The art of the “power watch”

downloadFebruary 28, 2014 – Who knew, after almost 70 years in the making, that it was possible to change the way Americans watch TV?

With companies like Netflix and Hulu offering downloads of seasons of TV shows at one time, and On Demand available instantly, more people are binging on their favorites, viewing entire seasons in days, and joining in a new phenomenon called binge-watching. I refer to the practice as “power-watching” because it sounds far better.

I became accustomed to this practice about a year and a half ago, when I wanted to catch up on the first season of “Homeland” before the second season began. I followed up with “Game of Thrones”, which involved catching up on two seasons, and absorbing 24 hour-long episodes in a little over a week to be ready for the big season three premier. It helped that I had a bad cold when power-watching “Game of Thrones”, which planted me on my sofa over a long weekend.

That sounds like a lot of TV, and it is, yet I am not alone. A new study by Harris Interactive (on behalf of Netflix, no less) says that 61 percent of us binge-watch TV regularly (which equates to two or three episodes in a single sitting). The poll also suggested that nearly three-quarters of us believe binging is a positive experience, and it makes the show better.

At first, I agreed with the majority 61 percent, and believed it did make it better. Then it became strange. After watching so many episodes in a row, I began dreaming about the characters and waking in the morning feeling stressed. The reason? “Homeland” and “Game of Thrones” tend to be intense programs, hence the unpleasant dreams. I also discovered it is better to watch at a slower pace because I became so attached that I felt cut off from “my character friends” when it was over, and I had to wait another year to watch again.

I have used this approach while reading, too. I stay up late to finish a great novel quicker than normal because I cannot put it down. Surely, I would better enjoy it at a slower pace, when I’m not forcing myself to stay awake at 2 a.m. Like TV, and the desire to know what will happen next, I become a junkie waiting for her fix.

Things began to get better, and I thought I had my addiction under control until Netflix recently released season two of “House of Cards”. I resorted to my old ways, watching 13 hour-long episodes in five or six days, and the bad dreams began again. It does not help that “House of Cards” is about politics, and evil politics at that. I woke feeling stressed again, and with a desire to stay as far away as possible from Washington D.C.

This time I mean it. I won’t binge on seasons of television shows, but will watch them as originally intended, even if it seems impossible to wait to see what happens next.

Anticipation is a good thing, and it provides for a healthier sleep, too.

The death of Boxerjam

February 26, 2014 – It is disappointing when you log on to play your favorite online game and receive a message that the site is under maintenance.

It is devastating when you check back later and receive the message that the site is gone for good.

boxerjam


Devastating may be too dramatic a word, but how else do you describe the feeling that you lost something you have grown to depend on over the past 15 years, played faithfully, and written about on this blog not
one or two, but three times.

Boxerjam was my go to when I needed to relax, or suffered from writer’s block. I would play a few games to shake up the cobwebs – my favorites were “Strike a Match”, a word matching game played in four different rounds, and “Know it All”, classic trivia played quickly against a ticking clock – and all would be right again. The site provided me a second wind, got the creative juices flowing, and offered the option to compete against other players or play on your own. 

I first discovered Boxerjam in 1999, though it has been entertaining its members since 1995. From the message above, it appears they have lost the data. According to the software engineer who lives in my basement, the game logic is an easy rebuild, but if the data is lost (the questions and possible answers that need consistent updating) it could take months to recover and rebuild.

That means Boxerjam could be back in another form one day, but for now, farewell my faithful gaming companion, and thanks for the memories. You will be missed.

Is Hillary on the correct side of the war on women?

2767231February 24, 2014 – A few weeks back I wrote a post on the war on women, a popular topic in political circles these days, but one I don’t believe exists. 

My opinion has not changed on the issue; I still view it as a marketing ploy to scare women into believing they are in danger of having certain freedoms removed. After reading more articles with a different slant, I concur that there could be a war waging on women of a different sort, after all.

Stories about sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and rape affecting women in the U.S. and around the world unfortunately are many. Take the current story about Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and the alleged sexual abuse of Mia’s daughter. I am not going to take sides in this issue; it seems shameful to argue in the media anyway when only those involved know the real story. We may never know the truth, although we all seem to have our opinions and think we do.

