Reaching for the stars

June 16, 2014 by Philip Maramba
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Legendary radio personality Casey Kasem was the longtime voice of “American Top 40″ and “Casey Kasem’s Top 40″ from 1970 to 2004. He died Sunday after suffering from Parkinson’s Disease and Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia. (Washington Post photo)

I was saddened to hear of the passing of legendary radio personality Casey Kasem over the weekend, but I was already prepared given recent news reports documenting an apparent long, slow slide into dementia.

Still, that didn’t make the void created by his death any easier to accept.

I grew up as a radio-loving kid at the start of his heyday during the 1970s. His warm voice and upbeat persona made him a kindly companion to a boy trying to gain his footing in the pop cultural firmament — the stuff that gave you touchstones with other kids your age and gave this awkward adolescent an “in” to conversations or at least an understanding of what everyone else was talking about.

Looking back at his musical countdown show, “American Top 40,” with the eyes of a kid, I think I found an affirmation and validation of what was becoming my musical taste. It was kind of like picking horses at a racetrack; if a song I liked moved up the charts and all the way to No. 1, I win! (And everybody loves a winner right?)

My Top 40 years — from around 1973 to 1979 — were populated with artists as varied as Helen Reddy, MFSB, Paul Simon and Charlie Rich thanks to  WWNR-AM in Beckley and “AT40,” as Kasem would occasionally refer to his show. (Every so often, the radio station would hold giveaways of that week’s countdown on vinyl. It wasn’t until a long time after I grew up that I figured out that the broadcasts weren’t live.)

Since his show was simply a recounting of a week’s worth of sales and airplay, Kasem didn’t set the playlist; he was ostensibly an impartial observer. But he could still pick and choose which songs or artists had an interesting back story that he would share as introduction to a song. This kindled in me a real love for more than just the music, but the people and process behind it.

He was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. Summers spent as kids with Barry Manilow — don’t judge — and Seals & Crofts and Elton John biking around the neighborhood and listening to transistor radios are a pleasant, carefree haze in my memory. (Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” and Kasem’s background story about it are forever linked with the summer of 1975.)

And maybe that’s why I’ll miss the man, or at least the memory of the man. He was one of the links to my childhood and probably marked the last real unifying element of radio as a medium. As audiences grow more segmented and mass media is splintered among television, online, mobile, terrestrial and satellite radio and print, there aren’t that many events that can hold the public together for long anymore.

But for those three hours a week, a good portion of the country could find something in common, listening for their favorite songs and following their rise and fall. Kasem’s passing marks the end of that era and a milestone in the medium.

Of course, no appreciation of Kasem’s life and career would be complete without his signature sign-off. I always took it as a sort of a combined caution and valedictory rooted in the turmoil and promise of the 1960s — just before his own star took off with his radio show in 1970: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”

Thanks for the memories, Casey Kasem.

Oscars 2014: Follow the show live

March 2, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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Are you watching the #Oscars? Follow along live with reporters from all over the country:

Godzilla vs. Mega Expectations

February 28, 2014 by stevengill
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It’s difficult to make a good film when a force of nature is the main character. Just look at “The Day After Tomorrow.” Eesh. But it certainly helps when your force of nature is beloved by millions around the world.

Godzilla, everyone’s favorite destruction enthusiast, returns to theaters in May. Here’s the newly-released trailer!

Some fans of “Cloverfield” and “Pacific Rim” may be saying “Been there, done that,” but that mindset could be a bit off the mark. Sure, monster movies are prevalent these days, but the new Godzilla’s approach appears to be rooted in one of the genre’s more intriguing tales – the original 1954 “Gojira,” which was a dark parable about the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Godzilla, or Gojira in the beginning, started as one big metaphor for nature’s wrath. Somewhere along the way, he also took on the role of charming defender of Earth. I enjoy both styles, but I certainly see the inherent problem for modern adaptations – you just can’t make everyone happy. The 1998 “Godzilla” starring Matthew Broderick tried and failed to do just that. To the filmmakers’ credit, they tried pretty hard.

“Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla Adventure,” as I like to call it, incorporated elements from many of the Japanese films, including the dark origin story, cautionary lesson, campy, goofy fun and even mysteriously conceived offspring. There were plenty of inside jokes, nostalgic callbacks, and explosive set pieces. It was an impressive production. It also sucked. The film was terribly miscast (except for Jean Reno, of course), too punny for its own good and reinvented the giant lizard too much for hardcore fans. Roland Emmerich, the director, even admitted he never liked the original Godzilla movies and only agreed to make a reboot if he could take several liberties with the mythology.

Luckily, in all of the areas where the 1998 film failed, the 2014 film seems destined to succeed. Here are some of the reasons the new movie might not be terrible:

Yeah, those helicopters are going to accomplish a lot.

The cast: Golden Globe and multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, Oscar nominees Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe, and rising stars Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. On paper, this is a solid cast. Having Bryan Cranston, an actor known for both comedic and dramatic roles, at the center of it also allows the movie some emotional range. Another good sign: no “Simpsons” voice actors. The 1998 film famously features three of them.

The director: Gareth Edwards has a light film resume. The 2010 film “Monsters” is the only movie he directed before “Godzilla.” It’s good, though! “Monsters” follows a man and woman trying really hard to avoid giant octopus aliens that have made Earth their home away from home. While the octopus things are definitely an important plot point, they don’t actually factor in much to the central story. The movie’s intimate direction keeps a human focus with the camera close to the two leads the whole time. When the aliens do show up, it’s a big moment, literally and figuratively, because most of the movie is on a smaller scale. This is exactly the kind of approach a modern monster movie needs. Plus, Edwards has worked closely with Toho Co., Ltd., the company behind Godzilla and Mothra movies, to make sure everything turned out right.

The monsters: Besides Big G, at least two other monsters have been rumored to appear in the film. The trailer confirms this, showing brief glimpses of a bug creature and a flying creature (Rodan??). A fight among these brutes is almost a given. Though many of Toho’s monsters, including Godzilla, started their city-crushin’ careers as solo artists, monster battles eventually became a staple of the films. Godzilla should be feared and admired all at once – just like nature – and multiple monsters provide a perfect vehicle for this. The new design and roar for Godzilla are also welcome throwbacks after the weirdness of 1998′s Iguanazilla. Since the new film is marking the 60th anniversary of the franchise, it should be celebrating everything that makes Godzilla iconic, not reinventing the wheel. Luckily, it looks to be on the right path.

Of course, there are still plenty of reasons to worry. Gareth Edwards is a newbie director given a pile of cash. Can he really rein in the urge to fill the screen with explosions and rubble that would bury the story and characters? Few big budget directors have that restraint. Also, the new trailer seems a little cliche-ridden. The Golden Gate Bridge and Statue of Liberty destroyed again? Really? The statue shown in the trailer is actually a replica in Las Vegas, not New York, but its half-mauled exterior is still eye roll-worthy.

Can a modern Godzilla movie really be good? We’ll find out this May. Until then, I’ll be waiting with bated, possibly radioactive breath.

 

Was that Mary Lou Retton in the Radio Shack Super Bowl commercial?

February 2, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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West Virginians have always considered Fairmont’s Mary Lou Retton a perfect 10. So to see Mary Lou back in her star-spangled gymnastics gear is a thrill — even if it’s for an 80s spoof meant to re-brand the company that brought America the TRS-80.

Grammys 2014: Follow the show live!

January 24, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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Artists you need to know for the 2014 Grammys

January 24, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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Mark your ballot with these Grammy predictions

With a formidable group of frontrunners to significant snubs, the 56th Annual Grammy Awards stack up as one of the more intriguing in recent memory.Rapper/impresario Jay Z, who leads the pack with nine nominations, enjoys his status more for collaborations with other (wife Beyonce, Justin Timberlake) than for his own lukewarm "Holy Grail" album. Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars were outright slights for Album of the Year, while Lorde is inexplicably absent in the Best New Artist category. …

View “Mark your ballot with these Grammy predictions” on Spundge

Your Golden Globes second screen experience!

January 11, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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Excited for the Golden Globes?

Follow along here for more information, tidbits and instant reactions:

Gordon Gee cites both pepperoni rolls and Flying WV cookies in his top 10 reasons for returning to WVU

January 8, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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Returning West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, who is in the job temporarily until a replacement can be found, has already gone semi-viral.

WVU released a video of a David Letterman-style Top 10 list in which Gee demonstrates his well known sense of humor. (You know, the one that has sometimes gotten him in hot water. See here and here.)

By the way, Gee’s presence on the Nerd Living blog is not to say that he lives like a nerd.

But you know, the man IS wearing a blue and gold bowtie

A year of reading

January 1, 2014 by Brad McElhinny
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I did not (all by myself) complete 150 books during the WV150 reading challenge, where teams of readers aimed to read 150 books collectively. But with the challenge as an incentive, I did manage to read more than most years.

Not everything was heavy reading. A lot of it was short. I was heavy on fiction. It was fun.

Here’s what I got read:

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, 1/18/13
  2. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain 1/26/13
  3. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman 1/31/13
  4. Magic Tree House No. 4, Pirates Past Noon by Mary Pope Osborne, 2/8/13 (I read it with a kid; No, for real!)
  5. The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty, 2/16/13
  6. Mercury Falls by Robert Kroese, 2/26/1
  7. themoviegoerThe Moviegoer by Walker Percy, 3/4/13
  8. Bossypants by Tina Fey, 3/7/13
  9. West with the Night by Beryl Markham, 3/21/13
  10. The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin, 3/26/13
  11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 4/13/13
  12. Gone Girl (audio) by Gillian Flinn, 4/20/13
  13. Against the Fall of Night by Arthur C. Clark, 4/23/13
  14. Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell, 5/4/13
  15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, 5/20/13
  16. The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma, 5/30/13
  17. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, 6/1/13
  18. Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume (audio), 6/2/13 (Played for the family while driving back from vacation. Still counts!)
  19. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, 6/10/13
  20. Mercury Rises by Robert Kroese 7/6/13
  21. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming 7/7/13
  22. Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, 7/15/13
  23. Raylan: A Novel by Elmore Leonard, 7/21/13
  24. Mercury Rests by Robert Kroese, 8/3/13
  25. Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know by Jill Geisler, 8/20/13
  26. The Sky Unwashed by Irene Zabytko, 8/27/13
  27. Death is a Lonely Business by Ray Bradbury, 9/14/13
  28. Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut, 9/18/13
  29. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, 9/27/13
  30. The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett, 10/9/13
  31. Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, 10/20/13
  32. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, 10/30/13
  33. Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, 11/25/13
  34. Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline, 12/8/13
  35. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Other Stories by Truman Capote, 12/15/13
  36. The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, 12-26-13
  37. Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff, 12/29/13

I have some classics on the list, but I’ll admit to spacing out a bit while reading “The Moviegoer” and “The Sun Also Rises.” Same with the mysteries “Five Little Pigs” and “Death is a Lonely Business.” That’s probably not a sign of intense interest.

I often like southern literature but I disliked “Tobacco Road.”

billylynn“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” and “All Quiet on the Western Front” are not necessarily meant to go together but are both stories of young men at war. They work nicely as a unit — if you want to remind yourself that war is not as glamorous as it’s often made out to be.

I read “Brave New World” and “The Boys From Brazil” back to back. I liked both, and recommend them if you’re in the mood for some alternate histories. I got around to “The Man in the High Castle” a while later but it felt like it fit in with the other two books.

Vonnegut’s “Slapstick” and “Timequake” are very similar to each other. They’re both sad and hilarious.

“Mayflower,” the story of the Pilgrims, and “Lost in Shangri-La,” which was about soldiers being rescued from New Guinea after a plane crash, both read like action tales. Thumbs up to both.

Some of my favorites were books that I knew very little about. Low expectations helped. But I found “The Center of Everything,” “West With the Night” and “The Sky Unwashed” to be simple, gentle, enjoyable stories.

What books did you enjoy in the past year?

And will you read 150+ in the coming year?

 

Geeks are not so hard to buy for after all!

November 27, 2013 by duanemaddy
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Every year, I hear people complain that they just can’t find a gift suited for the geek in their life, so they end up getting them another copy of The Big Bang Theory on DVD, even though they know they already own it. This has to stop. That’s why we here at Nerd Living are giving you the opportunity to get exactly the right gift for the geek who, in fact, does NOT have everything!

Original artwork inspired by the Hunger Games. Custom artwork is the perfect gift for the special geek in your life.

Original artwork inspired by the Hunger Games. Custom artwork is the perfect gift for the special geek in your life.

Shameless Plug:

Artwork! I’m an artist, not starving, but I could use a bite to eat now and then. I’m not the only one! Geeks love art, whether it be penciled sketches from comic book artists or animation cells, they appreciate the work it takes to do it. It’s not so hard to come by and isn’t necessarily as expensive as you might expect. Look for cartoons, tv shows, movies and books that they may like and check online for original work and prints. If you want to check out some of my own work, go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/art.duanemaddy and give it a like!

Next up, you can’t go wrong with the obscure!

There’s not a nerd alive who will pass up a DVD that no one else has, or one that brings back childhood memories. Shout! Factory specializes in both. They have Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (a great show, especially for those geeks who are into the sarcasm) uncut, unedited and ready to roll for great prices. You can see their stuff at www.shoutfactory.com or their facebook page www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial.

Soft kitty, warm kitty snuggler blanket.

Soft kitty, warm kitty snuggler blanket.

The Big Bang Gift:

Instead of the DVD, which they’ve already got, check out the Clue: The Big Bang Theory game, available on Amazon.com. You have six suspects (the cast) and six custom “acts of betrayal items” including a dismantled Shelbot. Don’t ask. Just trust me on this one.

If you have more of a cutesy geek, maybe they’d prefer The Big Bang Theory Kitty Socks instead. Soft kitty will look and feel soft on their feet! Available at amazon.com also.

It will match purrfectly (sorry) with the Soft Kitty Snuggler Blanket that you can get on Amazon.com. Whiskers not included.

Accessories for Her:

Etsy has given geeks everywhere a chance to rejoice. Check out the customized earrings from Sarah Crumpler’s C.H. Gallery for a selection that will lower your lobes and blow your mind. www.etsy.com/shop/chgallery

Accessories for Baby:

Whether it’s for your Marvel Comics loving baby, or your Doctor Who loving baby, give the new parent an upgrade from their usual baby toting ride with Gracie and Sam’s Carriers, Covers, and all things Cozy. What baby doesn’t want to be carted around in a TARDIS inspired baby carrier? See the selection at www.etsy.com/shop/GracieandSam

Accessories for Him:

Geek guys don’t like to shower. Go to Comic Con for a weekend and you’ll see I’m right. That being said, you can encourage cleanliness with a totally new bathroom set. Beam your dude into this officially licensed Star Trek bathroom set, which includes the shower curtain and the transporter pad…I mean bath mat. The shower rings are even included and that’s important for your landing party. Check it out at www.thinkgeek.com/product/1299

The doctor's choice of transportation will make sure you're on time.

The doctor’s choice of transportation will make sure you’re on time.

Accessories for Them:

They love Doctor Who and you don’t get it. You think it is cheesy and cheap. They think it’s life changing and inspiring. They cried when Rose was no longer on the show. You cried when you heard her read her lines.

You don’t have to understand them to get them the right gift. The TARDIS projection alarm clock and table lamp from amazon.com will put you on the “nice list” with your geeky “companions” and make time travel a little easier. See the products here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009Y7CV8Y//ref=cm_sw_su_dp?tag=relprods-20 http://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Who-Tardis-Table-Lamp/dp/B008PUPGTC/ref=pd_sim_t_4