Something Missing From Three Obituraries

Three veteran actors passed away this month: Andy Griffith (7/3/2012), Ernest Borgnine (7/8/2012) and Sherman Hemsley (7/25/2012). All three were my favorite TV actors when I was growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s. After reading their obituaries with great interest, I noticed a trend among the obituaries for all three. They made no mention of the specific TV show or movie that I came to love each of these actors for.

Although I enjoyed watching “The Andy Griffith Show” as a young child, I was more of a Don Knotts fan back then. I didn’t appreciate Andy Griffith until he appeared in “Salvage 1” that ran for one season in 1979, about a junkman who builds his own rocket to recover all the junk left by NASA on the Moon. This series aired before the fiery demise of Skylab and the beginning of the space shuttle program. Ordinary citizens building a workable spaceship despite the federal government’s monopoly on spaceflight was an intriguing idea back then, and more so now that private spaceflight is becoming a reality.

Ernest Borgnine had a famous face that appeared in many movies and TV shows long before I was born. Until he appeared along with Jan-Michael Vincent (“Damnation Alley”) in “Airwolf,” I never took noticed of him. As the father figure and mentor to a reclusive Viet Nam veteran fighter pilot who stole an advanced military helicopter, I wished I had someone like him when I was growing up as a teenager.

I first saw Sherman Hemsley in “All In The Family” as the black neighbors who tormented Archie Bunker in his bigotry, and became a huge fan with “The Jeffersons” about being a successful businessman. But that’s not the role I remembered him best for. It’s in the movie, “Love At First Bite,” as a Harlem minister performing a funeral at a black church, when Count Dracula (George Hamiliton) pops open the coffin. Needless to say, a dead black man coming back to life as an undead white man is very unsettling. Mrs. Jefferson (Isabel Sanford) also makes an appearance as a court judge in this movie.

Review – The Amazing Spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man MovieI was expecting to be disappointed with “The Amazing Spider-Man” as it was another reboot. If Sony haven’t made this movie, the rights would have reverted back to Marvel. That’s the problem with superhero movies these days. Hollywood wants to recycle the origin story more than once a generation—the Superman franchise is on its third reboot—to create a trilogy of movies that brings in boatloads of money. Worst, with the success of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, the reboot has to be dark and gritty as the hero suffers from profound parental issues.

I never liked Tobey McGuire’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he came across as a likeable wimp in the throes of teenage angst. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a smart ass who is unafraid to walk into a situation and get his ass handed back to him. The first time we meet Peter, he’s taking pictures of Stacy Gwen (Emma Stone) from a safe distance. When he noticed that the class bully was tormenting a smaller student, he steps in and gets stomped on. As the movie progresses, the smart ass recedes into the background as a responsible young man emerges.

Previous incarnations of Spider-Man had never bothered to explain why he was raised by his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This movie introduces the backstory that sets up the requisite parental issues that all superheroes must face these days. Rather than being antsy about getting the girl, its about avenging absent parents on the criminal elements.

The movie opens with a very young Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his parents. Entering his father’s study after it was ransacked in an apparent burglary, he cries out for his parents and they come rushing in. His father removes scientific documents hidden inside the desk and stashes them into a briefcase. An hour later, he’s left at his aunt and uncle’s place as his parents disappear into the night. After discovering the briefcase years later in the basement, an older Peter searches for his father’s coworker at a scientific research lab and becomes bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him his superpowers.

The cameo by Marvel founder Stan Lee was quite charming. As a school librarian listening to classical music with oversized headphones and straightening up the music table, he’s oblivious to Spider-Man and Lizard trashing the school library behind him. The 3D was put to excellent use as objects were hurled from the background to be caught by Spider-Man at the last moment in the foreground.

This movie wasn’t afraid to leave loose ends hanging in the wind. The disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents was still unresolved. The killer of Uncle Ben was never found despite Spider-Man’s best effort to round up the criminals for the police. Only one reference was made to the front page of The Daily Bugle, whom Peter Parker haven’t yet wandered over to get a job as a photographer. Overall, a very different Spider-Man movie.

Micro Center Store Closing At The Mercado

Micro Center LogoA late Monday morning email announced the immediate closing of the Micro Center store at the Mercado in Santa Clara, CA, as a new lease couldn’t be negotiated. The sudden and surprised closing of Micro Center’s only store in Northern California—the other store is in Southern California—leaves only Fry’s Electronics and Central Computers as the biggest computer stores still left in Silicon Valley for building your own computer system from scratch. No word on if and when Micro Center will re-open their store in a new location in Silicon Valley.

