WE NEEDED A LAUGH – THE SAG-AFTRA AWARDS

We watched the SAG-AFTRA awards last night on I-forget-which-channel. We had tuned in because they were going to give a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Carol Burnett.

Garry Armstrong - Hall of Fame

Garry has quite a collection of such awards.

Garry Hall of Fame Lectern 2

He calls them the “dodging bullets” awards. If you manage to stay in the business long enough and don’t die young, you begin collecting “Lifetime Achievement” awards. Which means your career is finished, but your friends would like you to have some hardware by which to remember it.

Garry's Emmy

Garry paid his dues to AFTRA — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — now part of SAG, the Screen Actor’s Guild, for his entire career. More than 40 years and it wasn’t cheap. He was also the union shop steward for a number of years.

So when the current prez of SAG got up and was talking about what great stuff they do for their members, Garry started shouting at the screen.

“Hey, how about a pension we can live on, eh? How about some decent medical benefits?”

That gave us a good laugh.

PHOTO FUN WITH FILTERS

I gave in and bought a couple of Topaz filters. They’ve been sending me tempting emails for months … maybe years, come to think of it. But they are expensive and I have other filters. Finally, I gave in and bought the Clean filter — which really ought to be called the “Cartoon” filter — plus the gigantic Textures filter.

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Textures works as either a standalone or as a plugin. It works better as a Photoshop plugin than as a standalone — which doesn’t make sense. I think I’m actually going to have to watch one of the tutorials because there’s a lot to it. But I’ve been saying that about Photoshop for about 20 years and I still haven’t done it. I used to write manuals for software, so I’m the kind of user I hated, the one who never looks at the book and just wings it.

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On a more positive note, the things I have done with it have come out pretty well.

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It took more than an hour to download and another hour to install. As I said — it’s big.


 

Clean is not a standalone. It only works as a Photoshop plugin.

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The other day, my talented granddaughter gave me a makeover. I’ve been messing around with selfies and hated all of them … until I “cartooned” them with Clean. Voila!

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It’s a bit intense for skin on portraits, but it’s a bundle of fun if realism is not your goal. The colors remain true. This last picture is about as realistic as I could make it.

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SABOTAGE – AND – MURDER

Early Hitchcock, by Rich Paschall

The 1936 Hitchcock thriller, Sabotage, could be a story for the present day.  Foreign saboteurs are planning terror attacks on a big city.  No one is sure who these people are or why they are planning these things.  In this adventure the city is London and the time frame is “the present,” in other words the mid 1930s.  It is loosely based on a story by Joseph Conrad, Secret Agent.  Hitchcock released another film in 1936 named Secret Agent.  It is no relation.

Alfred Hitchcock

In Sabotage London experiences a blackout which most take in good humor.  At a local theater, patrons are demanding their money back, and when the wife goes to see if her husband, the theater owner, is home he claims to have been there all along.  We have seen that he has just returned.  He is the saboteur.

Oskar Homolka, the Austrian actor, plays the theater owner.  You are left to guess what European country or group he may be working for.  Sylvia Sydney plays his wife, apparently an American, while her younger brother, played by Desmond Testor, sounds rather British.  Homolka as Karl Verloc does not come across as particularly evil, but rather caught up in the plot.

Scotland Yard is suspicious of Verloc and has Detective Sergeant Spencer on the case.  He is undercover as a grocer assistant at the business next to the movie theater. He ultimately befriends Mrs. Verloc and her brother to get information.

Unhappy with the results of the blackout, the saboteurs want Verloc to plant a bomb that will terrorize London.  It is to go to the station at the Piccadilly London underground at a busy time of day.  Verloc does not want to coöperate with anything that may cause loss of life, but is threatened by his contact who apparently has some hold over him.

Sabotage

Sabotage

The film was released in America in 1937 under the title The Woman Alone.  I guess you could say Mrs. Verloc is alone in this story.  She is unaware of her husband’s activities and seemingly has no one else.  Well, no one else until the concerned Scotland Yard detective comes along. He obviously becomes fond of her as the story progresses.

Although early in his career, the film shows some of the aspects of the great Hitchcock films.  As we build to what is supposed to be the big moment of the terror plot, we see the rapid fire cutting of scenes, to take in not just the faces of the people around the bomb, but the clock as we watch the time move faster and faster to when the bomb is supposed to explode.  Things are not unfolding as planned, and then they take a Hitchcock style plot twist.  We will leave the rest to you in case you wish to track this down, that is, the bomb maker, the other criminals, the men of Scotland Yard.

It is not going to land on the top 10 Hitchcock movies, or even the top 15.  It is just an interesting early work of a director who will ultimately become a master of this type of intrigue and suspense.  This certainly is not very satisfying when compared to other Hitchcock fare.

The 1930 drama, Murder, is an early Hitchcock piece that exhibits some brief moments of Hitchcock style, but basically contains all the elements of bad early “talkies.”  It does not contain that much of interest.  I fear its great reviews of more recent years are based on the reputation of the master of suspense and has little to do with this work.

The plot starts out like Twelve Angry Men, but does not go down that road for long.  Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft the story is based on the novel and play, Enter Sir John.  The story opens with a young actress being accused of the murder of another member of an acting company.  She seems to have been caught red-handed with the murder weapon at hand.  One of the jurors, Sir John, does not think she is guilty and after all jurors give in to the guilty verdict, including Sir John, he decides to investigate.

Murder

Murder

The lead character is played by Herbert Marshall, who went on to a long career in Hollywood films.  Norah Baring plays the actress about to face the gallows.  Yes, they were going to hang the beauty.  This give Hitchcock the nice opportunity to show us the shadow of the noose as the gallows are being built outside the cell window.  There is no need to show the actual building when he can terrorize the audience through shadow and sound.

The lighting and editing are poor, more often than not.  A little of that may be due to restoration.  Hitchcock admitted in an interview years later that the actors were encouraged to improvise dialogue in scenes that were not quite finished.  “The result wasn’t good; there was too much faltering. They would carefully think over what they were about to say and we didn’t get the spontaneity I had hoped for.”

This might account for the slow pacing and awkward pauses we find in many places.  Also, the actors are playing as if they are in a theater rather than in a movie.  It is not uncommon to see this in early talking pictures with actors who were trained for the stage.  The over dramatization of all the actors is a bit uncomfortable.  The type of staging seen here was more suited to the West End than the silver screen.  At the same time, Hitchcock also filmed the movie in German with other actors.

digging grave

If these two features offer anything, it is a look at life in London in the 1930s.  You can see how a poorer class of people lived and at the very least you know the props and sets come right out of that time period.  Unless you are such a Hitchcock fan that you need to track down these re-mastered works, you could take a pass on them.  For some reason, they are available on DVD.

NOTHING

I started to write today’s Daily Prompt, but it was the third time around for “create an eighth deadly sin.” I began writing, but lost interest after a paragraph. If it was boring me, it would have put you into a coma.

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I was going to write a brand new post. I had a terrific idea when I went to bed last night, but I had entirely forgotten it by the time I woke up today.  Gone. All I remember is that there was something I wish I could remember.

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I’m listening to a science fiction novel that’s been very highly praised by many reviewers. It’s duller than dirt. Worse, I’m not sure what it’s about. I can’t discern a plot or a character. No motivation, no action. Dull conversations about nothing in particular, but taking place in a spaceship. I hate it.

This is notable largely for being sompletely unprocessed. There didn't seem to be anything I could do to improve on it.

This photograph is notable for being unprocessed. There seemed nothing I could do that would improve it.

What’s happened to science fiction? What’s happened to literature? What’s with these murky books that meander, without any apparent plot, through time, space, and dimensions? Where are authors with stories to tell? With interesting and memorable characters? Have I outlived the literature I love?

I was going to go take pictures, but I can’t think of anything to shoot that I haven’t shot a dozen times before. It’s probably the mid-winter blahs, El Niño edition. It’s warm. No snow except for little piles of brown, melting stuff from the tiny storm last week.

Testing the "Old Westerns" Topaz filter.

Testing the “Old Westerns” Topaz filter.

It looks like winter despite the springlike temperatures. The sky is pale grayish blue, the sun a cold, diffused light which highlights the drab landscape.

I remind myself it’s not snowing. Which is reason enough for gratitude, even celebration. I’m think I’m going through Arizona withdrawal.

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It’s Saturday. There’s nothing on my calendar until next Wednesday … and that’s just taking Bonnie for grooming.

I was gonna do something. But I didn’t.

INTENSITY OF COLOR – WAITING FOR SPRING

I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2016

Flowers and a sunset over the Phoenix mountains. Vibrant colors while we dream of spring.

