Monday, April 28, 2008

It's a Numbers Game

The crab fleet is hard at work and so far, it's not going too well, at least for Captain Phil. Cornelia M's caught fewer crab than Captain Phil's drunk Red Bulls. (Phil drank 56 Red Bulls in 5 days.)

It's okay, though! "It's a numbers game." Nobody says that when things are going well.

"How'd your job interview go?"
"Great! I got the job, and more money than I asked for."
"Well, you know - it's a numbers game."

"So Ish, you have a date for the prom?"
"Yeah, actually I have a date with twin bikini models. Who are also neurosurgeons."
"Well, don't worry - it's a numbers game."

This is the point in the season when Things Get Serious. The crews are working their asses off. The greenhorns are starting to realize that this crab fishing is some hard-ass work, not some well-paying Outward Bound adventure. The captains are getting very uptight, because this is when they need to catch crab. No crab, no money. This is also when the deck bosses shine.

See, the captains are being hard-asses - especially Sig. Sig's driving the crew hard, all night and all day. He needs to keep track of the numbers of crab, and the crew is messing up the count. So Sig is NOT happy. The crew is near exhaustion, and Sig is acting like a 4 year-old who just had his juice box taken away. Enter deck boss Edgar Hansen.

Here's why I love Edgar Hansen. These guys are working 24 hours straight, risking life and limb, trying to make a bunch of money in a few months. If they don't find crab, they don't have money to put food on their families. Thus, tension. Tempers can run high. Captains can lose their shit.

In the midst of all this, Edgar Hansen sees the image of Jesus in the rust on a winch on the Northwestern's deck.

Northwestern Deck Boss Edgar Hansen

The Greenhorns on the Wizard are getting tested - one is making it (Lynn), one isn't (Moi). Moi
's a little older, probably a little too experienced in life to be a humble hand on a crab boat. He knows that compared to any other job, this job is H-A-R-D. Moi wants to do well (bless his heart), but he may not be ready for life on a crab boat. (Probably should have been tipped off when he negotiated the title of "Vice President of Chum.")

Another way the crab crews relieve tension? The pranks. World-class pranks.

Captain Johnathan had said he wanted a new truck, so the nice fellas on the Cornelia M. help Johnathan out - they put a rusted truck body on his boat.

Time Bandit returns the favor by attaching it to one of Phil's buoys - he gets a surprise trying to pull up that pot. Captain Phil is suitably impressed; game recognizes game. Phil dumps the car in the Bering Sea. (ERA on line 1 for you, Phil.)

Of course, you're not gonna catch a pickup truck on every trip. But hey! Don't worry - it's a numbers game.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Deadliest Catch Season 4 Episode 1

The show opens cold, and they get right back into it – boom, rogue wave hits the Wizard, puts a hole in the hull, and they’ve got gear rolling around topside.

(And I get right back into it, using expressions like “gear rolling around topside” like I know what I’m talking about.)

And then they hit me with that opening lick from Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” Aw, yeah. It’s on.

Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch is back, baby! And I know I’ve been jonesing for a while now. I can tell, because it’s not normal for a guy who works in an office in San Francisco to look out the window and think: “I wonder how Opilio crab season is going.”

Fishing for crab is incredibly hard work, and seriously dangerous - last year, a boat sank, and with heavy equipment swinging around on a pitching, slippery deck, a lethal injury is a constant possibility. But when the crews hit it big, when they are "on the crab," it's also rewarding and lucrative. The crew members can make up to $40,000-$50,000 for a few weeks' work. But what work it is.

Most of the same crews are back from last season:

Cornelia Marie, with Captain Phil.

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up…everything.”
Bonus Trivia: Lives on Marlboros and Red Bull.

Northwestern, with Captain Sig Hanson.

Or as my friend Em calls him, "Captain Sig Handsome (wink)!”
Bonus Trivia: Sig and Edgar were on Martha Stewart earlier this week, and apparently helped design a crab fishing game for XBox 360. (Both true.)

Time Bandit, Captains Johnathan and Andy Hillstrand.

Johnathan looks like a roadie for Molly Hatchet.
Bonus Trivia: Andy has a horse farm in Indiana. My girlfriend thinks Andy’s hot.

Wizard, with Captain Keith Colbrun.

