Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monopoly game pieces go commercial!

Put this in the "Is nothing sacred?" file. The board game Monopoly is due to come out with a new "Here and Now" edition which, according to the New York Times, replaces some traditional game pieces with ones representing McDonald's French fries and Starbucks coffee. Also to be included are a New Balance running shoe, a Motorola Razr phone, a Toyota Prius hybrid car, and a laptop computer (no brand mentioned; maybe manufacturers are still bidding for the rights?).

Other changes in the "Here and Now" version: players will get $2 million instead of $200 for passing Go. And the squares for railroads in the original edition are replaced by airports (no word on whether you have to take your shoes off if you land on them). The article says that the companies featured did not pay to be included in the new version of Monopoly, instead, game maker Hasbro approached the companies, seeking to update the game's image.

Although Monopoly has created many different specialized versions over the years based on cities, sports teams, and even The Simpsons, "Here and Now" is designed to be a mass-market version.

Besides the generic laptop, the Times article says the other nonbranded new items are a jet (to replace the battleship) and something called a "Labradoodle," in place of the Scottish terrier. And the new version will feature properties in Boston, New York, and other cities instead of Atlantic City hotels.

I can see replacing some of the pieces for more up-to-date versions–how many young people even know what the old iron and the thimble are–but I find the commercialization to be kind of tacky. Not outrageous, not earth-shattering or worthy of a congressional investigation, but tacky.

But don't fret, Hasbro insists that the old-fashioned version of Monopoly–with all the traditional game pieces, properties, and names–will still be available alongside the new one.

If the commercialization the game pieces doesn't bug you, this just might: the Times reports that the new "Here and Now" version will have a price tag of $30, versus the $12 to $20 charge for the traditional edition. For a markup of 50% or more over the old version, you'd think they could at least include some coupons for Starbucks or McDonalds.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New product: Body spray for stinky Fido?

I often wonder whether commercials are intended to be funny, or are just totally clueless to how they come off. Take a recent one for Febreze, a product that you spray on fabrics to eliminate odors (like if you were at a smoky party, or your pet racoon peed while sitting on your lap). A housewife sees her dog rolling around on her couch, and then sprays Febreze on the couch to eliminate the dog odor.

In comes the narrator: "But wait, here's the rub: Fido doesn't just stink up the couch," followed by a montage where the dog rolls around in a bed under the covers, and drags its butt across the carpet. Ms. Housewife dutifully sprays the whole house with the product, probably using up the entire bottle of Febreze. But this is all after the fact, no? Why not just go to the source: spray that turd-dropping canine to get rid of the stench in the first place!

Some company could really clean up (no pun intended) by making and selling body deodorant for dogs, like that Axe stuff I see advertised (for humans). Or how about a doggy diaper to keep Fido from dragging his sorry, stinky butt all over creation.

Coke is it in Kabul

Afghanistan lacks security, a functioning economy, good roadways, and a lot more... but soon it it will be able to teach the whole world to sing in Arabic. A blind cleric has given the blessing to a $25 million bottling plant in the capital city of Kabul, reportedly the first major business to open in the country in more than 10 years.

Displaying the boundless optimism of the marketing pro that he is, Coke's Pakistan and Afghanistan manager, said, "Afghanistan is a country promising a lot of growth opportunity for our company."

Maybe this is where the company can send all those millions of extra cans of stale New Coke.

Can I get anchovies on that blog?

If you needed proof that there is indeed a blog for every subject under the sun, look no further: there is now a blog devoted to pizza. Check out and you'll find the latest news in pizza, in NY City and beyond. Among the news items now on the site: news that a Florida university wants to start a program in pizza research, and plans in Russia to celebrate Moscow's anniversary by creating a map of the city on a pizza nearly 20 feet in diameter.

Gamin' Granny Hardcore

Video games aren't just for teens. 70-year-old Barbara St. Hilaire of Cleveland has been playing video games for over 30 years, and is said to spend 10 hours a day giving the game console a workout. No wonder she's called "Old Grandma Hardcore," which is also the name of her blog, which is run by her 23-year-old grandson, Timothy St. Hilaire.

She's been profiled by CNN, the Washington Post, and countless other media outlets, and is also "senior" video game correspondent for the "G-Hole" gaming program on MTV's Overdrive. Since her blog has gone up she's gained fans from around the world, and she gives a shoutout to her blogosphere admirers in a section of the Web site called "OGHC's Ultimate Kickass Blogroll."

It's not just the time St. Hilaire spends playing games that makes her hardcore; it's her enthusiasm and intensity. As her grandson notes, Grandma Hardcore can be heard shouting obscenities at the TV screen when she comes up against some enemy zombie who just ... won't ... die!! Her all-time favorite game is "Final Fantasy VII," according to her blog, and "her current task is reaching completing God Mode in 'God of War.'"

"She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her," Timothy notes on the Web site, "just like she always has."

To some it may seem strange that a senior citizen is so into video gaming, but hey, it's more stimulating than playing bingo. And probably more fun than standing in line at the corner store to buy hundreds of lottery tickets.

