the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Month: June 2005 (Page 2 of 5)

Beware of Furby


In the last ten years, has there been anything as scary as the introduction of the Furby, that ugly electronic hairy toy?

When it first came out,  consumers were going crazy over it, almost as if the Furby’s large hypnotic eyes was brainwashing people into wanting to buy it — some desperate mothers even waiting in line at Sears for hours.  Eventually, the Furby hysteria waned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the American military took an interest in the Furby’s evil powers. 

Nonsense?  Ridiculous?  Just look at last week’s New York Times’ wedding announcements.

Amanda Dawn Shiffman, the daughter of Carol and Roger A. Shiffman of Highland Park, Ill., is to be married today to Charles Harris Carol, the son of Rita and Barry Carol of Aberdeen, N.J. Rabbi Jonathan Magidovitch is to officiate at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago.

The bride’s father is a founder and president of Tiger Electronics, which made Furby and other toys.   The bridegroom was until this month an intelligence officer conducting satellite imagery analysis at the Washington Navy Yard for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency of the Defense Department.

Is this a marriage of love or a meeting of the military/industrial complex?  

Mazel tov to the Shiffman-Carols, but the rest of us should be very afraid of what this marriage might mean for the United States and the world.

Marketers, Over Here!


As if I don’t have enough spammers and perverts scanning my website, now I learn that marketing companies are using high-tech methods to scan my Web log for "valuable insights" into the consumer market.  U.S. companies using new blog analysis tools have already figured out that teens fear exceeding their cellphone minutes, consumers want longer-lasting photos, and interest in Atkins diet is dropping.

Umbria, with clients including Sprint Corp. and Electronic Arts Inc., says its natural-language analysis can determine blogger demographics based on language, subject matter and acronyms. OMG ("oh my God!") or POS ("parent over shoulder") are expressions defining Generation Y girls, or those ages 10 to 25; FUBAR ("fouled up beyond all recognition") is often used by male baby boomers.

Such analysis can be important. Umbria says Laker guard Kobe Bryant has lost his cachet with most bloggers, but he is still the No. 2 National Basketball Association personality, behind LeBron James, among the boys of Generation Y, important buyers of videogames, sneakers and basketball jerseys.

David Rabjohns, president of blog watcher MotiveQuest, calls the field "online anthropology" and says he regards his firm as "almost a mouthpiece for the consumer." The Evanston., Ill., firm’s clients include Motorola Inc. and Citigroup Inc.

For a Japanese auto maker, Mr. Rabjohns says MotiveQuest studied online postings about minivans. Soccer moms said their young children love minivans, which they regard as "a playhouse on wheels," but teens regard them as lame and want SUVs. MotiveQuest recommended developing a loyalty program to persuade minivan owners to buy the company’s SUVs, rather than trying to get them to buy another minivan.

As a consumer who wants his opinion heard, I will now be more vocal in using brand names so as to help marketers scanning my blog:

Ragu Tomato Sauce sucks.  It is the worst-tasting stuff on the market.  I find better tomato sauce at the 99 cent store. 

You couldn’t pay me to buy another piece of junk furniture at Ikea.

Sony TVs aren’t as good as they used to be.

The Hyundai Santa Fe comes with a really bad radio.

The Simpsons were better last year.

Pacific Theater‘s popcorn is inferior to AMC’s popcorn.

Starbucks coffee is too bitter.

Krispy Kreme doughnuts are over-rated. 

Vons is the worst supermarket in Los Angeles, with the lousiest selection.

Streit’s Matzoh at Passover is crap compared to Osem Israeli Matzoh.

Paramount Pictures‘ movies have been mediocre lately.

American Idol only has two more years left in it.

Office Max is the least interesting of the office supply stores.

Despite Paris Hilton, Carl’s Jr. is the worst fast-food place in California.

Her mother’s show, I Want to Become a Hilton, is the worst reality show ever.

The phrase "this" as the new "that" is overused.   Los Angeles Times editors should stop using it.

Newsweek and Time both suck as magazines.

The girls in Stuff are prettier than the girls in Maxim.

Brunettes are sexier than Blonds.

No more TV shows set in Las Vegas.  It’s really not that interesting there.

The vegetables in Whole Foods are way overpriced.  Are only the wealthy supposed to eat organic while everyone else poisons themselves with the vegetables at Ralphs?   Why not subsidize healthy vegetables rather than art in a museum?

Crystal Geyser water sometimes smells funny.  Are you sure this isn’t just the local water repackaged?

The equipment at the 24 Hour Fitness on Pico needs repair.

I have never responded once to an online advertisement.  It is a total waste of money.

Rice Krispies is the wimpiest cereal.  I can’t believe I ate these as a kid.

I never really liked the pizza at California Pizza Kitchen.

Cingular‘s advertisements lie.  Their service is awful.   I can’t even use the phone in my own apartment.

Although I use it, I’m not very impressed with the interface of gmail.

I’m a little concerned about drinking Coke with Splenda.  How do I know they aren’t going to find out that Splenda is cancer-causing ten years from now?

Mentadent toothpaste tastes bad and the toothpaste always drips onto the bathroom counter.

Jockey brand underwear never fits as well as Hanes.

I pity you if you have no choice but to use Comcast for cable (like me).

Michael Jackson was probably guilty.

Any other cry-outs to the scanning marketing bots?

Screaming for Ice Cream



You know you’re getting older when you see these photos of the latest hot it-girl, Jessica Alba, and all you can think about is how much better gelato is than regular ice cream.  I was hoping "Gelatissimo" was in Los Angeles, but alas, I looked it up in Google and it’s in Sydney, Australia.  Another reason to visit Australia other than visiting the childhood home of Russell Crowe.

Yeterday I saw the Eifman Ballet ballet’s version of Anna Karenina at the Music Center and surprisingly, didn’t fall asleep.  Tonight, I’m going to the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre to see some Brazilian guitarists.   Tomorrow, I will go to Al Gelato on Robertson for their creme brulee gelato.  Take that, Sydney, Australia.

So far, the best ice cream I ever had was in Salt Lake City, where there’s nothing else to do.   Here’s’s choices for America’s Top Ten Ice Cream Parlors.  Where was your best?

I miss the Good Humor and Mr.Softy trucks of my youth.  I never hear their familiar rings in Los Angeles.  Did they ever have them in California?

Here’s a list of "the best" ice creams in Los Angeles.   Any additions?  

UPDATE July 5:  Another choice for best ice cream— Fosselman’s.

Blinded by Science Project

(Professor Frink, The Simpsons)

Jack at Jack’s Shack linked to this article about scientists "stretching the truth" in some of their scientific data.

Few scientists fabricate results from scratch or flatly plagiarize the work of others, but a surprising number engage in troubling degrees of fact-bending or deceit, according to the first large-scale survey of scientific misbehavior.

More than 5 percent of scientists answering a confidential questionnaire admitted to having tossed out data because the information contradicted their previous research or said they had circumvented some human research protections.

Ten percent admitted they had inappropriately included their names or those of others as authors on published research reports.

And more than 15 percent admitted they had changed a study’s design or results to satisfy a sponsor, or ignored observations because they had a "gut feeling" they were inaccurate.

I have no doubt that scientists are involved in fact-bending.  After working on a scientific project for years, there’s probably a strong temptation to cheat.

I have something to reveal that has remained hidden for many years.  I faked some data in a science project. 

I should first say that I’ve never cheated on a test in my life, but one summer I found my Achilles’ heel.   I was a junior in high school and I got a scholarship to go to Michigan State University for a summer science program, where I was supposed to work on my Westinghouse Project (now called the Intel Science Talent Search).   To win a Westinghouse was like winning the Oscar for best science project. 

My project:  I was going to use an aerobic soil-dwelling organism called Azotobacter vinelandii to help make wheat grow into some sort of super-wheat.  I was personally going to solve the world’s hunger problem and win the Nobel Prize (or at least get into a good college).   During the course of the summer, the other science nerds and I worked on our projects. 

One beautiful summer day, I must have been flirting with Hoshiko, the brainy Japanese girl from New Jersey, when I accidentally put my spit into the pipet.  Weeks later, my data made no sense.   My spit and the Azotobacter vinelandii had spent the nights mating, rather than growing my wheat into super-wheat.  I knew my destiny was to save the world from hunger, so a few changes here and there in the data put my experiment back on track.

