The Best & Worst Gifts this Holiday Season!!

Okay first lets start off with what not to get people this holiday season… smart devices!

With the rash of recent lawsuits regarding Smart TVs actually spying on people, you would have thought the public would have gotten the message.

What’s the message?

 

If it is not family or not paying rent, don’t let anything in your house that is smarter than you.:) That means saying ‘no thank’ you or ‘good buy’ to all these spying devices marketed as amiable servants or harmless entertainment.

That means no ECHO, no ALEXA, no XBOX, no Smart TVs. It means trading in your Roku or Amazon Fire microphone remote for a regular non-microphone remote.

 

Here is the thing… you want to know what the weather is… do the search yourself!

Same with the news, or the traffic. Do it your effing self. There is a point where convenience becomes a cage, and ease of access a trap.

Every camera in your house (laptops, phones, TVs, smart refrigerators, etc), should have a lens cap. And every microphone in your house (xbox, phones, laptops, alarm systems, smart thermostats, etc) should be able to be physically disabled/disconnected. Being able to determine yes I want this camera off, and yes I want this microphone off, and being certain that they have turned off, that is owning things. Having to trust in the hardware or the software that it is not recording you, and delivering that info to marketeers… that is being owned.

And increasingly in ‘Smart’ homes, the homeowner finds themselves in the latter category.

So yes those are the things not to buy this or any holiday season.

So what are some things worth buying? Well this installment let us discuss…

Portable DVD/CD players

The music industry is happy to get high quality physical music out of the hands of consumers, and especially the ability for them to burn their own discs; and to take us back to the 1950s in returning us to the inherently inferior medium of vinyl. And if you don’t know vinyl is inherently inferior, than you missed the previous paragraph about being smarter than the technology. 🙂

And sure we have streaming. But streaming is largely a gatekeeper format. We empower gatekeepers to store the media we pay for. That media can then be changed or deleted as commerce demands. Even deleted not just from the cloud, but from your media player.

Music thus becomes reduced to something, that though you pay for it, you do not in any substantial way control the thing you paid for. A CD (full WAV, not that MP3 nonsense)and a portable CD player, and a good pair of headphones… returns that control to you. That is what I call a priceless gift.

Here then are my recommendations for portable CD players, headphones, and great quality CDs to test out those headphones.

WONNIE 7.5 Inch Portable DVD Player with Swivel Screen, USB / SD Slot and 4 Hours Rechargeable Battery, Perfect Gift for Kids ( Black ) – While marketed as a gift for kids and the aged, this is actually a great compact portable DVD/CD player that plays a variety of formats at a ridiculously low price. And comes with great extras including a carrying case.

Now while it comes with basic headphones I would recommend the following headphones and amp combo when ready to take the sound from this portable to a better level.

HIFIMAN HE-400I Over Ear Full-size Planar Magnetic Headphones– Not cheap at around $200 but it is actually nearly 60% off of its retail price.

A slightly lower cost, but still well reviewed and lauded headphone option would be:

Fostex T50RP MK3 Professional Studio Headphones, Semi-Open

And while not necessary, an amp will help deliver quality sound to your headphones. Get yours at the link below:

FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Finally here are some must own CDs for testing out your headphones and just hearing great music:

Human

Up Close

Get Up With It

Midnight Matinee (XRCD24 Master)

That’s it for this installment. Follow our suggestions and you’ll have a portable system that will offer superior sound for a fraction of the cost of other options. And if you liked this post drop me an email, subscribe, use the above links or leave me a comment. or do all of the above! 🙂

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Gift Idea/Product of the Day! LIFESAVER Systems 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle

I just watched an excellent Michael Pritchard TED Talk on making filthy water drinkable. At only ten minutes you can view it here:

As someone who has always been concerned with the quality of drinking water, and has over several years tried various remedies to ensure clean water, the talk was of definite interest to me.

Especially as I see more and more companies pressure nations and communities to privatize their water infrastructure; I think water, clean drinkable non-contaminated or tinkered with for taste water (Dasani I’m looking at you)… is going to increasingly not be guaranteed. Water, in this ‘tail wags Dog’ America and World, Is going to start being a luxury item you have to pay for, rather than a basic necessity that should be freely available and provided.  And those who can’t pay for clean, non contaminated water, will not get clean contaminated water.

A Trumpian Dystopian Orwellian future, made ever less far-fetched as the more passionate among us do nothing, while the venal and greedy and ignorant among us, shout loudly.

Michael Pritchard is one who did not stay quietly on the sidelines, turning his outrage on tragedies of nature, and failures of governments and men, such as Katrina… into action.

In this case a portable water filtration system called LIFESAVER that checks a lot of the boxes, that others miss.

  • One it requires no external power source.
  • Two it is designed to catch just about everything, rather than just a few, and
  • Third and most importantly, and the one that most water filters fail on… it shuts the water filter off when it has reached the point of failure.

A water filter is only as good as that point of failure, and a system that lets you know when you have reached that point of replacement is indispensable.

In my house I use the zero pitcher, for this very reason. It’s a quick and easy test you can run on every glass of water, and when the meter hits that number of 006 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) you know it is time to replace that filter.

LIFESAVER offers a similar level of confidence, where it matters even more… when you are on the go; away from your house. And I don’t just mean camping, I mean anyplace outside your home where you need to get a drink of water, whether that be the water cooler at your job, a public fountain, or a friends house.

I work for a billion dollar company, in a fantastic high rise in the middle of a major city, and way too often the water out of the tap, for the whole building… comes out brown. That is just not acceptable. And yes the company has mounted water filters, but are the filters getting changed as they should be? When the municipality of a so-called 1st World Nation can’t provide its citizens clean drinking water from the tap (or don’t prioritize such water), you begin to question the capability of every part of that chain.

We have this delusion in America, like so many delusions that allowed otherwise sane people to actually cast a ballot for Trump, we have a delusion that water quality is a third world problem. When the truth is, through the greed of billionaires, America is quickly becoming a third world nation. The problems of Mexico, and Sudan, and Kosovo, and Nigeria and India… these are quickly going to become American problems. Because we are allowing slavers and Robber Barons to make policy, that inevitably is designed to make the few masters and the many slaves.

Some of that you can combat through legislation, though voting, through boycotting, and some of it you combat by taking an active role, in making sure the basic necessities of life… clean water… in a pinch you can provide for yourself.

That is where the LIFESAVER System comes in. Its company grade is an A, and its Amazon Reviews have been vetted and are accurate (A lot of times they are not, don’t just assume a company with 4 or 5 stars on Amazon is a slam dunk of a product. Unfortunately unscrupulous companies use robots to pad their page with tons of fake 5 star reviews.)

You want to vet the company and vet the reviews, to see if the company is legit and the reviews are legit. There are various sites that will do this for you. I’ve checked the most reputable ones, and LIFESAVER as a company is an A, and its Amazon reviews get an A for being accurate, and non robot generated.

All this to say, this is the gift giving season, Dickens’ sweet story of a carol at Christmas, has been turned by savvy businessmen into a retailers dream, the need to purchase and buy, affecting all during this time of year, more like a fever, than anything to do with faith.

A compulsion.

Whether Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Vodun or Festivus you celebrate; we are all swept up in the compulsion to spend. All to some point swayed by the marketing push and Black Friday sales, or Amazon Monday sales.

But perhaps we can do better than the usual suspects of gifts. While the kids want (and deserve) their toys, for the adults give them the LIFESAVER. It lives up to its name. It is something that should be in each car you own, for emergencies, and one in the house as a backup filtration system. Essential for any bug-out bag.

And the lifesaver while impressive, no product should be considered an end all and be all. I would recommend having a UV pen water sterilizer as well. It is just a good one-two punch to get in the habit of doing. Especially as your filter gets close to its end of life.

Is it overkill? Probably. But considering it only takes seconds more to UV your drink after filtering, it is probably just a good routine to get into. But even without the UV step, I consider the LIFESAVER absolutely an indispensable purchase in 2017 and beyond, and a fantastic gift.

Get yours here:

LIFESAVER Systems 4000 Ultra Filtration Water Bottle

You are going to also need to have replacement filters on hand (In the words of Nick Nolte, from EXTREME PREJUDICE [one of my favorite movies, and easily his most iconic role] ‘One without the other, ain’t no damn good.’)

Lifesaver Bottle Ultra Filtration Water Bottle Replacement Carbon Inserts (4-pk)
And here’s the recommended UV pen:

SteriPEN Adventurer Opti UV Water Purifier

And here’s the pitcher for your kitchen (and you could also use an additional one for your bathroom or just go with an on tap unit for your bathroom faucet):

ZeroWater 23 Cup Dispenser with Free TDS Meter (Total Dissolved Solids) – ZD-018

Or more convenient for your bathroom would be a on-faucet filter, that also offers a end of life replacement light, which would be the below:

PUR 3-Stage Horizontal Water Filtration Faucet Mount Chrome FM-9400B

So that’s it guys. When I started this blog, far more than a decade ago, one of my early concerns was water quality. I had tried distillers, table top water filters, and tons of options in between.

