My Most Anticipated of 2010

With so much to look forward to in the coming year, I thought I would assemble a list of just some of the things I’m anticipating most. All of the things on my list have been in development for a very long time, and all of them are coming to a head in 2010. If you’re like me, then you know at least a one item on this list, if not then hopefully you’re in for a few pleasant surprises.

• • •

Star Trek Online

Video Games

When Star Trek Online finally beams down in February of 2010, the game will have been in development for over 6 years. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has the potential of being the best online experience since Blizzard’s hugely popular effort, World of Warcraft. Players will be able to command their own starships, explore strange new worlds, and team up to defeat classic Star Trek enemies such as the Borg and Klingons.

Historically, video games based on the Star Trek franchise have not been widely successful. I have a feeling that Star Trek Online is about to change all that. How do I know? I’ve played it. That’s right I’ve sat in the Captain’s chair and I am here to say STO is a winner. I can’t divulge much due to the closed beta NDA except to say that Cryptic Studios has managed to capture this Trekkie’s heart with their incredibly fun and detailed futuristic universe. Star Trek Online enters public beta in January of 2010. Unfortunately no Mac or Linux version is planned for launch, but there is a logical alternative. If you own a fast Mac and aren’t afraid to run Windows via Boot Camp, there’s no reason you can’t go where no one has gone before. Make it so!

• • •

The Pacific

Television

From Producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, the team that brought us the Emmy Award winning miniseries, Band of Brothers, comes The Pacific. I first wrote about this HBO 10-part drama back in April of 2007 and have been waiting for it ever since. The original Band of Brothers was a tour de force showcasing the gritty realism and heroic courage of WWII in Europe. The Pacific aims to tell the story of a small group of Marines in the Pacific theater of battle and includes an almost entirely unknown cast of actors.

The Pacific is based on two memoirs of U.S. Marines: With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge and Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie. The series will tell the stories of the two authors and Marine John Basilone, as the war against the Empire of Japan rages. According to Wikipedia, the series will feature well-known battles involving the 1st Marine Division, including Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Peleliu, and Okinawa, as well as Basilone’s involvement in the Battle of Iwo Jima. While Band’s battle scenes rivaled anything on the silver screen, it was always the thoughtful stories of the men who fought and died for their country that made the series so compelling. The Pacific is set to air on HBO in March of 2010.

• • •

The Return of Futurama

Television

You just can’t keep an animated robot and his hilarious best friends down. After a pre-mature cancellation by Fox in 2003, Futurama found new life in syndication thanks to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Comedy Central. The show’s creators, Matt Groening and David X. Cohen teamed up and briefly brought Futurama out of deep freeze with the release of 4 straight-to-DVD movies, the last of which was released in early 2009. On June 9th, 2009, Comedy Central announced that they had picked up the show for 26 new half-hour episodes which are due to start airing in mid-2010.

I’ve been a personal fan of this deeply funny show since the first day it aired on Fox. While I have enjoyed the DVD films, the 1.5 hour format really didn’t suit Futurama and the stories lost focus. I’m confident that returning to the 1/2 hour format will make all the difference as the writers, producers and voice actors once again lift us to new heights of geek-filled fun. Plus, I’m dying for new material for my Futurama icon sets!

• • •

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Video Games

When it was released in November of 2007, Super Mario Galaxy quickly became hailed as one of the greatest video games of all time. As the flagship title for the new Nintendo Wii, Galaxy brought the beloved Mario series to a whole new level. The game challenged gamer’s preconceptions of 3D level design as Mario dashed and jumped around and across entire planets on his hunt for Power Stars. Adding to the game’s impact were the over 20 fresh and epic musical tracks scored by composer Koji Kondo. Although few sequels live up to the thrill of the original, knowing Shigeru Miyamoto as they do, Nintendo fans everywhere are anxiously awaiting Super Mario Galaxy 2′s appearance sometime in 2010. Count me among them.

• • •

Apple iPadd

Technology

Rumors of the mythical tablet computer from Apple have been swirling for the better part of a decade, but it wasn’t until the iPhone came along that the possibility of such a device seemed real. Add to that slips of the tongue from newspaper and magazine publishers, supposed patent filings and oodles of fake mock-ups and suddenly rumor becomes reality. If speculation is to be believed, then the iPadd (my pet nickname for the device ode to the ubiquitous tablet computers from Star Trek) will arrive sometime in March or April for under $1,000.

When all is said and done, the bigger question might be why is Apple making a tablet computer in the first place? The answer seems to be to do for books what the iPod did for music, that is to revolutionize it. Steve Jobs is apparently setting Apple up as the direct competitor to the hugely successful Kindle from Amazon, and that’s just fine with me. Call me crazy, but I think if you’re going to let users download and read books in bed, that device should have built-in backlighting. Oh, and color would be great too.

I could easily see my trusty iPadd coming in handy while I watch TV to tweet a snarky comment or to look up a movie reference. I could also see myself propping up the device on a nifty stand to display the recipe du jour as I cook. Oh yes, if and when the iPadd comes, I’ll probably find a way to talk myself into needing it along with millions of other consumers. Curse you Steve Jobs!

• • •

TRON Legacy

Movies

This long-awaited sequel to Disney’s original TRON has geeks everywhere spazzing out. The story follows Flynn’s son Sam as he attempts to track down his missing father. Inside the cyber world audiences first visited in 1982, the programs have become more advanced, video games more violent and cyberspace more deadly.

The sequel will feature original TRON stars Jeff Bridges as Kevin Flynn and Bruce Boxleitner as Tron himself. Given the advancements that have been made in computer special effects in the past 28 years, TRON Legacy promises to be a visual spectacle unlike anything movie goers have ever seen. Disney has scheduled the release date of the film as December 17th, 2010, a year and a few days from when I write this. Only time will tell if it’s worth the wait.

• • •

My Top 10 Sci-Fi / Fantasy Shows

The writers over at IO9 recently put together a mega-post of their top 100 sci-fi and fantasy shows of all time. While I agree with many of their selections, the top 10 left something to be desired. They say if you want to build a better mouse trap you had better do it yourself so I’m only too proud to present you with my list. Here is my definitive collection of my 10 all-time favorite science fiction and fantasy television shows. Some of these may very well be your favorites too so I encourage you read on and then post your personal list in the comments below. Engage!

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains both minor and major spoilers for the TV shows discussed. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should skip the series you’ve not watched. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

• • •

Xena: Warrior Princess

1995 – 2001

When Xena: Warrior Princess first hit the scene in 1995 it seemed like little more than a cheesy ode to the likes of Conan the Barbarian. But as the story lines and the characters evolved, Xena quickly amassed a large fan following. The on-screen chemistry between Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle was undeniable and the writers took advantage of it whenever possible. The “close” relationship between the lead characters became a rallying cry for gay and lesbian fans of the series and helped boost Xena beyond mere comic book camp. No matter what outlandish villain the duo faced, their strengthening love and loyalty for each other always felt real. Add in some serious amounts of action, on-location cinematography and the show’s ability not to take itself too seriously and you have a fantasy adventure that lands Xena in my number 10 spot.

Favorite episodes:

A Day in the Life
The Bitter Suite
A Comedy of Eros

• • •

Mystery Science Theater 3000

1988 – 1999

“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts… LA LA LA then repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should maybe just relax!” Fans of MST3K have no doubt that it’s one of the best television shows ever to grace the airwaves. Granted the science fiction aspect of Mystery Science Theater was simply a vehicle for heckling old cheesy movies, but the hook worked. Each week we’d tune in to see the latest invention exchange followed inevitably by the stinker movie that Joel or Mike & the Bots would be forced to endure.

MST3K always played to the intelligence of its audience and threw out obscure references that only the most hard-core geeks would find funny. I am proud to say I was one of those geeks and so the show never failed to please. Japanese monster movies were always a sure fire winner, but so were the plethora of public service films that MST3K loved to roast. Who can forget A Date with Your Family? Salad needs more butter, mother!

Favorite episodes:

Invasion U.S.A.
Space Travelers
Boggy Creek II: And The Legend Continues

• • •

Doctor Who

1963 – Present

Doctor Who holds the distinction of being the longest running science fiction show on television. The British born sensation has been a favorite of mine since I first started watching the series in the Tom Baker years. Through the decades the writers behind Doctor Who have managed to keep audiences coming back for more thanks to the cleverest plot device in sci-fi history – regeneration.

When the character of the Doctor “dies”, his body regenerates into a new form, conveniently played by a new actor. So even though the infamous Daleks, Cybermen and Sontarans may be retreads, how the Doctor deals with them constantly feels fresh. Add in an ever evolving set of traveling companions played by a wide range of actors and you have a creation loved by fans around the world.

Doctor Who occasionally flirts with “monster of the week” syndrome, but more often the writing, acting and stories all form a cohesive whole that is the stuff of science fiction legend.

