This week Deschutes Brewery debuted a traveling giant real-wood beer barrel designed as the perfect tool for the Neighborhood Hops traveling festival that kicks off in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood this weekend. While the barrel isn't actually chalk full of beer - as one Source staffer, who shall remain nameless, naively expected - it is equipped with a generator-powered refrigerator capable of keeping up to 10 kegs of suds cool for the trip up the coast and a row of taps for efficient and most importantly, quick pouring. With the varnish still fresh on the wood, we got an up-close look at this barley and hops mobile and were collectively impressed by the beer top hubcaps and oversized faux tap reaching from the backside of the keg. Keeping with the inexplicable link between beer and environmentalism, the barrel is pulled by a biodiesel-powered truck. More surprising than the staggering size of this thing (it stands about eight feet above its trailer) was the amount of media that showed up for the unveiling. Photographers and reporters from local TV stations and the Other Paper were all in attendance, and there were reports of the Discovery Channel sipping around the story. Either this was one hell of a story or news folks can't resist a free beer.
Enjoying More Free Times
Following the modern trend, the New York Times announced Tuesday that it's making all its Web content plus a large chunk of its archives available free.
Since 2005, online patrons who wanted to read certain Times columnists and other special features or access the paper's vast archives - dating back to 1851 - had to pay about $10 a month to subscribe to "TimesSelect." The new policy means free access to columnists like Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman and Frank Rich, as well as to archived stories going back to 1987. Some charges will remain for archived items from 1923 to 1986.
In a "Letter to Readers" on the website Tuesday, Times Senior Vice President and General Manager Vivian Schiller wrote: "Since we launched TimesSelect in 2005, the online landscape has altered significantly. Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources. In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. ... Our long, distinguished history is rooted in a commitment to innovation, experimentation and constant change."
Schiller told reporters the new policy is a move to bring more traffic to the site and make it more appealing to advertisers. TimesSelect was drawing 227,000 paying subscribers and generating about $10 million a year in revenue, she said. "But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising."
The change in policy by the Good Gray Times means the Wall Street Journal is now the only major American newspaper that charges for online content.
Upfront salutes the Times and hopes The Bulletin - which charges everybody, including print-edition subscribers, to access its archives - will get with the program.
R.I.P Alex, 1976-2007
Alex, an African grey parrot, achieved celebrity as the world's smartest bird. It's not unusual for parrots to talk, of course. But under the tutelage of his mentor, Brandeis University Professor Irene Pepperberg, Alex (the name was an acronym for "Avian Learning Experiment") developed near-human intellectual abilities.
With his walnut-sized brain, Alex could distinguish and name 50 different objects, seven colors and five shapes. He had a vocabulary of 150 words. He could count up to six.
"Alex broke all preconceived notions about bird brains," a heartbroken Pepperberg told reporters after the bird's death. "He had the intelligence of a 5-year-old and the communication skills of a 2-year-old."
Britain's Guardian newspaper described him as "smarter than the average U.S. president."
You can even see videos of him on YouTube. "But his life wasn't about celebrity," the Hartford (CN) Courant wrote. "His work was important. Knowledge gleaned from experiments with Alex has been applied to therapies for children with learning disabilities."
Alex was found dead in his cage at Brandeis the morning of Sept. 7, apparently of natural causes. At age 31, he was relatively young - African grays have an average life expectancy of 50 years.
According to news accounts, Alex's last words to his mentor the night before his death were: "You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you."
Celebrities Behaving Stupidly
First Britney Spears turned in an embarrassingly bad performance at the MTV awards show on Sept. 9. Attempting to lip-synch her way through her latest single, "Gimme More," the fading pop star seemed to forget the words and at some points stopped altogether. What's more, she looked ... well, to put it bluntly, fat.
According to Rolling Stone, the buzz was that Britney "ditched rehearsals to toss back a drink or a dozen with Diddy in Vegas."
Simon Cowell said Britney's performance was so egregious it would've gotten her booted from American Idol (now that's harsh) and speculated that it might end her career.
Please give us less, Britney.
A week later Sally Field made a spectacle of herself in a different way on the Emmy awards show. After accepting her Emmy for best lead actress in a dramatic series (Brothers and Sisters), Field launched into a long and rambling anti-war speech that concluded with the line: "And, let's face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddamn wars in the first place." TV viewers didn't get to hear the last remark because the Fox Network censored it out.
Told about it afterwards, Field remarked: "Oh well. I've been there before. Well, good. I don't care. I have no comment other than, oh well. I said what I wanted to say. I wanted to pay homage to the mothers of the world, and let their work be seen and valued."
She added that "I would have liked to have said more bleeped-out words."
The Juice Is No Longer on the Loose
The former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back was jailed Sunday on a string of felony charges in Las Vegas, where police say he and five other men - some of them armed - broke into a hotel room where a number of sports memorabilia collectors had gathered and took various items.
"The door burst open and they came in almost commando style, O.J. Simpson and some of his people, I guess you would call it, with guns drawn," one of the collectors, Bruce Fromong, said on ABC's Good Morning America show Monday. "O.J. at that time was saying, 'I want my stuff. I want my stuff.'
"The thing in my mind as soon as I saw him, I'm thinking, 'O.J., how can you be this dumb? You're in enough trouble.'"
Simpson claims the items that were taken are rightfully his, and that he and some of his friends acted to get them back before unscrupulous dealers could sell them. He said he didn't go to the police about it because the police "have not worked out for me" since his 1995 trial on charges of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
The cops say they're not sure who the stuff belongs to, but they have a small problem with Simpson and his friends taking it back at gunpoint. A handcuffed Simpson was booked Sunday night on two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit a crime with a firearm and ordered held without bail pending a hearing on Wednesday.
If convicted, he could face up to 30 years in prison on each robbery count.
Simpson was acquitted of murdering Brown and Goldman after an eight-month trial-cum-media circus in LA, but many, if not most, Americans remain convinced he got away with murder because the prosecution bungled the case.
O.J. might find it tougher to avoid being tackled by the law this time. For one thing ace criminal lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who defended him in the 1995 trial, is dead. For another, on Monday an audiotape of the alleged robbery turned up in which Simpson can be heard shouting "Don't let nobody out of here" and "Think you can steal my shit and sell it?"