Friday, October 31, 2008

Logic Pro 8

There was a practical reason why I bought this new computer. It wasn't just to play "Doom 3" and "The Sims 2," or to acquire a status symbol, or to fulfill whatever bizarre ideas I had about my iPod a few months ago.

I bought this computer so I could expand my music-making capabilities, which were tightly constrained on the old eMac. Tiny screen, slow processor, 60GB hard drive, ancient operating system, USB 1.0...there just wasn't enough I could DO with it anymore, without squinting and watching the poor thing shudder and cry.

So I bought my gorgeous iMac, which suffers none of those old limitations except for one thing: my copy of Logic Audio 6 wouldn't work on it. Damn. At least there was "Doom 3."

But today, with my finances beginning to stabilize, I took my next and second-biggest step: I bought Logic Pro 8.

I sort of wonder how much I needed the Pro version, over the comparatively cheaper "Express." I have no intention of using the six DVDs of loops and "Jam Packs," which I consider to be tools for cheaters. I'll never use MainStage because I never play live, and as far as I know the effects plug-ins and soft synths are pretty much the same in both the Express and Pro versions.

Pro DOES come with a CD burning tool which looks useful, however, and if I ever want to record in surround sound or score a movie...well, I can now.

Most impressive about the Pro package is the enormous, sturdy box, which all but affirms your suspicion that You Are In Fact A Worthwhile Person. The manual for the effects alone is heavy enough to topple my cat, and the actual User Guide is over 1000 pages long. Fortunately, having launched the program and loaded in a few old projects, it looks like the interface is much the same as version 6, only beautifully integrated in a way that requires a nice big screen. No more F9 to seek and grab the six windows that are open in the background.

I'm very excited about the busses and the sampler. I can't wait to really use it...

...but the old eMac with Logic 6 has got a few more months to go, since I don't actually have a MIDI interface for this computer, and I may need to re-purchase my old plug-ins ("iDrum," "Pluggo," and "Mode") to get my old projects migrated over. More RAM would be nice, as well as a breakout box...and a hardware drum machine...and one of those fiddly USB control boxes with lots of knobs and sliders.

Anyway, hurrah!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Domestic Drag Show: "Macavity" By Sarah Brightman

The newest (and longest) Domestic Drag Show is ready for viewing...if you dare!

This has always been a difficult song to do. Despite the somewhat arbitrary and easily forgettable "you/they" lyric switches, it simply has a weird tempo between "burlesque" and "big band." I don't know whether to grind or prance. And coupled with the relatively snoozy running time (3:45 in its edited version) I just don't do this live anymore.

I think all this awkwardness comes out in the video, filmed on two separate nights several weeks apart, including "second unit" hands. Fortunately Zsa Zsa consented to appear as the nefarious, gender-switching "Macavity" himself.

If anybody wants a signed, one-of-a-kind "Macavity" portrait, it's still nailed to my wall.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'd Buy Anything By...Harry Nilsson

When you're a kid you get particular joy out of dirrrrrty novelty songs. At an early, impressionable age I was exposed not only to Donovan's "The Intergalactic Laxative," but also to two little tunes by Harry Nilsson: "I'd Rather Be Dead" (sung by a bunch of senior citizens who'd "rather be dead than wet my bed") and the high-powered rocker "You're Breakin' My Heart" (" f*ck you.")

There was a certain joy that came from singing nasty songs that were part of my parent's record collection. How could they discipline me when they'd bought those albums themselves? But as I grew older I started listening to the OTHER songs on those Harry Nilsson albums, and I realized that the world didn't view him as the writer of cheap novelties; he was a troubled genius who hit as often as he missed, who swam in garbage and fished up jewels, who went on a mad drinking binge with John Lennon and was ejected from a bar for heckling The Smothers Brothers.


A man after my own heart.

My favourite Harry Nilsson song is "Spaceman." It encompasses every element of the '70s music I grew up with: pretentious orchestra, soaring melodies, thumping drums, and over-the-top production. I distinctly remember hearing the vocal effect during the "round and around" portion and realizing -- for the first time -- that music could contain UNNATURAL sounds. Thus began my love affair with the phaser.

Wow, he could sing. Wow, he could write a song. Here's a downbeat performance of "1941," which ends with all the pathetic oddness you'd expect from the man.

It seems that Nilsson is LEAST known for the songs he performed and wrote himself. His most famous song is probably "Without You," which he didn't write (and which Mariah Carey butchered in a most predictable way), and other bands have gone on to make hits out of his own songs which failed to chart. There aren't a lot of convenient clips of Nilsson's later work available on YouTube, so instead I'll show you the most wonderful rendition of a Nilsson song I can think of: it's Davey Jones performing "Daddy's Song" (from the Monkees movie "Head," which is brilliant and deserves its own post). Ten points and a smooch if you can tell me who he's dancing with.

Yes, it's Toni Basil. THAT Toni Basil.

Anyway, back to Harry Nilsson. The fact is that Nilsson made some crappy albums; he was messed up and unrestrained and his bosses didn't know how to market him. And yet somehow his troughs accentuate his high points; to love Nilsson it helps to know a bit about him, and what he could AND couldn't do.

Albums to buy: The two-disc reissue of his first two albums ("Pandemonium Shadow Show" and "Aerial Ballet") plus the world's first remix album ("Aerial Pandemonium Ballet") is pure, uncut, enthusiastic young spunk. "Nilsson Schmilsson" gives you the slightly drug-addled, crazier Nilsson (and "Coconut"). Albums to avoid: I'm not a fan of "A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night," and I've never picked up those albums that have been widely panned because I've never seen them for sale. For fans only: I wish I knew, because whatever it is I'd buy it.

Liveblogging My Grandfather's Tapes II

Continuing the liveblogging, because I know you're curious how that wiener thing ended up.

This "wiener deal" caused a tightening of tour restrictions...wouldn't let tourists near chicken or wiener processing, then wouldn't let them in the beef kill or the pork kill. Tours kept getting cut down, both in volume and number.

He stopped taking tours two years ago. He was "senior man" and felt that other and younger fellows might be better at it. He did the tours for thirteen years. He started at Schneider's in 1934 and was still doing tours in 1989, well over fifty years with the company. They have a retiree's travel club. A woman who started at Schneider's when he did suggested the travel club after retirement, have been doing it for twenty years...have several trips on the go.

Trips to Alexandria, New York. A ten-day trip to the Ozarks, one to Toronto, one through the Welland Canal, one to the Shaw Festival. So he's still involved with Schneider's. They used to rent their own busses but the costs were too high, now go through a travel agent.

INTERVIEWER: I know that you went to PEI during World War Two. Tell me more.

He went to London to enlist, but he and his brother were told to wait for their call. He got his call in August 1942, got into the service in November or December. He went into the Air Force, his brother was in the Army. He went to a camp near Montreal. Went to the Toronto Hunt Club for initial training, was then sent to Jarvis for further training, also LINK trainer, where he "washed out." He didn't have the physical qualities necessary.

The LINK trainer was a machine similar to flying. Just an imitation. Just barely the cockpit. There was scenery around you and you had the horizon, what it was was a simulated aircraft flight. He couldn't judge between the aircraft and the ground so they washed him out. He was finished.

