E-mail Check Up

It’s time for an e-mail check up. E-mail Doctor gives loads of free advice about e-mail marketing, including some interesting tidbits:

  • Plain text e-mails are more effective than HTML e-mails. More >
  • The “from” line most often decides whether or not a user will open the e-mail. More >
  • Most subscribers give a throwaway e-mail address instead of the e-mail address they actually use (includes tips for getting that real address). More >

What Would Buffy Do?

Angel went off the air last night, ending new TV installments to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. But the series will live on in unending products and as a pop culture phenomenon.

Some time ago I pondered my Buffy addiction, and it seems I’m not the only one. The book, What Would Buffy Do?: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide came out last month. Books & Culture/Christianity Today covered it, including an interview with the author and a discussion of the book.

There’s definitely a lot in the shows to tackle. I particularly like James Marsters’ (who plays Spike) comments about the end of Angel: “Being a hero doesn’t mean you succeed in saving the day. It just means you tried.” The quote is that much better having caught the last ten minutes of Angel last night.

Wal-Mart in the Midway

Gargantuan discount retailer Wal-Mart opened its first urban store in the Twin Cities today on University Ave. in the Midway area, just minutes from my house (local coverage: Pioneer Press; Star Trib). The store went in where a K-Mart closed last year.

The reaction has been mixed, with some saying the retailer’s presence will help bolster retail in general in the Midway and provide needed jobs, while others claim Wal-Mart will drive small retailers out of business and provide dead-end, low paying jobs. UFCW representatives were outside picketing Wal-Mart today, adding to the frenzy of bargain shoppers.

While the Midway certainly doesn’t need more empty stores and abandonded buildings, and the 325 jobs will be a big boost (5,000 people applied for those jobs), I’m not so sure how I feel about the long-term effect of 325 Midway citizens having low-paying jobs. No matter your opinion of unions, they do tend to pay significantly better.

Yesterday I received a flyer in the mail announcing the store’s grand opening, featuring pictures of impecably clean aisles. I’ll have to see that for myself. Frankly, it all reminds me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed.

UPDATE: (Thursday, May 21, 2004)
The UFCW held a rally outside Wal-Mart last night, drawing as many as 300 protestors. Local coverage was weak (Star Trib), though a union backed outlet did cover the rally and provide pictures. The UFCW president answers questions in the Detroit Free Press about Wal-Mart and the current state of unions.

I’m especially curious to see if any Twin Cities bloggers (like me) are covering or talking about this. A quick Google search didn’t turn up much, other than a text-heavy, anti-Wal-Mart boycott site with tons of links. I’d love to see some photoblogs covering the event.

A study released earlier this year by California Representative George Miller (“Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart” PDF) claims the average Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers $420,750 per year in public assistance thanks to the store’s low wages and benefits. Of course I haven’t read the entire 25-page report — that stat comes from the press release and was repeated in the Star Trib article mentioned above (of course the Star Trib averaged that amount across the average store’s 200 employees for a cost $2,100/year). I haven’t seen any context in the report to compare these findings to other employers, but it sounds pretty brutal compared to the UFCW’s average wage of $13 an hour in the Twin Cities.


Ben Stiller in Dodgeball: A True Underdog StoryEvery few months I see articles popping up about that timeless playground sport, dodgeball. Here’s another one. Grown adults are starting leagues, tournaments and pick-up games and whipping rubber balls at each other. Dodgeball was the unofficial game of my youth group in high school, something we’d play religiously after every Wednesday night meeting.

I’d probably get trounced if I played now, but it’d still be fun.

The article also mentions an upcoming Ben Stiller movie, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. It also stars Stephen Root of Office Space fame, which is just too perfect. It opens June 18th.

Saint Paul Blogs

Lately I’ve been thinking about specialized blogs and what an incredible resource they can be. By “specialized blog” I mean one centered on a specific, niche topic. This is more of a freestlye blog, while my Quotables, Linkteria, and ReViews blogs are all specialized blogs. They don’t get into any of the personal rants — instead they stay incredibly focused on one specific topic.

Those kind of blogs are an incredibly reliable source of interesting information on the particular topic they cover. I know I can count on hockeypundits.com to give up-to-date commentary and news on the world of hockey. I know the Command Post can give me up to the minute updates on the war in Iraq. While it’s not a blog, I turn to @U2 for updates on the band before I turn to their official site. I can turn to Reality Blogs for the latest commentary and reactions on the world of reality TV.

I’ve been thinking about these types of blogs because I’d like to find a few, and I’d even like to write some. The other day I was thinking it’d be great to find a Detroit Red Wings blog. I never have the time to keep up with the Wings, but it’d be great to get the latest details from a dedicated Wings fan.

I’d also really love a localized blog, one that focused on a specific location, like St. Paul. This is the kind of blog I’d like to write, though I haven’t come across very many good examples. I imagine such a blog would need to focus in on a specific community, like Frogtown or the Midway, though I imagine it could talk about the wider city. It might even be cool to have an even more narrow focus, like the history of the Midway. I don’t know why, but location resonates very strongly with me. I want to know about the area I live — the people who live here, the stuff that goes on here, the history of the place. Place is very powerful. While such a blog would probably only be interesting to the people with connections to this place, I think it’d be fun to write.

So the short end of this rambling is I’m thinking about starting a blog about St. Paul. I don’t know if any exist, or even if any “local blogs” exist for any location (does anyone know of any? I’d love to look at some as examples). I don’t even know if I’d stick with the idea. It might just be another random idea from a semi-employed guy who just needs more work to keep these ideas at bay.

One Nation Under Persecution

I’ve argued about the whole ‘one nation under God’ thing before, and most of you are probably sick of it. But that’s OK—it’s my blog.

Lee Greenwood, a country music artist who wrote “God Bless the USA” and is a spokesperson for the effort to keep “under God” in the pledge, said the following in a Decision magazine Q&A “One Nation Under God: A Conversation with Lee Greenwood”:

“It bothers me to know there is the possibility that I as a Christian would be not only an underdog, but that I would be trodden upon if I claimed that I was a Christian.”

Maybe I shouldn’t nitpick Greenwood’s statements, but he seems to be expressing a fear of persecution. Get used it, Greenwood. You’re a Christian. It’ll happen. You are an underdog. You should be trodden upon. That’s the whole nature of our faith. We are beaten down, we are losers, we are illegitimate.

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10, NIV)

It kind of gets to me when Christians think we live in a Christian nation are are therefore free from any trouble, any hardship, any difficulty. That’s false security.

Big Idea, Big Crash

Big IdeaIn case you never heard, everyone’s favorite computer-animated produce company filed bankruptcy last year. Big Idea, creators of VeggieTales, filed bankruptcy after trying to grow too quickly, not meeting projections, and losing a major lawsuit. Classic Media bought Big Idea in December and is trying to turn the company around by focusing on their success with half-hour video releases. A Snoodle’s Tale, a tongue-in-cheek Dr. Seuss adaption about self-worth releases tomorrow. (see “Putting Big Idea Back Together” for more)

But while the Veggies will keep on telling their tales, the company has gone through a radical change. Founder Phil Vischer talks about coming to terms with the crumbling dream in the Christianity Today article, “Running Out of Miracles” (coincidentally written by Bob Smietana, who I met at EPA a couple weeks back). Vischer has learned some insiteful (and painful) lessons about dreams.

Old Skool Video Games

Commodore 64A late-night discussion on Friday reminded me of two of the coolest computer games I’ve played, Pirates! and Scorched Earth. I played Pirates! on our old Commodore 64. My brother and I would actually get up early on a Saturday morning to play, and we even busted out the encyclopedia for a map of the Carribean. Scorched Earth was a more recent PC game with lame graphics where you lobbed all sorts of weapons at other tanks. It was a great multiplayer game, even if you had to gather around a single computer.

After reveling in my old game glory, I decided to go online and see if I could play them again. I found a cool Commodore 64 emulator and was able to find a version of Pirates!, but I haven’t been able to get the game to work. The emulator works and loads the game without a problem (including the cool ‘cracked by’ screen), but I can’t get the game to work. The mouse doesn’t seem to work as a joystick, so I end up with no input to play the game.

I also found a version of Pirates Gold (a quasi-sequel) for the Mac, but I couldn’t get it to even load. There are a few PC versions available, but it sounds like you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get them to work. It’s probably not worth it on my sketchy PC. I did discover that there’s a a true sequel in the works, planned for sometime in late 2004.

My quest for Scorched Earth met with a bit more success. I did find an online version of the game, but it kept locking up on me. I also found a 3D remake, but I got an AppleScript Error (“2004-05-16 21:19:30.269 open[6152] No such file: /Applications/X11.asp sh: line 6: open-x11: command not found (127)”). There’s also a PC version of the original available (maybe it is the original?), though I haven’t tried it yet on my PC.

All of this involved an hour or two of Internet searching and fiddling with a few downloads. Net result: a wistful glimpse of the Commodore 64 screen. No old skool video action.

What really makes me wonder is why no one is going after this old video game market and making it easy. If I knew all the right technical stuff, had some patience and some time (and was trying this on a PC instead of a Mac), I could probably find all the cool old games I want. But who has time and energy for that? Somebody out there should do all the work of making these games easily playable — I shouldn’t have to know what an emulator is or think about CPU speed to play Scorched Earth. Make it easy for me and I’ll gladly plunk down some cash to play my old favorites. Retro is so in (is it ever out?), why isn’t someone cashing in on retro video games?

I imagine there’s a few examples (Atari 10-in-1, Namco TV Games, combo N64 & SNES w/ $6 games) but this seems like a wider trend worth exploiting. As long as someone lets me play Pirates! and Scorched Earth without much hassle. And how about F-Zero from SNES, Doom from my early PC days (I remember a plug-in where you could shotgun Barney!), and that racing game I forgot the name of from the original Nintendo?

Mmm… nostalgia.