Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spandrel!

Just wanted to share today's Dinosaur Comics.  Really funny, plus I learned three new words.  But now I may have forgotten how a doorbell works.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The new machine

This may of interest of San Antonio locals.  I got this thing at PC Outlet, which sells refurbished Dells.  It's kind of hard to explain where it is, but you get on IH10, take the 410 east exit, then take the Vance Jackson exit, but go past Vance Jackson on the access road.  It's in the back corner of a big strip mall before you get to Jackson-Keller.  I only know about it because I read their water meter every month.

I got the computer for $99.  It has 1 gig of RAM, a 3 GHz microprocessor and a 80 gig hard drive.  It also has a DVD/RW which is cool if I want to burn DVDs someday.  The really odd thing is, it also has a 3.5" floppy drive.  I haven't owned a computer with one of those in several years.  I almost wish I had something I needed to put on there from a floppy just so I'd have an excuse to use it.  I got a monitor for $67 at the same place.  The only thing I don't like is the keyboard that I bought because it feels really squishy.  I'm going to have to get a different one.  It was only $9, so I don't feel too bad about it.  It can still serve as a backup in case the kids destroy theirs by spilling something in it.

This is the second computer I've gotten from them and I'm happy with both of them.  They have hotter machines than this one, ranging up to $199 or so.  On the other hand, I think their refurbished laptops are overpriced for what they are, and I wouldn't get one there.  But their desktops (and towers) are certainly nice for the price.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Newer computer

Well, I got a newer computer today, a refurbished Dell from PC Outlet.  Much better than my old laptop.

I do not like the keyboard that I bought for it.  It's squishy.  Also, I'm so used to the laptop keyboard, this thing takes up too much desk space.  Anyway, I think I might try some other keyboard, but I want to go somewhere that I can try it out and see how it feels first.  This one was only $9, so it won't be any great loss and I can put it away for a backup in case I need it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Short article, but recommended

Aluminum casts of ant colonies.


When I saw this, I thought, Man, that would make an awesome dungeon.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jack Palance - The Green, Green Grass of Home


Believe it or not!

Cropsey (2009, documentary)

Yesterday after I had written that post about Dreams of a Life, I realized that I had plumb forgot about another good documentary I had seen several weeks ago and had meant to write about it.

From the official Cropsey website:
Growing up on Staten Island, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio had often heard the legend of ‘Cropsey.’ For the kids in their neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe, but it didn’t matter, Cropsey was always out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get them.

Later as teenagers, the filmmakers assumed Cropsey was just an urban legend: a cautionary tale used to keep them out of those abandoned buildings and stop them from doing all those things that teenagers like to do. That all changed in the summer of 1987 when a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome, named Jennifer Schweiger, disappeared from their community. That was the summer all the kids from Staten Island discovered that their urban legend was real.
This is one of those truly creepy cases where an urban legend turns out to be real, or in this case, becomes real.  The documentary delves into the search for Jennifer Schwieger, which turns into an investigation into the cases of five missing girls.  It also covers the history of Willowbrook Mental Institution.  Some of the most spooky scenes are of the filmmakers venturing into the tunnels beneath the asylum just to see what they could see.*  And finally, it reaches into the murky background of Andre Rand, the man who turned out to be the real Cropsey.

Like just about everything these days, I saw it on Netflix.  Should be a riveting 84 minutes for anyone interested in urban legends and/or true crime documentaries.

*My main thought when I saw this part was, "The idiots are unarmed.  But I guess since they're showing the film, they must have gotten lucky and survived."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dreams of a Life (documentary, 2011)

I watched this documentary this morning and I must say it is quite haunting, troubling and sad.  It's the story of Joyce Vincent, who one day in December 2003, bought some groceries, came home to her London flat, fixed herself supper, wrapped some Christmas presents, turned on her television, sat on the floor and leaned back against her couch, and died at the age of 38.  The story isn't of how or why she died, because no one knows.  Instead, it is the story of what happened after, which was nothing.  No one knew about it and no one seemed to notice she had disappeared--not even her family.  Her body was discovered three years later when authorities tried to evict her for failing to pay her rent.  The television was still on.

Dreams of a Life is made up mostly of interviews with people who had known her, as well as dramatized clips using actors (Vincent was portrayed by Zawe Ashton).  She had led quite an interesting life, having actually met several famous people, and had apparently briefly flirted with attempting to begin a singing career.

I saw it on Netflix, of course.  If you have Netflix streaming and have 90 minutes to spend on a story that is both fascinating and somewhat depressing, I recommend it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Radio Free Gunslinger

One of my favorite blogs, one which I've been "reading" pretty much as long as I've been reading blogs, is called If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.  I used "reading" in quotes because it's an image blog.  I don't think "photo blog" would be quite accurate because that suggests someone who posts photos they take themselves.  This is an image blog, primarily of photos but sometimes of other things like movie posters or old ads.  The posts don't use any categories; this could be because back when it began, Blogger didn't have a category function.  However, the title of the posts themselves describe the category, followed by a sequence number for that topic, for example "Twilight of the Dreamboats #23" and so forth.  By the way, that particular series is of vintage cars that have been wrecked.

Another series is "Before and After."  Here's a recent photo of the "before" from this series:


That's Frances Bavier, a.k.a. Aunt Bea.  I guess you could say this blog tells the story of 20th century pop culture, except that it isn't just pop culture, it often veers off into "legitimate" history and culture as well.

A few months ago they began something new:  a sort of podcast called Radio Free Gunslinger.  Each "episode" consists of four or five sets of five songs each, interspersed with commentary from someone from history.  The commentary is taken from interviews or recorded lectures, and in at least one case, vintage radio ads.

I didn't began listening to this at first, for some reason.  I don't know why.  But I've been catching up recently and they are very interesting as well as enjoyable.  I've been learning about people who I'd only vaguely heard of--or even never heard of--so I've had to look them up and read about them.  I've also heard lots of music that I really liked.  Fortunately, the podcasts are encoded at 160 kbps, so it's easy to crop out songs that I want to keep for repeated listening and still have them at a decent quality.

Unlike mosts podcasts, this is not one that you can subscribe to via iTunes or some other audio service like that.  You just have to download them and play them.  I have been listening to these only at home, because I like to keep the information about each show open so I can keep referring to it and see the musicians and song titles that I'm listening to.

The shows are stored at archive.org, so you can go there and look up "Radio Free Gunslinger" for ease of mass downloading, if you want.  You'll have to go to the Gunslinger site itself to get the program information.

I think the most interesting one, as far as the interview clips go, was the one with Lee Harvey Oswald.  It was apparently taken from a radio interview after he had returned from his stint in the Soviet Union.

Every now and then, there's a set of old-time country gospel music, which as you probably already know, is something I really like.  There's already at least one that I started practicing on my ukulele.

Some of the other hosts, for example, are Alice B. Toklas, Bing Crosby, Vincent Price, Syd Barrett, and Howard Cosell.  That Cosell show was another really interesting one, and had lots of great music.

I recommend it.  Check it out.

P.S.  If any of the Gunslingers happen to read this post, I hope my comments did your show justice.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Obligatory Valentine song


Bobby Bare Jr. - Valentine

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My daughter recently posted this one FB


I'm so proud of her.

For the record, I'm proud of my son, too.  Last night when I told him it was bed time, he asked, "Can I stay up a little later so I can read The Hobbit?"  Yes, I said.  Yes, you can.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Gargoyles (TV movie, 1972)

Gargoyles was a made-for-TV horror movie from 1972.  I think I read somewhere once that it was the first horror movie ever to be made for TV.  I don't know if that's true or not, but anyway, since it was made for TV in 1972, that means it's pretty tame by modern standards.

However...consider:  my sister and I saw this movie in 1972, which means I was 8 years old and she was 4.  At the time, I thought it was the best movie I'd ever seen, and it gave my sister nightmares.  I hadn't seen it since that one time in 1972.  So when I saw that I could get the DVD from Netflix, I added it to my queue immediately.  The screen caps I've included here were a few that I took so I could put them on Facebook for my sister's benefit.  Her only reactions was, "Where did you get those?  That movie gave me nightmares!"  I was thinking about getting a more complete collection of screen caps but decided it was too much trouble, so there you are.

It's full of people I didn't recognize, or just barely recognized.  The main protagonist is played by Cornel Wilde, who was more of a leading man type early in his career but then became more of a character actor, turning up on things like this, Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote before he stopped acting in 1987, two years before his death.  He plays a professor of paleontology and anthropology who is going out into the desert in the southwest somewhere because of some vague tip/rumor that some guy out there has something strange to show him.  He's accompanied by his daughter, for some reason, played by Jennifer Salt, whose most prominent role was probably as Eunice Tate on Soap several years later.  In this movie she's mostly the screamer, who also displays several of those side-b00b shots that used to be so popular on TV.  Whatever happened to the side-b00b?  I kinda miss it.

Although we are never told exactly where in the southwest this is supposed to be happening (I don't think), I can tell you that it was filmed on location in Carlsbad Caverns National Park; Carlsbad, New Mexico; and Laredo, Texas.



Which may explain the Pearl beer.  I guess they had a big enough budget that they didn't have to settle for Texas Pride.  The above shot was just to get a glimpse of the beer can, but since he's here, I'll mention that this is Woody Chambliss, another character actor from Texas.  His first movie role was an uncredited appearance as the blacksmith in the original 3:10 to Yuma in 1957.  He turned up in a quite a few TV shows and movies (many of them westerns such as Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel).  He also had a part in Logan's Run and--get this--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  According to imdb, he also somehow managed to appear in some movie called Riding Fast in 1988, seven years after he died.

So anyway, Uncle Willie--as Chambliss' character is called--has found a complete skeleton of something out in the desert which he wants to show the Professor, who believes it is a fake made up of various animal and human parts.  As they are in his barn arguing about the veracity of the skeleton, darkness falls, and instead of heading back to the house, Uncle Willie throws a bar across the inside of his barn door because, he says, it's not safe to be outside after dark.  So the Prof decides to humor him and begins interviewing him about the legends regarding these creatures, while the Prof's daughter tape records the interview.  Then suddenly the barn is attacked by several somethings which begin ripping through the wooden walls of the barn.  The obligatory kerosene lamp falls over and catches everything on fire.  A roof beam falls and kills Uncle Willie, the Prof and his daughter flee to their car with the tape recorder and the skull of the skeleton, and high-tail it for the nearest town.  Their car is attacked by these things, which damage their windshield and smash the car up pretty good but don't disable it.

Looking back now, I think one of the things that really appealed to me as an 8-year-old kid with an active imagination was that they refrain from clearly showing what the monsters are for a while, leaving my imagination to conjure up all sorts of horrors.  But that doesn't last long.  Pretty soon the gargoyles break into the Prof's motel room to get back the skull of their fellow, and, well, the shot just below is one of the few specific images I remembered from 40 years ago.  This guy slowly rises up and peaks over the foot of the Professor's bed.  Horror!


And a bunch of other stuff happens...you can watch it for yourself for the details.  Of course, the special effects of 1972 usually seem pretty comical to us now, but this movie won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.  The gargoyles all have certain things in common:  leathery, reptilian skin, claws, and those creepy white eyes.  But other than that, there is a great variation in appearance.  Some have some hair on their bodies in various places, some have ridges or spikes on their backs and/or heads, they are different heights, some have bird-like beaks instead of mouths, some have horns, and a few have wings.  We learn from watching the movie that the ones with wings are "breeders," so apparently the non-winged ones are like sterile workers or something.


Here's a shot of the leader gargoyle walking around at the gas station.  You can see that he's a "winged breeder" and that he has some hair.  Another thing they did with the gargoyles was they filmed them in slight slow motion, which I think gave them a creepy, otherworldly appearance, as if they existed in a slightly different phase of time from humans.


Here's one of the workers with a bird-like beak like I mentioned.  This one is seen only in the egg cavern, rubbing eggs which are about to hatch.  The "rubbing" action on the eggs appears to encourage the hatchlings to break out, but that's just an assumption based on my imagination.


Here's a close-up of the leader gargoyle reading one of the Professor's books, which he stole from the Prof's motel room.  It's impossible to recognize him here, but you may know him better like this:


Or this:


Bernie Casey was a pro football player for the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams from 1961 to 1968, and appeared in his first movie role in Guns of the Magnificent Seven in 1969.  He's been in a buttload of movies since then, for example two of my favorites:  Revenge of the Nerds and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.  However, he doesn't do the voice of the leader gargoyle.  The voice is supplied by an uncredited actor named Vic Perrin.  Perrin did some acting earlier in his career, but most of what he did was voice acting, and anyone who watched superhero-themed cartoons during the 60s and 70s has heard his voice.  Here's one you should know well:  Vic Perrin was the voice of Dr. Zin from Jonny Quest.

Although I didn't get a screen shot of him, there's one other actor in this movie whose face I recognized right away, even though I didn't know his name:  Scott Glenn.  Another "that guy" character actor who is easily recognized by his squinty eyes, high cheekbones, and penchant for playing hardcases.  In this movie he plays a sort of outlaw dirt biker who turns good, and he was young enough to still have dark hair--later on, as he aged, his hair turned silver.

I usually have a pretty hard rule against movies being remade, because I think remakes are just Hollywood's way of admitting they are all creatively bankrupt, but I think this movie could stand a re-make.  It isn't long enough, and there isn't enough character development.  The only problem is, I'm sure it would be turned into some politically correct b.s. screed about intolerance and Islamophobia or some such.  Although the imdb entry says that the gargoyles "just want to be left alone," and this is suggested early in the movie, during the leader gargoyle's Villainous Summation near the end, he explicitly states that once all the eggs are hatched, he plans on wiping out humanity and replacing humans as the dominant race on Earth, so all that "just want to be left alone" stuff is pure nonsense.  I think they would have had a pretty hard time with wiping out humans anyway.  The gargoyles do have much greater strength than humans, but they can be killed just as easily as a human with conventional weapons such as shotguns and pistols.  Besides that, they reproduce only once every 600 years.

I guess I shouldn't say any more except that the movie does has a sort of open ending which could have led to a sequel.

It isn't nearly as scary now as it was when I was 8 years old, but I still enjoyed watching it.  I guess it was mostly nostalgia, so if you didn't see it as a kid, you might not enjoy it as much.

Monday, February 04, 2013

I guess I didn't close that lid securly last month



In an alley in the Inspiration Hills area.

Friday, February 01, 2013