Lots of people are fine with allowing a helpful wiretap into their lives. I am not one of them. None of them. So, when I heard that Cortana was being sent out to pasture by Microsoft, I was pretty excited. The dismantling of surveillance apparatus that’s slimed its way into our daily lives always leaves me feeling a little frisky.
That’s according to a support article Microsoft posted to several regional markets this week, though a spokesperson later clarified to Gizmodo that only users in the following areas can expect to say goodbye to the voice assistant: Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Despite dropping the app in these regions, Cortana itself remains “an integral part” of the company’s business model to incorporate “conversational computing and productivity” into its products according to the spokesperson, so Microsoft doesn’t appear to be closing the coffin on it entirely.
According to Gizmodo, at least in North America, we’ll have to put up with the company’s post-Clippy assistant on our smartphones until January 31, 2020.
Cortana’s death has been a long time coming. Last year, Microsoft’s CEO admitted that the company’s virtual assistant could keep up with the likes of Alexa or Siri.
Score one for those of us who don’t want our gadgets listening in on us. I can only hope that Halo’s Master Chief will be able to quickly deal with the loss of his long-term companion and move on with his life.
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A great American has passed away. US Representative for Maryland's 7th congressional district, Elijah Eugene Cummings has passed away at age 68.
Elijah Cummings has been an inspiration for as long as I can remember. We have lost one of the last true statesmen in this broken US political system.
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The U.S. congressman from Maryland, who died early Thursday morning at 68, was a long-time warrior for justice, truly a great man. He spoke truth to power even as a member of the power class. And the Democrat was not above pleading, with rival Republicans or constituents, for what he knew was right.
He chose politics and public life because he wanted a better country, a better city. Immersed in the complex problems of both, he kept his eyes on the prize all through his career. As a member of Congress, with oversight of government operations at a range of levels, Cummings was in the role of examiner, and what he examined was usually bad — from incompetence by bureaucrats to price gouging by corporations to the abuses of power of the executive branch. And so his words were often aspirational, uttered while mired in mud, yet pointing us toward a mountaintop.
On Saturday, September 14th, the grand and ultimately fatally flawed experiment known as MoviePass will finally come to an end. And this time, it looks permanent. Read the rest
Rest in peace, Mr. Money.
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Eighties hitmaker Eddie Money died on Friday following complications from stage 4 esophageal cancer. He was 70 years old.
“The Money family regrets to announce that Eddie passed away peacefully early this morning,” his family said in a statement to PEOPLE. “It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to our loving husband and father. We cannot imagine our world without him. We are grateful that he will live on forever through his music.”
The “Two Tickets to Paradise” singer’s death came less than a month after he announced that he had been diagnosed with the disease.
I got told by a friend as I described what I was having for lunch "enjoy your sandwich". With the way that my brain works, I instantly heard, insdie of my skull Bruce Springsteen singing Warren Zevon's My Ride's Here from the Enjoy Every Sandwich tribute album that popped after Zevon's death in 2003. This, in turn led me to a wicked heartache over the fact that there will never be another Warren Zevon tune brought into this world.
Listening to him play Play it All Night, acted as a bit of a balm against that pain. I'm pretty sure that this video would have been snagged by some lucky audience members attending the concert tour where Zevon's Learning to Flinch live album was recorded. His writing's pretty dark, but damned if it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
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This video perfectly encapsulates everything I remember when first meeting Zeke the Sheik so many, many years ago. Tim Dundon, Altadena's composting vigilante, has passed away at age 77.
Decades ago I was planting my first home vegetable garden. A large portion of the soil needed to be replaced and my friend David took me to meet Zeke the Sheik. Zeke maintained THE PILE.
The pile appeared to be a double lot completely covered by a 15' to 40' high mound of compost. Zeke had planted a huge and dense hedge of vegetation around the property to try and act as a firebreak, as the gas the pile would off-put occasionally burst into flame.
I got soil from Zeke all those years ago. He spoke in rhyme and really entertained. Whenever you were way the heck out near Altadena you could stop by and say hi. I knew he had legal troubles with his neighbors and the place sure seemed odd-ball, but Zeke was dedicated to the pile and worked hard to make it safe and healthy.
The other day my friend David told me that Tim Dundon had passed away. I apologised and said I did not know who that was. It never occurred to me that he was anyone but Zeke the Sheik. Tim certainly led a colorful life and composted a lot.
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Dundon, a rhyming whiz known widely by his alter ego “Zeke the Sheik” and whose legendary, mountainous compost pile delighted some and troubled others — and who famously defended himself in court in rhyme — died Monday in West Hills, said his friend Ilham Akraa.
New Orleans music and cultural legend Art Neville, who co-founded the Meters and Neville Brothers, has died. He was 81 years old. Read the rest
It's the end of a geeky era: After 19 glorious years of flogging movie, comic book and gaming-related swag, ThinkGeek is shuttering its website next month.
From The Verge:
ThinkGeek will officially close down its website and will migrate its operations over to its parent company GameStop’s website instead. In the meantime, the store is holding a 50 percent off “moving sale.”
By way of explanation, a GameStop spokesperson would only provide the following business-speak: The company is “engaging in a strategic business transformation initiative to build the GameStop of the future,” and that as part of that effort “we have made the decision to reorganize our ThinkGeek business by streamlining the operations of our ThinkGeek.com ecommerce platform and transitioning it within our GameStop.com omnichannel platform.”
Apparently, renewing that domain name every year was way outside of GameStop's budget. I suppose that being able to buy the same kit online will do, but it just won't be the same. Back in the day, I bought a number of handheld console emulators from ThinkGeek. It always felt like I was getting away with something special. I can't imagine having that same customer experience by shopping through a corporate behemoth like GameStop.
