Saturday, July 31, 2010

Digital culture timeline: Major events in the transition to pure digital media

The other day I wrote about mourning the loss of cultural businesses – those selling music, movies, books and video games.
Here’s a timeline of major events in the transition of entertainment from a retail business to an online activity.

Music

October 1982: First music album on Compact Disc (CD) released.

June 1999: Online music file-sharing service Napster launched.

July 2001: Napster shut down by court order for copyright violations.

October 2001: Apple debuts the iPod portable music player.

April 2003: Apple opens the iTunes store for legal music downloads.

December 2006: Last Tower Records store in U.S. closes after bankruptcy liquidation. At its peak, the chain had nearly 200 stores in 21 states.

March 2009: Virgin Megastores announces plan to close all of its U.S. record stores.

News articles:

The Graying of the Record Store (New York Times; July 16, 2006)

A Broken Record Store: Industry Icon Tower Is Bankrupt and on the Block (Washington Post; Aug. 23, 2006)

For Tower Records, End of Disc (Washington Post; Dec. 11, 2006)

Record stores closing in U.S. at record rates (Associated Press; March 30, 2008)

Retailing Era Closes With Music Megastore (New York Times; June 14, 2009)

Rough Trade and the future of the record store (Wired; May 27, 2010)

‘I Need That Record!’ Film Explores Plight of Indie Record Stores (AOL; July 27, 2010)

Movies

October 1977: VHS videocassette tapes introduced. VHS became the dominant home video format in the mid-1980s after a protracted format war with Betamax.

October 1985: Movie rental chain Blockbuster opens its first store, located in Dallas.

March 1997: DVD optical disc format introduced to U.S. market. It would become the most popular movie rental format in June 2003, surpassing VHS tapes.

December 1999: Netflix debuts its subscription DVD-by-mail service. The company now has 15 million subscribers nationwide.

May 2004: Redbox installs its first 12 machines, at McDonald’s restaurants in Denver, after two years of testing. Redbox now has 23,000 kiosk locations nationwide. It rents movies for $1 a night.

January 2007: Netflix debuts its online streaming video service, but only to PCs initially. It started streaming to TVs, first with the Roku set-top box, in May 2008.

March 2008: Online streaming video service Hulu is launched. Hulu is owned by the parent companies of ABC, NBC and Fox.

May 2010: Video rental store chain Movie Gallery announces that it will close all of its stores. At its peak, the chain had 4,700 stores in North America.

News articles:

Video rental stores fading to black (The Boston Globe; Feb. 23, 2010)

Hollywood Video Closes Doors (Wall Street Journal; May 3, 2010)

It’s A Wrap: Movie Gallery To Close All U.S. Locations (PaidContent.org; May 4, 2010)

A Timeline: The Blockbuster Life Cycle (Forbes.com; May 18, 2010)

Analyst: Blockbuster’s Last Gasp to Occur in 2011 (Gizmodo; July 11, 2010)

Blockbuster Hangs On For Dear Life (TheStreet.com; July 29, 2010)

Video games

1978: Space Invaders arcade game debuts, ushering in the start of the golden age of arcade video games. It’s soon followed by Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Kong and others.

1985: Nintendo’s NES console along with breakout hit game “Super Mario Bros.” fuels the home video game market.

1995: Software retailer Babbage’s begins a series of mergers and acquisitions that lead to the creation of GameStop, the largest specialty retailer of video game software. Its acquisitions include Software Etc. (1995), Funcoland (2000) and Electronics Boutique (2005).

2002: Microsoft launches its Xbox Live service for online multiplayer gaming. An updated version of the service for the Xbox 360 console, launched in November 2005, added game and video downloads.

News articles:

As Blockbuster Falls, Is GameStop Also Doomed? (Seeking Alpha; March 18, 2010)

New GameStop CEO’s Half-Baked Plan to Avoid Blockbuster’s Fate (BNet; July 22, 2010)

GameStop Is Bulking Up to Battle New Rivals (Bloomberg BusinessWeek; July 22, 2010)

A Game-Changer for GameStop? (The Motley Fool: July 30, 2010)

Books

November 2007: Amazon.com debuts its Kindle e-book reader. The first-generation product cost $399.

