The Twonky: 1st Artificial-Intelligence Movie

DATELINE:  Non-conformist Weirdo Stuff !

twonky To Twonk or Not to Twonk?

When the protagonist of your movie is a pedantic philosophy professor (the ubiquitous Hans Conreid) in 1952, you likely had a bomb of a movie on your hands. When star Conreid said this to director Arch Oboler, the temperamental auteur noted he needed a tax write-off for the year anyhow.

The Twonky was based on a Lewis Padgett short story, one of the earliest visionaries to see computers and AI as the controlling force of the future.

Robbie the Robot and Gort were the mechanical men of the age (though a primitive slave robot was at work in Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire in 1935). It was the Twonky, a creature from the future who took up life in a modern TV set.

As eggheads decried television as a wasteland back in the 1950s, it is all the more ironic that the future visitor and time traveler would end up as an animated TV set.

Though Professor Conreid finds it distasteful to be at the mercy of a trained computer that tries to fulfill every wish, it would today make for a great weekly series on TV. The Twonky is there to make life easier for humans—and to monitor them, depriving privacy and free choice.

Its comedic elements are frightful, and the man who sees it all to clearly is the college football coach, an old geyser played by Billy Lynn. He drops pearls of insight and knocks the hero for not knowing his science fiction.

Arch Oboler’s weird film is decades ahead of its time, criticized for its humor and poor technical effects, the movie is actually on the marvelous side. We enjoyed watching the Twonky climb stairs, throttle a TV repairman, and strip a bill collector down to the birthday suit.

The best moment for us, as former college professor, was when the doctor offered Professor Conreid a sedative. He demurred as he had to write his college class lecture that night—to which the doctor noted, “Oh, well, then you don’t need a sedative.”

Advertisements

Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers

DATELINE:  The More Things Change….

twins Guess Which Bad Penny?

Thirty years ago the bespectacled scientist burst onto the UFO scene by exposing the US government as having spaceships from another world hidden in Nevada. At least that was the gambit.

This new motion picture of Bob Lazar has a title that is interestingly punctuated: no commas required. When the title’s style is of interest, the rest of the movie may not be. Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers.

After a whirlwind of dangerous controversy, Bob Lazar disappeared into the mists of the 1980s like a rock video from MTV. Like Edward Snowden, he was unverifiable, having claimed his identity was erased by the government’s black ops. He feared he would be erased.

So, he went underground and refused to have anything to do with George Knapp and the UFO radio network that later evolved into Ancient Aliens and a cottage industry of crypto-science.

Now he returns like a bad penny in a new documentary.

He looks fairly much the same as ever:  characteristic eyeglasses now over a weather-beaten face. He has not gained a pound in 30 years, which may be due to alien technology.

The big questions remain: who is he? What motivated him? And why has he returned? This 90-minute film recaps much of the past but reveals not much of the present.

He seems prosperous, running some kind of science lab in Middle America. He has not gone into Witness Protection and is not living in abject fear. MJ-12 has not assassinated him. However, he is almost immediately raided by the FBI upon re-emergence. Somebody is watching.

Having successfully hidden for 30 years, we wonder why he would throw himself back into the breach. There is no answer, except the profits of the movie producers. He really has nothing more to offer, other than to provide a final chapter to the circus of his earlier life.

This is a slick, but ultimately empty documentary that covers old ground with a fresh, new coat of paint on un-Groomed Lake.

Miner or Minor on Oak Island?

 DATELINE: Rick Lagina Always Finds Them !

Miner or Minor Rick’s Hard Rock Geochemist!

The famine of discovery continued for the most part early on: the seismic mapping appears to be fraught with false positives. As usual, Rick Lagina puts a happy face on unhappy news that dry sand had been read as tunnels. There are no metal casings, only bedrock.

So, the drilling comes up empty yet again.

In the meantime, 95-year old Dan Blankenship made a rare appearance, remaining in the car as Rick took him down to the cove to see the new retaining wall being constructed. As one might expect, he is duly impressed at the new technology. This true figure of heroism remains our most favorite figure.

Rick Lagina must have quite an international network of references when he does a stellar manhunt. Another interesting development is calling in a German geochemist to analyse the Templar Cross of lead. Tobias looks like a teenager but must be some kind of doctorate in the field. He can take the lead out of your worries.  He knows when it was mined and where.

He looks like a minor, not a miner expert. But Tobias is on the money from Germany on Skype. He brings the best news of the night’s episode.

Once again we have been impressed with Gary Drayton who knows all too well what they find by giving it a cursory look. He found the Templar Cross and was on the money from the start.

It appears that Templars may have come to Oak Island to hide their religious artefacts: and those may be too glorified to speculate upon. Oh, well, let’s shoot: it could be the Ark of the Covenant, or some suitable items from John the Baptist who was the Templar patron saint.

They talk to another expert writer on the Templar secrets, but are fairly dismissive of her research.

In the final analysis, this week’s discovery is so titanic that it makes all the waiting worthwhile. We feel closer than ever to some kind of revelation of Biblical proportions.

Do You Trust This Computer?

DATELINE: Person of Interest?

Nolan Auteur Jonathan Nolan!

It’s a loaded question, perhaps more nefarious than asking whether you still belittle women in the ERA of #Metooism! (jk omitted in earlier version).

A documentary on the doomsday likelihood that artificial intelligence is already here may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It does not stop the filmmaker from stacking the deck.

Do You Trust This Computer features a couple of the brainiest culture commentators—and a gaggle of AI experts from Sanford and MIT.

Elon Musk (of Mars colonization fame) and Jonathan Nolan (creator of Person of Interest and Westworld, two of the most intelligent computers on the tube) offer extraordinary insights.

Nolan is so handsome that it almost seems unfair that he is brilliant too.

If you need villains, you can find them on your devices: Facebook and Google, both of whom are working on super intelligent computers that may endanger humankind.

As one observer notes, psychometrics means that computer are already able to tell your intelligence, religion, sexual orientation, and politics, from facial recognition. In the hands of dictators, or even a Trump, this could prove frightful.

An expert notes that artificial intelligence is the true psychopath: no conscience or morality to stop it from fulfilling every mission.

Autonomous robots are already out there in killer drones. If you are the target, you are dead meat. War will make AI public enemy #1. Medical robots may decide who lives and dies, as humans begin to lose all skills that have been usurped by artificially intelligent creatures.

As people come to rely on these monsters, they will have fewer skills to combat the AI abuses. They are already winning at Jeopardy, chess, and other games, years ahead of schedule.

Androids will soon look like us and have no foibles.

Do you trust your computer? It’s already too late to be suspicious if we are to believe this documentary.

Silence Patton: Victim of Assassins?

DATELINE:  General Nuisance?

Patton

As the supposed first casualty in the Cold War, General George S. Patton is the subject of a 2018 documentary that raises the theory that he was murdered in 1945. He was about to return to the States as a whistle-blower on the ineptitude of the war strategy. This intriguing documentary is called Silence Patton.

A military truck, driven by a drunken soldier, hit the limo with Patton in it, as he prepared to return to the United States. He was left in a state of paralysis and soon succumbed (some say poisoned) in a German hospital.

What are we to make of this? Patton himself, as he was pulled from the wreckage of the accident, insisted that no soldier be blamed. He called it an “accident’”. He seemed intent of leaving this verdict. It seems a bit peculiar.

Why would anyone want Patton killed? And why?

The film certainly finds no shortage of enemies for the officer who slapped a soldier for cowardice (one, it appears, of many, as he used this as a morale technique). Stalin and the Russians hated him for his virulent anti-communism, and perhaps they wanted him dead. He wanted to expose American weakness for allowing Stalin to run amok.

He was prepared to expose Gens. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley as incompetants who let the Stalin forces take over half of Europe in the waning days of the war. He was horrified that the Russian soldiers raped and killed large numbers of German women in a genocidal take-over.

Yes, there is plenty of unpleasant actions behind and around the death of the great, opinionated officer. He was boorish, brave, and outrageous. It was his guts, but someone else’s blood that he shed. Yet, he was a man of his soldiers. The meandering quality of the documentary is unforgivable.

A steady stream of Patton apologists feel he has been wronged by history and by his contemporaries. How much can be believed? It an age of fake media and a blustery president, there may be some revisionism here. Trump’s name is never mentioned in this film, but he seems to loom over the proceedings as a disciple of Patton.

 

Wyatt Earp: Brave, Courageous, and Bold?

DATELINE:  American Experience PBS

Not the Real Earp

The American Experience TV series on PBS did not delve into the hundreds of film portrayals of Wyatt Earp during their hour-long documentary. That might have extended the show to two hours. It is simply the life of Wyatt Earp.

There are no clips from the TV series, or the John Ford movies. The OK Corral stuff is covered, probably because it could not be avoided. It’s given no emblematic quality, nor meaningful symbolism, other than as a chaotic gunfight.

You might be more surprised at how often his name was misspelled over the years in print.

The biography features many, many photographs, many of which may never have been seen by fans of the Western hero.

He was one of those legends who walks on both sides of the law, and it may be hard to excuse his vindictive streak. He went after enemies with obsession.

Ultimately living until 1929 in Los Angeles, he wanted a movie to exculpate his reputation. These would arrive in spades, but only after he died a disappointed old man.

The final decades of his life were spent in endless travel—from Alaska to the middle-America, where he tried his hand at running saloons. That was not far from his youthful endeavors, when he was bouncer at a series of brothels and took up with an endless supply of prostitutes.

Handsome, taciturn, and a loner, he invariably had fallings-out with family, brothers, and even Doc Holliday. He was a hard man, exactly what you might expect from the epitome of a Western hero.

The documentary is not moving, nor special, with the usual

Cursed Oak Island 6.5: Treading Water

DATELINE:  Hold Your Horses & Other Pauses

avast there, matey! Buried Treasure ?

We now interrupt this empty episode for more commercial messages on Curse of Oak Island for the fifth episode of the sixth season.

Yes, there is no golden banana under the drilling. The core samples seem to indicate that there are wooden beams over 100 feet down in two new segments for the drilling. No news is not bad news.

This is a no-show week, with progress reports on various angles of treasure hunting, including putting in a retaining wall at one of the coves. It is an eyesore for sure, but will allow excavation to learn if booby traps were placed at this point for a tunnel system throughout the island.

However, this week’s show is highly repetitive, with self-congratulations and fat middle-aged men in repeated hugs with each other. Don’t snack while watching this episode.

There is a preponderance of endorsements. A company donates “temporarily” a prefab house to serve as the repository of the donated papers of a recently deceased researcher. She has willed the materials to Rick Lagina who has a house converted to a library. No librarians, please.

Also, another author of Oak Island tales calls in to announce his new book will be forthcoming—and he will show up to give them an autographed copy (for free). The rest of us pay.

No wonder that Marty Lagina is mostly absent from this episode, phoning in his comments.

The sole true find of the week belongs, again, to Gary Drayton who locates what appears to be a hat insignia from a French dragoon who was on the island, oddly enough, in 1740s or so.

It was when a legendary soldier of fortune from France and the Templar mode brought treasures from the Holy Land. Is it true? You’ll have no answers this week.

 

Calling All Earthlings

 DATELINE: Post-Tesla Scientist

van tassel Integratron Shell

No, it’s not Ancient Aliens—which leads us to wonder how they could have failed to do a feature on George Van Tassel, the 1950s UFO-logist who held fabulous meetings out in the desert near Twenty-Nine Palms and Big Rock with 10,000 UFO followers.

California koo-koo birds have flocked to the deserts of California for decades. As the movie Calling All Earthlings indicates, many are still there.

Foremost was George Van Tassel, a US Defense Department weapons expert from Lockheed who also worked for Howard Hughes. He became disenchanted with nuclear warfare games—and moved his small family to an underground residence at Big Rock.

In the early 1950s, he began receiving messages and instructions on how to build a time machine, which he called the Integratron. It is still there, a marvel of creation that looks like a work from Frank Lloyd Wright. Made from the best lumber supplied by Howard Hughes.

How he built such an expensive, amazing structure can be explained by the folklore:  Howard Hughes flew in regularly with satchels of cash.

What Van tassel worked on was not a standard time machine. His was a walk-through that would cut 30% off your age.It was not recommended for those under 18. Even as a shell today, its acoustics are oddly perfect.

After 25 years of work, just as Van Tassel was about to start up, he allegedly suffered a major heart attack and died in a motel near Los Angeles. Some thought he was murdered. All his notes and research went missing—and his Integratron (always under FBI surveillance) was looted and rendered useless. Van Tassel wrote a few books, including I Rode in a Flying Saucer.

Director Jonathan Berman’s idiosyncratic documentary is nearly as weird as the inhabitants of Big Rock, but this makes for a fascinating exploration of a man after Tesla’s heart and Howard Hughes’ wallet.

Champ or Chump?

DATELINE:  Move Over, Nessie!

chump

The American version of Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie, is Champ of Lake Champlain on the Canada/US border, betwixt New York and Vermont.

The low budget documentary, wet with sincerity, is called On the Trail of Champ. We suspect it is hard to follow a trail in water. This might better be called in the wake of Champ.

However, we quibble. When you scratch the surface of this documentary, you hear that eyewitnesses are terribly unreliable. Then, follows about a dozen and a half eyewitness reports.

We also liked the fact that many observers forgot their camera that day, or it was out of focus, or they had to retrieve it and missed their chance to snap a picture. The excuses are legion.

We also hear that there were many hoaxes, often bragged about by the perps since the 19th century. We wonder how many modern witnesses are unwitting victims of hoax.

The other sad point of this well-intentioned and pleasant little film is that it is rife with bad animation.

Self-styled experts seem to have emerged thinking that crypto-zoology is a real field. Poor sods.

The sincerest and most dedicated of all the people chasing Champ is Katy Elizabeth, a pleasant woman who has committed her life to finding Champ and who even helped to push through a law in Vermont to prevent any hunting of Champ. Yet, residents wonder why the Champlain monster is less well-known than Nessie who does not have a minor league baseball team making it a mascot.

The documentary really has nowhere to go and doesn’t know how to conclude itself, and pulls out the environmental responsibility card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Grand Lady Passes Away!

DATELINE: Milestone at Mill Circle

po

Virginia and neighbors hold original 1888 signage.

Ironically, during a national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush with all US Post Offices closed, one of its postmasters—Virginia Hardy—passed after years of declining health. She was 91.

Virginia was the keeper of the Mill Circle flame at Winchendon Springs. Her abiding interest in the most important family of the community—the White family—and its ties to the Titanic disaster—made her a unique historical resource. Her interest in the town Historical Society was special and she donated many artefacts to the town.

She kept abreast of all the developments near the Virtuous Spring of lore, a few yards from her home. Her life spanned the last years of Julia White Castle (born in 1849), one of the original family pioneers, and she lived in the house next to the White mansion until her death. Between Julia White and Virginia Hardy, there was an unbroken chain of nearly 180 years.

Julia lived in Honolulu where a hospital now is named for her at Diamond Head, but always came back to Mill Circle for vacations. Virginia knew all the details.

Virginia’s role as Winchendon Springs postmaster put her in a special role. She was featured prominently in the book Village Post Office at Mill Circle and was present when the office closed in 2012.

Her extraordinary knowledge and insights are now lost to history, but those who knew her are greater for having a chance to bask in her presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island 6.4: A-Ha Moment or Not?

 DATELINE:  Curses, Foiled Again.

Alex Alex Lagina, just for Luck!

Once again, we bought into the Lagina Brothers’ claim that we are about to have that notorious “Aha!” moment.  Well, in Season 6, episode 4, that may be only partially true.

We felt more like a “Bah, humbug,” moment at this time of year.

Despite all that expensive seismic testing, they began to drill down to the usual 170 feet, and instead of finding a treasure or vault, or even a searcher tunnel, they hit bedrock.

Hit the snooze button.

Among other highlights, or depressing lowlights, one of the few women to be heard on the show, had passed away at age 88, but she left her research papers on the Knights Templar to Rick Lagina. He and his nephew Peter drove from Nova Scotia to Manhattan in a U-Haul truck to pick up the loot.

Despite throwing money around like crazed millionaires, they usually eschew flying and drive. Last week they drove a couple of thousand miles to Alberta. Penny-savings seem to be the way to go.

They also spent some time on last week’s big find by Gary Drayton:  that bolt shaft for a crossbow. They initially thought it was Medieval—and took it to one university for analysis that suggested it was iron with magnesium (older than suspected).

It was an antiquities dealer who shocked them with the news that they were 1000 years off. The bolt was dropped on Oak Island closer to 2000 years ago. It raised questions for sure.

We could be accused of saying, “Aha,” at this moment, but finding something doesn’t make it an artefact that was dropped by a Roman centurion as he buried the Silver Chalice of Jesus.

We’ll tune in again, whether you say “aha,” or not.

Handy Guide to Space Probes

 DATELINE:  Curiosity Merges with Probability

pluto Plutonian Shores?

If you are interested in seeing all the photos from landings on planets in this solar system, or just the close-up flybys of moons of Jupiter, Saturn, etc., you will find that Curiosity Stream offering a big treat: Space Probes.

Their little miniseries is a mere six episodes, averaging around 20 to 25 minutes each. It offers an intriguing history of space exploration for sixty years by means of probe missions.

All the photos of planets and moons are handily together under the umbrellas of their locations:  the inner hellish planets, the red rovers, giants and their moons, as well as Pluto.

With the recent landing of a new rover on Mars—and on January 1st of another New Explorer flyby of a planetoid beyond Pluto, you may want to catch up on the variety and development of the science.

Mostly this is a NASA show (and we are irked by how many nowadays fail to realize that NASA is an all-cap acronym).

Only the episode on Venus really give any credit to the Russians and their dogged and intrepid series of landers on the Venutian surface. They even sent a balloon to sail around the atmosphere.

Yet, it is the cute Mars rovers, gradually increasing in size and sophistication that are truly anthropomorphic.

We were fascinated with the landing on Titan with its lakes of methane and pictures. And, the geysers of the Jovian moons with their frozen oceans is always a treat.

So, we commend Space Probes from Curiosity Stream for making it possible to have a capsulated series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak Island 6.3, Not Exactly Revelations

DATELINE:  Not Unforgettable

arrow

We have been asked where is our Curse of Oak Island assessment for 6.3.  And, we feel like responding, let sleeping dogs lie. Some weeks it may be best to allow us to ignore the treasure hunters.

In the third episode of the sixth season, we begin to feel like chapter and verse is out of synchronization. Oak Island is beginning to feel like an enforced work camp.

The onerous tones of the narrator continue to insist that death is around the corner as payment for any discovery.

Seismic results show a bunch of oval shaped anomalies under the ground on colourful maps. We were unmoved. Some voids are only fifty feet down, above water level. Since they found key stuff last season at nearly 200 feet, it seems a tad odd to believe that significant finds are so shallow.

Yet, the explosive technology reveals caverns and voids, not so deep after all.

It appears the five elders of the Oak Island crew (minus 94 year old Dan Blankenship) drove 2000 miles to Calgary, Alberta, to receive this result. If so, this may well be the most revealing detail in five years. Do we have a fear of flying among our foibles?  Most of the younger guys are out to lunch here, as if the next generation has been frozen out of true discovery.

They have been eliminated from most of the episodes so far in season six.

In the meantime, Gary Drayton’s instant analysis on the rocky shore of the island, digs up a thin and deadly metal crossbow shaft. It is a small weapon that is meant to piece armor and chain-mail, not e-mail. He is utterly thrilled, believing it is Templar age.

In another revealing moment, it almost seems as if Rick Lagina’s enthusiasm at the discovery is muted, understated, and diminished. Has the search finally wore out his thrill of the expensive efforts? Or is he just a bad actor for these re-enactment scenes that are filmed for the show?

We are again and again puzzled by absences of regular cast members: the list seems to have expanded as to who’s no longer present and much of a factor in the show.

 

 

 

Looking for Noah’s Ark Again!

DATELINE: Spiritual Journey

Ararat excavation

If you didn’t hear on the Internet that Noah’s Ark has been discovered, then you have a fairly good idea of the results of another documentary about the trip to Mt. Ararat by another expedition of intrepid optimists.

Here is another documentary on the age-old quest.

Finding Noah is well-funded, beautifully photographed, and has many montages of historical searches to locate the Ark that survived the Great Flood of Biblical and geological fame.

First, let’s face it: there are few groups outside TV shows like Ancient Aliens or In Search of… that would fund such a mammoth and likely fruitless effort. If you make the movie, you live with the unsatisfying ending of reality.

So, if this attempt to dig up the Ark is a bunch of crazed Christians with ties to Liberty University, we cannot fault them. It takes a special breed of adventurer to have the obsession, time, and physical stamina to go into a war zone in Turkey.

Weather is just another adverse element here when a bunch of largely middle-aged explorers make the trek up a 17,000-foot mountain. Perhaps those are exactly the kinds of men who have always taken the risks. If you are not a fanatic, you aren’t going to attempt it.

Using ground-and-ice penetrating radar, they use chainsaws to dig 30 meters into the glacier in chunks. It is interesting how they conduct their search under a tent.

Of course, as they all admit toward the end, the real goal was a spiritual journey, not a discovery journey. It was God’s will that they try, but there was no promise of fame and fortune.

The praying moments are kept to a minimum and creationists do consult real academic scientists for information. So, this is not a religious crusade to prove the Bible’s literal truth. At least, not too obviously.

Only you can decide if you have wasted your time.

Johnny Cash Meets Nixon

DATELINE: Man in Black & Man with Black Heart

cash on the house

Likely inspired by the various documentaries and movies about Nixon and Elvis, there was in 1970 another significant meeting between Richard Nixon and a music star. Conservative, religious, patriotic Johnny Cash, sometime rebel, was invited to the White House to give a command performance.

A short documentary telegraphs its feelings with the title:  Tricky Dick & The Man in Black. Though the film gives some balance, it is primarily told through the Cash perspective with intensive interviews with Johnny’s son and sister.

Nixon was not a fan of country-western music as his taste ran more to pop classics, like Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music, or the show tunes from South Pacific. However, those handlers in the White House felt besieged by youthful protests against the war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s advisors—Haldeman, Pat Buchanan, primarily—felt they needed a antidote to the protests and drug users of Haight-Ashbury. Cash was their man. When he noted on his TV show that he wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, it won him an invitation to perform in the East Room of the White House in April of 1970.

Alas, Nixon’s men did not do their homework. Johnny Cash was not only an advocate for prison reform, but he had created a music album on behalf of Native Americans and visited Wounded Knee.

When the Nixon White House asked him to sing “Welfare Cadillac” to appeal to the redneck supporters, Cash was taken aback. It was not his song or his style. No one told him what to perform. And, he had just returned from visiting soldiers in Vietnam, turning him into a dove with claws (in his own words).

The performance made Nixon uncomfortable, as Cash made him passive-aggressive points. Two weeks later came the college massacres at Kent State, and only then did Cash release his famous song, “Man in Black.”

A highly worthy insight into Johnny Cash, it may surprise many non-fans.