Friday, October 29, 2010

COLUMN: I’ll take my free iPad now

Regular readers of this column may recall how, in 2005, I made a very public request to the Apple Corporation to send me a free iPod. Their response was a deafening silence, which was better than the anticipated restraining order, but only marginally.

Eventually I had to break down and buy one, but I am undeterred and have decided to get back on the free portable electronics horse (let’s call him “Chippy”) and request that Apple send me a complimentary iPad, their hugely popular tablet computer. Sure, I know that everyone wants a free iPad, but it just so happens that I have a particularly urgent need for the device’s primary function, which is to make you look cooler than you actually are.

That’s a function I’ve always needed, actually, with the possible exception of the period when I was the lead singer in my high school’s most popular rockabilly band. Oh wait, that was just who I wanted to be … I was actually the dweeby guy in the corner whose persona could have desperately benefited from an iPad that Steve Jobs had beamed back to the 1980s from his revolving space station.

Ah, but you say the iPad’s purpose is not to make you look cool but rather to help you better experience the Web, e-mail, photos and video. “You,” of course, are Apple’s marketing department, because everybody knows the real, actual reason you get one is to pull it out at every opportunity — at work, in a bar, at a Red Sox game, during an “intimate moment” — and watch the jaws drop around you. If drool results in some quarters, all the better.

I base this theory at least partially on the new study by the Neilsen Company that says a full one-third of iPad users have never even downloaded an “app” (short for “Appolonia”) for the device. Yes, I know that Neilsen later issued a correction and stated the actual number of users who hadn’t downloaded apps was more like 9 percent, but we can presume that Steve Jobs’ goons got to them in the interim. (I doubt Neilsen could actually be that far off on anything, although it would explain the 1976 cancellation of “Holmes and Yo-Yo.”)

Besides, I don’t need a study to show why people buy iPads. Take the guy in Seattle (where else?) who last week asked President Obama to sign his iPad, clearly to one-up the crowd of caffeine-addled liberal hipsters (including President Obama) surrounding him. Of course, the fact that the president did it will probably give the GOP another excuse to label him as elitist and out of touch, unlike Sarah Palin, who, when presented with an iPad to sign, shot it from a helicopter.

I’m not saying using an iPad to be popular is a good thing — we all know that what people should really be doing with their iPads is reading newspapers, so that the industry doesn’t implode. It’s ironic that just like with an iPad, reading a newspaper in public also draws the attention of strangers, although they mostly just stare and prod, like they just spotted a long-extinct reptile.

So Apple, if you send me my free iPad, I promise to give you unlimited promotion in this publication and on my blog, which have a combined audience equal to the ratings of “Holmes and Yo-Yo,” as reported by Neilsen, who is, obviously, drunk. You can send it to me care of this newspaper, but make sure to put my name prominently on the package, because frankly I don’t trust all those sports editors who hang around near the mail cubbies.

Or if it’s easier, you can just beam it to me.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Study -- Office Workers Will Eat Literally Anything

WASHINGTON (CAP) - A new study out of the Pew Research Center shows that the average American office worker will eat anything put in front of him or her, as long as it's free of charge.

The study, conducted surreptitiously at more than 100 offices across the country, presented office workers with such meals as haggis, tripe and soft-boiled fetal duck, which is considered a delicacy in Vietnam and the Philippines. In each case, the meal was left in a well-traveled area - lunchroom, conference room, on a file cabinet, etc. - along with a sign such as Tripe - Please Eat!

"The results were fascinating," said Dr. Francis Spitznagel of the Pew Center. "No matter what the time of day, in every case, the dish was clean in less than an hour." Spitznagel noted that typically it took no longer than 15 minutes, but that a small lag time on the fetal duck skewed the average slightly.

In the second phase of the study, food was left without any type of identifying sign. "And we made sure it was also completely unrecognizable as foodstuff," said Dr. Spitznagel, noting that in one case they left a metal pot full of the pink meat paste used to make chicken nuggets - also known as mechanically separated poultry - along with a spoon and a stack of Styrofoam bowls.

"It was gone in an hour and a half," said Spitznagel.

The Pew study showed that employees in all professions were prone to eating food found around the office, although some were especially susceptible. For instance, print journalists were the most likely to suffer trample injuries while trying to beat their fellow workers to the last slice of crumb cake.

"Let's face it, we never know where our next meal is going to come from," said Karl Fender, a sports reporter for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., where six employees have been hospitalized during free snack stampedes in the last year alone.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

COLUMN: A tribute to the tribute bands

As many people who know me can tell you, I’m something of a fan of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen. It’s not like I go around broadcasting it or anything — I just have all his albums, have seen him in concert 10 or 15 times, write a blog about his achievements and spend most of my off hours wearing a white muscle shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a folded bandana wrapped around my forehead.

OK, maybe that last one is a bit of an exaggeration (and he hasn’t worn the bandana since 1985, people — get over it!). Regardless, I’m not alone; almost 40 years into his career, Springsteen still has millions of fans who buy his albums, see his concerts and spend their Saturday nights in theaters and bars watching Bruce Springsteen impersonators. Well, in the case of that last thing, maybe it is just me.

Yes, I’ll admit it: I have seen more than one Springsteen “tribute act” in my day, and plan to do so again this weekend, when New Jersey’s own B Street Band comes to town. I do this with full knowledge that there are hundreds of artists out there performing original material, and that one of them might turn out to be the next Bruce Springsteen. And yet I choose to spend my time and money seeing someone intent on being the current Bruce Springsteen, and even that only if you drink enough and squint.

I can’t disagree that there’s something vaguely unseemly about the whole tribute act concept, which may have begun in the ’70s with “Beatlemania” — I didn’t see it, but I’m pretty sure it featured Beatles look-alikes preserved in amber for future cloning. Then came the Elvis impersonators, whose efforts may have culminated in the work of “El Vez,” the entertainer who bills himself as “the love child of Elvis and Charo.” I saw El Vez perform in a bar in Somerville, Mass. more than 15 years ago, which would seem to indicate that I might have some sort of deep-seated chronic problem.

From that point it was only a matter of time until the world welcomed the 23 pages (!) worth of tribute acts listed at Many of them imitate superstars of the ’70s and ’80s, which is understandable, since these days it’s very difficult to get a ticket to see, say, the actual 1974 lineup of Led Zeppelin. But a lot of them are less obvious — for instance, did you know there are at least five working bands that bill themselves as tributes to ’90s heavy metal act Tool? Suddenly, El Vez is probably sounding pretty good.

I realize it’s hard to justify spending my hard-earned concert budget on bands pretending to be other bands, but I can’t help it — I still got a tingly feeling when I heard that a Billy Joel impersonator might be playing about a quarter mile from my house later this fall. After all, if I went to see the real Billy Joel, I’d have to drive to Boston or Foxboro and pay a fortune, and then I’d have to watch the current Billy Joel, who despite all the money I spent on his albums didn’t have the decency to keep his hair. If he looks like that, how must I look?

And while modern Springsteen concerts are still as good as ever, when I go to see the B Street Band this weekend, I’ll be driving just a few minutes, have plenty of free parking and be up close and personal with the band, which is much tougher to pull off at Gillette Stadium. (At the B Street Band’s local show last year my wife wound up on stage with a tambourine during “Rosalita,” but I promised never to talk about it.)

If you’re still skeptical, I’ll make you a deal: I’ll go see the next big up-and-coming young original artist if you join us at the B Street Band concert this weekend. Call me stuck in the past or unhealthily Springsteen-obsessed, but I predict you’ll be holding up signs with requests on them and rushing the stage with your fist pumping to “Badlands” by the end of the night.

Although just in case, don’t forget drink and squint.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus wasn’t Italian? Oh, maron!

Poor Christopher Columbus. He used be so popular, but these days he can't seem to catch a break. He's sort of like David Hasselhoff in that way.

And as if it wasn't bad enough that the Columbus movie was scored by Van Gelis, and that when you Google "Columbus genocide" you get 567,000 hits, now it turns out that the beleaguered hero to many Italian-Americans might not even have been Italian. According to one historian, he was actually Portuguese.
“It’s very simple,” he said. “The Italian theory of so-called Columbus theory was started after Columbus died ... I examined document from Portuguese side and documents from the Italian side. The Italians are all false. You practically have to be blind to see the documents in which the defenders of the Italian theory (believe). It’s wrong. It’s false.”

Well, all I have to say is, he better not tell these guys (warning: Lots of F-bombs):

Friday, October 08, 2010

COLUMN: The Columbus you never knew

More than 500 years after his death, Christopher Columbus remains one of the most controversial figures in history. Some think of him as a great seaman, others as a ruthless imperialist, and still others as the reason we won’t get mail on Monday.

Thanks to an important recent discovery, however, there is no longer reason to conjecture. This newspaper has learned that the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem has found the long-lost diaries from Columbus’ initial voyage, hidden behind a box of old fans and a rare 17th century La-Z-Boy recliner.

But does the diary resolve all of those burning historical questions about Columbus, such as: Why would anybody wear tights on a ship? For answers, we turn to the following exclusive excerpts:

July 26, 1492 — Just a week to go until I embark on my expedition to find a western route to India. Starting to regret making this bet with King Ferdinand. Reminder to self: No more wine coolers at Isabella and Ferdinand’s mutton parties.

