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Paint Those Blues Away

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 - by Stephen Green


I never owned a Mac before seven or eight years ago, but every time I could get myself seated in front of one back in the ’80s, the first thing I’d do is launch MacPaint. You drew things with a mouse, various brushes and tools, and a selection of fill patterns. That was it — but there had never been anything like before in simplicity and ease-of-use. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing is that the Mac’s screen used square pixels, instead of the traditional oblongs of every other CRT screen. So when you drew a circle in MacPaint, your square-pixeled printer printed a circle. People using any other computer would print an oval.

There could be some serious load times if your artwork was any bigger than the workspace, because MacPaint and your creation all had to fit in the original Mac’s 64k of working memory. So any scrolling was accompanied by some pretty lengthy read/writes to the 800k floppy drive.

This website’s banner takes up more than 90k and renders just as quickly as your internet service can pipe it to you.

The point of all this is that MacPaint is back as CloudPaint, completely re-engineered in HTML5. It looks and feels just like the original — but I bet it’s quite a bit bigger than 64k.

Give it a whirl.

(H/T, Gruber.)


Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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No Good Excuses Exist for the Failure of Obamacare’s Expensive Website

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 - by Joshua Sharf


By now, it’s hard to decide if the launch failure of the Obamacare exchange websites isn’t funny anymore, or just keeps getting funnier.

Sites went down — including the individual state sites for states that are running their own exchanges. When people weren’t getting “due to an extraordinarily high volume of calls” errors, they were getting 404 Not Found messages, and pages were finding new and creative ways of erroring out. Even Wednesday afternoon, I was getting server errors just trying to finish the account creation process on the California site.

Almost as quickly as the train wreck itself unfolded, so did the explanations for it evolve. First, both President Obama and then Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed with straight faces that the failures were a result of the massive interest in the exchanges. Then, others claimed that these were normal rollout errors that occur with all large, complex systems. Finally, as the engineers rolled the platform back to the hangar for retooling, there was no hiding the fact that this was indeed a software failure, not just a set of normal launch “glitches” (to use the press’s word du jour).

The exchanges’ bad day brought to mind a number of other high-profile website failures, including the Romney campaign’s spectacular white elephant of a killer whale, Orca.

I’ve been in web development for most of my professional career. I’ve participated in successful launches, and launches that needed to be rolled back and fixed. I’ve spent very long days dealing with one error after another, and equally long, uneventful days waiting for the deluge that mercifully never came.

It’s always easy to criticize someone else’s failures, and with my luck, tomorrow the QA guys will rain down trouble tickets on my head like nobody’s business. Nevertheless, it remains inescapably true that while there were reasons this happened, they weren’t good reasons, and could have been avoided. Given three years and hundreds of millions of dollars for development, they should have.

Here’s why, and how.

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The Death of the Phone Call

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 - by Richard Fernandez


The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go.

The movies sure, the radio sure, but the …telephone? Andrea Peterson of the Washington Post notes with some surprise that president Obama’s favorite comms platform, the Blackberry, was literally dying. The parent company laid off nearly half its workforce only last week. “That’s bad news for the platform’s most prominent user, Barack Obama.” Not so long ago it was the symbol of wired power.

Obama’s BlackBerry dependency was touted as a sign of modernity before his 2009 inauguration, to the point where it was a news story that he was allowed to keep the device post-inauguration. But technology that seemed cutting-edge in 2008 now seems painfully anachronistic. Obama was reportedly “befuddled” during an attempt to call a volunteer from an iPhone during the 2012 campaign.

But the phone call has been dying too. Most people now communicate by text or other types of messaging. In fact less than half of all Britons surveyed made a single call a day. By comparison young Americans send 88 text messages a day, a trend that if anything, is growing with each passing day.

Dana Brownlee, a corporate trainer based in Atlanta, says the issue of phone aversion frequently comes up in her project management training sessions. One of her clients, a manager at a large utility company, recently had to teach his young employee what a dial tone was and explain that desktop phones don’t require you to press “Send.”

But if the practice of “ringing people up” is falling prey to the changing habits of the young, it is withering among the politically powerful for a different reason. It is declining because of the increasing difficulty of sealing a deal by achieving agreement within a small circle. The conference call — the successor of the smoke filled room of the 19th century — can’t cut it any more. The accusation that Ted Cruz has killed the dialog between the political parties with his incendiary attack on Obamacare obscures the fact that the telephone deal has been declining for a long time in this age of diminished consensus.

In a simpler time not long ago a President simply needed to make calls to the right people to make things happen. He’d call the Prime Minister of Great Britain or the President of Egypt. The very ancient will even remember something called a Hot Line with which the White House could call the leader of the Soviet Union in case the boys got out of hand. That’s how things got fixed.

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Navigating the Obamacare Marketplace Labyrinth

Saturday, October 5th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard

Having followed the debate over the Affordable Care Act fairly closely over the last few years, I was curious about the insurance plans being offered under the federal exchange in Ohio. Actual hard numbers have been hard to come by; it seems like they’ve been a more closely guarded secret than the codes to launch the nation’s nuclear warheads. I tried to log on to the site on October 1st, the day the “Marketplace” launched, but after several unsuccessful attempts, I gave up. Today I decided to try again.

