Tag: Apple

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

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This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 972: Missed It By That Much…

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“If you’re going to do something, do it right.”

So sayeth the big book of unspoken laws – the same book that also condemns hack writers who open articles with unattributed clichés, tagged with stupid quotation marks that indicate that the words have been spoken, though in this case only within the writer’s mind. Hey, sometimes I’m lazy. But at least I’m honest about it.

Sometimes – and this pops up most frequently when an occasion forces me to try dancing without a sufficient dosage of alcohol to abuse my bloodstream – I’m downright incompetent. That’s not a crime; we all take a stumbling stroll through the courtyard of fuckuptitude now and then. The key is not to be incompetent when it really counts. Like when you’re meeting your in-laws. Or performing a recital. Or trying to kill somebody.

That’s a big one. Screw up an assassination attempt and you’ll be plopped into history’s laughing bin , filed under ‘G’ for Gut-Bustingly Idiotic. These five would-be snuffers of life weren’t out for notoriety, and the failure of their mission, though it opened them up for mockery galore, did little to sway whatever kooky inspiration had fuelled them past the checkpoint of legality into the realm of the fiercely wicked. But at that point, who cared?

Get your pointing finger ready and cue up your next laugh. These folks have earned it.

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When a white man fatally shot the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968, it stuck a searing needle into race relations. But King had been targeted before – in this instance by a black woman in September of 1958 – and the end result was actually more encouraging than divisive. Izola Curry’s beef with the Reverend was not so much issues-based as it was wacko-nutjob-based. She met Dr. King at a Harlem book signing, and proceeded to jab a steel letter opener into his chest. Read more…

Day 969: Pound-For-Pound Performances

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If anyone asks, I’m currently beefing up for the lead role in the upcoming biopic about Orson Welles’ final days. I haven’t been cast yet, and to my knowledge no such movie exists, but when Hollywood finally comes around to making it, I’ll be ready. So yes, I will have that second bag of deep-fried Oreos.

Screen actors – and perhaps stage actors as well, but that information is trickier to find – must occasionally alter their physical weight to slip into a part. Sure, they can cheat like Chris Evans in Captain America, whose 220-pound bulk was deflated to a scrawny pre-Atlas sand-faced wimp through the magic of CGI, but outside of the superhero genre, you’re not likely to see that. These self-abusatory body-wallops are a good reminder that some of the faces speckled across movie screens are actual artists who are willing to endure physical torture for their craft.

In tracking down some of the wonkier stories for this piece, I tried to uncover an actress who has made a similar transformation, but there aren’t many. Renée Zellweger snarfed back some pastries to gain twenty pounds for Bridget Jones’ Diary, but her final appearance was hardly extreme. I’m more impressed with Anne Hathaway’s 25-pound drop for Les Miserables, much of which occurred throughout the filming process. If anyone knows of any other actresses who pulled off feats like these, please tell me in the comments section. It’s quite the sausage-fest on this page.

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Considered to be one of the greatest actors of the last 50 years, Robert De Niro has yet to win an Academy Award since 1981. While I’ll withhold judgment on some of the scripts he has chosen in the last 20 years (I still can’t scrub The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle from the part of my brain upon which it splattered back in 2000), watching him perform usually justifies the cost of admission. If you have somehow deprived yourself of seeing 1980’s Raging Bull (for which he won his most recent Oscar), then you must immediately stop calling yourself a film fan until you do so – particularly if you have seen even one Tyler Perry movie. Read more…

Day 901: Yapping With The Dead – The Fabulous Fraud Of The Fox Sisters

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The perpetual gullibility of the human race provides an unending cavalcade of hilarity. We believe – sometimes because we want to, sometimes because the hoaxsters and peddlers of smarm know how to take advantage of our weak moments. For the born-again skeptics, no phenomenon travels in this world without an accompanying explanation stuffed into its baggage. Most folks believe there might be something to the unseen – that’s where the scammers step in.

When Kate and Margaret Fox discovered at a young age (12 and 15 respectively) that with tremendous ease they could convince their family and community that they could communicate with the deceased, it must have been a revelation. The world is ripe and ready for free-form plucking once you convince it that your fingertips hold a quiver of magic. The Fox sisters learned this when they were young enough to be gobsmacked by their success, yet old enough to work it into a career.

Or maybe it’s all true. Maybe they did possess the gift of gab with the dearly departed. After all, the spiritualism movement that ensued in their wake included a number of intellectual heavyweights and revered luminaries. Though when push comes to push-overs, I think I’ll side with the skeptics on this one.

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Kate and Margaret lived in an allegedly haunted house in a place called Hydesville in northwestern New York. In 1848, when the girls were the ages I mentioned above, strange noises began oozing through the floorboards. The girls began communicating with this mysterious spirit: Kate would snap her fingers and the ghost would repeat the sequence. The spirit would tap out the girls’ ages. Eventually, a system developed by which the ethereal stranger could answer yes-no questions through its otherworldly tapping. Read more…

Day 790: Pissing Away The Profits – Worst Business Decisions Part 1

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The secret to business success lies in making good decisions. I have no doubt that thousands of qualified individuals could offer monumentally wiser business advice than this, but in that most general, inarguable, obvious-even-to-a-schmuck-like-me way, it all comes down to decisions.

Some culture-shaping decisions were outright brilliant, like JVC and Microsoft spreading VHS and Windows around numerous manufacturers while Sony and Apple kept the Betamax and Macintosh systems to themselves, leading to one’s demise and the other’s miniscule 1990’s market share. Other business decisions, like my choice to devote at least two hours of each of my days over this thousand-day period to producing articles for free public consumption online – not so much.

That’s okay, I can live with it. So what if this project floats gratuitously among the ether, leaving no significant residue upon my personal net worth? It’s art. Art that is smattered with Cliff-Claven-esque trivia and poop jokes, so the best kind of art. And besides, as far removed from savvy fiscal acumen as I may be, at least I can pride myself on not having made the bonehead decisions these folks did.

DickRowe

Meet Dick. Dick was a successful producer in the 1950’s. By 1962 he was a proud A&R man (that’s ‘Artists & Repertoire’ – the guy who screens potential acts) at Decca Records in England. On a blustery New Year’s Day, Dick sat in the studio as a hopeful young quartet from Liverpool tried to dazzle him with their sound, one which had already billowed many a swoon into excitable young women (and even men) in the northern towns. Those men were John, Paul, George and Pete Best, and they proceeded to make Dick famous.

Famous for flubbery, that is. Dick Rowe told the group’s manager Brian Epstein that guitar groups were “on the way out”, and he turned them down cold. It would take a few months for the Beatles to become the biggest group in the country and years before Dick was able to scrape away all the solidified egg from his face. Read more…

Day 781: The Classic Time-Wasters

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If you are fortunate enough to possess a job of such little consequence that you can while away your clocked hours with fanciful amusements and digital distractions, then you have probably logged a lot of hours with Microsoft’s built-in activities. Myself, I prefer to devote my daytime downtime to writing kilographs and memorizing TV theme song lyrics. When the fancy strikes for some blips, bleeps and computerized explosions, I head online to one of the vast repositories of Flash games like Kongregate or AddictingGames.com.

I should point out that I get a lot of downtime in this job. Had I been so blessed in the 90’s I would have poured much more of my time into the mundane clickery of Minesweeper, FreeCell and the other games that had found themselves woven into the fabric of Windows 95, 98 and XP.

These were the freebie games that everyone played. Minesweeper is as much a collectively shared experience as any global recession or Olympic games. These games are the common denominator no one uses as a conversational connection. But we could. We have all been there, mired in the scrutiny of robot card-backs and simulated pinball bumpers.

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Wes Cherry, an intern at Microsoft in 1989, made untold millions of dollars for designing Solitaire. Or he would have, had he been paid in commission. Or at all.

Yeah, Cherry got nothing. Perhaps the most-played game in the history of computers, and Wes Cherry handed it over for the price of a handshake. His girlfriend at the time designed half the card-backs as well, and her work was also treated as a donation. The cards themselves were designed by Susan Kare, a one-time Apple employee who had designed the Chicago typeface that was used on old Macs and the first four generations of iPods, as well as the Happy Mac that greets users when they boot up. Read more…

Day 643: Forget The Romance, Just Give Me The Sugar

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So as the alleged flu in my gullet has evolved to a full-blown infection in the neighborhood of my poor tired uvula, I find myself still bed-bound and bored. Luckily I have reserved the opportunity to spend a few hours every day this week in the company of candy. Not actual candy – regrettably my bad fortune has not swiveled quite so drastically – but with candy as a research topic. Where my physical tongue knows only the grotesquely sweet bite of ineffective lozenges, my mind’s tongue is free to journey to my youth, and to the days when a dollar could net you a Snickers and a Fanta to wash it down.

Only today I’m steering this candy-powered word-beast away from the chocolate highway, taking the off-ramp to something a little more rooted in the days of yore, back when we were just in it for the sugar, and ten cents (even a nickel) could get us our fix.

I had the misfortune of liking almost everything on the shelf below the candy bars, from Tootsie Pops to Fizzies to SweeTarts. Were my palette of a more discriminating nature, I might have abandoned my sweet tooth after my stoner days and graduated to more sophisticated treats. But no, I loved them all. Even when the treat was disguised as nothing more than sugar in a tube.

PixyStix

Pixy Stix have no pretense. They don’t boast about a recipe or try to be anything more than pure flavored sugar in a tube. In the 1930s it was being sold by Sunline Inc. in St. Louis as a drink powder. But much like the way every kid has stuck a slimy finger into a tin of Kool-Aid, Sunline executive John Fish Smith watched kids foregoing the addition of water and shooting back the powder au naturel. Read more…

Day 633: Cue The Laughs

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It is not the trait of which I am most proud, however it would be dishonest of me to deny the fact that I am a humor snob. Not to say I cull my giggles solely from the droll and waggish cartoons in the New Yorker – I’ll admit it, I re-watched the shit-hits-the-fan gag in Airplane! a few dozen times on my dad’s Betamax copy when I was a kid, and would do so again today. Humor shouldn’t have to be highbrow (a credo that shouldn’t surprise any regular readers of this site), but it should be funny.

So what the hell is ‘funny’? Why do people keep tuning in to shows like Two And A Half Men? Why did According To Jim endure a successful 8-season run? Why did a show like Arrested Development, which I would argue is the funniest show in the history of the medium, only last two and a half seasons?

I’ve gone on record as being one of those people who doesn’t consider himself to be a Monty Python fan, and I’ve taken some heat for that. And humor is subjective, so I’m okay with plucking my laughs from a different steam-tray of the buffet than many of my friends and family. But surely someone has looked into the nitty-gritty of why funny is funny.

Yes they have. And don't call me Sh... oh come on, that's too easy.

Yes they have. And don’t call me Sh… oh come on, that’s too easy.

Explaining the specific biological and psychological motivations behind laughter might be the least funny thing a person can do. Anyone who has had to explain a joke to someone whose hair was mussed by the whoosh of air when the punchline flew over their head knows this. Deconstruction of comedy kills the comedy. Read more…

Day 602: Veblens And Giffens And Rich People’s Phones

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I think it’s safe to say that I will probably never be fantastic with money. After five years of earning the mellifluous bounty of government dronesmanship, my savings account barely contains enough money to pay for the tumbleweeds that would best represent just how barren and empty it is. I took a microeconomics course in college, but all I remember from it is that I can’t stand microeconomics.

But I have accepted this tiny personal shortcoming. I’m aware that my eyes gloss over when I read about someone trying to forecast the Dow Jones or speculate on commodity futures outside of the safe, easily-explained parameters of the movie Trading Places.

And honestly, I still don't fully understand all that stock market shit at the end of the movie.

And honestly, I still don’t fully understand all that stock market shit at the end of the movie.

But that’s partly why I’m here, slapping a kilograph upon this vast public yonder every day – I’m trying to learn something. Sure, some days I stick to subjects I know, like mixtapes or fugitive glue, but it’s nice to get knuckles-deep in a hearty stew of new information and previously-unexplored concepts. And since the only way I know how to balance a checkbook is on the top of my head (and even then, it’s a longshot), maybe digging into some economic concepts would be good for me.

Maybe this will push me over the edge into the chasm of fiscal responsibility. Gone will be the days of splurging on autographed dental floss or souvenir merchandise from the 1995 movie Batman Forever. Now I’ll crack the code, re-work my investment stratagem and live my life in the black.

Not that I'll be giving up this snappy denim number anytime soon.

Not that I’ll be giving up this snappy denim number anytime soon.

It all begins with Veblen goods. Read more…

Day 375: Circus Of The (Xerox) Stars

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The Apple Macintosh gets a lot of credit for breaking computer users out of their DOS-command prisons and allowing them to unleash their freedom within the first true point-and-click world. Surely the great Apple, pioneer of the way we listen to music, Facetime our nieces and ignore one another around the kitchen table, must be behind this glorious technology.

After all, we remember that famous Super Bowl commercial (oh yeah, they also invented the importance of the Super Bowl commercial) that demonstrated their new technology’s liberation powers:

You don't see a lot of literary references to sell stuff in commercials anymore.

You don’t see a lot of literary references to sell stuff in commercials anymore.

But Apple merely popularized a modified form of what had already been done. The real innovation took place years earlier, at a place called the Palo Alto Research Center. And the company behind this work wasn’t Apple. It was Xerox. Read more…