Archive for January, 2011
And yes, that scene is lifted almost shot-for-shot from the comic book version, as written by Reginald Hudlin, who worked on the DVD as well. In general, the new DVD version of Black Panther is pretty close to the early issues of Hudlin's run on the comic. It's a mixture of snappy dialogue, clever set pieces, and some lectures on colonialism. And yes, Storm, the Panther's future wife, does show up, along with some other X-Men cameos.
For those of us whose definitive Black Panther version is the Christopher Priest run on the comic, this incarnation won't be quite as thrilling. There are a few vestiges of Priest's vision of the character, including a flashback to Captain America's first visit to Wakanda during World War II. And Priest's creation, Everett K. Ross, shows up to help deliver a Wakandan history lesson.
But either way, this is a fun, slick take on one of Marvel's less-exposed characters — it would be a great way to expose your kids to the idea of an African superhero, except that there's a fair amount of violence and scenes where people steal the bodies of sex workers. It's actually a bit puzzling, since a lot of the humor and fun parts of the video seem very kid-friendly, but then it veers into fairly adult territory. Probably a video you'd want to watch with your kids, rather than on your own.
But most important, this animated version of Panther is a proof of concept for a live-action film. Djimon Hounsou does a great job voicing the main character, King T'Challa — and as he told us a while back, he's still determined to star in the live-action version, when it finally happens. Here's hoping!
The Boston Globe [via Associated Press] has a short article comparing bringing broadband to rural America to the rural electrification program which finally wired up the last of Vermont towns in the early 60s. The story is what you would expect, except that it’s a little maddening that the options offered are 1. wait for broadband and suffer with dial-up, or 2. nothing. The byline of East Burke points to a town with a teeny library that is open 12 hours per week. West Burke has a larger library but it’s still not large enough to have a website. According to the VT Department of Libraries’ statistics it doesn’t have a single public access computer. Lyndon is the closest town with high speed at their library. Not too far, but still several miles.
Doing a quick autofilter on the DoL’s list shows 183 public libraries in the state of Vermont. Ten have dial-up internet access. Thirteen have nothing. Seventy-five libraries have no wireless internet access. It’s possible I’m reading the statistics wrong, but this is fewer libraries with internet than in 2009. I sure hope I am reading the charts wrong.
Dial-up user Val Houde knows this as well as anybody. After moving here four years ago, the 51-year-old mother of four took a correspondence course for medical transcription, hoping to work from home. She plunked down $800, took the course, then found out the software wasn’t compatible with dial-up Internet, the only kind available to her.
Selling items on eBay, watching videos, playing games online? Forget it. The connection from her home computer is so slow, her online life is one of delays, degraded quality, and “buffering’’ warning messages. So she waits until the day a provider extends broadband to her house.
Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, who brought you the amazing Steampunk anthologies (among many others), are about to release another sumptuous literary and visual treat. And we've got a sneak peek at some of the art and table of contents.
Image by Greg Broadmore.
THE THACKERY T. LAMBSHEAD CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
Exhibits, Oddities, Images, & Stories from Top Authors and Artists
Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
A showcase for some of the world's greatest imaginations, copiously illustrated…
A stunning find beneath the famed Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead's house years after his death: a basement space lost under a collapsed floor, in which were found the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Containing artifacts, curios, and keepsakes collected over Dr. Lambshead's many, many decades, the cabinet of curiosities took over a year to unearth, document, and catalog. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor's cabinet, reconstructed not only through original visual representations by the likes of Mike Mignola, Greg Broadmore, and Jan Svankmajer, but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure. (Sumptuous title pages provided by John Coulthart.)
Introduction: The Contradictions of a Collection, Dr. Lambshead's Cabinet (by the Editors)
Holy Devices and Infernal Duds: The Broadmore Exhibits
The Electric Neurheographiton - Minister Faust
St. Brendan's Shank - Kelly Barnhill
The Auble Gun - Will Hindmarch
Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - Ted Chiang
Honoring Lambshead: Stories Inspired by the Cabinet
Threads - Carrie Vaughn
Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West - Garth Nix
Relic - Jeffrey Ford
Lord Dunsany's Teapot - Naomi Novik
Lot 558: Shadow of My Nephew by Wells, Charlotte - Holly Black
A History of Dunkelblau's Meistergarten - Tad Williams
Microbial Alchemy & Demented Machinery: The Mignola Exhibits
Addison Howell and the Clockroach - Cherie Priest
Roboticus the All-Knowing - Lev Grossman
Shamalung (The Diminutions) - Michael Moorcock
Pulvadmonitor: the Dust's Warning - China Miéville
The Miéville Anomalies
The Very Shoe - Helen Oyeyemi
The Gallows-Horse - Reza Negarestani
The Thing in the Jar - Michael Cisco
The Singing Fish - Amal El-Mohtar
The Armor of Sir Locust - Stepan Chapman
A Key to the Castleblakeney Key - Caitlín R. Kiernan
Taking the Rats to Riga - Jay Lake
The Book of Categories - Charles Yu
Objects Discovered in a Novel Under Construction - Alan Moore
Image by John Coulthart
Visits & Departures
1929: The Singular Taffy Puller - N.K. Jemisin
1943: A Brief Note Pertaining to the Absence of One Olivaceous Cormorant, Stuffed - Rachel Swirsky
1963: The Argument Against Louis Pasteur - Mur Lafferty
1972: The Testimony of a Respected Lichenologist - Ekaterina Sedia
1995: Kneel - Brian Evenson
2000: Dr. Lambshead's Dark Room - S.J. Chambers
2003: The Pea - Gio Clairval
A Brief Catalog of Additional Items, Featuring Micro-Fictions by:
Hugh Alter, Charlie Jane Anders, Julie Andrews, Christopher Begley, Jayme Lynn Blaschke, Nickolas Brienza, Tucker Cummings, Kaolin Imago Fire, Jess Gulbranson, Jen Harwood-Smith, Willow Holser, Rhys Hughes, Incognitum, Paul Kirsch, Michael J. Larson, Therese Littleton, Graham Lowther, Claire Massey, Tony Mileman, Adam Mills, Annalee Newitz, Ignacio Sanz, Steven M. Schmidt, Grant Stone, Norman Taber, Brian Thill, Nick Tramdack, Nicholas Troy, Tom Underberg, Horia Ursu, William T. Vandemark, Kali Wallace, Tracie Welser, Amy Willats, Nadine Wilson, and Ben Woodard.
Over 60 images, by: Aeron Alfrey, Kristen Alvanson, Rikki Ducornet, Greg Broadmore, John Coulthart, Scott Eagle, Vladimir Gvozdariki, Yishan Li, Mike Mignola, Jonathan Nix, Eric Orchard, James A. Owen, Ron Pippin, J.K. Potter, Eric Schaller, Ivica Stevanovic, Jan Svankmajer, Sam Van Olffen, Myrtle von Damitz, III, and Jake von Slatt.
Cover by James Iacobelli
xintra: @nicomuhly – Yes to whiskey, ASAP. As for makshi I-pads, I don’t own one. But when I do, you bet your ass it will be named Mr. Nico Muhly.
What does February have in store for you? Tons of popcorn movies, including Drive Angry and I Am Number Four. Plus a new urban fantasy from Doctor Who scribe Ben Aaronovitch! DVDs! Books! Television — and loads of conventions!
Amazing design and layout by Stephanie Fox, and research/reporting by Michael Ann Dobbs.
Outside Brazil, we must remember, Brazilianness always exists in relation to the identity or identities people live out in the host culture. Comparisons and contrasts, mirroring or symbolizing something we lack – and aspire to or not, as the case may be. For a third party national, the words Bondi and Copacabana may both conjure up images of sun, play, lifestyle and youthful vitality that suggest a good deal of common ground between Brazil and Australasia. Jake Pearce, a UK national with many years’ experience living and working down under, suggests we might want to think differently…
From an Antipodean perspective there is a sense that emotion and passion are dangerous. Their place is on the sports field and leakage into mainstream life is implicitly dangerous. Now in a global context, this viewpoint is anachronistic but it is no accident that Russell Crowe has been parodied by Homer Simpson et al as being such a bruiser. He was brilliant at the part, something which a metrosexual Brad Pitt in Troy might learn from.