Favorite episodes:

Bad Wolf
School Reunion
Blink

• • •

Farscape

1999 – 2003

Although Farscape held obvious similarities to an earlier sci-fi favorite, Buck Rogers, it was ultimately the show’s attention to detail, snappy writing and marvelous aliens that made it such an endearing series. Conceived by Rockne S. O’Bannon and produced by Jim Henson Productions and Hallmark Entertainment, Farscape went out of its way to create characters and aliens the likes of which, no audience had seen before. From the living space ship Moya and her admirable companion, Pilot to the gorgeous blue-skinned Zhaan, Farscape bucked Star Trek’s trend of portraying aliens as humans with “bumpy noses”. The incredible special effects were indeed awesome, but it was frequently the complex relationship and sexual tension between the lead characters of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun that made Farscape one of the greats.

When it was suddenly and unexpectedly cancelled by Sci-Fi Channel CEO Bonnie Hammer in 2003, fans like myself were devastated. Luckily Farscape has survived in various forms beyond its cancellation and continues to be a source for stunningly original story lines and strong female characters.

Favorite episodes:

Crackers Don’t Matter
Out of Their Minds
Revenging Angel

• • •

Futurama

1999 – 2004

If ever there was a television show created by geeks for geeks, Futurama would be it. Futurama was penned by Matt Groening of “The Simpsons” fame and developed for TV by Groening and David X. Cohen. Both men have a huge admiration for science fiction in film and TV and every episode oozes with reverence for those that came before it. Futurama also boasts some of the most versatile voice actors ever to hit the small screen such as Billy West and Lauren Tom. The original animated series is among my all time favorites to watch over and over with quotable lines of dialog and characters that often leave me in stitches. The show is also notable for its frequent celebrity guest appearances such as Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and almost the entire cast of the original Star Trek.

Comedy Central recently announced it is bringing Futurama back from the great beyond with an entire run of all-new episodes. As far as this geek is concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of animated aliens, robots and disaffected starship captains. Oh my, yes!

Favorite episodes:

Love’s Labours Lost in Space
Kif Gets Knocked Up A Notch
Parasites Lost

• • •

Star Trek: The Next Generation

1987 – 1994

In the late 80′s Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, finally managed to launch his sequel to the original Star Trek. As Gene penned an update to the Trek universe, he cleverly kept the best parts of the original (the struggle to understand humanity, exploration of the unknown, loyalty & morality) and jettisoned the rest. Roddenberry also knew he didn’t want retreads of Captain Kirk, Doctor McCoy or Mr. Spock, but he did want characters that were just as strong and vibrant.

Instead of a youthful man of action, Roddenberry invented Picard, a captain based as much in exploration and intelligence as Kirk was in machismo. The character of Spock was reinvented into that of the android Data, played masterfully by Brent Spiner who should have easily won an Emmy for his work on Next Gen. The design of the Enterprise, the crew’s gadgets and even the look of the bad guys radically changed. While the resulting effort was impressive (especially for Trekkers), the show stumbled for the first two years.

The Next Generation started to hit its stride with the Emmy Award winning season three cliff hanger “The Best of Both Worlds” and really didn’t look back for the rest of its seven year run. By any measure the acting, special effects and stories behind Next Gen were always top notch. Unfortunately the show was saddled by the very element that gave it life – syndication. Since the show’s time slots varied from market to market, producers frowned on having multiple episode story arcs that audiences would have to keep track of from week to week. Instead Paramount pushed Roddenberry for compartmentalized plots that didn’t require continuity or audience loyalty. While Next Gen did occasionally dabble in long-term story development, it wasn’t until its successor, Deep Space Nine came of age, that writers were able to take advantage of season long arcs. The need for Star Trek: The Next Generation to fit neatly into 45 minute stories is what keeps it from being higher on my list of favorites. Everything else about TNG earns the show my number 5 spot.

Favorite episodes:

The Best of Both Worlds Pt 1 & 2
Yesterday’s Enterprise
Data’s Day

• • •

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

1997 – 2003

To say that Joss Weadon, creator of shows like Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse has a rabid fan base would be an epic and geeky understatement. Weadon’s fictional universes are intricate, compelling and crafted with cauldrons full of love. Such was the case with Buffy the Vampire Slayer which began life as the TV reboot of the failed movie of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson as Buffy, Joss later admitted none of the film’s characters were what he had envisioned.

What Joss created with the help of Sarah Michelle Gellar and the rest of the WB’s Buffy cast were stories and characters that quickly became a cult hit. Teenagers all over the country easily identified and thrived on the every day problems of these high school students who just happened to live on the Hellmouth. As the show progressed, the relationships that Weadon built between Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and the rest gave the Buffyverse a strange sense of familiarity even in the face of utter fantasy and chaos. Like Xena, Buffy was one of the first weekly TV shows to portray a strong, gay main character, that of Willow Rosenburg which reflected America’s growing comfort with such issues being portrayed on national television. Other controversial topics tackled on Buffy included drug addiction, school shootings and even rape, all cleverly framed and discussed within the guise of a fantasy setting.

Those who watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer will often cite it as one of their very favorite shows. Sadly, there are scores of people who won’t go near it simply because they judge the book of Buffy by its cover. To these people I say – give the Slayer a chance. The show was smarter, more poignant and often more entertaining than any police, medical or legal drama it aired against during its entire six year run. Yes, it’s that good.

Favorite episodes:

Hush
Once More With Feeling
Tabula Rasa

• • •

Star Trek (Original)

1966 – 1969

IO9 listed the original Star Trek as their number one scifi show of all time and I can certainly understand why. Back in 1967 audiences had never seen anything like it. The show as dreamt up by Gene Roddenberry, envisioned a future where man had learned to put aside his differences and work together in harmony. The crew of the Starship Enterprise was populated with every facet of the human race and even one very special Vulcan. Lead by the courageous Captain Kirk, Star Trek boldy went where no man had gone before and set the pattern for a billion dollar science fiction franchise in the process.

Many people have tried to articulate what made Star Trek so popular. Some have theorized that at a time when social and political turmoil was at its height, Star Trek’s positive outlook for the future gave audiences something hopeful to grab onto. But for many kids like myself growing up in the 70′s and seeing Star Trek in syndication, it was always about the relationship between the three friends – Kirk, Spock and McCoy, that made Star Trek such a childhood favorite. As a kid I could never stand the episodes where Kirk and Spock, either via alien influence or shared misunderstanding, were pitted against each other. My favorites were always the stories that allowed Kirk and Spock to team up and solve problems, be they alien, moral or spiritual, together.

By any of today’s television standards, the original Star Trek seems quaint. The show’s effects have been remastered, and the acting is often over the top, but the appeal of the characters and the strength of the underlying stories are undeniable. If they weren’t, Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Scotty and company would never have evolved to become the pop culture icons they are today. The show gave all of its fans hope for the future, inspired generations of youngsters to become doctors, scientists and engineers and preached concepts of tolerance and diversity. Not bad for what Gene Roddenberry once pitched to NBC simply as “Wagon Train to the stars.”

Favorite episodes:

The Ultimate Computer
City on the Edge of Forever
The Doomsday Machine

• • •

Battlestar Galactica (New)

2003 – 2009

If Ron Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had remained as strong throughout its entire run as it was in its first two seasons, the show would have easily been my number one choice. When it aired in 2003, BSG was met with a firestorm of criticism from fans of the original series for everything from cylons looking like humans to Boomer and Starbuck’s portrayal by women. Moore wisely ignored the critics and forged ahead with his gritty vision to bring us the story of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies at the hands of the merciless robot Cylons.

The show immediately delved into political and sociological intrigue as it gave us some of the most realistic characters ever to be written for a science fiction series. From the honorable Adama who struggles to lead his fleet to Earth, and Laura Roslin, the school teacher who has the weight of humanity thrust upon her, to the heroic Starbuck and conniving Gaius Baltar, Galactica is replete with classic archetypes. The show moved at lightening pace and wove themes of religion, genocide, sexuality and redemption with the skill of a master tailor.

The failure of Battlestar Galactica is one that often hits series riding high on a wave of popularity – it failed to adequately plan for its final destination. As the third and fourth season progressed, it seemed clear that Moore didn’t have a clear plan about where he wanted to take his characters. The show spent years building up questions fans were dying to have answered in solid, satisfying ways. Instead the audience had to deal with multiple “plot dumps” as well as characters like Starbuck and Cavil morphing to become shadows of their former selves. The writers concentrated story lines around discovering “The Final Five” and gradually turned the dreaded cylons into humanity’s tenuous allies.

Battlestar Galactica was at its best when action was high, characters were true to themselves and humanity’s survival was hanging by a thread. There were enough of these moments to push BSG all the way up to my second favorite sci-fi show of all time. If the final season of Galactica had been even 1/4 as strong as the first, I dare say it might have gone down as one of television’s best dramas. Instead it stands as an impressive example of how a talented writer can rework a strong, original concept and turn it into a compelling, epic story for our generation.

Favorite episodes:

33
The Hand of God
Exodus Pt 1 & 2

• • •

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

1993 – 1999

So here we are at my favorite sci-fi and fantasy show. Deep Space Nine holds this special place in my geeky heart for many reasons, some of which I’ve written about before both here and at the Sci-Fi Cast. Putting aside the top notch acting from Avery Brooks, Andrew Robinson, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Armin Shimerman and the rest, Deep Space Nine dared to do things other scifi series, especially Star Trek, didn’t.