So he remustered to aeroengines (ground crew), he typed wills at the Toronto manning pool for troops who were enlisting, this was at the sheep pen in the Exhibition grounds. Then he went to Galt for the aeroengine training school, in some of the old factory buildings down there. Then was shipped to St. Thomas, just a holding depot for postings, waiting for his assignment, continued marching and was held in barracks.

Then was posted to Moose Jaw for four days -- on ground crew, out on the airstrip. Would warm up planes in the morning, test everything. It was a bombing and gunnery school. An aircraft would carry two fellows, would drag a flag on a cable from behind. The fellows in another aircraft would shoot at the flag and record the results. They also dropped imitation explosives, fly over targets. A fellow in a pigeonhole would record how the bombing run went.

Then he was posted to Prince Edward Island. Two stations were there: Summerside (surveillance for submarines) and Mount Pleasant (also bombing and gunnery school). Was there from June 1944 to June 1945 with Rita (his wife). Had two rooms, four families living in one house, had a daughter (Sharon) just a year and a half old.

The armistice was signed and he was sent back to Ottawa until his discharge. Got it in Toronto in October 1945 on the Exhibition grounds. He was never sent overseas, possibly because he was married and had a child, and was also thirty. They had kids, 19, 20, "sharp as tacks, and, you might say, champing at the bit." He was on an overseas draft but they took him off. So he ended up in PEI, not in a war zone.

INTERVIEWER: Were there accidents during training?

Planes did go down, he was on guard duty on occasions when two went down. A seaplane crashed on an Ottawa roof near Hull, he was sent out to guard the plane and make sure it wasn't tampered with. At Mount Pleasant a plane went down and he guarded it for a week. To keep everybody away, civilians, air force people, until investigators could determine what happened.

Came back home in 1945. He was glad to get home. Then he went back to Schneider's. His job was held, and the plant treated the soldiers well. They made up a monthly food box that was sent to every worker in the service. The boxes contained toffee, cigarettes, canned butter, cookies, biscuits, summer sausage, canned meat. Also mailed overseas. Clarence Heller was in charge of the department that oversaw that operation.

It was a good place to work. There weren't too many people suffered, and if they did it was their own fault. J.M. (the founder) knew the old originals in the plant and he'd go out and visit them. Fred was quiet, more the businessman. Norm was everybody's friend, would ask people's opinion of things.

INTERVIEWER: Who were the old-timers you started there with?

When he started, a lot of the original employees were there. William Rohleder was the fellow that J. M. brought over as the sausage maker. "He was big, fat, German fellow." Jolly and robust. He was retired by that time. When J.M. started he only knew how to make pork sausage, so he brought in Rohleder. Wanted to branch out. Rohleder was practially a partner, probably had some money in the business when he retired.

The Radke brothers. Oscar worked in the cook room, Dutch loaf was roasted at that time. Oscar ended up in catering, making roast loaves and roast tails, had a special recipe for potato salad. Harry Radke was a "pig-sticker." "In other words, he stuck he hogs."

Gus Hagerman was head of the cook room, he might have invented the Dutch loaf. The Dutch loaf is a baked liver loaf, has a liver flavour to it. It's still made. J. M. was around. Freddy Maier worked in the office, did bookkeeping. Fred Schneider was head bookkeeper, in charge of finance. Norm Schneider was a mechanic, factory superintendent, also very quality-minded.

Edgar Gimble was cashier, one of the old originals.

INTERVIEWER: Thanks to both of you!

GRANDMA: I've heard things too, that I've never heard!

Liveblogging My Grandfather's Tapes I

I'm digitizing 4 1/2 hours of my grandfather's taped interviews, and I'm doing it in a very short period of time. In order to keep myself busy (there's only so much solitaire you can play in one sitting), I came upon the revolutionary idea of LIVEBLOGGING my grandfather's interview.

Live, as in originally recorded on July 15, 1992.

The interview was apparently taped in their back kitchen, with my grandmother occasionally popping in. The interviewer was Frances Hoffman.

At the three hour mark he is explaining in meticulous detail the way the Schneider's factory and merchandising operated while he was there. He worked at Schneider's almost all his life, and continued to deal with the company long after his retirement.

There was a plant in Ayr for fried chicken and meat patties. It didn't do the killing, only the frying. When the fried chicken business caught on they started to buy raw product from other processors. Schneider's still had a chicken kill, but not sufficient chicken for fried chicken. This was for bucket chicken, nuggets, chicken fingers. Recent products since chicken "came into its own."

Schneider's also bought Bradley Brothers in Toronto. They went bankrupt, so Schneider's bought them out. They were mostly in hotel institutional business. They sold a ready made product, and Schneider's was already making the same products. If they hadn't bought it, somebody else would have, some "cut-rate operation." Schneider's ran it separately for a while -- Bradley's trucks would go into restaurants with a certain cut, then Schneider's trucks would go in an hour later with a different cut -- but since this was a hassle they combined the operations.

That plant was set up for Hotel Restaurant Institution, not sausage or cold cuts. Schneider's also made it a "patty plant" with new equipment, and therefore made all the meat patties. The hamburger and patty business increased to the point where the plant could survive. These were steakettes, hamburger patties, and special things for 7-11, Harvey's, Burger King, Dairy Queen. "Patty contracts."

In Kitchener they used to have a "beef boning" operation, would cut up, debone, and roll beef here. In order to have a sausage plant you needed both a pork and a beef supply (to make something like summer sausage). But were never large enough as a beef operator to compete with bigger companies. Became too costly and wiped out the beef killing and boning lines.

Now (1992) they buy boneless cuts from a firm called Carlisle in Calgary. They had over 100 people in beef kill so this was a big change. But they still butcher hogs there. In 1990 they had two hog kill shifts. A company called Hoffman was just cutting up hogs and sending them to Toronto for processing, ten to twelve thousand hogs away. But Schneider's killed 6000 hogs a day, purchased through the stockyard marketing board. That's the only way you can buy them, can't buy direct from farmers.

Now just killing 3000 to 3500 a day while the demand for red (raw) meat has fallen off with chicken becoming more popular. So Schneider's got into the hamburger business more, and dishes like lasagna, noodles, pasta. But they don't make those anymore.

He was in the shipping office when the Oktoberfest sausage hit the market, didn't affect much except just around Oktoberfest. It was just to be sold during the Oktoberfest parade, but Norris' bakery had a market for Oktoberfest sausage all year, and others too. Line was drawn at supermarket sales, however. They didn't make one-pound packages except for Oktoberfest.

Other than being in the shipping office, he also worked in Catering. The Schneider's catering was limited to roast ribs, roast tails, cabbage salad, scallop potatoes, pickles, cheese, and dessert (mostly pie, which they bought from Norris'). Also different fundraising organizations like the Stratford Hockey Club, who came twice a year to get catered meal for fundraising. Also had roast beef and roast pork (for a while) and roast turkey. But the only company they roasted turkeys for was for Pruitt's near the end.

He took care of catering orders. Goodrich's foreman's club ordered roast beef and roast tails. He also sold byproducts -- meat meal, bonemeal -- to feed companies. Would be mixed with chopped grain and be a supplement for animal feed. Feathermeal was for chicken breeders. Also sold bloodmeal for animal food, wasted very little.

INTERVIEWER: How was offal and waste disposed of?

It was run into the meat- and bonemeal. They had a lard rendering area to make lard and shortening. Shortening was part animal and part vegetable. Also rendered beef fat, sold to furniture companies as a lubricant. The hair was at one time exported to Germany for brush manufacture. The rind was sold for gelatin, possibly Jello. At one time they made a lot of gelatin products, but now all they make is head cheese (which contains very little gelatin). So they send the rind to Canada Packers, who has a gelatin firm.

The bone and intestines was dumped into a pressure cooker. The bones were cooked until soft. The oil was drained, sent by tank car to a soap company. The remainder was called "cracklings," similar to a rice cake. Was ground and screened then sold as meat- and bonemeal. This was tricky to sell because it depended on the supply of rendered material and the demand for it locally. Nothing was went to waste.

Also had a million-dollar water purifier. They were the second-largest water-user in the city, mostly used for cleaning. All waste-water was collected in a big tank, then agitated so that the fat comes to the top. Fat was removed with "sweepers" into containers, then sold to soap companies. Whatever wasn't useful was sent to the landfill sites, but the sites didn't want it, so they sold it to farmers for fertilizer. But if too much was used it became a contaminant.

The sewer commission had a standard that Schneider's had to meet before water could be dumped into the river systems. Checked daily now, are fined if the water doesn't meet the standard. If they DO meet the standard then the water supply was discounted, as encouragement.

He retired in 1977, but took tours afterwards. Schneider's always preached that they had an open house, so the tours was an advertising method. They had ten tour guides, the plant encouraged people to come through in groups. Took a lot of high school children, "they had to be a little bit responsible" (they still had problems, not too many, had to straighten out kids who wanted to show off and got out of line).

But when the recession hit they discontinued the school kids...they'll take an agricultural college group or a hog producer's association, also have Japanese delegations. The Japanese had a set up to send people to Canada to tour the operations, "it was a continuous type of thing."

Began running into sanitation problems. The USA was looking for excuses to blackball Canadian product. They found one package of wieners with bacteria in it so they blackballed the Canadian trade. Schneider's was just making headway into Buffalo, but the USA made a big issue so Schneider's stopped aggressively exporting wieners to the states. Still trade to Florida and Bermuda. But border shipping was stifled...

(The tape ended here, but if you want to know how WienerGate turned out, here's the next tape).

The REAL Hallowe'en Horror

When I prepare for Hallowe'en I'm not worried about some kid in a Harry Potter mask stealing my soul...I'm just worried about what I'm going to wear. And that's a big worry.

For most of my life I didn't care about Hallowe'en. I couldn't think of any "good ideas" and I was far too insecure to be comfortable executing them anyway. It wasn't until young adulthood that I started thinking "Hey, this Hallowe'en thing is pretty fun!"

So for many years I planned out costumes that meant something to ME -- Ann Miller from "On The Town," a lion tamer, "Zev" from the TV series "Lexx," Naag ki Devi, Melody Valentine from "Josie and the Pussycats," and the bounty hunter from "Guitar Wolf" -- but in almost every case my costume was either incomprehensible to others or simply looked at as the sort of thing I wear anyway. And I learned by painting myself blue that I have a lot more skin than I'd thought I had.

This year I decided, to hell with it, I'd go out in a strikingly-obvious costume. But I don't feel like spending a ton of money on something I'm not passionate about, and the cheap pre-made costumes always LOOK cheap (and you're bound to run into three other people wearing exactly the same thing). Besides, off-the-rack is CHEATING.

I'd much rather just not wear ANY costume and simply go as me, but since people bar-hop on that particular night to show off their elaborate Transformer outfits, I always meet lots of new people, and they think that my being in drag IS a costume, which is annoying.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Nights with Grandpa

Since my grandmother's birthday is coming up, I'm trying to digitize a bunch of cassette interviews that my grandfather gave to the local historical society in the late '80s. The sound quality is terrible and the content largely mundane, but what does come through is the strangeness of hearing him speak almost fifteen years after his death.

I didn't begin to care for my grandfather until it was too late. Before his illness he seemed to me to be a conservative, maddeningly slow old man who ate pigtails right out of the carton. During his protracted and painful death I began to realize who we were all losing, but by then he was too far gone to really "have a chat" with. When he actually died I was at work.

So maybe it's easier to love somebody who isn't around anymore; I can think about his strength and his friendly sensibility, instead of fighting with him about my future, and I can also admit that his lectures about my goals in life were sensible, and that I've now actually done some of the things he wanted me to.

Then...there he is on the cassette tapes, talking about his father's factory and the manufacturing process for felt. His slow, ponderous voice which took forever but always arrived at its destination. His sentence introductions which never meant anything but served to explain his own thought processes ("That is...", "You might say..."). Him just sitting in the back kitchen, chatting with an interviewer, while the clock chimes two, three, four.

It's strange.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Wow And How!

At first I thought he was gooseing her with a bicycle horn, but then I realized this is a cross-section of a door.This is really an April 27 '29 advertisement for a new record by Ben Bernie, accompanied by some high-quality hipster prose:
Ben Bernie and his Boys loose their sobbing saxes and agonized oboes on this tantalizing foxtrot and excite "Scrappy" Lambert to a vocal chorus that would make the meanest of mamas unlock the strongest of doors.
Besides being a striking illustration, however -- and being far sexier than that guy in the B.V.D.s from a few days ago -- I'm sort of surprised at the STYLE of the's more naturalistic than you'd expect, right down to her surprisingly rendered midriff.

The guy on the other side of the door, however, is just the usual cartoon. I guess they couldn't show HIS belly-button.

PS, the B-Side -- "My Castle In Spain Is A Shack In The Lane" -- sounds equally fun:
Confession of an opium eater five minutes after marrying a gold digger. A foxtrot by Ben Bernie. "Scrappy" Lambert supplies the local smelling salts! A wow and how!
I assume that "local" was supposed to be "vocal," but anyway. You could also buy "Mean to Me" sung by Chester Gaylord, "The Whispering Serenader." This was truly the age of crooners singing through those funnels you sometimes see in old films.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A She-Devils Memory

While digging through old cassettes and Protools project CDs I was delighted to discover a "She-Devils On Heels" promo from 2004. This was from the "third season," when Annie first joined as co-host, and I think the promo sums up the show perfectly. So does this picture.

The commercial was very much a collaboration, though I think Annie's energy was the most crucial ingredient. What I remember most about it was forcing poor Annie to say "Do we HAVE superpowers?" about fifty times. What I remember most about that picture was...well, unsurprisingly I don't remember it at all.

Fighting the Sound Board

It's been a year since I last had the Sound Board Nightmare, but it returned last night.

In the Sound Board Nightmare I am in charge of engineering a live radio show. Things go well at first, but halfway through the currently-playing song I am unable to find a follow-up promo. I look everywhere. Nobody will help me. The final seconds of the song tick away and I quickly hit "Play" to play the next song as a substitute...but instead the song plays again, a second time.

Everybody stares at me. Something breaks down. I can't find the sheets that tell me when to play commercials. I panic, surrounded by staring eyes and dead air.

I stopped having these dreams when I stopped DJ'ing, both live shows and at CKMS. Since the demise of CKMS I have had little urge to get involved with radio again, especially not at a station that is hanging by such a tiny thread.

But there's ANOTHER community station in town, and it just so happens that a friend of mine his resigning his position, and he was looking for a replacement... now I'm the Technical Director of "Monday Night with the Arts" on CKWR. I have a ton of sound mixing experience, but this is stretching my skill set a bit: a heavily scripted program, several guests on three different microphones, phone-in's a real step up. Once I get the hang of the equipment -- and figure out how the darn Cue works -- I'm sure it will become second nature, but for now I'll suffer the Sound Board Nightmares.

Tonight was my first night, and coupled with a crippling insulin reaction I was a bit of a wreck. Fortunately the outgoing Technical Director was there to guide me, and the show didn't turn out too badly.

Besides keeping my skills polished and having something interesting to do on Monday nights, this is also an opportunity to keep up with the local Arts community...and it IS nice to be part of a radio station again...especially one so TIDY!

Mr. B.V.D. Beefcake, 1929

Maybe you think the Muffyblog isn't sexy enough? If so, here's your B.V.D. Beefcake from April 27, 1929.

Love the smoking jacket and the elegantly rouged cheeks, and I bet he's reading a book by Oscar Wilde.

Something I learned when I began getting into the "vintage fashion" scene is that even though those clothes were the height of fashion at their time, we now associate them with our grandparents. When my grandmother wore bakelite jewelery she looked like a princess; if I wore it I'd look creepy.

Same goes for the B.V.D.s here, which surely were sexy for their time, but when I look at them all I can think of is my grandfather putting horseradish on his vegetables and singing "Barney Google."

It takes a special sort of somebody to cut through all those associations and still be sexy in vintage styles. And it also takes a special modification of said styles to make them a tad less modest.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to Find a Muffy

I love my web stats. They tell me exactly how people find out about me, and compile for me all those words that I should use more often in order to increase my web traffic: "boobs," "muff," "stockings," "thick ankles," and -- I kid you not -- "jumper pants."

But other than telling me how to attract attention with word-porn, my stats tell me what my most popular posts have been. My scary movie list is forever popular (and increasingly so as Hallowe'en approaches) and the list of breast-euphemisms in my Benny Hill evaluation makes it a perennial favourite. People frequently visit my Sgt. Pepper's movie review as well, for reasons that I'll never understand.

Enough about my do people find my now (mostly) static website? Usually through Indian blogs which reference my reviews (or ebay auctioneers and forum posters who steal my screenshots). By looking at my site stats I see that most people find the website AFTER they've discovered the blog, and not the reverse.

Here's a selection of the some of the most popular Google searches that bring people to my site (edited for interest and respectability): "muff," "crotch," "Wumpus," "skin disease," "Return of the Living Dead Workprint," "little pre teenagers," "girl crotch," "crotch girl," "leopard disease," and "weird skin disease."

If I can find a way to work a "crotch disease" into my web repertoire, my traffic will go through the roof!

Then there's my Flickr site, which inspired this post to begin with. For two years my traffic has remained at a steady average of 150 hits per day. But look at my hits during the past month:

My Flickr views have jumped tremendously during the last two days! The somewhat gradual rise indicates that word-of-mouth or web-propagation is involved, but the more detailed Flickr statistics provide no clues; just that 10% of my two-year traffic has occurred during this week alone, and that these viewers arrive directly at my Flickr profile instead of at a specific picture.

I assume that a Flickr user has featured me in some capacity, and that he or she (or more likely "he-she" given the people who tend to feature me) has a lot of visitors who have followed the lead. These people are FLOCKING to the "Daily Muffy" adventures, which is really cool because I wish more people would see them.

All that considered, what are the most popular Flickr pictures? Anything that involves "boots" apparently (like these two), or plastic handcuffs, and for some reason this picture has always gotten lots of views.

So what can we take from all of this? Mainly that internet traffic is a fickle and unpredictable thing, and that people who do web searches are usually looking for kink. Hmmm.

"Two Tribes" and Waiting To Die

It's amusing to look at the number one hit singles in the United Kingdom between 1982 and 1983. The songs are all relatively fluffy, along the lines of "Come On Eileen" and "Uptown Girl."

Then, in 1984, the music began to change. This was the year of "Do They Know It's Christmas," "Pipes of Peace," and "99 Luft Balloons." But sandwiched in between two goofy songs by "Wham!" was the rawest, nastiest, most unpleasant slice of zeitgeist for years to come: Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Two Tribes."

Anybody who pretends that the threat of today's "rogue state" and "terrorist cell" stuff is unprecedented is conveniently forgetting what it was like to live in 1984. We'd hit two minutes to midnight on the nuclear clock -- as Iron Maiden was happy to remind us -- and there was a terrible sense of impotent WAITING. Few of us -- especially not us kids -- felt like there was anything we could do about the world's situation: Reagan was daring the Soviets to strike, and the Soviets just weren't blinking. Nobody knew what would happen when the inevitable occurred, but we knew it would be awful.

While the media began increasingly reflecting our feeling of doomed hopelessness, somehow Frankie Goes to Hollywood scored a HIT SINGLE that summed up how many of us were feeling. It was cryptic and apocalyptic and packed full of ZTT goodness. And since ZTT were a record label who seemed to view songs as just an excuse to release a dozen excellent remixes, "Two Tribes" got reworked and toughened up by members of Art of Noise into the mind-blowing 12-inch single, packed with air-raid sirens and ominous instructions for tagging your dead relatives inside your shelter.

Holy scary sh*t. Buy the single and have a listen, if you was released on CD.

I still think that the "Annihilation" mix is one of the most powerful remixes ever made for any song. We got REALLY distressed when an updated version of the mix was made into an extended video by Godley & Creme. Showing a bloody bout between Reagan and Chernenko -- cheered on by profiteering arms dealers and a mutant Richard Nixon -- I remember that the video was controversial for its politics and its violence. I was amazed by it and I still am.

Here it is, the "Video Destructo" version, for those who want to relive their childhood terror for a little while. And it isn't too hard to picture McCain in that ring, is it?

A far cry from "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

To Hell and Back

I've spent the last six weeks playing "Doom 3." Even considering the hugely inflated price I paid for the Mac version, that's a lot of value for money.

Having savoured each and every level to its fullest I was getting a little impatient near the end. Most of the game is played in tiny corridors, which gets tiresome, and after the joy of a wide-open "Hell" level it was a bit of a letdown to return to the corridors again.

So yeah, for a week or so I've just wanted to FINISH the damn game, and tonight I was happy to discover that the final Cyberdemon boss was a real wuss (Soul Cube, kill some minions, repeat). I'm finally done. And the epilogue cinematic was very cool.

I'm not much of a game player so maybe I'm just naive, but I've got to say that the Doom environment was BEAUTIFUL. Playing it on my 24" monitor with stereo sound blasting was almost too immersive for comfort. Yeah, most of the time you're creeping through dark corridors waiting for something to jump out at you, but the level designers knew enough to put breathtaking rewards in now and then...huge rooms, a blasted Martian landscape, a seemingly-endless elevator shaft. And even those corridors are pretty to look at, draped in steam and shadow.

Kudos also to the almost fetishistic approach to architecture, wherein the game REALLY seems like a microscopic tour of a working space-age factory...WITH MONSTERS! You sometimes get the feeling that the level designers spent more time building pipe schematics than they actually spent on the stuff the player USES.

Having finished the game without cheating, here are some tried-and-true pieces of advice for those having trouble.
  1. Never open a door without your shotgun ready.
  2. If something falls down in front of you, turn around IMMEDIATELY and kill the thing that was sneaking up behind.
  3. A wide-open space? Get your plasma gun. Need to kill your enemies faster? Rocket launcher.
  4. If a room contains little vents near the floor that you can't crawl into, that means trites are waiting.
  5. Trites are enormously fun to kill with the machine gun. Two bullets and they pop. This becomes like a very easy shooting gallery game.
  6. When you go through a door for the first time, run a few steps into the room and then back out through the door again. That way, whatever creatures your entry triggered will have to come for YOU. The level designers rarely accounted for this bit of sneakiness.
  7. The chaingun sucks.
  8. When facing imps and wraiths, just run right up to them with your shotgun and shoot them in the head.
  9. Go as slowly as you like. The nice thing about the game is that there are no time limits. Of course you might take six weeks to FINISH it...
  10. Mars really needed an affirmative action program.
Done, done, done! Back to more productive wastes-of-time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Motor Robes Revisited

In July I was puzzled by a 1929 advertisement for "motor robes." We decided -- on anecdotal evidence mainly -- that these robes were for keeping passengers warm in the backseat, in the days before cars had heaters.

By way of confirmation and with a tip o' the hat to synchronicity, here's the paragraph I read last night in "Medical Center" by Faith Baldwin:
Danny and the McDonald car rolled for them at a quarter past seven. Sophie, smiling into Danny's interested eyes--she couldn't help smiling at any man and any man's eyes would have been interested--settled herself under the robe with a sigh of comfort. She said, "This is what I call luxury."
What's interesting here is not the confirmation of the "car robe theory," but rather the fact that this book was written in 1940...and they still hadn't designed a car heater. I wonder when this amazing innovation finally came about?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The ZsaZsaBlog IV

It's been a full month since Zsa Zsa's crisis and she seems like her old self again. I'd forgotten about all the spunky things she used to do which she'd gradually stopped doing. Now, thanks to her totally vile and disgusting soft food diet, she is back to rolling around, staring out of windows, and running up and down the stairs.

She still sits down strangely, which may be arthritis or an after-effect of last month's awfulness, and she still tries to pee outside her litterbox...probably a habit now, which is easily dealt with by strategically placing a few bowls around the basement. It's actually easier to dispose of cat pee in a bowl instead of in a litterbox.

She's even putting on weight again, but strangely it is all under her belly instead of on her back and shoulders, which are still disturbingly bony. Maybe this is just part of being an old lady.

She does do a few NEW things these days. She has an absolute MANIA for sitting on my lap...this could partially be because of the cold weather, but I think she mostly just feels weak and dependent. The few times I've tried to take her outside she has hissed and fought for her life, as though she knows she can't defend herself. This is strange considering her lifelong joy in being outside.

I'm a bit worried that she's growing less and less interested in her food. For the first few weeks she was rabidly eating it, but now she lets it sit for a few hours and only finishes half of it. Maybe she was just half-starved before and now she's back to "normal."

So Zsa Zsa's doing fine at the moment, but given our track record over long weekends I am not getting too complacent...

University Memories: English and Professor John North

Since I have my academic transcript sitting in front of me -- and a cat on my lap, so I can't stand up -- I find myself reminiscing about some of the courses and professors I dealt with many years ago. One of the most colourful was Professor John North.

North was a bit eccentric, the kind of professor who students make fun of. He had a characteristic way of speaking through tightly-closed teeth and he was very passionate about his subject passionate that he'd rub himself accidentally against the chalk board and get smears of white chalk all over his cuffs and back.

In September '91 I took his "Major Forms of Literature: Short Stories & Drama" (ENGL 102A), and though I found him a bit annoying I also took his "Novels & Poetry" course in January '92.

What annoyed me about North was that he approached everything from a biblical perspective. He didn't PREACH to us, but all of his lectures managed to tie the book we were currently reading with some aspect of Christianity. A few weeks ago I mentioned the professor who told us we should read the bible so we'd better understand the literature that referenced it; North was that professor.

One student in particular liked to goad Professor North about his biblical focus, and I assume he was the guy who wrote an essay that REALLY ticked North off. I'll never forget him standing at the front of the room with an essay in his hands, chalk dust in his hair, speaking vehemently through (literally) clenched teeth in his characteristically clipped fashion:

"Some people will have you believe...that the steeple of a a PHALLIC SYMBOL. They might also tell you that the doorway to the church is a WOMB SYMBOL." Pause. "This is crap! Nothing could be further from the truth! And any student who tells me such a thing in an essay will get a very low mark indeed!"

Lots of people took North's courses because they understood that if you towed the line -- if you worked Christianity into your essays and class discussion -- you were guaranteed a good mark. He was also an entertaining teacher and he was fun to impersonate. By listening to and regurgitating his personal biases I was able to pull off an A- in one of his courses, despite the fact that I hated the books we had to read ("A Tale of Two Cities" (AGAIN!) and "Robinson Crusoe.")

North would often digress into personal anecdotes that were less than welcome. One day he confessed that he wasn't sleeping well because a tenant in his house listened to loud music, and then he spent the rest of the class explaining why modern music wasn't nearly as good as classical music (something to do with an emphasis on rhythm). The fact that North actually, passionately BELIEVED this was, I think, a strike against his ability to evaluate anything that didn't perfectly resonate with him.

My favourite North moment, however, came when a young woman took offense to Dutch stereotypes that North was jokingly introducing into his lecture. "I'm from the Netherlands, and I don't appreciate this subject," she said.

North's response was typical. "You're Dutch? I didn't realize! I saw the blonde hair but I didn't hear your wooden shoes clomp-clomp-clomping."

So you'll understand why certain students disliked Professor North immensely, but we were all sad when he went through a sort of psychological breakdown. One day he came to class, opened his lesson plan, burst into tears, and walked out of the room. I don't remember if we saw him again. Rumour had it that his wife was very sick.

In summary I don't think Professor John North was a GOOD professor for courses on general English literature. I bet he'd be great discussing his particular fields of English -- Victoriana and the Bible -- but he simply could not step outside of his own narrow field. Most of us attended his courses because he was a known entity: once you understood how he worked you could get a good mark with no effort whatsoever.

Embarassing Moments: The Precocious Me

Having met all of my program requirements except for a single elective course, I returned to the University of Waterloo and took a bird course called "Philosophy of Women and Men." It was dull and pedestrian...exactly what I wanted for the final course of my school career.

We were assigned to read an article about "geek culture," and the following week we returned to discuss the article. I hadn't read it, but I thought myself sufficiently interesting and knowledgeable to raise my hand and say the following:

"Not that this has anything to do with the article, but it might be interesting to point out the original usage of the word 'geek.' A geek was a circus performer who bit the heads off of live chickens. It would be interesting to find out how the word's meaning changed over the years to represent the geeks we know today."

*I* thought it was a fascinating observation, but everybody in the class just STARED at me. Assuming they didn't believe me, I insisted that the whole thing was true but not common knowledge, and told them to do some research if they didn't believe me.

Total silence. "What a bunch of weirdos," I thought, and sat back down.

That night I decided to read the "geek culture" article that I was supposed to have read in order to prepare for the class. The first sentence of the article -- which everybody had read but me -- went something like this:

"The original 'geeks' were performers who bit the heads off chickens in circus sideshows. Here's the way the word 'geek' has changed over the years..."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

No More Pepys For Me

I've spent the last month reading the diary of Samuel Pepys, but as of today -- only one-third through the "Everyman" edition -- I'm calling it quits. No more Pepys for me!


I have an obsessive, completist nature; I can't stand reading only ONE book in a series, or owning only ONE album by a band. I need to indulge in media either wholly or not at all...if something is missing I feel like I'm losing the soul or sense of the thing.

It's very difficult to get a complete and unabridged set of Pepys' diaries...they tend to be sporadically released by small publishers, and even then you're not guaranteed a COMPLETE unabridgement. You see, Pepys wrote his diaries in a cryptic shorthand that has been translated variously by different people over the centuries...and, what's more, many of those translators wanted to protect the virgin minds of their Victorian-era readers.

I was aware that my "Everyman" edition was abridged, and I'd convinced myself that the editor had removed only the tedious Parliamentary details, but had retained all the stuff that would really communicate to me what Pepys' life and times were all about.

Sadly, after comparing it with the mostly-unabridged Pepys Blog (and the commentary which reveals the somehow-gleaned unexpurgated copy whenever necessary) I see that much of the human interest stuff HAS been removed, and anything racy was COMPLETELY edited out (in my edition, the footnotes keep saying things like "This passage is too vulgar for printing"). To hell with that! I want to know WHAT that drunken Lord was doing on the balcony, and I REALLY want to know what he was "washing" in his drink.

Now that I realize how little of the actual diary is contained in my two-volume edition I'm forced to put it aside. If I DO come across a complete version someday -- preferably one with useful footnotes -- I'll be happy to read it. But for

Regarding Pepys himself, I've tried to form an impression of the man, but it's difficult to do from this source material. I wonder how much the shorthand aspect ended up dictating his writing style. Also, while Pepys was very curious about all the events around him, he was somewhat lax about actually DESCRIBING them (at least in my edition). He says that events are "exceedingly exciting" or "most displeasing," and women are "the most beautiful" he has ever seen, but he never tells us WHY.

What's more there is no window into his own opinions, except for the most basic details. He will mention arguments he had with various people but he doesn't go into any of them in depth. You're left wondering who this staircase-building, monkey-beating, money-dispensing fellow REALLY WAS.

I liked the diaries and I was getting quite involved with the various intrigues -- the case brought against him in court, the King's philandering, his wife's dancing lessons -- but I never felt that I knew who Samuel Pepys WAS...and I can't bear wondering how much was cut from the text before I ever got to it.

Recent Neglect of Blog

Since you asked (Kimber!) and since I can score more points with an actual blog ENTRY as opposed to just a COMMENT, let me explain why I haven't been blogging recently.

First off, everything that I'm doing is a "coming up" thing; I have plenty of projects and plans on the go, but I've learned not to talk about those things until they actually happen. As soon as I write about them they appear mundane or flawed. It's sometimes just best to keep yourself idealistic.

The MAIN issue, however, is that my blogging routine has been disrupted.

I used to write entries early in the morning -- before going to work -- and sometimes in the evenings. But since my cat is now eating soft food, enough of my morning routine has been taken up by washing her food dish, scraping out new food, and storing the scraps she hasn't eaten. That alone has edged "blogging" (and "reading the New Yorker") temporarily off my morning schedule.

It doesn't help that, ever since she got sick last month, she spends every moment possible on my lap. It isn't easy to type with a cat on your lap. Currently my left wrist is under her chin and my right one is bent out around her back.

Then, I've been spending a few hours each night digitizing, cataloging, and burning old master tapes of music...those tapes won't last forever, and the ancient 4-track recorder will someday break down. Before that happens I want to get everything of interest off those tapes and onto CD.

So rather than sit down and write an entry at night, I'm sitting down and dumping old sound experiments from 1994 onto my computer. When I'm done that I hardly feel like sitting anymore, so I get up and do other things. No blogging!

But this kind of thing happens now and then and I always come around. I'll find ways of rearranging my schedule and I'll get back on track. So keep checking the's not dead!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "What Ho!"

What ho, vassal, it's a new Flit cartoon by Dr. Seuss! Well, new in a sense that *I* hadn't seen it yet, though it was published in the April 20, 1929 issue of The New Yorker.

It's a good thing I've been so interested in medieval England lately. Therefore I can state with confidence that this cartoon is 100% accurate, right down to the dog-skin throne-warmer (with head attached!)

Also note the Duke of York's bulge, there.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


Last year at this time I subjected myself to a gruelling "Barthathon," an attempt to read every John Barth book in chronological order. Read the posts if you want to know how THAT turned out.

I can't see myself ever reading another book by Barth, but I DID run across an interesting thing in "The Best of Creative Computing," published in 1976.

Anybody who grew up during the beginning of the 8-bit personal computer glut will remember those awful BASIC programs that tried to be INTERACTIVE. Written at a time when average people were still getting used to the idea of computers in general, a program that would ask you your name and then play "Guess My Number" seemed like magic...

...until you learned a bit of BASIC and saw that it was just smoke and mirrors. Those programs were intended for absolute beginners who had no idea about how computers worked, and I imagine even those beginners got sick of the concept pretty quickly (though "ELIZA" and "Animal" were special).

In the quest to make computers friendly, programmers in the '70s often tried to make them seem creative, at the same time tossing an educational bone to keep their programs from getting deleted off the mainframe. Larry Press' article "Computers in the English Curriculum" absolutely reeks of this stuff.

Page two of the article shows the output of a program called "BARTH," meant to emulate some of Barth's interactive-reader experiments from the '70s. It's much the same as all the other programs of its type -- enter verbs, nouns, and adjectives, which are embedded into print statements to create a nonsense story -- but DOES have the distinction of being perhaps the only John Barth video game ever created.

Incidentally, Margaret Chisman's "Producing Computer Poetry" is another example of creative-educational computer blah, notable most for how far we've come in our concept of computing (and how quickly we lost our naivete). My favourite article in that issue of Creative Computing, however, is one by Wes Thomas, in which he becomes extremely annoyed by precocious children at a computer fair.

This is SO bizarre:

The Greyhound Bus From Hell

I really don't mind taking the Greyhound. I'm always stressed about arriving on time, and I'll never understand their "don't board the bus until five minutes before departure" policy, but the trip is relatively comfortable and cheap.

Last week I wrote about the gashed-up razor-eater who skulked around the Toronto terminal until he was ejected. This week...

I took the bus on Saturday morning so I could vote in the TICOT elections. After only fifteen minutes in Toronto I returned to the bus terminal and waited to catch the return trip home.

There was only one other person waiting when I got there. Let's call him "Chatty O'Stink." He was borderline homeless and exuded an amazing stench, which he occasionally made worse by splashing perfume on himself. Mr. O'Stink REALLY wanted to talk to me, asking me all sorts of things about where I lived and why I was in Toronto. When I retreated into my book, he started touching the pages and asking me what I was reading.

"The Diary of Samuel Pepys," I said, knowing I'd never be able to explain this to him.

"I don't have any book-learning," he told me. "Can't even read and write. Didn't realize it until I was forty! Hey, did you know that Alice Cooper is coming to Kitchener?"

Chatty O'Stink wasn't a bad person, I just didn't want to get saddled with him, let alone sit next to his horrible body on the bus. So I stopped answering his questions and he eventually left me alone.

Lucky for me, though, the next arrival was a pre-teen boy with a skateboard who was either mentally handicapped or had just smoked a joint. He was frightened by Chatty O'Stink -- who was now walking around in circles and singing -- so I guess he thought I'd be a good ally against the Big Scary World. He kept turning his huge dilated pupils at me and making truncated observations like "Cold out here" and "That bus is big." He edged closer and closer. So I had to ignore him as well.

There I was, trapped between a guy who stank like the world's dirtiest armpit and a kid on drugs.

Then The Farmer arrived.

The Farmer was a short, stocky guy wearing a straw hat, except that the center portion of the hat was gone, leaving only the brim. He began to talk to Chatty O'Stink, but soon he was yelling in a way that reminded me of a big dog barking. "I DON'T CARE IF THEY DO IT, BUT DO THEY GOTTA BRAG ABOUT IT?" he screamed. "ASSF*CKERS!"

Soon The Farmer was walking up and down the growing line of passengers, by turns calm and agitated ("I HAD A BAD F*CKING DAAAAAAY!!!"). Even Chatty O'Stink became frightened, and he went to find the security guards. "That guy's crazy," said the wide-eyed pre-teen, holding his skateboard like a stuffed toy. "This line is big."

By the time the security guards arrived, The Farmer had disappeared and we'd begun boarding the bus. Chatty O'Stink chose the front seat and I sat far enough back to avoid his smell.

Suddenly, Chatty jumped up and started whispering to the bus driver. "That's him!" he was saying, pointing out the door. "That's the guy in the hat!"

"A seat's a seat," said the bus driver. The next thing we knew The Farmer had boarded the bus...and sat down next to Chatty. Things were tense.

All good things come in threes, of course. Our next wonderful passenger was a drunken red-faced guy wearing sunglasses who sat directly behind The Farmer. This was like an intricate chess problem being constructed, the kind where everybody ends up dying.

The drunk noticed that none of the seats in the bus had headrests. "This is a liability!" he kept saying. "There isn't a single seat in this bus with a head rest!"

"You're talking to the wrong guy," said the bus driver simply.

"Just don't drive like a maniac! I don't wanna get whiplash, man."

"You can get out now if you like."

"Oh, no no no." He kept looking for confirmation from the other passengers that he was making a valid point, turning around and staring and shaking his head. Then he'd get up and wander halfway down the aisle, make a sound of disgust, then come back to his seat again.

He had to make a big show of how much neck support he required, so he clumsily opened the overhead compartment to get his jacket out and make a pillow out of it...

...and he knocked The Farmer's straw hat off.

We froze. All of us were staring. We'd seen The Farmer's level of emotional stability in the terminal and we'd found it lacking. The Farmer picked up his hat, sat back down, and began to flip his head forward and backward, apparently to straighten out his hair. Then his head began to oscillate slowly from side to side as Chatty O'Stinky leaned as far away as possible. I felt very sorry for him.

The bus driver started the bus, and he announced that we'd be making the usual stop in Cambridge on the way to Kitchener. "WHAT?!?" yelled the drunk. "What's this about CAMBRIDGE?!?"

"It's on the schedule" said the bus driver.

"How long's that gonna take?"

"Fifteen minutes or so."

"That's bullsh*t" said the drunk, turning his red face to his fellow passengers to bask in their adulation.

The Farmer turned around and said "You could always walk."

Ooooo. Total silence now. I'm sure I wasn't the only one considering exiting the bus. This could NOT be a happy ending...

...but somehow it WAS. You know how some tough guys sort of half-wilt when their bluff is called, and their derision turns to respect? The driver had been polite and unyielding, and now The Farmer had dealt with him. Somehow this defused all of the drunk's anger. Within fifteen minutes the four of them -- the drunk, the driver, The Farmer, AND Chatty O'Stink -- were deep in a discussion about hockey, though The Farmer kept getting distracted by the voices in his head. He wanted to talk about all the bus rides he'd ever taken. Occasionally the drunk would retreat to the bathroom and come out stinking of booze, rubbing his little red eyes and massaging his unsupported neck.

What's going on? After fifteen years of trouble-free bus rides, suddenly I'm stuck dealing with crazy people, with the added bonus of a few recent stabbings to keep us on edge. Are they giving bus passes to these people just to get them out of town?

I leave you with The Farmer's favourite joke, which he made up on the spot and seemed to find delightful. While we were stopped in Cambridge, The Farmer wanted to stand up and go for a walk. Chatty O'Stinky told him not to. "They won't let you off, they won't let you off." He said.

"UNLESS YOU COUGH!" yelled The Farmer, and he laughed and laughed and laughed.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Muffy vs. Palin

I don't believe it. I'm actually going to watch the Palin/Biden Vice Presidential debate. I even have my Palin Bingo card.

Why am I so interested? Because I want to believe that slick, deceptive, and ignorant people are totally naked under a spotlight, though I know that isn't usually true. Chances are she'll do just fine...this is a debate, not an interview.

But oh, if she says something vacuous and stupid I'll be SO vindicated.

I'd Buy Anything By...My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult

I was first exposed to My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult when their "And This Is What The Devil Does" video premiered on City Limits:

I bought and loved their first few albums, but as I grew into an angst-riddled adult I felt betrayed by the band's new direction.

You see, originally they were a Ministry-esque industrial kooks in the classic style with a special fetish for religion, drugs, and sex. With the release of their "Kooler Than Jesus" single, however, they began to move into a more flippant dance style, and when "Sexplosion!" came out -- a collection of cheap disco songs with nary a reference to religion OR drugs, I decided I was much too cool for them...though I've always loved "Sex On Wheels."

It took me many years -- and many subsequent albums -- to realize that I continue to like the band no matter which direction they go. They've experimented with techno, funk, and psychedelia, and while they never COMPLETELY pull anything off -- usually because of their overused set of cheesy synth patches -- they still have enough creativity and panache to make me halfway happy.

I have never seen them live, which is probably a good thing because the YouTube clips are atrocious. But their studio albums remain just this side of worthwhile, and at the very least they remind me of how far I've come since I was a depressed layabout.

Albums to buy: "I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits" (for their dirty industrial sound) and "The Reincarnation of Luna" (for the psychedelic phase). Albums to avoid: "Sexplosion!" (which really DOES suck) and "Hit & Run Holiday" (just monotonous). For fans only: Their "Kult Kollection" DVD, which serves to remind me why I both love AND hate the band.

The Universe - FOX News Edition

I'll watch any science DVD that comes my way, and I have a special soft spot for shows about space. Anything that helps me get a grasp of the vastness, complexity, and beauty of the universe is a good thing!

Except for this History Channel program called "The Universe," my disdain for which I cannot put into words.

But let me try.

The program is OFFICIALLY called "The Universe," but I suspect that the full title is "The Universe is Full of Scary Stuff and HOLY SH*T, WE COULD ALL DIE AT ANY MINUTE!" It's produced in the bombastic style generally used for self-serious war movies, full of loaded adjectives and contextual tricks to convey one thing and one thing only: THREAT.