Without evidence, most cases involving abuse, harassment, or rape are typically he said v. she said. The allegations are difficult to prove, and the process, which often makes the victim look guilty, can stop women from coming forward. I’m not saying I know a better way since the law allows the accused to defend themselves, but situations involving harassment, abuse, and rape could be construed as “war on women”.

Last week, I came across a story with a unique twist on the subject. Kathleen Willey, a former White House aide, and who is among several women who brought sexual harassment charges against President Bill Clinton believes Hillary is the real crusader in the “war on women” because she did everything possible to “singlehandedly orchestrate investigations on all of the women who accused her husband of sexual crimes.” She spent an entire radio interview on WABC in New York speaking out against Hillary. Willey argues that she is speaking out now because of the possible run for the presidency in 2016. “She was Bill’s enabler,” says Willey, “and has never been the friend to women that she pretends to be.”

Hillary was in a sticky position for sure, and her husband’s behavior is not her fault. However, knowing Bill’s past, in her heart she probably believed those women, and yet she tried to discredit them to save his political reputation. It’s almost like Mia Farrow accusing Woody Allen (and trying him in the media) over similar issues, when in the past she was a crusader, publicly speaking out about the rape charges against Roman Polanski and a 13 year-old girl, and trying to make it possible for him to come back to the country. Flipping on this issue when it suits them does not shine a positive light on either of these women. It diminishes their credibility, and Hillary’s stand that it’s the “Republicans waging war on women.”

I never cared for Clinton as a First Lady. I felt that she negated women with her snide comments about those who elected to stay home and care for their children. “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession,” Hillary Clinton famously snapped. However, that was 22 years ago, I’ve made my peace with it, and began appreciating Clinton again. That is, until Willey’s accusation made me re-examine the situation.

“Hillary Clinton is the war on women,” Willey says, “and that’s what needs to be exposed here.”

A day of firsts, or something to write about when stumped for an idea

first_things_first_mug-p168570725690094157en84e_400-300x300February 21, 2014 – A lot of interesting firsts happened on this day in history. Here are a few that have had an impact on many of us:

  • In 1804, the first self-propelling steam locomotive made its debut at the Pen-y-Darren Ironworks in Wales. One of the best vacations I ever had put me a train that traveled from Skagway, Alaska to the Canadian Rockies. It probably wouldn’t have happened without the first self-propelling steam locomotive.
  • Across the pond some 38 years later in 1842, the first U.S. patent is granted for the sewing machine. I’ve never used a sewing machine, but we had one in the house when I was a kid and the cabinet it came in provided a stylish place for a television to sit upon thanks to that patent.
  • On February 21, 1878, the first telephone book is issued in New Haven, Conn. One has to wonder if this event, over 130 years ago, was the inspiration for Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”. The new phone book arriving was a huge part of that movie.
  • In 1925, “The New Yorker” published its first issue on this day. I’m fairly certain my love for the short story can be attributed to this magazine.
  • The Polaroid Camera, the world’s first instant camera, made its debut on February 21, 1947. Can you remember snapping the perfect shot and waiting for it to develop right before your eyes? It was almost as awe-inspiring as watching the first made for television video game, Pong.
  • Speaking of video games, “The Legend of Zelda”, the first in a series, was released in Japan on this date in 1986. I’m not a video game fan, but I’m sure someone appreciates this important first.

When is the last time you experienced a first? My goal to day is to find something new to accomplish. Wish me luck.

Appreciating the silence

imagesFebruary 19, 2014 – When I worked in PR and advertising back in the day, we spent a lot of time assembling media packages. My co-workers and I would amuse ourselves by discussing the deeper questions in life while working the assembly line of brochures, trinkets, and press releases. It helped pass the time. 

I once posed the question – would you rather lose your sight or your hearing – and received a witty response from a co-worker. He said, “My hearing, so I don’t have to listen to this absurd conversation.”

We chuckled; he had a quick sense of humor. Still, the go to response for most people would be to keep their sight. Getting through life without it would be difficult. However, the thought of never hearing a baby’s laugh or a beautiful piece of music is enough to make me at least ponder the question.

As a kid, I had a low percentage of hearing in both ears, although we didn’t know about it until I was in second or third grade. The doctors cured me by removing my tonsils and adenoids, and by placing Teflon tubes in both ears. When I returned from the hospital, everything was different. Even the simple task of playing on my front porch resulted in panic; the passing cars and trucks made me crazy since they were sounds I wasn’t accustomed to.

