Snakes on a Plane countdown 3: Jeff Rowland

overcompensating, Snakes on a Plane, way back in September 2005

In our ongoing series of Snakes in a Plane related crap leading up to its opening on Friday (see previous posts on the T-shirt and the TSA alert), I want to touch briefly on the role that Jeffrey Rowland, webcomic author (and owner of TopatoCo and creator of the Snakes Flying a Plane t-shirt), has had on building the hype that is the Snakes on a Plane phenomenon. In fact, one could almost say it’s all his fault. (One would be wrong, but one could say it.) The sequence of events:

September 2005: Jeff brings himself into the SOAP world, confronting an irate Samuel L. Jackson (you can tell it’s Sam cause he has the pimptastic purple lightsaber; see illustration to the right) and reveling in the sheer awesininity of it all…

July 2006. Jeff appears with Samuel L. Jackson at the San Diego Comic-Con to talk about Snakes on a Plane, in July 2006. See the follow-ups about his adventures: decision to go, gets onto the roundtable with Sam, frets about how to talk with Sam and not get shot, mistaking Sam for Laurence Fishburne, coming up with new names for the movie, which leads to…

August 2006, when Jeff gets to go to the movie’s premiere. Which is where he’s heading pretty much right now, to walk the red carpet and record bonus material for the DVD of the movie. Who says there are no rags to riches stories on teh Intarweb?

Audio from the MIT CIO Symposium

ZDNet: Nine great podcasts from MIT’s CIO Symposium. While the timeliness is questionable (the symposium, of course, was in June), it’s still nice to have this on the record and to allow other people to listen in.

If I recall correctly, particularly interesting sessions were The Habits of Highly Effective IT Leaders, with our own Brian Whetten stepping in as a superb last minute moderator; Liberation Technologies (listen for the clash of opinions between the Media Lab’s Michael Schrage and Hyperion’s Howard Dresner about, well, everything); and of course the final session on the Future of IT and Sports, in which all present made it quite clear that any attempt to use data relating to major sports for any purpose, mash-ups or otherwise, will be met with the long hammer of a lawsuit. (Well, that was my takeaway, anyway.)

If you like these, you may want to subscribe to the Between the Lines podcast (and blog) from ZDnet, on which these items were featured—or just plan to attend next year.

Snakes on a Plane countdown 2: TSA???

Boing Boing: As with gels, liquids: TSA bans mother})(^!#$ snakes from planes. Heh. I give Hollywood a lot of credit, but surely they didn’t arrange a major international terror alert just to promote the movie, did they? Hmm?

Best not to ask. Besides, if they had, the movie would probably be called something else.

From the semi-official advisory:

Protecting the Aviation System. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will be implementing a series of security measures—some visible and some not visible—to ensure the security of the traveling public and the Nation’s transportation system. TSA is immediately implementing following changes to airport screening procedures:

NO SNAKES OF ANY KIND WILL BE PERMITTED ON A PLANE. SNAKES ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED IN CHECKED BAGGAGE. This includes all pythons, boas, rattlesnakes, vipers, mambas, adders, and other known species of snakes.

Exception: some limited amounts of snakes may be allowed if Samuel L. Jackson is traveling; licensed snake charmers are allowed to have snakes in their check in baggage only if the name on the snake charming license matches the one passenger’s ticket; people whose name is Snake will be allowed on board but only after full body cavity search.

Battery recall, from another party

Hot on the heels of my MacBook Pro battery recall (mini-update: still waiting) is a recall from the other side of the force, so to speak. Dell, as reported in dozens of news outlets (Boing Boing, NY Times (who win for the best picture, of a burnt out pickup cab where an overheated battery exploded and touched off live ammo(!), and the gas tank(!)), Business Week, BBC), is recalling potentially as many as 4 million lithium ion laptop batteries because they are potentially explosive (imho, a very good reason for a recall). The BBC gets points for being the only one of the news sources I link above to actually mention the URL at which you can see if your battery is affected. They didn’t actually link it, of course, so I will:

Snakes on a Plane countdown 1: The T-Shirt


A story that I didn’t get to tell from the Mozart residency at Tanglewood: I walk into the Pittsfield Subway store, having less than 30 minutes to get lunch before a conference call for work. I’m waiting for one clerk to finish my order. The other one, who looks a little like a burgeoning hipster but is probably still in high school, is ringing me up. She looks up, then does a double take.

