Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rihanna thrills crowd at Washington, D.C., concert

Pop music sensation Rihanna brought her Diamonds World Tour to Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., on Monday and delivered the goods you’d expect from one of the most prominent music artists of her generation.
Reviewers, including the Washington Post, have noted that Rihanna, 25, can seem aloof or bored in live performances. She looks like she’s just going through the motions during certain dance segments or at times singing only half the lyrics and letting background singers or backing tracks pick up the rest.
I’ve come to accept that as her style. A native of Barbados, she’s got that laid-back, island-time manner. What’s undeniable about Rihanna is her charisma, beauty, sex appeal, fashion sense and vocal chops. She’s got the whole package.
She’s a great performer, even when she’s not trying very hard. That seemed to be the case early in the show Monday night, when she marched through some of her newer, lesser known material. But she cranked up the energy later in her 90-minute performance.
Highlights of the show for me included Rihanna performing “You Da One,” “Man Down,” “All of the Lights,” “We Found Love,” “Stay” and “Diamonds.” (See the set list at Setlist.fm.)
You also can check out photos of the show at Rihanna Daily (see above sample) and Voz de America.
I’m glad I got to see Rihanna at this point in her career, with her extensive catalog of hit songs. She’s definitely in her prime now. (See Wikipedia entry on her Diamonds World Tour, which runs for eight months through mid-November.)
However, I feel sorry for parents who let their teenage daughters go to the show (including President Barack Obama), because they had to sit through opening act ASAP Rocky. The farthest thing from a role model, Rocky rapped about the stereotypical thug life.
“Pussy, money, weed. That’s all a nigga need,” he rapped. Very inspiring.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

I was wrong about Twitter

I signed up for the microblogging service Twitter four years ago.
On April 22, 2009, I tweeted, “Signing up with Twitter to see what all the fuss is about.”
I couldn’t understand why so many people were raving about Twitter.
Of course, in those days, Twitter was a lot more superficial than it is now. Back then, it was more a platform for people to reveal the everyday aspects of their life, letting people know where they are and what they’re doing.
That’s still a big part of Twitter, but the service has become more of a mainstream news feed over the past few years. It also has been accepted by media, public figures and advertisers, who use it to their advantage. Twitter celebrated seven years in business in March.
Before I signed up for Twitter and even for some time afterward, I would joke about the service. I thought it was a lot of pointless blather in 140-character bursts. It didn’t think the service had legs.
I was wrong.
But today’s service is greatly improved from the one I joined four years ago. Many of my early complaints (such as the difficulty of following conversations on Twitter) have been addressed. Flaws (such as frequent service outages) have been fixed. The quality of information on the service also has improved immensely as media organizations, public figures and prominent analysts and pundits have joined it.
I didn’t see the utility of Twitter early on. But I’m addicted to it now. I use Twitter to follow technology, media and entertainment news services, as well as analysts and colleagues. Twitter is a modern RSS service where news organizations share headlines (and sometimes story summaries) along with weblinks to their articles and videos.
I don’t post very many tweets on Twitter myself, mostly weblinks to my articles on Investors.com. (Sorry, I know that’s self-promotional.) Occasionally I’ll make a pithy comment or post a photo though.
I still get the feeling that Twitter is used mostly by a hardcore group of fans and that the general public isn’t really interested in it. The service has more than 200 million active users and a large portion of them post little if anything, The Next Web reports. They’re like me and use it mostly for the news stream.
So after four years, I’m happy to say that I finally “get” Twitter.

Photos: Social media propaganda-style poster for Twitter by artist Aaron Wood (top) and my first tweet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Coinstar’s new company name, Outerwall, makes me think of other walls

In December 2011, I predicted that Coinstar would change its name to Redbox to reflect the fact that the majority of its sales come from the DVD rental kiosk business. I ended up being half right.
Coinstar this week did announce a name change. But it decided on Outerwall. It’s an odd name that makes me think of other walls in pop culture, not a company involved in automated retail.
I understand why they chose Outerwall. It connotes what it used to call its “fourth wall” strategy. Coinstar puts its machines in the underutilized front of stores. Traditionally retailers sold things everywhere but the very front of the store. But Coinstar’s coin-counting machines, DVD kiosks and premium coffee vending machines have helped change that.
Still, when I hear Outerwall, other walls come to mind. Here are a few.


“Wonderwall” (1995) is the classic song by English rock band Oasis.

Sugar Walls

“Sugar Walls” (1985) is a single by pop singer Sheena Easton. The song, composed by Prince, is presumed to refer to the “walls” of the vagina and was considered one of the “Filthy Fifteen” by a parents group at the time.

Pink Floyd’s The Wall

“The Wall” (1979) is the classic double-album by English progressive rock group Pink Floyd.

The Wall from 'Game of Thrones'

In the fantasy book series “A Song of Fire and Ice,” and the HBO TV series “Game of Thrones” based on it, the Wall is a colossal fortification that stretches for 300 miles along the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms. It is over 700 feet tall and made of solid ice. It was built to defend the realm from the White Walkers who live beyond it.

The Wall from ‘Almost Human’

The Fox sci-fi cop show “Almost Human” was set in 2048 in a city divided by a giant wall. The Wall separates the good part of the city from a lawless zone populated by terrorists. (Note: This entry added on April 30, 2014.)

Photos: The Wall from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”; covers of “Wonderwall,” “Sugar Walls” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”; another photo of the “Game of Thrones” wall; and the Wall from “Almost Human.”

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Public surveillance cameras a godsend for solving crimes

Some people are opposed to the use of public surveillance cameras. They think it’s a step toward Big Brother watching its citizens and gathering information on them.
But when a crime like the Boston Marathon bombings happens, we thank our lucky stars for having photos and video that capture the perpetrators. Video and still images in that case helped to identify the terrorist suspects and likely prevented more bombings.
Cameras in public places are a fact of life in the 21st Century -- not just government security cameras, but surveillance cameras belonging to private businesses and homeowners. Then you have people with their cellphone cameras. Cameras are everywhere in public capturing both newsworthy images and the mundane.
I don’t think security cameras are a great deterrent in preventing crime. But they make police work a hell of a lot easier after the fact. We’ve all seen enough movies and TV shows where the first thing detectives do is gather all the surveillance footage they can get. It’s the logical first step. Cameras are better than eyewitnesses.
When a child goes missing or terrorists strike, we want to see what happened at the scene.
Surveillance cameras were used to ID Boston Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev. (See articles by Gizmodo and the Daily Mail.)
In January, a 5-year-old girl was kidnapped from a Philadelphia elementary school and the incident was caught on video, according to the Daily Mail.
In July 2011, video surveillance cameras helped capture “Butcher of Brooklyn” Levi Aron for the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky.
I’ve written a couple of times about my support for public surveillance cameras. In February 2010, I listed a bunch of major crimes solved by having images captured by such cameras. In May 2010, I wrote about how the foiled Times Square bomber was caught on video.
Could cameras be abused by government authorities? Yes. But they also could be a check and balance against government abuse and misconduct, such as violent cops.

Photo: Surveillance photo that helped catch the Boston Marathon bombers.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Movies where the setting was changed to ‘in space’

Hollywood is always looking to tell stories in fresh ways.
Sometimes writers will suggest setting a familiar story “in space” to provide a twist on an old tale. They might describe their screenplay as “‘Die Hard’ in space,” maybe with a dramatic pause before “in space.” Or, “It’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ … in space.” You get the idea.
A couple of public domain works are being turned into science-fiction adventure movies this way. Director Lynne Ramsay is making a movie called “Mobius,” which is described as “Moby Dick” in space, according to the Hollywood Reporter. And Warner Bros. is producing a version of Homer’s The Odyssey set in space, according to Deadline.
Here’s a list of other movies and TV shows where conventional stories and familiar characters were put in space to liven things up.

“Abbott and Costello Go To Mars” (1953): Abbott and Costello is space.
“Forbidden Planet” (1956): William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in space.
“The Three Stooges in Orbit” (1962): The Three Stooges in space.
“Robinson Crusoe on Mars” (1964): “Robinson Crusoe” in space.
“Lost in Space” (1965-68): “The Swiss Family Robinson” in space.
“Pigs In Space” (1976-81): Muppets in space, a recurring segment on “The Muppet Show.”
“Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977): “The Hidden Fortress” in space.
“Battlestar Galactica” (1978-79): “Wagon Train” in space.
“Alien” (1979): “Jaws” in space.
“Moonraker” (1979): James Bond in space.
“Outland” (1981): “High Noon” in space.
“Lifeforce” (1985): Vampires in space.
“Event Horizon” (1997): “The Shining” in space.
“Treasure Planet” (2002): “Treasure Island” in space.
“Jason X” (2002): Jason Voorhees in space.
“Dracula 3000” (2004): “Dracula” in space.
“Defying Gravity” (2009): “Grey’s Anatomy” in space.

Photo: Cast photo from “Lost In Space,” which is based on “The Swiss Family Robinson.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Top Rock and Roll Hall of Fame snubs, a subjective list

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is an exclusive club with a long list of notable music artists waiting to get in.
The website Future Rock Legends has a comprehensive list of the biggest Rock Hall snubs. It also calculates the odds of performers getting into the shrine. Some of my favorites are long shots for induction.
In September 2009, I compiled a list of 12 perennially overlooked artists who deserved to be included in the Rock Hall. Since then, three have been inducted (Genesis, Heart and Rush).
What follows is an updated list of music acts that I think deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After each artist, I’ve included their first year of eligibility for the hall and their chances for induction, according to Future Rock Legends.

1. Yes (1994), 40% chance of induction.
2. Chicago (1994), 9%.
3. KISS (1999), 40%.
4. Journey (2000), 10%.
5. Boston (2001), 32%.
6. The Damned (2001), 29%.
7. Cheap Trick (2002), 45%.
8. The Cars (2003), 38%.
9. The Cure (2003), 57%.
10. Joy Division (2003), 58%.
11. Siouxsie & the Banshees (2003), 17%.
12. Def Leppard (2004), 36%.
13. The Psychedelic Furs (2004), 7%.
14. The Motels (2004), 6%.
15. INXS (2005), 13%
16. The Go-Go’s (2005), 36%.
17. New Order (2006), 58%.
18. The Smiths (2008), 59%.
19. Bon Jovi (2008), 35%
20. Concrete Blonde (2011), 5%.

Photos: Album covers from Concrete Blonde and the Go-Go’s.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

‘Disco queen’ inducted into Rock Hall of Fame. What the hell?

When I was in high school in the late 1970s, nothing was less rock ‘n’ roll than disco.
Disco was more than a derided type of music. It was a lifestyle. There were disco clubs, disco-style fashions and disco dance moves. As a teenager, I hated disco. It was something lame older people enjoyed.
Disco also was responsible for killing the rock music scene at the time. Clubs replaced live music with DJs spinning disco tracks.
Fast forward to the present and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is inducting Donna Summer, the “Queen of Disco” music, into its ranks on Thursday at a ceremony in Los Angeles. What the hell?
Growing up in Chicago, young people in the disco age rebelled against the disco craze. “Disco sucks” was a common refrain.
Chicago also was the scene of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, where DJs from a local rock station blew up disco records after a White Sox game as part of an ill-fated promotion. The second game of a planned double-header on July 12, 1979, had to be canceled after fans stormed the field. The spirit of rock-and-roll rebellion lived that night.
Now, I don’t have anything against Donna Summer personally. A lot of her music is very good. But she’s not rock and roll.
I’ve said many times that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be called the Popular Music Hall of Fame because it includes other genres like rap and pop.
During Donna Summer’s heyday, I was listening to Pink Floyd, Rush and other bands. Ironically, Rush also is being inducted into the Rock Hall this year, along with Heart (finally), hip-hop group Public Enemy and producer Quincy Jones.

Photo: Cover of Donna Summer’s 1975 single “Love to Love You Baby.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pop music has gotten raunchy

I listen to a lot of pop music with my kids, ages 7 and 9, in the car and on the kitchen radio. Lately I’ve noticed that a lot of hit songs have lyrics edited out or changed. At least, more than usual.
My kids sometimes will sing these songs out loud and include the pauses where a dirty word is scrubbed out for radio broadcast.
For instance, I heard my son sing a tune by Pink that made a reference to “whiskey dick.” Of course, the version Chris sang didn’t have any “dick” in it. The sanitized version of “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” just had a pause after the word “whiskey.”
Then there’s “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The radio version has so many missing words that it’s hard to understand. The actual version is so filthy I can’t imagine letting my elementary school kids listen to it.
The refrain includes the line “This is fucking awesome.”
A typical line from the tune is: “Walk up to the club like, ‘What up, I got a big cock!’ I’m so pumped about some shit from the thrift shop.”
The radio version of the song beeps out repeated use of “motherfucker,” “shit” and other curse words. But it leaves in a reference to singer R. Kelly and golden showers.
I don’t have a problem with profanity and coarse language, except in places where my kids are listening. I’ve had to explain to them about some of the words they’ve heard at school or on YouTube already.
But here’s what I find interesting: Radio airplay is designed to get people, including kids, to buy music or concert tickets from those artists. Which version of their songs are they likely to sing in concert – the sanitized radio versions or the explicit album versions?
Imagine the surprise when parents bring their kids to a concert and hear a performer sing the blue versions of their tunes. Instead of hearing Enrique Iglesias singing “Tonight I’m Loving You,” they get “Tonight I’m Fucking You.” Or Cee-Lo Green singing “Fuck You,” instead of “Forget You.” Or Nicki Minaj singing “We’re higher than a motherfucker” on “Starships.”
It’s no wonder parents play it safe and take their kids to see Taylor Swift and other family-friendly artists.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Examining Netflix’s fake movie selection

