Obama Visits North Carolina. Again.

Fresh off his St. Louis, Missouri rally where over 100,000 supporters showed up, Barack Obama once again visited North Carolina. This time Barack headed to Fayetteville and after his scheduled stop decided to head for a local diner to meet some folks and grab some food. Politico reports Obama’s visit to the diner was met with some angry shouts from some McCain supporters of “Socalist!”. One woman called him a “closet Muslim”.

Despite these jeers, Obama made the rounds in the diner and attempted to shake the hands of the supporters, answer their questions and quell their fears. The pool of reporters said that Obama could have chosen a predominately black diner just down the street, but instead chose the diner frequented by white Republicans as if to meet resistance head on.

There’s been a great deal of talk about Obama’s “character” from the McCain camp lately, but I think it speaks volumes that he has the strength of character to “enter the lion’s den” and answer tough questions from voters face to face. Not bad from a candidate that some local bloggers said would be abandoning North Carolina early in the race. Just another conservative prediction that hasn’t panned out the way they hoped. Something tells me this won’t be the last one.

UPDATE: Police say that while that rally was going on, someone slashed the tires on at least 30 parked cars of Obama’s supporters. I guess lashing out with cries of “Socialist!” weren’t enough for McCain fans, who had to resort to vandalism to vent their frustrations with Obama.

UPDATE II: For those of you keeping track at home, the Fayetteville stop was Obama’s sixth visit to North Carolina since the primaries. It may come as no surprise then that the NYT reports that Obama is basically tied with McCain here, something that, at this late stage in the race, the paper calls “unfathomable”. Indeed.

Colin Powell’s October Surprise

I’ve written before about the elder statesman, Colin Powell, who served as National Security Adviser and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Today, Colin Powell officially announced his support for Barack Obama for President with a little more than 2 weeks to go until the election. Good for him.

His statement, which was released on NBC’s Meet the Press, goes to the very heart of the matter about why the GOP will lose on November 4th, and not just for the Presidency, but across both houses of Congress. Powell forcefully criticized his own party for what he called its “narrow focus” on irrelevant personal attacks instead of the major challenges to the American people. Powell went on to say McCain’s choices in the last few weeks — especially his selection of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice presidential running mate — had raised questions in his mind about McCain’s judgment:

“I don’t believe [Palin] is ready to be president of the United States. By contrast, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is ready to be president on day one.”

Powell also expressed disappointment with the GOP’s apparent determination to question Obama’s religion and heritage, speaking directly to members of the right who seem to think Obama is a Muslim or an “Arab”. Although Powell once again reiterated that Barack is neither, he addressed the larger question which was brought up in the comment thread of one of my earlier posts – “The really right answer is what if he is?” Powell said, praising the contributions of millions of Muslim citizens to American society. “I look at these kind of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me,” Powell said. “Over the last seven weeks, the approach of the Republican Party has become narrower and narrower.”

That’s exactly right Mr. Powell. What if he was? In this incredible country of ours, your race, religion, sexual orientation or heritage shouldn’t be the litmus test for job fitness. This nation needs to move beyond the fear and mistrust of the “not like us” promoters. Colin Powell thinks Barack Obama is the man that will help us do just that. I happen to agree with him 100%.

You’ve Got Red On You

We had been taken such a long break from recording our weekly podcast, that when Jen, Dave, Krystyn and myself finally got together last week to record the latest episode of The Sci-Fi Cast, I had forgotten just how much fun it was. That’s right folks, we’re back at it and have served up a special Halloween episode just in time for Samhain. Episode 13 is now live at a newly improved website and ready for your listening pleasure. We run down our favorite vampire, zombie and slasher flicks and throw in the usual assortment of geeky fun that our nine listeners have come to know and love. Starting next week, we’re going to try a new recording process suggested by Dan Benjamin, one half of the voices behind The Talk Show, to see if we can ratchet up the quality level prior to the start of the new season of Battlestar Galactica. Swing on over and check out Episode 13 or subscribe in iTunes today.

McCain’s Pride & Joy

In last night’s final Presidential debate, John McCain said he was “proud” of the people that come to his and Sarah Palin’s rallies. While I have no doubt that vast majority of these people are fine, upstanding Americans, some are not. When I watched this video capturing the reaction of McCain / Palin supporters after a rally, I literally felt sick to my stomach. A list of just some of the hateful, bigoted words that were hurled at Barack Obama follows. I pray for the souls of these poor, ignorant folks. They are the antithesis of what America is all about.

“I’m afraid if he wins, the blacks will take over. He’s not a Christian! This is a Christian nation! What is our country gonna end up like?”

“When you got a Negra running for president, you need a first stringer. He’s definitely a second stringer.”

“He seems like a sheep – or a wolf in sheep’s clothing to be honest with you. And I believe Palin – she’s filled with the Holy Spirit, and I believe she’s gonna bring honesty and integrity to the White House.”

“He’s related to a known terrorist, for one.”

“He is friends with a terrorist of this country!”

“He must support terrorists! You know, uh, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. And that to me is Obama.”

