Sunday, December 31, 2006

Man and Truthiness at Harvard

There's a nice video piece -- hard to call it a clip, since it's over an hour long -- of Stephen Colbert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He drifts in and out of character, flirts with people in the audience, presents the school a large portrait of Bill O'Reilly, and talks seriously about the show and its lack of political intent/influence.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Crossing Over, Moving On

Until I went to college in 1997, I had rarely (and never seriously) used a computer. This is partly a matter of timing and partly one of circumstance. My family didn't have one. My aunt's could do word processing and print signs and banners -- at least, that's all I knew how to make it do. The required computing class in high school was a glorified typing class on an old version of MS Works for DOS. The internet and email were toys; most of the computers at school weren't wired anyways. So the tech boom was something that occured somewhere at the horizon of my knowledge and interests. Something was going on, and some people knew a little bit about it.

I had the good fortune to have a roommate in college who (among his other virtues) both had a computer and knew a little bit about it. Our dorm was one of the first on MSU's campus to be wired with an ethernet connection. Soon, Chad's computer was indispensable to me. I typed all my papers (I had handwritten almost everything for high school, including my college application essays), I searched the corners of the internet, I wrote long daily rants and emailed them to everyone I knew (this is probably before blogging was invented), I stayed up late nights emailing back-and-forth with the girl I loved (I never really glommed onto IMing until it was incorporated into Gmail), and I figured out how to play old Nintendo games and how to beat the expert level of Minesweeper in less than two minutes. (All-time best: 69 seconds.) The discovery of the computer was like so many things that happened to me when I went to college: empowering, individuating, maturing, yet full of irresponsible energy.

I'd had use of a hand-me-down for two years prior, but I finally bought my own computer when I went to graduate school in 2001. I moved to Chicago, leaving family, friends, and bank account behind. My Dell was one of the first computers to ship with Windows XP. I got into mp3s and freeware -- again a little late, but better than never. This was when I first started using the internet to connect with the world -- reading the New York Times online, following Pitchfork and Arts & Letters Daily, doing my banking, paying my bills. More and more, I crossed over into the virtual world, where more and more of what I did for work and play was dependent on computing and the internet. To a certain degree, this happened to everyone -- but in retrospect, my own change feels sharper than most. This was when I also learned more about the guts of the computer and started modifying it -- adding memory, swapping hard drives, network and USB cards, a DVD burner. I created my first, second, and third web pages. I started using Amazon to send Christmas gifts home.

Through all of this, I've been a Windows user and almost always worked at a Desktop. But when I'd finally had it with the limitations of what I could do with a five-year-old desktop. I recently bought a new MacBook Pro laptop. I don't know whether it's the fact that it's a new machine, the superiority of Mac over Windows, the rewards and challenges of learning the ins and outs of a new system (even after all these years of school, there's nothing I like better than to learn something new), or the freedom of being able to lay on my stomach or sit at my couch and type.

But it's fantastic again.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Half Man and Half a-’Tee

Since I moved and lost cable, there are only a few TV shows I still watch regularly: "Simpsons" and "Seinfeld" reruns in syndication, "Meet the Press" on Sunday mornings, "The View" (what can I say -- I almost always have an hour to kill before noon, and I like Rosie O'Donnell), the surprisingly good kids' cartoon "Jacob Two-Two," and, a mainstay since I started college in 1997, "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

Which brings me to

If you haven't heard about it by now, here's the story: Conan does a sketch on bizarre college mascots. One of them is FSU's "Webcam Manatee," featuring a guy in a manatee suit dancing around parodically-provocatively. Conan makes an offhand, ad-libbed reference to the Webcam Manatee appearing on a then-fictitious website called

The next night on air, Conan reveals the aftermath. When the sketch aired, NBC freaks out. What if there's a real "horny manatee" site that Conan inadvertently promoted on air? Even if the site doesn't already exist, someone could register the domain and put inappropriate material on it -- Conan/NBC could still be held liable, in terms of bad press if nothing else.

The standard move would have been to cut or mute the reference to in post-production. No harm, no foul. Instead, NBC aired the episode as is, bought the rights to, threw up some porn-parody content -- and got over 3 million hits after Conan advertised the site (for real this time) on the air.

NYT has a nice recounting of the story here. And you can always see for yourself.