A family sits down in their living room to watch a blockbuster Hollywood movie streaming on Netflix. They go to the on-screen menu and see their choices. There are thrillers like “Agent .45” and “Hong Kong Taxi,” romantic comedies like “Bella Ciao” and “Hotel Social,” and children’s animated movie “Zen & Zack.”
The cover art for these flicks includes no recognizable actors or movie posters. That’s because they aren’t real. They exist only in the minds of the artists who created promotional art for Netflix.
Netflix provides these photos to the press to illustrate their stories on the company and its service. It obviously came up with the fake movies because the streaming selection on Netflix is subject to change. A movie available one month might not be available the next because of licensing deals with the studios.
A lot of these unfamiliar movies look like some of the Z-grade flicks that end up on Redbox or buried in Netflix’s own library.
Titles include action movies “Kaliber” and “Contract Vengeance,” love story “Ameretina,” documentary “Wild Kenya,” sci-fi movie “Orion 3” (also called “Universe V”) and horror movie “Zombie Colony.”
Also in the fake Netflix library are comedies “Mic Night” and “The Student Exchange,” melodrama “Petals,” foreign films “Salut Mademoiselle” and “Juillet,” and martial arts movie “Silent Ninja” (also called “Rocket Ninja”).
Of course, I’m just guessing at the genres based on the titles and cover art. They’re bogus, so who knows?

Photos: Netflix promotional art with its library of made-up movies. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Roger Ebert and me

Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert died on April 4 at age 70. I had the opportunity to meet him just once in March 2000 at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.
Like Ebert and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, I’m an alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was invited to a reception at the Playboy Mansion that Hefner was holding in honor of Ebert and his film festival.
After meeting Hefner and Ebert, I asked Ebert if he could recommend any films that could be enjoyed by the entire family. He suggested the Iranian film “Children of Heaven” (1997).
It was very much like Ebert to champion lesser known movies. And I’ll be darned if it’s not a great movie.
Ebert will be greatly missed by film buffs like me.

Photos: Roger Ebert (top) and Hugh Hefner speaking at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on March 23, 2000.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Apple’s iRing would join long list of rings in pop culture

Apple is rumored to be working on a ring that would act as a television remote control. A Wall Street analyst who reported the rumor called it the iRing.
Product designer Victor Yanko envisioned the iRing back in 2007 as a way to control your iPod. He created a physical model of the ring for his Yanko Design website.
If it comes to pass, the iRing would join a long list of notable rings in popular culture.
Consider the following powerful rings.

The “One Ring to rule them all” from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth fantasy novels.

DC Comics superhero Green Lantern and his power ring.

Cartoon hero Underdog and his ring with a secret compartment holding a super-energy pill.

Rings with magic powers feature prominently on the TV series “The Vampire Diaries.” Some rings allow vampires to walk in the sunlight. Other rings protect humans from death by supernatural beings.

And finally, there’s the pope’s ring.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi kissed the papal ring worn by Pope Benedict XVI as U.S. President George W. Bush looked on during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on April 16, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two great travel resources: TripAdvisor and Bedbug Registry

Two of my favorite resources when planning trips in the U.S. are TripAdvisor and the Bedbug Registry.
TripAdvisor helps me find cool local restaurants and interesting places to visit. Bedbug Registry helps me locate hotels that aren’t infested with bed bugs.
TripAdvisor has listings and customer ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions. (It also has tools for booking flights, hotels and vacation rentals, but I stick with Expedia for flights and Hotels.com for hotels.) TripAdvisor is a good website to find ideas for places to eat and visit.
The Bedbug Registry is a free, public database of bedbug sightings in the U.S. and Canada. The website says it has about 20,000 bedbug reports dating back to 2006. It was started by Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and computer programmer, who had a “traumatic experience” with bed bugs at a San Francisco hotel.
Bed bugs are small, parasitic insects that live on human blood. They typically feed late at night and hide in tiny cracks and crevices during the daytime. Once they take up residence they are hard to kill. They have shown up in even the fanciest hotels. And they’re spreading at an alarming rate.