Trivia Knowhow Ain’t What It Used To Be!

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I could scarcely believe my eyes and ears.

There I was planted in front of an afternoon episode of Millionaire Hot Seat watching Eddie McGuire do his shtick before six of at-least-average-intelligence contestants and a studio audience ready to laugh at Eddie’s knockabout style jokes.

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It was the first half of the show, known as ‘Fastest Finger’ (introduced last year as part of the rejigged format), where the contestants are pitted directly against each other in competition for a cash prize before the main ‘Hot Seat’ part of the show gets underway.  15 one-at-a-time questions are offered in the quest for what is essentially an entrée cash prize seperate from the eventual big kahuna jackpot. The players enter their guesses to the multiple choice questions into an electronic keypad infront of them and then wait to be told by Eddie if they’re (A) correct and (B) the fastest responder.

All was going well until this question was asked  –

Which of these astronauts was not part of NASA’s  Apollo 11 Mission which was the first to place a man on the moon in July 1969:

(A)   Michael Collins

(B)   John Glenn

(C)   Neil Armstrong

(D)   Buzz Aldrin

Incredibly only one of the contestants got the answer correct. And if that wasn’t astonishing enough (at least to me ‘playing at home’) compounding the jaw drop was the fact only one of the players (not the person who answered correctly) was a twenty-something iGener. In other words, no one, besides the female law student Centennial in the candy apple red dress, I would have thought, had any reason not to know.

Like I say, I would have thought.

I realise it’s been a number of years since any generation of school children was standardly taught the name of the first person to walk on the moon, but still I would have thought some things, like the fact the ancient pyramids are located in Egypt or that Albert Einstein was the person who first conceived the equation E = mc2 , are just generally known fragments of knowledge people living in Western countries acquire by at least the time they’ve reached adulthood.

But they are assumptions on my part and as the ‘ol chestnut saying goes, when you assume anything you run the risk of making an ass out of you and me (or should that be an ass out of you infront of me?). I’m not even going to assume that people get that older-than-the-hills wordplay, hence the use of colours to spell out the double meanings).

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Those punters on Millionaire Hot Seat didn’t go so well with the astronauts question so likely they’d be fumblin’ on this one as well –

                             True or False.

According to NASA, outer space has no smell.

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The answer is false.

According to those who would know (NASA) outer space smells like welding fumes.

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Ps. If you’d like to see a quite nutty answer from a contestant on Millionaire Hot Seat  CLICK HERE 

Pss. The astronaut listed who was not part of the Apollo 11 Mission to the moon in July 1969 was John Glenn (who was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962 – and I didn’t expect you to know that!)

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Psss.  There’s a new movie with a writerly theme just been released. It’s called CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? and stars Melissa McCarthy. It is based on the 2008 confessional memoir of American writer Lee Israel  (1939 –  2014), an author known for her involvement in literary forgery. 

 

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Whatever happened to… Crop Circles?

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Back in the late nineties and early 2000’s, crop circles – like hair scrunchies, platform sandals and Carrie Bradshaw – were once all the rage.

Reports of their mysterious appearance in farmer’s fields in countries across the globe – especially England – were daily newspaper fodder.

So where are they now and why don’t we hear about them anymore?

The short answer to that question may be that after so many crop circles were exposed as the work of pranksters (or ‘planksters’ as they were once known) using planks of wood to flatten down wheat fields in intricate patterns, the mystery of their origin was solved and the world lost interest.

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Like the Sasquatch being revealed as a man in a gorilla suit and the ol’ silver foil pie tray suspended with fishing wire UFO trick, when you finally admit to yourself it really was your own father or crazy Uncle dressed up as Santa all those years ago, you release yourself from naivety and in doing so dissolve away the magic spell forever. At this point a person is also allowed a knowing chuckle for letting themselves be hoodwinked ‘back then’.

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But like believers in ghosts who acknowledge some but not all so-called otherworldly apparitions can be explained away by deliberate hoaxes, meaning there are some cases that, upon rigorous investigation still defy logical explanation, crop-circle believers today still cling to the argument that just because some crop circles have been shown to have been made-made, that in no way proves all crop circles are the work of humans.

Consider these two cases –

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This massive (238 meters in diameter) crop circle appeared in 2001 in the remote area of Milk Hill in Wiltshire, England. The elaborate design is composed of 409 circles that form a pattern called a double, or six-sided, triskelion, which is a motif consisting of three interlocking spirals.

(1) This formation appeared in a field of oats on the night of August 12th, 2001. The farmer who owned the field discovered the pattern early the next morning. There had been torrential rain during the previous week and as the farmer walked down the tractor tram-line he noticed it was unmarked. When he looked back over his shoulder, however, his footprints were clearly visible in the waterlogged ground.

When he reached the formation he also noticed there was no mud on the flattened crop, which there would have been if the crop had been flattened by some implement such as wooden planks. In his opinion the only way anyone could have entered the field to make the incredibly detailed pattern would have been by abseiling in, possibly by helicopter.

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This formation, consisting of 151 circles, appeared on July 7th, 1996 very close to the famous Stonehenge, a pre-historic rock monument in Wiltshire, England.

(2) The story behind this one is perplexing on an industrial scale. A light air-craft pilot flew over the site of Stonehenge at 5:30pm and swore there was nothing in the field. Little more than a half hour later he flew back and the impressive formation was there. A farm worker also confirmed the absence of any shape in the field throughout the day. A Stonehenge security guard who had looked down into the field  also was adamant there was nothing there all day long.