Why is this relevant? The reason is largely because the idea of Brazilianness is so far inside a bubble marked ‘Latin’ that it is hard to tear the two apart – this needs some qualification.
The most aspiring place to go on holiday from here (Australia/New Zealand) is either France or Italy. Having lived here so long, I can see why. From a European perspective, the stereotypical Antipodean runs off to get some European ‘culture’. Of course there is an element of that, however Antipodean design, taste and ‘sophistication’ has moved from halting adolescence to early young adulthood. Antipodeans now go to France and Italy to marvel at the differences rather than wishing to be a derivative form of something they cannot be. At one time there was a certain elite, liberal intellectual class that bastioned itself in a castle marked ‘we are not like our fellow Australians and New Zealanders’ and worked hard at being more European than European. That was the 1960s and '70s.
For Antipodeans it is the behaviour that ultimately is intoxicating more than the manifest culture. How do men freely be men wearing handbags and kissing? To a European – going to Africa or having a long spell in the bush over here in Australasia is a safari. To Antipodeans – ‘we’ (and I include myself in that as I can use their lens) go on safari to marvel at the European zoo of human behaviours marked – hugging, talking rather than doing, using long language to describe the importance of friendship(s) rather than simply helping them repaint their garage.
At a fundamental level passion here is earmarked with suspicion. The pioneering male of New Zealand or tough man of the past is still very much in the latent culture – why else does sport play such a big role. And to be frank – being emotional in a new pioneering culture can be damaging. Psychologists here talk about the generation who went to both the first and second wars – it is and was ‘well accepted that they were tough soldiers and they were sent to the worse spots by Churchill’. This typifies the relationship between Antipodean countries and the UK – yes they are proud that they were tough but ultimately suspect they were used.
The suppression of emotions is known to be an adaptive state now – the ‘wooden male’ stereotype is in fact an adaptation to deal with hardship. This ‘syndrome” (it has a name but I have forgotten it) is often cited by psychologists that in the post war period men here could not be fathers because they did not know how to. The ‘wooden’ male was carried and passed on to the Boomers as a role model and it is only now, in fact, that we see metrosexuality blossoming here. However all things are relative.
What has all this to do with Brazil?
The perception of Brazil here is very superficial. There are very few obvious signifiers and signs. It is rarely in the news or our magazines. Nor is Brazil a big tourist destination for this part of the world.
At a superficial latent level there are many similarities much more in Australia than New Zealand primarily based around the beach, being laid back, looking beautiful – and implicit beach sexuality. (Toplessness in Australian beaches as you know is common.) There are Brazilians here working – in ski resorts and on Opportunity Enterprises – but beyond that the imagery and semiotic depth is minimal. In Australia and New Zealand Brazil is known for its love of football – and there is a superficial parallel with New Zealand being the ‘Brazil of Rugby’. At a rational level the ‘love of sport’ might be seen as a parallel if people thought about it but football vs the dominance of rugby, in many respects, typifies the difference(s) between this side of the world and Europe.
Brazil is part of a ‘common and alien’ language of passion – perceived to connect with ‘Latin’ European countries. Here this is best typified by the carnivals which Brazil is famous for. In Victorian England – frivolity and play were confined and tamed in the many parks where the ‘common classes could pursue leisurely activity in an orderly way.’ The same is true here – the kind of spontaneous, combustible passion which Brazil is famous for is confined to a few moments in the Sydney Mardi Gras and Melbourne’s ‘Big Day OUT’ annual music festival.
In New Zealand, with its Presbetyrian/Scottish heritage, and certainly in ‘middle New Zealand’ Brazil is regarded as being so different it is not threatening.
In summary I would say Antipodeans find Brazil fundamentally puzzling. I should add with alacrity that this is largely unspoken. It is demonstrated in behaviours towards Latin culture in general. From a European perspective I would describe it as follows. It is like going to a live theme park, where you are trying to understand how it came to be like this and how you are connected to it. Consider finding a fragment of an alien spaceship with the words “Graham Norton”* on the side, Brazil is something like that. How did that get there and how come I can recognise something about it?
© Jake Pearce 2011
* An Irish comedian enormously popular in UK whose style of comedy (ironically exaggerated gay naughtiness) would probably not travel well outside emotionally repressed Anglo-Saxon cultures. For the aficionado of pedantic homoerotic aesthetic segmentations Graham Norton would be like the Russell Crowe of low camp.
If you really liked a particular movie, and you're hoping it made enough money to warrant a sequel, then the wealth of box-office news can be confusing. How can you tell when a movie's a hit? We asked the experts.
If you even pay a little attention to what's going on in the entertainment industry, it's easy to get snowed in with box office information that seems meaningful, but is hard to interpret. If a movie's number one in its opening weekend, does that mean it's automatically a hit? Or is the percentage drop between the first and second weekends the important number? And so on. News outlets tend to report lots of box-office data without giving that much context.
As Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, says, "The mainstream media is guilty of this. They look at the opening weekend — and instantly a movie is a success or a failure." But the truth is way more complicated than that. Sometimes, a film can do well in its first weekend and then stumble in later weekends. Or a film can develop "legs," like Christopher Nolan's Inception, and win a few weekends in a row.
And of course, profit and loss are in the eye of the beholder — a lot of people were shocked when leaked financial statements showed that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had allegedly lost $167 million, despite $967 million in global revenues. Studio accounting, designed to make sure people don't collect on back-end deals, is a marvel.
So how do you know if the box-office gods have smiled enough on your favorite movie that studios are likely to greenlight similar films?
The short answer is, it depends on a number of factors, but a rule of thumb seems to be that the film needs to make twice its production budget globally. For the longer answer, read on.
So does a movie just have to make back its production budget, or is there more involved?
There's a lot more, although studios are loath to give out numbers. The studios seldom release accurate production budgets — and they're even more leery of revealing how much they spend on other stuff, like promotion.
According to Contrino, the Print & Advertising (P&A) costs of a movie can be incredibly high — for a small $20 million film, the promotional budget can be higher than the production budget. That's because those films are often romantic comedies or kids' movies, which are cheap to make but still need a lot of promotion. For a film which cost between $35 and $75 million to make, the P&A budget will most likely be at least half the production budget. And the numbers only go up with bigger films. "If the studio spends a lot on the budget, they're going to want to protect that investment by advertising it heavily," says Contrino.
Case in point: Megamind cost between $130 million and $145 to make (depending on what source you believe.) But the P&A budget, or the cost of promoting the film, is estimated to be an additional $65 million, according to Contrino.
Of course, the promotional expenses are different for each film — Contrino points out that Fox didn't seem to waste much money promoting Gulliver's Travels, once it was clear they had a dud on their hands. You didn't see that many TV ads for Jack Black's Swiftian odyssey. So Gulliver didn't lose as much money as it could have.
And in some cases, a studio will actually have less money at stake than the film's production budget — sometimes, the distributor will just acquire an already-made film for a small fee, plus marketing costs, says Gitesh Pandya with BoxOfficeGuru.com. In those cases, the studio can make a profit even if the film doesn't make back its production budget.
Is it true that studios get a bigger cut of the revenue from the opening weekend?
You might have noticed that studios are pushing a lot harder lately to make a film as big a hit as possible in its opening weekend. And films tend to open on more screens right away — a typical big film will open on 4,000 screens, instead of the hundreds of screens it would have opened on in the 1980s.
And it used to be true across the board that the opening weekend was when the biggest percentage of profits went to the studios. In the past, studios "strong-armed exhibitors into these front-loaded deals, wherein the overwhelming majority of the opening weekend take goes to the studio," says David Mumpower with Box Office Prophets. "As much as 90% of that revenue is theirs." The theaters only make money by selling "overpriced snacks" to audiences during that first week — but in the following weeks, the theater's cut goes up. Eventually, by the fourth week, the studio's cut has fallen to around 52 percent in most cases.
Nowadays, with many of the bigger Hollywood blockbusters, the theater chains just get a standard cut of the whole revenue, regardless of which weekend it comes in.
So generally, how much of the domestic box office revenue goes to the studios?
The percentage of revenues that the exhibitor takes in depends on the individual contract for that film — which in turn depends on how much muscle the distributor has, according to Stone.
These deals often protect the theaters from movies that bomb at the box office by giving the theaters a bigger cut of those films. So if a film only makes $10 million at the box office, the distributor will get only 45 percent of that money. But if a film makes $300 million at the box office, then the distributor gets up to 60 percent of that money.
You can actually look at the securities filings for the big theater chains, to look at how much of their ticket revenues go back to the studios, points out Stone. So for example, the latest quarterly filing by Cinemark Holdings, shows that 54.5 percent of its ticket revenues went to the distributors. So as a ballpark figure, studios generally take in around 50-55 percent of U.S. box office money.
Is it better if a movie makes more of its revenue in the U.S.?
The highest profile example of a film that bombed in the U.S. but made tons of money overseas was The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which made only about $100 million domestically but made about $270 million overseas. And a similar thing happened with the previous Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. Another big film that made way more money overseas than domestically was Terminator Salvation.
So if a film does incredibly well overseas but flops in the U.S., does that make it a hit? As with everything else to do with box office, the answer is "it depends." But generally, domestic revenue seems to be be better for studios than overseas revenue, because the studios take a bigger cut of domestic revenue.
According to the book The Hollywood Economist by Edward Jay Epstein, studios take in about 40 percent of the revenue from overseas release — and after expenses, they're lucky if they take in 15 percent of that number.
Domestic revenue just counts for a lot more than overseas revenue, says David Mumpower with Box Office Prophets:
The reason for this is simple. Collecting revenues abroad is a trickier proposition since the dollar fluctuates against foreign currencies. There are also tariffs from these governments in place in order to keep as much money as possible from leaving their countries and going abroad, which is an understandable practice. While the global conglomerates such as Fox, Disney and Time-Warner that run major Hollywood studios can secure sweetheart deals with various local governments, it doesn't happen for each film. As such, international box office revenue is much less reliable than in North America.
But still, overseas box office does matter, more and more. And stars who have a huge global following are more likely to open a movie than ones who are only famous in the U.S. — just look at the fact that the world-famous Tom Cruise is still starring in movies, despite his ongoing backlash in North America. Mumpower points out that Cruise's Knight and Day only made about $76 million in the U.S., against a production budget of $117 million. But since Knight and Day made $262 million overseas, chances are it will end up being profitable once home-video revenues are factored in.
A shocking number of 2010 releases did better abroad than in North America, which makes sense when we consider population numbers. It's just a relatively new phenomenon for the industry. Avatar's performance is a great demonstration of global expansion. It earned $760.5 million domestically, which is (almost) a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.02 billion it accrued in international box office. Only 27% (i.e. roughly a quarter) of Avatar's box office was earned in North America. That's how important the global picture has become to Hollywood studios.
Isn't it true that most of the money is in DVD sales and cable TV airings now?
"DVD rentals and sales can tack on up to $60-$100 mil for a big title and TV rights, merchandise, and many other avenues can generate income," says Chad Hartigan, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
And the studios get a much bigger cut of DVD revenues than they do of theatrical revenues, because the retailers aren't as "significant of a middle man" as the theater owners, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com's Box Office division. There are a lot of costs that go into running a movie theater, and showing movies is all the movie theater does — unlike most places where DVDs are sold.
There are some genres of film that do especially well on DVD — like horror films, which are often cheaper to make than other genres to begin with, says Dergarabedian. A horror movie might or might not break even at the theaters, but it's sure to make lots more money when it hits DVD.
But actually, the trend towards studios depending on DVD sales may have peaked already — in 2009, for the first time in a decade, theatrical box office revenue was bigger than home-video revenue, says BoxOfficeAnalysts' Stone. And this seems to be continuing into 2010. Perhaps because of piracy or the popularity of Netflix, DVD sales aren't keeping pace with ticket sales any more. Says Stone, "Studios can no longer rely on as robust an ancillary market to prop up a failure at the box office."
That's one reason why you're hearing so much about 3-D — those higher ticket prices are a way to plug the revenue hole from disappointing DVD sales. And studios are going to start investigating premium video-on-demand services more, as another way to shore up their earnings, says Stone.
Terry Galloway is the author of Mean Little deaf Queer: A Memoir. In 1959, the year Galloway turned nine, the voices of everyone she loved began to disappear. No one yet knew that an experimental antibiotic given to her mother had wreaked havoc on her fetal nervous system, eventually causing her to go deaf. As a self-proclaimed "child freak," she acted out her fury with her boxy hearing aids and Coke-bottle glasses by faking her own drowning at a camp for crippled children. Ever since that first real-life performance, Galloway has used theater, whether onstage or off, to defy and transcend her reality. With disarming candor, she writes about her mental breakdowns, her queer identity, and living in a silent, quirky world populated by unforgettable characters. What could have been a bitter litany of complaint is instead an unexpectedly hilarious and affecting take on life.
A few months ago, Galloway underwent cochlear implant surgery to restore her hearing. Prior to the surgery, we spoke to her about her hopes and fears about cochlear implants. We'll be giving away copies of the book on Facebook and Twitter this week. Fan and Follow us for more information.
Joey L. Mogul is a partner at the People's Law Office in Chicago and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at DePaul University's College of Law. She is co-author, with Andrea J. Ritchie and Kay Whitlock, of Queer (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. The commentary excerpted below appeared at the Windy City Times.
Join all three co-authors in celebrating the national launch of Queer (In)Justice at Creating Change, February 2 - 6 in Minneapolis Minnesota http://www.creatingchange.org/! They will be hosting a workshop on policing, prosecution and punishment of LGBT people and developing responses to violence against queers on Friday, February 4 from 10:45 am - 12:15 pm and joining Queers for Economic Justice for an evening reception celebrating QEJ's achievements and the book's publication at 8:30 pm. Both events at the at the Hilton Minneapolis,1001 Marquette Avenue South, see conference signage for room locations.
Kay Whitlock and Joey Mogul will also be appearing at University of Minnesotal-Twin Cities on February 4 from 3:00PM to 5:00PM in Room 609 Social Sciences,and at St. Catherine's Universityfrom 11:30 - 1:00 pm on February 3 at the Department of Sociology/Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity.
This past month, both houses of the Illinois General Assembly passed bill SB 3539, which would repeal the death penalty in Illinois. The bill is now awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature. If he signs the bill, Illinois will become the 16th state to repeal the death penalty in the United States and the third to do so in the past three years; it would also take its place alongside 95 countries that have abolished the death penalty.
Quinn has not decided whether he will sign the legislation, and has indicated that he wants to hear from the people of Illinois before making his final decision. Here are the reasons you should make that call urging him to sign the bill.
In addition to repealing the death penalty, the bill would redirect its necessary funding toward services for murder victims' family members and for law enforcement. The funds currently spent on the death penalty are quite significant, particularly in light of the crushing budget crisis we are facing in Illinois. According to the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (ICADP), more than $100 million in taxpayer money was spent on the death penalty in 2003 alone. It is well known that implementation of the death penalty is far most costly than imprisonment.
The passage of this legislation is the culmination of a mammoth effort led by the ICADP. It follows decades of litigation, investigative journalism and organizing that have uncovered mountains of evidence demonstrating that the death penalty is fatally flawed and beyond repair. (Read more...)
The conjunction of the apparent diameter of our moon and the sun is like an astonishing, uncanny message left for us by some galactic overlord—a fortuity way, way more amazing than the 1:4:9 ratio of the monoliths in Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series.
This video shows us how different the sky would look if things had turned out differently—specifically, if we enjoyed the attentions of a Jupiter-sized planet at the distance of a lunar orbit. In the event, of course, the tidal forces would rend the Earth from crust to core. But it would make for quite the evening vista nonetheless.
The video also is remiscent of Charles and Ray Eames famous short film Powers of Ten, the influential designers’ exploration of “the relative sizes of different things in the universe.” The design site Core77 is hosting a contest for two-minute responses to Powers of Ten. Two days to go—check out the entrants here.
The BBC's Owen Bennett Jones recently interviewed Ursula Le Guin, one of the most important science fiction authors of the past half-century. The author of Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and the Earthsea Chronicles, Le Guin has continued to write gorgeous, compelling tales of alien life well into her eighties. She tells Jones about how the science of anthropology influenced her work, as well as how she's brought Taoist themes into her writing. This is a terrific interview with one of science fiction's great masters. Listen to it at the BBC website.
This week, Fringe goes glam. Also, is Chuck finally putting Timothy Dalton in his place? Find out tonight! Plus Mena Suvari is a supervillain on The Cape. Smallville and Supernatural are really back. And Titanic gets the sequel it deserves.
Scooby Doo: Mystery Inc. comes back from its hiatus at 7 PM on Cartoon Network, with "Mystery Solvers Club State Finals."
There's a new Chuck at 8 PM on NBC, and it looks like this one is the big deal everyone's been waiting for — with Casey still recuperating from his fall, Chuck decides to take on Volkoff by himself. And meanwhile, Sarah tries to extricate Chuck's mom from Volkoff's organization once and for all. Plus Chuck's niece may be arriving early.
Also at 8, there's a new Adventure Time with Finn and Jake on Cartoon Network. That's followed by a new Regular Show at 8:15.
The Cape is on NBC at 9 PM. The ARK Corporation is preparing to unveil a device that could transform Palm City forever — but this being The Cape, the young genius who invented the device decides to put on a costume and call herself "Dice." Yes, Dice. No, it's not an Andrew Dice Clay tribute — we think. Dice (Mena Suvari) wants to kill Chess in revenge for Chess' role in her father's death. So the Cape has to defend Chess from Dice, so the Cape's own bid for justice isn't thwarted. How can this not be excellent? There are some pretty great pics of Suvari (and the circus gang) here. And here are four sneak peeks:
Also on at 9 PM: Syfy's remake of the British show Being Human, with "Some Thing To Watch Over Me."
Aidan and Josh decide to invite the neighbors over to what appears to be a house-warming. Sally informs them that they have officially invited all of her least favorite neighbors to their house for a neighborhood watch party, but too bad she can't tell the neighbors to their face. Josh thought it was merely a get-together and enters his usual unnerved self when he hears it's a neighborhood watch party. Aidan tries to explain that if they want to be normal they have to get involved, and this is getting involved.
Here's a sneak peek:
Syfy has a marathon of Star Trek: Enterprise all day long. Get some blue corn chips and watch some Andorians!
Also, here's a movie pick: The Quick and the Dead, airing at 5:30 PM on AMC, isn't actually science fiction — but the Western is a good object lesson in how to do a genre film with a female protagonist without ending up with Catwoman or Invasion.
Once again, there's no new No Ordinary Family.
But there's a new V at 9 PM on ABC. Three Peace Ambassadors are murdered — so expect lots of hand-wringing over how far is too far to go when fighting a covert alien invasion. And meanwhile, Erica and Father Jack try to enlist the Vatican's support in their fight against the aliens. That is going to go well. Here's a sneak peek. The Youtube user has more where this one came from.
Three dueling marathons: the History Channel is showing MonsterQuest episodes all day long, while Syfy has a long bloc of the post-apocalyptic show Jericho. And then there's Encore, which is showing Bill Murray's Groundhog Day all day long, from midnight until after midnight Thursday morning. Yes, that's right. They're repeating Groundhog Day over and over, for 24 hours. It's pure genius. The fact that it's Encore doing it only makes this better.
There's a new Sym-Bionic Titan at 7 PM on the Cartoon Network — a new day and time for this show from Genndy Tartakovsky.
Nova ScienceNow is on most PBS stations at 8 PM, and they're asking the question, "How Does the Brain Work?"
And then at 9 PM, there's the plain vanilla Nova, in which host David Pogue looks at "green" materials that will build and power your devices in the future — including batteries grown from viruses, plastic made out of sugar, and solar cells that make hydrogen.
And if that's not enough science for you, the History Channel also has Bigfoot: The Definitive Guide at 9 PM.
At 11 PM, SOAPNet has another episode of Being Erica, "Moving On Up."
There's a new outing of The Vampire Diaries at 8 PM on The CW. Nobody's happy to see John Gilbert, except maybe the David Anders fan club. Meanwhile, Caroline talks Stefan into having a word with Tyler about that whole "we killed your uncle" thing. Bonnie has an unsettling conversation with Jonas. And Jules takes a hostage.
Or you could also watch a new Big Bang Theory, at 8 PM on CBS, "The Thespian Catalyst." Or a new Community at 8 PM on NBC, in which the gang plays Dungeons and Dragons.
Also at 8 PM, National Geographic has a new Naked Science.
And there's a new Nikita at 9 PM on The CW, in which Alex gets her first real assignment.
At 10 PM, there's another episode of superspy spoof Archer, on FX, "A Going Concern." Mallory loses all her money in a Ponzi scheme, so she has to sell ISIS to a rival spy agency run by Jeffrey Tambor. Awesome!
Also at 10 PM: the first season finale of Brad Meltzer's Decoded on the History Channel.
At 7 PM, Cartoon Network has a new Young Justice, "Schooled":
Superboy's anger over his non-relationship with Superman is getting out of control. He refuses to train with Black Canary, and when The Team faces an opponent that even the Justice League had trouble defeating, the Boy of Steel goes rogue.
So remember how we told you there were new episodes of Smallville and Supernatural last Friday? We weren't just trying to yank your chain — we really thought those shows were back, until The CW had a sudden change of heart. Which means we can just cut and paste what we wrote about those shows last week, since we're getting the episodes we were supposed to see a few days ago. So here goes...
At 8 PM, there's an all-new Smallville, featuring the return of Chloe:
Clark (Tom Welling), Oliver (Justin Hartley), Lois (Erica Durance) and Dinah (guest star Alaina Huffman) are released by the VRA after being captured at Hawkman's funeral but each of them have flashbacks of Chloe (Allison Mack) holding them against their will. When Chloe returns, Dinah warns the others that Chloe may now be a traitor. Oliver dismisses her concerns but Clark is unsure if he can trust Chloe after she disappeared without an explanation.
Also at 8 PM, TMC has the cable TV premiere of 2009's Knowing, a film in which Nic Cage plays a college physics professor who — oh sorry, the suspension of disbelief already went out the window. Anyway, there's a time capsule from the 1950s and it has a piece of paper with numbers on it, and those numbers pertain to EVERY DISASTER IN THE WORLD for the past 50 years. Including one very, very large disaster that's coming soon. It's the film that wishes it could be 2012. That's followed by a film with the delightful title of Deep Shock, in which The Cape's Keith David faces off against a giant mutant eel.
At 8:30 PM, there's another new Star Wars: The Clone Wars on the Cartoon Network, "Altar of Mortis."
As the Jedi attempt to escape Mortis, Ahsoka is taken captive as a lure to seduce Anakin Skywalker to join the dark side. As Anakin battles against dark forces, the Father attempts to stop a confrontation between his children, which threatens to unbalance the Force completely.
And then at 9 PM, there's a new Fringe on Fox. The good news is, the second Fringe airing on Friday nights continued to have strong ratings, so the best science fiction show currently airing on television could actually have a brighter future than any of us dared hope. This week, a man dies after ingesting a mysterious blue powder — could it be a return to "mystery of the week" territory after two fairly arc-heavy episodes?
And then meanwhile, there's also a new Supernatural on The CW at 9. How is Sam going to cope with getting his soul back? We may have to wait to find out, until Dean takes care of a monster that's killing virgins:
Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Bobby (Jim Beaver) anxiously wait for Sam (Jared Padalecki) to wake up to see if Death (guest star Julian Richings) was able to restore his soul without causing Sam to lose his mind. Meanwhile, Dean and Bobby investigate a disappearance of virgins and discover dragons are behind the kidnappings. Bobby sends Dean to a doctor who owns the only weapon in the world that can slay a dragon, but Dean must prove himself worthy enough to take it.
At 10 PM, there's a new (to Americans) episode of Merlin on Syfy.
There's also a new Onion News Network on IFC at 10 PM, "Man-Horse Marriage."
Also at 10 PM: a new Spartacus: Gods of the Arena on Starz.
Did you think that it was impossible to make a sequel to James Cameron's Titanic? Sink again!
This Saturday, Syfy brings you Titanic 2. No, Leo and Kate aren't in it. But there's a new ship, that's once again unsinkable — until the worst case scenario becomes real. From The Asylum, creators of Terminators and Transmorphers, comes this proof that your heart really will go on. Probably. This film has been out on DVD for a while, but now it premieres on Syfy at 9 PM. And yes, someone really does say, "Looks like history's repeating itself."
Adult Swim is showing a new Robot Chicken at 11:45 PM: "Malcolm X: Fully Loaded." That's followed by a new Mongo Wrestling Alliance at midnight.
I’m curious about the impact of a hardware beta—it strikes me as unusual, maybe even unique, the very public way that Google has rolled out this notebook. I wonder what kind of impact that move is supposed to have, and whether it has played out the way Google hoped it would.
We should note, perhaps, that the Cr-48 is officially called a “pilot-program”, not a beta. Maybe to distinguish that it is meant to be a one-and-done operation. But because Google is so famous for their beta tests, it seems like an apt description. The one thing I consistently feel about Google is that they are much smarter than most pundits credit them. I don’t know why they went the route they did, but I’m sure they have a plan. Even when they roll out something that isn’t widely adopted, you can see they were really studying it. It’s the whole scientific method thing–design your experiments so you learn something whether the hypothesis is proved or disproved.
To me, what is even weirder than a hardware beta, is that it is just a test, and will never be anything more. Again, I return to the mystery of the “product that is not a product.” Hardware is nothing. It’s just money. It costs a certain amount of money to make a number of machines and hand them out. Whoever is crunching the numbers must be seeing something in the “plus” column that justifies the cost. It also costs money to develop and run free webmail. With Gmail, they are gaining ad placement. Search placement too, I suppose. What else? A hell of a brand. But what about the Cr-48? There’s no product to hype. This thing is a void of branding; as mentioned, there isn’t a mark or symbol on it. They get the standard ad and search placement via Chrome, but no more so than if I was using Chrome on my other computer (which I already do). Is my extra usage of Chrome via web apps tipping the scale to increase their profit above the cost of my individual Cr-48? I’m reading the New York Times through Chrome these days, and not on my iPhone. I see more ads when I search in a new Chrome tab then when I open up mobile Safari. Maybe the numbers of these small migrations work out so it’s profitable. Maybe not. How long until such a thing is profitable? How cheap must computers get, and how valuable must user-base be? How long until Bing and Google hire folks to stand at the subway entrance, handing out free netbooks so you will look at their ads on the way to work, just like free daily papers? How long until that is a reasonable thing to do, or at least until the profit someone earns off of it makes it seem like a reasonable thing to do?
Or it could be something else entirely. Maybe I’m a collaborator in Google’s new thought-war. A hamster in their lab. Perhaps it’s just a “free calendar” that I earned for being a loyal Google product adopter over five years. Or they could be secretly learning my typing pattern to test a new security product they’ll roll out next year. Some other more nefarious beta than that? Or maybe they’re just “accidentally” snooping on my neighbors’ Wifi, like they did with the Streetview panopti-cars. Could be be all of these things. Or none.
But here’s another interesting note we should factor in to the concept of a hardware beta. Google has given out “official” instructions on how to jail-break your Cr-48 and install Ubuntu. It’s not exactly user-friendly, but there it is. What the hell are we to make of this? Do they imagine that this will enable developers to test the hardware and OS in some way that they wouldn’t if it wasn’t jailbroken? Did they want to encourage hackers to focus their efforts on testing the security in other areas of the manufacture? Or is this just a beta test of a potential real-world use: third-party dual boots? Will we see this option on consumer releases? What if part of having a Chrome OS device is picking two different OS: a web app OS, and a hard app OS? That would change the OS market much more than the browser market. Maybe giving out these instructions is a way of ensuring the hardware can be “recycled” when the beta version of Chrome OS is deprecated. Is it really “jailbreaking” if the manufacturer teaches you how? Man, that’s a lot of questions.
I’ve been calling it a hardware interface with the web, but is that really correct? It’s an interface with Google applications, right? The whole question of browser choice disappears with a successful transition to this model. Should Firefox develop a notebook?
No, it’s definitely an interface with the web. All the Google apps are there, but they always are when you’re in Gmail or any other product, just like the rest of the web is, no further than a bit of typing into the address bar or a bookmark click. Though in the past few years of using Google products, I’ve noticed they’ve upped the connectivity between them. They used to be overlapping in function, contradictory. Certain products would be discontinued (my poor Google Notebook, may it rest in peace). But the leaders have emerged, and there is some growing continuity. Again, the future is a question of what Google’s goals are. Maybe if they made their product more seamless, more “exclusively Google”, (more “Facebook,” if I may coin a slur) then some of their experiments would work better. If they had replaced Gmail with Wave, for example. But then maybe that would have sunk the whole boat. Facebook is only one major slip up away from losing their whole integrated product, whereas Gmail doesn’t seem like it is going anywhere.
I doubt Firefox would build an OS, because Ubuntu is their de facto OS. Maybe they would work with Canonical to try and get Ubuntu as a standard OS offering from computer OEMs again, to push a more brandable, native Firefox experience on light netbooks. Ubuntu’s ready for it, the question is are consumers ready to understand that they can’t download .exe’s? With Ubuntu’s new Software Center and a slew of new web apps, maybe. People sure do like big cartoony icons for their programs.
Apple and Microsoft already have a browser/OS combo. The key to preventing “defection” from the default would be integrating them even further so switching to a different browser is less attractive. It feels to me like Windows 7 does this just with the GUI. It looks unified, and so it is used as unified. Apple solved that problem on iOS by simply making defection impossible. But I think Apple is too fixated on hardware. They’ve been riding the click-wheel/multi-touch train for years. Safari sucks. Especially Mobile Safari. They’ve probably got more of a profit line on attracting the sorts of customers they are attracting via hardware and OS, and no motivation to really work on the software. I can’t believe that Apple actually advertises iPhoto as a feature. Talk about shitty native software that relies on GUI to prevent defections! I was in an Apple Store the other day, and I doubt most customers could tell me what a browser extension was. And Apple is making tons of money. There were like twenty-five employees on the floor! They probably will continue to make money on their hardware and OS alone. I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that they are the “new Windows”, at least product-wise, even if they’re technology is different.
