Monday, August 31, 2009

Decorating your home without books

If electronic book readers like Amazon.com’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader are the beginning of the end for paper books, it will have a big impact on how people decorate their living rooms, dens and home offices in the future.
Lots of people have bookshelves lined with hardcover and soft cover books in their homes. They look great and give homes a stately, intellectual feel. Homeowners can boast “Look at all the books I’ve read,” without saying a word.
But in the future, with books more readily available in digital form, having a ton of bound books might seem archaic.
So what are home decorators going to do without books to fill shelves in studies and other rooms?
Maybe the transition to digital books will be a boon for the knick-knack industry. People are going to want to fill those shelves with something. How about ceramic chickens? My sister in Indiana has a bunch.
The above photo shows the cover of the book “House Beautiful: Decorating with Books” (2006) by Marie Proeller Hueston. The book’s subject already seems dated.
As fellow blogger Laura Heller at Tech Bacon noted earlier this year, “Decorating with Books” is for sale at Amazon.com with a bit of irony.
Below an image of the book’s cover on the Amazon.com product page is a note to shoppers to tell the publisher: “I’d like to read this book on Kindle.” Click on the link and your request for a “Kindle Edition” of the book is passed along to the publisher.
Like that's gonna happen.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Future of electronic books difficult to read

The failed promise of digital content – Part 4: Books

The transition from paper books to digital books sounds like a great proposition.
School kids won’t develop back problems from carrying backpacks overloaded with thick textbooks.
People who move won’t have to go through the laborious task of packing box after heavy box of hard-cover and soft-cover books. (Unless they’re collectors.)
Fewer trees will have to be cut down and ground up to make paper.
The advent of electronic book readers like Amazon.com’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and other devices means that people can store hundreds of books (as well as newspapers and magazines) onto the memory of a portable device. That will make vacation travel lighter for many. It also will reduce the clutter in many homes.
But the future isn’t entirely clear for digitized books.
First you have to buy the e-book reader, which isn’t cheap. Amazon’s market-leading Kindle 2 costs $299. Sony last week lowered the entry-level price for its cheapest e-book reader to $199.
But that doesn’t include content. Digital best-sellers typically cost $9.99.
In the future, will reading be limited to those who can afford digital book readers?
My concerns with digital books have to do with open standards, the role libraries will play and the availability of older content.
Sony made a smart competitive move when it decided to adopt the open Epub format. Sony’s adoption of Epub means that owners of its Reader devices can acquire books from many sources, even public libraries. Open standards also mean the ability to share e-books among devices, such as an e-book reader and a smart phone.
I can only hope that Amazon.com will follow suit.
Many public libraries will let users “borrow” a digital copy of a book for free for 21 days. But libraries have to purchase licenses for those copies, so they’ll have only a limited number of copies to hand out. Still access to digital books through libraries is a very good thing.
It will be interesting to see how libraries balance purchasing digital books vs. physical books. With paper books, they have something to show for their money and to stock on shelves. With digital books, they have only virtual items stored in computer memory.
Another issue is older content. This includes works in the public domain; orphan works, where the owner of the copyright is in question or can’t be located; and old copyrighted works.
Just as with music, movies and TV shows, copyright holders may have little interest in digitizing works where there isn’t an easy payback.
Google has stepped in to fill this niche by digitizing libraries, but its involvement has been highly controversial. Critics don’t want so much content controlled by one corporation. Proponents say Google is the only hope for scanning millions of books and creating a comprehensive digital library because it has the financial resources and the commitment.
(See article “Google Book Search - Is it The Last Library?” at The Register.)

Photo: Sony’s Reader device family

Previous articles in the series “The Failed Promise of Digital Content”:
Part 1: Music
Part 2: Video
Part 3: Newspapers and magazines

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sugar Stacks: Graphically shows you how much sugar you eat


I’ve got to cut down on the amount of sugar I eat. Sugary breakfast cereals, Coca-Cola, cookies, ice cream, etc. It’s not good for my health. I know that, but I’ve got a sweet tooth.
The American Heart Association recently reported that Americans swallow 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, according to the Associated Press. Most of that sugar comes from soft drinks and candy, the group says. Most men should be getting no more than 9 teaspoons day. For women, the recommended limit is 6 teaspoons.
A great Web site for seeing how much sugar you ingest by type of food is Sugar Stacks. The site posts photos of food alongside cubes of white sugar as a visual aid to show how much sugar is in it.
Those 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola I drink have 39 grams of sugar each. Yikes.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series on Tech-Media-Tainment’s favorite Web sites.

