31 December 2009

New Year's Resolution

I usually don't make a special resolution on New Year's Eve or Day because I think everyone should resolve -- every day of the year -- to be a better person tomorrow. That fact aside, I make the following New Year's resolution: to watch more of Sheldon Copper being brilliant.

Oh, wait! Someone has assembled clips from "The Big Bang Theory" showing Sheldon doing just that. You will find them below. (Part 9 has the now-and-forever-classic "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock" bit right at the beginning.)

P.S. You can now go on Amazon and pre-order "TBBT" season three.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

30 December 2009

Can you spell R-E-C-O-V-E-R-Y?

Two years ago today I wrote a blog entry titled Can You Spell R-e-c-e-s-s-i-o-n? with my thoughts on the economy in 2008. A year later, I wrote an entry titled Can You Spell D-e-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n? with my thoughts for 2009.

This year, I offer my thoughts for 2010 -- and the recovery ahead. Because, let's face it: even though things COULD be worse, they probably won't get worse than they have been this year.

Let's start with some basic indicators, like unemployment: This year saw a national high unemployment of 10.2%. That has dropped a little, but 10% is still pretty impressive. It's even worse if you live in California, where the unemployment rate hit a high of 12.5%, Nevada (13%) or Michigan (15.1%). It is worse for teens, whose unemployment hit a record high of 25.5%

Another indicator is the record high price of gold at $1,217. Everyone knows the price of gold goes up as troubles worsen. Then there are the rates of foreclosures on houses. While foreclosure rates have been decreasing, and housing prices have leveled off in some areas and even started to rise in others, they are still high.

So, yeh, things are bad, but I am starting to think prosperity is right around the corner.

Why? Well, for one thing we have people in political office who clearly have an intent to actually attempt to make things better -- for everyone, not just the rich or well connected. For another, the country will keep going, and to go it needs products and services, and to get those it needs workers. So while many business are cautious about increasing staffing levels, they will have to increase staffing and productivity to deal with shoppers who have been slow to spend, but who need to start replacing worn out products -- and who might just be itching for a little something special, like a trip, or new car.

The economy could go either way -- and if we are not careful, we will lose all the gains we have made in the past two years. The U.S. economy specifically and the world economy in general is strengthened by stability in overseas markets -- especially Europe and Asia which both seem on firmer footing.

So, while I still think it best to not change your employment or family situation for at least the next six months, now might be a good time to loosen the belt a little, allow for a little more discretionary spending where practical, but still keep saving some money and paying off those credit bills. Try to live a little more frugally, paying cash where practical, and not spending beyond your means.

If we can all hold out another six months, I think we will start seeing the turnaround we have been hoping for.

24 December 2009

They Should Call it "Obvious-atar"

It is funnier than words can say that some people are making a big fuss about the "hidden" messages in "Avatar." Hidden? These "messages" could not be more obvious even if James Cameron himself were standing in front of each viewer slapping him in the face saying "LOOK! HERE'S THE MESSAGE!"

Anti-war? Obviously.

Pro-environment? Obviously.

Patronizing that a "white man" comes to save the indigenous population? Sure, a little bit.

Hidden? No way, man!

You can read the latest "revelation" about the hidden messages here.

(Post script: The author of this piece sure must think people are idiots. I mean, it is not like trying to decipher the actually hidden references in something like "Citizen Kane" for example. I sure hope this is not an example of the level of intellectual thinking that we find in younger people. If it is, we are all doomed!)

13 December 2009

Monday's "Bang"

You might remember that we attended a taping of "The Big Bang Theory" on Tuesday, 24 November, as I wrote about here. That episode airs tomorrow. Take a listen and see if you can hear my laugh.

12 December 2009

A Dam Shame

Phoenix (and many other cities) get a lot of their energy from dams along the Colorado River, but I would totally favor dismantling all the dams and letting the water run its natural course, once again, to the sea.

Although they have been key to the progress of humans, restrictions on nature just bother me -- like damming a river or erecting levees to create an unnatural river course. It is probably too late now, but I really wish humans had evolved to live alongside nature, not tear it apart and destroy it just for a few moments of profit. Maybe, slowly, humans are beginning to realize the importance of working with -- not against -- nature. I guess we cannot undo hundreds of years of damage, but maybe we can slowly work to bring back the natural course of things.

An article in our local daily reports on plans to start allowing regular floods down the Colorado River -- naturally occurring events that were stopped by the building of the Glen Canyon dam in 1966. Over the decades, this lack of flooding has damaged habitat and endangered wildlife. By creating occasional artificial floods, we might be able to correct some of the damage that has been done.

You can read more about the new plans here.

04 December 2009

A Bit of "Flash"

When we took the all-day tour of the Warner Brothers Studio in October, we got to walk around many behind-the-scenes areas: the huge costume house, the set department and the massive prop storage area. When our guide was wandering off telling others on our tour of the famous movies in which certain WB props appeared, I happened to notice a set piece reserved for a television show that had recently made its debut: "Flash Forward."

I told Matt to take a photograph of the piece and a close up of the identification tag. "Why do you want that?" he asked. "So we can look for it in an upcoming episode and I can do a blog entry about it."

