Monday, June 26, 2017

stacking up on tv

My first taste of TV fame. I guess.



Ethan, Blair and I were on a public access TV show -- "Open" on BronxNet. We were talking about Stack-Up, how it was founded, and our role in it. I'd love to say that this appearance was the culmination of lots of hard work. But the truth is, it kind of fell in our lap. We had signed up to help with a service event run by The Mission Continues -- another military-related charity. The Mission Continues works with veterans to find ways that they can continue serving their communities after their service in the armed forces is over.

Anyway, the event was a Bronx River and Park cleanup. "Open" is kind of a public interest talk show, spotlighting events and organizations in the Bronx, so they had some interest in this service event. They had originally asked about having us on before the cleanup, I guess so we could talk it up. But due to some miscommunication, we ended up being scheduled for the Monday after the event. But the event was postponed due to rain anyway, so it was just as well.

Of course, the upshot is that we never talked about the service event. We just talked about Stack-Up, Which was fine by me. Of course, since this is a Bronx-based show, and none of this really related to the Bronx, our segment seemed a little out of place. I had to wonder if the host, interviewing us, was wondering WTF we were doing on his show.

It was fun in a nerve-wracking way. I am, after all, the kind of guy who craves a spotlight. But I also get nervous when that spotlight is arriving. I remember from my acting days. I loved being onstage. But backstage, waiting for my cue, I was always a nervous wreck. I'd stand there, cursing at myself for getting involved in the show, and swearing never to do it again. Then I'd hear my cue, shove my face in a cream pie* and go out onstage to have fun.

It's hard for me to judge how well things went. Watching the video, I can see how I could have done better -- both in manner of speech and posture. I also realize how we could have answered things differently. When the host asked about our next event, that could have been a perfect time to plug the Bronx River cleanup. But for some reason none of us thought of it. Maybe with experience we'll get better at that kind of thing. But a few of the other guests on the show came up to us afterwards and asked for a business card, saying that it sounds like Stack-Up is doing really good work. I hope they weren't just being nice.

Oh,  but that sunburned face. Maybe I shouldn't have spent Saturday at the beach.

*OK, the cream pie part only happened in "The Age of Pi," which was the last show I was in before Blair and I got married.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

a father's day song collection

In honor of Father's Day, I present ten songs about fathers.

1) My Old Man (Ian Dury)

2) Daddy Put the Bomp (Ducks Deluxe)

3) Papa Was a Rolling Stone (The Temptations)

4) Last Game of the Season (David Geddes)

5) Papa Don't Preach (Madonna)

6) My Two Dads Theme (Greg Evigan)

7) Dear Dad (Chuck Berry)

8) My Dad's Face (Five Chinese Brothers)

9) The Leader of the Band (Dan Fogelberg)

10) A Boy Named Sue (Johnny Cash)



Friday, June 16, 2017

the giant behemoth (cinema history class)

Session: Giant Monster Month, week 3
Movie: The Giant Behemoth (1959)
Directed by Eugene Laurie
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

A giant behemoth (clever title -- get it?) that can shoot radioactivity rampages through London. Hilarity ensues.

Reaction:
I'm having a bear of a time figuring out whether I like Giant Behemoth better than 20 Million Miles to Earth, or vice versa. Maybe I shouldn't try to hard. Either I'll figure it out, or I won't.

GiBe has a lot of buildup. There's a lot of talk and a lot of strategizing before you actually see the monster. And even more before you get a good view it. But once the action really gets going and the carnage starts, it's full of action and excitement in a way that 20MMtE never was. The effects -- mostly stop-motion animation -- are often cheesy, but it's really fun to watch.

ON the downside, I actually found the ending to be kind of anticlamactic. I'm not entirely sure why; the story wrapped up. But it just seemed...I don't know...unsatisfying.

One interesting thing about this movie is that a lot of the conventions of movie storytelling were thrown out the window. I'm not sure if I'd have consciously noticed that if Joe hadn't pointed it out. Early on we meet this attractive young couple who get embroiled in the situation. In most movies their chracters would have stayed central to the plot, even after the monster has moved on from their fishing village to London. It wouldn't make sense, but it would have happened in most movies. Here, the action moved on to London and the various military, scientific and civil personnel. In some ways, that was good. The extra realism is nice to have. But there really wasn't much in the way of a personal story to follow. I think the movie would have benefited from one.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.9
  • Sean 2 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 9
  • Ethan: 6
  • Me: 9.3
The Giant Behemoth fails the Bechdel Test.

some progress on the screenplay

A few months ago I posted about starting work on my screenplay for Bleed Me a River.

In the time since that post I have made very little progress. One challenge has been that I'm not sure if I'm writing the story or the dialogue. In a sense I've been trying to do both at the same time, and confusing myself with it.

Finally, last week I made a little progress. I added some dialogue, and sections in the draft screenplay where I describe (in red, which I'm using to draw my attention to places that need work) a scene or a series of scenes or just a vague idea of what I need to have happen. In a couple of places I simply have the words "STUFF HAPPENS HERE."

But last night I made real progress. I had printed out a copy of what I had, and gave it to Joe (from film class) to read. I am hoping to get him involved in the project when it's further along. He is good with dialogue and I hope he can help me with mine. I'm finding it easier to write the story -- this happens, then that happens, then the other thing happens -- than actual dialogue. Maybe seeing what I have will whet his appetite. Don't tell him that that's my plot. Joe, if you're reading this, just remember that you didn't read it.

Anyway, printing it out must have primed the pump or something. In class, I gave him the printout. And then all sorts of ideas came to me.

This can happen. And it can explain this action. But then do this. Then that. Yeah! that'll help explain this!

When I got home from the film class, I started typing an email to Keith. I wanted to run these ideas by him. And, as I typed, more ideas came to me. So much more of this film makes sense to me. The ideas are starting to gain coherence, and the plot is becoming more complex. One of my concerns had been that the premise was too thin. And now it's becoming more robust.

I am stoked about this.

recount, anyone?

Today my chapter of Toastmasters held its annual election. Someone had nominated me for Treasurer. Nominations were made a few weeks ago, so it's not like it was a surprise today. But, as a candidate, I had to make a short speech in honor of my candidacy. Damn, who knew that I'd have to give speeches in Toastmasters?

Anyway, I was kind of ambivalent about the nomination. Willing to serve if elected, but not really eager. I'd be more interested in doing that kind of thing with LIDS. But, whatever...

The text of my speech was as follows:

I am honored to have been nominated, and -- if elected -- will serve to the best of my abilities. However in this age of rancorous politics it is important to remember that my opponents are not my enemies. I am sure that either of them would serve ably and well if elected. So vote for whichever candidate you feel is the best. I will humbly accept the decision of the club.

I didn't win.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

work on shabbos? try calling it melakha

Over a year ago, I posted this item about a conversation I overheard. In a nutshell, someone was having trouble with the idea that rational numbers are countable. His problems boiled down to the fact that he didn;t understand the precise definition of "countable." The rational numbers don't meet his intuitive definition.

I was thinking of another example where words have specific meanings, and people get confused because they aren;t quite aware of it. That example is halakhah -- Jewish law. People know that, observant Jews cannot perform work on the Sabbath. But it can seem confusing. You can't carry a housekey with you when you go for a walk (unless you stay inside an enclosure -- the definition of which is more complicated than I will go into here). I've known people to have housekeys made into pins or tie-bars so they can take them with them by wearing them. Meanwhile, though carrying a key is "work" and against the rules, you can carry a 50-pound sack of concrete back and forth in your living room. For hours. No problem.

How is carrying the concrete in your living room not "work"?

The answer is that the prohibition isn;t against "work" (whether that be as defined by physics or colloquial usage). The prohibition is against a class of activities, the Hebrew word for which is "melakhah." I won't attempt to give a definition of melakhah or list the activities in the class. "Melakhah" is often translated as "work" because that's proved useful as a shorthand. But the key is to remember that it's just shorthand, and sometimes it's wrong.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

grammar rage volume ii: the exception that proves the rule

This time I turn my attention to the misused phrase, "the exception that proves the rule."

The phrase is often used to mean "the exception to the rule." Consider the hypothetical conversation:

"Of course colas have caffeine. But root beers don't."
"Well, Barq's root beer has caffeine."
"Yeah, well, that's the exception that proves the rule."

It kind of goes along with the (incorrect) idea that every rule has to have an exception. Of course, the logic doesn't hold. Finding an exception to a rule doesn't prove that the rule is a rule. If anything, it weakens it.

Unless...

Suppose there's no rule explicitly stated, but an exception is explicitly stated. The statement of the exception implies the existence of the rule. Because, if there were no rule, there would be no need to state the exception. And that's what "the exception that proves the rule" is all about.

Suppose, for example, there's a sign along the curb: "No parking Wednesdays 9 AM - 10 AM." Because there's a sign specifying a limited time when parking is not allowed, one can reasonably infer that parking is allowed at other time. The exception, the stated fact that you can't park during that one hour every week, proves the rule, that you can park there other times.

labels up!

Bedhead -- the only 2017 cultivar in my garden
It took some time, but I finally put up the labels I ordered for my daylilies. Well, I put up 54 of them. There are two more that I have to put up when I have more stakes. Which I'll be able to buy next Saturday at the LIDS meeting.

I have plenty of unlabeled daylilies; I've been buying and planting them for a few years, without labeling or keeping track of what I have. My attitude has been that they're pretty flowers and that's all that matters. I'm still not sure what switch flipped in me this year to make me want to label things, but I've gone about labeling new additions to my garden (as well as the few plants I've already had that -- for one reason or another -- I can identify). Maybe it's the OCD side of my nature kicking in.

And, speaking of the OCD side of my nature, I have this handy-dandy list of the plants I have. The information is taken from the AHS online database. All except for Bedhead, which is a 2017 introduction that's not in the AHS database yet. For that, I took information from Rich Howard's website. Unfortunately, the AHS database is incomplete. C'est la vie.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

how did you appreciate me today?

I really miss the Ypsilanti Press. Ypsilanti, Michigan, is a small city sitting between Ann Arbor and Detroit. The Press was a crappy little newspaper, overshadowed by the Detroit papers -- the Free Press and the Daily News. And it was even overshadowed by The Ann Arbor News. And, if I am not mistaken, it stopped publishing more than 20 years ago.

But I loved it because it seemed that they would print any stupid letter I sent them.

And, remembering one of those stupid letters, I say I hope you've spent today as it was intended -- appreciating me.

20 million miles to earth (cinema history class)


Session: Giant Monster Month, week 2
Movie: 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)
Directed by Nathan Juran
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

A mysterious animal, brought back from venus and accidentally let loose, is growing at an alarming rate and rampaging through Italy. Hilarity ensues.

Reaction:
There are some ways that this movie is extraordinary. The alien's movement (and some other things) was achieved through stop-motion animation. Given the movie's vintage, and what was generally being done when it was made, this was done remarkably well. There is a little bit of jerkiness to the monster's movement, but not a whole lot. On the other hand, I found a lot of the blue screen effects to be jarring. In the film's defense, Dave pointed out that that's a result of the extra clarity renderred on the DVD. When it was shown in theatres (and, later, on TV) it would have looked less conspicuous.

Putting aside the technical marvels, this was a decent narrative. In some ways, it was an update of King Kong (Joe correctly pointed that out).  And like that earlier movie, this one makes you sympathize with the monster. He was kidnapped on his won planet and brought to earth. Once here, he still seems to want to get along. But the damn humans just won't leave him alone. The humans really are the monsters here. In some ways it reminded me of that episode of Twilight Zone with Agnes Moorehead. Where she, silently and alone, tries to fend off invading space aliens.

But, while it was a good story, I didn't find it to be as compelling as The Monster Who Challenged the World.

I couldn't help marveling at how much the creature reminded me of the Gorn. Though he was much better done. But, in a subsequent email, Sean noted that it looked like several different monsters from different movies. I guess he was just...monstrous.

One thing that struck a chord was the long climactic battle at the Coliseum. I have often thought about the struggles and issues of fighting a war among historically significant ruins. The walls around the old city of Jerusalem are pockmarked by bullet holes from the many wars fought there.

Finally, one thing that bothered me -- in a minor way -- was the fact that they inserted exposition to explain why the monster was growing so fast. It was some gobbledygook about the earth's atmosphere. Seems to me they should have left that out. Until that point, I was just assuming it was growing fast because that's what members of its species do. That seemed more believable to me than the explanation that was given. I pointed that out in our after-discussion. Keith called me out, claiming that, if they hadn't given that explanation, I would be complaining -- "how the hell was he growing that fast." And the rest of the class agreed with him. The bastards.

Well, they're all wrong. I was happy assuming that the monster's species simply grows fast. I found their explanation distracting and annoying. So fuck everyone else in the class.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.8
  • Dave: 9.5 to 9.6
  • Sean 3 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 8.5
  • Ethan: 8
  • Me: 8
20 Million Miles to Earth fails the Bechdel Test.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

fun fax about me

A few random factoids about me:

I have voted in every Presidential election since I became eligible to vote. But there is no one whom I have voted for for President more than once.

I had a favorite teacher in junior high school -- what they now call middle school. Looking back, I don't think he was a good teacher.

I have had season tickets for the following professional sports franchises:
  • New York Yankees (Saturdays only)
  • New York Mets (Saturdays only)
  • New York Saints
  • New York Dragons
  • New York CityHawks
  • New Jersey Red Dogs
The first song I ever wrote was titled "Fiddler Off the Roof." It sucked.

When I had a driver's license from Michigan, my picture on it showed me with a beard on one side of my face and clean shaven on the other.

In high school, my favorite band was Ducks Deluxe. I wore a denim jacket with a large duck painted on the back.


My grandfather's cousin was married to the man who invented the video game, Pong.

Four governors proclaimed holidays in honor of my having driven in their states. Three of those proclamations are framed in my office over my desk.

When I was in elementary school I had a copy of Dr. Seuss' My Book About Me. I had to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I put down "an office worker." I have since realized that childhood dream.

I remember sitting at the dinner table as a child and arguing with my father about whether the rational numbers are countable.




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

songs about the movies

Another "for the hell of it" post. Here are some songs about the movie industry. I am purposely not including songs that were written for a movie, and I am :

1) B Movies (The Fabulous Poodles)

2) Marie Provost (Nick Lowe)

3) Saturday Night at the Movies (The Drifters)

4) The Saga Begins (Weird Al Yankovic)

5) Celluloid Heroes (The Kinks)

6) Act Naturally (Buck Owens)

7) Let's Go to the Pictures (Wreckless Eric)

8) (I Wanne Be) Your Steve McQueen (Eytan Mirsky)


9) Movie Magg (Carl Perkins)

10) My Baby's The Star of A Drivers Ed Movie (Blotto)



Tuesday, June 6, 2017

d-day + 73

Barely a week after Memorial Day, we mark the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.


I can't adequately comprehend what our young soldiers were thinking and feeling as they approached the beach, ready or readying to battle the Nazis for a foothold. And I won't try. If you want, or need an account of the horror, read S.L.A. Marshall's account from the November, 1960, issue of The Atlantic.


Nevertheless, in an era when it is easy to take what we have for granted, it is important to remember the sacrifices se you men made so that it could be so.



Monday, June 5, 2017

bay day with stack-up in oyster bay

We spent yesterday in Oyster Bay, celebrating "Bay Day" with the Waterfront Center. Not as attendees, but as vendors. We were there, in spot number 13, representing Stack-Up. I don't quite know how the opportunity came about. I assume it has to do with the fact that we participate in the Center's horseshoe crab census. Somehow Cameron (the guy running the census) hooked us up.

Blair and Ethan handled our table while I watched Asher. The highlight for me was our tour of the bay in a restored 19th-century sailboat. He also spent a lot of time at the touch tank with the crabs, sea cucumbers and other sea beasties.

Back at the table, BVlair and Ethan were handing out Stack-Up materials and getting strangers to do pushups. Anyone who could do 30 pushups in a minute was entered in a raffle to win video game codes. We also made some more contacts.

Music was provided by a Long Island band, Roy Wilson & the Buzzards. They're primarily a rockabilly band, though I noticed they play a lot faster than most traditional rockabilly bands. Not quite psychobilly, but fast. Their sets were a mix of covers and originals. I think my favorite number of theirs was the Moon Mullican classic "Seven Nights to Rock." Admittedly, I know of that song because of Nick Lowe's version.

Other vendors included the National Park Service and the Long Island Whaling Museum.

Unfortunately, attendance was low because of the weather. It was threatening to rain all day. That is, all day until it started to actually rain at around 1:00. Personally, I didn't mind the rain, but it did depress turnout. Hopefully next year's event will be sunnier.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

small world

Mynelle's Starfish
Cute little coincidence time.

By way of background, I should note that, while I have decided to start labeling my daylilies this year, I have many clumps that I plated in years past that will remain unidentified simply because I wasn't labeling them.

I was weeding part of the garden yesterday, and noticed plastic stakes at the bases of a couple clumps. These are the stakes that were in the pots these plants came in when I got them. Wiping off the dirt, I could barely make out the names: "Mynelle's Starfish" and "Happy Returns."

Since I had recently placed an order for several labels, I emailed the man who makes the labels to see if I could add these two to the existing order. It's cheaper to do that than create a new order for two labels.