Pimp My Cubicle

You knew it had to happen, right? "Pimp My Cubicle" is a product lets you turn your hum-drum cubicle into a hip and happening workplace crib. It includes a dollar-sign paperweight, a "bling" mousepad, and even a disco ball!
You knew it had to happen, right? "Pimp My Cubicle" is a product lets you turn your hum-drum cubicle into a hip and happening workplace crib. It includes a dollar-sign paperweight, a "bling" mousepad, and even a disco ball.

If the hip-hop style isn't your taste, the book Cube Chic describes how you can deck out your cube in countless themes. Go for the rustic look with bamboo lookalike wall coverings. Set up a soothing Zen garden. Head for the jungle with mosquito netting and animal prints. There's even one called "The Nap Cube," with a cereal-dispensing mahcine and a nook for napping. Some of these ideas might be best for those of us with, well, a fair amount of job security.

If you're more interested in securing your cubicle than pimping it, there's "Trip Wire," a kit that features a set of infrared beams that you can set up in your workplace. The product sets off an alarm when the signal is tripped.

At close to $400, the Babble Voice Privacy Machine isn't cheap, but it solves a problem all of us cube monkeys have: toning down the voices that drift all over open-office environments. It supposedly helps tone down the voice of the blabbering idiot in the next cube, turning the voices into wordless sounds. And it makes what you say difficult to for eavesdroppers to hear.

I'm not sure whether I should be laughing at the absurdity of products like these, or bemoaning the fact that I didn't come up with them first. But if they really work as advertised, and make your work life more pleasant, the manufacturers will have the last laugh.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Shut off those &%#! loud MySpace tunes... and more

If you're like me, you've probably come close to losing all sense of hearing after browsing to someone's MySpace page and getting blasted out of your chair by the page's chosen song. I don't know why these tunes have to play so damn loud, but I do know a way to shut them off.

First off, get the Firefox browser (, Mac and Windows), if you don't already have it. Once you have Firefox you can customize it with any number of add-ons that tweak the browser's action in some specific way. You can find add-on headquarters here..

Once you're at the add-ons home page, search for a program called Greasemonkey, which uses scripts (small pieces of code) to let you customize the way Web pages look and behave. You'll see a list of tags with a number beside each; this number shows how many scripts are available for that tag.

There are over 150 scripts devoted to MySpace alone, from how to download and play its media features to how to avoid them altogether. Beside each script's name is a description of what it does and a rating from people who've used it. The script I downloaded (unfortunately I can't find its name) disables the media player on MySpace pages so the tunes or videos won't play, but you can easily turn them on at any time.

There are Greasemonkey scripts for dozens of other MySpace features, such as removing the "Cool New People" box, stripping out the ads, and much more. There are also more than 270 scripts for tweaking various aspects of Google (and this doesn't even include the 72 covering Gmail), as well as scripts for, Flickr, and various design and color themes.

If you've ever wished that you could make one of your favorite Web sites work a bit better, you probably can do just that. Check out the Firefox add-ons page for Greasemonkey and other ways to customize and improve your Web experience.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

42 year old outlasts Agassi at U.S. Open

After 21 years playing at the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi has lost and is retiring. Rick Spitz has been on the same court for 26 years and has no plans to stop.

Spitz is a ballboy, and has been one since he was a teen in 1980. If you live in the NYC area, you've probably seen a story about him in the local media. The U.S. Open uses more than 250 ballboys and ballgirls during the two-week tournament. You have to pass a tryout, but the great thing is that there are no age restrictions––if you succeed at the tryout, you have a chance of being on one of the biggest and most famous stages in sport.

Spitz is a lawyer by day and each summer manages to cram in his work duties around his love for tennis and being a ballboy. When he started, Bjorn Borg was one of the stars. Now he's seen luminaries like Agassi, Sampras, and Steffi Graf come and go.

I was surprised to learn that the ball-persons actually get some pay for their duty––$10 an hour, in fact. Not much, I know, but beats a lot of other jobs people get these days. And if you like sports it's great because of the chance to see countless matches from the best seat in the house. Hey, you also get a free Ralph Lauren uniform and a pair of shoes, too!

Maybe I'll try out for ballboy next year. I'm about the same age as Rick Spitz, and it's never too late to start, right?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Maine Coast Diary, 2: The Lobster Conundrum

Lobsters are a big part of the economy and image here in Maine, and it seems every time I come up here to visit there's some hot controversy over everyone's favorite crustacean. This year is no exception.

Of course, there's always the ongoing debate over whether the way lobsters are raised and killed, particularly the tradition means of dropping a live animal into a pot of boiling water. Lobsterman and others have long argued that the lobster dies immediately, as evidenced by their lack of movement soon after being submerged into the pot.

Opponents claim that the animals are merely immobilized by the hot water, and in fact can live for some number of seconds in pain before succumbing. The pro-boiling advocates counter that it's incorrect to talk of lobsters feeling "pain" as humans and other animals do, since lobsters have a much less developed nervous system.