“Hey, is that Snakes on a Plane??” she asks, pointing at my t-shirt.

I pause for a minute; I’ve just come out of a morning’s orchestra rehearsal at Tanglewood where no one noticed what I was wearing. Then I remember. “Well, technically,” I said, “it’s snakes flying a plane. You know… copyright. But yeah, Samuel L. Jackson wears this shirt in the video for the movie’s theme song.”

“Cool,” she said. I told her where to get the t-shirt (TopatoCo, home of discriminating Snakes Flying a Plane merchandise) and went on my way, marveling. I may be getting older than dirt, but I’m hip enough to have an inside secret that proto-hipsters in Pittsfield, MA want in on. Thanks, TopatoCo!

—Seriously, if SOAP turns out to be a lousy movie, it will still be memorable for having spawned snarky hipster knock-off merchandise and other leading indicators of cool even before it hits the silver screen. I’ll spend a few more posts this week hitting some of the other high points. (And, yes, therefore feeding the viral star-making machinery. Oh well.)

Windows Live Writer and Manila blogs

There’s a little virtual ink today about Windows Live Writer, a blog writing tool that launched on Friday and apparently uses the MetaWeblogAPI to publish to MSN Spaces or other blog authoring platforms. Interestingly, former ColdFusion guy JJ Allaire appears to be involved with this project, which to me suggests there’s more than meets the eye here: no way JJ would get involved with something that is only a blog publishing tool.

As always with these tools, I can’t test the auto-configuration feature because the version of Manila on my blog server doesn’t implement the getUsersBlogs method of the MetaWeblogAPI. Digging deeper it looks like the blog information is stored in the registry under HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareWindows Live WriterWeblogs. So I created a profile for another site that used the MetaWeblogAPI and tried editing the values to point to my Manila site instead. I’ll know in a second if that worked. —Oh well. Attempts to post are failing with a message Can’t split the URL because it is not of the form ‘‘—I assume that this is referring to the RPC URL on Manila servers, which has no . extension or trailing slash but just appends /RPC2 to the top level domain.

Out of box functionality: no way to do HTML entity conversion is apparent (which is why this post doesn’t have curly quotes).

I think this tool would probably look and work better with a more modern blogging platform; the automatic WYSIWYG preview is pretty cool for blogging platforms that support it, for instance. But Flock still works better.


Interesting article over at Pragmatic Marketing on Extreme Product Management. The question that I’ve heard from some people, including former product managers, is how relevant product management is in an “agile” environment where people’s tastes (and the competitive landscape) appear to be changing daily. This article outlines some points of conflict between product management and agile development organizations that I’ve experienced.

A particularly painful challenge is this one: “My developers want me available every minute of the day to answer their questions. I have no time to visit customers.” The product manager’s role is to be in the middle of a bunch of different constituencies, but sales and engineering are the two primary ones for most product managers and it can be too easy to get into a situation where the product manager, in trying to expend effort for both constituencies, ends up satisfying neither. The paper’s concrete recommendation for this challenge, to provide market context through documentation and/or presentations to the team, is an interesting one; the rest of the recommendations are also interesting and worth exploring.

My frosted whipped beverage summons lads to my garden


I followed a pointer from BoingBoing and discovered a webcomic that I should already have been reading: Wondermark. The concept—Victorian engravings as “clip art” plus snarky speech bubbles—is like a turn-of-the-century version of Get Your War On. But it can be even funnier. And the technique works even with the strip’s guest artists, as M. Zole’s spit-take on “My Humps” shows.

