My Xmas gift to you, part II: Thwart telemarketers

Along the lines of my Google toolbar reco, here's another free gift to my loyal readers.
You can buy one of these devices to deter telemarketers or you can emulate it the low-tech way. Record the three tones you get when you dial a number that's out of service, add it to the front of your answering machine message. Computer assisted dialers will assume the number is dead and drop it off of their lists, while regular friends and family will hear your message afterwards and see how clever you are. I get a ton of telemarketing calls during the day and so my answering machine gets most of them. I plan on doing this over the holiday season. You can download the ring tones here.

My friend Oprah

Having the TV on is like having someone who really wants you to like him or her sitting in the room with you. When you're lonely, he or she will chat with you (the sex of the TV depends on the channel--Oprah is your emotionally honest aunt, ESPN your consummate sports buddy), and when you need some alone time he just sits in the corner, mumbling quietly to himself. I don't understand people who don't own TVs. They must not be as socially maladjusted as I am.

Joshua Malina and Danny Wuerffel

Finally caught up with all the West Wing episodes on the Tivo (sweeps month on the networks is a busy time for TV junkies). Looks like Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) is on the way out for sure now, and he's being replaced by Aaron Sorkin favorite Joshua Malina as Will Bailey. Malina has been in lots of other Sorkin productions (Sports Night, The American President). Sorkin likes to use the same people over and over again--hell, half of the West Wing seems to have stayed in the White House after The American President, with Martin Sheen moving from chief of staff up to president. I think it's because Sorkin prefers a certain snappy delivery of his dialogue and veterans of his shows have got it down pat. It's like David Mamet and his repeated use of people like Ricky Jay and his wife Rebecca Pidgeon, or Steve Spurrier and his loyalty towards lackeys like QBs Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews, the only ones who can tolerate his incessant criticism.

Netflix stays nimble

Okay, Netflix has responded to some gripes I've aired in the past (well, they didn't respond directly to me, but when you write something and then something happens shortly thereafter, you intuit causality, and given my vanity I attribute all positive changes to my inestimable influence). Almost all the DVDs in my rental queue are available immediately whereas many used to be listed with "long wait". Looks like they bought up. Secondly, they built a couple more shipping centers around the country so I can now mail a DVD back and receive the next one in my queue in about 4 days. It's noticeably faster.
Good thing, because they're getting some competition. There are a whole bunch of new online DVD rental services, and two big players, Blockbuster and Wal-Mart, have begun offering services of their own. Blockbuster's service is lousy--you still have to go pick up the movies and return them to a store--but in the end it's not a difficult business model to emulate. You don't have to buy lots of inventory, and the software is pretty straightforward. The types of changes Netflix is making are the ones they have to make, the no-brainers. The switching costs are very low.
The positive which should come out of all of this is lowered monthly rental subscription fees.

The good, the bad, the ugly

Good: TV shows which are letterboxed or widescreen.
Bad: My computer fan suddenly started whirring in a loud pulsing pattern, like it has a throbbing headache. Shut up!
Ugly: David Eckstein's throwing motion from shortstop.

The Fellowship of the Ring: Extended Edition

Watched the new extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring on DVD for Thanksgiving. Most extended editions or deleted scenes are, as DVD aficionados know, simply like high school yearbook photos of supermodels, or actors before makeup. They're the before pictures of movies before an editing room diet. Unattractive, unnecessary. We pay good money for the editing, supermodels pay good money for boob jobs, for a reason.
But the extended version of LOTR: FOTR is excellent. The 30 minutes or so of additional footage add to the depth of the story and the characters, enhancing your understanding of the regular edition of the movie. It's the best "director's cut" I've seen.