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  • Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone...

In a Confused State of Mind

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man -- author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine -- wishes you a happy year of the ram. Or is that goat? Black sheep, anybody? Also, he confesses to being a TiVo-maniac.

Happy Year of the...What?

Its the Year of the Ram. Or is it? Weve had a minor controversy recently at KTVU, the station that broadcasts the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. One sponsor insists that its the Year of the Sheep. As the co-host (with Julie Haener), and as a guy whos been around the Lunar cycle a few times, I resisted. But then I went online, where InfoPlease.com says its the Year of the Sheep, or, alternately, the Year of the Goat. To make matters even Ram-tougher, I happened onto a Chinese New Year site out of Scotland, where the year 4701 is called the Year of the Black Sheep.

Now Im totally confused. I already cant wait for it to be the Year of the Monkey. Or is that Chimp? Gibbon? Ape? Primate?

You Are Cordially Invited

It was my birthday, and there was a party, but it was NOT my birthday party. You know what Im sayin?

Of course not. Im just bitching and moaning about being an item in a recent San Francisco Chronicle gossip column, called The In Crowd:

Kimberlye Gold reports that when "A Whiter Shade of Pale" played at Ben Fong-Torres' karaoke birthday party at Yet Wah in Diamond Heights, the birthday man called it "Trent Lott's favorite song."

Immediately, the calls and e-mails started coming in. Not Oh! Happy Birthday, or Hey, good line, but You had a birthday party? Why wasnt I invited?

Uhbecause it wasnt a birthday party? Which brings us back to the first graf, as newspaper people would call the opening paragraph. (See? You learned something already.)

Tuesday, which is my regular biweekly night at the Yet Wah. Since it was my birthday, Dianne, my wife, joined me. Kimberlye, a singer-songwriter and columnist for a local paper, the SF Herald, whos been part of the karaoke krew for a year, brought her mom, Doris Goldberg, her brother, and his girlfriend. By chance, my sister Shirley, operator of the popular Wok Wiz Chinatown tours, decided to bring a group of visitors in. Soon enough, there were a dozen people at our table, a cake materialized (as they often will at the Yet Wah), and, as the Chinese say, voila! A party!

And now Im in trouble. Maybe Ill just direct all my friends to this column. In fact, Ill INVITE them

My TiVo Doesnt Think Im Gay

Having had a very good 2002 that is, I didnt lose my job I rewarded myself with a couple of tech toys, a TiVo and a new car audio setup. They are both totally fly, and suggest you go out and get one of each, as soon as youve had a good year.

The TiVo (or its main competition, the Replay TV) isnt all that easy to explain, which is why they havent exploded like the DVD player. But itll happen. Basically, its a VCR converted into a computer, so its faster, fancier, and smarter. It knocks out the need for videotapes; it frees you from learning how to program a video recorder for each show you want; it helps you fly through commercial breaks, saving about 15 minutes an hour.

As for the smarts: It keeps track of what youve recorded, and of your opinions on certain shows (via a thumbs up/down button on your remote) and suggests shows you might like. In fact, it automatically records such shows while youre not watching, and theyre available to you when you turn on your TV. (With capacities of between 40 and 320 hours, theres usually room for TiVo selections.) Its a television version of Amazon and other sites that give you recommendations for purchases, based on what youve bought before.

Thats where the TiVo has wreaked some havoc. In the Wall Street Journal, an amusing report by Jeffrey Zaslow told of people whove been flooded with gay-themed programs because they happened to record one such show or movie. The My TiVo Thinks Im Gay phenomenon already has served as a plot line for the HBO series, The Mind of a Married Man.

Despite this fallout from whats known as personalization technologies, TiVo is a must-have.

And if youve become disenchanted with the state of radio, then youve also got to check out satellite radio. You have to pay for itan adapter for your current car radio, or a brand new receiver. You have to subscribe, just like for cable TV, only cheaper. And you have to choose between two not-so-fraternal twins, XM and Sirius. Each offers 100 channels covering just about any kind of music you might like, along with major news and talk networks.

But after your initial investment, youve got digital-quality music, mostly without those painfully long blocs of commercials, those deejays trying to prove that personality radio is still alive, the fading signals as you journey out of a stations reach. Satellite is with you from coast to coast, and even into your living room, if you get a portable model.

As a lifelong lover of local radio, I wondered about this new phenomenon. Would it be a soulless jukebox? Would I miss time checks, traffic and weather? I dont at all. A punch of a button, and Im back on AM or FM in time for those reports. And then back to XM to hear whatever niche of rock, blues, R&B, country, world or other music I might like. And the channels do include jingles, vintage commercials, and announcers who keep their bits refreshingly short. So its radio but unlike any kind of radio youve heard in too long at time. Tune in, turn on, and youll be knocked out.

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com