Saturday, July 8, 2023

The Nostalgia Channel

Last week I wrote a post on classic movie channels that stopped being classic. Following this post, a friend reminded me of a classic movie channel I had forgotten to include in the post. Of course, in some ways it is little wonder I forgot about it, as The Nostalgia Channel is barely remembered today. It launched on February 1 1985, a mere five months after American Movie Classics.  George "Spanky" McFarland, of "Our Gang" fame," helped launched the channel.

The Nostalgia Channel primarily showed movies from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of the films were in the public domain, and often the prints were in poor condition. Along with feature films, it also showed such movie serials as Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941) and Zorro's Fighting Legion (1939). In between movies The Nostalgia Channel showed vintage newsreels and  retro commercials. Among its regular interstitials were Megaphone Video (short clips from classic musicals) and Nostalgia Radio Theatre (clips of Old Time Radio shows). Among the regular programming was StarClips, which profiled figures from classic movies.

It was in 1990 that Michael E. Marcovsky became the CEO of the Nostalgia Channel. He changed the name to Nostalgia Television, and he also changed the format. While Nostalgia Television still showed classic movies, many of the public domain titles with poor prints were dropped. Among the films shown on Nostalgia Television were such classics as The Red Shoes (1948) and The Lavender Hill Mob (1941). Added to the programming on Nostalgia Television were lifestyle shows and vintage television series.

It was in 1998 that Nostalgia Television was purchased by the Unification Church, which had owned part of the company. Its name was changed to Goodlife TV. By 2005 it was renamed again, this time to American Life TV. Throughout it all, the channel's focus shifted away from classic movies to classic television. Over time it would shift from reruns of older television shows to more recent titles such as Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

It was in 2011 that the channel was rebranded once again, this time to Youtoo TV, with a focus primarily on mobile devices. By this point only a few classic television shows remained on the channel, including Batman, The Green Hornet, and The X-Files. By late 2019 and early 2020, YouToo TV gradually rebranded itself YTA TV, to avoid confusion with YouTube.

YTA TV continues to exist to this day and is a far cry from The Nostalgia Channel. It shows nothing in the way of classic movies or classic television. Instead it shows programming such as Forensic Files, Jack Hana's Into the Wild, Pawn Stars, and Sports Stars of Tomorrow.

As to why The Nostalgia Channel ceased to be solely a classic movie channel and changed its format rather often, it would seem that The Nostalgia Channel/Goodlife TV/American Life TV was not a darling of cable channels and satellite channels. It had one of the absolute lowest carriage fees of any cable channel, but often times cable channels, as well as DirecTV and Dish Network, refused to carry it. This was largely because the cable and satellite services perceived it as lacking quality programming, given much of its programming was consisted of public domain movies and older sitcoms. Indeed, the only time I have ever seen the now forgotten sitcom It's a Great Life (which ran from 1954 to 1956) was on American Life TV. Of course, another reason for the failure of The Nostalgia Channel/Goodlife TV/American Life TV was probably competition with American Movies Classics. Just as AMC would later run afoul of Turner Classic Movies, so too did The Nostalgia Channel run afoul of AMC.

Regardless, I have to disagree with the various cable services and satellite services that claimed The Nostalgia Channel/Goodlife TV/American Life TV lacked quality programming. While they did show public domain movies, often with poor prints, later they would show a good amount of classic television that wasn't even seen on TV Land at the time. And quite frankly, I would rather watch an old, public domain movie with a bad print than anything on TLC any day of the week. The Nostalgia Channel/Goodlife TV/American Life TV may not have shown the sort of classics seen on American Movie Classics, TCM, or METV, but there was an audience for it nonetheless.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Alternatives to Twitter

Last year billionaire Elon Musk acquired Twitter, and almost immediately began making changes to the social media site that proved unpopular with users. The upshot of all this is that several new alternatives to Twitter have emerged, while an older Twitter rival has seen an influx of new users. Here are some of the various alternatives to Twitter currently available.

