Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Recent Panel: Comics & Graphic Novels in the Digital Age

I sat in on a comics panel recently at Full Sail Hall of Fame 8. A host of other cool folks were on hand also including Roland Mann, Barry Gregory, Tom Lucas, Daniel Corey and Troy Devolld.


Thursday, February 09, 2017

Cord Cutting

A cable sales rep called the other day offering me a deal on service.

"Do you have cable now?"

"No. I go with over-the-air. I get HD plus a lot of local digital channels that weren't on basic Prism from CenturyLink."

I use a Mohu Leaf, and I'm fortunate to live in a good location--major networks plus Decades, Heroes and Icons, Me TV, My TV, Cozi, Bounce Laff, Escape, Univision, Telemundo, Get, Antenna, this, Retro, Grit, Escape, QVC, ION, NASA, PBS, Create.

I really don't want for stuff not to watch. There are as many things to flip past as I ever had. Sometimes the weather affects reception, but then that happened back when I had Dish TV.

"But, do you have a way to record programs?"

"Yeah I have an over-the-air DVR."  It's a Tablo. It's fabulous and plays through Apple TV,  an Amazon Fire Stick or on a tablet if I ever need television, say, in the laundry room.

I have to wait for a few cable programs to show up on streaming services, but otherwise I do OK.

I guess a DVR was the best arrow in the quiver. The sales rep and I said our goodbyes.

I suppose all this might be affected by loss of net neutrality if it comes to that, but at the moment I'm not missing cable about one year out. I've built my own à la carte and the wheels don't even wobble.

At the moment, I'm streaming musical performances from Pluto TV's Live Music channel via Apple TV. You don't even get that on MTV anymore do you?

Upgrading to the new version of Apple TV's one of the best moves I've made since cutting the cord. It allows providers to offer their own apps, making it a little less of a closed environment than Apple TV used to be.

I've found a pretty good set of alternatives even for surfing mindlessly.  Pluto's one of the best. There's a lot to be said for MST3K any time. 
Besides that, the news junkie in me is fed by a variety of sources, some on Pluto TV like the new Chedder--CNBC for Millennials but I like it too--and others. CBSN is available on just about every device, and I supplement it with UK's Sky News feed and a few others plus podcasts of the Rachael Maddow show, a day late, but still handy.

And there are free streaming services beyond Netflix and Hulu. Shout Factory, Tubi TV, Popcorn TV, Crackle they have a few commercials and a lot of niche selections the premium services aren't bothering with.

 As I said, way, way more than I need, but it's not the having, it's the getting for the geek in me.







Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Home Tech Echoes


At my house, we're not quite to the point of Scotty in Star Trek IV in our expectations of audible communication with computers.

You remember:





We're getting better, however, and surprisingly Christine, who is usually skeptical of new technology, is leading the way.

Last Christmas, 2015, I asked for a couple of things, and an Amazon Echo was on the list. For most of the holiday season, I thought the Echo-shaped package under the tree must be the fulfillment of that request.

Turned out to be a new martini shaker. Good gift,  just not an Echo.

I re-submitted the request last September and got an Echo for my birthday.

Since then it has moved from the living room, where I spend a lot of time grading and used it for random Wikipedia questions, to the master bedroom where Christine can access it as she gets dressed in the mornings.

Bondage
Christine's kind of bonded with Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant persona app thingy, in fact. It's to a point I think they talk about me when I'm not around.

Christine's even a little defensive of Alexa if I slip and call her Siri. They may talk about Siri when I'm not around also.

 I now hear weather and news updates being conjured along with a lot of song requests, playlists and calming nature sounds. Also: occasional arguments over station changes in Pandora. Alexa doesn't give up on Willie Nelson easily.

My use of the Echo "skill" Ditty isn't quite perfect either. Echo's features are called skills in this new world nomenclature, and new skills can be periodically applied. Ditty lets you create songs from random phrases, taking your words and assigning tunes from a variety of musical styles. I got a reasonably good country tune out of the words: "Welcome home Christine." Tunes, er, ditties about the cats haven't produced anything I want to save and share via Twitter, though that's an option.

Activating the meditation-themed Thrive "skill," can be challenging at times as well. Makes you need a calming meditation after talking Alexa into activating it.

We progressed recently to being able to  turn on a couple of lights by voice command, something they promise in the ads. That requires smart home plugs, though they're not quite as smart as I'd hoped. Some routines can be established, but you have to sweet talk Alexa for that also.

I thought that was going to throw Christine off, but she's taken to that as well after an unfortunate incident in which she discovered her phone charger had been crowded out of its usual outlet.

We've moved past that, though I think she takes a bit of pleasure in saying: "Alexa, turn on the bedroom lamp" while I'm still asleep.

Things have a ways to go before we get to where the 21st Century home looked in the 20th Century. I'm just hoping they don't turn out like this old Warner Brothers cartoon:





Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In St. Pete's by the shore



Walking early in St. Petersburg this morning, the horizon was an array of colors: gray-blue layered with rows of a pale coral and streaks of pink, sky meeting blue water with a splash of yellows and more pale pinks and oranges reflected.

I've never been here before, so it's a new sky, and in the morning quite I felt calm and detached, kind of what you want in a holiday break. 

There are a few reminders 'tis the season. On one condo building I passed, the balcony railing on one unit was decorated with lights, and an inflatable reindeer decoration stood beside their deck chairs, not Hallmark Movie Christmas, but a vestige. 

The birds were everywhere, more plentiful than tourists or locals, gulls on shore of multiple varieties,  a few geese diving amid the waves and a couple of big birds with what I think of as heron-like features, though I'm not sure of their species. 

The first I ran across tolerated my presence for a while as I snapped pictures on my phone then stepped off the sea wall and strolled away, wanting his privacy and a return to his placidity, I suppose. So it goes.

Christine says the infinity of it all is what's amazing. I suppose that's true. 

There are boundaries out there somewhere across the blue water, but you can't see them from here.




Monday, December 19, 2016

Homework: A Boy and His Dog



Some Harlan Ellison ebook editions were on sale yesterday from Open Road, which prompted a few messages between a friend and I about which ones were available vs. what could be found on the library service Hoopla Digital. A Boy and His Dog, Ellison's 1969 novella, was not on the free list, though it can be found for digital checkout via Hoopla.

All of that started me thinking about the film version again, sort of. I'd been thinking about it a bit because The Witchmaker (1969) produced by character actor L.Q. Jones and TV's Hank Kimball Alvy Moore is streaming via Amazon Prime. It was filmed in Marksville, LA, near where I lived in Central Louisiana, but I'd never had a chance to see it until the streaming. (Interesting drive-in horror flick.)

But that's an aside. My message-chat with my friend prompted me to start digging back through Starlog interviews and letters about A Boy and His Dog, the film from 1975.

Happily Starlog's available for nerd and pop culture research on Archive.org, and, though I'm late to the table, I ran across a ShoutFactory conversation between Ellison and Jones from 2013. Along with the Starlog articles, it all makes for a nice slice of film history conversation. I realized the various items complement each other and some add clarity to the others. I compiled them all for creative writing students for a Facebook group, but I'll add them here for the convenience of anyone wanting to peruse more on this bit of science fiction cinema.

Here's the 2013 ShoutFactory Backlot sitdown.

Here's L.Q. Jones interviewed by Ed Naha on the 1983 re-release of Dog.

And here's Ellison's letter responding to Jones' points a few issues later.

I did the Googling so you don't have to.






Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ollie Dressed Up

We all get ties for Christmas. My cat, Oliver Littlechap, is no exception. 


Monday, October 03, 2016

Dreaded Light

I met screenwriter Mark MacNicol online recently, and he mentioned his work in progress. It's an intriguing film called Dreaded Light.

It's set in Soctland and follows a widowed father and his teenaged daughters and their efforts to cope with grief. At least that's where things start. The title refers to one of the teen's fear of daylight.

Mark talks more about his project on his website here: http://markmacnicol.com/


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Not So Normal Living Rooms - Streaming Contained Thriller Horror

I like blockbusters as much as the next aging geek. I went to see Jason Bourne on Sunday because I knew it was going to be fun and frenetic. Other than one car chase that goes on from the third act until the next feature time, I was right.

I'm always intrigued also by films that sometimes get dubbed chamber pieces in keeping with theater tradition and terminology for small cast and limited setting.

Those chamber piece films are those that that go the other direction from the blockbuster. Instead of globe hopping, like a lot of TV viewers, they stay in the living room.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rope with it's real time storyline and Leopold and Loeb-inspired psychopaths is a stunning example. I think Hitchcock liked the challenge of developing thrills in tight settings because what are Psycho or Dial M for Murder as well?

I've enjoyed several variations on the streaming services of late, all eerie and effective, never making us feel just like we're stuck on one set but making that one set or location essential. These are some very weird living rooms if you will.

Coherence was conceived apparently in part by James Ward Byrkit as a respite from blockbusters, and it gives us a dinner party on the night of a comet that soon slides into a night of weirdness as it becomes apparent timelines in the many worlds theory are criss-crossing, and mistakes and missed opportunities drive some characters to desperation. 






Time Lapse from Bradley King plays different games with time to good effect. What might be a grim crime drama without its science fiction conceit becomes a cool and compelling nail-biter when three friends (The Flash's Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary and George Finn), one with a gambling addiction, discover a dead scientist who's left behind a camera in his apartment that snaps Polaroids one day in the future. It's aimed at their living room. What can it hurt to post race results in the window?

If movies have taught us anything, it's that men who dabble in the realm of God reap a big and complicated mess.

That's what the heroes of Time Lapse soon discover. Is the camera creating self-fulfilling prophecies, or are other forces at work? Between dangerous bookies, double crosses and the challenge of keeping secrets and sticking to time's rule's, their world's soon awry, and the tale offers many twists and surprises before its revealing conclusion.




The Invitation has been getting just a bit of buzz upon its Netflix debut, and I think it's deserved.

It's the story of Will (Logan Marshall-Green of Prometheus) the grief-stricken father of a child killed by a playmate. He and new love Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are on the way to a reunion with his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband (Khaleesi boy toy Michael Huisman.) The latter couple met in grief counseling and fled to Mexico for an Est-like (or not) experience that's replaced grief with joy.

Now they want to make amends to Will, so he and a host of old friends have received the invitation to join in, and the evening gets creepier and creepier in a slow burn buildup that engages and refuses to relent. Can any party with John Carroll Lynch as an unexpected guest go any other way, whether or not he's decked out as Twisty the Clown?



These films won't allow just vegging on the sofa, but they will make your living room viewing a bit breathless for a few hours. Check them out via Amazon or Netflix.





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