Well, the piece appeared in last night's episode in the scene where Zoey goes to visit the mother of her apparently-soon-to-be-dead fiancé, Dimitri.

Click on the photograph. Above, you will see the cabinet at the WB prop house and a close up of the ID tag. Underneath, behind Zoey, you will see the same cabinet.

Isn't Hollywood cool?

02 December 2009

Inside Job

Of course, you all know of the totally cool case study houses designed as part of a program overseen by the magazine "Arts & Architecture" from the 1940s through the 1960s. They were used as a way to demonstrate new ideas in building and created iconic houses (like these apartments in Phoenix, pictured) which are readily recognized today.

Did you ever stop to think who set up the interiors of those cool houses? Well, it was a Long Beach (CA) furniture company called Frank Bros. You can read more about their contribution to mid-century design here.

You can read a concise background on the case study project here.

And, if you are so inclined, you can order the totally cool Taschen book about the case study houses through this Amazon link.

29 November 2009

A "Big" Deal

Saturday a.m. we were watching the news -- it was CNN. They were just coming back from a commercial break and anchor T.J. Holmes looked seriously into the camera and intoned that, all night, they had been following "a big story that has everybody asking questions." What could that be, I wondered: A terrorist attack? The financial meltdown in Dubai? Perhaps a major plane crash? No, according to Holmes, the big story was that golfer Tiger Woods had been in a car accident -- and, it turns out, a fairly minor one, at that.

Okeh, having been in the business of news for over 30 years, I know there are slow news days, and that ratings are important, and commercial revenue is down. But, seriously, when is it a "big story" that someone -- anyone -- is in a minor car accident?

The phrase "big story" should be saved for something that is actually big: a hurricane, a senseless war where America's young are being slaughtered for cheap oil, health care reform.

But, a minor car accident? Involving a sports personality? Really?

Perhaps this is yet one more reason why Americans are turning away from network television news and getting their information via the internet -- where a story is judged "big" more by the audience than the news provider.

26 November 2009

It's True!

FlashForward is true! Here is a picture of me during my flashforward moment.

25 November 2009

It Was a Big Bang, Indeed

Long story short, we had been trying since, like, May, to get free audience tickets to a taping of "The Big Bang Theory" (pictured) at the Warner Brothers' studio in Burbank.

We love that show -- for many reasons: the writing, the character mix, the fact that the show makes "smart" look good. I love it for my own reason: that there are finally characters on television who are a lot like me. Yes, I mean smart and geeky. I am proud to be smart. I stopped apologizing years ago for being smarter than people around me. (For many years I actually played dumb to fit in. Then, I finally got fed up pretending to be stupid.)

Anyway, we had been trying to get these tickets online -- yet they literally disappear within minutes of becoming available. So I checked and checked and kept checking -- we even asked some friends in the industry to help out. Nothing.

But then, we finally got them and they were for the taping last night.

And it was good.

And life continues to be good.

Yes, being in the audience to see the taping of "The Big Bang Theory" is, like, one of the greatest things that could ever possibly happen.

It was the xmas episode. It features Leonard's mom (the totally awesome Christine Baranski). It is funny. (Like, duh!) We had a blast. We got pizza. We got chocolate. Could it have been any better?

Oh, wait: yes it could. We lingered after the taping and were able to meet and get autographs from nearly everyone in the cast (I am talking to you, Jim Parsons) including Chuck Lorre, the show's executive producer. And, yes, I even got a brief moment with Kaley Cuoco, the show's real star. She autographed our trip journal and added a little "heart" shape above her name. Wow!

After, we walked from the studio to the original Bob's Big Boy on Riverside in Toluca Lake and shared an original Bob's Big Boy hamburger, fries and a shake, then walked back to our hotel.

Yes, it is all true.

23 November 2009

It's Not Kanga and Roo

Yes, they are cute and might even be cuddly, but kangaroos can also be very dangerous. People are always amazed when I explain to them that kangaroos use their hind claws to attack and can eviscerate a human very easily. Well, here's a story of that very thing nearly happening -- with a near dog drowning thrown in for good measure. Lesson? Kangaroos are cute, but keep your distance.

22 November 2009

How It Happened....

Illustration by Matt.

Happy 15th!

It always amazes me when people (you know who you are) try to insist gay or lesbian relationships don't last -- I mean, like hetero relationships are great examples of longevity....

Well, to all you doubters and sayers of nay, allow me to proclaim that today marks the end of 15 years with my same-sex spouse and the beginning of year 16. So, until you doubting heteros have been together longer than we, do us all a favor and shut the fuck up.

Thank you.

:-* HBSP

20 November 2009

But the Dog Still Died

I wasn't planning on writing a blog entry today until I read this article about the asshole apartment owners in Huntington Beach, California, who evicted a woman because her companion dog weighed more than their new limit for pets. The apartment owners refused to follow the law (companion animals have to be accommodated). They were sued and lost, but the poor dog had to be euthanized because the owner could not find accommodations that allowed her.

How stupid are people? Not only are companion animals necessary to their owners, they are some of the best trained animals around. If I owned an apartment complex I would put wording in the advert encouraging people with companion animals to come live here.

Seriously. $300,000 is not enough. They should have been sued for much more.

