Saturday, 4 February 2006

AskMen.Com's Top 99 Most Desirable Women

Recently, AskMen.Com released its annual list of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women. The list is not devoted simply to those women who are considered the most beautiful or, to put it in more modern terms, the "hottest." Physical appearance is only one of the criteria upon which AskMen.Com chooses the women who ultimately make the list. They also take into account intelligence and personality.

Of course, it is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So too, I would say, is desirability. What one man may find desirable in a woman another man might find downright annoying or, to put it more simply, undesirable. Quite naturally, then, I know very, very few people who would agree with every choice on AskMen.Com's list. And, not surprisingly, I disagree with the list on some points as well.

I guess if I begin anywhere, I should begin with those women who did not make this year's list. An obvious one that comes to my mind is Michelle Pfeiffer. To me she is still one of the most beautiful women in movies. And while her career isn't what it used to be, she is still among the most talented actresses around. Just look at her perfomrance in White Oleander. Quite frankly, she should have ranked in the Top Twenty at least, if not the Top Ten. I can only figure that because her career has slowed down, she was overlooked.

While I can perhaps understand why Michelle Pfeiffer did not make the list (she has been out of the public eye), I am totally mystified as to why Ashley Judd failed to make the cut. First, she is breathtakingly beautiful. In my humble opinion she is one of the few modern actresses who matches such classic beauties as Ava Gardner and Ingrid Bergman in sheer physical appearance. Second, there can be no doubt of her acting talent. Although she has never been nominated for an Oscar, she has been nominated and even received many other awards. Third, it seems to me that she has quite a bit of class. She turned down a bigger role in Kuffs because she would have had to do nude scenes and turned down the role of Lisa the Tool Girl on Home Improvement because she wanted to concentrate on movies. Fourth, I think there can be no doubt of her intelligence. She attended the University of Kentucky where she majored in French. How she could not be considered one of the most desirable women in the world mystifies me.

Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum are those women I feel should not have made the list. Among these is Alyson Hannigan. Now don't get me wrong. I like Alyson Hannigan. I thought she was great as Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But I never have found her particularly pretty (keep in mind I have never had a thing for redheads). I must also admit that I have to wonder about her tastes in scripts, having done the American Pie movies (a low point in 20th century Pop Culture if there ever was one). I also don't think Jennifer Garner should have made the list. Don't get me wrong. I like Jennifer Garner. She seems like a pretty cool person. But I don't find her attractive at all. Indeed, one of the reasons I liked Alias was that it was one of the few times that you had a female spy on a TV show who looked totally ordinary. I mean, wouldn't someone who could blend in with the crowd make a better spy than someone who is drop dead gorgeous? Jennifer Garner isn't desirable to me; she is utterly average.

Another woman I don't feel should have made the list is Penelope Cruz, who somehow ranked as high as 32. As far as physical appearance goes, her face is moderately pretty, but, quite frankly, she is far too skinny. After she presented on last year's Academy Awards alongside Salma Hayek, my best friend was less generous regarding Cruz's appearance--he commented that she looked like a boy beside Salma! Of course, physical appearance is only one of the criteria AskMen.Com uses in choosing women for the list, but even then it seems to me that she falls short. While I must admit she gave a good peformance in Sahara, I can't recall any of her other performances that particularly impressed me. Indeed, I remember her from Captain Corelli's Mandolin (not a good movie by any means....) in which she played a Greek woman with her Madrid accent in tact....

While there are women I would not have placed on the list at all, there are a few who made the list that I would have ranked even higher. Top on my list is Kate Beckinsale. Quite frankly, I would have ranked her at #1. In my humble opinion, with the exception of one other woman (I won't embarass her by naming her here), she may quite possibly be the most beautiful woman in the world. She has the classic beauty of many of the actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood--indeed, she played Ava Gardner and looked as good as Ava ever did! As to her talent, she can play in everything from romantic comedies like Serendipity to genre movies like Underworld to costume dramas like the A&E version of Jane Austen's Emma. And she is educated, too. She studied French and Russian literature at Oxford (for my fellow Americans reading, it is probably harder to get into Oxford than it is Harvard...). As to her personality, I have to admit that when she is on talk shows I am tranfixed to the TV screen not just because she is drop dead gorgeous, but because she has a great sense of humour and an innate gift for conversation. And she has that sexy English accent.