Anyway, I heard back from the man who makes the labels. "Mynelle's Starfish was named after Mynelle Hayward. When he (the label-manufacturer) was a kid, he was Ms. Hayward's paperboy. Small world.



Saturday, June 3, 2017

speck and bungee on the wall of fame

Two of the women I work with have devoted one wall of the cubicle they share to pet pictures. I believe this started with pictures of their dogs. Then other people gave them pet pictures. I have never seen the display myself, since they work in Charlotte and I'm in New York. But the
display includes several of our cats and former cats: Red, Cream, 18, Spiderman and Morgan. Apparently this includes brief biographical information; when I emailed pictures of the cats, I included some information about each cat, and the colleagues dutifully printed out the information and put it up with the pictures.

Yesterday I came across a picture of Speck and Bungee, the cats I had when I met Blair. After some IM back and forth, I sent a scan of the picture along with a brief bio. Apparently the biographical tidbits actually get people to stop and read.

Anyway, here is the picture and what I wrote about the cats.



I got Speck and Bungee from a shelter in 1995 after a broken engagement. Yes, they were rebound cats. I gave Speck his name because of the black speck on his otherwise-pink nose. Bungee got his name because she looked like she was bungee jumping when she chased a little toy that I got for them.

Bungee was very affectionate, always wanting to be on my lap. Actually, it was quite annoying; I’d push her off and she’d jump back on. Over and over and over. Speck wasn’t quite so demonstrative, but did have a habit of headbutting me in the morning when he thought it was time to get up. One morning when I tried to ignore him, he gave me a bloody nose with that head of his. Speck was (to date) the only cat I ever had who needed a therapist. The therapist prescribed an antidepressant, but that didn’t work out particularly well. The drug only came in pill form, and I had to mash it up and mix it with their food. As an aside, that meant giving them canned cat food. Yuck. Anyway, Speck could smell the drug in the food, and didn’t want it. So I’d give the cats their food with the medicine mixed in. Bungee ate it without concern (the therapist said it was OK if she ate it, even if she didn’t need the drug). Speck would sit by the bowl and stare at it. Then he’d glare at me. He’d get a bit on his paw and sniff it, then fling it across the room. He repeated that several times, covering the cream-colored walls in a mix of catfood and antidepressant. Eventually, he’d give up and eat a bit. I hated cleaning the walls afterwards.

So we went on like that. When I started seeing Blair, she went out of her way to get the cats to like her. That meant (among other things) feeding them. Speck got used to her easily. Bungee became intensely jealous. After Blair had moved in, Bungee would thank her for her food with an angry hiss.

When we moved into a house, Speck had trouble adapting, and kept getting out. One time, in 2002, he escaped and never came back. We had Bungee for another three years, until she suffered a stroke and had to be put down. We buried her in the backyard.

the monster that challenged the world (cinema history class)



Session: Giant Monster Month, week 1
Movie: The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)
Directed by Arnold Laven
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

An earthquake under the Salton Sea has release prehistoric giant mollusks whose hunger is a threat to all in the area. Maybe even the world. Hilarity ensues.

Teeing Up:
Keith noted that, for giant monster month, he decided to show us four monster movies that have four different types of monsters. This week we were in for the giant bug.

Reaction:
I'm no expert on 1950's science fiction. I've seen a few of the iconic films, and some others. But I have a concept in mind when I think of it. And this movie was exactly what I have in mind. Given that, and the fact that I was going to use that point to start off my comments, I was glad to hear Joe start his comments by saying that this was the perfect 1960's scifi film.

The monster was actually Actually really scary (at least when we saw it underwater -- out of water, it sometimes looked a bit ridiculous). But there was only one jump scare. THat works for me. One of the things I don;t like about a lot of new horror movies is that they rely on multiple jump scares. I just don;t like being startled that way. But once in the course of a movie is OK.

As an aside, I will note that the movie raised a philosophical question. Suppose someone offers to sell you a pen for a dollar. But after you pay him, he runs off without giving you the pen. WHat has he stolen from you? The dollar or the pen?

One thing I liked about this is the pseudo-scientific explanation for what is going on. A movie like this really needs to have exposition to explain "scientific" basis for what's happening. In some, the explanation is completely absurd, but in this it actually seems plausible.

The one flaw with this film (and it's not really with the film, but with the stuff around it) is that the title and the trailer represent a bit of false advertising. The title implies a bigger threat to the world, and the trailer even shows a shot of the monster threatening Los Angeles. In reality, all that's directly threatened is a rural area in the California Desert. Also, the trailer says that the monster is "reptilian," but according to the movie it was a mollusk. Of course, it looked like an larval insect. Whatever.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.6 to 9.7
  • Dave: 9.2 to 9.3
  • Sean 2 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 6 to 7
  • Ethan: 8
  • Me: 9.2
  • Christina: 8
The Monster That Challenged the World passes the Bechdel Test. Barely.

Extras:
Keith gave us a used VCR. He had it and doesn't want it anymore, but doesn;t like to throw things in the garbage. He gave it to us to give away on Freecycle. I think we'll keep it instead. Don't tell him. Oh, and Keith, if you're reading this, please stop before the beginning of this paragraph.

Friday, June 2, 2017

sitcom characters appearing on game shows

For the hell of it, here are some of my favorite appearances by TV sitcom characters on game shows. If you have favorites that I didn;t include, please comment to let me know:

1) Cliff Claven on Jeopardy
This is one of the best. I occasionally hear oblique references to this. People will say something along the lines of "Those are three people who have never been in my kitchen." Maybe I just hang with a dorky crowd. One question: In the audience, in front of Norm and Woody, is that Mark Margolis (who is best known for playing Uncle Ring-a-Ding in Better Call Saul)?

2) Ralph Kramden on The $99,000 Answer
My father loved The Honeymooners, and imparted that to me. This was one of my favorite episodes. I will sometimes say "I Brive a Dus."

3) The Griffin Family on Family Feud
Kids today may not recognize this incarnation of FF, but it's what I grew up with

4) Eunice Higgins on The Gong Show

This is kind of a rule-bender, since Eunice was really not a sitcom character. She was a character (played by Carol Burnett) in a recurring sketch on Burnett's eponymous variety show. But I'm willing to include it because I thought it was hilarious, and I'm using the loophole that the recurring sketch was eventually adapted for a sitcom, Mama's Family. Now, Eunice wasn't actually a regular on the series, but...whatever. Also, I acknowledge that this is a poor quality video. But it's the best I could do.

5) Felix Unger and Oscar Madison on Password

The writers at The Odd Couple worked Felix and Oscar into a number of shows, including Password and Let's Make a Deal, as well as several talk shows and a football broadcast. It was generally premised on the fact that Oscar was a semi-celebrity, and he brought Felix along for the ride. This was my favorite of those segments.

As a note, I wanted to include a segment from Happy Days. In one episode, Richie Cunningham appears on the game show, Big Money. Because of his all-American good looks, the producers give him the answers. This was a direct commentary on the game show scandal of the 1950s. I'm not including a clip here because I couldn't find it on Youtube.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

how similar are these two songs?

Am I the only one who hears a strong similarity between "I Fought the Law" by the Bobby Fuller Four and "My Baby Loves Me" by Martina McBride? I'm talking lawsuit levels of similarity.




This was prompted by a Youtube video I was watching. It was by WatchMojo, and presented a list of records that were similar enough to other so as to lead to lawsuits. But the first thing that came to my mind was Fuller and McBride.

Anyone?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

southwest does boarding right

I flew Southwest Airlines for the first time this weekend*. I am now a fan. Or, at least, I'm a fan of their method for boarding passengers.

In my experience with other airlines, you have an assigned seat (usually picked when you bought your ticket). At the gates, boarding is done in groups. But, there are many people in each group, and within the group, boarding order is pretty much a race to see who can get to the line first. And I use the word "line" somewhat loosely. It's more of a mob. It kind of resembles commuters crowding around the escalator on the subway, except that in the case of the subway, people aren't waiting around for the escalator to open up. At the airport, people start arriving at the gate an hour or more in advance, often before the prior flight has taken off. Once there, many jockey for position, trying to be as close as possible to the door. They try to figure out how close they can get without breaking the rules or being too rude. That's the part of flying that I hate the most. The stressful competition to be the first on. You stand in your spot, thinking it would be wrong to go farther. And then someone who showed up afterwards calmly walks past you and positions himself closer than you are. AAARRRRGGGHHH!

Come on, admit it, you know what I'm talking about.

The fact is, you can avoid all that by simply waiting around and getting on at your leisure. You have your assigned seat, and the plane is going to the same place. So what does it matter? There was a time that it didn't really matter. But in today's age where most airlines charge for checked luggage, most passengers try to avoid checking luggage, so the overhead space for carry-ons is at a premium. If you get on too late and the overhead space is all taken, you have to gate-check your bag. It's not the end of the world, but it can be an inconvenience. And, of course, people are people. And we are just apes defending their own turf.

Now, with Southwest, there are no assigned seats. Instead, you get a number when you check in, and boarding is done by the numbers. For yesterday's flight I was B18. So I got to board after B17 and before B19. Once on, I got to take whatever unclaimed seat I chose. The stakes of boarding are higher, since seats are first-come first-served, but since the order is chosen, the stress is lower. Not just for me, but for others around me. I found it a much more pleasant experience.

Also, I love the snazzy yellow, red and blue hearts.

*And boy, are my arms tired!

Monday, May 29, 2017

on chuck's allergy

Spoiler Alert

There's something that puzzles me about Better Call Saul, which can be seen in the following video:


The necessary background is that Chuck has an apparent sensitivity to electricity and certain frequencies of EM radiation. I say "apparent" because we learned early on that it's psychosomatic.

Anyway, as we see, Chuck believes that batteries cause him pain. I don't understand that part. Even if the battery is charged, there's no flow of electricity without a closed circuit. Seems to me (not that I'm an expert), that wouldn't be problematic.

Are there people who actually have this kind of allergy to electricity? Are they affected by charged batteries that are not in a closed circuit?

Friday, May 26, 2017

the black cat (cinema history class)


Session: Pass the Poe -- Hold the Price, week 4
Movie: The Black Cat (1966)
Directed by Harold Hoffman
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

A deranged writer is more interested in petting his cat than his wife. When the cat spurns him he kills it, unleashing its thirst for kitty vengeance. Hilarity ensues.

Teeing Up:
Keith let us know that this was an odd adaptation of Poe. Set in modern day Texas, it has been criticized as not being true to the original. But, Keith assured us, it actually is faithful. And writer/director Harold Hoffman was a bit off his rocker.

Reaction:
Keith was right. This was faithful to the Poe classic. At least, as faithful to Poe as you can get while including surf music and car chases.

Snark aside, this went over great. Personally, I loved it. "The Black Cat" is my favorite Poe story (not that I'm an expert on the man's work), and this one actually managed to fit in all the essential elements. I was really wondering how they'd work in that whole brick 'em up in the wall angle, but they managed.

For a film this disturbing, there was remarkably little gore. And that worked to its benefit. When there was blood, it really got you.

Of course, to make a full length feature out of a short story like "The Black Cat," you have to add material, and Hoffman did a nice job, adding cars, monkeys and rock and roll. And a backstory of creepy familial dynamics.

This was the best of Keith's class, as we saw a rare gem that I wouldn't have even heard about otherwise. It was, by far, the best night of this session.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.9
  • Dave: 9
  • Sean 3 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 9.5
  • Ethan: 9
  • Me: 9.7
The Black Cat fails the Bechdel Test.