April 2010: Apple starts selling its iPad media tablet. The entry level model costs $499.

July 2010: Amazon.com unveils its third-generation Kindle, which starts at $139.

News articles:

Borders Seeks e-Book Strategy (Seeking Alpha; May 9, 2010)

Barnes & Noble Planning Big Push to Increase Nook Sales (New York Times; July 29, 2010)

Kindle to Go 'Mass Market' (Wall Street Journal; July 28, 2010)

Photos (from top): Gerosa Records in Brookfield, Conn.; Blockbuster Video store; Space Invaders arcade game and screenshot; and Amazon.com’s third-generation Kindle e-book reader.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Digital culture means less public culture

When I was a young adult in the late 1970s and early 1980s, my friends and I would hang out in video game arcades, record stores and video rental stores. Now those types of businesses are gone or disappearing.
Cultural businesses – those selling art and entertainment like music, books, movies and video games – are rapidly going digital and moving online and into people’s homes.
Those cultural pursuits are moving from physical stores to personal computers and mobile devices. As such, the experience of learning about new music, books and movies and sharing enthusiasm for those works is shifting from a community setting to a solitary one.
Sure, there are websites for sharing opinions about music and other art, but I’d argue something’s been lost as a culture by not having a physical gathering spot for those interests.

Music stores

I remember the enjoyment I got from flipping through racks of vinyl LP records, looking for new music. I could get recommendations from record store clerks based on music I already liked or learn about new music from what the stores played.
I liked the whole feel of those record stores with rock posters covering the walls. They often had boards listing upcoming album release dates and concert tour info. Some stores even sold concert tickets.
Later, LP records with their 12-inch sleeves and beautiful artwork gave way to compact discs. And then the Internet made music stores obsolete, first with illegal free file-sharing services like the original Napster, then with legal paid download services like Apple’s iTunes.
Large chains, like Virgin Music stores, and independents folded because of lost business.
Yes, the selection of music available online today and the ability to sample songs, research artists and find out about tour dates are impressive. But I think the music industry suffers from the lack of a physical presence in communities.
By itself, the loss of music stores is sad. But combined with the loss of other types of entertainment stores, it's devastating to our culture.

Video game stores

Video games got their start in arcades. I spent a lot of quarters on games like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert and Dig Dug.
But as technology prices came down and processing power increased, public arcades gave way to private in-home gaming systems from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.
The arcades ultimately went away and stores selling video game hardware and software popped up.
Now with digital downloads, the need for specialty retail stores to sell gaming software and other products has diminished. GameStop, the retail video game giant, now looks vulnerable and is investing in its own online games.
GameStop has been the center of the gaming world for a lot of young people. They go to the store to check out new titles, trade in their old games, and talk to the salespeople about games. But as with music, that conversation also is moving online.

Movie rental stores

When video rental stores like Blockbuster cropped up in the 1980s, it was a boon for movie lovers. Instead of waiting for a movie to air on TV or for it to play at a revival theater, you could just rent it and watch it at home.
VHS cassettes gave way to DVDs, which allowed competitors with new business models such as Netflix (DVDs by mail) and Redbox (DVD vending machines) to enter the market. Those two companies helped drive traditional video rental stores like Hollywood Video out of business. Now Blockbuster is bleeding red ink and soon may join them.
The growing popularity of online video streaming from Netflix and others is likely the final nail in the coffin of video rental stores.
Once again, the loss of video rental stores will take an entertainment art form from a public destination to a strictly private setting.

Bookstores

Bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders became destinations when they started adding coffee shops and cafes for customers.
But with the growing popularity of e-book readers like Amazon.com’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad, you have to wonder how much time bookstores have left. It’s hard to compete against a limitless virtual inventory of e-books.
Plus, you don’t have to drive to the store to look for a book or hope it’s in stock. With 3G enabled Kindles and iPads, you can download a book to your portable device almost anywhere and start reading it in seconds.
Amazon recently announced that it’s selling more digital books than physical books now.

So once bookstores, music stores, video rental stores and video game stores are gone, where will people, especially young adults, go for culture?
I don’t know. Hopefully new entertainment and cultural businesses will rise up and fill the gap.

This is the latest in a series of articles called “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”

Photo: Taosound record store in Taos, New Mexico.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The least-talented major movie directors working today

Some movie directors working for Hollywood studios have lousy batting averages for making quality movies. Yet they still get work, probably because their movies make money anyway.
Other times their movies are just OK or their directing skills so unremarkable that it would be better if the studios gave someone else a chance behind the camera.
Occasionally one of their films turns out to be good or even very good. Often it’s saved by the actors or a great script.
The other day I wrote about once-respected movie directors who have lost their creative mojo. I put together a list of talented movie directors who have fallen into a slump and are now consistently making bad movies. Their earlier movies had originality, style and energy. But their latest films are bland and dumb.
This new list includes directors who are not so much terrible as they are just ordinary or overrated. As such, they continue to be put in charge of big-budget movies that attract marquee actors. (This is not a list of obvious hacks like Uwe Boll.)

1.
Nora Ephron

Batting average according to Rotten Tomatoes: .375
(3 films “certified fresh” and 5 films “rotten”)

I’d argue her batting average should be lower because many critics inexplicably gave thumbs up to dreck like “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998).
Her last movie, “Julie & Julia” (2009) was her best reviewed, scoring 75% positive notices.
Career lows include “Mixed Nuts” (1994), “Lucky Numbers” (2000) and “Bewitched” (2005).

2.
Joel Schumacher

Batting average according to Rotten Tomatoes: .333
(6 films “certified fresh” and 12 films “rotten”)

Schumacher is best known for killing the Batman movie franchise with “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Batman & Robin” (1997). He made Batman movies in the corny style of the old TV show and bizarrely added nipples to the superheroes’ armored suits.
He also ruined the big-screen transfer of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit Broadway musical “The Phantom of the Opera” (2004).
Schumacher is capable of making a good movie occasionally – such as “The Lost Boys” (1987) and “Falling Down” (1993). But he’s had way more strikeouts than hits.
Some of his other career lows include “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” (1981), a rare 0% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes; “8MM” (1999); “Bad Company” (2002); and “The Number 23” (2007).

3.
Michael Bay

Batting average according to Rotten Tomatoes: .143
(1 film “certified fresh” and 6 films “rotten”)

As a director, Bay is more interested in staging big, noisy action sequences than telling a cohesive story. He’s much better with machines and special effects than with actors and dialogue.
I don’t have a problem with him making big summer blockbusters. I enjoyed “The Rock” (1996) and “Transformers” (2007), dumb as those flicks were. But some of his movies are so unintentionally hilarious that they could be future episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – such as “Armageddon” (1998) and “Pearl Harbor” (2001).

4.
Tony Scott

Batting average according to Rotten Tomatoes: .214
(3 films “certified fresh” and 11 films “rotten”)

Like Michael Bay, Tony Scott is more interested in style over substance. And when I say style, I should say STYLE, because his technique is so exaggerated.
As with Bay, sometimes his films are good in spite of his tendencies. “Crimson Tide” (1995) and “Enemy of the State” (1998) are career highlights.
His accidental comedies with Tom Cruise – “Top Gun” (1986) and “Days of Thunder” (1990) – were lowlights.

5.
Chris Columbus

Batting average according to Rotten Tomatoes: .357
(4 films “certified fresh” and 9 films “rotten”)

Once again, I’d say his batting average should be lower because too many critics liked “Adventures in Babysitting” (1987) and “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), which I thought were terrible.
There are worse directors out there than Columbus, but his skills are decidedly pedestrian. He seems to have a paint-by-numbers approach to filmmaking.
He appears only to go after movies he thinks will be hits with the general public. The result is often lowest-common-denominator fare, but it keeps him employed.
He was lucky enough to direct the first two Harry Potter films, the weakest in the series. It could be argued that those stories were so good that they could have directed themselves.
His attempt to turn hit musical “Rent” into a movie showed that he can mess up can’t-miss material too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Déjà vu. Another big storm, another power outage in Fairfield County, Conn.