Another woman I feel should have ranked higher is Salma Hayek. Now she did rank at #25, which is nothing to sneeze at, but quite frankly I think she should have made the top ten. There can be no doubt of her physical beauty, not with that black hair, big, dark eyes, gorgeous smile, and voluptuous figure. But Salma also has a lot of personality going for her, too. She has a fantastic sense of humour and a gift for story telling (many of her stories are absolutely hilarious, such as the one about how she blossomed late...). And like Beckinsale, she has done a diverse number of roles. She has done everything from drama like Frida to genre movies like Dogma to action movies like Desperado. Honestly, I think it would be cool just to hang out with Salma Hayek.

I also think that Nicole Kidman should have ranked higher than #96. This is a woman who should have at least ranked in the top ten. I have thought Kidman was adorable ever since To Die For. There can be little doubt of her talent. She has won several awards over the years, among them an Oscar for her role in The Hours. And she has legs that just go on for miles. I am just shocked that she ranked so low.

If there are women I think should have ranked higher on the list, there are also women I think should have ranked lower on the list. Among these is Angelina Jolie. Okay, she is the daughter of Jon Voight (one of the coolest actors around) and the niece of Chip Taylor (born James Voight, he wrote "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning" among other songs, not to mention he worked with The Monkees...). And there is no doubt that she is physically attractive. But I don't find her so ubersexy as many people these days do--I can name many, many female celebrities I find more beautiful. As to her personality, Jolie is a bit strange even for a geek like me. I seem to remember that she and then husband Billy Bob Thornton once wore vials of each other's blood around their necks. And don't get me started about the tatoos (IMHO women should not have tatoos).... I am not going to argue that she should not have made the list. There are obviously a lot of people (Brad Pitt among them) for whom Jolie trips their triggers. But I think #3 is far too high for her to have ranked. I could see her ranking more in the low fifties or even the sixties.

I also think Sienna Miller, who came in at #2, should have ranked quite a bit lower. Now she does seem to me to be fairly talented. And she has a sexy English accent (Surrey, I think...). And she seems to have a very good sense of humour and genrally seems like a fun person. But I just don't think she is that pretty. Indeed, I am not even sure she is a natural blonde (I can't help but think she might be prettier if she went with her natural hair colour). Given her personality and talent, I am not about to argue that she should not have made the list, but I don't think I would have ranked her as high as #2.

Now having criticised the women who ranked #3 and #2 respectively, I am going to say that I have only one problem with Jessica Alba ranking #1. Namely, Kate Beckinsale should have ranked #1.... The 24 year old Alba has long been a geek sex symbol (in part due to her roles in such genre materials as the TV show Dark Angel and the movie Sin City) and I don't think it is just because of her pretty face and amazing figure. In interviews she has always impressed me as someone who would be approachable. Indeed, it seems to me that she downplays her appearance and is a bit mystified as to how she became a sex symbol. At any rate, she certainly has a good sense of humour (which is the sexiest thing about a woman).

Here I must categorically state that I am very thankful that the way overexposed Paris Hilton did not make the list. As to her physical appearance, I don't for a minute think she is a real blonde and she is far too skinny. As to her personality, well, I find her totally vacuous. Indeed, as an indication of her intelligence, well, she did do The Simple Life....

I am sure many people reading this article will probably disagree with me on many points. But, as I said, desirability, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I have no doubt that, as much as I might not agree, there are those who think Angelina Jolie should have been #1....

Friday, 3 February 2006

Good News for Harry Potter Fans

The fifth Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is set to start filming next week. This film is also being directed by another English director, David Yates. He is perhaps best known for the HBO movie The Girl in the Cafe.

This time out there will be two newcomers to the cast. One is Imelda Stauton, who most recently appeared in Nanny McPhee. In 2005 she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in the film Vera Drake and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama for the same film. She plays the part of Dolores Umbridge, familiar to readers of the novels as one of the bad guys. The other newcomer is to the cast is Evanna Lynch, a 14 year old unknown who will be playing Luna "Looney" Lovegood.

I personally thought that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the best of the films yet. It will be interesting to see if Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is even better.

Thursday, 2 February 2006

Groundhog Day 2006

Today is Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter. That having been said, I don't see how that is particularly significant for Missouri. It could be freezing cold in Pennsylvania for the next six weeks and abnormally warm here. Anyway, I think the groundhogs around here probably saw their shadows, as it is sunny today. Of course, after the weather we've had for the past month (this January was the second warmest on record), I'm not sure we will have six more weeks of winter. I think one has to have had a winter in order to have six more weeks of it....

Besides being Groundhog Day, today is also significant as the 10th anniversary of Gene Kelly's death. He died February 2, 1996 at the age of 83. Those of you who read this blog know that he is one of my favourite actors, directors, and dancers. I think he was one of the most talented men to have ever worked in film. Indeed, with Stanley Donen he directed what many consider to be the two greatest musicals of all time--Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris. Many of his films rank among my favourite movies of all time. It is sad to think of his passing, but at 83 I don't think it can be argued that he did not live a long, rich, and full life. And he left behind an amazing legacy of musicals and other films.

