchestra appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, and promised more words about their appearance. These are those words.

The short version, for anyone who finds the Democrat’s website annoyingly hard to use, is that the high school orchestra’s appearance was supported by the Larry Karp Memorial Fund. See, when Dad died, we asked that contributions in his name to be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Foundation. We–and the foundation–were amazed and pleased at the number of donations, and we all agreed there was an opportunity to do more than simply add the funds to the foundation’s general budget.

I often say that Dad was a storyteller. It’s no accident that he gravitated to baseball and ragtime: both are fields with enough stories to fill every library in the world. Dad liked teaching in the classic sense, but he outright loved teaching by telling stories. He could, and frequently did, talk ragtime for hours*. One of the reasons he enjoyed research was for the stream of new stories it brought him. When he started looking into Brun Campbell–a storyteller himself–the stream turned into something more like the Columbia River.

* Baseball, too, but there are more storytellers working that beat than spinning ragtime yarns.

Any community needs new blood to live. And Dad worried there might not be enough new ragtimers coming in to keep the music alive. When a new “Ragtime Kid”–a young talent consumed by the need to play ragtime–came along, he was delighted. Using the money donated in his name, not for immediate needs, but to teach the next generation of ragtimers was an easy call.

What that’s going to look like is still up in the air. We’ve got some immediate plans, and some ideas for the medium- and long-term, all aimed at getting a new generation interested in ragtime and its stories. But no project succeeds if it never gets started. We threw a whole lot of ideas around for where to start. Bringing the Smith-Cotton students to the festival this year was where we wound up. We got a couple of dozen students and their families to the festival. That’s a win no matter how you look at it. If only one of those dozens sticks with ragtime, whether as a performer, researcher, or listener, then it’s a major victory.

Now that we’ve started, we need to keep going. And that means we need to keep the fund healthy. (You knew there was a commercial message coming, right?)

I mentioned last week that the festival was somewhat smaller this year than in the past. Money’s tight all over, but especially so for art programs. We’d love some help.

If you’re willing to lend a hand, please drop a note to sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Thanks from Dad, from the whole family, and from the entire ragtime community.

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Another Corporate Fail

Something a little lighter than Tuesday’s discussion of Google’s plans to build the first generation of our Robot Overlords this year.

Lighter, yes–though I fear no less depressing. Sorry about that. Stop back tomorrow for cat picture therapy if you need it.

Anyway, we’re going to add another item to our list* of bad reasons to make a change.

* Did you know we had a list? I didn’t until I sat down to write this post.

We’ve already got “Because we can,” “Because the schedule says it’s time,” and “Because we need to generate artificial excitement“. Now we can add “Because everyone else is”.

That’s right, it’s the Jumping Off a Bridge model of product development.

Look, I like Pop-Tarts–specifically, the frosted blueberry variety. I make no apologies for keeping a box around for the occasional weekend breakfast, and I’ll cheerfully ignore any comments expressing dismay over my pastriotic orientation.

Really, Kellogg came up with the perfect ratio of crispy to crumbly in the pastry, just the right amount of sweetness in the filling, and an unbeatable capper in that sweet, sweet sugar frosting. Even the multi-colored sprinkles, which I initially regarded with suspicion, turned out to add a nice bit of texture.

But somebody in Kellogg Sales’ Marketing Division looked at all the lovely cash Nabisco was raking in with its Oreo flavor variants, and decided to follow suit.

They couldn’t easily do wild flavor variants. For one thing, there are only so many colors they could dye the filling. For another, there are already plenty of Pop-Tart flavors.

So they fell back on Nabisco’s other trick. If “Double Stuf” could usher in a couple of generations of “innovation” in Oreos, why couldn’t it do the same for Pop-Tarts.

The result of that high-level brainstorming? A couple of months ago, my Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts package gained a new banner: “Now with MORE FROSTING!”

Uh-oh.

Of course I tried them. In fact, I’ve tried three boxes, made several months apart, just to be sure the flaws in the design weren’t just aberrations in a single batch. They’re not.

Yes, there is more frosting. In fairness, there’s not very much more. The additional frosting does not overwhelm the other components as I feared it would.

But, y’know, sugar is expensive. To keep the price of a box the same, something had to change. Kellogg executives were smart enough to realize that tampering with the traditional “two pastries to a pouch” packaging would be likely to cause massive consumer dissatisfaction and rioting in the streets.