I quickly adjusted and ever since, I’ve come to appreciate my hearing, and rarely spend time in the silence I knew before. In the office, I sit at my desk surrounded by white noise and the sound of my co-workers typing on their keyboards; in my car I listen to the radio; At home, the television or the stereo is on. Even when I go to bed at night, the sounds of the ceiling fan or the humidifier fill the room.

The last time I drove to work in silence was a few years ago when my battery light came on as I was driving onto I-95. I managed to pull over and quickly restart, but fearing it would happen again, I pulled back on the road after turning off the music. I surrounded myself with the sounds of silence, and oddly, even the traffic seemed hushed. 

It also made me ultra-aware of what is going on around me, and affected me in other places outside of my car; the clock in work that sits above my desk, for instance, began to drive me crazy. Oddly, I could hear it tick, and had to turn on music to drown it out. It works both ways, I suppose, and it is nice to have the option.

There is something about silence that is appealing. As long as there isn’t an annoying clock ticking in the background to spoil it.

Movie review: Adult World

adultworldFebruary 17, 2014 – It’s typically not good sign when a movie heads right to cable. That should have been my first clue.

“Adult World”, the comedy about poet wannabe Amy (Emma Roberts) and her mentor Rat Billings (John Cusack), premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, and opened in October in Syracuse, N.Y., where the movie was filmed. It landed “On Demand” on Friday without an appearance in theaters in my area.

I normally don’t pay for movies On Demand – I’m already paying for cable, so why double pay – but after watching a free 10-minute clip, I was intrigued. I like Cusack, and find him worth the price of admission, and I adore Cloris Leachman, who’s appearance in the movie was an unexpected surprise. Both stars made me agree to the $5.99 price tag.

Written by Andy Cochran, and directed by Scott Coffey, “Adult World” tells the story of recent college grad Amy who has a degree in poetry, but no real life skills. She expects her parents to support her until she becomes the next Sylvia Plath, minus the depression, and when they refuse, she is forced to work at the only place that will hire her, a sex shop in a questionable part of town. Amy believes the work is beneath her, but through it she meets and begins stalking reclusive poet Rat Billings (Cusack).

“Adult World” is a double entendre; the first for the shop where Amy works, and the second for the life she now leads as a working person expected to support herself. Maturity may eventually come, yet throughout most of the film, Amy acts more like a naive 12 year-old than a 22 year-old.

I’m not too familiar with Roberts or her other performances; all I know is that she comes from an acting family (Julia Roberts is her aunt and Eric Roberts is her father). She hardly turned in a poor performance, but rather one any capable actress could handle. Although she is given the most screen time, she held my interest only when Cusack was featured in the scene. There were a few scenes badly acted, though I couldn’t I determine whether she played the scenes badly, or she was supposed to play the scenes badly to show her character is on the childish and dramatic side.

If anything, the movie is a true depiction of the eye-opening experience many recent college graduates face, which seems to be the trend these days. At HBO, Lena Dunham writes and stars in the series “Girls”, which is about a similar experience. I don’t consider myself a true fan of “Girls”, but it is more genuine and interesting than Cochran’s screenplay.

“Adult World” is often silly and unbelievable, just like its cast of characters, but there are few redeeming qualities, which boils down to any scene with Cusack who saved this bleak look at life in upstate New York. The movie reeks “Indy”, which I usually find appealing. It tries to be an anthem to the post college world these days, which often finds graduates struggling and depending upon their parents out of sheer necessity. Too bad it fails to entertain while pointing that out.

Life after the Oscars

imagesFebruary 14, 2014 – My quest to see most of the Oscar nominated movies before the big night bombed, just as “The Lone Ranger” did at the box office earlier this year. My hopes were high, yet instead of turning in a stellar viewing performance, I made it through three of nine Best Picture nods: “Her”, “American Hustle” and “Dallas Buyers Club”.

I have a few weeks to go before the Academy Awards on March 2, but I am through fooling myself. Sadly, many of the remaining nominations hold little or no appeal for me. My interests instead are in two movies, one out today, and another in a few weeks.

Winter's_tale_(film)Winter’s Tale – Opens today
Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly
This interesting tale love found, lost, and found again 100 years later is based on the best-selling fantasy novel by Mark Halprin. “Winter’s Tale” tells the story of a burglar (Farrell) who falls for a dying heiress (Findlay) when he attempts to rob her home. The setting is New York City at the beginning and the end of the 20th century. I am a sucker for any story involving time travel and reincarnation. View trailer

hr_The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_3The Grand Budapest Hotel – Opens March 7
Owen Wilson, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes
I thoroughly enjoy all of Wes Anderson’s films, but this one especially tickled my funny bone when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. I have never seen Fiennes in a comedy, which may be reason enough to look forward to this release. The story follows Gustave (Fiennes), a concierge at a famous European hotel before WWII and the lobby boy who becomes is best friend. In addition, the movie features the regular cast of characters you would come to expect in any Anderson film. View trailer

I wanted this list to contain more new releases; however, it’s unfortunate that too many remakes and cookie cutter stories are coming our way. As for the rest of the Oscar nominated films, I may still want to see them, but they will have to wait until they screen in my living room courtesy of my cable provider.

Shock therapy

imagesFebruary 12, 2014 – I read an outrageous headline on the Internet a few days ago that claims “70 Million Americans Take Mind-Altering Drugs”.

Yikes! That is just shy of the number of Americans who first watched the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show” 50 years ago.

The headline made me think about 70 million people dropping acid or some other hallucinogenic drug, and for a moment I wondered, could that be true?

After reading the first few paragraphs, I realized this is far from what the writer meant, but  it may have been exactly what he wanted to portray to lure me in. According to author David Kupelian of www.wnd.com, the biggest mind-altering culprit is marijuana, followed by antidepressants and sleeping pills. Kupelian further claims that if you add in the number of Americans who drink alcohol (though he never specifies how much) you can add 60 million to that total, equaling 130 million “strung out” Americans.

One may argue that too many people abuse alcohol and marijuana, but I am willing to bet the majority who drink alcohol and smoke pot on occasion, are recreational users who are hardly “strung out”.

I continued reading the lengthy article with apprehension because I already felt deceived. Upon finishing, it became clear Kupelian’ s main objective is to discourage the legalization of marijuana, and to pack an extra punch, he served up shocking numbers about strung out Americans for those who might not agree with him.

Kupelian wrote that “according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 10 million Americans drive impaired by illegal drugs such as pot.” However, he further states, “the HHS also reports that 30 million Americans drive drunk”, which is three times the number who drive under the influence of marijuana, and consuming alcohol is legal. Is that supposed to be a compelling argument against legalizing marijuana?

No one should drive under the influence of anything that hampers their perception, be it alcohol or drugs. However, if I were forced to get into a car with a drunk driver or one who smoked marijuana, I would pick the latter. Kupelian also states that pot affects the IQ of users (the mind-altering part, I suppose), but alcohol is known to kill brain cells, as well, so overusing either is not good.

The author did make some good points about our fascination with prescription drugs. There is no doubt that many Americans turn to drugs, whether from the dealer on the street or a pharmacy. Unlike other cultures, we mask symptoms with pharmaceuticals to feel better now without looking at the underlying problem. However, there are a great many people who need pharmaceuticals, and who are alive because of them. They may be over prescribed, but they are necessary in many cases. Like most things in life, this is not a black and white issue.

Every type of medication is mind-altering if you think about the body/mind connection. That is what the author tried to portray, I suppose, and I would have bought into his theory if he had not tried to sell his point of view conjuring up images of mind-altered zombies trying to suck the life out of the rest of us.

A half century ago, they came, they saw, they conquered

downloadFebruary 10, 2014 – Yesterday commemorated the Beatles’ 50th anniversary on “The Ed Sullivan” show (Feb. 9, 1964), when 73 million viewers watched the group’s first appearance in America. 

I don’t remember the actual performance – I was only four at the time – but I’ve seen clips and it frequently comes up in family discussions because my sister cried in front of the television like many young girls of that generation.

As a fan, I felt compelled to create a top ten list of my favorite Beatle songs. The boys have a huge musical library to select from with over 200 songs, so it’s not an easy task. That is an amazing amount considering they recorded together for about seven years.

10. Black Bird
From the record known as the “White Album”, and released in 1968, McCartney said he wrote this song while in Scotland as a reaction to racial tensions escalating in the United States. It is acoustic perfection, and it is one of the most covered Beatles’ songs other than “In My Life” and “Yesterday”. I’m particularly fond of Carly Simon’s rendition.

9. Dear Prudence
Here’s another track from the “White Album”. I adore the imagery portrayed and haunting lyrics from Lennon in this song. He wrote it for Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, who was with the Beatles when they went to India to meet the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

8. Eleanor Rigby
Released in 1966 on the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack, Eleanor Rigby was a song I didn’t appreciate until a few years ago. The lyrics tell a sad story about “all the lonely people”, but musically it is spectacular, using a classic string ensemble of four violins, two cellos, and two violas. Credited to Lennon and McCartney like all Beatle song, it is mainly a McCartney composition, but Lennon claimed he wrote a “good half of it.”

7. Fixing a Hole
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band”, which many say is the Beatles’ finest recording, had a wonderful array of songs, including “Fixing a Hole”. McCartney says many of the lyrics were inspired fans that hung around his home day and night and drove him a crazy. Lennon and Harrison do a great job with background vocals on the recording.

6. Lovely Rita
The best song off Sgt. Pepper in my opinion, “Lovely Rita” is a simple story about a female meter maid. Legend has it that the song stems from McCartney receiving a parking ticket outside of Abbey Road Studios one day, and instead of anger, he expressed his feeling in song. The song features killer harmonies by Lennon in the middle that give me chills every time I hear it.

5. If I Fell
An early love song that appeared on the 1964 soundtrack “A Hard Day’s Night”, this was Lennon’s first attempt at a proper ballad, and “shows that I wrote sentimental love songs back then,” he said in a 1980 interview. It’s a pretty song with wonderful sounds, especially the lower harmonies provided by Lennon.

4. In My Life
1965’s “Rubber Soul” gave us this sentimental walk down memory lane from Lennon. Written mainly by Lennon, and about his childhood, the Lennon-McCartney duo disagreed again, as McCartney claims he is entirely responsible for the melody. Whoever wrote it, it is simply beautiful, and holds the honor of the Beatles’ most covered song.

3. Julia
Another gem from the “White Album”, Lennon wrote the song during the Beatles’ visit to India in 1968. It is a tribute to his mother, who was hit by a car and killed when he was 17. While McCartney recorded a few songs on his own without the benefit of the band, “Julia” is the only written, played and sung by a solo Lennon. He used a “finger-picking” guitar style taught to him by Donovan on the track, who was also with the Beatles in India.

2. You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Lennon said Bob Dylan inspired him when he recorded this song from the “Help” soundtrack, released in 1965. He wrote the song at home in what he refers to as “his Dylan period” after the producers decided they needed one more song for the movie. The song also features tambourine and maracas courtesy of Ringo.

1. If I Needed Someone
Love, love, love this song from “Rubber Soul”. It’s the only song from Harrison that makes the list, although he is my favorite Beatle, and by far my favorite solo artist of all four Beatles. Harrison said the song was heavily influenced by the Byrds, yet it was another group, the Hollies, that had a hit with it simultaneously as it was released by the Beatles.

Winter in Old City Philadelphia

February 7, 2014 — It’s been a brutally cold, snowy winter across most of the United States, but the weather has provided many opportunities to take beautiful photos of landscapes, and Old City Philadelphia is high on that list.

Independence Hall, the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed, is across the street from the building where I work.
Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, is across the street from the building where I work.
Independence Mall, the three-block area surrounding Independence Hall, is also known as Independence National Park
Independence Mall, the three-block area surrounding Independence Hall, is also known as Independence National Park.
The trees and a Colonial Street lamp covered in snow inside Independence Mall.
The trees and  Colonial street lamp make it difficult to know if this photo was taken 200 years ago or today. 
4
This particular tree almost has a camouflage look, doesn’t it? 
A statue of John Barry, an officer in the Navy during the American Revolution, sits in the center of Independence Mall.
A statue of John Barry, a Naval Officer during the American Revolution, sits in the center of the park.
Washington Square, across from Independence Mall, is one of five original open space parks in center city Philadelphia, laid out by William Penn in 1682.
Washington Square, across from Independence Mall, is one of five original open space parks in center city Philadelphia laid out by William Penn in 1682.