Also, unlike Battlestar Galactica which started out hitting on all cylinders, it took several years for DS9 to find its footing. Although looking back now, you never would have realized this because DS9 was an immediate hit with fans and critics alike. The show was nominated for Emmy Awards every year of its run in makeup, cinematography, art direction, special effects, hairstyling, music (direction and composition), and costumes. In 1999 Deep Space Nine was rated the #1 syndicated show in America. The cast was even featured on the cover of TV Guide a total of ten times during it’s seven year run. Not bad for a show that constantly struggled to emerge from the shadow of the Next Generation. Despite its success, looking back on the series now it is easy to spot how the writers struggled to find voices for Odo, Quark and even Sisko at the show’s outset. It wasn’t until Ron Moore joined the production in season three as a supervising producer that the show’s direction started to solidify.

From the show’s conception the writers had dared to mix a volatile topic like religion into the heart of Deep Space Nine. But as the seasons progressed, Sisko’s struggle to reconcile his position as a Starfleet captain with that of Bajor’s most important religious figure, the Emissary of the Prophets, provided the fuel for propelling his character forward. The continuing theme of the occupation of Bajor by the Cardassians not only gave the actors solid material, but it also stayed true to Roddenberry’s vision of Trek’s “mini morality plays”. The chemistry between DS9 duos Kira & Dukat and Garack & Bashir were a delight to behold week after week and kept the audience wanting more. Deep Space Nine also allowed Star Trek fans to get a peek at married life through the union of Worf and Dax, a highlight of seasons 5 & 6.

Finally, as Deep Space Nine’s run neared completion, the ever-worsening threat of the war with The Dominion proved to be a spring board for story after incredible story. It provided the ammunition the writers needed to to push the envelope with multiple episode arcs and skillfully allowed for the construction of dramatic plot points over the final four seasons. Unlike BSG which went out with a whimper, Deep Space Nine’s final season was a roller coaster ride peppered with humor, awesome character development and satisfying, emotional resolutions to long established plot points and questions.

Deep Space Nine is my favorite sci-fi show because it took all the best parts of Star Trek and combined them with all the best parts of a yet-to-be-written BSG. It wove these aspects together with incredible acting, masterful special effects, skillful storytelling and a respect for its audience. I’ve watched all seven seasons of DS9 at least five times and it keeps getting better every time I revisit it. The same cannot be said for Next Generation, the original Star Trek or even Battlestar Galactica and that’s why Sisko and company is at the top of my TV heap.

Favorite episodes:

In the Pale Moonlight
The Sacrifice of Angels
Trials and Tribulations

Favorite ‘Story Songs’

Based on an idea I threw out on Twitter, I present you with a short list of my favorite “story songs”. These are the songs that, for me at least, drew me in and told a compelling story. So often we take for granted the effect good lyrics can have on a song’s success. This post is dedicated to those artists who go beyond repeating the same chorus over and over and instead give us memorable classics. After you’ve read my list, don’t forget to swing by the sites of all the bloggers who agreed to join me. Hopefully you’ll discover some tunes that just might become new favorites.

• • •

Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)

Looking Glass

Released in 1972 by Looking Glass, Brandy tells the tale of a barmaid living in a port town. She serves “whiskey and wine” to the admiration of many sailors, one of whom she falls in love with. In tragic fashion, the sailor isn’t willing to give up his true love, the sea. Despite this, Brandy continues to love the man and wears a braided silver chain with a locket that bears his name. I’m not exactly sure what it is about this song that gets me, but it always conjures up images of Brandy on an ocean dock with the sun setting behind her. I can picture her in my head, clear as day, clinging to her necklace as she pines for her man somewhere on the sea. Brilliant stuff!

• • •

What Am I Doin’ Hanging Round?

The Monkees

Far from one of The Monkees‘ big hits, What Am I Doin’ Hanging ‘Round? is really a simple song about a man who travels to Mexico and falls in love with a local woman. Although he longs to be with her, the whistle of the train calls to him and he decides to return home. This turns out to be a decision which haunts him and he ends the song by telling us he “wants to go back again”. Who among us can’t identify with the prospects of lost love that this song sings? Music like What Am I Doin’ taps into experiences that almost all of us share as listeners and gives them a special place in our hearts. I also love how Nesmith changes the meaning of the chorus in the beginning of the song to that of the end, even though the words are the same. Definitely one of their sleeper hits.

• • •

Escape (The Piña Colada Song)

Rupert Holmes

“If you like Piña Coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” is the chorus from one of the most famous story songs of all time – Escape by Rupert Holmes. The catchy earworm tells the tale of a man who has grown tired of his relationship with his lover and spies an ad in the local paper from a woman seeking a man. He decides to meet the woman at “a bar named O’Malley’s” only to ironically find that the woman is his own lover. The song thankfully concludes with the two discovering new things about each other and falling in love all over again.

Besides for having one of the most infectious melodies I can recall, the song also does a great job of telling the story of the two bored lovers. The twist at the end is the cherry on top (sorry) of one of the most iconic songs of the 70′s and 80′s. Holmes was forced to append the song’s name because people didn’t know its real title, Escape, and just kept calling it the “Piña Colada Song”. The tune has caused him a bit of grief over the years, and Holmes once even joked, “No matter what else I do, my tombstone will be a giant pineapple.”

• • •

Hotel California

The Eagles

The mammoth 1978 hit from the Eagles from the record of the same name is my second favorite story song of all time. The song quickly reached critical and popular success thanks in part to the quirky tale told by the narrator as well as the dark under-themes from Don Henley and Glenn Frey. On the surface, Hotel California tells the tale of a weary traveler who decides to break from his long drive and check into a mysterious hotel deep in the desert. The hotel is marked by all manner of dark characters, strange acts and a mysterious woman who seems to seal the narrator’s fate. When the narrator attempts to leave, the night man informs him that “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

When it was first released, many people theorized that Hotel California was really an allegory for a mental hospital, with the guests playing the parts of inmates. The Eagles have said that the story is a metaphor for the self-destruction of the Southern California music industry of the late 1970s. Whatever the subtext, the song stands on its own as one of the best story songs ever written.

• • •

Ode To Billy Joe

Bobby Gentry

My favorite story song has to be Ode to Billy Joe by Bobby Gentry. I’ve been fascinated by this song as long as I can remember and it seems that I’m not the only one. When it was released in late July of 1967, it touched off a cultural sensation with its gothic tale of mystery and southern culture. The song begins with the narrator and her brother returning, after morning chores, to the family house for dinner. Over dinner she learns that “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” apparently to his death. The family doesn’t take notice of the narrator’s grave reaction and continues with dinner as if nothing is really wrong. Mama goes on to say Brother Taylor (the local preacher) visited earlier and he mentioned that he had seen Billie Joe and a girl who looked very much like the narrator herself, “throwin’ somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge.”

From the moment it was released, fans everywhere tried to piece together the puzzle the song told. What did the boy and the girl throw off the bridge? Why did Billy Joe jump to his death? Many popular theories have been flown including a forbidden affair between the narrator (a white girl) and Billy Joe (a possibly black boy) throwing their still-born baby into the muddy waters. Gentry has never revealed the true reason for Billy Joe’s suicide, which only served to heighten the song’s mythos. Ode was reportedly one of Frank Sinatra’s all-time favorites, who even had jazz great Ella Fitzgerald sing a few verses for his TV special. So next time this song comes on the radio, listen closely and see if you can decipher the clues and solve the mystery of Ode to Billy Joe. And if you figure it out, be sure to let me know!

• • •

Check out these other “Story Song” bloggers:

David Miller (@davegobe)
Living in the Now

David Schultz (@dvsjr)
The (mis)adventures of a macintosh administrator

Mike Schramm (@mikeschramm)
MikeSchramm.com

Dave Caolo (@panache)
Hardcore Geek

Von Glitschka (@vonster)
Glitschka Studios

Andy Rudkin (@mizaru)
mizaru.me.uk

Christina Warren (@film_girl)
ChristinaWarren.com

Austin Heller (@austinheller)
AustinHeller.com

Mason Sklar (@zargap)
masonsklar.com

Allen Emory
A. Emory

Alain Edouard (@alainedouard)
alainedouard.co.cc

Mark Goody (@marramgrass)
marramgrass

Jamie Parkins
The Sound of Silence

Embarrassing Auditory Confessions

They say confession is good for the soul, and since I’ve never had any problem with revealing my inner likes and dislikes, I jumped at the chance to join in on the fun of the latest group blog proposed by my friend Dave Caolo. This time around are songs that for one reason or another, you would be embarrassed to admit to liking in mixed company. I must say however that part of the reason I decided to throw my hat in the ring, was that it gave me the excuse to create the image you see above. What do Britney Spears and Bigfoot have in common? Well, read on my friends and find out!

