News of the Week: Farewells, Phone Numbers, and Fig Newtons

RIP David Bowie

David Bowie
By AVRO (Beeld En Geluid Wiki – Gallerie: Toppop 1974) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There aren’t many musicians who reinvented themselves for every generation, were admired for their acting as well as their music, were fashion icons for both men and women, and were also their own Internet service provider, but David Bowie did all of that and more. Many people are honoring the British rock icon, including director Cameron Crowe, Ricky Gervais, and Iggy Pop. Wesley Morris at The New York Times has an interesting piece on how Bowie challenged MTV when they weren’t airing videos by black artists, Politico‘s Jack Shafer writes about the art of dying in public, and the cover of next week’s Time will feature Bowie.

Bowie died of cancer last Sunday after struggling with the disease for the past year and a half. He was 69 and leaves his wife Iman and two children. His death came just two days after the release of his latest album, Blackstar.

Alan Rickman also passed away this week. The actor, best known for his roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter films, died yesterday. He was also 69 and had also battled cancer.

Oscar Nominations

Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre
By Greg in Hollywood (Greg Hernandez) (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Every year when the Oscar nomination are announced, one thought goes screaming through my head: “Wow, I don’t go to the movies enough.”

Same thing with this year’s nominees, which were announced yesterday. Here’s the complete list. Looks like The Revenant leads the way with 12 nominations, followed by Mad Max: Fury Road with 10. It’s good to see an action movie with a Best Picture nomination. Other films getting a lot of nominations include Spotlight, Room, and The Martian.

Bridge of Spies got several nominations, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance), and Adapted Screenplay, though surprisingly no noms for Tom Hanks or director Steven Spielberg. Nice to see Charlotte Rampling get a Best Actress nomination for 45 Years. And Sylvester Stallone! Who would have thought that 40 years after first playing Rocky Balboa he’d get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for the same role in the sequel Creed?

“Writing’s on the Wall,” the theme song to the James Bond movie SPECTRE, was nominated for Best Song. It won in the same category at last week’s Golden Globes. If it keeps winning all these awards, that must mean that all the other film songs this past year were really, really terrible.

Surprising the Ridley Scott didn’t get a nomination for directing The Martian, since many think it’s his best film in years.


I knew I wasn’t going to win the lottery on Wednesday. I was so sure that I wasn’t going to win that I wrote that first sentence three hours before the Powerball numbers were even drawn. That’s either cynicism or just being realistic. If you haven’t checked your tickets yet for some reason, the winning numbers were 4-8-19-27-34 and (10).

There were three winning tickets though, sold in California, Tennessee, and Florida. So now we can all go back to not playing  Powerball because the next jackpot is only going to be  a measly $40 million or so.

You can do whatever you want with the money, but it would be great if your first move would be to, I don’t know, buy a subscription to a great magazine?

Facebook vs. Phone Numbers

Facebook on a phone
dolphfyn /

Question: Do you remember the phone numbers of other people, like your siblings and your friends? This used to be something you had to remember. Even when you could program someone’s number into your landline so you could just press one button and speed dial, you still memorized important phone numbers of people you knew. I still remember the phone number I had 45 years ago, and I still remember my sister’s phone number (in fact, she has the same number she had decades ago).

But now we live in the age of smartphones and texting and you don’t have to remember anything. With this technology and things like Google, where you can look things up instantly, we never have to “know” anything again. It’s a lost skill.

Facebook doesn’t think we need phone numbers anymore, even if we have our phones next to us 24/7/365. David Marcus, Vice President of Messaging Products at the social network, has written a post at the company’s blog that explains how phone numbers are yesterday’s technology — like the flip phone — and in 2016 they will be replaced by … Facebook Messenger! Not only will we be able to call each other, we will also be able to send each other GIFs and money! Because we all want to send money to people via a Facebook app. And because “we’re all social beings now,” we’ll be able to customize the icons we send to each other. You know, so you don’t send a pornographic emoji to your mom by accident.

I’ll give up my phone number when Verizon comes to my front door and orders me to give it up. Oh, and I still have a flip phone too, Mr. Marcus.

Can a Monkey Own a Selfie?

Macaca's self-portrait
By Self-portrait by the depicted Macaca nigra female. See article. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Can a giraffe apply for a trademark? Can a dog buy insurance? These are some of the questions courts have to settle these days.

A federal judge in San Francisco has ruled that Naruto, an Indonesian monkey that somehow took a picture of himself using a camera that a photographer had left unattended, doesn’t have any rights to that picture. The case came about after the photographer published a book that included the image. The image was then posted various places online, including on Wikipedia, without permission. The photographer asked Wikipedia to take it down, but Wikipedia argued that since it was the monkey that pressed the button to take the picture and not the photographer, it cannot be copyrighted and he (the photographer) has no control over it. The judge agreed but said that he has no legal authority to give copyright to animals; copyright law was updated last year to specify that only humans can hold a copyright.

PETA represented Naruto and wanted all proceeds from a victory to go to the monkey and others that live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. But if the monkey doesn’t own the photo and the photographer doesn’t, then who does?

The judge said that maybe this is a case for the President and Congress, so stay tuned.

Here’s the Tricky Part

Tomorrow is National Fig Newton Day. I don’t know if you’ve bought any in the past few years, but they’re just called Newtons now. Maybe Nabisco thought that the word “fig” would drive away the younger demographic. They come in many flavors now. You could buy them at the store, or if you’re feeling ambitious you can make your own at home with this recipe from Serious Eats.

Here’s a 1977 commercial for Fig Newtons. In the ’70s, people dressed and danced like figs.

David Bowie’s Shrimp Tempura Recipe

Since David Bowie passed away this week, I thought I’d share his recipe for Shrimp Tempura. I wouldn’t eat shrimp even if they were covered in chocolate — actually, especially if they were covered in chocolate — so you’ll have to make it and let me know how it is. It’s from the terrific Dinner Is Served 1972 site.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

The Brinks Robbery (January 17, 1950)

Over $2.7 million in cash, checks, and money orders was stolen in the Boston robbery, which was the biggest cash grab in history at the time.

Northridge earthquake (January 17, 1994)

The 6.7 quake, which struck at 4:31 a.m., killed more than 60 people and caused widespread damage.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 18)

Here’s SEP Archives Director Jeff Nilsson on “The Dangerous Doctor King“.

A.A. Milne born (January 18, 1882)

The British writer was best known for his Winnie-The-Pooh stories, but he also did a lot more.

Iran hostages released (January 20, 1981)

​The news this week that 10 U.S. sailors were detained in Iran and then released comes just a week before the anniversary of the 1981 release of the U.S. hostages in Iran after 444 days in captivity.​