As for building a computer system from scratch, I won’t need to do that again for a long time. Computer power is so cheap and plentiful that programmers are struggling to write software to absorb all that excess. The race to upgrade hardware to make the software—*cough* Windows *cough*—run faster is long over. The hardware is good enough to run current and future software for years to come.

The only hardware that might require frequent upgrading is the video card. Something I found out after updating the Blu-Ray player software that refused to work with my legacy Sapphire ATI 3870 video card. Micro Center had an XFX ATI 6790 on sale for $127 USD with a $20 USD mail-in rebate. Since the new video card had HDMI out and my 19″ Samsung monitor was long in the tooth, I also picked up an Acer 23″ monitor with HDMI in for $159 USD. Now my Blu-Ray discs play at 1080p in full detailed High Definition. (Too much detail since I can tell which male actors have too much makeup on.) If I need to order parts, I’ll go online through either Newegg or Micro Center for the best deals.

Losing Micro Center will be a big blow to Mercado. The biggest draw for that shopping center is the AMC Mercado 20 Theater. The only place to kill time before or after the movies if you’re weren’t hungry enough to visit the surrounding restaurants was Micro Center, which had a large selection of computer parts, consumer electronics, books and magazines, and everything else in between. When Borders went bankrupt and closed the stores at Santana Row and Oakridge Mall, my friend and I stopped going to the Century theaters at those location. Without a favorite hangout spot, I’ll be less inclined to visit the AMC Mercado. (The saving grace may be AMC’s discount card that returns $10USD for every $100USD spent.) As Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, there is no there there.

Young Children Out Late At A Batman Shooting

The Dark Knight Rises Poster

Among the victims killed at the midnight showing of “Batman: The Dark Knight Rising” in Aurora, Colorado, were a three-month-old baby and a six-year-old boy. A father lost track of his four-month-old son while escaping the mayhem, only to discover later that the mother had picked up the baby while shot in the leg. What were those parents thinking when they took their young children out in public after midnight when the entire family should have been in bed at home? I sometimes wonder if bad parenting is a bigger threat to our children than gun violence at the movie theater.

When I worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), the QA team saw the first matinee showing of “The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King” at the AMC 20 Mercado when on opening days. Along with people from several other nearby tech companies, hardly anyone attended the first showing. This was a remarkable contrast when the entire company—still Accolade back then—spent the entire day to see “Star Wars Episode: The Phantom Menace” at the Century 22, where the HR girls handed out cold drinks to everyone in line as we waited for hours to see the first showing.

I noticed a young father barely out of high school with his baby daughter sitting behind me inside the theater. He smiled back at me at he nervously ate his popcorn, as if he knew he was doing something wrong. Although I’m not a parent, I knew he was doing something wrong. LOTR was never meant for children, especially with the horrific battle scenes between the forces of good and evil that dominated the third movie. This wouldn’t end well.

The little girl responded with glee to the My Little Pony toy commercial and paid no attention to the trailers that preceded the movie. Once the movie started, she became very quiet as her father ate the popcorn faster. The movie opened with the origin story of Gollum as a hobbit who came in possession of the One Ring, sitting down at the river and holding a caught fish. A screen-wide mouth with ugly teeth appeared, biting into the fish and ripping the flesh to shreds. A loud wail ripped through the theater before the crying started in earnest with lush wails.

I didn’t need to look back to see the father spilling his popcorn and hustling his kid out the door. They were soon forgotten as the LOTR theme song overwhelmed the theater. Needless to say, he didn’t get to see the movie that morning. Too bad he wasn’t charged with child abuse. Too bad the parents who take their young children to a midnight movie weren’t charged with child abuse as well. Maybe a stay in the pokey would put some commonsense back into them about raising children.

Paying A Dime Per Mile Freeway Tax

Driving freeway made out of money. I sometimes wonder if the elected and unelected government officials responsible for transportation planning in the San Francisco Bay Area are smoking something exotic at their meetings when they decide to spend taxpayer money on pie-in-the-sky studies. A new proposal is being considered to charge drivers a dime per mile for driving on the freeways to reduce rush hour congestion and pay for future transportation projects. What are they smoking and where can I get some?

