A world where a kitten/poptart hybrid can fly through outer space shooting rainbows behind it while a relentless techno-pop repetition of the Japanese version of “meow” plays in the background can’t possibly be all bad.
Rare indeed is the movie that earns four stars upon first viewing in a theater, at least in part because when the 8sails staff ventures into a theater it’s usually in search of some escapist trash rather than a genuinely good movie. Moneyball was a rare exception, not only to the “movies in theaters are bad” rule but also the “baseball movies tend to not ‘get’ baseball” rule. I went in skeptical but came out impressed, a truly noteworthy moment.
I’m genuinely in awe of the folks at Bad Lip Reading. They go over footage – most often from music videos and political ads – and figure out what other words might sync up perfectly with the onscreen mouth movements. Often the result is pure gibberish (which in the case of the Michelle Bachman video wasn’t all that big a departure). They’re all funny, but the one that had me literally in tears was a bizarre hybrid of the basic thesis from Taro Gomi’s popular children’s book synced up with the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” video.
Take footage from a wildlife show about our friend the honey badger. Add some fairly random narration by some guy named Randall, and suddenly it’s a minor-league culturalphenomenon. A friend even found a honey badger T-shirt at Wal-Mart (the “Honey Badger don’t care” version rather than “Honey Badger don’t give a shit,” naturally).
One of the big themes of Media 2011 was “repurposing” – taking something somebody else already did and messing with it until it turns into something new. A lot of people suck at this, but not The Possum Posse. These guys found some crazy, copyright-expired movie about a frontiersman who rides around the Wild West on the back of a hapless buffalo. Cutting it way down and putting it to music renders it absolutely hilarious.
Because a blog this fabulous can’t go unnoted. Seriously, though, this was the first actual “blog” blog we tried, and at this point I’d describe it as reasonably successful. The goal for 2012 is to get more content in here.
If the one-day fudge on the last one was a “bit of a cheat,” this one’s massive malfeasance. This article originally appeared on Cracked.com nine months before 2011 got underway. But I didn’t run across it until earlier this year. And it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, well worth bending the rules to call it to your attention.
In years past I’ve written up the eight best media moments of the past year as a Hoffman Lens column. But the format seems to fit well here. Plus this way I can draw it out for eight days and finish it on New Years Eve.
Without further ado:
Number eight: Deadwood on Blu-ray
Technically this one’s a bit of a cheat, because the Blu-ray box set of all three seasons was issued on Dec. 31, 2010. But we didn’t get it until months later, and we didn’t start watching it until December. Oh that we could have started earlier. The image quality is truly breathtaking, making the visuals a worthy counterpart to the writing and the acting. The experience left me longing to be back in a cabin in the Black Hills again (not that I wasn’t longing for that anyway).
Also, when exactly is the 12th day of Christmas? Is it January 5? Is it December 25 (making the first day today)? Or given that the Christmas crap hits shelves as soon as the Halloween crap exits for the bargain table, is it November 12?
Just a couple of minutes ago, I completed the last of the structural work on the Media Survival Guide. From here I have three more chapters to finish researching, and after that it’s all writing (and web page building of course). So that’s three “feature length” chapters and five shorter “specialty” chapters to go.
For the first time The Project seems like it might actually have an end.
Anytime a character in a horror movie goes into a medicine chest for anything, we know it’s a cheap excuse to close the chest and suddenly reveal in the mirror that the ghost/killer/whatever is standing right behind her.
But of course when she turns around there’s nothing there.
In fact, maybe mirrors in horror movies in general should be absolutely goddamn forbidden.
I’m doing some research for an upcoming Veterans Day list of celebrities who have surprising backgrounds as war heroes. During my digging, I ran across this interesting tidbit: when Tom Savini was serving in Vietnam, he got spooked while on guard duty by something in the underbrush triggering a warning flare. Contrary to orders, he began firing blindly into the bush, only to have a duck waddle out. Apparently the incident earned him the less-than-heroic nickname “Duck Slayer.”
And on only tangentially related lines, George Romero was inspired to make horror movies at least in part by an early experience shooting a segment for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood about the host getting a tonsillectomy.
I’m beginning to get the impression that “popular science” is an oxymoron. Case in point: How the Universe Works, a series from the Discovery Channel about, well, the obvious.
To be sure, there’s some hard science here. And pretty pictures. Lots and lots of pretty pictures. So many, in fact, that they start to get in the way of any genuine understanding of the topic at hand. Stars blow up. Planets collide with one another. The universe looks like a big Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster.
Some of the graphics are unrealistic, either showing events at a greatly accelerated pace (with no note to that effect) or showing impossible scenes that look good but bear no direct connection to physical reality. And of course in true high-band cable style, they use the same animated sequences over and over again.
More troubling are the attempts by narrator Mike Rowe and many of the scientists interviewed for the series to sensationalize the science involved. For example, antiprotons are called the “arch enemies” of protons, two antagonists squaring off like gunfighters in some dirt-paved cowtown main street. Cataclysmic doom scenarios abound, as do science nerds’ stereotypically lame attempts at humor.
Sensationalism is one thing, but some of the statements play a bit too fast and loose with actual physics. The discussion of the Big Bang was particularly bewildering. Several of the scientists made statements akin to “One millionth millionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe was the size of a baseball.” Such claims ignore the proven physical fact that neither time nor space is a constant. Particularly under extreme conditions such as those present just after the universe blinked into existence, things like “seconds” and “baseballs” wouldn’t have had any meaning that would correspond to our current understanding.
This slipshod attempt to simplify science for public consumption left me wondering if any of these folks had any idea what they were talking about. Though I appreciate the effort to explain things in terms that can be easily understood by the average Discovery Channel audience member, there’s still such a thing as dumbing things down until they aren’t true anymore.
Yeah, it doesn’t particularly amount to much, just 15 seconds or so of an LED circuit I built out of Elector magazine (and modified a bit). The trick here is that I shot it with my phone, uploaded it to YouTube and added it to this blog entry just to see if I could do it.
For the last couple of entries I’ve been picking on our good friends at Chasing Fireflies for offering boys’ Halloween costumes that would most likely get your son’s ass beat by a bully. In the spirit of holiday cheer, objective fairness to the retailer and parents’ need for good advice as well as bad, here are some selections from the catalog that should safeguard your kid’s ass from potential beating.
Now this is a lot more like it. Scary costume = true spirit of the holiday. Plus if your son’s class is going to do a Halloween parade at a local rest home, there’s nothing the residents like better than the Grim Specter of Death (even a miniature version).
Anything with a gun is a fairly safe bet.
“Astronaut” is a good blend of science nerd and macho man. Plus unlike Soldier, Cop or Cowboy, Astronaut has no Village People connection (not, mind you, that most 12-year-old bullies are likely to have heard of the Village People).
If your kid insists on going as a clown, this is a more ass-beating-safe option than more traditional Bozo suits. Here we have a solid blend of “whimsical” and “Juggalo.”
They also have Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, but Gene Simmons is your best bulwark against ass beating. No Paul Stanley, so if he’s your favorite member of KISS … well that’s just sad.
I’d maybe leave off the Super Mario moustache, but the rest of this should work. If nothing else, a bully might not want to risk a self-defense briefcase to the jaw.
Like astronauts, most superheroes are a nice blend of nerdy and tough. This Iron Man comes with extra weaponage, making it an excellent option.
I have no idea what this even is, but it looks badass.
“Robot” doesn’t automatically say “don’t beat my ass.” But this one looks enough like metal that a bully might fear bruising his knuckles. Plus those crab claws portend danger (though good luck to your kid trying to trick or treat with them).
Bully’s thought process: “Wow, that kid’s parents dressed him as a Speed Bump. They must hate him even more than my parents hate me. Maybe I’ll cut him some slack.”
Yeah, so it was a bit of a trick quiz. The short answer is “all of them.” The specifics:
The snake head is an excellent start, but problems crop up below the waistline. Despite evolving public opinion about sexual orientation, at this point it’s still a bad idea to send your son out in a dress.
I am Poseidon, Lord of the Sea, King of Getting My Ass Beat
The ghost thing is a step in the right direction, but this execution isn’t exactly a ticket out of ass-beating land.
Even Hollywood has figured out that you pretty much have to dress Robin Hood in jeans and a T-shirt in order to keep him from looking like the Sheriff of Nottingham is going to beat his ass. If you want to do the outlaw thing, try “biker” rather than this.
“Behold, I am the Thief of Ass Beat!” Seriously, that sword isn’t fooling anyone.
Harry Potter and the Painful Ass Beating
Octopi rock. But this one’s just a little too glittery, and for those of us who remember the 70s it’s also too Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Plus I think we already had the dress conversation.
The first week of October means that the holiday season is once again upon us. And that means parents are searching for answers to the first of a long string of holiday-related questions: what are the kids going to dress as for Halloween?
Not being a parent myself (unless you count a couple of cats who would kill me if I tried to stuff them into costumes), I’m generally not much help with such issues. However, earlier this year the good folks at Chasing Fireflies were kind enough to send me an unsolicited costume catalog. And after going through it, I’ve actually come up with some input parents may find helpful.
First let me say that this company is staffed by nice people and offers a wide selection of Halloween-related merchandise that actually doesn’t suck. What concerns me, though, is the array of costumes for boys. Many of them are perfectly acceptable. But a handful … well, see if you can spot the problem.
Which of the following costumes are likely to buy your 10-year-old son an ass beating from a 12-year-old whose idea of a Halloween costume is a Knicks jersey?
This coming Sunday Andy Rooney will do his last segment for 60 Minutes, capping off more than half a century of annoying the crap out of audiences. Now future generations will have nobody to encourage them to ponder the mysteries of why coffee cans contain less coffee than they used to, what Lady Gaga thinks she’s doing, why computers need to be replaced more frequently than typewriters, how hard the Pope’s job must be, what it feels like to be punked by Sacha Baron Cohen, and how much simpler and cheaper everything was when I was your age.
Spot the fake story in that list. Hint: none of them.
In honor of Rooney’s professional passing, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes from the Book of Beavis:
“Why do they call it ‘taking a dump’? You aren’t taking anything. They should call it ‘leaving a dump.’
This morning I figured out how to publish books on Kindle.
I started with Staban Beria’s “Witchy Women and Diamond Girls,” as it was pretty much the perfect length, neither too short to be inconsequential nor too long to be cumbersome.
What I haven’t figured out is how to make it available for free. Amazon insists that we charge at least 99 cents for the title (presumably because it isn’t a public domain work). Now, why anyone would want to pay even a buck for something that’s available for free at the site and via downloadable PDF, well, that’s another question. Maybe in the future 8sails Press will produce something that isn’t available online for nothing.
Somebody give an an answer to this question: why is creative writing almost always taught primarily through the use of group discussion?
Basically what you’ve got is a class full of people who have little or no understanding of the topic at hand, and they’re supposed to learn the ropes from each other. Other students are even worse as teachers than some random person dragged in off the street, because at least a non-student stands a chance of being a typical reader rather than someone blindly stumbling around in the early stages of learning a craft.
Imagine if other subjects were taught this way.
Physics: “I thought the part about the masses of two objects was fine, but I think the Gravitational Constant needs some work. And distances between two objects? Please! Nobody’s going to buy that.”
History: “I felt the Constitutional Convention was trite and unconvincing. I mean seriously, who would go to all the work to set up a new government? Plus the ending was an obvious set-up for a sequel. What are you going to call it, Constitutional Convention Two: The Bill of Rights? Audiences hate it when you pull tricks like that.”
Anatomy: “Why do you have both a large intestine and a small intestine? Save everyone some time by just combining them into a single intestine. And what’s with all this extra nonsense? Gall bladder? Pancreas? Nobody even knows what any of that’s doing in there. Just cut it out.”
I openly admit that my own efforts in the creative writing realm have been less than stellar. I’ve never taught creative writing, and I probably never will. So perhaps I’m in no position to criticize the earnest efforts of professional practitioners of the art.
However, in my undergrad years (when I wasn’t busy running away from the dinosaurs) I did take a Fiction Writing class from Paul Lim, one of KU’s full-time writing teachers at the time. We did a lot of the group critique stuff, most of which was useless and none of which I even remember. What I do recall was that Lim placed some limitations on the discussion (such as “Nobody is allowed to say ‘This reminds me of ...’”) that helped cut down on the “group therapy” aspect of such exercises.
I also remember his direct feedback to me. That’s what I was there for: some help from a professional who knew the craft and could tell me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. Not a bunch of blather from frat boys and emo kids who were there mostly because they figured the class would be an easy A and didn’t read the kind of writing I was trying to do.
There’s nothing wrong with having everyone read everyone else’s writing. But the bulk of the feedback needs to come from the pro in the room, not the other students who represent neither learned expertise nor the market for the product.
After promising that “Death is coming soon” for nearly five years now, Death to Culture has finally arrived.
This section of the 8sails web site is like no other, as its distinctive look and feel indicate. It’s designed to be a little “edgier” than the rest, more openly antagonistic to some of the nonsense that goes on. If 8sails in general is the guy muttering criticism to the other folks at his table in the bad American Media Comedy Club, then DtC is the extra-drunk heckler down front.
The new section may eventually include essays and maybe even original art. At the moment, however, all the entries – all four of them – are lists of grievances. Which is nice, because lists are easy to add to, and we’ve all got grievances now and again.
I’m also pleased that activation of this section means that we now have no more “dark” pages on the left-hand side of the Octopus. Still some dark and dim spots in the Media section, but we’ll get there soon enough.
This is likely to be the last work on the guide that's going to be visible anytime soon. I've got a lot of behind-the-scenes prep work (info gathering, organization, writing, graphics, etc.) to complete before I'm going to be ready to upload more stuff.
Work's getting pretty serious now. I'm moving from spot to spot a little more than I'd like. Progress would be easier to monitor if I was doing all of one section rather than shifting from section to section. However, at least for now I'm satisfied that the effort is proceeding apace.
For the last day or two I've been focused on "The Herd," the splash page for the whole Survival Guide. I've finished all the "road signs" and four of the chapter buttons. Fans of last month's Custer Expedition take note: the background of the "Socialization" button in the lower righthand side of the Herd is the sky above the Little Bighorn Battlefield.
The first chapter of the Media Survival Guide is done. To be sure, it's still a little rough at this point. I'm not happy with the link colors, which should be different than they are. Some of the underlining is a bit weird as well. I'll have to fix that.
Further, if you're visiting it now you'll notice that most of the pages have spots for links at the bottom and that there aren't currently any links on them. My workflow scheme at the moment is to finish the text itself and then backtrack to add the links I've been piling up. I may change my mind later and add variety to the project by intermixing writing and linking. But for the moment it's just my pearls of wisdom and no hyper-ties to the rest of the universe.
This entry's strictly a matter of record keeping. Unless you're a big fan of 8sails behind-the-scenes stuff, you don't need to read it.
Today I finally figured out how to make a small icon for the bookmarks bar (and other similar browser locations). So now we're represented to the outside world by a tiny octopus. Fun stuff.
Work on the Media Survival Guide is genuinely underway at this point. I've finalized the page design, and I'm roughly halfway through creating master blank pages for all the subsections. Just about ready to start adding content!
Sorry to be gone so long. Truth is, with my first going-somewhere vacation in eight years and the heat making it hard to work after we got back, there hasn't been a lot to report.
However, yesterday during an 8sails staff lunch we floated the idea of Getting Rich and Quitting Our Day Jobs by starting a reality show called "Pay Attention to Me." Contestants will face an American-Idol-esque panel of judges, and all they'll need to do to win is get the trio to pay attention to them for five minutes. Anything short of physical contact with the judges is allowed, but if anyone's attention drifts the buzzer sounds.
I want to be the Simon Cowell judge.
SeacrestBotMark7: Bryan, what did you think of that performance?
Me: What? Oh, sorry. I wasn't paying attention.
Anyone who survives the first round goes on to Level Two. This time the judges have their cell phones with them, so the acts must compete with incoming calls, texts, chat notices, pushes and various and sundry other 21st century interruptions.
If this show turns out to be the success we're hoping for, the spin-off will follow the same format only with a panel of teenagers for judges. This one will be called "So You Want to Be a Teacher."
As promised, here are the answers to last week's quiz. If you haven't done the quiz yet, view the previous post before reading this one. Oh, and credit where credit is due: this website provided the slang.
Once again I've a small bone to pick with Mental Floss. The last time I got a whole column out of it, but this time the gripe is a bit smaller.
Just about every issue the magazine includes the latest entry in its list of "101 Masterpieces." In the July-August issue the masterpiece being celebrated is The Who's Tommy.
I don't begrudge it a spot on the list. Though the work is a little uneven, it stands on its own as a legitimate work of art. The problem is the notion that it spawned other art works that contributed significantly to the world.
Here's the list of albums and shows that, according to writer Bill DeMain, owe a huge debt to Tommy:
Pink Floyd's The Wall
Green Day's American Idiot
Jesus Christ Superstar
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
To which let me add at least two more:
Kilroy Was Here
Trapped in the Closet
Yeah, thanks guys. Western civilization marches on.
As does computer repair. I've got Dreamweaver reinstalled and the site downloaded. So now I just need to busy myself with getting caught up.
A few days ago I was watching Black Death, a singularly non-entertaining piece of crud about misery in the Middle Ages. So sort of like making a movie about white people in coffee shops or wheat in Kansas.
Bored and in need of distraction, I noted that one of the stars was Sean Bean. Though I'm sure he's a perfectly good actor, I've had trouble taking him seriously ever since his appearance in Patriot Games many years ago. The problem didn't arise from the movie itself or his performance in it. Rather, it cropped up during the opening credits.
While we were watching the credits, Bean's name appeared (naturally enough, as he's the lead bad guy in the movie). Someone in the group (I'm looking at you, Ms. Rauber) was temporarily puzzled by the spellings of his first and last names. "Sean Bean?" she asked.
It isn't odd at all if you pronounce his first name "Shawn." But because of the similarity to his last name, she read his first as sounding like "Scene." And of course that made it funny.
What made it even funnier is when we started coming up with relatives for him, such as his grumpy grandpa Mean Bean. His creepy uncle Obscene Bean. His eco-friendly niece Green Bean (try making it through grade school with that one).
Did I mention that this was years ago?
In site news, guess what? Another massive hard drive crash! This time it was the desktop computer from which I do almost all my work.
Thus this crash took just about everything I've created for my classes for the past 13 years. Oh, and a big chunk of the preliminary work for my sabbatical project. At the moment the dead hard drive awaits more expert attention than I can give it.
Fortunately just about all the content for 8sails was already uploaded to the ISP. And having at least partially learned my lesson from the laptop crash a few months ago, I've been doing a lot of my work "in the cloud" using the 8sails wiki.
So if you absolutely can't stand to wait a couple of days for me to set things right, you can toddle off to the wiki and read the drafts before they're officially made part of the site. Otherwise just give me a bit and I'll recover from this mess and get back on track.
Last Friday at the 8sails staff meeting a couple of us watched a PBS program about the Appalachian Trail. For some time now I'd been curious about what it might be like to hike part (or maybe someday even all) of the trail.
I am curious no longer. I sincerely hope the show was a misrepresentation of the actual experience, because if it's accurate then the Appalachian Trail is the habitation solely of Trail Nerds, white people sufficiently well-to-do that they don't have to concern themselves with anything but hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Quick symptom of the problem: all of the interviewees had "trail names," sort of like CB radio "handles" only with a distinctly more hippified flair.
So on the off chance that I might ever lose my mind and give this a try, I'll need help picking a trail name. Here are the leading contenders:
1. Bryan Whitehead
2. Frodo Baggins (just in case I decided to give in and play along)
3. Jason Voorhees
4. Watongo (do a search on "Deadbolt Zulu Death Mask" if you want to track down the origin for this one)
Email me your fave (or another suggestion if you've got one)!
In site news, a bout of insomnia this morning gave me the chance to finish the rest of the backlogged site updates. Though my original plan was to include more material than just movie reviews for January and February, the fixes were taking too long. Besides, I expect the world can wait until next February for the (currently incomplete) list of our eight favorite Presidents' Day movies.
Last Thursday (aptly enough) I went to see Thor. It was the first of the new generation of 3D movies I've seen, and frankly I wasn't all that impressed. The technology still produces an image that -- except for shots deliberately set up to take maximum advantage of the effect -- mostly looks like a vaguely out-of-focus version of plain old 2D movies. Plus the new tech apparently requires slightly dark glasses, which doesn't exactly help the picture quality.
Further, this particular production didn't take particularly good advantage of the 3D effects. Yeah, there's some fun stuff early on. But for the most part this is a flat movie that isn't made less flat by fancy projection tricks. Plus a lot of the action -- particularly the scenes set on the Ice Giants' planet -- are already dark enough without the extra dimness added by the glasses.
Though I'm not saying the movie itself was absolutely awful, I did find it underwhelming. Maybe it was just the movie I chose, as several friends assured me that Avatar in 3D was quite an experience. The 3D preview of the new Captain America movie made it look a little better, so maybe I'll give it another try later this summer.
My desktop computer from work has now joined me at home, and the sabbatical is officially underway.
The big technical news today is that I'm in the process of creating a web page with embedded Youtube video. When I come back and read this post later I'm sure I'll think "wow, did I really think that was a big deal?" After all, everybody and their grandma can do this. The trick is that embedding involves copying HTML code from Youtube and pasting it into the code of the page I'm creating (a list of videos that are better than their songs, just for the record). The paste can't be done from the design view in DreamWeaver; you actually have to open up the code itself to plug it in.
Again, this wasn't especially hard. But I'm still new enough to this whole thing that I feel all smart and stuff whenever I learn to do something new.
Last night at the ballgame we got stuck in front of one of those Yoda-like (at least in his own head) fountains of wisdom about everything in the universe.
When the guy noticed that I was keeping score on my iPad, suddenly we had to have a conversation about computers.
"Do you know why I don't use Facebook?" he asked.
"Because you're concerned about identity theft?" was my actual reply. Right answer, as it turned out.
Other options that would have been much better:
"Because you don't have any friends?
"Because you don't cotton to those new-fangled computemy boxes?
"Because one of the terms of your parole is that you can't use social media sites?
"Tell me if I'm getting close here."
I've made some progress on 8sails updates since last I wrote, but I've gotten snagged on the entry for April 4. It's supposed to include the March movie summary, which means I have to finish uploading all the March reviews first. Working backward has its disadvantages.
On the other hand, less than a week now before classes end and I can get down to serious work on the Survival Guide.
Right about a year ago the family went to Paradise India, a restaurant in southern JoCo. The food was fine, but the service was a touch over-solicitous. I got a kick out of being greeted with "namaste" at the door, but then I was watching a lot of Lost at the time so that might have had something to do with the entertainment value. On a more negative note, the waiter / maitre d' / maybe the owner hovered over us for much of the meal, providing a running commentary about the food. It was interesting but at the same time sort of unwelcome.
At the end of the meal he asked us to fill out comment cards, and the cards featured a blank for an email address. I have an address that I use specifically in cases where I might be giving it to someone who wants to send me something useful (such as coupons) or might just be lining up to spam me. So I jotted it on the form and didn't think anything more about it.
Then yesterday I get an email from Paradise India. It had some info on the restaurant's recent appearance on KCPT's restaurant show. It had some general chatty stuff. It had a coupon (good move there). But it also included the "Joke of the Day."
I reproduce it here in its entirety and defy anyone to decipher it. About the only part that gave me a snicker was "heads off to a great meal."
Today I began in earnest to get the site caught up. I decided to start with the most recent updates and make my way back to the middle of January (which was where I was before the crash). Though I only got a week's worth of reviews loaded, at least it was a start.
Okay, actually not more cows. Just more boxes. I figured if I built some blank spaces in, later I could come back and add some text, something that might make initial navigation a little easier. So now the design parallels the splash page I put together for the Mass Comm Notebook web site I worked on a few years ago (and which I fear fell victim to the laptop crash). However, that notebook was in turn based on the Photographer's Notebook, which still exists (and someday will be added to 8sails College once I've had the chance to add content and remove some copyrighted images from it).
That said, I promised myself I wasn't going to spend the whole day tinkering with the MSG. Other work is piling up.
I've been good, but I can't last. So hurry, sabbatical. Hurry fast.
Not much there at the moment. Just 16 Survival Cows in a four-by-four grid. For now I'm focusing on keeping the "active" part of the page set up as a 1024 x 768 box in order to keep things simple if/when I convert this to an iPad app. So I'm sure I'll have a lot more adjustment work to do.
Yesterday Amy downloaded some copyright-free, derivative-work-ready photo clip art of cows and gas masks. After producing five or six variations, I came up with one that I'm happy with. So the next mission will be to clean it up and then get to work on the variations. I need 16 of them, one for each section of the MSG. For example, I'm going to create a version filtered with a really chunky half toning patter for the newspaper section. The movies section will probably have fancy sunglasses and a beret. The radio section will be sepia-toned with an old-timey microphone and maybe a fedora.
It's a relief not only to be making some progress on the site but also to have taken a bite out of such a key element of the design.
In the spirit of the occasion, now would be a good time to tell the story of how the Survival Cow came to be (for anyone who doesn't already know it). Many years ago I worked for Academic Computing at the University of Kansas. One of my duties was to work at the Engineering CAE Facility, a computer lab with a couple of Harris mainframes over at the School of Engineering.
Most of the work was fairly boring, but once we got the chance to do something fun. We got permission from the powers that be to come up with an instruction book covering basic computer use, some of the more common applications, just about anything a new user might need to know. The book was to be patterned after a similar book -- a First Aid Kit -- from one of the state schools out in Nevada. We didn't want ours to be an exact copy either in word or in spirit. And of course back then I was somewhat heavily into the whole survivalist thing. So a Survival Guide was only natural.
In keeping with the light spirit we intended for the project, I came up with some offbeat illustrations. One that was prominently featured early in the book was "Survival Cow." This was a stippled ink drawing I made based on a photo from the cover of Soldier of Fortune (or perhaps it was SOF's survivalist-oriented offshoot, which I think was called Survive). The photo was of a cow wearing a gas mask, supposedly a graphic illustration of the Soviets' commitment to surviving a nuclear war with even their livestock industry intact. All I really cared about was that it was a weird image, that it fit with the survival guide theme, and that the cow thing had a nice tie-in to Kansas.
Of course the project died a premature death. Some jackass in the Chemical Engineering department got wind of what we were working on, called our boss and told him that in his opinion computers weren't funny. The truly strange part -- and a good illustration of the insane bureaucracy that is KU -- is that they pulled out all the funny text but left most of the illustrations (including Survival Cow) intact.
Thus it's a genuine pleasure to return a new generation of Survival Cows to the stage in a production over which I have absolute creative control.
The laptop is dead. Or to be more precise, the laptop is fine but the hard drive has been completely erased.
Jesus. All that data gone. Photos. Stories. Diaries. Financial records. And more to the point for the purposes of this blog, the last three months of 8sails. Plus all the notes and drafts for upcoming postings.
On the one hand, that's what I get for falling behind on 8sails stuff, not to mention what I get for not regularly backing up the computer.
I've already griped about the laptop being out of commission, right? Well, apparently griping angers the Computer Gods, because now my desktop computer is out as well. I'm typing this blog entry from my iPad, which I hereby humbly beseech the Computer Gods to spare as it's the only private computer I have left.
Needless to say, this hasn't been a big step forward in the getting-8sails-caught-up effort.
And it's weird just how addicted I've become to the computer. Or to be more precise, what I really need is a fix of connectedness (assuming that's a word). I feel like I've been cut off from the rest of 21st century America, relegated to peering in from a tablet-sized hole in the wall. This is also seriously messing with my work routines.
So I guess until tech support does something about the problem, I'll just go sit in the corner and read The Odyssey on the iPad.
Last week I watched a documentary (for want of a better word) about the Rapture and the End Times. It brought me mindful of the self-defeating nature of the whole Rapture thing. These guys always ascend to their pulpits (figuratively if not literally) and proceed to assure us that we need to give our hearts to Jesus right away because the end is near.
If the end is so near, wouldn't it be smarter to just wait for it? I mean, if the Rapture snatches away all the fundies, the Sun turns black, the Moon turns to blood, the temple gets rebuilt, the plagues hit and the whole Book of Revelation nine yards, I'm absolutely willing to believe in the literal truth of the whole thing. So when the Rapture-ready squad absolutely assures me that the End Times are imminent, all they do is give me a strong incentive to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. If I end up Tribulated, I've every reason in the world to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. But until what they say is going to happen actually happens, skeptics are entitled to our skepticism.
I will say this for the show I watched: they're the only Rapture-ready pundits who ever tried to address this. "You can wait," they warn, "but if you do, then God will cloud your mind so you still won't believe in Jesus." Nice try. However, this ignores two major problems. First, it violates the scripture they're preaching, which specifically says that people will come to Christ after the Rapture (not to mention that the "clouding your mind" thing is an extremely strained interpretation of the verses they cite).
Second -- and more important -- it turns God into a deceptive jerk and the End Times into a big practical joke on the human race with eternal damnation rather than a jock strap full of itching powder as the ultimate consequence. Perhaps it's just natural for people who are themselves deceptive jerks to want to remake God in their own image.
And of course all of this as usual side-steps the actual important value of the Christian faith in favor of stupid, pseudo-theological parlor tricks.
Sorry about the religious rant. That isn't really the function of this blog.
Speaking of which ...
After my flurry of MSG activity yesterday I have nothing new to report. Still waiting on news one way or another about the hard drive in the laptop I've been using for years to work on 8sails. Fingers still firmly crossed.
In the meantime, I'm waffling back and forth about the current background art for this blog. I can't decide if it looks like an extreme close-up of Turner's "Sunrise with Sea Monsters" or an extreme close-up of Serrano's "Piss Christ." So if you're looking at it and it doesn't look like either one, that means the Serrano impression won out and prompted me to change it to something else.
Today marks a mini-milestone in my media consumption habits: for the first time I actually spent money for a Kindle book.
Amy bought an actual Kindle some time back, but the first rule of Kindle turned out to be "Bryan doesn't get to use the Kindle." Can't say as I blame her. A few years ago I bought her a Nintendo DS and then promptly expropriated it so I could waste obscene amounts of time "improving" myself by playing Brain Age. Still, the restriction did serve to postpone my entry into the world of e-books.
When we got smart phones last summer, I noted that a Kindle reader was one of the available apps. Though the type was predictably tiny on the phone, it proved to be a better time-killer in waiting rooms than solitaire. And then when I splurged after Christmas and bought an iPad, e-reading reached a new level. Suddenly it was comfortable, easy, and sufficiently dead-tree-esque to make it a pleasant experience. Not to mention that the iPad case I got props itself up on my nightstand, and of course the tablet doesn't require a cumbersome book light.
What I didn't do was rush off to Amazon and buy a bunch of stuff. Instead, everything I downloaded was public domain, free-of-charge, mostly classics from Project Gutenberg. As long as I'm marking milestones, I should note that a couple of days ago I finished The Iliad, the first e-book I read from beginning to end.
For some time now I've been meaning to buy a copy of Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock. As a John R. Brinkley-abilia fan, I couldn't resist. If nothing else, I'm always looking for new info to improve the lesson I teach my Mass Media students about Brinkley. When I looked into ordering a copy, I noticed that Buns and Noodles had it available for the Nook. And if it had been Nooked, surely it must also be Kindled.
Thus I'm now the proud owner of my first ever actually-paid-money-for-it e-book. O brave new world.
In MSG news, I spent a chunk of time this morning clearing out the email I've been sending myself (and other people have been sending me) full of links to articles that need to be included in the text. Not for the first time -- and probably not for the last -- I'm impressed by the sheer enormity of the task before me.
Suddenly the Onion is smearing every available spot on its site with promos for the movie Paul, which as near as I can tell from the ads is a feature-length posit that loserdom isn't confined to our planet. Honestly, just looking at this alien makes me want to punch him. And wouldn't that start our relations with his planet off on the wrong foot (or tentacle or whatever).
On the other hand, maybe if the inhabitants of his planet are as tired of slackers with attitude as I am, perhaps it would help establish some common ground. So you punched the little bastard? Congratulations. We've been wanting to punch him for years, but we're too peaceful to give in to our baser urges. That's why we sent him to Earth and specifically targeted the United States. We figured if anyone would punch him, it would be an American.
In all fairness, I have no idea whether this is a good movie or not (though "Seth Rogen" doesn't bode well). It's just that the alien has that George-W.-Bush-idiot-reveling-in-his-own-idiocy smirk on his face.
A small bit of MSG progress this morning, mostly organizational. I started a list of the photos and illustrations I need to create, hoping to get at least a start on it during the break.
First a quick note to my friends and confidants: I promise not to get as exasperating with this as I was with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (though I still think going from The Electric Company to Bacon and back with no repeats was a genuinely impressive feat).
If you watch a Godzilla movie backward, giant monsters help out with massive urban renewal projects.
If you watch Psycho backward, the hero puts on gender-appropriate clothing, saves a woman from a swamp, helps her shower off and sends her on her way. Grateful for her good fortune, she gives an envelope of money to her boss.
If you watch The Shining backward, Jack Nicholson gets progressively saner and saner until eventually he gets fired from his job as crazy caretaker of a haunted hotel.
If you watch Armageddon backward, Bruce Willis heads a team of rock-building experts who waste millions of dollars putting together a giant meteor just to fling it into deep space.
Someone else already did The Godfather, so I'll do Part Two: Michael's family returns, and decades earlier his dad gives up a life of crime to pursue a career as a grocery clerk.
If you watch Lethal Weapon backward, it's a movie about a couple of cops who start the picture as buddies but gradually come to loathe each other. In the end one goes crazy, the other plans retirement, and a semi-nude woman makes an impressive jump from a broken car all the way up to a penthouse balcony.
If you watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom backward, the "hero" steals a magic stone from some villagers and drags all their children off to work as slaves in a mine. But at least if you're watching the whole series backward the next one will be much better.
And if you watch Frankenstein backward, it's about a doctor who kills his only patient (apparently by electrocuting him), cuts him up, sticks his parts onto other corpses and then buries them.