Extras:
Our warmup this week was a 1971 short interpretation of The Tell-Tale Heart. It was pretty good, though nowhere near in league with the feature. What was truly odd was the fact that it was purposely given the feel of a film from the 19-teens, except for the protagonist, who was dressed in 1971 contemporary clothing and hairstyle. He kind of looked like an extra from a gay porn movie, which made a stark contrast with the Scrooge-looking victim. Lucky for my loyal reader, its available on Youtube:



Monday, May 22, 2017

phantom of the rue morgue (cinema history class)


Session: Pass the Poe -- Hold the Price, week 3
Movie: Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

People are dying in Paris. The police know who the killer is. Or do they? Hilarity ensues.

Teeing Up:
This movie -- or atleast the Poe story on which it was based, served as inspiration for Keith's first feature, The Bloody Ape, and he talked at length about the connections. Fun fact: The Bloody Ape began its life as a very different project, called Bigfoot On Campus. Anyway, Keith gave special recognition to Charles Gemora, who played the gorilla. My feeble attempt at humor (something about Jimmy Sodom working with Charles Gemora) went over like a led balloon. Oh well.

Reaction:
I had a hard time getting into this film. I think my problem stems from the fact that it was in 3-D. And I don;t mean the modern impressive 3-D that works really well. I'm talking about the cheesy 1950s-era 3-D that was just distracting. So, wearing the paper 3-D glasses over my regular glasses was a distraction, and I just couldn't get them positioned properly for the effect to work. So instead I had an uncomfortable arrangement and saw a phantom shadow next to the image on the screen.

So, based on that, it's hard for me to really judge the movie on its merits. I will acknowledge that the opening scene with the circus knife-thrower was very well done. The suspense built, and I found myself in rapt attention, wondering if he'll "miss" and hit his assistant.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.8
  • Sean 2 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 6.5
  • Ethan: 4
  • Me: 4.5
Phantom of the Rue Morgue fails the Bechdel Test.

Extras:
Our warmup this week was a 1979 animated interpretation of The Cask of Amontillado. This was an interestingly low-tech version. The animation consisted of paintings, over which the camera moved. But the paintings were quite good in a disturbing sort of way, and gave life to the production. The audio was a simple reading of the story verbatim. This was my first exposure to this particular Poe story, and experiencing it for the first time in this venue was great. But, what's with him and the whole sealing people up in walls thing?

with asher at the steamworks festival of curiosity

I spent yesterday with Asher at the "Steamworks Festival of Curiosity" in Brooklyn. I'm not quite sure how to describe the festival, except to say that there were several exhibitors with booths set up with materials and/or activities designed to encourage curiosity. Curiosity, afterall, is fundamental to science.

I was a bit surprised at the level of the material. I had been told that this was aimed at high school students. Yet in actuality it seemed as if it had been aimed directly at Asher, and he's 8 years old. Of course, most of the kids there were in the same age range. So I still don;t see how it was an event for teenagers.

Staten Island Makerspace, was there with their "Steam Truck," a box van with various tools and electronic toys. The main displays inside were a 3-D printer and a vintage typewriter. Otside they had a portable laser cutter that they used to burn kids' names into plywood. Asher left with a 3-D printed fidget spinner (sans bearings which I'll have to buy) and, well, a piece of plywood with his name burned into it.

Next to that were two tables that I thought made an interesting juxtaposition. Both tables had a bunch of broken electronic components -- radios, DVD players, etc. One table was run by a man trying to fix the components. The other was run by a man encouraging the kids to take the components apart. Each interested Asher, and I can see how each encourages curiosity about how these things work. But he was definitely more interested in taking things apart. Which I totally get.

But what attracted Asher the most was the table run by artist, Tetteh Tawiah. He had dozens of plastic pentagons that kids could put togethr to form dodecahrons (dodecahedra?) and other shapes, as well as clay for molding. Asher loved spending time with these, and Tetteh was very generous with his explanations and encouragement. I overheard him trying to explain to someone that there is value in the hands on experience.

The turnout was, fortunately for us (though probably dissapointingly for the organizers), well below expectation -- probably due to the threatening weather. But the activities, simple as they were, kept Asher happy for over five hours. I think he was the only kid who was there that long. It seemed that most parents who were there with their kids had other plans on the docket, and had only budgeted a limited amount of time for the event. I hadn't made any other plans for the day, so I could stay with Asher as long as he wanted, which bascially meant until everything had been taken down and the exhibitors were all gone.

It was a good day.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

what i don't get about fizzbin


I'm down with Star Trek. And I'm down with fizzbin. Except on Tuesdays.

But there's one thing I don't understand about Captain Kirk's explanation. After dealing two jacks to the gangster he excitedly explains that that's a half-fizzbin already. The gangster guesses that he needs another jack. Kirk says no. That would then be a shralk, resulting in disqualification. OK so far.

But then Kirk deals him another jack and exclaims how lucky he is. That doesn't make sense.

If anyone knows the rules of fizzbin can they explain it to me?

Thanks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

the problem with boardwalk empire

SPOILER ALERT

I've been rewatching Boardwalk Empire. Because Amazon.

Generally speaking, I love it. The characters are interesting. The drama is captivating. On the whole, the writing is superb.

But I do notice one bog flaw.

The writers got into a habit of setting up big conflicts at the end of a season, so there's a cliffhanger or two to keep the audience interested. That's all well and good. But then the next season starts with some time having passed and the conflicts are resolved. There's expository dialogue to let us know how things turned out. But we don't see the resolution or find out the details.

Take, for example, the end of season 3 into the beginning of season 4. At the conclusion of season 3, Nucky gets word to Masseria that they can have a war or peace -- Masseria's choice. Also, Nucky set up Rothstein to get arrested for running a major bootlegging operation for which he will have to face Federal charges. There's lots of intrigue.