And yeah, I can’t help but think that the planners of last week’s foiled attempt were sitting around going, “What are US flyers still allowed to do on planes that is fun?” and answering “Drink water and listen to iPods.”

Friday random 10 – low art for highbrows edition

As a cartoon once wrote, “What good is sick leave if you have to spend it being sick?” I’m home today with a random thing that fortunately is showing signs of clearing up, but it’s maddening thinking about all the work I have to do both at the office and here at home and not really being able to touch it.

Ah well. As the Count says in The Princess Bride, “If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

  1. Kronos Quartet, “Forbidden Fruit” (Winter Was Hard)
  2. Dexter Gordon, “Gingerbread Boy” (The Complete Prestige Recordings)
  3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, “Details Of The War” (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah)
  4. Cascadian Singers, “I. Sometimes with one I love” from “For Comrades and Lovers” (Troy Peters, composer; Walt Whitman, text) (Premiere)
  5. Elvis Costello, “Black Sails In The Sunset” (Costello and Nieve: Live At The Supper Club, New York)
  6. Spoon, “Take a Walk” (Girls Can Tell)
  7. M.Ward, “One More Goodbye” (Old Enough 2 Know Better – 15 Years Of Merge Records)
  8. Beastie Boys, “I Don’t Know” (Hello Nasty)
  9. Kronos Quartet, “2. November 25, Ichigaya” (Kronos Quartet Performs Philip Glass)
  10. Buddy Holly, “What to Do (Overdubbed Version)” (The Buddy Holly Collection)

CD Review: The Cure, The Top (Deluxe Reissue)

the cure, the top

Long missing from the US catalog of everyone’s favorite moody goths, this reissue of The Top fills in a void in the CD discography of the Cure—since it was never issued on CD in the US in the first place. But many Cure fans who are hearing it for the first time will find it a puzzling listen. Twenty-two years after its issue, it remains a profoundly unsettled disc that documents a band in transition (and indeed, a band mostly consisting of one member, Robert Smith himself).

My previous review in the Cure reissue series, of last year’s rerelease of Faith, noted that “the darkness that flowered on Faith is what many still consider to be the Cure’s classic sound,” and while that sound is in evidence here, there are a number of other sounds as well—for better or worse. For one thing, the percussion is surprisingly tame for a Cure release, particularly on songs like “Birdmad Girl,” which has a backing track that could have come from any number of 80s acts. The excellent booklet claims that the following track, “Wailing Wall,” was strongly influenced by Smith’s work with Siouxsie and the Banshees, and its atmospherics are appropriately menacing. Other tracks sound familiar in reverse: I found myself wondering if Nick Cave had been listening to “Piggy in the Mirror” when he made “Abattoir Blues,“ the effect is so similar. And the use of the Prophet, that staple of Peter Gabriel’s 1980s recordings, on “Dressing Up” makes the song feel familiar (if dated).

The one track to surface from this album with which I was previously familiar was “The Caterpillar,” which made an appearance on the Staring at the Sea compilation. But where on that release it made a clear connection with other Cure songs like “Lovecats,” “In Between Days” and “Close to Me,” on The Top it stands alone. Yes, the other tracks on the album each have their distinct sound, but nothing prepares you for “The Caterpillar”: the scratchy violin intro, the over-the-top fey vocals, the skittering piano part. This is “happy Cure,” the other personality that is locked inside Robert Smith’s head alongside the glum Morlock, and it still brings a smile after 22 years.

It’s even more amazing that that song crept onto the album when you consider the circumstances of the recording sessions: Laurence Tolhurst drunk or drugged out, Smith himself a few inches from hospitalization (literally—the follow-up tour had to be cancelled thanks to a bad case of blood poisoning), and the rest of the band hardly in the studio (Smith played a lot of this album, except for the drums, himself). In that context, “Caterpillar” seems absolutely miraculous, as does the band’s subsequent revitalization on The Head on the Door.