BlueSky Social:  BlueSky Social is a decentralized social network protocol that includes Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey on its board of directors. At the moment one can only join BlueSky by invite only. While the media has publicized BlueSky a good deal, from what I have read and heard from the few people I know who are on it, BlueSky has had its share of problems. Unless they have made changes in the past few weeks, BlueSky does not have a button to block other users, one of the most basic and desired features in a social media service. I have also read that as of yet they do not have direct messages.

As to content moderation at BlueSky Social, thus far it has been a work in progress. BlueSky recently published a set of Community Guidelines that are set to take effect on July 14 2023. As to the presence of trolls on BlueSky, I have read conflicting accounts. Some claim trolls are unknown there, while others claim they are very common.

Hive Social: The first version of Hive was launched in the Apple App Store in October 2019. It was followed by a beta Android version in November 2022. As of yet, there is no version of Hive Social for the web, which could keep away some users away (I know I prefer to access social media services on my computer, not my phone). The German hacker collective Zerforschung raised concerns about security issues at Hive Social on November 30 2022, in which personal data, private posts, and even deleted direct messages could possibly be accessed through a hack. Hive Social shut down for a time to fix the problems.

Beyond the security issues raised last fall, I really have not heard too much about Hive Social. I do know that it has no character limit on posts, which many might not find desirable in a microblogging site.

Mastodon: Mastodon is the oldster among the Twitter alternatives listed here. It was launched in March 2016. Mastodon is not really one social media service, but a  federated network of self-hosted social media services (the various servers are referred to as "instances"). That is to say, it is decentralized. Mastodon has received its share of criticism for its structure, which some perceive as making moderation difficult. 

I have been on Mastodon since October 2022. Largely because of Mastodon's decentralized nature, I know there have been concerns expressed about its content moderation in the past. That having been said, I have not encountered many trolls since I have been there and I have not seen any major problems as of yet. Of course, here I have to point out that I can really only speak for the instance I am on and the instances my followers are on. There could be Mastodon instances where they do have problems with trolls and so on.

I also have to point out that Mastodon lacks anything similar to "quote tweets," a feature common to other microbloggers. Also, its direct messaging is not truly private, as a Mastodon moderator can read them.

Post: I have to admit that I know very little about Post, also known as It launched in late 2022. Post is open to anyone, but its primary focus is news and the discussion of news. I am not sure, but I do believe that Post can be accessed through the web. They have an app available for IPhones, but as of yet they don't have an Android app. One thing that separates Post from other microblogging services is that journalists and news outlets can post articles that are behind a paywall. That is, users pay to read the article. I am not sure about the various features on Post, but last I heard they did not have direct messaging yet.

Spill: Spill is one of the newest microblogging services, having just launched in June 2023. Spill has two Black founders, namely former Twitter employees Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and DeVaris Brown. In a video interview, Mr. Terrell said of Spill, "We are here to build a place that centres Black folks, queer folks and other marginalized groups, we're not tolerating any hate."

Spill's feed has two tabs. On the left is what is called "Fresh Tea," which consists of trending posts, and on the right is "My Brew," which is posts from people one follows. The one drawback is that currently Spill is only available through Apple, although an Android app is in development. As of yet, it can't be accessed on the web.

Spoutible is one of the microblogging services listed here that I am on and I have already written about it on this blog. Spoutible was launched in February 2023 and founded by Christopher Bouzy, who had earlier founded Bot Sentinel (an analytics service that tracks disinformation, inauthentic behaviour, and harassment on Twitter). Along with Spill, it is a Black owned social media service. Spoutible's focus is on protecting its users, and it relies on the same technology as Bot Sentinel to help fight against disinformation and targeted harassment.

Spoutible resembles Twitter a good deal. It has its equivalent of retweets (called "echoes") and quote tweets (called quote echoes). It has its equivalent of Trends (called "Making Waves") as well. It also has direct messaging. One big difference between Twitter and Spoutible is that there is no feed sorted by algorithm. Its feed is sorted in reverse chronological order. Given how many of us hate feeds sorted by algorithm, this is actually an asset. Another difference between Spoutible and Twitter is that on Spoutible one can edit a spout (as posts are called) up to seven minutes after having posted it. This is very useful in correcting typos. Spoutible is available on the web, and it has apps for both Android and Apple.

I have been on Spoutible since April and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I have not experienced any harassment there and it seems as if trolls are dealt with very swiftly. Proportionately, it seems to me there is more in the way of people of colour on Spoutible. I have actually encountered proportionately more people of Native descent there than on other social media sites. What is more, the users on Spoutible seem much more willing to interact with each other. I have fewer followers on Spoutible than on some social media sites, but I have much more in the way of interaction.

Threads is Meta's new service meant to compete with Twitter. The media has hyped Threads, often referring to it as a "Twitter Killer." I don't think it is anything of a kind. First, Threads is little more than an extension of Instagram. In order to have a Threads account, one must first have an Instagram account. In fact, one's Threads account has the same user name, password, and account name as their Instagram account. Of course, this means that if someone deletes their Threads account, their Instagram account will be deleted as well (or vice versa). I rather suspect most people who do not already have Instagram will not create an account just to use Threads.

Second, like Instagram, one's Threads feed is displayed by algorithm and there is no way to display the feed in reverse chronological order. While Twitter has its own algorithm sorted feed, I know of no one who uses it. Indeed. for those who get their news from social media, a feed sorted by algorithm is useless when it comes to breaking stories. A feed sorted by algorithm is also useless when it comes to live posting movies, TV shows, and events. #TCMParty originated on Twitter and has expanded to other microblogging sites. I can't see it expanding to Threads. Anyway, it would seem that when it comes to microblogging services like Twitter and Mastodon, people prefer their feeds to be displayed in reverse chronological fashion. Indeed, I have to point out that people have been complaining about Instagram's algorithm sorted feed ever since it was introduced in 2016.

Third, to make one's Threads feed even worse, it displays posts from accounts one does not even follow. This happens at times on Instagram with suggested posts, although one can dismiss them for thirty days at a time there. I have not heard this is the case with Threads. Fourth, Threads does not use hashtags, something common to nearly every other microblogging service, from Twitter to Tumblr. This seems a bit strange, given Meta's two major products, Instagram and Facebook (where hashtags are rarely used), do. Fourth, Threads does not have yet other features common to Twitter and other similar social media services. It does not have direct messaging or a web version.

Fifth, there have been privacy concerns with regards to Facebook and Instagram for years. Both social media services are notorious for gathering data on their users. Many people have neither a Facebook account nor an Instagram account for precisely that reason. Even some individuals who already have Facebook or Instagram might not be willing to join Threads out of concerns for privacy. Quite simply, it appears to be even more invasive than either FB or Instagram. The app collects data on one's health and fitness, financial information, browsing history, purchases, contacts, and so on. Indeed, Threads is not currently available in the European Union, in part because it doesn't comply with the EU's regulatons regarding privacy.

Here I have to point out that this is not the first time Meta/Facebook has tried something similar to Twitter. In fact, it is not even the first time they have tried something called "Threads." In 2021 a "Threads" option was introduced on Facebook itself. It operated similar to Twitter threads, in which additional new posts could be linked to an initial post. That version of Threads never took off and was gone by the end of 2021. While millions of people have downloaded the 2023 Threads app, I don't think it will turn out to be the "Twitter Killer" the media seems to think it will be. It is clear that Threads is unsatisfactory for many Twitter users, who will be more likely to try one of the other Twitter alternatives.

It is clear that, at least as long as Elon Musk remains in control of Twitter, that its days are numbered. At the same time, it is also clear that people still want microblogging services like Twitter. It remains to be seen if any one of the emerging Twitter alternatives will dominate the others or if there will be number of alternatives going forward.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Spectrum Choice

Last week I received a piece of mail from Spectrum, who provide both internet and cable television for my house. It let us know that after August 7 2023 our internet speed would be increased to 100 Mbps. That was the good news. The bad news is that our bill would go up slightly and we would be shifted to a new cable package (ours no longer being offered). Furthermore, they would be adding a few channels to our line up and dropping a few as well. Unfortunately, among the channels being dropped from our line up is Turner Classic Movies.

Now I don't know if TCM has been bumped up to a higher tier or if it's not being offered on any of Spectrum's cable packages. Either way it doesn't matter, as we really cannot afford to pay any more for internet and cable television than we already do. Fortunately, it turns out that Turner Classic Movies is still available through Spectrum and, what is more, we can actually reduce our bill almost by half.

Quite simply, being upset at the prospect of losing TCM, I called Spectrum. Their customer service representative (who was very nice) told me about Spectrum's new live streaming service called Spectrum Choice. One automatically receives their local channels and can pick 15 additional channels, of which Turner Classic Movies is one of them. It cost only $29.99 (as opposed to the $59.99 we were paying for our cable package). One can add the premium channels HBO, Starz, Showtime, and The Movie Channel for an additional fee.

Now Spectrum Choice certainly is not for everyone and I can see how some people might not think it is worth it. As for myself,  not having TCM is a deal breaker. It is the one cable channel I must absolutely have. For me, having over 125 channels is not worth it if it means I cannot have Turner Classic Movies. In addition to keeping TCM, it also means we won't be paying for a ton of channels we never watch, such as the various sports channels or Fox "News."

I do have to admit that given recent events it does concern me that Spectrum has either bumped TCM up to a higher tier or done away with it entirely. Now more than ever it seems important that cable companies have Turner Classic Movies available on their lower priced line ups. I realize that as TCM is commercial free that its carriage fees may not be cheap, but I would gladly pay more for fewer channels if one of them is TCM. As it is, I have to think many people here in Randolph County will either switch to Spectrum Choice (effectively doing away with their cable package entirely) or switch to one of Spectrum's competitors (here in Huntsville we have two cable companies to choose from--the other one still has TCM). Regardless, I am just glad I don't have to give up TCM or switch to another cable company to get it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Happy July 4th 2023

I want to wish my fellow Americans a happy 4th of July! Here at A Shroud of Thoughts we celebrate various holidays with vintage pinups. Independence Day is no different, so here is this year's collection of patriotic pinups.

First up is Vera-Ellen, who is ringing in the 4th of July.

And here's Shirley Marlo read to celebrate with fireworks.

Here's Susan Hayward and Virginia Dale enjoying the 4th of July on the beach.

Anne Gwynne is relaxing on a crate of high explosives during World War II.

The lovely and leggy Cyd Charisse looks like she's ready to lead a parade.

And finally, it wouldn't be the 4th of July without Ann Miller!

Monday, July 3, 2023

The Late Great Alan Arkin

Legendary character actor Alan Arkin, who appeared in such films as The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968), Catch-22 (1970), and The In-Laws (1979), died on June 29 2023 at the age of 89.

Alan Arkin was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 26 1934. His father would take him to see foreign films at the Thalia in New York. It was through subtitles that he learned to read. It was in 1945, when Alan Arkin was eleven, that his family moved to Los Angeles. He studied at Los Angeles City College and California State Los Angeles. He received a drama scholarship from Bennington College in Vermont.

Alan Arkin was a talented musician who could play guitar, piano, fife, and vibraphone. He joined the vocal group The Tarriers. The Tarriers had two minor hits with "Cindy, Oh Cindy" (with Vince Martin) and "The Banana Boat Song." They also recorded several albums and appeared in the movie Calypso Heat Wave (1957), marking Alan Arkin's film debut. Alan Arkin toured Europe with The Tarriers from 1957 to 1959.

Alan Arkin moved from music into acting, appearing with a repertory company in the Adirondacks. Afterwards he appeared in off-Broadway production of Abelard and Heloise. Alan Arkin moved to St. Lousi where he performed with the Compass Players  and then joined the comedy troupe Second City in Chicago in 1960. It was through Second City that he made his Broadway debut in 1961, appearing in From the Second City. In the Sixties he appeared on Broadway in Enter Laughing and Luv, and he directed Hail Scrawdyke!. In the Seventies he directed The Sunshine Boys and Molly on Broadway. In the Nineties he directed Taller Than a Dwarf.

Alan Arkin made his film debut as an actor in the comedy short "That's Me" (1963), which was written by him and Andrew Duncan. It received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. His feature film debut was in The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966), in which he played Lt. Rozanov, the political officer of a Russian submarine. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for the role. He was also nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). In the Sixties he also appeared in the movies Woman Times Seven (1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), Inspector Clouseau (1968), Popi (1969), The Monitors (1969), and Catch-22 (1970).

