Thursday, March 31, 2016

The New Social Media

Lately, I've been experimenting with Periscope and Snapchat.

Both of these platforms are new social media, even though today's teenagers have probably been using them since middle school. Snapchat came out in 2011. Periscope came out last year (and has since been acquired by Twitter).

Snapchat is multi-media chat. You and your friends send 'snaps' to one another. These snaps are video, pictures, and even plain old text. In Snapchat, you can also draw and label and add emoji to your snaps, adding to the whimsy. Snaps are between two people, but you can post snaps into Stories which all your friends can read.

Periscope is live video broadcast from your smart phone. You can be at the beach or at the mall or even at home and viewers can see whatever you point your camera at. Viewers can chat with you and other viewers on your scope, though they're limited to text and emoji.

Both feature disappearing content. Anything that you post on these platforms is temporary. This simple concept introduces a profound change in how we express ourselves electronically. After your snap has been viewed on Snapchat, it disappears. After your scope has been up for 24 hours on Periscope, it disappears. Snapchat asked "what if we rethought the whole idea of the assumed permanence of social media?" What if?

(It should be pointed out that snaps can be saved and Periscope videos can be found, provided you're willing to perform a few technical steps.)

There's a certain lightness I feel posting updates to these new media. I'm posting true slices of my life. I think I'm more whimsical on these platforms. There's less self-editing. I've made rules of conduct for myself on social media but they don't seem as pertinent on SnapChat or Periscope.

As I said: I'm experimenting. If you're on these platforms, look for me at 'rickumali'.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My Three Best Movies about Journalism

Last week, I finally watched Spotlight, the movie about the Boston Globe journalists who wrote about the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal and cover-up in Boston. I remember reading those articles back in 2002, and I worried about how the subject matter would be tackled in a film. After I finished it, I realized I now could add it to my short list of best movies about journalism.

"All the President's Men" (1976). I blogged about this movie in 2003, but I have certainly watched it again since then. The power of journalism to keep a presidency in check is on full display here. Also on display was the doggedness of journalists Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Berstein (Dustin Hoffman). I love watching this film, a classic 70s movie. Possibly my favorite part is seeing Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) in his tux with the draft of an article in his hand, saying "run that baby!" to Woodward and Bernstein.

"The Insider" (1999). The headline actor is Al Pacino, who plays 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman. It's fascinating to watch Mr. Bergman juggle multiple stories, and fight his management at 60 Minutes. The star is Russell Crowe, however. His performance as a big tobacco scientist-turned-whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand is mesmerizing. I also think this is Michael Mann's best movie, his lush style amplifying the stakes. Super movie.

"Spotlight" (2015). In the movie, we see how the reporters put together the list of priests who were abusing children. The four of them each took several directories of Massachusetts priests, and cross-referenced all the names against certain key words that suggested a reassignment due to abuse. Set to music, in montage style with fast cuts, it is easy to see how tedious work ultimately produces an important result. I loved how movie made such details captivating. I was glad Spotlight won the 2015 Best Picture Oscar!

Honorable mentions:

"Kill the Messenger" (2014). Jeremy Renner portrays journalist Gary Webb. Gary begins to uncover a conspiracy between the CIA using illegal drugs to raise funds for the contras of Nicaragua. As with the Insider and All the President's Men, there are scenes in court houses, clandestine meetings with nefarious people, and a sense of foreboding and dread.

"State of Play" (2009). This is a fictional movie, but it deserves a mention. The movie stars Russell Crowe as a print journalist and Rachel McAdams (from Spotlight) as a web journalist. The movie, more than the others, tried to address the difference between old and new journalism. The movie is based on the "State of Play" TV mini-series (2003) from the BBC.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

My 2015 Books and Movies

I finished 34 books last year. I posted them on Goodreads.

I read a bunch of books that were made into popular (and current) movies: The Martian (Andy Weir), The Fifth Wave (Rick Yancey), LA Confidential (James Ellroy), Still Alice (Lisa Genova), Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), Black Mass (Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill) and The Finest Hours (Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman). I also read some bona fide literary prize-winners: Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon).

Of my 2015 list, the book that stayed with me throughout the year was The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Jeff Hobbs). It's the non-fiction story of a young inner-city kid from Newark, NJ, who has received a golden ticket: a free ride to Yale University. He graduates, but doesn't entirely give up his inner-city mentality. He died in a drug-related shooting.

Jeff weaves a fine narrative about Robert's upbringing. He presents the good and the bad in a measured and neutral manner, which compounds the impact of Robert's decisions. It's one thing to know that certain decisions are bad, but it's another to consider whether one is capable of doing anything else. It's a superb book, and one that I highly recommend.

In 2015, I watched 23 movies. The Martian, Inside Out, and The Peanuts Movie were favorites, but the one jaw-dropping movie for me was Interstellar. It's a huge regret that I didn't see this in the theater.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A California Christmas

On Christmas day this year, the temperature was nearly 70 degrees (Fahrenheit). It was an unusually warm day, capping off a series of warm weeks that Massachusetts hasn't experienced in quite some time. The warm weather so late into December seemed to be our consolation from last Winter's terrible storms. I joked that this is our California Christmas.

When I was in college, I did an internship in Pasadena, California. I lived there from June 1988 through December 1988. Being able to walk around in a light jacket during December felt like a miracle, and I loved every minute of it. "I could get used to this," I thought. I remember how sharp the cold felt when I returned home that Winter to New Jersey.

As I write this, Massachusetts is poised to have its first Winter event of the season. The predictions call for a light coating of snow which many hardy New Englanders will declare as "nothing." I count myself among those hardy people. I enjoyed our California Christmas, but I look forward to a classic New England Winter.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Wear and Tear

When I empty the dishwasher, whenever possible I make sure to put the newly cleaned dishes under the ones that are already stacked in our cabinet. I feel this evens out the wear and tear on our dishware.

This isn't a hard rule. If we only put two dishes in the dishwasher, because we had to clean a bunch of larger items, I don't take down the ten dishes in the cabinet just to put the two new ones on the bottom. I put them on top. I'm not a crazy man!

I do this because I remember reading how rain water will eventually split a large boulder, or how wind and sand will shape rock formations after a thousand years. With my strategy, my dishes will last longer because they're evenly exposed to the dishwasher water and detergent.

Or maybe I'm overthinking this.

Either way, only someone a few generations from now will be able to verify this!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Praising "In Our Time"

"In Our Time" is my favorite podcast.

The show is a brisk 40-45 minute discussion on all manner of subjects: history, art, literature, and science. The host is Melvyn Bragg, a British writer/broadcaster with a firm grasp of whatever the subject happens to be. His guests are three academic specialists in the subject matter: a panel of articulate scholars.

When I first learned about this podcast, I picked out the subjects that were of interest to me: engineering, science and math. As I grew familiar with show and its format, I found that Melvyn's manner made any subject seem vibrant. He could produce an almost urgent note in his guests. I've listened to many great talks about history (both popular and obscure), art, poetry and literature.

All the guests are steeped in their subject. Whereas Melvyn has broad taste and knowledge, his guests are at the proverbial deep end of the pool. Without exception the scholars are articulate about highly specialized knowledge, and their enthusiasm for their subject can be quite infectious.

Melvyn would surely be considered a Renaissance man: a person with diverse interests and talents. It's clear that he prepares a certain way before each show, and he is the one that dictates the pace and the angle of approach. He defers to his guests, but he makes it clear that it his show, and he keeps things lively and brisk.

Add this show to your podcast collection, and broaden your mind!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Product Placement

I pulled my 2007 Subaru Legacy sedan into the Panera parking lot. It was a short distance to the door, but it was raining. I pulled up the hood of my New England Patriots hoodie, and jogged across the lot. The restaurant was full of people: no one wanted to prepare anything at home, I guess. I ordered a Strawberry Poppyseed salad for myself. My wife calls it a candy salad because there's so much fruit in it, but I like its sweetness. As my order was being prepared, I pulled out my Apple iPhone 6, and browsed for pictures of the Minium, a new minimalist smartphone. Eventually I got my food and I went back outside. I looked up and rain drops fell on my Theo Bosrand glasses (705 Matte Black). I began running to the car, wishing I had worn a hat instead.