• • •

Merry Go Round

The Brady Bunch

I’m not ashamed to say that I have an entire iTunes playlist devoted exclusively to the perky tunes of those crazy Brady kids from my youth. Back in the 70′s the TV network suits figured the child actors of The Brady Bunch needed to compete with The Partridge Family and the Brady Six was born. Who among us can forget classics like Time to Change or Sunshine Day? Good times. Of all the Brady tracks I have however, Merry Go Round has to be the most sugar-coated piece of hippy jerky in the entire lot, and I love it! For some reason I can listen to Eve Plumb hit off-key notes until the cows come home and I just don’t care. Take a listen, but beware, the song is a total ear worm. Once I hear it, I usually can’t get it out of my head for days.

• • •

You Drive Me Crazy

Britney Spears

Ah Britney! Back in the day, this familiar teen-pop queen commanded respect and actually worked her ass off to become successful. One day I broke down and bought You Drive Me Crazy for no apparent reason other than it was stuck in my head. To me, all of Britney’s songs sound somewhat the same (beat, rhythm, breathy lyrics), so I only own one… and this is it. I’m kinda ashamed to even have the one track in iTunes, but every time it comes up on random play, I relive a little part of 1999 and think back fondly on what Britney used to be. Ah Britney!

• • •

Wannabe

The Spice Girls

Everyone says they hate the Spice Girls, but I think secretly, everyone really loves them. I find the bulk of their songs incredibly infectious, bubbly and the perfect pick-me-up when I’m down. Their music is like watching a summer popcorn flick – a meaningless plot combined with a pulse-pounding soundtrack and dazzling special effects. It’s not academy award winning material, but it’s still a great time. I mean, how much more fun can it get than this:

“Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really
really really wanna zigazig ha.”

• • •

America

Neil Diamond

If there is a more idealistic, or emotionally manipulative song in this world, I can’t think of one. I first heard America when I was 11, right around the time the classic Saturday morning cartoon School House Rock became popular. I think the SHR connection helps explain why I find this song so darned great. After all, it was SHR that taught me to love catchy songs about history like The Great American Melting Pot and The Preamble. Diamond’s America is like a top 40 School House Rock song on steroids. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

• • •

Love Theme from Boggy Creek

Charles B. Pierce

Ask any of the guys at the Iconfactory and they’ll tell you I’m obsessed with bigfoot/sasquatch/yeti and have been ever since I was a child. This embarrassing music track is one of my own making since it was impossible to purchase the soundtrack to the movie from which it came – The Legend of Boggy Creek. The song tells the funky tale of the Fouke Monster (bigfoot) and his lonely plight among the other creatures of the swamp. The song, like the movie, is cheesy, low-budget and so bad it’s good. I bust it out every year around Halloween, much to the dismay of my patience-filled wife. And now you know what Britney Spears and Bigfoot have in common – my twisted sense of musical tastes.

• • •

Other blogger’s musical confessions:

1. Living in the Now – Get the Funk Up!
2. Sharp Corners – Sing a Song of Sixpence
3. Hardcore Geek – The songs I hate to love

TV’s Turd Blossoms

Admit it. There have been times when you’ve tuned into an episode of a particularly bad television show for no other reason than, shall we say, the “eye candy”. Maybe you even tuned in for an entire season or more just to catch a glimpse of that certain actor or actress that made your heart go pitter patter. Thanks to yet another exchange between Twitter friends on this very subject, I’m happy to present a list of what I’m calling my top five “TV Turd Blossoms”. Even though the shows that starred them were veritable train wrecks, they all made us think twice about changing the channel, which I think, was the entire point of casting them. Read on and feel free to add your own turd blossoms in the comments below.

• • •

Christina Applegate

Married With Children

Fox’s anti-Cosby series about the dysfunctional Bundy family was notable for several reasons. Unlike anything that had come before, Married reveled in endless lowbrow humor and sexual innuendo. It played shamelessly to the studio audience, at times almost making them a full fledged cast member. The show’s humor never really appealed to me, but thanks to Christina Applegate’s Kelly Bundy, I somehow managed to tune in for more than a few episodes. Christina’s obvious sex appeal, combined with her sly performance as the ultimate “dumb blonde” had millions of viewers wishing she was the girl who lived next door.

• • •

Heather Thomas

The Fall Guy

I think it’s safe to say that Heather Thomas was the “hood ornament” on The Fall Guy’s 4×4 big rig. The show centered around stuntman by day, bounty hunter by night, Colt Severs played by Lee Majors, and was known for pedestrian plots, glorified stunt work and Hollywood glam. You only had to watch the opening credits of The Fall Guy to get a pretty good idea why Heather Thomas was cast in the forgettable role of Jodie Banks. Typical dialog for Heather included such award winning lines as “Watch out Colt, he’s got a gun!” and “I hate you Howie!”. Never-the-less, Heather’s California good looks, along with sales of one of the most successful posters of the 80′s, help keep The Fall Guy breaking through windows and catching crooks for five full seasons.

• • •

Donna Dixon

Bosom Buddies

Back before Tom Hanks was the Oscar-winning, world famous actor and producer he is today, he starred in a little sitcom (yes, that is Hanks singing the Billy Joel title track in the opening credits) about two guys pretending to be women in order to get an apartment in Manhattan. Although I was only 11 at the time, I remember the show not for the forced jokes about men in drag, or even Peter Scolari’s impressive juggling skills. Nope, the thing I remember most about Bosom Buddies was Sonny Lumet, played to Marilyn Monroe-esque proportions by Donna Dixon. Unbeknownst to me, Dixon’s Sonny provided the visual counterbalance for audience members uncomfortable with watching two men parading around in makeup for laughs. And although the writers took full advantage of Dixon’s sex appeal, Bosom Buddies just wasn’t funny enough to last beyond 2 seasons.

• • •

Jeri Ryan

Star Trek Voyager

By the third season of Star Trek Voyager, UPN’s flagship show was starting to limp along on impulse power. The powers that be decided to axe Kes, played by Jennifer Lein, in favor of another character that has since become synonymous with TV eye candy. From the moment she first stepped onto the cargo bay in her infamous catsuit, it was clear Jeri Ryan’s portrayal of Seven of Nine would blast Voyager back into warp speed. The move was decried by critics and even some cast members as blatantly sexist and an attempt to lure the young male demographic back into the Trek universe. Evidently the ploy worked as Voyager’s ratings picked up, complex stories began centering on Seven’s character and to her credit, Ryan strove to make the part her own. While Voyager is considered by many to be one of the weakest in the Trek franchise, it’s a testament to Ryan that the series’ best dramatic moments often came from the Borg once seen only as a bombshell.

• • •

Lynda Carter

Wonder Woman

Perhaps no other role on television epitomizes the idea of a TV turd blossom as that of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. When the show’s producers cast Carter in the title role, she had little more than a 1972 Miss World title and $25 dollars to her name. Despite some of the cheesiest plots, villains and sets this side of Paradise Island, Carter’s warmth and enthusiasm for the part always shone through. When Wonder Woman moved from a World War II to modern day setting on a completely different network, Carter took the change in stride and did her best to make the show successful. To this day, not many people can remember the stories of Wonder Woman, but everyone knows who played her. Carter’s beauty may have lassoed the viewers, but it was her ability to rise above the awful material that turned her into one of the most beloved heroines in TV history.

Don’t forget to Digg It!

The Best of 2007

I’ve been into writing “listposts recently, so I thought a year-ending ‘Best of 2007′ post seemed appropriate. The following list are simply things that for no other reason, brought me joy over the past twelve months. You may be familiar with some of the items on the list, and others you may never even heard of. Either way, I promise you they are all worth checking out. If this post lets people know there is a better way to clean their toilet or helps you find new friends, then I can die a happy man. Well, that’s not really true, but at least it gave you a legitimate excuse to put off paying those online bills or jumping on the treadmill for another few minutes. I do what I can.

• • •

Kaboom

Consumer Product

When my wife handed me a brush and a bottle of Kaboom Bowl Blaster a few months back and told me to get scrubbing, I did so begrudgingly. See, our toilets were dirty. I mean really dirty. Now before you go getting that look on your face, I don’t mean dirty like that, I mean dirty from hard water stains. Living in the country means that we’re on well water out here and don’t have the luxury of being hooked up to city water supplies. Our water is full of compounds and minerals like sulfur dioxide, zinc and calcium and it plays endless havoc on all of our plumbing fixtures.

I’ve scrubbed our toilets before with everything from Soft Soap and Comet to CLR and huge amounts of elbow grease and nothing, nothing has ever gotten the hard water stains 100% gone. That is until Kaboom came along. I’m not exaggerating or earning kickbacks when I say that, with only a minimal amount of scrubbing, Kaboom banished these unsightly stains to the infomercial netherworld from which they came. I’m not one who falls for late night commercial pitches, but I swear that this stuff works. If you have not tried it, next time you head to the grocery store, check it out. Your significant other will thank you.

• • •

Kid Nation

Television

Even before a single minute of the first episode aired on CBS, TV critics, child welfare workers and over-protective parents were all doing everything in their power to make sure Kid Nation failed. The audience disagreed however and this unassuming little show about 40 kids unleashed on a New Mexico ghost town became an instant family hit and gave kids and parents everywhere a reason to cheer.

