Thank You, Alabama

You shouldn’t have to congratulate someone for not electing a fecal blossom like Roy Moore, but considering everything he represents, I can’t help but feeling obliged. This is for you, ’bama.

Loving Loving Vincent

Some films deserve to be seen on the big screen. And when they are literally painted works of art – as is the case with Loving Vincent, the first fully painted animated film – big-screen viewing is a must.

The story of this film is almost as fascinating as the film itself. It looks at Vincent van Gogh’s death, an apparent suicide, from the perspective of those who were involved in his final years. It’s based on the artist’s own letters (he was a prolific letter writer) and the people and places he had made famous through his paintings, the latter providing both the characters and the settings for the film.

Once the filmmakers had come up with the script, they cast and filmed real actors against a blank backdrop, using computer animation to add additional elements. That film was then used as a “model” for the artists, 115 professional oil painters, who used it to meticulously paint an individual 67- by 49-centimeter oil painting for each of the finished film’s 65,000-plus frames.

These artists painted the film in Van Gogh’s trademark style, so it looks as if the legendary Dutch master painted the film himself. In fact, not only do they use the settings and characters he painted, but the film actually features 130 of Van Gogh’s original paintings, many of which even I could recognize.

To ensure continuity, the film’s painters started with a blank canvas for each of the film’s 898 individual shots. Then, following the model film frame by frame, they painted over each of these individual paintings to create each subsequent frame. Of course, they paused long enough to photograph each of these paintings with a 6K digital image before proceeding on to the next.

It took them nearly 800 gallons of paint and around five months to accomplish. And the results are even more impressive than the process. You have never seen anything like Loving Vincent. Visually, its spectacular. A thing of beauty that moved me to tears. And the story itself is equally fascinating, to the point that you forget that you are looking at 12 paintings per second and become engrossed with the life and legacy of one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

Thought of the Day: Altruism

The other day I helped a blind woman cross the street. I didn’t do it for money, thanks, recognition, or out of fear that some deity would punish me if I didn’t. No, I simply did it because someone needed help, and I could provide it. And, man, did it feel good!

Over the years I’ve drank a lot of booze, smoked plenty of dope, and had some really amazing sex, but nothing can compare to the pure joy of helping a fellow human in need. And that is arguably the most important lesson we can learn in life.

A Timeout From Technology

citytreesDuring 2015, I managed to crank out at least one semi-well-conceived post each week for the online glory that is Nipple Monkey. And as you may have noticed, I offered up nothing during the month of January 2016.

I wanted to take a little break. Not necessarily to focus on other things, though that was one of the upsides. I simply took a break for the sake of taking a break, to try something different. And not having that weekly need to feed the digital beast sparked some introspection into my relationship with technology.

The Trouble With Technology
I’m a long-time tech geek, old enough to be considered an early adopter of computers – even before they invented the personal computer. In fact, I was programming back in the 70s. So it’s no surprise that I pounced on the iPhone when it came out in 2007.

The point is that I like gadgets and technology in general. But I find that I often use these sorts of things quite differently from most people I know.

Let’s stick with the smart phone as an example. Have you ever had drinks or dinner with someone who not only leaves their phone on but actually sets it on the table? Worse yet, a phone that constantly chimes or vibrates with a steady stream of alerts?

I liken it to having some obnoxious guy constantly trying to butt into our private conversation. And yet you indulge him on the off chance that he might suddenly say something important? That’s crazy.

If I commit to spending time with you, I want to spend time with you. Not you and literally everyone you know.

That means the people who I’m not spending time with have to wait, because you are my priority. I expect the same in return. It’s as simple as that.

ifoneTechnology For Me,
Not For You

As I frequently tell people, especially those who complain that I don’t always answer my phone, I didn’t buy a mobile device so that they can reach me whenever they want. I don’t carry it around so it’s easier for people to reach me at their convenience, on their timetable, regardless of what I may be doing at that particular moment.

No, I have a smart phone so I can access people and information when it’s most necessary and convenient for me. It’s not for you; it’s for me. You don’t pay the bill for that service; I do.

And I also spend far more time looking up things on Google or accessing maps and other information than I do calling or texting someone to find out what they are doing. Sometimes I think people call or text simply out of boredom, as if they have forgotten how to be alone for a moment. For me, technology is a tool, not some sort of a pacifier.

Technology Teaching About Nature
That’s not to say technology can’t be both a tool and a source of entertainment. For example, I recently watched a documentary on the technological workhorse of the latter half of the 20th century: the television. And it taught me about some of the negative effects that all this technology can have on our health.

I stumbled across a show on the National Geographic channel that talked about the importance of occasionally disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. It was called Explorer: Call of the Wild, and it opened my eyes to a few things worth sharing.

Roughly 5 billion people own cell phones. Only 4.1 billion own toothbrushes. Though I guess one could argue that if you didn’t own a toothbrush, a cell phone is the best way to communicate because no one wants to spend one-on-one time with someone who has poor oral hygiene.

On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And only 10 percent of our teenagers spend time outdoors every day. We’ve retreated not only from nature but from sunlight as well. And it looks like future generations are going to be even less connected with the natural world.

parktreeThe Niceness of Nature
So what’s the big deal? Well, imagine if there were scientific evidence that demonstrated the benefits of nature. There is, in fact, such evidence, and plenty of it.

Being in nature improves creativity by 50 percent. It also reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It can help combat things like depression as well. Researchers even found that some trees give off chemical compounds that boost our body’s natural ability to fight diseases – including diseases like cancer – by as much as 40 percent.

So a walk in the forest – or even a park – can actually make you healthier. But taking that walk with a cell phone, and the mental distraction it causes even when it’s tucked away in your pocket or purse, greatly diminishes the experience and therefore the benefits it provides.

Trees For Technology
As 2016 progresses, I’m still going to try to consistently post material here on Nipple Monkey. Feed the Monkey! And I will continue to be a semi-functional cell phone user. But I’m also going to try to spend at least a little time in a park every day – rain or shine – for the rest of this year. And I will do so with my phone turned completely off. It’s just too beneficial not to.

Don’t live near a park? I live in Manhattan, one of the most densely populated places in the United States, and yet I have three parks within walking distance. But if you genuinely do not, your brain can still derive some benefit from simply looking at images of nature – even on your compuiter. And I suppose you can also watch a video of the wilderness on your cell phone, right?

Christmas Traditions

The innards of one of my finer Christmas balls produced over the years.

My family celebrated Christmas when I was growing up. Today, my family celebrates everything. After all, that’s the Christmas spirit.

But this year’s celebrations are special. It’s been a rough year for many of my friends. And a relative – the last survivor from the old generation – has just passed away.

That won’t dampen our spirit, though. One of the few upsides to tough times is that they help you appreciate what really matters: friends and family. And that has led to an even greater appreciation for the joy of giving this year, so I think it’s going to be a wonderful Christmas for my family.

Our final tray of Christmas cookies. Well, technically I suppose they are chocolates, but whatever.

In fact, this year I decided to pass on one of the family traditions to the next generation. My mother had taught me how to make our family’s secret Christmas balls, a special peanut butter dipped in chocolate cookie that I’ve now been making for the past 20-plus years.

My youngest nephew has always been eager to learn the recipe, and the magic that makes it work, so I had him join me this past weekend to learn the ways of the ball. It’s a two-day process, and things didn’t go exactly as planned. To be fair, we were experimenting with some new chocolate, and it was a learning moment. But I think they turned out okay. They are far from the best I’ve ever produced, but they’re still delicious.

Which, in a way, is kind of like Christmas. Things might not go quite like you planned. You may not get what you wanted, and your gifts might not produce the intended reaction. But it’s still Christmas, when the people nearest and dearest are gathered to give from the heart and stuff their face with chocolate peanut butter balls. And that’s all that really matters.

Happy Holidays!

What’s In Your Wallet?

Cap1ogoI’ve had no qualms about calling out companies that operate like buckets of shit in the hot sun. So it’s only fair that I give praise when praise is due. And Capital One deserves praise.

Before I traveled to South Africa for the World Cup in 2010, I alerted both of my credit card companies about my travel plans. They both thanked me for the heads-up and assured me that my overseas transactions would go smoothly.

I have a Visa card specifically for the World Cup. Visa is a sponsor of the tournament, so they require you to use a Visa card to purchase tickets online (or at least they used to). So I have a Visa, alerted them to my travel plans, and actually tried to use my Visa card in a Visa-branded shop in a stadium at a Visa-sponsored event. I was declined…by Visa.

But I had no problem using my Capital One MasterCard anywhere I traveled in South Africa. Sure, I couldn’t use it at the Visa store in the stadium, but it turns out I couldn’t use my Visa card in the Visa store either.

I recently purchased an Inter Milan soccer jersey from the team’s online store, presumably based in Italy. I used my Capital One MasterCard to make the purchase. They flagged the purchase as unusual, which it was, and declined it.

I awoke the next morning to an email from Capital One informing why it had declined to authorize the transaction and asked if I could – with one simple click – verify that my handful of other recent transactions were valid. I had been making some odd purchases, but they were all legit, so I clicked the button.

A few hours later, less than 12 hours after my initial transaction had been declined, Capital One called me. They called to confirm that they had inadvertently declined the transaction, to apologize to me for that, and to stay on the phone with me while I went ahead and completed my online purchase successfully.

I may not be too happy about the pocket where I put my wallet these days, but I am delighted to have Capital One in my wallet!