‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z – The New York Review of Books

The [Twilight Zone’s] articulate underlying philosophy was never that life is topsy-turvy, things are horribly wrong, and misrule will carry the day—it is instead a belief in a cosmic order, of social justice and a benevolent irony that, in the end, will wake you from your slumber and deliver you unto the truth.

[…]

The show’s most prevalent themes are probably best distilled as “you are not what you took yourself to be,” “you are not where you thought you were,” and “beneath the façade of mundane American society lurks a cavalcade of monsters, clones, and robots.”

This review of a new book, The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) highlights all the things that made the series not only great in its time, but also an enduring television classic. It’s hard to imagine a series that was more influential on the American psyche at such a time of turbulence. The fact that it still has resonance is testimony to its unique vision.

I wish the series was more affordable in digital format. I bought the first season on the iTunes Store some time ago when it was $10, but each season is $35, which is excessive. I have the entire thing on DVD, and I just don’t have the time to rip them. You can get the whole set on Blu-Ray for only $70. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Source: ‘The Twilight Zone,’ from A to Z | by J.W. McCormack | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

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What’s the Best 3B Pencil?

I like pens and pencils: nice ballpoints and rollerballs (I’m less a fan of fountain pens, because they’re too messy), and a nice, solid mechanical pencil is reassuring to write with. But I especially like using wooden pencils. I like the way they feel in the hand, I like the smell – when they’re made from cedar – and I like the way they write. I don’t mind sharpening pencils; with mechanical pencils, you never have to sharpen, but the thinner lead makes writing different.

Over the years, I’ve found that, for me, the best pencil for writing is a 3B. It’s a dark, soft lead, and, on a nice pencil, it’s very smooth. Outside the US, pencils are graded on the HB graphic scale, which ranges from 9H to 9B. H is hard, and B is black. So the standard pencil – an HB, equivalent to a #2 in the US – is fairly neutral. It is dark, but not too dark; it is hard, but not too hard; a nice compromise for many people.

One reason I prefer the 3B is because it is smoother. I hate writing with a pencil that scratches the paper; the sound bothers me, and the feel in my hand, as the pencil resists, is disagreeable. A 3B provides both wider, blacker text, and that smoothness that allows the pencil to glide on the page. Darker pencils glide even more – at least most of them; this depends on the brand – but they wear out very quickly, and need to be sharpened every couple of minutes.

I’ve long used – for a couple of decades – the Derwent Graphic 3B, and I very much like the balance between hardness and smoothness, and the black that it produces. But there are lots of other pencils, and perhaps there are some that might be better. With this in mind, I decided to buy a number of different 3B pencils to compare them.

Read more

Words Matter: Why Companies Need to Be Very Careful What They Say on Social Media

A few days ago, I discovered a security flaw at the company that hosts my website. I reported this to the company, NameCheap, and to a security researcher I know, Graham Cluley. Graham, in turn, shared this information on twitter, and on his podcast Smashing Security.

One thing that irked Graham – and me – was the way that NameCheap’s representative on Twitter used the term “teeny tiny” on Twitter to describe the extent of this vulnerability’s exploitation. And they also suggested, on Twitter, that it shouldn’t be discussed publicly:

Namecheap twitter

This is despite the fact that the information I published did not in any way explain how this vulnerability could be exploited, but merely described its result. (NameCheap later provided a detailed explanation.)

There’s been a bit of back and forth between Graham Cluley and NameCheap CEO Richard Kirkendall (see this Twitter thread), much of it about the terminology that was used. “Teeny tiny” is not a technical word, and, to my ears, sounds dismissive.

This is problematic. Twitter is used as the voice of companies. A tweet can be as important as a press release; heck, even the US president announces policy in 280 characters. Companies that don’t realize this run the risk of being misunderstood, especially when something as sensitive as a security breach occurs.

In my article about this issue, I congratulated NameCheap on their rapid resolution of the problem. But I have communicated to Mr Kirkendall about the fact that I have not received any formal notification from the company regarding this breach, even though NameCheap said that all those affected – apparently just 12 domains – would be contacted. He has apologized on Twitter. He also said a full audit of the incident would be made, which is, of course, normal when there is this type of security breach.

The fact remains that Twitter leads people to speak quickly and sometimes rashly. I have worked as a journalist for long enough to know how important a choice of words is. I’ve worked hours on press releases with clients to get just the right words. And a tweet, especially when it is seen as an official statement from a company, is not very different from a press release. The wrong words have consequences.

Here’s Why Apple Will Fail at Original Video Content

Apple has launched a number of projects creating original video content – apparently, “TV” series for now – but there is already some sand in the works. As MacRumor reports, show runner Bryan Fuller, who was slated to run Apple’s Amazing Stories series, has left the project.

Fuller is said to have wanted to turn “Amazing Stories” into a Black Mirror-style show, while Apple is aiming for a more family friendly series.

This is why Apple will fail. “Family friendly” TV series don’t do very well today, at least not with critics. There are plenty of such series on TV, cable, and on Netflix and Amazon, but they aren’t the ones that get the mentions in the press about “the golden age of television.” It’s the series like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire, and others, that get noticed, not because they are not family friendly, but because the broke barriers and went places that others didn’t dare. Of course, with something like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, these daring elements have been taken to excess, becoming parodies of themselves, but if Apple thinks they can do a Disney and have any presence in original series content, I can’t see that it will go very far.

It’s interesting how Apple has no problem selling and renting movies and TV series that are not family friendly, but draws the line at putting the company’s name on such content. What’s the difference? You’re selling the stuff either way. If you really don’t want sex and violence – as they prohibit in apps they sell – then stop selling it.

To be fair, I’m not a fan of gratuitous violence, and I gave up on Game of Thrones early on, and tried, really tried, to stick with The Walking Dead for a while, but couldn’t go on. (I’m a fan of that sort of post-apocalyptic thing; like Stephen King’s The Stand.)

This said, there’s no reason why excellent TV can’t be family friendly. But in today’s television climate, it’s difficult. West Wing is one of the best series ever on TV (IMHO), and it was a network show. Friday Night Lights was a brilliant series, that ran on a network. And Downton Abbey was far from controversial. There are plenty of comedy series that are family friendly. But to push the envelope, there needs to be daring topics, ones that may have some swear words and some tits, and, well, some violence. Black Mirror, House of Cards, Westworld, Homeland, True Detective; all these current and recent series would not pass on US network TV.

But if Apple draws the line at family friendly TV, they will miss out on the next big series; the next Game of Thrones, True Detective, or Breaking Bad. Let’s face it, Reese Witherspoon will not be part of cutting-edge series drama.