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Watch ole ‘Bandit’ run: Fans assemble to mark movie’s 40th

They had a long way to go and a short time to get there, but hundreds of fans in Trans Ams have put the hammer down and made it to Atlanta to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Smokey and the Bandit.”

About 350 cars this week retraced actor Burt Reynolds‘ wild beer run from the Texas-Arkansas line to Atlanta in the movie that roared into pop culture in 1977. Some truckers also took part in “Snowman’s Run,” named for singer Jerry Reed‘s sidekick character.

They’ve all congregated in Jonesboro, Georgia, the town 15 miles (24 kilometers) south of Atlanta where much of the movie was filmed.

This weekend, fans plan to recreate some of the movie’s memorable scenes, including an attempt by a stunt driver to jump 150 feet (46 meters) in a Trans Am.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ron Howard takes helm of Han Solo ‘Star Wars’ film

Ron Howard is taking command of the Han Solo “Star Wars” spinoff after the surprise departure of directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

Lucasfilm announced their replacement director Thursday, two days after Lord and Miller left the project over creative differences. Howard gives the reeling production a veteran hand in the wake of Lord and Miller’s exit in the midst of shooting.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, said filming will resume July 10. The untitled film, which stars Alden Ehrenreich as a young Han Solo, is about three-quarters of the way through production. It has several weeks of shooting left, along with reshoots.

Howard has shepherded Oscar winners like “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13.” But his recent films, including the “Da Vinci Code” sequel “Inferno” and “In the Heart of the Sea,” have struggled at the box office. He also has some history with Lucasfilm. He helmed the 1988 fantasy “Willow” and starred in George Lucas’ 1973 breakthrough “American Graffiti.”

“We have a wonderful script, an incredible cast and crew, and the absolute commitment to make a great movie,” said Kennedy.

Disney reiterated the film’s release date of May 25 next year, suggesting that — at least for now — the “Star Wars” spinoff will be released on schedule. Representatives for the studio declined to comment.

How producers and the Directors Guild of America handle the film’s directing credit will also be closely watched. DGA rules govern the crediting of directors.

Lord and Miller had previously been considered among Hollywood’s most sought-after directors, having turned “The Lego Movie” and “21 Jump Street” into unexpected and widely praised comedy hits. But reports have circulated that the duo, who favor improvisation and irreverent humor, clashed with Kennedy and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, a “Star Wars” veteran and executive producer.

“Unfortunately, our vision and process weren’t aligned with our partners on this project. We normally aren’t fans of the phrase ‘creative differences’ but for once this cliché is true,” the directors said earlier in a joint statement. “We are really proud of the amazing and world-class work of our cast and crew.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Hard Rock names three new top executives

Hard Rock International, controlled by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Wednesday announced three new top executives.

Lucas

Jon Lucas will be the company’s new chief operating officer and “will oversee key company departments, in addition to brand operations,” according to a press release. He will report directly to Chairman and CEO Jim Allen.

He was previously executive vice president of hotel operations, where “he helped acquire Hard Rock casino and hotel rights throughout the western part of the U.S. and major international markets, spearheaded casino entry into Canada and entered the hotel management sector.”

The company is opening a fourth location in Florida later this year with the addition of the 200-room Hard Rock Hotel Daytona Beach.

That follows Hard Rock’s recent purchase of the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, and a deal to open a Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa, Canada. The company also wants to build a $1 billion casino in northern New Jersey just outside New York City.

Hipsh

Also, Dale Hipsh was promoted to senior vice president, “overseeing the entire hotel portfolio for Hard Rock International,” the release said. He previously served as vice president for hotel operations development.

And Sean Caffery joins the company to locate “new development locations, countries and partners for the casino business throughout North and South America.”

The Tribe last year consolidated its control over the rock ‘n’ roll-themed Hard Rock hotel and casino brand, buying out remaining rights from the owner-operator of Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

In Florida, Hard Rock-themed properties are now in Tampa, Hollywood (both include casinos) and Orlando.

Updated 3 p.m. — The company later on Wednesday announced that Stephen K. Judge, a 30-year veteran of the restaurant industry, will serve as president of cafe operations.

He will “oversee daily operations for the brand’s 176 worldwide corporate and franchise cafe locations, and steer Hard Rock’s world-renowned branded retail merchandise, while strengthening the Hard Rock Cafe portfolio.”

Review: In ‘The Last Knight,’ round 5 for the Transformers

A concussed serenity sets in somewhere in the middle of the ceaseless ballet of metal and machismo in Michael Bay’s “Transformers: The Last Knight.” Freed of concerns like plausibility or story, you can simply gape in wonder at the ruthlessly thunderous images in front of you.