They might have gotten away with reducing boxes from eight pastries to six or shrinking the size of each Pop-Tart, but that would have meant a box redesign and cost even more money.

So they decreased the amount of filling instead.

I can’t prove it. I don’t have any “Classic Pop-Tarts” handy to measure. But to my well-trained eye, it’s obvious. And, more importantly, it’s even clearer to my teeth. Less filling + same baking time = crisper pastry.

There’s more variation in texture than before the change, but even at its best, the pastry shell is crunchier than before; at its worst, they come off as more cracker than pie crust.

And, most importantly, Kellogg missed an important part of the “Double Stuf Lesson”. When Oreo introduced their “more sugar” treat, they made it optional. You could still buy regular Oreos. You still can, even if you have to hunt through the shelves to buy them.

You can’t buy regular Frosted Blueberry Pop-Tarts (or any of the other flavors that now have MORE FROSTING!)

I don’t expect a New Coke fiasco, with Kellogg recanting and offering the two products side by side. Pop-Tarts, for all their popularity aren’t an iconic American offering like Co’cola. The outcry is likely to be limited. Probably to this blog, to be honest.

But I won’t be buying any Pop-Tart with MORE FROSTING! Which means I won’t be buying any Pop-Tarts for my weekend breakfasts any more.

That’s undoubtedly better for my physical health. But is it better for my mental well-being?

Last Chance

Maggie and I spent way too much time and money at the Toys R Us going out of business sale.

I’m not glad to see them go. I’m certainly not looking forward to the near future day when our only retail choices are Amazon and Walmart. And dedicated toy stores are just plain fun, even if you’re not buying anything.

Without TRU, where are we going to buy loud toys with easy-to-step on sharp edges for our nephew? It’s just not the same buying a properly sibling-annoying Seussian instrument online. It’s hard to get a good sense for just how loud it will be and how many rooms of the house it’ll fill.

But I digress.

The sale is a wonderful experience in that “piles of stuff you never knew you needed at prices you’ll never see again” way that’s normally only found in bottom-of-the-line junk shops.

And I do mean piles. Nobody’s reshelving anything. Small items wander all over the store, and larger ones migrate three or four aisles away from their starting places before people decide they’re too heavy and dump them.

Don’t assume all the items on a hanging rack are the same, because they’re probably not. Check the back of the bottom shelf. Check between the shelves. Don’t bother looking for prices. Most of the shelf tags are missing; just assume whatever you grab is going to be cheap.

Like 2-inch Kawaii Cubes, normally $5, now $0.98 to $2.

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“Crossy Roads” Penguin–who doesn’t love a purple penguin?–and “Teen Titans Go!” Starfire make a nice couple, don’t they? (I was hoping for a Raven to go with Starfire, but no such luck. Pengy-san is a reasonably adequate Plan B.)

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How about a Star Trek trio: Lt. Uhura, Spock, and an Orion Slave Girl.

I got a matched set of six-inch Ren and Stimpy plushes for $3 each (normally $8). But I turned down a Powdered Toast Man. Which should concern me more: that one can buy a PTM plush or that all these years later, I still remember what “PTM” stands for?

The “SpacePOP: Not Your Average Princesses” board game, which I think I’ll use to horrify my friends at next month’s games night.

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More Powerpuff Girls and DC Super Hero Girls figurines than I should really admit to having–though I think the Wonder Woman poster from last year’s movie redeems my taste somewhat.

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I couldn’t resist Poison Ivy’s sly, cynical smirk.

And several other things I can only describe as “random shelf flotsam”.

So, if you’ve got a small, tchotchke-shaped empty space in your soul, hoof it on over to your local Toys R Us before the lock the doors later this week.

And if you find a cuddly, cubical Raven, grab it for me, would you? Thanks.

Making Do

Down to what, about a week and a half until the start of the season? Sounding better all the time.

Several teams are taking today off, so there are only 12 games. That’s hardly enough to keep a real addictfan happy. So those of us on the edge of withdrawal symptoms have to turn elsewhere for a fix.

The Mariners are one of the teams not playing today. Fortunately, the team released their 2018 commercials last week. That’s recent enough that only the truly, truly obsessive have watched them over and over enough to have become sick of them. The rest of us will be fed up with them no later than early August, but for now, they’ll help to fill that “no Mariners” gap in our week.

Since the ads are eagerly awaited every year as entertainment independent of the game and the team they promote, I thought I’d give them quick reviews as entertainment.

As usual with my reviews, spoilers abound. Also, yeah, the spots do assume some knowledge of the team. I’ll try to note relevant information as we go. One thing you need to know right off: the Mariners are still using that stupid “True to the Blue” slogan. Guys, it’s not working. Ditch it. How about something that encourages the behavior we want to see? For a franchise that lives and breathes nostalgia, why don’t we get a season of “Two Outs, No Problem” or even (Baseball Deities help us) “SoDo Mojo”?

Anyway, first up is “Big Maple”.

I like this one. Nick Vincent’s deadpan delivery is perfect, conveying the impression that he’s had to explain Paxton’s nickname too damn many times. The nest is a nice little twist. And Paxton even manages to sound excited about the eggs hatching. Sadly, this may be the high point of 2018’s commercials.

Then we’ve got “Work-Related Injury”.

The balloons are a nice touch. I’ll give it that. But the commercial continues to perpetuate the “Boomstick” moniker that goes back to Cruz’ days in Texas. Can’t we come up with a nickname of our own? More importantly, though, any humor in the ad is overshadowed by the reality that Cruz is going to be turning 83 this July. Okay, 38–but that’s 83 in baseball years. How long can we realistically expect him to keep hitting those monster blasts? How painful is this commercial going to be if this is the year his homer total is lower than his uniform number (23)?

Moving on. The next offering is “Flip”.

The storyline is predictable and the punchline has no punch. Seager comes off as clueless. If they had to go with this idea, couldn’t they come up with a kicker that flips it around or at least makes Seager amusingly oblivious instead of clueless? Maybe dreamy-eyed musing about how it’s the music that makes the flip so special? “Hey, can your band do me some mood music?”

Better yet, ditch Seager altogether. Put Gamel and Motter in a “Hair Flip Derby” competition. Something like the Warner Brothers cartoon “Swooner Crooner” where Frank Sinatra’s and Bing Crosby’s singing made hens lay eggs. We could have had competive flowing hair encouraging balls to leave the park.

“Mound Visit” gets in a small jab at this season’s least-popular new rule.

But the idea is bland. Of course Cano is going to crush the poor guy’s curve. That said, this spot does have the best tagline of any of this year’s offerings. How often have you had someone say “Happy to help” after wasting your time with a meeting that accomplished less than nothing? And he delivers it with such casual flair that it comes off as even more menacing than the words would normally imply. So yeah, great execution of a bad idea.

And, finally, there’s “Art of the Frame”.

For those who don’t know, pitch framing is the art of making the catch in such a way that the umpire is fooled into calling a ball a strike. So what’s the joke here? Zunino doesn’t get the frame into place until after the umpire has already called the pitch a strike. So why bother? Why are we wasting a mound visit on admiring this one pitch, even if it’s the most perfect framing job in history? Do we really want to imply that Felix needs Zunino’s framing to throw strikes?

Okay, yes, the ad has a couple of good lines. I’m particularly enamored of “As a hitter, I find that offensive.” And the batter’s stunned expression is nicely done. But the commercial as a whole is a muddled, confusing mess. As a writer, I find that offensive.

Bottom line, none of this years commercials are going to be classics. Nothing like 2004’s Hall of Fameworthy “The Clapper“. Not even a minor favorite like 2002’s “Radar Gun” or 2013’s “The Wise Ol’ Buffalo“.

Here’s hoping the team is better than the ads.

Last Chance to See

Paul Simon is kicking off his farewell tour in May. This comes on the heels of Elton John’s announcement of his own farewell tour.

I was all set to suggest they save us all some time and money by combining their tours–call it “The End of an Era” show, take turns as headliner and opening act, mix things up by covering each other’s songs, and so on–and then I realized Mr. Simon is being a bit wimpy about his tour.

Twenty-nine shows over two months.

Mr. John is doing three hundred shows over the course of three years.

So much for that idea.

Seriously, though, both of them are outliers, albeit in opposite directions. And it does leave me wondering what the right length for a superstar’s farewell tour is.

On the one hand, fans want a long tour with plenty of shows, to maximize their chances of getting one at a convenient location. On the other hand, the performers are, by and large, tired of touring, possibly in ill health, and probably want to wrap things up as quickly as they can. And that’s without considering the possibility of wearing out their welcome. “What, is he on tour again? I thought he quit that two years ago?” “Nah, it’s still the same tour. Greedy, ain’t he?”

Maybe there isn’t a universally-applicable answer–almost certainly, in fact–but a few thoughts occur to me.

People like round numbers, and the double zeros in one hundred are particularly appealing. Similarly, they like numbers that are easy to grasp. Everyone knows viscerally how long a year is.

So how about setting a target of one year, 100 shows?

Consider the advantages for the performer. On a normal, lengthy tour, shows typically average about one every other day. That’s a big part of the grind that wears them down and turns them off of touring to begin with. With a year to work in, those hundred gigs can be spaced to average more than two off days between shows. A much more relaxed approach.

Granted, the economics of touring a big show mean it makes sense to bunch them. But it ought to be possible to insert more off days during the active periods without breaking the bank, while still leaving time for longer rest breaks. (As an example, instead of doing a three week tour of the West Coast, how about adding a few off days and a longer break between the Washington/Oregon leg and the California/Nevada leg and getting it done in five weeks?)

Let’s not forget: in addition to being tired of the grind, many musicians cite wanting to spend time with their families and an unwillingness to miss birthdays, holidays, school graduations, and such as primary reasons for wanting to give up touring.

If you’ve got a show Monday in Cleveland and the next one is Wednesday in Houston, you’re not going to catch Junior’s birthday in LA. But use some of those vacant dates to push the Texas shows out to the weekend and you can get a night’s sleep in Cleveland, still arrive early for the party in LA, hang out with the kid for a couple of days, and still make it to the Golden Buckle of the Sunbelt* the night before the show there.

* Yes, really.

There are probably reasons why this wouldn’t work–any professional musicians want to educate me? But from a layman’s perspective, it seems like a reasonable set of working guidelines.

Realistically, though, history suggests you’re always best off assuming your favorite performer’s current tour is their last, whether they call it that or not.

Super?

Yes, I watched the Super Bowl. Sorry, Jackie.

I could try to spin it, I suppose. An ecumenical gesture toward those who follow the Faith of the Oblong Ball, perhaps. But the truth is simpler and arguably less worthy. I wanted to see the Patriots lose.

Sure, I had some secondary motivations: wanting to see the commercials and the half-time show in context–important for proper snarkage–foremost. But the bottom line is that the Patriots exemplify all that’s wrong with sports teams setting themselves up as “America’s Team”. Like the Dallas Cowboys, LA Lakers, and Atlanta Braves* of yore, and the Yankees of, well, any day, they exhibit an arrogance and an attitude of entitlement that cries out for humbling.

* Ted Turner has much to answer for.

So it’s easy to root against the Patriots. It was harder to root for the Eagles, since–as Maggie reminded me–they’re the ones who brought Michael Vick back into football. But since they were the only team who had a chance to beat the Patriots on Sunday, we used the proverbial long spoon.

And I took notes, because that’s what writers do. Herewith, my thoughts on Super Bowl LII.

MassMutual served notice even before the kickoff that this was not last year’s television spectacle of Fox-sponsored odes to Amurrica. Can’t argue with the moral of the ad–don’t count on the government to help you through a disaster–but it would have been a stronger message if they’d mentioned Puerto Rico.

As expected, the camera angles during “The Star-Spangled Banner” made it impossible to tell whether anyone was kneeling or sitting. NBC’s not going to risk those glorious advertising dollars over three minutes of air time.

Apparently Sprint is fully prepared for the imminent robot rebellion, and is ready to placate our new robotic overlords from Day One.

Seriously, Turkish Air? If they think Dr. Oz is qualified to talk about the wonders of the human body, I’d hate to learn what they think qualifies someone to fly an airplane. Gonna put them on my “never patronize this company” list.

Bud Light’s sales were down 5.7% this past year. If their ads are any indication, those idiotic “Dilly Dilly” spots are the only thing keeping them in business. Hooray for living down to your smallest potential.

On the brighter side, NBC’s frequent promos for the Winter Olympics were considerably less annoying than Fox’s similar binge on behalf of the Daytona 500. Maybe because the Olympics aren’t a sport that glorifies unsafe driving and promotes climate change?

I’ll admit to enjoying the dual and dueling Doritos/Mountain Dew ad combination. I don’t like Mountain Dew, but the commercial didn’t drive me to forswear Doritos.

On the other hand, Diet Coke’s promotion of the desirability of uncontrollable, unstoppable dancing left me cold. Can I really be the only person in the world who still remembers Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes“? Is a swig of mango-flavored Diet Coke worth pedal amputation and eternal damnation?

NBC hurried to assure everyone that no game action or commercials were lost to that eighteen second blackout. But they’ve been disturbingly silent on whether any jobs were lost.

I won’t bother with my screed about Dodge using MLK’s words to sell Ram trucks. Plenty of others have said more than enough. I’ll just put them on my list, right after Turkish Air.

Regrettably, Janet Jackson did not parachute into the stadium and rip Justin Timberlake’s pants off mid-song. But even in her absence, you have to know that NBC and the NFL paid close attention to the choreography of JT’s show. So now we know that both institutions believe it’s perfectly fine to hump a dancer’s leg on international television, as long as her breasts are covered.

And maybe it was just an effect of the television broadcast, but the much ballyhooed and equally derided “holographic performance” by Prince came off as a bare half-step up from projecting a movie on a bed sheet. And really, JT, choosing “I Would Die 4 U” was a damn tacky move.

Of course the blatant attempt to promote “Super Bowl Selfies” as a hashtag was mildly nauseating, if completely predictable.

All in all, I score it the most soporific halftime show since at least 2000, when we had Phil Collins, Christina Aguilera, Enrique Iglesias, and Toni Braxton lulling us to sleep.

I got a chuckle out of the self-referential commercial for The Voice. But then, I’m an easy mark for self-deprecating, self-referential jokes.

Budweiser partially redeemed themselves for the stupid “Dilly Dilly” nonsense with their “Water” commercial, which did mention Puerto Rico.

My two favorite commercials of the day ran in succession. My Number One was the Jack In the Box / Martha Stewart spot. Juvenile throughout, but with a nice twist on the old “Got Your Nose” bit. And then, Number Two, the payoff to the sequence of apparently pointless Peyton Manning spots, recreating Dirty Dancing as a touchdown celebration. Stupid and pointless–perfect for the message that the NFL isn’t going away.

We’re putting Tide on the list, too. Not that their ads were bad. The concept was mildly amusing the first time. But by the end of the game, they’d completely run it into the ground and arrived at “thoroughly annoying”.

Unrelated to the actual game or the commercials: We discovered that Dish doesn’t think anyone has a four hour attention span. With about ten minutes left in the game, right on the four hour mark from when I turned on the TV, they popped up a message box that said (I’m paraphrasing here, because I didn’t get a picture) “It looks like nobody’s watching TV right now. If you don’t click ‘Continue’ within 20 seconds, we’ll shut the receiver off.” Uh, guys, you’re going to be sending the satellite signal whether the receiver is on or off, so why do you care if I’m watching? If I want to waste electricity by leaving the TV on all day, let me!

And, finally, my prize for “Worst Commercial of Super Bowl LII”.

No, it’s not Tide, Bud Light, or even Turkish Air.

Not only did this company completely ignore the well-documented complaints about their business model, but they’re actually promoting class violence. Congratulation, Groupon, come up and claim your trophy.

Or am I the only one who heard the message “He didn’t use Groupon, so we sent a couple of thugs to kick his rich, white ass”?

Seriously, there’s a right way to do things, and in this case, TV commercials aren’t it. If we’re going to have a revolution of the proletariat and forcibly redistribute the wealth, can we please do it as a spontaneous popular uprising, rather than because a coupon service wants to improve their bottom line?

Latest Trends

Note: this post was written Monday evening. It’s likely that some of the data will have changed by the time you read it.

I see Google is reporting a lot of interest in the forthcoming Hall & Oates tour. I mention this not because I’m particularly interested in the duo–I’m not, beyond taking the opportunity to point out their take on “Family Man” falls into the category of cover versions that have become definitive, despite being far less interesting than Mike Oldfield’s original.

But this is the first time I’ve dug into the details on Google’s latest version of their “Trends” page.

The “Interest over time” chart is fun–though a longer baseline would be nice–but the chart I found most intriguing is “Interest by subregion”. In this case, you can read “subregion” as being equivalent to “state”; I presume this is done to make the chart more flexible for use in other countries.

It’s not particularly surprising that most of the interest in Hall and Oates is in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. They’ve always been big in the middle of the country. I was surprised to see Louisiana coming in at Number Four. Maybe some influence floating down the Mississippi River?

But the fun part was looking at the states with no apparent interest in them at all: aside from Alaska, which often goes its own way, we’ve got Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming: a tight cluster of states immediately to the north of the center of Hall and Oates’ support. What’s happening there?

I’d say something about not giving the obvious answer (“Nothing”), but that might actually be the correct answer. Consider the interest from another item on Google’s list.

