Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for October 2008

18 Reasons Why Lubbock is Better than Austin

Terry ran a “suitable for grownups” version of this on A-1 today, but gave me permission to post the original on my blog.

The print version was co-authored by Superstar Editor Mel Tittle, but please don’t blame him for these.

Tortillas hurt less than hacky sacks when hurled from the stands.

Tech cheerleaders take showers, eat beef and most of them shave their legs.

Tech mascot performs better knowing that horse is not a food.

Lubbock elects politicians and sends them to Austin where they can’t hurt anybody.

Tech’s historic come-from-behind victory will make a better movie.

Fans in Tech colors less likely to be mistaken for crossing guards when leaving stadium.

Which would you rather have come out of your college, 60 experimental wind turbines or 60 student films about death?

“Guns Up” more intimidating to opponents than “I love you” in sign language.

Our English majors can beat up your English majors.

At Texas Tech, Interpretive Dance is not a sport.

Tech student parking lot still a safe place for McCain stickers.

Wide, clean streets allow easy escape during post-game riots.

Soft, grassy medians provide alternative lodging for fans who couldn’t get hotel rooms.

In Lubbock, a “hybrid” is an R.V. with an electric stove.

Tech locker room less likely to smell like patchouli after the game.

Tech fans toughened by 60 m.p.h. winds and daily 8-mile hike to class.

Mike Leach plushie will sell better than Mack Brown action figure.

And finally, an Austin editor would bury this on D-6.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 31, 2008 at 20:28

Posted in Best Of, Humor

All the sad, young unemployed bloggers

Four of my favorite bloggers joined the ranks of the unemployed this month.

Alex Balk and Choire Sicha of Radar Online lost their jobs last Friday, as Radar Magazine folded its print operation and turned its web operation over to the editor of the National Enquirer.

Staffers were locked out of their computers and put out on the street so fast, they didn’t even have time to steal office supplies.

Ana Marie Cox lost her stipend for campaign coverage and started a pledge drive so she could continue on the trail with McCain.

Defamer’s video blogger Molly McAleer lost her job in the latest round of Gawker layoffs.

These are four of the best writers on the web. So why are they lounging around in their pajamas today, begging for donations and scrambling for freelance work?

Option 1 – Duff is wrong – Intellectual honesty demands that I start with this one. Maybe these writers that I love so much are only funny to me — only funny to a misanthropic microculture that only spends money on DVDs and frozen yogurt.

Option 2 – Everybody’s broke – Entertainment sites exist on the economic fringe, supported with “luxury surplus dollars” that are now being spent on mortgage payments and CEO severance packages. By the end of the year the only growth industries will be in medicine, law and canned food.

Option 3 – Advertisers haven’t figured out the web yet – The people who run companies are age 40 to 60. The people who visit these web sites are 18 to 34. Online sales professionals aren’t just facing a technology gap; they’re also facing a generation gap, trying to explain the relevance of ads that, to the uninitiated, are just pictures on a screen.

The generation gap also affects perception of content. Cutting-edge web sites are quirky, profane, intimate and mean — operating right on the legal edge. This writing style is likely to annoy, frighten, or soar over the heads of corporate advertisers, driving them to “safer” content, even if it is from the National Enquirer.

Option 4 – Bad management – As Nick Denton admitted in the Gawker layoff announcement, “Writers on all of our sites have done exactly what we asked them to: work harder than the competition and grow the audience. It’s my commercial judgment that’s been at fault.”

It’s easy to blame management for this. A lot of people resort to freshmen-level Marxism when they hear news like this. Denton and company make great villains, but I think it’s more useful to examine the fundamental assumptions that drive their business.

The Gawker sites introduced a controversial bonus system last year that tied blogger pay to popularity — granting bonuses based on the number of pageviews that their posts generated. Writers lost a chunk from their regular salaries but became eligible for big bonuses when one of their posts struck oil.

The model worked, increasing Gawker site traffic by 69% in a year. But advertising revenue didn’t keep pace with page views, forcing Denton to cut bonuses and raise base pay.

It seems like a simple formula: talent = pageviews = $$$. But now those rules are changing. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between popularity and revenue. Advertisers are running scared and site managers are struggling to keep up.

Option 5 – “Balk is a jerk” – Celebrity bloggers are a new phenomenon. Pop stars are manufactured by record companies and literary stars still work within a kind of guild system, but blogging isn’t a true art form yet. Bloggers have made great strides, but the Internet is still a media ghetto.

In a just world, bloggers like Balk and Sicha would be rock stars, but the powers that be don’t respect their medium yet. Mainstream pundits vacillate between contempt and hyperbole. They know the Internet is important, but they don’t understand why. Contempt for the Internet is so ingrained, even their Internet hype stories sound condescending.

This climate makes it hard for bloggers, even great ones, to charge what they’re worth.

Huffington Post vlogger Jason Linkins described Radar Online as “an island of misfit toys.” Brilliant people who didn’t really belong in traditional media found a home there. Radar picked up a handful of Gawker castoffs (alternately referred to as Gawker Exiles or Gawker Survivors) and hosted a little utopia online. And like most utopias, this one was short-lived. Ana Marie Cox calls this crew “the Typhoid Mary’s of media.”

Cox said, “We are not good employees. No one will hire us. The world is too square. We are a bunch of round things.”

Maybe these folks really are too quirky for corporate media. But I prefer to believe Option 6.

Option 6 – Superstar bloggers are ahead of their time – To paraphrase John Edwards, there are two Internets. First we have the mainstream, casual, prime-time Internet. These folks think of the Internet as a supplement to TV and radio. They get their news from CNN and the Today Show and visit web sites they see on TV.

They surf major news sites and circulate kitty pictures in email. They use Google to check movie times and look up trivial pursuit answers, but they don’t really belong to the Internet. Their tastes, their lifestyles and their media expectations froze in 1996.

The other group has adopted the Internet as a fundamental part of their lives. They host blogs, use RSS feeds and keep up with friends on Twitter. These people are connected 24/7. They send text messages while they sleep and check email before they put their pants on.

They are young, smart and upwardly-mobile, but there aren’t enough of them yet. They’re hyper-literate, hyper-critical and hyper-connected. These are true alpha consumers. They want to be first with a new gadget, first to review a great book, first to complain about a bad movie and the first to celebrate when an old brand does something new.

They’re sick of the old media paradigm and are desperate to see something new. The key to attracting this group is subversion. You can’t just sneak your commercial onto YouTube three days early and call it “viral.” You can’t just put your marketing copy on Twitter and pretend you’re 2.0.

You have to change the way you talk to them, and the quickest way to win them over is to slaughter a sacred cow. It’s not enough to put a young model in a hot new dress. You have to pan the camera over and show the ripped jeans that she changed out of.

You have to establish a context of subversion in your ads and on your web site, to prove you’re not taking yourself too seriously. The Internet generation rebels against anything that smacks of pretension or self-importance.

These people know all the standard PR tricks and are violently allergic to corporate boilerplate. That’s why sites like Gawker and Radar are so popular, even when they’re raw. Generation Y is sick of committee thinking and committee writing. Blogging is the antidote to this. In this context of subversion, sloppy links and strange word choices can actually work in your favor, adding to the raw, intimate appeal of your site.

This style goes against 50 years of advertising guidelines and a century of professional journalism.

I think these bloggers are suffering because they got it right too soon, giving Internet alpha consumers what they wanted before advertisers were ready to pay for it.

Our economy is contracting right now. Everybody is holding on to their cash, scaling back and preparing for the worst. But the downturn won’t last forever. Internet alphas may be turning to cheaper luxuries, but the fundamentals are still the same.

Maybe you’ll be selling frozen yogurt instead of iPods this year, but the cool kids still need their snark fix, and you can’t catch smart readers with lame writing.

I think this is where Denton went wrong, and where Radar is about to go wrong. Denton changed the focus of his site, alienating his core audience and casting a wider net. Gawker sites dominated the Internet alpha market and hit a ceiling. Denton’s consumers were high-loyalty and high-value, but there weren’t enough of them to keep his numbers up.

He tried to expand his appeal and bring in the TMZ crowd. It worked. Pageviews went crazy but these new visitors had no particular loyalty to Gawker or its community. They were just clicking on shiny things, killing time between Lolcats.

That’s what happens when you cast a wide net. You get more fish, but quality suffers. Gawker pageviews skyrocketed, but the quality of its product and the cachet of its brand went down.

I’m not trying to bash Denton here. Commercial blogs are not vanity projects and they are not charity. Publishers have to strike a balance between quality and quantity of users.

Focus too tight and the audience will be too small to support you. Cast the net too wide and your loyal readers will leave. It’s a delicate balance and no one has it right yet.

All I know is that a dozen of the best writers on the Internet are facing unemployment this month. The future of journalism is strung out in a series of New York apartments right now, ready to work for a fraction of what they’re worth.

What happened to all those obnoxious Internet millionaires? Does anybody have any money left?

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 29, 2008 at 14:42

Posted in Culture, Gawker, Gossip

We have always been at war with 8:30

At 8:20 this morning a Citibus driver showed up at my door and told me I was 20 minutes late for my 9 a.m. bus.

I was dripping wet and pantsless at the time, so I hope you will forgive my lack of critical thinking. As a certified computer geek, I assumed that there had been a time change Sunday morning, my phone and my PC had adjusted to it, and my analog-bound bus driver hadn’t noticed.

I called my buddy Scott for a ride and pounded out this frantic series of Twitter posts.

michaelduff IT IS AN HOUR EARLIER THAN YOU THINK IT IS. For God’s sake, why is this so complicated?

michaelduff NEVERMIND. It’s 8:30. It’s always been 8:30. We have always been at war with 8:30. GAAAAHHHH! Winston needs gin.

michaelduff @JohnCleese See? Even British people are confused. This is not my fault. Is there a website that can help me find my pants?

michaelduff Hide the old people and lock up your women, it’s Y2K8.

In the middle of this, the bus driver came back and said, “Oh wait, it really is 8:30. Also, Darth Vader is not Luke’s real father.”

Scott did some research for me and called back with the scoop. Until 2006, daylight savings time ended on the last Sunday in October, but as of 2006 daylight savings time does not end until Nov. 2.

This is particularly dangerous for people who rely on smart phones and dumb PCs to tell them what time it is. Your devices may or may not adjust automatically next week, so you have to be on your toes.

So what happened to me this morning? Only the Naval Observatory knows for sure.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 27, 2008 at 09:08

Posted in Best Of, Humor

They call this customer service?

CONCERNED CITIZEN: “Yes, officer, thank you for coming down. I need to report something strange I saw outside the Avalanche-Journal offices this morning.

“A man with a beard and a cane came outside and started talking on his phone. He looked really agitated, frowning and pacing around. He seemed to get madder and madder as the call went on. At first I couldn’t hear him but then he got louder and I realized he was shouting ‘Pay my bill!’ over and over.

“It started soft and got louder. ‘Pay my bill. No. Pay my bill! Pay. My. Bill. PAY MY BILL! I JUST WANT TO PAY MY FREAKING BILL!!!’

“Then he shouted his social security number and threw his phone against the wall. His hair was messed up and his clothes looked cheap. I think he might be homeless.”

OFFICER: “No Ma’am, that’s just Duff. He does this every month.”

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 24, 2008 at 11:18

Posted in Humor

Stores fear Hot Pocket shortage as Blizzard reinvents Warcraft

Warn your boss and make peace with your girlfriend; World of Warcraft has an expansion coming and it looks really good.

Dangerously good. Take a week off work good. Stay up until 3 a.m. and wonder where your life went good.

Blizzard released its 3.02 patch on Oct. 14, giving us a preview of what we can expect from Wrath of the Lich King. Warcraft maintains its popularity by reinventing itself every so often, and 3.02 looks like the biggest change yet.

Blizzard has altered game mechanics and revamped talent trees to an unprecedented degree. Most of the changes are good. Characters have become cooler, sleeker, and more powerful, while many raid bosses have been nerfed.

These changes have generated a wave of euphoria in the community, and relatively few complaints. The changes have a rough, unfinished feel to them right now as we wait for the full expansion, but people are already flocking back to play with the new toys.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 22, 2008 at 12:13

Posted in Games, Warcraft

The ultimate secret to blogger success? Pretend to be a girl

UPDATE: Jezebel and I seem to be having a bit of a disagreement. The first part of the disagreement seems to be about which ugly, scary libertarian dork I am. I am this one. I am writing about this one.

This isn't the Libertarian guy either
I wasn’t able to find an authoritative picture of my subject, but he described this pic as “closer to the real me.”

I’m afraid some points in my column were a bit vague, making it easy for Megan to misunderstand me. You know all that stuff I wrote last week about ignoring criticism and staying above the fray? I’m about to break my own rules and respond to some of Megan’s points.

1. I know exactly how smart Ana Marie Cox is and would never want to imply that she become popular just because she was hott. Being hott and using “unladylike” language was a big part of her appeal, but she capitalized on it by mixing humor with serious commentary. To dismiss her as “a girl talking dirty about politics” would be a big mistake.

2. There is a difference between being knowledgable about economics and being obsessed. Libertarianism attracts the obsessed. I know this from personal experience and I have $400 worth of economics texts on my shelf to prove it. Want to see some Laffer curve statistics from 1993?

3. My main (perhaps poorly-expressed) point was: Putting up a pretty mugshot can get you some temporary, low-quality hits, but if you want to be taken seriously, you have to back it up with real insight. When I said female bloggers have “come into their own” I was thinking specifically of AMC and Rachel Sklar. Megan’s post makes it sound like I’m denigrating some of the women I was trying to praise and I wanted to clear that up.

4. And of course, Michael Duff IS pictured in the column and my primary subject was not. It’s too late to repair the damage to my self-esteem, but if Jezebel could fix their artwork, I might be able to shave a few weeks off my therapy.


The ultimate secret to blogger success? Pretend to be a girl

My favorite Internet hoax was executed in 2005, by a Libertarian blogger who was tired of being ignored by his community.

The self-styled “Libertarian Man of Mystery” complained:

“When I had a blog as my real self, no one linked to me, no one left any comments, it was as if the blog existed in a vacuum.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 17, 2008 at 11:24

Posted in Columns, Culture

Frank Evil vs. Bambi's Mom

[Originally written to cheer up molls.]

It seemed to take forever, watching Frank Evil consume Bambi’s Mom. I didn’t think a man could consume that much deer meat, but Frank kept at it. He grilled her and fried her and baked her into pies.

He made her into sandwiches and brought her for lunch. I asked if he wanted to share the meat one day and he said no. He wanted to eat her by himself. It seemed important, somehow, to consume the whole thing by himself.

He finished her last June, choking down the last bits of gristle and fat. I thought that would be the end of it, but Frank had a habit now. I tried to give him normal deer but Frank had a taste for magic now. He wanted to eat the ones that talk — deer that feel and think and whisper prophecy to the trees.

I didn’t ask him about the morality of it. I mean, you can’t reason with a guy named Frank Evil. Even I knew that. Instead, I asked him if he ever worried about consequences, worried that the deer would call in favors and fight back somehow.

Frank just laughed at me and loaded fresh shells into his gun. “What are they gonna do?” Frank said, “Grow wings and fly away?”

UPDATE 14:03: Apparently, my prose is so surreal, I even confused Scott Slemmons. Do you know how hard it is to out-weird Scott Slemmons? He’s like the Barry Bonds of weird.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 10, 2008 at 09:15

Posted in Humor

Steve Martin, on comedy, loneliness and women

I read his biography first, so I guess that makes it okay.

Steve Martin’s autobiography, “Born Standing Up” is a must-read for anybody who wants to perform, containing lessons that every artist should expose themselves to, even if they don’t entirely sink in.

Steve’s jokes aren’t funny anymore, and that makes it work better. You feel what a terrible uphill climb it was, to be recognized for his comedy, to refine his act in a thousand brutal nightclubs.

Steve can teach you about courage and persistence. You get the impression that Steve was not meant to be funny. He was born to be insanely quirky smart, and comedy was the only outlet he could think of.

I don’t think Steve Martin was born to be funny. I think Steve Martin was born to write books, and that comedy was a 40-year tangent. He was born to write books like “Shopgirl” — a tender, neatly-constructed novella that reads like a love letter to every young woman in the world.

I’ve never been a young girl, and neither has Steve Martin, but his portrayal of a lonely young woman named Mirabelle has a wonderful poignancy and ring of truth to it. I’ll confess that although I’ve written extensively on the topic of male loneliness, I don’t know much about the female equivalent.

Female loneliness feels different, the way he writes it. Softer somehow. While men tend to burn out, lash out and melt down, women just kind of…suffer. Quietly, delicately, until loneliness makes them do something stupid. Usually that “something stupid” is a man.

I’ve barely cracked the cover on this book, barely stepped in to Mirabelle’s world, but Martin has already defied my expectations and taught me something. We all know that young women who enter into relationships with older men are signing up for a kind of devil’s bargain, but Martin reveals that entering into a relationship with a young man is a devil’s bargain, too.

Each case involves giving up something, risking and sacrificing in hopes that emotional needs get met, praying that boys can put aside their natural selfishness and blindness, just long enough to be real and human, if only for a couple hours at a time.

“Shopgirl” is a wonderful book — using intelligence and insight to tell us about ourselves and explore the fundamental nature of romance and compromise. It’s a mature book, looking back on youth with adult eyes, analyzing things that most people just live.

Maybe some people would be happier not analyzing the mechanics of loneliness and youth, but so far, it’s been worth the trip.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 8, 2008 at 06:18

Posted in Books

Diablo Cody is better than you

I’m so late to this party I had to help them clean up, but I can’t resist this post from Diablo Cody.

Here’s a quick summary for people who aren’t celebrity-obsessed 12-year-olds.

1. Diablo Cody has a blog.

2. Diablo Cody sells a script.

3. Important Movie People make Juno.

4. Juno explodes all over pop culture, bringing new slang and a newfound respect for reproductive rights to college campuses and junior high schools across the country.

5. Everyone on the Internet loves Diablo Cody for ten minutes.

6. Ten minutes expire, and the entire Internet turns on Diablo Cody like mama wolf consuming a diseased cub.

7. Hating Diablo Cody becomes the Next Great Internet Bloodsport, allowing the “Leave Britney Alone” guy to finally relax and put his phone back on the hook.

8. Diablo Cody proves she’s better than you by LEAVING THE INTERNET for a few months.

9. Diablo comes out of exile and returns to face a mob of jealous fanboys who hate her guts.

10. Diablo executes a flawless Mortal Kombat fatality move that spontaneously decapitates everyone who ever posted anything mean about her. Her rebuttal is so magnificient (and so obscene) that I can only post a little bit of it here:

I may have won 19 awards that you don’t feel I earned, but it’s neither original nor relevant to slag on Juno. Really. And you’re not some bold, singular voice of dissent, You are exactly like everyone else in your zeitgeisty-demo-lifestyle pod. You are even like me. (I, too, loved Arrested Development! Aren’t we a pretty pair of cultural mavericks?

I’m a 30-year-old woman with a dwindling interest in blog culture, and I don’t have time to address this ******** every time one of my projects comes out. I’m in love, I just bought a house, and my boss made E.T. I kind of have to focus on reality.

I almost jumped on the “Diablo Cody is lame” bandwagon a month ago, but I’m kind of in love with her now. I have a thing for angry, eloquent women who have just made millions and millions of dollars.


Don’t look at me like that.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 2, 2008 at 17:22

Posted in Movies

Why I like Keith Gessen

You remember how things ended during every 80’s sitcom? When Dad and the kids would sit around at the end of the show and recap what they’ve learned?

It’s time for one of those.

Yesterday I tried to make a lame inside joke in Keith Gessen’s blog, referencing Alex Balk and Choire Sicha. Alex, Keith and Choire are three of my favorite writers, and I love them all for different reasons.

Choire is an outstanding journalist, in the big-J sense of that word: get the story, nail down quotes and throw in some snark to make it 2.0.

Keith writes an utterly sincere literary mag called N+1. Keith is a Writer, in the big-W sense of that word — devoted to digging up intensely personal, emotional material and wrapping it up in a bow of universal truth.

Balk is a Blogger, dishing out everything in quick bites, serving up sharp, funny bits of gossip in micro-paragraph chunks.

I expect credit for these labels, by the way, when somebody finally makes a tarot deck based on Internet celebs.

I made a joke in Keith’s blog yesterday, based on the assumption that these three men were friends, recently reconciled after a series of blog feuds. Turns out the term “reconciled” was a bit optimistic.

I’m not particularly interested in the details of that feud. VGI sums it up here, if you care.

A lot of people in the blogosphere hate Keith because he doesn’t play by the same rules that everyone else is using. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for him because I know exactly what he’s doing wrong and exactly where it’s coming from.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 2, 2008 at 13:59

Posted in Culture, Gawker