31 May 2005

In the "I think everyone knows about this already" file...

I've kind of noticed that my posts here tend to sort of alternate between ones that are way too hugely long, and ones that are like, maybe a paragraph. So, I guess I'm due for a short one again, heh! (Speaking of which -- is there a way with Blogger to do "read more" lines? I looked in the help files, and there was one thing, but it seemed a bit over-my-head on how to implement it -- but that might be useful, since, apparently, it is impossible for me to shut up once I get going!)

So, anyway, though, it looks like AudioScrobbler has signups going again -- I've been a member of that site for a while now, and it's really fun. Or, at least, it is to me, but then again, I love messing with numbers and stuff. (I mean, I'm not great at math, but I love fiddling around with statistics and formulas and whatnot and seeing how they change.)

Basically, you just get a little plugin that sits and monitors what your media player of choice plays (it doesn't distinguish between MP3s, DRMed formats or actual CDs -- in their documentation, they basically say that they don't WANT to know if you've been a naughty spud and downloaded something, or if you're exclusively listening to CDs you've bought new at full-retail price or what; it's a way to protect users), and compiles stats, like your 50 favorite bands based on most-listened to stats, or your most-played songs, or whatnot. (It can be fun to sometimes spike your stats by listening to one band nigh-exclusively for a while, say.)

There're a couple problems -- sometimes the service goes down and won't process your songs for a while, and the merge-script for combining different variations of artist names isn't quite complete yet (for example, on my lists, I've got two different entries for the Fastbacks, because some of my mp3 tags were listed as "The Fastbacks" and other as just "Fastbacks". Audioscrobbler knows that both of those should just be "Fastbacks", and lists them as such... unfortunately, it hasn't quite hit the stage where it knows that it should roll those two different "Fastbacks" entries into one. But, hey, it's a free service -- and the really neat thing hasn't come up yet.

See, while being able to look at what your friends are listening to (and, you know, keeping an eye out for potential guilty pleasures to rib them about -- as an aside, this won't work for me: I'm unabashed in my love of, say, t.A.T.u. or the Carpenters!) is definitely neat; there's another big thing with Audioscrobbler. Mainly, their sister site, Last.FM. Last.FM takes people's Audioscrobbler stats and puts together a personal streaming station based on the tracks you've played and songs it thinks you might like. Last.FM's also actually done this legally, working out the royalty payments and rights issues with a lot of labels and artists; not everything, of course, but a pretty good chunk. For example, looking at my page right now, they don't have any Fastbacks, MC Chris or They Might Be Giants (though that last one surprises me, what with TMBG being relatively early to embrace the mp3 format), but they do have songs by the Magnetic Fields, XTC, or the Mountain Goats -- if a band or song has a solid underline, they've got it; a dashed underline means they're missing it. So, basically folks can listen in to the type of thing I'm listening to, if they're so inclined. (Audioscrobbler profile pages also have a small last.FM link in the corner.) Since I'm a big fan of sharing music and turning people on to stuff they might not have heard otherwise, I dig the hell out of this idea.

It's a cool idea, anyway. And anything that combines messing with useless statistics and sharing music I'm into is a good thing by my eyes.

(Man, I went all long again...)

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The Award for "Best One-Liner in a Press Release" goes to...

OK, nobody is surprised that MTV is run by corporate flunkies, I realize, but this is excellent; Nine Inch Nails were invited to perform "The Hand That Feeds" on the MTV Movie Awards. NIN agreed, and planned to use "an unmolested, straightforward image of George W. Bush as the backdrop" for their performance. MTV balked at the idea of offending our idiot-king, so NIN walked.

My favorite part is this line from the statement on the NIN wesbite: "Apparently, the image of our president is as offensive to MTV as it is to me."

I'm SO glad Trent still refuses to do it anyway but his own.


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Quadrospazzed on a life-glug

I'm a huge fan of Chris Morris; for those who don't know who Chris Morris is, he's an awesome British satirist who typically does stuff about the media. His most (in)famous work is probably the 2001 Brass Eye special, "Paedogeddon", a TV news-magazine spoof about the media's treatment of pedophilia. Morris' work is frequently controversial (well, that's an understatement), though unlike some controversial stuff, his stuff isn't just Shock Value -- he actually has the quality to back it up. The "Paedogeddon" special, in the hands of someone else, would end up being "Oh, look! I am edgy! I'm making a comedy show about pedophiles! Ha ha!", but Chris Morris never falls into that trap, mainly by having something to say.

In that episode of Brass Eye, for example, there are very, very few jokes about the pedophiles themselves; the jokes are all about the media. There are celebrities saying inane things to demonize pedophiles (whether or not the demonization is deserved is irrelevant to this, as pretty much everything becomes irrelevant when you've got Phil Collins, wearing a shirt that reads "Nonce Sense" talking about being able to spot pedophiles by keeping an eye out for people showing children maps of their neighborhood with penises drawn in instead of houses, or DJ Fox telling the audience, in all earnestness, that pedophiles have more in common with crabs than with normal people... And that there's no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact.); there's mob justice against a man named Peter File (based on a real incident where a UK paper published names and addresses of known pedophiles... Only they accidentally included the names and addresses of known pediatricians); there's uninformed worry about the Internet (a Flash game for children that allows a pedophile to fondle the child through the Web); hysteria over Urban Legend-esque warnings (pedophiles tricking children by going around disguised as schools); and there's vigilantism (a US television show where a former pedophile -- who shot himself in the head, blowing away the pedophile part -- hunts pedophiles down and shoots them). And that's only the tip of it -- that's not even mentioning the simultaneous glorification of criminals the media will do, illustrated by a puff piece on a pedophile's tour of his crime scenes. In fact -- that's about as close as Morris gets to actually making light of pedophilia itself (the only other joke I could think of is the pedophile in the stockades who tells Chris Morris' anchor-character that he doesn't fancy Morris' kids -- and while that's a relatively straightforward gag, it's wrapped in that media simultaneous-star-and-demon wrapping).

This was actually the first real exposure to Chris Morris I'd had. Plastic ran a story about the furor over the episode, and it sounded interesting to me, so I downloaded the episode from CookdandBombd (linked above) right before Channel 4 slapped them with a Cease & Desist order.

I loved it.

I ended up hopping on a P2P to see if I could find the other episodes of Brass Eye, and devoured those as well. (My favorite is still "Paedogeddon", but "Animals" is a very close second.) A while before, I'd heard Morris' radio series Blue Jam mentioned -- IIRC, it came up on the Negativland list as being somewhat similar to their work. I looked around a little bit, though, but the site didn't really seem like it was really being updated, and I didn't see/hear any clips of his work, and ended up forgetting about it until then. (It ended up being one of those "OH! It's THAT GUY!" moments for me.) After that moment, I tracked down everything that I could -- his radio work, his other TV work; I've got all of his DVDs, ordered from the UK, I've got the CD of the Blue Jam best-of, I've got the 10" of the "Bad Sex" collaboration with Amin Tobin and the 12" Bushwhacked single.

Of all this, my favorite is probably Blue Jam (and the TV version, Jam as well) -- it might even out-do Brass Eye. And my favorite thing about Chris Morris' work is that while it's very dark, it's rarely, if ever, mean-spirited. A lot of people accuse him of being mean-spirited, though -- but I disagree. I dislike mean-spirited comedy. It's one of the reasons I don't like The Oblongs; it tries for dark, but just ends up squarely in the "mean" bin. One of the easiest ways I can describe mean comedy as opposed to dark comedy: Mean-spirited comedy tends to have characters exchange cruelties without any repercussions.

