Nervous Seth Meyers makes Late Night debut with familiar faces, unusual set

Seth Meyers made his Late Night debut on NBC and revealed a visible degree of nervousness at the prospect, a bit of a departure from his confident and sometimes cocky disposition behind the desk at his former gig as host of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. Meyers didn’t have it as easy as Jimmy Fallon, who debuted on the Tonight Show last week with several years of Late Night hosting under his belt. Instead, Meyers comes from an environment in which he told rapid fire jokes with aplomb but had little opportunity to hone his interview skills. Perhaps that’s why he tapped a familiar face, fellow SNL alum Amy Poehler, as his first guest.

Poehler is more than that, of course, as she’s now more known as the star of the sitcom Parks and Recreation. But it was still a safe and familiar choice for the first slot. Meyers then moved on to a second guest who has an even higher profile, but is accustomed to being second banana: Vice President Joe Biden. In non-political environments Biden has a reputation for being informal and self effacing, which gave the host an easy time of it.

But so far Seth Meyers is about I, and probably everyone involved, expected: a great joke teller and monologue deliverer whose interview skills will have to develop in time. The good news for him is that he’ll continue to be fed a large lead in audience thanks to Fallon’s mostly well received debut.

One thing which may have to change quickly is Seth Meyers’ set, which looked bizarre to the point of being almost indescribable. Owen Rubin may have captured it best when he joked that he was “so happy someone has figured out how to use the Stargate SG-1 set.”

The Lego Movie is more than just a fun CGI romp: review

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Seeing a trailer for the Lego Movie, it’s easy to imagine this would be just another fun CGI romp. Most recent jaunts by Disney, for example, have the same basic skeleton but lack the originality of earlier entrees such as Toy Story, Wall-E and Up and DreamWorks seems to create films for kids from one basic recipe: take bumbling idiot, give him the chance to be heroic and triumph against all odds. The LEGO Movie, however, takes many of these basic conventions and stands them on their head.

The style of animation, although all done on computers, makes one think of the old-school Rankin-Bass-Rankin stop motion style but on steroids. The all-LEGO design, even visualizing flowing water and fire all through LEGO pieces, is pretty stunning. The final brick in the wall, however, is the sophisticated humor the film is imbued with. It’s a wonderful thing when you and your kids can laugh together and not spend a moment bored. The comedy styling is surprisingly somewhere between 70’s era Saturday Night Live and Family Guy.

The story centers around an average Joe construction worker named Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt). Emmet is a fellow who lives an existence governed by exact routines from what time he gets up every day to the shows he watches on television to what he eats to even how he interacts with people. He is the ultimate proletariat, content in living an existence without challenge and finding great joy in knowing his place in the world.

He is found by a Lego character looking like a graffiti artist from the 80’s named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who thinks he is the Master Builder, a Jedi-type character who has been prophesied as the one who will overthrow President Business (Will Ferrell). President Business rules their LEGO nation benevolently on the surface. However, he who in private quarters calls himself Lord Business (a Darth Vader-ish alter ego) plans on unleashing a scheme to enslave everyone in the LEGO universe…a plan that will unfold on Taco Tuesday.

Emmet and Wyldstyle endeavor to prevent this from happening, aided by the wizard who had the prophesy of Emmet’s destiny, Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman, who surprises with his comic delivery), Wyldstyle’s boyfriend Batman (Will Arnett), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Superman (Channing Tatum) and even Abraham Lincoln (Orville Forte).

The story on the surface is a good old fashioned good versus evil tale – however, it surprisingly veers off the path to reveal its true heart as an examination of the importance of individuality and being creative and unique and unafraid of challenging the status quo. For a film from one of the biggest movie studies in the world it is surprisingly anti-corporate and pro-individualist, insidiously packaged as a fun movie for the whole family. The one downside of this film is that the theme song, “Everything is Awesome,” will be guaranteed to stay in your head for days afterward.