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New England has thus far been spared the heaviest of the snow, the worst of the blizzards. It could change, of course. February has not yet begun and that is typically our heaviest snow month. Still, it’s nice to still have safe sidewalks and no icicles dangling from the roof. It’s not just the lack of snow … it’s the unusually warm temperatures.

fuchsia macro june 2015

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The downside? The world is rather gray and drab. A world awaiting new seasons … or … the rest of winter.

SHARING MY WORLD – 2016 WEEK 4

SHARE YOUR WORLD – 2016 WEEK 4

What one thing are you really glad you did yesterday?

Finally got my appointment for the CAT scan and blood work so I can have my cancer check up. And live in terror until I get the all clear. Or not.

My Tattoo phoenix

My mother stopped having checkups after a while. She couldn’t stand watching the doctor’s eyes, wondering if he was hiding the truth.

Cancer can always show up somewhere else, somewhere new. It can be a variation on the cancer you had, or an entirely new cancer … like the one that killed your brother. Or your aunt. At least this year it isn’t on my birthday (like last year).

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When people ask “How are you?” the best I can say is “To the best of my knowledge, fine.” Come to think of it, that’s all anyone can say.

Are you generally focused on today or tomorrow?

Today with a dollop of tomorrow. I am the keeper of the schedule, the payer of the bills. I’m the fixer. The planner. The agent.

Mayan calendar

Somewhere in the back of my mind is always a worry, a niggling (or not so niggling) fear that I’ve forgotten something important. These days, I’m usually right.

Would you want to have as a guardian angel/mentor? What would they tell you right now?

How about a wife? I need someone just like me to take care of me. I would tell me to relax, it’s all being taken care of.

Would you rather live in a cave house or a dome house made of glass?

Neither, sorry. I don’t want glass house or a cave house or one of those weird underground almost-a-hobbit-burrow houses.

One more payment, honey, and it all ours!

One more payment, honey, and it all ours!

I want a nice, clean ranch with no stairs. Good light. A new heating and cooling plant. An easy-care garden — and a gardener.

Last, but not least, excellent and very fast WiFi.

Evil Squirrel’s LAST SUPPER

In honor of Evil Squirrel’s 1000th post, though well in advance of Easter, here is a classic “Best of the Nest” feature: Evil’s Last Supper!

Evil Squirrel's Nest

last supper

Just in time for Easter weekend…. a little blasphemy from The Nest!  Here is the gang’s take on The Last Supper.  This is far and away the largest solo piece of artwork I’ve ever done… and those of you who love looking for the little details in my comics will have a blast combing this picture!  Be sure to click on the image to see it at full resolution… it is much, much larger than it appears on my blog!

Enjoy!  And pass the salt, please!

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HOLISTIC MEDICINE FOR THE HOPELESSLY DELUDED

Ever since I turned 65, my medical care situation has been on a downhill slide. As long as was on MassHealth — Massachusetts Medicaid and the original model for “Obama Care” — I was good. I had all the medication I needed. If I was sick, I went to a doctor. Any doctor.

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The day I turned 65, I got tossed off MassHealth. I hoped I was protected because of my disabled status. In theory, I was. But, my government had a better solution. Cheaper. Better for the bottom line. Their bottom line, not mine.

They reclassified me as not disabled and switched me to standard Social Security. The same money, but without the protection. I was all fixed. A medical and fiscal miracle!

Apparently when you turn 65, you are healed of your disabilities. And you can can live on 2/3 less money than you needed mere days before. Poverty is redefined to levels so low you won’t be able to afford maintenance on a refrigerator crate. If only the folks who hold our mortgage and other debts would knock 2/3 off our payments, it would be perfect.

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In 2015, for the first time, I fell into the doughnut hole. It was Thanksgiving and suddenly, just like that, I had no more prescription coverage. Merry Christmas!

I’ve been considering using Magical Thinking as my new medical plan.

Magical Thinking is holistic medicine for the hopelessly deluded. I pretend I’m fine and voilà, I’m healed of everything that ailed me. Magical thinking is cheap, efficient and far less stressful than dealing with the problem for real.

It’s almost time for the annual shut down of the government by Republicans opposed to the Affordable Care Act. Beneath the GOP rhetoric, what I hear is “Just die already.” I have to wonder how I wound up here. How we, as a nation, wound up here.

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I deserve better. So do you. No one deserves to die for lack of a doctor or medicine.

When — how — did the United States become such a mean-spirited country that would rather close down its government than offer decent, affordable medical care to its citizens?

How did we come to this? Who are we, anyhow?

(NOT) JUST ANOTHER DAY

RITUAL OR ROUTINE?

Here’s a question for you folks “out there.”

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When does a routine morph into a ritual? Or a ritual degenerate into a routine? Because I don’t think we have any rituals, but we do have routines.

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Most of our routines are mandated by life itself.

I get up. Stagger into the kitchen and push the “on” button to start the coffee. Then I clean the floors — kitchen and living room — because the dogs track in an astonishing amount of dirt on their dainty little (and not so little) paws.

I sweep, I mop, and if necessary, polish (sort of). I give Bishop his meds. I give Bonnie her eye drops. I put away Bishop’s mattress. I wash refill both water dishes. I give them all a treat because they expect it.

Mr. Coffee and family

I put away the clean dishes sitting in the rack. I look around to see if I’m missing anything and if not …

I turn on my computer, go back to the kitchen and pour myself a huge cup of coffee. Grab a couple of low-fat, low-calorie biscuits. After which, with a happy sigh, I settle down to begin my day.

Is it a ritual? Seems to me it’s exactly what needs doing. It doesn’t vary because it’s not based on my choice but on the amount of dirt the dogs track in from outside. I do it because it needs to be done and if I don’t, the house degenerates into a pit.

Maybe the preparation and drinking of coffee has a hint of ritual to it. Millions of people all over the world drink coffee or tea as the start of the day. Does that mean that “hot, stimulating liquid drink” has some broader implications for humanity?

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I tend to think “it is what it is.” Something hot, tasty, and stimulating to jump-start whatever the day will hold.

You can call it whatever you want … as long as I get my coffee.

CROPPING FOR FUN AND PROFIT: CEE’S COMPOSE YOURSELF CHALLENGE

CEE’S COMPOSE YOURSELF PHOTO CHALLENGE: #15 CROPPING TIPS

From Cee:

For your weekly assignment I would like to see at least 4 cropped photos showing the before and after results. Please describe what you learned in this lesson too.

Each week I will select several features from everyone who submits an entry. And from those posts that I feature, I will grant one blogger the Gold Star Award. To find out who was awarded the Gold Star Award and Features for this week, please see CCY Features Week #14 Symmetry.

I want to start this by saying I don’t crop my own pictures as much as most people. I learned photography during the film era. Every shot cost money to develop. Every print either cost money — if you sent it to a lab — or time, effort, and materials if you did your own printing. This was not time spent with your laptop on the sofa. It was on your feet, in a smelly darkroom making shadow shows on paper.

Lots of caustic chemicals and expensive paper later, you might get what you wanted. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick.


This is a 3-shot sequence. 1. Original 2. Processed and cropped 3. More cropping, black & white.

(1) Original, uncropped, unprocessed

(1) Original, not cropped, unprocessed

(2) Cropped, sharpened, more contrast

(2) Cropped, sharpened, more contrast

(3) More cropping, black & white, even more contrast, selenium toning

(3) More cropping, black & white, even more contrast, selenium toning


I shoot tight. 90% of my cropping gets done in the viewfinder. Good because a high percentage of shots don’t need any significant post-processing. Bad because if I need to do anything, even just level the horizon, I have no room to work.

I am trying to retrain myself to shoot less tightly, to leave space for cropping, straightening, and so on. So far, my instinct to shoot tight has trumped my intentions, but I’m working on it.

Original, unprocessed, no cropping.

Original, unprocessed, no cropping.

Cropped, processed, done.

Cropped, processed, done.

The previous pair of (my) photographs are straightened, cropped, and processed. The cropping is across the top, bottom, and right edge.

The following two pair of photographs are Garry’s. I think you can easily see for yourself how I used cropping to show the picture to its best advantage.

The original. No post processing.

The original. No post processing.

Final result.

Final result.

In the above photo, I straightened the roof. I retained most of the width except for part of the right edge. I cropped off a piece of sky as well as the bottom of the picture including most of the SUV’s tires.

Original. No cropping or any post processing.

Original. No cropping or any post processing.

Finished picture.

Finished picture.

After straightening the shot, I removed most of the foreground and a chunk of sky. I kept most of the width, but removed a piece of the left edge to thin out the line of trees. The cropping made a big difference and it came out the way Garry says he saw it in his mind. I love this picture, by the way. I wish I’d taken it!

What did I learn? That I need to shoot a bit looser, to leave more working room around my images. And I need to stop dropping my left hand when I press the shutter so my horizons won’t always need straightening.

