Friday, September 23, 2011

Do we care? X-Factor joins American Idol vs The Voice...and so it goes

The fall TV line up is just beginning and already the comparison commentary has begun. This week "X-Factor", the singing competition highly promoted by Simon Cowell with good reason - it's his baby - made its debut. The American version of the successful Brit show that instroduced the world to Susan Boyle, boasted a live audience that reacted to the various singers.

As one of the original judges on American Idol since it first began in 2002, he announced his departure in 2010 to create the U.S. version of  "X-Factor." As one of the AI judges and along with Paula Abdul, the two threw verbal jabs at each other and in the end, Abdul ended up joining Cowell on his new project. Nothing like on view hostility, feigned or real, to get tongues wagging and viewers attention.

Have to admit that given all the pre-show attention and TV promos, I joined all the other viewers to see if the new addition justified a weekly committment to another talent show. Basically, that's what it all comes down to: the oldie-but-always-relevant talent parade. Years ago in the days of early TV when color TV was still in the dream stage, Ted Mack hosted "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour", the embryo of today's musical reality shows. It lacked the polish and finish of today's versions but the hopefuls did their thing hoping for stardom. The gimmick was that Mack spun a wheel with the names of the talent lineup to determine their order of appearance. Later the show was joined by the very weirdish, "The Gong Show." Obviously, TV viewers enjoy the idea of watching amateur talent put themselves at the mercy of judges critiques and the at-home voting machine.

As the French say, the more things change, the more they're the same and it will be interesting to see if X-Factor lives up to its hype. If initial ratings are an indication, American Idol has the numbers but it's still the early stages. To its credit, X-Factor doesn't have an age barrier, which is the reason the world is better for having Susan Boyle. In as far as originality is concerned, the show is basically same-old, same-old, IMHO, but some real talent was introduced.

At least the plethora of shows is giving singers, both good and bad, accross the country the opportunity to be heard. Let's be honest: it's an entertaining aspect of the programs. Always interesting to see how off-key some of the contestants can be. At least I restrict my singing to the shower.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Oh joy - another birthday

Last week I became one year older. Actually, I didn't have any choice in the matter. That's the problem with birthdays. It's not like somebody calls you up once per year and asks if you want one. You just get it anyway. It's the gift that keeps on giving, if you get my drift.

This was a particularly interesting year in that unlike most people, I thought I was one year older than I actually was. Don't ask me why or how this occurred but most likely it has to do with not enough fingers and toes with which to calculate and math never was my strong point in school. Most people fix their birthdate to make themselves younger, which is understandable.

Thinking further on my miscalculation, it's interesting how nobody picked up on it. Perhaps they too didn't have enough fingers or toes or it was easier to take me at my word. I mean, who lies about being older other than teenagers? Right? On the brink of becoming a teenager, we used to make ourselves a year older than we were because - I dunno - it seemed like a cool idea. Or when asked one's age, we would always supply a fraction as in: "oh I'm twelve and a half." As if the half made all the difference. There was a mysterious appeal in wanting to always be older but as many of us (not all) age, we start to go backwards. Let's just say I wouldn't want all the candles on the cake for safety reasons and leave it at that.

Pyschologically, this has adversely affected me. The error was discovered by my husband, who picked up on the miscalculation during a pre-birthday conversation. Stunned at the discovery I jotted down the year I was born and the present year, did the math and sure enough it all added up. I'm one year younger than I believed myself to be! So the issue now is - how do I celebrate the missing year and what to tell people who ask my age. Most likely they'll say: "but weren't you that last year?" I mean, what does one answer?

Lots of well-known people have commented about birthdays and getting older.
- "Last week the candle factory burned down. Everyone just stood around and sang ‘Happy Birthday’." (Stephen Wright)

- “Thanks to modern medical advances such as antibiotics, nasal spray, and Diet Coke, it has become routine for people in the civilized world to pass the age of 40, sometimes more than once.” (Dave Barry)

- “Well, birthdays are merely symbolic of how another year has gone by and how little we've grown. No matter how desperate we are that someday a better self will emerge, with each flicker of the candles on the cake, we know it's not to be, that for the rest of our sad, wretched pathetic lives, this is who we areto the bitter end. Inevitably, irrevocably; happy birthday? No such thing.” (Jerry Seinfeld)

- "You know you're getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It's like, "See if you can blow this out." (Jerry Seinfeld)

- "A friend never defends a husband who gets his wife an electric skillet for her birthday."
Erma Bombeck

For those who are trivial-y-minded, here is some trivial birthday facts in case you want to impress somebody with - well - birthday facts:

- More people celebrate their birthdays in August than in any other month (about 9% of all people). The two other months that rate high for birthdays are July and September.

- Close to 2 billion Birthday Cards are sent each year in the U.S. alone, accounting for nearly 58 percent of all cards sent.

- The world's largest birthday cake was created in 1989 for the 100th Birthday of the city of Fort Payne, Alabama. The cake weighed 128,238 pounds, 8 oz. and used 16,209 pounds of icing.

- The most famous rendition of "Happy Birthday" is when Marilyn Monroe sang to "Happy Birthday, Mr President" to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden on 19 May 1962.

- Paul McCartney's Birth Certificate was auctioned in March 1997, for US $84,146. It is believed to be the world's most expensive Birth Certificate.

- The Sultan of Brunei hosted the world's most expensive Birthday Party to celebrate his 50th Birthday on 13 July, 1996. The cost was a whopping US $27.2 million. Three concerts featuring Michael Jackson costs US $16 million of the total amounts.

- Anne Frank's world famous diary was given to her as a present for her 13th birthday.

- William Shakespeare's died on his 52nd birthday: 23 April 1616.

- A recent survey suggests that more people are born on October 5 in the United States than any other day. October 5 holds a not-so-surprising significance, as conception would have fallen on New Year's Eve.

- The least common birth date in the U.S. is May 22nd.

Thanks to modern technology and advances, there are new ways in which one is reminded of one's birthday. Like many people I'm a "Facebook-er" and this has given new meaning to the word "friends." Cyber friends want to mark the the day that they/we were born and to this end send birthday greetings. Really - I'm appreciative when people take the time to note my birthday especially since most don't realize that I've short-changed myself by a year. I've been dining in restaurants where people suddenly break out into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday To You and I cringe. Not for me.

So now the question is which birthday should I celebrate and how many candles should be placed on the cake. My philosophy is keep them guessing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Now you know: Madonna loathes hydrangeas

Really, I like Madonna. She's a great entertainer who gives her all whenever she performs. Having written that I was sort-of upset with her anti-floral comment made recently, following a bouquet of hydrangeas given to her by a fan. One would assume that a celebrity of Madonna's stature would be gracious and smile, thank the fan and then do whatever she wants with the flowers away from public view.

Right? Wrong!

Instead, upon receiving the flowers from the fan at the beginning of a press conference before her show and unaware that the microphone was on, the material girl commented:  "I absolutely loathe hydrangeas."

Okay Madonna - tell us what you really think!

She apparantly used the word "loathe." Not "I'm not too nuts about" or "they're not my favorite flower" or even go out on a limb and make a positive comment like, "what a nice gesture!" which would have been the  thing to do or say. She actually loathes them!  I mean, she could have just as easily said something to the effect, "Hydrangeas - I'm allergic," in the way of an excuse and then handed them over to one of her assistants or something, thereby eliminating hurt feelings. Am I right?

For the record she also added another little zinger aimed at the fan:  "He (the fan/hydrangea giver) obviously doesn’t know that."

Well Madonna and with all due respect, we humble human beings aren't made aware of all s*t*a*r*s* likes and dislikes that relate to flowers. True hydrangeas have large flower heads but therein lays their beauty - at least in the eyes of some of we flower lovers. She could have smiled, thanked the person who gave them to her and ordered somebody from her entourage to give them to a hospital to brighten a patient's room, don't you think? Can you imagine how delighted that patient would be if a bouquet of flowers arrived in their hospital room with a note attached signed, "Your friend, Madonna"?

Later, according to an article, Madonna's press rep told CNN that she is “entitled to like any flower she wants and she didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the hydrangeas of the world ... No disrespect to the hydrangeas lovers of the world but she prefers different types of flowers."

Once again this leaves one (me) to wonder what type of flowers are acceptable in her eyes? Anybody know? Anybody care?

These days a celebrity has to be careful of what she/he says with YouTube ready to capture the moment.

Now you know. No hydrangeas for Madonna.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Power to the shoppers and their shopping habits

Recently, I wrote a short play-ette in my A. Playwright's Rambling blog, focusing on the encounter of two women shopping for lipstick. Although it was exaggerated for drama and content, it was based on a real-life encounter as are many of my "Scenes from Real Life" Life experiences lend themselves as fodder for drama.

For whatever reason, shopping carts or maybe it extends to anything with wheels, seem to bring out the inner beast in some people. Perhaps it's a skewed feeling of power in that they control a vehicle be it a means to hold food items, which could in theory give them muscle over other shoppers. This is particularly noticeable when lining up at the cash to pay. During a big sale at a supermarket, I watched two females (but it just as easily could have been males) actually sling verbal accusations at each other focusing on who was went before while waiting to pay. I mean, really.

Related to this is the quest for parking place and the need to be close to a mall entrance. Shoppers for whatever reason - laziness springs to mind - will drive around and around in tight groups, one car behind the other, ready to spring into action lest a car be spotted pulling out of a space near the door. As a shopper I've been followed by a lineup of ve-hi-cles while walking to retrieve my car. Usually, it's located two rows over from where I'm searching and upon arrival at my destination, the cars are already waiting for my departure. What's the difference if you have to walk a few feet more is my philosophy.

Thinking further perhaps it goes back to our basic survival instinct in that we feel the necessity to exend our superiority and strength in social situations. A shopping cart gives the customer control be it in a limited fashion, over her/his immediate environment. Then again, a parking spot is a parking spot is...unless of course it's 20 below zero in a snow storm. Then it's every man or woman for themselves.

Friday, September 02, 2011

What's that in the sky? Is it a bird...a bee...or space debris?

There are things on this planet that worry me. Not the kind of worry that keeps me up nights but concern me nonetheless. My latest worry is space debris and whether it will stay up in the sky.

I'm not the only one since U.S. scientists have warned NASA that the orbiting space junk situation is getting serious. I mean - really serious. A report issued by the National Research Council indicates that debris could cause fatal leaks or destroy valuable sattelites. Furthermore, the Council is calling for international regulations to limit junk and conduct more research into the possibility of launching large magenetic nets or giant umbrellas. Good idea although perhaps a bit late.

So let's look at these...unique ideas and their viability, at least from my vantage point.

What type of magnetic nets are we talking about and how would they be launched? How would the magnets be propelled around planet earth to scoop up the debris? If magnets and presumably magnetic force is involved, the debris at least in theory, would stick to the magnet(s). So if this works, we could inevitably have an enormous collection/blob of space debris sticking to each other while orbiting the universe. What happens, say, if it gets too heavy and falls earth-ward? Where would it land and more importantly, on whom would it land?

The other alternative, the umbrella has me puzzled. An umbrella as we know it flips open and is a protection against rain or snow or whatever. This would have to be one huge umbrella to be used against floating debris and what of the debris that is already floating around? Or...perhaps - just speculation on my part - a strong magnet first attracts the space debris after which a gigantic/monster of an umbrella opens up to protect the earth from descending junk. That's what it comes down to in the end: space junk.

Thinking further, perhaps we ordinary folk should offer the experts some suggestions. We can't due any worse
- a big - really big - remote battery-controlled vacuum cleaner
- pass on the assignment to Santa, who could make a diversionary pickup on his way delivering toys on Christmas Eve

I dunno but I'm sure people reading this could provide some ideas how to retrieve space junk. Pass them along and share them, people!

Meanwhile, these are some of the solutions that experts have come up with.

In as far as cleanp-up efforts are concerned, in 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite weapon test which destroyed a decommissioned weather satellite, smashing the object into 150,000 pieces larger than 1cm. Two years later, two satellites - one defunct and one active - crashed in orbit, creating even more debris. I dunno...

There are presently 2,000 pieces of debris large enough to track from the ground, but smaller objects could still cause serious damage. Kind of makes one want to carry an umbrella and look skywards, no?

There have been some near-misses with space debris narrowly missing the space station forcing its six crew to go to their escape capsules and prepare for an emergency evacuation back to Earth.

Even more scary is that the report makes no recommendations about how to clean up the field of debris, however but an earlier study refers to the Pentagon's science think-tank, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa).

The Darpa report, dubbed "Catcher's Mitt", suggested a range of technologies, including harpoons, nets and an umbrella-shaped device that would sweep up the debris. Harpoons? One miss and... The ultimate aim is to push the debris further towards the earth where it would burn up, or into a higher but safer orbit. Does this worry you as much as it worries me?