Friday, August 28, 2009

More suggested Mac OS X names for Apple

The other day I suggested that Apple might be running out of names for its Mac OS X software releases. I was wrong.
Apple, which likes to name its Mac OS X editions after nature’s big cats, still has lots of names to choose from, I’ve discovered.
Here are five more possibles:

1.
Cowardly Lion – The beloved character from “The Wizard of Oz” wasn’t really cowardly. He had courage in him all along. The better to combat Internet threats like viruses, hackers, spyware and other malware.

2.
Mr. Bigglesworth – Dr. Evil’s cat from the “Austin Powers” movies. When you’re going for world domination – even with software – you need a loyal sidekick.


3.
Demi Moore – The world’s best known “cougar.” She’s married to Ashton Kutcher, who is 15 years her junior. At 33, Apple is still trying to hook up with young people.

4.
Tigger – Winnie the Pooh’s friend with the springy tail and bouncy personality. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a member of Disney's board of directors. Maybe he can secure the licensing rights.


5.
Hobbes – The faithful buddy to young Calvin in the popular “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip. Just 'cause he's awesome.

Fail Blog: Celebrating people’s blunders and bone-headed moves



It’s fun to laugh at people being idiots. It makes us feel better about ourselves.
Fail Blog celebrates morons whose work and actions are captured in photos, screenshots and videos. It’s one of the Web’s most consistently entertaining sites.
The video above is a good example of the stuff Fail Blog posts.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series on Tech-Media-Tainment’s favorite Web sites.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Top 10 cat names Apple hasn’t used yet for its Mac software

For years, computer maker Apple has been naming new versions of its Macintosh computer operating system after nature’s big cats. But after using Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard and now Snow Leopard, Apple is running out of cats to name its Mac OS X releases.
Here are a few suggestions:

1.
Mr. Mistoffelees – The magical cat from the musical “Cats.” Bonus: He wears black and is a master showman like Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
2.
Fritz – The smooth feline con artist from the comic strip “Fritz the Cat” by Robert Crumb. Known for his wild adventures and sexual escapades, he starred in an X-rated feature film by animator Ralph Bakshi.

3.
Felix – Black-and-white cartoon cat known for his giant grin. The first “Felix the Cat” cartoons were in the silent film era.

4.
Sockington – The microblogging cat on Twitter has attracted more than 1 million followers who want to read his thoughts on cat naps and being mischievous.

5.
Morris – The advertising mascot for 9Lives cat food, Morris the Cat is known as “the world’s most finicky cat.” Just like Steve Jobs, Morris would travel halfway across the country for liver.

6.
Salem – The black cat from “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” is actually a wizard sentenced to spend 100 years as a cat as punishment for attempting to take over the world. Apple execs accomplished the same goal with the iPod.

7.
Toonces – From the “Saturday Night Live” sketches “Toonces, the Driving Cat.” Might be a tough sell because Toonces crashes on every outing. Not something you want in a computer.

8.
Garfield – The title character from the comic strip by Jim Davis. Apple should save this name for a lame edition of its Mac OS to match the tone of the comic.

9.
Jocelyn Wildenstein – The New York socialite is known in the tabloid press as "the Catwoman" for her excessive plastic surgery. Apple should use this name for its most extreme makeover.
10.
Yusuf Islam – Best known by his former stage name, Cat Stevens, he is a singer-songwriter and prominent convert to Islam. Parallels to converting Windows users to Mac users?
Apple unleashes the latest version of its Macintosh computer operating system on Friday. Officially called Mac OS X version 10.6 Snow Leopard, it will be sold in retail stores as packaged software and installed on new computers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today’s 9.4% unemployment is bad, but not like the Depression’s 25% unemployment


Since the start of the current recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed persons in the U.S. has risen from 7.5 million, or 4.9% of the population, to 14.5 million, or 9.4%. Many economists expect the unemployment rate to top 10% by year-end.
By comparison, at the worst point of the Great Depression, in 1933, one in four Americans who wanted to work was unable to find a job.
Still, the U.S. unemployment rate is at a 26-year high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. The Labor Department will report August unemployment numbers on Sept. 4.
Following my dad’s recollections of the Great Depression, my mom contributes her thoughts.

Alice L. (Kelly) Seitz was born Jan. 7, 1933:

A barter economy in farming towns

I was a young girl during the Depression.
Growing up in a small town (Jim Falls, Wis.) during the Depression years, my experiences were different from children who grew up in large cities.
For example, there were opportunities where I lived for people to barter for goods and services. My mother gave dairy products from my father’s business (Jim Falls Dairy Company) for many services rendered, including (clothing) alterations, mending, carpentry and painting, just to name a few.
In cities there would have been apple and bread lines. We did have an occasional homeless man come to the door and ask for a meal.
The most important message from my point of view is that people during this time did not whine and complain. They did what they had to do to keep the family intact.
The adult members of my family did not complain much. Rather they had the toughness of personality to endure the difficult years.
My community was primarily a farm village. We were surrounded by farms and the economy of our grocery stores and other small businesses were very dependent upon the farms.

Taking in a relative’s children

No one in my family lost their jobs during the Depression, but if they had, other family members would have helped them out.
My Aunt Loretta’s death at age 39 in 1932 presented the family with the situation of having to raise her two children. My Uncle Sam (Wadleigh), due to losing his hearing during World War I and the sudden death of his wife, was not able to cope with raising the children. My mother, Mary M. Kelly, took the two children – Mary Ruth, age 9, and Philip, age 2 – to live with her in Jim Falls. I was born the following year.

A frugal lifestyle

People were more frugal during those years.
Clothes were handed down not only to immediate family members but also to your surrounding neighbors. People were more aware of others in need and were willing to go the extra mile to help out.
Dogs ate food scraps. You didn’t buy dog food to the extent you do today.
People didn’t buy special stationary for letter writing. We used school tablet paper that was either lined or unlined.
My Aunt Josephine taught school and would use the nearest available paper for letters and sometimes she used scrap paper (such as paper with printing on one side). It wasn't because she was being frugal, it was because it was convenient. My Aunt Josephine did things differently and others were tolerant of that practice. The rest of us used blank sheets of paper.
During that time period, it only cost 3 cents to mail a letter.
Communication was slow. Chicago papers came a day late to mid-Wisconsin. Radio news was not immediate. We would get our information after the fact. There was no television. Phone lines were not clear and even at times they didn't work due to bad weather conditions. Contrast that to what’s available today with the Internet, cell phones, constant news on the television and radio. Now we know what’s going on all over the world in an instant.

Good cook in the family

Food was always delicious in my home. During the Depression era we didn’t eat any differently except for the way that it was prepared.
My mother rendered the lard from the fat of a whole pig that my father had purchased from a local farmer. The amount of time she put into preparing the meals at this time was more time-consuming than during the non-Depression era.
We ate well due to the fact my mother had excellent cooking skills and she knew how to conserve our resources. There were other homemakers that had skills like this as well. These skills were passed down from each generation.
Heavier foods were cooked in the winter such as pot roasts, casseroles and stews. During the summer months we were literally fed from the garden – lots of salads and vegetables and fried chicken.
Most people grew gardens. This was a necessity not a hobby.
We did have neighbors that fished and hunted but it wasn’t necessarily because of the economy. It was more of a hobby to them and they loved fresh game.
The menu didn’t differ much in the Depression and non-Depression eras. What was more important was the availability of goods to economically prepare what was available. During the Depression people were counting their pennies just as today people are shopping for bargains.
My Aunt Lucille and Aunt Frances were school teachers in Waukegan, Ill., and they told of being paid in “script,” which was like IOUs.

Opinions on government’s handling of the Depression

My father was critical of how the government was handling the economic situation. Dad used to say that WWII got the country out of the Depression. He was critical of most government policies during the ’30s and ’40s. He was never argumentative with people of opposing views. It was kept within the family.

Unemployment graph from Wikipedia
Other informative Web sites on the Great Depression:
Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My First Dictionary: A twisted guide to word definitions for children


My First Dictionary is a wickedly funny Web site that takes quaint drawings from an old children’s dictionary and gives them a dark twist by adding sinister captions.
For example, a simple picture of a child tending a fire helps illustrate the definition of evidence. “Evidence is something that gets you into trouble. Jim has burned the evidence.”
My First Dictionary is the work of Ross Horsley, a 31-year-old from Leeds, U.K. He describes himself as a “Timid librarian by day ... Frenzied fan of gory slasher movies by night.”
His work is a great example of our remix culture. Horsley uses illustrations from someone else’s work and makes it his own through his writing. I would hope that this falls under the provisions of “fair use.”
In an April 2009 interview, Horsley said the pictures he uses are from an actual children’s book from the 1950s. “I’m expecting to get sued any day now! The truth is I can’t draw at all, so I have to rely on existing artwork,” he said.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on Tech-Media-Tainment’s favorite Web sites.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Unrated DVDs of theatrical movies tempting

Given a choice between the theatrical version of a movie and an unrated, “uncut” version, I tend to go for the latter.
The notion of a movie being “too hot,” “too raunchy” or “too violent” for censors is too tempting to pass up.
Usually the “unrated” label is a marketing gimmick for underperforming movies released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Comedies and horror movies are the two categories that pull this stunt the most. Steamy romances and erotic thrillers also have played the “unrated” card.
Sony is just starting to advertise its comedy “Year One” in both the PG-13 theatrical version and an unrated edition. Both are due out Oct. 6. I’ll be renting the unrated version.
“Year One,” starring Jack Black and Michael Cera and directed by Harold Ramis, didn’t get great reviews when it was released in theaters this summer. Only 16% of critics gave the film a positive review, according to RottenTomatoes.com.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m hoping that the addition of some deleted scenes will make “Year One” better. A PG-13 rating is a little tame for a movie produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” both R-rated).
Of course, “unrated” doesn’t necessarily mean that a movie will be harder edged or would have been rated R or NC-17. It only means that it wasn’t screened for the Motion Picture Association of America.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The current Great Recession has nothing on the Great Depression

People are drawing comparisons between the current economic situation and the Great Depression. Politicians and the media like to say that this is the worst financial crisis faced by the country since the Great Depression. Many are calling the current economic climate the Great Recession.
Tech-Media-Tainment asked senior correspondent James Seitz for his observations of growing up during the Great Depression, which began in October 1929 with the stock market crash and lasted until 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II.

James A. Seitz, born Jan. 18, 1929, talks about growing up during the Depression era:

Beggars going door-to-door

Our town – Fairchild, Wisconsin – was on a train line. Tramps would get off the train and walk from house to house asking for a bite to eat. We shared what we could. The hobos camped near the railroad. This occurred throughout the 1930s.
During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps had a camp that was almost like an Army barracks north of town. They brought in young men in their teens and early 20s from Chicago and Milwaukee to work. They housed them and fed them. They worked planting trees and building roads. They’d replant trees after forest fires.

Depression-era meals: Homegrown veggies, chicken

Food was distributed weekly in towns for poor people who couldn’t afford it. They handed out the basics – flour, potatoes, eggs and butter.
Most homes in town had gardens and people grew their own vegetables. Several of the homes had apple trees. People would work in the gardens in the evenings and talk to their neighbors.
I would go into the woods all by myself sometimes and pick blueberries in the summer – June and July – and my mother would bake them into pies and make jam.
I don’t recall any Depression-era meals. The local cafes generally had chicken dinners on Sundays. Hamburgers and hot dogs were popular luncheon meals because they were cheap. There were no elaborate meals. Most families had vegetables from their gardens – sweet corn, peas, beans, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, etc. Pies and cakes completed the dinner. Corn flakes and Rice Krispies were popular for breakfast because they were cheap.
We also raised chickens. In March, we’d get a box of 100 chicks for a penny a chick. We’d raise them inside until it warmed up outside. In April, we’d put them outside in a coop. By July, they’d be full grown and ready to eat.

Hunting for squirrel, rabbit and deer

When I got older, Dad and I went fishing during the spring and summer and hunting during the fall. We fished for trout and bluegills with cane poles.
During the fall, we went hunting for squirrels and rabbits. Dad liked to go hunting. He had a .22 caliber rifle.
My dad went deer hunting with a group of friends. He went hunting as much for the companionship as anything. He was running a drug store by himself for years.
My mother didn’t care for venison.
Hunting with a rifle is a dangerous sport. There was a lot of deer hunting in the forests north of Fairchild. Each year there would be a hunter shot.
I remember one year I was walking to the drug store and I walked by a car in which there was a man who was shot. It was obvious to me the man was dead. He was slumped over. I ran to our drug store and told my dad about the dead man in the car. The car was parked in front of a bar. My dad learned that the driver of the car parked the car with the dead man in it and then went into the bar to get a few drinks. It was an accident. The man was deer hunting with his friend and a stray shot came through the window of the car.