So it might seem that no one is really in a position where developing a browser OS makes good sense—except for Google. They can only gain OS share, and judging from how well Chrome is doing, they will. (People say Chrome isn’t widely adopted; but how many new browsers are there on the market? From 0% to anything above 10% is “entering the market” in my book. That is a lot of people using Chrome, and a lot of people using Google as default search.) So maybe this is perfect for Google. Also, Jolicloud is very interesting. I think they have the right combination of a browser and OS. It appears they have replaced Ubuntu’s Gnome desktop GUI with Chrome, for all intents and purposes. Brilliant! With a product like that, they could really reel in a lot of people who are frustrated with iOS, aren’t sure about Android, but still want something slick and quick. I wouldn’t be surprised if market versions of Chrome OS are more like that. Android looks more and more like it itself was only a beta. An experiment to see how distributing an open-source OS works among lots of different OEMs. Note this: the frustration about lack of Android updates on all handsets? Guess how you update Chrome OS? The same way you update Chrome. You log out (close the program) and log back in again (start the program again). And it’s updated. I think Google learns its lessons really, really well.
But isn’t the Cr-48 curiously a throwback, in an interesting way? I want to call it a dumb terminal for the Web.
But a dumb terminal, in the era of mainframes, connected the user to everything s/he would want to do. I think it shows that trends in technology are a lot like evolution. Moles evolved eyes, and then became nearly blind. It’s not a nature-throwback. It’s evolution, baby! Everything grows in patterns, toward and away from niches, as they open and close. A little genetic drift here, a little natural selection there. I wrote an essay about evolution recently in which I compared natural selection, the time-honed survival of traits that serve to increase their expression in future generations, as R&D. Whereas genetic drift, the sudden swings that happen in traits due to factors like sudden environmental niches, random mutation, and population variations that amplify selection, are more like the sudden leaps of insight by a genius start-up. Or, like a small beta test that becomes a major product trend. Across the tech gene pool, neither is solely responsible for evolution. And neither could function without the other.
And as anyone who uses Chrome will tell you, there’s nothing dumb about it. It’s a really solid browser, that has gained traction for a reason.
Fair enough. But then dumb terminals weren’t really “dumb” either—they were sophisticated machines in their time, designed to serve a particular set of needs.
Here’s another point of comparison, that I think shows that features (or, traits) are more important our understanding of the progressive evolution of product hierarchies. We are suspicions of the cloud—and perhaps rightly so. Since I can’t upload “hard” files to the internet with the Cr-48 or read them locally, I have to use my seperate desktop computer to put them into the cloud. Music, photos, whatever: into old-school Chrome browser, and up to the cloud: Google Docs, Dropbox, Ubuntu One, whatever. Then it can be accessed by the Cr-48. But with the iPhone/Pad, that has locally accessible storage space, you still have to transfer files through a desktop computer running iTunes. iTunes becomes the syncable desktop software, not unlike Chrome. (A merge of Safari and iTunes in the future? Hmm…) So which is more versatile? The upload-sync of Chrome, or of iTunes? I think easily Chrome. It runs on all platforms, can upload any file type, anything that can be re-read through a web app. It can be synced across an unlimited number of computers, both desktop and “mobile hardware browsers”. Also the Cr-48 can be anywhere, because it’s all through the internet. Whereas, iOS devices have to be synced to only one desktop, or else they delete everything on their drive (!!!). They can only use certain file types…. They still have to be connected with a USB cable. (and Apple is famous for being the cutting edge of eliminating slow and un-needed interface ports!) So, while the “cloud” may be uncomfortably remote to some degree in our conception, it is incredibly more streamlined and flexible than hard-wired methods of data syncing.
The Thompson Twins’ “Perfect Game” single came out January 31, 1981.
Margaret Atwood’s meditation on science fiction will have old-school "Weird Tales"-style illustrations
Margaret Atwood used her Twitter account to look for graphic designers to make "1930s Weird Tales"-style illustrations for her new book about science fiction, In Other Worlds.
On Saturday, the author of Oryx and Crake tweeted:
To Graphics T-pals: good idea to solicit/do contest for yr. pics for my Oct. 11 In Other Worlds: SF & the Human Imagination e-book? Or not?
And then soon afterwards, she clarified:
Re: graphic artists: Wouldn't be for free. Would be looking for 1930s Weird Tales kind of style, & for a specific piece of work.
In Other Worlds is Margaret Atwood's account of her relationship with the literary form we have come to know as "science fiction." This relationship has been life-long, stretching from her days as a child reader in the 1940s, through her time as a graduate student at Harvard, where she worked on the Victorian ancestors of the form, and continuing as a writer and reviewer.
This book brings together her three Ellman Lectures on 2010 – "Flying Rabbits," "Burning Bushes," and "Dire Cartigraphies" – and also her key reviews and speculations about the form, or forms – for she also elucidates the differences – as she sees them – between "science fiction" proper, and "speculative fiction." For all readers who have loved The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood – not to mention the mini-sci-fi tales about Lizard Men and Peach Women embedded in The Blind Assassin – In Other Worlds is a must.
So it sounds like the book will both celebrate Atwood's science fiction, and continue her attempts to create a distinction between "science fiction" and "speculative fiction" — with her work classified as the latter.
And in case you missed it, Atwood also recently said she's working on a third book in the series that currently comprises Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. The third book will be called Maddaddam, and it'll focus on the leader of the Gardners. Atwood told a reader Q&A last September: "I am indeed working on a third book — it is tentatively called MaddAddam and will follow the fortunes of that group of people, including Zeb."
An even better compilation that came out January 31, 1981: C81, a cassette compiled by NME. Too many good songs to list here, but begin, perhaps, with Aztec Camera’s “We Could Send Letters.”
The team behind NASA's HiRISE orbiter took their images of Mars' surface and turned them into some hypnotic videos, featuring cool lounge beats. The surreal shapes of Mars' terrain mix with the slinky tunes to trip you out. [MSNBC]
Anime Battles The Elements
The recitation from three Japanese schoolgirls giggling about boys is of course a caricature from a satirical operetta and exactly the cartoon it was meant to be, although girls giggling over boys will probably be relevant for as long as there are teenagers. In the late 20th / early 21st century we have literalized the metaphor with anime, in which even more two-dimensional Japanese schoolgirls cavort for our amusement. However, it is true that some of the anime’d maids also battle demons and chthonic elementals, braids and batted eyelids notwithstanding. So, there’s that.
In answer to kiplet, who asked via Twitter, “What significance do the lyrics of ‘Three Little Maids From School’ have for us in the second decade of the 21st century?”
The Some Bizarre Album compilation came out January 31, 1981. Here’s Depeche Mode’s very early recording of “Photographic” from it.
He took several haunting pictures of the phenomenon, which have been passed around online without much explanation. The light show was caused by an enormous bloom of bioluminescent bacteria in the water, but there's a lot more to it than that. Why was there suddenly be so much of this unusual bacteria in a region where nobody had seen it before? Had pollution caused it? Nope. Without any intervention from humans and our environment-munching devices, the planet created this bizarre and seemingly unnatural event. Hart explains that it all started with wildfires back in 2006:
The story begins with alpine bushfires in Victoria, which started on 1st December 2006 when over 70 fires were started by a band of thunderstorms and lightning strikes which moved across the state . . . The fires burnt for 69 days, merging to become the ‘Great Divide Complex' and ultimately covering an area of well over a million hectares.
Such a large and in places severe fire through the catchment areas was always going to have an impact on the lakes themselves but a lot would depend on the intensity of rain events that followed the fires . . . A deep east coast low pressure system dumped more than 100mm of rain over many locations across Gippsland on 27th June 2007. The result was a 1 in a 100 year flood in the days and weeks that followed.
The effect of the torrential rain over the over the vast area of recently burnt alpine forest was to wash ash and soil rich in nitrogen and other nutrients into the Gippsland Lakes. Counter intuitively, the rain and floods also increased salinity in the Lakes as the higher water level facilitated greater mixing with seawater at Lakes Entrance.
As a result, the lakes were filled with the kinds of nutrients beloved by algae.
The growth of algae in the lakes is affected by a number of factors, including the availability of nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients in the water as well as the temperature and salinity of the water. Growth of Synechococcus was favoured by higher nitrogen and salinity levels while the classic blue-green algae (which are actually bacteria) required lower salinity levels and higher phosphorous levels. As summer took hold at the end of 2008, what happened surprised everyone – a new species called Noctiluca Scintillans began to prosper, by feeding on the Synechococcus.
In contrast to the widespread bright green of the Synechococcus, Noctiluca Scintillans was visible during the day as localised murky red patches, often building up on sections of shoreline facing the wind during the day. At night though, Noctiluca Scintillans produced a remarkable form of bioluminescence (popularly referred to as ‘phosphorescence') – the water glowing brightly wherever there was movement – in the waves breaking on the shore, in ripples in the water and wherever people played in the water.
So what you're seeing here is a second generation of algae (Noctiluca Scintillans) which grew by eating the first generation of algae (Synechococcus), which itself bloomed by feeding on the runoff from the floods, which had been filled with nutrients from wildfires. Basically, this event was two years and two disasters in the making - and it was also completely harmless. The glowing algae are not toxic, and did not wind up choking off other life forms in the lakes. In fact, they died back naturally in the next couple of years as they consumed the food supply that had caused them to bloom in the first place. Read more about the phenomenon, and check out more of Hart's amazing pictures, on his blog.
So you want to be a gadget blogger!
“That calling of kings!” you say. “But to spend my days playing with magic boxes, worshipped and collecting riches for my warrantless opining; the nights, ensconced to the hilt in the honeyed folds of supermodels. That… that… is the life for me!”
I hear you. I once thought much the same thing. But much as I’d like to fancy myself some sort of modern-day James Bond type furnished not so much a license to kill as a license to pedantically explain the differences between GSM and CDMA, blogging about tech for a living is not particularly glamorous.
In fact, if we’re to equate gadget blogging to some occupation in a slice of modern cinema, the film that most immediately comes to mind is The Human Centipede: First Segment. That 2010 parable, directed by Tom Six, focuses on the misadventures of three people who, through a wacky series of missteps, are each sewn… shall we say… input-to-output to one another.
Gadget blogging, you see, is primarily an act of chain digestion.
Let’s start at the beginning: the excreting orifice of a major electronics company. Privately, we gadget bloggers do call this conduit ‘asshole’, but in the plural; in our professional capacities, we have all agreed to use a more polite euphemism, which is PR. Either way, it is the source for fodder of 99% of all news in the gadget world, and our mouths are glued to it like a suckled teat.
Here’s how it works. A major electronics company is about to release a new product. This product is almost always a very slight iteration of an existing gadget… an advance in tech so minor that most consumers would not be able to identify the mutation. The job of PR is to reduce this gadget into what the company feels to be its essence.
This ‘essence’ usually takes the form of an exhaustive list of specs (or the parts and software that make up the gizmo), a handful of high-res and well-lit product shots, along with a peppering of quotes from upper level executives who had nothing to do with the device’s creation. The executives will cryptically explain how this new gizmo fits into the company’s overarching strategy, initiative, paradigm or revolution du jour.
These quotes are not as extraneous as it might seem. Upper management, you see, are the only ones in these corporations allowed to actually express an opinion, relate an emotion or turn a phrase to the press. These figureheads are being called upon to give a dash of the human (if not the soul) to a document so dry, mechanical and predictable of phrase it might as well have been spit out on ticker tape. Gadgets are personal devices: if even the company who has made them can’t start to relate why it matters, how could it matter?
Once a gadget is reduced to its essence by PR in the form of a press release, it is excreted, by which we mean that it is mailed to a list of thousands of bloggers and journalists in one massive disgorgement.
(Sometimes this disgorgement comes with an embargo attached, which is generally why we gadget bloggers call PR ‘asshole’ in the plural. An embargo is a presumptuous dictate from PR that says that no one will make public the product covered by a press release until a certain date and time. Of course, there’s nothing stopping anyone on the list from going public with a gizmo announcement before the embargo. No one’s signed anything. Still, it is tacit that if you defy an embargo, you will be cut out from all further excretions from that company’s corporate orifice, which will put you one further segment down the human centipede’s digestion chain… which is why we hate them. They force us to tacitly acknowledge our place in the whole macro-organism.)
Once a press release arrives in a gadget blogger’s inbox, it’s time to break things down again, but there’s a different digestive enzyme in play here. PR’s job is to reduce a product to its essence. It’s the gadget blogger’s job to make people care… or, more appropriately to the metaphor, to give a shit. The best way to do that? It’s also appropriate to the metaphor: we need to give a shit ourselves.
I suppose during the whole column, you’ve suspected that this “Human Centipede” business was going to play out to be an obvious denunciation of my career, easily summarized as “Gadget bloggers eat gadget company shit, then shit it into your mouth.” But I love my job. I do think it matters. Why? Because a blog is a filter — your filter; you chose it! — of a stream of shit, and a blogger is the guy who not only digests that shit for you, but can even makes it nourishing.
Sure, bloggers are rarely and accidentally journalists in any real sense of the word. When bloggers conduct real journalism — as Gizmodo did in busting open the iPhone 4 months before release — not only are they blacklisted, but it ultimately feels inconsequential mere weeks later. Still, that’s okay. Journalism really isn’t a blogger’s job. Blogging is editorial. Digestion is editorial.
A blogger’s job is making things make sense. He digests a new gadget according to its context, and makes what is, at the end, a soulless list of specs and inner corporate cynicism into some semblance of human experience, understandable to the reader site unseen. In his cynicism, or exuberance, or practicality, or pedanticism, he connects another box of circuits to a real person’s life.
A blogger tells you that a new digicam’s megapixels are less important than its shutter speed and aperture, and so those are the specs you should pay attention to, despite the need for marketers to stress the biggest number. He reminds you that RAM and an SSD are ultimately better investments for most people than a speedier processor, and consequently puts some new, wafer thin laptop that seems markedly worse to a thicker brother in perspective. The blogger figures out why you can’t get a software update for your new phone, and tells you when he thinks that’s a matter of obsolescence or a matter of forced obsolescence. He tells you why the best smartphone in the world can’t come to your network, and what you should buy instead; he also explains why — when that phone does come to your carrier — why the effort to get it there was Herculean, and why you shouldn’t buy it anyway.
Ultimately, you, the reader, are the last mouth in the gadget blogging human centipede, but you’re not sewn to anyone’s ass, and how many segments are in the centipede you’ve attached yourself to is up to you. Across a chain of digestions, as a macro-organism itself, the human centipede is able to crowd source the opinion, the feeling, the emotion, the context, the history and the hardware of a gadget — its whole essence; the definition of its zeitgeist — into something that every kind of reader can get something different out of reading about.
And that’s where the Human Centipede metaphor finally breaks down. In the movie, the last segment of the human centipede is poisoned to death. In blogging, though, the human centipede — through digestion, reduction — concentrates and nourishes.
Sure, we’re all still segments sucking up shit. But at least it’s good shit and our palate for it is refined.
A surefire 3ball hit, from every direction:
And one with duppified cut ups:
Orion believes in generosity and we all benefit. Around this time last year he stopped by my radio show for a live mix. Orion’s Mad edit is a treat — muchacho loco! It accentuates and extends everything that’s joyous about the original (below) while removing all the trudge.
Dancing with the Star Blazers? Check out this totally frenetic Space Battleship Yamato dance routine
There are really no words for this Space Battleship Yamato dance sequence, from Japanese television. The best part is when Desslok shows up. [Thanks, Madeline!]
It looks too weird to be real, but the same could be said of Turkish Superman and Turkish Star Wars. Check out a Doctor Who monster you've never seen before — the deadly Bee-Deer! Update: It's a spoof from B3ta.com.
And yes, we noticed that commenters on the Youtube page are pointing out that this video is in Arabic, not Turkish. So "Turkish Doctor Who" is a misnomer, but it's what everybody's calling it.
Thanks to commenter T3h Kitteh for linking us to the original source of this video: B3ta.com, where the video's creator, Major Ingram, explains:
Ever wondered what Dr. Who would look like if remade by a Turkish cable channel on a budget of £27? I thought i'd take a crack at it... Now taking applications for Daleks in part 2.
Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. Altered and submitted by Alex Coxen.
Rolling Stones Hot Rocks. Altered and submitted by Alex Coxen.
What originally was going to be a simple post of ten vhs boxes, three of which are included here, turned into something much larger. So this week I'll be sharing with you some of the more intriguing monster related vhs boxes I've stumbled onto. Expect to see around 150 monster filled, insane, horrific, cheesy, awesome vhs boxes all week!
If anyone has a vhs collection of their own that they're interested in scanning any movies that relate in some way to monsters, I'd be happy to share them on here. Send any scans (the larger the better) to me at evilenergy @ yahoo dot com
Sometimes it’s a good thin to remember that libraries have big imacts on people who do big things. The ripple effect is hard to quantify, but it’s a good thing to remember. From my inbox
- Ronald McNair was one of the astronuauts killed in the Challenger explosion 25 years ago. There was a piece on NPR about his brother reminiscing about how McNair was adamant about using his public library in South Carolina despite the fact that it was supposedly for “whites only”
- Wil Wheaton, actor and blogger shared a short bit he wrote for a literacy project explaining why he thinks librarians are awesome.
- In the comments of that post is a link to this poem published in Library Journal: Why I Am In Love With Librarians.
- Another booster site that I forgot to mention earlier is the Library History Buff site. Larry Nix is a retired librarian and library history enthusiast. I’ve linked to his library history page many times over the years, but I’m not sure if I’ve linked to his blog. He recently did a post wrapping up the work he did in 2010 and pointing to the page he created for it. Good stuff, worth reading.
Brazil is indeed in a state of flux regarding its positioning in the German foreign culture map. At a time where the white spaces on the world map are beginning to disappear all together Brazil is one of the few ’uncharted areas’ with positively connoted expectations. Unlike Dubai or the emerging eastern European markets Brazil stands increasingly, from a German perspective, for a politically sound society with strong cultural roots – a positive example for democratic emerging markets.
In terms of Residual, Dominant and Emergent codes the main phases of Residual and Dominant are post-World War 2 to the early 80s and 80s to today, respectively.
A typical 2nd World country where modernisation is hampered by corruption and lack of democratic spirit/social equality.
Left and right wing governing attempts culminating in military rule.
All highly repressive, against not for the people.
Inhumane poverty on a grand scale and immense crime.
In short: the worst of both the capitalist and socialist systems.
The cultural counterpart reflected in German popular imagery ist he local Brazilian lifestyle (sun, beach, bodies) and the best football team in the world which draws its abilities from the most impoverished part of the population.
The Ipanema view of Brazil seems almost unreal, a projection, possibly a remnant of a further past given the socio-political realities. It is much like Havana in the 50s & early 60s – a glamorous image that skews the social reality.
Compounded by Brazil’s geography from a German perspective: South America – the home of many Nazis (in particular Chile). The preponderance of German names in the region has an odd resonance in Germany.
Many DDR politicians reported to have taken the same route after 1989 and the still unclaimed money of the former SED party is rumoured to be in South American banks.
DOMINANT (codes consolidating since 1980s)
In the late 70s Brazil became a major business partner to German industry and with the change of government in 1985 Brazil took a decisive step towards improvement: the hope inherent in any new democracy.
But still a democracy tainted by corruption and imagery suggesting poverty reminiscent of the middle ages: the favelas.
Brazil in the 80s and 90s echoed Spain in German media respresentations and popular consciousness. A poor country perfect to visit for summer vacation with its cultural icon Ipanema (Spain: Costa del Sol) but regarded as backward, corrupt and dangerous. Certainly not a place to settle or from which to expect modern developments.
Association: Brazil either wins the world Cup decisively or gets eliminated early – something unpredictable & unstable in this country (antithesis of the German self-image as thorough, reliable and possibly a little boring).
No significant presence of Brazilians or Brazilian culture in Germany. Therefore no way for Germans to form a picture seperate from books, media, set themes and conventions of Brazilianness in German received wisdom and popular culture.
So Brazilian culture is far removed from German mindset & self-image – singing & dancing prominently associated ith Brazil connotes holiday, the exotic, something remote from the everyday (Brazil as culturally ’other’ for Germans as Africa or Hawaii.
Paolo Coehlo opening a window on a different aspect of Brazilian culture – from 1990s opening people’s eyes to deeper intellectual and emotional potential in Brazil.
Another more recent development in the Dominant codes is awareness of beauty industry & importance of cosmetic surgery. Sao Paolo as a magnet for would-be models – with Brazilian surgeons reportedly practicing with girls from the favelas turning them into beauty queens. Brazilian surgeons ’enhancing nature’ versus perception of US cosmetic surgery as imperfectly concealing ist artifice (or not at all).
Emergent Brazilianness in Germany is as yet unrealised. This is potentially rich terrain to receive new positive imagery associated with Brazil. But what’s in place, as yet, is mainly the potential rather than any detailed implementation.
Potential based on Brazil as the most dynamic of the BRIC economies. Further powered by the massive projected oil reserves on Brazil’s coasts (exceeded only by those of Venezuela). The prospect of massive injections of income, e.g. to fund social reforms, once deeper drilling is technically possible.
Any detailed cultural and semiotic analysis of Brazilianness in Germany today would look to identify the first empirical signs of the new emergent codes – in popular culture and in brand communications. This kind of bottom-up work sometimes produces surprises and highly creative left-field ideas. The logic of code trajectories in this area so far (Residual to Dominant to the first glimpses of the Emergent) suggests that new codes that would appeal in Germany might well function in these areas:
• maintaining and strengthening the idea of democracy
• oil revenues strengthening social equality and justice (overcoming the negatives associated with the Chavez era in neighbouring Venezuela)
• Brazilian artists and intellectuals becoming more prominent on global culture & thinking
• Brazilians as the beautiful people – stretching this notion culturally into the pursuit of the aesthetic
• Sao Paulo is a key player in the world’s most aspirational industry: beauty.
Brazil has a potent mixture of associations that can propel it to a new level that many other emerging countries lack – at its core is the perception that Brazil is NOT hampered by the lack of free expression and decentralised power that remains, in Western developed markets a cause for concern and caution in, for example, Russia, China and the Arab World.
© Oliver Litten 2011
Art Garfunkel cover housing a Pink Floyd Meddle LP as found. Submitted by Jive Time Records.
Sort Sol’s “Marble Station” single came out January 30, 1981.
The Live Letters compilation LP came out January 30, 1981. Here’s Huang Chung—yes, before they changed their name to Wang Chung—doing “You’ve Taken Everything.”
Duran Duran’s first single, “Planet Earth,” came out January 30, 1981, officially inaugurating the ’80s in some sense. Here’s the video for the “Night Version.”
The dB’s’ Stands for deciBels album came out January 30, 1981. Here’s “Dynamite” from it.
Flipper’s unbelievably abrasive “Ha Ha Ha” single came out January 30, 1981.
Spend some time looking at the fantastic details in this painting here.
c. 1,600 words, for a total of 61,139 words.
The draft is complete!
There are all sorts of things wrong with it: I do think it will need some sort of a conclusion, and also there are various errors of pacing and plotting that arise from this method of writing without really knowing how things go; that will all need some serious fixing later on. I think I will perhaps just read through it once on the computer tomorrow morning and change any very obvious minor mistakes or misphrasings I see, then put it aside to 'rest'. But it is a huge relief to have such a thing as a draft to work with; revision is certainly arduous in its own way, but it is more compatible with life during a teaching semester, I find the effort required to stay on the system of quota production is really needed for other things in the middle of the school year.
I will probably revise in the weeks after spring break and try and get it to my agent sometime in April; that would be good...