Look at most sitcoms -- most of the exchanges seem to be along the lines of "Wife, your cooking skills are terrible!" "Yes, well, Husband, you are lousy in bed!" "No, I'm not, just ask my mistress!", etc. Hurtful comments just slide back and forth without any thought or care for the other's feelings because they have none. They're like soulless automatons who've been so beaten down by each other's loathing they've forgotten what it is to be human. (Or, you know, their writer just doesn't care.)

Chris Morris, on the other hand, has characters being incredibly cruel to one another -- sometimes even more cruel than these horrible sample sitcom characters. But why is that not mean-spirited? Because the recipients of the cruelties are actually hurt. In one of my favorite sketches from Jam and Blue Jam, "TV Lizards", a TV Repairman mercilessly taunts a couple who've called him in because their television is spewing lizards into their room. But the husband, instead of merely letting the insults roll off his back and getting into a war of punchlines starts getting exasperated and starts to cry in rage. The man is not only being confronted with a bizarre, surreal situation which he is not at all prepared to deal with -- how could you be? -- but ALSO this man whom he's called in to help, not only refuses to help, insisting it's a problem with the cable, not the television, is standing in his living room, which is filling with small lizards, making fun of his situation, the man knowing that he can leave at any time, while he cannot leave and has to deal with this undealwithable situation. And he's got to listen to him saying he can't and won't help him, but that his name is "Mr. Lizard", and that his boss' name is also "Mr. Lizard" and that he basically doesn't care! He won't even give him the satisfaction of being apologetic about not being able to help! This complete ass is making fun of him for no real reason. AND, he's being paid for the privilege! So, of COURSE the man's not going to trade witty banter with the repairman!

In this, Chris Morris gives the TV Owner a sense of dignity -- he's not some character plunked into a ridiculous situation for the sake of a joke, to be sent on his merry way once the final punchline is given; he's a real person stuck in this unreal situation trying to make the best of it. And he's not having an easy time of it.

In fact -- this is one of the best things about Chris Morris' work -- none of the actors play anything as comedy. Everything, while it IS funny, is played as one would a drama; after all -- this stuff isn't funny to them. It's only funny to us as outsiders. While the situation of "TV Lizards" is very amusing to watch, if it were happening to us, we'd be just as enraged and frightened as the man. This type of thing doesn't happen, it's not supposed to happen, and from all we know it can't happen. So why IS it happening? We don't know. And being confronted with a paranormal mystery isn't likely to put us in a combative-yet-witty mood. In this, Chris Morris isn't interested in just giving us a straight setup-punchline type sketch -- he's illustrating how people react in situations beyond their ken.

After all, there's lots of situations where we'll be in a similar situation as the TV owner; what about someone who's been accused of a crime they didn't commit, but cannot prove they didn't commit it? That'd provoke the same sort of reaction... But it's not really funny. Because that kind of thing can happen. The situation in "TV Lizards" is so removed from reality, it provides us with that distance to examine those emotions, and laugh at that common thing that makes us human. Even though the TV Owner is the butt of the joke, we, the audience, can identify with him, even if we don't explicitly. In fact, when people watch the sketch -- when I watch the sketch -- the comedy comes from the callousness of the repairman. We/I don't watch it and explicitly say "Oh, I like this because the man is like us/me!" -- we "say" "Oh, I like this because the repairman's a jackass!"

Chris Morris knows that we don't need to be told to empathize with the man in order to do so; there are no violin swells as the camera noses in to the tears on his face. The repairman has already demonized himself; he doesn't need Morris to help. The entire sketch is a nightmare, but a nightmare that's presented in such a way that we laugh at it, but in an uncomfortable way, knowing that we are indeed laughing at the terror and misfortune of another human being. It's that self-consciousness that lets "TV Lizards" and the rest of Blue Jam transcend mean-spirited comedy. That's the cruelest part of mean-spirited comedy -- it tricks you into thinking that there's nothing wrong with these actions. No one's hurt by hurtful things, therefore, there's no harm, no foul. Chris Morris shows the consequences of people's actions -- paradoxically, by being superficially more cruel to his characters, he's much less cruel by granting his characters their humanity -- the goal of any good creator. Chris Morris reminds people that their actions do have repercussions -- the psyche isn't just a waterproofed tarp ready to bear the elements with no wear.

In other words, Chris Morris reminds people what it is to be a human being.

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30 May 2005

My loss is your gain... Thousands Invested!

I have a search running... I use eBay's Favourite searches functionality to monitor strange things which come up for auction on eBay infrequently. When something you're looking for pops up, eBay will email you. For instance, when the eventually invent a blood glucose monitoring watch, I'm there. I have a search running. So far, two years, no watch yet.

Over the past few years of shopping for that little special something on eBay, I've noticed that there are a few key phrases which can lead to some interesting or strange bargains. "Thousands invested!" is one of my favourites, along with "My loss is your gain"

Right now, I watch eBay for cars. Some of my searches take weeks to find something, but when they do, well, some of the cars on eBay can be ridiculous. CYIMPOOR? Others, you'd genuinely consider owning.

Sorry if this post isn't up to scratch-- but I've been saving these auctions for a long time for just this very post, but the problem is that many of them are no longer online.

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29 May 2005

Doodads for the Distinctive Drunkard

OK, this is silly and juvenile, but it cracked me up: Modern Drunkard magazine's Doodads for the Distinctive Drunkard. Part of it is that I love these kind of Victorian catalog drawings... be sure to hit the "next" link at the bottom so you can see my favorites, "The Pickled Herring" and "The Illustrious Pranking Machine." :D

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But who is Jenny Ondioline?

So, while we were on vacation this week (pics of the camping trip coming soon) we stopped at the infamous Wuxtry Records in Athens, GA, former employer of some members of great bands such as R.E.M. and the Olivia Tremor Control. (There's also a Wuxtry here in ATL that I hit a little more frequently.)

Not seeing any cool local stuff that caught my interest, I decided to pick up the Stereolab box-set thingy of all their singles and EPs called Oscillons From The Anti-Sun, and holy crap, is it AWESOME. About one song out of every six is a familiar album track, but the rest is B-side, alternate-version heaven.



It's also 3 CDs (36 tracks by my count) and a DVD of all their videos and several UK TV appearances, for about $22 US, so you gotta love that.

My favorite thing comes on the third CD... an "alternate version" of one of their earliest singles, "Jenny Ondioline." This was the song that originally made me a Stereolab fan; on their 1993 album Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, it was an 18-minute drone/pop masterpiece... part Velvet Undergound, part spacey-lounge music, part French New Wave, and mostly indescribable to anyone who couldn't understand how an 18-minute song could be "pop."

I used to think of it as sounding a little bit like a happier version of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn." The verses ramble along like a car buzzing down a sunny, perfectly-landscaped highway, while the choruses, with their long "OOOOOOOOHHHH-aaaaahhhhh..." from the two female members of the band, sound like trucks passing by on the other side of the road. The long album version takes a lot of musical detours, of course, but the 4-minute single version condenses this rhythm perfectly. BTW, Kraftwerk did a single version of "Autobahn" as well, so the comparison holds water.

Of course, once you listen to the lyrics (in Latitia Sadler's heavy French accent, always one of Stereolab's selling points) you realize the song has some typically Stereolab-ish political mood-making in mind:

I don't care if the fascists have to win
I don't care democracy's being fucked
I don't care socialism's full of sin
The unbeatable system engenders rot
That what is exciting
Is a challenge as the new nation
but the tensions have to be creative with some time
I don't think the lyrics had anything to do with politics in 1993... I think the band was playing with the idea of future politics, just like they play with the idea of future everything.

"OOOOOOOOHHHH-aaaaahhhhh..."

OK, so back to this great alternate version. I'm not a musician, so I can't tell you everything that's going on here, but this version seems to be more guitar-ish and less electronic, while Sadler's voice has been put through some kind of filter to give it a slightly harsh, distorted edge. It's probably just a different mix, but man, it is GREAT. And until I get a C&D letter from Stereolab's lawyers, or a bandwidth nasty-gram from my web provider, I've stashed the song here in Windows Media format (both because it's smaller, and because that's what I use in my MP3 player so I already had it ripped that way).

I can't believe a 12-year-old song (that I heard 12 years ago) is kicking my butt all over again, but it is... those of y'all who are Stereolab fans, enjoy, and those who weren't before, I bet you will be soon. ;)

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28 May 2005

I had the body of a 2-and-a-half-year-old baby

I'm not necessarily sure why I'm posting this here, since it's currently a top rated Plastic Quick Link, so I figure everyone's probably seen it by now anyway, but still, it's a neat article: Brooke Greenberg is simultaneously 12-years-old and six-months-old.

I have to admit -- my first thought upon reading this article was of the DEVO song referenced in the subject line (erm, if you don't know the song, you probably don't want to; at least, not in reference to this story, since you'd probably smack me upside the head for thinking of it!), but it is a really interesting, and, well, terrifying story.

First, from the point of view of the parents -- while I've never raised a child from infancy (or, well, at all), it doesn't strike me as something that would be terribly pleasant, at least not for 12 years. I don't mean to sound like one of those Purely Anti-Infant Folks or anything, and I know there is a lot of Fun Baby Stuff, too, I'm not sure how it compares to the Icky Baby Stuff as well. Anyway, for me, the fun of Children is when they start coming into their own and making their own decisions and learning about the world and everything. So, I'd be kind of scared to have to take care of an infant for the rest of my life, with no "payoff" of getting to watch them grow and learn and have conversations with them and all that sort of thing.

However, more terrifyingly -- I have to wonder about Brooke herself -- what's this like? Does she still have the short memory that actual infants have -- is everything that blurry collection of snapshots that folks have from when they were a baby? Or, worse -- has her brain been able to learn things? Is she actually a 12-year-old girl trapped in a body without much motor control or the ability to speak or communicate in any way other than "happy/sad/angry"? Does she actually know language? I realize there's no real way to know this -- but I wonder about it all the same.

This kind of thing is squarely in the realm of things that terrifies me. I typically find most Horror Movie stuff kinda silly and stupid -- ghosts/monsters/supernatural baloney ("Supernatural, perhaps... baloney... perhaps not!") don't exist. Psychopaths, of course, do -- and those types are much more scary to me -- though, there's not a very high probability of running into one of those nasty folks (which, of course, is part of the terror), so those ones are scary but not as scary -- but for me, the scariest films are like Memento. It's that that scares the hell out of me. What would that be LIKE, not being able to form any new memories? Or, in this case, not being able to communicate with anyone? One of the most frightening things I'd read was something that I don't know if it's true (and looking at other reports, it doesn't look like it), but if it is -- was that someone in a coma is actually awake and aware of what's going on, they just can't interact with it. (In looking to see if I could find where this came from, I did a search on Google News, and there were a few articles made it sound like it was just a state of unconsciousness, similar to being knocked out prior to surgery, which, I suppose is good news, kinda.) But it's THAT type of thing that is terrifying to me. If they wanted to make a horror movie for me, they wouldn't have a spook who kills people -- it'd be a spook who merely paralyzes folks but makes them acutely aware of everything, just unable to respond.

That's probably the saddest thing about Brooke's story, and I hope, for her sake, that that's not the case. Because that would just be one of the worst things I could imagine. I suppose that's one case where I'd actually envy Leonard Shelby.

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27 May 2005

Brian Eno: Another Day On Earth

Brian Eno has a new album due out in June, and word is that it's a song-oriented, non-ambient type record... hopefully, along the lines of the Here Come The Warm Jets era.



Pre-order available here.

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TV Is King

One of the things I remember was that I used to store my old school papers from like, 1st-5th grade or thereabouts -- maybe a little earlier, like, 1st-3rd or 4th, but somewhere in there -- anyway, I used to store these papers in a large, wide, but very thin cardboard box -- it probably once held a pre-fab table or something -- which I'd decorated like a giant remote control. I cut a small flap at the bottom to look like the battery panel. On the other side, I drew on, with a Sir Marks A Lot, various buttons, partially cribbed from the remote from our then-TV (one of those with a ton of different buttons -- it actually had a SAP button, which I don't think I've ever seen before; usually it seems that SAP is buried under a submenu), and also some TV-Channel-Specific buttons. Like for Nickelodeon or whatever.

So, yeah, television's always been a huge thing in my life. I love it. I always have, to be honest. And, so, it's with that, that I share this as something that conjures up all sorts of nostalgic feelings for me -- even though, of course, I do realize that that is a little pathetic. But, still, I always have watched lots of PBS (my favorite thing growing up was when our local affiliate would run blocks of what would be listed only as "Instructional Programming" -- old videotapes from the 1970s to early 1980s intended to be taped by teachers to show to their classes, spanning all sorts of topics. Slim Goodbody would sometimes show up, but usually nothing so "well-known". Mostly, they were just educational TV programs, between 15 and 30 minutes long, with poor acting and cheap graphics illustrating supply and demand, the respiratory system, algebra or map-reading. And I loved these. I would often fake being sick so I could stay home and watch these. (Near the end of the Instructional Television-era, KCTS would cycle these out in favor for older PBS shows like Square One TV or Newton's Apple (which was somewhat fine with me, as I adore both of those shows, even though I missed the no-name stuff).

Still, though, looking at that site and seeing the old PBS bumpers (I'm pretty sure that KCTS kept the 1971 indent a little later than 1984; I seem to remember the 1984 indent coming into rotation on our station around 1986 or so; though perhaps KCTS might have aired both) reminded me of staying at home and watching Sesame Street when it was wonderful and before it turned into the Elmo show. Or the WGBH Boston promo before lots of shows -- that's just as memorable for me.

That site also has other US Network idents, as well as from around the world (the CBC idents are also lodged in my brain as well -- since Seattle's reasonably close-ish to the Canadian border, we've always had the Vancouver CBC affiliate as part of our cable line-up, meaning I'd get to watch Sesame Park and an extra episode of Fred Penner's Place or The Elephant Show With Sharon, Lois & Bram, or The Raccoons (an excellent and rather sophisticated animated series that I love to this day).)

The main site's focus, however, is UK channels, which is also really interesting; especially articles like this, which goes over how the Globe Ident (which pretty much any Monty Python fan would recognize) was done; it wasn't done via animation, like I'd always assumed! It was mechanical. Even though these particular ones don't have any nostaligic value for me (aside from "Hey, remember when I watched that one episode of Python?"), they're neat to read about and watch; the BBC seemed to be awfully fond of mechanical idents.

And, on a similar note, some pages on TV Production Company Logos. A lot of old friends appear here, too.

TV, I love you!

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25 May 2005

Go Lions!

Apparently, no self-respecting lion would let himself get beaten by a midget. Not even against 42 of them. Is this real? Apparently not, thank God. Whew!

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They Come in Threes, but hopefully no more than that.

MAN. It's been a bad week or so -- Thurl Ravenscroft just died. I'm not sure which he's more known for -- doing the songs in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, or being Tony the Tiger. Either way, though, this is really sad, because he was an awesome voice talent, and from the stuff I'd read about or seen him in, he seemed like a really cool, friendly guy.

I saw this over at the Drink At Work blog (by the guy who does Medium Large and also writes Sally Forth (yes, that Sally Forth), and he also posted a link of some old commercials for Frosted Flakes from the 1960s.

So, yeah, that's kind of a downer. Hopefully this is the last of the "Awesome Voice Talent Passes On" series of posts for a while.

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21 May 2005

Down in front!

This is so great... a Best Western motel where all of the rooms face a giant movie screen. :D



From the website:

Only G, PG, and PG-13 movies are shown from May through September.


So of course, I'm wondering what they show from October-April for all the travelling salesmen... hmmm.

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20 May 2005

[CHARACTER SET NOT SUPPORTED]

I'd been thinking about writing something about this for here for a while, but I basically decided to when my best friend sent me this link. This is something that I basically am wanting so bad. (As an aside -- check the shipping costs. I find that really hilarious, actually -- "I want that $19,000 book! I simply MUST have it NOW! Here, take all my money! Now to get it to me? Eh, just chuck it in a mailbox, whatever.")

Codex Seraphinianus (aka The Codex) is a very, very large book by Luigi Serafini, a neo-Surrealist from Italy. It was written (or, rather, created) in 1981 (or thereabouts), and it's referenced in Douglas R. Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas (a collection of his early 1980s columns for Scientific American).

The Codex is an illustrated encyclopedia of a world that doesn't exist, in a language [The image linked does not show the complete symbolary] that likewise doesn't exist. Even though it doesn't use characters like any other language, as far as anyone can figure, Codex Script is consistent. There's even a Rosetta Stone on one of the pages. Unfortunately, it just translates to another script, which is, of course, just as inscrutable. One neat thing -- all the pages are numbered... in Codex Script. And, the society depicted uses a different number base.

The book is separated into sections, including (roughly) Science, Technology, Plants, Animals, and Humans. One of the neat things is, unlike a lot of things like this, the world isn't nightmarish at all -- it's actually pretty nice. There's a Fish-Tap! You can have a faucet that gives you fish! It's definitely a bizarre world, but it's not a dystopia or anything. Nor is it a utopia -- it's just pretty much a normal-type world, only with Fish Taps and people with Fountain-Pen fingers, and creatures with one base and 4 or 5 human torsos/head/arms going around and doing stuff. It's pretty damn keen.

There is one down-side of the Codex: It's incredibly expensive. It's actually in print, but only in a French edition (which doesn't actually mean anything, except that the cover is in French, and there's a French-language introduction), and they're around 220 Euro (or about $275), plus shipping. (For me, shipping was 20 Euro to the US - the grand total for me was 237.24 Euro, for the record. That's a bit pricey fr shipping, but it is a very large and heavy book.)

I've had this book for about a year or two now, and I love it. It's great to show to people, just because it's such an odd book, but incredibly beautiful as well. The publisher did a very nice job as well - heavy paper, a special box cover, beautiful printing. It may be very expensive, but you really do get your money's worth. (And if you're not willing to spend $300 on a book, sometimes you can get it through Inter-Library Loan, if you've got access to that type of thing.) It truly is a magnificent piece. Also, there's a short video on Luigi Serafini's site, which seems to be a little bit of computer animation based on the Codex; I'm not sure what that means, but I've often thought that there actually could be a really cool (and incredilby unprofitable...) film that could be made from it, basically like a travelogue in Codex Speech. I'd love to do that. But something tells me it'd be a hard sell... ("Yes, I'd like to do a film that's not in English or any language, really, not subtitled, a fake travelogue-style documentary that'd require loads and loads of special effects to do right. Hello?")

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A bad week for voice acting...

Especially folks who filled in for beloved characters after the original voice actor died. Henry Corden, the second Fred Flintstone just passed away as well. Not the best week to be an animation fan, I suppose.

Here's pouring out a 40 of Very Olde English for him.

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A tangled web

Hmmm... here's a cool-looking tool, though I'm not sure how useful it really is.

It's called "LivePlasma." You enter the name of a band or artist, and get a "web" of other artists somehow similar to, or linked to, the one you entered.

The interface looks great, but I wish it supplied more info. Searching for Brian Eno gives you a HUGE web of artists... but with no clue how they're related. One of the entries closest to Eno is Johnny Cash... how are THEY connected?

There's the kernel of a cool idea here, though.


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It's Mr. Show a Record Review with Bob and David!

I think there are about 3 types of people: Folks who enjoy Pitchfork, folks who don't like the reviews, but check them for recommendations anyway, and people who really hate Pitchfork yet find themselves every so often going to there just to get angry at someone who, say, doesn't like the Moog Cookbook records because they hate synths. And, unfortunately, I'm the latter -- I could potentially be the second, but I find that I very-rarely-if-ever agree with what they think of a record. But, well, once in a while I have to admit Pitchfork does something pretty cool. Since they're due, they figured they'd bring in David Cross to make fun of their reviews. Surprising that they did that, considering that they werent terribly kind to Cross' own records (the quotes he pulled out for the introduction of his article were real, as are all the other quotes-of-reviews, including the extended Godel, Escher, Bach parody).

Also -- for what Bob Odenkirk's doing, he's currently working on Tom Goes To The Mayor for Adult Swim. It's a hilarious cartoon by the guys behind TimandEric.com, in a pretty cool limited-animation style. It's a surreal comedy show with a sort of dream-logic. One of the episodes, "WW Laserz", is about Tom getting a bunch of WWII memorabilia on eBay, so he decides to start a theme restaurant. He goes to the Mayor to get clearance, and ends up with both an educational grant and the Mayor's asthmatic nephew. Unfortunately, excessive use of the nephew's inhaler results in extreme childishness, and after the inhaler breaks from its strap during a musical number, he throws a brick at Tom. Tom is passed out for two weeks, and the Mayor kept him alive, in a dumpster, by putting cat food in his mouth and moving his jaw up and down. Now that Tom's come to, though, he discovers that the Nephew has taken over the resturant project, and it's no longer educational. The town council isn't particularly bothered, as there's animatronic Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini singing songs Chuck E. Cheese style -- only the Hitler (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) breaks, and the Mayor convinces Tom to stop making the Pizza Rolls needed for the customers, to fill in for the broken Hitler. It's a rousing success, despite Tom not really knowing the lyrics. And all this happens in an 11-minute program, yet the show has a rather leisurely, dreamlike pace; it's not frenetic at all. It's definitely a show that takes some getting used to, but I recommend it. (Although, looking at the Adult Swim boards, it's almost as unpopular as Super Milk-Chan, another show on AS that I adore, so, perhaps I'm just out of touch with America.)

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18 May 2005

Double your pleasure

Twingine.com is a twin-engine search tool. Formerly found under the great and descriptive domain name "Yagoohoogle.com," it sends your search to both Google and Yahoo and displays the results in side-by-side panes.

The first few results are nearly always the same, for the half-dozen or so searches I've tried, but then it's interesting to see what one engine locates that the other doesn't. It's also interesting to see that some searches have noticeably different sorting in the results.

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It's curtains for The Riddler



Awww... I was sorry to hear about this:

BURBANK, California (AP) -- Actor Frank Gorshin, the impressionist with 100 faces best known for his Emmy-nominated role as the Riddler on the old "Batman" television series, has died. He was 72.

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Save The Green Planet!

It's really rare that you find a perfect movie -- one that's just perfectly written and directed. There's a handful, though, and it's a special thrill when you find one where you can honestly say "There is no way this could be done better." I think Dr. Strangelove is one, Harold & Maude is close. I'm not sure necessarily sure if it definitely is (I've only seen it twice so far, so perhaps on the fiftieth viewing, I might think of something), but Save The Green Planet is definitely a contender.

A while ago, I saw a review [Warning: Quite A Lot Of Spoilers!] of it that intrigued me; I figured it'd either be great, or a cool idea done horribly. Luckily for me, about six months after reading it, the Seattle International Film Festival showed it -- technically the last film of the Festival (If I recall, another film playing a couple hours earlier "Closed" the festival; Save The Green Planet! screened the midnight of the last night -- unfortunately, after the award ballots were due). So, I bought tickets for me and two of my best friends, and we all went down to the theater that night, crossing our fingers that it wouldn't turn out to be the latter type of film.

Of course, it turned out to be the Former. (The theater it was at, the Egyptian, tends to get films that are on the winning side of this dichotomy; this is also where we saw Forbidden Zone for the first time.) The three of us fell in love. As we left the theater, we couldn't stop talking about the film.

The rough plot: A man thinks the CEO of a chemical corporation is actually an Andromedan working towards the destruction of the Earth, so he and his girlfriend kidnap the alien to get information out of him, typically through rather unsavory methods.

And this is probably the first great thing about this -- the director, Jun-hwan Jeon, understands that you don't need to actually show the torture to frighten or disturb the audience. There are a few shots not for the squeamish, of course -- there'd have to be -- however, for the most part, the business takes place in the shadow, or he cuts away after the point has been made. He doesn't linger on excessive and gratuitous violence (one of the many things that made The Frau Plastic Chicken Show fall extremely short of its incredibly excellent -- perhaps even sexcellent -- title).

Another great thing? It's pretty much every different genre you could think of. Comedy, Sci-Fi, Cop Drama, Tragedy, Romantic Comedy, Parody. And they're all done well. Often times better than films that are devoted to only one genre. I mean, I'm floored that they did the Cop Aspect of this film well; a lot of times, films like this tend to slow down during the police scenes. Save the Green Planet! makes you as interested and entertained by the detective work as by the rest of it -- though, I suppose someone could make an argument that "Detective Story" is the main genre. Aside from the actual detectives, the main character could be seen as a detective as well, trying to compile information on the Alien Plot. But that'd do a bit of disservice to the other genres it works expertly in -- which leads to the other thing; the film flows between genres. There aren't any gear-shifts. You never go "Oh, this is the Sci-Fi part of the film. This is the Horror part now!" You just don't think about it, which is how a film like this should be. There's not one iota of self-conciousness.

The review linked above (if you're not reading it because of Spoilers), ends with this:
Perhaps the best comment I can make about this crazy-quilt comes from another medium. Once, after hearing Bitches Brew, a music journalist asked what Miles Davis was supposed to be playing (jazz? bebop? funk?), and he answered, "Music." In the same way, Save the Green Planet is a movie, the sort of movie I watch movies to discover and savor and adore.


One final thing -- when I saw it in the theater, everyone in the audience clapped at the end.

I clapped at the end.

And I'm one of those people who hates it when folks clap at the end of films.

Anyway, though -- for a long time, this hasn't been available in this country, aside from the occasional film festival screening. I ordered the Korean DVD as soon as I got back from the theater, and it came shortly after. Unfortunately, this is a Region 3 DVD, which means I can't loan it out to most people and share with them this brilliant film. However, I've found out last week that it's getting some small theatrical releases, and the US DVD comes out the first week of September. I'm definitely going to pick that up, partially to encourage them and thank them for releasing it, but also to have it as a loaner. (I'll be especially happy if it's basically a copy of the Korean DVD, which is loaded with extras... unfortunately, all in Korean.)

I do realize that by hyping this film so much, I run the risk of setting an idea that it's impossible for the film to live up to, although -- I think this film is actually good enough to go against the trend and actually live up to it. This truly is a magnificent, perfect film.

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17 May 2005

Cool Gizmos: Sleeptracker/BOINC

I was once asked to contribute a sentence which would be included in a high-technology time capsule (I forget if it was to be buried or transmitted into space). The theme was "The Future" and it was to contain our thoughts on the future. My contribution was, "Are we there yet?"

It seems like we'll never get there: Nanoprobes, space elevators, teleportation, honest politicians...

Anyway. Like every guy, I suppose I love gizmos. There are so many cool ones out there, but most feel like just gizmos for gizmotry's sake. But here's one that I think might be different. I really want to try it.

It's called "The SleepTracker", a watch that "watches" you while you sleep. The company that makes it says, "Say goodbye to blurry mornings-- wake up alert and energetic everyday with SLEEPTRACKER®." Really???

The revolutionary new SLEEPTRACKER® monitors your body and continuously looks for your best possible waking times. SLEEPTRACKER® wakes you up at just the right moment-during a window of time that YOU set. Imagine not feeling tired in the morning and getting a few extra minutes out of your day. Now it's possible with SLEEPTRACKER®.

What? Really? That's COOL! You mean... this gizmo could watch me while I'm sleeping somehow and maybe even optimize me in some way??? Sign me up!

By the way, I have always had a thing for gizmos which run unattended or serve you by "watching over" you or paying attention in some way to something-- cool screensavers, cool utilities (like FTP), etc., or, even, little things you can do to save the world.

Take BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, something they describe as a "software platform for developing public-participation distributedcomputing projects." Yeah... totally old news-- we've all heard of SETI@home (Looking for radio evidence of extraterrestrial life), but actually, there are other BOINC projects which are cool, too:

Climateprediction.net: study climate change
http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/: search for gravitational signals coming from pulsars
http://athome.web.cern.ch/athome/: improve the design of the CERN LHC particle accelerator
http://predictor.scripps.edu/: investigate protein-related diseases

I'm currently a member of Team Canada and dedicate my spare CPU cycles to the Einstein Project, but I want to figure out how to participate in multiple projects. Unwind or solve proteins, predict hurricanes better, heck-- I'm disappointed BOINC didn't somehow try and find a way to help Bush find WMD's in Iraq. That might have helped...

Question: What OTHER sorts of things could BOINC do? What other gizmos (real, virtual, or imagined) do you use or would you like to see?



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16 May 2005

What happens when you crash into a comet?

Daily links... what are yours?

Sure, we all know Memepool and Slashdot (no need to even bother linking these). But what are your obscure (read: unknown to me) daily click addictions?

One of mine is APOD: Astronomy Picture of the day. Today, for instance: What happens when you crash into a comet? I don't miss a DAY of this page.

I also check Travis Ruse's site a lot. He's the one who takes a picture every day of his ride on the subway.

Let's get a thread going on this one.

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More on Mitch Hedberg

I know this topic was posted in the begining days of this blog, but this article from Slate is a good read and has a couple of great clips imbedded.

Cheers!
CW

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15 May 2005

Wouldn't It Be Nice If You Could Rock Like We Do?

I suppose this is sort of in a similar vein as the two posts about an upcoming electronica Beatles tribute album (which, having heard the original song linked in the second part, I am rather excited for), but apparently the Beatles/Beach Boys rivalry isn't dead. I just found Hippocamp Ruins Pet Sounds, a remix/cut-up of the original Pet Sounds album by a bunch of different artists.

It's kind of similar to Deconstructing Beck, but I think Hippocamp... is much more successful, at least as an album. It's much more enjoyable and cohesive at any rate. Not all of the tracks are great (the album kind of peters out in the second half), but it's definitely worth the download. The best tracks are Tiny Pixel's version of "Sloop John B", Nybbl's "God Only Knows" and "Pet Sounds" by Kidgloves and Autistici. Some of the tracks that don't work fail because they're basically the original song with effects added over the top, and others because they're too far removed (mikrosopht's "Here Today" sounds similar to a record I did where I loaded samples into a program that would slice/dice samples on the fly at random; I'm not sure if this is indeed the process, and would honestly doubt it, but it still sounds a bit like that). The most successful tend to strike the right balance between faithfulness and originality. (The opening track, Kams' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" does this well, as does The Star Fighter Pilot's "That's Not Me"; strangely enough, though, "Pet Sounds" is both one of the more open in its interpretation and one of the most successful tracks -- it's some outside samples of Brian Wilson talking about the making of Pet Sounds over a bit of a collage of the album, segueing into a rap name-checking the track titles in a clever way. Autistici's "Let's Go Away For A While" also works while being pretty removed from the source material.)

Overall, this is a pretty interesting compilation; much better than I thought it'd be from just reading about it (I first saw it referenced on Snuggles, the Negativland mailing list.). Check it out before it gets C&D'd off the Internet!

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14 May 2005

Picking Coconuts in Manhattan

Paul Collins is one of my favorite authors; he's got 3 books out (Banvard's Folly, a collection of essays on forgotten folks of history, like the guy who invented the Concord grape, or the titular Banvard, who created a gigantic rolling mural of the Mississippi Riverbanks; Sixpence House, a longer book about buying a house in Hay-On-Wye, the UK town known for its overabundance of bookstores; and Not Even Wrong, a book about autism through history as well as coping with his son's own recently diagnosed autism), and he's also the editor of the Collins Library, a McSweeney's imprint devoted to bringing back into print obscure but interesting books, mainly from the turn of the century and thereabouts. (The most popular is probably English As She Is Spoke, known as the worst phrasebook in the world.)

So, anyway, through his blog, he posted a link to a new article he wrote for the Village Voice, Polar Eclipse. Like with the bulk of his work, it's a look at something just sort of weird in history (and tying it back to the present) -- in this case, the mid-1940s desire to fight off the next Ice Age by melting the polar ice caps. (And, you know, getting at the mineral deposits locked beneath the Antarctic Ice couldn't be so bad, either...) And, hey, since we've just figured out how to make the atomic bomb, why don't we put those to use there, too?

Luckily, they decided against doing this, but it's still pretty interesting that it was an actual thing folks were contemplating and doing journallistic writeups about it (the essay includes an illustration from a 1946 Mechanix Illustrated article intended to sell the average American on the idea). It's just kind of funny, looking back, that for a while, we actually wanted climate change. But, of course, who WOULDN'T want fresh oranges from New York?

[BONUS: Fun Friday Facts!, from Philippe at Achewood!]

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DON'T GET ELIMINATED!

I have gotten addicted to this silly, stupid but HILARIOUS SHOW called MXC. Maybe you'd heard of it?

It's based on a Japanese show called "Takashi's Castle", but which has been, er, anglocized (read: Americanized) and is pasted on the TV screen as MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. It's as close to Monty Python as the USA has gotten, if you ask me.

If you haven't seen this show, Takashi's Castle was one of those 1980's Japanese game shows where the contestants have to dress in ridiculous costumes and go through even sillier obstacle courses, humiliating them all the while. But they're all having a great time! The show is hosted by two Japapese men wearing exagerated, almost comical traditional Japanese/samurai outfits. That's where the Japanese ends and the Americanization begins, however-- their names are Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship, and these guys have instead substituted their own comedy voiceovers onto it. The result is sort of MST3K meets Running Man (Japanese style), crossed with Animal House. All on amphetamines or something.

Word on the street this is by the same guys that brought us MTV Deathmatch, which I hated. Sure, it's on SpikeTV-- hence the Animal House reference-- but beneath the utter senselessness of the entire thing lies some pretty sharp, smart humour.

Every night, two "fictional" teams play against each other. The other night it was the fast food industry vs. aerospace workers. The fast food industry won.

If you like Python, or Mystery Science Theater 3000, I can't imagine you wouldn't be very amused by this show.

On 'net sites I've looked up about this, there are drinking games where you have to have a shot every time Kenny says something absolutely stupid and Vic responds with a dead serious sports play-by-play voice, "Right you are, Ken." And, in every episode, there's a contestant named "[something] Babaganoush." Drink! Another shot, please.

Ken: "Here's little Susie Smith. She's a pharmaceuticals major at Altered States University."

The events, by the way, are utterly ridiculous. The other day they had one event where they ask trivia questions-- all changed into ridiculous new ones-- and the contestants, who are wearing HAND-shaped costumes, have to run and dive onto the best answer. The other events, "Sinkers and Floaters" and "Log Roll" can yield some pretty "ouch!" inspiring prat-falls. The Log Roll, for instance, is basically where the contestants have to jump across these huge logs on rollers. If they don't do it right... splat! This is where the play-by-play commentary really shines. "He's down in the submissive choirboy stance. Now he's doing the double-knee knob gobbler."

At the end of the show, they show the best "painful eliminations of the day", and add some funny lines to each, like, "that's the sound of his spleen collapsing!!"

Check it out and you'll see what I mean!

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I need one of these

I saw one of these on a car in the CNN parking decks. I gotta have one.



The image links to the guy selling them.

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13 May 2005

Ringtones?

You know, occasionally someone just “hits it” just right with an analogy or just says something that sums up the question that it basically makes the conversation just consider it, say OK, and go on to another topic. I love those moments.

Today for instance, I went out for lunch (and sort of never came back, hence this post). Some people were talking about ringtones, you know, those top-selling sound widgets for cell phones. Are they music? Like, how many technological iterations/translations does a song have to go through before it’s no longer “music”? Sure, OK, so your cell phone plays “Highway to Hell” when it rings and you consider that music, but then why go to Wal-Mart and make fun of the muzak they’re playing? Just because it’s a muzak version of “Mandy”— and you hate Barry Manilow— does that mean it’s not music? Or is it? And since it's not original, is it just a jingle, a tune, a melody, something less, something more? Does it matter why it's played, or where?

And what about original ringtones? Are cell phones a medium? Imagine the songs—typically, the longest a phone will ring is five or maybe eight seconds… just how compressed can these songs get before we de-/classify them as music? Is music written expressly for download/money music? Yes, absolutely, most would agree on that.

Word is that musicians are targeting this market and making ringtones written expressly for these devices. And don’t call these musicians hacks, either—remember, didn’t Brian Eno write the original windows XP (or was it 95?) startup and shutdown sound themes? Sure, it was for Microsoft's money (and why not?) but would Eno really have signed on to ANYTHING that wasn’t, in some small way (no pun intended) a musical challenge?

So I’m at the bar sipping my diet Coke, just sitting there, not really having any sort of opinion-- until someone asked me what I thought, that is. I said, “To me, a song isn’t really a song until someone covers it, like in a tribute album or as a ‘bar band’. Would you buy beer and stand around watching some guys cover ringtones?”

Hmmm. Yeah. I guess that would be MY criteria. What do you guys think?

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INLAND EMPIRE

Sort of strange news that I just saw -- David Lynch is working on a new movie. Well, that's not so much strange news, I suppose -- Lynch is a filmmaker and that's typically what filmmakers do. The weird part, though -- apparently, he's been working on it, without anyone really knowing, for two years. All that's known is the title (INLAND EMPIRE, all caps), some of the cast, and that it's "about a woman in trouble". It's slated to premiere in Cannes next year, but they're going to release a little more information soon, but until then even the posters are covered up.

Me, I'm just amazed that someone as famous as David Lynch has been able to be that secretive. Usually, even if no one knows anything about the movie, it's at least leaked that they're working on one. The articles even mention that there's no script -- I'm thinking that's a misinterpretation of the Studio Canal representative's statement, which I took to mean that there's no script released (and perhaps they haven't even seen one, just working on their past relationship with Lynch). Though, hey, at this point, it could just be improvised, who knows.

And it's interesting that Lynch has gone to DV and says he's done with film. Too bad, really -- I've always liked the look of film (DV looks good, but tends to produce a flatter picture, where actual film has a bit more depth to it, at least in my eyes... which admittedly don't really have depth perception...). And I'd always been under the impression that Lynch was a fan of the medium too, but I guess not, or, rather, that his love of it has been surpassed by DV. Either way, though.

(Hopefully, this doesn't mean that he'll re-release, say, the Elephant Man with CG critters running around and, say, overdub John Hurt with Temuera Morrison...)

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12 May 2005

What shade of purple are you?

The Pew Research Center, a polling group focusing on people's relationship to mass media, have an interesting online poll to find your political "typology"; there's a very detailed report explaining how the typologies fall into the three main party divisions of Democrat, Republican, and Independent.

When taking the test, note that each line is a spectrum between the two questions... at first I thought we had to choose one answer on each side. Oops. I caught the mistake in time, though, and when I was done, got results will surprise no one who knows me. I'll paste it into the first comment.

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11 May 2005

The Journal Of Ride Theory Omnibus



Yes, I will be getting this book. One of our neighbors here on Blogspot, Dan Howland, apparently published a 'zine called The Journal of Ride Theory, concerning

"Rex Everything of Negativland on the Haunted Mansion; Teresa Bergen on the Tiger Balm Gardens; "Power to the People Mover"; Jacques Bouchard on the American Carwash; the Pep Boys; Carl Houston on Ride Brut; Roger Rabbit's Car-Toon Spin; Universal Studios Hollywood; World's Fairs of the 20th Century; the 1939 "Futurama" ride; Flying Saucers at Disneyland; submarine busses; Freedomland; new introductions to each issue by the editor, and previously unpublished bonus material"


...and now all the issues have been compiled into a single book.

Hell, I'm all over that!

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While My MIDI Gently Weeps, Pt. 2

Y'all remember when I posted recently about an all-electronic tribute to tbe Beatles? One of the artists involved with that project, Jay Atwood, found us and emailed us!

He and Susan MacCorkle did "Tomorrow Never Knows" for the compilation, and he describes it this way:

"I usually work in a world fusion idiom, so this winds up as kindof a chill, Beatles in India thing. Most of the other tracks on the project are more mainstream electronica - but it ain't half bad."

Also:

"The whole CD is downtempo/chill, and I can honestly say that I really like about half of the tracks. Some others are fine/tolerable, and only a couple really rub me the wrong way. A pretty good ratio for a bunch of basically unknown guys. My favorite composer/DJ on the project is this guy, Eros. Really great stuff, and it always grooves just right."

So, personally, I'm looking a lot more forward to hearing this project than I was before. Heh!

Now, Jay and I jointly decided not to risk a knee-capping from Yoko Ono by posting "Tomorrow Never Knows" online, but he DID send us one of his original tunes to post:

"This one is from my upcoming release "Bonfire Dreaming" and is world/chill bordering on ambient. If you like it, you can post it for your friends, (I own this one) and maybe they'll all be nice and buy the CD when it comes out this summer."

So, here's the song (which I like, a lot) and Jay's email is BatJay (at) aol (dot) com.

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There goes my chance...

...to ever own an original Warhol work. Oh well.


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Yahoo Music

Should you subscribe to Yahoo's new Music Search Engine? At $4.99 for unlimited downloads, why not?

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Some reading

I love this. The Iraqi TV industry is adopting some American-style techniques.

Also, a followup from a previous post about the Airbus A380... Just how impressed should we be?

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10 May 2005

Middle inital: "H"

Jesus Christ! All the man wants is a driver's license!

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Confessions of a listener

This is a great essay by Garrison Keillor... it's basically a love letter to radio, and also an explanation of why he's not worried about the right-wing blabfest that has taken over the AM band.

"Or you find three women in a studio yakking rapid-fire about the Pitt-Aniston divorce and the Michael Jackson trial and the botoxing of various stars and who wore what to the Oscars. It's not my world, and I like peering into it. The sports talk station gives you a succession of men whose absorption in a fantasy world is, to me, borderline insane. You're grateful not to be related to any of them, and yet ten minutes of their ranting and wheezing is a real tonic that somehow makes this world, the world of trees and children and books and travel, positively tremble with vitality. And then you succumb to weakness and tune in to the geezer station and there's Roy Orbison singing "Dream Baby" and you join Roy on the chorus, one of the Roylettes."

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09 May 2005

New Sufjan Stevens album in July



Sufjan Stevens' second album in his daft-but-charming 50 States project (i.e., record an album about each state) will be released in July, and has the awesome title Come On Feel The Illinoise.

I first found Stevens' music well after his Greetings From Michigan, The Great Lake State had made a splash in the indie world. It's full off-kilter pop played on banjos and glockenspiels, at times sounding like Stereolab played by a high school music class, and at others sounding so tender and intimate that you can hardly stand it.

Last year's Seven Swans left behind the 50 States concept for a bit, and was darker, spookier, and more religious. It was also one of my favorites of 2004 (in a three-way tie with A.C. Newman and John Frusciante's CDs from last year).

Now, I'm completely geeked about the new album after hearing this, a leaked track from Illinoise called Chicago (MP3 link). I've had it on repeat in Winamp for the last 45 minutes... it's terrific. I know you can't judge a whole CD from one track, but it sounds like Illinoise continues Stevens' experimentation around a central hub of a sound- new and different, but consistent. Too cool.


Incidentally, Pitchfork Media has posted a track listing for the album, and it looks like Stevens still enjoys wacky song titles that mask how subtle and affecting the songs themselves can be:

01 Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
02 The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, "I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!"
03 Come on! Feel the Illinoise!
-Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition
-Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream
04 John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
05 Jacksonville
06 A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons
07 Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Step Mother!
08 One Last "Woo-hoo!" for the Pullman
09 Chicago
10 Casimir Pulaski Day
11 To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and it involves shoe string, a lavender garland, and twelve strong women
12 The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
13 Prairie Fire That Wanders About
14 A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze
15 The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
16 They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From the Dead!! Ahhhhh!
17 Let's Hear That String Part Again, Because I Don't Think They Heard It All the Way Out in Bushnell
18 In This Temple, as in the Hearts of Man, for Whom He Saved the Earth
19 The Seer's Tower
20 The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
-Part I: The Great Frontier
-Part II: Come to Me Only With Playthings Now
21 Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few
22 Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I shake the dirt from my sandals as I run

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Isfahan

Wow... this guy has created a 3-minute animated movie (Quicktime format) called Isfahan that's like flying through a dream about Persian architecture and ornamentation. Just gorgeous.


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07 May 2005

Quantum consciousness

Maxthon, *MY* browser of choice (still IE, yeah, I know) will remember whatever pages I have open so that next time I run it, it'll resume where I left off.

This damned page has been open every damned time Maxthon has opened for me for the past week. It's taken me that long to read the damne thing! But it's fascinating:

According to some scientists, all four quantum properties can be applied to the seemingly inexplicable features of consciousness. First, quantum coherence (e.g. Bose-Einstein condensation) is a possible physical basis for ‘binding’ or unity of consciousness (Marshall, 1989). Second, non-local entanglements (e.g. ‘Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen correlations’) serve as a potential basis for associative memory and non-local emotional interpersonal connection. Third, quantum superposition of information provides a basis for preconscious and subconscious processes, dreams and altered states. Finally, quantum state reduction (quantum computation) serves as a possible physical mechanism for the transition from preconscious processes to consciousness (Penrose, 1989; 1994).

What?? Ooooh. And some other tempting tidbits emerge:

In the quantum, real time is uncertain and events may run in a non-linear way. Quantum state reductions such as objective reduction (OR) events may send quantum information "backwards in time", for example according to the Aharonov "dual vector" theory. Time may simply be indeterminate in the quantum superposition phase... In the Orch OR model, quantum computation occurs in microtubules within the brain’s neurons...



I believe science will eventually and prove what the mystics have known all along. Using science, we're actually working backwards in a linear way to what more intuitive minds have instinctively sensed all along.

So... All this reading led me to THIS *very* cool site... The NCSA's Cosmos in a Computer site, which has a lot of information on dark matter and cosmology in general, has some cool movies...

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Morse Code

This from Slashdot so I’m sure everyone will see it eventually, but this killed me for some reason. I think it's WHAT they were sending. Probably the first time the 93 year-old ever had to send something like that:

Hardware: Morse Code Faster Than SMS "Engadget is reporting that Morse Code is actually faster than text messaging. According to the article, 93 year old Gordon Hill transmitted a message faster than 13 year old Brittany Devlin, despite Devlin's 'liberal use of texting slang.' And the fabulous quote they were they sending: 'Hey, girlfriend, you can text all your best pals to tell them where you are going and what you are wearing.'"

So... I decided to make this a more "cool" thing and satisfy one question I had anyway: What's the fastest morse code can go?

So I came to this

- - - -

Okay, who was the fastest code operator, ever??

I put that question to my friend Marshall Emm, N1FN,
who runs the world's best key and keyer shop (www.MorseX.com).
Marshall provided, from memory, some tidbits from the Theodore McElroy legend:

"Ted McElroy started manufacturing keys in 1934. McElroy was a master of both American and International Morse code and he promoted telegraphy most of his life, first as a telegrapher and later as a manufacturer of keys, bugs, and related equipment.

"By age 15, McElroy was a leading telegrapher (Wirechief) for Western Union. In 1922, he won the world championship in Asheville, NC by copying code at 56.5 WPM. That record was beaten in 1934. So, he went back the following year (1935) and beat the world record again. On July 2, 1939, McElroy broke the world record code speed at 75.2 WPM, which remains unsurpassed today. For the record, there is an individual ham radio operator who claims to have beaten it, on the basis that 75.2 wpm in 1939 currency is only worth about 65 wpm today.

"Anyone considering the nature of the record should recognize that the 1939 contest was a PROGRESSIVE test, with around a dozen candidates, but only two surviving to the final round. Each round consisted of a 15 minute transmission of text from a newspaper. Speed calculation was about as scientific as you could get- they cranked up the speed a couple notches, and at the end of the 15 minutes they counted how many words had been sent.

"Hams struggle with 5 minute tests (in which they only have to have solid copy for ONE minute!), and the two finalists in the 1939 test had to survive multiple, consecutive 15 wpm tests at ever increasing speeds.

"The legend is that Mac astounded the audience by not doing anything when the sending started- except to take a drink of water, and light a cigarette. He didn't start typing until a full 15 seconds of code had gone by. When the tape finished, he kept typing for that same 15 seconds. And it's no coincidence that he also won touch typing contests! Ever the showman, Ted "Mac" McElroy put his name and "World's Champion Radio Telegrapher" on his keys and bugs, which are highly prized today by discriminating operators and collectors."

73
Marshall Emm
N1FN/VK5FN

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While I was there, I found this, which was cool reading. "Morse code memories." Ah... and we'll all be in the same boat. "Son, I remember email..."

By the way. If you ever need something converted into morse code, this will do it.

Anyway. Enough silliness for now.

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04 May 2005

R. Crumb



Legendary 1960s cartoonist Robert Crumb was recently on NPR's "Fresh Air" (the red "LISTEN" icon plays the interview), and he's still as wimpy-but-cranky as ever. I always liked the style of his comics, but I didn't really realize how fascinating he was until I saw the documentary "Crumb," which shows a guy so damaged by his dysfunctional childhood that he'd probably be a sex criminal of some kind, if he hadn't found a way to release his demons through his art.

Crumb's official website is now run by his son Jesse, also featured in the documentary, and who is an artist is his own right (one who is, in many ways, more proficient than his dad).

I recently read another interview with Crumb where he commented on his move to France (where he still lives) in the 1990s. Paraphrasing from memory, he said, "At home I was considered a commentator on American culture. Over here, I can't ever tell what the hell anyone's saying." I actually hope he and Aline move back to the U.S. soon, since the U.S. has gotten about as weird and twisted as any of his "comix" ever portrayed it.

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Kung Fu Hustle

Crap. I meant to post this two weeks ago. No WAY am I missing this movie.

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What's my papal name?

Hmmm. This site will tell me the answer to that question...

Your Papal Name is Pope Adeodatus II

You think Pope Benedict IX was a Saint who should have indulged himself a bit more. You're already halfway though "How to Excommunicate for Fun and Profit" and, if you were made Pope, you would have the treasures of the Vatican on eBay.co.uk before the end of week one.

Get your own name at What's My Papal Name?


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02 May 2005

Where are we going?

Where are we going? Scientists are fond of running the evolutionary clock backward, using DNA analysis and the fossil record to figure out when our ancestors stood erect and split off from the rest of the primate evolutionary tree.

But the clock is running forward as well. So where are humans headed?

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says it's the question he's most often asked, and "a question that any prudent evolutionist will evade."

I was discussing this other article with Lee, which we both found interesting:

Given his outspoken defense of Darwin, and natural selection as the force of life, Dawkins has assumed a new role: the religious right's Public Enemy No. 1. Yet Dawkins doesn't shy from controversy, nor does he suffer fools gladly. He recently met a minister who was on the opposite side of a British political debate. When the minister put out his hand, Dawkins kept his hands at his side and said, "You, sir, are an ignorant bigot."

I would like to read his book, but I haven't been spending much money on books lately. You have to have Salon access to view it.

Just saw word on CNN that evolution is on trial in Kansas. Ugh.

They always ask those parlour questions “Who’d you invite to dinner?” For me, it’d be this Dawkins guy and about four or five of the top televangelists. :D

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Great Article in the NYT on sustainable argiculture

I think y'all know how I feel about the factory farm system. It's terrible and bad karma for all of us who support it by refusing to become dope-smoking, hippie-wanna-be vegans (no offence to out mostly veggie Monty). There has been a movment in this country for the last 20 years as a counter to the factory farm and this article from the NYT shows that not only will a sustainable farm work, but will work quite well at the small business size.

I have been doing my part by buying stuff from Your Dekalb Famers Market that is locally produced and want to do more. If more farmers can see that you can actually make a good living this way (this farm averages $300,000 yearly) perhaps we will see in our lifetime food animals treated with the respect they deserve before they reach our plates.

Bugmenot

Cheers!
CW

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