17 November 2009

The Other Side of Downtown

You know we recently returned from a super week in Los Angeles touring the great historic downtown. Today's Los Angeles Times has an article about another, less nice, aspect of downtown LA. You can read the article here.

14 November 2009

Social Networking = Danger

Sometime in the very near future something very bad is going to happen (probably to the computer infrastructure or internet or something) that will be directly related to either Facebook or Twitter.

13 November 2009

Seal of Approval

NPR today had a fascinating interview with wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen which was interesting just on the face of it, but became really intriguing when he began detailing his encounter with a leopard seal who was trying to teach him how to catch penguins! It's so sweet.

Here is this giant, lumbering seal who thinks Nicklen needs help catching dinner, so she keeps bringing him penguins (pictured) and wondering why he doesn't eat! The photograph is cool, but hearing him tell about the encounter is even cooler.

You can hear the interview, and see more of his photographs here.

05 November 2009

The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Toilet Tissue

Let's talk toilet tissue.

We've been using Quilted Northern for a number of years (that's not necessarily an endorsement, FTC) and today opened up a new package. Much to my surprise, out came a roll with sheets that are narrower than they used to be (see photograph). In fact, they are exactly .25" narrower. (The cardboard roll in the picture is from our last roll of the old toilet tissue.) What's up with that?

I could take the fact that ice cream containers are no longer half gallon sized, or that certain potato chip makers (you know who you are) are now putting fewer chips in each bag, but I put my foot down when the toilet paper makers try to short sheet me. I mean, really. There are limits to product down sizing.

03 November 2009

The Pieces of Others

Do you know what the Stasi was? It was the East German secret police who, in the tradition of all communist / fascist regimes, tormented its populace.

Now, nearly 20 years after the two Germanys were rejoined, a group of people are trying to piece together the shredded, burned and otherwise damaged files of people persecuted, tortured and killed by the Stasi.

You can read more about the effort here.

If you want to see a movie about the persecution in East Germany, I suggest the excellent "The Lives of Others" which won a much-deserved Oscar and a butt-load of other awards because it is, like, one of the best movies of the millennium.

01 November 2009

When is Bird Poo Not Bird Poo?

Growing up in Phoenix in the 1960s, I would see hundreds and hundreds of butterflies in our backyard. Fast-forward to the new millennium and we see very few butterflies in Phoenix. I still see them, but they number in the dozens, not hundreds.

Today, for the first time in many years, I saw on our tangelo tree the same kind of caterpillar (pictured) I used to see on the citrus trees in our backyard when I was a kid. I think it is the caterpillar of the giant swallowtail. Isn't it neat? Looks just like a strip of bird poo. Evolution has afforded this little bugger a safe haven by disguising it as poo. Who would want to eat poo?

You can read more about the giant swallowtail butterfly here.

25 October 2009

Frankly Frank

I just love Frank Rich. Don't You?

You can read a neat interview with him here.

23 October 2009

Will the Real First Bird Please Fly Up?

Pity the poor archaeopteryx (pictured, left) which, for nearly 150 years has been presumed to be the earliest known example of a flying bird-like creature. Now, however, recent studies have shown that, while it exhibits bird-like traits, its bones are more dinosaur like -- meaning it is probably more a dinosaur with feathers than a true bird-like creature.

Science is now pinning its hopes on Confuciusornis (pictured, right) which existed about 20 million years after archaeopteryx and exhibits more bird-like traits -- making it a closer relative to modern birds.

So, did dinosaurs evolve into birds? Yes, but about 20 million years later.

You can read the original article here.

22 October 2009

If Only Charlie Was Right

I stumbled onto an article written by Charlie Wachtel over at "The Film Crusade" about the sorry state of Hollywood films today. He talks about how most Hollywood product is predictable and safe -- which is totally true; he then adds "This 'anti-risk Hollywood' is not only dangerous to the industry itself, but it will most certainly fail."

If only Charlie was right.

H. L. Mencken -- one of my personal heroes -- sagely advised that a person would never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. He was right and Hollywood has embraced that sentiment for decades upon decades -- and made bazillion dollars in the process.

I see around 150 movies a year and I cannot tell you the last time I saw what I consider a great main-stream American film -- aside from classics like "Chinatown" or "Double Indemnity" which are decades old.

Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- comes to mind for an American film in the past few years -- except "Wall-E" and "Grey Gardens" (but that was made-for-cable). Foreign films, yes; independent films, yes. American films? No.

Charlie would be better off if he did (and I suspect he already does) as we do: spend his time and money on independent American films, or films made overseas.

Here are just a few newer films I have recently seen that I highly recommend:

"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (foreign)
"The Aura" (foreign)
"District 9" (foreign)
"Grey Gardens" (American)
"In the Mood for Love" (foreign)
"The Lives of Others" (foreign)
"The Lookout" (independent)
"Nine Queens" (foreign)
"Persepolis" (foreign)
"Sleep Dealer" (foreign / independent)
"The Visitor" (independent)
"Wall-E" (American)

You can read his entry here.

17 October 2009

Perino's: New is Better

Because it is always better to tear down a historic location (top) and replace it with crappy apartments (bottom).