Two major power outages in four months. Does God hate Connecticut?
My electricity went out at the worst possible moment Wednesday evening. I had just finished writing a news article on deadline and was getting ready to send it to my editor. Then – pop! My PC and the lights in my office went out. Twice the power kicked back on, but only for a second or two, in the next few minutes.
Fortunately I saved a version of the story I was working on by sending it to my Gmail account while the thunderstorm was raging. Sort of a poor man’s online backup. (I could access it from my iPhone.) But I had worked another 20 minutes or so on it without backing it up again.
The experience only convinced me more that I need a notebook computer as my primary work computer. A desktop computer is completely worthless in a power outage unless you have a portable generator. A notebook PC has its own power. I wouldn’t have lost that extra work after the electricity shut off. I could have continued working on my story and sent it in.
Lesson learned. The hard way.
As of 11:05 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 18% of New Canaan, Conn., was without power. That’s five hours after the electricity went out. Some 1,500 homes were without power.
At its peak, 50,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers were without electricity.

Graphic: Power outage map from Connecticut Light & Power showing homes and businesses affected by Wednesday’s storm as of 10:05 p.m.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 once-respected movie directors who’ve lost their creative mojo

Sometimes a well-regarded movie director’s streak of good films comes to a screeching halt.
Like a pro athlete who falls into a slump, some movie directors start failing and it begins to affect their thinking. They start worrying about their performance instead of doing what comes naturally and having fun. They second guess themselves, get cautious, or try to make a hit movie instead of something that interests them personally.
Then they make one bad movie after another until they’re pushed aside by new directors with fresh ideas.
Some directors who make bad movies continue to get work if those films are box-office successes. While they might make the studio executives happy, they get no respect from film critics and cinephiles.
Here’s a list of five once-hot movie directors who’ve lost their creative mojo:

1.
M. Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan was red hot after making three critically acclaimed movies in a row – “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Signs” (2002). Then his ego got the best of him and he thought he could do no wrong.
He has cranked out four big-budget turkeys in a row, each worse than the last. His latest, “The Last Airbender” (2010) got only 8% positive reviews, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Maybe he can start to turn things around with “Devil,” a horror thriller for which he provided the story and is producing, but not directing. It’s set for release on Sept. 17. (See poster above.)

2.
Cameron Crowe

I loved the first three movies Crowe directed – “Say Anything” (1989), “Singles” (1992) and “Jerry Maguire” (1996). But then his cinematic sensibilities went out the window.
I did not like “Almost Famous” (2000), though some critics did. Then he did “Vanilla Sky” (2001) and “Elizabethtown” (2005), which were universally panned.
Next up is an untitled Pearl Jam documentary, scheduled to come out next year, according to the Internet Movie Database.
Hopefully that will provide a step toward a comeback.

3.
John Carpenter

Carpenter was my favorite director at one time.
He made fun, original genre pictures – science fiction, horror and action movies. He seemed to fare best with low-budget movies.
Carpenter had an amazing streak of 11 good to great movies: “Dark Star” (1974), “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976), “Halloween” (1978), “The Fog” (1980), “Escape from New York” (1981), “The Thing” (1982), “Christine” (1983), “Starman” (1984), “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986), “Prince of Darkness” (1987) and “They Live” (1988).
Then the magic ended.
He’s turned out one clunker after another since then.
Maybe he can get his spark back with “The Ward,” a horror movie due out Sept. 24. Fingers crossed.

4.
John McTiernan

As an action director, McTiernan was a force to be reckoned with in the late 1980s.
His string of good movies included “Nomads” (1986), “Predator” (1987), “Die Hard” (1988) and “The Hunt for Red October” (1990).
After that, he couldn’t put together back-to-back successes, either critically or financially. I happened to like “Last Action Hero” (1993) and “The 13th Warrior” (1999), but I’m in the minority.
His most recent movies “Rollerball” (2002) and “Basic” (2003) earned just 4% and 21% positive reviews, respectively, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
McTiernan’s personal life lately has been more interesting than his movies. He’s facing criminal charges in the Anthony Pellicano wiretapping scandal.

