Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thank You Google! (And Happy Birthday Amelia Earhart)

...or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Stats Page

I woke up to a bit of a surprise this morning.  First off, I had no idea that today (July 24, 2012) was Amelia Earhart's 115th birthday.  Second, I had no idea that that fact would have a huge and unexpected effect on my blog.  Let me explain...

Now I realize that this is going to be another blog entry about some pretty dry information, but once again I feel the need to report.  Hopefully it will be of some interest to someone other than myself, but if not then so be it.

Earlier this month I wrote a blog (Amelia Earhart--75 Years Later) about Amelia Earhart commemorating the 75th anniversary of her disappearance while attempting a flight around the world in 1937.  That post also talked about an upcoming expedition that was about to embark on a search for the wreckage of Amelia's plane.  Unfortunately (but not surprisingly) that search came up empty--as they usually do.

Around the same time I also wrote the very bland blog entry 2012 State of the Blog Address, which chronicled some of what went on behind-the-scenes at Monster Dad during the past year.  One of those things was my discovery of (and obsession with) the statistics portion of the blog.  Before then I didn't realize you could see and track all kinds of stats associated with Monster Dad--things like page views and traffic sources over the past day, week, month and all-time.

Monster Dad has never been much of an internet sensation, and I can't really say that I expected it to be one when I started it.  As mentioned in the State of the blog address I mostly see it as a place for me to write about things that I'm interested in.  Those things may or may not be seen by others, but at least they're out there in the blogosphere.

Well, a funny thing happened recently as I started to notice the numbers in the stats gradually increasing.  It seems like the longer Monster Dad's "stuff" is out there the more likely it is to show up in a Google search.  Recent blogs about The Titanic, Men in Black 3, The Incredible Hulk and Friday the 13th have gotten pretty impressive (by Monster Dad standards at least) hits at times when they were likely to be looked for in search engines like Google.com.  Up until now one of Monster Dad's biggest days ever occurred back on July 12th when the January blog Friday the 13th Part 2 caused a spike in page views from the normal average of around 200 to a then stunning total of 712.  Of course this was caused by people doing Google searches about Friday the 13th (which fell on the next day) rather than some sudden realization by the general public that Monster Dad is required reading.  I was happy to accept those numbers to make my stats look a little more respectable.  I know Monster Dad will never become a real big-time blog, but it's nice to think that even a modest number of people around the world are seeing your output.

I was okay with the fact that the numbers reverted to their normal pace after that July 12th spike, just as it had done after some of the other recent flurries of viewing activity.  I was also wondering if something else might become a "hit" in the future.  Well, it came as a bit of a surprise to log in this morning and see an obscene (once again, by Monster Dad standards) number of page views for the day.  Amelia Earhart: 75 Years Later was written on the day of the anniversary of her disappearance so I knew that it wouldn't become active on Google for at least a few days afterward.  It generated a few hits here and there, but nothing impressive--not until today anyway.

Today's Google Doodle

Like I mentioned above, I didn't realize that today is Amelia Earhart's birthday.  In honor of that occasion, Google has put up one of their Google Doodles which shows Amelia in front of her plane with the word "GOOGLE" written on the bottom of the wings.  When you click on a Google Doodle you get search results for whatever the subject of that particular Doodle is.  Apparently my Amelia Earhart blog registered somewhere in that search (though I wasn't able to find it myself while browsing the first few pages of results).  As of this morning the post has received over 8,700 views!  To put that in perspective, I have been averaging somewhere around 4,000-5,000 page views per month for the blog.  Thanks to the Men in Black and Incredible Hulk posts May had been the most successful month ever by far with 11,812 views for the entire month.  This morning's views have boosted this month's total to almost 15,000.  And there's still around nine hours left before today's stat window ends.  I'll update this post with the total number when it comes in.

This week's stats, including the Amelia Earhart oddity
Note the small bump in center was the previous daily all-time high of 712 views

So, to sum up, Amelia Earhart would have turned 115 today if she were still alive, the most recent search for her plane ended up not finding anything, and Amelia helped Monster Dad reach unheard of (for Monster Dad) numbers of page views.  Now you can return to your regularly scheduled day.  Thank you Amelia and thank you Google.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Worcester Movies on the Common 2012: Raiders of the Lost Ark

The evening of June 21st marked the start of the 2012 season of Movies on the Common in Worcester, MA.  This series is put on by the group Worcester Film Works.  The movie featured that night was "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and was preceded by two musical acts, James Keyes and The Luxury.  As I wrote in 2012 Worcester Movies on the Common, I was planning on going to the show, but wasn't sure when I'd get there or whether either of my Little Monsters would be joining me.  It turned out that I wasn't able to arrive at the Worcester common until around 7:30, but The Little Monster did indeed accompany me for a little quality father-daughter time.  Here's what night one was like...

The show started ("doors opened") at 5:00.  Because we didn't arrive until 7:30 we completely missed the set by James Keyes, so I can't say anything about that one.  By the time we settled in we only got to see the last half-hour or so of The Luxury's set.  They are a rockin' band though and I would have liked to have heard more.  It's tough to perform at a show like this and play original tunes.  Cover tunes of stuff that people are familiar with tends to go over better (even if it's of less artistic integrity) with a random audience that's mainly there to watch a movie.  The Luxury played bits of some covers (and sounded good in doing so), but mainly played their own material--and that sounded very good as well.  I'm not familiar with the band and have never heard anything by them previously, so I went into it with fresh ears and liked what I heard.

The Luxury performs on the Worcester Common before the movie

I have to point out that the musical part of these shows is a major plus.  The whole point of the show is to see a movie on the big screen outside during the summer for free (it is called Movies on the Common after all).  You certainly get that, but there's so much more too.  Last year the first musical act didn't appear until the second show and by the third show there were two acts.  This year the schedule included two acts before each of the three shows.  It really is tough to beat this program for free summer entertainment!

Back to the show.  After The Luxury finished up the stage was transformed into a movie screen while the band packed up.  A member of Worcester Film Works let the growing crowd know that the movie would start up once it got dark enough.

From stage...

...To screen

With a break in the action it was time to check out what else there was to see around the Common.  The Little Monster was ready for some ice cream so our first stop was the Sweet Sister truck for a Pink Panther ice cream bar.

Vendors lining one of the Common's walkways

The Sweet Sister Ice Cream truck

Decisions, decisions...

A happy Little Monster!

Next we stopped at The Theatre Cafe's table and I got one of their tasty pulled pork sandwiches for myself.  Both of these vendors were present at last year's shows, but because of ongoing construction were set up on the opposite side of the Common this time.

Tables for The Theatre Cafe and That's Entertainment

Worcester Film Works had their own table set up as usual of course.  And probably the most exciting news of the night was that WFW's popcorn machine was actually working!  Last year they had a popcorn machine at each of the three shows, but it became a bit of an unintentional running joke because it failed to work at all of them!  It was a pretty big deal to see them selling popcorn that was actually popped in the machine on this night.  They had small bags available for a dollar and big buckets for three dollars.  Of course I HAD to get one of the buckets to celebrate the fact that the machine actually worked.

Worcester Film Works' table

Admiring the poster for the Movies on the Common series

Freshly popped popcorn! (at last!)

There was one new vendor set up at this show too--Worcester comic book store That's Entertainment (aka That's E!).  Actually, calling That's Entertainment a comic book store is selling them short.  A better description would be the one that they use--it's a "Pop Culture Emporium".  They had a selection of Worcester T-shirts for sale and also had a box of free comic books!  I got a copy of The Walking Dead and The Little Monster got an issue of Archie Comics.  We returned to our seats to eat ice cream and pulled pork and browse through our comics while waiting for "Raiders of the Last Ark" to start.

Ice Cream!

Pulled pork and free comic books, a great combo!

The Little Monster reads Archie while waiting for the film to start

Because this show was put on during some of the longest days of the year it wasn't until about 9:00 that it got dark enough to start the movie.  Film buffs might be a bit disappointed to learn that these movies are projected off of DVDs rather than being true film presentations.  It's hard to complain though when you remember that you're getting this wonderful outdoor entertainment for free!

Darkness (gradually) falls on Worcester Common

Firing up the DVD projector
And it's Showtime at last!

There's actually not too much to say about "Raiders of the Lost Ark".  It's obviously a great, classic film that speaks for itself.  The Little Monster hadn't seen it before, so it was new to her.  There are obviously a few questionable parts for a six-year-old, but she took most of it in stride.  I was a bit impressed that she (mostly) stayed awake right through the movie, which didn't end until about 11:00.  Interestingly enough, she tried to tell me that she fell asleep and missed the climatic Ark-opening-nazi-melting scene, but the fact that she knew what it was that she "missed" made it obvious that she had indeed seen it.  Nearly a month later I feel confident that she wasn't emotionally scarred by the experience.  She hasn't reported any nightmares or sleepless nights inspired by the movie.  I do think she was a tad young to really get everything in "Raiders", but am glad that she was able to accompany me on what turned out to be another wonderful night on the Worcester common.  The crowd was estimated at 375.  That's not bad at all--especially considering that Worcester was in the midst of a heat wave at the time, and sitting outside to watch a movie wasn't as enticing an idea as it normally would be without the oppressive heat.