Searches for “Asteroid, Earth” are hot, probably because right-wing news sites are spreading FUD about the government shutdown putting Earth at risk for an asteroid strike.

Leaving aside the stupidity of the claim*, I found the geographical breakdown of interest fascinating. The most interest is in Alaska–remember what I said about them doing their own thing? But the next most interest is in North Dakota. At the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got Hawaii (which is justifiably more concerned about missiles than asteroids right now), Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

* First, the risk of an asteroid hitting Earth is no higher whether we’re watching or not. Second, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the shutdown has any significant effect on the Asteroid Watch program–it’s a distributed program with participation by astronomers, both professional and amateur, from around the world. And third, even if we know an asteroid is coming, there’s very little we can do about it at this point. The technology to intercept and redirect or destroy an asteroid isn’t there yet.

Yeah, three of the four central states that have no interest in Hall and Oates are also the only central states that have no interest in their chances of being wiped off the map by an asteroid. (Insert your own joke about being wiped off the map by Hall and Oates here.)

I can only come up with two possible interpretations: either the inhabitants of those states aren’t interested in anything or they’ve already been wiped out by zombies.

Note that those states show no interest in Netflix or the Supreme Court. But Montana and North Dakota are right near the top of the list when it comes to the Megyn Kelly/Jane Fonda contretemps.

I rest my case–and suggest you update your zombie vaccinations before you visit Montana.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year. If you bought an extended service plan on 2017, it has now expired, and the full cost of all repairs or replacements will have to be paid out of pocket. Regrettably, the Office of Chronological Mismanagement is no longer offering service plans of any sort. So enjoy 2018 while it still has that new car smell. Soon enough we’ll have to break out the duct tape and patch it up.

In any case, we had a very pleasant end to 2017 and beginning of 2018. You may have gotten the impression from my posts that this family likes fireworks–and that would be a correct impression. We go to New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July fireworks shows whenever we can.

Last year, we caught the show in Berkeley, but this year there wasn’t one. Nor, as far as I could tell, was there one anywhere in the East Bay. All the municipalities were very quiet about it; we don’t know if the lack of shows was due to financial problems, fire worries, security concerns, a lack of desire to compete with San Francisco’s show, or something even less sensical.

But regardless of the reasons, we had a firework gap that needed to be filled. We’ve always steered clear of San Francisco’s show, figuring it would be an enormous hassle, with an impossible parking situation, horrible crowds, and hours-long delays getting out of the city. Turned out we were wrong.

I won’t tell you exactly where we were. For one thing, the parking garage we found will be closing before the end of 2018, and for another, if all of the readers of this blog showed up in our spot this coming December 31, it would…well, okay, nobody would know the difference. But why take the chance of the post going viral? I’ll just say we were south of the Ferry Building and north of the Bay Bridge and let it go at that.

We arrived around noon–far earlier than we needed to–and had our choice of parking spots in the garage. With apologies to those of you north of Eureka or east of Carson City or Phoenix for sounding like I’m gloating, the temperature, even as midnight approached, was in the fifties with scattered high clouds and exactly three drops of rain. The city of San Francisco had kindly provided large planter boxes with cement walls that made excellent seats. And once we got through the line to pay for parking, our time from the garage onto the Bay Bridge was no more than twenty minutes. In rush hour, that same part of the drive frequently stretches to an hour or more.

If there was one downside to the day, it was that few businesses were open near the Embarcadero, and those that were closed early. I believe that, with the exception of a few restaurants, nothing was open past seven. Was it because NYE was a Sunday? Or is it standard for New Year’s Eve? Memo to San Francisco: encourage more vendors to show up and stay open later. It’ll bring more people into the city earlier in the day, they’ll spend more money, improving both vendor profits and city tax and parking revenue. Just a thought. And next time we do it, we’ll bring books, a deck of cards, or something else entertaining.

Because, yes, there will be a next time. The show was wonderful. If not the best ever, right up there at the top of the list. Yes, the hearts were all lazy, lying on their sides and all but a few of the smiley faces were significantly distorted, but those mishaps just added humor to the show. There was a good mix of high and low bursts, some effects we hadn’t seen before, and a clear–and spectacular–finale.

Consider this an open invitation to blog readers: if you’re freezing your tails off again in December 2018, come to San Francisco. We can hang out together and watch the show. I won’t promise you it’ll be as warm as it was Sunday, but I think it’s safe to promise it’ll be warmer than Times Square.