And all of that research has brought me to the recommendations above. You want to give a gift this holiday season, give the gift of clean water.

It is… a start.

Use the links above and help this blog earn a few pennies with your purchases.

Enjoy!

 

Must own CDs/Albums in the age of Itunes : THE HEAVY

I first became aware of this band due to their song being the insanely catchy and additive opening to the British based/CINEMAX branded Adventure/Espionage series STRIKE BACK.

I couldn’t stop humming that opening tune, and in quick succession graduated to learning the bands name… THE HEAVY. And buying all their available CDs, unheard. All based on the strength of that one song, SHORT CHANGE HERO.

Well that song and my impetuousness of buying three CDs without sampling them, did not steer me wrong. The three CDs, GREAT VENGEANCE AND FURIOUS FIRE(2007), THE HOUSE THAT DIRT BUILT(2009), THE GLORIOUS DEAD(2012) beyond being fantastic music, are works of art in form as well as fuñction. The artwork, construction of the CD cases, the liner notes, the book,speak of a tactile, tangible process that remains valid and singular and needed for music when it is this good.

Their 4th album HURT AND THE MERCILESS(2016) which they are currenlty touring Europe on, cements this British band’s reputation, as one of the most exciting Rock,funk,soul,folk bands in decades!

You want to find music that is worth owing in CD or Lp form in this age of Itunes and MP3s?

Well you’ve just found it, and it’s THE HEAVY!!!!

Highly Recommend!

The Glorious Dead

The House That Dirt Built

Great Vengeance & Furious Fire

Hurt & The Merciless

BEST EPISODES of Marc Maron WTF PODCAST!

Catching Up

PODCASTS : Currently Listening to WTF. There is a reason why people who hate interviewers and hate interviews decide to do this show.

Marc Maron manages to be actually concerned and interested in what these people have to say, and just wants to have a conversation with them and it illicits a trust in the interviewed and the listener. And it comes across. There is a reason President Obama chose this podcast to give arguably one of the most potent public interviews/conversations a seated President has ever given.

There is something about audio that lends itself to an intimate conversation better than video. It involves the listener in the theater of the mind, and you end up actually listening to people rather than just watching the spinning plates, the stock in trade of most tv talk shows.

Airing since 2009, now in its eighth year, The first three years of the WTF Podcast it was strictly comedians. But the names became ever larger so that by the end of 2011 he was interviewing movie star level comedians.

2012 was when it really transitioned from a comedian interview show to just a great ‘whoever interests me’ interview show. And 2015 with the startling appearance of President Obama on the show is when it rocketed into the Stratosphere of world wide prominence, with now a whole new level of guests appearing.

Episode #327 from 2012 starring Jimmie Walker, was recommended by another great podcast… 11oclock Comics, and became my first introduction to Marc Maron and WTF. That episode, a brilliant show that is a wonderful history of comedy, it remains one of the best episodes, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Mark Maron’s WTF is arguably not just one of the best ‘podcast’ shows, but is orders of magnitude better than any ‘talk show’ you’ll find on TV, or cable, or streaming.

Here are a few episodes that stand out for me as, not just this show done well, but really pivotal and important additions to culture and the history of entertainment.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just some of the ones that stood out to me.

Without further ado they are:

#327 JIMMY WALKER 2012 Brilliant and informative history of post 60s comedy and the comedy clubs
REMEMBERING ROBIN WILLIAMS August 11 2014 – Heartbreaking and an essential listen
#523 BOB NEWHART 2014 Excellent
#544 ANDRE ROYO 2014 Fun
#593 HENRY WINKLER 2015 Rich
#605 TOMMY DAVIDSON 2015 Engrossing
#613/614 PRESIDENT OBAMA 2015 Podcast of the Year
#621 SIR IAN MCKELLAN 2015 Riveting and charming, and a masterclass on being an actor and surviving it
#622 WYATT CENAC 2015 Compelling
#624 SINBAD 2015 I like that he stood up for Bill Cosby, as Cosby remains very much THE comedian of much of the pivotal years of the late 20th century, and remains a person I hold in high regard
#638 SIR PATRICK STEWART 2015 Genius and very open about a harrowing coming of age
#684 WILLIAM FRIEDKIN 2016 Brilliant
#761 MIKE SHANNON 2016 Unexpectedly charming and nuanced
#783 BIll PAXTON 2017 Wonderful
#804 WALTER HILL 2017 Great and Bittersweet stories. Including playing part of episode #783 at Bill Paxton’s funeral

Hear these and more here:

https://wtfpod.libsyn.com

MUST LISTEN Audio Books for BLACK HISTORY Month and every other month! :) Part 1 of 2

I first became familiar with these two novels, both by master writers, as novels proper. And both blew my mind in ways both stunning and lasting. Later I listened to the Audio Books. Audio Books, if you get the right reader, for the right work, can be rewarding experiences, even to lovers of the novel.

I love me some Walter Moseley EASY RAWLINS mysteries, I’ve read just about everyone of them, and I have to tell you the pairing of Moseley’s iconic words with a formidable actor such as Michael Boatman, is to have those works enriched, and nuances discovered that may have been skimmed over by even the most loving reader.

A great Adaptation, a great marriage of words and performance can do that, can alchemize into something more than the sum of its parts. Something magical. And an audio book avoids the constraints of time and budget and indeed visuals, that a film or TV show runs into. An audio book has the biggest theater of the world, and the biggest budget, in which to breathe life into the writers words,… the theater of the mind.

So Audio Books when they get that mixture right, become part of a sacred line of story and storytelling, going back to the cradle of not just Black History, but all history.

 

This 2 part post, honors two of the best, that should be loved and listened to and cherished by everyone.

They are:

Charles Johnson’s seminal and National Book Award winning novel, MIDDLE PASSAGE. It is an American epic, a rousing seafaring saga, blisteringly funny at times, deeply harrowing at others, both poetic, prosaic, and magical all at the same time. As someone who has read Melville, and Dickens, and Hemingway, and Crane and Poe and Bradbury and King and Baldwin, all the quintessential American masters, this is the novel I would save when everything else is burning.

 

middlepassge

 

I give the hardcover out as presents. I consider it, in an imperfect world, an arrow toward a more perfect union. So having it on a pedestal that high the audio book has to bring it. It was made into an audio book twice, the first was an abridged and hence flawed cassette version, but read by the author himself, I quite liked it. He brought something… wonderful to it.

The 2nd time was on CD, unabridged thankfully. The performer Dion Graham, gives a different performance than Charles Johnson, that I slowly warmed to. And as the story drew you deeper so did his voice. It’s a wonderful way to be introduced to this great novel.

I would say both audio book versions are indispensable. Start with the unabridged CD version, and then follow up by listening to the Abridged version. And have a copy of the paperback or hardcover, to read over especially loved passages.

In an America where folly holds sway, the words of men who both remember history and learn from it, is of the highest value.

Check them out at the links below:

Middle Passage Cassette Audio Book read by the Author!

Middle Passage Audio CD Unabridged!

By Charles Richard Johnson Middle Passage (Reprint) [Mass Market Paperback]

 

If you like this blog please support it by using the links above and by leaving comments! And come back for the 2nd part where we discuss the 2nd, must own, Black History Month (and other months) Audio book!

How do you wrap up 2016?! TV and Streaming BARBARIANS RISING


2016 was a FANTASTIC year for TV.

Netflix and streaming options such as Amazon Prime and Hulu has effectively changed how the world consumes and watches tv.

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Tonight I discovered History Channel’s BARBARIANS RISING, which tells the tale of one of the greatest warriors in the history of the world, Hannibal Barca, and his insane dream, obsession, vision, to conquer the unconquerable Rome.

I have my issues with the HISTORY CHANNEL, I think their VIKINGS TV show, that paints a friendly, proto-feminist, misunderstood anti-hero view of the Vikings, is irresponsible and misguided film-making at its worst.

I don’t expect a documentary, and even in a documentary, much of what we know, must be colored, romanticized, dramatized. The truth of over 2000 years ago like the truth of yesterday, will never be exactly seen by any two people, exactly the same.

But that said while the telling is fluid, blatantly changing the morality of what is known is not. That is simple mendacity.

It’s white-washing of history, that is beyond romanticism to bald-face lying. Like making the ancient Egyptians white. :).

Here’s the thing the Vikings, in their approach to nonvikings, were proto-Nazis, Nazis in their purest form. They were what Nazis dreamed of being. They believed in rape, and pillage, and death, and wholesale slaughter of their enemies. They were in battle, drug addled butchers and thieves and rapists, who put to the sword any land they could reach. War and Pillaging, was not an end, it was a practice, it was a purpose, it was a past time, it was the reason to wake up and the reason to go to bed. As it was for many of the ancient people. Blood, unfortunately, is under most of our ancestors nails.

They did monstrous things, but they also did admirable things. But art, to be honest, must not dismiss the one, to elevate the other. And that’s what the show VIKINGS does, it glorifies that which has no glory in it, and ignores that, which should not be ignored. And to do this is analagous to havaing a show called Nazis, and to portray them as heroic, with no look into the programs of genocide, and the Nazi Work and Death camps.

I’m not saying don’t have a show about Vikings, but tell the truth, don’t make saints out of sinners, and if you find your characters are too reprehensible when you do that, then maybe that’s telling you something.

So I have my issues with HISTORY CHANNEL.

But those issues do not extend to BARBARIANS RISING. Which quite frankly is my last great television discovery of 2016!

 

barca

The first episode, RESISTANCE, simply must see television.

“I swear by the Deathless Gods that I shall not rest till the heart of Rome bleeds dry on the sword of Carthage.” –Hannibal Barca, Son of Carthage, One of the Greatest Generals in the History of the World

 

This is one I have to own the Blu-Ray of! It’s not a show you want to have disappear off of streaming.

Get your copy here:

 

 

Barbarians Rising [Blu-ray]

LUCIO FULCI : BEYOND THE BEYOND! A Critical Reassessment! His 7 Best Films!

The Roman born Director Lucio Fulci when remembered today is primarily remembered for his his schlock and gore filled horror films of the 80s such as THE BEYOND, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, ZOMBI 3, which is a crying shame, because these were the lowest common denominator films of a filmmaker reduced to making dreck to make a paycheck, rather than his films of the  late 60s and throughout the 70s that can be considered his artistic passion projects.

His film-making and use of the camera in this period was ground breaking and incredibly influential, and his best films remain among the best of their respective genre.

From 1966’s MASSACRE TIME (an early inspiration and precursor to the dove filled blood ballets of John Woo) to 1978s rarely seen SILVER SADDLE, was a twelve year period of unbridled creativity  and staggering experimentation, and contain not only Fulci’s best films, but some of the best films by anyone during the period, and films that stand the test of time.

 

Here without further ado our Fulci’s best films and essential films for any true lover of cinema:

 

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PERVERSION STORY AKA ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER – Don’t let the salacious poster fool you this is a MAGNIFICENT film. It’s a reworking of a more well known film, a classic film by one of the world’s most respected directors, however I have to say… I prefer this Fulci film. It is an unjustly little seen masterpiece, beautifully shot, and deserves a great and feature rich Blu-ray disk. Fulci’s best film.

 

In second place I put PSYCHIC, just adore this film.

 

I follow that up with his LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN and DONT TORTURE A DUCKLING solidly in 3rd and 4th place.

SILVER SADDLE in 5th place, is the best of Fulci’s three westerns which says a lot. As it beats out the praised MASSACRE TIME in 6th place. (FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE does not make this best of list. It’s overlong, and I can do without its denigrated and stereotyped Black character. But its distasteful parts aside, it remains, like all of his wide-screen films… beautifully shot.)

BEATRICE CENCI, in 7th place, is the director’s own favorite film, his attempt to make a serious Fellini level film, and its poor critical and commercial response was a blow the Director never truly recovered from. The film is solidly good if not great. But definitely deserving of a watch. It’s a solid B/B-.

And those are Fulci’s seven best films, and are must watch films for anyone desirous of the best of Euro-cinema of the period.

 

the-brute-and-the-beast-movie-poster-1966-1020462907

1966’s Massacre Time – This film was the one to put Fulci on the genre/world map. One of the earliest of the Spaghetti Western craze, and one of the best. This is an ultra violent flick, that shows off Fulci’s adeptness and creativity in staging action scenes. You can definitely see in this film with its gravity defying blood laced shootouts and its prevalence with doves, a clear inspiration and precursor to the later ‘blood ballet’ films of John Woo. Made during the glory days of the spaghetti western genre (roughly 1966 to 1968) MASSACRE TIME stands out as being one of the most extreme of these extremist westerns.

 

More detailed reviews to come next installment!