At any rate, today finds me in a poor mood. That is hardly surprising. I have not really been happy since October. And today just finds my mind turning once more to what I have lost in the past several months. It really doesn't matter that I am making more money than I have in quite some time. It really doesn't even matter that I have a roof over my head and food to eat. After the hurricanes that have hit last year, it seems that one cannot take such things for granted. But then, quite frankly, I would give up my home and the money I am currently making all for one, little thing. It is hard to be happy when you've found what you want in life and, well....

Anyhow, sad songs just seem to fit my mood today. In the Seventies and Eighties, as now, I listened to diverse types of music. I listened to a good deal of heavy metal (most everything except for crap like Grim Reaper and pop metal bands like Motley Crue and their ilk--*bleh*). I listened to a lot of the New Wave bands (Blondie is still a favourite). I listened to Goth (Sisters of Mercy are among my favourite bands). I listened to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin even then. And, of course, I listened to the British Invasion bands of the Sixties. Among the groups I listened to as a youngster were The Cars. There was a point in my life where I owned every one of their albums. In fact, I think I would still rank Candy O among my favourite records. I wasn't alone in this, as it seems to me that they were one of the biggest bands of the late Seventies and Eighties. Anyhow, today's song is a Cars song. And a sad one at that.

"I'm Not the One" by The Cars

Wednesday, 1 February 2006

Western Union Ends Telegram Service

On January 27 of this year Western Union stopped sending telegrams. According to their website Western Union "will discontinue all Telegram and Commercial Messaging services." I don't think it is an overstatement to say that this is an end of an era.

The telegraph was invented by Samuel Morse, who sent the first telegram on May 24, 1844. The invention was revolutionary in that it was the first means of communicating swiftly over large distances. Western Union itself was founded in 1851 as the Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company. In 1856, after acquiring other telegram companies, it became the Western Union Telegraph Company. By the War Between the States it had a coast to coast network of telegraph lines.

In the 145 years that Western Union dealt in telegrams, they had many firsts. In 1866 they introduced the world's first stock ticker. By 1871 they'd introduced money transfers. In 1914 they were responsible for the first consumer charge card (better known now as the credit card). Among other things, Western Union was among the first 11 companies to have their stocks tracked by the New York Stock Exchange upon that institution's introduction in 1884.

While the telegram has played an important role in American history, it has taken several blows from advances in technology. First the invention of the telephone, followed by long distance phone service, fax machines, and the internet, the need to send telegrams decreased dramatically for most people over the years.

Even though it is no longer in the telegram business, Western Union will survive. It will continue to offer its financial services, a business in which it has been for many, many years.

I must say that it is sad that Western Union will no longer be in the telegram business, but then I have to admit that I really don't see the need for telegrams any longer. Email, cell phones, faxes, there are just too many more efficient means of sending messages these days. In many ways, it is surprising that it took this long for Western Union to end its telegram service. It is simply another case of older techology being made obsolete by newer technology.

Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Oscar Nominations

Early this morning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominations for the 78th annual Oscars. In many ways I am happy with the nominations. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line, and David Straithairn in Good Night and Good Luck definitely deserved Oscar nods (it is interesting to note that all three also play historical figures in their movies--Truman Capote, Johnny Cash, and Edward R. Murrow respectively). As to the Best Actress nominations, it is good to see Keira Knightley get a nomination for Pride and Prejudice. I certainly cannot argue with Good Night and Good Luck and Crash being nominated for Best Picture. I think the nominees for Best Animated Feature are fairly solid (I honestly think Corpse Bride should win, but I suspect the winner will be Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit). I am also very happy that Robert Altman is receiving the Lifetime Acheivement Award. He has always been one of my favourite directors.

That having been said, I am sorely disappointed that Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong was nominated only for technical awards. This is the best film of the year, in my humble opinion. It should have been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (or maybe Best Adapted Screenplay, given it is based on a previous movie--I don't know how they handle remakes...). Naomi Watts should have received a Best Actress nod for her role as Ann Darrow. For that matter, I think Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith should have gotten a Best Picture nod, as well as Best Director and several other awards. As usual it seems to me that the Academy is snubbing genre films (I think the last one to win the Best Picture award was Silence of the Lambs). Of course, that does not explain why Walk the Line did not receive a Best Picture nomination. The movie seemed to be an odds on favourite to be nominated. And it seems to me that it could be more deserving of the honour than Munich,if nothing else for the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Over all, beyond snubbing King Kong and Revenge of the Sith, I cannot complain too much about this year's Oscar nominations. Although I must say that ignoring the best movie of the year does tend to put a damper on my enthusiasm for the awards....

