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.

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.

Bravo’s Silicon Valley (High School) Reality Show

The other night I was bent over my MacBook programming a Joomla! CMS component for one of my other websites when my roommate duly informed me that Bravo was teaming up with Randi Zuckerberg to come out with a Silicon Valley reality TV series. I paused for a moment, three letters formed in my mind—WTF?!—as I considered the implications, and then laughed. Bravo won’t be getting this right. I went back to programming.

If you watch the video, a woman remarks at 1:30 that: “Silicon Valley is like high school, but its only smart kids and everyone has a lot of money.” I know of only one company in the valley that fits that description.

Google.

When I worked eight months at the help desk call center for Google in 2007, the pecking order was quite obvious: engineers and mangers worked directly for the company and everyone else worked for the vendors.

The engineers and managers were mostly twenty-somethings hired straight out of college who looked like the uber-elite crowd from high school. Especially all the hot-hot-hot women running around the place. I’m surprised that Playboy have never done a photo shoot of the hot-hot-hot women at Google. No high school would be complete without a sparkling vampire*cough* Al Gore *cough*—hanging around the campus to give it some sizzle.

As for everyone else, we worked for the vendors who provided all the services that made the company run. We weren’t young, sexy and rich. I was a fat white guy who answered the phone to explain to these young engineers that the reason their computer didn’t work was because they haven’t turned it on. (I reassured upset engineers that Google was developing all the Star Trek technologies that they seen on the TV reruns.) Those phone calls were the highlight of my unglamorous days.

What Bravo wants is the soap opera that can overwhelm and destroy a Silicon Valley company.

Only once did I get sucked into that at Google. The lead field tech screamed at me over the phone for 15 minutes for my obvious lack of training in handling a particular ticket. He really needed to talk to my supervisor but vented at me instead as I was professionally obligated to stay above the fray when answering the phones. That moronic behavior rattled me enough that my supervisor sent me home with pay. My supervisor’s boss later explained that the field techs were under duress because their jobs might be moved from Google (cool) to a vendor (not cool). I was happy to get out after the stock price peaked in December 2007 and started a long slide into the Great Recession. I later heard that those were unhappy times for the young, sexy and not so rich crowd.

When the new show does air, I’ll be blogging about every episode of the young and the restless in Silicon Valley. Bravo won’t be getting this right. This should be fun for those of us who know better.

Top Chef Under-Seasoned Five

Top Chef Season 5 CastThe quickest way for a chef to pack their knives on “Top Chef” is to present an under-seasoned dish to the judges. If you haven’t mastered Basic Cooking 101 with salt, pepper and spices, you have no business being in the kitchen. After watching Season Five, all the contestants were under seasoned. That was painfully obvious in the first episode, where 50 chefs from the New York area who didn’t make the show slammed the dishes presented to them for the first elimination challenge.

As the season wore on, I lost all interest in who stayed and who went home, didn’t read the blogs, and simply didn’t care while watching the episodes. The cooking and the drama were uninspiring. If you’re going to serve deviled eggs, the deviled eggs better be phenomenal because anyone can make plain old deviled eggs. If you’re going to serve tender lamb, you don’t butcher and hammer it to death. Even when there were eight contestants left in the “Restaurant Wars” episode, which pits two teams to create and execute a restaurant concept from scratch, they managed to blotch that with a lackluster performance. The moronic contestants from Season Two, who almost killed the series because of their reality TV antics, could cook circles around these contestants.

I did take a shine to Jamie from San Francisco (executive chef at Absinthe). For the first six episodes, she came close enough to winning something. That didn’t change until she won episode seven. When she got eliminated in episode 11, she looked bone tired. She had an opportunity for the semi-finals in New Orleans to come back into the competition, but she lost the Quick Fire challenge. She seems like the only one who had heart and soul behind her cooking.

When regular judge Gail Simmons left the show for her honeymoon, Toby Young, a British food critic with no professional culinary training, joined the judges table. His comments—”I have found the weapons of mass destruction in this bowl,” “the bland leading the bland,” “taste like cat food”—was unusually harsh. No surprise if you read his book and/or seen the movie, “How To Alienate People and Loose Friends,” where he comes across as being a total prick that shocked and horrified the contestants.

I’m disappointed that Young toned down his comments after his first appearance, adjusting to the Americans rather than the Americans adjusting to him. This season might have turned out differently if he had hammered the contestants rather than sugar-coating the truth about their lousy cooking.

I See Zombies

I became a zombie game fan when I started blasting them in “Quake” with grenades and rockets in 1997, and a hardcore zombie movie fan after the “Resident Evil” movies came out. For whatever reason this weekend, I was knee-deep in the zombie dead. Halloween—like daylight savings time—came a few weeks late.

The zombie fest started with the installation of “Hellgate: London” on my gaming PC. When I tried the demo out a few weeks ago, I hated it since I thought the game play was tedious, no ending to wrap up the game play, and the game was too much like a “Diablo” clone. No surprise that this game came from the same people who created “Diablo II.” After readjusting my thinking from first person shooter to hack-and-slash (never mind that my marksmen character used guns instead of swords), I started enjoying the demo and pre-ordered the game.

My current character is Level 7 marksmen with some tricked out armor and modified guns. My favorite weapons are the RPG/flame thrower that’s good for clearing out small groups of zombies, and the machine gun for larger groups and bigger-sized zombies. The game had several memorable moments. I blew off the top half of a zombie only to see the lower half do a twitch dance before falling over. I came roaring around the corner after throwing a grenade, where I expected to find a half-dozen zombies, to run into 20+ zombies waiting for me. After falling down to the bottom of a three-story staircase, all the zombies from the upper floors came banging downstairs and all the nearby zombies became aware of  my presence, which took all my ammo to get out of that mess. This game should keep me busy until “Unreal Tournament 3” comes out in two weeks.

I went to Borders at Santana Row to locate “Flight of the Living Dead” (a.k.a., “Zombies On A Plane”) DVD. The woman behind the information counter gave me a weird look when I asked about the title, almost as if I was asking permission to eat her brains. Alas, no such luck. So I got the “Black Sheep” DVD instead.

If you thought zombie crows in “Resident Evil: Extinction” was weird, try zombie sheep on a small island country where the sheep outnumbers people by ten to one. When two animal rights activists in New Zealand steal research material being disposed of at a sheep farm, they get more than bargain for when the canister cracks open to release a zombie lamb. People bitten by the zombie sheep turn into were-sheep.  All the traditional elements of a zombie film are here: the New Age animal rights activist airhead playing the dismal in distress, one guy being stretched out to have his guts ripped out be a pair of sheep, and the usual genetic research versus mother nature debate. Plus the standard redneck farm jokes about inbred family and lovelorn sheep. This movie is so hilariously wrong on so many levels.

If that wasn’t enough, I was watching a “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode called “Impulse” that was about… drum roll please… Vulcan zombies!

iTunes TV Mania

iTunes LogoI normally don’t watch TV on TV. What I get over the air is snowy pictures in English and clear pictures in a foreign language. I never got cable TV when I moved into my studio apartment a few years ago since the last guy who lived here didn’t pay his bill and I would have to go down to the office to prove that I’m not the same guy trying to get service again. Besides, cable is overpriced when you only watch a handful of channels. The few TV shows I do watch on a regular basis are available on iTunes for Mac.

TOP CHEF

I thought the premier season of “Top Chef” was very original and refreshing with a fine balance between cooking and drama. The audition tapes shown in the first episode indicated that the contestants got selected for being “bouncy” (women) and “flamboyant” (men) without consideration of being able to take risks cooking in the competition. Season Two got wrapped up yesterday, which was very disappointing.

Several contestants imploded on their own without any help from anyone else, ethical issues kept popping up so often between the contestants that Judge Tom Collichio had to babysit the kitchen for an episode, and they were all too busy playing it safe to stand out from the pack. Everyone decided to gang up on Marcel for being the biggest jerk and threaten his life when everyone got drunk and almost shaved his head shaved.

I’d worked three years as a cook at The Old Spaghetti Factory in the 1990’s. Jerks weren’t uncommon among the kitchen staff. You either learned how to live with them or help them out the door as professionally as you can. On a cooking competition like this, I can’t understand why the contestants would throw away an opportunity to win $100,000 USD by focusing their efforts on the one person who decided that being a world-class jerk was his ambition and he still made it to the number two spot. (Marcel was even attacked at a nightclub during the two month break in taping of the show.) I’m disappointed that Judge Collichio couldn’t throw them out and declared Marcel the winner by default after the attempted shaving incident.

Surprisingly, when it showed the top four contestants at their regular cooking jobs, they act like normal people. Why they become complete jerks during the competition is beyond me. Ian won instead of Marcel, not that either one deserves the title Top Chef. This season was all drama with cooking left on the back burner.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

The second half of Season Three for “Battlestar Galactica” is under way with top notch drama. The recent episode, “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”, alternates between the now captured Baltar (James Callis) being interrogated for his role in the Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies, and Apollo (Jamie Bamber) and Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) tries to resolve their conflicting relationships with each other and their spouses.

The interrogation scene gets intense as Baltar gets confronted for his crimes against humanity by an angry President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) that she orders him tossed out of the airlock with him kicking and screaming down the corridors as part of a failed bluff, Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos) questions him to the point of death after injecting him with a military truth serum, and his former assistant, Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani), stabs him in the neck for not telling everyone what they want to hear. After torturing him, Adama declared Baltar as being a victim instead of a criminal.

There are rumors that a major character will die this season, with Starbuck being the most likely to character to die under horrible circumstances. Keep in mind that Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) from the original TV series disappears in the “Galactica 1980” episode, “The Return of Starbuck,” episode, where his Viper crash lands on an isolated planet and presumed dead as the fleet moves on. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Starbuck does die because elements of the original series keep popping up in the new series.

THE DRESDEN FILES

The newest Sci Fi Channel show is The Dresden Files that’s based on Jim Butcher’s Chicago wizard for hire, Harry Dresden. I’d read seven of the eight books in the series, with book eight, “Proven Guilty”, coming out in paperback this month and book nine, “White Night”, is coming out in hardback in April.

The show begins early in the time line when wizard Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthrone) is still building trust with Lt. Connie Murphy (Valerie Cruz) as she hires him to assist with some odd investigations. Loosely based on the novels, there are some minor changes. Dresden drives a Jeep rather than a colorful VW Bugs, his office and residence is a store front in an old stone building instead of an old business tower and a stone basement under a boarding house, respectively, and the loose cannon spirit, Bob (Terrence Man), appears in human form instead of being a set of glowing eyeballs in an old skull.

The first episode, “Birds of a Feather”, a boy who believes that monsters are following him turns to the only person who can help him. Dresden has flashbacks to his own childhood with his non-magical magician father, establishing that his dead mother was a wizard, his father didn’t want him to get involved with the society of wizards, and his wizard uncle takes him in to train as a wizard. The humor between Dresden and Murphy is spot on.