Pros: hypoallergenic, safe for septic tanks, use in all types of washing machines
Cons: the measuring lines in the cap are invisible to me
My nose is sensitive to perfumes and certain scents. Sometimes detergents make my skin itch. Not only that, but my usual laundry detergent for sensitive skin has not been on store shelves. That is how I came to purchase Arm & Hammer Liquid Perfume and Dye Free for Sensitive Skin.
This Arm & Hammer product is a liquid laundry detergent advertised to clean the “toughest dirt and odors”. It is manufactured to work in all types of washing machines (front- and top-loading), including High Efficiency (HE) models. The detergent is dye-free, fragrance-free, bleach-free, phosphate-free, and also hypoallergenic. Ingredients include: baking soda and biodegradable surfactants. The liquid comes in a plastic bottle and in various sizes. For instance: 165 ounces will wash 110 loads — 80 oz. / 51 loads — 50 oz. / 32 loads. This product is also safe for septic tanks.
Isn’t it just like life to make a product you rely on no longer unavailable for purchase? I knew I wanted a liquid laundry detergent that was dye-free and unscented; reasonably priced is good too. A local grocery store had a terrific sale on this Arm & Hammer laundry detergent for sensitive skin. For the price, I couldn’t go wrong experimenting with it. After several months of using the product, I’m pleased with the results.
My laundry needs are pretty basic. I have a top-loading washing machine. I do full loads of clothes or sheets and towels. Most of my loads are in cold water. Any stains or dirt on my clothing tend to be from working in the yard and garden or from baking. Of course, there are also inadvertent food spills from eating, but those are minimal. My routine is to start the water running into the machine for a large load. Then I add the liquid laundry detergent, let it mix for a few moments, and then add the clothes.
I like that the liquid is easy to pour from the bottle into the cap. However, I can’t find the lines they mention for measuring. I looked all over the cap, and there are no lines. I find I don’t need much of this detergent to see suds begin to form in the water. The suds are not excessive either. The clothes must rinse clean since I do not find any indication of having added too much detergent.
True to advertising, there is no scent that I can detect. I wash a variety of clothes: delicates, knits, cottons, jeans, plus the towels and sheets. I also wash the fabric I use for sewing and quilting (usually 100-percent cotton). This laundry detergent works great. My clothes and fabrics come out clean. I switch the load to the dryer and add an unscented dryer sheet to complete the process.
My nose doesn’t twitch and my skin doesn’t itch. That is a good sign that the Arm & Hammer laundry detergent is hypoallergenic.
I am pleased with this Arm & Hammer Laundry Detergent for Sensitive Skin. I will keep alert for coupons and sales. I will definitely buy it again.
Pros: Lots of gunfire – it must be good then, right?
Cons: A complete waste of time – it’s not even remotely entertaining or good for a few laughs
Late in the going of the premiere episode of the newest “let’s hunt down a monster” program called Swamp Monsters, one of the characters in the show declares that the whole operation of tracking down a mysterious, dog-like creature “seemed choreographed.” Truer words have never been spoken in the genre of “speculative documentary” programming dealing with the process of hunting down purported monsters…
I’ll just leave this here…
Blatantly ripping off the basic formula of Mountain Monsters (a show that was none too great in its own right), Swamp Monsters follows a quartet of outdoorsmen from the – get ready for it – Bayou Enforcement Agency for Supernatural Threats (or BEAST) as they “risk life and limb” to investigate reports of various monster-like creatures in the Louisiana bayou. Impossibly, within moments of starting their investigation, the crew is revealed to be “hot on the trail” of the creatures they’re looking for – despite the fact that the animals they’re after probably don’t exist in the first place. The show’s premiere episode (airing August 28, 2014 on the Discovery Channel) dealt with the pursuit of a “devil dog” sort of creature known locally as the “Grunch.” Following a handful of interviews with some of the most sketchy eyewitnesses in monster-related reality TV history and the employment of a half-assed, almost ridiculously elaborate trapping system designed to capture the creature in question, the BEAST group eventually goes on the offensive during a nighttime hunt in which they arm themselves to the teeth with what appears to be semi-automatic rifles. Here’s the kicker though: despite their trap being “infallible” and the gang’s tendency to shoot at anything and everything around them to the point that I probably could have been convinced that I was actually watching a low-budget film chronicling the war in Vietnam…they never find a damn thing. Go figure.
I’m forced at this point to repeat the assessment of the team’s tracker: “this seems choreographed.”
For as “real” as this show is, the gang may as well have been tracking this creature down…
Much like Mountain Monsters, the gang of “good ol’ boys” featured in this show seem suspiciously like low-rent actors going through the motions of attempting to hunt down imaginary monsters. All the stereotypical characters are here: the aforementioned tracker named Boudic, team leader Elliott, “weapons and tactics expert” Yak, and the obligatory “wild man” character who goes by the name of Nacho. As might be expected, the program emphasizes the cohesiveness of this unit, as if none of these “investigators” would be able to handle any sort of operation if forced to tackle it by their lonesome. For all I know, that could be a factual statement – these guys seem not to be the sharpest tools in the shed, cracking lame jokes whenever possible to up the camaraderie level on display. Hell, they invariably refer to each other as “brah,” so they must be best friends since forever, right?
“Bros in the Bayou”
Just in case the characters don’t seal the deal on this show being a complete crock, a viewer can always rely on the old fashioned monster action to keep himself entertained – or so one would think. Unfortunately, the more of these monster hunt shows that are made, the less credible any of them are – it’s pretty bad when the average crypto-reality (i.e. monster) show on TV these days makes Finding Bigfoot look positively scientific by comparison. Swamp Monsters unleashes some of the most crude and awful-looking CGI renderings of monsters I’ve ever seen and doesn’t even bother to concoct phony home video monster footage to “convince” the viewer that the Grunch is real. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted for the need for this program at all in light of Discovery’s pretty pathetic Beasts of the Bayou program that debuted earlier this year: how much demand could there honestly be for cajun-fried monster shows – especially ones that are this bad?
See the monster? Yeah, neither do I…
As is typically the case in monster-related reality TV shows, it’s impossible to believe that what we’re seeing is happening spontaneously. The camera seems to be aware of things happening before they actually do: if this was a recording of a live event, the camera would follow the action, not predict it. I also have a very hard time buying the fact that the terrain seen in this episode is as inaccessible as the characters would lead us to believe with their constant bickering: there simply wouldn’t be a multiple camera set-up in a location that’s full of quicksand. The whole of Swamp Monsters is very “stagey” and overly dramatic: this is the first and so far only monster show that creates “tension” by revealing that the swamp the characters are trudging through is full of mosquitoes that – GASP – may be carrying the West Nile virus! Though there were many moments during this debut episode that left me rolling my eyes in disgust, for the program to create drama by cashing in on public fear of an epidemic is a new low for crypto-reality TV. In the end, when Nacho breaks out a FLIR thermal imaging camera after declaring he’s surrounded by Grunches only to see nothing in the viewfinder, that says all one really needs to know about the authenticity of this program.
Sad thing is, it doesn’t take much to make the bayou out to be a pretty darn creepy place.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m actually getting sick of all the monster programming that’s turning up on the “education” channels these days. The fact that new series are popping up every other week, with even more on the way, is plain ludicrous: these shows are beating a dead chupacabra at this point and further programming will only initiate the final death roll that will put the crypto-reality genre out of its misery. The sad thing is, I love shows like this – or at least what shows like this could be if they actually had some inclination to present genuine information. Unfortunately, there seems to be precisely no effort on the part of the producers of many of these programs to conduct a more scientific, factually-based investigation: it’s much more convenient to follow a script, manipulate an audience to an outrageous extent, and create false drama with things occurring just off-camera.
Where’s Swamp Thing when you need him?
The fact that Swamp Monsters is phony as all get out honestly isn’t it’s worst trait. The thing that kills it is that it’s not even all that entertaining as reality TV: what is the point of this show? It’s extremely lazily produced and easily the lowest common denominator of a genre of programs that’s notoriously bad in the first place. Thankfully, it appears that viewers would only have to suffer through two additional episodes (dealing with …yawn…the Honey Island Swamp Monster and the “Old Faithful” of bayou monster program subjects, the Rougarou/Cajun Werewolf) which apparently will air on the Destination America channel sometime in the future. I sincerely hope that this atrocious series is not renewed; thinning out the ranks of monster programs on TV might might just make the concept fresh again. As it stands now, this whole genre of program is on most definitely on life support…and fading fast.
Pros: Tons of fun and surprisingly competent for a film of this nature
Cons: Won’t appeal to the overly serious viewer
Made for the ridiculously low sum of $14,000, 1959’s Teenagers from Outer Space has (unsurprisingly) picked up a cult reputation over the years as being a film in the Plan 9 From Outer Space vein of being so bad it’s good. To label it as such however is doing a bit of a disservice to one Tom Graeff, writer, director, actor, cinematographer, editor, special effects artist – hell, the auteur behind this film. Graeff, who at one time worked with the one and only Roger Corman and who is known in some circles as the “gay Ed Wood,” made only a handful of films in his lifetime (most of which are assumed lost), yet has been the subject of endless speculation and interest largely because of his extremely outlandish life story. Watching Teenagers, by far his more available, well-known and accessible film, gives one the idea that this guy legitimately had some talent for cinema – but simply lacked the budget he needed to make what would have been considered a “good movie” by any standard. There’s a ton of creativity here, and the movie is actually very clever and competently produced – especially when one considers the almost non-existent budget (for comparative purposes, the estimated budget of Plan 9 was $50,000, and even the abominable Manos: The Hands of Fate cost some $19,000).
Director Graeff sure got his money’s worth out of this dog skeleton prop – it’s seen several times during the course of the film for no reason whatsoever.
Playing out in a manner vaguely similar to dozens of genre films of the ‘50s, Teenagers begins with a group of aliens landing in the remote American countryside in search of habitat for an extraterrestrial breed of livestock called the Gargon. These creatures look like lobsters (hell, they are lobsters as seen in the film), but can rapidly grow to enormous size – particularly when they’re fed. After determining that Earth’s atmosphere is suitable for these creatures despite the fact that they will devour the resident population of the planet, a younger member of the extraterrestrial party named Derek decides that he’s fed up with the alien way of life and scurries off into the brush. The thing that pushed Derek over the edge? The random vaporization of a dog by an especially blood-thirsty alien named Thor. How rebellious! From here, the film becomes a sort of chase thriller, as Thor attempts to track down the plucky Derek while both aliens are forced to interact and come to terms with the unfamiliar earthling civilization. This portion of the film mainly focuses on Derek’s relationship with a young woman named Betty who, along with her grandfather, tries to help the alien fugitive escape his pursuer. All the while, the first Gargan released on earth continues to grow exponentially while shackled up in a nearby mining cave…
Rut Row…wait..what the hell??!?
Graeff’s script is undeniably goofy, with mind-numbing gaps in logic and ridiculous dialogue passages, occasionally hammering the audience with ideology and a heavy-handed “message” about where humanity is heading (incidentally, in the late 1960s, Graeff would make a case for bisexuality as the cure for humanity’s ills on a self-help LP!). The basic story in the film would also be super familiar to any viewer who’s seen a sci-fi flick or three, but the handling of this picture is so undeniably earnest that it’s hard not to be sucked into this lovable little film. Graeff’s direction is actually quite assured and confident – it definitely doesn’t look like this was the product of a hack director making a (possibly ill-advised) attempt at a feature, and what Teenagers from Outer Space lacks in terms of a budget, it makes up for in unbridled ingenuity. Sure, the alien ray guns are obviously dime store toys and some of the scientific gadgets they slave over clearly identify themselves as being pro audio equipment, but Graeff honestly does a remarkable job of making this film seem much “bigger” and frankly, better than it had any right to.
Yep – that is definitely a “disintegrator ray.” I should know.
