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The 20 Best Songs of 2011 You (Probably) Haven’t Heard

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
music

There's plenty of amazing music from the past year you still likely didn't hear.

Though many still argue that 2011 was a year with below average music dominated by a few bands of dubious distinction, those of us who consistently dig through the underground know differently. For “genre whores” like me, 2011 was an unbelievable success, with bands of varied persuasions proving that just because an artist lacks success it often has little to do with whether their music’s amazing. This list is for those sick of hearing about the latest pop superstars, the winners of reality shows, and the makers of disposable pop trifles. These are twenty songs I think are the best indicators of where 2011 went and where 2012 could go if we keep clawing our way beneath the skin-thin surface of what radio-pop force-feeds us. And though it’s not an exhaustive list of every excellent piece of music I’ve heard and treasured this year, it’s a hell of a way to start the discussion. Dig in!

#20. Will Currie and the Country French – “City”

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Will Currie and the Country French prove there must be something special in the Canadian water supply to explain the nation’s ability to produce an incredible variety of music across genres. In this case, Currie and company take on piano pop in the vein of Ben Folds, and this six-piece band delights in twisting the musical knife into your brain as you listen, helpless to stop from singing along and relishing the oddly syncopated time signature.  They’re still so obscure this is the best online version of the song I can provide, but rest assured, this is a band fully capable of going mainstream with the right promotion. So enjoy them before they get steamrolled by commercial expectations.

#19. Alexander – “Truth”

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Taking a break from his role as the leader of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Alex Ebert arrived early in 2011 with this fully-formed solo pop nugget. Opening with whistling over drums and a shambling, easy-going melody, Ebert bursts into frame with his vocals and the song’s officially in overdrive. Clearly this one’s inspired by modern reggae-pop in the vein of Matisyahu, with vocals akin to the laid-back slur of Citizen Cope. It’s by far the best song on the album. It stands so far above the rest of the material on Alexander that fans of the song will feel the album’s blatant genre-hopping is merely inscrutable bait and switch. That said, it’s a strong enough song that it’s worth remembering long after you forget the rest of his schizophrenic musical  output.

#18. Great Caesar – “Everyone’s a VIP to Someone”

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We’ve been prime for a ska revival since the third wave fizzled out in the late 90s, and Great Caesar is ready to pick up that mantle and run with it. The song is upbeat, blisteringly catchy and addictive as hell. And the band deserves mention for going their own way, building a fanbase from the ground up, maintaining full control over what they produce. Plus you’ve got to love the full horn section which takes on full focus two minutes in. For fans of the more ska-leaning tracks of bands like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Great Caesar is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Who says Brooklyn’s only got room for hip-hop?

#17. Baby Teardrops – “Smooth Sailing Ahead”

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Baby Teardrops is perfect music for fans of jangle pop who are looking for the next best alternative now that R.E.M. has broken up for good. The songs on their debut, X is for Love, are bare-bones from a melodic standpoint, choosing a few chords and running with it, as the band builds hooks on the power of repetition. “Smooth Sailing Ahead” was one of several early singles from the album, and its chorus, repeatedly echoing the title of the song over crunching guitars and drums, is the ultimate garage pop antidote to lame, overly commercialized drivel. The rest of the album does an equal job of getting to the point, letting the hooks do the talking, setting Baby Teardrops up to be among the most interesting new bands of the year who nobody got the chance to hear.

#16. Noah and the Whale – “Tonight’s the Kind of Night”

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Noah and the Whale is one of those bands which forces you to look beyond expectations. They folllowed up on 2009′s The Last Days of Spring, one of the finest post-breakup albums since Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, with this year’s Last Night On Earth, which plays out as the most earnest Springsteen tribute ever to come from a bunch of artsy Brits. “Tonight’s The Kind of Night” sums up the album’s thesis perfectly, with a sense of lyrical verisimilitude which you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Plus, the backdrop to those lyrics hooks you so immediately upon first pressing play that it’s damned near impossible to get the chorus out of your head once you hear it. “Tonight’s the kind of night where everything could change,” Charlie Fink sings, and though you suspect making that change could prove difficult, the song’s upbeat nature suggests it is more than worthwhile to push yourself to find success rather than waiting around for things to happen to you.

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And Now, a Word from Stanley Kubrick

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 - by Ed Driscoll

When I first caught the film bug in college, I got more than a little obsessive rifling through the shelves of the school library for books and magazine articles on Stanley Kubrick and his films. (If you’re a student with tendencies towards OCD, discovering Stanley was like discovering a kindred spirit made good. I shudder to think what would have happened had Taschen’s massive Stanley Kubrick Archives, published several years after Kubrick’s death had been published at the time, but I think Stanley would have loved the book himself.)  I was determined to crack the mysteries of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and explore his other films as well. For 2001, Kubrick removed narration and an original score by veteran film composer Alex North to create a visceral nonlinear experience. Given the MoMA-approved film that emerged, and the hundreds of thousands of words that it generated, in a way, it illustrates — so to speak — Tom Wolfe’s dictum from The Painted Word that “Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.”

If you can find a used copy, Carolyn Geduld’s Film Guide to 2001 : A Space Odyssey from 1973 does a thorough job building a roadmap to take you through “The Ultimate Trip” and back. And McLuhan acolyte Jerome Agel’s The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 from 1970 has extensive behind the scenes photos of the film, as well as being a witty (and very McLuhan-esque) non-linear time capsule of the late 1960s in its own right.

One of the best books on Kubrick, which was updated in 2003 to include chapters on Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, his last films, was Michel Ciment’s Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. It featured exclusive interviews with Kubrick and several of his closest collaborators, including his brilliant cinematographer in the 1970s, John Alcott.

Part of Kubrick’s cult of personality was that, in an industry dominated by publicity hounds, after 2001′s release in 1968, and particularly after the controversies surrounding A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick became the Garbo of producers — which of course, only added to his mystique. Because Kubrick rarely did print interviews, and never television, I had never heard his voice before the early days of the World Wide Web, when the clip of his acceptance speech for the D.W. Griffith Award in 1997 went online, two years before Kubrick passed away at age 70. Someone has uploaded the audio of 11 and a half minutes of Ciment’s interviews with Kubrick over the years. There are plenty of “ums and you knows,” which were invariably cut out of Kubrick’s print interviews – not surprising, since many were published under quid pro quo orders that Kubrick be allowed to proof the interview before it ran and make changes and revisions to his quotes. But you can also hear Kubrick’s sharp mind and Bronx dialect (the inspiration for the voice of President Muffley, as portrayed by Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove) at work. And a twinge sadness knowing that there will never be another director like him — or a media as vibrant as its heyday when he was at his peak.

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California Cars – How The West Was Won By Japan

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

Most American auto enthusiasts that were around in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even those that weren’t thrilled with big American land yachts, had little regard for Japanese cars. It wasn’t that they were small. VW Beetles were successfully advertised with the slogan “Think Small”. No, Japanese cars were just not very good. Reliable? Yes. Good? No. Underpowered, rust-prone, lacking decent automatic transmissions, and technologically not very advanced (well, with the exception of Honda), Japanese cars sold primarily on price. One would think that Japanese cars didn’t have a chance with American consumers. Over @ TTAC, commenter VanillaDude quite neatly summed up how the Japanese automakers managed to establish a beachhead in California:

California had been booming since WWII, and had gained a national prominence. It gave us many modern cultural phenomena via music and television, adding to it’s Hollywood sparkle and governor. With only three national television networks, California dominated what Americans saw in 1973. Many Americans went to bed with Johnny Carson whose move from East to West Coast never went unnoticed.

Pop music was important in 1973. Radio played Californians. To the US during this era, California was it’s future whether it was in government, aerospace, electronics, entertainment and sheer style. During the early 20th Century, Americans looked to New York City, by 1973, Americans were ready to cut up their Brooks Brothers men’s wear and relax California style. Groovy man!

So when the Japanese auto makers shoved their tin road traps onto diesel freighters and floated their wares to America, they ended up in California. At a time when Detroit was navel-diving for profits, the Japanese struck California gold.

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News

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First Look: Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 - by Bryan Preston

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey comes to theaters Dec. 14, 2012. The first trailer has hit the web, and here it is.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey depicts the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Not seen in the trailer: The novel’s dragon villain, Smaug.

With both The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises both hitting theaters next year, 2012 is shaping up to be an epic movie year.

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Why Kris Humphries Should Serve as a Role Model for Men

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 - by Helen Smith

It’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees!- Emiliano Zapata (and others) and later Kris Humphries when talking to wimpy Scott Disick on the Kardashian show “Kourtney and Kim Take New York.”

The Kardashian women have taken something else besides New York–the dignity of their men. Have you ever watched this show? I have to admit that I have watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians for the past few years but recently, it has become nothing but a disgusting display of female bullying and male groveling, until Kris Humphries came along and decided he wasn’t having any of it. Bravo to him!

If you have watched the show, you will know that the mother of the show, Kris Jenner, has served as the emasculating matriarch to her Olympic-athlete husband, Bruce Jenner, for years. He puts up with the Kardashian putdowns, insults, and nonsense by avoiding them or playing golf. The only comforting thing about Jenner is that he is quite rich on his own, and is probably just playing along for the show. Or maybe this isn’t comforting at all, since he has fallen from Olympic-hero to hen-pecked, overlooked husband with no input into his family’s life with all the world watching.

Then there is Scott Disick who originally looked like the poster-child bad-boy who trained under Roissy on how to treat women. He ignored his girl-friend Kourtney, ran around, drank and was full of anger. Then after Kourtney had their son Mason, he starts to “settle down.” Could he have learned to be a better partner? Yes, of course, but with some backbone. Now, he is banished to his own room to look at porn while Kourtney prances around with their two-year old son. He gets no sex, sleeps alone and spends his days on Kourtney and Kim Take New York telling Kris Humphries not to do anything to agitate the girls.

For example, on a recent show, Kim and Kourtney are heading to LA for business and tell the guys they are not allowed to have anyone in the hotel suite. Kris wanted to relax and have friends over for a party but he was told that no one was allowed to be there while they were away. Kim and Kourtney had spent the previous weeks filling the house up with women, friends and a naked male yoga instructor. Kris was disgusted but no one cared.

Kris finally cared enough about himself to get out of this marriage (though it apparently was Kim who filed for divorce) and fought back to boot. Kim had tried to tell him where he would live, how he would live and how he would dress and behave. Yes, Kris, it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. I just wish there were other men in bad relationships who had the nerve to stand up to the women in their lives the way that you did.

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Pulp Fascism: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011 - by John Boot

The original title of the massive bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was “Men Who Hate Women.” Its author, Stieg Larsson, intended to leave his fortune to the Communist Party when he died in 2004 (though a mistake in his will prevented that from happening). If you are unfamiliar with the story (which was, along with the rest of the trilogy, made into a successful series of Swedish films released in the U.S. last year), put your expectations for subtlety at the level marked “undergraduate.” This series of potboilers, like The Silence of the Lambs, involves a serial killer, sadism, women in peril, a secret cell where awful things happen to captured victims, and an unusual crime-solving partnership between a man and a woman. What it doesn’t offer is the slightest instance of plausibility, psychological depth, or even clever dialogue. And as directed by David Fincher, the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo isn’t far from being rated X.

The young woman of the title, played by Rooney Mara (who is best known for having played the exasperated girlfriend of Mark Zuckerberg at the beginning of Fincher’s last movie, The Social Network), is a mohawked, multiple-pierced (even, as we learn, in her nipples) Swedish punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. At the start of the film, she is hired to investigate Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a crusading journalist who has just lost a major libel lawsuit against a corporate giant who, like all capitalists in the film, obviously came by his fortune dishonestly.

Salander has a history of antisocial behavior and petty crime, so she can only access a trust fund meant to support her if she can prove she is an upstanding citizen to a court-appointed guardian who naturally takes the opportunity to tell the girl she can’t have the money unless she provides oral sex to him. Whether it would be wise to ask a violent and hostile person to perform this task against her will is one of many legitimate questions the movie simply ignores in its quest to provide an ever more-revolting series of gruesome images. This scene is only the first of what will turn out to be three unbelievably sick and lurid encounters between the pair, but don’t worry: Lisbeth is capable of defending herself.

She and Blomkvist join forces (well into this 158-minute movie) to investigate the case of a girl who went missing in Sweden 40 years ago. Her great-uncle, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), wants Blomkvist to write a family history and maybe solve the crime while he’s at it. Vanger mentions that his family of wealthy industrialists is — just as you’d expect — full of Nazis. What else would you expect a communist writer to come up with if not the idea that making a fortune means you’re probably a National Socialist?

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What’s on Your Christmas Table?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 - by Nina Yablok

For a household without kids, or even a lot of nearby family, we sure do make a big fuss over Christmas.  Food is a big part of the fun.   Here are our menus. So what’s going to be on your table?

Christmas Eve Dinner

  • Cracked Crab with cocktail sauce and lemon
  • Asparagus with Dipping Sauce
  • French Bread
  • Surprise Dessert (can’t publish it here or it wont be a surprise)

Beverage: French 75 champagne cocktails (Gin, Champagne, Fresh Lemon Juice and a little Peach Liquor)

Christmas Brunch

  • Latkes with Sour Cream and Apple Sauce
  • Christmas cookies

Beverage: Mimosas

Christmas Pre-Dinner (we’re having appetizers around 4 with a friend who lives down the street)

  • Mushroom Appetizer with cream sauce on toast points – I have no idea its real name but our friend makes it and it’s divine
  • Onion Tarts – also home made

Beverage: Small Batch Bourbon Boston Sour (Bourbon, Fresh lime juice, Elderflower Liquor, egg white)

Christmas Dinner

  • Beef Wellington
  • Broiled Tomatoes
  • Sugar snap peas with mint
  • Smashed Potatoes
  • Old Fashioned Trifle, in my new trifle dish which I’m hoping will arrive on time

Beverage: Red wine with dinner, dessert wine with the Trifle

Boxing Day — All Meals

Alka Seltzer

(Thumbnail on Lifestyle homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

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Forgotten Christmas: Five Lesser-Known Holiday Specials

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 - by Chris Queen

Earlier this week I shared with you ten essential Christmas specials and movies. Those were beloved classics that viewers can find on television year after year. They’re traditions and institutions for so many families during the holidays, and they’re easy to come across on broadcast television or video.

Today I’m going to dig a little deeper. There are a few Christmas shows that I like to call “forgotten specials.” They’re lesser known to the general public, though each one has its own fans. Sometimes you can find these specials on video, but often these forgotten specials are lost to the past when it comes to television broadcasting.

Here’s a list of five lesser known holiday programs. Four of them are legitimate classics, while the fifth is a notorious flop. Three of them are available on official video releases, while the other two take some effort to find.

We’ll start with a group of beloved characters who make two appearances on this list…

5. A Muppet Family Christmas

There aren’t many characters who debuted in the ‘50s and ‘60s, had their heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s and still inspire enough love to make a comeback in 2011. Jim Henson’s Muppets are among the few characters to have had that kind of staying power. Just a few years after The Muppet Show ended its run, the Muppets were back on television with A Muppet Family Christmas, an hour-long special that originally ran on ABC in 1987.

Fozzie Bear and his Muppet Show friends decide to surprise his mother Emily for Christmas by visiting her at her farmhouse. She has to cancel her holiday vacation plans because of the unexpected guests, and Doc (Gerard Parkes) from Fraggle Rock, who intends to rent the house for Christmas, joins all the guests staying there. Kermit and his nephew Robin find a portal to Fraggle Rock in the basement, and carolers from Sesame Street pay a visit. A snowstorm rolls in, stranding everyone at the farmhouse, except for Miss Piggy, who arrives just in time for Christmas.

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Like any other Muppet program, A Muppet Family Christmas is full of musical numbers. In the opening sequence The Muppet Show gang sings a version of “We Need A Little Christmas.” The Swedish Chef performs “The Christmas Song” with Big Bird, while Fozzie duets with a snowman on “Sleigh Ride.” When Miss Piggy arrives at the farmhouse, the entire cast joins in a medley of Christmas carols, and there are plenty of other musical moments in the special.

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One of the most interesting bits of trivia about A Muppet Family Christmas is that it features characters from all four major Muppet series: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies. The special was the first Henson production to use Muppets from all four shows. Henson himself makes a cameo appearance washing dishes in the kitchen.

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A Muppet Family Christmas saw VHS releases in 1994 and 1998, and debuted on DVD in 2001. American and Canadian video releases had to be edited severely due to US copyright laws, but European versions were unedited. Nickelodeon has broadcast the special occasionally, but the show remains among the more obscure holiday specials. It’s a shame, especially with this year’s Muppet renaissance, for this cute program to languish in semi-obscurity.

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Mastering the Secret Vice

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 - by Ed Driscoll

This is one of those reviews that will appeal to a very limited audience — those who practice what Tom Wolfe once referred to as “the Secret Vice.” And I have to confess: I consider myself a (junior) member of that club. I like getting dressed up. I like suits, braces, cufflinks, ties, patterned socks, captoed shoes, and dinner jackets. And I like learning about their history.

Mind you, I don’t get especially dressed up every day: I usually wear jeans and a buttondown shirt when blogging, as opposed to PJM’s original namesake garb. But when I go out for dinner, particularly on the weekend or during holidays, I like to look good.

There, I said it. Still with me?

If you’re not, I can understand. Ever since the 1970s, after the era depicted in Mad Men concluded, being well dressed has often been seen as a slightly strange affectation for a man. And yet, to get through life (including job interviews, office work, family gatherings, weddings, upscale restaurants, and other events), there are certain sartorial skills that a man must have.

Fortunately, they’re easily acquired.

At the height of the Silicon Valley boom in the late 1990s, several friends of mine, all in their 40s or 50s, who hadn’t gone on job interviews in ages, each asked me what to wear to them. And in each case, I simply handed them my copy of Alan Flusser’s 1985 book, Clothes and the Man and said, “read this.”

The Long Polyester Hibernation

Confession number two: I wasn’t always much interested in clothes. I became aware of Clothes and the Man in the mid-1980s, when I was in college, having graduated from a 13-year K through 12 hitch at St. Mary’s Hall (now known as Doane Academy) in New Jersey, a private college prep school where I wore a blue blazer, blue buttondown shirt, striped tie and gray trousers every weekday.

Not surprisingly, I left St. Mary’s more than a little confused about what to wear next, especially since simultaneously, menswear was coming out of its long polyester hibernation and into a brief moment of style (Wall Street “power suits,” Miami Vice pastels, suits worn by rock stars in MTV videos, etc.). Of course, with the possible exception of those who were very careful buying their power suits, most ’80s fashion dated very badly, leaving lots of men — including myself — with more than a few momentarily stylish skeletons in their closets. Clothes and the Man helped me avoid many further mistakes: the suits and sports jackets I bought prior to buying Flusser’s book around 1987 have long since been given to Goodwill. (Though I still have the psychedelic Bill Cosby sweater I bought from Boyds in Philadelphia in 1986, just to remind myself of the era.) Some of the clothes I’ve bought post-Flusser, I still wear from time to time, even after a quarter century of ownership.

Appropriate Styles That Will Last

That’s the whole point of Flusser’s most recent book, Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion, which was first published in 2002: finding appropriate styles that flatter a man, and will last. Flusser’s book is copiously illustrated, with a combination of vintage photographs of the usual suspects (Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, the Duke of Windsor, Adolphe Menjou, Lucius Beebe, etc.), newly photographed men in a plethora of styles, and classic illustrations from the golden era of such publications such as Apparel Arts, the beautiful 1930s-through the 1950s forerunner of both GQ and Esquire, which I talked to Michael Anton about, back in October.

I don’t want to give the impression that Flusser’s book is merely a photo and illustration-heavy coffee table book without substance. Like his previous books (and frankly, if you own Clothes and the Man, you might want to thumb through Dressing the Man before buying it, unless you get obsessive over this stuff like I do), Flusser has lots of practical advice on his subject.

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R.I.P. Saab

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

Saab 96

After 64 years of making cars and 9 months of a fruitless effort to find financing to keep the company going, Saab today was declared bankrupt by a Swedish court. Swedish Automobile NV CEO Victor Muller filed for bankruptcy after former Saab owner General Motors indicated that it would exercise its veto power over any of the proposed plans to save Saab. GM owns key intellectual property that any ongoing Saab business would necessarily use. Following the GM announcement over the weekend, proposed Saab savior Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile announced that it was withdrawing from the deal to provide the three quarters of a billion dollars needed to restart production in Trollhattan.

 

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News

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Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials And Movies

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Chris Queen

In a day when parents and children rarely watch the same TV shows, Christmas TV specials and holiday movies still somehow manage to continue to bring families together.

These days it’s even easier than it used to be to share these traditions. ABC Family has made an art out of holiday programming with their “25 Days of Christmas” programming blocs that package specials throughout the month of December. Home video and streaming services also allow families to watch programs whenever they want.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m offering to you this list of the ten most essential specials and movies of the season.

We’ll start with a pair of very different types of animation from a production company synonymous with Christmas specials…

10. The Year Without A Santa Claus

Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are synonymous with their stop-motion Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Viewers not familiar with their names will recognize their unmistakable round-headed characters, candy-colored landscapes, and softly falling snow. A few of their specials are on this list, starting with The Year Without A Santa Claus.

In this 1974 special, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Shirley Booth) tells the story of the year Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) decides — on doctor’s orders — to take a vacation. Two of his elves and the young reindeer Vixen take a trip to find enough Christmas spirit to cheer Santa up. Along their way, the elves battle the Heat Miser and Snow Miser and visit Southtown, USA, where they get lost. Santa journeys south to find Vixen and discovers that the children of the world need him. He can’t skip Christmas.

The Year Without A Santa Claus is a clever story with some memorable scenes and catchy songs, including those involving the villains.

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It’s not as ubiquitous as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but The Year Without A Santa Claus is trippy holiday fun.

9. Frosty The Snowman

Another Christmas special that has stood the test of time is Frosty The Snowman. Originally aired in 1969, Frosty vaguely follows the story line of the popular Christmas song. The special tells how the kids who built Frosty help him escape to the North Pole while trying to elude the magician whose hat brought him to life.

The special is a Rankin/Bass production but it’s a traditional cartoon, not the company’s signature stop-motion. Rankin and Bass hired a Japanese company to animate the showand it has a decidedly different look from most animation of the period. Jimmy Durante provides the narration and performs the title song.

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Looking back the animation in Frosty is poor and the special as a whole is a bit cheesy but it’s still nostalgic Christmas fun.

Next up is a movie about one boy’s quest for a special Christmas gift. Don’t poke your eye out!

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Is a Good Blogger Thick-skinned or Well-Read or Both?

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Helen Smith

Do you think that a book on the technique of blogging can help you be a better blogger? I’m not so sure but I did pick up a copy of Writing for the Web: Creating Compelling Web Content Using Words, Pictures, and Sound to see if maybe I was missing something.

Somehow, I feel that good bloggers are those who have good topics, read a lot of blogs, read and write and practice their craft fairly frequently. But, in order to stick with blogging, I think you need a thick skin. It seems like a number of fairly good bloggers quit because they feel upset, fed up, insulted or demeaned. I once had the head of a medical program write to tell me he was upset because he saw something negative about himself in another blog that I had linked to; I had actually defended his position to some degree but he blamed me for linking to someone who thought he was less than perfect. I don’t think he would do well in the web world where negativity is often the name of the game.

Anyway, a book on blogging technique? I suppose it could be useful. Lynda Felder’s book makes some good points. She talks about the importance of making a commitment to writing either daily or weekly, pursuing your passions, keeping content fresh, and writing succinctly. The book seems most helpful for those who are new to blogging or who want to add more images, sound and video to their website and need information on style and substance.

What qualities define a good blogger in your opinion?

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From Hot Rods to Hippies and Back: The Art of Stanley Mouse

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

If you have ever enjoyed a drawing of a wild hot rod, put together a plastic monster kit as a child, or wore a t-shirt embellished with automotive art, you probably owe a debt of gratitude to Stanley Miller, better known as Stanley Mouse, of Mouse Studios. His seminal role in hot rod culture, though, is not that well known because his early success in automotive art was greatly eclipsed by his later work associated with rock ‘n roll. In 1960s San Francisco, Mouse, on his own and with his artistic partner Alton Kelley, created concert posters and album covers that literally changed the face of commercial art. Styles and motifs that Mouse either originated or revived have become so commonplace that his influence can now be widely seen in the work of graphic artists that may not even realize they are channeling Mouse’s work.

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News

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How Musicians Use Social Media to Bite The Hand That Feeds

Monday, December 19th, 2011 - by Jonathan Sanders
Mike Doughty

Not looking fondly back through the rear-view, Mike Doughty is now taking his hate for Soul Coughing directly to individual fans via Twitter

It’s a fact of life that at some point in the creative process we all lose control of our work to those who actually consume it. Once I put the finishing touches upon a music review or piece of commentary, my portion of the creative process is complete; it is up to readers to decide what to make of it. But it’s easy to forget sometimes that for all the meaning we ascribe to our favorite songs, their creators may have had completely different associations with the work.

Ask any band that struggled to find succcess, happened upon a hit single out of nowhere, and then just as quickly was sloughed back to obscurity. You’ll hear a similar tale. That same band might go on for ten more years writing perfectly workmanlike music but they’ll forever have their name and musical reputation tied to that song which made it. So what happens when, decades on, you’re ready to admit as an artist that the music you’re known for is complete rubbish?

At a certain point the artist’s creation moves beyond his or her control, and becomes the property of the listeners who define its real value or meaning.

All of which makes this critic wonder: is there a point where artists should step back, shut up, and admit that, while they may hate something they recorded in their past, it has meaning to the fans, and therefore there’s a value to not dumping artistic baggage on music beloved to fans?

Apparently Mike Doughty has pondered that question and decided that the answer is a resounding no.

Doughty has spent the last decade writing low-key pop music in an acoustic vein, twisting bits of electronica into his sound as he sing-raps songs like “Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well” and “Na Na Nothing.” And he’s been lucky enough to be able to continue to make a living in the world of music, despite the fact that he left Soul Coughing (the band which made him famous in the first place) more than a decade ago. Still, hearing fans request Soul Coughing songs at his shows has apparently aggravated him so much he’s reduced himself to lashing out at fans individually on Twitter:

Doughty's Tweets

"No, I really hate green eggs and ham!" Doughty's pre-Thanksgiving tweets re: Soul Coughing


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Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 - by Ed Driscoll

If you’ve got a film buff or a friend with an interest in graphic design on your Christmas list, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, is a giant, heavily illustrated 428-page coffee table book with an enormous “wow” factor – and not coincidentally, a fair amount of heft at seven pounds, with dimensions of 11.7 x 10.6 x 1.7 inches. It was designed by Saul Bass’s daughter Jennifer, and written by design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew Bass personally, with an introduction from longtime Bass admirer Martin Scorsese. It’s published by Laurence King Publishers.

Saul Bass (1920 to 1996) began his career designing the film poster for 1954’s Carmen Jones, and the title sequence the following year for The Man with the Golden Arm, both produced by Otto Preminger. He would go on to design groundbreaking title sequences for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus,  John Frankheimer’s Seconds and Grand Prix.  Along with all of his film work, Bass eventually became a respected corporate graphic designer for such businesses as AT&T, The Bell System, United Airlines, Dixie Cups, Minolta, Lawry’s Foods, Warner Brothers, and Quaker Oats. For many years, his film career and corporate design work overlapped, until his career as a title designer appeared to slow in pace in the 1980s, only to see it revive with such high profile Martin Scorsese films as Goodfellas (which marked the beginning of a career resurgence for Scorsese as well), Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and the last title sequence designed by Bass, Casino.

 

The Title Design of Saul Bass from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.

There are two audiences for this book (with plenty of overlap of course). The first are film lovers and film historians who have thoroughly enjoyed Bass’s title sequences and his contributions to films such as Psycho, including storyboarding shot for shot its legendary shower sequence, which this new book discusses at length. The second are students of graphic design. Much of the work that Bass created would be rendered infinitely with today’s technology such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe After Effects. And yet, Bass created his iconic still images and what we now refer to as “motion graphics” decades before such computer technology existed. As with the soundscapes that George Martin created for the Beatles 20 years before digital synthesizers and samplers, these pioneering analog efforts led the way and helped to shape the digital technology we enjoy today.

Bass is perhaps best remembered for elevating the movie title sequence into art, but fortunately, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design doesn’t overlook his work as a corporate designer. While Bass was an extremely talented and endlessly creative corporate designer, because of the simple modernist elements he typically worked with, what began as art with Bass was quickly boiled down into formula by other, lesser designers. The result was a corporate sameness by the early 1970s, which was brilliantly – if entirely unintentionally – summed up in the best-known moment of the design and typography-related documentary, Helvetica:

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In that sense, as a corporate designer, Bass’s influence was similar to that of Mies van der Rohe. While Mies an extremely talented and inventive architect, too many lesser architects (cough — Philip Johnson — coughGordon Bunshaft) who following his lead saw only the plate glass and black I-beams and could never imitate Mies’ sense of proportion and willingness not to be bound to the rules of Miesianism.

Which is a useful lesson for anyone considering a similar career in corporate design work. But then, despite going off to the great artists’ garret in the sky 15 years ago, there are all sorts of lessons still to be learned from Saul Bass.

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The iPhone and iPad: The Early Years

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 - by Ed Driscoll

You gotta start somewhere, and here’s what moviegoers were told in the very early 1930s about a technological breakthrough soon to appear in their homes, with a steep, steep learning curve.

The rotary phone:

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Twenty years and a World War later, television went national, as the first transcontinental coaxial cable was run, as Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes:

In present-tense culture, golden anniversaries tend to get swept away by the whirlwind of current events. Here’s an example: Network television as we know it came into being on Sept. 4, 1951, when AT&T threw the switch on the first transcontinental coaxial cable. Up to that time, TV had been an essentially regional phenomenon. The most important network shows were all performed live in New York, and the only way for West Coast viewers to see them was for fuzzy-looking film copies called “kinescopes” to be shipped to Los Angeles and broadcast a week later. The coaxial cable changed that by making it possible to transmit live video signals from coast to coast–in both directions. Within a matter of months, Hollywood had become a major center of TV production.

Don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t know any of this. So far as I know, no one has taken note of the golden anniversary of the coaxial cable, or celebrated the fiftieth birthdays of three influential series that the cable made possible. But if you owned a TV set in 1951, you might well remember these Truman-era debuts:

* * * * *

Nov. 18, 1951: “See It Now,” the first TV newsmagazine, whose first episode opened with a shot of two control-room monitors. One showed a live picture of the Statue of Liberty, the other a live picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. Edward R. Murrow, the host, was visibly impressed: “For the first time, man has been able to sit at home and look at two oceans at the same time.” It may sound quaint now, but 60 years ago that image took people’s breaths away.

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Today, we take smart phones, video conferencing, and — to coin a phrase — a World Wide Web of information for granted. But it took plenty of experimentation with analog technology to build the knowledge base for today’s technology. Assuming our betters in Washington and academia allow us to keep it.

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‘A Geek’s Dream Come True’

Sunday, December 18th, 2011 - by Helen Smith

I am reading a new magazine by O’Reilly Media called MAKE: Technology on Your Time. It’s a quarterly magazine put out for those who love DIY projects and according to the product description, “it unites, inspires and informs a growing community of resourceful people who undertake amazing projects in their backyards, basements, and garages.”

Okay, I’m not too much into DIY projects but I love reading about people who are. In the special issue I am reading (Feb. 15th, 2012), called the Ultimate Kit Guide, I found out that kits are the “gateway DIY project.”

They teach skills, make things more fun, are a great way for parents and kids to share something, and drive innovation. Dale Dougherty, the publisher and founder of the magazine states, “Kits also help create the kind of highly skilled amateurs who drive innovation and economic renewal….We know the next Steve Jobs is out there right now, building kits.”

A reviewer over at Amazon says:

I just received the premiere issue of Make Magazine from O’Reilly yesterday. Let me just say this mag is a geek’s dream come true. It’s not a magazine about coding. Heck, I’m not sure if calling it a magazine is even accurate. It’s more of a journal or zine (but with higher production values). A geek quarterly, if you will.

If you like DIY projects or know someone who would, this seems like a good gift for yourself or for them.

Do you build things in your basement, garage or backyard or know someone who does? I would love to hear why and how you got started.

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Would Cars Be Allowed If They Were Just Invented?

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

Political humorist Frank J. Fleming poses an interesting thought experiment: what if the car was not over a century old but was just invented recently? Would societies and governments permit the private, gasoline powered automobile?

Imagine if cars hadn’t been around for a century, but instead were just invented today. Is there any way they’d be approved for individual use? It’s an era of bans on incandescent bulbs; if you suggested putting millions of internal-combustion engines out there, you’d get looks like you were Hitler proposing the Final Solution.

Even aside from pollution, the government wouldn’t allow the risks to safety.

“So you’re proposing that people speed around in tons of metal? You must mean only really smart, well-trained people?”

“No. Everyone. Even stupid people.”

“Won’t millions be killed?”

“Oh, no. Not that many. Just a little more than 40,000 a year.”

“And injuries?”

“Oh . . . millions.”

There’s no way that would get approved today.

Driving is basically a grandfathered freedom from back when people cared less about pollution and danger and valued progress and liberty over safety.

Fleming’s perspective that we live in a much more constrained society is not new one, nor is it necessarily based on political ideology. Frank is on the political right. Leftist British historian A.J.P Taylor opens his English History 1914-1945 with the following passage:

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked.

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News

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From PJTV: VodkaPundit’s Week In Blogs

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 - by PJ Lifestyle

One man, two olives, three ounces of Smirnoff, four minutes and meeeeeeelllllllionnnnns of Weblogs. Stephen Green brings you…the Week In Blogs:

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Here are the links to the items that Steve mentioned:

http://hotair.com/archives/2011/12/12/dnc-chair-unemployment-didnt-go-up-under-obama/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05-q98JXr-s

http://news.investors.com/article/594258/201112120512/obama-white-house-christmas-trees.htm

http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/basketball/blog/the_dagger/post/Indiana-8217-s-win-over-Kentucky-inspires-awkwa?urn=ncaab-wp6957

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/12/patrick-sullivan-colorado-sheriff-meth-for-sex-charges.html?track=lat-pick

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpBBLsolRUk

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/liberalisms-problem-in-one-graph/2011/08/25/gIQAVuVTqO_blog.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2011/12/14/obama-i-am-the-4th-best-president-in-history/

http://www.quintonreport.com/2011/12/14/nyc-cafe-impacted-negatively-by-occupy-wall-street-goes-out-of-business-ows/

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2011/12/fox-news-uses-obama-picture-identify-mitt-romney/46212/

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/iran-releases-video-captured-us-drone

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Nine Mysterious Items My Dog and I Found On Our Morning Runs…

Saturday, December 17th, 2011 - by Dave Swindle

Daddy! Time to stop reading and take me for my walk!

Maura begins lobbying earlier each morning. Our two-and-a-half year-old Siberian Husky does not care how much I’m enjoying Dennis Prager’s Happiness is a Serious Problem. She’s a dog. She does not understand that I would like to reach a good stopping point. Come on, Maura. The chapters are real short in this book. Just a minute and I’ll change from pajamas to running pants.

The Sun is rising; it’s time for me to finish my reading-stretching multitasking and take her for our run. Who knows what we’ll find today?

The easiest time to snap Maura's pictures is when she's transfixed with a squirrel taunting her from a tree.

My favorite part of each morning with Maura is the randomness. I’ve started letting her decide which direction we’ll go, when we’ll start a sprint, and which turns we’ll take. When we’ve gone a reasonable distance (usually a little bit further each day) then I’ll finally direct her to start leading us toward home. Sometimes I’ll nudge her in one direction over another or hold her back from an item that really has no business going into her mouth.

The surprising side effect of our routine is the phenomenon I reveal in this week’s article: we keep finding interesting stuff! And every time I acquire some new book or handwritten note the unanswerable questions sprout up like toadstools. I wonder who owns these items. Did they abandon them intentionally or are they frantically looking for something they’ve lost? We’re not likely to ever find out. And that’s OK.

For my original acquisition: three books that are probably alright but I doubt I’ll ever read…

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Merry Christmas Madalyn Murray O’Hair (Wherever You Are)

Friday, December 16th, 2011 - by Brian James

Atheist icon Madalyn Murray O’Hair has, during this Christmas season, something very few of us get the benefit of. She has perspective. In 1995 she was kidnapped and killed by the office manager for “American Atheists”, David Roland Waters. Her body did not turn up until 2001. She had been cut up into a dozen pieces by her fellow Atheist and left in a shallow Texas grave as food for critters that sport an exoskeleton as well as apathy for the personal politics of the carcass that is providing them sustenance.

Only two people know what Madalyn’s last moments were like; Waters, and Murray O’Hair herself. Death was a certainty, and the best she could hope for (if her personal beliefs were correct) was a quick passage into non-existence, and the return or her earthly remains to the bottom of the food chain.

Madalyn_Murray_O'Hair

How depressing a thought is that? If you’re an atheist, your BEST case scenario after a short life is non-existence; and that is only IF you are right. No wonder atheists are so crabby. What is actually worse for these folks is that not all atheists are actually true atheists. Many, even possibly Madalyn Murray O’Hair, hold a very deep belief in God, but they hate him. Her actions, as well as the ones of those who followed her, are the acts of people who are trying to rage a war against their Creator.

 Regardless of our beliefs, we will all taste death.  What happens after that seems to be the bone of contention. In the atheist rhetoric, people get seventy or eighty short years, and then nothingness. If this was something they actually believed, most of them would not care if there is a cross at the Soledad National War Memorial, prayer in school, or an acknowledgement of God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Believers could pray to Jesus, Buddha, or Mr. Bubble; it would simply be irrelevant to the atheist. It is obvious, however, that care very deeply who you pray to.

Atheists seem very quiet when Federal, State, and City funds or facilities are used for religions that are not Christian. There is no outcry of “separation of church and state” when the Dali Lama speaks at a public college or university. Very little is also said by the atheists when New York public school students were taken to a Mosque as a field trip and they really didn’t seem to care about the “Muslim week” in the CA public schools.  The “no prayers in school” didn’t seem to apply when kids were forced to pray to Allah. They do have a fit if a high school student bows his or her head before lunch and gives thanks to God. They demand that kids who wear crosses or bring bibles to school either get rid of the offending object or be sent home (in some cases suspended). Atheists are now supporting the banning of private Bible studies in the dorm rooms of students who happen to attend public colleges. In short, atheists point their aggression towards the one religion they seem scared to death of, Christianity.

 Last time I checked, Christians were not performing “drive by” baptisms against atheists. There is no persecution of anyone who doesn’t wear a cross. Christianity should not pose any tangible threat to these people. Despite this, they seem determined to spend their very few years of existence bitterly fighting something which does not try to harm them.

Atheists in the Western World live in a civilization where they can fill their lives with every type of pleasure imaginable. In a short life that ultimately results in nothingness, a true atheist would live for their own transient happiness, because that is all they really have. If they were intellectually honest, they would use the energy they expend in a futile fight against Christianity in the west and direct it against the Muslim faith that is practiced in third world countries. This is a sect that would, if given the chance, deny them the sort of pleasure that we take granted, and seriously limit the quality of their short existence. They don’t believe in Allah, though. He is no more real to them than Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. To them, fighting against Allah would be like shadow boxing, but because they believe in the Christian God, and don’t want any reminders of certain uncomfortable inevitable events, they must do their best to wipe society clean of all symbols of Christianity. Christmas, and all its religious imagery tops this list of things that must go.

 Christmas is hard on atheists. If they actually believed the “truth” that there is no God, and nothing beyond this life, they would simply shrug the whole thing off and take advantage of the holiday sales. Even though that mother they pass in the store, holding the hand of her four year old, and humming “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” obviously hasn’t bought into the atheist’s “truth” the thought of a Savior born in Bethlehem makes her happy. Her end will be the same bleak end as the atheists, so no harm, no foul, right? Once again, this only works if these folks really don’t believe in God.

 To the atheist, Christmas is the outward expression and amplification of all the fears and doubts they won’t publicly acknowledge. In those private moments, those solitary moments, those laying in bed and thinking at three in the morning moments, there is that tiny little voice that talks about death and it just won’t shut up. It is the feeling of hopeless doubt and fear that grips the mind and just won’t let go until you drown it out with the television, a stiff drink, or an entire bag of Oreos. Most Christians remember those moments. Christmas is the celebration of the silencing of this voice and the laying impotent this fear.

There is a joy to Christmas that atheists simply, voluntarily, opt out of. To them the holiday is just something from “Target” wrapped in pretty paper that is soon forgotten. To Christians it is the gift of a child that ensures our best case scenario is better than a shallow grave in Texas and nonexistence (not to mention the nullifying of a worst case scenario that is beyond imagination). Christians celebrate out of gratitude for what our creator has bestowed upon us, but Christmas is actually more for that atheist who is suing school children for bringing a bible to class, than it is for the Christian. Christians enjoy Christmas, atheists need Christmas. The child it celebrates acts as a constant lifeline that is available to them whether they want it or not. Oddly, though, that seems to be the part they resent the most.

We know why atheists try to ruin Christmas for everyone else. It is out of fear and sheer hate of a God they believe in. The last few years have not been kind to their efforts, and reversal of legal fortunes has ensured that the lifeline for the atheist is still visible, especially at this time of year.  Even Wal-Mart has bowed to public pressure and gone back to “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or some drivel about a solstice.

We now live in an atmosphere where going out and caroling has become an act of defiance, many Christians are getting war-weary of fighting the annual holiday battle (as well as fighting the other shoppers, the logistics of family, the snow, frustrated hunters who will settle for shooting an arrow into your light-up deer when they have failed to kill a real one, etc), for them I leave these simple words as a reminder of what the whole thing is all about:

“Mild he lays his glory by; born that man no more may die; born to raise the sons of earth born to give them second birth”

Merry Christmas

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OnLive Brings Streaming Video Gaming to Whatever System You’re Using — Even Your Mac

Friday, December 16th, 2011 - by Bryan Preston

If you haven’t seen or heard of OnLive yet, prepare to have your mind blown. OnLive may be the most interesting innovation in video games of the past year. Here’s a brief taste of what it does.

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Gaming in the Clouds

OnLive is cloud streaming video games. That means that it delivers quality video game entertainment while mostly doing away with going to the local game store, with the need for an expensive game console, or with being locked into gaming on a single PC. OnLive plays where you are, on your PC, Mac or TV. Instantly.

The way it works is simple. OnLive’s game library is installed in the cloud. You access that cloud in a variety of ways through your internet connection. First you create an account for free at OnLive’s web site. Then you download and install a small app to your computer, or you hook up the “microconsole” to your TV. Once installed, sign in to your account and you have instant access to hundreds of video games. You can install the app on as many devices as you want, and when you buy and play a game, your saves and progress get tied to your login account. So your game progress goes to whatever device you happen to be on at the moment.

OnLive also does away with the need to download the games or their demos, at all. In this respect, it gains an advantage over its most obvious competitor, the Steam game network, which requires local downloads for all the content you choose to access. So where, in the Steam universe, you might wait hours just to sample a demo of a game you’re considering purchasing, with OnLive, once you click on the Game Trial button, you’re automatically and instantly allowed to demo the game.

OnLive’s optional microconsole also gives it an edge over the more expensive XBox360 and PS3 consoles, in cost, portability and ease of use. Because the games are installed in the cloud, there is no need for discs, and therefore no moving parts inside OnLive’s tiny box. No red rings of death, no DVD readers that suddenly die. And at just a bit larger than an iPhone, the OnLive console will fit anywhere, while at $129 off Amazon for the box and a wireless controller, it fits just about any budget too. Apple fans will appreciate the packaging in which the console arrives; it’s a sleek black box reminiscent of the packaging in which Apple places the iPhone.

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NTSB Chair Supports Cell Phone Ban With Lies & Obfuscation

Friday, December 16th, 2011 - by Ronnie Schreiber

The National Transportation Safety Board’s recent recommendation that all 50 states ban all cell phone (including hands-free) and personal electronic device use when driving got a lot of attention. Now it turns out that the NTSB’s chairman, Deborah Hersman, has knowingly used false statistics to promote that proposed ban. The NTSB’s recommendation came in the wake of the report on a multi-vehicle fatality accident in Gray Summuit Missouri, where texting behind the wheel was determined to be one (but not the only) contributing factor. In her opening statement to the report, which is still on the NTSB web site, Hersman said,

And it was over just like that. It happened so quickly. And, that’s what happened at Gray Summit. Two lives lost in the blink of an eye. And, it’s what happened to more than 3,000 people last year. Lives lost. In the blink of an eye. In the typing of a text. In the push of a send button.

I think that any reasonable person would agree that Chairman Hersman is implying that 3,000 people a year are killed in road accidents caused by texting. That’s simply not true.

Continue reading the complete post here.

When he’s not busy doing custom machine embroidery at Autothreads Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth and contributes to The Truth About Cars and Left Lane News

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Retail Stores Staff Up On Soldiers In Hopes of Forcing ‘Best Christmas Ever’

Friday, December 16th, 2011 - by Sunny

The recession hit most American business hard, in particular the real estate industry, but perhaps the second hardest hit was Big Retail. Retail sales growth was achingly slow over the past few years and this year is expected to be no different, in spite of a not terrible Black Friday that showed the corpse is only MOSTLY dead. This holiday season, in a push to improve sales numbers retailers won’t be pointlessly staffing up on retail sales staff. Instead, they are buying extra soldiers and the latest in weapons technology to guarantee shoppers will buy more this year.

Buy this lego transformer kit or else!! Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Big Retail has always held a gun to our head to buy the latest Elmo doll, fluffy pink robe, or tool set every Christmas, but this year the stakes are higher as bankruptcies loom. Retailers aren’t willing to rely on the usual tactics of isolated violence and intimidation, emotional manipulation, and predatory pricing. They are bringing out the literal “big guns.” Several of the major national retail chains met at a Starbucks in Colorado over the summer to agree on and flesh out the details for the offensive. They passed a resolution to increase spending for “boots on the ground.” Recruitment offices were opened from coast to coast. One insider says Wal-Mart hired enough solders that every household in America could be paid one visit between now and December 25th. But no one thinks that will be necessary.

 

No! Not Elmo! Ahhhhhhhhh!

“It just simplifies things,” said James Bass, CEO of big box toy retailer Kids Korner. “It never made sense to make a product people wanted, or to lure them in with promotions or even with Santa Claus. All that was window dressing over the gun we held anyway. We tried giving people choices and look at the mess the economy is in!”

To pay for this mercenary buildup, stores have cut costs by dispensing with the usual glossy, Christmas catalogs replete with enticing goodies; Christmas decorations and extra customer service; and cinnamon-laced apple cider, gift wrapping, and other typical freebies. This year retailers acknowledge it was never about convincing people anyway since capitalism, i.e., free trade, is a vicious use of corporatist force inflicted on the poor and middle class. Instead, shoppers will receive simple invitations, randomly generated, telling each and every American what they must buy from the store by December 24th.

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