Sunday, 29 January 2006

Bundled Software

Having recently bought a new PC, I thought tonight I would talk about bundling. No, I am not talking about the strange, Early Colonial custom practised by the Yankees. Instead I am talking about the practice of selling software as part of a package, in particular as part of an operating system such as Windows. Two prime examples of bundled software are Internet Explorer and RealPlayer, which I swear has been a part of Windows at least since 95.

Bundling software is nothing new. In fact, the first instance of a computer being sold with bundled software was all the way back in 1981. That year the Osborne Computer Corporation introduced the first portable PC to see any kind of success. Among other things, the Osborne-1 included bundled software. Naturally, other computer companies followed suit. Indeed, I can remember in the days of MS-DOS, many computers came with WordPerfect already installed.

While bundling software has been around almost as long as PCs have, it has also been a source of controversy at times. In 1997 Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer 4 (quite possibly the worst browser known to man...). Naturally, it was bundled with Windows. Indeed, not only was it bundled with Windows, it was fully integrated with the operating system (as Internet Explorer still is today). This would lead to accusations that Microsoft unfairly used the Windows operating system as a means to defeat Netscape in the browser wars. Ultimately it would lead to a court case filed against Microsoft on May 18, 1998 by the United States Department of Justice, henceforth known as the United States Vs. Microsoft.

Quite frankly, to me Internet Explorer 4 is a perfect case of software being bundled with an operating system that either one does not like or does not use. At that time I was a loyal follower of Netscape Communicator. I downloaded it onto my old PC at the soonest available opportunity. I would have been much happier if Microsoft had simply included Netscape with Windows 98. Of course, I might not have objected to Internet Explorer 4 so much if it was not, in my humble opinion, the worst browser ever created in the history of man. Maybe in the history of the universe. It would crash. It would lock the PC up. It would crash the PC. And it seems as if I wasn't the only one this would happen to. I knew a lot of people with bad experiences with Internet Explorer 4. I was so relieved when Microsoft came out with Internet Explorer 5 (AKA the "patch for Internet Explorer 4....").

While I might have used Internet Explorer 4 if it hadn't been so darn buggy, there is other software that is bundled with Windows that I simply don't use. The prime examples of this are Microsoft Money and Quicken. I don't have any use for either of these progammes. After all, I balance my books the old fashioned way--with pen, cheque book, and ATM (okay, the ATM isn't that old fashioned....). Of course, this points to another problem with bundling software. Often times there will be two (or more--see below) programmes that duplicate each other in their functions. Why anyone would need both Quicken and Microsoft Money, I have no idea....

Indeed, my new PC demonstrates this phenomenon perfectly. Not only do I have Windows Media Player and RealPlayer, but I also have two (maybe three, for all I know...) other programes which can play audio and video files! Now why anyone would need so many media programmes, I don't know, but they came bundled on the computer....

I wouldn't find such duplication, triplication, and even quadruplication of programmes with similar functions so annoying if it wasn't for the fact that my new PC did not come with programmes that I would either use or even need. While I have four programmes with which to play MP3s, I don't have any graphics programmes (Paint does not count...). Would it really have hurt them to have bundled Paint Shop Pro with the computer? I mean, it would be nice to have a means to create and edit images (as in logos, buttons, et. al. for web sites). Of course, Paint Shop Pro is just a luxury for me. It's not like I don't have it on my old PC, but I would have really appreciated FTP software. As a webmaster I absolutely need it. After all, I do upload files to my web site at times. I had to download WS FTP as soon as possible.

Of course, one can get the programmes he or she wants through one of the direct order companies (companies such as Dell and Gateway that sell directly to the customer). When one orders a PC directly from a company, he or she has some choice in what programmes come with their computer. If he or she wants Firefox on their PC, chances are they can get it. Unfortunately, direct order is not a solution for those of us who prefer to buy their PCs at Best Buy or WalMart...

Ultimately, I suppose that what is bundled with PCs is largely dictated by what is popular at the time. For the past few years downloading music has become an outright fad. For that reason I have more than one programme on my PC that can handle audio files. A few years ago, when the World Wide Web was still fairly young and novel, one could find FTP programmes and even multiple browsers bundled on computers. I guess since PC manufacturers and Microsoft will probably always pay attention to what is popular, the only way consumers will get the software they want is to make their voices heard. I rather suspect if a large number of computer users made it known that they wanted a graphics programme with their PC, we might well see Paint Shop Pro bundled on more machines...