The second show in the Movies on the Common series is rapidly approaching.  On Thursday July 19th the film shown on the Common will be "Jaws" (1975), another Steven Spielberg classic and one of the very first true "Summer Blockbusters".  Starting at 5:00 the bands IzaJane and Heavy Horses will open the show.  As usual, in the case of inclement weather the show will be postponed until the following Thursday, the 26th.  I personally didn't see "Jaws" for the first time until it appeared on TV in the early 1980s, and even though I was almost a teenager by then I remember being terrified by the film.  Because of this I'm going to go to this one alone.  I'm pretty sure that The Little Monster isn't quite ready for "Jaws".  We're going camping at the beach in Connecticut this weekend and I can just imagine her being petrified by the thought of going into the ocean and encountering a great white shark.  It doesn't help that over the past couple of weeks there have actually been numerous shark sightings off of New England beaches--including great whites.  Hopefully I'll be able to get up the nerve to step into the ocean myself after watching "Jaws" on the common.  We shall see...

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to The Common!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

My Humble "Contributions" to IMDb

I'm of an age that I grew up before the online revolution of the past couple of decades.  Kids growing up now have no idea that there was a time when they couldn't go online and find the answers to their questions (and homework problems) with a few mouse clicks.  I suppose this might give me a greater appreciation for this incredible convenience that I couldn't have imagined when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.  It really is a different world and I don't want to get too deep into whether it's a good or bad thing.

But I will say that I don't know what I'd do without a handful of websites that I have come to really depend on for information that I need for my blog writing or to simply answer a nagging question that's running around in my head.  I don't really do a lot of true "surfing", but do end up at relevant websites outside of my little circle of preferred internet sites when they come up in search results.

The first and most important source of information for me on pretty much anything in the world from song lyrics to answers to those unanswerable children's questions form The Little Monster is definitely Google.  When I first heard of Google I didn't know what to think of it, but now I can't imagine living without it.  It's been absolutely invaluable for me.  I know that Google is now an online empire that includes e-mail (G-Mail), social networking and gobbling up smaller websites and companies, but it will always be a dependable search engine first and foremost to me.  I also know that there are other search engines out there that I could try out to see which one fits my needs best--but Google has always answered my questions reliably.  If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Wikipedia has also been an important source of information mining for me.  Unlike Google I never actually go to Wikipedia for information.  It just so happens that almost anytime I make an inquiry on google a Wikipedia link is always at or near the top of the results.  I do know that Wikipedia is made up of content from users so I always remember to take information I find there with a grain of salt and try to do further research to confirm what I find there (take note of that students of the 21st century who get their info from Wikipedia).  As a race we humans tend to believe what we hear or read.  It's very easy to read something in Wikipedia and automatically take it for fact.  Unlike back in the days when people actually had to open an encyclopedia (in paper format, not inline) to look up reliable, well-researched information, people really need to stifle their instinct to believe it simply because we read it (and that includes myself as well).

I also find a lot of information in video form on YouTube.  YouTube is a great place to waste many hours of the day watching all kinds of meaningless "stuff" about various topics.  It seems like you can find almost anything on YouTube if you look hard enough and I've been amazed to find some very specialized and unexpected things there--like old clips from the Boston-area television stations I grew up watching in the days before cable and VCRs were ubiquitous.

I use a few other sites regularly (Yahoo! Mail, eBay, Facebook, Netflix...), but there's really only one more site that I regularly consult when trying to find information for blogs (or other things).  That site is the Internet Movie Database, or more simply and familiarly IMDb.  All these sites have given me invaluable information that I wouldn't have had any way to find twenty years ago or so.  While Wikipedia, "The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", is of questionable reliability in many cases, IMDb tends to be a bit more authoritative when it comes to information about movies, television and the people who are behind both.  But it is possible to submit new or revised information to the site when you think something is missing or incorrect.  I can only imagine the constant flood of information they receive from people who "just know" that something found on IMDb is wrong because they remember it differently.  IMDb will accept edits and then research them themselves before adding the now or revised information to the site.  I don't know how their fact-checking process works, but feel pretty confident that it's reliable.

I had a friend who swore that something on IMDb was incorrect.  He remembered seeing a TV movie in the early 1980s that IMDb said was aired in 1978.  This was someone who was very knowledgeable about pop culture.  He was determined to contact IMDb to correct the information, but died before he was able to do so.  I looked up TV listings for the date IMDb said the movie aired and it did indeed appear where it should have been.  Probably about a year later or so I was looking for something else in the listings and stumbled upon an early 1980s repeat of the movie.  It turned out that my friend was correct about when he saw the movie--he simply didn't realize that it was a repeat and not the premiere of the film.

I can't say that I've found many instances of misleading or incorrect information in IMDb (or at least not that I was aware of anyway).  Still, it would be nice to be able to submit some information to them---to sort of try to repay them just a bit for all the help they've given to me over the past few years.  I did submit two very small and rather inconsequential bits of information for two IMDb entries, and they were both adopted into their respective pages.  Despite how small these changes are I'm just a little proud to say that I made a contribution to the site (however small and unimportant they may be in the grand scheme of things).  All in the name of accuracy I suppose.

The first one concerned the movie "Oliver's Story" (1978), which was the much less famous follow-up to the classic "Love Story" (1970) that starred Ryan O'neil.  It seems like an odd film for me to have some connection to or reference to, but it just so happened that part of the movie was filmed in my teeny, tiny little hometown of Uxbridge, Massachusetts!  As a matter of fact, one of my sisters was even an extra in it.  I saw the movie quite a few years back on a VHS tape borrowed from the library I worked at.  That ancient and not-so-in-demand tape went out of circulation a while back and now the movie it somewhat hard to find.  Well, I decided one day to read about my hometown's little contribution to celluloid history at IMDb one day and was disappointed to not see it listed among the filming locations (which included Cambridge, MA and Hong Kong, China).  I decided to submit the fact that Uxbridge was also a filming location, but didn't really have and corroborating evidence to offer.  I never heard back from IMDb, but when you check out the page for "Oliver's Story" now you will see that Uxbridge, MA is included as a filming location!

My second, and to date only, other contribution to IMDb is in relation to the Vincent Price movie "The Last Man on Earth" (1964).  This one's a bit more up my alley, so to speak.  I've liked this movie for some time and was happy to see that it was going to be part of the 2011 edition of the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama show in Pennsylvania.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend both the 2010 and 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama shows.

The pristine print of "The Last Man on Earth" screened at the show was a great thing to see, but also a bit of a mystery.  When the movie started it appeared to be pretty normal, but then the title came up and instead of reading THE LAST MAN ON EARTH it said THE DAMNED WALK AT MIDNIGHT.  This came as a surprise to most of the people I talked to at the show, including the man behind it all.

I have no idea exactly where or when the movie was given the title "The Damned Walk at Midninght", but it was right up there on the screen so I knew it had happened at some point in time.  The IMDb page for "The Last Man on Earth" had a number of alternate (AKA) titles listed, but no mention of "The Damned Walk at Midnight".  I'm sure this title is familiar with some film fans and scholars somewhere, but it seemed to be a bit of a mystery.  I submitted the alternate title to IMDB with my photograph of the movie screen as evidence.

Once again I never actually heard back from IMDb, but I just checked the page for the film again and "The Damned Walk at Midnight" is now listed as an alternate title!  Check toward the bottom of the list.

This is a lot of writing about two admittedly very minor bits of information, but it's all I've got on the subject.  It's one small step for mankind, but one giant leap for Monster Dad!

Amelia Earhart -- 75 Years Later

April 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  July 2nd 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of another of the Twentieth Century's great mysteries, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart (and her navigator Fred Noonan) on her attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937.  The Titanic claimed over 1,500 lives while Earhart's plane only carried two people.  Nonetheless these two events ranked right up there with the world's greatest mysteries until the Titanic was finally discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985.  It took nearly seventy-five years to find the Titanic and now it has been seventy-five years that people have wondered exactly what happened to Amelia Earhart and what her final fate was.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s I was very much interested in all kinds of unsolved mysteries, supernatural phenomena and other strange subjects (Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Ghosts, ancient astronauts, Easter Island, spontaneous human combustion...).  Most of these subjects remain mysteries or myths, some taken more seriously in the scientific community and the world at large than others.  It was very exciting when the Titanic was finally discovered and the first photographs of the ship made it to TV and the newspapers.  Now it just seems like another underwater site of a sunken ship, and many young people growing up today have no idea just how much of a mystery it's final resting spot was for so many decades.  Amelia Earhart is another ocean-based mystery that continues to persist after all these years.

Paul Mantz, Amelia Earhart, Harry Manning and Fred Noonan in 1937

In a way I'm kind of surprised that no conclusive evidence has ever been produced.  Of course looking for a small airplane in the ocean is like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.  But still, it just seems like something would have happened by now.  I guess that's mostly because, like the Titanic, Amelia Earhart's disappearance was a "man-made" mystery.  It's not something supernatural or otherworldly in nature.  At its core it's simply a missing plane that no one has been able to find.