I went to and chose “Ohio” from the drop-down menu. Just like visiting a government agency in person, I found that I would be required to wait in line — albeit a virtual line. Take a virtual number.



After about 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line. My number was called and I was invited to create an account — a user name and password. The instructions said that the user name and password were case sensitive. I followed the instructions and checked my email for the link to authenticate the new account and then tried to sign in. The system did not recognize my user name and password. I knew they were correct because I had copied and pasted them into my clipboard so I’d have them handy. I tried a couple more times, but each time I was greeted by a message saying that the information I had entered was invalid.


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Technology & the Vertical Caveat in Generational Theory

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg


When I turned 16 I had a choice: A Sweet Sixteen Party or a trip to London. Unlike the rest of my peers I chose the latter. Not for the Spice Girls, but for the Beatles. I had spent the past year and a half papering my walls with photocopies my Dad would make on his lunch hour from books I’d checked out of the library. While most of my fellow classmates were crying along with Jewel, I was blasting the likes of The Supremes, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and the Mamas and the Papas. Backstreet Boys versus NSYNC lunchroom arguments baffled me as I tried to explain to my friends how Yoko Ono busted up my favorite boy band of all time.

Thanks to Brad Pitt I was beginning to think I had some kind of mental Benjamin Button syndrome until the other week when I came across the Pew Center’s “How Millennial Are You?” quiz (h/t Becky Graebner). Technically I fall into David Swindle’s Millennial-X’er Blend generation, but according to the  Pew Center, I’m a Baby Boomer verging on Generation X.

No wonder I tend to gravitate towards my elders, especially when it comes to entertainment. Of course, being Jewish, I blame it all on my Mother. At 7 our first video rental was the Amy Irving film Crossing Delancey. Years later I married a good Jewish boy with curly hair and New York roots, and I still have a thing for Peter Riegert. Unlike fellow high schoolers obsessed with Ross and Rachel, my teen years were defined by Rupert Holmes‘s much under noticed classic Remember WENN, a dramedy set at a Pittsburgh radio station in the days before World War II. I scoffed at fellow film students in college who balked at the idea of watching anything in black and white.  The other day, when I found out that Jason Alexander would be performing live in my neck of the woods, I scrambled online to get tickets. I am a middle-aged woman stuck in a Gen X/Millennial body.  How did this happen?

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Do You Suffer from iPosture?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Helen Smith


I know I do even if I am over the age group they are discussing in this article at the Daily Mail:

Do you suffer from iPosture? Tablets and smartphones are causing an epidemic of back pain as people hunch over devices

84 per cent of 18-24 year olds have admitted to suffering back pain in the last 12 months, according to a survey by Simplyhealth
The results also showed almost all age groups spend as much time in front of a PC, laptop or tablet screen in total as they do asleep in bed
Brian Hammond, CEO of BackCare, warned hunching over handheld devices is a contributory factor in back pain reported by different generations

It sounds like the latest gadget from Apple. But ‘iPosture’ is being blamed for an alarming level of back pain among 18 to 24-year-olds.

The term is being used to describe the stooped body shape adopted by those texting, emailing or playing games on their iPad or smartphone.

Luckily, for my back, I have been standing at this Furinno Adjustable Vented Laptop Table Laptop Computer Desk and that has helped my back immensely.

But it is not just back pain but also eyestrain that is a problem for me. I seem to be addicted to screens, even at the gym, I find myself staring at TV screens when I don’t want to –just out of a bad habit. It’s hard to break.


cross-posted from Dr Helen’s blog

image courtesy shutterstock / Sergey Nivens

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Game-Changer: The Next Generation of Gaming

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson


I’m not quite ready to part ways with my Xbox 360. The box has been an integral part of my living room, towed through eight residences in as many years. In that time, it has grown, developed, and matured much as I have. Years of updates, upgrades, and expansions have turned it into an entirely different machine than the one I first purchased.

Comparing a launch title like Perfect Dark Zero to this year’s stunning Grand Theft Auto V makes it hard to believe that each belongs to the same generation of hardware. The leaps and bounds that developers have been able to take with the console over its eight year lifespan have kept the experience fresh.

Perhaps that is why so few people are seriously considering a next generation console purchase this holiday season. From IGN:

In a limited poll surveying 1,297 people, 64% of respondents stated they would not buy new video game hardware this holiday season, according to Reuters. This includes, of course, next-generation consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Nintendo’s upcoming 2DS or Valve’s recently revealed Steam Machines.

The minor interest in next-gen gaming points to something else emphasized in the poll: The games respondents most desire are non-exclusive, third-party sequels that, in many cases, will release on current hardware. Call of Duty: Ghosts Assassin’s Creed 4, Madden NFL 25, Battlefield 4 topped the interest list, alongside GTA 5.

Games drive the market more than hardware. Indeed, thinking back on my early adoption of the Xbox 360, it provided very little value at first. When a new generation of hardware launches, the first wave of games typically fumble while developers explore what the new hardware can do. Dead Rising, an early zombie-slaying title for the Xbox 360, was little more than a tech demo for how many unique characters could be rendered on-screen. The gameplay, in retrospect, seems pretty terrible.

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The Final Frontier of Apple Design Worship

Sunday, September 29th, 2013 - by Roger L Simon

Actual product may not match illustration. Ditto the author.

I  am a loyal vassal of Lord Steve.  Even after his death, I follow his orders explicitly.

Dutifully, at exactly 12:01 AM on September 20, 2013, I ordered my iPhone 5S, color “space grey,” on the Apple site.  It was slated for arrival September 26, but arrived one day early at my house.  That’s what happens when you are loyal to Lord Steve.  (Also, you get numerous emails such as… “Your iPhone is in Dong Ding, China.” “Your iPhone has left Dong Ding, China.”  ”Your iPhone is in Anchorage, Alaska, freezing its butt off.”  ”Your iPhone has just gotten a ticket on the Ventura Freeway and will be delayed, etc.” Then, finally, “Your iPhone is here.  Answer the door, you idiot!”)

And so you do. You immediately, drop everything, rush to the door, pull the box apart (stopping a mini-second to admire the smashing dee-sign) and fire it up.  Even if there were nuclear war, that’s what you do.  Remember this 1980 cartoon?  In 2013 she’d be holding an iPhone (and don’t give me any of your Android lip).

So no sooner did the UPS guy bring my anointed  5S (it was “space grey” — I stayed away from the gold/champagne thing lest my enemies get the idea I was moving to Palm Springs and celebrate), than I pressed the familiar button (these things haven’t changed in a decade after all) and off I went.

At which point… things… slowed…to….a………..crawl…. then…..a……………..halt.

What was up?  My brand new iPhone wasn’t working. And Steve was dead.

Turns out I made a mistake.  I was restoring my phone from the “cloud” — at the same moment  about fourteen million people were doing the same thing, not to mention another seventy-eight million in Guangzhou — instead of using iTunes like any doofus with an IQ in triple digits. But soon enough things loosened and by morning (well, late morning) my new iPhone was ready to go.  (“Why do you have so many apps?” my wife and daughter always asked.  Well, now I don’t.  I learned.)

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3 Cultural Divides Between ’80s and ’90s Millennials

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
UNDATED FILE PHOTO- Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the "grunge" rock group "Nirvana," was found dead in..

Then and Now

Are you “typical” for your generation or are you a “freak?”  Well, now you can find out.

The Pew Research Center has a quiz, “How Millennial are you?” It surveys your beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors and compares them to other Americans who have taken a national survey. Intriguing.

I took this quiz. Although I was born in the late 1980s, I wasn’t very “Millennial.”  The Millennial point spread is from 73-100, with 100 being the “most Millennial” you can be. Below 72 points, you leave the Millennial spread and enter into Gen Xer range.

I received 80 points on my test, putting me on the low end of the Millennial attitude/behavior range. A good friend from college also took this quiz. She received 40 points; putting her in the Gen Xer range (the Gen Xer range is 33-72 points). I know many of my other friends would either be on the low-end of the Millennial scale or a Gen Xer.

Honestly, I’m not surprised.  I’ve noticed that there isn’t just a difference between generations, but also within them. Sometimes, I look around at my generational peers and think “who are these people?”

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Hiring the Homeless to Stand in Line for iPhones? Genius!

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson


“That is just wrong,” posted one commenter in response to a story out of Los Angeles which raises vital questions about the morality of the market. From Ubergizmo:

A businessman in L.A. took scalping to a whole new level, when he picked up about 100 homeless people from Skid Row in Los Angeles. He promised to pay them if they waited overnight in the line outside Apple’s retail store in Pasadena, California. Since Apple allows customers to purchase no more than two units, he would have had 200 iPhones, all while paying each hired hand $40 for the trouble.

The operation did not proceed as planned. When the employees within the iPhone store heard what was happening, they refused to sell to the hired buyers. The scalper then refused to pay those who were unable to deliver iPhones to him. That upset the homeless crowd and aroused a disturbance which prompted police to escort the scalper away for his own protection.

Heads shake and fingers wag in reaction to this scheme. This scalper exploited homeless people, the story goes, proving himself to be a jerk at best and perhaps even a criminal.

The incident evokes a similar story involving Trader Joe’s. A guy from Canada drove down through California to buy inventory from the grocer which he then resold back home (where no Trader Joe’s stores exist). We used to call that an import business. Like Apple, when Trader Joe’s discovered his operation, they refused to do business with him. Yet it’s not entirely clear why, because he was helping them get their product to a market they have not otherwise reached.

Likewise, in the Apple case, the iPhone scalper was providing a value to all parties concerned. Obviously, the homeless people were getting income they otherwise would not have. Apple was moving its inventory. And the scalper’s end-customers had access to a rare and desirable product without having to wait in line. Whom did this hurt exactly? How was anyone’s access to trade unjustly restricted? There is no right to purchase a product at a particular price under particular circumstances. That’s why the police rightly deemed this a “business issue” and not a crime.

