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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

In a Confused State of Mind
by Ben Fong-Torres
January 2003

AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

Happy Year of the...What?

It’s the Year of the Ram. Or is it? We’ve had a minor controversy recently at KTVU, the station that broadcasts the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. One sponsor insists that it’s the Year of the Sheep. As the co-host (with Julie Haener), and as a guy who’s been around the Lunar cycle a few times, I resisted. But then I went online, where InfoPlease.com says it’s 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 I’m totally confused. I already can’t 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 I’m sayin’?

Of course not. I’m 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 wasn’t I invited?”

Uh…because it wasn’t a birthday party? Which brings us back to the first graf, as newspaper people would call the opening paragraph. (See? You learned something already.)

Dianne and Ben at his not-birthday party.

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, who’s 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 I’m in trouble. Maybe I’ll just direct all my friends to this column. In fact, I’ll INVITE them…

My TiVo Doesn’t Think I’m Gay…

Having had a very good 2002 – that is, I didn’t 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 you’ve had a good year.

The TiVo (or its main competition, the Replay TV) isn’t all that easy to explain, which is why they haven’t exploded like the DVD player. But it’ll happen. Basically, it’s a VCR converted into a computer, so it’s 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 you’ve 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 you’re not watching, and they’re available to you when you turn on your TV. (With capacities of between 40 and 320 hours, there’s usually room for TiVo selections.) It’s a television version of Amazon and other sites that give you recommendations for purchases, based on what you’ve bought before.

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

Despite this fallout from what’s known as “personalization technologies,” TiVo is a must-have.

And if you’ve become disenchanted with the state of radio, then you’ve also got to check out satellite radio. You have to pay for it—an 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, you’ve 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 station’s 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 don’t at all. A punch of a button, and I’m 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 it’s radio – but unlike any kind of radio you’ve heard in too long at time. Tune in, turn on, and you’ll be knocked out.

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


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