Since Amelia Earhart's ultimate fate is still a mystery it has been subject to many theories and much speculation--both logical and outlandish--over the years.  The two most likely scenarios have Earhart's plane crashing in the middle of the ocean or crash landing on or near a small uninhabited island somewhere in the Pacific along or close to her flight path.  The first possibility would mean that her Lockheed Electra is on the floor of the ocean thousands of feet below the surface, where it would most likely be out of reach of today's technology.  It took seventy-five years for nautical technology to develop to the point where it was possible to pinpoint the location of the Titanic.  Who knows how much longer it will take to find Amelia Earhart's plane if it's as deep underwater as it might very well be.  The idea that Amelia and Fred Noonan might have survived the crash and lived for some amount of time on an island is not only possible, it's also a much more interesting and intriguing idea than the thought of them being killed on impact and sinking to the bottom of the ocean along with their plane.  That's a major reason for the persistence of the theory despite lack of hard evidence.

But there have been many other theories over the years, many of which seem pretty far-fetched.  Some of these theories have included Earhart being captured by the Japanese and being executed or living out the rest of her life in captivity, assuming another identity and living out the rest of her life in secrecy and even being a spy for the U.S. government.  While many of these ideas may seem outlandish, the simple fact that nothing conclusive has ever been proven means that there will probably always be some support for them.  Back when I was a kid it even seemed remotely possible (however unlikely it might be) that Amelia Earhart might still have been alive somewhere in the world.  The simple possibility of it was probably more fuel for the various theories.  You don't really seem to hear so much about such fantastical ideas today.

But since it is still a mystery it seems like every couple of years the search for Amelia Earhart and her plane re-enters the news and the public eye.  Just like when I hear of UFO reports and Bigfoot sightings these days, I always sit up and take note when some new story comes out about someone claiming to have found evidence about Earhart or putting forth a new theory about the mystery.  Which brings us to today...

I didn't even realize that today (July 2nd) was the anniversary of the disappearance until a few days ago when I was at a Barnes and Noble bookstore reading the current issue of The Fortean Times.  The Fortean Times is a great magazine for people interested in the kinds of unexplained mysteries I have always been fascinated by.  This particular issue (June 2012) had a story in it about Amelia Earhart and a new expedition that hopes to solve the mystery once and for all.  Of course that's something people have been trying to do for seventy-five years, but I always hold out hope that this will be "the one".

On July 3rd (the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first search and rescue missions to look for the Earhart's plane after its disappearance) The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will launch its ninth (I believe) expedition to try to find the plane and evidence of Earhart's and Noonan's ultimate fate.

TIGHAR believes the wreckage of the plane is located somewhere near the island of Nikumaroro, which was known as Gardner Island in 1937.  Along with various items and clues found by others over the years TIGHAR has collected a number of pieces of possible evidence on previous expeditions over the years.  They believe that this evidence shows that Amelia Earhart survived the crash and lived on th e island for a time after her disappearance.  For full details about the current expedition and background on TIGHAR and its efforts to date please check out their website.  They will also post daily updates once the expedition begins.  Read those updates here.

Makeup jar (left) found on Nikumaroro Island

Coincidently, just about a month ago an old friend of mine and I got together and watched a few episodes of the old TV show "In Search of...", which we both watched as kids.  The show was a big influence on me and I'm sure it had a lot to do with my interest in all kinds of strange phenomena.  There is talk that "In Search of..." might finally get a legitimate DVD release soon, but in the meantime it's possible to pick up the series on DVDs put together from recordings of a re-tooled version of the show that aired on a couple different cable stations back in the 1990s or so.  It's the same show I watched as a kid, but with new opening titles and other changes that try to mask the fact that the show was produced way back in the 1970s.

"In Search of..." title screen, with Amelia Earhart at upper right

Anyway, I bought one of these sets a couple years ago.  My friend and I watched a few random episodes, and we just happened to see the one about Amelia Earhart (not realizing how close we were to the anniversary of the disappearance).  It was interesting to see what kinds of theories were still popular (or at least still in play) forty or so years ago.  There was still a belief at the time by some that Amelia Earhart might still be alive somewhere in the world.

While it's a foregone conclusion that Earhart and Noonan probably died a long time ago (regardless of what may or may not have happened after the disappearance), it's still a thrilling idea to think that it's possible that the mystery might finally be solved after all these years.  I'll follow the expedition and hope for something new to be discovered.  It seems far more likely that it won't be solved and Amelia Earhart will continue to be a mystery for the foreseeable future, but you never know...