Each week kids like Sophia, Anjay, Greg and yes, even Taylor, gave us new insight into how children think, their resourcefulness and how much respect they deserve. I’ve written about Kid Nation before and with good reason. The show single-handedly reaffirmed my faith in television. Kid Nation proved that a reality show could succeed without all the back-stabbing, elimination voting that made shows like Survivor and Big Brother household names. Producers smartly structured the series around rewards rather than punishments and the result was a breath of fresh air for all of us watching at home. I sincerely hope there is a second season of Kid Nation, but if you missed it the first time, you can wait for the DVDs or check out the free downloadable episodes available from the Kid Nation website.

• • •

Super Mario Galaxy

Video Game

I’ve only been playing Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii for a short time. I can already say that it’s become my favorite video game of 2007, and that’s coming from a certifiable Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess freak.

It never ceases to amaze me how Nintendo can continually make video games feel original and fresh as Super Mario Galaxy does. The story is the usual “Save Peach from Bowser!” narrative that we’ve come to know and expect. Just about everything else feels new. Game mechanics, play style and some of the best music ever written for a video game, all combine into another fun and surprisingly addictive winner from Shigeru Miyamoto. SMG is another feather in the cap of the Wii platform that some incorrectly predicted would be trounced by both the PS3 and XBOX 360. A year after launch, the Wii platform is still in high demand, and Super Mario Galaxy has helped me rediscover my love of video games. To top it all off, Mario is set to mark his 30th anniversary in just a few years. Not bad for a plumber who couldn’t tell a monkey from a donkey.

• • •

No Country for Old Men

Movie

No Country for Old Men is an odd tale that centers around a case of $2 million dollars that goes missing after a drug deal gone bad. Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who, on the eve of his retirement, has the task of tracking down not only the money, but one of the scariest villains ever to hit the big screen. As is the case in most of the Coen brother’s films, location becomes an integral part of the story, so much so it’s almost like another character. The brother’s attention to detail and skill in building suspense, weaves a story that completely pulls us in and never lets go. The writing is sharp, the dialog is poetic and the cinematography is simply gorgeous. Take all of this, add mesmerizing performances from Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh and Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss and you have yourself the best picture of 2007.

• • •

AmeriCone Dream

Consumer Product

You really have to hand it to Steven Colbert. One minute your one of Jon Stewart’s flunkies reporting from the green screen version of Iraq, and the next you’ve got Captain America’s shield hanging on your wall and an ice cream flavor named after you. Colbert’s meteoric rise hasn’t really come as a surprise to those of us who admired his hilarious nightly performances on The Daily Show, but I never would have guessed he had such a fantastic sweet tooth.

Ben & Jerry’s AmeriCone Dream ice cream features bits of waffle cone dipped in fudge, surrounded by a creamy, but conservative vanilla ice cream and swirls of all-American caramel. To top it all off, proceeds from Steven’s product go to The Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund, which supports causes like aid to disadvantaged children, veterans, and the environment. About the only way it could get better would be if they managed to get the carton to make that shrieking bald eagle sound every time you opened it.

• • •

Apple iPhone

Hardware

I bet you thought the iPhone was going to be number one on my list didn’t you? Well guess again all-knowing swami! While it may not be my very favorite thing of 2007, it only lost out by a few ill-timed Mobile Safari crashes and a badly needed clipboard app. To say that my iPhone has improved my life might sound like the meaningless drivel of an Apple fanboy, but as someone famous once said “I cannot tell a lie.”

Before my iPhone, I never wanted to check my email on the go, or was able to effortlessly look up a destination in Google Maps after getting lost in some obscure corner of Greensboro. I can instantly add people and businesses to my phone’s address book with the press of a single button and browse my favorite websites just as they appear on my desktop computer. Before, I never could figure out how to use custom ring tones or have wallpapers I didn’t have to pay a monthly fee for. The iPhone opened the door to all of these small, but fun things for me.

Perhaps most important of all, it makes me feel good about carrying my phone all over the place. Before, my cell was just something I had to have in case I needed to call my wife or had an emergency. Now, I’m connected and able to look for information, tweet thoughts at random and have my iPod with me all the time. Anyone who tells you the iPhone is “just another cell phone” doesn’t have the first clue about what it represents or what its potential is. It changed the face of the cell phone industry for the better, forced cell carriers to “think different” about their business models and captured a big slice of the U.S. smartphone market in the process. Pretty good for a company that never made a cell phone before.

• • •

Twitter.com

Social Networking Service

When it comes to Twitter, people invariably seem to be divided into two groups. The first group, let’s call them the “Eloi”, embraces the free and fascinating microblogging service. They make friends, send tweets about what they are eating, make interesting observations and find people with similar online interests as themselves. They live in the daylight and take Twitter for what it is, a place to feel connected with those around them, enjoy the fruits of the digital age and generally co-exist with others in virtual harmony.

Then there are the Twitter “Morlocks” who shun the technology, lash out against it and write blog posts saying things like “what’s the point?”, and “who in their right mind would use this stupid thing?”. They have Twitter friend lists of anywhere between 2 and 5 people, never venture out of their cave and prefer to dine on the recycled entrails of Blogger.com or Facebook. Poor, lost souls.

I count myself firmly in the Eloi camp and my life is far better for it. Twitter has allowed me to stay in touch with dear friends from college that have long since moved away. Twitter gives me a sounding board to bounce ideas off peers, is a reliable source for general knowledge, and lets me stay on top of the latest breaking news from around the world. But perhaps more than anything, it allows me to connect with like-mined individuals. For example, watching the World Series in 2007 was an amazing experience thanks to Twitter. Fellow Red Sox fans were able to joke and share thoughts and feelings with each other like we were in the same room. I’ve also expanded my network of designer and developer friends significantly. I feel like I know many of these people first hand and I look forward to meeting them at MacWorld at some point in the future.

Twitter has given us a way of interacting that is new, unique and intimate. It provides a glimpse into the lives of people that, for one reason or another, you find interesting. In a world where we are all becoming more and more like those isolated, underground dwellers the Morlocks, Twitter lets in just a touch of the much-needed sunlight.

Boyhood Crush Confessions

We all go through it. That time in our young lives when suddenly members of the opposite sex aren’t so “icky”, and are actually kinda neat. We develop crushes on those we see around us, and like so many boys my age, many of my first crushes came from television. Inspired by a series of tweets between friends, I give you the confessions of my first infatuations. I’m willing to bet that if you were a boy growing up in the 70′s and 80′s, then at least one of these leading ladies made your heart go pitter-patter too.

Being a geek, I grew up watching lots of sci-fi stuff, and as such, you may notice some running themes. There always seemed to be lots of cute girls who were getting lost in space or saving the universe. Needless to say I was doomed from the get-go. I hope you enjoy this tiny peek inside my psyche and don’t forget to visit the other bloggers who had the courage to take the crush plunge. A list of their favorites follows. Enjoy!

• • •

Kathy Coleman

as Holly Marshall

Those pigtails! That plaid shirt! Who could resist this darling tomboy who fell with her family through a dimensional warp and wound up “In the laaaaand of the lost, lost, lost!”? Kathy Coleman as Holly Marshall was the very first girl I think I fell in love with. She was always getting into trouble with those scary Sleestack but still somehow managed to cook dinner for her lame brother Will and pseudo-scientist father Rick. Holly was just the kind of girl I wished lived next door… if she wasn’t stuck in a parallel dimension. A few years back I bought the season 1 DVD of Land of the Lost and when I grabbed the screen caps for this post, the back of the box even proclaimed Kathy Coleman to be “many a young boy’s first crush”. I guess I was in good, and numerous company.

• • •

Angela Cartwright

as Penny Robinson

Forget Judy, the older, blonder sister that everybody else went ga-ga over. Penny Robinson, played by Angela Cartwright for three seasons on Lost in Space, was the thinking boy’s girl Friday. Penny had it all, an annoying genius brother, a cool pet space-monkey named Debbie and a tendency to wear clothes made out of tinfoil. Unlike Holly Marshall though, Penny seemed to be firmly stuck in the awkward role of “middle child”. Not as young and adventurous as Will, and not as mature and good looking as Judy, Penny often got overlooked in Lost’s story lines. I always looked forward to the rare episodes involving Penny and her inevitable “damsel in distress” moments that were usually caused by Dr. Smith. You may remember Angela Cartwright from her memorable role as Brigitta von Trapp in The Sound of Music, but she’ll always be Penny Robinson to me.

• • •

Erin Gray

as Col. Wilma Deering

Holy cow! If ever there was a TV character that jump started boys into puberty, it was Colonel Wilma Deering, played by Erin Gray from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I was just 11 when this show started airing on NBC, but by the time it was cancelled three seasons later, I swear I was 18. Wilma’s infamous satin costumes were an obvious ploy to lure male viewers, and judging from my inability to remember much other than Erin Gray and Twiki, I’d say it worked. You have to give credit to Gray for playing the role with such strength and grace, despite the shiny blue and purple fan service the producers served up week to week. Amazingly enough, Gray’s appeal was even strong enough to lure legions of viewers to the comedic train wreck that was Silver Spoons. She was also in the final running for the role of Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager, which had another satin clad beauty you may remember.

• • •

Yvonne Craig

as Barbara Gordon / Batgirl

Brought in to raise sinking ratings, the character of Batgirl, played with enthusiastic crime fighting vigor by Yvonne Craig, stole my heart from the get go. I’m not sure if it was the flowing red hair under that super cool bat cowl, or the secret Batcycle she had stored in her one bedroom apartment, but Barbara Gordon drove me Batcrazy. Craig’s portrayal of the hero gave girls a new, strong role model and gave boys, like myself, heartaches for years to come. Batgirl always seemed to be getting into trouble too, which was just fine with me. I remember watching the episode where Batman and Robin get tied up into a Siamese human knot with Batgirl and thinking “What a great way to die!” Holy “involuntary muscular contractions” Batman!

• • •

Carrie Fisher

as Princess Leia Organa

Don’t try and deny it, you probably had a crush on Princess Leia too. Who didn’t for God’s sake? How could we help it anyway? The character of Leia Organa came bursting off the screen in 1977′s mega-hit Star Wars and young boy’s lives would never be the same. Ask most guys what comes to mind when they think of Princess Leia and they’ll probably say “Bikini Leia!” but Carrie Fisher had me swooning long before ROTJ. You gotta love a woman who orders the likes of Han Solo around and exclaims “Would someone please get this walking carpet out of my way?”. She even somehow managed to project authority while having two cinnamon buns strapped to her noggin. About the only thing wrong with Leia was her tendency to go for scoundrels instead of the squeaky clean farmer type boys. You could say that I fell squarely into the latter category, and so our “love” was doomed from the start. Then again, that’s probably a good thing since I would have turned out to be her brother. Yuck!!

Check out these blogger’s childhood crushes:

Living In the now
Kaylow
Cocoia Blog
nergalicious
Momisodes
Russian Mafia Babe

Don’t forget to Digg It!

Five Frightening Flicks

Since Halloween is my favorite time of year, and Dave Caolo was looking for something spooky to watch, I thought I would carve up my very own top five horror movies. Maybe some of these are on your list of frightening favorites, maybe not. Either way, always remember to look behind you and have a happy Halloween!

• • •

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

What do you get when you combine clever film making, our innate fear of the woods and a brilliant marketing campaign? You get perhaps one of the least appreciated horror flicks of modern times. The Blair Witch Project was made on a shoestring budget and employed improvisational techniques to effectively paint the picture of a student documentary gone horribly wrong. Sadly, the film has been lampooned so many times it’s difficult to take it seriously these days. Never-the-less, it does have moments that will scare the living piss out of you. I especially love the scene when they stumble on the grotto. Who knew arts and crafts could be so scary? The film makers do a great job of turning location into a character in the story. The woods are dark, confusing and claustrophobic and play on our very real fear of getting lost in the forrest. Despite the iconic booger-in-the-nose scene and some weak acting, I still say the ending is one of scariest you’ll ever see on film.

• • •

Alien (1979)

Essentially a futuristic “haunted house” movie, Alien is to some, the quintessential horror flick. From the moment we set down on LV-426, we know there is going to be trouble. The crew of the Nostromo seems more interested in turning a profit than responding to a supposed distress call. The next thing you know, John Hurt has a face-hugger shoving an alien embryo down this throat and the whole mission goes to pot. Director Ridley Scott does a masterful job of showing just bits and pieces of the alien, proving the adage that it’s not what you see, but rather what you don’t see, that’ll scare you silly. We watch the crew get picked off one by one, until only Ellen Ripley and her cat Jones are left. The climatic scene in the Nostromo’s shuttle is hair raising, but the part that creeps me out the most is Dallas’ demise in the air vent. Giger’s nightmarish creature seems to pop out of nowhere, creating one of the best “gotcha!” moments of any horror flick.

• • •

Jaws (1975)

What can you say about a movie that made an entire generation afraid to go swimming? The success of Jaws stems from our instinctual fear of things we can’t see. When we wander into the ocean, we know there are all kinds of creatures swimming down there just below our feet. Some of those beasties are nice, and some are not so nice. Despite the technical hurdles of making Bruce the shark believable, director Steven Spielberg manages to pull the entire premise off with shocking perfection. From floating eyeballs and crushed shark cages to Quint get chopped up into little fish food, Jaws is one heart pounding thrill ride that bites down hard and never lets go.

• • •

Halloween (1978)

Forget Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kruger. Before either one of these wanna-be psychos sidled onto the scene, there was John Carpenter’s Michael Myers. Myers was a honest-to-goodness lunatic who spent 15 years in a mental hospital after killing his older sister. Now he’s escaped and off to conduct a repeat performance on his younger sister, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Talk about devotion to family! To top it off, Carpenter’s baddie likes to stalk his prey in the scariest costume anyone could imagine, a mask of William Shatner. The small town setting, creepy music and over the top acting by Donald Pleasence all help put this macabre spectacle it in a league of its own. It always amazes me that this little film set the tone for all other slasher flicks to come, and none of them have even come close to replicating the sheer terror that is Halloween.

• • •

The Ring (2003)

I can’t exactly put my finger on what makes The Ring so disturbing. Maybe it’s the subtle mix of macabre elements like the blurred faces in the kids’ photos, or the calculated use of the gray-green color palette that permeates the film. Whatever it is, it works because every time I watch this nightmarish flick I get goose-bumps. The story is woven so cleverly and makes such great use of foreshadowing that when the “gotcha!” moments arrive, they seem even more upsetting than they should. Like Halloween, The Ring spawned a bunch of would-be knock offs including The Grudge, Saw and Hostel. None of them come even close to the terrifying poetry that The Ring represents. Every year at this time, The Ring is right at the top of my list of spooky films to watch. Sometimes before popping in the DVD, I even turn off the phone. Oh come on, like you don’t!

20 Flicks for a Deserted Island

Ever put serious thought into what your favorite top 20 movies of all time are? Neither had I until a bunch of us decided to get together and do a group blog post about the subject. The theme we decided upon was “20 Movies for a Deserted Island” along with some “guilty pleasures” thrown in for good measure. Corey Marion, David Miller, Anthony Piraino and I all brainstormed and came up with a list of our current favorite 20 movies. We made our lists without each other’s knowledge, but given our similar likes and interests, it doesn’t surprise me to find some duplicates among our choices.

The movies on my list are films that I have watched many, many times and never get tired of. If I happen to spy one of these movies while I’m flipping TV channels, I usually get sucked into watching until the very end. I hope some of your favorites are on my list. Be sure to post your picks in the comment thread if the mood should strike you, then hop on over to the guys’ pages and see how their list compares. Without further ado here is my list in descending order:

• • •

20. Terminator 2

What do you get when you pack amazing special effects, time travel, California’s rippling governor and the baddest liquid robot in the history of film? The answer is one of the best action flicks of all time. Terminator 2 has just enough plot to rise above the average shoot-em-up, but not enough to take away from the sheer cool factor of seeing Arnold rip into a dozen police cars with a mini gun. The strongest of the three Terminator films by far and one of Cameron’s best.

• • •

19. The Emperor’s New Groove

The “black sheep” of the Disney family, The Emperor’s New Groove hit problems from the very moment of production. What was planned as a sappy epic dealing with ancient Mayan Incan culture ended up instead as the single funniest film ever to come out of the Mouse House. Patrick Warburton as Kronk is my favorite Disney side kick of all time, as is Eartha Kitt’s Yzma in the villain category. Packed with one-liners and tons of heart, New Groove always delivers.

• • •

18. Shawn of the Dead

The people who made Shawn of the Dead love action and horror movies to death. No pun intended. The black comedy in this UK sleeper hit is cranked way up, which is what makes it just so much fun to watch. More than just a zombie movie, Shawn takes typical horror conventions and turns them on their smashed and bloody head. The result is dark, brooding and hilarious.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

17. Raising Arizona

All of the classic Coen brothers techniques are in full force in Arizona. Snappy, memorable one-liners mix with a warped world view to tell the story of H.I. McDunnough and Ed’s misplaced efforts to “adopt” a child. Nicholas Cage’s deadpan delivery combined with clever camera work and a memorable score, all make for a movie well worthy of a deserted island.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

16. Aliens

The first time I saw Aliens in the theater, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire first 30 minutes. I knew what was coming, it was only a matter of when and how. I love the dark, hopelessness of the movie, its intense action sequences and Sigourney’s rock solid performance. The original Alien is a masterpiece of horror, and Aliens builds on that suspense and throws in a healthy dose of “kick ass” for good measure.

Also picked by Corey.

• • •

15. When Harry Met Sally

My favorite romantic comedy of all time. Nora Ephron’s writing is sublime in When Harry as are the performances by both the lead and the supporting casts. This movie also helped me court my wife long distance, so it holds a special place in our home. The film is also a veritable fountain memorable quotes including “Baby fishmouth!” and the previously posted “Sheldon can do your income taxes.” If I ever need a good laugh, I can always count on When Harry Met Sally to come to the rescue.

