Friday, June 29, 2012

Two Women And Lightning Cat

Once I knew two women and someday
I’d like to write a book about one
and in the book I’d tell a story
about a writer who writes a book
about a woman he calls a witch...

Today’s post is basically just an update, but I’ve got a couple of cool little things to go along with the update.

A while ago I mentioned that I was thinking of working on a story about a writer who gets involved with a witch. Well, that is kind of an on-going project for me and one of the things I’m working on is visuals. The woman in the story would be able to control lightning a little bit. So I’ve often wondered what kind of illustrations of lightning I could come up with. What kind of drawings or photographs or stop-motion animation backgrounds.

So today I did an experiment getting some photographs of lightning.

I think everybody has seen cool photos of lighting hitting buildings and famous landmarks. I’ve always wondered how hard it is to capture those kinds of images.

Here are a few images I got tonight. These are all uncropped and unprocessed. If you click on an image you can see it a little better:

I didn’t process these at all, didn’t try to get any special compositions. I was just testing how well my camera would handle the wild changes in luminosity of a lightning strike.

I thought they came out pretty well, especially the last one. I’ll have more about lightning pictures at some point in the future.

And, also at some point in the future, I’ll have more about the story with the writer and the witch and what she can do with lightning.


I have one extra thing for today. If you look closely at those photos above, a very neat thing happened because of the different color bias of lightning and street lights.

The sky and clouds look cool blue and the street in the lower left looks warm brown. What a nice contrast.

And a little action played out on the street this evening. Kind of appropriate action, too, since I was thinking of a story about a witch.

This was unexpected, but now it is a little movie. Watch the lower left of the frame.

It’s Lightning Cat:


(It’s almost as if a scene from a graphic novel were writing itself. The woman involved with witchcraft would travel somewhere as a familiar, as a cat, do something bad with lightning, and then run away. And the graphic novel would capture the action with vivid contrasting colors, frames divided into sharp cool blues and beautiful warm browns. This is all stuff on my to-do list.)

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Vanity Fair Magazine In A Book Store Café

This Scary, Pumpkin Time Of Year, Part Two

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Real Atlantis And French (Movie) Terror

I once saw a trailer for a movie
set in Scotland where the main character
narrated the set-up of the story
describing her adventure in Scotland
and the camera showed the Scottish landscape
and at one point while the narrator spoke
the camera panned past the rocks of Stonehenge.

The person I was with started giggling.
She pointed. “In movie Scotland,” she said,
“they have Stonehenge. Britain might want that back.”

“Maybe in movie politics,” I said,
“that’s why Britain and Scotland sometimes fight.
They can’t decide who gets to keep Stonehenge.”

The person I was with giggled harder.
She said, “Who gets custody of Stonehenge?
Maybe they fight because no one wants it.
And I wonder—when Scotland gets Stonehenge
does Loch Ness move down to southern Britain?”

I said, “You know someone in movie France,”
is plotting to take Stonehenge and Loch Ness.”

The person I was with laughed but then stopped.
She said, “You know that’s a good idea.
See that’s a terrorist group I could join.
Liberate Stonehenge and Loch Ness. Bring them
both to the Continent where they’ll be safe.”

“What happens to the British Isles?” I asked.

The person I was with giggled again.
“Maybe that’s the real Atlantis,” she said.
“It’s really a story of the future.
When France takes away Stonehenge and Loch Ness
then the British Isles sink into the sea.
The Atlantis myth is foreshadowing.”

“It all fits,” I said. “Everything makes sense.
Well, that is, everything makes movie sense.”

The person I was with leaned against me.
She said, “Movies are better than real life.
At least if you try hard it’s possible
for movies to make sense. Life’s just crazy.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monsters—From Microsecond To Microsecond

Today’s post doesn’t have much of a point, but it’s something that I find really interesting, and it is about the movie “Forbidden Planet,” so it’s related to all the other posts I’ve done about that movie.

I’ve talked about the movie in general, and I’ve talked about how watching it now feels completely different than when I was a kid. (I think it feels different because I’m seeing with adult eyes, and my impression is the filmmakers tried very hard to make the movie for kids—the adults in the story behave the way kids think they’ll behave when they’re adults.)

Today I just want to talk about two specific scenes in the movie. I want to talk about a bit of the writing that I admire very, very much. I would never write a movie—I don’t think—where the adults act so childishly. But the filmmakers did try to be true to a science fiction basic nuts-and-bolts vision of reality and I admire that.

When the filmmakers creating “Forbidden Planet” needed to have a monster, the filmmakers created a nuts-and-bolts science fiction context—of course with a lot of mumbo-jumbo dialogue that only sounds scientific—and then used that context to explain the monster. It doesn’t matter, really, that the dialogue is mumbo-jumbo. Everyone knows a movie isn’t a documentary. But the attention to detail makes it easy for the audience to suspend disbelief and enjoy the narrative.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

Toward the middle of the movie, the crew of the spaceship find out that the guy on the planet has discovered the remains of a lost, scientifically advanced ancient civilization and has learned to use some of the ancient civilization’s amazing tools. The man demonstrates what is apparently a child’s toy, a machine that constructs three-dimensional holograms based on a person’s thoughts.

The man demonstrates by creating a vivid three-dimensional hologram of his daughter.

One of the spacemen points out that the hologram is moving and appears alive. The man who has been studying the ancient civilization’s equipment explains that the image appears alive— “Because my daughter is alive in my brain, from microsecond to microsecond while I manipulate it.”

So that establishes that there is this weird and powerful technology capable of sensing a person’s thoughts and acting on them. And it establishes the idea that something can appear real if it is changing “microsecond to microsecond.”

Just a few scenes later, the spaceship is attacked by a monster. The monster is invisible, but becomes visible when it attempts to penetrate a force-field surrounding the spaceship. The spacemen fire powerful weapons, ‘blasters,’ at the monster, but the blasters seem to have no effect, although eventually, for some reason not immediately clear, the creature disappears.

Two of the spacemen then exchange dialogue that includes this sequence:

“Doc, an invisible being that cannot be disintegrated by atomic fission.”

“No, skipper, that is a scientific impossibility.”

“Hypnotic illusions don’t tear people apart.”

“That’s true enough. But any organism dense enough to survive three billion electron volts would have to be made of solid nuclear material. It would sink of its own weight to the center of this planet.”

“Well, you saw it yourself, standing in those neutron beams.”

“And there’s your answer. It must have been renewing its molecular structure from one microsecond to the next.”

That’s pretty cool stuff. The writer even has the character use the phrase, ‘from one microsecond to the next’ echoing the phrasing from the earlier scene.

So the filmmakers create a reasonable sounding nuts-and-bolts science fiction context for this creature to exist, showing an example with the man’s beautiful daughter. Then the same context supports creating an externalization of the man’s id, his darker wishes and desires, a monster.

That’s pretty cool stuff. It’s solid writing. Maybe it’s ‘just’ a kid’s movie, but attention to detail like that makes it a very well-written kid’s movie. And people respond to it. And—as I have—people remember it all their life. (And, of course, that hologram scene inspired the famous Princess Leia hologram decades later in “Star Wars.”)

That’s pretty cool stuff from “Forbidden Planet.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The North Pole Or Someone’s Garden

The Hollow Earth hypothesis proposes that the planet Earth is either entirely hollow or otherwise contains a substantial interior space. The hypothesis has been shown to be wrong by observational evidence, as well as by the modern understanding of planet formation; the scientific community has dismissed the notion since at least the late 18th century.

The concept of a hollow Earth still recurs in folklore and as the premise for subterranean fiction, a subgenre of adventure fiction. It is also featured in some present-day scientific, pseudoscientific and conspiracy theories.

“Does it matter,” she asked, “if the Earth is hollow?
“I mean, whether the Earth is hollow or structured,
both of these views just describe our understanding
of the representation we’re confronted with.”

I asked, “Reality’s a representation?”

“No,” she said, “reality is reality.
But our conscious awareness of reality
is a representation. And it seems to me
we should spend more time looking for explanations
of reality than the representations
we’re consciously aware of swirling around us.”

“If the Earth were hollow,” I said, “we could go there.
Isn’t that worth understanding, whether or not
an actual, physical, other place was there,
somewhere, and we could leave here and, somehow, go there?”

“Blah, blah, blah,” she said. “And while you’re looking around
for a hole in the North Pole or someone’s garden
wouldn’t it be better to try to understand
what it really means to say ‘here’ and to say ‘there,’
what it really means to be ‘here’ and to be ‘there’?”

“If the Earth were hollow,” I said, “I mean a place
we could go to by dirigible or something,
I would know what it means to go there or not go.
But what do you mean, to understand ‘here’ and ‘there’?”

She was silent for a moment, then said, “Listen—”

I was silent for a moment, too, then asked, “What?”

She asked, “Do you hear it? That hum. In the distance.
Is that the sound made by dirigible motors?”

Now it’s a question I can’t get out of my mind.

Monday, June 25, 2012

“Indestructible And Ungraspable”

The level of his dynamics was often kept low, like his speech. He was a soft player. But within that range, his playing was full of subtle dynamic shadings and constantly shifting colors. Some physicists have argued that a pianist cannot have a personal and individual “tone” because of the nature of the instrument, which consists of a bunch of felt hammers hitting strings. So much for theory. It is all in how the hammers are made to strike the strings, as well of course as the more obvious effects of pedaling, of which Bill was a master.

Bill’s was a comparatively flat-fingered approach, as opposed to the vertical hammer-stroke attack with which so many German piano teachers tensed up the hands and ruined the playing of generations of American children. Bill used to argue with me that his playing was not all that flat-fingered, but I sat low by the keyboard on many occasions and watched, and it certainly looked that way to me. On one such occasion, I kidded him about his rocking a finger on a key on a long note at the end of a phrase. After all, the hammer has already left the string: one has no further physical contact with the sound. “Don’t you know the piano has no vibrato?” I said.

“Yes,” Bill responded, “but trying for it affects what comes before it in the phrase.”

Gene Lees
writing in “The Poet: Bill Evans”
from “Reading Jazz”

“I think in four films, honestly the good old Alien has worn out,” says Scott of the reasons for moving away from the iconic xenomorph. “He’s no longer frightening. In one of the films he was trapped inside caskets of glass. Before he was indestructible and ungraspable.”

I can’t put my finger on it
but it can put its finger on me.

As soon as it pressed the button
the down arrow flashed and a bell rang

and the elevator opened.
The Loch Ness monster stepped inside first.

I stayed where I was and pointed
almost randomly off to the side.

“I’ve forgotten something,” I said,
“back at my desk. I’ll catch the next one.”

The Loch Ness monster put a hand
on the elevator door sensor

and asked me, “Should I hold this one?”
“No thanks,” I said, and started away,

“I’ll have to search through my whole desk.
The Loch Ness monster pressed a button

and as the doors started to close
smiled at me and waved and said, “Next time.”

I went back and sat at my desk.
I booted Microsoft Word and wrote

a story about a monster,
something almost like a little song

but with almost no rhymes. I can’t
put my finger on it but monsters

look something like jazz, sound like jazz,
look and sound like they’re impossible

but I think monsters know they’re not.
I don’t know. They do. They know me, too.

And since they know I’ll never know
they can play me like a piano.

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When You Press Down A Piano Key

Moon Dust In Waltz Time

Headphones And Crucibles

Friday, June 22, 2012

Looking Closely At An Old Tradition

Today’s post is going to be a little strange and kind of pointless, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while and although it isn’t really the best example of what I’d hoped to do, it is a start, and someday I’ll come back to this topic.

First of all, this topic or idea started when I read a book, Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz.

That book was put together by a graphic designer named Chip Kidd and it is a kind of biography of Charles Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown. But the book really is a biography of the Charlie Brown comic strip itself and there is page after page of beautiful reproductions of Charles Schulz’s artwork and much of it is reproduced at larger-than-life size. But because Kidd and his photographer took great care in getting good images, the artwork looks beautiful.

So the comic strips themselves are entertaining and fun. And the larger-than-life reproductions capture a kind of graphic beauty that is something else entirely, a kind of standalone art captured from within other art.

Ever since I saw that book I’ve been intrigued by that business of enlarging artwork and looking carefully at the graphic artifacts of the art itself.

I’m going to do a little of that today.

Now I certainly don’t compare myself, of course, to Charles Schulz in any way, and I don’t even begin to have the graphic sensibilities of a designer like Chip Kidd. But, nonetheless, there’s no law that says you have to be professional to do something on a blog, thank heavens. So here is a kind of experiment of my own with graphics of my own.

Okay, first of all, take a look at this bit of text and graphics. Maybe I would call this “Old Tradition” because you can see those words at the top:

Even though I made that myself, it looks kind of cool to me. Maybe it looks cool to me, in part, because I didn’t actually make it directly. That is an enlarged section of this page from my notebook:

That is the first draft of yesterday’s post “People Born Illuminated”.

I wrote out the text of yesterday’s post using a black pen. But I used a page in my notebook where I had been testing some new colored markers I’d bought the day before.

So the graphics have nothing to do with the content of the writing. But it was fun writing on a page that had some color to it. And where I ran out of white space I just wrote words over the color tests.

It’s kind of an interesting image, that first one, kind of an eye-pleasing graphic, even though it is something like found art—it was just selected, not composed in any way.

I don’t really know what to think about something like this, but it is fun doing it and it is fun trying to figure out what and how to think about it.

This little experiment has been kind of fun. I wouldn’t call something like that first image art. But I enjoy looking at it, I enjoy the combination of the words “old tradition” above the abstract color squares.

I enjoy thinking about stuff like this, stuff that’s in some kind of middle ground between meaning something and not meaning anything at all.

So for better and for worse that’s my first attempt at enlarging something and looking closely at something that was never meant to be looked at closely. For better and for worse, I enjoyed doing this enough that I know at some point in the future I’ll try it again.

I’ll try to get better—although in the case of purposefully random ‘found art’ I’m not exactly sure what ‘better’ even means—but everything starts with a first effort.

This was one of mine.

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Scraps For Alison With Love And Squalor

This Is Not “Fashion Bulletin I’m Yours”

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A Saturday Note:

In the book that started me thinking about things like this, Chip Kidd and his photographer were very diligent about getting carefully lighted and carefully rendered close-up images of the artwork they enlarged. However, here, in that first graphic that I called “Old Tradition,” I used a carefully dubious image—that’s a digital zoom into a pointedly casual photograph taken at a skewed perspective with lots of bias added to the brightness and color space. Here is a similar image with ‘normal’ corrections applied to a more straight-forward macro photograph:

I looked at both of these images yesterday and picked the first for the post because it looked more interesting to me, more visually engaging. It still does. Even though it is less precise and could be called ‘harder on the eyes’ it seems more interesting visually. This reminds me a lot of a post I did a while back “The Night Outside My Window” where an almost totally abstract image looked more interesting than the straightforward photograph the image was derived from.

This makes me think there may be two issues at work here.

When you take ‘real’ artwork—for instance the artwork from Charles Schulz that Chip Kidd enlarged—the beauty is deeply within the straightforward content of the original material. It looks best when you convey that simply and clearly.

More random stuff—like this page from my notebook—seems to be more interesting when it is abstracted in one way or another.

Again, I’m not sure what to think about this. But to me it’s really fun trying to figure out what to think.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

“People Born Illuminated”

When I saw the Moon tonight it was too low
to fit in the same shot with the donut shop.

But here’s the Moon just above the horizon
about to disappear from my perspective
behind trees silhouetted in the distance.

It looks lonely here as the Moon disappears
with just that one streetlight and the power lines.

But the lonely look is just composition
and a few feet left or right reveals the night
keeping busy being a city at night
with bright lights illuminating signs and cars.

Just as I snapped this image three young women
drove past saw my camera and hollered “Cheese!”

I don’t think they noticed the Moon in the west
and quickly came up with the improvised pun
on the old tradition the Moon’s made of cheese
and the old tradition when you’re photographed
you say “Cheese!” to make sure you flash a bright smile.

I think they were just quickly ready to pose.

But you never know in a city at night.

Everything is bright in a city at night.

Maybe the three young women noticed the Moon
and they were as bright as the night around them.

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The new Moon was Tuesday
and I didn’t see a crescent yesterday.
This young Moon in the photos
is only about two days and ten hours
old, about 6% illuminated.

The Moon And Venus Beyond The Fox Point

Merica Uns On Unkin

All The Sunlight Is For Laughing

“If there were three Suns in the sky
people born illuminated
by the three Suns, the Trinity,
the Sun, Jupiter and Saturn,

would only know about the Sun
shining in the sky by itself
from the stories old people told...”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Consequence Of Puppets

SOUTHAMPTON: “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

OXFORD: “Well, it’s certainly, um, big.”

SOUTHAMPTON: “I promise you, Edward, you’ve seen nothing like it before.”

OXFORD: “There won’t be, um, puppets, will there?”

That’s from a 2011 film called “Anonymous,” about the theory Shakespeare’s plays really were written by the Earl of Oxford.

I liked the movie a lot.

I’m very dubious about the Oxford theory. And I’m very dubious about so-called “historical” movies in general, because they always change real-life events around—sometimes very drastically—to suit some perceived dramatic need of the filmmakers.

I haven’t heard, or read, anyone say anything good about the film “Anonymous” as history, or even as a pseudo-historical drama. But I have talked to one or two other people who simply enjoyed the movie.

A lot of people in the media world seem to have enjoyed and been strongly influenced by the David Shields book “Reality Hunger.”

So now we are seeing a lot of entertainment mixing-and-matching true history with entertainment. This weekend a film opens called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

This business of mixing-and-matching true history with constructed history—wantonly mixing-and-matching the two—seems like a very bad idea to me.

If this were happening in a culture where everyone had a great education, and everyone shared a deeply in-grained sense of the past and understanding of what’s real, I’d say this kind of thing could be fun and entertaining.

But the modern world seems very polarized. Some people know a lot about history, some people know very little. Some people care a lot about what’s real, some people couldn’t care less.

After one or two generations are raised on entertainment that mixes-and-matches real history with entertainment, will anyone be able to tell the two apart? Will anyone feel any imperative to want to tell the two apart?

One time on a commentary track for a contemporary vampire film that used a lot of religious material in the plot (either the commentary for Dracula 2000 or the much better sequel Dracula II: Ascension) the filmmakers—the director and writer—laughed that although they did a little research, most of their religious knowledge came from watching the movie “Jesus Christ Superstar.” This was at least honest of them. They acknowledged both that films in general are a dubious place to look for knowledge, and that in particular the film “Jesus Christ Superstar” though very popular and very entertaining is not necessarily deeply grounded in Christian Apologetics.

It’s difficult to imagine where this kind of media trend will end. In a couple of generations, will everyone—or almost everyone—be functionally insane, unable to discern a difference between reality and constructed fantasy? Will anyone want to discern a difference between reality and fantasy?

I don’t know if the real Shakespeare—or the real Earl of Oxford for that matter—ever worried about going to a theater and being entertained by puppets. I can say from personal experience, however, that puppets can become something like real. And whatever it is that puppets become, this experience that is something like real but not exactly real, it can be—or it can be perceived as—better than reality.

Seems to me there will be consequences to this.

“Keep in mind Mike can’t control
Where the movies begin or end
He’ll try to keep his sanity
With the help of his robot friends”

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two Telescopes

I own two telescopes right now, both refractors. One is 2.4 inches in diameter and the other is 4 inches in diameter.

I’ve talked a lot about telescopes, and I usually talk about telescopes larger than the two I own. (It’s almost a rule among amateur astronomers—you always talk about telescopes larger than what you own, whatever you own.)


The Moon Miranda (A Note)

But I’ve also talked about what I consider the best approach these days to general amateur astronomy. I like the idea of a really well-made small scope on a computer-driven mount, along with a good pair of wide-angle binoculars. The combination is good for most kinds of amateur astronomy, except dim deep-sky objects, because those simply must have large aperture telescopes to be seen.

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

Recently I saw a story about something all-together different. European scientists are planning to build the largest telescope in the world. It will be a reflector with a main mirror approximately 129 feet across. Here’s an artist’s rendering and an excerpt from the story, along with a couple of links:

Long, long ago, when backyard stargazers dreamed of owning a 6-inch reflector, I vividly remember making pilgrimages to Palomar Mountain in California to see the world's largest telescope. In the visitor's center was a massive concrete slab, bigger around than our family room, to represent the 200-inch (5-m) primary mirror of the famous Hale Telescope.

So my mind veritably boggles at the notion of a telescope so huge that its secondary mirror is nearly as big. Yet astronomers are now a step closer to that reality, because this week the European Southern Observatory's governing council approved construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT. It's the no-nonsense moniker for an instrument destined to become the world's largest optical instrument, with a primary mirror 129 feet (39.3 m) across. That's 60% more aperture than the Giant Magellan Telescope now under construction and a third bigger than the proposed (but iffy) Thirty Meter Telescope.

As announced by ESO on June 11th, six of ESO's 14 member states have approved the project outright and four others have given provisional approval. The remaining four are expected to join the majority soon.

... And what might one do with a telescope this big? ESO astronomers hope exploit its visible-light and infrared prowess to find and scrutinize Earth-like planets in the "habitable zones" of other stars, measure characteristics of the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang, and to probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

I don’t like so-called “big science” initiatives like this. I’m not an astrophysicist, but I don’t really believe the return on investment is reasonable at all. I’ve posted briefly about this before:

An Albireo Question

For example, astrophysicists don’t have any reasonable actual data on how many comets and asteroids impact Jupiter’s atmosphere every year. That data would provide pivotal information on the current constituents of our solar system, deepen our understanding of dangers of a possible Earth impact event and help us understand the history of the formation of our solar system. I strongly suspect a small spacecraft designed to orbit Jupiter and gather impact data would cost significantly less than the E-ELT.

But a small spacecraft is not as impressive politically as a giant building and new technology mirror mounts and all the “firsts” associated with the E-ELT. A small spacecraft orbiting Jupiter would be better science by almost every metric imaginable. But less politically impressive.

Big science is something I dislike very much, and I wanted to do this post so that I can refer back to it if I ever talk about big science again.

Here is one more picture of a telescope:

This is another reflector, and it is sort of the conceptual opposite of the E-ELT. The Astroscan is a 4 inch telescope with no mount at all. It is designed to provide a very wide field of view, similar to binoculars, and like binoculars you just hold it in your hands.

I’ve never owned an Astroscan, and I’ve never even looked through one. But I’ve heard people say good things about them, and I’ve never heard anyone say bad things about them. (It’s worth mentioning as an amateur astronomy aside that some astronomers have such affection for the Astroscan that they sometimes build larger or more advanced telescopes using the same basic design, just for fun. And sometimes they build larger flat-out copies of the Astroscan: A Great Big Astroscan by Jerry Oltion)

It’s not really a complicated gadget telescope, since there are no electronics involved, no computers. But if someone wanted to get a general purpose telescope, a simple gadget, without going the complicated gadget route, I’d recommend the Astroscan.

And I’ve mentioned the Astroscan once before.

Cocos Keeling Is Calling

In my constant dream of moving onto a boat, a hand-held telescope like the Astroscan would be perfect. It gathers more light than binoculars, but doesn’t require a firm ground for a tripod. I hope to get one someday.

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Two Dragons

Two Women And Someday

Two Swans

Two Schools Of Thought About Computer Science

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cracks In The Ruin As A Rune

I’m not sure what this means or if it means anything
but the parking lots around here look like parking lots
and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any wild flowers
growing through cracks in the asphalt. But there are still cracks
in the parking lots and the empty lots around here
and as more businesses go bankrupt or move away
there are more empty lots and deserted parking lots
but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any wild flowers
creating patches of wilderness in nearby lots.

I hope the parking lot wild flowers haven’t given up
struggling against the asphalt or been raptured away.

If the parking lot wild flowers have been raptured away
I’m glad they’re getting rewarded for all their hard work
and I’m glad they’re getting rewarded for believing
the beauty in a wild little patch of wilderness
was important enough to risk getting run over
by truck tires and car tires and even bicycle tires.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any wild flowers here
but if they’ve been raptured away I’m glad they’ll miss out
on whatever the Hell is going to happen next.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Squirrel And A Donut For Ever And Ever

Two days ago I saw a squirrel eat a donut.

The squirrel ran across the sidewalk in front of me
and I thought it had a crumpled piece of paper
that it was taking up a tree to build a nest
but I looked closely and saw it had a donut.

Someone had taken one bite out of a donut
and thrown it away at the curb. The squirrel found it
and then ran across the sidewalk in front of me
carrying the big donut and climbed up a tree.

I had a camera with me but by the time
I pulled it out of my pocket and switched it on
the squirrel was high up hidden by shadows and leaves.

I could see the squirrel. It had put down the donut
on a high branch right against the trunk of the tree
and braced the donut further with both its forepaws
as it ate the donut, taking small bites, chewing,
quickly devouring the donut by small bites.

I’ve never before seen a squirrel eat a donut.

I had a camera with me but by the time
I pulled it out of my pocket and switched it on
the squirrel was high up hidden by shadows and leaves.

Even with my zoom lens and digital assist
the leaves were so thick and the shadows were so dark
I didn’t even attempt a single picture
because it would have looked like a stick in Loch Ness
that someone photographs and thinks is the monster
or one of those photos of sunlight on bushes
that gets enlarged until it’s an abstract landscape
and then someone says they have proof they saw bigfoot.

So I can’t prove I saw a squirrel eat a donut.

I bet the squirrel was happy it found the donut.

It climbed up the nearest tree and ate it quickly.

I’ve been thinking about the squirrel and its donut
for two days. The squirrel ate the donut in minutes.

I have no authority to appeal to here—
I have no photograph and no other witness.

So I can’t prove I saw a squirrel eat a donut.

My squirrel memory is like a stick in Loch Ness
that someone photographs and thinks is the monster
or one of those photos of sunlight on bushes
that gets enlarged until it’s an abstract landscape
and then someone says they have proof they saw bigfoot
but my memory is even less persuasive
because I have no artifact of any kind.

So I can’t prove I saw a squirrel eat a donut.

But I did. And it was pretty funny looking,
a squirrel carrying a donut missing one bite.

It made me smile. The squirrel seemed to enjoy it, too.

The squirrel ate the donut in minutes. I’m still here.

Or there, I mean. Watching. Although I can’t prove it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day For Night: Nouveaux Oreillers

La Nuit Américaine is a 1973 French film directed by François Truffaut. It stars Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Léaud. In French, nuit américaine (American night) is a technical process whereby sequences filmed outdoors in daylight are underexposed to appear as if they are taking place at night. In the English-speaking world the film is known as Day for Night, which is the equivalent English expression.

La Nuit Américaine chronicles the production of Je Vous Présente Paméla (Meet Pamela), a clichéd melodrama starring aging screen icon, Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont), former diva Séverine (Valentina Cortese), young heart-throb Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and a British actress, Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset) who is recovering from both a nervous breakdown and the controversy leading to her marriage with her much older doctor. In between are several small vignettes chronicling the stories of the crew-members and the director; Ferrand (Truffaut himself) tangles with the practical problems one deals with when making a movie. Behind the camera, the actors and crew go through several romances, affairs, break-ups, and sorrows. The production is especially shaken up when Alphonse's fiancee leaves him for the film's stuntman, which leads him to a one night stand with Julie, when one of the secondary actresses is revealed to be pregnant, and when Alexandre is killed suddenly in a car crash.

One of the film's themes is whether or not films are more important than life for those who make them, its many allusions both to film-making and to movies themselves (perhaps unsurprising given that Truffaut began his career as a film critic who championed cinema as an art form). The film opens with a picture of Lillian and Dorothy Gish, to whom it is dedicated. In one scene, Ferrand opens a package of books he had ordered: they are books on directors he admires such as Luis Buñuel, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, Ernst Lubitsch, Roberto Rossellini and Robert Bresson. The film's title in French could be read as L'ennui Américain ('American boredom'): Truffaut wrote elsewhere of the way French cinema critics inevitably make this pun of any title which uses 'nuit'. Here he deliberately invites his viewers to recognise the artificiality of cinema, particularly the kind of American-style studio film, with its reliance on effects like day-for-night, that Je Vous Présente Paméla exemplifies.

Day for night, pretending to sleep on new pillows,
this is me pretending to be in a movie,
pretending to be in one frame from a movie.

In the movie, of course, I’d be a young actor
and there would be space ships in special effects skies
and at some point the writer and the director
would laugh privately about movie make-believe
as a handsome actor and beautiful actress
pretended to be twenty-year old college kids
who use their physics skills to invent a space ship
but when they try to say the word ‘astronomy’
they always mispronounce it as ‘astrology’
and then they make the writer or the director
explain to them again the words aren’t the same.

Day for night is a cinematic convention
where the audience pretends dim blue light is night.

I’d pretend to bring home a production artist
and when she started to make a pencil drawing
I’d laugh and say, “This is movies! Take a picture!”

She’d laugh and say, “No one can suspend disbelief
because in movies no one ever sleeps alone.”

I’d say, “It will work because it’s science fiction
and in the end it’s really about the pillows.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

“If The World Should Stop Revolving”

I have almost nothing for today, but the little I do have is something I’ve been trying to think of a way of posting for some time. I haven’t thought of a good post to put around this content, so I’m just going to sort of get it up here in case I ever want to refer to it later.

A long time ago I mentioned a song called “Diary” by a group called Bread, in My Alyson Michalka / Giant Clown Hammer Fantasy.

That group, for the most part, was basically a guy named David Gates. And just like the song “Diary” is a sappy love song that almost everyone from the generations around mine kind of rolls their eyes about but, nonetheless, might listen to on a radio if they’re alone, Bread or David Gates wrote other sappy love songs that get the same kind of reaction. They’re sappy, but as sappy love songs go, they could be worse.

Back in 1971 David Gates and Bread did a very popular sappy love song called “If” that was so popular it got covered by dozens of mainstream acts. It’s now what people call a ‘wedding song’ and still gets played a lot. Wikipedia says a British cover version sung by, of all people, Telly Savalas, [!?] reached number one on the British charts.

Even though it is a very sappy love song, I like the song for a couple of reasons.

One is that the arrangement is pretty simple, and pretty cool. It has a guitar introduction that uses a lot of effects, but the effects don’t over-power the simple playing. Nowadays pop songs can be very heavily produced and many pop producers even have theories about filling the whole sonic spectrum and maintaining certain tempos and all manner of complicated thoughts. But this song “If” has proven to be about as popular and long-lasting as a sappy love song can be, and it is pretty straight-forward and pretty uncomplicated. I love stuff like that.

The other thing I like about the song, and the reason I’m including it here at the blog, is that the final verse is pretty extreme. All the verses are okay, but the final verse is pretty extreme.

Nowadays a kind of contemporary new age or conspiracy mythos has grown around theories of a pole shift happening. There are a lot of conspiracy groups and new age groups talking about things like crustal shifts of the Earth, and core fluctuations causing the Earth’s rotation to change, and the roving magnetic poles possibly being indicators of larger and completely non-understood geophysics at work. But these are reasonably contemporary and very tin-foil, crazy speculations.

However, back in 1971 [!?] David Gates–in a sappy very popular love song–wrote these lyrics:

If the world should stop revolving
Spinning slowly down to die
I’d spend the end with you
And when the world was through
Then one by one
The stars would all go out
Then you and I
Would simply fly away

That’s pretty cool stuff. End-of-the-world stuff in a love song, and the song becomes about as popular as a song can be.

I can’t really imagine any performer or group doing a cover of this song today. I mean in a contemporary context, not as an oldies cover. I wonder if that’s true, that a contemporary version couldn’t happen. And if it’s true, I wonder: Why not?

I’ll probably talk more about this song sometime in the future. Or at least about why I think a song like this couldn’t be released as a contemporary pop song. I mean in the context of pop styles being so controlled, not because the content would be forbidden.

Here’s the original:

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Is The Key The Little Key?

Dream Lover Fantasy Update

Clouds Want To Be Close To Us

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Monsters Got My Pillows

It’s like a horrible scene from a monster movie,
insides on the outside, rips and tears and gaping holes.

Both of my pillows went to pieces at the same time.

Today from Amazon I ordered two new pillows.

But since my new pillows won’t arrive until Thursday
I have to use these until then. I scrunch them down tight
into pillowcases and hope by pressing them hard
the pressure will keep the stuffing in for two more nights.

And as if this wasn’t enough to worry about
when I swiveled my big bright light to take that picture
one of the metal—metal!—braces cracked right in half
so now my big bright light is stuck in one position.

And I still haven’t figured out my notebook problems.

What’s next: Nation-wide power grid going to go down?

Monsters got my pillows. And they got my big bright light.

If I were a scientist I would know what to do
but I’ve got three or four notebooks scattered around here
so I don’t even know where I should write about this
and to be honest I feel like I’m a scientist
but my laboratory’s falling apart around me.

I don’t think a fast course in insect pathology
is the answer but in the middle of this wreckage
I’m not even sure of that. There’s one thing I’m sure of:

If I had you to talk to—if you were a plucky
woman reporter—you wouldn’t hold me and hug me
and comfort me right now, you’d just laugh and shake your head
and make one of those faces I’ve seen too many times.

This is why mad scientists laugh but this is why they
never end up living happily ever after.

Monday, June 11, 2012

If A Telescope Could See A Song

A telescope can’t see a song
But if this woman were a song
Her light would pass through glass and play

But if this woman were a song
I would close my eyes not listen

Her light would pass through glass and play
I would close my eyes not listen

A telescope can’t see a song

And if a telescope could see a song
I wouldn’t ask science to watch her play

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

The Library That We’ve Made Of Ourselves

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

Talking Back To Galileo

“Galileo go to hell”

Friday, June 08, 2012

Soft Gadgets In Marigold Space

Although the universe appears to operate on very simple building blocks, once those blocks are put into place and other arbitraries are introduced, a universe can become extremely complex and solid-looking, like the universe we share now. When that happens, spiritual beings may become fixated in those universes like cameras anchored in a dense rain forest; the cameras are unable to perceive beyond the foliage immediately in front of them. After staring at the foliage for a long enough time, the cameras may begin to believe that they, too, are nothing but foliage and they forget that they are cameras. Salvation would come by restoring to those cameras their true self-identities and by giving them the ability to come and go from the rain forest at will.

Yesterday when I was looking around YouTube for a Danny Kaye clip from his film “The Court Jester” one of those clips contained associated links to some Vera-Ellen clips, even though Vera-Ellen wasn’t in “The Court Jester.” But she and Danny Kaye did other movies together, and fans often remember the two together.

This is a short clip of Vera-Ellen dancing from another Danny Kaye movie, “White Christmas.”

What a good camera that was that filmed that scene.

What a good yellow costume Vera-Ellen wore.

A camera is a gadget but is a dress
a gadget? Is a costume more of a gadget
because there’s a gadget taking pictures of it
than a dress or any other piece of clothing
we wear when a gadget’s not taking our picture?

I think this question itself might be a gadget
dancing around in front of me like a bee’s dance
tells another bee where the bee has found a flower.

Soft gadgets are some of the very best gadgets.

What a good camera that was that filmed that scene.

Cameras are hard metals and plastics and glass.

What a good yellow costume Vera-Ellen wore.

Soft gadgets are some of the very best gadgets.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

I’ll Remember: The Flagon With The Dragon

Here’s something you don’t see every day around here,
an unmarked helicopter hovering only
a couple of hundred feet above the sidewalk:

This helicopter has been in the area
since right about the time of the NATO summit
but this is the first time the pilot has swooped low.

I’m guessing it’s just somebody filming something,
TV, a movie or a music video.

There’s an open door on the copter’s other side
with a guy sitting in it, but I couldn’t tell
if he had a camera. Or anything else.

I’m guessing it’s just a film crew grabbing footage.

These days, I mean, you never know. I mean, who knows?

If it was those secret people in the good clothes
trying to find and pin down a lost old hippie—

Ha, ha—I saw you guys but you didn’t see me!

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Mischa Barton, Mischa Barton

Machines Of Loving Grace

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Unstable Designs That Burn Up

The 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, by mathematician Norbert Wiener from MIT played an important role in the development of the Barrons' composition. The science of cybernetics proposes that certain natural laws of behavior apply to both animals and more complex electronic machines.

By following the equations presented in the book, Louis was able to build electronic circuits which he manipulated to generate sounds. Most of the tonalities were generated with a circuit called a ring modulator. The sounds and patterns that came out of the circuits were unique and unpredictable because they were actually overloading the circuits until they burned out to create the sounds. The Barrons could never recreate the same sounds again, though they later tried very hard to recreate their signature sound from Forbidden Planet. Because of the unforeseen life span of the circuitry, the Barrons made a habit of recording everything.

This time of year the constellation Lyra
is in the eastern sky when the night turns dark
but the constellation is getting higher
and with two others, Cygnus and Aquila,
will form the Summer Triangle overhead
during the next few months. I see it through trees
in the east now, Vega bright without optics,
and the rest of Lyra the lyre visible
in binoculars looking through shifting leaves.

The musicians who did the movie soundtrack
for “Forbidden Planet” built their instruments
using circuit designs that were unstable—
The electronic instruments made music
but burned up, destroyed themselves in the process.

Because Vega is bright and Lyra is small
it’s one of the first constellations I learned
and I’ve followed it rising in the summer
my whole life. Vega is as bright this evening
as when I first looked as a child and Lyra
is as beautiful now as it was back then.

I used to think electronic instruments
that burned up when they were making their music
were very cool, really art, a reminder
of the transitory nature of all things.

I was thinking, putting my binoculars
on the shelf. Vega is as bright this evening
as when I first looked as a child and Lyra
is as beautiful now as it was back then.

I used to think electronic instruments
that burned up when they were making their music
were very cool, really art, a reminder
of the transitory nature of all things
but now that makes me laugh because musicians
are also unstable designs that burn up
when they make their music but the burning up
part isn’t art, although the music might be,
the burning up part isn’t art, it’s just age.

Lyra’s a constellation shaped like a harp
and it’s beautiful, if you know where to look,
and it doesn’t change so it’s hard not to smile
at those stars. Vega is as bright this evening
as when I first looked as a child and Lyra
is as beautiful now as it was back then.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

On Songs For Watermelon Snows

Atmospheric scientist Eric Kort was flying over the Arctic Ocean three years ago, monitoring readouts as onboard sensors sniffed the air. Suddenly, as the plane dipped low over some breaks in the sea’s ice cover, those instruments detected the unmistakable whiff of methane, the second most important climate-warming gas associated with human activities.

“This was unexpected,” says Kort, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. On four more excursions north of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas through April 2010 — always in winter or early spring — the plane’s sensors detected the same taint of methane in very-low-altitude air over broken patches of ice, Kort and collaborators report online April 22 in Nature Geoscience.

The prime suspects are methane-spewing bacteria that live in Arctic surface waters.

... Some studies have pointed to the melting of massive subsea deposits, known as gas hydrates, as possible sources of atmospheric methane. But those sources are too close to coastal regions to easily explain the new aerial data, Kort says. In contrast, his group’s findings are consistent with measurements of methane in water from the central Arctic made by Ellen Damm at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, and colleagues.

For now, Damm says, there are no confirmed explanations for the mysterious methane releases from Arctic waters seen by Kort’s group during dark months. But she says those data suggest that a seasonal nutrient disruption in the western Arctic Ocean “exerts pressure on the microbial food web” — creating conditions unusually favorable for methane-exhaling bacteria.

Arctic sea emits methane
by Janet Raloff
writing in Science News

“I think,” Rhonda said, “that kind of music is extinct.

“I am still here,” I said. Then I played Molly Malone
on an electronic keyboard that generated
real-time accompaniment at whatever tempo
the fingers of my left hand shifted from chord to chord.

The digital signal processors kept time with me.

In Chicago it is almost summer
but I’m wondering if next winter’s snows
will be colorful watermelon snows.

