Geek out in July at Barnes & Noble

June 26, 2015

Geek out in July at Barnes & Noble

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and am probably best known currently for the I Love My Kindle blog, which covers Kindles, Amazon, and publishing.

It might, therefore, surprise some readers that I would promote an event (actually, a whole month of events) at Barnes & Noble.

Well, maybe not my readers. :) They know I don’t build something up by knocking something down…when people do a good thing, I like to recognize that.

As a proud geek, I wanted to make sure you knew about B&N’s

Get Pop-Cultured month

Now, for those of us who were geeks before Star Wars, it may be somewhat amusing that pop(ular) culture in this celebration is so geek-dominated. I used to jokingly refer to what we enjoyed as unpopular culture. ;)

We geeks still embrace that, of course. If you are one of the very few who are passionate fans of a canceled TV series (for myself, I’d include Miracles and Uncle Croc’s Block in my micro-fandoms), or are surprised when people don’t get it when you make a Talbot Mundy reference, and are still wondering when there will be a Herbie Popnecker movie, you are welcome at a con(vention).

Well, I’m not going to pretend that the Barnes & Nobles stores are going to have an Azalea Pictures film festival, but much of what they will have is solidly geek-friendly (even if they reflect the mainstreaming which has been growing since Star Wars in 1977).

Here are some of the highlights (and yes, cosplay will be expected as part of it):

  • July 3-5: Time Travel Weekend July 3 at 7:00 PM is Doctor Who (Space)-Time. July 4th at 10:00 AM is Magic Tree House’s Dinosaurs Before Dark. July 5th at 2:0 PM is a celebration of Outlander
  • July 8-12: DC Comics Days (including a free Young Gotham poster, while supplies last)
  • July 9-12: Comic Convention Collectibles
  • July 17: 7:00 PM is Minions Fun
  • July 18: Star Wars Saturday (with a chance to win a Star Wars standee)
  • July 19: Manga Mania
  • July 24: 7:00 PM, Fangirl Friday
  • July 28: 7:00 PM, and July 31, 7:00 PM: Dr. Seuss Spectacular

Those are the national ones, and it’s certainly possible that your local store will have local events. If you could make a good presentation that ties into one of these things, it’s worth contacting your store to see if they are interested in having you.

Oh, and not specifically geek-focused, but likely to have a lot of related topics will be Throwback Thursdays:

  • July 2: 1950s
  • July 9: 1960s
  • July 16: 1970s (see my post on The Geeky Seventies)
  • July 23: 1980s
  • July 30: 1990s

Enjoy!

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Christopher Lee has reportedly died

June 13, 2015

Christopher Lee has reportedly died

Power.

That’s what I think of when I think of

Christopher Lee

From Dracula to Saruman to Lord Summerisle in the Wicker Man to James Bond villain Scaramanga, Christopher Lee always radiated power.

It didn’t matter if the role employed the actor’s majestic voice (and Lee did a lot of work with only his voice), or was without speech. In every case, that old cliché of being a force of nature applied.

Few actors have carried so many movies, or been so geek friendly. He brought a really original interpretation to Bram Stoker’s infamous Count, and (along with Peter Cushing) established Hammer horror. Arguably, our modern culture of “rebooting” pop culture classics owes a lot to Hammer and Lee.

He appeared in geeky TV shows, including a regular role The Tomorrow People.

Clearly, working with Lee was often a good experience, leading to lasting professional relationships with Tim Burton and Terry Pratchett.

In 2001, after more than forty years on screen, Lee appeared in two of the biggest movies of the year…and most successful franchises ever (Lord of the Rings and Star Wars).

Geek friendly roles include:

  • Corridor of Mirrors (1948)
  • Hamlet (with Laurence Olivier)…geek friendly? It is a ghost story, after all
  • Tales of Hans Anderson (TV series…various roles)
  • The Curse of Frankenstein (as the “creature”)…he played this role for Hammer before he played Dracula for the. Peter Cushing was Dr. Frankenstein
  • Horror of Dracula (1958) as Dracula
  • Corridors of Blood (as Resurrection Joe…costarring with Boris Karloff)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (as Sir Henry)
  • The Man Who Could Cheat Death
  • The Mummy (as the mummy/Kharis)
  • Uncle was a Vampire
  • The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
  • The City of the Dead
  • The Hands of Orlac
  • Scream of Fear
  • One Step Beyond (TV series)
  • Hercules in the Haunted World
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (as Holmes)
  • Katarsis (as Mephistopheles)
  • Horror Castle
  • The Whip and the Body
  • The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV series)
  • Crypt of the Vampire
  • Castle of the Living Dead
  • The Gorgon
  • Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
  • She
  • Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians
  • The Skull
  • The Face of Dr. Manchu (as Fu Manchu)
  • Dracula: Prince of Darkness
  • Rasputin: The Mad Monk
  • Psycho-Circus
  • The Brides of Fu Manchu
  • Island of the Burning Damned
  • The Vengeance of Fu Manchu
  • Blood Fiend
  • Five Golden Dragons
  • The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism
  • The Devil Rides Out
  • Eve
  • The Blood of Fu Manchu
  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
  • Curse of the Crimson Altar
  • Two episodes of the John Steed The Avengers (one with Mrs. Peel, one with Tara Kng)
  • Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu
  • The Oblong Box
  • The Magic Christian
  • Scream and Scream Again
  • The Bloody Judge
  • Eugenie
  • Count Dracula
  • One More Time
  • Taste the Blood of Dracula
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (as Mycroft Holmes)
  • Scars of Dracula
  • The House that Dripped Blood
  • I, Monster
  • Dracula A.D. 1972
  • Horror Express (I find this an interesting movie, with some big ideas…it has fallen into the public domain, so it’s pretty easy to find)
  • Nothing But the Night
  • Dark Places
  • The Creeping Flesh
  • Poor Devil
  • The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Three Musketeers (and The Four Musketeers, and The Return of the Musketeers) (the Michael York version, as Rochefort)
  • The Man with the Golden Gun (James Bond)
  • Space 1999 (TV series)
  • To the Devil a Daughter
  • Dracula and Son
  • The Keeper
  • Meatcleaver Massacre
  • End of the World
  • Starship Invasions
  • Return from Witch Mountain (Disney)
  • Circle of Iron
  • Nutcracker Fantasy
  • Jaguar Lives!
  • Captain America II: Death to Soon (TV movie with Reb Brown as Cap)
  • 1941 (Steven Spielberg)
  • Once Upon a Spy
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Tales of the Haunted (TV movie)
  • Goliath Awaits (TV movie)
  • Massarati and the Brain
  • The Last Unicorn
  • House of the Long Shadows
  • The Return of Captain Invincible
  • Faerie Tale Theatre
  • Howling II…Your Sister Is as Werewolf
  • Mio in the Land of Faraway
  • Mask of Murder
  • Around the World in 80 Days (TV mini-series)
  • Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  • Curse III: Blood Sacrifice
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (as Sherlock Holmes)
  • Beauty and the Beast (British animation)
  • Incident at Victoria Falls (as Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
  • Cyber Eden
  • Detonator (TV movie)
  • Ghosts (videogame)
  • A Feast at Midnight
  • The Tomorrow People (TV series)
  • Tales of Mystery and Imagination (TV series)
  • Welcome to the Discworld (as Death…yes, by Terry Pratchett)
  • Wyrd Sisters (again based on Pratchett)
  • The Odyssey
  • Tales of the Mummy
  • Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton)
  • The Rocky Interactive Horror Show (videogame…as the narrator)
  • Gormenghast
  • In the Beginning (as Rameses I)
  • Ghost Stories for Christmas (as M.R. James)
  • Conquest: Frontier Wars (videogame)
  • The Lord of the Rings (as Saruman…the Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as well as videogame versions…and then The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies)
  • Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones (and Episode III: Revenge  of the Sith, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars) (as Lord Dooku)
  • Freelancer (videogame)
  • Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse
  • EverQuest II
  • GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (James Bond videogame…reprising Scaramanga)
  • Greyfriar’s Bobby
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton)
  • Corpse Bride (Burton, again)
  • Kingdom Hearts II (videogame)
  • The Golden Compass
  • The Color of Magic (Pratchett)
  • Alice in Wonderland (for Burton, as the Jabberwocky)
  • Burke and Hare
  • Season of the Witch
  • The Wicker Tree
  • Hugo
  • The Hunting of the Snark
  • Dark Shadows (Burton)
  • Extraordinary Tales
  • Angels in Notting Hill

Good-bye, Christopher Lee….the world is weaker without you.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

The Geeky Seventies

June 9, 2015

The Geeky Seventies

CNN is following up their successful series on the 1960s with one on the 1970s:

http://www.cnn.com/shows/the-seventies

Tom Hanks is an Executive Producer.

The existence of this series is kind of funny to me. I did a comedy bit years ago on our community access TV show (Freedom from Fear) called “In Search of the Seventies”. I treated it as a mystery as to whether or not the Seventies even (culturally) existed. I asked if they were really just “…the end of the Sixties and the start of the Eighties”.

I think that’s because I was too close to it. I was really engaging in pop culture in the Seventies…well, often culture that wasn’t so popular, but you know what I mean. ;) I didn’t have the distance from it and maturity to recognize what was special about it.

Certainly, I thought the 1960s had a unique culture…with the Beatles in part driving the bus.

As to the 1980s, well, New Wave music seemed to stand out to me.

The 1970s? At that time, I wasn’t seeing what made it special.

Now I do. :)

This post is going to give you an overview of geek-friendly culture in the 1970s.

It was definitely a transformative decade…even if the Transformers didn’t arrive until the 1980s. ;)

Geek culture moved mainstream in very big ways. Predominantly, there was Star Wars, which made space opera a blockbuster, but we could also look at The Exorcist for horror, and Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice) for vampires.

We saw the arrival of Stephen King as a novelist, and the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.

Home video technology meant that people could easily watch movies after they were out of theatres…decades after, in some cases. Prior to that, some of us had three-minute long Super 8 movies, and the real hobbyists might have 16mm reels, but the Betamax and others meant our cinematic history (including the geeky part) was much more accessible.

Star Trek: the Original Series was canceled in 1969…but the fandom continued. That led to the first Star Trek convention in the 1970s. Science fiction conventions went back to 1939, but this was different.

Batman in the 1960s might have made superheroes a hit on TV, but Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk were part of the 1970s scene.

The Weird World interested a lot more people…the In Search Of TV series was only one part of that, but was many viewers’ first exposure to some of these topics.

Let’s look at some of the highlights in different areas:

Movies

How times have changed!

When you look at the top ten US grossing movies released in the 1960s, arguably only two are geek-friendly (GF) and not specifically intended for the family/children’s market:

  1. The Sound of Music
  2. 101 Dalmations
  3. The Jungle Book
  4. Doctor Zhivago
  5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  6. Mary Poppins
  7. My Fair Lady
  8. Thunderball (GF)
  9. Cleopatra
  10. 2001: A Space Odyssey (GF)

By the end of the 1970s, that picture had entirely changed, and would look more like our box office today:

  1. Star Wars (GF)
  2. Jaws (GF)
  3. The Sting
  4. Animal House
  5. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (eventually) GF
  6. The Godfather
  7. Superman (GF)
  8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (GF)
  9. Smokey and the Bandit
  10. Blazing Saddles

The Exorcist (1973) brought straight up horror to blockbuster status and mainstream acceptance (along with a lot of protests).

In 1975, Steven Spielberg changed the summer. Up to that point, it had largely been a season of cheapo exploitation movies. People actually went outside (including drive-ins), not to the movies. Jaws reshaped all that, giving us the summer blockbuster season. There have been heated debates about whether or not Jaws is a fantasy (are we supposed to believe the shark is just a shark, or something more?), but it was clearly a monster movie.

Then in 1977, Star Wars changed it all.

While those movies were all big hits, there were a lot of other significant geek movies. Undeniably, we have to count the Rocky Horror Picture Show as establishing midnight movies and a special kind of cult film. It flopped when it came out, but then got a new life in a new way. He’s the hero…that’s right, the hero. ;)

Here are some other stand-outs:

  • Alien (1979)
  • A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  • Mad Max (1979)
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974)
  • The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
  • The Omen (1976)
  • King Kong (1976)
  • Eraserhead (1977)
  • Solaris (1972)
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
  • Logan’s Run (1979)
  • The Wicker Man (1973)
  • Live and Let Die (1973) (the first Roger Moore James Bond)
  • Soylent Green (1973)
  • Enter the Dragon (193)
  • The Amityville Horror (1979)
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)
  • Zardoz (1974)
  • The Wiz (1978)
  • Westworld (1973)
  • Four of the original Planet of the Apes movies
  • A Boy and His Dog (1975)
  • Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
  • Tommy (1975)
  • The Lord of the Rings (1978) (Ralph Bakshi)
  • Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  • Phantasm (1979)
  • The Sentinel (1977)
  • Suspiria (1977)
  • Death Race 2000 (1975)
  • Rollerball (1975)
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • Tales from the Crypt (1972)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
  • Freaky Friday (1976)
  • The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
  • The Car (1977)
  • The Muppet Movie (1979)
  • The  Stepford Wives (1975)
  • Dark Star (1974)
  • Eraserhead (1977)

TV

Sure, the 1960s had been huge for high concept TV (with 1964 particularly important), but the 1970s built on that with many geek-friendly hits. Batman on TV had burned out by 1970, but opened the field for other superheroes (DC, Marvel, and bionic). Star Wars and James Bond were both big in movie theatres, and we saw their effect on the small screen as well. Home video arrived, which began to give us more options (although cable wouldn’t be a factor until the 1980s). Saturday morning got trippy with the Kroffts (although H.R. Pufnstuf debuted in 1969), and saw the return of Star Trek with the original cast…in animated form.

Some geek-friendly series:

  • Wonder Woman
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Saturday Night Live (Coneheads! Land Shark!)
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Fantasy Island
  • Mork & Mindy
  • Land of the Lost
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • Kung Fu
  • Space: 1999
  • The Six Million Dollar Man
  • The Bionic Woman
  • The Muppet Show
  • The Tomorrow People
  • Isis
  • Kolchak: The Night Stalker
  • Blakes 7
  • The Amazing Spier-Man
  • Nanny and the Professor
  • Shazam!
  • Tales of the Unexpected
  • SCTV
  • Paddington Bear
  • The New Avengers
  • Schoolhouse Rock!
  • Super Friends
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series
  • Man from Atlantis
  • Return to the Planet of the Apes
  • Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
  • Sapphire & Steel
  • Star Blazers
  • The Prisoner
  • Quark
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • The Invisible Man (David McCallum)
  • Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
  • Doctor Who in the United States
  • Monty Python in the United States

Books/literature

I’ve gone into depth on the general topic of literature of the 1970s in another blog of mine:

I Love My Kindle: Books in the 1970s

In terms of geek-friendly, it was a huge decade! Just as movies saw the mainstreaming of geek-friendly genres, bookstores saw bestsellers from a new author named Stephen King, and a vampire hit (Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice).

While geek-specific bookstores (and comic book stores) were crucial, you could walk into a the newly national Barnes & Noble chain and get a variety of science fiction/fantasy/supernatural horror. You wanted military SF? You had Joe Haldeman. Light fantasy? Enter Xanth by Piers Anthony. Social science fiction? The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. Ringworld…Riverworld…we weren’t only reaching out to new planets, we were visiting new worlds and universes.

Here are some of the stand-out titles and authors:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
  • Gateway by Frederick Pohl
  • Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
  • Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven
  • The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan
  • Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
  • The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
  • Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky
  • Autumn Angels by Arthur Byron Cover
  • The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure) by Edward Packard

Gaming

1974 saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons…and we had Advanced D&D by the end of the decade. This was really the decade that saw the RPG (Role-Playing Game) world established, and would include Runequest and Traveller.

Fandom

Star Trek:  The Original Series ended in 1969, but the people who had come together to fight for a third season kept at it. That included the first Star Trek convention (well, the first widely available to the public one in 1972), the return of the original cast for the animated series, and eventually, 1979, to the big screen.

Comics

Again, there was a transition happening, with some significant experimentation.

  • Jack Kirby jumped from Marvel to DC, and introduced Darkseid
  • The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide first appeared
  • Green Lantern and Green Arrow take a philosophical walk-about across America
  • Mister Miracle debuts
  • An arc in Spider-Man features drug use, and defies the Comics Code Authority
  • Ra’s Al Ghul first appears
  • The Kree-Skrull War storyline
  • The Sandman
  • War Machine makes his first appearance
  • Wonder Woman gives up her powers

The Weird World

  • The TV series In Search of… (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) was instrumental in reinteresting people in the Roswell Incident
  • 1973 was dubbed “The Year of the Humanoids” by UFO researcher David Webb…one of the most famous was the Pascagoula incident
  • Uri Geller was famous, even appearing on the Tonight Show in 1973 to “bend spoons”
  • Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander was published in 1970
  • The Mysterious Monsters was a Sunn Classics documentary, featuring Peter Graves
  • The Legend of Boggy Creek was released in 1972
  • The Unidentified, published in 1975, by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark, is Coleman’s first “name on the cover” book
  • John A. Keel’s inimitable The Mothman Prophecies was published in 1975
  • Momo, the Missouri Monster, was just one of many hairy bipeds
  • Newsstands had magazines galore, including Ancient Astronauts
  • The “flipper photo” of the Loch Ness Monster was taken in 1972 by Dr. Robert Rines’ team
  • In 1975, Travis Walton is missing for several days, and a report emerges of an abduction by aliens

Records

Listening to LPs was definitely a 1970s thing, and there were some definitely geeky concept albums.

  • 1972: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • 1973: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells
  • 1978: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds
  • 1978: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Science/Tech

  • Home computers became a thing in 1977, with the Apple II, the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor), and the TRS-80 (Tandy Radio Shack)
  • Skylab launched in 1973…and docked with the Russian Soyuz in 1975
  • The Atari 2600 was released in 1977
  • The first Pong arcade game was put to use in 1972. Arcade games would really take off with Space Invaders in 1978

There’s a bit of the geeky 1970s for you! We certainly didn’t cover everything, but you can see the big shift from geek culture being kids and niche to becoming the mainstream pop culture force that it is today. Want to add something? Feel free to comment on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Argonauts, assemble! 10 super teams besides The Avengers

June 1, 2015

Argonauts, assemble! 10 super teams besides The Avengers

With Avengers: Age of Ultron conquering the box office, I thought I’d take a look at some other superhero teams.

I’m sure there are people who saw the first Avengers movie, and thought the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was doing some thing new: “Wow, it was clever of them to put a bunch of superheroes together!”

I don’t blame them for that: we all step into the pop culture stream at different points along the shore.

Well, not only were The Avengers in the comics starting in 1963 (more than fifty years ago), they weren’t the first super team…in fact, there have been many.

Here is a list of ten super teams besides The Avengers:

The Argonauts

If you think fifty years ago is “ancient”, we can get a bit more literal with the Argonauts of Greek legend. They teamed up for a specific mission (finding the Golden Fleece), prior to the Trojan War. Now, some of you might argue about the use of “super”, but this group included: Heracles (you might use the name Hercules from the Romans)…the son of a God with superhuman strength; Perseus (another son of Zeus), who was a monster slayer; and Theseus (son of Poseidon, also a superhuman fighter).

The Justice League of America

Starting in the comics in 1960 (preceding The Avengers), DC had their own superhero team, which included Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter. Like The Avengers, membership has changed over the years. SuperFriends was a popular cartoon series based on the JLA (“Meanwhile…in the Hall of Justice…”), and 2016’s Batman v Superman is subtitled, “Dawn of Justice” (and will feature other members of the League). In the 1960s, DC had been updating earlier superheroes, and the JLA is an updating of the Justice Society of American (which started in 1940). The JSA included the Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman.

The Metal Men

 You know how people say you need to have a lot of different elements in a team to make it work? That was literally the case with The Metal Men. They were artificially intelligent robots named (and made of), Gold, Tin, Lead, Mercury, Platinum, and Iron. Their personalities and abilities reflect their composition: Mercury is, well, mercurial (a “hothead”), and Tin is insecure, for example. It’s worth noting that Platinum (also called Tina) is a female robot…somewhat of a rarity in pop culture, although 1962 (the debut year for The Metal Men) also brought us Rosie on The Jetsons.

The X-Men

They were born that way. That’s one of the differences between the X-Men (introduced in September 1963) and many other groups. They possess mutations…and there have been a lot of variation of that and a lot of members of the team. Led by Dr. X(avier), the five original team members were Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. It wasn’t until May of 1975 that Wolverine joined the team.

The Inferior Five

Parody superheroes have been around for decades, and the I5 were introduced in 1966. They were the sons (and one daughter) of famous superheroes (which were themselves parodies of well-known characters). They weren’t very effective, even if they inherited powers: Awkwardman is super-strong and can live underwater, but is clumsy; The Blimp can fly, but only very slowly; Dumb Bunny is also super-strong, but lacks intelligence; Merryman is unusually intelligent (with a good sense of humor), but a physical weakling; and White Feather is an excellent archer, but is so nervous that he often can’t perform when he knows people are watching (in a battle, for example).

The Fantastic Four

It’s a family affair…Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman), her brother Johnny (The Human Torch), Sue’s eventual husband, Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic), and Reed’s college roommate, Ben Grimm (The Thing) become superheroes accidentally. Somewhat unusually (but not uniquely), they don’t have secret identities: everybody knows who they are.

The Legion of Superheroes

 Teen-aged fans of a superhero…but when they cosplay, it’s for real. ;) Not surprisingly, a thousand years after Superman is famous, he’s a revered figure of history. However, given how common time travel is in the comics, Superboy actually interacted with this group of fans. They had the feel of a club, and you had to follow rules. Not everybody who tried out made it: some of the others became the Legion of Substitute Heroes (one of the better creations in comics, in my opinion). It’s worth noting that, with the occasional story exception, the female characters fought just like the male characters. Saturn Girl, in fact, often led the group into battle and was more of a hawk than some of the others. The comic was also notable for killing off a main character, presaging some of contemporary TV.

The Mighty Heroes

Not every superteam comes from DC, Marvel, (or Mount Olympus). Legendary counterculture animator Ralph Bakshi created The Mighty Heroes for Saturday morning TV. They only ran one season in 1966, but were re-run (and later had a cameo in Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse revival of the 1980s). Even though they might seem pretty goofy, they still would win through their abilities. They were Strong Man, Rope Man, Diaper Man, Tornado Man, and Cuckoo Man.

Legends of Tomorrow

A lot of these teams might be vintage, but LoT is so new, they haven’t even debuted yet. ;) This is the trailer (TV or movie) that has filled me with the most anticipation recently. It’s a CW TV series, bringing together Arrow, The Flash, White Canary (the reborn good version of Black Canary), Hawkgirl, Firestorm, The Atom, and two Flash villains, Captain Cold and Heatwave. The premise looks good, the mix of characters should keep it interesting, and bottom line…it looks fun!

The Legion of Doom

You had noticed by now that this article is about superteams…not superhero teams, right? Villains may traditionally be more antisocial than heroes, but they do team up from time to time. With the first episode of Challenge of the SuperFriends in 1978, we were introduced to Lex Luthor’s Legion of Doom, bringing together iconic DC comic book villains, including General Grodd (called Gorilla Grodd here), Giganta, Black Manta, and Bizarro. They were presented as the “anti-SuperFriends”, with a parallel set-up.

Obviously, that’s just a small sampling of superteams. Who do you think should have made the list? The Teen Titans? Misfits of Science? All-Star Squadron? The Doom Patrol? The Watchmen? Feel free to add more by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Do reality competition shows discriminate in hiring based on sex?

May 24, 2015

Do reality competition shows discriminate in hiring based on sex?

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has an

online petition

asking film and television professionals to ask the U.S. Government to look into hiring (or perhaps, non-hiring might be more accurate) practices of studios for female directors (statistics suggest they are underrepresented, which may be indicative of illegal discrimination based on sex).

When the Survivor “Second Chance” cast (picked by the audience) was recently revealed, though, a question was raised for me again about another example of hiring discrimination based on sex.

You see, they hired ten women and ten men (based on the show’s defined categories).

That means that if eleven people of one gender were the best candidates, one of them wouldn’t have made it on this national, highly-rated show, based solely on sex.

How is that not discrimination?

Now, I realize that Hollywood is allowed to hire characters, for example, based on protected class. You can require that Juliet (as in Romeo and…) has to be a female. It can be argued that it is a requirement of the job. That is not an argument Shakespeare would have made though..men played Juliet in the Bard’s time.

I don’t see how you can argue that there is a requirement of the Survivor role that means you need to hire either a man or a woman.

There’s one simple reason for that…either one can win the job and fulfill the requirements of being the “sole survivor”.

The same thing seems true to me for American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance. If the winning role can be filled by a man or a woman, than eliminating somebody from the opportunity to get that position because your gender quota is already filled seems…unfair.

I wonder if the argument is that people aren’t being hired for the position…regardless, keeping somebody out based on an inherent characteristic (which is a protected class) appears to be, at the least, unethical.

Why would they possibly pick someone who wasn’t as telegenic just to maintain a balance?

Perhaps they would argue that they want to reflect the potential audience. If that’s so, based on the 2010 census (and the categories they use), we would also expect the contestants to be approximately:

  • 72% white
  • 12.5% black or African American
  • 5% Asian

among others.

I doubt that breakdown matches how contestants would identify themselves….or, for that matter, how casting directors would identify them.

So, I’m curious: how is that sex-based casting on reality competition shows legal?

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Grace Lee Whitney has reportedly died

May 4, 2015

Grace Lee Whitney has reportedly died

Grace Lee Whitney was an integral part of Star Trek.

While Yeoman Rand disappeared from the series, Whitney never disappeared from the fandom.

It was a complicated set of circumstances.

Rand was intended to be an unrequited love interest of Captain Kirk’s, and writers for the series included her in episodes they wrote before her exit (and where her parts had to be reassigned).

Was it because the show wanted Kirk to be unfettered?

Regardless, Whitney had a complicated life, and she overcame hurdles to later return for the Star Trek movies.

It’s important to note that she had almost two decades of screen credits before first appearing in Star Trek…and she had been a successful singer before that (reportedly working with Billie Holiday, Buddy Rich, and Spike Jones).

I actually first think of Yeoman Rand’s interactions not with Kirk, but with Charlie X. Her handling of the unwanted attentions of a super-powered adolescent had a ring of truth…it made me wonder (in later years) about parallels with her real life experiences. That’s not to suggest it wasn’t a strong acting performance: I thought it was, and the way that she has remained in fans’ thoughts show that others did, too.

Geek-friendly credits include:

  • The Unexpected (TV series)
  • House of Wax (in 3D with Vincent Price…as an uncredited Can Can dancer)
  • The original The Outer Limits (Controlled Experiment…starring Carroll O’Connor and Barry Morse as Martians)
  • Bewitched
  • Batman (the Adam West series, in a King Tut two-parter)
  • Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (with Butch Patrick of The Munsters)
  • The Next Step Beyond (TV series)

Good-bye, Grace Lee Whitney: you showed us that being a beautiful fantasy can be a harsh reality…but one that can be conquered with inner strength.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Batman vs. Superman: why people pick one or the other

April 26, 2015

Batman vs. Superman: why people pick one or the other

When Titans Clash!

Geeks love to argue over who would win in a fight.

Although, I have to say, I’d rather fight over who would win in an argument. ;)

I mean, after all, don’t we geeks prize our intellects more than our physicality?

Why are we so involved in who can out-bash whom? Shouldn’t we be more interested in whether Sherlock Holmes could out argue Doctor Who, or vice versa?

Well, next year, we’ll get a movie which pits Batman against Superman (they, for some reason, made it “v” instead of “vs”, but that’s clearly still what it means).

On the surface, as Jon Stewart pointed out, it seems ridiculous.

Superman is super.

The Man of Steel is invulnerable and super strong.

Batman is a human being…an extraordinary one, yes, but Superman has “powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men”.

However…

Batman (like many heroes) often defeats enemies who are physically superior.

Batman is the “scientific detective”. We know it’s possible to defeat Superman with science…once you’ve got that synthetic kryptonite thing figured out, a short term victory becomes possible.

You would think, in this scenario, geeks might tend to side with the underdog…um, underbat?

On the other hand, Superman is a true outsider. Many geeks feel like they are aliens on this planet…Kal-El actually is one.

Regardless of who we would like to see win (and really, don’t we want it to be that they end up working together…as they clearly will, since this is the Dawn of Justice [League]?), who would win is interesting…but so is why you think that.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Jon Stewart had really bizarre logic to me in picking Batman. You can see the segment here:

https://nerdist.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-and-jon-stewart-debate-batman-vs-superman/

The astrophysicist basically said that it might come down to public opinion, and because Batman is part of the existing social structure (since he reports [sic] to the Mayor), and Superman does whatever he wants, people would be on the side of Batman.

Um…what?

I didn’t realize that DeGrasse Tyson is as old as he is, but I could tell right away that this is someone for whom Batman means the Adam West version (Batman ’66, as it is sometimes now called).

In that series, Batman was very much a law and order person…having Robin buckle up before chasing after a bat-villain in the Batmobile, for example).

The mayor to whom he is “reporting”? Mayor Linseed (a parody of Mayor John Lindsay of New York City).

In that series, though, Batman certainly doesn’t work for the Mayor. Jon Stewart had first identified the  Commissioner  (Gordon) as the person to whom Batman reports…and DeGrasse Tyson corrected him.

Stewart had the relationship more correct, though. Batman responds to the Bat-signal…which Commissioner Gordon uses to ask for help. It’s not like an order to appear by a superior…it’s a way to let Batman know that Gotham City needs him.

If the Mayor was not re-elected, that wouldn’t change the relationship much at all…Batman is a friend of the Commissioner…and again, not an employee.

If you don’t know Batman primarily from 1966, then this is a guy who does not toe the societal line.

Batman is a vigilante…he works outside the law. He is judge and jury, even if not executioner. If Batman decides you are a bad guy, you are in trouble…nobody’s reading you your rights when the bat-cuffs go on.

Batman even quit the Justice League. Sure, he formed a new group…called, tellingly, The Outsiders!

Superman, while an alien by birth, is much more of a team player and rule follower.

I can’t imagine that your average law-abiding citizen would rather live in a city with Batman in it than a city with Superman in it.

Now, admittedly, and avoiding spoilers, the Superman in the movie is different. If you’ve seen The Man of Steel or don’t mind spoilers, you can see what I am talking about here:

The Spoiler Zone: the real problem with Man of Steel

Even so, Batman clearly always has his own agenda, while Superman seems to be about protecting not only his adopted planet, but the society on it. I say “society” and not “societies” because Superman grew up as an American, and that has traditionally been his priority “truth, justice and the American way”. He wouldn’t force American values on others, but that’s his paradigm.

So, what does it mean if you pick Batman or if you pick Superman?

If you pick Batman…

  • You are going for brains over brawn. In some cases, Superman is supposed to be superintelligent, but this is clearly a case of physical superiority on Superman’s side…and presumably, mental superiority on Batman’s side
  • You may be picking the human over the alien…being literally xenophobic, in this case
  • In this movie, you may be picking experience as an important factor

If you pick Superman…

  • You believe physical superiority will triumph
  • You may believe the “light” will win over the “dark (knight)”
  • You think Superman is smart in addition to having his other abilities

In terms of support from society or other heroes (and there are others in the movie), I think that’s undecided. The trailer certainly suggests that there are people arguing that Superman can’t be trusted…but we don’t know what they think about Batman yet.