• • •

14. Se7en

This dark thriller grabs you and never lets go. More than most suspense movies, Se7en’s locations become just as much a part of the story as the main characters. It always seems to be gloomy, raining and gritty in this horrific world of sin and death, which only adds to the intense drama. The movie marches relentlessly towards its inevitable and climatic conclusion that is just as disturbing now as it was the first time I saw it. Great flick.

• • •

13. Mulan

Of all of Disney’s animated tales, Mulan is the one that strikes the perfect balance between drama and comedy. The Lion King comes close, but I love the Asian setting in Mulan as well as it’s core themes of family and honor. The songs are catchy and the art direction can’t be beat. The Japanese ink sequence alone is worth the price of admission.

• • •

12. The Matrix

The Matrix was such a watershed moment in American film that even Keanu Reeves can’t keep the film down. It is a perfect blend of archetypes, modern day paranoia and Hong Kong style action. Throw in Carrie-Anne Moss clad to the hilt in sexy black rubber and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith and you have a sci-fi classic for the ages. As an FYI, the other two Matrix films wouldn’t even make it into my DVD collection let alone on my deserted island. Yes, they are that bad.

Also picked by Anthony and Corey.

• • •

11. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

The Coen Brothers have an uncanny knack for creating memorable characters, locations and dialog. No where was this more apparent than in the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Like his ancient Greek counterpart, Ulysses Everett McGill finds himself on an amazing journey in which he meets all manner of characters including an oracle, a cyclops and a set of seductive sirens. The film also makes special use of music as it even becomes an integral plot point. About the only thing I don’t like about the movie is when Babyface shoots the cows. “Not the livestock George!” Other than that, I can’t complain.

Also picked by Corey.

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10. Star Wars

The original. Not the re-release or the CGI special edition, or even the re-re-release. Before there were the ultra-crappy prequels there was this space opera for the ages. The first, best and only true Star Wars. The only thing that even comes close to Episode IV is Empire, but even that is a pale shadow of the original. May the Force be with us!

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9. Young Frankenstein

A comedic spoof for the ages from the one and only Mel Brooks. Brilliant performances by Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman are just the tip of this hilarious iceburg as we watch Brooks send up every aspect of the classic horror genre. Clever dialog and a respectful homage to film’s black and white era only add to the piles of funny that are stacked up like so many of Frederick’s body parts. My favorite outright comedy.

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8. The Incredibles

It was tough picking just one PIXAR movie for this list, but The Incredibles wins by a nose. I’m a sucker for good super hero movies, and this combined with the fantastic family theme proved a winner for Brad Bird and company. I love Edna ‘E’ Mode and her passion for super fashion, Frozone’s arguments with his wife and the tilted humor found throughout the entire picture. I’m not much for sequels, but I think The Incredibles is one PIXAR franchise that is indeed worthy.

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7. To Kill a Mockingbird

I remember the first time I saw To Kill a Mockingbird back in grade school. The film, told through the eyes of a child, was easy to relate to but also told the powerful story of a man, the family he loved and racial injustice in the Depression-era South. Gregory Peck’s quiet and determined performance as Atticus Finch won him the Oscar in 1962, and rightly so. I still get goose-bumps watching the last 20 minutes of this movie, even to this day. When Boo steps out of the shadow in Scout’s room, a big part of my childhood jumps right out with him. I love that about great movies, they can transport you. Mockingbird does it to me every time.

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6. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Say what you want about George Lucas, but the man can create memorable characters. Indiana Jones is perhaps one of cinema’s most recognized heroes and that is in no small part to George Lucas. The story is a direct take on the serials that played in movie houses across the nation in the 40′s & 50′s and it single handily spawned the modern action era. Harrison Ford is perfect in the role of Indy, the locations are epic and the score by John Williams positively soars. Throw in a good helping of evil Nazis, the mythical Ark of the Covenant and an unforgettable showdown in a crowded Egyptian marketplace and you have one of the top movies of all time.

Also picked by Anthony.

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5. The Princess Bride

It’s strange but when I think of The Princess Bride, I don’t really think of it as a comedy. It’s more like a tilted fairy tale, an obvious inspiration for more goofy movies like Shrek. Of all the films in my top 20, this one probably has the most memorable quotes, and there are lots of them. The dialog, pacing and performances all add up to a fan favorite that many people tell me is on their list of personal favorites. No matter what you think of Princess Bride, the film’s creators must have done something right to be loved by so many.

Also picked by Corey and Anthony.

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4. Kill Bill Vol. 1

I love this movie. Let me say it again so I’m perfectly clear. I love Kill Bill Vol. 1. I love pretty much everything about it. Here are some things in no particular order that I think are particularly good: Uma Thurman, Hong Kong style action, anime sequences, the House of Blue Leaves super-long camera pan, Zamfir and oh yeah, Quentin Tarantino. I also admire the movie for what it is, not what some people say it is not. It is not pretentious and full of itself like Tarantino’s often touted Pulp Fiction. It is not a deep character study and it is certainly not a movie that all people enjoy. It is a kick-ass homage to martial arts films, pop culture and TV of the 70′s and I will watch it any time and any place.

Also picked by Corey.

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3. Saving Private Ryan

Our parents have Bridge over the River Kwai and The Longest Day, we have Saving Private Ryan. The sheer fact that Spielberg decided to start the movie with the Battle of Normandy and not end with it, speaks volumes about the story to come. We embark on an epic journey to find a lone private caught somewhere in the allied invasion of France. The film brings rich characters to life and confirms the raw talent of Tom Hanks as cinema’s “every man”. Veterans have said that Ryan is about as realistic as combat gets for the movies, and watching the skillful direction it’s easy to see why. Saving Private Ryan may be cinema’s definitive war movie, and for that, it deserves a place in the roster of my deserted island movies.

Also picked by Anthony.

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2. The LOTR Trilogy

Yeah, so technically this is three movies, but I don’t view them that way. I see the trilogy as three parts of one story that all inter-connects (hey, isn’t that the definition of a trilogy anyway?). The depth of the various plot threads and the level of character development give new meaning to masterpiece. Peter Jackson and company pay tribute to Tolkien in so many ways, from costumes and makeup to music and set design, the entire trilogy is one giant labor of love to the late author. I remember how hard it was to wait in-between releases of these films and I still enjoy every single minute of them on DVD now.

Also picked by Anthony and Corey.

• • •

1. The Shawshank Redemption

What makes Shawshank so brilliant is the way it weaves what really are a series of small vignettes into one, wonderful story arc. Take any one of them by itself and you have great story telling and compelling drama. Follow the entire series over the course of two hours and you have one of the best movies ever made. The tale told by Morgan Freeman is one of hope and despair, of freedom and imprisonment which leads to one of, if not the most, satisfying endings in movie history. I think I’ve watched Shawshank about 30+ times now and it never gets old or boring. The look on the warden’s face when he pulls down Andy’s poster is priceless. A great film.

Also picked by Anthony.

• • •

I define “Guilty Pleasures” as movies that you love, but wouldn’t necessarily admit to loving in mixed company. I’d sure as heck take these movies to a deserted island if there was room on the boat, but I might watch them in a cave on the other side of the lagoon, far away from the judgmental eye of the tribe. :-)

Starship Troopers – This cheesy excuse for a big-budget sci-fi flick has it all: big overblown sets, method acting, scene chewing dialog “You’re some kind of SMART BUG!”, and Doogie Howser! Top it all off with a dash of Denise Richards, and a side helping of Michael Ironside and you’ve got the perfect guilty pleasure. It’s so bad, it’s good.

Legend of Boggy Creek – Sure it was shot with a 16mm handheld camera, employes the entire Crabtree family and has one of the sappiest love songs about a swamp monster you’ll ever hear, but it still ROCKS! Boggy Creek is by far the best of the 70′s docu-dramas about Bigfoot you’ll ever see. It’s regular viewing in my home and the Iconfactory in October. I take pride in the knowledge that I have hooked all the guys at the office on this super bad, super scary, low-budget number from my childhood.

Zoolander – Ben Stiller hams it up to perfection in this goofy flick about a model idiot. Filled with cliches and snappy pop tunes, Zoolander is nothing more than trashy, bubble gum fun, but it always brings a smile to my face. The exchange between Derek, Hansel and Billy Zane is classic, as is Derek’s one look – The Magnum.

Ghost – To say Ghost is sappy is an understatement. It’s so corny, that I can’t even get my wife to watch it, my WIFE! I’ll admit that it pushes a bit too many stereotypical buttons, but when that penny floats across the room to land in Molly’s hand, damn if I don’t tear up every single time! Sometimes you just gotta have a good cry, and so there’s Ghost.

Speaking of Movies…

I love movies and movie quotes. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I tend to quote movies more often than I probably should. Fortunately many of them share my love for memorable dialog just as much as I do, so I put together a list of 10 of my all-time comedy favorites. If this goes over well, I’ll post an eventual follow up of other genres. It was tempting to use multiple quotes from a film, so I limited myself to just one per movie (very tough!). You can click each number to listen to a clip from its respective soundtrack.

I hope these bring a smile to your face and I invite you to post your own favorite movie quotes in the comments below. Enjoy!

• • •

“Dan Marino should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell.”

