Saturday, January 31, 2009

Anti-Corporate Terrorism

I just spent several minutes reading this and laughing myself nearly to unconsciousness.  Recommended.  Thanks to parallax adjustment for the tip.

I once worked at a place that could have seriously used someone like this.  Our manager was a woman who would walk onto the tech floor and shriek my supervisor's name--and she always did it right next to my cage.  Sometimes her shriek would make me jump so hard I would drop stuff on the floor.  She loved to hear the sound of her own voice, but she didn't want to hear anyone else's.  So to prevent us from calling for our supervisor when we needed help, she put red lights on the outside of all the cages* and made a rule that we had to turn on the red light when we needed the supervisor.  But of course, he was usually in his own cage doing his own work, so we almost always ended up calling out, "Hey Greg, my red light's on!"

Our rebellion was not quite so dramatic as that.  Someone put a sign up over the urinal in the restroom that said "DO NOT FLICK BOOGERS ON THE WALL" or something like that.  So naturally, we freakin' covered that sign with boogers.  Then we started on the wall.  One day the quality control guy, who had shall we say aspirations, decided to narc.  He showed the manager all the boogers, and she freaked out.  A little while later, she was talking to her boss on the phone and somehow let the booger problem slip out.  It struck him as so stupid for her to be worked up over boogers on the men's room wall when she could have been worked up over production and quality control that he laughed at her, and then told everyone at HQ about it.  She became a laughingstock in the whole company.  So we had a meeting and she chewed us out.  The booger problem ended, but was replaced by a mysterious rain of empty sunflower seed shells everywhere.  This also made her nuts.

The best strike against her was parking-related.  There were too many of us in this little business park and there wasn't enough room for parking.  The other businesses kept complaining about us so many of us ended up having to park about a hundred yards away in the back end of the park where there was no lighting.  We would run down there during our 6:30 PM lunch break (I worked 2:30 to 11:00 PM at that time) and move them up close to the shop since by that time of day everyone would be gone.  The manager and all the other "fronters" worked a regular 8:00 to 4:00 shift.  Our manager was lazy and obnoxious, and started parking in the handicapped spot near the door of the shop, "because nobody ever uses it anyway."  One day she went outside to find a $200 ticket on her windshield.  We didn't have a meeting that time, but she did stomp around the rest of the day glowering at everyone.  I don't know who called the cops on her, and it's quite possible that it wasn't even one of us--it could have been someone from the several other businesses there.  But we all thought it was hilarious and it improved morale greatly for a few days.

*We worked inside radio-proof screen rooms, which we called cages.

Zombies in Austin

Some traffic signs were hacked in Austin.


Funny comment:
The state wants to hide all of the zombie activity. It’s time to teach the controversy. The Texas Board of Education does not want you to know about the zombies wandering our state. We need some disclaimers in our biology textbooks that let us know that the “strengths and weaknesses of the scientific theories only apply to living organisms, and tell us little about the undead.”
More pix at No Fear of the Future.

Hellsing close-up faces study: Order 01 - Alucard part 2

First: WARNING. Some of these pictures might be considered spoilers, and at least one of them may not be suitable for all viewers. So I'm trying a hack to make this an expandable post. We'll see if it works.



I think I have noticed a pattern when it comes to when Alucard's eyes are shown. Under "normal" circumstances, when he is in the company of, or speaking to someone toward whom he has no ill intentions, we see only his shades. When we see his eyes through his shades, violence is about to begin. If we see his eyes without the shades at all, he is probably in the process or killing, or at least fighting, someone.

First, here is a close-up of his face being ripped apart by bullets. This is always very irritating.

No shades. He is in the process of fighting the vampire priest in the first episode.

Here he is moments later, after inserting a fresh magazine into his pistol, he racks the slide with his teeth. This is not a recommended procedure unless you are a vampire with superhuman strength.

Unshaded eyes in the middle of a fight. That blurry sphere on the left is the bullet exiting from the barrel of his pistol.

After being terribly shot up by a horde of ghouls, he reforms into one of his feral, or monstrous forms. The shades are nowhere to be seen and we get a good look at a single, maniacal eye.

Moments later, he appears to be enjoying himself and this totally freaks out the vampire priest.

In the next installment, we'll take a look at some close-ups of Integra Hellsing.

A funny search hit

A Google search for "obscure music" leads directly to the previous post. Only a coincidence (or is it?), but still funny.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Album: The Age of Plastic

Every day my metal friend
Shakes my bed at 6am
Then the shiny serving clones
Run in with my telephones

Talking fast I make a deal
Buy the fake and sell what's real
What's this pain here in my chest?
Maybe I should take a rest

They send the heart police to put you under,
Cardiac arrest
And as they drag you to the door
They tell you that you've failed the test

Let's say you were driving down the street in 1979, listening to some tunes and wondering if you should get rid of your 8-track player and replace it with a new cassette deck when suddenly "Y.M.C.A." comes on the radio. Your girlfriend left the radio on some $#@! disco station last night. You hastily hit a preset button, but it always shifts the tuner a little to the left so you have to fiddle with the fine tune to get the station to come in. You settle back to the sound of Tommy Shaw's voice crooning oh mamma I'm in fear from my life from the long arm of the law... Yeah, this rocks! You reach under your dash to punch the button on your 40-watt Radio Shack power booster that you keep in reserve for the most rockin' songs. Unfortunately you have been distracted long enough that you have wandered into the opposing lane and you collide with an oncoming car. The resulting crash puts you in a coma for 11 years. You awaken in 1990 and the first thing you hear on the hospital's radio is "We Didn't Start the Fire" and you wonder what the heck happened to Billy Joel. You recover and, upon being released from the hospital, make your way to the nearest record store to try and catch up on the current music. Except there are no more record stores. Now they're all "music" stores and they sell these tiny, shiny, plastic-encased "compact discs." How can these play music, you think, there aren't any grooves! On the radio you hear nothing but whiny female vocalists singing through their noses and bouncy, catchy tunes played mostly on the synthesizer. You assume that aliens--or possibly Europeans--have taken over the music business and you are determined to discover where it all began.

This is where it all began.

The Age of Plastic is the quintessential 80s album. Make all the arguments you want, but I am decided and nothing will shift this immutable fact from my mind. If you think you have a music collection that definitively covers the history and development of pop and rock music, and this album isn't part of it, you have a gaping hole in your collection. When Rolling Stone released their bloated boxed set 25 Years of Essential Rockand didn't include "Video Killed the Radio Star" they totally dropped the ball. They invalidated the entire set by the omission of that one song. Okay, maybe that last statement was a little over-the-top. But only a little.

Rock trivialists always like to point out that "Video" was the first ever video to be shown on MTV. Ever. But like all things 80s, the video eventually became passé; it didn't really kill the radio star, it was only an annoying pimple on his butt for a few years.

There is more than one good reason to own this album. This is where 80s music began. This is it. I'm not kidding. From here it spider-webbed into Euro-pop, electro-pop, American and Canadian imitators of Euro-pop and electro-pop, the punk backlash, the post-punk New Wave sidelash, the post-post punk bubblegum-girl eyelash, post-New Wave irony bands, the metal whiplash, bands named after obscure science fiction movies, duos who were more artificial than the Monkees ever dreamed of being, and mindless legions of Madonna-drones.

The Age of Plastic is more than an album; it is a nexus in the space-time continuum. Countless albums came before it, countless more have come and will continue to come after. But it stands alone atop its silicon and plastic tower, smirking in ironic and slightly neurotic detachment at all who pretend to its significance. Sure, the music sounds a little goofy, but the synthesizers are cool, and the songs are catchy. It has a good beat and you can...no, don't do that. Just listen. Throw in some sci-fi themes with vaguely dystopic undertones and yeah, it's not that bad. Elvis is dead; the best the Stones can do is "Emotional Rescue," Styx is falling apart, your little sister is keeping your new REO tape, Boston has vanished from the face of the Earth, and this is as good as it's gonna get for a while, brother.

Also the music is pretty good, if you like that sort of thing, which I do. It's also an essential album for you if you are interested in the interweaving of Yes Musicians and Associated Artists (The Buggles, Yes and Asia).

Some might dismiss the Buggles as a one-hit wonder. This would be a mistake. The album is very consistent throughout. At times nostalgic, wistful, frenetic or bleak lyrics are disguised by catchy synthesizer-based dance beats, because they knew that the world would not be able to swallow such a musical vision of the future without a heavy sugar coating. A few years later William Gibson dispensed with any pretense and gave us the unadulterated truth. He showed us in stark digital clarity the future at which the Buggles could only hint. What could not be accepted in pop tunes could be hammered home in fiction. So we read his books, and we looked at each other with quiet understanding. No one said it aloud, but we were all thinking the same thing: the Buggles were right.

So go buy it. Put the CD in your car stereo and pay close attention. Pretend you're listening to your old cassette deck with the Radio Shack 40-watt power booster. Remember that gas was less than a dollar a gallon, and it would be years before the world is even aware of Mariah Carey. Pretend, but don't get too comfortable. Because in your mind and in your car, you can't rewind, you've gone too far. And don't forget that once upon a time a new decade was coming at you. A decade that couldn't be avoided, and it wouldn't be happy until you had a MIDI cable hard-wired into the base of your skull.

But you still survived. And eventually, a new Boston album did come out.

Cannibals


via Eidelblog

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Live-action Blood: The Last Vampire


Interesting news here. Blood: The Last Vampire is a good anime movie, about a Japanese schoolgirl who hunts down and kills vampires with her sword. (Sometimes it gets run on some movie channel or other--if you see it's coming up, give it a shot). Only she's not really a schoolgirl, she's...well, you know. Because in anime, it always takes a vampire to kill a vampire. The live-action movie doesn't have a U.S. release date set yet, but it's one I'll watch for. It has three things going for it that make me more optimistic about it than that live-action Cowboy Bebop they're working on.

1. It does not star Keanu Reeves.
2. It did not come out of Hollywood.
3. It does not star Keanu Reeves.

There was also a sort of reboot to the anime called Blood+, which was a series rather than a movie. It was not quite dark enough for me, and Saya was far too schoolgirlish and self-pitying for my tastes. The movie version of Saya was dark, snappish, angry, and generally a total b----- who could slice off a vampire's head with a flick of her wrist. Much more my kind of anime heroine.

You must read this

Right now, then save it and memorize it.

The Hidden Weapon of "Gun Control" Advocates

Thanks to the folks at JPFO.

Billy Powell, R.I.P.

Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell dies aged 56:
Billy Powell, keyboardist with rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd, has died aged 56. He was one of the members of the band's original lineup to have survived the 1977 plane crash, which killed two of his bandmates and their assistant manager.
Suspected heart attack. I've always thought the piano from "Tuesday's Gone" is one of the most beautiful piano parts ever from any rock song.

via Billy Beck

Great album art: Marillion

A comment on yesterday's post put me in mind of album cover art, and here are three very imaginative, detailed, and in relation to the music, symbolic pieces of album art.

In a way, the old records are better, because the pictures are much bigger and it's easier to pick out details. In another way, the CD booklets are good too, because all these pieces are continuous to both the front and back of the cover, and with a CD booklet they can be folded out, scanned, and observed in full. Click on all the pix for much larger versions (about 1000 by 500 pixels). Unfortunately, when you start with a small picture, you still only get a large version of a small picture, so a lot of the details are hard to pick out. But since my scanner isn't big enough to do a whole record cover, these will have to do.

I would also like to state clearly that when it comes to these albums, I did not buy them because of the cover art. I bought them for the music.

Marillion are a British rock group who are still extant. However, the original lead singer/songwriter left the group a long time ago, and in my opinion he took almost all the songwriting talent with him. His lyrics are often mysterious, dark, brooding, and unlike a great many rock lyrics, actually poetic. And by poetic I don't mean that everything rhymes and has perfect meter. I just mean poetic.

Script for a Jester's Tear was their first studio album. As far as I know, the concepts for all these covers was from their lead singer/songwriter Fish (real name Derek Dick), but the actual artist who created them is named Mark Wilkinson. The Jester is a running theme throughout these covers, and there are other items that appear in more than one, such as the records scattered on the floor, the chameleon (in this one climbing on the chair just above the violin case), the magpie, and the television that is on but not being watched. The posters on the wall are reproductions of real posters advertising the band, and the records on the floor are real records. The one closest to the record player is Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets. It's hard to tell in this version, but it's obvious if you look at the full-sized record cover. I expect that the portrait of the woman is a real person, too, but I don't know for sure. Besides the Jester standing at the window trying to write a song, there is another jester image in the clown on the TV screen.

Fugazi was their second album. More jester images. The man lying on the bed is naked except for a rumpled sheet and the tattered remains of jester's leggings, however if you check the mirror behind him you will see that his reflection is fully clothed in the jester's motley. The portrait of a clown leans against the bed, an unfinished puzzle showing a jester lies on the floor, and there's a jack-in-the-box on top of the (ignored) television. The magpie and the chameleon are on the chair in the background. More records scattered on the floor. I don't know what the toy train engine means, but it seems to be in the same color pattern as the jester's motley.

Misplaced Childhood was their third album. The cleanest of the three visually. The chameleon is now trapped in a cage, the magpie is holding the key. The Jester escapes through a window, perhaps to chase another rainbow. A young boy holds a now tamed magpie on his wrist, his heart worn on his shirt, glaring defiantly at the world.

Eventually I will get around to commenting on the music on these and other Marillion albums, but this post was only about the album art and it will do for now.

A small step closer to tyranny

The Holder nomination has cleared the Senate. I would like to thank Senator John Cornyn for voting against the nomination.

JR has more, and further links to still more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hellsing close-up faces study: Order 01 - Alucard part 1

I continue to be fascinated with the artwork of this anime. I have been making a study of facial close-ups, that is, the face fills the entire screen, or nearly so. Sometimes only part of the face fills the screen. The animation technique in Hellsing makes very extensive use of such very close close-ups. Starting with Order01: The Undead, here is the first group of shots of the main character, Alucard. There are more tight close-ups of him than any other character in this episode, which makes sense, because we must become thoroughly acquainted with the star in the first episode. Click on all graphics for a larger version.

Amused and threatening.

Amused but not quite so threatening.

Laughing at someone else's threat.

Warning.

More warning.

And the S is about to hit the F.

We rarely get straight-in shots of Alucard's eyes, though they do happen sometimes. In the next installment we'll look at some of his more violent and feral moments.

Album: Night of the Demon

There's a scream in the night
There's death on the wind
And a heartbeat that's pounding like rain
There's a flash in the sky
A cry of a hound
As if someone is wailing the dead
And the nightmare begins as the Devil rides out
From the heat through the gates of Hell
And there's no escape from the curse of the damned
You better beware

Uh...well. Lemme 'splain.

There was a time when I often bought albums blind, or rather, deaf. By which I mean I had no idea what the music was going to sound like, but I bought it anyway because something about it struck me as interesting, or amusing, or at least worth spending eight or nine dollars on. I included a larger version of the album cover at the top because the art was one of the reasons I bought it. A band named Demon, an album called Night of the Demon, an album cover that looked like something from a horror movie. Not an especially good horror movie, perhaps, but a horror movie nonetheless.

The best part of this album is the first pair of tracks. Track #1--"Full Moon"--is a 90-second soundscape, rather than a song, which opens with ominous synthesizer filter sweeps in a foreboding minor key, overlayed by sound effects that sound like a combination demon conjuration/human sacrifice is going on (I suppose...not that I would know what either of those things really sound like). This leads into the first song, "Night of the Demon," which I quoted the opening lyrics from above.

I remember I played this for Brer once, and about 30 seconds into that first track, he pointed at the far corner of the room and shouted, "Run for your lives! There's not even a speaker in that corner!" Just one of those little nuggets of memory that still makes me laugh when I think about it.

I bought this album because I thought it would be amusing, nothing more. I also remember the guy at Sundance Records (warning: MySpace link) getting excited and saying something like, "Oh man that's great stuff! You're gonna love this!" Heh.

This is one of those records that I've played only once, in order to make this tape. So the record should still be in very good condition. Amazon shows the remastered CD going for $22.99, and at this moment there is only one in stock there. It makes me wonder if my old record has become at least a little collectible.

Demon was supposed to have been a British heavy metal band. I listen to it now and think, this is supposed to be heavy metal? [Correction: New Wave Heavy Metal, whatever that is.] I just read up on them at Wikipedia, and it looks like I might be interested in some of their later stuff, seeing as how they went in other directions later on. But I'm sure it's all very hard to find now.