Top: Perino's restaurant's
second location at 4101 Wilshire, opened in 1950. The original Perino's, which opened in 1932 just up the street at 3927 Wilshire, closed when the second location opened. The second location closed in 1986 and the building was torn down in 2005.

Matt and I were fortunate enough to be able to visit the historic building on our second trip to Los Angeles together on 13 October 1996.

15 October 2009

Left Hand: Let Me Introduce Right Hand

In another case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, I present this:

On the same day that Politico runs an article about a white political candidate not being embarrassed to let people know his wife is black and their children biracial, we get an article by the Associated Press about a white woman who is denied a marriage license because her male partner is black. WTF?

I love how the clerk who denied the license tries to make it better by basically saying: "I'm not just an asshole to this couple. I'm an asshole to everyone who I do not think should be married." Oh, and don't miss the great comment from an ACLU spokesperson: "The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry." Yeh, as long as you are not gay or lesbian, right?

Man, talk about one screwed up society!

14 October 2009

Be Still My Heart

We watch a lot of vintage and foreign films. We even watch a lot of vintage foreign films. One thing that always grabs my attention is a well-done set of opening titles. It doesn't have to be fancy animation, or glaring colors; rather, something oddly evocative, providing a clue of the film to come -- so of its time but apart from it. In many cases, a film's only redeeming quality is its opening titles.

You will find
here a personal collection of movie opening titles put together by some guy who watches a lot of movies. Included are lots of movies I have seen -- including the best movie of all time (pictured).

A single image does not capture the true style of the opening credits -- which are names washed away by waves lapping against the shore. Pretty cool. You can see all the opening title sequence below:

11 October 2009

Did You CARE?

If you are of at least a certain age you will remember hearing commercials for CARE packages.

I heard these when I was a child, but I never understood their significance until I began indulging my interest for American history.

CARE packages (like the one pictured in this advertisement from 1948) were sent to cities in Europe starting right after the end of World War Two. It helped people whose countries were ravaged by the war. Not only did these packages bring food to hungry people, they also brought goodwill to people who remembered America's kindness throughout their lives.

Now, of course, the phrase "care package" has become generic and refers to any package sent from one person to another with helpful contents. Back then, it meant the difference between life and death for many people.

You can read more about the CARE organization

10 October 2009

A City Hall Story

There are some things one just cannot explain. For me, I have never been able to understand or explain my constant fascination with the city of Los Angeles in general and Hollywood specifically. If I believed in reincarnation, I could easily write it off as a place where I lived and worked in a previous life; but, seeing how I don't believe in reincarnation, that won't work.

Whatever the reason, I am totally engrossed by all things historic Los Angeles. So much so, that my spouse and I spent the better part of this past week there. I have visited LA dozens of times, but never stopped to visit downtown LA, so this vacation, that was our destination.

We spent two days in downtown LA walking and seeing and photographing all the cool old buildings (e.g. the Eastern Columbia building), staying in a cool old-ish hotel (The Bonaventure) and marveling at how neat a city is LA.

One specific part of my fascination with LA is the iconic city hall. You don't have to have ever been in California to recognize this structure because it has appeared in probably thousands of movies and television episodes. It is the epitome of historic LA.

As part of our marathon downtown tour, on Monday we walked up to this gorgeous building and took some photographs. A very nice man came up and told us we could actually go inside the building and go right to the top to take photographs. What? The thought never occurred to us that we might actually be able to go inside -- let alone to the top -- what with all the security restrictions in place around famous buildings. So, we did just what this man suggested -- right to the top of the coolest building in LA. It was a highlight in a trip filled with highlights.

One thing that strikes me about downtown LA is how much it has changed in less than 100 years. Much of the area that is now tall buildings was once called Bunker Hill -- home to mansions and more humble residences that were cleared away starting in the mid 1950s.

For nearly 40 years, the Los Angeles City Hall was the tallest structure in downtown. Now, it is dwarfed by the massive skyscrapers nearby.

I thought you would find it as interesting as I did to see how downtown has changed through the years, so I assembled some photographs (click to enlarge):

The top photo, looking roughly north, is the city hall in 1930 (it was built in 1928).

The next photo shows roughly the same view and is probably from the 1970s. (I have placed the letter "A" on both photos to help you orient.)

The third photo, looking roughly south, shows the city hall and the downtown area probably in the 1980s. (The open space just right and up from center is now the site of the Disney Symphony Hall. To the right of that is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

The last photo is one we took on Monday of this week from atop the city hall. It shows just how much downtown has changed in about 30 years. (The Bonaventure is just behind and left of the building marked "B.")

You can learn more about the cool city hall building here.

06 October 2009

Animals: 2

Can it (gasp!) be? Two good animal stories in two days? Can it be that other people are starting to realize the importance of animals in the lives of humans? I mean, really? STOP THE PRESSES! (I love saying that.) You can read the story in today's New York Times here.

05 October 2009

Score One for the Animals

Like gems in a coal bin, there are good animal stories to be found -- including (I am trying not to show surprise here) one in the Phoenix metro area.

Years ago, the city of Tempe decided to dam off part of the now-almost-always-dry Salt River to create a town lake. Lots of people laughed. But now, it seems the lake is becoming a haven to wildlife which is -- how do I say this? -- great.

You can read more about this unexpected development

04 October 2009

Greetings From Los Angeles

Welcome, from the home of earthquakes and movies! Yes, that's right: Hollywood and all points north, south, east and west. Here is a view of our hotel: the gorgeous Bonaventure in downtown Los Angeles. Isn't it great? We have already visited friends in Long Beach and Los Angeles, spent a day in Hollywood being all touristy and visiting the really interesting Hollywood Heritage Museum inside the barn where the first feature film was made (in Hollywood). More to come!

01 October 2009

The Winding Trail

You know, I wish I could be alive in 1,000 years for lots of reasons -- not the least because, by then, anthropologists will have unraveled the story of hominid evolution. Until then, we will have to be happy with the scattered discoveries that add mere pieces to a giant puzzle -- like the recent discovery of a new human ancestor called Ardipithecus ramidus.

This find dates back 4.4 million years -- much farther than Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis), which dates back only about 3.2 million years, discovered in 1974 in roughly the same area in Ethiopia. It offers amazing new clues into how and when humans learned to walk upright and form relationships. It also takes science much closer to the time (thought to be about 6 million years ago) when the evolutionary branch leading to humans diverged from the branch with other primates.

You can read more about this startling discovery here.

24 September 2009

Tipping Point(s)

In 1940, the population of the United States was estimated to be just over 132,000,000.

By 2000, the population of the United States had more than doubled to just over 281,000,000.

In 1940, the population of the world was estimated at just over 2,000,000,000.

By 2000, the population of the world nearly tripled to just over 6,000,000,000.

There is no denying that the population of the world is growing at a tremendous rate. More people means the need for more food, more clean water and more livable space -- demands which bring increased pressure on food and water sources, the environment and the planet as a whole.

Several groups recently released a sobering study "Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity" which examines nine areas of concern, their current states, and the consequences if these areas become unstable.

You can read a press release about the study here.

You can read the study here.

Learn more about an organization involved in the research here.

There is a feature article in today's issue of Nature:
"Planetary Boundaries: A Safe Operating Space for Humanity."

16 September 2009

Red and Yellow and Pink and Green

I have known since I was about eight years old that I am red-green color blind. I see all the colors. I can see pure red and I can see pure green; the problem comes when people start mixing colors: for example, purple made up of blue and a little red looks like blue to me.

This has been no big deal. I cannot always see every color. Oh, well. Many years ago I had a friend tell me she felt sorry for me because I did not see all the colors she saw. I replied that she did not see colors that way I did, so I felt sorry for her. The point being, we deal with it and it is no biggie. (Complete color blindness -- where a person sees nothing but black, white and grey -- is a different issue.)

So today I read an article about how gene therapy has been successfully used to help color-blind monkeys see color they could not see before. In the article, it quotes one researcher as saying "People who are color-blind feel that they are missing out." In doing other research, I see phrases indicating that color-blind people "suffer" and are "bothered" because of their "problem" of not being able to see all shades of all colors.

I take great exception to this. I am not suffering and I do not see this as a problem. Okeh, sure, I used to have trouble matching patterned shirts and pants but that's hardly a problem. It is a little tricky telling red from yellow on stoplights while driving, but I just look at their position -- top is red, BTW. (This took a humorous turn when we were driving in Omaha, Nebraska because their stop lights are horizontal, not vertical.)

So what if I cannot tell if green grapes are ripe? So what if I cannot tell when a piece of meat is no longer pink inside? That's what I have Matt for. (Well, that and a few other reasons.) Look at it from my point of view: Can you read the number in this color-blind-test-sample pictured? I can. (If you have normal color perception, you cannot.) It has even been demonstrated that partial color blindness might have provided early humans an advantage in hunting (not being able to see certain colors means an animal's camouflage would not work). So, see? Things aren't so bad.

So, would I ever take advantage of a treatment to allow me to see color like most everyone else? Probably not. Just like I know I would not want to take a treatment to change my sexual orientation. Being gay and being red-green color blind are just parts of who I am. I certainly don't want to be like everyone else. I mean, ick!

You can read the Live Science article here.

You can read more about color blindness here.

14 September 2009

"Guiding Light" RIP

January 1937 was a really long time ago -- maybe not long in dinosaur years, but a long time in the entertainment world. That's when a new radio show appeared, called "Guiding Light" (pictured) for a light that stayed on at the house of a preacher to offer comfort to those in need.

This Friday, after 72 years and about 18,000 episodes (on radio and then television), the last vestige of the golden age of radio drama will be gone.

Daytime dramas and comedies were an important part of the radio universe because they were aimed at a captive audience: the women who, in the days before the war, stayed home, raised kids and made sure dinner was ready when the breadwinner came home. The housewife had chores to do, with radio often her only companion. This was great for the housewives, but even better for the companies who used radio to sell their products -- like the soap companies which sponsored the short radio dramas that eventually came to be called "soap operas."

"Guiding Light" was just one of hundreds of daily 15-minute slices of life that told the stories of other people leading other lives. Extraordinarily tame by the standards of the 21st century they dealt with the rich and poor, the married and single, the young and old -- but never the gay, just the straight. Why "Guiding Light" survived all these years rather than some other similar show is not known. Many radio soaps transitioned to television, but none lasted. Perhaps it was luck, skill, timing or something else entirely.

