Tuesday, March 31, 2009

“Betty Jean Thiebaud & Book”

That same year, 1965, Wayne started a portrait of his wife titled Betty Jean Thiebaud & Book. He worked on the painting for four years. “Mom modeled for Pop,” recalled Paul. “He drew her from life.”

Fast Art

Monday, March 30, 2009

Working In The Coal Mine Going Down Down

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Working In The Coal Mine
I was thinking of the Devo cover
of the Allen Toussaint classic.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Spaceship That Joked

I like to post as many different kinds of my writing as I can, and it occurred to me a few days ago that it’s been a long time since I put up any ‘normal’ prose—a story written not in verse. So that’s what’s up for today. This is what writers and editors call a short-short, a story less than a thousand words. It’s short, but I like it a lot. It’s kind of a snapshot of my life right now...


The Spaceship That Joked


I flopped down into the pilot’s chair and closed my eyes. I let out a long breath. Another trip to the Belt. I’m a forty-eight year old guy asteroid hopping. Talk about living from pay check to pay check.

I opened my eyes. Monitor systems were all green. I could barely find the energy to reach over and touch the control screen to power on the main circuits. But I did, then let my hand fall back into my lap. With everything still flashing green, I activated the main computer.

“Alison,” I said. “Wake up. Good morning. We’ve got places to go.”

After an almost imperceptible delay – it might have been my imagination – a transcript window opened on a utility screen and my spaceship spoke to me through the main speakers as her words and mine scrolled into the deck log.

“Sam, right this minute the sun is going down in Greenwich,” Alison said. “So it’s good evening. All systems are normal. Our flight plan has been approved. We are clear to leave the field. Shall we lift off?”

“Alison, it’s off to the asteroids,” I said, ignoring her query.

“Sam, yes, I saw that on the flight plan.”

“Alison, it’s New Las Vegas,” I said. “Rock hopping.” I let out another long breath. “Alison,” I said, “tell me a joke about New Las Vegas.”

“Sam, I heard a story from one of the plasma freighters just back from the Belt. It seems a fellow wanted to take a trip to New Las Vegas but he had almost no credits in his accounts. So he asked a travel agent to book him the cheapest, most economical package at the cheapest, most economical hotel in New Las Vegas. When the man arrived and checked in, the desk clerk gave him his room pass and told him he’d have to carry his own bags. The man hefted his suitcases and took the lift up to his room. After one look inside, the man hurried back to the lift and spoke again to the desk clerk. The man said, ‘I know I wanted something inexpensive,’ he said, ‘but that room is hardly big enough to be a closet. I’m sure I can spend a little more. Is it possible for you upgrade me to a more deluxe package?’ The desk clerk studied the man, then asked, ‘Sir, when you were in the lift, did a gang of hooligans beat you up and steal your luggage?’ The man said, ‘No.’ The clerk said, ‘Then, sir, I think you’re already getting our deluxe package.’”

I smiled, nodding. I inhaled a deep breath and sat forward in my chair. I tapped the control screen to verify lift off sequence.

“Alison, let’s go,” I said. “Let’s get this deluxe life of mine back in the sky.”

“Sam, yes sir,” Alison said.

The ship vibrated as the field coils energized.

We lifted off.

The End


Really careful readers of this blog will have recognized that this story recycles a joke I wrote three years ago. [The Economy Travel Package Horror] I thought twice about that, but I still like the joke and I like it better with a story around it. So, there you go. I try not to waste things.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Marilu Henner Post—Honestly!

This morning I was talking to my friend Susan and the conversation got around to Anna Kournikova. There was a picture of Anna in the local paper because Anna rang the bell yesterday at the New York Stock Exchange.

I pointed to the picture and said, “She’s a hottie, isn’t she? A Russian girl. All my ancestors come from that fringe area between western Russia and eastern Europe.”

Susan said, “So, you like Russian girls?”

I transitioned into a Marilu Henner story.

I’m not really a big fan of Marilu Henner. She’s famous, I think, just from her role on the TV show TAXI. But I never liked that show, never watched an episode all the way through.

However, twice I saw Marilu Henner on the David Letterman show and both times she said stuff that was really interesting to me, stuff that stayed with me and continues to shape my thinking.

The first time I saw Marilu Henner on the Letterman show she said something that I brought up this morning talking to Susan.

Letterman asked Marilu Henner what type of guy she liked. Henner kind of shrugged and said something like, “You know, Dave, I just like men. This type, that type, any type at all. If they’re reasonably cool guys, I’m going to like them.”

That got a big laugh from Dave and the audience, but I thought it was a pretty cool thing to say. It seemed like a very honest thing to say, and it was something I could relate to from a male point of view.

This morning I told Susan that Marilu Henner story, then added, “I’m like the male version of her. I just like women. This type, that type, any type at all. If a woman is reasonably cool, I’m going to like her.”

Marilu Henner Versus Morgan Fairchild

I used to be a fan of Morgan Fairchild. She had odd roles in some awful TV shows that I never watched, but in interviews she always sounded kind of serious about acting and entertainment. I generally like people who take what they do seriously.

Then Morgan Fairchild appeared on the Letterman show plugging a new movie, 1982’s “The Seduction.” She starred as a beautiful TV newscaster who gets stalked by a crazy fan. She said everyone working on the movie took it very seriously and she was very proud of it and wanted everyone to go see it.

So, I went to see it and it sucked. I mean, it wasn’t just a bad film. It was one of those bad films where nobody seemed to be trying to do anything special. The script was mundane. The production was mundane. The acting was mundane. It was just a waste of time from start to finish.

The movie was so bad that I completely wrote off Morgan Fairchild in my mind. Honesty means a lot to me and there are always ways an actor or actress can plug a movie without flat out lying.

Something like ten years after I got suckered in by Morgan Fairchild to go see her awful movie, Marilu Henner appeared on the Letterman show plugging her new movie, “Noises Off.” She did a very convincing interview talking about how everyone who worked on the film had a great time and wanted to give a great performance and was so proud of the finished film.

Even though it was a decade [!] after the Morgan Fairchild thing, I was very suspicious of an actress plugging a film. But I’d always remembered that Marilu Henner had seemed like a honest person in that earlier interview about what kind of guys she liked.

So I went to see “Noises Off.”

It is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen.

I mean, it is great. Whenever I’m feeling kind of sad I still watch the DVD of “Noises Off” and it is so funny—funny in a laugh-out-loud hilarious way—that it is impossible to be sad after you watch it.

There you go.

I think honesty might be the most attractive trait, the coolest trait, a person can have.

Marilu Henner is much cooler and more attractive than Morgan Fairchild.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Neutral Zone Infraction?!


We have a hawk living somewhere in our neighborhood.

First people began finding clumps of feathers in their yards and along the sidewalks. But I think we all thought it was just the neighborhood stray cats getting lucky.

Then people began finding bodies of sparrows and pigeons with the heads cut clean off. Very odd looking. Not the sort of thing cats do.

One day I was walking out of a convenience store. I was talking to a guy and we both were walking through the parking lot behind the store. A pigeon started to fly away alongside of us. Then—BLAM!—for all the world it looked as if the pigeon just exploded. The guy and I literally jumped backward. On the ground was this bizarre looking writhing mass of gray feathers and brown feathers. We realized that a hawk had dived on the pigeon and grabbed it out of the air. Now the two of them were wrestling on the ground. Somehow the pigeon managed to free itself from the talons of the hawk and flew away. The hawk stood up, preened itself a moment, then sloooowly spread its wide wings and flew away too. The guy I had been talking to and I looked at each other and both said, “Wow!”

We have a hawk living somewhere in our neighborhood.


We’ve had cloudy skies for the last few days, but I believe Venus is now too low in the west for me to see. The last clear day we had was three or four days back and I got a good view of Venus then.

I set up my new four inch short-focus refractor equipped with an erecting prism and a 20x eyepiece on the tripod from my old telescope. I positioned the tripod all the way back near the alley in my backyard. I knew—from the evening before—that Venus would be just above and just to the left of my chimney after the Sun went down.

Just after sundown, when the sky was still blue, I searched the sky above and left of my chimney with my new telescope, getting a good three degree field of view. I found Venus quickly. The crescent of Venus was very thin, very bright against the quickly darkening sky.

As I adjusted the slow-motion control of my tripod to follow Venus down as the rotation of the Earth caused the planet to set, the neighborhood hawk soared upward into the field of view of my telescope.

The hawk soared upward with its wings still, curled back just slightly. The hawk circled in my field of view, soaring right around the planet Venus.

Instantly, all by itself, my mind flashed-back to Star Trek and I thought, ‘Hey, a Romulan Bird-of-Prey is going into orbit around Venus!’

It’s hard to describe what a weird, freaky little wonderful moment it was.

The sky was getting dark but it was still bright enough to see details of the hawk. Venus was bright and even at just 20x the crescent was reasonably large in my three degree field of view. And the soaring hawk really did look like a dangerous spaceship going into orbit around Venus.

It looked exactly like a very, very well-made special effects scene from a movie, but at the same time I had the very real awareness that what I was looking at was real—it was actually happening in front of me.

Astronomy is full of cool little moments that seem something like magic when they happen but are hard to describe afterward. That was one of them.

It was very cool.

Romulans in the inner system!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Rosemary Being Momentarily Cast Back In Time

Rosemary, who an eye-blink before
had been filing canceled checks
for a foot-care firm in Chicago,
blinked and found herself tangled
in a rain forest’s tropical undergrowth
high on a primeval plateau
deep in the Peruvian Andes.

She stood and brushed off a centipede
that waved orangely away.
Her hair curled at her cheek
like essence of panther. She turned
in place, searching for a clearing,
but saw only vine and branch
and twisted, moss-covered timber.

She took a breath and a step
determined at least to see
a good old thunder lizard or three
or some crazy killer tree.
But she only had time for a step
before she glittered and disappeared.

Rosemary, who an eye-blink before
had been hunting dinosaurs in Peru,
blinked and found herself filing
canceled checks in Chicago.
“Bill, I’m going on break,”
she said to her boss. He nodded.
Then she saw something glitter near the floor.

Smiling, she knelt to watch the temporal display
of a badly timed centipede waving orangely away.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Autographed Photograph Of Virginia Wade—2

My Autographed Photograph Of Virginia Wade—1


This is Toni looking cool upside-down on the swings at McKinley Park.

It looks like kind of a peaceful scene, right? But Toni’s friend Jeanette is standing just out of frame screaming at the top of her lungs, “Smile, Toni! Smile! Oh, Toni, you never smile for the camera!

But Toni was too cool for that smiling stuff. She and Jeanette were always laughing the way kids do, but whenever I would raise my camera Toni would instantly get into a kind of proto-supermodel mood and assume almost blank expressions that were much more cool and more evocative than simple smiles.


Toni’s parents owned a neighborhood store not far from the tennis courts at McKinley Park. After playing, almost everyone from the tennis club would walk over to the store and get trail mix or cherry slushies (brain freeze!) or some such stuff.

Back in “T. J. Pughe, Chip-Making Fool” and its introduction I talked a little bit about the way neighborhoods have changed over the last few generations. There are no more neighborhood stores. Now there are ‘convenience stores’ but they’re not the same as neighborhood stores. I’m going to tell a story about Toni later that never could have happened in a modern convenience store.


But first I want to talk about the topic of young people in general.

Yesterday I talked about how some things always change and some things never change. I wonder how young people fit into that polarization? Are young people today the same as young people three generations ago?

I used to think youth was youth and young people didn’t change. But lately I’ve been thinking I might be wrong. I wonder if young people might have what Ayn Rand called their “sense-of-life” more-or-less instilled in them by pop culture at large:

Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him—most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

... A culture, like an individual, has a sense of life or, rather, the equivalent of a sense of life—an emotional atmosphere created by its dominant philosophy, by its view of man and of existence. This emotional atmosphere represents a culture’s dominant values and serves as the leitmotif of a given age, setting its trends and its style.

Sense of Lifefrom the Ayn Rand Lexicon

In the 60s and 70s there was a great deal of hypocrisy and exploitation. But at the same time there was energy and hope and respect for individuals creating their own path. There was ambition, in the largest sense of the word—people striving to fulfill and express themselves both as individuals and as part of the world-at-large.

When I talk to young people today I do not see much of that energy. I do not see much of that ambition. I see, mostly, a kind of free-floating, predatory meanness built around an American Idol/Survivor sort of zero-sum thinking where kids seem to believe some people are almost destined to randomly win while causing others to lose.


About five years after I took that photo of Toni on the swings I was nineteen or twenty and getting ready to move away from McKinley Park. Toni was fifteen or sixteen. We went out to lunch to say goodbye. I think we went to Burger King.

When we talked over burgers, fries and shakes, Toni told me what she had done the weekend before.

Her parents had gone away for the weekend. So, Toni and her friends had locked up the store early on Friday and had a party. They’d eaten the junk food right off the shelves and poured vodka into the slushies machine.

I said, “What are you like fifteen or sixteen?! What the hell are you doing drinking vodka?!”

But Toni just laughed and leaned across the little table and kissed me on the cheek.


This is one of the experiential differences between young people from generations back and young people in the modern world.

When I used to talk to Toni—for instance—even when she said stuff that freaked me out, like her vodka story, I always enjoyed our conversations, I always sensed in Toni a tremendous energy, a tremendous sense of promise, a tremendous hope for the future.

When I talk to young people today I don’t feel much energy, hope or promise at all. In fact after I talk to many young people today I often feel drained of energy, hope and promise.

It’s the opposite of the way things should be!

It’s the opposite of the way things used to be . . .


However, on the topic of things that do not change, I am going to end this post on the topic of beautiful women and little dogs.

Some people nowadays might think that Paris Hilton ‘invented’ the whole little dog schtick. But that is not true.

Back in the mid-70s, after my friend Wally and I got our driver permits, any time we could get a family car we would drive up to Lincoln Park and just walk around taking pictures.

Before Paris Hilton was even born, beautiful women—for some reason!—were hanging out with little dogs. That is one of the weird things, apparently, that never changes. I don’t know why and I don’t know what it means, but I saw it with my own eyes and I have the photographic evidence to back up my memory:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Autographed Photograph Of Virginia Wade—1

Now in its third edition, Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer have completely rewritten large sections to keep in lock-step with the evolving trends. Like an old friend who has grown wiser over time, this compendium has become better with age. ... The third part introduces digital astrophotography. Yes, digital—it starts out by stating that film is dead.

Sean Walker
in April’s Sky & Telescope
reviewing the new edition of
The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide,”
by Dickinson and Dyer

Yes. Film is dead.

But today and tomorrow I’m going to talk about a time when film was alive. I loved film. I still have four photographs of my own from that lost time. Today and tomorrow I’m going to post all four.

The theme of today’s post and tomorrow’s is that some things constantly change but some things never change. I don’t know if there is any middle ground between these two kinds of things.


Here’s the first photograph. Here’s my autographed photograph of tennis player Virginia Wade:

This is from around 1974 or 1975. I was about fourteen. (There used to be a WTA tennis tournament in Chicago but low attendance forced the tour to cancel it.)

I took the photograph. I developed the film. I printed the picture. (Then I sent it off to England, Virginia Wade signed it and sent it back to me.)

Nowadays an image like this is trivial. Someone would just point their telephone at the player and click off a picture in an instant. But decades ago film cameras gave a person the opportunity to create a whole process—the photography process—around creating images.

Images are still cool, still important. But the whole photography process has changed.

I’m going to quickly run through the kinds of things that went on behind this simple photograph for me.

Taking the picture

I probably took this photograph using an old, used SLR that a friend from a camera shop put aside for me. The camera contained no built-in light meter, so I was either using a hand-held meter or guesstimating exposure. I wasn’t using the zone system, but I was ‘zone aware’ and consciously using the aperture and shutter to manipulate the value range of my imagined final image.

Since it was a sporting event, I would have been most aware of the shutter speed and I would have been consciously changing the shutter speed to create blur if I wanted to accentuate motion or create crisp lines if I wanted to freeze action.

I also would have been conscious of the aperture and how stopping down would create a deeper focus. I generally liked to work with a wide-open aperture to create a blurred background but I often changed things on the fly.

Finally I was conscious of the grain of the film. I probably was shooting film called Tri-X Pan, which had a large grain size. So I would have been trying to sneak down to the expensive seats and get as close to the action as I could so that I wouldn’t have to enlarge the negative very much at the printing stage.

Developing the film

Nowadays the whole process of photography is almost all a subset of the process of computer work. But in the film era there was a lot of chemistry.

Each film type had an associated data sheet that described what chemical developers to choose among, what temperatures to use and how long a particular combination of temperature/developer required. And it was all very exact. Something like three minutes at seventy degrees would yield a different result—different density negative—than, say, two and a half minutes at sixty-five degrees. It was a very good way to learn to follow directions and to get details exactly right.

Printing the picture

Little details mattered. When you focused the enlarger, you did it on a piece of scrap photographic paper that was the same you’d be printing on because if you focused on the easel or paper of a different thickness the difference would be visible as a slightly out-of-focus final print.

Unlike the modern world where changing an image is just more computer dragging and clicking, in the film era adjusting an image meant using multi-contrast paper and putting filters in the enlarger.

You had to put the exposed paper carefully into the developer tray, moving the bead of wetness smoothly across the surface so that the image developed evenly.

Working under orange (or green) darkroom light, you had to adjust your expectations to what the image would look like under white light.


The process of photography during the film era was wildly different than the process of photography during the computer era.

Images are still images. Ultimately images are still all about values and color and composition and content.

That is exactly the same as it’s always been.

But the process of creating the values and color and composition and content is wildly different.

One interesting point about the difference is that now the process is much more narrow than it was in the past. Nowadays the whole process is just computer tweaking. In the film era it was chemistry and manual dexterity and dozens of little physical steps.

It’s hard to say if one era is better than the other. I just don’t know.

Both the film era and now the computer era give a person the capabilities to create cool images. I suspect the film era was more demanding, and those extra demands encouraged a person to develop discipline and fine-tune their thinking. On the other hand, the computer era makes it easier to experiment, to change every little thing and immediately see the result.

But images are still images. Cool images are still cool images. That doesn’t change.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk more about things that change and things that don’t, and I’m going to put up the rest of the photographs I have from the film era. And I’m going to be talking about these two cool kids:

That’s Jeanette in the background and Toni in the foreground. When I was fourteen or fifteen they were eleven or twelve. When I would take pictures in McKinley Park they would follow me around and sometimes they would come watch me play tennis. Jeanette was always laughing and giggling. Toni was always laughing, too, but she had some weird camera awareness knack—three decades before Paris Hilton—and Toni always managed to get into some kind of pose, some kind of super-model like serious expression for the picture.

The process of photography has changed wildly from the film era to the computer era. But images are still images. And cool subjects are still cool subjects.

Tomorrow I’ve got another picture of Toni, a picture of a beautiful woman and a little dog and I have a couple of things left to say about things that change and things that do not change.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Strange Vacation

Standing in the hall of the great cathedral
Waiting for the transport to come
Starship 21ZNA9
A good friend of mine studies the stars
Venus and Mars are alright tonight

Come away on a strange vacation
Holiday hardly begun
Run into a good friend of mine
Showed me a sign
Venus and Mars are alright tonight

Right now both here online and out there in the real world I don’t know anybody who is passionate about astrology.

I wish I did know a serious astrology person because now the astronomy things going on in the sky are very interesting.

Astronomy doesn’t look for transcendental meanings in celestial events. Astrology does. The events going on in the heavens right now are so interesting that I bet astrologers are having a great time speculating about what the celestial events portend for us here on Earth.

Closest to Earth, right now the Moon is half full and waning, an evening object but every day moving closer to the dawn and becoming a thinner crescent.

Farther out in space, Venus is also waning, also becoming a thinner and thinner crescent. And Venus is approaching the dawn, too, but—so to speak—from the other side. Venus is an evening object but soon Venus will sink below the evening horizon and emerge into the dawn sky.

In the dawn sky right now, Mars and Jupiter recently became morning objects. They are slowing rising earlier each day, getting higher and higher above the horizon before sunrise. It is as if—and speaking primarily as an amateur astronomer who is only interested in astrology I really mean the as if—Mars and Jupiter were waiting for Venus. By the end of the month Venus will have joined Mars and Jupiter in the dawn sky and for a time they will rise together, all three moving higher and higher above the horizon.

The Sun itself now is about to cross the celestial equator, marking the Vernal Equinox, the start of spring.

All these things are happening right now, right about the same time. By the end of March all the crossings will have been made and Venus will have joined Mars and Jupiter in the dawn sky and the Sun will be north of the celestial equator and a new Moon will be waxing fuller each evening.

It’s not exactly the start of a New Age, but it does seem to be the start of a new something. By knowing about it, by watching it and thinking about it, we participate in it.

I hope this new whatever-it-is turns out well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My First Google Rainbow

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What is a Google Rainbow?

I always have been interested in things like Rorschach tests and casting the I Ching, activities where a person’s internal consciousness interacts with specific elements of the external, larger (presumably?) world.

I use Google image search a lot, both preparing this blog and over in a discussion forum where I like to illustrate points I try to make.

Last night I was thinking about color and it occurred to me that Google image search could generate all manner of examples of colors and the examples I select—at any given time—might be interesting to look back on at some future time.

Google rainbows!

So, this morning to prepare this post I went to Google image search and simply typed in “red” and I looked through a few screens until I found an image that I responded to most strongly as an example of red.

(I suppose there’s something interesting even in the fact that I started with red and not blue, or didn’t start randomly with, say, my favorite color, orange.)

I then continued through the other rainbow colors, getting an image for red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

This was a lot of fun. I noticed right away when looking through images that one image would jump out and stay in my mind very quickly. Even when I looked through page after page of images, it was easy to decide which image to go back and grab.

When I picked an image I saved the source URL as the image’s hotlink so that someday I could go back and check the source if I wanted to.

So, that’s my first Google rainbow.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Good Old Days—Umm, Yeah...

It’s getting near dawn
When lights close their tired eyes
I’ll soon be with you my love
To give you my dawn surprise
I’ll be with you darling soon
I’ll be with you when the stars start falling

I’ve been waiting so long
To be where I’m going
In the sunshine of your love

Back in December I did a post mentioning the Jefferson Airplane, Frank Frazetta and Barry Malzberg. [Egyptian Queen, Grace Slick, Beyond Apollo]

I was getting at a point that pop culture two generations ago was very different from pop culture now. I was getting at a point that two generations ago some people made an effort—at least—to keep a reference point somewhere about what quality was, about what good was, and bring something of that quality, that good, into the mainstream of pop.

Nowadays, of course, everything is about strip-mining demographics, getting bucks from the gullible and—although those things always went on!—nowadays nobody much makes any effort to keep quality in mind, to give lip-service to what’s good or to be part of anything larger than the moment.

But I don’t want to create the impression that I have any kind of false reverence for the past. My point is never that weird things didn’t go on in the past. My only point is that sometimes in the past people—sometimes even the people doing the weird things—had a different mindset than people in the present.

But weird things certainly went on.

I once worked with a computer analyst named Peter. Peter was a very sharp guy as an analyst and led an interesting life outside his day job. Peter was a martial artist. He trained with very capable people. He now and then took students. And, like many martial artists, one way Peter helped pay for college was by working security jobs during the summer.

One day in the corporate world Peter and I were having lunch. I was rambling on about how modern musicians seem to have phenomenal skills compared to most musicians from the Sixties but modern musicians seem to have nothing of the same spirit or sense-of-life as musicians from the Sixities.

Peter just sort of nodded, then told me that he once did security for Cream during some US performances.

“Wow,” I said. “There you go. The original supergroup. Clapton, Bruce and Baker. Those were guys who had the skill, the commitment to the music, the passion that you don’t see now.”

Peter just sort of nodded again. Then he said, “On my first gig with them, they had a delay during the first set because during ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ Ginger Baker vomited all over his drums.”

I sighed. I said, “Umm, yeah, well, you know, drummers!


Weird stuff certainly went on in the past. But it went on with a different mindset than it does today.


Pattie Boyd was certainly weird. But she was never Britney Spears.


Cream appeared here at Impossible Kisses once before, when I posted the lyrics to “Tales of Brave Ulysses” in the 2007 post, Tiny Purple Fishes Swim Laughing

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Venus And Kate Moss

Out in space Venus is moving toward Earth.

Here on Earth Kate Moss is wearing a bra.

When Venus passes Earth I bet Venus

will sneak a glance at Kate and Kate’s new look

and do one of those tight-lipped kind of smiles

beautiful women do when they really

want to snicker out loud at a woman.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Kate Moss: I've Just Started Wearing Bras

Kate Moss has appeared in Impossible Kisses a couple of times.

I did a cartoon of her back in December of 2007, Kate Moss (And Why My Life Is Derailed), one of the first drawings I ever rendered in color, a cartoon I still like a lot:

And Karen Kilimnik—my favorite contemporary artist!—once did a very cool kind of self portrait where she portrayed herself as something of a Kate Moss doppelganger:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Imagine Space Cheerleaders

You say Black
I say White

You say Bark
I say Bite

You say Shark
I say, Hey, man,
Jaws was never my scene
And I don't like Star Wars

Every now and then I am tempted to do a long post about Star Wars and I’ve always been thankful that I’ve never given in and actually created any of the posts.

Today is another day where I am controlling myself.

Careful readers of this blog will remember I came close to talking about Star Wars in a post from way back in March, 2007, about a brave squirrelmaid: Triss

Today I’m coming close to talking about Star Wars in a post about space cheerleaders.

It’s been longer than I care to remember since I’ve met either a brave squirrelmaid or a space cheerleader, but, you know, every day is a new hope . . .


Of the nine billion Star Wars spoofs I’ve seen, my favorite is from the TV show iCarly. The bit is 53 seconds long. I suspect it cost less than any of the films in the Star Wars so-called saga and it’s called, Melanie Higgles: Space Cheerleader.”

This is a link to within the iCarly site. The site is annoying. The first time you follow the link, you must click on a pair of socks to continue. [sighs] Then the video takes a second to load and play, but the video will load and start itself, do not follow other instructions and click on anything yourself except the socks.

[Update 10/09 -- I think the link goes direct now. Click on the image, and then use your best judgement. I don’t think you’ll have to click again. Last update ever -- This player works, but you may have to sort of get it started by clicking on the frame to activate it and then click on the pause/play button to activate that and then give it a few seconds to buffer. Geesh.]

Melanie Higgles: Space Cheerleader at iCarly:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Robot Observatories

Lately, with Comet Lulin passing through the inner system and now Venus about to pass by Earth in their orbits, I’ve been thinking about evening objects and morning objects.

For amateur astronomers, the distinction always has been used to plan their observing sessions. Evening objects are things you stay up to view, morning objects are things you get up to view.

Traditionally, the difference has been less important to professional astronomers. Typically, professional astronomers have alternated between night mode and day mode. Professional astronomers would spend a few weeks living at an observatory in night mode, staying up all night, gathering photos or other data. Then they would take the data they gathered back to an office somewhere and switch over to day mode and live normal hours while they analyze and interpret their data. (Professionals sometimes gather so much data they have trouble remembering even what it is. There’s an interesting story at the Wolfram blog of a scientist using the most advanced scientific computing software available today just to try and remember what a certain file is on his computer: Secrets of the Universe Hiding on My Home Computer)

Last year in September I posted an excerpt from Bob Berman writing about how computer-driven telescopes might be changing the way professionals learn about the sky. [“The Ancient Art Of Knowing The Sky” ] There is another major change being caused by computer-driven telescopes. The whole issue of evening objects versus morning objects may become a thing of the past because of robot observatories. (More and more professionals use robot observatories and many amateurs are configuring their equipment along similar lines.)


The following is a true story. It sounds like the outline of a science fiction story, but it is all true.

In the early A.M. hours of January 23, 1999:

  • A satellite in Earth orbit automatically scanned an area of the sky looking for outbursts of gamma radiation. Because the satellite’s recording mechanisms were broken, a team of scientists had programmed the satellite to continuously encode its observation data into position data it constantly downloaded to tracking stations on Earth.

  • A computer on Earth programmed by a different team of scientists automatically examined the position data from the satellite, sorted out the information about possible gamma rays and evaluated the radiation data. The program decided there had been a gamma ray outburst, calculated the approximate area of the sky containing the outburst and broadcast the location over the internet to scientists studying gamma ray bursts.

  • In New Mexico, a computer in a small metal shed had begun the evening by examining sensors and concluding that the weather was fine and the sky was clear. The computer had opened the roof of the shed and started taking routine photographs of the sky. When the computer received the internet broadcast about a possible gamma ray burst, the computer abandoned its regular photography session, pointed at the area of the sky with the possible gamma ray event and began taking photographs.

  • The whole sequence took less than ten seconds. [Seconds is correct!] From the time the satellite observed the area of the sky with a possible radiation event, to the observatory in New Mexico taking its first photo, approximately six seconds elapsed.

  • The very first photographs of the visible component of a gamma ray burst the human race ever acquired were acquired with no human intervention of any kind. The photographs were acquired by a group of robots talking among themselves and doing their jobs.


There is an interesting human side to this robot story.

The robot observatory in New Mexico was designed and built by a scientist named Dr. Carl Akerlof. (He’s a physicist, not an astronomer, but nobody’s perfect.) When Dr. Akerlof first planned a robot observatory he intended to work with a friend and colleague named Dr. Hye-Sook Park. They ended up squabbling bitterly—apparently over funding—and went their separate ways.

Dr. Hye-Sook Park built her own robot observatory in California. Dr. Akerlof built his robot observatory in New Mexico.

When the press interviewed Dr. Akerlof about his great success, he admitted that when he first reviewed his data and realized his equipment had accomplished something wonderful, instead of thinking only about how the data would advance the science of gamma ray bursts, one of the first things he did was to check the weather in California and note that it had rained over Dr. Park’s robot observatory and her equipment had gathered no data at all.

When the press interviewed Dr. Park, her first comment wasn’t about how Dr. Akerlof’s success would advance the science of gamma ray bursts. Dr. Park’s first comment was to bemoan her bad luck of getting rained out and to tell the press that her robot observatory was much better than Dr. Akerlof’s and if she hadn’t been rained out her robot observatory would have acquired three times as much data as Dr. Akerlof’s robot observatory.



Here is the NASA press release about Dr. Akerlof’s incredible photographs.

Here is the website of Dr. Akerlof’s (updated!) robot observatory.

Here is the website of Dr. Park’s (also updated!) robot observatory.

Here is a cool book, “Flash! The Hunt for the Biggest Explosions in the Universe,” by Govert Schilling, that talks about gamma ray bursts and contains more data about both Dr. Akerlof’s work and Dr. Park’s work.

Here is the Wikipedia page on gamma ray bursts.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Little More Venus Talk

A: Then let us think of the future. We’re still the same people.

PRISONER: Working for different sides.

A: Sides don’t matter. Only success.

PRISONER: In that case we should have a great deal in common.

A: We do the same jobs.

PRISONER: For different reasons, yes.

A: (laughing) I see you still over-rate absolute truth.

A.B. And C.

In yesterday’s poem about Venus, I included a few astronomy bits. Those astronomy bits were generally true, but they weren’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Today I’m going to go into some details about a couple of points that I mentioned just in passing yesterday.

Venus in the Evening and Morning

Right now Venus is an evening object. After sunset, Venus appears very bright in the western sky about twenty degrees above the horizon.

Out in space, Venus is drawing closer to Earth. From the perspective of Earth, the image of Venus appears to move closer to the Sun. Every day as Venus moves closer to Earth Venus will appear lower and lower above the western horizon. Toward the end of the month, Venus ‘catches up’ to Earth and passes Earth. Venus then will change from an evening object to a morning object.

Some years during that change when Venus catches up to Earth in their orbits the image of Venus appears to pass in front of the Sun, to transit the solar disk.

Once a decade or so, however, Venus appears to pass north of the Sun.

This is one of those years.

Since Venus will appear to pass north of the Sun, for observers on Earth who live north of about latitude forty degrees, there will be a two or three day window around March 23 when we can observe Venus both in the western sky right after sunset and in the eastern sky right before dawn. Venus will be within six degrees of the horizon in both cases. That means in order to see Venus you need a completely unobstructed view of the horizon with no mountains, no trees and no buildings in the way.

I won’t be able to see Venus either in the west or east under those conditions. But some people will.

That will be cool. It won’t be visually dramatic or directly exciting, but it will be a great example of the celestial mechanics of the solar system working themselves out right before our eyes.

Venus in the Daytime Sky

Yesterday I said that when Venus is near the Sun, Venus becomes invisible to Earthbound telescopes because glare from the Sun overwhelms telescopes. That’s generally true and most astronomers don’t observe astronomical objects when the Sun is out.

However, in fact, if you know exactly where to look—or if you have a modern, computer-driven telescope that you calibrate at night and do not move—you can see Venus during the day through a telescope.

I’ve done it.

However it is very, very dangerous to point a telescope near the Sun.

Venus this month is going to be within nine degrees of the Sun. If you attempt to look at Venus during the day and you inadvertently bump your telescope or trip or have something else unexpected happen, light from the Sun can pass through your telescope or your telescope’s finder scope and enter your eye and that can blind you for life.

It is kind of cool to look up into a clear blue sky and see an astronomical object like Venus during the day. But it is not so cool that I would risk my eyesight for it.

I don’t recommend anybody try to view Venus during the day this month when Venus is so close to the Sun.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Venus In The Evening, Venus In The Morning

Venus is closer to the Sun
than Earth is. Venus seems to run

to catch up with us, to be near.
But close, Venus will disappear.

Venus disappears twice, fading
to a crescent, then vanishing

into the glare of the sunset.
Then Venus, the nearest planet,

is nearest but untouchable,
here with us but invisible

to any Earthbound telescope.
Our eye machines grab light, can’t cope

with pure stuff direct from the source,
the Sun running its daytime course.

And when Venus does reappear,
early, if the dawn sky is clear,

Venus is a crescent waxing,
running away fast, perplexing

our mirrors, lenses, brain machines
dreaming of more beautiful scenes.

Venus, leaving, gets small, gets whole.
Venus, away from Earth, stays whole.

All this reminds me of something.
Something like a song I can’t sing

because I know the lyrics but
the song’s melody has been cut

from my mind by a laser beam.
Something like a fake, fake, fake dream.

Something so close my brain machine
can’t cope with the thoughts these words mean.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Twenty-Four Hundred Man-Years For What?

Nowhere is there more magic, wonder, and illusion than in a Disney animated film. From start to finish, the making of an animated film is an amazing process. Six hundred people work for four years to create a million drawings that will be projected at twenty-four frames per second, and if everyone does their job, you will laugh, be moved to tears and be transported to a different world.

Don Hahn

So it took something like six hundred people something like four years to create the Disneyfication of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame?”


Winsor McCay animated the film “Gertie the Dinosaur” all by himself. He had one assistant to trace backgrounds, but McCay spent a great many months doing thousands of animation drawings himself.

Ub Iwerks animated the cartoon “The Skeleton Dance” (and many others!) all by himself. He had assistants to handle ‘clean-ups,’ but Iwerks did thousands of animation drawings himself.

Ray Harryhausen created the stop-motion animation for “It Came From Beneath The Sea” all by himself. He sometimes had assistants help create his models, but Harryhausen did all the animation filming by himself.


So it took something like six hundred people something like four years to create the Disneyfication of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame?”

Modern animated films created by platoons of wildly talented artists are certainly longer and much more visually dynamic than animation created by one person, or one person working with an assistant or two.

But by any criteria, are modern animated films better than the single-person creations?

Many people still watch, say, “It Came From Beneath The Sea” and still enjoy the movie, still have fun watching it. Does anybody ever put on a DVD of, say, the Disneyfication of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and even watch the movie, let alone enjoy watching it?

Twenty-four hundred man years for what?