Most preparations are set, but we still can’t decide what to name the third boat; we’re down to either the Santa Maria or the Miss Behavin’. (“Miss Behavin’” — get it? Sometimes I crack myself up.)

Aug. 2, 1492 — Set sail from the port of Palos in southern Spain. Still annoyed at getting outvoted on the boat name.

I’m concerned that Martín (“Marty”) Pinzón, who’s captaining the Pinta, is plotting against me. I thought I saw him making rabbit ears behind my head when I addressed the crews before embarking. Also, when I stopped by my quarters before we left, I caught him trying on my hat.

I hope we get to India quickly, because I’ve got a hankering for some Pork Vindaloo.

Aug. 9, 1492 — Winds and repairs have grounded us on the Canary Islands. I’m sorry to have stopped so soon, but at least the canaries here are beautiful.

Sept. 8, 1492 — Am officially sick of the &%$@! canaries.

Oct. 6, 1492 — We’ve been off the Canary Islands for close to a month now, and the crew is starting to get a little restless. I’ve tried to keep them occupied with ongoing trivia contests, but let’s face it, it’s 1492 and not a heck of a lot has happened yet.

Every night I awake to what sounds like carousing below the decks of the nearby Pinta. I can’t shake the feeling that Marty sneaked some girls on there at the last stop. Meanwhile, I’m stuck with 47 guys nicknamed “Stumpy.”

Oct. 12, 1492 — At last, we arrived in India. We greeted the Indians warmly, although they seemed a bit confused by the whole thing.

Nov. 15, 1492 — Our travels down the coast are concerning me, since the coastline doesn’t seem to match up with any of my maps. Also, where are all the silk salesmen? Could it be this is not India we’ve found at all, but some … new world?


Nov. 22, 1492 — Woke to find Marty and the Pinta sailing off on their own without permission. Word among the crew has it that he set off in search of gold; I suspect he’s grown fed up with my mandatory nightly sing-alongs. Either way, he’s out of this week’s drawing for a free scurvy screening.

Dec. 25, 1492 — A very depressing Christmas. For one, the Santa Maria grounded on a reef yesterday and today sank into the ocean. Also, the men gave me socks again.

As the Pinta deserted us and the Nina can’t fit the remaining crew, we’ll have to leave some men behind on a nearby island. To help pass the time, I’ve suggested that they vote one person off the island at the end of each week. Whoever’s left at the end will get 100 lira and a subscription to “Navigation Monthly.”

Jan. 6, 1493 — Came across Marty and the Pinta further down the coast. He claimed that his directions said to turn left when we hit India. I asked to see them but he said they were unfortunately eaten by a giant tortoise.

March 15, 1493 — Back in Spain at last! But was the first of my four expeditions the success I had hoped for? And more importantly, will I ever get a day named after me? Time will tell, but with the last seven months still fresh in my mind, I can say one thing for certain:

These tights are killing me.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This “Best of Chianca” column is from 2000. Follow him on Twitter at

Thursday, October 07, 2010

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Lawsuits Put Damper On 'Thresh Your Own Grain'

WAKEFIELD, N.H. (CAP) - Several lawsuits are threatening the popular "Thresh Your Own Grain" practice and other participatory activities at family farms, say local farmers.

Allowing visitors to use high-powered industrial threshers to separate large amounts of grain from stalks and husks has been the latest attempt on the part of struggling family farms to stay solvent. It follows promotions allowing guests to pick their own fruits and vegetables, shear their own sheep and spread their own manure.

"It's actually kind of amazing what affluent suburbanites will pay to do," said Tom Halverston of the National Farmers Union. "The irony is, we were getting to the point where we couldn't even get illegal Mexicans to do this stuff."

But the recent lawsuits could put an end to the practices, say industry experts.

"I know my client assumed threshing would be perfectly safe," said Mark Robertson, attorney for Karl Frankenheimer, a Massachusetts man who suffered several puncture wounds at Apple Time Farms in Wakefield, N.H., when he stuck his buttocks into the thresher "as a gag."

But farmers are saying the lawsuits are frivolous, and that allowing visitor participation has made all the difference in helping them stay afloat. "We've really cut costs since we've been able to stop doing most of the work ourselves, not to mention getting people to pay to do it for us," noted Robert "Farmer Bob" Isaacson of Cider Side Farms in Greenwood Village, Colo.

"It's not like we're not careful - there's a sign right there," he added, motioning to a hand-painted notice reading Warning: Thresher Sharp! along with a stick figure who appears to have lost a limb.

"The last thing these small family farms need is another obstacle to success," said singer and Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp, who debuted his new tribute song, Rain On The Thresher, at the latest Farm Aid concert, which was attended by more than three dozen people at a parking lot in Muncie, Ind. The song includes the lyrics:

Rain on the thresher, blood on the plow
My pumpkins have gone mushy and I'm down to my last cow
Son, I'm just sorry these stupid tourists keep threshing themselves, ow!

His fellow Farm Aid founder Willie Nelson was unavailable for comment, having been arrested for threshing under the influence at a pro-farmer rally in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Sunday, October 03, 2010

COLUMN: Resistance to Star Trek Cruise is futile

There are certain things people think when watching “Star Trek.” Things like, “Why are all those people wearing pajamas?” and “Why can’t the Army be more like Starfleet?” and “Why don’t any of the women I meet ever return my calls?” And then there are the people who think, “If I could just go on a cruise with the guy who played the Emergency Medical Hologram on ‘Star Trek: Voyager,’ my life would be complete.” This column is for you.

Because I received a press release recently with the following subject line: “SIRTIS, DE LANCIE, PICARDO, RODDENBERRY AND MASTERSON SET TO SET SAIL ON STAR TREK CRUISE 2010!” I love how they list those names as if I would have any idea that they were referring to Troi, Q, the Emergency Medical Hologram, Gene Roddenberry’s son and Leeta from “Deep Space Nine.” Um … I just, uh, looked those up on Wikipedia.

OK, so maybe I have watched a Trek or two or 10 over the years, and once attended a Star Trek convention (for work!), and saw “Star Trek VI” in Times Square the night it opened with a friend who was wearing a Picard uniform complete with chirping combadge (and whom I will not name in case he never mentioned that to his now-wife, who would probably disappear in the night). But that doesn’t mean I would want to spend an entire week on a Star Trek-themed cruise, unless the only other option was a Disney cruise; I think either Goofy or me would wind up going overboard, and between us, it wouldn’t be me.

Here’s how I picture a Star Trek Cruise: sort of like a regular cruise, except instead of bathing suits the passengers are wearing Starfleet uniforms, walking around the lido deck chirping their combadges and giving each other the Vulcan hand salute. OK, I know not everybody would be dressed like that — some would be dressed as Commissioner Bele from “Star Trek: TOS” Season 3, Episode 14, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” Um … I just, uh, looked that up on … Oh, never mind.

But just when I thought I might be jumping to conclusions, I visited the Star Trek Cruise website, and it pretty much confirms that I was dead on — the main photo features an entire staircase full of pale people, some of them in costume, with fingers parted proudly in the traditional Vulcan manner. They all look completely at home, with the exception of one African-American guy in the corner with an “I’m So Street” T-shirt giving the gangster sideways peace sign. He looks like he was beamed there from some other, much hipper, cruise.

I guess I have to give the Star Trek stars credit for getting (literally) on board with this, no matter how much they may be getting paid. At least a Star Trek convention has a back door — here the only options for getting away from overzealous Trekkies are the lifeboats, or swimming to San Juan. And I can imagine how fans must react to Chase Masterson, who, in addition to being a Star Trek regular, was named one of the world’s “50 Sexiest Women” by Femme Fatales Magazine. The typical exchange probably goes something like this:

Chase Masterson: Nice to meet you! Are you a fan of the show?

Trekkie: [head explodes like the Klingon mining moon Praxis in “Star Trek VI”]

Still, you’ve got to admire the Trekkies for having the courage of their convictions. I’ll never forget when I went to that Star Trek convention (for work!) and saw someone buying an official deluxe Starfleet uniform. The guy behind the table asked him, “What rank?” and he responded, “Um … lieutenant commander?” Hey buddy, it’s your 60 bucks — go for captain!

People who take their entertainment that seriously probably have some serious fun when they get together for a week on the high seas. True, if you haven’t spent at least some mental energy during the last 20 years grappling with the question of Kirk vs. Picard, it may not be your thing. But if it is, you’d do a lot worse than spending a week with like-minded individuals in matching pajamas, hobnobbing with sort-of space celebrities — especially once that blue Romulan Ale starts flowing.

At least we know if things get out of hand, there’s an Emergency Medical Hologram in the house.


Note: I have been informed by reader "NXO1" of the following: "Cute article... However, being a Trek fan yourself, you should've known that the 'African-American guy in the corner' who 'looks like he was beamed there from some other, much hipper, cruise' is ANTHONY MONTGOMERY -- i.e., Ensign Travis Mayweather, series regular on Star Trek: Enterprise! He's one of the celebrity guests, not one of the fans! " Hmm ... Why do I feel better about myself for NOT knowing that?