Interview: books to podcasts, “Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty sets the English language straight

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She’s popularly known as Grammar Girl and she’s appeared on television shows ranging from Oprah to CNN in the name of setting the record straight on proper grammar and usage. Mignon Fogarty has managed to simultaneously get her message across through new media avenues such as podcasting and through traditional print books. She talks with Stabley Times about the career path which ultimately led her toward giving grammar tips for a living, how her television appearances have impacted her professional efforts, and whether or not you have to be afraid of incurring her wrath if you speak to her using less than perfect grammar.

“When I was a science writer,” she says, “I also did a lot of editing work for scientists, and I saw my clients making the same mistakes over and over again – little things, such as using ‘which’ when they should use ‘that’ or misusing a semicolon. I was already doing a long science podcast as a hobby, and I decided to also do a quick, simpler writing podcast because I saw that there were so many people who needed writing tips.”

That motivated her to launch a podcast in 2006, in the early days of the medium. “Much to my surprise, the Grammar Girl podcast took off right away and essentially took over my life. I worked like crazy for about six months trying to do both Grammar Girl and the science writing and editing, since that work paid my bills, and when I finally got my book deal, I was able to switch to Grammar Girl full time.”

That success caused her podcasting efforts to multiply. “I firmly believe in the power of a network and cross-promotion,” she says of her Quick and Dirty Tips podcasting network. “When Grammar Girl became such a huge hit, I realized I was on to something with the short, in-and-out format. I had tried to join some of the existing podcasting networks at the time, and it didn’t work out, so I decided the only way it was going to work is if I made my own network. (When I was a kid, my favorite book was “If I Ran the Zoo” by Dr. Seuss.) Adam Lowe, who had been my co-host for the science podcast started doing a manners podcast for the network, and I signed on a few other friends to do shows. When it got to five or six shows it was becoming too big for me to handle alone, and my publisher, Macmillan, was interested in partnering, so we did. At first it was a more limited partnership, but it’s grown over time and now we have 16 shows and they handle all the day-to-day operations. A few years ago, I had to decide whether I wanted to be a business executive or Grammar Girl, and it made more sense for me to be Grammar Girl.”

Before long, traditional media outlets from Oprah to CNN began using her as a grammar expert. “I saw big spikes in Web traffic from both of those media hits,” she says. “When I was profiled on CNN, I didn’t have any books out, but when I was on Oprah, I had a one-hour audiobook out. It did have a nice sales spike, but it wasn’t the kind of spectacular thing you might imagine because they didn’t mention the book at all. I was a guest on NPR’s ‘Talk of the Nation’ when 101 Misused Words came out, and I think that created the biggest sales spike I’ve seen for books. 

“Some of the Oprah traffic was interesting though. It caused a much bigger increase in Web traffic than in podcast traffic, but it was definitely a spike, not an immediate boost up to a new, higher level of daily traffic. The show airs in other countries later, so every once in a while we’d see an unexpected traffic spike, and then I’d get a bunch of e-mail messages from people in Indonesia or Australia or some other country and we’d know that it had aired there.  I was very lucky that the show aired in the US as a rerun the week after my first print book came out. Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing had made the New York Times extended best-seller list on its own (that’s the list that only shows up on their website), but the next week, after the Oprah rerun aired, the book moved a few notches up to the printed best-seller list.”

Mignon says that her trademark name Grammar Girl was something that “just popped into my head and I knew it was perfect right away. I can’t say a lot of thought went into it at the time, but in retrospect, I believe it works because of the alliteration and because ‘girl’ is a nonthreatening word. People have a lot of anxiety about writing, and a lot of the grammar advice out there is delivered in a snarky or superior way. Being Grammar Girl sends the message that I’m friendly and approachable.”

But those who might be afraid to open their mouth around Grammar Girl for fear of having their grammar corrected need not worry. “I never correct people’s grammar unless they ask me to,” she explains. “I think it’s rude. However, I know a lot of people want to correct other people, so my advice is if you can’t stop yourself from doing it, at least be kind and polite. And for heaven’s sake be sure you’re right before you correct someone! You wouldn’t believe the number of people who try to correct me, and all they’d have to do is look in a dictionary or style guide to see that they are wrong. In fact, the reason I was on the Oprah Winfrey Show is that someone rudely corrected Oprah, when Oprah wasn’t wrong. They had me on the show to tell that poor woman she was wrong on international TV.

Her participation in multiple forms of media is about to expand again, this time into the world of the App Store. “I’m working on an iPad word-matching game called Grammar Pop,” she reveals. “I’m hoping it will be on sale by April or May, and I’m dying for it to be released! I adore it. We did a big round of beta testing and people in general really liked it, and grade school and middle school teachers seemed to love it. It’s a fun word game on its own, but it can also be a great tool to help kids to learn the parts of speech. I’m not committed to any one platform like podcasting or the Web or social media. Not to say that I’m going to stop those things, but I’m always looking for new ways to make learning fun. If Grammar Pop does well, I’m sure I’ll make more games, and this one will be out quickly for more devices. Learn more about Grammar Girl. photo credit: Dana Nollsch

Flappy Bird deleted, but still online via APK, eBay, Flappy Bert

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The creator of Flappy Bird has followed through on his stated intention to pull the highly popular game from App Stores, still offering no solid explanation but making clear that he wasn’t bluffing. Whether he adds the app back in the coming days and this all turns out to have been a stunt to boost the game’s popularity, or whether we really have seen the last of Flappy Bird for good, those who are missing the craze have taken to various parts of the internet to try to get their fix – or to try to cash in on it. That includes would-be developers scouring the web to try to find the APK, and those who are outright selling their phones on eBay with Flappy Bird already on it.

eBay auctions of iPhones with Flappy Bird preinstalled are being listed for as much as a thousand dollars, but it’s difficult to determine whether they’d really sell for that much because the auction site has been removing such listings as soon as it finds them; it’s technically illegal to resell a software app you’ve purchased. Those chasing down the APK for Flappy Bird may find more success if they can use it to engineer their own versions of the app. It’s not yet clear whether the creator of the app will attempt to legally block others from expanding on his work.

The only thing that Mr. Flappy Bird has made clear is that there were no legal ramifications involved in his decision to shutter the app. That would seem to shoot down the notion that he may have faced legal threats from Angry Birds over the similar name, or from Nintendo over any perceived visual similarities to Super Mario Brothers. But will he go after anyone who tries to launch their own Flappy Bird take-off? If so he might have to take on Sesame Street, which has offered up its own “Flappy Bert” game for free.

Almost Human, cancelled or renewed by FOX, targets Perception ratings

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Almost Human, the future based sci-fi television show focused on curmudgeonly detective John Kennex and his robotic partner Dorian, is pushing onward with its first season by airing a new episode titled Perception – throwing caution to the wind about whether it’s about to be cancelled or renewed by the FOX Network. The latest episode reveals a number of new facets about the future in which Almost Human takes place. Kennex is popping pills to try to enhance his memory of the attack in which his then-girlfriend apparently betrayed him, even as school kids are popping pills to try to expand their, ahem, perception of the world. There are genetically enhanced children who are smarter than everyone else, and Minka Kelly’s detective character is one of them.

It’s the first time we’ve learned much of anything about her, as she’s mostly been in the background thus far. It’s not clear whether this is a retroactive modification to her character or whether, as series creator J.H. Wyatt became so adept at doing while he was helping Fringe, the clues as to her genetic superiority were subtly there all along and intended for us to miss them so we’d kick ourselves later. There wasn’t a word about the mysterious Wall, first introduced last episode, which appears to separate civilized society from some kind of criminal wasteland, or what John Larroquette’s character has been up to since he climbed over to the ugly side of it. But nonetheless the mythology behind Almost Human is finally coming into focus, and wherever it’s headed, it’s certainly more than just a police procedural with a robot. And that leaves FOX with an interesting choice.

Ratings for Almost Human have been middling overall, but have been climbing of late to the point that they should be enough to secure a full first season order of episodes. However FOX has yet to many any such announcement, leaving open the possibility that it could kill the show off after its initial batch of episodes airs, which is coming up rather quickly. That puts tremendous ratings pressure on the next few episodes, with the ratings for Perception under particular scrutiny. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence that Almost Human is finally pulling out more of the stops when it comes to what mysteries lie inside its fictional near term future, but the timing for it is almost perfect.

iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C: price, features, colors, speed: which one is for you?

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iPhone 5S or iPhone 5C? Depends on you. The $199 iPhone 5S is the better product, but budget-wise the $99 iPhone 5C is the more sensible buy for most users. The 5C isn’t as fast as the 5S, but it’s plenty fast in its own right. It’s not as thin, but it’s plenty thin. It’s not as durable, but it’s plenty durable. The fingerprint sensor is cool but not essential. And so on. The 5S is the Mercedes. The 5C is the Toyota, at half the price of the Mercedes. Either one will do most users just fine, with plenty of creature comforts.

Users like me who push the the limits of what our smartphones can do for work purposes and need every bit extra that the 5S can offer, along with the relatively few people who actually need the top-end 64GB of storage capacity, are the exception.

If you’re a typical user on a typical budget, the only real argument I can make for the more expensive iPhone 5S is that a year from now you’ll be wanting to install iOS 8 on it, which will be designed for the even faster iPhone 6, and so it’s possible the 5S may run iOS 8 and its cool new features more smoothly than the 5C will. But that’s a big if, and it’s a year from now, so if you’re on any kind of budget it’s hard me to tell you to spend an extra $100 now on that future possibility alone.

It’s fascinating that the iPhone 5S is so far outselling the iPhone 5C. It could be that people are going in planning to buy the 5C and then upselling themselves to the 5S based on cool factor alone. Or it could be that the power users and early adopters eyeing the 5S are more likely to stand in line and buy right away, while the mainstream casual buyers eyeing the 5C are in less of a hurry and the sales numbers will reverse themselves later on. Not sure yet.

Apple does still offer the iPhone 4S for free with contract, and while it was the best phone in the world when it was introduced in 2011, it’s not advisable to buy one now. Apps and software features are more powerful and demanding now, and the 4S struggles a bit to keep up. Far more sensible to buy the $99 iPhone 5C and have a product that’s several times more powerful. Consider that you pay your cellphone carriers somewhere near $99 every month just to use the thing, so there’s no sense going cheap with the 4S and screwing yourself out of the functionality you’re paying to use each month.

That said, the iPhone 5C is the sweet spot of the lineup for most users. My only personal distaste for it is that I don’t love any of the five color shades they’ve chosen (I want red not reddish-orangeish-pink, or blue not neon blue), but that’s just me – and no one has ever accused me of having any sense of color coordination anyway icon smile iPhone 5S vs iPhone 5C: price, features, colors, speed: which one is for you?

Erased from history: Martin Luther King’s forgotten economic rights campaign

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Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the more revered American figures of the twentieth century, as today’s national holiday bearing his name demonstrates. And his fight for racial equality is documented imn perhaps no better way than the fact that a half-black man is the President of the United States, a feat which would not have been possible in King’s era. But amongst the tidal wave of remembrance today for King’s racial efforts, you’ll hear not a peep about his other civil rights crusade. Late in his life, after King had already become the face of black civil rights, he started something called the Poor People’s Campaign. The idea was to unify low income Americans of all races so they could collectively fight for economic civil rights by using the same principles of nonviolent protest which had worked for him in his civil rights campaigns. Despite the high profile he gave the Poor People’s Campaign, the high stakes demands he made of the government on the campaign’s behalf, and the striking similarities between it and today’s Occupy movement, it’s a chapter of the Martin Luther King story which has simply been erased from most history books. Various theories have been floated as to how, and why, this vanishing act occurred…

Although King began planning the Poor People’s Campaign internally among his allies in 1967, it didn’t become a high profile public movement until early 1968. In fact he was in the midst of organizing a march on Washington, DC at the time of his assassination in April of that year. His planned march had reportedly been feared not only by conservatives like the then-Presidential hopeful Richard Nixon, but also by some of King’s own civil rights allies including then-President Lyndon Johnson. After King’s death, his group pushed onward with the movement but it ultimately lost steam without his leadership…

The close proximity of the Poor People’s Campaign to King’s assassination has led some to conclude that the planned march was simply overshadowed by his shocking death and therefore forgotten. Others have suggested that the campaign was lost to history simply because it failed to achieve any of its goals, in contrast to King’s racial equality efforts which ultimately led to fundamental societal change. But there’s another, darker view which says that any record of the fight for economic equality went away because the wealthy and powerful wanted it to. After all, granting civil rights to minorities such as voting and the right to sit in the front of the bus didn’t cost wealthy white people any of their money (see South Africa, whose white population granted the black majority civil rights out of fear that the worldwide boycott might cost them too much of their precious money). But economic equality makes it more difficult for the rich to get even richer. And so while every history book accurately celebrates Martin Luther King for the progress he made on civil rights, those same books seem to go out of their way to avoid educating anyone about his fight for economic rights, as if to try to keep future generations from getting any funny ideas about wanting economic rights of their own. And if the idea that the rich and powerful would erase a vital chapter of a celebrated historical figure’s life just to protect their money, take a look at the extent to which modern day media have gone to try to pretend that millions of Americans haven’t been participating in the economic rights based Occupy movement over the past two years. If King were still alive he’d be 84 years old. And he wouldn’t merely be supporting the Occupy movement; he’d be leading it. After all, he started the Occupy movement while he was still alive.

Interview: model-actress-singer Alexandra Ackerman on her colorful life in New York City

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Whether or not you know her name, you’ve likely heard her voice on popular television commercials or seen her face on the cover of romance novels. Alexandra Ackerman is a model, actress, and singer who found success working her way through the entertainment industry in Hollywood but ultimately bolted for New York City because it’s “where the musical theater is.” She talks with Stabley Times about how and why she first set her sights on the industry, how things have changed now that she’s on the east coast, where her gigs come from, and why she does what she does.

There is no typical day in the life of an actress. “If I am rehearsing a project,” she says, “I still audition during the day and rehearse at night. Filming takes more time and the days are much longer so that doesn’t happen.” So what gets her through the most grueling of workdays? “Coffee,” she admits. But the hard work merely comes with the territory for someone who has wanted to be an actress more or less literally since birth.

“I was born in Los Angeles and my birth announcement said ‘A Star is born,’” she recalls. “How ironic? Acting and singing is in my blood. I have always wanted to act and sing. The only other three professions that were on my list as a child were ballerina, artist, and veterinarian. As I got older I realized I despised ballet, I realized you had to see animals hurt as a vet and I couldn’t handle that, and I still love drawing and painting but as a hobby. Acting and singing was always my number one desire.”

However, those ambitions were reined in during her youth. “There is a home video where I am about nine years old and I say to my father, ‘Daddy I want to be an actress!’ He answers uh huh, like that is not happening while I can prevent it. My parents were realistic about the biz. They told me when I am 18 and out of the house I can go for it. They wouldn’t get me an agent when I was a child. I guess looking back that may have been a good thing considering the history of child stars, but i was very upset and just wanted to be taken to auditions especially for the musical Les Miserables. My parents did recommend me to a performing arts high school, which honestly was not the best experience, but it did teach me how to balance.” While the acting bug was there from the start, she says the modeling gigs “just happened.”

The move across country has turned out to be an exchange of one kind of urban chaos for another. “When I was in Los Angeles, I would sometime have four auditions a day all over town and driving to each was something else! Between my self submitting and my agents submitting me, it was pretty stressful to drive all over town. I would have multiple outfits in my car and shoes. Some days I’d be going for a super sexy role then a musical ingenue, very different roles and very different attire required,” she explains. Traversing the public transport of New York City has been even more of a challenge because “I am a bag lady. I carry it all with me.”