But we don't see how it goes down. In the first episode of season 4, Nucky arranges a meeting with Rothstein and Masseria (and their...um...assistants). In that meeting, we learn that somehow Rothstein evaded the charges, while Nucky and Masseria were at war. In the meeting, Nucky makes a patyment to end the war.


But how did Rothstein avoid prosecution? How did the war play out? I want to know.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

grammar rage volume i: begging the question

Yeah, I suffer from grammar rage. There are certain abuses of the English language that get under my skin. I'm not sure why. I'm sure that there are ways that I abuse the language and don't know it. And they probably annoy other people. But they don't annoy me. Since I don't know about them. This blogpost is about one such abuse. Begging a question.

I often hear people talk about something begging a question.

"Well, that just begs the question: How did he get all that money?"

"That certainly begs the question: Where does all that garbage go?"

The problem is that they are using the phrase to mean "raises the question." It kind of sounds right, the way they say it, since one can easily see the phrase as a shortened version of "begs for the question to be asked." But it's wrong.

To "beg a question" is to answer a question by restating the premise without actually giving any additional information.

Sometimes one of my kids asks me why I don't find a particular joke funny. If I answer by saying "I just don't see the humor in it," then I'm begging the question.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

the fall of the house of usher (cinema history class)

Session: Pass the Poe -- Hold the Price, week 2
Movie: The Fall of the House of Usher (1949)
Directed by Ivan Barnett
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

A family struggles to avoid falling apart despite a generations-old curse. Hilarity ensues.

Teeing Up:
"Why is this the weirdest film I'm going to show you?" Keith asked rhetorically as part of his introduction. "Because it fucking is." This was an experimental production, with a cast that was almost entirely amateur, and there were strange goings-on and a plot that borrowed heavily from other Poe stories such as "The Tell-Tale Heart." Perhaps the most obvious way it was experimental was that there was only one professional actor -- Gwen Watford -- in the cast. The rest were all amateurs. Keith also warned us that this was a very poor quality copy. Made from a TV print (and probably third (or higher) generation, the sound and picture quality were poor. But this is the best available for this film.

Reaction:
I had a very hard time getting into this one. Mostly because of the poor quality. Others also found it distracting, though it almost seemed as if Joe romanticized it, finding that it brought him back to the days of his childhood, trying to tune in UHF stations from Connecticut. One thing that was interesting is that the fire scenes at the end incorporated actual World War II footage from the blitz. I thought it looked like doll houses. But then, what do I know? To me, the acting seemed passable -- I certainly couldn;t tell that the cast was loaded with amateurs. Others in the class disagreed.

While I couldn't really get into this movie, it was really interesting to see it.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.4 - 9.5
  • Dave:8
  • Sean 1 (on a scale of 1 - 4)
  • Scott: 3
  • Ethan: 5
  • Me: 2.5
The Fall of the House of Usher fails the Bechdel Test.

Extras:
Keith warmed us up with two experimental shorts. Il Caso Valdemar was an Italian silent film from 1936. Known as Italy's first gore film, it was an interesting take on "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar." This had a truly amazing (for the time, at least) face-melting climax. The Pit, from 1962 (see highlights video below) was a British experiment. Virtually without sound, it reminded me of "The Empath" (the Star Trek episode) as well as a bunch of other films. It was truly edge-of-your-seat gripping. Films like this become the highlight of taking Keith's class.

Friday, May 12, 2017

notes from a plant sale

Blair and I spent three days this week helping LIDS sell daylilies at the Farmingdale State College plant Sale. A few observations:
  • I noticed we're selling a cultivar that happens to have the same name as a coworker of mine. It's not one that I would have bought for myself -- kind of pink and yellow pastel-y. But I bought one for her and potted it up afterwards. At some point in the near future I'll bring it to the office for her.
  • It's amazing how many people want perennials that act like annuals (except for the dying part).
  • Easiest sale: One women came over, looked at our tent for a minute and then said "I'll take two." Uh, which two? We have a couple dozen different cultivars, and there's a wide variety in characteristics. Bright yellows, bright reds, muted pinks, off whites. Tall, medium, short. Early bloomers, late bloomers, rebloomers. It's like going into a diner and asking the waiter for "food." But she said it didn't matter. She just wants two. The pressure was on. Which two to give her? Maybe this was really the hardest sale. Eventually someone else (thank God!) picked out two for her. Then, after paying, she wanted two more...
  • The hamburgers at Farmingdale State were OK. Not great, but edible. Or, as Blair put it, "Crappy, but so what?"
  • For the first time, I bought metal stakes with nameplates so I can label plants. At this point, I have a lot of daylilys in my yard that I don't know what they are. I've always figured they're pretty flowers and I don;t need to remember much more. But there are a few I know, which I will label. And I'm labeling the new ones. This marks my descent to the second circle.
  • Our spot -- for the Long Island Daylily Society -- was right next to the spot for the Long Island Dahlia Society. I noticed that the latter had their plastic tables clearly labelled (in Sharpie) as belonging to "LIDS." So were ours. Oh, the potential for mayhem.
  • There was the customer who gave us a comedy routine. She would read a cultivar name, and follow it up with a joke. "'Third Witch'? Sounds like my sister!" or "'Broken Heart'? Story of My Life!"
  • I was discussing colors of the flowers with one of the other members. I mentioned that there are a lot of yellows, and I'm not really into the solid yellow daylilies. He said that studies have shown that men are attracted to red daylilies. I haven't seen the studies, but it rings true for me. I'm a sucker for the reds. The bright reds. Especially if they have some yellow mixed in. The first daylily I bought was "Santa's Little Helper," which is solid red. And my favorite is "Spider Man," which is red and yellow.
  • I learned about the existence of risque and ethnically offensive cultivar names. My favorite of
    these names is "Crotchless Panties," but the flower doesn't live up to its name. I would have expected to see more pink.
  • The days at the sale are fun, though long. And I kept seeing daylilies that I wanted to buy. "'Face The Nation' looks good. What the heck?" Of course, that meant that every day when we got home I was planting in the yard. These were long days...

