So I am sitting in hospital room visiting Ann’s brother when an old cowboy TV show comes on the tube. Made me think about your story on favorite TV Series theme music. I had to go back and read your story. I am shocked. 'Rifleman' doesn’t even get honorable mention. I have never fired any type of gun but, boy, when I hear the 'Rifleman' song I want to grab a rifle and do the one arm, wrist cock rifle load like Lucas McCain. Maybe even do a running jump onto a horse and ride off into the sunset. Ok Gerry. Back to my reading the newspaper for now." -- Marty
Marty, what was I thinking? "The Rifleman" is a classic Western for sure! Let's return to the Old West and watch Connors fire away once again ...
Now a question. They made a few changes in the opening for the fifth season of the series. Like this better?
While we're talking about Chuck Connors, do you remember his other Western series, "Branded"? It even made its way into that classic movie, "The Big Lebowski."
But before we leave the Western genre, I have to mention the all-time classic theme, in my opinion. What do you think about this one, Marty?
Hard as it is to believe, but the holidays are almost upon us. And it's not too early to start thinking about what am I going to get Pam for Christmas.
This year, I may be in luck. The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is out, and one of their 2017 "Fantasy Gifts" is offered for "The bubbliest personality you know."
Not only is Pam's personality bubbly, but also her taste in wine. She loves her champagne. Everything from a special occasion Dom to Veuve Clicquot to Costco Kirkland. And this gift is all about champagne.
Neiman's describes it this way:
"Kick things off with a first-class trip for four to Paris and a stay at Rosewood's Hotel de Craton with a 12-course dinner at L'Ecrin. Next, a private car will take you to meet with the 13th-generation wine-growing family behind Armand de Brignac. Tend the vineyards, sample the reserves, stroll the private cellar, and help finish your own cuvee. End the day with a helicopter flyover of Champagne's villages and vineyards. Then. spend the night at Domaine Les Crayeres, a majestic chateau, with a dinner at the three-Michelin-star L'Assiette Champenoise before enjoying Paris for one more glorious day and night. The fun doesn't end there. Delivered to your door: 12 bottles of each of the five Armand de Brignac to savor until your bespoke bottles are ready. And when the time comes, 24 bottles of the personally finished cuvee, each inscribed with the giftee's name."
Pretty spectacular, right? But probably not cheap, right?
Right. It's "only" $150,000.
Got to sign off now, and head for Costco.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a lot of funny observations on how men and women use TV remote controls. Among them: "Men don't care what's on TV, they just want to know what else is on."
It's true. We are the hunters, even when it comes to watching TV. Flip, flip, flip. No attention span, whatsoever. Guilty as charged.
All that aside, just how great an invention was the remote control? It's right up there with cup holders and Cheese Whiz. Some guy in the Fifties got tired of getting up and down to change the channel and as they say, the rest is history.
Speaking of history, the very first TV remote is credited to the Zenith Corp., who named it, appropriately enough, "Lazy Bones." It was attached to the TV via a long wire. A few years later, Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the first wireless remote, called the "Flashmatic." It used a beam of light to change the channels and adjust the volume. Polley, who died in 2012 at age 96, also worked on radar and push-button radios, earning 18 patents during his long career at Zenith.
From that point on, remotes kept getting more sophisticated, with added functionality.
Today, remotes are everywhere. There's one for the TV, one for the cable box, one for the DVD, one for Roku, Amazon or your streaming devices. There are remotes for your sound system and ceiling fans. Today's cars have remotes that unlock, start the engine and brew a cup of coffee (well, maybe not that last one, but I'm sure it's on the drawing board). There are even remotes for your remotes. Called "universal remotes," they aim to take the place of all your other remotes by activating device codes. A good idea in theory but even if you master all the codes, navigating the function buttons requires an engineering degree.
Another option is voice-activated commands. Most new remotes offer this feature. Of course, if you don't speak clearly or have a heavy accent, there's no telling what channel or program you might land on. Plus. I have a basic distrust of technology that is "listening" to everything all the time. You do remember the HAL 9000 from "2001: A Space Odyssey," right?
Hate the remote clutter on your coffee table or bed stand? No problem. Just download the corresponding app and you have remote functionality for your devices right on your smartphone.
As the world we live in gets ever-more connected, and the "Internet of Things" takes over our lives, with watches that produce read-outs of pulse and blood pressure and refrigerators with built-in screens for recipe videos, remote control takes on a whole new meaning.
Polley had to be amazed at how his 1955 invention evolved through the years, not to mention becoming a mainstay for Seinfeld's stand-up comedy.
Here's a BBC tribute to Polley, and a clip for the first color remote:
So yesterday I offered up three of my favorite TV show themes. That prompted the better half of this website - Pam -- to counter with three of her own. We're competitive that way, don't you know.
Her first choice was actually one I gave serious consideration -- "Peter Gunn." The driving beat of the song, written by the great Henry Mancini, is just as memorable today as it was in the Sixties.
Flash forward to modern times, and Pam really nailed it with her number two selection: "Got Yourself a Gun" from the HBO series, "The Sopranos." From the music to the acting and writing, that was pure greatness.
Last, but certainly not least, the genius of Jackie Gleason and his "Melancholy Serenade," the theme for "The Jackie Gleason Show" and a beautiful song in its own right. As Jackie would say, "How sweet it is!"
I admit she really upped the ante on dueling TV theme songs. All right -- I'll see your three, and raise you three more. They better be good, right?
With the country, and seemingly the world, in a Great Depression (mental, not financial), I am forced to retreat into less weighy topics. Like, my favorite TV show theme songs and intros. In some cases, these are more memorable than the shows themselves.
My first pick is the sci-fi series that ran on ABC for two seasons, 1963-1965: "The Outer Limits." It was often compared to Rod Serling's highly successful "Twilight Zone" (another great theme, BTW). The original is posted below. It was subsequently shortened in later episodes. What hooked me was the "control voice." Something about the tone and tenor that said, "You will obey my every command."
I think most would agree this next one is a classic: "Mission: Impossible." We even got a sneak peek at that week's mission, should we choose to accept it, which we always did. It was so iconic it had to be used in the Tom Cruise movie versions as well. Watch the clip before it self-destructs.
I would watch James Garner in just about anything, and he and theme song by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter were definitely the best things about "The Rockford Files." Garner played a private eye in this NBC series from the Seventies. The tune is so catchy you won't be able to stop replaying it in your head.
I have to include the theme from the hospital series, "St. Elsewhere," because it was done by the brilliant Dave Grusin, whose musical genius has elevated so many movies and shows. Watch the credits and catch a very young-looking Denzel Washington.
To Be Continued ...
When I met Jim Marrs, we were both at the beginning of our newspaper careers at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Jim was a police reporter; I was on the copy desk, editing stories and writing headlines.
Years later, Jim would gain worldwide fame as a JFK assassination researcher, author and lecturer. Oliver Stone used his book "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy," for his movie, JFK. He was equally famous for his later books on UFOs, secret societies and conspiracy theories, and became a regular on radio shows like "Coast to Coast," as well as dozens of TV appearances. I remember watching "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel and suddenly there was Jim -- with his trademark white beard and hat -- being interviewed.
Sadly, word came this week that Jim had passed away at age 73 after a brief illness.
Even in those early years, it was evident Jim had a passion for unexplained mysteries and a healthy skepticism for official explanations. When he wasn't covering the "cop shop," he investigated local lore, like the legendary Lake Worth Monster, or the alleged crash of a UFO in Aurora, Texas in 1897, including the burial of its alien pilot in a local cemetery.
I always looked forward to editing his articles. Nobody else was taking on the establishment the way Jim did, and despite the tabloid feel of his subject matter, there was solid reporting and investigating going on. That was the difference between Jim and the Weekly World News: Jim was first and foremost a journalist.
We spent many hours debating the merits of what really happend at Dealey Plaza Nov. 22, 1963. For Jim, the JFK assassination was the ultimate crime story, the proverbial "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." All the puzzle pieces were there; they just needed to be fitted together. And that became the basis of his life's work.
That work started at the Star-Telegram, where Jim devoted any spare time he had available to tracking down witnesses and revisiting the events of that dark day. I even recall one conversation, after he had written a number of stories challenging the official account, when Jim told me he had seen mysterious black cars parked at odd hours near his house. I thought, maybe he is on to something.
Besides his dogged determination and tenacity, Jim had a razor-sharp wit, a larger-than-life personality and a genuine warmth, recalled by many who visited the Wise County, Texas, farm he called home.
Ironically, his death comes a week after the National Archives released thousands of new documents related to the JFK assassination. No doubt the scores of researchers inspired by Jim's ground-breaking work will carry on his mission.
If you follow the national news, there's a word you hear more and more these days: Watergate.
The pundits, commentators, anchors and scholars who populate our 24/7 news cycle are drawing comparisons between what's going on in Washington today and those historic events of almost 50 years ago that led to President Nixon's resignation.
We don't know yet if those dots connect, but it makes one wonder if the current state of affairs will spur one of the results that followed Watergate: An explosion of interest in journalism.
I was just at the beginning of my media career when the Watergate story unfolded. Like every other journalist at a major newspaper, the reporting from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein was mesmerizing. We huddled around the Associated Press teletype machines and watched every word in rapt fascination.
Suddenly I didn't feel like the geeky kid who worked on the school newspaper, but a First Amendment soldier in the battle to save our Republic. Working for a newspaper was cool. The movie "All the President's Men" only reinforced that. It was an amazing time and certainly a proud moment for all of us in the business.
One result saw students flooding into journalism programs at colleges across the country, aspiring to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. It was reported at the time that there were suddenly two hundred J-School graduates competing for every available job.
Of course, it's a much different media world today. Newspapers have declined to half the size they were in the Watergate era; the influence of broadcast news has waned while 24/7 cable news dominates the TV landscape. But looming large over all is the Internet, with its billions of users, where headlines move at light speed between thousands of news websites (both fake and real), blogs and social media.
You don't have to go to J-School to be in the game. All you need is an Internet connection. This is both good and bad. Good that it expands the playing field; bad that it undermines credibility and trust when anything can be passed off as fact without the checks and balances J-School taught us to apply.
One thing that isn't different: We still have the Washington Post, the New York Times and others aggressively and bravely carrying out their First Amendment duty. And thank God for that.
Whether it's movies, fashions, gadgets or books, we tune our antenna to the latest "buzz." Lately, my "buzz" sources have been lavishing praise on a book entitled "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and professor.
Originally published in 2011 in Hebrew, with an English version in 2014, it become a bestseller that has been translated into 30 languages. The hardcover edition runs 400-plus pages and is heavy, both in subject matter and actual weight (they used the good paper).
"Sapiens" traces the entire history of the human species, from its origins in Africa over two million years ago to today, with a closing look to the future. It attempts to answer the who, what, when, where and why of human actions and interactions -- how we went from the Stone Age to the Space Age, mastering fire to walking on the Moon.
Readers should fasten their seat belts; Harari takes us on an amazing journey, mixing popular culture with meticulous historical reseach, written (thank goodness) in layman's language. The story is told in three distinct phases that got us to this point: The Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. Be forewarned: He pulls no punches in assessing both the achievements and the damage we have done to ourselves, other species and the Earth in our march to world domination.
Of special note is Harari's scathing indictment of the food industry's treatment of cows, chickens, cattle and pigs. It may well push you into the vegan camp.
He also expounds on the idea that much of our modern-era society, truths many hold dear, is based on collective beliefs that exist only in our imaginations, ranging from organized religions to nation states to the money that enables global commerce. If enough people were to stop believing, our society might well collapse.
Unraveling and understanding our roots is as much about biology as history, and Harari effectively weaves evolution and DNA into the discussion throughout. With cold indifference, evolution has defined what we are and created its own limits of what we can be ... until now. Harari uses the last part of his book as a cautionary tale, where technology and genetic engineering are rapidly taking Sapiens to a potential new future where we shed our human skin altogether.
"Sapiens" is not light reading, but it is fascinating, insightful and breathtaking in its scope. Take the time to look into Harari's mirror -- you'll never see yourself the same way again.
His newest book is "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow." You can also find his history course on YouTube.
May 3, 2017 marks the 35th anniversary of something I was very proud to be part of: StarText.
What's StarText? Quite simply, the newspaper on a computer.
While the Internet has made online newspapers commonplace, it was pretty rare to find one 35 years ago. In fact, StarText was among the first, and for a span of over 15 years, one of the most successful local services in the country.
In this case, local means Fort Worth-Dallas. StarText was launched by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, initially in partnership with the Tandy Corp. At that time, Tandy saw "videotext" (or "videotex," if you will) as a service that could help them sell more personal computers, which were just coming into the marketplace.
The Star-Telegram saw it as an opportunity to "test the waters" on an emerging technology without going too far out on that "cutting edge" limb. Cutting edge or bleeding edge, it was all so new we were literally making it up as we went.
I was one of three newsroom veterans who volunteered to staff this new venture, excited to boldly go where no (or few) newspapers had gone before. We worked in shifts, 6 am to midnight. Our job was update the news. Subscribers -- there weren't many at the outset -- with computers and a modem could log in and view the stories on their TV sets or monitors. What a difference from today, when just about every person on the planet has the power of a PC on a phone in their back pocket.
While primitive by today's standards (no pretty pictures -- only text), and so s-l-o-w, the idea we could provide "the news you want when you want it," was both revolutionary and magical. Despite the technical limitations, the era of "instant news" had arrived, and we were among the pioneers who would pave the way for the Internet settlers who would come later.
But at that time, the consumer Internet was a full decade away. During the years before the World Wide Web, StarText had thousands of subscribers. It added an online encyclopedia, which helped make it a mainstay in school districts across the Metroplex. It partnered with InterFirst to create one of the first home banking services in the country. Because of the success it enjoyed, industry leaders from as far away as Japan and Norway made the trip to Cowtown to learn first-hand about our "secret sauce."
The secret to our success was simple: It was people. Calling themselves "StarTexans," a core group of our subscribers became our extended family. They wrote columns, hosted get-togethers and interacted with each other and the staff before Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was born, literally. It touched people on a personal level -- so much so, almost 20 years after StarText ended, a group of dedicated subscribers still keep its spirit alive.
The founding force behind StarText was Tom Steinert-Threlkeld. A Harvard MBA, Tom was both a business reporter at the Star-Telegram and Director of New Technologies for its parent company, Capital Cities. He championed the idea of a joint venture with Tandy and was instrumental in its launch. Tragically, Tom died as a result of a bicycle accident in 2013.
For Tom and all the other pioneers at the Star-Telegram who rolled the dice on StarText, including then-Publisher Phil Meek and MIS Director Joe Donth, I salute your vision and perseverance. Besides earning a place in the online history books, StarText achieved something special. And showed a skeptical industry online really was the wave of the future.
If you are interested in learning more, you can visit the Story of StarText, a work in progress.
It's one of those headlines that grab your attention:
"Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind"
Wow ... on so many levels.
In an interview with the BBC, Hawking feared AI "would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."
We all know Hawking is a smart guy, so if he says it, maybe we should take heed.
Once the province of science fiction, AI is rapidly becoming science fact, as computing power and machine learning merge into algorithms that mimic the human brain. Robots are on the rise, pushing more and more humans to the back of the unemployment line. Scientists and philosophers are taking a deeper dive into the so-called "hard problem" -- consciousness.
Have we as a species become too smart for our own good? Maybe. But what's the point of having the most evolved brainpower in the known universe and not use it? Obviously we can't help ourselves.
It isn't enough to know we're here. Inquiring minds want to know where we came from, how we came to be and why. Maybe AI can find the answers, but I have my doubts.
Like the very logical Mr. Spock, a highly-evolved, AI-enabled entity not only wouldn't ask those questions, but also couldn't care less about finding the answers. Driven by pure logic free of emotion, it would relentlessly pursue its own idea of perfection, which might include deciding the fate of its creators. That would be us.
Hawking isn't the only smart guy sounding alarm bells about AI. It was reported Tesla's Elon Musk called the pursue of AI like "summoning the demon." Bill Gates has voiced his concern as well.
Hollywood has been warning us for years. We all remember "HAL," the computer from Stanley Kubrick's classic film, "2001: A Space Odyssey." He was pure E-V-I-L. More recently, the run-amuck androids from HBO's "Westworld" gave us fresh new nightmares.
Then there was "Fail-Safe," the chilling 1964 movie from the book by the same name, where a computer defect almost initiates World War III. As they work feverishly to understand what failed, there was this exchange:
"Even if the machine fails, the human can always correct the mistake. The machines are supervised by humans."
"I wish you were right. The fact is, the machines work so fast... they are so intricate... the mistakes they make are so subtle... that very often, a human being just can't know... whether a machine is lying or telling the truth."
Time to hide under the bed? Not yet, according to many experts, who say true AI is decades or even centuries away -- or maybe never.
Never one to trust experts, I decided to ask SIRI.
"Siri, should I be afraid of artificial intelligence?"
SIRI: "I'm not sure what to say."
Okay. I am officially worried.
Yes, I know it's spelled like "Jerry." No, I don't know why it's pronounced "Gary."