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December 2013
> DECEMBER 13: Anitiques Uncovered
> DECEMBER 10: Electronic Games
> DECEMBER 4: The Writer Film Genre

DECEMBER 20, 2013: Obsolete Technology

There is an unusual dealer at a country flea market 45 minutes from here. He's an old guy who travels the world looking for old phones, and I mean really old phones - antiques - wooden boxes with hand cranks and rotary dials, candlestick phones with separate hearing receivers, wall phones, desksets and brands such as Western Electric, Stromberg-Carlson, ITT and Kellogg. By the way, Kellogg used to be a major manufacturer of telephone equipment. The family story is full of corporate greed, union strikes and deception. It could make a great movie. Then again, maybe not - it might be just too typical and predictable a tale.

Anyway, this flea market dealer finds all these old phones and then he upgrades the internal hardware so they become compatible with the modern system - you know - twisted pair cabling where two conductors are twisted together in order to cancel out electromagnetic interference. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. The equipment itself is marvelous. The quality of sound it carries is fantastic. The old system was all about quality of sound. You didn't even have to turn it on or off. There was no waiting. There were no bad or blank spots with no reception. It was always working and almost never failed. I guess you can see where I am going with this.

Yesterday, I received a call from a friend of mine who was in his car using a hands free system connecting a cell phone to a speaker system. Along with the hiss and crackle of driving between cells and the signal variations, the tiny microphone that makes it sound like you are at the bottom of an empty silo, and the unpredictable interruptions of complete silence (suggesting disconnection), we had one of those bizarre conversations that reminds me of a Komodo Dragon trying to talk to a Norwegian physicist by way of a Kanji translator on Jupiter.

We were supposed to meet for lunch, but due to the communications barrier we ended up going to two separate erroneous locations at two completely different erratic hours. I'm concerned I may never see him again.

DECEMBER 13, 2013: Antiques Uncovered

If you watch educational television you already know many of the best shows come from the BBC. These programs are so well informed, because they incorporate experts in their fields to reveal historical context for artifacts and events. For example, TVO is currently presenting a three part series called Antiques Uncovered. The show visits present day skilled craftspeople as well as collectors who have a deeper and richer understanding of all sorts of objects from table settings to trains. The show is hosted by Dr. Lucy Worsley and antiques expert Mark Hill. This alliance provides an exceptional amplification of purpose for personal items both practical or decorative and how they are valued today.

Dr. Worsley is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces as well as elected a Senior Research Fellow at the Insitute of Historical Research, University of London. She has a website, a selection of books, and writes for a number of newspapers as well as her blog (going back to 2009). It's great reading!

Mark Hill is an author and publisher and TV presenter including appearances on Antiques Roadshow. Here is a link to his very informative description of the Antiques Uncovered series.

For fans of history, the show is a remarkable pleasure to watch. The unusual combination of research and practical modern implentation make the show unique. I wish there were a hundred episodes so we could own them on Blu-ray and watch the aggregate wealth of historical circumstances on our 80 inch 4K televisions!

DECEMBER 10, 2013: Electronic Games

Ever since PONG, I considered myself a gamer at heart. From being an early fan of Nolan Bushnell's Atari (who produced PONG) and the actual game designer Allan Alcom, to the arcades of the '80s, my life was forever altered to subscribe to the digital vector of electronic entertainment. It used to take real committment to search out games you wanted to play. They were few and far between back then. Some arcades required membership. Others were very crowded and you had to wait your turn. Then when you finally dropped in your quarter you could relax and play for a while if you were good. Not everyone will remember there was a war going on back then between "vector display" and "raster display" (one of the main differences between games like Asteroids and Defender and bitmap sprite games like Galaxian and Donkey Kong).

Back then, the business and marketing people said there was no future in home game systems. Maybe those are the guys who brought our world economy to its knees. What a bunch of knuckleheads. They obviously had no clue. Mind you, the early systems like Commodore, Intellivision as well as early Nintendo and Sega were not good indicators of what was coming. Today, games have surpassed music and movie sales for home entertainment. They are the number one home entertainment medium.

In the late '80s and early '909s the computer totally shifted electronic entertainment away from arcades and consoles with great CD-ROM titles like Journeyman Project, Seventh Guest and MYST, but once we got into the mid '90s, the consoles came back with a vengeance. It has remained there ever since. This year's PS4 and Xbox One are actually considered 8th Generation consoles. One of the great TV shows to keep you informed of what is going on is called Reviews on the Run on G4. I still watch them faithfully even though I don't keep up and buy all the latest games anymore.

Perhaps that also has to do with the kind of games I like to play. I'm not into the violent war and crime stuff. I've always been more of a fan of quiet, thinking puzzle games. That's what the Jewels games were. The latest out this year is Quell Memento from Fallen Tree Games. with over 150 brilliant puzzles, you can take your time and re-play or retry as often as you like until you get it perfect. The game is easy to find and is available for mobile devices as an app and even on the Sony VITA. 

DECEMBER 4, 2013: The Writer Film Genre

In the genre of writer films, there are a few that really stand out, but for exceptional reasons. Wonder Boys has some nice twists and turns and a few clever surprises. Sunset Boulevard has the unique introduction with the drowned narrator, but if there were polarities to the genre, the opposite end would feature more symbolic illuminations of the topic. Cronenberg's Naked Lunch comes to mind. Instead of just following or watching authors misbehave, such films visualize metaphors, because after all, the words enter a multi-sensory medium. The Coen Brothers' Barton Fink belongs there too.

Perhaps one of the best examples of illuminating the script (and one of the most obscure here in North America) is Alain Resnais' Providence (1977). While at times, some scenes appear to be conventional drama, by the end we realize the director has taken the audience on an exploration of the imagination of the writer. There is a kind of dream logic where edits reveal details that did not exist in previous shots. Voices of characters are dubbed over each other and scenes move from highly realistic location settings to obvious stage fabrications intentionally undermining the film's sense of visual authenticity.

Back at the opposite end, Adapation (2002, directed by Spike Jonez) and The Ghost Writer (2010, directed by Roman Polanski) explore the challenging world of authors at work. Among the dark spins at that end would also be The Shining (1980. directed by Stanley Kubrick). Finding Forrester (2000, directed by Gus Van Sant) makes a cinematic nod toward J.D. Salinger. On the historical side of journalism, we get to see Woodward and Bernstein (1976, All The President's Men) and Edward R. Murrow (2005, Good Night, and Good Luck). Most recently we have Martin Sixsmith's story of Philomena (2013, directed by Stephen Frears). It's the true story of a woman searching for a son who was taken away from her at a very early age. It definitely belongs in the genre of writer films, but takes it up an extra notch in terms of emotion and the complicated entanglement of two opposite sides interwoven and unresolved. It's brilliant.


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