River Town Report Brings the Sexy to Petaluma

Papa’s Got a Brand New Blog

Everything old is new again. At least in terms of what has become my hometown beat – again. I just clicked “publish” on a post for the River Town Report, my new blog at my first affiliation, the venerable Petaluma Argus-Courier. My how “journalism” has changed in the 20 years since I went pro in the 90s.  First off, clicking anything besides a ballpoint pen – let alone publish – was unheard of in our pre-Internet newsroom. Moreover, Eli Lucas, the “one-man disco comet” (pictured) and subject of my post, wouldn’t have rated coverage back then due to his revealing unitard (I once got chided for running the word “taint”). Change is good, taint it? 

Taking the gig has led to many “life imitating art” moments for me, having written the definitive sci-fi crime novel on covering small town shenanigans in the Digital Age. If I knew I was going to be living my own fiction I’d’ve written myself a better rate. Anyway, I’ll be posting twice weekly because once is never enough.

Silly rabbit, brix are for kids

My latest piece for Men’s Health seeks to explain Why Wine Has More Alcohol Than Ever. The reason is simple – people like it. But that’s just petting the monkey on one’s back. Why people like it has less to do with burgeoning alcoholism, say, than it does with naivete – at least according to a couple of the experts with whom I spoke. We also get a primer on how sugar, or the brix count of grapes, affects the percentage of alcohol that results from fermentation. It’s science! And it will get you drunk.

To B-film, or not to B-film

I’m so used to seeing screenshots of Netflix fails that I assumed the attached image was one of them – Dolf Lundgren in Electric Boogaloo, the 80s breakdancing flick (which, of course, would be awesome). But it’s actually a documentary on erstwhile B-film studio Cannon Films (producers of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Lundgren’s turn as He-Man in Masters of the Universe). Amiably directed by Mark Hartley, not only will Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films stoke your Gen X nostalgia for what is now vintage schlock, it might also inspire you to launch your own low-budget film studio.

I know – I have a tendency to go big and go bad at the same time, like mushroom cloud footage shoehorned into a cheap dystopian road pic, but watch the film and see if you can resist the desire to become a B-movie mogul.

I can’t. I’m drawing up one-sheets now (in my mind) for films I’ll script into my phone whilst waiting for the train and probably shoot on my phone as well. In fact, I’m not starting a B-film studio so much as a bPhone studio, which is when one makes iPhone movies with a surfeit of blood, boobs and banter (so, yeah, basically Godard’s Pierrot La Fou). Until there’s an app for that, I’ll have to scratch that niche myself. I’ll borrow my studio’s ethos from MGM’s motto: Ars Gratia Artis – art for art’s sake. Except, there’s no Latin for “Artsploitation,” so my studio motto will have to be something like Ars Abusionem Gratia Ars Abusionem, which is basically “Abusing Art for the Hell of It.” Or maybe that should be self-abusing art? Wait, I feel a film coming on…

Read this artsploitation sci-fi flick I wrote.

Narrative Science Robots Want My Job

When I first learned about Chicago-based Narrative Science, the smallest, weakest part of my ego caught flame and soon an inferno of doubt engulfed my every thought. The firm’s artificial intelligence algorithms combine “business analytics” and “natural language communication” in a manner that makes raw data easily consumable. Basically, they’ve taught robots to write news stories. And it works.
In many ways, this is old news though it grows increasingly relevant day by day for those in the news trade – or at least those still in the trade.

As content becomes further commoditized it stands for reason that its creation would be taken over by technology, assembly-line style, like every other business since the industrial revolution. Instead of Dickensian wastrels working in 19th century factories, however, we’ve got the lovechild of Gutenberg and Babbage plus a few centuries of machine maturation doing the dirty work. And writing is dirty work, mind you. Beyond the industrial waste both produced and consumed in the form of alcohol distillates, there’s also the low pay, lower self-esteem and the lowest common denominator as a target readership which weighs down one’s lofty prose (though I don’t believe this is the case with you personally, dear reader – you’re as highbrow as a Vulcan with botox).

I had mistakenly thought creatives and knowledge workers were immune to the robot revolution because what we do requires that certain je ne sais quoi we purchased with our student loans. When it comes to data-driven business and sports stories, however, the robots kick ass with their deep data-mining and preprogrammed boilerplate that reads as well as any wire copy. This is probably why Reuters is a client – Reuters, which daily feeds national news sites and papers with hundreds of perfectly inverted pyramids, like a multitude refugee newsies, paper hats in hand.

The fact that Narrative Science named their technology “Quill” might be stinging to those writers for whom the icons and trappings of the lifestyle are still sacrosanct. To me, it’s the kind of branding genius that’s always lured me to the dark side. To wit, I don’t see Quill as a threat to my vocation as much as a tool, nay, a weapon, to defend myself from the growing hordes after my gig. I shall use technology like that developed by Narrative Science as a way to franchise myself, to multiply my output, to use the robots as my own private clone army. Though I don’t have the same depth of pocket as a national news organization, I do have thousands of published clips that, in aggregate, constitute an editorial profile of my voice, tropes and schemes. I have oodles of digital DNA the company could use to effectively replicate me as an algorithm. With a small investment in an online thesaurus, they might even be able to match my Brobdingnagian vocabulary.

I called Narrative Science to propose my plan – I mean, why wouldn’t they want to help me metastasize my byline into every crack and crevice of written media? – but I couldn’t find my way to human on their phone system. This got me thinking – do they even employ humans? I could email but how would I know I wasn’t receiving a robot’s reply? Had I just tripped into some rabbit hole where the machines have already won? Was seeking their services the beginning of my downfall, an invitation to replace me with some code-borne Stepford writer? I suppose we can only ask if in their words among the nations, the Promethean fire is burning.

A Girl, a Gun and an iPhone: All You Need to Make a Movie

Goddard vs. Chaplin
Summer movie season is upon us. Well, it’s technically been here since May because, like climate change, Hollywood can adjust the seasons seemingly at will. At your local cinemas, iron-clad playboys flex computer-enhanced muscles whilst spaceships go where no man has gone before – again. It’s a dizzying display of predictable imagineering, so pixel-perfect that it’s hard to remember that cinema used to be a simpler affair.

To provide context for how relatively new movie making is, relative to the other arts, and how far it’s come, consider that there are turtles in the Galapagos older than the entire history of cinema. It’s difficult to imagine that movies were once little more than a point-and-shoot deal. According to two innovators in the medium, the basic requirements once were as follows:

A) “All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman, and a pretty girl.” – Charlie Chaplin

B) “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” – Jean-Luc Goddard Continue reading “A Girl, a Gun and an iPhone: All You Need to Make a Movie”

Big Brother is watching – his royalties go up

1984Jenny Hendrix writes in today’s Los Angeles Times that the present National Security Administration surveillance scandal has led to an appreciable uptick in sales of George Orwell’s 1984 on Amazon. By appreciable, we’re talking a 5,771% surge as of this morning. At the time Hendrix filed, the totalitarian tome was appearing at No. 4 on Amazon’s list of “Movers and Shakers.” Presently, it’s at No. 18, which isn’t bad for a dystopian tale originally published in 1949 and under the pen-name of Eric Arthur Blair. It’s a good thing Orwell let his own name eventually crest the title, since the lit-crit term “Orwellian” has such a better ring to it than “Blairian,” which sounds like a hair product.
The novel celebrated its 64th anniversary on June 8 just in time for 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a NASA contractor to leak info about the NSA’s “massive collection of data from the phone and Internet records of Americans have given rise to concerns over loss of privacy…” write’s Hendrix. Now, Snowden the target of an international manhunt.

Now, I wouldn’t trust a Millennial-aged contractor with the company kitchen’s microwave let alone give him access to NSA secrets but the dude at least deserves a hat-tip for busting the administration’s merry trodding over your Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Here’s a refresher: Continue reading “Big Brother is watching – his royalties go up”

The Big Business of Being Superman (Infographic)

Whodathunk that a space alien with a Christ-complex and leotard cooked up by a couple of Jewish kids in Cleveland would become a billion dollar business? They apparently didn’t – hence the $130 fee from Detective Comics (now Warner Bros.-owned behemoth DC Comics). 75 years later, Superman has become so emblematic of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could own him at all. He’s woven into the fabric of our culture like his public domain brethren Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and yet, like the “Happy Birthday” song, he remains subject to copyright (thanks to his expiration date being a moving target, just like Mickey Mouse’s). What’s fueling his longevity? Check out the figures in the info graphic below… Continue reading “The Big Business of Being Superman (Infographic)”