It may be tempting to scoff at the scalper’s refusal to pay those who were unable to purchase phones. Then again, we may safely presume that the agreement was for orders fulfilled, not attempted.

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Help! The Wife is Trying to Steal My New Awesome iPad Case!

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

photo (29)


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I have not yet figured out all the uses for that the sturdy handle permits. But it seems to have a lot of potential…


April did eventually put on enough of her cute faces to inspire me to turn over the iPad case to her. But then a day later, to my complete shock, she gave it back to me. Why? Not because there was anything wrong with the case — she really liked how much better it was at standing up. She just found the added bulk of the case too strange in comparison to what she was used to. Marriage is a wonderful institution. We typically basic males really get to experience the mysteries of the female sex. I completely disagree with her, BTW. The soft cover is infinitely better. But I wasn’t about to protest or try and convince her otherwise.

Disclosure: Snugg provided a complimentary case for this review.

But if I didn’t like it wouldn’t recommend it as vastly superior to the flimsy standard Amazon case which had started failing for us with overuse. Pick one up — holding an iPad by a leather casing around the edges is so much more comfortable. There are also multiple pockets on the inside and the speaker bounces off the inside of the case to sound much better.


Perfect for my new ballpoint pen! Yes, a new hobby that I’ve picked up after two years of listening to Dennis Prager rave regularly. This one is a Zebra V-301 which I imagine is pretty basic and boring since I picked it up on a whim at Walgreen’s. But I intend for more pen reviews and other product reviews at PJ Lifestyle soon.


Do you have a product that you’d like to see reviewed at PJ Lifestyle? Contact me here: And I’ll see if it’s something I can write about or assign to one of the writers on our team of contributors from all around the globe.

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More Loan Disasters Like Fisker and Solyndra Could Be On the Way

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


The word on the street is that the Obama administration is ready to reignite the Department of Energy loan program for alternative vehicles.  I think I’ve harped on Fisker Automotive, Vehicle Production Group and the battery-failure twins Solyndra and A123 Systems enough for you all to remember that each one of these flops received large loans from DOE… and failed to pay them back. The controversial loan program was taken offline by  then department head Steven Chu two years ago. Well, it’s back.

Chu’s successor, Ernest Moniz, is hoping that the department can jump-start the loan program again — and the department is hoping to gain support by pointing to companies that did succeed. Although many of the DOE’s success stories were overshadowed by the nightmare of Fisker Automotive and defaulting battery companies, not all loan recipients were total flops (at least there’s some good in this story?). In fact, a few are chugging right along. Case in point: Tesla Motors. Other loan recipients: Ford Motor Company and Nissan — both for their battery-based vehicles.

I’m all for research, new technology, and reducing the amount of times I need to fill up my car, but I worry that the push for the return of this program might lead to Fisker Automotive 2.0…

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Disney Can’t Please Everyone All the Time

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Toontown Online

Disney’s reach extends out far beyond what most people think of – theme parks, movies, television, merchandising. For years, the company has hosted dozens of online games, which have expanded into apps for smart phones and tablets as mobile devices have grown in popularity. One game in particular has created a stir – not because of content or new technology, but because Disney is shutting it down.

Disney announced last week that it is closing down the decade-old Toontown Online video game on September 19.

Toontown, in which members form teams to fight evil robots, will close on Sept. 19, according to a website announcement. The $9.95-a-month game, which Disney called the first massively multiplayer online title for kids and families, made its debut in June 2003. Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow will also close.

“We are shifting our development focus toward other online and mobile play experiences, such as Club Penguin and a growing selection of Disney Mobile apps,” the Burbank, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The changes leave the $7.95-a-month Club Penguin as the only so-called virtual world operated by Disney. The site, acquired in 2007, is the largest of its kind, according to the company, which is asking players to move there.

One Toontown Online user simply won’t stand for it. Sara Luchsinger of Wisconsin has written CNN and formed an online petition to save the game.

Luchsinger says she joined in 2005 when her 10-year-old goddaughter encouraged her to join. She’s been hooked ever since, and even joined a group for adult users. Although the game is family-oriented, she says there is lots to appeal for all ages and she appreciated the ‘sense of community’ the game provided. When she heard about the game’s closing, she decided to campaign for it to stay open. Luchsinger said she doesn’t plan on setting up new digs at Club Penguin.

‘There is nothing out there similar, so I am not sure what, if anything, I will do at this point,’ she said. ‘I have a feeling that the mobile world in which we live in is evolving so quickly that if a game will continue to live on, it has to be played in a mobile format. Toontown isn’t available for tablets or mobile phones, so I believe that the company is making the decision based on profits and platforms.’

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A Real-Life Reminder that Outer Space Is Dangerous

Saturday, August 24th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Luca Parmitano is all smiles on his first spacewalk. His near drowning occurred on his second spacewalk.

In one scene in my all-time favorite movie, Apollo 13, astronaut Jim Lovell’s wife Marilyn (Kathleen Quinlan) and kids arrive at Mission Control to watch the astronauts’ live broadcast from the Apollo spacecraft. Once the broadcast begins, Marilyn realizes that none of the networks are carrying what she calls “Jim’s show.” She asks press man Henry Hurt (Xander Berkeley) why, and he tells her that space travel has become routine. “We’ve made going to the moon about as interesting as a trip to Pittsburgh.” Of course the fateful explosion aboard Apollo 13′s Service Module reminded the public that space travel is a dangerous thing.

We received another reminder earlier this month when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano nearly drowned in his spacesuit during a seemingly routine spacewalk outside the International Space Station. Parmitano and American astronaut Chris Cassidy were working to repair cables outside the ISS when Parmitano began to feel condensation in the back of his helmet. He wrote about his experience on his blog — in present tense, adding a true urgency to the story.

The unexpected sensation of water at the back of my neck surprises me — and I’m in a place where I’d rather not be surprised. I move my head from side to side, confirming my first impression, and with superhuman effort I force myself to inform Houston of what I can feel, knowing that it could signal the end of this EVA.

The seven-hour EVA (spacewalk) did end early at NASA’s behest as Parmitano tried to maneuver his way back to the airlock. He describes the harrowing next moments:

As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact. The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision. I realise that to get over one of the antennae on my route I will have to move my body into a vertical position, also in order for my safety cable to rewind normally. At that moment, as I turn ‘upside-down’, two things happen: the Sun sets, and my ability to see – already compromised by the water – completely vanishes, making my eyes useless; but worse than that, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head. By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid. To make matters worse, I realise that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock. I can’t see more than a few centimetres in front of me, not even enough to make out the handles we use to move around the Station.

Thankfully, Parmitano made his way back and ended his spacewalk safely. His frightening experience reminds us that no matter how routine space travel may seem, outer space is still a dangerous place. I’m sure Luca Parmitano will never forget that fact.

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Hundreds of Drive-In Theaters May Close Permanently at End of Season

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard


There are only 356 drive-in theaters left in the U.S. and the majority of them may close at the end of this season if they don’t upgrade to expensive digital equipment. Hollywood movie studios will stop producing movies in 35mm film in 2013 and a large number of the remaining drive-ins in the country cannot afford the estimated $80,000 to upgrade to digital.

Drive-in theaters are woven into the fabric of American culture — at their peak in 1958 there were over 5000 drive-ins in the U.S. Many couples and families have fond drive-in memories — they evoke images of the past, when Americans were unplugged from technology and the entire family could spend an evening sitting in the fresh air in lawn chairs (or a beat up car) enjoying a movie for a reasonable price. And B.Y.O.S. — Bring Your Own Snacks — no need to smuggle Milk Duds into the theater in your pants!

My parents used to take our family to the drive-in dressed in our pajamas so they could just toss us into bed when we arrived home after the late show. We would feast on huge Tupperware bowls of homemade popcorn and drink Pepsi from glass bottles. I have a vivid memory of the funeral march scene from the 1973 James Bond flick, Live and Let Die.  I was in third grade and our parents — not really the sheltering types —  thought we would be asleep by the second movie that night (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here).  I don’t think I slept soundly for months after that.

Remember the clunky silver sound box that hung on your car window before the theaters converted to FM sound? And the etiquette that all but a few miscreants willingly followed to make everyone’s experience more pleasant — parking lights only, keep your foot off the brake pedal, don’t obstruct the view with your hatch, large vehicles at the back.

I cherish memories of drive-in dates and groups of friends crammed into my best friend’s Chevy Nova to take advantage of the per car rate (it’s still only $18/per car in our area). Later, when we had kids of our own, my husband took our boys to see Spider Man, Iron Man, and a host of other superhero movies for their boys’ nights out. We also joined other families who all parked together — tailgate party style — with coolers full of juice boxes, fruit, cheese, and baby carrots. Those were the years we had to park in the back row because we all had minivans. Fortunately, there was enough adult humor in Shrek and Night at the Museum to make it fun for the adults as well as the kids, despite the minivans and the healthy culinary choices.

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Face Recognition Software Advances: Big Brother Could Soon be Watching Everything You Do

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
He knows when you're asleep, he knows when you're awake.

He knows when you’re asleep, he knows when you’re awake.

The New York Times assures us that facial scanning is improving by leaps and bounds:

WASHINGTON — The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.

The Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning project called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System — or BOSS — last fall after two years of government-financed development. Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances. That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

There have been stabs for over a decade at building a system that would help match faces in a crowd with names on a watch list — whether in searching for terrorism suspects at high-profile events like a presidential inaugural parade, looking for criminal fugitives in places like Times Square or identifying card cheats in crowded casinos.

My thought on reading this was first that no technology is ever infallible, and that being the twin brother of someone seen leaving a bomb — say — particularly if you were both adopted out at birth and don’t know of each other would be an uncomfortable situation.

Add to this that the technology is not even at that level and being the second-cousin of a crime suspect, with certain common family features would be enough to get you police attention. You can see how this would violate your fourth amendment rights, right? Not to mention your rights to life and liberty, to say nothing of the pursuit of happiness.

To be fair, the New York Times reports that people in charge of this technology development are also aware that it needs to be a lot more developed before it’s used, even if its creators think “difficulties will just fall away.”

On the other hand, my second thought was that yes, this technology could be very useful for fighting terrorism and other such public safety hazards. But when has technology in the hands of government been used only for the logical or most beneficial process?

Like social security numbers becoming de-facto IDs, this will change into attempts at preventing crimes — perhaps laudable in themselves, but leading to a future where Big Brother is ALWAYS watching you. And let’s not forget the information that can be leaked just before elections, by the same entity whose IRS leaked confidential forms of political opponents of the current administration.

To be fair the New York Times recognizes that too:

“This technology is always billed as antiterrorism, but then it drifts into other applications,” Ms. McCall said. “We need a real conversation about whether and how we want this technology to be used, and now is the time for that debate.”

In particular, she said, there should be limits on whose faces are loaded into them when they are ready for deployment. Ms. McCall said it would be acceptable to use it for terrorism watch lists, but she feared any effort to systematically track everyone’s public movements by using a comprehensive database of driver’s license photographs.

Now whether they’ll remember this is a danger while progressives are in power is something else.

During the cold war, anti-nuke activists often said giving a nation nuclear weapons was like handing a loaded gun to an idiot. The same can be said of facial recognition systems and the government. And I hope we keep the gun away. As useful as it could be in certain, specialized cases, it would be unmitigated disaster in most others.


Photo courtesy of © Kletr

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Now the Family Can Watch Different Shows on the Same Television

Monday, August 19th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson


A new category of television now available for purchase enables two viewers watching from different angles to view different full-screen high-definition content. The Samsung 55-inch Curved OLED TV retails for about $9,000 and boasts “deep blacks and vibrant colors, while providing an immersive experience with improved viewing angles.”

Can you see yourself buying something like this? Let’s say the price comes down in a couple of years, which it surely will. Does the notion of watching something completely different from the person next to you carry appeal?

Scoffs come cheap. Putting the question to my Facebook friends produced a list of emphatic negatives. “Might as well not be near each other if not sharing the experience,” one wrote. “As if technology isn’t creating more isolation and poorer communication already! Arrgh!” exclaimed another.

Yet, there was a time when the notion of having multiple televisions in the same home seemed isolating and extreme. Remember this scene from Back to the Future when Marty McFly has dinner with his seventeen-year-old mother Lorraine and her family in 1955?

Lorraine Baines: It’s our first television set. Dad just picked it up today. Do you have a television?

Marty McFly: Well, yeah. You know we have… two of them.

Milton Baines: Wow! You must be rich.

Stella Baines: Oh, honey, he’s teasing you. Nobody has two television sets.

That was written in 1985. Today, we not only have a television in every room, but a bunch of smaller screens as well. Tablets, laptops, smartphones, e-readers — everything but Dick Tracy’s watch. As it stands, each person in a five-member family could theoretically watch their own hand-picked content at the same time. So is it really that big of a stretch to watch two shows from the same couch? Technically, it brings people formerly on separate devices closer together.

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Mind The Little Things… They Bite Hard if You Don’t

Saturday, August 17th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson


“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…” Luke 16:10

Have you ever had an epiphany?

Are all epiphanies so simple you wonder why you could’t see it before? That’s the way mine was. It went something like this: You know how your bank account seems to leak? Just $20.00 here, and $35.00 there, and the next thing you know a hundred dollars has vanished?

Well, if that’s true, then it has to work both ways. Just $20.00 here and $35.00 there, and the next thing you know a hundred dollars has accumulated. Genius — I know.

Ok, so one man’s epiphany is another man’s “Well duh.”

The bottom line is that the little things really do matter. The old adage “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves” kept coming to mind this week. Although I plugged most of the holes, at least one of my money saving strategies backfired and it cost more rather than saved.

Here’s what happened and how I fixed it.

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Baby Boomers: The Dark Horse of the Auto and Tech Markets

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner


An article at the Wall Street Journal yesterday reported that baby boomers are snapping up cars that are marketed towards younger buyers. To some, this is weird and unexpected, similar to that odd conundrum when moms and daughters fall in love with the same pair of tight, hip-hugging jeans — thankfully cars are a little more forgiving. But what’s the deal? Why/how could something marketed towards 20-somethings attract 60-somethings?

Let’s start with the economy.

With the economy in a rough place, the automotive industry has been cautious. Auto makers have been targeting the younger generations with cool, sporty cars in hopes of securing their brand loyalty: you buy a Corolla at age 20, and, hopefully, you’ll love it and buy Toyota for the rest of your life. That’s the theory anyway.  Companies hope to lure first-time buyers with Bluetooth, Pandora, navigation systems, and touchscreen everything. The real problem with this whole theory is that the younger generation is poor. Nice to meet you Mr. Recession and Mrs. Debt!