No, I didn’t win the Westinghouse, but I did come in 2nd place in the Queens County Science Fair.   I never saw Hoshiko again, either.   I saw the way she looked at me at the end of the summer.  She knew and she was disappointed in me — the first in several woman to feel that way.  When I finally went to college at Columbia, I switched my major to English Literature, an academic endeavor where making up nonsense in term papers was perfectly acceptable.

Boy, that felt good to get off my chest.   I don’t want to start another religion discussion, but maybe Catholics have it right with that confession thing.

Want to Join the Tribe?

(Hanukah Lamp, Manfred Anson, 1986)

Jews are comfortable in America, maybe too comfortable.  With a large percentage of Jews intermarrying and a low Jewish birthrate, there’s been a drop from 4 percent to 2 percent of the general American population in the last fifty years. 

Is there a way to stop this demographic decline?

New York Times columnist William Safire has the answer.  In a speech in Jerusalem, he said American Jews should do to Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, and Muslims what they’ve been trying to do to us Jews for thousands of years — convert them.

It’s not a bad idea.  I always thought Jews were too wimpy in promoting their own religion.  So, as a service to my fellow Jews, let me do my small part by trying to convert you, my non-Jewish reader:

Being Jewish is cool.  I’ve enjoyed it my entire life.  I went to Hebrew School.  I got bar mitzvahed.  I had a great Jewish wedding ceremony, complete with klezmer band.  I like temple… sometimes.  I don’t even miss not celebrating Christmas. There’s no law that says I can’t sing "The Little Drummer Boy" with my non-Jewish friends or even with Jewish friends.   The secret is out — Jews love those great Christmas songs.   That’s why Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond made those awful Christmas albums.  You Christians win hands down with Christmas over Hanukkah, but sorry, guys — Passover is better than Easter. 

Jews love food, and there is always a lot of food at a Jewish event.  Jewish woman are smart and funny.   Jews like education.   Jews don’t talk all the time about scary things like "original sin" and "Satan."   Jews have made it through a lot of bad times.  Temples aren’t usually as nifty-looking as cathedrals and churches, but rabbis are usually friendly guys and gals.  While there are many conservative Jews, most Jews don’t spend every moment of the day worrying about abortion and the evils of stem cell research.  One bad thing is that Jews argue a bit too much among themselves.  I even remember two Jewish talent agents  fighting over the same seat in a Beverly Hills synagogue — on Yom Kippur of all times. 

"I’m with CAA!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.

The Ten Commandments — ours.   If you love reading, Judaism is for you.  There’s the Torah, the Talmud, the Mishnah —

Think about it, my Christian friends, do you really believe that Jesus was the son of God?  I mean, I respect your religion and all, but c’mon.  Let’s be rational

The only problem with this conversion attempt is that if I’m being rational, which I am, much of this Jewish stuff is as far-fetched as your religion.  In fact, it’s as far-fetched as every other religion on this planet.  

How am I going to convince you to be kosher if I’m not kosher?  How can I sell being Jewish if I’m not sure what it means myself?  Does William Safire really think that American Jews, a mostly secular bunch, are going to be effective spokespeople in converting others? 

The most successful branch of Judaism in converting others is the Orthodox.  After all, they are the most "religious" and confident in their beliefs.  I sincerely doubt that Mr. Safire was addressing Orthodox Jews when he suggested Jews should proselytize.   I think he was probably thinking of someone more like himself, a sophisticated, newly minted Jewish man or woman who could sit with him all morning in a cafe and talk about the latest Op-Ed page.  The Orthodox man is probably too busy working and praying, while the Orthodox woman is too busy taking care of her six children. 

I tried my best.   Next Year in Jerusalem.   If not, maybe we can at least share some bagels and lox while singing carols on Christmas.

Judging a Man by His Shoes


Statistics show that marriage makes a man healthier and happier (the statistics are not as rosy for women and marriage, sorry ladies).  One of most important things I learned from marriage is how to dress.  It all started in year one, when on a nice Sunday morning, I woke up to find that all of my old torn rock t-shirts suddenly disappeared and were replaced with Italian shirts from Nordstrom.   By year two, I had a couple of nice suits and I owned "slacks."  Sophia always dressed beautifully and I had to step up to the plate.

Now that we’re not living together, I’ve returned to my single male sartorial style  — which is dressing crappy.  Yesterday, Sophia and I went out with a couple of friends to a new trendy over-priced pretentious restaurant.  She took one look at my tattered sneakers.

"You’re too old to be wearing dirty Keds."


"You need to buy yourself some decent shoes."

"I have shoes."

"Attractive shoes, not beaten up ones.  And not children’s sneakers"

Sophia, like many fashionable women, is really into shoes.  I’ve never cared what shoes a woman wears.  In fact, I usually think that when a woman wears sexy high heels, she tends to walk clumsily and look uncomfortable.

"Neil, if you really want to start dating again, as you’ve  been claiming for the last year, you should know that a woman always looks at a man’s shoes. "

"You took me wearing crappy shoes."

"Some women are naive…"

Huh?  My shoes?  Women, is that true? 

Men, am I the only one who didn’t get the notice in the mail?  What nice shoes do you wear?  Do you know of any comfortable shoes that make a woman’s heart go aflutter?


When did "nice" become such a dirty word?


What’s the worst thing a guy can say when a woman asks him how he likes her new flirty skirt? 



Better Answers:

You are a goddess.
Words cannot express the beauty.
Va Va Voom.


What’s the worst thing a woman can say to a man during foreplay?


You’re a nice guy.

Better Answers:

You’re amazing.
I think I see heaven.
Kiss me again, you fool.
Ohmygod, you’re enormous.
Take me… NOW.

I’m probably what is considered a nice Jewish guy.  I hate that expression.  Who wants to be "nice"?  It sounds so sexless.  I’ve been trying for years to NOT be nice, but I just can’t seem to break out of it.

I was driving through Griffith Park with Sophia on Sunday when another car cut me off.  I cursed. 

"Don’t curse," said Sophia.

"Why not?"

"Because it doesn’t sound right coming from your mouth."

I should back up a bit and tell you that Sophia spent many years living in Israel, and still drives like an Israeli.  Which means she drives very aggressively.  Her normal sophisticated, feminine demeanor totally changes when she is behind the wheel.  If someone dares to cut her off, I hear every exotic curse from the four languages she can speak, and a few others she only knows how to curse in.

"You curse,"  I said to her.  "All the time."

"That’s different.  You’re nice."

"So?  You’re nice, too."

"Not as nice as you."

Well, like they say, no more Mister Nice Guy for me.  I’m done being that f_ _ _ ing nice person!   

Darn it, even WordPress won’t let me say the f-word.   

Online Dating 2005

Despite all the complaints I hear about it, online dating is an amazing phenomenon.    If you’re looking for someone Jewish, you can click onto Jdate.   If that perfect someone is Christian, you can go to Christian Cafe.  If your interest is in an African-American brother or sister, there’s Afro Connections.  Asians can find each other at Asian Singles Connection.  Latinos can become better amigos at Amigos.   Indians can flirt about their  Kama Sutra techniques at Mehndi

There’s one group that’s always left out — until now.   At Loving Links, married men and women can search online for the ideal partner for an extramarital affair. 

Although currently focused on Europeans, this concept will surely catch on in the States as young American couples find love at places like and, get married in an elaborate wedding ceremony, buy a house in a nice neighborhood, produce a beautiful baby, get bored with each other three years later, and secretly blame the other for ruining their life.  Broken and frustrated, they will decide to have an torrid affair the only way they know how  — through online dating services like Loving Links.

Really Bad Father’s Day Gift Ideas

A bookmark made with clay beads customized to look like your pet rats.

A "Death Clock" interactive CD telling you how many more years you have to live.

Balltrimmer, America’s #1 male pubic hair trimmer

A cupcake holder that will prevent a cupcake from being bounced, jiggled, or turned upside down.

A painting from the Mafia Art Gallery.

The Bulge, a realistic "package enhancer" for swimsuit or underwear.

A collection of belly button adornments.

A 35mm camera that looks like a medium order of French fries.

The Osama Bin Ladin action figure.

A personalized pair of ear muffs modeled after a woman’s vulva.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you. 

Has anyone ever given or received an "interesting" Father’s Day gift that they would like to share?

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