I have one other album of theirs, The Unexpected Guest. But I never put it on tape, so I haven't heard it in a long time.

The songs are okay, at least up to track #5, "Decisions." But after that it's pretty mediocre. If someone wanted to argue that the entire album is in the mediocre range, I would not contradict them. But after track #5 it kind of goes downhill. In fact, "Decisions" may be the song I would choose if I was forced to pick a favorite.

UPDATED to add: I forgot to mention one thing about this album that annoys me. The recording engineer must have been deaf. Most of the time, the vocals are so far down in the murk that it's hard to even hear them, much less understand them. I wonder if the remastered CD sounds any better.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On Samuel Johnson

I just want to take a moment to recommend a couple of very informative posts written by Brer on the topic of Samuel Johnson. Click to read part 1 and part 2.

Daddy Played the Banjo

I have known that Steve Martin can play the banjo for a long time. A high school friend of mine had some of his comedy albums, and on one there was a bit that he did about how everyone should learn to play the banjo. In between the jokes, he actually did play it, and very well.

I have sometimes wondered why he never went so far as to play it professionally, that is, write some songs, make some music, cut an album, get paid for it. (P.S. "King Tut" doesn't count).

Well folks, Steve Martin has just released a brand new album called The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, consisting of 15 tracks of original bluegrass music, featuring himself on the banjo and numerous other musicians providing accompaniment and vocals.

You can download track #1 for free by clicking on Daddy Played the Banjo. Full album link below.

I am fiddling with my sausage

Last month I joined Netflix, and most of my current queue is not even movies. Most of it is old TV shows that I have lost hope of ever seeing again.

I am happy to report that the entire run of 'Allo, 'Allo (all nine seasons!) is available, as are all episodes of Ripping Yarns.

And: Red Green!!!

Unfortunately, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is not available. Maybe someday.

Album: A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Above the planet on a wing and a prayer,
My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air,
Across the clouds I see my shadow fly
Out of the corner of my watering eye
A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

An album that I never actually purchased. At the time of its release, I was of mixed feelings. On the one hand, I didn't like the idea of David Gilmour calling his group Pink Floyd when it no longer had Roger Waters in it. On the other hand, I like Gilmour's music from a composition standpoint; I also like his voice and his guitar playing. The first time I saw the video for "Learning to Fly" I stood still in quiet mesmerization for the whole thing. "Terminal Frost" is a cool instrumental, and another saxophone song.

David Gilmour also always gets extra points from me because he helped Kate Bush get started way back when.

I made this copy tape from a CD that belonged to my house-mate (for a short time during the late 80s) who goes by the nom de internet of Babel and who has a blog called The Absurd Good News Network. I'm pretty sure that's who I copied it from, anyway.

Not the best Pink Floyd album, in my opinion, but probably the best from the post-Floyd David Gilmour Band. There are a couple of points that still bother me, for example, I cringe every time I hear that line "the hand of fate seemed to fit just like a glove" from "One Slip." It makes me wonder if Gilmour was taking lyric-writing lessons from Greg Lake. And when I heard someone on the radio refer to Gilmour a few months ago as "the voice of Pink Floyd" I had to just grit my teeth.

Pink Floyd's influence (that is, the Waters-era PF) is felt not only in rock music, it has floated across multiple genres. Just try listening to Kitaro playing the guitar and see if you can't hear some Pink Floyd in there.

But I know that using the Pink Floyd name was good marketing; as a shameless capitalist myself I can't really hold it against him. Unless you're harder-core than I am and you really hold a grudge against Gilmour from the fallout of the Gilmour/Waters feud, it's worth adding to your collection.

I never bothered following them after this. The old albums are still worth listening to again and again, and I doubt if Gilmour will ever come up with anything on his own that can compare with them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Islamic war on free speech

From National Review, 2009: A year to defend free speech.
The Islamic bloc has been on record for two decades as opposing free speech. In 1990, foreign ministers of the 57 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), currently the largest voting bloc in the United Nations, adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. It states clearly that Islamic law—sharia—is the only true source of human rights. Few analysts in 1990 understood that this was tantamount to declaring the legitimacy of institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and signing the death warrant of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience as well. And not just in Muslim lands: The OIC and allied organizations have been aggressively pursuing efforts to extend elements of sharia into the West, though few people realize it even today.

Due to the relentless efforts of the OIC, passage of a resolution on combating defamation of religions is now a yearly ritual in the United Nations. First introduced in the General Assembly in 2005, the resolution has been adopted with landslide votes every year since. While this resolution is non-binding, the OIC has declared its intention to seek a binding resolution—one that would require UN member states to criminalize criticism of Islam, as the OIC defines such criticism. This is a clear indication of the progressing Islamization of the United Nations.

On March 28 of last year, the UN hit rock bottom. Its Human Rights Council—whose members include such stalwart defenders of freedom as China, Cuba, Angola, and Saudi Arabia—adopted a resolution that severely modified the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. Instead of simply reporting on cases in which the right to free expression is being violated, the special rapporteur will now also have to report on cases in which that right is being “abused”—including when individuals use their freedom of speech to criticize Islam, or the particular elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify violence and Islamic supremacism. In essence, this means that the function of the special rapporteur has changed 180 degrees—from safeguarding the rights of individuals who hold unpopular or controversial ideas, to trying to limit the freedom of individuals to express such ideas.
I heard a report on NPR this morning about a man in Georgia who murdered his own daughter in an "honor killing." Not once in the entire report did they specify the man's essential motive. Even the LEO who they snatched a soundbite from sounded like he had been coached; he was allowed to say "because of his religious beliefs" but not to say what that religion was. The man was from Pakistan. He murdered his daughter because he claimed she had "brought shame to the family."

