Monday, March 31, 2014

‘The 100’ and boom times for post-apocalyptic TV shows

With the premiere this month of the CW drama “The 100,” post-apocalyptic TV shows are at an all-time high.
Five shows airing now are set after apocalyptic events.
They are:
  • AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” where flesh-eating zombies have taken over the world;
  • TNT’s “Falling Skies,” where most of mankind has been wiped out by space invaders;
  • NBC’s “Revolution,” set after nanotechnology shuts down all electricity;
  • SyFy’s “Defiance,” which takes place in the aftermath of an alien invasion;
  • The CW’s “The 100,” set nearly a century after a nuclear war.
It could be a sign of the times, reflecting how Americans feel about the state of the world. Or it could be a sign of Hollywood’s copycat mentality.
More post-apocalyptic shows are coming.
On June 19, SyFy will premiere “Dominion,” a TV series based on the 2010 film “Legion.” It is set 25 years after the start of a war among angels that has laid waste to the world.
On June 22, TNT will premiere “The Last Ship” from director Michael Bay. It stars Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra and Adam Baldwin. It takes place after a global pandemic wipes out 80% of the planet’s population.
Amazon.com has ordered a post-apocalyptic series from “The X-Files” creator Chris Carter called “The After.” The pilot premiered on Amazon Prime Instant Video on Feb. 6. Amazon gave “The After” a full series order on Monday.
But wait there’s more.
AMC is working on a spin-off of “The Walking Dead” to premiere in 2015. It will feature a new cast of characters dealing with the zombie apocalypse.
AMC also is making a series called “Galyntine,” a post-apocalyptic tale about a society that eschews all forms of technology following a global disaster.
HBO is developing “The Leftovers,” which concerns a small town dealing with the aftermath of a global Rapture-like event.
SyFy is hoping to do a TV series based on the movie “Waterworld,” which takes place after the polar ice caps melt and flood the Earth.
Plus, SyFy has ordered a pilot for a TV series based on the movie “12 Monkeys.” The story follows a time traveler from the post-apocalyptic future who arrives in the present on a mission to locate and destroy the source of a deadly plague that eventually will wipe out much of the human race.
The CW is developing an apocalyptic drama called “The Messengers.”
And finally, Fox has ordered a comedy starring Will Forte called “The Last Man on Earth.”

See also: 

List of post-apocalyptic TV dramas.

Photos: Promotional art for the CW’s “The 100” and Amazon’s “The After.” 


Sunday, March 30, 2014

My 10 favorite TV shows on right now

1. The Walking Dead 

AMC’s zombie apocalypse drama “The Walking Dead” just finished its best season yet. It’s like an epic novel where you don’t know where the journey will take you.

2. Orphan Black 

BBC America’s human-clone conspiracy drama “Orphan Black” had a great first season, which I caught up on recently through Netflix on DVD. Season two starts April 19.

3. Revolution 

NBC’s low-rated world-without-electricity drama deserves a bigger audience. The show has great action, cool plot twists and interesting characters. I hope it gets renewed for a third season.

4. Adventure Time 

Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time” is a cartoon for adults and kids. It’s got funny dialog, wild stories and a trippy universe.

5. Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 

ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” got off to a rocky start, but found its footing midway through its freshman season. It has the rich story-telling, character relationships and dialog that you would expect from Joss Whedon show.

6. Gold Rush 

Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” is the gold standard for reality TV shows. I enjoy watching as its three teams hunt for gold with varying degrees of success.

7. American Horror Story 

FX channel’s “American Horror Story” continues to shock and thrill with its single-season anthology stories, which so far have included “Murder House,” “Asylum” and “Coven.” Up next is “Freak Show.”

8. Supernatural 

Now in its ninth season, the CW horror series “Supernatural” is getting long in the tooth, but still has some life in it. It’s been renewed for a 10th season and a spin-off series has been ordered. The CW may be pushing the franchise too far like it did with “The Vampire Diaries,” a show I used to like but quit watching when the quality degraded.

9. Hannibal 

Another low-rated NBC drama worth watching is “Hannibal,” presuming you have a strong stomach. The grisly show, based on characters from the serial killer novel “Red Dragon,” at least deserves to finish its story.

10. Almost Human 

The Fox sci-fi cop show “Almost Human” is on the bubble and likely will be canceled. It was an interesting failure. The series put too much emphasis on standalone police procedural episodes and didn’t spend enough time on a larger more involving narrative.
It showed its potential in the episode titled “Unbound,” featuring guest stars Gina Carano and John Larroquette.

I’m also into the SyFy series “Helix,” which I hate-watched for half of its 13-episode first-season run. The second half of the season grew on me after the story changed direction.
Other shows I enjoy include NBC’s singing competition show “The Voice,” History channel’s “American Pickers,” the Weather Channel’s “Prospectors,” Animal Planet’s “Monsters Inside Me,” and Science channel’s “How It’s Made.”
P.S. This list only includes shows on broadcast and basic cable.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Virtual reality in movies and TV shows

Virtual reality is hot again thanks to Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus VR and plans by Sony and Microsoft to make virtual reality goggles for their video game systems.
Until now, virtual reality has been the stuff of science fiction.
What follows is a list of some memorable depictions of virtual reality technology in sci-fi movies and TV shows.

Tron 

In “Tron” (1982) and its sequel “Tron Legacy” (2010), people are transported into a computer game world.

The Lawnmower Man 

In “The Lawnmower Man” (1992), a scientist conducts experiments on a human subject with drugs and virtual reality technology with frightening results.

Disclosure 

In “Disclosure” (1994), a character played by Michael Douglas dons virtual reality goggles to enter a virtual data file vault to retrieve information.


VR.5 

In the short-lived Fox TV series “VR.5” (1995), actress Lori Singer played a computer hobbyist who interacted with other people in an advanced type of virtual reality.

Existenz 

In “Existenz” (1999), director David Cronenberg explores what happens when the lines between virtual reality and reality become blurred.

The Matrix 

In “The Matrix” (1999) and its two sequels, humans unknowingly are kept in suspended animation and live in a virtual world.

Harsh Realm 

“Harsh Realm” (1999-2000) is a short-lived Fox TV series about humans trapped inside a virtual reality simulation.

Related articles: 

10 Wacky Movie Depictions of Virtual Reality (PCmag.com; March 26, 2014)

Movies with the theme “virtual reality” (AllMovie.com)

Virtual reality movies 1980 to present (Box Office Mojo)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Porn stars invited to high school proms. What’s the harm?

Can’t porn actresses go to high school proms like normal folks? Apparently not.
Conservative parents and school administrators are cracking down on high school boys inviting female porn stars to the big dance.
They’re worried about the message it might send if X-rated movie actresses are allowed to attend prom. Or maybe they’re worried an orgy might break out.

Ava Taylor 

On March 20, Downers Grove South High School in Illinois decided that student Victor Hererra could not bring porn actress Ava Taylor as his date to the prom on April 26.
Hererra got the 18-year-old Miami native to agree to be his date if he got 5,000 retweets for the idea on Twitter.
Now there’s a petition circulating on Change.org to encourage the school to change its mind. The petition has 950 signatures and needs just 50 more to reach the goal of 1,000.

Megan Piper 

In March 2012, Mike Stone, a student at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minn., convinced 19-year-old adult actress Megan Piper of Los Angeles to be his prom date.
But the school administration banned the porn star from the premises.
The incident generated a lot of news coverage, including stories by ABC News, the Daily Mail, Fox News and the Pioneer Press.)

Tyler Faith 

In June 2004, officials at Weston High School in Connecticut prevented student Max Miesel from bringing as his prom date porn star Tyler Faith.
Miesel won a date with Faith on Howard Stern’s radio show, according to CBS News.

Houston 

In 1999, Brad Parascandolo took porn star Houston to his prom at Tottenville High School on Staten Island, New York. The match was brokered by shock jock Howard Stern, according to the New York Post and Silive.com.)
The two actually started a relationship afterward, according to Wikipedia. Maybe that’s what school officials today are worried about.

Photos of Ava Taylor and Megan Piper taken from their respective Twitter pages. Photo of Tyler Faith from Wikipedia. Photo of Houston by Luke Ford via Wikipedia. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taking stock of stock photos: Jellyfish, private jets and more

Eating jellyfish can cure a lot of ailments, if you believe some shady-looking online ads.
The same stock photo of a small round jellyfish on a man’s palm has been used to sell male performance boosters and high blood-pressure medicine.
The stock photo is available from Shutterstock, 123rf and BigStock, among others.


A company called Force Factor is behind the ubiquitous online advertisements. You can see a bunch of their ads here.
Force Factor manufactures nutritional supplements for men to build muscle and increase testosterone. Tachmorn Marketing ran a critique of the company’s ads in a blog post.


Force Factor also uses attractive women to sell its male performance enhancement products.
In one series of ads, it uses a photo of a pretty blonde on a tennis court. This is a stock photo available from Dreamstime and others.
I’ve seen that same photo used to sell a sleep aid for another company.


And finally, here’s an ad for a get rich scheme that uses a man posing beside a private jet. The ad says “How Penny Stocks Create Millionaires.”

I tracked the photo down to Innovative Photography of Utah. The photo in question was taken in 2009, according to a post on Vimeo.


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Man vs. robot in ping-pong match

On May 11, 1997, an IBM supercomputer named Deep Blue defeated world champion chess player Garry Kasparov at his own game. It was a milestone moment for the computer industry.
Last week, the latest major man vs. technology event pitted German professional table tennis player Timo Boll against KUKA Robot Group’s KUKA KR Agilus industrial robot in a promotional table tennis match.
KUKA initially implied that the March 11 event, timed with the opening of a new factory in Shanghai, China, would be a live matchup. But it turned out that the build-up was for the release of a short film depicting a ping-pong matchup between man and machine.
The nearly 4-minute film is heavily edited, so it’s hard to tell how real a match it was. In the match, Agilus takes an early lead, but Boll comes from behind to win.
So, it would appear, that man has the upper hand for now in this human vs. tech matchup.
KUKA has hired Boll to be a brand ambassador for its industrial robots.
KUKA isn’t the only one with a ping pong-playing robot.
Earlier this month, industrial mechanic Ulf Hoffmann showed off his table-tennis robot in a 3-minute YouTube video.


Related websites on KUKA Robotics: 

KUKA website

KUKA Robotics page on Facebook

Related reading on Kasparov vs. Deep Blue: 

Deep Blue: 15 years after IBM’s supercomputer beat the chess world’s champ (The Verge; May 11, 2012)

Deep Blue (Wikipedia)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sourcing photos: Mystery women edition

I’ve had pretty good luck tracking down the origins of oddball photos used in online ads. But on some I’ve come up short, usually on pictures of women used with online dating services.
Often I can find larger, uncropped or unmodified versions of the same images, but I’m no closer to determining who the women are or where the photos originated.
Here are four examples from Facebook ads below.


The top ad features a young woman in a bikini by a pool. The ad text, which typically has nothing to do with the photo, reads, “Wealthy women looking for some fun.”
I found a larger version of the photo (shown up top), but couldn’t locate any information on the picture. It looks like a bikini competition, given all the onlookers. And the woman looks familiar, like a young Olivia d’Abo.
The larger photos are stamped Silvercash.com, which is an adult online marketing firm doing business with a lot of porn sites. That’s interesting because the same photo was used to advertise a Christian dating service, according to blogger G.M. Frampton.

The next ad features a smiling woman on a couch. The ad says, “Boyfriend Wanted. Browse pics of single women near you with this Facebook app.”
By “near you,” they must mean the Philippines. Because I found the same photo in a set of attractive Filipina women on a website called Perfect Pinay. (Pinay is a colloquial term for Filipina, according to Wikipedia.)
The website’s editor collects photos from across the Internet, according to their Facebook page. So who knows where that particular photo was sourced?

The following ad includes a photo of a woman with disproportionately large hips and thighs. The ad copy reads, “From Russia with love.”
There are two big problems with this small ad.
First off, the woman is Asian, most likely Japanese.
Second, the picture was Photoshopped to make her hips and thighs much larger. That body shape appeals to audiences of websites like Pear Lover.
The original photo is above and the altered version is below.

And finally, the ad “Easy dating on Facebook” includes a shot of a woman lying on a bed or sofa.
I found a larger photo of the woman, but no further information. You can tell she’s trying on ballet shoes, if that helps though.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Photo origins: Stock image edition

With some online ads it’s hard to tell whether a photo being used is real or staged.
In these examples, the photos used are stock images, with models posing for pictures.
Let’s start with some ads I saw on the Chicago Sun-Times website.
First, there’s an ad titled “Great Falls arrest records” with a presumed mug shot of a woman who looks like Katy Perry, Zooey Deschanel or Krysten Ritter.
I still don’t know who the woman is, but it’s not a real police mug shot. It’s a photo illustration from a stock photography company. It was taken by Rob Byron in December 2012 and is available through AP Images.
In addition to the “arrest records” ad, the photo has been used to illustrate articles on arrest procedure (WiseGeek), bail bonds (Family Bail Blog) and mug-shot websites (GigaOm).

Another online ad features a what-the-heck photo showing a bunch of people laying their hands on a girl’s head. It has a strange, new-age religious vibe.
The ad text says “If you don’t speak Spanish, you should see this video to learn this one sneaky linguistic trick.”
What does the photo have to do with learning a language?
Nothing. It’s a stock photo available from Shutterstock, Dreamstime and presumably other image services. The description says the photo shows a “Human robot science fiction concept.”
Speaking of science fiction, another ad titled “Probiotics – Warning” uses a photo that looks like an otherworldly creature.
Probiotics are microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed, such as the good bacteria in yogurt. However, the photo used with this ad is actually a cat flea under an electron microscope. (See articles by The Telegraph and Top Design Mag.)

I doubt that a cat flea has anything to do with probiotics.

The photo with this last ad is pretty dramatic. It shows a beautiful woman pointing a handgun in the direction of the camera.
The ad copy reads, “The Coming Collapse: The real reason why Homeland Security recently purchased 1.7 billion rounds of ammunition.” It’s an ad for a website called Patriot Survival Plan.
The photo is dramatic because it’s from a 2010 movie called “Bitch Slap.” The lovely actress is America Olivo. Unfortunately the movie wasn’t so hot, with only 31% positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
More people have seen this still photo from the movie than the actual film itself.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Identifying mystery photos in online ads

A lot of small online ads use attention-grabbing photos to get you to click on them. Sometimes they’re of attractive women, usually with big breasts. Other times they show something odd or captivating.
Earlier this year, I tracked down the source of some photos used in Facebook ads and elsewhere. (See “Sourcing photos: Sexy women edition” and “Facebook experience cheapened by trashy ads.”)
It was a fun process, so I’ll continue the series today with a selection of ads from Forbes.com.


One ad titled “New Rule in Great Falls, Va.” showed a police officer leaning against his squad car with a woman standing in the foreground.

But the photo has nothing to do with Great Falls, Va., the area where I live. The text was generated automatically using my computer’s location.
The photo was taken by Orlando Sentinel photographer Hilda M. Perez in Daytona Beach, Fla. It was used with a July 27, 2006, article titled “Prostitution crackdown.”
Unlike Daytona Beach, Fla., Great Falls, Va., doesn’t have a problem with street hookers.


Another ad says “Great Falls Arrest Records Now Online.” It features a photo, presumably a mug shot, of an attractive mixed race woman.
The picture turns out to be a mug shot of a 19-year-old woman named Gabrielle arrested on a drug offense. Her photo was included in an online slideshow on GuySpeed titled “Bad Girls With Smoking Hot Mug Shots.”
The article doesn’t say where Gabrielle was arrested, but I doubt it was Great Falls.

Lastly, there’s a photo of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama giving the stink eye to Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. It was used for a political ad titled “CAUGHT: The End of Obama.”
The unflattering photo of Ms. Obama was taken in France on June 6, 2009, by David Silpa for UPI, according to America Times.

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