5.
Rob Reiner

Reiner was once a highly regarded director. His first seven films gave him an enviable track record – “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984), “The Sure Thing” (1985), “Stand by Me” (1986), “The Princess Bride” (1987), “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), “Misery” (1990) and “A Few Good Men” (1992).
The first chink in his armor was “North” (1994), which was panned by critics. (It mustered only 11% positive notices, according to Rotten Tomatoes.)
He was back to form with “The American President” (1995). But that was his last good movie.
His next five theatrical movies were stinkers. His most recent flicks were “Alex & Emma” (2003), “Rumor Has It” (2005) and “The Bucket List” (2007). They garnered 10%, 21% and 41% positive reviews, respectively, RT reports.
Well, at least, he’s moving in the right direction.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cablevision claims Jennifer Love Hewitt worked as a prostitute

A new documentary details how actress Jennifer Love Hewitt worked as a prostitute, according to Cablevision.
That’s right – the star of “Party of Five” and “Ghost Whisperer” had sex with men for money, according to the cable TV company. The 31-year-old beauty worked in a massage parlor where prostitution was rampant, the company reports.
I know this because Cablevision’s online guide says a movie starring Hewitt as a prostitute is a “documentary.” (See screenshot below.) The movie, “The Client List,” airs tonight on the Lifetime channel.
Cablevision couldn’t be wrong. Could they?
Maybe I shouldn’t trust everything I read online.

Photo of Jennifer Love Hewitt from The Superficial.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The 10 most interesting movie directors working today

It’s fun to watch the work of a movie director at the top of his or her game.
Such is the case with Christopher Nolan, whose latest movie “Inception” opened this weekend. “Inception,” which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, has scored 84% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
For my money, Nolan hasn’t made a bad movie yet. He has an unbroken string of seven worthwhile films. I’ve been a big fan since “Memento” (2000) and “Insomnia” (2002).
Here’s a list of 10 movie directors whose work I admire and who have a great batting average lately for films worth watching.
For this list, I’m going to skip most of the best known directors, whose work is universally regarded as top notch. They include Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Joel and Ethan Coen, Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Jackson and James Cameron.
Instead I’m going to choose a few of the hottest new directors as well as a few genre (action, horror, comedy, etc.) directors who don’t get enough credit for consistently high-quality work.

1.
Christopher Nolan
Following (1998)
Memento (2000)
Insomnia (2002)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Prestige (2006)
The Dark Knight (2008)
Inception (2010)

2.
David Fincher
Seven (1995)
The Game (1997)
Fight Club (1999)
Panic Room (2002)
Zodiak (2007)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
The Social Network (2010)

3.
Jason Reitman
Thank You for Smoking (2005)
Juno (2007)
Up in the Air (2009)

4.
Danny Boyle
Trainspotting (1996)
28 Days Later (2002)
Millions (2004)
Sunshine (2007)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

5.
Michael Winterbottom
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
The Claim (2000)
24 Hour Party People (2002)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
A Mighty Heart (2007)
The Killer Inside Me (2010)

6.
Guillermo del Toro
Cronos (1993)
Mimic (1997)
The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
Blade II (2002)
Hellboy (2004)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

7.
David Twohy
The Arrival (1996)
Pitch Black (2000)
Below (2002)
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
A Perfect Getaway (2009)

8.
Neil Marshall
Dog Soldiers (2002)
The Descent (2006)
Doomsday (2008)
Centurion (2010)

9.
Steven Soderbergh
Out of Sight (1998)
The Limey (1999)
Traffic (2000)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
Ocean’s Twelve (2004)
Bubble (2005)
The Good German (2006)
Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)
Che (2008)
The Girlfriend Experience (2009)
The Informant! (2009)

10.
Mike Judge
Office Space (1999)
Idiocracy (2006)
Extract (2009)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beware of erroneous information on the web


With newspaper and magazine articles, most readers trust the companies behind them to put out truthful reports. After all, these publications employ professional writers and editors, and often fact-checkers.
With the World Wide Web, it’s a different story entirely. Citizen journalists, amateur bloggers, people and groups with political and social agendas, and even pranksters are out there writing articles along with professional journalism organizations. With all those new voices, a lot of misinformation is getting spread.
Wikipedia is an amazing resource, but educators and news organizations have learned the hard way that its model of an encyclopedia anyone can edit is flawed. Errors, sometimes malicious, are introduced and don’t get caught fast enough to stop them from being disseminated.
Check out PC World’s article on “The 15 Biggest Wikipedia Blunders,” published in August 2009. Also, read “PSA: Don’t believe everything you read on the Web” from Yahoo News, posted June 30.
At its best, Wikipedia is a great first stop for people researching a topic. Hopefully they can find links to other resources through Wikipedia that verify the information it presents.
Modern urban legends and erroneous political propaganda are often spread virally through forwarded e-mails. A visit to Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com and TruthOrFiction.com often can determine the veracity of such a report. But many people forward an inflammatory or shocking e-mail without doing such a check.
A public relations person a year or so back e-mailed me a pitch that referenced a speech that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates supposedly had given called “Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.” A quick check of Snopes.com revealed that Gates had never given the speech attributed to him. The erroneous report has been circulating on the Internet for years.
The surging popularity of Twitter and Facebook have brought countless examples of fake stories and rumors passed off as news. Both allow people to post quick updates and discuss current events in real-time online.
Britain’s Daily Mail was fooled by a fake Steve Jobs Twitter account last month. It wrote a story based on a tweet by “ceoSteveJobs” that Apple was going to recall the iPhone 4. Jobs doesn’t have a Twitter account.
Erroneous tweets also led to news reports in March that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was retiring. (See the Los Angeles Times account of the incident.)
Twitter is a favorite medium for people to spread celebrity death rumors. Kanye West is one example of a celebrity reported to be dead on Twitter when he is still alive and rapping.

This is the latest in a series of articles called “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Magazine covers: A dying art form

The Failed Promise of Digital Content, Part 13

Magazine covers are a dying art form.
With bold photos, graphics and headlines, magazine covers can provoke, inspire and charm. They’re designed to grab your attention and get you to buy the magazine. Editors sweat every detail of their magazine covers to gain maximum impact on the newsstand.
But with the inevitable transition to digital media, our culture will lose the magazine cover as a medium to entertain and inform.
Electronic versions of magazines won’t have the same impact. They’re not a physical product so they can’t be collected or framed. They also can’t be placed on newsstands nationwide to promote their subjects and articles.
People don’t appreciate a well-designed website like they do a great magazine cover.
Magazine covers today can become news stories themselves when they feature exclusive photos of a celebrity couple, wedding or baby; or when Time magazine crowns someone its Person of the Year; or when Sports Illustrated chooses the cover model for its swimsuit edition.
Business executives and politicians still covet getting on the glossy cover of a national news magazine. Magazine covers have value and a certain permanence that constantly changing websites can never have.
To illustrate the significance of magazine covers on our culture, I’ve compiled some recent articles from around the web.

Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston shared the news that they were engaged Wednesday by appearing on the cover of Us Weekly. (See Huffington Post article.)

Media types were buzzing this week about the fact that basketball star LeBron James had bumped actor Ryan Reynolds off the September cover of GQ. (See Styleite.)

Magazines like Entertainment Weekly promote certain issues with multiple covers and try to get fans to collect them all. (The hoped-for result: More sales.) They did this recently with the series finale of the TV show “Lost.” EW created 10 different “Lost” covers for that issue. (See EW.)

Time magazine has an online store where people can buy framed copies of its magazine covers. (See Time Cover Store.)

The covers of business magazine Fortune are celebrated on the Facebook fan page Vintage Fortune Magazine. (Feb. 23, 2014 update: This page is no longer available.)