This is where the baby boomers come in…

The baby boomers are still pretty cool. These men and women of the mid-20th century are looking for something other than the “senior citizen mobile.” They are drawn to the smaller, sportier sedans and hatchbacks on the market — think the Scion line up, the Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, and the Kia Soul… the cars meant for their grandkids.

I’m not surprised that the baby boomers are buying up these little cars; nobody should be denied a fun, cool car due to age.  Nobody puts Baby in a corner!  I think the auto makers might be overlooking two things when it comes to surviving in this tough economy…

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I For One Welcome The Beer Drones!

Thursday, August 15th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Senator Rand Paul was overheard approving of a drone. This was a drone that delivered beer at an outdoor festival in South Africa.

The Washington Times notes that Senator Paul is noted for a 13 hour filibuster against the Nomination of John O. Brennan as CIA director while calling on the Obama administration to clarify whether it believed it had the right to use drones for killing US citizens.

However, after the South Africa delivery drone’s performance, the Kentucky Republican said on his Twitter page, “Perhaps I am not against ALL drones!”

Of course, Senator Paul is in the right, since there is no constitutional right to beer delivery by humans only — doubtless due to a tragic oversight of the founding fathers who failed to foresee the reign of our beer-delivering mechanical overlords — while there is a constitutional right to due process for US citizens and residents before being executed by the US government.

So go on and approve of beer-delivering drones, Senator Paul. While comely beer servers might be more pleasing, people are entitled to getting their beer any way they wish to.

It is rumored that Thomas Jefferson anguished over the Constitutional status of beer drones. (Okay, not really -- we're just picking on you.)

It is rumored that Thomas Jefferson anguished over the Constitutional status of beer drones. (Okay, not really — we’re just picking on you.)

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Game of Downloads: HBO’s Bad Spin on Media Piracy

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Brace Yourself

According to Time Warner CEO Alan Bewkes,

…if you go to people who are watching it without [subscriptions], it’s a tremendous word-of-mouth thing. …We’ve been dealing with this for 20, 30 years—people sharing  [subscriptions], running wires down the backs of apartment buildings. Our experience is that it leads to more paying  [subscriptions]. I think you’re right that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. That’s better than an Emmy.

Bewkes’s comment took the media world by surprise. A corporate CEO actually cheering on illegal downloading? Where’s Napster when you need it?

Bewkes isn’t the only exec praising media piracy:

In April, HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo said that “piracy” should be taken as a compliment. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts. The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.”

A compliment? Possibly. But piracy isn’t exactly the economic boon these execs would lead you to believe. According to the Record Industry Association of America:

One credible analysis by the Institute for Policy Innovation concludes that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,060 U.S. jobs lost, a loss of $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings, and a loss of $422 million in tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes.

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Pimp My Hybrid?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

A Tricked-out Honda Insight

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story last week:

Today, more people are choosing gas-saving, practical cars; the hybrid Toyota Motor Corp.’s 7203.TO -1.09% Prius was the best-selling car in California last year. But that doesn’t stop drivers like Mr. Redmond from trying to put a little panache into being prudent, turning eco-friendly cars into lowriders, race cars and mini-monster trucks.

They are a far cry from more traditional souped-up rides. A Smart car is nine feet shorter than some classic Chevy Impalas and has five fewer cylinders. But even mockery from old-school hot-rod drivers hasn’t fazed this new generation.

Many Prius “pimpers” have followed the lead of comedian Tommy Chong. He turned his hybrid into a black lowrider, with its body lowered to the ground, and added red and gray detailing and tinted windows in 2006. Mr. Chong, 75, who came to fame as half of the Cheech & Chong comedy duo, installed hydraulics to lift the car up and down, blacked out the taillights, and added a loud exhaust.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I am wary of “green” cars. It’s not because I don’t believe in their function, but because the barrage of green-energy initiative failures has left a bad taste in my mouth. But, that being said, I admit that, even as a “green vehicle skeptic,” I enjoyed this article. It proved me wrong regarding some aspects of car culture — and I’m okay with that.

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When Two Publishing Giants Merge They Become Even More Incompetent

Thursday, August 8th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Amy Fleischer's redesign of the logo for Penguin's 75th anniversary and their reissue of Frankenstein

Look out, they’ve created a monster!

They apparently start/continue committing Acts of Random Penguin.

I thought I was inured to the craziness that is traditional publishing. Until I found this:

Penguin’s insane policy on electronic galleys for authors.

What kind of organization would make authors pay for electronic images of their own covers? After all, this is an image that can ONLY be used to promote your book. But Penguin Random House wants to charge $300 for that image. They wish to be compensated for their design work, they say. Apparently getting around 94% of the take on a paperback is not enough.

Then there is the insanity – which has been going on for a long time – that they wish you to pay for a PDF of the electronic copy of their book. These are often demanded by foreign agents, but the house wants you to pay hundreds of dollars (and in my time with them, it was thousands) for it, thereby impeding foreign sales.

On top of all, Penguin also refuses to send free electronic reading copies to reviewers and other promoters.