“Just the whole, Muslim thing, and everything, and everybody’s still kinda – a lot of people have forgotten about 9/11, but… I dunno, it’s just kinda… a little unnerving.”

“Obama and his wife, I’m concerned that they could be anti-white. That he might hide that.”

“I don’t like the fact that he thinks us white people are trash… because we’re not!”

UDPATE: Since McCain and Palin are unwilling to quell the fear, bigotry and loathing they themselves have helped spread, things are getting worse, not better. Hate is an ugly, ugly thing and unfortunately John McCain and Sarah Palin have preyed on it to advance their weak agenda. Something tells me however, this time it’s not going to work. At least I have to keep telling myself that or risk total despair for my fellow Americans.

RIM: What, me worry?

There are very few surprises left in the world, so when something outside my experience comes along, I prick up and take notice. Lately the shock of the new comes in the form of commercials from Research In Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry line of smart phones.

Before April of 2008, RIM never saw fit to advertise its products or services to the general public, instead relying on its core business of Enterprise users to carry them to profitability. Despite calls from BlackBerry surrogates to build brand awareness, RIM was content to go about their business confident that nothing could erode their firmly entrenced army of “CrackBerry addicts“.

Then came the iPhone.

When the iPhone was released in June of 2007, RIM CEO Jim Balsillie shrugged off Apple’s entry and denounced the iPhone as a light-weight consumer device that would have little, if any effect on their core business market. At first this might have been true, but as the success of the iPhone grew and owning a smart phone became “cool”, even Research In Motion could see the writing on the wall.

In June 2008 Apple released the second generation iPhone, the 3G and again the media reported that RIM “wasn’t worried” about the iPhone. Deon Liebenberg, regional director for RIM actually said that the iPhone’s release would be good for BlackBerry since “BlackBerry will offer a serious [Enterprise] solution that Apple can’t.” Strangely enough these comments came just about the time RIM aired its first consumer commercial to the public.

In September Research in Motion missed sales targets for the BlackBerry device despite having recently expanded their product offerings. The addition of new (and potentially confusing) models to its already complex product line includes a phone with no physical keyboard, something that Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis had publicly stated wasn’t for RIM. Now come commercials that profess the BlackBerry to be more than just a tool for corporate email and Enterprise calendering. RIM wants to be hip.

In the end, all of these developments increase competition, and that is a good thing. It spurs innovation, lowers prices and gets companies like RIM and Apple off their complacent asses to develop and market better products. RIM’s recent moves will hopefully spark improvements to the iPhone as well as encourage Apple to correct service problems with Mobile Me. But the next time you hear an arrogant CEO brush off Steve Jobs, Apple or the iPhone just remember to take what they say with a huge grain of techno-salt. They probably have a commercial in the wings ready to advertise the stuff they just railed against.

UPDATE: Apple released its financial information for Q3 in 2008 this week and in terms of total revenue, Apple’s iPhone has outsold RIM’s Blackberry handily. Not bad for a company that has only been in the smart phone market 15 months.

Becoming A Statistic

Since my wife and I have privacy blocking on our home phone, I usually don’t answer unknown calls after dinner time. I would have ignored tonight’s phone call too if it hadn’t been for the fact that the Red Sox were getting their can kicked by the Rays for the second straight night and I desperately wanted a diversion. So I answered the call, which was cool since it was a survey group collecting data for their latest political poll.

They asked me all kinds of questions. How familiar I was with the candidates for both President and North Carolina Senate, how likely I was to vote for them and how I felt about a range of issues. They also asked me some interesting questions about Dole and Hagan’s advertising, what I took away from the ads and what my overall impression of the candidates were based on what I had seen. Needless to say I was all too eager to voice my opinions on all of these subjects.

When it was over, the poll had taken about 10 minutes in which time the Rays had managed to score another 4 runs on the Red Sox so all and all I think it was time well spent. I look forward to seeing the latest polls at FiveThirtyEight.com and knowing that I did my bit to push Barack’s numbers just a tad bit higher for the week. I do what I can.

iPhone Wallpaper Problems Persist

I’ve written before about the problems the iPhone has regarding synched photos and wallpapers. Basically, in order to save HD space, Apple employs a custom dithering algorithm to compress any image that is synched to an iPhone or iPod touch. This has the effect of adding a slight grain to images that contain smooth gradients. I previously posted a workaround for this problem, but it only was effective if you were willing to jailbreak your device.

With the release of the 2.0 version of the iPhone firmware, I was hoping Apple would have improved the quality of synched images, but sadly that didn’t happen. I also got my hopes up too high when a new feature arrived in 2.0 allowing users to save images displayed in Mobile Safari to the photo library. Press and hold on any image and you will receive a dialog to save the image for later use, including as iPhone wallpapers. However, as I recently discovered, this new feature mangles images even worse than synching them.

You can see in the above example three magnified portions of a free wallpaper we offer at the Iconfactory. The image on the far left is the original JPG image saved with 100% quality from Photoshop. The second version is what happens to your wallpaper once it is synched via iTunes to your photo library on the device. While this version isn’t optimum, it is passable (barely) thanks in part to the dense pixel density of the iPhone’s display. The third example illustrates what happens when using the new “Save Image” option after you surf to a graphic, tap and hold. Due to high JPEG compression, image quality drops dramatically. Artifacts abound and for some reason, the OS even scales the picture up from its original dimensions creating interpolated pixels and a fuzzy image.

While the new option of saving images directly from the web is quicker and easier than manually saving and then synching images via iTunes, in my opinion, the poor quality negates the ease of use. Until Apple gets its act together regarding photos on the iPhone, users will have to put up with sub-standard images. This is a problem made all-together more frustrating considering the iPhone was lovingly designed to display stunning graphics, be they photos or videos.

Dole’s Swan Song?

The election is still three weeks away, but Kay Hagan has taken a 15 point deficit and turned it into a 3-6 point lead in her race for Liddy Dole’s Senate seat. Her core message of Dole ineffectiveness combined with perfectly targeted poltical commercials, have completely destroyed Dole’s once commanding lead. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, North Carolina is poised to spring several blue-tinted surprises on the country come November 4th.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Before last night’s debate, I had a vibrant discussion about the Presidential race with a close friend. I love talking politics, especially with people on the other side of the aisle. We were both enjoying the verbal sparring when my friend said something very telling. He said that he was starting to come to the realization that Obama would most likely win the election, and unless he somehow managed to screw up, Barack was riding a wave that would easily carry him into office. Then he said something which I think you’re going to be hearing a lot more over the next three weeks – “It’s okay though, I never liked McCain any how.”

This is the unspoken truth behind GOP supporters this year. From the very beginning, conservatives have had to put up or shut up with John McCain. I’ve said before that he’s never been a true hero of theirs. In the past, he would disagree with his party at the most inopportune times and throw a political monkey wrench into the works, seemingly just to spite the Malkins and Hannitys of the world. As a friend of mine on Twitter recently said, this year conservatives are not voting for McCain so much as they are voting against Obama.

So if the current polling keeps up, and Obama manages to pull away with this race, expect to hear much more of the “we never liked McCain” meme from the right. They will use it to console themselves and deflect criticism until a “real” conservative can run in 2012. You know, someone like another Bush.

UPDATE: Dave points to a handy post that highlights the five stages of loss conservatives are feeling over at FreeRepublic.com. This is political gold folks.

TV’s Chicken & The Egg

Last week IO9 reported that rumors of the death of FOX’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles were greatly exaggerated. Don’t watch The Sarah Connor Chronicles? That’s okay, neither do I. I know nothing about the show, who stars in it or even what it’s about other than it has something to do with the Terminator movies and Wil Wheaton auditioned for a small part. I know that last bit because I used to follow him on Twitter. I stopped because he never, ever responded to any of the @replies I sent him (and I sent him a few). Seems to me you could at least try and answer your fans every now and then Wil. Where was I? Oh yeah, I don’t watch the SC Chronicles.

I also I didn’t watch FOX’s much-hyped “Drive”, or the X-Files rip-off Fringe, nor the lame-ass Sci-Fi Channel remake of Flash Gordon. I’m a total science fiction fan and these shows are made for geeks like me, so why didn’t I watch these shows? The answer is simple. I didn’t want to get hooked because I knew they had about as much of a chance of surviving as a Red Shirt on a routine away mission. Ratings for Fringe are nowhere near what FOX wants, Drive lasted a grand total of 2 episodes and Flash Gordon got cancelled after one season. And although IO9 reports that T:SCC has another 13 episodes coming, somehow I don’t believe it anymore than I believe Knight Rider will survive to make its first turbo jump.

So herein lies the problem. Viewers don’t want to emotionally invest in shows they don’t think will last. But if no one tunes in, then nothing ever becomes successful enough to survive and flourish. I didn’t watch the first season of Heroes partly because I thought it was all hype. Of course the hype was deserved and season one became a mega-hit. When the DVD’s were released, I plunged in and enjoyed season 1 from start to finish. Sadly, season 2 was a waste and I’m starting to get a sinking feeling about season 3 as well.

Given the fact that science fiction shows usually have life spans of Tribbles instead of Trills, how do you as the viewer, decide which series get your attention? I never watched Firefly when it aired, but fans often tell me that it was one of the best sci-fi shows on television. Despite the piss-poor treatment FOX gave it at the time, they say it was well worth the abrupt cancellation to enjoy the few episodes that aired. I find this very difficult to believe.

Often, the fatal flaw for these series are networks that disintegrate them before they have a chance to develop and grow their core audience. What TV shows have you passed on for fear of having the remote snatched away? There’s no guarantee, for example, that the historic ratings success of Battlestar Galactica will translate to the new spin-off series Caprica. But if I know the Sci-Fi Channel, viewers may not even get a chance to set a season pass for Caprica before it’s blasted out the nearest airlock. A note to trigger-happy network executives: if shows like Sarah Connor or Caprica are to earn a place on my TiVo, you have to learn to say “I’ll be back”, and not “Hasta la vista, baby.”