Sunday, December 5, 2004

Holiday Gift Picks

Time again for our annual look at the coolest gifts for the holiday season. We just ask that you keep one thing in mind while you review them: We wouldn't have picked them if we didn't want them (hint hint).

Patrick Greer – The Apple iPod (revisited)
I went through’s "Most Wished For" section this holiday and I discovered that I am not unique.Like everyone else, I think, even after 3 years, that the iPod is the coolest thing to hit the market since… well, I don’t remember what it was, but it was cool – just not as cool as the iPod. There are so many more choices now then when we last wished for it ("Holiday Gift Picks," issue 2002.12). The 60 gig model and special edition U2 model are now available. The biggest change of them all, however, is the ability to store pictures on your iPod – Apple’s sleek interface allows you to seamlessly scroll through your pictures. And it looks cool.

This review may have been more then a little influenced by waiting for a friend to traverse a long line at the Apple store and using that extra free time playing with the new iPods and the incredible new Bose headphones. So this year for Christmas I want the new iPod, or the Bose headphones, or the iPod portable speaker system, or... or... or, well, all of it. fb

J.D. Jordan – America: The Book
Technology technology technology. We always recommend fancy gadgets with the most amazing modern widgets. Well not this holiday. I’m going to buck the trend – I’m going to stand up proudly say, “No more!” (Unless it’s a Canon Proshot Digital Camera)

This years most prized gift just might be America: The Book (A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction), a hysterical look at our government by Jon Stewart, host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show, and his fake-news cohorts. The book is laid out like a textbook, with "Discussion Questions" ("Why do you think the Framers made the Constitution so soul-crushingly boring?"), "Classroom Activities" ("Using felt and yarn, make a hand puppet of Clarence Thomas. Ta-da! You're Antonin Scalia!") and chapters ranging subjects from "Ancient Rome: The First Republicans" to "The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted, and White" to "The Media: Can it Be Stopped?"

Best of all, the book actually does go a long way to explain our government (American-style democracy, "the world's most beloved form of government, which explains why so many other nations are eager for us to impose it on them") and still remain a laugh-riot. No one evades lampooning, not even the Pilgrims, (who came to America "to escape religious persecution... create a society where they could worship as they pleased and one day, God willing, even do some persecuting of their own") or the media (including the "inspirational" story of how the media "transformed itself from a mere public necessity into an entertaining profit center for ever-expanding corporate empires."

This holiday, don’t take gift giving too seriously. And keep in mind America: The Book’s dedication to guide your way, "To the huddled masses — Keep yearnin'!” fb

Fleming Patterson – Bluetooth® wireless mobile phone headset
Possibly the most brilliant wireless accessory that you can get this holiday season is the Bluetooth® wireless mobile phone headset made by and for Motorola phones. Bluetooth technology has become a growing technology revolution that has changed the way we do simple tasks such as answering phones, unlocking doors, turning on lights, starting cars, and even adjusting your car seats. Though your home, car, or computer will need to be Bluetooth enabled, the future is near for these technologies to work everywhere. As for now, the way you answer your Bluetooth phone has changed – you no longer need to pick up your phone and hold it to your ear. Instead, you can wear this small wireless earpiece on one ear and touch its large button to answer or orally place a call – much like captain Picard would have done when talking with his crew in Star Trek.

The whole premise of this technology is to be able to use your phone hands free and to not be distracted. The head piece is voice activated and you do not have to teach it to recognize your voice. I know what I am getting this Christmas…do you? fb

A Very NORAD Christmas

50 years ago, in Colorado Springs, a store clerk put a sign in his window for a Santa hotline that children could call to learn of Santa’s location. When the first child called the number on Christmas Eve a very startled man answered the phone. Colonel Shoup, Commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) – the predecessor of NORAD – answered Cheyenne Mountain’s emergency hotline to hear a child’s voice wondering where Santa currently was.

Colonel Shoup knew almost immediately what had happened and didn’t miss a beat when he went to check Santa’s location, reporting back to the children his whereabouts and answering their Santa questions. A tradition was born, continuing when NORAD formed 3 years later and the Canadian Air Force joined the project.

While Santa has always had government permission to enter the US airspace, it was not until Colonel Shoup’s incident that there was any kind of actual military acknowledgement of the Santa tracking project. Nowadays, there is enormous funding for various Santa’s related projects. Santa benefits from an F-16 escort while traveling in and out of US airspace. Santa’s spokespeople recently issued this statement about the Air Force sorties: “[The escorts] are unnecessary but Santa enjoys seeing the smiling faces of the pilots and the joy that he brings to them.”

NORAD is always thinking of new ways to expand their Santa tracking program. They now have cameras positioned in areas where there is a high chance of seeing Santa. They also have cameras attaching to twelve Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. Rudolph’s nose is tracked by visual and infrared satellite feeds. All of this surveillance can now be followed online at NORAD’s dedicated Santa Tracking website.

Operators at NORAD are spending part of their Christmas Eve tracking Santa and, more importantly, answering the calls of little children looking for more information. They are watching the skies to keep us and, of course, Santa Claus safe this holiday season. fb

Puppy Politics

Just in time for Christmas, Barney, the First Dog, is back.

In his latest video, "Where in the White House is Miss Beazley" (the fourth in the BarneyCam series on, the President’s four-year old Scottish terrier is spurned for a Cabinet post. Instead, he is ordered to find his new baby sister, Miss Beazley, and take her under his wing. After unsuccessfully searching the White House, seeking help from various administration staff, Barney purchases a replacement dog online, hoping Laura Bush won’t notice the switch. The whole video cleverly presents a dog's eye view of the White House at Christmas while appealing to our basest “puppy love.”

And while children and adults alike, regardless of politics, can enjoy Barney’s frolic about the White House, the video release is no laughing matter for Web broadcasters. As of this writing, the White House has so far denied rebroadcast rights to online publishers, maintaining the video exclusively on its own Web site.

At the same time, the White House has granted TV networks broadcast rights to a pair of videos showing Barney, a playful Scottish terrier, cavorting with President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and top presidential aides. Multimedia outlets, such as the cable news networks, which were authorized to show the video on TV, were subsequently prohibited from Web release.

This double standard, and the related lost advertising revenues, continues to confound online media and has lead to a battle, led by the Washington Post, playfully called the “Free Barney” wars. Previous Barney holiday videos have drawn more than 24 million viewers to the White House Web site – about the same number of people who visited political sites in the final month of the 2004 presidential race. That the films are paid for with taxpayer dollars – and U.S. intellectual property law specifically allows the distribution of content created by federal employees on the government's clock – only compounds the issue.

The debate began during the 2003 release of Barney II: Barney Reloaded, a humorous Christmas story in which various Bush administration officials and White House workers – including President and Mrs. Bush, White House chief of staff Andy Card, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and political adviser Karl Rove – imploring Barney to work rather than to play.

Regardless of the “Free Barney” wars, the little Scottie’s annual holiday films have become a quick and popular White House tradition. And there is something in the video for everyone, even if you’re not a dog-lover. One of the funniest moments in "Where in the White House is Miss Beazley" doesn’t even feature Barney; it features Karl Rove complaining about all the blue ornaments on the Christmas tree as a hail of red ornaments rains upon him.

And, of course, no Barney video would be complete without the obligatory soccer ball scene – reason enough for me to watch again and again.

Barney is just the most recent in a long line of presidential dogs that have captured the media’s, and the nation’s, attention – from campaign winning pooches like Herbert Hoovers' German shepherd, King Tut; Franklin D. Roosevelt's much-adored black Scottie, Fala; and Richard Nixon’s black and white cocker spaniel, Checkers. fb