On the bright side of things, for the time being, over 40 of ThinkGeek's brick-and-mortar shops will remain open across the United States. I mean, you can't shop there at 3am in your underwear like you could with their website, but it's something, I suppose.
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Gene Wolfe, author of more than 30 books including classics like The Book of The New Sun, has died at the age of 87.
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'Super Dave Osborne' and 'Marty Funkhouser' have left us. Read the rest
Ricky Jay – magician, sleight-of-hand artist extraordinaire, actor, author, scholar of weirdness and oddities, Guinness award winner for throwing playing cards – passed away on November 24th at age 72.
Ricky Jay's life and legacy have been dutifully celebrated in the feature documentary Deceptive Practice, an enduring 1993 profile in The New Yorker, and lately by David Mamet's eulogy. The man indeed left a dent in the magic community.
A personal note should say enough for my love of this man's work. I have only one object hanging on my studio walls: an original print of Ricky Jay’s book cover “Cards as Weapons.”
I was a teenage kid when I stumbled upon the card-magic bible "The Expert At The Card Table" by S.W.Erdnase. This book became an obsession of mine for a few years; eventually I translated and published the work in my native Italian. One day I got my paws on a VHS tape of a man who took Erdnase’s century-old presentation “The Exclusive Coterie” and brought it back to life – with humor, a charming style, and a never-before-seen flair. I was completely enraptured. That performance set the bar for artistry and excellence for years to come.
Ricky Jay’s long time friend, collaborator and co-conspirator Michael Weber said, “The real mark of an artist is not becoming known as the finest exponent of their art. It’s when the only way to describe what they do is to name them.”
Well, Ricky Jay’s name is set in stone: an artist in a league by himself. Read the rest
The deeply missed Robin Williams will have some of his best work commemorated in a massive 22-disc box set called Robin Williams: Comic Genius. Produced by Time-Life, the set includes all five of Williams' HBO specials, his best talk and late-night show appearances, 11 episodes of Mork & Mindy, the 2018 HBO Documentary Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind and so much more. Seriously, there is a TON of material in this set. Complete details and ordering information are available on Time-Life's website. Here's the preview: Read the rest
Former US Marine and well-known actor Al Matthews has passed away at the age of 75. His portrayal of Sgt. Apone in Aliens remains one of my favorite all-time military characters. Read the rest
Punk, Algerian chaabi music, Rai, rock and techno: Rachid Taha had it all going on. He drew inspiration from the music of North Africa, New Orleans jazz, delta blues, The Clash and Elvis Presley. He cut his teeth spinning albums as a DJ and playing in a number of bands as he came of age in France. He worked with famed producers like Don Was and Steve Hillage and traveled in the same circles as David Bowie. In his later years, he was slowed down by muscular dystrophy, but he continued to rock, nonetheless. You've very likely enjoyed his music used in films and video games without ever knowing it. It's beautiful, fire-filled stuff.
On September 12th, Rachid Taha passed away at the age of 59. Read the rest
Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday at age 81 from an aggressive form of brain cancer, wrote a farewell letter to America. The letter was read by family spokesman Rick Davis this afternoon.
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My fellow Americans, whom I have gratefully served for sixty years, and especially my fellow Arizonans,
Thank you for the privilege of serving you and for the rewarding life that service in uniform and in public office has allowed me to lead. I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them.
I have often observed that I am the luckiest person on earth. I feel that way even now as I prepare for the end of my life. I have loved my life, all of it. I have had experiences, adventures and friendships enough for ten satisfying lives, and I am so thankful. Like most people, I have regrets. But I would not trade a day of my life, in good or bad times, for the best day of anyone else’s.
I owe that satisfaction to the love of my family. No man ever had a more loving wife or children he was prouder of than I am of mine. And I owe it to America. To be connected to America’s causes — liberty, equal justice, respect for the dignity of all people — brings happiness more sublime than life’s fleeting pleasures. Our identities and sense of worth are not circumscribed but enlarged by serving good causes bigger than ourselves.
After announcing yesterday that the Arizona Senator and American war hero was discontinuing his treatment for glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, John Sidney McCain III has died. Senator McCain's office released this statement just moments ago.
McCain served in Congress for 36 years and spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton as a POW in Vietnam. He was 81 years old.
[Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0] Read the rest
If you love New Orleans-style piano or simply subscribe to joy, the music of Henry Butler would be welcome in your home. Gospel, old school rhythm and blues, Caribbean-tinged jazz and, of course, that signature syncopated New Orleans sound made renowned by musical luminaries like Jellyroll Morton and Professor Longhair--Butler could play it all.
And he did.
His playing challenges the ears, turning well-known standards up on their ends to show listeners what's inside of them. Sadly, we're all given our time to go. There'll be no more Henry Butler for us to enjoy, save what has already been recorded. Butler died in a hospice facility this week, in Brooklyn. He was 69 years old.
From the New York Times:
Mr. Butler commanded the syncopated power and splashy filigree of boogie-woogie and gospel and the rolling polyrhythms of Afro-Caribbean music. He could also summon the elegant delicacy of classical piano or hurtle toward the dissonances and atonal clusters of modern jazz. He could play in convincing vintage styles and sustain multileveled counterpoint, then demolish it all in a whirlwind of genre-smashing virtuosity.
As The New York Times' obituary of Butler points out, Dr. John once called Butler “the pride of New Orleans and a visionistical down-home cat and a hellified piano plunker to boot.”
Knowing that his playing will inspire generations of musicians in the decades to come feels like cold comfort in the wake of the loss of such a talent.
The older I get, the stranger it feels to watch as the musicians who inspire me fall to the ravages of time. Read the rest