Monday, May 8, 2017

selling daylilys at planting fields

Spider Man
Blair and I spent both days of the weekend (not the one just ending now, but the last one) at Planting Fields Arboretum. The Arboretum was having its annual Arbor Day festival, and we were volunteering with LIDS to sell daylilies. I remember bringing the kids there for the festivities years ago.

Anyway, each day saw about a dozen LIDS members at our table, selling daylilies that came from LIDS' garden at Planting Fields or from members' gardens.

Point of View
One thing that was amazing was watching Blair selling daylilies. While I can answer (some) questions and conduct a sale, I'm not good at reaching out and getting potential customers interested. Blair, on the other hand, was quite capable. Whenever someone walked by and glanced at our booth, she went into action.

"Do you have a garden?"

If they answered yes and slowed down enough for her to engage them, she suggested that they need daylilies. "They're very hearty perennials, they love sun and water, but otherwise, it's set it and forget it."

It didn't always work, but it certainly helped increase interest and sales. And I suspect that there were some secondary effects. When she got people to come over and look, that probably attracted other people to come over and look.

Alaskan Midnight
For serious questions, Blair called over some of the more-expert members.

In the end, I wasn't really needed -- there were more than enough LIDS members to cover things. But I did buy a bunch of stuff and ended up bringing home a variety of daylilies to plant:

Spiderman (Durio, 1982)
When I saw that we were selling Spider Man, it was all I could do to avoid buying them all up right away. Spider Man is my favorite cultivar. Also, we have one specific clump of Spider Man in our backyard, marking the grave of Asher's first cat, who was named Spiderman. It seemed like a good idea to get some more of the cultivar, to fill things out. But I didn't really feel it was right to buy it up before the sale started. So I waited, and at the end of the day bought all that were left.

Point of View (Roberts-S., 1992)
Majestic Morning
I was attracted to Points of View because looks a lot like Spider Man, but it's taller (the scape height
is listed as 35 inches as compared to Spider Man's 24 inches). And it must have come by its looks honestly; according to the AHS database, Point of View was the result of a cross between Spider Man and Newberry Amaryllis. When there were three left I bought them -- three is enough to start a reasonable clump.
Of course, at the end of the day, when we were packing up and some people came by to see if they could still buy anything (ain't that always the way?), one lady saw the picture of Point of View and wanted it. Blair sold them two of the ones we had bought. So now we only have one. I hope the clump out on the fast side...

Alaskan Midnight (Porter-E., 1991)
Carolina Cranberry
Alaskan Midnight struck me -- based on the photo we had -- as a particularly attractive flower. I'm a sucker for the reds and purples, and this was
somewhere in between. I hope it takes.

Majestic Morning (Salter, 1990)
Majestic Morning isn't really one of my favorites, since I'm not really big on the pastels. Its color
Smith Brothers
description is "salmon pink blend with cream yellow halo above green throat." But there were a bunch of them that went unpurchased at the end of the weekend, and a good clump in one place in the front yard could look good. My one concern about this cultivar is that it's listed as a semi-evergreen. I'm not sure, but I seem to recall hearing somewhere that the semi-evergreens aren't as good with cold weather as the dormants. Of course, these were all taken from local gardens, so I figure they have to be hardy. Don't they?

Carolina Cranberry (Kennedy, 1980)
Another red. I'm not sure how we ended up buying this -- I don't remember buying it. But three of them are now in my yard.

Smith Brothers (Carr, 1982)
Not my favorite -- at least if the picture is an accurate representation. But...

Techny Peach Lace (Reckamp-Klehm, 1988)
Techny Peach Lace
Another one that's not one of my favorites, for the same reason as Majestic Morning. But we bought these, rather than let them go homeless. There is the added bonus that the AHS database lists these as fragrant. So few daylilies are fragrant, so it may be nice to have one that is. Also, with the light color, these might be tasty.






Saturday, May 6, 2017

the raven (cinema history class)


Session: Pass the Poe -- Hold the Price, week 1
Movie: The Raven  (1935)
Directed by Lew Landers
As always, there may be spoilers here. And the trailer may be NSFW and/or NSFL

Plot:

A surgeon develops a crush on his patient. He saved her life with near-miraculous surgery. But, as skilled as he is, he is even more evil. Hilarity ensues.

Teeing Up:
Keith introduced this session with an explanation. Her wanted to do a month of movies based on Poe stories, but he didn't want to take the easy way out and show a bunch of the Poe-based movies starring Vincent Price. So instead, he's going to concentrate on lesser-known or experimental or weird movies. How did he put it? "This will be some of the weirdest shit I've ever shown you."

Reaction:
We, the class, enjoyed this. There was a strong story, and it was quite original -- although its connection to the Poe poem of the same name is somewhat tenuous. In fact, there are references to several other Poe works, most notably The Pit and the Pendulum. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff together was a special treat. I myself have limited exposure to them, but I think I prefer Lugosi -- he's more distinctive. And those haunting eyes... Joe and I both noticed that Ian Wolfe is in this (we both know him as Mr. Atoz and Septimus from Star Trek). Though the listing in the credits was wrong. Keith explained that that kind of thing used to happen a lot. An actor would be cast in one role and then moved to another, but the change wouldn't be reflected in the credits. A few of the guys opted not to rate this because it's so different from what they're used to watching they have no basis for scoring it.

The ratings:
  • Joe: 9.8
  • Dave:9.5 to 9.7
  • Sean no rating
  • Scott: no rating
  • Ethan: 8 to 9
  • Me: 8
The Raven fails the Bechdel Test.

Extras: Because of the short running time of The Raven, Keith also showed us an experimental silent adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher from 1928. This version had lots of odd visual effects that were cutting edge for the time. It wasn't really a retelling of the Poe classic, but more of an acid trip that evoked the story.