It’d be difficult to find another (basically) no budget movie from this time period that recreated both the exterior and interior of a flying saucer, realized a monstrous creature’s rampage through the countryside, and was able to pull off the illusion of human flesh being vaporized in an instant, leaving only skeletal remains behind. Mind you, most of the visuals in this film are captured in a manner that reflects the fact that almost no money was spent on this picture: the monster is obviously a superimposed lobster (or, even worse, the shadow of a lobster) dropped on an existing live-action background, the same, wired-together skeleton is seen in every vaporization death, and an observant viewer would be all to aware one particular car is going to be destroyed in a matter of moments since it’s the most instantly “dumpy” looking automobile seen onscreen. Still, $14,000 would barely have been enough to cover the camera, the film itself, and the editing/processing fees in 1959: for Teenagers from Outer Space to even begin to resemble a competent feature rather than home movie garbage is reason enough to commend Graeff for his ability to overcome obstacles.
OK, so the costume department raided the Air Force Surplus Store. That’s no reason to start hating on this movie.
Starring as the stereotypically misunderstood (supposed) alien teenager is David Love, a.k.a. Chuck Roberts and who was actually born as Charles Robert Kaltenthaler. At the time of production, Love was romantically involved with director Graeff, and you almost get the feel that this entire film was an attempt by the writer/director to make a vanity-type starring vehicle for his lover. Unfortunately, like most of the actors in this film, Love’s performance is a bit on the wacky side: his line recitation is too mechanized and robotic for any of it (particularly the lines that hint at his feelings of affection towards Betty – “You make me angry …but I like you very much…”) to be taken seriously. Betty, meanwhile, is played by the cute but somewhat annoying Dawn Bender, sporting a rather odd-looking hairdo. Bender tries her hardest to sell the romantic angle of the film, but almost oversells her emotional responses and nearly becomes laughably melodramatic at various times during the piece. It’s terrible to say, but her voice also grates on the ears and I kind of just wanted her to disappear from the narrative at a certain point.
From left: major characters Gramps, Betty, and Derek.
Coming across as the human equivalent of The Shaggy Dog, it’s frequent Ed Wood film actor Harvey B. Dunn’s playing “Gramps” that most often cracked me up during the film. Almost gleefully unaware of what’s happening around him until late in the going (at which point he decides to narrate the showdown with the lobster monster), Dunn seems to be struck with attacks of senility intermittently throughout the film – look for the scene where he has difficulty crossing the road (“Where’s Gramps?” “Oh there he is, trying to cross the street!”). Additionally, we have Bryan Grant playing a decent villain as the perpetually surly Thor – all to willing to use his “disintegrator ray” on any and all living things, King Moody (Ronald McDonald as seen in commercials of the ‘70s and ‘80s) as the alien commander, and director Graeff himself as reporter Joe, who seems to constantly be at the wrong place at the right time. It’s worth pointing out in regard to this cast that Teenagers from Outer Space was made in the opposite manner that many films are made: some dialogue was pre-recorded (as opposed to being dubbed in later), which required that the actors mouth the lines later when the sequences were actually being filmed. This (and the fact that many characters in the film don’t use contractions) many lines of speech in the film seem definitively “off,” though this only adds to the schlock appeal of the picture.
This final shot only confirms the fact that we’re watching the one and only David Love vanity film.
Like many and/or most B-movies, Teenagers from Outer Space simply wouldn’t be to the liking of viewers who get off on the appreciation of legitimately “good movies.” This film has numerous, utterly preposterous scenes – and actually cops out precisely when it should be visualizing some highlight moments due to a lack of money. The big invasion of the saucermen? It’s related by dialogue only, and we’re also more or less left to assume that the Gargon is dangerous, since it mainly lurks offscreen throughout the film. Nevertheless, without doubt a ton of hard work and conviction went into the production of this film, and it winds up seeming like a bit of a shame that Teenagers not only didn’t “make” Tom Graeff’s career in the movie business, but may have instead been the catalyst that sent him on a downward spiral into insanity (within a few years, he was proclaiming himself as “Jesus Christ II” on the street on Sunset Blvd.). Pictures like this one also indicate why films that attempt to replicate the feel of old-time genre films frequently fail in monumental fashion: it’s nearly impossible to recreate the personal touch applied by auteurs like Tom Graeff, Edward D. Wood, Jr. or numerous other genre filmmakers. Even though Teenagers from Outer Space is no masterpiece, I’d go so far to say that it is one of the better genre flicks of the ‘50s. It certainly succeeds in terms of overcoming budget limitations to deliver a thoroughly entertaining, endearing film that has a ton more heart and charm than any amount of positively soulless studio blockbusters. This is about a must for fans of cult cinema.
This public domain film has been released in numerous DVD packages, including one hosted by Elvira and as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It can also be viewed in its entirety here.
2/10 : Humans (and incidentally, dogs) reduced to skeletons! Some minor violence, but nothing serious.
0/10 : Though frequently absurd, the dialogue here does not include any profanity or, strangely, contractions
0/10 : Typical ’50s sci-fi movie romance, but none of the rough stuff.
9/10 : Title alone should indicate how cheesy and corny this flick is, and though it might not deserve its rep as being notoriously awful, this would still outrageously entertaining for fans of “bad movies.”
“It’s some kind of foolish joke…I’m not going to keep a job where this sort of thing goes on.”
Pros: Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate, and more! No more lugging a heavy carafe or reheating day-old coffee!
Cons: K-Cups can get pricey. My K-Cup reusable filter is cheaper but labor intensive.
Once upon a time, I would never have considered buying a Keurig Brewer for my home. I was impressed with the mini style some hotels put in their rooms for courtesy coffee and the top-of-the-line model in our apartment complex office, but why would I need something like that in my kitchen?
My smug attitude changed when I realized that pouring coffee from my 12-cup pot felt like lifting an anvil – even when there was only a small amount left. A smaller pot makes no sense because it would be sitting in the sink waiting for a thorough cleaning three or four times a day, and was still too heavy for me to control. I speak from experience. We had a small one for a while, and it was a nuisance. Finally, I got tired of teetering by the stove to reheat coffee in the overhead microwave. The amount of time I can be on my feet has been dwindling for years. Now, I can feel my ankles turn to jelly within a minute or two. Making lunch and reheating coffee is much more challenging than it was even a year ago. Let’s face it, the Keurig is assistive technology. I can have as many cups of coffee (or just about anything else) as I want without having to get out of my wheelchair. It’s safer, especially on bad days.
I decided to do my homework before taking the plunge into push-button coffee. I compared all the models we could afford and looked at other brands, too. The clincher for staying with Keurig is that the company also makes My K-cup, a reusable filter that allows me to continue using my regular coffee daily and get K-Cups for special treats. More about My K-Cup later.
The genius of Keurig’s system is that so many families live together on different schedules. This is true for us, especially since I retired. I’m not a morning person, so my husband’s sweet gesture of a daily breakfast in bed would be cold coffee and lukewarm oatmeal by the time I was awake enough to eat it. This is no longer a problem because I can now make my own coffee and have breakfast on my schedule.
Another issue Keurig addresses is that we have different tastes and moods. One person only drinks tea, but his wife is a coffee drinker. There are people who can only drink decaf sharing a kitchen with someone who prefers regular. The kids want hot cocoa. A Keurig brewer can be all things to all people. There’s no need to juggle the tea kettle, coffee maker, and microwave to handle hot drinks. Because the mug or cup is the final destination and K-Cups stay sealed (except for holes poked on its top and bottom), cleanup is barely noticeable.
How it works:
The K-Cup holds one serving of ground coffee, tea, or cocoa. It sits in a receptacle (Keurig calls it the K-Cup holder assembly). When you close the lid, two needles poke holes in the top and bottom of the K-Cup. A pre-measured cup of water is heated and dripped through the K-Cup and into the coffee mug you place on the removable pedestal. Removing the pedestal allows extra tall commuter mugs to fit under the drip holes.
The Keurig Elite comes in black, white, and blue. I chose black to match my stove and dishwasher. I noticed similar models in red.
My favorite features: Water container – This sleek, nearly crescent shaped container detaches from the unit and can be filled in the sink. It only takes a few minutes for the entire process.
Three cup sizes – The three buttons represent a small cup (5.25 ounces), a small mug (7.25 ounces), and a large mug (9.25 ounces).
Auto-off – This feature turns the brewer off after two hours, saving energy, and helping the absentminded among us.
Reminder lights – Lights tell you when the water is hot enough to brew, ask how much to brew, signal that the water container needs to be refilled, and even when the brewer needs to be descaled (see below for an explanation of descaling).
There are a few things to keep in mind, though: Maintenance – The main extra task is called “descaling.” Keurig sells a descaling formula that combats the damage hard water does to coffee makers. I have to admit that I was never one of the people who brewed vinegar washes in standard coffee makers, and mineral deposits plagued our old coffee makers. The Keurig brewer has a light to remind us when it’s time to descale.
The owner’s manual encourages the use of bottled or filtered water. The Elite model has a charcoal filter assembly that fits inside the water container and needs to be replaced every two months.
The container, while weighing much less than a coffee maker carafe, still needs to be refilled. It holds 48 ounces, which in our house lasts about three days. I sometimes get a little ticked off when I’m craving my coffee-fix, and that little blue light comes on. It’s only a slight annoyance because refilling the container is a quick chore.
One more thing: K-Cups vs. My K-Cup – The K-Cups are clean, no fuss, no muss. Each K-Cup is intended for one serving, but it’s possible to stretch it for a second slightly weaker serving for tight budgets. While I don’t recognize all the brand names, there are many brands I do know: Bigelow, Celestial Seasonings, Cinnabon, Dunkin’ Donuts, Emeril’s, Folgers Gourmet Selections, Ghirardelli, Kahlúa, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Lipton, Newman’s Own Organics, Snapple, Starbucks, Swiss Miss, Tetley Tea, Tully’s, Twinings of London, and Wolfgang Puck. The Keurig Elite came with a dozen K-Cups. They were mostly coffees with a hot chocolate and a couple of teas.
My favorite was Tully’s Italian Roast Extra Bold Coffee. The aroma filled the kitchen and made a promise that the flavor kept. I love a strong coffee that holds up even when it cools off. At breakfast, I take a combination of16 pills, capsules, and soft gels with my coffee. After downing them, I read the paper while sipping the rest of my cup. It often gets cold during my morning ritual. I need a coffee that doesn’t lose its flavor when it stands for a bit.
Pricing information is current as of August 26, 2014. Keurig plans to increase prices by about 10% in November 2014. This is strictly a general guide. The K-Cups are priced at around $15-20 for a box of 24. Sign up for membership and get a 10-15% discount. There is no shipping charge for orders over $45. If you think you might want to get a supply of K-Cups, take advantage of the product registration offer. When you register your brewer online, you’ll receive a coupon code for two free boxes when you buy two boxes. The discount has a long life, which gives you time to decide on the varieties you might want. The code I received has an expiration date of December 31, 2099.
Another way to go, especially if you have a favorite coffee that doesn’t come in K-Cup form, is My K-Cup. This is a reusable coffee filter (made by Keurig)that fits in your Keurig brewer’s assembly housing (the section that holds the K-Cup during brewing). Until you get used to the extra work involved, you’ll miss the K-Cup simplicity. First, you need to remove the K-Cup holder assembly from the assembly housing (it just pops out when you follow the instructions). Then you fill the filter basket with two tablespoons of your coffee, put it inside the filter holder, gently screw the lid on, and place the filter in the assembly housing. The coffee brews as usual. The taste? It’s at least as good as it was when I made it by the pot in my old coffee maker. However, my coffee seems to get a nearly black residue that collects at the bottom of the cup. This is something I haven’t seen since the old percolator days. It isn’t pleasant to accidentally drink some of it. The texture is gritty and tastes like Postum (another old memory I could have done without). When you use a K-Cup, there is no residue. The coffee is uniform in appearance and flavor right down to the bottom of the cup.
The extra work comes in afterward when you have to empty the filter basket and wash the three parts. Although My K-Cup is dishwasher safe, it needs to be secured to keep it from falling through the racks. As much as I depend on our dishwasher, it’s easier for me to use a toothbrush to lightly scrub coffee stains and grounds. I use my old coffee filters as a receptacle for the grounds. It keeps the mess to a minimum.
My verdict? I’m ambivalent. The extra work necessary to use My K-Cup isn’t the end of the world for my three cups a day. However, the extra labor will add up if you have several cups to make or need to switch between My K-Cup and the holder assembly to make a beverage in a standard K-Cup. That’s what happened yesterday morning when my husband decided he wanted hot tea.
Yet, I don’t know how long we can afford to keep using K-Cups exclusively after the big coupon order runs out. At the rate of three cups of coffee a day, eight dozen K-Cups will last me about a month – if I’m the only one drinking it. After that, it’ll be about $60 a month to feed my habit vs. about $10 a month with My K-Cup. In the long run, my sense is that I’ll probably look for bargains in K-Cups after the initial big coupon runs out. Amazon has a cornucopia of K-Cup deals, and a close friend told me about a sale at Costco. Like anything else, once you learn the ropes, you can find bargains just about anywhere.
Pros: very compelling information; more hard-hitting than anything on Shark Week…
Cons: but humans still don’t seem to get it that going into the ocean puts them at risk of a shark attack
Sheesh! Just when I thought it was safe to watch educational TV again, a little over a week removed from the 2014 edition of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, what does PBS do but air a program that not only was as or more interesting than most of the shows seen on Discovery Channel, but one that addresses issues that in my opinion, should have been the focus of Shark Week in the first place.
Host Mark Evans testing new technology for spotting sharks from the air.
Following in the footsteps of the Sex in the Wild documentary series that aired earlier this summer, Operation Maneater which premiered on August 27th seems to again indicate that PBS is striving to find a new audience with more hard-hitting nature-related programming. Hosted by veterinarian Mark Evans (who also featured on Sex in the Wild), this three-part series details the efforts of scientists to keep various endangered animal species from posing a threat to humans, which as might be expected, isn’t an easy task. The first episode dealt with none other than the great white shark. As shark attacks surrounding the city of Perth in Western Australia continue to increase (seven fatal attacks since 2010), the Australian government has enacted a policy of running drumlines in the surrounding waters. These lines are designed to catch sharks of the great white, tiger, and bull varieties greater than three meters in length, which upon being snagged on the line are killed via a gunshot to the head and dumped back in the drink. Needless to say, this policy hasn’t been very popular with Australian citizens and seems downright barbaric and (to say the least) misguided in my estimation. Evans’ goal throughout this first episode is to examine possible alternatives to the ecologically damaging, wanton extermination of random sharks.
A sensible manner of dealing with the shark problem
First off, let me say that shows like this which focus explicitly on issues relating to shark conservation are what Discovery’s Shark Week should have been presenting all along. I realize that the dozens and dozens of programs which feature shark attack victims recounting their “terrifying ordeals” get viewers to tune in, but these shows seem to have precisely the opposite effect on viewers of what I would hope Shark Week would provide. Certainly, the block of shark-related programming shows the majesty of these ultimate underwater predators and reaffirms to the reality-show devouring public that yes, sharks still exist and they’re still scary. Undoubtedly though, the constant presentation of “worst case scenario” shark stories and images of gnashing teeth only confirms many viewers’ prejudices about these animals.
Don’t understand it? IT MUST BE KILLED!
Let’s not forget that in that same period where seven Australians lost their lives by entering an ocean that is very much the domain of the shark that human beings killed millions upon millions of sharks– often in about as horrific a manner as possible by de-finning the creatures and dumping them – still alive – back into the ocean. Terrible as any loss of human life is, at some level, the human race is experiencing what I would be inclined to call some payback.
WARNING! THIS VIDEO IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING! YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
Allow me at this point to quote Evans himself when examining a device which emits an electric “pulse” underwater around a person wearing the unit: “…rather than rely on such a deterrent, it would be better to avoid such encounters in the first place.” The only way to completely avoid shark attacks is to stay the hell out of the water in the first place. The sooner humans come to terms with the implications of that statement, the better for everyone and everything concerned.
Let me get down off my soap box and back to the matter at hand: Operation Maneater examines the process by which Australia is fairly effective in warning the ocean-going public that large sharks may be patrolling their beaches by using helicopter surveillance in conjunction with a tagging program and social media updating. Literally, within a few minutes of getting either a visual confirmation of a shark or a sonic tag pingback, Australian beaches can be cleared. Still, as the program reveals, helicopter observation has been proven only to spot twenty percent of sharks that may be in the area, and one of Evans’ main goals in this episode is to investigate ways in which those numbers can be improved.
Shark spotting from the air can be a sketchy proposition.
Though various, sometimes outlandish methods of deterring sharks are discussed in the program (including use of sound waves, electronic field generators, and even a dive suit designed to resemble the deadly sea snake), a large amount of time is spent examining the possibility of utilizing multi-spectral imaging to identify sharks as they cruise underwater. This military-grade technology, consisting of a multiple-camera rig that filters out various colors and uses computer software to point out targets (i.e. sharks), is practically evaluated during the program through a series of tests and does seem to show some promise. Clearly, more research into its effectiveness is needed, and the cost of the equipment would probably be prohibitive at this point, so at best it’s an option that may be practical down the line.
Rigs such as these could be the next step in early shark detection.
Typical with PBS programming, Operation Maneater features a well-rounded discussion of its topics and a ton of straight-forward, factual information. As expected, there’s a sort of crash course in shark behavior and physiology, the most interesting part of which deals with research into shark brain functionality. The program also includes some wonderful underwater images of sharks in action during an operation to tag large great whites, and the use of slow motion footage and visual effects ensure the episode is visually stimulating. Future episodes in the series (which air over the next two weeks) deal with the polar bear and crocodile, so I would expect nothing less than for the overall quality of the program to remain at this very high level.
This doesn’t look like a good situation…
The most surprising thing to me about this opening episode of Operation Maneater was how fired up it made me. Frankly, it’s sickening to see sharks being killed for no other reason than existing in 2014 – even more so when you consider that many shark species are in real danger of extinction largely because of the creatures having been demonized in the years since Jaws hit movie theaters. The bigger picture question in my mind is why Discovery Channel in their week-long block of shark-related programming barely touched on the issue of the Western Australian Shark Cull – one would think that if the motivations for Shark Week were related to issues about shark conservation that this very real, obviously prescient issue would be discussed rather extensively. Instead, Shark Week offers up fake documentaries and sensationalism to put most reality shows to shame while avoiding any sort of real world, real life issues. It’s a good thing then that public television exists to tackle the difficult subjects that aren’t convenient in the context of publicity-oriented television. Anyway one looks at it, Operation Maneater is top-notch and those who think PBS nature programming is boring should probably check this show out.
Daddy’s Little Girl by Mary Higgins Clark is a pretty decent story – it held my interest and I certainly wanted to know how it would end. But it’s lacking the pizzazz I look for, in a book that calls itself a “thriller”.
We meet the Cavanaugh family over 20 years ago, when their world was shattered with the murder of their eldest daughter Andrea. Ellie was just a little kid that night but she was smart enough to know that nothing would ever be the same again. How right she was!
Now it’s present-day and Ellie is a woman in her thirties. She never stopped grieving for her older sister, and for the idyllic family life that was shattered by a moment of tragedy. The man convicted of the crime has served over 20 years in prison and has come up for parole. Ellie is determined to see that doesn’t happen. But when Rob Westerfield is set free, Ellie’s world is turned upside down again. Rob and his wealthy/powerful family are determined to show the world that he had been wrongly convicted. In fact, there’s someone else they are determined to pin the murder on. Ellie is equally determined to prove that the right man had been put away all those years ago. Thus she sets out on a one-woman mission to do just that.
However, Rob has plenty of support on his side. People who will go to any length to restore the Westerfield reputation. The more Ellie digs, the closer she gets to proving her case, the more it becomes obvious that her own life is now in danger from forces unseen.
There you have it – a one-woman-against-all-odds story. Ellie has very little to go on, just the murky memories from that night in her childhood. From there, it is no easy task to find clues to support her claims. I was impressed with how she went about her investigation. She was actually pretty smart in her endeavors.
She was also very likeable and very sympathetic. It was very easy to root for her and hope she gets the resolution she seeks.
I also liked how Clark describes the family dynamics, and how it can all unravel in the face of tragedy. I felt it was written realistically, given how awful the death of a child can be.
My problem with Daddy’s Little Girl is that it was devoid any real excitement. Don’t look forward to any major twists and turns – there were none. I kept waiting for that “A-Ha!!!” moment. But it never came. The story just sort of goes on and on until it eventually ends. Sure, the ending was somewhat interesting. And Clark adds an epilogue that ties everything up in a neat bow. But it just took too long, and was way too slow-paced to get there. In the end, it just wasn’t worth it.
Daddy’s Little Girl held my interest, and I liked the technique of our getting to re-examine an old case that had already been solved, to see if it had been solved correctly or not. But Clark forget to add some excitement to the story. As a result, this book is just “ok”… Nothing more than that.
Pros: Vincent Price; wickedly funny dialogue; a few creepy moments
Cons: Doesn’t hold up well against modern horror; supporting cast is iffy
Made in an era when horror films didn’t have to be full of blood and guts to be effective or even “scary,” producer/director William Castle’s 1959 House on Haunted Hill is one of those films that has unfortunately lost its power to shock over the years in the wake of increasingly more graphic and intense horror movies (hell, most of the elements of this film have been repeated time and again by dozens of films – including a rather ill-advised, R-rated remake that turned up in 1999). Even if today’s horror fan (especially those who don’t have any interest in or knowledge of the history of cinema) is likely to find this film to be “lame” however, it has to be one of the most honest-to-goodness enjoyable horror films of the 1950s. What we have here is the basic haunted house story with some new twists: a millionaire named Frederick Loren has invited a group of strangers to a party taking place in a house reported to be stalked by the ghosts of at least six murder victims whose deaths took place within its walls. If the strangers survive the night, they get $10,000 (a large sum of money in 1959), but quickly the gang begins to suspect that safety in this house might not be a guarantee. The strangers find themselves having to deal with a murder – and become gripped with paranoia after coming to the realization that one of them might be responsible for it. Then there’s also the distinct possibility that the rumors about ghosts prowling the property aren’t rumors at all…
What’s scarier: the ominous house in the background, or the DISEMBODIED HEAD OF A SNARKY-LOOKING VINCENT PRICE??!?
Filmed in exquisite black and white by Carl E. Guthrie, House on Haunted Hill seems remarkably similar to numerous other “haunted house” movies – particularly the films based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House: Robert Wise’s 1963 The Haunting and 1973’s British-made The Haunting of Hell House). While Wise’s 1963 film adaptation of Jackson’s novel is more psychologically-based and subtle, director William Castle (perhaps one of the least subtle film makers ever to work in Hollywood) turns House on Haunted Hill into a roller coaster ride of obvious spooky and creepy moments. During the course of the film, we have bodies being dissolved in an acid vat (dig the scene where a rat is tossed in the mixture and pops back up as a skeleton), ghostly figures gliding across shadowy sets, a woman hanged from the rafters of the estate who later turns up as an apparition seen in a window, and more. This film (like many other Castle productions) had its own gimmick when originally released to theaters – at one key moment, a skeleton would emerge from a secret compartment next to the screen and fly over the audience (one shudders to think what this so-called “Emergo” gimmick could have done in conjunction with the infamous “girl coming out of a well” scene in The Ring….). Despite his reputation as being more a showman than a technician though, Castle’s handling of the film is very efficient. The introduction of the characters, for instance, is very concise since Castle does in three minutes what might take hours elsewhere.
Main cast assembled prior to their hair-raising night in the estate.
If anything, I could probably say that Castle’s film falls on the more predictable side of the scale since it follows most every horror movie cliché imaginable (right down to the soundtrack which is loaded with shrieking female vocals and warbling theremin cues). Still, the film remains an absolute blast to watch since neither writer Robb White nor Castle himself allow the picture to stall for even a second – and at just 75 minutes in length, this flick is lean and mean. White’s script is full of wonderfully witty dialogue, and I’d have to declare this to be one of the most genuinely (and – here’s the key – purposely) funny horror films of its era. Vincent Price (an actor known for his ability and indeed tendency to walk a fine line between being dead serious and absolutely campy in his performances) has a field day playing Frederick in this film, particularly in the scenes where his “playboy with a dark side” character interacts with his shrewish wife Annabelle (played by Carol Ohmart). I also appreciated the twists and turns in the story that occur late in the going – though I have to say that in 2014, most viewers probably could see most of these “surprises” coming well in advance.
Most things in the film are fairly predictable, but there are still a few zingers…
Though Price’s performance is a delight to watch, the remaining cast is iffy at best. Richard Long plays test pilot Lance Schroeder who starts up a sort of relationship with the mousy and skittish Nora Manning (played by Carolyn Craig). These two characters are the ones the narrative focuses the most time on, but neither actor really brings much to the table: Long is somewhat pompous and stuffy, while Craig does a lot of screaming and generally acts hysterical. Meanwhile, a shady doctor named Trent (played by Alan Marshal) lurks around in the periphery with raving drunk Watson Pritchard (a manic role for Elisha Cook, Jr), and journalist Ruth Bridgers (a literally forgettable Julie Mitchum, who all but disappears from the film at a certain point). Cook seems to be having fun making doomy prophecies about what’s going to happen to the various strangers during the course of the night, but Marshal’s acting seemed particularly sketchy to me. Eventually, the Trent character becomes pivotal in the unfolding action, but I was never quite able to buy into and believe Marshal’s performance, which took away from the film down the stretch. It’s a good thing the dialogue keeps things lively because most of these supporting actors seem like placeholders and nothing more.
Even if this film isn’t so much downright scary as occasionally spooky, I think most viewers would get a kick out of it. There is immense amusement to be derived from this script and film, and it has some impressive sequences from a technical standpoint as well. Every scene in which a “ghost” appears – and perhaps most notably the scene in which lightning bolts create a stroboscopic effect as a ghost appears to begin curling a thick rope around a woman’s foot – is a highlight moment, and the sets detailing the interiors of the expansive – and ominous – titular estate are very well-done. The film’s big finale, cheesy and corny though it may be, is effectively rendered onscreen and like it or not, quite memorable, predating such things as the aforementioned Ringu/The Ring. Like many old time horror films, this one can’t and won’t stand up against the likes of Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, or the latest zombie gut-muncher – it’s more than half a century old as this point. Nevertheless, the original House on Haunted Hill is nothing less than hugely entertaining and a perfect way to spend and hour and a quarter. Certainly worth checking out.
This film is available in a seemingly endless number of packages, ranging from multiple film sets, to a colorized version. It can also be watched for free online here.
3/10 : A few scary and violent moments, but nothing too intense.
1/10 : Some discussion of adult themes and brief, minor strong language.
0/10 : The shapely Carolyn Craig is easy on the eyes, but the only thing we get here is a few scenes of women trolling about in nighties.
8/10 : Thoroughly enjoyable late ’50s camp horror. One of Price’s most outright enjoyable films.
“At last you’ve got it all, everything I had… even my life. But you’re not going to live to enjoy it!”
It’s funny. There are some books that capture your attention from the first page, holding you captive ’til the very end. And, yet, despite the fact that you stayed up late flipping those pages, you have to admit, it just wasn’t a great book.
Such is the case with Third Degree by Greg Iles. This book should be made into a 2-hour Lifetime movie. It’s the perfect script for it. But as a book – despite being intriguing, it just had so many flaws!
The entire book takes place in one day. A bad day for Laurel. She just ended her extra-marital affair, and now she finds out she’s pregnant, no way to know who the father is. Worst of all, she comes home to discover that her husband has just found some evidence of her infidelity. He knows she’s been unfaithful, but not with whom. And he’s on a mission to find out. Slowly descending into utter madness, her husband is on the warpath. Taking Laurel hostage at gunpoint, seemingly uncaring what becomes of her or of their two children, Warren wants a name – and he wants it now. Laurel’s worst nightmare is unfolding as a husband she barely recognizes tries to find out just who her lover is. Can Laurel keep her lover’s identity a secret long enough to ensure his safety?
There you have it – your basic “man takes family hostage” story. Fast-paced, with plenty of suspense and action, my interest was held. I certainly wanted to know how it would all work out.
But I also did a lot of eye-rolling – mostly at the sheer stupidity of the characters. Let’s start with Laurel. She’s supposed to be a smart lady. But she wasn’t very smart when it came to keeping her affair a secret. Sure, she did some things correctly. For instance, she knew not to use her own cell phone for those illicit text messages. However, didn’t any part of her think it might be dangerous to keep a hand-written note in the house. Another piece of damaging evidence gets tossed into the yard where anyone could come across it. I could think of a hundred different ways to get rid of the evidence that don’t involve tossing it into a yard where kids and dogs romp.
Now Warren – he was a bit smarter than his wife. He actually had some pretty clever ways of finding what he wanted to know. However, a big part of his plan was spoiled by a little kid. Kind of reminded me of a silly scene from Home Alone.
Then there are the authorities. Boy were they incompetent. Let’s just say Iles went out of his way to paint them as buffoons – to a ridiculous point. I get that if the authorities do their jobs too well, then we don’t have a story. After all, there has to be some points given to the perpetrator or there’s nothing to write about. But Iles went to an extreme in this regard. I guess he knows it, too, because in the “acknowledgment” at the end of the book he goes out of his way to explain that the police in the book were NOT based on any real-life policemen… Thank goodness!
Of course, the real problem with Third Degree is that there are no good guys to root for. Sure, we don’t want Laurel killed – she doesn’t deserve to die for what she did. But she’s hardy a sympathetic character. After all, her infidelity is what got her into this mess in the first place. Then there’s her lover. We’re supposed to think of him as a hero. But let’s not forget – he’s cheating on his wife, too. Warren is a wronged husband, so he would be a sympathetic character, but he’s too far over-the-top. Especially since he’s putting not only his wife – but also his kids – in danger. So who, exactly, are we supposed to root for here?
Pros: melamine durability, fun Spider-Man design, easy care
Cons: the plate is a hit; the plastic tumbler not so much
My nephew is in the super hero stage. Spider-Man is one of his favorite good guys. With that in mind, I try to keep mealtime fun with this Spider-Man 8” Round Melamine Plate.
Zak Designs is the name behind this Spider-Man plate. The 8-inch diameter plate is food-safe and free from BPA. The durable melamine construction is stain resistant and dishwasher safe. Note: The plate is not meant to go in the microwave. The bottom of the plate says for children ages 3-plus.
I remember Spider-Man web-crawling his way through cartoons and comic books when growing up. So it is no surprise that my nephew has taken to this web-swinging hero. At our last family get-together, my nephew raced up to me, wrists tilted and announced he had zapped me with Spider-Man webs. He proclaimed that I was trapped in the chair and at his mercy! Then he was off racing toward his next victim.
This melamine plate is a fun way to bring Spider-Man to the table. The round plate has a colorful design with Spider-Man reaching out while clinging to a web. The design is primarily red, blue and white. My nephew enjoys the plate. It is funny, though, because I also bought a matching Spider-Man plastic tumbler for his drink … and he prefers not to drink out of that particular glass. Yet he enjoys the Spider-Man plate.
The nice thing about a melamine plate is it is sturdy. This plate goes outdoors as well as being used indoors. Whether dining picnic-style, at a table, or lounging in the recliner or on the floor while playing with action figurines or watching television or wrestling bad guys in video games, this is a great plate.
We primarily use it to hold sandwiches, pizza, or finger-held snack foods. The plate is not designed for microwave use, so food would have to be warmed in another container and then transferred to this plate. The color holds up beautifully, and the plate has not stained.
I keep the plate in a cabinet above the sink area. Every once and awhile my fumble fingers joggle the plate, and off it sails into the air to land with a clatter against the counter. My frantic efforts to catch the melamine plate before it hits the floor are YouTube worthy. Even with my juggling act, this plate has not broken, cracked or chipped. I own other melamine products, and find that melamine is a very durable material, which lasts a long time.
Care is easy. Even though the plate is dishwasher friendly, it is easier for me to run it under the kitchen faucet for a quick rinse and then to let it dry in the rack. A simple squirt of liquid soap makes for easy clean up.
I have had great luck with melamine dishes. This Zak Designs Spider-Man plate is a wonderful addition to the table. My nephew is happy. In case you are wondering, no radioactive spiders were used in the writing of this review.
Pros: Heroic canines, Rescue dog training, Stories, Photos
Cons: This is an introduction — I want more
One dog plays until his heart gives out, or his lungs, and while motivated by “The Ball” when he’s finished he’s done and nothing will challenge this gentle love bug to do anything else. He finishes in 15 to 20 minutes. If you try to get more from him he will retreat to the safety of his “man cave” in the far corner of the walk-in closet. He’s a lab mix but seems to lack the drive frequently found in pure labs. The other plays ball until our arms fall off, regardless of how tired she is. When we quit we have to hide the ball or she’ll nag for more. The ball tempts her into just about any activity we ask – it’s her bribe, her reward, her passion, but so is playing find. For this reason I found the book Sniffer Dogs How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World absolutely fascinating.
After reading Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing I’ve routinely worked my four-year old blond lab on find games. They excite her, stimulate her cognitive skills, and pleases the heck out of her. She loves the challenge and the interaction. She’s probably a candidate for one or two classes of working dogs in this book but because of our bond I would have to be part of the package.
Nancy F. Castaldo’s book, Sniffer Dogs, introduces middle school-aged readers to dogs that locate people buried under rubble but also bone sniffer dogs who locate the dead including the long dead in 300-year old burial sites. Some dogs are trained to detect explosives and narcotics while some are trained as eco-sniffers who help conservationists locate animals – like whales. I consider that the most impressive, in part because it’s the category I knew the least about, but the category that wins the hearts of so many is the group of dogs trained to detect life-threatening medical conditions.
Over the years I’ve read numerous inspirational books about working dogs. In addition to Charleson’s book, Jon Katz has written about working dogs and their people in The New Work of Dogs and Izzy and Lenore. Charleson later covered the topic of emotional support from dogs in The Possibility Dogs. Each of these books encouraged me to look more closely at my two. While one is a high energy candidate the other seems to understand when a person they know is ill and he cuddles up to that person. What dogs know can impress and surprise us – even when we’re convinced we’re beyond being surprised.
Sniffer Dogs resembles a text book. It’s highly informative with great photos of working dogs that are accompanied by heartwarming stories – true stories shared by the dog’s handlers. She describes their qualifications that make them suitable for their tasks. Several are motivated by play, especially a ball, and are high energy dogs like mine. She explains the science of their super-sensitive noses. There are seven chapters, each covering the above topics. It has a lengthy reference section with a bibliography and suggested reading, a list of places to sniff out, websites, suggestions for ways to get involved, and a glossary.
This will appeal to anyone who already respects and adores dogs, but Castaldo introduces young readers (and older ones unfamiliar with these various categories of working dogs) to the dedication, determination and affection of these dogs. They are committed to their work, but also tightly bonded to their humans.
Not long ago I shared a story with friends of a rescue lab who became part of a search and rescue group – he won a national award for his efforts. Many of these dogs are rescues from shelters or death’s row. Their rehab lives proved praise worthy. When they retire it’s generally with their handler’s family. Castaldo introduces us to more than the military dogs. She provides photos that capture their intelligence and the dogs in action, as she tells their stories.
One especially impressive story is of a fox red Labrador who has the job of detecting diabetes in a boy who aspires to live a normal adolescent life. His diabetes fluctuates a lot during the day often becoming dangerously high or low. He’s a DAD (Diabetes Alert Dog) and is trained to “recognize the sweet smell of high blood sugar levels and the subtle sour smell of low blood sugar levels in the breath of people with diabetes.” As a five month old puppy he could quickly alert the boy, and the boy’s mom, to significant drops in his blood sugar. “Just over a month after arriving, Alan alerted that Zack’s blood sugar had dropped from 3.2 miles away! That’s right, over three miles away. Zack was at a football game when Alan started pawing Zack’s mom. When she didn’t respond, Alan nipped and ran anxious circles until she did.”
Dogs continue to impress me and books like this remind me how ignorant we’ve been as a society on the topic of dogs. The back cover of this book says volumes –a golden lab being transported on an aerial rescue basket against a backdrop of 9/11 rescue operations at the World Trade Center. This creates a heart-wrenchingly memorable image. The calm detection dog was trained for this type of situation.
“To see a working dog. To see the beauty and grace And agility that they have, It makes my heart sing”…Wilma Melville, founder, National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.
I can only sit and stare at mine and wonder what they would really rather be doing beyond our silly little games and simple training exercises. Hopefully students reading this, especially those with their own dogs or a strong passion for working with dogs, will consider their options.