Now, if the two were to debate…I’ve got to go with Batman. ;)

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Putting my money where the movies are: May 2015

April 25, 2015

Putting my money where the movies are: May 2015

The first widely released movies (for the USA) for May 2015 are about to hit the theatres, so I wanted to share with you my allocations in our

The $100 Million Box Office Challenge

That’s a new game we are playing, and you can participate! There is no charge, and there we play for that most valuable of human possessions: braggin’ rights. ;)

The April game is closed, but the May game is now open:

The Measured Circle’s $100 million Box Office Challenge May 2015

The basic idea is that you have $100 million (each month) in imaginary money. You “invest” up to that amount in the movies, and you “win” imaginary money based on how well the movies do.

This how I’ve allocated my $100 million for May (this will be updated with production budgets and dogroes, but I won’t know either when I make my “investments”):

Running total: N/A

It’s important to note that I can’t get back more than the movie makes, which helps explain some of these “investments”.

I wish this one was more complicated, but I’m going for a safe bet.

Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012 had a prodbud (production budget) reported at $220.0m. It’s domestic gross (dogro) was $623,357,910. It had a return of 353%.

I expect it will do as well or better, but let’s say the prodbud is $275m and it does 75% as well. We’ll even round down and say it has a return of 250%. I’d still clean up. ;)

That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t find a better bet spreading things around among the other movies…but that’s a higher risk. For one thing, I’m comfortable that the production budget will be reported for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but not as sure for some of the others.

Looking at the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, we wouldn’t expect this sequel to fall off dramatically.

Captain America? $177m for the first one, $260m for the second.

Thor? $181m for the first one, $206m for the second.

Iron Man did have a small drop from the first to the second (from $318m to $312m), but then jumped up to $409m on the third.

Even though someone could argue that Marvel being on TV might dissipate some fan support, I’m comfortable that this movie will do super well.

As to the other movies…

The Mad Max trailers have been super buzzy, and original George Miller is back to direct. It is R-rated, though, but Warner Brothers has shown it can make money with reboots, remakes, and franchises. I think this is a likely hit, but not at the level of The Avengers.

Hot Pursuit, a comedy starring Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon, wants to be a highly profitable comedy like we’ve seen in recent years. I’m not positive on that. The director, Anne Fletcher, had a hit with The Proposal, and Step Up spawned a franchise…but 2012’s The Guilt Trip only did $37m. I’m guessing it’s relatively inexpensive, but a $150m dogro would impress me very much with this.

Pitch Perfect 2: the first one had a prodbud of $17m, and a dogro of $65m…that makes it Golden in our awards system (dogro triple the prodbud), but comedy striking twice can be tricky. Rebel Wilson was such a revelation in the first one, but has now had a TV show and isn’t going to have that same effect (even if she is equally funny). Can this make the jump from fresh concept to franchise? I’m not convinced.

Poltergeist should have a very solid cult following (Sam Rockwell helps with that), but ther ehasn’t been a hit in the series since the first one. I’m hoping they really kept the budget down, but I’d be surprised if this profits $50m (dogro v prodbud…might do pretty well internationally).

Tomorrowland…I quite underestimated Cinderella, despite having been a Disney fan for decades. Brad Bird is a big plus for me on its chances, but George Clooney does not a blockbuster make (see The Men Who Stare at Goats and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind…both books which I had read before they were made into movies, convincing me that George Clooney and both like some of the same books). I’m guessing this is quite an expensive movie…I’m afraid this could be more like The Lone Ranger than a Pixar movie for The Mouse House. I sincerely hope that’s wrong, but I’m not willing to take the chance on it over The Avengers.

San Andreas: yes, Dwayne Johnson is good for box office, and Paul Giamatti broadens the appeal. Brad Peyton doesn’t have much of a track record as a director, although Journey 2 broke $100m dogro (also with Dwayne Johnson). I’m guessing it does better overseas than at home.

Don’t agree with my assessments? It’s too late to play for this month, but don’t forget that you can play for May!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Free for all Friday: Orphan Black S1 from Amazon

April 17, 2015

Free for all Friday: Orphan Black S1 from Amazon

This Friday, April 17th, Amazon is making the first season/series (what people in the USA call a “season”, people in the UK call as “series”) of Orphan Black free to stream.

press release

Just to be clear, you aren’t going to own it, and you aren’t going to download it to watch later.

You can binge watch the whole thing, but just on Friday. You can get to it here:

Orphan Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Why are they doing this?

The third season/series debuts in the USA on Saturday…that, and it’s good. ;) Of course, after you see the first one, you may want to rent or buy season two…or even better, as far as Amazon is concerned, you might want to become an Amazon Prime member,

so you can watch the first two seasons/series for no additional cost. I think a lot of people won’t get through ten episode in a day…and they may want to watch them again.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say much about it.

Two things I will say:

  1. Tatiana Maslany deserved an Emmy nomination
  2. It’s NSFW (Not Safe For Work). I’d heard it was good and was watching it with someone…and there was a sex scene that was, well, not what we were expecting. I did go back and watch the first season/series, but the other person didn’t

Do check the price before you start streaming: I would guess tis only applies in the USA.

Enjoy!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

April 6, 2015

Before Ex Machina, there was My Living Doll

“I’m just an it.”
–AF709 (aka Rhoda Miller)
I’ll Leave It All to You
episode of My Living Doll
written by Alan Dales

Alex Garland’s Ex Machina opens this Friday, April 10th, in the USA.

If someone has described the movie to you, perhaps based on seeing the trailer, what are the odds they’ve started out with saying it’s “that movie about artificial intelligence”? I would guess it’s far more likely that they’ve featured that it has a “female robot”, or perhaps even “girl robot”.

I write a lot about

Robots

in The Measured Circle, both the fictional kind and the ones that are inhabiting the world with us.

One of the most fascinating things to me is how we relate to them. As The Measured Circle defines robots*, they are already part of our lives. Our perceptions of them, especially what prejudices we bring to the relationships, may profoundly affect the future lives of Homo sapiens.

There has been a lot of talk recently about gender stereotypes, especially in the geek community.

There is no question that Ex Machina would be perceived as a very different movie if its “robotagonist” was constructed to appear to be male.

“Female” appearing robots have been the exception in science fiction…but have not been absent:

  • In R.U.R., the play which coined the term in 1920, there are main robot characters who are female. These robots are human appearing, and in fact, are organic…nowadays, we might be more inclined to think of them as clones, but they are created to be workers (which is essentially what the term means)
  • In Fritz Lang’s 1927 movie Metropolis, a robot of Maria is able to impersonate a human being (passing the so called “Turing test”). We also see the robot without its human skinlike covering
  • Starting in 1962, The Jetsons had Rosie, a robot maid. In some ways, she has established the standard of what we want from our home robots, both in terms of task  capability  and social interaction. Rosie could not only carry on a conversation, she could disagree and give advice. She is shown to be an older model, but the family has an understandable emotional attachment to her
  • 1962 also brought us Platinum (AKA Tina), one of The Metal Men. These were artificially intelligent robots, and a superhero team. Platinum had a faulty “responsometer”, which made her believe she actually was human…and she was in love with Dr. Magnus, the human creator of The Metal Men. While that situation was sometimes played for laughs, Platinum was a full member of the team
  • 1966’s Italian spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, and its sequel, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, have robotic female weapons
  • If you had as much money as Richie Rich, wouldn’t you want a robot in your house? 1970 introduced Irona, a robot maid…who had considerably more capabilities than that. The 2015 Netflix series had an android appearing Irona, although the original was obviously metal
  • In 1976, The Bionic Woman popularized the term “fembot” for female appearing robots. That is not, of course, The Bionic Woman herself (who is a cyborg…a human with machine amplification), but actual robots (constructed from scratch). Similarly Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager is not a robot
  • Daryl Hannah garnered a lot of attention as Pris in BladeRunner in 1982
  • 1985 brought us Small Wonder on TV, with “V.I.C.I.” (Voice Input Child Identicant), a robotic ten-year old
  • If you visited Delos, the adult amusement park that is the setting of Westworld, female robots abounded…and human/robot sex was the norm
  • 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery  recycled  the term “fembots”, although the robots were arguably more like Dr. Goldfoot’s creations than the ones which appeared on The Bionic Woman
  • Summer Glau portrayed Cameron, an intellectually (and emotionally?) complex Terminator who is a main character in Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles, starting in 2008

That’s only a partial list: for more, see

Wikipedia’s List of fictional female robots and cyborgs

although as it states, not everyone on this list is a robot.

However, a series which very directly addresses the idea of how humans will relate to robots, and the role of artificial intelligence, is

My Living Doll (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping**)

and available on Hulu.

Well, at least part of it is…at this point, only eleven episodes are available (and those may be all that survive, although fans hold out hope for the discovery of the others).

I’ve recently watched all of the episodes, and while it might seem easy to dismiss it as “Julie Newmar as a man’s fantasy”, it’s much more interesting than that.

AF709 certainly starts out as simply an object. Robert Cummings’  psychiatrist is a womanizer and misogynist (his perfect woman would “keep her mouth shut”), and accidentally ends up caring for this robot, which has been built without authorization. It’s inventor coincidentally gets sent to Pakistan after the robot escapes from the lab.

Over time, though, AF709 (who is introduced by Cummings’ Dr. McDonald as “Rhoda” to other people, from whom he is hiding her nature), begins to appear to exhibit genuine human emotion and innovative behavior.

Does she, though?

In early episodes especially, there can be confusion when her “echo confirmation” (as we might call it today) causes her to repeat what people say back to them…often leaving off the first word or two. That can lead to them thinking she is confirming what they are saying. An exchange might go something like, “You fed the dog, right?” “Fed the dog.”

In later episodes, she appears to be having fun, and even acting independently.

Newmar’s performance is extraordinary, and much above the material. She has a dancer’s discipline, and the ability to reproduce actions the same way from episode to episode. She explains her databank depth in the same way, even ending with, “This…is a recording” with the same pause. She talks about her “associated components”, and does the same move to demonstrate them.

Famously, when she doesn’t understand something, she may say, “That does not compute”. That’s been cited as the origin of that phrase, although I would guess more people know it from The (male-sounding) Robot’s use of it on Lost in Space (years later).

It isn’t clear in the series as to whether Rhoda has genuinely become self aware, as appears to be the case, or if she is still mimicking human behavior (as she is clearly created to do, presumably as an easy way to program her for her intended use…space missions). Dr. McDonald intentionally sets out to make her more human (but not in a liberated way) as an experiment…did he succeed, or is she just better at acting the way she has computed humans should act?

I’m sure that question (and its implications for how we treat robots, including what “rights” we give them) will be part of Friday’s Ex Machina…and will increasingly be part of our own lives in the future.

* A robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

** When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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