Although she admits that her trek eastward was solely for career reasons, she’s taken a liking to the Big Apple. “After being in New York City for almost two years now, I really love it for its diversity and pace. I am really just loving living in a new city that provides so much stimulation for me on all levels. California weather is perfect and the lifestyle is easier, but New York has really enchanted me.”

Despite not having anything specific lined up when she arrived in town, persistence quickly paid off. “I was auditioning a lot and landed a national voiceover commercial for Herbal Essences and a few other television gigs. I did an off off Broadway musical revue and an original musical tour that educates children. I love kids and I love working on projects that inspire children. I also have an upcoming webseries with distribution where I play a former russian model. My background is Russian, Polish and Hungarian, and here in New York I’m cast with a Russian accent a lot.”

Alexandra is also involved in a new genre called therapeutic theater, in the form of a production called Let The Phoenix Rise. “I was put through an intense two week workshop to play the complex role of a young woman who overcomes sexual abuse and drug addiction. The workshop was life changing as an actress and individual.” The show’s mission is to reach out to women and let them know they have options.

“It’s pretty funny,” she says of seeing her own face on the cover of romance novels. “I have a read a few and it’s fun.”

She’s also recently set her sights on the music industry, having penned her first song, which she’s about to record. “I did not ever really want to be a singer songwriter, but i am really enjoying it. We will see where it goes. It is at least a great creative outlet for me.” So why chase so many aspects of the entertainment industry all at once? “I just love working,” she says. “I love being creative. I love sharing with audiences. It is such a joy for me and it excites me.” Learn more: alexandraackerman.comFacebook

Seattle resident battling cancer makes plea to drive Knight Rider car

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Erik Hanway is facing twenty-five rounds of chemotherapy to treat his stage four colon cancer, but his mind is on more fanciful topics. For one, his wife Anna is set to give birth to their second child later this year. And while the Make A Wish program is reserved for kids with cancer and not expecting parents with cancer, Erik has a wish of his own which makes him very much a kid at heart: he wants to “go for a spin” in the KITT super-car from Knight Rider.

Hanway is facing medical bills in the six figures, and his family and friends are holding auctions and fundraiser parties to help cover the costs. But his dream of driving KITT may require outside help. The fictional television show starring David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight went off the air a generation ago. A total of three black T-top Pontiac Trans Am cars were used in the role of KITT. Those cars come up for sale now and then, but currently appear to all be in unknown private hands.

“Erik is sunshine in Seattle,” says rock singer Sheila Swift, who has taken up the cause and has begun reaching out to her contacts in the entertainment industry in the hopes of putting Hanway behind the wheel of the Knight Rider car. “He can light up any room, even on the dreariest of days. Erik’s cancer has blindsided them in many ways and has their family into an emotional, physical, and financial tailspin. I could not think of more deserving people to support in their fight to literally save their lives.”

Captain America comes out in favor of gay marriage

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Chris Evans, the actor best known for playing Captain America in The Avengers and Captain America: The First Avenger, has made clear where he stands on gay marriage: “Are you kidding me?” he asks. “It’s insane that civil rights are being denied people in this day and age. It’s embarrassing, and it’s heartbreaking. It goes without saying that I’m completely in support of gay marriage…”

Evans, also known for playing Johnny Storm AKA Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movie franchise, is straight. But his brother Scott Evans is openly homosexual, perhaps prompting Chris to be so outspoken on the matter. He goes on to predict that “In ten years we’ll be ashamed that this was an issue.” Civil rights for the LGBT community has been a front burner issue for years, but was pushed front and center when President Barack Obama emphasized the matter in his Second Inaugural Address earlier this week…

Those looking forward to seeing Chris Evans in action again as the man-out-of-his-own-time superhero Captain America will have to wait a bit. The second Captain America movie, entitled The Winter Soldier, is scheduled for a 2014, while Avengers 2 is expected in 2015.