Might actually be retired baseball star Wade Boggs, I'm not sure...
Bonus Trivia: Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

There are a lot of family ties in the crab fleet. Every boat has either brothers, or fathers and sons. Two boats, Northwestern and Time Bandit, have 3 brothers, of which one stays in the background. On Time Bandit, Johnathan and Andy are out front, Neal’s in the background. On Northwestern, Sig is out front, Edgar is running the deck, and Norman is keeping the engines running. It’s like they each have a John, a Paul, and… a Ringo. A Groucho, and Harpo, and... a Gummo.

This season, Johnathan’s 25 year-old son Scotty is on the Time Bandit, joining the ranks of the second-generation, along with Captain Phil’s sons Jake and Josh.

(So, okay, I thought Johnathan was about 40. A weathered 40. He has a 25 year-old son? And why does he look more like Andy than Johnathan, hmm?)

What does Phil do in the off-season to stay in such terrible shape? smoke, drink, anything else? He looks like he’s been on a losing streak at a third-rate card club with no sleep for about six months.

Phil’s sons are apparently actively trying to kill the old man. For the second year in a row, they went nuts in town with Dad’s credit card. This time, Jake bought a $800 plasma TV for the boat.

The captains gather at the local watering hole for a final drink and to place the traditional wager - winner is the captain who hauls the best string of pots. They toast with a drink of Crown Royal, Bailey's and Kahlua - called a "duck fart." It's a little priceless to hear Mike Rowe, the narrator/host of the show and Ford pitchman, say "they sealed the bet with a round of duck farts."

The crews take care of all the last minute business before they set out. Northwestern is having some engine problems, which they get fixed by a guy who looks like Pete Seeger. (A lotta guys in Alaska are sporting that look, based on the show.)

Johnathan and Andy do their ritual pre-trip call home, and during the call, their mom predicts tragedy. Nice.

"Have a good trip! But someone's gonna die." Thanks, mom. Glad we called.

"Andy's hot," says my girlfriend. Okay, I get it.

And then, they're off to the fishing grounds to set the pots, and haul... wait for it... The Deadliest Catch!

Captain Keith on the Wizard is a little superstitious. En route, he sees whales - good omen. Also, he needs to have a Cup-o-noodles in the wheelhouse before he'll set gear. (I should do that before I start a new spreadsheet or powerpoint presentation.) Uh-oh, crisis: no Cup-o-noodles on board. (And of course I thought: "Just like Mrs. Hillstrand prophesied.") They set pots anyway, despite Keith's misgivings.

First pots for Cornelia M. - ooh, ouch. Nada. Second string? not much better. Not a good start.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Case You've Forgotten What Sport You're Watching

I believe I just heard the color analyst on TV say the following:

"This is a basketball team that, if they don't have [So-and-so] in there, will have trouble putting the basketball in the basket. And that's why they're losing this basketball game."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Things that are Comcastic!

When Comcast launched its new ad campaign, wherein they attempted to convert their corporate name into an adjective, the first ad I saw was a takeoff on the old game show "$25,000 Pyramid." In case you don't recall, in $25,000 Pyramid, contestants work with a celebrity as a 2-person team. One is facing a pyramid-shaped board. One by one, from bottom to top, the cards reveal a word or phrase. The team member facing the board would give clues for their teammate guess. If you got them all right you won $25,000, presumably stacked in the shape of a pyramid. (Wouldn't a check have been easier? I guess "The $25,000 Check" doesn't have much of a ring to it.)

Why don't game shows have awesome answers like this anymore? More proof that the 70s were a Magical Time.

So the Comcast ad went like this:

Clue-giver: "Butterflies...Santa Claus...freshly baked cookies..."
Clue-receiver: "Things that are Comcastic!" dingdingdingding!!!!

So the message was: Comcastic is a synonym of awesome.


Except this has not been my experience at all.

I appreciate some of the things Comcast does for me. Like bringing me broadband access - I appreciate that. Or the best reality show on television, Deadliest Catch. Thanks, Comcast.

My real issue is with the digital video recorder. My question to you, Comcast: if Comcast is so awesome that its very name is synonymous with awesomeness, why is the Comcast DVR such a piece of crap?

But Ish! The DVR is chock-full of features that make it awesome! Did I say awesome? I mean Comcastic!

I hear you, italicized rhetorical device, but I'm not buying it. Here's how the "features" work on my DVR:

Fast forward. Hit fast forward once- fast forwards for about three seconds and then freezes. Hit it again - nothing. Hit it a third time - it races forward 2 minutes past the commercials you were skipping, and right into the middle of the next scene, spoiling the suspenseful conclusion of whatever you were watching. Bonus: if you are in the last ten minutes of the program, automatically deletes the program.

Rewind. Hit rewind once- rewinds ten seconds and then freezes. Hit it again - nothing. Hit it a third time - it rewinds so fast you actually get younger, the show you were watching doesn't exist yet, and your younger siblings start to fade out of old family photos. ("We've got to get back to the DeLorean, Marty!")

Record Season Pass. I'm told that this is the feature that allows me to record every episode of a favorite show. But I must have missed the secret setting that says "record every episode of "Family Guy," as long as it's one of the same six episodes from 1999. Whatever you do, do not record any of the newer episodes."

Memory full - 100%. This is the message you get when you've used about 60% of the recording space. You delete one of the episodes of Family Guy from 1999, and suddenly, voila, you're only using 20% of the recording capacity. (It's okay, the DVR will record that Family Guy episode four more times tomorrow.)

Stop. Has no features.

I think "Comcastic" should more properly be defined as follows:

Com-cas-tic adj. Characterized by the absence of awesomeness; the exact opposite of awesome. Ex. "The bubonic plague's symptoms were comcastic."
I want to spread my definition - because I believe that, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, you have to be the change you want to see in the world. (Yes, I'm still talking about cable TV.)

So allow me to demonstrate the new, proper usage of "Comcastic:"

Me: Did you see that accident on the freeway last night?
You: Why, no, I didn't! Why don't you describe it for me.

Me: Oh it was bad, awful. Blocked all four lanes. The traffic was Comcastic!


Me: So then I dropped the cinder clock on my bare foot. The pain was Comcastic.
You: (Nod sympathetically.)
One more:

Me (yelling at DVR, frantically stabbing at stop button): STOP! Stop fast forwarding, stop- NO! DON'T delete! DON'T delete! You Comcastic piece of crap!
I don't know if my one lone, cranky voice can make a difference. But maybe, if we all work together, we can. (Still talking about cable TV.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No, I Don't Got.

All right, I'm happy to concede that the "Got Milk?" ad campaign was cute and original. I myself have probably drunk thousands of gallons more milk than I might otherwise have.

But. Please, everybody. Everybody. STOP taking the "Got...?" formula and applying it to every other thing under the sun. It's over.

I've seen Got Homes, Got Wood, Got Junk, Got Shoes, Got Wine, Got Lunch. Enough. No I don't Got. And based on your sad copycat marketing, I don't plan to Get any time soon.

Really, is that the best you could do? I mean, even if you're a mom and pop furniture store doing a low budget ad campaign for Comcast Spotlight* it's okay. I don't have high expectations. But really? The best you could do?

I guess we can all count ourselves fortunate that this idea didn't catch on in certain quarters, such as public service ("Got Amber Alert Suspect? Call 911...") or healthcare ("Got to Pee Frequently During the Night? Ask your doctor if Flomax is right for you.").

Again, let me reiterate: to the guys who came up with the ORIGINAL "Got Milk?" campaign? Hearty congrats, major props, big ups to you. But to all the others just borrowing it? That's just sad. Pathetic and over. As over as a thirty-something white blogger using "major props." As pathetic as same blogger saying "big ups."

*Comcast Spotlight, for those of you who don't know, is, essentially a response to the TIVO phenomenon, as only Comcast could conceive of it. It's a channel on cable that shows...commercials. As in, "Hey, we know you fast forward through all the ads now, but if you'd care to watch nothing but poorly produced commercials for local merchants, it's right here!" It's Comcastic.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Randy Jackson has trouble with numbers.

I'm a fan of American Idol and I like Randy Jackson, but seriously, I'm not sure he has a firm grip on the meaning of numbers. Example:

Randy listens to auditioner #1. He's good. Simon says yes, Paula says yes. What does Randy say?

"For me it's a thousand percent yes, dog. Welcome to Hollywood!"

Cut to auditioner #2. She is also good. Simon says yes, Paula weeps and says "you have a beautiful heart," Simon audibly rolls his eyes. And Randy says:

"One million percent yes! You're going to Hollywood!"

Did Randy really like auditioner #2 a thousand times more than he liked auditioner #1? Does Randy mean it when he conveys to us the fact that he believes that singer #1 has only 0.001 as much talent as singer #2? I doubt it. I suspect he has a limited capacity to understand the meaning of numbers.

In fact, the modern world and its number systems have created limitless potential for hyperbole. Randy's on a slippery slope, I think. Soon, he'll say yes to someone "infinity percent." And then he'll wonder: where to go from there? Infinity plus 1? Infinity plus 2? No! Infinity times 2! No, wait! Wait! Infinity squared!

And then his brain will go pop! and he'll start sounding like John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind." Paula will seem lucid by comparison.

I wonder if Randy has similar problems with spatial reasoning, and other measurement concepts.

Officer: "Do you know how fast you were going, Mr. Jackson?"

Randy: "Well, I would guess I was doing about... four tablespoons."

What if Randy gave you directions to his house?

"Take the 405 north and go about 2000 miles to the exit for Sherman Oaks, and then turn right. Keep going on that for about 6 or 7 years. My place is the 86th house on the left."

Randy wouldn't have had this problem in a more primitive society. He still would have been hyperbolic - that's what show business people do - but he would have had fewer options: 1, 2 or many.

Cut to Primitive American Idol:

Simon: "Paula?"

Paula (weeping): "I... you know, you just glow up there. And I love your deerskin slippers. I say 'one-yes.'"

Simon: "Randy, yes or no?"

Randy: "For me it was a 'many-yes.' Welcome to Hollywood, dog!"

An added bonus of Primitive Idol is that the chances of Ryan Seacrest being devoured by a Sabre-toothed tiger would increase by at least, I don't know, a million percent.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mustache Rides: After 30 Years, Still 5 Cents

Everyone knows the economy has been getting a little rocky of late. There is one group that has definitely suffered. I'm talking about Mustache Ride Providers.

The fact is, as prices of fuel and other basic necessities have continued their relentless march upwards, the unsung mustache provider has had to make ends meet selling his service at a price of $0.05 - five cents. And that price hasn't really budged in 30 years. I ask: why?


Based on my research*, the prevailing cost of a mustache ride remains, after more than 30 years, mired at the level of $0.05. Five cents. That's not to say that there aren't some providers out there able to charge a quarter, 50 cents, even a dollar. But they are exceptions, probably because they bundle their rides with other services (car wash, income tax preparation, etc.), or because they have a local or regional monopoly.

The fact remains that in general, over the last thirty years, the price of a mustache ride has barely budged, while the costs for other indispensible consumer items have increased dramatically. Why?

Substitute goods/new technology. This is a possible culprit. After all, we live in an age of technological revolution. It's possible that, in the whirlwind of advancement in the area of personal electronics (and here I'm thinking of cell phones and ipods, and nothing other than those two things), the humble mustache ride has been bypassed.

Oversupply/New Competitors. I don't think this is the answer, since, according to my research* the number of mustache ride providers has ebbed and flowed over the years, reaching a high-water mark in the mid- to late seventies. And in the nineties, the number fell, and yet, prices remained the same: a nickel.

Intensity of Competition. Again, the number of competitors has ebbed and flowed, but prices have remained remarkably constant.

Decreased cost of production/new technology. Again, it's possible that over time, the costs of production have decreased, much like personal computers. However, the basic cost inputs to making a mustache ride are the same for all providers, and appear to have risen considerably over the last 30 years.

Buyer power. It's possible in theory for a buyer or buyers to concentrate sufficient might in the market so as to be able to name their price - not unlike a "company town" that has its pick of all the laborers in town. But in this case, the buyers are diffuse and unable to collude effectively, so I discount this as a cause.

So in the end, I don't know what is holding down the price of mustache rides. What I do know, is that it's hard out there for a mustache ride provider.

*I didn't do any research. I did loosely apply the "5 Forces" Analsyis, pioneered by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School. Thanks, Mike.