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) – At the time, Ace Ventura was a break-out hit for Jim Carrey. Carrey’s comedic flair, rapid fire impressions, ad libs and facial contortions made him a perfect fit for the quirky pet detective. Ace’s visit to the ancestral home of Miami Dolphin kicker Ray Finkel, helps shed light on his homicidal tendencies thanks to this hilarious speech given by his mom played by Alice Drummond. Mrs. Finkel seems like a sweet old lady that could be anyone’s mother… a mom with a Marino death wish and a grudge the size of the entire state of Florida that is. “Laces OUT!”

• • •

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Princess Bride (1987) – If I had to pick a list of my top ten films, The Princess Bride would be on it. I fell in love with this strange movie the first time I saw it and have been quoting from it ever since. From Wesley’s “To the pain!” monologue, and the Grandfather’s “Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.” to everyone’s favorite line “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.” Princess Bride holds a special place in many fans’ hearts. The quote here is a perfect example of the tilted humor that made it an instant classic.

• • •

“They loved him up and turned him into a… horny toad!”

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) – The Coen Brothers have an uncanny knack for creating memorable characters, locations and dialog. No where was this more apparent than in the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Like his ancient Greek counterpart, Ulysses Everett McGill finds himself on an amazing journey in which he meets all manner of characters including an oracle, a cyclops and a set of seductive sirens. This quote is the punchline for the river scene where we learn that one of Everett’s traveling companions has been turned into a frog. Like many favorite quotes, the delivery is often what makes it great, and this clip at number 8 is a wonderful example.

• • •

“A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon’s your man… but humpin’ and pumpin’ is not Sheldon’s strong suit.”

When Harry Met Sally (1989) – So many lines, so little time! Often seen as the quintessential romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally offers up such classic quotes as “Baby fishmouth!”, “Men & women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” and “I’ll have what she’s having.” Harry and Sally’s priceless discussion of Sally’s sex life in act 1 leads to this gem about her “amazing sex” with Shell Gordon. Billy Crystal is at his comedic best and combined with Nora Ephron’s brilliant writing, we have a sound bite for the ages.

• • •

“You can’t have the duck! Do you think with a financial statement like this you can have the duck?”

L.A. Story (1991) – Often overlooked in the grand scheme of screen comedies is the diamond in the ruff that is L.A. Story. Part of it’s failure as a main stream hit stemmed from the fact that many of the jokes were predicated on the audience’s understanding of what it’s like to live, work and love in Los Angeles. Never-the-less, Steve Martin’s talent is undeniable and the film includes a wealth of memorable lines including this one from Patrick Stewart as the judgmental Maitre D’ of L’Idiot. Martin’s character Harris attempts to book a reservation at the trendy L.A. restaurant with hilarious results.

• • •

“Give him the seda-give!”

Young Frankenstein (1974) – The sci-fi geek in me debated posting a quote from Spaceballs in this spot, but Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein wins the spot instead. By far my favorite Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein has so many things going for it it surely must be counted as one of the best comedies of all time. Writing, acting, and art direction all come together in one big pile of funny to give us a side-splitting spoof of classic horror flicks. Picking just one line from Young Frankenstein is hard enough, but the charades scene wins the day with Gene Wilder’s “Put…the…candle…back!” coming a close second.

• • •

“We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f*cking Kaye!”

Christmas Vacation (1989)National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation has become as much a holiday tradition in our home as the Grinch and A Christmas Story. Each year, Clark Griswold’s heartfelt attempt to throw the ultimate Christmas experience explodes just like his over-sized tree. Clark just wants what’s best for his family, but redneck relatives, 25,000 Italian twinkle lights and a jelly-of-the-month club subscription all conspire against him. Clark (played superbly by Chevy Chase) finally snaps, and the 4th place quote is the riotous result.

• • •

“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, MASS HYSTERIA!”

Ghostbusters (1984) – The undeniable commercial success of Ivan Reitman’s ’84 monster, Ghostbusters, doesn’t detract from it’s comedic brilliance. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis all have screen gems in Ghostbusters as they get caught up in the haunting of New York. Candidates for 3rd place included “Listen! Do you smell something?”, “Ray. If someone asks if you are a god, you say, ‘YES!’” and “Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.” The mayor office scene works on many levels including Murray’s sucker-punch line “Yes, it’s true. This man has no dick.”, but it’s the “dogs and cats” quote that perfectly sums up the humor that is Ghostbusters.

• • •

“But the doctor explained that her insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase.”

Raising Arizona (1987) – As a movie buff, I’m a bit ashamed to say that I didn’t even know Raising Arizona existed until my wife introduced it to me only a few years ago. I knew after the first 10 minutes that it would become one of my all-time favorite movies, and so it has. The Coen brothers spin a farcical yarn about H.I. McDunnough and his wife Ed’s misplaced efforts to raise the kidnapped Natan Arizona Jr. as one of their own. The movie’s humor is sometimes subtle – “Not unless round is funny.” but for those paying attention, it’s pure gold. People either love or hate Raising Arizona, but for those of you in the former, Hi’s quote from Raising’s prologue always satisfies.

• • •

“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Airplane! (1980) – If the Coen brothers skillfully tickle your funny bone, then Jim Abrahams and David Zucker will whip it out and massage it. A comedy for the ages, Airplane! single handedly invented the spoof genre to the delight of movie goers everywhere. Filled with puns, one liners and laugh-a-minute silliness, Airplane! pokes zany fun at the disaster movies that where the hallmark of the 70′s. I doubt the kind of dialog that Peter Graves recites in this hilarious scene with Joey, played by Rossie Harris, would even be allowed in today’s comedies. Thank goodness Zuker and Abrahams had the sense to ignore studio execs at the time and make one of the funniest movies ever. We promise not to call either of them ‘Shirley’ either.

Five Very Cool & Totally Random Things

Seems like the Internets is all about lists these days. Every blogger and writer worth their salt is doing it, so I thought it was about time I gave it a shot. Mine is not a ‘Top Ten Things We Hate About Apple’ or a ’11 Celebrities that Shouldn’t Have Any More Children’ list. It’s simply a list of five very cool things I’ve come into contact with recently that I think you might get a kick out of. If you think these things are lame or gay, then don’t tell me, I don’t wanna know! So without further ado…

System 47 Screensaver

Being the huge Star Trek geek that I am, I’m always on the lookout for anything Trek. A couple weeks ago I came across what has to be one of the best screen savers yet. System 47 turns your computer into an Enterprise bridge station complete with authentic LCARS displays and information. The company that makes it, meWho.com has done a wonderful job and the screen saver even recognizes and displays itself correctly if you have multiple monitors running. This thing puts a smile on my face every single time I see it. Available for both Mac and PC, System 47 makes Picard and Data feel right at home.

Numa Numa YouTube Video

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but man, what a party! This infectious music video posted on YouTube in February of 2006 has become an Internet favorite and its easy to see why. Three Malaysian students lip synch, dance and generally ham it up for the camera, all to O-Zone’s ear worm ‘Dragostea Din Tei’. This catchy tune, in combination with the sincere and hilarious performance of these kids has earned the Numa Numa video, as it’s called, a place in my permanent bookmarks.

Sim Daltonism Color Blindness App

Sometimes we take for granted that everyone sees things the way we see them, when unfortunately, that is not the case. Over 2 million people in the United States suffer from Daltonism or color blindness, as it is more commonly referred to. Daltonism is a color vision deficiency that prohibits certain people from distinguish differences between some or all colors. Being in the design field, we often have to be mindful of such people when designing user interfaces or icons that contain specific colors. I recently came in contact with a extremely useful and fascinating application called Sim Daltonism created by Michel Fortin, that allows us to see things on the computer the way color blind people do and adjust accordingly. The program is available for Mac OS X and should be a part of any artist’s arsenal of tools when designing for the screen.

Moosebutter: A Tribute to John Williams

Anyone who says that Twitter is a vast wasteland and utterly pointless, this one is for you! Last week I was listening to my collection of John Williams soundtracks and posted a tweet about it online. Later that day I received an email from someone who had seen my tweet and pointed me at Moosebutter: A Cappella Comedy. This group of singers specialize in humor via their melodic tones and acute awareness for all things geek. Their track “Star Wars” has to be one of the single funniest things I’ve ever heard. Listen to a portion of the track here, and then go buy the entire song from their website. I especially love Luke crying out in the background of the Jurassic Park section things like, “My hand!” and “I’ll never join you!”. Perfectly side-splitting!

Magnetosphere iTunes Visualizer

Barbarian Software plugs their incredible iTunes visualizer, Magnetosphere, as “The last iTunes visualizer you will ever want for.” and that isn’t too far from the truth. Unlike most visualizers for iTunes or WinAmp that simply pump out visuals while music is playing, Magnetosphere actually changes based on the audio. The results are stunning and expressive to say the least. After I found out about this cool piece of software (hat tip to one digital life) and installed it, I couldn’t stop looking at it. I wanted to see what it would do with each new piece of music. From the epic sounds of Vangelis’ ‘Heaven & Hell’, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ‘Under My Spell’, Magnetosphere entrances and delights. You owe it to yourself to download this wonderful plug-in and check it out today.