Web Designer Depot posted a list of the most controversial magazine covers on Sept. 22, 2009. (See Web Designer Depot.)

Oddee ran its own list of the 12 most controversial magazine covers. The article, posted April 15, included covers from Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Life and the New Yorker. (See Oddee.)

Others have posted galleries of magazine covers online. They include vintage Playboy covers (Hannah Couture), Playboy covers from around the world (PBcovers.com), Steve Jobs on magazine covers (Kuo Design), the Nation Magazine Cover Archive, and a Flickr page devoted to vintage magazines such as Look, Creem, Mad and more.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I have zero friends … on Facebook, that is

I get a kick out of having zero friends on Facebook.
I like the way my profile on the social networking website says “0 friends.” I think that’s funny in this age of people “friending” everyone from family members to total strangers.
Admittedly I was late to the Facebook party and only use my account as a placeholder. I keep very little personal information on the site. My profile photo is a Simpsons cartoon of me.
I’ve never promoted the fact that I have a Facebook account.
My only activity is to “like” my favorite websites like GeekTyrant and The Superficial.
I currently have 19 requests from people wanting to be my friend. Only two are actually my friends.
I have no intention of friending any of them. Because I like having “0 friends” way too much.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dutch porn star spared from having to fulfill World Cup pledge

One person likely relieved that the Netherlands lost the 2010 World Cup to Spain on Sunday was Dutch porn star Bobbi Eden.
She had promised to give oral sex to all of her Twitter followers if the Netherlands won the soccer tournament.
On June 28, Eden wrote on Twitter: “BJ for all my followers if Holland wins the World Cup.” At the time she had about 4,800 followers on Twitter, according to Twitter Counter.
By game time Sunday, she had about 110,000 followers. That’s when she tweeted, “Alright guys!! It’s game time!!! Let’s see if we can take the cup and give out some blow jobs!!!!!!!!! Good luck #ned.”
Sex sells and media coverage from the Huffington Post, Yahoo and others certainly boosted her profile.
Of course, Eden was never actually going to give oral sex to her followers. She may have just posted some photos. Or, as one commenter noted, she could have just e-mailed a note to her followers that read simply “BJ” or the words “blow job” and been covered.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Before they were stars: Elisha Cuthbert and Jay Baruchel


I watched a video with my kids the other day starring Elisha Cuthbert (“The Girl Next Door”) and Jay Baruchel (“Knocked Up” and “She’s Out of Your League”). And, no, it wasn’t some R-rated sex comedy like those two stars have done.
They were hosts of “Popular Mechanics for Kids” many years ago. Baruchel, now 28, worked on the show in 1997 and 1998, according to the Internet Movie Database. Cuthbert, 27, worked on the program from 1997-2000.
In the episode I watched from “Popular Mechanics for Kids,” both Baruchel and Cuthbert were already pros. They were charming, funny and charismatic. You could tell they had star quality at a young age. They were probably 14 or 15 when the show was shot.
They appear together in the episode “Aquariums” on the “Popular Mechanics for Kids” DVD called “Super Sea Creatures and Awesome Ocean Adventures.” Both use their real names on the show.
Baruchel donned scuba gear for a pool scene and a hardhat for a scene at the construction site for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., which opened in 1998. And Cuthbert brushed a seal lion’s teeth and took a snot sample from the beast.
All actors have to start somewhere.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Time for ‘BattleBots’ to return to TV

It’s been nearly eight years since the robot-fighting show “BattleBots” has aired. And I think it’s overdue for a return to TV.
Unfortunately the BattleBots rights holders can’t seem to reach an agreement with a TV network to air its competitions.
In BattleBots tournaments, teams operate remote-controlled, armored machines that try to disable or dominate their robot opponents. A show based on the tournaments aired on Comedy Central from August 2000 to November 2002, according to Wikipedia.
I’d like to see “BattleBots” return to TV. The competitions are fun and the show could interest kids in careers in engineering and technology, including robotics.
In recent years, BattleBots officials have announced deals with ESPN and CBS College Sports Network, only to see them fall through. In December 2009, BattleBots said it had a deal with Fox Television Studios, but no word since then.
I pinged the BattleBots folks on Twitter recently with the tweet “Hey, @battlebots. Is BattleBots ever going to return to TV?”
A representative responded Monday “We’re out there trying.”
I wish them luck.

