Amid all the hoopla about the HBO series, "Westworld" -- now into its second season -- we shouldn't forget it had its roots in the 1973 sc-fi movie classic of the same name. Written and directed by the brilliant Michael Crichton ("Jurassic Park," "Andromeda Strain," "Disclosure," "Congo") it featured an unforgettable performance by Yul Brynner as a robot gunslinger gone rogue.
The premise of both versions is an "anything goes" amusement park where, for those rich enough to afford it, they can live out their every fantasy with no strings attached. Of course, in both cases the androids created to serve those fantasies decided to strike back with some fantasies of their own.
Crichton's message was beware of letting greedy corporations play God. The creators of the HBO series have done a masterful job of building on that theme and weaving a complex story that careens the viewer back and forth in time with a dizzying array of plots and subplots that keep you guessing.
In fact, much like the followers of the ABC series, "Lost," a legion of devoted "Westworld" fans speculate endlessly on the Internet about every nuance of every episode, speculating on where it's going and what will be revealed. Some do a frame-by-frame analysis, looking for "Easter eggs" and subtle clues that might point to ultimate answers about what it all means.
Like the "Man in Black" looking for the Maze, we follow along, trying to track the bread crumbs the writers dispense.
While the subject matter wades into deep waters (like the consciousness conundrum), it still manages to be entertaining, as well as on one level, troubling. The technological advances that have taken place since Crichton's original in 1973 have only accelerated the possibility of a real-life Westword built on AI (artificial intelligence).
Regardless, I enjoy the show. For my money, instead of dissecting every scene for hidden meanings, I'm okay with snapping my seat belt every week and just enjoying the ride.
Did you see the story about ketchup by the slice? An outfit called Bo's Fine Foods over on Kickstarter unveiled their "condiment by the slice" product, starting with ketchup.
Why would you want to have ketchup by the slice? Presumably it's less messy and more convenient if you're eating on the go. Frankly, I find the messiness is one of its charms. You expect ketchup to be a little messy. Plus, not sure how I feel about ketchup as a solid vs. the standard liquid red variety.
In all fairness, it could address one of the issues we'll all had at one time or another: Getting newly-opened ketchup out of the bottle. You can bruise your hand trying to jump start the flow.
I have always loved me some ketchup, and am in that group who thinks ketchup improves almost anything. As for using it by the slice, like cheese, I'll have to defer judgment until I try it.
If it goes over, we can probably expect next up will be mustard, mayo, BBQ-flavor .... maybe even slices of relish and onions. Bye-bye, trips to the produce stand.
Two items for your consideration ...
1. In case you were wondering, it appears flamingos really are native to Florida. Was there any doubt? Apparently. Now an article from National Geographic concludes:
"A new study sheds new light on a long-standing controversy by suggesting flamingos are indeed true residents of the Sunshine State."
While I would vote for the flamingo as our official state bird, that honor goes to the mockingbird. Maybe it's time for a recount!
2. Switching gears from the far South to the far North, here's a video from Mental Floss that talks about "Things You Didn't Know Came from Minnesota." At the top of the list is water skiing. What??? Isn't Florida world famous for its water shows? I would have bombed on that question if we were playing trivia.
Something else Minnesota gets credit for ... Spam. Nothing Florida about that one!
An alleged "time traveler" claims to have visited Earth in the year 6000 and has a photo to prove it.
Yawn -- just another news day on the Internet, right?
As reported in this story from the International Business Times, the traveler in question shared details of his trip in a You Tube video, which has over three million views. He explains (with a blurred out face and distorted voice) the United States discovered how to travel through time back in the 1990s, and he was one of the program participants.
Apparently his assignment was visit the year 6000 and report back. And from the sound of it, things in 6000 aren't bad. Disease has been conquered and people are living peacefully under the watchful eye of an Artificial Intelligence entity.
While he admits some might find all this hard to believe (you think?), he has the proof -- whipping out a photo he snapped (don't tell the government) of a future unnamed city. Unfortunately, it got blurred during the whole time travel thing. Go figure -- I thought photography would have advanced a little further in the next 4000 years.
On a sadder note, he also reported a friend that went with him is permanently stuck in the year 6000 after he uploaded his brain to a virtual reality server. Don't you hate it when that happens? But not to worry, he's in a better place.
All of this will become apparent in the year 2028, when he says the government will release time travel publicly. If the idea of a no-disease future where you can upload your consciousness in any reality you choose appeals to you, better get your name on the list. But before you put all your trust in technology, you might want to see the movie "Westworld" again. Just sayin'.
Here's the YouTube interview in full:
While we're on the topic of headlines, here's another one that caught my eye from the New York Post:
Traveler arrested at airport for wearing too many clothes
"A man traveling from Iceland to England was arrested at the Iceland Keflavík International Airport for attempting to avoid an excess luggage fee by wearing eight pairs of pants and 10 shirts.
"Ryan Carney Williams, who goes by Ryan Hawaii, reportedly was denied a boarding pass at the British Airways desk for his flight home after he put on all his clothes that wouldn’t fit properly in his checked luggage."
You have to give the guy points for creativity. But that's what all these extra airline fees have driven people to: The cost of your baggage could be more than the cost of your seat.
The story goes on to say it was his alleged rudeness, not over-dressing, that led to the actions taken. I just wonder how the guy would enjoy the flight wearing a dozen layers of clothing?
Of course, it's not the first time we've seen this happen. Remember Joey and this scene from "Friends"?
A good headline always draws readers in (as someone who did that for a living, I should know). When I saw this one, it made me want to know more:
Japanese City Triggers Emergency Broadcast System After
Supermarket Accidentally Sells Deadly Blowfish
According to the story on Gizmodo, "The Japanese city of Gamagori in the Aichi Prefecture went into full alert mode earlier today after a batch of potentially deadly fugu fish was sold to customers at a local supermarket.
"As AFP reports, five packages of blowfish, also known as puffer fish, fugu fish, and globefish, were sold with their livers still intact. Blowfish livers contain a deadly toxin that can cause paralysis and asphyxiation, and there is no known antidote. Officials in Gamagori didn’t hold back once the situation became clear, activating the city’s emergency broadcast system and alerting residents from loudspeakers installed across the city."
First Hawaii with a false missile alert, now Japan with a blowfish warning.
Make no mistake: Japanese take their blowfish very seriously. Considered a delicacy, it must be prepared correctly or there could be fatal consequences. I learned this firsthand from a former colleague at Belo in Dallas.
As a GI in Tokyo, he and two of his buddies went out on the town and wandered into a restaurant where blowfish was a featured item on the menu. No doubt fortified by sake, he told the server he wanted to try it.
He watched the server go to the kitchen, where he had an excited conversation with the chef -- lots of hand gesturing. Some time later, they brought the blowfish to his table. I say "they" because he said at that moment, the entire staff of the restaurant gathered around to watch as he took his first bite.
Needless to say, it must have been prepared right, because he lived to eat another day.
I'm all for trying new dishes, but I think I would draw the line at blowfish. I'll go with the fish and chips.
UFOs. I'll wager everybody has, at one time or another, seen something weird in the skies. According to this story, there were actually almost 5,000 reported sightings of UFOs in 2017. That's comes from the National UFO Reporting Center, which I confess I didn't know existed.
There's been a rash of UFO stories lately, fueled by the recent revelation of a program devoted to UFO activity in the U.S. Dept. of Defense, which included a detailed account of a close encounter by Navy pilots near San Diego.
Not surprisingly, California led the nation in UFO reports, logging 490 sightings. But guess what state was second? Yes, it's Florida, with 308. Apparently the Sunshine State attracts tourists from all over and outside the world as well.
No doubt there is some correlation between the number of reports and overall population. But with almost a thousand miles of beaches, what alien wouldn't want to pay us a visit?
Another story looked at what U.S. counties had the most sightings between 2001 and 2015. Florida made the top 20 on that list as well, with 621 reports coming from Miami-Dade County, and 619 from Broward County,
So keep those cell phone cameras at the ready, folks. The next "close enounter" could be yours.
Did you see the big announcement from Brightline this week?
"We will launch introductory service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale the week of January 8, 2018."
Hard to believe it's finally happening. I can only imagine the excitement and anticipation level of all the Brightline employees, planners, executives and investors who have worked so long and hard to make it a reality.
Floridians should be excited, too. We'll enjoy a state-of-the-art transportation option that will eventually run from Miami into the airport at Orlando. True mass transit with all the niceties. Here is a video we shot during a preview tour we took last year:
While ticket prices haven't been announced, it promises to be competitive with other modes of transportation.
For us personally, it's great news. For the simple reason we love trains and train travel.
Twenty years ago, we took our first train vacation on Amtrak. Typically, we decided to go big or not at all. Our route took us from Fort Worth to Chicago, Chicago to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago, and back home to Texas. A total of 11 days and almost 9,000 miles. And we loved it. We were totally hooked.
Since we moved to Florida, we have become regulars on Amtrak's Silver Meteor that runs from West Palm to New York. (Read more about it here). With the launch of Brightline, we'll have more reasons to heed the call of "All Aboard." We can't wait.
Do you know how bitcoins work? If so, please explain it to me.
Wikipedia knows what bitcoins are:
"Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system. It is the first decentralized digital currency, as the system works without a central bank or single administrator. The network is peer-to-peer and transactions take place between users directly through the use of cryptography, without an intermediary. These transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a blockchain. Bitcoin was invented by an unknown person or group of people under the name Satoshi Nakamoto and released as open-source software in 2009."
Okay, that was about as clear as mud. It goes on:
"Bitcoins are created as a reward for a process known as mining. They can be exchanged for other currencies, products, and services. As of February 2015, over 100,000 merchants and vendors accepted bitcoin as payment. Research produced by the University of Cambridge estimates that in 2017, there are 2.9 to 5.8 million unique users using a cryptocurrency wallet, most of them using bitcoin."
It must be just me. If there are upwards of five million people using bitcoins or something like it, I have to be the dumb one in the room.
To be honest, other than spending or making it, I don't give money a lot of thought. Wading into the weeds to learn how the "money sausage" is made and what makes a dollar worth a dollar can only lead to madness.
I do recall in school we were taught about the "gold standard," when money was backed by gold reserves. (How they determined the value of gold is a whole different kettle of fish. ) And dollar bills used to be "silver certificates," eligible to be traded for the equivalent amount of silver.
Of course, both have long since been abandoned, replaced by ... what? The answer, according to some, is "faith." We believe a dollar is worth a dollar, so belief becomes reality. If enough of us stopped believing that, the whole system might collapse and send us back to trading ears of corn for a pair of moccasins.
Now we have bitcoin, the "cryptocurrency" not tied to any nation; virtual money, as it were, to buy real goods and services. And the value of one bitcoin has skyrocketed. Did you see the recent story about former Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden? He is apparently in a dispute with his former financial advisor over a soured bitcoin investment involving $3 million. The story claims if the $3 million had been used to purchase bitcoins, it would today be worth $237 million. Not a bad return.
Time will tell if bitcoins are just a flash in the virtual pan or how in the future we'll conduct business on an everyday basis. Either way, just don't ask me to explain it.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."