Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

‘Tis The Gift To Be Simple
October 7, 2008

There is no doubt in my mind, none whatsoever, about what the “next big thing” will be in technology-based product engineering.  Simply put, it will be simplicity. Current thinking is that consumers want options. The more options the better. “It’s what America is all about”, you know, “choices”. But I’m not so sure.

It’s not just that there are something like 70 different kinds of Crest toothpaste, or hundreds, if not thousands, of user options on my Blackberry. It’s that our love affair with choices has made everything ridiculously complicated. I remember a man once tried to sell me car that had a radio with what he called a “parametric equalizer”. It was a series of slide controls designed to contour the sound to my particular vehicle. The dynamics of, oh I don’t know, “Jammin’ Z-90”, might change, you see, depending on the number of people in the passenger cabin, or the relative humidity. And you’d want to take your eyes off the road every once in a while and peak up or attenuate the 80 to 300 hertz range to compensate.  

At first, I thought it was a sign of age, and so I kept my thoughts to myself. Secretly longing for a car radio that had an on-off switch, some push buttons, and maybe a bass-treble knob. Wishing for a cell phone that just rang, for crying out loud, without first insisting I decide what the ring should sound like, how loud it should be, whether of not “I’m sure”, and if I want to “apply” my decision.

But now even my younger friends admit they are tech-taxed texters, and I can fast-forward a few years to when even the most option-agile minds will say “enough!”. It is then, that open-collared, fresh-faced, state-of-the-art marketing whizzes, shall preach about how “people have OD’d on complexity. Consumers now want simplicity. If your design calls for a hundred options, or just two of them, keep it simple!” “The age of simplicity”, they’ll probably call it. Our love-affair with bells and whistles and choices will be seen as a vaguely embarrassing relic of the early 2000s, like Washington Mutual.

Don’t get me wrong, I think “Have It Your Way” is a great idea, and “31 Flavors” is terrific. But like every other kind of excess, there’s a self-regulating aspect to all of this. In the future, things will most certainly swing back toward “simplicity”. And, when you get to 70 kinds of toothpaste. I think the future is now. Am I “Sure”. Yes. “Apply” yes.

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What’s The Matter, Alma Mater?
September 9, 2008

Let’s be clear at the start here. The quality of a University is not measured by the success of its athletic program. Caltech may still hold the record for consecutive losses in college football. Notwithstanding,  I believe it is a highly regarded place.

Still, there’s something to be said for winning a big game. Maybe once in a while.  At least once in a lifetime. Like so many former San Diego State students, I had my fingers crossed Saturday, not expecting, but hoping for the Aztecs to win what’s called a “map” game. The kind of game that puts an otherwise mediocre program on “the map”. The kind of game that gets sports commentators around the country talking about your school. I imagine that must lead to great things, like grants, endowments, research contracts and so on. But mostly its just wanting my team to win a big one every half century or so.

I’ve been waiting since I was a student. I won’t say how long ago that was, but they played in a place called “San Diego Stadium”, when posting beer advertisements around the scoreboard would have been considered vulgar. In the years since, they’ve taken on USC and tied them, lost a dozen times or so to UCLA, Lost to Miami, Michigan, and the list goes on.

Very often the games are close, agonizingly close. But in the end, San Diego State always loses, as it did Saturday. They could have won it. An Aztec was carrying the ball into the endzone for what would have been a commanding 20-7 lead well into the fourth quarter. But he fumbled as he was crossing the plane of victory, and The Fighting Irish, thereby inspired, went on to win.

Aztec fans have wondered aloud if there’s something in the water at Montezuma Mesa. An attractive campus with attractive students, first-class athletic facilities, an excellent academic reputation in sun-splashed San Diego, why does it wallow thus, whilst Boise State and Fresno State thrive?

There is talk that the Aztecs must think smaller and play in the shallow end with lower division schools more suited to their skill level. That’s a sad thing to hear. Even more disheartening is the notion that the football program should be discontinued entirely. Especially because, at this point, there’s some logic to that argument.

A few years ago, the Aztecs were having a rough season. Add to that, the fact that, all season,  they had been wearing unfamiliar bright red jerseys, and hadn’t even looked like a team from San Diego State. But then, in their darkest hour, the players, coaches, and staff had an inspiration! The team would surprise everyone by bursting onto the field in their old familiar black uniforms from the glory days of State! The crowd went crazy, the team was pumped, and the Aztecs lost. 

All I know to do, is go to the games with anybody I can get to come along. We clap and cheer and usually leave disappointed, and frankly, puzzled. Other than that, I don’t have any ideas. I like Chuck Long. He is an earnest and charismatic fellow, and the Notre Dame game made they think that, come the next “map” game, there might actually be hope for….oh, never mind.

Good Bye, Bob Dale
July 18, 2008

It’s been a few weeks now, but the letters and calls keep coming in. There’s a real sense of loss among San Diego television viewers that Bob Dale is gone, and with him, an era.

Bob was our weatherman at NBC 7/39, and before that, a movie host. And before that, he presented the afternoon movie over on KFMB. And before that he was a kid-show host, movie emcee, and TV disc jockey, playing phonograph records on the air at a pioneer television station in Cleveland.  That was 1947, when the studio lights were so hot, he had to keep the records flat on his desk, or they would warp and be useless.

I admired Bob’s history. He was there when television began. But that’s not the thing that I’ll remember most about him. It was the gracious way he carried his celebrity. And make no mistake, this man was a huge star in our city. Never mind that he never believed he deserved that fame, he nonetheless felt that with it came responsibility.

TV personalities today are judged, as much as anything else, by their ability to make guests, and the audience squirm. Whole programs are built around tabloid fascination with human discomfort, and shame. Bob couldn’t imagine hurting anybody’s feelings. We trusted, that no matter how awkward the situation, he would neither embarrass himself, nor us.

A long-time viewer told me a story of watching Bob Dale one day. I’ll recount it as best I can. It seems Bob was moving through a crowd, live microphone in hand, interviewing San Diegans, when he came upon a wheelchair-bound man who had obviously suffered some kind of stroke, and could not speak clearly. The man tried to say a few words, but they came out broken and slurred.  At last the man said “I’m sorry, I’m so difficult to understand”. Today, such a scene would have never made air. A cynical host would sprint away to someone more attractive and whole. But, Bob Dale listened, let the man finish his words as best he could, and then said, “We are understanding you just fine,  Sir, God Bless You”.

Watching Bob Dale interact with his fans, you could see why they loved him. He had time for a word with everybody. And I think it’s because he really didn’t think he was one bit better than any of them. He didn’t believe he deserved to cut in line, or be at the head of any table.

I used to talk with Bob Dale. He was an encyclopedia of film and television history.  The stories of people he met and things he did were simply amazing. Yet, he never saw himself as a celebrity. He was one of a dying breed of television performers who thought more of his audience than he did himself.  And in my book, for that alone, he’ll always…always be a star.

The kind of government we deserve.
May 9, 2008

A person very dear to me once allowed as how she could never vote for Richard Nixon. “I don’t like the curl of his lip”, she explained. I don’t know if that was the only reason, but I got the sense it was a deal breaker.
 
John Edwards might have been the greatest President of our time, or the worst, I don’t know, he never got the chance. He’ll be remembered as the guy who got super-expensive haircuts. In 1972, Ed Muskie cried. Well, it isn’t clear if he really cried. It may have been the snow melting on his face, but no matter, the Senator from Maine was finished. He could have been the next Abraham Lincoln, who knows, because he maybe, possibly, perhaps, might have cried, and that’s all that mattered.
 
Did John McCain suffer an inappropriate flirtation? In his 300th news quote of the day, did he accidentally say “Iran” when he meant “Iraq?” Well, sheez!, show him to the door! Was Chelsea Clinton churlish when asked about her Dad? Ummm! then her Mom has got no business running for President! What was it that Obama’s minister said? Has he been strong enough in repudiating the Reverend’s words? He must secretly hate America! It would be one thing if these topics had a flashbulb existence, burning white-hot for one gossip-cycle,  but instead they fester into dramas that, amazingly, take on a self-perpetuating energy of their own. While the fate of The Republic hangs in the balance, campaigns sound like a schoolyard full of 8-year-olds. Seasoned reporters who should know better, justify being a part of the frenzy, by pretending this is “a test of how the candidate handles the heat!” In fact, it’s a loss to all of us. We end up with no sense of who might make a good President, but a terrific idea who’d make a nice prom queen. 
 
Candidates, desperate to please, become vanilla clones, their responses only slightly varied shades of beige . They make it a point to go to church and sit up especially straight. They wear flags on their lapels, and propose “gas-tax holidays”.
 
Voters complain the candidates we elect so often end up disappointing us. Once in office, they prove to be incompitent, ineffective, self-serving, or, most often, just painfully unremarkable.  It’s been said we get the kind of govenment we deserve. Until we start paying more attention, we deserve nothing better.
Years ago, there was a Mayoral candidate in San Diego who figured he had the election locked up. Then the voters cast their ballots, and he lost. He responded by putting together a list of those who, he was convinced, had betrayed him. He titled it “One Thousand Liars”. Cooler heads convinced him not to publish it. Why he lost has never been made clear. Maybe it was the curl of his lip.

My "Chief of Staff"
April 20, 2007

You don’t see his name on the “About San Diego” show credits, but he’s hugely important to how the show looks and flows every week. Rand Levin is this producer’s “Chief Of Staff”. We joke about that, because there really is no “staff” as such.

Rand shoots and edits most of the “About San Diego” segments, and gets all the elements together so that when we go in the studio, everything is there that’s supposed to be there.

He’s also a long-suffering and patient sort of fellow, who somehow knows exactly what you mean when you say “make it better than it is”. He always does.

He also keeps me somewhat located in the early 21st century.
I am not, you see, what anybody would call “tech-savvy”. I use the telephone directory to look up numbers, and the dictionary to look up words. At home, I have a stereo turntable, and vinyl discs are still the main source of audio entertainment. For diversion, I fire up the ham radio and beep out morse code. Most of the people who beep back are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and older. We have some great beeping conversations about President Truman.

At least once every show, I’ll come up against a production brick wall, a picture that won’t match the sound, or a scene that’s just too short for the narration that goes with it. I’ll bring it to Rand.

“Can you fix this with the magic box?”, I’ll ask. Rather than hopelessly try to explain to me what is possible within our editing rooms, we’ve just developed a catch-all shorthand. The “magic box” can either make it better or it can’t. It’s easier on both of us.

I never wanted to be one of those people who was stuck in the past. I love talking about it, and doing shows about it, but I’m really content in the present. Still, there’s an inescapable truth, and I must admit it. I haven’t kept up too well with the technology of….oh, the 1970’s and beyond.
So thank goodness for Rand Levin. He accepts this failing of character on my part with an understanding nod.

And always seems to find a way to “make it better than it is”. * * *

* * * IN OTHER NEWS * * * * * * *

Anybody know? Check out the picture (in your photos “About San Diego”) of a coin issued back during the days of the Horton House Hotel downtown. It has the number 12 1/2 on the reverse. So far, nobody has been able to explain what it might have been used for. A gambling chip?

Catch the train! Many inquiries after the segment on the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum at Campo. They operate vintage trains on most Saturdays and every Sunday at 11 A.M. and 2:30 P.M. Take Interstate 8 and exit Buckman Springs Road. South to Highway 94. Turn Right for a mile and a half and turn left just after you cross the tracks. Adults $15, Kids $5. Have fun!

Bob Hope entertaining on Carrier Midway? He made two appearances aboard Midway. One in the 70s and one in the 80s. If you were there and saw either, I’d love to get in touch with you. Contact me at ken.kramer@nbcuni.com

The ABSD Quiz
April 20, 2007

Did you take the “About San Diego” quiz? It’s a multiple-choice quiz of the sort you likely had many times in school.

And if you’re like me, you probably noticed a pattern in those old tests. A pattern you could depend upon if you didn’t have a clue what the actual answer was.

All other things being equal:

  • The answer to the first question will always be “c”.
  • The answer to the second question will always be “a”.
  • If “all of the above” or “none of the above” is offered as a choice two times or less, then it will ALWAYS be the correct answer in each of those cases.
  • If a whole number is offered as a choice, and all the other choices are fractional or decimal, then the correct answer will NEVER be the whole number.
  • With this in mind, I constructed the first of the “About San Diego” quizzes. (now replaced by quiz #2). It was, I’ll admit, a deliberate attempt to go against the grain of your typical multiple-choice test. Successive answers were sometimes the same choice (i.e.. b,b.b.b.b…etc.) There was a “none of the above”, but was not the correct answer.

    It was also a quiz filled with little traps. “Which Balboa Park Building is built in the shape of the figure V-8?”. Automobile Museum, right? No, it’s really the Air And Space Museum.

    Turns out, there’s a down side to trying to be so…um, tricky. People give up on the test halfway through. If you’re taking the quiz, and you don’t get positive feedback, like that little note that pops up every once in a while to announce “correct”, you’re likely to say, “adios, who needs this grief?, I want some affirmation”.

    So I could see it in the statistics. Fewer people even attempted the last few questions after bombing the first couple.

    Colleagues have suggested that in the future, I craft two tests. One for those who, like the challenge, and one for those who are just seeking validation. Truth be told, I’d probably opt for the simpler one myself. I know the first answer will always be “c”.

    IN OTHER NEWS
    It was a great Sunday at Spanish Landing as more than 500 riders showed up for the fourth annual “Ride For Aids” to benefit the UCSD AIDS Research Institute and “Being Alive San Diego”. So many people said “hello” and had nice things to say “About San Diego”. It was an honor to be among you.

    “Hello” to Mrs. Carla Latimer’s 3rd grade class at Miramar Ranch Elementary School, and thanks for the wonderful visit we had to their “About San Diego” History Fair. A really bright group of wonderful kids. It was a real treat, and the cookies were awesome.

    Happy 200th birthday to Louis Rose, San Diego pioneer and the first Jewish settler in San Diego. A couple of hundred young people from several schools gathered in Old Town to learn about him and tour the Robinson-Rose house. Look for a segment about the event on an upcoming “About San Diego”.