Update: “BattleBots” returned on June 21, 2015, for a six-episode sixth season on ABC.

Photo: Combat robots in action from BattleBots Facebook page.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Old 3-D movies from 1950s will provide welcome content for today’s 3-D TVs

Television manufacturers and retailers are pushing 3-D TV, but there isn’t much content for it yet.
ESPN launched a 3-D TV channel on June 11 to broadcast World Cup soccer and future sporting events in 3-D. DirecTV today started broadcasting three new 3-D channels to its subscribers.
Hollywood has released a handful of movies on 3-D Blu-ray Disc, including “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” But that’s about it so far.
The current 3-D craze only really got started with the theatrical release in December of James Cameron’s science-fiction epic “Avatar.” It was produced natively in 3-D. Other recent movies like “Clash of the Titans” and “The Last Airbender” were shot in 2-D but converted to 3-D.
Most of the catalog titles available for release on 3-D Blu-ray Disc are recent animated features, some concert movies and extreme sports films. Major 3-D movies before 2009 were infrequent, with an occasional computer-animated feature amid shorter films for Imax theaters and amusement parks.
But the cupboard is really bare before “The Polar Express” (2004), according to the Illustrated 3-D Movie List and the 3D Movies Database.
You have to go back to the early 1980s for more Hollywood 3-D movies. But these flicks are mostly cheesy horror movies like “Amityville 3-D” (1983), “Jaws 3-D” (1983) and “Friday the 13th Part 3” (1982).
In the 1970s, 3-D was reserved for cheap skin flicks like “Capitol Hill Girls” (1977), “Disco Dolls in Hot Skin” (1977) and “The Playmates” (1973).
To get older Hollywood-grade 3-D feature films, you have to reach back into the vault to the mid-1950s. That was the first golden age of 3-D movies. That’s when we got “Bwana Devil” (1952), “House of Wax” (1953), “Hondo” (1953) starring John Wayne, “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder” (1954) and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954).
But can those half-century old 3-D movies work with today’s 3-D TV sets?
I didn’t know. So I asked some experts.

Clearing up misconceptions of 1950s 3-D movies

I figured older movies were produced in a different method from today’s 3-D movies. I remember the cheap paper glasses with colored lenses (usually red and cyan) from 1980s anaglyph 3-D movies. The experience was headache-inducing and created muddy colors on screen. I figured that was the old technology and polarized lenses were today’s technology.
Turns out I was wrong.
“There is a very common misconception that all of the old 3-D movies were anaglyph – even the big names like DreamWorks and Nintendo are responsible for spreading this erroneous information,” said Andrew Woods, a 3-D expert who manages the Illustrated 3-D Movie List. “About 99% of the movies in the 1950s boom period were filmed dual channel and exhibited polarized.”
In an e-mail interview, Woods pointed me to an article on the “Top 3-D Myths” by the 3-D Film Preservation Fund.
Woods says the old 3-D movies can be converted relatively easily to new formats for digital exhibition.
“I’ve seen a clip of ‘Kiss Me Kate’ (1953), which was restored this way and it looked wonderful,” he said. “I understand ‘Hondo’ (1953) has also been restored to digital 3-D for limited cinema exhibition.”
Still, a lot of work often needs to be done to restore an old 3-D movie, including rectification of the 3-D image to remove misalignment and color differences between left and right eye, but this can be an automated process, said Woods, a research engineer at Curtin University of Technology in Australia.
If movies like “Dial M for Murder” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were digitally refreshed and restored, “the viewing experience would be significantly better than their analog presentation,” Woods said.
I posted the same questions I put to Woods on the Today3D Forum. And I received similar answers.
“Have no doubt, all the classics from the ’50s will be available for modern 3-D TV,” wrote 3D Master. “The studios are just waiting for the right timing (more 3-D TVs in the market).”

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