The Bay Area is considering a long-range plan to become the first place in the nation to tax drivers for every mile they travel, with an average bill of up to $1,300 per year.

The proposal is a long way from becoming reality. But under the scenario, drivers would likely have to install GPS-like trackers on their cars to tally travel in the nine-county Bay Area, from freeways to neighborhood streets, with only low-income people exempted.

Transportation planners know they would have a tough time selling such a radical plan but argue the goal of the so-called VMT (vehicle miles traveled) tax is to reduce traffic and pollution while raising revenue needed to fill potholes and bolster public transit service.

With my daily commute to my non-writing tech job in Silicon Valley, I would be paying an extra $60 USD per month for the privilege of driving on the freeway under this proposal. Taking the light rail at $70 USD per month would be cheaper, but my commute time would quadrupled to two hours each way since crossing the valley takes forever. As a writer, I could use the four-hour commute time for writing and editing manuscripts. As a rider, I would find it grueling in the morning to be at the light rail station at the crack of dawn and so exhausting that I’ll crash in bed after dinner every night. Before I got my driver license five years ago as a 38-year-old adult, I used to take public transit everywhere and slogged through the four hour grind.

I suspect this proposal will go the same way as the San Francisco proposal for a freeway toll to enter the City from the South Bay that was quickly scrapped after strong protests in 2010. Commuters would take the local streets that parallel the freeway system in most areas to bypass the VMT, increasing their commute time and burdening the surrounding neighborhoods. The only way to get drivers to install a GPS tracker on their car is to make it a registration requirement like car insurance.

Raising the gas tax that haven’t been raised since 1993 would be much more effective and simpler to implement. But, then again, you would have to be smoking something exotic to avoid such an obvious solution.

The Punisher’s #DIRTYLAUNDRY Short Film

One of the surprises that came out of the San Diego Comic Con this year was a unauthorized short film called #DIRTYLAUNDRY, staring Thomas Jane as Frank Castle (a.k.a., The Punisher) and Ron Perlman as a handicapped liquor store clerk. When a gang terrorizes the prostitutes in a ghetto neighborhood, Castle keeps a wary eye out but ignores them while doing his laundry. When the life of an innocent schoolboy is threaten, the Punisher dispenses justice with an indestructible bottle of Jack Daniels.

NOTE: This video contains strong language, brutal violence and copious blood spray.

 

Although Ray Stevenson in “The Punisher: War Zone” (2008) represents the pulp version of the Punisher with his chiseled face and steely glare that cuts like a wicked knife, I always prefer the humane version that Thomas Jane brings to the character. The humorous scene from “The Punisher” (2004), where Castle is searing a steak with a blowtorch while poking a Popsicle into the backside of a minor thug who thinks he’s being tortured, is a fine example. If Marvel Comics were ever to reboot the series (unlikely as the previous films never took off beyond its fan base), they should bring Thomas Jane back for the role.

WTF?! Canadians Are Richer Than Americans

U.S.A. / Canada BorderBloomberg News is reporting that Canadians are richer than Americans for the first time in recent history. The Canadian government has pursued a fiscally conservative form of socialism that cut back on social programs while resisting the world-wide trend to deregulate the financial industry. The Great Recession has been relatively mild as a stable housing market and banking system helped Canadians maintain their overall net worth as Americans watch their net worth decline lower and lower.

Policy has played a significant part as well, though. Both liberals and conservatives in the U.S. have tried to use the Canadian example to promote their arguments: The left says Canada shows the rewards of financial regulation and socialism, while the right likes to vaunt the brutal cuts made to Canadian social programs in the 1990s, which set the stage for economic recovery.

The truth is that both sides are right. Since the 1990s, Canada has pursued a hardheaded (even ruthless), fiscally conservative form of socialism. Its originator was Paul Martin, who was finance minister for most of the ’90s, and served a stint as prime minister from 2003 to 2006. Alone among finance ministers in the Group of Eight nations, he “resisted the siren call of deregulation,” in his words, and insisted that the banks tighten their loan-loss and reserve requirements. He also made a courageous decision not to allow Canadian banks to merge, even though their chief executives claimed they would never be globally competitive unless they did. The stability of Canadian banks and the concomitant stability in the housing market provide the clearest explanation for why Canadians are richer than Americans today.

Will the Democrats and Republicans stop pissing, moaning and groaning about every little petty political grievance in Washington, D.C., to do what is right for the country?

Oh, hell no. That would be… Canadian.

Jungle Bird’s New Logo From 99Designs

Jungle Bird's New Logo From 99Designs
STOP DEFORESTATION

I became something of a fan of Andrew “Jungle Bird” Dudley when he crashed the U.S. Open golf tournament, apologized for crashing the party, and made the Jay Leno show. With the help of 99Designs, a logo design contest was held to create a new logo to advance his cause of stopping deforestation. After 13 designers submitted 67 designs, Jungle Bird has selected a new logo that incorporates a cartoon rendering of himself wearing his quirky British flag hat and uttering his signature line, a jungle bird with a winked eye and raised thumb, and his website URL.

Until I was contacted by Lauren Gard after my first blog post about Jungle Bird, I wasn’t aware of 99designs and its logo design contests. After keeping tabs on the Jungle Bird contest and browsing through the logo store (ready made logos available for exclusive or non-exclusive licensing at reasonable rates), I’ll be setting up a banner logo contest for this website within the next three months.

Once Upon An Albatross… has had many different logos that I slapped together since it started off as a Wildcat! BBS in 1995 and went through many different website iterations over the last 17 years. (I sometimes kick myself for sticking with the BBS name and not naming the website something more reasonable.) This year I jettisoned the banner logo for plain text and put off on doing the replacement banner logo. With a logo design contest at 99designs, this might be easy to do and fun at the same time.

What would a new banner logo look like? I’m not sure. This is something that requires careful thought. If you don’t know what you want, the designers won’t be able to help.  A cartoon albatross maybe (but not the albatross from Walt Disney’s “The Rescuers”), little motifs from literary, BBS and Silicon Valley inspirations, and a design that can work well on different media (i.e., t-shirts and coffee mugs). It’ll be interesting to see what the designers come up with.

Unlike Jungle Bird, I won’t be able to add alcohol to create an instant brand.

Bravo’s Silicon Valley Reality Show Is Now Filming

San Francisco On TVBravo announced several months ago that it was producing a new TV reality based in Silicon Valley, where the young and the restless contestants hustle for money to form a new startup. The show is now filming in Silicon Valley—if you consider San Francisco to be part of Silicon Valley. Although the heart of Silicon Valley has been moving northward for years, it’s still firmly entrenched in the South Bay (i.e., Mountain View and Palo Alto). San Francisco has become the top designation for new start ups that are squeezed out of Silicon Valley’s overcrowded office market.

But let’s forget about San Francisco and the $17,000 USD a month rental house with a tri-level deck and swimming pool that serves as headquarters for the series. I guess a rental next door to Steve Wozniak in Los Gatos wasn’t available.

The series, which is now being filmed and is scheduled to be broadcast this winter, shows hard-partying youngsters vying to start companies in a frenzy reminiscent of the dot-com peak of 2000. It is a world where everyone seems to think that a good idea can lead to instant success and untold riches, because, after all, it has so many times before. It is a place where you feel like a failure if only one investor offers to finance you, instead of many begging to get in.

Oh, boy. If that wasn’t bad enough, this little gem made me choke.

As the cameras rolled the other day, Ben and Hermione Way, a photogenic brother-and-sister team from England, discussed the $500,000 they got to develop a fitness app. “Four noes and one yes,” Ben said, sadly. “Not exactly people throwing money at us.” He added that he developed the idea for the business while drinking in a bar.

Considering that there are high school students developing their own apps on shoestring budgets, why would anyone give this brother-and-sister team a half-million dollars to develop a fitness app in an overcrowded niche? Developing an app can cost up to $150,000 USD, depending on how complex and feature rich the app is. If you’re going to develop a new app, do it in a niche that haven’t been done to death by other programmers.

I’ll be interested in seeing how these contestants spend the money they raise from investors. The classical mistake for too many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is to get a fancy building, a sports car or two, top of the line equipment, a masseur and a celebrity chef. The money is flying out of the checking account so fast that they soon realize that they’re running out of cash, have no working product to ship, and no chances of scoring any more investment funds. Once the money is gone, it’s game over.

The worst part is the underlying business plan of doing a startup to develop an idea with the intention of being bought out by Microsoft/Google/Apple for an instant multi-million dollar payout. After the dot com bubble went ka-blooey, that particular pipe dream should have been laid to rest. Not with the young and the restless.