Either way, this last tenuous connection to another world and a simpler time will be severed Friday.

Yesterday, CBS News Sunday Morning did a nice recap of the show. You can read the story here.

Today, NPR aired a tribute piece, which you can hear here.

07 September 2009

Polish Movie Posters

If you live in London, you can head on over to Cinéphilia West to see a cool exhibition of cinema posters from Poland. If you don't live in London, you can see a selection from the exhibition here.

The design aesthetic in these posters (like this one for "Fight Club") is a refreshing change from the meat-grinder-quality work pervasive in America. I mean, really: since Saul Bass stopped doing posters for the American cinema, who has been doing any designs worth noting?

06 September 2009

Twenty Things

Woman'sDay recently published a list of 20 things doctors suggest you do to improve your own health.

Although I usually eschew lists like this (everyone is different, so what works for me may not work for you), this one generally makes sense. I was surprised to discover that I already do 18 of the 20 suggestions. I don't worry about hormone therapy (this list is from a publication that caters to women), and I am not a big proponent of sun screen.*

You can read the entire list here.

*I am not a proponent of sunscreen -- even though I live in Arizona (which has the second greatest number of skin cancer cases per capita behind the entire continent of Australia) and I am a poster boy for skin cancer (blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin). Although there can be negative effects from sun exposure, I think it is more useful to rely on the benefits derived from the naturally occurring cancer-fighter vitamin D (which you get when you are exposed to sunlight) and slight tanning (from melanin in your skin) which protects your skin.

Additionally, studies over the past 10 years have shown an increase in skin cancer in children. Although scientists don't know exactly why, they point to use of sunscreen as a probable cause. Also, a common ingredient in sunscreen has been demonstrated to harm coral reefs -- especially those close to the beaches where so many people use sunscreen. In this, as all things, I try as much as possible to use the natural remedy rather than something artificial.

26 August 2009

Master Miyazaki

If you are tired of being spoon fed your animated movies (with the exception of films by Pixar), then you need to quickly acquaint yourself with the work of Hayao Miyazaki -- not only Japan's greatest animated-film maker, but possibly the world's.

Working in animation since 1963, Miyazaki's films are all one-of-a-kind treasures in film making, presenting images and themes not seen anywhere else.

Here you will find a short primer on essential Miyazaki viewing -- but make sure you add "Pom Poko" (pictured).

You can read more about the artist here.

24 August 2009

Who You Callin' Vestigial?

Pity the poor appendix (pictured), long removed and discarded as little more than a remnant of something in our bodies that used to be useful.

But, wait! New research shows that maybe the little dickens is not useless after all -- maybe it serves a very important function!

Read more about the meteoric rise of your appendix here.

23 August 2009

Here We Are Again

Those post-war years (1945-1955) were heady times, indeed.

Gone was the need to donate glass and metal to the war effort; to save cooking fat to be used for bombs; to go without shoes, coffee, gas and rubber tires; to use every spare penny to purchase war bonds and stamps. The pendulum had swung quite a distance during the war and was swinging just as far the other way. Ours was suddenly a world of plenty, where houses were sprouting like so many mushrooms after a rain, cars were being purchased faster than they could roll off the assembly line, and a deprived people were buying washing machines, dryers, cooking ranges, ovens, refrigerators and more at a pace that has never been seen since.

America won a war, and technology seemed poised to take the entire world into a brighter and more prosperous era. Many of these technological developments came directly from war work, and the transition to peace time seemed simple.

One of the changes that greeted a war-weary populace was casual convenience. Suddenly there was so much of everything that you could buy new appliances every couple years. A two-year-old car? Get a new one. Tired of washing dishes? Use paper plates instead. It was a turn from conservative conservation of resources to a time when everything was virtually disposable.

A brief piece in Life magazine (01 Aug 1955) captured the spirit of these times remarkably well. Titled "Throwaway Living," the article extolled the virtue of disposable items and how they cut down on household chores. (The photograph above is the original that was trimmed and used in the magazine to accompany the article.)

"The objects flying through the air in this picture would take 40 hours to clean -- except that no housewife need bother. They are all meant to be thrown away after use. Many are new; others, such as paper plates and towels, have been around a long time but are now being made more attractive.

"At the bottom of the picture, to the left of a New York City Department of Sanitation trash can, are some throwaway vases and flowers, popcorn that pops in its own pan. Moving clockwise around the photograph come assorted frozen food containers, a checkered paper napkin, a disposable diaper (seriously suggested as one reason for a rise in the U.S. birth rate) and, behind it, a baby's bib. At top are throwaway water wings, foil pans, paper tablecloth, guest towels and a sectional plate. At right is an all-purpose bucket and, scattered throughout the picture, paper cups for beer and highballs. In the basket are throwaway draperies, ash trays, garbage bags, hot pads, mats and a feeding dish for dogs. At the base of the basket are two items for hunters to throw away: disposable geese and duck decoys."

It is amazing to realize that, scarcely two generations later, this type of photograph and article would never appear today. We have experienced wasteful extravagance and returned to thoughtful conservation of our resources. Once again, we are conserving glass, recycling paper and metals, and reusing whatever we can. This time, however, we are doing it not because there is a war on; rather, because it is (and always has been) the right thing to do.