I don't know who's right, but this season the debate has taken on a high-stakes intensity with recent decisions by organic food giant Whole Foods Market. According to the Maine publication Working Waterfront (, Whole Foods will discontinue having live lobster tanks in its retail stores. Lobsterman and Mainers of all stripes are crying foul, citing the above-mentioned argument that it's unclear what pain lobsters experience, if any.

What's gotten Mainers even more riled up is that Whole Foods has apparently decided that, in the future, it will carry frozen lobster products only from one processor in Canada, unless other processors and their suppliers start using handling techniques used by that one processor. But Mainers question whether this company's techniques are any more humane than those practiced by the average consumer.

Whole Foods says its decisions were driven by the desire to buy processed lobster from companies that meet standards to "ensure the quality and health of the animal," but the article raises the question of whether the decisions are actually the result of economic considerations, since frozen lobster can be stored and transported more easily.

The lobster controversy is sure to continue for a long time. It's food for thought, to be sure, but something tells me the average seafood lover is going to be more concerned with price, convenience, and taste when choosing a lobster for their meals.

Maine Coast Diary, 1: What's in a Name?

For the last week and a half I've been on vacation in a small village on the Maine coast, a couple of hours north of Portland. I've been coming here with my family most summers for 20 years, and one thing I like most about this place is that it is not a touristy town but an authentic working waterfront, with fishermen and women plying their trade daily. The local names aptly reflect this history.

Every year when I tell people I'm going to Maine, they ask me where I'm going. They look at me quizzically when I tell them the name of the town--Port Clyde. When they respond that that doesn't exactly sound like the name of a vacation town, I point out that the previous name of the town was even less tourist-like: Herring Gut. A bit direct, to be sure, but as I said, this has been a fishing village for over 200 years, and it was named thusly. The name change occurred a few decades ago when the town fathers decided that their harbor town could benefit from tourism, if only a more appealing title were chosen to put on signs and maps.

Other names in the area reflect the same disregard for puffery and euphemisms. A small but quite pleasant sandy beach a few miles up the road bears the unappealing name Mosquito Harbor. Sure, there are mosquitoes there, but no more than you'd find elsewhere along the coast on a warm August night. And a small island off the coast of Port Clyde is now marked on nautical maps as Blubber Island, but in my early years of coming here the locals called it by the less polite name of Blubber Butt.

While fishing in Port Clyde is today restricted to small operators pulling in lobster and fish, at one time the village was home to a large fish processing plant that shipped its products far and wide. In the Northeast U.S. (and maybe beyond) you can still find little tins of sardines bearing the brand "Port Clyde." Sadly, the name is the only connection with the village; when I looked at a package a few years back I noticed that the product was produced in Canada.

Friday, September 01, 2006

How to make big money blogging

Apparently you really can make a lot of money using your own blog or other Web site. I saw a recent article on the Washington Post's Web site that profiled several people in the D.C. area who did just that, and what the secrets were to their success. One man was able to make $40,000 a year from his blogging efforts.

How did he do it? He started a search engine devoted to finding podcasts, and as his site became more popular the hits piled up, and enough people clicked on his AdSense ads to earn a cool $40K. Of course, we're talking about a lot of hits here–this guy's site gets close to a million hits a month these days, according to the Washington Post article.

Other people profiled in the article earn cash through Web sites on topics ranging from hobbies to free layouts for MySpace (great, somebody is actually making lots of cash designing those ugly layouts that hurt my eyes so much every time I visit MySpace!) Of course, to make real money you'd need many thousands of visits to a site, and to do that your best bet is a Web site devoted to a topic that a large number of people will be drawn to.

UPDATED-- Here are some specific things you can do to get more eyeballs (and clicks) on your Web site:
* Write about what you know and love. Some of the big money-making bloggers mentioned in the Washington Post article were writing about their hobbies and interests--podcasts, crocheting, travel, and the like. One of the biggest money-makers, the article notes, describes how to find the most comfortable and well-appointed airline seats. The Web lets millions of people around the world share your passion for a subject; if you write about a topic and let as many people as possible know about it, you'll get lots of traffic to your site.
* Drive lots of people to your site. Let people know about your site as much as possible: put the URL in your e-mail signature, in postings you make to bulletin boards and online groups, get other people to link to your Web site on theirs, etc. (this last point can also help move your site higher in Google search results)
* Experiment with the ads on your site. Read Google's AdSense tips; they're full of details on ad placement, color, use of search boxes, and more (you don't have control of these on Xomba, but you do on your own Web site). Also read the Xomba Admin tips on how to drive people to your Xombytes.
* Keep it fresh. Update the content of your site often with new material to keep visitors coming back. Some sites I go to nearly every day because I know I'll find new and interesting content; this gives the site more visits and more potential ad clicks. Other sites I visit less often because the same material is there week after week.
* Try different subjects. Most of us have several interests, so feel free to set up more than one blog. I stumbled upon one very funny humor blog. It turns out the writer is a real-estate agent by day and also has an interesting blog on home buying. Her two separate blogs attract different readerships and different ads.

Try these tips and look for others (after all, anything you want to know about anything is only a Google search away!)

The good news is that it really is possible to make real money by writing on the Web.