I like slow songs. I can play slow music
on guitar. And once I work out a song
on guitar I can struggle through the song
on keyboard. That gives me many choices
for creating arrangements. My keyboard
even can synthesize an orchestra
playing the appropriate instruments
for whatever octave I’m playing in
and if I watch how low my left hand goes
the keyboard even will add tampani
playing percussion keeping time with me,
a whole orchestra playing in real time
keeping time with my fingers on the keys.

If the snows in Chicago next winter
are watermelon snows, beautiful snows,
living methane snows, messages of love
from the deep hot biosphere,
will they care
if people write songs for them? Will they care
if the arrangements are orchestrated
or simple folksongs for voice and guitar?

I have more fun holding just my guitar
playing chords, arpeggios, melodies,
and singing along with an arrangement
than I do with my hands on my keyboard
where the arrangement can be much more rich
but I have to record the music first
and sing along later with sound-on-sound
because I have almost no keyboard skills.

But the digital signal processors
in my keyboard are modern instruments.

Watermelon snows will be modern snows.

Maybe it’s the thought that counts. I don’t know.

If the snows in Chicago next winter
are watermelon snows, beautiful snows,
living methane snows, they’ll be doing more
than just thinking about us. Harmony
is when two or more things fit together
and they fit together in such a way
that the combination is a new thing.

Songs for watermelon snows should be songs
that harmonize with watermelon snows.

Monday, June 04, 2012

“Naturally, In Interviews Of The Time”

By the time we began work on Built to Last, Jerry, to the distress of us all, had started using again. Given that emotional climate, it’s perhaps not surprising that the recording process, originally envisioned as starting from where we left off with In the Dark, i.e., recording the songs as a band, all playing together, dissolved rather rapidly into Total-Overdub Land, a nightmarish brier patch of egotistical contention. It was agreed that we would proceed by accretion of layers; it was similar to the normal recoding process (rhythm section; basic guitars and keys; lead vocals; instrumental leads; percussion; backups and sweetening), but instead of doing one song at a time straight through, we recorded “sub-basic” tracks for everything—drums and guitars or keys—and attempted to overdub everything on top of those tracks, one at a time. Bill would come in and do all the drum tracks, then it would be my turn for bass parts, etc. None of the songs were performed as an ensemble; rather, the pieces were slapped on an assembly line and the songs were manufactured—sloppily at that—without any development in live performance.

The material, which I felt was surely as strong as that of In the Dark, was never given full value by the band—not even later, in front of a crowd. The grooves never came to life, and the playing reflected that lack of unanimity. The total isolation of the recording process locked everyone into his own part in an unusually rigid way, as if we were listening too hard to one another, instead of to the song itself. Naturally, in interviews of the time we were full of pompous pronouncements about the aesthetic glories of this approach to recording; unfortunately, the result was something so sterile as to defy description. No one in the band was satisfied, either with our individual performances or with the total effect—six soloists, walking on eggs, taking no risks, and never, ever, playing together.

Phil Lesh
from Searching for the Sound

It’s not unusual in Hollywood
to film a movie as “performances”—
Actors will come in to the studio
when their own schedules permit, film their part,
then the parts are edited together
or special effects superimpose them
to construct a scene. And then a movie
is a construction made up of the scenes.

Today technology—and good actors—
make it almost impossible to tell
if actors in a film worked together.

And this happens even in well-known films.

Many pop songs bounce around cyberspace
from musician to musician, growing
instrument by instrument, track by track,
until someone sits at a computer—
sometimes it’s not even a musician—
and picks and chooses from among the tracks
and sometimes synthesizes a new track
from data abstracted from an old track
and a song gets constructed from all that.

These are both cost-effective ways to build
products since people only see products,
the product assembly lines are off stage.

Phil Lesh once called an album, “ sterile
as to defy description.”
So sterile.

If it was sterile, how did it give birth
to our world? What will our world give birth to?

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

Yesterday was the third of June—

“Another sleepy dusty Delta day”

—so I’ve been thinking a lot about music
lately, and about the way the whole
entertainment business has changed
over the last few decades.

“Seems like nothing ever comes to no good
up on Choctaw Ridge”

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #1

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2

The Question For Frankenstein’s Friend

The Other Way Of Making A Frankenstein’s Monster

Return To The Other Way
Of Making A Frankenstein’s Monster

Friday, June 01, 2012

Gadget-Nature: French Musicians As Landscape

I’ve wondered about beautiful gadgets
and I’ve wondered if their very beauty
might interfere with their gadget-nature.

A woman told me an untold story
this afternoon about her and gadgets.

This is also about French musicians
but for this story the French musicians
are part of the background. They’re just landscape.

Here’s the woman’s story about gadgets:

“Some band was performing across the street.
Two French musicians I never heard of
but when I told my daughter she freaked out
and told me I had to, I just had to,
go get photographs of them after work.
There were dozens of security guards
in the park around the bandshell stopping
people from filming the French musicians.
But point-and-shoot cameras were allowed.
Some hipster with a bag of equipment
I think had a Canon EOS 5
and the guards wouldn’t let the guy get near
the front of the bandshell to take pictures.
I walked past holding my Leica M9
and held it up and the guards just assumed
the rangefinder was a point-and-shoot thing.
I was kind of giggling since the Leica
cost about twice as much as the Canon
and has a full-frame sensor but the guards
let me through just because it looked simple.
My daughter was happy I don’t carry
a fancy looking gadget camera.”

“And how was the music from the French guys?”

“I barely paid attention. I just grabbed
a few pictures for my daughter and left.”

“Their music didn’t grab you the same way
it grabs your daughter and makes her freak out?”

“She likes them because they’re cute. She asked me
to take their picture, not to record them.”

There’s a story there about gadgets, told,
and I think there’s a story there, untold,
about the French musicians but for now
they’re just background to the gadget story.