Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Magma Magazine – Digital and in Print

The other day, I announced the "publication" of my free digital magazine, Magma, which is filled with features and short bits all about the magazine industry. It's available for reading online or downloading from

Today, a treat arrived in the mail: A print edition of Magma's first issue. It was produced by our pals at MagCloud, an HP print-on-demand online service. I do love digital publishing, but my biggest affection is saved for print magazines, so it is wonderful to page through a real live print magazine that was created on my computer. Handling a print magazine instead of viewing a digital magazine is the difference between seeing a photo of the Himalayas and walking amidst them yourself.

When I transferred the file to MagCloud, I did not adjust the page size for MagCloud's slightly smaller trim size, so some of the outside margins are cut closer than I'd like. But other than that, it's a nifty magazine, and I'm proud of it. 

Check it out yourself. The free digital version or purchase the print-on-demand version.

Interview with President Premal Shah

In early December, 2010, I had the opportunity to sit down with President Premal Shah at The Commonwealth Club before he gave his speech. Portions of this interview appeared in different form in Northside San Francisco and in The Commonwealth magazine. Here is the complete interview.

JOHN ZIPPERER: How would you describe Kiva to a typical Northside reader and interest them in your organization?

photo by Beth Byrne
PREMAL SHAH: Kiva is a web site run by a nonprofit here in San Francisco. On this web site, you can sift through profiles of entrepreneurs – low-income entrepreneurs around the planet. Say a woman in Uganda wants to buy a cow to start a dairy business, you can make a loan in $25 increments to help support that business.

What’s interesting is that once she gets that loan, when she buys the cow and then she actually starts that dairy business, over a period of usually one year she’ll start paying back that loan. Then when you get money back, you can choose to re-lend that money to somebody else, so that $25 can help someone now maybe in Cambodia. Or you can pull that money out of the system.

So Kiva’s this interesting new model of taking the internet and microfinance, and combining [them] together. It’s not a donation, but it’s not exactly a commercial investment. It’s something in between. It’s a way for you to connect with someone across the planet to help alleviate poverty.

ZIPPERER: Kiva started in 2005. The Kiva web site says that “As of November 2009, Kiva has facilitated over $100 million in loans.” Wikipedia says it’s over $160 million as of September 2010. How fast is lending growing? And why is it growing – how is it attracting more supporters?

SHAH: Kiva is growing at a rate of $1 million every six days right now. We’re up to $177 million. So it’s hard to keep the stats up to date. What’s interesting is that in the first year, we raised about $500,000 on the web site. In year two, we raised about $15 million. Year three, it went up to $40 million, and then in year four it went up to $100 million and now we’re up to $177 million.

Essentially what’s driving that is that most people who get their money back – and there’s a 98-percent repayment rate on the web site – are choosing to re-lend it to someone else, as opposed to pulling their money out of the system. So there’s this huge recycling effect, on top of new people every day, every week, maybe 3,000 or 4,000 people signing up for Kiva for the first time, putting in money and giving the system a try.

ZIPPERER: You said $25 increments, so obviously it’s a low-level entry for someone to get involved in it. What’s a typical amount of money people get involved at, or do they first dip their toes in and later add more, not just recycle what they already have in there?

SHAH: That’s what we’re seeing. The average person might dip their toe in with $25 or $50, and then we’ve seen people put as much as seven figures into the system. I think what it is is, like anything, you want to inch your way into it and figure out, “Is this real? Does this really work?” Then when people realize how easy it is, it becomes rather addictive.

ZIPPERER: Do the lenders ever feel any sense of ownership or kinship with the people beyond just the transaction. Do they want to meet the people? Do you ever have any problems with wanting to rein them in and say, “No, look at some other folks, too”?

SHAH: You know, one of the most interesting things that’s happened in Kiva’s history is that we launched in the United States. It gave lenders the opportunity to help somebody locally, not just abroad.

ZIPPERER: When you said you launched in the United States, you mean for borrowers, not just the organization founded here?

SHAH: Yes. Literally businesses in San Francisco, for example, are getting loans on Kiva.
What was really interesting is that now that there wasn’t this kind of, you know, geographical distance, you could actually drive and visit the local business, or you could actually communicate with them via e-mail, because a lot of businesses here in the U.S. were more online than, say, businesses in Uganda. What we’re starting to see is interactions where a small business owner will actually be looking for computers to expand their business. In addition to getting a loan, somebody might actually ship them computers.

There’s a small business here in San Francisco – it was like a board-game store – and essentially they were listed on the Kiva web site. It also drove up a lot of traffic to their store. A lot more people actually went to the store. The Yelp reviews cross-post to Kiva. It’s really interesting how, in a networked world, one of the biggest problems for businesses is actually getting customers. By being listed on Kiva, there’s this opportunity for you now to not only lend locally, but buy locally. We’re starting to see this emerge more and more.

ZIPPERER: So like Warren Buffet owning part of Dairy Queen and going to eat there –

SHAH: Yeah, and he drinks Cherry Coke. There’s something really exciting – you can imagine, the logical extension of something like Kiva is that people who are in hardship everywhere, who don’t have access to credit or have a hard time getting credit – in the U.S. for example, 20 million people are underserved by the current financial systems – that you could actually fund a bakery in the Tenderloin, you could fund a salon in Oakland, and literally visit and frequent these businesses and help drive a lot more economic vitality to these places.

ZIPPERER: A lot easier than going to get milk from the cow of the woman in Uganda.

SHAH: Yes.

ZIPPERER: Do you worry that you might have people who would rather – is there a diversion of funds to local things rather than international, or does that even matter?

SHAH: The great thing about Kiva is that it’s a marketplace, almost like eBay, if you will. And you have the choice.

What we’ve seen is, this is a fear, that if we put up people in the United States, will it cannibalize money that goes to the developing world? What we’ve seen is actually the opposite.

Ninety-eight percent of American giving is domestic; only 2 percent is abroad. There are a lot of people who really won’t engage with Kiva and make a loan until there’s a domestic opportunity there. Then you follow their behavior over the next year, and what we watch is that they add two to three loans from around the planet. So essentially what I think the goal is with Kiva is to meet people where they’re at, and get them onto the system, get them lending and connecting with other people.

What is it – “the sign of intelligence is that people can hold two opposing ideas in their head at the same time”? I think people can lend locally and lend abroad, and we’re starting to see the data bear that out.

ZIPPERER: I assume the loan amounts people are seeking locally are of much higher amounts than internationally. What is a typical amount that is asked for in the United States versus a typical amount in a developing country?

SHAH: The average loan on Kiva from the U.S. is $7,000. The average loan worldwide is $400. Obviously, the loan amounts needed here to start or expand a business – say, a home-based daycare – is much greater than in Ghana. And a lot of people I think are still very drawn to lending internationally on Kiva, because they feel their $25 makes more of an impact, just because of the value of the dollar abroad.

ZIPPERER: I know a lot of non-profits of all types see support for them go up or down during economic hard times. You started in good times and it looks like your rate of expansion is growing even during this downturn. Are you immune to that or are you just in such an expansion phase?

SHAH: I think Americans and people in the developed world want to be philanthropic, but they may not have the discretionary income that they used to. Everyone knows that. The neat thing about Kiva that I think people are starting to realize is that they’re not really spending their money. Because if they need the money, they can get that liquidity; they can withdraw their money. There’s kind of an insurance, essentially; this is my pool of money that I get to recycle and help a bunch of people, and if I really need it, I can always get it out. And because the repayment rate is so high historically – 98 percent – I think that has really helped Kiva surge in the time of declines across the charitable sector.

ZIPPERER: I’m guessing the majority of your lenders are probably within the United States. What are some of the other countries that are also big sources of loans through Kiva?

SHAH: Eighty percent of Kiva lenders are from the U.S. The next 20 percent come from over 100 countries. One of the most interesting things is that we’ve seen someone in Kenya lend money to someone in San Francisco, essentially blurring the lines between which way money goes. But the next largest country [for lenders after the United States] is Canada, followed by the UK and Australia.

ZIPPERER: Do you have any competitors? Who are they?

SHAH: I honestly believe our competition is for people’s mindshare. If I look at where people are spending their time that I would love to compete with, it’s with people who play Farmville on Facebook, who are building virtual farms. Every month, 60 million people are building these virtual farms on Facebook, and every month about 60,000 people are making loans to support real farms; it’s about the same cost to do both.

So the question is, “How does Kiva make philanthropy that fun, compelling, addictive? That’s the competition for people’s attention.

ZIPPERER: You are from what they call the PayPal Mafia. What did you learn there that has helped you at Kiva?

SHAH: One thing about PayPal that I have always marveled at is, you’re watching these transactions happening on eBay between complete strangers. If you think about it, 25 years ago, the idea of buying from a complete [stranger seemed impossible]; you had the classifieds, but you’d show up and you’d pick up that television or that radio. Now people are literally not meeting, and they’re transacting, and most times, it actually works.

I think the idea that communities that are inspired by commerce or partnership but are sustained by trust can really emerge on the internet. That is something that is really exciting to me. The idea that people are making bets on people they will never meet and that as technology spreads and there’s mobile payments and so forth, I think we’re going to see some really interesting things happen that right now people believe just can’t really happen. For example, from my cell phone to someone in Uganda’s cell phone, instantaneous credit facilitation. The reason I’m going to lend to them is because they’ve had four previous loans on Kiva, so I trust that they are actually trusted in the wake of no credit bureaus and basically, this Kiva loan from the internet community is the cheapest loan in town, because people are I think better than banks, because they’re willing to supply capital on more patient terms at lower interest if there’s a sense of impact and accountability.

So if we can really get this simple and seamless, and get that last-mile problem sorted out around the planet – which will happen in our lifetime –

ZIPPERER: The last mile meaning the direct connection?

SHAH: Yes, the direct connection, getting the money to that entrepeneur and back. Think about how the television in itself has changed in the last 30 years. In the next 30 years, we’re going to see some really phenomenal things around connecting people through lending.

ZIPPERER: Today at lunch I learned that the girlfriend of a former colleague here at The Commonwealth Club is now in Africa working for Kiva, helping check on the status of loans with the borrowers. How much does Kiva rely on that young spirit of going out there and, I assume, not really making a lot of money?

SHAH: No, these are all volunteers. Kiva’s model, similar to Wikipedia’s model, is largely volunteer-run. For every one staff member, we have about 10 volunteers. There’s over 700 volunteers. This has allowed us to scale with efficiency. We don’t have a big budget; we’re a nonprofit.

That’s the difference between PayPal and Kiva. PayPal had a lot of investors. [With] Kiva, no one’s going to make a profit [as an investor]. But because no one’s going to make a profit, you see people who are inspired to help out in whatever way they can. So we see people who volunteer to translate profiles that are uploaded from Honduras from Spanish to English; we see people who have quit their job for three months and go out to West Africa and work with a local organization that needs help with their accounting systems and management information systems. Perhaps more than just the financial capital in Kiva, there’s this whole human capital element that we’re beginning to see that’s really cool.

ZIPPERER: Last question, perhaps a bit of a blue-sky one or an obvious one. But where do you see Kiva going both in terms of growth in volume of lenders and such as well as is there any morphing of its model that you could see in the next five years?

SHAH: We want to do three things in the next five years. The first is that we would like to scale to reach $1 billion and reach 2 million entrepreneurs around the world. Today we’re at $177 million, so that’s going to require some serious investment to get there. The second is that we’d actually like to be self-sufficient as a 501(c)3. What that means is that the way Kiva sustains about 70 percent of its operational budget is covered by tips on the web site. When you go to a restaurant, you tip a waiter an extra 15 percent; Kiva asks for an extra 10 percent or 15 percent; on average, we’re getting an extra 7 cents on every dollar that flows through the system. We don’t take a cut of any of the money that actually comes through the system. We pass that through.

But we’d like to get the loan volume to a place where our online tips will actually cover our operations, so we don’t have to rely on the generous support of donors right now, like Skoll Foundation or Rockefeller Foundation or Omidyar Nework. Fantastic organizations, but we’d like to do it on our own.
The third thing is to actually innovate. One thing that Google did really well [that] is by scaling quite big and having an amazing product, they were able to hire some really great people and try all sorts of things – the Google Labs approach. I don’t know if anyone’s actually doing this in the poverty alleviation space or in the social justice space, like Kiva could one day. A Kiva Labs to me would mean something like actually experimenting with other types of loan products, like student loans, which we just launched, or a water loan.

The problem right now in microfinance is that, if you’re a microfinance institution, the most profitable kind of loan you can make – and they care about profitability because they want to be self-sufficient – is if you have one client and you make repeat loans to this person. So it’s a small businessperson who takes out $200 for inventory, then $400 for inventory, then $800 for inventory. That’s a very basic, simple, profitable relationship. But if that same client comes to you and says “I’d like to get a water tank in my back yard.” Well, that’s not a very profitable thing, because you can’t continue that loan cycle, it’s just a one-time, longer-term loan. But we think the internet community will be willing to do these kind of longer-term loans that are a little more risky; things that banks would not be willing to do – if there’s impact there and accountability. So we’d like to get into more areas like that.

Ultimately, you can imagine a day where where a borrower, an entrepreneur in Kenya, pulls out their cell phone, wants to buy a cow to start a dairy business, takes a photo of the cow, maybe takes another photo of themself, SMS’s a simple statement; it gets rendered up on the Kiva web site. People from around the world – today, 90,000 people a day come to the web site, but by that time, maybe millions of people will come to the web site every day – and they’ll see this opportunity to fund this man in Kenya or this woman in Kenya. Within seconds, if not minutes or hours, this person can get their loan fully funded, take that money that’s in the form of maybe minutes on their cell phone; go to a local gas station, exchange those minutes for Kenyan shillings – which happens today – and buy that cow. Right there. Instant credit approval from the internet community.

It’s possible, and the whole thing here is that it can be done at an interest rate that is so much lower than when a bank is in the middle.

ZIPPERER: You mentioned the banks. Are they opposing groups like you? Do they see you as competition? Do they see you as lowering the rates they can charge or taking away potential customers?

SHAH: I think the banks and Kiva are aligned in that what we want to do is get inclusive financial services to the most rural, remote, marginalized people on the planet. To that end, if Kiva can help everyone get there, I think that’s where we’re aligned. I do think you run into issues of maybe channel conflict and things like that, and this is a longer-term vision. In the interim, where we are, is very much working through the local microfinance organizations and trying to build their capacity so they are also around and are viable financial institutions in the markets they serve.

The Real Indiana Jones and the Dust Left Behind

If you have been to Berlin since reunification (or, I suppose, before World War II), I can only hope you made a visit to Museuminsel (Museum Island) in the middle of the River Spree. As its name suggests, it is a small island hosting several wonderful museums.

The Pergamon Museum – one of those institutions crowded onto Museuminsel – is showing off a large collection of restored artifacts that had been discovered in the Middle East a century ago by a sort-of real Indiana Jones, reports The Local, an English-language news site about Germany. Max von Oppenheim was a German diplomat who found a number of amazing treasures in two Syrian archeological digs, one before World War I and the second in the late 1920s. He was a diplomat who gave up his career in the foreign service to finance his own archeological investigations in the Middle East.

The artifacts were brought to Berlin and housed in a museum von Oppenheim set up himself, where the items that weren't destroyed in Allied bombing in World War II were nonetheless heavily damaged. Wooden pieces were, of course, completely obliterated. A combination of super-high heat from fires followed by cold water from the fire-fighting crew caused many of the stone statues to simply explode. Now, after a painstaking reconstruction process that must have been like assembling a puzzle when you're unsure if you even have all of the pieces, the results are being displayed at the Pergamon.

On one of my visits to Berlin in early 2001, I got to spend some time at the Pergmanon and other museums on the island. There was still a lot of reconstructive surgery going on with the buildings (see photo below, showing one of the museums on Museuminsel), but there was more than enough for me to take in and appreciate.

As for von Oppenheim, The Local reports that he "died a broken man in 1946." Unhappy deaths seem to have been par for the course for Germany's Indiana Joneses. There was another German explorer who might have a stronger claim to having been a real-life Indy. His name was Otto Rahn, and after a swashbuckling life of exploration and adventure, he died a mysterious death, believed to either have been killed by Nazis who no longer had any use for him or killed in the course of a religious ritual. His tale is told in a 1990 issue of Starlog magazine, for those who are interested.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Young and Younger – The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: The Starlog Project, Starlog #183, October 1992

George Lucas’ The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles has to rank up there as one of the most ambitious TV series in American history. It was not only an expensive series, but it was kind of two series in one: There were the episodes featuring Sean Patrick Flanery as the young-adult Indy Jones, and then there were the episodes featuring the younger young Indy, played by Corey Carrier. Then there was the fact that it was a televised continuation of a wildly popular movie series starring some of the biggest names in filmdom, so there was no chance that it would be a low-profile sleeper hit. It either had to hit big or be considered a failure.

Running for three seasons and fewer than 30 episodes, the show was a mix of adventure, entertainment, and education, with each episode seeing one of the young future Dr. Jones dropped into a historical plot in the early 20th century. Lucas, who also founded the non-profit George Lucas Educational Foundation, clearly wanted to create something that was more than just a punch-em-up action series, and I think he succeeded. The show deserved to have a longer life than it had, but Lucas and his team still created something that was of rare quality, and they can be proud of that.

Starlog #183
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

I occasionally note some classified ads in these Starlog writeups, because they are kind of time capsules of the era. Before the internet, classified ads were how fans found each other, how small companies reached customers, how the occasional charlatan fooled customers. Here are two that caught my eye in this issue: “SCI-FI/FANT/HORROR STORE FOR SALE Books, games, gifts, comics. Great location in Buffalo. Profitable. Priced right …” Or how about: “GO BEYOND SCIENCE FICTION! TIME TRAVEL IS REAL. Read ‘The Montauk Project,’ a first hand account of electromagnetic bending of time. Find out what happened after the Philadelphia Experiment! Send SASE for free info or $15.95 + $3.00 S/H to …”

The rundown: Young Indiana Jones star Corey Carrier is interviewed inside this issue, and he does appear on the cover, but his co-star Sean Patrick Flanery – who’s not interviewed inside – gets the bigger treatment on the cover; meanwhile, it’s a Michelle Pfeiffer Ladyhawke photo featured on the contents page. In David McDonnell’s Medialog column, the then-new Sci Fi Channel announces its programming for its launch that autumn – the initial event will be something called Star Wars. You’ve heard of it? And in his Gamelog column, managing editor Michael McAvennie reviews some Simpsons games, plus a Star Wars game called The Abduction, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon from GURPS, and more.

In the Communications reader’s-letters section, people vent about the Alien3 movie (such as this opening sentence: “Never have I seen a more thoroughly offensive motion picture than Alien3.” Can’t really go anywhere from there, can you?), plus Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features the Mole People; the Fan Network pages include the convention listings and Lia Pelosi’s directory of fan clubs and publications; David Hutchison’s Videolog announces a 60th-anniversary release of the original King Kong, among other new tapes; Booklog reviews Steel Beach, Wildfire, Solo, Chanur’s Legacy, Reaper Man (probably one of the few negative reviews Terry Pratchett’s ever received for a Discworld novel), The Memory of Earth: Homecoming, In the Wrong Hands, Lost Futures, and Songsmith; and Kerry O’Quinn tells us about a fan’s visit to Space Camp (including a surprise appearance by former astronaut and then-Senator John Glenn), in his From the Bridge column.

T.W. Knowles interviews author Chad Oliver (The Winds of Time, Shadows in the Sun, Mists of Dawn, etc.); li’l 12-year-old Corey Carrier, one of the stars of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, is interviewed by Ian Spelling, and he’s certainly not lacking for ambition (Carrier tells Spelling: “I would like to [make a career as an actor], yeah, but maybe I’ll even be a producer or possibly a director. I would like to do something in the business, definitely, because that’s where the money is.” Out of the mouths of babes!); and in the latest Batman Returns coverage, Marc Shapiro interviews Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer, while Ian Spelling talks with Christopher Walken.

Bradley H. Sinor interviews author Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, Dinner at Deviant’s Palace, etc.); Kyle Counts talks to veteran actor (and symphony conductor!) David Ogden Stiers, who guest-starred in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and who is sick of hearing about M*A*S*H; Steve Swires contributes a profile of filmmaker Roy Ward Baker, who discusses the classic Brit-flick Five Million Years to Earth and other films; in the conclusion of his three-part series of articles looking at the writers of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Mark Phillips is told, “I can’t believe we would write something that bad, but it is possible”; and in his Liner Notes column, David McDonnell talks about a rare vacation from work.
“As to whether he’s most recognized for his role on M*A*S*H, Stiers issues a deadpan, ‘Unfortunately, yes,’ Why unfortunately? ‘Because it’s over, and it won't go away. I’m not ashamed of having done it; my God, some very good work got done on it, and [the show provided] some of the best working friendships I think I’ll ever enjoy. But it continues to be the first thing people talk about when they meet me. When I finish conducting a concert, it’s as though I haven’t knocked myself out for two hours, trying to get to people on some other level. They’ll still call me by the character name, or refer to a plot I don’t remember. It’s very defeating sometimes. I would love to declare a moratorium on those reruns.”
–David Ogden Stiers, actor, interviewed by Kyle Counts: “Character Music”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Just Released - Magma: The Magazine Industry Review (Feb. 2011)

It's finally available: Magma: The Magazine Industry Review. This free 56-page magazine is my first digital publication, and it's available now at

Longtime readers of this blog will find much of it familiar, because my magazine industry articles on Weimar World Service are the basis of Magma. Here are some highlights:

The Conde Nast Powerhouse
The Life and Death of Bob Guccione
Starlog: Quo Vadis
The Disappearing Gay Magazine Market
Starlog Days (interview with Carr D'Angelo, former managing editor)
The Funnier Pages (humor magazines, ancient and new)
Excerpts from my Starlog and Future/Future Life chronicles
Who's in Control of Your Magazine? (critiquing the trend of guest editors)
Standout Covers
Plus: industry news, reviews (iPad magazines, Famous Monsters of Filmland, New York Review of Books, etc.), magazine person of the year, shrinking distribution market, online resources, and much more.

Check it out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Early Peek at Fangoria 301 Cover

Following the special return engagement of the mag's early logo for the 300th edition of Fangoria, it's back to the regular logo for the cover of issue #301, which editor Chris Alexander shared via Facebook.

I'm still trying to digest #300, but this preview shows another good cover.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Green Bay So Excited about Playing Bears, They've Forgotten How to Spell

I'll be rooting for my hometown Packers this weekend when they take on the Bears (in another of my former cities), but I'm amused/embarrassed by the headline misspelling that's been ricochetting around the internet. The Green Bay Press-Gazette misspelled the name of the city they're taking on in the NFC championship. Way to go, Gazette. If you're going to make a big mistake, do it in the biggest typeface you've got.

As you can imagine, the Chicaco – I mean Chicago – press has been having a field day with this.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Dolph Lundgren: The Starlog Project, Starlog #182, September 1992

I’d love to make some snarky remarks about Universal Soldier, the beat-em-up flick starring action actors Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. I’d love to, but I’ve never seen the movie, and even after being reminded about it when reviewing this issue of Starlog, which features the movie on its cover, I haven’t got the slightest interest in seeing the film.

It did unspectacularly at the box office. According to IMDB, the film’s budget is estimated to have been $23 million, and it grossed around $36 million. People (including, if I recall correctly, David Gerrold in the pages of Starlog) have estimated that a film has to gross a huge amount over its production budget before it records any profit, because after production there are still additional millions poured into advertising and promoting the film. So it is possible that Universal Soldier did not make any money back in 1992.

That doesn’t mean that you should shed a tear for Carolco Pictures, which produced the film. Hollywood studios are notorious for being stingy on reporting profits; in the very early 1980s, Starlog reported a short news item that Paramount Pictures was still saying that the classic Star Trek TV series had yet to produce a profit. That, despite its original run and endless repetition in lucrative syndication ever since; it was apparently successful enough to spawn an animated TV series in the early 1970s as well as a motion picture franchise; but no profit, mind you.

At least director Roland Emmerich emerged from this film with his career intact, so he could go on to produce blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster. Carolco, however, would be bankrupt within four years.

Starlog #182
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

But you’re looking for significance in this issue of Starlog? Look no further than page 34, the first page of Lawrence V. Conley’s preview of a li’l show called Babylon 5. Doesn’t get more significant than that.

The rundown: As noted above, Universal Soldier’s two hunks of euro-meat are featured on the cover; but the contents page photo goes to three male stars of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. David McDonnell’s Medialog column tells us that the great Terry Gilliam’s set to direct a new version of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (don’t hold your breath), and Patrick Stewart is set to portray Daddy Warbucks in the sequel to 1982’s Annie (again, don’t hold your breath – though the film was eventually made in 1999, it is 100 percent Stewart-free); and managing editor Michael McAvennie’s Gamelog reviews Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday and Star Trek: The Game.

Communications letters include a reader complaining about a lack of coverage of female writers, directors, and producers in the pages of the magazine, plus letters about Alien3, Lost in Space comics, humanity’s future, and more, and Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features Saucer Men; the Fan Network includes the usual convention calendar and Lia Pelosi’s directory of science-fiction fan clubs and publications; David Hutchison’s Videolog lets us know that Medicine Man is out and is priced for rental (which I assure you I will never take advantage of; I saw the Sean Connery flick in the cinema and it convinced me that there exists no more irritating actress than Lorraine Bracco); Booklog reviews City of Truth, And the Angels Sing, Crystalworld, Lethal Interface, Crisis on Doona, Outnumbering the Dead, Lady El, Crusade, and Trust Territory; and Kerry O’Quinn reports on “Scenes from a Convention” in his From the Bridge column.

You knew him as the original Commander Cain on Battlestar Galactica, but apparently this Lloyd Bridges fella did other things, too, such as starring in the classic Rocketship X-M or lampooning everything in the Airplane films, and he talks about all of that in a discussion with Tom Weaver; Stan Nicholls interviews author Robert Asprin (Phule’s Paradise, The Cold Cash War, etc.); Lawrence V. Conley previews Babylon 5, a show that was as groundbreaking as it was troubled and eventually truncated (the article includes some pretty cool preproduction art for the series), and Conley also provides a sidebar looking at Straczynski’s plans for a revival of V; and Debora Hill and Sandra Brandenburg interview Arachne novelist Lisa Mason.

Kim Howard Johnson chats up muscled hero Jean-Claude Van Damme, who says, “I’m not afraid to be typecast. .. I’m very young. I’m 30, and I go with the script. I know right now people want me to do action films, so why should I disappoint my fans?”; Marc Shapiro talks to director Peter Hyams about his John Ritter- and Pam Dawber-starring comedy Stay Tuned, though he also discusses some of his controversial past films such as 2010, Capricorn One, and Outland; you know the editors had fun titling this article: “Bimbos, Zombies & Fans,” an interview of writer Sharyn McCrumb by Paul Dellinger; and Kim Howard Johnson talks to director Roland Emmerich, the German-born filmmaker who would go on to bigger and better films – Emmerich notes of working with his two stars: “The funny part is, we’re all three Europeans. All three of us come from the same region, so Dolph [who’s Swedish] and Jean-Claude [Belgian] are pretty easy to work with.”

What’s it like to work with William Shatner? Veteran writer Ron Goulart says it's a pretty good experience, and he tells Bill Florence about working with the actor and director on the series of Tekwar books; Stan Nichols talks to actors Paul Kent and Wayne Forester about their stage show Thunderbirds FAB: The Next Generation; the Tribute section includes obituaries of Anton Furst by Adam Pirani and Ian Wolfe by Bill Florence; in part two of his series, Mark Phillips continues talking with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s writers, which includes this gem: “William Read Woodfield was a full-time writer for Voyage by the middle of its first season, but he made a point of watching only his own episodes. ‘Occasionally, I caught bits and pieces of other episodes, and I would say, “Geez, what shit!”’”; and editor David McDonnell talks animation in his Liner Notes column
“The inhabitants and crew of Babylon 5 are people who have put themselves on the frontier, on the fringe, fully aware of the dangers. This causes a certain pressure, as does the isolation. New people and visitors coming in every day also causes pressure, and it becomes a very volatile environment. That’s what I like for my stories – volatile environments.”
–J. Michael Straczynski, creator and executive producer, interviewed by Lawrence V. Conley: “Where Empires Touch”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Isaac Asimov, RIP: The Starlog Project, Starlog #181, August 1992

According to Wikipedia, the exact date of legendary writer Isaac Asimov's birth is unknown; he chose to celebrate his birthday on January 2. What is known is the exact day he died: April 6, 1992. At least that's what it says in Wikipedia and in the feature article in this issue of Starlog, where his life is appreciated. Though Asimov's longtime pal Kerry O'Quinn, the magazine's former publisher, mistakenly writes in his column that the good doctor died on April 7.

Actually, I think O'Quinn was making a point about the media coverage on the day after Asimov passed away, but it's confusingly worded. That is all of little matter. Another, more fascinating, misrepresentation about Asimov is repeated in this issue: He died of "heart and kidney failure."

Years later, his widow Janet revealed in an edition of his autobiography that the heart and kidney problems weren't from out of nowhere. As notes: "Asimov died on April 6, 1992 of heart and kidney failure, which were complications of the HIV infection he contracted from a transfusion of tainted blood during his December 1983 triple-bypass operation. (The revelation that AIDS was the cause of his death was not made until It's Been a Good Life was published in 2002). His body was cremated and his ashes were not interred." The HIV aspect was apparently (if you believe Wikipedia's report) so explosive at the time that the family and doctors kept the secret for 10 years.

Starlog #181
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

Asimov's death reminds us that it has been a season of losing giants of the genre. Gene Roddenberry and Irwin Allen both passed away in late 1991, and a few months later we lost the most prolific writer the genre has ever known (Asimov wrote or edited more than 500 books). Starlog highlighted all of these (and other) deaths, focusing of course on the lives of the people lost.

The rundown: To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, for the first time in four issues, Batman Returns is not on the cover of Starlog; instead, the cover is given over to Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, the sequel to the surprise hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (the screenplay for which was co-written by former Starlog editorial staffer Ed Naha, who does not appear to be involved in the sequel). The contents page features a costume sketch from Land of the Giants (I guess they were sticking to the theme of size-shifting people). David McDonnell's Medialog column reports that the new Sci Fi Channel has purchased a bevy of episodes to air from old shows, ranging from the original Battlestar Galactica to Kolchak the Night Stalker to The Incredible Hulk; and in his Gamelog column, Michael McAvennie highlights Nintendo's Star Trek, GURPS Robin Hood, Acclaim's Super Smash TV, and others.

The Communications pages include – surprise, surprise – letters about Star Trek (including this sentence out of context: "Best of all, it showed Wesley does have the potential to be used effectively as a recurring character"), Hook, Young Indiana Jones, and others, plus Mike Fisher's Creature Profile features the Amazing Colossal Man; the Fan Network pages include the convention listings and Lia Pelosi's compendium of fan clubs and publications; David Hutchison's Videolog column announces Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and other genre releases; a shortened Booklog section reviews Reality Is What You Can Get Away With, Shadows of Dawn, and Art Liberty; the obituaries continue, with Bill Warren's two-page Tribute to director Jack Arnold (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and many others); and in "Farewell, Isaac," Kerry O'Quinn devotes his column to remembering his friend (including: "He was not known for his modesty, but his positive self-image was only honesty. Isaac Asimov knew more things about more things than any other human.").

Kyle Counts sits down with actress Deanna Lund in her living room to talk about her career, including the cult TV series Land of the Giants; David A. Kyle provides a long tribute to Isaac Asimov, full of neat insights into the man and his friends, such as the friendly rivalry he had with fellow legend Arthur C. Clarke, about whom he said: "[L]et us talk about science fiction, which, after all, is what we both do – I, because I'm a great writer, and Arthur, because he's a stubborn writer"; Kim Howard Johnson interviews actor Dolph Lundgren about his role in Universal Soldier, though they also talk about The Punisher; Bill Warren interviews Randal Kleiser, director of Honey, I Blew Up the Kid; Batman Returns producer Larry Franco is profiled by Marc Shapiro, to whom he explains his disinterest in the Batman character: "I was never a Batman fan. ... I never read the comics. Quite frankly, when Batman came out, I didn't care." As for Batman Returns, Franco says, "I co-produced it, and that's why I'm going to see it. I'm not going to see it because of Batman."

Pat Jankiewicz talks with filmmaker Stuart Gordon, who was one of the creators of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and who discusses that film as well as his Robot Jox, Re-Animator, From Beyond, and more; Ian Spelling profiles actor Michael Murphy about Batman Returns, Shocker, and other works; RoboCop 3 director Fred Dekker tells Kim Howard Johnson about his approach to doing that sequel, which he says isn't really a sequel for him because he's never done a RoboCop before; in part one of a multi-part article, Mark Phillips talks to the writers of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; Marc Shapiro previews the new film Stay Tuned, starring John Ritter; and editor David McDonnell wraps it all up in his Liner Notes column, in which he notes classic TV series revisited and classic actors interviewed.
"[Isaac Asimov] wrote what he wanted to write, and his works were invariably published, all with varying degrees of success. One big regret that his longtime friends had was that he virtually abandoned SF for so much of his writing life. However, of all his many varied and serious works, some of his most delightful writings in the 1980s were for young people. In this, he truly enjoyed the collaboration of his wife Janet in a pleasant series of books concerning a robot named Norby."
–David A. Kyle, writer, "In Memories Yet Green"
For more Starlog, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Discovered at Last! UK Editions of Fantastic Films Magazine

Okay, this isn't like finding the Titanic or a first edition of Action Comics. But while doing my usual online surfing, I (to quote Weird Al Yankovic) "learned a few things I never knew before." Specifically, I learned that the late Chicago-based science-fiction film magazine Fantastic Films published a foreign edition in the very early 1980s in the United Kingdom.

I have no idea if the content inside the magazine is different from the American edition, but the covers appear to be distinguishable from each other only by the numbering. (The confusion over some numbering made me suddenly realize, Hey, the Star Wars droids weren't on the cover of Fantastic Films #8 ....) Check out what I'm talking about; notice USA FF #21 and UK FF#12 below.

Longtime readers of this blog know that I'm more a Starlog fan than a Fantastic Films fan. But I do have  a warm spot in my heart for FF, which I first purchased at a Red Owl grocery store in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. It was issue #19, or at least that's what the American edition was numbered. The UK edition of Fantastic Films for that exact same issue was #10.

Anyway, I'm trying to track down some copies of the UK edition of this magazine. I'm sure you share my anticipation.

In the meantime, below is a gallery of all of the covers I was able to find of the UK edition. Does anyone know if Fantastic Films published editions in any other countries? Was there a German or French edition? A Hong Kong edition? Do let me know.




David Brooks and the Real Lessons from the Tucson Tragedy

Amidst all of the heated rhetoric following the tragedy in Tucson, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks offers an important grounding in reason and compassion. While running through his January 14, 2011, speech to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco (as research for my next column in Northside), I came across this great passage:
The most important thing is to look at the evidence first. There’s been a lot of punditry and commentary around what happened in Tucson, but I think if we start with the evidence, and we start with what little we know about Jared Loughner, the kid who allegedly committed this thing, we know that he has had – from his online writings – an obsession with mind control. You see in the writings the struggle of a man trying to control his mind. He created these videos, and the last video he created is called ‘My Final Thoughts.’ If you watch those videos, you see a man who is trying to create what he calls a ‘currency,’ which is a language for controlling thoughts. You see him sort of vaguely understanding that he is having trouble controlling his own thoughts, and then making accusations about the government controlling our grammar. They’re all about the struggle to control thoughts.
Then we know from testimony from his friends, that his friends more or less cut him off for the last several months because they found his behavior too disturbing. But he went to this town hall with Congresswoman Gifford, and he asked her an extremely bizarre question, having to do with how can government function when words have no meaning? He was dissatisfied with her answer.
So we see from all of the evidence that the root cause of this was a young man possibly suffering from mental illness and possibly schizophrenia, and not practicing politics as it’s normally understood.
Yet I think so much of the commentary in the past few days has not been following that evidence. It has gone off in a different direction, talking about civil discourse in our politics. I’m all for civil discourse in our politics. I’m all for sensible politics. But there’s no evidence that was germane to this kid.
I’m not sure there’s a larger political meaning to this horrible thing. But if there is, I think it's a function that we in the media have to pay much greater attention to psychology and psychological issues, and less to politics; not everything is explicable by the normal political logic.
But the second thing is that we as a society have to pay greater attention to the treatment of the mentally ill. We have a system – and part of the system was created here in California during the Reagan governorship and has spread outward – giving people suffering from severe mental illnesses the choice to control their own destiny. Often that means they end up on the streets; a large number of them end up in jails; 99 percent of them are not violent in any way, but 1 percent or so are violent.
I think we have to ask some fundamental questions. The most important question is, How do we allow a kid, who is widely perceived as mentally troubled, to get access to guns? The second is, How do we think about involuntary commitments and involuntary treatment? Have we erred too much on the side of giving those people individual choice, and do we need to shift more to protect community safety?
I think that is well said, and it is a more adult conversation than most of the country has been having, at least publicly and in the media, on this topic.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Latest Northside Column: Interviewing's Premal Shah

The latest issue of Northside San Francisco is out, and the editors have just posted it on their web site, too. Here's my latest column, which is an interview with Premal Shah, the president of online micro-finance site

Common Knowledge
Be the Bank
By John Zipperer
Would you rather destroy a bank or become one? A financial industry blogger using the pseudonym “Edmundo Braverman” has been peddling his plan to take down one of the big U.S. banks in retribution for the recent financial panic. It’s a far-fetched plan that is arguably unworkable, but it has been receiving a lot of attention, including from The New York Times and other national media.
But as alluring as Braverman’s caper might be to some angry citizens, another option exists: become a banker yourself. No, not in the sense of accepting deposits and giving away toasters. Rather, you can be the lender to small business people near and afar, even successfully lending money to people who wouldn’t qualify for a loan from the drunkest bank loan officer.

The Julian Assange Coloring Book

Forget cat videos. THIS is what the internet was invented for! The Julian Assange Coloring Book, an online place to go and create your own colored Assange images.

Here's mine:
And here are my past thoughts on Wikileaks.

Ellison, Rogue, & Sleazy SF Paperbacks: How Are They Connected?

Those of you who are fans of Harlan Ellison's work over the decades might already know this, but in the very late 1950s and very early 1960s, author Harlan Ellison worked as an editor at Rogue magazine in Chicago. Rogue was a Playboy-wannabe whose only claim to fame was that it briefly had Harlan Ellison as a staff editor. That might be putting it a bit strongly, because it made its mark in other ways, including as the publisher of many short stories by leading science-fiction authors. Another editor was Frank M. Robinson, a writer whose works include a favorite book of mine, The Dark Beyond the Stars. (Just to overload you with trivia: Robinson, who is gay, later wrote the Playboy Advisor column in Playboy before moving to San Francisco, where he worked with Harvey Milk at one point.)

Where was I? Oh, yes.

Over at Germany's Nerdcore web site, I stumbled across a short note about a paperback line that was produced by Rogue's publisher and was apparently (according to that site's source, Earl Kemp) started by Harlan Ellison. Apparently, Rogue publisher William Hamling produced a series of books that evolved into a mix of science-fiction (and other fantastic genres) with sex.

Says Kemp:
[T]there was a constant attempt to insert some science fiction elements into some of the novels, or something at least a bit on the fantastic side. And, with each of these attempts, whenever Hamling would discover it, he would object and reinform us that our books were about real people doing real things and nothing fantastic or otherworldly could ever be allowed to interfere with that.
Did that stop us? No.
As time passed and things began to change, Hamling relaxed his hold on the covers and then, eventually, turned their production over exclusively to the art department. ... And sales took off.
So, consider this your R-rated (I assume; I've never seen any of these books) science-fiction story of the day. Kemp's own web site has a small gallery of some of the classic cheesy covers.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Batman Returns, and Returns, and Returns: The Starlog Project, Starlog #180, July 1992

For a record-breaking third issue in a row, the same movie is featured on the cover of Starlog: Batman Returns. And so he does.

A problem I've always had with superhero movies is that they often start out with one villain in the initial film; then in the second, they have two villains, and in the third, three, and so on. For a case in point, see the Spider-Man movies (if you count Harry in the second and third movies as a villain). It's a development that normally annoys me, because it always strikes me that the writers and producers don't have enough faith in their star character to continue to carry the films, as if we all are going to tune in merely to see a parade of disposable super-villains get vanquished (which, of course, they are).

Batman Returns is both a part of and a subverter of this form. There are indeed two villains: the Penguin and Catwoman. They are indeed both vanquished (oh, you knew that by now, didn't you?). But this movie is a better movie than the first, and the villains aren't your typical Batman and Robin-type villain teamup; they are complex and they're portrayed by top-flight actors. (Danny DeVito is particularly amazing and creepy.)

Does it deserve three consecutive covers in a row? Well, few movies do; but Batman Returns was the giant film of the time, and Starlog clearly knew what would get people to pick up a copy at the magazine racks. Like most magazines, they'd put a picture of a puppy licking Zac Efron's face on the cover every single issue if that's what would ensure big sales. (That is of course the reason Barack Obama showed up on so many magazine covers in 2008; he was newsstand gold. The closest to Efron-puppiness that the political world gets.)

Starlog #180
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

I've lost count. This is either the third or fourth issue of Starlog that includes a letter from yours truly. What got me to put pen to paper (or slip paper into typewriter, which for you kids was a mechanical device for creating documents that was not connected to the internet; sort of like a keyboard to nowhere) was actually more sequel concerns. Specifically, it was concern over the increasing trend of novelists to write series of books based in one world, multi-part books that never seemed to end, merely stringing you along to buy the next in the series. I certainly understood (and understand) the income-need by the writers and the publishers that fed this trend, and in many cases I understand the readers' needs to continue exploring a world they've come to love. But I thought the trend had gotten so far out of hand that readers were being fed never-ending pablum, and writers were sacrificing their role to tell an honest story. We all have to pay our bills, but it isn't out of bounds to occasionally remind ourselves that just because NCIS has been renewed for yet another season that we're not contractually bound to watch it.

The rundown: Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito share this month's cover, which also notes that it's the 16th anniversary issue of the magazine, though there are precious few reminders inside the issue that it's a special edition; heralding the return of former editorial staffer David Hirsch as a music correspondent, Star Trek VI's Valeris (Kim Cattrall) is featured on the contents page, which references Hirsch's interview with Trek VI's composer, Cliff Eidelman. In a shortened Medialog column, David McDonnell notes that George Lucas received the Irving G. Thalberg Award during the Oscars, and Marc Shapiro reports on an attempt to bring Robert Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land (which is mis-labeled Stranger in a Stranger Land) to the screen. This issue sees the return of another former Starlog editorial staffer, Michael McAvennie, who kicks off a new column called Gamelog, which reviews new video game releases; this issue, he reviews some Terminator games, among others.

The Communications section includes still more Trek-vs-Space: 1999 infighting, a vehement anti-Gene Roddenberry letter, memories of Irwin Allen, an absolutely brilliant letter critiquing multi-book novels, and more; David Hutchison's Videolog column warns us that Freejack has been released, among other genre titles; Booklog reviews Illusion, Gifts of Blood, Dragon Death, and The Missing Matter; Fan Network includes Lia Pelosi's fan club and publications directory, plus the convention listings; and in his From the Bridge column, former publisher Kerry O'Quinn actually references Starlog's 16th anniversary while sharing the story of a fan who made his professional science-fiction dreams come true.

Ed Henderson contributes his first article to the magazine, a look at the history of Godzilla on the big screen (with illustrations by Kevin Brockschmidt); Kyle Counts interviews actor and director James Darren, who discusses working on The Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap, and more; Marriette Hartley is called "one of TV's classiest actresses" as she's profiled by Lee Goldberg (after all, she didn't give the magazine the Terri Garr treatment); Batman Returns director Tim Burton is interviewed by Marc Shapiro, and he discusses how to assemble the best villainous roles for his superhero films; and Ian Spelling talks with genre favorite actor Lance Henriksen about his roles in Aliens and Alien3, Pumpkinhead, and other films.

The Star Trek interview marathon continues with Pat Jankiewicz's chat with director Gene Nelson, who discusses his episode "The Gamesters of Triskelon" (which Jankiewicz rightly calls "Star Trek as its most glorious and notorious"); Jean Airey interviews actress Judi Trott about her role in Robin of Sherwood; Tom Weaver and Paul Parla tag-team on a long Q&A with actor Ben Chapman, who portrayed the title role in Creature from the Black Lagoon; David Hirsch returns to the Starlog fold with his interview with composer Cliff Eidelman, who talks about working on Star Trek VI; and in his Liner Notes column, editor David McDonnell relates where former staffers have gone after leaving Starlog during its 16 years of publication (James Elrod is an electrician for the Metropolitan Opera, David Hirsch is an optometrist and a music journalist, Ira Friedman is producing a comics line for Topps, and so on).
"If you'll recall, the adventure of the original Star Trek is that the plots always led them to other planets. The surprise was, 'Who were they and what did they look like?' That was always fun, like in ["Gamesters"] – the alien characters were brains! We didn't show that until well after the middle of the episode, and all these other people involved weren't weird faces, like Angelique. Now [with Next Generation], there are no surprises. Whenever they come up with a new face, it either has one eye, two eyes or horns! It lacks the wonderful element of surprise the original had. Where their adventures led them was where the surprises came."
– Gene Nelson, director, interviewed by Pat Jankiewicz: "The Gamesters People Play"
For more Starlog, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New York Post Exposes ... Obama's Vacation Clothes

Wow. Talk about a slow news day at the right-wing New York Post. Check out its cover below, which was assembled by editors who thought this was the most significant news of the day.

And no, I don't think there's anything wrong with what Obama is wearing. And I'm 99 percent certain that neither you nor anyone else thought that, either, and this is another of those entirely manufactured controversies that certain media players concoct to give their talking (and writing) heads something to blather on about.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Star Wars in German! Trailer for Das Imperium Schlägt Zurück

(Re)Discovering Steranko's Mediascene

When I first got into buying magazines in 1980, I soon began seeing a magazine called Mediascene Prevue, which was published out of Pennsylvania by artist Jim Steranko. I bought a copy here and there, but it never became a regular thing for me – far too many of the pages were taken up with cheesecake shots of actresses and ads for cheesecake shots of actresses. Not my thing, but if it helped Steranko pay the bills, then so be it. Over the years, that aspect of the magazine seemed to take over the book to the extent that it sorta became Femme Fatales before Cinefantastique started that magazine.

But I'm wandering. The reason I'm posting this is that I've begun to find images of the earlier issues of the magazine, when it was just called Mediascene. Some of the covers were really great; fantastic images with beautiful type treatment.

There aren't a lot of these magazines for sale (at least at reasonable prices) on eBay or Amazon, but I'll keep looking, because I've got to get some of them. Look at these covers. Fantastic, both artistically and from a fannish point of view.

Frankly, I thought the covers were better in the Mediascene version, which apparently was published in a newspaper tabloid format, than when Steranko reformatted the publication into traditional magazine style and changed the name to Mediascene Prevue.

Fun fact: One of Steranko's staffers was David McDonnell, who eventually got a job in New York at Starlog magazine, which he edited for a quarter century.

UPDATE Feb. 11, 2011: You'll note in the comments below to this post that there exists a web site on which Steranko supposedly sells back issues of his magazine (and other products). Just an FYI that I ordered a number of Mediascenes from that web site in early January; I received a confirmation e-mail, but never received the magazines. My credit card was not charged for the purchase, but a follow-up e-mail from me to the company has gone unanswered, and when I tried both phone numbers listed on the site (as per one commenter's suggestion), I learned that one number is out of service and the other apparently is being used by some questionable telemarketing firm. So caveat emptor.