Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

Sweepin’ The Clouds Away

I’ve been listening to my Johnny Crawford Orchestra CD, Sweepin’ The Clouds Away, an album of vintage dance band arrangements from the 20s and 30s.  I decided to learn more about the bands and orchestra leaders that Johnny Crawford mentions on his facebook page, since I’d never heard of most of them.  I love the old photographs from that era, so I was inspired to put together this little video.  It’s much better viewed at YouTube, in full screen mode.


Credit from Tumblr

It’s no secret that I hate tumblr.  I’ve seen far too many of my images posted there and reblogged without credit.  I also don’t like the poor search engine, the lack of permalinks for finding specific posts, and the fact that you have to register with tumblr to comment on many sites.  It’s too bad, because there’s some great stuff being posted by interesting, talented people.

I just saw this at, and it made me feel pretty darn happy.  I would tell you the exact link to this, but—well, you know.  No permalinks on tumblr.

Credit from tumblr

(click to read larger version)

Thanks, fandom-frenzy!  I’d send you a direct message, but—well, you know.

My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Consider a Kiva Christmas

Here’s my suggestion for Christmas gifts this year.  If you’re tired of giving your money to big corporate retailers who give nothing back (Amazon, anyone?) to buy useless stuff that nobody really needs, just to fill a space under the Christmas tree, consider a Kiva gift card.

Kiva is a non-profit based here in San Francisco, which makes me particularly proud.  I can’t describe their mission nearly as well as their website, but I will try.  Kiva brokers micro-loans between individuals, which means you can loan as little as $25 to a farmer in Tajikistan, or a mother selling fruit in Kenya.  You get to choose where your loan goes, and just reading through the list of borrowers is a lesson in geography.  After you make your loan, you get updates on the status of you loan, and when the money is paid back (with a 98.93% repayment rate), you get to make another loan.  You can also withdraw your money or donate it to Kiva.

When you give a Kiva gift card, you give someone else the chance to experience this process.  I think this is particularly valuable for kids.  Instead of just logging in to facebook on their computers, kids will look through profiles of people around the world who are seeking to improve their lives.  Then they will actually help some of them.  So many gift cards go unused and wasted, with the money reverting to the retailers (although here in California, we have some good gift card expiration laws).  If a Kiva gift card isn’t redeemed after 12 months, the money becomes a donation to Kiva.  At least it’s going to a non-profit doing good work.

There are several ways to give a Kiva gift card: you can print one on your own printer, post one to facebook, send one in an email, or have a card sent by snail mail from Kiva.  The last one is especially nice, but they need at least 10 business days, so be sure to plan ahead for Christmas delivery.

And so, as Tiny Tim said, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!

Kiva gift cards

What I’m Thankful For

I’m stunned that Thanksgiving is here already, but there’s nothing I can do to turn back the clock.  Here are a few of the things I’m thankful for this year:

  • For Anthony Horowitz, because he finally wrapped up the Alex Rider series before Alex got too morose to hang with anymore, and for writing a new Sherlock Holmes mystery.  Will I feel grateful after I’ve read Scorpia Rising and The House of Silk?  We’ll see.
  • For Phil Rickman, because he published another installment of the Merrily Watkins mysteries. Now if it would just become available on kindle in the US…
  • For the end of my addiction to General Hospital.   My boss is even more thankful.
  • For DVDVideoSoft, for allowing me to put some new music on my mp3 player on a tight budget.
  • For Shah Rukh Khan, because he’s in two movies this year instead of the usual one.
  • For RetroTV and MeTV, because with all the bad new TV shows on the major networks, I can still be entertained by the classics.
  • For YouTube and twitter, although a little less of both during work hours might be a bigger blessing.
  • For Da Vinci’s Inquest reruns, but also for having watched every episode already, because now I can go to bed earlier.
  • For the two Redbox machines around the corner, saving me from the long Netflix queues for new releases.
  • For Alan Cumming, because his introductions to Masterpiece Mystery always make me think he’s enjoying himself more than we are.
  • For Josh Groban, because I enjoy his music, but also because he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  His “Kanye West Tweets” video started the year off, and it still cracks me up as the year ends.
  • For Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, Penny, Amy and Bernadette.  The Big Bang Theory consistently makes me laugh, and I’m especially grateful for this joke (paraphrased, I’m sure): “Let’s watch Star Wars on blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!”
  • For Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo, because of the music and videos and tweets, but mostly because of the new friends I’ve made this year through following them.
  • For the community at St Agnes, who have become a part of my family, and who continually remind me that there’s more to life than entertainment.
  • For my boss, because she trades book recommendations with me, tolerates my endless chatter, and is always willing to watch a good movie—or even a bad one, as long as there are good snacks.
  • For my friends, because without them to share it all with, it just wouldn’t be any fun.
  • For my family, because they make me laugh a lot.  Besides, they’re stuck with me, and they rarely complain about it.

I wish everyone a peaceful, uplifting, delicious Thanksgiving.  May your teams win, your in-laws get along, and your holidays be blessed.

I Don’t Do Fan Clubs

I’m not really very good at promoting my blog, but I do occasionally post links if I’m particularly pleased with something, or if I think a specific person or group might find it interesting.  Occasionally I get an invitation to join a fan club, fan group, or a fan forum in response.  Well, I don’t do fan groups anymore, and here’s why.

When I got my first computer with internet access, back in 1999, I had just discovered actor Ioan Gruffudd.  I spent hours in fan chat rooms with various ladies in the US and the UK.  It was really fun, and these online discussions eventually led to real meetings with several people both locally and in London.  Then it was actor Hugh Jackman, only for him I met other fans in New York.  Then it was a stage actor from London.  For each one, something similar would happen.

First I would meet people who shared my interest after we’d chatted online.  I had about a 50/50 success rate.  Roughly half the people I’d meet from online were nice and normal—or should I say, about as normal as me, which may not be saying much.  The other half were just odd.  Sometimes it was something scary and intense in their eyes, sometimes it was just general social awkwardness.  Most often, what turned me off was a kind of hyper-competitiveness over their obsession.  They conveyed the attitude, “I accept you as a fellow fan, but I am and will always be a bigger fan than you.  My interest, affection and devotion are greater than yours.”  I began to learn how to spot this kind of person through clues in their online interactions, but I’ve never become an expert.  In my online groups, I would try to avoid these people and just stick with the people I genuinely liked, but that’s where the group dynamic became tricky.

It’s really hard to avoid people when they’re members of an online community.  And, there’s something that happens with groups online, when people are able to post their thoughts without face-to-face social restraints.   Sometimes things just get really silly.  I left the Ioan Gruffudd fan group when we ran out of his work to dissect, and the discussion devolved into “If Ioan was ice cream, what flavor would he be?”  Worse, people get nasty.  Often, it’s a failure to be welcoming to new members combined with an attitude of superiority because one has been a fan for much longer.  It’s that hyper-competitiveness rearing its ugly head.  There’s also usually a person or a couple of people who become dominant, and soon anyone who disagrees with these leaders gets pushed out.  What usually happens to me is a growing sense of being boxed in, where I become reluctant to express my real opinions.

My preference now is to find several like-minded fellow fans and connect through one-on-one interactions.  I don’t consciously seek them out, because that kind of deliberateness is creepy!  It just happens naturally.   After some back and forth in public forums, we then communicate privately, where we can be more honest.   I’ve met some wonderful people on YouTube, facebook fan pages, twitter, and through my blog.  It starts with a mutual interest in a particular actor, but the fans who become friends share more in common with me, whether it’s other interests or a similar sense of humor.  I’m lucky to know these people.  And grateful.

So, that’s why I’m not a joiner.  What about you?  I hope you share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

My Response to the Changes at Netflix

I was puzzled when a late evening email from Reed Hastings arrived in my inbox on September 18th, with the subject line “An Explanation and Some Reflections.”  I almost deleted it as junk mail.  It turned out to be an oddly-worded message from the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, the largest internet/by-mail movie rental company in the US.  Netflix recently angered subscribers by raising their rental fees and restructuring their services.  This email from Hastings was both an apology and a press release about even bigger changes coming to Netflix.  Instead of smoothing things over, this latest announcement has increased subscriber dissatisfaction.  Over 27,000 comments have been posted on the Netflix blog responding to the news.

I’m not happy with the decision to split the company into Netflix (streaming services) and Qwikster (DVDs by mail) with two independent websites and separate credit card billing.  I guess I will be switched over to Qwikster, because I’m currently only getting DVDs by mail.   That’s because what I want to watch either isn’t available streaming yet or streams so poorly, stuttering along with bad resolution, that it’s not worth paying for that kind of frustration.  The biggest hassle for folks subscribing to both services will be having to check two sites to see if a movie is available in either format.  In the past, one site showed all this information in one place.

Still, my reaction to the changes coming to Netflix has been overshadowed by my feelings about this statement by Reed Hastings: “Many members love our DVD service, as I do, because nearly every movie ever made is published on DVD. ”  This is completely ridiculous.  Perhaps Mr Hastings is more of a businessman than a film buff, but I’m still shocked at his ignorance.  

According to the National Film Preservation Foundation, approximately 50% of all US feature films made before 1951 no longer exist.  Around 80% of all US feature films made in the 1910s and 1920s have been lost.  These figures even don’t take into account all the films made in other countries.  Some estimate that 99% of all silent films are gone.  Many went up in flames or simply deteriorated due to the instability of nitrate film stock.  Many more were deliberately destroyed because few believed that the films would have any lasting significance.  Even the films stored in archives today are at risk while they sit waiting for the funding needed for restoration.

If you’re a lover of foreign films, you know that “nearly every film ever made is published on DVD” does not apply to overseas titles available to US viewers.  Many independent films have never received a DVD distribution deal, regardless of their country of origin.  Picture all these numbers, then narrow them down to the actual number of film titles that you can rent from Netflix.  My “saved” queue of films on Netflix is almost as long as my rental queue.  These are the films with no known release date.   This list also includes titles that are currently available to buy on DVD, but Netflix doesn’t know when or if they will ever be available for rental.

What Netflix isn’t saying directly is that the US Postal Service is bankrupt and in crisis.  With threats to end Saturday delivery or shut down altogether, nobody knows how long our Post Office will be able to deliver DVDs quickly and reliably.   The closest Reed Hastings came to stating the problem in his announcement was this: “DVD by mail may not last forever, but we want it to last as long as possible.”  The folks at Netflix are obviously scrambling to switch over to streaming content in order to stay in business, leaving those of us with older equipment and bad DSL service behind.  I may have to give up my Netflix/Qwikster habit if things continue in this direction.  I’ll just have to wait and see.

Since this news announcement on September 18th, I’ve stopped receiving Netflix email notifications telling me when a DVD has been received and informing me what my next title will be.  I hope this is not the kind of customer service Qwikster will provide in the future.

I’m interested in hearing your opinion.  Please post your comments.

Update 10/10/11:  Netflix announced today that the company will not be split up.  The price increase—and the separation of DVDs and streaming into two plans—will stay in effect.  Supposedly there will be no further price increases, but we’ll see about that.  I’m just wondering what will happen to the new CEO who was going to run Qwikster.  So much for the promotion.

%d bloggers like this: