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The title “A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet” is going to make some readers move on because they figure “I know all about the Internet. I’m no beginner.” Of course you are.

This is 1999. To a viewer who is under 20 years old, this may seem like a film from the 1950s. This is the World Wide Web. You know, the www is a web address. No social media, no streaming video, no blogs. Your web browser was Netscape Navigator or Opera or Mozilla or maybe the Internet Explorer that was pre-installed on your Windows computer.

Google was launched the year before, but no Chrome browsers, just a search page. And a competitor to guiding you along the information superhighway was the Internet portal company Lycos who made this film with John Turturro.

John Turturro was no unknown. The year before we saw in the cultish film The Big Lebowski. In this short film (38 minutes), he plays a history teacher (aspiring comedian) whose car breaks down in Tick Neck, Pennsylvania on his way cross-country to Las Vegas.

While he is stuck there, he stops in a diner, connects his laptop modem to the phone there and dials up his internet service provider’s number.

1999 was the end of the 20th century and just before the Internet (we used to capitalize it) exploded.

Where did you see this film? Definitely not online. A film of that length would have eaten up all my data for a month, and probably wouldn’t have loaded anyway on my dial-up connection. But you get a free rental VHS videotape copy of it at your friendly Blockbuster, West Coast Video stores, or a public school library. It was probably shown in some classrooms.

The film, funded by Lycos, was a good promotional tool and it might have help educate the public about the World Wide Web. Lycos was in 1999 the most visited online destination in the world. In 2000, Telefónica acquired it for $12.5 billion.

There are some now-funny lines in the film. A kid tells Turturro “My family doesn’t own a computer, and my dad doesn’t like ’em. He says facts are facts.” His dad was probably quite happy with the 2016 election result.

I wrote earlier about Orson Welles unfinished last film, The Other Side of the Wind, and attempts to finish it by others since his death.

Orson Welles has been gone for more than 30 years and his last feature film (F for Fake) was released 15 years before that. It has been a long time since we had a new Welles film.

I have had mixed feelings about this “new” film release since it was hot in bits and pieces over the years whenever Welles had some money to proceed. Now, it has been completed by others.

Orson probably would have loved streaming services like Netflix producing films – especially with their generally hands-off approach.

The Other Side of the Wind debuted at the Venice Film Festival in advance of its November 2nd release. Bruno Ghetti of Brazil’s Fohla de S.Paulo wrote, “It’s a film with clearly a beginning, a middle and end. And given the complication of production, surprisingly it does not appear to have been completed by someone other than the one who started the assembly four decades ago. The Other Side of the Wind may even be a mess, but it’s a pretty consistent mess. And fascinating in its madness.”

The film was shot by Welles between 1970 and 1976. The making of the film is the subject of at least one book and a documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (Netflix). The film went into a kind of editing limbo at one point because of the Iranian Revolution! (Some of its financing had come from the Shah’s brother-in-law.)

“The Other Side of the Wind” is also a film-within-the-film. That faux film is an artsy “New Hollywood” kind of movie that was in vogue while Welles was shooting which he seems to dismiss..

As the trailer shows in bits, the film has a documentary style shooting, quick cutting, and switches back and forth between color and black and white (probably as much for financial reasons as artistic ones.). I suspect the styles also vary based on when Welles was shooting and under what conditions. And we can’t ignore the impact of those who have completed the film without his involvement.

There are plenty of film references and appearances by other directors. The film’s star is John Huston and Welles’ good friend Peter Bogdanovich plays a filmmaker. Other filmmakers include Norman Foster, Claude Chabrol and Dennis Hopper. Those three directors span a lot of world cinema history.

Will I watch the film? Of course.  Welles told Huston when they were shooting: “It’s a film about a bastard director. It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”  (Orson Welles’s Last Movie: The Making of The Other Side of the Wind)

I’m heading out for some vacation and hoping to do easy for some time. If you ever read Jack Kerouac, you may recall Old Bill Lee. The character was based on a writer, Beat Generation elder statesman, and substance enthusiast named William S. Burroughs.

Burroughs was a primary figure of the Beat Generation. He wrote eighteen novels and novellas, plus short stories and essays. Naked Lunch (1959) and Junkie (1953) are his best known books.

William S. Burroughs # 3 | Print

Film director Gus Van Sant says that reading a Burroughs essay called “The Discipline of DE” years ago had a big influence on him. So he looked up Burroughs in the New York City phone book, found him, called him, and was granted a visit during which he pitched an idea for a film. He asked him for the rights to use his essay for a film.

From the essay:

DE is a way of doing. It is a way of doing everything you do. DE simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.

You can start right now tidying up your flat, moving furniture or books, washing dishes, making tea, sorting papers. Consider the weight of objects exactly how much force is needed to get the object from here to there. Consider its shape and texture and function where exactly does it belong. Use just the amount of force necessary to get the object from here to there. Don’t fumble, jerk, grab an object. Drop cool possessive fingers onto it like a gentle old cop making a soft arrest. Guide the dustpan lightly to the floor as if you were landing a plane. When you touch an object weigh it with your fingers, feel your fingers on the object, the skin, blood, muscles, tendons of you hand and arm. Consider these extensions of yourself as precision instruments to perform every movement smoothly and well.

Van Sant made a nine-minute short that puts images to Burroughs’ words, and “The Discipline of DE” (1978) which was his sixth short film.

Van Sant would later cast Burroughs in his feature films Drugstore Cowboy and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

So, I am planning on a week of “doing whatever [I] do in the easiest most relaxed way [I] can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE”

The 1950s in America was TV time. In 1949, only 2 percent of American households had a television set. By 1955, 64 percent of American households had a TV set.

It would take about a decade before educators and some of the public would start to complain that television was ruining children’s brains.

TV stations did have a problem filling up air time. Remember there was no way to record shows, so once a show was broadcast that was it. No reruns. (A few shows did get filmed with movie cameras right off a screen. They were known as a kinescope.) Most shows were live. There were old vaudeville acts, shows adapted from radio programs, travelogues, kiddie shows, shows for housewives, quiz and game shows. Most of what you saw was “local programming.” Sports entered the scene, and baseball and boxing were most popular.

Stations soon discovered that using old films from travelogues to features was a good way to get content that could be repeated because it was already “prerecorded.”

Though I am really a child of the 60s, I toddled my way through the second half of the 1950s and certainly watched TV. One movie showcase that I remember ran in the New York metropolitan area was on WOR-TV (Channel 9 for us) and was called “Million Dollar Movie.”

I read online that it ran in various formats for three decades. It was the HBO of the time as it ran the same film all week long, sometimes two times a night. The idea was that you could watch it at your convenience, but for the station, it filled a lot of hours. Younger readers will not remember that stations “signed off” at night and in those early decades of television, there was nothing to watch overnight.

The opening credits for the show used “Tara’s Theme” from my mother’s favorite film, Gone With the Wind. The films shown were often features that had been in theaters a few years before with “million dollar” budgets (a big deal back then), but it also ran some low-budget films. I got my early film education watching Astaire and Rogers dance across our tiny screen and plenty of westerns. I probably watched King Kong and Mighty Joe Young a half dozen times.

There was nothing educational or interactive about TV. It was passive and that was why we loved it.  We gathered around the “cool fire” of the television hearth as a family to watch and “chill out.” We made popcorn as if we were in our own movie theater.  Eventually, we convinced my mom to get frozen “TV dinners” (which were pretty dreadful) for us to eat while watching a show as a special treat.

In 1961, Newton Minow, FCC chairman, called television a “vast empty wasteland.” It got nicknamed the “boob tube” which was not a reference to breasts but to the idiots (“boobs” meant that too) that watched and maybe those that made TV.

Literary critics, educators, government and religious leaders would all blame TV for destroying the habits and the moral fiber of the American family. No one was reading. Kids weren’t go outside to play. Hollywood and theaters blamed it for a drop in their attendance and dollars (though they would later embrace it).

But the program that I was thinking about when I started this article was an odd littel show from the 1950s that was actually interactive.  It was on CBS and it was titled Winky Dink and You. It was a kids show that encouraged you to draw on the TV screen with crayons as you watched to interact with the characters. If the cartoon characters needed a bridge to cross a river, you were supposed to draw it there for them.

Of course, you were also supposed to buy a “magic screen” cover for your TV from the producers of the show. I suspect there were kids who drew on the actual TV set a few times.

The show first aired on Saturday mornings in 1953 and was carried live by about 175 stations around the country during its first year.

The technology was really crude and the stories were pretty dumb, but it was like nothing else on television at the time. My mom bought the screen for my sister to use. It came with some crayons in various colors. Of course, if you didn’t draw that bridge, the characters still went over the river. At first, I tried to make the bridge or road or whatever do other things too, somehow imagining I had some control over he program.

There was human host, Jack Barry, who told viewers what to do to help Winky Dink, the child-like animated character, who got into lots of trouble and we had to help him out. You traced Barry’s finger on the screen with your crayon to draw. No artistic talent required.