On the other hand, we all heard over and over again about the "fundamentalist Mormon sect" who were practicing polygamy and had fundamentalist Mormon old men marrying fundamentalist Mormon young girls. By the way, did we mention the fundamentalist Mormon part? Because they were, you know.

Connect the dots.

via The Liberty Sphere

Album: Deepest Purple

Sweet child in time you'll see the line
The line that's drawn between good and bad
See the blind man shooting at the world
Bullets flying, taking toll
If you've been bad, lord I bet you have
And you've not been hit by flying lead
You'd better close your eyes
Bow your head
Wait for the ricochet

That's all the lyrics for a song that runs 10 minutes long, and that's on the studio album version. I have a record with a live version, I think, but I'm not going to dig it out to see how long it is. Most of the song is really instrumental, much of it featuring the organ work of one of my favorite rock keyboardists: Jon Lord of Deep Purple.

Deep Purple has been one of my favorite groups for a long time; about as long as I've been listening to rock music. I didn't grow up listening to rock at all. I listened to what my parents listened to, which means I grew up listening to country and just about nothing else. When I received my very own clock radio as a teenager I began to listen to other things, but it still took me a while to branch out into other genres.

My first-year college room-mate had a battered old record of Deep Purple In Rock that I listened to several times, and when I decided to start getting further into them, I bought Deepest Purple: The Very Best of Deep Purple since it was a "best of" compilation and I thought it would make a good starting point. Being a wanna-be keyboardist myself back then, I also studied it, rather than simply listening to it. "Child in Time" remains one of my FRAG songs. FRAG is a category I made up for myself which stands for Favorite Regardless of Artist or Genre. Another FRAG song of theirs is "Lazy," from 1972's Machine Head.

I have only two DP CDs: Deep Purple from 1969 and Perfect Strangers from 1984. I also have several records and had one double-album tape that I wore out. This tape that I recently converted to mp3 is a record that I dubbed onto tape years ago. It's one of those tapes that make me wonder why I could buy blank tapes and make a copy tape that sounded better and lasted longer than a "professionally-made" tape that I bought in a store. My record of In Rock is a picture disk, which I believe is at least slightly "collectible." That is, today it may actually be worth more than I paid for it.

[By the way, I have a picture disk of Sgt. Pepper's which, according to a website I checked a few years ago, is worth several times what I paid for it. But it cost me only three dollars at a Wal-Mart in Abilene.]

Back in the halcyon days when I built my own (quite impressive, if I say so myself) surround-sound stereo system component by component, my DP collection got a lot of work. I often went to sleep with DP on the stereo, sometimes lying on my back wearing headphones as I drifted away. I'm sure their music is not what most people would think of to put on while going to sleep, but many times the last thing I heard before I lost consciousness was one of Jon Lord's organ passages. A lot of lousy hard rock came out of the 70s that hasn't withstood the passage of time very well, in my opinion. But anyone looking to do so frivolous a thing as make a study of the best of 70s-era hard rock would do well to pay close attention to the music of Deep Purple.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mad in herds

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
--Charles Mackay, 1852
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

One more thing about Brimstone

I forgot to mention in the previous post that the theme music is by Peter Gabriel.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oh yeah, that's right...

It's been a long time since I've had to use this, and once I was out of school I never used it again. But I've been wanting to show my kids this trick just to see if they can confuse their teachers with it.

That is, how to subtract by adding.

I know that the likelihood of people who read this blog already knowing some computer math is quite high. In fact, I suspect many of you know a lot more than I do. But in case you don't: computers do not subtract. They only add. And here are some articles that explain how it's done: ones' complement, two's complement, and especially method of complements, which gives examples of how to do it in base 10.

Tolkien on government

"My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) -- or to 'unconstitutional' Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remain obstinate!...

Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people...

The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
--J.R.R. Tolkien
Found here.

via Karen De Coster

Madness

I have a terrible feeling I am going to continue to be shocked and disgusted by the levels to which the mindless horde will stoop and the heights of blasphemy they will reach.

In completely unrelated news, today I picked up an almost new edition of an 1850s-or-so book called Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. "Oh yeah," said the lady at the book store, "That came in just a few days ago and I was looking at it myself. Kind of...timely...I thought."

Yeah.

No, I don't. And what does that even mean?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Brimstone


NOTE: My memory was faulty when I typed this up late last night, so I have corrected a couple of things. For whatever that's worth.
*****
If you have a cable/satellite package that includes the Chiller channel, tomorrow they're running a Brimstone marathon beginning at 8:00 AM central time. Only 13 episodes were made, which ran on Fox in 1998 back when they were trying to keep capitalizing on the weird phenomena/creepy stories phase that was created and led by The X-Files. I thought Brimstone was much better. Peter Horton plays a cop named Ezekiel Stone who should have gone to Heaven when he died, but didn't. His wife was raped, the rapist was caught but escaped punishment due to a legal technicality, so Stone hunted him down and killed him. A few months later Stone was killed in the line of duty, and because of how he had technically murdered the rapist, he went to Hell. He spent 15 years there, and then something happened and 113 demons escaped from Hell to roam free on the earth. So the devil (John Glover, who does a great job) made a bargain with him: Stone could go back to earth where he would hunt down each demon and send it back to Hell. If he succeeded, he would be given a second chance at living again, and perhaps not go to Hell the next time he died.

Since Stone is technically undead, many of the rules of human weaknesses don't apply to him. He doesn't have superhuman strength or anything like that, and he is still human in many ways, but there is only one way to kill him so he can take a lot of punishment without dying (although he still feels pain). There are lots of tiny details in the story that made it great, for example, every morning when he awoke he had the same exact amount of money in his pockets that he had when he died. Since he had died in 1983, he missed out on 15 years of earth stuff so many bits of news and "current events" references puzzle him until he figures them out.

The tattoos that cover his body are there for a reason: each one is the occult symbol of one of the demons who escaped. Every time he "kills" one, the tattoo burns itself off his body, so he gets to writhe in agony for a few seconds every time he sends another demon back to Hell.

Lori Petty also appears in several episodes as someone who befriends him and who starts figuring out there's something strange about him. Unfortunately, the series didn't last long enough to develop their relationship any further.

This show was way too smart for Fox, so naturally it was canceled well before its time. But if you have time to catch an episode or two, I recommend it. I already have my DVD recorder set for it. They'll be running 8 of the 13 episodes.

Album: Boomtown Rats Greatest Hits

Look at the brickwall gravestone where some kid was sprayed
Saying nobody could be bothered here to rule O.K.
Don't believe it, don't believe it what they say on TV
There's no romance, no romance
For Joey in this city.

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one, either. Purchased in the late 80s, the Boomtown Rats were recommended to me by someone who I respected and admired but who is no longer with us. This tape always reminds me of him. Actually it was the same person who told me I looked like Iggy Pop.

The tape's audio has suffered a little, although it is still listenable. I might go to Amazon and download "I Don't Like Mondays" just so I'll have a good copy of that. It's my favorite song of theirs, and other than that I never really got into their sound.

Since Amazon doesn't have a link photo, here's a picture. Bob Geldof (upper left), of course, went to on do all kinds of charity work, and played Pink in the movie of The Wall. The rest of them? I don't know. Check Wikipedia.



Keeping Nigeria safe from were-goats

Telegraph:
"They pursued them. However, one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," he said. While Mr Mohammed said he could not confirm whether a man had, in fact, turned into a goat, he did admit that the animal was in police custody. A photo of the goat, resting on its knees next to a pile of straw, was published in Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper.
ShortNews.com:
"We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat," said Kwara state police.
Good luck with that.

Halbrook on Holder

From the Independent Institute:
For your review, here is the C-SPAN video of our Research Fellow Stephen P. Halbrook on January 16th before the Senate Judiciary Committee, testifying against the confirmation of Eric Holder, Jr., for Attorney General of the U.S.

Dr. Halbrook’s full written testimony is also available here, and since his presentation, the confirmation vote on the Holder nomination in the Senate has been delayed, unlike any of Barack Obama's other Cabinet nominees.

Incredibly enough, in reporting on the hearings in his January 21st article, “Clinton Is Approved, but Vote on Holder Is Delayed,” David Stout of the New York Times not only fails to mention Dr. Halbrook’s testimony but actually makes the flatly erroneous claim that “No one has questioned Mr. Holder’s qualifications.”
Except it isn't flatly erroneous. It's a flat lie, and authorized journalist Stout knows it. And we can expect the lies to come out fast and furious from here on, folks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thoughts on today's work

1. I am continually astounded (astounded, I say) at how many discarded condoms I see lying around, everywhere I go.
  • I am astounded that so many people are apparently having sex anywhere and everywhere, with little regard for their location or surroundings.
  • I am astounded that such people have the thoughtfulness and foresight to use condoms.
  • I am astounded that although they seem to know how to use a condom, they apparently have not yet figured out how to use a trash can.
2. I continue to be disappointed at the way that kids behave. Not little kids. They always want to know who I am, what I'm doing, how my little handheld computer thingy works, what my name is, and so forth. It's the teenagers. What a bunch of surly dipwads they are. And don't try to fall back on that "don't talk to strangers" nonsense. That's just an excuse you've been programmed with to avoid critical thought and on-the-spot decision-making. Also: a Tootsie-Pop is not a suitable breakfast. This means you, Juwana. Old people are always the friendliest, even when we don't share a common language.

3. The reason I have to read even a dead meter is because it's there. That's what I do. If it's there, I read it. If it's not there, I don't read it. It really is just that simple. If you don't like it, have it removed. There is no other solution.

Blah Blah Blah

I need to touch
a live unbeaten earth
so that's where I'm going
I know a town in northwest Mexico
where the sun is gold and life exists

Still working my way through a stack of tapes and converting them to mp3, some of them bring back vivid memories of the time I bought the album, what was happening in my life and in the world at large, the people I knew and what we did.

And then there's this album.

I searched the lyrics of every song to try and find a good epigram for this post, and the above was about the best I could come up with. I don't remember why I bought this album. It's still fun to listen to now and then, just for a nostalgic kick. I played it quite a lot back in the 80s, but never took it all that seriously. There is one line in the song "Fire Girl": I got a pocket full of rain. This line has always stuck in my head and I've thought often about ripping it off to begin some lyrics of my own: I've got a pocket full of rain/I thought I'd save it for a sunny day... But that's about as far as it got.

Someone once told me I looked like Iggy Pop, but that was more than 20 years ago and I think I can see the resemblance, though I don't think it applies anymore these days. I remember laughing about it at the time.

So I don't have anything even pseudo-profound to say about this one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fun with Tesla coils


More pix at Oddee.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Caution Horses, 1990

There's something about an afternoon spent doing nothing
Just listening to records and watching the sun falling
Thinking of things that don't have to add up to something
And this spell won't be broken
By the sound of keys scraping in the lock


It must be some kind of milestone when you can reference back to something you wrote on your blog five years ago. And that was the last time I saw that tape for a long time. Until just a few days ago, in fact, when it turned up in a box that had yet to be unpacked from the move last April. I just finished converting it to mp3, and "Sun Comes Up, It's Tuesday Morning" still hits me in the gut.

1990. I had spent most of the 80s officially doing nothing. I went to college immediately after high school, a move which, in the fullness of time, I have come to more and more regard as a mistake. I felt completely burned out on school, and my heart was never in it during college. I took courses that I knew I would enjoy and did my best to blow off everything else. Which means I took mostly only music and literature courses; I never had a single math or science course. But then it was over, I was neck-deep in the 80s and spent several years wandering through that wasteland. By 1990 I was ready for something else, and was worn out from having too many female friends who thought I was a "great friend."

So by 1990 I was working four days a week and going to tech school four days a week--only Thursday overlapped. Somewhere during my apparently aimless wanderings back there in the 80s, I had learned how to learn. Something had switched in my brain. I don't know how to explain it, but somewhere back there something changed and my thinking was different from how it had been. Maybe it was the books I had read, maybe it was the music I had listened to, maybe it was the morning glory seeds. All I know is, I came out of that decade very different from how I had entered it.

So when I threw myself into tech school I stayed on top of it. It had that old familiar feeling that I had had before when studying music: not that I was learning something new, but that I was being reminded of something I'd forgotten.

I bought more cassettes than usual around that time, so I'd have something to listen to while driving back and forth between my dad's house and the tech school in San Antonio (at that time it was in a strip mall at Fredricksburg and Gardenia in Balcones Heights). I think I must have heard Cowboy Junkies while listening to KGSR. It's an Austin station, but I had begun listening to it when I was spending a lot of time in San Marcos, and I could still pick it up in Seguin. I had my stereo at my dad's house connected to a TV antenna for better reception, and when I twisted it north I could still get KGSR. They played some Americana type stuff back then, mixed in with more conventional rock.

Listening to this music is like picking up a familiar song on a faint, distant radio station when you're a long way from home. Sad, in a defiant kind of way. Back in 1990, "Tuesday Morning" could have been my theme song. In one way liberating, in another way reminding me of the woman I had never known and--at the time--thought I never would. (My future wife rescued me three years later).

It was hard to listen to this tape all at once, because I listened to tapes while driving and I would tend to get sleepy with this one on. It's best listened to at home, where you can focus on it and let it wash over you.

I never got any of their other albums, but since digitizing this one today, I have read up on them, I think I will have to check out one or two others. If you feel you are ever in the mood to sit quietly and wistfully contemplate "things that don't have to add up to something" over a beer or three, this is your album.

I would have said "wombats"

But it's still funny.

Put on the glasses

I didn't watch any of it. I usually listen to National Propaganda Radio on the morning drive in (so I can make a list of news items I may have to refute), but I didn't even do that today. I overheard a cow-orker say that he had taped the whole thing so he could watch it when he got home. Idiots.

Today I just kept thinking about this:


And I never liked bubblegum, anyway.

The Death Chart

I like charts. I have made my own comparison charts when seriously considering any major purchase: be it cars, guns, computers, or even pipe tobacco. I have made charts about movies, books, and music. Here is an excellent chart that everyone should study, bookmark, and tell someone about.

The Death Chart is an orderly, chronological chart of how gun control has been used as a first step to genocide through modern history beginning in 1915. Thanks to the folks at JPFO for putting it together. Go now and read.

The Faceman Speaks

Dirk Benedict opines on modern Hollywood, moral ambiguity, the attack on the family, the furthering of self-hatred and the continued derision of manhood with Lost In Castration:
Witness the “re-imagined” “Battlestar Galactica,” bleak, miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it reflects in microcosm the complete change in the politics and morality of today’s world, as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of Lorne Greene (Adama), Fred Astaire (Starbuck’s Poppa) and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he’s in that Big Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been so lucky. He’s not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world of cancelled TV characters.

“Re-imagining”, they call it. “Un-imagining” is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith and family is un-imagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume. A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy human civilization, one would assume. Indeed, let us not say who the good guys are and who the bad are. That is being “judgmental,” taking sides, and that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Kathryn Hepburn and John Wayne and, well, the original “Battlestar Galactica.”
Big Hollywood is a site intended for "conservative" show-biz folks to come together. Some of them still have to do it anonymously.

For the record, I watched the first few episodes when the reboot first began and then wrote it off. They had ruined my favorite character (Starbuck), and I wasn't interested.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles, 2000

We will forego the usual vintage B-western this week. I had intended to write a post about such a movie. I had all the screen caps, and the list of notes that I create before I begin writing the full article. However, we must put it aside for another time, for another matter of pressing import is at hand.


How many movies have you seen that begin with such a disclaimer? To me, this translates as: This is such an egregiously butchered version of a classic tale that the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle wishes to make it very clear that we do not approve of it, nor did we have anything to do with its creation, but it's public domain, so what're you gonna do?

I am not a Sherlockian scholar. I am only a fan who has read all the canonical stories a few times each and who has seen at least two other movie versions of this tale. Both of which, by the way, were vastly superior to this one, in the same way that a gentle massage is vastly superior to a stab in the eye with a sharpened stick.

There are so many things wrong with this movie. So many. I grow weary at the thought. I cannot list every item, but I hope that what I am able to write here will help to shield you from ever being exposed to this awful film.

This is a 2000 version of the classic Holmes novella The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was made by a Canadian company. I will not hold it against them. Some truly bad movies have come from the United States as well. I simply note it to show that Hollywood is not the only place that produces movies that totally stink.

After a scene in which the first victim dies from the attack of the legendary hound, we are shown a busy London street and a quick cut to this:


I groaned inwardly. I also groaned outwardly. Not another movie showing Holmes smoking some monstrous "calabash!"* Fortunately, he never smokes this pipe. He never even touches it, and in fact it appears to be there only as a decoration. Unfortunately, it gets worse. Much, much worse.


As a general rule, I like Matt Frewer. He was the star of what I think was one of the greatest television series of all time: Max Headroom. It was satirically prophetic in a cyberpunkish way and I still check periodically to see if it has been released on DVD (it hasn't).

However, his portrayal of Holmes was a mistake. I think he must have had some dirt on the casting director. It was simply wrong. The real Holmes was emotionally repressed and socially detached, but Frewer's Holmes is neither. In fact, he appears to enjoy mixing with society for the sole purpose of demonstrating to everyone else in the world what incompetent fools they are in comparison to himself. He is an arrogant yet brilliant buffoon. In short: he is an asshole.


Paraphrase: "Ah! my dear Watson! You are such an unmitigated idiot! And yet, it is your very idiocy that inspires my genius; and for that, I thank you."

The real Holmes/Watson relationship was one of mutual respect. Holmes trusted Watson with his life on several occasions and Watson never failed him. The Holmes/Watson relationship in this version is inexplicable. Holmes continually humiliates Watson and abuses him intellectually; Watson appears to remain with Holmes due some sort of bizarre intellectual masochism.

Now we come to--I shudder to contemplate what I will soon be forced to write about--the pipe smoking.


Frewer definitely does smoke a pipe in this movie. It is not just a stunt pipe. But the way he goes about it! His lighting, portrayed in this scene, is awkward, as if he had just spent 15 minutes working it out backstage.


At least he is really smoking something.


I absolutely refuse to believe that the real Holmes would have grinned such a ghastly grin around the stem of his pipe. It just isn't right.


And Watson! Oh, Watson, what have they done to you? The real Watson enjoyed the pipe just as much as did Holmes, but this Watson is a fussy, effiminate pansy who begins coughing at the slightest hint of smoke. The real Watson objected only to Holmes' occasional habit of shooting up with cocaine.


He brings out his pocket kerchief (delicately perfumed, I am sure) to breathe through every time someone lights up within a hundred feet of him. Egad.


When Holmes finishes his pipe (twice in this movie), he spins it around in his fingers, bowl up and stem down. Oh, the horror! Any pipe smoker would know that this is a sure way to drain the juices from the bowl--where they belong--down into the stem. Argh! I can hardly bear to think of it.

Later that night, Holmes is alone, wearing this bizarre bedtime ensemble, that ungainly pipe clamped in his teeth.


I began to recoil in horror at the scene that I knew I was about to behold.


No. Please...no. Alas, please just let it be over with quickly.


YAAAGGGHHH!!!


Holmes and Watson lunch with Dr. Mortimer to meet Sir Henry and discuss the matter at hand. Mortimer enjoys his cigar.


And the delicate Watson goes into a fit of coughing. Out comes the kerchief.


Jason London as Sir Henry Baskerville gives the movie far too much of a "Hallmark Movie Channel" feel. In fact, I think that is where it originally aired.


Later still, after eating at the Stapleton's, everyone enjoys an after-dinner cigar.


Except for Miss Watson, of course.


At first glance, Watson does appear to know how to handle his revolver. When presented with the demonic hound, he goes into a full isoceles and locks his hands up tightly on the gun, his eyes appearing to focus on his target rather than his sights. At second glance, he doesn't appear to actually have a finger on the trigger.


Holmes' gun-handling fares not much better, and he blames his own missed shot on getting comically tangled up in his costume. I say, be careful, Holmes! You're pointing that dashed gun straight at my left ear!

This was a made-for-TV movie, which means that after commercials are subtracted it runs only 90 minutes long. A two-hour version of this tale is not long enough, in my opinion. Cutting it even shorter gave it more of the feel of a summary, rather than a real story. The feckless and genteel Watson made it almost excruciatingly unbearable.

I should also mention Matt Frewer's fake British accent. It has all the grace of a three-legged giraffe with a neck brace. Stilted, forced and awkward, even to my American ears. I will have to watch several hours of Jeremy Brett to remove Frewer's clashing "A's" and endlessly rolled "R's" from my memory. And even then, I fear, the memory will lurk, waiting to arise from the shadows at the first hint of the word "crrrrrrrack."

Do not watch this movie. It is not worth 90 minutes of your time. Still, if you persist in watching it after all that I have said, I have done all I can; I retire with a clean conscience.

Source: Encore Mysteries movie channel
Runtime: 90 minutes
Amazon Search: The Hound of the Baskervilles

*I put it in quotes because a real calabash has at least an outer bowl shell made from a calabash gourd. This one appears to be of solid porcelain.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Didja notice?

I fixed my favicon. It disappeared a long time ago. I think it was when I switched to the "new" blogger. Apparently the "new" template is more finicky about exactly where you place the favicon code. So I finally took a few minutes to hunt it down.

A very helpful website in regard to favicons is IconJ.

Cryptozoo Playset

Coming in February 2009 from Entertainment Earth for $14.99. I'd get it just for the Jersey Devil. And I think that Nessie would make a great bookshelf decoration.

Clockwise from top left: Mothman, Jersey Devil, Chupacabra, Nessie, Bigfoot.

Pictures of Earth

Oddee has compiled 20 Breathtaking Satellite Views of the Earth from around the web.
The Dasht-e Kevir, or Great Salt Desert, is the largest desert in Iran. It is primarily uninhabited wasteland, composed of mud and salt marshes covered with crusts of salt that protect the meager moisture from completely evaporating. (NASA/Landsat)
I recommend it for your Saturday morning viewing pleasure.