FUN FOTOS – FUCHSIA IN PINK & MAGENTA

CEE’S FUN FOTO CHALLENGE: PINK OR MAGENTA FLOWERS

Lucky me. I have loads of pictures of the pinkest and most magenta flowers I can imagine. Fuchsia. Macros, background shots.macro fuchsia july 2015 - 012

Velvety flowers trailing long stems full of lush flowers.

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Of course fuchsia comes in other colors too, including blushing pink. The dark pink and magenta ones are my favorites. All beautiful, in every color!

Winter Blues by swo8 Blues Jazz Photography by Marilyn Armstrong

Remembering last winter. I’m so grateful it’s (so far, so good) been a better winter this time!

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The Americas are being hit by another winter storm of great magnitude. This video is called Winter Blues and is a collaboration with the great American Author and Photographer, Marilyn Armstrong and swo8 Blues Jazz. Too much snow and cold. Trapped in a winter nightmare. Let’s hope it is over soon.

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QUOTING THE QUOTE

Since pretty much everyone has a favorite quote, I’m happy to tell you mine. It is both funny and a good reminder to not always assume that someone is out to get me.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. — Robert Hanlon

What seems incredibly stupid is most likely not a cabal or a plot. Much more likely that it is stupidity or ignorance. Because malice requires intent and planning, but stupid comes naturally.

Not that I don’t believe in evil people out to get me or you. There are more than enough mean people, trolls, rumor-mongers, and ill-wishers. Occasionally, the “bad guys” intrude on my world.

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Mostly, you get ignorance from people who ought to know better, but are unwilling to learn. Stupidity is special to those too dumb or thick-witted to learn.

I use this quote as the signature line on my email. I just never imagined “stupid” would be a potential leader of my country.

Never imagined that part.

TECHNOLOGY AS TRASH

computer gargoyle

In 2013, the computer industry declared me obsolete. Irrelevant. Anyone who can’t or won’t afford software subscriptions to “keep up to date,” is in trouble. Adobe stopped selling DVDs of their product and other companies are following suit though not as quickly expected. There’s been quite a bit of push back from folks like me.

alienware side view computer

Personally, I don’t mind running a version or two behind the latest thing. Especially since many new versions don’t work better — or even as well — as those I own. I can easily go years without “updating” my software. I guess software companies don’t make enough money selling new releases to folks like me.

Aside from the problem I have with adding an ongoing expense to my already tight budget, I prefer owning my software. I don’t like being entirely dependent on my WiFi connection.

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I remember getting a “You’ve Been Hacked!” letter from Adobe. The hack affected (depending on who you believed) between 38 and 150 million people. All of us have had our personal information stolen somewhere or other. Not only by Adobe. My bank got hacked. So did Walmart, Land’s End, and our local grocery store.

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At least our grocery doesn’t collect personal information from customers. It’s one of the few companies that doesn’t. In case you don’t already know this, the discount cards in your wallet are how the places at which you shop collect information about your personal shopping habits. So they can sell your data to marketing companies — the people who harass you with emails, phone calls, and junk mail. And scams.

Where’s our outrage, our demands for better service and security?

When my equipment stops working — which is once in a blue moon — I call the “Guy Who Fixes PCs.” He comes to the house.  Replaces the broken bits. Cleans out any viruses that have snuck past the anti-virus software. I give him money. He gives me a card with his cell number so if the problems comes back, he’ll come back and fix’em.

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Am I the only one who is in no position to dump equipment and replace it? I’m still in debt for the stuff I have. Moreover, I hate the throwaway society we are building and the mindset that comes with it.

Disposable is not a better way. It’s destroying the environment. Polluting landfills. Making an already profligate society ever more wasteful. We talk about green, but we don’t live green.

Once upon a time, Garry and I were working a ridiculous number of hours and started using paper plates. To avoid washing dishes. After doing this for a while, I found myself washing paper plates. I couldn’t bear throwing them out. It seemed wrong. I rediscovered the concept of re-usability. I had dishes in the cupboard. I could use them, wash them — and use them again! It was an epiphany!

Photoshop

We are turning into a world of paper plate users. Everything, from cars to computers to kitchen appliances are junk. When whatever it is stops running, toss it. Don’t even think about fixing it. Change your cell phone every six months. Toss the old one.

Somewhere on this planet, there is a giant, bottomless hole into which the garbage goes and it will never fill up, right?

Not.