The music -- which never ends -- is of the type used by TV stations to brand military offenses. The announcer's delivery alternates between doomed acceptance and self-referential downplaying...everything he says sounds like the promo for a cheesy TV show. Even when he's describing the atmosphere on Mars, he's saying it in the same tone he would use to say something like "Buffy is 100% man-killing hot stuff, but a bigger enemy is slouching over the horizon...and he could unleash the very powers of hell. On. EARTH."

I knew something was wrong in the very first episode, which was called "Secrets of the Sun" but was really "Secrets of How the Sun COULD KILL YOU." Despite all the overwrought gravitas about the power at its core and the turmoil on its surface -- complete with real disaster footage from earth, as though there was a relevant comparison -- the bulk of the episode was about solar flares and the predictions about the Next Big One.

HOLY COW, WHAT'LL HAPPEN?!? Show us footage of stuff on fire, and rioting, and mass chaos! More CGI of violent solar winds and snapping magnetic force lines! ARGH! ARRRRGH!

But are the BRAVE NASA TECHNICIANS who tirelessly scour the sky in order to predict these solar storms! Thank goodness these selfless soldiers of the stars are there to protect us, with their fingers always on the button that...well, puts satellites to sleep for a few hours until the storm passes. BUT THAT'S REALLY BRAVE!

Then, of course, all the stuff about the sun eventually expanding and burning the earth "like a charcoal briquette." End of episode.

I kid you not. Any bits of actual, scanty SCIENCE is trampled by the whiz-bang visuals and endless depictions of disaster. The sun is even scarier than TERRORISTS!

I figured I'd give the show a chance and watch the second episode -- "Mars: The Red Planet" -- because I figured they couldn't make Mars frightening. WAS I EVER WRONG! The surface used to have this HUGE VOLCANO, and that volcano might have RIPPED A GIANT CHASM RIGHT ACROSS THE PLANET! And do you know what would happen if you visited Mars? YOU'D DIE! YOU CAN'T BREATHE THERE! How did Mars turn into such an inhospitable place? BECAUSE THE VICIOUS, DEADLY SUN RIPPED AWAY ITS ATMOSPHERE! AND ONCE PEOPLE THOUGHT THERE WERE EVIL ALIENS THERE, WAITING TO INVADE! MARS IS TERRIFYING!

You can imagine how the third episode -- "The End of the Earth" -- turned out, with its killer asteroids and exclusive focus on "The Big Rip" (SO much more scary than any of the other hypotheses), and don't forget about the VICIOUS, DEADLY SUN, and the same handful of earnest science-guys explaining that we're all gonna die...though probably not for another 50 billion years, shhhh.

As usual, though, there are Fearless American Scientists protecting us, "cosmic bounty hunters" who "refuse to be bullied by the asteroids." Jesus RETCH!

The fourth episode was "Jupiter: The Giant Planet." I managed to sit through fifteen minutes because I wanted to know how Jupiter was gonna kill us. Fortunately it doesn't appear that Jupiter -- "a giant ball of intrigue" -- is out to murder our babies and steal our freedom, but -- here you go -- it tends to draw asteroids into its own orbit...ASTEROIDS THAT WOULD OTHERWISE HIT EARTH AND DESTROY CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT! Cue disaster footage again, and CGI images of disintegrating buildings and fifty-foot tidal waves.

What the f*ck is wrong with people? Can we only engage with things if we consider them to be threats? Are events only interesting if they involve violent turmoil? Maybe I'm so disgusted because I grew up on a diet of Carl Sagan, for whom the universe was a big and comforting pair of breasts, but most of the problem is that I have NEVER seen an emotionally-manipulative, fear-mongering science show about SPACE before. I'd understand if the show was PROMOTED as such, but it's not.

I can't tell you about the atrocities in the rest of the show, but the episode list gives a few hints. Seriously, if I didn't know better I'd think this was a joke:

EPISODE SIX: "A survivor of one of the most violent 'neighborhoods' in the universe, learn how earth was created and discover what creatures hold clues to how life began. What evil forces threaten the demise of Earth?"

EPISODE SEVEN: "Scorched by their proximity to the sun, Mercury and Venus are hostile worlds; one gouged with craters from cosmic collisions and the other a vortex of sulfur, carbon dioxide and acid rain. Prime examples of planets gone awry, do they serve as a warning for ominous scenarios that might someday threaten Earth?"

EPISODE TEN: "Ignited by the power of the atom, burning with light, heat and wrath [?], stars are anything but peaceful. They collide, devour each other, and explode in enormous supernovas--the biggest explosions in the Universe."

EPISODE TWELVE: "Super massive black holes can figuratively 'lasso' the Earth out of the solar system. A clash between two galaxies can result in a barbaric ritual called 'galactic cannibalism' in which the dominant galaxy's super massive black hole eats the weaker one. Magnetars are a cosmic magnetic force so strong it could wipe out data on every credit card on the planet."

And on and on and on. These people should be ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Real Reason for the Death of Laserdiscs

There are a lot of reasons why Laserdiscs never caught on. They were bulky, they couldn't hold more than about thirty minutes of video a side, they tended towards glitchiness, and you couldn't record on them. Videotape was bound to win out in the consumer market.

But ever since I've discovered this 1977 article about "Videodiscs" I'm convinced that the REAL reason Laserdiscs failed was because they were being promoted by a guy named Alfred Bork, and he looked like this:

Crazy Sasquatch! Considering the rigid standards of cleanliness required during the manufacture of laserdiscs, his Rasputin beard and woolly-mammoth arms must have sent scientists and technicians fleeing their laboratories.

All that said, however, I do have a point to make about computer technology in the '70s...they were so darn obsessed with the EDUCATIONAL potential of computers, in the same way that everyone was ga-ga about the educational applications of laserdiscs. Even in the 1980s, the manufacturers of home computers were insisting that their personal computers had the best quiz and tutorial programs, even though the children forced to PLAY those programs ran like scientists from a tech-guru's beard.

As computers got smaller and more affordable they entered schools and homes for the first time, and I imagine that educators and parents had to convince themselves that they weren't buying toys, they were buying TOOLS, and the companies were more than willing to play along. Jeez, remember all those awful exercise and recipe-storage programs they used to try to sell us, and all those "educational games" to teach you touch-typing?

Eventually it sank in that playing games WAS a great reason to buy a computer, and as the price of memory decreased the home computer became a viable business facilitator as well. Nowadays I suppose most people buy computers so they can use the internet and get email, which makes me wonder if the PC will be supplanted by the Smartphone someday.

I'm just happy as long as we never see software like this again:

Daily Pepys: January 18th, 1661

Samuel Pepys was certainly a man of his time. He had no problems beating his servants and lackeys, so it should come as no surprise that he also beat his monkey.
The Captains went with me to the post-house about nine o'clock, and after a morning draught I took horse and guide for London; and though some rain, and a great wind in my face, I got to London at eleven o'clock. At home found all well, but the monkey loose, which did anger me, and so I did strike her till she was almost dead, that they might make her fast again, which did still trouble me more. Took Mr. Holliard to the Greyhound, where he did advise me above all things, both as to the stone and the decay of my memory, (of which I now complain to him) to avoid drinking often, which I am resolved, if I can, to leave off. Took home with me from the bookseller's Ogilby's Ó”sop, which he had bound for me, and indeed I am very much pleased with the book.