Maybe that’s the feeling of brain cells dying a painful, anguished death. It’s a sensation I imagine cornered boxers sometimes experience while blow after blow rains down upon them. Dazed by the unrelenting digital demolition on screen, thoughts go through your head like: ‘Can this movie literally crush me?’ ‘Is death by Dolby possible?’ and ‘You know, it’s really time to get the car washed.’

By the time you’ve scraped yourself off the floor after all 149 minutes of the 3-D “The Last Knight,” you feel the need to compensate for the sheer gluttony of destruction, of unrelenting bigness. Maybe fast for a little while, you think, or just sit quietly in a corner. Bay might be spinning another tale of Autobot v. Decepticon in which the fate of the planet hangs in the balance, but his real battle is conquering you, the moviegoer. And make no mistake about it. He’s gonna win.

“Transformers: The Last Knight, is, if nothing else, a pummeling. The fifth in the franchise and second in the “Wahlberg Years” (Mark Wahlberg replaced Shia LaBeouf as lead in the last installment), “The Last Knight” continues the Hasbro toy adaptations and expands further into the alien machines’ mythology.

The script by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan ropes in a backstory involving Arthurian legend, suggesting the magic of Merlin was nothing but Transformer technology. Centuries later, the continual arrival of Transformers on Earth connects to these ancient events. There are crucial objects — Merlin’s staff, a talisman that attaches itself to Wahlberg’s Autobot-defending Cade Yeager — that bring constantly arriving Transformers, plummeting in space ships from the sky, and eventually, the vengeful leader of their home planet, Cybertron.

With Optimus Prime away on holiday (or searching for something or other back on Cyberton), the human population has turned against the Transformers. One can see why. They’re swaggering, bickering bags of bolts who eschew their best parlor trick (transforming into cars and trucks) for avalanches of ammo. There is, for a moment, a touch of metaphor for immigrant empathy in their unfortunate status, but it quickly gets buried in the mounting debris.

That is, at any rate, what I could make out. Stonehenge has something to do with the plot, too, as does Anthony Hopkins, who plays the latest in a long line of guardians to these mysteries. There’s also an Oxford scholar (Laura Haddock) skeptical of Round Table legend, and, briefly, an elite scientist (Tony Hale) whose insistence on solving intergalactic problems with silly things like physics is, here, a joke. “Transformers” is like the anti-“Martian”: brawn over brains.

“This here’s a big boy zone,” announces the Autobot commando Hound (John Goodman) in a junkyard. But he might as well be providing the movie’s ethos.

Later there’s a submarine chase and a planetary battle in the air as “The Last Knight” — an exercise in enormity — insatiably hurtles toward feats of greater and greater grandiosity. It’s an empty pursuit; there’s no explosion big enough to give Bay the fix he needs.

But what makes the “Transformers” movies different from other blockbuster colossuses is Bay. Whatever his deficiencies in other areas (coherence, emotions, women), he remains the most proficient master of big-screen rock ’em sock ’em mayhem. His manipulation of scale is unsurpassed, as is his ability to synthesize obscene amounts of visual effects into an astonishingly fluid choreography of color and chaos.

After two and half hours of pulverizing action, there’s nothing to do but raise the white flag, admit defeat, and shudder as you pass the theater for the latest “Cars” movie. No more, please.

“Transformers: The Last Knight,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language.” Running time: 149 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Citing water losses, Florida insurer approves rate hikes

Florida’s state-created property insurer, contending that it is dealing with a flood of suspicious water-related claims and lawsuits, is asking state regulators to raise rates for thousands of homeowners next year, including those in the most heavily-populated areas.

The board that oversees Citizens Property Insurance voted unanimously Tuesday to raise homeowner rates an average 5.3 percent and commercial accounts by an 8.4 percent average.

Citizens has more than 451,000 customers, many of them living near the coast or in South Florida. The corporation was created by state legislators to act as the state’s insurer of last resort when Floridians cannot get coverage from private companies.

The proposed rate hikes vary by the type of policy purchased and location, but the rate hikes will fall hardest of homeowners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties who will pay as much as 10 percent more a year. Residents in other coastal counties such as Collier, Santa Rosa and Pinellas, however, will see their rates go down.

Citizens officials assert they have to raise the rates to cover rising costs associated with water damage claims that are not connected to weather events such as hurricanes or tropical storms. Florida has avoided major damage from hurricanes for more than a decade.

Citizens is also putting in place other programs, including putting a limit on how many water damage claims homeowners can file over a three year period and a $10,000 cap on how much the company it will reimburse homeowners for water-damage repairs. A homeowner, however, can avoid the cap if they agree to participate in a new Citizens-run program that links them to specific contractors.

“These proposed rate increases and product changes are critical for Citizens’ efforts to bring some relief to a market that is being made increasingly expensive by unnecessary litigation and out-of-control water loss claims,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of the Citizens board. “Unfortunately, we are making it more expensive for many of our customers to own a home.”

Citizens and others in the insurance industry have pushed for legislators to change state law regarding the ability of homeowners to sign over insurance benefits to contractors who do home repairs. They say this practice results in lawsuits and that the work is sometimes done before adjusters can inspect the damage.

While some in Florida’s business community have suggested these rising claims are fraudulent, Citizens officials and top regulators have stopped short of backing up those accusations.

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session this year without passing the bill to deal with these “assignment of benefits” that was being pushed by the insurance industry. Some senators including Sen. Gary Farmer, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, have said the water-damage related lawsuits have been driven by Citizens practice of refusing to pay legitimate claims quickly.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The Florida Bar

Florida Bar holds annual convention this week

The Florida Bar‘s Annual Convention begins Wednesday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, with “a focus on the future of the legal profession and the challenges lawyers face,” the organization said in a news release.

On Friday, Miami attorney Michael J. Higer will be sworn in as the Bar’s 69th president, and West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer will become the Bar’s president-elect. She’ll assume the presidency next June.

The Bar is charged with regulating the state’s 104,000 licensed attorneys.

The theme of this year’s convention is “Inspire the Future,” focusing on “the future of the legal profession and the importance of working with colleagues to bring about positive change. Seminars and programs will address the rapid technological changes in legal services,” the release said.

The schedule also includes a judicial luncheon on Thursday, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga as keynote speaker and a tribute to retiring Executive Director John F. “Jack” Harkness Jr., who’s been the Bar’s head for 37 years.

A President’s Showcase on Thursday will be “Constitution Revision Commission & Florida’s Judiciary” to “ensure that Florida Bar members are informed as to how CRC proposals may affect the judiciary and, in turn, the practice of law in Florida.”

And 254 attorneys who have been practicing for 50 years will be honored during a luncheon sponsored by the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.

The convention ends Saturday. A full schedule is here.

For more details, click here. Also, “a mobile app provides meeting schedules, exhibitor and sponsor listings with links, a personal schedule tracker and updates throughout the convention,” according to the release.

Blake Dowling: WikiLeaks, cherry blossoms and pandemics

WikiLeaks is at it again.

They are dropping new information (unverified) on the web about the Engineering Development Group.

Who are they? They are the CIA, specifically its elite hacking unit.

Not too cool for national security potentially but good to know if you care about your digital privacy, or if you are an enemy of the state with something to hide.

If you have never checked out the site, it is very interesting.

The part that grabbed me was the tools called Cherry Blossom. This tool allows the agency to monitor internet traffic by hijacking wireless routers; this has been going on for years.

To put it simply, the described the tool takes over the firmware of the router and turn it into a monitoring device. So, not only can you be tracked where you go online, but also (even worse) what you are doing, banking info, passwords, or reroute you to a malicious website and infect or steal from you.

Stay off public Wi-Fi setups for this and many other reasons. Only use secure and password protected networks. Your data is up for grabs as it is, you might as well not make it easy for folks to get at it.

Also, this month WikiStinks published info on another CIA project called Pandemic. Basically, this project deals with infecting a computer with malicious code and then spreading it to take over more and more machines. In high-tech lingo, Pandemic is a tool that runs as kernel shellcode that installs a file system filter driver. The driver is used to replace a file with a payload when a user on the local network accesses the file over SMB.

So, the cyber wars rage on with Russia, China, the US and even those wankers in North Korea on the battlefield. As a nation, we try and stay on the forefront to defend our weapons systems, power grids and everything else, but it’s tough.

As you can see, there are those that wish to expose this clandestine work to the world. It’s also a very gray space with a lot of room for interpretation.

The current administration in D.C. — as well as the last one — were all about the CIA, NSA and keeping the U.S. ahead of the cyber arms race. If we fall behind in this race, we may not know until it’s too late.

In the meantime, tune into Oliver Stone’s interview with Vladimir Putin, that is the face of the enemy, and we must remember it.

Keep your passwords complex, stay off the dark web, have a dedicated credit card for online purchases, use a firewall wall with geo-blocking capabilities (block all IP addresses from punk nations), keep your security software current (and your beer cold) and we will see what happens.

Enjoy your weekend.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies, and he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

P.S.: If the CIA reads this, I am on your side. Don’t tase me, bro. I did say “unverified.” 🙂

State, feds agree to extension for red snapper fishing

Most anglers thought the red snapper season for fishing in federal waters came and went almost two weeks ago. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S Department of Commerce and the State of Florida, recreational anglers now have 39 additional days to go after the prized catch.

The previous season lasted only three days, from June 1 until June 4, leaving fishing enthusiasts and members of Congress highly frustrated. The new arrangement calls for rolling back available red snapper days in state waters while extending the opportunities in federal waters.

“We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida.”

The 39-day additional season begins Friday and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day, September 4. Also included is Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4.

“Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Ft. Walton Beach Republican from the First Congressional District. “I’m glad the Trump administration has agreed to extend the federal red snapper season.

The federal government establishes quotas for red snapper fishing. Based on whether that quota was exceeded or under-fished in federal waters, the season is adjusted accordingly.

“We pressed Washington for an expanded season and Washington listened,” said Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican from the Second Congressional District. “This decision provides relief this season while we work to fix what’s broken in recreational management of the red snapper fishery. I’m glad the Commerce Department is letting common sense prevail for Florida anglers.”

Twitter unveils new look, which users quickly mock

Twitter has unveiled a new look, and much like some previous changes the company has made to its short-messaging service, it’s not going over so well with the Twitterati.

The San Francisco company says the new design emphasizes simplicity, making it faster and easier to use, with bolder headlines and more intuitive icons. It also changed users’ profile images from square-shaped to round.

The company said the new user interface will roll out on twitter.com, Twitter for iOS, Twitter for Android, TweetDeck, and Twitter Lite in the coming days and weeks.

Twitter users immediately responded Thursday by tweeting jokes and memes critical of the changes. There were almost 30,000 tweets about the new user interface, or UI, within hours of the change, the vast majority of them either complaining about the new look or mocking it. A popular image was a suddenly round SpongeBob SquarePants.

Twitter also took heat from users last year when it changed its algorithm that orders the tweets users see. Users also tweeted their dismay when the company rolled out its “Moments” feature, and when it got rid of its star icon signifying a “favorite” tweet, in favor of a heart icon, similar to Facebook’s “like” button.

The redesign is Twitter’s latest attempt to freshen the messaging service, which has struggled to attract new users at the same pace as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Twitter revenue growth has stalled for years, and the company has cut costs and shuffled executives while still never posting a quarter of profit.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida retailers expect record Father’s Day spending

Florida retailers expect dads to be showered with gifts, with a record-setting Father’s Day in 2017.

The Florida Retail Federation, the state’s leading trade association for the retail industry, predicts consumers will spend an average $134.75 for the holiday, up almost $10 from last year’s $125.92.

Spending nationwide is also expected to reach $15.5 billion, the highest in the survey’s 15-year history – nearly a billion more than 2016.

“I am very encouraged to see that Floridians and families across the country are planning to spend more than ever before to celebrate their dads,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “These results show that Americans are feeling more and more confident and optimistic in this improving economy, and fathers and retailers can expect to benefit this Father’s Day.”

In the annual survey from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insight and Analytics, consumers will spend $3.3 billion in 2017; 48 percent say they will take dads to outings such as dinner, brunch or other “fun activity/experiences,” clothing (46 percent) and gift cards (43 percent), making up $2.2 billion. Next most popular is consumer electronics (21 percent) at $1.8 billion.

As with Mother’s Day, greeting cards are the most common gift (64 percent), accounting for $861 million of projected spending. Other popular gifts include personal care, automotive accessories, books, music, home improvement/gardening supplies and sporting goods.

The survey found 27 percent of shoppers will give dad a “gift of experience” — concert tickets, sporting events and the like.

The category with the largest growth trend is “personal care” — cologne, razors, aftershave, etc. – showing a 20 percent increase over last year.

For the perfect gift, 40 percent of consumers will head to department stores; 34 percent will shop online; 26 percent will shop at a discount store; 24 percent at a specialty store and 19 percent at a local business.

One-third of smartphone owners will use their device to research gift ideas, but only 18 percent will use them to make a purchase. Tablets are more popular for research (32 percent) and purchases (19 percent).

More than half of those surveyed plan to buy for a father or stepfather (54 percent), others will shop for a husband (29 percent) or son (10 percent).

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