I remember reading these two accounts back in the day and being convinced they provided hard evidence (tee hee) that ‘something mysterious was going on’ which did not involve human intervention in the creation of crop circles.

Today I find it difficult to contain my laughter at the porous frailty of these same manufactured accounts with their C-grade-fiction-style unnamed farmers, pilots, farm workers and security guards.

Speaking of laughter – if you want to get some – actually a lot – click (HERE) or (HERE)     or (HERE) (this last video contains the immortal, knee-slapping line “His footage astounded the people at the pub.”)

And so to the class of 2018..

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With the exception of the one photographed in Switzerland, these artful little renderings have all decorated parts of the English countryside this year.

I’ve always felt sorry for the poor farmers whose precious crops get fairly trampled and presumably are at least a little worse for wear afterwards.

We can at least be thankful that in these more photoshop-aware & education-protected times the whole mystical psudo-science sideshow responsible for attempting to pass off crop art back in the last century as being some type of ‘higher being signs’ from extraterrestials has been all but laid to rest.

Well, almost…

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In the Eye of the Beholder

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The painting you see above sold at an auction in London last month for $432 000.

To put that figure in some kind of perspective, $432 000 would be somewhere approaching the median house price in my neighbourhood.

So what was so amazing about what looks to be, at least on the surface and to the untrained eye a very minimalist, one might even say rudimentary portrait?

It was painted by a computer.

Or to be more precise, an Artificial Intelligence (A.I) generated algorithm.

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Viewed up close, this image cobbled together with 1s and 0s, becomes a grid of mechanical-looking dots, the man’s face a golden blur with black holes for eyes.

Created by a Paris collective, a data set consisting of some 15,000 portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries were fed into a super computer to effectively teach ‘it’ by example the fundamentals of human portraiture painting.

Besides the soulless look and feel of this ‘painting’ the other giveaway that it’s not born of a human mind is the signature of the ‘artist’ in the bottom right hand corner of the work.

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It took only nine minutes of bidding at Christie’s London auction house for this work to reach the price of $432 000.

Creativity is something we have always closely associated with what it means to be human. For decades we have elevated ourselves above the level of mere machines by claiming that although a computer may be able to quantify the size of an atom or calculate the exact distance to the moon it will never, with heavy emphasis on the word NEVER, be able to create a true thing of original beauty like a painting or a music symphony.

In the age of Siiri, computer driven cars and speech recognition software, it may just be time to ever so quietly step away from those previously so over-confidently stated assertions.

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All this brings me in a quite round-a-bout way to what I really wanted to let you know about in this post. Every so often SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK justifies its name choice and talks something about actual writing. This is one of those occasions.

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A writing website run by Chris Fielden based in England is running what it calls a free-to-enter writing challenge. Entrants must use a news article as inspiration for a short, flash-sized fiction story. Mini-prose pieces submitted will be published in an anthology, part-proceeds of which will be donated to charity. If you’re interested in finding out more CLICK HERE

My fiction story, based on the A.I. created painting that was reported on in an on-line edition of the Australian edition of THE GUARDIAN newspaper last month HERE is  entitled ART BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT

Summoning every bit of his severe intelligence, Guy finally spoke. “If there’s one thing I hate it’s ridiculous attempts at AI expressionism. And you can forget cultural bona-fides. This painting is an evolutionary cul-de-sac, a Darwinian twilight zone that makes me feel like something is terribly wrong on a scale that dwarfs us all. To hell that it passes the Turing Test. It’s plain to see the damn thing’s got no soul!”

Guy was melancholic by nature. As he stood alone and muttering to himself, casting judgement in the floor to ceiling glass walls of the state-funded Petaflops Algorithm Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Munich – the world’s first gallery devoted wholly to showcasing computer-made art works – the somewhat depressing and certainly off-centre occasion was definitely no watershed moment for him. Beret-wearing Guy was a person comfortable in his own misery, you could tell. He looked and sounded as though he’d been here before.

The female security guard had begun staring arrows in his direction and speaking into her secret service earpiece by now.  Guy knew it was time to leave. He canted forward with his narrow shoulders hunched, as though heading into a bracing wind and made his way to the lift going to the ground floor exit.

On his way out, it took all his will not to shield himself with his hands as he travelled past the elderly reception person he couldn’t be a 100% certain wasn’t a robot. Instead he opted for a signature departure accompanied by one last under-his-breath but still audible critique – “ Flapdoodle I tell you! This goddamn machine art is all bloody flapdoodle! But in an interesting way – I’ll give you that”.

Ps. $432 000 might seem like an insane amount of money to pay for a piece of art, A.I or no A.I. but it pales in comparison with the $90 million, that’s right $90 million forked out just last week for this piece of aquatic eye candy.

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This artwork was done by a human (now 81-year-old British artist David Hockney) back in 1972 and has just set a new record for the highest price paid at auction for a painting by a living artist.

Regular readers will know I’ve currently got a thing for swimming pools, having just bought a house that came with one. So I can actually picture this attractive little number decorating one of our bare walls. The beyond gut-bustingly hilarious price tag however is obviously all wrong.

In light of my recent spate of extravagant outlays going right back to the purchase of a new Mazda CX-5 back in June, $15 wall art courtesy of the modest opulence of The Reject Shop is much more within my present budget.

And I reckon I spied one at that price last weekend in that exact store. And it didn’t look half unlike it’s multi-million dollar royal cousin pictured above.

Reckon it’s still there?

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Spokesperson Extraordinaire

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I’ve had wacky ideas before (HERE and HERE ) as to how I could grow this blog.

But this time I think I’m really on to something.

“That’s what you said last time and nothing changed”  a chorus of mutinous whispers I wanna slap hard reply in unison.

This time however it’s different.

This time I’m using star power.

The idea was to choose a mesmerizingly appealing spokesperson for SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK. Someone with the sort of charisma to draw people in like a magnet and in the process elevate this blog to whole new leagues of aphrodisiac-level popularity.

You think I’m dreaming? Well yes I am but the good thing about dreams, especially my dreams, is they come with an unlimited budget. This makes it exceedingly easy to attract the type of supreme talent you’re after. Try it yourself some time.

The rules were simple.

Anyone – male or female, an actual person or a character created by that person – across roughly the last 50 years of human history was up for the nominating. With wide open parameters like those I was like a kid in a candy shop though ironically Willy Wonka as spokesperson for SWS wasn’t an idea that got past the initial culling stage (he was definitely considered).

Before I unveil the special individuals I’ll be pinning my foolhardy not to mention especially delusional (self-diagnosed) hopes on, allow me to share this gut-wrenching story of heartbreak with you all. It may in part explain why I am once more suddenly motivated in earnest to seek fresh recruits.

Last Sunday at around 3:30pm SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK had been riding high on 224 followers. 20 minutes later that number had shrunk like the reproductive organs of a male arctic swimmer to just 204 followers.

What happened in the interim was that I decided to create a Facebook PAGE. I place the word PAGE  in capitals to distinguish it from the more commonplace Facebook PROFILE. There’s a big difference between the two as I’ve now discovered. New rules governing Facebook that came into effect on August 18th this year (following a string of well publicised privacy and security breaches dating all the way back to the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections) mean a person can no longer link other social media platforms automatically to their Facebook account.

This means blog entries that were re-posted automatically (provided you had activated that feature in your blog’s settings) with a linked Facebook account (thereby enabling you to reach a larger audience) are no longer automatically able to do that. A person can still manually patch in a link to their blog’s latest post but they now have to remember to do it by hand each time if they want the benefit of the dual audience.

The alternative to the manual patch-in is starting up a Facebook PAGE. Facebook PAGESin contrast to Facebook PROFILESare intended for people running businesses. Blogs are in effect a person’s own brand, and whether monetorised or not, are also able to be classified for these purposes as businesses. A person is able to activate a setting on their Facebook PAGE so that all their published blog articles are automatically reposted there. This feature, as I’ve explained, is no longer available using a Facebook PROFILE.

For some unknown reason up there with the mystery of who built the pyramids and why Sally sold seashells on the beach when people could just pick them up anyway, within twenty minutes (actually it most likely occurred instantaneously but it took me 20 minutes to cotton on) exactly 20 followers (every one of my social media subscribers as distinct from email or WordPress followers) had disappeared from my subscribers list. Even after deleting the jinxed-voodoo-doll-with-a-hundred-rusty-pins-stuck-through- it Facebook PAGE, they have not returned. I crawled across deserts and scaled tall mountains to get those twenty followers. I think you can understand why I needed a decent sized vanilla slice and a couple of musk sticks to console me after the trauma.

The nominated spokes-gods – which is what this post was supposed to have been about – have been waiting patiently (and trust me, these are not people used to being kept waiting) in the wings all this time while I’ve been going on about this but a cautionary tale is in essence a community service and so I say ‘Beware of the doe-eyed, innocent-looking Facebook PAGE’ if you already have a blog. And have a good supply of wine gums or other comfort food on hand should you decide to chance your hand anyway after wading your way through this.

These are my preferred spokespeople who I’m trusting to lure back those 20 followers and attract stadiums more –

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Apologies to overseas readers who may not be familiar with ex-Wallaby (Australian Rugby Union player) Nick Cummins – more famously known as The Honey Badger. This guy proved he has what it takes in the spruiking department with his one-of-a-kind  Tradie’ underwear ads. Being the face and voice of SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK would be an easy fit for the loveable larrikin and one which I have no doubt would be within his measure.

He may have taken a little flak recently after the season finale of the tv show THE BACHELOR (in which he was first prize) for failing to choose a winner but in my book that was an act of honour. I understand you Nick and you’re definitely ok by me.  The type of knock-about free and easy appeal Paul Hogan had for a generation of Aussies’s forty years ago is the same type of charm The Honey Badger offers now.

I want’im!     

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What’s not to love here?

With his sweet and well-intentioned personality and that irresistible ‘down on the farm’ Southern drawl, Huckleberry Hound would make the perfect spokes-dog for SWS. Metaphorically speaking his belt may not go through all the loops, he’s definitely no more than gargled from the fountain of knowledge and the skin tone is not your everyday, but I know when the avocado dip hits the fan and SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK plunges itself knee-deep in controversy, as it seems to do on a semi-regular basis (vanilla slice anyone?), the relaxed, kindly tones of the blue anthropomorphic dog would be just what the marketing department ordered.

I’m pretty sure if ever I hit a sour note on this blog and voiced an idea or opinion that ran contrary to those held by others, all I’d have to do would be wheel out ‘ol Huckleberry playing his guitar while gloriously off-key singing “Oh My Darling Clementine” and all would be forgiven.

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A bit of gangsta chic might be just the trick to give SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK that hard edge and ‘badboy’ appeal it’s been missing all this time. I could just have easily nominated Al Pacino‘s detective Vincent Hanna character from the same movie since he and Neil are really opposite sides of the same driven, lazer-foccused persona. But mid-nineties De Niro – in THAT suit – is an offer just too irresistible to pass up.

I try not to imagine Neil walking away from an offer of a spokesperson’s role for SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK like he walks away in this scene from the one woman (Eady) who promises him a better, more stable and loving future.

 

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Well… what else would you expect from a person who moonlights a second blog going by the name of LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE? Would I hand over the spokesperson’s job to a man dressed in a silver space suit and wielding a laser gun? You bet your sweet intergalactic apple sauce I would!

Actor Guy Williams (who was also Zorro in the 1950’s tv series) played the head of the Robinson family for three seasons on the original tv series of LOST IN SPACE and had the type of leading man looks that were standard for the day. When he spoke people, aliens and robots all paid attention. I think John Robinson could have a similar effect here at SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK.

This compile reel drags on for over five minutes but 30 seconds worth should be enough to establish his spokesperson credentials…

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With a name like SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK there had to be at least one genuine writer on the list, right? The author who created James Bond and whose novels have sold over 100 million copies also more importantly was the creator of the seminal children’s masterpiece CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Versatility like that could come in handy if he took on the role of spokesperson for SWS.

Of course to be accepted for a glamour gig like SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK naturally he’d have to give up the nicotine sticks first, ’cause that just ain’t healthy.

The refined English tones on display in this video could definitely lend an air of class to the goings on around here. But if he was ever hired I’d definitely want to have him sign a ‘hands-off’ copyright agreement for the name SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK based on his form in this interview…

There were a number of other contenders that made the shortlist but sadly didn’t get the final nod for a spot in the Top 5. Those included my mother, wife and daughter, current New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Ripley from the Alien movies and tennis great Serena Williams. Serena ended up not making the cut due to her sometimes over-forceful exuberant delivery style (and I’m not referring to her tennis serve).

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Ps. A big thankyou to all the people who sent through kind thoughts and congratulations last week on the occasion of me displaying photos of my new digs. Material possessions do not happiness make (that’s me trying to sound tastefully Shakespearian but coming across more as someone with two left feet as far as English usage goes) but they usually don’t hurt so I’m thankful for what I’ve now got (I’ll be even more thankful when I can actually say I own it rather than the bank owns it).

Included in last week’s post was mention of our saga with the new houses’ swimming pool. If I thought I’d experienced pool problems… well, all I can say is things have sunk to a new low. Check out this –

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Ok, so that’s not my car and that’s not my pool (and that’s definitely not my crashed through fence) but by golly… someone’s got some explainin’ to do haven’t they? 

And the saddest part for me as a now clean-obsessed, ever vigilant, algae-killing pool owner is when I look at that picture all I see is the leaves on the surface down one end that will need removing!

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Pss. With all the hoopla this week surrounding the 50th Anniversary reissue of the Beatles 1968 ‘White Album’ as a remastered, remixed boxset, I thought it timely to revisit my appraisal from June of last year of what some (but not me!) have called the greatest album ever recorded.

READ IT HERE

 

 

A Very Moving Experience

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Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! (with downward glide)

Pardon me if my exhale came close to knocking you over with its force.

What that is is the sound of me finally expunging  releasing  letting go a huge, well-earned, relieved sigh that the whole thing is finally over.

What whole thing?

The months upon months of dealing with real estate agents, finance brokers, lawyers, banks, every sub-species of tradie you can name from plasterers, electricians and plumbers to roof tilers, retaining wall builders and glass repairers and at least a dozen guys named ‘Mick’, utility companies, removalist firms, skip-hire outfits that specify ‘mattresses go on top like the last layer of a cake’ and a literal army of other assorted professionals and people that entered our world for the time it took us to look for, find, buy and move into our new house and move out of our old house – that’s what ‘whole thing’.

Wanna see?

Course you do!

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Wanna see inside?

Course you do!

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If you happened to have stumbled on this site somehow by accident for the very first time, no, this is not another real estate blog.  What this is is Glen unashameably for the first and only time displaying the spoils of his hunt. And my what a hunt it was! Every weekend for three solid months. One firm offer made on a two-story house that fell short because of a last-minute glitch at the finance end. And popping bubble wrap just to relief the stress of it all.

In fact an on-line search just now under the heading “Top Ten Life Stressors” puts ‘Moving house’ right alongside divorce, death of a loved one, major illness and job loss. I’ve always thought ‘assembling furniture’  deserved to go somewhere on those type of lists as well but that’s a discussion for another day.

I think I’m fairly safe in declaring throughout my life I’ve never been the type of person who’s gone about feverishly trying to acquire ‘status symbols’ in a bid to advertise and elevate their perceived social standing. I will  however now allow myself one small concession on that front. I can now officially claim to own a house that is actually big enough and has ceilings high enough to have its own real-life echo. You heard me right. When we are in the main dining area our new house boasts a slightly surreal, cathedral-like, definite echo!

I say cool. I also say two thumbs up to that!

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Probably the weirdest part of this story is that all this effort was expended to move into a house just two kilometres from and in the very same suburb as our old house. Back in primary school I had a best friend whose parents one year did exactly the same thing. I could never work out why someone would go to all the trouble to pack up their worldly belongings only to move a stone’s throw from where they originally were. I’ve waited forty years for the answer to this riddle and it finally came last week – for a better house!

Ps. As you can see from the pictures, this new house came with a pool. For a person like me who’s never owned a swimming pool before, the week-long experience of nursing it back to clear and sparkling health – courtesy of $500 worth of serious-sounding chemicals and hired technical expertise to get the salt-chlorinator back on its feet – from the swamp green colour it was on the day we moved in (thanks previous owners!) was something I wouldn’t want to go through again.

It’s also comedy/drama-riddled enough to warrant a blog post completely on its own sometime in the near future. There may even be a Powerpoint Presentation. 

Consider yourself warned!

15 Argle Place

Halloween Mystery Solved!

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Time to get your freak on!

On Halloween night I don’t merely talk the talk. I also walk the walk. Not only do I talk the talk and walk the walk but you’ll be interested to know I also do one other thing. I stalk the stalk. For the benefit of the candy-craving herd who will no doubt be on patrol up and down my street it’s time once more to rig up my once-a-year door-bell device that emits a shriek and activates a smoke machine. Around these parts its rightly become legendary!

Before that fun gets underway however I have some trick or treat gifts for you.

The first is the trailer for the new Michael Myers HALLOWEEN movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis…

Believe it or not that was your treat!

Now comes a trick.

Or, to be more specific, a trick reveal.

Or to be even more specific, a prank reveal.

This is a mystery that has stumped some of the best university-educated minds around for the past twenty-one years.

And right now, I’m about to do what no one else has come even close to – naming who did it and how they did it.

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In New York, there exists an institute of higher learning by the name of Cornell University. It has operated since 1865 and past notable alumni include Bill Nye (The Science Guy), actor Christopher Reeve (Superman) and novelist Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five).

For more than twenty years this esteemed ground of higher learning has been enshrouded, like a low-lying, early morning mist, in a classic who-dunnit of to-date unsolvable proportions.

Until now.

Journey with me now as I take an investigative ball hammer to the hermetically sealed and thus-far impenetrable outer casing of this more-than-two-decades-old mystery and crack it open like a split candy egg on Easter morning.

Let’s begin by taking a look at this picture of one of Cornell University’s iconic buildings.

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McGraw Tower is 42 metres tall, visible for miles around, and during semesters it’s 21 chimes ring out morning, afternoon and night. The structure has been described as the heartbeat of the campus, one that community members use to meet up with friends, give people directions and generally anchor themselves.

So on October 8th 1997, as students walked to their Wednesday morning lectures, they were understandably surprised to discover that their beloved landmark had grown an appendage. In a near-physically impossible feat defying almost all attempts to explain how it was done, someone had managed to impale on the very top spire… a pumpkin!

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The massively proportioned pumpkin, estimated to have weighed upwards of 25 kilograms, stayed intact atop of the spire for 158 days, until University administration finally ordered a crane bucket be used to remove it.

The identity of the prankster has never been established, thus helping the incident to enmesh itself in campus culture over the decades. Also assisting the legend-proportioned dimensions of the tale was that it had all the hallmarks of a classic prank –

(1)   attention-getting

(2)   not easily accomplished 

(3)   it wasn’t crude or vandalistic and no one got hurt

(4)   enduring mystery

Given the immense impracticability involved in affixing the ‘gourd’ to this lofty resting place, not only is this a classic who-dunnit but also equally a mind-tripping how-dunnit. Bear in mind, the mid to late nineties was well-before the general availability of drone technology, which might have provided at least one possible explanation of how the vegetable could have been deposited in such a precarious position.

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The once mighty prank pumpkin now sits severely shrivelled inside a glass display case in the Memorial Room at Cornell University.

And so to the big reveal… 

Just who was responsible?

Over the years a number of false confessions have emerged from people claiming they were the mystery prankster, including one from three college friends going under the aliases “Kennedy”“Reagan” and “Nixon”. All of these bogus accounts lacked the plausibility and detail only the prankster him or herself would have been able to provide.

So here it is.

Time to unveil the truth.

Time to end the mystery.

Time to unmask the phantom.

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For the first time anywhere, I can exclusively reveal the name of the Cornell University Pumpkin Prankster was

Rob

You mean you were after a last name as well?

Sorry.

You don’t get that.

Not here at least.

But if you’re curious to know the ‘how-dunnit’ part, read on.

‘Rob’ at the time was not a student at Cornell University but rather a pro rock climber. This was not Rob’s first pumpkin prank atop of a tall steeple, having previously arranged for one to appear in a likewise elevated position at a college in Montana.

On the day in question back in ’97, Rob arranged to attend a chimes concert that took place inside the tower that morning. Rob carried the pumpkin with him in a box and found a hiding place for it an accomplice had picked out at the bottom of the south clock face. Rob then returned later that evening to attend a night-time chimes performance, at which time he took the opportunity to hide in the interior clock well. After everyone had left and he had been locked inside, Rob then looked through the playing desk for keys to the master lock on the bell cage. After some time searching by torchlight he found a key ring but then discovered that none of the keys fit the lock. At this time he decided to abort the mission to try again the following night.

try again

The next night Rob again attended the evening chimes concert and when no one was looking took the opportunity to secret himself in the same hiding spot. When everyone had departed and the place was plunged into darkness, Rob emerged but this time carrying a hefty pair of boltcutters he had disguised up his trouser leg during the concert.

Rob then descended the 161 concrete steps of the tower to let an accomplice in through the front door. The accomplice was a friend of Rob’s who was living on West campus and who had previously been arrested for illegally climbing the Gorges. Once back at the top, the two then proceeded to use the bolt cutters to clip the ring that the main padlock to the upper deck went through and once done, simply climbed up into the bell cage, hauling the pumpkin behind them on a rope.

And now you know.

Ps. Wanna see the celebrity Halloween costume to top all celebrity Halloween costumes? German-born model/actress/tv host Heidi Klum pulled it off a few years back when she was wheeled out on the red carpet for a Halloween party on an autopsy table ‘dressed’ like this…

Pss. Up for a Halloween read? You could do worse than this title –

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Psss. And there’s this. Just because…

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Apple for Teacher

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This one’s for all the educational rock- stars of the world.

World Teachers’ Day has been a thing since 1994.

It’s held internationally every year on October 5th. As the day usually falls during school holidays, Queensland (Australia) holds its celebrations on the last Friday of October each year.

For the last few years the Queensland College of Teachers has held an annual photo competition designed to capture inspiring teacher moments. The pictures below are some of the winners and finalists from last year’s competition which received 527 entries.

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Eatons Hill State School

Sorry but I just couldn’t resist dropping in this Big Bang Theory drone segment…

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West Moreton Anglican College

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Holy Cross School Wooloowin

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Grace Lutheran College

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Kings Christian College

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North Keppel Island Environmental Education Centre

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Kawana Waters State College

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‘In-tents’ reading session with Miss Folke  (Eatons Hill State School)

The winners and finalists for the 2018 competition will be announced next month.

Before we say goodbye to the land of pedagogues take a look at the picture below.  There are few things as fascinating as seeing what people in the past dreamed about the future. This painting made by French artist Jean-Marc Côté  in 1900 shows what a classroom of the future (the future being the year 2000) might look like. I’ve heard of schools being described as ‘learning factories’ but that is definitely next level.

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Ps. Thank you to everyone who supported last week’s LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE blog launch. If you missed out on the action in real time it’s definitely not to late to join the cool kids and take out a free subscription HERE

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Out to Launch

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It’s not every day I get to tread the red carpet.

And by red carpet I naturally mean the type they have rolled out at a lavish opening night premiere. The type that comes with popping champagne corks, paparazzi and manicured ‘Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’ bleached white teeth.

Throw in the fact I’m the host (if it helps picture me in a tux with microphone in hand) and it all adds up to one very special occasion.

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Assuming my best scene-stealing, head-held-high-silver-back-gorilla walk, I stride purposefully to the podium, clear my throat and in the best announcer’s voice I can muster say this…

Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow bloggers, accidental tourists who may have stumbled here wondering what all the fuss and smell of hairspray was about, and dedicated fans of the Robot, Jonathan Harris and Billy Mummy both young and old,

It is my pleasure to welcome you here tonight to the official launch party of my new blog LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE. This occasion represents the culmination of months of preparation in readiness for this unveiling as well as a lifetime’s devotion to the original 1960’s television series LOST IN SPACE.

As such, there are a great many people I must thank. As always we start at the beginning.  James T. Aubrey (1918 – 1994) was the Network President at the helm of CBS in the U.S. back in the 1960’s. He was the decison-maker who originally agreed to green-light the series that would become known to the world as LOST IN SPACE. Without a money-man believer like him and the battalion of super-creatives he put to work to make the vision come alive there would be nothing to remember and nothing to celebrate. Other gravy train accomplishments he pressed-suit-nodded to production included Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies. The New York Times Magazine once described him as “a master of programming whose divinations led to successes that are breathtaking”.    Thank you James T.

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Next, in the great tradition of sons and daughters everywhere I need to give heartfelt thanks to my mother. As a child growing up in Brisbane, Australia in the 1970’s, LOST IN SPACE was being shown on rerun on Channel 10 Monday to Friday in a 5 – 6 pm time slot. I’d watch the show camped on our brown-patterned carpet at a close distance to the screen while my Mother made dinner in the kitchen. Entranced by my favourite show while beginning to smell the wonderful aromas of dinner wafting through from the kitchen was a comfort and pleasure I’ll always be grateful for. Thankyou Mum.                                                                                                                                                                                         Capture It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the direct inspiration I received from viewing American blogging maestro Lady Emily Rose‘s on-line digital wonderland known as KNIGHT OF ANGELS (FIND IT HERE)  Emily embarked earlier this year on the great re-watch of all 79 episodes of  STAR TREK The Original Series (HERE)      Her write-ups of each installment are stunning to the degree I was stirred to see if I could aspire to something similar, done my way. Only time will tell on that front.                                                                                                                                                                                    Capture                                                                                                                                                           Deserved recognition goes to all the loyal readers who voted on the proposed name for the blog (HERE) last month. As you now know, I have awarded the royal decree to LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE. That name’s captivatingstoriesreadfromthecomfortofaburgundyleather, mahoganywoodarmchairaroundafireplace feel hit the right notes for me.                                                                                                                                                                               Capture                                                                                                                                                                                           And last but not least, I reserve my most immediate and personal thanks to all of you who have turned up here today. The six of you (including the person I hired to serve Sprite from plastic cups for the occasion) have shown what true fan dedication is. Without you this celebration would have taken place merely in my mind, the host venue of so many of my previous accolades and awards ceremonies.                             

At this moment I feel like a parent who is about to anxiously send their own child off to that very first day of school. How will they be received? Will they make it to first lunch? Will anyone subscribe to them be their friend?                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Capture                                                                                                                                                          Unlike answers to some of life’s other lingering questions – like why McDonald’s doesn’t sell hotdogs or which movie theatre armrest is yours – I have little doubt the resolution to that will soon be known. For now, I choose to celebrate this moment with all of you and in doing so recall the words of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius who famously said –  ‘What I hear, I forget; what I see, I remember; what I DO, I understand.’  The doing is the subscribing my friends. I ask you to walk with me now out from the grey twilight into the glorious sunshine and the dawn of a new blogging era.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Thank you, help yourself to the free sprite and cucumber sandwiches and I love youse all.

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GOD! Don’t you hate boring speeches!

I know I was fidgeting like a first time guest waiting in the green room about to go on a tv talk show during that speech and I was GIVING IT! So I can’t imagine how you must have been feeling. Alright, so the formalities are over but this is where the real fun begins. Or as they say down at the business end of town – the ‘call to action’.

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A blog is literally just a diary stored under a bed without subscribers. If you’re a fan of the original series of LOST IN SPACE or like the reimagined new version currently enjoying it’s second season on Netflix or just keen to receive insightful and possibly witty episode commentary (and in reference to those two just-mentioned plus-points I’m possibly thinking of some other blog besides LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE but you’re kind enough to allow me to claim that, however misleadingly, for the present moment ) in your inbox once a week, then I would love to have you along for the journey.

Click HERE to go to the homepage of LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE.

Once there you’ll see the image below in the sidebar. Insert the email address you’d like to receive the once-a-week blog posts in to the rectangular space that says ‘Enter your email address’ then click the blue FOLLOW button. That will generate a confirmation email that if you scroll to the bottom of will have a blue CONFIRM button inserted. If you click that you’re jumping through hoops torture ends and you magically transform into a bona-fide LOST IN SPACE follower. Yay! And double Yay! And then beyond your wildest expectations Yay!

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Click HERE  to go to LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE and (fingers, antennas & robot arms crossed) subscribe.

Ps. Think I’d better mention this as well..

As a result of some wily tinkering on my part with the brain box of the new blog, the very first post has been set to automatically publish when the followers count reaches a very modest 16 subscribers.

Why 16?

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‘Cause October 16, 1997 is the date shown on screen in the very first episode of LOST IN SPACE, setting the scene that this story is taking place in what was, at that time, the distant future for the original television audience back in 1965 when the series first aired.

Now you know.

And now you know what to do… what are you waiting for?

Click HERE to be a part of history and let’s get this goddam thing launched!

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Benefit of the Doubt

Big Doubts

This Saturday is International Skeptics Day.

Don’t believe me?

That’s the spirit!

So go ahead and check the calendar…

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Still skeptical aren’t you?

That’s because you’re the sort of person who needs solid evidence to support a claim before you accept it as fact. And that out-of-focus scribble in the date space of that pasted-in calendar isn’t enough to convince you it’s 100% true. You see where I’m going with this. Around in circles.

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This day celebrates the people who keep in mind that things may be different from the way they appear. These are folk who help keep our feet on the ground while we reach for the stars. Afterall, if it weren’t for the skeptics we’d  still be believing the Earth was flat. (It’s not, right? Right?!) They are one of the greatest resources a dreamer can have. Most scientists would claim to be empirical skeptics, who admit the possibility of knowledge based on evidence, but hold that new evidence may always overturn these findings.

Get it?

Kinda?

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Of these doubt-themed movies, the Meryl StreepPhillip Seymour HoffmanAmy Adams starring DOUBT (2008) was by far and away my favourite.

With that out of the way it’s time to tell you about a monthly writing contest run by a U.S publishing company called PRESS 53. Entrants have exactly 53 words (no more – no less) to sculpt a short story to a given theme. This months theme is DOUBT. Entry is free and there are prizes. Submissions are accepted until October 31st and are to be emailed to 53wordstory@gmail.com  If you’re interested check out the full biz HERE

So wanna read my 53 word little doubt-themed fandango?

Thought you’d never ask!

Professor McNutt smiled in a superior way and then released a full-throated, terrible laugh. There was little doubt he had gone insane. How else to explain his contention that Netflix’s reimagining of LOST IN SPACE was superior to the 1960’s original. Jeremy slowly backed out of his office, shutting the door behind him.

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Using the last name ‘McNutt’ in a written piece has been a long-held dream of mine.  I’m so glad to have finally ticked that one-off. And at the risk of self-congratulation  I must share with you what the New York Times literary critic Thurston Howell III had to say about my little ditty –

“In one of the great feats of voice, Donaldson has delivered a micro-fiction wonder that not only showcases a head-spinning plot twist not seen since Charlton Heston uttered those impassioned words on the beach back in ’68 – “You maniacs! You blew it up!” to end PLANET OF THE APES (by virtue of the brown-leather-elbow-patch-wearing Professor aligning himself with the newer version of LOST IN SPACE when we could bet the house someone of his age and countenance would naturally favor the older version – duh!) but in an effortless display of pop-culture consciousness brought to life, he evokes a seething generational tension amidst world-building so tight and atmospheric it comes with its own weather system.

A timeless tale with in-built ballast and fascination.”

Ok, so Thurston’s review was longer than the piece itself but no matter. Praise like that doesn’t come along every day… so I’ll take it.

(I’ll do more than take it! I’ll immortalize it and laminate it).

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I understand it may be a little intimidating to follow something of that calibre (the story not the review… ok then, both!) but why not chance your hand anyway.