Perhaps it is the old way of doing things. Or perhaps it is that they can’t stand to let go of control over promotion, even though they’ve actually stopped promoting most authors.

Or perhaps they’ve forgotten that they – not the author – get the lion’s share of the profit?

When Penguin and Random House, two of the largest publishing houses in New York City, merged, most people were hesitant what to think. Some of my colleagues talked of how the bigger organization allowed for cuts in staffing and publicity could be consolidated and…

And I remembered working for both houses. One of these houses is the one that sent me on a book tour for the Magical Shakespeare Trilogy a year after the last book had come out – which for traditional publishing purposes meant it was useless, since stores weren’t going to restock books they’d already sent back – without any promotional materials, over my birthday, with two weeks notice and… wait for it… when another of their departments had already taken the books out of print.

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Pioneer Elite SC-75 Home Theater Receiver Review

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll


I distinctly remember two mile markers on the road to my obsession with home theater. The first was a 1987 article in Billboard magazine exploring the continuing popularity, against all odds, of the 12-inch laser disc format with movie collectors. The article mentioned an obscure California firm called “The Criterion Collection” that was selling Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey in something called a “letterboxed” format, which would allow seeing the entire frame of those magnificently photographed widescreen movies on a home television set, instead of the “panned and scanned” version, which cut off the sides of the frame. It also mentioned the superiority of the laser disc format compared to fuzzy VHS tapes, and that laser disc allowed for such ancillary items as directors’ commentaries on auxiliary audio channels, behind the scenes still photos, trailers, deleted scenes, and other fun pieces of memorabilia.

This sounded pretty darn awesome. Shortly thereafter, I purchased my first laser disc player, the predecessor to the DVD, which wouldn’t arrive in stores for another decade. At its best, the picture and sound quality of laser discs blew VHS away, and I was quickly hooked. Particularly when I stumbled over a nearby video store that rented laser discs.

The second mile maker arrived two years later. That’s when I walked out of the B. Dalton Bookstore in New Jersey’s Burlington Mall holding a copy of the second issue of Audio/Video Interiors, the magazine that put the words “home theater” on the map. It was essentially Architectural Digest meets Stereo Review, with photo layout after photo layout filled with sophisticated audio and video components beautifully photographed in stunning home settings, including some of the first dedicated home theaters that were designed to look like the classic movie palaces of the 1930s, such as Theo Kalomirakis’ Roxy Theater, a knockout design built in the basement of his Brooklyn Brownstone. (Kalomirakis would go on to make a living as a home theater designer, producing works for extremely well-heeled clients that make his initial Roxy look positively modest by comparison.)

I gravitated more to the media rooms the magazine featured than the dedicated home theaters. Media rooms were rooms designed for a variety of media consumption — music, TV, movies, concert videos, with the electronics tastefully combined into some of sort attractive cabinetry or hidden into the wall. Maybe because my father had a custom built-in unit installed in his basement in 1969 to house his stereo equipment and a small portion of his enormous (3000+) collection of jazz and big band records. Adding video and surround sound to that concept seemed like a natural to me.

I’ve kept most of the issues from Audio/Video Interiors’ initial run; I was immensely proud to have written a few articles for the magazine in the late 1990s. In retrospect, it’s fun to look back at the first issues of AVI, and realize how much technology has progressed since then. HD video replaced “Never Twice the Same Color” low-def analog TV. VHS is all but extinct. Dolby Pro-Logic, the first consumer surround sound format has been upgraded to first Dolby 5.1 and now Dolby 7.1 and beyond. CDs have been rendered increasingly anathema, particularly for casual listening, by MP3s. The laser disc was replaced 15 years ago by the DVD, which has now been supplanted by Blu-Ray, and increasingly, by streaming high-definition movies, such as those offered by Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Welcome to 2013

Apologies for burying the lede, but this brings us to one of Pioneer’s newest A/V receivers, the Pioneer Elite SC-75. The first Pioneer receiver I owned was the classic Pioneer VSX-D1S of 1990, one of the first receivers designed with what we now call home theater in mind, with as much emphasis on controlling video components as the CD player, the tape deck and the record player. Since then, Pioneer has been upgrading the electronics of their units to keep pace with changing world of home theater technology. I purchased the SC-75 to replace my Pioneer Elite VSX-72TXV, which was built in 2006. With six years passed, and the proliferation of streaming video set-top boxes such as the Roku (which we reviewed last year), the addition of LAN and wireless networking technology to many Blu-Ray players, the popularization of Androids and iPods/iPads as music and video devices, and the standardization of the HDMI format to connect video components, the SC-75 is a very different beast compared to the previous generation of Pioneer Elite receivers.

The differences aren’t immediately apparent at first glance; the only thing that initially sets the unit apart from its predecessors is its brushed metal finish, instead of the smooth piano black styling of older Pioneer Elite models (Pioneer has apparently also permanently retired the beautiful rosewood-veneered side panels of the first generation of Elite models, which is a pity; on the other hand, perhaps they simply don’t want to be raided by the lumber fascists, ala Gibson.)

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