In the Seventies Mr. Arkin appeared in the movies Little Murders (1971), Deadhead Miles (1971), Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972), Freebie and the Bean (1974), Rafferty and the God Dust Twins (1975), Hearts of the West (1975), The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1975), Fire Sale (1977), The In-Laws (1979), The Magician of Lubin (1979), and Simon (1989).

In the Eighties he appeared in the movies Improper Channels (1981), Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (1981), Full Moon High (1981), The Return of Captain Invincible (1983), Joshua Then and Now (1985), Bad Medicine (1985), Big Trouble (1986), Coupe de Ville (1990), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Havana (1990). He was the voice of Schmendrick  in the animated feature The Last Unicorn (2002).

In the Nineties he appeared in the movies The Rocketeer (1991), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Indian Summer (1993), So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993), North (1994), The Jerky Boys (1995), Steal Big Steal Little (1995), Mother Night (1996), Grosse Point Blank (1997), O Que é Isso, Companheiro? (1997), GATTACA (1997), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), Jakob the Liar (1999), and Magicians (2000).

In the Naughts he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). He appeared in the movies America's Sweethearts (2001), Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (2001), Eros (2004), Noel (2004), Firewall (2006), The Novice (2006), The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), Raising Flagg (2006), Rendition (2007), Sunshine Cleaning (2008), Get Smart (2008), Marley & Me (2008), The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), and City Island (2009).

In the Teens Alan Arkin was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Argo (2012). He appeared in the movies The Convincer (2011), The Change-Up (2011), The Muppets (2011), Stand Up Guys (2012), The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013), In Security (2013), Grudge Match (2013), Million Dollar Arm (2014), Love the Coopers (2015), Going in Style (2017), Dumbo (2019), and Spenser (2020). In the 2020s he provided the voice of Wild Knuckles in the animated feature Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022).

Alan Arkin made his television debut on the show East Side/West Side in 1964. In the Sixties he also guest starred on the TV shows ABC Stage 67 and Sesame Street. In the Seventies he made more guest appearances on Sesame Street and also guest starred on Captain Kangaroo, Busting Loose, and Carol Burnett & Company. He appeared in the TV movies It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Guy, The Other Side of Hell, and The Defection of Simas Kurirka.

In the Eighties Alan Arkin guest starred on the TV shows St. Elsewhere, American Playhouse, Faerie Tale Theatre, and A Year in the Life. He starred on the short-lived show Harry. He appeared in the TV movies The Fourth Wise Man, A Deadly Business, Escape from Sobibor, and Necessary Parties. In the Nineties he guest starred on the TV shows Picture Windows and Chicago Hope. He appeared in the TV movies Cooperstown, Taking the Heat, Heck's Way Home, and Blood Money.

In the Naughts Mr. Arkin starred on the short lived show 100 Centre Street. He guest starred on the show Will & Grace. He appeared in the TV movies Varian's War, The Pentagon Papers, and And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself. In the Teens he provided the voice of J.D. Salinger on the animated series BoJack Horseman. He starred on the TV show The Kominsky Method. He guest starred on the show Get Shorty. In the 2020s he continued to appear in The Kominsky Method.

Alan Arkin was simply an incredible actor, one of the greatest character actors of the late Twentieth and early Twenty First Centuries. He was both extremely versatile and extremely prolific, and could play any number of roles. He shined as submarine officer Rozanov in The Russians Are Coming the Russians are Coming. He was impressive in Catch-22 as Captain Yossarian, the burned out and traumatized U.S. Air Force bombardier who wanted out of the war. in The In-Laws he played mild-mannered dentist Shelley Kompett, whose daughter's father-in-law, Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk) turns out to be a CIA agent. In The Rocketeer he was aircraft mechanic Peevy, who figures out how to get a rocket pack to work. Alan Arkin could play villains as well. He played the violent con man Roat in Wait Until Dark. Alan Arkin was so impressive in so many movies, including Freebie and the Bean, Hearts of the West, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Argo, and many others. Few actors were as great as Alan Arkin was.