I found online that the actual magic screen set (available from the show originally) cost $1.98, and 2 million Winky Dink magic screen sets had been sold by February of 1955.

It was a great marketing idea, but there was also the idea that kids wouldn’t just be passively watch a show.

Winky Dink ran until 1957 and there were a few attempts to revive it or something like it all the way into the 1960s. The show was revived in syndication for 65 episodes, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1973. In the 1990s, a new “Winky Dink Kit” was sold, containing a screen, crayons, and all-new digitized Winky Dink and You episodes, but by then “educational television” had turned into a more passive talk-at-you approach.

When I was getting a graduate degree in media, I recall reading about the show and attempts at interactivity in the big 3-volume reference book, TV in the USA: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas. Bill Gates said it was “the first interactive TV show.” I suppose the most interactive we ever got with the TV screen wasn’t with any shows but with videogames. Maybe it’s time to revisit interactive TV in this age of artificial intelligence and many types of screens.

Television has attracted and distracted me my entire life. These days it seems as though there is so much content available that it is impossible to keep up. people are always asking me “Did you watch ______?  (fill in the blank) and most of the time my answer is No.

I actually keep a list of shows to watch. This is part of this era of streaming options, on-demand and binge watching.

And then there is cutting the cord that tethers you to cable and paid services. I have Netflix and Amazon Video and have some free offer access to HBO and Showtime, and just those offer way too much to consume.

I tend to stick with only a few series at a time. Too many and I can’t keep track of what episodes I already watched or what happened in them. Too many times my wife and I have returned to a series after a week or two and watch the “previously on” clips at the beginning and asked each other “Did we see that already?”

If you really want to cut the bills for content there are plenty of sources for free movies and TV shows. YouTube has a lot of free stuff (and now has low cost content too), and there are mostly free older movies and shows in the public domain in various places.

I can always watch old comedies like His Girl Friday , My Man Godfrey or My Favorite Brunette for free on a slow and lazy day.

There are channels designed to provide free content. Crackle (now owned by Sony) was a channel I discovered a few years ago when it popped up on y smart TV and was showing the first seasons of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I have since watched all those episodes and now the series has moved to the paid land of Netflix.  Crackle has movies, TV shows and some original series.

The big networks have taken note of the free and the cord cutters and now offer some free online content and have been moving into their own streaming networks.

AT&T recently merged with Time Warner and launched a new low-cost streaming service, WatchTV. You can stream through the WatchTV app or on some browsers at no extra cost with AT&T’s two latest unlimited wireless plans. For everyone else, you can purchase WatchTV for $15 per month. It has  over 30 live channels and 15,000 TV shows and movies on demand. It’s like a mini-cable subscription with A&E, AMC, CNN, Food Network, TBS, TNT, BET and Comedy Central.

But back to free…  Have you seen Tubi TV? It offers some popular shows and films without a subscription. The selections are updated weekly. You can get the app for your Apple devices and Android. That points to two trends: entertainment at zero cost, and watching TV (or should I just call it video?) on smaller devices like your phone.

Of course, we are still buying big TV screens and throwing content up there too. This week I was showing friends a slideshow of my son’s wedding photos by plugging a USB flashdrive into the side of the big TV.

No lack of alternative entertainment.

Halley’s Comet only comes into the inner solar system about every 76 years. The last pass at its perihelion was in 1986 and I got a glimpse of it. The next one should be in 2016 and I won’t be around for that visit.

But Earth intersects Comet Halley’s orbit twice each year. Around now, we can see bits of this comet as the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower. Then, in October, Earth’s orbit again intersects the orbital path of Comet Halley and the broken pieces from Halley’s Comet burn up in Earth’s atmosphere as the annual Orionid meteor shower.

The comet itself is a mountain of ice, dust and gas, but each pass near the sun breaks it up more and it sheds that trail of debris. Astronomers say it lost about 1/1,000th of its mass during its last flyby in 1986.

It is truly awesome (we tend to forget what awe really means) that Comet Halley has circled the sun innumerable times over countless millennia. I am doing my 65th circle this year and I surely have lost a lot over those orbits (though not mass).

A meteor shower can be from fragments (meteoroids) the size of grains of sand or gravel smashing into Earth’s upper atmosphere. This creates those vaporized fiery streaks (meteors) across our sky. I suppose we have our birthday candles

Right now, Comet Halley is outside the orbit of Neptune at almost its most distant point from us (aphelion).

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