Bonus material on this deluxe reissue includes the usual assortment of demos and live tracks, including some quite strong demos for never-before-heard songs. My personal favorite, “Happy the Man,” looks forward to Disintegration’s “Last Dance” in its harmonic language even as its lyrics and verbal imagery elude understanding, and was released in its final form as a b-side to “The Caterpillar.”

An essential release? No. But also undeserving of its tag (from Smith himself) of “worst Cure album ever.” There’s a lot on The Top to like.

MacBook Pro battery recall, take two

I was surprised to come home last night and find a package from Apple waiting for me. I was even more surprised to find that it was … earbuds. Not the replacement MacBook Pro battery I had ordered under Apple’s recall. Earbuds. You know, the iconic little white headphones that come with iPods, of which I already have two pair.


I called AppleCare this morning and straightened it out; my shipping label had gotten applied to the wrong order and so they resubmitted my battery recall order. I should have it later. The folks at AppleCare were very professional, and I’m glad they were able to clear up the confusion.

Still. Earbuds?

Terror Level Elmo: good day not to be traveling

terror chart with sesame street characters

New York Times: Aircraft Bomb Plot Thwarted in Britain. Apparently the British police stopped a plot to blow up multiple airplanes flying from Heathrow to the US. The number of targeted flights ranges from 3 to 10 according to various reports. Wonderfully enough, the terrorists are believed to be still at large…

…which is no doubt why Doc Searls got stuck at Logan today. Sorry, Doc. At least there’s WiFi. Doc, I hope you’re near Legal Seafoods so you can at least get a good meal out of it. The Technorati tag being used to group these posts together is (nice concept, btw).

More coverage: Boston Globe, which says this was a “minor inconvenience,” and the DHS page, which gives the details (threat level red, aka Elmo, for travelers flying from the UK to the US; orange, aka Ernie, for commercial aviation inside the US; yellow everywhere else. Good old Bert).

There are revolving doors, and there are trap doors

Boston Globe: After 105 years, BSO to enter a new stage. I’ll be interested to see if there is any audible difference (there will certainly be a difference in the appearance of the floor). I find it interesting that there is so much care taken to reproduce the exact stage floor down to the nails used; certainly Carnegie Hall is a cautionary example, but I don’t think anyone is proposing filling in the sub-stage area with cement. But it’s good to know (albeit a little scary) that the BSO doesn’t know what the stage trap door is for, either…

Review roundup: Mahler 2nd at Tanglewood

There were a lot fewer reviews for Seiji’s Mahler 2nd than for previous concerts, though the crowd was much bigger. The reviews were also all about Seiji, though I think the performance of the orchestra and chorus was worth at least talking about:

  • Boston Herald: Wiz Ozawa steals BSO shed show (easily my favorite review title ever). “Stutzmann and Murphy sang responsively in their minor solo roles, and the chorus, as usual, sang with nuance and clarity. The orchestra was magnificent, and the roaring from the crowd carried deep into the Tanglewood night.”
  • Boston Globe: For Ozawa, an emotional and expressive return to Tanglewood. “The BSO playing was glorious; many episodes, like the brass chorales that used to sputter and splatter, were admirable in ensemble and balance. The hushed entry of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus into the finale was once again an unearthly and spine-tingling moment. There were significant and eloquent instrumental solos from Ronald Barron, trombone, and John Ferrillo, oboe. The vocal soloists were Nathalie Stutzmann, singing with deep-plush contralto tone and warm feeling, and Heidi Grant Murphy, tracing the higher lines with her pearly soprano.”
  • Patriot Ledger: Ozawa returns, triumphant, to Tanglewood stage. “In the glorious natural setting of the Berkshires, hearing this epic work capped by the triumphant choral proclamation, ‘Rise again, yes, you will rise again,’ was an uplifting experience.