The simple life, without modern amenities

We lived simply. Dad ran a drug store in Fairchild from 1926 until about 1950.
Each home had its own water well and generally hand pumped the water pump to get their drinking, laundry and bath waters. There were no water pipes, so the pails of water were carried into the house. Generally bath and laundry waters were heated on top of the kitchen stove. Weekly Saturday baths were generally done by most families. Sunday mornings were church time.
No indoor plumbing also meant no indoor toilets. Every house had an outhouse.
Lawns were hand mowed, generally by the teenagers. There were no power mowers. Homeowners generally did their own repairs and painting their houses. There were a few carpenters and painters, but they cost money so we learned how to do the work.

Accept the life you’ve got

You have to accept the life you have. No one was rich. But we had a roof over our heads, were eating well, and had friends to play or work with. It was not easy for the unemployed or sick but they adjusted to the situation. The weekly movie, radio shows and the Sunday afternoon trips to visit our relatives in Tomah and Eau Claire were things we looked forward to.
During the Depression, very few families had extra money. All the money they earned was needed for food and clothing. Clothing was generally very plain. You had only one dress-up outfit. Toys were simple and inexpensive. A girl would have one small doll, for instance.
Because some families had six to eight children, clothes were passed down to the youngest. A new dress or jacket was a treat. During the summer many of the children were bare-footed and only wore shoes to go to church on Sunday.
In our town several of the large families didn’t have a father. Several were killed in the First World War, or the fathers worked in the larger cities. Some drove 30 miles every day to work, so they were gone for most of the five days and only home for part of the weekend.

Summer jobs working the fields

Teenagers did small jobs during the summer – working on farms to harvest strawberries, beans, cherries.
I picked strawberries when I was in grade school. There were several children I’d go with. I’d bring my lunch pail and spend the day there. The goal was to pick 100 quarts of strawberries a day per person. They had to be heaping containers because they’d settle during transport.
When I was in eighth grade, my father suggested that I ask permission to grow beans in the lot across the street. The old woman who owned it used to have a garden there, but she was too old to tend to it. Rather than it go to waste, my dad said, “This would be a terrific project you. If you earn enough money, maybe you could buy a bike.”
Dad made arrangements to get the seeds and I planted them, tended them and picked them. I would walk four or five blocks and bring my beans to the canning factory where I’d sell them.
That first year, I was so successful growing beans on that lot – which was probably a quarter acre – that my father suggested that I do a one-acre lot. I planted the whole acre in beans that second year. I was a freshman in high school then.
The acre lot had never been farmed before, so it had never been plowed. Dad had it plowed for me. After I planted the beans, the lot was almost overwhelmed by weeds. We did a lot of weeding. My dad had someone plow the soil between the rows of beans and that was a big help.
Two of us, a friend and I, would each fill a bag that had been used to hold 100 pounds of potatoes. We’d start on a row and go down the line until we each had filed a bag of beans. We had a wagon and we’d bring the two bags, totaling about 150 pounds of beans, to the canning factory. The next day we’d do it again. It took a month to harvest all the beans. We harvested until school started.
I only did bean crops for two years.
When I was in high school and turned 16, I worked in canning factories. I worked the line as the beans were put into cans. They cooked the beans in the cans. The beans were cleaned really well before they were canned.
Both of the canning factories I worked in were small companies.
It was a summer job. A group of us would drive to work together. I did that for two years.
Teenagers generally found some jobs during the summer. Some of them wanted to buy an old car for $50. These cars didn’t have a starter and had to be hand cranked to start them. They had running boards along the side of the car. We would sometimes hang onto the side of the car and ride short distances when we had more riders than space in the car. Gasoline was 20 cents a gallon.
During my senior year in high school, I worked in a paper company in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
During my sophomore and junior years in high school, I often had to run the soda fountain in my dad’s drug store during the lunch hour. We served Coca-Cola, root beer and other drinks.

Close call on overnight trip

One summer when I was in high school we learned that Sturgeon Bay in Door County needed people to pick cherries. So two carloads of us drove up there. It was about a five-hour drive.
I lasted two weeks.
I learned that a truck picking up cherries was going to be driving through my town and I rode in the back with the cherries.
We left in the evening and got there early in the morning.
A coworker sitting up front with the driver said we were lucky we didn’t crash because the driver almost fell asleep. I had no idea that this occurred because I was asleep in the back for the drive.

Hard work a way of life

No one in my family lost their jobs during the Depression.
My mother’s father, Henry Hubley, worked for the railroad and during the summer supervised a large crew of men to repair the railroad line, replacing bad rails, any damaged equipment, etc.
My dad had only one sister, Ann, who lived with her mother. They washed clothes, sheets, blankets, etc. for motels and families. When we visited them the clothes lines were packed with washed materials. It was very physical work. They hung the clothes outside. It wasn’t until later that they got a dryer.

Small town living in Fairchild, Wis.

I grew up in a small town of about 660 people. It had one doctor and one dentist
The town had no police department, but did have a small jail cell. The downtown had six stores and three bars. They had a security guard who walked the street where the retail stores, bars, movie theater, hotel, post office, garages and “filling stations” were located. Filling stations sold gas, but did no car repairs, lubrications or auto parts sales. The garages also sold gas. We were located off a major road at the time, Highway 12, so there was a lot of traffic coming through.
The security guard was there to protect the buildings so they were not robbed or damaged.
With three bars, it was not uncommon for us to see drunkards stagger down the sidewalks. Some of them weren’t able to walk home and slept on the grass in the small town park. The three bars were open until 10 p.m. or so on weeknights and on Saturday they’d be open later.
During the summer, once a week there was an outdoor movie. They’d put up a screen and show the movies. We did have a movie theater but for Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings. The theater wasn’t open during the week. Youngsters only paid 10 cents. Teenagers paid 25 or 35 cents.

(Photo from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, posted to About.com photo page on the Great Depression. See also About.com Web page on the Depression.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Study: 41% of Twitter posts are ‘pointless babble’; That explains TwttrPoop


Pear Analytics just released a report that determined that 41% of Twitter posts are “pointless babble,” such as “I am eating a sandwich now.”
The firm said “pointless babble” was the top category of tweets, followed by conversational tweets at 38%.
This study would explain why so many people post tweets about their bowel movements. The Web site TwttrPoop runs a real-time stream of people talking about taking a poop. It’s sad and disgusting.
Even Twitter has been trying to reposition its service away from such inane tweets. Twitter was originally designed for people who wanted to share what they were doing at any moment with friends and family. In 140-character blurbs, they talked about restaurants they were eating at and other mundane activities.
Pear Analytics says Twitter recently revamped its home page to move away from “What are you doing now?” to “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.” It’s also prompting users to “Join the conversation.”

Friday, August 14, 2009

‘Sixteen Candles’ director Hughes’ best film

Movie critics and pop culture commentators have written a lot about writer-director John Hughes since his death on Aug. 6. I thought I’d through in my 2 cents.
Having grown up in the north suburbs of Chicago, I felt a close affinity to Hughes’ movies, many of which were filmed there.
I recall seeing “Sixteen Candles” on its opening day in 1984 while I was at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and afterward telling everyone I could that they had to see this movie. It seemed so fresh and spoke to an audience of young people that was being ignored by Hollywood at the time.
I still think it’s his best work. Others point to “The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). They’re good, but don’t resonate with me the way “Sixteen Candles” does.
Hughes only directed eight movies, but had a hand in at least 31 movies as a writer. His batting average as a director was very good. He also helmed the underrated “Weird Science” (1985), “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (1987) and “Uncle Buck” (1989).
Among the films he wrote but didn’t direct, “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) and “Christmas Vacation” (1989) are standouts. Even some of the movies he wrote under the pseudonym Edmond Dantes were actually pretty good like “Beethoven” (1992) and “Maid in Manhattan” (2002), but I’m probably in the minority on those.

For the complete John Hughes filmography, consult IMDb.
Film critic Roger Ebert remembers Hughes in a Chicago Sun-Times column.
AP obituary from the Chicago Sun-Times.
See also the Wikipedia entry on John Hughes, which includes a Web link to his unproduced screenplay, “Jaws 3, People 0,” a comedy sequel to the first two “Jaws” movies.
Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips had a nice writeup about Hughes as well.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sex education starts early in the Internet age

Thanks to the Internet, kids are learning about the birds and the bees earlier than ever.
A recent study found that “sex” and “porn” are two of the top 10 Web search terms among minors. Sex-oriented words and phrases make up at least 10% of the top 100 search terms used by children, according to Symantec’s OnlineFamily.Norton service.
Other terms used by kids include “naked girls," “Playboy,” “XXX,” “boobs” and “pussy.” I assume that most of these young Web surfers were adolescent boys. Other popular searches were for hotties like Megan Fox (see above photo) and Britney Spears.
The OnlineFamily.Norton service is marketed to parents with children 5 to 13, but has settings for ages up to 18. Children have individual log-ins to track their activities online.
When I was an adolescent, getting your hands on a copy of Playboy was a major coup for a boy. Now kids are a couple of clicks away from the raunchiest, hardcore porn imaginable.
Parents likely will have to have “the talk” much earlier with their kids because of the stuff they see online. But in today’s world, the kids might have to educate the adults.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Moving reveals the need to get rid of stuff

The only time you touch everything you own is when you move.
The less frequently you move, the more things you accumulate.
The late George Carlin had a comedy routine based on this idea. He noted that a house was really just a place to store “your stuff.” Here's an excerpt. See a video of his act below.
"A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get ... more stuff!
Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore."
Having just moved over the weekend from Chicago, Ill., to New Canaan, Conn., I can accurately say we have too much stuff.
When I was a bachelor, I moved frequently and traveled light. I didn’t have many decorative household items and what furniture I had was cheap and expendable. I wasn’t tied down with pets or even houseplants. I wasn’t a fugitive from justice with the Feds on my tail, I was just a typical single American man.
Nothing against the fairer sex, but women tend to be nesters. They like nice furniture, wall hangings, decorative items like vases and figurines. Men will have the bare necessities in the kitchen but women often want the full Rachael Ray treatment. Same goes for bathrooms and bedrooms, where men like myself prefer dorm-room simplicity and women want the Martha Stewart look.
Add kids to the mix and your quantity of stuff really explodes.
Add a pet and you get even more stuff.
Such is life.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Compact fluorescent lamp bulbs not so 'green'

As an eco-friendly or “green” product, compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs are a failure.
During my recent move, a burned-out compact fluorescent bulb was among the toxic items I needed to dispose of properly.
I’ve written before that if recycling or waste disposal isn’t easy, people won’t do it. Curbside recycling and hazardous waste pickup is the ideal. We had that in Wilmette, Ill., for aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles, newspaper and junk mail, and even lead-acid batteries and motor oil. But the village didn’t pick up everything, such as fluorescent light bulbs.
My options for the dead fluorescent bulb were limited and not well publicized. Researching on the Web what to do with the bulb yielded few attractive options. The village of Wilmette collected them at the town hall one day a month. I was told you could dispose of them at the local hardware store for free if you bought a new one. I was moving, so that was not a good option. Home Depot stores also will take them back.
The only other option was to drive 30 miles back and forth to a central hazardous waste facility in Chicago. No way to that.
Ultimately I was able to sweet talk the public health official at Wilmette village hall to take my compact fluorescent bulb and a regular tube fluorescent light ahead of the monthly collection date. She also took a mercury thermometer and some prescription medicine that needed special disposal as well.
I suspect that most people wouldn’t have bothered and would have pitched the stuff in the trash. CFL bulbs may be energy efficient, but the mercury they contain doesn’t make them a good green item because most of those bulbs will end up in the landfill anyway. (CFL bulbs also are supposed to have long lives, but the one I disposed of did not.)
Our best option in the future is LED lights but the price needs to come down to be affordable to mainstream consumers.

Tech-Media-Tainment is back in business

Our publisher’s decision to move operations from metropolitan Chicago to the hilly countryside of southwestern Connecticut has been disruptive on the staff of Tech-Media-Tainment, but we are finishing the move this week.
Expect sporadic postings over the next week. We still need to reconnect our computer gear and get the office phones working. Meanwhile our publisher is enjoying a nice vacation. Would it kill him to help unpack a few boxes?
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