It could be a lot of fun.

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Ps. From micro-fiction to short stories…

Brisbane author David Cohen who I interviewed HERE on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK last year has just released a new collection of short stories entitled THE HUNTER. Check out this array of quirk-

  • A property developer fears that a burgeoning ibis population will prevent the construction of a high rise apartment complex
  • a fake bus stop in Düsseldorf, designed to help dementia patients, suffers its own identity crisis
  • a young man’s new job requires him to pose as a woodcutter and wave to a trainload of tourists
  • an aging, reclusive archivist becomes locked in a strange battle of wills with a courier

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Pss. By way of follow-up to last week’s post regarding the movie THE SHINING, how about this cover of the latest issue of MAD MAGAZINE. Not that I read MAD or anything…

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Ps. LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE launches next Friday!

     Are you ready?

     Are you awake?

     Are you even still reading this?

 

 

 

 

 

A goddamm masterpiece that really SHINES!

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Some experiences stay with you a life time.

Seeing the movie THE SHINING for the first time was definitely one of those occasions.

Back in 1980 I was fourteen years old and visiting my older brother Tony in Sydney. He took me along to a late afternoon session of the film on what was my very first trip to the southern city.

Back then for a kid from sleepy Brisbane, visiting Sydney was like taking in the bright lights and razzle dazzle of New York. By the time we emerged from the cinema after being subject to two straight hours of throat-closing, jaw-tightening primal terror it was dark. I remember walking through the city mall on the sort of clear night that made you feel like you could reach up and touch the stars. I’d never seen so many people in the one place before in all my life.

As my brother and I half walked/half staggered to the train station (ok, it was more me doing the staggering), coping with the effects of shell-shock brought on by the blood-curdling scenes and images that were still fresh in our minds, our path was suddenly accidentally blocked by a man whose entire face was covered by raised skin lesions. It appeared as if every last centimetre of his face had been infected with enormous, festering warts. The poor chap was definitely not in a good way and his appearance was non-intentionally shocking.

We moved around him, executing a ‘twinkle toes’ sidestep that would have made a State of Origin winger proud and continued on our way. Yet that chance,  quite surreal encounter, lasting all of just a few seconds but coming on the back of two of the most terrifying hours I or anyone could ever spend in a movie theatre, all but guaranteed what I saw that night would be still clearly etched in my memory close to 40 years later.

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Can you spot the mystery doorknob on the cream wall in the centre pic? The documentary makers behind ROOM 237 have a field day unearthing hidden images in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.

While loitering recently in amongst the aisles of my local JB HI-FI store (Fun fact: Did you know the ‘JB’ in JB HI-FI are the initials of the original owners name John Barbuto, back when the franchise had just the one store in Melbourne) I stumbled upon a title in the documentary section called ROOM 237. I went ahead and bought it then watched it in utter fascination in its entirety later that same day.

I’m typically a person who skips the ‘Bonus Extra’s’ on DVD’s. You know the type I’m talking about – featurettes depicting the behind-the-scenes making of a film along with interviews with the director and/or cast members recalling stories from the set. The movie-purist in me has always disallowed this, believing it somehow strips the film you’ve just enjoyed of some of its magic.

The focus of ROOM 237 is more concerned with multi-layered analysis and discussion of the themes and symbolic meanings presumed to be on offer in the movie THE SHINING. The director of THE SHINING was filmmaker extraordinaire Stanley Kubrick (1928 -1999), a writer/producer/director frequently cited as one of the greatest and most influential film helmsmen of the 20th century and someone who was reputed to have an IQ of 200.

Kubrick had a reputation as a meticulously layering director who liked to insert hidden meanings and symbolic images into his films. If we’re to believe the makers of ROOM 237 (the title refers to the room number in the haunted Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING where a number of unusual incidents play out), THE SHINING is an overflowing smorgasboard in these departments, offering film buffs near endless Freudian and non-Freudian gold class nerdgasms.

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Some theories put forward in ROOM 237 such as the suggestion clouds in the sky seen in the background of certain outdoor shots in THE SHINING contain hidden meanings that sync with the overlaying themes of the film had me scratching my head wondering “Did the director really intend that when he made the film?”

Yet if you accept the contention offered in ROOM 237 that those meanings are there regardless of whether the author/director was conscious of them, then just about anything becomes to at least some degree plausible. ROOM 237 holds fast to the notion that, largely because of who made it, nothing in THE SHINING is arbitrary and, like 3D chess, it may be viewed on many levels.

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On the other hand when you consider that images which are shown on the screen for mere seconds have been paused, reviewed and analysed within an inch of their lives over and over again by the five principal creators behind ROOM 237, who each confess to having watched THE SHINING dozens (and in one person’s case more than a hundred viewings including a couple backwards) of times, in does make you question if all the next-level over-explaining of continuity errors and the like transforms the original movie into a somewhat enhanced, completely different commodity.

In the end it doesn’t matter.

ROOM 237 is an entertaining journey into the wormhole of insanely dedicated film buffery seen through the eyes of five film analysts who’ve watched THE SHINING closer than anyone ever has.Capture

Enter the maze for yourself HERE

If you’re up for a really good laugh click HERE 

If you insist upon throwing gasoline on to a by-now completely fried brain, then you may as well go ahead and click HERE

Ps. Your bonus read this week is someone you all know quite well discussing their favourite books over at Bridgetwhelan.com (6000 plus followers). Read it HERE

And one more thing…

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