22 August 2009

Fun With Mimeographs!

Who here remembers the mimeograph machine (pictured)? I used one of these when I was in elementary school. I always volunteered to help the teacher, and one of the tasks was making copies of things like quizzes for the class. It worked like this:

I used a special piece of paper and typed the words. When this was done, I pulled out the pieces of paper where the letters were. This makes holes in the paper, creating a stencil.

Next, I affixed the stencil to the drum in the middle of the machine (marked by A).

Blank paper was placed in the tray on the left (B).

Ink would be placed somewhere in the machine (I don't remember that part) but the ink would ooze through the drum.

I turned the crank (C) that turned the drum. Ink oozed from the drum through the stencil and onto the blank sheet.

The copy would come out in the tray at right (D).

Although this was fun in itself, the best part was the smell of the ink. It is a very specific smell probably created by many carcinogenic chemicals, but that's okeh. That smell was wonderful. I don't know why, but it was.

Anyway, the copies would be kinda damp so I would have to be careful collecting them and passing them out.

Sometimes technology can ruin a good thing.

16 August 2009

Live Radio

If you are like me, you probably lie awake at night listening to a vintage radio drama or comedy on your iPod, and think about what it must have been like broadcasting one of those radio programs. Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time to witness an actual radio performance; but, thanks to the miracle of vintage magazines, you can take a glimpse of such a moment in time.

In this image (click to enlarge) you will see the recording of an installment of the Lux Radio Theater -- live from Hollywood in 1947.

How many of the actors you can recognize? The two actors standing became quite famous. There are two additional famous film actors seated (one male and one female). And there is a man seated who became, shall we say, very big in television.

[Thanks to Matt for scanning this neato image!]

14 August 2009

Change is Good

I love good design -- I might not have the talent needed to actually design something, but I certainly can appreciate it when it is good.

Fortune magazine recently had an article showcasing the re-design of logos for 12 well-known companies. I find this kind of thing totally fascinating not just because of the reasons for the changes, but also because some of the designs are just so damned clever.

The only problem I have with the Fortune piece is that it is too short. Had they more room, it would have been nice to show the progress of logos from the oldest to the newest. For example, on the section for International Business Machines, it would have been great to include the insanely clever Paul Rand resign done in 1970 (pictured).

You can review the showcase of logo designs here.

You can see more superb Paul Rand designs here.

13 August 2009

8,826 Miles

I just got a new iPod, which I ordered over the internet; and I want to tell you about the adventure it took in getting to me:

On Sunday, 09 August, I ordered a new iPod classic. On Monday, 10 August, I got an email saying it shipped. I got a FedEx tracking number, so I went and checked out the little guy's progress -- surprised to find my iPod was coming all the way from Shanghai, China! (Probably no one finds this surprising but me.)

Anyway, I followed the progress daily until today when it got delivered (less than 96 hours after ordering) and then made this map (click to enlarge) showing its progress -- including dates, locations and approximate miles it travelled to my house in Phoenix (8,826).

12 August 2009

Today's Quiz

Okeh, here's a quiz:

Who is stupider?

A: The people who insist the health care reform plans in America call for the creation of "death panels" at which the elderly will be advised on how to kill themselves


B: The people who believe it

08 August 2009

Sounds of the 'Sixties

I was totally the wrong person to be growing up in the 1960s. I could not stand the crappy hippie music (The Beatles? Blech!) I was not into drugs (I was just a kid) and the fashions were atrocious! But I remained culturally linked in by television. I wrote about my favorite shows in a previous entry. This time, I want to write about the television theme music that was so hot at the time.

John Williams worked on many shows, but he did some of his best work on "Land of the Giants" (1968-1970). The show was kinda campy (even then) but Gary Conway was easy on the eyes, and the music was top rate. In fact, Williams wrote two themes: one for the first season and one for the second. I have never heard a good explanation as to why he wrote two. Although the second season theme was excellent, the first season theme was considerably better. Take a listen:

"Land of the Giants" season one theme.

"Land of the Giants" season two theme.

Across the pond in England, audiences were enjoying a nifty little show called "Department S" (1969-1970). I discovered this show only a couple years ago via the great theme music written (I think) by Edwin Astley (I cannot find a good source on this). I watched an episode or two of this series and it is not very interesting, but the theme is. Take a listen:

"Department S" theme.

As a basis for comparison, here is the theme music for arguably the best television show ever: "Mission: Impossible" (1966-1973) written by Lalo Schifrin. Great music for a great show. Take a listen:

"Mission: Impossible" theme.

I find it notable that these four themes are essentially from the same time, but so different: "Department S" is classy and swinging, but "Land of the Giants" and "Mission: Impossible" are pounding, eager, exciting and very American -- yet, oddly, all are first-rate examples of the craft.

06 August 2009

Death of an Industry

Today on NPR was a really fascinating segment on the death of the industry to which I have devoted more than 30 years of my life: print and broadcast journalism. It is part of the digital revolution -- a larger issue that includes the death of the music and television industries as we have known them. According to the author of "The Chaos Scenario" what we see happening today in the realm of mass media is akin to the death of the dinosaurs and the rise of the smaller and smarter mammals. Frightening? Sort of.

You can read more about the book and hear the show on NPR here.

01 August 2009

Shark! (Week)

I love sharks. The only thing I like more than sharks is "Shark Week" which begins tomorrow on the Discovery Channel.

[Disclaimer: Although I wish they were, Discovery Channel is not paying me to write this blog entry.]

You may read more about Shark Week here. You will find the Discovery Channel Shark Week schedule here.

31 July 2009

Paper or Plastic?

I am sometimes a little slow to adopt new technological advances, but I eventually adopt them all -- or most of them. What I refuse to do, however, is start reading books electronically, rather than using the tried-and-true method of a book made from paper. I have tried electronic books -- I love the idea of a computer pad that you can carry around loaded with thousands of stories -- but I like an old-fashioned paper copy better.

A real book has a certain heft to it, a certain quality, a certain smell that you never get with a plastic reader. Sure, carrying around a thousand actual books is not as convenient as carrying around one electronic reader, but that's okay.

How much fun will it be, in the not-too-distant future, to walk into a used book store and thumb through previously owned electronic copies of books? Where will be that musty smell? or the excitement of walking down aisle upon aisle with my head cocked to the side to read the titles on spines of old volumes? or the thrill of seeing neat graphics of books from the 1920s? or the surprise when you open the pages and discover someone had used an old photograph as a bookmark and wonder who was the person pictured?

Gone. It will all be gone.

Aside from the romantic nostalgia of good old musty books, one thing that will never happen is the store from which I bought the book sneaking around when my back is turned and stealing the book away from me. No, once you purchase a paper book it is yours until you give it to someone else.

What's this? You have never heard of a company stealing an electronic copy of a book? Then clearly you have not heard about the usually wonderful company called Amazon -- with their (I presume) passably acceptable electronic book reader -- and how they are currently being sued for stealing copies of books they had sold to unsuspecting customers. That's right. You buy an electronic book from them and, whenever they damn well please, they can steal it back from you without so much as a "How's your father?".

It seems the good folks at Amazon sold a bunch of people copies of some books, then decided there was some problem with the copyright to those books, so they removed the books from the electronic readers without any notice whatsoever.

If someone comes into my house and steals a book from my shelf, that's called theft; if Amazon does it, that's called the way they do business. I call it bullshit.

You can read more about Amazon's shitty actions here.

27 July 2009

A Thought

Who would have ever thought, when I was born fifty years ago, that, fifty years later, I would turn fifty?

24 July 2009

Greetings from the Biltmore!

We are taking a little staycation this weekend at the historic (1929) Arizona Biltmore Resort. (Here is a detail from our suite.) This is my first web log update ever from a remote location. Technology sure is neat!

20 July 2009

Moon Shmoon - What Have You Done for Me Lately?

This is not going to be just another one of those "I remember where I was" stories -- this time, about where I was 40 years ago today when a human being first stepped upon the surface of another celestial body in the solar system. I was eight, it was summer, I was sleepy and I wanted to go to bed. Both my mother and father insisted I stay up (what time was it?) and watch a human being step foot on the moon.

I was too young, the image too grainy, and -- did I mention? -- I was tired and wanted to go to bed. But, they made me stay up and (of course) I am glad because I got to see something few others got to see (well, if "few" is defined as the estimated 250,000,000 people who watched).

But, what have we done lately? Okay, we put a lander on Mars in 1976, and countless probes went out into space around and past most of the planets -- and we have even had a few more probes land on Mars. I understand these are big technological achievements, but, seriously, why -- 40 years later -- do we not have humans living on Mars?

Sure, you could blame Nixon for massive cuts to NASA (and a few hundred other things), you could blame Vietnam, the economy, stupid people in general -- but, really, why do we not have humans living on Mars?

We had a great start -- beating the Russians (hell, beating everyone) to the moon; so, what, we sit on our laurels for a few decades and finally, in just the past couple years, perk up and say "Hey, wait. Weren't we going to keep on to Mars, or something?"

According to all those science fiction stories we should have been living on Mars AND other planets by now. Flying from solar system to solar system, galaxy to galaxy. Man, talk about a wasted opportunity.

Sure, people said then (and, surprisingly, still say today) "Why go into space when we have so many problems at home?" Well, that's a pretty stupid question. We went into space for the same reason humans went past that large outcropping of rocks, crossed that river, sailed over that ocean: to see what was over there.

We went into space and invented tons of neat technology that we USE EVERY DAY. Imagine what inventions are in store as we try to find a way to have humans live on Mars, and get water and oxygen from the surface, or the motors we will build to use small amounts of electricity from the distant sun. Imagine how our world will change once we get off our butts and get back into space.

Imagine, 40 years ago, the wonders that an 8-year-old boy thought when, through sleep-filled eyes, he watched a man step on the moon -- and imagine the disappointment he feels today.

14 July 2009

Two Clever

I love clever -- people, things, sayings, whatever. Clever is good. Clever is rare, too often replaced by stupid and moronic. (Stupid and moronic are bad.) Here are two examples of clever:

1: Clever filmmakers
Scenes from "Bringing Up Baby" with and without a real leopard:

2: Clever cooks
Taking real fast food offerings and making them look like
expensive food: