Venting to a TV shrink now worth $172

The approximate round-trip cost to take Amtrak’s first-class Acela train from New York to Philadelphia is about $172 (depending on demand). Thanks to TV, that cost might be free for a select few.
According to an acerbic post on the Web site Gawker, Dr. Phil is going to be on Acela for a round-trip from NYP to Philadelphia on Sept. 9. While on-board, Mr. McGraw will speak with passengers about “everyday problems.”
There’s a form to fill out if you are interested in being on the train/appearing on the show. If you’re selected, the trip is free.
I don’t know if I would do it. It’s interesting that people are willing to vent their problems on national TV for about $172. That’s a relatively low price for a TV producer to pay.
There’s also a fame factor involved in meeting and interactive with Dr. Phil. Fame and notoriety seem to be strong motivators even if there is little reward.
Also, the leather seats on Acela sound pretty nice compared to a counselor’s couch.
So is it worth discussing your problem with a talk-show host if it gets you a free train trip?

Facebook offers games, extras, but I’m not playing

I have huge queue of requests in my Facebook account. I’ve been meaning to go through and clear them out — by denying nearly all of them. I thought it would be useful to explain why.

  1. Games – A ton of my friends are playing social games, like Mafia Wars or Yoville. The thing is, I’ve played similar games before and they really don’t interest me. I don’t really want to spend time hunting for items or recruiting friends for specific causes.

    So instead of adding clutter to my account and perhaps leaving my friends in a lurch when my attention is focused elsewhere, I’d rather not go down that path again.

  2. Special apps – Some of friends have asked me to submit information for apps called “We’re Related” or “Birthday Cards.” They’re pretty straightforward — to help people track relatives or people’s birthdays.

    Sounds great. right? Well, Facebook has most of them without needing to add a different program.

    Some of the apps are also scuzzy — full of poorly implemented advertising and visual traps for users. They often try to get the user to send out spammy messages about the app in order to view quiz results (but you should always be able to skip past such prompts). Thanks, but no thanks.

  3. Causes – Some people have asked me to join certain causes. Professionally, I do my best to keep my Internet position agnostic (although it can be tough given the worthy causes and controversial issues that we face).

While I feel bad turning down these requests, these apps aren’t what I’m looking for on Facebook. When I come to social-networking Web sites, I would like to see what people are up to and what they’re producing (like stories, photos, discussions, etc.). There are places for games on Facebook, but I’m just not playing right now.

For want of spite, Twitter was lost

Less than a day after the microblogging Web site Twitter was briefly knocked offline and social Web site Facebook was hampered, a picture of what happened began to develop and who was targeted. Instead of some sort of corporate or international intrigue, it appeared like the attacks were a massively misguided effort to silence one individual.
It was pretty clear that Twitter, Facebook and others were hampered because of a Denial of Service attack — where a Web site is hit with so many requests or Web traffic that it buckles under the pressure. According to BBC News, the target was believed to be one blogger, named Georgy, who has criticized Russia’s role in last year’s war against the country of Georgia, the BBC reported.
Facebook officials said the attack was directed at the blogger’s page, but it impacted the rest of the service as well.
Talk about overkill. In this effort to target one individual, the people responsible attacked several networks affecting hundreds of millions of people. It would be like nuking a large city in an effort to kill one man, or burning the haystack to get at that needle.
If the intent was to silence one person’s opinion — it will probably backfire. More people will now probably be more interested in what this one person has to say because of this effort.
Additionally, cyberterrorism is not likely to engender the hackers to the general public. Personally speaking, I feel a little bit of animus toward whoever would be willing to launch such a foolhardy and unsophisticated attack.
While the target was apparently Georgy, also known as Cyxymu, it’s not known who launched the attack. The blogger apparently blames Russia although some experts said there is no evidence that this is the case.
I definitely hope that we find the parties responsible. It’s also a reminder to Web sites that they need to develop more defenses against these types of attacks.

Monday’s ‘Fresh Air’ touches on food and high concert prices

I always like listening to the diverse topics discussed on public radio, but Monday’s “Fresh Air” seemed to hit a lot of high notes in my book. There were discussions about the increasing popularity of cooking shows and a look at ticket prices at concerts.

First, guest host Dave Davies chatted with Michael Pollan whose recent New York Times Magazine story touched on how Americans love watching cooking shows, but we’re actually cooking less. It was a great interview and had some sobering information.

Pollan said Americans spend an average of 24 minutes per day cooking in the kitchen and about 4 minutes doing dishes. He compared that figure to the fact that some cooking shows last twice as long as some people spend in the kitchen.

Looking toward the future, Pollan cited some marketers who feel that home cooking may fall by the wayside, much like killing, bleeding and plucking a bird if you wanted chicken for dinner.

I admit that I don’t cook at home as much as I should. I loved watching cooking shows, ranging from what Pollan called “dump-and-stir” instructional programs to the competitive shows like “Iron Chef.”

Cooking shows provide me some cultural insight and some ideas for meals (although it doesn’t necessarily translate to my kitchen). Some of the competitive programs are over the top and don’t provide direct ties to home cooking. However, Iron Chef gave me a greater appreciation of cooking and Japanese culture. Programs like “Good Eats” and “Molto Mario”  showed me essential ingredients and cooking techniques that helped in the kitchen.

In the second segment, John Seabrook discussed the live music industry following his recent article in The New Yorker.

The interesting aspect of that conversation was about Internet scalping driving up ticket prices. Seabrook said ticket prices may be set lower than full market value to encourage sell-outs and that full venues help the bottom line for parking and concessions.

I really enjoyed the discussion, but I still have strong feelings about scalpers, online or otherwise. It is fascinating how the Internet has legitimatized something that was previously illegal in many states and just a little bit scuzzy.

It miffs me that people who have no interest whatsoever in attending an event buying up and reselling tons of tickets to line their own pockets. On the other hand, I’m more understanding of season-ticket holders and others selling tickets to events they intended to attend.

Ultimately, I think scalpers needlessly drive up the cost of attending an event and I want to have no part of it even if it means that I don’t get to go.

Secret Shame: Short-sighted stargazing leaves me adrift in stellar sea

Once upon a time, I was a member of the Young Astronauts. That’s not the secret shame — my membership in this esteemed club and lifelong fascination with space merely provides some background for my tale.
One of the coolest things about camping in the mountains is the breathtaking views of the night sky. The deep darkness provided a suitable canvas for the cacophony of coldly glimmering stars and the faint band of the Milky Way.
There was even the blaze of an occasional shooting star. It was a wonderful sight.
There was one downside wherein my secret shame resides — I couldn’t recognize any of the constellations. While I’ve never been good about picking out the more obscure formations, I always thought I could spot Orion or the Dippers.
I felt lost amid this stellar sea. It was like looking at a map without labels or a legend. The navigational points I had learned over the years had sadly escaped me.
I looked toward the north to find the Big Dipper and hopefully follow it to the northern star of Polaris.
No joy — I couldn’t see anything that I recognized. I was walking through the darkened campground with a friend who was having similar difficulties.
We had several theories about why the night sky was so strange to us. The massive black shadow of Eureka Peak loomed more than 2,000 feet over the campsite. The mountain was northwest of the campgrounds and may have obscured a good part of the sky.
What the mountain didn’t obscure, the cover of tall pines did. Gazing through the tree canopy was sometimes like peering through a celestial porthole.
In the days and nights upon returning to Chico, my consternation at myself grew as I continued to try to spot the basic star patterns. After staring up in the sky for about 10 minutes, I couldn’t pick much out. I thought I spotted Cassiopeia, but I wasn’t sure.
Determined not to let this get me down, I took one more look at the night sky. Finally a lightbulb went off as I peered into the dark. There was relief as I could spot at least a couple of constellations.
The Big Dipper scooped close to the horizon, providing credibility to my theory that I couldn’t see this constellation in the mountains because of the tree cover or hills.
While I’m glad that I’m not going senile and forgetting what I learned about the stars, I think a refresher or two may be in order. Thankfully, the mountains are close by and there’s an open-air observatory at Bidwell Park.