iPad Will Be King for Awhile

According to Gizmodo, two tablet projects that would have competed with Apple’s iPad are officially dead. The first is Microsoft’s Courier. The second is HP’s Slate. Other than the Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Nook, and other e-ink devices, there isn’t a serious contender for reading books in the very new tablet market.

Unless NotionInk gets its act together soon, Apple is going to run away with the tablet market the same way it did with portable music players. As appealing as those e-ink readers are, unfortunately, single-use devices don’t have a long shelf-life in this day and age.

I did get a chance to play with an iPad at the local Best Buy here and I was impressed. Despite the LCD screen, I had no trouble envisioning reading a novel on the device.


Animal Farm

Christopher Hitchens re-reads George Orwell’s Animal Farm over at the Guardian. Orwell had a hell of a time getting the book published.

It is sobering to consider how close this novel came to remaining unpublished. Having survived Hitler’s bombing, the rather battered manuscript was sent to the office of TS Eliot, then an important editor at Faber & Faber. Eliot, a friendly acquaintance of Orwell’s, was a political and cultural conservative, not to say reactionary. But, perhaps influenced by Britain’s alliance with Moscow, he rejected the book on the grounds that it seemed too “Trotskyite”. He also told Orwell that his choice of pigs as rulers was an unfortunate one, and that readers might draw the conclusion that what was needed was “more public-spirited pigs”. This was not perhaps as fatuous as the turn-down that Orwell received from the Dial Press in New York, which solemnly informed him that stories about animals found no market in the US. And this in the land of Disney . . .

It was finally published by small press Secker & Warburg in 1945 who paid Orwell all of £45. I haven’t read the book in awhile. I have an edition of the book that is illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The drawings are wickedly grotesque and funny, as you might expect from the man who illustrated some of the crazy adventures of Hunter S. Thompson.

The book is still banned in many countries around the world, including Iran. According to Hitchens a newspaper in Zimbabwe serialized the novel and was rewarded with the offices being bombed.

The Poetry of Suzanne Somers

Here’s a video of actress Kristen Wiig reading some poems written by Suzanne Somers. Who knew Suzanne Somers wrote poetry? The poems are awful, but thanks to Wiig’s delivery they achieve a hilarity that I’m sure Somers did not intend.

Yes. “The Quiet Loneliness of Being Alone…It’ll probably be the Houseboy.”

It’s from the show Celebrity Autobiography, which is going to be in Chicago this weekend. I’d love to see it, but it doesn’t look like they’re coming to Michigan anytime soon.

FYI, “Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne Somers” appears to be out of print.

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate

As part of some research I’m doing for a not-so-soon-to-be-announced project, I read the book “The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars” by Joel Glenn Brenner. It will change the way you look at those candy displays in the supermarket checkout line. Brennen describes the history of the two major chocolate companies in the U.S.: Hersheys and Mars. They both have very different legacies built by two very different men: Forrest Mars Sr. and Milton S. Hershey.

Milton Hershey was a beloved man who by all accounts treated his workers well (though they had to go on strike to get a 40-hour workweek during the Depression), founded the town Hershey and an orphanage that is still caring for and educating children today. Childless, he donated away his entire fortune.

Forrest Mars Sr. was a genius at ruthlessly organizing and building a chocolate candy empire, but as a person could only be charitably described as an asshole. He was a practitioner of what is often called Management Through Bullying. The man would call workers at 3am to berate them for faulty-looking M’s printed on the M&Ms inside a bag he’d purchased at supermarket somewhere on his travels. The upside of this is that he built a strong and resilient company with a unique culture that has trained many the leader of other successful companies. Why? Because talented people would work there a decade or two, realize they’ll never get too high up the company ladder (top rungs reserved for family), and move on. This has changed slightly since the book was published; the current CEO is Paul Michaels.

Hershey is not a player in the chocolate candy market outside of the U.S. By contrast, Mars, with its unique and extremely aggressive approach, is a world powerhouse when it comes to chocolate candy and other products like Pedigree dog food and Uncle Ben’s rice.

Here are some things I did not know before reading this book:

  1. M&M’s were originally filled with chocolate supplied by Hershey’s. This ended in the 60’s.
  2. “M&M” stands for Mars and Murrie after Forrest Mars Sr. and Bruce Murrie. Murrie, son of Hershey President William F.R. Murrie, had a 20% interest in the M&M candy.
  3. Hershey’s is majority-owned by the orphanage Milton Hershey founded.
  4. Candy companies count on the fact that about 90% of all candy purchases are un-planned; they know the vast majority of people don’t go grocery shopping and put candy bars on their list.
  5. Mars is privately held and still run by members of the Mars family.
  6. Chocolate has over 1200 chemical compounds, making it impossible so far to replicate its flavor through artificial means.

As a kid growing up here in the U.S., I’d say may favorite candies were Sweet Tarts (especially the three-pack giant-sized kind), Sprees, Tootsie-roll pops, Hubba Bubba bubblegum, and my two favorites: Three Musketeers bars and Skittles. I took the ACT test wired on Skittles and Pepsi, and I did very well, thank you very much.

I stopped liking Hershey chocolate (bars, kisses, etc.) when I was 24. In that I year I quit my job and backpacked through Europe. First stop: UK. I ate a Cadbury bar, then a Caramelo bar. Very yummy. Started thinking, so this is what people mean when they say English chocolates are better. Those people are right.

But what killed Hershey’s chocolate and it’s dusty dry flavor for me was Germany. There I tasted the chocolate bars that my girlfirend at the time had asked me to buy and send back to her: Milka. After eating a few of the different kinds (Milk Chocolate, Strawberry Cream, Hazelnut, and Marzipan) I was pissed, thinking, “the average Johann and Dieter grow up eating Milka bars and us Americans are stuck with Hershey’s? What’s wrong with this world?” A lot, in fact.

Oh, I’ll eat Hershey’s in a pinch, if I have a taste for chocolate and that’s all that’s available. But I don’t prefer it to any other chocolate. The local Meijer’s even carries a small selection of Milka bars, Aero, and Yorkie (It’s NOT for Girls!). And then there are Ghirardelli, Green &Black’s, Dagoba…mmm, chocolate.

Happy Birthday, Will!

Today is the 446th birth day of William Shakespeare. So go forth and speak as if thou art the Bard himself. Here are a few of the helpful tips for Talk Like Shakespeare Day:

  1. Instead of you, say thou or thee(and instead of y’all,
    say ye).
  2. Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
  3. Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin.
  4. Instead of cursing, try calling your tormenters jackanapes or canker-blossoms or poisonous bunch-back’d toads.

No less than Da Mare of Chicago has declared today Talk Like Shakespeare day, saying it’s not only the home of Da Bulls and Da Bears, but also Da Bard.

Is Bloglines Toast?

I’ve spent all day trying to get into Bloglines to check my feeds for the various blogs I read. TechCrunch was asking why Bloglines still had this goofy display all day.

Bloglines dead?

According to TechCrunch,

IAC’s PR rep emailed us this response: “Bloglines is down for scheduled maintenance. We regret any inconvenience to our users and it should be back up soon.”

However, despite it’s being a “scheduled maintenance,” the rep could not provide the time when it is scheduled to be back up again.