Distracted By The Cracker: The Real Point Of Soylent Green

This article was originally written almost exactly two years ago. So much irony, so little time.

UPDATE: Shortly after I wrote this, my friend and Fanboy Planet editor Derek McCaw asked if he could run it there as well. Well of course you can Derek! In the prepping he suggested that the “distracted by the cracker” line made a better headline, and I had to agree.  Now it’s 2022, the year of the food riots and mysterious death clinics, and somehow this all feels that much more poignant. With that in mind, I’m updating the title of the story here as well. Thanks again Derek. You, Janice Gelb, and Deborah Robins are my editors who still live in my head while I write, and sometimes I even listen to y’all.

-Ric Bretschneider, January 10, 2022

SPOILER WARNING – This post contains spoilers for Planet of the Apes(1968), The Omega Man (1971), and Soylent Green (1973).  Read at your own risk if you have not seen all three of these movies.

If you like science fiction, there are likely two things you like about discussing it.  The first are the spoilers, but only shared with those who have also experienced them first hand. Repeat after me, I will never share spoilers with those who have not seen them first hand. You also likely enjoy the unexpected and sensational twist. The hook that turns much of what you’ve seen on it’s head. It’s fantastic when it’s a surprise, thus the spoiled surprise or spoiler.

Some of these events are so crazy as to have gone from horrific or shocking events to funny punch-lines. And so many of them have are known to more people than have actually seen the spoiler event first hand themselves.

I want to talk about one of these specifically. 1973’s Soylent Green is partially based on the Harry Harrison book Make Room, Make Room. The book deals with a few New Yorkers in 1999, as overpopulation has started to make everyone’s life unbearable. If you’re not into reading books (oh you sad creature) you can read Harrison’s short story Roommates which covers much of the same ground in fact with the two main characters of both book and movie.

Last chance, I’m about to spoil the movie. The big twist in Soylent Green doesn’t appear in the book or short story. In the film’s future of 2022 (still the future!) the “greenhouse effect”, what we used to call Climate Change and Global Warming when we discussed it 50 years ago, has killed much of our food supply and turned an overpopulated world into a starving and poverty stricken experience. The hero of the movie is Frank Thorn, a police detective played by Charlton Heston.  Heston made a career of playing heroes in science fiction movies with twists. “It was Earth all along” in Planet of the Apes.  “My blood will save humanity as I lay dead like crucified Christ” in The Omega Man to name two. Heston’s Frank is investigating a murder, complete with suspects, red herrings, and a bigger plot twist than anyone expected.

Frank has a older and wiser roommate named Sol Roth, played by Edward G. Robinson. Ironically, as you’ll see, this was Robinson’s last picture before he died. We’ll get back to Sol in a bit.

Of course, you likely already know what Frank discovers; that the corporations are distributing a new food source, Soylent Green, which supposedly manufactured from plankton. But it isn’t actually coming from our dead oceans. It is recycled people. The corporations are placating the general population by feeding them to themselves.  “Soylent Green is People” a wounded Frank cries from his stretcher as he’s carried off.  “You’ve got to tell’em!” he shouts into the crowd as the film ends.

As I said, this was shocking when you were lucky enough to see it without it having been spoiled. Gross, vile, and disturbing. But over the years, the shock value has worn off through repetition. It’s a joke, even a prop as you can see from these pictures from my own bookshelf.

That box of crackers is always good for a chuckle. The shock has totally worn off, and the supposed absurdity of the proposition has left us with a weak joke. And this is especially true for people who know the spoiler even though they’ve never seen the movie.

And for those folks, they likely miss the real horror of this movie, as have so many people who have actually seen it.

Why? Let’s get back to Sol.

Remember, Sol is a lot older than Frank. He’s watched the world die. And he knew the world before things got bad. He can look at his environment and feel more than frustration, more than anger, Sol can feel real sadness at the loss. And that’s depressing.

So depressing, that in the pivotal moment of the movie, Sol heads off to an assisted suicide clinic, supposedly run by the government. Here Sol spends his final moments immersed in classical music and videos of the world before, the wildlife, the oceans, rivers, the nature, all so beautiful. Frank catches up with Sol here, and sharing this glimpse of the world now gone he weeps saying “How could I know, how could I ever have imagined?” For indeed, he could not have.

Update for 2022.  I had a YouTube video clip of Sol in the clinic, but Warner Bros. Entertainment blocked it, as is their right. So I’m replacing it with the film trailer here which does show a few seconds of that scene.  Enjoy 2022, the year of Soylent Green. -R

With Sol’s death the movie shifts back into detective story as Frank follows Sol’s body from the suicide center to an unmarked factory where bodies are rendered down into substance that becomes the eponymous Soylent Green crackers. Before he can escape with his discovery he’s attacked and wounded, which leads to the final scene in the movie, the warning that everyone remembers.

It’s almost as sensational as the revelation in Planet of the Apes, with Heston on the beach in front of the Statue of Liberty, which of course is what the director was going for. The whole Soylent Green aspect of the movie was exclusively cinema, it was not part of Make Room, Make Room.

So what’s my point? Again the sensational aspect of this obscures the real tragedy and horror, the actual warning. We are so grossed out at the idea that we’re involuntary cannibals that the message is easily missed.

Depression is the real villain here. Even with it’s ineffective bits of revolution, world of tomorrow is so awful that depression is a generally natural state. Not because people can’t see babbling brooks and baby deer, but because there’s nothing life affirming about existence any more. At least for everyone not in the 1% of super rich. And that 1% has figured things out. Use the depression. Provide a service, the euthanasia centers, that both figuratively and literally feeds the populations needs. Depression is not a state of mind to be treated, but a state to be systematized and used by the corporations, the wealthy, the government, to both placate and manage the population. That’s the horror, that’s the evil. It’s right there, but we’re distracted by the cracker.

And what would that future day after Frank’s bloody revelations be like? Would it resonate and become as common knowledge as the spoiler is today? Would the physically, mentally, and socially wounded populace react with horror and revolt, or just admit that they need it to be the new status quo?

Science fiction aside, look at today’s politicians who can lie, cheat, and break laws without repercussions. The rich who have more wealth than they can possibly spend, but pay no taxes. Of corporations who are caught poisoning both the land and the people, yet still can pay dividends to their executives and stockholders. The powerful who deny climate change because it would cut into their bottom line. These are trite, almost comic-book level villains and villainy, but we’re living with them daily. And we put up with them, because even though the middle class is shrinking, and 1% of the population owns more than half the world’s wealth, we’re generally well fed and even more distracted.

One in 13 people in the world today will have a psychotic depressive episode before age 75. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 16.2 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2016.  Nearly 7 percent of American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year.

And it’s not getting better.

Are we that far away from Soylent Green’s subtle message from 1973? Are we too focused on laughing at Frank Thorn’s sensational shouted warnings from 2022 that we are not watching for the subtler and more deadly manipulations?

Or is it just a stupid movie from the ’70s?

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Review: Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds

Can I tell you about a unique book experience? I’m going to work hard to spoil none of the book’s surprises, while telling you why this is a book you should enjoy.

Consider a prolific writer, now long passed, whose legacy lives on beyond the words he wrote. Consider almost 80 novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, even more created by those who want to extend the legends he created. But know that until recently, the official canon of novels was limited to those penned by Burroughs himself.

But now, there’s new life being brought into these epic stories. Several existing books, written by authors other than Burroughs, have been deemed worthy by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and have been accepted into official canon. More astonishing, four new novels have been commissioned by modern authors to extend the stories with new adventures and new connections between the worlds Burroughs created.

Let me tell you about the first of these; Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds

Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds

Carson of Venus: The Edge of All Worlds

Not as famous as Tarzan lord of the apes, or even John Carter of Mars, the story of Carson Napier and his adventures on cloud-covered Venus have only been available in Burroughs’s five original books and a few comic book series. Carson is a distinctly different type of hero than those most of us think of when we consider the amazing civilized savage Tarzan, or the human superman on Mars that is John Carter. Carson is much more the everyman, in fact he’s somewhat prone to falling into troubles far beyond his ability to deal with them. Even out of his element, he is no less dedicated and heroic in dealing with otherworldly dangers to himself and the people he cares for. Perhaps this all adds up to make him a bit more believable.

So, it’s very cool, and a little risky, that this new set of novels starts with Carson of Venus instead of one of Burroughs’s more powerhouse and well-known heroes.

Now if you read and enjoyed Carson’s prior adventures, I have a simple review for you: Go get this book. It is a worthy extension to the series. Without sacrificing the pacing and style of the prior efforts, new Burroughs author Matt Betts successfully refreshes it with a light touch of modern sensibilities that does nothing to detract from his success at emulating what we love about the originals. You can stop reading now, go out and get this book.

On the other hand, if you’ve never spent time under the perpetual clouds that cover the lands and seas of Venus, or if you’re suspicious of “pulp hero adventures” being too juvenile or out of touch with modern adventures, let me assure you that this is a rich and well-told tale.

Part of the charm of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories comes from the fact that they were originally told in segments, installments in magazines that were later collected into novels. This provides a tale told in installments, no less cohesive in its whole, but satisfying in smaller sections. This makes for a great reading experience, and very accessible whether you’re a reader who stays up until 3am to finish a book or one who reads a few chapters a day. Unlike many of the unofficial Burroughs series follow-up authors, Betts honors this style in his pacing and storytelling more than I might have hoped possible.

Another trademark of Burroughs fantastic tales was his world-building. It’s hard to make us believe, given scientific exploration and examination that has occurred in the near century since the series began, that we’d find anything habitable on Venus. Betts brushes that aside, continuing and expanding upon the elements that Burroughs used to make the reader to believe in Amtor, the local name for Venus. Besides the already noted weather, and the well populated seas and lands Carson finds himself in, Burroughs was prolific in creating language, linguistical and grammatical rules for the same, and distinct and consistent conventions of life for all the native inhabitants. Betts tale takes us into both familiar and previously unexplored territory here. And he does so both consistently honoring the earlier works, and extending the flora, fauna, lifestyles, and language of the inhabitants. So consistent is this work that few readers will be able to tell what is repeated and what is new to this volume’s story.

Which leads us to the story.

Long established in both the lands of Carson’s allegiances, his firm friendships, and the traditional romantic entanglement, the story starts with the core characters mid-journey. We’re reintroduced to several friends from prior novels, as well as the character Duare, who is the Jane to Carson’s Tarzan. No, we’ll not go there. Duare is much more a partner in adventure to Carson, and we often find her to be wiser and more war savvy than her Earth-born partner. Conversations and ruminations on Carter’s part fill in the backstory for those who are new to the series.

Ironically, Tarzan and John Carter play foundational roles in how Carter came to be on Venus. And it was in a poorly planned attempted trip by Carson to journey to Carter’s Mars that he accidentally crash-landed on Venus. Not much of the early novels is actually given away in this, just what we need to enjoy this story, so those are still available for the enjoyment of the reader. Carter reveals no real spoilers. Instead we’re introduced to a number of new mysteries, including some whose solution will have to wait for future novels. This too was a Burroughs trademark, as he littered such story seeds through his novels to the delight of readers who love tracking them back through prior works.

So, with a mysterious threat to be investigated, Carson and crew head off into new lands of Amtor, encountering fantastic beasts, cities, machines, and people both helpful and threatening. Again, without saying too much, the tradition of including the “noble opponent” who eventually becomes an ally is honored, as well as the counterpoint in an unrepentant and over the top would-be world conqueror. Betts builds characters that successfully stand side-by-side with those who came before.

As noted earlier, Carson is neither the canny jungle savage, nor the Mars-visiting superman. He’s a bit more of an everyman falling from one catastrophe to the next. He certainly wakes up trapped more than most heroes yet is fairly clever about getting out of a spot of danger. He is often the advocate of “going around” or retreating. And he beats the odds on the fortunate appearance of another character he knows or with whom he is able to ally. No less a brave hero, still Carson is definitely one of the funnier as he tries to talk a threatening giant warrior out of smashing, slicing, or otherwise disposing of him. In one memorable scene, as a new angry group is arguing about what to do with him, he glibly offers to solve their problems by simply walking out the door. They don’t take him up on it, but it is an exchange worthy of Spider-Man or even Big Trouble in Little China’s Jack Burton.

And we must remember that this is the first book of what these new Burroughs’s authors are calling a “Super Arc” of story. Several parts of the main novel, and the short story that follows, introduce us to an additional pair of characters. Inventor Jason Gridley from Burroughs’s Pellucidar series is reintroduced along with new character Victory Harben, and both will appear throughout the super arc to tell their tale. This begins in Christopher Paul Carey’s Pellucidar: Dark of the Sun, which is included as a postscript to this novel.

So, to summarize, a great escapist read. One that can, if you let it, lead you to pick up some older novels to catch up on the backstory, while it leads you forward into the new novels that will extend Edgar Rice Burroughs legacy of extended stories of strange lands and incredible adventures.

Venus waits for you.

Ric Bretschneider
April 20, 2020

This review is written after having read an Advanced Reader Copy provided to yours truly in return for an unbiased and honest review.

See Derek McCaw and my video reviews and interview with Christopher Paul Carey, writer/editor and Director of Publishing at Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc at http://fanboyplanet.com/video-carson-…

More information on The Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe and additional upcoming novels in this series can be found at http://edgarriceburroughs.com/erbuniv…

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The Digital Dissolve…

Put another one on the list, and this time it’s significant. I’m talking about e-books. Particularly your rights and ownership of “your copy.” That’s confusing, I know, but bear with me.

“Thanos the librarian snapped his fingers…”

The short of it is that Microsoft will be shutting down its e-book store, and any books you bought from them, and notes you might have made in them, will just disappear.

It’s not the first time one of these e-book “publishers” has decided to shut down.  And in shutting down any e-books it sold will soon just dissolve away into free electrons.  Leaving no book on your tablet, none of the notes you may have dutifully made in the margins, tags, bookmarks… It’s all just gone.

You will get a refund from Microsoft this time, if you’re sharp enough to follow their instructions. That is unless the book was “free.”  Then it just goes away.

Refunds don’t always happen.  I’ve lost books and the money I’ve paid to prior companies with no offer of a refund. Yeah, it sucks. It comes down to the fact that there’s no equity between an e-book and a physical book.  They don’t offer the same feature; permanence. And they should not be priced even close to the same. And don’t get me started on all the years publishers said book prices were going up because of paper costs.

Again, this is not the first time this has happened. Not the first time an e-book publisher has decided to leave the business and essentially removed its books from its customer’s libraries. It’s just that this time it is one of the bigger companies associated with such a closure. And Microsoft isn’t going away, they just decided they don’t want to be in the business any more.  But even that’s not the real point.

The problem is that it’s happening more often these days. I first wrote about this in an article for Fanboy Planet five years ago when my entire collection of  one publisher’s graphic novels disappeared.  (It’s a good set of articles, and it explains the whole digital mess without expecting you to have a degree in computing: Digital Fanboy.)

Recently we’ve seen it in the area of digital movies you already “own.” A big shakeup in that arena left customers scratching their heads over instructions on transferring the digital ownership of materials they had already bought to another service. Several shakeups in fact.  And the fact that it’s happening more often, and in bigger companies, is very disturbing.

I’m finding more and more people, typically younger adults, who are going completely digital these days. It’s a point of honor for them not to own physical things when there is an alternative. To be free of the “burden of the bookshelf.”

And I don’t have a handle on how this digital generation actually feels about their books going away. Not sure it matters to the generation that coined such phrases as “wall of words” and “TL:DR.” And maybe they more easily embrace the impermanence of things.  Or maybe they’re just better at breaking the system; removing the digital rights management that allows publishers to continue to “own” the media they’ve bought. They free up the media they have bought, or maybe “borrowed”, and don’t care because it doesn’t affect them.

I wish I could sum this up in some pithy way, but I only have a sense of dread for you.  I often consider what Post-Apocalyptic Ric might have to do to when knowledge is needed out there in the wastelands. Digital books are gone, wiped off the face of the Earth because we can’t even recharge our batteries. Physical books are the only stored knowledge, because yeah, they don’t need anything but a little light to work.  Can we find a book that helps us make penicillin, perform light surgery, cook up a batch of risotto? Maybe, but maybe not.

I guess I just hope the Apocalypse comes before the digital marketplace replaces physical books completely?  There, that’s close to something bizarrely poignant.

Ric Bretschneider
July 1, 2019

Postscript: I live in both worlds. I love my physical books.  I also love my e-book reader. It lets me carry hundreds of books when I travel. I’m also hopeful that some congressperson will eventually revisit digital rights in a manner that benefits and protects people more than corporations. Yeah, I’m silly that way.

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Sometimes, Always, AppleCare

This is a different kind of Apple rant for me. I do regularly rail against their smug assertions of superiority, the smugger the more likely to be unearned, and I despise many aspects of their designs when they go form over function. Far too many of Apple’s designs are just fashion that often hinders communication and productivity. No, I’m not a fan of Jony Ive at all. Not. At. All.

But I’ve owned Apple products since 1984. Prior to 1984 I had Apple II’s I could take home from work if I wanted or needed to. I bought the original 128k Macintosh on a developer discount the same year I got married (yes, the wedding ring cost more than the Mac, it was a tough year for the bank account, thank you very much.) It’s easier to count the products I didn’t go for (Apple III, Newton, the Kleenex Box Mac…) than the ones I have owned. I have an embarrassingly excessive number of their products. So yeah, me and the bit-fruit go way back.

Now to the point. I’m not typically one for extended warranties. They rarely extend into the years where the product will need it, and often ring up at an excessive percentage of the product’s purchase price. The formula typically resolves to be scammy.


I miss the rainbow logo though.

AppleCare is the one exception. I always buy AppleCare. Today was a great example why.

I’ve owned a number of iPads. My current 512gb iPad Pro is just a month away from being 2 years old. Still clean and working great, but I had been noticing that the battery discharge time was getting faster, even when just left alone overnight. I also noticed that it was never charging up to 100%.

So I made an appointment at the Apple store, expecting to benefit from some kind of battery exchange to fix this. Remember all the nonsense with Apple phone battery problems and hooking owners into costly upgrades? Now batteries do wear out, it’s their nature. I eventually expect to replace some portion of my Tesla’s huge bank of batteries. I’m not going into this shocked or angry. I just figured “why not see what they’ll do?”

I got in to the Los Gatos CA store at 1pm this afternoon.  I had to wait about 15 minutes even though I had a 1pm appointment. No big deal.  I browsed. When the clerk came out we talked about 10 minutes. Then he took the iPad through the mystery door in the back to run a test. When he emerged with my iPad he was also carrying a sealed brown box.

The box had a brand-new, not refurb, 512gb iPad Pro with Wi-Fi + Cellular. Fifteen minutes and one signature later, I walked out of the store with a brand new tablet. It’s sitting beside my keyboard as I write this, restoring data from the backup I made yesterday. All is well.

Pretty cool right? Sure is. But frankly I wasn’t immediately wowed. It’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened. AppleCare has come to my rescue before. I’ve had internal hard discs, graphic cards, and laptop screens replaced before.  This was just the first time they’d just turned over a brand new unit. The reason? They can’t replace the battery in the iPad Pro. They just give you a new one.

That’s about as pain free as it gets, thanks to AppleCare.

So yeah, if you’re pricing out a new Mac or iPad (I’ll try to talk you out of the iPhone thankyouverymuch) I heartily recommend you add AppleCare to the list of things to get.  And I’ll keep recommending it, that is until Jony Ive decides to “redesign” it.

Ric Bretschneider
San Jose
June 20, 2019

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Why I Judge Books by Their Cover

I have another site that I’ve been ignoring for far too long: Book Judgement. I still believe in the site, but I’ve been distracted from it and it’s been out of mind and stagnant. I really hate that.

Basically Book Judgement is someplace where I can review and express my love for the manufacture of books: the binding, typography, cover production, printing techniques, etc. Yes, everything that has nothing to do with the actual content of the book. I find it fun, maybe you will too.  And if you’ve got something you’d like to share there, let me know.  I specifically want to invite others to post their love, and there’s already one there by Hugo Award Winner Christopher J. Garcia.

So this morning’s mail brought me the new Star Wars book. I was not expecting it would end up being a Book Judgement entry. What could possibly be noteworthy about a mass market edition of a long-running science fiction series?  You’ll have to check it out yourself to see!


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Cinequest 2018: Little Women

Guest reviewer: Debbie Bretschneider

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women 150 years ago, and [amazon asin=0147514010&text=the classic novel] has been made into several movies since. This year the newest version is showing at Cinequest! First-time Director Claire Niederpruem retells this ageless story in a modern setting.

The movie starts with Jo (Sarah Davenport), Meg (Melanie Stone), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy (Taylor Murphy) putting on a play from [amazon asin=1420953060&text=The Pilgrim’s Progress], but Beth is videotaping it. And in that one scene, the original book is represented, and yet we know it is a modern setting.

The March family has what may be considered “old-fashioned” values by modern standards and they struggle with trying to fit in with their peers. Meg tries to fit in by going to a high school party at the rich girl’s house, where everyone is drinking shots, but she can’t bring herself to follow the crowd. A reasonable update, and without spoiling anything you can expect that to be continued throughout the film.

All of the characters are there from the book, and the actors have done a wonderful job in bringing their updated selves to life.  The emotions are strong –I laughed and cried during this movie; the emotions felt real. Jo  is the emotional center of the story, and yet everyone is heard and their story told.

Can you tell I liked it?


Runtime: 115
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama
Premiere Status: United States
Language: English

Director: Clare Niederpruem
Screenwriter: Clare Niederpruem, Kristi Shimek

Lea Thompson
Ian Bohen
Lucas Grabeel
Bart Johnson
Melanie Stone
Adam Johnson
Sarah Davenport
Taylor Murphy
Michael Flynn
Allie Jennings
Stuart Edge


Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3 Tue, Mar 6 8:00 PM

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3 Thu, Mar 8 5:00 PM

Get tickets!

Debbie Bretschneider
March 4, 2018
San Jose CA

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Cinequest 2018: Peaches

In a future that never was…

One of the nice things about the people who produce Cinequest is that they apparently have a thing for time travel. Not that they travel in time to get their scheduling done, but that they tend to feature films and shorts where there is an element of moving forward or backwards in time.  This year, with Peaches they move forward and backwards in one film, but they start out kind of sideways to begin.

Imagine a near-future present where a company whose design sense borrows heavily from ATARI in the early 1980’s but the devices are all kind of chunky and bulky. A future where everyone has hover cars, and smartphones don’t have big displays, but instead print answers to questions out on paper tape. And a future, for some reason, where people in theaters are offered cans of peaches as a cinema snack. Frankly, you could have made a whole movie just on this premise.

But Peaches goes one better, bringing in a failing relationship and one man’s efforts to fix it with technology.

We all know the rules of time travel by now. Never travel to a time and place where you’re sure to meet yourself. Never do it twice at the same time. Three times is a very bad idea. And a dozen or so… well, that could be real trouble.

Laura and Diego have gone back to the scene of a prior romantic stay to fix their failing relationship. However, the cute set of bungalows they travel to are abandoned, barely holding together. But somehow Diego convinces the reluctant Laura to give it a try. Of course the inventive type-A Diego is incapable of acting spontaneously, and that’s exactly what Laura needs. So of course this getaway is obviously doomed. The appearance of Laura’s ex, a narcissistic stalker, pushes things right over the edge; their breakup is assured.

However, Diego works with some secret cutting edge technology that he just happens to have in the trunk of his car. He cobbles together a time machine (Yes, I know. Just go with it.) and travels back in time to “fix things.” Of course, Diego is still clueless about what Laura needs. Even confessing to Laura  his willingness to travel through time to fix things, he’s done nothing to deal with Laura’s objections. He blows it a second time.

So he goes back in time again, to fix the attempt to fix their relationship. I’m sure you see where this is going. Lather, rinse, repeat. Marty McFly had a much easier time just trying to get his parents to their first kiss. Diego is literally his own worst enemy.

Peaches is a funny, clever, and oddly voyeuristic set of loops through time, each getting more twisted in trying to undo or redo prior or future solutions to bringing the magic back into Diego and Laura’s relationship. Unlike other twisted time travel  tales, this one isn’t likely to make your brain hurt figuring out what’s going on right now and what version of Diego or Laura we’re currently following. You’ll spend too much time laughing, and wondering where you can get one of those phones.

Ric Bretschneider
March 3, 2018
San Jose, CA

Runtime: 80 minutes
Rating: Not rated (guessing PG-13 for nudity and language)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy
Language: Spanish (subtitled English)
Director:Hector Valdez
Screenwriter: Jose R. Alama, Felipe Jimenez Luna, Hugh Sullivan, Hector Valdez

Peter Vives
Maria Guinea
Joaquin Ferreira



It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year. And watch Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review first appeared on Fanboy Planet.

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Cinequest 2018:
Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out

This is exactly what I love about film festivals.

Sure, a lot of the time you end up walking out of the theatre and back into daylight with a new perspective on a way of life, a hopefulness about our children’s futures, a dire warning, or even a quick little laugh. And that’s all great, very nice, a good use of time.

But occasionally you get to experience a film that mashes up a half-dozen things that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do, and exceed your growing expectations with each new creative scene. It’s the kind of film experience that has you chatting with other viewers about all the films it kind of reminds you of, but agree that you’ve really never seen something even close to this before.

And it starts with two girls getting ready for a night out.

Charlie and Hannah have friends, past lovers, prospective lovers, jobs they’re not excited about, and an evening free to get drunk and forget about things. They also have two foil-wrapped pieces of magic. Those packets may have looked like a drug, but they turn to the audience and assure us “it’s homeopathic” right before the lights begin to flash and a short kaleidoscope of psychedelica. Eventually things calm down and they decide to leave the party for other debauchery. But a door has been opened, and it’s time for a ride through.

This is where it no longer makes a lot of sense to follow the “plot.” Rather enjoy that we’re treated to a series of character introductions, tests, vignettes, an elegant bordello that offers a tryst with the Bennet Sisters, and part of town where the town’s parts discuss their own lives. The black and white of the film occasionally breaks into other soft-edged aspect ratios and old fashioned telescoping dissolves.  Scenes from earlier in the film play out later in the unacknowledged background. A quest for Tilda Swinton’s scalp is failed because, although a mummy in denial is in tow, “Fonzie” forgot to hop. It’s crazy, lovely, absurdist stuff, with sharply clever dialogue and amazingly creative situations for our characters to literally fall though.

Where else will you encounter Catherine the Great bumming a cigarette and making a reference to a sexual encounter using the Large Hadron Collider as a metaphor? Some unexpectedly high-brow dialogue occurs between Charlie’s left and right breast. And can you imagine how things go when Hannah ends up in as spooky old house where all of a sudden they’re washed in the somber blue and red lights of a Hammer horror flick? Of course you can.

Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out draws deeply upon the best dialogue from late ’70s Woody Allen, Federico Fellini’s crazy night scenes, and physics and biology charmed from the films of David Lynch. I could go much further, but this is one of those cases where you’re best prepared when you’re unprepared.

Go, see the film. Trust me. This is what film festivals are for.

Oh, yeah. Don’t leave until the projector bulb goes dark or you’ll miss one of the funnier side stories resolve itself. It’s worth waiting for.

Runtime: 72 minutes
Rating: Not rated (guessing PG-13)
Genre: Comedy
Language: Dutch (subtitled English)
Director: Bert Scholiers
Screenwriter: Bert Scholiers
North American distribution: October 2018

Evelien Bosmans
Daphne Wellens
Patrick Vervueren
Frances Lefebure


Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 2
Thu, Mar 8 7:15 PM Buy Tickets

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3
Sat, Mar 10 9:15 PM Buy Tickets

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 10
Sun, Mar 11 5:55 PM

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year. And watch Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

Ric Bretschneider
San Jose
March 2, 2018

Posted in Audience, Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Movies, Review, SciFi Fantasy, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cinequest 2018:
Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out

Cinequest 2018: Hunting Lands

The snow is clean. The woods deep. The forest quiet. We watch the hunter prepare for the hunt, the stalking, siting, the eventual kill, all with solemnity and simple nobility. There are deep currents here, but we’re given none of the details. We only see that the view we are given is compelling and interesting.

And then, something abominable happens.

Hunting Lands takes us smoothly into the viewpoint of a veteran recluse, living off in the woods, self sufficient and capable. This is no crazy writing a manifesto in a shack, he’s got some backstory that allows him a life of relative comfort and solitude. There doesn’t seem to be a desperation here, so much as a choice to be alone.

The woods and the snow are almost characters themselves.  Not a heart of darkness mood, more light and pure in it’s unspoiled white. The camera plays with focus, alternating between branches in blurred and sharp resolve.  The hunter moves through it, patiently, takes one quick kill, and then prepares the deer for transport. And as he returns homeward, he is witness to the final step in a crime, certainly the work of a different type of killer.

Hunting Lands keeps us solidly in the point of view of the hunter as he moves from forest to small city stalking the killer and learning his background. He drives through the slush of small town main roads, carefully observing his prey, slowly assembling the background and reasoning. And we explore right along with him.

The cinematography moves between the stark and beautiful shots of the woods, and the dirty and tawdry city streets and buildings.  Each draws us in with its own compelling power. The observation is done from afar, long camera shots from the hunter’s perspective, and most of the film has no dialogue at all. Instead we’re provided with vignettes and pantomimes that peel back a view into the killers likely motivation and opportunity. There is no one certainty here, the detective work is more a confirmation of suspicions than the discovery of a smoking gun. But there is some very compelling evidence that before the end something else will die.

It’s noteworthy to repeat that we are treated to just a few pages of conversation through the whole film, and that in turn lends itself to my one complaint. When these conversations finally happen, it feels like a cheat to the rest of the quiet power in the film. It’s an unfortunate deus ex machina where I wish the writer had continued to let us discover the truth from afar.  How much more powerful and creative would this have been if the whole film had been free of any spoken word, the story told only told through distant observation, like a hunter patiently sighting down through the scope of a rifle.  I don’t mean to say this is by any means a fatal flaw, just something I wish they’d explored.

So far, Hunting Lands is my favorite Cinequest offering. And it’s early enough that you should be able to work it into your schedule at one of the four showings over the next two weeks.

Runtime: 83 minutes
Rating: Not Rated (We’d guess PG-13)
Genre: Drama
Premiere Status: World
Director: Zack Wilcox
Screenwriter: Zack Wilcox

Marshall Cook
Joe Raffa


Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 11
Sat, Mar 3 5:50PM

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 18
Mon, Mar 5 6:15PM

California Theatre, San Jose
Wed, Mar 7 5:00PM

3Below, San Jose
Sat, Mar 10 7:35 PM

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year. And watch Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review was first published on Fanboy Planet.

Posted in Audience, Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Movies, Review, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Cinequest 2018: Hunting Lands

Cinequest 2018: How to Cinequest!

As regular listeners to the Fanboy Planet Podcast know, San Jose’s award-winning Cinequest film festival opened last night.  Opening night at Cinequest typically features an independent film that has or is expected to shortly gain general distribution, and last night’s film Krystal, featuring Rosario Dawson and actor/director William H. Macy should be no exception. But yeah, unless you were there, you missed it.


Burt Reynolds and Ariel Winter in ‘The Last Movie Star’

But like I said, it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of this film.  The Fanboy Planet review will be up shortly. Still, it does point out one of the beautiful downsides of this festival. Get your plan going quick, or you’ll miss it.

Luckily you still have two more weeks of Cinequest to enjoy! And we’ll help you do just that in this article.

For many, Cinequest is more about the indies; smaller independent films. Indies are a joy. Why? Because independent filmmakers and their crew are typically trying to tell stories they love and believe in, using a medium with which they’re similarly in love. And they do this without the interference of large corporate studios who answer to stockholders more often than their heart. And so you get some unique and memorable experiences, unlike what you’ll see in general release.

Aw. Isn’t that sweet.

But indies can be hard to find. Or rather, can be hard to find just the right ones for you.  There are hundreds of films being shown at Cinequest, you likely have not heard of most because they simply don’t have the backing money to advertise to you. So how do you decide what to see?

Short Film Program 4: Animated Worlds

Well, you can browse the program guide, if you have the time. Note the ones that sound interesting. Head down to the festival and discuss them with other film lovers, and sometimes just take a chance. It’s common for a long conversation between strangers at Cinequest to start with “what film are you looking forward to?” Because at its heart Cinequest is two weeks where a community of film lovers gathers, enjoys films and each other’s company, and occasionally makes a few new long-term friends.

Before I Forget

Cinequest is also an opportunity for audience and creators to mingle. That guy sitting next to you might be the director of this film, or may give you a postcard advertising his film that’s showing later in the day. If you’re a film fan, the opportunity to discuss what went right and wrong, what you loved or didn’t, and to get feedback from the creators themselves, is a terrific experience. Often for them as well. People involved in independent film are doing it all for the love of the subject matter and the art.

So, from this we can wrap up with a few pointers on getting the most out of your time at Cinequest:

  • Look for World Premieres!  There are lots. And you get the “yes, great film! I was at the premiere back in 2018!” bragging rights.
  • Look for the names you recognize, this is often a chance to see actors stretching into roles we’re not accustomed to seeing them in. (You missed Grant “The Flash” Gustin playing a pot smoking artist in Krystal already!)
  • But don’t ignore the films and actors you’ve never heard of. One of the real joys of cinema is going to a film where all the big beats haven’t already been spoiled by weeks of advertising trailers.  Again, think future bragging here. (Come on, you know you love that.)

Virtual Reality at Cinequest

And don’t forget, Cinequest is also a VR film festival again this year. These programs are easy to fit into your schedule, and short, so there’s really no excuse not to attend a couple. The danger is you may decide that now is the time to buy a VR setup for your home. Don’t laugh, it’s happened.

Most of all, for Bay Area / Silicon Valley folks, this is an opportunity to get out to an annual event that celebrates the love of creativity in Cinema, bringing to you unique and memorable experiences. You can go out and catch your 8th viewing of Coco later in the month. Now is time for something new and exciting.

By the way, if you act right now you can get tickets to the Nicolas Cage event tonight at 7:30pm. Rumor has it he’s getting a Maverick Spirit Award!

And don’t miss his VR program ‘The Humanity Bureau VRevolution’

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review was first published on Fanboy Planet.

Ric Bretschneider
February 28, 2018
San Jose, CA

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Games, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Technology, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cinequest 2018: How to Cinequest!

How Many PowerPoints in the World?

I thought it would end when I left Microsoft. But no, to this day I get variations on the question on a regular basis:

“How much PowerPoint is there in the world?”

Most of it stems from an old article where an unnamed Microsoft employee (I’ve come to assume this was an otherwise uninformed salesman, perhaps not even a full-time employee) said something to a reporter to the effect that <some large number> of PowerPoints are created every day. While that source, the quote and the number have been largely discredited, the misinformation still hangs around the internet because it was quoted so often by people trying to impress their audience.

So why be concerned about this in the age of Alt-facts? Because it tasks me. It’s a ridiculous endeavor, it need not be used, and in the end it’s actually working against someone who is trying to sound impressive using it.

Allow me to break that down, here, just the two of us chatting.

Recently Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, was at a conference and made the claim that Microsoft Office had more than 1 billion users. The actual quote was Office has 1 billion plus users.  There even used to be a video of him saying it, but in typical Microsoft web site fashion, the links have gone stale and no longer renders. You could even get suspicious that there’s a plot afoot there, but let’s avoid that temptation.

We can assume Nadella shared this information to impress the audience with Office’s continued dominance in the field of business software. Fair enough, he was talking to developers and trying to convince them to continue using Office as a development platform. But since the statement, there’s been a fair amount of discussion among my PowerPoint Cognescenti friends as to how that comment could be used in their own presentations and writing. Seems like a small thing, but I love these folks for their needing to be exacting and perfect in their own quotes and statements.

So, given Nadella did say this let’s really examine what we can actually say about this, and how it could be said.

First, it’s important to try not to extrapolate more than the info you’ve gotten, and to be conservative if when you have to.  Again, the offhand quote from Satya was “Office has 1 billion plus users.” Now break that down from the POV that Microsoft uses.

Define user. OK, Microsoft pretty much defines a user as someone who has Office on their machine. While they do try, they don’t get instrumented data from all those machines for dozens of reasons, they get them from a fraction of the installed population. So we can’t really break down usage of Word, Excel or even PowerPoint based on that 1B+ number.

Helping pollute the value of this number is the fact that Office gets installed on almost every PC sold. Yes, it’s the full build of office, but it’s limited in function until you enter a special numeric code you need to buy.  Does that original installation count in the 1B+?  Likely. But then lots of PCs get reformatted, especially in business where they install the approved corporate disc image on new machines.

So the number already feels kind of amorphous. But let’s use it anyway because we can credit it’s viability to Nadella. That’s as close to official Microsoft as you can get.

What about use?  Let’s say a “user” must “run Office” to qualify. This is an inherently faulty assumption because we already admitted MSFT can’t flawlessly tell if Office has even been launched.  What does “run Office” mean?  At least one of the apps must be run. In business cases I think this is overwhelmingly Outlook, because of adoption of Exchange servers and email being something you basically can’t ignore in business. Of course there are plenty of people who also run Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But can we tell how many of those use Office to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations? We’ve already admitted defeat there. But it’s very safe to say a high percentage of use is to consume the work of others using the apps; reading attachments, company policy docs, etc.  Maybe talking about “use” is a non-starter given what we have to go on.

So “one billion plus.” We have a number at a point in time. That leads us to ask what about was it about that point in time, and the significance of the number. One billion sounds huge of course. Was it just the most recent statistic Satya had at hand? Seems most likely. Was it extrapolated from sales of individual units, license activations, and existing subscriptions? No doubt. But was there something special about that point in time? We can gain no perspective, and that’s really important. Was that a high point? Did it represent a growth trend? Are they on the way out?  You just can’t tell from one data point. We’ll get back to that.

So where does that leave us? What can you say to WOW your audience about the way PowerPoint has conquered the business world?

I’d say, the best statement you can make to regular folks, if you feel you have to, is something like this:

While Microsoft doesn’t typically announce official usage, in 2016, and such numbers are very hard to accurately account for, Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, claimed that Microsoft Office had more than 1 billion users. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of Office/PowerPoint out there in the world.

But my real point is, is there anyone alive who really needs to be told this?  It’s a silly statistic now, kind of like calculating the average number of heartbeats someone has by age 50. Big numbers are typically impressive, but essentially useless in application. Think about the National budget, debt, exports, imports… do you recall those numbers without looking them up? Did knowing any of them (providing you’re not a Senator seeking reelection) matter in your day-to-day? Do they mean anything in isolation? No, of course not. The population of bluefin tuna being estimated at 3.7 million doesn’t sound so bad until you understand it is off 97% from historic numbers. One data point doesn’t work in isolation.

Image courtesy of Animal Life : http://animalia-life.club/openphoto.php?img=http://newenglandbluefintuna.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Tuna-Decline.png


But let’s get a little sillier before you go.  When you can add a little perspective, sometimes the actual number’s effect is diminished as opposed to common perception.

Help me out here.  How many of your acquaintances have launched PowerPoint this year? That includes anyone who had to read an e-mail attachment. If you’re reading this blog I think it’s safe to say a conservative 7 out of 10. We won’t quibble up or down a point,  just go with it so we can do a little reasonable calculating.

Warning, I’m going to play it a little fast and loose with the presentation of the maths here. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, I’m just trying to stay in the ballpark and keep it easy to follow. The deeper calculations are unnecessarily mathy for our purposes here.

There are 7.5 billion people on earth. So that means that given Satya’s 1B+ number, we can say that the ratio is 1:6.7 ish. We’ll use 1 in 7 as this is easier to illustrate the math and close enough for our purposes.  So 1 in 7 people on the planet are Office Users.

But remember that your personal perception, the number based on your experience with actual people, was closer to 7 out of 10 (I still think that number is low, but I’m trying to make this an example, not an argument.)

By giving your audience an “accurate” number, you’ve just taken your general perspective of use down from 7 out of 10 to 1 in 7.  Or, easier to compare, 49 in 70 vs 10 in 70.  About a fifth or the impression you had before you tried to include “The World.”

And that’s why I think it’s kind of pointless to talk about world’s use of PowerPoint. Your audience already knows it’s essentially ubiquitous in their world, you don’t need to confuse them with math. Instead, focus on just making good presentations that compel your audience. That’s tough enough, and appreciated more.

Ric Bretschneider
San Jose CA

Posted in Business, Geeking around, Graphics, Media, Organizations, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Random thoughts, Software, Technology, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Dark Tower – Defending the Rose

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Probably the best opening line in literature. Yeah, better than Call me Ishmael.
(Seriously Ishmael, I was just asking you for a name to write on your coffee cup!)

OK, settle down. The Dark Tower movie came out this week to meh reviews at best.  And that’s a real shame, because it’s kind of special. No it’s not as epic as I would have liked. You can see that the studio didn’t fund it as much as it should have, and the writers turned in a script that was a tad short, a bit weaker than most of the King novels.

But I want to come to the defense of The Tower. (And I wanted to write that line.)

To provide some backing: I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and perhaps a bigger fan of his Dark Tower series. I’ve been a Tower junkie since the beginning, before it was an amazing epic, back when it was a handful of novellas all bound together in a very limited edition “never to be reprinted.” (Luckily King broke that promise.)

Roland, today's Gunslinger

Roland, today’s Gunslinger

So I’ll tell you that while The Dark Tower movie does not follow the books faithfully, that’s entirely fine by me.  It’s totally in keeping with some secrets we learn in the book. I’d say more, but I’d spoil some of the best moments in any book series for you. So I have to talk around the secrets, my gift to you.

That’s what makes this difficult. You just have to trust me. The series has my highest recommendation, even though I’ll admit that the first book is hard to get through. But that first volume is quite short, and the payoff in reading from the 2nd book on is tremendous, a unique experience. And lucky you! You don’t have to wait the 22 years to have them all ready for you.(Or was that 30? Hard to count in this case.) When you’re “done” you’ll sit there thinking “I wish there was more.”

And the movie is a way of granting that wish.

The Gunslinger and the Rose

The Gunslinger, the Rose, and the Tower

So it saddens me that reviewers of the movie, who apparently haven’t read the books themselves, depend on “so many people” complaining how movie doesn’t closely follow the book. It’s obvious that their screening of vox-populi-sub-reviewers didn’t include anyone who actually understood what was going on in said books. And that’s tragic because it’s that much cooler to realize that the movie is a continuation of the series, not a traditional adaptation.

Of course there are also some people, let’s call them ignorant racists, who are upset about casting a black man as Roland. Idris Elba’s reputation aside, I had my doubts. But that was just because my picture of the literary Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and the House Deschain, also know as Will Dearborn, son of Stephen, last of the line of Arthur Eld was vividly painted over decades. Of course Elba isn’t exactly the Gunslinger I had crossed Midworld with. But that’s exactly right, exactly correct, entirely in keeping with all that has come before. You’ll just have to trust me on that. And know that with a television series and perhaps more movies in the future, I’m looking forward to walking a new path along the beam with Roland’s new Ka-tet very soon.

Ric Bretschneider
August 6, 2017
San Jose CA

And for those reading all the way to the end. Should you want the secrets spoiled, or just enough to make a bit more sense…

Read the books!  Thank me later.

Still not convinced? OK, there’s a great little page that will let you expose yourself to some or all of the answers right here. If you want more speculation, read the comments on that page, but note that like any comments page, they’re best left unread.

And that serves as an invitation to leave your comments below.

Thought that didn’t fit in comfortably anywhere else: 
One definition of “adaptation” is a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel. But it’s also a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. Think about that. 

Posted in Books, Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, Review, SciFi Fantasy, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on The Dark Tower – Defending the Rose

Pointer Points for PowerPoint (And Keynote, and Excel, and…)

In my time designing features on the PowerPoint team, one of my favorite “secret” features was the built-in laser pointer. The fact that its a secret also means it’s a failure, because we made a nice feature that to this day few people know exists.

Because of this, I need to demo it for you right now, just so you can have some context for both my shame, and my specific interest in this area.

So, pretty cool, right? You’ll use it the next time you need it right? If you remember.

So, it’s a great thing to have in a pinch, but it doesn’t really eliminate the need for an regular laser pointer, they don’t require you to be at the computer with both hands free to work the computer. And we haven’t really needed a separate laser pointer for quite a while because any decent hand-held presentation remote control has a laser pointer built-in.

Except for the pointer that recently arrived in the mail. And it’s my new favorite.

Logitech’s Spotlight Presentation Remote, is a sleek bit of design and manufacturing. Available in silver, slate and gold colors. It’s very “minimal” having only three buttons.

The Logitech Spotlight Presentation Remote

The Logitech Spotlight Presentation Remote

Minimal design is terribly important to me when it comes to presentation remotes. I get questions all the time from companies designing them. They want to know what PowerPoint can do, what sneaky trick in the software would make a great new feature in their remote. They want their remote to have a unique selling point over their competition. And they think that adding more feature-specific buttons and adding things like virtual mice to their pointer is going to make their sales improve.

And maybe it does, but in the end I wonder how many of those special buttons get used, and how many are just sitting there waiting to accidenally confuse the presenter. So my answer to these designers is always something to the effect of: Presenters are in a terribly stressful situation, up there in front of an audience, and they need things to be kept simple. Keep your design simple, make it so they don’t have to think about it, that it just works and they can concentrate on their presentation, and you’ll win.

And that’s kind of what Logitech has done here. Understand though, this is a fairly complex bit of hardware, it just shields the presenter from potential confusion very well. Mostly this is because Logitech has put control of the pointer’s configuration, the the complexity of the device, into the support application. You can literally turn off what you’re not going to use in that software.

Setup and configuring is easy. Here’s a quick demo of their application.  It’s fine if you want to skip it, you can trust me on this, it’s easy and pretty cool.

The actual Spotlight remote feels good in your hand. Not exactly form-fitting, but solid. Its burnished metal surface and contoured main “advance” button are both pleasing to the touch and provide enough tactile feedback to be functionally orienting. OK, that’s enough geekspeak. Holding it is nice, and you can tell which end is up without looking.

As I mentioned, there are three buttons clustered on the surface, the spotlight button on the top, the larger and sculpted play/forward button in the middle, and the back/previous button at the bottom. The only other thing you’re going to notice is the rubberized fabric strap on the base that is connected to a removable dongle.

The dongle allows you to connect to computers that don’t have Bluetooth, so enough said about that, but it also covers the charging port. The charging port itself is the newish USB-C, and the remote comes with a 5.5″ charger cord with USB-C on one end and standard USB on the other. With a 2.5 hour charge, Logitech says you’re going to be good for 40 days. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, but it hasn’t gotten down to the red blinking light yet.

To use the Spotlight, you need to install a nifty application (Windows and Mac) that is at the heart of making this a superior pointer. Takes just a moment, and in my experience hasn’t caused any problems with other applications or devices.

So let’s see a quick demo of the Spotlight in use.

It’s kind of important to note that the Spotlight manages all of it’s control through the use of a motion sensor, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, all built into the control.  This means that the control doesn’t actually know if your facing out toward the audience, likely using your laptop to monitor what’s happening on the screen behind you, or facing the larger screen itself.  There’s no orientation to worry about. This means, unlike a laser pointer, you could point out something on your screen without having to face the screen that your audience is viewing. I’m not really sure if that’s as intuitive as it might sound, I think the audience may want you physically involved in pointing something out on their screen as a shared experience, but I’m kind of anxious to try this technique out soon.

As I mentioned, this works for both Mac and Windows, but it also works for Mac & Windows; I did most of my initial testing on a MacBook Pro running Parallels so I could use Windows PowerPoint on that laptop. Even though I only installed the Mac version of the Spotlight software, the product worked great in Windows as well. This was a welcome surprise.

And of course, because the pointer software is integrated at the system, instead of the application, layer, it worked with any application I tried. This is important because there are actually people out there who present using Excel. I’m personally not going to try to shame them, but I am happy that I rarely have to sit through such presentations myself.  Of course it also means that the pointer should work with web-based presentation applications, like Microsoft’s PowerPoint Online, Prezi, Google Slides, and whatever similar applications have come out while I’ve been writing this.

So the upshot:Logitech’s Spotlight Presentation Remote  delivers on every level promised. It seems ready for anything, and the fact that so much of its smarts are tied to software that should be able to be updated and expanded appears to future-proof it quite nicely. I highly recommend this any presenter.

Disclaimer: I received the Spotlight Presentation Remote for free from Logitech for the purposes of this review. But, frankly, it’s in the price range that I would have bought it anyway and returned it if it hadn’t lived up to its claims. Of course, it did live up to every claim, I’m happy with it, and they can’t have it back now. Sorry, I’m keeping it. Hope you guys understand.

Ric Bretschneider
April 21, 2017
San Jose CA

Posted in Audience, Design, Geeking around, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Review, Software, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cinequest 2017: Two Euro Thrillers – Loop and Pyromaniac


Granted, like any other art, not every film is for everyone. We try to focus on giving you reviews that meet our fannish criteria. And today, on the fourth day of San Jose’s Cinequest we have two thrillers, one with a science fiction bent, that you may  want to check out.


You are your own worst enemy.

Imagine the worst day of your life. Now, insert Adam who happens to be reliving his day endlessly. Loop pulls together a supernatural story of a man who gets a second chance to do what is right… then a third, and a fourth. In hopes of saving his wife and future child, Adam has to brave his nightmares and prove himself worthy. Fighting to uncover a scandal that leads to his own demise, Adam seems to be getting in the way of himself. This fast-paced, sci-fi thriller re-defines “the edge of your seat,” leaving one with a thorough boggling of the mind. – Nobuki Fujioka

Runtime: 95
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller
Premiere Status: North America
Language: Hungarian
Subtitles: English
Production Country: Hungary

Director: Isti Madarasz
Screenwriter: Isti Madarasz
Denes Szaraz
Dorina Martinovics
Zsolt Anger

It’s easy to say that Loop is just a grim and gritty Groundhog Day. But you would be very, very wrong. At first this seems to be a very simple plot of a man and his girlfriend caught in a drug deal gone wrong. There’s a fairly sparse cast, a set of somewhat crumbling urban sets for the action (OK, the hospital seems fairly up-to-date) and a real sense of urgency to find a way out. Complications set in when the girlfriend discovers she is pregnant. OK, there’s enough to make a good Coen Brothers / Tarantino movie, and that’s not a bad thing.

Of course, this thriller is thriller/science fiction, so we know going in that there are more unforeseen complications.

Did I say complications? That’s putting it mildly. The “loop” here would have really destroyed Bill Murray’s character’s “everything resets when I die” gimmick. This loop is more like a mobius strip linked with the infinity symbol, with several interstate bypasses thrown in for fun. And yeah, beyond the grim thriller aspects, it’s pretty fun watching how Isti Madarasz keeps teasing us with things that just shouldn’t work out the way we’re experiencing them, only to show us as things progress how it all fits together.  I’m spoiling nothing here, other than to say this may be one of the most complex time-displacement stories, and at the same time easiest to follow, that I’ve ever seen. 

And it’s amazing how few special effects are used. Very little that young filmmakers with their first day using Adobe Premiere couldn’t carry off. The real magic here is in the script, the cinematography, and the acting, all of which are top-notch.

Highly recommended you don’t miss Loop at this year’s Cinequest.  You have two more opportunities to do so:


CineArts Santana Row – Sat, Mar 4 9:45 PM
California Theatre – Thu, Mar 9 9:45 PM

More info and buy tickets


One of the things you begin to notice about films from Central Europe is that many exhibit a slower pace in their storytelling style, in story and character development in particular. It does seem to reflect on a more relaxed lifestyle, and very much complements that slower paced environment. So if you were expecting the kind of frantic and startling film that would be titled Pyromaniac in the United States, you’d be calmly surprised at what the same subject matter does when it comes out of Norway.

Pyromaniac (Pyromanen)

He can’t say no to the urge to burn.

In a peaceful and closely-knit Norwegian village, fear spreads like wildfire, as night by night, an unidentified arsonist goes on a wrecking spree of starting a series of fires. Unbeknownst to villagers, the pyromaniac is no less than an avid fireman himself, Dag – the son of the fire brigade’s chief. As suspicions among his closest grow, Dag’s reach becomes increasingly sinister and audacious, and dread takes over the village. Coming from one of Norway’s most internationally acclaimed directors, Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia), Pyromaniac plays like a disquieting, yet irresistibly alluring dream. It is an impressive, dark delight of suspense and a visual and cinematic tour-de-force, as we delve into the murky waters of a disturbed young mind and the terror he instills in others. – Liva Petersone

Runtime: 96
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Thriller
Language: Norwegian
Subtitles: English
Production Country: Norway

Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Producer: Edward A. Dreyer, Aage Aaberge, John Einar Hagen, Geir Eikeland, Stig Haug
Screenwriter: Bjorn Olaf Johannessen
Cinematographer: Gosta Reiland

Trond Hjort Nilsen
Per Frisch
Liv Bernhoft Osa
Henrik Rafaelsen

Pyromaniac has an interesting and somewhat puzzling protagonist. Dag is a fireman, the son of a fireman, and remembered in his town as having been very smart in school. He’s somewhere in the post education period of his life where he must start to make decisions on what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Of course these fires keep breaking out throughout the rural areas, and he and his fire chief father join the rest of the firefighters to deal with these increasingly dangerous events.

Of course, it’s Dag who is starting the fires. He may not know exactly what he wants to do with his life, but he does seem to have a way with matches and gasoline. As you might expect, adults all think he’s a wonderful kid, even if he doesn’t really fit in with his peers. There’s more than a little frustration there, but unless the first event we see in the film is his initial excursion into pyromania, we’re never given insight into the real how and why of his fascination.

And that’s kind of the depth of this film, and what sets this apart from what we’re expecting. The real tragedy isn’t vest on Dag, in fact you can make a strong case that he’s successful right through the end. The real tragedy, the real victims, aren’t those whose property is lost. It’s the people who loved Dag, and… well, that would be telling.

While not the film you’re expecting here, this is a film worth spending an afternoon with. Even if all that fire is chilling rather than warming.

CineArts Santana Row – Fri, Mar 3 1:30 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 4 10:15 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Thu, Mar 9 4:30 PM

More info and buy tickets

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2017 starts on February 28 and runs through March 12th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

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Cinequest 2017: The Festival Opens – This is Meg

As regular listeners to the Fanboy Planet Podcast know, San Jose’s award-winning Cinequest film festival opens tonight.  While the opening event features Mark Pellington’s The Last Wordstarring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, it’s likely that unless you’ve already made plans to see it or move very quickly, you will have missed it by now.


Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried are sorry you missed their film.

But that’s OK, The Last Word will be available in general release in a few days.

You still have two more weeks of Cinequest to enjoy!

For many, Cinequest is more about the indies; smaller independent films. Indies are a joy. Why? Because independent filmmakers and their crew are typically trying to tell stories they love and believe in, using a medium with which they’re similarly in love. And they do this without the interference of large corporate studios who answer to stockholders more often than their heart. And so you get some unique and memorable experiences, unlike what you’ll see in general release.

Aw. Isn’t that sweet.

But indies can be hard to find. Or rather, can be hard to find just the right ones for you.  There are hundreds of films being shown at Cinequest, you likely have not heard of most because they simply don’t have the backing money to advertise to you. So how do you decide what to see?

Well, you can read the program guide, if you have the time. Note the ones that sound interesting. Head down to the festival and discuss them with other film lovers, and sometimes just take a chance. It’s not uncommon for a long conversation between strangers at Cinequest to start with “what’s the best thing you’ve seen so far?” Because at its heart Cinequest is two weeks where a community of film lovers gathers, enjoys films and each other’s company, and occasionally makes a few new long-term friends.

Cinequest is also an opportunity for audience and creators to mingle. That guy sitting next to you might be the director of this film, or may give you a postcard advertising his film that’s showing later in the day. If you’re a film fan, the opportunity to discuss what went right and wrong, what you loved or didn’t, and to get feedback from the creators themselves, is a terrific experience. Often for them as well. People involved in independent film are doing it all for the love of the subject matter and the art.

A moment of quiet reflection between hilarious encounters…

Which is close to why I chose This is Meg for my first Cinequest 2017 review.  Here’s the write-up from the festival guide:

This Is Meg
Runtime: 85
Rating: Not Rated
Genre:Comedy, Drama
Premiere Status: World
Director: Alex Ferrari
Screenwriter: Jill-Michele Melean

Jill-Michele Meleán
Joseph Reitman
Carlos Alazraqui
Krista Allen
Debra Wilson
Jenica Bergere
She isn’t married. She’s out of a job. She is Meg.

“30 is the new 50 here, lose 15 pounds, Meg! You need to be on new age social media, Meg!” From nagging agents to nagging parents, aspiring comedienne/actress Meg finds herself in a rut as she evaluates how far she is from making it big in Los Angeles. Even the girl singing nude (with tasteful pasties) reached 2 million subscribers. How many chakras need to be awakened to be truly happy in this rough industry? Based on true events (of ANY woman in Hollywood), This is Meg sends us on a whirlwind of an adventure from struggle to enlightenment, the Los Angeles way. – Zarin Khan

So, from this we can see the following:

  • World Premier, always fun to get in on the ground floor when you discuss this later with friends, especially if the film becomes a big hit later.
  • Cast has a few names we recognize, always a good sign.
  • The plot focuses on the lead actress is going through some stuff on her way to “bigger things” (she hopes).
  • There’s going to be a supporting cast of diverse characters, all of whom will either help or hinder her on the way there.
  • And it’s a bit of a Hollywood send-up.

OK, sold! We’re in for 85 minutes!

So what more can I tell you in a review of the movie? It’s the perfect first movie for a film festival because it is so representative of film festival movies.  Yes, indies do tend to tell their own story. By that I mean that it is not uncommon for indy films, particularly comedies and dramas, to tell stories of independent entertainers and artists trying to make their way to more successful and satisfying expressions of their art. Yes, very meta. Not a bad thing, but certainly something to expect.


Typically an independent film won’t be answering to “notes” from the producers or other high-level studio staff. Notes are recommendations, or requirements provided back to the director suggesting changes to the film in production. Of course the idea of “getting notes” is played up in a lot of films as a negative, something impinging on the creative juices of the actual artists. But its easy to imagine that many scenes or even a whole picture has been saved by one or more essential notes.

I would only have one note for this film. There are two scenes went a bit long, feeling like the same joke just kept being repeated. It’s not that they were ruined, but if they had been edited or broken up into four scenes they wouldn’t have felt like they overstayed their welcome. And even at that, the dialog within each is clever and complete. These characters, as crazy or self-absorbed as some of them may be, are well realized within Meg’s world. And that’s pretty cool for comedy where the secondary characters are often just there to deliver the writer’s punchlines.

It’s worth calling out that Meg (Jill-Michele Meleán) and Eric (Joseph Reitman) have some cool chemistry that while not over-the-top comedic, is certainly going to make you wish for a friend or two with whom you could interact as they do. When Brooke (Krista Allen) is added the three provide a scene that is both painfully awkward and laugh-out-loud funny, making the film worthy of a second viewing just to dissect all the so enthusiastically misunderstood and frenetic aspects of Hollywood-style self awareness philosophies.

Ultimately I’d say that you can’t go far wrong giving This is Meg 90 minutes of your two weeks of Cinequest.


Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 4 3:20 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sun, Mar 5 8:30 PM
Hammer Theatre SJ – Wed, Mar 8 1:15 PM
CineArts Santana Row – Thu, Mar 9 6:15 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 11 10:50 AM

More info and buy tickets

-Ric Bretschneider
February 28, 2017

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2017 starts on February 28 and runs through March 12th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And watch here and at Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

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Presentation Pros in NYC


It is so trite, but I do love New York. And it’s been too long since I’ve been to Manhattan. I love the theatre, and it’s probably a good thing I’m not there right now because I’d be running around like a madman trying to get tickets to Hamilton, Fun Home, Shuffle Along, Something Rotten… yeah, did I mention it gets really expensive for me to be anywhere near a TKTS?

But right now I’m also wishing I was in New York for a special kind of meeting.  A gathering of PowerPoint and Presentation Professionals. A an evening of professional fellowship, information sharing, and making contacts. Yeah, getting out there among my people!


What’s that you say? You’re in or near New York, or will be there around July 19th? Well, let me hook you up! Cuz I’ve got the secret password that will get you in the door for free.

You see the Presentation Guild is a co-sponsor of the event, one of the benefits is we can pass along our password to you so you’re in the door and drinking that free wine and beer as you listen to folks like Nolan Haims filling you in on all the new “game-changing” features that have shown up in PowerPoint lately.  You’ll even get an introduction to the Presentation Guild by Marshall Makstein. And several other folks presenting, but seriously, what else would they be doing?

OK, enough. I can tell that you want me to just dump all the data on you and stop whining about how sad I am that I can’t join you. So here you are. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016, 6:30 PM
Russell Tobin, 30th Floor
420 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10170

The 2016 gathering of PowerPoint and presentation professionals is just a few days away. Network with colleagues, creatives and clients on a fabulous rooftop deck in midtown Manhattan while enjoying free wine and beer.

There has never been a better opportunity on the East Coast to hear the country’s top presentation experts.

  • Nolan Haims will speak on Office 365 and the latest game-changing features to have come to PowerPoint.
  • Ellen Finkelstein will be discussing how to design presentations for webinars.
  • P-Spice will share new presentation tips and tricks.
  • Dan Ecker, Director of Creative Services at Russell Tobin, the event host, will give us the low-down on career challenges and opportunities.
  • Marshall Makstein will introduce the Presentation Guild, the new professional organization for presentation design. The Guild is a co-sponsor of the event!

Registration and information at Presentersnet.com.

(Use promo code PresentationGuildGuest to come as our free guest.)


Ric Bretschneider
July 13, 2016 10:48am

Posted in Business, Food, Food and drink, Graphics, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Presentation Pros in NYC

Some music just moves me…

Really enjoying Mr. Robot. Yeah, everyone who told me that I would love it is right, and I should have watched it earlier.

Loving it on many levels. But the one that keeps coming home for me is finding it kind of a Taxi Driver for the 21st century. No small part of this is Mac Quayle’s original soundtrack, often present when Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson is monologuing, so similar to Robert De Nero’s Travis Bickle in the NYC rain. I get this vibe at least once an episode, and it’s usually enhanced by Quayle’s music which has been an Bernard Herrman/Vangelis/Tangerine Dream heartbeat, rhythm and tonal subtext. And for me, it doesn’t get much better than that.


So I just got to episode 5 of Mr. Robot, in which the last scenes end with Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train” underscoring the dialog. If you’ve seen Risky Business, you’ll remember this as the theme when Joel and Lana take a particularly interesting train ride very early in the morning. Yeah, it was a hot scene, but the music is what my young self really took away from that, buying every Tangerine Dream album I could lay my hands on for the next few months.

I’ve always felt that this instrumental is one of those perfect pieces of music, the way it builds, the consistent themes that layer within, the relatively slow pace that carries a precise speed… just wonderful.

If my life generated a musical soundtrack, I’d want this piece to play at least once a day…

Ric Bretschneider
The Bretcave
July 9, 2016 2:00pm

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Not the book you expect… the one you need.

Impossible_to_Ignore__Creating_Memorable_Content_to_Influence_Decisions__Carmen_Simon__9781259584138__Amazon_com__BooksRight off the top, this is not the book you expect. This is no a paint-by-number, 15 steps to being a better communicator, lightweight feel-good-about-your-limitations book for snowflakes. This is a book that expects you to learn and remember the keys to memory. This is a deep book, but clear in its ability to guide you through an area of learning that far too few have mastered. It is an honest representation of the author’s voice, a voice that I’ve personally enjoyed listening to a number of conventions. In short, if you’re ready for the next step in making your business communications something that your audience remembers and acts upon, it’s here.

On first glance you might underestimate author Carmen Simon. She is not tall, is always impeccably dressed, full of smiles and exuberance. But that surface level impression quickly gives way to a deeper appreciation of the depth of her knowledge and the ease in which she is able to apply it to relatable communication situations. Her work is clinical without being sterile, deep without being obscure, and actually applies a surprising amount of wit and humor that is part of the message, not merely pasted-on for relief.

So many of her lectures have made me wish I’d been able to take better notes, something I could share with peers, something I could go back to when my own failing memory can’t. I needed Impossible_to_Ignore__Creating_Memorable_Content_to_Influence_Decisions__Carmen_Simon__9781259584138__Amazon_com__Books 3her notes, specific and complete, and those essential illustrations that set the memory clues you can act on later.

And here you have it, at close to 300 pages, my copy of which is already highlighted and dog-eared for future reference.

Memory, as Simon explains, is essential to successful communications. Without memory, your target will not act on your message, will not have established the cues and reactions you need them to develop. If you are forgettable, you fail. Learning to be unforgettable is one of the most important activities any communicator can undertake.

Simon takes you through the complex subject of memory, or rather the process by which ideas, instruction, and similar directives can be composed so that your audience will fail to forget your message. It’s a fairly layered approach, and not too challenging for the layman. I’m an English/Comp Sci. major with very little recollection of my college psych classes, but I never felt at lost in her prose.

Yes, as many other reviewers have noted, this is not a light read. But it’s not really a heavy read either. It’s just that so many books in this area tend to scrape the surface, try to limit what you have to apply to just the basics. (Seriously, how many times must we be subjected to “Five Simple Ways to Succeed” style books that carry as much weight as the average Cosmopolitan article.) There is a lot here but I anticipated rather than dreaded the remaining pages in the book. I’d chalk that up to both Simon’s own voice, and the manner in which she practices what she’s teaching throughout.

This is a book that will change your communication style, and the results your communications will foster, for the better.

Ric Bretschneider
May 19, 2016

Note for Kindle readers: I read an advance proof of the book that did not have spot-color in the illustrations. It never occurred to me that I was missing a color highlight, the illustrations were all easy to connect to the relative prose. This would likely be a similar experience to reading on the Kindle, as I verified that with a Kindle sample of the book on my Oasis. Having been able to compare the final published version with that greyscale version I can assure you that you’re not missing out on essential information. Color is generally replaced with a grey and that stands out against what is mostly line drawing anyway. So if you prefer the ebook experience, I’d say there’s nothing to hold you back from reading that version. Plus, you can download the sample for free to try it out!

Disclosure: As should be obvious, this review was based on a pre-production proof that was provided to me without charge.


Posted in Audience, Books, Business, Personal, Presentations, Presenting, Review, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Not the book you expect… the one you need.

Your Presentation Guild

If you read all the footnotes in yesterday’s post you noted that I promised to tell you “how to get a little magic in that whole presentation construction part of being perfect.”  So, here goes…

 Last year I was honored to be asked to join the board of an exciting new group.  A group whose goal it is to connect and support professional presentation builders. A group whose initial board and membership reads like the who’s-who of amazing presentations. Yeah, I joined. Took me about 30 seconds to decide.

The founding members of the Presentation Guild, a not-for-profit organization, have been hard at work getting ready for you.  Quietly creating an environment where presentation professionals can enjoy just the right mix of community, training, support and comradery. Someplace we can all hang out at the virtual water cooler, go to classes, listen to experts in our field talk, and definitively set the presentation professional in the public spotlight as an essential industry position.

And it’s all about to launch. It’s about to get loud.

The Presentation Guild

The Presentation Guild

You can get in on the pre-launch activities now. There are many benefits for those who become active early. The website is available, even though it is still working the last few startup-kinks out. You can sign up for the newsletter which will provide you with advance notice as all the cool things come online; training, forums, webinars, guest speakers, articles… everything you can imagine. And if you can imagine something that isn’t there, you’ll have a venue for letting us know, or even helping build it. That’s one of the benefits of getting involved with the guild now; you can be one of the creators and shapers right along with the rest of us.

So obviously we’re all super excited about the guild. And we hope you’ll join. We’re anxious to meet you. And we don’t want you to miss the launch party.

Check it out today.  https://www.presentationguild.org

Ric Bretschneider
May 19, 2016

Posted in Business, Design, Graphics, Organizations, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Death By PowerPoint? No Such Thing.

This is the first time I’ve used the phrase Death By PowerPoint in a title, and it will be the last. Why? Because the phrase is so fraught with bold stupidity I refuse to endorse it. Death by PowerPoint focuses failure away from the real source of the problem. It actually hides the problem it purports to expose. It’s the ultimate look over there of inept redirection in presentations.

And yet, it gets used by so many hacks to draw attention to articles that basically regurgitate other articles advice as if they had discovered a new untreatable virus. If you subscribe to any number of presenting social media groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, et. al. the day doesn’t go by when you see the phrase in someone’s update. “Saving You From Death by PowerPoint!” “Five Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Death By PowerPoint!” “I Was Hitler’s Alien Death by PowerPoint for the CIA!” The list goes on and on.

And it’s all rubbish. And you really should know it’s rubbish. We shouldn’t even need to have this conversation. But you’ve read so far, so I’ll make it worth your while. Let me break this down for you with a story about fancy writing.

page from a French Book of Hours, ca.1400

Page from a French Book of Hours, ca.1400

There’s an art, an amazing art, called Calligraphy. It’s been practiced since the Middle-ages, maybe earlier – it gets fuzzy when it actually began and where, but stating that it at least goes back to castles and monks working tirelessly sitting behind desks illuminated by candles is far back enough to give it a sense of gravitas. Calligraphy is about writing, not the composition of phrases but the techniques used in the composition of individual letter characters. Appropriate to the times, it was originally accomplished with the crudest of tools, literally split feathers and ink made out of whatever organic substances were native to your area that could be used to permanently stain paper. But sprung from such rudimentary tools the results were so beautiful as to be inspiring.

Now to compress the timeline a bit, the Renaissance came and went, the mechanical revolution brought us black lung disease and moveable type, and so forth. Technology eventually moved 99% of all communication* to glowing dots on a computer screen. Today calligraphy is primarily practiced as a hobby, rarely one that pays, even though it can still be used to create amazing and lovely works.

By Eadfrith of Lindisfarne (presumed) - http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=2222&MSID=6469, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=196226

By Eadfrith of Lindisfarne

Of course there are two types of calligraphers. Those who diligently learned, practiced, exercised, trained, disciplined, and basically worked at it until they developed the skills. With practiced and controlled motions, they know what stroke to use in every occasion to lay ink down on paper in just the right way as to be beautiful.

And then there are those who haven’t learned. Haven’t practiced, exercised, trained… who basically want to do the art, but not bad enough to sit and draw parallel lines and curves for a couple of hours to train their hands and minds.

There are some astonishing tools available to both types of calligraphers. Fabulous pen barrels, a seemingly endless variety of nibs, a full spectrum of inks, papers, portable surfaces, and additional accoutrements. Anyone with a small amount of money and a desire to own them can basically afford an impressive armoury of Calligraphic weapons. And both the practiced and unpracticed head off to stationery and boutique shops to bring home the latest tools to try out on a regular basis.

By Adrian Pingstone - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68618

By Adrian Pingstone

At this point you probably see where I’m going with this, but let’s finish anyway. Stick with me.

So both the practiced and talented calligraphers and the, well let’s just call them the dilettantes, use the same tools and get different results. Seems rather obvious, right? And only the most ridiculously self-deluding dilettante looks at their sagging and inconsistent scribbling and says “wow, I sure bought the wrong tools for that!” (Well, in fairness they may have, but that’s not really the point.)

So what is the point?

Like calligraphy, presenting at its core has nothing to do with special tools. Yeah, you can have fun quoting the guy who worked developing the PowerPoint program for 17 years on that bon mot. Presenting is about three things: Collecting information, fashioning an argument with that information that will move their audience10980398-magic-pen-series-C--Stock-Photo-pen-feather-quill, and delivering that information to the audience. It doesn’t matter how you’re delivering the presentation. You can present compellingly without slides, with slides made of sheets of paper, or with a computer program that projects compelling arguments on a huge wall behind them. Practically any method can be just as powerful as the others.

What matters is the amount of skill and effort that is brought to bear in creating and delivering that argument.

Tools can assist in creating and performing a quality presentation. There’s no doubt of that. But tools do not do your research for you. Tools do not supply the skill to compose. Tools cannot replace thinking about your audience’s resistances and goals. Shiny and bright tools, most dangerously, often make you feel accomplished enough you forego practicing. This is not the tool’s fault, you’re simply delusional if you don’t practice. Never fail to practice. Never. Fail. To. Practice.


PowerPoint, for all its magical animations, fabulous color matching, ability to adjust your message by moving blocks of the argument around easily, is still no smarter where it counts than a fountain pen. You can get beautiful results with a fountain pen, or you can create ugly blotches of ink on your clothes that no amount of laundering will remove. And while PowerPoint is unlikely to send you to the dry cleaners, it can be used to create ugly blotches of memory or beautiful experiences depending on how you use it.

Wake up. The tool didn't put this guy to sleep. The presenter did.

Wake up. The tool didn’t put this guy to sleep. The presenter did.

The difference is you recognizing that there are no short cuts. There is no magic in creating a good presentation, other than the magic you bring. No tool will make it happen. It’s much simpler. It comes down to the amount of actual work you put into making yourself a presenter, and the effort you put into each and every presentation, each and every time you step in front of an audience. Time, effort, skill, and persistence, that is what makes perfection.

Remember.  The only thing that is going to kill that audience is you. You have the choice: you can make them wish they were dead**, or you can simply knock ’em dead. Both will be remembered, and the tool won’t be the reason for the result.

-Ric Bretschneider
May 17, 2016

*Plus or minus 60% just to be on the safe side.
**To be fair, they’re actually wishing you were dead.
*** Bonus hidden blog; copy this blog into your favorite text editor and global search and replace “PowerPoint” for “Keynote.” It’s just as valid. Same with Prezi, same with…
**** Oh, and tomorrow I’m going to tell you how to get a little magic in that whole presentation construction part of being perfect.  Check back tomorrow.  Or just hit that Subscribe link and I’ll do it all for you. Like magic.

Posted in Audience, Business, Design, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments